New Year Revolutions

Sure I got my resolutions: exercise more, spend more quality time with my family, do more with less.  Those will  have an immense impact on my life and those I love the most. But in this post, I am really interested in starting some New Year Revolutions – things that work on a more macro level. If you are reading this blog, you get that we have some Big Problems and fate has placed our generation as the one to deal with them.  2010 is a critical year – shit for the next decade they will ALL be critical.  Action without purpose is wasted motion, so here are some Revolutions I want to be a part of.

Re-Localization

The things that I need to maintain quality of life are made and controlled by people whom I do not know and do not know me.  My banker is a corporation.  My grocer is a chain.  My energy is provided by god knows who.  That disconnect equates to a loss of control.  I give thousands of dollars a year in interest to a corporate bank that cares nothing for me other than my credit score and my income statement -meaning they will turn on me in an instant.  Worse yet, they take that money and use it to fund things that are directly opposed to my value structure.  My local grocer sells products based exclusively on profit margins with little regard for impacts to community or ecology.  I believe in a future that is better than that. Here are my revolutions:

  • Move my Money As much as possible I will seek to shift the power of my money to those that share my value structure.  To fund my commercial enterprises I will seek out Slow Money investors so that the profits of my labor profit those that share my values.  For better or worse, money is power and I want more control about whom I am empowering and who are empowering me.
  • Vote with my dollars. We already do this alot, but convenience still rules the roost too often.  Whether its vending machines at work or Culver’s on road trips far too much of my money supports a future I don’t believe in.  Polyface Farms recently threw out the challenge that if every American abstained from Fast Food for a week it would shut down every CAFO in the country – we fund the current system and to that degree share in its evils.  I want more of my money to promote companies that share my vision for the future and whenever possible are from people I know.
  • Food There is simply too little food grown locally, and almost none stored commercially for local consumption.  Low Input storage of food crops and promoting the local growth of calorie crops is the next Battle to be won in Slow Food.  Romaines and micro greens are great and necessary, but rutabagas and onions in February are where the war will be won.
  • Energy. Dear god do we have a long ways to go here.  The technologies are known and some progress is being made on electricity with wind and PV becoming more accessible.  But liquid fuels are what our built environment is designed for and there is literally nowhere in my entire county where I can buy biodiesel or locally produced ethanol.  That is scary as hell.  Energy production will be a part of every commercial venture I am a part of going forward.

Re-Skilling

In many cases the skills to accomplish the goals above simply do not exist locally – either because no one has tried it or we have forgotten how.  One Straw is very much about myself and thousands of others working to fill this gap ourselves and even more importantly network and communicate with others to help it go viral.  We can’t do it all.  I will never be a community banker and I am only a passable welder.  But I can grow a potato on a rock.  Here are my Reskilling Revolutions:

  • Teach Others Doing something new, vital, and innovative is great and necessary, but to teach others to do the same is divine.  “Teach a man to fish…” From Gardening 101, to building Hoop Houses, to vermicomposting, to making gasifiers and converting cars to electric it is vital to get more people skilled in the Good Work.  Workshops, webinars, tours, and presentations.  Get ‘r done.
  • Learn Something You can get only so much from books.  At some point you need a mentor.  Teaching others is critically important, but just as important is finding those that know more than you and learning from them so the oral traditions don’t die.  The critical skills like how to hold a hoe, when a jam is thick enough, or how to lay a welding bead simply cannot be taught in books.  When you learn something from someone a little bit of magic is created; some people call it respect.

Rebuilding Community

There is far too much work to be done – one person can’t do it all… not even the incredibly Stalwart Do-ers that read this blog.  I often lose track of this one in my nose down action oreintated pragmatism. Epic Fail. It takes a village, people! There is a growing trend of “ruggedly individual” survivalists, or “preppers”.  A rather terrifying mix of ammunition, gardening, hoarding, and fundamentalist psuedo-religion and half baked patriotism.  And I cannot state too emphatically that it is not a solution to the coming calamity.  News flash psychos – there will ALWAYS be someone with a bigger gun to come and take your tomatoes.  If you are really afraid of the Mad Max scenario being the future, then take a cue from the movie and work to be the community building the refinery and smuggling out the gasoline on the buses.  They had children; they had hope. That said, far too many of us don’t know the names of our neighbors, no one carols anymore, and there are not nearly enough potlucks.  Rebuilding community Revolutions:

