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Starting a farm and need Help

 
edward boskma
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Dear Permies,

I always love your advice because you people know what you are talking about!

After several years of doing research, getting practical experience and looking for land the time is becoming nearer that I'm finding a spot that is suitable to start my Mini Acre Small Organic Farm! Hooray I can feel it! Soon ill be able to start.

The question for me is Where? I have a pretty specific formula of agriculture that I want to apply, think Paul Kaiser, with the edge of Elliot Coleman and Jean Martin of The Market Gardener and some others that are really now pushing the cutting edge of what is possible with very little physical labor input. Ofc these people work very hard, but not with weeding, their farms seem well set up and are practical time savers, including their methods. And to hopefully be able to grow enough food for about a 100 people in one year on 4000m2 or 1 acre of land.

I might have the opportunity now to start with this but I have one problem. Although I can sort of imagine what I should do and I have a formula on how to build raised beds, start planting seeds etc, note down when the plants are ready etc. I have no idea how to create a solid work schedule, I cannot find any information on how to create a proper planning for your farm? Where do you start and what should I look at when starting with a cleared peace of land that has been farmed before. Its been called 'seed ready'.

I'm interested to hear your advice and in addition hope to find someone who maybe has an example of their work schedule from when they first started? I also don't have a business plan and my mind sort of blanks out with that, when I read about it it sounds like its pretty important,what do you guys and girls think? I'm looking for a good example to get an idea of what it is?

It sounds like I have to flesh out what I want but how do I figure out what my priorities should be?

If you can help me please let me know! or send me an email on SanderAG2016@gmail.com
 
Tyler Ludens
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edward boskma wrote: Soon ill be able to start.

The question for me is Where?


Design: http://www.permies.com/t/55751/permaculture-design/Permaculture-design-basics
 
edward boskma
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
edward boskma wrote: Soon ill be able to start.

The question for me is Where?


Design: http://www.permies.com/t/55751/permaculture-design/Permaculture-design-basics


Thanks for the links ill go do some research.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Edward, first thing is a layout of the property so you can design where all the beds will go, how to best get water to the beds and know where the foot paths should be.

Next is to determine what crops will be grown, this gives you the planting and harvesting schedule necessities.

From that point all you have to do is lay out the work flow, from there you can build your schedule of work to be done.

Now, keep in mind that this is not going to be something written in stone, things will always pop up that get pushed to the top of the list because they are "emergency" items.

One thing about farming or ranching, there is always something getting pushed back because of Murphy's first law, "If something can go wrong it will, and it will happen at the worst possible time."

In our experience setting priorities means that you are not going to get to go down the list in order, things will happen and you will be moving things around on the list every day and sometimes even during the day.

By having drawings of your property, you can let your fingers and eyes do a lot of "walking", making adjustments for better work flow and shortening the amount of time you have to spend on each one is a lot easier on paper.

It is much easier to use an eraser and re-draw the building or bed than to find out later that you need to move the completed structure, no matter what type of structure it may be.
 
edward boskma
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Hi Bryant,

Could you give an example of how to lay out the work flow or what it is? This is sort of a something that I'm missing.

 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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If you are starting to build a raised bed farm, the work flow would be;
1. stake out all beds,
2. lay out wood (blocks or what ever it is you plan to use for bed building),
3. fasten beds together, (build beds)
4. Fill beds with soil,
5. plant seeds (or transplants),
6. water beds,
7. watch plants grow, weed, water as needed.

Ceta Luta (Redhawk)
 
edward boskma
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Ok so its a step program and because I'm missing some information (I don't know what the land looks like yet) that is why I am missing this. Because I can't work out the flow if I don't know what is going to happen. So I could look at your example of building raised beds and do copy this to all my other tasks.

So I guess I'm probably right to say that some things I just can't plan for yet unless I know what the farm is gonna look like.

I guess the reason for raising this is because I feel a bit frustrated, because I have the feeling that I do not know yet what the land will look like therefore I can't plan. And that's the loop in my mind that I feel I should do something, but can't do it yet until I actually see what I have, I need the canvas to be able to paint the picture I guess.. But where lies the nuance of that I should be able the picture? How farm ehh far :p typo should I be able to go before I need physical land?

