December 7th, 2007

Ann Vole

Zero-till farming could make cropland out of deserts

Zero-till farming could make cropland out of deserts
(repost of a posting on a discussion about growing crops in deserts)
A proven solution to soil depletion and limited rainfall is a new farming technique called zero-till farming. Studies on zero-till farming showed a dramatic change of the soil for several feet down from just a single decade of doing it (compared to traditional methods in the next field over). This form of farming was developed in dry sandy soils that would loose so much soil moisture when tilled traditionally that it was deemed unusable for anything other then grazing. Zero till seeders carefully cut into the soil to deposit seeds but leave the soil undisturbed as much as possible so the soil moisture is not exposed to evaporate. Weeds are reduced in dryer areas due to weed seeds being on the dry surface and crop seeds being down in the moist soil to grow faster and choke out the moisture-starved weeds. The scientists figure the reasons for the improvement of soil quality is partially due to the different microorganisms and fauna of the soil living in specific layers of the soil so mixing them up means they have to re-establish their populations in their desired layer. Another factor is the soil's salts and pH levels change when water moves upwards instead of downwards due to sudden evaporation of freshly tilled soil (instead of the normal downward movement from rainfall). This change in pH and increase in salts causes problems for the microorganisms and fauna (microscopic animals and worms) as well as reduced productivity of the plants. Straw is a problem for farmers if they cannot till it under so zero till farmers leave as much of the straw standing as it grew and chop and spread the rest out the back of the combines. This standing straw and growing layer of mulch greatly increase the soil moisture due to evaporation and due to catching blowing snow and also stopping run-off in heavy rains. The modern zero-till equipment has ways of planting seeds without disturbing the standing straw of previous years so the straw and roots of the previous crops decompose underground later so the ammonia produced stays in the soil to act as fertilizer.

The proof is in the soil that over 10 years of testing had the neighboring field go from 5 to 4 inches of dark soil and the zero till section to go from 5 to 14 inches of dark soil. The native prairie near by (never farmed) had 12 inches of dark soil suggesting that 10 years of zero till may have fixed the soil to as good as native prairie or maybe even better. (note that this test I am talking about is in productive farmland area with good rainfall).

Weeds are a bit of a problem with zero till because cultivating the soil is not an option to kill weeds. Usually Glyphosate such as the herbicide Roundup by Monsanto is used to kill everything green just before the crop emerges from the ground or later in genetically engineered Glyphosate-resistant crops like Canola. Other methods include special rollers that pull out weeds or mowers to cut off weeds but they also rip out the old straw and decrease the moisture holding abilities of the standing straw and mulch layer. Heavy harrows are like a giant rake that will damage most weeds while leaving the straw mostly standing and are usually pulled behind the zero-till seeder.
Ann Vole

Things to do daily

the best way to beat procrastination is to do a little every day. This was the basic idea behind my "15 Minutes of Frame" comic. My mom said she saw a show about hoarders (a show like Oprah) that suggested the solution was to have the person throw something away every day and preferably throw away as much as they brought home or more but most important was that they threw SOMETHING away every day. So, here is my list of things to do daily.

- make my 15 minute comic
- throw something away
- sort a handful or more of paper items
- take my vitamins
- pray for guidance / read the Bible
- play a musical instrument or sing
- write some sort of computer code like HTML or JavaScript
- come up with one idea for a movie, animation, book, comic, lj topic, etc... just one needed