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Monoculture goals with Permaculture ideals and prepping 22 acres of soil for the task at hand...

 
Travis Roesler
Posts: 20
Location: Chester County Pennsylvania
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Alright... so I've decided that I want to try some commercial hop production on my 22 acre farm, but obviously this can't be a 'monoculture'.  I'm aware of the many drawbacks of pushing out a pile of the same crop.

Growing hops requires a large trellis to support the bines... which is a serious investment.  Obviously, underneath the trellis, it's going to be pretty much 'all hops' being grown, or at least as close as possible.  Anything else might be a poor use of that investment.  The trellis itself will cost about $20,000 and we plan on creating raised beds of soil, and fertilizing with local tested organic compost, ideally.

I would, however, like to throw down some large raised garden beds in between to attract the kind of insect/bird diversity needed to stop things from getting out of control, and also have a bunch of livestock running around in there.

Additionally, right now the land is probably 4 years fallow.  It's a hyoooooge pile of brush, long grasses, weeds and other stuff.  I am going to need to deal with this in the most intelligent way possible... which might include:

1. Tilling and cover cropping
2. Trying to cover all of this crap with mulch or wood chips.
3. Digging EVERYTHING up and creating large raised beds of good soil... as beds for both the hops and the 'other stuff'.

I am majorly concerned about disrupting the soil ecology, but also know that this is a virtually insurmountable amount of natural foliage/weeds.  At the end of the day, I think I need to run across the entire filed with the backhoe, and create long raised beds for everything.

SO....

I guess my questions are:

1.  How would you guys deal with the current level of brush in order to prep this thing for use, while preserving soil ecology and making the best use of the organic matter?
2.  Do you have any 'permaculture' based recommendations for making the goals of a 'monoculture' type endeavor mesh with the fine threads of sustainable farming?  Perhaps plant combinations?

Bonus questions:

3.  Is there any downfall to chopping this brush down, so that the field is easier to work with in the mean time?  It would be nice to be able to get around on the field.  I could actually pile up all of the brush and compost it.
4.  I have japanese beetles... anyone successfully deal with these organically?

Thanks for your time and your help guys!
 
Marco Banks
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Of the 22 acres, how much of that are you planning to put into hop production?

Clearing 22 acres of brush by hand will take you about a million years.  That's hard work.  If it were me, I'd find a mechanical way to uproot those plants and clear the land for your initial site preparation.  That might mean a bull-dozer with a ripper (if the brush is significantly rooted and hard to pull out).  All that bio-mass should be kept on site -- hugels or some other means of letting it rot down and provide fertility to your land.  If you do bring in heavy equipment like that, you might as well put in swales, build hugels and perhaps even build a pond high on your site.  If the brush isn't that big, I suppose that a simple tractor and disk would be enough to chop it all down.  A disk doesn't do as much soil disturbance as a flat-bottom/mold board plow.

Once cleared of the big stuff, it would be easy enough to mow.  Or even better . . .

Graze it --- with an electric fence and an investment in sheep, pigs or goats, you could let the critters do the clearing for you.  You state that you'll eventually like to have livestock running under your hops trellis.  Why not make that investment now?  Don't wait until the whole system is set up -- they could be a critical "pioneer species" in the development of your soil.  Mob graze them, moving the fence daily, and turn that grass into animal calories and nitrogen-filled poop.

A key permaculture principle is that you build your system in order of greatest permanence.  Thus, shaping the land and putting in your water catchment features comes first.  Long after your trees (or hops) have died, the land will retain its shape.  This takes a lot of effort and a lot of money, so people want to skip this and jump right to the fun stuff --- planting trees and running chickens through the system.  But once you've built your trellis, you won't be able to go back in sculpt the land.  So water features, roads and other infrastructure, irrigation systems, etc. need to come before planting trees.  I suppose that raised beds are semi-portable -- you can always disassemble them and move them, but you don't want to be wasting a ton of effort by having to do that.  Bee hives are very portable -- so getting them going now wouldn't be a big deal if you need to move them later.  Chicken tractors are another way to jump ahead to the fun stuff, but you wouldn't want to build a permanent coop and then later realize that you need to bring in an excavator and terrace a spot right where your coop sits.

