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How do you design for harvest on a large holding?

 
pollinator
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In a small holding, you place things where they fit and grow, easy enough to walk a few extra paces to check and harvest.  But that isn't so easy on a large rugged acreage.  Especially if the spots that are optimal for a given plant aren't big enough to plant all you need. As romantic as it sounds to take a long walk through the woods every day to see everything and harvest at the peak, the reality is most can't do that for more than a few acres. Most permaculture answers are to make it zone 4/5, but they are missing the yields like medicinal flowers or mushrooms that only last for a few days and are gone.

What are the design thoughts/questions you use to balance the health/diversity of the ecosystem and the ability to harvest time sensitive yields?
 
pollinator
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R Scott wrote: Most permaculture answers are to make it zone 4/5, but they are missing the yields like medicinal flowers or mushrooms that only last for a few days and are gone.



No yields except wisdom are expected from Zone 5.  https://permies.com/t/56225/permaculture-projects/Mollison-Permaculture-Zones-happened-Zone

Personally I think humans can live on a few acres, and leave the rest for other beings.

 
steward
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I watch for mushrooms fruiting in the kitchen garden, then go look for wild mushrooms on the same day. I don't have to walk huge distances, since the mushrooms tend to sprout from the same places year after year.

 
pollinator
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I strongly believe that 3 acres is more than enough to provide all the nuts, fruits, herbs, mushroom, vegetables, honey, chicken/poultry, and fish. Now yes if you want (but not need) something like banana you will have to go out of your way. But I think that living in the limit of our environment and substituting that banana (or tropical ginger by that special rockface by the cave) with something that is less fragile will help.

In that same vein, is it possible to collect the seeds and plant them closer to your house.
Setup a yearly reminder with GPS location so that your phone rings and lead you to the exact waypoint to find the special mushroom. You might even be able to setup a remote camera so you can visually see what it looks like before hiking it out to the site. I embrace the tools and tech that we have at our disposal.
 
R Scott
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My wife uses Facebook as her garden journal.  Takes photos of the days harvest and then it pops up in memories the next year to remind her to go look at that patch again. But it misses if things are earlier this year.

I agree that 3 acres is plenty to manage for personal use.  But it isn't enough to ethically harvest for simulated wildcrafted medicinals for sale.

I don't know what other questions to ask or what else I am missing, I keep thinking I am over thinking it.
 
gardener
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I dont have a large property, or any property, right now, but based on growing up on a few acreages and houses backing onto public forests, I think a good, looping trail system is key to catching edibles in season. If I were to plant a forest now, I would lay out trails first to be convenient and allow equipment access, along the contours, mow them, then plant trees around the trails, rather than what a lot of people do, which is think of trails after planting- I know this from experience, as my family owns a 60+ acre piece of property where the trails were put in after reforestation, and are very indirect and slow to walk, compared to a 40 acre piece of forest planted at the same time (by the same person) where the owner developed and maintained trails for recreation and firewood from the start.

Somehow, a well maintained trail loop invites daily or weekly wandering. I find out and back trails significantly less satisfying unless there is a destination on the end, and even then, a loop is nicer.

With a loop, I am more inclined to walk regularly and then note "look, the wild  blackberries are developing" or "hey , here is a nice patch of bunch berry flowers".

Maturity dates can vary by weeks, but frequent observation means you can catch things earlier, and is good for the soul.

I should also mention that I like trails as they prevent people from willy milly stomping through the forest, crushing plants, and eventually developing their own trails in awkward locations. Plus a good trail provides an "edge" environment  for certain sun seeking species, and in my opinion increases diversity.
 
S Bengi
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Ahh, you are harvesting for sale not just a few medicinal for personal use.

