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Natural Farming with Barley experiment

 
R Ranson
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Many people seem inspired by Fukuoka's writings, but I've seen very few people growing grain using his philosophy or method. This year, I've set aside a little plot of land for growing grain using Fukuoka's philosophy of Mu farming. I'll start documenting it here, and if people are interested, I'll keep writing about it.

I'm also greatly inspired by Fukuoka's philosophy, especially his world view about how it is impossible for us as humans to understand the complexity and perfection that is nature. His doctrine of imitating what we see in nature, and using these observations in an agricultural way makes a great deal of sense to me. After all, there is nothing better than nature at growing things.

The problem I have with Fukuoka's writings, is his method for growing grains. I can see how it would work where he was growing rice and barley, but it wouldn't work here. Of course Fukuoka acknowledged this and suggests that the method needs to be adapted to the location. It seems to be an important difference between philosophy and method.


So here's a bit about my growing conditions and how I'm applying Natural Farming methods to growing grain. It's my first year with this experiment, but only a month into it and I'm already impressed.

My Location is on a small island off the south, west coast of Canada. We have very dry summers, and usually wet winters. On a usual year, it starts raining between the 12 and the 15th of Oct, rains off and on till Winter Solstice, when it gets cold. Usually Sometime from Solstice through the end of Feb, we have a freezing time, when it actually goes below zero Celsius at night, and sometimes even for part of the day! Some years we get over an inch of snow and I have to shovel the drive way. After about two weeks of cold, we have some frosty nights, but usually spring is underway. Small chance of a killing frost after 10th of March, but our official last frost date isn't until April 17. This also happens to be the time the rains start to stop. It's dry from May through to Oct, with a few showers the end of June and again, a few showers the last two weeks of August. This is a usual year... There has been evidence of things changing the last few years, so who knows what the weather will be like as climate change takes hold.

For this experiment, I chose an east facing terrace about 1/32nd of an acre large. It has maybe 1/8th of an inch of top soil, mostly populated by hawk weed. Underneath that, hardpan/clay. Drainage is poor.

Barley seems the most logical grain to start with, as it is suppose to have the largest range of tolerance for drought and water. I bought organic, whole grain feed barley from the local animal feed store, as this was the most affordable source of seed. The barley still has it's hulls on.

My Method: I broadcast the barley so that it was between one to two grains per square inch. This is double the thickness recommended for broadcasting on tilled soil. On top of the barley I spread old hay, straw and manure. No preparation to the soil. I did not coat the seeds in clay for this first trial.

The plan is to follow Fukuoka's Four Principles of Natural Farming: No cultivation of the soil, no chemical fertilizer or prepared compost, no weeding by tillage or herbicides, and no dependence on chemicals.

The main problems I foresee are the weeds, the water (too much or too little) and the wildlife/livestock.

For the weeds, I hope that getting my timing right will do a lot to combat them. That's one of the reasons why I'm sewing in the middle of winter, as it's another month until the weeds really take off.

Water I can't do much about as we haven't the facilities to irrigate or improve drainage in this little plot of land. So I will focus on improving the soil itself and the variety of grains that can tolerate these conditions.

Wildlife/livestock love grain. This is going to be the biggest challenge of them all. I've already done 'battle' with wild ducks... more on that in a later post. Following Fukuoka's method, I would use clay pellets, and would love to do so in future, but right now I have no source of clay... so some other deterrent to grain munchers is needed. Lucky for me, I have something that Fukuoka didn't: llama berries. More on this when I chat about wild ducks.


Goals: My primary goal is to improve the quality of the soil. Even if I don't get a single grain from this endeavour, the mulch alone should help increase the amount of soil.

That said, it would be very nice to be able to harvest at least enough grain to for seed for next year's experiment. This brings me to my secondary goal which is to develop a variety/landrace of different grains that will grow well in our climate and when grown according to the Four Principles.


Let me know if this interests you... If not, then I'll probably fizzle out after a few posts and restrict my observation keeping to my farm journal. But if you have interest, then I can keep you updated through the whole endeavour.


 
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Very much interested and lots of others will read about this also and not comment
I garden with ground cover and seeds just keep sprouting through the mulch so I know this works .just have to learn what works the best.
 
R Ranson
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I'm glad to hear there's interest. I have no idea how this is going to go, but if I imagine it would take several years before it shows any real promise.

A bit more about the soil I'm starting with. Like I said, it's very poor and thin soil on top of hardpan/clay. The main weeds are moss, heartseed (shepherd's purse?) and hawkweed. I say weeds, but really that's the main 'crop' that grows there with a few hints of grass like objects poking through between the weeds. We've seeded it with clover and pasture seed (horse and sheep pasture) time and again, with little to no luck. There has been some fresh horse manure (complete with hog fuel) applied a few years ago, and ducks run on that section. Other than mowing it as if it was lawn, it's had very little human attention since the terraces were made early 2010.

If I've done this right there should be a photo of what it looks pre-planting, with my hand for scale.

If I could be bothered, I would do a home soil test and find out the ph, n.p.k, &c. But I'm not certain I can see how knowing this will change what I do. Fukuoka's Four Principles are pretty narrow with what I can apply, and knowing what I lack in the starting soil will tempt me to add this or that to the soil. Judging from the weeds and it's history, I can guess that the soil is very acidic and low in nitrogen. Given that the clover wouldn't take hold, I'm also guessing it's low in boron.

There are a lot of wormsign on the top of the soil this winter, and giving that the heartseed weed is starting to take hold, I'm thinking the soil is starting to loosen up a bit.


I bought some white clover seed (very pricy stuff), and plan to broadcast it over the barley sometime after the equinox.

At the same time, I think I'll start playing with buckwheat on the slopes, if for no other reason than to drown out the weeds. Buckwheat is another one of those 'grains' with a broad tolerance for soil and moisture conditions. For the buckwheat, the plan is to broadcast it on the slopes then get the line trimmer out and mow down the weeds as mulch - I remember reading fukuoka saying this somewhere, maybe his book on desert? The weeds should be quite tall by then, but not quite ready to flower. At least that's the plan.


Also included (I hope) is a photo of the terrace - it's the area with straw/hay spread over it is the part I'm experimenting with. Like I said, it's a pretty small area, but it's good to start somewhere. The part that's darker brown, is an experiment with some old peatmoss that was taking up space in the shed, not really fukuoka's method, but it makes a good divide between Try One and Try Two.