Given the fact that it's already an established farm, perhaps much of this infrastructure already exists, so you'll be working around the existing roads, etc.  But still --- if you are going to invest all that money in a trellis and plants, now is the time to do the somewhat thankless work of swales and ponds.  Getting your hydrology right today will serve you in perpetuity as your farm continues to evolve.

Best of luck.  It sounds like an amazing project.
 
Travis Roesler
Posts: 20
Location: Chester County Pennsylvania
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Great advice!

We fully intend on shaping the pond first, and I own the excavating equipment required to do that (and any tilling/brush hogging).

We're just trying to get the 'master plan' in order... and I'm trying to wrap my head around having one cash crop while maintaining permaculture principles.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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I guess my questions are:

1.  How would you guys deal with the current level of brush in order to prep this thing for use, while preserving soil ecology and making the best use of the organic matter?
2.  Do you have any 'permaculture' based recommendations for making the goals of a 'monoculture' type endeavor mesh with the fine threads of sustainable farming?  Perhaps plant combinations?

Bonus questions:

3.  Is there any downfall to chopping this brush down, so that the field is easier to work with in the mean time?  It would be nice to be able to get around on the field.  I could actually pile up all of the brush and compost it.
4.  I have japanese beetles... anyone successfully deal with these organically?


1) Goats, Goats and more goats. Sheep do not browse, they graze. Goats browse a few wethers will amaze you at their efficiency at removing brush.
2) Monoculture is counter permaculture. Keep in mind that Hops will shade huge areas once they are growing.
Hop vines can get to well over 40 feet in length in just a matter of weeks.
The longest single vine I ever saw was around 150 feet long, that was on a hop farm in Sacramento CA. where they grew 500 acres of hops, the soil under the vines was bare and it had been planted with shade loving grasses for soil coverage.

3) the only downfall would be time and fuel consumed. For as much brush as you indicate, a chipper would be a good investment if you want to chop it down and compost it.
4) the two items I have used that work on Jap. beetles are DE dusted on all surfaces of plants and the soil (my first choice because it has worked quite well for us).
    The other item I have had to resort to (when the DE just was not knocking the buggers down to manageable numbers) was Pyrethrin, I refuse to use anything else (I am anti-cides and consider this one product the lest bad from my chemist p.o.v.), the DE is what I go to first, always. In three years I have had to go to my number 2 product once.
    Usually DE and hand squishing does the job nicely.
 
Travis Roesler
Posts: 20
Location: Chester County Pennsylvania
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Hmmm... but once I have the hops planted, I'm going to have to get rid of the goats, or they'll eat the bines!
 
Travis Johnson
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I would suggest "The Perfect Tree Saw". It is an attachment that goes onto almost anything mechanical, from small Kubota Tractors to D9 bulldozers, its design scaled up or down of course. It makes quick work of clearing and has no expensive nor moving parts to wear out. This YouTube Video will get you started.

The Perfect Tree Saw

As for sheep, it is a misconception that sheep do not eat browse. Several sheep farmers in NH use their sheep to browse environmentally sensitive areas for the power companies because they do so well. They excel at it over goats because of their flocking instinct, keeping them fenced in tightly and they will mob graze plants out of existence. I know this first hand myself, not only on my farm but because in New England in the early 1800's they were used to clear forest around here into fields. They LOVE tree leaves and sometimes for fun I will cut a tree, drag it into their pasture and let them devour the branches. In a days time, every leaf they can reach is GONE. They will even graze the woody branches to some degree.

