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Do annuals have a place in carbon farming?

 
R Ranson
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I've been reading these threads with great enthusiasm. It's been great learning so much from you all.

I've noticed that most of these posts are about perennials when talking about carbon farming.

What about annual plants?

Sure, I grow trees, but I also grow grain and food for myself, and fodder for my livestock. Most of these plants are annuals (partly because they are the tasty ones, and partly because that's what my climate can support best). Surely these crops also utilize carbon from the air?

Is there no place for annuals in carbon farming?

How can I improve my choices of crops to sequester more carbon? Or is the carbon lost as the plant matter becomes soil again (via worm, sheep or composting)?

Is it as simple as choosing a barley with a longer stem?
 
Tyler Ludens
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R Ranson wrote: Or is the carbon lost as the plant matter becomes soil again?


Humus is a stable portion of carbon in soils, so it seems to me that if our diet is largely based on annuals (as most probably are), using those growing methods which produce the most humus would sequester the most carbon.

 
Neil Layton
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One of the main issues as regards carbon storage is the impact of tillage on the soil, which would tend to mitigate against annuals.

That said, not all annuals are equal. Maize (Zea mays), for example, uses the C4 photosynthetic pathway, and locks up more carbon on an annual basis than most other plants.

According to the FAO (see: http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/y0900e/y0900e06.htm) carbon sequestration per hectare per year varies by a factor of ten in temperate forests. That puts it in the same sort of range as the amount of carbon sequestered by maize provided it's ploughed back into the soil: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2014/140220.htm (1 hectare~=2.5 acres).

Note that's maize, which is an extreme example.

One of the reasons barley (and other grains) have become shorter over the past couple of thousand years is that there is a tradeoff between stem length and grain quantity. It's not quite as simple as SLxGQ=k, but in general the shorter the stem, the more grain you get.

The next thing to flag up is that livestock are inefficient producers of protein (this is basic ecology), and convert much of your carbon back into carbon dioxide and methane (which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2). Animals do not fix carbon: they consume and convert it. If you feed your maize to livestock, you are most definitely better off planting a food forest. This may be informative: https://theconversation.com/going-veggie-would-cut-global-food-emissions-by-two-thirds-and-save-millions-of-lives-new-study-56655 This includes some transport emissions, but these are around 11% of agricultural emissions, so the general principles remain.

In answer to your question, I would say yes, but with reservations. Top of the list of reservations is not feeding them to livestock.

I would also flag up the fact that many people think they can only grow annuals because of their climate because they don't know about the perennials that would grow in that climate. I don't know about your climate, but suggest further research. There are plenty of perennials that grow in most climates.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think there's also the issue of people just not being used to eating perennials, except for fruit and nuts.

 
R Ranson
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One of the main issues as regards carbon storage is the impact of tillage on the soil, which would tend to mitigate against annuals.


Good point.

Is this tillage as in machine done, or hand work?

Most of our compost is trenched, so the soil is disturbed only to dig in the organic matter - then immediately planted with the annual crop. So, harvest a crop, dig a 2 foot deep trench where the crop was, fill 12 to 20 inches with organic matter, then cover with the soil. The organic matter is the unwanted bits from the harvest, mauer and semi worm composted household scraps. Would this method limit the carbon loss? Does that even count as tillage? The soil is disturbed and the weeds manually removed.


Corn/maze is delicious, but we don't grow it here. Too difficult without irrigation. But interesting idea using it as a baseline to measure by. Looks like there is a lot of good data available on it.

One of the reasons barley (and other grains) have become shorter over the past couple of thousand years is that there is a tradeoff between stem length and grain quantity.


This is really neat. Is this for hand harvest as well or only for machine harvest? What influence does weather patterns have on this?

the next thing to flag up is that livestock are inefficient producers of protein (this is basic ecology), and convert much of your carbon back into carbon dioxide and methane (which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2). Animals do not fix carbon: they consume and convert it. If you feed your maize to livestock, you are most definitely better off planting a food forest. This may be informative: https://theconversation.com/going-veggie-would-cut-global-food-emissions-by-two-thirds-and-save-millions-of-lives-new-study-56655 This includes some transport emissions, but these are around 11% of agricultural emissions, so the general principles remain.


I don't want to get into the whole diet issue with you (we are both very passionate about it, I know, and I respect you too much to have a falling out on this).

I do however feel this statement does not do justice to livestock raised in a permaculture setting. I am curious how this applies to my small scale subsistence farming where my sheep are mostly for wool and only eat their meat if they sustain injury, age or defect that would otherwise cause them suffering. The article you linked to is a great read and very interesting, however, the numbers used in it seem to be from industrial scale agriculture and I'm uncertain how it applies to low density, small scale sheep flock?

They also seem to be the numbers used for meat-only animals raised on un-traditional foodstuff like grain and soymeal which of course are going to emit more gas. I know I sure do when I don't eat my natural diet.

