The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution; Review & Giveaway

The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution is an eye-opener for the gardener, farmer, or homesteader, who seeks to cultivate soil health wherever they grow. Andrew Mefferd was most obliging to send me a copy of his latest book for review and giveaway. It is my privilege to be able to offer you the chance to win a copy for yourself.

What is No-Till?

No-till is exactly what it sounds like: reducing or avoiding tillage in the garden or crop field. No-till is is about climate change, soil health, and farm profitability─it’s a way to improve all three at the same time. In the introduction of “The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution”, Mefferd states:

Ultimately, no till is about the soil, and how improving soil health can also improve atmospheric health and farm bottom lines. Any one of these issues by itself is compelling enough to make us want to try no-till. The fact that no-till makes the connection between all three issues is what makes it so timely.

For example, if you only cared about farm profitability, and didn’t care about the soil or atmospheric health, no-till would still be worthwhile for improving farm efficiency and profitability. Growers who are happy with what they are earning, but want to grow in a more ecological method, will also be interested in no-till.

Avoiding tillage preserves soil structure and protects the soil by leaving crop residues on the soil surface. The improved structure and soil cover increase soil’s ability to absorb and infiltrate water, which in turn reduces soil erosion and run-off, and prevents pollution from entering nearby water sources. This creates an ideal environment for microbial life.

In “Cultivating Soil Health“, the first article in this series on soil, we discussed how plants use sunlight to convert carbon and water into carbohydrates. They use the carbohydrates to grow their roots, stems, leaves and seeds, and then exchange surplus carbohydrates for minerals and nutrients mined from the soil by the microbial life-forms. Carbon is the fuel source driving these interactions. By bolstering soil-life we’re effectively promoting the health of the crops we plant there, which means we can grow bigger (and more nutritious) vegetables and fruits, and we’ll have healthier, more disease-resistant crops.

No-till even lowers the barriers to beginning farmers, making it possible to start a farm without a tractor or even a rototiller. Runamuk is living proof of that. I don’t own a tiller and after buying Runamuk’s forever-farm I could not afford to pay someone to till a plot for our garden here. Yet through a combination of rotational grazing, occultation, and cover-cropping, I’ve managed to establish a fairly sexy 60ft x 100ft plot. If I can do it, anyone can.

Who is Andrew Mefferd?

Click image to purchase with Amazon.

Andrew Mefferd is a Maine farmer who spent 7 years in the research department at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. As part of his job there, he traveled around the world to consult with researchers and farmers about the best practices for greenhouse growing. From Johnny’s, Meffered moved on to become the editor and publisher of Growing for Market magazine. His first book was: “The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook“. Now he’s published a second book, entitled: “The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution; High Production Methods for Small-Scale Farmers”.

About the Book

Mefferd has written this book in a laid-back conversational tone, much like the way I write my blog-posts and articles. You feel as though you’re having a conversation with a friend or colleague, or sitting in on a presentation at an ag-conference. In the first part of the book, Mefferd has explained what no-till is, and all of the benefits and disadvantages associated with this method of growing. The second part of the book consists of the case-studies of 17 different farms who are using varying no-till techniques. It’s organized into chapters according to methodology: mulch grown in place, cardboard mulch, deep straw mulch, and compost mulch. Mefferd also highlights the use of plastic for occultation and solarization.

My Opinion

I really appreciate the way Andrew Mefferd has done the leg-work of visiting these farms to interview the farmers about their methods. In my own farming-journey, I’ve often found that learning from other farmers is a very powerful resource. Talking and discussing ideas with other farmers helps me improve my techniques or learn new skills. Sometimes, bouncing ideas off a peer helps me to muster the courage to try something new, or to take on a more intimidating project. While this book is not a step-by-step how-to manual, I do feel it’s worthy of a place on your shelf. What’s more, I feel this book should be shared with as many people as possible in order to spread the word about no-till farming and regenerative agriculture.

The Climate Solution

Regenerative agriculture has the potential to not only mitigate, but actually reverse global warming. At the same time, it provides solutions to other burning issues, such as poverty, public health, environmental degradation, and global conflict.

Read that last paragraph one more time, if you would─and think about what that means….

Regenerative agriculture is THE answer to all of the really big and burning problems humanity currently faces.

regenerative agriculture_definitionScientists have come to recognize that healthy soil plays an essential role in drawing down and sequestering carbon. According to the Rodale Institute, adopting these widely available and inexpensive organic management practices (deemed “regenerative agriculture“) would allow us to sequester all of our annual global greenhouse gas emissions (roughly 52 gigatonnes of CO2). These practices work to maximize carbon fixation, while minimizing the loss of carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect.

