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FARM WORK

OBTAINING FERTILE SOIL

How much do we know about soil, are we aware of its importance?

  • Eart land mass is 13 billion hectares. Only 1.4 billion hectares of this is suitable for agriculture.
  • In last 150 years, we lost half of the top soils. Reasons: erosion, extensive industrial farming, pollution, accumulation of salinity, climate change, drought...
  • Also due to industrial mono farming 60% of agricultural land is either polluted, weakened or dead.
  • In last 50 years most of our food is being produced by industrial farming. E.g. in the U.S.A. more than 70% of food comes from industrial farming.

Industrial farming does not value the life diversity of soils. More important for them is 'excess of production' at all costs. BUT:

  • Artificial fertilizers, chemical pesticides, continuous tillage system destroy soil's balance, diversity.
  • Production of such fertilizers, pesticides, use of agriculture machinery require immense amounts of fossil fuels and are a major cause (24%) of climate change.
  • Artificial fertilizers quickly dissolve under water, reach underground water resources, rivers, lakes and pollute them; destroying the natural balance, ecosystems. This is why fish in rivers and lakes are found dead in huge numbers all around the world.
  • Industrial farming requires lots of water. In water scarce regions underground water in pumped to the surface to meet the demand. Underground water is being depleted at unsustainable levels in many parts of the world.
  • Salt from underground water accumulates in top soils as people continue watering their crops with underground water. In time salt accumulates to such levels in soil that agriculture becomes impossible - that land becomes desert.
  • Continuous industrial farming weakens the soils and farmers are forced to use more and more fertilizers, pesticides. This is not sustainable.
  • These days soilless agriculture is becoming the norm. Then say 'We do not need soil any more, we can grow better products in liquid solutions with necessary food for plants.' But such food:
    • lack most nutrients, minerals, thus are poor in nutrition.
    • Most of them have pesticide residues with cancer causing materials.

Soil is a non-renewable natural resource and we are losing it exponentially. Some scientists inform that humanity does not have much time left (12-17 years) before industrial farming collapses and can not sustain the human race any more.

The solution is protecting the 'living, diverse, fertile' soils, regenerating the degraded soils and also producing new soils. Here are our efforts on soil regeneration at Belentepe Farm.

In the Beginning:

Toprak iyileştirme

Above photo taken in 1999 shows the land when we initially bought it. For many years the villagers planted grains here and depleted soil's fertility. Typical to this region, the top soil depth is max. 40-50 cm, thus not very deep and underneath this is easily breakable soft rock formations which do not hold water. Top soil can not hold much water and during hot summers, the soil dries up. Also the region is prone to hot summer winds and cold winter, northly winds.

You may ask: why buy such a tough piece of land?

Well, back then we did not know about permaculture. The area's natural beauty, clean air, the view were the factors in our decision. But then after many years of problems, we finally realized that we needed a solution if we wanted to do something with the land and our research lead us to 'permaculture' (you can read about this part of our story.)

After the permaculture training, we finally had a road map on what and how to do. One of our initial efforts would be to regenerate the soil.

 

This is the same area in 2014:

zoomable
Click on the photos below.
Belentepe Toprak İyileştirme Yöntemleri Belentepe Toprak İyileştirme Yöntemleri Belentepe Toprak İyileştirme Yöntemleri Belentepe Toprak İyileştirme Yöntemleri Belentepe Toprak İyileştirme Yöntemleri


As seen in above photos, most of the land is covered with a grape vineyard and some fruit trees. Since we had planted the grapes before permaculture, we later on introduced swales, forest trees and ponds in the land.

To regenerate the soil, we use these methods, activities:

  • Holding as much as rainwater in the land
  • no use of artificial fertilizers or chemical pesticides
  • Mulching – as ground cover
  • Compost
  • Worm farms
  • Legume ground covers (clover, alfalfa, vetch …)
  • EM liquid fertilizers, compost tea
  • Plant diversity (plant sisterhood, guilding, etc.)
  • Fungi (mychorriza...)

 

Initial Work: Swales, Hügelkultur


November 2011:

Initially, on sloping land we created swales to stop rainwater running off the land. We excavated terraces on contour, then dug holes and filled them with wood from nearby forest. Then we covered this with excavated soil forming a swale.

