Category Archives: Conservation

A Busy Week!!

Forest garden and orchardIt’s been a very busy week since my last post! In anticipation that I might be adding to the orchard over the weekend I spent last Friday creating paths through the brush and grass. My sister and brother-in-law visited with their kids for the weekend and she stayed with the kids for another couple of days. On Saturday Greg got the electrical work in the cabin finished and on Sunday the two of us put in the ceiling (insulation, tongue and groove pine boards, and a ceiling fan). They also brought down another 10 fruit trees for the orchard which makes a total of 17 trees! On Monday I put in three Golden Delicious apple trees and since Mondays are my set day to water the fruit trees I also hauled up four buckets of lake water for those that are already planted. I got three buckets from the rain barrel which is nice since it is so much closer. On Tuesday I put in the last Golden Delicious and cleared more paths as well as put up insulation on one of the walls in the cabin. On Wednesday I put up more insulation and planted a peach tree. Today I put in another two peach trees, so, seven planted and three more to go. I should have the remaining trees put in this evening or tomorrow.

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Inch by inch…

At least that’s what it feels like around here! I’m making progress but it never seems like enough. I’ve recently come to realize that since I’ve been down here I’m not really taking any time to just BE. Most of my waking hours are spent working in the garden, non-garden chores, reading (mostly at night), or thinking/observing/visualizing the future development of the site.

It has been raining today so I’m taking time to read and write a bit. Thoughts on the garden thus far is that I’m glad it is started and at the same time frustrated with the late start. Things are growing and some seem to be doing very well. But the carrots and beets are SLOW. I’d always thought of them as a spring and cool weather crop but had recently seen others say that they can be sown in mid-summer. It’s obvious they don’t like the heat. The chard is coming along at a slightly quicker pace. The Black-seeded Simpson Lettuce that I put in just 2 weeks ago is doing the best of them all and is coming along very nicely. The squash, cukes, and zucchini are doing great. The potatoes I planted last week are starting to sprout up some green. The peppers and tomatoes are coming along very slowly and may be the biggest disappointment. A couple of the tomatoes have really filled in well and will produce well I think but many of the first to get blooms are just looking very leggy with sparse growth. I think I may have overwatered a bit and certainly the soil here is not the best. I’ve added a little compost dressing around all the plants but I did not have much and spread it thin. So, not much compost and no manure yet and those are likely the key missing ingredients.

I try to remind myself that this is a rushed first year garden and that next year’s will, no doubt, be greatly improved. We’ll have a little greenhouse which will allow me to get the tomatoes, peppers, and others started much earlier and of course the compost pile I have going now will be perfect by then and at least one or two other piles will be underway. We do have seven fruit trees planted with two more coming down tomorrow so nine fruit trees is a good start and I’m happy about that. I suppose that I’m just impatient which is probably related to what I see going on in the world. We’re much, much closer to the collapse than I realized and our little project is just getting started. So much to do, so little time.

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Five gallons of water

That’s what I’m using a day. Actually, most days I’m using between 3-4 gallons. If I wash a bit of laundry it bumps up to 6 to 7 gallons. I’m talking about personal use here not water used for growing food. For growing food I’m using a combination of hauled lake water, well water and collected rain water. Right now I’ve got 55 gallons of rain water collection but before too long that should be 440 gallons and within a year I hope to have 1100 gallons of rain water collection dedicated to food production.

In terms of personal use, while we do have the well hooked up and running I’m not using it yet because after 3 years of not being used it does not seem to be clearing up. I’ll continue using it for the next week for gardening and see if it clears up. If not I’ll have the well guy come out and have a look at the pressure tank which may have gone bad. Until then I’ll continue to haul water from a relative’s house for drinking, cooking and cleaning.

IMG_1701I’ve got several 5 gallon containers and 2 solar showers, 4 gallons each. For the moment I’ve got an improvised outside sink set-up for washing dishes, brushing teeth, etc. and I’ve gotten to be VERY frugal with each drop. As an example, when I do dishes I start with my cup and bowl and after it is washed the water is poured into the next water holding item such as a pot or another cup or bowl thus the soap water is used again. Last it is poured onto any plate and re-used. Rinse water is also reused as I go along.

Hand-washed laundry is also carefully orchestrated between one or two small 3 gallon wash tubs. I start with a half gallon and very small amount of soap and will wash 4-8 items starting with the least dirty items first. Rinsing is also done is this order and in increments of 1/2 gallons until the rinse water is fairly clear.

I’ve set-up a small under-sink gray water filter which consists of a clay pot filled with approximately 50% sand, 30% gravel, and 20% small rock in that order starting from the bottom of the pot and going up. I used an old and worn sock at the very bottom between the sand and the hole in the pot. This drains into a 5 gallon bucket which fills to 3 gallons every 3-4 days. This is a temporary set-up. The next version will likely consist of a 5 gallon bucket filter with an attached faucet for easy access to water. When I get a sink put into the cabin I’ll likely have it drain to a similar bucket filter just outside the cabin and the water will be used in the wild garden of native habitat plants in the partial shade area around the cabin. All soap on site is bio-degradable and phosphate free. In the very near future I’ll only be using Dr. Bronners bar or liquid soap on site.

