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Low-external input, no-till ag

Re: Lee's questions about bed preparation, some input from a long-time lazyass:

	The method you already used is great, if you have more materials. I have
practiced that method for years, it will even overcome Bermuda grass in the
southern US if a good, well-overlapped layer of newspaper or cardboard is used
(one layer of cardboard will do it, but the overlaps need to be a foot or so and
very carefully preserved in place during the compost materials-spreading
operation -- dont forget the slots at corners).

	As regards materials: Do strange people laboriously collect, bag, and
then (inexplicably) discard primo composting materials onto their curbs in
nearby towns in your area, as they do here in TX? Can you get them? I'm sure
some ethnographer somewhere has discovered a reason for this bizarre cultural
practice, no doubt a throwback to some obscure, long-past environmental pressure
once experienced by these interesting people. Strange what cultural relics
remain long after their usefulness has expired.

	Weed seeds: A question... How are the seeds from last fall doing now? Did
you get many volunteers of questionable ancestry? It'd be great if you posted a
report on their present activity. Many weed seeds are adapted to soil
disturbance, which means the seeds need exposure to light after their initial
dormancy [if any] in order to germinate. This is true of a fairly large
percentage of those weeds considered "pernicious" [let these suckers go for a
season or two, THEN try and control them, and you'll really gain a deep insight
into that "pernicious" label]. Point being, if you practice constant-mulch,
no-till gardening, you will not regularly expose buried seeds to the light, and
so will only see a minute fraction of the weeds you will see if you dig your
beds. Further, since Mother Nature has been gardening for so long, she has this
wonderful agreement with the earthworms wherein THEY agree to do the tilling,
and SHE agrees not to chop them into bits with a shovel and tired back.
Earthworms don't eat dirt [did y'alls' moms tell you that, too? I've finally
come to realize what a bullshitter my mother was], they come up at night and eat
tiny bits of plant detritus. I spent last year growing seeds for a small
non-profit, there was a really severe drought for over 13 months, we ran out of
grass clippings for all the beds and had to use old hay. The hay came in such
big pieces, it bridged over low spots in the underlying soil and created a haven
for pillbugs, on the one hand [pillbugs/sowbugs/roly-poly's eat dead stuff
usually, but if you get enough of them in one place they'll eat anything -- love
potato vines], and on the other hand the hay was in too-big-pieces for the
earthworms. I could dig a couple inches into the soil under (small-sized) grass
clipping mulches, and the earthworms were THICK, whereas under the hay they were
few. There was of course also a noticeable difference in tilth under the two
materials, with the grass clippings and earthworms winning out handily. Fireants
also preferred the hay, bless their little soul-less carcasses. 

	Are grass clipping sustainable? As long as Bubba bags 'em and sets 'em on
the curb, maybe, in a strangely roundabout sort of way. Beyond that, I don't
know. Since I've long studied this problem, the gasoline bugs me, and Ive tried
to run a lawnmower on Everclear (tried to run myself on it for a while once,
didnt work either, thats another story). Apparently, engineers have told me,
the reason it didn't work was that alcohol doesn't vaporize as readily as
gasoline and needs to be atomized by injection under pressure. So maybe someone
will bring out an alcohol lawnmower with fuel injection, wouldn't be all that
crazy. Then a sustainable system using grass clippings might be feasible.

	Jeavons has shown, and my experience bears this out, that to maintain
on-site fertility with green manures used as mulches, you need a balance of
about 30% production to 70% green manure, with about 60 - 70% of  the green
manure being carbonaceous (brown -- it does make a difference) in order to
maintain organic matter in the very microbiologically-active soil environment
that the clippings create. Swales with 5'-wide berm/beds [10' wide if you count
swale basins] placed at 30' intervals down a hill will produce more than enough
green manure to maintain both the swale beds and the intervening green manure
fields [an alternative to swales in very-heavy soils on very-flat land is to dig
drainage networks, use the dirt to raise beds, then dam the drainage networks
periodically to catch the water, keeping it 6" or so below bed tops and so
maintaining good drainage during periods of excessive rainfall]. Swale basins
can create a large amount of mulch materials in their own right (cannas work
phenomenally-well in the southern US, in drought often out-producing the grassed
areas), as do the beds themselves in the form of weeds (weeds can be a
substantial source of green matter if you dont pull them until they get big).
Carbonaceous materials are easily supplied by deciduous trees, and on a more
consistent basis by grass stalks (sorghum/Sudan grass is amazingly productive in
dry conditions, any of the grains, etc.). If the inter-swale fields are treated
well -- planted with a mix of grasses, forbs and legumes for use as green
manure, and one of every two or three cuttings just left on the fields -- then
grain crops can be gotten from the fields (winter is a great time for this in
the South) and their straw used for the carbonaceous component of the mulch.
Nitrogenous and carbonaceous materials [at about 30-70 to 40-60] don't have to
be applied concurrently, but work most dramatically if they are. Mixing can be
accomplished well by underseeding a legume a few weeks before cutting the stalks
(sometimes -- ok, usually -- weeds will have made a large contribution of green
matter by harvest time). Mung beans grow incredibly fast, fix nitrogen, and will
be reseeding [with mature, dry seeds] in as little as 40 days! Buckwheat is very
fast, sorghum if you don't expect reseeding, oats (fall growth) or ryegrass
(spring growth) in the colder months. Medicagos are great, reseed well, grow low
and so are not destroyed by mowing usually, vetches are fast, reseed late
spring, die back if mowed when tall. Die-back can be an advantage if a crop is
to follow (vetch/ryegrass mix will seed late spring, can be cut down and left
over cowpeas, sorghum, late corn if you're not too far South, and will not come
back to compete with the crop).

	Oh well, better go before Im chased away, just some thoughts and
observations, Jack.