Does it take into account the benefit that manure can have for the soil? I've been doing some very unofficial experiments the last few years where I plant the same crop side by each, but giving the two sections different amendments. One side gets only vegetarian compost and the other includes mauer. My unofficial experiments show an improvement of about 30% for the side that receives the manure over the one that gets only vegetarian compost. If the manure is helping the plants grow faster, than would that move sheep closer to the plus side of carbon farming?

Does it take into account the environmental impact on clothing? A sweater from my flock would have a lower eco-impact I think, than a synthetic one that traveled to four different countries during it's manufacturing process.

But then again, most of the numbers about livestock production seem to come from the industrial scale of things, so maybe there isn't data yet on a permaculture style of raising livestock?


Sorry if I'm being obtuse, I'm just trying to understand what carbon farming would look like for my lifestyle.
 
R Ranson
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I think there's also the issue of people just not being used to eating perennials, except for fruit and nuts.



Great point.

For me, it's a choice to include both annuals and perennials in my diet as a way of ensuring resilience. If we have a sudden change in weather that kills off most of our perennial plants, then what will I eat while I try to grow more perennials? Annual crops help bridge the gap while the perennials repopulate. Diversity is my goal.
 
Tyler Ludens
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R Ranson wrote: If we have a sudden change in weather that kills off most of our perennial plants, then what will I eat while I try to grow more perennials?


People generally claim that perennials are more resilient than annuals.

 
R Ranson
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
R Ranson wrote: If we have a sudden change in weather that kills off most of our perennial plants, then what will I eat while I try to grow more perennials?


People generally claim that perennials are more resilient than annuals.



They are and they aren't. If a disease or proper winter came here and killed off all my fruit trees, I would have to wait another 3 to 10 years to harvest fruit... 25 years in the case of my chestnut trees (unless I can graft, then it's only about 15), that is if I had any seeds on hand to start growing new trees. These are local times by the way, growing rates of trees seem to vary depending on where one lives.

Whereas, if I have a bad year with my annuals, I have enough seed to sew a crop next year. I'm trying to keep two years worth of staples in storeage (pulses and grains), so one year wouldn't make a big impact on my diet.

I work to diversify my perennials, so that I'll have at least some harvest if we get a sudden weather event or disease. I also work with natural selection (aka, utter neglect) for many of the trees and other perennials, so that the 'fittest' can survive. This should help guard against any serious challenges... but even on a very good year, my perennials only make up about 40% of my calories.

My lifestyle and diet includes both annuals and perennials. There are lots of great threads here about perennials. It would be great to explore how we can incorporate annuals into a carbon farming scenario.
 
Tyler Ludens
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What disease would kill off all your fruit trees? And surely you have great diversity in the perennials you grow?

A little more on topic: Carbon farming method with annuals http://www.growbiointensive.org/
 
Neil Layton
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What I have considered doing is incorporating glades and clearings containing annuals as patches in a bigger forest garden. The same applies to ponds. The majority of the habitat would still be woodland, with anything up to maybe 15% ponds. I haven't put a number on the glades and clearings, but at some point it would become more of an open habitat with patches of trees, which is not what I'd be aiming at. The point behind such glades and clearings is to provide diversified habitat, but this would not just involve annuals. My thought would involve annuals in the first year, followed by short-lived perennials for several more, before reverting, perhaps in this way mimicking the activity of rooting animals such as wild boar.
 
Tyler Ludens
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That is exactly the system I envision, Neil.
 
Neil Layton
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R Ranson wrote:

Is this tillage as in machine done, or hand work?


I'm talking about anything that turns and disturbs the soil.

R Ranson wrote:
Most of our compost is trenched, so the soil is disturbed only to dig in the organic matter - then immediately planted with the annual crop. So, harvest a crop, dig a 2 foot deep trench where the crop was, fill 12 to 20 inches with organic matter, then cover with the soil. The organic matter is the unwanted bits from the harvest, mauer and semi worm composted household scraps. Would this method limit the carbon loss?
.

TBH, I don't know. It's a legitimate method of composting, and the layer of soil might I suppose decrease carbon loss through that soil, but I'm doing little more than guessing here.



R Ranson wrote:
One of the reasons barley (and other grains) have become shorter over the past couple of thousand years is that there is a tradeoff between stem length and grain quantity.


This is really neat. Is this for hand harvest as well or only for machine harvest? What influence does weather patterns have on this?


I can't comment on weather patterns. I do know that a lot of the breeding work over the past couple of thousand years has been to increase the quantity of photosynthate going into the parts of plants we can eat as opposed to the bits we can't. One of the problems with scaling that up any further is that we are running up against the limits of biology, in that the plant still needs some photosynthetic area to produce the nuts, seeds and fruit in the first place. You can have a shorter barley stem, but only so far before it becomes too stunted to produce grain.

R Ranson wrote:
the next thing to flag up is that livestock are inefficient producers of protein (this is basic ecology), and convert much of your carbon back into carbon dioxide and methane (which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2). Animals do not fix carbon: they consume and convert it. If you feed your maize to livestock, you are most definitely better off planting a food forest. This may be informative: https://theconversation.com/going-veggie-would-cut-global-food-emissions-by-two-thirds-and-save-millions-of-lives-new-study-56655 This includes some transport emissions, but these are around 11% of agricultural emissions, so the general principles remain.


