Natural Building Workshops at Dancing Rabbit

Ziggy from Dancing Rabbit Eco-Village in Missouri asked me to post this re. building courses they are hosting next year:

In 2012, my partner April and I are actually building a new straw bale & timber frame home, and we’re hosting two natural building workshops to get people involved with the construction and to educate folks about alternative means of building. (No reciprocal roof this time, unfortunately!) In June of 2012, we are hosting a two week Timber Framing workshop with a pro timber framer, and will build and raise the entire timber frame of our home using hand tools during that course. Shortly afterwards, we’re putting on a 10 day Straw Bale Building workshop, which will hopefully result in a fully baled building with a rough coat of lovely earthen plaster.

The Year of Mud is hosting two natural building workshops in 2012 at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage — check out their Timber Framing Workshop and Straw Bale Workshops!

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The Rational Optimist on Crop Circles and other Scientific Heresies

New on Skepteco

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7 Billion Minds, 7 Billion Hearts

New on Skepteco:

7 Billion Minds, 7 Billion Hearts

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Skepteco: Peak Oil Personalities

I have just resurrected the Skepteco blog and put up a post on Colin Campbell’s forthcoming compilation Peak Oil Personalities in which I have a chapter about my own “Peak Oil journey”. Other contributors include Richard Heinberg, Jeremy Leggett, Michael Rupert, Jean Laherrere and Chris Skrebowski. I’ll be posting a full review when the book is published next month.

I am moving more in-depth discussions on peak oil, climate change, the fate of civilisation etc over to Skepteco. Zone 5 will continue as a permaculture/gardening blog. To begin with I’ll flag any new Skepteco posts here as well, so please do join me over there when you get a chance!

Skepteco still has a couple of great podcasts that I recorded with Christina, Michael and Eoin last year, one on Can Organic Farming Feed the World? and one of Genetic Engineering, so if you missed them when they first came out, please go and have a listen!

Posted in Peak Oil | 2 Comments

Apios Americana

Just harvested the first apios americana tubers.

Also known as the groundnut or potato bean this curious vegetable is a legume and shade- tolerant climber that produces strings of edible tubers up to about 2″ long:

I bought my original pea-sized tubers from the ART in Devon two years ago and grew them up a support made of reinforcing iron bar threaded through alcethene pipe and pushed into the ground; you can then easily tie wire mesh onto the hoops which stand about 2m high. The apios had been sorely neglected and were competing for both root space and space on the wire with a vigorous climbing berry. I didn’t harvest any last year, it is recommended to give them 2-3 years to get established- the tubers grow away and you can harvest at any time of the year, which is quite an advantage.

Oikos Tree Crops in the States supply larger varieties- but the cost of a plant passport to import them is expensive (which is why I havn’t done so yet.)

I saved most of the little tubers and ate about half a dozen of the larger ones- cooked for 15 minutes, tastes like potatoes with a nice nutty flavour. Quite exciting to finally get a small harvest of this promising crop- apparently with 15% protein content. Will definitely grow more next year and take more care of them! This might also be something that you could establish on the forest garden edge to climb into trees.

Posted in Food, Forest Gardening, Gardens | 2 Comments

ThinkorSwim censor Zone5!

On February 4th this year I wrote a post called Climate Change: Will the Real Skeptics Please Stand up?. A couple of weeks later, I offered the same post to John Gibbons who runs the climate change blog ThinkorSwim, after which there followed a lively discussion during which I was called a “Crypto-denialist” by John and he himself was criticized for publishing it. On returning from my holidays I was looking for the link to send to someone only to find the whole post and all the comments have disappeared: I’ve been censored!

I had only written couple of posts for ToS, which John had invited me be a guest author for on the basis of my having blogged about climate change and the urgent need to do something about it here on zone5.

Clearly as I investigated the issue more- particularly Al Gore’s film- my own views had changed considerably. I was well aware of the backlash I was likely to get were I to begin expressing doubts about the “party line” on climate change, and was in fact rather surprised John agreed to post it- that he did I felt was very much to his credit as an open-minded person -although his contribution to the comments showed him as anything but, as I have commented here.

Fortunately I had kept a copy of all but the last couple of comments which we will have to live without. I re-post them here in full for reference and as one of many examples that may be found of warmists trying to close down debate, resorting to ad hominem, and, most remarkably, claiming that science is on their side in cases when it clearly is not!

