• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Time, labor, energy, body conservation  RSS feed

 
Maureen Atsali
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: Western Kenya
31
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
This subject has been touched on a bit in recent threads... But I would really like to see a thread dedicated to getting more accomplished in the garden and on the farm with less time, less energy, and less wear and tear on the old body.  Without resorting to mechanization.

In my case I am a slightly disabled woman trying to manage 2.5 acres in the tropics with no mechanization and very little outside help.  And I just can't keep up!  I put in about 4 hours of manual labor a day, not including animal care or my other duties of housekeeping, childcare and cottage industry.  At the end of the day, I am wiped out and in pain and I still haven't done everything that needed doing.  This is not sustainable.  I won't be able to keep this up for the next 20 years.  I don't even know if I can keep it up for the next two years.  Don't get me wrong... I love being out in the garden, I love the work..  I just don't love being buried in it.  I keep thinking there has to be a better, more efficient way.  I do realize that my overdependence on annuals is part of the problem, but if I want a healthy and diverse diet for my family, it's a necessary evil.  Anyway... Any input would be so much appreciated.
 
Deb Rebel
garden master
Posts: 1689
Location: Zone 6b
180
books cat fish food preservation greening the desert solar trees urban woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I don't know what you have available for recycling/repurposing or building.

Here I am putting in things like a screen house (built) as our summer sun is brutal and 30% shadecloth really helps with yields AND the hail. I acquired some high tunnel parts and we are working on erecting that, will shade cloth it for the summer then skin it for the cold weather and put an RMH in it for heating.

We are also building an RGGS (rain gutter grow system) garden which is containerized and self watering pails. This allows the best of the intensive 'square foot gardening' system, elevates the plants for easier working on, and allows one to pull and replant just one pail as needed. Lower weeding issues too.

For you, if you could perhaps build some raised beds/keyhole gardens... get ahold of or be able to make some good compost, and get your soil built up, would do a lot to help. Working on food forest (trees, bushes, and vines that grow, need minimal tending and produce) would also help. Again, I know nothing of your local climate, soil conditions, resources, or what will or won't grow there. I'm facing the same thing, getting older and need less work to get a crop, but. Building what I need is killing me up front for a pay off later of less work.

Some hugels, raised beds, and food forest items... might be your best direction. (Anyone else out there more versed in Maureen's climate and eco niche?)
 
Maureen Atsali
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: Western Kenya
31
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for your thoughts Deb!
Raised beds and raised hugels didn't work well here, as they got totally baked during our dry season.  I get good results just working directly in the ground. But that's a lot of bending!  I suppose you could say I do something like tropical alley cropping, as many of my plots are between and around bananas, and tree saplings.  Weeding is a killer, and can't be avoided.  We have s grass with a nasty invasive root/rhizome system (maybe Bermuda, although animals don't like the grass).  The root has to be pulled out or it chokes out everything.  In my main vegetable garden, where I have consistently removed that root, it is finally under control. But most of the other plots are fairly new or have been worked inconsistently, so its s must to dig with the forked jembe as I weed.  Other, more benign weeds can be hand pulled at the surface, but they grow crazy fast.  During the rainy season it can be over my head in two weeks time.  I try to have a "no bare earth" policy... All this crazy growing biomass goes back into mulch.  It helps stop erosion, keeps the soils cooler, feeds the biome, etc.  But it helps very little in terms of weed control because the tropical biome eats through it SO fast.  In less than two months, 6 inches of mulch is totally gone.  Putting cardboard under helps, but I can't source enough cardboard to sheet mulch the whole 2.5 acres.  Planting is also slow and tedious.  I tried a planting stick, but it just got clogged constantly - too narrow I think, and I could only find square tube.  It takes me so long to plant, that one end of the plot is ready to harvest before the other!

Maybe its just time to admit defeat and reduce the areas that i cultivate.  But if I do that, my in-laws will move in to the unused space and go back to doing all the bad things that I have been working SO hard to undo... Basically they try to use big ag techniques on a tiny scale - monocropping maize with chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, plowing the piece 6 times a year, leaving naked dirt to be baked sterile, blown away, and washed away.  As tired as I am, I really loathe to see it go back to that.
 
Deb Rebel
garden master
Posts: 1689
Location: Zone 6b
180
books cat fish food preservation greening the desert solar trees urban woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Here I am at altitude and during the summer we bake. I have to use shade as a growing aid. If your raised beds are under the shade of the 'wanted weeds' (bananas) then the baking shouldn't be as bad.

There is always making a tool that works better if your planting stick isn't working. I have a 'shuffle hoe' and a v pointed one (it has a literal V of metal, the front and back edges are sharpened) to shuffle through my weeds.

