• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com pie forums private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Anne Miller
  • jordan barton
  • Pearl Sutton
  • r ranson
  • Nicole Alderman
  • Greg Martin
  • Steve Thorn
stewards:
  • paul wheaton
  • Leigh Tate
  • Mike Haasl
master gardeners:
  • John F Dean
gardeners:
  • Carla Burke
  • Stacie Kim
  • Jay Angler

! A Soil Owner's Manual by Jon Sitka--Discussion thread.

 
gardener
Posts: 2739
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
461
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Likes 7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I recently won this book, and have read it a few times and I wanted to start a thread that is not part of the book reviews.  I wanted the incredible list of 10 out of 10 reviews to stand apart from any further discussion of its merits or thoughts that one has to work with the methodologies.  

This is not a thread to debate the merits of till verses no-till.  There are plenty of threads containing those thoughts.  This is about the methods in this book and ideas on working with them in the systems that we are developing.  

Those methods are simply described by the following four points:

1. Less soil disturbance
2. More plant diversity
3. Living roots as much as possible
4. Keep soil covered at all times

I'd like this thread to be a discussin of why we should do these things and how we can implement them.

This thread may also be the place where we can pose questions to the author, however I have not yet reached out to him in that regard.  

For the time being, lets just discuss what we can do with this information on our land or discuss the topics in the book.

If you have not read the book, then please, at least read the reviews of it which is linked above so that you have an idea of what this book is about.

If you practice those 4 principles listed in your gardening or farming methods, then I would love to read about what you are doing.

Staff note (Roberto pokachinni) :

I had the wrong link, above. Now it is correct. People can click on it to read the reviews. Sorry about that.

 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2739
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
461
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Likes 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
First of all some thoughts that I have about the topic.

We live on this planet that is built in layers, from the upper atmosphere to the core.  There is an important layer that is the living carbon matrix of the planet that contains every ecosystem on Earth.  Some of those ecosystems are very aquatic, deep oceanic, but the one we are focussing on is the living carbon matrix that is the soil food web and how it interacts with plants and vice versa.  This isn't the geological reduction of rocks knowns as dirt, but the living part that resides within and on that dirt.  It's the part of the dirt where all terrestrial ecosystems take root.  The geology, the minerals, they have an important role to play, but without soil, living soil, those minerals can seldom if ever be utilized by the plants that need them.  

This planetary layer of living soil grows every natural plant on the planet.  Without it, we potentiall condemn ourselves to a scar of blowing dead dust, or a cycle of virtually hydroponically propped up life in an otherwise lifeless container.  Without it, we are forced to add in a self perpetuating cylcle, ammendments and adjustments in order to supplement all that is lacking in the dirt.  With it, we have hope for true resilience, true sustainability, true abundance.  With it, we reduce work, and gain the best possible plants.  

The current agricultural paradigm is responsible for a massive loss to this super important layer on the Earth, and this current paradigm is merely an extension, an exaggeration of what many of us have culturally been doing to the soil for thousands of years.

For thousands of years, we have ignored the way that soil truly functions, we have ignored how it builds, and grows, and sustains itself.  We have created a system that requires more of the same, more disturbance of living soil systems, more monocrops, more bare soil, more areas containing dead roots or no roots at all, more times when there are no plants at all.  

The self-regenerating system of living soil sustains itself through a direct relationship with plants, both living and dead.  And plants have lived for millions of years though a direct relationship with living soil communities, both living and dead.  

Let's prove that agriculture can be done much better, that we can do a great service to the soil, not by manipulating it with endless inputs and disturbance, but by acknowledging the system that already exists, and that wants to sustain itself, and that has sustained terrestrial life on this planet since time immemorial.  Let's work with it, folks.

Can we boost it even further?  I think we can.  

 
gardener & author
Posts: 2279
Location: Tasmania
1202
2
homeschooling goat forest garden fungi foraging trees cooking food preservation pig wood heat homestead
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Since reading this book I've been making a better effort at keeping the soil covered. Other books seem in favour of lots of mulch everywhere, or no mulch at all, and the soil owners manual helped me to understand why mulching is done, and why the anti-mulch people say what they do.

I've had a renewed focus on building up the organic matter in my depleted soil, and have noticed how the plants are responding to this.

