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Keyline questions  RSS feed

 
Posts: 310
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I'm very impressed by the examples ... why is it that I never hear about Keyline except on permies.com? It seems like a well kept secret, when really it should be a part of every farmer's / rancher's toolkit.
 
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Well agreed, mate!
We are doing what we can to further shift this situation! Am doing stand-alone workshops as offered here, teaching it as a unit in PDCs (which doesn't always happen in PDCs, though it should), and integrating it with the Holistic Managment Land Planning process I teach as well... Additionally, have been using this since 2007 in land consulting and design. Quite a useful framework for the broad-acre work...
 
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Location: Humboldt, CA HSU
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Could this be an alternative to keyline without a tractor and keyline plow? Dig diversion swales off contour with the highest point in the primary valley and with the lowest point on the primary ridge. On the primary ridge create swales that are on contour to re-hydrate the primary ridge. Multiple diversion swale and swale systems would be put above and below the key-point to simulate the keyline cultivation. this is all speculation but i suspect that this alternative wouldn't work as well in a pasture as keyline cultivation but but would be implemented in more of a woodland system, where a tractor and plow would be harder to maneuver in between established trees

There is an attached file with a picture to help with my explanation.
keyline-concept.jpg
[Thumbnail for keyline-concept.jpg]
Alternative keyline
 
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Patrick Mann wrote:I'm very impressed by the examples ... why is it that I never hear about Keyline except on permies.com? It seems like a well kept secret, when really it should be a part of every farmer's / rancher's toolkit.



I agree Patrick, Keyline Design is a more recent development than the Green Revolution chemical farming paradigm, and it does not make a large company a lot of money, so it's understanding, practice, and acceptance as a whole farm planning system is still on the rise. We can all help spread this info by sharing the literature, videos, articles, and anecdotes that are out there as well as by experimenting on our own.

Check out the references file I posted on this thread, and if you, or anyone else, have any Keyline info and references to share, we can add to this list and develop an open source tool for spreading this info.

As a great example of moving this info towards a general farming and ranching audience, Chris Gill at Circle R ranch in west Texas has done some great work and had even succeeded in getting the NRCS to offer cost sharing for subsoiling on a per acre basis.

Also if you have suggested channels and outlets for sharing this information, please let us know.

One of the best things about Permies.com is the amount of info shared that provides us all with ideas and guidance as we travel the road of new opportunities, ideas, and experiments in ecological living.
 
neil bertrando
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Ian Camacho wrote: Could this be an alternative to keyline without a tractor and keyline plow? Dig diversion swales off contour with the highest point in the primary valley and with the lowest point on the primary ridge. On the primary ridge create swales that are on contour to re-hydrate the primary ridge. Multiple diversion swale and swale systems would be put above and below the key-point to simulate the keyline cultivation. this is all speculation but i suspect that this alternative wouldn't work as well in a pasture as keyline cultivation but but would be implemented in more of a woodland system, where a tractor and plow would be harder to maneuver in between established trees

There is an attached file with a picture to help with my explanation.




Thanks for the question Ian,

let me start by making a broadcast statement of my opinion that Keyline Design and Keyline pattern cultivation (subsoiling based on Yeomans analysis of Topography and Geography) are not a cure-all or magic bullet that will guarantee farming success. It is a series of guidelines and strategies for making decisions and implementing both momentary and long-lasting actions on a landscape and farm scale. Just like the Permaculture Design System, Holistic Management Decision Making framework and grazing, and Holzer's Permaculture; Keyline provides us with a set of tools for managing the vagaries of nature and improving our chances for success and ecological regeneration over the long term (and hopefully short as well). Nothing can act as a replacement for spending time working with the land, observing and interacting, and developing a relationship with nature, however, these systems provide us with perspectives and patterns that can speed this process and the improvement of ecosystem processes.

Now to your specific question, I think your example is a direct example of the Keyline Design system. If you replaced your proposed swale with a ridgepoint dam, you could add some spreader drains for gravity irrigation. the drawing you present is exactly what Yeomans' Keyline Design system suggests for filling dams. If you wanted to fill a series of dams, you might have one diversion drain falling to the next valley over to fill a keypoint dam.

Regarding the use of swales vs. keyline subsoiling: the Keyline pattern cultivation subsoiling could be an improvement over your proposed system because the whole landscape (down to the 1-5 square feet) is treated where accessible with the tractor and yeomans plow. In areas that are experiencing or could experience sheet erosion, rill erosion, gullying, etc. swales only treat a small percentage of the total landscape. they provide the opportunity to jumpstart a food forest or woodland forestry system which then treats the whole landscape over time. In areas where water is very scarce and needs to be concentrated to provide quantities sufficient for establishment of perennials, a system of swales, dams or other mechanisms that concentrate runoff from larger acreages may be the preferred method. I do not know what the thresholds are for the change from one style to the other, but am very interested in any info specific to thresholds of scale of application, precipitation, evapotranspiration, humidity, periodicity of rainfall, brittleness, infiltration, soil types, etc.

