BIBLICAL AGRONOMY

“Plant a garden and you work hand in hand with God”.

What Is It?     “Biblical Agronomy” is a philosophy of agriculture, a system of farming based on the Christian bible and practices of the early Catholic Church.  Over time these precepts have evolved into a new way of thinking, a unique form of Biological Agriculture.

How To Do It:     Following are Bible passages with agricultural commentaries to help farmers apply biblical principles in a modern world:

“Thou shalt not kill”.  Exodus 20 : 1 – 17.   Editor’s Note:  This injunction from the “Ten Commandments” is the first principle of Biblical Agronomy and the hardest concept for most farmers to practice.  Modern industrial agriculture is largely negative.  It proceeds from the assumption that nature must be subdued.  Soils must be plowed.  Weeds must be eradicated.  Insects must be exterminated.  Farmers spend much of their time spraying deadly chemicals:  Herbicides, insecticides, fungicides — a laundry list of toxins.  Conventional agriculture is all about killing things.  Biblical agronomy takes the opposite approach:  Agriculture is about life, not death.  Farmers concentrate on genesis = creating life.  Biology replaces chemicals.  Earthworms replace plows.  Plants replace petroleum.  “Let nature do the heavy lifting”.  The principle distinction between Biblical Agronomy and conventional agriculture is that when problems arise farmers ask:  “How do I solve this without killing anything?”

“Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee”.  Job 12 : 8.  Editor’s Note:  Successful farmers copy nature in their fields.  Two thousand years ago Roman farmers practiced “Cultura Promiscua” = companion planting:  Olives, pomegranates, figs, grapes, cereals, legumes, and vegetables were grown together on small, 5-acre farms worked by hand.  Today, we call this “agroforestry”.  Back then, it was practical husbandry.  Planting mixtures of crops without plowing was the easiest way to maintain soil fertility and prevent erosion.  Native fields and forests have no bare ground.  The earth is constantly covered with mixtures of plants.  Observe nature closely then copy what you see.

“If you enter your neighbor’s grain field, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to  his standing grain”.  Deuteronomy 23 : 25.  Editor’s Note:  The poor have the right to eat from your fields but not the right to harvest for profit.  Over the centuries this rule has evolved into the practice of leaving some part of a field unharvested so beneficial insects and wildlife have something to eat.  Modern custom is to reserve 5% to 10% of crops for “Nature’s Pantry”.  The alternative is buying costly insecticides.

“If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket”.  Deuteronomy 23 : 24.  Editor’s Note:  Eat your fill but do not carry any away.  Hospitality to all in need was official Church doctrine during the Middle Ages.  The right of the hungry to eat from the fields was part of the social safety net for the poor.  This practice was later codified in various “laws of hospitality”.  Modern farmers plant hedgerows and “insectary crops” to feed beneficial wildlife.  Biologically managed vineyards are sown with legumes and wildflowers.  Flowers replace insecticides.

“Do not plant two kinds of seed in your vineyard; if you do, not only the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled”.  Deuteronomy 22 : 9.  Editor’s Note:  Modern agronomists interpret this rule as a general injunction against mixing varieties of the same open pollinated species.  Isolation distances must be preserved to prevent cross-pollination so varieties remain pure.  (This rule does not apply to self-pollinated species because out-crossing rarely occurs).

“Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him.”  Genesis 26 : 12.  Editor’s Note:  Historical seed to harvest ratios of 1 : 100 are not inconceivable.  Roman farmers routinely harvested 40 bushels of wheat per acre.  80-bushel yields were common when irrigated grain followed nitrogen-fixing cover crops of lentils, lupines, clover, or vetch.  Modern wheat varieties regularly produce 100-bushel yields.  The keys to bumper grain crops are no tillage, live soils, wide spacing of individual plants, living mulches to control weeds, companion plants to increase biodiversity, and irrigation to prevent water competition between grain and cover crops.  Farmers in the Middle Ages planted the “Holy Trinity” = 1 grain + 1 legume + 1 root crop.  For example:  Wheat, clover, and turnips.  Seeded at 50 pounds of wheat per acre, this polycrop easily yields 3,000 pounds (50 bushels) per acre = 1 : 60 seed to harvest ratio.

“But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it.  This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”  Matthew 13 : 33.  Editor’s Note:  Plant most any heritage variety of winter wheat in your garden, for example, Red Fife.  Space plants 1 foot apart equidistantly.  Mulch the ground and water as needed.  Each plant will yield 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 ounces of grain on average = approximately 1,305 to 2,175 seeds per plant = 68 to 113 bushels per acre.  You do not need “improved” or “hybrid” varieties to obtain high yields.  Good growing conditions are the most important factors.

“When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it.  Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands”.  Deuteronomy 24 : 19.  Editor’s Note:  Modern farmers plant wildlife food plots or leave border rows unharvested.  Biological agriculture practice requires that farms be managed as ecosystems rather than individual fields.  The idea is to encourage large populations of many beneficial species.  More biodiversity = healthy ecology = better plant growth = higher yields.

“Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen.  Leave them for the poor and the foreigner”.  Leviticus 19 : 10.  Editor’s Note:  Today, “good farming practice” means leaving as much plant residue as possible to prevent erosion and feed soil critters.  Grain fields are harvested with “header reels” to leave standing straw to slow wind and trap snow.  Farmers plant mixed species cover crops to feed earthworms over winter.  Fallen fruits are grazed, composted, or burned to break insect and disease cycles.  Vineyards and orchards are sown with weeds, legumes, wildflowers, and insectary crops to support large populations of beneficial insects.  More flowers = fewer pests.

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest”.  Leviticus 19 : 9.  Editor’s Note:  The right of the poor to glean fields is common to many cultures.  Modern farmers leave border rows unharvested.  Head rows are planted with “bee pasture”.  Strips of weeds, wildflowers, and insectary crops are sown within fields to feed beneficial insects.  Wildlife food plots and “insect refuges” are seeded in odd corners of land.  The idea is to encourage maximum populations of useful species.

Social Commentary:  In this modern world farmers comprise less than 2% of the United States population.  Most farms are located far from cities.  Fields are harvested by machines.  Thus, there are few rural poor and hardly any crops to glean.  This is in stark contrast to biblical times when 98% of the people were farmers, many of them hungry.  Today, feeding the urban poor is not easy.  Rural labor shortages mean there are few hands to pick fruits and vegetables.  Surplus crops often rot in the fields while Food Banks go empty.  The Bible is easy to read but difficult to practice.

“You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together”.  Leviticus 19 : 19.  Editor’s Note:  Ancient Jews had a passion for keeping everything separate.  This extended to cooking (do not mix meat and milk) and marriage (do not marry “gentiles” = non-Jews).  Modern agronomy has turned the old rules upside down.  Farmers now plant hybrid seeds and graze hybrid cattle on multiple species forage crops.  Science and practical experience have taught us that mixtures grow better than individual species grown separately.  Polycrops are the new “best practice”.  Grains and legumes are sown together.  Fields are planted with strips of unrelated crops.  The goal is maximum biodiversity.  Biology, not chemistry, keeps soils fertile and pests under control.

“But during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard”.  Leviticus 25 : 4.  Editor’s Note:  Long rotations break insect and disease cycles.  For example:  Farmers in Argentina rotate 7 years of field crops with 7 years of pasture.  (Alternating pasture and row crops is called “ley farming”).  7-year rotations are ideal for restoring soil structure and fertility.  Rule-of-Thumb:  Never plant the same crop on a field more than once every 7 years.  Reserving 1/7th = 14% of cropland for annual fallow is a great way to support large populations of wildlife and beneficial insects.

“A king who cultivates the field is an advantage to the land”.  Ecclesiastes 5 : 9.  Political Commentary:  Humility precedes learning.  There is much advantage in keeping leaders humble.  From a practical standpoint, a king busy growing his crops has little time for mischief.  Most people care not who runs the government as long as it leaves them alone.  “God bless us with a king who rules and does nothing”.  (Farmers around the world have inherent distrust of government.  This reticence comes from long experience:  When officials arrive, bad things happen).  Farmers who practice Biblical Agronomy tend to be independent spirits.  Many live off-grid.  The majority are socially conservative.  Most have root cellars or can their own vegetables.  Large numbers store a 2-year food supply.  “Biblical” farmers are much like the Amish:  They are part of our modern culture yet live apart from it.

