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Posts Tagged ‘Peak Oil’

In the Beginning

 

era-timelineThe Earth is an old place.  Roughly 4 and a half billion years old is the date agreed upon by scientist. Starting out as an orbiting cloud of dust, rocks, and ice that eventually came together with the help of the gravitational pull of our sun, the Earth has had many makeovers and changes throughout the long eons.

 

Volcanic activity, tectonic shifts, comet and meteor strikes, erosion causing weather patterns, the forces of water and rain, climate change, and biological protagonists like fungi, plants, animals, and humans have all played a role in the constant evolution of our planet.  From the rise of mountain ranges, the carving of river valleys, the spread of deserts, the birth of a forest, or the extinction of a species, the Earth has had many stories to tell.  Each eon a chapter with its own characters, settings, and plots.

 

About 2 and a half billion years ago the first life forms began to appear in the fossil record.  Starting as single celled organisms, life progressed throughout the millennia changing and adapting with the earth.  Slowly but surely, life forms grew more complex.  Starting with bacteria and simple fungi that could break down inorganic rocks and minerals (and eventually organic materials like plants), other life forms figured out how to create their own food using the power of the sun (photosynthesis in plants and certain types of bacteria), and yet other life forms (animals and insects) learned how to survive by consuming plants, fungi, bacteria, and other animals!  The cycle of life was well under way.

 

This dance of evolution has spanned the ages with the different characters (bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals) trading places of importance countless times over, always with the sole intent of filling open niches and reaching some kind of habitable equilibrium.  Often times this equilibrium was achieved and sustained for long periods of time (sometimes for hundreds of millions of years), but eventually some disruption or imbalance occurred signalling the end of one age, and the dawning of another.  Geological events and mass extinctions have often been the benchmarks for defining these different ages of the earth.

 

Some of these times are more well known than others.  Some are downright popular, such as the Jurassic period of the Mesozoic era (the age of reptiles),  when the dinosaurs ruled the earth.  The Jurassic period lasted for more than 50 million years, and that only constituted a portion of the whole Mesozoic era.  It is a great illustration of how old the earth actually is, how slow time can move, and how young of a species we humans actually are.

 

The fossil record puts the age of modern humans at around 200,000 years old.  A long line of monkeys, apes, and gorillas share our direct evolutionary path.  But somewhere around 40,000 years ago, humans ruled supreme, beating out the last of our closest relatives, the neanderthals, who had walked the earth for close to a million years previous to us humans. Since then, it’s all history as they like to say!

 

In that time, humans have risen to the position as the number one, global apex predator that has been shaping, transforming, and dominating the Earth, its landscapes, and all of its other inhabitants for at least the last 10,000 years.  When humans mastered the skills of both language and fire, we ceased being just another primate amongst the natural world, and instead went on to create cave paintings, songs, religions, government, and so many other visible and invisible structures that are now inseparable from the human experience.

 

Since those early days, we have gone on many adventures and have built legacies that have lasted millenia.  Cultures come and go, but their footsteps make up our history, and the biggest and easiest trail we can follow is the one that has shaped the earth and humans the most, agriculture.

 

The First Green Revolution

 

pack_of_harvesters

Around the close of the last ice age, 10-12,000 years ago, a radical experiment began to take place in how humans inhabited their landscape.  The earth entered an interglacial state and the climate slowly began to change and warm, thus giving us different options on how we could live with the land.  Agriculture did not happen overnight, but rather it played out over seasons and centuries, adapting and refining itself, and taking us and the land with it.

 

Those who lived through those early days of agriculture could not have known how the world was about to change.  In those 10,000 years since the first horticultural societies gave way to an agricultural revolution that changed the world, humans have shaped and molded the planet in almost all aspects.  Our tinkering is evident almost anywhere you look, whether with the naked eye or with a microscope.

 

We have logged the planet of almost all its old growth forest and lost billions of tons of precious topsoil to the wind and rain.  Along with the loss of the trees and our soils, comes a release of millennia’s worth of stored carbon that now finds itself freely traveling through the atmosphere. Our air and waters have been polluted from erosion and industry, we divert rivers, move mountains, and change the lay of the land in unprecedented ways.  Our oceans have been overfished, our prairies overturned.  Our fingerprints are everywhere.

 

There are millions of tons of plastic floating in the ocean.  There are thousands of active landfills in America today, and over 10,000 retired ones, all evidence of mans presence, our modern day midden piles.  Every disposable product, every plastic trinket, every outdated or broken do-dad has a traceable path to a real place somewhere on the Earth.

 

All these creations, whether a paper napkin or a pickup truck starts in a place where a natural resource can be found.  Trees and other natural fibers, minerals, metal ores, fossil fuels, water, and agricultural products can all be found in any number of these common everyday products and goods that are used throughout the world.

 

People and animals are displaced from their native lands and habitats to make way for the logging, mining, growing, and processing of these materials that are needed for all these industrial products.  There are now very few places left on our Earth that have not felt the impact of man, and the “progress” that is left in our wake.  But the journey of those first farmers and city builders is still our story.  It is a story that is always looking to grow bigger and wealthier.  It has cast humans as the main characters, and everything else, whether an old growth tree or a northern white rhino is a disposable extra.  This is life in the anthropocene!

 

Life in the Anthropocene

 

dotanthropocenesign-jumboThe anthropocene as defined by wikipedia as “an informal geologic chronological term for the proposed epoch that began when human activities had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems.”  The term was coined by scientist Paul Crutzen in the year 2000 and has been gaining acceptance throughout the scientific community ever since.

 

Until Crutzen proposed the idea of the anthropocene, the world had been living in (and still technically is) what is known as the holocene, the geological age starting at the end of the last ice age.  While this distinction is still being debated, for the purpose of this essay I will follow Crutzen’s thinking and accept the anthropocene as the new geological age defined by man and his impacts on the natural world. Whether it is mining, logging, agriculture, pollution, or any of the other myriad activities that bear the fingerprints of man, these are all defining characteristics of the anthropocene.

 

So where does that leave us?  If the anthropocene is our legacy, one that first started because of fire, language, and religion and continued with the domestication of the living landscape, and climaxing in industrial (agri)culture, resource extraction, suburban sprawl and biological extinction, than it is a legacy based on death.  The Anthropocene by its own definition requires the disruption of the earth’s ecosystems for modern man to survive.

 

If our time on this good Earth is being defined by the natural wealth we have plundered, the pollution and garbage we have created, and all of the land we have stolen and destroyed, than it is not only a legacy of death, but also one to be ashamed of as well.  What do we have to carry forward?  What stories will be told about us?  What will we ultimately be remembered for?

 

If the anthropocene is the defined theme of our collective narrative, are we subject to a self created demise?  If we stay on the same path that we are currently on, are humans to expect a rough road ahead?  For all of our technological advances and mastering of the Earth, the fact remains that we still live on a finite planet that is ruled by limits to how much we can take and how much we can pollute before global ecosystems, weather patterns, and biodiversity begin to change and ultimately collapse, thus affecting the project we call civilization.

 

If humans are to move into the future, a future that still includes the basic tenets of modernity for all who want them and need them, then we need to radically shift the way we inhabit our landscapes and redefine what it means to be a human civilization in the 21st century.  That redefinition will be less of a revolution, and more of a complete paradigm shift.  If the anthropocene has been based on theft, destruction, and the ill intentioned manipulation of the natural landscape and its inhabitants for an ever growing economy, than this paradigm shift will have to include principles, ethics, and actions that are the antithesis of those that are symptomatic of the anthropocene.

 

For too long our mark(s) on the land and ecosystems of the earth have been those of a selfish landlord, and not those of a humble steward preserving our historical and cultural commons.  Until we can begin to move away from these most basic and underlying habits of greed and dominion over others, we are doomed to keep repeating the cycle of destruction for profit that we are stuck in.

 

Until we as a society can divorce ourselves from the greed and savagery that is used to grow the profits that keep the wheels of “progress” moving, we will forever remain under those wheels, being ground up and used as fertilizer for growing the economy.  At some point we must face the truth that the planet does not care about any economy other than the economy of nature, the flow of energy that is the living earth.

