Sunday, June 12, 2016



Hopefully I’ve managed to make a pretty good case for primitivism.  I’ve brought up the possibilities of philanthropy from sincere rich people, mass peaceful protest to demand land reform, violent rebellion by radical environmentalists and the possibility that, if all else fails, economic collapse could force people to change even if nobody wants to.  Currently the super rich are mostly wasting the wealth of the world on shit that makes no difference, protests revolve around getting more equal shares of the plunder of empire, environmentalists spend all their time worrying about how even the most innocuous actions could hurt something, and environmental collapse appears ahead in its race with economic collapse.  It’s hard to be optimistic but I still see no point in the “Fuck it!  We’re done for” view that the Guy McPherson types are spreading.  No matter how bad things get I’ll still be advocating these low-tech, self-sufficient, degrowth communities.  When all things are considered I honestly don’t see how anything else can create a sustainable and just lifestyle for humanity.  I really don’t.

I want to believe that we’re converging on some good solutions and working to make them happen but I’m still seeing each new generation of parents getting their kids even more hopelessly addicted to plastic crap than the last.  I’m still seeing movie makers resorting to using expensive, high-tech and violent films for environmentalist propaganda.  I’m still seeing ideas like roads made entirely out of solar panels being taken as a serious option for sustainable development.  People are still arguing over the efficacy of high-tech medicine instead of asking if the process of creating it is ethical or sustainable in the first place.  People are still trying to use cool inventions and interesting discoveries to justify our atrocities.  “Look at all we’ve learned.  Clearly civilization wasn’t a mistake.”  Really?

There are some groups out there worth listening to.  In my opinion, none of them have it totally right.  Fortunately though, we don’t need to select an entire package of solutions from any one group.  We can select parts from many flawed ones if we want to.  Deep Green Resistance remains one of my favorites.  Some of their ideas bother me but I’m not going to reject everything they say simply because they aren’t perfect.  Similarly, New Age spiritual pseudoscience annoys the shit out of me but I still recommend listening to Charles Eisenstein for his insights into economics.  I consider the Zeitgeist movement’s solutions to be so delusional as to be dangerous but I find their criticisms of the current system to be some of the clearest and most persuasive.  I consider the Transition Town movement to be too little too late but I appreciate the success they’ve had in making radical ideas more acceptable to the mainstream.  Feminists and tree-hugger hippie types explain their ideas in ways that don’t resonate with those who most need to hear what they have to say but I recognize the importance in challenging the type of language the mainstream accepts as normal.  And the list goes on. 

There isn’t a single book or documentary listed in the resources pages that I’m in full agreement with.  And this book wasn’t an attempt at writing the counter-culture bible or anything.  Everyone has to listen to a wide range of voices and come to their own conclusions.  My main goal with this was just to save people some of the time and frustration I’ve gone through listening to hundreds of people saying essentially the same thing, and wasting time with people who clearly know that what they’re saying is untrue.  It’s been a real headache.  Nobody should have to go through as much information as I have just to find out how simple the answers really are. 

Lastly, having expressed such unpopular views, I definitely expect some criticism.   One thing I expect to hear, and that I’d rather just address now, is that I’m a hypocrite for using a computer.  I brought this up a little when discussing the transition spectrum but I have two responses to this.  First, what has a more positive effect, my refusal to use a computer or my using a computer to try to spread information?  I don’t want to still be using this thing 10 years from now but at the moment it seems like a necessary evil.  If I just stop using it and go build a tipi in the woods, that would have no effect on anything.  If the majority is to change their ways, people need to be reached and I feel like I have a better chance of reaching people who use computers on the internet than in a cave.  It wouldn’t make sense for me to tell Richard Dawkins and Michio Kaku that they’re hypocrites for not driving flying cars.  It isn’t any more possible to live primitively at the moment than it is to live futuristically because we’re all surrounded with the same infrastructure.  It’s a matter of what we advocate and the direction we try to steer our current society, not how we’re living right now.  I assure you, I am far from satisfied with my current living situation.  Second, what difference does it make if I am a hypocrite?  Does that make my arguments invalid?  It’s like being a passenger in a car and the driver says, “Hey, we’re going to crash if we don’t turn and I’m not planning on turning.  You should probably jump out before I speed up, which I am planning on doing.”  Do you just ignore his warning because he ignores it himself?  Please, judge this book based on the ideas, not on your assumptions about the person who wrote them. 

Still, criticisms and other thoughts are welcome.  You can email me directly at or feel free to leave a comment at  Thanks for reading. 

              Some Excessive thoughts, Tedious Math and Shameless Blueprinting


            These are just some extra ideas that I was going to leave out of the book but decided are actually worth having in here someplace.  Had these extra details been left in earlier chapters I expect most readers would have struggled to get through them.  I figure by leaving this stuff to the end I’m at least letting readers decide if they think it’s worth looking at.  This book was meant to focus mainly on general ideas, not specific measurements for building things or crop growing schedules or anything like that.  However, since a major theme of this book is that we need clear visions of what primitive societies of the future can look like, rather than just vague philosophies about reconnection, love, and belonging to the planet, a little more detail seems like a good idea to me.  I know a lot of radicals hate “blueprinting” and that they take offense to being told what they should do.  These are just possibilities and suggestions, some extra considerations that I recommend people think about.  Having overlooked a lot of them myself earlier, I know people tend to forget about these things.  I also want to show further that my general goal laid out in this book is based more on math than romanticism. 

