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Commercial Large Farm Permaculture

 
Posts: 10
Location: Amritsar, India
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Hello All

I am a 43 year old guy from India and have been reading voraciously about Permaculture from last one month. I am a SME businessman with little experience of farming, beyond occasional work in the home garden.

My life style till date has been frequent travel within the country & internationally, long & uncertain working hours to the extent that my body does not know its own sleep and wake-up rhythm. However, I am physically OK, just the effects of too rich food and too much work & partying. In the years past somewhere, I have lost my love & zest for travel. Even on a holiday or in the evenings, all I want is to curl up in a chair & read a book and eat home food, rather than go somewhere out.

Sometime ago, holidaying in a rural area, I decided this is what I want for the rest of my life. I decided to quit my business and go in for farming. It was in this context that I started researching farming, organic agriculture etc. when I came across permaculture. Everything I came across made sense instinctively, so I knew I was going in this direction, if I could swing it.

I have ordered Mollison's Intro to Permaculture & Designer's manual and Gaia's Garden. Looking for recommendations for others.

Meanwhile I have several queries about Commercial Scale Permaculture. Despite looking I could not find examples of large scale permaculture food forests. I target a 100 acre food forest (on flat land)....fruits, herbs & veggies. Can someone please point me in the correct direction.

My questions e.g.

- How does one use hens/ducks to pick insects in a 100 acre farm...the sheer management seems undoable!
- Using Toads...just how many ponds does one construct, in 100 acres and linking them...just how?
- Picking fruits from randomly mixed trees or worse picking herbs in randomly planted plants/shrubs across 100 acres....nightmare!

and many more similar ones....for a small farm, all examples are there and frankly, I like & appreciate them and they seem workable. But the moment one changes the context from a small personal farm to a big commercial one...I stop getting things.

Issue is....despite a hankering for simpler life....doing without business is not for me. I am thinking that a big farm would be good amount of business as well as a much simpler life than the one I now lead.

So, I am looking for guidance & pointers at this forum, on all aspects of my query....especially the large commercial permaculture examples.

With best regards & thanks.
Sanjay.
 
gardener
Posts: 1029
Location: Northern Italy
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Chunking and time.
Chunking: If you start with 100 acres in your mind, you'll never be able to get it under control. You start on one piece and replicate.
Time: Find a model that works on a 1 acre and reproduce it 100 times. That takes time, but in the end you have something solid.

The other point is that a lot of that 100 acres is going to be zone 4/5. You're not going to be going there every day, or every month even. You have to treat that differently. Grazing animals comes to mind.

As for the ducks, I'm not sure I would want that many ducks going over every square meter of my hundred acres. Why do you need them in all parts of the design?
As for harvesting, that is exactly what Mark Shepard (of forestag.com) is proposing. Perennial polycrop with mechanized harvesting. It probably can be done if you have the right mix.
William
 
Sanjay Arora
Posts: 10
Location: Amritsar, India
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Before I came upon Permaculture, I was fixing up on companion planting of fruit trees of two or three varieties, plus other intercropped crops & some veggis, honey bees for pollination & so on. One of the major issues there is the fruit flies & the pesticide use to control it, chemical or organic.

What I liked in the Permaculture approach there, was the use of hens, ducks & toads to pick out insects and especially in the case of fruit flies...hens pecking out larvae out of the fallen dead fruit.

The mixing of multiple varieties of fruit trees was also attractive, each flowering at a different time, derisking the marketing...even though the picking was problematic, it was acceptable.

Problem came with herbs, IF planted as an under-crop in the food forest & that too, all mixed up.....and this problem applies wether 1 acre or 100 acres. To distinguish between these co-planted (seeds mixed & planted without any control of what herb is where) plants, the gatherers would have to be or will have to become botanists!

And if herbs crop is planted as a garden crop in beds, with different varieties in different beds, then the problem goes away....but the forest concept remains stopped at trees....it becomes the normal cropping pattern, of course with circle one permaculture methods. But the crop does get reduced too much in acreage.

