A Productive Permaculture Food Forest Place of Learning
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The following I wrote elsewhere as a reply on the subject of agroforestry. Perhaps it provides a bit of an idea what we're trying to set up here for those who wonder.

Sorry, my Swedish isn't so good yet. I wrote in a previous comment that we're working on this principle on our new farm in Värmland (Två Ekar Gård, Two Oaks Farm).

However, we take it a few steps further than agroforestry. Some call it restoration agriculture. Some regenerative agriculture. Some permaculture.

The name doesn't matter much. What does matter are the methods used.

Planting many trees and bushes, ie making it a kind of agriculture which works with perennial plants much more than with annuals, is a very important part of the story. It means that ground doesn't have to be brought back to bare disturbed and damaged soil every year, but it can grow, and become biologically diverse and functional again. Also, once established, perennial plants require less maintenance each year, but produce more and more each year, which is the opposite of annual agriculture.

But restoration agriculture does usually not begin with planting perennial plants. It begins with restoring the land's hydrology. Often this is done with swales (water harvesting ditches on contour), and/or keyline design. There is an awful lot of material available on these subjects on youtube. A long story short, these very simple earthworks prevent water simply and quickly running off the land, taking soil and nutrients with it in erosion, but instead they make the water infiltrate into the top- and subsoil. If done well, and if the site is favourable, then doing this can replenisch aquifers. That's something that Swedes should pick up on immediately, because it's well-known that Sweden's aquifers are quickly drying up.

It is not so that doing this will simply make the land very wet and boggy. It may create or recreate some natural springs here and there, but that is not a bad thing. A few ponds can bring yet more diversity, and more production possibilities (fish, shellfish, crayfish, waterplants, drinking water) with it. On the rest of the land, restoring hydrology means that the land is able to absorb much more water than before. On land with bad hyrdrology a large rainfall event will cause problems with puddles and bogginess. On hyrdrologically sound land, the large amount of rain will simply very quickly be absorbed into the soil.

Once this is done, the ditches become the basis for the design of the site. The trees and bushes, in great diversity, are planted on or just below the ditches, leaving alleys in between the rows. These alleys can initially, while the trees and bushes are still small, still be used for annual crops, or they can provide grazing for farm animals. It's often said that cows contribute to global warming, but that is a very limited truth, and then only for factory farmed cows, or cows kept on a piece of grazing for a long time. If the cows, and other animals, are rotated over the land, giving them access to a relatively small area for a few days at most, and then taking them to a next parcel, thus giving the intensively grazes area a long rest period, the action of the animals actually contributes to soil building, to increased plant growth, to increased biodiversity, to the hydrology of the land, and to sequestering carbon.

This holistic grazing, the use of perennials, improved water retention capabilities, increased biodiversity (including wild plants, animals, fungi, and so forth), will automatically build soils by increasing organic matter in the soil. The circle rounds itself there, because more organic matter means increase water retention. It is estimated that one percent carbon in the soil means 60,000 gallons of water absorbed in the soil. Imagine what increasing a site's carbon concentration by a few percent does! No more droughts. And it improves the air moisture and quality above the land as well, meaning losing less water through evaporation. The whole circle of this means a restored water cycle. Water that evaporates from bare soil simply leaves the area high up in clouds, and the bare soil heats up, and thus heats up the air above it. Water that goes from soil to air through transpiration by plants, keeps the air above and between the plants moist, and the heat coming in from the sun is put into plant growth, meaning that much less heat is reflected back into the air, keeping the whole area much cooler.

Sorry.... I could go on and on about all this. It's an endlessly complex thing we could achieve, but achieving it is really incredibly simple. And if you keep in mind that if done to much of the degraded annual agriculture land, it could bring atmospheric carbon levels back to pre-industrial levels in as little as 15 years.... the power of this kind of agriculture really becomes clear. No other methods often mentioned in connection to climate change has this potential. Almost all those methods limit themselves to merely reducing carbon emissions. Not many even consider reducing atmospheric carbon by sequestering it in living beings and in soils. Even fewer consider that all the problems coming from climate change are in essence hydrological problems, and that to prevent them, a hydrologically sound soil is more important than anything. Simply organic agriculture of annuals will do nothing to help with this situation.

Now I'll shut up. But I'd be most happy to talk further with anyone interested.
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About Två Ekar Gård

By Arthur Sevestre
Almost ten years after the first vague plans started forming in conversations between Annika and myself during daily long coffee sessions in a student house in the Netherlands to one day form something we then called CUTE (Community University Tribe Education, I think it stood for), the first real tangible step to make that plan into reality was taken in August 2015, when, together with my mother, we bought a farm in Värmland, Sweden. From then on we have worked on the early stages of something I’d now call (but only because you have to call things something these days) “productive permaculture food forest place of learning”.

The name of the farm is Två Ekar Gård (Two Oak Farm), and that is somewhat indirectly to honour the fourth of the original quartet who were going to move to a Swedish farm, but who didn’t make it: Radja.

Mum’s and my white shepherd canine companion got pretty sick the second night that we arrived in Sweden. The next day we took him to Ultuna Djursjukhus, a veterinary university hospital near Uppsala. The vets did a few tests and then we had to wait very long while they got the results. I went out with Radja for a short walk, and at some point we walked past a few beautiful oaks on the property of the hospital, and there were quite a few acorns on the ground. I picked up a few, already with the intention of planting them one day on the farm we were looking for. At the moment it wasn’t a very big happening, as I’m usually keeping an eye open for seeds to take along and sow somewhere.

Radja and I went back inside a few minutes later, and…. less than an hour later Radja was no more… put to sleep after the vets worked out his lungs were riddled with tumours. Poor fellow. Such a long journey from Scotland to Sweden as such a senior dog, being so brave during the journey, seeing us into our new home, and departing two days later…

I planted some of the acorns in the garden very soon after, with a vague idea in my head of it being a link between the move, Radja, the loss, the sorrow and new life. A few of them I put in a pot which I placed in my bedroom (of all places) for some strange reason and then forgot about them to the point that I also planted an aloe vera in the same pot. The following spring, two beautiful oak seedlings pop out, and grew well and fast. In the late summer of 2015 we planted these two oaks by the entrance to the land.

Hence the name of our farm.

In the autumn of 2015, six muscovy ducks arrived on the farm. Two have unfortunately been taken by an unidentified predator in winter, but one baby duck was born in the spring of 2016. Now we have five duck friends. They were joined in the same spring by fourteen chickens. The ducks and chickens will have a base in the garden of the main house, and in a special part of the barn in winter, but they will spend much time on the meadow and some in the woodland, living off what is on offer there. In time, when more different kinds of animals will arrive, the ducks and chickens will become part of an intricate holistic grazing management scheme, which will help restore the land from a pretty poor and thin-soiled meadow into a much healthier and more diverse community of life.


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