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favorite tools for chop and drop

 
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Hm... Chop & drop is a method to prevent soil tillage & disturbance. I do not think your example of the tractor or the tiller fit the profile of Chop & Drop, though a mower does though many prefer to avoid petrochemicals and just use fun, sharp tools instead.
 
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Here's a list https://permies.com/t/24632/permaculture/favorite-tools-chop-drop
I was just out cutting with my old sickle...it needs another sharpening but for the comfrey and dock and catnip and garlic chives that I was cutting it worked fine
I always wanted one of the knives you picture in your first post, Matt.
 
pollinator
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Joseph is working on a much grander scale than most of us. Techniques that work on fractions of an acre simply don't scale adequately unless they can be mechanized to at least some degree. What compromises you make away from ideal practice when scaling up is one of the grey areas, and one that I think needs a lot of work by permie practitioners in general.

If we want our ideals to be practiced on a large scale we need to show that it works on a large scale, which means people like Joseph getting out there and trying it. In Joseph's case he has pursued a path of developing locally adapted landraces as one of his primary strategies. This lets him skip the pesticides of conventional agriculture for a start, and be confident that his crops with thrive with some weed competition. Now we might hope to see him move away from tillage, but his system looks much more benign than the annual and repeated deep ploughing systems still used by most farmers near me.
 
Michael Cox
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Joseph - for the record...

What exactly are the tools and methods you are using in the second two photos? I get that the first one is just a normal lawnmower!

 
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It's a rear-tine walk behind tiller, and the third is a tiller on the back of the tractor. Gotta agree with Joseph, it's the only way you can effectively do things on larger plots, unless you have MANY people helping. Scything, broad forks, and such are fine and all but I think it would take most people here a day of actually trying it on something larger than 1/4-1/2 acre to see the virtue of mechanized assistance.

To address the OP, I do the same thing. I see no point in wasting the organic matter. I use a hand sickle (Japanese Kama actually), scythe, or corn knife and hand pull the things too close to plants or the ones growing up through some of the heavier mulched beds.

For anyone wanting something similar to what Matt has, if you have a Tractor Supply Company store near you they have what they call a corn knife (not what I'd call a corn knife but whatever lol) in the section with their machetes. It's basically a recurved knife. Think they want about $15 and it does an excellent job, comes with a respectable edge, and isn't too heavy.
 
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For badly overgrown areas with scrubby bushes that need clearing, we have a chain topper which we reverse over the weeds. It has two seriously heavy duty chains which spin around and pulverise pretty well everything it passes over.

We also use it for cutting long grass in ungrazed areas to use as mulch. It tends to chop it up a bit, which isn't so good for using as hay to feed animals, but it's great as mulch.

I can't find any decent photos of how it works on the internet but I think we'll be using ours tomorrow to clear a neighbour's land so I'll try to get some photos then.
 
gardener
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Blake Wheeler wrote:For anyone wanting something similar to what Matt has, if you have a Tractor Supply Company store near you they have what they call a corn knife (not what I'd call a corn knife but whatever lol) in the section with their machetes. It's basically a recurved knife. Think they want about $15 and it does an excellent job, comes with a respectable edge, and isn't too heavy.



I'm currently using that Tractor Supply corn knife and it's an improvement for this use on the Fiskars "Brush Hook" machete I was using previously. The brush hook is great for light brushing, but the corn knife works more like a sickle, letting you grasp a handful of weeds, cut them without damage to whatever is near, and drop them where you need the mulch. I don't think it's a fine knife steel-wise and I'm not sure how well it will sharpen, but for the price I'm not quibbling.
 
Judith Browning
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Dan Boone wrote: letting you grasp a handful of weeds, cut them without damage to whatever is near.



I learned to always wear a good leather glove on the hand that grabs after many close calls and a few scars
 
Matt Powers
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In answer to Michael Cox's "on a grander scale..."

There's a very big difference between tilling with machines & creating mulch (chopping) with machines. That was my point.

Chop & Drop builds soils by not disturbing them & returning growth to the ground. Tillage does not count as Chop & Drop by definition.
 
Blake Wheeler
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Dan Boone wrote:
I'm currently using that Tractor Supply corn knife and it's an improvement for this use on the Fiskars "Brush Hook" machete I was using previously. The brush hook is great for light brushing, but the corn knife works more like a sickle, letting you grasp a handful of weeds, cut them without damage to whatever is near, and drop them where you need the mulch. I don't think it's a fine knife steel-wise and I'm not sure how well it will sharpen, but for the price I'm not quibbling.



I understand completely. I'm a bit of a knife/blade snob myself so I'm always inspecting steels lol. I was surprised how well it handled re sharpening though. I hit it with a ceramic rod and got a good edge that's held up well. I'd imagine it gets it merit from blade geometry more than steel quality though lol.
 