From a practical standpoint, Darren Doherty, geoff lawton, and Bill Mollison drafted a cost assessment for treating a landscape with swales vs. keyline pattern cultivation. I was told this info is open source, so I am sharing it as a pdf file.
Keyline pattern cultivation is a superior pattern based on cost for many situations. Also it is a parallel pattern which makes it superior for space filling and for even spacing of tree crops, row crops, pasture, hoophouses, and perhaps more...

I think the final decision will be based on a site specific cost assessment and access to appropriate machinery and operators. There are Yeomans Plows made for orchard and rocky scenarios (stump jump models), but access may be difficult.

cheers,
Neil
Filename: Water-harvesting-technique-comparisons-Doherty.pdf
File size: 958 Kbytes
 
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Jim Lea,
Your post was moved to a new topic.
 
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So how is keyline accomplished without a tractor? What are the draft animal options and human options (aside from digging swales by hand mentioned above)? In general, at what size acreage does the tractor and plow rental make economic sense? With a small holding and cheap labor what's a recommended technique for keyline?
 
Owen Hablutzel
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Hi Jonathan,

Important to remember that 'Keyline' is an entire approach to farm/ranch planning... and not merely a sub-soiling plow technique. For instance, the Keyline Scale of Permanence, KSOP, is a tool for planning and prioritization that approaches the complexity of agriculture in a holistic fashion. So in this sense no tractor or any other farm equipment is needed in order to accomplish a Keyline Design.

But, in terms of applying the use of a Yeomans' plow, and the Keyline Pattern Cultivation that goes with it, a tractor is most often used... though I've done this with a modified Bobcat using welded rings for the linkage and driving in reverse on relatively small (5 acre) areas (though don't necessarily recommend that if another option is available). One could attempt to mimic the effect using a single short shank and some horses or other draft beasts, but I don't personally know anyone who has done the experiment. Perhaps you might try it out on an area and share your experience?!

With a "small holding and cheap labor" one will profitably apply the whole planning/design process of keyline, but whether specifically using the plow or Keyline Pattern Cultivation on that plot will make sense or not will depend upon many variables. These will include the land-owner/steward's goals, budget, soils types, hydrological regime, what you can borrow from the neighbors, among other innumerable items unique to that site and social context... If a goal is repairing the water cycle on a small property, keyline is an option (unless budget and borrowing limited perhaps), but not the only possible way to acheive that goal. Other methods, well planned/timed/stocked grazing for instance, might make more sense in certain circumstances. So the recommendation there is really to be clear about what you are trying to accomplish and why, before deciding on any technique. There are sure to be multiple imaginative ways to achieve goals once you have a firm grip on those.

Whether using the plow/pattern cultivation will make economic sense will also depend upon the land steward's goals, budget, priorities... and potential of the land for response to that treatment, end use of the land... There is an irreducible element of subjectivity as well as place specificity to that decision (so an 'in general' answer would be meaningless). So for some, $20/acre would be a great investment, others might find ways to get that down to $10/acre and then be satisfied with the risk/return ratio... still others might be happy at an $80/acre investment, etc. Being clear about what you're trying to do, why, and what value (monetary AND otherwise) that successful response to a treatment will bring you may be a good set of criteria for determining a threshold of what to spend on your place...

 
Ian Camacho
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neil bertrando wrote:

If you replaced your proposed swale with a ridgepoint dam, you could add some spreader drains for gravity irrigation. the drawing you present is exactly what Yeomans' Keyline Design system suggests for filling dams. If you wanted to fill a series of dams, you might have one diversion drain falling to the next valley over to fill a keypoint dam....

cheers,
Neil



I basically took that from the diversion swales that are used to fill dams at the key point, to see the if that was a viable option instead of plowing, also the picture is from water for every farm.

Regarding the cost comparison. I doubt that you would know, but are they including general upkeep and maintenance to a system, or just he initial up front cost of implicating a certain system.

a Swale system is more of a upfront cost but the maintain of the system would be cheap.

key-line plowing would be a cheaper upfront cost, but cost more to maintain if addition key line plowing was needed, depending on the owners wants for the land.

a good example to talk about for me to understand better would be about Owen's case study at whirlwind farm, was that just one pass, or multiple passes at increasing depth per pass?

what were the owners wants and what did you suggest to get them there? addition plowing, holistic management approach, water features Etc...

Also in water for every farm, P.A talks about starting at a shallow depth of 2" or 4" and increasing the depth with each run, i was talking to someone that said the newer plows enable you to drive deeper the first initial run, is this true?
 