The last bit of water usage is for showering. I’m able to get 2-3 showers out of each 4 gallon solar shower which works out to 1.5 gallons or less for each shower.

Of course I use far, far more than five gallons a day. My breakfast consisted of peanut butter, strawberry preserves, and bread. All the ingredients were grown with water, processed with water and packaged in glass or plastic that required water to manufacture. Those goods were transported to a store via trucks made of materials that required water in their manufacture on roads that required water in construction via gasoline or diesel fuel. I’m living in a cabin that is made of lumber and siding and roofing all of which required water for processing. The list goes on. The point is that the things we eat, live in and use on a daily basis have resource costs that we often don’t think about. Water is just one of them and one of the most important to consider right along side of oil.

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Rain Barrel Nerd

You know you are a total nerd when the highlight of your day is a brief rainstorm that fills your rain barrel half way. With the new (actually 20+ years old and re-used) gutter all the rain is now directed to the barrel and our five minutes of heavy rain just now filled it to half. Sweet. I can’t wait to get the others and hook them up into a proper series. I’d like to put in 10 but I may only be able to fit 8 or 9 which would still be a nice bit of water to have around. Given that this barrel would have filled in just 10 minutes I’d estimate that 8 barrels will easily fill in less than two hours with a fairly hard rain, much less if the rain were as heavy as what we just had. Maybe I need 20 barrels?

My expectations of a future shaped by climate change and peak energy is that we must become very efficient at harvesting and using/conserving fresh water. It seems to me that we can expect increasingly erratic weather with periods of extreme drought and wet far beyond what we’ve seen in the past. Combine that with the myriad issues related to agriculture and peak energy and you have lots of trouble in regards to a steady food supply.

If I can harvest and store 1650 gallons of water for use during drought then I will… guess I need 30 barrels!

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Our Missouri Permaculture Project

CabinI wrote in early May that we had started a permaculture project with an outhouse for composting humanure. At the time my plan was to start living on site in the fall of 08 but plans changed and after a whirlwind of activity I moved into my cabin on May 24th, just three weeks after completing the outhouse. We (and by we I mean my lunatic brother-in-law Greg who easily does the work of 3 men) fast-tracked the building of my cabin and in two very long weekends of work completed the outer shell and flooring to cover up the treated plywood. By the third weekend of work all the seams and soffits were finished so no more mice or birds visiting at night and in the morning!!

During the second weekend of work on the cabin I also got going on the garden of annual crops (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, chard, lettuce, carrots, and beets) as well as the forest garden. In the following weeks I’ve added to the annual garden (pumpkins) and also planted seven fruit trees in the forest garden as well as ground cover of mint and nasturtiums. Just today I added four potato plants in the forest garden. This fall or the spring of next year we’ll add several fruit bushes such as blueberry. For those unfamiliar with permaculture and forest garden the idea is that a forest garden is designed as a forest ecosystem of seven or so layers of plant life starting with the large trees and moving on down to plants that grow along very low to the ground. When designing the forest garden as an ecosystem we think vertically as well as horizontally and are able to increase the beneficial connections between plants and other elements such as…

Cluck, cluck, cluck!! Chickens! I’m also planning on using the forest garden as a forage area for the chickens which will be gotten as soon as a coop can be built. They’ll keep the grass (not good around fruit trees) to a minimum as the forage for plants, insects, fallen/rotted fruit all the while fertilizing as they go. This should make for happier, healthier chickens as well as a healthier forest garden.

This is really just the beginning and it happened much more quickly than I’d planned. Next spring we’ll be putting in an orchard of 20 or more fruit trees as well as grapes and berry bushes. Before that I still have work to do on my cabin. In the coming weeks we’ll be finishing off the inside walls as well as adding shelving, a sink (draining to gray water outside), and a wood burning stove. Just today I added the gutter to the backside of the house which will collect rainwater off the metal roof into a series of rain barrels which will be raised off the ground for a gravity feed and connected to a single faucet. My hope is to connect 10 barrels, 55 gallons each for a total of 550 gallons of garden water. That’s not much but with the thick mulching of manure/compost, cardboard, and straw used in no-till gardening a little goes a very long way!

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We’ve started our permaculture project!! Our site is about 110 miles south of St. Louis, Missouri on about 300 acres total with a lake. We’ll be using just a few acres, probably less than 5 to start with.

We spent the first weekend of work accomplishing our first goal: building an outhouse for collecting human manure for composting. When this picture was taken we were one day into the project. 95% of the materials used were recycled from abandoned or tornado damaged structures. The only thing we purchased was a bit of siding and roofing material.

