We’re always learning something new on the farm. Sometimes I get discouraged because I usually learn things the hard way. But my husband? Houston has such a great attitude about learning new things. It’s one of the things I love about him. He’s always gathering information. He’s been a voracious reader and researcher as long as I’ve known him.
Those habits have continued since buying our farm. Neither of us have ever farmed, so almost everything is new. Houston watches YouTube videos, reads books and connects with experts, finding out how to improve farming practices on the property.
One expert, our friend David, who’s a horticulturalist, recommended sending off a soil sample to Texas A&M for analysis. It turned out our property has a high concentration of clay and sand, which is great for growing peach trees, pomegranates and figs. For other crops we would have to amend the soil by bringing in topsoil to supply necessary nutrients.
Our daughter Emilie did just that when she was helping us the first few years we owned the farm. In the past two years we’ve focused mainly on hydroponics for growing produce.
Over the past year, Houston has begun learning about a practice called “Restorative Agriculture.” Basically, you determine what types of nutrients the soil is lacking and grow “cover crops” specifically to add those nutrients back into the soil. These crops aren’t for human consumption - just for the soil. So, after the first frost of 2021, Houston planted winter rye in a section of the property where we eventually want to grow produce. Rye is known to help increase the level of nitrogen in soil. This past week Houston planted cowpeas, another cover crop that will help produce more nitrogen. Instead of bringing in the nutrients our soil needs, we’re growing them here. Once it’s time to plant crops for human consumption, we’ll rotate crops regularly to maintain good soil health.
Allowing our animals to interact with this process is known as “permaculture.” For example, once the cowpeas are at a certain maturity, we’ll introduce the livestock. They’ll graze, poop and grind the nutrients back into the soil as they move along. It’s the full life cycle, a true symbiotic relationship.
As we’re able to plant directly into our soil, we want to practice “companion planting,” a school of thought that teaches growing certain plants close to others may allow them both to flourish, by keeping pests away and promoting
There’s so much to learn that at times it can seem overwhelming - to me, anyway. These days, though, Houston is taking it in stride. Sure, he worried that some of the cover crop seed would wash away in Monday’s downpour. And some did. But you know what? A lot of those cowpeas have sprouted, creating a field of bright green near the entrance of our property. It’s a reminder that we’re doing something right!
This piece first appeared in Sherry’s column, Finding Myself in a Small Town, in the August 20, 2022 edition of the Corsicana Daily Sun.