Saturday, August 30, 2008
I attempted to plant carrots today, but my neighbor loaned me their gas mower, and I took advantage of the opportunity. It took me less than an hour to mow, a chore that used to seem like it took forever back when I was a regular pusher of combustible engines around the lawn. I found out when I used a reel mower, it really does take forever! Our neighbors are pretty nice. Tomorrow I'm hoping to make fruit butter from our wine making binge pulp, and can it. Some more cleaning inside & out is in order for the garden tour next weekend, straightening, making walkable paths!
The huge amounts of spiders make outside cleaning tiresome. I was trying to stack flower pots on the great freecycled shelves I got, but the spiders, especially the big and fast wolf spider, got to me. I've also cleaned out and somewhat ordered my sewing corner. I have a lot of material. My friends Abby and Mike will be in town this winter for three months, and I am looking forward to having them around for an extended amount of time. I especially look forward to all the sewing.
Hakim spent some time in the basement, trying to disconnect the gas tubing to the dryer. We freecycled the dryer to someone who needs it, and they are supposed to be picking it up this weekend. We had no gas cap, so Hakim & K biked it to the nearest hardware store on the tag-along bike. Unfortunately, they brought home the wrong size, but they also biked down to the grocery store to spend the last of the month food stamps on some last of the month luxuries. That hasn't happened in a long time! Yesterday, they bussed over to the local health food store for some delicious local cheese, and good dark chocolate. They have been busy.
K is learning how to write cursive. I have picked up a couple of cursive writing books, but she is so not interested. But I am writing in cursive almost exclusively now. She can read most of it, and is learning to write it just because it's Fun. And that's why we're fUnschool at home. She's read about one Boxcar Children series book a day for the last 3-4 days.
Friday, August 29, 2008
"The picture is further clouded by the notion of substitutability, a doctrine based on the observation that the sensitive device we call the market seems to call forth new resources as old resources become problematic (usually expressed in terms of higher prices). Hence, when trees grew scarce in England during the Little Ice Age (1560-1850), people there began to use more coal to keep warm, which caused people to dig deeper for it, which called forth the innovation of the steam engine to drain water from the mines so the miners wouldn't drown. However, an interesting positive feedback loop was set in motion. The invention of the steam engine (a magical product of human ingenuity) provoked the invention of other new machines, and then of factories with machines, which prompted the need for better indoor lighting, which stimulated the use of petroleum, which produced brighter light than candles (and was much easier to get than sperm whales), which provoked the development of the oil industry, whose oil was found to work even better in engines than coal did, which led to the massive exploitation of a one-time endowment of concentrated, stored solar energy, which we have directed through pipes of various kinds in an immense flow of entropy, which has resulted in fantastic environmental degradation and human habitat overshoot beyond carrying capacity. It is assumed now that human beings, prompted by the market, will employ ingenuity to discover a substitute for oil and gas, once the price starts to ramp up beyond the "affordable" range. This assumption is apt to prove fallacious because it ignores the fact that the earth is a closed system, while the laws of thermodynamics state that energy can't be created out of nothing, only changed from low entropy to high entropy, and that we have already changed the half of our oil endowment that was easiest to get into dispersed carbon dioxide, which is now ratcheting up global warming and climate change, which might well put the industrial adventure out of business before human ingenuity can come up with a substitute for oil. The solar energy stored for millions of years in oil will now be expressed in higher temperatures, more severe storms, rising sea levels, and harsher conditions for the human species, which, despite its exosomatic technological achievements, remains a part of nature and subject to its laws."
He also says that when the peak oil transition comes, "The loss of hallucinated wealth will be stupendous." I guess when the civilization bubble pops, it'll be a big one.
