Return to the Organic Gardening Forum | Post a Follow-Up

 o
I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literature

Posted by gonebananas 7/8 (My Page) on
Sun, Apr 27, 08 at 13:21

I'm talking about American gardening and small-farm literature from 80-100 years ago. Sure, they once had to depend far more on manure (which was becoming ever scarecer in the time period I mentioned) and they didn't have many synthetic pesticides so nicotine and copper sulfate were more important, as was cover cropping for nitrogen or organic matter. But still, I see mulching and composting, even intensive composting, were well regarded then. Litter occasionally was gathered from forests in large amounts for mulch and then nutrients. These practices maybe were not considered essential but they were definitely considered good practice and recommended.

On the other hand, the casualness with which they applied arsenic, lead, and mercury is almost frightening. And they recommend far too much tilling, used then for both weed control and retaining soil water by what we would now call dust mulching, though even in the moist eastern US.


Follow-Up Postings:

 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

We're learning as time goes on. We didn't know a lot about some of the elements/chemicals and how they were absorbed into the food chain in those days and we are still learning.

Some of the practices regarding tilling have been tempered in today's agriculture but there is probably still more tilling (or the wrong type of tilling) then our soil can withstand dgoing on. (Some estimates indicate we can suffer the existing loss of soil for 40 to 80 years before moving into critical mode.)

Of course tilling itself is controversial. No-till agriculture has developed at the expense of massive amounts of herbicides being dumped on our croplands. Tilling is under attack by the "lasagna" folks who would have us believe that any tilling of the soil is wrong. I suppose they believe there is mulch enough for the world's agriculture to feed us all through the "lasagna" scheme alone. (I suggest that they might spend a day in the Sudan where a good part of the day is spent in finding enough burnable organic material to cook the evening meal, much less to heap to great depths on the garden. Then they can recommend an environmentally sound agricultural method.)

Some of the better methods of ancient civilizations have lasted into current times. The raised bed, intensive planting form of gardening/agriculture existed over 4,000 years before the Square Foot guy "invented" it. Composting and sheet mulching existed long before the "Lasagna Lady" came along recently and "invented" it. Forms of tilling that were gentle on the earth, such as double-digging, were used centuries ago and live on through the efforts of the Biodynamic and BioIntensive practitioners who have adopted it as the keystone to their methods of soil preparation.

Thankfully, we have learned, are still learning and trying to teach others about the dangers and pitfalls of some of the practices that were standard agricultural procedures during the time period you mention and even being used today.

Our soil is vital to our survival and we can no longer watch it wash away through the practices of modern agriculture.

Wayne


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

Good point Wayne, about the extreme paucity of OM in some areas. Obviously those are areas that are broken environmentally, or were never appropriate for horticulture in the first place. Jared Diamond's book Collapse looks at that subject in more detail - no doubt you've read it.

Speaking of the older literature, it's striking to read King's "forty centuries" lauding China's extraordinarily stable agricultural system, a model of human sustainability, and then realize that that system is now collapsing in our lifetimes. It's a shocking example of the exponential nature of populations and environmental collapse: within one century, 40 centuries of what works suddenly doesn't. Perhaps less to do with sheer numbers and more to do with lifestyle. The horrendous attempt to copy us is destroying the rest of the planet.

I just hope we don't have to share north america with the stricken remnants of china and africa. Give us a few more centuries and we'll be in the same boat......


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

It is interesting to note that many of the organic practices that we try to bring back today, had been standard practice long ago.

Perhaps one of the biggest causes of the current situation (soil loss to erosion, the collapse of China's system etc) can be blamed on modern industrial chemicals. "wow all of a sudden, a farmer didn't need to haul in lots of organic mater and manure or rotate crops to replenish nitrogen. All they needed to do was spread this stuff on the fields and plant." Well, that worked for a while but now more and more fertilizers are needed to achieve the same yield until it just doesn't work anymore. (Does this sound a little like drug addiction to overdose?)

