Friday, 8 October 2010

Update October 2010

How's that for a title?! Yeah, I thought so too.

We're now a month into Spring, and the place is finally starting to look a bit tidy and a bit like something is happening. During the Winter months with the shorter days it's dark by knock-off time, so I get nothing done around the place during the week. Once Spring rolls around, and especially when Daylight Savings starts, there's at least an hour or two of sunshine & gloaming after 5pm that can be spent in the yard, so I get something done nearly every day.

Most of the long grass has been slashed for mulch, only the rocky hill to go, and a lot of the fruit trees have been weeded and mulched. Speaking of fruit trees, the cherry, pears, quinces and plums are all in glorious flower, and the apples are getting close. The almonds are developing a fair crop of fruit for once, so as long as we can keep the birds off them we might actually get some.

The glasshouse is chock-a-block with seedlings, waiting for the last frosts (or our best guess). Some of the new beds are prepared and almost ready to go, properly surrounded with hardwood. I need to get out to the block and collect some more timber to continue with that particular project, but unfortunately the ute I was borrowing from time to time has had a run in with a big kangaroo, so is no longer available. That's a situation I'm really going to need to work on, as there is so much stuff out at the block that needs to be moved, and lack of transport seriously limits the scavenging opportunities a fellow can avail himself of.

We've had somewhere around 15 chicks over the last few weeks, 5 hatched out by a bantam, and I'm pretty sure we've got 10 left out of 12 or so eggs that hatched in the incubator. Not a bad start to the year, and we'll be trading some incubator time with another gentleman for a couple of chooks of different breeds.

Something that really needs to be put on the to-do list is an alteration of the chicken house. The raised floor idea is nice in principle, but it makes all management operations a PITA, even mucking out the pen, which was the original prime motivation for going down that path. The question is whether to build another nearby and move the chooks to that, then disassemble the old one, or to try and retrofit the old one by removing the raised floor.

We've planted what seems like a squillion trees, though it's probably nowhere near that number, the highlight (for me) being that the front hedge is finally underway with elms, grape and a couple of odd trees for a dash of spice (quince and lilac). The DW has planted out a fair raft of stuff up on the rocky hill, and we've even reclaimed the small lawn out the back from the oversized trampoline and put in a (yet another) quince and a ginkgo. The wild hops has also been planted next to one of the box elders, and my birthday mulberry is in the outer chicken run where it's excess fruit will one day contribute to the chook system.

Here's Lilly, Lil, LillyPilly or #@&*! Mongrel, depending on her behaviour at the time (the latter being reserved for special occasions such as when she chewed our first ginkgo tree off just above ground level a couple of days after planting it.) A gorgeous border collie x coolie who can already leap our fences in a single bound.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Crime In Oz

As a member of the SSAA (Sporting Shooters Association of Australia) I've been bombarded with a lot of propaganda from them about the Green's stance on firearms ownership. I thought it worth looking into the reality of the situation, to see just how much of our crime is carried out with firearms. The SSAA offer the statistics covering illegal vs legal firearms involved in crime, so I looked up the more general information on the rate of crimes involving firearms compared to other types of weapons or no weapon at all.

The ABS only offers statistics from 2001 onward, that I could find in a quick search. The figures used are drawn from the document available here titled "VICTIMS, Australia - Publication tables 2.1-2.8" These figures are for victims of crime, and I feel they'd better represent levels of crime rather than using the figures for offenders. Victims report the crimes even if an offender isn't caught to provide statistics.

Starting with crime in general, it's divided up into a few categories, and as can be seen in the graph below, murder and attempted murder are almost invisible in the mass of other types of crime.

We're seeing rates of 260 odd murders per annum, and about the same of attempted murder.

Considering all types of crime, the following graph shows the rates of crimes that involve firearms compared to those that don't.

Out of the mass of crime, those involving firearms are a minuscule proportion. Only around 3.5% of crimes involve the use of firearms. From the SSAA:

The AIC’s ‘Homicide in Australia: 2006-07 National Homicide Monitoring Program annual report’ stated that 93 per cent of firearms involved in homicides had never been registered and were used by unlicensed individuals.

