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Posts Tagged ‘Rain Barrels’

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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In the first installment of the Urban Homesteading in a Northern Climate series, we talked about the garden and some tactics and ideas that can lead to successful food production.  This week I want to continue that conversation by staying outside, and talk more about the other out-of-door spaces of a northern climate urban homestead.

It is easy for the garden to steal the show – they provide us with our sustenance, a place to escape to, and inspiration for songs and stories.  It is more difficult to find that same spirit in a wood pile or a garden shed, but does it make these other aspects of our homesteads any less important?  Certainly not!

Like the human body, a healthy, functioning homestead has many different parts and systems that complete the whole.  Where the gardens and orchard may be the heart and circulatory system, our houses as our protective skin, and the kitchen as our digestive tract, all homesteads – like our bodies, require the basics to sustain life.  These analogies of the body and a homestead are not perfect, but I do believe they do a decent job of illustrating the point I am trying to make.

So what are some of the other out door spaces that contribute to a healthy and vibrant homestead?  What are their roles and more importantly, since we are talking about the Urban Homestead here, how do we design them into the small spaces we have to work with?

Here are our two main compost bins.  The chickens' new home will be behind this area.

Here are our two main compost bins. The chickens’ new home will be behind this area.

Let’s begin with an important piece of any homestead, the compost pile.  If you are anything like me, the compost pile may be as important as the garden itself is.  Without a place to turn our organic wastes into useful fertilizer and soil amendments, we wouldn’t have fertile, thriving gardens.  We have our main compost pile located almost centered on our ½ acre plot.  We use a system of two plastic compost bins (along with temporary welded – wire compost cages to accommodate seasonal over flow of compostable material), which cycle, and compost organic waste in a rotation of first in, first out.  Because our homestead has been evolving over the last ten years, there are definite design flaws that we try to remedy as they are identified and as time permits.

One of these design flaws has to do with the interaction of our flock of backyard hens, and our compost area.  Our number one compost ingredient is bedding straw and chicken manure.  It would then make sense to have the chicken coop located in closer proximity to the compost area, or the other way around – but we don’t.  The coop sits about 35 feet from the composting area, which really isn’t that far, but it is far enough when you are hauling bedding straw and chicken manure to be composted, and when you have limited space to utilize.  This design flaw will hopefully be corrected this coming spring as we have plans to move the chicken coop and run right next to the composting area.

Another big advantage we will gain by moving the chickens closer to the compost area is that they will also be much closer to where we have one of our garden sheds located.  This rickety old shed acts as a garden tool storage area, and where we store all of our fresh bedding straw.  When we buy bales of straw from the farm supply store, we purchase upwards of 15 bales at a time for three reasons – we get a price break at that amount, we only drive down to the farm store 2 – 3 times a year (for bulk, raw grains for chicken feed, and straw), and because that is how many bales of straw my trailer can accommodate in one load.

Here is the rusty, old shed!  A home for garden tools, bedding straw, and probably some lucky mice!!

Here is the rusty, old shed! A home for garden tools, bedding straw, and probably some lucky mice!!

With the erratic weather patterns and the on going drought that America has been dealing with for the last few seasons, having a place to securely store an expensive input like straw is important.  While we don’t run a huge operation, knowing that we have 6 months to a years worth of straw stored in a dry place saves us money and time, and also adds a small bit of resilience to our homestead.  I’d rather not import and spend money on a product like straw, but the simple fact is that I have too for right now, so having the infrastructure to properly store such a great source of compostable carbon is vital – even if it is a rusty old shed!

Continuing on the importance of outbuildings, we have one other shed, and a detached garage that are a part of our homestead.  In the urban setting, a garage and/or sheds can help take the place of barns, machine/work shops, corn cribs, and granaries.  Once again, here at The Dead End Alley Urban Farm (the commercial arm of the Autonomy Acres blog) we have another design flaw.  This one though is not so much a flaw on the location or the structure itself, but of operator error!  I am a collector of “useful materials”, or a less sexy way of putting it, a modern day scavenger!  My habit of finding and then diving into dumpsters (or spotting cool stuff along boulevards) has yielded me vast amounts of lumber, fencing, firewood, windows, 55 gallon barrels, and many other useful, and random pieces of urban “waste”.  Because of this, our small garage, two sheds, and yard have turned into a BIG mess!

