Soils & Forestry

A great talk conversation (it is a very interactive session where audience questions both inform and direct the talk) with Mark Vander Meer about soils and soil restoration. Though he specializes in forestry his talk does provide general insights and touches on pasture and garden soils.   Most memorable phrase from the talk “soil is a living organism”.

The resources mentioned in the talk are available for download here – both the video and the resources compliments of Permies.com

Sunset on a Stormy Day

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Sacred Economics

I wrote about a precious book called Sacred Economics on my personal blog. I invite you to check it out.

Maramures in the 1960’s

A unique view into traditional Romanian village life with honorable mentions of:

  • hemp: grown and processed by hand for clothing.
  • financial wisdom: a commons approach to land
  • wooden wheels … wow!
  • wood-planks: the fluidity with which a log is transferred (by two men and a very long saw) into planks
  • gypsies: with a disctinct role in Romanian society suitable for their nomadic lifestyle

… and two more things:

  • 50 years later, things in Romania haven’t changed too much. Though I haven’t visited Mara Mures (which is still supposed to be a distinct area in today’s Romania) the general aura of the film rings true with what I see around me.
  • The cold, supposedly scientific/objective/documentary viewpoint from which the film was produced offers a glimpse into another (very different) society far away from Romania.

Two clips totalling ~20 minutes:

On a personal note: a few months ago I learned that if my name (Ronen) was translated (from Hebrew) into Romanian … it would be … Radu!

Thank you Craig from Bucharest Life for bringing this to my attention.

Water First

I really need to get this short post out of my system because its stuck in my throat …

When I first learned about Permaculture I got lost in a bad way. So many bits and pieces of information are associated with Permaculture that I could not make sense of it all. Particularly I couldn’t find any point of origin … something that provides a view I could relate to. A first crystallization came when I finally understood something about soil fertility … that the main crop on any farm should be fertile soil. Food that you can eat or sell or feed to animals is an extra layer … what is left after soil fertility has been improved (as opposed to the cycle of depletion typical of standard agriculture).

It is said that labyrinth puzzles are easier to solve from the end to the beginning. Soil fertility is now an obvious part of my consciousness (simply put: hugelkultur beds and forest gardening). In that spirit over the last few months I feel as if I’ve taken another step back towards the beginning of this puzzle. The new step is water. It is impossible to do anything without water.

We have a well that supplies our house needs but is not enough to water plants and gardens. Some people in our area dig large water holes that tap into the aquifer and they rely on it heavily (last year we saw quite a depletion during the drought) … we prefer not to do that (for numerous reasons).

The thing to understand about water here isn’t that there isn’t enough … but that it comes in unpredictable bursts. The trick is how to store water when it is available in such a way that it can be used when it isn’t.

They say that when you buy a certain brand of car that you suddenly see many more similar cars on the road. I don’t know if that is the case, but since my consciousness has opened up to water I seem to be flooded (no pun intended) with information about water … as if everyone has awoken with/for me.

So until I find the next first step … water is it!

When to Get Food?

When it’s available! That seems like an obvious answer but if you have gotten used to super-market mentality then that answer is not so obvious. If you shop in super-markets you can probably get pretty much whatever you want whenever you want it (though prices may fluctuate) … and you are used to it being that way.

Members of Cutia Taranului experience a different reality. Food is delivered when it beomes available. When it comes to vegetables, the boxes in spring are light and fluffy as they contain a lot of salad leaves, the boxes get heavier in summer when tomatoes and peppers appear and even heavier in fall as potatoes and other root vegetables become available. For the most part this cycle is governed by nature and it provides, when it comes to vegetables, a continuous supply of fresh food for 6-8 months (in Romania). We know it isn’t obvious because many (happy!) members were surprised when, last fall, the vegetable-box deliveries ended.

However there are other kinds of cycles in nature that are less continuous and more concentrated. We’ve recently launched a box with lamb-meat. This is a unique box since it is only available once a year.

In Romania (maybe also in other places, I am not a religious scholar so I don’t know) it coincides with the Easter holiday. However, and more importantly, it coincides with a natural flow. This is the time of year when lambs are born. Most local-Romanian sheep-herd owners, who have established herds, do not want to expand (potentially doubling) their herd (they have limited resources available for their herd and need to maintain it accordingly). This is also a time when sheep-milk-based dairy products are revived (sheep milk is available after lambs are born) and if the lambs consume all (or most) of the milk, then very little is left for producing cheeses. So the lambs need to be butchered (or sold!) now.

If you like lamb-meat then this is the time to get it. If you want it available for a longer period of time then you can purchase more, cut it up into servings, freeze it and thaw it as needed. Healthy, grass fed, organic lamb-meat (in the above mentioned box the lambs are slaughtered in the pre-dawn hours and delivered in the morning hours – it doesn’t get any fresher then that) is only available at this time of year. It won’t be available again until next year.