            I still don’t see too much point in getting much more specific about permaculture.  The basic idea of mixing in perennials, spacing out the trees that you plan to let grow to mature size based on the diameter of their canopies, growing nitrogen-fixing species with each layer of crops, and using rotational mosaics to get a consistent supply of each crop every year are really the key points.  Whether you alternate rows of trees with rows of shrubs or just grow everything in the same rows, or you allow shrubs to get shaded out in the understory or leave enough space for the sun to keep them producing until the end of the cycle, or you plant trees on the berms of swales or a few feet below them, or cut down nitrogen-fixers before the fruit and nut trees or cut them all at the same time, it will work.  People are going to come up with all sorts of variations and by comparing each other’s harvests and soils they will figure out what the best way to go is for wherever they live.  When researching guilds I actually got pretty annoyed with how often I found myself writing down “can use pretty much anything.”  For my region walnuts and hickories are the only ones I found that really cause major problems for nearby plants, as I mentioned earlier in the book.  Sugar maples and sycamores are also slightly allelopathic and pines tend to have negative effects on the soil if they’re the dominant species for very long, but since they have to grow enormous before producing food they’re not likely to be mixed in with rotational mosaics anyway.  Almost everything humans grow prefers slightly acidic soil.  Sugar maples, sycamores and walnuts can tolerate slightly alkaline soils, and walnuts and beech like low, relatively flat and moist areas to grow.  Other than that, I really haven’t come across anything too noteworthy regarding guilds.  I’d just start with a walnut guild then for diversity’s sake use whatever can’t be grown with walnuts in a chestnut guild, like starting with anything other than corn for the annuals, alders instead of black locusts, seaberries instead of goumis and Siberian pea shrubs, and apples or pears instead of pawpaws and black cherries, etc.  Then things like pine nuts, beech, oak and sugar maple can just be kept in semi-wild boundary lines or along the edges of nearby forests.  There isn’t much else to say about it.  People just over complicate this shit so bad.  Companion planting for vegetables can definitely boost production and control pests but those crops only make up something like 1% to 2% of cropland.  This means that cutting the size of vegetable gardens in half would hardly make any difference at all.  There really isn’t much point worrying about them so much.

            One common misconception worth mentioning about permaculture is that when you grow in layers, not all layers are going to be producing harvests at the same time.  There will be some overlap where shrubs start producing while annuals or perennial herbs are the main crop or trees start producing while shrubs are the main crop, but the idea is that it shifts from annuals the first few years to perennial herbs for a few years, then shrubs for 5 to 10 years and almost entirely just tree crops the remaining time before cutting the trees and starting the cycle over again.  Besides silvopasture, where animals will be under a layer of tree crops, for the most part there’s only one layer of staple crops being grown in any particular spot at any given time.  Annuals, perennial herbs, shrubs and trees will all be the dominant crops in different locations, not everywhere at once.  So with my walnut guild as an example again, there wouldn’t be corn, beans and squash, Jerusalem artichokes and hazelnuts under mature walnuts, hickories and butternuts.  Some pawpaws and elderberries would keep producing in the shade but everything else needs full sun.  It’s important that people at least understand that much.

            Having read probably over a dozen permaculture books I still haven’t found any that describe girdling trees as an alternative to coppicing.  From anthropology books though I do know that some indigenous groups did use girdling, usually combined with slash and burn.  I did mention this earlier but there are a few more points that should be made about it. 



Coppicing vs Girdling


Coppicing tends to be preferred simply because it’s so much easier, as long as you have metal tools anyway.  Cycles can be shorter, allowing a higher percentage of land to be producing annuals than there would be with longer cycles, trees can be planted closer together, often spaced only 20 feet apart, smaller tree trunks are easier to clear, there aren’t any dead trees left in the way, all the wood can be harvested and used for something, etc.  This doesn’t mean that there aren’t benefits to girdling though.  Longer cycles means that the soil gets more time to recover, dead trees provide habitat for beneficial birds and other creatures, fallen wood that rots in place keeps beneficial fungi and micro-organisms around and further replenishes the soil, in hot and sunny regions the extra shade from the snags can actually boost the production of the crops growing under them, and in a society that relies solely on stone age technology tree bark is an important resource.  Large trees that are spaced more like 40 or 50 feet apart and allowed to stand for more like 50 to a hundred years will provide a lot of useful bark for siding, roofing, tanning, mulch and carbon-rich organic material for composting toilets. Remember, food isn’t all that matters.

Chestnut, poplar, elm and birch are the main trees in my region with useful bark for siding and roofing material.  Anything else would probably be just as good for mulch and providing a sawdust substitute for composting toilets (not only will there not be sawmills, there won’t even be saws, so that’s worth thinking about).  Pine cones are another source of easily broken up carbon.  Pine trees are also renowned by survivalists for the edible cambium layer under their bark.  I haven’t been able to find any reliable information on cambium production though.  I’ve heard that a pound of the stuff can provide a few hundred calories but I can’t say how many pounds of cambium can be harvested from a tree.  I assume that it’d make most sense to just strip all the bark off at the same time when the tree is cut down or girdled.  So cambium would just be a slight bonus at the end of a pine tree’s life, not something I’d expect to double the calories that each pine nut tree produces or anything.  It’s hard to imagine it being more than a fraction of 1% of what you’ll get from the nuts during its lifetime.  Pines also produce resin, rosin and vitamin C-rich needles.  I’m not sure how much vitamin C people really get out of pine needle tea considering that heat degrades it.  Personally, I like to just eat pine needles sometimes.  The young, bright green, fresh growth in early spring is actually pretty easy to chew up, and tastes surprisingly citrusy, about as good as chewing gum in my opinion.   For tanning hides, oak, fir, hemlock, alder, chestnut, birch and willow bark are all good to have around, and sumac leaves can be used for it too. 

