In our initial post about regenerative agriculture, we introduced the concept of restorative growing as an umbrella term for regenerative farming practices that rebuild the topsoil, restore diversity, improve the water cycle, and sequester carbon. In this post, we’ll show you how to put restorative agriculture into practice in your orchards, fields, groves, and vineyards.
A Quick Recap of Regenerative Agriculture
Coined in the 1980s by the Rodale Institute, the term “regenerative” and later “restorative” agriculture was introduced as a way to take the concept of sustainability further. Rather than focus solely on conserving the world as it is, Robert Rodale urged humanity to rehabilitate the land that has become degraded and reverse the effects of climate change through the use of regenerative farming techniques.
The three primary strategies for restoring a healthy rain and soil cycle are described by Storm Cunningham in his first book The Restoration Economy:
- Rebuild the quantity and quality of topsoil
- Restore local biodiversity
- Improve watershed function
Through these three actions, we can not only restore the water cycle, but also draw down huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. According to a white paper from the Rodale Institute that was published in 2014, a global switch to inexpensive regenerative farming practices like composting and agroforestry could sequester more than 100% of the world’s current annual CO2 emissions!
Restorative Agriculture Put into Practice
While a concept in its own right, restorative agriculture overlaps in large part with permaculture and organic farming practices. For busy growers with limited time to spare, this overlap in practice makes it easy to find a place to start. Consider trying one of the following techniques to increase your yields while improving your land.
Composting your organic agricultural waste and food scraps is one of the simplest ways to create humus-rich organic matter and rebuild your topsoil while sequestering carbon. It also keeps this waste out of landfills where the scraps actually add to greenhouse gas emissions!
For an easy, no-fuss composting system, consider running your tree prunings through a mulcher and spreading the chips around your trees, vines, and annual crops to increase water retention and protect your beneficial soil bacteria. You can then layer your mulch and other organic waste products on top of the soil to nourish the plants and build new topsoil. Simply alternate green and brown layers for a balanced culture:
- Green layer — fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen, animal manure, fresh grass clippings
- Brown layer — shredded newspaper, ripped up egg cartons, dry grass or straw, dried and mulched prunings and woodchips
Biochar is one of the less familiar techniques used in restorative agriculture that helps to make compost more effective. Biochar is made by burning dry wood and pruned branches slowly in a dug-out pit or garden bed and then covering it with plant matter so that the charcoal smolders until the fire is eventually ready to be put out.
Growers have achieved outstanding results when applying biochar to their crops, finding that the porous charcoal extends the life of their compost and the activity of other organic fertilizers.
Integrated Animal Rotation
Sometimes, embracing restorative agriculture involves stepping outside of conventional growing divisions. When the focus moves from what you produce to the health of the soil and the creation of closed-loop cycles, the range of what is possible begins to open up.
For example, one grower might define himself or herself as a citrus grower, another as a berry farmer, another as a vineyard owner, and so on. These roles are kept quite separate from those who work with poultry, pork, and other animals. However, introducing animals (even small ones) into your growing system can be central to regenerative farming practices when those animals are rotated and grazed selectively.
In a restorative agriculture system, pigs can be utilized to convert food scraps into compostable manure and prepare fallow land for sowing annual crops like tomatoes, lettuce, celery, and peppers.
- Chickens and Ducks
In an orchard or vineyard, chickens and ducks are indispensable for cleaning up the fallen fruit while controlling slugs and pruning the lower branches. Chickens have even been known to climb up grapevines to clear the last of the inedible grapes!
Orchard growers will know how essential bees are for pollination. Adding two to four hives per acre can boost the local bee population and significantly increase the yield from your fruit and nut trees.
Enjoy the Benefits without A long-Term Commitment
For some producers, including animals in a food-growing system might seem like an exciting proposition. For others, it might seem like more trouble than it’s worth. To make restorative agriculture as easy on yourself as possible, consider getting to know your local beekeeper, poultry farmer, pig farmer, and so on, and offer to provide some temporary foraging grounds for some of their animals. The farmers should be delighted to have access to some free-range space and it allows you to try out the idea without making a permanent commitment.
Join the Fruit Growers Supply Family
No matter what area of food production you work in or what your current approach to land management is, Fruit Growers Supply Company is here to support you with niche, high-quality farming and gardening tools, free site visits, solar irrigation systems, and recyclable corrugated fibreboard packaging. We go above and beyond to demonstrate our commitment to restorative agriculture with our SGI-certified timberland forests.