JHK isn't the most optimistic person I've ever met, and yet he has some hopeful things to say. One is that small town surrounded by farmland is the place survival will be easiest. That many of us will be engaged in farm work and small craft handiwork, by necessity of survival. To me, it means a less mediated world, and I welcome that with open arms. Caring for one's self, family, and community takes a lot of time, and gives a lot of reward, although money has nothing to do with it. It's a different kind of wealth, one that cannot be folded up into an imported imitation leather wallet & put in your back pocket.
Hakim is reading the Geography of Nowhere, about the rise and fall of cars and suburbs, also by JHK, and I am looking forward to that. JHK might be a cranky older guy, but he's also snarky, incredibly insightful, and full of wit. He has a lot of interesting things to say.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Some things I learned were about eye safety. I was doing the no-nos today without even thinking about it. Wearing sunglasses are suggested when using a solar cooker. Also, it is a good idea to turn the cooker away from the sun before you do anything with it. I got flashed a couple of times, and that's a couple of times too many.
The cooker is made with two boxes, one inside another, with crumpled newspaper for insulation. The inside is lined with foil. In the bottom is a cookie sheet that has been painted with (nontoxic) stove black. I am going to try placing the dish on an elevated rack next time & see if it makes a difference. It might make more of a difference if I was making bread, cornbread, muffins, etc.--something that would make good use of convection. But it still makes sense. Felt is glued around the top of the big box, and that is where the plastic is laid overtop. Glass is good, but we don't have any, and the plastic works.
Attached to the top is the reflector, a piece of cardboard with foil glued on it. This can be positioned to reflect heat back into the solar oven. The blocks of wood worked as a prop (also as a weight) as long as the wind wasn't blowing. Eventually the cooker was placed up against the house, and then it was a lot easier to keep the reflector positioned correctly. Eventually, though, the house was in the shade, so a piece of metal (hanger?) was placed in a corrugated hole of the reflector, and then hooked into the handle hole on the side of the box. This worked better.
So, four hour cooking time with no fossil fuels made supper. The cooker chair is now moved out to the concrete pad that used to be the garage, and I think that spot gets sun from mid-morning on. It might work as a long-term one-spot place for the cooker to be placed. Of course, once cool weather hits, we'll have the woodstove running, and we'll be cooking on that. I am determined to learn how to bake on it this year, even without an oven.
I called our local utility today to discuss why my bill doesn't seem to go down, even though we're making a lot of effort to conserve. It turns out we use 2/3 of the water we're expected to use, and our electricity use is between 5 & 10 kilowatts a day, which they consider low (that seems high to me, but I don't know). We pay around $18 a month for our water use, and another $18 for sewer/sanitary district. Although we were doing a lot of graywater, meaning our water doesn't go down the sewer, but into the incredible natural sponge under our yard, we still get charged for whatever water we use. Seems like a way for them to make a buck to me.
So, it turns out that our bill was estimated way high, and when they actually read the meter, I had already paid for more than what we were using, and so got a credit. Then my next bill was for two months worth of use. I guess that is why it seemed so high, and thanks to the helpful guy at energy services, I understood what all happened with that. He also informed me that I pay $12.50 each month for the privilege of having natural gas service (they don't provide natural gas). Our bill has only been around $25 the last couple of months (hot water heater & stove top are our only gas appliances currently turned on). Our local utility is handing out a rebate for electric water heaters, making them essentially free. The stove top is not appealing enough to pay $150 a year for the privilege of using it. A hot plate in the kitchen and a lot of extra storage space is quite appealing. We'll have to think about it.
The only other natural gas consideration in our house is our furnace. I would feel more comfortable going a whole winter with our woodstove before I would cheer on quitting the gas hook up for good. But it seems like a good idea for right now. Solar hot water makes sense also, of course. It's a little harder in areas with cold winters, but still doable. Lots to think about trying to unentangle ourselves from all this blech we don't agree with.
Well, the child is having a post-park day meltdown, so off I go!
Friday, August 22, 2008
Kombucha: label the ones I started last night; put up on shelf; taste test one of the current batch (needs a couple more days); start tea (now cooling) for new batch(es) to be done in a week or so.