There is wild bison/moose meat and there is pasture raised and finished beef. I say that to say that you are going to have to do a bit of pre-harvest(aka farm) planning, scheduling, clearing, taking notes, maybe even install a few camera/drone, because farming for money is hard work. Even if it is better than organic farming. In the wild when I see cattails there is alot, even the animals are in packs/folks/swarm/etc. Where I see lavendar growing there is alot. So it is okay to have little pockets where a single species is the majority, now I am not saying create a monoculture. But there is a balance.
 
pollinator
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You're going to need solid roads everywhere. passable in all weathers and passable by something to carry loads, be that a 4 wheel vehicle or a donkey. I do sell produce and I would not consider putting something that needed daily attention at the far end of my field even though I can get a vehicle to it on a paved road!
The main obstacle is not not knowing when things are ready but getting them back to the processing/packing area. If you've got a 30minute walk with your herbs in a basket in heat, they're compost by the time you get back, wilted and useless.

What sort of volumes are you talking about as well, it might be possible to do a few pounds of picking a bit from there a bit from here. but doing quantity is simply going to take way to much time. I worked on a farm that had made that mistake, broccoli became the bane of my existence. they had been planted all over the field (6 acres) and it would take over 20minutes to check each area and pick those that were ready. Herbs in a forest are going to be even worse, at least I could take shortcuts and jump over beds.

Set yourself a trial go out now and pick X amount of something, it can be anything tree leaves, pine cones whatever you know you have. time how long it takes you to do it, actually doing it will show up what you need, where the problems are and what would make it easier.
 
author
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The question about design and harvesting on a large holding has been tickling me! From a medicinal herb perspective I have been thinking around how this might be different from wildharvesting - which would often be a situation where the harvesters do not necessarily own or control land. And wildharvesters usually get paid a pittance compared to the ultimate sales value of the herbal material. Actually, it is the majority of the world medicinal herb supply that is provided in this way. For these rural people there may or may not be the possibility to care for themselves or  environment and crop sustainably - a lot depends on the commitment of buyers and their organizations. Thus, it is so important if you are purchasing herbs to aim for organically certified or wild harvesting accreditation. This way the harvesting is carried out according to guidelines which promote sustainability in the environment. In theory the extra premium for certified material will encourage buyers and producers to take greater responsibility for fair shares for the people involved. There have been some key projects developing this kind of approach to wildharvesting, including a Sustainable Herbs Project supported by the American Botanical Council (thttp://sustainableherbsproject.com/about/).

So how do permaculture principles engage with harvesting from a larger area. As Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry Trust (https://www.agroforestry.co.uk/) has pointed out, for larger harvest quantities then there may need to be changes in simplifying design and limiting the range of plants. In design, if planting trees and shrubs then grouping them together for ease of harvest is certainly worth considering. We have found our few acres at Holt Wood Herbs highly productive for our own needs and limited artisan production, but even so there are some issues about ramping up production.

A big issue for me is whether handharvesting can ever be profitable? We had some farming folk visit on one of our courses at Holt Wood Herbs - one of the first questions they asked us was whether we used machinery? I could see eyes glazing over as they realised that there would be much effort and no big profits here! To enable increased scale of production - going from a few  to hundreds of kilograms - then we likely have to talk mechanization- unless you have free labour from volunteers and trainees. The compromise for agriculturally-minded people is probably an agroforestry system, where trees co-exist with crops or animals. This involves far fewer species but still using three-dimensional design with alleys for cropping to maximise space use and tractor access.

Access is a key issue as pointed out in other posts. At Holt Wood we spend a fair amount of time maintaining paths - essentially strimming, cutting back overhanging trees - the waste from cuts go to compost, and the light edges keeps fruiting shrubs etc happy. Most of our collecting is in small sacks (actually they are pillowcases, very washable!). Similarly the waste leftover from harvests goes to mulch or compost. I would also revisit the placement of our coppiced and pollarded trees. They could have been planted in a nearer area/zone for ease of access to harvest quite substantial bundles of material.

