complements of Paul Wheaton at Permies
Winter came much earlier this year. We had a major snowfall in early December that left us with a snow cover that the previous year had only appeared at the end of January. It is also brought with the coldest period we had during this winter – a few days where temperatures dropped below -15c.
We had 3 or 4 more note-worthy snow falls throughout December, January and February but for the most part this winter felt dry – as if the previous season’s drought continued throughout the winter. The snow did not accumulate to the levels it had the previous winter. February, usually the coldest winter month, was unusually warm (one time I was outside cutting wood wearing a short-sleeved shirt on a sunny day).
Snow melted fairly early – I think that by late february most of the snow was gone and signs of new green grasses emerged. Even the bees (from the surviving hive) came out for a look around a couple of weeks ago.
My consciousness switched into a spring-ish mode and was caught off-guard by a couple of really cold-weather waves that appeared in March. During the previous weekend there was another substantial snowfall … enough to cover EVERYTHING with a white blanket … but it mostly disappeared after a couple of days.
It’s only my second winter here at Bhudeva and the signs of climate change are very clear. Regardless of overall warming the weather is becoming much less stable, much less predictable and much more prone to extreme shifts. It takes only one, short, local extreme weather event (drought, late frost, hail …) to wipe out traditional crop-systems. It is a stark reminder to me how important deep infrastructures (water and soil fertility) filled with bio-diversity are in meeting this given instability (which is very likely to continue for a long time even if we were to start drastic global regenerative actions today … which doesn’t seem likely to happen).
As Cutia Taranului is coming to life again amidst these shifting and unpredictable weather patterns I find myself immersed in both satisfaction (because of how successful it has been and promises to continue to be) and concern (because of the knowledge that the traditional methods of agriculture used by most peasant families are fragile and unsustainable).
Nice short movie about facing predators with guardian dogs:
A scythe is a very common tool in Romania. If you don’t know what a scythe is have a look:
It can be, as aptly demonstrated in the video, a very useful tool. Actually it can be much more useful then shown in the video. I had the pleasure of watching someone who was really handy with it for a few months. Most people use it kind of clumsily … kind of like in the video above … it really comes into play when you learn to … for lack of a better word … dance with it … it gets much more swing with much less effort … but it takes getting used to. If I had to describe it (and I haven’t had much practice yet), you stand in a somewhat sumo-wrestler kind of stance, firmly grounded and swing the blade without reaching out or stretching forward. The arms need to be loose and most of the energy comes from a twisting motion in the hips. You swing and step forward (kind of an awkward elephant-ish step when your feet are spread apart for a good stance).
There are, however a few drawbacks to it. One, that you can get used to as it becomes part of the work, is the frequent sharpening. You really do need to sharpen it often. The other, not mentioned in the video, and that is more difficult to get used to, is the quality of what it is you are cutting. The scythe works great on a picturesque pasture of grass … but that is often not the case. When there are beefier plants to cut down (neglected weeds) it becomes much less fluent and (to me anyways) much less pleasant to use (there have been cases where I wished I had a power trimmer).
Also we have not yet been able to put together a good working scythe: a good blade, good wooden handle (apparently called a snath), a good mounting (which holds it firmly in place and can be dismounted easily). Cheap stuff is easy to find, quality isn’t. I didn’t know about an additional process called peening … a more thorough process of sharpening which I’ve never done nor witnessed … until I saw this followup video:
In the video there is a demonstratin of what looks like a really useful “peening anvil” and I searched for it. I found it, together with loads of what seems like quality scythe-stuff manufactured in Austria … which is here in Europe, even close by … which means we may be able to get our hands on it here in Romania (it bugs me that we can’t find quality tools, that are so common, made here in Romania).
Update: If you follow the above link to the Austrian manufacturer you will find, in the top right corner a video with a demonstration of efficient body movement when working with a scythe!
When just over two years ago we came across permaculture we were overwhelmed by a flood of information. We couldn’t find anything to anchor us down, anything to help us make sense of it all. Fragments of information came at us from all directions and we didn’t know how to put it all together. We have since a few precious anchors to give us direction, but the day before yesterday we came across this by Toby Hemenway (author of a fairly well known in permaculture circles book Gaia’s Garden). We enjoyed every secon of this talk – one of the most clear and accessible introductions to permaculture we’ve come across. In it he gives an inspiring historical glimpse into the forces that shaped our modern day cilization and the difficulties we have been experiencing lately – especially with regard to food, but not just.
