Monday, December 31, 2012

Searching for Land

A couple of weeks ago, Kelsey and I went on a lovely vacation to the Oregon coast.  While we were out there, we stopped by a couple of properties that were for sale near Astoria to check them out.  Unfortunately, one of them was definitely not for us, and the other was only just good enough to stay on "the list"... but it's no where near the top.  These couple of properties have put searching for the right piece of land at the top of my mind.  It's only about 10 months until Kelsey has a nursing job and we can move forward on building our homestead and our lives together, and even though I've been living and breathing permaculture and homesteading for the past 4 years, in some ways I feel as if starting up a homestead is sneaking up on me.

Sometime in January, we're going to drive out to The Dalles and check out a couple more pieces of land.  One of them is almost 50 acres, with a yurt on it already (score!), and that overall seems to be pretty nice.  It has a decent amount of south facing slope (maybe 40% of the total land area), but it also has a decent amount of north facing slope, so we need to check out the true lay of the land by visiting and figuring out just what angle the north facing slope lies upon.  If it's not too steep, it could make for a good potential homestead.  (North facing slope is usable and might as well be level as long as the angle of the slope is equal to or less than the angle of the sun above the horizon during the winter time.)

The other piece of land is a more affordable 38 acre piece of land that has AMAZING views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.  It also has a building on it, though the building is unfinished and not very ecological.  Unfortunately, the property also sits around 2600 feet of elevation, which could limit some of the things I'm hoping to accomplish with a homestead.  Again, I don't really have a good feel for the slope of the land, which could make all the difference.

With both of these properties, it's important to look at them first before getting too excited about the size and/or price of the land offered.  Also, it's important to know exactly what I'm wanting out of land.  I think I have about a 90% idea of what it is I want, but the scary part is the other 10%.  In many things in life, the last 10% is just the details, but it's those details that can make or break a project/idea/dream.  And to be totally honest, even after 4 years of thinking about this, I don't really have the details worked out because it's nearly impossible to work out the details without already having the land you're trying to work out the details on.  So I'm feeling a slight bit of angst about the catch-22 I seem to be caught in.

In response to this angst, I have three major goals I'm setting for myself for 2013.

  1. I'm setting out to learn as much as I can able "real estate."  I'm not interested in becoming a realtor, but I am interested in becoming an effective and savvy buyer.  Negotiating offers, owner carried loans, due diligence, etc., is something pretty new to me, so I'm starting to try to learn everything I can about it.
  2. I'm dead-set on getting a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) this year.  I think that I might be able to make the 10% unknown shrink to about 5% or less unknown after a PDC, and that's enough to work with for sure.  (Honestly, 10% unknown is enough for me to work with, because I'm willing to be uncomfortable or even downright miserable for a little while if the unknowns turn out to be more difficult to work around than I thought.  However, I'm not willing to make Kelsey go through that, so I feel that extra planning and prepping are needed.)
  3. I'm going to do my best to learn the basics of carpentry this year.  While there are many other things that are long-run more important systems to build on the homestead, it's not a homestead unless it has a home on it.  And to do that in the ecological way I'm hoping to, I'm going to need some carpentry skills.  
If we happen to buy a property like the 50 acres mentioned above that already has a yurt or some other home on it, that'll make things much easier... but if we don't, I'm going to need to be able to build things properly with my own hands. I'm much more keen on building sweat equity by being a producer than I am working to earn money from someone else so I can pay it to a contractor to do something I could've learned to do on my own, so I'm focusing strongly on those skills during 2013.

Overall, even though I'm nervous, I'm very excited.  I've never felt closer to realizing my dream of building a homestead than I do right now.  I'm working on getting a better job, or just a second job, and saving as much as I can towards a down payment.  Kelsey is working hard at school, and will be making quite a bit more money than I am come October or November.  Once we're in that position, it won't be far off that we're feeling ready to buy land... and once that happens, starting a family isn't far behind.  I'm excited to start my "adult" life, and to begin building systems of resilience that will last and get better for 7 generations and beyond.  Thinking of it that way also helps me be mindful of the fact that it's ok if I make mistakes along the way, as long as I keep the end in mind.  Overall, I do want to minimize those mistakes to make things nice for this generation as well.  There are many things to balance, but that's what ecological design is all about.

I hope the New Year will provide you with as much excitement as it is promising to provide me.  What're you working on this year?  What major events in 2013 might shape your life for years to come?  What goals do you have?  As a brief plug for a website run by someone I admire, I'd like to mention that I'm sharing and working on my goals at a website called 13 Skills.  The idea of the website is to set goals to develop 13 skills during 2013.  I discussed a few of my 13 goals above in this post.  What are some of your goals this coming year?  Do you have any skills you're working on?  If so, head over to 13 Skills and post them.  You don't really have to hit 13 skills in 2013 if you don't want to, but what can it hurt to try?

Anyway, enough of the plug.  Let me know what you think about my search for land and my reservations and nervousness thereof.

As always, thanks for reading.  And Happy New Years!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Put Carbon Back Into the Soil

The following video could be the most important talk ever given:


Obviously, there is a lot of technique that goes into properly managing pasture in order to use the soil to rapidly absorb carbon, but it's just something we need to start doing, and right now.  Personally, I plan on getting a copy of Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making by Alan Savory pretty soon, and reading up on it.  According to Paul Wheaton and some of the other most knowledgeable folks I know, Alan Savory is the man when it comes to range management.  If you want to read up on it as well, please click the link above... if you order it from that link the Permie Homestead Blog gets a small kickback.

I'm working on a much longer post in which I will speculate about the ability of the excess carbon in the air to actually create a far more lush plant environment, but it's probably going to be a ways off (I actually see the potential for it to turn into an academic paper, if I ever take the time to research it enough and expand it accordingly).  For now, watch this video, and start thinking about what you can do to help start pumping carbon back into the soil.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Preparing for Winter

Well, it's December 1st, 2012.  Only 20 short days until the Mayan apocalypse, right?  I personally don't think so, but who am I to judge?

I do think that fantastic opportunity may be available for those who are willing to seize it.  There are many folks who probably went off the deep end with the 2012 meme, and who will have generators, food, and other supplies that they will think they won't need after December 21st turns out to be just another day.

On December 22nd and after, when you talk to someone from Craigslist, or from eBay, or wherever you might be shopping around for a cheap generator (et al.), I encourage you to help broaden their horizon, and educate them on why their generator might be useful for them in a month, or 6 months, or a year from now.  They'll probably be caught off guard by you encouraging them not to sell the thing you contacted them about.  Only after you've given them a small lesson on why it's good to be prepared all the time, and they've declined your wisdom, should you then take advantage of the deal they're offering you.  Perhaps you'll plant a seed in their mind, or perhaps you'll get a killer deal on something that'll help you prepare for when a real catastrophe comes your way.  Either way, I think it's a win-win scenario from the perspective of both parties.

To conclude, I hope that the end-of-year times find you well.  Don't get caught up in the consumerist fervor that comes in the month of December (in the western world anyway).  Remember what this time is really about... spend time with your family and loved ones because it's so cold and dreary outside and there isn't much else to do.  Hunker down with a blanket and a book and be at peace.  The sun will return soon, and there will be work to do.  Enjoy the tranquil darkness while it lasts.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Personal Secession

This morning, I read the following poem by Wendell Barry, and it inspired this blog post:

The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union — by Wendell BerryFrom the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and science,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.
There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
He goes shadowy into the local woods,
and brightly into the local meadows and croplands.
He goes to the care of neighbors,
he goes into the care of neighbors.
He goes to the potluck supper, a dish from each house
for the hunger of every house.
He goes into the quiet of early mornings
of days when he is not going anywhere.
Calling his neighbours together into the sanctity of their lives
separate and together
in the one life of their commonwealth and home,
in their own nation small enough for a story
or song to travel across in an hour, he cries:
Come all ye conservatives and liberals
who want to conserve the good things and be free,
come away from the merchants of big answers,
whose hands are metalled with power;
from the union of anywhere and everywhere
by the purchase of everything from everybody at the lowest price
and the sale of anything to anybody at the highest price;
from the union of work and debt, work and despair;
from the wage-slavery of the helplessly well-employed.
From the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation,
secede into care for one another and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth.
Come into the life of the body, the one body
granted to you in all the history of time.
Come into the body’s economy, its daily work,
and its replenishment at mealtimes and at night.
Come into the body’s thanksgiving, when it knows
and acknowledges itself a living soul.
Come into the dance of the community, joined
in a circle, hand in hand, the dance of the eternal
love of women and men for one another
and of neighbors and friends for one another.
Always disappearing, always returning,
calling his neighbors to return, to think again
of the care of flocks and herds, of gardens
and fields, of woodlots and forests and the uncut groves,
calling them separately and together, calling and calling,
he goes forever toward the long restful evening
and the croak of the night heron over the river at dark.
We are not powerless in the face of a system that fails to meet our needs.  We are not  incapable of effecting change on our own, or with just our neighbors.  All you have to do is choose not to participate in corrupt systems.  Choose not to participate in government actions that violate your principles.  Choose not to be controlled by the monetary-market paradigm.  Use your labor to create or acquire goods that you need to survive and thrive, rather than trading your labor for money in order to purchase things you want.  Nothing you need can be kept from you by government or lack of money.  You can create or acquire it just by thinking and trying.