 

While it may seem that I am advocating for the dismantling of modern civilization, nothing is farther from the truth. It has taken me many years to arrive at this conclusion, but I do think it is possible for humans to coexist, and most importantly, care for this planet at the same time.  Part of the solution lies in the way we view life and our time we have here.  At some point in our story we no longer gave thought to the generations that are to follow in our footsteps, and focused solely on the now.  It was no longer required of us to think about how our actions could affect life generations from present day.  We were now accountable for nothing but our own personal desires and instant gratifications.

 

But when we begin to hold ourselves accountable for our actions, it is possible to see how we can impact the future.  If in every decision we leave room for the future to have its say, than it is less likely that we would continue to clear cut forests, move mountains, and knowingly pollute our drinking water just for a quick buck or a desperate energy fix.

 

When we consider our grandkids’ grandkids in the decisions we make now, we begin to realize that every aspect of how we live needs to change.  We can no longer be short term takers, but instead we have to become the guardians and caretakers of our land bases so that there is something of abundance, substance and beauty available for those who follow in our footsteps.

 

We are at a place in history where we have never been before.  We have more accumulated knowledge and proven, appropriate science and technology available to us than any other humans to come before us.  We have the ability to keep people warm when it is cold, dry when it is wet, and fed when they are hungry.  We have the resources to educate people and the social safety nets to insure a basic level of comfort for all those on the planet.  We also have a history and a shared story that defines what it is to be a human.  It is this last point that is most important.  If we can reconnect with what it means to be a fully mature human, we will see that we have an important place in nature.

 

Towards the Permacene

 

cartoon_permaculture_futureThis is the paradigm shift I propose.  It is a shift and a transition to a new geologic age, where with each passing generation we reduce our footprint. The amount of evidence of our existence is carried forward not by the trash and destruction we leave behind in our wake, but in the books we continue to write, the songs we continue to sing, the communities we continue to build, and land that we help to heal.  This journey is underway, and has been slowly since the beginning, but we are at a critical point in human history.

 

Moving into the future as a unified species will only continue if we face our history.  Human history is filled with tragic abuses and genocides of peoples, animals, plants, and landscapes.  Our cultural and biological diversity has been decimated by the fossil fuel enhanced advancement of industrial civilization.  Countless characters of nature have been swallowed by the pit of extinction, and many more are on the edge of falling in.  If we turn our backs on what has been lost and forget those stories, than we cannot move forward.  It is the ones that are already gone that must be a reminder to us as we move into the future that we must move forward with as much cultural diversity and biodiversity preserved, protected, and regenerated as possible.

 

Our roles as stewards must extend to as many humans that calls this planet home.  When people have a real physical connection to a land base and a community of friends and families to share it with, than our jobs as earth stewards becomes easy because we are all working towards the same goal.  While the role and duties of earth stewards will vary from landbase to landbase and one community to another, the underlying ethics and principles that guide this endeavor are universal and are intrinsic in the transformation from just being a private citizen to a steward of the commons!

 

As we begin to renounce our citizenship to the anthropocene and begin embracing our role as stewards of the Earth, all aspects of our lives will begin to change.  When we are rooted in strong communities and land bases, using technology appropriately, and asking ourselves how our actions will impact future generations, the foundations of greed and domination that rule the world will begin to crumble.  As we begin to regenerate landscapes and communities, the corporate overlords and bureaucrats will find themselves unwelcome in more and more places and eventually cease to be.  But this will only happen where communities are united, diverse, and have a physical connection to a landbase that they can call home.  These communities, interconnected by their diverse patchwork of skills and trades, seasonal celebrations, trade and migration routes, spiritual beliefs, and the passing of information will have to find a human commonality that celebrates our diversity and uses that as a unifying force!

 

As history shows, we are a young species.  We are a species that is full of flaws and destructive selfishness.  But we are also adaptive and creative and occasionally compassionate, three traits that have made possible our evolutionary advances.  So while we have perfected war and hatred and the wholesale destruction of our living planet, we also write poetry and songs, celebrate with family and friends, and have a love so deep that somehow, we still find we have roots that are just waiting to find a place to dig into, a place to call home!

 

So here we are at a cross roads.  We have a choice to keep doing what we are used to, and most likely end up in a bleak and poor world.  One that is gutted of all but humans and the strongest and most noxious of weeds.  Or we can bravely step into the future planting trees and building communities and carrying on this great project we started well over 200,000 years ago.  We can take the next step in our evolution, a step towards the Permacene.  Peace and Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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While the title of this essay may be tinted with a bit of doom and gloom, it is not as ominous as it sounds, and it is a fairly accurate description of the events and stories that follow.  For anyone who has followed this blog over the last five years may have noticed, I have gone through periods of consistent, productive writing, balanced out with dry periods of nothing but writers’ block growing up through the cracks of my mindscape.  While these droughts have been few for the most part, this last one has been pretty epic in scale!  The last time I sat down to write was back in February of this year when I continued with an ongoing series of essays about DIY homebrewing.

 

Winter!!!

Winter!!!

Since this last winter (the one filled with all of the Polar Vortexes) many things have happened here at the Dead End Alley Farm, and much of it would have made great copy for essays and DIY how – to’s here on the blog. I am not going to touch on everything, but I guess it is time for us to catch up on current events and happenings around the homestead and the world at large.

 

As I sit here in the afternoon shade with a cold beer in the outside office (a picnic table and some benches, and a hacked together arbor covered in wild grapes and honeysuckle) I am listening to one of the hens cluck away in pride or fear or some other emotion that only a chicken can know.  I can see bumble bees feeding on white clover and catnip, an overcast sky, and my old dog Harvey lying in the grass watching the world go by.

 

There are parts of our yard that are overgrown with weeds that should have been ripped from the ground long ago, and some of our apple trees (especially the big old one in back) are beginning to shed apples like drops of rain.  There is garlic hanging from the roof joists of my back deck and the tomato plants are overloaded with luscious fruit this year.

 

I have three hives of bees this season.  My pride and joy are the Carniolans that overwintered and have proven to be exceptional bees.  They are 3 deep with 2 honey supers (which translates to a very healthy colony that is making a lot of honey), a naturally mated queen (who may be the same one from last year, not real sure if they have swarmed or not this season) leads this tribe, and they are poised to enter this upcoming winter appearing very strong and healthy with adequate food supplies.

 

buckfastbbeeinstall

Installing the Buckfast bees out at our country beeyard.

This spring I also purchased 2 packages of hybrid Buckfast bees that came up from Georgia.  Sadly one perished within the first week (dead queen), but the other one has shown to be a vigorous (if not a bit pissy) hive of bees.  At last check they were finishing up drawing out comb and making honey in 3 deep boxes which should be enough stores for winter. And throughout the early part of the year these Buckfast bees provided frames of brood and eggs to help strengthen my Carniolans, and have also helped out to create a third colony.

 

At the end of June I came across a local company, 4 Seasons Apiaries, that specializes in locally bred queens and nucs.  This is a huge deal for us in Minnesota, not only for the fact that it is hard to find northern bred queens anywhere, but because it was only 20 minutes from my house as the car drives.  I ended up purchasing a really dark queen for $28 and put together a split that was made up of two frames each of the Buckfasts and the Carniolans.  The jury is still out on how this hive is doing though.  The queen is laying eggs, there is brood (both capped and otherwise), and they are actually making quite a bit of honey, but their overall numbers seem low to me.  They will most likely be subsidized with honey from the Carniolans this winter in hopes that they will have enough food to survive the cold, dark days of the upper midwest winter.

 

While I cross my fingers in hopes that all 3 of my colonies will pull through and survive this upcoming winter, observation and common sense tell me that the likelihood of all 3 surviving is slim at best.  Current numbers from this last winters survival rate was anywhere from about 30-50%.  These are horseshit numbers when compared to 20-30 years ago when a beekeeper could expect close to 90% survival rate in their apiaries.

 

My backyard is a refuge for endangered species...

My backyard is a refuge for endangered species…

So the same story continues for the bees.  While the numbers of reported cases of colony collapse disorder have evened out (and possibly plateaued), bee losses continue throughout many parts of the world, but seem especially high here in America.  Why this is such a surprise to people baffles me.  Our modern – mono crop – anthropocentric ways of inhabiting this planet are not compatible with a diverse, living, natural world.  This story is no longer just about the bees, but also of the monarch butterfly, the oceans, the remaining old growth forests of the world, and even people.