There are lots of different methods and new/old things being tried all the time. Some situations are better suited to different methods and some people are better suited to different methods.

Me for example, I don't really like digging or weeding. Hence for my home gardens, no till lasagna type growing works for me. Some one living in a desert with little organic material to use on their garden, will probably have to depend more on other methods like double digging and adding as much manure as possible.

Here is a link that might be useful: My Garden


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

My family were subsistence farmers. They had of course never heard of organic.

But they were cash poor. A surplus of food, no money and it was difficult to get to someplace to trade plant products for money or other product. So they did everything rather OG having never hear of it. So they did not use sulfur, lead, arsnic etc because these cost money.

My grandmother chewed tobacco, grew her own and did put diluted tobacco spit on some things.


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

Not everyone in the past practiced good organic, or even minimally sustainable, agriculture. Often the practice was to use the soil until it was worn out and then move on to someplace else that was fertile. To correct this practice is why Sir Albert Howard sought permission to do the research that led to his conclusions and writing about organic gardening.


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

I think it's fair to say that throughout history, only those raising their own food practiced sustainable ag. Whenever profit crosses with agriculture the environment inevitably suffers. I think that a key reason that the asian systems lasted as long as they did/have is that profit was always a very minor factor in their agriculture and in their societies in general. They were not profligate societies compared to the norm of our times.


 o
Re: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

Gonebananas mentioned dust mulching in his original post, as one of the old practices which has long since been discredited. From my reading, there was a whole school of thought, from roughly the mid-1800s through the 1920s, which regarded cultivation as king (see the "Rain follows the plow" article on Wikipedia.)

Some people advocated repeated moldboard plowing, discing, harrowing and deep plowing as ways to increase nutrient availability and boost crop yields. It was even thought by some to increase rainfall.

Regardless of the short-term gains from these practices, in the long term they greatly harmed the soil. On the Canadian Prairies and in the US Midwest in the 1930s, multiple years of severe drought and heat caused the dry, powdered surface soil -- deprived of organic materials, natural windbreaks, and other natural restraints -- to up and blow away.

The primary cause of the Dust Bowl was poor agricultural practice, based on a flawed understanding of how soil and surrounding ecosystems work. Many people -- those selling land, agricultural equipment, seeds, fertilizers, etc. -- made lots of money from setting up the conditions for failure, before the whole system collapsed. At a huge cost in dollars and lives.

It's examples like this, of mistaken thinking leading to disaster, which make me greatly mistrust the claims of advocates for some current practices. Anytime I see someone advocating for an agricultural practice that puts lots of money in someone's pocket, my skepticism takes a big jump upwards.

People are sometimes very slow to learn, and we forget too easily the lessons of the past.

All the best,
-Patrick

Here is a link that might be useful: Wikipedia article on the Dust Bowl


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

  • Posted by pt03 3 Southern Manitoba (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 29, 08 at 12:12

I have never used a moldboard plow. I've never seen any of my farm neighbors use a moldboard plow. I think the last time my father used a moldboard plow was in the early 70's when he broke up a small piece of land that used to be a barn yard (bout 6 acres or so) and that was only once. I have 2, three bottom plows sitting along the edge of the bush. Don't ever see myself using them. Does any other farmer use a moldboard plow anymore?

I don't have a clue if some of the practices currently being used is sustainable long term. I do know if we don't feed the non-producing masses, there will be trouble and long term won't matter then. I don't think the vast majority of Canadians or Americans have the wherewithal to produce their own food ergo, somebody has to do it for them. Large acre farmers won't nor can't grow enough food using the small plot methods described on this and the organic forum, it's just not realistic. So what are the options? Everyone ready to go back to 160 acre farms using horses? I somehow doubt it.

I'm doing the best with what I have available, I bet farmers of yore thought they were doing the right thing as well. Are these current practices good enough long term, only time will tell and as Patrick pointed out sometimes mistakes don't manifest themselves for a few decades.