Similarly, the AIC has most recently reported that a miniscule number of only 0.06 per cent of registered firearms are stolen and that handguns are the least likely type of firearm to be stolen.

Only 0.06% of registered firearms are stolen... Handguns are the least likely to be stolen...

In 2009 there were 35,111 crimes (or victims) and of those, 3.5% involved the use of firearms, so that's 1,228 incidents involving firearms. 93% of those involved the use of illegal firearms (the ones that wont be affected by any changes to our current gun laws.) Put the other way, only 7% of those crimes will be potentially impacted by proposed changes, or about 86 crimes per year, or 0.25% of crime.

So what is the basis for the Green's stance? They want to:
28. progress gun law reform, including prohibition of the possession and use of automatic hand guns in the community

Yet time and again it's been pointed out that undertaking gun law reform doesn't impact crime, it only impacts the rights of those who already do the right thing.Criminals will still be criminals, and still have access to illegal firearms. Most crimes involving weapons are carried out with knives (2-3 times more common than firearms in all categories of crime). Following a change to laws around 1997-1998 would we expect an ever increasing decline in knife related crime? The percentage of robberies carried out with knives has remained stubbornly around the 20% mark for the period 2001 - 2009, and around 30% for murder and attempted murder.

Now, I like the Greens, most days, and as far as policies go they've got more that I'd support than most any other party around. The trouble is the only policy they'd have a real chance of getting through would be this one, precisely because it makes no sense, yet it plays on people's ignorance of the facts and the fears that have been manipulated so that once again the mass of public opinion is demonising one group whilst at the same time ignoring reality, and ignoring the true sources of problems.

Why is it that NZ can have a more permissive range of rights for citizens with respect to gun ownership yet not descend into an absolute hellish chaos as anticipated by the gun control groups?

Just in finishing, the following graph shows change in amount of crime as a percentage of the baseline crime rate in 2001. The numbers have been generally improving since that time, though there was a marked uptick in crime in 2006. For some reason crime across all categories increased, but there was a 200% increase in murders involving firearms, and a 400% increase in kidnap/abductions involving firearms. I wonder if there was a big influx of black market firearms in that year, or whether a new breed of organised gangs moved into the the market?

As we progress along the road to a civilisation post-peak everything it will be interesting to see how this last graph may change over time.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Preparing For Spring

We've had busy, and interesting, times in the month (?!) since the last post. Spring is definitely on it's way, the almond has been out in full flower for a couple of weeks, and many of the other trees are getting close. The peaches are showing pink and the oriental plums are about to burst.

Work has progressed slowly on putting new edgings on the vegetable garden beds, and a number of long outstanding jobs, all small enough, have finally been completed. It's funny how you can work around a problem, even if the solution would only take moments. The door to the chicken yard was one of those. You needed to lift it to get the bolt into the hole, yet fixing it by expanding said hole took less than a minute with the trusty brace & bit.

I've made a new gate to go beside the greenhouse area, to replace the wooden not-quite-a-gate that is there now. I'll need to put a new post in due to some configuration issues, but that job is almost done.

I also finally got the spring seed planting underway, with a half dozen trays of seed in the glasshouse. Looks like we'll need to put the shadecloth back on again though, as it's warm enough in there to dry them out in a couple of hours, even when there's a freezing wind blowing outside.

The pruning is now complete, and I've transplanted the currants into new homes amongst the lower orchard. They were slightly up-hill from that location, and the difference in soil between the two spots is amazing. Where they were was a gluggy grey clay (not helped by the ducks enjoying the spot) their new location is a richer, more friable red-brown clay, so hopefully they'll benefit from that as well as the shade afforded by the trees. Their prior location is going to be turned over to maincrops for a couple of years at least. I think potatoes in raised beds for a start to get the soil improvement process going, then maybe winter grain of some kind.

