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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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Why “Två Ekar Gård”?

Radja, the white shepherd.

Två Ekar Gård is Swedish for Two Oak Farm. But there are no two oaks on the land yet, and there will be many more oak trees on it once we get going. So why two?

Radja, the white shepherd.

Radja, the white shepherd who was going to be the fourth companion on the farm.

In an indirect way, the name is to honour and commemorate Radja, the white shepherd who was supposed to be our fourth companion on the farm. Radja was about 14 years old, which is quite a lot for a shepherd. He had always been an incredibly playful dog (no stick or ball was ever safe in his presence), and still wanted to be, but his body wasn’t able to accommodate his wishes so well any more. Still, he seemed to enjoy life.

When mum and I, aided by my brother, started our journey from Scotland to Sweden, we took Radja with us on the long long journey. We knew it was going to be tough on him, but the local vet had checked him several times and declared him fit and healthy, certainly for his age.

It was a full day’s driving from the Isle of Skye, where we lived, to Newcastle, where the ferry to the Netherland leaves from. The ferry was the true horror for Radja, because there was no choice but to keep him in the car the whole 16 hours of the trip, apart from three short walks on the car deck. Upon arrival, we drove to my brother’s place in the Netherlands (mum and I are Dutch, and brother still lives there) and spent two nights there, mostly for Radja’s sake so he could stretch his legs and rest a bit. But the next leg of the journey was another full day to Lund, where we spent the night at Annika’s current place, and then finally one more day’s drive to Västerfärnebo, where we still are right now in our little rented farm.

Our little rented farm near Västerfärnebo during the one aurora event we witnessed there in the winter of 2014-15.

Our little rented farm near Västerfärnebo during the one aurora event we witnessed there in the winter of 2014-15.

Radja bore it like a tough big old dog, and never really complained. He obviously enjoyed the regular short walks and bits of playing we did during the journey, and was quite OK with being lifted back into the car, and yet it must have been very tough on him all the same. But we saw no other way. We felt very sorry, but that would only get worse.

Radja had always had carpet in most of the rooms in the houses we lived in in Scotland, but here there wasn’t any. With his stiff limbs he had great trouble dealing with the smooth laminate floors, and getting up and lying down was a terrible chore, and walking a scary experience. We decided to buy a big rug as soon as possible (probably one from Ikea [made in China]), but during the second night there Radja developed breathing problems. I sat up with him the first half of the night trying to soothe and relax him, and after that he and I both managed to sleep a little. The next day we were going to take my brother to the airport near Stockholm, and we decided to go to a veterinary clinic that same morning.

Radja did quite ok during yet another two hours in the car to the aiport that morning, and then almost an hour to the vet, and in the waiting room of Ultuna Djursjukhuset, he was quite interested in all the other dogs there. We could detect no signs of his problems of the night before.

Because we came unannounced, we had to wait quite a long time for him to be seen, and when one of the many vets in the clinic finally came and had a quick look at him, we think that she immediately had a pretty decent idea of what was going on. But tests needed to be done, and we had to wait another pretty long stretch. That was when I took Radja out for what would be his last walk.

On the grounds of the clinic were a few beautiful oak trees, and we spent some time there. Radja was sniffing around, and I, since it was that time of year, decided to look for a few acorns. During our six years in Scotland I had taken to gathering seeds of many different plants whenever I could to replant somewhere suitable, and in this case I was definitely thinking about oaks for the farm we were hoping to find one day.

Soon, after a few blissful moments in warm late autumn sunshine, we went back inside again where the vet told us she wanted X-rays taken. This was perhaps the most horrible thing we have had to put him through.. I now know why at least in Scotland dogs are put under for the taking of X-rays, but probably at his age the anesthetics would have come with a fairly big risk of big complications even if nothing was really wrong, and so we had to do it without. A picture was needed from him lying on his back, and one on his side, and we, two vets and I, had to (wo)manhandle Radja into position in one of the scariest places for him. He struggled with all the force he had, and he cried… it was truly terrible, and it must have hurt him a lot.

At least that ordeal didn’t take too long, and waiting for the results didn’t either. Soon we were taken to the computer area to look at photos we were told showed his lungs absolutely riddled with tumours.

It’s a strange thing hearing something like that does to you. On one hand we hadn’t expected Radja to live very much longer, but lungs riddled with tumours was not what we expected. We arrived at the clinic hoping that a few pills would make his breathing problems go away (if they hadn’t by themselves already that morning), and that some big rugs bought on the way back would make his being in the house a lot more comfortable. But lungs riddled with tumours… Of course it sounded very bad right away, but how bad did take a wee while to sink in.

The vet took us back to a private room and told us that we had a choice. We could take him home for a few more days or maybe one or two weeks -her tone making quite clear she would find that choice understandable but not the right one, or to put him to sleep right there and then. Mum and I had no doubt it had to be the second option, because the first one would only be for our comfort and certainly not for Radja’s. And so… a few minutes later Radja lay in our arms while the vet gave the shots, and passed away very peacefully.

Life was very very strange after that. Mum and I were in this completely new place, and a very remote one at that. We hardly spoke a word of Swedish, and the few fairly far-away neighbours didn’t seem all that interested in socialising much. And the reason for some of the most regular daily rituals we had been used to for so long, such as daily walks and a regular bout of playing after dinner, was now no more.

Jack, the new canine clown companion.

Jack, the new canine clown companion.

And so it was after only two weeks or so that we started looking for another canine companion. Through weird coincidences we ended up choosing for a labrador/white shepherd mix we named Jack. Jack is a good few handfuls, but that’s mostly a good thing (in between all the sighing and shouting of “COME HERE NOW!”). He’s not Radja and never will be, but he’s a very real Jack, and he kept us very nicely occupied during the snowy winter (lots of snow for our standards, but 60cm was sneezed at by the locals, who claim it was one of the mildest winters on record).

Two baby oaks for Two Oak Farm.

Two baby oaks for Two Oak Farm.

Once the snow had gone and a warm spring followed, I suddenly found two oak trees emerging from a pot in my room which I thought only contained an Aloe vera! Upon seeing them I suddenly remembered that I had put a few of the acorns I found during Radja’s last walk in that same pot. Why? I honestly don’t remember, but it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. And maybe it was! The ones that I put in various places in the soil in the garden don’t seem to have come to anything, but these two indoor-grown ones seemed quite healthy, and I soon potted them on and let them grow further outside with the intention of them being the first trees planted on the farm, once we found one to buy, stronger than ever.

And not too long after that -although it seemed to take centuries- we did find that farm. And now, while I write this in our rented farm, much of our stuff is already in boxes and waiting for the move to take place about four weeks from now. Oh how very very exciting!

Of course we had to start thinking about names for the farm, and it isn’t easy to come up with something which isn’t terribly silly, boring or non-sensical. The three of us thought on it for a long time, but eventually it only took one short walk into the garden to see how the oaks were getting on to suddenly think that these beautiful baby trees should not only be the first trees planted, probably one on each side of the entrance to the land, but should also give rise to the name of the whole farm.

And there we have it: Två Ekar Gård.

Small now, but hopefully a giant to be.

Small now, but hopefully a giant to be.


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