I don't want to get into the whole diet issue with you (we are both very passionate about it, I know, and I respect you too much to have a falling out on this).


Thank you, but this is only a diet question in the sense that the realities of the situation have direct implications for where we sit on the food chain. There isn't much I can do about that. That said...

R Ranson wrote:
I do however feel this statement does not do justice to livestock raised in a permaculture setting. I am curious how this applies to my small scale subsistence farming where my sheep are mostly for wool and only eat their meat if they sustain injury, age or defect that would otherwise cause them suffering. The article you linked to is a great read and very interesting, however, the numbers used in it seem to be from industrial scale agriculture and I'm uncertain how it applies to low density, small scale sheep flock?
They also seem to be the numbers used for meat-only animals raised on un-traditional foodstuff like grain and soymeal which of course are going to emit more gas. I know I sure do when I don't eat my natural diet.


Probably less so, or at least differently. You may want to have a read of this article, which does relate to sheep: http://www.monbiot.com/2015/12/22/sacrifice/ One kilogramme of lamb protein produced on a British hill farm can generate 749 kg of CO2 - more than a flight from here to New York.

George Monbiot wrote:The figures are so high because this form of husbandry is so unproductive. To produce one lamb, you need to keep a large area of land bare and fertilised. The animal must roam the hills to find its food, burning more fat and producing more methane than a stalled beast would.


My answer would be to convert the land to something more productive, even if that's a simple reforesting operation.


R Ranson wrote:Does it take into account the benefit that manure can have for the soil? I've been doing some very unofficial experiments the last few years where I plant the same crop side by each, but giving the two sections different amendments. One side gets only vegetarian compost and the other includes mauer. My unofficial experiments show an improvement of about 30% for the side that receives the manure over the one that gets only vegetarian compost. If the manure is helping the plants grow faster, than would that move sheep closer to the plus side of carbon farming?


Bear in mind that what you are doing is making nutrient more biologically available. The actual quantity of nutrients remains the same (unless you are supplementing the feed). You're trading off a bigger crop now against a smaller crop later.

R Ranson wrote:Does it take into account the environmental impact on clothing? A sweater from my flock would have a lower eco-impact I think, than a synthetic one that traveled to four different countries during it's manufacturing process.

I need to obtain good data on this. I buy most of my clothes secondhand, but I realise that's not a long-term solution. I'm not sure how to trade off supporting raising sheep against the cotton industry against synthetics and the hydrocarbon industry.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I wonder if other fiber sources could be more appropriate? Perennial or possibly annual. And also a consideration for how much clothing we actually need. In the developed world we generally have far more clothing than we need these days, compared to days past when a person would have one or two suits of clothing which would last for years, mended frequently.
 
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What I have considered doing is incorporating glades and clearings containing annuals as patches in a bigger forest garden.
This is basically my plan as well. The annuals will be in open spaces between perennials and paths. They will be on hugul beds, and right up against, under, and climbing the perennials.

On the original topic: The way I see it, since annuals and biennials have total die off but accumulate a relatively large mass in this comparably short lifetime, there is vast potential for carbon storage in humus, especially if some annuals are actually planned for carbon storage instead of harvest for consumption.

Example: A carrot seed is quite tiny, but a carrot plant gone to full life cycle (with tall flowering stalk), or even part of it's life cycle-thinned as a juvenile in it's first year, is a huge mass in comparison. Even when a carrot is harvested there are hundreds of feet of dendridic root hairs left in the soil, plus all of the microbial life that lived with it. If compared to most conifer tree seeds around here, I think the carrot out performs by mass of carbon stored in the first two years. Imagine planting a crop of carrots, but only harvesting a third of them.

It is hard to grow carrots without tilling, but many annuals can be grown as transplants, and only a small opening needs to be made in the soil to insert the young seedling. I highly recommend the methods of Emilia Hazelip for insight. Emelia Hazelip Permies Link
 
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R Ranson wrote:
Most of our compost is trenched, so the soil is disturbed only to dig in the organic matter - then immediately planted with the annual crop. So, harvest a crop, dig a 2 foot deep trench where the crop was, fill 12 to 20 inches with organic matter, then cover with the soil. The organic matter is the unwanted bits from the harvest, mauer and semi worm composted household scraps. Would this method limit the carbon loss?
.

TBH, I don't know. It's a legitimate method of composting, and the layer of soil might I suppose decrease carbon loss through that soil, but I'm doing little more than guessing here.


It's the method my ancestors used before the acceptance of modern agriculture. I'm very lucky to live with a relative who learned to farm from family members who learned to farm at the turn of the century. Last year we lost the last of my family who farmed before modern methods came to their area, but the lore remains and we do our best to honour them. I think it must have worked because the fertility of the soil seems to have improved over the generations.

I do know that a lot of the breeding work over the past couple of thousand years has been to increase the quantity of photosynthate going into the parts of plants we can eat as opposed to the bits we can't.