Lloyd


 o
Re: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

Good points, Lloyd. Very good points.

Regarding your question "what are the options?" here's one. This example of people who have already gone through the collapse of fossil fuels in their country, rose immediately to my mind:

Agriculture in the City - A Key to Sustainability in Havana, Cuba

The above link is to the full online text of a three-year research project (published 2003) conducted by 15 professionals under the the Canadian International Development Research Centre.

For a much shorter description, see the two articles at the City Farmer link, below. :)

All the best,
-Patrick

Here is a link that might be useful: several articles about Cuban agriculture


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

  • Posted by pt03 3 Southern Manitoba (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 29, 08 at 15:09

Very interesting article Patrick, only had time to skim it as I am once again at work. First thing that jumped out at me is the man hours required but it would be a start.

Promise to really read it tonight when I get home.

Lloyd


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

Lloyd are you one of those farmers who has to work off the farm to subsidize the feeding of those non-producing masses? So you can have the privilege of producing food with costlier inputs than you get paid for it?

I wouldn't take me any time at all to decide to let those masses fend for themselves. They don't have the wherewithal to grow any food because they don't have any impetus to do it.


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

  • Posted by pt03 3 Southern Manitoba (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 29, 08 at 20:49

I have a job off the farm but I had that job before I returned to farming, in other words I didn't get a job so that I can keep farming, I farm because I want to. Not sure if I understand your questions though.

I use old cast off machinery on a small acreage, more like a really big garden. I do stuff the big farmers can't or won't. I don't buy fertilizer but of course I use fuel. Is that what you are asking?

As far as the masses go, if a person has food and thousands don't, how long before anarchy results? I'm not sure I knew this when I was younger but it is the availability of a stable food supply that lets communities thrive, without it, there isn't much any chance of long term prosperity.

Lloyd


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

Yes, that answers my question. Your statement about it being impossible to grow enough food for the masses on a garden scale made me wonder at what scale you farm. I agree, if there isn't enough food in general, society will break down entirely, or more likely become severely authoritarian. Check out my recent post about this subject over at hot topics.....


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

  • Posted by pt03 3 Southern Manitoba (My Page) on
    Wed, Apr 30, 08 at 8:12

I'm sorry if I gave the impression I was talking garden scale. I was musing out loud that the only reason we have the population numbers we have today is because huge scale agriculture can produce huge quantities of stuff we call food. The amount of food in an average garden around here might provide enough supplies for a very short period. Most people just grow enough to get a feed of fresh stuff over the summer. The days of Granny and the kids putting in a garden and then canning and storing the bounty just doesn't happen much anymore.

I fear there is a wall out there and we are going to collide with it at some point. And to tie it back to the OP and the gist of the thread, if we aren't careful, our soils will not be able to supply us with what we are used to having, then watch out.

Lloyd


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

"The days of Granny and the kids putting in a garden and then canning and storing the bounty just doesn't happen much anymore"
An statement like this indicates someone that is out of touch. There are many community gardens, as well as backyard gardens that are reported to produce enough bounty that the excess not only can be stored for future use but some of the excess is shared with other, less fortunate people.


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

I think in large scope Lloyd's statement is fair. A relatively very small amount of staple food is produced locally, even in major ag areas. Does the average Kansan store wheat on their premises? Heck no, even though nothing could be easier or simpler with a grain elevator in every little town. A month before harvest there's probably less edible wheat in the bread-basket than anywhere on the continent, and the people are as unhealthy from poor diet as anywhere. Does the average Californian have a root cellar full of vegetables, or even a little garden for fresh stuff? I reckon not. There is no doubt, the continent's food is produced by factory, less a tiny percentage for the alternative movement. I don't agree, however, that there is no practicable alternative - I think that suburbs in particular are well-positioned to raise the bulk of their food locally because there is sufficient land base and sufficient man-power. The cities lack the space, obviously, and the ruralities lack the impetus.


