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What kind of crop yields do permaculture practices yield?  RSS feed

 
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Hey All,
So I've been studying up on permaculture for about 6 months now, I'm stoked for the spring.  So there seems to be a perception out there that permaculture farming methods produce smaller crop yields.  Is this true?  Based on my research so far it seems like permaculture will do just as good if not better than "conventional" methods.  

I realize that it takes a few years to get a permaculture system up and running and producing to it's potential; maybe this is what the conventional mindset doesn't like...

Your thoughts?

Thanks
Rich
 
pollinator
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Its a bit of a how long is a peice of string question as it it depends :-)
For me its all about producing increacing amounts year on year at little extra cost or effort .

 
gardener
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I think David hit the nail on the head there with the "how long is a piece of string" analogy, because I think it does depend. Are we comparing apples to oranges (literally?)? Are crop yields being measured and compared by weight or bushel or monetary value? I'll try to offer a couple examples. It is unlikely that an open-pollinated heirloom non-gmo corn will yield 300+ bushels an acre on a regular basis like its GMO counterpart will, but on the other hand that GMO corn required expensive regular inputs to achieve that yield, poisoning the soil, and the end product fetches little money on the market, whereas the heirloom non-gmo corn does not require expensive inputs, and is worth much more on the market. A whole other aspect to this analogy is if soil health is factored into the equation. It can be difficult to quantify soil health and place a value on it according to traditional market analysts. To them, value is only in the crop, but to someone like me, soil has the most value of anything on a farm, as nothing can be done without it.

In permaculture, we can intercrop greater varieties and companion plant, achieving greater variety and density on a given acre than in traditional row cropping for example, not only achieving more value per acre, but the biodiversity also improves the soil, avoiding monoculture, and provides habitat for the good insects we want. In permaculture, we can plant the 3 sisters, growing corn, beans and squash together for example.  In conventional farming, how in the world can a half-a-million dollar combine sent out to harvest corn, only harvest corn and leave the beans and squash untouched? It can't.

It's pretty clear to me, and certainly proven by people such as, but not limited to, Sepp Holzer and Bill Mollison, that permaculture yields far exceed anything conventional farming can achieve.
 
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What exactly is the "crop yield" for the average suburban lot?

If you compare the crop yield per acre of conventional farmland, then permaculture farming might (or might not) produce less (or more) as the others have pointed out.

If you compare the crop yield of a permaculture household to the average home with lawns, rosebushes, etc.  then obviously the permaculture house produces 1 million times as much food, perhaps more.
 
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In The One Straw Revolution, Fukuoka talks about his yields in some detail.  He was growing rice and barley in a no-till rotation system and his yields were equal or better than industrial agriculture for the same amount of land.  He also talks about the orange and vegetable crop he harvested from his polyculture orchard, but in less detail.

One thing I noticed is that it's not always simple to compare industrial agriculture with a permaculture system (but I do think it's useful to try) because with a mono-crop it's very easy to say we produced X bushels of barely from 1/4 acre.  Whereas a permaculture system might include other plants in that like favas, lentils, and chickpeas.   A polyculture system might look like this: We produced so much barley, lentils, favas, and maybe some other plants, plus XYZ amount of soil fertility.  

 
Rich Points
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I'm hearing you guys say what I suspected, that it depends on what you measure and what your values are.  A lot of people out there freak out when you talk about "non traditional" methods like no till mulch gardening, chicken shit and compost.  

I watched Justin Rhode's video tour of Paul Gautchies farm when it came out last fall.  It was my first exposure to the Back to Eden gardening method. I have since watched the Back to Eden documentary but I found Justin's documentation to be a higher quality overview of how it all works.  Anyway, if you can't tell, I've been inspired and intrigued by mulch style gardening.    Here's the video if you haven't seen it



I'm living with my dad on 12 acres in mid central Michigan where he has kept a garden for the past 15 years.  While dad has been a "successful" gardener his methods are very "conventional" with lots of inputs; water, petrol, fertilizer, poison, time and effort...  He and I sat down a while back and watched the Gautschi video and dad was impressed...but highly skeptical.  Meanwhile I'm Signed, Sealed and Delivered; Sold!  I'm all about it.

After some coaxing I've convinced him to give it a try on half of our garden, it's a tiny plot really, 20ft by 20ft.  It kinda bums me out that we're not doing the whole thing but hey, permaculture takes time!  Paradigms don't shift overnight.  

Part of my dilemma is that at the end of this growing season dad and I will check in and review how things went.  I fear we're gonna compare apples to oranges to lengths of string....