“But on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat.  You are to do the same with your vineyard and olive grove”.  Exodus 23 : 11.  Editor’s Note:  Planting monocrops year after year depletes soil fertility and promotes outbreaks of pests and diseases.  Farmers practicing Biblical Agronomy avoid these problems by keeping 7-year rotations and planting polycrops.  For example:  “The Twelve Apostles” is a multi-species forage mix including 4 grains + 4 legumes + 4 root or forb crops.  Mixed species produce more nutritious forage and higher yields.  “Tithing” 1/7th = 14% of cropland for annual fallow (weeds or mixed species cover crops) promotes large numbers of beneficial insects.  The good bugs eat the bad bugs.

“I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land”.  Ezekiel 34 : 15.  Editor’s Note:  “Mixed Farming” = growing plants and animals has been the foundation of agriculture since historic times.  The reason is simple:  Plants and animals have evolved to grow well together.  While it is possible to raise plants and animals separately, monocultures are much more susceptible to insects, diseases, and environmental stress.  Biological balance is a key principle of Biblical Agronomy.  Pastures grow better when grazed.  Crops yield more when dunged.  Animals stimulate plants to grow better.  Healthy plants keep animals in good condition.

“What the cows eschew the goats relish.  That which the goats ignore the sheep enjoy.  Upon what the sheep leave the birds feast.  Whatever the fowl demurs the worms delight.  In this way the land feeds all”.

“Thirty milking camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys”.  Genesis 32 : 15.  Editor’s Note:  Smart farmers use rotation and polycrops to control pests and diseases.  The same principles apply to raising animals.  Herds should be rotated to improve pastures.  Mixed species control weeds and parasites.  For example:  Range chickens 3 or 4 days behind cattle.  Chickens eat fly maggots and keep pastures sanitary.  Every mouth eats something different and so the whole farm produces more food.

“The best medicine is the watchful eye of the herdsman”.

“Know well the state of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds”.  Proverbs 27 : 23.  Editor’s Note:  Anciently, herds grazed randomly and were moved irregularly.  Plants were overgrazed and pastures declined.   Modern farmers practice “Intensive Rotational Grazing”:  Animals are crowded into small paddocks then moved to fresh pasture every 12 to 24 hours.  Each meadow is rotated on a 30-day or longer calendar so plants have time to regrow.  Pasture rotation produces more forage and breaks parasite reproduction cycles.

“The sea coast will be pastures, with cottages for shepherds and folds for flocks”.  Zephaniah 2 : 6.  Editor’s Note:  Piling, carting and spreading manure is hard work.  “Sheep Folding” is easier:  Flocks are crowded into small fields at dusk where they urinate and defecate all night long.  At dawn, animals are turned into fresh pasture.   Fertilized ground can then be plowed and sown.  Alternatively, broadcast seed into standing vegetation then fold animals overnight.  Hooves trod seed into ground.  Trampled plants cover and protect germinating crops.  This is called “Stomp Seeding”.  Roman farmers averaged 40 to 50 bushels of wheat per acre using these methods.  Biblical Agronomy is all about balance.  Plants and animals grow well together.

“I shall become enlightened for the sake of all living things”.

Ten Agricultural Commandments:  Following is a list of biological principles for Biblical Agronomy.  Use these guidelines to make farm management decisions.

I.  Do Not Kill.  Find another way.  Use the least intrusive methods.  “Walk lightly upon the land”.

“Farmers are keepers of the earth”.

II.  Keep the Agricultural Sabbath.  Follow 7-year rotations.  Long rotations control most insects and diseases without need for human intervention.  Crop rotations improve soil tilth and fertility.

“At Nature’s table all are welcome”.

III.  Tithe for Nature.  Provide hospitality to all in need. Leave border rows unharvested.  Plant wildlife food plots.  Reserve 5% to 10% of farmland for hedgerows, windbreaks, and wood lots.  Wildlife are an essential part of the agricultural ecosystem.

“God loves all his creatures, even bugs”.

IV.  Feed the Insects.  Reserve 5% to 10% of cropland for native weeds, insect refuges, bee pasture, and insectary crops.  Conventional monocrop farms are “green deserts” without nectar or pollen for beneficial insects.  Feed the good bugs and they will protect your crops.

V.  Sow Polycultures Whenever Practical.  Plant the “Holy Trinity” and “The Twelve Apostles”.  Mixed species are the key to soil fertility and high yields.

VI.  Do Not Plow.  Practice zero-tillage whenever possible.  Symbiotic fungi are essential to plant health and nutrition.  Beneficial fungal networks must be protected at all times or soil ecology will collapse.

VII.  Keep Soil Covered at All Times.  Soil is a living organism that requires air, water, food, and shelter.  Keep it warm during winter and cool over summer.  Do not let topsoil dry out.  Prevent crusting and compaction so soil can breathe and rain can enter.  Protect fields with mulch or live plants 365 days yearly.  “Keep fields green”.

“Good farmers grow fungi.  The fungi grow the crops”.

VIII.  Feed the Fungi.  Plants feed sugar to fungi.  Fungi provide water and minerals to plants.  Trading requires live roots or fungi die or go dormant.  Plant productivity is directly related to the number and extent of fungal networks.  More fungi = higher yields.  Good farmers keep their fields covered with growing plants year-round.

“Roots in the ground all year round”.

IX.  Encourage Maximum Biodiversity.  Genesis is the heart of Biblical Agronomy.  Agriculture is all about creating life.  Ecosystem productivity and stability are directly related to number of species.  More species = healthy ecology = higher yields.  Good farmers plant many varieties to provide food and shelter for all God’s creatures.

X.  Grow Crops and Animals Together.  Plants and animals are like two sides of an arch:  Remove one and the other falls.  Mixed farms have more biological stability and greater resilience to environmental stress and economic change.  Wide diversity protects farmers from crop failures and uncertain markets.

“The Lord gave the word and great was the company of the creatures”.

The Eleventh Commandment:     “Thou shalt inherit the holy earth as a faithful steward conserving its resources and productivity from generation to generation.  Thou shalt safeguard thy fields from soil erosion, thy living waters from drying up, thy forests from desolation, and protect thy hills from overgrazing by the herds, that thy descendants may have abundance forever.  If any shall fail in this stewardship of the land, thy fruitful fields shall become sterile stony ground or wasting gullies, and thy descendants shall decrease and live in poverty or perish from off the face of the earth”.  [Walter Clay Lowdermilk, soil conservationist, radio broadcast from Jerusalem, June 1939].

Wrapping It Up:     Biblical Agronomy is not so much a rigid set of rules but rather a way of thinking about biology.  Adapt basic principles to fit local conditions.  The key is to be practical rather than zealous.  God will not smite you if you spray the locusts.

Agronomy Notes:

Bee Pasture = Plants selected for long flowering seasons and large amounts of nectar and pollen.  Wild bees and other native insects provide most of the pollination for agricultural crops.  Good farmers sow 5% to 10% of farmland with bee forage.  (If you cannot afford seed plant native weeds).

Border Rows = Crops growing along field edges.  Farmers often leave 2 to 4 rows unharvested to feed wild animals.  Border row dimensions are determined by the width of planting and harvesting machinery.

Head Rows = Empty space at field ends used for turning tractors and farm equipment.  On conventional farms head rows are covered with sod or left bare.  On biologically managed fields head rows are planted with clover, wildflowers, native weeds, or other “bee forage”.  The idea is to provide food and shelter to encourage large numbers of beneficial insects.

Hedgerows = Narrow lines of small trees or shrubs planted to contain animals, slow wind, trap snow, moderate micro-climate, and provide food and shelter for beneficial wildlife.  Ideal hedgerows are composed entirely of economic species that can be harvested for nuts, berries, fruits or other cash crops.  Plant 40 or more species per linear mile for high biodiversity.  Hedgerows support large populations of insect eating birds.

Insectary Crops = Plants with many small flowers ideal for feeding beneficial insects.  For example:  Anise, buckwheat, caraway, clover, coriander, dill, and fennel.  These can be combine harvested and the seed sold for profit.

Insect Refuges = Standing crops left unharvested so insects have undisturbed habitat for feeding and breeding.  For example:  If you mow a hay field all at once the insects have nowhere to go and nothing to eat.  The solution is to leave a strip of meadow unharvested so insect populations are preserved.  (If land is scarce sow native weeds in odd corners or other spaces unsuitable for farm machinery).

“Rotational Grazing Rule-Of-Thumb:  Eat 1/3, Stomp 1/3, Leave 1/3”.