Become the Mad Farmer.

Monday, August 27, 2012

PDC's, Classes, and Life in General Updates

As hopefully someone noticed, I missed my Wednesday and Friday posts last week.  I still owe the 2nd part of the Third Ethic post, and I'll have that out this Wednesday.  Last week was a bit hectic for me.  Kelsey and I are at the last minute trying to plan a little getaway for when she's on break between quarters.  The stress and time of planning and figuring that out took me away from writing.

So, onto my updates.  Originally I wanted to do a garden update today, but there are other things that have popped up so I'm writing this now.  I've decided not to try to do the PDC in Community at the Lost Valley Education center this fall.  There is just too much for me to try to figure out in such a short amount of time that I feel like I'd fall on my face.  I know they usually offer it in the spring as well, so I'm going to try to pull it off then instead.  Once I post a fundraising campaign on We The Trees, I'll make sure to link to it in a post and share it with everyone.

Next, I'm not going to the Edible Forest Gardens class that I wanted to go to.  There was room enough in the class for me to get in, but the getaway on Kelsey's break took precedence and so I'll try to see Eric Toensmeier some other time.

On the life in general side, Kelsey and I have started looking at properties out by Hood River, on either the Washington or Oregon side of the river.  There is some land out there that is far more affordable than anything nearby Portland, and in reality its still close enough to Portland to be able to come to the city and see shows, sporting events, friends, etc.  My dream of having 40 acres was starting to dwindle with looking in the Portland area, but out by Hood River and White Salmon (across the river in Washington) there are plots of land even larger than 40 acres that are still affordable.  I'm excited to get out there sometime soon and see what they look like.

Further, we're leaning more and more towards the first structure on our land being a yurt.  An Airstream trailer would be easy and probably a bit cheaper, but a yurt offers so much more space and opportunities for long term use.  I do think that I'd eventually still build something like an Oehler structure or a wofati, but even after I do and we move out of the yurt I think it would continue to be useful, if for nothing other than guests.  So, I'm working on pricing them out a little bit, and I've started drawing some floor plans as well to see how the space might feel.

That's about all for now.  I'll try to be better about staying on track this week.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Farm Volunteering

Last Tuesday, the 14th, I volunteered on a farm about 30 miles outside of Portland.  I'm going to have some less than nice things to say, so I'll leave the farm nameless.

I've been looking for a farm to volunteer with since moving down to Portland.  I'd really love to get involved with a farmer consistently enough to be able to feel like I'm really making an impact in how that farms operates and thrives.  I found one about 2 months ago that I thought would be a good fit for me, and I contacted the farmer - we'll call him Steve - about a month ago to see if he needed any help.  Things didn't end up working out that time, but I stayed in contact with him, and eventually was able to go out to his farm and work this past Tuesday.

When I arrived at 730am, "Steve" was rushing out of his house because 4 of his cows had busted through a gate and wandered out into an unfenced paddock the night before.  Not knowing what was going on or what he needed from me, I kind of followed him around for about 30 minutes while he gathered some oats to try to lure the cows and some chain to try to repair the gate.  Once we found the cows, he was relieved, but somewhat rough with one of them to try to get it back into a fenced area.  The cow continued to be stubborn until I grabbed a handful of oats from the bag and lured it with hand feeding back into the fenced paddock.  The other three cows came willingly enough as they were a bit older and understood the oats were a treat.  All throughout this time, I was thinking that if I was one of those cows, I'd have broken out into that field as well.  The field they were in was rather barren and dusty, which on this side of Oregon must almost always be a sign of overgrazing.  The field they were in was lush and quite overgrown, full of cow "candy" that must have enticed them through the gate.

After reestablishing the cows in the overgrazed paddock, we circled the rest of the property, where my farmer proceeded to tell me that last year he had had about 30-40 animals, and this year he has over 400.  Most of them are poultry, but he went from 5 cows to almost 20, and 2 of his 4 pigs are female and pregnant, and he's expecting his pork count to be about 30 head soon.  I'm not a farmer, so I don't know if that's unreasonably fast growth, but I do know that with the conditions of his field, it was definitely too fast a rate of growth for him.

Once he finally got around to giving me a project, he had me sheet mulch an area around some blackberry he was trying to propagate, and cover it with used chicken bedding from the feed store he runs in town.  The chicken bedding had been sitting in a tub in the back of his enclosed truck in the hot sun for a few days, and it STUNK.  I worked with it as I was asked, because I had offered to volunteer and help him, as I had put it when I was on the phone with him, "even if it means shoveling shit."  Little did I know it would be several days old and composting anaerobically so that it stunk to high heaven.  After clearing some thick grass with my hori hori (which I love and plan to do some kind of review on sometime soon) and dropping it where I cut it to replace the nutrients, I sheet mulched with cardboard (which I also cut to shape with the hori hori... like I said this thing is awesome) and then pitch-forked the bedding over the cardboard.  It was gross, but it'll air out in a couple days and probably break down just fine, although I definitely wouldn't have eaten any of the blackberries that were on the plants when I spread it.

After that project, I met up with his new intern and helped clean out a pig shelter that STILL hadn't been cleaned out from that winter.  It was nasty.  The dust from the pigs that were in there last winter was almost 6 inches deep, and the little bit of it that I was unfortunate enough to breathe in made me lose my voice almost completely two days later.  It broke one of my cardinal rules for anything involves farming and homesteading... if it smells bad, you must be doing it wrong.

Last but not least, while working with and talking to his intern, I learned that "Steve" doesn't keep a very tidy ship at home either.  Apparently there was dried dog-doo in the house that hadn't been cleaned up since the intern arrived.  There had been several things that the intern had been asked to clean up around the farm that had obviously been left for a long time.  And from my own conversations with "Steve," he seemed like he believed he had it all perfectly figured out, and wouldn't have been open to suggestion.  This was confirmed for me by the intern, who'd previously spent quite a long time interning on a biodynamic farm, and had been brought out to try to implement some of that system on this farm.  The intern told me that nearly all of the suggestions he gave for moving towards biodynamics were summarily rejected.

After all that ranting, I feel a bit guilty.  I obviously don't know all of the things "Steve" had going on, and I don't think "Steve" is a bad guy at all... in fact I think he's trying hard to do the right things, just in all the wrong ways.  I'd have volunteered again and tried to help out with that, but the combination of the farm being a 33 mile drive for me one way and "Steve's" obvious stubbornness to the ideas of others left me feeling like it was a battle not worth fighting.  (I've also subsequently heard from the intern and found out that he quit his internship a few days after I volunteered, for similar reasons.)  So, needless to say, I'm still searching for a farm where I can volunteer.  I'm thinking of asking the lady that I get my raw milk from.  She gave Kelsey and I a tour of her operation, and I already know that it's well beyond even my own standards for cleanliness and friendliness for the animals.  I don't know if she needs much help, but it's worth a shot.

Does anyone else know about any farms around Portland that might need an occasional volunteer?  If so, please let me know about it in the comments.  Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Feature: Cancelled

I've found that I'm not very inspired to write the Friday Feature posts.  I keep delaying them, skipping them, etc.  My intent when I came up with the schedule was to keep myself writing, and the Friday Feature is not accomplishing that, so I'm going to do something else.

Really, the Friday Feature was just going to be a regurgitation of facts that I've found elsewhere.  The Edible Forest Gardens books were a good resource, and I used Plants for a Future a lot as well.  Also, building up a sizable and useful database at the rate of one plant a week would've taken forever.  So, I'm going to cancel it.

For now I think I'll replace it with the things I've been writing about on Thursdays... brainstorming/daydream type posts.  I don't know what I'll do on Thursdays now instead, if anything, but I think those will be good thing to write for Fridays, and I enjoy writing them more than I did the Friday Features.

Thanks for reading, and for following along while I evolve the blog!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Exploring the Permaculture Ethics: The Third Ethic, Setting Limits to Population and Consumption, Part 1

This post will be the fourth in a five part series on the Permaculture Prime Directive and Ethics (the first and the second).  Today, I'll be writing about the Third Ethic, which could also easily be known as the third rail of permaculture.  There is an immense amount of debate about this ethic, so know that I am probably going to offend someone who is reading this.  If that is you, please know that I am expressing what I've read from the permaculture greats like Bill Mollison, and extrapolating that into my own opinion... which is just that, strictly my opinion.  I'll try to cover how I think the third ethic does leave some room for opinion, though not as much as some people believe.  If you are one of those people, well... that's just my opinion.

