Monday, March 18, 2019

A permaculture gathering

There is a young organization here in Wisconsin that is promoting perennial agriculture. Since I am trying to informally use a permaculture approach to our land, I decided to go see what others in the area are doing. The Savannah Institute hosted a gathering for permaculture approaches to food production couple months ago, so I signed up. ( I'm just now posting this!)

My first impression was, there are a lot of people here! Sometimes, when we chose an interest or specific path in life, it might seem eclectic or lonely, but the internet has enabled a lot of people to connect with their tribe(s). We are of course a tribal species. And let's face it, alternatives to conventional agriculture have been ascendant lately, so I thought the showing was good.

Second impression, since I knew no one there, was that there was a kind of "look" to the assemblage. Kind of farmer hipster look? Not suburban, but not full on bibs or clodhoppers? Or maybe I'm just out of touch on fashion for younger generations who also happen to be drawn to the land. Dunno.

I saw mostly young folks, but a few grey hairs sprinkled though the group. The oldsters were  pioneers, early adopters of sustainable food production methods. Good on them. The younger folks seemed to be very networked, and of course, full of enthusiasm, but short on resources to see their plans come to fruition very quickly.

Presentations covered orchard and fruit production, progress of hazelnuts as a new midwest crop, business plans for starting farmers, marketing, research reports, collective efforts, and so on.

Other thoughts on reflecting on the two days: There was a lot of enthusiasm there, both in the younger set, but also in the older folks, who were happy to see others taking up the quest. Farming is hard work, and trying to step away from conventional food production is even harder, but it felt like many there were "mission driven", to borrow a phrase.

The system as it works right now does not make it easy to acquire access to land, either conventional or alternative ways of growing food and stewarding the land. So these young folks have a tough row to hoe, so to speak. I wish them well, as they are the future.



Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The road not taken

Just got back from a train trip from our home in Wisconsin to California and back. We took the route that goes through the Sierra Nevada mountains, and then on in to the bay area.

Sometimes we were next to the interstate, and sometimes, we were off on our own. Had a bit of trouble getting through the deep snow, ended up stopping in Reno, bussing the rest of the way.

Got me to thinking about the condition of the rail system, and what it could have been.

Its genesis could be said to have started with Dwight Eisenhower in 1919. He was part of a cross country Army convoy, to assess military mobility and status of the existing roads. It was a disaster, and the roads at the time were pretty bad, making quite an impression on him.

So, when he later was president during the cold war, the perceived need to easily evacuate cities and mobilize military forces prompted the creation of the Interstate Highway system. Signed in 1956, it took 35 years and almost $500,000,000,000 to build. ( that's with a B)

It created a lot of jobs and spurred economic growth, but what if he had championed another solution?

What if he had decided that the better choice was to upgrade the rail system, and overlay that on the nation's terrain instead of highways? After all, a lot of the right of ways were already secured.

It might have gone like this:
- a network of rails similar in arrangement to the interstate.
- upgraded rails, with a couple more tracks on each route, with beefed up bridges and rail-bed capacity.
-intermodal hubs to enable quick offload to trucking for the final miles to destinations.
-modified curves and bed stability to allow speeds up to 100MPH, maybe more.

And here would be the positive side effects if this option had been taken.
-more energy efficient freight hauling with large energy and money savings resulting.
-cheaper highway system, with much less semi truck traffic to tear it up, and lower load capacities, with cheaper construction and maintenance costs.
- a better infrastructure to piggy back passenger train travel, making for fewer car trips needed.
- probably less air travel, both for freight and for passenger travel.
- traffic in between towns would revitalize small towns, most of which now are bypassed by interstates.
A couple shots of our trip through the Sierras ( sorry for poor quality, overcast and through a train window)

Hard to tell scale, but these cuts through the drifts were done with giant snow blowers, and the cut is higher than my head in most places, and about ten feet in a few places.




Saturday, January 26, 2019

half way there

Just finished burning half of the firewood I split for this winter. Since it is toward the end of January, I think we'll make it to spring.
(This does not include my contingency cord of wood in the old shed) A cord of wood is a volume four feet by four feet by eight feet. ( 3.6 cubic meters)

So I wondered, on a long term sustainable basis, how many acres of woods does one need to heat their home in our climate?

We are at roughly N43 latitude, with pretty cold winters. ( It got down to -18F (-27C) yesterday, and they are forecasting -26F (-31C) for Tuesday night, but these are about as cold as it gets)

Tending outside chores was not too comfortable.

I did some googling at forestry and wood heating forums, and a rough average is 1/2 cord of wood per acre that can be harvested in perpetuity. There is obviously a wide range, depending on soil, rainfall and climate. Since we have been burning around three cords each winter, I need six acres (2.4 hectares) to heat our home.

In the rural areas of America, and here in Wisconsin, there are no natural gas pipelines, so most people heat with trucked in propane, though some regions heat with diesel fuel. And what about the cities, where by far the most people live? Natural gas is relatively cheap right now, but it will not last. There is a lot more to sustainable living than this but just the one example of home heating shows how precarious things could get.

I've been fortunate enough to afford buying land which has around  15 acres (6 hectares) of woods, so this home will be ok if fossil fuels fade, especially after I get more good quality trees planted. But what about everyone else? Even if they could afford the land, there is not enough for everyone.

This is an old photo from last fall. It is about 1.5 cords, or half of our annual firewood use. We currently have around eight inches of snow on the ground.


Friday, January 4, 2019

top predator job opening

In southwestern Wisconsin, as in some other areas of the U.S., the white tailed deer has made quite the comeback in the last few decades, and is in fact a problem for the ecological balance in many areas.

We killed all the wolves.

Deer are overeating their terrain, preventing any new trees from taking over as older trees die, and generally affecting the "normal" plant community distribution.

I'm not sure it was quite the intent, but now we need to step up and take on the job of being one of the predators with a specific role in the ongoing predator prey balance that goes on at all scales in a complex ecosystem.

The new twist here, is that because of the overcrowding, CWD ( chronic wasting disease, a form of prion infection similar to mad cow disease) had been spreading through the herds, as there is more deer to deer contact. Hunters are actually encouraged to take more than one deer in specific areas that the Department of Natural Resources has determined need thinning. We need more predators.

So this winter, I did my part and took a nice buck, which we will be eating soon. I'm not what you would call an avid hunter, or very good or dedicated at it. If the deer were not wandering around in our woods, I would not go elsewhere looking for a hunting site. In fact, I get bored sitting in a tree stand for hours in the winter cold, but had some good luck and took a good shot.


This is the deer after I field dressed it and drug it out of our woods.

I view deer hunting as one more part of land stewardship. The DNR does annual assessment of deer populations, and sets deer harvest regulations to try to keep a good balance for the ecosystem health. In my area this year, one deer hunting license permits you to harvest one buck and four does. That is a lot!