Innisfree Farm: Planning spaces: working animals into a sustainable permaculture plan

I’ve learned a lot about utilizing the ground for food production over the past few years, and one of the things I have learned is that there is no space, whether it is a garden, a tilled field, or a pasture, that should ever be left for a single use. Nature multitasks everything, and the […]

I’ve learned a lot about utilizing the ground for food production over the past few years, and one of the things I have learned is that there is no space, whether it is a garden, a tilled field, or a pasture, that should ever be left for a single use. Nature multitasks everything, and the best farm plans do the same.

While that is true, I am surprised how many sustainable agriculture pundits leave the animals out of their plans. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few who advocate using animals, but for the most part, most of the people out there talking about sustainable agriculture keep their animals mostly seperate from their agriculture.

What I have come to realize is that the best way to utilize space is to have animals as part of every stage. For instance, we use goats to keep grass areas trimmed and chickens to keep the goat manure broken down. Chickens tend our gardens during the winter months, eating weed seeds and grubs we could never control otherwise. Cows, and eventually goats and chickens, patrol our pastures and keep them healthy through carefully managed grazing.

This year, I plan to experiment with using chickens to tend the aisles of our gardens using tunnels to keep them off the plants. Chickens are death on weeds and insect pests.

All of these ideas, and some yet to come, require some degree of consideration as part of planning our operations. I’ve found that we have to think differently about how we design our growing areas to accommodate animals as well as plants. The more we accommodate, the better things seem to work.

As far as I can tell, there is no foolproof method for such accommodation–that is, I have not identified one yet–but there is a question we should ask whenever we are planning a new space: how will I use animals here?

I think that including animals in an overall sustainable agriculture plan will make the plan that much better for us, our plants, and our animals.

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: Web roundup

Want to know what I’m reading about agriculture, food, and sustainability? Well this periodic post is the place to find out: Kajabi on the old wise farmer Treehugger on exploding pig barns The New York times on the rise of the artisanal food producer Scientific American on the impracticality of the cheeseburger Foreign Policy Magazine on […]

Want to know what I’m reading about agriculture, food, and sustainability? Well this periodic post is the place to find out:

  1. Kajabi on the old wise farmer
  2. Treehugger on exploding pig barns
  3. The New York times on the rise of the artisanal food producer
  4. Scientific American on the impracticality of the cheeseburger
  5. Foreign Policy Magazine on commodity induced food price inflation
  6. Popular Science on how feeding antibiotics to pigs is helping to create superbugs
  7. The Guardian on Monsanto being found guilty of poisoning by a French court
  8. Gene Logsdon at The Contrary Farmer on the need for secret crying places
  9. Wake Up World on bus roof gardens
  10. Treehugger on Seattle’s attempt to create the world’s first public food forest

You can also get these kind of links in real time by following me on Facebook or Twitter.

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: MENF 2011: Show me the money

Sometimes its easy to get lost in encouraging people to grow their own food and forget that this stuff still costs money. As idealistic as we may all want to be, at some point we have to pay the bills. It turns out paying the bills may not be as hard as you might think. […] Continue reading

Sometimes its easy to get lost in encouraging people to grow their own food and forget that this stuff still costs money. As idealistic as we may all want to be, at some point we have to pay the bills. It turns out paying the bills may not be as hard as you might think.

There are as many ways to make raising your own food pay for itself as there are people trying to do it, but I’ve noticed that most of the cash efforts seem to center around two kinds of things: greens and chickens.

First, the greens. Greens, sprouts, and salads have become the most common acknowledgement most people pay to trying to eat healthy. If you’ve noticed the lettuce display at your local grocer, you will have noticed people seem to be eating a lot of the stuff, and they seem to be willing to pay quite a bit for what they get. As an aspiring food grower, you can tap into that market, especially in the off-season.

The simplest way to grow such greens is to set up a simple greenhouse, hoop house, cold frame, or low hoop over a row of greens. One speaker I heard recently grows sprouts and microgreens on an Ikea bookcase fitted with cheap florescent lights from Lowes. While it is important to do your research and make sure you’re doing it right, growing greens can be simple and produce a good crop year around.