Rodale states that changing farming practices to organic, regenerative and agroecological systems can increase soil organic carbon stocks, decrease greenhouse gas emission, maintain, yields, improve water retention and plant uptake, improve farm profitability, and revitalize traditional farming communities, while ensuring biodiversity and resilience of ecosystem services. Rodale even goes so far as to say that regenerative organic agriculture is integral to the climate solution.

If you think this seems unlikely and impossible, Rodale has 3 decades worth of scientific data verifying these practices.

The Giveaway

Enter to win this copy of The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution! For 2 weeks, beginning Monday, July 22nd and ending at midnight on August 5th, I’m offering Runamuk followers the opportunity to win this book.

Regardless of where in the world you live, I am willing to send Mefferd’s book to you for FREE, because I want to share it with other growers. I want to inspire you, and the growers around you, to join the regenerative movement. No-till is an important tool in our arsenal of resources, and regenerative agriculture is how we ensure our children’s future on Earth.

Legally, participants must be at least 18, so if you’re younger, please recruit help from a parent or guardian to enroll. The winner will be drawn at random by Rafflecopter, who is hosting this giveaway for Runamuk, and announced on Wednesday, August 7th. No purchase necessary to play.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Possibilities

Andrew Mefferd’s “The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution” introduces growers to the possibilities that no-till offers. It opens the door for new farmers, and advocates the sequestering of excess carbon to the soil beneath our feet as the solution to the climate crisis. Through regenerative agriculture we can avert global warming, improve our own existence, and preserve diversity on our planet for all creatures, great and small.

regenerative agriculture shifts the paradigmFarming can save us, folks. But not the kind of industrial farming we’ve been practicing these last 100 years. If we hope to leave our children any kind of legacy, we need farmers who are practicing these methods of regenerative agriculture. With only 2% of the population currently serving as “farmer”, we need lots and lots more people to step up and take on that crucial role. Read “The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution” and join the movement today.

 

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the organic no-till farming revolution_review and giveaway

Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening – Book Review

year round salad gardening

Peter Burke’s book: Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening has served as a bible of sorts throughout my #WinterGrowingChallenge. I found it amongst the reference books in the library at Johnny’s Selected Seeds and borrowed it for my project.

Note: In case you missed it, you can check out the #WinterGrowingChallenge to learn more about what it is, and why I did it.

year round salad gardening
Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening, by Peter Burke.

Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening is a simple and straight-forward guide to growing fresh greens. Burke breaks down the process so that it’s easy for all skill-levels to follow, and implement his methods for themselves. He delves first into how he discovered soil-shoots and why he grows them─siting many of the same 13 reasons I’ve given for my own #WinterGrowingChallenge. He lays out the process in a step-by-step depiction that walks the reader through the production, from soil and seed to shoots on a plate.

Having used this method for years to provide fresh, leafy greens for his own family, Burke has streamlined the process and really honed the craft for household production. He’s truly dedicated to the nutrient-packed shoots, and to the rewards of providing these fresh greens for your family at a time of year when fresh greens are difficult to come by.

After using Burke’s methods for indoor salad production over the course of this winter, I can attest to the simplicity and practicality of his soil-shoots. Following Peter Burke’s instructions as laid out in his book, I was able to produce fresh greens to supplement my family’s diet between the months of December and January.

Gardening and growing my own food, or knowing who grew it, has become an important part of my life, and I know I’m not alone in my desire to live a more sustainable and self-sufficient life. If you listen closely, you will hear a low rumbling around the world that is the sound of people from all walks of life returning to a more grounded way of living. I’m proud to be a part of that movement, and you can be too─with one small step, one day at a time─we can all learn to be more self-reliant, more resourceful and less wasteful. We can learn to be conscious of the natural world around us, and part of the greater systems in action on this Earth.

Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening, by Peter Burke is a great addition to your homestead or farm’s resource library. This book has inspired me to grow shoots every winter from now on!

Tufflite greenhouse film: tuff stuff!

using-tufflite-greenhouse-film
hoop-house-in-snow
Tufflite film on my new multi-purpose hoop-house structure, currently in use as a chicken coop.

