Beyond Biologico

In News by Sandi Villareal

With fresh faces around Spannocchia this spring, we’ve also taken a fresh approach to the farm. Yago, Carlo, Marcellino and our spring and summer intern groups have been hard at work implementing many techniques that go beyond just organic (biologico in Italian) practices to increase the garden’s productivity and biodiversity. Our goal for Spannocchia is to keep integrating all parts of the farm to minimize our waste and increase our sustainability.

One of the latest additions has been a few hundred worms, now hard at work breaking down manure from our herd of cattle, kitchen scraps, and other organic materials into a rich, nutrient-dense natural fertilizer. Worms aren’t the only critters we’ve put to work though. Building up a healthy population of microbes and beneficial bacteria in the soil is the goal, and another way we’ve accomplished that is with bokashi — a fermented organic compost fertilizer that right now is breaking down slowly to provide our summer and fall vegetable crops with a steady supply of nutrients throughout the season. On the larger (more visible) scale, we’ve also put to work our flock of laying hens. Chickens were re-introduced to Spannocchia in May, and have been enjoying an improved coop where they’re providing us with eggs of every shade, from peach to dark brown to blue, as well as our fruit orchard, where they’ve been employed as a natural, roving, weed and pest control service.

We’ve also installed a number of synergetic garden beds, where the goal is to harvest without disturbing the soil and the delicate ecosystem of bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms. Our new potato bed, for example, relies on a layer of cardboard and straw to slowly break down and release carbon into the soil, while allowing us to harvest without digging, simply by lifting up this light-blocking layer. A series of crops have been interplanted together, taking advantage of staggered harvests throughout the seasons and natural defense mechanisms. Our recently harvested fava crop, for example, is now acting as a green manure and nitrogen source for the same bed, which is also host to carrots and radishes. Our summer tomato plants are climbing upwards, but also providing much-needed shade to the fall squash and cauliflower plants located just below and between these rows. Not only does this interplanting give us more produce per square meter, but it also creates a diverse garden ecosystem much appreciated by bees, butterflies, and other migratory pollinators — not to mention those of us who get to enjoy these organic foods at Spannocchia’s nightly dinners! We hope to see you at Spannocchia soon for a garden tour and a locally sourced meal – buon appetito!