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

  • Posted by pt03 3 Southern Manitoba (My Page) on
    Thu, May 1, 08 at 8:52

ROTFLMAO.

I didn't think it was possible but kimmsr has left me speechless.

WADR pnbrown, there is not a chance the average North American suburbanite could possibly raise and store the bulk of their food locally. Heck I don't know of a single rural family that does. And I am talking all their food, not just a few veggies.

Do an excercise, how many pounds of potatos do we eat in a week, 10 pounds or so? Multiplied by 52 weeks comes up with 520 pounds, that's 10 of the 50 pound bags. Try and grow that and store it to last the year. And that is just one of the foods some consider to be a staple. Throw in beans, peas and corn? And we left out the meat, bread and fruit products.

Lloyd


 o
Re: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

Think Lloyd's right on this one.

I once knew a rural family living on 160 acres of good southern Ontario farmland, with small herds of cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, goats, horses -- altogether they raised about twenty different kinds of animals.

They had several barns and many food storage sheds outdoors, plus large fruit cellars and three large chest freezers in their basement. They butchered their own meat and ground their own grains. They actively canned, dried, and otherwise preserved foods. They grew almost every kind of fruit and veggies which can produce a crop in this climate, and they also produced their own milk and cheese -- from the goats as well as the cows.

Their life required seven days per week of steady labour year-round by two fit adults, plus regular help from their teenaged daughter and an older hired hand. To fund annual winter vacations for the family, they grew Christmas trees, trucked them to southern Florida and sold them.

Once I asked them how it felt to be self-sufficient. They quickly pointed out their life required outside inputs of machines, electricity, gasoline, diesel and oil; sugar and salt and vinegar and pectin for canning; and many many many other imports from off the farm.

What I do in my backyard garden is a healthy, relatively inexpensive and IMO worthwhile addition to my diet. But if I tried to live on the produce I could grow on 300 square feet of ground, I'd starve to death.

All the best,
-Patrick


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

Actually, Lloyd, I've been trying for ten years to raise the 2-300 lbs or so that we use in a year. I've never been able to raise it all due to one limitation or another having to do with weather and varmints and to some extent space limitation. Storage is no problem. However I work full time on other pursuits, if I put in the extra hours it would be quite achievable.

Patrick, your exemplars were trying to get cash as well as food out of the enterprise so it doesn't really say a lot about what it takes to produce one's food only. Of course it isn't going to happen in the average urban yardlet.


 o
Re: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

Pnbrown, my example above most certainly does say a lot about what it takes to produce one's own food. I've never known any people who were closer to self-sufficiency -- and I include in that description another couple (and their two children) who lived miles north of the nearest railway (and dozens of miles from the nearest road) in the bush in northwestern Ontario.

One needs cash to survive on land in the real world. Governments do not accept bushels of potatoes or cords of wood in payment for taxes. Neither do telephone utilities or electrical power companies. It is also difficult to barter for sugar, salt, canning equipment, and the dozens (if not hundreds) of other items which are used in everyday life.

My point is clear: it isn't just very difficult to survive on what can be grown in the average suburban yard -- it's extremely difficult to survive on what can be grown on the average small farm. Even given productive land and the willingness and ability to work hard.

I'm not a farmer, but I was raised by people who were familiar with farming methods, including the cultivation and preservation of food largely based on human labour. I've lived and worked on farms and I garden intensely. My non-gardening friends also quite often talk from an informed POV about the many issues around survival, should society completely break down. In short: I know this subject well.

BTW, my friends on the 160 acre farm mentioned above largely lived on the foods raised on their own land. But they sure as heck didn't grow their own coffee. That required cash to purchase. Which they had to earn.

All the best,
-Patrick

p.s. I don't mean this post to be harsh to you Pnbrown, but I don't like to see my informed views dismissed with an offhand comment.


