Preparing the VG farm for winter – plus, seasonal tips for your garden!
It’s early winter here in southern Ontario and there’s a lot going on at the VG family farms. Right now, as our retail teams in Simcoe and Stoney Creek are busy preparing for the holiday season, our farmers are hard at work preparing for the cold season. This means moving cattle to new fields and prepping the land for winter, among other things. Today, we’re going to talk about why we move cattle like we do, what we’re doing to regenerate the soil on our farms and how you can use this information to improve your own garden at home.
Regenerative farming at work
The reason our team is always busy moving cattle around this time of year is because we’re relocating them to a space where they can graze on the cover crops grown on our nieghbour’s cash crop fields. Cover crops are multiple species of plants like clover, grasses, and forbs that are planted to cover soil (as opposed to cash crops that are harvested, like wheat or vegetables). The reason we do this is to increase the diversity of organic matter in the soil while establishing a root system that increases water retention and filtration and protects the bare ground from rainfall through the dormant winter and spring season.
Basically, planting cover crops protects the soil in a natural, effective way. And, it creates an added bonus — when the time is right, we move cattle into these fields to graze on the nutrient-rich crops. This means an additional four months of grazing after the lush summer grasses are gone! Plus, the cattle are known to leave fertilizer behind wherever they go (yes, the kind you’re thinking of). This prepares the land for yet another cycle of cash crops. This method also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and purchased feeds. It’s a beautiful, symbiotic relationship that’s low waste, cost effective and ideal for both the cattle and the land. It also keeps the soil from being eroded by the winter and spring rains.
This is all a part of our regenerative farming approach, which we’ve discussed in previous blogs (oldest VG brother Cory is certified as an Accredited Professional by the Savory Institute in Colorado). If we didn’t grow cover crops, we’d run the risk of having soil erosion that pollutes the fresh waterways on the farm. When there is excessive water runoff from agricultural fields, you end up with material from the soil that simply shouldn’t be in water (especially water we drink or bathe in). If you see eutrophication/algal blooms in freshwater bodies like Hamilton Harbour, Lake Erie or Cootes Paradise, that’s often the result of improperly managed agriculture. This process deoxygenates the water, which can harm fish and other aquatic life. Cover crops not only feed our cattle and protect our soil — they protect our water supply.
How to apply this approach at home
If you have a garden at home and are interested in taking a regenerative approach, consider covering your soil beds with fallen leaves and other organic material in late fall or early winter to avoid soil erosion. Mulch will also work — or, plant cover crops of your own, if you have the space! Other great regenerative strategies that can be easily integrated at home include using rain barrels and an organic composter, planting a variety of plants with minimal gaps in between. Don’t be too meticulous about weeds — sometimes, they’re better than bare soil. It’s also great to plant a variety of pollinators that attract bees and butterflies, and to add a bat box to your yard instead of using chemicals to get rid of unwanted insects.
Regenerative agriculture is so important to us, and this is just one small element of how it’s implemented on the farm. Thanks for reading, and please let us know if you have any questions! We’d be happy to hear from you by email or on Facebook.