I think having the idea of feeding the soil life in mind rather than feeding the crop helps me to make better decisions.

I am very keen to have a greater diversity in perennial pasture and other perennial plantings. With some annual vegetables it's been a challenge to do polycultures, and with others it's easier. Maybe with annuals in a home garden it is not much of an issue?
 
author & steward
Posts: 2053
Location: Southeastern U.S. - Zone 7b
1118
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Like Roberto, Jon's book put a pile of soil puzzle pieces together for me to form a big picture. This was extremely exciting!

When we first bought our property, we knew that the goal was healthy, sustainable soil, but  had no idea how to get there. I was familiar with gardening, but pasture and field crops like wheat and hay were new concepts. We found Masanobu Fukuoka, Gabe Brown, Ray Archuleta, and Allan Savory for clues, but still stumbled along for a number of years with very little success.

One thing I realized is that we need to approach different areas differently, in terms of soil building. Mapping these out helped.



We have a different approach for each area, particularly the pasture and production areas. (By production, I mean field crops like hay and grain).

I've been using a modified Fukuoka method in our pastures. Every time I clean out the goat barn, I take a bucket of forage seeds (as many kinds as I can manage!) and a wheelbarrow of straw and manure to the bare spots in the paddocks. I toss down the seed and cover it with a lose layer of barn bedding.



That helps hide it from birds, but also, I've found that the goats will leave these barn waste areas alone so the seed can grow.



We've also subdivided into smaller paddocks for better rotational grazing. I understand now that this helps keep that living root in the ground to help feed the soil food web.

Sometimes I get better results than others so it's a slow-go. We've been plagued with weeds in the pasture like horse nettle and ground ivy, so I feel like it's an uphill battle. Thank to Jon's book, however, I now understand that these "weeds" are nature's attempt to provide the diversity needed by soil organisms. The type of weed reflects the quality of my soil---still poor, so nature's doing the best it can with what it's got to work with! I expect to see that change as we better establish our soil food web.

Our production areas are the other thing we've experimented with new techniques. One is to grow a green manure crop, then broadcast seed and mow the crop to cover the seed.



Since we're still working with areas of sparse growth, we cover all bare spots with old hay. Alternatively, if it's something we want to harvest (hay in the photo below) then Dan harvests with a scythe. That leaves both living root in the ground and quite a bit of top growth as well.



After we dry and rake up the hay, we broadcast seed and mow the remaining growth to mulch the seed.

We've only been doing these things for a couple of years, so I won't say we've made leaps and bounds of progress yet. But we are encouraged with our winter hay crop this year. This is the greenest and healthiest we've had so far.



This frost touched growth is a deer forage seed mix of wheat, oats, and winter peas. I added clover and we've found volunteer vetch growing as well.

Progress is slow because for one - it's seasonal. Second, the seasonal conditions vary so much each year. Sometimes I feel discouraged, but I take heart in knowing we're heading in the right direction.
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2739
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
461
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Cool.  I like that we have Leigh already with pics in the thread.  That helps boost it a bit.  I also want to encourage anybody to post videos and links to topics related to soil food web, mulch, no till, polyculture, and plant-soil interaction.
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2739
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
461
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Kate:

I've had a renewed focus on building up the organic matter in my depleted soil, and have noticed how the plants are responding to this.  

 Are you using plants to do this, or has your primary focus been on increasing  both diversity and mulch?

I think having the idea of feeding the soil life in mind rather than feeding the crop helps me to make better decisions.

 I agree.  I really gained in that regard when I read Teaming with Microbes.  They are really big into actively aerated compost tea as an application to boost the soil life.  I think that this might be a very useful additon if one has a good aerator/bubbler and high quality compost, or manure, which I don't yet.  I really like, however, that Jon's book focusses on doing this all with plants, detritus, and no till.

I am very keen to have a greater diversity in perennial pasture and other perennial plantings. With some annual vegetables it's been a challenge to do polycultures, and with others it's easier. Maybe with annuals in a home garden it is not much of an issue?