Solar cooker: glue felt around top for clear plastic (or glass if we can get some) to rest on & allow light in and keep heat in; glue reflector onto one side of box; now waiting for all that to set & dry. Kaleigh helped me glue for a bit, but I think I was being too uptight about getting it just right. She looked at cake recipes in the solar cooking book; she's been planning for her birthday party at the beginning of October!
Compost: shred bedding (cardboard & waste paper) for kitchen compost bucket & basement worm bins (which are a little moist). Add fresh bedding to worm bins--I guess this counts as our urban homestead livestock!
Put strong-smelling herbal flea repellent drops on the three cats' collars (they took remarkably well to wearing the collars, they just don't like the super-citrusy flea drops).
Assess wines: Carey had a number of experimental little batches brewing; some are suspicious (and used to wet compost outside), some are turning to vinegar (though we'd rather have the wine, LOL), and some might turn into decent wine (mulberry!!!!).
I tightened up our "solar clothes dryer" (clothesline in the yard). I used that nifty tau(gh)t line hitch knot I learned from a pamphlet from a CrimethInc. tour years ago. It's so goddamn useful! Hooray for CrimethInc.
I took random things down to the basement for storage. Not very interesting, but hey it was on my list and I crossed it off. Actually, I might have added to my list after I did it, so I could cross it off. I also got all the clothespins down off the line.
Gathering up ALL the empty plant pots from various corners of the urban homestead (aka Zomba Central) turned out to be more hauling than I expected! We have a ton of plant pots. Think about stuff to plant & keep indoors and eat this winter!!
This looks like a list of projects I did neatly one after another, but really they're day-long activities each interwoven with the others, and interruptions, delicious meals, back pain, staring and typing, a shower, reading Vagabound and Ran Prieur, music, the coziest kitties, daydreams, conversations. The stuff of life. Soon to include wine. (Thanks & praises to the highest....)
And, like Sharqi said, a moment of silence for Fukuoka-sensei. If you think Master Yoda is cool.....
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Been wondering lately why our city elders keep inviting external forces that are basically trying to impoverish a lot of us (e.g. Wal-Mart) to set up shop. We'll even widen roads, etc. etc. What if the same investment (of money, labor, energy) was put into a rhizomatic energy grid? Like Denmark:
Consumers can not only draw power from the grid, but can feed power into it as well. For instance, homes equipped with solar-power panels could feed unused electricity back into the grid, adding to the total available supply....In other news, we've officially reconnected the sink drains to the sewer, as we're weary of hauling buckets of graywater. I'm waiting on the updated (5th edition) Create An Oasis book by Art Ludwig to come in through interlibrary loan, so I can figure out how much mulched swale we'll need to soak up our graywater when we can get the plumbing altered, someday. Also, someday, will come power tools and hose bibs to stick it to the plastic rain barrels.
It's far more efficient than most national electricity grids, which rely on large central power stations to send electricity exclusively in one direction from the power stations to the final customer. Only a third of the fuel energy burnt in power plants ends up as electricity. Roughly half is lost as heat and nearly 10% more is lost during transmission....
The change has taken Denmark nearly two decades to implement.
Gotta go get a spider out of the bathroom now.
This cool, wet year we haven't really needed to throw even more water from the roof and the sinks into the garden (or really compost & fruit trees, mostly). But I think if we return to the desertification trend of recent centuries on Turtle Island, and recent millennia on Earth, it will be wise to redirect water that doesn't need sewage treatment to the land. Just think, huge paved areas shed SO much rain, the actual groundwater doesn't get replenished very much. When groundwater gets replenished, trees begin to grow and streams begin to flow! But no, we need to expand the already paved desert ... but coming from behind, the darkest East Side, the Bermuda grass is spreading from the edge of our yard out into the pavement! (It came from African savannahs, by way of Bermuda.)