Now, onto the important stuff.  As usual, I'll start with what Bill Mollison has to say in the Design Manual.  He defines the Third Ethic as, "Setting Limits to Population and Consumption: By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles."  As you can see , Bill plainly states that the major goal of the Third Ethic is to utilize resources we are capable of setting aside (surplus resources) to further Earth Care and People Care.  Some folks have cleverly dubbed the Ethics as Earthcare, People Care, and Fair Share.  These monikers are accurate and clever, but as we'll discuss, easily misused in the realm of the Third Ethic.

Continuing with from page 7 of the Design Manual, Bill says:
"The real difference between a cultivated (designed) ecosystem, and a natural system is that the great majority of species (and biomass) in the cultivated ecology is intended for the use of humans or their livestock.  We are only a small part of the total primeval or natural species assembly, and only a small part of its yields are directly available to us.... Household design relates principally to the needs of people; it is thus human-centered (anthropocentric).

 This is a valid aim for settlement design, but we also need a nature-centered ethic for wilderness conservation.  We cannot, however, do much for nature if we do not govern our greed, and if we do not supply our needs from our existing settlements.  if we can achieve this aim, we can withdraw from much of the agricultural landscape, and allow natural systems to flourish."
In context in this book, Bill does not specifically mention that he is talking about the Third Ethic, but I choose to believe that he is.  After all, he speaks of regulating our greed and remaining within the boundaries of our current human settlements so that we can return agricultural land to nature.  This is obviously setting limits to growth and consumption, with an end of returning our agricultural land (now surplus) to nature (reinvesting resources in the interest of the earth and its ecosystems).  Finally, at the end of page 7, Bill adds:
"It is my belief that we have two responsibilities to pursue: Primarily, it is to get our house and garden, our place of living, in order, so that it supports us;  Secondarily, it is to limit our population on earth, or we ourselves become the final plague.

Both these duties are intimately connected, as stable regions create stable populations.  If we do not get our cities, homes, and gardens in order, so that they feed and shelter us, we must lay waste to all other natural system.  Thus, truly responsible conservationists have gardens which support their food needs, and are working to reduce their own energy needs to a modest consumption, or to that which can be supplied by local wind, water, forest, or solar power resources.
So, I think we probably have a rather clear idea on what Bill Mollison meant when he wrote about the Third Ethic.  Now let's once again turn to David Holmgren and his website  On his website, David describes that the Third Ethic is:
"... the taking of what we need and sharing what we don’t whilst recognising that there are limits to how much we can give and how much we can take.

 When a tree fruits, it usually produces much more than one person can eat. It makes sense to share what we can’t use. It takes time to pick, eat, share and preserve the harvest and there are limits to how much fruit we can produce and use...

...Sometimes we need to make hard decisions and consider what enough is."
I think all of these are important and wise words.  David acknowledges the hard truth that there are not infinite resources, and that there will be times that we must recognize that we may not have enough, but that others still need some as well.  In my opinion, this applies to both other human beings, AND to other species.  He mentions that in times of abundance, we should take only what we need to use currently and to preserve for later, and I agree with these things.  It leaves a lot open for interpretation, but I have to agree with them.  So where does the controversy come from?  I will quote David Holmgren in the caption under the graphic he chose to represent this ethic.  By doing so, I am in no way implicating David or his students in creation of the controversy.  I am merely pointing out a place where I see a difference in how the ethic is described.  My Bachelors degree is in Political Science, and so I am keenly aware of the connotations that certain words have in American society at least, and more broadly I believe.  Under a graphic of a pie with a slice cut out of it, David summarizes the Third Ethic as, "Fair Share: Set limits to consumption and reproduction, and redistribute surplus." [Emphasis mine.]

In American society, redistribute is a charged word.  Cries of socialism and greed can be heard from either side of the camp when this word is tossed around.  By using it in description of the Third Ethic, David Holmgren intentionally or unintentionally opened a can of worms that the Permaculture community is still struggling through.  I hope to reconcile this controversy to the best of my ability, but it is obviously a very large challenge.  It is so large a challenge that I am choosing to leave you with a cliffhanger, and discuss my own thoughts on the Third Ethic and how I believe the controversy surrounding it can be resolved in the next post.  (I'll also vindicate David Holmgren and make sure to leave no doubt that I think false political dichotomies, and not David, are truly responsible for this controversy.)

Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Edible Forest Gardening Workshop and some Food Forest Daydreams

My good friend Kari Ann let me know about an Edible Agroforestry class with Dave Jacke that is being held in SE Portland mid-next month.  I'm quite excited and am not only going to attend myself, but I've talked Kelsey into attending with me.  He not only will be talking about Edible Agroforestry, but Coppice Agroforestry as well, which is the subject of a new set of books he's writing with Mark Krawczyk.  I'm excited to learn from one of the great minds in the field.  If you or anyone you know is in Portland, you should attend!  I'd love to meet some local folks who have similar interests and are possibly readers of my blog.

So, anyone who has read my blog in the past knows that I think a Forest Garden is going to be a really important part of my homestead.  Last April Kelsey got me the two-volume Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier.  I've slowly but surely been reading up on it via these books and synthesizing the information into the greater picture I have for a homestead.  I recently watched Establishing a Food Forest- the Permaculture Way Series, with Geoff Lawton, and found that it brought my excitement for the topic even higher.  Even my Friday Feature posts (which I admit have had a flat start so far) are mostly centered around plants I could include in a food forest.

Ultimately, I believe that with a low to middling amount of management and work for the first 7-12 years of my homestead, I can bring an area of 2-3 acres into high food forest production.  I would define "high food forest production" as something that can provide a majority of the food needed for me, my family, and my animals (animals of course being included in the food needed for me and my family) in any given year.  During those first 7-12 years, if I simultaneously start one or two little "islands" of food forests per year around the edge of the main forest, then eventually they'll all link up with each other into a much larger area.  Once the main area needs less intense management, I can shift my management intensity towards the islands and ramp up their production, all while starting more islands around the outside of the initial maturing islands.  Conceptually, I could continue to expand my food forest to the point where the minimal effort needed to maintain the very large food forest is equal in time and energy needs (human and animal) to the intense effort needed to start the initial food forest plus the first few islands.  Ideally however, I'd stop a little short of that so that as I get older, I can work a little less.  Either way, I imagine that over the course of a few decades I can very easily bring somewhere between 6-10 acres of land into highly productive agroforestry depending on my goals and how much land I have to work with.  I don't really know if that's the magic number as far as effort goes, but I'm going to run with it.  Really, I'm just excited to get started in the first place, and I think the talk I'm attending will make me that much more excited.

This leads me to a point where I want to crunch some numbers and talk about what a food forest can actually produce on that much land.  I've already started doing so, and realized that it would make today's post too long for me to want to write right now, because as I'm writing this it's getting later in the evening.  So, I'm going to pick this topic back up either this Thursday or next as that's the day a number-crunching post fits into my new posting regime.  Until next time, thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Exploring the Permaculture Ethics: The Second Ethic, Care of People

This is the third of a four part series on the Permaculture Prime Directive and Ethics.  In today's post, we'll be discussing the Second Ethic: Care of People.  If you haven't yet, read the first two posts in the series on The Prime Directive of Permaculture and the First Ethic of Permaculture.  They'll give you some good background leading into the Second Ethic, although this post should mostly make sense by itself.

In the Permaculture Design Manual, Bill Mollison describes the Second Ethic as "Care of People: Provision for people to access those resources necessary to their existence."  I think the importance of this ethic is often overlooked by people in our time.  Too often, people who consider themselves environmentalists see human beings as just a problem to be mitigated, and not a part of the ecosystem just as important and needing to be looked after just like any other part.  Any environmentalism-motivated action that does not consider the impact on human beings as part of the system is not truly an environmental decision because human beings are part of the environment.  It is irrational and against nature not to have a healthy sense of self-preservation, which is what considering environmental action without also considering humans seems like to me.  On top of this, it is irresponsible to think that considering the system sans human beings can fix a problem.  There is no such thing, and will be no such thing for a long time, as a sans-human environment.  If we are to reverse course, we must learn how to design to the betterment of the environment as well as the betterment of humans.  It is my belief that humans in need are far more willing to do harm in the name of self-preservation than humans who want for little.  Therefore, we must take the Second Ethic very seriously and design systems in which humans want for little or nothing, so that they have room for interest in preserving more than just themselves.