On paper I get to being able to draw my beds and what I think is a good system, but not so much a whole farm?

(Its only 1 acre max or less). I guess I need to determine also how much I want to grow of each crop, is there a seed to harvest ratio something that I could calculate this with, I tried asking some older farmer but said I should figure it out :/ basically giving me back my question. It feels a bit random to just say ok 10 beds of pumpkins, 5 of corn , 3 of beans etc... How should I plan for something like this if I don't have a market yet? How did you guys/girls do it?
 
Tyler Ludens
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I found it helpful to study the designs of other people's farm or yards. For instance John Jeavons' biointensive farm is a tiny place on the side of a hill:



geoff lawton's farm is over 60 acres, I think:



Happy Earth is a biggish yard:



 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2002
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
152
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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Edward, just because you don't have a specific piece of land yet doesn't mean you can't practice designing a farm layout. It just means it will stay on paper.

If you want to try different designs on different types of land prior to your purchase of land, Google Earth is a good way to do that. you can print out some land after zooming in then use that print under some tracing paper to try different layouts.
This way you can practice, hill sides, flat lands, gentle slopes and every other type of landscape one can find on our earth mother without having the expense of purchase. It also lets you see if your design ideas will actually work with the lay of the land.

 
Casie Becker
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Take what I say here with a grain of salt, as it's outside my personal experience.

Do you know generally where you're buying land? If you know the general region, you can at least familiarize yourself with the local markets. In the farmers markets in particular, you can get a good idea of what plants grow relatively easy, and which ones may be worth taking extra steps for their profitablity.

Are there any local restaurants who market themselves as either local-vore or organic? Even if you don't want to approach them as a supplier right now, I think you could introduce yourself as a incoming member of the community.

Seriously salt all this advice. I'm so socially awkward that I would make a hash of attempting this myself. This is just where my mind went when I tried to think what planning could be done before you had a site to develop.
 
Jeff Stainthorp
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Howdy! I may have some insight to this, as I just started a 1/2 acre SPIN farm after gardening intensively for about 6 years. First things first: know your market. You are in a good position to do this, as you haven't actually put your plants in the ground yet. Go visit the farmers markets in the area where you wish to farm, and pay close attention to what sells and how much it sells for. Also try to notice what no one else has, and maybe talk to some of the vendors about why they all seem to be missing certain items. It could be a climate thing, or it could be that no one wants to devote the time and effort into growing specialized crops. That's what I did, and now I'm the only vendor at my market with fresh medicinal herbs, and people love it. Mind you, I'm not grossing anywhere near what Eliot Coleman or Fortier do, (like, at all) but I found a niche in the market that pays the few bills I have. And I'm in my first year, which is always the hardest. Don't forget that. If you fail your first season, try try again.

As far as work flow goes...you just have to figure it out. Haha I know that's probably not what you wanted to hear, but every farm and farmer is different. It's essentially an intricate, beautiful, and chaotic dance. Your priorities shift constantly, weather can mess up your planting schedule, pests can set you back by a month or more, irrigation can malfuntion... the list goes on and on. You can have all the knowledge in the world about farming, but unless you have the will to roll with the punches and constantly adapt, it'll burn you out faster than a PhD workin at McDonald's. The most important thing for me is organization. I keep pretty meticulous notes about every aspect of the farm. It may seem superfluous, but being able to see how things go year to year is really helpful, especially when it comes to frost dates, when pests arrive, which varieties excelled, and even when everything goes to hell. And it's fun to see how far you progress as the years go by. But beyond that, it does all really come down to you. It's your farm, make it how you want it. There's no set formula for a successful farm, so create yours based on how you like to work, and hopefully the rest will fall into place. I hope this has been slightly helpful, I'm a little delirious after the 14 hour day I just had. But either way, best of luck to you!
 
