Oct 23, 2010

Our Adventures in Biological Farming

Micheal Ottone explaining his brew methods

“Sustainable” and “Organic” have become popular words to throw around these days as people become more conscientious about how and where they spend their money. At El Arish Tropical Exotics we believe “Sustainable” is a lot more than a trendy word. We are committed to sustainability in our own lives and how we operate our nursery.

The packing materials we use are either recycled or biodegradable. Our shredded newspaper is sourced from Endeavour Foundation, our boxes are recycled, and our bags are biodegradable.  Our plants are all soaked in a tri kelp solution before packing. Our irrigation system is 100% gravity fed water from The World Heritage Rainforest adjacent to our property. It’s “living” water with a high concentration of positive ions that contribute to the health and vigour of our plants. We amend our soil with mulch and by-products of our local agricultural industries and prefer to use organic fertilizers to conventional chemical ferts.

Last year we took our commitment further and became distributors of Nutritech products so we could bring the same ferts and tonics we use on our own farm to our clients. In Nov 09 I attended a Biological Farming course at Nutritech headquarters. The course was an intensive look at mineral management, soil management, pest management and plant management. Biological Farming is based on understanding the natural processes that take place in the soil. If our soil is unbalanced and contains an excess of any elements it can prevent uptake of nutrients and lead to deficiencies of other elements as the nutrients are unavailable to the plants. By balancing our soil and increasing microbial mass we can improve our soils natural fertility and a plants ability to utilize nutrients.

Biological Farming is not Organic Farming, it combines the best of conventional and natural farming. The approach is very scientific with an emphasis on balancing soil, building soil carbon and increasing beneficial microbes in the soil rather than feeding the plant with an NPK blend.

Ray O'Grady
Although we had always relied on mulch and amending the soil the course gave me a deeper understanding of soil microbiology and chemistry. It was the catalyst for us to move away from conventional farming and fertilizers. Our plants have never looked better, our root systems are stronger and our cut flowers have a longer vase life.

Last week I attended another Biological Farming course given by Ray O’Grady from O’Grady Rural. The emphasis of this workshop was building soil carbon via compost teas, biochar and microbial brews. I enjoyed the course and learned an immense amount about fungi, biochar and the interaction between plant roots and microbes. Our field trip was to the properties of Ottone & Sons pineapple and cane farmers in Bilyana. It was great to attend a workshop with other local farmers and inspirational to see the work Mike and his brother Peter have done on their family farm. The fact that so many of their neighbours attended the workshop was a testament to how successful they had been incorporating microbe brews and compost teas on their farms.
Fungi brewing!

Michael’s enthusiasm was infectious. He explained in great detail his own trials and adventures and what they had learned from it. The information was invaluable and thank you Micheal and Peter so much for your generosity of spirit and sharing so much great information with us.

If you are thinking “well this is all great but I’m not a farmer, this doesn’t apply to me” you’re wrong!!! Soil is soil wether it is in a garden bed or in a farm paddock. If you can build your  soil carbon, mulch and rely on microbes to unlock nutrients already in your soil you’ll have a happier, healthier garden with better colour, better flowering and better ability to cope with stress; Often for far less money than by conventional methods.

Homemade Biochar with fungi growing
Michael examining brew microbes

Healthy root system thanks to compost teas
If you would like to learn more please explore the links below.
I’ve also included a photo of the newest member of our family Ginger. Talk about a small world!!! Ginger’s mum and dad are owned by Glenn Hughes a grazier who also attended the course. While talking about Red Heelers we discovered our Ginger was his pup. So if you ever read this Glenn here a photo of your little gal. I can honestly say she couldn’t have found a home where she was loved more. Thank you for Ginger. And thank you Ray and Moya O’Grady all the participants for making it such an inspiring workshop.
Happiness for a nine year old is a Red Heeler Pup!

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