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People With Multiple Allotments...

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Post by Chilli-head on 10th February 2011, 10:20 am

Actually, I understand Britain can produce domestically about 60% of its food requirement. Given that we have 18.7M hectares of agriultural land and about 20M households, that suggest about 3.5 acres per household. Modern households may be smaller than a family unit in Seymour's days, so it agrees quite closely.

Given that it is reckoned that ~33% of food is wasted, and around half of British adults are overweight, if we can cut waste and stop gorging we might just be able to manage with the land we have.

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Post by Hairyloon on 10th February 2011, 11:13 am

Chilli-head wrote:Actually, I understand Britain can produce domestically about 60% of its food requirement.
I suspect that figure is based on traditional monoculture farming.
As we all know, poly-culture can be a lot more productive, if more labour intensive.
just a shame we have such a workforce shortage in this country.
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Post by mr_sfstk8d on 10th February 2011, 1:39 pm

Just out of curiosity, what are the unemployment figures currently in UK. It's currently costing in mid 9% range in most US states currently. Seems there may be some opportunity for 're-training', if there was enough of an impetus to push that type of operation.
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Post by Mike on 10th February 2011, 1:41 pm

Chilli-head wrote:.......Given that we have 18.7M hectares of agriultural land .........

Let's start right there. Who told you this? Where did you get that figure?

Folks, we are going to get nowhere understanding the depth our problem unless we become willing to face the reality of how serious it is. Sorry, while these things might be good for other reasons there are no "solutions" to be had by redistributing what there is more fairly, changing our diet, etc. All these things might contribute toward a solution but aren't going to be sufficient in themsleves.

Recheck your in your geography source? I believe you will find that 18.7 hectates to be the total land area of Great Britain (I just did it in my head in "English" units to get roughly 50 million acres). That wouldn't be the amount of arable land. Even places like Iowa and Kansas in the US aren't 100% arable (here in Massachusetts maybe 20%). I would be rather surprised were Britain much more than 50% and would not be shocked to learn was less than that.

And the estimates of what it might take per person? That's with all the proposed "improvements" in technique, not the way farming is currenty done.

I suggest one way of trying to understand is to look back briefly into our history (and in terms of human history a hundered years or two is very brief). Why do you think the 19th Century calls for land reform here in the US were "40 acres and a mule"? (what they then thought sufficient to support a family). Do you imagine that they were incompetent with the technology of low energy, low imputs of external fertilizer farming?

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Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 10th February 2011, 1:48 pm

Mike wrote: Why do you think the 19th Century calls for land reform here in the US were "40 acres and a mule"? (what they then thought sufficient to support a family).

Really? Perhaps recheck your history source. I thought that term came from the amount of land awarded to freed Black slaves who elected to fight for the Union in the Civil War. The area was arrived at as beinga handy subdivision of a section - ie 1/16th of a square mile.

Five acres and independence might be a better starting point.

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Post by Chilli-head on 10th February 2011, 3:00 pm

Mike wrote:
Chilli-head wrote:.......Given that we have 18.7M hectares of agriultural land .........
Let's start right there. Who told you this? Where did you get that figure?

Well, figures vary a bit, but the total area of the UK is 243610 square km or 24.36M ha, according to Wikipedia. The office of National statistics put agriculture at 67.8 % (~16.5M ha, 2002 figures), others e.g. [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] put it higher at >70% or 18.7M Ha, as I quoted. This probably depends on what you class as agriculture, the higher figures certainly include horticulture (and perhaps livestock and even forestry) as well as arable. If you fly over the UK it is rather apparent that agriculture is the dominant land use.
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Post by Mike on 10th February 2011, 10:02 pm

Facing the hard reality.

Let's for a moment accept that 5 acres of "average" land would be enough per household. Food anyway (*). You say you have ~20 million hectares and ~20 million households. That's one hectare per household but you require two (a hectare is about 2.5 acres, not 3.5 acres). Sad, very sad. Since you can't make more land appear means must have half the people disappear.

If you take that as a statement that I want people to disappear then you totally misunderstand what unsustainable mean. Not a choice to be sustainable. In the long run we will have no more people than can survive on a sustainable basis. The only chocie we have, if choice remains, is how this happens.