Intensive Rotational Grazing = Crowding animals into small paddocks then moving herd to fresh pasture every 12 to 24 hours.  Pastures are rotated on 30-day or longer cycles so plants have time to regrow.  Rotational grazing produces large amounts of highly nutritious forage.  400% yield increases are possible with mixed species forage crops. Long rotations break insect, disease and parasite reproduction cycles.  (Mob grazing is a similar practice).

Ley Farming = Rotating pasture and field crops to control weeds and fertilize soil.  Combining animals in farm rotations boosts crop yields.  Manure stimulates plant growth more than equal weights of fresh or composted grass.  (Strange things happen in a cow’s stomach.  Grass goes in and super-charged fertilizer comes out.  How this happens is scientific mystery).

Living Mulches = Short plants sown to cover the soil and prevent weed growth.  Cash crops are seeded or transplanted into the living mulch using no-till equipment.  For example:  Peppers can be transplanted into an established sward of Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens).  The clover smothers weeds and feeds nitrogen to the cash crop.

Mixed Farming = Growing a wide variety of plants and animals on the same farm.  Including pasture and hay in crop rotations.  Grazing herds on harvested fields.  Using animals to control weeds.  Spreading manure to fertilize cash crops.  Mixed farms are more biologically stable and much less susceptible to economic and environmental changes.

Mob Grazing =  Concentrating very large herds on small pastures is called “Mob Grazing”.  Density is about 800 to 1,000 cows per acre and animals are shifted every 1 or 2 hours.  Meadows are rotated on long 6 to 12 month cycles so plants regrow.  High density and long rotations mimic natural migration of buffalo and other vast herds on prairie ecosystems.  (Intensive Rotational Grazing is a closely related practice).

Mulch-In-Place = Sow a fast-growing cover crop that produces large amounts of biomass (stems and leaves).  Kill the mature cover crop with a roller-crimper or sickle-bar mower.  Seed or transplant through the mulch using no-till equipment.  Mulch-In-Place provides 90% to 95% weed control, as good or better than glyphosate (Roundup) or other conventional herbicides.

Multiple Species Cover Crops = Mixtures of plants grown to control weeds, feed livestock, and fertilize fields.  For best results sow many species to enhance biological synergy.  Mixed plants feed soil bacteria and support vast networks of beneficial fungi.  The fungi provide water and nutrients to the plants.  Basic cover crop mixes include:  2 cool season grasses + 2 cool season legumes + 2 cool season broad leaf plants + 2 warm season grasses + 2 warm season legumes + 2 warm season broad leaf plants + 2 or more root crops = 14 or more species.  Use no-till equipment to drill 20 pounds of seed per acre in 2-inch deep furrows spaced 7.5 inches apart.

Polyculture = Growing 2 or more species together.  Polycrops greatly reduce insect pests and produce large amounts of sugar to feed soil bacteria and fungi.  Most soil humus is made by bacteria that eat sugar exuded by plant roots.  Agricultural productivity is directly related to the number of polyculture species.  More species = more leaves and stems = more photosynthesis = more sugar exuded by roots = larger populations of soil microbes = faster nutrient cycling = higher yields.  Some farmers plant cover crops with 60 species!  “There is strength in numbers”.

Strip Cropping = Polyculture system adapted to farm machinery.  Divide farms or fields into narrow strips following land contours.  Plant adjacent strips with unrelated crops to maximize edge effects and increase biodiversity.  Adjust strip widths to match planting and harvesting equipment.  For best results strips should not be wider than 200 feet on flat land or 50 feet on hillsides.  Planting a variety of crops spreads economic and biological risk.  Strip cropping supports large populations of beneficial insects that keep pests under control.

Weed Farming = Manage weeds just like any other cover crop.  (A)  Fertilize and irrigate weeds to promote maximum growth, then flatten with a roller-crimper or sickle-bar mower.  Immediately seed or transplant through the weed mulch using no-till equipment.  (B)  Overseed native weeds with clover or other legumes to make a cheap multi-species cover crop.  (C)  Harvest weeds like silage using a forage chopper.  Use chopped weeds to mulch cash crops.  (D)  For biological pest control, plant weeds next to crops needing protection.  Alternatively, mow strips through tall weeds then plant cash crops down the rows.  Crops grown in weeds rarely have pest problems.  (E)  Native weeds support enormous populations of beneficial insects.  Good farmers reserve 5% to 10% of cropland for weeds.  For best results grow weeds in narrow strips within fields and around field borders.  (F)  Sow weeds to heal bare or worn-out soils.  Wildflower hay can be baled and spread for this purpose or haul weed seeds from the nearest grain elevator.  (G)  Grind weed seeds in a roller mill to make free fertilizer.  Use weed seed meal just like cotton seed meal or other organic plant food.  (H)  When insects threaten to overwhelm, soak chopped weeds in water, strain, then spray “weed tea” on plants.  Weed juice chases away most bugs.

Wildlife Food Plots = Small fields planted with grains, legumes, forbs, and root crops to feed deer, pheasants, turkeys, rabbits, and other game animals.  Wildlife plots are typically seeded on poor, wet or rocky land unsuitable for hay or cash crops.

Windbreaks = Rows of trees, shrubs, perennial Pampas grass, or other vegetation planted to slow wind, stop erosion, trap snow, and moderate micro-climate.  For best results plant windbreaks no closer than 50 feet nor farther than 150 feet apart.  Effective wind protection extends downwind 10 times average tree height.  Plant 40 species per linear mile for high biodiversity.  Windbreaks increase average yields 15% by reducing water loss from crop leaves.  (Common synonyms include:  Greenbelts, Hedgerows, and Shelterbelts).

Wood Lots = Small areas of forest grown to provide firewood.  For highest yield manage trees by coppicing:  Cut down 7-year old trees then harvest on 7-year cycles when stump or root sprouts reach 2 to 3 inches diameter.  Divide forest into 7 sections then harvest each part sequentially.  Coppiced trees live hundreds of years because the are constantly renewed.

Related Publications:     Cover Crop Primer; The Twelve Apostles; Biological Agriculture in Temperate Climates; Polyculture Primer; Strip Cropping Primer; Worm Farming; Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Earthworm Primer; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Living Mulches for Weed Control; Crops Among the Weeds; The Edge Effect; Organic Herbicides; Forage Maize for Soil Improvement; Coppicing Primer; Forage Radish Primer; Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; Intensive Rice Culture Primer; Trash Farming; Pelleted Seed Primer; Upside Down Potatoes; Maize Polyculture Trial 2007 – 2016; No-Till Hungarian Stock Squash; and the Rototiller Primer.

Would You Like To Know More?     For more information on biological agriculture and practical polyculture please visit:  http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com  — or —  send your questions to:  Eric Koperek, Editor, World Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 USA.

About The Author:     Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during summer and Florida over winter.  (Growing 2 generations yearly speeds development of new crop varieties).

THE TWELVE APOSTLES

What Is It?     “A multi-species cover crop containing 12 varieties often 4 grains, 4 legumes, and 4 root crops”.

12 Apostle mixes are frequently planted by farmers practicing “Biblical Agronomy”.

For example:  Oat, pea, turnip, rye, winter vetch, mangel-wurzel (stock beet), wheat, clover, forage radish, barley, frost bean (fava bean), and rutabaga.

Other possible species include:  Millet, sorghum, buckwheat, maize, teff, sunflower, lentil, lupine, runner bean, sunn hemp, soy bean, flax, rapeseed, safflower, kale, and many other varieties.  Choose what grows well on your farm.

“Melange:  A mixture of grains, legumes, and root crops grown to feed animals and improve soils”.

All melanges contain at least 3 components:  1 grain + 1 legume + 1 root crop = “Holy Trinity”.

“We sowed the Holy Trinity.  Father Michael blessed the crop and our cattle thrived”.

For example:  Thomas Jefferson sowed buckwheat, winter vetch, and turnips to cure “tired soils”.

There is nothing magical about the number 12.  Melanges often contained fewer species.  Farmers blended odds and ends from their granaries or whatever they could buy cheaply.

Growing several species together (polyculture) is not a new idea.  The practice dates to Roman times.  Middle Age farmers called mixed plants “melanges”.  Today, modern agronomists call them “multi-species cover crops”.

Call it what you will, but “bio-diversity” (many species) is a key principle of Biological Agriculture.  Life breeds life.  Each additional species creates more food and shelter for myriad lifeforms.  Grow multi-species cover crops and soon your soil will teem with billions of critters.  More critters = faster nutrient cycling = higher yields.

“Feed the critters and the critters will feed your crops”.

