High Yields, High Hopes

This story has its origins in a comment made someone calling him/her-self Zeke on WUWT.

Benign, inexpensive and effective chemicals were largely developed by the Greatest Generation. The chemical inputs they developed allow us to grow 5 times as much food on the same land.

The replacements mandated by the environmentalists are genuinely toxic, expensive, and ineffective. The tainting of all of our products and innovations through top-down behind-the-scenes environmentalist NGOs etc. is indeed toxic.

The Git had during an earlier exchange estimated he would be harvesting potatoes yielding ~120 tonne/hectare which just happens to be The Git’s long-term average. Now the potato haulms are all but dead, a more careful assessment indicates a yield of 187 tonnes per hectare beating out The Git’s old record of 155 tonnes per hectare. Much to his surprise, The Git discovered that the world record is, according to Indo-Asian News Service | February 18, 2013, 108.8 tonnes per hectare. Whoda thunkit? The average yield for The Git’s part of the world (Tasmania) is 54 tonnes per hectare, well short of Zeke’s claimed “five times” increase using artificial fertilisers.

bucket_spuds

This 12 litre bucket holds the product of a single potato plant.

rejects

This bowl holds a small number of immature tubers that likely wouldn’t have grown much more in size due to the advanced maturity of the haulms. They would have made fine “seed”.

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The Git’s Garden

The Git has been developing a system of gardening based on selected aspects of the French-Intensive and Biodynamic gardening (Biointensive) methods for 33 years. His garden consists of raised beds 1 metre (39″)wide and 8 metres (26′) long. The soil is heavily composted, about 25 mm (1″) being added per year. The high level of fertility engendered allows much closer planting than is usual, without sacrificing yield per plant. The high humus levels also reduce watering needs, due to water retention by the organic matter. As the beds are raised about 100–150 mm (4–6″), drainage Is never a problem.

The footpaths between the beds are 450 mm (18″) wide and allow cultivation and weeding to take place without walking on the beds. Much of the cultivation required in conventional gardening and farming is repairing damage due to soil compaction caused by trampling the soil between the rows of plants. In The Git’s garden, plants are grown in closely spaced blocks rather than rows. While this noticeably increases the yield per unit area of large plants, such as brassicas, the yields of many crops, carrots, potatoes and lettuce for example, are dramatically greater.

Originally, the beds were free-form. The footpaths were kept clean with a GR wheel-hoe purchased from Gundaroo Tiller. Over the years, The Git has experimented with various ways of treating the footpaths, and in his retirement uses the following strategy. The free-form beds suffered from “bird erosion” as the blackbirds moved soil from the edges of the beds into the footpaths while seeking earthworms. Placing 150 mm wide boards down the edges of the beds has reduced this erosion considerably and a significant gain in yields of closely planted vegetables such as carrots since the plants near the edge are no longer uprooted. The footpaths are mulched first with plastic weed-mat and then covered with a thick layer of sawdust as that is available for the cost of transport locally. Cardboard instead of plastic weed-mat is attractive from the point of view of recycling waste material, but has two distinct disadvantages. It decomposes quickly and in wet weather, is treacherously slippery underfoot.

The increase in yield per unit area reduces the amount of time required for many garden operations, such as cultivating, weeding, watering and composting, since a smaller garden is required to satisfy a family’s needs. The advantages of the system are so great that many commercial vegetable growers have adapted it to a mechanised system. The tractor tyres are confined to running in the between bed ‘footpaths’ and the grower benefits from the reduced amount of expensive cultivation, as well as the higher yields. The downside for the commercial grower is the lack of purpose-built equipment using the same spacing between wheels even 30 years after tram-tracking as it is called was introduced. It still requires customising seeders, harvesters and cultivators, by no means a trivial thing to do with expensive machinery.

garden

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On GMO and Organic Crops

Having been told for the umpteenth time that GMO crops outyield conventional hybrids by 30% The Git went looking for independent studies to either confirm or disconfirm the claim. Such studies are extremely rare; not surprising when you understand that Monsanto et alia “own” the genes in the seeds they sell you. If you upset them, you might see your seed supply cut off. Monsanto can be vicious as the Percy Schmeiser story revealed. Schmeiser’s neighbour grew Roundup Ready (RR) canola, that is canola resistant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup (glyphosate), the bees cross-pollinated Schmeiser’s crop and the neighbour’s, thus Schmeiser was found to be illegally in possession of Monsanto’s property (the genes in his crop). He was successfully sued by Monsanto despite having never benefited from the RR genes in the seed he saved since he never sprayed the crop with herbicide.

Schmeiser’s experience played a pivotal role in Tasmania’s farmers’ insistence that the government put in place a moratorium on GMO crops. Tasmania’s major markets demand GMO-free produce. GMO-contamination would eliminate those markets and necessitate finding new markets, a far from trivial exercise. For example, Tasmanian fruit-grower Tim Reid spent six years to establish permission for exporting a single variety of apple (Fuji) to Japan despite Tasmania’s excellent reputation overseas for not just being “clean and green”, but also mercifully free of many pests and diseases rampant overseas. And of course we can sell GMO-free into markets that would happily accept GMO produce. There are no markets demanding GMO to be found.

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