Speaking of rhizomes, Ran linked to this nice article about "resilient community" and other nice words for anarchy. You almost don't need to read anything more than the diagrams and captions.
And does a cool, wet year herald a frigid, blizzarding winter?!?! Better get to cutting and splitting and stacking more firewood! And hey, heating fuel prices are expected to go up YET AGAIN this year! And hey, are those 23% yearly price increases compounding? The labor I need to cut wood and burn it isn't compounding. Till we run out of wood from our yard!
I'm slowly, slowly, slowly making progress on a cardboard box solar cooker. I'm about done gluing aluminum foil on cardboard, except for the reflector. It'll be nice to have an oven again. Another project for those not-otherwise-busy days.
I started with a "what our cities could be" and I'll end with another one, Retrofitting the Suburbs for Sustainability. It's said that in petro-descent, the suburbs will be the slums of the future. But here a permaculturist explains how we can make the best of it. The previous link is to an HTML version, here's a .pdf where the graphics might me more legible, and I just found videos on YouTube. Haven't watched 'em just yet though. Looks like there's a future in retrofitting!
Monday, August 11, 2008
So we're in Springfield, one of the many. Springfield is a weird vortex type place, as anyone who has lived here & has tried to escape can attest. However, I have currently lived in this town longer than almost any other, so I am going native. I have to say, my community is a beautiful place. The people around here are real. I mean, they get community; they're good people. A lot of people have problems--everyone everywhere does, despite the drugs/medication--but a lot are still good at heart.
Land is cheap here, and the idea of community gardens has sprung forth. The food not lawns group in Springfield creates this great connection of wise & talented, passionate gardeners who are into far more than gardening--most are seeking a world of caring, beauty, and health. I see visions of paradise, as clearly as I can feel the life beneath my feet. I'm trying to understand what carbon offsets feels to me. I think finding the money to buy up vacant land in the ghetto and sowing gardens and beauty everywhere is worth my time and energy, although cash I have not.
Land at the last tax auction was $600 per lot, minimum bid. Most went for the minimum price, and the crowd had thinned noticeably when the southeast side went up. Some lots have houses, but many are just open grass lots. Bioremediation obviously would have to play a big part in this idea, growing plants that remove toxins from soil & render it healthy. I am thinking about orchards with benches, edible landscaping, green space, native flower gardens, full of education, beauty, outreach, caring. It seems beautiful in my mind.
I am, of course, trying to do something like this in my own yard. It is slowly but surely happening. There's a gorgeous small pile of tomatoes on my table (the first!), with Cherokee purples, brandywines, and old Germans. Flowers are blooming. It's hard to find something to complain about when you've had nothing but mild temperatures & 15 extra inches of rain. We've planting dwarf fruit trees, and some regular sized. Next is planting around that in nut bushes, herbs, and flowers. It's going to be a beautiful place for my grandkids. And to think our whole neighborhood could be like that, for all the little kids growing up in the ghetto today.
I have been doing nothing but observe, observe, and observing since the permaculture course last summer. My eyes have truly opened. The diversity of bugs, animals, plants--it's just amazing. We moved back here after being away for a couple of years, and arrived a few days after Christmas. In March was the tornado that went above our house, followed by many crazy months of hauling heavy stuff (piles of branches, roofing, etc.) & fixing stuff. Followed by an ice storm, followed by a few deaths in the family, followed by getting the mature trees taken down, and now we have arrived at the homestead that is beginning to take place. The yard has transformed, really our whole neighborhoods have transformed--the succession of land, people, and time. There's a lot more open space, a lot greater insect, bird and mammal variety, more prey and predators. It's been deepening to observe the change in our habitat as well as in our selves.
