Monday, June 13, 2011

Closing the Loop

This is the first post, of an occasional series of posts, on closing the loop on systems within our homestead. By closing the loop I mean to explore ways to develop systems on our homestead that reduces our reliance on outside inputs. The loop is the cycle of the use of resources that exist on our homestead.

Sometimes this will mean making an investment in infrastructure that is the final piece in closing the loop. This could mean buying a new tool that will close the loop and allow us to make use of existing resources. Other times it is learning a new skill that will help us to utilize what resources we already have. Many times it will be learning to re-use or repurpose things to reduce our need to spend money. Sometimes it will mean recognizing when the cycle of a system is working well. If the cycle of the system is not working well, then it is valuable to understand why it is not working well and whether it could be improved; or should not be part of our overall plan.

This all sounds very technical. Homesteading as science. But really what I hope to achieve by exploring this topic is not only a more efficient homestead but one that is as self-sustaining as it can be. This will save us money. It can also help to localize our homesteading efforts to the best of our ability. It can increase our understanding of how our land provides for us. It can be a valuable exercise to understand how, exactly, energy is connected to the things we do on our land. Once we have this understanding we can either reduce the amount of the energy we need or find an alternative to a more energy intensive practice.

So what does this mean in a practical sense? Well, one small project we are working on this year is growing Mangel-Wurzel Beets. It is my hope that this will be a way for us to provide winter fodder for our livestock. I planted them early this spring. When they get a little bigger I will be able to give the greens to our sheep. The roots can be kept in our cold room for the winter. According to the book, Traditional Feeding of Farm Animals, "Danish feeding experiments have shown that the dry matter of Mangels has a feeding value similar to grain feed..." The mangels need a few weeks to season before feeding them to our sheep; which fits well into the timing of when we will be taking them off pasture and moving to our winter feeding regimen. During the winter we give our sheep hay and grain. If we could reduce the amount of grain that they eat, we will be less dependent on a food resource that, most often, is imported by truck. The grain that we use right now is trucked in from large industrial farms in Quebec. There is a local farmer that grows organic grains but the price is a little outside of what we can afford right now. But if we could supplement the grain with mangels we could source or grain locally.

But the loop can only be closed if I save the seed from this years beets. This can be a little tricky. According to the book Seed to Seed, by Susan Ashworth, all beets are wind pollinated and will easily cross pollinate with other beets up to five miles away. So this year I planted half the seeds that I ordered from Fedco Seed Co. This fall I will leave about a dozen beets in the ground and heavily mulch them. Next spring when they start to flower I will cover them, six each, so that they will only pollinate each other. In order to hedge my bets, I will plant the remaining seed from this year. I will collect the saved seed and try a test plot with some of the seed. If my efforts were unsuccessful then I will have my chance to try again the following year.

Many other systems exist on our homestead that I will be exploring as I try to close the loop. Water collection and its use, making the best use of food stuffs that are available on our homestead, providing soil fertility without outside inputs are just a few examples. I think this is going to be an exciting project.

So do you have closed looped systems at your home? How are they working?


Wendy said...

I really like how you explain this concept, and I'm looking forward to more of your future posts on "closing the loop". Although we haven't really closed any loops that I can think of, probably the main one we're working on right now is our sources of food--I don't know that we'll ever be able to completely close that loop, but I would like to get as close as we can!

LindaM said...

Excellent idea. Compost is our most successful closed loop system so far. We saved some seeds last year and will try harder this coming year to do better at that. Fruit trees will go a long way towards partially closing food loops though this is a constant work in progress since we are slowly building an orchard. I'd like to close the clothing/ fiber loop most of all, not just with wool, but other fibers and this includes dyes. Thats going to be a large challenge for me.