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High efficiency farming?!  RSS feed

 
Posts: 318
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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I am going to try something with hedges.  So, part of my research goes back to the osage-orange hedges on the Great Plains.  According to learned people, the reason the O-O hedge is no longer used, is that barbed wire cheaper.  But to look into "high efficiency" farming, that outer 20 feet or so of a field being hedge, and not "useful soil" eats into profits.

Just how does a hedge that takes up the outer 20 feet of a field, affect things?  People talk about pleating O-O hedge, and perhaps some people did.  I think most O-O hedge was just palisade trees because those thorns are awful to deal with.

Assuming square fields, and that the shielding effect of trees is 7 times height, and our hedge height is 20 feet.
- a 1 acre field is about 209 feet on a side.  We lose 34.7% to hedge, but our field is 82.8% sheltered from the wind.
- a 10 acre field is 660 feet on a side.  We lose 11.8% to hedge, but our field is 22.6% sheltered.
- a 40 acre field is 1320 feet on a side.  We lose 6% to hedge, and we are 10.9% sheltered.
- a 100 acre field is 2087 feet on a side.  We lose 3.8% to hedge and we are 6.8% sheltered.
- a 160 acre field is 2640 feet on a side.  We lose 3% to hedge and we are 5% sheltered.

A 160 acre field is also known as a "quarter section", which is half mile by half mile.  I think for people "serious" about farming (at least in this part of the world), you need at least 1 quarter (section).  I don't know what the distribution of field sizes looked like when barbed wire came on the scene.  Just for argument's sake, I am going to assume 160 acres.

There are lots of farms using center pivot irrigation, which irrigates about 78.5% of the field (you can  push water further "out", but this requires a smart system so that one pushes water further out based on the position of the irrigation equipment).  So let's assume stupid center pivot irrigation at 78.5%.  
Barb Wire Salesman: if you cut down that hedge and plant it  to productive crop, you will make so much more money, you will be rich in no time.

That hedge is only taking 3% of the field.  I think 3% is well within the natural variation of yield for a crop on a 160 acre field, even today.

Yes, we are assuming the hedge is 20 foot tall, so shadows will be cast on the crop, and some of the crop will have reduced daylight hours.  An affect of windbreaks can be to elevate ground level carbon dioxide.  In the past, this was a factor which led to increased production.  With climate change, it may lead to increased production.  There are studies which show increased carbon dioxide can lead to changes to nutrients in the product (hay, grain, ...).  Not necessarily changes one wants.

I live in a windy place.  I planted 76 corn plants (started in pots), and even though I planted in a semi-sheltered location, I think I lost most of the corn to the wind (and the growing season is just starting).  Having a windbreak shields some of the field from direct wind effects.  A common effect for farming, is "lodging".  The crop has been knocked down to the ground by the wind.  But, in a quarter section field, I can expect about 140 feet of the 2640 foot width to be protected from wind affects.  We lost 3% to having the hedge there, and it shields about 6% of the crop (at a 20 foot height).  In a wide open prairie (which is what the people here seem to want), to have all the crop lodged means no harvest.  Harvesting 6% may give you enough seed for next year.

What else does wind effect?  It can cause pollen to drift.  It can make it difficult for pollinators to do their job.  In some crops, decreased winds has been shown to increase yields.

If a person is going to grow crops like special varieties of corn, looking at the 1 acre field is useful.  Essentially the entire field is shielded from the wind (a slight increase in hedge height would easily make it 100% mathematically).  You could grow different kinds of corn in adjoining fields.

Let's look briefly at center pivot irrigation on a 10 acre field (660 feet on an side).    The center pivot reaches the edge of the field at the half way points.  But in the corners, it comes short (with a stupid irrigation system).  To get to the corners, is to send water at least another 20% further.  On our 10 acre example, that is about 137 feet.  A person can set up a substantial windbreak given 137 feet of space.  Not all corners are the same, so you have different requirements for windbreak based on your prevailing winds.  If we have much more than 10 acres available, and are setting up an array of 10 acre fields, we can orient them so that we get the most wind shielding.


