BIBLICAL AGRONOMY

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?”

“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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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).

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.

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:     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).

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MANAGING WEEDS AS COVER CROPS

The trick to biological farming is knowing how to manage weeds.  “Manage” does NOT mean “kill”.

Internet trolls are bombarding my e-mail box with comments like:  “You can’t plant crops in weeds!  That’s why they invented tractors”.  Horse power is irrelevant and yes, you can plant crops in weeds:  I manage 90,000 acres without herbicides or mechanical cultivation.  Here is how I do it:

(1)  Manage Weeds as Cover Crops.  Think of weeds as a multi-species cover crop that costs nothing to seed.  This will save you about $40 per acre, right off the bat.  $40 x 90,000 acres = $3,600,000.  We are not talking tree-hugging here.  This is serious agronomy.

Grow weeds to protect your top soil.  A typical corn-soybean farmer in Iowa loses 2 1/2% of his land yearly = 20 tons of earth per acre = $450 per acre at $22.50 per ton (U.S. average top soil price, delivered).  Weeds have value.

If you don’t have enough weeds for a winter cover crop, seed 3 to 4 bushels of oats per acre.  Oat roots prevent soil erosion over winter.  Oats winterkill so no herbicides are needed.  Surface trash is minimal and will not interfere with conventional planting equipment.

(2)  RULE:  Keep Fields Green.  Photosynthesis is the process where plants use water, air and sunlight to make sugar.  More photosynthesis = more sugar = more plant growth = higher yields.  Bare fields are not profitable.  Smart farmers keep their soil covered with growing plants year-round.  Plant cash crops whenever possible.  Sow cover crops for mulch or fertilizer.  Seed weeds when there is no time or money to grow anything else.  The goal of biological farming is to produce the most possible organic matter per square foot.  Grow anything rather than leave soil bare.

The underlying principle of biological weed control is plant competition.  Keep the ground covered with growing crops year-round and weeds do not have a chance to get established.  Never leave the soil bare, not even for a single day.

For example:  Plant winter wheat into standing Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) using no-till equipment.  Next summer, harvest wheat then immediately (the same day) plant turnips into wheat stubble and clover living mulch.  Field stays green year-round.  Weeds cannot grow because they are constantly shaded by competing plants.

(3)  Sow Weed Seeds.  If you have tired, sick or dead ground, or no top soil, go to your nearest grain elevator and fill your truck with weed seeds.  These are usually free.  Some elevators charge a nominal fee for “elevator screenings” which contain many weed seeds.  Sow liberally, at least 40 pounds per acre.  Prepare for amazement.  Weeds are Nature’s Band-Aid, a fast growing cover crop evolved specifically to heal bare earth.  On steep slopes or mine reclamation sites, spread straw or spoiled hay mulch to protect germinating weeds.

(4)  Fertilize and Water Your Weeds.  Every time I say this, half my audience leaves the room.  No, I am not crazy.  Yes, I do know what I am talking about.  I farm without any government subsidies and each acre earns substantial profit.  It pays to feed and irrigate weeds (if possible).  Remember:  Weeds are a cover crop.  You want every field blanketed with a luxuriant jungle of weeds at least 6 feet high.  So water and fertilize as needed, and do not worry about what your neighbors say.  Farming is not about yields; farming is about the bottom line.  Weeds put money in your pocket.

(5)  Feed the Weeds and the Weeds will Feed Your Crops.  Weeds have enormous root systems in proportion to their stems and leaves.  Many weeds also have tap roots that plunge deep into the subsoil.  Translation:  Weeds are great at scavenging nutrients that would otherwise leach away.  Weeds have quick growth response to plant food so a little fertilizer goes a long way.  A few pounds of nitrogen create a vast jungle of vegetation that makes good mulch and fertilizer.  The average weed contains twice the nutrients of an equal weight of cow manure.  Broad leaf weeds rot quickly so fertilizer elements are rapidly recycled for crop use.  Plant crops and weeds together and yields often increase.  The reason is ecologic synergy = plant symbiosis.  Weeds both compete AND cooperate with neighboring plants.  Water and nutrients are shared so crops and weeds grow better.  I learned this lesson farming melons.  The best fruits came from the weediest fields.  So I started planting melons into weeds.  The weeds provided light shade and the melons followed weed roots down into moist subsoil.  Come drought and clean cultivated fields produced little or no crop.  Melons and weeds yielded fair crops.  Irrigated melons and weeds overfilled my trucks with fruit.  Think about this the next time you buy a drum of herbicide.

