Saturday, 23 February 2013

..... you will have to provide your own.

In truth, providing your own lighting is probably the easiest task to be performed if and when modern services fail. Various types of lights were around for a long time before gas and electricity.

At the time I last posted I was working on plans for increasing the amount of food we produce for ourselves as well as feed for the animals. We are fairly well along the route of providing for the goats (the only four-legged animals we presently have apart from the essential farm cats) but buy some compound feed and this ensures an adequate supply of all necessary vitamins and minerals, as well as providing a higher protein level than the hay and maize that has until now formed the bulk of our home production. The bought in feed is also an eventual source of additional plant nutrients once it has passed through the goats and become incorporated with their bedding. I have not previously been able to grow sufficient pulses, nor have I grown as much comfrey due to previous stock not being inclined to eat it. The rest of this blog is written on the assumption that we will not be able to purchase compound feeds from agricultural suppliers, and that we need to supply all our own feed for all livestock plus food for ourselves, and as much of our other requirements as possible.

So far as I can ascertain from agronomists and feed and fertiliser suppliers there is no known problem of any trace mineral deficiency in the local soils. If there is a deficiency this could possibly lead to sub clinical trace mineral shortages before it was noticed, but we do have some control over intake. I would rely on average analyses of feeds for calculating that we would be supplying sufficient vitamins and trace minerals in the correct ratios. There are some good sources of feed analyses on the Internet. One that covers a very wide range of feeds across most of the world is and it is produced by the French organisations CIRAD, INRA and AFZ together with the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations. Consequently I expect the analyses to be accurate – given the limitations that analysis of a growing crop changes throughout its growth to maturity, and seasonally.

My wife and I have never come to any harm from our present diet and we do not even consider our intake of vitamins and minerals. We certainly see no need to take any “supplements”. I would expect all livestock to be reasonably productive from an adequate provision of energy and protein even if the ration was not perfectly balanced for maximum 21st century levels of production. Every farm is different, and everyone else’s requirements would be different, but hopefully by outlining what I would do on my present property it will allow others to consider what they could do on theirs.

I am taking a very long-term view – to the extent that the systems put in place might have to be continued for several decades until new technology replaces that which we have lost. At the same time I am being practical and making a feed self-sufficiency plan even if the lights do not go out. If the increasing world population is to be fed then extreme increases in the cost of animal feedstuffs can be expected, with similar rises in the cost of human food. Large rises have already happened in the last few months due to reduced grain harvests in several areas of the world during 2012. So far as possible, half the land will be in pasture and half cropped at any given time, rotating through 4 years’ pasture and 4 years’ cropping. This way the pasture phase rests the land from cropping and builds up organic matter and fertility through the grazing livestock. Hay will be cut from part of the pasture land, although the goats do not need a great deal due to being able to get out all year round unless it is raining. They do not like winter rain so stay indoors by choice when it does rain.

Cropping will be based upon growing grains and pulses for concentrated feeds. Pastures, comfrey, other forage, squashes/pumpkins and root crops will be grown for bulk and Ca:P balancing since the grains and pulses are much higher in P than Ca. It should be noted though that some roots share this reverse ratio and it is well to have a record of the analyses of those crops that can be grown to ensure the correct balance can be supplied. Maize will be the standard grain used and a wide range of both summer and winter cropping peas and beans will provide the high protein pulses. By using different seasonal ranges of pulses the harvesting period is greatly extended and less storage is required.

There is an overlap between feed for livestock and food for ourselves, since we eat many of the crops grown primarily for the stock. Amongst these crops are all the leafy brassicas, some of the pulses and squashes, plus the root crops Jerusalem artichoke, beets, swedes and turnips. I grow a red beet known as Bull’s Blood which is a very quick maturing crop ready in mid-summer and has a large root. Mangels and fodder beet are also grown, and since we are considering maximum self-sufficiency then sugar beet would replace some of these.