Straw was a highly valued commodity for most of human history. In Europe up 'till the mid 19th C, it was used for housing (cob, wattle and daub, and thatch), hats, basketry, and all manner of daily use. In Asia the dependence on straw lasted much longer, well into the 20th C in many parts. Even some work clothing was made of rice straw in Japan into the 1930s. It was my understanding the trend towards shorter stalks for grain coincides with the new harvesting technology and the Industrial Revolution. Given how valuable straw has been to humans, I find it odd to think people were actively selecting against it. Perhaps I'm misinterpreting what you mean?


I want to thank you for the link about the lamb protein. Very interesting read. I have a lot to say on the topic, but like I said earlier, we are both very passionate about diet... so I've deleted my big long reply and will stick closer to the topic of conversation.

The link... and the links that links to (which includes an article I don't have access to - so I couldn't read the whole thing) does not indicate what method and diet are used to raise the animals. I'm not certain we are talking apples and oranges here, more like apples and the moon. It's my understanding that diet and management can have a drastic effect on the health and the emissions of the animal. It also seems to be referring to the modern breeds of sheep which require very specific kinds of grazing areas. Ancestral breeds are far more like goats. They eat a variety of plants including brush and trees. There is even a sheep in Scotland that eats almost exclusively seaweed for most of the year. It's a bit like saying all trees produce whirligigs. Seems like too broad a brush for my liking.

But you do make a good point and something to consider. I love that you have thought so deeply about diet. It's unusual in this day and age (perhaps any day and age). The link you gave is especially good to think about when considering meat raised in the modern fashion from sheep whose wool and manure are often disposed of as waste products instead of utilized to their fullest. I agree that that kind of production is unsustainable.

I am itching to write more... but like I said, I know your views and there is nothing I can write to change them... I don't want to change them. You're an amazing person Neil, and I adore that your diet matches your values and that you have researched it fully. I too have researched my diet and it matches my values. I love learning from your writing.


Tyler, your point is very good. This is an area worth investigating. I have often considered starting a thread about it, but haven't found the wording that would let that thread live outside the cider press. The environmental damage of the clothing industry is shocking! Sometimes I wonder if it's worse than modern agriculture. Having a 100 meter fibre diet is my dream. But there just aren't plants that grow a warm enough fibre to compare to wool. Those that come close don't grow in my region. But it is an area that would be worth putting effort into, perhaps expanding the range that cotton can grow for instance... but how to do that without it being corrupted by... there I go, wondering into the political agian.



I wonder; how can we bring this topic back to the idea of annuals and carbon farming?

People are going to grow annual plants. What choices can we make to help improve the carbon we sequester?
 
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I normally don't think along the lines of "carbon farming", but there's a point I wish to add to the conversation.

Growing annual foods on one's permaculturally run farm and consuming them at home can have a major impact on the carbon issue, from the way that I see it. In my own situation, in contrast to commercial farms, I don't buy commercial fertilizer and chemicals. Thus I'm not supporting the "carbon negative" system of using petrochemicals, the transportation to ship the material, the store needed to sell it, the employees using their vehicles to get to work, etc. And by eating my annuals, I again avoid the carbon negative system again....the employee costs to come pick the food, transportation costs from field to store (major for my region since I'm in the middle of the a Pacific Ocean), chemical treatment of the foods, refrigeration, the printing and distribution of store advertising circulars, etc. Therefore a permacultural oriented home food system, annuals included, has a significant carbon impact from the individual growers viewpoint.

On a world scale, my farm will make no difference. But for me, I feel better knowing that my farm method is more carbon positive than carbon negative....annuals included.
 
R Ranson
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Here's a thought that I've been wondering.

This year I grew two kinds of kale, one grew 6 inches tall, the other less than 2 feet. It takes about 12 months before cut down the kale and compost the stalks. The year before, I grew kale that was 6 foot tall and had stalks up to 2 inches wide. I don't have a tree that can grow that big in 12 months in our environment.

Am I right in thinking the bigger kale captured more carbon from the air? Could the choices we have in the variety we grow have an influence on how much carbon we capture? Or is this oversimplifying it too much?
 
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Growing your own food will cut down on the embodied energy to get the food to you (soil prep machinery, fertilizer, harvesting, transport, preservation/storage, sales, transport to your house , etc). So already you are making a big dent into your carbon footprint.

Problem:
Living mass: You only have 1yr worth of storage vs 30yrs+ of storage for food forest
Dead litter mass: Annuals produce a higher ratio of simple sugar, carbs, cellulose, and alot less lignin so it decomposes in 3 months vs 3+ year.
Fungi/Soil mass: Annual don't encourage a fungi dominated soil, fungi are less mobile than other soil microbes and such store vs use carbon that it eats.
Humus: Tilling for to plant/weed annuals increases the rate at which humus decomposes, and get removed by wind, and water erosion.

