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F Van Roosbroeck

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since Sep 12, 2017
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Recent posts by F Van Roosbroeck

There have been many good points made already about why such a long-term comparison is difficult (medical terminology and capability, prevalence of other diseases, etc), but I'd like to add that you shouldn't underestimate past exposure to carcinogens: ventilation inside houses was generally poor, food was regularly adulterated, moldy or otherwise contaminated, lead was generally used for pipelines or to line water containers, medicine often consisted of heavy metals such as antimony or mercury, industrial standards were pretty much nonexistent, and so on and so on.

Difficult to assess quantitatively, but medical writers always have had plenty to say about 'malignant growths' - not a recent phenomenon at all.
2 months ago
Right, but wouldn't that mean that the differences, fertilizer-wise, between ash and charcoal weren't all that great? Particularly in the early modern era, when I imagine charcoal wasn't always produced in the most favourable circumstances and where ashes might include larger pieces of charred or only partially burned material.

I'm not trying to nitpick, mind, just trying to understand better. In fact, many contemporary sources mention differences in quality between various kinds of ashes - perhaps this is one of the reasons why.
10 months ago
So I've checked with my friend who did his PhD on early modern manuring practices (it's a niche), and he's never come across charcoal being used as fertilizer in his sources. That's not to say it never happened - you'll always have experimenters - but it was definitely not standard or typical. I'd also imagine that, if the main benefits of charcoal are because of its texture, contemporary tilling and harrowing practices would have quickly broken it up anyway.
10 months ago
Hmm, interesting. The use of ashes was particularly associated with clover cultivation, and iirc application was indeed every six years or so. I'm not sure whether charcoal (unspent charcoal, I'm assuming?) was generally used as fertilizer, but I'll ask around. Out of curiosity, what makes the difference between charcoal and ashes?
10 months ago
Peat ashes and ashes derived from industrial processes (soap manufacturing and such) were quite widely used from about the seventeenth/eighteenth century, and often mixed with urine. There's a lot of information on this in agronomists' treatises if the era (eg )
10 months ago
Noy anything I've done before, but are there obvious boundaries between areas? What I would do is designate a number of zones, based on local topography, and then simply count the number of visitors in each zone over a certain time period. I'd prepare a set number of 'observation moments' during which any visitor present within a zone gets counted, and schedule them so that you have a decent number of observations for each zone over the entire time period. That would allow you to be able to say something about footfall, and is flexible enough to be as detailed as needs and resources dictate.
11 months ago

stephen lowe wrote:I live in the cool, moist, coastal pacific northwest. Our soil is rich and filled with wonderful creepies and crawlies and anything that doesn't require lots of heat or sun grows like gangbusters. However, we also have an outlandish slug/snail population. It is something that everyone I know who gardens/farms in this area deals with continually and the only solution that anyone has come up with all agree works is Sluggo, which is a bummer because you have to buy it, regularly apply it, dispose of the plastic container, and wonder constantly about what's really in it and how it really affects your soil long term. We are bouncing around the idea of ducks but who knows when/if that will happen, but more and more I've been wondering about inviting in wild predators.
Do any of you know what eats slugs in this part of the world? What can I do to make my place more hospitable to them?
Thanks as always

There are salamanders in my garden and they seem to be interested in the local slugs, although I'm not sure they're making much of a dent in the population. But if you create more ideal conditions (a small pond, some nice rocks etc), you might be able to attract a greater amount. As far as deterrence goes, I've found that they don't like crossing mounds of coffee grit, and ground nutmeg or ginger also seem to protect plants to some extent.
1 year ago
I think the most important thing in non-fiction writing is that your sentences are both easy on the eye as well as clear in meaning. The passive voice is sometimes aesthetically more pleasing (as in your example), but it can also be used to hide agency or responsibility, or to gloss over gaps of knowledge on the author's part. For example, you should definitely try to avoid sentences like "It was decided that...," or "Mistakes were made" because they hide as much as they reveal (Who made the decision? Who made the mistake?).

As such, I don't think there's any problem with the sentences you provide: flax was planted, flax was sewn, it's fairly obvious that this was done generally in the regions you mention. Rewriting it so that it's in the active voice ("Farmers in Western Europe planted flax in the spring, whereas oral legend informs us that farmers in the Himalayas and the Alps sowed it in the fall, at the same time as barley") doesn't really serve any useful purpose. The passive voice shouldn't be avoided mechanically, in my opinion, as long as you make sure that it's not concealing information you should be revealing.
1 year ago

Staal Burgher wrote:If natural farming/permaculture is possible with equivalent modern yields without any machinery, diesel or other modern day technology it means it should've been possible 1,000s of years ago.

1) If natural farming produces more and requires less physical labour compared to non-mechanised ploughing, why did the plough come into vogue in the first place? What was the evolutionary advantage that the plough had over natural farming that allowed it to be widely adopted despite lower efficiency/output? I have a working theory but would like to see what other opinions/fact are out there.

2) How many acres/hectares can 1 person (without any hired help) work in 365 days? I.e. you are trying to apply your techniques 1,000 years ago.

1) You might be interested in James Scott's Against the Grain, which goes into this very question. Essentially, he argues that cereal cultivation was the result of population pressure: groups of people that originally depended on a wide range of extensively collected food sources ran into the twin trouble of dwindling supplies and more limited ability to move about, essentially forcing them to turn into full-time arable/cereal specialists. This process was aided and abetted by the rise of the state: cereal farming is an activity that allows a great deal of control, measurement and taxation, to an extent that is much more limited with other crops or other ways of farming (mostly because the crop is visible, easily storable and transportable, and ripens all at once). In turn, state bureaucracies sought to make this process even more legible and controllable (by, for instance, mandating certain ploughing techniques, crop rotation schemes, uses of granaries,...). So you cannot explain the rise of ploughing and related agricultural practices without also taking into account the political institutions that benefited from their use.

2). This depends, of course, on a wide range of factors, including the availability of land and domesticated animals, the type of underlying soil, and the degree to which you're integrated into a market system. Are you producing for the market or for your own consumption? Are you trying to maximise yields or trying to maximise profits? The context in which you're working will dictate the extent to which it makes economic sense to invest labour or capital into your fields. As a rough guide, in 18th-century Belgium, a ploughman working with two horses could be expected to plough about half a hectare per day. Cultivating your field with a spade instead would take you about 55-65 days per hectare although you could expect subsequent yields to be higher. Weeding, too, was an activity that could absorb an essentially endless amounts of labour although its effect on increasing yields was clearly a matter of diminishing returns. So the choice whether to invest the time and hard work to maximise yields per hectare to the utmost depended on the size of an individual's holding and his opportunities to engage in other profitable activities. Most smallholders had holdings of 5 hectares or less (sometimes much less), supplementing their incomes with e.g. flax cultivation or weaving.

As for 3), fallowing as a practice died out in the most intensively-farmed European regions from the 16th century or so, replaced by (variations on) a fourfold crop rotation cycle that included e.g. clover and turnips as fodder crops in order to sustain a very high number of manure-producing animals.
1 year ago
I don't know about vermiculture, but historically speaking, 'cakes' made of spent industrially used crops were quite popular as a fertiliser. They could be spread on the field without any additional processing (particularly associated with cereals), or first soaked in liquid manure or nightsoil (commonly done for a flax crop). So there might not even be a need to vermicompost first, depending on what you're growing and whether you're collecting your animals' liquid excretions.

From another angle, also tested here:
1 year ago