Last Saturday in the frosty hours of the morning we did our annual spreading of humus and minerals on the fields to promote soil health and fertility. This is a special blend created by Lancaster based Penn Valley Farms, and is brought to us by a small truck that has a spreading reach of more than 30 feet and can spread on 4.5 acres in just under an hour! It is important that the ground is very frozen during spreading because frozen soil is stronger than cement and can bear the weight of the truck without causing soil compaction. Last Saturday’s 10 degree morning provided perfect timing.
The spreading blend has a few key ingredients. The main ingredient is humus, which is similar to compost but is in a more stable and broken down form that promotes long-lasting soil health and provides stability and structure to the soil. Combined with gypsum, an organic calcium source, the humus helps to draw nutrients into solution and make them more available for the plants we will grow this upcoming season.
One of the other ingredients in the blend, and perhaps my favorite for it’s importance in growing, is kelp (seaweed) flakes! These are a superb source of potassium, a mineral that is very important for fruiting crops especially potatoes. Using seaweed as an amendment for growing vegetables is a longstanding practice that continues to be used in coastal areas around the world. Recently I have been watching a show following Gaelic speaking farmers on the coast of Ireland. Before planting their crops, especially the renowned potato, these farmers head to the shore line to collect ‘feamainn’ (the Gaelic word for seaweed pronounced ‘fah-min’). They then spread the seaweed pieces directly on ridges of soil before planting potatoes (prataí prounounced ‘prah-tee’). Throughout the season the seaweed will break down and provide key nutrients to the growing tubers. Steph and I had a similar experience when we worked at a small farm on the coastline of Massachusetts. While there we were taught to spread seaweed around our plants and would collect it at a nearby beach where there was an abundance of seaweed that had washed up on recent tides.
Although here at Pennypack we do not have a local shoreline where we can collect seaweed ourselves, thankfully kelp flakes are a widely available amendment and we will use them not only in our early season spreading but throughout the year in our organic fertilizer. On Saturday as the truck spread the humus blend over the fields it smelled like a perfect blend of soil and ocean, as you can actually catch the seashore aroma of the seaweed. Below is a picture of the humus/seaweed blend being spread over our future potato fields. With the help of good weather and timing, let’s hope for another year of ‘scata prataí ‘, which means ‘a whole lot of potatoes’!