* While in the short run more than this can be obtained by coppicing, the sustainable biomass production (what can be removed without depletion over the long run) is only about 1000#/acre year. The limitation is the speed at which tree roots can extract minerals from the parent material, the speed at which soil bacteria can fix nitrogen, etc. In other words, you can't remove more than would become new soil in one year (if left). You would need another 5-10 acres per household to keep warm and cook your food).

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Post by Compostwoman on 10th February 2011, 10:31 pm

We could not grow all our needs here and we have just over 3 acres of woodland and just under an acre of garden/orchard/veg plot /house/outbuildings. OK we have enough wood ( as we coppice) to supply a warmish house in the winter, but not enough to grow enough food to supply all our needs

Even if we plowed up the lawn area in the garden to grow cereals or high carb roots....we would still not be able to supply all our needs ( not wants, needs Shocked )

I think the 5 acres JS discusses in his books must be incredibly fertile and very idealised, tbh...

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Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 10th February 2011, 10:47 pm

I think you could make 5 acres work, not in isolation, but if you were surrounded by other 5 acres farms, and everyone grew a certain area of veg for themselves and then had a specialisation - you bartered your bacon for your neighbours beef or cheese etc.

Although this is way off topic now.

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Post by Compostwoman on 10th February 2011, 10:50 pm

So back to strip lynchet management? but most people think the whole "5 acres and a cow" thing is an individual choice, which will provide them with all they need...NOT part of a community management package...( which is what, as you say, it needs to be!)

But yes Billy, OT now..perhaps we need a separate thread? I can't do the needful as I don't mod this area...so do not have the power..............

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Post by Mike on 11th February 2011, 11:50 am

Compostwoman wrote:........we have just over 3 acres of woodland ....... OK we have enough wood ( as we coppice) to supply a warmish house in the winter..........

And that is not in the long run sustainable (and sustainable means in the long run). When you take that much biomass per acre per year you are in effect "mining" the soil of that woodlot. It would be a very small "house" that could be kept warm sustainably from 3 acres. There are a few leguminous tree species and those do a bit better at least in terms of nitrogen balance but I'm not sure if any of those would grow in Britain.

"I think the 5 acres JS discusses in his books must be incredibly fertile and very idealised"
This is a typical problem with these discussions. Often there are "phantom acres" used as sources of fertility. You can grow a heck of a lot of food on an acre if you are dumping on each year the fertility produced by a couple acres of leguminous meadow.

As an example from here -- maize at 150 bu/acre requires an external source of fertilizer or you really mean 50 bu/year because that's one year of maize and two years of legume meadow in rotation (you don't lose much of that fertility if processed through an animal though)

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Post by Compostwoman on 11th February 2011, 1:00 pm

Sorry Mike but I disagree about our wood. Hazel is an amazingly good source of coppice wood products and can produce wood for faggot bundles ( as opposed to logs) in only a few years as a renewable "crop". We also have a lot of very fast growing willow and dogwood which also provides a lot of small but useable kindling.

The few large trees we fell for logs each year are not making much of an impact on the remaining 1400 trees and we also re plant more than we fell ( although actually Nature tends to do that for us.)

As we have been here for 14 years some of the trees we have planted are now a goodly size. The trees we fell from the original woodland are only 20 years old, after all....! Mainly Silver Birch so at maturity now.

and given we don't need to heat our house in the summer, and it is ( ever increasingly) well insulated, the woodburner in the winter, supplemented by an increasingly not used oil fired boiler/ radiator system ( which is to be replaced by a wood pellet boiler in the near future) and the solar thermal powered thermal store is more than enough to heat our house in all but the most exceptionally cold weather.

I think you misunderstand the nature of the trees we have over here - we are not talking huge old growth Hemlock or whatever it is you have, but really quite fast growing deciduous species like Silver Birch, Cherry and Ash. Yes they can get very large if left for 50 years but actually are at a good felling size for wood in 20 years or therabouts.

The soil fetility is excellent in the wood as demonstrated by the profuse and varied flora and the healthy re growth of the trees in there.

And yes, we are aware of what sustainable really means, you know!