Two years ago I bought my first roll of Tufflite IV greenhouse film and have since used it in a variety of ways around the Runamuk farm and homestead. As I’ve progressed along my journey towards a sustainable life I’ve looked for ways to extend my growing season, ways to improve upon the things I am already doing, and methods for stacking systems on my farm. The Tufflite plastic has served as a multipurpose and rugged piece of equipment that has allowed me to do just that.

For years I used the clear 4mil or 6mil contractor’s plastic so widely available at local hardware and garden centers. I learned the hard way the limits of that type of plastic when I used it to cover my first-attempt at a small hoop-house during the winter of 2013-14. The plastic became brittle and one careless swipe with the shovel was all it took to shatter the covering; I was picking up bits of plastic by hand come spring. Not fun.

Enter the Tufflite IV greenhouse film available at Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

What is Tufflite IV?

diy-high-tunnel
Here are some of the high-tunnels at the Johnny’s Selected Seeds research farm in Albion, Maine.

A broad range of farmers and gardeners are using this plastic on their greenhouses and in the construction of their high-tunnels. It provides protection for crops and seedlings from rain, wind, and frost, enables them to extend their growing season and allows for improved production of heat-loving crops in northern climates.

Tufflite Advantages:

  • 6mil plastic is heavy duty and durable.
  • UV-resistant
  • Light transmission is comparable to glass
  • Won’t discolor over time
  • Lasts a minimum of 4 years
  • Protects crops/seedlings from increment weather
  • Allows for season extension
  • Versatile

Tufflite Disadvantages:

  • Expensive stuff!
  • Used with PVC voids warranty.*
  • Not a tarp! It can rip if not used correctly.
  • Hard to find very small pieces.**

My experience with Tufflite

tufflite-greenhouse
High-tunnel at Sidehill Farm in Madison, Maine.Photo credit: Jessica Paul.

The Tufflite was a bit of an investment for Runamuk, but when used properly it lasts for years and it’s versatile enough that I’ve been able to use it in a wide variety of applications: mini hoop-houses, cold-frames, my new hoop-coop, and even the windows of the barn at our former location in Starks. I’ve also seen it in action on the high-tunnels of friends and at the Johnny’s research farm; it’s always a marvelous experience to step inside a high-tunnel to see the variety of crops that can be grown in those conditions.

*Johnny’s actually doesn’t recommend or even warranty this greenhouse film for use with PVC because they’re not sure how the polyethylene that the plastic is made from will react with the polyvinyl chloride that the PVC piping is made of. That being said, I have been using this plastic on PVC for the last 2 years and have had good luck with it.

**You can find the Tufflite film available from greenhouse supply companies including Johnny’s Selected Seeds. It comes in a range of sizes, though if you’re a home gardener with a small plot you may be disappointed that it’s difficult to find a very small piece. And forget getting a piece of scrap material─typically if there’s anything left over employees are quick to snatch that stuff up. My best recommendation if you’re looking for a small section is to go in on a roll with other gardening friends, or invest in the smallest roll you can get and then look for alternative uses for the plastic as I have done.

Tufflite does degrade over time and at some point it’s no longer suitable for seedling or crop production. However, often when farmers replace the film on their high-tunnels or greenhouses there’s still a lot of life left in the plastic. If you’re intending to use the greenhouse film for a project other than growing crops (such as on a chicken coop) you may be able to score a second-hand piece if you are friendly with local farmers.

Two thumbs up!

The Tufflite IV greenhouse film has opened up a number of opportunities for my farm: from production of seedlings and season extension in my garden, to portable livestock shelters that allow me to rotate my chickens on pasture. It may cost more, but the Tufflite is superior to the contractor’s plastic and has proven it’s worth here at Runamuk. I would highly recommend this plastic to anyone who is looking to extend their growing season or who is looking to create systems on their homestead or farm that allow for stackable functions. I give the Tufflite an emphatic two thumbs up!

Have you ever used greenhouse film? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences below for others to learn from.

Quick Hoops Benders – Check out this video from Johnny’s Selected Seeds to learn how to bend your own EMT to construct a high tunnel for your farm or homestead!

Winter Growing Guide – Here is another great resource from Johnny’s which helps you schedule planting that allow you to extend your growing season into the winter months.

High Tunnels – A pdf from the University of Vermont about growing in high tunnels.

High Tunnel Management Pointers for Vegetable Growers – Worthwhile article with insights and tips from GrowingProduce.com.

Extending the Garden Season with High Tunnels – Detailed resource from the Pennsylvania State Cooperative Extension.