Solutions:
Living Mass: Make sure you have something growing every square in with minimum bare soil, being unproductive, use locally adopted plants
Dead Litter Mass: Slow down the decomposition/oxidation rate,
Fungi: Innoculate your soil/hay/compose with fungi and encorage them (less tillage)
Humus: Less tillage, reduce erosion, make bio-char
 
Eric Toensmeier
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100% yes annuals have a place in carbon farming. There are a number of practices for annual crops alone that have a modest sequestration impact. These include organic practices, crop rotation, cover cropping, reduced tillage, system of rice intensification, and more. There are also many, many practices that incorporate annuals with perennials to provide a somewhat more substantial sequestration impact. These include multiple agroforestry practices as well as others that involve, for example, strips of perennial grasses on contour. Pasture cropping also fits into this category.
 
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I must have been mistaken when I thought that humus diminishes over time....hence, the need for more biomass, the feedstock for humus, to be added regularly... often via mulch. ?
 
Eric Toensmeier
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In tillage agriculture humus burns up, both conventional and organic. Cover crops, crop rotations, and compost application can keep levels pretty decent though. No-till systems including mulching are far better in terms of carbon though difficult to operate organically at a mechanized scale.
 
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It would be great to explore how we can incorporate annuals into a carbon farming scenario.
I completely agree, particularly for those of us who live in areas where the choices for edible perennials are not as abundant. I will comment below on clothing as well.
Niel Layton wrote:
One of the main issues as regards carbon storage is the impact of tillage on the soil, which would tend to mitigate against annuals.
This is a matter of technique. Many annuals can be transplanted into perennial soil systems with minimal disturbance to the soil structure, thus eliminating tilling and mitigating most carbon loss.
carbon sequestration per hectare per year varies by a factor of ten in temperate forests. That puts it in the same sort of range as the amount of carbon sequestered by maize provided it's ploughed back into the soil:
I'm not sure if tilling it under is the best way to gain the most carbon. Planting a crop of peas or squash in the corn patch would start to bring the stalks down and turn the stalks into a loose mulch, for long term sequestering of carbon. Additionally, dead stalks left vertically provide habitat for insects and spiders, attract more birds to roost at that height (which might not come into the garden that was tilled flat, (and they provide their wonderful wastes), and also attract birds specifically to hunt insects.
Most of our compost is trenched, so the soil is disturbed only to dig in the organic matter - then immediately planted with the annual crop. So, harvest a crop, dig a 2 foot deep trench where the crop was, fill 12 to 20 inches with organic matter, then cover with the soil. The organic matter is the unwanted bits from the harvest, mauer and semi worm composted household scraps. Would this method limit the carbon loss? Does that even count as tillage? The soil is disturbed and the weeds manually removed.
I understand the the carbon loss/tilling aspect of things has to do with the soil structure being broken up, and air coming into contact with carbon storage, thus accelerating the aerobic microbial activity to burn carbon. Any technique that minimizes both the exposure to the soil microbes to the air, and the breaking up of the soil structure (living ecological community) the more carbon sequestering potential you have. I would suggest experimenting with using harvest waste as mulch (or putting it on the soil surface under mulch), instead of digging it in. I do plant my squash plants on top of a manure pit, but generally do not put this stuff underground. I would generally recommend compost application on the soil surface where nutrients are added by Nature, rather than two feet down.I think that Tyler was very accurate in with these statements:
Humus is a stable portion of carbon in soils, so it seems to me that if our diet is largely based on annuals (as most probably are), using those growing methods which produce the most humus would sequester the most carbon.
Neil wrote:
many people think they can only grow annuals because of their climate because they don't know about the perennials that would grow in that climate. I don't know about your climate, but suggest further research. There are plenty of perennials that grow in most climates.
Most people eat annual plants, for many reasons, and although there are perennial food plants in many climates, these are dramatically reduced as a person travels poleward, or in some cases up in elevation. For instance, I would be very interested to see a really good plant based diet that can be grown at my latitude from perennial plants. As much as I search, Zone 3 edible perennials are pretty hard to find, and those I can locate do not as a group allow a very complete diet. Where I live it's either eat some meat or eat some annuals, or both. I know of no native population at this latitude that lived vegetarian let alone survived on perennial plants.
Corn/maze is delicious, but we don't grow it here. Too difficult without irrigation.
I'll bet there is a corn variety that would thrive in your climate without much water.
Is it as simple as choosing a barley with a longer stem?
I think it's a matter of two things: choosing the barley that is right for your climate, and building soil fertility so that your barley roots will thrive and thus are going to provide maximum carbon in your soil.
I think it must have worked because the fertility of the soil seems to have improved over the generations.
First, it is great to honor family and tradition. Yay for you for keeping family techniques alive; so much has been lost. Now I'll diverge: I know people who till in heavy crops of irrigated cover crops, and definitely improve their soil organic matter/fertility annually, but the fact that it worked does not mean that it is necessarily the best practice to maximize the use of those nutrients, or mitigate carbon loss.
But there just aren't plants that grow a warm enough fibre to compare to wool.
This is likely not going to be found!--particularly when wet. In your region, shredded cedar bark was woven with mountain goat wool for clothing and blankets. Hemp, flax, and nettle are the best choices for fibre plants in temperate climates as far as I know.
perhaps expanding the range that cotton can grow for instance
Cotton is not a fibre that provides much warmth, and it is in fact used in hot climates for cooling. Cotton in hydrophilic, drawing moisture (sweat, rain.. etc) and can be problematic promoting hypothermic cooling effect in a cold setting.
This year I grew two kinds of kale, one grew 6 inches tall, the other less than 2 feet. It takes about 12 months before cut down the kale and compost the stalks. The year before, I grew kale that was 6 foot tall and had stalks up to 2 inches wide. I don't have a tree that can grow that big in 12 months in our environment. Am I right in thinking the bigger kale captured more carbon from the air? Could the choices we have in the variety we grow have an influence on how much carbon we capture? Or is this oversimplifying it too much?
I think that you are thinking correctly about the taller kale fixing more carbon, particularly as I suspect that the larger plant also had a large root system to support it. I don't think that you are oversimplifying, but in my opinion, I think that you should focus on the varieties that suit your tastes and your garden climate, while enhancing your focus on the techniques/solutions that will boost soil fertility that S Bengi and Eric T mentioned.