I think this Ethic, of the three, most directly reflects the Prime Directive of Permaculture.  As I eluded to above, we must also make sure that our children are setup to be well taken care of by the systems we create (as well as their children and so on unto the 7th generation), so they have room for interest in more than just themselves.  Only by creating an environment in which our children have reason to and can become interested in preserving that environment can we reach sustainability and pursue regeneration.

The idea that human beings are part of the natural world, and not somehow detached and superior to it, leads me a the logical conclusion that it makes more sense to cooperate with something of which we are a part, rather than compete against it.  In the Design Manual, Bill Mollison describes the Principle of Cooperation as "Cooperation, not competition, is the very basis of existing life systems and the future of survival."  Further, "Life is cooperative rather than competitive, and life forms of very different qualities may interact beneficially with one another and with their physical environment."  He quotes Lewis Thomas in saying even "the bacteria... live by collaboration, accommodation, exchange, and barter."

So, clearly cooperation is imperative.  We must cease seeing ourselves as outside of nature, which leads to competition with the very system and the creatures within it that are providing for us, and instead learn to cooperate with that system and create what Paul Wheaton describes as "symphonies between man and nature."  But cooperating with nature is not the only important skill we must learn.  We also, probably more than anything, must learn to cooperate with each other.  Naturally, I have more from Bill Mollison on this.
"Having developed an earthcare ethic by assessing our best course for survival, we then turn to our relationships with others.  Here, we observe a general rule of nature: that cooperative species (like mycorrhiza on tree roots) make healthy communities.  Such lessons lead us to a sensible resolve to cooperate and take support roles in society, to foster an interdependence which values the individual's contributions rather than forms of opposition or competition.

Although initially we can see how helping our family and friends assists us in our own survival, we may evolve the mature ethic that sees all humankind as family, and all life as allied associations.  Thus, we expand people care to species care, for all life has common origins.  All are 'our family.'"
This statement brings the first two ethics full-circle, and reiterates my point that we are not outside of any natural system to speak of.  Because ecosystems build upon themselves in a cycle of growth, consumption, and decay, earth care leads to an easier time with people care, which ultimately can be broadened to species care, which really is just nurturing all the species in the production-consumption-decay cycle, and is therefore earthcare.  A beautiful cycle, just like the many others found in nature.  The Third Ethic of Permaculture helps close the loop more thoroughly by explaining by what guidelines the second ethic should get "converted" into earthcare, but that is of course for next week's post.

Until now, I have only shared my own and Bill Mollison's thoughts on the Second Ethic.  I would definitely be remiss if I didn't at least include David Holmgren's thoughts as well.  On, David Holmgren has this to say on the Second Ethic:
"If peoples needs are met in compassionate and simple ways, the environment surrounding them will prosper.... Care for people starts with ourselves, but expands to include our families, neighbors, local and wider communities.  The challenge is to grow up through self-reliance and personal responsibility."
While I think Holmgren reconnects the second ethic with the first, he falls short a bit because at first it seems his true end in taking care of people is only healing the environment, and in my opinion he doesn't focus enough on human well-being as an important end unto itself.  However, he brings up a good point about self-reliance and personal responsibility.  There are too many people who do not care about striving for or achieving either of these traits.  In this way we act like adolescents, waiting for someone else to take care of us or fix the problem while we waste our lives away in front of a screen (my readers obviously excluded of course) and blame others for our boredom or lack of fulfillment.  To this point, Holmgren says:
"By accepting personal responsibility for our situation as far as possible, rather than blaming others, we empower ourselves.  By recognizing that the wisdom lies within the group, we can work with others to bring about the best outcomes for all involved.

The permaculture approach is to focus on the positives, the opportunities that exist rather than the obstacles, even in the most desperate situations."
Wise words.  I know that in my own life, when I started to take responsibility for the way things are, it motivated me to change my behavior.  When I realized that I too was responsible for the poisoning of our air, waterways, and soil with chemicals and heavy metals; I changed the products I used, I started driving much less, I became conscious of the products and companies I supported, etc.  I began thinking of how I could effectively "vote with my dollars."  I stopped blaming entirely the politicians and corporations who condone and commit acts of eco-destruction, and realized that I was just as complicit for the way things are because of what I chose to support, and so I chose to stop supporting them.  This blog and my homesteading passion are my attempt to make the best of a desperate situation, and to see the opportunities presented to me rather than the obstacles.  Even though I primarily feel that I am writing this blog much more for myself or possibly (hopefully) my progeny than a captive present-day audience, I keep writing in the hopes that it might awaken somebody to a way of living responsibly on the earth.  And to be perfectly honest, it is selfishly my little way of saying "look at me!  I'm trying to do good things," because I think it's important that people know that other people are trying.

In summary and conclusion, I would like to quote Carl Sagan from page 103 of his book Cosmos.  He writes,
"Are we willing to tolerate ignorance and complacency in matters that affect the entire human family? Do we value short-term advantages above the welfare of the Earth? Or will we think on longer time scales, with concern for our children and our grandchildren, to understand and protect the complex life-support systems of our planet? The Earth is a tiny and fragile world. It needs to be cherished."
I doubt that when Carl Sagan wrote those words he had ever even heard of permaculture or its ethics, but he clearly would have been on board.  Permaculture is obviously the practice of cherishing the earth and all the living beings supported by it.  There are a tremendous number of ways to go about cherishing the earth, and I believe if many of us learn the permaculture ethics and use them as guidance on how to go about cherishing it, we will soon create those "symphonies between man and nature."  After all, it is the only responsible decision to make, is it not?

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A Slight Change in Schedule Due to Delay

Due to some personal obligations and the opportunity to pick up some hours at work, today's post about the Second Ethic of Permaculture will be delayed until tomorrow, and this week's Friday Feature will be cancelled. Sorry!

Monday, August 06, 2012

I May Finally take a Permaculture Design Course

There is a new online funding platform called We The Trees.  They are like Kickstarter where someone donates money to project campaign in order to receive some kind of perk (it's my belief that people usually donate to these things out of an interest to help people succeed in their dreams, but legally the person asking for donations has to offer some kind of "perk").  Kickstarter was originally for artistic pursuits, so if you donated you might get an early release of the CD, copy of the painting, or something similar.  Well, We The Trees is all about permaculture and funding permaculture projects and permaculture educational pursuits, and I'm going to be starting a campaign very soon.

There is a Permaculture Design Course offered in community at the Lost Valley Education Center.  It is 5 weeks long, during which time you earn your Permaculture Design Certificate as well as live amongst like-minded people who has dreams of like-minded projects back home.  It is something that until I found out about We The Trees, I thought I'd have to wait 10 years before being able to make it happen.

But now, instead, I'm going to start a campaign for We The Trees and see if I can raise the money.  I'll need about $4400 to cover the cost of the course as well as expenses and travel, and I need to raise it by mid-September.  Once I kickoff the campaign, which I'm hoping to do in the next day or two, I'll update this page with a link and probably some more info.  Please consider donating, either your monetary capital (cash!) if you can afford it, or your social capital (links on facebook, tell your friends, tell your family, tell your dog) if you can't donate cash.  It will almost certainly be a lifechanging event if I can go, and any help you provide will be most appreciated.  What "perks" do you get in return if you donate?  You'll have to visit my campaign on We The Trees to find out.  (See what I did there?  I'm gonna make you visit my campaign.)

Thanks, as always, for reading my blog.  And if you happen to donate to my campaign, thank you so much for helping me accomplish my dreams.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Friday Feature: Medlar Tree

This will be the first official Friday Feature.  I think that the format will probably evolve overtime, so forgive me if this is a little rough.  As I develop a format, I may go back to this post and others and reformat them as makes sense.  Once I have a format developed, I'll also post a "key" to the categories. I'm also working on a glossary for terms included in here.  This is all a work in progress, so bear with me.

This Weeks Friday Feature:  Medlar Tree

Latin:  Mespilus germanica
Habit, size, form: Standard, small tree
Root Pattern: N/A
Size: 20ft x 20ft
Growth Rate: Medium
Habitat: Thickets, edges, Open woods
USDA Hardiness Zone: 6, not frost tender.
Flowering range: May - June
Pollination: Self-pollinating
Fruit: Good fruit, tasting of spicy applesauce once allowed to soften fully indoors
Soil: Any well-drained soil type will do.
Sun: Full sun or partial shade.
Moisture: Mesic.
Soil PH: ~5.5-8
Uses: Good edible fruit.
Functions: General nectary
Drawbacks: None
Improved Cultivars: Yes
Beneficial Shelter: The Medlar does not provide shelter to beneficial insects that we know of.

