Archive for July, 2008
Several times at NEPC, reference was made to the book A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. When I got back to town I went straight to the library to get it. Sadly, it was out, but another book, The Timeless Way of Building was in, and I’m glad for this happy little accident [sic].
The Timeless Way of Building (Volume 1 in the series) lays out, methodically, the difference between a built environment that is alive and one that is dead, what makes it possible to create the living one, that is a shared pattern language, how it is possible that normal people like you and I can build these living environments, what a pattern is, how to recognize one, and how to build a shared language of patterns and combine them in specific methods of design. A Pattern Language (Volume 2 in the series) is then, one attempt to build such a language that has general applicability.
Since Permaculture is all about design and a lot about pattern, I am glad to have stumbled onto these books. Which is not to say that they weren’t explicitly recommended in my PDC, or even by Mollison in the DM- they probably were. But they are both critically important books, IMHO, for Permies everywhere.
Here’s Alexander’s definition of a pattern:
Each pattern is a three-part rule, which expresses a relation between a certain context, a problem, and a solution.
The Timeless Way of Building, p. 247
I believe this is what Dave Jacke was referring to when he said a pattern is a way in which conflicting forces get resolved. This is also another way of restating the Permaculture principle: “the problem is the solution.”
Further, Alexander shows how we can discover these patterns.
- Pick a kind of a place- entrance, window, garden, tree grove, sidewalk, path, hedge, whatever
- Look around for good and bad examples of this type of place
- Try to isolate the property the good ones have in common. This will not be a simple property, like a color or size, but will be a relationship
- Look at the bad examples and define what the problem is with them
- Expand the problem with any additional information you may have about it, generalize it. What does the space need to accomplish or solve?
- Identify specifically the ways that the good patterns resolve this problem
- Give this pattern a specific name which will clearly identify it
This is a very specific and detailed form of “protracted and thoughtful observation,” and is quite similar to the ways both Mollison and Toby Hemenway suggest to identify guilds. Zone and Sector analysis is very good at quickly locating components in an overall site, in a general way. Alexander’s method seems to me much more definitive when you get down to the details of where to place the actual greenhouse, swales, paths, compost bin, chicken coop and so on in relation to each other and to existing components, within or across any zone/sector analysis segment.
The garden, I have to say, has not been hugely productive, at least not in the areas that I sheet mulched this year. Everything seems to be growing VEEERRRYY slowly. I have some hypotheses about what’s happening here. My soil, it turns out, though easy to work with, is probably not very rich. The sheet mulching should improve this next year and compost in years after.
Where I have had good success was in the raised beds I sheet mulched last year. I put in a polyculture seed mix of lettuces, calendula, chamomile, carrots, beets, kale and beans at the north end of one bed, and this has done really well. I’ve been cutting the lettuce for about 6 weeks now, but most of them are going to bolt or have already started, so I’m harvesting full heads now. In the other bed I started with garlic which I put in as an afterthought last year, but I have about 15 medium to small heads. The heads in the raised bed (sheet mulched) are about twice as big as the heads from the herb garden (single dug, with topsoil added and bark mulch). I’m thinking now I need to pull all the herbs out in the fall and sheet mulch the herb garden to get that some nutrients.
The broccoli is looking pretty decent, but I need to start cutting it as it is bolting rapidly. I understand you can cut and come again, that heavy mulching and water help, so I’ll see what I can do to extend the broccoli harvest.
Meanwhile I’ve started thinking more about echinacea, which does really well in this sandy soil, unlike the clay we had down in Honeoye. Originally we wanted to do echinacea there as a cash crop and I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t a good place to try that experiment.
Last night, R. sent me a link to an Albany Times-Union article based on investigations by WNYC and ProPublica about the gas drilling nightmare. Today is the deadline for the Guv to sign (or not) Assembly bill A10526 which streamlines the permitting process and greatly increases the permissable well densities.
This morning the audio popped up on TOD: Local. I highly recommend listening to this, and if you are a New Yorker, call the Governor’s office and ask for a veto.