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what I started with
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Where the grain will grow
 
R Ranson
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So far, I've planted barley in two goes - I'll call them Try One and Try Two, for lack of a more creative naming system.

Try One:
Planted about second week of January, during an unusual warm spell.
Preparation prior to seeding, I opened bag of seed. No tilling, no additives to soil, no clay pellets.
Grain planted, Barley. Method, broadcast about two seeds per square inch.
Mulch, old mouldy hay spread one to two inches thick, leaf mulch from cleaning out the ditch beside the road, garbage that people tossed into the ditch beside the road.
Manure, Llama and alpaca berries, fresh and old.

Observations: A few days after broadcasting the seed, many of the seeds had sprouted. The barley seems to have very little trouble poking through the mulch, except where I failed to de-clump the hay. I expected to loose most of the seed to grain munchers like rats, ducks, wild ducks, geese, wild geese, but they stayed away from the grain, for the most part. Loosey and Goosey (the two wild Canadian geese that spend the winter at our place) enjoy sitting in the hay, and sometimes munch on the grain.

My hope is that the llama manure deterred most of the grain munchers. Llama smell is suppose to be unpleasant to rats and raccoons, or so ten minutes on google tells me. Since I didn't have clay for the seed, I thought why not put this to the test.

Now, the grain has grown an inch and a bit through the mulch. It's very green, and I think at least half of the seed is thriving. I really did not expect this many to survive, so I wonder what it will be like if the grain grows this thick.


Try Two:
Planted last week of Feb, during a moderately dry spell with warm days and frosty nights.
Preparation prior to seeding, none. Bag was already open.
Grain planted, Barley. Method, broadcast about one seed per square inch.
Mulch, cut up barley straw from a local farm - I doubt if it's organic, but I figure that since it was used to grow barley, any herbicide residue would favour barley.
Manure, fresh chicken for all, fresh and old llama for most of it.

Observations: The day after I spread the seed, the wild ducks invaded! So Many DUCKS! Dozens of ducks digging about in my straw, eating my grain.

What's interesting about the ducks is that they flocked to where there was no llama berries. Llama berries = few if any ducks. No llama berries = hoard of ducks.

Conclusion re ducks and llama berries - there may be something to this llama berries deterring grain muncher theory. Or it might be something to do with the temperature difference as the sun rises in the morning and heats up different parts of the plot, or the way the light reflects off the pond, or the distance from the neighbours dogs, or... Whatever it is, this is worth investigating further.

Less than a week from planting and two rainfalls later, the grains are swelling up and look ready to sprout. The ground beneath the mulch is staying moist and feels warmer than the ground beside the mulch, maybe a degree or two.



If I could start again, what would I want to do different?

I'm not thrilled with having the mulch (straw and hay) all chopped up. Fukuoka writes about this in several places, and I wonder if it wasn't cut up, if the ducks would have a harder time getting at the grain. I'm very much looking forward to the next experiment where I can use my own homegrown mulch.

I wish I knew more about grain planting timing in our area. There is precious little and the farmers who grow grain in our area guard their secrets more securely than ...insert secure thing here. We can imagine that my not knowing could work to my advantage and by the end of this experiment I will have discovered some amazing new agricultural trick that will ..some amazing thing.. All I know is that barley wants a cool, moist start to life and that it can survive a frost if it isn't too tall. That's exactly the conditions we have here right now, so maybe... It's worth a try at least.

Adding a section of clay coated seed to my experiment would be lovely. I'm really sad that I don't have clay yet.



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Try Two
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Try One
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Wild Geese
 
R Ranson
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On Natural Farming Method, What Fukuoka did and how can it be applied for my location.

For this topic, I would love your help brainstorming how the philosophy and principles of Natural Farming can be applied to my situation. I would like to explore what grains would be best to grow and what schedule would I plant them. My first experiment is simply working with what I have and will probably only last until next year mid spring (so about 15 to 17 months total) when that little patch of land is scheduled to become lawn again. If I can get enough seed I would love to start again the next fall with a more permanent, and considerably larger grain field. Any thoughts you have would be of great help.


Resources:

To discover the details of Fukuoka's method, I'm focusing on The One Straw Revolution, particularly Part II, chapter "Farming Among the Weeds" and the Editors's Introduction by Larry Korn.

The most local resource I've found for growing grains where I live is Island Grains. Also the seed company West Coast Seed has a cover crop planting table pdf that includes planting times for different grain crops - when used as cover crops.

The two other books I've found most helpful are Small-Scale Grain Raising by Gene Logsdon and Homegrown Whole Grains by Sara Pitzer


What Fukuoka Did: or at least my understanding of it. The schedule varies in different parts of the book, which makes me think that maybe the writing is from different stages of Fukuoka developing his method. I put in italics the parts that are not consistent throughout the book.

Starting with the fall, because that's how I'm use to thinking about the agricultural year

Early October - white clover and fast growing varieties of winter grain are broadcast
October - rice is harvested
Late October to Early November - seeds are broadcast (clover, winter grain and sometimes next year's rice in clay pellets)
May - winter grain is harvested
April - if not sewn already, rice seed is broadcast. Also if winter broadcast of rice is not growing in thick, additional seed is added
June - water is held in the fields for a time to weaken the weeds and clover, allowing the rice to flourish (this corresponds with the natural rainfall pattern for Japan)

After each grain is thrashed, the straw is returned to the field uncut as mulch.

One of the ways to keep the wild grain munchers from gobbling up all his seed is to sew the seeds a few weeks prior to the harvest of the last crop. That way the seed stay fairly hidden. When the harvest takes place, the seedlings are one to two inches tall and are trampled down by the harvesting and mulch spreading.

This trampling of the seedlings is interesting as in our families oral traditions, it was something my great, great grandfather use to do on the farm. He would walk directly on the rows of seedlings (peas and grains mostly) while hoeing between the rows. The theory is that the stress of being trampled and the added contact with the soil helped the plant grow stronger and produce a better harvest. I've never had the courage to test this for myself.

Other examples of seeds grown using Natural Farming Method include wheat, buckwheat, potatoes, corn and soybeans (Korn's introduction). "... In areas where water is not so readily available, for example, upland rice or other grains such as buckwheat, sorghum or millet might be grown. Instead of white clover, another variety of clover, alfalfa, vetch or lupine might prove more suitable field cover." (Fukuoka, One Straw Revolution).

