Archive for December, 2017

The looming net energy cliff

December 30, 2017

I’m putting a link here to this guest post from Cassandra’s Legacy blog because the information in it is so important.

If you have a blog, please reblog. I’ve already shared it on Facebook.


December 27, 2017

Someone on Facebook asked about the implications of the linked article below…..

The end of growth sparks wide discontent

…..”Can you break this article down into a statement that can be understood in laymen’s terms? I read most of it and felt smart even though I’m almost completely lost on its implications ..”

This was my reply (here expanded a bit):

“Growth is a function of energy use. When all you have is the sun’s energy to grow with (via the photosynthesis of green plants), you can only support so many people and produce so many artifacts and much of this will be done with human labour. Fossil fuels made it possible to increase all that by a thousandfold. Now, they’re starting to run out—discovery and production have both peaked. So there will  be a contraction—in the number of people that can be supported and the number of things that can be done and produced. The implications of too many humans to be supported by photosynthetic energy? Wars over declining resources; thousands of deaths; loss of those things that need fossil fuels for their production*; a return to a simpler way of life, eventually with human numbers in balance with their energy supply. It won’t be pretty and we’ll lose a lot of what we now take for granted. And all that while trying to cope with the effects of climate change, which our thoughtless use of fossil fuels has caused.”

*including wind turbines and solar panels—so there goes your hopes that we’ll keep this way of life going on renewables. The only renewable sources of energy for life on earth are green plants.

Thoughts on permaculture

December 20, 2017

For new readers who may not be aware, 8 years ago I did a permaculture design course (known in the trade as a PDC). It wasn’t the 2-week intensive course that is usually given; in my case it was spread out over 13 weeks—one full day per week.

I wrote a weekly series of posts about my experiences—for those interested, the first one is here and the rest follow on.

Standing and holding the hose while watering recently, I gave some thought to the future value of permaculture.

Anyone who is paying attention and does a bit of reading knows we face huge problems in the coming decades. There are those who think human extinction will be the end result; others are more optimistic—those doing permaculture seem to fall into this group.

Permaculture takes a certain way of thinking—a certain mindset—and while there are an increasing number of people putting in food gardens, using less energy and creating less waste, I suspect that most don’t have this mindset.

Bill Mollison, the co-originator of permaculture, had it of course; he wouldn’t have thought of permaculture if he hadn’t. You only have to read some of Bill’s more famous and well-known quotes to see it.

All of the people on my PDC had it; that was evident from the round-the-lunchtable conversation each week. In a sense, permaculture is made for people with this mindset—it is there waiting for those who are looking for positive solutions to the problems we face. That is evident in the comments you see from people after they’ve completed a PDC. My own comment was, “it just blew me away”. I’ve seen similar comments over and over again. I went home from each PDC class with a head brimming with new ideas and couldn’t wait to get started on implementing them.

Can permaculture save us and the rest of the living world we depend on?

I think is has a good chance of helping those who practise it to come through the short-term problems we face. Here I’m thinking about the end of the oil age and the collapse of industrial agriculture. Long-term problems I’m not so sure of. That will depend on the changing climate and how many people survive the inevitable dieoff to be able to carry on the species.

I can’t explain exactly what I mean by ‘mindset’ in this post. It is a way of looking at the world which is fundamentally different to the mainstream. Sadly, most thinking is mainstream—it is how our current culture teaches us to think. It’s what I call the ‘growth-is-good’, ‘world-belongs-to-Man’, mindset. There are other damaging messages our culture teaches, but these are probably two of the worst.

One of the major problems I see is that permaculture is still agriculture—still a way of providing more food than the environment would do naturally. It isn’t hunter-gathering, which is, and was, the only sustainable way for humans and all species, to live. All species except humans, live this way, because the system evolved for, and with, species living this way. It cannot survive if one species takes more than its fair share and by doing this, ultimately collapses the system. Permaculturalists have to be careful not to fall into the trap that the original adopters of agriculture set for all of their descendants—that of growing more food, which supports more people, which means more food has to be grown to feed the excess, which means unsustainable population growth and eventual overshoot, collapse and dieoff. That is where we are now. It has taken 10,000 years to get here, but it was inevitable that eventually we would.

This problem is covered by one of the 12 permaculture principles—#4—”Apply self-regulation and accept feedback”. Amongst other things, this implies keeping the population in balance with the resources available and limiting births to balance the death rate. Populations must not be allowed to grow beyond what the environment will sustainably support and human settlements must not be allowed to grow to the point where they compromise the health and function of the entire system. Can we do this?

It needs a new mindset—a new way of thinking about the role of humans in the system of life on this planet.

With that mindset, ‘permies’ might just do it.

New ways with beans

December 9, 2017

I’m sick of Melbourne’s anti-bean weather. We get a warm spell in spring and I think, “right, this is it” and I sow beans. Then we get a cold snap, the temperature plummets and it rains and the soil is cold and wet. Seeds rot, exit beans, stage left. Oh, and I forgot to mention all the little critters below the soil surface who just love to chew on a nice tasty bean seed.

So I’m trying something new.

