The deeper we get into the evolution of our farm, our business and our community, the more we appreciate the interdependence of plants, animals, and insects. Diversity is crucial. Endless loops of outputs becoming inputs becoming outputs.
We grow olives and we make olive oil. And to do that one thing well, we also cultivate hundreds of other plants and animals. We promote healthy bee and other insect populations. We make homes for owls. We work to foster robust microbial and fungal systems. We build ponds and create aquatic ecosystems. And we have animals grazing in our olive groves.
For us, the difference has been quite noticeable, with productivity of the olive trees improving quickly with the presence of grazing and foraging animals. In our case we have been using goats, sheep, cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, geese, and water buffalo. : )
The biggest benefit of course is soil building. If you look at the ground where the pigs have been roaming, as compared to the area outside their fence, and it's night and day. Likewise with the areas that the goats and cows have grazed. Their hooves grind the leaves and twigs into the topsoil, while adding manure, eating weeds, and cleaning up any fallen olives.
Another benefit is no kitchen waste or yard waste. Everything that used to be a waste leftover becomes an input for another system of soil fertility and life in the ecosystem. In our case that can include olives we have to dump because of fruit fly damage, or the annual cutback of aquatic plants from the ponds. With a variety of animals, there is always someone that it's a great food source for.
These cows are turning long rows of freshly cut olive branches into a big dose of fertilizer for our groves. The benefits for the overall system are plentiful when we have these crops and animals working together. We’re already seeing fresh growth and even new buds on the trees we cut two weeks ago, showing how quickly a result one can get from the simultaneous pruning and fertilizing.
Beyond the manure is the urine, rich in nitrogen. A common bulk fertilizer many farmers use is urea, but straight from the cow is better quality. : ) There’s also the clearing of weeds and suckers, their hooves gently working the soil, and a symphony of microbial and fungal life ensuing. All this, and you get the joy and companionship of having farm animals around. : )