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

You all should visit the harvest forum if you think canning and putting food by is a thing of the past...I put up a lot of stuff myself and some of those people make me look pitiful...

I think living and farming organically was just doing the right thing back in the early days...It wasn't like everyone could afford expensive chemicals...Organic gardening evolved over a long time period ....Also some of you are also leaving out a very important part of this...and that is the part that if you are in a living off your land situation, and busting your butts for every bit of income whether money or fruits of your labor, you might not consider some of lifes luxuries that you have now quite so important and money would be less important....You might not be able to grow all the onions or potatoes that you expect you will need (by todays standards) (throw in there beans and corn etc) but you do the best you can and when you run out...you run out...it's as simple as that...It's May 1 and my freezer is still full from last year's garden so surviving is quite possible on a back yard garden...Would you have everything you needed or wanted...not by a long shot for most of us modern households but could I live off of my stash...you bet your sweet bippy I could....You have a bill thats due in August you plan ahead to have the dollars to pay it...It might mean a pasture full of hay that gets cut or a field full of watermelons that you sit on the side of the road to sell...Butchering your own cute little animals doesn't come easy but you do it when it feeds your family and if the neighbor wants half of a beef, that's money in your pocket...when my brother was in college and he needed tuition money my dad who believed in living off the land...did anything that he could ...including running a small add in the newspaper selling loads of manure for people in town to use on their gardens...he'd even spread it with a shovel for a price...the point I'm trying to make is yes Money is important but you'd be surprised how much you can barter or work off and I gar-un-dam-tee ya all of your kids and your wife wouldn't have cell phones or every cable channel available...You'd be too tired probably to watch much anyway...You and your wife would't be wearing any designer jeans and your kids would be doing their shopping at Wal-Mart or K-Mart instead of Old Navy and places like that and they'd have 1 pair of shoesm not one for every outfit....so when you start talking about what you can do...you have to compare apples to apples not oranges cause if you are of a frame of mind to "live off the land" ...I know for sure that your "I wants" turn into "I needs" or of it's more like the things that are just absolutely necessary...People who make an effort to live off the land are a totally different breed and you'd be surprised at what they are will to do without in order to live their lifestyle.


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

  • Posted by pt03 3 Southern Manitoba (My Page) on
    Thu, May 1, 08 at 19:20

Well I guess I've been lectured...LOL

pnbrown...I stand by my comments, there is no chance suburbanites can produce the bulk of all their food.

Patrick...You are absolutely correct, people forget about paying property taxes, electricity bills etc etc. For some reason my municipality won't accept wheat, corn, oats, or carrots. :(

Ruth...No one said, or is saying, that canning and storing food isn't being done at all. I am saying it isn't done near as much as it was in the past and most people nowadays wouldn't know how to even if they had the produce. And do you raise your own meat products? Do you grow your own grain for flour? How do you heat your home? There are a million things a person needs currency for that bartering can't get you. I believe you when you say you grow and preserve a lot but do you never buy any food from a store?

If we all had to provide our own food, there wouldn't be as many people, plain and simple.

Lloyd


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

Your last statement is absolutely correct, Lloyd, since the number of people is a direct function of the average availability of food. Consequently, if suburbanites (or any other population) had to rely solely on the food produced locally, then there would be no more people than the local food supply permitted. A simple truism, just as the fact that few if any moderns subsist on only local products.

Actually Patrick (call me Pat, if you like), I learned recently that I can grow coffee at low altitude on my florida homestead, so I guess I'll have at least that cashless advantage over your ontario friends! Seriously thugh, I meant my comment to be concise rather than flippant. The OP was about the fairly narrow subject of simply raising food crops, especially as practiced a couple generations ago. However, the great majority of people who are attempting to live "off the land" - then and now - are also wanting the land to provide them with cash. This is quite understandable, since as you point out everyone needs cash for at least some things if not a great many things. IMO however, that strategy is fundamentally flawed logically. Why fight the system at it's strongest point from the weakest possible vantage? I say use the land for what it does best - to provide sustainable local food, not cash crops. If one needs money, learn to do something that society places a lot more value on, but short of things that the law allows but the conscience does not. So isolating oneself inconveniently from society yet knowing full well that one is still going to need money is ill advised, if not plain foolish. My parents were beatnik back-to-the-landers in very remote Vermont, so I also know a bit about it first-hand.