We’ll also add a gutter and rain barrel for collecting rain water for washing hands. The structure is nestled in with a few cedar and dogwood trees so a good bit of shade. My current plan is to mound up large creek rocks near the treated wood base and then soil further out from the rock and plant with a variety of shade wildflowers like Sweet Willam.

A note about permaculture and composting human waste. For a lot of folks the subject of human waste is taboo. From the perspective of permaculture, it is what it is: the natural by-product of human life which can and should be recycled back into the local ecosystem. We won’t be spreading this raw manure onto crops because it does indeed contain a variety of bacteria that should not be near food. A five gallon bucket is used to collect the manure and it is then composted in a special long-term compost pile for 2-4 years to ensure that it is safe to use. In all likelihood it will be used for fruit and nut trees, berry vines, and bushes in our forest garden.

Next on the project list: Utility shed and after that a series of small cabins. Some family will be using cabins for vacationing initially with plans for longer term residence later. I’ll likely be living on-site much of the year starting in the fall. Composting has already begun and the garden as well as forest garden will be developed in stages starting this fall. Spring of 09 will be focused on the full development of the garden as well as a new chicken coop for 5-10 chickens and a bee hive.

This is just the beginning of our project but given the general state of energy and climate change on the planet, I’m glad to have it started. I have no doubt that peak oil has arrived and, as fate would have it, the effects of climate change seem to be rapidly accelerating at the same time. It is well past the time that we begin building local communities of people willing to see a life beyond suburbia.

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Enchanted Planet Images

My new site for my growing set of image galleries: Enchanted Planet Images. I think with this new year I’m going to weed through my growing collection of accounts and weed a few out. Given my desire to limit and reduce my carbon footprint, it would seem that I really should eliminate accounts on servers that I do not need, this being one of them. I think I’ve been averaging less than 10 hits a day for this blog for many months. I’ve not been very consistent about posting so I’m not surprised. For the amount that I write the blog I’ve set up at Enchanted Planet Images should probably be adequate. So, if you are one my very few subscribers/readers you may want to change your bookmark.

Happy New Year and let’s all hope for a recession. The planet could sure use one. In fact, economic slowdown should be the prime goal of a society concerned about conserving resource usage and slowing climate change.

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An eco-friendly way of dealing with fall leaves

Four years ago I moved from the big city to five acres in the country. I soon discovered that many country folk have a nasty fall habit: they burn their leaves. At least in this part of the country it seems to be the universal method for fall yard maintenance. Given the current state of climate change burning leaves is a real no-no. As an avid gardener I’ve always made it a point to compost leaves so that all that organic matter is returned to the soil which completes the natural cycle.

Here is a tip for more easily managing fall leaves that is based on moving them rather than burning them. If you’ve got a big yard in a rural setting chances are you have a place where you can store a big pile of leaves for the winter so that they have a chance to decompose and not be in your way. The method is simple and requires a tarp and a rake. If you’ve got two people a bigger tarp will work better. Simply lay the tarp down and rake the leaves onto it. When you’ve got a huge pile fold the tarp over forming a big leaf taco and drag it to your compost or out of the way area. Repeat until finished. That’s it. You’ll get some exercise and will add zero emissions to the atmosphere.

Using this method is as fast as burning and much faster than bagging leaves or raking them into a wheel barrow. It may not be as fast as one of those fancy lawnmower-based leaf mulcher/vacuums but it produces zero pollution. Gas mowers are terribly inefficient at burning gas and produce gobs of CO2 (Carbon dioxide), much more than a car, because they do nothing with the emissions produced… they just spit it all out. So the gas mower/vacuum method should be avoided.

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On giving up

I’ve not been posting much recently in part because I’ve spent more time outside in the garden. But really, that’s only half of the story. I suppose the truth is that I’ve just given up. Since leaving Memphis, and to some degree before that, I’ve lost hope. I can’t help but think that it is over and there is nothing that can be done and I mean that on many different levels. The political system in the U.S. is completely fucked. Climate change is probably what I worry about most and it is on my mind constantly throughout each day. Peak oil and Iraq as well. Of course within each of these there are many layers.

I’m finding that I don’t know how to feel. I’m depressed but really that’s only part of my reaction. I feel numb. I want to hide. In fact, that is what I’m doing I suppose. I’ve come to the conclusion that all I can do is minimize my negative impact which means I don’t go out much at all. I don’t want to interact with people… we humans, at least those I know and have known in my life… we’re selfish busy-bodies. MORE, MORE, MORE, MORE. We cannot be satisfied. We refuse to acknowledge the truth of our lives. We lie to ourselves and our children and our grand children. We humans are selfish, greedy liars.

I long ago made the decision not to have children. I cannot imagine bringing one into this world. Not only for the sake of the child, but also in terms of adding to the problem. In terms of ecology and planetary recovery we need about 4 billion fewer humans, not one more. Even better, I’d guess the planet would be best served by our extinction. If I believed in god that’s what I’d pray for.

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