I have not purchased fertilizer (chemical or organic) in 19 years.  Truly, there is power in numbers.  More species means more money in my pocket.

Try this on your farm:  Keep your ground covered with growing plants year-round.  Never plant a crop by itself.  Always plant mixed species.  Copy nature in your fields.  You will be glad you did.

“Roots in the ground all year round”.

Agronomy Notes:

If you do not have experience with polycultures, try something simple.  Winter grains and Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) can be planted together at the same time.  (Broadcast clover at 12 pounds per acre).  Clover suppresses weeds and provides nitrogen to the cereal crop.  When the grain is harvested clover covers the field.  The following season mow first then seed or transplant into clover living mulch using no-till equipment.

Different sized seeds can be mixed in the same seed box and drilled into a common furrow.  Big seeds like maize, sunflower and peas break through the soil so little seeds like clover and turnips germinate easily.  Furrows spaced 7.5 inches apart are ideal for most multi-species cover crops.

If desired, seeds can be mixed with cornmeal or sawdust to provide more volume for even distribution.

Small seeds like wheat, vetch and sugar beet can be surface seeded.  For best results use pelleted seed.  Broadcast into standing vegetation then immediately flatten plants with a roller-crimper or cut with a sickle-bar mower.  Surface mulch covers and protects germinating seedlings.

Large seeds like maize, sunflower and beans are best planted underground with no-till equipment.  Surface sow large seeds only with monsoon rains or daily irrigation.

When sowing grains mix several varieties with the same maturity date.  For example:  3 varieties of wheat or 4 varieties of barley.  Planting multiple varieties often increases yields 5% to 7%.  You can also sow different species together:  Mixtures of rye and wheat are called maslin; blends of barley and oats are called dredge.  Mixed grains have better resistance to insects and diseases.

Plant mixtures grow better than individual species.  Sow barley, pinto beans, and tillage radish in separate plots.  Plant a fourth plot with all 3 species.  Come the drought and monocrops shrivel and die, but the polycrop remains green.  Mixed species help each other.  They also support vast networks of beneficial fungi.  The fungi provide water and nutrients to the plants.

“Good farmers grow fungi.  The fungi grow the crops”.

Mixed plants capture more sunlight and produce more biomass.  Rule-of-Thumb:  A polycrop of 1 grain + 1 legume + 1 root crop produces 2 times more vegetation by weight than the same species grown separately.

Polycultures increase grain yields substantially.  For example:  Oats grown alone yielded 43 bushels per acre.  Oats grown with peas and turnips yielded 62 bushels per acre.

Rule-of-Thumb:  You need at least 8 species to get significant benefits from polycultures.  For example:  Oats, peas and turnips yielded 62 bushels per acre.  Oats grown with peas, pinto beans, Dutch white clover, Japanese long turnips, tillage radish, stock beet, and rutabaga yielded 76 bushels per acre.  More species = more biological synergy = higher yields.  For example, mixtures of 12 to 16 species out-yield blends of 8 or fewer species.  Communities of 30 species yield more forage than pastures with only 20 varieties.

Pair tall growing cash crops with short height legumes.  For example:  Sow tall heritage varieties of wheat with Dutch white clover.  Dutch clover grows only 6 inches high so it competes minimally for sunlight with companion crops.  (Planting clover with dwarf or semi-dwarf cereals reduces yields 30% to 50%.  Clover shades grass stems which reduces photosynthesis.  Less sunlight = lower yields).

Sow non-climbing beans with maize for efficient combine harvest.  Vines without tendrils are the best companion plants.  For example:  Maize planted with climbing velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens) yielded 128 bushels per acre.  Maize seeded with non-climbing pinto beans yielded 208 bushels per acre.  Similarly, oats planted with climbing peas yielded 19% less than oats seeded with dwarf peas.

Earthworm (Lumbricus terrestris) growth is determined mostly by the amount and quality of available food.  Plant monocrops and worms take 3 years to reach sexual maturity.  Sow polycrops and earthworms take only 2 years to reproduce.

Earthworms thrive on balanced diets of mixed plants.  1 acre of orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) supported a population of 361,000 earthworms.  1 acre of 50% orchard grass + 50% Dutch white clover produced 647,000 worms per acre.  Earthworm numbers soared to 2,150,000 per acre planted with a 16 species mix of grasses, legumes, forbs, and root crops.

1,350,000 earthworms per acre feeding on a 20-variety cover crop mix produce 2,700 pounds of surface castings each day of the growing season = about 1 ounce of manure per square foot = 68 pounds of available nitrogen, 35 pounds of phosphorous, and 41 pounds of potassium per acre daily.  That is more than enough fertilizer for maize, sugar cane, potatoes, or any crop a farmer wants to grow.

“Feed the worms and they will tend your crops”.

Cereals grown with companion plants are less susceptible to lodging = falling down.  Over a 61-year period, oats grown by themselves lodged 38 times.  Oats sown with dwarf peas and turnips lodged only 11 times.  In all 11 cases full crops were harvested by cutting and swathing oats into windrows.  Peas and turnips held oat stems above ground so the grain did not spoil in the mud.  (Grain on the ground cannot be harvested due to risk of contamination by pathogenic mold and bacteria).

Weedy fields can be improved by surface planting with clover or other small-seeded legumes.  Large seeded legumes like peas and beans should be drilled with no-till equipment.  The combination of native weeds and nitrogen-fixing legumes makes a cheap mixed species cover crop that will support large populations of earthworms and beneficial insects.  For biological pest control reserve 5% to 10% of cropland for native weeds.

German farmers have a long history of planting Landsberger Gemenge” = Hill Mixture = Mountain Mixture = Waste Land Mixture = multi-species forage crop sown on land unsuitable for plowing.  Typical mixes include 1 cereal or grass + 2 legumes + 1 cabbage family plant or root crop.  For example:  Winter rye + red clover + winter vetch+ forage kale or turnip.  The combination of cereal, pulse, forb, and root crops makes an ideal balanced diet for grazing animals.  Cattle gain 2.5 to 3.5 pounds daily when feeding on forage mixtures of 4 to 5 species.

Plant mixtures extend growing seasons by increasing soil and air temperatures.  Seed tall, medium and short varieties to hold warm air near soil surface.  Multiple species can raise air temperatures 10 degrees Fahrenheit and expand growing seasons by 30 to 60 days.

Related Publications:     Biblical Agronomy; Biological Agriculture in Temperate Climates; Polyculture Primer; Strip Cropping Primer; Worm Farming; Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Earthworm Primer; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Living Mulches for Weed Control; Crops Among the Weeds; and The Edge Effect.

Would You Like To Know More?     For more information on biological agriculture and practical polyculture please visit:  http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com  — or —  send your questions to:  Eric Koperek, Editor, World Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 USA.

About The Author:     Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during summer and Florida over winter.  (Growing 2 generations yearly speeds development of new crop varieties).

BIOLOGICAL AGRICULTURE IN TEMPERATE CLIMATES

A Seminar at Cornell University, Monday 19 November 2018. Sponsor: Norman Uphoff, Professor Emeritus, International Programs SRI Project, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Guest Speaker: Eric Koperek = erickoperek@gmail.com. Website: http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com

My ancestors were literally dirt poor = without soil. They farmed abandoned quarry land. Over the course of 8 centuries they created 10 to 15 feet of topsoil = 1/5 to 1/4 inch yearly. This is how they did it:

BIOLOGICAL AGRICULTURE PRINCIPLES

Copy Nature: “Gardeners are the best farmers”. Observe nature closely then mimic what you see. How do you grow your garden? What do you see in the forest? Copy this in your fields. The idea is to combine biological processes with labor efficient agricultural machinery.

Keep Fields Green: Fields should be covered with growing plants 365 days yearly. Do not waste sunlight. The goal is to produce the maximum possible amount of organic matter per square foot each year. More plants = more organic matter = increased populations of soil “critters” = faster nutrient cycling = higher crop yields. “Roots in the ground all year round”.

No Soil Disturbance: Avoid plowing, disking, harrowing, and cultivation whenever practical. Transplant crops or surface sow using pelleted seed and no-till equipment. Tillage kills earthworms and destroys fungal networks = lower crop yields. “Good farmers grow fungi. The fungi grow the crops”.

Keep Soil Covered: Use living mulches, dead mulches, or growing crops to keep fields covered year-round. Control weeds with Mulch-In-Place. Never leave soil bare not even for a single day. Harvest and replant fields the same day or try relay planting: Sow the following crop several weeks before the first crop is harvested.