 

Habitat destruction, climate change, slavery, edible-food-like-products engineered to grow with poison, industrial pollution, and profit – from – disease are all symptoms of the overarching cancer that is this modern day capitalist society. It has grown up around us over the last 300 years, the whole time was spent in a petrochemical party binge, and now that we are drying out we are starting to feel the hangover!

 

It is as simple as this – when the bees lose, we lose, and that is the road we are going down.  The world that we live in, regardless of your flavor of religion, or politics, or indifference is still ruled by cold hard facts established through observation and the scientific method.  The world is changing, mainly its’ climate, but also the make-up of its varied populations.  Every day the Earth loses another creature, another plant.  The last of manifest destiny is completing itself as the few remaining “wild” people are driven from their forest homes, and the blood of ethnic genocide still waters the tree of “Liberty” for those of us in the privileged world .

 

Here is my flooded basement!

Here is my flooded basement!

This spring my family experienced climate change first hand.  For some naive reason I thought we were insulated from climate change here in Minnesota, but was I wrong!  Starting towards the end of May and going through towards the end of June, we received upwards of 15 inches of rain for the month, with a lot of this rain coming in bursts of multiple inches in short periods of time.  At some point a sewer line about a block and a half away from my home could no longer keep up with the amount of stormwater entering the system and literally collapsed in on itself.  This blockage led to my whole neighborhoods’ sanitary sewers backing up and we had upwards of 14 inches of sewage water in our basements!

 

Lets just say it was a real shitty and smelly problem to clean up.  To add to the mess, the city that I live in is not claiming any real responsibility for the sewer collapsing.  They are saying that the amount of rain that we received is to blame (because no one could have predicted that we would ever get that much rain in such a small space of time), and it is not their problem that the sewer wasn’t designed to handle that much water.  This situation is a good illustration of the intersecting problems of failing infrastructure and its ability to deal with the symptoms of climate change.

 

Not only is it bad enough that our infrastructure is falling apart and failing throughout the country, climate change will only hasten the collapse of these systems that we take for granted.  As there is less and less money to spend on domestic infrastructure projects and basic preventative maintenance, and the ever increasing threats of unstable weather conditions loom closer on all of our horizons, our roads and sewers and all the other systems that make modern lifestyles possible will be challenged and frequently overcome by a force far greater than themselves.

 

What is the quick take away from this conversation?  That as we face the future of a world that struggles to adapt to a changing climate with far fewer cheap resources on hand to work with, we can no longer rely on the long term support of our governments to solve these problems or to even help clean up the messes that ensue.  Just think back to hurricanes Katrina or Sandy (or any number of other climate disasters that happen regularly around the world) and you have all the evidence that you need to show government ineptitude when a climate-crisis strikes.

 

Most of the collapse will be slow and unnoticeable except for those places directly affected by whatever natural disaster decides to strike next.  But with each changing season, and every new climate change induced disaster, bit by bit the comfort and convenience that we are used to will begin to erode away. As long as we keep spending our resources, whether that be gold or oil, in a way that denies climate change and resource depletion, we will find ourselves in a world that is an empty shell of the one we now know.

 

If I were a religious man I may start praying extra hard right now, but thankfully I let science rather than superstition guide my life.  Critical observation and the ability to make rational decisions based on the facts is important.  Not just for a nation or a civilization, but also on the personal and family level.  I think if there is anything I have learned, is that when we can look at problems on multiple levels, do the research that is needed to educate ourselves on these problems, and then make decisions based on these observations to correct the problem, we can do a lot just in our own lives to change the course of events, and add a bit of resiliency and human spirit back into our everyday lives.

 

Nature reclaiming what is rightfully hers!!

Nature reclaiming what is rightfully hers!!

As briefly mentioned here in other posts, a year and a half ago I quit a long time job of mine in favor of one that affords me far more free time.  The trade off has been huge, and sometimes quite challenging.  This has been my second summer off, and my first full season as a partially self employed, full time stay at home dad.  It has probably been the most eye opening, and sometimes hardest role I have ever had to play.

 

Being use to the role as the main breadwinner in my family for so long and then giving up that economic control is not easy, but a lesson that I urge you to all try at some point in your life.  After these last few months of being at home with the kids, I have a far greater appreciation and respect for the work that my wife (as well as all you other moms out there!) has done over the last 8 years.  Child rearing is the hardest thing I have ever participated in, but I am glad that I have had the chance to dive in full time.

 

For me the hardest part has been balancing time between time actively spent with the kids, chores, and coordinating our CSA.  The CSA we run is small.  2 full shares, and 2, ½ shares, but it gave me a nice chunk of cash in the spring and early summer for things like groceries (I can’t grow cheese cake!) and gas money.  That cash is gone now, so my new endeavor is working on a business plan that expands out from the CSA in other directions to increase my summer cash flow for a few more months.

 

Eventually I hope to start making a bit of money by raising bees to sell, starting a small plant nursery, and I am also exploring some options for teaching classes.  Using outlets like the public library system, community education, and space at my local co-op, I am hoping to put together a selection of classes that will include introductions to beekeeping and Permaculture, and also a tree grafting workshop each spring.  I am in the early phases of research and planning, but I hope to teach my first official tree grafting class this upcoming spring (contact me if you are interested in hosting a class).

 

I guess when I really sit down and think about it, my ultimate long term goal is to not have to ever work a full time job again, unless it is for myself.  I am not scared of hard work, but it comes back to the fact that I am no longer alright selling my time to some asshole when I am fully capable of doing something(s) I am passionate about and generate an income for myself at the same time.

 

You can't stop nature!

You can’t stop nature!

Is this selfish?  Maybe, but I am okay with that as well.  I have begun to realize more than ever most people are just clueless drones.  Who after years of taking orders, and numbing themselves with TV, processed food, and fanatical beliefs in fairy tales can no longer truly take care of themselves or make desicions that impact their destiny.  As it stands, with humans being prisoners to their own creations and all,  I do not have a lot of hope for humanity right now.

 

If you follow David Holmgren’s work Future Scenarios, we are most likely entering into the Brown Tech future.  A world where we will continue draining the Earth of its fossil fuels, destroying the last of the wild lands, converting more and more  of that land to desertscapes of monocrops, and the further erosion of our shared cultural heritage, modern Homo Sapiens have perfected the art of extinction.

 

It is a bleak future.  One that leaves less and less room for those of us who seek freedom and justice.  It is a world that has been reduced to cultural poverty by traditions and tragedies alike.  It is a world where all life on Earth has been reduced to interchangeable and disposable parts in the pursuit of Progress.  It is a world filled with death and injustice, but it is also falling apart.

 

Whether humans can survive this collapse of our own making is yet to be determined.  It will be hard, but even the strongest rock is defeated by water and wind in the end.  It is in these cracks and fissures that we can seek our refuge.  The spots forgotten about and overlooked.  The areas where literal and figurative weeds grow.  The edges.  The TAZs where humanity still flourish.

 

Go on hikes.  Hunt mushrooms.  Raise bees.  Raise Kids.  Bake bread.  Love.  Hate.  Grow some carrots.  Chop some wood.  Pull some weeds.  Laugh.  Hug a puppy.  Cry.  Resist!  Grow.  Take a nap.  Rise up!  Read a book.  Lend a hand.   Take notes.  Have fun.  Fish.  Visit a friend.  Hug your mom.  Plant trees.  Be human….

Freedom!!

Freedom!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Long before the rise of annual grain based industrial agriculture, and the dismantling of our food and cultural traditions, humans lived in ways much closer to the earth.  In some places hunting and gathering remained a viable option (even up to the present day), and in other places this relationship with the earth manifested itself through horticulture and various forms of animal husbandry.  In many places it was a mix of these two ways of procuring food that shaped and defined a culture and/or a region.

For untold millennia (until relatively recently), humans had been able to provide for their basic needs through a combination of these two actions:  Hunting/Fishing/Shepherding/Husbanding and the cultivation/gathering of plants for all of their dietary needs.  These ways of life are not mutually exclusive, but rather a complementary set of skills and traditions that have formed the long and diverse history of humans, the food we eat, and how we inhabit, impact, and transform our landscapes.

