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I don't want to till! Is this possible? Advice welcome.  RSS feed

 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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I am both thrilled and daunted. I have been given the field adjacent to my own farm to farm. It's about an acre, maybe a bit more, which greatly increases my area under cultivation. In recent years I have been working on my permaculture design and have been focusing on my orchard and my no till gardens, which cover about a quarter acre. Keeping the idea of zones in mind, this field should be a zone 4 or 5, maaaaybe 3. I do have wwoofers come but I usually only have one or two and I've got plenty for them to do in zones on two and three already.

The main reasons that I want to farm this extra land are
1. It's right next to my field, visually one would imagine that there is no property line there. The red box shows roughly the size of the new field and the green box shows the size of my lovely ambitious garden that takes up a lot of my time and effort despite the permaculture principles I use(I am looking forward to when google earth updates my photo so that my hugels are visible! This photo is many years old)



2. In recent years it has been farmed by a pro-poison farmer who likes to spray and does not care about chemicals blowing right into my home. I began detailing my struggle with this situation while in a fury in this thread More details can be found there.

I do not have a working tractor, since we went to no till the ol' ford has been an awesome climbing toy for the kids and an ornament to the driveway. This plan saves on tractor repairs and fuel. I may be able to borrow a tractor, if I must. I don't see any way around it.

There was a tremendous weed seed load plowed into the field last year.

My plan for a crop is black oil sunflowers. I can easily pick up a 50 pound bag of viable seed locally for $25 because of birdseed, sunflowers will look good for the landowner's wife who likes uniform bucolic farm scenes and not weedy looking messes, and sunflowers bioaccumulate toxins, so the soil's chemical history can begin to be erased. I am thinking of also planting buckwheat for its weed shading qualities and daikon radish to punch through the hardpan and build soil. I can harvest sunflower seedheads and use them for chicken/bird food or even sell them as ready-made birdfeeders. Sunflowers are allelopathic,so that puts a damper on interplanting but I could plant in strips perhaps rather than everything mixed up all over. I would like, in the coming years, to put in cane fruits because they sell very well around here and are happy to grow with little trouble. And I have free sources of plants.

My biggest questions:
1. Is there any feasible way to farm this field with limited labor and no tractor?

2. What crops will heal the soil best at the least expense? And what is the best pattern to plant them in?

3. How can I think about this differently? I'm stuck in a mindset and need to open up to possibilities, I think.


 
Miguel Laroche
Posts: 69
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you could borrow a tractor, till it (once) plant a mix of seed for cover crop like vetch, clover, fava beans (you may be able to sell those if there is a demand) dont let the vetch go to seeds, depending on what you grew, you could mow it in the fall leaving all crop residue in place. Depending on how you manage from here you might never have to till again. If you are looking to have limited labor, you will definitely have to till this year me think. Looking forward to hear what others have to say.
 
Nicanor Garza
Posts: 144
Location: Yakima county, Washington state
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I have read from sepp holzers method of detoxifying soil: The degradation of toxins in the soil requires oxygen, good root systems and an active soil life. The healing o the soil by simply not using any more toxins will take time and it will only happen in the uppermost, rooted layer of the soil. Youcan, however, speed this up using the power of nature.
The blue lupin is especially beneficial for this method as its roots can grow several meters deep into the soil. It is a perennial plant and will have an abundance of flowers and seeds in its second year. These can be harvested and sold. The blue lupin is very hardy and will self-seed, Red clover is also an excellent choice and will also attract bees and other beneficial insects.
He mentions a diverse root system reaching far and deep will air and loosen soil which of course you already mentioned, letting plants like carrots jerusalem artichoke to rot and decompose in the soil will activate the soil life and aid in the detoxification process and that you reduce the transition time considerably by following this method.
you other part about mixing sunflowers with other crops, you could sow a crop of grain, wheat is one of the first things to come up in early spring, I have been experimenting with the idea that if grain comes up first it will shade your sunflower seedlings but not exactly kill them off if you dont plant to thickly, once you harvest the grain in late spring the sunflowers will get more sunlight thus possibly achieving the second harvest, as far as alelopathy all the rain and snow melt its should all be washed out of the soil profile when repeating the process.
Pigs could be a way to replace the whole till process, if your into that.
 
