at Peace Hill Farm
The fields at Peace Hill have been farmed for centuries. While the farm has always been run sustainably, for the last few years, owner Susan Wise Bauer and farm manager Eric Garcia have been working to institute the principles of regenerative agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture aims not just to maintain the land, but to improve it by continually returning vital nutrients to the soil. Instead of monoculture (one crop, such as corn, planted at a time), we aim to plant mixed crops (so, a cover crop of red clover mixed with the corn). Instead of fertilizers and pesticides, we are working to plant crops that can be tilled back into the land, and making use of non-chemical solutions such as compost tea. Rotating mixed groups of livestock (cows, sheep, pigs, poultry) through the fields adds nutrients from manure and improves the soil balance.
In 2023, we’re beginning our biggest experiment yet—taking our two largest fields (around the Bed & Breakfast) back from the farmers who’ve been keeping them open for us by planting them with traditional monoculture crops. For a small farm like ours, farming acreage of this size is a real challenge—but we’re finally ready to give it a try! We’re planning a combination of mixed grazing, pollinating wildflower combinations, and cover crops along with corn and sunflowers. We’re also hoping to establish some traditional hedgerows to divide the fields into grazing paddocks—those will incorporate fruit and nut trees as well as brush plants.
This will be a challenge! Traditional monoculture only farms the top couple of inches of soil, and relies heavily on chemicals, so we have a lot of work to do to restore soil health. And we expect to have a few missteps and failures as we learn. (If you visit, you might be able to see them!) But we’ll keep you posted about our progress on this page, as well as on our Facebook and Instagram accounts.
(from most recent to oldest, read down!)
August 11, 2023. Time for another update on our farmland experiments!
We're sad to report that the sunflowers didn't make it this year. We've got a new strategy and a new planting schedule for next year, but this year was just a bit of a perfect storm: trouble getting the seed in time, a no-till strategy that we'll be adjusting next year to give the sunflowers a better head start over the cover crop, and an unseasonable dry spell right after we put them in.
What ARE flourishing--the wildflowers! We've sown a whole array of wildflowers that all have something different and valuable to add to the soil and to the bees and butterflies. We're looking forward to getting our wildflowers thoroughly established so that they come back thicker and better every year.
We appreciate our fans following us along through this experiment--and we're just sorry that the sunflowers didn't happen in 2023. But stay tuned. (And if you'd like to come pick wildflowers, send us a message!)
July 5, 2023. Regenerative agriculture update! Our corn planting experiment looks WONDERFUL after last week's much needed rain. The cover crop of clover is helping to keep the weeds down--there are still plenty of weeds out there, but the corn has gotten enough of a jump on them to overshadow them in another week or so. The corn itself looks healthy, particularly in the areas of the field where we've pastured the pigs. We'll post another update in a few weeks!
Unfortunately, our sunflower growing experiment doesn't look as if it's going to be quite as successful. Even though we had our eyes on the weather report when we planted, the seeds just didn't get enough rain to spring on up overtop of the weeds. Because we're trying to avoid spraying weedkillers, we've tried high cutting several times to give the seedlings a chance to grow--but even with the rain, they're getting up there *very* slowly. We'll post an update next week to let you know how they're going. (We will have sunflowers--we're just not sure how many!)
May 30, 2023. We're running our new subsoiler! Heavy equipment, like the sprayers, planters, and combines that have been used on our fields for the past several decades, compress the soil down. Here in Charles City County, we already have a heavy clay layer, anywhere from ten to thirty inches below the topsoil. Compressing the dirt above the clay layer means that, as time goes on, you're essentially just farming the top six inches of soil.
A subsoiler cuts down through the hard packed layers and slices channels that allow water to flow down into the clay strata and below. Subsoilers can also be overused--you do have to pull them with a tractor, which, again, compacts the soil--but we're using our smallest farm tractor to pull it.
May 19, 2023. WE HAVE SUNFLOWER SEEDLINGS!
April 19, 2023. As part of our effort to avoid as much chemical fertilizer as possible, we’re figuring out the best way to compost all the wonderful manure, straw, hay, and wood chips from our barns and stalls. Here’s the trick: Manure tends to have parasite eggs in it. If you spread it on fields that you intend to use for pasture, you run the risk of transferring those parasites right back into the animals that are grazing on it.
March 23-24, 2023. The experiment begins! We're mowing last fall's cotton fields down in preparation to break up the soil and plant our first mixed cover crops.