I don't think the farmers gave up osage-orange as a hedge for economic reasons.  I think barbed wire is a convenient excuse.  If the only animals that affect your livelihood are domesticated horses, cows, sheep, pigs, goats and so on, there may be a barbed wire fence in your future.  If other kinds of animals (such as deer, moose, elk, buffalo, ...) are in your area; the standard 5 foot tall barbed wire fence (or a 5 foot board fence) is not going to help you.  Some species of "deer" (which includes moose and elk) can jump more than 10 feet.  I believe 14 foot is the limit.

Robotics may allow for osage-orange hedge to become more viable.  If honey locust is possible, or a replacement for O-O; robotics may allow for the thorned variety of honey locust to be used (much larger thorns than O-O).

-----

For the fields sizes that were around when barbed wire came on the scene, the reason to switch to barbed wire has nothing to do with increased profits for farmers.  It is just salespersonship.   If the only thing challenging your fence is the neighbour's cow, a 5 foot barbed wire fence may be reasonable.  If you have "deer" problems, a 5 foot barbd wire fence is just a minor anoyance to them.  You need something else.

As near as I can tell, the arguments for getting rid  (or never establishing) windbreaks on field edges are just more "fairy dust" from salespeople.

You want the windbreaks.  How wide and how tall governs what you should try for.  And there are no end of articles about pollinators and windbreaks.  More bees means more happiness.  I'm not sure about more wasps.
 
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I have a number of "no planting zones" in my fields. A few of them are associated with rocky soil, but for the most part, if I abandon parts of my fields, it is due to trees (outside the field) out-competing my crops. When I'm evaluating a new field, I won't choose to use a field surrounded by trees. I'd much rather have a barbed wire fence as a neighbor than a hedge. Cause I know that the hedge will be detrimental to my crops.

There might be reasons to grow in a field with hedges or trees, but productivity isn't one of them.

I love my food forests. I don't try to use them for growing annual vegetables.
 
Gordon Haverland
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Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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Interesting!

Do you have more support on this?

Does it depend on the pollinators you have?

-----

I just came back here (not knowing of Joseph's comment), to talk about frost.  If your land is sheltered, frost will "flow" just like water across a landscape.  If you have a windbreak which is not parallel to how "frost" will flow down the landscape, it will influence how frost flows downhill.  Where something (windbreak, swale, ...) is perpendicular to how the frost wants to flow, it will  stop frost from flowing, and those locations will be more susceptible to frost damage.

 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Here's an example in my squash field. The row on the right is 8 feet closer to the trees than the row on the left. In the further away row, the plants are approximately twice as large. It is not dependent on pollinators. The trees are on the north side of the field, so not casting much shade. In the vicinity of the trees, I didn't bother to plant the right hand row this year.



 
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My experience here in Maine does not back up what you are claiming at all.

In fact, when I took over the farm in 2008, one of my first challenges was to take back the "margins" of my fields. Just to be clear, here we call the space around the outside edge of a field, "a margin". For instance it might be from the first row of corn to the trees...that space is a margin. In just one field I had 50 feet from the first row of corn, to the rockwall. Since that one field was exactly 1 mile around it, if you do the calculations, you will see that unto itself I was losing 7 acres in just one field! I still paid taxes on it, but I sure was not making any money on it...and that was just 1 field. Now start adding up all the other fields!!

Another place I noted your calculations were off, was your calculations on tree height. That is NOT where the problem comes into play. The problem with having trees adjacent to fields is having the LIMBS hang out into the field. Because of the light, not only do limbs grow quickly, they really reach far out. This causes several problems, not only addional shading of the crops, but also smashing windows of tractors. Since farmers hate that (and all tractors today just about have glass cabs), they steer awy from those limbs. As they creep more and more away from the trees, the saplings take over. Now more trees are growing, and the tractors shift over even more!

Then add a tree or limb that falls down, and suddenly there is an obsticle to drive around. With haying or row crop equipment, the farmer is not poised to deal with that, so again, they drive around it. Again, the field has even more margin width to it. Sometime I have to take a photo of this, but 20 years ago this happened, a farmer did not clear the rotted tree that fell over, and in this perfectly rectangular field now, there is a bump that sticks out a good 50 feet into the field where for the last 20 years farmers have driven out around that one log. All they had to do was move that one log and tons of turning would have been eleminated over the years.

