Monday, September 29, 2008

Peeling the Onion: What’s Behind the Financial Mess?

Sharon Astyk has peeled back the layers of the current economic collapse... an excellent essay worth checking out.:
What is reducing the amount of productive work accomplished, and moving the money increasingly only into a few pockets?  It is the high price of food.  And what is the root cause of the high price of food?  Well, the single biggest factor, according to a number of studies, including the UN studies, has been the move to food based biofuels.  So if we peel back the onion one more layer, what we find is that one of the major factors slowing the economy has been, well, oil.  The rush to biofuels is a response to tightening oil supplies and rising costs, and the aggregate effect has been to push up food prices all over the world, while doing pretty much nothing to increase energy security, reduce greenhouse gasses or do much of anything else useful.

I’m no economist, and I don’t pretend to be.  But I wonder, when we peel back the layers of the onion later, and look at the history of this Depression, I wonder if we’ll see that in fact, what happened was that we squeezed out the lifeblood of the very thing we’d built our economy upon - new workers/consumers who could be counted on to grow the economy outwards and upwards.  We could have forseen this - but we chose not to - we chose, as we struggled to keep our lifestyle intact on the backs of the world’s poor, not to see that we stand on their backs, and it is people…all the way down.  In killing them, we killed ourselves. It may be that besides the tragedy of starving millions of poor people, we may also have brought down our own system, simply because we did not see, did not realize that the poor matter more to us than we like to admit.



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The Greatest Looting Operation in History

As of now we all know that the bailout did not pass though it could still happen. Chris Martenson on the government bailout:The Greatest Looting Operation in History:
Here we must face the hard truth that merely transferring the failed loans from the insolvent banks to an insolvent nation will do nothing but forestall the problem until a slightly later date (when it will be larger and more severe, by the way). The fact that both candidates for president are openly supporting the bailout says that reality has not yet penetrated the inner beltway.

So the first challenge will be recognizing that it really is not possible for an insolvent nation to bail out an insolvent financial system by borrowing more money. This is an absurd notion, and in total it really is no more and no less complicated than that. One cannot solve a crisis rooted in debt by issuing more debt.



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Friday, September 26, 2008

Garden and Harvest Update

I've been enjoying a continuous stream of tomatoes, yellow squash, lettuce, arugula and cucumbers since early August. I've also had a few zucchini but not nearly as many as I would have liked. The same goes for bell peppers... I've gotten a few of those, maybe 10 or so but not as many as I would hope for. I've also been getting a good bit of basil for pesto and will be drying some too. Today I harvested black-eye peas, probably a half pound or so. My first attempt with those and a bit of an experiment planted very late so I'm very happy to get a crop. Next year I'll definitely be planting them again but in much greater number and much earlier. I've also harvesting a small handful of potatoes, also an experiment. Many, many more of those will be planted next year.

I've also been foraging a couple of handfuls of kinda ripe Autumn Olive berries and eating them fresh every day for the past week. They are getting sweeter and are probably about ripe now... very tastey indeed! I may try to harvest a bucket of them for preserves or maybe pancake syrup.

Comfrey!!! I was disappointed that the packet of seeds (12 or so seeds) I planted only produced one plant but that one plant did very well this summer. A couple weeks back I harvested about half the leaves and put them in a bucket of water which yielded a nice, stinky bucket of tea which I've just applied to the remaining garden plants. Waiting to let it go to seed and then will harvest the remaining leaves. I'll definitely be putting in comfrey clusters around the kitchen garden and forest gardens. A great plant!!

I'd have to say that I'm fairly happy with the garden given the lack of prep time and lateness of planting. I'm very happy with the results of the straw/cardboard sheet mulching. I should have a great compost pile (or 2 or 3) this fall and lots of leaves left over for more sheet mulching. Combined with the addition of chickens and many more comfrey plants next year I think we're on our way to improved soil fertility.

Gas/oil used? Not much. We used the tiller for maybe 20 minutes and against my better judgement. I thought it would help us get the soil quickly loosened up for the tomatoes. Lots of rocks! I've never used a tiller until this year and I've confirmed that as a good decision. I finished the job by hand with a pitch fork and was much happier with the results. All future garden space will be prepared in advance using sheet mulch.

