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The best way to achieve self-sufficiency for 12 people on 4 acres?

 
Burt Davidson
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Hi all,

I hope this post finds everyone having a wonderful day! As someone who recently passed a PDC but who has almost no practical experience with gardening, etc., I need some advice. I'm close to buying a property, but I want to resolve some last-minute doubts before I make the purchase.

The Property (as-is)

The property is ~ four acres (16000 sq. meters) in southern Minas Gerais (Brazil). It has 300 sq. meters of ponds, roughly 250 sq. meters of structures, 600 sq. meters of orchard (to be turned into food forest), and about 1500 sq. meters of wooded land with a mix of native trees and fruit trees (around 2-3 springs that feed the ponds). The rest is used as pasture land for three horses, and I'd say that about 1000 sq. meters of that is best left to zone 5 forest due to slope. So, I'd say about 3 acres (12000 sq. meters) is left for me to work with.

What I need from this property

My goal is to feed 12 people off this property. (I don't have 12 people to live there immediately, but it isn't out of the question that we could have that soon.) Either way, I realize that it is generally considered a stretch to make 4 acres that productive. But I also know that using greenhouses, aquaponics, etc., people have found ways to make small properties very productive -- productive enough to make a good living selling surplus. I'm hoping some combination of strategies can make this property productive enough to feed 12.

My questions

I'm having a hard time finding any helpful data on how many pounds/kilos of veggies I should expect to grow per year, per sq. meter of greenhouse. I'd like to use a combination of raised beds & aquaponics in it, but I'm open to doing it any way that will maximize productivity at a reasonable (i.e., low) cost in terms of $ and labor. So it is hard for me to figure out how big the greenhouse needs to be.

(1) How big do you think the greenhouse should be? And what strategies do you think I should pursue to maximize productivity? (Obviously, we won't be growing all of our food in a greenhouse. I'd like most to come from food forests around the property. But we'll be eating a lot of things like cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, and other annual veggies, and I'd like to maximize productivity somehow -- and, so far as I can tell, a greenhouse is the way to go to accomplish this.)

(2) Am I trying to do the impossible on this piece of land?

Thanks!
 
Tyler Ludens
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The most complete information about growing a nearly complete diet on the smallest amount of land, is in my opinion, found through Ecology Action: http://www.growbiointensive.org/ Biointensive is a plant-based systems (vegan) and most Biointensive systems don't include animals, but there's no reason you couldn't raise animals in conjunction with Biointensive food growing.

 
Burt Davidson
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Thank you for this suggestion, Tyler. I'm definitely going to dedicate some time to researching how to do this. I imagine it shouldn't be too hard to incorporate animals into a system with biointensive gardening.

Thanks again.
 
Thomas Partridge
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Have you had a look at http://www.neverendingfood.org/? They have a lot of information you may find useful (including a sustainable nutrition menu).

As for your questions:

What is the cold hardiness zone of the area where your land is? Depending on what climate zone it is you may not even need a greenhouse. We live in climate zone 7 and the only use we would have for a greenhouse is seed starting (mainly the nightshades). I don't suspect you need a huge greenhouse just to start seeds for enough of the plants that fall in the category of long season / cold tender. While you can start and grow things like lettuce in a greenhouse (and a lot of people do), you may find as we did that it is more labor and cost effective to just eat seasonally (i.e. we eat salad mostly in the late spring, summer, and early fall). Additionally there are a LOT of perennials that you can harvest during the heat of summer and dead of winter that you can make good salads out of.

You most certainly can make 4 acres feed 12 people! I believe I read where there is a family feeding itself almost entirely off of 1/10th of an acre.
 
Peter Ellis
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The best way? Through a thorough understanding and application of the principles of permaculture. That would mean deeply understanding the land you are working with and then working to maximize efficiency while working with nature. A greenhouse might fit in, but it is not a best solution, really. It is a bit if a way of cheating

A greenhouse, imo, can have a place on many permaculture farms or homesteads, but should only be part of a diverse system.
 
