Healthy soils are teeming with life, hosting a community of many beneficial organisms such as bacteria and fungi. Plants form relationships with soil and through that healthy relationship, they produce food. Unfortunately, due to excessive farming, fast crop rotation and excessive use of pesticides and herbicides productive soils are declining.
During a visit to one of our olive oil suppliers, Mount Zero Olives in the Grampians, we find out more about the importance of care for the biology of soil and the role it plays in promoting a dynamic ecosystem.
The soil at Mount Zero is sandy loam and drains well. Mount Zero Olives do not irrigate and are reliant on rainfall for a healthy season. Olive harvest usually begins in May, however due to climate change, seasons and rainfall have become more and more unpredictable. The grove is self-sustaining in its farming practices - feeding the trees directly from the soil humus rather than chemical inputs. The energy supply is sourced from off-grid wind and solar generators.
Jane and Neil Seymour took on the run-down grove more than 20 years ago and at the time, the grove was in such disrepair that it took many years before they were able to have a viable crop for olive oil production. Jane and Neil adopted biodynamic practices and have always valued the interconnectedness between healthy soil, healthy environment and healthy humans.
Clever pruning of the trees helps with olive production. When we visit the grove, most of the harvest is almost complete and pruning has begun. This year Jane and Neil have the help of expert pruner, Simoné. At the time of our visit Simoné has been working on the grove for a month, carefully selecting and bending branches as he prunes. Simoné is from the Adriatic coast and has worked on olive trees that are hundreds of years old. He describes the trees branches as arms and often refers to the trees lymphatic system.
It is a hard day’s work and as the sun sets, we sit around the dinner table and share a laugh as Simoné teaches us various Italian hand gestures.
The nutrient interactions between organic matter, water and soil are critical to soil fertility. Through supporting growers that treat soil with care; as consumers, we are also supporting the future of food and the environment.