Watershed Farms: Invest in Soil, Invest in Success

The Gardhouse Family has operated Watershed Farms in East Garafraxa for decades. Their holistic approach to farming has led them to implement various beneficial management practices over the years that have greatly improved water, soil and air quality and wildlife habitat on their farm. With a strong commitment to soil health and regenerative farming, Watershed Farms is an inspiring model of sustainable agriculture.

Building Soil Strength

Soil health and resilience is essential to productive farming. In the 1970s, the Gardhouse family collaborated with Ducks Unlimited to install a 10-acre wetland on their property. Not only does the wetland provide important wildlife habitat, it decreases erosion and improves water quality. As water slowly penetrates the ground, it’s naturally cleaned through infiltration. The slower process allows topsoil to remain in place rather than being washed away.

 The Gardhouses also planted nearly 30,000 trees as windbreaks and a plantation forest. The windbreaks reduce soil erosion, create an improved microclimate for crops and promote corridors for wildlife. While the windbreaks and plantation require management, some of the trees, such as the pine, spruce and cedar, may have market potential and could offset management costs.

Crop residue, like stalks and stems, is also left on the fields to reduce wind and water erosion. The crop residue stabilizes topsoil and improves soil productivity. It provides habitat and acts as a mulch mat, retaining moisture and heat in the ground over winter.

To improve soil moisture and manage nutrients, the Gardhouse family has recently started planting cover crops. Cover crops help to reduce wind and water erosion and suppress weeds. This regenerative agriculture practice creates more robust and resilient crops by enhancing soil health, which is increasingly important when faced with a changing and unpredictable climate.

Cover crop residue, Watershed Farms (2019)

Going Low-Till

In the past two years, Watershed Farms began vertical tilling and no-till seeding. Vertical tilling is less disruptive to soil structure than conventional tilling. Instead of aggressively flipping the soil, it lifts the soil, shakes it loose and drops it in place. This gentler process protects soil habitat and the organisms that live within it, reduces runoff and erosion, and improves water infiltration and storage.

Using a no-till seed drill to seed soybeans and wheat helps Watershed Farms reduce soil compaction and soil disruption even further. To add to the benefits, both practices require less inputs because fewer tractor passes are required—which also means less carbon emissions for improved air quality.

Building Resilience for the Farm and the Future

Mitigating the environmental stress and impact of farming by implementing regenerative agriculture practices is fundamental to Watershed Farms. While requiring some upfront investment, the Gardhouses’ holistic approach to farming benefits their land, crops and operational costs, and improves water and air quality, soil health and wildlife—a success for the farm, but also the Credit River Watershed.

Inspired? Get started.

CVC helps farmers and agricultural property owners implement beneficial management practices on their land to improve resilience, build soil health and protect the environment. Contact our agricultural coordinator to discuss opportunities and funding for projects on your farm: stewardship@cvc.ca or 905-670-1615 ext 720.

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