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.