Keyline Cultivation for Rapid Soil Building — 7 Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this. Topsoil degradation is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, and yes anything involving lots of compost is super labour intensive. I shall give this a go by hand, unless I can find an ox;)(It’s a small plot)

  2. You actually do want a decent sized tractor for this, because there is a lot of resistance with these chisels. The topsoil creation depends a lot on local climate and soil types. The main feature is the water infiltration, and that’s where the increased performance comes from.

    That being said, it doesn’t work on all soil types, and anything with rocks, you just end up beating up your equipment. But for the areas that can use this, this is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to scale soil improvement.

    Check out this ranch in Texas, that has severely degraded land and uses a combination of techniques to improve it:

  3. Um, Keyline is less labour intensive because it’s done with a *tractor* rather than by hand, like a biointensive bed :)

    Why would you compare a soil building technique devised for pastures + whole farm scale to a technique used for small-plot, home scale intensive vegetable production? That doesn’t seem like a useful comparison – totally different techniques for totally different contexts. Just saying :)

    • Good questions. For one, the ground could be chiseled by horse or oxen. You could probably rig up a homemade implement and pull it behind a motorcycle. My main point though was how keyline requires very little time, effort and resources. It’s mostly a passive approach to building soil.

      Keyline can be used on smaller projects as well — say a few acres of sloping land. This is the scale that I’m envisioning for my next project — probably some type of transition forest garden.

  4. After our forest garden is finished, I’d love to do a larger land restoration project similar to what I talked about before in the blog post titled Transition Forest Gardens.

    Right now I’m tossing around 3-4 different methods in my mind trying to figure out the best approach. I think some combination of swales, keyline, planting nutrient accumulators in the keyline grooves, ponds, sheet mulch is the most interesting.

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