Saturday, October 28, 2006

sweet! potato

Let me use this photo opportunity to wish all of you a Happy Halloween. I had quite a nice chat with a witch just last night. She didn't put a spell on my sweet potato crop but someone must have. Or maybe I just left them in the ground too long and the result is larger than expected individual tubers. I wonder how they'll taste?

I'm a novice at growing these guys, this being only my second year but they are fun and easy once you get the hang of it. You start early in the spring by cutting a sweet potato in half and putting the cut half under water in a jar. Here let me just show you with a photo.

Once vines begin to grow out of the potato you snip them off at their base and put the cut end of each back in the water. The vine, or slip as it is called, will grow roots and can be transferred to the garden once it has really warmed up. Sweet potato vines will crisscross your garden all summer, putting down roots and growing tubers for you to harvest. If you wait too long you'll get huge sweet potatoes like this one. I think it looks like a chicken ready for baking.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

dramatic indeed

I've been hearing about a dramatic drop in the price of oil since its recording setting high back in the summer months of 2006. So I thought I'd take a look.

The truth is, the drop in price since summer ain't the only dramatic thing about this graph . The way the corporate media is talking you'd think we were back down under $20 a barrel.

Monday, October 23, 2006

grasping at

Shell and other oil companies say, “Don’t worry, there’s plenty of oil left.” Of course that is a bit like asking the fox how the hen house is doing. Any time someone wants to sell you something you have to be wary of lying, or propaganda or advertising or whatever it’s being called these days. Proof of where we stand is more obvious when you read about projects like Shell’s attempt to squeeze oil out of rocks.

“Shell is spending $30 million to create and test a massive "freeze wall" that would extend from the surface to 1,700 feet below the ground. The walls would be 30 feet thick in a shape 300 feet wide by 350 feet long.”

Of course they’ve already built another test wall, “A crew of 200 construction workers will complete the larger freeze wall in the spring by drilling a series of 150 well bores that will be pumped full of ammonia-based coolant. It will take about 18 months for the adjacent water and rock to freeze to minus-60 degrees Fahrenheit, creating the massive ice wall.” -Denver Post

My question is this, if oil availability is not a problem why is Shell spending $30 million dollars to create an ice wall 30 feet thick that extends 1700 feet into the ground? Projects like this are viewed by the general public as proof that the oil industry will always be able to provide us with more oil. For me however, projects like this are proof that cheap, conventional oil is about to become increasingly scarce. Grasping at straws isn't a good sign.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

fall garden photos

Late season peppers.

The leaf harvest coming along nicely.

The cat built a cold frame from strawbales and old windows.

The tire potatoes are ready.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

luffa at last

This is a luffa sponge. Luffa can be grown as a vegetable in your yard. They are frost tender and take a long time to mature. Even here in the sunny south I have to start my luffa seedlings indoors in late winter and move them outside when all chance of frost is over. A single plant started early enough can provide me with more than 40 sponges. Two years ago I grew a 120' vine that wrapped around 1/2 of my house. The neighbors made fun until they received their Christmas gifts- shower sponges for everyone. This year I didn't start my luffas indoors. I waited to late to get them in the ground so I was worry that I wasn't going to get any. Then the other morning I opened my bedroom window and to my surprise...

there was a luffa growing right outside. Once the fruit is pollinated it grows quickly. I can see a noticeable difference in size every few days. If the first frost will hold off for a few more weeks I'll have my shower sponge for 2007. This year however it looks like I'll have to find another neighborhood Christmas gift.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

dirty escape

I thought maybe I could get a few things done in the garden and keep an eye on Keaton Phoenix by sitting her in a laundry basket. She escaped however and immediately began to garden. A natural...

Saturday, October 14, 2006

leaf collecting challenge

So I've gone and challenged Matt FGLB to a little leaf collecting competition.

...what about all those bags of leaves you see on the side of the road piled up as other people’s trash? The process by which trees produce leaves that then fall and decompose is how soil is created. Those people are throwing away soil. Are they crazy!?!?

So here’s the challenge. Matt, I bet I can pick up more bags of leaves (soil) than you can. If you accept my challenge and I do pick up more bags, you will have to do something. But if you happen to collect more bags of leaves from the side of the road then I will have to do something. And we’ll let the readers decide what that something is. What do you say?

I'm not sure if he'll accept but if he does, you can follow our attempts to make large amounts of compost and annoy our wives by clicking here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

fat guy collects leaves

It seems Matt over at Fat Guy on a Little Bike had a little trouble with google and has decided to change locations. The link above leads to his new address over at WordPress. My real reason for writing this however is to point you in the direction of his latest post about "stealing" leaves from the trash piles of others. It is a great way to increase the amount of mulch you have available for next year's garden. I use it as free mulch around my trees and shrubs. It beats paying someone to grind up trees.