            Toilet paper substitutes are another puzzle we need to figure out.  Newspapers, junk mail and Bill O’Reilly books will only be around for so long.  For most of the year, leaves are probably the most practical option.  The types I’ve heard recommended the most are sycamore, mullein, comfrey and catalpa.  Catalpa is also a good tree to have around for building, particularly fence posts, being rot resistant like black locust but softer and easier to work with.  It also might add a little more nitrogen to the soil than it uses itself, maybe about as much as honey locusts do, but this is still being debated.  In the winter you can use snow like a wet wipe.  In late fall and early spring people might need to get more creative.  One thing I’ve heard of people using is the sides of thick sticks.  I honestly don’t know of any more appealing alternatives when there’s no fresh leaves or snow around.  Eating a lot of fiber would be a good idea, I guess.  Not that I expect that to totally obviate the need to wipe but it should help at least.

            Too many permaculture enthusiasts put their focus mainly on fruits, weird salad substitutes and flowers.  The main priorities should be calories, protein, fat, building materials, firewood and clothing.  Vitamins by comparison are easy.  One dandelion can provide over 100% of your daily vitamin A requirement, and they’ll be growing all over the place even if you tried to stop them.  The harvest from one mature fruit tree can easily provide enough for several people to eat one or two pieces of fruit every day for a year.  Unless they’re all raging alcoholics, there really isn’t much reason for more than a single digit percentage of your trees and shrubs to be fruits.


Calories Per Acre Per Year For Staple Crops





Potatoes----------------5,272,000 (estimates are all over the place, some sources giving potatoes approximately as many calories per acre as corn and some giving corn approximately the same  amount I’ve listed for potatoes)





Cattail-------------------11,770,000 (estimate from 6,475 pounds of “flour”, meaning starch, and starch having 4 calories per gram)

Chestnut----------------1,776,000-3,552,000 (592 calories per pound x 3,000-6,000 pounds)

Chinquapin-------------592,000-1,184,000 (assuming same as chestnuts x 1,000-2,000 pounds)

Hazelnut----------------4,272,000-8,544,000 (2,848 calories per pound x 1,500-3,000 pounds)

Walnut------------------5,940,000-14,850,000 (2,970 calories per pound x 2,000-5,000 pounds)

Hickory------------------5,760,000-14,400,000 (2,880 calories per pound x 2,000-5,000 pounds)

Butternut---------------Should be similar to walnut and hickory but I haven’t found any estimates

Pine nut-----------------3,060,000 (3,060 calories per pound and I’M ASSUMING only around 1,000 pounds per acre since they’re not known for high yields.  And I THINK Korean nut pine and Siberian nut pine are a little more productive than Swiss stone pine too.  Sorry, it’s hard to find good estimates for pine nut production)


So based on those numbers, how many people per acre can be fed from these crops, assuming a 2,000 calorie per day diet?
















Butternut--------------Should be similar to walnut and hickory but haven’t found any estimates

Pine nut----------------4.19


It’s important to point out that the above numbers are all based on monocrops with inputs of fertilizers.  For organic production that mixes in nitrogen-fixers I’d expect every one of these to be somewhere between a quarter and half of the estimates listed.  These numbers are in no way meant to suggest that we can support 20 people per acre.  The estimates for perennial crops are based on their maximum level of production, not averaging what’s produced every year of their lives.  And plants like cattail can be kind of challenging to grow at the scale of corn and wheat fields. 

Reliable info on oaks, beech and horse chestnuts is nonexistent as far as I can tell.  Between the variability of masting years, how long it takes them to start producing and how undesirable they are as food sources, there just doesn’t seem to be much interest in them.  One stat I found is that mature oaks average 25-30 pounds of acorns per tree per year.  Acorns provide 110 calories per 28.4 grams, so based on that I’d think that after a 30 year wait they might feed 1-3 people per acre per year (with every single tree being an oak).  Beech likely produces less and that’s after a longer wait of more like 50 years.

*Another important caveat about the above estimates: The nut tree yields may be based on “fresh weight” and the calories per pound based on “dry weight” which would make the people per acre fed by them several times higher than they should be.  When doing the research it seemed like common sense that “yields” should mean finished marketable product, especially considering that estimates for annual crops are almost always counted that way.  After reading Eric Toensmeier’s book The Carbon Farming Solution though, which came out after I wrote this, I’m pretty sure my numbers are too high.  If they are, it doesn’t really hurt my argument about producing everything people need for a one person per acre population density in temperate climates, especially if using silvopasture, but readers should know that estimates for tree crops are all over the place.  Using Toensmeier’s dry weight numbers, the calories produced from these crops would only be enough for something like one person per acre for Korean or Siberian nut pine and chestnuts, two to three people per acre for hazelnuts and maybe three to five per acre for the Walnut family.  And the pine nuts may be only half that when averaging good years with the bad ones.  However, it’s also likely that as people become more reliant on these crops we’ll develop improved varieties with higher and more consistent yields.  In Spain, farmers have already been cultivating oaks for a long time and they’ve developed a variety that produces enough calories for 6-15 people per acre, and without needing to be leached of tannins before consumption.  In Italy, Italian stone pine is capable of producing enough for over 20 people per acre on good years.  Many other Mediterranean, subtropical and tropical tree crops produce comparably as well, such as bunya pine, macadamia, breadnut, breadfruit, Brazil nut and sago.  I wouldn’t expect tree crops of the temperate zone to ever reach that level of productivity, or to ever produce yields of staple crops in their understories at the same time, but they are likely to get significantly better.  Even as they are currently, and with the considerations about mixing in nitrogen-fixers and planning to grow more than needed, I still think one person per acre is pretty realistic in this region when you average the yields of all our available options.