In the west, cost of people is the biggest deterrent to achieve this. Here in India, It does not bother me if I have to hire 100 employees to tend to my 100 acre farm and have it all as zone 1 & 2 and no or minimal zone 3, 4 & 5. It does not also bother me to create couple of small villages on the farm for the employees. In fact, if the farm generates higher employment, that's good!

I am happier with a Permaculture farm if it requires no machinery & more employees than the partially mechanized farming I was proposing to do earlier. I am especially happy with the soil improvement I am going to get in addition. We need employment generation here in India, alongwith sustainable farming practices.

I have checked out Mark Shepard's site....although he has given indication of his tree crops....he has not mentioned undercrops. And although he has mentioned mechanical harvesting...he has not mentioned how or what. Maybe I should get in touch with him to join this thread But from what I could see, his solution would probably not work here because of lower labour costs & high unemployment, variables are altogether different here. Due to that intercropping of veggies or ordered planting of herbs would work better, much higher returns than feeding animals among the orchards.....but that would seem to upset this mixed planting that Permaculture advocates.

Thanks....Hope some else gives another viewpoint and I can understand that Permaculture is workable for me, so as to intensify my study efforts.
Sanjay.
 
Posts: 9
Location: NW Montana
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Hello Sanjay, are you able to grow neem trees in your area of India? If so mixing them into a food forest would help reduce insect problems and provide a secondary crop. I don't see how mixing ground crops in is a problem plant them in between the fruit trees in selected areas. One area you plant a certain under-story another area you plant another under-story. Using livestock in the system is easy especially if labor cost are low. Both chickens and pigs make great workers. Like William said start with one acre work out the bugs and find a good pattern, then repeat on a larger scale. Keep up the conversation and I think the problems can be solved. Sepp Holzer has 45 hectares so it is doable.
 
Sanjay Arora
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Location: Amritsar, India
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Phil

Yes, Neem is frequently planted here to take care of the insects, and I certainly intend to do that.

What I need is an idea of a pattern that can be used, making picking of the herbs easy and other issues laid out in my earlier posts. Pigs I don't think are an option, as they dig up too much and around the herbs that would be problematic.....or so I think. And dairy animals would have their own issues. Normally 100 cows would need 20 acres of fodder, if planted in a monocultural way. That would decrease the high value crops we are looking to plant.

Role of Animals in our farm would be minimum possible required by Permaculture methodology. We would not be selling any meat, so that's not a harvest for us...Milk & eggs, yes.

Phil Williamson wrote: I don't see how mixing ground crops in is a problem plant them in between the fruit trees in selected areas. One area you plant a certain under-story another area you plant another under-story.



Are you telling me we could plant one herb intercropped as an undercrop in one area and second herb as an undercrop in another area? Wouldn't that be normal intercropping under a monocultural system. I thought Permaculture always required Plants to be mixed (by mixing the seeds, so that one has little control over what comes up where) and that Permaculture is looking for companion cropping benefits in such ways, e.g. so that one plant is fixing nitrogen while the other is consuming. Maybe I'm wrong but that seems monocrop intercropping, done frequently here in Orchards....isn't Permaculture different in this by mixing up of all understory plants?

With regards.
Sanjay.
 
Posts: 146
Location: Southern Appalachia
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Permaculture is not a rigid list of required elements. It is a design system. Polyculture is an intelligent design element used by many designers because it mitigates pest and fertility issues. That does not mean it's required. If you want to grow an herb that does not have pest issues and does not rapidly deplete soil fertility then it probably makes sense to plant it in a large grouping. If it's in the understory of some useful trees, and in close proximity to a nitrogen fixing vine or shrub, then the system will be more resilient. Also, to my knowledge there is no "minimum possible required by Permaculture methodology" for any organism. Using animals to do some labor is another intelligent design, simply because they tend to require less resources to thrive than humans do. If you can manage to use only human labor, then do it, but most self-reliant humans tend to keep animals around for a variety of uses.

