Monday, September 28, 2015

Weed suppression in no till

Fine! Fine! I give up! Ill try this no-till nonesense! Now shut up about the friggin soil OM!

But really, the big reason that I've all but discarded the idea of no till is that I had, until today, never understood any no till weed control method aside from using large amounts of supposedly weed-suppressing organic mulch. If you want to know how well THAT experiment is doing, go ask the crab grass that is happily growing through the 12 inches (not exaggerating) of half-composted leaves.

Here i thought that the only way to eliminate a cover crop without freezing weather was to spray is with Roundup. Sure, I COULD break out the non-selective herbicide. I could also french kiss a cobra. Stupid people do stupid things, am I right? I was pleasantly suprised to stumble upon this site:

that features a hand crimper (no tractor required) and explains what a crimper does in such a simple way that even a dip shit like ME can understand. A crimper kills the cover crop by breaking (not cutting) the stem, while leaving the whole thing attached to the roots so that it doesn't get blown away by the next typhoon.

Add in the fact that oat grass is aleopathic and you have sold me hook line and sinker on this no till+ cover crop deal.

This hand crimper, BTW, does not eliminate the possibility of using the goats for clearing a row, but that is a subject for another post which is going up as soon as we finally GET the goats to try this madness out with.

Oat grass and cow peas are in the ground already on a very small patch of the two new hugel mounds. Ill let you know how cover crop elimination goes in 8-10 weeks.

Traffic Cone Dog

Yesterday, I woke up to find that Hero had managed to get a big gash in his side that required stitches. The vet bill: 3,000 NT (about 90$ US). For such carelessness, he has been sentenced to The Cone. Doorways are gona be a significant obstacle for the duration of his recovery.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Is hugelkulture worth the effort?

Hugelkultures benefits are many: eliminating or decreasing the need for watering and tilling, sequestering carbon, increased nutrient retention, increased soil OM, increased vertical growing space, increased fungal life, micro climate creation, blah blah blah. Chances are, if you have stumbled across my blog, you already know about the bad-assness that is hugelkulture. The one and only con of a (properly made) hugelbeet is the upfront labor required to create it.

Just how much labor is required? I once read on that the work expended in establishing a hugelbeet is equivilent to 5 years of labor condensed into one. Creating mine by hand, i feel that this is about accurate. Keep in mind, your milage may vary. I'm a 24 year old professional athlete so hauling logs and slinging dirt is one of the less physically demanding exersises I regularly perform. But even my grandma could build a huglelbeet if she had a tractor and any incentive whatsoever. My hugel beds are sunken, which means the dirt on top comes from the adjacent section, as opposed to being hauled from A-B which would be much more laborious. The logs im using come from a giant brush pile that is conveniently located about a football fields distance from the mounds ive been building. If your source of wood is further or closer, your project will be more demanding.

Most of us after reading the previous paragraph can agree that in my particular situation I have it much easier than the average bear. But on top of the relative ease or my situation, I have far more incentive than AJP (Average Joe Permie) as well. The rainfall around here tends to swing from one extreme to the other. I kid you not when I say that 2 weeks ago we were digging a drainage ditch to save the veggies from drowning but are now furiously pumping water into the field to keep them from drying out. The soil we have to work with is pretty high in clay which means it both drains poorly and presents lots of resistance to deep root penetration making veggies grown in it especially sensitive to excess and inadequate percipitation (though the quack grass does just fine). Hugelkulture provides a buffer against rain extemes by lifting the veggies above the muck, providing soft, easily penetrated soil to burrow into and high water retention. That's what we professionals like to call a "win-win".

On a side note, green vegetables can triple in price immediately after a typhoon. Having some leafy greens chilling on top of the hugelbeet immediatly after Mother Nature throws one of her infamous tantrums provides some economic opportunity. Cha-Ching!

Deciding wether or not to give your field the agricultural equivilent of breast implants is not an issue of pro's and con's. There simply aren't any con's aside from the upfront labor. It is deciding how much labor, in your case, it will take to make hugelbeets compare to how much labor it takes to manage your field without them, and how badly you need the buffer against rain extremes.

