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Time, labor, energy, body conservation

 
pollinator
Posts: 450
Location: Western Kenya
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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.
 
gardener
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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
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Location: Western Kenya
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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
gardener
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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.

 
 
Posts: 87
Location: Long Island, NY
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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!
 
master steward
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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.
 
pioneer
Posts: 2177
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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: 450
Location: Western Kenya
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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
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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.
 
pollinator
Posts: 8169
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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
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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
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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.

 
master steward
Posts: 4011
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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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.
 
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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!
 
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Also, for watering if you can run some drip tape irrigation from a cheap place like Irrigation Warehouse that will help that effort and conserve water.   Run it under your weed cloth really saves water. You just have to plant on that spacing.

Melbor makes a WiFi 4 way battery powered water timer and hat actually works pretty well despite some of the reviews.  You can schedule it or just turn areas on/off with your phone.  Easier than an expensive Rain Bird irrigation controller.  
 
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We are in an arid subtropical climate in Mexico. Last summer we planted a bean crop to cover all bare areas that we had cleaned. The bean bushes grew quickly and produce small, purple flowers with dark green leaves about 24” high. I love them! They’re still green a year later with minimal water, produce more beans for ground cover and can be eaten, although I don’t care for them in the pot. They’ve shaded our bananas & papaya roots perfectly and discouraged weeds elsewhere.
We hosted two volunteers initially to help build the beds and the frames to keep the chickens out and provide shade. You may want to check out Workaway and/or HelpX, even WOOFER for some help. They can stay in tents.
Good Luck!
Holly
Rancho Sol y Mar
 
pollinator
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Anne Miller wrote:

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.



Would you take a pic of yours?
What is the diameter of the pipe?
Thanks!
 
Anne Miller
master steward
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What he made was very similar to this:





Below the funnel he added a stick for a handle and at the bottom another stick to measure the distance for the seed.


I might be able to find a picture of something more like his.
 
Anne Miller
master steward
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Xisca Nicolas wrote:  Would you take a pic of yours?
What is the diameter of the pipe?  Thanks!



Xisca, I had to post without the pictures, as it started storming and I was afraid of losing either internet or electric.  We got an 1 1/2" in of rain in about 15 min.  We really needed the rain.


These pictures I found, are similar to the one he made, only his was a little simpler:







These could be made of bamboo, if you have bamboo.

 
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I feel for you. We have bermuda grass..that stuff is horrible and my critters don't like it. I also have hip and knee issues. I have an acre garden that I plant and work every year. My husband noticed I was having issues hoeing the garden. He took and sharpened my hoe and bent the neck so it got more of a bite. I love it. Eats right through most of the weeds. Now for that obnoxious grass.....I have a dandelion puller (not for my dandelions though). You step on it and it is spring loaded, pulls up the roots. Every time I see the green starting back up, I hit it again. We are in Central Oklahoma. I have found that a shade cloth is an absolute necessity if I want anything to do well. I have a line of bright green in my grass.....it is the area of yard that gets evening shade. I had to relearn how to grow a garden. I lived in northern Missouri for years. Gardening there was easy. It has been a real learning curve here.  During the dry season (seems like most the year ) I put out buckets with drip irrigation as I have to haul my water. I really need a catchment system.
 
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I grow most of the household food, and I want to be doing it for decades yet!  I rarely hand weed. If I have a friend or other volunteer who wants to chat with me, I'll do it.  Otherwise I use a long-handled SHARP hoe with the two-thumbs-up grip I learned from Carol Deppe, so that my back is straight.  It's a motion like sweeping the floor rather than chopping with a baseball bat.  Tending a smaller area of annuals more thoroughly seems to yield more satisfaction than having a huge garden that gets weedy in the blink of an eye.  I use cover crops (summer and winter in my temperate zone) in areas where I don't want to cultivate all the time.  And I tolerate the occasional weed just fine.  I find that gardening with friends makes the whole deal more pleasant.  


