Tim Bermaw

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since May 26, 2017
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Recent posts by Tim Bermaw

I added an image of Galahs and Rosellas foraging for Kikuyu seed to the original post.  Apologies for the quality of the image.  Old phone through double-glazing with glaring background...  Ah well.

For those that are not familiar with the birds mentioned, here are some close-up images of them, courtesy of Wikipedia...


Crimson Rosella:

Red-Browed Finches also feed along-side the Galahs and Rosellas, but are too small for my phone to really pick up:
2 years ago
We are two-thirds the way through winter here in Australia.  Over the last couple of months the missus and I have personally seen, counted and in some cases photographed, the following critters feeding on our Kikuyu lawn:

1 Wallaby
2 Masked Lapwings
2 Willie Wagtails
2 Grey Fantails
5 Kangaroos
5 Magpies
dozens of Welcome Swallows
22 Rosellas
27 Superb Fairy Wrens
50 Galahs
58 Red-Browed Finches

The wallaby, kangaroos and lapwings feed at night, the rest during the day.  The fantails and swallows pick off insects flying above the lawn.  The magpies and lapwings drill for grubs.  The wagtails and wrens hunt down crawlers.

Of most interest are the granivores — the finches, rosellas and galahs.  They pull up the crown of the Kikuyu to get at the seeds.  Since Kikuyu primarily expands by rhizomes and stolons, the consumption of seeds doesn't have any noticeable impact on lawn growth.

(Galahs and Rosellas foraging for Kikuyu seed in a drizzle during winter.)

We've been pleasantly surprised by the number and range of critters that seem to be deriving sustenance from the lawn.  Its proving to be quite a buffet during winter when alternative feed options are limited.

The wallaby and kangaroos keep the grass short, which saves me from having to mow so much.  The granivores break up the thatch layer, so it doesn't look like I'll need to de-thatch either.

Of course, it's not all rainbows and unicorns.  The galahs rip up enormous amounts of grass, which makes it look a bit messy.  Poo everywhere is a mixed blessing — it's free fertiliser but you have to watch where you step.

Our lawn is more interesting to watch than television ever was.
2 years ago
Few would deny that the abundance of life above ground in a tropical rainforest (like the Amazon) is enormous — almost overwhelming.  Look below the surface, however, and the story is starkly different.  With the exception of small pockets of Terra Preta, the soil of the Amazon is poor, lacking in nutrients (including carbon).  Heat and humidity provide bacteria (and other micro-organisms) with the conditions they need to rapidly decompose organic matter that ends up on the forest floor.  Nutrient cycling is fast in tropical climates.

In temperate climates, with lower temperatures and fungal dominance, nutrient cycling is slower.  Carbon/nutrients are able to build up in greater amounts and to greater depths in the soil profile.

Is this actually a good thing though?

If your sole concern is taking carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it into the ground, then sure, it is.  But that's not what most gardeners have as their top priority.

'Banking up' nutrients in soil (especially poor soil) is undoubtedly beneficial — at least in the initial stages.  You end up with healthy and tasty veggies because nutrient are readily available to the roots of the plants.  Like most things, however, the Law of Diminishing Returns applies to soils.  In relatively short order you get to a stage where, for every unit of nutrients you (somehow) put into the soil, the increase in 'yield' becomes smaller.

Having carbon and other nutrients immobilised in the soil — beyond the reach of the roots of the plants growing above them — accomplishes nothing for a gardener.  Long-term sequestration of carbon and other nutrients accomplishes nothing for gardening in general.

Money, time and effort spent banking up large amounts of nutrients in the soil makes, in my opinion, as little sense as banking up large amounts of money in an account that attracts an ever-decreasing rate of interest.  You want as little money in the banking system as possible to cover ongoing demands, and as contingency for emergencies, and no more.  Everything above that should be invested in things that provide clear(er) benefits and/or return on investment.

So, even though humus appears not to actually be 'a thing', carbon and nutrients in the soil are, most definitely, 'a thing'.  'Too much of a good thing' is, however, also 'a thing' — so we should try to avoid doing that.  Those who have working 'soil enrichment programs', and already grow healthy food, would probably benefit more if they enriched a larger area.  Diversity is 'a good thing', after all.
2 years ago
A Soil-Science Revolution Upends Plans to Fight Climate Change

A centuries-old concept in soil science has recently been thrown out. Yet it remains a key ingredient in everything from climate models to advanced carbon-capture projects.
The Death of Humus
by the mid-20th century, the humus paradigm was “the only game in town,” ... Farmers were instructed to adopt practices that were supposed to build humus. Indeed, the existence of humus is probably one of the few soil science facts that many non-scientists could recite.
our understanding of the nature and genesis of soil humus has advanced greatly since the turn of the century, requiring that some long-accepted concepts be revised or abandoned.
powerful new microscopes and techniques such as nuclear magnetic resonance and X-ray spectroscopy allowed soil scientists for the first time to peer directly into soil and see what was there
What they found — or, more specifically, what they didn’t find — was shocking: there were few or no long “recalcitrant” carbon molecules — the kind that don’t break down. Almost everything seemed to be small and, in principle, digestible
the available evidence does not support the formation of large-molecular-size and persistent ‘humic substances’ in soils
Old ideas, however, can be very recalcitrant. Few outside the field of soil science have heard of humus’s demise.