To finish off I'm going to leave you with a planting list, mostly for my own benefit, and your interest, if you can muster such for trays of dirt that may one day bear life. I generally keep a spreadsheet of such things, and promptly neglect to keep it updated. Maybe in blog form it might inspire me to keep better records?

Spring Planting : Glasshouse : 21st August
BroccoliDi Cicco Early.
CapsicumCalifornian Wonder, Chocolate.
Celery Golden Self Blanching.
Chilli Anaheim (We maintain plants of about 4 other varieties in the glasshouse that are now getting on for 3 years old)
CucumberWest Indian Gherkin, Lemon, Marketmore.
EggplantCasper, Early Long Purple.
Herbs & Misc.Meadowsweet, Echinacea (purpurea & angustifolia), Cumin, Chicory, Angelica, Pennyroyal, Sweet Basil, Nasturtium, Luffa.
PumpkinJap, Waltham Butternut.
RockmelonPlanter's Jumbo.
TomatoBurwood Prize, Peruvian Cherry, Cherokee Purple, Roma.
WatermelonOrangeglo, Keckley's Sweet, Small Shining Light, Sugar Baby, Moon & Stars.
ZucchiniGolden Arch Crookneck, Fordhook.
TreesTree Lucerne, Jelly Palm.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Thoughts On The Glasshouse

Thinking that we'd make better use of the solar radiation around-about we took the shadecloth cover off of the glasshouse last week. Not sure if it was the cover providing a little extra insulation that has saved us to date, or just the strength of the frost, but last night we had something of a disaster in the glasshouse. It looks like most of the cotton plants have been badly hit, and a few of the chilli plants, which we've had growing for about 3 years now, also copped a hiding. The tea plant and avocados seem okay, but they may take a bit longer to show the effects.

At the moment the glasshouse is just, well, a house made of glass. Nothing in the way of thermal mass to store heat, and enough loose joints to make sure it doesn't quite work properly. Over the last few weeks, reading along with John Michael Greer's series of posts about Green Wizardry I've toyed with a few ideas about how to make it more useful, or more correctly, how to make it do what I think it should do.

The first of these plans was a great little home made solar hot water panel along with a series of drums containing water. Excellent thermal mass, and should do a good job, it could even be supplemented with a wood/biomass system if needed. In considering how well it would work I got to thinking about the basic design of the glasshouse itself. It's a prefabricated unit of aluminium framing with thin single layer glazing. It's glazed all around, even the roof.

For a start, this is not the most ideal structure, given that the sun only shines from the east, north and west here, south of the Tropics. Why have glass, which is not the best insulator, on the south side of such a building? Why have it on the south plane of the roof, when it's usually so hot in there by summer time that it needs to be cleared of all plants anyway?

I toyed with the idea of covering the back and top with fibro panel or similar, which would allow for the inclusion of insulation, but that still leaves the front faces to lose heat, not to mention the question of whether the frame would support that extra loading.

Having given it more thought I am leaning towards reconstructing completely. It's current location is next to a four foot and more high rock and earthen wall. With a little planning this could be extended and expanded to form three sides of a new structure. By glazing just the northern facing aspects there would be as much light, and not nearly as much heat loss. If the design is clever enough then the glazing will be removable during summer to allow it to function as a greenhouse, eliminating the need to have plants migrating in and out as the seasons progress. And if I try to be really tricky I could build in water storage to act as thermal mass, and that thermal mass might even be able to double as place to grow up a few water plants and fish, allowing the glasshouse structure to fulfill more than one role, and provide for more than one system.

Obviously heating the water with a solar panel might not be such a good idea if one was growing fish in it, but there's nothing to say we can't have two water storages, one heated, one ambient, or even use a different form of thermal mass for the heat providing side of the equation.

In other news, all is going along in it's wintery fashion here, we've had some beautiful days, and some awfully frosty nights. Half the pruning has been done, and work is progressing (only slowly) on the vege garden renovations, primarily due to a hectic social schedule, including birthdays, lawn bowls, and even a trip to Abercrombie Caves (well worth a visit if you ever get the chance) to fill in those two days that separate work time.

