Sauvie Island Organics Growing Practices
We Live Each Season Three Times
As farmers, we live each season three times. First there's the planning life of the season. We look ahead, our hands intimate with the keyboard of the computer. Winter squash and broccoli smile back at us from the glossy pages of seed catalogues, perfect specimens of the vegetables they promise to be. The tillage, seeding, and planting schedule all orchestrated perfectly between the straight gridlines of spreadsheets.
Then there's the delicious, calloused handed, life of the season. We make plans each day and change them with the weather. Vegetables that had once been innocent lists on seeding charts come to life. There are 32,460 onions to plant; the Arkansas Traveler tomatoes need to be trellised, and eventually the Maverick melons are ready to harvest. We weed and water and eat what we envisioned and planned for months earlier.
Finally there's looking back, a vegetable day of reckoning of sorts. We reflect on the season with gratitude, pride, and awe. The seeds that were delivered by the UPS truck in early spring have amounted to meals on our table and yours. We look at records of yields and dates, taking notes on what worked well and what we could have done better at. And then, without much of a pause, we open up the next seasons planning charts and begin again.
Our Growing Practices
Our growing practices at Sauvie Island Organics aim to produce nutritious and great tasting crops by working within the natural world. We strive to keep our use of resources low while growing high quality vegetables for your tables.
Here are some of the systems we have put into place to help us reach these goals.
Building Soil Fertility
A healthy soil will produce healthy crop plants that have optimum vigor and are less susceptible to pests. Soil is a fragile and living medium that must be protected and nurtured to ensure its long-term productivity and stability. Here at SIO we employ a myriad of methods to protect and enhance the productivity of the soil including using cover crops, reducing tillage, avoiding traffic on wet soils, and whenever possible maintaining soil cover.
Regular use of cover crops can increase soil stability, soil tilth, and diversity of soil microbial life. Depending on where we are in the season we use one or a mixture of several different covers such as Sudan, rye, oats, vetch, Favas, clover or buckwheat. Several of these cover crops actually fix atmospheric nitrogen as they grow. When these cover crops are turned back into the soil, the nitrogen will become available to future crops. This added nitrogen helps to cut down on the amount of nitrogen that we have to import from off the farm. Cover crops also add organic matter to the soil. Organic matter feeds the soil ecosystem and improves soil structure – increasing the soil's capacity to hold water and air. When a cover crop is growing in the field, it helps to prevent soil erosion thus holding soil and nutrients in place. Cover crops also out compete weeds which can mean less tilling.
Cover crops are a crop that we grow to feed the soil but most of the crops that we grow leave the farm to feed you thus it is necessary for us to amend the soil with minerals and nutrients sourced from off the farm. Each season, we test our soil and assess its nutrient needs so to not add too much or too little to the soil. The amendments we apply are always from organic sources such as kelp meal, crustacean meal, feather meal, blood meal, sulphate of potash, fish bone meal, oyster shell flour, lime, soft rock phosphate, gypsum, and/or green sand.
Managing Pests & Disease
Our primary strategy to control pests and disease on the farm is to grow healthy plants in healthy soils. Plants that get the nutrients, water, and air that they need are less likely to succumb to pests and disease. Our highly diverse crop mix allows us to rely on crop rotations to suppress weeds, pathogens and insect pests. In addition to crop diversity, insectary flower plantings and a native plant hedgerow create habitat for a diversity of insect life. This habitat attracts insects we call “beneficials” as they prey on some of our insect pests. Some pests are still persistent enough on the farm that we need to protect our crops. To do this, we use a floating row cover that drapes over the crop providing a physical barrier between the crop and the pest. We employ best cultural practices such as trellising or drip irrigation to ensure each of our 40 crops is grown to minimize pest and disease pressures. Finally, when a few pests make there mark, we rely on our customers, to know that the very occasional blemish can easily be cut off – leaving a great tasting crop to enjoy.
Because water is such a precious resource, we use drip irrigation where ever possible. Drip irrigation is more efficient at delivering water directly to the plants roots and looses less water to evaporation than other methods of irrigating. When we do need to water with overhead sprinklers, we try to do it overnight to minimize the amount of water lost to evaporation.
Our approach to weed management employs a combination of strategies to keep our fields as weed free as possible and minimize the time we spend weeding either by hand or with our tractors. Our crop rotation plan takes weed pressure into account as does our irrigation plan. Whenever possible, drip irrigation is used to limit the amount of soil surface that is being watered, therefore germinating as few weed seeds as possible. Many crops are started in our propagation house so that they can be planted when they are a few weeks old, giving them a jump start on germinating weeds. When weed seeds do germinate, thermal and mechanical tools are used to set the weeds back. Inevitably we also spend a great deal of time hoeing and pulling weeds by hand.
Recycling on the Farm
Materials that cannot be re-used on the farm are recycled. We are also proud to offer our CSA members the option to recycle their kitchen food scraps through our farm composting program. The compost we generate from this goes into our potting mix which we use in the greenhouse.
Exploring Alternative Fuels
We continue to explore viable alternatives to our dependence on fossil fuels. At this time we use biodiesel to run the tractors on the farm.
On Farm Research
As we continue to fine tune our farming systems we have partnered up with OSU to do several on-farm research projects. The findings from these projects benefit organic farmers nation wide.