Cardboard and straw certainly require energy to obtain and the straw costs money. Most trips to get those ingredients involved the need to get other supplies as well so at least they were not special trips. Next year I'd like to try replacing all or part of the straw layer with leaves though I I'm not sure how well that will work out. Leaves are not so neat and tend to move around. I may use leaves as the bulk of cover and then a much thinner layer of straw on top just to tidy it up and keep the leaves in place. We'll see.


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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Injustice of an Absurd Bailout


Vermont's Independent Senator Bernie Sanders:
While the middle class collapses, the richest people in this country have made out like bandits and have not had it so good since the 1920s. The top 0.1 percent now earn more money than the bottom 50 percent of Americans, and the top 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The wealthiest 400 people in our country saw their wealth increase by $670 billion while Bush has been president. In the midst of all of this, Bush lowered taxes on the very rich so that they are paying lower income tax rates than teachers, police officers or nurses.

Now, having mismanaged the economy for eight years as well as having lied about our situation by continually insisting, 'The fundamentals of our economy are strong,' the Bush administration, six weeks before an election, wants the middle class of this country to spend many hundreds of billions on a bailout. The wealthiest people, who have benefited from Bush's policies and are in the best position to pay, are being asked for no sacrifice at all. This is absurd. This is the most extreme example that I can recall of socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor.


Via Chris Martenson who had this to say:
This looks like the old populist message that has been so long dormant/suppressed in this country. Should that animal spirit re-awaken, social unrest will follow. Hell hath no fury...





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Monday, September 22, 2008

Food Forests

Currants and GooseberriesAs the summer has begins to move into fall I continue to learn about forest gardening, permaculture, and ecological gardening. Reading a variety of books and websites as well as hands on work in our own gardens, I'm developing a much better understanding of these ideas. I'm no newbie to gardening and have been doing so for the past 20 years, but there's no doubt that in these past few months I've learned a great deal not only about permaculture design but also about the natural processes and systems that our design is meant to mimic.

The folks over at Edible Forest Gardens offer this somewhat philosophical description of Forest Gardening:
As Masanobu Fukuoka once said, 'The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.' How we garden reflects our worldview. The ultimate goal of forest gardening is not only the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of new ways of seeing, of thinking, and of acting in the world. Forest gardening gives us a visceral experience of ecology in action, teaching us how the planet works and changing our self-perceptions. Forest gardening helps us take our rightful place as part of nature doing nature's work, rather than as separate entities intervening in and dominating the natural world.


The author of Gaia's Garden,Toby Hemenway, has this fantastic description of the encounter of western observers of the original food forests:
Until the late 20th century, western anthropologists studying both ancient and current tropical cultures viewed equatorial agriculture as primitive and inefficient. Archeologists thought the methods were incapable of supporting many people, and so believed Central and South America before Columbus—outside of the major civilizations like the Aztec, Maya, and Inca—held only small, scattered villages. Modern anthropologists scouted tropical settlements for crop fields—the supposed hallmark of a sophisticated culture—and, noting them largely absent, pronounced the societies ‘hunter gatherer, with primitive agriculture.’ How ironic that these scientists were making their disdainful judgements while shaded by brilliantly complex food forests crammed with several hundred carefully tended species of multifunctional plants, a system perfectly adapted to permanent settlement in the tropics. It just looks like jungle to the naive eye.

...

The managed forests of the Huastec Maya in northeastern Mexico are packed with up to 300 plant species, including 81 species for food, 33 for construction materials, 200 with medicinal value, and 65 with other uses (the numbers add up to more than 300 since these are multifunctional plants). In these forests, Maya farmers often create different subpatches that concentrate specific guilds of domestic species (such as coffee guilds) amid a background of natives. And all the while, they are tucking small gardens of bananas, chiles, manioc, and other edibles into any clearings. The managed-forest stage may last for 10 to 30 years. Then the cycle begins anew. Since the whole process is rotational, any given area will hold swiddens and fallows at all different phases. This complexity would understandably delude a cornfield-programmed anthropologist into thinking he was looking at raw jungle.




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Monday, September 15, 2008

Chainsaw

I finally have a chainsaw that works thanks to a my dad who has loaned me his. It really works. It does not stop running every 2 minutes and with a sharp blade/chain it cuts through logs like soft butter.

Anybody that knows me or anyone who has read this blog for awhile knows how I feel about peak oil and climate change. People that know me personally also know just how much I detest the unnecessary use of gas, especially in lawnmowers, weed eaters, air blowers, etc. These machines are loud, stinky and unnecessarily used to impose order where order is not meant to be. But let me tell you about the chainsaw.

