Archive for December, 2016

The Deck

December 31, 2016

The deck isn’t for outdoor entertaining—there’s no room. Instead, it’s for outdoor growing—a variety of edibles in pots, tubs and wicking boxes.

Looking west, there are mostly tomatoes and strawberries sharing wicking boxes and tubs and strawberry wicking buckets with just strawberries :


There’s a couple of cucumbers in one wicking box and they can scramble over the deck and be free of ground-dwelling critters which might chew them :


In the other direction, more wicking boxes with climbing beans and capsicums in one and parsley, basil and more climbing beans in another :


Against the house wall, there’s a blueberry in a large pot and strawberry wicking buckets on stands :


There’s even room for a pond of sorts, with a solar-powered pump and water spray :


Down below the deck there are more wicking boxes and tubs, with tomatoes, climbing beans and the little Australian native Finger Lime in a large tub next to the gas bottles. The climbing beans are on wire frames set in behind the pots and when they’ve climbed to the top of those, I put string lines up onto the deck railing to extend their support  :



I’ve put more climbing beans in the milk bottle planters which will be going through their second summer. I expected the plastic would degrade and fall to bits long before this, but it’s hanging in there. They’ve got string lines also, to take the tendrils right up onto the deck. When they get to the top, I just wind the climbing ends around the deck wires :


First (very small) crop :


On the other side of the path around the base of the deck is another row of wicking boxes and tubs, with more tomatoes, capsicums and whatever else can be poked into a spare growing space :


And finally, a grapevine growing along the deck wires and the top railing. This is a purple muscat grape which I grew from seed :


It’s planted in the ground beside the steps up onto the deck. It’s been in about 4 years and has never flowered. But look! This year there are 2 small bunches of soon-to-be grapes hidden under the leaves :


The deck and surrounds are my permaculture Zone 1 growing spaces (permaculture design creates zones—areas around the house, based on frequency of use—there are usually 5 in all). Zone 1 is the zone nearest the house, which you visit at least once and probably more than once, a day. You plant all the things you use regularly—such as herbs, and leafy veggies where you want just a few leaves at a time. It’s a short step out onto the deck to pick herbs for dinner or a few strawberries for breakfast mueslii. The chooks are in zone 1 also, just a few metres from the deck.

Originally, I had all my vegetable beds right down the back, 30 or 40 metres from the house, because it was the only spot away from trees and in full sun. It was stupid—I was never going to walk all that way (especially if it was raining), just to get a sprig of parsley for the mashed potatoes. The permaculture design course I did just blew me away—it showed me how we do silly, unworkable things when we put a garden together, without any conscious thought or design as to our use of physical energy, or the connections between things. I’ve had to do a lot of retrofitting—using the deck as a growing space has been a real success.

Who needs to entertain anyway?

The Thin Green Line

December 24, 2016

Here’s a story from the Guardian about wildlife poaching in Africa.

Wildlife Rangers, whose job is to project wildlife, not just in Africa, but around the world, are being killed in action. If we want these iconic animals to survive into the future (what would the world be like without elephants), we need to support those who are trying to protect them and giving up their lives in the process.

Sean Willmore formed the Thin Green Line Foundation to assist and protect Rangers around the world and equally important, to help the families of those Rangers killed on the job. Check out their website at the link to read their story and see what they do.

I’m writing this because I have a connection of sorts to Sean. He’s an Aussie and back when we bought this bush block, Sean was Conservation Officer in the City of Frankston where I live.  He was also an assessor with the Land for Wildlife voluntary wildlife protection scheme which operates in the state of Victoria. We applied for LFW registration for our property and Sean was the one who came out and assessed it. A great guy—his talents were wasted at our local Council and I’m glad to see he’s moved on to greater things.

I’ve donated to the Thin Green Line in the past and will do so again. It’s a bit late now for this year, but it would make a great Christmas present for a friend or family member next year, to donate to the Foundation in their name, instead of spending money on a glitzy present, then giving them a card to say what you’ve done with the money you would have spent on their present. I know I’d much rather have someone do that than give me a present.

Here’s a short video of Sean being interviewed about the work of the Foundation :

Please consider donating to The Thin Green Line.