Of course, marketing such a product can be its own challenge, but that’s where due diligence comes in. Let’s face it, family and friends and word of mouth is the best way to sell your product. Local year around farmers markets and greenhouses are often looking for new sources of the products they sell, or you could sell them there yourself. Try getting your product into a local restaurant by giving them a sample of what you produce.

Second, we have chickens, and really poultry of just about any kind. Poultry flocks give food growers multiple benefits, but the one we’ll concentrate on here is the income from eggs and meat. Depending on your market, pastured chicken eggs can go for as much as $6 a dozen, and a flock of 12 birds can produce as much as 4 dozen eggs a week, though it’s sometimes a less. In addition, laying hens can pay for themselves twice, once in the eggs they produce and once again in the meat they produce later. Keeping a few roosters on hand can guarantee meat chickens as often as every 16 weeks depending on the variety you raise.

Granted, poultry has a higher start-up cost, and you may incur ongoing costs as a result of needing to buy feed, but I think in the long-run chickens are one of the simplest and most profitable undertakings any food grower can invest in.

There are many other ways you can make money from your food growing operation, limited only by your creativity and willingness to put out the effort. The key to these undertakings is to keep them as simple as possible and to remember that small steps are better than no steps at all. Don’t get impatient if things don’t happen right away and keep focused on the result instead of the work.

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: Figure it out

Let’s get something out of the way: growing food to feed yourself is not rocket science. Now, I understand that in the last half of the 20th century, a lot of rocket science found its way into growing food, and I think that fact is responsible for so many of the problems we face in […] Continue reading

Let’s get something out of the way: growing food to feed yourself is not rocket science.

Now, I understand that in the last half of the 20th century, a lot of rocket science found its way into growing food, and I think that fact is responsible for so many of the problems we face in food production today. Growing food and sending things into space are different kinds of magic, and what is good for doing one well is rarely good for doing the other well.

Over the past two years, I have learned as much about what I am doing and about myself as I think I have in the rest of my life up to this point, and I owe most of that education to a simple fact about the way I’ve taken over the farm I run: I’ve had to figure out most of what I am doing on my own.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had lots of help and advice along the way, most of it good and some of it bad, but at the moment when the work actually needs to be done, its usually me, the task, and my brain participating in accomplishing it. It has been mind expanding in ways that are hard to describe unless you’ve undertaken something similar.

What does this have to do with you? Well, if I can figure out how to run a 185 acre farm–and don’t get me wrong, I still have a lot to learn–you can figure out how to plant a salad garden in your back yard. If I can learn to master the raising of as many as 40 head of beef cattle, you can figure out how to plant a small plot of wheat for making bread.

There is a lot of talk these days about the cost of food, food security, and the threat hunger poses to national stability. One of the things nearly every policy maker and pundit gets wrong as they fret over these kinds of things is that they assume the solutions will involve massive expenditures of government programs that centrally manage food production. They get it wrong because they are trying to use political magic to solve a food growing problem.

The solution instead comes from when individuals establish food independence by growing it themselves. During the last days the Soviet Union, as the central government was collapsing and central food planning had reduced agricultural output to a fraction of what was needed for the Soviets to feed their citizens, as much as 70 percent of the calories consumed came from the roughly 4 percent of the land dedicated to small, individual farm plots tended by people after work and on weekends. To this day, as much as 50 percent of Russia’s agricultural output comes from about 2 percent of the land under cultivation.

What remains, then, is for people to figure it out. You can grow your own food and feed yourself and your family, and you don’t have to have a degree or a green thumb to do it. But, you do have to do it.

What are you waiting for?

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: Broadforking, gardening, and growing your own food, expanded and refined

Earlier this week, I discussed the idea of using a broadfork as a method for tilling the ground instead of using a tiller and and why this method is superior to traditional tilling. Of course, this method still has its own related expenses and may seem like a daunting investment of resources and time to […] Continue reading

Earlier this week, I discussed the idea of using a broadfork as a method for tilling the ground instead of using a tiller and and why this method is superior to traditional tilling. Of course, this method still has its own related expenses and may seem like a daunting investment of resources and time to some.

