Thursday, January 30, 2014

Water Footprint (Fin Print?)

Water-wise "Hugelkulture" terraces planted with a Poluculture including Strawberries

This year, members of our household used an average of 26.5 gallons of water per day each.

Just imagine emptying 25 gallon jugs of water, or transporting them from the store in the car!

And yet, several sources, including the EPA, tell me that the average American uses 100 gallons of water per day at home (including outdoor water use, like lawn/garden.) Ironically, Michigan, a relatively wet state with plentiful rain fall, is one of the heaviest water users per capita. Yet another proof of Jevon's Paradox, that Michigan's plentiful supply produces plentiful waste, and that a reduction in demand does not create a reduction in use.

So, for Americans, our baseline starting point is "ok." Especially when you consider that we maintain a very large organic garden with that water use.

But it's hard to imagine that 26 gallons a day is "good." We could use a challenge... and a goal to set. I'm certain we'll reduce our water use over this next year, but I would like to know what "good" actually is. Our current use puts us in line with averages in the UK, Germany or the Philippines.

Does anyone know of any homes that are beating us? Or projections of what our aquifer can sustain? What would be a "good" rate of water use?

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Zen of Permaculture.

Risa Bear, a Blogger I've read for a while now, has started an interesting new blog on "Buddhism and Permaculture." It's basically an effort towards cross-referencing the tenants of the two systems.

Risa's thoughts have inspired me to post a brief series on the topic here. 

I think it may yield some very practical results that can be used in our lives and our gardens.  Think about all the great books on a wide range of topics with titles like "the inner game of this," or "the Zen of that," or "the Dao of this, that and the other."

I look forward to exploring "the Zen of Permaculture."


One step on the 8-fold path, "right desire," mingles dangerously with the Permaculture principle of "obtain a yield."

In Buddhism, "right desire" means wanting things that will lead to true, lasting happiness, instead of false, fleeting happiness.  One element of this is to shift one's desires for health, joy, etc. to include the same for other people, or even "all beings."

First, this points out that we're all connected.

If we pursue happiness in a way that makes a mess out of the community we live in, then we (and our children) get stuck living in a messed-up community! Alternately, a rising tide lifts all boats, including your own. 

And there's an internal benefit, too. As Swift put it in his versus on his death:

What Poet would not grieve to see,
His Brethren write as well as he?
But rather than they should excel,
He'd wish his Rivals all in Hell.

To which I can add:

A Gardener winces when he's seen
Another's yard more lush and green,
He'd rather see their garden rows 
be plagued by horn worms, drought and crows.

It's only natural. But it's nice to find sincere "sympathetic joy" in other people's happiness instead. For me, the more I focus on my work being to benefit others, the easier it is to get over myself and start finding that sympathetic joy.

Permaculture takes the exact opposite route to the same place. For those of us who want to help heal the planet, it's important to remember that our efforts can only be sustainable when we "obtain a yield" for the energy we're expending. We're usually the types who give pretty selflessly. But if we only give energy without getting anything in return, we will overdraw our wells. However, when we can "obtain a yield" from our good deeds, of money, of food, of shelter, of energy, then we can re-invest that back into our efforts. If we're skillful, we can plan our efforts so that they produce a "positive feedback loop" where increasing yields and increasing abundance can be put to work "for the good of all beings" as Buddhists say.

Keeping both sides in mind can help us find balance and can have some interesting practical applications in our Permaculture designs that I will get to in a new essay soon.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Companion Planting--Apricot understory for winter harvest.

While you're planning for the garden year, here's a quick profile of the companion plants that surround our apricot tree. It's too early to call this an overall "success," since the guild is only 2 years old. However, I can say it has been both very low maintenance and provided us with a very nice yield as we wait for our first apricots. And, although fast growth was not a goal for us here but for better or worse, this tree has beaten its expected growth's rate.

Apricot understory:
--Yarrow and salad burnet for chop & drop mulching.
--Woody herbs, oregano, hyssop, and lavender as fortress plants to fight the grass, and to provide woody mulch. 
--Herbs for eating, including garlic chives, burnet, walking onions, lavender, oregano, hyssop, sage, campanulas, (and yarrow.)
--Spring ephemerals for tight nutrient cycling; daffodils, camus, walking onions, crocuses.
--Ever-bearing strawberries to get my attention;
--Clover and lupines for nitrogen.
--Marshmallow and valerian grow together, just beyond the long-term drip line.

A main goal for the larger guild was to provide a perennial winter harvest that's close to our front door. Here, walking onions, camus bulbs, burnet, campanulas, sage and hyssop all provide a sustainable winter harvest without protection, if not over-picked.