The Helpful Gardener
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The One Straw Revolution

Sensei challenges us all to pick up the one straw and make that first move towards a saner, safer, more sustainable agriculture. I know many of you, like myself, have made that first step, and another, and another.

Still, this country and most others continue to feed themselves on poor food substitutes grown in non-sustainable fashion, rather than natural food raised on natural farms. I too feel Sensei's anger looking at fields being badly managed to the detriment of neighbors both human and otherwise, yet the law of the land not only allows but supports this assault on nature. Indeed the corporate powers hold more sway in our government than any voice truly of the people.

So this revolution must be handed from person to person rather than promulgated by any outside agency. It must be planted and tended, watered with fellow enthusiasm and weeded of negative thinking. Those who would tell us that you cannot raise food any other way than chemicals and tilling will not be swayed by our words, but only by our gardens. To teach natural farming, it is necessary only to become a natural farmer. In fact there is no other way to do it.

So pick up that first straw and join the rest. Together we can begin to fix our gardens, then our farms, and our villages, towns and countries. And someday perhaps, we will have no need of any of it other than the farms...

[quote]“Every generation needs a new revolution.â€
Scott Reil

gershon
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Well, this thread seemed a little lonely. Yes, that's a tiller which is what I prefer. Sorry Mosanobu. Without tilling, this soil assumes the consistency of hardened cement.

I won't know exactly until I lay the drip line, but I think it's about 1,800 sq. feet of planted area.

Within the next week or two, the acacia seed will blow in and it will be as if the whole yard were seeded thickly with acacia. It's a pretty benign weed. If it comes, I'll till or turn it in when I'm ready to plant an area.

I guess the way this fits in the "One Straw Revolution" is this is the only garden in the area. If you look through the fence to the left, you can just see my neighbor is growing rocks. She spends more time working on the rocks than I do growing food. Ain't science great?

Maybe some others will be inspired by my garden to plant another one.

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The Helpful Gardener
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Chopping up the One Straw, Gershon? :lol:

You need not be sorry for Sensei; his farm is still going, even if he has left this place. His soils improve every year, and the place continues in the rythym of Nature...

And tilling to relieve compaction is like drinking to avoid drowning... a short term solution to a long term issue that makes things worse as you go... :roll:

Try a spot Sensei's way and see; remember, you miss one hundred percent of the shots you never take...

HG
Last edited by The Helpful Gardener on Thu Mar 03, 2011 1:46 am, edited 1 time in total.
Scott Reil

gershon
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All I can say is perhaps I'm repeating a failed experiment. That will also have value for those watching. I'm a little outclassed on experience here. So we will have to wait and see.

My take what Masanobu is truly teaching is a little different than that of others which may be a bias I have. My studies are vastly different than the Western way of thinking.

I'll save a patch of weeds to plant in just for the fun of it. :)

gershon
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I'll be sure to save a couple beds for no-till just for fun. If I don't do that, there would be no point in reading the book.

This morning, I did some research in some books I have about the till/no-till disagreement. I found it goes back at least 2,000 years. The same with the weeding.

In arid areas, those who plowed, plowed 1 hand-breadth deep in hard soil, 2 in soft, and 3 in cultivated. Apparently there were also those who didn't plow.

Seeding was done before or after plowing. There were different opinions on that, too.

I also found some used urine on the fields and spread manure, and some didn't.

Anyway, this morning we saved some Rat's Tail Radish seeds which had been out all winter. It gave us time for good conversation and coffee.


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Gersh, look at any land that has been tilled for two thousand years. Any of them.

Dust. They are now dust. THAT's what tilling does; it makes dust.

In this country we started with a blade plow, and then a moldboard plow. Six inches, one foot down. Then we went to tractors and we started further in, two feet, three feet...

Now we use huge tractors and subsoil rippers to go four feet to relieve compaction. Except the more we till (and the bigger the tractors get) the more compaction we get...

How far do we go before we stop? And why do Amish and Mennonite farms not nearly have this issue? (Yes I know they still till, but look at the rest of it)?

And if all this mechanization is so good for farming, why are we still losing farmers (while the Amish and Mennonites have nearly doubled their numbers of farms in twenty years)?