The beans in the milk bottle planters are doing well. That’s because, when the first lot of seeds rotted, I took the bottles into the polyhouse and filled them with clean potting mix, with a bit of dynamic lifter and blood and bone mixed in and sowed the beans in there. Warm, protected environment, clean soil, and watering just enough to get germination happening, but not enough to rot the seed. When they were up and growing strongly I hung them back on the side of the deck. No problems :

For the beans I usually sow in wicking boxes, I’ve sowed the seeds in 3″ round pots, again in the same medium and left them in the polyhouse until germination and they’re robust enough to plant out :

I’m mostly doing climbing beans this way and all I need to do when I plant them out, is provide a stake or framework of some sort for them to climb on. I’m not separating the individual plants, just planting the whole pot. These have gone into one of the large planter boxes with a tomato for company. As it gets bigger they’ll start climbing through it :

I think this will be my way of dealing with beans in the future.

November update

December 2, 2017

It warmed up for the last two weeks of November and we had several days in the low 30’s, fortunately punctuated by a couple of thunderstorms. The combination of moisture and heat has really pushed the plants into vigorous growth.

The redcurrants fruited very well this year. I can’t imagine why, but the birds never touch these, even though they’re highly visible on the bushes. I collected about a cupful and I’m putting a spoonful on my mueslii each morning. I must remember to save a few seeds. They’re easy to grow from seed and the smallish bushes can be poked into any odd space. I’ve found that they do like a bit of shade and some summer watering :

I’m in the process of making a new bed for veggies. As I leave the carport beside the front of the house and walk down the path, past the big water tank on the left and around to the back of the house, there’s been a nondescript sort of garden bed to the right of the path. It contained a native Midgin Berry, which never did much and a Scaevola ground cover which the rabbits would never leave alone :

This is looking back towards the small tank. I can’t remember offhand what the grey bush is, but it has curry-smelling leaves :

I considered removing the lot and just leaving the area gravelled, then thought…..a spot right next to a water tank is too good to waste, so I’ve installed one of those corrugated steel beds which matches all the tanks. I did think about a simple wire ring like the ones I’ve made down in the food forest, but because of the openings in the wire they tend to dry out too quickly around the edges. So :

Because of the slope I had to dig it into the ground at the rear and build it up slightly at the front. I’ve camouflaged the built-up front with some native daisies and local flax liles. I’m filling it with weeds and prunings which will eventually turn into soil, and when it’s ready to be planted I’ll rig up a watering system from the tank behind. It’s still low enough that the rabbits will be able to jump in, so I’ll need a higher ring of wire round the inside edge. I’ll use it for small herby things like parsley and chives and Asian greens in winter. It will be too hot in summer for lettuces :

I planted 22 tomatoes, all in either wicking boxes or large tubs. Species I’ve used are Green Zebra, Reisentraube, Grosse Lisse, Black Russian, Debarao (a tall-growing Roma type), Red Pear Cherry and Black Cherry. This year I gave them all a tablespoon of potash after planting and watered it in. This is the advice given by Aussie gardening guru, Peter Cundall and boy, does it make a difference. They don’t have stems, they have trunks! This is a Reisentraube in a wicking box (the name means small bunch of grapes). It produces masses of large cherry sized fruits which are good for drying or freezing for winter casseroles :

The milk bottle planters on the side of the deck are still going strong. I thought the plastic would have broken down and disintegrated by now but this is their third growing season and they’re not showing any signs of breakdown. Last year I put climbing beans in them and trained them up strings onto the deck wires. This year I’ve used fibreglass rods which a friend gave me. So much easier than fiddling with strings and they’re a stronger support for the tendrils :

I found room for two more on either side of the gas bottles. Snake Beans are just germinating :

Last year I grew eggplant for the first time. It was so successful I put in more seed this year. These three plants are in a wicking box. It’s possible I’ve overplanted, and should have been satisfied with two, but we shall see :

I’ve grown lots of endive this season. It’s more robust than lettuce as a summer crop (doesn’t run to seed and will grow right through into the winter) and the chooks love it :

I’m determined to grow good celery. I potted up a lot of seedlings and have planted them in various wicking boxes :

I also potted up a lot of silver beet :

I thought I’d try some unprotected in the food forest and see how it goes with the rabbits. They’re not eating the sorrel that has self-seeded, so maybe they’ll leave the silver beet alone too. Some will go into protected sites just to be on the safe side.

The cherries under their net are ripening :

I’ve tasted a couple but the full flavour isn’t there yet. This year I’ll save and sow the seeds again. Last year only one germinated, but that’s an extra cherry tree I didn’t have to pay for. It’s already been planted out :

Fortunately I had good germination of both red and yellow tamarillos this year, as the mature plants now look like their best years are behind them. They tend to be short-lived anyway. These are seedlings of the red variety. I’ll be planting out as many as I can find room for :

I have two baths now, filled with compost and growing more food. This one will eventually be a dedicated potato bed, but until disease-free tubers become available in winter, I’ve planted a pumpkin and a zucchini :

The box at the rear contains water chestnuts. I’ve put them up there as a temporary measure because I didn’t have anything to put them up on at ground level to keep them away from the rabbits. By the time they’re ready to harvest, I’ll have found a more suitable spot (they’re not doing as well as yours, Fran):

The second bath has cucumbers, a pumpkin and a zucchini. The cucumbers and pumpkin will eventually trail over the side, but that’s OK. The rabbits don’t touch them :

I replanted some of the turmeric tubers back into their original pots and they’ve just started to appear :

I’m still keeping them in the polyhouse because I’m not sure how they’ll go outdoors in winter. However I put a couple of small leftover ones in one of the baths and they’ve started growing also. If they survive the winter I’ll put them all outdoors in future.

And finally, I managed to get a yield of garlic this year after two failed years. The bulbs are small but I’m happy :

And now……onwards, to see what summer brings.

Whichever hemisphere you live in, I hope the weather is kind to your garden.