Agrarian Interdependence


#41

our system is pretty big, as we are going to be doing ‘rural tourism’, so its the house plus 3 apartments.

we have 14 2m2 solar panels. and a 48v battery system (I think 24 batteries, iirc)
so we can produce something like 5000-6000W :slight_smile:

generator is connected to inverter, so it could auto switch on generator, when batteries are low (common feature of inverters).
but as we need it so little, ive turned this off… and do in manually, so when its been cloudy for a quite a few days and batteries are low, I turn the generator on to bring up.
this is slightly more efficient, as ‘auto start’ can’t predict the weather… but I can look at a forecast, and know when the sun is going to come out and do its job :wink:
(its really important you don’t let batteries drop too low, as it damages them)

generator is powerful enough to run the ‘house/apts’ and charge the batteries at the same time.

biomass incinerator - mostly used in the winter, when its hard to generate enough hot water from solar to run both hot water and underfloor heating.

for some of this we do it due to guests expectations.
if it was just us, we could have a much smaller setup… as we could adapt to the system. ie. shower when the the sun comes up to heat the panels, use the log burners in the winter.
but these are things you cant really expect of paying guests. (some will ‘get it’, but others not)


#42

The way things vary with scale is something you just have to learn from experience. By the time “further away from the house” starts to have real meaning, you aren’t farming with just one or two people any more. The number of tasks increases and the reasons to get around to every part of your property increase as well.

One Straw (and theosophy, the tradition that Alan Chadwick’s organic practices are rooted in) places a lot of emphasis on planting with high density, as well as on intercropping. So increasing density is another way to scale that doesn’t require stuff to be further from the house.

Keeping your eyes on things is something that successful farmers learn early. There is no set of IoT sensors ever made that hold a candle to the set of sensors I was born with and that I’ve tuned over the years.

Fukuoaka would laugh and laugh at the idea of IoT. His method is about finding the state of nature that humans can be a small part of. The epiphany he had that led to his One Straw philosophy is that for all the decades of learning since the industrial revolution, the sum total of all knowledge encompassed by the engineering disciplines is absolutely dwarfed by the information contained in the evolutionary processes of nature. In effect, humans know nothing, and our attempts to engineer the nature that supports life on Earth are doomed to fail. Our mechanical tilling practices kill the mycelia that allow the soil to become a rich living organism. Bob Cannard teaches Natural Process Agriculture and he likes to say, “the farmer grows the soil and the soil grows the plant”.

Farming is a wonderful escape from the technology that has infused most other aspects of my life.


#43

Some handy links:
https://casfs.ucsc.edu/about/publications/index.html


#44

Permaculture zones of use are a great way to think about “distance from the house”.


#45

I adore this thread. I’ve just started reading one straw revolution, and ya’ll are making me want to move out of London.


#46

That’s really handy to know. We’ll keep our eyes peeled for that when we look into it more earnestly as having it transparently switch over would be absolutely amazing.

Again, based on very little, we were talking about using one of the plantable areas nearest the house as a test bed (for the plants and ourselves) and treating it more like an allotment rather than a section of a larger farm. So several things growing in a small space.

Which leads really well into…

Another really brilliant idea. Obviously there’s lots of thinking that’s gone in this space, in which we are complete noobs. But that’s a fantastic way to view that.

So with your farm, how/what did you start?

That’s something I don’t mind leaning into, and in fact I generally (and welcomingly/openly naively) really enjoy incorporating technology into aspects of my life, hence some of my line of questioning.


#47

We went into it with a plan to establish a “pedestrian orchard”. By this, we mean an orchard of semi-dwarf fruit trees pruned in such a way that ladders are not required for a harvest (the pruning is already a departure from One Straw, but what we spend in labor on pruning, we save at harvest time from not needing ladders). Trees are the longest lived of perennials so it seemed like the best place to start for establishing the largest yield for the least day to day effort.

Through a local farm-to-table dinner event, we met an orchardist named Terence Welch, and we laid out a wild vision for him of an orchard of many mixed varieties. To our pleasant surprise he didn’t tell us we were crazy (much) and sat down to figure out with us the best way to lay out our orchard in order to emphasize diversity without compromising maintainability. We made a plan for planting that would put things that would need similar care near each other.

As we started to build out the irrigation (installing the underground 4" mainlines) the folks who were doing that encouraged us to have a closer look at our well pump. We had a typical housing inspection done on the well when we bought the place, and part of this was a well inspection, but we weren’t looking at it with a specific amount of psi to be pushed several hundred feet away, up a gentle but steady slope. When we pulled the well pump to inspect it, we found it to be underpowered for our purposes.

We ended up digging a new well. Turned out the first year on the farm was more concerned with plumbing than planting.

While we waited on the infrastructure that would make our perennial trees possible, we decided to dabble in an annual crop and grew tomatoes for a couple of years. We got heirloom seeds from Love Apple Farms, who once famously was the sole grower of produce for the Michelin starred restaurant Manresa. 300 tomato plants across 100 varieties. It was a bit crazy for a first try, but local chefs told us we had the best tomatoes in the county (and continuously ask us when we’re going to do tomatoes again. Maybe never! Not at that scale, it was a lot of work!)

Eventually the well and irrigation were done and we ended up planting several hundred fruit trees. 175 varieties and counting!

More recently we turned an acre of pasture into rows of perennial cut flowers. Roses, dahlias, peonies, and others. Cut flowers are one of the most lucrative crops you can bring to a farmer’s market, per cultivated acre.

We also in those early years built a large hoop house for the purpose of plant starting and propagation. We didn’t end up using this so much, but we recently leased it out to a botanist who is now using the space to breed marigolds in search of interesting new and patentable varieties.

We got the goats in our third year. Goat milk and chevre, mmmmm. The llamas came in the fifth year to keep the goats (and us) company and guard them.

I don’t think we’d have been capable of arriving at where we are if we didn’t have a vision of where we’d take it when we started. This is the fourth house Nadine and I have lived in together. We’d been a couple for over 15 years before we bought a farm together. By the time we did it, we had had plenty of time to talk and think through what it might be like to grow things, maybe enough things to make a living from it. I can’t say all those conversations were very serious throughout the entire 15 years. Often it was more of the form of pipe dreaming. We indulged in a lot of that over the years: fantasizing about what might be, what could be. Always spinning new scenarios of what our lives could be like in the future. Some much crazier than others. But it turns out that sometimes dreams do come true, and all that talk was not for nothing. If you start taking some part of it seriously, it can be surprising how quickly things can start to come together, when the stars align.

And the other funny thing about dreams coming true: you do find yourself fantasizing about alternative realities less and less, and finally not at all. Real life becomes so all-consuming. The thing you always wanted is all around you and demanding your attention. Things narrow down and come into focus. The challenge now is maintaining health and energy to keep it all going!


Books! What are you currently reading or just finished?
#48

Slightly different take, with the emphasis on interdependance. Meand my partner have the boat! And we are starting to build it! Slow going but paint is going on the outside and half the floorboards are down indoors. Today I’m doing another coat of paint and hooking up the 4 solar panels we have.

With regards to agriculture, we obviously don’t have land to be growing crops on, other than some veg boxes on the roof, but my partners focus is on gathering the knowledge and practices of many different smallholders practicing permaculture, woofing on their land, she looks at their community interaction, interdependance and the resilience of this way if farming, with the intention of bringing this knowledge to the attention of achademia and other smallholders.
We also both actively voulenteer in community gardens and market gardens, which is a great way of getting involved in these sort if things without owning land.
We do want a small holding in the future, with a forest garden, a horse and some goats and ducks, but for now, we can live off grid, with our solar panels and wood stove, working on other people’s land, moving in and out of the city along the canals depending on where my partners knowledge is needed. As a musician and artist this is useful for me too, as my inspiration comes from living in the countryside, but our home can travel to the city for more work opportunities. My work focuses on interaction and consideration of and with the natural world, so being able to bring these ideas to people in cities is important to me too.

I feel there is an odd similarity and contradiction between rural nomadicism and homesteading, the lifestyles and philosophy seem very similar, but they are very different in terms of land ownership and the subsequent philosophy towards this. I feel while we are both still (relatively) young a nomadic life focused on working on community owned land, sharing and gaining knowledge as we move suits us better. Later in life perhaps that will shift to settling and putting that experience to use on land we own.

Edit: paint update (junk all came out of the boat and is going to the tip this afternoon)