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Can Gabe Brown's techiques be scaled down to the super small scale?  RSS feed

 
Casie Becker
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I started to post about this where the conversation was meandering on this thread, and then realized it probably deserved it's own topic.

In answer to Tyler's comment It might be interesting to discuss how one would emulate Brown's vegetable-growing technique in the back yard.  Would it even be possible, planting 70 varieties of vegetables, grains and cover crops?  What about the rotational grazing aspect?  How would that be emulated on the small scale?

I have seven different species (two varieties of two of those) planted in a bed that is approx 20 by 3.5 feet. In another bed, approx double that size, I have an additional fourteen species deliberately planted and that's without overlap between these beds. Actually, when I think on it, I quickly come up with a list of sixty different species of plants that are currently living in my front yard gardens. This doesn't include the species that comprise my front lawn, just what's been purposely planted in the garden beds. I could bump those numbers up higher if I included different varieties, weeds I tolerate,  or plants that are out of season. Give me a few more years and I think I'll even have planned things out well enough to have a continual layer of crop residues on the established beds.  I don't have impressive yields from most of these plants, but a few provide as much as my family can eat during the proper season. Over time I hope to improve both the soil and my species/variety mix to increase productivity.

What I don't know how to add in is the rotational grazing. I know I have a lot of bird life, reptiles, amphibians, squirrels, other small wildlife that pass through the front yard. Sometimes I even find evidence of some of the larger ones, but that's a far cry from the mob grazing he practices. The only farm animals that are zoned for my area are rabbits. I don't think you can mob graze rabbits, though it'd be cute to watch.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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What size of lot are you working with Cassie? Mob grazing with ruminants can be managed on as small a scale as two 'pet' sheep in a sufficiently small mobile pen moved frequently enough.

Whether those sheep are true pets or lambs aimed at the freezer is your business alone.

Regarding breeds, you'd want a breed of hair sheep in Texas whereas in cooler climes I recommend Icelandic or Shetland.

In lieu of ruminants geese graze and trample in sufficient density, but they're loud.
 
charlotte anthony
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i like to put the big picture on the table.  i am not interested specifically in applying gabe brown's technics anywhere.  i am interested in growing healthy food without pests, without fertilizer, without irrigation.  i believe this food has higher brix scale readings.  i believe these methods take incredibly less effort.  i do not believe we have to include mob grazing.  we can replace ruminants feces with microbial innoculations.  s
 
Casie Becker
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I've a full half acre lot, but that includes house, driveway, shed, lawn areas that we use as community gathering spots, and an area set aside for local wild life. Right now I'm talking about less than 1/8 an acre in the front yard of a suburban house in a medium sized city.

There are zoning restrictions that severely limit what kinds of animals I can raise, and no privacy in this area. City codes say we must have a full acre before getting so much as a chicken. If I actually lived in Austin I'd only need 1/4 an acre to raise chickens.

I do like the thought of adding microbial inoculations. I have mixed up and sprayed some solutions over the years. The biggest hurdle there is that our area is subjected to long, hot dry spells. Much of what I'm working on in the yard is trying to capture and hold enough water in the soil to keep the ground from drying out. It's better than when we moved here. There used to be portions of dirt that got so hot in the summer sun you couldn't walk barefoot.

As we've increased the organic content and reshaped the land to capture more water the vegetation has become thick enough to prevent that.

I spread wildflower seeds in the middle of my lawn areas and tolerate a lot of species of weed in my cultivated gardens. I think Gabe has shown that the mixed species support each other and increase the capacity of the soil for both life and water retention.

Vegetables seem more needy than grass, but my lawn is much lusher than before I started. Considering I work with more than twice the rainfall that Gabe has, I expect to eventually reach a point where my vegetable garden is self watering and fertilizing, also.
I have some plants self seeding themselves where I want them. I hope to have more in the future.

I use a lot more than just the techniques Gabe Brown talks about. He certainly doesn't do anything to address my fruit trees and shrubs. Since he does have so much success with what he does grow, I was hoping to get some more detailed discussion on his techniques in particular. I want to duplicate the magnitude of soil improvement he's achieved on my own ground.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I wonder if including patches of mixed cover crops which are mowed and then trampled by humans might somewhat emulate the mob grazing?  Of course this wouldn't include the microbial action of the cow guts, but maybe after mowing and trampling the debris could be inoculated with microbes/compost tea? 

In the absence of a mower, chopping and dropping and then trampling maybe?  I think the trampling might be important to make sure there is a lot of contact with the soil.