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

  • Posted by pt03 3 Southern Manitoba (My Page) on
    Fri, May 2, 08 at 8:54

Okay...

So how about we move on to the benefits of raising a portion of ones food requirements. Realistically most people with some yard area can successfully raise some foods. Obviously we are not going to put a couple of goats/sheep/cows/llamas/etc. in a backyard in the middle of a typical city.

So what would be some of the benefits to supplemental gardening that an average person can do? Not to the Nth degree, but realistic goals and benefits. Some benefits can be nebulous but beneficial nonetheless.

Lloyd


 o
Re: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

Good points Pnbrown Pat. :) I appreciate the desire to be concise -- and I envy you the ability to grow your own coffee!

Lloyd raises another view, and I'm going to point back to my prior post re: what folks in Cuba have done. A well-educated populace there was hit by the sudden loss of almost all their oil-based agriculture; it was necessary to find other ways of growing food.

If the prices of oil and food -- which are becoming closer-linked over time, worldwide -- if those prices keep rising I think more people, including those of us in the developed countries, will be looking at what has been done in Cuba.

In reading about urban agriculture there, I was struck by the thought Havana has about the same population as the city of Toronto proper. Havana now produces about 80% of the foods people eat within the city boundaries; I'd be very surprised if Toronto currently produces 5%. Obviously, there is much room for local improvement here.

The cost (and the political embarrassment) of hauling our city's trash across the US border and dumping it in Michigan has helped push this town to become greener in recent years. We still have a long way to go.

I don't plan on raising cereal crops in my back yard anytime soon, there's just not enough space to make it worthwhile. But... if everyone who had a few square feet of ground in the city tossed in a tomato or two, some lettuce and onions and carrots, it would sure help. I encourage my non-gardening neighbours to do this and willingly give my work and knowledge to help them succeed.

I guess the main thing I try to do is lead and teach by example, locally. The more people who do this, the further the message spreads.

In the last year our neighbourhood park has seen the arrival of weekly farmer's markets from spring to fall and the installation of a community greenhouse beside the recreation centre. These may be baby steps, but IMO they're steps in the right direction.

All the best,
-Patrick

Here is a link that might be useful: Urban agriculture in Cuba (link repost)


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

IME, the average person - which certainly varies a bit depending on the region - might think locally-produced food to be a good idea, but has about zero interest in being involved in it's production. We all know how dedicated one must be even to raise a few summer veggies. Even if you buy your plants you still have a lot of tending to do. Even that's far too tedious for the average person today, to say nothing of hewing a big garden out of a field or brush and the never-ending yearly cycle of soil improvement.

I agree, Cuba's management of their local ag situation is impressive. We'll need the same sort of impetus as they had and have to achieve it, however, and we are nowhere close to being in such a pickle yet. Plus they have a much more concentrated and manageable (dominated?) population and the higher productivity of a tropical climate throughout. It would be interesting to study in detail the stark contrast in food sustainability between Cuba and Haiti, for example, a seemingly similar island and environment. Jared Diamond makes an interesting case study between the situation in Haiti vs the Dominican Republic in his book Collapse.


 o
OG Practices I See In Old Literature

I know this is an old thread, but I have just been noticing this lately. I've been reading on Google Books a lot of the old stuff, 100 to 175 years ago, and have found it amazing how sustainable a lot (but not all) of it is.

