Self Sufficiency

Peak Oil and Self Sufficiency28 Jun 2008 04:34 pm

Waiting for veggies

The gardening initiative continues, with mixed success, and is expanding. Some pics here.

So far the deer have been held away from my original veggie patches, though I did change my protection approach recently. The covers I made for the squares themselves (picture) worked ok, but made harvesting a pain (taking the thing off of each square every day was a hassle). Given that, and the fact that I was planting a bunch of perennials (brambles, kiwi, fig) near the veggies, I decided to fence in the whole area (picture). I like the fence much better — once a day I open a cheapo ‘gate’ and get access to all the plants on the south side of the house for watering and harvesting. Pretty soon I’m going to try expanding that fence to include some new planting area behind the house.

While deer are certainly capable of jumping a 5′ fence, I guessed that they wouldn’t be comfortable doing it into a small area. And so far, no sign of deer in there. We have had some smaller animal — presumably either squirrel or chipmunk, both of which we have in abundance — occasionally dig a hole or uproot a plant, but nothing too bad.

Elsewhere the deer are still a challenge. I need to put wire cages around many of the smaller trees I’ve planted, or the deer chew them up.

Some of the learning on the gardening front is just me absorbing stuff I’ve read (umm yeah, if you plant spinach in the middle of the summer here, the heat will cause it to go to seed very quickly). Other stuff I still don’t understand (what is causing my brocolli to grow so slow and scrawny?).

Some of the plants (tomato, summer squash) are starting to take off; I’m very curious to see how well they produce.

Interestingly, one of the bigger successes is sheep sorrel, which was a volunteer from the wild. All I do is water it occasionally and harvest — yum! In a way this makes me happy, because it lends weight to the ideas that foraging from the wild and using natives may be some of the easier ways to obtain food.

At this point the permaculture work is all investment ($ and planting effort) and no payoff (food). Since I’m starting with small plants, it will be several years before that situation even starts to turn around.

This whole effort certainly confirms my earlier notion that obtaining food in ‘the real world’ (that is, without the benefit of ultra-cheap energy) is a quite a bit of work. I probably average over 7 hours a week watering, tending, harvesting, etc., and here I am approaching peak season getting maybe 2% of my daily calories for my trouble.

Peak Oil and Self Sufficiency16 Apr 2008 02:12 am

Earlier I talked about my interest in foraging wild plants for food. Since then I’ve taken my first baby steps.

Spring beauty roots

Here are the wild plants I’ve actually eaten. Warning: Before you try this yourself, you’d better know what you are doing. See Thayer’s book for sound advice. And before ingesting any wild food in quantity I not only follow the steps outlined in Thayer, I also subject it to an edibility test similar to this one.
* Wild onion (grows in patches in the woods behind our house). Pretty strong, you don’t want to eat too much of this at once.
* Garlic Mustard (lots of this in the woods). Fairly strong taste, but good as an addition to salads.
* Spring Beauty (grows in some large patches in the woods). Greens and flowers are good (mild) additions to salads. We’ve only dug up very small roots, which when cooked like potatoes tasted pretty good.
* Sheep Sorrel (grows in a few patches around the yard). Yum!
* Chickory (scattered around the yard and in the woods). The early greens are good, and can be added to salads (more mature ones tend to be bitter). We’ve also tried roasting and grinding chickory root for coffee substitute, with mixed results (sometimes tastes ok, sometimes has a very bitter aftertaste).
* Dandelion (anywhere you are trying to grow grassĀ  ;-) ). All the leaves we’ve tried have been fairly bitter.

Plants I’ve found but haven’t yet eaten:
* Ramp, or wild leek (saw large stands of this in a park we sometimes walk in).
* Mayapple (tons are popping up in the woods behind our house — I can’t wait until they fruit).
* Thistle (there are a bunch of plants along the W&OD trail on my ride in to work, and some near Matthew’s soccer field).
* Cattail (in numerous swampy areas nearby).
* Pecan (in a nearby park).
* Walnut (nearby park).
* Paw paw (nearby park).
* Acorn (woods all over!).

