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253. No-Till Farming ~ Nutrient Rich Soil Health Expert| Steve Szudera | BEACH, N.D.
11th November 2018 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 00:54:08

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I’m excited to introduce Steve Szudera from North Dakota who’s going to talk to us about No-Till Farming and soil health, we talked a little bit before when he did an interview with me.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a no-till famer

Check out Steve’s website at tabletopfarmer.com

grain farm

western North Dakota, eastern Montana on the border

going through some drought

tired of watching the soil

blow away

1981 made our first no till pass

In ’82 I bought my own drill we were doing it for wind and water erosion

In the 90’s we had created a mono culture

wheat on wheat on wheat

Our first rotation was field peas that helped tremendously!

towards the mid 90s

a little bit further

I was introduced to Dr. Dwayne Beck

he’s still on that research 

He started diversifying our rotations

similar to whats in the prairie

so we started adding a more diverse rotation, teaching us we had to add similar to what’s in the prairie. We started adding a more diverse rotation to that

warm season grasses

warm season broadleaf

cool season grass and broadleaf

get intensity up

how to use whole water profile not just the top 

a lot of our nitrates were going 

at some point in time goes into 

  • water tables
  • water systems

healthy things there as well

Then about four years ago this month I was at a conference for a different reason

I mentioned something I was interested in doing for the last several years

teaching gardeners what I was doing.

how to take the principles I have learned and teach it to gardeners.

very little information

about no-till gardening 4 years ago

out there by myself doing a lot of things

I did some suggestions

It started out as a container situation

The first one failed miserably and I knew we had to change our 

media mix

two and a half years go, three

struggle

What do you mean by container thing?

container gardening indoor

what they watered indoor

grow boxes

earth boxes

build living soil indoors

Take that environment I have growing outdoors and bring it indoors

do it indoors teach people how to garden all year round

I took a bobcat out in one of my fields, we ended up there for 3-4 days trying to figure out how are we gonna capture our soil

At that time it was 34 years of continuous no-till, every time we tried to capture a 12 foot profile it would just fall apart

so alive

and crumbly

wouldn’t stay together

soil that is

living rich soil

wants to just crumble

12 inches deep

We eventually accomplished that we built a box around it in the fired brought it indoors and it failed miserably that soil indoors

It’s just made to be outdoors

So we had to establish a media mix that will work for raised beds as well as container gardening. We were able to do that about 3 years ago and then apply the principles we use in a no-till scenario of building nutrient rich soil and doing it in a container making it so it survives

we work on a lot of testing things yet

always improving things 

tabletop farmer

in that error where we can teach people how to thrive.

2015 we took it outdoors

there was a lot of demand to take it outdoors

We started looking for people who had gardens, we could take gardens that was completely worn out

Sarah’s little angels that was so infested with weeds it was unbelievable with the weed growth. We applied our 

no-till principles

  • fabric barrier
  • developed a watering system to water the roots
  • natural fertilizer system

neat part of about that whole

18 by 80 feet long

amazing part about we didn’t pull one weed all summer.

no weeding

no backbreaking part to start

who’s we and what’s table top farmer?

Table Top Famer started out container on your table top

I labeled myself as the table top farmer

It expanded from outdoors to inside as well?

The outdoor side of it is that we can grow outdoors naturally grow nutrient dense produce and do it all naturally 

  • without any soil amendments
  • without any backbreaking work

I have help

Some friends that help out

My hired man that I hired on the grain farm gets stuck doing something 

Worm farm

commercially do worm castings

The reason I did that was I wanted a consistent product. I wanted to know what I had not something someone else was making that I was shipping in. I wanted a 

natural grain

not something that had maybe a pesticide in int

worms will break that down but I wanted to make sure when I tell people that it’s a natural product it is

What all are you growing?

Anything in these featured gardens, what we would grow, we would go through the corns

we learned that there were certain wind loads, so we would plant corn on those outside to help break the wind

  • zucchini
  • lots of tomatoes
  • pumpkins for the kids

How big is your place again?

We did these featured gardens for a year or two

The property that Sarah’s Little Angels was on was sold, so we are starting Serenity Farm and Garden. That I own, on some property as part of my farm.

We purchased a high tunnel this summer to do some testing

IDK if you are familiar with high tunnels, they’re a fabric where the sun can come through.

There’s a huge demand for those in this area

get in earlier and stay later in the fall. 

It also helps keep pests out and helps you regulate your water a little as well too right?