Vale Toby Hemenway

December 22, 2016

I just heard, through another blog, that Toby Hemenway passed away on the 20th December. Toby was a well-known permaculturalist and speaker and the author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. A few weeks ago, a regular reader, Chris, from Gully Grove blog made a comment here and left a link to a video of one of Toby’s talks. I watched it with interest and was going to post it here eventually, but then found a similar video which I think is slightly better. So here is Toby, who will be greatly missed in permaculture circles :

How do we know what to believe?

December 21, 2016

Fake News is in the—er—news at the moment, with Facebook and other outlets assuring everyone they’re going to clamp down on it. So how do we know what, or whom to believe?

I found a new blog recently called Neurologica—your daily fix of neuroscience, scepticism and critical thinking. The writer has a good post up at the moment : Skeptical Questions Everyone Should Ask. I found it really useful and a good follow-up to the FutureLearn course in logical and critical thinking I did recently.

“But there is no substitute for going through the process yourself. The process is also open-ended and is never done. This includes developing a basic scientific literacy and critical thinking skills.”

Unfortunately, like ‘common sense’, scientific literacy and critical thinking are not all that common.

Maybe it is better to believe nothing, apart from what you can see, hear, taste, smell and feel. For instance, I can ‘see’ flowers on my persimmon. I ‘believe’ I am going to be eating persimmons next winter. Yum :



The Great Contraction

December 19, 2016

Some time ago I found a new blog about energy and the economy and related issues. It’s written by a Canadian and it’s very good. He explains concepts in a way that makes understanding easy. He’s about to launch a new series of posts on ‘political realities’—the problems of running a country in an age of scarcity. But before he starts that, he’s posted a set of links to a similar series he wrote previously, in 2014. I’ve put the list of links below. For anyone who doesn’t understand how energy and the economy are connected these make an excellent starting point :

Wildlife surprises

December 15, 2016

Woke up to find this on the deck :


I heard the screams during the night and thought it was just the possums playing games.  I can’t believe it was a fox….surely he’d have taken the carcass off to eat elsewhere or store for later. Maybe a not-so-hungry, shouldn’t-be-roaming-at-night dog, just biting off the head for the fun of it and not caring about the rest. Thanks for leaving it on my deck, fella! However, I’m more inclined to think of a large owl and the only one we’ve had here big enough to fit the bill, was a Powerful Owl which appeared some years ago and very rare in this area it was, too. We even got our pictures in the local paper over that one, thanks to a friend who was the president of the local birdo group at the time and took a spectacular photo with a better camera than mine. Anyway, I left the rabbit remains down by a tree trunk at the rear of the property and they’d gone next day. I assume the fox picked it up there. Nice to find dinner just lying on the ground and not have to chase it. One rabbit less, which is a good thing.

The other wildlife surprise is this :


A Magpie Lark has picked the TV aerial to build her beautifully-formed mud nest. What a place to do it! Up there in all weathers in full view of predators! And surrounded by dozens of trees! What was wrong with them? Mr Mudlark has been keeping guard and taking his turn on the nest. I hope they’re successful in raising young, but I’m not hopeful.

Extinction is the End Game

December 11, 2016

Brilliant writing as usual, in this reblog from xraymike79 at Collapse of Industrial Civilization. If only people could be made to pull their heads out of the sand and read this.

Collapse of Industrial Civilization

Civilizations are living organisms striving to survive and develop through predictable stages of birth, growth, maturation, decline and death. An often overlooked factor in the success or failure of civilizations are cultural memes—the knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors passed down from generation to generation. Cultural memes are a much more significant driver of human evolution than genetic evolution. Entire civilizations have been weeded out when their belief system proved maladaptive to a changing environment. One such cultural meme holding sway over today’s governments, institutions, and society is our economic system of capitalism. The pillars of capitalism represent a belief system so ingrained in today’s culture that they form a sort of cargo cult amongst its adherents.Cargo cults are any of the various Melanesian religious groups which focused on obtaining material wealth(manufactured Western goods that came on cargo ships) through magical thinking, religious rituals and practices. Today the term “cargo cult” is used to describe a wide…

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Energy and ecosystems

December 4, 2016

When I did physics in school we learned that energy is “the ability to do work”. That’s all I can remember about it from way back then, but it was a simple definition and easy to parrot back to an examiner. Nowadays, as I get older, I would be tempted to say, “energy is what I wish I had more of.”

Many years later when studying ecology, it came to mean a whole lot more and the subject took a fascinating turn, because energy flows through ecosystems are what determines life on this planet and how it is organised.