  • Join Something.  PTA, Theatre Group, Knitting circle.  Run for local office.  Start a reading group.  If it gives you the ability to say “Hello!” to more people at the post office then it qualifies.  This is so very important.
  • Share Something There are always too many zucchini!  Give some Christmas cookies to your neighbors -guess what, next year they will bake some for you.  Car Pool – who wouldn’t rather chat with a person rather than a dashboard about the story on Morning Edition?  Design shared space into your future – I intend to have cooperative space in the hoop house for energy projects from people I haven’t even met yet.  1+1=3
  • Eat Something Churches and our grandparents understood that since time began the simple act of breaking bread together solidifies community.  If you get together with others put food into the schedule and bring a dish to pass.  Eating creates a space of idleness – a time when it is expected to talk about family, local issues, hopes, and dreams.  A time to get to know people.  The real business always gets done in the hallways after the meeting and is based on trust relationships.   Saving the world is no different.

It all comes down to Resiliency.   When the chips are down, we really have very little idea exactly what the next decade will bring.  But, to put it mildly, I strongly suspect the weather will continue to get weirder, fuel more expensive, and “the economy” more uncertain.   The best way to handle such an uncertain, and likely difficult scenario, is to take the power back from those we have sold it to over the past 5 decades.  At this point I want to have my food, goods, and energy come from those I know and trust and live a life more connected to those around me.  It will be less convenient, it will “cost more”, and it will involve more labor on my part.  But we have sold our future for convenience for far to long and I demand more for my children.

Its time for a Revolution.

Be the Change.

-Rob

Enter the House of Pain

Jean Pain that is.  Until Ed posted some links a few days ago in the Hoop House Comment-palooza I had never heard about Jean and his wife Ida.  Wow am I glad he tipped me off.  Thanks Ed!

Jean Pain worked during the late 60’s and through the 70’s in the Provence region of France caretaking a large track of dry land forest.  This forest, as much of the Mediterranean rim was very prone to fire and Jean worked to remove brush to cut down the risk of catastrophic fire events.  Leaving the brush piles in the forests here in temperate Wisconsin would allow it to decompose readily, but in the very dry conditions in his area, carbon is cycled more readily by fire than biological decomposers.  Being a tinkerer and rogue spirit, he then sought ways to use that “waste” wood for something useful and began experimenting with methane gas production and composting.

Jean would make MASSIVE compost piles – up to 80 cu meters! – of water soaked shredded brush built around a 10′  tank filled with a slurry of compost and water that he would use to produce methane gas.   Temperature in the methane digester was regulated by wrapping coils of tubing around it and then another several hundred feet of tubing laid in coils throughout the pile.   Water would be pumped through the tubing cooling the tank, with the “waste” heat being used for space heating of the Pain’s home, greenhouses, and for their household hot water – average temps in these massive piles was 140 degrees!  These piles would then produce methane gas and 140 degree water for up to 18 months – in enough quantity for him to heat his 1000 sq ft home for 2 winters and produce enough methane gas for all their cooking and transportation needs.

I am still digging for more information on the Pains, and it seems you can get 90% of the availible information digested in about 90 minutes.  If anyone has a line on Jean Pain’s 88 page handbook “Another Kind of Garden”  you have found a buyer…

Start with the You Tube videos which are  low on quality due to their age, but super high on content:

Part 1

Part 2

Then go to my perrenial favorite storehouse of Information to Save the World:

Journey to Forever

And end up at:

The Permaculture ActivistMother Earth News

and finally Wikipedia.

Put it all together and it is no wonder why I am so in love with this guy: using waste wood to save the world by a beautiful mix of applied forestry, some Grade A tinkering, gardening, commercial scale composting, methane digestion, wrap it all up in a permaculture design 10 years before the word was coined, and add a healthy mix of military surplus trucks and wheel barrows for good measure.  Jean tracked his methods with a true scientific rigor – measuring inputs of petrol, liters of water and the rate, size and weight of the compost piles, and constantly worked to improve his designs.

Here are some questions that I hope to answer in my studies and through those that know more about Jean’s work:

  • How the heck did he get a pile to heat to 140 that has a C:N ration of 80:1?
  • How the heck did he keep it there for up to 18 months?
  • Why doesn’t the pile go anaerobic due to its size?
  • Where can I get a truck like the one in the opening shot of Part 1?

Is one of these in my future?  I think we found yet another reason that a commercial grade chipper may be making it into the Hoop House Business Plan…

Be the Change!

-Rob

Hoop House Permaculture Brainstorm: Input Welcome!

