At the 14th of July we made a short 3 hour stop at Salamander Springs Farm on our way to Chicago. Susana Lein is living there off-grid and grows mainly beans and corn as staple crops. She used to grow all kinds of vegetables and sell them but as she has no walk-in cooler the dried staples seemed more appropriate after a while.
Susana has spent a lot of time in different places of the world learning permaculture techniques. She grows here vegetables on contour for water management and uses no-till, organic and diverse intercropping techniques.
In the following I want to show some elements of the farm that were interesting to us.
Susana had just given a workshop on how to design a solar dehydrator a few days ago so she explained the important aspects to us with the drawing she made. It is important that the heat collector on the bottom of the drying chamber is big enough to sustain the drying chamber. Often the heat collectors are built too small and then it is hard to dry fruit or vegetables like tomatoes in them without them getting moldy. Also the angle of the solar collector is important. As Susana is mostly drying things in spring and autumn she chose the according sun angle of those months. Other people might want a dryer more suitable for drying in summer.
I also liked to see her solar dehydrator on wheels as it can be easily shifted to face the sun by just aligning the shadow.
Susana then showed us how she deshelles the corn kernels form the cobs with a manual machine that uses a fly wheel to get momentum, shells the kernels off that fall down from the bottom and spits out the rest on the left side. The machine can be adjusted to different widths of corn cobs and it is satisfying to watch.
To make a grit out of the corn kernels she uses a small electric and very loud grain mill.
To get the dry beans out of their pods Susana puts a few hands full in a linen bag and smashes it on the ground a few times, very low-tech and effective.
The following picture shows a traditional corn drying house that would have been made with wood strips instead of metal screen as siding traditionally.
Hanging on the corn drying house I found an A-frame with a string level that is used to measure contour lines. One side of the A is placed on the ground, then the other side is placed where on the ground on roughly the same level and rotated up and down a bit to find the point where the string in the middle is level. Then the other leg is moved around to find the next spot and so on until one ends up with a contour line.
Having the vegetable beds oriented according to the contour prevents erosion and improves water infiltration, especially if combined with swales.
I really loved to see the following idea. In a vegetable bed Susana grew barley in her crop rotation and used the straw as mulch for the next vegetable crop by just mulching it down sideways with a wooden block.
These tomato plants are growing in the same technique of straw mulching.
At the ends of her vegetable beds Susana grows perennial flowers like Daylilies, which are very edible. Perennial flowers that attract benefial insects would be a good choice too.
The corn plants at Susanas are the biggest ones I have ever seen so far and they grow without any fertilizer and without tilling the soil. Susana uses a bunch of different cover crops in between the plants and also plants squashes and beans in between.