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Location: Southern Sierra Nevada's
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Neil, above you mentioned "stump jump" keylines plows. Are you aware of any pictures that might be viewed? This may he exactly what I need here in Tehachapi.
Jim
 
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is keyline design done at all on nearly flat property?
 
Owen Hablutzel
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G'day folks,

Ian: Regarding costs over time... normally one would not do the keyline sub-soiling more than three times, and would maintain the built up fertility subsequently by different means (good grazing practices, etc)... In the Case study of Whirlwind Community Farm we did two cultivations two separate years with the Yeomans' plow with the objective of building soil and fertility, and especially healing the water cycle on the property... this was a complete success in this case, flipping that system from less than 5% soil cover to upwards of 80% with just the first pattern plowing pass...

And yes, today's Yeomans' plows are normally started at around 8 inches deep on the first pass, rather than the 2-4 inches of the older style plows...


Jim: Check the Yeomans' plow catalogue: webpage... the 'stump jump' or 'hydraulic jump' shanks are featured on the cover, and otherwise... that said, a sensitive tractor driver can accomplish similar work without the extra cost...



Brenda: Absolutely Keyline Design as a whole farm planning system, as well as Keyline pattern sub-soiling can be and are done on flatlands... the Whirlwind case study mentioned above, and featured in the video link in the keyline thread about the workshop ticket giveaway, is a good example.

 
Jim Lea
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Thanks for the link Owen. Good reading!
 
Jim Lea
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Owen, do you by chance have any pictures of the bobcat set up that you mentioned? The "rings" comment threw me. Elsewhere I posted my tractor, and mentioned modifying it to take Yeomans tines. Since I have it and its paid for seems as though it would make more sense to modify it. Especially since I have such rough and rocky land. Also I know that the tracks on it are easy on the soil. Originally it was used building parks where we needed to run across existing turf. It left no marks in the grass. Wheeled bobcats left ruts.

Also you mentioned running backwards. A was there a reason? Viewing the cut? Attached is a pic of our machine.
IMAG0838.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMAG0838.jpg]
 
neil bertrando
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Looks like Owen did a great job of addressing the questions on this thread today.

some additional comments:

Ian: I think there is still a lot of room for innovation within the keyline design system. so I'm excited to hear about and explore new modifications to the details of the original pattern.

Re: the cost comparison, my understanding is that these examples are costed at initial treatment. My experience with swales is that they are not purely a 1 time cost, but do take inputs of $ or labor to develop, manage, and maintain. Keyline is the same. I consider these upfront costs to be a jumpstart to system regeneration or re-visioning. Hugelbeds, ponds, terraces, animal fencing/paddock systems and many of the other techniques, strategies, and patterns in design come with significant up-front investments that should be considered in the planning and decision making process.

Brenda: one of the strategies for really flat land is the flood-flow system developed by PA Yeomans which includes large feed channels and steering banks as pasture/paddock divisions.
 
Owen Hablutzel
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Hello Jim,

Don't have any very good shots of the whole 'bobcat modified to accept the 3-point linkage yeomans plow' configuration... but about the 'rings' - these would be better described as 3 metal plates with circles cut out of them... Each plate is welded to the front of the bobcat in such a way and location that they match up with the 3-points needed to link the plow in. Then the pins hold the plow to these plates in the same way they would hold the plow into a regular 3-point linkage on a tractor.

Because the plow is on the front of the bobcat with the shanks aimed at the bobcat, the driving is done in reverse... one could put the shanks on facing forwards but there does not seem to be as much power to dig in, and also you would be driving the bobcat over freshly plowed ground...

Still do not recommend this approach though! It was an experiment, and we did manage to finish the job, but this was not very rough country (a dry-forest meadow type area), we did not go too deep, and we still managed to snap-off the welded-on plates at one point... meaning we had to take it all apart in the field, drive the bobcat back to the shop, re-weld the plates, and then go back to the field, wrestle the very heavy plow back into the linkages, etc... in order to finish. Not fun. Maybe you can think of a better way to make it work? Or we can come up with a low-cost approach that might be even more appropriate to your land and still accomplishes your goals?

That's a healthy looking animal next to your bobcat, Jim! A beauty!
 
Jim Lea
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Thanks Owen for the help on the modificaion to the CAT. Sounds like its time for me to put on my thinking cap and come up with a solution.
Before your post I was headed in the direction of mounting a square tube to the bucket. Then mounting 2-3 tines to the tube. From the Yeomans webpage the tube looks standard 1.5 or 2 inch stock. Any thoughts on the spacing of the tines center to center?
Great thread here. Thanks for the great input from everyone.
Jim
 
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Here is a question for Owen and Neil.