We are asking why we do the things we do. That is all F-san asked; observe. I am glad you are going to try it; there is nothing like success to breed believers. You will soon wonder why you did it any other way. Trade in the Troy built for a [url=http://gullandforge.com/]broadfork[/url]; you'll be glad you did.

HG
Scott Reil

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Scott,

I will try it. I think experiments are fun. I'm thinking 3 feet down is a lot different than a few inches.

I'm not a big fan of mechanization. Once I till in the beginning of the season all I use is my harem of hoes.

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It was only three or four years back that I was doing as you do now.

It was more a mental release than any great physical change to finally give up the tiller. Now that I have, I garden gently (on the land and my tired old bones), and with FAR less weeds. The compaction is lifting naturally, and the food flows just as easily as it ever did...

You'll see... :wink:

HG
Scott Reil

gershon
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The Helpful Gardener wrote:It was only three or four years back that I was doing as you do now.

It was more a mental release than any great physical change to finally give up the tiller. Now that I have, I garden gently (on the land and my tired old bones), and with FAR less weeds. The compaction is lifting naturally, and the food flows just as easily as it ever did...

You'll see... :wink:

HG
I figured yours was a fairly recent change. I found an old post of yours from 2004 on tilling where you seemed to support the concept. Maybe I interpreted it wrong.

There is one "experiment" I did last year. I put some weed barrier cloth under the landscaping rocks. It turned out horribly as dust blew in and the weeds grew better there than the grass on the lawn. They didn't even get any water as I have drip irrigation which I don't run very much. So there is no overs spray and we only had 2 inches of rain or so the whole summer.

This seems to support the no till concept and I plan to plant some things in those areas this year without doing anything special.



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The other part of tilling, other than damaging soil structure and biology, is that it brings up weed seed to a germinating level.

Considering the longevity of seed (crabgrass, f'rinstance, stays viable up to six feet down for up to a century), you are simply helping out the weeds more than the plants you are planting!

I did not come to this quickly, or without my own hiccups along the way, but I am most assuredly an advocate now. All I ask is that people try it first. Those that do become believers...

HG
Scott Reil

gershon
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The Helpful Gardener wrote:The other part of tilling, other than damaging soil structure and biology, is that it brings up weed seed to a germinating level.

Considering the longevity of seed (crabgrass, f'rinstance, stays viable up to six feet down for up to a century), you are simply helping out the weeds more than the plants you are planting!

I did not come to this quickly, or without my own hiccups along the way, but I am most assuredly an advocate now. All I ask is that people try it first. Those that do become believers...

HG
I have a bed that has carrots, parsnips and beets in it from last year. There were a lot I didn't harvest as I planted way too many. It hasn't been tilled yet.

The soil is heavy bacalite. It's the poorest soil in the garden. Yet it still grew stuff pretty well with just tilling it last year.

To adopt this method, what do I do? Should I just plant beans or peas or other things among what is there? Do I cut off the tops of what's in the ground and lat them on the surface? Do I turn the a bit with a spade?

The size of the bed is 3 x 50 and I can afford to play with it. Another problem is it doesn't get sun until about noon.

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I don't know which heading this would best go under, so I'll just put it here.

In his other book "The Natural Way of Farming" he says one or two people can manage a quarter acre in this way growing 33 bushels of rice and 22 bushels of wheat.

It seems like there are a lot of pieces missing to the puzzle on how to make a living on small acreage. Since I know someone making a living on 8 acres only farming 3 acres at a time using very little mechanized equipment, I know it's possible. When I've studied it, I always ran into a marketing problem to sell the food.

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With fuel prices skyrocketing, that problem is dissappearing...

Wendell Berry always looks to the Amish and Mennonites when he is figuring out no machinery small farms (good tip!). I look at how they always establish a coop marketplace that draws folks from hundreds of miles around with good prices and lots of product. I now folks here in CT that have made the trip to Lancaster Cty, PA to do the marketplace there!

This small farm model needs to get adopted and fast. Big farms in the Midwest are getting more fuel and machinery intense daily, which is only a part of why that model is not sustainable (we should not forget that anything other than organic production is simply mining soil as a depletable resource.)