Yes, the chainsaw is also loud, stinky, and equally as polluting. But it is one gas-powered tool I will use because it is a smarter use of the fuel and unlike the others listed above, it serves a very real purpose: winter survival. While the other devices are about trying to force nature into something it is not, aesthetically ordered and neatly groomed, the chainsaw is a tool that will help me keep warm in the winter.

I've never used them much because I've always had other sources of heat. I've never been very fond of them because I do love trees and would rather they be planted and left standing rather than cut. We need more trees on our planet, not less. That said, I do understand that sometimes they do need to be cut down and sometimes they are blown down and need to be moved. In both cases one possible use of a downed tree is to cut it up for firewood. Yes it is possible to use a hand saw and I actually have used one quite a bit this summer for smaller branches. But for cutting through tree trunks a chainsaw is orders of magnitude faster and it is one of the very few times I have thought to use such a tool because I think it is a much wiser use of the energy.

My goal here is to build a homestead based upon the principles of permaculture which, greatly simplified, means a life which is sustainable. There's no room in such a life for the wasteful use of resources. All of my gardening is done with hand tools, most of it is no-dig. Any area that I determine must be cleared of grass is cleared via sheet mulching or hand tools and a gass-less reel mower. My point is that the use of gas-powered tools is the exception to the rule and is a last resort.




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The Crash Course

Want to know more about the current economic situation and coming Depression? Check out the Crash Course by Chirs Martenson. This is a fantastic series of flash video/slide presentations that explains money, inflation, and the economy. Watch it and share it. This guy does a really excellent job of presenting the history and the current situation... everyone should watch this at least once. It is... STUNNING.

Pass it on.




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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Autumn Olive!!

Autumn Olive?Very cool! We've got Autumn Olives (Elaeagnus umbellata) all around here. The downside is that they can be invasive. The upside is that they are an incredibly good bush to have. The red berries are great tasting and highly nutritious consumed raw or cooked. They are nitrogen fixers as well which is, of course, a great contribution to the forest garden. I'm glad I am in the habit of not cutting plants and bushes down until I've identified them. I discovered long ago that far too many plants are likely to be useful and that cutting them down without knowing is usually a mistake. My forest gardens just got better and I didn't have to do a thing!

Plants for a Future, an excellent plant database, has an entry for Autumn Olive.


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Friday, September 05, 2008

Alone in the Woods

Well, not entirely alone. I do have the world's best dog with me. I also get almost daily visits from various relatives that live about a mile away and visit them as well. I'd say that since moving down here (May 23) I've averaged 2 hours a day (during the week) with nearby humans. I've also had ten or so weekend visits from my sister and her family as well as a visit from my brother but more than half of the weekends have been just me. So, not entirely alone but mostly alone.

But not lonely. I'm fairly certain that I'm a good fit for this kind of life. It's not that I like being by myself, just that I don't mind it... am not freaked out by it as many seem to be. I've been single since 2003 and have felt no great need to seek a relationship. I made a decision long ago that I would not have children and I suppose that decision removes one reason for needing a relationship. That said, there certainly are times when I would not mind having a daily partner in life and in some ways I think life would feel more complete or whole that way. But I don't feel that I need it.

Back around 1990 I read a book, Thinking Like the Mountain, which had a profound effect on my perception of self. I tend to think of self as more than just this body (which is itself more than one organism) or even this named person that has evolved a personality. Self is in flux both physically and mentally. We don't exist alone. Ever. Alone is a false condition or state of the mind... an emotional feeling. We are in a constant state of physical exchange and connection when we breath, eat, sweat, pee, and poop.

More than that, we have our senses that are tools, with the mind, that enable us to be aware of all the life that surrounds us. As I type this I hear several birds outside my door at various distances and with various songs which are really conversations. I hear a constant song of crickets as a background music. A step out into the garden and I would most likely hear the various bees as they buzz from flower to flower. These sounds are constant and always changing in the spring, summer, and much of the fall. In the winter it grows still but even then the sounds of the wind and chirping of the birds at meal time are steady reminder's of our planet's energy and life force.