The transition from hunter/gatherers to industrial agricultural farmers did not happen overnight.  It has been a long drawn out story that has seen countless empires and kingdoms rise and fall, climate and weather patterns change, landscapes transformed, and cultural practices (some good, and some bad) that have led up to the present day.  The part of this story that really interests me, and what this essay is going to explore, are some of the horticultural practices that came between the gulf of the hunting and gathering lifestyle and the transition to the industrial agricultural paradigm, and how the ultimate survival of the human species rests in reconnecting with these horticultural traditions.

For the last ten thousand years humans have undergone a transformation that has slowly eroded our abilities to be self reliant as communities.  Year by year, and season by season unseen and unnoticed by most of those living through these changes, we have become more dependent on others to grow, raise, and process our food for us.  But even as this has occurred, and continues to happen to this day, there are examples of resistance to the transition of mass produced food that is based on annual grain agriculture.

The kitchen garden, which in many regards is the original resistor to monocrop agriculture, is the heart of any homestead.  They provide us with an abundance of fruits and vegetables, culinary and medicinal herbs, flowers, forage, liquid gold from honey bees, fodder for livestock and pollinators, beauty, a sense of well being, and a bit of self reliance.  The kitchen garden, whether it is covering thousands of square feet as part of a rural homestead, or is an intensively managed set of raised beds in an urban neighborhood, has traditionally provided us with a majority of our essential vitamins, nutrients, and minerals that we need each day to remain healthy.

The kitchen garden has been the difference of merely surviving on a subsistence diet of staple grains or other forms of cheap industrial grown carbs, and thriving because of a diet consisting of healthy leafy greens, fruits, berries, legumes, stems, nuts, tubers, roots, and different forms of animal protein.  It is the kitchen gardens, allotments, community gardens, urban farms, and small scale polycultural farms found throughout the world and its history that have helped to feed the civilian population in times of war and peace, economic prosperity and downturns, and periods of climate change and stability.

As far back as ancient Rome, before it was an empire dominated by politicians and imperial armies, citizen farmers worked the land as families.  Their farms were small, diverse operations worked by hand that provided all the food a family needed to survive.  David R. Montgomery, the author of Dirt – The Erosion of Civilisations, sums up early Roman horticultural practices in this passage –

“Early Roman farms were intensively worked operations where diversified fields were hoed and weeded manually and carefully manured.  The earliest Roman farmers planted a multistory canopy of olives, grapes, cereals, and fodder crops referred to as cultura promiscua.  Interplanting of understory and overstory crops smothered weeds, saved labor, and prevented erosion by shielding the ground all year.  Roots of each crop reached to different depths and did not compete with each other.  Instead, the multicrop system raised soil temperatures and extended the growing season.  In the early republic, a Roman family could feed itself working the typical plot of land by hand.  (And such labor – intensive farming is best practiced on a small scale.)  Using an ox and plow saved labor but required twice as much land to feed a family.  As plowing became standard practice, the demand for land increased faster than the population.”

romanfarmers2

Farmers from ancient Rome.

This passage highlights a few points that are well worth looking at in more detail.  First, the description of the crops grown illustrates the importance of genetic diversity.  While the Romans did not have the word Permaculture, the fact that their horticultural choices included tree crops, vines, ground covers and annuals shows that they understood the importance of genetic variation within their farmsteads.  Genetic diversity within a particular crop selection almost always insures a harvest of some kind, and by designing this resilient feature into our farms, we can avoid complete famine in a bad year.

Second, these early Roman farmers knew the importance of a healthy, living soil even if the finer details of microorganisms and soil life were not fully understood.  By returning manure and organic matter back to the fields, and growing a diverse selection of perennial food crops (along with some annuals), the soil health was maintained and continually improved upon. But gradually throughout the empire the Roman family farm began to be replaced with annual grain production that depended on the tilling and plowing of the fields to support an elite urban empire.  Once this occurred the resilience of these small horticultural farms was lost to the history books.

At this point in Roman history, absentee land ownership took over, soil was lost to water and wind erosion, and farm labor moved in the direction of slavery.  These are all signs, still seen today to some extent, of what happens when our horticultural traditions are replaced with annual monocrop grain production to feed the cities.  This transition does not happen overnight, and is almost invisible to those living through it.  Only in hindsight and with an accurate historical narrative can we see the effects of what annual mono-crop based agriculture does to a once thriving, self reliant culture.

Moving on to another example of a multi species, horticultural society, we find ourselves in pre-industrial China.  While China has suffered many famines, environmental degradations, and massive amounts of soil loss due to poor farming practices and land stewardship, not everything in this ancient culture’s history is doom and gloom.  Focusing solely on southern China, there is a roughly 10,000 year old agricultural tradition of growing rice along with fish and ducks.

Chinese rice farmer, Seven Stars and Moon viewpoint, Dragon's Ba

This farmer is carrying on a tradition that is millenia old.

This polyculture of rice, fish, and ducks provided a substantial part of southern China’s diet on land that was marginal at best.  Through intensive land management of irrigation ditches and rice paddies, and the continual addition of human and animal manures to these areas, the pre-industrial Chinese farmers were able to work these same lands for millennia without degrading the soil.  This technique of multi-species farming was so successful that the population would balloon in times of prosperity and occasionally overshoot the carrying capacity of the landbase, leading to isolated periods of collapse, famine, and death.

In addition to the rice, fish, and ducks, Chinese farmers also raised chickens and pigs, and cultivated amaranth, asian beans, barley, brassicas, leeks, melons, millet, turnips, and many other old world annual vegetables that added richness to their cuisine and health.  Fungi and herbs that have traditionally been used in Chinese medicine have now gained notoriety throughout the world, and as far as perennial contributions from their horticultural traditions, apricots, apples, bamboo shoots, citrus, lotus roots, and peaches also played large roles in feeding the pre-industrial farmers of China.

Like the example of the Romans, as ancient China grew and added more and more urban areas, the population increased and demanded more from the land.  As this happens, shortcuts are taken and eventually people start to change the way they grow their food.  Demand dictates efficiencies, so rather than keeping age old methods of growing and raising food for small communities using proven sustainable methods, new ways are invented to grow and export more food to the ever growing urban areas.  As this happens land stewardship ceases to matter, and as a consequence soil is lost, and civilizations fail.

potatoes

An example of genetic diversity within the indiginous crop of the Andes mountains – potatoes!

Moving along to one last pre-industrial horticultural society, we find ourselves across the two great oceans in pre-European North, Central, and South America.  While this land mass is huge and contained many diverse cultures, there was a shared, underlying similarity displayed by many of these first nations of the Americas.  While it is true that the Americas’ had its own agricultural revolutions with crops like maize and potatoes (and flourishing kingdoms and urban centers that were supported by these crops), the pre European Americas were highly managed landscapes overflowing with an abundance of useful plants and animals despite what the first Europeans thought was an untouched, virgin wilderness.

One major difference that set the Americas apart from Europe and Asia is that there were no domesticated animals aside from the dog that were a part of their horticultural systems.  While it could be argued that the guinea pig and possibly the turkey were partially domesticated, there were no beasts of burden prior to the arrival of the Europeans (and the animals they brought with them) that aided in the transformation of the landscape, thus giving it its wild appearance.

This fact alone sets the stage for the reasons that the original inhabitants of the Americas managed the land the way they did.  With no domesticated animals to keep track of or feed, there were no fences or pastures in the landscape.  Therefore all meat and animal products were procured from undomesticated sources.  The work of clearing fields was done first with semi controlled fires, and then using wood and bone hand tools to finish removing charred stumps and other debris, fields were then planted in any number of indigenous crops.  The same way manure adds nutrients and minerals to the soil, so too does fire from the (semi)annual burnings.

Fire not only cleared out fields where they grew the Three Sisters (maize, beans, and squash – Roughly  Mexico north through Minnesota ), potatoes in the central and southern American highlands, and manioc root in the tropics, but fire was also used to keep undergrowth in the forests (continents wide) from getting out of control.  The great savannas in the Eastern and Central United States, described by Lewis and Clark in their journals that contained American Chestnuts, oaks, maples, and many other trees were not wild tracts of land, but highly managed food forests that provided a variety of nuts, fruits, greens, medicinal herbs, and meat protein from the animals that also called these forests home.