Does Brown allow the grazed patches to rest/decompose or does he immediately replant? 

 
Tyler Ludens
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Another problem with the yard sheep (or other livestock) idea, aside from them not being legal, is they would need to eat purchased feed most of the time, which would be "cheating" by bringing in outside inputs, unless Gabe Brown buys feed for his cattle, which I'm pretty sure he doesn't although he may provide minerals(?)
 
K Putnam
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I am trying to use this concept to build more soil structure in raised beds.   Given how silty the soil is I have started with, I don't know if this actually possible.  I wonder if that structure requires things like rocks to anchor against. But, I'm still giving it a go and it is in the early stages. 

I went all in on a tiny test plot of fall planting in a raised bed where I basically threw out a bunch of whatever seed I had that needed to be used up along with some dutch white clover.  My thinking is that some of it will mature in time to harvest and everything else can be left as a cover crop over the winter.   In another area where I'm not trying to get some fall veggies, I put down fall rye, vetch, and some clover to have a mixed cover crop that I'll flatten out in the spring. 

As far as flattening goes, on a small scale, I think humans can do a lot by hand.  I chopped and dropped and just plain flattened some winter rye before planting potatoes into it this year.   Totally doable on a small scale.  That was Round 1 of this experiment and it went well, though I'm not sure potatoes were the best example, given I had to dig them out, thus ripping up my soil structure, but hey...they produced well.

On a small scale, I think you have to be OK with the idea of "wasting" seed, where with ruminants involved, you'd be getting the benefit of meat, wool, milk, or whatever, which tends to bring the thing full circle.  But, I don't have time for any additional animals, so I'm going to have to be the animal doing the work!
 
Tyler Ludens
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K Putnam wrote:
On a small scale, I think you have to be OK with the idea of "wasting" seed, where with ruminants involved, you'd be getting the benefit of meat, wool, milk, or whatever, which tends to bring the thing full circle.


I wonder if some of the plants could be cut - just the tops - and fed to chickens or worms, to get that "value added."  This is of course more work for the human, chopping and carrying material.  Could cutting the plants periodically through the growing season cause more soil to build due to root pruning?

 
charlotte anthony
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i am not totally positive about this but i believe gabe does not feed his cattle with grains.  that could be checked on.  He speaks in the video about not feed them hay as they are a breed that can stay outside all winter and they graze all winter. 

I think it is important to look at the principals that Gabe is using. 

1)  By increasing the carbon content in the soil he does not have to irrigate or fertilize.  He is increasing the carbon content with a very mixed cover crop (maybe 30 species), which the grazing animals then lay down and of course with the animal manure.   So we could do this with chop and drop and microbe innoculations (microbe tea)  Chop and drop is not even necessary according to me as the mixed cover crop will share nutrients with the trees that are planted.  I would use 6 inch tall cover crops.   In the video he talks about a farmer converting to his system and not fertilizing and getting good yields the first year.  Using trees in the system would mean that the trees take the water further down and pull it back up when the trees and their sister plants need it.  Again not having the ruminants grazing could be replaced by soil innoculations with microbes.  Local microbes would be the best.  There is a lot of information in the Korean natural farming work about how to do this fermenting if there are folks like me who do not have electricity for bubbling.  I am currently buying EM  (Teraganix)and mycorhizzals (paul stamets, fungi perfecti)

2) Gabe is not tilling  all the microbes can proliferate.  In the Indian systems they use a very light tilling with animals.  There is a lot of stuff I do not know about hydrology, but I expect not tilling also keeps the capillary action of the soil intact.

3) Gabe is very interested in nutrients in his cover crops as well as in his animals.  These nutrients are increased by his no fertilizing, no irrigating system in a way that cannot be matched by fertilizing or irrigated systems.  I am not positive he would say it like this,  the nutritional value of the food is the basis of his whole program.   i am thinking i will connect with him and interview him to find out. 

4) He is not using hedgerows to protect from the wind.  It seems as though with the increased carbon content in his soil he does not need to.  I will still use hedgerows for insectary, wind etc.

5) He is not using water holding structures, such as swales.  Again it looks like with his carbon content he does not need to.  I have not read or seen a lot of the mob grazing stuff, but it seems they are all not using water holding structures. 

6) The use of minimum water means a lot to the nutrition of the plants and to the susceptibility of the plants to pests and viruses.  This is an explanation I read in a book by i am not totally positive about this but i believe gabe does not feed his cattle with grains.  that could be checked on.  he also does not feed them hay as they are a breed that can stay outside all winter and they graze all winter. 

