Thursday, April 22, 2021

Cultural Growth

No, I'm not talking about attending an opera or going to an art exhibit, nor were Petri dishes involved. I'm thinking more about food; there are many ways to grow food, and they break down into a few different “cultures”.

Most definitions of agriculture equate it to tending the ground, and the basis of most farming is making sure the soil is optimized to produce as much as it can. There are college degrees involved with tending the soils, so I won't try to get into details.
  • Tilling the soil is mechanically preparing it for plant growth. This includes plowing, discing, and all of the other methods of turning the soil to loosen it up for the new plants while killing some of the weeds.
  • Fertilizing the soil replaces or adds nutrients that the new plants will need to grow.
  • Cultivating is the process of mechanically removing weeds and pests after the crop has started to grow. This cuts down on the competition for water and nutrients and removes things that could harm what you're trying to grow.
  • Pesticides are common chemicals used to kill anything that could harm the crop.
  • Irrigation supplies the needed water when nature doesn't cooperate or you're trying to grow something in an area that won't normally support it.
It's hard work and you're at the mercy of the weather and markets, but someone has to grow the food.
Working with perennial plants (those that live more than one year) to produce food is the basis of permaculture: rather than planting a new crop every spring, producers will set up fields that don't require the annual dirt-work to yield a crop. You'll still have to deal with weeds, pests, and proper nutrition for plants, but the crops don't change from year to year. Vineyards are a form of permaculture, and some of them have been using sprouts from the same root-stock for centuries.

There are also other definitions. Some would roll the concepts of “holistic” gardening into the idea of permaculture, by doing away with the basics of farming like separation of crops and use of rows to make tending and harvest easier. Others consider planting annuals and letting them “go to seed” so they naturally reproduce the next year a form of permaculture. Like most things in life, opinions vary.

Raising fish or seafood instead of plants is not very common in the USA, but is practiced around the world. In aquaculture, fast-growing fish are kept in an enclosure and fed to produce a good source of protein. The Tilapia that you will find in your grocery store was likely grown in an aquaculture facility, and much of it comes from Asia where the conditions can make a cattle feedlot or hog confinement building look like a 5-star resort. Catfish and a few other species are “farmed” in the US and the various government agencies treat it like any other animal facility (they regulate them).

On a small scale, setting up a mesh enclosure in a stream or river and adding fish is as simple as aquaculture gets. Feeding them may be a challenge, but that's normal with any animal operation.
The growing and cultivation of trees, silviculture is normally seen in orchards and forests. A form of permaculture, silviculture is fairly labor-intensive because most fruit trees are grown from grafted root-stock. Put simply, the tastiest fruits don't grow on sturdy trees, so nurseries will graft a tasty fruit branch onto a robust breed of tree. This means that the seeds from the fruit of that tree will be of the tasty variety and may not grow as well as the “parent” tree. New sprouts of the base tree need to be removed every spring to allow the tasty branches access to water and nutrients. Harvesting from trees takes specialized equipment, and often time will require multiple trips through the orchard since fruits will ripen at different times.

Mixing shrubs and trees into pastures to give livestock a source of shade and protection from the elements is a good example of silviculture. Using trees that bear fruit or nuts adds to the potential yield of the pasture and will attract wildlife.

Forestry is the growth of trees for use as wood and is the ultimate silviculture, but you're talking decades instead of months to get a crop. Proper management of forests is a very involved and somewhat controversial subject in some areas.

Using a blend of all of the above to produce food can work.
  • Planting annual crops between the rows of an orchard.
  • Grazing animals in a well-established orchard (saplings will get trampled or eaten).
  • Setting up an aquaculture tank next to a greenhouse and using the fish wastes to fertilize the plants.
  • Mixing crops that mature at different times to get the most yield per square foot.

Growing food is important for long-term preps. Being completely self-reliant is a good goal, but not very many people will be able to achieve or sustain that. Grow what you can, as much as you can, and find ways to trade, store, and use what you produce.

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