More Machines – Open Source Keyline Plow

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”

-Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution

Open Source Keyline Plow from Open Source Ecology on Vimeo.

Open Source Ecology attracted me not only as a way to build the world around me to my preferred specifications, but also as a way to build my self. Since arriving in June, I’ve done quite a few things I had never done before. I bought a cow. I begun planning what needed to be done to 30 acres to allow it to sustain human life with regards to food, medicine, fuel, and fiber. I used a machine, instead of a shovel, to dig trenches and garden beds. I designed, fabricated, and tested a subsoil plow attachment for LifeTrac. In summary, I am making a living the way I’ve always wanted, using the tools available to me. These days, I am using lots of tools, and daydreaming about ones I’d like to build. Dairy milker, combine, modular float valves, implements for LifeTrac, wood-fire kiln, the list goes on. Two words have been echoing in all our ears at Factor e Farm: “MORE MACHINES.”

Most of our acreage at Factor e Farm is scarred from years of growing corn and soy. As soon as I saw the erosion taking place on our slopes, my brain started churning ideas about ways to slow it down and reverse its damage. My objectives were to increase the water absorption by the soil, provide interruptions for the flow of water on the keyline, and to do it with minimal disruption of the soil’s ecosystem I turned to keyline plowing, and after further research found P.A. Yeoman’s book Water for Every Farm. We had a few plows, but not something that was optimal for the keyline plowing I wanted to do with LifeTrac. I needed something that would have the same effect as the Bunyip Slipper Imp, a plow designed by Ken Yeomans. It didn’t take long for me to realize I had everything at my disposal to build my own plow, and tractor to put it on. So I did. The designing and redesigning taught me the ins and outs of CAD. Got some scrap metal together, ordered some shaft and plate from our local metal shop, and welded together a pair of shanks. Novice welding, but it managed to be ugly and sturdy. Torched some holes to attach it to LifeTrac’s Quick Attach plate, and we were ready to test it. Using both power cubes, it was able to cut through our most compacted clay soil. If it can do that, it’s going to slide right through the hillside where the keyline lays. See more on the wiki.

Although stopping erosion is a priority, growing food is paramount. Grow food, eat food, the cycle goes on. It’s been a hot dry summer, and this season made me very grateful for two things in particular: manure and mulch. Our yields are measly, due to the poor soil and young trees. The corn and sorghum grew well, but a frost that came three weeks early zapped them. The berries were delicious, and so were the the few apples, grapes, pears, asian pears, and wild peaches. Just bought some organic red winter wheat berries from a very lovely lady in Stewartsville. We’re mixing clover seeds we collected with buckwheat, rye, some roots, and wheat into seed balls. The entire orchard is seeded. Once we’re finished baling hay I’d like to seed a few acres of winter wheat. There’s a lively stand of arugula and lettuce coming in the greenhouse, and I’ve got a bunch of spinach to seed as well. We’ve been making delicious yogurt from our cow’s milk. For next year, I’m looking to scale up. Another greenhouse, more animals, and here’s the echo again, “MORE MACHINES.”

30 acres is a large space, and at present only a small portion of the land is being used, so we’ve been planning development of much of the space to be fit for wildlife, humans, their machines, animals, and crops. Roads, paths, terraces, greenhouses, pasture, edible fences, ponds, diversion dams, cellars, wells, shelters, workspaces, pole barns, and food forests have been drawn out. The real work starts in the tangible interaction with the landscape. It’s been quite a time winter-proofing the waterlines and finishing construction for HabLab, and I can’t wait for the adventures to come.

Part of what makes this work unique is the fact that we share it with the world intending for others to benefit from our inventions, experiments, and discoveries. Time can pass in a hum of technical conversation and metallic clangs, but at the end of the day even the mundane turns thrilling when you sit down to an email from an off-site collaborator or somebody offering advice to solve a problem we mention in an online video. To have a wide audience that doubles as a work team is such a privilege, and I am so grateful for all the support coming from each and every person involved. It makes the impossible possible.


  1. Severine

    Amazing contrast of vernaculers– old rake, new tractor. But I cannot see from the video if the windrow of hay came out right– which is the agronomic outcome we are supposed to be evaluating here, correct? Perhaps add in a wide shot of the field to show the effectiveness.

    THanks! and check out , a farmer-driven collaborative design project where we document and build tools for regenerative agriculture. We’d love to talk more with you and partner up sometime! – Sev

  2. Clifton H.

    Nice work on the keyline plow, Gabi. I’m a permaculturist who would like to contribute to your project. I know a lot about food forests and sustainable agriculture systems. I haven’t found an easy way to contact anyone at the farm to offer my services as of yet. Any suggestions on how I can do a project visit along permaculture lines?

    Thank you!