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Growing Healthy, Hungry Soils

Over twenty CRAFT members took a break from their fall cleanup chores to enjoy a wonderful potluck lunch and learn about soil fertility at Tipi Produce outside of Evansville, WI, on Tuesday, October 7th.  Tipi is situated on seventy-six acres with over forty-five acres in organic vegetables, sold wholesale through area grocery stores and directly through a five hundred member CSA.  Beth Kazmar and Steve Pincus started farming this land in 2001, and have since employed their decades of combined farming experience and horticulture and plant pathology educations to build up their farm’s soils from an inert sandy substrate to a living breathing carrot-growing ecosystem.

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On the farm tour, Steve described how they used great quantities of compost as well as cover cropping (mostly rye/vetch, some oats/clover) to build up the humus content and biological activity of the soils over the first several years, increasing what he calls the “digestive capacity” of the soils to a healthy level.  Tipi’s soils now regularly “chew” up composted chicken manure pellets, soymeal, calcium and trace mineral mixes from Midwestern BioAg, and either Tipi’s usual cover crops or leaf mulch from the nearby municipality (especially maple leaves for their high nitrogen and low tannin contents).  Steve discussed the value of the USDA’s Web Soil Survey tool for learning more about one’s (or one’s neighbor’s) soils, and he described how Tipi’s fields are divided into 50-foot wide sections so that many applications can be performed from alongside the fields, minimizing compaction of important pore space by heavy equipment.  During the tour, CRAFT members enjoyed lively discussions of topics ranging from crop rotation to fertilizer injection, and the afternoon was topped off with a demonstration of Tipi’s state-of-the-art 1950’s carrot harvester.

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