Jun 142010

Back in the early 90’s we had a really bad experience with conventional (or hospital based) medicine which led me to an eye-opening investigation of alternatives. It turned out that many of the alternatives, most of which are still shouted down by the establishment, had validity and were effective. During that period I came across a writer and philosopher named Ivan Illich whose book “Medical Nemesis” pointed out the extreme dangers of medicalizing our lives from birth to death and introduced the idea of iatrogenic disease. In the intervening years I haven’t changed my mind about our medical system (or the business of medicine) and try to stay away from it.

It’s more difficult to avoid the subjects of politics and economics but it’s important to take the same skeptical approach as taught by Monsignor Illich (he was a Catholic priest). There some very clear thinkers in this area, as well, including Charles Hugh Smith (no relation) whose book, Survival + I’m now reading.

I’ve been following Smith’s blog www.oftwominds.com for a couple of years and have been impressed with his clarity of thought. He succinctly lays out an alternative to the world view held by most Americans, reinforced by a conventional media which is controlled by no more than ten major companies world wide. He argues that the plutocracy (and who can deny there is one when 1% of the people own 2/3rds of the wealth) operates totally out of self-interest and is guilty of constant overreach. The powers that be want us to believe the following:

1. That there is abundant cheap energy for a long time to come and that technology will fill the gaps.
2. That Social Security and Medicare entitlements will be paid and maintained solvent through modest policy adjustments.
3. That the current financial meltdown could not have been foreseen and will be corrected with policy adjustments.
4. That public and private credit and debt can continue to expand and are the lifeblood of permanent growth.
5. That environmental issues can be dealt with by modest policy adjustments.
6. That consumerist culture is the culmination of the perfection of capitalism.
7. That we have the finest medical system in the world.

Smith takes issue with and disproves all of the above and warns us against a monolithic media which is nothing more than a propaganda machine. He’s not a survivalist, however, and believes we can survive and prosper and his book will attempt to illustrate how. The sub-title is “Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation”.

Seems ripe material for this blog and I’ll be commenting on it as I read through Survival +.

Jun 122010

Recently I’ve shown a few people how to make Steve Solomon’s COF (Complete Organic Fertilizer). But if you are lazy, can stand the ick factor and don’t mind peeing in a jug, you have an inexhaustible supply of free, organic fertilizer using your own pee.

Easier for boys but not impossible for girls. Collect urine in a gallon glass jug, dilute it with water and spray it, dump it or drip it on your flowers or veggies.

This website has lots of detail on how to use urine in the garden:

“Sweden has tested a full scale urine ‘recycling’ program. Among their findings they have discovered that urine is a complete fertilizer for farm use, lowers the environmental impact of wastewater, improves recirculation of the 3 main nutrients, and that the hygienic risks are negligible if handled properly. Nature has been making use of urine for centuries before humans had even mastered the art of agriculture. Animal wastes contain nutrients that plants needs, and in return they provide us with nutrients we need. It is a circle that has been broken only in recent years, but before you go using your pots as a urinal you will need to be aware of how to use your urine. DO NOT PEE DIRECTLY ON OR AROUND YOUR PLANTS. You will burn them. The following will detail everything that you need to know to be successful.

Pure concentrated urine will burn your plants; it must first be diluted with water. Typically a ratio of 1 part urine to 10 parts water is effective. Some have gotten away with a slightly higher ratio on unusually hungry girls. It is recommended that you do not exceed 1:10, even though a nutrient burn with urine is rare, the smell can be unpleasant, and salts will build quickly, at higher concentrations. For younger plants start with a ratio of 1:20-1:30 and work your way up. As always do not fertilize germinating seedlings. Wait until the cotyledons (little round leaves) have fallen off before beginning any fertilizer regiment. Also it is not needed every water, every other or every third is sufficient. Let your plant do the talking, if she is a nice dark green then lay off a little, use a weaker solution and lower frequency, if she is getting on the yellow side then step up the strength a bit.”

This may be the ultimate in sustainability!

Jun 112010

Lummi Islanders are pretty good about helping each other out on an ad hoc basis. Witness the recent flurry of activity to get the stranded across Hale’s passage or the effort by PLIC to organize ride sharing as the result of cars being stuck on the island. But the island population is big enough that we don’t know everyone and are uncertain of the varied talents of those we do know.

