To hoe or not to hoe?

The first thing you see when you take your first steps on the field is weeds. Everywhere.
The first challenge you face when you take your first steps on the field is hoeing. To hoe or not to hoe?

One thing is sure. If you want to sow you need to remove the weeds first and you need to do it effectively. Therefore you hoe, you sweat, you curse, you hoe. Finally you manage to pull out a decently clean plot, maybe even with raised beds and irrigation channels.

Once you are done you may sow. Hold on. How?

There are quite a few things to ponder, most of them depending on which species you are sowing, but let's make three points clear.
Point one, you may sow in rows and thin your plants, leaving only the best specimens to grow. This will greet you with strong and productive plants, and a lot of work to keep the weeds from taking over your plot while your seeds germinate and while your beloved crop grows. If the seeds are big enough to allow for row sowing  you will be able to get along with a light hoeing using a blade instrument. The space between rows will compact and make it even easier, at the same time allowing flood irrigation and creating a less favourable environment for slugs.
The downfall is that next year you will have a hard time breaking the soil clumps, especially if there's clay around.

Point two, you may simply throw around your seeds. This works especially well with tiny seeds. If the seed density is high enough, weeds will simply be swamped. Then you have have to thin apart the seedlings: beyond a certain density your plants will grow very stunted, weak and prone to diseases.  The point is about findind the right balance between swamping weeds and NOT swamping your crop. The seedling you remove when thinning, if edible, can be eaten or preserved by drying or under salt. This is a very wise thing to do.
A high enough plant density will also be able to keep the soil moist by shielding it from the sun and wind.
If the plants do not appeal to slugs, then you will be very happy with this choice.
This methodology works fine for basil and some other crops. Contrary to my expectations is didn't work at all for Chenopodium Quinoa. Quinoa is not aggressive enough and will get stunted pretty fast if there are other plants within a certain radius.  Look at these quinoa plants. they look healthy. All but two have long died from a heavy black aphid (aphis phabae) infestation. They look healthy in the picture, because the setaria viridis grass hasn't taken over yet. Being much more aggressive than quinoa, the latter grew too weak and stunted to survive in my aggressive environment.

Point three comes as a natural consequence. Don't resow the same things in the same plot and and sow highly resistant species. Quinoa is actually weak, out of more than 15 lines I tried or selected in the last two years, 7 didn't even set seed due to pollen sterility induced by temperatures above 30C. 2 managed to set seed but did it too late to be of any use. 2 others set seed but were too rain sensitive and mostly germinated on the plant. only 3 lines survived and did well: one is the orange colored specimen from Real Seeds rainbow quinoa variety while the other were two late-maturing lines I selected from a generic rainbow quinoa packet coming from a french ebayer. These three surviving varieties are pretty resistant to drought, aphids and seem to somewhat deal with the voracious stinkbugs attacking them (nezara viridula, the green stinkbug, plus another unnamed brown stinkbug).

Here are a few drying quinoa seedheads, these grew in a very crowded situation and still managed to do well, unlike the other failed specimens.

Next year they will be started in trays and then put into the field, in rows. They still require hoeing but I hope they will grow much bigger!

Others are still in the field being my own late-maturing lines and will be probably ready by october.

As for quinoa, my hope is to adapt it to my environment but don't trust it too much. Quinoa attracts probably too many aphids to be of any real use.


they are pests and diseases

have you ever seen a a well kept cultivated garden or a crop field? Ever noticed how tidy and precise they are, no weeds, just vegetables or crops in perfect order.

Both of them are going to produce fine food, but at what expense?

It has been found that out of ten (10) calories of food, nine (9) actually come from fossil energy in the form of tractors, diesel fuel, pesticides and fertilizers (yes, they need to be extracted and trasported, and nitrogen based fertilizer requires methane in its sinthesys). Only one calory is from the sun. As you can see, most of today's humanity is actually eating fossil fuels.

What is going to happen when their extraction reaches the tipping point also known as peak oil and then they start depleting faster and faster?
Do I need to say it? Please. Nobody wants to think about bloodbaths.