Many readers will know that I am a Big Fan of Hoop Houses (aka High Tunnels) as low cost, easily erected, functional structures.   Last Spring I was part of a group that submitted a grant proposal chasing some of the Stimulus Money.  Obviously we failed (should have said we were expanding an interstate), but the idea of a structure producing, food, fuel, and resources in a linked system has lived on.   While I spent much of the early Fall leaning strongly towards re-committing to perfecting the small scale agriculture / Suburban Permaculture model here at the Home Site, the last 2 months have given me cause to rethink that; I am more convinced daily that The Funnel is closing faster than I had let myself believe and it is time to Get Busy.

So here is my challenge to all of you: Help me design a permaculture system within a 30′ wide x 70’long  x 12′ high Hoop House and I will pitch it for funding.

Here is the design criteria:

  • Produces Food
  • Produces Fuel
  • Produces Resources
  • Is self sustaining in terms of funding – we want sale-able products valued at least $10k annually (money being a convenient current measure of “surplus” goods and productivity)
  • Use of only local inputs acquired on farm, or within community.
  • Productive in Year #1, though system should “progress” with time as systems mature.

30x70x12 Hoop House - Insert Permaculture Here...

Short List of Resources available:

  • 30x70x12 Hoop house
  • Space Heat (a bit over freezing in the winter) and Warm Water from a Biomass Gasifier
  • Electricity (grid for now, gasifier generated soon)
  • up to 20-30 hours of weekly labor year round, 10 preferred
  • Start-up Expenses up to $20,000 (Structure $5k)
  • Small Scale Ag equipment (seed starts, tillers, seeders)

Potential Inputs:

  • 20 acre farm with 5 acres tillable – straw, ethanol / BD feed stocks, unsaleable vegetables.
  • Manure from livestock
  • Community Waste streams such as yard leaves, food waste, etc

Examples for inspiration:

To these we would like to add energy systems such as small scale biodiesel, ethanol, and / or methane to further increase efficiencies, reduce waste and increase outputs.  Example, tilapia carcasses could be used as a methane feedstock while the digester itself adds to the thermal mass of the Hoop House reducing night time heating load and the methane burned in a generator to produce supplemental heat and electricity for pumps and grow lights or power other farm buildings.

The overriding focus is to design a system with elegant energy flows mimicking an ecosystem in true Permaculture form.  We wish to use natural biological systems whenever possible rather than mechanical solutions.  Technology will be very evident, but used appropriately only when natural systems are not feasible.  For example, beets don’t turn themselves into ethanol without help, but Tilapia will happily breed new young if provided a proper habitat and their water filtered readily by plants such as watercress rather than industrial nitrogen filters if stocking rates are reasonable.

I envision much of the structure to house known systems generating sale-able goods such as extending the growing season per Elliot Coleman or Growing Power style vermiculture.  And these “profit” systems will interweave with experimental ones such as a self propagating, natural filtered Tilapia aquaponic system using both male/female fish fed with on farm products.

But that is the rub – its a “vision” right now.  There are hundreds of GREAT minds that read this blog – please comment with your musings, link to your inspirations, and help spur this project to something unprecedented to push the envelop of our sustainable culture.

If the conversation gets going I would like to form a Google Group to facilitate the uploading of documents and links.  Here is a link to a shared Google Doc on a 30×70 grid to help with layouts should anyone really want to jump in.

Be the Change!!

-Rob

4 Season Farming: Winter Vermicomposting

Elliot Coleman has literally written the book on the extending the harvest up ‘ere in da Nort.  And I can attest to the simple joy of entering a Hoop House on a sunny January day, stripping down to a tee shirt, basking in the humid 70 degree air rich with the smell of living soils, and stopping to harvest mache, claytonia, and perhaps some spinach.   But Hoop Houses can do more than just grow greens – they can build your soils in the off season. A few posts ago I regaled you with my attempts to begin composting in our small Hoop House at our Market Garden.  The farm owner was so inspired he cleared out 20′ along the back edge of his large Hoop House / Workshop and we built a serious indoor vermiculture bin that is about 20′ long and hold about 12 yards.  The idea is that in between the center of a thermophyllic “hot” composting pile chugging along at 140 degrees and the air temp of 30-40 degrees there is a layer of the pile that is full of moist organic matter that is sitting at 75 degrees or so.  In other words prime habitat for composting worms!

Outside air temp was 1 degree with a negative wind chill. Go bacteria GO!