Incidentally, a short while after John had closed the debate down, he emailed me in an apparent attempt to persuade me that we should really be on the same side as “we both dislike dogma and ideology” and in support of this sent me, not science at all but a paper by Clive Hamilton, author of Requiem for a Species which I wrote a review of here:

Hamilton seems ambivalent himself about the relationship to of environmentalism and science, on the one hand promoting science as the only way we can know about our predicament, on the other hand arguing that the scientific-industrial revolution has lead to a disconnection from Nature which “led inexorably to a stronger orientation toward a personal self”. While this may be partly true, it seems that it is only same science that can lead us back. Instead, he hints that he would see a return to some kind of spirituality as for our salvation, seeing Gaia as fulfilling this need. Confusingly he asks “If our scientific understanding and technological control over the world allowed us to discard the gods, will the reassertion of Nature’s power see us turn again to the sacred for protection? Will the late surge of militant atheism come to be seen as a Homeric burst of pride before the fall?” Surely reverting to religion or superstition is the last thing to protect us!

Like many others in the environmental movement, Hamilton- and perhaps Gibbons- feel that it is not science that counts here, but rather the need to return to some kind of Gaia-worshiping- and Gaia-fearing- religion: as carbon emitters we are all sinners and unless we undergo the penance of relinquishing much if not all of the benefits of the modern world then the Great Mother will wreak climate chaos on us in recompense.

Finally, I should say however that Gibbons does an admirable job of promoting nuclear power and as such puts himself very much at odds with the majority of Greens. This much at least we do indeed share in common.

Here are the missing comments from that SinkorSwim post: Continue reading

Posted in climate change, Science and Rationaltiy | 5 Comments

American Odyssey Part 2: Permaculture in the Pacific North West

Living mushrooms for sale in the Ferry Terminal Building, San Francisco:

After two weeks of driving it was a relief to bring the car back and get onto the train to Seattle. Amtrak’s Coastal Starlight is considered one of the great scenic train journey’s in the world. Leaving in the evening, it was stunning to wake up and see the early morning light across the plains of southern Oregon.

Volcanoes seen from the train

No shortage of forests in these parts:

Portland had been on the list but in the end I couldn’t spare the time to stop over. This was all I got to see of the city as the train passed through:

A grey and blustery Seattle awaits:

A “P-Patch” community garden brightening up Seattle:

Oregon grape Mahonia Aquifolium in the sculpture park


and the Tango!

After a day looking round the very modern city of Seattle I took a trip into a more primitive lifestyle at Feral Farm, about an hour and a half east from Mount Vernon. Here Matt VanBoven and his friends combine perennial gardens with…roadkill deer. The roadkill- not only deer but that what the fare while I was there- is collected and processed by the residents of Feral farm, the skins tanned, the meat made into jerky or served up in delicious stews. There is a great commentary on Matt from a previous visitor here, with a great photo of Matt and the deer.

There was much discussion of the imminent collapse of the modern world and survival strategies that would be needed thereafter. Matt admitted one of the great drawbacks would be the likely decline of the availability of roadkill post-collapse, and mentioned something about getting a bow-and-arrow (though he didn’t mention how he would manage without the neighbors’ freezer).

Matt was a mine of information about local plants and ecology, and his garden full of fruit. This part of Washington seemed to be berry heaven and new discoveries for me included the Thimbleberry rubus parviflorus:

These are a exquisite- melt in your mouth!

Salmonberries rubus spectabilis are also good- another new one for me:

Matt counting the rings of a giant Douglas Fir

Beneath a giant Western Red Cedar:

In the Forest Garden at Feral Farm

Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca-something I haven’t yet managed to propagate myself

Pokeweed phytolacca americana- something I am growing successfully, often considered just a weed in the US.

Mat had built some really col mini-cabins, this one with cordwood masonry:

In the Northern Cascades:

As in Yosemite unprecedented late snow- we met folks who were skiing here:

Primeval forest:

Oyster mushrooms:

From Feral Farm I traveled to Anacortes with my guide and local permaculture networker Kelda who had arranged for me to visit the famous Bullock Brothers on Orcas Island. We arrived just at the start of the three week Permaculture Design course. Here Sam Bullock gives the students a tour of the farm:

The Bullock’s extensive permaculture nursery:

The Bullocks became famous some 30 years ago after an appearance on the Cool Temperate episode of Mollison’s Global Gardener series, where they demonstrate the results of grafting apple cultivars onto the wild apples growing in their area. Here is Sam Bullock showing something similar:

Although there was no end of fascinating things to see at the Bullocks’ the most impressive to me was their veggie gardens- one beautiful well-kept and productive garden after another serving the three Bullock families and interns.

Elecampane planted as companion mineral accumulator with apple trees:

Amazing chinampas: a “chinampa” is a mini peninsular or “tongue” extending into a lake or pond providing more edge for growing plants which may thereby need little or no irrigation. A Mexican word, chinampas are used there for growing crops. The Bullocks have constructed lakes and wetlands and dredged up mud to make islands and chinampas on which they have planted willows and fruit trees:

Lots of bamboos:

Giant perennial vegetable called “Fhuki” from Japan:

I was asked to give a presentation on forest gardens in Ireland, which I was pleased to do to the new permaculture students, but was rather embarrassed as one slide after another showed plants that, while fairly unknown outside permaculture circles at home, are commonly found in the forests in the Pacific North West, including Salal Gaultheria Shallon

japanese wineberries, siberian purslane, pokeweed phytolacca americana

Doug Bullock giving a talk on permaculture history:

View from Orcas twards Vancouver Island:

After a short stay on Orcas I travel back to Seattle and catch another Washington State Ferry to Vashon Island. Puget Sound is eery and atmospheric in the fog:

On Vashon I stayed with friends and past Permaculture students Bob and Jen who live on a wonderful farm run by the local Montessori school.

Bob inspects the tomatillos:

Bob and Jen pick Basil:

Jen, Jamie and Whitney harvest garlic:

Scorzonera and salsify:

Bob takes me around the forests on the island

Our English Ivy is considered a real invasive exotic here- quite a pest in the woods!

There are quite a few smallholdings and farms within a few miles on this idyllic rural island- which has all the peace of west Cork but is just a short ferry ride away from the huge market of Seattle. This is a farm we visited nearby where they were growing wheat on a small scale:

A previous owner had planted hundreds of fruit and nut trees on Bob and Jen’s farm some thirty years ago, including Turkish Hazel:

I spent most of my time picking cherries

which were sold to Molly Moos’ Ice-cream Parlor in Seattle:

Taking the water taxi back to town:

Mount Rainier dominates the landscape from the train heading back to San Francisco:

Panoramic views of San Francisco from Bernal Heights:

The Madrone Tree Arbutus menziesii, native to the Pacific NW and related to our own Strawberry Tree Arbutus Unedo but with much larger fruits:

Leaving the west coast behind the final stop on the American Odyssey was Upstate New York where I visited Christina and Michael near Warwick. Seems there could always be a job for me there pulling pints of Guiness!

A short hike along part of the Appalachian Trail. This is actually in New Jersey:

Very different forest ecology compared to the west coast, mainly deciduous with maples and oaks. Another permaculture plant eleagnis umbellata is common here.

American Balddernut Staphylea trifolia growing in the hedgerow. Inside the bladder-like sacs are small but tasty nuts:

A visit to Sister’s Hill Farm where owner Dave shows us his rotating root-crop washer:

Solar powered tomatoes!

Sister’s Hill is run with the help of interns and volunteers and runs as a CSA- Community Supported Agriculture- shareholders take a share of whatever is in season each week:

Drying onions:

Wine tasting and tour of vineyard nearby:

Details of vine-pruning on a display board:

Last stop: Manhattan. The Empire State Building:

View from the top with the Statue of Liberty a speck in the top right-hand corner:

Haven in the urban jungle- Central Park:

Times Square:

Posted in Forest Gardening, Permaculture, Tools and technology | 1 Comment

GMOrganic a Love Story

Great little video featuring Pam and Raoul in Davis California:

GMOrganic: A Botanical Love Story from News21 Berkeley 2011 on Vimeo.

Posted in Food, Genetic Engineering | 13 Comments

American Odyssey Part 1: California and the Redwoods

I spent a few weeks in the States recently, mainly California and Washington State. Thought I would share a few highlights and holiday snaps.

First stop San Francisco, which is known for its cool foggy climate in the summer. After walking both ways across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge I felt right at home, as cold and damp as if I had just done a hike up Knoch Bui in West Cork!

Quintessential San Francisco: the flamboyant Gay Pride march took place in the city a couple of days after I arrived.

Even the cops joined in

Funky Graffiti in The Haight

City Lights Bookshop, Jack Kerouac Alley, home of the Beat Generation poets:

The City from Telegraph Hill:

Moving on from San Francisco I hire a car and drive to Davis where I meet Raoul Adamchuk and Pamela Ronald, authors of Tomorrow’s Table, who kindly hosted me at their home and showed me their farm and laboratory.