Merry Bolling
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Location: USA, Arkansas, zone 7b
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I do not grow food for profit, so understand that my advice doesn't have years of professional experience behind it. That said, regarding some of the planning you'll need to do, google "how much to plant to feed a family of four" to get an idea of the types and amounts per person of vegetables you may want to consider in conjunction with what your market research of farmer's markets turns up. Most of the articles google will lead you to mention many of the things you'll need to consider, like growing zone, length of growing season and whether your growing season allows for succession planting (helps grow more in a smaller space). Here is a representative article: http://gardening.about.com/od/vegetable1/a/How-Much-Plant.htm.

Planting to feed 100 people will definitely take planning. There is vegetable garden planting software. I haven't ever used it, but for the huge amounts of food you'll need to produce and keep track of, you would want to consider it as a planner to keep you and your planting dates on track, as well as the ability to print out the latest copy of what is planted where (and keep old copies for your year-to-year planting journal). Top Ten Reviews also mentions vegetable-garden software that shows you proper crop rotation, proper plant spacing as well as ones that includes a harvest estimator - See more at: http://vegetable-garden-software-review.toptenreviews.com/#sthash.P2BKW63U.dpuf (but I believe this is dated info, 2011).

You'll also want to consider your farm's location and how close it is to major markets. Petroleum expenses can make or break you, as can being close to an area that will give you more options for selling your products (especially if one of the markets you sell to goes out of existence). Take a look at the example of this commercial farming couple in Quebec: http://permacultureapprentice.com/how-to-make-a-living-from-a-1-5-acre-market-garden/ They advocate the importance of planting schedules and "JMF emphasises that finding the right site to grow vegetables is the most important initial stage for establishing a successful market garden. Each site has unique characteristics, and there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ site. It is very important to understand and prioritize factors like soil fertility, climate, topography, water access, and infrastructure before investing in a site."

Hope this helps...and good luck!
 
edward boskma
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Hi Merry,

Yes I'm familiar with some of the things you mention like the market gardener etc.

These are sort of my resources and inspiration:
Elliot coleman the winter harvest:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MACjIdB80Qc

Paul Kaiser:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMXRe6mdlxk

And ofc that market gardener guy, but with more ethics! (be carefull when you recommend him)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BH0NkN6zHs&list=PLCeA6DzL9P4uRadXW0_hj5Ct3EAqWH1zl

I think that he skips some of the essential 'ethics' of working with nature and farming in order to increase in his words 'production' and as a sort of post permaculturalist I cannot really agree with that. I think the idea of ethics and 'what feels right' feels right because of our (deep) connection with nature. Therefore maybe unknown by people today or feelings that are ignored it is I think essential to listen to our gut instincts, because our genetic memory or soul or connection with mother nature or whatever you want to call it is trying to tell us something there. So I know that guy is populair right now, but In his own words he just said that he essentially copies what Elliot Coleman is doing, but in his book which I read he runs over and pretty much says ' I'm not going to talk about ethics right now ill leave that to other people' JM (fear).. Ehh so he is inspiring 10.000s of people to do farming, but is missing the point of teaching them a moral code of what is acceptable in nature and what is not... Inspiring people to essentially see nature as a resourse again to be exstracted VS a collective organism that we as humans are essentially a extencion of and should not under any circumstance think that is acceptable to break or degrade this bond. Because in the long term I think that is (collective) suicude, ehh think of your children, and maybe those of others or future childern 4 generations from now,you might not know them but they will inherit the earth from us. Or like the native americans say it, we BORROW the earth from them, so be like a 1000 times more carefull with it then we are doing others let do now in the adsence of our care . Time to take back the earth ifyou ask me. I Think that way of farming creates problems in the long term that we are not aware of yet. I think that in that film back to eden gardening some guy say, we have to think wheter this system will work while we are taking certain elements away. And I think paul staments awnser to that is: That the more nutrician there is the higher form of the eventual genetic expression there is. And if evolution is true we should let mother nature do her work, remedy where possible according to her guidelines and then see what happens over a 1000 years time. Cuz who knows, maybe from monkeys to humans was not the final step in this process? Maybe we will be become super humans or super monkeys again haha :p.