Yet, it doesn’t even have to be that complicated. Most people can get away with no till gardening by simply using a pitchfork, a garden trowel, and a pointed hoe. This method is especially good for small plots and raised beds.

It is possible, and in fact preferable, to plant directly into a yard that has never been tilled. Simply select a plot, loosen the soil by sticking the pitchfork into the ground and tilting to about a 30 degree angle. Then dig holes or rows for the plants or seeds. You can control the grass between the plants with a pair of hand garden sheers.

Now, I will grant that some kinds of plants do better in this kind of planting environment than others. Tall and climbing plants do very well, as do densely sewn cereal grains. You might have to add fertilizer if you do this with corn, but then again native cultures planted in ways similar to this for a long time with great success.

If you’re nervous about this kind of planting, consider starting small. Buy a locally grown tomato plant (or whatever kind of vegetable you might eat) and plant it. Starting small can help build confidence, and before you know it, you could be growing a lot of your own food.

The point is to do it. Try it and find out what you can do.

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: What’s your excuse for not growing your own food

I’ve heard most of them already: it’s too hard, too expensive, takes too much time, takes too much space, etc. The worst excuses run along the lines of why should I grow my own food when I can pay someone else to grow it for me. Of course, all of these excuses are worth far less […] Continue reading

I’ve heard most of them already: it’s too hard, too expensive, takes too much time, takes too much space, etc. The worst excuses run along the lines of why should I grow my own food when I can pay someone else to grow it for me. Of course, all of these excuses are worth far less than manure-based garden fertilizer and represent all kinds of things wrong with the way non-food raisers think about food.

My challenge to you is what it has always been: grow your own food! You may not be able to grow very much, but what you can grow will provide benefits that will pay for themselves multiple times over down the road. The only thing standing between you and that payday is you. Get out there and do it!

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: Broadforking and policulture

Over the winter, I came across an interesting concept while reading Eliot Coleman‘s Four Season Harvest: the idea of using a broadfork to loosen soil instead of a tiller to grind it. As it turns out–and anyone who has played in the dirt for any length of time probably already knows this–what we call “top […] Continue reading

Over the winter, I came across an interesting concept while reading Eliot Coleman‘s Four Season Harvest: the idea of using a broadfork to loosen soil instead of a tiller to grind it.

As it turns out–and anyone who has played in the dirt for any length of time probably already knows this–what we call “top soil” exists in strata that has very specific and different properties based on depth. In a wild environment, plants  take advantage of each of these strata in entirely different ways, but when we till our gardens, we blend these strata together and deprive our garden plants of the ability to use them. Further, by blending these layers, we churn deeply buried weed seeds to the surface and create an environment where broadleaf weeds can thrive.

The damage tilling does is not finished with just the previous effects. Tilling exposes deep dirt, that because of its organic content holds moisture, to the air and sun, which causes it to dry and lose some of its properties, hence the reason so many gardeners have to water so intensively during the summer and fall. In addition, exposing this deep dirt exposes fragile compounds usually protected from oxidization and sunlight to both, causing them to decay into other compounds that are not as beneficial to plants.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, and this idea goes further than even Coleman does, tilling destroys soil covering plants like sort grasses, clovers, and other ground plants that help prevent soil erosion, help maintain a proper ground temperature for growing, help retain water in the soil, and help prevent weed plants from taking root.

Now, I understand that most gardeners will balk at what I am suggesting here, yet the conclusion is almost unavoidable: tilling our gardens (and our agricultural fields) is bad and counterproductive. And, the evidence is all around us.

Find a wild grass area and study it closely. What you will find is an amazing policulture environment containing dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of individual species of plants that all somehow managed to grow together without tilling, fertilizing, herbicides, pesticides, or mechanical watering. They are able to do so because they work together in a meaningful way to produce soil conditions constantly receptive to new growth.

Using a broadfork to loosen ground, in addition to other techniques such as intensive and cooperative planting, help a gardener (and a farmer) come much closer to mimicking natures course than anything machines might be able to do. By using such techniques, a gardener  promotes soil health and soil growth without having to add too much to what is already there.

Of course, this kind of technique comes with a price, as does everything: it is far more labor intensive than the garden tiller, yet I cannot help but imagine most of us could use the extra work.

DLH

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