Eric Thompson
Posts: 374
Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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Nice pick up!! An acre us something you can do tractorless if needed. The cane fruits you eventually want do great in rows, so I would start this year cultivating in strips (which will also minimize the tilling impact). Although you don't want to till, that's probably how you will get a good start this year. Here is a plan I would think of:
1. Fiind a tiller source, rear tine 22", or up to 36" on lawn or other tractor
2. plan spacing between rows (about double the till width will leave 2/3 of the area untilled. If you have a mower you would use, make it double the mower width so that you can take two passes and blow mulch onto your rows.
3. Do some tilling on this spacing. In most cases, you should be able to broadcast sunflower, daikon, and buckwheat right after tilling and lightly rake them in.
4. after everything seeds out, you can harvest seed, or can think about covering over seed in the winter (works nice in my wet winter climate..) I would try knocking down the dry remains and covering with strips of plastic over winter - the local mice or voles will love it and soften up the rows for next year -- and they leave some seed to restart the next cycles...

You don't need to kill all of the grass, but discouraging it by mowing helps. If you don't want to mow, think of planing squash instead of buckwheat -- maybe even a pumpkin patch if you have enough water


 
Dillon Nichols
pollinator
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Location: Victoria BC
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Hi Matu,

That's fantastic that you're getting to farm the field at last; just the other day I read your old thread about the asshole farmer who was previously allowed to use it. Anything should be an improvement on that!

What is the fencing situation on this pasture currently? I assume using this field as pasture for some sort of grazing animal, or chicken tractors, is not practical? That's the first thing that comes to mind for a more remote zone...

Planting trees is likewise presumably out due to the landowners preferences?


 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2549
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau, Matu,

Can you do myco remediation on that land while you no-till the sunflowers?
I would not bother with tillage, but a seed drill would make the process of getting the crop in much faster (one time useage of tractor and seed drill).
From there I would plant clovers, buckwheat, peas between as a multi cover crop for weed control.
This combination would get you a nice looking seed head crop and lots of nitrogen fixers, the fungi in the soil would help with the removal of all those nasty chemicals.

Good luck with this project!
 
chad Christopher
Posts: 307
Location: Pittsburgh PA
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Don't forget to plant whatever you want, my grams fed her family on clay soil. Sometimes we forget, plants are resilient, adapt plants to your micro climate, because you are not going to get that soil to your liking anytime soon. You sure as well get some seeds going that like your land, and will grow and adapt with you.
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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As a measure of perspective, an acre is the area one man with a scythe could mow in one day. So one acre really is a scale that can be done by hand and with hand tools. Presumably Mr. conventional farmer was tilling every year. Have you gone out and put a spade in the ground to see what you are working with yet?
In the case of a landowner with a view who likes their bucolic country scenes, perhaps a lovely wildflower meadow look would be acceptable for her needs?

Perhaps run the sunflowers across her line of sight and work the rest of the area with a more general mix of cover crops, with lots of nitrogen fixers.

When are you thinking to start your canes? How is the area for water? How do you plan to water the cane plantings? I'm kind of assuming that for the sunflowers and other cover crops, they will be on their own for water.

What is the exposure? Prevailing winds? Owners' vantage point? Are you planning a u-pick for the canes or something you harvest and market?

You could even lay out a pattern of fixed beds and pathways. Don't worry about trying to remediate the pathways, focus attention on the beds. There are highly profitable market gardens running on just one acre, all by hand.
 
