Thursday, March 28, 2013

Inspiration from Joel Salatin: Part 3 - Ethical Food Production

Today it takes up to 10 calories of oil to produce one calorie of food. Joel Salatin from the US, heralded as the worlds most successful farmer, was in Sydney recently where he gave an illuminating talk. By uncovering the inefficiencies of our chemical food system he offers us a better way to treat the land and ourselves. Inspired, I consider how these ideas can be applied on the household level in part 3.

Read previous posts in this series....  PART 1    PART 2

The answer to ethically sound food production...


chickens instead of tractorToday most farms run on linear systems of a single species. This causes the economics to  maximise the yields of a single crop or animal. An "amazing pathology" establishes due to overstocking of one species, opening the doors wide for an increase of species specific pathogens. On the other hand, mixed-speciated farms, where inspiration is taken from nature, allowing a mix of species to co-exist, causes "confused pathogens". There is so much going on that the pathogens have trouble finding their preferred host. On Polyface Farms, cows are cell grazed by keeping them in small paddocks and moving them to a new area of grass each day. Nature's "biological sanitisers", chickens, follow, scratching over the cow manure and adding their own manure.
Machinery versus the pig. Salatin doesn't use a petroleum driven tractor to turn his compost. He adds corn cobs to the piles to ferment. Then he lets in his willing work force, pigs. "We'll work for corn". They turn the compost over whilst going on a treasure hunt for the buried corn, "pig aeration". Salatin asks "What about retirement? We eat them!". "The animals do the work and suddenly it completely revolutionises the way the work gets done on the farm." 


What you can do: Support mixed-speciated food production via:
  • Join your local permaculture group, where you can learn how to use this successful mixed approach to food production in your backyard.
  • Employ poultry in your backyard to scratch over spent vegetable beds, and control weeds and pests. To learn more read Mandala Chook Clock Garden.
  • Ask your local farmers how they produce your food, ask them if they practice a mixed system of production.  

Read the next article...
Part 4 - Fertility Comes From Somewhere Else
 

Friday, March 22, 2013

5 Days of Pumpkins: Butternut

Our pumpkin harvest is rolling in and we are stacking them up to store for our winter fodder. These vegetables come in a beautiful array of forms, sizes and colours, so much so that I was inspired to paint their portraits... 

DAY 5


drawing of butternut pumpkin
I love the soft pastel tones of the butternut pumpkin. Don't let
the commonality of this variety put you off, they are common
because everyone is in on their little secret. Gorgeous smooth
sweet flesh. Cook these anyway you like, roasted, steamed,
put them in a pie, they never disappoint.


View day one's pumpkin....



Thursday, March 21, 2013

5 Days of Pumpkins: Small Sugar

Our pumpkin harvest is rolling in and we are stacking them up to store for our winter fodder. These vegetables come in a beautiful array of forms, sizes and colours, so much so that I was inspired to paint their portraits... 

DAY 4


drawing of pumpkin small sugar
These are delightful little round gems to grow in the garden.
Last time I grew these I was disappointed as they
were far from sweet. I am hoping that our rainy summer
has been better for developing the Small Sugar's
sweetness so they can live up to their name.


View previous day's pumpkin... 

 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

5 Days of Pumpkins: Jap & Butternut Cross

Our pumpkin harvest is rolling in and we are stacking them up to store for our winter fodder. These vegetables come in a beautiful array of forms, sizes and colours, so much so that I was inspired to paint their portraits... 

DAY 3


jap butternut cross pumpkin drawing
I like it when I go out to the pumpkin patch and find things that
emerged with no hand from me. I can only guess that this is a
cross between a butternut and a jap as we had been
eating both varieties and adding the scraps to the compost.
I wonder what it will taste like.




View previous day's pumpkin...
 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

5 Days of Pumpkins: Golden Nugget

Our pumpkin harvest is rolling in and we are stacking them up to store for our winter fodder. These vegetables come in a beautiful array of forms, sizes and colours, so much so that I was inspired to paint their portraits...

DAY 2

 

golden nugget pumpkin drawing
Golden Nugget pumpkins are a small bush variety producing fruit up to 1kg.
This is our first year of growing this kind. We harvested three in total,
each no more than 15cm wide. They are so small and gorgeous,
little pumpkin ornaments, that I can't bear to eat them...
but apparently they are good grated raw into salads.
Mmm... yum!


 View the previous day's pumpkin...

