Growing limited crops on poor soil.

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adam2
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Growing limited crops on poor soil.

Post by adam2 »

Friends own a farm in north Wales, primarily dairy cattle. Relatively poor grazing but the cows thrive at a very low stocking density.

In the fields near the farmhouse they grow some crops, for their own table, for sale/barter to neighbours, and winter feed for the cows. This land is of very poor qaulity, thin and stoney. Only low yields may be expected.
After a little experiment and some failures they have decided to adopt a "minimum ploughing technique" A heavy duty single furrow plough is used to cut deep furrows over a meter apart, with the land between left undisturbed. This requires a strong plough (they broke several cheap ones) and a lot of power, 2 large strong horses at least, three would be better.
Seed is then broadcast by hand, and the furrow closed by a home made tool pulled by a horse.

In the following year, the process is repeated but with the new furrows slightly offset. It probably takes five or six years for ALL the land to be turned over under this system. After about five or six years, the land is used for grazing a handful of sheep and a different field ploughed as described. Several fields have had this treatment, five or six years for crops, a few years grazing, and then repeat.

Animal dung, wood ash, and compost are added spareingly when available. This minimum ploughing allows some crops to be produced from very poor land prevents errosion. Weeds are ignored if small or removed by hand if large.

The soil seems improved thereby, but yields are still modest.
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Re: Growing limited crops on poor soil.

Post by kenneal - lagger »

If they grazed more often they would build fertility quicker but that fertility might be limited by depth of the soil. Another way of using the ground might be to construct deep beds by turning soil from paths onto beds although that would make grazing difficult which would require building fertility in another way.
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adam2
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Re: Growing limited crops on poor soil.

Post by adam2 »

Grazing more often or for longer does not work very well as there is little vegetation to interest the sheep.
After a few years of minimum ploughing, a rather random selection of self seeded crops grow and the sheep eat these.
Only a handful of sheep are kept, to eat during the year, not as livestock for sale.
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Re: Growing limited crops on poor soil.

Post by kenneal - lagger »

I would go for the raised bed option then and get in a few loads of manure from somewhere. You can usually get it free especially if you can pick it up yourself.
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Re: Growing limited crops on poor soil.

Post by Stumuz2 »

Agree with Ken.

Put uninked cardboard on the land, top with anything compostable and free ( manure, local authority food waste compost) and plant veg grown in modules straight into the compost.
Meanwhile, build cheap covered compost heaps to supply compost for next year. 10 cubic tons is quite possible in a small space. Spread the compost in November over the plots.

I wish i had known this technique 30 years ago.
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Re: Growing limited crops on poor soil.

Post by clv101 »

Two books are highly relevant here:

Gabe Brown's Dirt to Soil and Growing a Revolution by David Montgomery.

First a the personal story of a US farmer discovering the benefits of no-til and the essential role of mob grazing. The second is a broader look at the emergence of no-til around the world, interestingly Europe is a real laggard in this regard.
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Re: Growing limited crops on poor soil.

Post by emordnilap »

A few things to add to possible options:

1) It might be worth looking at getting some trailer loads of seaweed to dig in.

2) Another idea is to plant a green manure crop then plough it in.

3) Do they humanure? They should.

4) Leaves make the finest soil when composted. Never let 'em blow away.
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Re: Growing limited crops on poor soil.

Post by Stumuz2 »

emordnilap wrote: Mon Mar 01, 2021 12:06 pm 'to dig in'

Sooooo last century!

Leave it on top in autumn and let the soil life do the rest.
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Re: Growing limited crops on poor soil.

Post by adam2 »

Some interesting replies.

Raised beds would not be applicable, these are fair sized fields, not a garden.
Humanure is not applied to the fields as it is considered a health risk if applied to root crops. Flush toilets are used and the waste is conveyed to covered ditches in the apple orchard, thereby fertilising the trees.
Horse manure and cow dung is applied to the land, and also compost.
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Re: Growing limited crops on poor soil.

Post by kenneal - lagger »

If they did the human food crops on a smaller acreage more intensively they would probably get a better crop on the smaller acreage leaving more land for the cattle.
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Re: Growing limited crops on poor soil.

Post by emordnilap »

adam2 wrote: Mon Mar 01, 2021 4:00 pm Humanure is not applied to the fields as it is considered a health risk if applied to root crops.
Not if it's thermophilically composted and harvested after two years. We're still alive after 13 years using it in beds etc. What comes out of the humanure compost bins is like soil and very safe.
adam2 wrote: Mon Mar 01, 2021 4:00 pm Flush toilets are used and the waste is conveyed to covered ditches in the apple orchard, thereby fertilising the trees.
That's the next best thing I suppose. :D
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adam2
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Re: Growing limited crops on poor soil.

Post by adam2 »

The apple trees do very well indeed :lol:
The toilet waste flows by gravity to ditches between the trees, these are covered to avoid nuisance. after a year or so the waste is diverted to a different ditch.
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Re: Growing limited crops on poor soil.

Post by Catweazle »

I recently learned that it's possible to grow potatos in grass clippings, it made me wonder if I should start cutting more land for hay and spreading it on my veg patch. I'm in favour of "concentrating" the veg into a smaller area tightly spaced, to minimise weeding, so building s small area of great soil is more important than keeping a large area of average fertility. I've also concluded that free-ranging my pigs is not doing my soil any favours, as they regularly concentrate on a small area and strip it back to bare mud, which can't resist erosion.
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Re: Growing limited crops on poor soil.

Post by BritDownUnder »

I'd be interested in knowing more about the location. Is it abnormally wet (North Wales could be), high elevation or ruined by previous overgrazing or industry? Maybe the soil is just good for heather or forest and that is it - the UK has a lot of such areas. I once read that the moors were originally forested then cleared and the soil gradually washed away or lost its fertility. I am no soil expert but if the soils are thin and stony maybe they should have the stones removed and thickened somehow. Removing stones by hand is probably not the nicest of work. How you would thicken soils? I have no real idea except for scraping from part of the field and filling the remaining part a bit thicker. Maybe you can just put loads and loads and loads of manure or biomass there to form humus. Or maybe the issue is with nutrients with some essential nutrient or mineral is just missing. I read that New Zealand soils are generally poor in nickel and it needs to added to help cows thrive. Maybe the soil at this farm in question is deficient in some mineral or nutrient?
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Re: Growing limited crops on poor soil.

Post by adam2 »

It is fairly wet most of the time.
The land was purchased about 25 yeats ago, prior to that it was unused since the war. During the war crops were grown with a lot of hand cultivation by POWs this fed the prisoners but failed to produce the hoped for surplus for sale.
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