[UPDATE 7:27 PM EDT]
Unfortunately it looks like the Governor signed the rushed-through last minute bill. What’s quite disturbing to me is that, according to Judith Enck (interviewed on WNYC yesterday), the bill was actually written by the DEC staff. Patterson is also directing the DEC to do more assessment of the impacts to water, air, noise, soil and so on. Will the staff be beefed up? Probably not as NY is facing large budget deficits. But how will the DEC have time to do all the research and assessments necessary? They’re obviously busy drafting legislation at the behest of the gas companies to streamline their permitting and making it easier to put more wells in.
[UPDATE 7/24 12:17 PM EDT]
Found a blog on Barnett Shale in the Fort Worth Basin area in Texas, which is apparently the formation most similar to Marcellus. I have an opportunity to attend a conference in Ft. Worth in September, so I hope to check out some of this first hand. Some of the reports are showing leases worth $17,000 per acre signing bonus, with royalties of 25%.
I watched Escape from Suburbia the other night. Phil and Tom are featured in the film, and I wanted learn more about what they are doing in NYC. The movie covers a number of efforts across North America to deal with and find solutions to Peak Oil, and secondarily Climate Change and poverty, mainly through local food production. At least local food production was a theme.
What was most moving to me was the segment on LA’s South Central Community farm, a 14 acre community project at ground zero of urban gardening. This farm had private plots for 350 local families who grew food, medicinals and ornamentals. They started a market because people there were growing things not available anywhere else in LA. Horrifyingly, the city took back the land and sold it to a “logistics” company to build a warehouse there, because “people in South Central need jobs.” Despite community action and protest, the site was bulldozed on camera while the urban farmers could only look on in despair.
Carolyn Baker points out in her review what this means. Relocalization is not currently threatening to the powers that be, but will be soon, and we can expect a very nasty backlash. This example is just a taste of that. I’m relating this to the Archdruid’s post a couple of days ago about the misconception that collapse will somehow mystically be okay, and not too violent. I doubt that. The image I have of collapse is not a bunch of spontaneously emerging ecovillages, but something like New Orleans, post-Katrina, times every major metropolitan area in the world. I see pain in our future.
The conclusion I’m coming to, inescapably, is that food, relocalization and gardening are political. The good news is that gardening also seems to be a great way of organizing people in a way that doesn’t overtly seem political. In other words, like me, it’s only after gardening for some years that one comes to understand that gardening is political.
There seem to be two approaches to fighting the Beast. One is to go head to head, like Gandhi, Mandela or MLK. Another is to go underground like the mycelium network and stay off the radar until there is enough strength or pain to stand and fight. The danger is that being underground can become comfortable and the standing up never happens, or it gets co-opted before the groundswell.
When I took the PDC down in Hancock, a big and growing concern of my other classmates, who actually live there, was gas drilling in the area. Catskill Mountainkeepers have put together the best summary on the issue I’ve seen. I’m linking to that in response to the Pickens Plan link (Drumbeat July 8th) on The Oil Drum. Shifting natural gas to transport doesn’t solve anything, and I’m guessing that Mr. Pickens has some $ interest in Big Wind.
Today was an awesome day! I was able to get hot water for my coffee this morning, then went for a little walk and found that despite it’s strip-mall and industrial park cosmetics
Chicopee has a heart of gold. I took my coffee down to the parking lot and started looking at the flora when I noticed an old road or path running behind some shrubs and decided to explore further. Some black caps, black-eyed susans, milkweeds, sumacs. Then I came around a corner and found myself in a state park. Walking further I found a swimming area which turns out to be the Chicopee reservoir. Thus, it’s a short five minute walk from that to this:
I was completely astounded by this, and spent some time there to start the day. I went back for my camera and tried to drive there, but couldn’t find a way! Walking was the most direct method. After a McSaussage I went on the the Convergence.
In the morning Ethan Roland ran a session on Scaling Up, that is how we can work on bigger projects or think about bigger projects. He put an interesting twist on “succession” asking, what do we need as designers to accelerate our inner, as well as the outer, succession. There was some discussion about building community and Ethan specifically demonstrated a design that was not accepted. He said he didn’t know why, but it seemed clearly that there was not buy-in or ownership from the community, some lack of trust by the community for the landowner based on history. This started to emerge as the main theme for me: it’s not the designs, it’s the social and hidden structures that will ultimately determine whether our designs get implemented.