Worm Farming:  Use earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) to till and fertilize fields. Earthworms are the key to biological soil management. Worms eat their weight in soil and organic matter daily. One million earthworms per acre = 1 ton of worm manure daily. More worms = more nutrients = higher crop yields. “Feed the worms and the worms will tend your crops”.

Increase Biological Diversity: Grow many crops rather than one crop. Plant polycultures whenever practical. Multiple crops diminish risk of crop failure. “Life breeds life”. More crops = more biological activity = higher yields.

Watershed Management: Agriculture is all about water management. Mind the water and everything else will fall in place. The goal is zero runoff = trap every drop of rain and flake of snow that falls on the land. Store water for dry seasons. Build ponds wherever possible. Irrigate whenever practical. Water is the best investment a farmer can make. One drought pays for an irrigation system.

Biological Nitrogen Fixation: Grow your own fertilizer. Rotate nitrogen fixing cover crops with cash crops. Plant small grains and clover together. Seed maize into roller-crimped Red Clover (Trifolium pratense). Transplant vegetables into Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens). Topseed cash crops with low growing legumes. Include 50% legumes in pasture and cover crop mixes.

Increase Edge Effects: Divide big fields into smaller fields. Plant hedgerows and windbreaks. Mix fields with pastures, orchards, hay fields and forest. Grow unrelated crops in narrow strips = strip cropping. Plant borders and head rows with clover and insectary crops. The idea is to attract and maintain large populations of beneficial insects. “The good bugs eat the bad bugs”.

Plant Multi-Species Cover Crops: Mixtures of plants repel insect pests, fix more nitrogen, better resist drought, and produce more organic matter than plants grown alone. Plants in mixtures cooperate with each other sharing water and nutrients through fungal networks. Multi-species cover crops can fix more than 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre; this nitrogen is not accounted by conventional soil tests. Mixed species cover crops promote maximum earthworm populations, up to 8 million worms (8 tons) per acre = 184 worms per cubic foot of topsoil.

Long Rotations Increase Yields: 7-year rotations best control soil diseases and insect pests. Never follow similar crops in sequence (oats & wheat; carrots & potatoes; lettuce & spinach). Never follow crops in the same botanical family (tomatoes & peppers; pumpkins & squash). Never follow plants sharing common pests or diseases.

Grass Crops Make Deep Soils: Integrate perennial grass crops into field rotations. This is called Ley Farming. Perennial pastures and grazing animals promote large earthworm populations = 1 ton per acre = 1 million worms per acre = 23 worms per cubic foot of topsoil = 120 miles of earthworm burrows per acre. Worms produce vast amounts of castings = manure, more than needed for any commercial crop.

Integrate Animals and Crops: Use grazing animals to fertilize fields. Practice Rotational Grazing, Mob Grazing, Stomp Seeding, Cattle Penning, and Folding = Yarding to improve fields and increase yields. Sustainable agriculture is difficult to achieve without farm animals.

Plant Weeds and Crops Together: Reserve 5% to 10% of farm for native weeds. Plant weeds in narrow strips within and around fields. Grow orchards and vine crops in weeds. Weeds provide food, shelter, and alternate hosts for beneficial insects that protect cash crops. “Weeds are the shepherds of the garden”. More weeds = less insect pests.

Plant Flowers with Crops: Most beneficial insects have small mouth parts and so they need tiny flowers on which to feed. Healthy farms grow many small-flowered plants to encourage maximum populations of helpful insects. For best results plant flowers and weeds next to crops needing protection. Sow flowers around fields, orchards, vineyards — anywhere there is open space. More flowers = less pests.

Making Sense of It All

Biological agriculture requires patience. Converting a field from conventional chemical agriculture usually requires 12 to 15 years before the soil is healthy enough to sustain commercial yields without added fertilizer.

Active biological soils easily produce 160 bushels (8,960 pounds) of maize per acre without plowing, fertilizer, herbicides, or cultivation. Irrigated fields can exceed 200 bushels (11,200 pounds) per acre.

On biologically managed soils, most Japonica rice varieties yield 3.5 ounces of grain per plant = 9,528 pounds per acre when plants are direct seeded 12 inches equidistantly on drip irrigated fields. (Indica rice varieties yield less, about 1.5 ounces of grain per plant = 4,083 pounds per acre).

Related Publications: The Twelve Apostles; Polyculture Primer; Strip Cropping Primer; Worm Farming; Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Intensive Rice Culture Primer; Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; Earthworm Primer; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Living Mulches for Weed Control; Crops Among the Weeds; Forage Maize for Soil Improvement; Forage Radish Primer; The Edge Effect; Coppicing Primer; and Rototiller Primer.

Would You Like To Know More? Please contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need more information about Biological Agriculture.

Eric Koperek. Office Address: 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America. Cellular Telephone Number: 412-888-7684. E-Mail Address: erickoperek@gmail.com. Website Address: http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com

About The Author: Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during summer and Florida during winter. (Growing 2 generations yearly speeds development of new crop varieties).





STRIP CROPPING PRIMER

What Is It?     Strip cropping is a natural way to control pests without using insecticides.  Unrelated crops are grown in narrow strips to increase biodiversity and maximize edge effects.  Beneficial insects flourish and eat harmful bugs.

The Edge Effect:     Life increases proportionately to the boundary area between different environments.  For example, a meadow and a hedgerow are unique ecologies.  Each has its own mixture of species.  There is an abundance of food and shelter along the edge where the two environments meet.  Interaction along this edge promotes large populations and increased diversity.

Ecology Math:     Square fields have less edge than rectangular fields.  For example, a square field measuring 300 feet on each side has 1,200 feet of edge (300 feet per side x 4 sides = 1,200 feet).  Take the same field and stretch it into a rectangle 100 feet wide x 900 feet long.  Both fields have the same area (90,000 square feet) but the rectangular field has 2,000 feet of edge (900 + 900 + 100 + 100 = 2,000 feet).  The perimeter of the rectangular field is 40% larger than the square field.  More edges = more food and habitat = more species and larger populations.  Hunters understand this instinctively.  Long, narrow fields have more browse (twigs and buds) along their perimeter.  More hedgerow = more browse = more food = more deer.

Agricultural History:     Farming in the Middle Ages was not easy.  Wood plows were heavy and difficult to turn.  The solution was to make long, narrow fields.  Long fields required fewer turns.  Each field was one “furrow” long = 1 furlong = 1/8th mile = 220 yards long x 22 yards wide = 4,840 square yards = 1 acre.  A man with a team of oxen took a whole day to plow 1 acre.  Adjacent fields were planted to unrelated crops, for example:  Peas, Wheat, Turnips, and Pasture.  Narrow strips and diverse crops increased edge effects supporting large populations of beneficial insects.  The good bugs ate the bad bugs.

Agroecology:     Wind the clock back to when knights went clanking around in armor.  Northwest France (Normandy) was divided into thousands of little fields surrounded by hedgerows.  Each field measured about 1 1/4 acres.  This mixture of small fields and hedgerows is called bocage.  The bocage landscape contains hundreds of miles of biological edges = vast populations of predatory and parasitic insects.  Modern farmers in the bocage rarely have pest problems.  Significant outbreaks occur about once every 20 years and are mostly self-correcting without insecticides.

“Altering the geometry of fields costs nothing and can reduce or eliminate pesticide use.”

Practical Polyculture:     Plant 4 rows of corn then 4 rows of soybeans.  Repeat this pattern across fields and farms following land contours.  Result:  Pests go down 50% and corn yields go up 15% (because of increased light penetration into the crop canopy).