Variations on this theme of the food forest could be found throughout the Americas.  From the northern climes all the way down to the tropics and beyond; each region had its own diverse set of species that flourished with the help of the native populations and the fire they used to shape the land.  Even the tropics and the great Amazonian rainforests are now thought to have been food forests and gardens that were managed by the local populations whose numbers are now believed to have been much larger than first thought.  The evidence of terra preta, a mixture of charcoal, fired clay, manure, and other organic matter that is highly fertile that is found throughout huge swaths of Amazonian soil, is now thought to be evidence of a very hands on approach to the management of land that was once considered to be virgin wilderness.

With the arrival of the Europeans to the Americas, the world changed forever.  Disease spread like wildfire and decimated native and imperial populations alike (this included non human species as well).  Plants and animals from all corners of the globe began their international migrations.  Maize, potatoes, and tomatoes from the Americas, wheat and barley from Europe and the Middle East, and apples, citrus, melons, and rice from Asia all became global crops.   Honey bees, horses, cows, chickens, and pigs all became global animals and farming practices around the globe began to radically change, which in turn affected how communities prospered or failed, and how landscapes were altered.  So while it can be said that monocrop grain agriculture started well over 10,000 years ago, it was with the advent of the Columbian exchange that it took on a new global approach that has altered our planet radically.

Today our kitchen gardens and small scale farms are made up of global plant immigrants.  Whether you are in Africa, America, or Australia, the joy of a garden fresh cucumber, tomato, or onion is now a shared experience.  And while the globalization of plants and animals has had downsides such as the spread of pests, disease, and “invasive” species, it has also provided us with many new opportunities to help feed ourselves and heal the land after so much abuse and mismanagement at the hands of modern civilization and the agriculture that has made it possible.

Having this plethora of plants (and animals) at hand to work with can now be considered an asset and another tool for us to use as we adapt to our new living arrangements.  As Bill Mckibben has so eloquently wrote about (see his book Eaarth), we no longer live on the planet that we grew up on.  The realities of climate change are real, and when combined with peak oil, habitat loss, and nuclear contamination humans have been backed into a corner that will be hard to get out of alive.

The horticultural traditions from the global past may now be our best shot for the survival of the human race along with all the good parts of our collective culture – i.e. – music, art, poetry, community, family, etc.  When we can all become producers again, rather than just blindly consuming, we begin to occupy one of our historical roles as land stewards.  Since so few of us have any connection with the Earth anymore, we no longer know what it needs or how to care for it.  When we no longer live with the Earth, we no longer know its rhythms and fall out of balance with our evolutionary roles as caretakers.  Every year more soil is lost to erosion, aquifers are drained and contaminated, wild habitat is plowed under for field crops and development, and human culture moves further away from our evolutionary roots.  This has been our fate, but now is the time to free ourselves from the shackles of civilization and move onto the next stage of evolution.

Our shared horticultural traditions, whether that be from the terraced slopes of China to the food forests of pre-Columbian America are examples of what is possible.  While we may never be able to recreate some of these systems as they once were, the lessons they have to teach us are timeless and offer real solutions for our journey into the future.  The ecological design science of Permaculture gives us an opportunity to take all of these diverse traditions and blend them into a new, adaptable way for us to inhabit the Earth.  As we begin this journey, we will see that modern, industrial grain based agriculture is incompatible will our ultimate survival on this planet.  Only when we begin to think long term and include future generations into our plans will we be able to affect real, positive change.

So while planting biodiverse gardens with fruit and nut trees in and of itself is not the answer to all of the problems we face, it is a big part of the solution.  The challenges we are up against are compounded by so many factors, but food is one of the underlying commonalities that ties everything together.  When we begin to rethink how we grow our food and look to the past for examples, that is when we can truly move forward and begin the healing process of ourselves and our one planet.  I leave you with one final thought, a favorite quote of mine that sums up our journey thus far.  “Societies grow great when old men plant trees  whose shade they  know they will never sit in.”  It is not too late for us, lets do something epic and grow old together as one human culture!  Peace and Cheers

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Here are my two helpers.  We spent a morning picking apples off of a tree that we found a few years ago on a public boulevard.  The apples are almost perfect, and nearly blemish free.  They are large, slightly sweet and great fresh eating!

Here are my two helpers. We spent a morning picking apples off of a tree that we found a few years ago on a public boulevard. The apples are almost perfect, and nearly blemish free. They are large, slightly sweet and great fresh eating!

As happens this time every year, I have hit a lull in my writing.  Not that there hasn’t been plenty to write about, I just haven’t had the energy to sit down in front of the computer screen and pull all my thoughts together and put them into written words.  The summer of 2013 has seen our backyard bees doing great,  my wife just picked our first real harvest of Haralson apples, and it has been a very bountiful year for us on our urban foraging adventures which yielded us more than a dozen pints of mulberry jam and close to forty pounds of really great apples gleaned from an old neighborhood tree.

One reason for the lack of activity here at Autonomy Acres is that I am now working two jobs, and neither of them are the one that I have spent the last 10 years of my life working at.  Back at the end of May I called it quits at the adult beverage factory where I had worked and took the summer off to rediscover what it means to be human.  I was burnt out and depressed by the endless daily routine of factory life and knew I had to make some positive changes in the way I live and walk on this Earth.

Having a couple months off to gather my thoughts, and to let my body heal was the right medicine at the right time.  When I decided to take my life back, it was one of the most empowering moments I have ever felt, and the energy and self knowledge that I gained from that choice has changed my life.  I have realized that all the “Things” that society tells us are important and that matter are meaningless.  No longer will I let a “job” define who I am as a person.  The accumulation of money and “Toys” is not a measurement of happiness nor are they milestones that should be enshrined in our personal stories. Finally, it was reinforced in my mind that nothing is more important than our relationships with our families, friends, and the Earth.

While I wish I could say that I am now a gentleman of leisure, relaxing in a hammock sipping cold beer and reading Edward Abbey novels, sadly, I am still just a common worker!  I find myself back in my old haunts though – line cooking!  I worked restaurants for many years and truly enjoyed the kitchen work, but not the hours.  But I got lucky and I am now  slinging hash and eggs, cooking up real stocks and soups, and working with a terrific crew of Food Service Pirates at a local music college in the early morning, Monday through Friday.  It is nice to be appreciated for my talents and skills, and to also work for decent folks who treat me like a human being, and not a machine; a big change from where I previously worked.

I am also pulling a few shifts a week at a “Hip” national grocery store chain.  And while I do enjoy this as a part time gig, the pay is horseshit, and the health care benefits I was hoping to get through them just got put through the guillotine because of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which translated means – the big bosses saw this as an opportunity to make a shitload of money.  At least I still get a small discount on groceries!

It is interesting though to see a new side of the food industry that I was previously only a spectator and consumer in.  While I have written extensively about the global food supply chain and how it affects farmers and communities, and how it is ultimately not based on sustainable and local means and resources, seeing this first hand has been very educational.

freshly picked Haralsons!  These are an example of what can be grown in your own yard - No semi-truck needed!

freshly picked Haralsons! These are an example of what can be grown in your own yard – No semi-truck needed!

It is easy to use Wal-Mart as the poster child for the just-in-time, warehouse on wheels delivery model, but it is everywhere, whether that be a grocery store or a local brewery.  Anyone who has spent time researching food, how it is grown, and then how it is shipped to all parts of the world has seen the figures that say if a natural disaster or collapse of some kind disrupts the supply chain, grocery store shelves would be empty in 3 days.  Seeing how a grocery store runs, is managed, and is stocked I completely believe this.

Our food supply chain is balanced ever so gently on a global house of cards that when it does fall, it will fall fast.  It could happen because of the loss of honeybees that is now in the news almost everyday, or it could happen from a natural disaster or escalating climate change, or in a worse case scenario could be triggered by a terrorist attack or a war that shuts down the supply chain.  Whichever way you slice it, this scenario is all the evidence anyone should need to dig up that lawn and get growin’ as much of their own food that they can and begin adding a bit of resilience into their lives!

To echo past essays here at Autonomy Acres and other sources that touch on these issues, this predicament of global climate change, energy descent and food security that we find ourselves in, need to be looked at as an opportunity to move the human race forward into the future.  While it may seem like a futile prospect to think we can take on, and ultimately overcome these challenges, the words of Permaculture Pioneer Geoff Lawton come to mind -”All the worlds problem can be solved with a garden”!

