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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Squishy Christmas Address

(If the Queen gets a Christmas address, then so do I.)
Image by Ali Inay

With much reflection over the past two years, I've seen a gap in my approach. I have come to the belief that at the core of what we are trying to do is to build a world that is loving, nurturing, and don't forget fun and rewarding.

At some point, we have all asked the question why we can't just work together to make each others' lives full and enjoyable. I'm not going to explore the "can't" part of that. I am just going to share my thoughts on an expansion of my approach to work toward creating that world.

All around the world, people are disconnected from a truly fulfilling and rewarding life. In some corners of the world, it is because the Earth has been so badly damaged that people are in a desperate struggle just to meet basic needs. In other corners, people are becoming attached to a lifestyle of over-accumulation and consumption, hoping against all evidence that it will bring lasting happiness and fulfillment.

The problem I have faced is how to respond to these challenges in an effective way. In the past, my approach has been science heavy, believing that providing easily comprehendible technical information would be all that was needed. To be clear, that information is useful when it comes to actually planning a project, but it does not directly address the heart of the problems people face. The problem is not a technical one. It is a human one. It is a question of heart and healing.

In some places the healing needed will be of the Earth so that it can provide the basics for survival. In other places, it will be the healing of the mind and the building of human connection.

This promises to be no small task. Frankly, to get to where we want to go will take more time than our individual lives have. But I believe the only fulfilling life we can lead is the life that pursues this goal of healing and growing into what we all yearn for at our deepest level. We can only achieve this the way we achieve anything of significance: Step by step.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Guidelines for Semi-arid Sira, India

You can tell the season a permaculturist is in by the frequency of blog posts they produce. Because it has been a while, I'll post a response to some questions sent in to my by a reader near Sira, India.

 I plan to build rainwater harvesting & groundwater recharge structures, and leave the land undisturbed for few years. I will start serious work once I have more time. On a long term basis, I plan to build a small home and settle down in the farm. 
This sounds like a really solid plan, in that it addresses the concern of water right away. Rainfall in most of India can be quite variable from year to year. It might be over 600 mm one year and as low as 250 mm on a bad year. Sira also has a dry period of around 5 months each year.

 Are there any special considerations (Shape of land, amount of gradient, groundwater level, Soil quality) which I need to keep in mind while selecting a suitable piece of land for permaculture?
If Sira were a little farther north, I would recommend a north-facing slope to offer more shade (and thus more protection against evaporation). Because it is at 13°N, it won't make a huge difference. A north-facing slope is slightly better, but not by much.

You will want to avoid slopes that are too steep to work, and keep in mind that any slope more than 20° is dangerous for machinery to work, and you will want to use machinery for earthworks. Labour is cheap in India, but manpower is still more expensive than a backhoe. Safe the human labour for grooming the earthworks. Slopes of greater than 20° can be terraced, though the cost is much greater for terracing than for dams. The most cost-effective, and beneficial approach for steeper slopes is to plant trees on them. Look towards something dual-purpose like Sesbania sesban, which provides, shade, fixes nitrogen in the soil, and can be used as a pole lumber. You could alley crop with S. sesban, provided there is easy enough access to the land.

Sesbania sesban alley cropping

As for soil quality, the more fertile, the better, of course. The problem is, most of the soils will be rather nutrient-poor, lateritic soils. Looking at satellite images suggests that the soil is iron-rich, which would bode well for mango production.

To boost soil life, fertility, and thus water-retention, add powdered charcoal to the site (AKA bio-char or ag-char). This will greatly assist in building soils. Application of mulch on its own, or even compost on its own will not contribute much to long-term increases in soil fertility. The charcoal dust allows biological processes to take hold.

That said, you would do well to build a shaded cement trough that you put compost worms in to produce vermicompost. If the trough is 60 cm by 3 metres, you will be able to produce a fair amount of very high-quality compost. This would be something for the long term, not something you implement immediately.

For ground water levels, the higher the better, unless the water has a high salt content that would damage crops. It does not look like this is the case, however.

 I don't want to dig a bore-well. Average rainfall in Sira area is around 600mm. Will Permaculture techniques allow me to store sufficient rainwater to achieve water security? I would need water for both irrigation, and for domestic use (once I settle down). 
You might or might not get away without a bore. The majority of the wells I saw in Anantapur District were dug with an excavator. The town of Talupula, however, drew its water from a bore hole that was something like 1000 feet deep.

What will help you for household use is to make sure you catch the water that falls on the roof of the house you will build. You would also be wise to divert greywater from your kitchen into a heavily-mulched garden. Wasting water should not be done, particularly in such a  dry place.

In terms of earthworks, ripping will not work in your situation. The nature of the soil is such that any ripping you do will be erased with the first rainfall. What will work are large swales, gabions, and rock wall dams (unless you have a lot of good quality clay on site). Dams are the most expensive option and require engineering. Gabions, however, are relatively cheap and can make a large difference when placed across a temporary seasonal stream.

The Land in Sira area is rocky. Is that a cause for concern?
It might present a problem. It sounds like trees and perennial crops would be your wisest bet.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pattern Language: Sheltering Roof

Have you dreamed of building an energy efficient home? When it comes to home design, building an efficient home is only half the battle. A building that sacrifices everything to efficiency will not be one that people will want to spend time in. In short, beauty matters.

When it comes to roof styles, there are a lot of options to choose from. The focus here is not styles, however. Rather, I'd like to look at a few details that I think really help to make your roof design stunning.

Have a look at our short video that shows the points:

To recap, the key takeaways from the video are:

  • Design your building into to the roof, not the roof on the building
  • Have a point where you can touch the roof, if possible
  • Do not cut off your sunlight in cold climates
  • Make your eaves large

For this tip and other excellent advice on building design, pick up A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander.

[Buying from these Amazon link helps support us in delivering more content. Grazie!]

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Monday, June 09, 2014

One Creamy Trick for Busting Aphids

OK, so you've got aphids. Here's what you do:

  1. Get a spray bottle
  2. Put milk (2% or greater fat content) in the bottle
  3. Spray it on the aphids. That's it.
Please insert your jokes about lactose intolerance in the comments.

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