There is also the fact that most jobs I do tend to turn into an experimental or creative endeavour well outside their original scope. Cleaning the chicken house out a couple of weeks back, which would normally take about an hour, if not less, turned into a three hour job. I'd often longed for a long-handled scraper to assist in pulling the muck out from underneath the raised house. This time I succumbed to the urge and built one using the steel sheet from an old computer case, a couple of bits of angle iron and tube and a hoe handle I'd purchased but not yet fitted. It works wonderfully, and the DW only rolled her eyes a little to find that the cleaning operation had taken so long and gotten so sidetracked. I imagine that next time it wont even take 15 minutes to get the whole job done!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Do you know where you're going to?

"Do you like the things that life is showing you?"
 Diana Ross - Theme From Mahogany.

Talk about slack blogging! I'd almost forgotten how it works...

Having been so slack there is certainly plenty to talk about now, though the primary reason for the absence, work, will not be discussed except to say there has been plenty of it, and making time for blogging has sadly been low on the list of priorities. After a long day in front of the computer, more time there to blog just doesn't seem so appealing.

Things are starting to quiet down now, marginally, so the time and inclination to gather thoughts and put keys to electrons has arrived!

The farmlet has been cruising along in winter mode, though I guess it was barely Autumn last time we spoke. We've lost two of the older chooks (6+ years old) but all the other creatures are doing well. The vegetable gardens have been planted out for winter production, and are currently (slowly) undergoing a makeover, as time permits. Recycled hardwood timbers are forming the surrounds, with crushed granite for the paths. Getting rid of the grass paths should go a long way toward making managing the weeding easier, and the proper raised beds will provide better drainage and growing conditions, hopefully. We've also made a new space for a perennial bed, currently with our new rhubarb patch, mints and horseradish, which has cleaned up what was a dauntingly disappointing corner of the patch previously.

So where are we at the moment? The last few posts we were in a quandary about where we were headed. We were off to Victoria or Tasmania, but weren't really sure.

The last couple of months have included a development that helped provide a bit of external impetus and a good dose of clarity. The development is more of an un-development, being that we've discovered a happy family of termites munching away at our house. This is not so surprising for an Australian house, but it is concerning if you're trying to sell the place. The inspector reckons they've done a fair bit of damage to the place, but without pulling plasterboard off we can't know for sure.

So we were faced with reducing the price we had put on the place in order to secure a sale, either that or doing some reconstruction to repair whatever damage there was. Combining this with our uncertainty over the idea of moving and we were seriously doubting the sensibility of the idea.

In the first case, we were torn about moving away from here. We've got a lot of good friends, and it's a great community. Whilst the climate is not ideal, and it's a long way from the beach, the community advantages (among others) outweigh the disadvantages as far as considering it from a post-peak oil survival situation.

After a fair bit of soul-searching and considering various scenarios we've decided we're going to stay on here, at the very least until the kids finish their schooling. Stability during those years of life is just as important as any other considerations. And beside that, the Permaculture Designer's Manual has a very good section on designing for deserts if things get really bad here :-)

So where to now? We've started re-assessing the place in terms of layout and planning, re-considering things so that we can attempt to fit even more producing plants in. There's certainly plenty of space here.

We will need to work on the water situation a bit, but there's nothing out of the ordinary that needs to be done there.

The main issue is going to be the house. Our two storey architectural monstrosity is not the best construction to start with, throw in some termite damage and I'm going to sleep daily wondering whether I'll be waking up downstairs in the kids room...

There's a nice spot in the front paddock that can fit a house in, and we've had a brief discussion with Council about it and they can't see any problems with building a new place and then demolishing this one. We've played around with some basic designs and think we can fit a complete single-storey house of equivalent usable size to the current one, into the same footprint as this one (yep, that's how badly this one is laid out!) Given that we already have a livable, if not enjoyable, house on-site considering owner building isn't so far fetched either, though I know DW will want it to be complete within a reasonable period.

