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Becoming self-sufficient in firewood - land, woods, forests


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Now that the depression has started, my thoughts are moving towards unwinding my 'depression' tactics and looking to other investments appropriate to the world as it will be after this 'crisis' has bottomed.

 

I firmly believe that fuel is going to be the biggest challenge facing Europe and that land will once again become the best investment once the bubble has burst.

 

Therefore I am presently looking (mostly in France) for a property with around 8 hectares, having woods or forest and pasture for one or two horses (horse and carriage).

 

As far as I can see, we will need up to 20 tonnes of wood per annum for cooking, heating and hot water. That is a lot of wood! Most experts suggest coppicing rather than felling, and it seems that we should be able to harvest this quantity sustainably from a few hectares of good woodland. While wood-burning stoves are fine for the living room, they are not suitable for cooking and have limited back boiler capabilities. I am looking into buying a chipper, to feed a kitchen range with water heater and radiator output.

 

While we intend to have sufficient land for a degree of self-sufficiency in food, the initial objective is fuel, with just a cottage garden for vegetables.

 

If anyone else has gone down this path, or is interested in doing so, please share your ideas and experiences here.

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Now that the depression has started, my thoughts are moving towards unwinding my 'depression' tactics and looking to other investments appropriate to the world as it will be after this 'crisis' has bottomed.

 

I firmly believe that fuel is going to be the biggest challenge facing Europe and that land will once again become the best investment once the bubble has burst.

 

Therefore I am presently looking (mostly in France) for a property with around 8 hectares, having woods or forest and pasture for one or two horses (horse and carriage).

 

As far as I can see, we will need up to 20 tonnes of wood per annum for cooking, heating and hot water. That is a lot of wood! Most experts suggest coppicing rather than felling, and it seems that we should be able to harvest this quantity sustainably from a few hectares of good woodland. While wood-burning stoves are fine for the living room, they are not suitable for cooking and have limited back boiler capabilities. I am looking into buying a chipper, to feed a kitchen range with water heater and radiator output.

 

While we intend to have sufficient land for a degree of self-sufficiency in food, the initial objective is fuel, with just a cottage garden for vegetables.

 

If anyone else has gone down this path, or is interested in doing so, please share your ideas and experiences here.

 

Interesting... you dont believe in solar for powering (heating, fuelling) your house?

I probably havent done as much research as you but I would have thought that solar panels coupled with batteries could provide for heating a decent-sized house - especially in France where they get better climate than here in the UK...

 

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Interesting... you dont believe in solar for powering (heating, fuelling) your house?

I probably havent done as much research as you but I would have thought that solar panels coupled with batteries could provide for heating a decent-sized house - especially in France where they get better climate than here in the UK...

Photo-voltaic panels are very inefficient compared with thermal solar panels but they produce electricity, which is the highest grade energy (you can do anything you want with electricity, not just heat). Thermal solar panels produce a fairly small amount of heat to around 70C suitable for heating domestic hot water. There is also wind, of course and even hydro electric (we are looking at an old mill that has a hydro electric generator). For space heating you are mostly still stuck with carbon based fuels plus whatever 'solar gain' the building has (e.g. a glass tower block can have such a large solar gain you need to provide cooling even in the winter).

 

If you are only thinking of economics then you would build your house in a place that requires no cooling in summer and as little heating as possible in the winter. Somewhere like the south of France BUT when you say that France has a better climate to the UK, don't forget that the UK is bathed in the Gulf Stream and is surprisingly warm in the winter compared with continental Europe. While the French Riviera is fairly warm all winter, the Pyrenees are very cold. Barcelona gets very cold and so does Rome (I am writing from my boat in Rome right now and the nighttime temperature is down to 5C).

 

If you are going to burn carbon for heating (which you will have to unless you go nuclear) then your only non-fossil choices are wood, biomass (CH4) or ethanol (C2H5OH). During this year's commodity bubble we saw just how problematic the ethanol solution is. The crops used to make the ethanol are needed for human and animal foods.

 

Trees, on the other hand, are essential for the environment - they convert and fix carbon, generate oxygen and provide a habitat for a diverse range of creatures and plants that have no economic importance but have a vital role to play in the overall scheme. Politically, socially and economically a well managed woodland or forest will always be acceptable which means, for the investor, an long-term future provided he manages the woods properly. With the right sort of trees, you can crop between five and ten tonnes of wood per acre. A small farmhouse will need about 20 tonnes per annum. The right sort of woods can also provide a habitat for game, for your own food or you can rent out shooting rights.

 

The other benefits of living on such a property are land for your own vegetables and grazing (horses, finishing cattle, sheep, goats or pigs for slaughter or milk).

