Saturday, February 28, 2009

Deep Pipe Irrigation

This is a great idea for establishing trees and bamboo pipes can be used. Small holes are drilled along the sides and buried straight into the ground or at an angle to let the water seep in higher first as it falls down the tube. Compared to having drip emitters on top of the ground, deep pipe irrigation allows the water to reach deeper into the soil and encourages deeper roots and has proven higher rates of survival!

Studies in this pdf show how trees in the desert survived after a three year drought. For those who wish to help reforest hills and landscapes, this would be a good idea to reduce water usage and encourage survival. Water can be hand delivered and poured in or setup on drip systems.

I posted the pdf over at a social networking site for permaculture I setup. The download link for the pdf can be found here -

More information can be found here -

Saturday, February 7, 2009

mushrooms and our purpose in life

I just read Paul Stamet's book "Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World", and there was a inspirational paragraph describing the mushroom's role in repairing the forest after a fire by working together with all the other lifeforms that share the same forest.

Here's the paragraph, slightly edited for better reading:

"Using mushroom mycelia as tools for ecological restoration is a new concept borrowed from the age-old methods of nature. After forest fires, when burned habitats begin to recover, the species that appear amid the ash and cinders are mushrooms, particularly morels and cup fungi, which can appear in a matter of weeks. The fast-growing and quick-to-decompose mushrooms emerge where seemingly no life could survive. As these succulent mushrooms mature and release spores, they also release fragrances that attract insects and mammals, including mushroom hunters.

A biological oasis emerges as new species gather around the postfire fungus. Flies deposit larvae in morels, and as the larvae mature they attract birds and other maggot lovers. Birds and mammals coming to eat morels defecate seeds of plants eaten far from the fire zone. All these critters scour the burnt wasteland searching for mushrooms.

Each mushrom-seeking organism imports hitchhiking species from afar with every visit, essentially carrying its own universe of organisms, an ecological footprint of flora and fauna. Then, with every mushroom encouter, each animal is dusted with spores, leaving an invisible trail of them as they wander on."

This got me thinking, if all the other living beings are helping to repair the earth by simply living, then what is our role here on earth? And why are we damaging and destroying the earth by our actions? What is wrong with us? Are we doomed to extinction by our shortsightedness?

We live in this great technological society, but what's the point if it isn't going to last? Is there another way to live? A life that exists, while repairing and improving our "home" at the same time? This is what I am searching to find out. I believe it is possible. Like Geoff Lawton says, humans can be the most repairative function on earth. We can help nature on its natural course of repair and speed up the process. This is what excites me and inspires about permaculture. There are other ways to live, but first it takes courage to acknowledge this and make a choice to change. To wake up from our habits and become conscious of our every day choices in how we are living and treating eachother and our home. Either we can be proactive and change now, with some time to adjust if we make mistakes, or we can be forced to change soon enough with much suffering endured.

There are limits in this world and we are running into them. Not all things are limited however. If we design our civilization around using the sun's constant daily input, then we can count on increased energy and sustainable "growth" for millions and billions of years to come. However, our society is running on stored ancient sunlight. Millions of years of compressed energy, spent in a few generations all in the name of progress. Now that the "economy" is failing, we must fundamentally look at what our motives are. What exactly are we doing? Why are we in this rat race, where are we headed to and why are we in such a rush?

Its time we start looking at the bigger picture. We all know about our dependence on oil but not many are talking about our dependence on natural gas as well. Natural gas is used for many things, including fertilizers and pesticides for farming, electricity generation, heating homes and cooking food. Not too long after oil peaks we will be peaking in natural gas as well. We are encountering serious problems with our North American supply, and the answers are moving to importing liquid natural gas from the Middle East and Asia. But this is very dangerous and expensive and will only be a transitional solution as eventually the world will peak.

So the future is more than simply switching our cars, changing light bulbs and going organic. Yes we know it is also about changing the way we generate energy and growing our food. But we also need to start thinking about how we are going to be cooking our food and heating our homes. There are solutions to some of these but not for all. Some in my opinion are best solved by living in a different climates where we require less energy and resources.