It may seem like an idealistic statement, but I truly think that there is a lot of truth and wisdom from such a simple idea as planting a garden.  If everyone who has access to a bit of land, whether that be in the city or out in the country began to grow a portion of their own food, we would realize the abundance that this Earth can provide for us.  And a garden is more than just growing food.  Once you make the leap to becoming a producer and not just a consumer, many other wonderful things follow in the footsteps of a garden.

Compost is one of them.  Food scraps, garden waste, animal manures, leaves and other plant debris can all be composted and be used to start healing our soils.  When our soils are healthy and filled with organic matter, not only can we grow lots of great food, the soil also becomes a living ecosystem, a sponge for holding water, and most importantly a place that can capture and store carbon.

When we start to tend the Earth as stewards rather than rulers, and begin to see how humans can have a positive impact on our surroundings, beautiful things begin to spring forth.  Where once there were manicured lawns that were maintained by a regiment of poisons and pointless labor, now there can be gardens packed full of both annuals and perennials providing food for humans, habitat and forage for wildlife, and many other products that range from fibers, fuel, and pharmaceuticals.

Where once there were boulevards and roadsides, those pieces of land that are cut off from each, now there can be fruit and nut trees, fruiting shrubs, and forage for all the pollinators.  These pieces of land can be reclaimed and planted with species that need little to no human maintenance that once again help to feed us, provide us with fuel, store carbon, and heal the soil.

My futue looks sweet!  We took one frame of honey this year from our strongest hive.  It is a dark, sweet honey, most likely foraged from local goldenrod.

My futue looks sweet! We took one frame of honey this year from our strongest hive. It is a dark, sweet honey, most likely foraged from local goldenrod.

The future is full of possibilities.  If we continue down the road we are on now, then there will not be a future for the human race.  Turning the ship around is not enough – we have run out of time to do that, we need to jump overboard and start anew.  It will not be easy, but for the sake of the generations that follow, and all the other critters and plants that call this planet home it is what we must do.

Starting over will require participation from everyone.  It will not happen because a government or a corporation tells us too.  It will happen organically, and from the bottom up.  When the people demand an end to the destruction of the planet and are ready to start the healing process, governments and corporations will have no choice but to listen, and eventually cease to be.

It is possible, and it is starting.  It is happening everywhere that there are gardens being planted, where land is being reclaimed, and where communities are being built.  It happens when people band together and stand against the machine of oppression.  It happens when people realize that everything we have been taught is an illusion, and that when we change our lives, we have the power to change the world!  Peace & Cheer

A great video about living a simple life …

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Hey Everyone!  It is not often that I just throw a post together, especially on a Tuesday, but here ya go.  A while ago I was asked by Scott Mann, who is the host of the Permaculture Podcast, if I would be willing to record my article, “All Roads Lead to Permaculture” for his show.  I said I would be honored to.  Well here it is.  If you haven’t already heard Scott’s show, this would be a good time to give it a listen.  He has had many wonderful guests and it is a truly great resource.  Hope you enjoy it!!  Peace & Cheerspermaculture podcasr

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In the last few years a popular meme growing throughout the ether of the inter-webs is the idea of guerrilla gardening.  The idea of guerrilla gardening is really quite simple, but with some rather radical implications.  Guerrilla gardening is the cultivation and care of plants (usually edibles) on land that you do not own.  It is done on land that may be overlooked and forgotten about by private companies or municipalities.  It may be D.O.T. land such as boulevards or parcels cut off by highways, and surrounded by entrance and exit ramps.  It may be tucked away off of the beaten path in a county park, or behind the public library.

 

All of these pieces of land represent and exemplify humans innate ability to conquer, divide, categorize, map, and privatize the Earth.  The more radical implications of guerrilla gardening is that it calls into question the land use of today’s modern world.  With the rise of modern industrial society, and the accumulation of mass amounts of riches by the ruling class, land that historically had been held and treated as a commons, has effectively been divorced from the people who benefited and cared for the land the most.

 

When common, everyday people lose access to land, they become enslaved and dependent upon the industrial machine that is destroying human culture and the land base that supports all of us.  Not that long ago (at least in the historical long view) when the planet had a smaller population and people had a greater hand in the production of their food – the commons – whether that be forest, pasture, prairie, or wetlands, contributed greatly to the food in their diets and personal autonomy in their lives.

 

Nowadays with a much larger population and less food producing (wild)land to forage from and grow on, guerrilla gardening, or what I will refer to as Guerrilla Forest Gardening for the rest of the article, provides us with a very unique opportunity.  Incorporating a few of the principles of Permaculture, a Guerrilla Forest Garden is not just a way to grow food, it is also a healing process and an act of nonviolent civil  disobedience.

 

Where guerrilla gardening is based on the use of  annual vegetables and fruits and is a relatively short lived seasonal endeavor  Guerrilla Forest Gardens seek to add a sense of permanence to these overlooked pieces of land.  The simple act of planting food bearing trees and shrubs on land you don’t “own” becomes something revolutionary and a force for positive change.

 

How much land in your town, county, state, and country has been fenced off and plastered with “No Trespassing” signs?  How much of that land, assuming that it is not harboring a toxic waste dump, storing munitions for imperialistic resource wars, or some other use that is mistaken for human “Progress”, could be planted with woody, food producing perennials?  How much of that land could be sequestering carbon that is being belched out of smokestacks and tailpipes?   How much of that land are we going to need to help feed us once Peak Oil and energy descent make industrial agriculture a thing of the past?  The easy answer – almost all of it!

 

All of this land – the isolated parcels, abandoned lots, overgrown parkland and weedy hillsides forgotten to plat maps and urban decay, now present us with a chance to start healing the landscape.  Most of this land is no longer a part of intact, healthy, and native ecosystems.  They are typically marginal pieces of land that annual crops would do poorly on, and with little to no way of irrigating, makes them a challenge to design and plant.  The beauty of a Guerrilla Forest Garden is in the use of a wide array of different perennials, that in time will need less and less human intervention to thrive.

 

Perennial food crops have many distinct advantages over annual row crops, and this can be seen with a quick explanation of how conventional agriculture works.  Our current model of industrial agriculture is based on plants that are essentially domesticated weeds that thrive on disturbed soils. This means each spring we cultivate the Earth with shovels, tillers, and giant tractors to give our domesticated weeds the foot up and environment they need to grow and thrive.  But by annually tilling the soil and using large amounts of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, we deplete any fertility that may be present and damage the huge and immensely complex web of life that inhabits and has a beneficial symbiosis with the soil.

 

This cycle of annual cultivation and constant depletion of our soils’ fertility and organic matter has led to desertification throughout the worlds original agricultural and pastoral lands (and continues to spread today everywhere there is industrial agriculture and poor land management).  By moving towards a perennial dominated landscape we can virtually eliminate (in the right circumstances) the need to disturb the soil on an annual basis to grow our food.  We can start to rebuild our soils, and also to repair the watersheds that have been destroyed through industrial agriculture and loss of wild spaces.  The unfortunate part of this is that it cannot be done overnight.  It can take many years before we can begin to see the results, but we have to start sometime, so let’s make it happen now!

 

The initial establishment of a Guerrilla Forest Garden requires the most work.  Before even thinking about digging the holes to plant the trees in, we first need to come up with the varieties of fruits and nuts we want to put in the ground.  What I plant here in Minnesota is going to be different than what can be planted in a much warmer (cooler, wetter, drier, etc…) climate, so the logical first step is to decide what perennial food plants grow in your region and then find a source for these plants.

 

I love seed and nursery catalogs, but they are expensive when you start to order a large number of trees, shrubs, and seeds with which to work.  What I do (most of the time) is use them as a way of creating a wishlist of plants that I want to acquire.  I get names, pictures, and descriptions of varieties that look like good candidates for a specific project or garden and add them to my list of plants to research.  When I decide upon a certain apple, plum, gooseberry or whatever it may be that I am looking for, I rely on swapping with friends, arranging trades through The North American Scion Exchange (or similar networks), and foraging them from already established orchards, food forests, and gardens.  I only try to purchase plants or seeds that have proven difficult to either find or propagate on my own, but I do still buy my fair share of vegetable seed (and root stock for tree grafting) from catalogs on an annual basis for our CSA, but I am trying to wean myself from this and I am moving in the right direction.