I am not ready to abandon my habit of picking up useful materials, but I do have to figure out better ways of storing the materials I collect.  Another project on the “to–do” list is to organize all the lumber and other random materials I have collected, and store them in ways that make them easy to inventory and even more easy to utilize and build with!  If this can be accomplished, I can actually turn my small garage into a workshop that can then be used for making hive bodies and other beekeeping equipment, rain barrels, compost tumblers, and other DIY projects that I have going on or want to start!

Moving away from outbuildings, but staying on the theme of utilizing the urban “waste stream”, is fire wood.  For the last two years, and periodically over the last decade,  I have been able to heat my house with wood scavenged from neighbors’ yards, storm damaged trees left on the cities’ boulevards, the county compost site, and trees cut from my own land.  In a typical Minnesota winter, that equals a lot of wood – at least two full cords of split, dried, and stacked firewood per winter season.  Now this is one place where our design is almost perfect!  Our spot for storing and chopping wood that is ready to burn is right out our back door (this same spot also doubles as an area to hang clothes out to dry in the summer!).

The Wood Pile!!!

The Wood Pile!!!

As funny as it sounds, this is one of my favorite out door spots in the winter.  There is something about heating my house with wood that helps me keep in contact with the Earth and the realities of human comfort.  I love the feel of the ax or the splitting maul in my hands as I chop wood, and I like knowing that MY physical labor not only helps to keep me a bit healthier, but also helps to keep my wife and kids warm when it is cold outside.  One improvement that could be made however, and will be once time allows (surprise, surprise!), is adding some kind of semi – permanent, roofed structure to help shelter our firewood.  Currently it is just covered with a tarp, but by having a real roof to protect it, we not only benefit from dry firewood, we also add another roof surface to collect rain water from!

Everything covered so far is really only the tip of the iceberg as far as outdoor spaces are concerned.  The possibilities are endless when it comes to designing and implementing ideas for our outdoor spaces!    This is a topic that whole books could be written about, so one blog post does not do this subject justice.  Other areas of importance that all homesteads should at least consider and implement when practical and possible are spots dedicated to catching and collecting rain water, sites for grey water systems, areas for livestock – chickens, rabbits, goats, bees, etc…, summer kitchens (cob and masonry wood fired ovens, solar ovens, and rocket stoves come to mind – oh yeah, and a place to BBQ and smoke meat), areas for drying and curing produce, out door bathroom facilities including composting toilets and solar showers, and entertainment spots like decks, porches, an area for a bonfire pit and even a bit of a lawn for playing bocce ball!

Just like everyone’s body is a bit different, every homestead is unique.  Where we live and what our interests are will play a big role in how we design and setup our outdoor spaces.  Obviously if you live in a spot like southern California or Florida (or some other equivalent warm climate), heating your house in the winter is not going to be a big priority, and if you really aren’t into keeping bees or other livestock you won’t have to work that into your design either.  But as homesteaders – whether in warm climates or cold, in the country or the city; it is our similarities that connect us, and lead to our ultimate success.  So while it is the outside land where we grow our food, raise our animals, and store building and other such materials, it is the home that brings it altogether!   And that is where we will pick up this conversation next time we talk about the Urban Homestead in a Northern Climate – The Home….  Peace & Cheers!


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rootsWith winter arriving last weekend, and the majority of our outside chores and responsibilities being put on hold for a few months, I find myself with a bit more time to write, think, and dream. When I was younger I was always dreaming, whether it was all the possibilities life held for me, or all the ways that the world could be a better place, dreams and optimistic visions were a daily occurrence.