 I think it's equally important, though I understand the challenge.  Planetary wise, I think that field cropping with these methods is going to change the soil health faster than veggie growing, but I think that our veggie food production systems need to change to this type of farming as well.  I like that Jon talks about his own garden a bit.  How he makes a hole or furrow big enough for the seed or transplant and that's it.  There are parts of this also covered in the following video by Emelia Hazelip:
 

Kate, which vegetables have you had success with polyculturing, and which have you found difficult.  Those discussions, I think, are important.  Maybe someone can help you develop patterns and cultures that will work with those difficult plants!  
Thanks for posting.

Leigh, I will respond to your thread later today.  I have to head out to a keyline design workshop!  
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2739
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
461
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Leigh.  How many acres is your project.  Thanks for posting some pics!  

Progress is slow because for one - it's seasonal. Second, the seasonal conditions vary so much each year. Sometimes I feel discouraged, but I take heart in knowing we're heading in the right direction.  

 I think that will likely be the case for most farmers.  I really like your method of planting into a harvested cover crop, and then mowing to cover your seeds.  I'm not sure that goats are ideal for rotational grazing, but I like that you are doing that!
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2739
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
461
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
So, I've been mulling over an idea to turn perennial pastureland sod into super-productive vegetable garden areas without tilling and minimal disturbance.  I've done the Ruth Stout thing with the cardboard to good effect, but I wanted to develop the area with deep roots and nitrogen fixation before I cover it with cardboard.

My thinking is to do this by transplanting directly into the living sod, such plants as comfrey, potatoes, alfalfa, and red clover.  I was also thinking of also adding some tranplanted robust annuals like marigold, corn, and cannabis, and squash/zucchini, and sunflower.  What are your thoughts?  Possibly other plants.  Any suggestions?  The comfrey and alfalfa create very deep roots systems, breaking up the hardpan layers, and two of these, the clover and alfalfa, work symbiotically with soil bacteria to fix nitrogen.  These plantings will be at approximate maximum density that they can handle if the sod were to be eaten up.  

Comfrey and potato will create the largest biomass, above and below ground but at different depths and through chop and drop the comfrey will create a lot of detritus and dead roots for that extra diversity of microbial activity, and extra mulch for the potatoes, which will only be harvested from the sides, occasionaly for young spuds, with the majority of the plants products being left to live and die insitu.  The potatoes will primarily be mounded by cut grass materials (more detritus and dead roots) from the living sod that are trying to choke out and compete with the more desired plants as well as by the only imports at this point, which is old peat that a local farmer dug up when he built a pond and will load for free if I come with my truck, and some of my compost, and some straw.  

I might add innoculated biochar under the comfrey leaves once they are big enough to shade and thus protect it from drying out.  I would leave the given area, once the plants are well established, to its own devices for three years, only going in to scythe down and mound in the potato spots.  After the three seasons, I will get the area good and wet, and put a full layer of peat mixed with a layer of innoculated biochar and compost, dampen that, and cover the area with cardboard to kill all the plants, leaving behind very deep rich soil that can be used to grow crops in the future, probably the next year to be sure the comfrey was dead.   The alternative to the cardboard would be to turn rabbits or goats and then chickens over the area to take care of the vegetation.  I don't have animals yet.

In the first season, I will also cover an area of sod nearby with cardboard, and plant potatoes in holes, mounding with peat and compost as needed in the season.  This is what I have been doing to good effect on another part of the property.  The potatoes get harvested in the early fall and then garlic is planted where the potatoes were, or the area is left for the winter and planted in the spring with garden veg.  I am hoping to mulch these garlic and veggie areas with biochar to increase heat absorbtion and water penetration.  The biochar will fall into the holes when I harvest any root crops, thus getting it deeper into the living soil matrix mix without tilling.  The char will also likely have chopped straw mixed with it and on top of it to protect the microbes and create more of a detritus layer for creatures/beings that like that sort of thing.  

Each season I can put one area into potato and then garlic/veg production, while other areas get planted with the root and nitrogen mix, expanding the production zone.  The areas that did not have the deep root and nitrogen mix in place,  

Oh, and before I cover the root and nitrogen mix with cardboard on the third year, I can dig up comfrey crowns and transplant them to another location to start that part of the process again.  

I have a fair bit of 'garden' space to play with, so I can have areas in various stages, including a large area that is in production of vegetables.