With a few exceptions, all life on the earth gets its energy from the sun. Green plants take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water from the soil and using the sun’s energy break down these compounds and reform them into glucose and oxygen. Oxygen is a waste product and vents through the leaves back into the atmosphere and the glucose is converted into more complex carbohydrates like starch and ultimately into proteins and fats. The whole process is called photosynthesis, literally, ‘putting together with light’.

For a given amount of sun energy, green plants use 90% of that energy just doing what plants do—growing, metabolising and producing flowers and seeds for the next generation. The remaining 10% is stored in the plant as chemical energy. Plants are the primary producers in an ecosystem. An animal that eats the plant (a herbivore), breaks it down and extracts the energy to drive its own metabolism, growth and reproduction. The same thing happens with that energy, i.e. 90% of the energy stored in the plant is used to fuel the herbivore’s activities and the remaining 10% is stored in the herbivore’s body. Along comes a carnivorous predator to eat the herbivore and again 90% of the energy is used to fuel the carnivore’s life and 10% is stored in the carnivore’s body.

This is called the ten percent law and it gives us a basic understanding of the cycling of energy through food chains. Each level in the food chain is called a trophic level (from ‘troph’, a feeder). There can be 3 or 4 trophic levels in a food chain: primary producers, herbivores, first order carnivores and (sometimes) second order carnivores.

For example :



What we get is a trophic pyramid like so :


And looked at in energy storage terms :

Image result for energy pyramid ecology

This is the energy pyramid that would result from 100,000 kcal of sunlight energy being collected by green plants. The amount of stored energy decreases by a factor of 10 as energy moves up the pyramid and only 10 kcal of that original 100,000 kcal remains at the top of the pyramid. The rest has been lost in the processes of metabolism, growth and repair and reproduction.

Furthermore, the ten percent law shows the inefficiency of energy capture at each successive trophic level. The rational conclusion being, energy efficiency is best preserved by sourcing food as close to the initial energy source as possible. As food writer Michael Pollan has observed : “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

The really interesting thing to understand is that the energy pyramid is also a biomass pyramid (biomass is the amount of living material at each level). So in the grass—>gazelle—>lion ecosystem, there is always more grass than gazelles and more gazelles than lions. If you think about it, it couldn’t be any other way. If it was the other way up and there were more lions than gazelles and more gazelles than grass, the lions would quickly eat out all the gazelles and starve to death, while at the same time the gazelles would eat out all the grass and starve to death.

For me, that understanding is one of the most fascinating aspects of how life on earth works and all thanks to that big ball of energy up in the sky.

However, I think it’s also important to point out that the pyramid is now top-heavy with the most efficient and resourceful top predator on the planet, namely us, Homo sapiens.

The predator-prey, pyramid-type systems described above have evolved to be that way, that’s why they work. Evolution has worked on these systems for 3.5 billion years. Spend that much time on something and eventually you end up with a system that works. So why have we humans ended up unbalancing the pyramid the way we have? Because in the naturally evolved systems, the availability of energy (via food) is controlled largely by competition from organisms at the same level as you and by the availability of food at the level below you. In turn, your numbers are controlled by predation by organisms on the pyramid above you. By adopting agriculture, humans made more food and energy available to themselves than the system would have provided naturally. Killing everything that competes with you for that food goes a long way to getting even more food for yourself and when you discover a wonderful energy source like fossil fuels and you can put that towards producing even more food/energy, well, you’re home and hosed.  Except that you’ve messed up a perfectly good working system and somewhere along the way, when those fossil fuels have run out and your numbers have exploded beyond what the systems below you on the pyramid can naturally support, you can expect a rather nasty crash.


In the real world, when civilizations exhaust their resource bases and wreck the ecological cycles that support them, they fall.
~~~~~~John Michael Greer (The Archdruid Report)


Every creature born in the biological community of the earth belongs to that community. Nothing lives in isolation from the rest; nothing can live in isolation from the rest. Nothing lives only in itself, needing nothing from the community. Nothing lives only for itself, owing nothing to the community. Nothing is untouchable or untouched. Every life in the community is owed to the community–and is paid back to the community in death. The community is a web of life, and every strand of the web is a path to all the other strands. Nothing is exempt. Nothing is special. Nothing lives on a strand by itself, unconnected to the rest.
~~~~~~Daniel Quinn (Providence: the story of a fifty-year vision quest)