If you’ve driven past the vegetable beds on St. Bernards Road recently, you might have noticed changes to the overall garden layout which are taking place at a rapid pace.
Home Winds Farm Manager Ned Lincoln and Farm Assistant Sarah Pappan have been hard at work preparing the soil for the coming growing season, and that preparation has included digging paths along the entire width of the garden, one after the other, to increase each bed’s depth.
“Increasing the bed depth fosters better soil health,” Mr. Lincoln explained. “If the soil is healthier, then the plants are stronger. If the plants are stronger, they are better equipped to resist disease. If they can ward off disease on their own, then you don’t need to spray them with treatments as often – or at all.”
The soil taken from the paths being dug is added onto the bed, and mulch made from trees removed from the Gill St. Bernard’s campus is added into the pathways to prevent the newly elevated beds from eroding. Most homeowners are familiar with mulch in an “aesthetically pleasing” landscaping context (the GSB campus has dozens of beautifully mulched beds framing each building), but this mulch serves a much more vital purpose. It makes fungus.
“When mulch breaks down, it adds carbon to the soil,” Mr. Lincoln said. “The carbon feeds mycelium, which is essentially the root structure of mushrooms, and causes them to thrive. Mycelium, in turn, provides nutrients back to the plant through an underground communication system. They are a major factor in plant health and fitness.”
Even when mushrooms aren’t visible on the surface of the soil, their root systems are hard at work underground, creating what's called a “mycorrhizal network.” The network allows plants to connect through the soil, and amazingly, to transfer water, nitrogen, carbon, and other minerals between one another. In short, the fungus increases a plant’s efficiency to absorb water and nutrients, allowing it to survive.
“Mycelium are a critical part in soil health and, therefore, plant health,” Mr. Lincoln stated. “We still understand so little about the complexities of soil. The more we can understand and implement soil improvement methods, the better our garden production will be.”
The next time you are passing by campus, take a peek at the symmetrical rows of freshly turned earth and the fuzzy hint of green poking through the surface of the newly cultivated vegetable beds. On the surface, it appears so serene, merely a hint of growth and plants unfurling. Under the surface, however, there is a flurry of activity, of decomposition and information and nutrient exchange that is preparing our way for the delicious harvest to come.
Home Winds Farm products are for sale at the Home Winds Farmstand, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. CSA shares of Home Winds vegetables, eggs, and other goodies are also available for sale via the GSB School Store.