Are there types of soil or kinds of terrain where keyline plowing is not suitable, or requires special adaptions?

I live in the Idaho Palouse. Our soil is a clay loam called loess. The land form is hilly dunes. The large scale farming is mostly dryland wheat. Hedgerows are now absent, and road edges are typically brush hogged and herbicided, so where occasional ponderosa pines, aspens, cottonwoods, and a praire steppe grass and shrub ecosystem once thrived, with wild rose, ocean spray, ninebark, snowberry, etc., now there is often not much. Even the poor cow parsley gets sprayed.

In late winter and early spring there typically appear slumps in the land, most often on the road edges, often where a field has been cultivated right to the brow of a hill above a road cut. A piece of ground will slide down the hill, often blocking the road, and sit there till the highway district hauls it away, or spreads it out along the downhill creek edge.

The topsoil (what remains after years of bad practices) and subsoil seem to slide slanty-sideways on seasonal springs of water which run out over the hard clay beneath. It''s like a layer cake with a too soft filling.

it seem obvious that one would never want to plow (or make a swale) on contour in these conditions, even if ones own location was better vegetated than average. Is keyline slowing still appropriate for our region? Should one make adjustments in the degree off contour one plows, or the depth of the cut, or the distance between cuts (or dug swales)? Other comments?

S. Judd
 
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Does anyone have any experience with trying to "Fix" fields that have been tiled?

In our area, conventional wisdom was to get rid of water as soon as possible and the fields around us are populated with a gridwork of drain tile tiled to carry the water away to the nearest drainage ditch. Is it as simple as simply cutting through the arteries that drain the field or is it important to cut all of the lateral tiles as well to prevent the high-speed movement of water throughout the field? After this year it would certainly seem that there would be a genuine interest in any method that would allow keeping this water in place.

 
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I am currently in the wet tropics and looking at farms. Yesterday I saw a vast series of secondary ridges and valleys (I think I am using those terms right I just finished water for every farm) that were all heavy clay soil at 30 degree grades give or take that were all starting to slip due to over grazing of cows. Apparently last year a 5 Hec parcel fell into the river. What sort of immediate remedies might a Keyline plan involve to help those folks repair their land to a somewhat stable state? I read through MollisonĀ“s take on the wet tropics and he mentioned Lemon Grass and Bannana grass as a stabilizer factor in steep slopes -- what else might help?
Thanks and really enjoyed your podcast on holistic management Owen and Paul.
 
M Marx
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Owen, are you guys working with Greg Judy?
 
S. Judd
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Dale,
I thought your question about correcting/removing tiling was a great one. They do tiling here in North Idaho too, which seems crazy since it is a dryland ecosystem. I guess the idea is to make the low areas as dry as the hillsides.... (Maybe having holistic management goals might help people think this through.)

Owen and Neil, I want to repeat my earlier question more concisely: Are there soils, terrains or regions where keyline plowing would be a bad idea, or require special adaptations? Where I live in the Idaho Palouse the clay loam soils get very wet in the winter, and are prone to slumping in the spring. Would keylining increase the water build up and increase the likelihood of slumping, or would it better distribute the water and reduce the risk of slumping, or...?

Thanks,
Suvia
 
Owen Hablutzel
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Lots of great questions folks! Will take a crack at a few here...

JIM:
about potential solutions to modify your CAT to carry some Yeomans shanks, etc... Believe that the steel frame bars are four inch, but you may be able to get more detailed specs from Yeomans' plow distributor, Noah Small - give him a ring! 805 440 3367. As for shank spacing... you might try on two foot centers, to give yourself six feet of spread with each pass (if using 3 shanks, obviously)... in two passes you cover fourteen feet, as you begin the second pass about two feet out from the edge of the first, and so on...

DALE B. :
If you've got a tiled field there this is an idicator that the land was once a wetland, and has that potential again if dealt with right. If your goal is to create a wetland type environment there one strategy would be to essentially create a 'keyway-ed' dam wall at the base of the slope... this would likely be what sepp holzer would do with it anyway. This way any water draining through any remaining pipes/tiles will be stopped by the keyway in the dam wall. The wall need not be high, and will look more natural as a low gradual slope berm... in these sorts of fields it is likely that for every drain pipe and tile way you discover there are several more undiscovered, as often these types of fields were worked and drained over several generations!

Until that is dealt with, any keyline plow work would just infiltrate more water to be ultimately drained back out of the system... even when cutting through main arteries the increased water pressure will blow through the lateral tiles and anything else down there that was part of the drainage network...


