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Farm For All - A Journal Of Sorts

 
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As if to confirm my feelings that I should try to go with the flow and not try to force things, I just found a surprise potato. There wasn't a plant there. I just randomly dig a hole to plant something, and lo and behold, there was a potato. Can't make this shit up.
IMG_20210810_115512.jpg
Surprise potato
Surprise potato
 
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Mathew my response to your post feels very weak and inadequate.  My mental space, and available time just aren't in a spot for significant writing.  However, I wanted to share a link to an old ExtraEnvironmentalist podcast from many years ago.  It's a shame the two guys behind the podcast basically moved on in life and quit doing them.  I feel like this was one of their most powerful ones.  In it they were interviewing Stephen Jenkinson about death and dying.  He worked for many years in hospice guiding people through the death process and has many thoughtful observations to make on it.  I thought about it in particular after reading your post because it's not just about the death of individuals.  They also address the death of our culture, a process I feel has been underway for some time now, and something I suspect you are wrestling with.  These issues seem very heightened at the moment.  Here's their blurb about the podcast, "Culture of Dying":

The globally dominant culture is suffering from an economic, ecological and social crisis that has deeper roots than failing budgets and environmental degradation. Do we have a role to play if our culture is headed towards its eventual death? Though our economic system has trained us to be needy, can we approach these challenges as if we were needed?

In Extraenvironmentalist #51 we speak with Stephen Jenkinson about our cultural difficulty with death. Stephen draws on lessons learned from decades of working with death to describe how we can frame our civilization's trajectory. We ask how to find sanity in a time of alienation and if we can be a human in difficult circumstances. Stephen describes the distinct jobs given to us as our family members die. Also, John Michael Greer joins us briefly to talk about the death of Western culture.



I think one of the things we are doing with permaculture work is the slow, hard process of trying to birth a new culture.
 
Mathew Trotter
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David Huang wrote:Mathew my response to your post feels very weak and inadequate.  My mental space, and available time just aren't in a spot for significant writing.  However, I wanted to share a link to an old ExtraEnvironmentalist podcast from many years ago.  It's a shame the two guys behind the podcast basically moved on in life and quit doing them.  I feel like this was one of their most powerful ones.  In it they were interviewing Stephen Jenkinson about death and dying.  He worked for many years in hospice guiding people through the death process and has many thoughtful observations to make on it.  I thought about it in particular after reading your post because it's not just about the death of individuals.  They also address the death of our culture, a process I feel has been underway for some time now, and something I suspect you are wrestling with.  These issues seem very heightened at the moment.  Here's their blurb about the podcast, "Culture of Dying"...



I was trying to find something to listen to while I was working on seed balls earlier, so this sounds like the perfect thing to throw on while I'm working on tomorrow's batch.

That's definitely a chunk of it, the struggle to straddle a dying culture and what comes next. And wondering if we can even survive what comes next. After watching that series on the Hadza, it kinda sunk in that those of us living modern lifestyles are just too soft to survive if things really go south. If the climate destabilizes too much to support this more idyllic form of permaculture (since the design principles won't change, but the presumed abundance could easily go away), then many of us won't have the skills or drive to survive. I am certainly among those that won't have the skills or drive to survive, and I've spent more time learning and developing those skills than the average person.

And then there's the fact that the people who are presumably most invested in the work I'm doing out here are too enchanted by the existing culture to either help me or at least stay out of my way.  They think they can live an extravagant modern lifestyle and show up after the 11th hour has already come and gone and have a place at my table as if I can plant a tree today and have fruit tomorrow.

