Oh, How the Mind Wanders

Today I got a wicked good workout on a landscaping job.  I bid it out at 5 hours of labor and I was to mulch two large areas.   The areas worked out to about 11 Cu yards of material for good coverage which is two short loads with B.A.R.T. (Big Ass Red Truck).  Dropped the kids off at school and emptied my municipal site of chips – about 7 yards.  They were wet for the 2” of rains and heavy as hell.  Also, the bed on B.A.R.T. is about 44” up so that is a hefty throw.  Took a solid hour of throwing chips with a manure fork (.5 cu ft a throw) with a few breaks to push the chips deeper into the bed.  Then it was off to the job site.  I had forgot my mulch barrow at the farm which has a 10 cu ft payload and dual wheels – for reasons I don’t understand I choose not to get it and use my rock barrow with its 5 cu ft metal barrow.  Those of you good with quick math now realize that  I just doubled my trips, but I wasn’t real keen on a 25 mile detour in a 7 mpg truck.   I literally thought “it’ll be a good workout” ad its not THAT far.  Got to the site and realized my memory had played tricks on me – the gardens were 75 and 125 yards from the driveway.  Oi.

The long and short of the story is that 11 cu yards is about 300 cu ft.  That is 60 trips in my little wheel barrow.  200 yards per trip for 60 trips is just shy of 7 miles of walking.  11 cu yards of wet chips weighs in at about 6000#’s.  Did I mention that the gardens were all down (thank goodness!) a hill with a 20’ drop?  I climbed 1200’ of elevation to boot.

Truth be told I had a great time – good honest work.  Very little thought – this was grunt work so my mind could wander and I was able to sweat out a lot of good ideas (as well as the math in this post) whilst I was literally sweating out liters of water.

The job took about 5.5 hours, but prolly would have shaved an hour with the mulch barrow.  5.5 hours of fairly intense work – I figure about 450-500 cal an hour based on my heart rate and sweat levels compared to the gym.  5.5 hours.  JESUS!  That’s almost 3000 calories!  Methinks that 6” Veggie Delight at Subway didn’t cut it and that also explains why I hit a “wall” at hour 4.5.  Jared should give me a call if he REALLY wants to lose weight!

3000 calories.  That got me thinking.  When we plan average caloric intake like the USDA says on the cereal boxes, we figure –at most– 2500 calories.  Even if I am rounding up a bit, that is a crap ton of energy I burned and given I kept working when I got home, it is entirely possible I hit 4000 calories today.  Energy I need to eat again.    Many of us have seen the caloric needs of a person touted in attempts to calculate how much acreage is needed to grow enough food to feed a person for a year.  I’ve seen figures ranging from 750,000 to about 900,000 calories per person per year.  In only a few cases (pretty sure John Jeavons mentions it) have I seen the author take into account that the caloric needs of someone farming (or insert physical trade of choice here) by hand has significantly higher caloric needs.  Sitting in a cubicle all day and watching my daily allotment of TV, I have proven I will gain weight at 1800 calories.  If I had to grow all my own food, or more likely enough for several families of 4, I will be burning significantly more calories and will likely need more land.  12 people at 850k equates to 10,200,000 calories.  If we are all burning 3000+ the land needs go up by 30% as we’ll need closer to 1,100,000 calories annually.

This is why I have stressed repeatedly on this blog the need to learn to efficiently grow calorie crops without inputs.  An acre of potatoes will produce at least 40,000#’ if well managed.  Potatoes have about 20 calories per ounce.  That works out to about 13,000,000 calories per acre.  Of course man can’t life on spuds alone, but that is enough to feed 12 hungry sustainable farmers.  A 5 acre farm set up to rotate cucurbits/corn/beans, onions/greens/brassicas/roots, and solanaceae (1 acre each) combined with fruiting hedgerows, and an acre in cover crop rotationally grazed by chickens could support the caloric and nutrition needs of 30+ people.  The eggs from the chickens alone would add about 4,000,000 calories per year (230 hens, 200 eggs per year, 85 calories an egg), so that 30ish person figure is likely fair even without running the math on the winter squash (20,000#’s), onions (15,000#) and hedgerows.  Plus you could add a cow or some goats to the pasture with no loss of eggs and we are running mono crop rather than permaculture design in most acres so we are wasting solar energy – but that is another post!

There are 470,000,000 acres of arable land in the US.  True, many of those depend heavily on irrigation so lets run it at 300,000,000 acres.  Divide by 5 acres and multiply by 30 people. 1.8 billion people.  Add in the Ukraine, Europe, Brazil, India and China and we *can* feed the world – we need about 1.5-2 billion acres, but its gonna be close and distribution is gonna be hell to get our surpluses to India and China not to mention that Africa is already a mess.

Plus we need to build soils like crazy as the only fertilizer in 50 years will be manure and compost.  Oi.  Maybe next time I’ll bring an iPod to keep my thoughts from rambling…

Build soils.

Be the Change!

-Rob

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Damn Good Boots

My version of Being the Change necessitates damn good boots.

