Friday, May 26, 2006

growing hope

Gardening is a tangible way to grow hope.

“Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have fashioned a secret garden… ‘They have had to take the seeds from their meals and then scratch at the soil in order to get that going.’ said Mr. Willett, who first wrote about the garden in The Washington Post”

“Using water to soften soil baked hard by the Caribbean sun and then scratching away with plastic spoons, a handful of prisoners have reportedly produced sufficient earth to grow watermelon, peppers, garlic, cantaloupe and even a tiny lemon plant, no more than two inches high.”

Read the full story here.

Also I wanted to share my happiness with this year’s garlic harvest. This is what’s left of last year’s garlic.

I used cloves of it to grow this year’s garlic.

These pictures might not accurately display the fact that this year's the garlic cloves are almost twice as big. I can think of three reasons for the obvious increase in my yields.

First, I have been adding organic material to the soil in my beds for the past 4 years. I’ve been using cover crops, mulching with leaves and adding compost regularly. Each year there are more nutrients available to the plants and the soil is able to retain more moisture. Second, I grew this latest garlic all winter under old windows serving as cold frames. This surely increased the growing season and helped to give my garlic more time to grow larger cloves. Lastly I used urine as an organic nitrogen fertilizer to get things started in the fall. Other standard practices for my yearly garlic planting include spacing individual cloves about 12 inches apart in mid autumn and planting them about 1 and a half inches into the ground. Often I have some cloves from the previous year already sprouting in my pantry so I use those. The garlic sends up shouts and grows actively until it gets cold. The plants growth seems to slow down only to speed back up as spring arrives. As it gets hot the tops of the garlic wilt and die back to the ground. This signals that they are ready to harvest. There’s nothing like fresh garlic.

Let me take this opportunity to say that I have been reexamining my life’s effort and have decided to take advantage of an opportunity to reach more people with my thoughts and ideas on what I believe is a coming culture shift. I think a peak in the production of certain types of fossil fuels will require a shift in the way we live our lives. The good new is that I think this shift could heal much of the anxious, lonely aggression that seems so prevalent in our nation. The bad news is that it will probably be a painful process for many. There will be those that feel it coming and adjust in preparation and there will be those that will resist change long after it has obviously arrived. I hope to educate some of the latter but the bulk of my effort will be on helping those of the former adjust so that they might survive, even thrive in the post peak petroleum era. This is a cryptic way of saying that there’s change in the wind. I will be using the internet to help in this effort in a different way in the near future. Please stay tuned.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

never tired of potatoes

Any time I talk to people about growing their own food whether it’s in the context of gardening for fun, farming for food post peak petroleum, or freeing themselves from the grips of agrobizcorp giants like Monsanto I often get one of two responses- “I can’t grow things!” or “I don’t know where to start”. Here is an easy way to dip your toe in the waters of home food production.

One of the side effects of our automotive way of life is an inordinate amount of old tires lying around. They are great for growing things. I applaud those who work to rebuild the depleted soil around their homes through composting and the addition of organic material. I do this work myself. But I also grow potatoes the lazy way- right on top of the ground.

Get a tire. If you don’t have one or are too shy to stop and pick up a few from the trash piles of other people, stop by your local tire store. They will have a large number to get rid of from any single day’s worth of service. My experience has been that they are willing to part with a few for free.

Find a fairly sunny location and place 4 or 5 potatoes in the tire. Make sure the eyes of the potato are facing up. You can buy seed potatoes for this purpose from farm supply stores or even catalogs. If not you can use store bought potatoes. The only difficulty is that chain grocery stores usually sell potatoes sprayed with a chemical that keeps them from sprouting. Just another reason to grow your own if you ask me. If you have no other source of potatoes though you can scrub regular grocery potatoes clean and leave them in a dark location and wait. If you have an organic grocer near by you probably have access to potatoes not sprayed with this chemical.

Fill the tire with compost or just plain leaves. I usually use the leaves from the previous fall that haven’t yet finished composting. By time the potatoes are ready for harvest the leaves have usually finished composting. You can use soil if you don’t have access to any other organic material. Be sure to pack whatever you use into the hollow space in the tire. You don’t want to leave room for standing water that could serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

As the potato sprouts emerge and reach 6" in height add another tire and fill with leaves. Sometime I add a few more potatoes at this level. If you’re using multiple stacks you can also grow potatoes in the gaps between them.

Repeat with a third tire as the potatoes reach through the leaves.

When the top of the potato plant dies knock over your stack of tires, harvest and eat. You can harvest early for new potatoes.

One of the main advantages of this system is no digging either to plant or to harvest. The other is that the potatoes need much less cleaning. If your husband or wife objects to the ascetics of tires stacked on top of each other remind him or her of just how good your potato salad is. Or cover the outside of the tires with leaves, paint the tires or just grow you potato tire stack out of sight. In truth an old wooden box or trunk with no bottom will work. Potatoes will actual grow right in the pile of leaves if you’d like. Regardless of how you tweak you’re above ground growing system I think you’ll find it an easy way to grow a great number of calories without a tremendous amount of effort.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Recently I was out for a stroll on the internet in search of more information on Global Warming. A quick google search led me to visit a certain site. From the sound of the web address I was sure to learn a thing or two about this phenomenon. The experience though was bizarre. sounds like just the place to get good information on Global Warming. It is not.

The site gave examples of cold weather in an attempt to dispute Global Warming stating “China, already enduring its coldest winter in 20 years, is preparing for a cold snap”. This site told me not to worry about Global Warming because, “Ice ages come every 11,000 years. A mega ice age comes every 105,000 years. Both are due between now and 2012.” Then another article referenced by this site informed me that even if that doesn’t happen and Global Warming does occur I should not panic over higher temperatures because, “as our cities have warmed, heat-related mortality declined significantly as people adapted to the change.” So I guess every thing will be fine.