For me the biggest issue is whether there is sufficient demand to justify larger harvests - it really needs buyers to make advance commitments and pay a realistic price. There is a need to build up trust between growers and buyers that is based on reliable plant identification and good practices in harvesting so that quality is maximised, we can really win if material is top quality. Other important considerations for larger-scale harvests apart from access and labour are the infrastructure for processing and the subsequent spaces needed for drying and storage. Places to keep dried plant material need to be insect and pest-free - we find large plastic foodgrade tubs are useful here. Some harvests are always going to be time-consuming and labour-intensive. The permaculture approach helps to have multiple harvests so that the more productive, useful and profitable items help to cover the costs of the more costly products. Ultimately though, larger-scale production from sustainable sources will rely on the demand for these being recognised through commitment and sale at realistic prices.
 
pollinator
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I’m focusing on the word design here.

Design implies prior planning, and the ability to control the situation to some extent.

The Permaculture Designers Manual is written with this type of design in mind, and I’m sure it would be a fantastic resource for this type of planning.

But the other context in this thread - wild crafting, and harvesting wild plants - suggests that this level of control doesn’t really exist in the situation you are describing?

Mollison’s book emphasises integration of design element, while factoring the need for humans to interact with the environment. The human needs often seem to be missing from permaculture suggestions, when they should be a serious priority. Efficient harvesting feels like a really important design criteria in its own right, and would itself determine layouts of everything else.

Maybe go back to the book and have a reread. See what jumps out.

One simple step I have done is to cluster things that need regular visits near the chickens which I know will be tended every day. The mushroom patch is outside their coop, as is the wood shed, and the herb garden is adjacent to the path on the way.
 
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I've actually thought about doing something with drone cameras and programming a simple algorithm to recognize ripening fruit.  Part of it would rely on already knowing what's in your area and the general time frame it ripens in and the rest would be training the algorithm on pictures of ripe and unripe fruits of the specific type you're looking for and programming it's flight pattern to do sweeps over the property working on a grid.  You won't get everything that way of course, but the point of abundance isn't to hoard it all.  The wildlife and far ranging livestock can have the surplus.
 
pioneer
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I have 93 acres that I'm stewarding. Money is the major bottleneck that slows development out here since I have to propagate or trade for the plants I need to expand outward, but the goal is to eventually have the property developed enough to feed everyone in my small town, in as much as that proves feasible.

I've been thinking a lot about managing a project on this scale.

Access is one of the major considerations I've had to make. My current thinking is to combine my need for access with my need for water harvesting. By installing a series of wide, shallow swales up and down the slope and then filling them with woody mulch, I effectively create roads across the landscape which also sequester water and nutrients. They may need to be dug out as the mulch breaks down to keep the swales functioning as swales... Or they may just gradually turn into terraces over time, depending on what seems more practical and effective. For connecting roads, I imagine that heavily mulching the spillways between swales could be effective, and creating the spillways on the ridges (rather than the valleys) would create the most even distribution of water across the landscape. (And the spillways would need to be below the level of the mulch to keep them accessible during heavy rain events.) This plan isn't set in stone, and since the pace of the project is glacial, I'll be able to put in the first swale or two and observe how effective they are as a means of navigating the property. But since I won't be planting out further than my swales, it also means I won't need to access anything that I haven't already created access to.

Another thing I've had to consider is harvest timing. Like others have mentioned, I love using social media as a way to track harvests year after year, but that doesn't account for annual variation.  The first part of the strategy is to have a good map of where things are. That is made easier by creating well-defined guilds and planting blocks of each guild so that you're not running to the four corners of the property to harvest each of your four pear trees (as an example.) Design so that you can focus your attention in one section of the property at a time as much as possible. AND in zones 1 and 2, you'd want representative species/varieties that will provide an indication of when your larger guilds, further out on the property, are getting close to harvest time (there might be some variation on account of differences in microclimate, but that will provide a good indication of when to start checking.) You might have one fig in zone 2, for example, along with whatever other species you grow in that guild, and when that tree ripens up, you know to check the larger fig guild with multiple trees further out on the land. Or better yet, use your zone 2 to discover which species/varieties ripen at the same time and develop your guilds around ripening time. You might have varieties of apples, pears, peaches, etc. that are all harvested about the same time, and so you could plant those in a block so that you can focus on harvesting that section of the property in one go.

