Permaculture revelation

The reason permaculture isn’t “clicking” for me in my current location is that the space I live in is already a forest. That’s as perma as it gets. You don’t design a forest garden in a forest the same way you design when you’re starting with a degraded, eroded open field.

Must think about this in a different way…

This month’s menu

For the next 4 weeks

Week 1

• Sushi

• Salmon burgers and salad

• Out? Prep for Thurs. dinner with colleagues

• Pork loin, pasta, grilled veg

• Pizza

• Pot roast

Week 2

• Sushi

• Fried rice

• Roast chicken

• BBQ chicken, slaw, buns or cornbread

• Pizza

• Salsa fry-up

Week 3

• Sushi

• Soup and/or salad

• Beef and broccoli

• Sausage and grilled veg

• Pizza

• Chicken korma

Week 4

• Sushi

• Pasta cilantro pesto – chicken & veg

• Salmon burgers or grilled beast

• Veggie stir fry or fried rice

• Pizza

• Fajitas

Em’s food rules

Well, not really rules. More like guidelines.

Givens:

  1. Food serves biological, emotional, and cultural purposes.
  2. People have different biological, emotional, and cultural needs; therefore, there is no one “right way to eat” for everyone – even people in the same region, family, blood type, or other grouping.
  3. An individual’s food choices have an impact on others beyond the self: the beings one is eating, the environment in which those beings live and die, the ongoing health of the land and its ability to feed future beings.
  4. Generally speaking, the edibles of a place provide appropriate nutrition to survive and thrive in that place. Keep in mind the “edibles of a place” may include things you are not accustomed to thinking of as food: weeds, insects, blood, acorns, etc.
  5. Disasters happen: crops fail, vermin populations boom, warehouses burn, gardeners break arms.
  6. “Waste” is a human construct; in nature, all outputs are inputs somewhere else. Human choices can direct waste to benefit human endeavors.

Actions:

  1. Each person gets to decide her/his “right” way to eat. But please, folks, let that be a decision and not a default.
  2. The food economy needs to be both drastically more localized than it currently is, and needs to retain the ability to trade easily between regions in case of crop failure, destruction of stores, or other supply disasters.
  3. Food waste (at all stages of production) needs to be eliminated. And not just by feeding leftover coq au vin to the pigs.

Fruit tree change of mindset

I’ve been getting hung up lately on “where do I put the fruit trees?” and even “what trees do I want to have?” The south part of the yard is what we see from the house, and I want it to look good and be functional. And the south sun (especially full sun) is extremely limited, so it feels like I need to be very careful about what I plant. And it seems like I need to get the whole thing figured out before I start planting. I’m getting a brain cramp from thinking about it. This is not the fun way to garden.

Well, I found a way around that today: I just decided to throw a bunch of stuff into a different part of the yard, a corner we don’t see except when going in/out the driveway.  This will be a quantity, not necessarily quality or pretty, orchard. Throw in a bunch of stuff, in different varieties, give it the minimum care to get it established, and see what happens. Don’t worry about arranging it for beauty; just make sure it doesn’t take over the powerline cut. Plant enough so I might get some after the critters dine. Just get things in the ground, so five years from now I’m not wishing I’d started five years ago.

Here’s the list of species:

  • Serviceberries (aka saskatoons)
  • Hazelnuts
  • Raspberries
  • Bush cherries
  • Bush apricots
  • Red mulberries
  • Cider apples
  • Hardy pecan
  • English walnut

The areas I’m planting this stuff is pretty shady. Some of this stuff is supposed to have full sun, but you know, I’m not trying to optimize yield. There’s already an apple tree back there, and it was more productive than the entire commercial orchard down the road this year because it’s under the canopy and protected from frost. So what the hell. I’ll toss some stuff in there and see what happens. It’ll be fun. And if I get some fruit from it, great! I’ll sure come out knowing what can handle a laissez-faire gardening style!

Boiling water on a Hearthstone stove

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Usually, I can’t get water to actually boil on the stove – but I found if I stoke the fire and get a full load of wood crackling, I can actually get a full, rolling boil on the soapstone stove.

Fwiw, I’ve also found that a lot of the cooking I do doesn’t actually need boiling temps.

New house = super energy-efficient!