From what I'm hearing, I would suggest that you spend some time reading the first few chapters of Mollison's design manual, and try to more clearly define your goal. A lot of the things you mentioned like "keeping it all zone 1&2" are not compatible with whole systems design. I'm not an expert, but 100 acres of intensive crop production does not sound permanently sustainable to me. I'm currently working on a design for a 110 acre site and zones 1 and 2 as of now comprise about 5 acres. Zone 3 is probably 10-15 acres, the vast majority is zone 4, where we'll be doing coppice/standard systems with nut crops, small animal grazing, and diverse understory plantings. By designing most of the acreage with low maintenance systems, it will be easily maintained by 2-3 people.

You mentioned the possibility of having onsite "villages" for workers. If you factor that into your design, then their dwellings would be zone 1 (there could be multiple zone 1s in separate areas) which would hopefully be built by the occupants using onsite materials. Their subsistence gardens and maybe some high production/high maintenance crops would be in zone 2 (again there could be multiple zone 2s or overlapping), orchard crops, field crops, and animal grazing would go in zone 3, zone 4 would be low maintenance long term crops (timber, seed crops, coppice/standard systems, etc.) and zone 5 would be untouched. This is just a general outline, it will vary based on your goals and systems.

The object of your design is the thriving health of the humans involved, with a healthy regard for the ecosystem they inhabit. Statements like "That would decrease the high value crops we are looking to plant." sound out of place to me.

I hope that this may have helped.
Best of luck in your plan

bless
 
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I think you are equating Permaculture with randomness, which I dont believe is accurate.

If you pick up Bill Mollison's "Permaculture - A Designers Manual" and/or "Introduction to Permaculture" you will see many examples of larger scale permaculture projects. In these projects the "actively farmed" elements often include polycropping on a designed basis not a random basis. For example, a row of n-fixer trees that also supply mulch and shade, followed by rows of taro, casava, corn, pigeon pea, etc, etc in systems of strip planting on contour. How interactive or stacked these polycopping systems are depends on your climate, soil, target crops and imagination.

Taken down a level, there is no reason why you couldnt guild under a tree using a root/herb/shrub/vine combination (which might also be in concentric circles). If you kept the guild to, say, 6 members which had distinct physical differences (no more than 1 or 2 in each category) then there should be no issue about your laborers needing a botany degree. You could have mutiple such guilds, which would give you the variety you want of understory plants without the same level of headache for identification and harvesting.

As William wrote: chunk and repeat...

Given the scale of your project I would strongly recommend reading these books, and I hope you will post your progress as the project looks really interesting.

 
Sanjay Arora
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Location: Amritsar, India
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osker brown wrote:From what I'm hearing, I would suggest that you spend some time reading the first few chapters of Mollison's design manual, and try to more clearly define your goal. A lot of the things you mentioned like "keeping it all zone 1&2" are not compatible with whole systems design. I'm not an expert, but 100 acres of intensive crop production does not sound permanently sustainable to me.



I have ordered the books and am yet to get them. What I have learnt about Permaculture is from the Net. From the moment I started reading about it...it made sense except for a few things and am awaiting the books to see if I get clarity on those.

To me sustainability means that land should not be degraded, but be enhanced, even if at the cost of some productivity. Wether that intensive crop is 1 acre or 100 acres....is immaterial.

osker brown wrote:I'm currently working on a design for a 110 acre site and zones 1 and 2 as of now comprise about 5 acres. Zone 3 is probably 10-15 acres, the vast majority is zone 4, where we'll be doing coppice/standard systems with nut crops, small animal grazing, and diverse understory plantings. By designing most of the acreage with low maintenance systems, it will be easily maintained by 2-3 people.



In the west you have a high labour cost. It is therefore natural that whatever design you build, you will decrease the requirement of people as much as possible...and it makes sense too. Hence the need to have bigger zone 4 & 5 and smaller zones 1 & 2, which have intensive cropping, requiring people.

This does not apply everywhere in the world. All low labour cost countries, including mine, India, would prefer to have higher intensive cropping (of course, sustainable), even if it means that we must employ more people.

osker brown wrote:The object of your design is the thriving health of the humans involved, with a healthy regard for the ecosystem they inhabit. Statements like "That would decrease the high value crops we are looking to plant." sound out of place to me.



I do not mean this negatively...but Permaculture movement has a lot of purists. Profit is not a four letter word. It is when People & Companies forget that Profit is a means to an end and not an end in itself, it is then that the rot steps in. Realization of maximum yield from the Permaculture farm, or profit if I dare say so, does not mean end of sustainability.