The last major piece to figure out is how to harvest enough. My primary goal is not to sell the harvest; my primary goal is to feed as many mouths as possible. That ultimately changes my perspective on things going unharvested. Unharvested produce is not lost revenue; if it doesn't feed human mouths, then it feeds wildlife and/or the soil. It would be unfortunate that it didn't make it into the hands of people that need it, but it wouldn't be a waste. It isn't feasible for one person to harvest 93 acres, so I more like to see my approach as some weird combination of WWOOFing/CSA/farmstand/gleaners/upick/grocery store/etc. Because I am one person, labor is more valuable to me than dollars. Having people trade time, skills, or resources (tools, propagation material, etc.) for food (in my case) provides more lasting value than a fiat currency which is in decline anyway. I can have people build or repair things, plant things, maintain things, etc. Things that I would have to pay someone to do if I couldn't do them myself. Money is a middle man, and eliminating the need for it is more efficient than getting more of it. The next is to consider people that simply can't afford food. Well, the "pay what you can" model has worked in many industries, so why not the farm? So now you create a system whereby the people that have money but not time can contribute financially to the project, the people that have skills or resources can contribute those in place of money or general labor, the people who have time but not money can do harvesting and planting, and people who are disabled or otherwise can't contribute will still have access to food, free of charge. Now you treat the farm like something between a grocery store and a gleaning group. People come out to pick their groceries (literally), and you have them pick two or three times more than they need for themselves (or more, depending on how the specifics shake out.) They take home what they pick for themselves for only the cost of their labor, and the excess that they pick goes to feed the others for their financial contributions, their contribution of skill, or to cover the needs of the disabled. This is how berry farms I grew up picking at already operate; you pick a share for yourself and a share for the farm and then your share is either free or discounted. And because my goal is to put food in mouths, I can have the option to call on local non-profits, church groups, boy scout troops, schools, etc. to come help with the harvest. Some for them, some for the needy, and some to keep the farm operational. And because you're taking for plants and tools as much as possible, and because you're trading for labor, the amount of money that you need to make is greatly reduced. Basically just property taxes and pocket change for whatever conveniences, vices, and major expenses which can't be avoided (but hey, Rob Greenfield traded for dental work, so you might be surprised by what you can get without any money at all...)

 
Louis Fish
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Mathew Trotter wrote:I have 93 acres that I'm stewarding. Money is the major bottleneck that slows development out here since I have to propagate or trade for the plants I need to expand outward, but the goal is to eventually have the property developed enough to feed everyone in my small town, in as much as that proves feasible.

I've been thinking a lot about managing a project on this scale.

Access is one of the major considerations I've had to make. My current thinking is to combine my need for access with my need for water harvesting. By installing a series of wide, shallow swales up and down the slope and then filling them with woody mulch, I effectively create roads across the landscape which also sequester water and nutrients. They may need to be dug out as the mulch breaks down to keep the swales functioning as swales... Or they may just gradually turn into terraces over time, depending on what seems more practical and effective. For connecting roads, I imagine that heavily mulching the spillways between swales could be effective, and creating the spillways on the ridges (rather than the valleys) would create the most even distribution of water across the landscape. (And the spillways would need to be below the level of the mulch to keep them accessible during heavy rain events.) This plan isn't set in stone, and since the pace of the project is glacial, I'll be able to put in the first swale or two and observe how effective they are as a means of navigating the property. But since I won't be planting out further than my swales, it also means I won't need to access anything that I haven't already created access to.

