Fertility and soil amendments
We use a few different fertilizers at Fat Chance.. Our main fertilizer are organic worm castings from Gro4 (Although Josh has dreams to produce all of our worm castings on site one day). This is applied before planting/seeding for most crops. We apply fish hydrolysate (Organic Gem, Big Blue) a liquid fertilizer made from bottom-feeding fish that are high in trace minerals. We apply this (mixed with plenty of water) to our seedlings during transplant and occasionally through our irrigation to the heavy feeders (strawberries, tomatoes, peppers). It is a very potent fertilizer that helps our plants to thrive.
We also grow a lot of cover crops which we plant, grow, but then work back into the soil as "green manure" rather than harvest. Some of our favourites are: buckwheat, rye, oats and peas. Cover crops not only add fertility to the soil but they can suppress weeds, manage pests, break up soil compaction and the list goes on!
Pest and Disease management
Our pest and disease control is managed through biodiversity at the farm; by having many different varieties of plants growing together we are less vulnerable to pest and disease problems. If and when a certain insect population gets out of control, we go into the affected area and remove the insects by hand, sometimes spending several hours over several consecutive days squashing and picking bugs until the population is small enough that it no longer affects the plants.
Irrigation and weeds
We keep a rather large water tank that is trickle filled on site with a drip and spray irrigation system plumbed in. Drip irrigation is very efficient and inexpensive as it uses very little water, applying water directly to the base of the plants, and requires minimal pressure to operate to a satisfactory level. When our plants are in the early stages of growth, in the absence of rain, we use small spray emitters to keep the soil and seeds/seedlings moist. After being very dependent on rain water for the first few years we know there is no guarantee and so you better have a back up plan. Now we always irrigate after planting and if it rains, bonus!
We have four types of weed control at Fat Chance Farmstead. The first two are mulches: organic straw, and ‘ground cover’ (see photo on the left). Both are laid directly on the soil, acting as a barrier to weeds with the added benefits of warming the soil to promote growth, and retaining moisture underneath. The ‘ground cover’ is not what you often see on farms as most use a single use plastic film. Ground cover is a bit harder to work with and more expensive, the real benefit though is that it can be reused for unto 20 years! Our third and most popular form of weed management is manual removal, either by hand with one of our many weeding tools or with the tractor. As farmers continue to use herbicides to kill off unwanted weeds, those weeds slowly adapt to the chemicals requiring more potent and different concoctions. Luckily, weeds have yet found a way to ‘adapt’ to steel cultivating equipment. Anytime you’d like to see weeding in action you are welcome to come out and help! Our fourth method is a much more laid back approach in which we accept some of the weeds that are there. You’ll never get them all, and there will always be more.
All of our seeds are purchased from High Mowing, Johnnys, William Dam, and Seed Savers Exchange. As an organic farm, it is required to source organic seed whenever possible to encourage the growth and well roundedness of the entire organic farming sector. We take this very seriously and want to put our money where our mouth is. That's why 95% of the seeds we buy each year are certified organic.
We are always trying to save as much of our own seed as possible without compromising quality. We currently save seed for tomatoes, potatoes and garlic. This allows us to be more self-sufficient while beginning to adapt the varieties that we grow to our region.