F Van Roosbroeck

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since Sep 12, 2017
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Recent posts by F Van Roosbroeck

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: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/026974839090034P
3 weeks ago
Vreeken's run a really comprehensive site and I think they ship throughout Europe: https://www.vreeken.nl/409500-yakon-morado
As a quick aside, urban farming used to be very common back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—even then, it only was able to provide at the most 10-20% of total demand. While yields might be higher today, so is population density, so I'd agree that relying on rooftop farming and all that to do more than nibble at the edges is a bit of a pipe dream.
4 months ago
Interestingly, a pamphlet just came out which also considers this question: https://landworkersalliance.org.uk/2017/10/newdealforhorticulture/

There's a perfidious side to commercial agriculture that I'm not sure we're going to be able to keep affording, in an ecological or even an economic sense. A commercial farmer purchases all his inputs on the market, which means he's focussed above all on maximising productivity (not necessarily yields). Given the relative pricing of production factors, this leads toward capital-intensive monoculture and ever-greater economies of scale. At the same time, on a macro-level this only drives prices of crops down, and the combination of minuscule profit margins and the risk inherent in farming mean that farmers are continually driven out of business or are reliant on subsidies to keep afloat. I'm not sure continuing on this path would be either ecologically sound, or politically wise (since I'd rather not have the power over food production concentrated in only a small number of hands).

On the other hand, a peasant style of agriculture (which is less reliant on the market for the purchase of its production factors because it is small-scale and family-based), I'm not sure will work everywhere, and for every crop. More to the point, it's a lifestyle with a lot of hard work and many uncertain rewards, which I think would need quite a bit of cultural and institutional change to be successful, especially in the developed world.
4 months ago

David Livingston wrote:Been thinking about this and how it would work .
The technique of holding a tool  high and bringing it down I have only seen used on a chain gang in the USA for chopping weeds and I suspect for obvious reasons they were not provided with the sharpest tools . and I wonder how much follow through there would be and would that not get in the way .  I also wondered if money is an issue here . Scythes are made to measure  to the person using them and more complicated to build with the snaith etc . The sickle and the Z can be swapped with your neighbour no problem  and are much easier to build .
As for how much work you would get in a day A good scythe person can keep two persons busy stacking the corn  whist this tool with I see as intermediate between the sickle and the scythe from the picture hints at one person stacking a person doing both I would suggest will cover less ground in a day.
Also a scythe need to be very very sharp to be efficient and I have been told that getting good whetstones in the past was an issue and a cost    I dont know the geology of the area you describe could this be an issue ? references to stones being smuggled here https://onescytherevolution.com/whetstones.html


Hmm, interesting point. I hadn't really though about whetting as a factor. I imagine that the availability of whetting stones wouldn't be much of a problem (the region was thoroughly commercialised and scythes were used in neighbouring regions), but their cost (which I don't really know) might be an issue...

As for labour costs, this particular region was characterised by small peasant farms, mostly on sandy/sandy loam soil, on the one hand and larger firms on the other, especially in the clay soils near the coast. Those peasant farms would engage in mixed farming strategies. Larger firms would tend towards commercial cattle breeding. So in neither case you would have especially large fields of grain to harvest. I imagine that it's these circumstances as well that would lead them to prefer these tools over the scythe (preferred in arable regions to the east) or the sickle (preferred in arable regions to the north).

David Livingston wrote:mmm interesting picture I assume you bring your arm in a vertical motion  . Cutting a sheaf at a time  or chopping a sheaf at a time . I wonder how often it was required to sharpen this tool ? I dont see any sharpening stones in the picture or paintings

According to http://www.hetvirtueleland.be/items/show/36930/ you'd have a small whetting stone or a 'strekel' (a kind of stick coated in sand or grit) with you in the field—but yeah, the painters don't seem to have included that particular detail...

David Livingston wrote:The angles of the zicht and the way it is held look "odd"  to me as though you hold it with the stick vertically when you cut the corn more like a scythe movement than a sickle

This image shows how it was used (if the mechanics of the movement remained more-or-less the same over the centuries, at least).

Travis Johnson wrote:Very true and just like today, those in Europe in the early 1800's sought to get cheap fertilizer. They found it in New England, my Great Grandfather (some 7 generations ago) had a Potash factory here and did well regarding what is know as Potash Fever. That was where land was cleared here in Maine, the wood converted into potash, and then sent to Europe for great profit.

I looked into doing this on my farm as I have plenty of unwanted wood, but at a NPK of 0-1-3, it would have taken 1600 cords to get my fields fertilized...once. Yikes, I got better things to do then cut 1600 cords of wood!