So I guess this post is really about looking for tools to help facilitate a paradigm shift.  

Feeling impatient...
 
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Two things you could do to help sway dad at the end of the year is track the money/time put into both halves of the garden and then when the garden is getting ready to be put to bed go out and do a little survey of the soil on both sides of the garden. Look at the texture of the soil, the presence of worms and fungal hyphae, and pay special attention to the border between the two halves. Especially if the land has been fed chemical fertilizers and treated with toxic -cides there will be some recovery time but hopefully you will be able to demonstrate the positive effects on the soil.
 
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I think a polyculture can produce more in total from a given area. But it may require more knowledge and sometimes labor. It's difficult to send a beginner out to harvest or weed a polyculture, because they don't recognize things very well.

But you might be at a disadvantage this first year for two reasons. One is, your dad is a more experienced gardener than you are, and that may make a difference. Another is, if he's been using chemicals on the land, it may take a couple of years for the soil to recover a full healthy ecosystem under all the mulch etc. But it might recover quickly.
 
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If I had access to this 12 acres, I would let your dad do his thing on his 40 z 20 feet plot and I would start a separate plot of 20 x 20 feet and do my own thing.  

It will likely take a few years to really become productive.

This way, your father will not have any risks (except from the chemicals he applies) and will get the same yield as he always had and you will have time to learn & make mistakes on your little 20 x 20 plot.  It is not just about the soil, it is also your skill level.

It would likely be very frustrating to see your father who gave up 50% of his garden when the likely your first few years you were not as productive as conventional methods.  

You will not win him over if you fail from lack of skill and time it takes to create great soil.

On the other hand, I would put my energies into planting fruit trees & bushes, build up the soil through mulching etc and then plant some perennials veggies amongst these fruiting trees & scrubs.  I would still likely have a small vegetable plot for my annuals.
 
James Freyr
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I like what Michelle suggested about starting a separate plot, rather than 400sqft of the existing garden, and here's why. If that 20x20 spot you get to work with has been treated annually with chemical fertilizers and poisons for 15 years, it's sort of like starting off with a deficit that needs to be overcome before gains can be made, that's how I view it at least. One year of doing everything right may not be enough time to get the soil healthy to show your dad that this is how it's done, since it'll likely be results that he wants to see. If this is the case, I think one of the best things you can do for that depleted soil is to make some mushroom slurries and pour to over your designated spot. I learned this from fellow Permie Redhawk; just take mushrooms, any mushrooms, wild or old store bought ones, and whirr them up in the blender with some water (preferably non-chlorinated) and pour this on the soil. The fungal hyphae will start doing their thing, and fungi are one of the few naturally occurring organisms on this planet than can break down man some made chemicals. If you can get a fresh spot of ground to work with, all the better, and I would still recommend the mushroom slurry to get concentrated fungal goodness in the soil, but this time with a clean slate so-to-speak. Mushroom slurry will only help.
 
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I don't know any advice to give you now. But I hope you'll let us now (with photos if possible) how your experiment proceeds
 
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stephen lowe wrote:Two things you could do to help sway dad at the end of the year is track the money/time put into both halves of the garden and then when the garden is getting ready to be put to bed go out and do a little survey of the soil on both sides of the garden. Look at the texture of the soil, the presence of worms and fungal hyphae, and pay special attention to the border between the two halves. Especially if the land has been fed chemical fertilizers and treated with toxic -cides there will be some recovery time but hopefully you will be able to demonstrate the positive effects on the soil.



I like Stephen's idea. And in the meantime (since you're going to be comparing apples to oranges to lengths of string anyway), do some guerrilla gardening where your dad won't even notice. Get some edible edge plantings in. Plant some berries along a fence. I know it's so much more than just this, but my first thought -- and what I love most -- about permaculture is always "food everywhere." So yes, use permaculture principles in the 20 x 20 half of the garden that's yours, but move out -- and up (and down) -- from there, as well! Cuz that's permaculture. ;-)
 
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This is a link to an article by the Balkan Ecology Project, where they are trying to quantify the yields from polycultures year on year
https://www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/polyculture-market-garden-study-year-3-results
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Permaculture also has some 'yields' that are not measurable.
The community garden we have, as Permaculture Meppel, does not provide lots of vegetables or fruits. That isn't our goal. The garden is there to educate all people in the neighbourhood on the concept of permaculture. We invite them for activities, we talk to them on principles, we show how we work together on one garden (not like the alotment gardens they're used to) ... step by step they are getting used to this different way of gardening AND organising. In my opinion that's a yield
 
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I like the idea already mentioned of having your own plot set aside, but whether you do this or whether you split the existing garden, I suggest growing all the stuff your dad likes to eat. That way he will be inclined to make any judgements based on more than just how many bushels of xyz per sq ft you got. Even if permaculture methods take time to become competitive on a quantity basis, they should be immediately competitive on a quality basis.
 
