Hi, I'm about to get started on the first season of my newly purchased smallholding in Norway. We're very much interested in avoiding owning a tractor, at least in the beginning, and wish to know more about no till/no plow methods of farming. I have read bits and pieces about this (amongst other on this forum), but have yet to come over a reliable source, perhaps a book, for in depth reading. If anyone has input I'd be very happy!
Very few books about a homestead or small holdings scale practical application. Ben Falk, Mark Shepard, Sepp Holtzer. Ben is probably the best for no machinery.
Any chance of hiring work done? Spending the money to do major infrastructure right right away is extremely helpful.
"You must be the change you want to see in the world." "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." --Mahatma Gandhi
"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." --Francis of Assisi.
"Family farms work when the whole family works the farm." -- Adam Klaus
I was in a similar spot recently. Consensus was, the right way to prepare sod (or land that has not previously been cultivated) for planting was pigs.
posted 3 years ago
Thanks for replying. I've come over some of Salatin's books and they seem rather to the point. I'd really like to experimenting with building up the soil from the very early days and thus also not plow, but perhaps I haven't understood this well and these don't follow each other consequentially.
I will check out the film mentioned and also the writers/people.
About hiring work done I will definitely be looking into enlisting the help of some piggies. I've seen them in action on a nearby farm and it's really quite hard to believe their efficiency in turning everything upside down.
Look up "under cover farmers" on youtube, that is one of the best growing systems I have ever seen. Those guys are still using roundup, but you don't have to. In my opinion, there is no replacement for a plow, you're gonna need it, but hopefully only once or twice. You really have to convert your existing land into something that you are controlling, otherwise the grass/weeds will just be too much to deal with, at least for something to make a profit with. After you get the grass/turf flipped over with a plow and the area turned into a nice workable spot, then I would start seeding it with the cover crops that I want... Something that will not only take care of the soil but also be easy for you to manage... If you're talking about production farming for an income, you're really going to want it easy to manage and easy to harvest your cash crop without fighting weeds to do it. If it were me, i would keep a disc harrow around as well, you want to transition away from using a plow even though in my opinion they are necessary at least once... The disc harrow is what you would need to incorporate the stubble and remnants of your terminated cash crop back into the first inch or two of soil without destroying the soil structure and deeper than you have to. This will chop it up and incorporate it just a little bit to speed the decomposition process and have a field that is easy to work. I love permaculture techniques, but in my opinion the best way is to incorporate proven permaculture techniques into proven traditional agriculture techniques so you not only maximize your profits but do so without damaging the structure and overall health of the soil.
You do NOT have to own a tractor to do any of this, you can hire the heavy work out and work the remainder of it by hand. Even with the rolling/crimping of cover crops, that has been done completely manually with boards that have steel lips on them... I guess, it really all depends on how large of an area you're talking about... 1 acre? definitely not worth buying a tractor for, 10 acres? maybe a walk behind tractor... more? Less? I've not seen anything work as well as a plow does for the initial transformation of grass covered ground into something that you can then work, after that, I recommend against using plows and if possible even tillers at least for anything more than just the first inch or two to help incorporate that crop residue.
While some folks wouldn't call the cover cropping technique in the video "sustainable", I would heartily disagree and call it the MOST sustainable. To be sustainable, you have to also be economically viable, this type of system you are buying seeds every year for your cover crop, those seeds come from other farmers, it keeps the money flowing and keeps the money on farms instead of in labs. Farmers buying all they need from other farmers, that's a pretty awesome way to be if you ask me, although I am a capitalist at heart, I'm in this for earning our living and not trying to be a self sustaining homestead. If you have the proper markets and such, you can be both, it just wasn't in the cards for us, so this is the route we like the best.
We've been on this journey for a while and I've learned quite a bit, but techniques are going to be different if you are truly "farming", or if you are gardening for extra income or if you are growing to be self sustainable... If the stars align and you have as stated, the correct markets available to you, you can do it all on the same land.
Good luck and most of all, enjoy the life!
Ajila Ama Farm Western North Carolina
As a for profit farmer, happily I have no mechanicals on our farm. In keeping with a food forest approach, our farm has happily proven it's doable. Spend time walking your place after a good rain or snow melt, observe where water runs off or sits as well as dry areas that need you to direct water flow. That approach allowed us to see exactly how different areas needed to be "sculpted" if you will. A few weeks were needed to manually carve the permanent beds to slow water as well as direct it to needed areas. We incorporated swales to accomplish this and establish our paths. Thick layers of paper, sod, wood chips and straw will give your prepped areas a jumpstart to good soil and wonderful soil life. Keep in mind that close plantings eliminate a ton of weeds and gifts bounty beyond our hopes. I totally agree with M. Foti about the importance of cover crops and the benefits; cover crop seeding is worth it's weight in gold, when wanting to establish gardens if your soil isn't wonderful. We did this for a couple years and although it stretched my patience to the max, it forced me to really get to know this land through many seasons. Today, our gardens are bedded for the winter with a layer of compost then straw vs cover crops since we do not till. I am a believer that whether you are farming for profit, which we are, or creating a personal kitchen garden there is no difference in the approach. When we harvest, we fill baskets with a wonderful diverse bounty which is a reflection of our fruit forest. Be patient and spend some time looking at what your land offers as a foundation to your design & dreams. Good luck and please keep us posted!
If the land is not in a terribly rough shape, you could simply mow it and start a plasticulture to get things going. Either leaving the black poly on for several weeks to months before planting or running dripirrigation under it and grow right through it.
Personally, I do not want black plastic anywhere on my farm. Although some progress has been made with "biodegradable plastic mulch", it's made from corn/wheat aka GMOs and manufacturers suggested it be tilled in to assist with it's degradation which has been shown to be inconsistent. For me, that would be adding something unwanted deeper into my soil. If it's use is to suppress grass and weeds and then after a few weeks be removed, it would pose so much additional labor & cost that it would send my produce prices through the roof. Newspaper works much better for me, it's free as well as good (brings in worms) for the soil on my farm.
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posted 3 years ago
it depends on the size of your garden, for the home scale I would never use plastic but on a larger scale it can really speed up the process. Spreading newspaper over 2 acres would be so labour intensive. I plan to use plastic only for the few years, eventually cover cropping should reduce or eliminate the use of plastic. I dont like to use plastic either but I dont think using a tractor is any better. If careful the plastic can be used for a couple seasons.
If you don't want to use a plow and the scale is relatively large, you might need one or more of these things:
Trees and bushes. Lots of them. Especially n-fixers.
Cheap or free mulch material in the largest quantity you can get.
Some form of emergency irrigation to get trees and bushes started.
Landforming equipment like a backhoe or a single plow to make swales. Could use lots of people and shovels if you can get those easier.
Cover cropping seeds.
Annual and biennial seeds and tubers to have food to eat (and a reason to disturb the soil and get rid of grass) as the trees and bushes mature.
Anything that cuts grass. Sythe, flail mower, weed eater, lawn mower.
A set of hand larger tools including but not limited to: flat headed shovel, angled shovel, hay fork, digging fork, rake.
Soil amendments like calcium, lime, and soft rock phosphate -- following a soil test and maybe some expert advice.
And so on...not really a definitive list, but you get the idea of some things to think about if you're not doing traditional plow-based agriculture on your land and/or want to build a healthy ecosystem.