From 1800 to 1838 my forefathers grew hops with great success and for years I thought the hops growing over the rock walls were wild, until I read a book by my Great Uncle about 6 times removed that  wrote about an altercation between his father and his grandfather. Seems they morally felt raising hops was wrong and the younger won out, the hops were plowed up and tossed over the rock walls which they sprouted and continue to grow. I did not know that.

Best of luck to you in any case. I am in the midst of a 30 acre forest to field conversion myself.

 
Travis Roesler
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Location: Chester County Pennsylvania
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Thanks for the advice!  I don't think that a tree saw will be necessary for this level of brush, so maybe the sheep can just bust it out themselves!
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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The best way to get rid of goats is to eat them.  Wethers are not going to reproduce and they taste really good too.

Grass will grow well on the perimeter of your hop field, so sheep would be a good maintenance choice there.

growing other items would require proper orientation of the hops to the movement of the sun.

The hops farm I got to tour was laid out in a 50 foot square grid pattern, They had Poles and wires (like a giant vineyard set up).
The poles were 30 feet high and 30 feet apart, wires ran along the top and they used heavy twine, staked at the ground, every 2 feet, it ran up and over the wire, back to the next stake.
It took the crew about 2 weeks to string the wires every spring, the string was a casualty of the harvesting.
Each stake was where a hop plant went, the stakes were set 25 feet from the wire line on the ground, on both sides.
The way they had it set up a truck could run between these rows for hauling the whole vines, still wrapped around the twine supports.
At the barn they ran everything through a machine that separated the hop flowers from the rest of the plant.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:Sheep do not browse, they graze.


I wish that were true!  My Jacob sheep far prefer to eat trees and shrubs than anything else!
 
eric koperek
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TO:  Travis Roesler
FROM:  Eric Koperek = erickoperek@gmail.com
SUBJECT:  Hop Garden Management
DATE:  PM 2:49 Friday 12 August 2016
TEXT:

(1)  Clear by hand any saplings or brambles too thick to cut with a sickle-bar mower.  Leave all other vegetation standing.

(2)  Broadcast Medium Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) at 15 pounds per acre into standing vegetation.  Do not till or otherwise disturb soil.  Clover must be planted very shallowly = not more than 1/2 inch deep.  Tiny seeds will find their way into cracks without your assistance.  Thus, tillage is not necessary or desirable.  For best results use commercially pelleted seed inoculated with nitrogen-fixing rhizobia bacteria.  (Protective clay capsules deter ants, beetles, mice, and birds from eating clover seeds).  Note:  At this time, you can also spread lime and fertilizer according to soil test results.

(3)  Immediately cut standing weeds and grasses with a sickle-bar mower to cover and protect clover seed.  Do not use a rotary mower, flail mower, forage chopper, or brush hog for this task.  You want to leave the weeds WHOLE = in big, long pieces.  Chopped weeds do not provide sufficient cover for clover seed.

(4)  Irrigate immediately or wait for rain.

(5)  Do not mow or graze red clover = leave it alone until you are ready to plant hops.  Red clover will overwhelm most weeds and brush eliminating the need for cultivation and herbicides.  Red clover will also fix about 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre if you leave it alone for a season.

(6)  Building raised beds to grow hops is a waste of time and money.  Raised beds are not needed for hop cultivation.  Spend your cash and labor on an irrigation system.  Water is the best agricultural investment you can make, especially on a small farm.

(7)  You need a watershed management plan for your farm.  The goal is to capture and store every drop of rain or flake of snow that falls on your land.  Hops require more water than most people think.  Make certain that you have a reliable water supply before investing in a hop garden.  Hops require 1 1/2 inches of water weekly in humid climates; 2 inches in semi-arid climates.

(  Install irrigation system BEFORE erecting trellis or planting hops.  Your irrigation system is your crop insurance.  Drought stressed vines yield poor quality hops.  A few days of drought can destroy a hop crop.