The landowner keeps diverting water off of the property in spite of the fact that we already don't have enough water to grow things (not to mention constantly starting herbicides, or bringing in landscapers to haul off the only source of mulch in the property, etc.) Most of the property is still bare going on 3 years from it being clearcut because there isn't enough moisture to even grow weeds so I can start building up organic matter. They'll bring in an excavator to make the problem worse, but won't bring one in to make it better. 6 months of drought and they're still talking about draining the pond and putting in ditches and french drains every which way, and then want to waste energy pumping ground water into a cistern. They say they want me out here, but they disregard my input on everything. They go behind my back and talk about about stuff with the backhoe operator and they come back all "well, that's not how he usually does it." No shit. The whole point is that the way we've been doing things doesn't work. That's why you need me out here. Nevermind that I've been studying this for 15 years, including 4 years at a private university that had Toby Hemenway on their payroll, but please, take the advice of a guy who digs holes for a living and is happy to destroy your property as long as that's what you keep paying him to do. I've never wanted a 6-figure income, so I must be an idiot, because money is everything.

It's going to be a rude awakening when they've thwarted my ability to grow food at every turn and then they reach a point where they actually need it and there isn't any. They brag to people about having me as their retirement plan, but they don't think they're actually going to need me, so they aren't investing in my work. They want the results, but they don't want to put in the work or resources. And if I can't convince the people that are supposedly on board, then the larger culture is a lost cause.

Everything about this situation is already an uphill battle, and they're just standing at the top throwing barrels down at me.

If they aren't the spitting image of said dying culture, I don't know who is...
 
Mathew Trotter
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Because this series was so informative and awe-inspiring, I wanted to actually post it here. It really is like a time machine into our distant past.









 
Mathew Trotter
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Another heat wave running through, so I've been trying to organize my thoughts around what my ideal closed-loop system entails. This isn't something that I can execute perfectly out here because of elements that are out of my control, but I'd like to achieve something vaguely akin to this. Here's what I've got (you'll have to excuse my crude drawings.)



This revolves around a composting toilet system not unlike Paul's current iteration. The difference being that instead of using an off the shelf trash can, it uses a custom bin with at ramp that spirals up along the outside (or a ramp could probably be fashioned out of PVC cut lengthwise.) That's so that the black soldier fly larvae that are processing the waste can exit when they're mature. Not only would human waste be fed to the system, but also any food waste that isn't suitable for feeding directly to animals (butchering waste, spoiled food, anything toxic to livestock, etc.) The black soldier fly larvae are and to exit through a pipe at the top of the bin and walk along it before dropping directly in the animal enclosure where they can be eaten by chickens. I'm curious about using biochar as a carbon source/odor control agent in such a system. A drain in the bottom allows the effluent to exit through the existing septic system. To keep adult black soldier flies from coming up through the toilet an RV style toilet could be used and a small asking of gray water used to flush solid waste.

Urine is diverted into a storage tank where it can be drawn off as needed as a liquid fertilizer as well as being plumbed to a pond where it can be used to fertilize azolla/duckweed. A swivel pipe allows control over the water level in the pond, with overflow being plumbed to drain into the existing septic (a reed bed might be another option.) Fish might be another option in the duckweed/azolla pond, but care would be needed to ensure that they don't overconsume the plant population.

Animal safe food waste, biochar, weeds, hay, leaves, and any mix of other carbon rich materials are added to the animal enclosure as part of a deep litter composting system. The azolla/duckweed contribute a major part of the diets of both chickens and rabbits, as do the black soldier flies contribute to the diets of the chickens (and help control waste and their associated odors.)

The bathroom would be situated above a wallipini greenhouse which then houses the black soldier fly bin and the azolla pond so that warm enough temperatures are maintained for year round production. At peak production, as bucket can be hung from the black soldier fly outlet pipe and a portion can be dried for winter feeding. So too can a portion of the azolla be dried for winter feeding when it's at peak production. The wallipini provides the conditions for growing exotic tropical and subtropical fruit.



Because trees cannot be grown over the septic field, it's instead arranged in a series of narrow rows of vegetables (maybe not roots, though I don't think it's a problem with a functioning septic system? But at least seeds, grains, fruits, and possibly greens) all arranged on contour. The septic system provides the area with consistent moisture for steady growth. The rows would be planted by broadcasting a seed ball mix that's appropriate for the time of year. Shallow swales could act as fit paths on the uphill side and wood could be buried in the berm as a kind of micro hugelkultur. In between the vegetable rows are wide paddocks which the chickens would have access to one at a time. 7 paddocks match an adjacent 7-year coppice system and allows the chickens access to each paddock for a week, rest the paddock for a month, and then scythe it ahead of the chickens being put back on it. About a quarter of the scythings would go to mulching the contour bed above the paddock, about a quarter would be fed fresh to the rabbits in the enclosure, and about half would be dried for winter feeding/bedding.