I wish we had come across this video earlier in our meeting with Permaculture.
This video also presents a welcomed and first opportunity to share Permaculture with others in our lives who’s lives have not yet presented a relevant invitation into this domain.
I’ve started reading Sepp Holzer’s new book Desert or Paradise. Early in the book I found this:
“Intensive overgrazing is another example where damage is caused to trees. Spain and Portugal have a long tradition of extensive grazing, but it was mostly done with pigs in the past and they actually helped the ground. Bonus payments by the EU and the desire to make more money seduced a lot of farmers to start intensive animal husbandry. Nowadays they mostly keep sheep, goats and cattle.
This is too much for the ground and leads to loss of biodiversity and plant life …”
I believe many (if not most) of the EU payments to farmers and peasants in Romania achieve (by design!) a similar result. I recently mentioned this in the context of bees as well. Seeing that Sepp Holzer has similar views makes me think that maybe I am not so crazy … or maybe I am of a right crazy!
We’ve built two sort-of rocket stoves (red and bell) so far … and they (though far from optimal efficiency) have been magical, pleasant and a godsend to our quality of life (being warm and comfortable in winter). Rocket stoves are simple (but not idiot-proof) technology, built from common and available materials, they are super efficient at burning wood and super efficient at retaining warmth. They are an organic joy to have in a space.
Which brings me to a funny story I’ve wanted to tell. When we were making plans to build our first rocket stove there was a gypsy working for us for a couple of days (he begged for work, and we decided to give him a try, and he stayed for only two days because he rested more than he worked). During his short stay he told us about his troubles … he lives in a one-room house with his wife and three kids, they have on light bulb (for the kids to do homework) connected to their next-door neighbors house (who rip them off by demanding they pay half of the electric bill). Also their (cardboard-ish) roof caved in and broke their heat stove. Aha … I thought to myself … and invited him to stick around, help me build the rocket and learn how to build one for himself … to which the cold, roof-less gypsy replied “but what will my neighbors think of me when they see a metal barrel in my house?”
Anyways, this is a remarkable technology which has already improved our lives tremendously. So far, to learn about rocket stoves there was only one reliable resource: Rocket Mass Heaters book. In our Romanian posts on rocket stoves we’ve gotten lots of questions from people who want to also build one. My reply (though Andreea tries to be more generous) is that before anything else you must first read the book. Period. After that you should start playing, reading online, watching videos … and eventually you’ll have enough knowledge, confidence and materials to build one that works.
It’s hard not to run into Erica and Ernie Wisner when looking into rocket stoves. If you haven’t yet then you’ve been doing something wrong … and now that you’ve read this you have no excuse. They have some detailed plans for sale (which we haven’t yet seen but promise to be very educative) and they teach extensively, mostly in the USA. I have often wanted to attend one of their workshops … but living in Romania makes it complicated and prohibitively expensive.
However there have recently been two Kickstarted documentary projects which made it possible for us to partake in Erica & Ernie’s gifts. We learned about the first one in it’s last hours and supported it. Now Paul Wheaton of Permies has embarked on another, larger scale production including 4 DVD’s which cover a lot of things that are not part of the first production. I am especially looking forward to learning about “fire science” and about using rocket technology for hot water (which is the first time such knowledge is being made available and we plan to implement in our new house). So we’ve happily supported this project too.
While the book offers important theoretical information there are many details and intricacies which you can only really learn about through direct experience. I’ve been able to pick up many tips and insights while watching videos that are already freely available online (most of which, I believe, are thank to Paul Wheaton himself). So I’m looking for tons more insight from these two production projects.
We’ve invested ~ $170 dollars in these two ventures. It’s a substantial sum of money (for us, though it goes without saying, much cheaper then even the cost of a workshop, let alone flying to the USA to attend one) that we were soooo happy to give. We’ve already gotten so much knowledge from what Paul and Erica & Ernie have made available freely … making this a no-brainer investment, one that made an excellent return before we even made it. So we are grateful for this opportunity to support this work (hopefully making it possible for many others to learn about it), to enjoy its fruits and to say thank you … and this time we learned about in time to write this post and let others know about it … that goes out especially to all the Romanians who have asked … this is (for now) as good an answer as you could wish for 🙂