Hopium at its best…..

16 01 2018

I have a lot of fun on Farcebook…… and you come across some really interesting people.  Because I wrote a long reply to a certain person who will remain nameless, I thought I’d turn it into a post for you guys to read. I know you’ll have a laugh too..

It all started with someone posting this article about what Australia will look like in 2049. Why 2049 you ask?  You tell me….  anyway, you can guess already, I was hardly going to agree with anything it said..!

Initially, someone wrote “The part of this alleged “futuristic” vision that infuriates me the most is the food aspect. They flippantly claim that households of the future will be fed nutrient-rich food from indoor greenhouses. Now take a close look at the artist’s impression of said greenhouse and tell me how much nutrient-rich food you can see growing in there. These people have never contemplated the land requirements of our nutrition.

It also completely neglects the plight of low-income people by painting a vision that only the richest few % might be able to afford. I guess everyone else will be working on degraded farmland growing food to make up for the nutritional deficiency left by the rich peoples’ indoor greenhouses…”

So far so good….  who could disagree? I replied “TOTALLY agree…… without fossil fuels, it is IMPOSSIBLE to feed the world as we do now. Most land is marginal and only capable of grazing animals. Those futuristic “visions” can only happen with fossil fuels. In fact, ‘this world’ we currently take for granted is 100% only here thanks to fossil fuels, and yet the masses are rising to abandon them, not realising their lives are literally at stake…

And yet they must go….. because our lives are at stake.

Talk about a rock and a hard place…….

Yes, civilisation’s conundrum again.

But then this guy came back with a link and…: “There is a group in the US called “Ecology Action” that has attempted to find the minimum possible land area to grow a nutritionally complete diet without fossil fuels (all hard yakka). Growing a fairly small set of ingredients for a simple (but balanced) vegan diet, coupled with their extremely labour-intensive (but very high-yielding) farming technique, they claim to deliver a full diet for one person on circa 400 square metres. This seems to assume a favourable climate and does not explicitly consider the sustainability of the irrigation applied.
http://www.growbiointensive.org/grow_main.html
Researchers (Schramski et al 2011) have further optimised the diet – coming up with an even shorter list of ingredients! – and got it down to about 100 square metres per person, with one full-time farmer working without fossil fuels theoretically able to grow enough food to feed 4-5 individuals.

This gives me a reason to hope that a post-industrial world could survive on some sort of subsistence basis, even with 10 billion people, and modest technology (either animal power or biofuel-powered rotary tillers) might improve the farmer-to-consumer ratio, but such a world would look a lot more like a present-day developing country and a lot less like the technotopia envisioned in the article.”

You can imagine what the 10 billion people remark did to my usual lack of humour…. I replied “”This gives me a reason to hope that a post-industrial world could survive on some sort of subsistence basis, even with 10 billion people”

Hahahahahah that made me laugh…… I have discussions over this all the time, and 99% of people cannot even conceive of moving to the land let alone getting dirt under their fingernails…

Half the population is obese and has no idea what a day’s work really is. They have neither the skills nor the knowledge.

And fossil fuel free? Right……… I’ve been doing this for over fifteen years now, and am currently working on my second project. I’m setting up a market garden 25m x 18m using permaculture principles, witht the long term vision of using mainly chickens and compost to fertilise it. And I couldn’t do it without the help of wwoofers either… or fossil fuels.

It’s ‘sort of half done’, I’m currently working on the second half, even before the first half is fully productive. The first half has cost me at least $3000 in fencing and amendments. And that’s not even counting the fact that most of the soil came from an excavation I did to build an eco house on, but if you add half that cost to it, add another $2000…… and who knows how much diesel fuel…. must be a couple of hundred litres by now.

Then there are the ten trips to the compost supplier….. I used to get compost 25km away, but there’s been some fuckup over the way that supplier worked, and now I have a 130km return trip to Hobart to get my 1300kg. Four so far. 520km and 60L of petrol and eight hours of travelling….. then there’s umpteen bags of sheep shit, and lime and dolomite, the seaweed fertiliser that came from godknowswhere…. oh did I mention you need a ute?  In the meantime, I put a couple of acres of improved pasture (that came with the farm) under a few sheep, and for $350, I have a year’s supply of meat. Beats the hell out of all that gardening for value and effort, let me tell you…….