They also said that when the Pilgrims first came here they were amazed at the fertility of the soil. They said whereas in England grass would grow to knee high, here it would grow to well over a mans head.

I am going to soon find out how true this is. I am clearing 2 areas of forest into field that have never been cleared. We can tell because there is a lot of iron in the soil, something that would have been churned up years ago if it had been tilled or pastured.

I'll keep you informed on how the growth goes.

Hmm, interestingly fertilisation with ashes, also in the form of potash, was especially associated (in these regions, at least) with clover cultivation, as it was supposed to help both its growth and the growth of cereals that succeeded it in the crop rotation. But it's certainly not a task I'd relish doing on my own!

Yeah, I wonder what your result is going to be. There's this big discussion in the historical literature, with some people claiming that most of the Americas were  depopulated by waves of disease even before the arrival of European colonists. So from this perspective the land that the Pilgrims encountered would have been abandoned relatively recently rather than pristine nature (explaining the high fertility, perhaps).

Roberto pokachinni wrote:I could not find any images of a pikhaak that match any of the tools in the image you posted above, F.VR, but the images I found do seem to match the description you gave for it's use.  Do you have any modern images or links that you could show of these dutch tools?  The zicht, I am confident is a scythe.  The hand sickle in the right hand of the man on the left, is an interesting design that I am not familiar with.  It seems that there is a wooden plate extending from the handle which looks as though it was meant to gain stability from the forearm, which might help the arm to not tire while using the tool for extended periods... or is this the tool that you are calling a zicht?  At any rate, I've never seen one like it, but would like to try it on a few things.  If you have any modern images ( a photo from a museum? ) of this tool, I would be very interested in seeing them.   It appears (though the image is truncated on the right) that the man on the right is using a standing, or walking scythe. 

Interesting—I hadn't considered that the man on the right might be using a different instrument. It's a bit unclear, but you might be right... Anyway, I've only found photos of a more modern zicht and pikhaak:

You're quite right to point out the wooden plate thingy. I've found another image that shows it a bit more clearly (the modern ones seem to lack it). You might be right that it would make it easier to swing for extended periods—I would totally urge you to experiment!

I wouldn't call the zicht a scythe or a sickle :p, since it replaced (in some regions) the sickle and existed concurrently with the scythe (which, to me at least, refers to a two-handed instrument). It was first introduced during the fifteenth century, a period of great labour shortage (due to Black Death). It must have saved labour, but I'm not sure which mechanism was more important: on the one hand it is supposed to have been faster than the sickle, and on the other hand less people were required in total to prepare sheafs because the pikhaak allowed you to gather up the bushels as you mowed. It also mowed closer to the ground than the scythe, so you got more straw for your buck, so to speak. So I imagine the choice between zicht and scythe was determined mostly by the availability of labour and the desire for straw.

Roberto pokachinni wrote:I'm not sure that that is accurate.   What permaculture books are you reading, F Van Roosbroek?   The one that counts the most in my mind, The Permaculture Designers Manual, has plenty of information from historical cultures which had created successful long term food growing, housing, or landscape systems. 


We should remember, as collective historians, that one of the best reasons for keeping history is that we don't repeat the mistakes of our ancestors.  Just because something has been done in a particular way for centuries does not necessarily mean it was a good idea.  When looking at the long term consequences, many times they aren't necessarily noticed with year to year changes or even over decades.   

I'm glad to stand corrected. I haven't read the Designer's Manual yet (it seemed very ambitious in scale and my garden is anything but), but I'll have to put it on my list.

Regarding your last point, I disagree to some extent. I certainly agree that we shouldn't romanticise the past, but I wouldn't look at the past as a static entity. On the contrary, farmers have been incredibly innovative in terms of designing tools and introducing new crops or new types of manure, although often there were social, economic or institutional constraints that limited how quickly those innovations could spread (in fact, much like the situation you are describing in Canada).

To give you an example: the tools that are used for the harvest in the image, the 'pikhaak' and the 'zicht' (I have no idea what these tools are called in English, so please do let me know if you know) are supposed to have raised productivity considerably. The pikhaak allowed the mower, in one fell swoop, to gather bushels of grain (including grain that had been knocked to the ground by rain), cut them with the zicht, and then to put them aside so they could be easily bound into sheafs (what the woman in the image is doing). The permaculture enthusiast in me wonders whether these tools would still be useful to people in a similar situation (and if they are in fact still being used); as a historian, I'd be greatly interested in hearing from users today to see how their experiences could help us understand the past a little better.