(6)  Use Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer.  How would you like to slash fertilizer costs?  Get weed seeds or screenings from your local elevator.  Grind them with a hammer mill or roller mill.  Broadcast 4 tons per acre or drop 10 pounds per 25 feet of row.  Unlike chemical fertilizers weed seed meal will not burn crop roots so you can hurl nutrients with wild abandon.  If you do not have any weed seeds, use any other waste seed like spoiled corn, brewer’s grain, or broken soy beans.

To use LIVE weed seeds as fertilizer broadcast seeds into a standing cover crop like Red Clover (Trifolium pratense).  Earthworms, ants, beetles and other critters eat the weed seeds.  Clover kills any weeds that germinate.  Caution:  Don’t try this unless you have a tall, aggressive cover crop that blankets the soil with dense shade.

(7)  RULE:  Apply Chemical Fertilizer Only to Growing Plants.  This rule covers all crops (including weeds) without exception.  It makes no sense to spread fertilizer on bare ground.  Chemical nutrients are wasted unless there are live roots waiting to absorb them.  For best results, synthetic fertilizers should be applied in small doses throughout the growing season, ideally diluted in irrigation water.  Feed growing crops only and well water stays pure = free of nitrates.

(8)  Good Farmers Grow Fungi.  The Fungi Grow the Crops.  Think of all the pipes, wires and roads needed to run a modern city.  Without these conduits life would be nearly impossible.  A corn field is no different.  Under the soil surface is a jungle of lifeforms, a whole zoo full of critters exceeding the combined population of the world’s largest cities.  And every one of these underground citizens depends on fungi for survival.  Millions of miles of microscopic fungi tie the underground world together.  Fungi are the interstate highway system of the soil ecology.  Water and nutrients are conveyed to hungry roots.  Plants share resources through fungal networks.  Many crops are so dependent on fungi that they cannot exist without these symbiotic micro-organisms.  Kill the fungi and the soil ecology collapses.  Yields plummet and fields become sick and barren.  Try to farm dead soil and you will spend vast sums for synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation.  Today, this is called “conventional agriculture” and most growers lose money on every acre they plant.  There is a better way to farm.

Fungi like cool temperatures, a moist environment, plenty of air, and lots of organic matter.  Rip up the ground with plows and the fungal network is destroyed.  Soil temperatures spike, the earth is parched, a cyclone of oxygen rushes into the ground, and organic matter burns away in a firestorm of excess decomposition.  The result is like dropping a nuclear bomb:  Billions of critters die and the soil ecology is devastated.  Recovery takes years.

Sell your plows, disks and harrows — you don’t need them.  Grow weeds or other cover crops and leave the fungi alone.  Open the soil just enough to get seeds or transplants into the ground.  Further disturbance cuts profits and yields.

(9)  Till Your Fields with Earthworms.  My Grandfather taught me:  “Feed the worms and the worms will tend your crops”.  Common earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) eat organic matter and excrete enough manure to grow 200 bushel corn = 11,200 pounds per acre.  They also burrow 6 feet into the subsoil.  My fields average 1 million worms per acre.  That’s about 23 worms per cubic foot = 1,200 miles of burrows per acre.  When thunderstorms drop 2 inches of rain per hour my neighbors’ fields wash away.  My soil stays in place.  When drought bakes the county, my corn yields over 100 bushels per acre (without fertilizer, herbicides, cultivation or irrigation).  How is this possible?  Plant clover and earthworm populations double.  I seed clover into weeds and the worms feast on the multi-species “salad bar”.  Mind you, this process does not occur overnight.  It took 12 to 15 years to wean my fields off synthetic nutrients.  That’s 4 to 5 generations of earthworms.  I used to borrow mountains of cash to buy farm chemicals.  Now I plant clover and have no debts.

(10)  Grow Your Own Fertilizer:  Conventional green manures are plowed into the soil.  A less invasive technology is called Chop-And-Drop.  Use a rotary mower, flail mower, bush hog, forage chopper, or common lawn mower to cut plants into small pieces that decompose quickly for rapid nutrient cycling.  Immediately sow or transplant another crop before weeds start germinating.  Alternatively, knock down cover crop with a roller-crimper or sickle-bar mower then plant through the mulch using no-till equipment.  For example, I sow Hairy Vetch = Winter Vetch = Vicia villosa in October then roller-crimp vines in May.  Vetch controls weeds and fixes sufficient nitrogen for 200 bushel corn or any other crop I want to grow.  Remember:  Chop plants into small pieces for fast-acting fertilizer.  Crimp or cut whole plants for mulch.  Finely chopped plants will NOT control weeds.

