The Power of a Fallow Season

Our first summer here on the farm, I started planting in the part of the field where it seemed most logical, closest to the barn. That turned out to be not the greatest choice. After years of conventional farming, the soil there was depleted and compacted and poorly drained. I fought with that soil one more season before moving on to other, better spots in the field.

But I wasn’t going to just abandon that soil. My plan was to put in a soil-enriching cover crop of crimson clover and then let it alone for a while to give it some time to heal. The cover crop thinned out after a couple of seasons and became a little weedy, dandelions chief among them. That was okay, I thought, because I surmised that the plant’s long taproot might help break up the compacted subsoil and bring nutrients to the surface. And from time to time I would mow the weeds and pasture the chickens there, letting them do some of the work of restoring the soil food web.

This winter I decided it was time to break ground there again and see if the soil had improved. In early summer, I cut the spring weeds short with the brush mower, then plowed them under. I waited for the sod to break down a little, then ran the disc through it to break it down further. Yesterday, I attached the three-point tiller to the tractor and made our beds for this week’s transplanting. And wouldn’t you know it, that soil had improved during its long fallow period. The final test will be how the plants perform growing in it, but I am encouraged to see how much the soil healed itself with only a little bit of help from me (and the chickens) in such a relatively short period of time.

Hopeful, is what it makes me, both for this farm and for this old, battered world of ours.