edit: I mis-spelled barley as barely and had to change it.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:I would be very interested to see a really good plant based diet that can be grown at my latitude from perennial plants.


I would like to see examples of perennial plant-based diets for all regions, especially non-tropical, that people are actually eating in their every day lives. I'm not sure we can make much of a case for perennials unless we actually eat them. So far, several that I have tried on my family have gotten a strong "yuck" response. My husband is willing to try nearly everything I put in front of him, but he's not obligated to take more than one bite.
 
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I'll bet there is a corn variety that would thrive in your climate without much water.


Possibly.

It's lucky that corn isn't as daylight sensitive as say cotton, but we are still a bit far north. It's also not very warm here in the summer, and our rain stops a good 4 weeks before it's warm enough for corn to go in the ground. The rain comes back in the second half of Oct. Corn, like most summer plants, seems to like having moisture in the soil. This is not something we have in the summer unless we irrigate.

If you know of a corn that can tolerate this kind of drought, please let me know. All the corn I know of here is either grown in the microclimate where it rains in summer, is irrigated or is grown in the winter flood zone. Sweet corn is the only maize we grown here.

This is likely not going to be found!--particularly when wet. In your region, shredded cedar bark was woven with mountain goat wool for clothing and blankets. Hemp, flax, and nettle are the best choices for fibre plants in temperate climates as far as I know.


Actually, pre European contact, it was dogs 'wool' that was used for clothing. Goats weren't really a thing here. Cedar bark is great, but it doesn't have the same insulating qualities as wool or animal fibres. Weather or not nettles are pre-contact is currently up for debate. It's better at keeping the rain and wind off, than actually retaining the heat (when woven into clothing). There is evidence that bast fibres like nettles or hemp were used for clothing.

Hemp, flax and nettle are great next to the skin, but they do not provide the same warmth that wool does in clothing. Have you ever felt how cold linen feels on your skin? It's wonderful to wear in warm weather, but does not have the qualities needed to keep a body warm. At the moment, of the (natural - not chemically altered) plant fibres commonly used in clothing (cotton, flax/linen, hemp, jute, sisal, and let's include nettles), only cotton comes close to being suitable for winter clothing. Even then, it lacks the insulating quality of wool, nor the ability to give off heat as it gets wet like wool does.

Cotton is not a fibre that provides much warmth


Exactly... and yet...

In the textile world, cotton is the warmest of the natural plant fibres that is commonly used. Bast fibres like hemp, sisal, jute, or linen are far more cooling. Bast fibres must be altered either chemically or mechanically - at great energy expense - to even approach the warmth cotton provides. Warm being a qualitative term which includes things like reflecting heat, trapping heat, how it responds to moisture, air trapped, &c. Then we have the pesticides, travel, and energy expended to transform these plants into cloth on an industrial scale... but that would be apples and the moon again. On the home scale wool v. plant fibre, the energy input is simular per cloth produced, however, one would have to produce 4 to 20 times as much plant cloth to come close to the warmth wool provides (depending on the method of production and structure of the cloth).
 
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I wonder if a plant fiber fabric with cattail insulation (like a down jacket) would be a thing to try. Not good for wet climates, though.

