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Short-Term Plans for Six Acres

S Haze


Joined: Feb 14, 2012
Posts: 152
Location: Southern Minnesota, USA, zone 4/5
    
    5
:: Help!
I have a rented six acre field that's been managed organically for the past 4 years and if I can't make $300-400 per acre this year my farming partners may "pull the plug" on it and put it back to GMO's, pesticides, and chem. fertilizers.

It's been mostly alfalfa and grasses except for the two acres I plowed up to plant corn on last year, which yielded miserably but produced enough for a couple years worth of chicken feed. The hay ground hasn't paid off very well since we don't own haying equipment and the difficulty in finding a buyer. After the first year of hay a neighbor with cattle has been paying us to bale it and take it. I've thought about putting hogs or cattle on it (little or no experience with this) but would need to get the ok from the landlord and make necessary provisions.

Since I'm running out of time and ideas for this I thought I'd put it out here. Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

A little bit about the land and us; We have very little extra time from about mid-april till mid-june, august is a good month for extra projects. The market for organic and local-sustainable food around here (or anywhere less than a 2 hour drive from here) sucks, at the local co-op, which amazingly exists here, people will not buy organic oatmeal even if the regular oatmeal has run out and it's been marked down to the same price and if that's the only reason they went to the store! I know because my wife worked there.

The land is USDA zone 4, fairly heavy clay loam, black, 4-6% organic matter, mostly well-drained, flat to gently sloped, surrounded by woods, meadow, and landlords large fancy house to the E, S, and W. County gravel road to the N. Since this is rented, for now woody crops are out unless they yield after one year. I know this is definitely NOT permaculture right now, but it could be transitioned (landlord dependent), or it could be used to support or jump-start a permaculture project on my own land just two miles away if I can convince myself it's worth it to pay $300-400 per acre for whatever's produced.

Even if your ideas don't work in my situation I'd like to hear them, maybe they'll fit someone else's at least.

Oh! forgot to mention... I have all the normal "industrial" farm equipment at my disposal including a no-till grain drill, back-hoe, skid-steer, and tile plow but I'd prefer not to use any machines if feasible.


Scott Haase
Check out my house project!
Chris Fox


Joined: Apr 05, 2011
Posts: 29
Maybe some chicken tractors to move across with a nice sized group of meat chickens. Depends of what the price is for pasture raised chicken in your area. Couple of months and they are ready to go.
Fred Morgan
steward

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 972
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
    
  12
Permaculture isn't all the suited for a quick return in my opinion. There is a lot of upfront costs, as well as waiting for your systems to develop. The promise of permaculture is that eventually, you break the cycle of backbreaking work (or lots of fossil fuels).

For example, if you were to plant the six acres in fruit trees, you would make more than 400 per acre I would assume, but it is going to be a while till you harvest.


Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
wayne stephen
steward

Joined: Mar 11, 2012
Posts: 1566
Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
    
  87
We are in the same boat. Local folks look at us as if we were martians when we mention a 10$ chicken. Who has time to convert a whole community in one summer? However , I know someone north of here who is selling fresh culinary herbs at the local farmers market . She was pulling in 200$ a week and decided to up production , very small piece of ground and Food Channel is already doing the PR. We live in a culturally conservative commununity , but everyone loves to eat . Also , even the televangelists are promoting alternative diet and healing herbs - Makers Diet etc. I think this is how we will get started


Permaculture is CPR for the planet !


Chris Fox


Joined: Apr 05, 2011
Posts: 29
We used to sell small plantings of different herbs and vegetables for the gardeners at the farmers market. We always sold out of them. And if they didn't sell, just take them back home and let them grow until the next one and charge more because they are bigger. 3 to 7 a pop, it adds up pretty quick.
Bill Kearns


Joined: Feb 13, 2009
Posts: 152
Location: E Washington steppe
    
    2
S Haze,

You might check out what Michael Pilarski's been doing for years in the Tonasket area of Washington State (a climate not unlike yours I think).

He intensively farms a few acres with astounding results ... the pic is from his first year on a plot back in 2006:


I think that some of the keys to his success are thick plantings of a diversity of crops, studiously maintain his soils, and a keen eye towards using higher value ($) herbs amongst the wonderful vegetables he grows and sells. I would imagine that if you contact Michael directly, he'd be open to a consult with you regarding your planning.

Some info about Michael: WSU Small Farms Bio
Michael's website: Friends of the Trees

Some more information from another nearby operation here: Ances Tree Herbals


Permaculture is a gestalt ... a study of the whole. Not just how to produce more and better food, but how human life on the planet affects and is affected by the surrounding environment.
Bill Kearns http://columbiabasinpermaculture.com
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2602
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  47
Bill,
I don't know if there are any forum rules about large pics like the one you posted, but they make reading impossible. The lines don't wrap like they normally do so I have to scroll right to read every line. I'm sure I'm not the only one with a 15" screen.


My project thread
Agriculture collects solar energy two-dimensionally; but silviculture collects it three dimensionally.
Bill Kearns


Joined: Feb 13, 2009
Posts: 152
Location: E Washington steppe
    
    2
Thanks Cj,
Original pic was linked from Michael's website. I rehosted it, resized it, and the pic size should be more acceptable to a forum now.

= )
S Haze


Joined: Feb 14, 2012
Posts: 152
Location: Southern Minnesota, USA, zone 4/5
    
    5
Bill,
thanks for sharing. looks like Michael has a lot of info. I'll check it out more tonight.

Chris,
herbs could be an option but only if I could find the time to establish them, harvest, and market them. I'm trying to establish a permaculture-based approach on my own property AND building a house AND doing the evil industrial ag thing as a full-time job. I should experiment with some herb polyculture seed balls this spring.

The chickens are a good idea too, however I'll try to scale up more at home first where they have a more varied landscape to range on and I can keep a closer watch over them.


Maybe I should just abandon the idea for now to focus more at home. It seems I am spread awfully thin. Just seems a shame to start spraying again now that the land is just starting to come back to life.
Chris Fox


Joined: Apr 05, 2011
Posts: 29
We used the plastic trays we got from the box stores and start plants in the greenhouse. Once they were about 2 inches high we would just place them in racks in the van snip them into individual squares and sell them. After a few years the cost to us was negligent with saving our own seeds and using recyclable materials. Right before we stopped we were using empty egg shells as seed starting containers. Just cut the top off and fill with dirt and place 12 in a carton in the greenhouse. People went crazy over them. Also had rabbits in a hutch right over our vermicompost bin. Used the rabbit meat and traded the pelts for milk. Sold worm castings and juice also. It's all about the little things adding up. Polyculture is not just for plants. The more streams of income I have the less dependent I am on any one of them failing.
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2602
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  47
S Haze wrote: ... if I can't make $300-400 per acre this year my farming partners may "pull the plug" on it and put it back to GMO's, pesticides, and chem. fertilizers.


So what GMO crops were you growing? How much did they produce per acre?

Thanks for resizing the pic Bill.
Bill Sullivan


Joined: Mar 05, 2012
Posts: 18
Location: New York State about 25 miles south of Syracuse.
The crop isn't the issue, almost anything can be grown on decent land. The problem you are faced with is the same one we all must deal with each season we farm. You must have a market and that is what will determine what your crop will be. If you have no market than the land is of no value and you should give it up to someone else who has a use for it. I'll just throw cut flowers out there because no one else has but then again they are useless beyond self appreciation without a viable market. Welcome to farming.
S Haze


Joined: Feb 14, 2012
Posts: 152
Location: Southern Minnesota, USA, zone 4/5
    
    5
So what GMO crops were you growing? How much did they produce per acre?


Corn and soybeans like everyone else around here. Corn yields 150-200+ bu. per acre and in recent years nets $200-400. Beans around 45 bu. and usually slightly lower net. During the growing season we probably spend about 15 min to half an hour tending to each acre. Also, I just figured this out, on our farm we probably spend around 175 hours per acre doing everything else from delivering the grain to maintenance, book-work to buying supplies. This is about a 1500 acre farm.

Bill,
You said it! There would probably be a lot more diversity here if there were other "easy" markets. I just dream of something better and someday it will happen, just need to finish up a few other projects first and maybe by then my homestead-scaled permaculture will be ready for prime time (along with a supportive community to use its bounty).

I think what I'll do is put out an ad or talk to the ag instructor at the local high school to see if anyone wants a chance to manage this field. I can provide machinery, funding, a little time and many resources through books and literature I've collected, my permaculture training, and through all the wonderful people I've met who care enough to try to improve the earth and our quality of life.
Bill Sullivan


Joined: Mar 05, 2012
Posts: 18
Location: New York State about 25 miles south of Syracuse.
Maybe the senior class will want to raise a pumpkin patch and use the money for a worthy cause. I have to believe a wagon load of pumpkins would fetch a few bucks around Oct. at the local school. The more they make the better the tax incentive is to a charitable contribution. It could be a Win Win.
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2602
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  47
The fact that the land is rented makes it tough, permaculture-wise. I recommend watching the Greg Judy video referenced in this thread:
Leasing your managed grassland
Chris MacCarlson


Joined: Sep 02, 2010
Posts: 56
Location: Missoula
    
    1
You may have bigger issues with potato pests than we do out here...but I had a friend pull in 2000 on one acre of organic potatoes of mixed types. They keep well, and could go to a bigger organic market than what is within 100 miles.
Also easy to care for, minus the hilling...

Medicinal herbs are probably too big of a headache, but echineccea root sells for $15 dollars a pound and is overharvested in the wild
S Haze


Joined: Feb 14, 2012
Posts: 152
Location: Southern Minnesota, USA, zone 4/5
    
    5
Cj,

I loved the video! It was really great to see images of mob grazing and such after previously only reading about it. Some day maybe 10-15 years from now I may be able to get serious about cattle. There's a mile and a half of pasture and potential pasture between my farm and my parents' land down the road.


ChCarlson,

Sorry but potatoes won't fit my situation, at least not the way I'm thinking about them. I'll be working 14 hr. days soon and would never be able to get more than a fraction of an acre planted. It's hard enough just to plant some garden veggies and a few trees and shrubs each year at home. Harvest and finding a market would be challenging too and not even a remote option until my house is finished. Maybe there's a more permaculture-minded approach that avoids the monoculture and recruits some of nature's helpers for the planting and harvest. In regards to potato pests, I've never had problems yet in small plots and strips through grasslands. The tops die off by midsummer but the tubers keep good in the ground until fall. (or mid Dec. this strange year!)

I know with no extra time this is like mission impossible here, so I appreciate everyone's comments and ideas. No word back from the high school ag teacher, I guess I'll have to be more assertive than a random email.
 
 
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