 

The big drawback to having any kind of livestock is the inability to get away. Most of our friends who have smallholdings are unable to get away as a couple. You'd think that it is easy to get someone to mind the place for a couple of weeks but life isn't as easy as that. Those who are willing and who have the time don't necessarily have the skills or strength.

 

A better solution would be to buy enough land for three or more smallholders; it is not expensive to build a house in France and provided that planning permission is available, it would be possible to buy one much larger estate and divide it, to form a small cooperative. This would provide a diversity of skills, someone to look after your property and livestock when away and a much larger area of woodland which would be better for hunting. Machinery (e.g. the woodcutting and chipping) could also be shared.

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Now that the depression has started, my thoughts are moving towards unwinding my 'depression' tactics and looking to other investments appropriate to the world as it will be after this 'crisis' has bottomed.

 

I firmly believe that fuel is going to be the biggest challenge facing Europe and that land will once again become the best investment once the bubble has burst.

 

Therefore I am presently looking (mostly in France) for a property with around 8 hectares, having woods or forest and pasture for one or two horses (horse and carriage).

 

As far as I can see, we will need up to 20 tonnes of wood per annum for cooking, heating and hot water. That is a lot of wood! Most experts suggest coppicing rather than felling, and it seems that we should be able to harvest this quantity sustainably from a few hectares of good woodland. While wood-burning stoves are fine for the living room, they are not suitable for cooking and have limited back boiler capabilities. I am looking into buying a chipper, to feed a kitchen range with water heater and radiator output.

 

While we intend to have sufficient land for a degree of self-sufficiency in food, the initial objective is fuel, with just a cottage garden for vegetables.

 

If anyone else has gone down this path, or is interested in doing so, please share your ideas and experiences here.

Hi Serephina, (is that the name of your boat? Tinecu is the name of my dugout canoe!)

 

I'm trying to achieve the same (a small holding idle) with my growing family, also in France (Brittany).

 

I agree with all you say and would like to add that coppicing hedgerows is a great system and was formerly used widely. A 10 year rotation is about ideal. There are some good wood burners you can cook on: my Dad had one called a Warmsler, or something like that, for 25years.

 

We have had an offer accepted on 55acres+house+barns and hope to mark a start there next summer. Its 20mins from a port so we can also start sailing again. (Rather miss it having spent 3 years crusing in the Pacific).

 

Good luck with your idle hunting.

 

Tinners

 

 

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We have had an offer accepted on 55acres+house+barns and hope to mark a start there next summer. Its 20mins from a port so we can also start sailing again. (Rather miss it having spent 3 years crusing in the Pacific).
Hi Tinners, Yes, that's the boat name. Don't know why I chose it as a logon as I don't want people to think that I am be-skirted (or odd).

 

We have mixed feelings about location; we have family in Brittany, Normandy and the UK and property is cheaper up there. OTOH it is warmer down south. So we are presently looking over a wide range and will probably choose the most attractive property/price in the end. Did you find any other properties that you nearly bought instead -- details you could pass over to me?

 

Have you noticed prices falling during your search? Where do you think the French smallholding market is going? Have you looked into the medical care situation in France (non-economically active EU immigrants are not allowed free healthcare if aged under around 65)?

 

How do you plan to get someone to look after your place while you are away?

 

What worries me about France is that it is even more bankrupt than the UK in that a huge section of the population is not in reasonably gainful employment and never has been. Peasant farmers, smallholders ;) , and the rest on 35 hour weeks or chasing skirt young enough to be their daughters. There is going to be a colossal collapse. Then again, there will be everywhere in Europe, I suppose, not least Germany who have further to fall than the rest.

 

Ramblings, really, but these are some of the issues.

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I don't know what the planning restrictions are like in France etc, but here in New Zealand they are so very different to the UK.

 

If you have 4 hectares (10 acres) in the country, which is the standard size, you can build a house on it.

That means the country is scattered with little "lifestyle blocks", each with whatever small scale amateur farming each family wants to do.

 

It is so different to the UK, which is mainly open country between urban areas.

 

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Did you find any other properties that you nearly bought instead -- details you could pass over to me?

 

I don't know of anywhere with 8 hectares...lots of places with 1 or so though. We found it hard to find a bigger lump of agricultural land suitable for cash crops. I just trawled the immo sites till I found something that ticked the boxes.

 

Have you noticed prices falling during your search?

 

Not really in Brittany....I am under impression that they didn't go up as much as most other areas. I made offers 30% below asking.

 

Where do you think the French smallholding market is going?