Steve Gabriel made a similar point in the next session- that most designs don’t get built. This was a very instructive presentation on his experience with FLPI, their relationship with an existing Not-for-Profit, the dream vs. reality (”where the rubber hits the road,” Bill would say), and some successes. I was starting to conclude that small was good, that the way to go big is still to expand small successes, join and network the nodes of permanence as if they are components in a design, a bigger design.
After lunch we had the first two events of the Permie Olympics, which involved eyeballing elevations for a swale, then speed digging. There were I think five teams and the result was two nice swales built in a couple of hours for fun and for free.
After lunch, Phil and Sharon gave a talk on their experiences trying to get diverse, multi-cultural (”people of flavor”), urban permaculture going in NYC. I want to talk more to him about the specifics of his experiences, what worked and what didn’t. They seem now to have got a core site at a community garden in Harlem, and have had a very successful PDC where 23 of 24 finished the course. He also talked about financial issues of pricing and chasing down payment and scholarships, which I want to hear more about.
Dave Jacke then led a roundtable on issues related to certification and organization within the movement as a whole, and I found myself contributing some models that might be helpful, and questions about standards being set purposely at a very low level to generate quick growth. As Mollison says, we can’t possibly do worse than the way things are being done now. I’m wondering whether the certification wasn’t Mollison’s way of not dealing with centralized authority and structure. I’ll probably get struck by lightning for saying that. I was glad to add to the discussion, and the point was made several times during the day that the ideas generated by newbies were often very interesting and productive. We’ll see.
I got to talk to Tom and Martin a bit afterwards which was cool, the discussion leading to Bateson and patterns among other things. Some books I need to get:
- Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander
- A Long Deep Furrow- Three Centuries of Farming in New England
- Luscious Landscapes
- Human Ecology, or books on this topic
After that my brain was pretty much moosh. Looking back through my notes there’s a ton of material that will be fodder for future posts. For now, my stomach needs food.
This giant greets you when you get off the Mass Pike in Chicopee, which makes me VERY glad I’m staying at the Motel 6 here!
The ride up with Kai was great. Turns out his mom is one of the few midwives still doing home births, and she was our backup for our second daughter. We have a lot in common and started brainstorming ways to get the word out. He’s getting his Certificate in August at Finger Lakes. Steve Gabriel is presenting tomorrow, so hopefully they can hook up together.
Brian managed to make it down too and we were introduced while touring Tierra de Oportunidad farm, somewhere between the goats and the Paso Fino horses. He remarked that he thought he was getting away from the farm for a few days, only to be back on the farm.
The farm itself is pretty amazing- 30 acres in the heart of a highly developed industrial city. Four acres here form the main entrance and “public facing” part of the farm, but behind this is another 26 acres of amazing veg and animals. I’ll try and post a picture of that tomorrow.
I met a bunch of folks including Tom and Philip who post at Energy Bulletin, then Eric who gave the keynote, which basically boils down to “get to work!” We need a Permaculture Platform on issues such as Energy, Transportation, Consumption, Poverty, Education and so on. We also need some plant breeding programs to do things like make air potatoes hardy in the northeast. He demonstrated the shared design process that the farm underwent to reach its current state, what the elements would be and how they would be placed. One thing that he said that continues to become more clear to me is that we do not lack for technical solutions to all these problems- they boil down to social and political problems.
Tomorrow looks like a monster day. I’m looking at sessions by Ethan Rowland (Scaling Up), Steve Gabriel (Starting a Permie Project), Kay Cafasso (Natural Building) and Dave Jacke (the Certification Issue). Eric’s also going to conduct a tour downtown to the Nuestras Raices Centro, and then there’s…
Permaculture Olympics featuring Dale Swigging, Contour Conundrum, Salad Forage Triathalon and other events. I wonder if we can field a team?
Anyway, it’s getting late and my new playlist is almost finished, so I’m going to hit it. Will check in again tomorrow.
I’m getting ready to head off tomorrow to the NE Permie Convergence in Holyoke, MA. Got a call today from a man in Springwater looking for a ride share, so I’ll have some company and meet someone new. Also got an e-mail from Brian saying he was going to head down from his internship in Ashfield, MA. I posted a link in the Permaculture section to the NE Permaculture Wiki which looks to have a fair bit of useful information and established community. I talked on the phone to one of my cohorts from the Hancock PDC this spring, and I’m jonesing for some Permie get-together.