Dana Jones
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Do you plan on getting chickens? They go hand in hand with a garden. They love garden trimmings, weeds and end of the season vegetable plants. Plus, you get eggs! And will you have small livestock such as sheep or goats? What about a purchasing a weaned piglet to feed out for meat?

In my area, I can plant a spring and fall garden. Cole crops like cabbage, broccoli, kale and greens like lettuce, mustard, turnips and such grow great in the fall/winter, but burn up in the heat. So we sorta evolved into seasonal eaters, picking and eating what is growing at the time. For starting seeds, I commandeer the breakfast table and hang grow lights over my many little pots of seedlings. That is the only time that I would need a greenhouse. But it is nice to have one for out of season vegetables like vine ripened tomatoes. Which, by the way, taste so good in December!
 
Mike Haych
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Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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Tyler Ludens wrote:The most complete information about growing a nearly complete diet on the smallest amount of land, is in my opinion, found through Ecology Action: http://www.growbiointensive.org/ Biointensive is a plant-based systems (vegan) and most Biointensive systems don't include animals, but there's no reason you couldn't raise animals in conjunction with Biointensive food growing.


Yep, Jeavons is good. But Cindy Connor might just be a step better. She's combined biointensive and permaculture - Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth

What I like is that she marries the theory that she's been taught by Jeavons and a PDC with the reality of doing. That's sometimes hard to find.

The book's table of contents really lays out the range of what she covers:

Title Page
Copyright
Contents
Foreword
First, a little history...
1. Sustainable Diet
2. Garden Maps
3. Crop Choices
4. How Much to Grow
5. Cover Crops and Compost—Planning for Sustainability
6. Companion Planting
7. Plan for Food When You Want It
8. Rotations and Sample Garden Maps
9. Seeds
10. Including Animals
11. Food Storage and Preservation
12. Sheds, Fences, and Other Stuff
13. Rethink Everything!

 
Jim Thomas
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Mike Haych wrote:
Tyler Ludens wrote:The most complete information about growing a nearly complete diet on the smallest amount of land, is in my opinion, found through Ecology Action: http://www.growbiointensive.org/ Biointensive is a plant-based systems (vegan) and most Biointensive systems don't include animals, but there's no reason you couldn't raise animals in conjunction with Biointensive food growing.


Yep, Jeavons is good. But Cindy Connor might just be a step better. She's combined biointensive and permaculture - Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth

What I like is that she marries the theory that she's been taught by Jeavons and a PDC with the reality of doing. That's sometimes hard to find.




I think that fixed the link.
 
Mike Haych
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Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I referred to the information from Ecology Action, which is more than just Jeavons. Many books and pamphlets are available from them.


Yep, but the flagship publication is Jeavons' How to Grow More Vegetables*, *(and fruit, nuts, berries, grains and other crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible On Less Land Than You Can Imagine. It ties all the pieces together in a systematic approach. There's also a lot of useful information, seeds, tools at Bountiful Gardens.
 
Mike Haych
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Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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Having read How to Grow More Vegetables and Grow a Sustainable Diet, I think that Connor has done a wonderful job of blending biointensive and permaculture. She's gone further than Jeavons did. For example, Jeavons mentions chickens in passing as a control for insect pests. Connor goes much farther including the B-12 from animals discussion but she also puts including animals in perspective:
"A SUSTAINABLE DIET includes food that is grown on your farm or in your region and some of that might be animal products. Some land is better suited to pasture than to crop production. Including animals in your plan will expand the ecological footprint of your diet, since the land that grows the food that the animal eats needs to be considered. You can plan a diet of only plants, but you would be hard pressed to fill all your nutritional needs without taking supplements, which are not part of a sustainable diet. If that plan, which would involve a smaller area to grow your food, doesn’t supply your needs, it is not a complete plan and needs to be expanded anyway.