It is only with adulthood, and the responsibilities of being a good husband and father, that I have become more rooted in reality and the present. In all truth, I do not think this is an entirely bad thing. As beautiful and necessary as dreams are for me, these last 10 years
of raising children, improving our homestead, growing fruits and veggies, and putting down roots for my family has been the best adventure in my life. Though small in the scheme of things, the past 10 years has seen some of those dreams of a young Anarcho – punk rocker come to fruition. While some of the details have turned out significantly different from how I envisioned them, there is no other place or time I’d rather be a part of than right here and right now.

We find ourselves at a crossroads in this world of ours. Accelerating climate change caused by the hands of man, massive animal and plant die offs not seen for over 65 million years, the ongoing destruction of the remaining rain forests and other unique habitats, world wide economic and political upheaval, resource depletion, and a disconnect and isolation of the human spirit are all adding to the uncertainty of human survival on this planet.

While it seems like we have the cards stacked against us by so many compounding factors, I want to step outside of reality for a bit, and dream. I want to imagine what might be possible if we stopped devoting all of our time, money, and remaining resources to the destruction of our planet and the human spirit. I want to imagine what might be possible in a world based on mutual aid and respect. And finally, I want to paint a picture of what that world might look like – not in some “pie in the sky” utopian way, but a realistic rendering of how humans may be able to continue occupying this changing planet.

Food – Food is one of the precious things all people have in common. The industrial food system as we know it is one of the main factors contributing to resource depletion and waste, habitat loss, and an increasing unhealthy human population. Agro giants like Monsanto, Bayer, Cargill, and many others control almost all aspects of the modern food chain. From seeds, fertilizers, herbicides, harvesting, and distribution, these multi nationals have enslaved millions of farmers, destroyed local communities and ultimately have raped and pillaged a tradition that belongs to all people. So what can be done to help ensure food security for all?

First, we need to abandon the industrial food model. We need to give farming back to the farmers, which means pulling the plug on all the multi nationals. We need to rely less on petroleum products, and bring back a more hands on, animal based agriculture. We need more bio diversity within the farm – not just a monoculture of corn or soybeans. Open pollinated seeds and perennial crops such as fruit and nut trees are part of the solution along with better crop and animal rotations. We need to stop exporting carbon off of farms, and start rebuilding our top soil. Second, we need more farmers. Up until the Green Revolution, the majority of the world’s population resided in rural setting with farming as the top occupation. We need to head back in that direction, and start to reclaim as much of suburbia as we can and begin the process of healing the land. And since the cities will not be going anywhere, anytime soon, we need to heed the advice of David Holmgren, and create an environment that is friendly to backyard agriculture, or what Toby Hemenway calls a Horticulture society.

As the modern Urban Homesteading movement is evidence of, it is possible to grow and raise massive amounts of food in residential yards and community gardens. Along with the cultivation of nutrient dense fruits and veggies, we need to relax modern zoning ordinances and encourage flocks of backyard rabbits, chickens, ducks and geese. Not only can these animals turn kitchen scraps, weeds, and insects into protein, they also add huge amounts of nitrogen back into our soil. With honey bees finding themselves in so much trouble lately, we need to educate people about the importance that the honey bee plays in food production, and encourage more people to get involved with these little critters.

Along with more animals in the city, I would like to see more boulevard orchards of fruit and nut trees with under stories of brambles and berries, flowering plants, and carbon accumulators. I want to see more roof top gardens, aquaponic systems, and season extending greenhouses and coldframes. Coppice yards for fuel and light building materials, and a general attempt to make our cities more verdant, and productive – places that don’t just take, but also give.

Community – We cannot talk about Urban Farming or human resilience without talking about the community that makes it possible. Like many others who have said before me, we have to start making neighborhoods more walkable again. We need to bring back the local businesses that Wal-Mart has done such a good job of running out of town. We cannot have thriving neighborhoods and communities without a butcher or a general store or a local meeting spot. We need to bring back trades of all different kinds and start making real products again. Not only will this bring the production back to our communities, it will also provide meaningful work that is so lacking in today’s world.

When neighborhoods and communities have a degree of self sufficiency and resilience, they are better able to survive natural disasters and other troubles with more success. When you and your neighbors are no longer relying on supply chains that span the globe for the basic necessities of life, events that can knock out power or roads can be dealt with using common sense responses and local solutions. We have done it in the past, we can do it again.