Out of all of Fukuoka's writings, this next quote is the one that inspired me to try this experiment: "Natural farming takes a distinctive form in accordance with the unique conditions of the area in which it is applied." (ibid). It helped me realize that following his method is not what's important, rather, it's his philosophy and principles that matter when applying Natural Farming to different parts of the world.


What grains to grow?

Given the brittle nature of our clime, the grain needs to be pretty hardy. As my primary goal is soil building, I think I will stick with grains and crops that provide good straw for mulch. A few ideas that come to mind so far include, barley, buckwheat, wheat, oats (maybe later as it's a bit frail in our clime), lentils (grow great here), winter fava beans, and chickpeas. If I can find a cowpea that will grow this far north, I would like to include it too.

When to plant the grain? This is where I need your help the most. Creating hypothetical planting and harvesting schedules.

My previous attempts to plant winter grains have met with catastrophic failure. I planted in Sep though early Nov and the grains were always too tall come frost time. Favas go the same way if planted before December, but thrive when planted anytime between Dec and the spring Equinox.


One more thing to consider, even though we get precious little rain in the summer, every night brings a very heavy dew which the native plants seem able to harvest. Perhaps there is a way to take advantage of this - observe nature, and mimic it according to Natural Farming Philosophy.



 
Landon Sunrich
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Hey,

Why is your little patch going to turn back into lawn?

Barley seems a sound choice to me -- I have dealt with similar conditions. Clover can make a pretty good groundcover under barley if you wait until your barley is 6 or 7 inches before sowing an understory. If your soil is rich enough I have seen garlic do very well in barely too plus the stalks make great mulch once you harvest and start rearranging everything.

At least you aren't dealing with bullshit geranium and solinacea and other nasties. Sometime I think I'd sell my soul to have shepherds purse be my main irritant.

Initial thoughts. I will re-read this and think about it some more. Like I said, similar climate and conditions - so it'll be a good mental exercise for me.
 
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Grain, when to plant:

For barely and rye? early October through end of February I'd say - depending on soil conditions. This year on a HUGE west facing field where I work we had our 6 row barley sprouting down to a depth of about 4 inches. In early January.

I could be less than right about those times but they've worked acceptably for me.
 
R Ranson
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Good to know for planting barley and rye. Garlic in barley!?! Fantastic. They are my two favourite things!

Do you know when they would mature - approximately? For example, if I planted barley in Nov, would it be ready to harvest by April when I plant a summer crop? I need to get my summer crop in before the rains stops, but if I'm sewing a couple of weeks before harvest, I can sew my summer crop in April and harvest winter crop early May. Winter crop timing isn't so important, but harvesting before mid Oct is essential.

Based on NORMAL rainfall patterns for my area, my ideal schedule would be:

Sep to early Oct - harvest summer crop
Fall to early winter - sew winter crop
April - sew summer crop
Late April to early May - harvest winter crop

In theory all we have to do is find crops that will fit into that schedule. How difficult could that be?


The little patch will probably turn back into lawn because we may have to move in the next year or two (due to family issues). Still, it's nice to have a chance to practice natural farming and learn more about how different grains grow and what timing to sew/harvest them.
 
Landon Sunrich
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I don't see you getting that quick of a turn around on the Barley. Late August when its dry dry dry even into September is more when I think about that. The barley will try to choke out your garlic (as will chick weed or anything more hostile especially if it creeps. I think that by concentrating your garlic into patches and visiting it occasionally (they like to be fed) one could easily knock back the grain around it to make the garlic self mulching and get the necessary light when time comes to put on bulb size.

I'll keep pondering here. I am by no means expert here on this. This is mostly based off of observations of fallow field and their natural succession after years of cropping and disturbances.
 
R Ranson
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Landon Sunrich wrote:I don't see you getting that quick of a turn around on the Barley. Late August when its dry dry dry even into September is more when I think about that.


That's exactly the kind of thing I was wondering about.

The one bigish farm around here that grows barley, says to look for it in September. They claim to harvest it late August (during our rainy week) and thrash and clean it by early Sep. I don't necessarily trust what they say on the subject. I don't know if they spring plant or not.

The local seed company I trust most says that they harvest their barley in June and July (but don't say if this is spring or winter planted) "Barleys tolerate cooler conditions than wheat and mature earlier. We harvest our barleys in late June or early July. They can be overwintered in many places or sown as soon as the soil is workable in the new year." salt spring seed, barley

They say about wheat: "October or November sowings also produce excellent results. Late fall or early spring plantings are harvested before August, opening possibilities for mid-summer sowings of other crops." salt spring seed wheat. There is mention in One Straw Revolution that wheat isn't very popular in Japan because it comes ready a month later than barley or rye (when winter planted).

Either way, that gives me mid summer sowing, which requires irrigation. I don't have the water at that time of year and don't feel is in keeping with Fukuoka's philosophy.

Fukuoka writes about 'short season winter grains' (if memory serves), and is harvesting in May. I wonder what these are, if I can get my hands on them or if I need to create them through some sort of selection/breeding process.

Or maybe I need a different overwinter crop like favas which are harvested in May/June? How would they work with Fukuoka's philosophy? A dib in the straw?


I am very grateful for your thoughts and ideas. It's a big leap from academic book knowledge to actually growing using Natural Farming Philosophy. It's going to take a great many years to find the 'perfect' system for this part of the world. Your input is greatly appreciated.

 
Landon Sunrich
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I'm totally checking out that salt spring wheat. Evergreen State College and WSU did a joint test program in the mid 2000s testing wheat west of the cascades, I was minorly involved in it but moved on before the results. It could be interesting to track down though.
 
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I'm very fond of Salt Spring Island seeds as they grow well here and the guy in charge actually encourages people save seeds and stop relying on seed companies.

It sounds like an interesting project with the wheat growing. Please let me know what you find out.


Here's an example of modern day schedule for growing barley found on UK Agriculture. Why I'm looking at this is because we can grow many of the crops that grow well in East Anglia. The only serious difference being the rainfall.

Winter Barley

September - ploughing

October - Cultivations and drilling or min till operations

November - Weed and aphid control

March - Fertiliser top-dressing

April - Fertiliser top-dressing

April - Weed and disease control

May - Weed and disease control

June - Harvesting


The site says the time can vary up to a month depending on location and weather patterns for that year.