(11)  Use Mulch-In-Place.   Think of how much money you will save if you don’t have to buy herbicides or cultivate fields multiple times.  The savings in diesel fuel alone will pay for a 2-week vacation anywhere you care to go.  Let your neighbors plant seed in cold ground.  Be patient and give your weeds more time to grow.  Wait until the soil warms and weeds are at least 5 feet high.  Kill weed cover crop with a roller-crimper or sickle-bar mower then immediately seed or transplant through weed mulch with no-till equipment.  Mulch retards weed growth 4 to 6 weeks — just enough time for your crop to germinate and start covering the rows.  Once the crop canopy closes weeds are shaded and there is no more work until harvest.

There are many variations of Mulch-In-Place.  For example, use a forage chopper to deposit weed mulch into convenient windrows then transplant pumpkins or other fast-growing vine crops through the mulch.  Alternatively, mow strips through weed covered fields.  Transplant vine crops down mowed rows then roll out drip irrigation tape.  Use mowed weeds to mulch crops until plants are established.  Once vines begin to run they overwhelm weeds between rows.  Standing weeds protect vine crops from insect pests.

If you do not have weedy fields, sow winter rye = cereal rye = Secale cereale at 3 bushels per acre.  Roller crimp or sickle-bar mow when rye reaches 5 to 6 feet high or when grain reaches soft dough stage.  Immediately seed or transplant through rye mulch using no-till equipment.  Note:  Mulch-In-Place works with just about any cover crop that grows at least 5 feet high and produces 4 to 5 tons of mulch per acre.

Who needs Monsanto?  Grow mulch crops and never buy herbicide again.  Sell your spray rig and pay off farm debts.

(12)  Use Weeds to Control Insect Pests.  Plant weeds with your crops and you will never have to buy insecticides again.   Set 4 rows of tomatoes then leave a strip of weeds.  Seed 4 rows of sweet corn and leave another strip of weeds.  Plant 4 rows of sweet potatoes with a third strip of weeds.  Drill 4 rows of sunflowers and a fourth strip of weeds.   Alternate crops and weeds across fields and farms, following land contours.  Adjust strip widths to match planting and harvesting equipment.  Weeds provide food, shelter and alternate hosts for beneficial insects.  The good bugs eat the bad bugs.  Native weeds should cover at least 5% to 10% of every farm, even if you also grow insectary plants.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  I grew dozens of crops with small flowers especially to feed predatory and parasitic insects.  Biological control was only partly successful until I planted native weeds next to crops needing protection.  Close proximity is essential as many beneficial insects penetrate only 200 feet into a field over the course of a growing season.  Remember:  You need a mix of native weeds AND insectary plants to protect cash crops.  Maintain biological diversity and pests rarely cause economic damage.  I have not purchased insecticides (organic or synthetic) in 18 years.

(13)  Plant into Standing Weeds (Sow-And-Go).  This works best with fall planted winter grains like wheat, barley, and rye.  Seed directly into standing vegetation using no-till equipment.  (Standing weeds trap winter snow).  If desired, you can seed Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) at 8 to 12 pounds per acre with winter cereals.  The clover provides 90% to 95% weed control, about as good as glyphosate (Roundup).  Expect 60% to 70% of conventional yields without fertilizer or irrigation.  In a dry year you might lose your crop.

If you do not have no-till equipment, try surface seeding = Sow-And-Mow.  This works best with pelleted seed.  Broadcast seed into standing weeds then immediately roller-crimp or cut vegetation with a sickle-bar mower to cover and protect germinating grain.  Come back next summer and harvest your crop.

Alternatively, broadcast winter grain into standing weeds then mow with a rotary mower or flail mower to chop vegetation into small pieces.  Immediately till field with a rear-tine rototiller set to skim soil surface at 2 inches depth.  Make only 1 pass across field.  Your field will look ugly but will make a good crop = 40 bushels (2,400 pounds) of wheat per acre in cool, temperate climates with 40 or more inches of rainfall yearly.

If you have no farm machinery, try the ancient Roman practice of Stomp Seeding.  Fence field securely.  Broadcast seed into standing vegetation.  Turn in livestock (cattle, sheep or goats) until they eat about 1/2 of the vegetation and stomp the other half into mulch.  Livestock must be well crowded in order to make this work.  Allow each animal only enough space to turn around = use very high stocking densities = mob grazing.  For example, 600 to 1,200 cows per acre.  Directly forage is exhausted, move livestock to a new enclosure or fresh pasture.  If field is “tired”, “sick” or barren, feed livestock in their enclosure until they deposit 1/2 to 1 pound of manure per square foot = about 11 to 22 tons per acre, then move animals to another enclosure.

