Natural Farming and Composting Bring Farm Back to Health

The Kappels changed the health of their family and their farm by switching from the use of chemicals to natural practices. Learning to use compost to improve the health of the soil is at the heart of the solution.

| January/February 1972

Eight years ago we had to make a decision: would we sell our little farm in northeast Montana — or could we do a turnabout and somehow learn to operate the place successfully?

Using Pesticides Led to Sickness and Debt

For years we'd been losing money. Our animals were always sick, we were sick and — between doctor and hospital bills — we were going deeper into debt every year.

Our health was so poor that we were having our cattle boarded out during the winter months to save us the work of hauling and feeding hay. This arrangement seemed economical except for the fact that we lost the manure we needed for our pastures. Of course, we bought commercial fertilizers to take the place of the manure — or so we thought! After a few years of the commercial fertilizer treatment, however, we found that our pasture would no longer absorb moisture. The ground was as hard as concrete and no amount of water would penetrate it.

Our garden and lawn was much the same story. We'd used commercial fertilizers on them and what few plants did grow there were soon devoured by insects. Naturally, we bought insecticides and sprayed everything — even livestock — only to find the bugs still flourishing. The grasshoppers took everything in the garden. I mean, they ate the leaves from every plant! I sprayed with everything our local stores, county agent or anyone else would recommend. It never even slowed the pests down.

The insecticides sure got the birds, though! Each time we mowed the lawn we'd find dead, dried-up feathery corpses. Our place had once been a bird haven . . . but now the meadowlarks, robins and all the others were gone. Even the formerly-abundant earthworms were impossible to find. It seems that we had cut off our nose to spite our face.

Then one day my aunt and uncle dropped by to pick a few beans. Even though I'd just sprayed the garden the day before and the directions on the insecticide container said to wait three days before harvesting treated produce, my aunt decided to pick beans anyway. And she did, while my uncle said, "Go ahead and poison us!"

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