(9)  Hops respond well to deep trenching, especially in heavy clay soils.  Rent a trenching machine or mini-backhoe.  Cut trenches 4 to 12 inches wide as deep as machinery allows.  Fill trenches with compost or manure.  Alternatively, refill trenches with excavated dirt then plant hops in loosened earth.  Trenches conduct water and air deep into the subsoil, stimulating growth of roots and soil organisms.  Deep rooted hop vines are nearly drought proof.  Note:  If trencher is not available use a rotary post hole digger.  Sink holes as deep as practical.  Vine growth is directly proportional to hole depth.  Deeper holes = better crops.

(10)  Before planting hops broadcast Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) at 12 to 14 pounds per acre into standing red clover.  If needed, apply lime and fertilizer at this time.

(11)  Immediately undercut red clover or use a sickle-bar mower to cut clover as close to soil surface as practical.  The idea is to "knock back" = suppress or kill red clover so that Dutch White Clover can take over the field.

(12)  Irrigate immediately to speed germination of Dutch White Clover.

(13)  Dutch White Clover will be your permanent cover crop = living mulch.  Dutch white clover only grows 6 inches high so you will never need to mow it.  Dutch white clover is a hardy perennial that grows densely and crowds out most weeds.  Dutch clover is also highly resistant to shade and field traffic so it makes an ideal cover for orchard floor management.  Clover blossoms provide nectar and pollen to feed beneficial insects that keep hop pests under control.

(14)  Do NOT  allow animals to browse or graze in hop gardens.  Animals will eat vines and foliage.  Even worse, manure may contaminate crop = no one will buy your hops at any price.  Hops must be "virgin" clean = entirely free of dirt, dust, or "filth" on any kind.  Warning:  Brew Masters shop with their noses.  Dirty hops have an off-scent and will be instantly rejected.

(15)  Hop vines may be mulched but this is not absolutely essential.  Apply organic mulch not less than 8 inches thick nor more than 12 inches thick.  Keep soil covered year-round = 365 days annually.  Add mulch as needed to maintain minimum 8 inch depth.  Broadcast lime and fertilizers on top of mulch as necessary.

(16)  Any type of organic matter can be used to mulch hop vines:  Tree leaves, straw, wood chips, spoiled hay, tree bark, hedge trimmings, grass clippings, weeds, and other farm and garden wastes.  You can grow your own mulch by planting forage maize (not silage maize).  Long season forage maize yields 30 tons per acre of green chop.  Harvest maize with a forage chopper then apply with a mulch spreader.  Note:  Space hop vines to fit farm equipment. 

(17)  Fertilize hop vines with COMPOSTED manure.  Turning large volumes of compost is hard labor so purchase of a mechanical compost turner is recommended.  Turn manure every 2 days for 30 days.  To prevent nitrogen volatilization, mix raw manure with 100 pounds of phosphate rock powder per ton = 2,000 pounds of fresh dung.  Phosphate will prevent ammonia loss from manure.  Store finished compost under cover if possible to prevent nutrient leaching.  Alternatively, run irrigation hose down compost windrows then seed with a cover crop or plant potatoes, turnips, or other vegetable crops.  (On a small farm land must not be allowed to sit idle.  Every acre must produce a cash crop).

(1  If you wish to fertilize hop vines with raw manure, apply dung only after crop is harvested and in the barn.  Do not spread raw manure within 6 months = 180 days of hop harvest.

(19)  Do not over-fertilize hop vines.  Excess nitrogen yields poor quality hops and attracts insect pests.  1/2 pound of composted manure per square foot ~ 11 tons per acre is sufficient for most hop orchard soils.  Apply limestone, phosphate rock, greensand, granite dust, and other rock powders according to soil test recommendations, generally 1 to 2 tons per acre yearly.

(20)  Do not spray hop vines with anything (organic or synthetic).  Insecticide or fungicide residues decrease hop quality.  Most brewers will not buy sprayed hops.  Hop vines are highly susceptible to downy mildew (in the west) and powdery mildew (in the east).  The most disease resistant variety is "Nugget".