(14)  Plant into Living Mulches.  This is ideal for transplants or crops with large seeds.  For best results use no-till equipment and low-growing legumes like Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) or Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum).  Seed Dutch White Clover at 8 to 12 pounds per acre, or Crimson Clover at 14 pounds per acre.  Seed or transplant directly cover crop reaches mature height of 6 inches for Dutch clover or 12 inches for Crimson clover.  It is good practice to mow clover before planting to give crops a head start.  Watch field carefully.  When the FIRST seedling emerges, immediately mow field as close to soil surface as possible.  If clover is especially vigorous, it may be necessary to mow again 2 weeks later.  Note:  If desired, you can grow corn (Zea mays) with tall-growing Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) using the same method.  No fertilizer, herbicides or cultivation are necessary if clover grows a full year before planting maize.

Planting into clover is a good way for farmers to learn how to work with weeds.  Clover is convenient to grow because its height is easily controlled.  Alternatively, you can make your own cover crop mix and use this as a substitute for naturally weedy fields.  Combine 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 root crops (tillage radish, stock beets, or turnips) = 14 species cover crop mix.  Plant at least 20 pounds per acre.  If desired, more species can be added.  For best economy, select cheap seed to keep costs below $40 per acre.

Remember:  All living mulches compete with their companion crops for water, light and nutrients.  For example, Dutch White Clover grows only 6 inches high but this is enough to shade the lower stems of wheat.  Plant Dutch clover with tall wheat varieties and yields are normal.  Seed Dutch clover with semi-dwarf or dwarf wheat and yields may drop 30% to 50%.  Use common sense when pairing cash crops with clover, weeds, or any other living mulch.  Combine tall varieties with low-growing cover crops.  Water and fertilize for both cash crop AND cover crop.  If necessary, retard or kill companion crop by mowing, mulching or roller-crimping.

(15)  Grow Crops and Animals Together.  2,000 years ago the Romans discovered that manure is more profitable than meat.  It pays to keep animals just for their manure.  Pastures grow better when grazed.  Crops grow better when dunged.  There is a significant difference in growth between plants fed manure or artificial nutrients.  No one has yet figured out why.  Drive a herd of cattle into high weeds (or a mixed species cover crop).  Let the cows graze until they have eaten 1/2 of the forage and stomped the rest.  Move herd to fresh pasture then immediately sow small grains or other crops with no-till equipment.  No herbicides, cultivation or chemical fertilizers required.

The cheapest way to keep livestock is to graze them on fresh, green grass.  Move herds to new pasture at least once daily and do not re-graze paddocks until forage has recovered.  This is called rotational grazing and eliminates the costs of building barns, making hay, and spreading manure.  If you don’t have tidy pastures seed mixed-species cover crops or graze native weeds.  What the cows don’t eat the goats will, and what the goats don’t like the sheep will relish.   Range chickens 3 or 4 days behind cows and the birds eat the fly maggots.  Nothing goes to waste and meadows stay clean and sanitary.

Not all weeds are good to have around.  When weeds get out of control there are 2 easy ways to recover ecologic balance:  (1)  Grow cover crops in series, or  (2)  Graze with mixed livestock.  Cover crops overwhelm weeds by shade and competition.  Mixed livestock eats everything in sight.  Either way, problem weeds are eliminated and crop rotation can proceed normally.

(15)  Think Unconventionally.  If everyone around you grows corn, plant something else.  If everyone says you have to spray, don’t.  Conventional wisdom is often just plain wrong.  Do not be afraid to experiment.  Every year I reserve about 2% of my land for agricultural research.  I learned to farm by doing the opposite of what the “Experts” advised.  Along the way I have enjoyed amazing success and spectacular failure.  Both are equally instructive.  Monsanto says weeds are bad and should be eradicated.  I think differently.  For example, in my garden (a jungle of weeds), I thin Bull Thistles (Cirsium vulgare) until they stand about 1 foot apart, then I plant 1 pole bean seed per thistle plant.  The beans climb the thistles and I do not have to cut poles.  My spray-by-the-calendar neighbors told me to cut the weeds or mulch them into oblivion.  Instead, I conducted a paired comparison of 100 beans on thistles with 100 beans on poles.  Thistles beat poles by a slight margin, 3.55% over a 5-year trial.  This is only one of many examples of symbiosis between weeds and crops.  Widely spaced weeds often increase crop yields.  I don’t recommend planting beans and thistles on a commercial scale, but neither do I insist on weed-free fields.  Weeds spaced 3 feet apart (about 5,000 weeds per acre) no longer bother me.  The tomatoes don’t seem to mind and I don’t have to spray for hornworms.  Learn from nature or buy from Monsanto.

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

Would You Like To Know More?  Please visit:  http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com  — or —  send your questions to:  Eric Koperek, 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).