Organic Gardens/compost and depletion of paddock
Establishing about 15 3x1 and half metre organic garden beds. WE have a (1 acre paddock also) where we hope to put sheep but in the last year just let the grass grow.WE cut it and made hay and sold it to the neighbor. Also grazed his cattle on it for a week. I took a lot of manure for the vegetable garden. Someone said that we were taking energy out of the system by doing the above, especially selling off the hay but also using the manure for the vegetable gardens (thus depleting the paddock). How could we have managed the situation in a more more sustainable way not depleting the paddock but also obtaining some compost material for the vegetable garden. What can we do now?Do we have to put something back on the paddock? Thanks for any comments on this
Excellent question, with a very simple answer, although this is my opinion and others might disagree.
The beautiful thing about organic farming is that it is a slow, gentle process that takes years to significantly impact when one does something "wrong." One season, even two seasons of this practice is not going to have any noticeable effect. Remember, these systems take years to build, and they are not easily damaged. It would be one thing if you were to say that you plowed and dumped Nitrogen fertilizer on your plot, but it is entirely something else that you have not damaged the soil foodweb. Plus you are not even using this plot for any kind of intensive farming. I would not worry about this.
Depletion of course is always a concern, and your neighbor is wise to point out that you should consider it. But factually speaking, although you have removed plant material that was created entirely out of the nutrients in the soil you grew it in and the manure of grazing sheep and cattle -- normally part of the nitrogen cycle -- were also removed, microbes still work slowly and you have a lot of that in the bank, so to speak.
What you might keep in mind in the coming months -- and I do not know where you are, so this may or may not be a problem -- is that Protozoa absolutely depend on moisture to survive, and you can accelerate recovery from any damage by keeping these microbes content. They play a crucial role in the soil food web. But they go dormant at the first drought. Not only do protozoa push up all microbial density, but they produce carbon, NH4 (ammonium) and other nutritional compounds. Because fungi and bacteria are drawn by plant exudates in your soil's rhizosphere, it is good to keep a cover crop available to them.
Manure is of course an excellent material for your purposes. To assuage your concerns, you might look to a treatment of compost tea this summer. Depletion is not a worry unless you remove season after season the same nutrients by not changing the plantings. If you have access to alfalfa meal, straw or grass clippings you'll energize the bacteria for spring. If you plan to grow a crop that depends on Nitrates, a solid population of protozoa and nematodes are important, and easy to build in your situation.
Should you be concerned about the amount of Phosphorus in your soil? Have you looked into a soil test?