(21)  Plant flowers around hop gardens to provide food, shelter, and alternate hosts for predators and parasites that eat hop pests.  Wildflowers, buckwheat, caraway, coriander, dill, anise, and fennel support large populations of beneficial insects.  As an added benefit, you can harvest and sell the seeds = no wasted land.

(22)  There are almost as many ways to support hop vines as there are hop farmers.  Choose something "dirt simple", especially if you have never grown hops before.  "One vine, one flagpole" is a good place to start.  Orient your hop orchard rows east to west or northwest to southeast to encourage maximum air flow between vines.  Wide spacing and good ventilation are your first defense against mildew.

(23)  Avoid the urge to space hop vines too closely.  It is better to keep vines well distant to ensure maximum sunlight and ventilation.  Hop quality is directly proportional to sunlight intensity.  Hops grown in full sunlight are more fragrant = flavorful.

(24)  Contract your crop before planting hops.  Talk to brewers first.  Every brewery has its own unique specifications (variety, organic versus synthetic fertilizers, harvest time, et. cetera).  Expect brew masters to visit your farm, especially during harvest.  Prepare to be hospitable = you want potential customers to come back.  Small hop orchards most often sell their crops to craft breweries and micro-breweries = small businesses.  Brew masters are loyal to their favored suppliers.  Translation:  Grow high quality hops and brewers will buy your crop every year.

(25)  It is good practice to visit breweries and hop gardens before investing in hop farming.  Learn first, plant later.

ERIC KOPEREK = erickoperek@gmail.com

end comment
 
eric koperek
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TO:  Travis Roesler
FROM:  Eric Koperek = erickoperek@gmail.com
SUBJECT:  Japanese Beetle Control
DATE:  PM 4:33 Friday 12 August 2016
TEXT:

(1)  The most common commercial product is called "Doom".  There are many other names and suppliers.  All contain "Milky Spore Disease" a naturally occurring micro-organism originally imported from Japan by the United States Department of Agriculture specifically to control Japanese Beetles.  Milky spore disease kills about 95% of Japanese beetle grubs.  The infection turns beetle grubs white, hence the name "Milky Spore Disease".  The product is a powder that you broadcast onto lawns, pastures, hay fields, meadows = any area covered by GRASS.  (Japanese beetle grubs eat grass roots and suck root juice).  Apply powder early in the morning (before the sun rises) or in the evening (after sun sets).  Irrigate immediately to wash powder down into the soil.  Milky Spore Disease likes a damp, moist environment.  Once grassy areas have been inoculated the disease will persist in the soil and kill Japanese beetle grubs every year = you won't have any more problems with Japanese Beetles = no spraying or other control measures needed. 

(2)  If you have a serious infestation that requires immediate control you can buy "Japanese Beetle Traps".  These have a synthetic pheromone lure that attracts adult beetles.  Each trap can catch thousands of beetles.  Empty traps regularly into a bucket of soap water (1 Tablespoon dish washing detergent per gallon of water).  Soap water kills beetles by clogging their breathing tubes = beetles die of suffocation.

(3)  Japanese beetles used to strip our grape vines bare.  Entire vineyards were defoliated until we spread Milky Spore Disease with wild abandon.  Now we rarely see a Japanese beetle. 

(4)  Milky spore disease is a natural micro-organism approved for use on organic farms.

ERIC KOPEREK = erickoperek@gmail.com

end comment

 
charlotte anthony
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Growing Hops

A lot of good information here especially from eric.

