Monday, September 13, 2010

A Farm For The Future

One of my online friends recently directed me to this film, A Farm For The Future.    It wasn't a lot of new-to-me information, but it was assembled in a very thought provoking way. 

Our aim here is to live sustainably.  To not rely on fossil fuels.  Because we're nearly at the point now, that we can't afford to rely on fossil fuels.  And they're going to get more and more expensive as world resources continue to decline.

I know that tilling the soil is bad.  Bad use of fossil fuels.  Bad for erosion and loss of top soil.  Bad for the pocket book.  I never thought about what it was doing to the life below the surface.  Bad, bad, bad.  But have I stopped?  Nope.  I didn't plant half my garden this year because Pig refused to work, and the rototiller broke.  I was thrilled when I bought my new tillers from the neighbour.  The kids have already tilled up most of the garden section that didn't get planted.  And I won't be planting there until next year.  So we just exposed a whole lot of soil to sunlight & erosion for no reason.  Why?  Because I thought it would help with weed control.  And apparently it will.  Given a few years, nothing will want to grow there at all.  I'll have dead soil.

Dead soil, like I likely have been fighting with since we moved in here.  Dead soil, which is likely the cause of the buttercup field in the pasture.  The previous owner plowed & reseeded that section repeatedly.  None of my pasture has the root structure seen in the film, like the healthy native grasses growing there.  But my lawn does.  My lawn grows like crazy.  Why?  Because it's been pretty well ignored for years.  Sure, it's a mess of weeds.  Who cares?  It has amazing root structure.  I've been trying to kill the front lawn to turn it into a flower bed, and three summers haven't made much headway.  But I've never tilled it.  I don't care enough about flowers to put any real effort into killing it.  I just cover a section with old card board boxes and car floor mats and leave it like that until it looks dead below.  Then after a few months I plant, or transplant, flowers into it.  Because I don't cut the lawn, and the front lawn is too small to fence off for the critters to eat.  But the grasses keep coming back.  They move in from the edges, and reappear in what looked to be dead.  Interesting.  This year I also planted my leftover zuccini, and all of my tobacco into it, what with the garden tilling issues...  And they grew like crazy.  Much better than expected.  Much better than the garden.

There are spots all over this place with similar structure.  The "oats" field.  A clearing out back that grows amazing, tall, local, green grasses.  Because it's been ignored for years.  I had planned to eventually plant oats there.  I think I'll skip that idea.  I think, in fact, I'll go harvest some seed there to try to revitalize the buttercup pasture with.  The back 'pasture'.  It's a clearing left from the last time this place was logged (before us).  It's becoming over run with alders right now, but it was very lush and green as well.  Smaller spots too. 

Is the secret to good pasture land just a matter of letting nature take it's course?  Is it really that easy?  Time will tell.  As we get more sections fenced and let the critters out to munch, the growth of alders and forest will be slowed, or stopped.  It never occurred to me that I wouldn't have to eventually seed it all with hay.  Hmmm.

I've read about forest gardening before, but seeing it in action is a whole different perspective.  I tried growing pumpkins between the apple trees- all very young- to keep the weeds down a couple of years ago.  The grass and weeds grew like mad there, and I spent more time weeding the pumpkins than the garden.  What if I use that section behind the house as a forest garden?  The section that was supposed to become the goat pen, but they don't seem to care for it.  There was a lot of dead fall, and a lot of dead standing trees there when we moved in.  We cleaned them all out.  It already gets lots of bird and bug attention, with cherry trees growing along the edge of the back yard.  There's a small clearing in the centre with lots of sunlight.  Hmmm.  I will definitely have to try this next spring.  I wonder if the taller trees will help protect against early/late frosts?  We'll have to see.  And then, what if I just don't bother weeding it?  I mean, I'd still need to weed around my veggis, giving them the advantage over the wild life...  but the pathways, areas I haven't planted, the undergrowth once my veggies are taller...  If I just left that stuff do it's thing, it wouldn't be hurting my prospects, and may in fact be helping them?!  Seriously?  Could it really be that easy?

The film, definitely worth watching, if you're at all concerned about food security, the environment, or small scale farming.  Definitely worth watching.


  1. Wendy, I have not watched the video, but I have read in other places that tilling is the reason we need fertilizer. Not mowing or tilling would suit me. Is there any way that you could put your efforts into mulching to avoid weeds and weeding? It seems the cardboard, carpet, newspaper trick is what some people use in the rows of the garden and around plants. Even if you had to use one of the chippers or whatever to put dead trees down as mulch, it might be the thing that worked. Unfortunately, fossil fuel seems to be the answer we come up with for all our problems...sigh. Okay, I will watch the film now.

  2. I do use cardboard, collecting it through the winter. There's never enough to cover the whole garden, but it does make the rows I do get covered much easier to deal with.

    A chipper would present one of those interesting, which is the lesser evil scenarios. Using fossil fuels to get (pick up truck & chainsaw) dead trees, fossil fuel to run chipper, versus rototilling. Or buying mulch in plastic bags (fossil fuel) shipped from where? (fossil fuel)... I don't know which is better, just that they're both bad.

    I do use the weeds as mulch, leaving them to rot around the base of other plants, along the edge of rows. It still leaves the rows exposed, but helps with fertilizer as it composts, and water retention.

    I'm going to look into ground cover crops for next year. Something that stays short...

  3. Some of the ground covers that put nitrogen back into the soil are favorites of chickens, too. Well, that is what I hear. trucked-in mulch gives me the heebie-jeebies. I figure it is nuclear sludge!

    Chipper and fossil fuel using things. Just let the horses drag limb, deposit all in a pile and let the compost make itself. It will take a few years, but continual piles, one next to the other should start giving you piles of compost year after year. Aren't you happy when someone suggests such a labor-intensive plan?

    I would love to live in the place in the film. It looks so peaceful. Mind you, I did not say I would like the work or am capable of doing it.