I took one of those how "sustainable" do you live quizzes (there's another word that has been filled with crap by advertising/greenwashing/the spend a buck assuage guilt lifestyle), and I scored as living on one earth, except for my eating habits. Not that I really give a crap what the numbers tell me, but I scored 1.7 earths for my food consumption. I think it was my higher meat/eggs consumption, which are so local and informal they haven't passed through any grocery store. The Sally Fallon way of looking at nutrition is not exactly "green" in the popular viewpoints of vegetarians and feedlots, but when your friends raise animals naturally in ways you can respect and even enjoy, my goodness, that changes the numbers. (And to think, I live a lifestyle that is almost sustainable, according to a website that crunches numbers. I have soooooo much more to do before I would feel comfortable considering myself living a sustainable lifestyle.)
Our main problems in eating an abundance of farm fresh naturally raised animals/products are that buying healthy food is hard to do in a city, we don't own a car to get out to a farm, and also most local farms do not take food stamps, which makes up the bulk of our food budget. The government doesn't want you to buy local organic food on their tab! Well, not that that is their intent, it just happens to be the practical result of giving our responsibilities of ourselves & our communities over to the government subsidized by corporate America. And you know when you start ranting about the government and corporations, it's time to stop typing.
All right, so adopt a ghetto. I am adopting mine.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Next up on a panel discussion were three local hopeful outlets for local farm food: the food buyer for UIS, the local university; the produce buyer from County Market (grocery store); and the owner and operator of Roberts Sysco, which is one of the biggest food distributors to hotels, restaurants, etc., in central Illinois. They told what they were looking for, what is important to them, and what they see the role for farmers in their piece of the food market. Again, some discussion began, and really it was a dialogue, figuring out the common ground and market potential, trying to see needs to fill on both sides.
The guys from Chicago say you can make $12-14,000 PER ACRE of organic veg in the Chicago market. Astounding! And I bet it's a lot lower for farmers in the economically depressed downstate area. The farmers were talking about how they go from market gardening, where they can handle the labor themselves, then to needing to go big to compete, buying a single-row green bean picker for $25,000, for a crop that doesn't make much of a profit margin to begin with. And also that local area people are not interested in hand-picking the food that many crops require (strawberries and tomatoes at the very least). Migrant labor now handles this task on agrindustrial farms, and increasingly on area farms.
And there's the weird issue with people needing food year-round, and the growing season locally not matching up to this ideal. And the fact that schools, which require a lot of food, run while the growing season is just revving up or down. And the fact that restaurants in Chicago are looking for local produce at California agindustrial migrant labor farm prices.
Farmers around here are looking for markets for their produce. And yet, if we really look deeply into the issue, we see that farmers would have a hard time keeping up with demand, if everyone started buying locally. It's a problem with a good ending in mind, but getting from here to there is the issue. We've spent the last many decades making our trade circles larger and requiring more petroleum inputs--fertilizers, pesticides, mechanical equipment, trucking to distribution centers and Wal-Mart grocery stores nationwide. It takes 10-15 calories of energy to produce every calorie of energy we consume for food. This is incredible!
It's as much a habit and convenience on our parts as anything else. And now we are thinking about using less finite resources, thinking about what it has meant to lose so much--our healthy air, healthy oceans (Dead Zone), drinkable water, food with taste and nutrition, affection for our land, vibrant rural culture. We think about how important these things are to us and humanity, and we look for a path from here to there.
It was a good parley. Farmers learned that there are consumers who are in demand of their produce. The Chicago guys and the local distributors repeated that they have customers who are looking for produce with a story. Their customers are looking for tasty nutritious food to feed their children and themselves, and they are looking for some kind of connection to the rural land of stewardship that has been lost to pavement, suburban housing and strip malls with Wal-Marts. They are willing to pay more (at least in affluent Chicago-land) in order to buy the story that comes with the produce. Lawd knows there are plenty of stories here, people hanging onto their family farms by whatever means they can. The guys in button-down shirts learned that farmers who grow tasty and nutritious food are doing their best to navigate this industrial ag world, and what specifically they can do help out farmers.