I would put in hops in 1-2 acre swaths then 1-2 acres of another crop.  Or however your land works, in other words alternating swaths.  There was a lot of research done in India and it turned out that when planting like this (and research was for millet) they got just as much crop from the alternating swaths as they got from doing the whole patch.  (They were using a legume for alternate swaths which is part of the explanation.)  Yes it would cost more for the initial “staking” but if you got additional crops on the land it would more than make up for it.   Also the system I am recommending like Gabe Brown’s system would require no fertilizer of any kind, no pesticides, no herbicide, no chemicals and you would make a lot more money bottom line, plus do a lot more good for the soil and environment in general.   This means biodiversity.   Gabe Brown says 30 different plants.  You have 10-12 for your cover crops, whatever your several main crops and then your hedgerows.  This way you will never need to fertilize or use pesticides.

I would heartily agree with planting the cover crops after brush hogging without tilling.  I would, like Gabe Brown, leave the brush in place, move what you need to move for your staking and planting, maybe make 3 foot wide by 3 foot deep mulch heaps.  Bhaskar Save in india found that these attracted more rain to his farm.   I would also inoculate with microbes before planting the cover crops, meaning to wet the seed with the inoculant (whatever innoculant the cover seed folks recommend for the legumes and then mycorhizzals and effective microorganisms or Korean natural farming recipe if you want to make your own innoculant from local products. 

On my farm we have not had the money to spend for measuring the increase in organic matter, but there are indicators that the carbon is increasing.   We have applied the microbes for a total of 6 times.  this is a desert environment, with very little water, not greatest microbe area.

There is a lot of good information from Gabe Brown, who lives where there are 14 inches of rain a year and does dry land farming, to Elaine Ingham on how little water you would need with a no till system.  The mycorhizzals extend the plant roots and as in the forest they bring water from wherever it is to where the plants can use it.  We are planting trees and cover crops  along the 100 yards or so from a creek  to the first  field so the mycorhizzals can transfer the water.  Once your organic matter was up to 12% you land would hold millions of gallons of water .  Any swales or other water holding systems you have would  also hold water, which the mycorhizzals would transfer to your plants.  For maximum value, this system would require every so often maybe 300 yards a hedgerow of what I call bore well trees, as well as other hedgerow varieties for insectary etc.  These trees take the water down and bring it back up when the trees and their neighbors need it.  Bore well trees are quick growing and have a tap root.  You would need to research these for your area.  If you could afford it, it would be best to water for the first several years until your organic content is up to 12%, much easier to do this according to me with cover crops and microbial innoculations than bringing in large amounts of compost.  geoff lawton is actually recommending compost tea on large acerages rather than compost.   Or you might spend the same amount of money on getting the organic content up, waiting to plant your main crops.  There are now labs where you can have this measured. 

One person in India was planning on clearing out an area of her very old, very tall trees to put in stakes for a very intensive planting of  pepper plants.  I recommended that she leave the trees and just plant the pepper plants on the existing trees.  No money for staking involved, more space than the intensive planting, but she could make it up with other trees.   It sounds like your brush is not that tall.  If you had the trees I would plant the hops on the trees. 

I would add to dutch white clover for a 6 inch high ground cover 11 other ground covers, al la Gabe Brown also low or 6 inch which I cannot name but you can ask cover seed growers.  These would all be perennials ideally.  It would be good to find out the actual life of these perennials so that they do  not all finish at the same time.  We have on this farm alfalfa which reseeds itself, so that may not a problem.  Our alfalfa is short. 

I am including my fund raiser here just because there is a good overview of the whole process and also a lot of the benefits to the world including carbon sequestration, relieving starvation, making industrial farming obsolete.



https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/funding-for-terra-lingua-farms/x/6482952#/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_GEpq59urY
Keys To Building a Healthy Soil - Organic - Permaculture and Polyculture
Gabe Brown Soil Conservationist - Explains how to remediate and build up your soil quality. .
Keys To Building a Healthy Soil - Organic - Permaculture and Polyculture
Gabe Brown Soil Conservationist - Explains how to remediate and build up your soil quality.
 
Acetylsalicylic acid is aspirin. This could be handy too:
Quality Hand Tools for the Garden, Homestead and Small Farm.
https://permies.com/t/58443/Quality-Hand-Tools-Garden-Homestead
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