Category Archives: Ecology

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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Humanure!!

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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Growing Native


My first YouTube video, an export of a Keynote presentation about growing a native wildflower garden for habitat. An excellent way to reduce usage of water and fossil fuels by replacing grass with plants that are native to an area and better suited to that environment. No need for fertilization and less use of water after seedlings are established because the plants are usually satisfied by normal rainfall.

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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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Of bees and flowers

While this is not a honeybee it is a bee and one of many that pollinates the flowers in our little garden. At the moment there are not many flowers blooming in the garden but there are plenty of dandelions in the lawn!

Speaking of lawns, I’ve ordered a new non-gasoline 20″ reel mower so that the gas mower can be retired. I should have done this three years ago when I returned to Missouri but I can, at the very least, say that I’ve been shrinking the lawn substantially and replacing it with natives. Thus far I’ve added around 30 native species and 90 plants which have since multiplied by many, particularly Butterfly Weed, Purple Coneflower, Orange Coneflower, and Columbine.

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Climate Change Round-up

I suppose it is a good sign that I’m having a hard time keeping up with all of the recent media coverage of climate change. I would like to point out though that while the coverage is now consistent via the web I’m not seeing it nearly as much on the television. I don’t watch much but when I do flip on the TV and CNN I’m much more likely to see discussion of stupid, irrelevant celebrity gossip than I am discussion of climate change. That’s just plain fucked up. Until the corporate media stop the daily bullshit coverage of Anna Nicole’s baby’s daddy and replace it with daily discussion of peak oil, climate change, and sustainable development they are as much a part of the problem as they have always been.

Summary of the latest installment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report: Climate Change 2007: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability [PDF – 547KB]

Billions face climate change risk:

Billions face climate change risk

The impact of climate change has been a major source of dispute
Billions of people face shortages of food and water and increased risk of flooding, experts at a major climate change conference have warned.

Damage already done for some natural wonders

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — While governments grapple with the politics of global warming, some of the world’s greatest treasures already are being damaged and threatened with destruction.

Conservationists have drawn up priorities for action to salvage some of nature’s wonders that are feeling the heat of climate change — from the Himalayan glaciers to the Amazon rain forests and the unique ecosystem of the Mexican desert.

Many of the regions at risk were singled out in a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an authoritative body of 2,500 scientists. The report is undergoing governmental review at a five-day conference in Brussels.

On Thursday, diplomats and scientists were negotiating the text of a 21-page summary of the full 1,572-page scientific report. It projects specific consequences for each degree of rising global temperatures, which the IPCC agrees is largely caused by human activity.

On the sidelines of the conference, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature issued a list of 10 regions suffering irreversible damage from climate change. The group also listed where it has projects to limit further damage or help people adapt to new conditions.

“What we are talking about are the faces of the impacts of climate change,” said Lara Hansen, WWF’s chief scientist on climate issues.

The WWF is among the largest of many nongovernment organizations to take up the challenge of climate change.

The Nature Conservancy, based in Arlington, Virginia, is another. It has projects to protect coral reefs off Florida, in the coral triangle of Indonesia and in Papua New Guinea. It also is trying to preserve native alpine meadows in China and conserve vegetation in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

Though climate change has been discussed for decades, Hansen said the effects were now becoming visible. “It’s only in the past decade that we can go outside and see for ourselves what’s happening,” she told The Associated Press.

Some damage is reversible, Hansen said. Although melted glaciers cannot be restored, some coral reefs can recover.

But as natural landmarks deteriorate, she said more attention will have to be paid to adapting to change, not only trying to prevent it, and not enough experts are being trained to help people acclimatize.

“There’s a massive void ahead of us in getting new people,” she said.

U.N.: Warming ruining society, nature:

Top climate experts warned on Friday that global warming will cause faster and wider damage than previously forecast, ranging from hunger in Africa and Asia to extinctions and rising ocean levels.

Study: Climate change could bring new U.S. Dust Bowl

Changing climate will mean increasing drought in the southwestern United States, where water already is in short supply, according to a new study.

“The bottom line message for the average person and also for the states and federal government is that they’d better start planning for a Southwest region in which the water resources are increasingly stretched,” said Richard Seager of Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory.

Seager is lead author of the study published online Thursday by the journal Science.

Researchers studied 19 computer models of the climate, using data dating back to 1860 and projecting into the future. The same models were used in preparing the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The consensus of the models was that climate in the southwestern United States and parts of northern Mexico began a transition to drier conditions late in the 20th century and is continuing the trend in this century, as climate change alters the movement of storms and moisture in the atmosphere.