 

So what do you do with all these genetics (seeds, cuttings, and scion wood) that you have received in trades, saved from last year’s gardens, and have foraged from different spots?  Seeds are easy, plant them!  Well most of the time.  Some seeds/nuts need to be treated with a bit more care.  Cold stratification is a process that mimics nature’s seasonal cycle of cool and moist conditions.  Many tree nuts and other perennials will not germinate without being subject to cold stratification, so learn how to do this or find a source of seed that has already gone through this process.

 

Many plants can be propagated through rooting cuttings.  Some need to be green wood cuttings, some need to be hard wood for the rooting process to happen, so once again, do your homework.  Many people use a rooting hormone to get things started, but this is pretty nasty stuff, so be careful.  I have had luck using raw honey in place of rooting hormone and have had reasonable success.  I am not sure what the science is on this, but it is well worth experimenting with (report back with results please!!).  Plants that lend themselves to this method of propagation are blueberries, currants, elderberries, gooseberries, figs, tree collards and many more.  I have found YouTube to be very helpful in this department, so if someone has done it, there is most likely a video out there to show you how!

 

Root cuttings, or divisions are also another way of propagating perennials.  Plants like asparagus, comfrey, hops, raspberries, and rhubarb all can be multiplied by root division.   It is usually best to get them early in the spring before things are starting to really take off.  Keep them watered and you should have very few problems. Come year two or three of these plants that have been propagated by root division is when you can expect your first yield.

 

And last is grafting.  Anyone who has followed this blog for awhile knows how much I like grafting.  Tree grafting is a craft that spans thousands of years and is the reason we have named cultivars of apples, cherries, pears, and plums that sometimes can be hundreds of years old.  Grafting allows us to customize trees for the characteristics we are looking for.  Do you need an apple tree that can be kept small, and produces a good cider apple?  How about a plum that can be planted in a clay heavy soil?  The right choice of root stock (and there are many to choose from), and a cultivar that is suited to your climate can make all the difference in your grafting success.

The more modern twist on grafting is Guerrilla Grafting.  Just like its counterpart we started the article out with, Guerrilla Grafting takes advantage of resources that are already available and could be a major component to establishing a Guerrilla Forest Garden.  So many parking lots, corporate campuses, and other semi-public areas are landscaped with decorative crab apples and flowering pears and cherries.  Why not graft on sticks of edible cultivars and get some real food out of the deal!  You might be amazed at how prevalent some of these trees are.  They are all over the Twin Cities metro area where I reside and most likely in your hometown as well (wherever in the world you are reading from).  Because many of these trees are already mature, if your grafting is successful, you can expect to get fruit in two to three years.  Add a few under story plants and ground covers and you are well on your way to establishing a Guerrilla Forest Garden!

 

The very nature of a Guerrilla Forest Garden is illegal.  You ARE trespassing – and whether that be on land or on an idea, what you are doing is a threat to those in power.  There is a reason we have been separated from the land, and it is that when we lose the ability to provide for ourselves, we lose our autonomy and freedom as humans and as a community.  Guerrilla Forest Gardens are just one tactic and solution we have to start reclaiming what has always been ours.  When we have access to land that we can care for and steward, we reconnect with a bit of our humanity that has been subjugated and domesticated in these ‘a waning days of the Wal-Mart world!


Good luck to all of you who are out there reclaiming the land with fruit trees and berry shrubs.  Keep your pruning shears and grafting knives sharp, your shovels close, and your spirit of Revolution lit!  Take a chance, plant some trees, and cover your tracks!  Do it for yourself, but also for the future, and defend the Earth!  Go Guerrillas!!!  Peace & Cheers

 

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The great oval of the design represents the egg of life; that quantity of life which cannot be created or destroyed, but from within which all things that live are expressed. Within the egg is coiled the rainbow snake, the Earth-shaper of Australian & American aboriginal peoples..........Within the body of the Rainbow Serpent is contained the Tree of Life, which itself expresses the general pattern of life forms, as further elaborated in the chapter on pattern in this book. Its roots are in earth, & its crown in rain sunlight & wind. Elemental forces & flows shown external to the oval represent the physical environment, the sun & the matter from which life on earth is formed. The whole cycle & form is dedicated, as is this book, to the complexity of life on Earth.

The great oval of the design represents the egg of life; that quantity of life which cannot be created or destroyed, but from within which all things that live are expressed. Within the egg is coiled the rainbow snake, the Earth-shaper of Australian & American aboriginal peoples……….
Within the body of the Rainbow Serpent is contained the Tree of Life, which itself expresses the general pattern of life forms, as further elaborated in the chapter on pattern in this book. Its roots are in earth, & its crown in rain sunlight & wind. Elemental forces & flows shown external to the oval represent the physical environment, the sun & the matter from which life on earth is formed. The whole cycle & form is dedicated, as is this book, to the complexity of life on Earth.
http://www.users.on.net/~arachne/logo.html

Eight years ago when Peak Oil became a part of my life, and my DIY spirit kicked into high gear, I had no idea about the journey I was about to embark on.  From the beginning, food security and providing for my family had always been my main concern.  While it is true that the effects of Peak Oil will be far reaching, long term, and in some instances painful, nothing is more important than food and water security, with shelter coming in a close second.  Unlike food, clean water, and a dry place to live, we can survive without cars, iPods, high fructose corn syrup, industrial agriculture and so many other modern luxuries that people take for granted and think they need.  Admittedly, I love being comfortable.  I like staying warm on cold winter nights, and eating food when I am hungry.  I love hot showers and cold beer, and I like knowing that by washing my hands and having good hygiene I will not die prematurely from a preventable disease.

But what I dislike, or even to be so bold and say HATE, is the way humans have squandered our natural wealth and resources.  I hate that for one rich person to be luxuriously comfortable, thousands of others live in squalor and go to sleep at night hungry.  I hate how a person can be morbidly obese in a food desert, and I hate Monsanto and Bayer Corp for murdering honey bees and enslaving farmers!  That is a whole lot of hate, and though it is genuine and aimed at the right targets – that hate, anger, and negativity does nothing good for me.  I learned early on as a radical environmental activist that it is damn near impossible to change this corrupt and destructive system.

So after “retiring” from trying to stop highway construction and timber cuts, I was left with an empty feeling, a disenchantment with life, and a sense of powerlessness.  It was a dark place, and it wasn’t until I met my wife and we planted our first garden together that I was able to start seeing the light again.  Those first years and gardens were full of mistakes and missteps, but we kept at it and those gardens and our love have only grown and flourished.

It was at the same time as when Peak Oil entered my vocabulary that I started to hear about an idea called Permaculture (Permanent Agri/Culture).  Already having a few good gardening seasons behind me, and starting to crawl out of that dark hole I had found myself in, Permaculture began to fill in some of those blanks left over from my days as an Eco-Warrior.  Not only does Permaculture question and confront the path modern civilization has gone down, it also offers a whole interconnected web of ideas and solutions that coalesce perfectly with the converging crisis of Peak Oil and climate change.  And while I am glad to know that there are still people out there putting their bodies in front of bulldozers and chainsaws to stop the destruction of the wild, Permaculture gives us the tools to create and live in the world we want, and to help heal the one being murdered.

Like many other people, when I first encountered Permaculture I thought it was just about gardening – incorporating fruit, nut trees and other edibles into your landscape, using mulch, and composting.  And yes it is true that all these are a part of Permaculture, it is also so much more!  Permaculture is an ecological design system that helps to connect all aspects of our lives.  From the food we eat, the water we use, or the fuel that keeps us warm, Permaculture can help us obtain the necessities for life in ways that work with the Earth and promote the long term health of the planet.

The techniques and solutions offered by Permaculture are as diverse and unique as all the ecosystems and landscapes that surround us.  What works in one place may fail in another, but despite the differences, it is Permaculture’s  bottom-up approach and adaptability that allow it to be used the world over.  The challenges we face from Peak Oil and climate change are epic in scale.  In the case of Peak Oil everything about  our modern, fast paced lifestyles rely on abundant supplies of cheap oil.  Cars, plastic, hamburgers, industrial agriculture – you name it, are all either made up from or use huge inputs of oil.  If the tap gets turned off because of economic or social turmoil, or the price skyrockets and makes petrol unaffordable – kiss convenience and disposable culture goodbye and say hello to hard times!