Last week he filled the new bin with a mix of horse manure, bedding, and 50 gallons of putrid food scraps he had been saving all year and had never gotten around to throwing on a pile until now.  The outside of the hoop house (west facing) was then insulated with a pile of leaves 7′ tall and 12 feet wide at the base, and on top of the manure/gorp mess we piled on another 18″ of leaves to further insulate it and to conserve moisture.  Within 2 days this heated up to 145 degrees, and has stayed there for over a week now adding some bTU’s to the workshop.  A bin this size could take millions of worms, but given that wigglers are going for $25/lb we decided to call in some favors.  At the Bioneers Conference in Madison last month, one of my fellow panelists was James Godsil, a board member for Growing Power and co-founder of Sweet Water Organics – an uber cool urban ag endeavor in Milwaukee, WI.  Godsil is a true Great Soul and we hit it off immediately.   I shot him an email and asked if my wife and I could come out for a tour and pick up a few pail of worms and gorp (full of cocoons) which led us to yesterday’s trip and our seeing Milwaukee’s Renaissance first hand.

Sweet Water is still growing - under the banner are 3 massive aquaponic tanks mid way through construction. Awesomeness.

The site was amazing – I have toured Growing Power several times, and it was very interesting to see Will Allen’s concepts scaled up in an attempt to make them more commercially viable.    It will be worth watching to see how far they will have to stray from Growing Power’s laissez faire approach to aquaponics and its reliance on natural filtration and in house feedstocks.  Banks and investors have a tendency to demand higher returns on investment than Nature readily provides.  But, alas, I stray off topic!

Over 12' tall, and steaming despite the 4 degree air temp. We dug 10 gallons and thousands of worms -from an outside pile. It shouldn't be possible, but there we are!

After the tour Godsil took us out back to his massive compost / vermiculture pile.  Despite the cold (wind chills were negative) we clambered up the pile and dug into the steam to find red wigglers happily crunching away on the grocery store waste Godsil uses as feedstock.  Amazing!   Godsil makes a weekly trip with his pickup to the local store and grabs about 300 gallons of unsaleable vegetables which he then mixes with wood chips dropped off from local tree trimming services – essentially turning 2 streams of “garbage” into highly sought after vermicompost and red wigglers that will have bred up to a population worth thousands by  next summer.  Brilliant!

"Farm Schooling" Vermiculture 201 - My son thought the word "verm" was hilarious

After loading a few buckets we drove back to the country and I picked up my son to help “leaven”  our vermiculture bin in Jefferson County.    We were very pleased to see that our own bin was still heating nicely and was already home to a small population of its own composting worms that came in with the horse manure.  It was a great chance to talk about waste stream cycling with my son – worms and other “livestock” are a great attention grabber for children and we try to do as many tours as possible with local schools to show them that farming is more than driving tractors through corn, but there I go digressing again…

We placed the worms and gorp into 3 separate areas and then topped each with several gallons of fresh feedstock from my coffee shop source.  This we finally topped off with a 6″ layer of leaves to keep them warm.  As the winter progresses the worms will be able to move throughout the pile to maintain the 75 degrees they prefer.  In the outdoor piles at Growing Power and Sweet Water that may e as close as 1″ from the surface, here inside our unheated hoop house it is a bit deeper in.  Here are some more shots of the process:

Some of our "City Worms" along with vermicompost full of cocoons. Our hope is to breed enough to start dozens of new worm bins county wide next year.

A glob of feedstock for the worms - bananas are a preferred food. Wigglers in prime condition will eat their own weight daily. Witness the steam - the pile was cooking!

In the last picture you can just see a bit of blue peaking through.  That is a buried 55 gallon drum that is filled with water.  The hope is that it will store immense amounts of heat to stabilize the piles temperature for the worms and later in the winter when the pile is cooling, we can then use the water as cooling tanks for our gasifiers – simultaneously heating our worms to make them eat / poop faster and cooling our biomass energy generator to help us power the farm.  Awesome!

Winter is a time for reflection, planning, and maintenance (mental and physical!), but using the Hoop House for composting will ensure our early spring greens are able to get a huge jolt of nutrition with a thousand pounds of worm castings as early as March – with no machinery or energy inputs.  Too cool.

Thanks Godsil!

-Rob

Appropriate Trattorini: .5-2 acres

In my last post I talked through the Trattorini (small tractor) culture of Italy and much of southern Europe with a specific focus on mid scale permaculture plots from 5-40 acres.  Farming on this scale benefits significantly from mechanization as the endeavor reaches a scale that begins to measure harvests in tons rather than pounds.  That scale is also out of the traditional scope of this blog, so this post and another in the near future will focus on my tool recommendations for farming on smaller scales.  Working backwards, lets talk about a small, intensive operation from .5 to 2 acres producing between 5000 to 80,000 pounds of produce.