M MARX:
Have not worked specifically in the wet tropics... but it does sound as though some technique to get grasses established with dense root networks to hold the soils in place is in order. This could potentially be done with seeding via a Yeomans' plow, perhaps with wider shank widths if there is concern about slipping soils... but only on slopes a tractor can work. In terms of 'the problem is the solution' it seems if there are a decent amount of livestock available and some organic material and seeds, a mob of these for a short duration could trend the land in the direction you are looking for. The key there of course is the amount of time the animals are on the land, not the number of animals... a lot of animals can be useful, for a short period. The overgrazing you see is likely the result in fact of understocking that land, but for far too long a period of time.

Have not worked yet with Greg Judy, but appreciate and teach the approach he is using (Holistic Planned Grazing), and have studied under his main teacher (Ian-Mitchell Innes, from South Africa)... would love to work with him sometime if the opportunity arises...


SUVIA JUDD:
Great question about your regions particular soils and the sub-surface hydrologic issues... It sounds like you are also describing something of a wetland, or very much potential wetland, type of landscape. How far down is the water that the surface soil layer is 'slipping' and slumping around on? Do plant roots access this? It seems like vigorous root systems and healthy plants are what you would want to hold things in place in that scenario?

In general the Yeomans' plow has uses on all major soil types, but one must consider the specific conditions of course. In areas where you want to be able to get farm equipment out on a field soon after rains, or where you might be worried about soils being too 'loose' or saturated, you might just use fewer, more widely spaced shanks... In your area though it does sound tricky... you could always experiment on a small section of property and observe the results? Depending on your goals for the land there may be more useful ways to go? If it is in fact a wetland, it's probably not the best spot for the Yeomans' plow...
 
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The work you all did on the Whirlwind flatlands is really amazing. I was wondering if Keyline cultivation can be used on the other extreme in an area with very steep sides?
Thanks,
Trevor
 
Owen Hablutzel
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Thanks Trevor!
The Yeomans' plow can be used anywhere you can get your tractor to go.
If it's too steep to drive a tractor that is your limit for doing the Keyline Pattern Cultivation...
 
Jim Lea
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Thanks for the spacing answer for the bobcat mod. Boy the picture on the web page deceived me! That square bar is twice the size I guessed. That stump jumper is quite the impressive looking shank.
I'll give Noah a call today. I've been.thinking about the bucket mount and for my rocky subsoil I think it can work well. As I move slowly backwards and hit a solid one, tilting back and booming up will "roll" the shank over the rock. A little practice and it should be a snap. Thinking a full stumpjumper model would be unnecessary. The draw back is that the other shank, or shank, will roll out at the same time too. The keys then will all be shallow at that area.A trade off I guess.
Thanks again.
Jim
 
S. Judd
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Owen, thanks for your reply to my question about whether there are soils or types of terrain where keyline plowing would not be good. I think I need to clarify a bit because it sounds as if the details about our region my have confused the issue.

There are certainly wetlands in our region, but the slumps/landslides that happen in the spring are happening on the sides or tops of slopes, usually at a convex breakpoint (where the upper part is shallowly sloped and the lower part is steeper.) A common location is at the tops of road cuts, even where the road cut is vegetated. The field above has no living plant roots; it has been plowed and sown with wheat in the fall. The clay loam soils collect and hold a lot of water in the winter. (If you walk in a wet but unfrozen wheat field you will bring back a lot of the field on your boots.) With the spring rains and snow melt large areas just seem to loosen up. You can't call them wetlands, they are upland, often convex in shape, and will dry hard (under prevailing ag. practices) as the summer goes on.

We don't have a problem with slumps on our property; our property is in pasture, fruit trees, shade trees, and gardens. But we wondered whether even in our pasture keyline plowing might cause a water build up that would cause the ground to slough away in the spring. Also, I have a fantasy of getting a keyline plowing demo to happen in our region, and getting the NRCS involved. I don't want set out to try and lead a bunch of farmers in what turns out to be a wrong direction. Incidentally, some of the slumps that occur around here actually happen on CRP lands that are planted to grass (usually wheatgrass.) (The native ecosystem would have had shrubs and forbs in the mix, and therefore a bigger mix of root types.)

So, perhaps can you just answer this generically: Are there types of soils, kinds of terrain, or regions of the world, where keyline plowing is not applicable or a just plain bad idea?

Suvia in the Palouse
 
S. Judd
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I have a second question for Owen and Neil:

As I understand it, keyline plowing's main application is in pastures and grazing lands. What about crop lands? It does not seem as if one could cultivate even shallowly over a keylined area. I have thought strip cropping might work, with cultivation in bands between keyline plowed areas. Or, I have heard that some people in Australia are experimenting with over seeding (no-till planting) on pastures. What's your take on this?
 