An idea that’s gaining steam around the country is Time Banks. It’s a formalized system of bartering time.

“At its most basic level, Time banking is simply about spending an hour doing something for somebody in your community. That hour goes into the Time Bank as a Time Dollar. Then you have a Time dollar to spend on having someone doing something for you. It’s a simple idea, but it has powerful ripple effects in building community connections.”

“Each Time Bank has a website where you list what you would like to do for other members. You look up Time Bank services online or call a community coordinator to do it for you. You earn Time Dollars after each service you perform and then you get to spend it on whatever you want from the listings.”

Neighborhoods, churches, non-profits, social organizations have all used this tool to improve their local environment, inventory skills and formalize a means for reciprocal action.

It’s pretty simple in concept. You offer a service based on your skills. The interesting thing is there is no differentiation of value. One hour is worth one hour. One hour of tax planning has the same value as an hour of walking the dog. These services can be very basic: tutoring, transportation, yard mowing, house cleaning, proof reading, baby sitting,
cooking, decorating, gardening, fixing things. The list is probably endless. It’s volunteerism with a twist: you get something back. (hat tip to Lis M. for flagging the Time Bank Website)

Jun 102010

There have been some amazing developments in bicycles in terms of carrying capacity and efficiency.

This website on human powered machines provides a good overview of what is available. There are lots of interesting cargo bikes that carry sizeable loads under human power.

Or, you could convert your bike to a street legal gas powered machine.

Electric conversions are available as well.  But they are still pricey.

Our official blog site product tester Dave A. on Whidbey Island (see Rocket Stove) has this to say about his new gas conversion bike:

“Took my motorized (1.6 hp) bike out for a maiden 10 mile ride today. Just a few turns of the pedal to get momentum and then she takes off.  I had to vary speeds to break in the engine. The road was dry ( on wet roads the friction slips).

Even with my 200lbs it gets up to 22 mph with no effort on a level. I didn’t try to go full bore but there was plenty of throttle left. On a uphill grade it does just fine as long as it’s not too steep.  On a real steep grade the engine labors and one has to help out with the pedals.  Going downhill the clutch does not freewheel so the friction slows things down a bit even though engine is not engaged.  All in all, it was a very successful run for such a small, light engine.  The 4 stroke is quiet and barely sips gas. I have it mounted on a Fugi mountain bike with fairly smooth tires — the heavier frame seems appropriate when you have about 8 lbs hanging off the rear left side of the bike.  No problem at all with
balance. Stay on the road side just like standard bikes, because you are technically still a bicycle.

Jun 092010

When the ferry crisis first erupted last fall I thought it would work like the canary in the coal mine for islanders, a wake up call to get prepared for an uncertain future. Instead many on the island initiated a campaign to retain the status quo. We all love the status quo. May it go on forever. The problem is that “status” never stays “quo”. It always changes, sometimes for the better; sometimes not.

Now there’s a hole in the boat and it’s gone for a period of time. Some are ready for this type of occurrence. Others aren’t. Some have gas. Some don’t. Some have food. Some don’t. Some have to be somewhere. Others don’t. We are in different states of preparedness for an event which, when you think about it, can happen anytime and could happen repeatedly. A fuel shortage. A financial crisis at the county. Additional maintenance issues. There are lots of events that could pop up to affect the ferry.

Some islanders responded immediately to operate informal water taxis to get folks stranded on the other side back to the island. Hmmm. Boats. Great idea. PLIC has quickly come up with a ride sharing program.

Public Works, by the way, seems to have performed exceptional service trying to accommodate the island, obtaining a passenger ferry, finding some place to fix the Chief, managing to get a van and fuel on site to move people from the passenger ferry to their homes. They are doing their job admirably.

We live on an island. It’s nice to be able to get a car on and off whenever we want so, as James Kunstler is fond of saying, ‘we can continue our happy motoring.’

But why is our official, scheduled Dry Dock less traumatic than this unscheduled cessation of car ferry service? We don’t solicit horror stories about Dry Dock. It’s a happy time of year. The answer is we are ready for it both mentally and physically. We are prepared for that annual event.

Thinking about “transition” and an uncertain future, the hole in the boat should illustrate where the soft spots are in our personal and community planning and preparation.

Jun 082010

I try to imagine what it would be like to depend totally on the production of our garden and trees. One would probably agonize over every sprout, be aiming the .22 at rabbits and stalking slugs and other pests as if they were terrorists.