Further down the line from oil and natural gas we will have less and less coal available, its been researched by Richard Heinberg and other energy experts that we have reached peak coal in the US (in terms of energy density, not quantity of coal extracted). Globally, peak coal will be occurring around 2025. Many countries are reducing their reserves of coal drastically, for example Germany last year reduced their reserves of coal by 90%! We use coal not only for energy but for generating metals and other many uses. Its possible to have a dedicated copicing forest to create charcoal to make metals but this will seriously limit the amount of energy we can use.

Without magical new technologies, we are in for a much lower energy future. A much more modest and closer-to-nature lifestyle. I do not think this is such a bad idea. I think those of us who live the western lifestyle are out of touch with reality, with what is real, such as the natural cycles of life and how we fit in and depend on it for survival. We have nature-deficit disorder on a massive scale.

If peak oil, peak natural gas and peak coal weren't enough we have problems with peak water, peak topsoil, peak food and peak economic growth climaxing with subsequent peak population. The game is over. It's been a fun ride but now it's time to change the rules of living on earth. We must evolve or die.

Our life depends on the life of the planet. We eat what grows from the earth. We are the earth. We really have a lot to learn from the Native Americans and those who live more "primitive" and "poor" lifestyles. These are people who can live off the land in a sustainable way for generations. The Native Americans thought ahead seven generations before making major decisions. We need to start becoming responsible for our actions and care about our future generations if we want them to exist at all. I think soon enough our collective egos are going to be gut-checked, forcing us to humble ourselves and ask for help from the 3rd world, not the other way around.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Chu: 2100 = No more water in California

Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu, our new U.S. energy secretary warns "I don't think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen," he said. "We're looking at a scenario where there's no more agriculture in California." And, he added, "I don't actually see how they can keep their cities going, either."

Thinking ahead to generations in the future, possibly of my own making, if its unlikely to get people to stop using their cars and burning fossil fuels for electricity and making products then it makes wise sense to reduce potential consequences and start moving now to greener pastures. Or we can try our luck and wait and see. I'm sure many will be able to stick around, living off rainfall and producing wheat, dairy, fruit and nuts and whatever lucky imported things the government can ration. Doesn't sound like much fun to me.

The only thing that could slow down the use of cars is high gas prices caused by gov taxes or created by supply and demand factors via Peak Oil. But then we'd have the pesky problems of unemployment and civil unrest... Which could cause the demand of coal to liquids, which is a climate change doomsday scenario. There's also the problems of using tractors, processing and distributing of our food and the related fossil fuel use.

The good news is that it is possible to use biochar to stop climate change. Biochar aka Terra preta is turning organic material such as trees to charcoal and burying it which sequesters co2 while increasing crop yields by building and improving the soils capacity to hold water and nutrients!

Biochar could be the only realistic solution, combined with a massive reforestation project in all climates and soil types, to also remove carbon from the air. Furthermore, the soil food web and all the life that lives with the tree's roots will capture even up to 5 times more carbon than the tree itself! Furthermore, forests would subsequently increase rainfall as well, along with providing material to make biochar, food, fuelwood and habitat for more variety of lifeforms.

But maybe those permaculture solutions are "too primitive" and people would rather hope for the prophetic technofix. Such as an invention to make ocean water desal cheap and abundant and build piping from the coast to the valleys. Or as one crazy friend of mine suggested, to build large pipes from the great lakes all the way to California... sure, that's going to happen! Why do we keep hoping for more technology when we already have the solutions built into nature? Why are we so afraid of natural methods?

On the bright side, it's refreshing to see some truth coming from high ranking officials in the federal government. Hooray for Obama and Change(tm). I'm glad we're starting to talk about it, but the next step is to actually start doing something about it. If I wasn't so busy doing what I can in my own life such as trying to find a place to live to be able to easily grow my own food, I'd help make a plan. However even if I had the plan, who would listen? It is going to take a lot of money or government intervention. So, I hope that someone finds out there are solutions and starts making it happen or gets the plan to someone with ties and influence to Chu and Obama or people in their local government. Spread the word!


Video on Biochar and Soils: