Thursday, 29 November 2012

100% Food Self-sufficiency, part III - Using polycultures

I am planning 7 patches for experimental polycultures for next summer. It is heavily focused in cereals and pulses, because it is aimed towards plant self-sufficiency.

Each patch has around 30m2 (about 320 square feet, 18 feet per 18 feet), to provide what I calculated to be the enough of my yearly seeds. Even if it is not enough, this is just a first trial.

This is also aimed at a great diversity of annuals. So these are 7 patches, during summer season: 

  • Patch 1: the 3 sisters: corn, runner beans, pumpkin (perhaps amaranth and sunflowers)
  • Patch 2: modified 3 sisters (requires less water): sorghum, cowpeas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, chia
  • Patch 3: similar to last but different species: millet, peanuts, mung beans, sesame
  • Patch 4: the rice patch (plenty of irrigation): rice, corn and a water tolerant legume (sweet peas?)
  • Patch 5: the potato patch: potatoes, bush beans, possibly quinoa
  • Patch 6: wheat patch: wheat, lentils, chick peas (could be also sunflowers and quinoa)
  • Patch 7: vegetable patch, composed of salads, celery, brassicas, onions, garlic and turnips

Some crops were hard to fit, like the tomatoes, that like humidity, but supposedly do not go well along the corn, otherwise that would be my first choice for it.

These patches, in a Mediterranean climate, could be also cultivated during winter. I don't think that is pushing the line too hard!

These patches would then be replaced, in winter, with:

  • 4 or 5 Patches with polycultures of wheat, oats or rye, with broad beans and peas
  • 1 patch with other winter vegetables like kales, carrots, onions and buckwheat. 
  • Remaining area can be planted with buckwheat, alfalfa or clover, or simply given a rest
When that grain is harvested (around mid spring), the same summer crops patches (mentioned above) would be cultivated again, but by rotating the patches! 

Even with using a polyculture, we want to replant different species from one summer to the next, so that pests do not accumulate, and the soil gets exausted. This follows the principles of Native Americans.

What the Native Americans can teach us...

When the Native Americans were growing the 3 sisters polycrop (actually they grew more than just corn, squash and beans), they would first slash burn a piece of forest, to cultivate the polycrop for a few years (probably not more than 2 or 3), they would then plant fruit trees (like avocados, bananas or mangos) and let it evolve towards a forest garden. A few years later, they would plant hardwood trees and let the original forest recover again. They would then slash another piece of land to restart the process. In a cycle that would probably last a generation.

Most ideally, in the 7 patches described above, most the crops would be sown with seed balls. We want to apply Fukuoka principles, in addition to other Permaculture principles. Around the patches, we expect to plant perennial shrubs, fruit trees, nuts, berries and plenty of compost crops and nursing crops. 

Do we continue the patch rotation ad infinitum or do we let it evolve towards a forest garden?

If our land is large enough, we can also plant some perennial crops and trees within the patches, to let them evolve towards a forest garden (like the Native Americans did). Otherwise, I expect that the rotation of the polycrops is enough to assure that the soil does not get depleted over time. Furthermore, if you plant nursing/ccompost crops around the patches (mesquites, elaeagnus, comfrey, tansy), you use that cut and throw that biomass to fertilize the patches every year.

If you do not want to rotate, but you also do not want to plant perennials, then...

If you have a warm climate between April and October, then you can cultivate the seven patches with summer and winter vegetables, pulses and cereal. Ideally, grains would be sown by October (could be in seedballs) and harvested by late May (or mid June). By then (or even earlier if you would throw seedballs into the growing cereal fields), we could start the summer crops, which would then grow until September or October, when the new grains would be sown again.

We do not need to grow winter cereals in all the patches, just some of them. In some we can grow winter vegetables (such as onions, broccoli, turnips, salads, radish, carrots, peas, broad beans). It could be something like this:

Patch1: the 3 sisters (which has corn) in summer, followed by potatoes/broad beans polycrop in winter
Patch2: the modified 3 sisters (which has sorghum), followed by oats/peas polycrop in winter
Patch3: the similar patch (containing millet) in summer, followed by rye/broad beans in winter
Patch4: the rice patch in summer, followed by vegetables polycultures in winter
Patch5: the potato patch in summer, followed by wheat/peas polycrop in winter
Patch6: wheat patch in summer, followed by winter vegetables polycrop in winter

As a last comment, one could also transform everything by growing instead multicaule tillering perennial cereals. Then, the system would be half perennial!

In the rice patch, we can also not only use corn, but also taro, if the growing season is long enough.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

100% Food Self-sufficiency, part II - how much area is required?

This thread was the result of a long work. Of course it is my personal perspective and estimate. Depending on what you eat, you might end up with different numbers.

I calculated myself to eat (these kg of food per year):
  • 45 kg of cereal GRAINS: 15 kg of pasta (wheat flour), 15 kg of bread (made with wheat/rye), 15 kg of breakfast cereals (oats or rye porridge); based in eating one portion of 50g pasta per day, one portion of 40g breakfast cereals, and one piece of bread (35g), per day
  • 20 kg POTATOES (two portions of week, each with 4 tubers) - but if you eat them daily, then it amounts to 80kg 
  • 15 kg of BEANS/pulses (one 40g portion per day)
  • 18 kg or RICE (one 50g portion per day)
  • 4 kg of CORN (two 40g portions per week) - but if you eat daily, then it ammounts to 15 kg
  • 2.5 kg of AMARANTH or quinoa (one 50g portion a week)
  • 1 kg of SESAME seeds, 1 kg of sunflower seeds (one 1 tsp portion per day)
  • roughly estimated: 1 onion per day, 2 garlic head per week, 1 broccoli head per week, 2 celery plants per month, 1 turnip per week, 1 carrot every other day, 1 tomato plant per week (around a dozen tomatoes per week), 1 pepper plant per week (around a few peppers per week), a couple pumpkin plants (a few pumpkins per year)
I am not counting with important perennial crops: namely fruits and nuts. I am also not counting with spices and animal protein (such as eggs, milk or fish).

Assuming average yields, for each crop, we can calculate the required area (in square meters, m2):
  • 150m2 of cereal grains (mostly wheat, but also some rye and oats)
  • 20m2 of potatoes (or 80m2 if you eat them every day)
  • 75m2 of beans/pulses
  • 60m2 of rice
  • 10m2 or corn (or 37m2 if you eat it every day)
  • 50m2 of amaranth or quinoa
  • 1m2 of sesame, 1m2 of sunflower
  • about 2m2 for each: tomatoes, and bell peppers
  • about 7m2 for onions
  • about 9m2 for growing pumpkins
  • about 1m2 for each: broccoli, turnip, carrots, garlic, celery, salads
Total is around 400m2, but if you live in a warm climate, you can manage with less space. You can grow the grains in winter and spring, as well as onions and most vegetables, and grow the remaining  cereals, rice and beans during summer. For this, you need a minimum area of 250m2. We can also try biointensive farming, and including polycultures to further minimize the growing area!

Plus space for chicken forage, fish aquaculture, fruit trees... I would account a mininum of extra:
  • 50m2 for a couple of chicken
  • 50m2 for a pond
  • and 200m2 for a few fruit and nut trees
Total area for food self-sufficiency ranges then between 550m2 to 700m2.

I also calculated how much seed to use for this:
  • 2.2 kg of dried grain (perhaps 1kg of wheat and the rest of oats and rye)
  • 3 kg potatoes (or 65 tubers)
  • 720g of dried beans
  • 1 kg of rice seeds
  • 50 corn seeds (about 1 ear)
  • 5g amaranth or quinoa (about 3 tsp of seeds)
  • 20g of sesame seeds (about 10 tsp), sow similar amount of sunflowers
  • roughly estimated: 365 onions sets, 100 garlic cloves, 50 broccoli seeds, 24 celery seeds,  50 turnip seeds, 150 carrot seeds, 50 tomato seeds, 50 pepper seeds, a couple of pumpkin seeds
You will find this very funny!
  • You should sow 2 beans and this is probably enough to give you enough beans to eat for a meal!
  • Grow 1 potato tuber and you will have a meal. Easy, no?
  • Grow about one full hand of rye seeds (2g or about 100 seeds), in a 35 x 35 cm square, and you could eat a porridge meal, OR use that flour to make 1 bread, or 1 dish of pasta!
  • Grow about 50 plants of amaranth in a 30 x 30cm space, and you will have a full meal!
  • Grow 8 sesame seeds, in a large pot, and you will have enough seeds to spray over a salad
  • Grow a few corn plants (even in a container), and surely you will have several cobs, enough for a meal or more!
  • Grow 2.5g of rice grains (about 100 seeds), in a 40x40cm area, and you will harvest enough for a meal.
Its a wonderful project to grow all of the above, and make a meal just grown by you!
    You need very little space to try this !!!

    We must sow....
    • sow about 50g, about 60 beans. You will need a square 3x2m
    • sow anywhere between 5 to 20 potatoes, in 3x2m square
    • sow about 180g of grain, in a square 4x3m
    • sow 100g or rice in a 5m2 spot
    • sow 8 plants of corn in a small area, about 1m2
    • sow about 1 tsp of sesame in a 40x40cm
    • sow about 1 tsp of amaranth seeds in a 2x2m square
    • roughly estimated: a patch with 30 onions, 8 garlic cloves, containers with 4 broccoli, 2 celery 4 turnips, a small patch with 15 carrots, a container with 4 tomato plants, and another with 4 pepper plants
    In about 40m2 (a 6x6m), you can grow enough food for a whole month!

    Now, one thing is a theory, another is practice. I must test these areas and see if I can feed myself for such a period of time! :-)

    I haven't count space for wood and compost crops. I estimated this to be perhaps 300m2 per year. 


    Monday, 26 November 2012

    Cold hardy edible palms - part II

    Another cold hardy palm (down to -15ºC) is Jubaea chilensis (Chilean Wine Palm), that produces edible fruits (Coquito nuts). The tree is also an endangered species.
    Jubaea chilensis fruits
    Butia capitata (Jelly Palm) is another cold hardy palm (down to -10ºC), which has strong tasting edible fruits. This one has been cultivated in Virginia, US.

    Butia capitata fruits
    Ensete (Ensete ventricosum) is a highly cultivated edible in Africa (from Ethiopia to Congo). Its a banana relative. A few plants produce enough starch for a family (from its trunk). It can probably stand a few minor frosts, but it is better to dig it up and overwinter ensete inside a greenhouse. It probably grows permanently outdoors only in zone 10. Ensete is quite drought tolerant and high yielding, hence it has a special permacultural interest to me. Seeds can sometimes be found in websites selling palm trees. I have tried to germinate their seeds, but so far to no success.

    Ensete, one of Ethiopia staple starch foods
    Palm dates are another important cultivate species. Widely grown in the Middle East and North Africa, and it could probably be attempted in Mediterranean Europe. It is reported to be hardy to -10ºC. I don't understand why it isn't more widely cultivated when it is so well adapted to the dry and hot climates of south Europe. Dates provide a good staple food, that is perennial and highly drought tolerant. So far I haven't had any success in germinating dates from seed from store bought fruits. It probably requires a sandy soil, with a very warm temperature.

    Dates are one the best choices for a food forest project in a climate with dry and hot summers.

    I will leave the banana fruits for another future article!

    Sunday, 25 November 2012

    Cold hardy palms and coconuts

    I was just fascinated by this astonishing cold hardy palm. Trachycarpus fortunei, native to the high mountains of India, Burma and China, near the Himalaians, is not only cold hardy to -20ºC (zone 6 or 7), but also grows well in climates with cold and rainy summers, such as the UK. It has even been experimented in the Faroe Islands and Alaska, and with success!

    Therefore, I very much want to try to grow it also here in Iceland, which is only slightly more north. The freezes here are more dramatic and very long, but the idea of having a palm growing in this polar island is very appealing and exotic! This palm is very hardy to cold, but not to wind, so one must find a sheltered spot for it.

    Trachycarpus fortunei, the hardiest of all palms, ideal for cold climates

    Another idea that also interests me, is growing hardy coconuts. Of course not in Iceland, but in Portugal. So far I haven't heard of any coconut grown in Europe, but I believe it is possible.

    Not the conventional coconut (Cocos nucifera), which requires tropical climates (could be tried in zone 10), but other species that also produce edible coconuts. Beccariophoenix alfredii (hardy to perhaps zone 9) can stand a few degrees of frost but it will die during a hard freeze (or be permanently damaged). Beccariophoenix madagascariensis is very similar and grows in the high plateau of Madagascar, where temperatures drop ocasionally below freezing. I guess these coconuts could be grown in coastal and south regions of Portugal, Spain, Italy, California and Florida.

    Beccariophoenix alfredii produces small coconut like fruits, possibly hardy to zone 9

    Perhaps the best choice are Parajubaea species, the Bolivian Mountain CoconutParajubaea torallyi is native to the high mountains of Bolivia, and can survive down to -8ºC (but probably only if for short periods). It could be tried in Mediterranean climates, where frosts are gentle. This species is also an endangered species, because it seems to be very specific to its habitat. It grows in steep rock slopes, that are very humid, but the surrounding climate is very dry and sheltered from winds. On its native region it can stand extremes of both heat and cold (even down to -13ºC), but many trials to grow it outside its native habitat have failed. Probably it needs dry soil when frosts come, and they are probably for short hours, only to be followed by sunny warm afternoons. The summer temperatures are also rather cool (around 20ºC). In Europe this palm has had some success in coastal area of UK and Italy, but it can die below -5ºC. Coastal Portugal and Spain might be an even better location for it.

    The Bolivian Mountain Coconut is a hardy species but also endangered. Some varieties produce large coconuts, and could probably be grown in Mediterranean climates.

    There are two varieties (or even different species): Parajubaea torallyi var. microcarpa produces coconut-like fruits but smaller than a walnut ( Parajubaea torallyi var. torallyi produces much larger coconut-like fruits (around 10cm and 15 kg), but it is much more expensive and difficult to find (sources include and possibly and sometimes in ebay)Parajubaea sunkha, is another species endemic to Bolivia, and also endangered, and probably similarly cold hardy. Apparently, these coconuts are erratic in germination and sensitive to transplantation.

    The fruits of the Bolivian Mountain Coconut, an endangered but edible coconut, that is cold hardy.

    In a future article I will explore date palms, banana trees and enset, other cultivated edible palms.

    Friday, 23 November 2012

    A review of 2012 - the Green Spot in Iceland

    It's November in Iceland, and there is no so much to do in the gardening outside or indoors. Actually you can't do nothing else, except to make that extra effort to keep your overwintering plants alive, and shovel the snow in the garden outside (so that you can step outside)

    Thus, and because I am such a lazy blogger, I think this is a perfect time to post a review of this summer growing, and what we have tried new.

    It was the third year gardening in Iceland, and second summer in Sólheimar community. While in 2011 I was mostly recovering the gravely soil around my house (extremely infertile), in 2012 I had more growth and I was less organized and I basically wanted to maximize both quantity and variety, and I end up with a big green and flowery mix!

    I want to follow not only organic principles but also permaculture and Fukuoka principles. Gardening without fighting against nature, valuing diversity and establishing a perennial edible garden (also with as much flowers as possible).  Beautiful in theory, challenging in practice.

    Some of greatest achievements of this summer were some of the tropical vegetables I brought from India: amaranth, the bottle and snake gourd, the rainbow sweet corn, the luffa, and a nice variety of colorful tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

    Okra in our indoor garden in Iceland

    Growing maize in Iceland! Obviously indoors
    The corn cropped two ears indoors! 

    Nice tomatoes, at the windowsill. Variety is "Caro Rich", from India
    Bell peppers. Variety is "Korosko", from Austria

    More peppers. This time "chocolate pepper"

    A beautiful bottle gourd! A first time in Iceland!  

    Another photo of yellow peppers

    Eggplant "rosita", from India

    Later in the season I became obsessed with the realization I am not producing enough food. At least not enough staples. So I tried to plant many potatoes and cereals. While the potatoes provide a nice few Kg of tubers (in a really small area), the cereals were sown too late and did not really ripen.

    I grow a beautiful patch of rye and barley (after initially struggling with slugs and birds eating the seeds), but by mid August the frosts came and never again stopped. The grain was here but not enough heat to ripen. 

    Potatoes, rye and sunchokes. Note the mulching used to protect the soil in each bed

    Brussel sprouts, spring onions and squash grow under the protection offered by the sunchokes.

    The beans we harvested: cowpeas, chick peas, mung beans, dried beans

    The strawberry spinach. Edible fruit and leaves

    A snake gourd. Unfortunately the fruit was sterile.

    The beautiful flowers of the snake gourd!

    Another photo of the bottle gourd.

    A close-up of more "caro rich" tomatoes
    Besides our home garden, this year I also started other gardens at our community. One was a large herb and native flower garden. The setting was beautiful, on the southern edge of a dense poplar forest, by the nursery and greenhouses of our local community.

    General view of the native herb garden

    Calendulas growing.

    The native chamomile (sea mayweed), matricaria maritima

    Back to our home garden, another difference to the season of 2012, it was that we were growing rather in polycultures - mixes of several species together - rather than the organized rows of swiss chard, carrots, beetroots, celery and oriental cabbages from the year before.

    Because in Sólheimar we actually started a larger community garden, we were already growing some of those salad easy-to-grow vegetables there. So I preferred to experiment with the more difficult stuff in our home garden!

    An example of a polyculture: squash, potatoes, fennel, kale, flowers...

    Squash produces well even in the Icelandic summer. I used a sheltered spot (sink bed) and plenty of mulching and compost. And rocks as a heat trap. Everything to create extra heat.
    One squash plant was producing 3 fruits at same time.
    Another close-up of a squash
    Another major achievement was the growing of sunflowers, not only for the beautiful yellow flowers, but also to harvest some seeds, which I did and ate!

    Sunflowers growing in the 24 hour daylight of Icelandic summer

    Wild strawberries.
    In 2012, we wanted to plant as many perennial edible species as possible

    Saturday, 10 November 2012

    A manifest for a new way of living, more sustaining, humane and community-based!

    Today I felt a truly revolutionary mood. Very energetic and inspired and brave, with enough courage to tread ahead seeking truly new and different forms of living, that are practical.

    I a tired of the bulshit of the world, the stupidity, unsustainability and greedy of most human ideas and projects. I am sorry to be such critical. Actually what concerns me most right now are solutions rather than pointing the problems or the fingers.

    The problem/solution is both spiritual and practical.

    I listed the most important goals to pinpoint a future community self-sustaining project. And I am probably missing a lot more points!