S. Judd
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Owen, I forgot to say I did understand what you said about spacing the plow shanks more widely in wet heavy soils. The thing is, what about if you can plow without triggering a slump, but the collected water causes a slump in another season? As for how deep the soils are above the "greasy" water layer, it varies, but can be at least 2 feet or more. Evidently the grass roots on the CRP lands don't provide enough binding power.
 
neil bertrando
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Hi everyone,

Owen did such a thorough job answering questions that I decided to sleep on it and check in this morning. Thanks Owen and thanks everyone for your questions.

Jim: We have plowed in rocky soils with large rocks (2-4' in diameter, and sometimes the plow pulls these up. small rocks often just get shoved aside. with the tractor 3 pt. you can pull the plow up when you come to a big object and a small area of a few square meters left untreated is not a big deal at a landscape scale. Also, I think it is useful to point out that the subsoiling is not likely to literally carry water along the subsurface channels, but more often keeps the water on the ridges longer. the actual conveyance of water to the ridges is most often accomplished with spreader drains fed by ponds. It is unusual to use the subsoiling technique unless you are working with several acres as a minimum. You can use it on smaller parcels, but I think it shifts the cost-benefit ratio significantly because mobilizing the equipment can be a significant task and it is not unusual to plow 5 or more acres in an hour even with the smallest plow (SB-6) which is what I have used. I think it is more effective to spread the transport and setup costs over many more acres where plowing takes days. I bet there are circumstances where this is not the case. just something to consider.

the keyline design system can definitely be useful in laying out smaller parcels into food forest, road and paths, croplands, hugelbeds, water works, etc., particularly because the scale of permanence provides priorities for decision making.

Suvia: To answer your direct question about locations not to use it. I don't know. There will be circumstances which suggest that subsoiling is not appropriate, and you may have descibed one with your local situation. This seems like an ideal opportunity for some test plots if people have the money and willingness to trial the subsoiling technique. There is no substitute for locally specific trials, data, knowledge, and experience. What you have described as the situation in the uplands sounds like it could be due to at least a couple of mechanisms: 1) natural development of soil strata, 2) long term cultivation and the formation of a plow plan/settling of fines

In either case, some of the issues are lack of ecosystemic species diversity (including both a variety of rooting depths and active seasons for plants), inappropriate grading and earthworks (often roadcuts lead to slumping due to their effect on water storage and transimission in the soils and subsoils (this would be a great question to look at in more detail withr Mark Vandemeer), bare ground, and concentration of water in undesireable location in the landscape.

Keyline subsoiling does help to spread the infiltration and storage of water more evenly across the landscape which helps to re-hydrate dry areas and de-waterlog wet areas. this in itself might help your circumstances near the roadcuts. however the management of vegetation along roadways is an issue that will require more examination (establishment of woody veg like alders, willow, or other perennial soil stabilizing plants may be an effective option if the roads dept allows) you really need something to both hold the soil in place and actively pump the excess water out of the soil. You might be able to achieve this by planting hedgerows, windbreaks, or shelterbelts at property edges along these roadcuts ideally with adding income streams at the same time.

It sounds like the main concern is how to effectively balance the water distribution across the land in both space and time to avoid excesses leading to slumps and deficits leading to crop failure. There are several ways to approach the issue of too much water in the subsoil strata. Owen suggested one, with wider shank spacing. another might be to utilize some of the more expensive techniques of the keyline design system and direct and store the water in ponds to be released over the dry, growing season...or leave roots in for the winter. another might be to try the pasture cropping techniques developed and taught by Colin Seis with RegenAG. He grows perennial pasture and crops annual cereal grains in the dormant season for the perennials. this may be what you are referring to with over-seeding.

My understanding of rapid topsoil development and increased OM in the soil is that it increases the amount of water stored in the soil so that less water will actually percolate through to the subsoil impermeable layer. I do not know what the mechanics are that cause the slumping you have observed, if it is based on a lot of water at that boundary between layers and the flow of water carries to top material with it, or if just a little water is needed there to reduce friction enough so that the top slides off due to its weight.

so a long winded, I don't know. i hope the thought process is helpful.

re your other question: although first developed for grazing pasture, keyline subsoiling has been used extensively in croplands and yeomans plow co has developed models specific for these spacings (i.e. sugar cane models). In Eastern Washington/Idaho/Montana, David Ronniger has used his keyline subsoiler to cultivate areas where he crops carrots, beets, and other root veggies. the issue with tilling type of cultivation is that it counteracts the subsoiling effects over time and therefore requires subsoiling to be conducted again and again in contrast to yeomans method of 3-5 years of subsoiling followed by good land management practices moving us away from plowing and oil dependency.