I'm hoping to get into heritage grains as well as garlic as main crops.

Besides those things, I'd like to get my greenhouse rocking again, using much the same principles to grow my ingredients for salsa production!  and cucumbers pickles!  

All transplants will be done in a mix including biochar, so that the char can enter the soil directly at transplanting time.

Thoughts, or suggestions?
 
Leigh Tate
author & steward
Posts: 2053
Location: Southeastern U.S. - Zone 7b
1118
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Roberto pokachinni wrote:Hi Leigh.  How many acres is your project.


Roberto, our acreage is small. The area mapped out is probably two and a half to three acres total. We have two+ more acres in woods.

I really like your method of planting into a harvested cover crop, and then mowing to cover your seeds.


There's an interesting book that discusses various methods of cover cropping to build soil called Managing Cover Crops Profitably.  It's published by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program of the USDA. It's available at the SARE website as a free eBook (PDF, mobi, or epub) or to purchase as a paperback. The method we use is one of the one's it discusses.

I'm not sure that goats are ideal for rotational grazing, but I like that you are doing that!


Goats are not easy to fence, it's true! For subdividing we use three-strand electric wiring for the does and electric netting for the bucks. It's a bit tricky because we had to devise corridors since we have dairy goats that have to come back to the barn. It seems most folk who use intensive rotational grazing have beef cattle. I can't manage to do it quite like they do, but I understand the importance of letting the forage rest, so we're doing the best we can.

Thank you for starting this thread! I'm already gleaning good ideas.
 
Leigh Tate
author & steward
Posts: 2053
Location: Southeastern U.S. - Zone 7b
1118
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Roberto pokachinni wrote:So, I've been mulling over an idea to turn perennial pastureland sod into super-productive vegetable garden areas without tilling and minimal disturbance.  . . . Thoughts, or suggestions?


Roberto, I'm really interested in this project, and I think you've got a well thought out plan. We used a neglected pasture/field for our first garden ten years ago, but were clueless about a permaculture approach and so went the traditional fertilizer/tilling route. We've had to go back and correct a lot of things, so I don't have useful experience to offer as feedback for your plan.

There's an interesting video along those lines I'd like to share. It's an interview by Dr. Mercola with regenerative rancher Gabe Brown, about how he made a beautiful garden on compacted pasture land.



 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2739
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
461
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for your patience if you have been waiting for more on this thread.  I have been otherwise occupied getting some stuff I inherited (including my tractor!) from another province and also in doing some community stuff and taking a class.

I took a keyline design workshop a week ago, and really liked the ideas presented in it.  It was a good introduction and solidified the parts of it that I didn't understand well in the past.  The reason that I mention it, is because it is a plowing method, and our topic is about reducing or eliminating that, and yet... it is a very intriguing method that has some potentially useful take-aways.  Jon Sitka seemed to indicate that there are some practices which involve tilling that might be useful, but (and I'm paraphrasing) that we should just not be under the impression that the tilling part is benefiting soil life.  It can't.  It's a proven fact that any method of breaking the soil network is bad for that network to function.   This particularly seems true of the fungal partners.  But I bring this up because I think that keyline plowing might be a beneficial tool to use with Jon's method, if it is done minimally, properly, and then stop doing it and let the soil and plants do the rest.  Keylining is most effective if it is accompanied by plantings, be they trees or crops.  

What keylining can do, from what I learned in this workshop, is facilitate a more productive space which can enable a faster transformation for future soil life enhancement/functioning.  The keyline method uses a deep plow that does not turn the soil (this is done with a specific type of plow, in a specific pattern bringing water from low places onto the higher places, which is the main part of the technique).  It is primarily a technique to provide for the future hydration of the land.  This also, in the shorter term, gets oxygen deep, removes compaction, and allows roots to penetrate deeper, faster, while hydrating the landscape in a more effective way.  It was developed with great success in Australia, by a guy named P.A.Yeomans.  

