Book Review – Restoration Agriculture

The information in this book was very powerful for me. Maybe because it came at the right time when I had a small foundation to build forth from. The book isn’t even meant for me. I’m no small scale farmer. I have no intent of growing crops to sell because of the nature of where we live. Yet it spurred my thinking in depth and direction. Like never before inspiration is coming at a rapid pace for solutions and new ideas. Like my pocket pond. I had no idea that was what it was called until this book nor what it can do for the wildlife and my gardens but I also had no idea how I was going to build it. Conventional thought is to dig but dig in its present boulder field would be expensive and yes – crazy. I was pondering upon the book Restorative Agriculture while traveling to the library and spied a sand pile with some filled sand bags. We could raise the present dip in height with sand bags. The walls would be transitional as needed for the pine trees will grow in breath and height increasing our mini glacier. It all made sense.

One evening I went about the yard just observing. I have read in the scriptures that God created all things in patterns for our understanding and so I looked for them. We’ve been here five years and the pattern is that where I used the rototiller, Mother Nature sent thistle in abundance. Mother Nature hates bare soil! From the book I now know what devastation bare ground goes through in a rain storm. To get rid of the thistle, I pulled some but it was just too prolific so I relied on sulfur.  Repeated applications over a couple years changed the pH of the soil and instead of thistle, I had grass – thick patches of it. The grass has given way where raspberries and strawberries grow thick but elsewhere where they are thin, grass has a greater presence.  So now I’m not sweating the little bit of grass in parts of my strawberry and raspberry patch as I see it will move on but the area needed for annuals is going to be more work. The entire north garden has succumbed to grass. I’m planning several natural experiments. It won’t be as easy as letting nature take its course. Nature doesn’t do annuals.

I happen to watch a Youtube on dandelions since Mother Nature has sent them in abundance in my lawn area. The thought to research inspired by the book. The answer  sent me thinking why Mother Nature sent cheatgrass to my fields where it grows more thick every year. Pretty much the same reason she sent thistle and dandelions too I learned.  Yes, they all do well in certain soils but they also play a role in healing of the earth. Even the dreaded grass helps as it keeps my now more neutral pH garden soil from loosing nutrients because the extensive roots hold the sandy loam from washing during the snows and rains. I just need to work towards supplying the need with cover crops instead.

I’m going to use an interpretive bible for simplification though I much prefer the increased depth you get from the King James bible. “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;” I no longer look at thistle, dandelions, and wild grass as beasts to mount an assault upon but as interpreters telling me what I need to do in my stewardship of the land.

Mike Shepard clarified things in his book Restoration Agriculture that I did not understand. He has given me enlightenment and hope. I was wollering in despair, ‘How will I ever be able to do all this?’. It donned on me I’m not capable with just two hands. But I’m not meant to. I am not the master gardener. I am the assistant. I can never win at rewriting Mother Nature’s play book. Pressing my own short sided ideas upon a perfect plan will only increase the input and lessen the output. Perennials have to be the foundation of my food crop system and once they are established, Mother Nature will do most of the gardening. Yes, they are high input in the beginning but the soil doesn’t have to be turned, seeds sown, or plant structure established over and over each year. The input becomes low and the output high.

Interestingly, my neighbors who manage a large ranch are going Restorative as well. In her words, “We want to get the tractors out of the fields.” – (lower the input in ranching is the goal). Much is the same between their plan and mine just on a much different scale. They want the tractors to sit and I want to retire the rototiller. LOL They have a great deal more at stake with their reputations and livelihood on the line. We were already considered weird so not much new there. It was so fun to talk and see the parallels. Each of us learning some from the other. Did you know that sheep grazed with cattle will teach them to eat plants they normally would not? Sheep may now be in their future. We’ve already added it to ours.

I can now see the vision of what can be. I am so…. glad I decided to not grow but a few annuals this year and concentrated on building up my perennial areas. Through intense study, I am discovering a low input, high output foundation. I will put my first priority into the continuation of working on establishing of perennials and annuals that reseed themselves of which seeds can overwinter. That will greatly lower my input. Then I’ll throw in cover crops and some annuals which I can save seed from to expand. As many seeds as possible in which I can plant in the fall will save on the spring rush of livestock births and planting annuals. I’m looking at peas and the likes that if mulched can wait out the winter under the deep blanket of snow that settles on the north garden. Lastly, I’m not about to give up a few garden treats just yet. Things that I have to buy the seed each year to grow. I’m just not going to make them part of my foundation.

I encourage you to pick up the book Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard. I have much of it highlighted yet it wasn’t so much of a how to that I gained from as where it took me. It changed my perspective on permaculture. It sent me on a journey from which I will never return. Let me know what you gain from reading the book.


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