Saturday, October 11, 2014
Fooled by Fertilizer
One thing you rarely see anyone mention when they talk about self sufficiency is how the lack of fertilizer is going to effect their yields and the very carrying capacity of the land they plan on using. The effects of over grazing can render a decent sized pasture into a useless waste land in a very short time and if you plan on a crop rotation you are going to need outside inputs of energy to re-seed every few years and even then will not completely replace the nutrients that are taken out.
I have managed to get around the need for chemical fertilizer in my garden space using a combination of barn waste infused with sheep manure, old horse manure, grass clippings, some crop rotation and wood ash. What tests I have done show that this combination has kept up with the requirements needed to amend the soil and replace the trace nutrients every year but this is a very small section of the entire farm.
Heavy mulching of wood chips and leaf litter has helped to keep my fruit trees fertilized in a nice slow release fashion but also requires a fair input of fuel to keep the waste (in the form of the wood chips) coming in. Not always my own input I might add but an input from someone that likely will not be available in a collapse or grid down situation.
This type of input may work on a small scale I just don't see it as a practical plan on a large scale. No way in hell am I going to attempt to fertilize a 15 acre hayfield using a wheel barrow. Besides there is no way I could ever keep enough stock to have that kind of supply of fertilizer. It isn't like it is a closed system here the stock never provides the required amount of fertilizer compared to the land needed to feed them and the nutrients used for that feed.
Rotation seeding brings it's own problems in the fact that you would either need outside energy inputs to reseed plus the seed to begin with then after the cover crop is grown you would have to reseed again. This either requires the ground to be prepped by hand or fuel for a tractor or animal drawn labor (and all the equipment/feed that requires).
The only solution I can see that requires minimum inputs is the old three field style of rotation that allows one field to sit fallow and rejuvenate. This system can be helped along by some mixed grass and legume seeding by hand that would not require plowing until you wished to put in another crop. If you were simply revitalizing the land for pasturage the grass/legume mixture would work it's magic and then you could simply allow grazing once again. In fact with the proper seed mixture it is possible to allow a minimal amount of grazing during the growing season off and on, even while the field was technically sitting fallow, as long as you keep it to short intervals.
The real problem is this system will require adjustments in how much land you will need to become truly self sufficient by at least a third if not more. Not to mention doing a true test to try and achieve accurate numbers would require you to reduce your use right now before it is actually needed. Not sure many of us are willing to do that.
I would be interested in hearing if any others have given thought to how they would handle the reduced yields and pasture capacity if/when the supplies of chemical fertilizers dry up. I am trying to balance out a plan that requires the least amount of manual labor or outside energy input as possible but keeping as much land in production as possible.
Keep Prepping Everyone!!!