In Jon Sitka's book he talks about achieving all those things, with each result coming from plants and soil organisms doing their work.  But it takes a lot longer to do it with plants or to begin to see the results.  With keyline, the results are more rapid, and thus the long term benefits which we are trying to achieve might make this tool worth utilizing.  The soil can and does heal itself after a disturbance but there will always be some type of lag as the fungal partners and others readjust and rebuild their networks.  This lag will depend on the robustness of the soil food web, the availability of water, the temperature of the soil, and the possible introduction of new plants and living soil systems.  The same thoughts might be said about broadforking.  It does not mean that these are not potentially a useful tool for beginning the process, and it might help to make the soil better functioning and more productive in the long run if it is done right, but these methods are not immediately benefitting the functioning of the soil community.  

Keyline is one of those things that come to mind when we are talking about potentiallly boosting this process.  I don't know that it is necessary.  I know, actually, that it isn't.  Clearly the deep rich original prairie and forest soils were not built with plows of any sort; nature did it on her own with roots and critters.  So why do it?  That is up to the individual, what tools are available, whether that rapid deep soil penetration is needed, and a lot of other factors.    

With my method outlined above, I'm hoping to transform my land with using keyline design, but instead of driving a deep plowing machine (with a plow that I don't own and would be expensive to rent), I will request the comfrey and alfalfa do the deep ripping for me!  The effect will be a much deeper plowing than the tractor could ever hope to achieve, and there will be no interuption in the soil community, outside of my cardboard covering time (I am under no illusion that the cardboard method is not a form of soil community disturbance, but I am of the thinking that it does not tear apart the soil networks, and thus these networks can recover that much better when living plants and light are re-introduced to the area).  The cardboard will certainly cause large disruptions and die-offs within the soil community, but I think that there will be a great deal less carbon and nitrogen loss in my system (which is an aspect of farming that I personally am interested in), than if I was to rip the soil mechanically.  One of the other massive bonuses to the cardboard method is that it massively boosts the earthworm and compost worm population.  The other disturbance aspect of my technique will be in the harvesting of roots, which I primarily do with a spade fork.  I'm hoping that, because this harvesting process will also introduce biochar and compost deeper into my soil, that I will have great gains that will balance this disturbance to the soil food web communities.  

The long term strategic plan on my land also involves doing some keyline work with a machine (but not with the plow) just through sculpting the land, utilizing the little backhoe attachment on my new tractor.  These will be swale like, in that they will be long ditches, and long mounds/mini berms.  But they will be done in the keyline pattern, rather than on contour like swales.  These particular mounds and ditches (or at least the ditches) will be the width of my (new to me) tractor's mower (or twice that width for two passes), and the ditches (on the uphill side of the mounds) will be planted with a crop of alfafa, white clover and red clover, comfrey and heritage grains.  The grains will be harvested first and the others will be mowed to either mulch the mounded lines, or brought to the garden areas for mulch.  The mounded lines (which might be hugulkultured with wood from my forested area and elsewhere) will be planted with altder trees for nitrogen rooting, and mixed flowering and berry producing small trees and shrubs as well as food forestry plantings of various sorts and wild planting clusters to create sort of a food forest hedge/wildlife sanctuary, off contour in parallel belts.  Upslope of the ditch beds will be a place to drive a truck or cart for access without compaction.  The road surfaces will likely have a crop on them as well (likely white clover as the main crop).  Downhill of the tree mound rows will be crops alternating between different grain and legume combinations.  This is more of a long term plan that will also involve a system of ponds and a gravity feed water system to really get the system rocking in it's early days.  I think the keyline mounds will likely have about 5 tractor widths between them (the little tractor is just under 4 feet wide and the pto driven mower is I think about 5 feet).    
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2739
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
461
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

an interesting video along those lines I'd like to share. It's an interview by Dr. Mercola with regenerative rancher Gabe Brown, about how he made a beautiful garden on compacted pasture land.

 I like what Gabe did with his garden area.  He used wood chips for his huguls which is different.  He didn't explain the system that much, however.  I'd be interested to know how deep he put the chips (how much soil was put on top of the layer with the chips?), what was the chips-to-soil ratio when he mixed them? how old were the chips?  What species of wood was used?  How long ago did he do it to achieve that much break down?  How much was it watered?  Was it an effective system in the short term, or did it draw too much nitrogen while the chips were first breaking down?  Lots of questions, but great results, for certain.    
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2739
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
461
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Leigh.

