INTENSIVE GARDENING

The remaining half of your homestead — the arable half — would be farmed as a highly intensivegarden. It would be divided, ideally, into four plots, around which all the annual crops that you want to grow follow each other in a strict crop rotation.

An ideal crop rotation might go something like this:

— Grass (for four years)
— Plot 1: Potatoes
— Plot 2: Legumes (pea and bean family)
— Plot 3: Brassicas (cabbage family)
— Plot 4: Root vegetables (carrots, beets, and so on)
— Grass again (for four years)

Consider the advantages of this kind of crop rotation. A quarter of your arable land will be a newly plowed-up, 4-year-old field every year, with intensely fertile soil because of the stored-up fertility of all the grass, clover and herbs that have just been plowed-in to rot with four summers’ worth of cow manure. Because your cow will be in-wintered, on bought-in hay, and treading and dunging on bought-in straw, you will have an enormous quantity of marvelous muck and cow manure to put on your arable land. All of the crop residues that you cannot consume will help feed the cow, pigs or poultry, and I would be surprised if, after following this crop rotation and grazing management plan for a few years, you didn’t find that your acre of land had increased enormously in soil fertility, and that it was producing more food for humans than many a 10-acre farm run on ordinary commercial lines.

HALF-ACRE CROP ROTATION

Some might complain that by having half your acre down to grass, you confine your gardening activities to a mere half-acre. But actually, half an acre is quite a lot, and if you garden it well, it will grow more food for you than if you were to “scratch” over a whole acre. Being under grass (and grazed and dunged) for half of its life will enormously increase the half-acre’s soil fertility. I think you will actually grow more vegetables on this plot than you would on a whole acre if you had no cow or grass break.

TIPS FOR THE SELF-SUFFICIENT HOMESTEAD

A dairy cow will not be able to stay outdoors all year. She would horribly overgraze such a small acreage. She should spend most of the winter indoors, only being turned out during the daytime in dry weather to get a little exercise and fresh air. Cows do not really benefit from being out in winter weather. Your cow would be, for the most part, better if kept inside where she would make lovely manure while feeding on the crops you grew for her in the garden. In the summer you would let her out, night and day, for as long as you find the pasture is not being overgrazed. You would probably find that your cow did not need hay at all during the summer, but she would be entirely dependent on it throughout the winter, and you could plan on having to buy her at least a ton. If you wanted to rear her yearly calf until he reached some value, you would likely need a further half-ton of hay. I have kept my cow on deep litter: The layer of straw gets turned into good manure, and I add more clean straw every day. I have milked a cow this way for years, and the perfect milk made good butter and cheese, and stored well. Although more labor-intensive, you could keep your cow on a concrete floor instead (insulated if possible), and giver her a good bed of straw every day. You would remove the soiled straw daily, and carefully pile it into a muck heap that would be your fount of fertility for everything on your acre.

Pigs would have to be confined in a house for at least part of the year (and you would need to provide straw for them), because, on a 1-acre farm, you are unlikely to have enough fresh land to keep them healthy. The best option would be a movable house with a strong movable fence outside it, but you could have a permanent pigpen instead.

The pigs would have a lot of outdoor work to do: They would spend part of their time plowing up your eighth of an acre of grassland, and they could run over your cultivated land after you have harvested your crops. They could only do this if you had time to let them do it, as sometimes you would be in too much of a hurry to get the next crop in. As for food, you would have to buy in some wheat, barley or corn. This, supplemented with the skim milk and whey you would have from your dairy cow, plus a share of the garden produce and such specially grown fodder crops as you could spare the land for, would keep them excellently.

If you could find a neighbor who would let you use a boar, I recommend that you keep a sow and breed her. She could give you 20 piglets a year, two or three of which you could keep to fatten for your bacon and ham supply. The rest you could sell as weanlings (piglets eight to 12 weeks old), and they would probably bring in enough money to pay for the food you had to buy for all your other livestock. If you could not get the service of a boar, you could always buy weanlings yourself — just enough for your own use — and fatten them.

Poultry could be kept in a permanent house in one corner of your garden, or, preferably, in mobile coops on the land, so they could be moved over the grassland and improve soil fertility with their scratching and dunging. I would not recommend keeping very many birds, as just a dozen hens should give you enough eggs for a small family with a few to occasionally sell or give away in summertime. You would have to buy a little grain for them, and in the winter some protein supplement, unless you could grow enough beans. You could try growing sunflowers, buckwheat or other food especially for them.

Goats, if kept instead of a dairy cow (or in addition to), could be managed in much the same way, however you would not have as much whey and skim milk to rear pigs and poultry on, and you would not build up the fertility of your land as quickly as you could with a cow. You would only get a fraction of the manure from goats, but on the other hand you would not have to buy nearly as much hay and straw — perhaps not any. For a farmer wanting to have a completely self-sufficient homestead on 1 acre, dairy goats are a good option.

Crops would be all of the ordinary garden crops (fruits and vegetables), plus as much land as you could spare for fodder crops for animals. Bear in mind that practically any garden crop that you grew for yourself would be good for the animals too, so any surplus crops would go to them. You would not need a compost pile — your animals could be your compost pile.

Half an acre, farmed as a garden with wheat grown in the other half-acre, is worth a try if you kept no animals at all, or maybe only some poultry. You would then practice a crop rotation as described above, but substitute wheat for the grass and clover field. If you are a vegetarian, this may be quite a good solution. But you could not hope to increase the soil fertility, and therefore the productiveness, of your land as much as with animals.
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This article is an excerpt from The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It, written by the late John Seymour and first published by Dorling Kindersley in Britain in 1976. The book has become a treasured classic for back-to-the-landers and is now available in a beautifully illustrated 400-page edition.

Source | MotherEarthNews