Spring Barley

November - Autumn ploughing

February - Cultivations and drilling

March - Fertiliser top-dressing

April - Weed and disease control

May - Weed and disease control

August - Spring barley harvesting


What I'm having trouble seeing is how on earth could I fit a second crop of anything in there?

My thoughts are: This is a schedule for modern varieties cultivated under modern agricultural methods (chemicals, tractors, &c.), it may or may not apply to this project.

Questions: Are there already varieties out there that have a shorter growing season? If so, how can I get my hands on some seed? If not, what crops would fit with the timing governed by our weather patterns? Or maybe, would it be worth spending a few years/decades developing and selecting for a grain crop that can work with the limitations our rainfall gives us?


Sigh, this mental exercise is giving my brain a serious work out. I'm even growing grains in my dreams.

I'm very glad I didn't start with trying to figure out the best way/combination for applying the Natural Farming philosophy. If I had, I would forever be stuck thinking about it and not learning from observation and actually trying (and probably failing) growing grain this way. There is so much to learn and try that I think I could be kept interested in this project for many years. I can't wait to find out what time of year this barley I've got growing now comes ripe.
 
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Had a real close look at the barley today. The last few nights have had hard frosts, down to minus 2 C a few nights ago, but days have been t-shirt wearing plus 12. No real rain this week. Bright sun, bright moon.

Try One - there has been something munching on the leaves. Definitely some insect damage, some frost damage, and serious goose munching. Overall the colour of the barley is less intense, changing from dark green to a more yellow-green. The majority of the grain is still growing strong, maybe a bit put out by the weather. The mulch is starting to disappear and the weeds are making their way up through it.

Try Two - Digging around under the straw and I found the grains are swollen and have a white tip on them - just beginning to sprout.


Reading more about Barely and how long it takes to mature: The two books I mentioned in an earlier post both say it takes between 60 and 70 days from growth in the spring. Seed companies say it takes between 70 to 90 days to maturity (from when it don't say, but I'm guessing from when it starts growing in spring). The more I read about it, the more I feel my time would be better spent watching the grain grow.
 
Landon Sunrich
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R Ranson wrote: The more I read about it, the more I feel my time would be better spent watching the grain grow.


Yeah, Totally. Is that information specific for your latitude? What about for degree days? Daylight and heat matter a whole lot. I can tell you for damn sure that's not the turnover rate for 6 row in any field I've been on.

I've been dealing with the same weather here. Hard frost and solid ground in frost traps and where there is no good canopy.

Regarding Geese; After some fairly protracted observation, it is my supposition that once the grain is established geese become a benefit to the system as a whole. They dig in at least as many seeds as they eat to various depths. They fertilize. If you use char it sticks around. And it's never bad to have some protein flying by right about when your having start think about winter.
 
R Ranson
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Admittedly, there are more farm geese eating my grain than wild ones... But thankfully, my geese like the hawk weed better than barley. They get a hold of the hawkweed, then pull it out of the earth, munch on the roots and crown, and leave the leaves behind. They are also very kind about fertilizing while they eat, so all in all, it balances out okay. I agree about the added source of protein come fall, geese are wonderful that way.

I'm not going to fence off or try any measures to protect the grain - I'm a bit tired to put this into good words right now, but my feeling is that having the grass/grain munchers helps select for stronger seed, and also I want to encourage natural predators (especially for insects) to move in.


The growing time for barley - from the places that are closest to us - seems to average about 75 to 80 days. Days from when...be it seeding, sprouting, first leave sees daylight...? No one seems willing to commit to a starting point with grains. There also seems to be a variation of a month or more depending on the variety of barley.

At the moment, our degree days are hovering between 2 and 5. I haven't quite figured out how to use this tool yet, but I found a forecast that gives it and crop heat units - whatever they are.

Days are hot, nights cold. Today for example, we've been -1C and plus 12 C. This up and down temperature is giving all the plants a tough time, so I don't blame the barley in Try One for slowing down. The soil is starting to feel colder as this weather continues.
 
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Today we are having one of those beautiful mornings where the fog is so thick, we can hardly see the property line. Still none of our usual rainfall yet, but with the fog, the air is so wet, it's like it's pouring buckets. Just go outside for two minutes, and the clothes are soaking wet. The plants LOVE it! Dew dripping off the leaves and the trees, watering the soil with their own personal rain.

Try One is looking a bit spartan. The barley that is still there remains green, but a bit yellow at the tips. There is a fair amount of moisture under the straw, unlike Try Two where the soil is fairly dry under the straw.

Weird thing about Try Two, most of the manure is gone. I don't know where it went, but it isn't there. It can't have washed away or into the straw as we've had no rain since I put it there. The theory that llama manure has something to do with keeping the ducks away, has further support. Less manure, more mallards eating grain!

Good thing is that there is still some grain under the straw (the barley straw smells amazing at this stage!). The grain is in different stages of sprouting, from slightly swollen to have the first two roots growing. If it can survive the ducks, it may have a good chance of growing. If not, well, mulch isn't going to do any harm to my soil building goal.







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Try Two - where has the manure gone?
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Try Two - under the straw
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Try One - yellowing tips
 
jimmy gallop
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I think you will find that under the straw the barley will be sprouting but will take a while to show.
 
Landon Sunrich
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I will add that if you have not tried so - for next time round - over seeding and mixing your soil to get a bunch of seed at a bunch of depths is totally where it's at in my opinion. With barley at least. More survives predation that way too.
 
Landon Sunrich
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The manure has probably all washed down into the straw and been stolen by greedy worms.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Also, two thirds of the way down the right side of your second photo. Is that clover or some sort of rose?

Because of its a rose I'd be inclined to yank it quick while the soil is moist and it's still manageable. I really like roses - especially rose hips and Nootka and some of the super fragrant old school ramblers that the bees like - but not springing up randomly in a grain patch. They get seriously pokey and are near impossible to kill once they there.
 
R Ranson
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Worms make sense, why didn't I think of that?

I think it might be white clover, leftover from previous attempts to grow it on this patch.

Seeding again and adding more mulch might be the way to go. We'll see how things are after the equinox when I hope to sew buckwheat and clover. Maybe I'll get another bag of barley and give it a try.


The domestic grain munchers have really taken with the barley grass in Try One. The benefit is that the domestic geese love hawkweed more, and the domestic ducks munch on slugs and other bugs more than the barley.


