Archive by Author | johnm

No Till farming

Notill farming is a method of growing crops from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage. This eliminates the need for tractors and large agricultural equipment that invariably leads to the destruction of the microbial life in soil and compacting.

  • Studies have found that no-till farming can be more profitable than conventional farming which is more often than not dependent on high input costs.
  • Less tillage of the soil reduces labour, fuel, irrigation and machinery costs.
  • No-till can increase yield because of higher water infiltration and storage capacity, and less erosion.
  • Another benefit of no-till is that because of the higher water content, instead of leaving a field it can make economic sense to plant another crop instead.
  • No-till farming can increase organic matter in the soil

raised beds in a no-till garden

Management

No-till farming requires some different skills to achieve success. As with any production system, if no-till isn’t done correctly, yields can drop. A combination of technique, equipment, crop rotation, fertilization, and irrigation have to be used for local conditions.

Cover crops

Cover Crops are in no-till farming to help control weeds and increase nutrients in the soil by using nitrogen fixing plants or by using plants with long roots to pull mobile nutrients back up to the surface from lower layers of the soil.

 

Organic no-till

Some farmers who prefer to pursue an organic management practice often rely on the use of normal, non-dyed corrugated cardboard for use on seed-beds and vegetable areas. Used correctly, cardboard placed on a specific area can

  1. keep important fungal hyphae and microorganisms in the soil intact
  2. prevent recurring weeds from popping up
  3. increase residual nitrogen and plant nutrients by top-composting plant residues and
  4. Create valuable topsoil that is well suited for next year’s seeds or transplants.

The plant residues (left over plant matter originating from cover crops, grass clippings, original plant life etc.) will rot while underneath the cardboard so long as it remains sufficiently moist. This rotting attracts worms and other beneficial microorganisms to the site of decomposition, and over a series of a few seasons will create a layer of rich topsoil. Plants can then be direct seeded into the soil or holes can be cut into the cardboard to allow for transplantation. Using this method in conjunction with other sustainable practices such as composting/vermicomposting, cover crops and rotations are often considered beneficial to both land and those who take from it.

Water issues

No-till farming dramatically reduces the amount of erosion in a field. A problem that occurs in some fields is water saturation in soils. Switching to no-till farming will correct the drainage the because of the qualities of soil under continuous no-till include a higher water infiltration rate.

Swales for water retention

Completed swales with first garlic cloves planted. On the berms we sowed lucerne and ‘vetch’ as a cover crop to prevent erosion of the soil and as an aid to healthy soil.

A swale can best be described as a ‘ditch’ on contour designed to hold rainwater and then disperse it into the surrounding soil. Traditionally rains would come and literally millions of litres of water would land up in rivers and eventually the oceans and invariably taking valuable topsoil with it. A swale system allows us to keep the water where we need it the most, in the ground.

The Swale on Contour

On Contour, simply means that the swale is dug exactly level which allows water absorption evenly on the land. The end of the swale is closed up in order to prevent water from flowing away.

The Berm.

Soil that is removed from the swale is placed on the downhill side (mini dam wall, almost) to form the Berm and is the perfect place to grow trees and deep rooting plants like strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus, comfrey as well as a variety of trees. The deep roots will keep the berm stable, as well as suck up the moisture from below so that the newly hydrated soil doesn’t become overly saturated.

The “A” Frame to get things level

Yvette using a simple ‘A’ frame to determine the contour levels for the swales

If you don’t have access to fancy surveyor type equipment to ensure that your swale is completely level (on contour) a simple device called an A-frame can be made from a few pieces of wood. The two legs need to be of equal length, and about midway down, they’ll be connected by a third piece of wood, equidistant from the bottoms of the legs. The open end of the A to be between 1.2 to 1.5 meters apart.

  1. Mark the exact centre of the crosspiece and hang a plumb line from the centre point at the top of the A. When the plumb line hits that centreline on the crosspiece, then the two feet of the A frame are on level ground.
  2. Or, simply strap a water level (waterpas / Afrikaans) to the cross bar so that when it’s level the two pieces of ground upon which the A is resting are the same elevation.