But also the fact that we do not yet fully understand nature, and may never, so to bend it to our wills is always a dangerous thing, you do the best you can but you are not allowed to cut corners for 'profit' you have to obay the laws at all times, and if you do it right then mother nature will do the work, this is a bond of trust and humans that live the way that JM does, saying this (I watched a lot of his video's) like 'I drink beer' and 'Spending time with my kids' right after eachother makes me think that this guy is not so perfect as he seems. There is a huge disclaimer when advertizing this sort of work. You should read his book, and then read elliot's winter harvest manual ( that one is a must read anyway for any PC person its one of the most professional statements of growing good food commercially ever written) and then compare the two, its esentially the same thing, the onlything JM brings to the table is the stale seedbed technique, really his book is a clone and its to anekdotal... His book is like, 'ok elliot colemans way of growing things works' ehh ok then why not recommend his book instead JM? It has more morals in it and is a bright light in a moral inspiration and a lazer precision work ethic . That is how I want to grow food one day.

Ok enough rant :p, I get that you mean well and I appreciate everyones comments . This is very helpfull as this stage is sort of crucial and there are some negative forces pushing my way and it is important for me to stay confident and focussed, so I appreciate your support .

I'm doing research for several years now and have tried to start a farm in march last year in Australia, all went really well, I found land, a cottage on the land, water was there sort of (well down the slope so I would have needed a pump) and all 3 organic stores in town where interested in my produce, without having anything produced yet . But alas the Australian government denied me a entrpeneur visa which I needed to actually be able to fysically stay there. So I said sorry to all the people and decided to leave to Canada to finish my Drivers license, which I have. I would have needed 500.000 startup money or to be able to hire 10 employess in the first year. I can make money out of seeds, soil water and air and do landscaping as Sander, The Amazing Gardener to fund my startup but yeah that was not good enough for them. But I felt I would have done well for myself and thus is was unnessary for them to not give me a visa. Moving on...

So here I am now back in Europe where I can stay forever in Scandinavie. 1: I really really really would like to find some resource that could share with me where to start, so if you have time maybe its possible to say where you started and what you would have done differently if you where to start a farm again? Like practical tips of what you really wish you had done instead of what worked perfectly for you? Like there is things that you only find out when you are able to do it.

2: I have a limited budget, I'm starting with about $2000 maybe $2200 and need buy a car out of that also. But because I work part time as a landscaper I'm able to invest my extra time :p (sleep less) into getting more $ to start a farm(so over time in maybe 2 years I hope to have $8000 to $10.000 investment money for all the basics things that I need, after that I only want to buy better greenhouses and irrigation and soil admentments like biochar or my own biochar facility. So my budget is really tight, the only other thing I have is a bag full of seeds that I have collected during my travels over the last couple of years , Lots of rare heritage seeds some store bought and some organics from farms where I worked or people that grew themselves.

Minus the car I wil probably have a budget of $1000+ dollars + I might get some money back from being robbed when I was just in Ecuador, lost about $600 so that is what I want to buy a greens harvester with maybe but I'm open to suggestions about what you guys think. I'm thinking I should buy some simple hand tools like a shovel, pitchfork and rake, and I should invest maybe $500+ in some really good seeds for potatoes, onions and bulk crops that I can get a good investment return on assuming I grow them right. The other thing would be irrigation equipment and maybe compost? That would be it then for the budget and after getting some good tools, cleaning space for packing etc and that greens harvester the first real big investment would be a hoophouse. What do you guys think? How should I spend my investment money for my initinal startup? How would you start with $1200 dollars and 4000m2.

3: In terms of the land what is negotionale and what is not? What would you not comprimse on in terms of the different aspects of the land? For me one would be water and acces to sunlight but the other ones are not so clear to me, what would your ideal site look like and why and what should I really stear away from?

I'm working at a dairy farm until the end of the month and then I'm going to go around looking at properties. And eventually chosing a site for at least this season.

I found some land before I came here but it turned out the owneress wanted a little bit more then land sharing, but she was like 15 years older then me wop wop :p. Lame.... But yeah I'm sure ill find something that is fitting..