For me, saving the world (or surviving it?) means I need Damn Good Boots.  These boots were a gift from a very good friend.  That friend has served two tours in Iraq, and may serve one more in Afganistan before he’s done.  These boots have seen the desert and the Hell of War.  I am very sure I do not want to know all they have seen.  Now, they stop rotary plow blades when I misstep in exhaustion, and have saved my ankles more times than I can count when jumping over goose fencing or dropping plate steel when welding on the gasifier.  I wear these boots with pride.  And I wear them with purpose.  We too are serving our country, though no one ordered us to.

At heart I am a “direct actionist”.  I see problems, and I take action.  That action *might* be doing research, but in cases like reading the JOE report, the RSCH portion lasts for a day, then my version of fight or flight kicks in and I Get Busy.  Much of this blog has been the results of that tendency.  For me the best antidote for despair is action.  I need to DO something.  When life gives me lemons, I build a gasifier to power a refrigerator to cool the lemonade.

We are facing some monumental problems.   Oil is going to get wicked expensive soon, I believe we have already crossed tipping points in climate change that will make 3-4 degrees impossible to avoid, and our population as a planet will hit 8 billion before we have any chance to turn it around.  More mouths, no more cheap energy, and unpredictable weather.  That is a crazy tough backdrop for designing a transitional civilization model.

My answers are not easy.  They involve building efficiency loops into biologically linked systems to turn waste into vegetables, animal protein, fertilizers, space heating, electricity and transportable fuels such as methane and ethanol.   Let me say this again – these answers are not easy. Look at the picture at the top of the page – those are $20 leather gloves with the palms worn out; they are less than 6 months old.  I work 8 hours a day, 4 days a week on Being the Change, then come home to read and write and learn about how to do it better the next day.  There are thousands like me.  And we need hundreds of thousands more.

My parent’s generation were activists – the marched and rallied and boycotted.  Our generation needs to be actionists.  No one is going to legislate these problems away – Congress is a quagmire.  And while government will have an absolutely vital role to play, they need to know WHAT to do.  I applied for Stimulus funding in 2009.  We never officially got turned down – in fact we made it through 4 hurdles before getting parked.   What my boots and I are doing is building my version of one of the solutions.  I want to build a Proof of Concept; to take all these ideas off the goddamn drawing board and show what can truly be done on 5 acres.  And then make it scaleable up and down so that it can be repeated all over this country so that we can heal the land while supporting our families.  And that is going to take a shit ton of work.

None of my heroes wore suits and none of my heroes were executives. But they all got busy Being the Change.  Its not only ok to be geeky and to get your hands dirty – its the only way.  Look at Thoreau.  Look at Holmgren.  Shepard, Salatin, Fukuoka.  Hard work isn’t enough; nor is theory.  The solutions are in applied theory.  Being the Change means doing it.  There is SO MUCH that needs to be done: slow money, cooperative business structures, joint capital ownership,  regional / local distribution networks, district biomass heating, changing school curriculums to reflect reality, getting healthy again, and so many more.  It makes ones head whirl.  I am just one man and I have chosen my path.  There are so many others.

We need you.  My kids need you.

Strap on your boots.

Be the Change!

Lets Get Real

There has been ALOT of buzz about the Peak Oil Guardian Article today.  And with good reason.  For years we, on the “lunatic fringe” have been crying from the roof tops that the sky is falling.  And now, the US Joint Forces, is saying the exact same things we have been.  HA!  We were right!  Now who’s the lunatic sucka! But then, within seconds – IT hits.  OMG – I’m right.  THEY’RE right.  Oh.My.God.  …2011 oil surplus is gone.  Um, that is 8 months from now! 2015 the world is 10 million barrels short.  A DAY.  In 2008 the US used 19.5 million brls/day.  Aw, shit.

Oh, but it gets so much better.  I hate reading reports of reports, so I spent 5 minutes tracking down the original Joint Forces Report to learn more.  The data they are basing their predictions on is the IEA World Outlook.  So lets look at that for a minute:

Right.  See the light blue – that is our current oil production.  It drops like a rock.  Not good for Business as Usual.  So if I am reading this right, the IEA says, well what if we put like a bajillion more drills into the current reserves?  That gets you the dark blue block- pulling the oil faster, not adding more oil.   This is wicked expensive, and won’t really happen any time soon.  Why not?  Because it didn’t happen at $150/brl oil so there is no way in hell its going to happen at $87/brl oil.   But the beauty thing?  The billions of infrastucture in drilling only gets us flat for a year, and then 10 million barrels –per day– short by 2015.  4.5 years.   Ah but what about the red, gold and green splotches?  Notice the lines through them?  I translate that as IEA speak for “good fucking luck” or “Cheney made us put that in to stop world panic”.

But back to that JOE report I linked to.  The JOE report is the Joint Operating Environment report and sets out to paint a backdrop for strategic planning for the next 25 years.  Its the military so they spend the first half dozen pages talking about honor and history and manifest destiny with the obligatory quotes from Ancient Greece.  But then they get into a sober frank telling of the Big Issues of the coming decades.  Their conclusions should scare the shit out of each one of us.  5 of the Top 1o will sound very familiar to readers of this blog:

  • The Economy
  • Oil Scarity
  • Climate Change
  • Water Scarcity
  • Food supplies.