8hp Lombardini Diesel, Berta Rotary Plow mounted on a Grillo 85D chassis - its one sweet tool.

Tools like my Grillo 85D (pictured at right) are extremely well suited to operations at this scale.  I ordered it from Earth Tools and had them custom mount the 8hp Lombardini diesel engine from the 107D to better handle the Berta Rotary Plow and also because I loved the idea of having an Italian made engine on my Italian made tractor pulling Italian made implements.  I am dorky that way.  The 85D is just smaller than middlin in the realm of two wheel trattorinis.  BCS makes tractors much smaller, but they are limited in their use.  the “D” part of the name is very important as it designates a locking differential.  This is the similar to a limited slip differential in a car or truck in that it provides power to both wheels at once, effectively doubling the traction available at any time.  This is very important when using heavy working implements like the Berta Rotary plow.  The difference is that a locking differential does exactly what it sounds like – it locks the wheels together.  This makes turning all but impossible –a very good thing when you are working down a 200′ row and do not want to stray off line.  At the row end, throw the engagement lever and within 3′ the differential unlocks and you can turn the tractor fine for the next row.  Line up the tractor, throw the lever again and you are back to arrow straight work again.   Grillo also offers larger models such as the 107 which has another working speed as well as brakes, and the monster 131 with a massive frame that can handle a 16hp engine and the biggest implements with ease.  As your acreage goes up, the larger tractors can be justified with their ability to run wider tillers and mowers to cover ground faster, use powered 1000# dump trailers effectively turning the Grillo into a 4wd mini truck (friends have seen entire families going to Church on them in Portugal), and even the almighty spader which is the holy grail of “restoration” tillage.

PTO

Next up lets talk through the PTO, which stands for Power Take Off.  Trattorinis at this scale (BCS also makes a very good unit, though they are better known and you pay several hundred more for the name recognition) come with a PTO mounted opposite the engine.   The PTO allows the engines power to be “taken off” the transmission and used to power an implement (more on that in a bit) by simply attaching with two bolts.  Earth Tools even offer quick couplers for a reasonable price – making the swapping of implements a truly 2-3 minute affair.  Given that the implements can weigh more than 100#’s it is a worthwhile investment; swapping by hand with wrenches only takes about 10 minutes, but can be tricky to balance the implement with one hand and turn the wrench with the other.  The tractors are designed so that the implement weight counter balances the engine almost perfectly – and those implements that need more weight, such as the rotary plow have longer tongues providing for a bit more rear bias to the weight distribution.  Even still about 40#’s of lift is all that is needed to pull the plow out of the ground and a transport wheel is provided for moving between fields.

Photo from the Earth Tools site showing the handles rotated for "front" PTO use.

In the last post I discussed how incredibly useful it is to be able to rotate the drivers postition so that the front of the tractor has the PTO.  Two wheel tractors come equipped so that the entire handle bar can swing 180 degrees allowing the tractor to be run with the PTO in front for snow blowing, mowing, or hay baling (yes they bale hay!).   The addition of moveable handles also allows you to offset them so that you walk next to the tractor, outside the tilled area so that the soil is not compacted or disturbed leaving a clean bed for seeding.   Having a PTO is the most important attribute of these tools, truly converting them into tractors that can do every thing form working soil to mowing to blowing snow to chipping brush.  The engine is the single most expensive component of a mechanical tool – having a trattorini with a PTO allows you to buy a fantastic engine like my Lombardini, and use it to power all your jobs rather than having to buy multiple tools with multiple engines – all needing maintenance and the upfront cost.

The Implements

4wd powered off the PTO - these machines are incredible!

The amount and and variety of work that can be one with this scale trattorini is simply astounding.  Have a wood lot?  Then check out the chippers and log splitters.  Pasture or cover crops?  Find flail mowers, sickle bar mowers, hay baling equipment to make 60# round bales, and tedders.  Soil working is the bread and butter of most tractors and the options are legion: tillers, power harrows, rotary plows, spaders, even split tillers allowing the cultivation on each side of a row of seedlings.  Seeding, power washing, you name it, there are implements to do it.   The picture above shows the most mind-blowing of the options for these tools – hook up a trailer to turn the tractor into a truck – this model is powered by the PTO, and even includes a steering wheel and hydraulic dump, though non-powered trailers are available too.   Tractors allow the farmer to stretch their time, skill, and knowledge to accomplish feats of agriculture far outside the ability of hand tools alone.  Using tractors at this scale also fits in well with Energy Descent – in the 2 years I have used my Grillo I have yet to use 10 gallons of fuel despite rugged use not only at my home and market gardens, but also in tilling in new gardens for numerous friends.