One practice I saw was to rotate not only your crops, but your animals so the parasites and disease don't catch on. Plus, the manure and behavior of each type of animal worked on the land differently. Cover crops, mulching, composting, and crop rotation were all recommended practices 150 years ago. Obviously they didn't always get the science right ("A man should avoid health wrecking tea in the morning in favor of a good breakfast of bread, bacon, and beer!"), but it isn't hard to ignore the nonsense.

I recommend anyone interested go back and read some of this old stuff. We can learn from the practices of our ancestors.

Me, I'm looking forward to growing the ingredients and brewing my own beer.


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

To learn more about rotating livestock read almost anything by Joel Salatin and by Allan Savory. Savory has rediscovered the natural process of animal migration and developed a practical version for ranchers. Salatin, for the most part, uses the Savory method but does not make any claims. Salatin has taken livestock rotation and mixing to an extreme.


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

Wouldn't sustainability be more easily achieved by eliminating or dramatically reducing livestock from the equation? The inputs for livestock are astounding.


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

the_gurgler,
The approach most people take for livestock is shocking, I agree. However, I've talked to a rancher in Mason, a couple in Fredericksburg, and one north of Austin who have nearly eliminated their inputs. Here's how that went...

These people are all doing it the same way following Allan Savory's approach. They stopped medicating their animals. They get no shots, dewormers, or hormones. The few animals that get sick get slaughtered rather than medicated. In addition their offspring are slaughtered. This soon results in a herd of healthy animals that really do not get diseases or parasites. When you stop medicating for worms, the population of dung beetles returns to the pastures. Ask any modern rancher when the last time he saw a dung beetle was and he'll have to think hard about it. For the old timers it was back when he was a child. For the new kids they think dung beetles are a mythical creature.

Then these ranchers stopped buying seed and fertilizer. Every year the universities come out with the latest and greatest seed varieties to make up for the problems with last year's seed. Of course there is a new fertilizer regimen for the new seed. But once you stop using seed and fertilizer, the only plants left growing are the natives that were here for millenia before we arrived to correct the situation by plowing and growing corn. The native plants are also known as forage for the animals that lived here for millenia. In order to ensure those plants return every year, these ranchers create lots of small paddocks out of larger pastures. They will put about 300 cow-calf pairs onto a 50-acre site for 1-2 weeks depending on how fast the forage is growing. Then they move them to another 50-acre pasture. By the time 2 weeks is up, these pastures look like the surface of the moon, so the animals are lined up in pecking order to move into the next paddock. When you have 15 pastures like that, it takes 30 weeks for the animals to return. In 30 weeks you are likely to get some rain and the forage will be waist high or higher.

Interestingly, these paddocks are completely free of dung when the livestock leave, because the dung beetles process it on the fly (so to speak). Twenty-four hours after the animals leave, the dung is all processed and buried in the soil as fertility for the next season's crop. The secondary benefit of dung beetles (which I believe is the primary benefit) is they dig thousands of tunnels in the soil that allow for the complete capture of any and every rain that hits the ground. There is no runoff or erosion on these ranches.

These ranches no longer use herbicide because everything that grows is forage. There is no such thing as weeds to livestock. If you get some plants that cattle will not eat, chances are excellent that goats or sheep will eat it. These ranches no longer use insecticide because that would kill the dung beetles. Besides these new "organic" fields are filled with birds now who are going after the dung beetles and other insects.

The third benefit of the dung beetles is that any parasites that were in the cattle dung are "processed" along with the dung by the beetles. Those parasites die before they can infect the livestock because the livestock will not be back to that same paddock for six months. Flies are among the parasites that no longer affect these animals.

The only input left is minerals to replace the minerals taken out by the cattle. It turns out that the major mineral removed is calcium but the cattle like other minerals, too. In particular they happen to love the minerals in seaweed. So by providing seaweed and calcium supplements freely to the animals, they will spread them back around on the ground and the dung beetles move them down into the ground.