Another thing I've had to consider is harvest timing. Like others have mentioned, I love using social media as a way to track harvests year after year, but that doesn't account for annual variation.  The first part of the strategy is to have a good map of where things are. That is made easier by creating well-defined guilds and planting blocks of each guild so that you're not running to the four corners of the property to harvest each of your four pear trees (as an example.) Design so that you can focus your attention in one section of the property at a time as much as possible. AND in zones 1 and 2, you'd want representative species/varieties that will provide an indication of when your larger guilds, further out on the property, are getting close to harvest time (there might be some variation on account of differences in microclimate, but that will provide a good indication of when to start checking.) You might have one fig in zone 2, for example, along with whatever other species you grow in that guild, and when that tree ripens up, you know to check the larger fig guild with multiple trees further out on the land. Or better yet, use your zone 2 to discover which species/varieties ripen at the same time and develop your guilds around ripening time. You might have varieties of apples, pears, peaches, etc. that are all harvested about the same time, and so you could plant those in a block so that you can focus on harvesting that section of the property in one go.

The last major piece to figure out is how to harvest enough. My primary goal is not to sell the harvest; my primary goal is to feed as many mouths as possible. That ultimately changes my perspective on things going unharvested. Unharvested produce is not lost revenue; if it doesn't feed human mouths, then it feeds wildlife and/or the soil. It would be unfortunate that it didn't make it into the hands of people that need it, but it wouldn't be a waste. It isn't feasible for one person to harvest 93 acres, so I more like to see my approach as some weird combination of WWOOFing/CSA/farmstand/gleaners/upick/grocery store/etc. Because I am one person, labor is more valuable to me than dollars. Having people trade time, skills, or resources (tools, propagation material, etc.) for food (in my case) provides more lasting value than a fiat currency which is in decline anyway. I can have people build or repair things, plant things, maintain things, etc. Things that I would have to pay someone to do if I couldn't do them myself. Money is a middle man, and eliminating the need for it is more efficient than getting more of it. The next is to consider people that simply can't afford food. Well, the "pay what you can" model has worked in many industries, so why not the farm? So now you create a system whereby the people that have money but not time can contribute financially to the project, the people that have skills or resources can contribute those in place of money or general labor, the people who have time but not money can do harvesting and planting, and people who are disabled or otherwise can't contribute will still have access to food, free of charge. Now you treat the farm like something between a grocery store and a gleaning group. People come out to pick their groceries (literally), and you have them pick two or three times more than they need for themselves (or more, depending on how the specifics shake out.) They take home what they pick for themselves for only the cost of their labor, and the excess that they pick goes to feed the others for their financial contributions, their contribution of skill, or to cover the needs of the disabled. This is how berry farms I grew up picking at already operate; you pick a share for yourself and a share for the farm and then your share is either free or discounted. And because my goal is to put food in mouths, I can have the option to call on local non-profits, church groups, boy scout troops, schools, etc. to come help with the harvest. Some for them, some for the needy, and some to keep the farm operational. And because you're taking for plants and tools as much as possible, and because you're trading for labor, the amount of money that you need to make is greatly reduced. Basically just property taxes and pocket change for whatever conveniences, vices, and major expenses which can't be avoided (but hey, Rob Greenfield traded for dental work, so you might be surprised by what you can get without any money at all...)



I'd love to do something like this but I'm only working with 20 acres and our town is probably bigger lol.  Still, I would love to have a program maybe for getting free food to kids and low income folks.
 
pollinator
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We've been on 3 acres for about 20 years now and it is a decent size for a single household and also provides a surplus of many items for friends and family. We are now looking to plant a much bigger acreage as my daughter and I are going into an agroforestry based business.

We will be planting linear food forests with swales. The plan is that alternate aisles that separate the rows of trees and their shade tolerant underplantings will be planted with crops which will include perennial and annual herbs; and the other aisles will be grazing for livestock with portable fencing. This will ensure every row of trees can be accessed from one side with truck or tractor on a surface that can be driven on (grass).

I really like the approach taken at Miracle Farm permaculture orchard near Montreal where each row is planted to mature in a specific time frame.  It is done that way for the U-pick customers but could work equally well for the logistics of a farmer's own harvesting.