4: I want to start growing a good amount of crops with like 12 main crops + salads + things just for my own consumption and maybe some herbs and flowers at the ends of the beds to tie it all in nicely around the parimenter of my farm/plot so the right insects are atracted/repelled ect. I also want to start from day 1 with growing edible mushrooms in straw and woodchips that I innoculate my soils with so that the mycelium can help with irrigation and sharing/transportation of nutrients. Does anyone have experience with this growing these things between your crops as an extra in the same space/shade of the crops or how would you go about it? I basically want to create a oasis of life that is super productive and active in itself and then plant my for sale vegetables in between as part of that clockwork but not a monoculture type idea.

My business model is sort of trying not to put all my eggs in one basket. I want try to sell to local markets, make a on demand CSA (people can order up front but not pay the whole season in advance, I list a things of I have available and people can choose themselves what to buy or not, This leaves me not having obligations in case things go wrong and I read about (and have seem in people I worked for) the stress of running a CSA, that is not really worth it for me I want to have fun while farming and I think I can have both. I also want to try and sell to locals by door knocking/flyering and doing home delivery so pretty much on demand CSA same thing.I have an idea that I should have a framework of things that I can do, like 12 crops/salads/steady things that I can rely on, and depending on how much part time work I have I could plant a extra crop of corn or grain or whatever, but If I don't have time to maintenance it it should be able to be let go, that I take the risk on the investment of the seed that will pay off if I have time. Or why is this a bad idea?

Should I bet on growing as much as a I can hope that mother nature will sort out the things that I cannot manage assuming I can work the land. What do you guys/girls think about after reading all of this what do you think I should work on and focus my attention towards?

5: I guess I really want to know what type of soil you would be looking for and what you would not compromise on? Like acces to water when finding land or acces to abarn, whatdo you really need to have when starting a farm? What should I be looking out for? Apart from kissy cheeky ugly old lady's :p. wop wop.

Thanks for all the help so far its very inspiring to be able to feel other people's support! I use it to stay strong!

Ill keep reading this,

Sander, The Amazing Gardener

P.s. this guy is pretty interesting also:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7agK0nkiZpA

And this is what I want to doafter 5 years of farming and then to be ableto bya peace of desert somewhere and do this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTvYh8ar3tc
the man who planted trees, someone said it wasnot a true story but then someone alse said it was BASED on a true story, is this for real? I'm interested to know more about the background of this person.

P.s. Thank you for all your helpill keep reading this here, will post some pictures when the land/ the farm is going!
 
Rus Williams
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edward boskma wrote:I also don't have a business plan


A business plan is incredibly important. Don't let it put you off though, it just has to be fit for your purpose even if it is just 'I will sell 50 kilos of veg this year', you just have to have some way of evaluating how things went.
The golden rule is that you have to write your plan down. The mind is no place to do serious thinking and we have to commit to putting things on paper and working towards them.

There is a really nice podcast called the growing farms podcast By John Suscovich. He talks to farmers whether they are conventional, organic, big and small. It's also his story of his journey to find land and start to farm.

He's did a really interesting thing called the farm finance challenge
Where he got beginning farmers to record their income and outgoings. Hugely useful for anyone trying to get a start in farming.

Keep good records, especially if you are bad at doing this. You simply have to know what is coming in and what is going out. Otherwise you don't have a business, you have a hobby.
Bank managers, landlords and suppliers are notoriously keen on being paid and cash flow is one part of a business where it pays to be incredibly boring and uncreative.

Find a simple excell template or google doc template and just put the numbers in. Make sure you keep a record of your time and allocate a dollar/euro/ zloty amount per hour. You'll see whether spending another day a week on your landscaping business is more lucrative (giving you cash to invest in your farm) or whether it's better to do more of a certain type of farming activity.

Also I have this bookmarked to look at. It seems like it's a great place to start but I haven't done anything with it yet.
http://www.nebeginningfarmers.org/farmers/

I wish you success!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Posts: 9459
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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edward boskma wrote:
5: I guess I really want to know what type of soil you would be looking for and what you would not compromise on? Like acces to water when finding land or acces to abarn, whatdo you really need to have when starting a farm? What should I be looking out for?