When the dung beetles dig their holes that capture water, the water is ALL absorbed by the soil and eventually gets used either for the forage plants above or it seeps into the water table, streams, or aquifers. This replenishes the water supply rather than allowing it to run off and away. Dry creeks and streams refill and the riparian areas return to health bringing birds, fish, and aquatic plants. The U Bar ranch in New Mexico was so successful with their riparian areas that they now have most of the entire world's population of the endangered southwestern willow flycatchers - and those birds were never seen in that area before the cattle were brought in to "fix" the soil.

By fencing the animals into smaller paddocks and teaching them to walk through an open gate, there is no need for cowboys hooting and hollering and riding around trying to find the strays. There just aren't any.

The total investment for infrastructure is for fence wire. The total input for animal maintenance and health is seaweed and calcium. Except for the seaweed and calcium, these ranches are completely self sustained. So what are the results? At the end of 9 months, the calves weigh in around 675 to 700 pounds. That is normal in anyone's book for cattle growth. While other ranchers spend up to $400 per animal on variable costs (meds, seed, fertilizers, herbicide, insecticide, cowboys, special dietary supps and extra feed, and special equipment), these ranchers spend more like $35 per animal. The sales bring the same back to all the ranchers so the ones with the lowest cost make the most profit.

Can they do this on a sustainable basis? The ranchers I talked to have been doing it for 20 years and they only get better at it. They have generally doubled the customary stocking rate that their neighbors are able to achieve.

As far as I know no other agriculture system in history has approached this sort of sustainability. The keys are fencing them into small areas and rotating them when the next paddock is ready. This system mimics the natural migrational type of grazing that animals do in the wild. They do not move on until they are out of food or predators push them on. The leave behind a soil that is free of vegetation and ready for the next rain. They migrate from the south in the spring and from the north in the fall. This gives them two passes at their forage during the year.

I realize there is a no cow movement going on but I think that would be a disaster. The Earth has relied on grazing and browsing animals since the dawn of time. We just bungled livestock management until Allan Savory put all the pieces back together. His methods are in use in every continent and seem to work everywhere. It if works in the high dry desert of New Mexico, it should work just about anywhere.


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

With regard to the original OP: I once did some studying in turn of the century Colo State University research station literature for help with flea beetle control on broccoli in western Colo.. A farmer in the Uncompahgre Valley was having a major problem with the beetles every Spring and knew that spraying insecticides wasn't going to work for his operation. The old literature was a jackpot in that it had been done about 30 miles from the farmers area about 80 years before. What worked for the researchers was to plant a 4 - 6' buffer of radishes around the broccoli field. The flea beetles have a strong preference for radishes over broccoli. The farmer tried it with his own modification of spraying insecticides only on the radishes and it worked very well for him. At least that farmer avoided spraying several hundred acres of broccoli. I was quite suprised that he took me up on the idea, one small victory.


 o
RE: I Am A Bit Surprised At The OG Practices I See In Old Literat

That's a great solution. There is a similar solution for aphids using a plant called butterfly weed. In that case the ladybugs come and feed on the huge population of aphids. Then the ladybugs visit the rest of the garden.


 o Post a Follow-Up

Please Note: Only registered members are able to post messages to this forum.

    If you are a member, please log in.

    If you aren't yet a member, join now!


Return to the Organic Gardening Forum

Information about Posting

  • You must be logged in to post a message. Once you are logged in, a posting window will appear at the bottom of the messages. If you are not a member, please register for an account.
  • Please review our Rules of Play before posting.
  • Posting is a two-step process. Once you have composed your message, you will be taken to the preview page. You will then have a chance to review your post, make changes and upload photos.
  • After posting your message, you may need to refresh the forum page in order to see it.
  • Before posting copyrighted material, please read about Copyright and Fair Use.
  • We have a strict no-advertising policy!
  • If you would like to practice posting or uploading photos, please visit our Test forum.
  • If you need assistance, please Contact Us and we will be happy to help.


Learn more about in-text links on this page here