I also had to get a garden cart seat a few years ago when I cracked my tibia, it is on wheels and I can roll it around. A hand hoe with a longer handle helped me with being able to sit and weed. My feet are somewhat messed up so using a regular shovel is out but I can wield a hand weeder/cultivator/hoe very well. Kneeling isn't good for me either, never has been, so the sit on rolling seat has been good.

I would hate to see the relatives take over and destroy what you've worked on to build up, also. There has to be a way.

 
 
Alexandra Clark
Posts: 87
Location: Long Island, NY
10
food preservation forest garden hugelkultur
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Big hugs sweetheart and blessings on both your body, your family and your beautiful land.

Not sure if this will help, but my sister gives to a charity called Trees for the Future. I know Africa is a huge place with a diversity of ecosystems but this NGO works to create food forests and support women in various areas of the continent. Maybe they will have a section with suggestions for your part of Kenya or maybe they have an extension by you?

https://www.aidforafrica.org/member-charities/trees-for-the-future/

whoops--this is the main link: https://trees.org/

Good luck!
 
Anne Miller
pollinator
Posts: 754
Location: USDA Zone 8a
53
bee dog food preservation greening the desert hunting toxin-ectomy
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Maureen Atsali wrote:  I tried a planting stick, but it just got clogged constantly - too narrow I think, and I could only find square tube.  It takes me so long to plant, that one end of the plot is ready to harvest before the other! 


DH made a planting stick out of pvc pipe to use for planting sunflower seeds.  He dig a trench so the stick is not stuck in the ground and does not clog.  He used tape to tie a stick to it for a handle.  Also a stick at the bottom to help mark how far apart to plant the seeds.  It worked real well as I am the one who used it.  He followed behind me closing the trench. There may be some plans on the internet.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1667
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
54
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The best thing to take the load off human labour is having the right tools.  For example I now hoe rather than hand weeding. I can probably get slightly higher yield from the land by hand weeding, but it is far more time consuming and back breaking. So now my planting is based around the need to hoe; wider spacings, use of straight rows etc... I also allow some weeds, later in the growing season once my crop plants are well established and the weeds cannot swamp them.

Secondly, work out what activities are actually valuable. I no longer dig my veggie garden at all - aside from harvesting things like potatoes. I get by with mulching and hoeing the surface. I have friends who double dig their whole allotment every year. Look at what you are doing carefully and apply the 90:10 principal. 10% of your efforts will likely be yielding 90% of the benefit. Identify that and do more of it. Similarly, 10% of your yield will be taking 90% of your effort. Do less of that.

You mention that you have livestock. There can be some fantastic synergies if you get them to do the work for you. We have a large pasture that sheep graze. Next to that we have a smaller field used as a work area, for splitting and storing firewood, and storing piles of mulch etc... My dad mows the smaller field once per week in the spring and summer to keep the nettles and grass down. I keep trying to persuade him to simply open the gate and let the sheep in; they do a more thorough job and for zero effort.

 
Maureen Atsali
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: Western Kenya
31
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Deb, weeding from a seat might be something to try.  It would probably slow me down a lot, but might help when my hips and back don't want to cooperate.  I saw a picture of those scuffle hoes on another thread.  There is nothing like that for sale here, but perhaps I could have a machinist fabricate something similar. That'll take some money though.
 
Maureen Atsali
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: Western Kenya
31
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Michael,
Thanks for the ideas!  This is my first time to hear this 90/10 principle.  I'll have to give this some thought!  Where is the least amount of energy doing the most amount of good? Where is the most energy doing the least amount of good? And how can I plant to be more efficient?  Wider rows, yes.  And I think I'll drop my practice of planting things between the rows.  Weeding around extra stuff is an energy drain.  I am also wondering how much of my weeding is for aesthetics.  I was in the squash today and observed how much they didn't care about the weeds- they either crawled over top of them, or they made leaves on extra long/tall stems so that the leaves were above the weed canopy.  But I still felt I had to weed it because it looked so neglected and untidy.
 
Dale Hodgins
gardener
Posts: 6786
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
263
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
My brother is in a subtropical situation where weeding has become a huge part of what he does. His strategy has been to get a canopy of trees over everything and then to train wanted crops up those trees. This includes climbing beans, vining fruits and perennial squash.  This shades the unwanted ground cover. It is cleared with a machete and left in place or fed to animals. He is feeding about 10 people, while using 25% of his time. He comes back to Canada to work for long stretches. Most of his neighbors fritter their time away, growing extremely low value corn and sunflowers.