We keep a binder here with 365 pages of looseleaf paper for garden and farm notes. The year goes in the margin so there is a record of planting, harvest, etc on that date each year. As we transition to a larger acreage and especially as this will be a business where it will be more important to keep track of things and not miss important harvests, I am planning to set up a reminder whiteboard with what needs to be harvested in a certain month. At least this will remind us to check.

We will also need to get into the habit of regularly walking or maybe cycling the aisles, including tracking which one of us visited it when. Given that we will be moving poultry and goats in the grazing aisles regularly this may not be too onerous.
 
Mathew Trotter
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Louis Fish wrote:

I'd love to do something like this but I'm only working with 20 acres and our town is probably bigger lol.  Still, I would love to have a program maybe for getting free food to kids and low income folks.



Do it! I live in a small town with lots of acreage at my disposal, so feeding my whole town is a relatively reasonably goal. But you aren't limited to just your own acreage. A lot of what I'm going to be doing is outreach and providing propagation materials to people. Anything I can propagate and spread around my community and beyond builds better resilience. One thing I want to do is propagate plants and share them around with people who pledge to donate their surplus to people in need (possibly at a community Food Is Free stand where people can drop off their surplus and other people can come pick it up.)

A lot of the stuff I'm starting with is stuff I was able to get on clearance, or dig out of people's yards, or take cuttings/start layers from trees and bushes of family and friends. Just this past weekend I traded gojis and comfrey for sunchokes. The comfrey I was able to get on eBay for something like $2 for 12 crowns, thanks to a coupon eBay has going around at the time, and the gojis I got entirely free from a friend. There are some things I'll spend money on, just because their hard to find out for a unique niche, but the vast majority had been free. And now that I'm building up my collection, I'll have more things to trade for the things I don't already have.
 
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We work in Central Tanzania and develop 60 acres into an agroforestry system. It is an incredible joy to see a degraded landscape spring back into live! Three years ago, most of the area was either thorny bushes or bare soil, stripped of everything by cattle and goats...

As said above, access is crucial, and we built our roads and paths along our swales (huge ones, really, they capture about 1.5million litres of water, which is crucial in our area). Additionaly we have set up one big road that circles through the property, which can be accessed by bigger vehicles. From there it is only about 100m max to the end of the fields.

P.S.: Sorry for my English, as you already have noticed it is not my native language... ;-)
 
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Paul Strauss’s place, and https://unitedplantsavers.org/160-goldenseal-botanical-sanctuary-rutland-ohio/ might be relevant here. They have a 300+ acre place in Ohio for medicinal harvest, with a large emphasis in sustainability and restoration.
There isn’t as much info online as I would like, but from what I’ve seen, they key for him was to put in the work early to learn, deeply, the lay and yield if his land. So he knows when and where the harvests are, and doesn’t have to wander the woods each year hoping he hits in the right plant at the right time.
For profitability- I don’t think he is rich, but it seems like the key to making at least a sustainable business is to take on the marketing and creation of the oils and salves. He has his own brand, Equinox Botanicals, and I bet he makes a lot more from his ginseng than the wildcrafter who sells theirs to a dealer in a parking lot.
 
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R Scott wrote:What are the design thoughts/questions you use to balance the health/diversity of the ecosystem and the ability to harvest time sensitive yields?



Good question: Planting in guilds to cover health/diversity issues, that is including a variety of different plants and shrubs to ensure different root depths, pollinator and predator forage and habitat and using the different layers to utilise succession through the seasons. Regards time sensitive yields, I hadn't thought about it consciously in my forest garden design... however, having about 12 fruit tree guilds in zone 2, near the house, means I have my cup of tea up that and catch short lived flower yields due to regular presence. I'm also happy to plant up areas in more distant parts of the holding. It gives me peace to know bees, insects and birds will find those yields even when I'm not around to harvest them.



A well frequented area of my old forest garden (now we've moved)
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