Although I do not think I will ever be in the wholesale local foods business, nor will I ever have a need to purchase a semi full of organic tomatoes, I really enjoyed being a witness to this beautiful thing, people coming together to talk, to plan, to dream, to organize, to network, to change our agindustrial food prison into something quite more beautiful and healthy for all of us involved in living a life of peace.
And on tonight's menu for us? Besides the gentle prairie summer thunderstorm, we had goat steaks from our friend Shannon's goats, corn on the cob, green beans (some from our garden & some from market) flavored with onions and garlic and pine nuts, and home-brewed strawberry wine. Only the butter, pine nuts, and salt were not local (although the butter was from Wisconsin and the salt from Utah). It was an excellent dinner, and I should be so lucky as to eat locally every day of my life.
Monday, August 4, 2008
We also harvested potato berries, which are interested in terms of plant breeding. This is so interesting, and yet I have to recognize that I do not have the time I would need to devote to something like that. At least not yet. I found this awesome explanatory blog: http://daughterofthesoil.blogspot.com/2007/02/woohoo-my-potatoes-germinated.html
which recommended this Amateur Potato Breeder's Manual:
The craziness about potatoes is that they have four sets of chromosomes instead of two, which leads to a lot of genetic variation. Luther Burbank developed his new varieties using potato seeds. Well, yeah, lots to geek out about.
I got six square feet of carrots planted, about 50 seeds, if they end up sprouting. We've harvested three tomatoes, which we've eaten in tomato sandwiches daily. Tonight's mater sandwich featured nasturtium and lambs quarter greens with cheese. I tore out many of our volunteer squash plants to become compost, as the end was obviously near. There are still a few healthy specimens left, but with the vast numbers of squash bugs, I will not hold much hope for them. I have some sage drying as well. We saw a praying mantis in the garden, along with tons of worms, wolf spiders and others, roly polies, centipedes, etc.
Hakim got a $5 box of peach seconds at the farmers market, which made 5 gallons of wine. Not pricy at all, and we will still get many pints of peach butter from it. And the wine is perking away, due to this warmness. We're under a heat advisory, and this afternoon it supposedly felt like 110. It's hot! Actually, I feel hotter now than I did then, because I'm sucking down strawberry wine & sitting in front of the computer. It's supposed to be blazing hot again tomorrow. We may go to the library for a while tomorrow, followed by a free talk on local foods wholesaling, both air conditioned places. Actually, I'm not too tuckered out by the heat right now, but I imagine tomorrow I will be!
Hakim & I have been trading off working, two days a week each (half days for me, but I still have to get up early!) at SIU for their senior exams. This is the last week of alarm clocks. K has been in charge of the alarm (she demands the clock), and she is pretty reliable for an almost 8-year-old.
My 35th birthday passed, and it was a very nice day. I didn't do anything special, but I had a relaxing day. Today I was remarked upon as being "weird" by a kid at the Y's art camp, for whom I was giving pottery lessons (reviving my rusty old pottery skills). I told my kid that, and she screwed up her face and said, "You? Weird? Why would anyone say that?" Yeah, really! Geeks are weird, and there's nothing wrong with that. When you live in a geek family, weird is normal.
Hakim & K are still working on the solar cooking. We ate morel mushrooms with our friend Patrick. He brought over bleu cheese and duck confit, which was quite tasty.
K has been making bingo games. We made one with multiplication tables & one with pictures. She's been reading like crazy still. I started reading Future Primitive, edited by one of my favorite authors, Kim Stanley Robinson. I've only read one story, but it rocks so far. Science fiction definitely has a place in our future.
The US dollar has decreased 40% in value since 2001.
Food prices have increased 83% worldwide in the last 3 years.
The statistics never stop coming.
All is well in Zomba. Thanks to my faithful readers & delightful companions. Your words of encouragement keep us going.
p.s. I made a...video on urban homesteading, and somehow managed to upload it to YouTube. It's here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFAMQRKhXfE