Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Responding to some comments

I've enjoyed the comments that have been left on my last several posts.  They have made me think.  I've responded to some on the post, but a couple needed more attention.

PioneerPreppy and CrazyLegobrothers both asked if space wasn't part of my sustainability problem.  Can I be sustainable on 5 acres?  If I can't then the outlook for the global population is truly grim.  That is a question I'm still trying to answer. 

So, to the PioneerPreppy, I've been working with a human range of about 20 square miles.  I certainly don't need that much space devoted to feeding myself, but IF I can draw my resources from that area I know I can return them (I can walk 20 miles in a day...)  and I know I will feel the impact of any mistake in 'management'.  I've no science to back this up, just knowledge of how far I can travel, and how much land I can really get to know.  Certainly more than one human can live in that range.  How that works is a question for the future.

CrazyLegobrothers, I run into a problem with grain.  The 4 of us use about 2 lbs of wheat per day as bread, pasta, crackers, etc.  Where I live good conventional farmers produce a bit more than 50 bushels of wheat per acre.  Organic produces come in at about 90% of that.  Neither one is sustainable.  Neither builds, or even maintains soil or fertility without importing lots of resources.  (that doesn't even touch the energy required to produce and harvest monocrops on a large scale...)  My family would need about 12 bushels of wheat (and some rice, oats, and corn) to continue living as we do.  I suspect, due to inefficiencies of small scale production, weed pressure, etc, that I'd need about 1/2 acre of small grains each year.  I could easily fit that into my 5 acres, but it would take my pasture production from being a soil building process to being a soil maintaining process.  On a 5 year rotation (4 in perennial pasture, one in grain) I would lose all the humus I had built.  Break even isn't a good plan for long term sustainability.  No margin for bad years.  I will get into more detail about this aspect of soil building in my next post.  That doesn't account for the energy needs to till the field multiple times each year, manage the weeds, harvest, etc.

Wendy,  I love the forest garden aspect of permaculture.  There are a lot of great ideas and great potential in following a permaculture philosophy.  But I haven't seen anyone in a temperate climate doing it without some big plowed field somewhere out on the fringes where they get their grain.  You can't grow that much annual monocrop and be sustainable.  As for the jungle being manipulated, I agree.  Every creature manipulates their environment to enhance their own survival.  Most do this passively, by eating selectively, spreading seeds, etc.  Some, beavers for example, do this actively.  It is all a kind of 'agriculture'.  That is what gives me hope in my quest for a non-destructive method of food production and of living.


Barbee' said...

Interesting post, Alan.

PioneerPreppy said...

I guess I don't understand. I thought you were discussing a total replenishment or replacement back to the soil for what you took out of it. To my knowledge (albeit limited) the only real way to do this is to either allow at least a third of said ground to lay fallow alternately or to ship in resources from somewhere else. As far as I know the only largish civilization that did this without petroleum based fertilizer was middle ages Europe. Other cultures did as well but they had almost unlimited land to use and were operating on a much smaller scale. Other areas such as Egypt got their fertilizer from floods.

I just questioned whether 5 acres could be used this way and also produce enough for a single human.

As for the 20 mile range I guess that would really depend on the local terrain. Personally in the wooded/open country I live in I doubt I could ever do more than a 5 square mile area.

Nice discussion!!!

Alan said...

PioneerPreppy, I'm getting around to a discussion of closed loop farming, but I needed to explore some of what happens in the soil first. My previous post about soil was a bit of (mindnumbing) background information to help me clarify my thoughts.
You are right about human range differing from place to place. Where I grew up in the desert, 20 square miles wouldn't have been enough. Here in the hill country of Ohio, it feels about right. That's not how much land I feel I need to control or farm, but it is land the I impact directly and that impacts my ability to live sustainably. For example, there is a stream that flows past the edge of my farm. I would harvest fish, crawdads, muscles, etc. from this stream. The headwaters of this stream are about 10 miles from my house. Everything that happens along its course impacts me, and things I do impact the health of this stream system. It is a resource within my range.

As for the farming techniques you mentioned, I'll be getting to that in my next post.

I'm with you on the whole "its probably too late" thing, but my main interest is to find a different way of living so we don't make the same dumb mistakes yet again after the system crashes.

Keep Prepping and encouraging people to do the same.

Daphne said...

Maybe your assumption that we eat half a pound of wheat a day is the issue? I think it would be much easier to be sustainable if we ate more fruit and nut crops and much less grain. I know how hard it is to give up that wheat though. None of us want to do it.

Wendy said...

Stoneleigh, at the Automatic Earth, published a great commentary on the typical American diet and sustainability. I won't add to her discussion, which doesn't need my amateurish attempts at commiseration, but I will say that if we're hoping for sustainability on small plots of land, we will really need to reevaluate our diets :).


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