How we are preparing for energy and growing food for an uncertain future.
Jim and Chief in the woods ready for a load of wood.
Having snow is a real treat for me to be getting the horses out to pull the sleigh. We have maintained the woods on our farm and use the trees mainly for firewood but saving a number for lumber that I hope one day to get a sawmill.
There is no doubt in my mind that the human race is in overshoot. We are using more than twice of our ecologically available carrying capacity. The symptoms of overshoot are things like climate change, reduced soil health, pollution, wars, food shortages, pandemics, climatic disasters, wars etc.
Carrying capacity can be defined as a species’ average population size in a particular habitat. The species population size is limited by environmental factors like adequate food, shelter, water, and mates. If these needs are not met, the population will decrease until the resource rebounds.
I suggest that anyone interested in forming an idea of our future watch the following video:
It does appear the humanity is in for a very rough ride in the next few years, so what can one do? My feeling is to make the best of life by eating well, taking good care of ones self and friends, enjoying nature, working together and relegating the pursuit of money to those who do not have a better understanding of life. I do not feel that governments will make any real changes to the continued use of fossil fuels.
So is our subsistence farm life of any value? One of the values of a self sufficient farm is that we eat the best of food that we prepare from raw food grown on our farm. We do not have to drive to work, we have a busy lifestyle, getting up when we wake up and go about our daily chores then having breakfast, checking for emails and internet news before tackling the project for the morning. We take a lunch about 1 pm take a snooze then on to the afternoon projects. Suppertime varies but we generally finish evening chores then set into things like accounting, seed planning and writing about our experiences. We get exercise every day.. yes and we work seven days a week. And what kind of paycheck do I get? Our farm basically breaks even if we add in our pension money. The healthy living and lifestyle is worth it,but lifestyle can change drastically as I recently discovered when one tries to create a living space on the farm for farm help and then go through the various bureaucracies.
Basically we will probably face a die out of the human population in the near future. Those creatures that can forage food or learn to grow food in their immediate area may survive but because humans have destroyed almost everything and even finding drinkable water will be difficult. But I have decided to make the best of it by becoming self sufficient and learning how to farm in these difficult times.
I do not know how one without farm experience will be able to physically be self sufficient or to financially afford it with the machinery and maintenance needed. Having a large garden is a good start.
This is not a life for young people. Just look any country in the work on Youtube and search a country for a rural life. You will find that most of the young people have left for the cities and there are just old people left who still know how to live without a constant transfusion of money! The problem as I see it is that once you leave the countryside you no longer have the knowledge or abilities to be self sufficient. The repetitive nature of self sufficiency is difficult for younger people and what most people miss is the knowledge that older people collect on their daily work so that one learns where the food id and every facet of things that are important to living sustainably. This is not something easily learned from the computer but only found by spending years living sustainably.
One of the best things we do is arrange our days in accordance to the weather. If it is raining then we work inside if it is sunny we work outside. If I am tired I take a nap. I also plan our crops around the best time to plant or harvest. Timing of the crops and cover crops is critical. Learning more about the weather is important. If it is too hot we work in the early morning or late evening, even the horses do not like to work when it is hot so they have a space in the shady woods where they spent the hot sunny days but do some work in the early morning.
Something I forget is the usefulness of having many tools. I started this as a teenager and have amassed many tools and equipment. I not only repair things but re-purpose machines. Having the tools and ability to repair ones machinery is going to be vital in all of our future. I can also add that anything relying on computers is very difficult to repair for the average person and I even look forward to the day I can throw way my cell phone and junk the computer.
We have learned to fix most anything in our woodworking, machine shop and welding shops. And having machines that can be easily repaired is vital for the future. We even have a metal recycling dump to use in repairs or re-purpose old machinery. Having a machine made in the 1950's usually means it can be repaired and will probably last another 50 years.
Planting Sunflowers into Crimped rye with a crimper on the front of the tractor and no till planter behind. With this method I am discouraging weeds, planting clovers in the rye which will show up in the following spring and the resultant field will have a layer of crimped rye for our horse pasture planted with clovers when I planted the rye. I will then over plant a hay mixture with alfalfa later in the summer. This requires very few passes by the tractor on the field.
Mat and dorothee in the 2023 sunflower field. Note the crimped rye and no weeds.
The crimped rye for 2023 looks very successful but it was not successful in the year 2022 as it was a poor field and just after I planted there was no rain for 6 weeks and also I did not get a usual load of organic Tekmac on the field a couple of weeks after planting. (7 % organic nitrogen) due to the poor organic matter in some fields.
The system of crimping the rye on a front 3 point hitch and following with the no till planter on the rear three point hitch works well. The Previous year 2021 was more successful. See the web page http://matsfineoils.com/Crimped%20rye.html. This has worked well for us in 2023 as the field I planted the rye for crimping was a field of alfalfa for a number of years. I did make a mistake by planting too many sunflower seeds per acre for 2023 as they were too crowded which made them too tall. Learning how to manage weeds without chemicals is very important. After the sunflower harvest the field becomes a pasture for the horses which is over planted with a pasture mix. This years field after harvesting the sunflowers was populated with lots of clover from the last fall planting of clovers and grasses. The pastures are clipped by the horses drawn sickle mower which keeps the weeds from going to seed.
I have yet to figure a way to do no till with the horses but our current method using sunflower oil and our tractor should work for the next 10 years.
An example of the crimped rye in 2021
Solar cells, controllers and battery. Back about 2005 I decided to put up an array of solar cells using a large forklift battery for storage as the electricity from the grid was becoming erratic. I moved in 2015 to our present farm and moved the solar cells to our farm. The system has worked fine without any problems so far for the last 15 years. I use this system for the north barn and if needed I can switch to the grid. I have 120 volt and 240. The 240 is not able to power a lot other than the grain auger from the sunflower bin. I also charge my two fork lifts with the solar system. This system also powers a propane furnace in the winter for a one days pressing of oils before the diesel engines take over which heat the press room with the fans on their radiators.. I do not think that solar cells are any real advantage of reducing the effects of climate change but when there is no grid this works fine to keep the farm going. Solar cells only last about 20 years so I am most of the way through their usefulness.
I do not think that solar cells will help our future problem of overshoot, they really just add to the problem with the manufacture of solar cells and electronic controls. I have also recently discovered that the electronics to control the electrical output are not able to be serviced locally.
The current set of solar cells for the north barn and oil pressing.
Using sunflower oil instead of diesel for the summer months. This works surprisingly well in older diesels. I have been doing this for about 20 years. This does not work well in the winter as the sunflowers oil becomes very thick so I mix in some diesel for the winter if needed. At one time I did make bio-diesel to start the diesel on in the winter but when I moved to our present farm I did not get the system up and running again. The raw sunflower oil works well for the time being but if there are no batteries available to start the diesels this will not work very well. I do have one hand cranked diesel for one oil press which works well. The use of horses for energy is much better for the environment. I'm not sure just how we should press vegetable oils without our sunflower oil powered diesels for energy but with my life being over within 10 years so we will be fine till then.
Evacuated tubes producing hot water. This system has been working for about 20 years and has worked very well in the summer when our cook stove is not producing hot water. It needs antifreeze in the winter months to function so in the winter I drain the water and take down the tubes. The system is run by electronics and so far has worked well over the last 20 years but they too only last about 20 years so their life is limited. Again this is a nice short lived stop gap measure. A dark coloured hose on a roof top in the summer also works well to heat water. A compost pile generates a lot of heat and could easily provide enough hot water for a shower. Using compost to provide heating will be the future along with methane produced by anaerobic digestion.
A set of evacuated tubes that require some electricity for producing hot water in the summer.
Wood cook stove for heating the house and hot water. Early on we decided to heat our home with wood as we had a good wood lot on the property. Dorothee has learned to cook very effectively with it for our meals. I rigged up a discarded hot water tank to the system so we have hot water in the winter months which does not need electricity to run. We found that having the cook stove in the kitchen worked well as it was a good place to sit and get warmed up but did not overheat our bedroom. I'm not so sure what city folks will do if there is no fuel or electricity. Wood stoves do take a lot of maintenance every day to not only keep it fed with wood but cleaning it often. I put a window in mine and it needs to be cleaned every day long with the ash removed. I do it in the morning as part of my morning chores before breakfast.
It took some research to get a good stove from Suppertime stoves in Aylmer run by the Amish. We now have two wood burning stoves that have been well built and work well. Using the horses to haul logs is a good use of horses and keeps me physically fit.
Dorothee using the cooks stove to bake our food.
Using older diesel generators and sunflower oil to produce electricity. I have found a number of older diesels that run well on sunflower oil. We press vegetable oil and our diesels either drive the oil presses or provide electricity for the small oil press. I have built a small hut for our large diesel to provide electricity for the machine shop but not yet hooked it up. We did put in an electrical line so it is almost ready to go. This is short term stop gap measure and should last for about 20 years. Below is a copy of a Lister single cylinder that powers one of our sunflower presses. It is started by hand.
The Lister copy single cylinder has been used to run our oil press for about 20 years.
Variable frequency controllers to give variable electric motor speeds. When I set up the spelt dehuller I thought it would be a good idea to be able to adjust the speed which has worked well. We provide the controllers with single phase 220 and the electronics convert it to three phase. I also use a frequency controller on the flour mill auger. This is wonderful but only adds complexity and probably only adds to our overshoot.
Horses for farm field work. I love working with the horses but it has taken me many years to get good at it. There is always the possibility that they will spook but the more you work with them the better it is. At the moment we have only one new horse that is inclined to spook so I use her very carefully. She is also the smartest horse and remembers everything when I mess up. There is nothing better than having a wonderful working day with the horses. It really keeps you awake and at the end of the day you can thank the horses and they appreciate knowing that along with some oats and sunflower meal. If there is anything that could be long term it is the horses but I do not have a stud to breed more horses. Having young horses takes time to get them trained but very rewarding but horses do not live forever. If you are into horses you need a constant supply of horses which takes a lot of time for training.
Logging with the horses is a wonderful thing to do in the winter.
Pastures to increase soil health. Allowing fields to be covered in cover crops that is also edible for the horses serves a good purpose for feeding the horses and improving the soil health. After my last years cultivated sunflowers 2021 I broadcast red clover at the last cultivation and the following spring it burst forth in a great quantity of red clover which reduced the weed population. The horses eat the red clover each day as I move the electrical fence back a few feet. They eat that readily and eventually they get to revisit the field every couple of weeks as the red clover grows back. This again is long term solution that has many benefiting the soil health. It is one of few things I do that reduce our overshoot. Below is a field of Mixed species cover crop helping our soil health.
A multi cover crop field.
Solar powered electric Golf cart never needs plugging in. After recovering from leukemia I purchase an electrical golf cart since I could not walk very well. Even though I could plug it in to our solar array each day I thought it better to put a solar cell on the roof and it would charge wherever I left it in the sun. This has worked well as we now use it for towing a trailer and running around the farm, even to get the horses! Another short term stop gap measure that probably only adds to our overshoot. I'd be better off with a horse which is where I am heading.
Our Solar cell golf cart.
Solar powered fork lifts. We run two forklifts and they are plugged into the solar array in the north barn. These are very old and really considered for metal recycling but with a bit of work to keep them repaired they allow me to move many times more weight than I could do myself in a short period of time. Nice idea to use old junk but really only adds to our overshoot. Better to just move things in lighter loads that use human or horse power.
Sunflower head with pans for combining sunflowers. In an effort to improve our combine efficiency I designed and built a system of trays on the combine head and put boards on reel so it would work better on the sunflowers. Another very old machine that I have reworked that works well for our situation. I would be much better off to employ the horses in some way but the extra time it would take would not be economic unless I had two or three more helpers.
The sunflower head on the combine
Frost seeding certain crops show great promise. See my Camelina and Flax experiments. I have had great difficulty growing flax and camelina but last seasons success has given me a successful method of growing camelina and perhaps flax with very few weeds.
Composting is done in long rows with our manure spreader running while I use the front end loader to fill the manure spreader and turn over the compost pile. Composting is one of things that does not necessarily need great machines. A good fork and muscle power is all it really needs.
The gas tractor providing power to the manure spreader while I fill the manure wagon with compost.
Solar powered electric fences for horses. The solar array on the pole barn provides electricity for the north barn and the electric fences to keep the horses in their pasture. We can also hook up a solar panel and battery in pastures not close to the pole barn. This one is hard to find a good substitute for. Putting in proper fence posts with poles between would be just as good but costly to put in.