It is easy to get caught up in the idea that things are done out of laziness and salemanship, but that is not the case most of the time. When I have questions regarding farm theory, I weigh it against my own experience, and then look back upon history and see what my ancestors have done. In this case, both my Indian Heritage and European heritage cleared land to make room for crops. Surprisingly, it was the Indian side of my family that was more aggressive in this manner. I have records that my European family grew crops amoung the trees, but my Indian side, not used to having limits on land ownership, they used draught and fire to clear land on a vast scale.

Today, I agressively manage my margins by bushogging, smoothing the margins with a bulldozer, and knocking down overhanging limbs with an excavator. But this is the most heavily forested state in the nation granted. Some great stuff happens at the margins, but I have plenty of land that provides that habitat elsewhere on my land, so my fields are fields, and my forest is forest.


 
Gordon Haverland
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For Joseph, I would imagine that the trees in question have significant shallow roots?  Hence the competition.

In researching sugar maple, some sources said that in times of stress, sugar maples would bring up water from deep from the taproots, and then distribute some of that water to the surface region via surface roots (and use the rest for itself).  I've only got two sugar maples, and they are only 1 foot tall, so it will be a while before I will be able to observe anything here.

----

I tried to check my calculations as I went along.  I was assuming that the hedge was "square", that the spread of branches to either side was equal to the height.  A hedge that was composed of conifers is probably undersquare (taller than wide).  Very few trees seem to be oversquare.

I agree that everything should pay for itself, but I don't think that means not having treed margins.  I think the margin is a good place for flowering trees, for berries and maybe herbs.  At the moment, the only equipment I have is a 27hp lawn mower (6 foot deck).  No glass.  Everything else gets done by foot.  As there is 80m (260 feet) of elevation difference on my farm, I am getting lots of exercise walking up and down hill.  I am hoping to get a 35-50hp tractor, among other things with a chipper/shredder to deal with broken branches.

I am hoping that I will be able to prune branches at something like 15 foot above the ground, so that the lawn mower or small tractor can get under some of the larger canopy trees (but not conifers).

I have no answer for someone who can't visit the field occasionally to remove fallen trees or deal with broken limbs.  I had heard of a farmer (in Alaska) who had a single big tree in the middle of an 8 section field.  The biggest field my family had (when I was in university) was 1500 acres.
 
Travis Johnson
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Gordon Haverland wrote:I think the margin is a good place for flowering trees, for berries and maybe herbs.



Perhaps.

I have a few other places that already have that (such as apple trees, peach trees, and whatnot), but I do have an area I would like to put into low bush blueberries. (High bush blueberries do not do well here for some reason). It is on a particular margin that would be ideal for it. being on the uppermost part of one of my fields, it has exposed ledge rock in places, perfect for lowbush blueberries to get established and spread. The wood growing there is not much good for anything, even firewood is out as the wood is so short due to the high winds, and the limbs that stick out are ferocious because of the field drawing them. I thought about mowing that down with a mulcher and then planting the lowbush blueberries on that. What thin soil here is really fertile, just thin and acidic; perfect for blueberries.

Another margin I have could grow cranberries, but it would be a HUGE investment because I would have to build cranberry ponds to do it. It is quite wet though.

It all depends. On a specific farm, sure hedges might be better than wire, but perhaps on others, it would not. It would not be on my farm. The land base here is only 10% field and 90% forest, so it is a constant battle to beat the trees back, not plant them! Geerally the Permiculture Way is to work with what you have, not introduce something and then spend all your time trying to fight it.
 
Gordon Haverland
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I live about 5 miles downwind of a 130+ MW wind farm, so we get a fair amount of wind as well.  There are some places where trees get severely stunted by wind, but I think the most common tree here is aspen (colony plant).  Where aspen were in the past, they could sneak back in again.  The biggest problem I see with aspen, is a stand of aspen 1 row wide will not survive the wind.  You probably need something like 50 feet of aspen to successfully survive.  Lots of land owners thin the aspen too much, and then lose what is left.

