Ripple Farm Organics and Regenerative Agriculture
Regenerative agriculture is the being hailed as the best way to produce food, whilst at the same time improving the soil for future crops, increasing biodiversity and sequestering carbon. Whilst the term is relatively new, most of the principles and aims are very similar those of organic farming, agroecology and sustainable farming.
Most of the articles we have read about regenerative agriculture refer to conventional (non-organic) livestock and arable farming and we think it’s great that more and more conventional farmers are following some of the principals of organic farming.
There is not an absolute definition of regenerative agriculture, or a UK certification scheme but we will look at the main principles being mentioned as ‘regenerative’ and explain how these relate to how we grow vegetables at Ripple Farm Organics.
Keeping the soil covered – we grow green manure leys for 2 years out of 3, these include clovers, vetch, rye, mustard, and buckwheat depending on the particular soil needs. The deep-rooting rye and brings nutrients up to the surface, while the clovers will fix nitrogen from the air. Once established these are mowed before they set seed, which adds organic matter to the ground and allows the ley to regrow, sequestering more carbon and producing more organic matter. During this 2 year period the soil is protected from soil erosion, nitrogen and nutrients are added to the soil from the green manure plants and carbon is sequestered.
During the one year of vegetable cropping our soils are rarely bare, as once the crop is established we are happy to allow an under-storey of weeds, which protect the soil and provide food for seed eating insects and birds, as well as cover for small mammals.
Composting We spread composted horse manure and composted vegetable waste on our fields before ploughing up the green manure leys and working the ground for vegetable production. We also spread pellets made from organic chicken manure onto the ground before establishing the green manure leys.
Plant diversity We grow a wide range of different vegetables and despite our best efforts at weed control there is always a wide variety of weeds/wild flowers growing within cropped areas and in margins and field corners. Crops are rotated around the fields, so that any one crop is not grown on the same ground for more than 1 out of 3 years.
Grazing Our fields are sometimes grazed by neighbouring farmer’s sheep and we recognise that ideally we would have more regular, managed grazing to replace the mowing of the green manures, thereby reducing fuel usage and adding different nutrients to the soil.
Smart irrigation We practice smart irrigation by default as we do not have any reservoirs on the land we rent, so we have to time our cultivations to maintain soil moisture. We use minimal amounts of water to irrigate newly planted/seeds crops when necessary, using drip tape and after that our field crops are rain-fed. We grow all of our own vegetable plants and collect rainwater to fulfil some of our watering needs for growing these transplants. In a dry year, we would benefit from better access to water to improve yields and quality but with 3 rented sites this isn’t an option for us.
Agroforestry There are mixed hedges surrounding most of our field edges, and we have added significant lengths of hedge as well as gapping up existing ones as well as allowing most hedges to widen with natural regeneration. See more about trees and hedges on the land we rent here.
Reduced or no-till This is the most difficult one for a mixed, organic horticulture farm. Most discussions of reduced or no-till on a field scale refer to establishing arable crops and rely on the use of herbicides (chemical weedkillers) to control weeds.
We grow a wide variety of horticultural crops and do not use herbicides so have to plough the ground to kill off the green manure crops, before cultivating to create a seed bed for direct-drilling or ground suitable for transplanting into. Most vegetable crops do not grow fast enough to compete with weeds, grasses etc so need clear ground to get established. And some crops, such as potatoes, carrots and parsnips benefit from ground cultivated to depth.
When we’ve occasionally not ploughed a small area that hasn’t had a green manure in for some reason, we’ve had to increase the cultivations and have a heavier than usual weed burden.
No-till (no dig) works very well on a garden/allotment/community garden scale, especially with raised or permanent beds.
And on a field scale, machinery is being trialled which will clear a small row within a permanent grass/clover ley and plant vegetable crops direct into this row but this is very much in the research phase.
A few links with more info below