  • Alternate tall and short crops.  Insect pests do not like fields with mixed light and shade.  Example:  Sunflowers — Alfalfa — Barley — Lentils
  • Adjust strip widths to fit planting and harvesting equipment.  Try to keep strip widths as narrow as mechanically practical.  Narrow strips better control insect pests.  Plant strips no wider than 200 feet to encourage rapid movement of beneficial insects into fields.  Example:  Hay (150 feet) + Soup Beans (75 feet) + Safflowers (75 feet)
  • Plant adjacent strips to unrelated crops.  Plant as many different crops as economically practical.  Diverse crops reduce insect pests and spread market risk.  Example:  Wheat — Peas — Flax — Soy Beans — Barley — Alfalfa
  • Seed grains and legumes together.  Legumes fix nitrogen, protect soil and control weeds.  Example:  Winter Wheat + Dutch White Clover  — or —  Field Corn + Red Clover  — or —  Oats + Forage Peas  — or — Winter Rye + Winter Vetch
  • Alternate legumes with non-legumes.  Legumes improve soil, feed earthworms and attract beneficial insects.  Example:  Canary Seed — Lentils — Barley — Soy Beans — Wheat — Field Peas — Flax — Alfalfa
  • Plant windbreaks not closer than 50 feet nor farther than 150 feet apart.  Windbreaks increase biological diversity and help crops grow better.  Windbreaks do not have to be great belts of trees.  A single row of shrubs or perennial pampas grass will slow wind and increase crop humidity.  Example:  Trees (25 feet wide) + Cropland (150 feet wide)  — or —  Shrubs (10 feet wide) + Cropland (100 feet wide)  — or — Pampas Grass (3 feet wide) + Cropland (50 feet wide)
  • Alternate strips of native weeds with cropland.  Space weed strips not farther than 200 feet apart.  Weeds should comprise at least 5% to 10% of total cropland.  Native weeds are essential to provide food and shelter for beneficial insects.  Example:  Weed Strip (15 feet) + Cropland (135 feet)
  • Plant several varieties of the same crop together.  Choose varieties that have the same harvest date.  Varieties can be mixed or drilled in separate rows.  Alternatively, plant similar species that ripen together.  For example:  Winter Wheat + Winter Rye.  Genetic diversity reduces the chances of crop failure due to weather, disease or insects.

Try This On Your Farm:     Divide big fields into narrow strips and watch your pest problems go away.  Strip cropping combines the biological advantages of polycultures with the economic efficiency of farm machinery.

Related Publications:     The Twelve Apostles; Maize Polyculture Trial 2007-2016; Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Trash Farming; No-Till Hungarian Stock Squash; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Living Mulches for Weed Control; 2012 Tomato and Sweet Potato Polyculture Trial; Crops Among the Weeds; and The Edge Effect.

Would You Like To Know More?     Contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need more information about polycultures or strip cropping.  Please visit:  http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com  — or — send your questions to:  Eric Koperek, Editor, World Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America  — or — send an e-mail to:  http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com

About The Author:     Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during summer and Florida during winter.  (Growing 2 generations yearly speeds development of new crop varieties).

MAIZE POLYCULTURE TRIAL 2007-2016

Abstract:     This experiment measures the productivity of a 3-species polyculture of flint corn, pole beans, and winter squash.  Heritage varieties are grown in traditional hills with fish fertilizer.  Areas between hills are untended and covered with native weeds. 

Experimental Location:     Butler County, Pennsylvania, United States of America.  40.8606 degrees North Latitude, 79.8947 degrees West Longitude.

Climate:     Butler County has a temperate climate with cold winters.  Average annual temperature = 48.75 degrees Fahrenheit = 9.3 degrees Centigrade.  Average yearly rainfall = 41.85 inches = 106.299 centimeters.  Average yearly snowfall = 37 inches = 93.98 centimeters.  Average Last Spring Frost (36 degrees Fahrenheit) = 26 May.  Average First Fall Frost (36 degrees Fahrenheit) = 23 September.  Frost Free Growing Season = 119 days (about 4 months).

Experimental Plot Size:     1/4 acre = 10,890 square feet exactly = 104 x 104 feet approximately = 10,816 square feet nominal measure.

Experimental Design:     A 1/4-acre plot was planted each year.  Crops were not rotated; hills were replanted each year in keeping with traditional Indian practice.  The experiment was repeated for 10 years (to account for weather variability between years).  10 data sets ensure reliable averages for accurate conclusions.

Soil Type:     Heavy Clay Loam

Crop Rotation:     Field was fallowed in native weeds for 7 years prior to experiment.  Hilled crops were NOT rotated.  Hills were replanted each year following traditional Indian methods.  (Historical sources record that native farmers practiced long rotations.  When soils became exhausted, hills were moved or fields abandoned).

Tillage:     There is no easy way to make Indian planting hills using conventional farm machinery.  Consequently, tree planting augers were used to dig holes 2 feet wide x 2 1/2 feet deep.  Holes were then refilled with excavated soil to make traditional mounds approximately 1 foot high.  Augers save considerable hand labor while preserving weed ground cover.  (The idea is to use native weeds as a multi-species cover crop.  Cash crops are planted in hills surrounded by weeds.  The weeds protect crops from insect pests).

Plant Density:     Hills were equidistantly spaced every 4 feet on center = 26 rows x 26 hills within each row = 676 mounds in the 1/4 acre research plot.  Each hill contained 4 maize plants seeded evenly around a circle 1-foot diameter.  When maize plants reached 2 feet high (4 to 8 leaves), 1 pole bean seed was planted 3 inches from each maize stalk.  676 hills x 4 maize plants per hill = 2,704 maize plants per 1/4 acre.  676 hills x 4 bean plants per hill = 2,704 bean plants per 1/4 acre.  Squash plants were set every other row and every other mound within alternate rows  = 8 feet x 8 feet apart = 13 rows x 13 mounds within each row = 169 squash plants per 1/4 acre.

Plants Per Acre:     10,816 maize plants; 10,816 bean plants; and 676 winter squash plants per acre.  For ease of comparison, yields are summarized in pounds per acre.

Transplant Size:     Squash transplants were 4 weeks old.  All plants were about 4 inches high.  Transplants were grown in 3 1/2 inch interior diameter peat pots filled with crumbled, dried cow manure.

Crop Varieties:     Floriani Red Flint Corn; Scarlet Runner Pole Bean; and Waltham Butternut Winter Squash.

Predominant Weed Species:     Pigweed (Amaranthus blitum), Lambs Quarters (Chenopodium album), Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), Foxtail Millet (Setaria species), and Morning Glory (Ipomoeae species).

Weed Management:     No attempt was made to eradicate weeds.  Fields were mowed as close to ground level as practical immediately prior to seeding and transplanting.  Cut weeds were used as mulch for planting mounds, about 2 1/4 pounds (dry weight) of weed mulch per hill.  Squash vines overwhelmed most weeds.  Wild morning glory vines were the most difficult to control and some hills (about 15 percent on average) were nearly overrun.  Hand pruning was necessary to prevent crop loss.  A second mowing (when squash vines started to run) effectively suppressed weed growth, but squash and weeds battled for dominance in the “No Man’s Land” between hills.

Irrigation:     Crops were NOT irrigated, in keeping with traditional practice.  There is no historical record of Eastern North American Indians irrigating their crops, probably because there was little need to do so and also because native farmers did not have effective irrigation technology.  Carrying water in gourds, bark buckets, and clay pots is grueling labor.

Insect Control:     No active measures were taken to control insect pests.  Native weeds provided food and shelter for many beneficial insects that protected crops.

Fertilizer:     Fresh trash fish or fish scraps were too difficult to obtain in quantity, so fish meal (10 percent nitrogen, 5 percent phosphorous, 0 percent potassium) was used instead.  Each maize and squash plant received 1/3 cup (1.66 scale ounces) of fish meal mixed with the soil at planting.  This is the approximate equivalent of 119 pounds of available nitrogen and 59 pounds of phosphorous per acre.  Potassium was provided in the form of wood ashes, 6 scale ounces top dressed over each hill when squash vines were transplanted = about 1/2 ton (1,000 pounds) per acre = 70 pounds of available potash per acre.  (Fertilizing crops was NOT a common practice among North American Indians.  Native farmers learned these techniques from Europeans.  For example:  In colonial times, French farmers in Normandy fertilized their fields with herring).

10-Year Maize Yield Summary:     2,997.7 pounds per acre = 1.49885 tons per acre = 53.5 bushels per acre.  Range = 1,853 to 3,960 pounds per acre = 33.08 to 70.71 bushels per acre.  Average Yield per Plant = 4.43 ounces.  1 bushel of clean, shelled corn = 56 pounds.

10-Year Bean Yield Summary:     520.8 pounds per acre = 0.2604 ton per acre = 8.68 bushels per acre.  Range = 336 to 688 pounds per acre = 5.6 to 11.46 bushels per acre.  Average Yield per Plant = 0.048 pound = 0.768 ounce.  1 bushel of clean, dried beans = 60 pounds.

10-Year Winter Squash Yield Summary:     7,293.6 pounds per acre = 3.6468 tons per acre.  Range = 5,412 to 8,776 pounds per acre = 2.706 to 4.388 tons per acre.  Average Fruits per Acre = 3,000.  Average Fruit Weight = 2.43 pounds = 2 pounds 6.88 ounces.  Average Yield per Plant = 10.78 pounds = 10 pounds 12.48 ounces.  Average Fruits per Plant = 4 (4.43 exactly).  Note:  Because of their size, winter squash and pumpkins are not measured in bushels.