I think the eastern slopes of the Rockies in Wyoming and Colorado see stronger winds than I do.

Most of my land is a north facing slope, but there is a section which is east facing and I suspect pockets of soil mixed in with boulders or possibly ledge.  I was thinking terracing at some point.  But your situation sounds more exposed than this is here.

I never looked at how one develops a windbreak where the winds are so strong to begin with.

I don't think cranberries would every work here, we don't get enough rain (I think long term average is 19 inches per year).  Pretty much every August is drought, leading into winter.  Autumn usually lasts about 10-14 days.
 
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Gordon Haverland wrote:

I never looked at how one develops a windbreak where the winds are so strong to begin with.



We protect small trees with snow fence or piled brush to break the wind, at least for the first few years.  So far, so good.
 
Gordon Haverland
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I was just out weeding, and had an idea.

If trees need assistance because it is so windy, perhaps one plants a vine on a scaffold strong enough to withstand the wind?  Perhaps with deflectors to reduce how much wind load the leaves see?

---

I had run across a report out of Scotland that piles of dead trees, branches, ... worked well for protecting young trees from deer.  It makes sense they work for wind as well.

 
Gordon Haverland
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Is there an error?

Let's take 1 acre.  It is 208.7 feet on a side (if square).  The fraction occupied by hedge is:
1 - (208.7-2*20)^2 / 208.7^2
which is the 34.7% number I produced.

How much is sheltered?
It is a 20 foot tall hedge, so we are assuming 140 feet is sheltered.  We are talking about sheltering crop, so it is 140/(208.7-2*20), which is the 83% number I had.

The problem is that some of that sheltered area, is hedge.
Our sheltered area is 140*(208.7-40).  The total area is 208.7^2.  That ratio is 54.2%.

The idea behind sheltering, is that what is being sheltered, sees benefits.  So a question I will ask, is there some benefit to the hedge, if it is sheltered by the hedge?  I suspect the answer to that is species specific.  Self-sheltering of nitrogen fixing hedge species might result in more fixing of nitrogen.

If we didn't have hedges, we might see depressed yields of something like 3% due to wind damage (ignoring wind effects like lodging), and then we have other effects like increased evaporation.  So maybe we call it 6%?
208.7^2 * 0.94 = 40942 (and ignoring fractional square feet)

With our 20 foot hedge, we will guess that we have 100% on the sheltered area and 94% on what isn't sheltered (there should be a transition, not a sharp change).
0.542*(208.7-40)^2+0.94*(1-0.542)*(208.7-40)^2 = 27678

So our 1 acre field which has only 0.542 acres of plantable area, is producing a yield expected for 0.676 acres (with no windbreak).  That is an overproduction ratio of 1.25.  (Or maybe I made a calculation error again?)

Some fraction of the 34.7% of the land that is taken by the hedge, can be used for other crops.  Crops like berries.  And it is possible that for the 8 different "buffer" regions, you might have 4 different "best use" crops.

Yes, we are only producing 67.6% of the crop if we mono-cropped the entire 1 acre.  But almost 45% of that land can be producing potentially 4 different crops for the farm.  The hedge itself takes up some ground, so maybe you say that 30% of the land can be used for other crops.

What does our 20 foot tall, 20 foot wide hedge buy us?
* We now have a buffer of 20 feet from any of our neighbours, to stop things like diseases from getting to our crop.
* Wind born problems (pollen?)
* Our margin crops, are growing under a canopy.  They are partially protected from things like hail and lodging.
* We could choose to just grow a ground cover crop, such as clover.  It could be a nitrogen fixer or an accumulator.  It could be providing nutrients to the 54.2% crop that is our main effort.  Which means we might not need as much fertilizer (or we could see increased yields near the border).

An article from Australia (about living fences, has good descriptions on many of the effects of windbreaks - http://www.rainforestinfo.org.au/good_wood/livng_fs.htm ).

I did GPS/GIS work for Alberta Agriculture.  We had projects all over Alberta, including places which suffered thgrough the dustbowl era.