Keyline plowing's main application is to restore the hydrologic function of the landscape and provide the soil biology with a jumpstart to rapidly develop topsoil. these areas can then be planted to pasture, forest, or croplands depending on suitability, preference, and income streams.

cheers,
neil
 
S. Judd
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thanks Neil,
not too long winded, in fact, very helpful. I found particularly helpful your explanation that ponds and diversion drains are the more effective way of actually moving water to the ridges, rather than the plowing, which mainly just holds it longer. (This is different from what I have read.) Also it is good to be reminded that the underlying goal of keyline plowing is building soil and restoring system function.

I might contact David Ronniger and see if he has done any keyline plowing in Idaho as far south as Latah Co. Our soils are very different from further north.
 
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If you have a 20 thick layer of sand and gravel on your place, like mine, it looks like Keyline Plowing would be a wasted effort as the gravel would quickly shift back into the cuts. Am I right?
 
neil bertrando
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Yone' Ward wrote:If you have a 20 thick layer of sand and gravel on your place, like mine, it looks like Keyline Plowing would be a wasted effort as the gravel would quickly shift back into the cuts. Am I right?



One of the purposes of subsoiling is to alleviate compaction and therefore allow air and water to move into the soil. If you have no runoff (aka 100% infiltration) then plowing will be less beneficial than at a site with significant runoff and/or compacted soils.

My understanding is that the benefit is less dependent on the specific soil type and more dependent on the dynamics that occur at the soil surface during a precipitation event. Soil texture and structure as well as vegetative cover and management will all affect this dynamic.
 
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I've been curious about Yeomans plow for a few years but can't find any information about people using it successfully on our type of soil (candler fine sand, arredondo fine sand ,etc). The reason I'm interested in that plow is that we need to make water from our short and intensive rains to stay on the pastures long enough to soak in and dry sand is hydrophobic and until it gets really wet the water just runs off, so the sand doesn't really have a chance to get wet and then the rain is over and we have erosion everywhere and whatever little organic matter was on the pasture is now down in the pond feeding algae. Yes, it's somewhat hilly here (5 - 15% slope).

Tiny fish-scale swales and terraces seem to work very good but it's almost 50 acres and we do have a tractor, so Yeomans plow sounds like a great time/labor saver. Except that I don't think it will work here - I'd imagine the cuts would fill up with sand after the first rain and the scars of naked soil will be there for a long time (when exposed, the sand forms a baked crust that seeds can't germinate on).

So, does anyone know of any examples of Yeomans plow being used in Florida? Any other relevant info or ideas are also greatly appreciated.

 
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There's some research on the subject of keyline ploughing here. It's not the final word, but worth reading. Darren Doherty has some interesting comments on the discussion. The rest of the site is excellent too.

http://onpasture.com/2013/06/17/keyline-plowing-what-is-it-does-it-work/ (sceptical)

the follow up article (more positive) is here http://onpasture.com/2013/06/24/keyline-plowing-gets-you-522720-worms-for-280/

Summary:

Over 2 1/2 years on 4 dairy farms in Vermont, pairs of fields were chosen and one was keyline ploughed with a yeoman's plough by someone who understood the process and the other was left alone. Soil samples were taken and also forage quality was measured. No increase in topsoil depth was detected. No increase in soil organic matter, no increased penetrometer reading, no increased forage quality. There was however an increase in earthworms in the keyline ploughed plots. One farmer said that the keyline ploughing drained waterlogged spots, another said it dried everything out. The authors considered the technique relatively expensive in equipment, labour and fuel.

The authors suggested that the keyline ploughing had reduced compaction and that the benefits might become more apparent over subsequent years. They admitted the possibility that natural variations between the fields might have swamped the effect of the keyline ploughing, but this also means that the immediate effects of keyline ploughing on the soil must be quite small and subtle, which means that they would probably not be visible to a casual observer. I think they are right to cast doubt on claims of an extra 8 inches of topsoil a year. Another study is referenced in the comments which drew similar conclusions.

My thoughts:

Irrigating a desert has great benefits. Irrigating a swamp none. Some people may find irrigation expensive, others can do it cheaply. It seems that plenty of people in Vermont are keyline enthusiasts, and the farmers felt that the pastures in question were not healthy.

Some people commented that keyline ploughing is part of a holistic management system, that it needs to be combined with a lot of other practices. The authors noted that it was often combined with liming which would have real measurable benefits by itself, as maybe would randomly subsoil ploughing anywhere in the pasture.

There is a story about an African tribe who used to prepare a poultice for infections by (if I remember right) asking a cross eyed child to chew a mixture of grain and rare herbs, and then spit it into a hollow gourd, hung on a particular kind of tree at new moon and the mixture left for the entire lunar month. The poultice was very effective. The mouldy grain grew peniccilin. Is this a holistic practice or were they just making things too complicated?

