Monthly Archives: June 2010

Homestead Life and Death

Comfrey Tea

It’s been a couple weeks since I posted a homestead update. I’ve had my first chicken deaths by predator.  Just over a week ago I lost two of my girls, I think to a fox. Whatever it was came out just before dark before I’d put the girls in for the night. I’ve since been very cautious. Putting them up earlier and making more frequent trips outside to make my presence known during the day. I’ve also been playing music during the day in the hopes that it might be a bit of deterrent. Towards evening when the original incident happened I’ve made it a point to be out doing a project in the garden or near the coop. With this hot, sticky weather I’m always more likely to be working in the evening anyway.

Coneflowers and Chicken Coop/Greenhouse

I’ve also discovered why I was seeing a decline in egg laying: the girls are laying as usual but a big black snake had taken up residence deep in the straw bedding of their coop. I shoed him out once but he’s back. I’m going to try to catch him in a pillowcase and relocate him. It took a full year before I had a black snake messing with the coop so I’m hopeful that if I can relocate him perhaps I’ll have another year without another.

My comfrey has really taken off this year and I’m getting a good harvest which is going into five gallon buckets for brewing into a potent comfrey tea. After 7-10 days the leaves have transformed into a stinky green slurry full of nutrients. This can be applied as a foliar spray or watered into the roots. I’ve also got a bucked of chicken manure tea that will be watered down and used after a couple of weeks, probably on the comfrey and tomatoes.

Hardy Kiwi reaching skyward

The garden is coming along with everything planted at this point. The peas finally gave up but I got a good crop out of them. After a slow start I’ve gotten gobs of lettuce though it is now starting to bolt. The carrot and onion crop is looking really good. The squash and watermelon are looking great and have blooms. I was a bit late getting my pumpkin seed in but better late than never! I’ve potted the eggplant up and have them closer to the cabin. Last year the eggplant plated in the garden  was decimated by flea beatles so I’m hoping to control that by potting them and keeping them closer. So far so good. The perennial borders are starting to fill up with coneflowers and feverfew with the gaps filled in by annuals such as zinnias. The tomatoes are coming along and the basil seedlings are starting to take off.

I’ve gotten my first harvest of rhubarb and will get a good bit more this year. The rhubarb seedlings started this year are doing fantastic but I won’t harvest them till next year. I’ve still got more rhubarb to get into the ground as well as 18 comfrey plants. I may end up selling some of the comfrey at the farmers market. Last but not least, the Hardy Kiwi is growing very well and has, in this second year, already reached the top of the garden entry arbor. I have little doubt it will completely cover the arbor by the end of July given the current rate of growth. It is a beautiful vine!

It’s been a very hot June with temps way above normal. I’d really love some rain and a cool-off!!

The Economics of the BP Gulf Disaster

The last three or so  paragraphs in the quote below are really fantastic. Really.

The Automatic Earth: June 10 2010: BP, Forrest Gump, Mr. Bean and the White House:

Matt Simmons knows oil. His ‘Twilight in the Desert’ is one of the best books on the topic, highly recommended. Simmons also knows finance; he’s, after all, an oil banker. And he insists that both the Gulf spill is in fact much worse than BP and the White House are willing to admit, and that BP’s liability commitments will bankrupt it within weeks. While there will always be the notion that Simmons says what he does in order to turn a profit, I personally lend quite a bit of weight to what he’s been saying since the spill started. Simmons is one of the few voices left in the drama worth listening to.

BP has now officially, as I’ve said was likely to happen, seamlessly moved from ‘just’ an environmental disaster into an economic calamity as well. Don’t underestimate the impact of this. BP is the planet’s fourth largest enterprise. For one thing, this means the company has vast political influence, especially in the US and UK.

That should put you right in line with what will be playing out now. BP’s bankruptcy looks like a foregone conclusion. That is, unless the US and UK governments step in, and do so broadly and very loudly. With both money and legal changes. The former, because BP faces far more in lawsuits and damage claims than it has in liquidity (its shares are now worth less than its assets, always an alarming sign). The latter, well, for more or less the same reason.