All that remains is to sell off the farm block to free up some cash flows, though we can begin certain elements out of our normal budgets with a bit of saving. Planning our own house will be a new experience, and we'll need to figure out things like whether we see a draughtsperson first or an engineer, but all of that sort of stuff should be exciting enough, and keep us occupied while we wait to sell the block. And if it never sells at least our neighbour out there has a nice extra piece of land to use, and we've got a good, if distant, supply of firewood, while ever we've got fuel to get there.

It's funny, but when you're thinking of leaving a place you see it in an entirely different light to when you're thinking of staying. For one thing my shed is much better organised and a lot tidier now (lol) and we've planted a many more trees already. All the other projects that I'd been putting off for a long time, expecting to commence them when we moved to a new place, have also had another look over, things like forges, furnaces, potting sheds, cellars, biogas systems, a pumping system for the pond, the list goes on. Not going elsewhere gives me plenty of time to concentrate on being here, so there should be plenty of activity to report on in the future!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The Political Indigestability Of Peak Everything

Peak Everything is a unique problem, in that it doesn't have a solution, it's not something we can resolve through this or that course of action. It is, as has been pointed out by John Michael Greer, a predicament, something that must be adapted to.

It therefore stands to reason that whenever we're engaged in debate over responses to Peak Everything we will only ever be discussing politically unpalatable "solutions". Politicians like to have clean cut problems that can be addressed by throwing money (variously transformed into resources) at them. The whole notion of palatability resides in how the voters will perceive the response and what impact that will have on said politician's chances of being re-elected.

Peak Everything has only unpalatable responses, which is one of the primary reasons it is not brought to the attention of the public. One of the greatest, if not the greatest, crises to face humankind is swept under the rug as it is not an issue that a politician can address. It's not something they can come riding to the rescue over, they can obtain no glory from it, so they find themselves in a situation where they are better off ignoring it totally, or lying outright about it.

The nuts and bolts and tiny grinding gears of any society are rarely brought to the attention of the masses when a politician is standing before the crowd. They're only interested in addressing the big ticket, high value items that have a lot of political gravity associated with them. Whilst it would be in the best interests of the working person to be familiar with the drudgery and dull numbers of running a society, it is rarely brought to our attention primarily because a politician's job is not to inform about the state of things, but to offer dreams and visions of what could be. It's only via promises of a different, inevitably better, future that a politician can keep themselves in a job.

Therefore humanity is now faced with a crisis that the politicians will never address in a wholistic sense. They're never going to consider the broad scope of the predicament and come up with responses to address it. What they will do is address individual crises, one at a time, in isolation, and in proportion to the number of voters affected.

Addressing crises on such an ad hoc basis is invariably going to be counter-productive. A program that spends resource A solving problem X is fair enough in a world without the resource constraints of Peak Everything. In a world of Peak Everything, such a program is going to cause knock on effects, where solving X leads to shortages in resource A that cause problems Y and Z. If Y and Z are problems with little political visibility then they can safely be ignored until such time as they cause further problems that are politically visible. If, on the other hand, Y and/or Z are already politically visible then the politicians are immediately going to find themselves scrambling to solve the next round of problems, and so on down the line.

That in itself is a valuable indicator of the state of world affairs. Admittedly politicians always seem to be running from one crisis to the next, which is how politics (or at least the media circus that surrounds politics) works. An invisible politician is good to no-one, so it makes sense to have them always running around solving problems. The true indicator will be when every solution they propose and implement immediately leads to a slew of greater problems, and they seem ever more frantic due to their inability to do anything about the majority of them.

Waiting for a politician to do something about Peak Everything is a fool's game.

Take the simple scenario of food supply. In order to preserve votes politicians are inevitably going to provide emergency food relief, but only to larger population centres, in times of food crisis. It's extremely doubtful that they would go door to door delivering such food, and more likely that they would set up distribution centres in central locations. This would, in the event of a long terms crisis, cause the population to crowd about these centres, shifting population densities from locations that could conceivably be turned over to provide basic levels of food subsistence style, into shanty towns that have little hope of looking after themselves. How would they then deal with the myriad problems of shanty towns? Or the influx of refugees from those unprepared regions that aren't receiving food aid?