Total carbon production June 2012-January 2013

Total carbon production June 2012-January 2013

I continue to be thrilled by how energy-efficient (or really, carbon-efficient) the new house is! In the summer, we only needed air conditioning in July (when it was over 100 for several days, and over 80 at night, and we hadn’t sealed off the sunroom well yet). In winter, we have only run the propane furnace in the last week or so, and that only for an hour or so a day to take the chill off before the wood stove kicks in. Otherwise, we’ve heated with local wood. This saves not only the propane, but a rather significant amount of electricity, too. (See below.)

Electricity usage June 2012-Jan 2013

Electricity usage June 2012-Jan 2013

I think I can now say that at our old house, 125kwh was used for heating water, 100kwh was used for the furnace, and 200kwh was for everything else (cooking, laundry, lighting, electronics,  etc.).  In this house, hot water is from propane, and we essentially haven’t used the furnace. So the ~210kwh/month we use is for “everything else” plus the sauna. We used the sauna two or three times on this billing cycle, and our usage didn’t really jump at all.

Propane is probably the most astonishing reduction. In the chart below, 2008 was the first year in the old house that we burned wood in the fireplace insert. We still used over 300 gallons of propane in January alone. This year, we used 25 gallons. I know wood is not a perfect fuel – even with our efficient stove, soot is an issue – but it’s local, renewable, and isn’t dependent on fracking or other damaging extraction methods. I think next year, we might even be able to source from the farm around the corner that harvests almost exclusively deadfall from storm damage instead of less eco-friendly practices like land clearing.

Propane use 2012-2013

Propane use 2012-2013

I’m not sure if we’ll be able to keep the furnace off for February and March. It was really cold at the end of January and our thermal mass is now very cold and working against us. But who knows? A week of sunny days could reverse that.

Overall, we are on track to use this year:

  • 36% of US average gasoline
  • 23% of US average electricity
  • 25% of US average heating fuel

It’s not exactly Riot levels, but I’m pretty happy with the electricity and heating fuel, especially.

 

Very simple succession planting for zone 5b-6

Succession planting is the idea that you plant your garden in stages, so there’s always something to eat and you don’t get all your green beans in a 2-week window. There are tons of books and guides out there to help you figure this out, but I thought I’d share what I’ve figured out that works for me. What “works for me” means the most food for the least amount of fussing. Tweak as you see fit.

Some assumptions:

  • The only things I start from seed are things I can direct-sow in the garden: peas, beans, squash, root vegetables, sunflowers. I don’t start my own tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, or onions. I buy all those things as transplants on one warm weekend in May and call it good.
  • The one exception to this rule is kale. I’m a kale fiend, and picky about variety. So I do generally start some kale indoors in about March. And oh, while I’ve got the lights up, maybe some other brassicas like broccoli or cabbage.

There are certain things that start early and end early, and only so many things that you can start late and have any kind of harvest. So I tend to think of these things as “pairs” in the garden bed – the early crop and the late crop. For example, after I pull the turnips out, I always then put in bush beans.

  • Early crops: Turnips, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes. These are all things I can plant mid- to late-April, and they will be out of the garden by July 4th.
  • Late crops: Bush beans, fall crop of kale, fall lettuce, spinach, garlic (plant in October). Bush beans planted at July 4th will usually set a crop before frost. Lettuce and kale might need to be started indoors, or under shade, because they don’t like hot weather at all. But if you don’t get those started by August, you won’t have much of a fall/winter crop. Spinach planted after October will really get eaten in the spring, but it’s totally worth planting that late because it’ll be the first thing you eat in June (even without a greenhouse).

I also like to minimize the number of times I’m planting things. So, instead of planting 1/4 of my total bean crop every 2 weeks for two months, I’ve found it works great to plant a row of bush beans and a row of pole beans at the same time. They will start to bear a week or two apart, usually. Then I plant some more bush beans when one of the early crops comes out, and that usually covers me for the whole summer. Other pairings for extending the harvest:

  • Bush + pole beans
  • Indeterminate + determinate (i.e., “patio”) tomatoes
  • Short + tall snap/snow peas
  • Early + late potatoes
  • Everbearing + June-bearing strawberries
  • Early + late “storage” carrots

Your seed catalog should tell you days to maturity and/or key words like “earliest bean we carry” or “great for storage” or “determinate tomato concentrates harvest over two weeks” or “harvest all summer long.” Using these kinds of pairings lets you plant at the same time but harvest at different times.