I can tell you from experience that it takes YEARS to turn crap soil into good soil. My last project took me that long, but I’m running out of years, and this time I’m speeding the process up with money and fossil fuels before it’s too late….. because my dear Jimmy, we don’t have ten years left….. in fact, we may have only FIVE….. the oil industry is as good as bankrupt, and without the master resource we call oil, not a lot is going to happen…….

We will NEVER have 10 billion here on Earth (thank bloody goodness…), in fact, a big famine is coming, because we have dug ourselves into a great big hole called Fossil Fueled Civilisation.

I hope you know how to grow food. Or take one of their workshops, QUICK!

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More techno Utopia

20 10 2017

It never ceases to amaze what people will do in the name of sustainability……  or even believe that what they are doing is sustainable. An article from The Daily Times turned up in my newsfeed that everyone who read it thought was fantastic because it included the words sustainable, solar, and desalination….

Hope in Jordan is taking the form of a cucumber in the desert. It is not a mirage. Some say it is the future. In the arid southern desert of Wadi Araba, where scorching temperatures and dust devils leave scant signs of life, a team of environmental engineers is working on a solution for countries on the front lines of climate change, facing drought and rising temperatures.

The engineers say they are designing a sustainable farm that uses solar power to desalinate seawater to grow crops in regions that have been arid for centuries, and then use the irrigation runoff to afforest barren lands and fend off desertification.

As I continually say…… with fossil fuels, you can do anything…….

Even more frustrating, the article continues with…..

Similar ventures have had success in neighbouring Israel, but it remains to be seen whether a fully sustainable farm can breathe life into the Jordanian desert and offer a model to a country that cannot spare a drop of its dwindling water resources.

Well excuse me, but, there actually exists a “fully sustainable farm [that] can breathe life into the Jordanian desert and offer a model to a country that cannot spare a drop of its dwindling water resources”, and it wasn’t done with complicated technology that won’t be able to be fixed in ten years time, it was done with good old fashioned Permaculture Principles.

I will leave it up to you the reader to decide which way is actually the more sustainable….





One down, five to go……

28 12 2016

It’s raining. Which is good, because it’s watering the first of our six market gardens, and bad, because the house site was just starting to dry out nicely….. and now it isn’t. Bah humbug…….

Having slashed and rotary hoed the first patch of garden, the task of starting garden beds and planting them was next. The rotary hoe quickly found a 50kg rock, aka an immovable object, which I dutifully dug up with a mattock and crowbar…. good thing it didn’t weigh any more, I was only just able to lift it into the wheelbarrow for disposal.

img_0339I marked out the paths and beds with building string, then hoed out the paths which were subsequently raked downhill onto the beds, creating terraces. The paths will also act as mini swales during the heavier winter rains, and the soil is so good, it may just hold onto the water too..

Five bags of sheep poo were then applied and hoed into the soil for good measure, you can’t have too much organic matter!img_0340

Glenda planted kale and pumpkins on the first (lowest) bed, and once the whole patch was done, we planted snow peas, sweet corn, cucumbers, and broccoli seeds. There’s a bed left over for beans, and we might do that tomorrow.

On the weekend, we even sold our first batch of zucchinis from the poly tunnel, such as it was, but it’s a start, like everything else around here! We should have a bumper crop of tomatoes soon; they’re later than I would have expected, but everyone around Geeveston (and the Huon) is complaining that the whole growing season is late this year, which surprises me as we had such a wet winter….. or maybe it’s the cause?

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Indian Game Chickens

I also bought some Indian Game chicks I’m going to try to breed as a source of meat. They are pretty big birds too, and should be great scratchers in the gardens when needed with those stout legs….! Quite beautiful poultry actually.

The power station passed its first milestone of sorts, now that we have extracted a whole 100 kWh of electricity from the batteries.

