The project was designed to compare and incorporate the traditional planting stick method with more modern no-till planting techniques to see if the combined technique can preserve soil moisture and enhance seed quality and, at the same time, incorporate rotations that enhance crop yields, strengthen disease resistance and improve overall soil quality and health.
This project seeks to promote the old way of farming, which included a form of no-till/direct seeding in corn and vegetable crops using a planting stick, or gishi, and determine how the traditional methods can be enhanced with modern day no-till/direct seeding practices.
Three trials were conducted with the planting stick on the farms of Woodie and Maggie Jodie (8 acres), Johnson Yazzie (5 acres) and Angela Jodie (4 acres). A fourth was added (the Todachienie Demonstration Garden) as an outreach tool for youth and people in the surrounding area.
The fields were plowed and disked because of heavy weed population and hard ground, then planted to oats and Yamhill wheat. The flour corn was planted 3 inches deep behind a modified box leveler with 12-inch rippers. Each participant planted a different corn, blue, white and yellow, at populations of 8,000 and 14,000 seeds per acre.
The project succeeded in some areas but failed in others. One drawback was the lack of no-till planting equipment, so the project team used what it had. Still, the team felt that the traditional planting-stick techniques succeeded.
The project participants found that yields were the same under both the digging stick and the no-till planter. Both methods conserve moisture. They did see a need to improve fertilizer applications.
A seeding rate of 8,000 plants per acre worked out best. Areas seeded at higher rates failed to make it to the seed stage. Frost on Sept. 3 killed a third of the crop.
The SARE team offered several points to consider when using the planting stick method.
1. If using the planting stick for the first time, fall disk or plow.
2. A corn-wheat-fallow rotation worked best for local soils. With this rotation no plowing is needed – only the planting stick.
3. The fallow period allows for the accumulation of soil moisture. Average precipitation in the Pinon area over the last two years has been around 9 inches. The area typically receives 12 inches a year.
4. Grazing the winter wheat (the project recommends Yamhill wheat) can reduce livestock feed requirements.
5. Use of the planting stick is labor intensive, allowing a producer to handle only 1 to 1.5 acres.
6. Weeds flourish under prior tillage practices, but a small grain cover crop reduced the weed pressure by 50%.
7. Plan to practice the approach long term. “You can’t expect immediate yield results.”
8. Don’t let the small grains go to seed or you’ll have a serious volunteer small grain problem during the following fallow period.
In addition to the primary plots, the project team conducted trials on the Todachienie Demonstration Farm, renewing and expanding fields abandoned in 1977, as a youth education program. Angie Jodie’s family contributed most of the material for the demonstration, which was designed to expand crop varieties, develop a quality seed source and incorporate a pest and nutrient management system. However, because of limited precipitation, it was agreed to graze the standing corn and wheat that had been planted, fallow the field in 2000 and continue the demonstration in 2001.
The continuing severe drought has affected many of the practices attempted under this SARE grant. But the participants have lowered their plant population to 5,000 to 6,000 plants per acre and adjusted their rotations to corn-fallow-fallow on three fields and wheat-fallow-fallow on another three.
“The best result from our project is crop rotation, even if you have to fallow a field for two to three years,” the report says, adding that it helps to keep the weed competition under control.
In addition, they are using rainwater catchments from a rooftop to raise squash and melons on small plots.
Most surrounding farmers who planted their corn after moldboard plowing failed to harvest a crop.
FARMER ADOPTION AND DIRECT IMPACT
The participants continue to use the new farming concept, but they agree that more time is needed to adapt the techniques they tried.
FUTURE RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
The group determined that it needs to invest in a ripper blade that will penetrate at least 18 inches deep to increase infiltration with less soil disturbance.
DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS
Twenty-six people under the age of 18 participated in the project. Because of the intense hand labor of planting with the digging stick and hand-hoe operation, the project would not have been possible without their help.
In addition to their involvement, there was strong interest in the harvest and storage methods of the flour corn, in particular the streaming of the ripe corn.
Three producers have been involved in the project, Woodie and Maggie Jodie, Angie Jodie and Johnson Yazzie.