My plan is to live-blog or pseudo-live-blog the event. I’m bringing my iPod and mic, so I may try to get a podcast going. I’m also bringing the camera, though video is out for this time. I want to start lo-tech. I also want to be present to what’s going on there, unseparated by a camera, so I may do most of the work at night in the motel.
Meanwhile, I wanted to give an update on what’s going on here at home. Monday night a friend gave me some sorrel, bronze fennel, lupine and a baby horse chestnut, and I picked up some asparagus by the side of the road and got that all transplanted. In my walks I’m seeing a lot of sumac which I’ve pretty much considered a weed, but which appears to be a fast-growing nurse plant for berries, grapes, roses, nightshades, strawberries. So I’ve transplanted a couple to an area between the spruce and red maple that faces the main street, to start to build some privacy and nurse a shrub area- honeysuckle, dicentra, cherry, blueberry I’m thinking- that will also attract birds. We found a small infestation of Japanese Beetles on the northwest side of the house in the dicentra there. Apparently, knocking them into soapy water seems the best way to get rid of small batches. They don’t appear to have any natural predators, although some web sites state that grackles, starlings and chickens will eat them. I don’t really want to get into nematodes and bT.
The hierloom tomatoes I got a couple of weeks ago have been pretty thoroughly trashed by the deer. They must be tasty because they’ve left the romas alone. I got rhubarb chard and some of the onions in the other day, and I’m going to put the tomatillos in where the munged tomatoes were. Everything seems to be growing rather slowly, which I’m trying to figure out. The lettuces are looking good, we’ve been eating a lot of salad, and I’m getting some peas now that the weather has turned cooler and wetter. The Liberty apple closest to the walnut does not look too good, but the Cortlund is doing nicely. I need to put some intervening leguminous tree and a mulberry between the walnut and the liberty to mitigate the juglone effect.
I started a water feature over the weekend to start moving water from the downspout near the herb bed over to the high point of the property where the pond will eventually go. I want a little rock-faced stream bed that will look nice whether there’s water flowing or not. I’m looking for some roofing slates to build up this water feature to flow the water from the downspout to the streambed. This all sounds romantic, but right now it’s some wet concrete slab and dug up dirt. I will post pictures when I get it working. As the Permies say: “happy little accidents and sad little failures.”
This morning I made my first trip to Rochester’s world famous Public Market in over a year. As part of my family’s attempt to get our finances in better shape, we’re looking at our food spending and cutting back wherever possible. I knew the Public Market was open most days during the week and I could stop by before work, but then I’d have veggies baking in the hot car all day. Y. said, “why not just put a cooler with some ice packs in the car and keep them in there?” Within a day I’d found a free cooler sitting by the side of the road and I was set to go.
So here’s what $13.50 got me this morning:
- five heads of garlic
- three large cucumbers
- seven large carrots
- a pint of limes
- a pint of lemons
- a pint of blueberries
- five plums
- a pound of grapes
- four tomatoes
I believe this is about half the price I’d pay at the local supermarket. Plus, these things I bought today usually taste like fruits and vegetables as opposed to tap-water taste and tennis-ball texture of stuff shipped here from Chile or Bakersfield. This gap in cost highlights the huge chunk of food prices being taken by the supply chain, and the quality gap makes another argument for localization. I’d rather be supporting the farmers and getting good food rather than supporting the BigCos and getting garbage.
Even on a Tuesday morning when the place is really quiet, the Public Market offers a lot of variety- tons of peppers, locally grown beans (including favas), potatoes, apples, annuals and perennial plants, not to mention the garage-sale fare. An added benefit is getting to chat with the vendors, or at least say good morning. Usually the most charitable thing I feel like saying at the supermarket is “can you get that f*$@ing restocking cart out of my way!” The Public Market and various farmers’ markets are just so much more friendly and pleasant.
The local paper ran a story on all the markets popping up all over town, and some of the more established players were complaining that there wasn’t the demand to support all these, yet I believe the demand will catch up, especially as they start to become more present and convenient.