Synthesis: I doubt that Medlar fruit would be something there is much of a market for, although I have not had the fruit and cannot say first hand.  However, it sounds like something that would compliment pie or preserves quite well, as well as provide some variety in the fruit eaten off the tree.  That said, it seems appropriate to only include a few Medlars in a food forest or backyard garden.  I could not find any information on beneficial impacts it might offer other species of plant, though it is a good nectary so it'll give the pollinators something to munch on.  Many plants flower during the Medlars range so it'll only be adding diversity, not survival fodder, but diversity is a good thing.

Brainstorms: Perhaps Medlars create excellent honey?  It's something that I'd like to find out, as spicy applesauce honey sounds really good to me... though I don't know if I'd ever plant enough of an orchard type situation to make it happen.  Also, I'd like to see the wood and find out how good it might be for projects.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Exploring the Permaculture Ethics: The First Ethic, Care of the Earth

Today's post, the second in a four part series about the Prime Directive and Ethics of Permaculture, is on the First Ethic of Permaculture, Care of the Earth.  It is also huge, so grab the beverage of your choice, sit down, and hold on.  As I did last time, I'm going to share the thoughts of some of the great minds in permaculture on this ethic, as well as intermixing my own thoughts and interpretations.  I'll quote the greats where I can, and I'll call out when something is my opinion.  I invite respectful discourse on these topics, as it helps me and anyone reading to grow.  Please refrain from being disrespectful in any way towards someone else's opinions if they differ from your own.

Enough preamble, let's get into it.  In Permaculture: A Designers Manual, Bill Mollison defines the first ethic as:
"Care of the Earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply."
This seems to be a very simple ethic, and in truth in permaculture circles there is not much controversy over its definition and application.  Basically, try to allow for abundance by encouraging the growth of all living things.  Life that is currently on this planet evolved to be here for a reason, so in every way we can we should let nature take its course.  Of course, we are also here for a reason, and cannot help but have an impact on our environment.  The difference is that we are conscious to our actions in a way we cannot attribute to any other living creature that we know of, so we must take responsibility for our actions as such.

Many people do not choose to take said responsibility.  Outside of permaculture circles, there are certainly people who do not share the first ethic, and it shows in the state of the natural world today.  There are people who not only believe that the economy is not part of the environment... they believe it's more important!  Somehow, they do not see that it is the environment we live in, the natural world, that provides all of the things we manipulate within the economy.  Without the environment, without diverse and healthy ecosystems, there cannot be life as we know it, let alone an economy.  Therefore, it is important that we follow this first ethic and care for the earth, and provision for all living things.

Let's get some more input on the first ethic.  David Holmgren is typically thought of as the co-founder of permaculture.  He studied at the College of Advanced Education in Hobart, Tasmania, the city in which Bill Mollison was a lecturer at the University of Tasmania.  They met in 1974, and their conversations on gardens (and agriculture), sustainability, and the interactions of natural systems eventually led them to collaborate on Holmgren's doctoral thesis, which later became Permaculture One: A Perennial Agricultural System for Human Settlements.  David Holmgren also wrote a book called Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, from which I'll draw information on this ethic as well as the next two.  This, in my opinion, is Holmgren's magnum opus, and an important read for permies.  Holmgren defines the first ethic as:
"The Earth is a living, breathing entity.  Without ongoing care and nurturing, there will be consequences too big to ignore."
This seems a bit different than Mollison's definition, with a focus on the Gaian aspect of ecology in which the earth is viewed as a large organism of which we are but "cells", which is a strong focus for Holmgren.  When we read more of what he has to say about it, it becomes clear that Holmgren and Mollison's definitions are essentially the same:
"Care of the Earth can be taken to mean caring for the living soil. The state of the soil is often the best measure for the health and well-being of society... Our forests and rivers are the lungs and veins of our planet, that help the Earth live and breathe, supporting many diverse life forms. All life forms have their own intrinsic value, and need to be respected for the functions that they perform - even if we don’t see them as useful to our needs."
I like that Holmgren includes what most people would not normally think of as living and breathing creatures, like rivers and lakes, and makes them just as important to take care of.  He also calls attention to the fact that the soil is alive as well... without life in the soil, it is simply dirt, and cannot provide abundance.  In fact, Holmgren says "there are many different techniques for looking after soil, but the best method to tell if soil is healthy is to see how much life exists there."  Finally, I really appreciate Holmgren's attention to the fact that just because a life form doesn't provide a function that is of direct benefit to us as human beings doesn't mean that it has no benefit. "All life forms have their own intrinsic value" is something that everyone can learn from, "native" species enthusiasts as well as those who hardly care for the environment at all.

In the graphic that Holmgren uses to demonstrate the Ethics, he includes the words "Rebuild Natural Capital" as a summary, which I think is a terrific way of expressing the goal of the first ethic, if not the ethic itself.  Allowing life to grow and flourish today paves the way for more life to be present tomorrow, just as allowing your savings account to grow today allows you to grow your monetary capital tomorrow.  When we deplete life through unnecessary "pest" or "weed" management, we're throwing away some of our natural capital and depleting our reserves.  Likewise, when we spend too much of our monetary capital to purchase and over consume products and services, we deplete the environment (and our future generations) of clean air, clean water, metals and minerals, fossil fuels, etc. Being conservative with our spending, of both natural and monetary capital, is an obvious benefit to ourselves and future generations.  And as I wrote about in the last post in this series, it is of crucial importance to be thinking of what is good for our great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren as much or more than what is good for us.  Oh, and everything else that is alive with us now, and may be in the future.

So, essentially, the first ethic is an ethic of preservation and conservation.  It is an ethic of consideration for what kind of world we are leaving for our descendants.  As a start towards a method for accomplishing this, I would like to include something Mollison wrote in the Design Manual on this topic:
"For a great many case histories we can list some rules of use, for example the RULE OF NECESSITOUS USE-- that we leave any natural system alone until we are, of strict necessity, forced to use it.  We may then follow up with RULES OF CONSERVATIVE USE-- having found it necessary to use a natural resource, we may insist on every attempt to:
    • Reduce waste, hence pollution;
    • Thoroughly replace lost minerals;
    • Do a careful energy accounting; and
    • Make an assessment of the long-term, negative, biosocial effects on society, and act to buffer or eliminate these."
Mollison is writing these rules and guidelines as applicable to all three ethics, so remember them when we discuss the second and third ethic.  As for the first ethic, I do think it is a fantastic outline for how to approach preservation and conservation primarily, and so I'm including its discussion here.  I particularly find the Rule of Necessitous Use an important one to focus on.  I think the zone model of permaculture (which will be discussed in more depth in a future post), is a good litmus test for this rule.  In brief, permaculture designs are usually designed around zones, which range from Zone 1 which is the area of highest use, such as the house; to Zone 5 which is an area of pristine (or as close as you can come to it on your site) wilderness.  To test our design, and our practice of the Rule of Necessitous Use, we merely need to observe our Zone 5.  Is it becoming more or less wild?  Is it expanding in size because our zones 1-4 are acting so effectively that they don't need to be as large, or is it shrinking because we're finding that we need the space to fulfill our needs.  The answers to these questions doesn't necessarily inform us as to our failure or success as designers, but it still provides us with critical information about our design and its overall effect on the environment and our place in it.  There's nothing wrong with a shrinking zone 5 if your design is efficient as possible, but it does inform you of something to strive for, does it not?  Lastly, the Rule of Necessitous Use is one where profit and conservation can come to a head, but I will discuss more about profit and permaculture in the post on the third ethic.

To speak on the Rules of Conservative Use, I think it is important for everyone to read, learn, and embrace them as a part of their everyday lives.  Each may carry a slightly different meaning to someone else, but my thoughts on them are:

  • By reducing waste, and therefore pollution, we are mitigating the harm we do to the place we live.  If we live up to the sixth principle of permaculture as described by Holmgren (which we'll talk about more in depth in yet another series of posts), then we will do our best to produce NO waste.  Attempting to do so will lead us not to waste obvious resources such as kitchen scraps and leftover food, it will help us choose against obvious waste such as plastic packaging and single-use items, and it will encourage us to be creative in ways we haven't tried before such as repurposing old items around the house.
  • Thoroughly replace lost minerals, I think, can be expanded to thoroughly replace lost resources (where applicable).  Mollison's use of the word minerals reflects his focus on agricultural systems and soil at the time of writing the Design Manual, but I think replacing resources that can be replaced is very important as well, and if Mollison chose to revise the Design Manual I have no doubt he'd expand minerals into something more inclusive of systems outside of agriculture.  As an example, if you chop down a tree for timber or fuelwood, plant some new ones to replace it.  Better yet, design a system in which new ones are already growing to replace a tree long before you need to use it for fuelwood.  The same can be said for water... if you remove water from the natural world and use it for cooking, bathing, etc., use it in a way that a greywater system can thoroughly replace most of that water into the ecosystem from which it came in a way that does no harm.  This line of thought can be applied to almost anything, and the few things that it is hard to apply to (fossil fuels) are things which we should try to mitigate our use of as much as possible.  (That last sentence is also worthy of a whole series of posts, but I feel as if I'm deferring to that possibility too much in this post.  If I did not, however, this post would turn into a book in its own right.)
  • Doing a careful energy accounting is essentially measuring the amount of energy input for the amount of energy output produced.  For instance, according to some sources the amount of energy used to produce and transport one calorie of industrial food to your table is about 9 calories input to 1 calorie consumed (9:1).  Obviously this is not sustainable, and certainly is not regenerative.  To be sustainable, we'd need a ratio of 1:1, and to be regenerative, we'd need it to be 1:N, where N>1.  The higher N, the more regenerative, because there is more energy left for other elements in the system than just humans.  With this logic, even a ratio of 1:1 may not quite be sustainable, because it may not provide enough energy for all the living entities in a system to be sustainable themselves... but it's a goal to shoot for as a start.
  • Making an assessment of the long-term, negative, biosocial effects on society, and acting to buffer or eliminate them is a huge, seemingly impossible, and critically important step in acting conservatively.  Some of them are obvious, i.e. clear cutting a pristine forest eliminates the habitat for untold numbers of species.  But many can be less obvious, especially if we don't perform a thorough enough energy accounting that really documents as many of the interconnections we can think of in a system.  For example, what we put down our drains can be something that is easily overlooked.  However, if we use a greywater system, it can have a drastic effect on our designed ecosystems... especially if we end up recycling that water on our property to grow food for ourselves or our livestock.  Even if we don't have a greywater system, it is important to think of the chemicals we choose to flush/rinse down the pipes on a daily basis.  The Earth's water systems are ultimately one big greywater system, and whether we're keeping that water on our land or not, we're impacting something downstream.  It is, I believe, absolutely imperative that this step in practicing the Rule of Conservative Use is not overlooked because of its scope.  Doing no harm largely involves knowing what harm you might do, even in the slightest amount, and even if it is way downstream.
With that, I'd like to wrap up my discussion of the first ethic.  I think the spirit of the ethic must be clear by now... take care of the planet we live on.  For now and into the foreseeable future, it's the only one we've got.  We should also do everything in our capabilities to take care of the other entities we share this planet with.  To our knowledge, we're the only species in the universe with the capacity to do so consciously and deliberately.  Make that deliberate choice to look after your progeny, your fellow creatures, and the Earth now.  It's not too late to turn around the path we've been on for the last couple of centuries, but it's going to take a lot of work from as many people as can be reached.  Choose today to be one of those people.  This ethic is the first for obvious reasons... it is by far the most important.  Research more on the Rule of Necessitous Use and the Rules of Conservative Use.  Do some observation and contemplation and figure out how you can apply them in your everyday life.  If everyone does this even a little bit, it will help, but it'll take many people doing this a lot to have the impact we need, so share this message with your friends.

On that note, I'll do what I rarely do.  I implore you to share this blog, and especially this post and its siblings, with everyone you know.  I obviously do it for selfish reasons... I'd love to have more people seeing what I write, otherwise why would I write?  But I do it for altruistic and philanthropic reasons too.  I don't think I'm the greatest writer, or any kind of serious authority on permaculture or paths to regeneration, but I do think it's possible that if this post has spoken to and moved you even the slightest, it might do the same for at least one other person.  Try to share it with that person, and others if you can.  The main reason I write this blog and pursue what I'm pursuing is to try to make a slightly better world for myself and my descendants.  And I'm concerned for yours as well, as we're all in this together, and I know I need your help.  Help me help you help them.  I know this paragraph probably sounds over the top and somewhat pompous, but I really do think it's important stuff.  If nothing else, do it to humor this raving lunatic, eh?

Thanks so much for reading.  Next week I'll share my own thoughts on the second ethic, and more importantly the thoughts of the Permaculture Giants.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Blogging Effort, Schedule, and Structure

Over the previous three years, in the time since I started The Permie Homestead Blog, I haven't been very successful keeping up a regular blogging schedule.  In the first couple of months I wrote a few dozen posts, and then fell drastically off after that.  I've had random streaks of writing, usually 3 or 4 posts long, but have never connected them together effectively enough to make my blog a regular effort.

I've decided to redouble my efforts to create a real blog that attracts readers, provides worthwhile information, and perhaps even generates a small income.  I've learned enough about permaculture over the past few years, and think that I am a good enough writer, that people will look to me as a resource.  Also, I'm in a place in my life where I finally have more to write about.  I'm in the city in which I want to live and start my homestead, I have a garden, I have a partner who is supportive of my efforts, and I am building community with like-minded people that will hopefully lead to volunteering on a farm of the type which I'd like to build myself, or possibly even an apprenticeship.

So, in an effort to maintain regularity with posting to the blog, and to provide structure to the information I provide and document for myself and for others, I've come up with a scheduling structure I intend to follow most of the time.  I won't always keep to it, as things might come up that I find too important to wait several days to post.  But for the most part, the schedule will be followed, otherwise what is the point of having a schedule.

So, here is what it looks like:
  • Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are mandatory posting days.  I intend to write a minimum of 3 posts a week, and these are the days they will occur.
    • Mondays will be days that I write blog or life updates, like this one or my post about what's new since moving to Portland last Monday.  These may not always be very long, but they'll be regular.  They could even just consist of a few pictures from my garden.  Basically, they'll be personal updates or "business" updates about the blog.
    • Wednesdays will be a Permaculture Lesson day.  Like my post last Wednesday, they'll be about some aspect of permaculture, be it the ethics or principles, or how permaculture can be applied to a certain project or design.  Think of this like a sort of practical classroom day (most of the time anyway.  I know last Wednesday and the next few are more conceptual).
    • Fridays I will post a Friday Feature.  This will be a post where I try to explore, in depth, one "piece" of a design.  So, this will include plants and as much vital information about them as I can gather.  It will also include other parts of a permaculture design, such as a humanure pile, pond, chicken coop, a pathway, or even a tool like an axe or hammer.  Basically, if something can be used in support of another element in a design, or is supported by other elements of a design, it is possible it could be a Friday Feature.
  • Tuesday, Thursday, and Weekend days will be optional.  I may find myself posting more frequently on Tuesday and Thursday, but I intend to leave most of my (and your) weekends free from an update.
    • Tuesdays will be a book related day.  If I'm in the middle of a permaculture book and feel like sharing my thoughts on it or doing a review, they'll fall on Tuesdays.  Also, if something in a book sparks an idea for me, I'll use Tuesdays to thresh out those ideas into a more solid and understandable form.  If Wednesdays are a "Practical Classroom" day, Tuesdays are "Conceptual Classroom."
    • Thursdays will be either a free-form brainstorm day, or a kind of "vision" day.  If I get some kind of wild idea into my head that doesn't really fit into the other categories, I'll likely post it Thursdays.  These ideas may not be that good, or they could be categorically brilliant.  I reserve the right to say crazy things this day that might totally suck.  I believe that if we are to save the world from disaster, we need innovation, and innovation that comes from a frame of mind that does not fear failure.  Thursdays will likely be days mixed with failures and successes as far as ideas go.  As far as the "vision" posts go, they'll be like the post from last Thursday, where I outline some of my higher-level thoughts for my homestead or some aspect thereof.
    • As far as weekend days, Sundays will be my "Editorial" day.  I mentioned a couple posts ago that I was starting to feel the need to post about politics.  If and when that urge hits me, I'll post them on Sunday.  Saturdays are unlikely to have many posts, as they are for things that don't fit into anything else.  If I knew what they might be, I'd invent a category for them... but as of now I cannot imagine what I'd write about that doesn't fall into one of the other categories.  Also, if one of the posts from earlier gets WAY too long but I feel like it wouldn't make sense to post part 2 a full week later, I may do a continuation of an earlier post on a Saturday.
So, with all that listed out, I can now be held accountable.  Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays will all be mandatory for me.  Other posts will fall into place as described above.  If you have any ideas for what you'd like to see on any given day, please let me know.  I'd especially love ideas for the Friday Features.  I believe that without reader suggestions, it could be easy for me to fall into a pattern of writing about plants that do well in the PNW, or items I personally use or want to use.  With reader suggestions, I'll learn about things that I didn't even know existed, and I'll be able to teach myself about them by trying to teach others.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday Feature: The Friday Feature!

So, today is going to be a little bit of a cop out as writing these is a little more involved than I first anticipated.  So, the first edition ever for the new Friday Feature segment (which is a part of the new structure that I'll be discussing on Monday), is the Friday Feature.  That's right, today I'm going to tell you all about what the Friday Feature is intended to be.

The Friday Feature will cover as much information about any possible design element that I can sensibly fit into a blog post.  So for plants, this will be not just things like USDA hardiness zones and water or sunlight requirements, but also where I think they fit into guilds, what is edible or medicinal, what benefits it offers other design elements, what elements it needs to be supported, what some of its pests are, what beneficial insects it has, etc.

I might also discuss other things, like tools, building designs, static design elements like walls or paths, etc.  For all of these, I'll try to write a comprehensive post so that someone who has never heard of this thing before understands it at a level where they could start to plug it into one of their own designs.

It'd be awesome if people have suggestions for what they'd like to see in the Friday Feature.  I'll probably be writing a lot about plants that are useful to me in the Pacific Northwest, so if you live somewhere else and want a little research done for you on something from your area, let me know!  It'll help me to broaden my horizons by thinking outside of my bioregion.

Thanks for reading my short blog post about the Friday Feature.  Next week, I'll have a real Friday Feature all about the Medlar Tree.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Revisiting My Strategic Homesteading Goals: Productive Shelter, Part 1

It has been a very long time since I've written about my homesteading goals.  So long, that when I re-read the goals I put down in my first post and my post about My Homesteading Goals, I was amused by how undeveloped they were.

If you re-read the steps outlined in The Start of the Journey, you'd see that in my homesteading/permaculture naivete, I really thought that it could all happen that fast for me, even though I really had no money saved, didn't have a job at the time, and was planning on applying to a permaculture internship that was WAY over my head.  Needless to say, most of 2012 has passed, and none of those steps actually took place, other than working and saving up a little money, and practicing gardening (a little, though I'd say a LOT has happened since moving into the apartment I'm in now, which I mentioned in my post on Monday).  In many ways, I'm glad that things have happened the way they did.  I've had a lot of time to read about a variety of styles to approach sustainable living (as well as develop my thoughts on regenerative living), I've met a lot of people who have shared many good ideas with me, I have a career that is more stable for achieving my real goals, and I have a partner who shares those goals and wants to help achieve them.

So what are those goals, and how have they changed over the past three years?  First, I want to revisit the goals I outlined in My Homesteading Goals post.  It was a relatively long post, as this post and it's subsequent posts will turn out to be, so I'm going to examine them one or two at a time.
1. I want a house on my homestead that is as reliably self-sufficient as possible. I want it to produce its own energy in the form of solar, wind, micro-hydroelectric, or any other sustainable technique. I want it to have the ability to passively heat or cool itself using good design principles tailored to that end. I want it to make the most effective use of its waste, such as recycling greywater, effective removal and treatment of black water, or using heat from cooking to heat the home during the winter. And the house itself should be some sort of producer, perhaps by incorporating an integrated food-producing greenhouse into the design, and definitely by capturing and efficiently using rainwater. To my knowledge so far, the best design for a home that meets all of these goals is an Earthship Biotecture as conceived by Mike Reynolds. Though it may not be the first structure I live in on my homestead, this is my ultimate goal for my house.
Well, the heart of my goal here has not changed.  I do want my house to be as reliably self-sufficient as possible.  Energy production will be an important part of what I'd like to have, though not in the way I was thinking about it 3 years ago.  I've since learned that reducing my energy consumption will be far more valuable to me in achieving the liberty I'm looking for in this house.  In mid-2009, I was thinking I'd need your standard 5kW solar array, etc., in order to meet my energy needs.  Although I didn't know it at the time, I was on the right track with passive heating and cooling, because those would constitute a major reduction in energy needs.  But I was still trapped in the TV/washer/drier/lights/computers/etc. mindset, and thought I'd need the kind of energy used in a normal house.

I would now love to build a home and change my lifestyle to a point where a 1-2kW electricity production array was more than enough.  I would still like enough electric power to run a computer and the things that go with it (so I can keep writing this blog!).  I would still like some electric lighting, and a drip coffee machine (maybe, though I could be convinced to switch to french press I suppose), and limited kitchen appliance use (I love cooking).  But there are things that homesteading for a living affords me that I had not realized before.  When I am homesteading, I won't have an alarm clock to wake up to.  I know not having an alarm clock is not a big electricity saver, but it implies many things.  It means I'll be able to allow my body to find a more natural cycle in tune with the sun.  It means I won't use as much (if any) electric light on most nights.  Candlelight will be preferred above electric lighting anyhow, as it is much more natural and doesn't throw off your circadian rhythm the way electric lighting does.  I'll have the freedom to go outside, read books, play with my dog, play with the earth, and not try to be entertained by the television because it's dark outside by the time I get home from my job.  I might use something like a french press instead of a drip coffee machine because I'll be able to more leisurely make and enjoy coffee, rather than trying to get a quick fix before rushing off to work.  I won't spend as much time in front of a computer because I won't need it as much as an educational tool or as a form of revenue.  I'll be educating myself by practicing techniques and testing theories in the real world, and I'll be generating revenue by creating real products, or teaching others about what I'm doing.  Basically, I think more natural patterns of living will drastically reduce the need for electricity because I'll be entertained and fulfulled in more simplistic ways.

My need for a refrigerator will be reduced as well.  Eating fresh vegetables and herbs and storing produce in more traditional methods means not needing as much refrigeration to store them.  In fact, I can conceive of  a situation in which I could utilize a deep freezer, packed as full as possible for efficiency, for storing meats that I gathered from livestock or hunting and only a very small fridge that I use for limited amounts of dairy, butter, opened jars of home-canned goods, and a few bottles of homebrew.  This fridge and deep freezer would likely constitute most of my electricity needs, and if used efficiently would not constitute much.  I also believe I could supply the energy needed for these items off of a very small solar array and battery backup system.

I would like to eliminate the need for a washer and drier by just having less clothes.  If I don't have a "traditional job" in which I need to maintain appearances by wearing a different set of clothes everyday, then I'd be much more likely to wear the same pair of overalls or pants for a few days in a row, switch out a couple of similar undershirts for a few days, and then wash the 8-12 or so articles of clothing (underwear and socks in there too, of course) by hand.  I've seen many neat contraptions that utilized a stationary bike to "power" a washing machine, and think I could rig up something similar, which would make my clothes washing bacon 'n' eggs powered!  (NOTE: I have yet to even attempt to convince my girlfriend of the virtue of less clothing, and it could prove to be an insurmountable task.  I think I'll save this for when the time comes.)  Washing and drying by hand will save a lot of electricity.

With computers/coffee maker/limited electric lighting/freezer/small fridge taken care of with some possible combination of solar/wind/micro-hydro, and clothes washing taken care of by hand, that leaves heating and cooling as the only thing left to address on the energy side of things.  Here I again think I have a good solution.  But, I'm going to save it for my next post, because this one is already too long.

Next Thursday I'll post Revisiting My Strategic Homesteading Goals: Productive Shelter, Part 2.  Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Exploring the Permaculture Ethics: The Prime Directive

The three permaculture ethics - Care of the Earth, Care of People, and Setting Limits to Population and Consumption - are the nucleus around which all permaculture design ideas are built.  As the foundation of these, the Prime Directive acts as a baseline goal by which everyone should make their decisions about how to live their lives.  In this post, and on the three following Wednesdays, I intend to analyze and evaluate the meaning of the prime directive and the permaculture ethics as described by the permaculture greats such as Mollison and Holmgren, as well as the descriptions provided by permaculture teachers I respect such as Toby Hemenway and Paul Wheaton, and finally I'll include my own interpretation and opinion of the core of permaculture in light of what I have learned from the aforementioned people.  Today, I'll be analyzing the Prime Directive.

I want to start with a bit of a disclaimer.  In these posts, I'll be quoting some sections of the writing of others, and then analyzing it.  My analysis is my opinion, and therefore is subject to scrutiny in a respectful manner.  Should you disagree with my opinion, you are welcome to share why and try to persuade me otherwise.  However, if there is a disrespectful comment, it is likely I will delete it.  I don't anticipate this being a problem with the prime directive or the first two ethics, but I know from experience that the third ethic can generate some heated debate.

So, on to the important stuff.  I'm going to start with the basics as described in Permaculture: A Designer's Manual, by Bill Mollison.  Bill is considered the founder of permaculture, although he describes his work as having rediscovered what many aboriginal peoples already knew for centuries.  Bill outlines the ethical starting point for permaculture in the first chapter of the aforementioned book, and I'll refer to that frequently in this series on ethics.  I highly recommend purchasing the book for a full in depth analysis from the father of permaculture.

In order to understand the ethics, it is important to view them in light of the Prime Directive of Permaculture.  The Prime Directive is:

The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. Make it Now.