The day I left San Francisco there was unseasonal rain. I imagined Raoul would be delighted for his organic farm, but actually seemed dismayed: he said they were not generally short of water and an the inch of rain they had that day- exceptional for the time of year- would make the ground much harder to work of course, but more than that cause massive increase in weed growth.

Above: Raoul Adamchuk on his organic farm in Davis University, CA.

Above: Professor of plant pathology at Davis, Pamela Ronald, showing me transgenic rice seeds developed in her lab on campus.

Pamela is involved in basic research on transgenic (genetically engineered) crops the results of which will be available to benefit farmers wherever needed. Contrary to popular belief most of such basic research conducted in American universities is entirely independent from corporations such as Monsanto.

One of Raoul’s main concerns as a farmer is plant diseases, and developing disease-resistant varieties is where he sees some of the main benefits that can come from GE technology.

Next stop Yosemite National Park.

Above: View of the high Sierra and Half Dome from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park

Spot the Bear:

On first arriving in the main car park in the unfeasibly crowded Yosemite Valley, I was surprised to see this young bear-cub hop out from in front of my car as I got out, and scurry away with a very human look of “I know I shouldn’t really be here but don’t tell anyone” look on its face. He had a conspicuous large yellow tag on his ear: the Ranger told me this shows he has been caught near cars before and would probably have to be destroyed as he clearly has a taste for human’s food. This unfortunate situation arises because despite constant pleas and warnings, some of the 5million annual visitors still end up leaving food in their vehicles. The most common cause of bear death in Yosemite is however being hit by cars.

Navarra Falls. A week after I hiked up here it was reported three tourists had been swept to their deaths after ignoring the warning signs, climbing over the barrier and standing on slippery rocks amongst the racing water for a photo opportunity.

Sequoiadendron giganteum My shadow provides a scale: the rings go back 2000 years.

Roots of giant fallen tree, Mariposa Grove.

Below: The Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove, one of the largest trees by mass in the world:

Ok, so it’s hard to photgraoh huge trees with a tiny camera. Here is the top of Grizzly:

Setting off on a hike in Tuolumne Meadows in the higher elevations in the north of the park:

Due to exceptionally late snow – almost unprecedented apparently in July- the campsites were still closed; I was prepared to hike on snow-pack but unprepared to negotiate the multiple channels of fast-flowing icy melt-water, and had to abandon my treck after the firstnight. Stil beautiful to be up there though.

Leaving Yosemite I headed west again crossing California’s Central Valley. Amazing experience to drive all day through vineyards and orchards of peaches, apricots, almonds. California produces most of America’s horticultural produce of fruit and vegetables.

I called into the Solar Living Institute in Hopland, which has some cool renewable energy installations, organic gardens, natural buildings and a huge bookshop.

I was told that the US could easily provide all its electricity needs from solar, the only reason it does not is on account of political lobbying from the fossil fuel lobby- I am skeptical!

Wine tasting in Monteverdi vineyards, Hopland:

Heading over to the Redwood Coast- the Redwood Tree Service Station, Ukiah:

Sequoia Sempervirens Coastal redwoods in the Montgomery Grove between Ukiah and Mendocino:

“Wurt” (woden yurt) at the Orr Springs Resort, great place to stay near the Montgomery Grove, where you have full use of hot springs and natural spring-fed swimming pools. Lovely!

Had to be done: driving through the “Chandelier Tree”:

Avenue of the Giants

At over 350ft Coastal Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world. They only grow on the California coast, and a few into southern Oregon. They are so tall they need to be able to absorb moisture to the higher branches straight from the frequent mist and fog found here.

An absolute must-read if you are interested in the redwoods is The tall Trees by Richard Preston. Incredible story of the maverick characters and scientists who go in search of the world’s tallest trees and climb them, exploring one of the last hidden eco-systems on earth.

The very tallest trees may be over 370ft but are in unknown locations inaccessible to tourists.

The Famous One-Log House!

The photo is dated November 14th 1949:

California coast, heading back to San Francisco:

Botanic Gardens, Fort Bragg:

Near a town called Elk:

Back in SF, living mushrooms for sale in the Ferry Terminal Building:

Part 2: Permaculture in the Pacific North West to Follow soon.

Posted in General | 1 Comment

Summer Break

I’ll be away from tomorrow until the end of July, so blogging may be light or non-existent, although hopefully I will be able to post up some stories from my adventures. Watch this space and have a good summer!

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