It's never a very liquid market. It will suffer like everywhere I guess. But the idea is to buy and hold...for cash.

 

Have you looked into the medical care situation in France (non-economically active EU immigrants are not allowed free healthcare if aged under around 65)?

I will be working on the farm and online so hence paying taxes.

 

How do you plan to get someone to look after your place while you are away?

We've had several offers already. Like minded friends and family like the idea so far. However I foresee 5 years or so of hard work and no long trips at first.

 

What worries me about France is that it is even more bankrupt than the UK in that a huge section of the population is not in reasonably gainful employment and never has been. Peasant farmers, smallholders ;) , and the rest on 35 hour weeks or chasing skirt young enough to be their daughters. There is going to be a colossal collapse. Then again, there will be everywhere in Europe, I suppose, not least Germany who have further to fall than the rest.

 

Not sure about this. France has a comparatively strong hand compared to the UK. Food sufficiency, nuclear power, good infrastructure, less debt will all help get them through the forthcoming hyperinflationary depression better than the UK. En vera!

 

For me the most important points regarding location were:

Water + Climate (no need for irrigation)

Value for money

Proximity to UK (not need planes to visit)

30mins from sea (max)

Crime levels

Schools etc.

Culture/Natural Beauty

 

 

 

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Therefore I am presently looking (mostly in France) for a property with around 8 hectares, having woods or forest and pasture for one or two horses (horse and carriage).

 

As far as I can see, we will need up to 20 tonnes of wood per annum for cooking, heating and hot water. That is a lot of wood! Most experts suggest coppicing rather than felling, and it seems that we should be able to harvest this quantity sustainably from a few hectares of good woodland. While wood-burning stoves are fine for the living room, they are not suitable for cooking and have limited back boiler capabilities. I am looking into buying a chipper, to feed a kitchen range with water heater and radiator output.

 

While we intend to have sufficient land for a degree of self-sufficiency in food, the initial objective is fuel, with just a cottage garden for vegetables.

Thought of Portugal? (http://www.pureportugal.co.uk/) Generally cheaper then France, I think still.

 

Yep, about a hectacre per house is a rough guide for typical fuel cropping - depending on wood, management, etc.

 

Looked into thermal mass stoves/Kachelofens? Chipping might be quite (energy) demanding - like tinecu mentions, sourcing from hedgerows can work well - especially when used with a good Kachelofen - which like small wood. (Good article in a recent Permaculture Magazine (UK), can't find it now!) Can mean you need considerably less wood.

 

New build or eco adaptation/renovation? Looked into passive solar design?

 

Photo-voltaic panels are very inefficient compared with thermal solar panels but they produce electricity, which is the highest grade energy (you can do anything you want with electricity, not just heat). Thermal solar panels produce a fairly small amount of heat to around 70C suitable for heating domestic hot water. There is also wind, of course and even hydro electric (we are looking at an old mill that has a hydro electric generator). For space heating you are mostly still stuck with carbon based fuels plus whatever 'solar gain' the building has (e.g. a glass tower block can have such a large solar gain you need to provide cooling even in the winter).

 

If you are only thinking of economics then you would build your house in a place that requires no cooling in summer and as little heating as possible in the winter. Somewhere like the south of France BUT when you say that France has a better climate to the UK, don't forget that the UK is bathed in the Gulf Stream and is surprisingly warm in the winter compared with continental Europe. While the French Riviera is fairly warm all winter, the Pyrenees are very cold. Barcelona gets very cold and so does Rome (I am writing from my boat in Rome right now and the nighttime temperature is down to 5C).

 

A better solution would be to buy enough land for three or more smallholders; it is not expensive to build a house in France and provided that planning permission is available, it would be possible to buy one much larger estate and divide it, to form a small cooperative. This would provide a diversity of skills, someone to look after your property and livestock when away and a much larger area of woodland which would be better for hunting. Machinery (e.g. the woodcutting and chipping) could also be shared.

True about photovoltaics, though, in a high sun location, can supply quite a lot of what you need - if you modify/adapt your electric needs. Micro-hydro would be a bonus! Solar HW in summer and wood HW in winter combination would maybe work well in s. France or similar.

 

Agree with you seeing the importance of wood as a primary source of energy. There are those fancy v.v. low heat requirement pre-fab designs though... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low-energy_house

 

Good point about the continental weather - often overlooked by us Brits. I've learnt from experience!

 

Yep, still some small hamlets in parts of France available. Price depends on location a lot - not sure how recent events have effected market. Problem with planning in France is that a lot of the decision come down to the local Mayors Office. Might take some time (and maybe dinners!) to find out what the score is.

