Episode 273. Smallholdings: Tools & Equipment

This is The ChangeUnderground for the 11th of October 2021.

I’m your host, Jon Moore

Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!

This week is about the practical but that does not preclude the need to think critically about decisions. Let’s set some definitions.

A smallholding covers a multitude of options. I was listening to the Tasmanian Country Hour last week. They were reporting on a small farming event and one of their speakers had a holding of 100 acres. To me that’s not a smallholding but it’s a mindset thing as much as a land size thing. 

From an old standby the FAO,


There is no unique and unambiguous definition of a smallholder. Often scale, measured in terms of the farm size, is used to classify farmers into small and large. For example, a number of analysts classify smallholders based on a threshold size of 2 hectares. … However, across countries, the distribution of farm sizes depends on a number of agroecological and demographic conditions, as well as on economic and technological factors. Two hectares in an arid region of Sub Saharan Africa do not produce as much as two hectares of good quality land in the Black Sea region. In Kenya, classifying as smallholders those farmers who farm land smaller than 2 hectares and adding them up, would nearly result in the entire arable sector. In other countries, such as Nicaragua, farms smaller than 2 hectares would be really small. 

End Quote

To my mind, a smallholding is much more a mindset than a measurement.

The key part of smallholding for me is the integration of animals with plants. A microcosm of biomimicry. Unless we are buying in large amounts of fertility, a smallholding will head towards desertification without animals. A bold statement, I know but I think this has been proven since the dawn of agriculture. The salt plains of southern Iraq, the now arid region where the wheat barley complex arose that’s known as the “Fertile Crescent”, the American dust bowl of the 1930s and the dust storms occurring today all point to this outcome. Now it may not happen in our lifetimes but it could. 

So if we take the idea of a smallholding being a microcosm of Nature we will need to engineer complexity to achieve a productive stability. Biomimicry must be our watchword. This can be a painfully enlightening process. I had two strips of land, 10 x 25 metres separated by an alleyway. On the right is the pigged over and regrown pasture. A mix of legumes, clovers, sub clovers and vetch intergrowing with broad leaf plants like dock and plantain and all these within a matrix of several grass species both annual and perennial. On the left is the spelt patch. Not exactly a monoculture but pretty damn close. Some perennial grasses poke up between the rows, a few brassicas, known locally as mustard weed and the docks and plantains. These are struggling to find light as the spelt produces large amounts of organic matter. Farther down the alleyway the spelt is replaced with oats which are producing a monumental amount of organic matter and the alternative species are smothered.. These oats will be slashed after I’ve oversown them with buckwheat.

The biodiversity difference between the pasture and the cereals slapped me in the face one afternoon as I stood out in the fields contemplating and listening. Lots of photosynthesis occurring on both sides of the alleyway but the differences are stark. To produce food for humans, the cereals will return more especially of this small sized area. Ducks and chooks can and do graze the pasture but food return favours the cereals. To start the cereal patches takes energy, human or mechanical. Straight lines of plants are not “natural” but they are “efficient” ish. 

I diverted down this description to highlight the choices we need to make when managing a smallholding. I chose to use a walk behind tractor with a minimal tillage rotary hoe and a sickle bar mower. Once the cereal patch was prepared for the seed, I used a hand held hoe to form ridges and furrows. I had sowed into the furrows and used the hoe to split the ridges and cover the grains. To harvest the spelt I’ll be using a korean sickle and to “harvest” the organic matter of the oats, the sickle bar mower.

I have chosen, deliberately, not to grow market garden vegetables because they are of little interest to me, instead I chose to focus on small scale cereals and to surround the patches with perennials. Rosemary, dwarf crabapples and any number of other things to build diversity and productivity. Tools needed for these hedge rows: pruning saws and secateurs.

All very minimal because the animals provide the “power” above and beyond the photosynthesis. The pigs, coming to the end of their time with us, have turned pasture species, windfall apples and all the non-pork household organic matter into meat, manure and soil fertility. The ducks work on the snail and slug issues as well as grazing the pastures and aerating them with their bills. The chooks act as a cleanup team after everything else. Once the pigs [clears throat] “retire”.

Podcast footnote:

When I say retire I mean I will be killing them, gutting , hanging and butchering them. Mrs ChangeUnderground and I will ten make bacon, ham and sausages. All life ends in death. From what I can see through my own observations and reading are two interpretations of life on this planet. One, it is a place of suffering before moving on to a promised land and Two, the world is a promised land we just need to understand and live with. From these comes two different understandings of spirituality. From the former, one life, one test and life in an ethereal paradise; from the latter, many lives, either as a “soul” or as chemicals cycling through the biosphere. Happiness later and the earth as a tool for our use versus wonder and joy in each life because we find ourselves here now. Either system has death as an end product of life. Plants, microbes, fungi and other animals will eat us when we’re dead, everything eats something else while we are alive. That includes us. Now “Jake and Elwood” the two pigs have lived a life out in the fresh air, eating pasture, sleeping under trees in summer, have run and frolicked with me and will be killed with one bullet to the brain each. I’m at peace with this. I am not at peace with pigs or any other animal for that matter being confined and then marched off with thousands of their kind to be “processed” in a conveyor belt of unfeeling death. I don’t enjoy the act of killing another animal but I make sure it is as quick and pain free as possible. Animals are killed in different places across our holding so that no one place has a smell of death and the blood resulting is returned to as much of the soil as possible. Birth, life, death, humane and with dignity and gratitude.

End Podcast footnote.

Once the pigs are killed, butchered and preserved, we, the soil, the plants and the humans, are going to benefit from a new species but that is a choice for the future.

So tools:

  1. Use animals where you can.
  2. Work out what you’ll be producing. This informs everything else.
  3. Select the simplest tools you can and spend money for quality.
  4. Don’t forget to sell what you don’t need.

Above all, keep learning, your mind is your primary tool.

So if you’re thinking about or even ready to make the leap into growing your own food go to the website: https://worldorganicnews.com/freeebook/ and you can obtain a free copy of The ChangeUnderground No-Dig Gardening System.

I’m also back as far as episode 154 in republishing the transcripts since the “great website crash”of earlier this year. Hopefully I’ll have all the transcripts up by the end of 2021.

And don’t forget the Facebook Group: ChangeUndergound Podcast Group

Decabonise the air and Recarbonise the soil.

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.




The ChangeUnderground Academy No-Dig Gardening Course:


FREE eBook: https://worldorganicnews.com/freeebook/

email: jon@worldorganicnews.com

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1546564598887681

Bubugo Conservation Trust


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