I'm curious about the smaller paddock system that you are making for your goats (how small are they?), and how you are judging the recovery time for their return in the rotation (are you using key indicator species for observing recovery?).

Are you using irrigation?  It seems that Savory's approach hinges on the need for waiting for rainfall to boost plant growth after grazing.  It's my thinking that this could be achieved faster if one had reasonably inexpensive access to water and using that to irrigate right after the goat's graze, at least for a few years while you are developing your soil food web and diversity.  My understanding also, is that with the grazing by the goats (or any animals) that some of the plant roots which associate with the eaten leaves will die off feeding the soil life that likes to eat dead roots, and then when the leaf is regenerated from the remaining roots that the soil microbes that benefit from the chlorophyl sugars will get boosted, and this is what makes the Savory method so potentially great for soil building if it is done with the thought of not over-grazing and also letting the plants recover fully before returning.    

Sometimes I feel discouraged, but I take heart in knowing we're heading in the right direction.  

 I think that Jon wrote in his book that the results are often not immediately apparent...  That two to three years minimum is required to really see the changes in plant growth, even if one is focussed on observing it.  I think that having the greenest and healthiest winter hay crop ever is definitely encouraging!-particularly when you have been at this for so short a time!  Way to go!    

A permanent causeway into the center of each of the two paddocks closest to your goat pen would allow you to use the center as a hub to create pie-piece-like shapes for smaller paddocks and quicker access for getting your goats into position and back to the barn for milking.
 
Leigh Tate
author & steward
Posts: 2053
Location: Southeastern U.S. - Zone 7b
1118
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Roberto pokachinni wrote:I'm curious about the smaller paddock system that you are making for your goats (how small are they?), and how you are judging the recovery time for their return in the rotation (are you using key indicator species for observing recovery?).


Hi Roberto,

I'd have to classify our attempts at pasture rotation as "something is better than nothing." We probably have two and a half acres of pasture, currently divided into 9 paddocks. The does have five regular paddocks and the bucks have two. Then I have two more that I can rotate them into as needed. In addition, have a couple acres of woods where I take the goats to eat the brush. My rotation works fairly well during times of the year when things are growing well and we get good rainfall. Ideally, I try not to let the goats into a paddock until I see 4 to 5 inches of new leaves growing. As long as the tops remain bitten off, I prefer to keep them off. This time of year, it's hard. It's been mild for us, so I've been able to grow winter forage: wheat, oats, winter peas, daikon radishes, turnips, vetch, and clover. But it grows more slowly than warm weather and takes longer to recover. So I end up letting them back into paddocks before it's had a chance to recover satisfactorily. However! The girls, especially, refuse to go back into a paddock if it hasn't grown back to their liking. They'll stand at the gate and no amount of coaxing will get them into that paddock!  They love that fresh new growth and would rather go back to the barn if it isn't there.

Are you using irrigation?  It seems that Savory's approach hinges on the need for waiting for rainfall to boost plant growth after grazing.  It's my thinking that this could be achieved faster if one had reasonably inexpensive access to water and using that to irrigate right after the goat's graze, at least for a few years while you are developing your soil food web and diversity.


Irrigation would help tremendously, but I don't have a way to do that. We collect enough rainwater to keep the garden watered during our annual summer dry spells, but the pasture suffers. Because we're still in the early years of pasture soil building, we just don't have the soil biology to retain enough moisture to support the forage well. Every summer, I tend to lose quite a bit of what I plant. The bermuda grass survives, but it's not my preferred forage! I have found that sorghum-sudan grass is quite drought tolerant, so I try to get a good planting of that in. Some of our native grasses hang in there, and of courses we're trying to encourage those as well.

My understanding also, is that with the grazing by the goats (or any animals) that some of the plant roots which associate with the eaten leaves will die off feeding the soil life that likes to eat dead roots, and then when the leaf is regenerated from the remaining roots that the soil microbes that benefit from the chlorophyll sugars will get boosted, and this is what makes the Savory method so potentially great for soil building if it is done with the thought of not over-grazing and also letting the plants recover fully before returning.  