    • Growing our own food, including also grains, pseudograins (such as amaranth), pulses (beans, lentils), highly nutritional food (chia, kale..), alternative sustaining root crops (such as yams, skirret, groundnut), and sources of vegetable fat (sunflower, sesame, avocados...). Although I am mostly vegetarian I do believe everyone should be  tolerant to each other diets, so I accept people want to raise animals and fish. Personally, I enjoy the idea of having some self-grown eggs, honey and milk.
    • Including perennials to aleviate our hard efforts of growing annual crops that demand much more fertility and water needs (examples: chilean mesquite, bamboo, good king henry, skirret). Fruit trees and shrubs (nuts, pomegranates, figs, berries and even more exotic species such as bolivian coconut, enset...).  From all the areas listed in this article, this is the one that perhaps I am doing more effort to explore. In Iceland, where we currently live this is really difficult, but in warmer countries like Portugal (our home country), this is easier. In previous posts, I calculated that 1 hectare should be enough to sustain food for a few (around 4+) people.
    • Have water issues solved, especially in a country like Portugal, prone to dry climates, by creating lakes and swales that increase loca moisture. Rain harvest and perhaps try grey water recycling with cleansing water species, some even edible (such as arrowhead)
    • Create fertility to sustain our soils and food, by growing compost crops (rye, lupins, honey locust...). This should increase nutrients in soil. Because nutrition is very important.
    • Create a community spirit, focusing in the expression of our challenges, needs fears, wishes, to go beyond our interpersonal problems. I don't want to be naive and think this is easy, but we must do all efforts to aleviate not only personal and material struggles/suffering but also relationship and emotional suffering. Good communication, strategies for team communication and decision are all important. Striving for the best possible consensus and democracy. Yes, difficult but this is all important.
    • I believe community works much better than single individuals. Easier to self-sustain. Perhaps a number of 5 to 10 is ideal to start. Or a network of self-sustaining smallholds that share with each other. It is important to unite and network more the individual efforts being done in Portugal and elsewhere. However I must say one thing: I know of the obscure problems of many communities (they still mirror the same problems of conventional society), but with increase communication, I believe humans will want to "copy" the best of their neighbourhing communities, to improve themselves too.
    • Relationships and money are usually two issues that create most suffering for people, therefore it is highly important to we strive to find true solutions for these. Give from our heart, be honest, humble, free, good spirited, good communication, not greedy (money nearly always create corruption and bad feelings - I have first hand experience of this), etc, and there are many authors and thinkers that have suggested ways of improving our approaches to money and relationships. Have our needs met and expressed, everyone should feel fine. We should investigate and work over our own problems, fears and wishes. Let's us be prepare also for the remaining society all around us. Whatever we feel, we live in same planet and we share the same home and challenges, we cannot live isolated anymore. We must help each other to change and improve ourselves.
    • Go somewhat into spirituality. I think there is something in spiritual practices and ideas, that can help us. Meditation, yoga, anthroposophy, psicoanalysis, and many other practices can helps find us solutions to connect with our inner being and increase our good spirits. Not a lack of spirituality (otherwise its dead materialism), but not excess religion/cult spirituality. A healthy balance.
    • Music, arts and criativity are also very important parts of our human being... for food criativity, see my partner lovely blog (sorry its in Portuguese but you can use google translate to read it)
    • Also so important: children. How we give birth as human as possible. How we raise our children and kids, and educate them as humanly as possible. How we prepare them for the harsh outside world. The last two questions are in desperate need of solutions!!! Let's us build "new schools".
    • Have a "roof" to sleep (housing!). From tents, yurts, caravans, normal housing and alternative eco-housing, everythhing can be considered to aleviate our need for confort (a very human thing). We shouldn't have to pay so much just to have a place to sleep! Honestly, this is one of the areas I have experimented less (I talk and think much more than I do), so wereally need to go a little bit more practical on this one.
    • It is important to find solutions for the problems of energy needs and transport, without relying so much in imported solar panels, fuel for cars, etc... I have a feeling that there could be new solutions fo the future. I am not the kind of person good with mechanics, but some people are, and those might be the pioneers for these new models of energy and transportation.
    • Perhaps create local businesses as a way of sustaining ourselves in our currently money-based society. It is very important both to assure that we do not become a survivalist society of growing our own food (without money to buy extra food), and also we do not become greedy and corrupt and overly focused in making money. I believe in a balance. Possible sources of income can be selling our own food, workshops, crafts, education, plants, rural tourism, self-publishing of books, etc... And so with this, I finish the first version of my life manifest :)
    We live in truly revolutionary times (you can see that in the world around us), thus let's us share with each other, to work to manifest these ideas, goals and solutions, to aleviate our human needs. 

    Let us not be passive or lazy. Let is be pro-active, daring and brave! Let us be pioneers.

    More practical ideas are welcomes in your comments!