Thinking back on my hypothetical harvest schedule... Winter Fava beans are (according to local seed catalogues) harvested as dry beans somewhere between May and July in our area. It might be worth playing around with this crop and selecting for an earlier harvest and stronger winter tolerance. Find a grain to plant in April that will harvest before mid October rains. Combine with a clover cover crop and the soil should build up pretty quickly... fava beans go quite deep and would help break up the hardpan.

That's the theory. What do you think.
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Geese coming for lunch on my grain patch
 
Landon Sunrich
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The timing on fava's sound good. That's when I pick them and we've cropped lots of them.
 
Landon Sunrich
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The also definitely have big root balls fix nitrogen (you can see the nodules, they come in shades of neon) and generate a whole bunch of biomass. They will shade out most other things if planted at standard density.
 
Nandakumar Palaparambil
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Nice to see this experiment, would love the update with photos.

I had tried natural farming for rice, in Kerala,India. It hasn't worked out so far, so going with tilled organic and I am getting some yield now. Going to try it again in the next season. Main reason for failure is weeds taking over paddy and when no-tilled, growth was less since roots were not able to penetrate easily. I couldn't apply any compost, ,may have to try that. Also white clover does not grow here, so looking for a proper cover crop.

Here is my blog with cultivation details of tilled organic paddy - http://farming-experiments.blogspot.in/2014/11/paddy-crop-season-2-2014.html


Regards,
Nandan
 
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A quick update on the barley. It's still there and still growing.

Try one and Try two are about the same height, despite being planted a month apart. Weeds have pushed their way through the straw. Dandelions are blooming. Hawkweed is making massive leaves.

I haven't seen a duck, wild or domestic, near the barley in almost two weeks. Can't wait to see what attacks it next.

The most difficult thing is that I want to do something. Growing a crop without constantly weeding, tending, tilling, amending, and all that good stuff is driving me crazy. But if I put my oar in now, it will skew the experiment. Mu Farming is HARD WORK! All this do nothing and not doing this and not doing that... I don't know how to express how frustrating it is.

To remind myself of my goals: the mulch is going to help improve the soil. If any barely survives, I will have seed that is one step closer to being selected to this kind of growing condition. These are my goals. Weeding isn't going to help achieve them. Why am I having so much trouble with this?

Anyway, clover planting time soon. Going to broadcast buckwheat on the slopes then take the line trimmer to the weeds as mulch. If it's not enough, I may spread the remainder of my barely straw there too. Weather permitting, this is tomorrows task.
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Try Two
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Try One
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Winter Barley from my garden - at least I can weed this
 
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We haven't had a frost for almost two weeks, so today we broadcast the white clover, both over the barley and on the slopes of the terraces. We also broadcast buckwheat on the slopes.

The clover was seed grade white clover. We spread this very thinly, focusing on places where the soil was showing.

The buckwheat is animal feed buckwheat which is less than a third the price of seed grade buckwheat. We didn't do any germination tests on this, but I planted some like this last year and it worked well. Buckwheat we aimed for 1 seed per 2 square inches, but probably broadcast 1 seed per 4 square inches.

After spreading the seed, we took the line trimmers and mowed down the weeds. It took two people working with line trimmers almost two hours. The upkeep of this 'lawn' space is so very annoying, I hope and pray the buckwheat will take over and grow. I have serious doubts, but it's worth a try.
 
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Today I'm obsessing over chickpeas.

Last year I tossed a bunch of chickpea seed (aka, grocery store dried chickpeas that cook up tasty) in our hedge fund (aka, the collection of fruit and food bearing trees we planted in a long line between us and some neighbours who get upset by watching us farm - you would think they would stop watching... but ah well.) No irrigation - well broke twice. I still got a nice gathering of chickpeas, maybe the same amount as I planted, but these ones survived the drought! I chalk that up as a modified success.

Reading Carol Deppe's books, I discover that chickpeas are not a warm weather crop like I thought, but that they grow well when planted like peas. Aka, why I now call them chickpeas instead of garbanzo beans. If I plant the chickpeas earlier in the year while it's still cool and rainy, I might be able to get more peas than I actually planted... without irrigation. Carol, I hope you are right.

One of the tricks Deppe says in her book Resilient Gardener, is to soak the beans one to two days before planting them. I did a trial of this in the middle of March, planted them out in a haphazard way and have a very healthy looking crop of baby chickpea plants that have taken no notice of any frosts that we've had since.

Hmmm....

Now, how to combine this new knowledge and drought tolerant seed with Mu Farming?

I have a bit of lawn near some baby nut trees that will be difficult to mow this year... You know what I like better than lawn? Not Lawn! Not lawn that produces food is just a bonus.

Here's the chickpea plan:

Soak the beans - we still have cool nights with occasional frosts, but warm days. Beans need a warmer temperature to germinate than they do to grow. Maybe another year I'll follow Fukuoka's advice and try 'not doing this', but this year, I just want to see if it can be done and soaking isn't a huge labour. Note, Deppe has some rules for soaking, it's not just put the beans in water, you have to expose them to air and stuff.

Scatter the seeds

Spread the rest of my barley straw

Do nothing until harvest time

Harvest


The soil in this patch was once a garden, has had manure on it, and is very slightly down hill from my manure pile. There are douglas fir directly to the west, a pond not far to the east. This spot warms up early in the day but is cool in the afternoon. Fairly warm spot in the nighttime. Soil depth is about 2 inches. Main weeds: grass, chickweed, heartseed. The nut trees already in this area are about 3 feet tall, chestnuts and hazelnuts. Chickpeas are suppose to grow two feet tall.

Concerns:

I don't know the origin of the seed, except that it's from the middle east or north africa. These may be hybrid or not, but the ones I grew last year (F2) came true to original, albeit a bit smaller (perhaps due to drought and being planted at the wrong time).

I don't know how thickly to broadcast the seed.

There is a lot of barley seed still in the straw. Might be a bonus, but also may grow too tall and shade out the trees.

I also don't know if these are PVP or GMO. I suspect GMO would have terminator qualities and I can't find any chickpea GMO trials outside of India (which is not where my seed came from), I think I'm okay here. PVP? How would I tell? I'm not using these seeds for profit so maybe I'm okay there. I just have to trust that someone will tell me if I'm doing wrong.