Where to place your swale.

It is important to carefully determine the rough location of where to place a swale prior to digging. As a rule of thumb a swale should only be dug on ground with nothing more than 15% gradient, or a slope that climbs roughly 1 meter for every 7 meters it moves horizontally. Following this rule prevents mudslide problems that steeper gradients would cause, and that could potential be devastating to a property.

Freshly dug swale with mulch and ready to be planted with cover crops

Boys and their toys – large food garden project in Jhb. Depending on the size of your swale, it can also be done by hand

Other things to consider are that the longer the swale, the wider reaching the water absorption will be, and the higher its placement the more space in which the water will have to expand underground. So, ideally, a swale will be installed at the highest point possible but still low enough, down slope, to catch water run-off. From here, spread the water out on level plain by extending the swale on contour for as long as possible which will allow for water absorption evenly downhill.

Use the A-level to stake out the contour line and the exact route the swale will be taking. This will likely not be a straight line, but possibly curve through the landscape.

Using the marked contour line, dig vertically into the hill, piling the dirt on the downhill side of the swale to form the berm. The depth of the swale should remain the same and can be measured from the established contour line then levelled with a water level or the A-frame later. The general idea behind digging the swale is that it should be about three-times as wide as it is deep, and the berm—the pile of excavated dirt—should be mounded to create the upper part of the bottom side of the swale. Make sure that the base of the swale is level so that the water disperses evenly.

Other than catching and storing water on your land, the biggest benefit to having a swale is the growing potential of the berm. It will be mostly composed of rich topsoil that’ll be well hydrated. It’s important to plant on the berm immediately to prevent it from eroding. Trees will help to make sure the soil doesn’t get too saturated.

Swale at The Well in Hermitage – wonderful rains

Once the base of the swale is satisfactorily level, a nice thick layer of mulch is a good idea. It will add nutrients to the water that is going into the soil below, as well as prevent evaporation. In fact, many people choose to fill up their swales in order to make convenient and logical access paths around the property. It’s just another viable purpose for having a swale.

The berm and the area adjacent to the berm is ideal for creating a food garden. With time, constant water retention in your swale system has the added benefit of re-hydrating the ground and natural ground water tables rising.

Organic Pest Control – Attracting Beneficial Insects and Bees

Pesticides — even organic varieties — are not the safest, healthiest or most effective natural pest control options. The addition of certain plants to your food garden or farm will encourage biodiversity and a healthy population of beneficial garden insects that act as Mother Nature’s best organic pest control.

Not all insects are a threat to your garden plants, and many of them are actually helpful in fighting off other plant predators.  Beneficial insects are broadly classified into pollinators, predators and parasites. Pollinators, such as bees, fertilize flowers, which increases the productivity of food crops. Predators, such as ladybirds and a host of other ‘bugs’, consume pest insects as food. Parasites use pests as nurseries for their young. On any given day, all three ‘P’s’ are feeding on pests or on flower pollen and nectar in a diversified garden. If you recognize these good bugs, it’s easier to appreciate their work and understand why it’s best not to use broad-spectrum herbicides.

The use of herbicides and pesticides can be detrimental to the complex relationships between plants, pests and predators.  Pesticides, even organic varieties, make no distinction between helpful and hurtful insects, in the end their regular use can have many negative impacts, including the suppression of the soil food web and pollution of waterways. Instead, encouraging the presence of predatory warriors that will defend and protect your garden plants from common pests is not only an environmentally sound management strategy, it also encourages biodiversity and plant pollination.

You can keep your pest population under control by adding plants to attract beneficial insects. A general rule of thumb is to designate between 5 and 10 percent of your garden or farm space to plants that bring in beneficial insects. An important key is to plant so that there are blooms year-round — the beneficial insects will not stay or survive through a season if no food is available. Your garden will be beautiful all year-round with a variety of colourful blooms and humming insects.