Each piece of fruit could be important. This would be a lean year. We had nice blossoms but then it got cold and pollination was apparently weak. Hand pollinating is not yet in my repetoire. Most of our trees are four years old, just barely ready for production. But even the mature trees that were loaded last year have very few apples. Thus, each one takes on a certain importance. Now we face the spector of apple maggot and coddling moth.

With so little fruit left on the trees I decided to get serious about eating what was left. Mother Earth News had an article about wrapping each fruit to protect them from the the moth and fly.

I ordered a box of footies from these guys and tied one on each apple with a piece of string. (These footies are what they give you in a shoe store to put on to protect the shoes from your awful feet).

Mine look kind of droopy but I think they should do the job.

Then the Cloud Mountain Newsletter arrived with this interesting video and described different way to put on the footie.

Jun 072010

A few weeks ago I pontificated on the use of Sluggo to rid the garden of the ubiquitous slug. In that post there is a link to the study which suggests that Sluggo “may” degrade the worm population. If this is true, it’s not good news. Yet the hordes of slugs keep coming. Everyone says it’s a perfect storm of slugs this year.

In our garden they are wiping out entire rows of things. I’ve had sprouts an inch and a half high disappear over night; rows of marigolds eaten down to nubs, beans fighting for their lives. I’ve tried the beer, lining the perimeters with seaweed, the plant by plant hand search…and prayer. They keep on coming like little sucky vampires. Therefore, with apologies to the worms I’m resorting to Sluggo again try and keep this plague under control.

It makes one understand why a farmer, depending on his crop for a livelihood would, in a panic, resort to chemistry . The aforementioned study also says that Sluggo could invalidate an organic label. Nothing I have to worry about as my life doesn’t depend on the garden…yet. But, my produce, if not totally organic, is still local and you know what they say: local is the new organic.

Yesterday, on his Yahoo discussion group, Steve Solomon, author of Gardening When it Counts and Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, a pragmatic gardener, wrote this:

“…my preference (is) for people not making religions of agricultural
systems, including:

French Intensive
Fukuoka (whateverthehellthatwouldbe?)
Clean Culture (rock dust, no “filth”)
Vegan Organic … no animal products including manures…

I’m sure there are others

I agree completely that stupid devotion to ideology will quickly fade in
the face of actual agricultural necessity. That will happen if for no other
reason that in really hard times those who fail and whose belief filters
prevent them from adapting quickly . . . suffer.” Steve

Jun 042010

Seems like all the good films anymore are documentaries.  “No impact man” is a writer who lives in a 9th floor apartment in Manhattan who had a good idea for a book(and a film). He and his family would significantly reduce their carbon footprint for a full year eschewing cars, planes, electricity and packaging. They would not eat out, not buy anything new, only eat local food (produced within 250 miles), use their own containers and bags to tote their groceries home and eliminate creation of garbage.

Great idea for a book project. Maybe not such a good idea to drag your wife and two year old daughter along. It’s a long climb to the 9th floor carrying grocery bags and a toddler but that was part of the deal. They even got rid of toilet paper. Of course, living in NYC the writer got lots of publicity and, obviously, their own camera crew and sound person followed them everywhere: to the farmer’s market, the Colbert Show, to radio appearances, to Good Morning America, to the farm where their milk came from and another farm where a lot of their produce was grown.

The author’s wife, a reporter for Business Week, was supportive but sometimes reluctant. If you’ve ever watched the Ed Begley show Living With Ed you realize that show works because his  wife Rachelle is extremely skeptical of all of Ed’s hair brained environmental ideas—his solar panels, rain barrels, backyard garden, etc. There’s much rolling of the eyes as Ed introduces his latest scheme to save the environment and that tension, that skepticism, relieves the viewer of feeling it themselves and makes us more receptive to the idea.

The same tension is at work in No Impact Man as Mrs. No Impact Man works to accomodate herself to  no TP, no TV, no frig, no lights, no AC, no Starbucks and, not related to the experiment, no second baby. She is really the focus of the film and her acceptance and the benefits she experiences makes the film work.