With 2 years into my Grillo here are some learnings I would pass on.  First off, if you can justify the $5000 that I spent for my  30″ tiller ($600), rotary plow ($1200), and custom 85D ($2800), then there is likely alot of work to be done.  In that case I would highly recommend buying the 107 (or similar scale BCS).  The larger tractor costs about 20% more ($500), but is a great value as you get another working gear for mowing, brakes for working on grades and for steering while mowing, and the option of using a powered trailer.  Even if those don’t sound useful now, these tractors will last 20+ years and I think it prudent to give yourself the flexibility for future use.  Not getting the 107D is my single regret.

Cover crop broadcast by hand and tilled in with 30" tiller. Gorgeous!

Implement learnings.  I have a 30″ tiller and a Berta Rotary plow and if we get acreage I would purchase mowing equipment to try to convert to no till.   I use the tiller primarily for seedbed prep and incorporating cover crop seed by running it over the broadcast seed in 2nd gear with the tiller set on the lowest setting – this increases germination about 300% to broadcast alone.  Tillers are close to useless for breaking sod or incorporating cover crops unless they have been chopped up by a flail mower (which I don’t have) as the plants wind around the tines almost immediately.  Tillers are rough on the soil when run to their full depth as they beat the soil to death – literally.  A new addition to the trattorini tool box is the 24″ power harrow.  This unit work by stirring the soil s little as an inch deep to prep the seedbed and I would very much like to see one in action as I think it would do the job of my tiller, but better.

75' row of potatos dug by a Berta Rotary Plow. 2' to the left is a row filled by the side discharge. Slick!

The Rotary plow is a simply an outstanding tool for cutting ground for annual crops or tilling in standing cover crops.  It laughs at standing plants – turning under everything from 6″ thick quack grass sod to 6′ tall Lambs Quarter (don’t ask how I know this…)  and incorporates it fully.  It also creates what is essentially a double dug bed in no time flat and due to its side discharge can dig mini-swales all over to help with water harvesting.   Finally, it is perfectly suited for potato growing – the trench it digs is ideal, and it will even throw the soil back over your seed as you dig the next trench.  If you space your rows out, you can also use it to hill your plants.  HUGE time savings.  For what it is designed to do, I am convinced it is without peer.  That said it turns everything under to a depth of at least 1 foot, deeper than is good for a healthy soil ecosystem and it can be strongly argued that it fluffs the soil *too* much.  It is a great tool for building gardens, but has limited use for maintaining them – something to consider before dropping $1300 on one.  For annual tilling, if you are unable to go no-till, a spader is the best choice as it does not invert the soil layers, but to run one you need the Grillo 131, which is almost twice as expensive and spaders are also double the cost of a rotary plow.  A Grillo 131 with a spader will set up back almost $7000 – dang.

Other awesome tools that are close to “must haves” at this scale are a mini seed drill like an Earthway which allows you to plant your seeded crops wicked fast –literally only as long as it takes you to walk the row and comes with a variety of seed wheels to accommodate everything from lettuce to corn.  For cultivation it is near impossible to beat a good wheel hoe.  Glaser and Valley Oak both make great tools that feature the proper design that uses the cutting implement as the fulcrum saving the operator strain as well as interchangeable blades – even offering double wheel configurations that allow you to straddle a row of small plants.  A vigorous operator can hoe 1-2000′ or more in an hour and the rhythm is almost meditative.

Two wheeled trattorini are not cheap, but they fill a gaping hole in sustainable agriculture between a good digging fork and a 40hp Kubota.  My tractor cost me $5000, but has paid for itself in 2 years through produce sales by allowing me to grow 4000#’s of potatoes on less than 5 hours of work a week for half a year using only 5 gallons of fuel a season.  In addition it has helped give birth to community gardens, rain gardens, and provided the inspiration for countless others.   I literally could not be doing the work at our market garden without my Grillo since I have a full time job.  Appropriate technology can make small scale agriculture sustainable simply by making it possible, enjoyable, and profitable.

We can do this.

Be the Change!

-Rob

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