It’s all going very well, powering up the dam pump more frequently now we have things to

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Our first 100kWh….

water, even boiling water in kettles for the purpose of killing weeds and grass….

The next big thing we need to do for this particular project is move a big pile of soil (covered in weeds!) sideways to fill the remaining windrow furrows left over from the apple orchard days. Hopefully, that will also help in slowing the flow of water down to the house site, those furrows act like gullies in heavy rain… once that’s done, the fencing will be finished around the six garden patches, and one by one they will be turned into gardens just like the one we’ve just finished. It’s a big job, lots of hard work, but very rewarding.





Building soil on the Fanny Farm

18 12 2016

With the new chicken pen finished, and at least half the new market garden finished – the other half is awaiting the moving of a huge pile of soil 30 to 40 metres away to fill in more furrows between existing windrows – the time had come to prepare the first area for production. Everything takes time, not least this project…….

The green manure I planted there soon after the house site excavations were finished was starting to go to seed, and looked promisingly ready for ploughing in… so I slashed it with my trusty Honda brushcutter. This machine is part of the ‘use fossil fuels while you still trimmerheadcan’ strategy…. after literally burning through two plastic auto string feeding heads for it, I replaced them with an alloy fixed string device that is proving way superior. With wet grass now a metre high, and uneven ground left over from the orchard heydays, mowing is very difficult, and this machine has been priceless, working long hours on 98 octane fuel. Because it’s four stroke, it starts first time every time too!

gardengreenmanureOnce slashed, the rotary hoe I bought last year was started again, and the grass clippings and green manure was laboriously ploughed into the soil. The plan is to eventually not disturb the soil ever again, but after years of cattle roaming all over it, me driving utes over that section of grass, and lately the excavator, the ground needed to be de-compacted…

I then added lime for Calcium (most Australian soils are Calcium deficient) and a starting point for rectifying the soil pH. No doubt further pH testing will be required later until I’ve got that right……gardencompost

A tonne of compost bought locally was then unloaded off the back of the ute by my better half, and the whole lot was rotary hoed again to get it all thoroughly mixed in.

The chickens were then allowed in to start scratching around and adding their bit to the soil. I need lots more chickens before this system starts working properly, but like I said, everything takes time…… we have one clucky chook sitting on a dozen eggs at the moment, so there are more on the way, and I am trying to source some meat chicks, because they are very good at tractoring soil.

The main pipe between the pump and the cube atop the power station was then cut, a T piece inserted, and a a one inch riser installed for access to water from our wonderful dam…..

gardenwaterCharlotte and Fanny might be back soon, and they will be able to see the progress since they left. Nothing will be planted there for a while, as it will take some time for all that new soil biomass to settle in. We’re getting there though……. and I will have another couple of French wwoofers here in February for some more action.

gardenchickens





We have a plan……..

21 10 2016

It’s been raining. Lots. So much so, nearly everyone I know here is complaining, and is over it….. One advantage of being stuck indoors is that one can get around to doing the things that don’t get done when the weather’s fine and there are holes to dig, crops to plant, or grass to harvest… like planning.

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No, the grass is not photoshopped, it really is that green!

Just to prove the old dictum “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, Bernie, my new town planning friend (full of stories you would not believe…..) has put a fire in my belly, and we have been working on our planning application. I have to tell you, I had just about given up on doing this project ‘the right way’, but Bernie assures me that if you approach Council talking their language, you can just about get anything through, as long as you follow the guidelines.

Our farm, as you may or may not know, has been rezoned ‘Significant Agricultural Land’. I like to think that’s why I picked it…… we are so lucky to own what I consider the best block in Geeveston! Not that I’m biased or anything…

One of the problems I was facing is that the rezoning calls for side setbacks of 100m, and our block is only 180m wide, meaning we can only achieve the correct setback on one side, not both. No problem says Bernie…… because when you read the fine print, it says “40m if the lot is greater than 1ha (it’s 5…) or if there is an existing building set back less than this distance, the setback must not be less than the existing building”! The shed from within which I am writing this is a mere two metres from the side fence! Let me assure you, I have no desire to be that close to the boundary!