Whilst population centres do offer a number of advantages, it must always be kept in mind that those advantages come with a price and a risk.

The price is lower autonomy and the prospect of not being able to look after yourself to the best of your ability. For example, even though you might be an excellent vegetable gardener, you may forced to work on a farm for ten hours a day growing broad beans and only get minimal rations in return, in contrast to being more isolated and voluntarily working on your own farm and receiving a hearty meal containing a variety of foods.

The risk? Simply that everything is dependent on the sense, fortitude and goodwill of others, most importantly politicians. Solving X that doesn't really affect you might lead to Y and Z, which both do affect you, but not the majority of voters. You've then got twice as many problems, and you're largely reliant on others to solve them for you. If they decide they cannot run the pumps to get water to your part of the city because they need that water to irrigate the fields in another part of the city you've now got to make alternative arrangements, most likely packing up and moving to where the water is.

Life is going to be uncertain as we head into the age of Peak Everything, the trick is determining where the risks are going to be minimised. Making that analysis depends on examining as many scenarios as possible, covering as many factors as possible.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Religio-Industrial Vegetarianism And Peak Oil

We are currently seeing something of a push by the various vegetarian lobbies to make their diet the official methodology for saving the world from climate change, among other scourges. Everywhere I look these days it seems there are various bits of media chaff designed to convince meat-eaters to give up our evil ways and jump on the bandwagon to save the earth. If only we would all stop eating meat then we would have nothing to worry about, all the plastic consumer crap that pollutes the earth would implode and leave us once more inhabiting a pristine wilderness with clear skies.

Once again we are plagued with a religious radicalism, forced to endure half-truths and strawmen set up to direct people along a narrow road toward a mis-Utopia masquerading as a logical solution to our woes.

Sure, everyone should choose a path that fulfills their ethical goals and lies in line with their moral compass, and many of our problems today stem from the fact that people neglect the re-assessment and re-evaluation needed to chart such a course. There are a lot of problems in the world, but it's certain that none of them can be solved with vegetarianism as a blanket prescription.

Where does the food that vegetarian's consume come from? Sadly, it generally comes from farmland, and may pause on it's journey to the consumer in a factory for further (no doubt energy intensive) processing, typically to be massaged from it's native state into something more closely resembling meat (eh?)

Isn't vegetarian food grown on the same farms where the plough tears through the field, spewing the denizens of that dark and earthy realm out into the harsh sunlight, killing them indiscriminately? Who actively takes on the karma begotten through this slaughter? What about the effects of the pesticides and fertilisers that the earth is salted with in order to raise yields to economical levels? What about the displaced fauna, the birds, rodents and other mammals small and large?

I don't read of many vegetarians that give these issues much deep thought, and any I've pointed it out to stridently insist that what I do is so much worse. Microbes don't have souls, so it's all good from a vegetarian perspective.

Is it? Any thinking person will agree that grain-fed meat must have a cumulative impact, with the burden of both grain growing and raising animals, but there is nothing natural about this kind of meat production, and certainly nothing redeeming, so I would never think to promote it.

What if one were to eat only pasture fed animals? We have a situation where the animal grazes, the worms and other soil organisms are not killed off, and, to an extent, other mammals can live side-by-side with the stock, and birds are only minimally disturbed, usually when the animal they are perching upon decides to take off across the paddock. It's not always an ideal relationship, the farmer still has to ensure the pastures aren't being consumed more by natives than by our introduced food-on-four-legs, but it's a start.

Let's consider it from a basic energetic perspective.

Let's imagine a field, say 2 hectares, with a DSE (Dry Sheep Equivalent) of 3. A DSE of 3 means that each hectare could support one ewe with lamb. A sensible farmer might run two ewes on this land, each bearing one lamb. As the lambs grow, the ewes drop back to requiring 1 DSE each (for a total of 2) and the lambs might require 1 each as they grow, for a total of 4 DSE, leaving 2 DSE, so effectively this small flock could survive on that land.