In addition to the constantly changing conversations coming into my ears I can see what my neighbors are up to. I can watch the orchard spider weave its web or catch its lunch. I can watch the butterfly nectaring from a group of asters. When I walk into my garden I see small frogs and lizards busy in their food search. When I turn the compost I can observe the goings on of crickets, millipedes, centipedes, fungi, earthworms, spiders and countless others. In addition to the animal life I can see the wildflowers, fruit trees, and garden plants as they intertwine with one another and surrounding structures.

Of course it doesn't stop with hearing and seeing. I can smell and taste too. There is the blended smell of country fresh air full of invisible pollen which is wonderful but hard to describe. There are the specific smells of the various herbs in the spiral garden: mint, thyme, oregano, sage and more. In the woods there are the specific scents of wild rose, sweet william and bee balm among many others. Then of course there is the eating! Wild and garden alike, there are peppery nasturtiums, lemony tart wood sorrel, nutty arugala, sweet bell pepper, juicy peaches... I can harvest and within seconds plop leaves and fruits into my mouth. The energy of the sun and the minerals of the soil synthesized into plants full of vitamins and enzymes enter my body which instantly begins the process of digestion. Of course these foods taste fantastic and often the scent blends with the taste as with the distinctive aroma of living tomato vines and their fruit.

As I forage through the woods and garden I am distinctly aware that not only am I not lonely, I am not alone at all. I am surrounded by life and am a part of it. We humans seem to have forgotten that we are animals too. Homo sapiens are but another species on this planet and to remember that we are animals is to also remember that we belong on this earth, evolved from it and are nurtured by it. We are of it in millions of years of ongoing evolutionary process as well as daily life processes. Our bodies are earth and the connection is inseparable.

Alone in the woods? Not at all. I am alive in the woods.



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Monday, September 01, 2008

Permaculture Guilds

Parasitic Wasp on Garlic Chives

As the summer begins to move into autumn I continue to harvest a variety of vegetables. I also set up a new keyhole bed near the cabin, the third in a series and planted it with cabbage and kohlrabi. Next on the list is to order a few berry bushes, probably currants and gooseberries to be planted as the shrub layer in the forest garden south of my cabin.

I'm also reading through a variety of books: Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden, Patrick Whitefield's
How to Make A Forest Garden and Permaculture: A Designers' Manual by Bill Mollison.

It is often recommended in permaculture texts that chives as well as a variety of plants that have umbrella type flowers be planted under fruit trees so that the parasitic wasps have habitat and will more likely be around to control fruit tree pests. Pictured here is a parasitic wasp on the garlic chives in my spiral herb bed. Next spring I'll be planting chives and dill as a part of the fruit tree centered guilds in the forest garden. I'm also leaving many pockets of native grasses and wildflowers such as Queen Anne's Lace which grows everywhere around here and which provide fantastic insect habitat.

One Straw Revolution has an excellent Primer on Permaculture Guilds::
Guilding is one of the coolest gardening aspects of Permaculture theory. In Nature plants are grouped in small, reoccurring but loosely defined communities that are often referred to as guilds. A full guild can be said to have seven layers-each specifically designed to use one aspect of both the sun and root strata. On top will be the Large Trees, followed by the low trees, shrubs, herbs, vines, groundcovers, and finally ‘root’ plants. But Gaia is subtle, and the coordination goes far deeper than resource use. Each participant in the guild brings a wealth of diversity to the table. The tall tree may house small animals that distribute seeds for them, and the shrub layer may provide feed for birds that use the low trees for nesting habitat and feed on insects that prey on the large trees. Plants in the herb layer may fix nitrogen for all to use, and the ‘root’ plants may seek out pockets of nutrients in the soil that are made available to others in the guild as their foliage decomposes. Some plants will attract pollinators, others predatory insects. Some will act as mulch plants by creating excess biomass that regenerates the soil, while their neighbors may act as fortress plants protecting the entire guild from the encroachment of outside species. The inter-connectivity is how nature works-nice tidy systems that sufficiently supply the community with all of its needs given water and sunlight and a proper climate.


I'm fairly happy with the progress I've made in the first three months of our permaculture project. Of course it is just the beginning and we have just scratched the surface but given the economic and energy situation I'm glad to have gotten started. I see no reason for optimism in regards to energy or economy anytime in the near future. I don't dwell on it though. I'm happy to be living here and happy to be doing the work that I'm doing. I know it is just a small effort but it is what I can do so I'll do it.



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