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Post by Mike on 11th February 2011, 5:28 pm

Misunderstanding what I am saying.

We have plenty of fast growing speices here. Just like you it is possible to harvest a great deal of biomass per year. For a few years. Not few as humans reckon, but few in terms of tree lives.

The issue is not how fast can they grow given normal soil with nutrients built up over the milemium (here and in Britain, since the last ice age scraped the ground to bare rock). The issue is how fast tree rots can break down "parent meterial" (pulverised rock) to extract minerals and how fast the organisms in the forest soil can fix nitrogen, those that can do that. Most of what a plant is, what makes up its mass, is carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen as the plant converts water and carbon dioxide to sugar using sunlight as the energy source. But not 100%. The plant cells also need nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, sulfur, calcium and a host of other elements.

Well if you put the wood ashes back into the woods you have pretty much put back the potasium and the calcium. But the nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, etc. went up the flue as gasses. OK, as acid rain falls the sulfur will come back down and if that rain falls on lime rich soil will react so some of the sulfur gets back. But the nitrogen will have to await those organisms that can convert gaseous nitrogen to nitrates.

That is why I say ~1000# per acre per year (in our climates). That's about how much contains those comparatively small amounts of nitrogen, etc. that the growing trees on that acre managed to get from "inorganic" sources in a year. It's what you can take on a long term sustainable basis.

Some plants do better than others with resepct to one of more of these. Thus plants in the legume group have a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen fixing organisms. Many like soybeans don't fix more than they use but others like clover, alfalfa, the vetches, birdsfoot trefoil, etc. fix a lot. There are some trees in the group but most of those are tropicals, won't grow in our climate. Some non-legumes also can be thought of as nitrogen fixers (relationships with other nitrogen fixing organisms). Note that you expect to find such plants native to places where nitrogen might be in short supply ("recently" glaciated soils for example).

Let me give you some examples. The easiest way to see whether removal of biomass is problematical is to see what happens. How many times can the forest be regenerated. Here where I live in the northeast US the answer is several times. The rapidly regrowing woods behind our house are third growth. Clearcut at intial settlement, following repopulation after the post Civil War depopulation, and post Depression (the last time this land was farmed). Here if you clear away the woods but stop mowing, the woods come back. But there are places in the tropics where if you clearcut the rainforest it doesn't come back (because with warm soil temperatures there isn't an organic "duff" layer and nutrients leach rapidly).

BTW ---- Probably nothing will outgrow our truly fast growing species, American chestnut. But there actually is comparatively little difference when you are measuring in terms of biomass. The controlling factors are the availability of sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide (plus the necessary "others"). Your coppiced wood is handier for burning but doesn't weigh more than the hay crop you could have cut were that land a field. In other words, you can get a couple tons per acre per year dry matter growing most anything well adapted.

Most places water is the controlling factor.

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Post by Compostwoman on 11th February 2011, 9:30 pm

Mike. Not misunderstanding what you said at all. I addressed your points in my reply, I will address a few more here.

The wood we own was planted on what WAS a chemically sprayed monoculturally farmed field and the trees were not there, until 20 odd years ago, the ancientness of them is irrelevent.

We have caused trees to grow which have absorbed CO2 during growth, they release it on burning and we plant more to replace them. As a result of burning them we are not using fossil fuels in our house.

Coppicing does not kill the tree, it leaves the roots intact and the cut stool shoots away and grows again. There are documented coppiced trees which are more than 500 years old, so its sustaninable in human OR tree terms.

Our septic tank soakaway goes into a small area in the wood so providing a lot of nitrogenous liquid, especially useful as we coppice that area a lot more than other parts of the wood. This is an added extra; other coppiced trees do just as well in other parts of the wood.

Yes we do return the wood ash to the ground and leave the leaves to compost down

Personally I think any very slight risk that we are depleting the nutrients of what would otherwise be an empty patch of soil ( chemically farmed so very little life in it) is far outweighed by the net reduction in our personal CO2 emissions

Mike, I don't agree with you on this and continuing to lecture me on soil science, plant biology and the life cycle of trees is not going to make me change my mind. Interesting though what you say is, I do actually know it already.

I hope this clears up any misunderstanding of my post on your part.

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