A similar cycle exists with pig-meat. In villages pigs are butchered for the Christmas holiday season. However there are practical reasons for that too. By that time pigs have matured and grown to provide plenty of meat and the cold weather conditions make it easier and safer to deal with fresh meat (which would spoil much faster in hot weather).

Even in our own small homestead where we grow Muscovite-ducks and chickens and we could theoretically butcher fresh meet whenever we want it (and sometimes we do), our freezer is filled in cycles. After the mating season we will cull some mature males (keeping only ones we wish to breed again next year). In early winter we cull the flock so that we don’t have to feed too many animals throughout winter (we keep good mothers and healthy males).

So keep your eyes open for these special boxes. Food is available when nature provides not when you want it. Consume it when it is available and preserve it for when it isn’t.

How Cuba Survived Peak Oil

Cuba has gotten a head start (due to artificial scarcity) on dealing with peak oil and this movie is offered in the spirit of learning from their experiences. One lesson that is never quite stated in the movie but stuck with me was that their awakening came only when crisis hit them. Their response to the crisis was impressive – even and especially the government’s response (which puts to shame many if not most of the modern governments). Yet there was no motivation to do something until crisis hit.

I also continued to reflect on the circumstances which make Romania different. There is much to be done to bring Romania into a sustainable existence. Most of “sustainability credit” exists due to its past peasant-based culture. These “sustainability credits” are being eroded by both time (a natural erosion) and man (an induced erosion) as unsustainable practices carrying false-promises penetrate Romanian society.

Whenever I watch such movies and contemplate Romania I find myself feeling (1) that there is much to do and (2) that Romania is a relatively safe place to be … it is somewhere in the middle … generally a good place to be … when a crisis comes the fall will be shorter and the crash will be softer.

A very interesting movie to watch:

Complements of Permies.com

March 2013 Snow

Yesterday morning we went outside to move the electric fencing and the flock. It isn’t too long a task and yet by the time we finished temperatures dropped noticeably and wind set in. Later in the evening the sharp-biting cold seemed to disappear and shortly after that … snow appeared. It came in silence, we only noticed it when we opened the door to see if Ricky wants to come inside … and there were flakes falling from the sky and a thin white cover already established on the ground.

This morning we found a wintery landscape with 8-10cm of fresh soft snow. Bhudeva is once again covered in white:

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… and the forecast tells us that a warm 17-18c weekend is expected … climate has become unstable and extreme … now … not 20 or 50 years from now.

Permaculture Keyline Water Systems: Don Tipping at Seven Seeds Farm

It seems like a damn has been opened … and water knowledge keeps flowing to me.

Another great demonstration of keyline design used to replenish a landscape and to insure water security. This one in north-west USA:

Water Walk

Yesterday we went for a walk around the valley in which Bhudeva is located (into which we envision Bhudeva expanding). It was a cool and sunny day. We walked around the first two-thirds of the ridge surrounding the valley but gave up on the final third because cold air was blowing into our faces and we are both recuperating from slight illness.

Every time we go on such a walk we see more, the valley reveals itself to us.

The north-facing slopes are in better ecological shape, or at least in a lesser state of deterioration. They are partially forested, though the forests are not smartly planted nor properly maintained. The slopes are softer and in some areas there are terraces. It has some very old fruit trees with good yields (given enough rain).

The south-facing slopes are well on their way to desertification. Above the keyline they are for the most part bare, steep (much more than the north facing slopes) and collapsing. At and beneath the keyline there are plenty of beautiful locations for additional houses for people who will join us in the future.

However the feature that most struck us in the poor south-facing slopes was the intricate and interconnected array of gullies. Though they are a product of erosion they are also naturally built water reservoirs. It is as if the land itself has taken measures and is slowly preparing to take in more water to heal itself. We could see substantial water storage laid out in beautiful, naturally dug shapes throughout the landscapes. Relatively small damns dispersed throughout the landscape may make a huge impact on the landscape. These formations also traverse the slopes traveling in soft paths from top to bottom.

We’ve been told that a stream once ran down into our property (on the eroded north facing slope). We could see a potential for two such streams and are very much looking forward to performing earthworks that may yet bring them back to life.

We also realized that the valley offers endless niches of diverse microclimates that are like a playground for generations to come. For traditional farming this place is uninviting … it is very hard (in many places impossible) to work in open, plowed, monocultured fields. However for us it has endless possibilities and potential. This is what makes it ours (even the parts we do not yet own) … we  see it.

The walk invited me to continue my own process and practice of surrender. To realize that we have already taken a huge step. We are here. There is still so much to do … endless work actually. There are still questions on how we’ll be able to do it … still many unknowns. But … we are here.