I have a friend on a farm east of us doing it about 5 years, I’ll be a student of Jay’s as well

There are mistakes that can be made, of course lots of mistakes, he will help us avoid those. There’s a learning curve to it.

Not everybody is going to purchase a high tunnel but there small green houses people can purchase too.

There’s a program that people can utilize through the NRC I did an interview with Andrew Malucelli about the program in Episode 117. We applied but we didn’t get approved but one of these days we will.

It’s interesting – Community Gardens

I’ve ran into church groups that try to do gardening, they’re interested in this approach. Naturally we have to get it up and the training to teach them how to do it but I see a big benefit for community gardens.

the one that I am familiar with turns into a big wreck with certain things that happen to it. I think high tunnels would be good for community gardens.

a lot of avenues we’re running with this

I am a soil health expert

I am an expert

I’ve been good

You’re doing it on a bigger scaled then most people I have talked to.

It isn’t quite that big, a large farmer in this are is several thousand acres!

We’re not that big in this area. We’re a couple thousand acres.

We have honed in on those, We have been more niche oriented.

Value added crops

We raise things like garbanzo beans

We have buyers waiting, they’re calling 30 days before harvest to tell us, you know we have a bin open for you! We have space available for you!

That’s generally unknown, but they know that we are capable, depending on the weather. It’s a really good feeling.

They know we are able to produce a high quality crop and a high producing crop that they can trust! 

Lentils

I got a call the other day, text message from a buyer looking for white proso millet bcause he knows thats part of my warm season rotation

evolved

used to farm a lot more acres

niche orientated

quite frankly the bottom line gets better for us when we can do that

Niche oriented and more profitable  on less acreage sounds good to everyone doesn’t it?! How big did you say?

It’s a couple thousand acres, but your market farmers are on 1/4 acre and they’re pushing the production side of things there as well

There’s a lot of things we can learn on that area, I have been studying that area as well to see how we can build better soil health for what they are doing.

Our whole focus is so they have a  nutrient dense crop. That’s what we want is the nutrients back in the plant.

Well that’s what I want I know to eat healthy food.

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

Actually my first experience was with my mother, as a little guy I watched her garden.

She had a very little garden that was fenced because of other things out there for things they were raising

  • chickens
  • livestock

I remember dad taking the fence down on one end and plow it for her

she would plant into that. I do remember my mother coming in being totally exhausted from working in that garden. It was kind of therapeutic as well, but I looked at the labor that was involved. We would get out there and when we would do sometime wrong, which we did, she was very specific on the way she did things. She had a pattern on the way she had done things that was the way it was. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time out there, but I watched what she did and quite frankly that turned me away from gardening because I saw the labor she did, and I thought that’s a second job.

At least a second job if not a full time job. So then 

How did you learn how to garden organically?

well I actually

the no-till thing came relatively out in the field. To move it into an indoor setting was tough. Much tougher then outdoor. I can’t say we have a total no-till system but we have a system where we can renew the soil by the same methods as what the soil is built underneath our feet. 

So you never have to buy new potting soil again! Outdoors it was relatively simple. I basically just started thinking about different ways the raindrop falls.

If we think about how the raindrop falls on cement is it splashes.

this is what they teach inside of our no-till farming

When it splashes it carries up soil up with it, those spores hit our crops and those start disease and I thought gardening has to be the same way. 

The first thing I did was I built a garden with armor on top. 

the insulated layer, I’m not talking about compost

In my world we have to be careful not to get too much compost on top because then we start with other issues. The armor is a layer of carbon to insulate this top layer, then we start thinking, how are we going to water it? Because we have chlorines that aren’t in rain water. 

issues there

visited with other gardeners

soaker system that we actually put in the soil. 

worked on and tested

put in the soil methods where we instal it so it irrigates the roots that is on a timely manor. 

The interesting part bout that whole process was we able to use 70% of the water where you have drought

That makes sense. 

In areas like San Diego where water, good water, is limited, even though they are surrounded by oceans, the water that is usable, the people who are saving gray water in gardens, there are systems set up for that. 

Outdoor Systems for Gardeners

I took the systems that I’ve used outdoors over 30 years  and brought them full circle and used them in gardening. The neat thing about gardening is we are able to what I call put that on steroids because we can speed up the process!

We can see results in 30 days or less by applying principals of this system. The reason being is because in a farming scenario we have 4-5 months of growing and then the rest that we call

  • frost
  • cold
  • ...

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