If we were to fertilize a field in strips, with spaces in between that are not fertilized and we were to monitor grain yield in the combine driving perpendicular to these strips, we would see changes in yield, but these changes would not be step changes (but the fertilizer application is (almost)).  And the changes would be offset from where the grain was grown (best seen by varying the width of the non-fertilized areas).

How one has to unmangle this, is something called deconvolution.  In fields and crops I was looking at (for a particular kind of combine), the "delay" between hitting a change in crop properties, and some change in yield on the combine was about 25 seconds.

Anyway, when a person (approximately) deconvolved the yield data (trying to assign the yield not to the location where the combine was when the grain passed the yield sensor, but rather to the location on the field where the grain came from), you could see the presence of former barbed wire fences across some of the fields.  Even though barbed wire does not present a large barrier to wind, old fencelines had higher productivity due to trapping some of the soil blown off the land in the dust bowl era.

We don't use small fields for farming in North America, but they are useful for special purposes such as growing single species corn.  But there are places in the world where the average farm is around 2 acres.  If we choose to use the under canopy area of border hedges, we could produce 5 crops from a field instead of 1.  Which leaves us much less susceptible to crop losses due to disease or weather (not all eggs in one basket).

Let's throw one out there.  On the south side of a south hedge, we enclose the side from the canopy to ground level and inside (under the canopy) we have a vertical array of tomato plants.  Little or no wind, controlled evaporation losses, no wind blown disease or pests, captive bees for pollinating, and so on.  How many tomatoes can a greenhouse grow in (208.7)*(20/3)*15= 20,870 cubic feet?
 
Gordon Haverland
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High Efficiency Farming - Part 1.5

This is just handwaving.  If some CFD person wants to calculate this, that would be wonderful.  If you could tell me how to generate the same results in some Open Source manner, that would be better.

But for wind to approach a windbreak, it makes an upper transition at some point.  The height of the windbreak influences how high the streamflows have to be diverted, before they start coming back down to the surface.  So there are two transitions to the streamflow, the leading one and the trailing one.

The winds at ground level are nominally attached to the boundary layer of the surface, and have the smallest velocities, these winds will  stay parallel to the surface longer than higher level winds, and make the sharpest ascent.

Attached to this note, is a too simplistic handwaving at streamlines.  A real streamline  will get pushed upwards, and then at some point start coming back towards the ground.  I am ignoring the come back to ground level part.  I am using the arctangent function to do my handwaving.  I suspect the error function might have closer affiliations to a true answer, but arctangent is easier to calculate.  I am using Gnuplot to generate the graphics, and it explicitly shows the functions plotted.  Don't pay attention to the values for various things, this is just handwaving.  I adjusted coefficients to do things that needed to be done, or were convenient.

The streamline from ground level starts to come off the ground at about twice the height of the windbreak.  It just hits the top of the windbreak, and then continues upwards to eventually hit about twice the height of the windbreak.

The streamline which originates at the height of the windbreak, starts to divert upwards earlier than the groundlevel streamline.  And it takes longer to come to its maximum level on the leeward side of the windbreak.

Where the distance between the two streamlines is reduced, wind velocity will probably be higher.  So there is a "pinch point" in the vicinity of the windbreak.

Apparently the maximum height of the upwards motion of the streamlines, is at 3 to 5 windbreak heights downwind.  As I am not putting in any math to fudge this, you have to look to your imagination.  Is there a "peak" at 3-5 on the downwind side?


In reading descriptions on windbreaks, the values foe upwind influence, downwind influence, vertical influence and other things ranges over too large a range for me.  I think all of these influences depend on the windspeed (low winds leading to larger affects), but they may also depend on the height of the windbreak (especially at low wind speeds).

If we go to put up a windbreak, we have to take a guess at what height of windbreak we want.  If we want a 36 foot tall windbreak and what we get is 32 feet tall, we cannot jack up the windbreak by 4 feet.  We have to live with what we got.  Or rather, if your windbreak is composed of trees, you cannot jack it up.

atanWind.png
[Thumbnail for atanWind.png]
Handwaving streamlines for windbreak
 
Travis Johnson
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Gordon Haverland wrote:I have no answer for someone who can't visit the field occasionally to remove fallen trees or deal with broken limbs.