Water is the single most important resource. With water you can turn crappy soil into good soil. So I would study these videos, which discuss water in the farm landscape:

http://geofflawton.com/videos/property-purchase-checklist/

http://www.geofflawtononline.com/farm-tour/

Here's another one but I haven't watched it yet: https://vimeo.com/93151782

Here's a design for a small property (lots of water!) http://geofflawton.com/videos/5-acre-abundance-on-a-budget/
 
nikos pappas
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
edward boskma wrote:
5: I guess I really want to know what type of soil you would be looking for and what you would not compromise on? Like acces to water when finding land or acces to abarn, whatdo you really need to have when starting a farm? What should I be looking out for?


Water is the single most important resource. With water you can turn crappy soil into good soil. So I would study these videos, which discuss water in the farm landscape:

http://geofflawton.com/videos/property-purchase-checklist/

http://www.geofflawtononline.com/farm-tour/

Here's another one but I haven't watched it yet: https://vimeo.com/93151782

Here's a design for a small property (lots of water!) http://geofflawton.com/videos/5-acre-abundance-on-a-budget/

I recommend "The New Organic Grower" by Eliot Coleman (and anything else by Coleman) for intensive commercial vegetable growing http://www.fourseasonfarm.com/


yes water is a very important asset when farming but always keep in mind the barrel principle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liebig%27s_law_of_the_minimum) when planing. good luck.
 
edward boskma
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Hi Nikos,

That is very good to know, are you fammiliar with the work of Elaine Ingham? She sort of stresses that fact that nutrient availablilty is influenced or more or less created by biological processes from bacteria and fungi. And in my mind the amount of organic matter in the soil increases the amount of available nutrients.

I guess its sort of a bottle neck priciple where we have to look at what the mimum amount of nutrients is for each tipe of plant or maybe there is some sort of universal plant growth principle.

The most fertile soils I've heard about where aither terra preta (soil with the highest nutrient availablity) or from that guy from back to eden Gardening.

Both films are here:

Back to Eden Gardening
https://vimeo.com/28055108

Terra Preta: (docu)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Os-ujelkgw

Elaine Ingham:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzthQyMaQaQ

I think that back to eden gardening guy is just the 'natural' way of creating the same conditions as what Terra Preta or Biochar does. Both is worth a look.

The only thing missing is a good Docu about the benefits of EM (Effective Microorganims). In my mind, if you can combine the information of all these people togheter or put it in a Eco system or farm, we/you seem to pretty much have restored the origional Ecoligy. Over time keep using the same methods and things will only get better. Technically people like Bill Mollision show people creating a forest where there is just desert soil with lots of sand and salt etc in 5 to 10 years. (starting with a higher lifeform first in the way of plants, but technically the soil biology should be first to create the basis for the perfect plants to grow and then you should start to look higher succesions or higher life forms. If the Basis is good all the rest should perform at its best).

So techincally the whole world/all the Eco systems and all current eco systems can be saved with the methods we know today. Its just a matter of doing it. Its just a choice and maybe it always was. I'm ready to make that choice and I hope that in 5 years time I will have made enough money to be able to buy some land/desert and to be able to plant a forest there. I think the Earth really needs that.

Its good that there is proof for all of this and these people have worked long and hard in order to achieve some solid how to methods of how to achieve all these results. Recently someone said something like, 'If someone has done it before that means it can be done' . It think that is the perfect end to everything, no more debates, no more negotiating slow evolution, lets get in high gear and starting doing this stuff, let go of things that do not matter.

Em Bokashi:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__0xhfxxXgs

(still looking for EM good documentary, Bokashi is a method for composting but EM1 is more adding the basic mircroorganims to the soil. Both is a way of making nutrients more available and according to EM people this can be as much as X10 more or x100).

Do you have some more specific information available about how to increase the nutriet availability of these bottle neck nutrients like potassium and also calcium? Does something like that exist?

Thanks for reading.
Sander
 
Look ma! I'm selling my stuff!
2017 Homesteaders PDC (permaculture design course) & ATC (appropriate technology course) in Montana
https://permies.com/wiki/61764/Homesteaders-PDC-permaculture-design-ATC
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