I have suggested that he build a methane gas plant, which could be fed from the massive amount of weeds.

If I were in a similar situation, I would turn my attention to aquaponics. This would give a small amount of highly productive soil area to deal with, instead of a much larger and less productive area. Water weeds could simply be scooped up and dumped on the land, where they die.
 
Maureen Atsali
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: Western Kenya
31
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Alexandra,
I checked out that site, what a great program!  I doubt we would qualify to be participants, as we have already planted out future food forest and have a few mature trees already fruiting that we inherited with the land.  I sure wish I could get them to come in and work with my village neighbors!  I bookmarked the site to go back to later when I have more time.  Thanks for sharing!
 
Maureen Atsali
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: Western Kenya
31
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Dale
I have been looking into building my own biodigester... I am NOT handy at building things though, and am a little scared I might blow up the house.  I definitely have plenty of biomass plus animal manures that could feed it.

Again, what puts me off aquaponics is having to build it and maintain something mechanical. First, I have no money. Second, finding simple things like a small water pump can be a real hassle here in rural Africa.

I have the low-tech, and of course labor intensive version of aquaponics... A fish pond.  Which gets harvested (drained) every six months, and then the thick layer of fish poo and silt on the bottom gets shoveled out and dumped on the fields as fertilizer.  It is tremendously good fertilizer!  But at the last harvest I just didn't have the time or energy to clean it, so we left it empty.  Again, its a labor/energy management problem.

 
Mike Jay
Posts: 666
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
33
books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
A few things we're doing to save time, labor, etc are:

We're planting tons of tomatoes and peppers this year.  We'll get sick of canning them all but then we should have salsa, sauce, tomato soup, catsup and other goodies for two or more years.  Then next year we'll plant many fewer tomatoes and maybe binge on something else (dry beans?).  That way instead of tending 12 tomatoes and canning a bit each week, we'll knock it all out this year and not have to do much at all next year.  We'll see how it works...

A Victorio food processer has made our canning go much quicker.  With four workers we made 104 quarts of applesauce in 8 hours.  It also juices tomatoes wonderfully.  Seeds/skin go out the end, juice and pulp go out the side.  I wish I had a way to easily separate the juice from the pulp because that would really help.  Juice becomes tomato soup stock, pulp becomes tomato sauce stock.

One other thing we learned last year when we had a mediocre tomato year.  We juiced the tomatoes and put it in mason jars in the fridge.  Then three days later when we had more tomatoes we juiced them and then the combined batch was enough to bother heating up the canner.

If you have freezer space, when you have berries coming in like crazy and you don't want to make jelly in the heat of summer, freeze them and then can them in the winter.  Or in the fall to make freezer space for some venison.

Watering is my struggle.  We have raised beds and sandy soil.  My main problem usually happens in late May or early June when we get a 3 week dry spell just as my seeds are trying to sprout (frost free date is late May here).  So I end up hand watering the garden from the rain barrel for 30-60 min each morning.  I'm a long way from the house but I could run a 400' hose if I had a good and flexible way to water the rows that needed it.  Drip irrigation seems like it would work but I need to be able to move it between my 27 beds, some of which have spaced out seedlings (tomatoes) and some have single rows (beans) and some have double or triple rows (carrots).  I mulch as much as I can but it's hard to plant a row of beets through 2" of mulch.  So I usually pull the mulch away to plant the seeds and then scoot the mulch back once the beets are sturdy.
 
Rachel Gooker
Posts: 9
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I couldn't handle living next to my in-laws, so I really sympathize there. Can you identify some space hogging, low maintenance crop that you could grow on the extra land if you downsized your annual production? preferably a perennial? You could expand your food forest and sell/barter the extra perennial crops for more annuals... assuming you have some like-minded neighbors. Or plant an animal food forest and raise chickens... are eggs easy to sell/barter there? A chicken food forest could also help generate mulch for your annual garden.
A shortage of cardboard... wow. How is that possible?
I sympathize with the nasty grass too. I have similar here in East Texas. It really cuts down on what you can do with a hoe. I've gardened in three locations in the past four years and am REALLY looking forward to being able to benefit from this year's grass eradication efforts next year. I put down paper feed sacks and covered them in pine needles and planted squash in the area where the grass was best established.
BTW you sound like an incredibly industrious person. I have a 8mo. old baby and a 1/10th acre garden, do alterations, housework, etc. and people around here think I work crazy hard!
 
Pay attention! Tiny ad!
Video of all the permaculture design course and appropriate technology course (about 177 hours)
https://permies.com/wiki/65386/paul-wheaton/digital-market/Video-PDC-ATC-hours-HD
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!