all done, ploughed and ready to go

Despite some rain last week February has been a mercifully dry month. In the drier east of England it is traditional practice to plough the ground during the autumn and early winter. I quickly learned that for an organic farmer in the warm and damp south west, such early ploughing is disastrous. Firstly, ploughing introduces oxygen into the soil, promoting microbial breakdown of organic matter into soluble nutrients which, with our heavy rainfall, are washed away before the spring sown crop is able to use them. Secondly, the furrows will only take so much beating of rain before they collapse, making the soil slow to drain and dry. By February the soil is cold enough to be effectively dormant, and with luck most of the rain has passed, making now the ideal time to plough.

Before ploughing we normally spread some well rotted manure. The dose depends on the crop (some are hungrier than others) and our best guess of the inherent fertility of the field. The average is about 15 tonnes per acre, which amounts to about a quarter of an inch. It is then good practice to plough or cultivate in the muck as soon as possible to minimise the gaseous losses of nitrous oxides and ammonia, because we want to retain these nutrients. Predominantly dry weather has allowed us to manure and plough most of the ground for the first lettuces and cabbages. Weather permitting, they will be planted this week.

How dare they?

What with Delia