Oh I do!


It is because for the farmer the day starts at 3:30 AM with them knocking some coffee down their throat, a bit of breakfast and in the barn by 4:30 to start getting the cows in to milk. By about 8 AM the cows are fed, milked, and if the milk truck driver does not chat endlessly, or a salesman come to sell corn seed, or a neighbor does not stop in wanting to buy hay, they might get the equipment together to start planting crops, getting crops in, spreading manure. If that is not on the agenda, there might be some veternery issues since there are 1200 milkingcows alone to deal with, much less all the calves and heifers that are not yet milking. Breeding them, checking them, and helping the ones that are sick might also be on the agenda.


If a person is lucky their wife has brought them lunch by noon, though probably something has broke down, had a flat tire, needed fuel, or there was a some agricultural related meeting to attend too. Either way they must get back by 16:00 so they can start the afternoon of milk of the cows. Nothing changes in the routine there, feed, milk, rinse milk lines, etc, and hope all goes well without breaking anything. If it does, it just means you have a longer day because it does not matter what time it is, you are not done until the job is done; there is no end-of-shift on a dairy farm. If a person is lucky they will go to bed about 8:30...maybe 9:00 if they get to spend some time with the wife and kids...


The next day...rinse and repeat. It does not matter if it is just another Tuesday or Christmas, same thing; get up at 3:30 and start your day. Cows have to be milked twice a day, 365 days a year...


It does not let off much in the winter, even if there is no crops to try andplant or harvest. There is no picking up dead fall because there is 2 feet of snow on the ground, and even if there was not, the dead fall would be frozen to the ground after October. Of course what replaces crops to deal with are frozen pipes to the waterers, and snow to push out of the way. Firewood to keep everything warm in the houses, milking parlor, etc.


Oh I can easily see why people do not take the time to go pick up dead fall in a field. It is unfortunate, but I can easily understand why people do  not.
 
Gordon Haverland
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I know that people on the farm have worked some long days.

Recent reading about osage-orange hedges, mentioned some farmers pruning 750 feet of osage-orange hedge in one day, with a scythe.  For people not familiar enough with osage-orange, I give you some Janka hardness values for various trees:

Aspen 380
Butternut 490
Poplar 540
Cherry, Maple 950
Walnut 1010
Birch 1260
White Oak 1335
Hard (Sugar?) Maple 1450
Honey Locust 1548
Hickory 1820
Osage-orange 2760

It is too bad that some people have to work that hard, whether it is farming or anything else.  As a young adult, my Mom worked like that.  She once worked a restaurant (waiting tables, clean up and cooking) for 2 weeks straight without any sleep.

To me, that kind of working is to reduce a person to an animal.  One of the things which sets mankind apart from the animals, is the ability to think.

A case in point.  We have so many people in government who grew up with Bambi, making laws and rules allowing deer (all kinds) populations to rise.  With deer being one of the driving forces for changes in biodiversity on the land and in the forests, farmers are uniquely situated to see these changes happening.  But to work a schedule like you mention, there is no time for noticing something like this.
 
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I have a number of "no planting zones" in my fields. A few of them are associated with rocky soil, but for the most part, if I abandon parts of my fields, it is due to trees (outside the field) out-competing my crops. When I'm evaluating a new field, I won't choose to use a field surrounded by trees. I'd much rather have a barbed wire fence as a neighbor than a hedge. Cause I know that the hedge will be detrimental to my crops.

There might be reasons to grow in a field with hedges or trees, but productivity isn't one of them.

I love my food forests. I don't try to use them for growing annual vegetables.



This is an interesting point about growing things in ground in a food forest. I'm experimenting with growing in hugelbeds in the orchard, with good success, though the trees are young. I'm thinking the roots won't reach into the top part and that the soil is so rich anyway that there's plenty to go around. But we'll see how it evolves over time
 
You can thank my dental hygienist for my untimely aliveness. So tiny:
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https://permies.com/t/110826/interns-apprenticeships-internships/experiences/places-intern-regenerative-farming-permaculture
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