Agriculture is Harder, Pt. 3

Part One
Part Two
I really do see the benefits of promoting more ecology based farming, as described yesterday in part two. Even if it’s not ideal- even if it’s not, you know, restoring ideal habitat or anything- it is doing a lot more to restore the land than most of the other work being done out there. Pasture actually builds topsoil. Perennial farming preserves soil and builds biotic communities. You know. These are all good things. And they buy us time until the inevitable collapse.

But it is a damnable lot of work! All that planting and weeding and maintenance- even to “install” a pasture, you have to go over it a couple times with a seeder. And hope it takes, and then you have to manage for nasty things like Canada thistle. Oh yeah, and move the cows around, and the fences, and water for the cows to drink… not that I’m dissing pasturing cows. I’m actually thrilled to death that more people are doing it, and that I get to eat the results. But still. Wouldn’t it just be easier to… let it happen on it’s own? Especially considering that ANY of the farming techniques I was listing yesterday still involve fossil fuels somewhere, AND require you to truck the food to people in places where they don’t grow food?

What do I mean, you say? Well, deer don’t need much in the way of management (well, not counting what we do now to prevent their population from getting ridiculously out of hand, but that’s the result of killing off their natural predators). They just, you know, happen. And then you can eat them. The wood sorrel in my backyard absolutely does not need management. It grows like crazy, no matter what I do to it. As do those wild strawberries I mentioned. Oh and hey, later this year, we’ll have volumes of walnuts on the ground. And we didn’t have to do a thing to get them- we’ll just have to pick them up! Whoa!

I’m talking, of course, about wild foods. I know, I know, I talk about them a lot. But when you’re working your butt off to keep things alive in a form of farming that just doesn’t really work- well. It can lead to obsession. And I obsess about edible forest gardens, constantly. I talked a little bit yesterday about agroforestry? Edible forest gardens are kind of like agroforestry without the rows. There are in fact a series of textbooks on them. Which I do happen to be reading, incidentally.

“Picture yourself in a forest where almost everything around you is food. Mature and maturing fruit and nut trees form an open canopy. If you look carefully, you can see fruits swelling on many branches- pears, apples, persimmons, pecans, and chestnuts. Shrubs fill the gaps in the canopy. They bear raspberries, blueberries, currants, hazelnuts, and other lesser-known fruits, flowers, and nuts at different times of the year. Assorted native wildflowers, wild edibles, herbs, and perennial vegetables thickly cover the ground. You use many of these plants for food or medicine. Some attract beneficial insects, birds, and butterflies. Others act as soil builders or simply help keep out weeds. Here and there vines climb on trees, shrubs, or arbords with fruit hanging through the foliage- hardy kiwis, grapes, and passionflower fruits. In sunnier glades large stands of Jerusalem artichokes grow together with groundnut vines. These plants support one another as they store energy in their roots for later harvest and winter storage. Their bright yellow and deep violet flowers enjoy the radiant warmth from the sky.”

– Edible Forest Gardens, Volume One

If that sounds like paradise to you, you are not alone. In my vision of my eventual home landscape, it will look something like this:
You come out the back door onto a small lawn. There are lots of comfy chairs and a hammock and plenty of shade for eating/living outdoors most of the time. Space for the dog to run. Flowers. Herbs in pots, a tiny little vegetable garden. This slowly transitions into meadow, with mown paths cutting through it. Native grasses and flowers and plants, including a lot of native herbs and other useful plants such as milkweed (fiber) and queen anne’s lace (girl stuff). We’ll have a few sheep that ramble through every so often to keep things from getting out of hand, and maybe a goat we can turn loose on the invasives. This will slowly transition into an edible forest garden, packed with as many natives as we can get. We’ll probably let a few chickens run loose in the forest garden, to eat pests and lay eggs. And the forest garden will slowly transition into a mature native forest… preferably with a stream or other body of water for sitting quietly by.

Heaven! It’s what I dream of! And everything to eat would be right at our fingertips- dairy, meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables, medicine- even fibers- we’d be set to go. And the best part? It would hardly require ANY work. Aside, of course, from ripping out the poison ivy when it got going. And searching for mature fruits among that tangle of plants…

Well, nothing in life is effortless, after all.

Here’s a really good perspective on this concept: Urban Scout: Domestication vs. Rewilding

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