 
Roberto pokachinni
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It's lucky that corn isn't as daylight sensitive as say cotton, but we are still a bit far north.
There are people that grow corn where I live, as well as in Yukon and Alaska. It's not as easy as in Chilliwack, or Mexico, but I believe it's possible to get or develop the varieties that will suit your place.
If you know of a corn that can tolerate this kind of drought, please let me know.
I don't know of specific varieties, but I do know of corn that grows with very little irrigation in the desert of south central Utah. Perhaps ask Bryant Redhawk? Do you have a lack of water for potential irrigation, besides your rainfall issue?
Actually, pre European contact, it was dogs 'wool' that was used for clothing. Goats weren't really a thing here.
I had forgot about the use of dog hair there, but still I do believe that wild mountain goat wool was gathered and used on Vancouver Island and on B.C.'s Coast. The cedar bark was used as a bulking agent and to form the weft to weave the wool in, not necessarily as a fibre for warmth on it's own.
Hemp, flax and nettle are great next to the skin, but they do not provide the same warmth that wool does in clothing.
I agree, particularly with linen. I have no personal experience with nettle fibre clothing but have read great things about it being used in Europe for superior 'linens' and for clothing, as well as, of course, nets-which is primarily what native people used it for. And nettles were native on this coast and in America, as far as I know.
Weather or not nettles are pre-contact is currently up for debate.
Really? I've not ever heard that they were introduced. I'd really be interested to know more about this; as I have always assumed that it was native. It grows way deep in the wild, wear I live. Can you point me to the right link? I was just mentioning those plants as fibre crops that could be grown in your climate, and could be used to make clothing, not that it would be more practical than wool, or as warm. Not much, in my opinion is as great as wool for warmth, including synthetics. I don't think that cotton is warmer than hemp, but agree that cotton is far more commonly available, and more likely to be used in this regard by clothiers. I would not choose cotton for any winter clothing, except oiled/waxed as an outer shell (Duckback). I wear layers of wool all winter. The cotton Carhart's I wear as pants over wool leggings are there for spark and abrasion protection for my work on the railway. The cotton in them is great for these reasons, but I believe hemp would be better if it was more available, and I understand that linen and nettles both have a reputation for being stronger woven fibres than cotton. Unfortunately the milling world has not stepped up to the task of utilizing these temperate fibres, or I think that the common perceptions would be much different. Generally the cloth fibre industries rose out of the slave plantation system and factory systems, and were based on crops from warmer climates.
On the home scale wool v. plant fibre, the energy input is simular per cloth produced, however, one would have to produce 4 to 20 times as much plant cloth to come close to the warmth wool provides (depending on the method of production and structure of the cloth).
I agree. Wool is by far THE superior fibre for warmth. Down is great, but sucks when wet-as do most natural batting like cattails. If I was to even attempt to make my own cloth from nettles, hemp, or linen, I would likely not focus at all on developing cloth for warmth, but for durability.
I wonder if a plant fiber fabric with cattail insulation (like a down jacket) would be a thing to try. Not good for wet climates, though.
It might be alright if it was obviously really dried and was covered by a shell that was totally waterproof, like tightly woven cotton, nettle, or hemp that was oiled and waxed. Cotton is one of the most destructive crops to grow in so many ways, but can likely be grown in a healthy way in a very specific climate. I've not heard of anybody attempting it very far north at all. I largely avoid purchasing it, unless at the thrift shop--which is where most of my clothing comes from.
 
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I would like to see examples of perennial plant-based diets for all regions, especially non-tropical, that people are actually eating in their every day lives. I'm not sure we can make much of a case for perennials unless we actually eat them.
Me too. But I doubt that it would be possible for anybody to even come up with theoretical diets with a realistic idea that people would eat only that. Maybe if people were forced to for some reason, but it seems unlikely to me that in a temperate climate they would pass up carrots, or potatoes, or grains, or many other annually produced plants, if they knew they could grow and process them without damaging the earth significantly. I think that Emilia Hazelip proved it could be done quite well. From my limited experience with her techniques and with other techniques that might improve her system, I think that there is certainly a place for annual plant production in permaculture, in carbon farming, and in both temperate and even tropical food forestry.

 
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I first heard about nettles being introduced from Europe at a spinning group - we were processing flax, so of course the topic of nettles comes up. Not believing them, I took it up with a naturalist who told me the jury's still out. Pojar and Mackinnon in their book Plants of Coastal British Columbia, make comment that the nettles are 'probably' of European origin and it is "questionable whether this was a traditional use or whether it was introduced by Europeans." They go on to say that the nettles were important for fish-nets, &c, but fail to comment if this is pre or post contact.

This is made more complex by the probability that there was already trade with Russian fishermen before the coast was explored by Europeans. There is reference to this in the book written by ... can't remember his name, he took over Cook's post at Greenwich, if memory serves.

Two other naturalists I talked to say that the nettles on the souther tip of Vancouver Island are almost all at the sites of villages or fishing camps, and there is very few, if any nettle patches away from where the First Nations made their regular stops. This offers support for the idea that nettles are introduced... but when were they introduced? And from where? Apparently there is much debate about this.

An amazing fibre artists by the name of Judith MacKenzie McCuin, is possibly the best source of information on nettle use on the west coast of North America. I don't know how much of the broader history she knows, but she has first hand observation of First Nation nettle processing and has done work with the fibre herself. It's a very understudied fibre, but can, in the right hands, produce a thread much finer and softer than linen.
 
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Eric Toensmeier wrote:In tillage agriculture humus burns up, both conventional and organic. Cover crops, crop rotations, and compost application can keep levels pretty decent though. No-till systems including mulching are far better in terms of carbon though difficult to operate organically at a mechanized scale.


Thank you for your reply. I'm very glad to hear this.

Am I right in thinking your book includes info on this?
 
