I have recently joined this forum and am really thankful for it. Getting lots of good info. I have 17 acres in Upstate South Carolina. Most is wooded and thickets, but we have a small, 2 acre field. I want to raise pigs, especially because we have a lot of white oaks that drop prodigious amounts of acorns every year. That may be partly due to the fact that they are around the leach field for our septic. I harvest some of them for flour, they are quite tasty and only need a few water changes for the leaching process over a couple of days. But pigs would help us eat the rest. I am trying to figure out how to feed them through the winter as well. We have somewhat mild winters, but nightly frosts and very rare snows. I want to plant buckwheat as a nurse cover to protect the cold loving forage plants from the late summer heat, and maybe provide organic matter to insulate them when frosts hit some time in October/November. The main forage crops would be winter rye, crimson clover, fava beans, beets and brassicas, but the soil is compacted clay and only grows a few grasses and wild plants. I cannot till it at all, or it will turn to concrete and not even grow that. I have thought of a few ideas so far, but need some help.
1. I could sheet mulch, but would need enough soil added to the top to start the seeds in. I have a wheelbarrow or two of compost ready, but it is very rich, containing aged chicken manure from our laying hens. I don't want to dig soil from somewhere else, because I would then turn that area into concrete. But I don't want to have to buy topsoil at Lowe's either. Maybe a scoop of mulch from the local feed store?
2. I could try to loosen it with a spade fork and drop seeds in the cracks, sprinkled with a little compost, but I doubt I could cover enough area in time to grow much. We have a tractor, but just a bush hog and box scraper to go with it. The box scraper has wide, blunt teeth on it that can be lowered below the box. I do not know if it could be used to rip the ground, maybe just one pass, without doing too much damage (i.e. causing hardpan).
3. Seed Balls? Don't know enough about the Fukuoka method, but a little research wouldn't hurt.
I eventually want to add strips of forage/orchard trees interplanted with black locust, strategically placed where the fruit in season would drop into the proper paddock. The paddocks will include the edge of the woods/thickets bordering the field by bush hogging fencelines. Trees would include mulberry, pawpaw, persimmons, apples, pecans and chinkapin oaks. Maybe figs as well. But, same problem with the soil. Would appreciate any helpful info. Thanks in advance!
I have the same problem (very badly compacted clay soil) and I've discussed it here and got many good suggestions. I tried many different things on different areas but so far the what has worked best is this: cast fava bean seeds and a mixture of fodder plants such as fodder cale and clover directly on the surface of the soil on areas where nothing grows (I had a lot of this "moon landscape"). Then scatter straw or spoiled hay thinly, just enough to cover the seeds. Then wait for the rains. Once the fava beans have grown a bit the other plants start to grow better as well. For a long time it looked like nothing much was going to grow and the fava beans looked very sad and the clover even sadder and there was no sign of a single fodder kale anywhere. But I guess partly due to a rainy summer here in Finland this method worked in the end, the fava beans survived and then at some point in mid-summer things suddenly started to GROW. I guess the fava beans (which I cast very thickly, used a lot more seed than what is normally recommended) did there job and loosened the soil enough so that other things could start growing as well.
I just threw the seeds on top of the hard soil and I didn't even wrap them in clay. The birds for some reason did not want to eat fava beans though they could easily have found them from under the straw. I tried the same method with wheat and every single seed was eaten. I haven't had any success with clay balls either, the birds eat the wheat with clay! Maybe the clay balls should be bigger.
Another - more traditional - method that also worked was just hauling a lot of horse manure to the field and working it into the top 10 cm of soil with a tractor...
This was a plot where I grew our potatoes this year. I knew there was no other way to get the potatoes to grow except maybe mulching with huge amounts of straw or hay but I did not have enough of those - potatoes need A LOT of mulch if you grow them on the surface of the soil (so they don't turn green). However, if you have lots of mulching material then this is one method you could try - pigs love potatoes! Just put the spuds on the surface of the soil and put the mulch on top of them. Works, have tried it on a small scale. Pigs would probably love digging those spuds from under the mulch too! But of course potatoes cannot stand frosts so you have to store them somewhere frost free. Clamping is a good option if you only have mild frosts.
Hope this is of some help!
"But if it's true that the only person over whom I have control of actions is myself, then it does matter what I do. It may not matter a jot to the world at large, but it matters to me." - John Seymour
Thanks for the ideas! Good to know that favas do their own tilling. I may just barely scrape the surface with the scraper teeth, just so the seeds have soil contact, then straw it over lightly. The Jerusalem artichokes will go in next spring after the pigs have browsed this winter's food and moved to another area. Then they'll be available for the following winter.
I had plenty of volunteer pumpkins growing in my paddocks that have a very thin layer of top soil. They make good winter food for pigs and no tilling. I bet if you feed them pumpkins this year you'll get volunteers next year.
Apples are great too if you can fit them in. Hmm, also persimmon.
My project thread Agriculture collects solar energy two-dimensionally; but silviculture collects it three dimensionally.
If you have pigs you have the best natural tillers in the world. I'd just use electric paddocks to fence them into small sections of the field and let them do what they do best. When they get one section worked up enough, move their pen and plant it immediately with mangles and some winter wheat or some such. Then do it with each section until it's all planted. Move them off it and let it get some good growth before winter.
Then I'd just repeat the process the rest of winter, rotating them through the food plots.
Diego Footer on Permaculture Based Homesteads - from the Eat Your Dirt Summit