Problem fixed……

The only other thing we have to show, is that our intention is to farm the land, not use it as some getaway for retired old farts like me……

After being here for over a year now, I have had a lot of time to think and foster my Permaculture Master Plan for this place, and putting pen to paper, literally, produced a rather impressive looking plan that Bernie was blown away by……. I also wrote a two and a half page document that Bernie will use as an appendix to his planning report, describing how using permaculture principles we plan to turn this farm from significant, to exceptional, and why we need to live here to realise the Fanny Farm’s full potential…….

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Permaculture Masterplan

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New pump, new suction pipe…

A lot of this is already started. In fact, before the rain set in, I even installed a pump that takes water out of the dam to an IBC perched atop the power station (see photo below). The idea is to gravity feed water to the market garden under construction, and the seedlings growing in the new polytunnel

Yes, I’ve been busy, until the current deluge made digging holes and planting anything simply not worth the effort.

The pump turned into a bit of a saga…… months ago, I discovered hundreds of metres of 40 and 50mm poly pipe, worth at least $2000 to replace. Some of the 50mm stuff went into the polytunnel, and my intention was to use the 40mm plumbing to lift water some 9.5 m from the dam to the roof of the power station. What I had not counted on was that the previous owner had slashed over the pipes, causing fairly major damage to the piping. The suction side of a

20161022_145947

Pumped storage

pump must not have any leaks in it, because water pumps are not air compressors, and while they can pressurise (incompressible) water to, in the case of this pump, over 400psi, water pumps cannot pressurise air to anything over 0.25psi!

The end result of any air leak is no suction, period…. after mucking around for hours, I eventually decided to bite the bullet and spend fifty odd bucks on a new 25m length of pipe, end of problem. until that is, I broke the pump…..

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Eastern side of market garden fence… water water everywhere..!

 

Well, I think it was my fault. The day before, we had our usual dose of gale force wind, but frankly I can’t see how it was responsible. Similarly, I find it hard to believe that by merely flicking the delivery pipe a few inches some 20m from the pump, could break the casing where that vertical riser in the photo is screwed to the pump…… but broken it was. I took the pump back to Hobart to see if I could claim warranty, but the shop people thought I’d be wasting my time, and the manager offered to replace it free of charge with a second hand one, within one day. Casings don’t wear out, as far as I know, so I accepted, and in no time I had the IBC atop the container full of water, at 100L/minute.

With all the rain we’ve had, everything is waterlogged, and I have no idea when I will next water anything…..! Such is life. And I was panicking when I broke the outlet from the dam. It’s been overflowing nonstop for days now.

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Waterfall time…..

The beauty of having so much rain is that I am now aware of how much water I have to deal with behind the retaining wall that forms the backbone of the new house….

The engineer specified one 100mm drainage pipe, but I have already bought two. Not taking any chances; the last thing we need is a waterfall in the house next time La Niña visits Tasmania!





The Trouble with Permaculture

4 10 2016

With the recent passing of Bill Mollison, much has been published on the interweb about Permaculture; While Glenda was here for nine days, I didn’t spend much time at this laptop, preferring to help her set her own stamp on the Fanny Farm and using her very able gardening skills to get stuck into some planting…. and fixing the goose tractor in readiness for the acquisition of more birds, but there will be time for that some place else on this site.

Having published Samuel Alexander’s epitaph for Bill Mollison by merely copying and pasting the Conversation article, I didn’t bother following the links therein; luckily, Greg Bell did, and posted a couple in a comment he left here, many thanks Greg…. as he says in his comment, “Those two “here” links to critiques of permaculture are the two most important things I’ve read all year (and they, in turn, link to even more)……

The first link is to Resilience.org and bears the same title as this entry. Fascinating reading indeed, as are the comments below it.





A revolution disguised as organic gardening: in memory of Bill Mollison

29 09 2016

Samuel Alexander, University of Melbourne

It is with great sadness that I acknowledge the passing of Bill Mollison on Saturday, September 24 (1928-2016). He was one of the true pioneers of the modern environmental movement, not just in Australia but globally.

Best known as co-originator of the “permaculture” concept with David Holmgren, and recipient of the Right Livelihood Award in 1981, Mollison helped develop a holistic body of environmental theory and practice which is widely recognised as one of Australia’s finest and most original contributions to the global sustainability challenge.

A brief history of permaculture

Mollison grew up in Stanley, Tasmania. After leaving school at 15 he moved through a range of occupations before joining the CSIRO in the Wildlife Survey Section in 1954, where he developed his research experience and understanding of ecological systems.

He was later appointed to the University of Tasmania, which is where, in 1974, he met the brilliant and radical young research student, David Holmgren

The collaboration between Mollison and Holmgren resulted in the permaculture concept, culminating in the publication of their seminal work, Permaculture One in 1978, which sparked the global movement.

What is permaculture?

Permaculture defies simple definition and understanding. The term began as a fusion of “permanent” and “agriculture”. Even back in the 1970s, Mollison and Holmgren could see how destructive industrial agriculture was to natural habitats and topsoils, and how dependent it was on finite fossil fuels.permacultureone

It was clear that these systems were unsustainable, a position ratified by scientific reports today which expose the alarming effects industrial agriculture has on biodiversity and climate stability. The two pioneering ecologists began to wonder what a “permanent agriculture” would look like. Thus permaculture was born.

In the broadest terms, permaculture is a design system that seeks to work with the laws of nature rather than against them. It aims to efficiently meet human needs without degrading the ecosystems we all rely on to flourish.

Put otherwise, permaculture is an attempt to design human systems and practices in ways that mimic the cycles of nature to eliminate waste, increase resilience and allow for the just and harmonious co-existence of human beings with other species.

A wide range of design principles were developed to help put these broad ideas and values into practice. This practical application and experimentation is what really defines permaculture. Before all else, participants in the movement get their hands in the soil and seek to walk the talk.

There is now a vast array of excellent books detailing the practice of permaculture, as well as outstanding websites such as the Permaculture Research Institute for those wanting to learn, share, explore and connect.

Although permaculture was initially focused on sustainable methods of organic food production, the concept soon evolved to embrace the broader design challenges of sustainable living – not just “permanent agriculture”, but “permanent culture”.

Today we face profound environmental and social challenges: ecological overshoot, climate instability, looming resource scarcity, and inequitable concentrations of wealth. In such a world the permaculture ethics of “care of people, care of planet, and fair share” imply radical changes to the way we live with each other and on the planet.

As well as transitioning away from fossil-fuel-dependent agriculture toward local organic production, permaculture implies the embrace of renewable energy systems, “simple living” lifestyles of modest consumption, as well as retrofitting the suburbs for sustainability and energy efficiency.

From a grassroots or community perspective, the transition towns and ecovillage movements acknowledge their profound debts to permaculture.

From a macroeconomic perspective, permaculture implies a degrowth transition to a steady-state economy that operates within the sustainable limits of the planet. Permaculture even has implications for what alternative forms of global development might look like.

So, in answer to the complex question “what is permaculture?”, perhaps the most concise response is to say with others that “permaculture is a revolution disguised as organic gardening”.

Bill Mollison’s legacy: a challenge to us all

Despite developing into a thriving global movement, permaculture still has not received the full attention it deserves. As the world continues to degrade ecosystems through the poor design of social and economic systems, it has never been clearer that permaculture is a way of life whose time has come.

Nevertheless, permaculture is not a panacea that can answer all challenges. Permaculture is not without its critics (see, for example, here and here). But I would argue that the lens of permaculture can certainly illuminate the path to a more sustainable and flourishing way of life, such that we ignore its insights at our own peril.

Thank you, Bill Mollison, for the inspiration and insight – and the challenge you have left us with to design a civilisation that regenerates rather than degrades our one and only planet. May humanity learn the lessons of permaculture sooner rather than later.

Only then, I suspect, will “Uncle Bill” rest in peace.

The Conversation

Samuel Alexander, Research fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.