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Rich Points wrote:Hey All,
So I've been studying up on permaculture for about 6 months now, I'm stoked for the spring.  So there seems to be a perception out there that permaculture farming methods produce smaller crop yields.  Is this true?  Based on my research so far it seems like permaculture will do just as good if not better than "conventional" methods.  

I realize that it takes a few years to get a permaculture system up and running and producing to it's potential; maybe this is what the conventional mindset doesn't like...

Your thoughts?

Thanks
Rich



Since it seems that most of the answers are not based on commercial agriculture yields, I want to give an example of a producing farm for the "normal" market.
I've been working with this farmer for the last 20 years, he grows soybeans and SRW (soft red winter wheat) on 5000 acres.
When we started out he agreed to farm 250 acres using my methods to heal his land, so the first thing we did was agree to give this one field 5 years to produce at least the same yield as his "conventional" fields, we also kept track of his savings of fuel, fertilizers and the "cides" he normally used on his "regular" fields.
year one was build back only, he took the federal money for keeping this field fallow while we grew cover crops and did crimp rolling to build organic matter on the surface. We started in march and grew and crimped three cover crops through august of that first year.  
once we crimped the last cover crop we tilled all that organic material into the top 24 inches of the soil, one pass was made then the screen leveler was used, we then seeded with SRW and came back with an aerated compost tea that included fungi, bacteria, amoeba, nematodes and flagellates.
when the wheat sprouted and grew for two weeks, we came back through with a second aerated compost tea spraying, the wheat was then left just as the other fields over the winter.
come spring he was spraying and fertilizing the "regular" fields at a cost total of 4,000 dollars x 2 applications, plus fuel costs of 1,000 dollars. The test field had no expenses.
At harvest his "regular" fields yield was 60 bu. per acre, the test field yield was 65 bu. per acre with a savings of 9,000 dollars for the one field. It was the first year of the trial.
The second year we did two sprayings of the tea, yield for the SRW was 78 bu. per acre, the third year we did the same and we got a yield of 85 bu. per acre and he started to switch two more fields because "it works, why wait any longer to do what makes me money?"

Yes it takes some time to benefit from a switch over, but most of that can be done in one year and then as you continue to build the microbiology of the soil, the yields go up and will exceed the "standard methodology" in yield and at the same time will save a lot of cash outlay.

Unfortunately, it takes a long time to get farmers to change their thinking, they all seem to be from Missouri and you have to show them, but to do that you first have to convince them to give it a trial on a field.

Redhawk
 
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Michelle Bisson wrote:
If I had access to this 12 acres, I would let your dad do his thing on his 40 z 20 feet plot and I would start a separate plot of 20 x 20 feet and do my own thing.  

It will likely take a few years to really become productive.

This way, your father will not have any risks (except from the chemicals he applies) and will get the same yield as he always had and you will have time to learn & make mistakes on your little 20 x 20 plot.  It is not just about the soil, it is also your skill level.

It would likely be very frustrating to see your father who gave up 50% of his garden when the likely your first few years you were not as productive as conventional methods.  

You will not win him over if you fail from lack of skill and time it takes to create great soil.

On the other hand, I would put my energies into planting fruit trees & bushes, build up the soil through mulching etc and then plant some perennials veggies amongst these fruiting trees & scrubs.  I would still likely have a small vegetable plot for my annuals.



I would also take an approach like this.  Show the results side by side several years running, while also measuring your inputs (including labor) and outputs  for both plots and also discussing/comparing some of the results that are more difficult to measure such as soil quality.  
 
Rich Points
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Update

Thanks everyone for being a part of the conversation so far!   So I'm gonna try what a lot of you suggest and set up a second plot on the property.  But we're also gonna split the garden and see what happens.  I made a little video about it.

https://youtu.be/VS4cw_S3s7E

I'll document things further as we go through the season.

For the second plot I'd like to focus on perennials, some kind of food forest, maybe a hugleculture or two!.  I really want to grow asparagus but I'm also thinking about things like comfrey, grapes, oregano, dill, kale, some berry bushes maybe a pear tree; I'll give it some more thought and study.  This brings up issues of keeping the critters out of the new space.

I should probably start a new thread on that one...



 
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