I feel a similar way about biodynamics: IMO some of the practices work (protecting predatory insects by not using pesticides), some interact in complex ways hard to analyse experimentally (not keeping more animals than the farm can feed may keep the soil balanced etc.) and some are probably mumbo jumbo (the cow's horn thing). The scientific method has actually found evidence in support of some claims of biodynamic farmers, such as lunar planting.

Likewise many claims made about keyline ploughing etc. are clearly testable even if they are part of a bigger holistic system of practices. There are methods for analysing this kind of thing. e.g. Multivariate statistics: We could call keyline ploughing factor A, mob grazing Factor B, living hedges factor C etc. You can then analyse data on soil depth, soil organic matter, forage quality, earthworm numbers etc. in places where these factors are present or absent and conclude that (for instance) B has an effect, C has an effect, A only has an effect when combined with B and or C, D is harmful and the combination of of A, B, C, D and E is greater than the sum of these individual effects (in other words, a holistic system).

Some questions are difficult for science to investigate. Sometimes experiments of this kind can be expensive, or have to be fitted in around the farmers existing plans. Still worthwhile to try and investigate these things rationally though. Permaculturists should be able to justify their claims with hard evidence.

Many commenters said that they had personally seen great results from keyline ploughing. Almost all of them were comparing their pastures before and after keyline ploughing. I doubt that keyline ploughing was the only thing that they were doing. Also weather varies from year to year, so comparisons like this are difficult.

I would like to see more research on this, with larger samples and follow ups over a number of years. Perhaps in drier areas than Vermont. Intuitively it sounds good to me, and the logic of it suggests that if correct, it should deliver measurable benefits, by itself without any other practices. It would be interesting to compare the effects of keyline ploughing with random subsoiling or even subsoiling lines at right angles to the keyline (if a farmer could be found who is willing to allow this in the interests of science!)
 
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[

Hi all, first post. I have a NEW key line question. I don't mean to hijack the original thread, but this seamed like the right area to post this. 
When putting a pond/dam in a draw/valley, does one key line plow above the pond?... I'm concerned that the plowed lines will prevent/reduce the ponds filling, or does the water falling in to the plowed lines seep through the soil to the pond   Clear as mud? Ha.
Thanks for your time and help.
Caroline
 
Caroline LaVin
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Me again. I should elaborate on my comments above and say that I want the water to remain *in* the pond(s), rather than re-route it elsewhere for irrigation, etc.
Thank you for any help.
Caroline
 
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How might you apply this concept to prevent erosion uphill of the area where you can run a tractor?  our land is steep grade, some of it is even vertical in patches, and the creek floods sometimes when we have one of these flash-flood-y rainfalls that seem more common in recent years.  The driveway is eroding a bit down onto our bridge.

This is:

Northeast
Forested (young forest, it had been pasture land or something, a farmer had owned it and defaulted and it was auctioned off in 03, at which time there was woods everywhere but for an access driveway.

Some people have commented it should just be terraced.

Uses:
a spiritual home for some to live here, perhaps, who practice indigenous spirit practices and study; for a teaching/retreat center for indigenous spirit practices, which are dependent on nature's being undisturbed to a large degree at least in many areas. 
potentially also: nut trees, fruit trees for market
some aquaculture (in existing ponds), mushrooms, for eating and for sale?
wildcrafting/foraging
not eroding

You couldn't bring a tractor over the bridge anyway, probably, and we can't build a new bridge for legal reasons--so only something that can get over railroad ties.  A horse, a car, a small truck...

My thoughts: put more biomass on top of things in strategic places? keyline swale berms made from sticks and stones and whatever else we find lying around, though that risks just floating away...

basically I guess in the immediate we want
--a quicker fix for the erosion on the drive
--if there are easy ways to slow the water and prevent gullying up on the hills

medium term:
--create more ponds? so we can regulate water more?
--make a little more water available to our hastily planted, maybe poorly placed and poorly selected, black walnut, pear, sour cherry, and juneberry trees

Am I barking up the wrong tree here? will keyline/swaling/berming create frost pockets? if we "plowed" (probably the lowest tech...with a shovel...) and fluff up the soil so it's less frost-containing, will the frost pocket effect still be more of a liability than the aeration benefit??

Thanks much!
 
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Terracing and keyline irrigation work significantly different from each other, but they can be done together.  Since keyline is done off of contour lines, you must terrace first, and then create your keyline contour lines from there. 
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Thanks, William.  That makes sense.  Sounds like keyline makes more sense to research in depth down the road, and for now focus on some other aspects.

I wonder if there anyone has ever made semi-terraces--not quite flat, not so steep as to evade cultivation entirely/breed erosion.

William Wallace wrote:Terracing and keyline irrigation work significantly different from each other, but they can be done together.  Since keyline is done off of contour lines, you must terrace first, and then create your keyline contour lines from there. 

 
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