Climate change is a different monster all together.  Where Peak Oil has some predictable outcomes, climate change, whether human influenced (a most likely scenario) or part of some cyclical system that the Earth goes through every couple of million years (which has happened many times throughout the Earth’s 4 billion year long life), we are headed for territory where no modern person has ever been.  100 year floods happening every few years, wildfires of epic proportions,  drastic temperature swings and repeated seasons of severe drought are just the beginning.  While there are plenty of climate models and predictions, how the long term effects of climate change will actually impact the Earth are unknown.  What we do know is this – the planet is warming, atmospheric carbon is on the rise, polar ice caps and ancient glaciers are melting, aquifers are being depleted faster than they can be replenished, forests are still being cut down at unprecedented rates, and we lose more topsoil each year.  All of these add up to a potent cocktail that is sure to leave us with one hell of a hangover when we decide to wake up from this binge!

This is an overwhelming list of of problems we face as a planet.  Dealing with energy descent alone will be difficult enough, but when you throw climate change into the mix, it almost seems hopeless.  It is an uphill battle we face, and one that we could quite possibly lose as a species if we stay the present course, but Permaculture offers solutions to this predicament.  It is getting late in the game, but humans are resilient and have proven in historic times of hardship that it is possible to pull through and adapt to new circumstances.

An idea I have had recently is that “All roads lead to Permaculture”, and in this sense of the word – Permaculture is the destination we need to aim for if we want any chance of surviving and moving human culture into the future.  The largest challenge we face is going to be scaling down every system, industry, and all the other myriad endeavors we participate in to a human scale.  What does this mean?  It means we need to stop relying on fossilized solar power (oil, natural gas, and coal) to do the work for us.  We need to design simpler, smaller and more diverse and efficient systems of agriculture, industry, commerce, city planning, living arrangements, community and civic dynamics, waste management, and all the other aspects that contribute to the human project.

Permaculture gives us the tools we need to accomplish this task.  As mentioned earlier, solutions will manifest themselves in different ways for different locations and different cultures, but the underlying ethics of Permaculture are universal and will form the foundation for a world transitioning into energy descent and a changing climate.  Many of the ideas, solutions, and principles offered by Permaculture are not new to human culture, and find their inspirations and origins in traditional and indigenous cultures that date back to before the agricultural revolution that started 10,000 years ago.

A good example of this is the idea of polyculture, or growing more than one crop in any given location.  Nature doesn’t grow just one plant (especially in straight rows) in an ecosystem, but a mix of many different plants that all play different roles within that one ecosystem. Before the dawn of modern agriculture, native people across the globe relied on and, in many instances, participated in these diverse landscapes. They were as much a part of them as the plants and other animals.  There is strong evidence that suggests that the continent of North America, prior to European invasion and conquest, was a highly managed and diverse ecosystem that contained thousands of edible fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, greens, and animals that the First Nations people tended, cared for and influenced through their actions and choices.

This idea of polyculture in todays world does not differ too much from the example above, and when it does, it is only in a matter of scale.  While it would be foolish to think that we could go back to the world of pre-European North America (at least anytime soon), there are things that we can do right now to add more resiliency and diversity to the way we are growing our food.  A good example of this is happening in Wisconsin.  Mark Shepard is a Permaculturist who is attacking conventional agriculture in the heart of Corn Country.  On his New Forest Farm, that only 18 years ago was a dying corn field, he is now growing chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, apples, currants, gooseberries, cane fruits, pigs, cattle and many more edibles in healthy polycultures that work with the land, rather than against it.  Through the use of keyline land design, he has created ponds that retain massive amounts of water which in turn have increased the amount of wildlife and vegetation, has begun to rebuild the soil, and has also started to recharge the aquifers that are underfoot.

Rather than relying on a rotation of corn and soybeans (and enslavement to Monsanto and the other BIG PHARMA corporations) for his income, he now has multiple sources of revenue because of his diverse selection of perennial crops and meat animals, he is producing real food that can actually nourish the human body, and is helping to heal the land.  He has coined his idea and way of growing food “Restoration Agriculture”.  He is taking Permaculture to the next step, and showing how it can be done on a large scale and be a viable option that can compete with conventional agriculture and help to feed the world’s population.  Mark Shepard is doing something few rural farmers even consider as an option – he is trying to insure a livable planet for the generations to come by leaving the land in better shape than when he started.  We can all learn something from the projects he has going, and adapt them to our own scenarios.

While Mark Shepard is a rebel farmer surrounded by monoculture rotations of corn and soybeans, where does that leave the rest of us?  How do those of us in cities and suburbs utilize the tools of Permaculture to the benefit of our families, communities and ultimately the planet?  How do we design systems and landscapes that start to heal our suburbs and cities and leave them in better shape for our children?  These are big questions, and rarely are they answered honestly or comprehensively.

I recently had the pleasure to see Mark Shepard speak in person, and he addressed this very issue, among many others.  Urban sustainability is a hot topic right now (as it should be), but it is all too easy to come up with responses to the challenges we face that make us feel good, but have very little real life impact on improving the conditions we find ourselves in.  The first step we can take is to stop candy coating the hard realities we face.  Human culture and the planet are on the brink of major change.  I am hesitant to say extinction, but it is within the realm of possibility that we may not be here in a few generations if things continue on with business as usual.  Our planet is a finite one, ruled by limits of resources, populations, and physical land.  When the balance of these limits are thrown off by reckless consumption, overpopulation on a given landbase, and depleting resources, some form of collapse is unavoidable.  This is where we are headed if we do not radically change the way we inhabit this Good Earth.

The above example of Restoration Agriculture is not only needed in the countryside, but in the city as well.  We need to start taking the basic principles of Permaculture more seriously and applying them to everyday life, in real settings.  We need to stop shitting in our drinking water, we need to figure out better ways of heating our homes, and we need to shorten the supply chain of the food we eat.  We need to realize that the economy cannot grow for ever, and that the true economy is the household economy – real products made by and for real people.

We need to do the unthinkable – rather than the continual encroachment of civilization into wild areas, we need to start ripping up parking lots and building garden walls with them.  We need to start dismantling the Mcmansions and expansive suburbs and replanting the land in orchards, food forests, prairies, and unmanaged wilderness.  Every lawn needs to be made over into diverse gardens of annuals, perennials, medicinal herbs and forage for livestock,  and we need to get over the phobia of keeping livestock in the city.  We have the knowledge and the resources to turn all forms of (hu)manure into a resource for our gardens, let’s do it!  Rain barrels are great, but they won’t change the world.  We need to rethink how we catch and retain water in urban (and rural!) settings.  We can take keyline design, along with grey water systems and  scale them appropriately to fit into smaller settings and start to rebuild our watersheds and wetlands on a micro scale.   We need to revive the age old craft of tree coppicing (and planting), there by adding an element of energy resilience to our home heating bill with a renewable source of fuel, light building materials, and ultimately the reforestation (and sequestration of carbon) of our planet.

All this, and so much more has to be done to insure a livable planet for the generations that are to come.  As it stands, we are not leaving much of a legacy to them. It is us, those who have the chance right now to start the healing process, who will be held accountable for the fate of the planet and human culture.

We have a long row to hoe if we decide to take on the challenges of energy descent and climate change.  It will be the hardest task we as a collective human culture have ever been faced with.  It will require patience, open ears, and the ability to work through our differences.  It will require cooperation on a scale never imagined, and it will be EPIC!!  It is truly hard to imagine what the world could be like if we succeed.  It will NOT be utopia!  It will NOT be perfect!  It will NOT be easy! But it could be infinitely livable, sustaining us with all the basics we need to live comfortably in communities that have roots.  It could restore what it is to be human, and give meaning back to our lives that seem to be lacking so much in today’s world.

Permaculture, a place where we use the examples of nature to shape, guide, influence, and design the ways we live on this Earth, is the destination.  It is the place, the idea, the action, and the inspiration that we need to successfully heal our planet.  Permaculture is restoration and stewardship of the natural systems that support all life on Earth, and the acceptance that we are part of these systems, not their masters.

Permaculture is the hope and dream that someday in the future, our grandchildren’s’, grandchildren can look back and know what we did was not for us, but for them.  That they can look up at a forest of giant chestnut trees and know that we loved them!  That they can drink the water because we loved them!  That they can breathe the air because we loved them!  That there is a planet to live on because we love them …. Peace & Cheers

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