This gives us 2 sheep for meat each year. Let's say we grow them up to 36kg to try and make the most meat out of our land. This will give us a cold carcass in the area of 15kg, for a total of 30kg of meat for the year.

Lamb, depending on the cut, might give us about 800kJ of energy per 100g, or 240,000kJ (see note below) 60,000kJ of energy in total. To get this energy we don't need to waste buckets of fossil fuels ploughing, harrowing, sowing, spraying and harvesting our crop either. And considering our interest in all things "Peak" animal farming is a valid possibility for a small family.

Note It's been rightly pointed out that I've failed to take into account the muscle to bone ratio in the above calculation. 19% was suggested as a reasonable figure, which would reduce our energy to 48,000kJ. But, but, but! We must also consider that the 800kJ of energy is for lean meat, and in a normal diet (mine :-) ) none of the fat escapes the dinner table. Finding nutritional figures for full-fat meat is difficult, but tells me that even with 1/8" of fat left on the lamb chop has an energy of 983kJ/100g for 58,980kJ. We're also leaving out a lot of other useful sources of nutrition such as offal and bones so we could reasonably expect a total energy in excess of 100,000kJ when all is said and done. I'll provide a figure of 60,000 above to be mean to my cause.

How would we go if we put this land down to soybeans? With a yield of about 3 tonnes per hectare we would harvest 6 tonnes from this land. Soybeans have an energy content of 1.25kJ per 172g for cooked mature beans. Total energy returned: 43,604kJ! We would exhaust ourselves trying to grow and harvest this crop manually, especially if we had to live only on the energy it provided.

So we get 5.5 times more energy off the land by growing sheep! And that's before we even begin to consider the energy costs of production, and the fact that we haven't had to sterilise the earth to grow our sheep. Let me tell you, if we were doing it all by hand (as we well might be once peak everything kicks in) rounding up a couple of sheep is a lot less energy intensive that harvesting an hectare of grain...

Further to these typical production practices, we can envisage a more advanced system drawing on the practices of permaculture to inform a better way. As far as the smallholder is concerned he or she wants to maximise production of food for family and friends in the face of an uncertain future, one where the spectre of Peak Oil, even Peak Everything, and climate change looms above all plans.

Such a smallholder will not be interested in hand ploughing a field, broadcasting the seed and then scything, gathering and winnowing the crop. Far too much energy would be expended, to the extent that the farmers would starve trying to feed themselves.

Far better to build up an integrated pasture and forest system, whereby various animals can graze (sheep, goats, ducks, chickens) in harmony, maximising meat production beyond the numbers supplied above, as well as providing sideline benefits of vegetative produce.

In essence, grain production is a dead-end path. Once yields come close to the theoretical maximum there is very little that can be done to increase them further, without building your own genetic engineering lab and releasing all kinds of virulent filth upon the earth. Fundamentally, each additional species you introduce to a grain field reduces the overall productivity of your main crop.

Only through a synthesis of animal and plant within the growing area can increased yields be realised. While ever we are stuck in the two dimensional realm of the grain crop true productivity gains cannot be made, and so we cannot hope to live well in an uncertain future. It would seem, given this amateurish analysis, that suggestions we will find humanity's salvation via vegetarianism are misplaced. It's doubtful we'd even find the salvation of a single post-peak oil family. In fact, turning the earth over to grain fields might just make all our problems worse.

If you're hoping to survive peak oil, my advice would be to stick with the mixed agricultural systems that are emblematic of most "primitive" societies, and then whenever you meet someone claiming to have discovered the means to salve all of humanity's ills in one convenient spiritual package you will at least have the energy to run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.

Friday, 12 February 2010

And So It Goes

It's been almost a month to the day since the last post, and I can't say a lot has happened in that time. I'll be meeting with the real estate agent on Tuesday to organise for the block to be put on the market. We had had some interest from someone that was looking to buy the neighbouring property, who wanted our block for it's access to the water, but in the end they decided they wanted to be closer to the nearby city. At the time it was a positive sign, because selling the block is going to be challenging, to put it politely.