Clearly, Mollison believes what I and I'm sure anyone reading this blog believes... the actions we are currently taking as we occupy this planet are less than responsible, and we need to decide now that our own lives and the lives of our children are no ones responsibility but our own.  I interpret this as a baseline of sustainability.  If you are taking real responsibility for your life and your children's lives, then you have no choice but to act and live sustainably, which is a minimum for true continuation of life on this planet.  If everyone made this the prime directive of their lives, I believe it would solve 95% of the problems we face as a species, and of the problems we are currently imposing on the other species in our ecological community.  Degenerative decisions would mean we were not acting responsibly, and they would cease.  With our inventiveness and energy freed up to act regeneratively rather than chasing our tail by enacting degenerative solutions to the problems caused by degenerative solutions, the remaining 5% of the problems to tackle would be easily deciphered.  Viewing sustainability as a baseline rather than a goal broadens our horizons to the true potential of which humans are capable.

To carry my interpretation of Mollison's thoughts on the Prime Directive yet further, I will quote another passage from page 2 of the Design Manual:
For every scientific statement articulated on energy, the Aboriginal tribespeople of Australia have an equivalent statement on life.  Life, they say, is a totality neither created nor destroyed.  It can be imagined as an egg from which all tribes (life forms) issue and to which all return.  The ideal way in which to spend one's time is in the perfection of the expression of life, to lead the most evolved life possible, and to assist in and celebrate the existence of lifeforms other than humans, for all come from the same egg.
If, indeed, the ideal way to spend your existence is in the perfection of the expression of life, then is taking responsibility for your life and your children's lives enough? Clearly, sustainability is not enough.  To quote Toby Hemenway from a talk he gave at Duke University, "If someone said, 'How's your marriage?' and you said 'Oh, it's sustainable.' then, ok, it's not all that good."  He was referring to the fact that we spend so much of our time doing degenerative things, that if we reach sustainability and stop, then we've done nothing to repair the damage to the environment we've caused over the last few centuries.  Indeed, if in your marriage you fought a lot and caused much pain and and heartache for your partner, then stopped and were tolerable but did nothing to repair the psychological damage done to them, then your marriage would just be sustaining a place of heartache and emotional turmoil.  Likewise, we have been harmful in our relationship with the earth and the other lifeforms inhabiting it with us, and we need to begin to usher in a healing process for the damage that we've caused.

It is this interpretation of the Prime Directive which I will use to analyze the Permaculture Ethics.  In the tradition of the Iroquois, the Great Law reads, "In every deliberation, we must consider the impact of the seventh generation... even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine."  This Iroquois Law is the logical extension of the Prime Directive of Permaculture, and the difference between sustainability and regeneration.  If you are only thinking about yourself and your children, you may not plan for what is left for their children.  But if you are thinking about what will be left for your great-great-great-great-great grandchildren, the only way to ensure they receive a planet that is as or more healthy than the one you currently have is to try to regenerate the health, fertility, cleanliness, and livelihood of every living system you interact with and that they will interact with as well.  Those living systems are what support the livelihoods of you, your children, and 7 generations to come.  You also must teach each subsequent generation you have the privilege of interacting with to think and live the same way.  As soon as we begin leaving the gift that is the fruits of thinking this way to our seventh generation, we can truly say that we are living ideally, that we are practicing perfection of the expression of life, and that we are living responsibly and to our fullest potential.

Through this intellectual lens, I will explore the three ethics of permaculture over the next 3 weeks.  It is the lens through which I choose to operate, which of course makes it my own opinion.  Bill Mollison never expressed it this way, and perhaps I am carrying it too far.  If you see it differently, please express your opinion in the comments, as I'm sure that I have a long way to travel on the path to enlightenment on this topic.  As always, thanks for reading.

Monday, July 23, 2012

What's New Since Moving to Portland

A lot of good has happened since moving to Portland.  I'm in a healthier place, I'm living a healthier life, and I'm making good connections.  In this post, I'd like to share some of the changes that have come about for me since moving to Portland, and how they relate to my homesteading goals, to a healthier me, and to a healthier planet.  Not to say that any of my blog posts are very polished, but this post will be very unpolished, and more of a listing off of thoughts.

  • Kelsey and I moved our stuff down to Portland on April 21st.  I got to stay down here, while Kelsey went back to Olympia to finish out her job obligations.  She joined me on May 1st.  The reasoning behind the move was two-fold.  I didn't like working for the person I worked for, and so enacted a transfer to a store here in Portland because I do still appreciate the way the company operates.  Kelsey's half of the reasoning is far more exciting.  She was accepted into nursing school, which is something she has been working hard towards for several years.  She began nursing school in late June, and will finish up next Fall.  We have discussed it at length, and think that we will try to buy land soon after she gets a job after graduating.  Starting the homestead in earnest is getting closer everyday.  
  • Portland has a far superior public transit system to that which is present in Olympia.  Since moving down from Olympia, I have definitely driven my Durango less than 50 miles, and probably less than 30, though I did not look at my odometer when I arrived in Portland, which is unfortunate.  Taking public transit is not only easier on the environment from an emissions standpoint, but it is easier on my pocketbook as well.  At $4+ a gallon, I was easily spending $160-180 a month on gasoline.  Add in the cost of my insurance at $100 a month and my monthly costs came out to around $300, and that doesn't factor in the cost of routine maintenance.  Here in Portland, I get a discounted monthly bus pass through my work for $41, and because I drive less my monthly insurance is about $65.  This puts my average monthly transportation cost around $100, so I've cut those costs by two-thirds.  Easier on the planet, easy on my pocketbook.  A side benefit of taking the bus is reduced stress, increased reading time, and increased time to listen to podcasts... which I'll go into in greater depth.
  • My thirst for permaculture knowledge has gone into hyperdrive, mostly as a function of increased time available to pursue it.  Since moving to Portland, I have listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts that have to do with homesteading and permaculture.  I have read Gaia's Garden and Sepp Holzer's Permaculture in their entirety.  I have a reading list so long that there is absolutely no chance I'll ever finish it in my lifetime, but having time to consume more and more information that will be directly useful to my homesteading is a fantastic feeling that is making me more and more confident that I'll be able to realize my dreams.  This increase in time is the result of two factors.  One is the extra hour or two everyday that I have to listen to podcasts or read while taking public transportation, and the other (and major) reason is a function of my job.  I am frequently scheduled to work "truck" shifts.  This means I start work at 7am, and help stock the sales floor with new product.  Because our store doesn't open until 10am, I am able to listen to podcasts for several hours each morning.  I'm approaching a point at which the people producing the podcasts I find informational may not be able to keep up with the time I have to consume them.  I find this a good problem to have, as it means less time listening to podcasts on the bus or at home, which means I have more time to read.  Coming up on my reading list are The All New Square Foot Gardening and Edible Forest Gardens, as well as some fiction that helps keep my mood high.  The final factor that is helping me consume so much information is having a stellar library system conveniently within walking distance from my apartment, which allows me to read more books than I can afford to buy at this time.
  • And speaking of walking, this leads me to another of the healthier practices I've started since moving.  My use of "self-powered locomotion" has increased as much as my driving has decreased.  I have several bars, grocery stores, restaurants, dog parks, and a library all within walking distance of my apartment.  On top of that, I walk about a mile and a half to and from bus stops on days that I work.  I haven't tracked how much I walk, but I know it is a lot more than I was in Olympia.  At the beginning of October last year (after I had been in Olympia for about 8 months), I weighed about 235 lbs.  I currently weigh about 205 lbs.  There are some other contributing factors that I'll get into in another post, but the walking has been major.  Along with walking, I'm riding my bicycle more all the time, and would like to get into the habit of riding it more than taking the bus.
  • One of the things I love about my apartment complex is the community garden space.  Kelsey and I got a space a couple of months ago, and we've been experimenting with our garden ever since.  We have most of the usual stuff planted, like carrots, beets, potatoes, tomatoes, greens, peppers, and squash.  We also "cover-cropped" with strawberries and some flowers, though those aren't doing well.  And we're experimenting with ground-cherries, asparagus, and the design of our garden itself.  This warrants a more detailed post later, so look forward to that.
  • Portland is home to many many permaculture enthusiasts.  As I've written about before, it's one of the factors that led me to choose this area as where I wanted to homestead.  I haven't found quite the right fit yet, but I'm working on meeting permaculture folks that I can volunteer and/or apprentice with.  I guess this might not quite fit into this post because it isn't something that's actually new since moving to Portland, but it will be soon as I feel like I'm close to meeting someone that'll be a good fit to work with.
There are many little things I've left out deliberately, and more still that I've probably forgotten about, but if I tried to include them all this post would be far too long.  I'll share more in another catch-up post, the format of which I plan to talk more about in a post very soon.  I've actually planned out a posting "schedule" so that I have a framework to work within, which is part of my attempt to post more regularly and turn this blog into something more than it has been over the last 3 years.

Thank you so much for reading, and please share anything that comes to mind in the comments.