Energy & Technology – Whether we like it or not, the world has already entered into an energy descent scenario. Peak Oil was most likely reached back in 2005, and that has caused repercussions throughout the world economy. Oil is literally in everything from our food to our gas tanks. It powers every modern convenience, and breaking this habit is proving to be very hard indeed. What would a world with a lot less oil look like? A lot slower and bigger. In a world where we no longer have energy slaves doing the hard work for us we will be more involved with every aspect of our lives. From transportation to keeping ourselves warm in the winter, every aspect of our lives will be based on how much work we are willing to put in, whether that is on the individual or a community level. We will have to learn to be happy with less “stuff” and less convenience. Traveling will take much longer, and for most of us who are working to feed ourselves and our families, traveling will be severely limited if not obsolete except for those who are involved in the shipping of goods from one point to another .

In the picture I am painting of this world that faces so many challenges, technology still plays an important role. First and foremost, is the question of nuclear power? While we still have the time and resources available to us, every nuclear reactor needs to be decommissioned and shut down. More importantly, we need to figure out a long term and reliable solution to the spent fuel and nuclear waste that already exists. What these solutions may be I can only guess, but if we stopped wasting all our brain power, time, and resources on the space program and other scientific vanity, I think we could figure this out. As a quick side note, in no way am I against science, or all the positive things it has contributed to our society. In fact, I love the idea of going to the stars, but the implications of nuclear technology and what can go wrong with it are well known and too important to not be dealt with – look at Chernobyl and Fukushima!

In regards to other hi- tech, modern gadgetry we can only produce so many of these trinkets before other “Peak” resource issues come to the fore front. Computers, smart phones, and all the other “toys” out there rely on rare Earth metals, which in turn rely on oil. It is an unsustainable equation that is bound to fail. It is my hope though, that we can salvage some sort of world wide web of communication. The internet, even in its most basic forms, is a great way of gathering information, staying in touch, and organizing events and campaigns. Its bottom up approach appeals to my anarchist sensibilities and a
lot of things can be accomplished through its wide range of communication options. Whether the internet can be salvaged, scaled down and run off a whole lot less energy is anybody’s guess?

A giant misconception among liberals and weekend environmentalists is the idea that green technology – solar PV panels, wind turbines, and hydrogen fuel cells can be readily swapped out to replace our dependence on oil. This false notion is one of the largest reasons we cannot move forward on issues like energy descent and climate change and have a realistic discussion about moving forward. While these technologies (at least solar and wind) will play an important role in transitioning into a post carbon world, it is technology from the past that will see us into the future. The appropriate technology movement of the late 1970s started this journey, we need to follow in their foot steps. Water catchments, composting toilets, passive solar water heaters, alternative building design and construction, rocket stoves and rocket mass heaters, low input greenhouses, methane digesters, aquaponics, solar ovens, and grey water systems are all relatively simple ideas that can be custom designed and built with the materials on hand and in any community. While none of these technologies are fancy or sexy, they can help to keep us fed, warm, and clean – sounds like a decent way to live to me!

Culture – To some folks, especially those unfamiliar with energy descent scenarios, the world I am trying to describe may seem like a bleak place to reside. It is completely within the realm of possibility that in the near future, the main focus and concern for the world’s population will be keeping their families fed. Does this mean that there will be no place or time left for art, or music, or poetry? Absolutely not! Just like so many other products and services available today, current mainstream art and music comes prepackaged from anorexic, air brushed tricksters of the “Wal-Mart” culture. There is nothing real or moving that you will find from these people on TV or in a magazine. As the world starts its transition into a slower reality, today’s fast paced entertainment will cease to be.

Just like food, we will start to see a re-localization of art. Songs, poems, and story telling will begin to take on regional and cultural traits. Painting, sculpture, and other visual arts will also display this cultural and regional diversity, and will start to be created with many more locally sourced materials. It is songs and poems and pictures that bind a community together. It is these art forms that give a community roots, and ultimately what truly nourishes our souls.