There’s a lot of propaganda against animal agriculture but even a lot of the info meant to demonize it shows how productive it can be if you know what to look for.  I’ve seen graphs that try to show how inefficient animals are compared to plant crops that separate beef, milk, eggs and chicken meat, as if they can’t exist on the same land.  Eggs and chicken meat!  Beef and milk!  Separate!  So ridiculous.  Considering that chickens actually benefit cows by eating the insect larvae that grow in their manure, and that the animals can graze under a light canopy of nut and fruit trees, it can actually be very efficient.  Looking at the graph I just mentioned, if I combined the four small bars from milk, eggs and the two types of meat, it actually suggests that grazing should be the most efficient.  I’m not sure if it is (clearly I’m not going to base anything on a graph put together by such stupid people) but grazing’s productivity is certainly comparable to plants.

Earlier in this book I mentioned that dairy cows average 6-8 gallons of milk per day, and that calves usually only drink about 1-2 of those gallons.  That leaves 4-7 gallons for us.  One gallon of whole milk has 2,336 calories.  Multiplied that gives us 9,344-16,352 calories every day from a single cow.  Breeds that are hardier and less freakishly fertile (more fit for the stone age) I estimated would likely average at least 1 gallon per day for most of the year after feeding their calves.  1 acre can support approximately 2 cows with rotational grazing in most areas, so that’s 4,672 calories per acre per day.  Add eggs and that’s another couple thousand calories per acre per day, easy.  So that’s already 3 people being fed per acre from grazing.  Add meat and nuts and it could be double that.  The nuts growing above the animals, even if planted at lower density than typical orchards so more sunlight can reach the grasses, could average enough calories to feed 2 or 3 people per acre, most likely at least one.  Most meats, including fish, provide around 1,000 calories per pound.  Every year I’d expect at least 10% of cows and 20% of chickens to be culled (people could easily cull two to three times that), so about 3 cows and 40 chickens per year for the 48 family community concept (10 acres of grazing land).  Each cow would give 400 to 500 pounds of meat and each chicken 3 to 4 pounds, which equals 132,000 to 166,000 calories per acre, which is enough for 0.17 to 0.23 people.  Clearly animals that produce milk, eggs and other non-meat products as well as meat are a lot more efficient.  Remember though, these are with low, more humane, culling rates.  Meat alone could probably provide enough for at least one person’s calories per acre with really high stocking and culling rates.  It just wouldn’t be a very compassionate approach.  I definitely wouldn’t be a fan of doing that.  But all these numbers added together, not even including the fish and water plants in the ponds, show that grazing production is easily comparable to the productivity of plant cultivation.  How many of the plant crops listed in the chart above can feed 6 people per acre every single year (after dividing by 2-4 to account for the difference in growing them sustainably, of course)? 

Cows followed by chickens is actually a pretty simple example of rotational grazing too.  By adding other species, like sheep, goats, turkeys, guinea fowl, geese, ducks and pigs to the system it can be even more efficient since each species occupies a different niche, eating grasses, woody browse, insects, seeds, rotting fruit, etc.  Besides the more complete “mowing” that you get from all these species working in tandem, cows and sheep also have different parasites that don’t effect each other.  Sheep eat the cow parasites and cows eat the sheep parasites without getting infected with anything harmful to themselves, thereby reducing the populations of each other’s parasites and keeping each other healthier.    

Hopefully all this shows pretty clearly that at any stage of succession it wouldn’t be unrealistic to expect at least enough calories to be produced for a one person per acre population density.  It’s probably a good idea to aim for producing about twice as much as you need, giving yourselves a good-sized margin of error for bad years.  What people decide to do with the extra food is up to them to figure out.  Whether they let themselves get fat or offer it to their gods or use it to placate the malicious demons of the nearby forest, they just need to keep in mind that they want to keep producing more than they need, not let their population size grow to match exactly the people per acre that can be fed.  Waste isn’t always a sign of how little we respect nature.  You have to actually imagine how these scenarios would play out long term.


Extra Thoughts on Circular Complexes


 The circular complex idea used in the benevolent dictator chapter originally started with me trying to come up with a way of having no extra fences at all, besides the gates between paddocks, using only houses as barriers.  The first design I tried was a square track of courtyards going around one huge pond.  I quickly came to the conclusion that the no fence thing was really just sort of a gimmick that looked more interesting than it really was.  It wouldn’t have saved as much building material as I thought it would have and the giant pond, which I decided would have to be moat shaped with an island in the middle to stay full, I figured would be at risk of contamination since it was the only one.  The circular complex I used in this book (the ideal version) was sort of a compromise from that original idea.  It would have 48 dwellings surrounding 10 acres of land and about 3 and a third acres of water since I drew it intending the ponds to take up 25% of the space.  That’s a 3 to 1 ratio of land to water, which is pretty small for a watershed.  In that version, even if all the roofs sloped towards the center, adding about an acre to the watershed area, water would almost definitely need to be channeled in from the surrounding landscape somehow to keep the ponds full.  I guess another option would be to make these ponds moat shaped with little islands at their centers too but I think it makes more sense to just use smaller ponds.  The only drawback to smaller ponds is that they’re not as good at doubling as barriers, meaning that more fencing would be needed.  Below is a version showing what it could look like if only the enclosed land was used as the watershed, having something more like a 10 to 1 ratio.  You could probably get away with using even smaller ponds too, giving yourself a 15 or 20 to 1 ratio if you had to.  If you gave each paddock its own small pond instead of trying to use larger ponds as barriers to cut back on fencing, a 26 foot wide circular pond in each paddock would give you about a 20 to 1 ratio.  In drier regions with sandier soil and less rain you’d definitely need to do something like that.  I also divided the outside cropland into quadrants to show that not everyone needs to be working together on everything.  It makes sense for them to all share the grazing commons equally but keeping as much work near their own homes and only having to agree with a fraction of the total group on how most chores are handled every day makes sense too.  It’s a lot easier for a dozen families to get along than it is for 48 of them.  Each house could even have its own rotational mosaic if need be, potentially separating the outside cropland into over 2,000 sections that are approximately a tenth of an acre each (about enough space for 1-4 full size trees) as opposed to the other extreme of 10 huge twenty acre sections.  The sections shown in the image below are more like 2-3 acres each, so there’d be somewhere around 20 sections per quadrant as it’s shown. 

With a total of 13 and a third acres enclosed, the grazing land would have a circumference of 2,701.58 feet and the inner wall of each dwelling would need to be 56.28 feet long (the outer walls would be a couple feet longer).  For this 10 to 1 ratio version there’d be 11 acres enclosed, giving the grazing land a circumference of 2,453.83 feet and the inner walls of dwellings would each be 51.12 feet.  I mentioned earlier that dwellings in this type of arrangement would have to be built strong enough to act as a reliable livestock barrier.  What I didn’t mention is that only the inner wall would need to meet this requirement.  For the outer wall, anything could be used.  That means that skins, canvas, sod, thatch and tree bark are still options for most of the dwellings’ walls.  In warm regions, or just during warmer seasons in temperate regions, the outer wall could even be left unconstructed, with people basically camping out in a giant pavilion, sort of like a Yanomamo village in reverse. 

            If we want the square footage of houses to be approximately 900 square feet then the dwellings would be 18 feet wide (that gives us a little over 920 square feet).  That means each house would have 138.24 feet of walls (at least) if separated from each other, or 102.24 feet if partitions are left out like a longhouse.  For those who prefer round buildings, you could use 34.23 foot wide circles for the same square footage.  But you’d need to add a 16.89 foot long wall between each house to enclose the grazing commons.  That would mean that each house would require 124.43 feet of walls, so it’s comparable to the more rectangular house version.  However, since half of each dwelling would cut into the grazing commons you’d also have about half of an acre less land enclosed.  That’s not too big a deal, especially if scaled up since you’d lose a smaller proportion with a larger community, as we’ll discuss a little later. 

            For the paddock partitions I recommended using rows of pollard trees and movable panels made from their trimmed branches. I didn’t go into any detail about how much extra work this would be every day for the inhabitants.  If each house is basically responsible for one paddock, then once every 40 days the working age adults in that house would likely have to move somewhere between 208 and 416 feet of panels (2 to 4 sides of a quarter acre paddock), which would be about 26-52 eight foot long panels, carried a few hundred feet from the back paddock to the front paddock, assuming pollard trees are spaced 8 feet apart.  A couple people could probably move at least 4 panels at a time if they work together, so that’s 5,200-10,400 feet of back and forth walking, which isn’t too bad.  Most time would likely be spent untying the panels from the trees and retying them to the new ones.  So maybe a 2-4 hour chore once every 40 days.  It’d probably make more sense to have several of the closest houses to the paddock working together, maybe the same houses who work a quadrant of cropland together, which would mean something like a half hour chore every day for one week per month or something (only 2-4 panels per day per house involved, and only a few hundred extra feet of walking).  Even without movable panels, chicken coops would have to be moved every day anyway.  Eggs need to be collected and cows need to be milked.  People wouldn’t exactly be going too far out of their way to do this. 

            If large livestock proves undeterred by basket-like wattle fence panels, simply leaving some sharp pointed sticks poking through the gaps between the branches of the panels will likely be annoying enough for them to not want to try breaking through them, even though they are physically strong enough to do so.  As long as the panels do hold up for a decent length of time it’s probably easier than building permanent fences for every partition.  It’s also likely less work to have more paddocks constructed at any one time than are actually being used.  If the panels are relatively durable then the real workload is the number of panels moved every day, not the number of panels initially constructed, at least when building enough for a couple empty paddocks, not compared to building enough for all 40 paddocks at a time.  As for the actual pollarding, each house would only have to trim 1 to 3 trees per year, or maybe one to two dozen once every 10 years at the same time if they want to do it that way.    

            Below is an image of what these fence rows would look like at different times.  Number 1 shows the trees large enough to be trimmed and the paddock unconstructed, number 2 shows the trees freshly trimmed and the paddock constructed, and 3-7 just show various stages of regrowth.

            When a pollard tree is knocked down in a storm or killed by some other complication then temporary posts can be used to protect a new sapling until it’s large enough to handle livestock and be used as a post itself.

            If chickens are 3 days behind the cows, what most recommend for rotational grazing with multiple species, then you’d probably want 4-5 paddocks constructed at any given time, even though only 2 are used at a time.  If you had 2 separate paddocks then you’d be moving more panels every day, as shown in the image below.

            The unconnected paddocks might be even more work than shown if you want the new paddock for the cows constructed before opening up the one they’re currently in.  The chickens’ paddock could be deconstructed before letting them out of their coops (assuming you do use lockable coops, which isn’t necessarily a given) so you’d probably have to move three of the fences from that paddock all the way to the new cows’ paddock, then bring three of the old cows’ paddock fences back to complete the new chickens’ paddock before letting them out.

You could have sheep in with the cows and some other birds in with the chickens, or sheep in the paddock behind the cows, then goats behind them and turkeys behind the chickens, and pigs in the last paddock or something.  I’m just trying to keep this simple to show what I mean by building a couple extra paddocks to save work.  Even if the chickens don’t need to be fenced in, considering that the only outside predators that can get in are hawks and eagles anyway, and that chickens will prefer to stay near their nests and the cow manure, it’s probably still easier to have at least one extra paddock behind the cows, as long as building panels isn’t more work than moving them every day.  Since some paddocks are bordered by water and houses, the same number of panels won’t always be needed to construct each paddock, but the unused panels should still be moved with the others so that when they are needed they don’t have to be searched for.  Like I said before though, the tying and untying of panels is going to be the most time consuming part of this.  Moving some panels that aren’t tied to anything to begin with, or that don’t need to be tied back to a tree after they’re moved, isn’t much extra work.     



Can Circular Complexes Enclose All Cropland?


            If for some reason people wanted to build a complex enclosing all their crops, rather than just their grazing commons, there would need to be significant differences compared to the concept that I already described.  Assuming that they’re sticking with the idea of using houses as a perimeter barrier because they want to have less fences to build and less reason to worry about predators, they’d need a lot more houses to enclose 1 acre per person.  Even if using slightly longer houses, let’s say 60 feet, and assuming each one houses 4 people, you’d need 608 of these houses connected in a 2.2 mile wide circle.  That’s 2,432 people, which is not exactly an ideal size for a primitivist community.  Using 34 foot wide circular houses and building extra 26 foot long walls between them would be comparable in resource use too, just like with the smaller version.  In this one the halves of the houses cutting into the cropland would only decrease the space by 0.26% (compared to the more significant 4.5% with the smaller one).  And if you wanted to use circular dwellings without walls between them, just a ring of circular houses 34 feet wide built close enough to each other to act as a barrier, that would require around 1,900 of them and the community would be nearly 4 miles wide.  But these larger communities could be subdivided into quadrants, eighths, maybe even sixteenths, so that it acts more like a network of communities than one huge one.  Focusing on the 2.2 mile wide option, divided into eighths each community would basically occupy its own pizza slice-shaped territory of a little over 300 acres.  That way groups of only 76 houses would need to work together, grazing something like 40 cows within a little over a mile of their homes, and all their land would most likely be designed as silvopasture rather than separating cropland and grazing land.   This would allow all their land to be manured evenly without having to physically gather and move the manure themselves.  I imagine annual crops would still be grown but that succession cycles would just go straight to grasses after 5 or 6 years of crops rather than growing perennial herbs and shrubs.  It seems like it wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice to just replace most berries, hazelnuts and chinquapins with fruit trees, tree hazels (also called “trazels”) and chestnuts.  Hedges are still a possibility, particularly along boundary lines to act as living fences.  I’m not personally a fan of trying that because it just doesn’t seem reliable to me but I could be wrong. 

            The biggest challenges I see are just keeping the livestock away from the annuals and from young trees if girdling is used instead of coppicing or pollarding.  Planted from seed, trees may need 10 years to grow strong enough to handle large livestock disturbances (compared to only a few years from coppice), which is longer than you’d want to grow annuals before switching to grass, even if interplanted with nitrogen-fixers.  One option would be to just harvest hay for a few years before letting the animals back into that paddock/section.  With only 40 cows on over 300 acres though, they actually might not cause enough damage to be worth worrying about so much.  The density of animals is so much lower that even experimenting with totally free range livestock might be an option at this scale, maybe just leaving all sections that are growing annuals fenced off for the year, as well as the outer boundaries of their pizza slice-shaped territory.  There would be 7-8 acres per cow so any damage they cause should be pretty widely diluted.  Having some herding dogs around would probably be helpful with that type of setup.

            Just like the version that separates cropland from grazing, using shorter cycles would allow a higher proportion of land to be devoted to annuals at any given time.  Since the number of food forest sections would be tied to the number of paddocks in this scenario though, it’s worth pointing out that using short cycles would require that there be a few of them simultaneously.  Using one long cycle, you’d need to use something like a 45 to 50 year rotation (you need 40 paddocks for grazing plus 5-10 that cows would be excluded from depending on whether coppicing/pollarding or girdling is used).  With 10 year cycles you’d probably have 8 of them going on simultaneously, and therefore 80 paddocks/sections.  40 of them would be used for grazing (the last half of each cycle), which means 50 % is used for annuals and 50% for grazing at any given time.  With the 50 year girdling cycle it’s 20% for annuals and 80% grazed.  The 80 section version would require 8 sections coppiced/pollarded every year (about 30 acres total and between 1500 and 3300 trees depending on spacing, which is about 20 to 44 trees per house) and around 150 acres planted with annuals.  The 50 paddock version would require 1 section (about 6 acres) girdled and prepared for planting, and 5 sections (about 30 acres total) planted with annuals, and likely another 5 sections of grasses harvested for hay.  So there would be benefits and trade-offs with each approach.  I recommended earlier in this book that people should consider planting a lot of trees that they plan to harvest as saplings for building materials and things too, which I’m not counting here.  The above estimates are based on the largest trees people will be growing.  I assume people would constantly be thinning out smaller trees. 

Obviously you could also compromise between the 50 section and 80 section concepts that I just described, say by using 4 cycles coppiced every fifteen years, and 60 sections, which would be one third growing annuals and two thirds being grazed or something.  The more sections there are the more pollard trees would be used as fence posts too, and those would all have to be maintained, and the larger the paddocks (the less sections there are) the more fence panels would have to be moved every day, so those factors should be taken into consideration as well.  With everyone working together that’s probably only a difference of 1-2 panels per person per day though, and maybe a few hundred feet of extra walking distance.  Not too big a deal.   

            With a lot of sections and several different cycles of succession going on simultaneously it might sound like it would be difficult to keep track of the schedule, especially for people who don’t have computers, or even notepads.  I don’t think it would be too bad though.  The sections with the oldest trees need to be cleared for planting.  The annuals will likely rotate consistently from one crop to the next, like corn on the first year, then hemp on the second, then potatoes or something, so they’ll know which sections should be planted with grasses based on which crops were there.  Since rows of pollard trees permanently demarcate paddock boundaries, simple signs put up to show each paddock’s number along the animals’ route can act as a reminder of where they should be moved next, etc.  Once established common sense should keep things running pretty smoothly.

            All this thinking about livestock leads us back to another subject I want to expand on a little bit.  Any hardcore animal rights people who’ve made it this far might be shaking their heads right now, saying to themselves “Haven’t all these extra considerations just shown how much more complicated it is to keep livestock?  Why doesn’t this guy just promote veganism?” 



The Drawbacks of Veganism


            A lot of primitivists who try to warn others against adopting veganism focus on their opinions of what diet is healthiest for us.  I’m personally not convinced that veganism is dangerous enough to condemn it for health reasons.  It seems to me like having at least some meat in your diet is probably better for you but I’m not wasting my time with these subjective arguments.  My main issues with vegans come from trying to imagine them living with only local resources and stone age technology.  It seems possible in a lot of areas but not really ideal anywhere.  Why? 


  1. Some areas, particularly arid, semi-arid and very cold regions, aren’t appropriate for crop production, or at least aren’t productive enough to be worth the effort of trying to grow crops there.  This means less land for humans to produce food if we all became herbivores.   
  2. Animals can be kept under tree canopies where it’s too shady for staple crops to grow.
  3. Wild animals and insects that come onto your land can be hunted or trapped.  Not only do vegans miss out on this bonus but if they’re not hunted or trapped they will also damage the crops, leading to more land needed per person to make up for it.  And if trapped and relocated instead of eaten is a lot of extra work for no real benefit.
  4. Vegans will only have “humanure” and whatever they can find left by wild animals for fertilizer, so they’ll need longer fallow periods to restore fertility (technically “fallow” in the permaculture sense means growing nuts, fruits and maple syrup but needing a higher proportion of your land to be trees at any given time limits your available options, like coppicing on short rotations for example, which although more difficult with stone cutting tools is still an option).
  5. Water bodies are always better with fish in them to achieve maximum production and limit mosquito outbreaks.  Even if not stocked with fish, water attracts frogs, turtles, snakes, beavers, ducks, and other animals, which would be of no use to vegans.
  6. Animals produce clothing and tools (bones) in addition to food.  Hemp and flax are probably the only crops comparable in this regard, and for winter clothing they’re a lot more difficult to work with. 
  7. Diversity is important for our resilience.  Prohibiting any food or clothing sources decreases our available options, therefore making us less resilient.
  8. Animals can do a lot of the work of clearing unwanted vegetation from a piece of land, not just as draft animals that are forced to haul heavy loads and drag plows but simply by leaving them to eat everything and break up the soil surface with their hooves they can leave the land fertilized and ready for planting, which obviously saves a lot of work.

*I have no idea why the above list is showing up in dark letters but having tried to retype it several times and it still insisting on being weird for no fucking reason, I'm done trying to fix it.  Sorry, I just waste so much of my life staring at a screen already that I don't have the patience for this stupid shit.  If you can't read it then just highlight it with your mouse and you should be able to make it out. 

When it comes to larger groups of people, numbering in the thousands, something like the circular arrangement I’ve described above makes a lot more sense to me than clustering everyone into an urban core.  There are just too many sanitation and coordination issues, and too many people would have to agree on things for that community to be able to function without authority figures and specialists developing.  Plus people would lose their sense of personal accountability as well.  Technically, 10,000 people can live sustainably in 50 acre settlements when surrounded by 10,000 acres of farmland.  Mathematically they are still getting everything they need within walking distance (that’s approximately a 4 mile by 4 mile square).  That density is probably about as urban as communities should be encouraged to experiment with.  Anything larger is almost guaranteed to run into the types of problems that lead societies down the road to degraded land, subjugation, conflict with neighbors and, ultimately, to imperialism.  Even with just 10,000 people living this way, the likelihood of this outcome is still pretty high.  So even though the math suggests that it is technically a viable possibility, I can’t say I recommend that approach. 



 Some Extra Thoughts on Localizing


For those who can’t imagine life without their morning caffeine buzz or weekend inebriation rituals, they’ll have to find ways of producing their own mind-altering substances if getting everything from nearby.  Acquiring caffeine in the northeastern U.S. could be a challenge.  The only two possibilities for this region that I’ve come across in my research are Sochi tea and Yaupon holly, and both of them are only in the “maybe” category, preferring significantly warmer conditions.  If global warming continues to raise average temperatures in this part of the world (this is actually one of the few areas that may be getting colder for a while) then they’ll likely become easier to grow.  We do have other tea substitutes, like New Jersey tea, which is also a good nitrogen-fixing shrub, wintergreen, bee balm, pine needles and dandelion root, but they’re all caffeine-free unfortunately. 

Beer can be produced anywhere that barley and hops can grow, and pretty much any fruit can be used to make alcohol as well.  Making it with stone age technology will take some getting used to but it can be done.  Native Americans used to brew a less alcoholic corn beer, called chicha, using only earthenware vessels. 