Jeavons also has some very large holes. For example, he does not address seed saving. Connor devotes a whole chapter to the subject.

I'd highly recommend both books but if one has to make a choice, I'd opt for Grow a Sustainable Diet.

Much of Ecology Action is John Jeavons but certainly not all. One Circle, which is a great book, isn't written by him. I think there's a thread here on the book .
 
Tyler Ludens
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One of the most challenging aspect of achieving self-sufficiency is how to provide enough calories. Vitamins and minerals (except B12 and iodine) are relatively easy to grow. But it is hard to get enough calories unless you eat fatty meat as our ancestors did. During the period before the Irish Potato Famine, the Irish typically ate several pounds of potatoes per day, as it was their main source of calories (most other calories crops such as oats were exported to England). Here's a thread I started about staple (calorie) crops which I hope more people will post in about what they're growing for calories and how close they are to providing sufficient calories: http://www.permies.com/t/51692/permaculture/Staple-crops
 
Deb Rebel
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Building a food forest, in that you have multiple crops in the same space... that mature at different times. Planting complimentary foods. (say vining next to trees or shrubs so they can use the larger plant to climb), etc.

I have a screen house and heated hoops plus coldframes to get a good three or so months more growing season out of my climate (6b). I am going to be putting in two walipini's (in ground greenhouses) with RMH (rocket mass heaters) for supplementary heating and if the power goes out I can move in for a bit and cook also. I am also in the middle of setting up a major RGGS (Rain Gutter Grow system) which is a self watering containerized garden system that allows more produce in smaller space and easy to take care of. A lot of people combine RGGS and aquaponics successfully. I did a limited run of that one winter with incorporating goldfish into my water system for a winter heated greenhouse. (a 375 gallon lift for water seasoning and thermal heat mass storage, which was used to change water on the goldfish system set up within another lift, and that water from the changes, used to water the plants, which loved it). The drawbacks were 1) not big enough 2) I was dependent on electricity for heat and lights 3) water was not available at site so replentishing the supply could be problematic 4) more work than I really wanted to do. I did learn a LOT though about the entire concept and where I could improve it. (I have outdoor ponds with lilies and marginals with fancy goldfish and koi, I overwintered small stock with the aquponics trial)

I have two acres I am developing into a cross between permaculture and self sufficient, with 'once it's set up' low work low maintenance systems. I aim to reduce my footprint but I will never be able to go totally offgrid or totally permie. I also cannot have animals as an integral part (chickens, goats or other larger stock) as I am in the city limits. I would love to keep guinea hens to eat all the bugs and be the alarms.

Permaculture is a good system and this is one of the best sites ever for that concept. You should be able to feed 12 on one acre with a blended outlook in a zone 5 even at altitude, and 4 acres will allow you to rotate, add animals and make more of a food forest (aka go permie instead).

Walipini-the inground greenhouses-it is said that a 20 x 75 foot one properly situated to the sun, will produce more food than will feed four year around. They have been successfully built in Mongolia, and Nepal at 10,000 ft. Adding one to your landscape might be a good investment as it is like a large greenhouse and mostly a natural heated (should never freeze) coldframe you can walk and work in. http://www.inspirationgreen.com/pit-greenhouses.html is a good place to start for more information.
 
Gustavo Mattos
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Dear Burt,

Where about Minas Gerais are you? (I live here too, just curiosity)

What kind of soil do you have there?

What sort of climate do you have there?

In Minas Gerais the IEF? (Instituto Estadual de Florestas) could give you the native and also fruit trees for free. In every medium city they have one.

I am just new to permaculture, but I would like to check if I understood what you described. You have 1500 sqm of wooded land (and 1000sqm are due to slope), how big is the area for the horses? Are you going to keep the horses?

What you could do is to use the slope area to plant some native trees that would feed the natural enemies so you wouldn't need to sacrifice so much of your space for planting flower trees in your farming area.

 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
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