Holly Dennis
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You could try horsetail to cleanup soil. It can take over and be harmful if eaten by livestock but it will accumulate toxic stuff like pesticides in soil and is used to clean up toxic spills. It's root travel deep into the earth so it will stick around. I believe you can mulch with it if it wasn't used in remediation of the soil. Provides a lot of micronutrients. Hope that helps you decide.
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
69
bee books chicken forest garden fungi trees
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Peter Ellis wrote:As a measure of perspective, an acre is the area one man with a scythe could mow in one day. So one acre really is a scale that can be done by hand and with hand tools. Presumably Mr. conventional farmer was tilling every year. Have you gone out and put a spade in the ground to see what you are working with yet?
In the case of a landowner with a view who likes their bucolic country scenes, perhaps a lovely wildflower meadow look would be acceptable for her needs?

Perhaps run the sunflowers across her line of sight and work the rest of the area with a more general mix of cover crops, with lots of nitrogen fixers.

When are you thinking to start your canes? How is the area for water? How do you plan to water the cane plantings? I'm kind of assuming that for the sunflowers and other cover crops, they will be on their own for water.

What is the exposure? Prevailing winds? Owners' vantage point? Are you planning a u-pick for the canes or something you harvest and market?

You could even lay out a pattern of fixed beds and pathways. Don't worry about trying to remediate the pathways, focus attention on the beds. There are highly profitable market gardens running on just one acre, all by hand.


For me, the area that I have plotted out as my garden and my orchard/forest garden is as much as I can manage paths-and-bedswise because I am, all the time, also caring for my three little children. My husband is working and now also planning on starting grad school June 1st so I don't want to be too ambitious. It feels like a full plate even without the addition of the field but there's no other way right now to keep roundup and strategy and lordknowswhat from drifting over my homestead. I do have wwoofers on a regular basis, so that may help, but wwoofers are also their own kind of work and I have enough for them to do!

The soil is good but much much less alive than my soil. Not so many worms, much dustier. The "conventional" (modern poison) farmer was indeed tilling every year as well as spraying herbicide and pesticide. The prevailing wind is from the west, which blows the poison right at my home and farm.

Here's the new scoop- the farmer, even though he had been told he couldn't farm the land if he used poison, came through and plowed the field! Which was kind of great because the landowner finally went to him and put his foot down and told the farmer that the field is mine this year. Actually he said it was my husband's but I'll forgive him that, he comes from an older generation than I and so does the farmer. It was probably best.

I've now planted and am hoping for rain, the sunflowers and cover crops are indeed on their own for water. I planted a border of sunflowers around the whole field and then the middle is all buckwheat. I have some red clover seed I think I will use too. Seeds are expensive on this scale. I looked into wildflower seed but shuddered and turned away at the price.

I am still entertaining the idea of the cane fruits but I also have room to do this on my own property closer to my house. I would be harvesting them myself and selling them. I do this already with blueberries and some cane fruit and I get a satisfying wholesale price. People will pay for quality beyond-organic berries. I am also now considering the idea, met with approval from the landowner, of managing pasture on this and two adjacent fields with the offspring of my across-the-street neighbor's scottish highland cattle



This would remove the farmer from the field to the north of mine as well. For now he just hays it, but I'd be happy to have him gone. Today he spread fertilizer on a windy day, yuck. the pasture idea would have to be thought out carefully. Who will pay for the fence? Whose cattle will they be? When the time comes, how hard will it be for us to send these fuzzy cutie pies to the slaughterhouse?

 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
69
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Another gratuitous shot of this scottish highland bull, "Bunny" who stayed behind when his herd was rotated into the next pasture and now roams free in the neighborhood. He's in the blueberries in this shot.



Buckwheat starting to come up

 
Tim Nam
Posts: 74
Location: Arcata, CA zone 9b
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did you broadcast the seed?
I've been experimenting with no till on a row at a local community farm, results with broadcasting seed have been mixed. but buckwheat did well last year.
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
69
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We did broadcast the seed, then went over it with the small lawn tractor with a seed covering implement behind.

No rain in the forecast until next week, I hope the birds don't discover the seeds! I would have waited to broadcast, but I have to take help when I can get it.
 
Bill Bradbury
pollinator
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Location: Richmond, Utah
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Good on you Matu!
 
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