That's my understanding as well. Most of the information I've found by people actually doing this: Allan Savory, Joel Salatin, Gabe Brown, Greg Judy, etc., all graze cattle. The soil seems to benefit both from their manure as well as their weight from trampling uneaten grasses. Goats are much lighter weight and have small pellet-like droppings. So I wonder if it won't take longer because of that!  

A permanent causeway into the center of each of the two paddocks closest to your goat pen would allow you to use the center as a hub to create pie-piece-like shapes for smaller paddocks and quicker access for getting your goats into position and back to the barn for milking.


That's pretty much what we did, although it isn't permanent at this time.



I like using the electric fencing for this because I can resize as needed.

I think that Jon wrote in his book that the results are often not immediately apparent...  That two to three years minimum is required to really see the changes in plant growth, even if one is focused on observing it.  


I was so encouraged when I read that!

I guess you won't be starting on your plan until later in spring(?) I had never heard of keylining, although I've recently read about conservation tillage, where I think they don't till the entire field, but rather bands of soil (if I've got that right). I think your idea of using alfalfa and comfrey to drive the process is excellent. I think Sepp Holzer uses root crops to similar effect, if I remember correctly.

 
Leigh Tate
author & steward
Posts: 2053
Location: Southeastern U.S. - Zone 7b
1118
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Likes 7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I was going through some old photos and was surprised at the difference in our pastures from several years ago. I know these soil building techniques take time to show improvement, and I admit that some times I was pretty discouraged. But here's an encouraging proof that it eventually begins to pay off.

Feb. 2016


Same paddock March 2020


A different angle of the same paddock in March 2015.


Same angle March 2020.


Here's another paddock. March 2016


Same area March 2020


Another angle of same paddock March 2016


March 2020


I will qualify these by saying we had a mild winter this year, so less forage went dormant. Still, for cool weather forage plants, I'm pleased to see my soil covered and the green so vibrant and not sickly. I'm encouraged!
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2739
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
461
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
That's what I'm talking about!!  Great progress!  I know what you mean about having an early spring/ mild winters some years and seeing the difference, but I think that the proof is still there.
 
author
Posts: 37
Location: Western North Dakota
17
fish trees urban writing wood heat woodworking
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am very humbled that all of you have taken what I have written about how the soil functions as a biological system to heart and are making your land use decisions accordingly.  

Kate - You are spot on with the idea of feeding the life in the soil instead of trying to feed plants directly.  Modern agronomy has become lost, adding "crop nutrients"  to the soil as if it were a bucket that plants eat from.  Plants feed the soil and the soil feeds the plants, regardless of where the nutrients come from (air, fertilizer, compost, soil minerals, etc.).

Leigh - You are indeed headed in the right direction and that is what is critical to success.  Restoring soil health is not a race, you just need to head in the right direction.  The first few years are a leap of faith that you must take to get on the path to soil restoration.    If you focus on restoring soil health and let that drive your decision-making process you will continue to make progress.  The rate of positive change will increase the further you get into the process.

My book simply speaks the truth about how the soil functions.  I am not trying to sell farmers, ranchers or gardeners anything... no soil amendments, no equipment, nothing.  Understand how the soil functions and you can choose what tools will work for your situation; a tractor, a plant, a goat, cardboard, a fence, etc.  

Tillage is a double-edged sword, as long as you understand the degree of disturbance you are doing with a tillage operation and mitigate for that disturbance, you can stay on a positive soil health trend.  

I do not place my potato seed pieces into the soil, but on top of the soil and then cover them with a thick (foot or more) layer of hay, leaves, grass clippings, etc. and allow them to grow up through that mulch.  Add more residues as needed to keep them covered during the growing season.  You will learn what types of materials in what combinations work best in your climate.  

You folks are brave pioneers on your way to better soil... keep the faith and keep thinking outside the box!
 
Jon Stika
author
Posts: 37
Location: Western North Dakota
17
fish trees urban writing wood heat woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
"The ‘rhizophagy cycle’: How plants harvest nutrients from microbes" webinar

https://understandingag.com/webinars
 
Jon Stika
author
Posts: 37
Location: Western North Dakota
17
fish trees urban writing wood heat woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If you'd like to follow me on Twitter, I am @humusphysicus

Jon
 
Posts: 43
Location: NWA
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hoping this is not too old to get constructive feedback. I can not figure out how to start a new thread. If one has burned out pasture and the most a undant and affordable "organic" resource locally is chicken litter from commercial chicken houses, am I a reprobate for beginning to consider it after 4plus years making slow progress?