Vegetables would be planted roughly on a one week succession so that you're generally only harvesting from the row that's above the paddock that the chickens are currently on. That way any vegetable refuse or surplus and weeds could be removed and fed to the chickens as you harvest simply by tossing it over the fence. An abundance of corn, amaranth, sunflower, etc. can be grown in these rows as a supplement to what the chickens are foraging and bring fed in soldier fly and azolla. Comfrey and other perennial herbs could be planted on the downhill side to stabilize the contours and provide additional mulch/forage.

The animal enclosure has a series of gates that allow access to the individual paddocks. The gates are either high enough that the chickens can hop out but the rabbits are contained, or else a short inner fence is added that the chickens can hop over to get to the gates but the rabbits cannot. One or more large mounds of dirt gives the rabbits that opportunity to burrow and make natural nests that can drain urine from the kits, unlike with plastic or metal nest boxes. It also allows them to regulate their temperature. The rabbits are fed on azolla/duckweed, fresh and dry hay, and whatever vegetables, seeds, and grains are tossed into the enclosure and they feel like nibbling, though such things will mostly be for the chickens.

The enclosure will be maintained as a deep litter system with the inclusion of biochar to soak up excess nutrient. One or more times a year the biochar enriched compost can be removed and added to the garden beds.

Adjacent to the septic field/garden/paddocks is a 7-year coppice system, also arranged on contour with small swales for walking paths. The coppice system includes nitrogen fixers like black locust as well as nuts like hazel and chestnut. Each year one row is cut to the ground. Anything that's a suitable diameter will be used as fuel for a rocket mass heater. For any unsuitable material, a pit will be dug in order to process it into biochar (could also be used for mushrooms, tools, etc.) If my experiments with clay pebbles price useful, the biochar fires week also be used to fire clay (I'm not sure how quenching the fire will affect the clay, but she it just needs to be fired, not pretty, I suspect it will be sufficient.) The fires can be a maybe weekly event where folks come to roast meat and vegetables over the flame and tend to the burn. High fertility waste could be buried in the pit and a new pit dug every burn or every few burns (since it's likely to fill with water in the rainy season and become unusable.)

In between the rows of the coppice system, a food forest with fruit trees and other perennial species can be planted (assuming there's enough space between the coppice rows to accommodate trees. At the end of the season you can extend chicken access into this area so they can clean up fallen fruit and break the cycle of pests. Alternatively, the coppice system can be placed on the opposite side of the animal enclosure so that you can keep the chickens off of the paddocks when they aren't actively growing or after only growing slowly; or so you can limit their access to the food forest so they don't have time to do irreparable damage.

Initially the paddocks can be managed with electric poultry net, moving the net to each new paddock each week, but permanent and/or living fence could ultimately be employed (and could be another source of fodder.) A living fence may or may not allow enough light to hit the vegetables, depending on how it's designed and managed. Goats or sheep could potentially be added to the system if designed appropriately.



The ideal house would be long and narrow and oriented to minimize exposure to the western sun. The wallipini greenhouse is along the south wall of the house. The animal enclosure is arranged on the north and east of the house to supply adequate shade during the hottest part of the day. A deck on the north and east of the house serves as a shady spot for the humans to hang out on hot days and also doubles as a shelter for the animals. The kitchen opens onto the deck where food scraps can be tossed out to the animals as one prepares food. All of the plumbing is in the east wall and could be set up on a rain collection system. At the very least a rain barrel supplies water below the deck for an automated watering system for the animals. There's access to the cellar from the kitchen and access to the animal enclosure from the cellar. This provides convenient access to eggs and meat, as well as a handy place to drop off fruits and vegetables as one comes in from the garden. An entryway with a secondary door ensures that animals don't run into the cellar while you have your hands full, provides a storage area for animal feed, a place to take off muddy boots or clothes, and a deep sink for washing produce.