My big hint though is this:  As I have balanced the mineral content of my soil, the weeds have changed dramatically.  Adding manure and mulch all the time gave me weed problems from potassium being too high.  Or at least, my potassium levels increased as my weed problems increased.  I used to mulch with woods chips and cardboard but switched to cover crops so that i wouldn't be importing as much potassium into the garden.  I even grew corn and carried the dry stalks away into the forest to remove potassium from that plot.  After adding calcium and other minerals, but no potassium, weeds seem less overwhelming.  Your results may vary, but a soil test has been some of the best money I have ever spent on the garden.  
 
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so i always fought with my garden.... still do where i havent been diligent- but where i have had time to implement it, this video on youtube- back to eden gardening has been very helpful!!!

https://youtu.be/6rPPUmStKQ4
 
pollinator
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Anne Miller wrote:
For some unknown reason, I seem to use a broom the wrong way. Are there some things we can do to make life easier on our bodies?  


A little understood principle is that all actions come from our feet. It is called ground force. so when you push or pull on the broom [hoe, saw, hammer, whatever] the counter force has to be applied to the planet earth. Therefore study how you are doing things; are you actually applying leverage through your body to your feet?  Even when you are siting at your desk and have added your seat as a third point of contact your feet should be responding to the movement of your arms and head.
   If this seems to difficult to master ask someone to observe or watch yourself in a mirror or video.  You could even hire a golf coach.
 
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seeder there are many variations

"do nothing farming". I say do little http://www.permaculture.com/node/140
 
pollinator
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Maureen, I hear you. We have been talking about buying land to retire on and we`re pushing 50, so it`s time to start thinking. We went and did some looking last week and all I could think was "i wonder where I`m going to get the energy down the road".
I am on a tiny, sloping lot, but like you raised beds won`t work because of heat-dryness. I also have super invasive grass and so instead of making raised beds, I made borders for my in-ground beds with old ceramic roofing tiles I got from someone who was replacing their roof (they are generally just dumped on the side of the road or in the street to fill potholes as people run them over). This makes a border that the grass has a VERY hard time getting across. Birds will poop the seeds into the middle of the bed, so you need to keep on it, but it seriously cut down the time I spend on grass eradication.
I also hear you on the difficulty finding things. The easiest solutions mentioned (diatomaceous earth! piping to make your own hoop house! drip tape!) simply don`t exist where I live. And a trip to the US is not a viable option to buy these things (although an expat farmer friend recently suggested I just "go up to the US to pick up a mini-tiller". mmmkay.). It adds another entire dimension of challenge.
 
Anne Miller
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Thanks, Hans
I solved the problem by getting one of these Robotic Vacuum
 
pollinator
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A few loose ideas: 1. If you can source paper and cardboard in abundance (or possibly scraps of natural fabric, or even banana leaves or other large sheets of slowly compostable material....then try a complete sheet-mulch system for suppressing the running grass.  This was the ONLY way to garden on any scale in the field of bermuda grass I spent years on in Georgia.  Usually I would lay the paper, etc. out over the growing grass, covering it with some kind of top-mulch....even if an incomplete cover like clumps of pulled weeds, stalks, etc..  the point is to keep the wind from blowing the stuff around.  Then punch holes through it and plant transplants right in it.  Worked will for large vigorous transplanted things like tomatoes and sweet potatoes.  But you have to do it EVERY year on bermudagrass land. 2. Biochar.  Biochar is extremely valuable in hot climates where organic matter vanishes so quickly whether mulched or incorporated.  There are many easy ways to make it, even in a hole in the ground.  Then add urine if you can and use that on your soil for the most intensive gardens.  The benefits of the organic matter will last much longer in the soil.  3. As others have mentioned, the hoe is a cutting tool and not a digging tool when used for weeding.  I know that in Africa and elsewhere there is a tool that looks a bit like a hoe with a heavy wide blade and a short handle, used for most of the purposes that Europe and America use a shovel for.  The Western hoe is long handled with a light, sharp blade and you sweep just under the surface of the soil with it, like sweeping a floor with a broom.  The point is to cut the weeds off just at or below the soil surface.  You should be able to do it for hours without getting tired, unless the weeds are very dense.
 
Just the other day, I was thinking ... about this tiny ad:
permaculture bootcamp - learn permaculture through a little hard work
https://permies.com/wiki/bootcamp
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