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This is generally the sort of information I get when looking into stinging nettles:
Origin and Distribution:
Stinging nettle is a bristly, stinging perennial that is extremely variable in its morphology. Two varieties exist in North America. The most common variety (Urtica dioica var. procera) is native, while an uncommon and more bristly type (Urtica dioica var. dioica) was introduced from Europe, possibly for use as greens. It is difficult to distinguish between American and European varieties; however, the introduced variety is rarely encountered. Stinging nettle is widespread throughout the eastern U.S. and in most counties in Ohio. This weed thrives in damp, nutrient-rich soil and does not grow well where soil nutrients, especially phosphorus, are low. It can be found in pastures, nurseries, orchards, neglected yards, waste places, roadsides, flood plains, stream banks and ditches, as well as along the edges of fields and woodlots where it tolerates partial shade. This species does not tolerate saline conditions.
from Ohio State University This description of it being widespread in North America has been verified in my travel experience. Although it is an invasive spreading plant that becomes abundant in waste areas, I have seen it in swamps and along darkly shaded forests in wilderness areas that were many kilometers from village sites or fishing sites. Possibly this was from wetland birds dropping seeds?
 
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Like I said, the nettle thing is still up for debate. All an academic (and lay person) can do is interpret the evidence.

Some say it's completely natural to the coast. Others say the nettles were here but unused by the first nations, and yet others say it arrived via cultural interaction (either from Russia or Europeans). That it is almost exclusively found near First Nation's settlement sites (at least on the South Island) makes me feel it was planted by the First Nations because they found it a useful plant... but it doesn't tell us where it came from. Then again, the method for retting nettles that Judith MacKenzie McCuin describes is very different from Western European nettle retting traditions. I can go on about this if you like, but I'm uncertain of your textile experience and how deep your interest in textile history is.

That's the problem with the past, all we can do is interpret it. 10+ years ago, no one believed in the fibre dogs of the West Coast... now thanks to the research of some amazing individuals, it's generally taken as writ (even if the people who poo pooed the idea 10 years ago, don't remember they ever doubted it). I had the great fortune to attend an early reading of the findings from one of the researchers, the response was 'interesting, but unlikely' by more than a few in attendance. Within in the last year, she gave a talk at my handweaving and spinning guild, the response was 'of course, we all knew that already, but great talk'.

It always amazes me how quickly our 'understanding' of history can change.
 
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I love learning, the 'easy way', all of this fibre history, etc... fascinating... thanks ;) And, 'nettles' reminds me of my earliest memory of them, from this fairytale - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wild_Swans. Although I later got very well 'acquainted' with them as a youngster wandering about in our lowland big leaf maple forests ;)
 
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R Ranson wrote:I've been reading these threads with great enthusiasm. It's been great learning so much from you all.

I've noticed that most of these posts are about perennials when talking about carbon farming.

What about annual plants?

Sure, I grow trees, but I also grow grain and food for myself, and fodder for my livestock. Most of these plants are annuals (partly because they are the tasty ones, and partly because that's what my climate can support best). Surely these crops also utilize carbon from the air?

Is there no place for annuals in carbon farming?

How can I improve my choices of crops to sequester more carbon? Or is the carbon lost as the plant matter becomes soil again (via worm, sheep or composting)?

Is it as simple as choosing a barley with a longer stem?
Yes annuals are very important to carbon farming. As a general rule they don't sequester as much as perennials, but things like multi species cover crops have been used with great success. As a general rule of thumb if you combine multispecies covers with no-til then you end up with a gain rather than a loss of carbon in the soil.
 
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Eric Toensmeier wrote:In tillage agriculture humus burns up, both conventional and organic. Cover crops, crop rotations, and compost application can keep levels pretty decent though. No-till systems including mulching are far better in terms of carbon though difficult to operate organically at a mechanized scale.
Exactly. If you are interested, I may have a breakthrough for that very thing, scalable mulching. And of course besides that, the roller crimper is another way a bit different than I am developing. It is scalable. The third which I also use is the perennial living mulch that gets mowed instead of tilled.
 
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One of the reasons barley (and other grains) have become shorter over the past couple of thousand years is that there is a tradeoff between stem length and grain quantity. It's not quite as simple as SLxGQ=k, but in general the shorter the stem, the more grain you get.


To weigh in on one point brought up earlier in discussion. I recently was able to attend a lecture by dr vandana shiva. She pointed out that one of the major impications for the "green revolution" for subsistience farmers was this shift from using tall grain varieties that had lots of biomass but not very much grain, to varieties that had lots of grain, but very little biomass. In pursuit of more food (and they do grow more grain), farmers had to rely so much more on fertilizers to replace the nutrients and hummus that would usually result from letting the biomass decompose. Secondarily, more biomass allows farmers to raise livestock, who recycle the nutrients more quickly, and provide critical sources of protein. With the shit to the new system, many farmers are now producing more food, but in an system that is based on cash, not on actual well being of the people or soil.

Just wanted to point out that it's not about productivity per se, but there are larger social justice issues in play.
 
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