Our aim is that at least one of these tools will be interesting or useful to you in your smaller scale farming pursuits and if you have any suggestions of something we should put on here, then please do send it our way. You can also read more about our harvest helper app, our super simple way to track whats going on in your fields, our favourite weather station and our solar pumping solutions. Read more about who we are more generally on tech.vidacycle.com
Low-tech Soil Tests - a selection of simple tools to better understand your soil, and improve it
The Permaculture Association have compiled a series of guidelines that give you low-tech and easy ways to test your soil quality. They explain how to detect anaerobic activity, soil pH, texture, structure, compaction, drainage, top soil depth and earthworm counts. The guide also includes why each characteristic is important and what you can do to improve it if needed.
Turns out these low-tech tests may be more informative than a normal lab test. In recent months we have learnt from the Innovation for Agriculture soil team that conventional soil tests aren't properly measuring the nutrients in your soil, as they don't take into account nutrients available through micro-organism activities in healthy soil. We will cover this more thoroughly in next month's Farmerama and the next mailout.
Permaculture Voices - hundreds of podcasts covering profitable sustainable farming methods
A great knowledge resource are podcasts, last month I mentioned the podcast we make called Farmerama which shares 4/5 different ideas each month that farmers in the UK and beyond are trying out on their farm. Another great, more in depth (and longer) podcast is Permaculture Voices.
This podcast focuses on just one idea in each episode and there are over 300 episodes online, so it’s an amazing resource if you want to learn about specific things - but they are long, so you have to be prepared to listen for over an hour - perfect when travelling. We also find the presenters at times a little overwhelming...but if you can ignore that, then there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained.
We have listened to a comprehensive overview of the latest understanding of organic matter in soils from Elaine Ingham - our advice would be to listen in 20 minute segments so you can take it all in!
For small-scale farmers who are having trouble making ends meet, we also thought this podcast talking to Curtis Stone provided some great insights into how to plan for your patch to make money - be warned the presenters are at times overly disparaging about the article they are disputing. Curtis Stone has done many episodes of Permaculture Voices all focusing on different aspects of having a profitable market garden on a small plot of land.
Chicken Diaries - plan for and keep track of a small flock of hens
We came across this simple and free app (iPhone/iPad only) that is perfect for keeping a diary of a small flock of chickens, as well as tracking how many eggs they are producing. There is also a simple accounting and expenses add-on ($5) so you can easily keep track of your inputs/outputs and how much profit you are making. Another bonus is they have put together a great information resource and interactive chicken planner on their website for anyone thinking of keeping chickens.