Contrary to what many believe, cannabis doesn’t need a tropical or California-esque climate to grow.  There are many strains bred for many regions.  Around here it’s best to use early flowering Indica strains, like Early Misty and Holland’s Hope.  Those who prefer the more energizing high of slower growing Sativa strains might just be shit out of luck when greenhouses and artificial growlights are no longer viable options.  I’d like to see more growers experimenting with getting clothing fibers and seeds for food out of the same strains they use for resin, but that’s a bit of a challenge right now for obvious reasons.  When you can grow thousands of plants it’s not as important to have such high THC levels as when you have to get all your buds from just a handful of plants.  Hashish made from hundreds of relatively low THC plants can have an effect comparable to smoking the higher grade premium buds from these crazy mutant freak laboratory strains that the drug war has encouraged growers to create.  

Psychedelic mushrooms aren’t too common in the northeast.  You may be able to find/introduce some psilocybe semilanceata, also known as “liberty caps”, or psilocybe cyanescens.  Another option for local psychedelics is morning glories.  Supposedly the effect of ingesting 100 to 400 seeds (about 20 gams) of the “pearly gates” or “heavenly blue” varieties is similar to taking LSD, which is renowned as one of the best psychedelics anywhere, probably beaten only by ayahuasca and DMT.  And I’ve heard that some types of daylilies can be used to get a slightly hallucinogenic effect but I don’t know enough about that to say any more about it.

For those addicted to sugar, we can’t grow sugar cane or stevia but we do have maple syrup, honey and sweet cicely.  Sweet cicely looks dangerously similar to poison hemlock so anyone who decides to grow it should be aware of that.  These substitutes won’t allow us to create perfect replacements for Hershey’s bars or Ring Dings with local ingredients but they are sweet.  Some substitutes are about as good as the things they’re replacing, like staghorn sumac berries instead of lemonade, but no matter how well people prepare, they will have to adapt their tastes to the flavors of their bioregions to some extent. 

            Tobacco is not a drug that I’m a fan of but a lot of people are addicts and it can be grown here so I have to at least mention it.  Laws around growing it may be a serious hindrance but fear of nicotine withdrawal shouldn’t automatically lead anyone to believe they need industrial civilization, at least not here.

            One more that I want to mention, even though it doesn’t really fit with the other plants I’ve brought up, since it’s not used as a drug, is yew.  In an earlier chapter I mentioned a couple times how annoyed I was that so many people choose yew trees for landscaping.  Not only is it not edible, it’s poisonous!  Ironically, this seemingly useless characteristic is what makes yews a little useful to have around.  They can be used to make poison for darts and arrows.  And in the past, their wood was renowned for making some of the best bows.  I still can’t say that this justifies surrounding ourselves with yews but since they are around, it’s good to know what they can be used for. 



               Well, that pretty much covers it.  There is more to consider when trying to get everything you need from your own local territory, like natural medicines and sources of salt.  Most existing books on rewilding and wildcrafting already do a pretty good job with that though.  It makes more sense for me to just recommend that people pick up a couple of those books than to try to summarize everything here myself.  It’s not enough to just list plants and their possible uses.  Proper preparation methods require significant explanations that really shouldn’t be glossed over.  I will at least mention that without salt mines adequate amounts of sodium can be obtained from meat, animal blood, dairy, eggs, boiled down (or evaporated) salt water and even some plant sources, like carrots, celery and artichokes (not Jerusalem artichokes).  It can also be extracted from the roots of Hickory trees, although it will look more like a black goo than the nice white table salt that we’re all so used to.  The only medicines I would add to the lists in other books that I’ve seen are cannabis oil and cannabis juice, which I already mentioned earlier, and resveratrol from the roots of Japanese knotweed.

I was also tempted to make some detailed diagrams of the larger circular complexes and pizza slice-shaped subdivisions with their 50 to 80 paddocks and little red arrows showing the animals’ grazing route and all the ponds and everything else but it’s not really different enough from the other designs that I’d expect anybody to have trouble figuring it out themselves from the description.  I had actually put a lot of thought into the problem of having annual plants mixed in with grazing paddocks, trying to come up with ways of skipping those paddocks so the animals wouldn’t destroy everything.  It was kind of a waste of time though.  First off, it wouldn’t be difficult to design a paddock system with lanes.  Most graziers already do that.  I was just trying to avoid using lanes because they require more fencing.  With an ideal circular community the lanes could be a couple concentric rings and maybe another path connecting them together.  Imagine a dartboard where the double and triple rings are lanes between paddocks, only instead of the boxes narrowing into sharp slivers as you move inward there would just be less boxes, so something like 24 paddocks on the outside, 12 in the middle and 6 in the center.  The bullseye could be a pond that the inner 6 paddocks share and maybe instead of trying to have every other paddock directly connected to a pond you could just use the lanes to give your animals paths to water sources that they use for a week at a time.  Maybe one or two paddocks in each ring could be used for fish ponds instead of grass or something.  With the pizza slice-shaped subdivisions you could just use one triangular “ring” for a lane instead of two concentric circles.  It really shouldn’t be too big a deal.  Also, there are people who herd groups of hundreds of animals many miles without fences, single handedly, and in areas patrolled by the largest predators to still exist on this planet.  Worrying about getting 30 to 40 cows into a paddock a few hundred feet away is kind of ridiculous, especially with so many people sharing the workload.  They could literally keep each one on a leash, walking them like big dogs.  Being concerned with such minor issues shows how intimidating it can be to try a new lifestyle.  I’m hoping these extra thoughts will clarify some ideas and help encourage people to try new things instead of just adding to the intimidation.  I basically just wanted to show that there are a lot of options to choose from even though there are general guidelines we should all be following. 

No comments:

Post a Comment