Actually it's not that simple. The world is indeed a very complex nonlinear system and many things are bound to collapse catastrophically way before we resort to cannibalism. This might actually spell financial crisis. Who knows?
The most reasonable path is towards a gradual decrease in standard of life, followed by a decrease in population due to reduced life expectancy. All of this spiced up by wars, pestilence and famine.

Since according to official data the great fall could start between 2012 and 2015, there isn't much time left. Everybody's really waiting for the World Energy Outlook 2011 from the International Energy Agency (the most athoritative ones), for now give a look at this: http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/docs/weo2010/key_graphs.pdf

at page 7 you see something quite discomforting: the oil fields "yet to be found" (and probably never to be) account for a larger and larger part of future oil output since 2015. Wonder what? this is the right amount needed to avoid the fall and even allow a slight growth.

Having seen this, having undertsood its implications, my best bet is to make my own food without fossil fuels.

Not only I need to make it without fossils so that I'll be independent from rising oil prices, I also need to make it efficiently. I need to attain a very high EROEI (Energy Return On Energy Input) which has to be beyond 10:1, otherwise my method is bound to fail. Most civilizations collapsed right because of that: they slipped below the critical EROEI value of ten. Our western EROEI is currently around 15-12 and falling rapidly. It was beyond 100 in the first part of 20th century when our growth went "explosive".

Everything is there in the graphs. Just give a look at the western per capita GDP. It is actually falling and began this trend after 1970...

For these reasons I need to grow my own food with the least possible energy input.

Everything I grow should be:

- drought resistant, at least to reasonable extents.
- self sowing and vigorous, up to the point of being weedy
- highly disease and pest resistant
- highly adaptable to an ever changing climate
- highly nutrient and productive
- resistant to inbreeding depression (possibly with a polyploid DNA)
- self fertile and possibly pollinated by wind or by self

 Not many crops satisfy these requirements.
I've been evaluating local weeds, neglected andean edibles and practically everything from around the world. There are actually thousands of edible species and we only rely on just 20-30 of them to feed the whole of humanity. That's not good.

However and unsurprisingly not all of them are viable.
Most promising plants actually have some bug either in the form of pests and diseases, scarce adaptability to my very competitive temperate environment (short daylenght flowering being only one of a long list of problems) or scarce productivity and fiddly harvesting procedures.

Only a minority of them actually passes my selective filter and go into trial mode. Even less had been overall succesful.

A few local weeds are actual candidates to becoming staple food sources, two or three andead species are too (one of them already practically confirmed) and finally some selected common vegetable varieties are actually strong enough to pass my exam!

Next posts will include a list of confirmed candidate crops, stay tuned XD


The current state of affairs

So, let's begin. As banal as it may be you were probably born with an idea of infinite growth in your mind: humanity facing a bright future of unlimited expansion, so unlimited that we will conquer even the vast intestellar spaces.  Unfortunately, one day you began noticing an odd feeling of uneasiness like if something was going subtly wrong, not only here but almost everywhere. You probably realized we live in a finite world and there are limits to what we can do, actually hard limits which seem to be approaching faster than you thought. You probably realized nobody is going to do anything about it and you are left on your own.  So it is time to do your part while you can, and jump out of the car before it hits the wall.
What are the basic needs you must satisfy every day as a human? Browsing the web, drinking water, driving your car to your job, eating, playing games, cleaning yourself and your place, ensure removal of garbage from your lawn, drink beer, feed your gas guzzler, smoke, heat your house in the winter and and and.

Maybe it is time to review your list and do a reality check.
Out of everything, the basic needs are really only these:
- drinking water
- eating healthy food
- keep yourself and your premises clean
- live in a healthy place

As a matter of fact, the first two are most important in the short span.
It takes quite some time and patience to grow food, and if you suddenly decide to go sustainable you will be long dead before your attempt ad food independence is met by success. Therefore your plot must be already going, right now.

This is the first lesson. After two years of research and trials my plot is still at an experimental stage, think about it. I'm starting only now to learn from my mistakes.