So – what I recommend for truly simple “succession” planting is:

  • Pick some early/late pairs: for example, turnips + bush beans; lettuce + late kale; peas + garlic – and plan to put those in the same space in your garden. Once you figure out a couple that work for you, you can use the same pairings each year.
  • For other crops, pick varieties that will mature at different times and plant two varieties as indicated in the list above.

That’s it!

Which is greenest? Shower, bath, or sauna?

We have a big bathtub, a standard bathtub, 1.85 gpm showers, and a sauna. When I’m feeling the need to soak my body in some serious heat over the winter, which is the most eco-friendly choice*?

Assumptions:

  • Showerhead: 1.85 gpm x 15 min = 27.75 gallons
  • Standard bathtub, waist-deep: 20 gallons water
  • Non-jetted spa-size tub (no heated recirculation), waist-deep: 30 gallons
  • It takes 83,000btu (.9 gallons propane) to heat 100 gallons of water from 55 degrees to 120 degrees
  • It takes 4.5 kwh (15,354 btus) to run one sauna session (heat for 40 mins to ~150 degrees, then residual heat only)

Results:

  • 15-minute shower: 23,240 BTU + 28 gal water
  • Standard bath: 16,600 BTU + 20 gal water
  • Spa bath: 24,900 BTU + 30 gal water
  • Sauna: 15,354 BTU  + 2 gal water + 1000 BTU to heat water to 95 degrees (quick rinse shower after)

So – if what I want is to be very warm for as long as possible, the sauna is by far the best bet. Warmer than a standard bath, and I can stay in as long as I can stand and it’ll still be warm. Add to that the fact that my husband will usually join me in the sauna (but not the bath), and it looks like an even better option.

This is pretty much the opposite of how I thought this would pan out – I’m really glad I did the math!

Resources:

* I am fully aware that doing any of these is a total luxury and “none” is the greenest answer…but if I’m going to do something, I want to know how these options compare

Staying changed

So, in my last post, I talked about how I’ve made some changes in my life, and how resuming my old routine didn’t quite “fit” anymore.

I have been waiting for this for the better part of a year. Heck, maybe two.  I’ve known that I needed to rest, to move houses, to recuperate, and at some point, I’d feel like I’d rested enough.  Well, I think I’ve turned that corner. Here are some of the signs I’m noticing:

  • I concede that there may actually be things outside of my own house that are worth my time and attention.
  • I’m wanting to see people.
  • I’m wanting to create things, try new things, learn things, build things.
  • I’m fretting about things that aren’t actually a problem and probably won’t become a problem. For example, money. We have plenty right now, and relatively good job security. We have several very large expenses coming up (residing the house this spring, a new car in a couple years) but given how far inside our means we live, we should be able to save for those things and we might not even need to take out loans for them.  And if we do need to take out loans, we should have no problem getting approved, and we’ll probably pay them off well ahead of schedule. There is nothing here to worry about, but I find myself poking at the numbers repeatedly to see if I can make them more firm or for the savings to happen faster. This tendency to make mountains out of molehills is one I see in myself a lot, and in smart, bored beings in general. SAHM’s with a now-empty nest, people of extraordinary privilege, and zoo animals all show this tendency – they’re problem-solvers with no problems to solve. So we create problems.
  • A friend recently announced a huge life shake-up. It reminded me that things that seem like they’ll always be the same can still change. It also helped me see that I’ve been focusing on smaller and smaller things lately. Instead of “I need to turn my brain off tonight, or I’m going to have a nervous breakdown,” I’m at the “I’m not feeling completely centered at the end of every single day” point. This, my friends, is pretty much the definition of “being well.” It is time for me to move forward again.

Ok, so, clearly, time to move on. But on to what?

That has been surprisingly hard to answer, and I can see that I am reflexively trying to fill that space with whatever’s at hand, or whatever filled that space before. Work. Chores. Concern for my own well-being. Fears related to any number of old bugaboos. Busy-ness. One dog I’m  not letting back on the bed right now is the desire to save/fix/help the world at large. Not sure if that one is going to come back, but it sure needs a lot more energy than I’m willing to give it at the moment. Maybe ever, because I’m more and more thinking it’s too late, anyway. Coping, not fixing are more the order of the days ahead. So – I don’t want to just refill the spaces with the same old junk. At least I can see that I’m trying to do that, and able to say, “Um, no, I don’t think so.”

