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TREATING HEAD-CUTS WITH YEOMANS PLOW

NOTES FROM CONVERSATION WITH KEN YEOMANS (edited for clarity)


OCTOBER 7, 2009

CG: How do we use the Yeomans Plow to treat head-cutting?

KY: By head-cutting I would term that the start of an ‘erosion gutter’ that’s been working its
way up into a valley.

CG: That’s correct.

KY: One of the cultivations should be as close as you dare to travel to the edge of that gutter.
Just wrap around the whole thing. You drive up one side of the erosion gutter and you drive
down the other side of it. That’s a borderline. You’re not going to get any closer than that. So
now you’ve got a cultivated strip around the gutter. As to the other surrounding cultivation:
You’re really just dealing with a valley. The standard way to cultivate within a true valley shape
is to rip parallel downwards from any suitable near contour guide line. The best way to heal that
valley would be to put Keyline Pattern cultivation on the ridges that are surrounding it. Then the
water won’t get into the valley nearly as early. All the water that’s in that valley, the same water
that has been causing the problem, has come off the ridges beside the valley. The little bit of rain
that falls within the valley itself is not the issue. So if we can spread any water that reaches the
valley shape and keep and hold the rest for as long as practical on the ridges, that’s the way to
go.

CG: Okay, what about at the head-cut itself?

KY: The head-cut itself: If you get the surrounding area handled, then you starve the head-cut
and it can start to heal. But you can’t just cultivate around that area of the head-cut. You’ve got
to do something more. Otherwise there will still be a steam of water running down the valley
and pouring down into that gutter and continuing to down cut. Would that be true?

CG: That’s correct.

KY: So let’s control that steam of water by spreading it out widely. What will do that will be
going further up, beyond, higher than the cut where it starts where this is possible, and working
just the narrow band of the valley itself, working parallel downwards from a contour guideline.

CG: And you would come down to that one?

KY: Work down the valley towards that active head-cut.

CG: Not up?


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KY: No, never up. That is, if we are between what would be the Keypoint of the valley and
that particular head cut. In such a case the centre line of the valley would be relatively flatter
than the side slopes of the valley.

If you worked upwards what would happen is that with each pass across the valley above the
head cut you would be gaining height faster on the steeper sides of the valleys than in the flatter
middle of the valley. You would travel through the valley and then be driving on a climbing
path from the centre of the valley as you move onto the steeper sides.

So because the same width of plowing will rise more on the steeper side you’d actually end up
with a pattern that would direct the water towards the middle of the valley. That’s exactly the
opposite of what you want.

CG: So, in this case unlike the valleys in those pictures, you’re advising me to cultivate
downwards.

KY: Yes, those other valleys are not significant in any shape. In our valley under discussion
water is concentrating in the middle of the valley. That is the problem for you.

CG: Because the valley is more of a valley is what you’re saying.

KY: It’s significant.

CG: It’s a significant valley as opposed to insignificant. So it’s the insignificant valley that it
is safe to cultivate upwards in.

KY: You can swing up a little bit as you go through the valley with your cultivation, if you
wanted in those other areas. Just ignore the contour and just drive up hill a bit then come back
down.

CG: Your concern is that you’re going to deviate from the true contour.

KY: Contour doesn’t matter. It will all be off the true contour. Other than the first pass that
is exactly on the contour line, everything else becomes off the contour. It must. Don’t worry
about the fact that you’re deviating off the contour a bit. That’s not an issue: What matters is to
cultivate the area in such a way that the resulting off-contour pattern will guide runoff water
away from the erosion gutter. The correct pattern will actually delay the arrival of runoff water
into the erosion gutter and move the arrival of each little stream to points further down the side
of the gutter. This will aid stability, build soil fertility and promote the healing of the gutter.

CG: What do you think of idea of taking the area immediately above the head-cut and taking
the furrows and planting cactus leaves in them to create a living hedge 15 or 20 feet wide above
the head-cut? In the furrows that are on the contour?

KY: You’re planting cactus there?


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CG: Yes, prickly pear.

KY: You might be giving yourself a problem later on.

CG: Because you can’t re-contour in it?

KY: Let’s just work at rebuilding the biological fertility of that area and spreading the
water widely. Something is going to grow there as soon as you start loosening the soil. I really
can’t comment about prickly pear. I hate it but it might have value in your circumstances.

CG: Does Australia have prickly pear?

KY: Yes, it is a pest.

CG: Did it come in as an exotic and get spread all over?