Are Rob Hopkins, Richard Heinberg, and David Holmgren working for the Joint Chiefs?  Remember that this is based on the largest and best funded intelligence gathering entity on the planet.   Let me state this again – at the highest levels our military views oil, water, climate change and food as strategic issues. Let that sink in for a good long minute.

But as I read through this I was struck by the same thing I almost always am (except when I read the 3 authors above).  While the JOE report talks about Oil scarcity by 2015, and 40% of the world being thirsty by 2030 and millions of people under water by 2030 they don’t connect the dots.  What they don’t get is that we will be out of oil, thirsty, under water, hungry AND broke.  At the same time.

4 years ago I started this blog to document our attempts to be more sustainable.  Buying organic.  Installing CFL’s.  Driving a hybrid.   I read and read and my concern deepened so I started growing more food.  And working on energy projects.  I began to question if these were problems to be solved or if, as John Michael Greer stresses in The Long Descent that these issues were now predicaments to be reacted to.   I guess I have answered that question for myself.  We saw the effects of $4 gasoline.  Ironically, the recession bought us “time” by reducing oil consumption.  We are now seeing the economy resurge.  But it will smack into the energy reality before the end of the year  or so and we will see economic growth sputter again.  But this time we will have less capacity – no more stimulous and unemployment will still be 10%+ so we will likely fall farther and take longer to rebound.

Problem or Predicament, we have our design criteria.  Water, energy, “money”, and food will all be scarcer in the future, and likely the near future.  Our solutions and preparations will be as diverse as we are – and rightly so.  But they must focus on being 3 things:

  • Local
  • Resilient
  • Regenerative

I am scared shitless about how fast we have crossed the tipping points and how even those of us who have been working so hard aren’t ready.   Greer nailed it – this will be a LONG emergency sparked with respites, like the one we are in now, where things feel good and we can get our feet under us.  But we will get thrown again, and all the uncertainty and fear that we all felt last year will return only to recover again, but to a lower level of “prosperity”.

There is much to do.

Be the Change.

-Rob

Pollan, I owe you one.

Almost 3″ total this week – water table in the market garden is about 8″ down.  Meaning I dig a hole and water wells up to within 8″ of the surface.  Luckily, other than one event, the rains were slow and steady and WOW has Spring Sprung!  Everything is blooming and budding out.  Its still early so fruit tree yeilds could get nailed by a frost, but I a stoked for a very early and long asparagus season.  Last year was the Year of the Apply on the farm with yeilds up 200%.  We’ll see what we get this year.

With all that rain, not much was done.  Tues and Wed saw highs only in the 40’s – and Wed had snow so field work was not happening.  Cut and delivered another 15#’s of greens on Tuesday and planted more peppers and started the first 100 “hills” of winter squash.  Excited for the squash plan this year.  Going with 4 kinds – Musquee de Provence (20#’s of deliciousness –each– and GORGEOUS), Austrian Butter (MASSIVE amounts of flesh and reportedly divine), Pennsylvania Crookneck (think Waltham with 3x the flesh), and Guatemalan Blue Banana.  The latter I have high hopes for – it is oblong and smallish – say 4#’s.  The key is that the flavor is outstanding (according to Fedco) and as its shaped like an over ripe zucchini you can cut a “round” or two off it, microwave it and have single serve winter squash.  Are you serious?!  Sign me up!  I bought 400 seeds…  The squash will go in a loose 3 sisters type polyculture again this year.  But we are getting strategic with our siting.  There are 3 Percheron mares on farm in rotated pastures.  Over the past decade they  have developed “pooping stations” where the drop their business and never graze.  We intend to till under several of these (some are over 1000 sq ft), fence them off and plant heavy feeders in there like corn, squash, etc.  VERY curious to see the results.  Will it be TOO rich and attract pests?  Or will the corn hit 10′ by August?  Time will tell.

Greens are selling waaaaaaaay better than I thought.  I jacked my price up since they are such a pain – transplanting, starting, watering, harvesting, washing, etc — but EVERY STINKIN WEEK with harvests twice a week as they are so frail.  Compared to my preferred potatoes which are plant once, hill twice, ignore for 45-150 days and harvest over the next 6 months as needed.   But if I am going to see the Energy Farm concept work I need year round income of about $200 a week, every week to pay off the loans for the Uber Hoopty and the Aquaponics.  That means greens, tomatoes, onions, etc.;  I am diversifying.   But even with a 50% price jump and starting 120 plants a week- I didn’t plant near enough – the greens are flying out and I am essentially out of spinach and a week away from being out of lettuce.  WTH?  I think Pollan, Kingsolver, and the guys at Food, Inc should be asking me for a cut.

So here is a shout out to all the eco-celebrities and unsung heroes Fighting the Good Fight and convincing Americans to stop poisoning themselves with processed food.

Its working.

-Rob

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