More pics here.

Energy Conservation / Renewable Resources and Life and Peak Oil and Self Sufficiency20 Mar 2008 09:09 pm

Collecting rain water from your roof for use as “gray water” is a great example of something you can do to reduce your footprint on the environment.

I’ve never been someone who waters or fertilizes the lawn, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve washed my car in the last decade (okay, due as much to laziness as to concern for the environment). So collecting water for use around the yard, or to prevent chemical runoff, was never on my radar screen.

But when I decided to start a little gardening project, I became concerned about water use and decided that a rain barrel was in order. After doing some research and a bit of math, I realized that I would do better with several.

I set up the first one a few days ago, and a day later we got a decent bit of rain (a half inch or so). That puppy filled right up — yay!

The multiplier effect is amazing… The cross section of my barrels is roughly 2.6 square feet (and they are about 34 inches tall). The section of roof feeding into that particular barrel is about 900 square feet. So a rainfall of only (2.6 / 900) * 34 inches = 0.1 inch will fill up the barrel. Given the average rainfall in our area, I could collect over 2000 gallons per month from that downspout! I’m not sure what I’d do with it all.

I got four Urban Rain Barrels from the good folks at the Urban Garden Center. So far I’m very happy. Three are now set up at the back of the new room, because the downspout there collects rain from over half of our roof. The fourth barrel collects rain from the downspout nearest the garden. Here’s the threesome:

Rain Barrels

For what it is worth, here was my must-have feature list when shopping for barrels (the URBs meet all of these requirements):
* Has a hefty barrier so that small animals cannot fall in.
* Has a screen so that mosquitoes cannot breed inside.
* Has a removable top so that it can be periodically cleaned.
* Made from a food-grade barrel (not used to store nasty chemicals).
* Can be daisy-chained together, preferably with a large aperture.
* Has a hefty overflow (at least on the last barrel in the chain).
* Everything pre-drilled, and includes all fixtures.

I would have also liked to have some way of trapping sediment (ideally a trap tank upstream of the first barrel, otherwise a tap at the bottom of the first barrel). The URBs don’t have anything here. Looks like my end-of-year routine will include a cleaning prior to draining for the winter (which you should do to prevent cracking due to frozen water).

Life and Peak Oil and Self Sufficiency20 Mar 2008 07:30 pm

Lately I’ve been thinking that our family should become more self-sufficient. As a result, I’ve decided to try my hand at permaculture, foraging for wild foods, and traditional gardening.

I’m still very much in the reading and research stage for the first two topics. My favorite books:
* Edible Forest Gardens, by Jacke and Toensmeier. While these two volumes certainly aren’t the first books about permaculture, they seem to be the premier reference. I’m really enjoying them, and learning tons; that said, they contain a lot of information and are not a quick read.
* The Forager’s Harvest, by Thayer. Fun to read, with lots of detail and great photos, from someone who clearly knows his stuff. He only covers a few dozen species of edible wild plants, but he focuses on those that are really worthwhile and that he has access to, and devotes several pages to each one.

Gardening has a rather shorter learning curve than either of those subjects, and I’m ready to jump into it straightaway. Sometime around January I looked around the web a bit, and Square Foot Gardening was pretty well regarded. Since I had an old copy of (the earlier edition of) that book laying around, I decided I’ll try that approach.

Here’s a picture of my modest little plots, all ready to go:

Square Foot Gardening

I’ve also got a few plastic planters that I’ll be starting in the house and moving to the deck once it is a bit warmer.

Deer are a real challenge for gardeners in our neighborhood. We back up to some woods, and the deer will eat just about any tasty green bit they come across, including plants on the edge of your deck. We’ve also seen a few rabbits around. So I’m going to see how things go with some low-rent chicken wire cages around the plots.

Alex thinks it is all for naught, and the wildlife will still figure a way to clean me out. We’ll see, I guess.

Chris vs the other hungry animals… let the games begin ;-)

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