We're holding off marketing this place now, until we sell the other block. We need a place to live while we wait to clear that one out and consolidate our lives. Just got to hope everything doesn't come crashing down around our ears in the meantime, on both the personal and global levels. It's still up on the internet site, and if it sells, well, that's the way it's meant to be, but we wont be pushing it via an agent for now.

I finished the tiling in the kitchen, well, almost. DW has asked that we tile the back of the cupboard that faces out into the room, rather than trying to do anything else with it, so the job got a little bit bigger, but it shouldn't take much. It's looking a lot better in there, that's for sure.

The newly planted trees survived a bout of heat and have made it through to our current rainy period. It's still hot, and strangely muggy, but at least we're getting some rain, and all the weeds look so nice and green :-P

Further sad news on the vehicle front, we are now without any kind of work vehicle. After the adventure with the little truck, not two weeks ago the trusty ute died on me, right in the middle of Sydney, on the way home after attending meetings for work. It made it all the way down there okay, but just couldn't struggle back, throwing the timing chain as I was motoring back along the M4. Needless to say this has left us in a pretty tight spot, especially considering we've got so much stuff to move around the place to get all the plans in order. There is something of a synchronicity in this as well, even though a negative kind.

Yet again I'm left wondering about the validity of any of the plans we dream up. The Universe is either challenging us or obstructing us, but it doesn't appear to be giving us anything in the way of clear guidance. The various things I read around the place tell me we're heading towards ever more trying times, yet we find ourselves in a position that is, if anything, even less prepared than we were two years ago. It could well be that that is the message, that we need to clean everything up, get it all sorted out, before we can move forward. It certainly started out by cleaning two useful vehicles (and associated expenses) out of our lives :-) Off to a good start perhaps!?

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Let's Try Again

Welcome 2010...

The summer holidays are over now, for me at least, though the kids are still bouncing off the walls for some time to come. In the rush of the festive season we didn't get up to much, though we had plenty of time to sit and consider our options in amongst the celebrations.

Once Christmas was all wrapped up we shared our plans for moving on with the family, and surprisingly got a positive response from all of them, though of course there is the expected concerns over moving so far away and not being able to see the kids as they grow up.

I've spent a lot of time browsing the online real estate via Google Maps, and searching the weather records for ideal spots in our wide brown land. There are a few areas down south that seem to fit the bill, with regions getting in excess of 800mm, and up to 1200mm per annum of rain, with fairly moderate temperatures. There are even some nice properties in those areas within our anticipated price range.

We have also looked over at Tasmania, but the east coast, where most of the properties are available experiences very similar rainfall to our current location, and I haven't yet seen a decent property on the west coast where they do get the rain. The northerly regions were also promising, but they've been ruled out as they'll be experiencing wilder weather as time goes by, and already suffer from things like fruit fly, ticks and disease carrying mosquitoes.

So we've picked a direction, and now have to get the sale of our current properties out of the way so we can start afresh. In some ways it's very exciting, but it's also very daunting as we've collected a lot of useful stuff over the years that we'll most likely have to get rid of. Getting rid of it means starting out with next to nothing again, and getting a property up and running requires a lot of bits and pieces. At this stage we're going to have to jump that hurdle when we come to it. It may be practical to transport a lot of stuff to the new place, in which case we'll select the valuable items that are hard to replace and pass the rest on.

So the first half of 2010 sees us struggling to cope with financial problems thanks to the good old tax office and a complete lack of good, timely, advice from the accountant, and our attempts to sell our properties. With the greatest of luck the second half might see us in an entirely different place!

We've started planting some of the trees we've been growing up here to take to the new place, no point trying to cart them to the new place, and no point planting them at the new place where we wont be able to give them the care they need. We still might put some more out there in winter time if it hasn't sold, as we have a lot of trees and there isn't enough space here to plant them. I guess we could also have a plant sale...

Fun times ahead, let's just hope the world situation stays relatively stable or improves a bit even, at least until we get all this sorted out!

Best wishes to you all for a peaceful and prosperous 2010!