Today one of our pot-belly pigs, Gloria, was helping clear some ground in the gardens. This land will be used to plant and cultivate a grain crop by hand, based on the natural farming techniques of Masanobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka is famous worldwide for his methods and books such as “One Straw Revolution” , and “The Natural Way of Farming”. Along with semi-wild vegetables and mandarin oranges, he grew rice and barley organically by hand, and his grain yields were on par with or sometimes better than that of nearby conventional farms that used tractors and chemical inputs.
One of Fukuoka’s recommendations was to use pigs to clear a plot of land to set back and/or eliminate the existing vegetation enough that the intended crop can thrive. Pigs will eat a lot of different types of wild plants, and are excellent at using their noses to flip the sod in their search for roots and ground-dwelling insects. This leaves the soil mostly bare, and suitable for planting.
We put Gloria on a tether and worked in gardens nearby to keep a close eye on her to make sure that she would clear the area we wanted, not mess up nearby plantings, and most importantly, to stay safe from predators or getting tangled in the tether.
It’s important to plant the cleared area as soon as possible to avoid soil erosion from rain or wind, and drying out & leaching of nutrients by the sun.
In Gloria’s wake, we plan to plant a groundcover of white clover and daikon radish. The clover will fix nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil, and the radish will break up compaction and bring nutrients from the deep subsoil to the surface. It’s expected that wild plants will volunteer in the plot to round out the diversity. For example we have a wide variety of wild flowers in that area of the farm, which are beneficial for many reasons but mostly they are great for providing habitat and food for beneficial insects. In our surrounding fields we also have wild mustards, carrot, and docks, that perform much the same function as the radish, and red clover and trefoil which fix nitrogen, among many other plants.
Along with the ground cover we plan on growing buckwheat and possibly another grain crop such as naked oats or barley. This will all be done by hand, using a scythe to manage the ground cover, and cut the grain crop when it’s time to harvest. A scythe is a tool with a long shaft and blade used to cut herbaceous vegetation. Before machinery, the scythe was the staple tool of many civilizations for harvesting grain and forage crops, among other things.
Credit: Richard New Forest
It may not be as quick as a tractor and mower but the environmental impact, purchase price, and maintenance cost of a scythe is a of course a sliver in comparison to a fuel guzzling, air polluting tractor. And a team of experienced scythers can get a surprising amount of cutting done in a day, and they won’t need to go to the gym for a cardio workout!