It went on to offer causes for Global Warming. “Could it be that celebrities are planting the forests that are causing the Global Warming that is growing the bacteria that are wiping out the frogs?” What? “In a discovery that has left climate scientists gasping, researchers have found that the earth's vegetation is churning out vast quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent even than CO2.” The site seemed to suggest that trees are to blame for Global Warming. While it is true that plants give off methane they’ve been doing it for thousands of years and are these people suggesting we cut down all the forests? I read on curious about this supposed authority on Global Warming.

I was told “More and more people believe we must quickly wean ourselves from fossil fuels oil, natural gas and coal to save the planet from environmental catastrophe, wars and economic collapse. Professor Jaccard argues that this view is misguided,” The site asked me to ask myself, “Are coal and oil the Earth's dirty, dwindling foes or humanity's loyal friends?” I had never considered giving human characteristics like loyalty to finite resources. I usually stick to facts and common sense when evaluating issues. If I was really looking for someone to blame however this site told me to hold other countries accountable “Earth lacks the water, energy and agricultural land to allow China and India to attain Western living standards… The Worldwatch Institute said the booming economies of China and India are ‘planetary powers that are shaping the global biosphere’.

Now I was getting confused. was asking me to believe that cold weather on parts of our planet means Global Warming isn’t happening but that in fact an ice age is right around the corner. If however Global Warming is happening it could be caused by trees or people planting trees but that in any case it’s ok because humans will easily adapt to higher temperatures and that I should think of fossil fuels as being loyal to me and if there is someone to blame it’s foreigners. Huh? What sort of Global Warming site had I stumbled onto? I checked to see who ran this website. It’s a project of the Cooler Heads Coalition. Their front page motto is "The risks of Global Warming are speculative; the risks of Global Warming policies are all too real." That got me interested in the real question- Who was funding this website? I followed the money and guess where it led?

It turns out the site is funded Consumer Alert. I clicked on a link to their homepage but strangely it led to nothing more than an undeveloped website parked at For more information I turned back to the internet and that’s when it all started to make sense. Consumer Alert is a group funded by among others Exxon, Chevron, Amoco, and the auto industry. It’s an organization that in addition to shaping public opinion about Global Warming has fought against mandatory airbags in cars and lent out their name when “the beer industry placed full-page, anti-excise ads in 57 newspapers”. Wow. Read more here but you’ll have to scroll down.

Consumer Alert, the group funding the website, is nothing more than a front group for industries who products produce a lot of greenhouse gasses.

I love the internet. Anyone with a computer and a connection can learn a great deal about almost anything. It seems however that it can also be used to dissuade and misinform. I urge all of you to inform yourselves, to surf the internet, to do your own research and to form your own intelligent opinions. I do have one piece of advice however. When investigating Global Warming don’t get your information from corporations largely responsible for producing greenhouse gasses. What is it they would like you to believe?

Monday, May 08, 2006

global warming beats bush administration in strip poker

“If the scientific ‘debate’ over Global Warming was reduced to a game of strip poker, the Bush administration would be wearing its boxer shorts right now,” says Lyle V. Harris of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Sorry for the frightening visual but he’s right. According to the first of several studies on Global Warming being released by the Federal Climate Change Science Program “the observed patterns of change over the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural processes alone”.

Apparently the president has had several losing hands with bluffs such as his 2002 response to an EPA report on Global Warming. The report said humans were to blame. President Bush said that finding was, “nothing more than a product of government bureaucracy.”

Not to worry though, now that’s he’s down to his underwear he seems more willing to discuss Global Warming. He has responded to this latest report by saying, “Look, the $2,000,000,000.00 of your money I’m spending on climate research is working. This is hard work!” OK, I was actually paraphrasing that last part. Apparently our fearless leader isn’t as afraid of Global Warming as we are of his policies concerning the beast. I wish he was.

Mr. President, remind me again why we're polluting our planet through the use of fossil fuels and creating a dependency on these finite resources set shortly to go into decline? Who's stearing this ship anyway? It seems to me they're gambling with our future.

Read the government report here: Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere: Steps for Understanding and Reconciling Differences

Thursday, May 04, 2006

fish smile as oil passes peak

I can only imagine that the transition to a lower energy lifestyle will come with its share of unpleasant bumps and bruises. I do see however positive implications ultimately coming out of peak oil for our species and for others. It sure would be a welcome relief for the over fished oceans of the world. It turns out we passed peak fish years ago.

"Among its most notable findings, the research has revealed that the world passed "peak fish" – a peak in the biomass, or weight, of fish caught from the world's oceans – in the late 1980s. Since then, while there have been regional variations, the global fish haul has gradually sunk."

As this article in The National Fisherman describes, it seems that as fuel prices increase, more fisherman might decide not to hit the high seas.

“These boats have to weigh whether to pay $8,000 on fuel to go out and catch $10,000 worth of fish,” Loga says. “High fuel prices will be the biggest issue facing the industry this summer, not NMFS, not PETA and not the weather.”

I noticed higher-than-normal prices for shrimp at the grocery store last night. Very often the only shrimp that are available come from Thailand. It seems this ocean industry has also been affected by the recent rise in fuel prices.

“High global oil prices are taking their toll in Thailand, where the nation's fishing fleet - one of the largest in Southeast Asia - has been affected. Hundreds of vessels are tied up at dock, threatening huge numbers of jobs.”

In the future as we pass the peak in global oil production some people may complain about the reduced availability of fish for human consumption. Others will lament the rise in cost. Many in the fishing industry might not be able to continue that way of making a living. For our finned friends however peak oil might have arrived just in time.