It is also a great way to supersize your composting efforts. Last year the house next door was unoccupied all fall and winter. I told the real estate agent trying to sell it that she could have her landscaper pile up all of the leaves in my side yard instead of taking the extra time to bag all of them. I saved her landscaper time which saved her money and no plastic bags were used in the process. My reward was a pile of leaves 6' wide and about 6' high. I was excited. My wife was a little less enthusiastic about the small mountain of leaves resting in our side yard. Truth be told I thought maybe I had overdone it a bit. But we were both amazed at how quickly the pile shrank. The composting action of billions of little microbes worked wonders. By early spring the pile was 1/3 of its original size. The material deep inside served as wonderful compost while the less decomposed material on the outside worked well as mulch for the garden. The idea that I could ever collect too many leaves was banished from my thoughts. I too will be collecting leaves this fall. I'll rake them in my own yard, collect them from my neighbors and yes stop on the side of the road to pick this golden brown treasure out of other people's trash. This year though I'll remember to leave a tarp in my car. Some times those bags of leaves leak.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

yes i have been writing

I have been branching out in my efforts to share about the changes I am making in anticipation of a global peak in oil production and the coming energy descent. This has included the lovely new online magazine Groovy Green. It also means a new project, an even more comprehensive work to document and catalog my experiences. That’s all I can say about it right now. Be intrigued and I’ll share more in the future. My reason for explaining all of this is because I am using this site in a slightly different way. It used to be my primary outlet for thoughts on energy and the environment. Now it is a bit more of a chalk board for jotting down ideas and framing problems and issues for further review. I hope this isn’t a disappointment for those of you who are kind enough to regularly stop by and read what I write. Sometimes looking at the raw input is better than examining the final output. I will however continue to make all of you aware of articles I write for other locations. I have two such items to report:

The first is a conversation I was lucky enough to have with Jules Dervaes of Path to Freedom.

Jules and his family stayed in their own neighborhood to make their change. They live in Pasadena, California on a small urban lot. Their path towards sustainability, the Path to Freedom as Jules likes to say, means making real change right at home. The family grows much of its own food on 1/10 of an acre of cultivated land- over 6,000lbs of produce! They sell what they don’t use and preserve much of the harvest for the off season. They raise urban chickens, ducks and goats. They brew their own bio-diesel, use solar energy to heat water and produce electricity and cook food in an outdoor oven made of straw and clay.

Our discussion was recorded and has been superbly edited by Chris Welch for your listening pleasure. You can read about Jules and his family and listen to our discussion by clicking here.

My second item to report is an article about how important autumn is in terms of home food production. There are advantages to spending serious time in your garden in the fall. Preparing new beds, stockpiling leaves, starting a compost pile, building and using cold frames, saving seeds, planting perennials and other useful gardening tasks can be accomplish in the fall. If you’re interested in growing some of what you eat you might want to check it out. To read it click here.

Thanks for following me around the web.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

what is strength?

At the funeral service for the man who attacked an Amish schoolhouse last week… About half of perhaps 75 mourners on hand were Amish. Dozens of Amish neighbors came out Saturday to mourn the quiet milkman who killed five of their young girls and wounded five more in a brief, unfathomable rampage.

Then there’s word that the oldest of the five Amish girls shot dead in a Pennsylvania schoolhouse is said to have stepped forward and asked her killer to "Shoot me first," in an apparent effort to buy time for her schoolmates.

Violence as a response to violence seems weak in the face of such incredible strength.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


If you were an oil cartel made up of the nations responsible for production of a currently sizeable part of the world's oil extraction and sitting on 2/3 of the future of the most important nonrenewable resource in human history (oil, the lubricant of the current economic model of globalization and responsible in no small part for the rise to preeminence of the latest of human empires) what would you tell the dull and uninterested (sleepy yet easily angered) citizenship of that empire when production of your fantastic resource finally went into decline?

Click here for the answer.

If you were her father what would you tell her?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

electric can openers are stupid

I wasn’t nice. I really wasn’t mean but I certainly wasn’t nice. My friend Christopher offered criticism of an idea so let’s start at the beginning. Recently a certain proposal has floated around the internet. If you take a chest freezer and build in an aftermarket thermostat you can accomplish an extreme savings in energy. You can read more about the idea here. Or you can download the PDF here. The idea is that horizontal doors and increased insulation along with the weight of cold air make chest freezers an extremely efficient choice when considering how to keep things cold. My friend Chris rightly pointed out that his grandmother would have a hard time lifting a 14 lb turkey out of such a refrigatory device and in simple terms he is correct. But I took exception to what I considered to be him poking small holes in a good idea as a response to change. While I encounter this as a regular response to new ideas I don’t find it useful as a reply because it throws out the baby and the bathwater.