Colin Beavan, the No Impact Man, was roundly criticized even by environmentalists for contriving this idea. He readily admits he did it to get a book out of it but there’s not doubting his sincerity. The problem with giving stuff up is that no one really wants to hear about it. We want support for our bad habits, not someone to demonstrate that it’s possible to live without electricity, or designer coffee, or a car, or new clothes, or  TV, or sugar, or meat, or travel, or whatever. So, when Mrs. No Impact Man rolls her eyes but adapts to the change and feels better for it, lighter, fitter, healthier, happier, more confident, it makes us more receptive to the experiment too.

An interview with Harry Smith gives you the flavor of the film.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Jun 032010

Brian Brett

You might have a lot in common with a guy who lives on Salt Spring Island. Then again, maybe not; unless you have a small farm, are a well-known Canadian poet, a borderline curmudgeon who likes to wander naked in the woods at night, a virtual animal whisperer with a 24 year old parrot, plus horses, dogs, sheep, geese, chickens, ducks, pigs and peafowl, who loves local food, big parties, good friends, hates government, disdains factory farms and is losing money trying to keep the farm going. Perhaps you’d just enjoy a book on a small subject which is really a vast subject with ramifications that extend well beyond the author’s island.

Possibly you would find enjoyment in stories about animals that are a bit more gory than those of, say, James Harriott. Certainly, you could relate to someone living on an island, the sense of community, the lack of privacy and the importance of retaining some kind of order. Without a doubt, if you garden, or raise animals you will find something of value. You will find excitement in stories like the author’s epic battle with a mouse and wolf spider.

I actually got choked up reading about the death of a valued horse and I’m not too sentimental about animals. And I think I learned stuff that will be helpful to me as a gardener. For example, one of the expert farmers in the book was asked when the best time was to prune apples. His answer: when you have time. This was his answer to every question about farming, a messy, always unfinished business. Brian Brett taught me that I shouldn’t be too precious about the garden, that there was too much outside my control. That farming is more of a calling than a business pointing to the joke about the farmer who won the lottery when asked what he’d do with the money said, “I guess I’ll just keep farming til it’s gone.”

I liked the stories about smart dogs (as I’ve personally known so few), am intrigued with the idea of peafowl and am now full of admiration for the goose. I liked the writing well enough that I ordered Mr. Brett’s detective novel set on a fictitious Salt Spring Island to see what he can do with fiction.  I’m guessing that a guy who can write a fascinating chapter on chickens can also entertain me in my favorite genre.

With his stories Brian Brett makes a compelling case for localization, for local food and for staying home and getting intimately involved with your own environment. Highly recommend Trauma Farm and my copy is available for loan to anyone interested.

Jun 022010

A new study demonstrates that Americans throw away about 40% of their food.  One good thing about this statistic is that it demonstrates that if our food supply was cut we could adapt fairly easily to the change. My generation was told that we had to clean our plates because there were kids starving in China. Now China pretty much owns us so we’ll have to teach the kids to clean their plates for someone else.

We waste a lot of things. For instance, we waste waste. We poop and pee into what is essentially drinking water and flush it down the drain. In rural areas the waste goes into septic systems which we have to pay to maintain. In cities sewage treatment a significant part of infrastructure cost.

It wasn’t always so. In Georgian London, night soil men were highly paid. And their product in great demand by farmers. In less developed parts of the world humanure is used directly on crops. There are some health dangers to doing this. However, if composted properly, human feces makes excellent fertilizer. Urine can be put directly on the compost pile or diluted and put on crops without composting.

It’s possible to build a composting toilet and have it in your house. Peak Moment TV has an extensive series of videos on self-reliance and sustainability many of which can be found on You Tube.

The following 28 minute video shows how a homeowner in Oakland makes a composting toilet work for her family. Her website has lots of interesting information on gray water, composting toilets and rainwater collection. There’s much we take for granted and don’t even stop to think about. It is possible to make use of our personal waste for our benefit and save water at the same time.

Jun 012010

I’ve been missing Roundup but have vowed not to use it because it’s poison for the environment. The weeds are growing great in the driveway and cracks in the walkways. Digging them out is a lot of work even with the hori hori knife. Then Dr. Dirt comes along and shows me how to make a natural herbicide from vinegar, orange oil and soap.

One gallon of pickling vinegar, one ounce of orange oil and a teaspoon of soap. I tried it and it works. The formula calls for 10% vinegar. I could only find 5% but that worked fine.

Seems to kill the weeds faster than Roundup did. It’s pretty simple but you can watch the Doctor explain. He has a whole series of You Tube videos that are interesting and helpful.