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Super Cultivator

A use for surplus Russian tanks.
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This past Spring, I tried a lazy bed, or double dug bed for my garden. This entails digging a trench about two shovel widths wide, four or five feet long, and one shovel deep. This is the width dimension of your lazy bed. Cart this soil to the end of the bed, about twenty feet away, then return to the initial trench, and using a garden fork, loosen the soil at the bottom of the trench, down another foot or so. Now, dig another trench beside the first, dumping the soil into the first trench, and repeat the soil loosening operation. Continue to repeat this process until you reach the soil from the initial trench which will top the last trench. When you're done, you have a bed of soil, loosened about two to three feet deep.

The rationale behind this, is that it allows the rapid development of a larger root structure, requiring less water to grow a given amount of biomass. This is an old Irish tequnique, and the reason they're called lazy beds, is that weeding becomes a trivial endevour, as the weeds are easily pulled up by the roots from the loosened soil.

Working of compost into the bed is recomended (compost theory is complex, and another subject), and the system worked out by John Jeavons (I'll try to find a link) consists of digging these beds in sets of three, harvesting one, and planing the other two in a nitrogen fixing, green manure - fava beans usually, then turning the lot after harvest, and repeat the process next season - rotating the beds so that each lies fallow for two years, while working organic matter into the soil. This increases soil fertility, and helps to retain water, being basically a method for "growing" rich, organic soil, with out recourse to importing fertilizer, and reducing both water usage and salinization rate.

As I said, I tried this - I had to add some organic steer manure, and triple phosphate, as my soil is very alkaline, and previous crops of Tomatls have suffered from cracking. I planted Tomatoes, and mulched with some spoiled hay I got for free, to cut down on evaporative losses, (another entire subject) and in spite of a hot dry summer, I have a bumper crop of Tomatls, and I only watered about five times all summer - about once every two weeks, although I forgot about it for about a month, with no rain, and the plants weren't even wilted, they just didn't get any bigger. This is probobly less water than I use in a day with showering and head, etc.

The drawback to this for most people, as well as for large scale farming, is that the beds are very labor intensive to dig initially, and every year, the process must be repeated, although the digging gets easier. I had read an article about how after the end of the cold war, there had been some attempt made to convert tanks into tractors, and that this was pretty half baked, and these tractors used way too much fuel. So I thought, why not use them to dig lazy beds? Conventional tractors are not powerful enough to dig the three feet or so into the soil to loosen it sufficiently, but a tank might be.

Biointensive planting, which requires careful attention to spacing, creates a microclimate beneath the plant canopy, reducing evaporative loss, and is used to maximise yields, producing more food from a smaller space.

Thought I'd share this with you all, you never know when this trivia might come in handy.

Scott_D, Sep 07 2000

John Jeavons http://www.johnjeav...o/john-jeavons.html
"Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Robert Bergland has hailed Jeavons' approach as having 'done more to solve poverty and misery than anything else we've ever done.' " [Scott_D, Sep 07 2000]

John Jeavons http://www.context....IB/IC42/Jeavons.htm
Cultivating Our Garden [Scott_D, Sep 07 2000, last modified Oct 21 2004]


       Rent a tiller. Dump hay and cowpoo on the ground, run tiller over ground, loosened soil. Want deeper than the foot or so a hand tiller goes, rent a tractor sized tiller.
StarChaser, Sep 08 2000

       Or you could go for the several no- or low-till methods, or go for chicken &/or pig tractors.
hello_c, Sep 08 2000

       What about dynamite? If you can fish with it, surely you can garden with it, too. Use a posthole digger or something to drill a hole, put a stick at the bottom, kaboom! Instantly disturbed earth.
egnor, Sep 08 2000

       Not to mention the instantly disturbed neighbors.   

       But I think dynamite's probably better at making bowl-shaped pits, when you really want a long trench. Better idea: bury a perforated steel pipe three feet underground. When you want to "till" your plot, pump an explosive gas mixture into the pipe, from which it will seep into the soil. Then ignite it. The explosion will turn the earth to an easily-controlled depth, for the entire length of the plot. You'd have to use nice sturdy pipe though, since this is only a time-saver if you can bury the pipe once and reuse it every year/season.   

       I wonder if the explosive gas could be chosen to have useful byproducts (eg nitrogen fixation)?
wiml, Sep 08 2000

       I hear these techniques work great for vaporizing whales, as well.
egnor, Sep 09 2000

       StarChaser- the idea of a double-dug bed is also to break up the subsoil as well, and subsequently fertilize it. Even a tractor-sized tiller doesn't have the power to dig that deeply.   

       Tanks use an obscene amount of fuel, however. A vehicle that might work would be an entrenching plow or self-propelled entrenching vehicle. These machines can dig trenches well over 6 feet deep, so a shallow trench wouldn't be a problem. These vehicles are only found in Combat Engineering battalions, however, so they're pretty rare.   

       It's also probable that most of these vehicles are also still in use, as they have civilian roles as well and would most likely not be retired from service. There are commercial and industrial entrenchers for rent that may do the same trick, though.   

       I've used double-dug beds for years, and the yields are fantastic- especially when coupled with vertical growing methods and other enhancements. I learned the technique about 7 years ago, so it's good to see that the idea is catching on.   

       One note, Scott_D: It isn't necessary to double-dig the beds after the first year. Once the subsoil is broken up and mixed with the topsoil and other organic material, all you need to do is to till it once or twice a year and keep rotating your crops diligently. I use a series of 4-25 ft. beds edged with 2x12" sides, and as a result I never need to actually set foot on the beds themselves. Thus, they never compact very much- if at all- and they never require a second double-digging.
BigThor, Sep 12 2000

       Right on. I read about double digging in Organic Gardening (I think...) about ten years ago, but didn't really have room for more than an herb garden until I got an acre of unirrigated desert a couple of years ago. I'm slowly adding beds, and hope to keep myself in vegatables - I don't always have a lot of free time, and the lack of maintainence, outside the initial digging is fantastic, likewise, the ridiculously small water usage turns it from a hobby to actually being cost effective - I'm totally gassed about it. Everybody fights about water around here, but I've only seen one other guy doing it - a real mystery. I'm thinking of putting artichokes in next year in double dug pits.
Scott_D, Sep 12 2000

       Personally, I encourage *worms* instead of planning for tractors & explosives. They cultivate & aerate & generally improve tilth all to heck & gone, with no effort from me.   

       Scott_D, there's a small book called "Water-Wise Gardening" that you might like - I garden in a bog, so can't judge the effectiveness, but other books from that publisher have been excellent.
hello_c, Sep 13 2000

       Indeed, civilization would not be possible without the lowly earthworm. I'll definitely check that book you recommended out - my current method are producing exellent results, but I'm always seeking to expand my knowedge base.   

       Back to earthworms, I do have a pamphlet on permaculture methods for growing earthworms that involves worm beds fed with household waste, even paper waste and chicken excrement (chicken coops above the worm beds), yeilding compost, poultry products and earthworms, although I'm not quite ready for chickens yet. I need to do something like that though - my soil is very dry and compacted, consequently, few worms, Decent soil though, once you till it adequately, and raise the organic content.   

       "Secrets of the Soil" by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird is also an exellent book on soil, exploring the relationships between microrganisms and soil health - it's a bit on the occult side, describing complicated and esoteric methods to increase soil fertility, but contains a lot of interesting information and ideas.
Scott_D, Sep 13 2000, last modified Sep 15 2000

       I've seen big tillers that do something like three feet deep, and I think that's at least as deep as you and a shovel get. Also saw one bigass monstrosity that had steel fangs like five feet long that punched vertically into the ground then tilted to break it up...Think it was experimental, though, never saw it anywhere else...
StarChaser, Sep 15 2000


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