Saturday, May 16, 2015

learn from the cherry tree

William McDonough and Michael Braunart's book "Cradle to Cradle" is primarily about man's design methods for the artifacts we all use, but it is more deeply about our interface with the natural system we are immersed in. ( even though most of our fellow travelers visualize some sort of maginot line between us and the wider world).

 I recommend the book; it is an easy read, as it dives back and forth between big picture systems views and detailed examples to make the lesson stick. It's also the only book I own that is not made of paper, something the authors did to make a point about whole systems ( cradle to cradle) design.

As our young cherry trees bloomed this spring, it reminded me of one little "parable" from the book. The authors point out that the cherry tree, in order to survive as a species, really just needs to get one seed to to germinate and grow into a replacement that will in turn bear the next generation. But the process that has evolved ends up producing an abundance of fruit and seeds for the rest of the local ecosystem to feed on, with a net benefit for the system as a whole. The tree makes the pie bigger, instead of trying to get a bigger piece of the existing pie. ( mmm- cherry pie! can't wait) It's not really that simple, but what they are doing is trying to point out a possible alternate mindset, or design approach than what is common right now.

Is this benevolence on the  tree's part? Is this enlightened self interest? ( if trees can be enlightened) One could delve in to thermodynamics, energy flow analysis, game theory, maybe even spiritual or supernatural underpinnings of the universe, but for me, simply recognizing that this is how nature works, and has worked for millions of years means we should pay attention, and not think we as newcomers  have a better way.

Contrast the cherry tree with the industrial ag cornfield, where the monoculture field is entirely subjugated and dedicated to output for humans. We are taking all the pie, instead of trying to make the pie bigger and leaving some to share. This is only made possible, I should point out, by extreme use of nonrenewable fossil fuel inputs, which won't be available by the time the chestnut trees I'm planting now are at full height in 100 years or so.

While the book then goes on to apply the concept to designing a building, It's even more applicable to agriculture. I now try to think through what this farm should try to aim for and how we might emulate the cherry tree. Permaculture will be our overarching framework, but there are so many things to work out, so many choices, so many experiments that needs started, and the results take so long to fully be understood.

I've never taken a PDC ( permaculture design course) , and probably won't, but I find that as I walk around our land, I am constantly looking at the ground slopes, the water routes, the existing plants, the soil makeup, and try to visualize what might make things better ( value laden word there, I admit). We are after all, a keystone species, and it's time to act like it.
from a prior post:  the rogue keystone species

Saturday, May 9, 2015

closing the nutrient cycle

One of, if not the greatest challenge in the post fossil fuel future will be transitioning agriculture to run with on farm natural inputs, and still get  a yield which we can live on. I need to do more study on the local geology and resultant soil makeup, especially phosphorus, as the surface geology here is very old. Regardless, trainloads of rock phosphate will not be shipped around the globe forever, so we all will need to be better at husbanding what we have here now.

This spring, we took one more step in that direction, with the introduction of livestock to our farm. We just started 30 Black Australorps and 25 New Hampshire Reds, both straight run.

Our plan is to put nearly all the cockerels in the freezer in good time, and get eggs from the hens. All the while, the chickens will be adding to the ecology here, by foraging in pasture, by eating garden vegetable processing scraps, and returning good fertilizer to the soil. Over time, we hope to do more and more to keep improving the nutrient cycle, by adding more livestock, by expanding our composting quantities, figuring out no till gardening, and doing more and more perennial food crops.

We ordered these chicks through the local feed store, but long term plans will include broody hens, selecting for breed improvement, and hatching our own chicks. Harvey Ussery deserves another shout out here, as his book is great for describing all these steps, as well as integrating chickens into an overall farm ecosystem, and will be my main reference as we proceed. Since the photo was taken, we've hung a nipple waterer, and are getting them trained to it. We have also started tossing in plants for them to peck at and get used to being part of their diet.