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Soil Fertility Field Day

Talking Soil Fertility

CRAFT Soil Fertility Field Day at Sandhill Family Farms and Radical Root Farm 

It was a beautiful day to talk about soil fertility on Tuesday, August 11, at Sandhill Family Farms in Grayslake and Radical Root Farm in Libertyville, IL. About twenty people were in attendance, and they heard about Sandhill’s fertility program from Jeff Miller before enjoying a potluck lunch and moving on to Radical Root. According to Jeff Miller, the soils at Sandhill’s farm in Grayslake are fairly high in organic matter, currently ranging from seven to nine percent and gradually increasing from year to year. Their main fertility challenge has been a slow decrease in nitrogen, a key plant nutrient and component of overall soil health. They are addressing this primarily through the use of composted cow manure, municipal leaves, and food scraps from the local community.  Additionally, they are using a diverse mix of cover crops on about a third of their fields, including sudangrass, sunflowers, oats, peas, and more. By the end of the season these fields will be mowed, turned under, and sowed with another cover crop of rye and vetch for the winter.

Down the road at Radical Root Farm in Libertyville, Alex Needham described the soil situation there and their strategies for growing healthy crops. Radical Root also uses compost and cover crops, but they also employ some additional methods to get good yields from their land, which they have only been working for one and a half years. One of these methods involves rotating their several hundred free-range laying hens around the farm. The hens are raised on fields not currently in vegetable production, and they spend their winters in hoophouses, where they fertilize the soil for future crops. Radical Root also uses specific, targeted applications of nutrients and minerals to prevent known problems in certain crops. For example, they use gypsum as a source of calcium to prevent blossom end rot in their tomatoes.

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