Monday, March 18, 2013

5 Days of Pumpkins: Queensland Blue

Our pumpkin harvest is rolling in and we are stacking them up to store for our winter fodder. These vegetables come in a beautiful array of forms, sizes and colours, so much so that I was inspired to paint their portraits...

DAY 1


Queensland blue pumpkin drawing
Good old qld blue. These are one of the grand daddies of the cucurbits,
at least the biggest in my pumpkin patch. One of them was so big
that I certainly wasn't even going to try lifting it.
Not as sweet as some but good as a wholesome
accompaniment to a tasty meat.
I like to roast mine until the juices ooze.

View the next day's pumpkin...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Busting our electricity bills: Part 3 - Going Solar

Previous posts in this series:        Part 1       Part 2


A few months ago in the midst of yet another rise in electricity costs I began investigating the possibility of going solar. We were already sold on green electricity, but to make it a reality it had to pay for itself, and fast. Our only available budget for electricity was what we were already spending. 

My introduction to life with solar was at an open sustainable house where I left the tour once it reached a critical solar point. The owner of the house could quote all the stats and figures on his batteries, and.... well.... etc etc, I tuned out about here. When he was asked how much his solar system cost, he couldn't say. His fascination was all in the figures. When it comes to living a greener lifestyle, it's all in the earth, the dirt, the green things that pop out of the ground for me. In fact I'd be doing it even if it wasn't a good thing to do for our environment. The tech aspect of a green lifestyle still seems a little at odds with the other aspects of a this way of living (but then here I am at my computer). So it was a plunge in a vast pool, but I did it, I immersed myself in the techy world of solar.  

sun
Opening my local paper and turning on the radio (good old communication technologies!) I found a swathe of solar companies to choose from. A few phone calls and I had two companies booked in to offer onsite quotes. I noted that there were a number of companies that offered online and over the phone quotes, however I would suggest caution with these as those I encountered did not offer a design that takes into account your onsite factors, such as shading from nearby structures, trees etc.  

After review of advertised prices we chose two companies, Solar Newcastle and EcoSmart Solar, both national reputable companies, to quote for us. Solar Newcastle sent out a sales engineer, who determined an appropriate size solar array system for our needs and offered a design option. After noting our vegie patch and chickens the salesman cottoned on that we were likely to want as many panels as possible. I informed him that it had to make economic sense too.  His recommendation was for a 2.5KW split system. Our roof has both north and west facing sides, both options for installing the panels. A split system allows installation of the maximum number of panels that fit on our north facing roof (the angle with maximum solar gain), and the remaining on the west side. This would be a split of 5 and 5 panels. Their quote was $4750.00, which included a discount from a recent promotion.

A 2.5KW system should serve approximately a third of our power needs over the year, based on our consistent usage habits during daylight hours. Our quote was for a back to the grid solar system. This means that when the electricity is produced it is fed into the meter box. This electricity will be fed into the house if any appliances are currently being run. Any remaining will be fed back into the grid, crediting our bill with 7 - 8c per KW hr. Without batteries the electricity will not be stored. Therefore the electricity needs to be consumed in a consistent pattern over the day if we are to maximise the use of our production. Batteries were not an option for us as their costs are currently very high. However the salesman indicated that their costs should lower to a point worth consideration within a few years time. 

EcoSmart Solar sent out one of their tradesmen to offer a design and quote. Being a tradesman, he naturally came with his ladder. He climbed onto the roof and made precise measurements. His design offered an installation of 7 panels on our little bit of north facing roof, two more than Solar Newcastle felt they could install on that section of roof. Panels from different brands, we were informed, differ in physical size. It may be that EcoSmart simply had some smaller panels, or more accurate measurements. 7 north facing panels offer a 1.75KW system that potentially can produce 4 - 6KW hrs per day. The quote was $4439.00.

Mono or Poly? No, this is not a question of what board game to play. These are the two types of silicon used to manufacture solar panels, Mono-crystalline and Poly-crystalline. The panel types go by the same names. Trying to compare the two from my lay persons perspective is like comparing apples with apples. Based on the information Solar Newcastle offered us, their efficiencies are both 15%, both panel types came with 25 year warranties, both were rated to an 80% minimal output after 25 years. I asked the salesman what his preference was. Mono. Mono it is.

Financing solar can be as easy as paying your electricity bill. We didn't have a spare few thousand dollars. Solar Newcastle has partnered with a local community bank Hunter United. Together they offer a two year interest free solar credit card with a yearly fee of just under $100.00. Payment in full is made on the day of installation using the credit card. EcoSmart similarly offered us finance for two years with a 10% deposit additional to the quoted amount. 