Can beans grow just being broadcast and covered with straw? How about chickpeas? I guess this is what I'll find out.


Edit to add: What do you think about broadcasting some mangelwurzel seed with the chickpeas? Almost the right planting time for them anyway... thoughts?
 
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I've reached a decision. If Fukuoka can coat his seeds in clay, I can soak my seeds prior to broadcasting them. His seedballs are designed to slow the germination of the seeds for when the time is naturally right... whereas my seed soaking is designed to encourage the seeds to sprout when the outside world isn't ideal. Wait a minute, now that I actually write this out, I wonder if I've done wrong soaking my chickpeas prior to broadcasting them. Too late now.

I guess, soaking my chickpeas means that I know better than nature when best to germinate the seed, which isn't in keeping with Mu Farming... Going to have to rethink this for next year.

Unlike my barley, my chickpea isn't fully in keeping with Fukuoka's four principles (No cultivation of the soil, no chemical fertilizer or prepared compost, no weeding by tillage or herbicides, and no dependence on chemicals). I broke the no tillage rule. The thing is, I got this new tool and I wanted to see how it worked... ah, a girl and her toys, what can you do?


My method for chickpea semi-fukuoka style: I decided to play with our new wheel plough I found on UsedAnywhere and see how well it could make a slice in lawn. Very well as it turns out. I made a few slices in the sod, lifted up the slice, broadcast the seeds, lay the sod back down where it came from. I also broadcast the rest of the soaked chickpeas on top of the weeds, then covered with barley straw. I may or may not add chicken manure to it later this week. However, today I have a ewe thinking of popping out her lamb, so I'm much more focused on that than plants.

My chickpea seed choice: I used the chickpeas I gathered from last year's ignored chickpea plants. They are the few plants that survived last year's summer (summer is synonymous with drought here). I added a few handfuls of different chickpeas from my pantry that are delicious, including some brown ones that are exceptionally tasty. The brown ones have purple flowers and the regular chickpeas have white flowers. Maybe they will cross and create a landrace that grows well using Mu Farming methods.

I also broadcast some european radish seeds, which I forgot to write down, prior to working with the plough and chickpeas. It's a very old packet of seed, but makes a big white radish, or possibly turnip. I wasn't paying attention. If it's meant to grow there, it will grow.

My expectations for this patch: A lot of weeds, and not much else.

My hopes for this patch: To harvest at least as much chickpea seed as I used to plant it. Maybe these peas would be better adapted to this Do Nothing Farming method and with luck, eventually end up with a variety of chickpeas that do well with this farming method. At the very least, the mulch should help improve the soil, so that alone is worth the effort.

I'm having fun playing with Fukuoka's philosophy and experimenting with different ways it can be interpreted and actualized in my local conditions.

Barley update: The current assault on the barley is small birds seeking nesting material. They don't mind the barley plants, but they are rapidly making off with the straw.

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Wheel Hoe - woot
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toss the chickpeas in the furrow and fold it back over
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broadcast the rest and cover with straw
 
Caleb Peretz
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I suggest sowing all different kinds of clover, especially white clovers and strawberry clovers, along with oats and barleys of many different varieties, all mixed together and made into seed balls. Sow these around october or november depending on your climate, but you will test it out and see what works best for you. sow the seed balls and cover everything with rice straw. give it a little chicken manure. it will all come! winter grains grow over the winter, sow them in fall, reap in late spring or early summer. sometimes in some places they sow grains in late february, you may want to try that too, see what works with the other systems you establish. good luck!!! love it.
 
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I suggest sowing all different kinds of clover, especially white clovers and strawberry clovers, along with oats and barleys of many different varieties, all mixed together and made into seed balls. Sow these around october or november depending on your climate, but you will test it out and see what works best for you. sow the seed balls and cover everything with rice straw. give it a little chicken manure. it will all come! winter grains grow over the winter, sow them in fall, reap in late spring or early summer. sometimes in some places they sow grains in late february, you may want to try that too, see what works with the other systems you establish. good luck!!! love it.


Great advice. I love how it follows Fukuoka's method. Have you done this yourself, and if so, what were the results?

It's a long thread, so I don't know if you got to this part yet, but unfortunately I don't have access to a lot of Fukuoka's resources. Clay, multiple types of clover, and rice straw are all unavailable to me at this time. Where I'm at right now is very different than where fukuoka is writing from, with very different resources and weather patterns. That's why I'm trying to focus on his philosophy and apply it using the materials available here.

I'm keen to try something like this, especially when I get some clay. I am very curious to see how fall sewing spring grains coated with clay (as Fukuoka recommends) would work in our climate. In Japan, the winter is quite a bit dryer than it is here, so broadcasting spring seeds coated in clay makes a lot of sense. They stay on the soil until the spring rains wake come and soak into the clay. To do the same thing here, where the rains begin in the fall and not the spring, I suspect the rains would soak into the clay during the cold months and rot the spring seeds. At least that's my theory, it's going to be exciting to see what actually happens when I try it.
 
Caleb Peretz
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I have started it, and the results have been good, but it will take time to establish the systems ie. for the soil structure and life to become realized and the wed seed bank to become diminished and the clover to become well-established. Grain is not difficult to grow, compared with other certain crops, it is like growing a lawn. It is growing a lawn. I can ship you clover seed if you desire, but you can find it online too. Same with the barley. I suggest buying as many different varieties of barley as you find, all over the internet, and then jumbling em all up and sowing em with the clover.

As for the rice straw, that is a bummer you cant find any, but it makes sense because who grows rice up there? There has to be some alternative you can find locally, for you should not use wheat or barley straw on a barley crop, it will cause disease, as Fukuoka-san mentioned and as I have seen in my own barley which has a wheat mulched area directly adjacent.

As for your climate, please give me more specifics. How cold does it get, when does the cold time start and end, how much rain do you get, when does the wet season start and end? I believe you can definitely get a good natural barley crop off your land while building the soil, don't sweat that. You just need to take the time (a little time her and thee, over a couple years) to figure out that best methods for your place, as you've already pointed out. I think something that may be confusing you here, is it seems like you think that sowing the barley in the Fall will have it lay dormant until Spring when it germinates. Maybe I'm wrong and you aren't mistaken, but I feel the need to point out that unless your Winter is very harsh, you can probably grow barley in the same way as Fukuoka, and the same way as how it is grown where it is from, the "Near East", which is as a Winter annual—it germinates from seed in Fall, makes tillers before the cold and short days make it go dormant, until in the Spring it begins to grow again and soon elongates its stems to project the flower head at the top. Sow a spring-annual into it as it ripens, as fukuoka says, and then harvest the barley in the late-Spring or early-Summer.