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Matt Powers wrote:



When I try imaging how I would use this kind of a tool, it seems like I would have to crawl along the ground... Crawling doesn't really work for me. I'm a biped, so I try to do my work as a biped rather than as a quadruped. For my way of working, I'd want this blade to be mounted on a long pole, so that I could use it while standing and walking rather than by stooping or crawling.

Pretty much all of the tools that I use are designed to be used while standing or walking. That has required some of them to be modified, either by bending them to new angles, cutting them to new shapes, or by adding extra length to the handles so that stooping isn't required. The lawnmower shown has been modified extensively to reduce it's utility for mowing lawns, and increase it's utility for chopping heavy coarse weeds.

This is my favorite early spring weeding equipment. Later in the season, the clay soil hardens enough that using it exceeds the one-manpower of effort that I am able to put into it. That's one strong manpower, but still only a man's worth of effort can be put into it. It works all season in the sandy field.


My garden varies in size from year to year, but can be as large as 174,000 square feet. In addition to selecting for crops that thrive in spite of the bugs, the climate, and the farmer, I am also selecting for crops that thrive in spite of the weeds. As far as I can discern, tilling has survived for 10,000 years as the agricultural standard operating procedure because it has passed the test of time. It seems to me that it is the most efficient method of producing the highest yield with the lowest effort.

I'm still chopping and dropping. I just mix the dropped weeds into the top 1" or 6" of soil instead of onto the surface. The rest of the 10 to 20 feet of soil that the plant roots use isn't disturbed in any way.
 
Judith Browning
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After merging, this thread is suddenly two pages of good stuff Check out some of the videos and pictures on the first page...some folks are doing some larger areas.
 
Dan Boone
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Judith Browning wrote:

Dan Boone wrote: letting you grasp a handful of weeds, cut them without damage to whatever is near.



I learned to always wear a good leather glove on the hand that grabs after many close calls and a few scars



LOL, just today I "grasped" horse nettles and young raspberries that were hiding in the lush green weeds. And I was thinking about snakes. My problem is that I haven't perfected a pattern of always having a pair of gloves in my pocket when the need arises, and I'm too lazy to go back in the house. I think "I'll be careful" and then problems arise.
 
Judith Browning
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Dan Boone wrote:

Judith Browning wrote:

Dan Boone wrote: letting you grasp a handful of weeds, cut them without damage to whatever is near.



I learned to always wear a good leather glove on the hand that grabs after many close calls and a few scars



LOL, just today I "grasped" horse nettles and young raspberries that were hiding in the lush green weeds. And I was thinking about snakes. My problem is that I haven't perfected a pattern of always having a pair of gloves in my pocket when the need arises, and I'm too lazy to go back in the house. I think "I'll be careful" and then problems arise.



Snakes and briars, definitely, and also the blade of the knife or sickle....I've cut myself just spacing out after doing it for awhile, or hurrying or just being sloppy...it's really a relief to have it hit the leather instead of having to stop and go for something to stop the blood
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I'm imagining a new tool... It would be a blade, sharp as can be, mounted on either shoe and facing outward. Then as I walked along, the blade could cut the weeds... So like a scythe, but mounted to my feet so that my strongest muscles could operate it rather than my arm muscles. That sure would save my core and shoulders.
 
Dan Boone
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Judith Browning wrote:...and also the blade of the knife or sickle...



Yeah, I haven't done that yet, but I've bounced the corn knife off my own boots several times and thought "sloppy, I need to be more careful with this thing!"
 
Dan Boone
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:When I try imaging how I would use this kind of a tool, it seems like I would have to crawl along the ground... Crawling doesn't really work for me. I'm a biped, so I try to do my work as a biped rather than as a quadruped. For my way of working, I'd want this blade to be mounted on a long pole, so that I could use it while standing and walking rather than by stooping or crawling.



We all have our own methods, but that would not suit the purpose of this tool for the way I use it. I am essentially using it as a sickle, to harvest greenery that I then replace where I want it for my purposes. That means my hand has to grasp the greenery I am cutting. Unless it's more than waist high and I'm cutting it off tall, my left hand has to be near the ground, which means I'm bent over already, and a long handle on the tool in my right hand would be extremely awkward.

I get that you're saying you don't bend if you can help it. You being a production farmer, that makes lots of sense to me. I can't stoop for eight (or even four or two) hours a day. But my chop-and-drop sessions tend to be less than twenty minutes long, because I'm in terrible physical shape and it's hot out there. I can stoop for twenty minutes, chopped up into three-minute bending-and-chopping frenzies. And that way, I have control over the mulch I cut and can place it where I need it. I don't see any way to do that from a standing position. But I'm working in a pasture-going-back-to-forest with a robust weedy layer that I'm trying to tame near particular plantings, not on carefully-weeded nearly-bare earth like the fields you describe working in.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Somewhere among these weeds there are row crops...







