Monthly Archives: June 2008

Walking, gardening, and eating catfish

A slow day today. Started off with the usual green tea with chocolate mint from the garden and a breakfast of peanut butter and strawberry preserves. I don’t have (and don’t want to use) a refrigerator so I’ve been eating a streak of these sandwiches so that I can finish off the preserves before they start to mold. I keep the jar in a small cooler with a bit of well water which keeps it fairly cool on hot days and I’ll probably dig a small, improvised root cellar which is a 4 foot hole dug in a shady area with a well sealed container placed inside it. When I start canning my own I’ll make a point of using the smallest possible jar for that reason. Eventually we’ll put in a proper root cellar too.

After breakfast I took a walk with the excellent medicinal plant book, Peterson Field Guide: Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs. We’re surrounded by food and medicine, we just have to know which plants are good for what as well as what parts of the plant and how to prepare. I’ve started learning and will also start harvesting for winter and out of season use. I think I’ll be starting with Mullein and Wild Rose hips. The Mullein leaves and flowers can be harvested for use in tea as an expectorant, demulcent, anti-spasmodic, and diuretic which can be useful in treating chest colds, bronchitis, asthma, coughs, and kidney infections. A word of caution though, the leaves contain rotenone and coumarin and should be used with caution. The rose hips are the little red fruits after flowering and can be made into a tea very high in vitamin C, I’ll probably mix that with mint from the garden. I’m no longer drinking orange juice so that will make a nice supplement to my diet.

The half-way point of my walk was a visit to the grandparents. As is almost always the case granny offered food: grilled cheese and potato salad. A very tasty treat! I also retrieved a bag of frozen catfish* for dinner. Freezing fish is likely the only thing I’ll be needing a freezer for so I’ll just borrow a bit of space since it won’t be much. I’ve got three relatives all within walking distance so I can spread it out if I end up having a lot. I’m thinking I also need to learn how to smoke fish for longer term storage though I’m not sure how long it can be stored even when smoked. The best thing would be to eat it fresh but when it is cold and the lake is frozen that will not likely be an option.

After the walk and before eating the catfish I worked a bit on preparing a couple of new keyhole beds in the zone 1** garden of annual veggies just outside my cabin door. Back in 60s-90s this land was used as a hunting and fishing club so there were little weekend trailers scattered about and my cabin sits on one of those sites which means it sits on a bed of gravel and rock. Fun, fun. I’ll be raking and digging that rock out into a thin path from the door to the road. The site has been unused for at least a decade which means there’s a nice layer of composted leaves built up which I’m separating out from the rock. The resulting beds will initially be planted with lettuce, spinach, carrots, and radishes for a late summer and fall crop.

*Folks that know me personally probably know that I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years and may be wondering why I’m eating catfish. A big part of my decision to become a vegetarian was based on the energy aspects of diet. It generally takes less energy to eat a plant only diet. Another aspect of the energy equation is transport and there are other concerns such as whether the food is being exported from a country where people do not have enough food due to the production of cash crops for export. When I decided to move here to create a life based on permaculture principles I knew that it also meant that I would begin harvesting the mature fish from the lake. It is an excellent protein source which is available in great abundance within 100 yards of my front door.

**For folks new to permaculture, when a site is designed it is viewed as zones. The house or living structure is Zone 0 and the area immediately outside the doorways is Zone 1. This is the area most often and conveniently accessed so this is where we try to plant the annual vegetables that need the most attention and which are likely to get harvested often.

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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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FISA Amendments Act Legalizes Lawlessness

The folks at Irregular Times have done a fantastic job covering the FISA Amendments Act: FISA Amendments Act Legalizes Lawlessness:

“We’ve written a lot about the FISA Amendments Act this year. There’s quite a bit to learn if you really want to understand the law, and what makes it such a danger to the survival of democracy and liberty in the United States. The issues can seem overwhelming.

That’s just what the supporters of the FISA Amendments Act are counting on, though. They’ve tried to make the law so complex that Americans become deterred from even trying to understand it.

Don’t fall for that trick. At its core, understanding the FISA Amendments Act is quite simple. All you need to know about the FISA Amendments Act in order to understand its essential nature is one thing:

The FISA Amendments Act allows the White House to break the law on spying.”

I strongly suggest reading the rest of the post.

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Days of little chores

After working at a frenzied pace from early May through mid June, first with the cabin and then with the garden, I’m finding now that I have more days with free time for little projects. On Monday I watered the seven fruit trees each with a full 5 gallon bucket hauled from the lake, moved a wood pile to clear a space for 3 new keyhole garden beds near the cabin, finished the gate on my garden fence by adding chicken wire to the bottom 24 inches. Tuesday I finally finished the last bit of painting on the exterior of the cabin, put up a bit of trim to prepare for the gutter, and stained the front door. Wednesday I planted four potatoes, thinned/transplanted chard, and installed the gutter. Thursday I emptied the outhouse collection bucket into the long-term humanure compost, hand washed a small load of laundry, made a grass collection attachment for my gas-less reel mower, and cut a bit of grass.

I fully expect that life after the oil crash will consist primarily of such work as this. At least I hope so because it is a peaceful and healthy life. I have no illusions that for most of us it will also include much difficulty and struggle especially in the first years of adaption. For some it will likely include a much higher level of violence as panic and desperation set in. No one can know the exact details but we can contemplate and we can do our best to prepare.

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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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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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