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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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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.
 
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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.
 
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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.
 
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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I like machete, loppers & bush hog, the deer will get some of it.
I am starting a new plot 30' X  150' for garden & fruit trees.
I am going to put peas & winter rye down, then in Spring/summer Sorghum sudangrass as a cover crop.
It can get to 12 feet high, but I will cut & drop some & mow some to see which works best.
The mow clippings will be use for compost, but by trimming it, you force the root deeper into the ground.
 
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Matu Collins wrote:I love the sickle. I don't use it with the blade pointing toward myself, I grab a fistfull with my left hand and cut aiming away with the sickle in my right.

Just a word to the wise:  Please use a leather glove on your left hand while using a sickle this way:  I have a rather large scar on the outside edge of my left pinkie finger from not wearing a glove the first time I used a sickle to hand harvest barley.

 
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I am currently using a kukri for "chopping & dropping" my corn plants, as well as chopping them into smaller pieces as mulch that stays in the garden.  For those that aren't familiar, a kukri is a traditional tool from Nepal, though mine was made in India.  Traditionally, we'd use a "corn knife" for this task, but I already had this tool, and like it for it's versatility.  While it's too slow to be a great grass cutter, it handles saplings & thick stalks like corn or sunflowers very well.  The inside curve is good as a drawknife in woodworking too.  It kind of functions like an in-between of a machete & a hatchet.
 
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Hi all! What are your favorite tools to small-scale chop-and-drop with? Not looking for a full-scale scythe, just an isolated comfrey plant or two.

Suggestions as to brand, where to buy, etc? Over the years, which of your tools do you find yourself reaching for each time you have a small chop and drop job?

Thanks guys!
Diana
 
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I use loppers and clippers, I don't know what brand. But I use both of these daily.

I'm thinking of getting a "rice knife" as these seem to be popular with some permaculturists.

 
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I got a rice knife (also called Japanese sickle, grass sickle, etc) on amazon 3 months ago. I really like it. It cuts through herbaceous plants very fast and once you get the hang of using it, You can go quite quickly. I got one with an orange plastic handle so it's easier to find if I put it down. I was surprised to see it had doubled in price to over $16 since I got mine. Not sure I would have paid that much for something I'd never tried before.

I think I'll always have one of those now. In some circumstances such as grasses, they work better than anything else manual I've tried. It's also great for patches of cover crops for chop and drop and leaving the roots in the soil.
 
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I have lots of tools for this kind of thing, some pretty expensive. Over and over I find myself going back to my $12 corn knife from Tractor Supply. Very sharp, easy to use, and perfect for most things I need it for. I easily use it more than all my other cutting tools combined.

Corn Knife
 
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I like to use a machete. It has so many uses and can take so much abuse, it's amazing. I chop all sorts of stuff without having to worry about damaging it by hitting rocks or whatever, as filing can fix it. This is the machete I have: machete. It's been very satisfactory, but it's gotten much more expensive than it was (I paid less than $20). When I need to replace it, I'll probably get a Tramontina -- they cost around $20 and they get great reviews.
 
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Most of my chop and drop with with hand pruners. When I would gather grass for our rabbit I would take the fish filleting knife from out kitchen.

As I'm gonna be running a couple of errands today, I think I'll stop at my local tractor supply to see if they have that corn knife. There are other areas where I could see that being very useful.
 
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I tend to cut giant ragweed and goldenrod alot
The tool I really like is a six inch slightly curved blade on a two foot handle.
I like it better than the corn knife because I grab with the left hand and cut with the right.
The short cutting blade is safer for me than the corn knife but also allows hacking on a really big stalk.
I lay the tarp down and bend the stuff I am cutting over the tarp and chop and drop onto the tarp.
When I have a full load I drag the tarp to either the chickens or to a area I just mowed so I can put a heavy layer of much and kill all the weed growing on it.
After a winter the stalks tend to break down easily and can be worked into soil or just ignored.
 
Todd Parr
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alex Keenan wrote:I tend to cut giant ragweed and goldenrod alot



I use giant ragweed a lot myself. It gets huge in no time so it makes lots of mulch with no work on my part. The secret to cutting giant ragweed and other tough stalked plants like it with the corn knife is to strike the stalk downward at a 45 degree angle. If you hit straight from the side, whether with the corn knife or a machete or whatever, it will sometimes cut part way thru and then tip over, pinching the knife and making the whole thing turn into a struggle. If you hit the stalk downward at 45 degrees, the whole plant will fall straight down to the ground and you can use your off-hand, or the knife and tip it the way you want it to fall. Its works great and is very easy to get the hang of. The stalks are strong so when you hit at that angle, they cut easily because they are braced against the ground and can't move, rather than moving to the side when you hit them straight on. To cut straight across, you need a very fast swing speed and it gets tiring. When you do it at the downward angle, they cut much easier, cut all the way thru, and you don't have to swing hard at all. It took me about half a day to discover that method Now I can cut thru a whole grove of ragweed in minutes with no real effort.
 
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For small stuff, one or two here and there, I love a kama. Especially good for working near plants you don't want to cut.
http://smile.amazon.com/Japanese-Steel-Sickle-Wooden-Handle/dp/B00XYP7EHA/ref=pd_sim_236_4?ie=UTF8&dpID=21BW%2BseECCL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR134%2C160_&refRID=1E99W7AA9V0J06HT4J0C

 
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I like these Fiskars loppers. They are about a foot long. The built-in gear makes it easy to cut fairly thick stuff.

I use a Fiskars stik for high stuff and for anything that is in a prickly location where I don't want to reach my arms.

My smallest cordless electric hedge cutter is used when a lot of smaller material needs to be dropped. It works on both woody material and grass.

I seldom use one handed snips. Too slow and hard on the wrist.
k2-_af7f47ef-b33f-4ee2-9ee2-c09213938779.v1.jpg
[Thumbnail for k2-_af7f47ef-b33f-4ee2-9ee2-c09213938779.v1.jpg]
 
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Speaking of Fiskars, I get I a lot of mileage out of their brush axe. It's got just about the right length- in conjunction with a handy concave hook at the end of the blade- for casual one-handed use without stooping.
 
Todd Parr
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Dale Hodgins wrote:I like these Fiskars loppers. They are about a foot long. The built-in gear makes it easy to cut fairly thick stuff.

I use a Fiskars stik for high stuff and for anything that is in a prickly location where I don't want to reach my arms.

My smallest cordless electric hedge cutter is used when a lot of smaller material needs to be dropped. It works on both woody material and grass.

I seldom use one handed snips. Too slow and hard on the wrist.



I have one also that I use for pruning my trees. I like it.
 
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