Compost is the breakdown product of organic wastes, containing large proportions of humus which is a long-acting soil fertility booster. Any organic material (not talking about certified organic designation, just the carbon-based once-living kind of organic) can be composted, eventually becoming soil again as it once was before being integrated into an organism.
“Composts offer a practical means of maintaining the soil fertility which is the most important factor in the successful operation of a subsistence farm….There are available on practically all farms and gardens many materials which are useful for composts, although the farmer or gardener often fails to appreciate their value. Some of the common materials which are often wasted are leaves, straw, muck, vegetable tops, grass clippings, and garbage material which is inedible for chickens or pigs.”
~C.C. Fletcher, 1935 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture
Image scanned from 1938 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture “Soils and Men” – Article: “Crop Rotation” by Clyde Leighty
The concept of crop rotation is not a new idea. It is an idea as old as agriculture. Crop rotation, simply put, is growing a variety of plants in a planned manner to ensure that one species is not grown in the same field for multiple years in a row. It requires a certain amount of diversification, and on the larger industrial scale it can present problems in the need for many different equipment schemes for planting and harvesting. Modern agriculture ‘solves’ this dilemma by ‘scientifically’ replacing, in the form of fertilizer, what it considers to be all of the nutrients that the crop has removed from the soil in the previous year, and replanting that same crop. There are many problems with this plan that are not in the scope of this article to address.
I find it interesting to read agricultural texts from different eras of our civilization. At the present moment I am increasing my collection of USDA Yearbooks of Agriculture, which I would recommend to anyone who is curious about agricultural techniques, policies, and studies. Particularly interesting to me are those books which were published during and directly following the Great Depression. In these years, agricultural science was making great leaps and bounds, not necessarily with new discoveries but with scientific proof that the practices of the preceding millennia were indeed spot-on, and that we should continue following our ancestors’ examples of land husbandry.
Every farm must have water to function. There are many quite different solutions to this problem from the point of view of crop-raising, from overhead sprinklers to underground drip irrigation, from canal irrigation to raised beds, from biodynamic double digging to hugelkultur. Each of these methods has its own positives and negatives, more importantly they each have a particular environment in which they are the best choice for that space. In areas where there is a kind of rolling topography and a good proportion of clay in the soil, the farm pond shines due to its ease of engineering. Where you have a watershed of two or more acres, you can build a sizable pond. It can be as simple (not easy: simple) as building a straight line dam from one rolling hill to the next.
Our lives rely completely upon soil. My life in the country is very simply and easily attributed to a direct link with the soil. In the city you may feel as if you are a few miles removed from getting dirty yourself, but in reality you are just one small step from having manure under your fingernails just to prevent starvation. Even the astronauts in the space station are not immune from requiring the basic necessities of life which we indeed must derive from the soil. With life itself hinging upon the presence and condition of this most necessary substance, shouldn’t we all feel some obligation to consciously contemplate the crumbly crust of the earth for at least a few minutes each day? Continue reading
Hard work can come in many forms. One form which requires you to both work hard and have faith is education. I am not talking about the education “system” – that would be politics and I strive not to discuss politics – I am talking about your own self-education, outside of any establishment created for education of the masses. I normally refer to this as “doing research” on a specific subject, but for every bout of research done, your education is furthered, albeit without any public recognition. Recognition is not a requirement for someone desiring anonymity. Continue reading
Today’s world moves fast. From one generation to the next the world is almost an entirely different affair. I can write an article and someone in Australia can read it the very next minute. I can buy an aeroplane ticket and be in Australia the very next day. A neighbor of mine can plow his 200 acre farm in one day, harrow it the next, and have it planted the next. My grandparents could not have imagined such a world, and I’m sure I cannot imagine the world my grandchildren will live in. Continue reading
When explaining my decision to use only hand tools to accomplish all of my tasks, as an agrarian I could give the simple answer: they guarantee my commitment to hard work. Often times, I stop the explanation there. When approaching a project, I would rather choose the path that puts my body to work, giving my mind time to think while my body completes the task at hand, rather than only using my mind while letting my body languish. It is more satisfying and more healthful this way. I don’t use hand tools just because I enjoy it more, though. It is logic on many levels which led me to this decision. Continue reading
Hard work and faith are choices you must accept to go down the agrarian path. Hard work is just what it sounds, hard. It is grueling, uncomplicated, and satisfying, and the only way to successfully get hard work done is to work hard. Continue reading
Through agrarianism we allow ourselves to transform seemingly hard choices into easily handled decisions. Through our connection with the land, we learn everything that is important, and are then able to infer what is not. We discover lessons that have far-reaching implications through the simple activities we must perform to sustain ourselves, and in so doing, we become strong and truly independent. We learn that we need to provide very little to receive so much. We only need to provide two things: hard work and unwavering faith. Continue reading