Read the next article in this series...

Busting our electricity bills: Part 4 - Sizing Our Solar System 

 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Inspiration from Joel Salatin: Part 2 - Why Are We So Slow?

Today it takes up to 10 calories of oil to produce one calorie of food. Joel Salatin from the US, heralded as the worlds most successful farmer, was in Sydney recently where he gave an illuminating talk. By uncovering the inefficiencies of our chemical food system he offers us a better way to treat the land and ourselves. Inspired, I consider how these ideas can be applied on the household level in part 2. 

Read Part 1 here 


Salatin, a self-described "Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-farmer", is not afraid to challenge the norm. A third generation alternative farmer, he has built on his family's work to develop Polyface Farms into an innovative "beyond organic" meat producer that has featured in countless media including the documentary "Food Inc". On his 550 acre Virginia farm he produces beef, poultry, eggs, pork, rabbits and forestry products. This is sold by direct marketing to over 5,000 families, 10 retail outlets, and 50 restaurants, all within a 4 hour drive of the farm. Salatin believes there is strength in keeping money in one's own community which encourages decentralisation.
 
The "orthodoxy" says that we will grow genetically modified food, and that our food will be irradiated for safety. The orthodoxy also once said that the earth is flat, that the black death spirits will kill you, that blood letting will make you well, and that we will feed cows to cows. Today the orthodoxy says that it is illegal to feed cows to cows. Joel Salatin has taken the stage and announces that he has his PHD, his Post Hole Digger. As a farmer that makes more income per square meter than that of orthodox farms, it seems he is well qualified to speak.   


Why are we so slow? 


ying yang of compost vs nuclearSalatin commands the presence of a preacher. We have a new time of what is orthodox and what is heretic. Louie Pasteur is famous for his experiments that became the basis of the theory of modern medicine. His experiments supported that infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms. Antoine B├ęchamp, Pasteur's predecessor, proposed an alternative, that a diseased body, the "terrain", left poorly defended, will be scavenged by opportunistic germs. He viewed that the PH balance of the body formed an important aspect of the strength of one's defenses, and that germs are not the cause of disease. This became known as the "terrain theory". Today a sick animal is viewed as "pharmaceutically disadvantaged". Salatin considers the alternative "What did we do to breakdown the terrain to allow that animal to get sick?"  Organic farms do not use pharmaceuticals. The neighbours may see this as "bio-terrorism".

At the time the atomic bomb was introduced "scientific areobic composting" came about. Talk about ying and yang. An experiment was later conducted, where known foot and mouth carriers were fed on chemically fertised feed. Other known carriers were fed on feed fertilised with aerobic compost. The cows fed on the naturally fertilised feed became free of foot and mouth, those fed on the chemically fertilised feed made no improvement. Dietary deficiency was the cause. Orthodoxy equals annihilation. In today's orthodox system of barns and cages, chickens are not chickens. Salatin asks "How do we allow the chicken to express its chickeness?". 

What you can do: Allow living things to live as nature intended via:
  • Choose naturally grown and raised food products: 
    • Choose free-range organically certified products.
    • Avoid caged, or feedlot produced meats.
    • Avoid synthetically fed fruits and vegetables.
  • Live your life as nature intended: 
    • Spend time in the sun, breathe fresh air, exercise, eat well and get adequate sleep.  
    • Use natural, chemical free cleaning products in your home, such as vinegar and bi-carb soda.
    • Use natural cosmetics and personal care products.
    • Drink clean, unadulterated water. 
    • Choose herb and plant based remedies to treat ailments. 


Read the next in this series...
Part 3 - Ethical Food Production  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Guinea Pig Tractors

 
guinea pig tractor

It started on the corner. I noticed it one day when walking to the corner store. A cage of hungry mowers siting in the shade of a street tree. Then there was another, across the road and two doors up. Guinea pigs are mowing the verge, their peaceful munching can almost be heard above the din of barking dogs. I am impressed at my neighbours ingenuity. No more carbon guzzling mowers on their strips. What great packages these rodents are. Not only do they keep the grass at bay, but they fertilise and water it too. I am just waiting for when the mowing shop down the road catches on. They'll be boxing up guinea pigs and selling them with a slogan 'The mower of the future has arrived!'. This contagious greening of our street mowing habits is spreading, I wonder who will be next?

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