"Practical" permaculture as opposed to what? Part 2- Exercise vs Labor

Measuring the ratio of agricultural output to labor input is a fat crock of shit and is going to have to acknowledged as such for society to become sustainable. That's because, while a small percentage of the population grows food for the rest of us which necessitates: tractors, chemicals and "labor efficient" agriculture, the rest of us are either "exercising" to meet the doctor recommended hour a day, or dying from inactivity related diseases.

What advantage is there in: jogging, biking or whatever fad exercise is popular this month over: tilling a field, hauling compost or scything hay for livestock? If you answered "there is no advantage" then you and I are on the same page, Hommie. In fact, if you were to spend your doctor-recommended hour a day in the field, you'd probably contribute enough to grow everything you would eat on a vegetarian diet. Animals are going to require a little more work than an hour a day per person but that is a tangent for a different post. The truth is that growing fruit, vegetables and grains, even by hand, is not as labor intensive as you probably imagine it is.

I'm not comparing farming to martial arts or weightlifting for instance. Spading a field is not going to make you a trained deadly weapon or a beefcake MoFo, but it will fulfill your daily cardiovascular exercise requirement in a much more practical way than say: Tai-Chi, Tae Bo or Tying your shoes (see what i did there?). So practically speaking, pounding the pavement for an hour after work to stave off heart disease, aside from being boring, is an inefficient waste of time. 

Why does Average Joe prefer "exercise" over "labor" then? My best guess is that it is an insidious form of conspicuous consumption. Poor people engage in "labor" while us high-class folks buy food from the store, send our kids to daycare, shit in our drinking water and "exercise" after our busy, fulfilling and productive day of pushing paper. My second best guess is that the idea just doesn't occur to the average lemming.

Can a tractor rototill a field faster and more easily than you could spade it? Do chemical fertilizers require less labor to apply than compost? Does preemergent herbicide keep a field weed free more easily than a scuffle hoe? Well, my dear Watson, sure as a bear shits in the woods and my dogs shit all  over the otherwise soon to be harvested brassicas modern farming requires far less labor. But are these methods anymore "efficient" when 98% of us pound pavement instead of flipping soil? Quit drooling. It was a rhetorical question.

When you get bored of paying gym membership so that you dont keel over from heart disease at the ripe old age of 20, i'll have a spade and an extra pair of work boots with your name on them, my friend. We can "exercise" together and sustainably. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

The real reason cover crops are essential in any large scale agricultural operation

I'm going to assume you know all about how cover crops are used to: supress weeds, prevent erosion and fix nitrogen into the soil. What AJP (Average Joe Permie) likely doesn't realize is how by not using easy to kill cover crops he's selectively breeding difficult to kill weeds. 

This morning, I've been out raking a freshly spaded row to plant some sorghum in. Since our CSA uses tillage and mulch to control weeds, we are left with only the weeds that survive tillage and mulch. While the uncultivated sections of land in the corners of our property are growing a plethora of wild plants, the cultivated rows are growing little more than creeping grasses and purslane: the only stuff that is killed by neither tillage nor deep mulch. With no other weeds capable of surviving this double whammy and coming back to contend with the creepers, those little bastards run rampant like a caffeinated 5 year old on an airplane. 

The way I see it, there are 3 options. The first being to go Full Polyanna and convince yourself that the virtues of crab grass outweigh the cons (even as everything you plant among the grass shrivels up like an 90 year old penis). The second would be to break out the "bigger hammer", till twice and use more mulch. The third, and by far the most practical, would be to reintroduce those tillage fearing plants that my colleagues have dilligently driven to extinction by sowing a cover crop after harvest rather than letting the crab grass reclaim the row. 

By sowing a cover crop, you introduce vegetation that will compete with the crab grass but not with your all mighty spade. Will it miraculously eliminate crab grass in one season? I suspect not, but it will certaintly decrease those noxious, creeping stems with less human labor than anything else, barring and act of God, that I can imagine. 