Kitchen herb garden

Here are some ‘must have’ herbs if you prefer cooking with fresh herbs.

This entry was posted on October 28, 2017, in Food gardens.

What Is Minimalism?

Interesting article . . . .

So what is this minimalism thing? It’s quite simple: to be a minimalist you must live with less than 100 things, you can’t own a car or a home or a television, you can’t have a career, you must live in exotic hard-to-pronounce places all over the world, you must start a blog, you can’t have children, and you must be a young white male from a privileged background.

OK, we’re joking—obviously. But people who dismiss minimalism as some sort of fad usually mention any of the above “restrictions” as to why they could “never be a minimalist.” Minimalism isn’t about any of those things, but it can help you accomplish them. If you desire to live with fewer material possessions, or not own a car or a television, or travel all over the world, then minimalism can lend a hand. But that’s not the point.

Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.

That doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with owning material possessions. Today’s problem seems to be the meaning we assign to our stuff: we tend to give too much meaning to our things, often forsaking our health, our relationships, our passions, our personal growth, and our desire to contribute beyond ourselves. Want to own a car or a house? Great, have at it! Want to raise a family and have a career? If these things are important to you, then that’s wonderful. Minimalism simply allows you to make these decisions more consciously, more deliberately.

There are plenty of successful minimalists who lead appreciably different lives. Our friend Leo Babauta has a wife and six children. Joshua Becker has a career he enjoys, a family he loves, and a house and a car in suburbia. Conversely, Colin Wright owns 51 things and travels all over the world, and Tammy Strobel and her husband live in a “tiny house” and are completely car-free. Even though each of these people are different, they all share two things in common: they are minimalists, and minimalism has allowed them to pursue purpose-driven lives.

But how can these people be so different and yet still be minimalists? That brings us back to our original question: What is minimalism? If we had to sum it up in a single sentence, we would say, Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.

Minimalism has helped us…

  • Eliminate our discontent
  • Reclaim our time
  • Live in the moment
  • Pursue our passions
  • Discover our missions
  • Experience real freedom
  • Create more, consume less
  • Focus on our health
  • Grow as individuals
  • Contribute beyond ourselves
  • Rid ourselves of excess stuff
  • Discover purpose in our lives

By incorporating minimalism into our lives, we’ve finally been able to find lasting happiness—and that’s what we’re all looking for, isn’t it? We all want to be happy. Minimalists search for happiness not through things, but through life itself; thus, it’s up to you to determine what is necessary and what is superfluous in your life.

Through our essays we intend to present to you ideas of how to achieve a minimalist lifestyle without adhering to a strict code or an arbitrary set of rules. A word of warning, though: it isn’t easy to take the first steps, but your journey towards minimalism gets much easier—and more rewarding—the further you go. The first steps often take radical changes in your mindset, actions, and habits. Fret not, though—we want to help: we’ve documented our experiences so you can learn from our failures and successes, applying what we’ve learned to your own situation, assisting you in leading a more meaningful life.

This is just our take on minimalism. For more, read our minimalism elevator pitch, as well as some of our friends’ explanations of minimalism:

Leo Babauta’s Description of Minimalism

Joshua Becker’s Benefits of Minimalism

Courtney Carver’s 25 Reasons You Might Be a Minimalist

Colin Wright’s Minimalism Explained

Farmer John Organic Standards

‘THE WELL’  IS AN EMERGING ORGANIC FARM IN SWELLENDAM

FARMER JOHN ORGANIC STANDARDS:

