Unfarmable Land? Not So Fast!


Homesteaders with a portion of their property unavailable for farming. New gardeners faced with less-than-optimal land for sale. Farmland overused and exhausted by tillage or damaged by pollution and contamination — these are only a few examples of the unfavorable situation farmers and ranchers can find themselves facing in terms of unfarmable soil, which will affect your ability to lead any kind of self-sustainable lifestyle.

As a homesteader, self-reliance and sustainability are your primary goals, but turning a profit from your crops or livestock matter as well. The virility of your land can make or break any economic value your farm can offer, so identifying alternative ways to generate income from your farm will be important. Here are a few ideas.

1. Alternative Farming and Harvesting

If your property does not allow for widespread crop growth due to a lack of soil fertilization, substitute traditional crops for non-traditional produce. Mushrooms are a crop that you can grow virtually anywhere because their environment can be manufactured. Snails are a valuable export crop that needs no preparation or encouragement, while Tilapia fish require only a small startup investment and yield great results on their own and as sources for fertilizer.

Through the introduction of organic matter, virtually any type of soil can go from unusable to valuable in time. Think of the process as an infusion, and it becomes a simple idea: The “bad” soil gets broken up, allowing for a sizable amount of “good” soil and compost materials to get added and sink in. After a certain amount of time passes, the bad soil changes thanks to the presence of the good soil and organic matter, and the entire area begins to improve.

2. Terraforming Your Soil

People generally only consider organic waste composting or livestock manure when thinking of organic matter, but green compost can serve your unusable soil just as well. Planting certain crops in the fall —  such as alfalfa, hairy vetch and clover — provide natural enrichment to the soil as they decompose and die in the winter. They require little tending to, do not affect spring crop yields, and break up the soil. This helps make spring planting and reaping easier and more profitable.

The best time to work unusable land will be in the fall, as during the spring and summer, you should be reaping and tending to the more productive areas of your farm or ranch. Late fall makes for the most optimal time of year as your replanting and preparations for winter should already be complete. It gives the arid, rocky, sandy or barren land all winter to change.

For clay and sandy soils, you will want to add an abundance of compost material. This creates a loam soil that converts the clay and sand particles into advantageous elements for deep root planting. You will need to continually add organic matter to this area to sustain the effect. However, you will likely not run out of composting materials to use, so that probably won’t be an issue.

3. Tackle Land Maintenance

An efficient method of land and soil rehabilitation comes from the use of machinery. Whether you decide on rotational, zone or ridge tillage, certain tools will prove most effective if used correctly and at the optimal time. A tractor can help greatly in breaking up rocky or clay soil unless there’s too much moisture, which results in the clay clumping together rather than breaking up. For land overgrown with weeds and grass, a lawn mower will serve you well both in clearing the land and providing you with valuable composting materials for later use.

If you are curious as to the type of machine to use, you may wish to examine the Cat Spartan Mowers, which are sturdy enough to cover large swaths of land. Additional options in the form of animal tillage are also available. If you possess a functional ranch or collection of livestock, chickens, for instance, you can make effective use of their pecking and scratch to till in the sod. Goats and bovine are also an option, as they will graze wide and eliminate any old roots that are in need of removal.

Wood ash serves as a solution for overworked or polluted areas of land. The ash from your wood burning fireplace or cooking pit replaces lost nutrients in the soil, absorbs toxins collected underground, and raises the pH of your soil as well. It’s important you remember this solution comes from wood ash — charcoal purchased from the store and used in your grill cannot do the same. A lot of commercial charcoal contains additives and additional chemicals that are toxic to the environment.

Alternate Ideas and Good News

If your field or parcel of land has no capability as a farming source, and you have no patience to make it so, converting the land for different users can serve your needs. In certain areas, land can be leased for a variety of uses such as hunting, mineral extraction, advertising, and more options that result in long-term economic benefits. However, if you lease it out you’ll want to make sure that you protect yourself from any litigation in the lease.

To serve as a proper source of growth for edible plant life, the soil must contain essential nutrients and vitamins. Soils that have become unfarmable or naturally unusable portions of land do not possess these elements. Fortunately, nature can heal itself if given the opportunity, and barren land can evolve with a new environment. Infertile soil can change with proper treatment, either from machinery or more natural means.

  • Published on Oct 30, 2017
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