The bath, as noted earlier, sits above the greenhouse so that the bin for the composting toilet stays warm enough in winter for the black soldier flies to continue reproducing. A rocket mass heater is placed along the south wall of the house so that it can absorb the heat of the sun and any waste heat from a fire goes to warming the greenhouse. The barrel of the rocket mass heater is oriented toward the kitchen so it can be used to heat water, stock, etc. The bedrooms have direct access to the deck, because why not? Makes it easy to pop out and check on animals, take a call, take a smoke break, or just be able to jump out of bed and start your day without having to navigate the rest of the house. Also a good design for any potential woofers/couchsurfers/airbnbers that allows them to come and go.

The animal enclosure and garden/paddocks obviously aren't to scale. A presentation from the National Center For Appropriate Technology suggested 50-100 chickens per acre, so you'd have to figure out the maximum size of your flock and how much total area you'd need for that many birds. Divide by 7 to get the area per paddock. Long and narrow maximizes the amount of garden space but isn't a very efficient use of fence, so it's a trade off. The T-shape for the enclosure isn't strictly necessary, but does maximize the amount of deck that can double as shelter for animals while minimizing the amount on unvegetated space/space that needs to be mulched. And of course, this still leaves plenty of zone 2/3 for additional food forest beyond what's present in the coppice system.
 
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I doubt anyone will actually read all of this.



I read it! But, I doubt I'll get to commenting meaningfully as you're writing more than I can digest at the moment.

Suffice it to say, your thoughts are compelling, and you're not alone in some of these existential struggles.

To me, death is just the natural degeneration of a wildly complex chemical reaction that eventually runs out of inputs and buffers needed to perpetuate itself. It is no more or less meaningful than that. Life has no purpose or goal, as far as I can tell -- even the "purpose" of reproduction is vacuous at best -- saying we exist to replicate our DNA is circular. I've come to the conclusion (not based on any study on my part, just stoned shower thoughts...) that we are, essentially, a reaction to incoming energy from the sun. As materials absorb energy, they have to "handle" that energy somehow. One solution is to use that energy to build more complex structures, and once you start down that road, you can eventually end up at "life". With no purpose in life, might as well enjoy what you can without unduly making things worse for others. At least, that's my current philosophy. It's probably pretty naive.

I'm looking forward to these Hadza videos. Thanks for linking to them. And thanks for your continued updates. I'm getting value from them.

Have a great day!
 
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Hi there, I came across your thread and youtube a few months ago as I was considering buying a similar piece of previously logged land.  I'm now pursuing a smaller parcel, but still following your work.  I appreciate that you're keeping it real in terms of the process and the struggle.  There is more to all of this and to this historical moment than the mechanics of implementing a food forest.  And you're confronting it.  However, I am learning a lot about techniques and methods from your posts as well!  In any case, I think you're sharing the journey that people need to see.  I wish you all the best!
 
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Andrew Sackville-West wrote:, a reaction to incoming energy from the sun.



You and Jeremy England must be smoking the same stuff 😁


mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.



https://www.quantamagazine.org/a-new-thermodynamics-theory-of-the-origin-of-life-20140122

My husband and I were just talking about him the other day!
 
Jan White
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I'm afraid I don't have a lot to say, but I do read all your posts here and I think I can empathize with much of what you're dealing with. This has been a really tough year, weather wise. I'm a few years in to improving my soil and I lost a lot. If this had been my first year here, I would have lost everything.... Actually my first year here, I did pretty much lose everything 🙄

I just wanted to show some pictures of an area of my property that has improved a lot with almost no effort on our part. I'll show you the side of my mini quarry, too, so you can see what the "soil" is like here.

