[permaculture] Fwd: [New post] Maintaining the garden

John D'hondt dhondt at eircom.net
Sun Nov 6 16:27:19 EST 2011


Richard, I'll attempt a short answer to your very complex questions.

You say that : "whether we like it or not, modern agriculture is an 
industrial process on a massive scale"
I agree. And modern agriculture also comes down to the "conversion of oil 
into food" which is more or less the same as your statement.

I suppose most of us know that oil is coming to an end in the near future 
and I think that modern agriculture will then be coming to a screeching halt 
and that a large portion of the 7 billion now populating the planet will 
then vacate the premises through starvation if not worse.
I feel quite sure that without modern agriculture and fishing there would 
never have been 7 billion of us in the first place but that the planet would 
have been in a much healthier state than it is now, poisoned and depleted.

At the moment I manage a bit over 27 hectares without any heavy machines. I 
do use horses but mostly only for transport work, moving silage bales, hay 
and such. And quite a bit of our land is under tree crops and other 
permaculture features such as a lake.

If instead I had 500 hectares to manage I would :

- not set up a small village of 200 people to "help" work this land. I tried 
to do something like this on a smaller scale by inviting wwoofers in and in 
my experience less than 4 % of all the volunteers we had here would be any 
use to help with work long term. We had maybe ten good ones but most of them 
had plans of their own and only came to see what they could learn. That said 
one good one stayed and married my son. But you have no idea how absolutely 
useless and even dangerous most urbanites have become in a rural setting. 
The record is over a thousand euros in damages in one single day by one hard 
working single man. He wiped out our flock of 20 geese and let the green 
house blow away amongst other things.

- no doubt I would set up more semi passive permaculture systems.

-  and yes animals could perform tasks of tractors and machinery. Land was 
mowed and hay was turned with horses long before there was ever a single 
tractor. And the advantages are enormous at least here in SW Ireland where a 
tractor sinks in axle deep during 5 months of the year where horses hardly 
mark the ground at all.

- and no I would not perform "chop and drop" except in some places. At the 
moment we perform mostly pull and cart away for weeds make up a substantial 
part of the diet of some of our animals for ten months of the year. I 
consider weeds to be extra vigorous crops and exellent for feeding pigs for 
instance. The pig manure goes back to the garden semi composted when the 
ground is bare. One advantage is that our pigs don't stink.

- we grow at least 75 different crops on a fairly small scale and a big 
machine would be useless for harvesting all those separately and at the 
right time. We are used to doing all this by hand.
A hay crop would take the whole family a week of hard work (been there, done 
that) and so we usually get a contractor in to do that. Contractors with all 
kinds of machines are very plentiful here. But we could do it all by hand if 
we had to and we have done so on occasion.

- and I would never grow oil crops especially to fuel a tractor. This is 
also not quite that simple. If you were to use nothing but raw rape seed oil 
in your tractor your machine would ground to a halt quite soon. To produce 
bio-diesel you need to break down the tri-glycerides and get rid of the 
glycerol. Then esterise the fatty acids with for instance methanol. Takes a 
bit of chemistry to make something useful.

Your last sentence deserves some extra attention : "how can permaculture 
help make an industrial process on a massive scale more efficient?" I fear 
you miss the point a bit here.
In the last ten years especially the idea that it is well possible that our 
species will become completely extinct in the next hundred years or less has 
been spreading like wild fire. There are even 5-6 Nobel Price winners who 
feel that may well be the case. Steven Hawkins thinks we have less than 200 
years if we remain Earth bound. And none of these people think that massive 
industrial processes are going to delay that outcome, mostly exactly the 
oposite.
Our best and maybe only chance may well be through permaculture without the 
massive industrial process attached.

john

On 4/11/11 1:35 AM, Thomas Paul Jahn wrote:
> There is a sheer iron resistance to the idea that farming can be done
> without heavy machinery. Hundreds of horse powers are out their on our
> fields. And people have completely lost confidence that it can be done
> otherwise.

Hi Thomas,

You introduce your post with a criticism of modern farming practices.
This caught my attention because integration of permaculture into
farming is something I am keenly interested in.


> However, maintaining a healthy garden gets down to *one  simple
> method*called “chop and drop”.
> ...
> I rackon, once the physical primary work is done, I can manage 2 hectares
> and maintain them in a state of a paradies just as a single guard ...

This technique works well on a garden-scale. As you say, up to a couple
of hectares. After the initial earthworks are complete, there isn't
really much need for hundred-horsepower equipment at this scale.

But if instead you had 500 hectares to manage, what sort of approach
would you take?

Would you set up a small village of 200 people to help you work this land?
Would you set up passive permaculture systems?
Could animals perform the tasks of tractors and machinery?
Would you use tractors to perform the "chop and drop"?
How would you harvest grain and hay crops for storage?
Could you grow enough oil crops to fuel a tractor to work the rest of
the land?

Because whether we like it or not, modern agriculture is an industrial
process on a massive scale. How can permaculture help make that process
more efficient in a carbon-constrained world?

  ...Richard.


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