On the swale we put earth minerals (dolomite, calcite, etc.), compost and then spread our seed mixture (legume grass seeds, salad green seeds, mustard, phacelia, wormwood, etc.)



The seeds grew up on the swales. Legume plants naturally fertilize the soil. When they grow and start flowering, we cut them down and lay them on the ground as ground cover; thus protecting the soil from the summer sun, helping soil hold moisture and also suppressing the unwanted weeds. This increases the organic matter in the soil which further increases the soil's water holding capacity. By doing so, within 4-6 years you can generate a very fertile top soil.

Diversity:
legume plants, mustard, beans, salad greens and various other greens together...

Belentepe hendek Çalışması

Swale construction among the vineyard:

Hendek

The swales in between the vineyard create an 'edge effect' helping diversify the plant & insect species and also is the location of food forest. The swales help hold more water in the soil, increase soil's fertility and all these also benefit the vineyard.

In permaculture the soil is not tilled. Tilling causes soil to lose water faster, disturbs the natural balance of soil thus reducing fertility. If not tilled, there will always be weeds in the soil. We can choose what plants, weeds will take hold in the soil and create multiple benefits. Instead of harmful and invasive weeds, we design multi beneficial plants to increase the fertility.

In the beginning, to prepare the soil for accepting new seeds, the soil can be tilled once. Right after tilling the seed mixture is thrown on the soil. This mixture includes vetch, various types of clover, alfalfa, phacelia, mustard, etc. When these plants start growing, they suppress the other unwanted weeds. When the plants grow to waist height and flower, they are cut and laid down on the soil. At that moment these benefits occur:

  • Legume plant roots get smaller, release 'nitrogen' in the soil, thus naturally fertilizing it. And at the same time, aerating the soil.
  • Cut grass cover the ground, protecting soil from the sun, heat and help retain the soil moisture.
  • Soil's organic matter ratio increases and this then helps soil retain more water.
  • New top soil is created.
  • The soil regenerates and becomes fertile!
hendek

On top left legumes: red clover, vetch trefoil, .... On top right: vineyard soil is covered with legume plants.
hendek

Plants slashed and laid down on soil. Ground cover protects the soil and new top soil is generated.

Hendek

Mulch is the essential item to protect and regenerate the soil. Some mulches we use:

  • mulched tree branches,
  • straw,
  • sawdust,
  • slashed grasses

Benefits of mulch:

  • Ground cover - protects soil from sun rays during summer and from freezing during winters. Helps retain soil moisture.
  • Suppresses weeds.
  • On pathways, roads against mud.
  • Mixed in soil to increase organic content.
  • If piled up and covered with nylon/leaves, etc. then after 4-5 months, it turns into 'turf' which is used as a plant growing medium.
  • Is an essential ingredient in compost making.

Compost contains all essential nutrients, minerals that a healthy soil needs. Thus making compost is giving back to the soil. Compost uses nature's natural decomposition method.


Kompost

At Belentepe we continuously make compost because it is never enough. Cut grass, dried leaves, mulched branches, organic left overs from the kitchen get mixed up with fresh animal manure to form compost.

We also introduce 'california red worms' to the heart of compost pile. The worms help transform materials into soil.


Liquid EM Fertilizers:

Sıvı Gübre -  E/M Gübre

Soil is alive. Vast number of live species abound the soil. Some bacteria and fungus species play a crucial role in soil fertility. We produce beneficial bacteria for the soil - both aerobic and anaerobic. We keep track of the bacteria under the microscope.

We also use mycorrhiza fungi - these help plant roots develop better and help plants get nutrients from soil more easily. Thus our plants grow bigger, faster and are more resistant to problems, sicknesses.

If your soil is alive and has a wide diversity of living matter then produce from that soil are healthy, nutritious and plentiful. Also plants grown in such medium are more resistant to sicknesses, stresses.

While excavating soil for ponds or underground water cisterns, we seperate the top soil to use somewhere else in the garden for growing plants. The rest of soil is sifted - they are used in natural building materials. The pebbles, rocks are laid on pathways. Thus everything gets recycled, used...


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