The reduction in rainfall could reach levels of the 1930s Dust Bowl that ranged throughout the Midwestern United States, Seager said in a telephone interview.

Arctic lost part of its perennial sea ice in 2005: NASA

Global warming may already be having an effect on the Arctic which in 2005 only replaced a little of the thick sea ice it loses and usually replenishes annually, a NASA study said Tuesday.

Scientists from the US space agency used satellite images to analyze six annual cycles of Arctic sea ice from 2000 to 2006.

Sea ice is essential to maintaining and stabilizing the Arctic’s ice cover during its warmer summer months.

But “recent studies indicate Arctic perennial ice is declining seven to 10 percent each decade,” said Ron Kwok from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“Our study gives the first reliable estimates of how perennial ice replenishment varies each year at the end of the summer.

“The amount of first-year ice that survives the summer directly influences how thick the ice cover will be at the start of the next melt season.”

The team observed that only 4.0 percent, about 2.5 million square kilometers (965,000 square miles) of thin ice survived the 2005 summer melt to replenish the perennial cover.

It was the weakest ice cover since 2000, and so there was 14 percent less permanent ice cover in January 2006 than in the corresponding period the year before.

“The winters and summers before fall 2005 were unusually warm,” Kwok said. “The low replenishment seen in 2005 is potentially a cumulative effect of these trends.

“If the correlations between replenishment area and numbers of freezing and melting temperature days hold long-term, it is expected the perennial ice coverage will continue to decline.”

Records dating back to 1958 have shown a gradual warming of Arctic temperatures which speeded up in the 1980s.

“Our study suggests that on average the area of seasonal ice that survives the summer may no longer be large enough to sustain a stable, perennial ice cover, especially in the face of accelerating climate warming and Arctic sea ice thinning,” Kwok added.

Scientists say Antarctic ice sheet is thinning

A Texas-sized piece of the Antarctic ice sheet is thinning, possibly due to global warming, and could cause the world’s oceans to rise significantly, polar ice experts said on Wednesday.

They said “surprisingly rapid changes” were occurring in Antarctica’s Amundsen Sea Embayment, which faces the southern Pacific Ocean, but that more study was needed to know how fast it was melting and how much it could cause the sea level to rise.

The warning came in a joint statement issued at the end of a conference of U.S. and European polar ice experts at the University of Texas in Austin.

The scientists blamed the melting ice on changing winds around Antarctica that they said were causing warmer waters to flow beneath ice shelves.

The wind change, they said, appeared to be the result of several factors, including global warming, ozone depletion in the atmosphere and natural variability.

The thinning in the two-mile-(3.2-km)- thick ice shelf is being observed mostly from satellites, but it is not known how much ice has been lost because data is difficult to obtain on the remote ice shelves, they said.

Study is focusing on the Amundsen Sea Embayment because it has been melting quickly and holds enough water to raise world sea levels six meters, or close to 20 feet, the scientists said.

Antarctic Glaciers’ Sloughing Of Ice Has Scientists at a Loss

Some of the largest glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland are moving in unusual ways and are losing increased amounts of ice to the sea, researchers said yesterday.


Complicating the situation for those studying Antarctica, some parts of the continent are gaining ice depth through snowfall while temperatures on the tip of the Antarctic peninsula, the continent’s closest point to South America, are rising faster than almost anywhere else on the planet. The surprisingly fast-moving glaciers are largely on the West Antarctic ice sheet.

Wingham, of University College London, and Andrew Shepherd of the University of Edinburgh said satellite radar readings show that overall, each year the ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica amounts to about 10 percent of the rise in the global sea level, which totals about one-tenth of an inch per year. The net loss of Antarctic ice is estimated to be 25 billion metric tons a year, despite the growth of the ice sheet in East Antarctica.

Because such a large percentage of the world’s ice is found in those two locations, scientists are carefully watching for signs of increased ice loss. If that process accelerates, researchers say, it could result in a substantial, and highly disruptive, increase in sea levels worldwide.

In Greenland, glaciers appear to be moving more quickly to sea because melting ice has allowed the sheet to slide more easily over the rock and dirt below. In Antarctica, the loss is believed to be associated with the breaking off into seawater of ice deep under the ice sheet with little-understood internal dynamics that put increased pressure on the massive ice streams.

Southern Ocean current faces slowdown threat

The impact of global warming on the vast Southern Ocean around Antarctica is starting to pose a threat to ocean currents that distribute heat around the world, Australian scientists say, citing new deep-water data.

Melting ice-sheets and glaciers in Antarctica are releasing fresh water, interfering with the formation of dense “bottom water,” which sinks 4-5 kilometers to the ocean floor and helps drive the world’s ocean circulation system.

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