One party you don’t want to be when BP’s bankruptcy lands square squash on the table is a Louisiana fisherman or a Florida tourist operator. British pensioners first! Sure, Obama has declared that BP is liable for all damages yada yada, but there’s a long list as we speak of Gulf Coast residents who can’t hardly squeeze a penny out of the company even now, and that’s before any serious litigation has started.

It’s all just posturing. By the time the real claims arrive, BP will likely be very deeply mired in interminable Chapter 11 and/or subsequent proceedings, and the little man will be dead broke and waiting for years to see if he may ever get a single penny for what he worked long and hard to build up, whether he’s Forrest Gump in Terrebonne Parish or Mr. Bean in Coventry.

And don’t kid yourselves, it’s not about BP, one single oil company, and it’s not about Obama or Cameron, about single politicians. With perhaps slight differences, Shell and Exxon perform within the same dismal agenda’s BP does, and there’s no politician left in our Western hemishpere who rises to true power and has not been pre-empted by the system he or she voluntarily chooses to function in, and who doesn’t voluntarily participate in perpetuating the hologram their voters long for in order to continue their feeling of comfort, so they can sit in their oversized homes and watch pictures of dying birds on oversized plasma TV’s.

And please don’t be too eager to proclaim you’re different, or better than that. That’s nothing but the easy way out.

Remember, you’re not watching real life with real people, you’re watching a 24/7 theater play that has no other reason to be than to provide you with what it knows beforehand you will respond positively to. Remember that, and then look at the dying pelicans. You may be running out of chances to make it right. Is that the way you want your life to be?


Some Climate Change Facts

Irregular Times has a great post regarding the climate data from the NASA Goddard Institute. For those that like to pick one winter and pretend that it voids reality because it snowed and was cold, well, they’re wrong. Frankly it is pathetic that so many are so cowardly that they will do anything to continue living a life of convenience rather than step up and deal with this crisis. Yes, it is cowardly. 

The Goddard temperature data speak:

By Month
5 Coolest Januaries on record: 1893, 1887, 1885, 1909, 1895
5 Warmest Januaries on record: 2007, 2002, 2010, 2005, 2003

5 Coolest Februaries on record: 1893, 1887, 1905, 1891, 1917
5 Warmest Februaries on record: 1998, 2010, 2002, 1995, 2004

5 Coolest Marches on record: 1911, 1917, 1888, 1898, 1908
5 Warmest Marches on record: 2002, 2010, 2005, 2008, 1990

5 Coolest Aprils on record: 1911, 1907, 1909, 1918, 1892
5 Warmest Aprils on record: 2010, 2007, 2005, 2002, 1998

5 Coolest Mays on record: 1917, 1890, 1907, 1918, 1909
5 Warmest Mays on record: 1998, 2007, 2009, 2002, 2005

5 Coolest Junes on record: 1913, 1907, 1903, 1894, 1885
5 Warmest Junes on record: 1998, 2009, 2005, 2006, 2007

5 Coolest Julys on record: 1912, 1907, 1909, 1904, 1890
5 Warmest Julys on record: 1998, 2009, 2002, 2005, 2008

5 Coolest Augusts on record: 1912, 1907, 1903, 1918, 1890
5 Warmest Augusts on record: 1998, 2003, 2006, 2005, 2009

5 Coolest Septembers on record: 1912, 1903, 1890, 1904, 1964
5 Warmest Septembers on record: 2005, 2009, 2003, 2006, 2008

5 Coolest Octobers on record: 1912, 1887, 1903, 1917, 1882
5 Warmest Octobers on record: 2005, 2003, 2009, 2006, 2004

5 Coolest Novembers on record: 1890, 1919, 1892, 1907, 1910
5 Warmest Novembers on record: 2009, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006

5 Coolest Decembers on record: 1917, 1916, 1882, 1910, 1892
5 Warmest Decembers on record: 2006, 2003, 2005, 2009, 1997

By Season(temperatures still measured globally; season labels refer to Northern Hemisphere seasons)

5 Coolest Winters on record: 1892-1893, 1917-1918, 1916-1917, 1910-1911, 1886-1887
5 Warmest Winters on record: 2006-2007, 2009-2010, 2001-2002, 2003-2004, 1997-1998