I don't see why you wouldn't have access to clay. You must persevere and call more places to find the powdered red clay.


On a different note, I was at a friend's house the other day, he is growing some grains as well, but in a garden more conventional style. However, he put a bunch of barleys and wheats into his bird feeder which is hanging from a leguminous acacia tree. Under the tree right now are many different species of grass weeds, some of which are wild barleys and wild oats. However, among these weeds are ripening heads of cultivated barley and wheat, big fat heads on short stems—beautiful, right there amongst their wild relatives. He didn't do a single thing for them, as far as I could tell. I think that this ia s very genius move. Imagine an oak savannah (I live in California) and you can hang some bird feeds on each of the trees, and fill the bird feeders with all sorts of clover and grain seeds. can birds live well off of these seeds? they arent poisonous to them are they? I really really like this idea, so natural and perfect and Fukuoka-esque.
 
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I see what you mean now.

I thought you were talking about the part of the book where Fukuoka broadcasts the fall grain (naked, without clay) and the spring crop (coated with clay) at the same time in the fall. So the spring grain stays dormant until the rains come, but the naked fall grain starts growing right away because it has more access to moisture.


The biggest limitation for this experiment is the expense, so buying lots of things like seed and clay are not an option. I've actually exceeded the money put aside for this project, by quite a bit. For the rest of the year I'm just going to observe and research. I do have some different grains that I'm growing garden style, to observe their growth and harvest patterns. With luck I will find something that will work with the schedule, or breed my own grain for the project.

Rice straw: There are people who grow rice in Vancouver, but getting the straw here is a bit of a problem. I don't think rice is a viable crop here anyway as we get about 1/4 the rainfall that Vancouver does on a normal year. Less lately.

This is the closest weather station to us for last year's rainfall in mm:
Jan- 96
feb- 114
mar- 29
apr- 51
may- 32
jun- 8
jul- 7
aug- 12
sep- 54
oct- 113
nov- 120
dec- 125

As you can see, the rainfall is pretty concentrated to the winter months. Last year was fairly wet, especially in the spring and summer. Thank goodness for the dew in the summer, without it we wouldn't have any chance of growing crops.

Basically for my summer crop, whatever I plant has to be in the ground well before the end of April and harvested by the end of Sep. The winter crop isn't too bad, but it needs to be out of the ground in time for the summer crop, so harvest late April or May.

Cold? Not very. Sometimes it snows, but most years it doesn't. It's very difficult because the weather has fallen off it's normal pattern about three years ago. Usually it would be much more predictable. Apparently we are now in Zone 9a. From personal observations, sometimes it gets minus 10 C, but that's usually between Christmas and Easter and doesn't last more than a few days. The cold comes with dry air which is a lot harder on plants.


My ultimate goal is to grow two harvests of staple crops (beans, grain, &c) on the same plot each year, like Fukuoka does. The biggest problem is that we don't have any local short season crops. For example, Fukuoka is sewing his winter grain in Oct and harvesting in May. I haven't found a grain locally that does this yet.
 
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Tried a scythe for the first time today. Very cool! I'm definitely going to need more practice before grain harvesting time.

...

...and I was going to show you photos of how the barley is growing, but suddenly my camera is not here. Another day then. Sorry guys.
 
Chris Sargent
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Just wanted to say thanks for sharing. I'm very interested to see how this does for you. I'd love to grow some grain here, I'm in SE Alaska. But I'm pretty sure it wouldn't survive the amount of rain we get. I'm curious to see how yours does.

I did plant some winter triticale as a cover crop last fall. I planted in Oct. right in the mist of our rainiest season. It sprouted well and grew a few inches tall over the next month. I mulched it well with old straw and it seemed to be holding on well throughout the winter. Not really growing but still green and not dieing back either. We did have a really mild winter this year though.

Then I let the chickens into the garden in Feb to do some gleaning and didn't think to protect this patch. They really enjoyed this as nice winter greens. They pretty much ate every speck of green, then proceeded to scratch off all the mulch and eat right down to the soil and then some. I was hoping that there might still be some roots that would resprout this spring but no sign of that. Oh well, it did serve as cover most of the winter and the chickens got some nice greens during a time of year they don't see much green, so not really a total loss.
 
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Lucky Chickens!

Nice to hear the triticale did so well. I'll have to put that one on my list to try.


My camera is around here somewhere, and on it photos of how the experiment is doing. So I'll just talk about what I see until I can find my camera.

Barley Try One:
This is the one planted in Jan and covered with spent hay, llama manure and leaf mulch.

The barley was growing well at the beginning, but stopped about ankle heigh and turned pale. Now it just sits there, dreaming about being barley, but with no real effort to achieve that goal.


Barley Try Two:
Was covered with barley straw, fresh-ish chicken manure and most of it with llama manure.

There are patches of barley that are growing strong with a rich green. These are few and far between. Some of the barley just vanished and most of the plants are yellowing. The yellowing leaves are about twice as wide as the vigorous growth leaves. It looks like there may possibly be a crop here, but a very small one.

The section of this that I failed to cover with llama manure has no barley at all.

The Chickpea Experiment:
is not doing well at all. Just weeds, and some stray barley seeds from the straw. It looks like some chickpeas tried to grow through the straw, but didn't reach the light fast enough and withered.

Buckwheat:
Is growing most of the places it was seeded. Where we broadcast it and mowed down the weeds, and the weeds grew up again vigorously, there isn't much sign of buckwheat. However, where the ground was a bit barren, it looks like every groat germinated.


Thoughts and ideas:
-I need to learn how to use buckwheat if it's going to be growing so well.
-chickpeas are not well suited to this sort of bastardized attempt at mu farming where I pre-soak the seeds prior to broadcasting them. Worth another try, perhaps in the fall, as I think they will over winter here.
-llama manure seems to have deterred creatures from eating my grain seed.