Estimated Carrying Capacity:     A 1-acre polyculture of maize, beans, and squash with hills spaced 4 feet apart feeds 1 family (4 people) for 1 year = 2.05 pounds of corn meal per person per day + 0.3567 pound (5.7 ounces) of dried beans for each person daily + 4.99 pounds of fresh winter squash per person daily.  This is more than sufficient to support a small family, especially if rations are supplemented by hunting and gathering.

Experimental Data (Maize):     Yields are recorded in pounds of clean, air dried corn per 1/4 acre.  All numbers are rounded down to the nearest whole pound.  Hills are spaced 4 x 4 feet equidistantly.  26 rows x 26 hills within each row = 676 hills x 4 corn plants per hill = 2,704 corn plants per 1/4 acre.

Year                    Maize Yield in Pounds per 1/4 Acre

2007                    463

2008                    895

2009                    590

2010                    848

2011                    556

2012                    990

2013                    934

2014                    804

2015                    689

2016                    727

10-Year Total Yield          7,496 pounds

Average Yield                   749.6 pounds per 1/4 acre

Yield Range                      463 to 990 pounds per 1/4 acre

Average Yield per Plant = 0.2772 pound = 4.43 ounces

Experimental Data (Pole Beans):     Yields are recorded in pounds of clean, air dried beans per 1/4 acre.  All numbers are rounded down to the nearest whole pound.  Hills are spaced 4 x 4 feet, equidistantly.  26 rows x 26 hills within each row = 676 hills x 4 bean plants per hill = 2,704 bean plants per 1/4 acre.

Year                    Bean Yield in Pounds per 1/4 Acre

2007                    103

2008                    146

2009                    92

2010                    132

2011                    84

2012                    161

2013                    124

2014                    172

2015                    128

2016                    160

10-Year Total Yield          1,302 pounds

Average Yield                   130.2 pounds per 1/4 acre

Yield Range                       84 to 172 pounds per 1/4 acre

Average Yield per Plant = 0.048 pound = 0.768 ounce.

Experimental Data (Winter Squash):     Yields are recorded in pounds of fresh fruit per 1/4 acre.  All numbers are rounded down to the nearest whole pound.  Squash plants are spaced every other row and every other hill within alternate rows = 13 rows x 13 hills within each row = 8 x 8 feet apart = 169 plants per 1/4 acre.

Year                    Squash Yield in Pounds per 1/4 Acre

2007                    1,353

2008                    2,138

2009                    2,025

2010                    1,497

2011                    1,446

2012                    2,140

2013                    2,040

2014                    1,669

2015                    2,194

2016                    1,732

10-Year Total Yield          18,234 pounds

Average Yield                   1,823.4 pounds per 1/4 acre

Yield Range                      1,353 to 2,194 pounds per 1/4 acre

Average Fruits per 1/4 Acre = 750

Average Fruit Weight = 2.43 pounds = 2 pounds 6.88 ounces

Average Yield per Plant = 10.78 pounds = 10 pounds 12.48 ounces

Average Fruits per Plant = 4 (4.43 exactly)

Commentary:     Traditional polycultures of corn, beans and squash are not commercially practical because planting and harvest cannot be mechanized.  Fish meal fertilizer is also un-economic because it costs more ($0.72 per pound) than most chemical or organic plant foods.  Planting nitrogen-fixing cover crops and sowing seeds in rows is far less expensive than traditional hill cultivation.

Strip cropping combines the ecological advantages of polycultures with the economic efficiency of farm machinery.  Plant narrow strips of cash crops following land contours.  (Adjust strip width to fit farm equipment).  Seed or transplant unrelated crops on adjacent strips to take advantage of edge effects.  Planting multiple species on each field increases biodiversity and greatly reduces crop pests.

Related Publications:     No-Till Hungarian Stock Squash; 2012 Tomato and Sweet Potato Polyculture Trial; and The Edge Effect.

Other Articles of Interest:     The Twelve Apostles; “Can Sunnhemp Outgrow Morning Glory?”; Worm Farming; Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; Trash Farming; Earthworm Primer; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Living Mulches for Weed Control; Upside Down Potatoes; and Crops Among the Weeds.

Would You Like To Know More?     Please contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information about modern or traditional polycultures.  Please visit:     http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com  — or —  send an e-mail to:  http://www.worldagriculturesolutions@gmail.com  — or —  send a letter to:  Eric Koperek, Editor, World Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America.

About the Author:     Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during summer and Florida over winter.  (Growing 2 generations yearly speeds development of new crop varieties).

WORM FARMING

“The best farmers are gardeners.”

What Is It?     Worm farming is an ancient gardening technology dating back to the Middle Ages.  The earliest written records appear 8 centuries ago.  Back then wealthy farmers fertilized their fields with animal manure.  Poor folks used mulches and earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) to keep their gardens productive.  Today we call this Continuous Mulching = Year-Round Mulching = Sheet Composting.

What Do I Need?     Only simple hand tools are required:  Lawn rake, mulch fork, garden cart, 8-quart pail, flash light or lantern, and a scythe or machete to cut grass and weeds.  For large gardens or truck farms a lawnmower or forage chopper are helpful.

How To Do It:     Keep soil covered with at least 8 inches of mulch year-round = 365 days annually.  Do not leave soil bare, not even for a single day.  Pull aside mulch just enough to sow seeds or set transplants.  When plants are established pull mulch close around their stems.  Apply mulch periodically to maintain 8 to 12-inch depth.  (Mulch settles to half its original depth in a few weeks).

“Feed the worms and the worms will tend your crops.”

Pile It On!     Weeds, tree leaves, spoiled hay, straw, grass clippings, hedge trimmings, garden wastes, stable bedding, wood chips, saw dust, bark or other natural plant materials all make good mulch.  Fresh vegetation is ideal as green leaves rot quickly and contain the most nutrients.  If possible, use a variety of mulches to provide plants and earthworms with a balanced diet.

Fertilizer Not Required!     Soil amendments are rarely needed if garden is covered with a mixture of plant materials.  (Each type of mulch contains an assortment of nutrients).  Sprinkle lime, wood ash, rock dust, or other plant food over mulch as desired.  Water fertilizer into mulch or wait for rain.  Cover manure with mulch to eliminate odor and keep flies away.

“Weeds are the shepherds of the garden.”

Weed Management:     If any weeds poke through the mulch, thin them until they stand 3 to 4 feet apart.  Widely spaced weeds help crops grow better.  Weeds provide food, shelter and alternate hosts for beneficial insects.  The good bugs eat the bad bugs.  Weedy gardens rarely have pest problems.  (If you do not have any weeds plant flowers among your vegetables).

“Sow worms and seeds for bumper crops.”

Seeding Earthworms:     The night before planting take your pail and lantern to a nearby pasture, meadow or corn field.  Place 1 gallon of leaf mold, compost or damp peat moss in the bucket to keep earthworms moist.  Common earthworms come out of their burrows to feed at night so they are easy to catch.  When you have gathered sufficient worms (4 per square foot of garden), cover pail with a wet towel then place in deep shade until ready to sow.  Drop 2 to 4 earthworms in each planting hole or linear foot of furrow.  Cover gently with damp soil.

Population Ecology:     Earthworms do not travel fast; a colony spreads only 3 feet yearly.  Seeding your garden with earthworms jump-starts the colonization process.  Earthworms reproduce slowly; the average worm takes 2 to 3 years to reach sexual maturity.  Thus, the more worms you start with, the faster the population reaches critical mass = enough worms to substantially increase crop yields.  In most soils the tipping point is somewhere between 1 and 2 tons = 1 to 2 million earthworms per acre = 23 to 46 worms per cubic foot of topsoil.  (Under ideal conditions worm populations can soar to 8 tons per acre).

Critical mass is reached when crops no longer need external fertilizers (organic or synthetic).  At this point, populations of soil micro-organisms explode and nutrient cycling is so rapid that crops show no yield response to plant food.  This process requires time, typically 12 to 15 years = 4 to 5 generations of earthworms before fields can sustain commercial yields without added nutrients.