5 Coolest Springs on record: 1917, 1911, 1909, 1918, 1890
5 Warmest Springs on record: 2002, 2005, 2007, 1998, 2008

5 Coolest Summers on record: 1907, 1912, 1903, 1890, 1904
5 Warmest Summers on record: 1998, 2009, 2005, 2007, 2006

5 Coolest Autumns on record: 1912, 1903, 1809, 1884, 1910
5 Warmest Autumns on record: 2005, 2009, 2003, 2006, 2004

By Year
5 Coolest Years on record: 1917, 1907, 1890, 1887, 1909
5 Warmest Years on record: 2005, 2007, 2009, 2002, 1998

(Source: NASA Goddard Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index, accessed May 16 2010. The pattern in land-only temperature datavaries only slightly from the land and ocean data, bearing out the same general pattern.)

Geek Gardening: A Wired Guide to Domestic Terraforming

I was browsing through my RSS feeds this morning and come across this fantastic article in Wired which is basically about permaculture though they don’t use that word. Instead they discuss gardening as a process of careful design described as terraforming… essentially, permaculture. Excellent color design diagrams ranging from small gardens on apartment terrace or big garden spaces in a suburban or rural setting. If you are the least bit interested in taking gardening to the next level this is really worth a look, a great introduction and a nice surprise that it came from WIRED!

Making my claim in the gulf

I’ve not written about the oil spill here yet. But like many people it has been on my mind much of each day. Anyone that knows me will tell you how I feel about cars, lawn mowers and other machines that require oil to run. I truly detest them. My life here on the permaculture homestead is all about trying to use less energy, less oil. Even so I can’t help but feel the deepest regret and guilt when I see the images of oil covered birds struggling to lift their heads or to take a breath or blink their eyes. Eve though I try very hard not to drive without necessity the truth is I still drive a car. I purchase food grown with oil and other fossil fuels. I purchase other synthetic items derived from oil. I am a part of this. One of those oil covered birds is my bird. I claim it. I own it. That is what I see with each picture and the question I ask with each one is that my bird? It is breaking my heart over and over and over.

Swale and Food Forest Update


Last year I put in a swale and food forest on the north and east sides of my cabin. I planted the swale with comfrey, rhubarb, juneberry and yarrow with space between for annual veggies. This spring I seeded it with radish, chard, broccoli, kohlrabi, and cabbage. I’m pretty happy with the results thus far. The comfrey and rhubarb have filled it nicely and the veggies are going great in the swale. Now, if only we’d get some rain. Been a pretty dry spring. In the past 6 weeks we’ve had maybe one really good rain fall. The five rain barrels have come in very handy though they are nearly empty!

Food forest and swale

The pawpaws and juneberries are doing great. Well, Petunia has nibbled the juneberries so they’re not great but would be were it not for her. She’s left the pawpaws alone and they are growing very well. The herbs growing around the pawpaws, a mix of yarrow, self-heal, oregano, lemon balm and coneflowers are also growing pretty well. I’ve got some strawberries I’m about to put in though I’ll have to put some chicken wire over them to protect from deer and chicken. I’d put them in the main garden originally and they were doing fantastic but Petunia got to them and ate ALL of the foliage. Soon after they were taken over by weeds.

Comfrey flowers

One key difference between the food forest and the kitchen garden is that the food forest seems much less prone to weeds. I think the reason is that, while in a sunny pocket, this area has mostly been wooded and the mix of foliage here is much less aggressive. The kitchen garden by contrast is located in an area that has been an open field for the past couple of decades or more. Any bare spot of soil up there quickly sprouts up with “weeds”. I’m thinking the strawberries will do much better over here. The key will be keeping them protected with the chicken wire.

Chicken and PawPaw

One other key to this food forest area is the combination of light and heavy mulch. This pocket of woodland gets full sun most of the day with just a bit of dappled shade. That combined with the heavy wood chip mulch and leaf litter has really helped with the water retention. I’ve also got lots of big bark chunks from chopping wood that I place around the little trees. It helps discourage the chickens from scratching to close to the trees and holds in the moisture. The fertility of the soil is also being improved greatly I think. At the moment the chickens are back in the fenced forage area but they’ve been free ranging for the past ten months or so and have stirred and pooped in the food forest mulch that whole time. Next on my to-do list in this area is to add in more low level herbs to begin filling it out.