Thoughts on why the barley isn't doing well:
-it is possible that there was a disease in the barley straw, or fungus or something, but to have patches that don't have the symptoms, perhaps there is something else involved.
-is it possible that there is terminator technology in barley seeds?
-the seed that I used was feed quality seed, so it may have been improperly stored, or not harvested for optimum growth.
-it is also seed that is use to being babied with cultivated earth, full use of fertilizer and pesticides.
-maybe my tiny bit of topsoil was insufficient for the barley to grow roots and get nourishment from?

What I think is most likely the problem is nitrogen. Being water soluble, the nitrogen washes out of the soil during the winter - it's been raining for about six months now. Lack of nitrogen creates plants that lack vigour and have pale leaves.

One theory is that the clumps of vigorous growth are where the chicken manure was spread thickest. Chicken poo having high nitrogen content, especially when fresh.


I do have some small handfuls of specialized barley seed growing in the garden with the plan to bulk up my barley seed supply. Hopefully, the seeds from them plus any barley I can harvest from this first year's experiment will be enough to try again. If I have this spot for another year or two, and work on creating a seed that works well with these conditions, I should be able to grow a crop using this method.


 
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Going through all the old seed packets of things we don't grow - some packets older than myself. Over 190 years gardening experience as well as seed hoarding practices in our household at the moments means I ended up with 6 and a half pounds of seeds that we would never put in the tilled garden. Either we don't have the space, we don't like that seed, the amaranth is too stale to eat, didn't feel like winnowing the rest of the flax seed, and so on and so forth. I put it all in a bucket, broadcast it in a part of the lawn that we don't like mowing because it's bumpy and on a slope. It's also one of the few lawn spots that stay green longest into the summer drought - I think because of how it's situated next to the pond and gets the late afternoon shade.

Covered it with straw and llama manure. Got very excited about what might grow.

Then my duck came to eat my seed. Fair enough, she fertilizes and eats bugs at the same time.

Then an eagle came to eat my duck!

Duck is barely hanging on. But she's a fighter. She gave the eagle something to think about and managed to fight it long enough for us to save her.

Now I'm sad and regretting this natural vegi/flower garden section. If I hadn't planted it, maybe the duck would be okay.

Don't know if I'll try mu style vegi seed spreading again. If I do, it's clay pellets... only would clay pellets work for this kind of garden here? We are right on the cusp of the dry season, each shower we get now could be our last for the next six months... clay pellets need water to seep into the seeds and start growing. I can't imagine dew would be enough for that. I could broadcast the seed in clay earlier, but it's not warm enough for half of them to germinate yet, so they would have enough moisture, but no heat - and thus rot. Maybe a trial next year.

But for now, I'm going to tend to my duck. Poor Puddles.
 
R Ranson
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The barley is in... bloom? It's making pollen and grain.

In the vegetable garden, the winter and spring plantings of barley are both making grain, although the winter one is going yellow from the bottom up.

Barley try one looks pathetic. Ankle high grass with barley shaped seeds forming.

Try two has patches that are waist high, but most of it is yellow and ankle high. All are forming seeds.

The chickpea patch has lots of chickpea plants among the weeds, but more weeds than chickpeas. Next time I try something like this, I need a taller plant that can outgrow the weeds. Perhaps favas or soup peas?

The buckwheat is shriveling in the drought. Although the perennial weeds are happy as ever.

The vegetable patch lawn has one squash up that I've seen. Still too soon to say if it is working. Haven't had a spot of rain since I spread the seeds, so they have to rely on the morning dew for their moisture.

Pictures when I find my camera. It's around here somewhere.
 
R Ranson
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It looks like the barley is ready to harvest.

There is no noticeable difference in harvest time between try one and try two, so I'll harvest them together. In fact, all my barley is coming ready at the same time. Some I planted back in September last year, others late April this year - I think there are only a couple of weeks difference in the harvest time. Although, the overwintered barley is considerably stronger and has bigger grain, this may be the variety, but it may also be that the extra water it gets during the winter helped it grow. This is something for me to experiment with in years to come.

In my Fukuoka field, none of the barley grew above knee height. Most of it only grew ankle heigh. The quality of the soil, lack of irrigation, and competing with the weeds could account for this, but I think the biggest problem is actually the kind of seed I used. It was feed quality seed, not seed quality seed, and on top of that, it is seed that has been selected for growing in high input agricultural systems on an industrial scale. It is going to take a while to create seed that is willing to grow Fukuoka style.

When I harvest this seed, I am going to separate seed into three sections, depending on how heigh the plant grew. Seeds from any plant that grew above knee height, seeds from plants ankle to knee height, and seeds from plants to short to tickle my ankle.


In another part of my garden, the landrace barley is looking wonderful. It is a delightful mix of different colours. Because I want early harvest barley (Fukuoka is harvesting as early as may!) I harvested my landrace when the first grains had dried completely on the stock. Some of the grains are only just coming out of their stem and the others are somewhere in between. I started with several varieties of barley from the bulk food section, including one called 'black barley'. The other seed I got from Salt Spring Seeds and include Winter, Lompoc, Sheba and Purple.

My landrace barley goals:
-grows well Fukuoka style - but will take a few years of bulking up seed before I can start experimenting with this in any great amount
-is beautiful.
-matures early
-is hardy and can withstand our rainfall (or lack there of) patterns.

So there you have it, first harvest of Fukuoka style barley growing. Unfortunately, we now have 3 months left of dry season, so I don't know what else I can plant until winter arrives. I'm going to have to use something other than barley if I'm to get my two crops per year.

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Fukuoka style field of barley
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Landrace barley, first year seed
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I'm wondering if it was fairly easy for fukuoka to transition to do nothing farming, because he had already had major earthworks and soil improvement done for him, by past generations who built and tended his paddies.

I would like to try do nothing farming, but I think I would work the soil the first year to get things started, and add any elements that are lacking. After all, if my soil lacks minerals, I will lack minerals!
 
Thomas Night
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*Following*

Just wondered if perhaps you should concentrate more on just growing a diverse cover crop (brassica / radish, legume/s (preferably one that is already growing locally so that you know the appropriate fungi is already present), nasturtium, mix of grains, etc) for the first year or three, just in order to improve the texture of the soil and build up your level of biomass? As you get more "armor" on the soil, then proceed down the path of more broadscale sowing of your climate appropriate crops. Watching some videos on no-dig cover crop rotation farming and this seems like it may be a better path when trying to rehabilitate previously damaged or neglected farmland. Anyway just a couple of ideas. Cheers.
 
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