A garden that provides all of our veggies. While this may sound very simple it has taken us about 7 years to finally get very good harvests. We use the the deep compost mulch system. Gardening is one of the best ways to reduce our overshoot. It teaches us a lot about growing plants, working with the weather and dealing with pests. Dorothee covers everything in oat straw to keep in the moisture and keep weeds away.
Dorothee in the garden.
Preserving and canning the summer produce in our cold cellar. There is little use in growing many fruits and veggies without preserving them by canning or drying. Dorothee dries fruit in a commercially available food dryer using solar energy during the days of sunshine. A number of veggies are put in the cold cellar for the wintertime. This is a good idea and certainly lowers our overshoot by not going to the grocery store. You also get to know what you are eating and making the preserves to your own liking. Yes preserving by drying for produce grown using excess solar electricity on the farm but could also be done on our cook stove.
Dorothee has canned, preserved veggies in the cold cellar and dried a lot of veggies and fruit.
Chickens for eggs and meat; Dorothee has heritage breeds, Dorkings, Chantecleers and Americanas .She has over the years figured out a lot of the solutions to keeping chickens. I like chickens since it teaches a lot about farm life. I do hate killing them but if I want to eat chicken I have learned how to do it the kindest way possible. If one gets injured we care for it in the house, sometimes doing simple surgery. Every chicken is very unique and some are very smart! Keeping chickens is a very good idea and shows how one can live more self sufficiently.
The chickens in the horse pasture.
A farm cow: Our cow is strictly a pet who guards the chickens and one day we hope we can find a bull to get her pregnant so we can have a calf and get some milk from her. Milking a cow is one more step in reducing our overreach.
The alternative sources of energy I like best is the bio gas generation from manure, crop residue and human waste. Back about 2008 I built a biogas digester and housed it but upon getting leukemia I was unable to complete the project and I sold the property but kept the tank should I again be able to fulfill the biogas digester idea in the future. My design was good and should work fine for many things. As is demonstrated in Ukraine having a biodigester producing bio gas would power a heater or stove making large scale destruction of utilities less vulnerable. Also composting can produce heat using manure and organic matter. This is an area I have not been able to fully exploit. This is an excellent way to use our human manure which will produce methane to heat our homes.
I am moving towards less fossil fuels used in our transportation, and farming use. I only press the oils that we have on the farm and mill the flour from our own crops. The sunflower seeds of 2022 fell short so I did order some organic sunflower seeds from our organic sunflower supplier but for 2023 year I intend to only press our own sunflowers and if there are no sunflowers there is no oil. Flax is the other crop we have difficulty growing on our farm and I am hoping to replace flax with camelina, although I have a plan to frost seed flax in an effort give it a try as I have with the camelina. Learning to produce crops in our specific area and climate is important.
And last we should not forget to eat healthy as this might have been the one factor that helped me recover from leukemia.
Despite all of these things we are attempting but we are not close to being fossil fuel free nor stopping overreach. This is very discouraging. It is obvious to me that we cannot resist the temptation of fossil fuels and its high energy availability. Looking on the internet I see that the use of fossil fuels is only increasing in the world and there is very little hope of changing that. (overshoot)
In our current society moving from fossil fuels and curbing overreach is basically not possible. In order to be fossil fuel free, our oil and flour output would be only a small fraction of what we do today. Our property taxes would go up four times if we do not have at least $7000 gross income from the farm in a year. We could not deliver anything unless to close neighbours with bikes or the horses. Farming today as I see it has no way of being fossil fuel free and only increases our overreach but a reasonable look into the near future will show that there is a very soon end to fossil fuels, electricity, computers, and our modern lifestyle.
As long as I am able I will continue to live on our farm life and most of all enjoying the many benefits of this lifestyle.
So what else can I do? First if we grow all of our own sunflower, camelina, flax and hemp seeds the cost of production will be much lower but the cost of labour could be high unless we work as a community that is self sufficient in food, water, shelter and heat. Not sure how we will get our flour and oils to our customers without our diesel delivery vehicle but I should see if our local grocery store would carry our products and I could do a mailing in our local village to see if anyone would like our oils and flour.
I recommend reading an article by Richard Heinberg
I also recommend reading this article on degrowth.