In 2008, we purchased 800 acres of former strip mine property and leased an additional 200 for a total of 1,000 acres of contiguous ground. About half of the property was hardwood forest and the other half was in the same condition as it was left after being strip mined for coal between the 1920’s – 1960’s. The open ground was ‘reclaimed’ in the 1960’s or half a century ago.
Our goal was to reclaim this strip mined acreage by creating a soil medium which would increase the microbial activity and improve the organic content. This is the difference between ‘dirt’ and ‘soil’. Growing crops and other agricultural products can be done in dirt, but the traditional farmer has to rely on annual applications of heavy petrochemical and salt based fertilizers that further prevent the dirt from becoming soil.
Creating productive farm ground without the use of conventional fertilizers, is a process that takes time, hard work and lots of patience.
When we started the project, we sent samples to a local agricultural lab to test the soil and to document our progress and results. At the start, the five major categories of healthy soil were barely measurable, indicating there were few trace elements necessary to support vegetation of any kind.
After a year of treatment with our material, pH went from 2.8 to 7.2. Organic content climbed from 2.1% to 21.0% and the remaining three categories (NPK) indicated we had created “productive soil”.
Surprisingly, dormant seed “popped” and produced grasses we did not expect. We began cutting these grasses every 2 – 3 weeks leaving the cuttings to further benefit the organic content in the soil. We then planted 50 acres of corn which grew to 7 feet in height and produced 2 ears / stalk. We chopped the corn and were able to get around 18 tons / acre in silage.
Bottom line, we were able to accomplish our goal
of turning bad land into quality soil.
In 2005, Mother Earth Farms began experimenting with composting using many different agricultural waste streams. We shortened the cycle time by mechanically turning windrows using a high horsepower agricultural tractor and windrow turner. The results were strong and replicable. However the machinery needed and diesel fuel were expensive.
We became interested in developing a more efficient method that used a variety of organic inputs which were high in nitrogen and carbon, unlike traditional compost which mainly relies on animal manure. This led to using simpler technology or what we call “appropriate technology”.
Over several years, we applied a large volume of this compost to a portion of our land. The dormant seed ‘woke up’ and began to grow at an alarming rate requiring a thorough cutting every 2 weeks over 400+ acres of treated ground. After considerable time and multiple applications, we planted a variety of crops which produced astonishing yields, yet we removed little and let the organic material continue to convert the ‘dirt’ into ‘soil’.
We continued this process over a period of years with our interest in growing organic, non GMO produce. We planted corn, organic vegetable seed, in addition to other crop experiments.