We may need draught animals in our proposed survival group in addition to cows for milking. High producing dairy animals are not required. The milk from traditional beef or dual-purpose breeds is just as good. I think one cow to each couple (plus children where appropriate) should suffice – staggering calving so that milk and butter are always available. Cheese making is a natural part of this plan and whey plus surplus milk, if any, is relished by pigs. Cows do not have the pulling power of equines, so a horse or large pony capable of being ridden as well as used for draught may be worthwhile. Donkeys are easily fed and the larger breeds (such as already exist in Portugal) are strong enough for both jobs too. Merino sheep are common here and provide a heavy and fine fleece. Goats may not be required if we have both cattle and sheep, so at this stage I am non-committal on the need to have them. They are more difficult to keep fenced in, and I am not alone in not liking goats’ milk except as cheese. Pigs, bees and poultry would make up the remainder of the livestock, although rabbits can be fed very cheaply too. One hen per person will provide enough eggs in its first laying year, after which it should be replaced. A heavy breed provides meat from surplus chicks and discarded hens. I eat meat or fish twice a day, but not large amounts since I enjoy vegetables and, unlike when I was younger, prefer several smaller courses of food rather than just a large main course, consequently I have an annual requirement of about 60 kilograms of meat/fish. Other people will have a different requirement, but some idea of total need is essential.

Cereals for baking would be a necessity, and based on our current bread consumption and other uses think that 100kgs of grains (mainly wheat with some rye and oats) per head is more than enough. Many of the vegetables would be taken from the livestock crops, but in addition we would grow whatever we could to suit the individual tastes of the group members. Potatoes are the first that spring to mind. I have always found it difficult to sow exactly the right quantity of seed to produce the number of plants we require, but generally aim for a slight surplus on the basis that stock will consume any we do not. Not all stock like the alliums (onions, leeks and garlic) but they will generally clear up the remnants of all vegetables we consume, and I do believe a feed of garlic every couple of months helps to control intestinal worms. My theory is that the garlic creates a hostile environment for the worms and they move as far away from it as possible down the gut until they are voided. Just a theory, and others claim it kills the worms if fed fresh or the extracted juice is used. I do not normally grow carrots specifically for stock due to the high sugar content, but have no qualms about feeding some on a regular basis.

Textiles would come partly from wool of course, with leather from the skins of sheep and cattle. Pigskin makes very fine leather too. Linseed (flax) used to be a common crop in these parts, and nettles can make fibre through the same process as flax made into linen. Cotton is probably marginal at current temperatures, but they are close to where we lived in Australia, although a few degrees short of maximum summer temperatures, and there were vast acreages of cotton grown not too far away, so it could be worth a try, especially if temperatures rise slightly as they have been doing in the few years since we moved here.

In the previous post I covered our means of providing fuel. Electrical power can be provided too, although almost certainly not to the extent I now use it (two 3-phase pumps for irrigation) but a re-arrangement of pumping requirements, using old-fashioned methods to fill some storage at the high points, and this is easier on Patrick’s property than ours, will provide some gravity fed irrigation water. The means of pumping water without electricity are so vast that they would fill a book, and I suggest anyone interested in more information does a little bit of searching on the Internet – look for things like hydraulic rams, Stirling engines, spiral pumps and windmill pumps. Heat can be provided through fires, stoves and simple water circulation pipes and radiators. Gas is also an option. Not automatic full-scale central heating perhaps, but we do not have that now. Light within the house is fairly straightforward without electricity. Beeswax candles are probably the cleanest, re-using the wax that melts and solidifies again; and even rushes dipped in oil, wax or grease can provide sufficient light in a room. Oil lamps are so easy to make too. Any fireproof container with a wick in it will suffice, but they are not as clean burning as beeswax. Some power would be useful in the buildings and it should be reasonably easy to maintain sufficient for lighting in the buildings when required.

On the same theme of providing for yourself I have found many articles relating to small-scale home-made tools and equipment on the ‘net simply by diligent searching. Much of this information is from sites in places like Indonesia, Nepal, Ethiopia, India and Pakistan. Pedal power is another area with fascinating human-powered tools and equipment. Decide first what you must have, then what you would like to have in addition, and do some research to find out how to do it. With modern knowledge I am sure it will be much easier to survive than it was a few hundred years ago.