When we moved here in 2016, there was a large area near the house with a layer of very thin, delicate soil that supported moss and a few clumps of stunted grass. I often winnow my grain there, so it gets a bit of chaff spread on it. I've spread a bit of thin mulch around two or three times, just sedge and yarrow trimmings. And I've spread ash from the woodstove four or five times. My husband pees there a lot. That's all we've done. And it's almost solid with grass now, with the few clumps of Oregon grape doubled or more in size, and dogbane spreading quickly.

I think your soil will improve much faster than ours. You're putting way more work into it, plus you're irrigating. That's huge. One of the problems I have is that the part of the year when it's warm enough for mulch to break down much is also too dry for any wee beasties to be working in the mulch. Everything just dries out and sits there, inert.

I don't know if the pictures look like much, but in person it's a huge change. Hopefully it encourages you a bit.
IMG_20210811_112500676.jpg
the "soil"
the "soil"
IMG_20210811_112337853.jpg
what area looked like originally
what area looked like originally
IMG_20210811_112638837.jpg
another view of original condition
another view of original condition
IMG_20210811_112229997.jpg
area with tiny bit of attention paid
area with tiny bit of attention paid
 
Andrew Sackville-West
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You and Jeremy England must be smoking the same stuff 😁



Lol!

https://www.quantamagazine.org/a-new-thermodynamics-theory-of-the-origin-of-life-20140122



Jan, thanks for the link! It's entirely likely that I read about this back then (article is from 2014) and internalized it. It's been bouncing around in my head for a while, and just makes sense. Of course, with physics, making sense is not a good metric... so I've always left it as a shower thought. But, it's nice to see I retained something with some reasonable accuracy!
 
Mathew Trotter
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Appreciate all of the comments. Don't have the energy to respond to everything individually, but I appreciate it.

Another loss today. Mosquito larvae hatched out in the duckweed pond, which is still failing to thrive. Decided to bring home some feeder fish to eat the mosquitos and provide fertility for the duckweed to try to get things balanced out. I'm starting to wonder if the pool itself is leaching something toxic into the water, since not only were the fish dead when I just went to check on them, but so were all of the mosquito larvae. Ugh.

I'll (likely) be getting 8-16 IBCs soon. Friend works at the local water treatment plant, and with the chlorine shortage they had to order from a different supplier. That means they ended up with a bunch of IBCs that they don't usually have to deal with and need a way to dispose of them. Friend is just waiting for the okay to take them and then will be bringing them out. I know people use them for aquaponics and such, so if the pool really is the problem, then maybe switching to the IBCs will solve the problem. We'll see.

In the meantime, I think I'll see if I can still scoop some duckweed out of the creek and try a few different types of containers and see if the duckweed does better in one versus another. If the pool isn't the problem, then I'm at a total loss. Duckweed is supposed to be impossible to eradicate, but apparently nobody ever told it that.
 
Mathew Trotter
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So, I went down to what's left of the creek. It's completely dry. The duckweed was dead or dying, but the azolla was starting to regrow in the mud. It wasn't efficient to harvest in any great quantity, but I picked a couple handfuls and split them between 4 different containers made out of 4 different materials. We'll see if any of them perform better than the pond, which will help determine if that's the problem.

The black soldier fly larvae are starting to build up a healthy population in my bin. They're not the dominant species yet, but it's nice to see them growing. I just gave them a bunch of fresh food last night, so that should really get them going.

I've been impressed with the growth rates of the rabbits, considering they've mostly been getting fresh vegetation, which tends to be associated with slower growth. I haven't been recording weights for them, just giving them an occasional weigh in to make sure they're putting on weight. They've gained about a pound since their last weigh in, but I don't remember if that was one or two weeks ago. Probably two, since a pound in a week seems unlikely. But, since I'm giving them lots of legumes in their feed, they're actually getting much higher protein than is in any of the locally available rabbit pellets. They are visibly much larger.

Bummed about the fish, and about the duckweed never taking off, but it hasn't been all losses. It could be that temperatures or something we're no longer suitable for duckweed, since the wild stuff is dying off and being replaced with azolla. Maybe I'll be lucky and the azolla will go off without a hitch.
 
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