Nitrogen-Fixing, Biochar, & Compost Tea – Hallelujah!

This season, we implemented some new (well, actually these processes are quite old) permaculture techniques to our gardens here on Long Island. First off, in several gardens, we planted nitrogen-fixing cover crops. Nitrogen fixing plants (usually legumes, but also alphafa, clover, etc.) help re-build the soil, and the first rule of gardening is that healthy plants have everything to do with healthy soil. The cover crop helps “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere into the legume plants. Then, we turn back that cover crop into the soil, amending the soil with the nitrogen-rich material. Instead of chemical fertilizers, which easily run-off and have adverse effects on the larger ecosystem, planting a nitrogen-fixing cover crop is low-impact, low-cost, and highly effective. 

 nitrogen-fixing ...

nitrogen-fixing ...

At Punta Mona, Stephen and Itai taught us about the wonders of biochar (and Stephen recommends one enthusiastically says, “hallelujah!” every time we say the word to celebrate its wonders). Biochar (hallejuah!) is organic material that has been pyrolyszed, or has been burned with restricted oxygen. In other words, it’s organic material that’s reduced to un-burnt carbon form. These forms become homes for micro-organisms and help enrich soil structure, biodiversity, and food production. It is believed that Pre-Columbia Amazonians used biochar to sustain their civilizations for thousands of years. 

 biochar (hallelujah!) 

biochar (hallelujah!) 

And finally….compost tea. Compost tea is another highly effective, organic, and sustainable way to fertilize. We took a burlap sack and filled it with our finest compost. Then, just like a tea-bag, we placed the compost into a took a fifty-gallon barrel and let it steep. With this round, we followed Itai’s advice to “super-charge” our biochar (hallelujah!) with the compost tea by soaking the pieces in the tea. 

Sometimes it can be challenging to ascertain precisely why a garden does well in a particular year, due to an array of interconnected variables. This year we had a dry "California" summer in New York, and many of the vegetables thrived. However, we also suspect that they did so well because of the time put in at the beginning of the season with the cover crops, biochar, and compost tea. As we begin to move into fall, it's a good time to start thinking about next season and planting a cover crop to keep the nutrients flowing this winter -- remembering that there is nothing more important than doing what we can to help create healthy soil.