7) Another thing he speaks about in the video is the NPK is his soil is not good.  An extension agent came and tested it.  The NPK in the corn he grew from that same NPK low soil was better than average.  This agrees with what Elaine Ingham is saying.  It is not about the NPK in the soil, so soil tests do not help us.  Again she says that every soil or since air and water are included I should say every plant environment has what the plant needs if it has its microbe partners to access this environment.

Gabe does not talk about this, but it is an underlying principle of growing without irrigation and fertilizer  so I will talk about it.  When chemicals are used the plants need 4-5 times as much water.  I believe this is true (maybe not to the same degree) with using any concentrated plant foods.  The plants evolved to work with their microbial partners not to take up concentrated plant food. 
This is from the book “Regenerating the Soil” by Claude Bourguignon.  This is a description of how the plant takes up additional water because of osmolality differences when NPK are taken into the plant cells.  This then leads to pest and virus problems.   The example used here is potassium.   Normally when the plant takes up potassium from the soil solution and brings it into the membrane, it immediately releases another unit ofpotassium into the cell sap.  The plant has no regulatory system for theuptake of potassium.  if you put a lot of potassium in the cell the plant is unable to regulate its uptake and absorbs high quantities of it.  Consequently you have a lot of positive charge on the membrane.  to be sure  to have this you have to put in a lot of phosphorus because potassium is pumped b ATP which uses phosphorus.  So if you put more phosphorus a lot of potassium gets pumped into the membrane.  then when you put a lot of nitrate in the soil, when you put a lot of nitrate in the soil, what happens?  the concentration of nitrate inside the cell increases a lot.  on the electric side there is no problem as there is a balance:  the plus charge of potassium is compensated by the minus charge of nitrate.  The big problem however is on the osmotic side.  an atom alone has no osmotic charge.  it has no salty reaction.  but a molecule like nitrate has a high salty concentration and thus has an osmotic force.  Owing to this the plant is obliged to bring a lot more water inside the cell.  we call this turgor pressure.  So the plant becomes full of water, extremely fragile and susceptible to attacks of disease, bacteria and so on.  Then you have to use pesticides.  In the end what happens is that you eat plants which are in disequilibrium.

if any of you can come up with more principals that Gabe's work highlight, i would love you to write it up.






 
Bryant RedHawk
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charlotte anthony wrote:i like to put the big picture on the table.  i am not interested specifically in applying gabe brown's technics anywhere.  i am interested in growing healthy food without pests, without fertilizer, without irrigation.  i believe this food has higher brix scale readings.  i believe these methods take incredibly less effort.  i do not believe we have to include mob grazing.  we can replace ruminants feces with microbial innoculations.  s


Brix readings are strictly for measurement of sugars content, not the nutrients that the human body needs.
"A hydrometer scale for measuring the sugar content of a solution at a given temperature, usually 20°C (68°F)."

Microbes rely on things like animal feces for their food sources, so no you could not substitute microbes for ruminant feces.

Mob grazing is simply a sufficient number of animals per square foot to end up with feces trampled into the soil instead of simply sitting on top of the soil.
This mixing in is a mimic of what the huge numbers of buffalo did as they traveled around grazing and loosening the soil with their hooves.

If you grow healthy food, those plants need to eat or else they won't produce fruits. Insects are very adapt at finding what they like to feed on and in a year like this one, it is very hard to grow good food without finding them all over those tasty plants.
fertilizer is pretty much anything you add to the soil to provide nutrients for the plants so they can grow healthy and produce a lot of food for you.
Water is the life blood of all living things, in drought stricken regions this probably means at some point you have to add a little water.

The ideal situation is what we all want, but for most of the world, this means we have to do some work.

Redhawk
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Interestingly enough, Gabe Brown lives in an area that receives most of its rainfall during the summer months and almost none in the deep winter.
Combine this with continual ground coverage, mob grazing and multi-plant pastures and you have a great system for retaining the rain water in the soil.
I wish I knew the soil depth in the Bismarck Area so we could determine the depth of water penetration.
 
Marco Banks
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Gabe Brown and Joel Salatin both talk about how their soil building took a quantum leap forward when they introduced grazers to their system, and how with each additional species, it accelerated the soil building process.  Each animals digestive track makes a different contribution to the microbial community.  So cows, chased by chickens 3 days later, followed by a third animal (pigs?  sheep?) each adds another contribution.  Then add the dung beetles and other insects that bring their contribution to the soil as well, all the way down to the microbes . . . the more complexity you add, the more beneficial it becomes.

Salatin can only run his chicken tractors over the field one time a year because the nitrogen load is so high.  But as a result, he sends the cows in several months later and they knock all that tall grass and bio-mass down, even as they convert it to rib eyes and rump roast.  He only runs these chicken tractors on a piece of land that is elevated above other farm land, so that he doesn't have excess nutrients washing down into the local river.  He has said that he'd love to add another 100 chicken tractors with 60 broilers in each, but the land can only handle so much, so until he gets more land, this is enough.  Once you've got a system like his (including a distribution channel for finished birds), expanding it is relatively easy.  But you can't put too much N into the system, or it causes problems downstream.

Gabe's experiment with planting a garden by tossing 30 or 40 different kinds of veggie seeds into the planter and running it over the land is interesting.  Everything came up and things sorted themselves out as the season went on . . . the stuff that liked growing next to each other did well, and those that didn't, didn't.  On a small home-scale, I don't see why you couldn't do that as well, except it makes it hard to harvest and to know what is ripe.  You'd spend a lot of extra time always moving around, trying to find a carrot that is ready to pull, or being frustrated that you didn't get to this or that veggie in time before it got too large.  And things like watermelon or pumpkins will take over everything if you let them.  Heck, even a tomato will conquer the universe if you don't keep it in check.



If someone decided to mob graze bunnies using electric fences and bat latches, I want to see that video.  But I would imagine that people are using bunny tractors.  That wouldn't be too hard to build, but moving them over high, thick grass/grazing would be difficult.
 
K Putnam
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Gabe's experiment with planting a garden by tossing 30 or 40 different kinds of veggie seeds into the planter and running it over the land is interesting.  Everything came up and things sorted themselves out as the season went on . . . the stuff that liked growing next to each other did well, and those that didn't, didn't.  On a small home-scale, I don't see why you couldn't do that as well, except it makes it hard to harvest and to know what is ripe.  You'd spend a lot of extra time always moving around, trying to find a carrot that is ready to pull, or being frustrated that you didn't get to this or that veggie in time before it got too large.  And things like watermelon or pumpkins will take over everything if you let them.  Heck, even a tomato will conquer the universe if you don't keep it in check. 


What I am trying to do...or think I am trying to do, LOL...is see what happens if you plant with the intention of not harvesting quite a bit of what is planted. So, have main things in there that I intend to grow for eating and some light browsing, but leave the rest of it in the ground, but flatten it so it doesn't all go to seed and see if that can start to bring the soil together a bit more, especially if it is repeated over a few seasons.  Who knows?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:
I wish I knew the soil depth in the Bismarck Area so we could determine the depth of water penetration.


Here's the soil survey for Burleigh County, home of Bismarck: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_MANUSCRIPTS/north_dakota/burleighND1974/burleigh.pdf
 
Steve Farmer
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Marco Banks wrote:If someone decided to mob graze bunnies using electric fences and bat latches, I want to see that video.


In some areas I'm planting in rock. I hammer drill a hole for a tree rootball then I use a 1 metre long masonry drill to put in further holes for roots and fungus networks, with the masonry drill going straight down for tap roots and at 45 degs to link with adjacent planting holes. I fill the hole with water then come back a few days later for planting. In almost every case when I return the hole has a respectable quantity of rabbit droppings. I don't know if they are coming for the water or if they just like to crap in a hole. In drylands, maybe we can encourage rotational mob bunny grazing by rotating the location where we leave water. The wildlife will eagerly come for any water.
 
Dan Boone
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Wow.  Now that is a level of dedication to tree planting that I had never considered.  And considering that most of this property has broken blocks of sandstone underneath it at depths as shallow as a few inches, I probably should have!
 
charlotte anthony
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Bryant Redhawk, i would refer you to Elaine Ingham where inThe Roots of Your Prodits where she describes the partnerships between plants and microbes., in this case the cover crops.  Microbes do not only colonize feces.

Somehow the brix scores also reflect mineral contents.  i am not attached to brix as a measuring tool, any way to tell what nutrition the plant is actually giving us is fine with me. 
 
charlotte anthony
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gabe's experience with planting 30 acres into his cover crop with vegetable seeds reminded me of fukuoka's method.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Yes, I think we can see enough examples of success with polycultures to realize it is a very helpful technique of emulating nature!
 
charlotte anthony
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i have started a related thread:  applying gabe browns work to edible forest gardens without domestic animals https://permies.com/t/58649/urban/Applying-Gabe-Browns-work-mob#497725
 
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