How to keep dogs off of the grow beds

A pair of playful dogs can wreak havoc on a bed of newly transplanted starts. 4 dogs tearing through the farm can Fuck. Shit. Up. I'm not about to leave the dogs in the house while I go out to work. Other than their need to excersise, explore and roll in the dirt, they drop "fertilizer" in the field (as opposed to in my house) and they scavenge quite a bit which cuts down significantly on my dog food expense. That means the fuzzy, little terrorists and the vulnerable vegetables are gona have to coexist.

To be fair, a properly mulched bed is going to suffer very little loss from dogs walking across them or even laying down on top of them. However, if you get playful dogs accelerating, decelerating and making 180 degree racing turns on top of the freshly transplanted broccoli, its going to be a brassica holocaust. 

When you want to teach a new rule to a dog, there are 3 things to keep in mind: make sure the dog understands what the rule is, give the dog incentive to follow the rule and be realistic about the dogs cognitive ability. In this case, the dog needs to be taught which areas are off limits (the vegetable beds) reprimanded immediately when it transgresses the boundaries, and the human needs to realize that the dog can not distinguish between your prized cabbage and the bush it pees on every morning. After all, they are both green and leafy. 

First strategy i heard second hand but have not tried it myself, is to teach the dog to fear wire. Get a 9 volt battery and connect a length of wire. Stretch the wire somewhere that Fido is going to go snooping (I might leave this in front of my open bedroom door since that is off limits anyways, and kill two birds with one stone) and assuming Fido is anywhere near average intelligence, he will quickly learn an aversion to wire. After this, it is a simple matter of bordering the no-go zones with wire in order to repel the furry marauder. Is it mean to let your beloved pooch get zapped a few times? Perhaps. But it is much more humane than letting him piss off your neighbors until they start leaving out rat poison laced meat (true story). The dog understands that wire bordered territory is off limits, anticipates a shock  if it trasngresses this border (incentive) and is more than capable of learning that wire = pain. Now if only I can find a way to equate garbage can contents = ass whoopin', i'll be a happy dog owner. 

The strategy i personally employed is to encircle the growing area with three strands of cord with the top one being knee height. This very clearly marks an area in a way that even a dog can understand. The incentive, however needs to come from the humans. Rocks work very well for this (fuck you PETA). the dog wont need to get pelted with a pebble more than once or twice to get the message. This is going to work even better if your dog already knows the "leave it" and "out" commands.

Like almost every situation, an untrained dog is a liability while a trained one is the ultimate companion. Once Fido gets the message, there is no reason to expel him from the garden.


"Practical" permaculture as opposed to what? Part 1- feeding society

I find the typical permie farm, our own included, to be a piss poor example of practical, sustainable agriculture.

Welcome to Qian Jia Farm. Sign up for our CSA and we will hook you up, Son! We'll stuff your fridge with a variety of food that is packed with more nutrition than player haters even know what to do with! At least, that's the idea; my beloved CSA falls woefully short and has no strategy in place to move beyond providing vegetables. They are the highest quality and most delicious vegetables you're gona find around here but nobody is feeding their family on veggies alone.

As a matter of fact, just today the 2 full time employees, one other volunteer and myself are sharing lunch and I ask "how much of this came from our farm?". With a big shit eating grin and mental pat on the back, Auntie Volunteer proudly declares that the vegetables were grown on the farm, confessing by admission that the: meat, tofu, spices, noodles and fish came from the grocery store. Of course, I praised the vegetable dish, albeit with the sincerity of one complimenting a 5 year olds finger painting masterpiece, then finished the mostly store bought meal.

I, myself, consume a balanced diet consisting of: vegetables, fruits, grains and meat. Average Wang (the Taiwanese equivalent of Average Joe) much more grains and meat than fruits and veggies. Nobody i know of could make more than 10-20% of their diet off of produce from our farm. Essentialy, our farm produced a lot more education and good vibes than it does food.

And how can any system be "sustainable" if the farmer cant even feed himself?

Thanks for visiting my blog

My name is Daniel. I live in Qian Jia village, Hsinchu county Taiwan with my 4 stray dogs. We moved here to be a part of the local permaculture CSA and ill be documenting our contributions and the CSAs progress.

Thanks for visiting!