Most people who want to build a sustainable homestead look for the perfect piece of land with good soil for their garden. The trouble is, the most productive land is locked up in profitable farms that’s typically not for sale, or if it is for sale it costs a fortune. This blog post explains one way to solve this dilemma.
I was driving on a back country road yesterday to avoid highway construction on my usual route. This scenic road goes through a very beautiful area that alternates between forest and lush rice fields. Looking more closely I noticed transition areas between the forested area and the bottom land where rice is growing. The transition areas would be considered low value or undesirable land by most because not much will grow in the poor soil. Land like this is much less expensive than forest (where you could sell the timber) and fertile bottom land. This ‘crappy’ marginal land is actually a hidden gem as I explain below.
Tomorrow’s blog post will be about a well documented process that can turn salty, rocky, desert soil – some of the worst soil imaginable – into a lush forest in under 10 years. The solution, which is totally natural, may be in a product at your local garden store. (Intrigued yet? Tune in tomorrow.) So how can readers of our blog capitalize on this knowledge? One way is to buy cheap land with poor soil and turn it into highly productive land. That’s precisely what we’re going to attempt to do with the new land we just bought next to our homestead. The farmer sold us their poorest land and kept the best land. That was fine with us because the price was much lower than fertile land. Plus, we believe the end result after a few years will be land more valuable and productive than their rice fields.
Here’s the basic process we will use to create a market vegetable garden. Stay tuned over the next few years as we actually carry out this plan and document the details. The basic plan is to build 12” high raised beds made of low cost, locally available agricultural waste products such as rice hulls, chopped coconut husks (coco coir), sugar cane compost, straw, rice hull ash, etc. along with manure, leaves, wood chips and whatever else we can get cheaply. You can use whatever plant wastes are available in your area.
The soil below the beds does not have to be fertile. In our case, the organisms in the soil have been killed by years of industrial agriculture. A few more years of chemical fertilizer and agro chemicals will likely destroy the surrounding land as well. (And maybe we’ll buy it up bit by bit and restore it.) But the main point is you can build fertile garden beds on top of poor soil by working with nature organically. Don’t use chemicals. Use natural materials that encourage earthworms, fungi, bacteria and all the millions of creatures in the soil food web to proliferate. Let nature do most of the work for you. This is very similar to what we’ve been doing in our forest garden, so we know it works. It just takes time to build the beds and time for the organisms to improve the soil fertility.
Here’s a little more detail for those who are curious. We plan to build passive compost windrows on top of 30” wide x 100’ long beds of sheet mulch. The compost (same compost as we made a few months ago) will be made right on top of the sheet mulch. Everything will be composted in place to speed the process and save labor. Eventually we’ll plant groundcovers to further build the soil. There will be 18” wide paths where you can crouch and easily reach across to maintain the beds. 30” is the standard size of market garden beds and so all the tools and machines are built accordingly. See this market gardening video by Jean-Martin Fortier for more details. Fortier explains how to make up to $100,000 per acre this way. He’s been doing this for over a decade and has written a book The Market Gardener.
Our plan is to create a model sustainable homestead that shows how to restore degraded land that’s been killed by industrial farming methods. I don’t see a whole lot of people doing this. Why isn’t this taught in every agriculture school in the world? Instead I see farmers led down a path to buy more and more agro products that only enrich giant corporations. Eventually, the soil is killed and farmers are forced to sell the land that might have been in their family for generations. Across the world this is happening to millions of farmers. It breaks my heart to see this happen. The best way to turn this problem around in my opinion is through education and by successfully demonstrating a working farm with fruit trees, vegetable beds and rice fields that people can visit and learn how to farm naturally and sustainably. If everything works as planned, at some point I’ll start making regular videos on our Sustainable Homesteading YouTube channel to help spread the message worldwide.