KY: Yes. An exotic. Eventually we found and released a moth. The moth eats the heart out
of the leaves. That sort of brought them under control. They just became enormous things.
About 20 feet high, huge and awful.

KY: Can you get that so you can see it? (referring to the following diagram)
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KY: Now, let’s just reverse the whole thinking about that by turning it upside down.

KY: Let’s pretend that that ridge area with the light green represents the Keyline pattern
cultivation of a valley. Can you do that? Pretend the whole thing is inverted; now it is a valley
with ridges on both sides of it. What I want to draw your attention to is that the first contour
line, the highest one so to speak is a nice smooth easy curve. As you come down, working
towards some head-cut, the angle is closing in and the turn is becoming sharper. You will get to
a place where you cannot make the turn. This is where you’ll have to pull the plow out, spin the
tractor around and then drive back out again, on quite a sharp angle. That’s good. That’s what
you want to have happening. So by the time that you get to your head-cut, you’re a long way off
contour – you’re creating a pattern that has the appearance of exaggerated contours, all of which
direct runoff water away from the middle of that valley towards the sides of the valley.

CG: Okay.

KY: As to where to stop: Try to do the whole of the valley section so that the transition point
is along the steep edge where that dashed line is on that diagram, which is also where the
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contours are closest together before they start to widen out onto the ridge. So, to treat the
valley, which is the smaller shape, let’s treat the valley all the way to where the ridge cultivation
would start, i.e. the steep edge. I’m not talking about the steep edge of the gutter; I’m talking
about the steep sides of the valley. Just do the cultivation out as wide as that.

CG: Okay. I’m just going to cultivate the edges of the valley in which this gutter is found.
And I’m going to go out on the edges of the valley as far as I can. At some point, the contour is
going to turn around and start going the other way because it’s now a ridge shape.

I’m going to go way above the head-cut, way above, hundreds of feet probably and spread water
all the way down, getting it out of the valley bottom. I may be treating edges as well, it just
depends on what’s up there and it will be different in every one.

KY: Normally as one gets further away from the guideline, the reference end point on the
guideline, where it goes from the valley to the ridge curve can’t be used as the reference where
you should do the u-turn on each successive run. Doing so can cause the clash of pattern that
you mentioned. Fortunately this change of curve direction of the contours coincides with the
steepest side slope of the valley and ridge. It changes directions at that maximum side slope.
This makes it easier to recognize where to do the u-turn and work back beside the previous run.
So that’s what you’ll be doing when you’re working down a valley above the head-cut. As you
get out to that steeper side slope – the country is sort of twisting, in once sense; it’s getting
steeper and steeper as you’re moving out of the flat bottom of the valley and then it will start to
flatten out again as you go past that steepest point. That steepest point – that’s the end of the
valley shape. That is where you can U-turn downhill and head back.

CG: The idea eventually is to loosen the whole surface but in different places?

KY: Yes, loosen the whole surface to help the land adsorb more water. Also to leave a pattern
of rip marks on the surface that, when runoff eventually occurs, the pattern in the cultivation
holds water on the ridges longer and spreads wide any water moving within the valley shapes.

CG: I guess when we do our second cultivation in four years we can simply follow the
furrows that we’ve already put in and use the existing patterns as our guideline can’t we? Will
they be visible, as growth lines?

KY: Yes. They will be obvious. You probably seen that, someone’s dug a pipeline across a
paddock and you’ve got a green line along where the pipeline goes. Ever notice that? Someone
buries a polypipe across a paddock to a trough.

CG: Yes. I have noticed that.

KY: We’re just going to have lots of them.

Now, regarding a second cultivation target of “in 4 years”: I recommend you target your second
ripping to whenever the opportunity arises, after the first regrowth and eating-down subsequent
to the first cultivation.
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The first opportunity will be whenever you get in excess of two inches of rain within a few
days and there is still enough warmth for plant growth.

There needs to be enough adsorbed soil moisture so that even with cultivation the plants won’t
quickly dry out and possibly die. Overcast weather may slightly extend the time to accumulate
the rainfall but not by much. We want the plants to recover and expand their root systems into
the newly loosened, moist soil before they run out of moisture.

That’s why the ability to irrigate an area is so significant a factor in creating conditions, for the
rapid development of deep, biologically fertile (living) soil.

CG: Okay Ken. Let me work on it.

KY: I have one more thing here – I suggest you consider getting two more shanks and
reducing the space to 20 inches.

KY: You asked, what is a desert-tolerant legume? So I just googled desert-tolerant legume
and there’s some in www.cals.arizona.edu/desertlegumeprogram.