Oddly this strategy of critique isn’t used on old ideas. Sure grandmother will need help removing the Thanksgiving turkey from the freezer. She also uses a stool to change the light bulb in her kitchen. Perhaps we should build all ceilings at only 7' high? Then Grandmom could change the light bulb without using a stool. No, stools work just fine. Ceilings are high enough to stay out of the way and light is up there where it can be most useful. Perhaps we should try and solve problems like energy efficiency and pollution by addressing the larger issues first and figuring out the details like how to adjust for the elderly and the disabled afterwards. Interestingly I’ve heard the same sort of thinking used to describe electric can openers. "But people with only one arm can't open cans without them" and of course that's true. So how does this sound, let's mine coal (very dangerous remember) and then let's burn it (causing health problems and a change in the climate of Earth) so we can generate electricity to be transmitted over long distances (with an extreme loss of efficiency) so we can power a small appliance that does a job 90% of people can do in 3 seconds with a hand tool. Call me crazy but maybe our perspective is a bit skewed. We have to take the disabled into consideration but I don't buy it as a reason to set aside good ideas.

Now his economic argument was a good one. He pointed out that electricity is extremely cheap. And electricity will be cheap well into the future if we continue to live in a socialist nation- well half socialist, half capitalist. If you're talking power plant profits, that's capitalist territory. People who generate electricity get to keep the money they make. But the problems they produce like unhealthy emissions of fine particles or the mercury that kept my formerly pregnant wife from being able to eat tuna or the occasional accident like three mile island (did you know the US government passed a law making itself responsible for big nuclear accidents because the free market wouldn’t insure nuclear power plants without such socialization?) all those items are costs that are socialized- spread out among us; even those of us who think electric can openers are stupid. If the cost of electricity reflected its true impact then it wouldn't be cheap. You add in the cost of the Iraq war and oil fired power plants don't sell cheap electricity. But I know what you're thinking...

No one gives a #%%! about things they can't see or don't know and the true cost of items like electricity isn't going to be made public to the American people any time soon. They wouldn't believe it anyway as most of them are asleep. But that was my most recent epiphany. I no longer give a damn if you use a regular refrigerator or a modified freezer with tremendous energy savings because I know I can't convince you of anything. I am not trying to convert anyone any more. I will continue to write and I will send out an occasional item to those I care about in an effort to provoke thought and I will certainly continue to share my thoughts with those who are interested. But taking the red pill is a mean ride and subconsciously I think we all know that. I am going to spend my time preparing for a future radically different from the present by changing the way I live and learning what I need to know. I will share it with those who want to hear it and everyone else is on their own. This may not sound like my typical attitude but please understand, I haven't abandoned preaching because I no longer care or even because I don't think it will do any good. The real reason I am getting off the soapbox is because I don't need to share this with everyone.

There seems to be two typical responses as to how change happens. The first is that the government mandates it and the second is that the invisible hand of Adam Smith makes it economically more attractive. Most people will use these responses as the only reasons for why things do or do not happen. Let's take population for instance. If I say, "There are too many humans here on Earth, let's cut back", most people will say, "You'll never reduce the population". These people will give me one or both of the reason above as proof. No one will stand for government mandated population control like in China. And kids aren't too terrible expensive. If people think population control is a good idea they’ll say, “It won’t happen until our governing bodies wake up to reality and force it on us”, or “It won’t happen until people can’t afford kids.” Regardless of the reasons for or against population control, these people fail to recognize how defeatist this attitude is. These people have given up their own freedom of choice and the freedom of others in their society as well. Of course there are other reasons for doing or not doing things. In fact for most of the really important decisions we make in our lives, we don't require the permission of congress or rely on rational financial sense. We don't get married to a certain someone for either of those reasons, we don't have children for those reasons and I am going to assume that my friends don’t associate with me because prezident bush asked them to or because they gain economic benefit from it.

Societies have historically made decisions about common items for the benefit of community and not because of government or economics. Yes our society is fractured and in bad health so we all look like greedy bastards only interested in hanging out on the back porch but that is not at the heart of who we are as human beings. I reject the idea that reasonable responses to problems are possible only if it's affordable or if we're told we legally have to. I'll go further and say that I am a freer man than anyone who would argue otherwise. But even that is not the point. The reason I don't care about your refrigerating decision is because I don't need to share this with everyone. I don't need a majority to get this thing going. I think a small percentage of people willing to make change (leaders) who commit themselves to making decisions because of what's right and not because of what's cheapest or legally mandated- that small majority can cause- we will cause a revolution. The sheeople will follow along so why waste any effort trying to force them to change, especially when that means responding to weak arguments like the weight of turkey pulled from a chest freezer.

I didn’t write back to my friend Chris in an attempt to smash his effort to be objective in his response to a new idea that makes sense. I countered with an idea about how to affect change in our current situation and also because I understand his hole poking to be beneath his capability. Plenty of people “know” why things won’t work differently. Let's solve some problems shall we?