HG
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I am a member of a local (20 miles from me) Community Supported Agriculture farm. You sign up, pay $250 for the season, and contribute 18 work hours on the farm. Our farm is 5 acres. It grows 30 different veggies and feeds 100 families. (By feeds, I mean veggies. It doesn't grow grains or fruits, so we still have to buy things from the store.) Our half share that we got for that provides all the veggies two of us can eat all season with a bit left over to put by for winter. It is totally organic, which I know for sure, because in my work hours I see the compost piles and sometimes I handpick bugs. It's not, unfortunately, no-till, but it is tilled once for the season. After that all the work is done by hand, with hoes, etc.

With the CSA, you only market to get members (and ours being very successful always has a waiting list for membership). After that you know all your produce is spoken for and paid in advance. No trucking produce to the farmers market and hauling half of it back home. People come to the farm each week to pick up their produce. (Some of us in the city pool our efforts, have one family each week go pick up the produce for all of us and bring it to a central in-city location, so not all of us have to drive 20 miles every week.)

I truly believe small diversified farms along with lots of backyard/roof top/ vacant lot growing is the wave of the future. Sort of a back to the future thing -- in WWII, the cities came close to supporting themselves with "Victory Gardens," while most of the agricultural produce went to the soldiers.
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gershon
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The garden is really coming along. The area I tilled have lots of volunteer peas and corn from last year. I'll just plant around those and see what happens. I'm not sure how I would have gotten the dead plants from last year in the soil without a light tilling. I'm eating leaves from onions, radishes are about 3/4 an inch in diameter. Chard is ready to eat as are endives and beet leaves.

In the areas I didn't till, beans are doing well and peas are doing well and I have a couple volunteer leeks ready to eat. I also have endives that are ready to eat.

Weeds haven't been a problem in either section. There are some, but they are easy to pull.

At this point I'm ready to concede tilling is an unnecessary step each year once the ground is prepared the first time. That's a pretty big step for me. Since I am growing to eat and need to save the money, I'm hesitant to change everything at once.

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Gershon, I am pleased to hear of your satori. I understand how difficult it is to leave a paradigm as ingrained to our gardening genes as cultivation, but as you read about the science, then experience the differences in labor and result as you move toward true no-till, it becomes clear that not everything we are taught or hold to be true is necessarily as it appears...

That is indeed a daunting thought, but we have great need to embrace it on so very many fronts.

By the by, the tilling "necessary" to remove the old plants is based on a need to remove old plants, another practice I have eliminated by cutting and leaving old root systems in the ground. This creates a "vertical composting", channels down through the soil of decomposing material, which studies have shown to be natural channels for the next plants roots to follow down into the soil, opening and aerating said soil more and more... another benefit of Nature eliminated by tilling...

HG
Scott Reil

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Between this book and others, I've become convinced to disturb the soil as little as possible. It's likely the tiller will go on Craigslist shortly.

I still use the Rogue Hoe sometimes to clear a little patch for seeding if it's filled with weeds. I find this is an easy way to cut the tops off just below the surface without disturbing the soil underneath.

Weeding is down to maybe 10 minutes a day where I go around and pull or break off some of the big ones. I have LOT of wild sunflower going.

I allowed one no name weed to grow in an area I wasn't using. It's about 3 feet tall. Yesterday, I went to cut it own and noticed it's almost covered with ladybugs. That one gets to stay.

A week or so ago, I was a little discouraged about germination, but that problem as disappeared. Now everything seems to come up. Not quite as quickly as in tilled soil, but a few days doesn't make much difference.

There are other free books from www.soilandhealth.org which have great information. Maybe we could review one of those. I like "The Weed Problem - a New Approach." It's not as scientific as Jeff's, but the concepts are there.

One thing I'm trying is laying composting material in the paths between rows. They tend to get wet if I leave the drip on too long, so it keeps the mud off my shoes. And I figure it will get trampled into the dirt an the nutrients might leach sideways. Since it's in the path, it shouldn't take any nutrients from the bed that aren't already leaching out.

Thanks for recommending this book. It has been quite a change in my methods.

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