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No-Till Farming at Gibbet Hill

In early February 2021, The Groton Garden Club was fortunate to have Kayleigh Boyle, former manager of Gibbet Hill Farm, present a fascinating and informative discussion on the farm’s path from a mechanical to a purely organic supplier of produce. In this talk she emphasized the importance of the environment in which the food that we eat is grown.

For the last four years, Gibbet Hill has been farming on a “human scale,” using no-till methods. This means they stopped turning the earth and creating rows mechanically. Traditionally, after plowing the land, tractors go over it again, using their wheels to make wide spaces between the beds. This compacting was preventing the soil from aerating and preventing the growth of microorganisms.

The tractor is no longer used. Instead, they use a broadfork to open the dirt, but not turn it over. Turning over of the earth causes weed seeds to rise to the surface to germinate, so using the broadfork avoids the weed germination. The previous five-foot distance between beds set by the space between tractor wheels is no longer standard. Beds are now created on a human scale of three feet apart.. Any earth from spaces between the beds is added to the beds, instead of crushed in place.

Pesticides, including those labeled organic, are not used on the farm. Even the “organic” ones have been found to be broad spectrum, and while providing an organic solution for specific targets, are often toxic to other species, especially bees. They plant natural deterrents, such as hedgerows of California Poppies and Alyssum, which both host larvae that attack the tomato hornworm pests. They also purchase certain beneficial insects online to help with pest control. Their healthy soil and plants tend to attract fewer pests.

As a result of using organic methods, their weeding has shrunk from 50% to 10% of their work. The soil has become so rich, aerated, and conducive to root growth that an arm inserted can reach down to its elbow. By studying and working with the microbiology of plants and soil, Gibbet Hill farm now grows enough on one acre to supply 80% of the produce for all of the Weber Group restaurants, and to supply a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program as well.

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