All this requires massive amounts of mulch applied 8 to 12 inches thick (which effectively limits this technology to small areas).  Earthworms eat organic matter.  More mulch = more worms = more plant growth = higher yields.  Earthworms need protein in their diets.  For example, populations double when worms eat clover rather than hay.  If practical, include nitrogen fixing legumes (clover, peas, beans and lentils) in garden mulches, or supplement with animal manure, weed seed meal, or fresh, green leaves.

“Good farmers grow fungi.  The fungi grow the crops.”

Soil Science:     Healthy farm or garden soils contain at least 8,000 pounds of “critters” per acre, about the weight of 8 dairy cows.  All these hungry mouths eat organic matter.  Covering the ground with mulch provides abundant food for the underground “herd”, especially earthworms and fungi.

Earthworms are a keystone species.  You can measure soil health simply by counting worms.  Many worms = strong soil.  Few worms = sick soil.  No worms = dead dirt.  Well managed organic soils contain 1 million worms per acre or approximately 23 earthworms per cubic foot of topsoil.  Earthworms aerate the ground and produce enough castings (manure) to grow commercial crops of anything you want to plant.

Beneficial fungi comprise about 70% of all soil life.  Microscopic, thread-like hyphae connect all plants into a field-wide web, an underground “Internet” of roots and fungi that share water and nutrients.  Plowing or cultivation destroys the fungal network, slowing plant growth and reducing yields.  Mulching protects helpful fungi by keeping soil cool and moist.  Constant moisture and moderate temperatures favor optimal fungal growth.

“Would you go to war with half an army?  Most conventional farmers waste half their soil.”

The top 2 inches of soil contain the most oxygen and organic matter.  This is the powerhouse of the soil ecology.  Over half of all soil critters live in this thin, upper layer.  Anything that disturbs this “topsoil” greatly reduces plant growth and yields.  For example:  Cultivation rips up the earth = the soil becomes too hot and too dry = plant roots cannot live in this hostile environment = the farmer wastes his best dirt.

“Cultivation is the same as scraping off the top 2 inches of soil.  Dumb idea.”

A continuous mulch is like an insulating blanket that moderates the underground environment.  Earth does not freeze in winter or bake in summer.  Pores stay open so air and water penetrate deep into the subsoil.  Wind and water erosion are eliminated.  Weed competition is controlled.  The entire soil profile is accessible to plant roots.  All these factors promote life and speed nutrient cycling.  Soil critters thrive and plants grow better.

Ramp It Up!     Worm farming is best suited to small areas (because mulch is gathered by hand).  For large areas grow mulch crops like Forage Maize (Zea mays) or Sorghum Grass (Sorghum sudanense) then harvest with a forage chopper.  Cart mulch to where it is needed then spread by hand or use a mechanical mulch spreader.  Purchase earthworms or earthworm egg capsules from a commercial worm farm.  Seed not less than 6 worms every 30 feet = about 300 worms per acre.  At this distance it will take 10 years to colonize 1 acre (209 x 209 feet, approximately).  To colonize an acre in 1 year, drop 6 worms every 3 feet (about 30,000 worms per acre).  Cover worms with damp soil and mulch to protect them from predators.

“Who needs Monsanto?  Grow mulch crops and never buy herbicides again.”

Mulch-In-Place:     Mulching large fields by hand is not practical; the cost of labor and materials is too high.  The solution is to grow a mulch crop right where it is needed.  This is called Mulch-In-Place.  Sow Winter Rye = Grain Rye = Cereal Rye = Secale cereale at 3 bushels = 168 pounds per acre.  Kill mulch crop with a roller-crimper or sickle-bar mower when plants grow 6 feet tall or when seeds reach the “soft dough” stage.  Immediately (the same day) seed or transplant through the mulch using no till equipment.  Mix earthworm egg capsules (175,000 per acre = 4 per square foot) with cornmeal or similar carrier then side-band down the row or deposit directly in furrows.

If desired, you can seed 8 to 12 pounds per acre of Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) along with your cash crop.  Clover fills any holes in the mulch and provides high-protein earthworm food.

6-foot rye yields 5 tons = 10,000 pounds of long-straw mulch per acre, sufficient to provide 90% to 95% weed control for 6 to 8 weeks.  This gives your crop enough time to close rows.  Once the crop canopy closes, weeds are shaded and no cultivation or spraying is necessary.

Agronomy Note:     Mulch-In-Place works with most any cover crop that grows at least 6 feet high and yields 4 to 5 tons = 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of biomass (leaves and stems) per acre.  The best mulch crops are grasses like Forage Maize (Zea mays) and Sudan Grass (Sorghum sudanense) because they take longer to rot than broad leaved plants.

Mix It Up!     Just like people, earthworms thrive on varied diets.  Earthworm populations double every 2 to 3 years on fields where multiple species cover crops are grown.  For best results sow mixtures of warm and cool season mulch crops including grasses, broad leaved plants, legumes, root crops, and wild flowers.  More plant diversity = more earthworms = higher yields.

“The best soil test is a spade full of dirt.  If the soil teems with life you will get a good crop.”

Sometimes old ways are the best.  800 years ago, worm farming was a great idea.  Today, this technology is an integral part of the New Green Revolution.  Try this on your own land:  Compare side-by-side plots, mulched versus clean cultivated gardens.  You will be amazed at the difference.  Year-round mulching really is the easiest way to farm or garden small areas.

Related Publications:     The Twelve Apostles; Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; Trash Farming; No-Till Hungarian Stock Squash; Earthworm Primer; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Living Mulches for Weed Control; Crops Among the Weeds; Forage Maize for Soil Improvement; and The Edge Effect.

Would You Like To Know More?    Please visit:  http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com  — or —  send your questions to:  Eric Koperek, Editor, World Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America  — or —  send an e-mail to:  Eric Koperek = worldagriculturesolutions@gmail.com

“Can Sunnhemp Outgrow Morning Glory?”

I get the most interesting questions on my website.  Some provoke editorial response:

Biological agriculture is a race between crops and weeds.  The farmer’s job is to give his crops an unfair advantage in competition for sunlight.  One way is growing cover crops to smother invasive weeds.  Sunnhemp (Crotalaria juncea) is an effective mulch crop for weed suppression.

Wild Morning Glory (Ipomoea species) is the bane of my existence.  Closely related to sweet potatoes, morning glories thrive in poor soils, are immune to most insects, and grow so rapidly that they overwhelm all surrounding plants.

In Butler County (30 miles north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) morning glories are like intermittent epidemics.  Some years you rarely see a vine.  Other seasons your fields are covered.

I returned from a business trip to find my neighbor’s back-40 strangled by herbicide resistant morning glories.  Vines blanketed the land like Kudzu (Pueraria montana).  He sprayed tankfuls of glyphosate trying to save his soybeans.  All that did was make the weeds mad.   6 weeks later, vengeful vines obliterated his GMO corn.

My neighbor was hitching up his 8-bottom moldboard when I offered to help.  George has a dim view of “organic farming” but he likes spending money even less, so it was not a difficult decision:  Plow everything under or let Eric make a fool of himself.  Hmm. . .

My solution:  60 pounds per acre of rotary seeded Sunnhemp followed by a 30-year-old sickle-bar mower.  Sow-And-Mow eliminated his weed problem.  The Sunnhemp reached 8 feet high in 7 weeks, shading all competing vegetation.

Next, I broadcast 12 pounds per acre of Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) into the standing cover crop then mowed the Sunnhemp with a bush hog.

In Autumn I no-till drilled 60 pounds per acre of pelleted Winter Rye (Secale cereale) into the mature clover.  The field required no other work until grain harvest the following summer.

There is a lesson to be learned here:

RULE:     Always seed cover crops at maximum rates for weed control.

RULE:     Do not plow, disk, or harrow — this only encourages weed germination.

RULE:     Keep fields covered with growing crops at all times to kill weed seedlings.

Follow these rules and weeds will NEVER get established in your fields.

This is what Biological Agriculture is all about:  Crop competition keeps weeds controlled without need for mechanical cultivation or chemical herbicides.  Let nature do the heavy lifting.

Related Publications Include:     Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Trash Farming; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Living Mulches for Weed Control; and Crops Among the Weeds.

Other Articles of Interest:     Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; Organic Herbicides; Pelleted Seed Primer; and Forage Maize for Soil Improvement.

Would You Like to Know More?     Please visit:  http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com  — or —  send your questions about biological weed control to:  Eric Koperek, Editor, World Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania 15108 United States of America  — or —  send an e-mail to:  worldagriculturesolutions@gmail.com

About the Author:     Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during summer and Florida over winter.  (Growing 2 generations yearly speeds development of new crop varieties).