On a farm, as long as we add nitrogen fixing plants, don't remove biomass, encourage humus formation, soil improvement etc...it does not really matter wether we crop intensively or not. It is not chemical farming with monocultural crops.

I believe that Permaculture can deliver higher crop yields than that are being planted till date. World will need a lot of food....especially if we are looking to replace the chemical monocultural farming. Either Permaculture will evolve to find ways for crop intensification or some sort of polyculture cropping system will evolve with some of Permaculture's tenets built in.

I am a newbie and don't mean to say that I know a lot, but I can see that Permaculture is a great system. Here, in low cost labour countries we can afford some specific enhancements suitable for us....till labour costs rise and we need to adopt your model...but its far...far away.

In the west, you have no choice....its either machines & chemicals....or allowing additional immigration, temporary or not, to harvest all that food in Permaculture farms. Both would not be acceptable to you.
 
Sanjay Arora
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Location: Amritsar, India
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Robin Hones wrote:
If you pick up Bill Mollison's "Permaculture - A Designers Manual" and/or "Introduction to Permaculture" you will see many examples of larger scale permaculture projects. In these projects the "actively farmed" elements often include polycropping on a designed basis not a random basis. For example, a row of n-fixer trees that also supply mulch and shade, followed by rows of taro, casava, corn, pigeon pea, etc, etc in systems of strip planting on contour. How interactive or stacked these polycopping systems are depends on your climate, soil, target crops and imagination.

Taken down a level, there is no reason why you couldnt guild under a tree using a root/herb/shrub/vine combination (which might also be in concentric circles). If you kept the guild to, say, 6 members which had distinct physical differences (no more than 1 or 2 in each category) then there should be no issue about your laborers needing a botany degree. You could have mutiple such guilds, which would give you the variety you want of understory plants without the same level of headache for identification and harvesting.



Thanks Robin

I believe you just removed my misconception. I eagerly await the books!

On question though, does Permaculture have any Pattern (existing) for using poultry or anything else to clean insects on a large scale? I couldn't find one. Creation of small sections would be too costly on a large area. Looking for an alternative here!

IAC. Thanks again.
Sanjay.
 
Sanjay Arora
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Location: Amritsar, India
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osker brown wrote:From what I'm hearing, I would suggest that you spend some time reading the first few chapters of Mollison's design manual, and try to more clearly define your goal.



Thanks Osker

You can be sure I will be reading all the books I can, in addition to undergoing a PDC, and discuss the project with as many people as I can, before I start designing it. Maybe I will even hire a consultant, "after I can talk his talk" and of course if I can afford it.

With best regards.
Sanjay.
 
osker brown
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Location: Southern Appalachia
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Well, I'd love to see what you end up with, I'm sure others would as well.

Part of the issue I see as far as labor cost is that anyone maintaining an intensive food forest is going to need a high level of knowledge about the system. There could obviously be unskilled workers during the harvest of major crops, but as far as routine maintenance and giving feedback for redesigning the system there need to be conscious observers of every aspect. This is the point I was trying to make about labor density on large acreage. Even if I could afford to hire hundreds of people, I would at the least want 1 knowledgeable manager for each 5-10 acres. An example is the issue you brought up about chickens removing pests. This tactic is only necessary if the pests are substantially reducing your crop, and so the chickens don't need to be in place constantly, only when a problem arises. So there needs to be someone in constant contact with high value crops who knows how to recognize the onset of a problem.

Also, the main reason for the low human density in my design is topography. Intensive production on the whole of my site would be impossible. You mentioned that you'll be working with flatland, but even still there will need to be a whole site design that accommodates energy sectors, hydrology, soil variations, etc. This will inevitably alter the use of each section, and makes me doubtful of the "chunk and repeat" plan.

My comment about "high value crops" wasn't to criticize making a profit. I was simply trying to say that letting preconceptions about valuable crops alter your observations of a site and your design could be hazardous. As you gain knowledge about design in general and observations about your site specifically you will inevitably cut some crops off of your list.

Best of luck
bless

 
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