1. For uncompromised nutritional value all crops must be grown in fertile soil attached to the earth and nourished by the natural biological activities of that soil. There are so many vital aspects of soil processes that we could not replace even if we wanted to, because we are still unaware of how they all work.
2. Soil fertility should be maintained principally with farm-derived organic matter and mineral particles from ground rock. Why take the chance of bringing in polluted material from industrial sources when fertility can be created and maintained internally?
3. Green manures and cover crops must be included within broadly based crop rotations to enhance biological diversity. The greater the variety of plants and animals on the farm, the more stable the system.
4. A “plant positive” rather than a “pest negative” philosophy is vital. We focus on correcting the cause of problems by strengthening the plant through optimum growing conditions to prevent pests, rather than merely treating symptoms by trying to kill the pests that prey on weak plants. Extensive scientific evidence is available today on the mechanisms by which a biologically active fertile soil creates induced resistance in the crops.
5. Livestock must be raised outdoors on grass-based pasture systems to the fullest extent possible. Farm animals are an integral factor in the symbiosis of soil fertility on the small mixed farm.
The goal of these five precepts is vigorous, healthy crops and livestock endowed with their inherent powers of vitality and resistance.

As team ‘The Well’  we recognize successful organic farming is a result of a guiding principle namely:
“The vital role of a biologically active fertile soil as the basis for producing the highest quality food.”

26th October 2017

Heirloom seeds – the debate continues

The definition and use of the word heirloom to describe plants is fiercely debated.

One school of thought places an age or date point on the cultivars. For instance, one school says the cultivar must be over 100 years old, others 50 years, and others prefer the date of 1945, which marks the end of World War II and roughly the beginning of widespread hybrid use by growers and seed companies. Many gardeners consider 1951 to be the latest year a plant could have originated and still be called an heirloom, since that year marked the widespread introduction of the first hybrid varieties. It was in the 1970s that hybrid seeds began to proliferate in the commercial seed trade. Some heirloom varieties are much older; some are apparently pre-historic.

Another way of defining heirloom cultivars is to use the definition of the word heirloom in its truest sense. Under this interpretation, a true heirloom is a cultivar that has been nurtured, selected, and handed down from one family member to another for many generations.

Additionally, there is another category of cultivars that could be classified as “commercial heirlooms”: cultivars that were introduced many generations ago and were of such merit that they have been saved, maintained and handed down – even if the seed company has gone out of business or otherwise dropped the line. Additionally, many old commercial releases have actually been family heirlooms that a seed company obtained and introduced.

Regardless of a person’s specific interpretation, most authorities agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated. They may also be open-pollinated varieties that were bred and stabilized using classic breeding practices. While there are no genetically modified tomatoes available for commercial or home use, it is generally agreed that no genetically modified organisms can be considered heirloom cultivars. Another important point of discussion is that without the ongoing growing and storage of heirloom plants, the seed companies and the government will control all seed distribution. Most, if not all, hybrid plants, if regrown, will not be the same as the original hybrid plant, thus ensuring the dependency on seed distributors for future crops.

21st May 2017

Regenerative agriculture

“Regenerative agriculture” has its origins thousands of years ago, when all agriculture was performed in more ecological ways. “Restorative Agriculture” is about restoring the life and nutrients to the soil by applying diverse ecological systems to bring the balance of life to the farm, without harmful chemicals. Our focus is to provide nutrient dense fresh foods in a natural and organic way.

At ‘The Well Farm’  we prefer to work with nature in  our approach to farming and we apply methods such as no tilling practices, crop rotation, biodiversity enhancement, ‘building’ soil through composting and mulching, cover crops and green manure techniques.

If you want to know more about our approach to farming and food gardens at The Well,  please contact us or pay us a visit. We enjoy sharing and exchanging views.
Open source Permaculture

Food Forests – the abundant life

Food Forests are wonderfully productive ecosystems, small or large in scale. Food forests are designed to meet needs of the particular family or community – as well as to produce habitat, be of benefit to wildlife, increase ecological resilience and create abundance.

Food forests mimic the architecture and beneficial relationships between plants and animals found in a natural forest or other natural ecosystem. Food forests are not “natural”, but are designed and managed ecosystems (typically, complex perennial polyculture plantings) that are very rich in biodiversity and productivity.

This entry was posted on February 7, 2017, in Food gardens.