Sunroots growing among weeds that are taller than the sunroots.


Harvesting garlic from among 8 foot tall weeds.


To me, a tiller or mower mounted to a 55Hp tractor is a very cost effective method of dealing with weeds like this. I can do in an hour the work that would take months to do by hand.
 
Dan Boone
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OK, LOL, I take back what I said about bare earth.

You're not wrong about the tractor, of course. It's just that we're working on radically different projects at wildly diverse scales.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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When my garden was only 33,000 square feet, and before I had to spend so much time caring for chronically ill family, and before the economy turned sour, I used to be able to keep it mostly weeded.

2010: The happiest growing year of my life. And the most weed-free garden I ever grew.


That was before I started hanging out with people that seem to imply that I'm a bad farmer for tilling... These days with much larger fields, and much less time and resources available to me, I can't keep up with the weeding, and barely with the harvest. So I really enjoy the second week of November, when I am finally able to till the garden and it looks tidy for a few days before it is covered with snow for the winter. Then again in May I get a few days of a tidy looking garden after I till in preparation for planting corn. The rest of the time I grow more weeds (naturalized cover crops) than vegetables. Not because I intend to keep the ground covered with plants, and not because I am giving in to peer-pressure, but just because I'm one man growing a big enough garden to feed about 20 families.

Some years ago, I listened to an interview with Carol Deppe, in which she said something along the lines of: plant breeders have done a disservice to growers by not selecting for varieties that can out-compete the weeds. Since that time, I have put a lot of effort into selecting for varieties that thrive in spite of growing with the weeds. Last year I grew two crops of carrots. One was only weeded a single time. The other was not weeded at all. The crop that was weeded one time produced much more abundantly. I am growing a crop of seed this summer from the most robust and quickest growing plants from each patch. Carrots that can be grown with minimal weeding? Who would have thought? I mostly stopped growing carrots because weeding them took too much labor. I'm looking forward in a year or three to growing carrots again -- With minimal weeding. Thanks Carol and Alan Kapuler for the idea.

The weeded carrot patch: Slow growing plants were culled.


Carrots: Out competing the weeds.



So my breeding projects are intensely focused on vegetables being able to out-compete the weeds. Not because I am intending to go no-till, but because I lack the ambition and resources to do enough weeding to prevent competition. So if vegetables are going to grow in my fields they have to out-compete the weeds. Those genetics could be useful to a no-till grower, because the same principles apply, but I think that as long as I have access to petrochemicals, that I will follow my family's tradition of tilling twice a year. We have farmed the same fields for 155 years. They are more productive today than they have ever been. And after petrochemicals, I expect that I will use draft animals to till the fields. Or harrow crops like corn to put down the annual weedlings.

I need one more chop and drop weeding tool. It would look approximately like a hybrid between a shovel and a dandelion fork... It would be about 2" wide, and be on a long pole, and have a foot rest, so that I could put it against the base of a plant and sever the root just below the soil line. Because with many species, they will not re-sprout if chopped off at that point.

People say that corn depletes the soil, but the areas -- where I chop the corn crop, and disturb the soil enough to return the growth to the ground -- are the most fertile areas of my farm the next growing season. Chop and drop at it's finest.
 
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It really depends on scale. Lots of good ideas here. I'll add one that I have used to weed 500 acre fields of soy and corn. (in a crew of 6) Of course that was before I started using permaculture. However, strange as it may seem, skillfully used this tool is a godsend when precision is required. No bending, no aches and pains, chop only the plants you want without disturbing the ones you don't. If you have scattered tall weeds here and there even thistles, none better. Just walk the rows and jab whatever you want dropped. The small plants in the understory don't really harm anything anyway.

 
Joseph Lofthouse
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One time a lady stopped by my field and asked for a lesson in weeding... Asking me for lessons in weeding? Bwah ha ha. The irony was delicious to me. I suppose that I saved her days worth of weeding with one simple suggestion... "You don't have to unwind the morning glory vines from around your plants, all you have to do is sever the vine from the roots." I also recommended to her that she not remove the other pulled/chopped weeds from her garden, because in our arid climate, with the exception of purslane, weeds will not re-root if left laying on the surface of the soil.
 
Burra Maluca
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The ultimate chop'n drop machine.



The business end consists of two hulking great chains which spin and macerate everything in their path.



Hitching the topper up to the tractor.



The view from underneath, though the machine is usually set lower than this.



Of course, the chop'n drop tool I use most is the ultra-lightweight kama thingie we found in the chinese shop. And even then, if the weeds turn out to be edible I'm inclined to cut them and bring them home with me.

 
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