Food for thought.
2 years ago
I just wanted to say that I think offering all the extra stretch-goal goodies at the $65 level is a much better idea than having them at a higher level.  I just increased my backer level from $1 to $65 based purely on the value (to me) of those extra goodies.  I'm not actually interested in SKIP at all.

"Permaculture Chickens" was the tipping point for me (I consider it an inevitable inclusion).  If we hadn't reached that, I would have stayed at $1.

I'm sure that I'm not the only one that has placed more value on a particular Kickstarter's stretch goals than the primary offering.  Perhaps more could be converted (in the future) if the threshold was, say, $50 instead of $65?

Just another data point for consideration.

Thank you organisers and contributors, one and all.
2 years ago

Jordan Holland wrote:About a decade ago, we had a terrible ice storm in January. ... All of a sudden people realized that their half-million dollar house with fancy central air had no way of keeping them warm without electricity.

A few years back I designed and built a passive solar house for the missus and I.  While large chunks of Australia was burning — during the summer of 2019/2020 — and on the tail end of a week-long heatwave, the external temperature exceeded 46°C (115°F).  We don't have an air-conditioner (any form of active cooling at all, for that matter).  For Science we took none of the steps that one would sensibly take in such conditions — we didn't close the roller shutters during the entire period, we didn't draw blinds (don't have any), we didn't vent the house at night, we cooked hot meals...  Apart from flinging the doors and windows wide-open, we did everything wrong we could think of.  We artificially engineered a "worst case" situation.  The lounge room (warmest room in the house) topped-out at 26°C (78°F).  That's it.

During the following winter, when external temperatures were hitting -4°C (24°F) outside, the internal temperature never got below 14°C (57°F).

This house is able to deliver quite moderate internal temperatures — even while records are being broken outside — using no electricity at all.  There is a strong yet strange sense of satisfaction/relief/security/confidence knowing that it is impossible to die from either extreme heat or cold in this place.

None of the technologies used to achieve this were 'exotic'.  Earth-coupled concrete slab; double-thickness (180mm/7") stick-frame; R4 (US R23) polyester insulation; argon-filled double-glazing; white corrugated steel roof; 2.4m/8' verandah all-round.

I am appalled that current building regulations still allow homes to be built that are hostile to life when the power goes out.
2 years ago

Tyler Ludens wrote:Personally I would like to see someone actually MAKE a functioning Vertical Farm, instead of just talking about them for decades. 

A group in Brussels has completed an experiment — "the Farm" — to determine the viability of vertical farms.
Summary:  It costs €345 to grow enough wheat for a loaf of bread.  Simple extrapolation would suggest an annual grocery bill of over €125,000.  Per person.

Webite:  https://disnovation.org/farm.php
Article:  https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2021/02/vertical-farming-ecosystem-services.html


The vertical farms that have been commercially active for several years all focus on the same crops. These are agricultural products with a high water content, such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and herbs. However, these are not crops that can feed a city. They contain hardly any carbohydrates, proteins, or fats. To feed a city, it takes grains, legumes, root crops, and oil crops.

in Brussels - The Farm - explores what it would take to grow wheat in a vertical farm.

The experiment shows that growing 1m² of wheat in an artificial environment costs 2,577 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 394 liters of water per year.

The “farm” produces four harvests per year. With every harvest, enough wheat is grown to make one loaf of bread (580 grams), which has a cost of at least 345 euros. Each loaf contains 2,000 kilocalories, the amount that an average person needs per day. As a result, 91m² of artificially produced wheat is necessary for each person, with a total cost of 125,680 euros per year.

So, whilst vertical farms are visually appealing, and are a pretty interesting way to re-use abandoned multi-storey structures, the mere power and water costs involved in growing staples in such structures are — no other way to say it — absolutely absurd.  No-one I know would be willing (or able) to pay €345 for a loaf of bread.  Even if one nitpicks the experiment, waves some sort of magic wand, and manages to make it 10x as efficient, then you'd still be paying €34 for a loaf of bread.  There's no practical difference between the experiment (as conducted) and an operation that is 1000% as efficient — neither are economically viable.

tl;dr:  Vertical Farms cannot feed cities because:  Math.

Hundreds of Victorian home gardeners angry and out of pocket after using toxic compost from major recycler Suez

Some time in October last year, a batch of commercial compost left a Suez recycling facility in Melbourne, bound for garden centres in central Victoria and Melbourne.

Within days, it had been combined into soil mixes, and sold to backyard gardeners planting their summer veggie crops.

Within weeks, many of those crops were dying.

Full article:  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-14/toxic-garden-compost-kills-vegetables-victorian-gardeners-angry/13152164
3 years ago

Nicole Alderman wrote:For those that back the kickstarter within the first two days--even at the $1 level--they get a whole host of free goodies (here's the list of all the goodies: https://permies.com/w/earlybird). And, one of the goodies is the first video in this documentary series.

Will international backers at the $100 level (or above) be able to access and watch all three videos, now that Stretch Goal #6 has been reached?
3 years ago
Dr. Elaine Ingham gives advice on choosing a microscope for soil microbiology:

More videos (setting up the microscope, preparing samples, etc.) have been posted by SustainableStudies on YouTube:

3 years ago