Zipties on a weed-whacker: an experiment

weed-whacker experiment

Have you’ve seen the post going around facebook that shows a homesteader using zipties on a weed-whacker instead of the spool of weed-eater line?

This post came across my facebook feed last week and seemed like an ingenious idea, so this weekend as I worked in the garden I gave it a try to see if it really works.

weed-whacker experimentI removed the spool from my Ryobi weed-whacker, put on a couple of zipties and trimmed them to length. Then I set to work in the garden to knock down some grasses and pig-weed that had gotten away from me.

The zip-ties cut the grass, but it wasn’t as clean a cut as I get with the weed-eater line, and my trusty weed-whacker made a lot more noise then she usually does─if you can possibly imagine a weed-whacker being any louder. Then, as I went to tackle the pig-weed, I brushed the weed-whacker up against a post in the garden and one of the zipties snapped right off!

weed-whacker experiment fail

After my failed experiment I reviewed the comments under the facebook post and found a few folks who also had tried the zipties-on-a-weed-whacker experiment. They report similar findings─that the zipties broke easily. One person suggested using industrial grade zipties, to which a woman in Arizona reported that the industrial zipties are all they use because in their heat and sun lesser plastics degrade too quickly, and she still had this method fail for her.

I wouldn’t say this experiment was a total fail, it did work and in a pinch you could certainly use the zipties. Probably if you have just a lawn to maintain and were only using your weed-whacker to trim things up after you’ve mowed this would work just fine. However, if─like me─you have a large area to manage, a large garden and more, and you have weeds that sometimes get unruly, I feel like the weed-eater line is still the better option.

Have you tried the zipties-on-a-weed-whacker experiment? If you have any thoughts or suggestions feel free to leave a comment below! Be sure to subscribe to the Runamuk blog by email to receive updates directly to your inbox; OR follow us on Instagram for sneak-peeks into the day-to-day happenings at Runamuk Acres!

Living seasonally and reconnecting with nature

winter seasonal intentions collage

Now that we’re settling into the new homestead, back on our farm-property, I’m ready to reconnect with nature and the natural world that I love so much. I’m looking at nature-inspired homeschool activities to do with the boys, taking walks in the snow–shoveling….  So when the chance to review Kathy Lepvic’s eBook “Homespun Seasonal Living Workbook” presented itself–I leaped at the opportunity.

Kathie’s workbook is a “guide to help you discover a path on which you can navigate a seasonal lifestyle that fits in with your busy modern life.”

The ebook offers 12 simple lessons which are short and easy to customize to suit your individual tastes and preferences, beginning with “Setting Seasonal Intentions” in week one of the season, and continuing through the 12 weeks of each season, concluding with “Planning for the Season Ahead”.  At that point you would begin again at the first lesson, beginning again for this new season.

winter seasonal intentions collageEager to get started, I set about assembling a collage of my winter seasonal intentions.  I like the idea of seasonal intentions–with a long list of annual goals, breaking them up into seasonal priorities like this makes it more likely that more projects will be completed.

Kathie urges the reader to begin a seasonal journal in which to document your seasonal activities and the natural goings-ons around you.  I’ve decided to take this one step further by starting a nature journal, which is something I’ve long been inclined to do.  In my seasonal nature journal I will keep track of seasonal patterns, first and last frost dates here on the farm, weather patterns, wildlife sightings, edible wild forage I find on the property, farm accomplishments, major events, etc.

I liked the workbook because it gave me some instruction on a lifestyle that I’m already inclined to live, but was a little uncertain on exactly how to do so.  The weekly activities are easy to do, and not time consuming.  I love that I can get as creative as I please with them, tapping into the artist in me that lies dormant; I can spend as much or as little time on these projects as I want.

Each of the boys also have journals, which I am encouraging them to write in about winter, and we put up our bird feeders yesterday in hopes of attracting some of the local birds.  I’ve also been scouring pinterest for great winter nature activities–check out my “Nature Studies” board for yourself!

Seasonal living brings you closer to nature, makes you more in-tune with the natural rhythms of the planet.  By doing things like eating seasonally you’re living a greener, more sustainable life.  If you’re interested in learning more about living seasonally, check out Kathie’s blog “Homespun Seasonal Living” or for more about this ebook Click here to view more details.

Whatchya think?  Got any great ideas for seasonal activities you’d like to recommend?  Leave me a comment below to share!  🙂