 

Good ideas on community, diversity, economies of scale, sharing, etc. V. hard to get far with 'self-sufficiency' without community support and integration. Can you speak the lingo?

 

Hi Tinners, Yes, that's the boat name. Don't know why I chose it as a logon as I don't want people to think that I am be-skirted (or odd).

 

We have mixed feelings about location; we have family in Brittany, Normandy and the UK and property is cheaper up there. OTOH it is warmer down south. So we are presently looking over a wide range and will probably choose the most attractive property/price in the end. Did you find any other properties that you nearly bought instead -- details you could pass over to me?

Might help: http://www.go-self-sufficient.com/france.htm

 

I don't know what the planning restrictions are like in France etc, but here in New Zealand they are so very different to the UK.

 

If you have 4 hectares (10 acres) in the country, which is the standard size, you can build a house on it.

That means the country is scattered with little "lifestyle blocks", each with whatever small scale amateur farming each family wants to do.

 

It is so different to the UK, which is mainly open country between urban areas.

Sweet bro!

 

Not sure about this. France has a comparatively strong hand compared to the UK. Food sufficiency, nuclear power, good infrastructure, less debt will all help get them through the forthcoming hyperinflationary depression better than the UK. En vera!

Reckon so.

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I love that self sufficiency website! Brilliant, thanks. We did look at Portugal a couple of years ago but Portugal is a police state and we couldn't be happy in that environment. The UK is going the same way, of course, but at least we speak English (and French and Spanish).

 

I have looked up the Kachelofens which are apparently called Masonery Stoves in English. Sounds very interesting. Our old Jotul was very, very heavy and made of cast iron but we seldom managed (or needed) to keep it burning overnight. I take your point about the energy needed for chipping; I had not considered that, good point.

 

We are heavily into solar electricity on the boat and in the cruising season we make a large part of our electicity (including running our desalinator) from solar. But in a house things get more difficult and in winter it would not be fun. We do like to have the computers running all day, etc.

 

As for passive solar I assume you mean maximising solar gain? I was involved in energy efficiency in the late 1980s in a professional capacity (gave many lectures on the subject) and worked in a leading edge controls company in Stockport that had built purpose-designed low energy premises. It was a workers' nightmare. Freezing in winter and sweltering in summer. Good old fashioned stone walls as thick as possible seems to be best, I suspect.

 

Your points about accessiblity to UK and ferries noted. Good points.

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'The crops used to make ethanol are needed for human and animal feeds.'

 

A couple of large bioethanol plants are being built in the UK (each requiring 1M tonnes plus of wheat) with one becoming operational in the spring of 2009. One requires 1.1M tonnes sourcing 90% of home grown wheat but is likely to produce 500 to 600 thousand tonnes of spent grains suitable for animal feed. (the majority of this has been contracted forward already)

 

The other by product of C02 is being sold/has been sold to the drinks industry.

 

Traders have talked the market in being 'awash with grain' in the UK and world. Figures range from 3.6 to 3.0 million tonnes (harvest 2008) half of which has been exported already. Bioethanol plants could easily absorb the surplus in the UK. The world has a small surplus with 11M tonnes.

 

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Portugal = police state? Not heard that before. Quite a bit of 'alternative', eco, sustainable community stuff going on in Portugal - generally hear good reports about the Portuguese's general attitudes.

 

Re. masonary stoves - think it's Permaculture Mag issue 55 if you want to order: http://www.permaculture-magazine.co.uk/bac...ack_issues.html

 

Yep, in winter obviously pv's aren't any good. Best time of year for wind, but generally only worth bothering with if in a v. suitable spot. That's about it without getting fancy (inventive and hybrid) - hydro would be top!

 

Re. passive solar - sounds like you know your stuff but here's the classic pic:

 

Illust_passive_solar_d1_319pxW.gif

 

More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_solar_building_design

 

Mentioned the permaculture mag - if you're interested in PMC (call it that in France I think), check out: www.permaculturefrance.com He knows his stuff about alternative... whatever.

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hi seraphina, found you. your idea has caught my imagination.

the ability to live 'off grid' and/or 'self sufficiently' has always been of great interest to me. not that i particularly want to live off grid in the backwoods, but just to have that potential, to be set up, just in case. [still want the broadband!]

i'm a great believer in reducing overheads, while still enjoying good food, wine, friends, health, family, comfort etc and find great value in the food i currently grow on my allotment and logs i cut for the fire. i've been involved in horticulture for the past 20 years.

there must be loads of plots in your search area. there is a vast amount of redundant coppice in se england [and probably elsewhere] crying out for rejuvination.[buy the woodland first, then one of the adjoining houses?]

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