One last point of interest that needs to be addressed is the cultural heritage of knowledge. We have learned so much throughout history that it would be a shame to loose it all just because of a transitioning society. The accumulated knowledge of human history is a treasure, and should be treated as such. Hopefully we can figure out ways to keep libraries funded and functional, our population literate, and continue to add to our living history. Peak Oil, energy descent and the societal change that will follow are but a chapter in this book of human history – let’s keep writing ( but on acid free paper)!

All of this is a lot to digest, but it is our story and where we are headed. This idea of societal change based on resource depletion and climate change is not unique to the modern world – plenty of cultures throughout history have over shot their carrying capacity and have had to adjust to local, climatic changes. This time around though, it is on a global scale. So where does this leave us? Obviously food needs to be our number one concern, followed by the question of nuclear power and waste. After that, every community and bioregion will have their own set of unique problems, answers and solutions on how to move forward and deal with these challenges that we are faced with. Humans and the communities we live in are resilient and always have been, it is just that we have forgotten that in today’s fast paced, co-dependent world. I am optimistic that we can do this, and once again live in a world where all our roots run deep! Peace & Cheers!

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Hey everyone!  A big heads up to anyone who is in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin or other upper Midwest locations.  Some dear friends of mine are putting on a great event called the Gathering of the Guilds.  It is a chance for people to get together and talk gardening, permaculture, food justice and many more things. Please refer to the info below for details.  Hope to see you there!!  Peace & Cheers …..

Gathering of the Guilds – 3 Days of Permaculture Skill-shares, Workshops and Networking

September 14-16, 2012

At Harmony Park Music Garden (79503 298th St., Clarks Grove, MN 56016) Open Map

Gates open at Noon on Friday – Come early to set up your camp and help us create the event.

This is a COMMUNITY CREATED EVENT.

We will provide the infrastructure and logistical planning-YOU provide the knowledge. ALL SKILL LEVELS ENCOURAGED. This gathering will offer local permaculturists, farmers, gardeners, activists, and others a chance to spend a weekend sharing skills, making connections, and learning.

WE NEED YOU to facilitate a workshop or share a skill. Some ideas include:

  • Sheet Mulching
  • Animals in Permaculture
  • Hugelkulture
  • Composting
  • Urban Permaculture
  • Bees and Pollinators
  • Mushroom Cultivation
  • Vermiculture (Worms eat my garbage)
  • Seed Saving
  • Freezing, Canning and Drying
  • Fruit Tree Grafting
  • Humanure
  • Tree Pruning for Tree Health
  • Wild Edibles Walk
  • Grey Water Systems
  • Rainwater Catchment, Storage and Use
  • Seed and Plant Swap (Bring your extras and bring home some new additions)

This is a family friendly, drug and alcohol free event. There is onsite tent and RV camping, a Community Kitchen to provide 6 meals (bring your garden surplus to contribute), a kids space with ongoing activities.

We request a $20 donation to cover toilets, kitchen staples, and site rental.

NO DOGS!

NO OUTSIDE FIREWOOD!

For questions or to R.S.V.P please email:

gotg2012@centerfordeepecology.org

 

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One thing I have always liked about blogging is the ability to tell stories and teach skills through writing,  and usually accompanied with those words are pictures.  Over the last week or so we have taken a lot of neat pictures, so here are some of those pictures, and the short stories to go along with them.  Enjoy!  Cheers!

Over the last few years, we have had a pair of mated Mallard ducks use our yard as a rest stop. Here is the male in all his glory, distracting us from noticing his partner hidden in our pile of wood chips! Quack, Quack!!

Here is the first shoot of asparagus for the year!! In the next few days are meals will start becoming a little more fancy!!

Here are the first raised beds for our garden expansion. There are going to be another 3-4 built, and these will become the work horses for our CSA this year. Each one is about 23 feet long by about 4 feet wide, that is a lot of space to grow food!!!

Here is the greenhouse, loaded with tomatoes, peppers, onions, brassicas, flowers, gooseberries, currants, and some figs!!