But what do I want to fill that space with? The answers – and I’m sure there are more than one – are coming slowly.  One thing I did this weekend was to cook some Indian food.  After years of flirting with Ayurveda, occasionally fascinated and occasionally repulsed, I finally bought an Ayurvedic cookbook over break and I’ve been reading through it and dog-earing recipes. Since mindful, nutritious cooking is one of the things I’d like to have more of in my life, when I found myself with a Sunday mostly free for whatever I wanted to do, I decided that instead of stripping the shower tile in prep to re-seal it, I would go ahead and take the time to choose a couple recipes and make a complete meal from this cookbook.  I’ve not done much Indian cooking, and it doesn’t come easily to me.  Add to that the seeming fussiness of Ayurvedic cooking: the actual measurements of seasonings and sometimes over-involved cooking methods – and this adds up to a pot of beans and rice that took almost two hours for me to complete.

But it felt good to take that time: to give a task my attention, to learn, to have the cooking be the activity, to tie food actively to my body and soul. And it was tasty, too. 🙂

So I think I need to make myself a list of specific things I can do when I feel like I have time on my hands, to make it easier to move forward toward my list of “things I want in my life” instead of just bringing the old crap back in.  The specificity helps: instead of just saying “Yoga,” I list “Try a new yoga routine from my Christmas DVDs.” Instead of “make some lunches for the freezer” (an old chore), I list “try a new vata-soothing recipe” (which could also result in leftovers for lunch).

I still don’t know where this path is going, but I do feel like there is now a path, and I am starting to move down it.

Making changes

So I’ve known for a while that I’ve wanted to change some things about the overall shape of my life. I was fried too much of the time. I was accomplishing a lot but never felt at ease or rested. I had pulled back some from 2011’s two speeds of “dead run” and “asleep,” but I still wasn’t feeling like I could ever get out from under a “must-do list” longer than my lifespan.

The first helpful thing I did was to phrase this in terms of things I wanted – not just things I was running away from. I don’t think I ever wrote this down (though maybe it’s in a journal or on a scrap of paper somewhere), but it was along the lines of:

  • Reclaim my time from the obligations of my job, and the obligations I’ve imposed upon myself
  • Feel tranquility around me and within myself
  • Re-find and occupy my center, so I can move deliberately when I choose to do so

These things were, by and large, things I wanted to feel, not things I wanted to do.  Though I did want to feel like doing certain things, too:

  • Feel like cooking is a pleasure and a conscious act of nourishment, not just “preventing hunger”
  • Feel like I can do things because I want to do them – “leisure activities” instead of “work” (including work at home)
  • Feel like engaging with other people, not just hiding from them because interacting takes so much energy
  • Feel like exercising – not forcing myself, but actually wanting to do it

And there were some things I wanted: this house, fittings for the house, and now gardens and fruit trees. (Can you believe I went an entire year when the idea of putting plants in the ground didn’t excite me? Or even felt like “just another duty”? Yeah, I was that wiped out.) Even just admitting that I wanted things and that it’s ok for me to want things was kind of a leap.

So…I feel like I’ve done a lot of this stuff. I’m “over the hump” at work, and each subsequent hump will be smaller than the ones before. We bought and settled into the house, and over break I was able to draw a line around “enough” in terms of what the house needs to be functional and “done” for now. And then we also finished those things – the smoke detectors, the superfluous but very pretty heat register covers, etc.

Now I’m past the vacation, and going back to work. And the interesting thing is how I am watching myself heading right back to my accustomed way of doing things. Those customs don’t actually fit anymore.  I no longer have to spend disproportionate amounts of my energy at work – but I have to remember how to move more slowly, and with less dire urgency.  As that energy has returned, just coming home, making dinner, and reading all evening doesn’t feel like enough to be doing each night. Before, it was fine, because each evening, I was also trying to replenish my depleted stores of rest and energy. But now, I can tell I’ve got some energy left, and some inclination to use it for…something.  That’s a big change.

And that’s the topic for another post.

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