Monday, May 13, 2013

The Man on the Little Blue Tractor

"...After spending a long time watching my sheep and reading through the scientific literature, I finally found some clues, the kind that so often leads me to wonder if farmers shouldn't take a deep breath, step back, and consider the possibility that they are going in the wrong direction."
The Irony of Giant Ragweed / The Contrary Farmer, by Gene Logsdon, par. 3

Years ago I was reading through a small tractor projects booklet. It showed a man using a miniature tractor. He was planting crops for a roadside market. He had been mowing down a stand of wild Jerusalem artichokes. Suddenly he realized that the plants he was mowing down had more value than the ones he intended to plant.

I have been studying wild plants--really studying--Drawers of file folders and a growing number of books. I love it. I hope to learn about a lot of useful crops, growing for free, waiting for us to harvest them.

First, I learned that pigweed is really interfering with farming. It grows so thickly in fields that it overshadows traditional crops. It has become immune to Roundup. It grows so thickly that a harvester of 200 horsepower stalls when trying to mow it down. Nothing, besides hand weeding can eliminate it, and sometimes this is done. But it is costly.

Then I studied about the Giant Ragweed. Same thing.

These are two weeds, impossible to eliminate, loved by animals both domestic and wild. Awhile back indigenous people harvested the prolific seeds of these and similar plants. They used them for their grain.

These two plants have some qualities in common. They do not need to be planted, cultivated, or sprayed. The seed heads produce thousands of seeds per plant that can be made into flour or eaten as cereal.

Can we learn from sheep and wild birds? Can we lower ourselves to hand harvest or let poor people work for us or glean so they do not grow hungry? Someone could design a harvester with a narrow swath that could handle such plants.

I know a young couple with a small farm. They complained that their equipment broke down just when they were harvesting. Then they discovered corn knives. They fed themselves and their animals with this simple implement. Not hundreds of acres, but they fed themselves. Are there brave souls who will live this way--no chemicals, no gasoline?

The nutritional value of Giant Ragweed seed is greater than any domesticated grain. Animals that eat it flourish. Seeds for ragweed are sold for those who wish to feed wild animals like quail. Maybe it could feed us some day?

No comments:

Post a Comment