1. Keep the soil covered
Cover crops’ primary job is to improve the soil and protect the soil from erosion and nutrient loss. Cover crops also help smother weeds, control pests and diseases, enhance water availability, and increase biodiversity on the farm. The goal of using cover crops is to have little to no bare ground. When you cover the soil, you allow for an ecosystem that supports soil microorganisms like protozoa, nematodes, mycorrhizal fungi which equates to more productive soil. In our film “Regeneration: The Beginning” we feature Grant and Dawn, farmers from Redwood Falls Minnesota, who are transitioning their land to regenerative. They took the first step of converting their monoculture cover crop to a diverse cover crop and it was a game-changer for them. They went from having crop failures to cover crop successes.
Examples of cover crops (from our friends at Rodale Institute): alfalfa, rye, clovers, buckwheat, cowpeas, radish, vetch, Sudan grass, austrian winter peas.
For smaller acreage and gardens, you may choose to keep the soil covered with mulch. Paper rolls, newspaper, hay, straw, weeds, leaves, and decomposing wood chips all are options in mulching. Remember that fresh wood chips will consume nitrogen in their breakdown, so it is better to use aged wood chips. Also, some wood chips may contain allopathic natural chemicals in them that stunt the growth of crops, such as the juglone in walnut trees.
2. Compost food scraps, and support local compost businesses
Don’t let food go to waste, get a bucket and salvage your food scraps to create your own compost pile and search online for places and local farms to donate your compost.
Here is a quick and informative article on how to get started. www.mamanatural.com/composting. You may be able to find commercial compost suppliers in your area who can help you get started in building up your soil.
3. Use companion planting arrangements of annuals and perennials
Soil thrives with a diverse influence of inputs. Using a variety of companion planting you create biodiversity, help prevent pest problems, allows the other crops to grow better, allows the soil to use the nutrients more efficiently, helps keep the soil covered, and is one factor that eliminates the need for pesticides.
Check out this snapshot of a case study utilizing sunflowers and sugar cane: www.watershedmackay.land/companion-planting-for-regenerative-agriculture
4. Integrate animals or organic manures whenever possible
Livestock play a key role in soil health by bringing hoof activity to the farmland allowing the hard cap to break down. Additionally, when livestock are free to move across the land, you maximize distribution of their waste across the intended area. Regenerative agriculture calls for a return to farming that mimics mother nature so when we can provide environments where natural migration across land takes place, animals can express instinctive behavior which allows the soil beneath the herd to behave instinctively as mother nature intended.
5. Let the soil quality determine what you plant
Observe your soil with a detailed eye and base your plant choices based on what your unique situation calls for. For example, if soil is somewhat compact, loosen it with powerfully rooting plants like daikon radish, annual ryegrass, turnips, sweet potato, and mustard.