After realizing that my rain barrel system was leaking, I figured I had better try and fix it. Using some plumber's putty, I hopefully sealed up where the water was leaking out. It is supposed to rain tonight, so I will find out tomorrow if it works.

Figs up close! I will be posting more about these as the season goes on, but so far so good!!

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One thing all gardeners know is how important water is to a healthy garden.  Water helps our plants to grow, our compost to decompose, and our planet to sustain life as we know it.  It is easy to take water for granted, especially when we live in a privileged society such as America or other high-tech modern nations.  Water is literally a flip of a faucet away, and boom, you have a glass of water, a hot shower, or a sprinkler to water the garden.  But  not all people on this planet have the luxury of access to good clean water.  In poverty-stricken, developing, and third world countries, clean, potable water is worth more than gold.  People use the same source of water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, hygiene, sanitation, disposal, and irrigation.  This mix of uses is a potent cocktail of germs, bacteria, and contamination of such a vital, life-sustaining resource.  This problem of  responsible water use has haunted humankind since its’ inception.  For a more in-depth perspective on water and it’s role in human history, I highly recommend the book Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization, by Steven Soloman

2 of the 4 rain barrels I currently use. These two hold just over 100 gallons of water.

As a person from a privileged society, and as someone who is trying to walk the Earth with light foot steps, water is something I can directly have an influence on.  I can choose to take shorter showers, or boycott a certain corporation or product; or I can build rain barrels.  My gardens in the heat of the summer, require a lot of water.  The easy way of dealing with this situation is getting enough rain. Unfortunately, getting enough rain at the right times is a pretty hard situation to rely on. Enter the rain barrel.  Currently I have a capacity  of about 200 gallons of water if my four barrels are filled.  That sounds like a lot, but I can drain those barrels in two waterings.  Gardening takes a lot of water, farming takes even more.  Any amount of water that we can save ourselves from the rain, not only helps our gardens, but it also helps our wallets and our reliance on outside sources of water.

Here is the L-shaped PVC spigot, threaded into one of the barrel's bungs.

The design I have used for my rain barrels is very simple to build and requires few tools.  The most complicated part of the design is putting together the spigot.  I used PVC,  threaded piping to build the L-shaped design.  The actual spigot could be any number of different  shut-off valves.  The important thing to remember is to make the top of your virgin 55 gallon drum the bottom of your rain barrel.  The barrels I can get have two bung openings on the top that are threaded.  Using the proper sized spade bit (3/4 inch I think), drill out the center of the bung, and thread in your PVC fittings.  I would recommend using teflon tape or teflon plumbers goo to help seal that connection.

You can see where the gutter drains into the barrel, and how the main overflow works.

Using a six-inch hole saw, cut the hole into the new top of the rain barrel towards the back.  This is where the gutter will drain into you barrel.  If you are building a system with more than one barrel, use the same hole saw and make a hole in the side of each barrel towards the new top, and link them together with a flexible gutter connection.   You can also add a smaller overflow to your secondary rain barrel made out of normal garden hose and a hose repair kit.  There is no limit to this design.  Tweak it, use materials you already have, make it better, and improve and adapt to the situation.  I have seen systems similar to this that have close to twenty barrels all hooked up together.  Get crazy and start saving rain water.

As far as locating barrels, especially barrels that are considered food grade can be pretty difficult.   Any food processing plant may or may not get bulk products in 55 gallon drums.  The easiest way to find out is to call them up.  Also check with your local brewery or dairy, they may have 55 gallon drums available, but maybe not food grade.  Places like breweries and dairy’s will get cleaning products like caustic soda in 55 gallon drums.  It is a pretty nasty chemical, but it can be neutralized and cleaned fairly easily.

I hope this article is inspiring and informative.  There are other sites out there that have similar designs, but they charge you quite a bit of money to get the official designs.  A simple technology like rain barrels should not cost you too much money to make, especially for a design.  We have a planet to take care of and gardens to water, lets not get caught up in making a profit over something like this.  Happy gardening! Cheers!

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