The only other readily available options here are chemicals and sewer sludge. Neither is a go. While not enamored with said litter, would one or two applications be forgivable to get  something going?

No tractor. Have hand broadcast 8 to 10 acres with Sea90. (Burns the arms even with gloves and long sleeves.)  Have come across some challenges that hit the budget hard. Could one be forgiven? Or would it be a cardinal anti prime sin???
 
Jon Stika
author
Posts: 37
Location: Western North Dakota
17
fish trees urban writing wood heat woodworking
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
"Burned out" pasture usually becomes burned-out from improper grazing.  Proper grazing will restore it without external inputs.  Control where the animals graze so they do not have access to any particular area for more than 5 days and do not return to that area again for at least another 30 days.  Portable electric fence is a relatively inexpensive tool that can help accomplish make it happen.  This will allow the plants to be stimulated by being bitten, and then allow them enough time to restore themselves before being bitten again.  While this approach is an over-simplification, it will give you a place to start so you can see the impacts of proper grazing on the plants and can adjust as you learn.
 
Tirzah Schmaltz
Posts: 43
Location: NWA
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
It was over grazed and hayed with no inputs at least 10 years. I do not have enough livestock to rotate ideally and have violent neighbor dog issues until a buncha fencing is replaced.
 
master steward
Posts: 5758
Location: USDA Zone 8a
1737
dog hunting food preservation cooking bee greening the desert
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Tirzah, I hope you will reread this thread paying special attention to what Roberto said in his 2nd post about the "self-regenerating system".

Leigh's posts are also an excellent example of how her land was improved with perennial pasture plants. Her photos show how the land was improved.

The damage has already been done to your property from overgrazing and there is no better time than now to start trying to make repairs using the above advice given by others.
 
Leigh Tate
author & steward
Posts: 2053
Location: Southeastern U.S. - Zone 7b
1118
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Tirzah Schmaltz wrote:... am I a reprobate for beginning to consider it after 4plus years making slow progress?


Absolutely not! Even under ideal circumstances, it's a slow process to recover pasture. At least it has been in my experience. For one thing, it's seasonal progress. For another, topsoil takes time to build and soil microorganisms take time to cultivate.

I know not everyone would agree with me, but if commercial non-organic chicken litter was all I had, I would use it. My chickens and goats don't get organic feed, but I happily use their manure on our pastures. With chicken manure, however, care must be taken because it's so high in nitrogen. It would have to be well composted and spread sparingly. Ideally, it should be applied with a source of carbon such as straw or woodchips.

What I use on my pasture is my barn litter. It's a mixture of manure, straw, and wasted hay. I load up a wheelbarrow with it, go out and look for bare spots in the pasture, toss down some seed, and cover it with the litter. This has worked well for me, although I admit progress has been slow.

Tirzah Schmaltz wrote:I do not have enough livestock to rotate ideally and have violent neighbor dog issues until a buncha fencing is replaced.


The fencing would certainly be a priority on my list, but even so, you can rotate only one animal by simply subdividing their grazing area with electric fencing or netting. If livestock aren't rotated, two things happen.

One is that they eat what they like to the point that it can't recover. What takes over, is the stuff they don't like, the weedy plants that aren't edible.

The second thing that happens, is that when forage is eaten down, the plants respond by naturally pruning back their roots. They only grow enough roots to feed the existing leaves. If the pasture forage is always short, then the roots are shallow; they can't get down into the deeper soil to break it up and pull up minerals. Then, because the animals are compacting the soil by being on it all the time, hardpan develops. When that happens, rain moisture can't get to the deeper soil and neither can the minerals or nutrients from the manure you're applying. Heavy rains hit the hardpan and carry the moisture and nutrients off.

Tirzah, I highly recommend getting Jon's book! Ask your local public library to order a copy for you to borrow. He explains everything extremely well, and give practical steps to build healthy soil for a healthy pasture.
gift
 
My PEP Badge Tracker: An easier way to track your PEP Badge Progress
will be released to subscribers in: soon!
reply
    Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic