Monday, December 31, 2007

Farming is gardening

Who said farming isn’t gardening

Farming is a lifestyle. Take Christmas day. Father, brother-in-law and I spent about an hour pulling a new weed.

This one is called Despina(sp?) Pea. It’s a short thing, 3 to 4 feet. Well I’m not sure how tall it gets, isn’t that the aim of weeding. You don’t get to see how tall it gets or what colour its flower is.

First time I saw it was last summer, my bother and I pull one patch (unrelated to this years patches).

As an invader, where did it come from? We think its seed was in some hay, brought onto the place as drought feed, 12 to 24 months ago. Given its spread and amount, it must have only been in one load of hay.

It’s also been spread a bit from one of our stock feeding spots. We’ve been cleaning up some re-growth, before the election. This appears to have spread some seed too.

We’ll either get it all or we won’t. If we don’t, we’ll keep hand pulling the stuff until it’s to big a job. Then we’ll move onto other strategies. Hand pulling will put this of for years. That’s good economically and ecologically.


Friday, November 30, 2007

New Governement

Was an election here last weekend.

Change of government, after a 'me too' election campaign. Both sides trying to look like to other in areas where it thinks it is weaker!

Three things happened this week:

At the start of the week, two states announced they plan to let their genetically modified (GM) release moratoriums lapse early next year. Other states are reconsidering. Two have said the are opposed to any releases. No comments from the fed Labor. Soon get to see if Monsanto etal has them in their pockets too.

The 'Agriculture' and 'Forestry and Fisheries' are to be combined under on minister.

Due to a poor performace of the shadow minister, 'environment, water & chimate change' are being split. Peter Garrett (of Midnight Oil's fame) keep environmanet.

The week that was.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Global Warming: the biggest event of the year?

From a Global warming prospective, I think the biggest event of the year has just occurred.

What is it, you may ask. The 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Why do I think this?

Basically, the two lynch pins on turning Global warning around is China & India. There are other important players, like Russia, US, Australia, Canada, Brazil etc. But China & India are special. They are both huge emerging economies and members of the ‘Big Five’ coal nations.

The worst didn’t happen. The worst is that the ‘economics development at any cost’ faction could have gain complete ascendancy. There are socially conscience (anti-poverty) and environmental conscience factions that still hold some power in terms of numbers & positions held.

Basically I think emission global, can only start to decrease once BOTH Chinese and Indian governments think the likelihood of civil unrest & revolt caused climate chance are more likely than civil unrest & revolt caused by economic instability & poverty. Everyone else’s decreases in emissions will just be eaten up by China & India until this happens!


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Permaculture: Lessons from the New England

On Sunday, 23 September 2007, ABC's Landline aired an report titled "Wool industry spreading tree message". The reporter was Pip Courtney.

The New England region of Australia has suffered some wear and tear over the last 150 or so years. This came to a head in the 1980s, with the death of large numbers of mature trees.

Research into the problem has shown that the cause of the problem was an environmental imbalance. Boosted pasture productivity lead to increased insect loads. Some of these species also used and eat tree foliage. Basically, these insect demands overwhelmed the surviving trees, killing them.

The show covered five operations from an in-detail survey of 10 leading landcare leaders from the New England.

The one the interested me the most was ‘Luna’. It’s using a cell grazing system. This system in the result of antidotal observation and research in the grazing impact of the migratory savanna herds of Africa. Basically, heavy graving for short period appeared to be a stable productive grazing pattern. The result is ‘cell grazing’.

Here is the relevant section of the transcript. There are also link to streaming video resources.

TIM WRIGHT, 'LANA', URALLA, NSW: We're sort of realising that it's important to look after the whole. You know, we have more to manage than just pastures and sheep or cattle. You know, there's everything we've got to start to think about.

PIP COURTNEY: The first thing he changed were the fence lines.

TIM WRIGHT: Well, we started in 1990 and we had about 35, 40 paddocks, which was probably a fair few paddocks for that year. And now, 17 years on, we have approximately 270 paddocks.

PIP COURTNEY: Each paddock is grazed lightly four times a year.

TIM WRIGHT: So, that works out roughly eight to 10 days of a year or 95 per cent of the year a paddock is rested, which might sound pretty amazing, but we've increased our carrying capacity, the cost of production has gone down, the soil is in much better shape.

Sadly, there were no figures for the kinds of productivity change that had been produced for this site, over the years.

Cell grazing looks very like tractor grazing of chickens and pigs in permaculture.


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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sustainable House Day

Sustainable House Day is on the 9th Sept, 2007. That’s this weekend.

House locations are on the site, grouped by state.

This Ainslie house look very interesting. The TV grab says it’s water independent and grid connected. It aims to be energy positive in the summer and have some energy drawdown in the winter.

In Canberra, the open houses are on Sunday. On Saturday, there will be open days at several schools and an office building.

Gong to go to a few, armed with a camera.


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Permaculture: Doing things with feeling

Been reading the current edition of E. F. Schumacher’s 1973 classic “Small Is Beautiful”.

In chapter 3, “Resources for Industry”, I’ve just found the provoking paragraph.
It is fashionable today to assume that any figures about the future are better than none. To produce figures about the unknown, the current method is to make a guess about something or other – called an “assumption” – and to derive an estimate from it by subtle calculation. The estimate is the presented as the result of scientific reasoning, something far superior to mere guesswork. This is a pernicious practice which can only lead to the most colossal planning errors, because it offers a bogus answer where, in fact, an entrepreneurial judgement is required.

I think this is the beat argument I ever seen for doing things with/by feeling and being entrepreneurial.

It’s interesting to read a pre global warning environmental book. One of the core factors in the current debate just isn’t there. Yet the core logic and directing is as current today as it was then, during the first oil shock.

Well worth the read.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Carbon: is Algae a solution?

Yesterday, there was a post on the treehugger site.

Its title is ‘Seambiotic: Algae That Clean Up and Put Out’.
The company has built a prototype algae farm consisting of eight shallow algae pools, filled with the same seawater used to cool the coal-burning power plant.

I think this is the core statement of the article. It’s a great concept. In deed, it’s very close to how the biosphere disposes of carbon, via the death of phytoplankton as the Oceanic conveyor plunges down to the abyssal plain in the North Atlantic.

But it not a solution to carbon from coal fired power stations. We are still burning fossil carbon and releasing it into the carbon cycle.

When running the ruler over any solution, my rule of thumb is ‘follow the carbon’!


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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Peak Oil: Wheat prices & media spin

This just can through my news aggregator from Energy Bulletin.

BBC News
Wheat prices have hit record highs on global commodity markets, bringing the threat of rising bread prices.

Bad weather in key grain growing areas such as Canada and parts of Europe has limited supplies as demand has risen, sparking fears of a supply shortfall.

Surging prices are also expected to have widespread fallout for consumers.

While it will mean higher bread prices, it could also trigger an increase in meat and dairy prices as farmers battle to pass on rising feed costs.

Global wheat stockpiles will slip to their lowest levels in 26 years as a result, official US figures predicted earlier this month.
(24 Aug 2007)

It’s spin. In money terms this may be true, and it’s headline grabbing. But is it really true. In terms of hours at medium wage rates, how long would it take to buy a tonne of wheat? How much gold would it take to buy a tonne? Any measure got to be better than fiat paper money!

There are all kinds of rules of thumb. Some measures can be personal, measured in relation to your own experience. I’ve heard of one farmer who uses house prices as a measure. He built a home (average 3 bedroom at the time) in the 60’s and he uses the amount of wheat he would have to grow to build an average 3 bedroom home as his measure. He thinks wheat is about a quarter of the price it was 45 years ago.


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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Trains and peak oil

A few weeks ago, at the start of the Difference of Opinion program titled 'Are We Running On Empty?', one of the panelist Professor Peter Newman commented about rural rail line closures.

Here is the whole transcript

…But we are still building suburbs as though cheap oil is going to be around for the next 50 years. We're still - we're about to close down the wheat lines, the rail lines that go out to our wheat-belt areas, as though trucking will be able to use fuel that's as cheap as it was in the last 50 years. These stupid things have got to stop. We have to face up to a future that is much more constrained. It's not going to run out, right, but it will be seriously more expensive and we're not all going to be able to have access to it. A lot of poorer people will really suffer.

My family have always tried to use rail first. It safer. Less people die in rail related accidents the road accidents. The big trucks used to carry wheat are dangerous and they damage the roads far more that cars.

These line closures are an ongoing process. At home they have been fighting a local closure since the Goss labor government.

Labor just don’t seem to understand that the last section of a rail line will generate the least money. That the freight carried will generate usage and money for all sections of line between there and its destination (usually Brisbane). The removal of a tributary means less flow at the mouth of a river.

So with peak oil and global warming, I think we need to go a step further. Once you decide to not close a line, you should be thinking of electofication. Current most country trains still use fossil fuels (diesel). We are still omitting new fossil carbon into the carbon cycle. With electricity, currently, you would still be powering trains with fossil fuels, either coal or petroleum gas. But, electricity is an energy transportation system, not an energy generation system. You can always convert the ultimate power sources over to alternative energy sources on an incremental basis.

An electrified rail system can ultimately be turned into a non fossil carbon emitting system!


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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Kevin07: is there a bullet out there?

Logging on check mail today, I noticed in a splash headline that Kevin Rudd has a new web site.

It’s called Kevin07. But what does it mean? Cult of personality?

Are we going the American style over substance route? Look like it to me.

So if we are going to follow the American Presidential style of campaigning in future. Will style over substance lead to a frustrated someone introducing another American political tradition, the Presidential Assassination? (I know, RFK was only his parties nomination at the time, for me that is effectively the same, the assassination was a political act)

Is there an Australian Lee Harvey Oswald or Sirhan Sirhan out there?


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Rammed Earth: Albury

More about the Melbourne trip (21&22 July).

Drove back from Melbourne on the Sunday afternoon.

Stopped in at Albury to check out the rammed earth building at a Thurgoona campus of the Charles Sturt University and a local church.

The C D Blake Lecture Theatre is pictured in Sticks Stones Mud Homes: Natural Living by Nigel Noyes. This is how I knew these buildings existed. A bit of googling with ‘Thurgoona’ and ‘rammed earth’ also brought the church to light.

The Lecture Theatre building also has an earth roof over the theatre end.

Arrived at the site only expecting the one rammed earth building. Was delighted to find that most of the other buildings on site where also rammed earth.

Do to lack of planning on my part; I had no replacement for the almost flat battery in my camera. So no rammed earth pics.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Carbon Bumper Stickers

Better late that never.

Last weekend, 21 & 22, I went down to Melbourne for an IT workshop.

While there I was park behind little red Hyundai. It had a big bumper sticker with “This vehicle’s emissions have been offset”, and in small print “Men of the Trees WA Inc”.

First thing I wounded was “Is that for this year's carbon or last years?” Normal Rego stickers have the year of coverage is printed in big black letters on the sticker.

I had a look at their web site, it’s hard to tell, but it looks like their project are what I call ‘percentage coverage’ projects. Timber lines, clumps and alike. Good stuff.

What worries me is project that cover the landscape from fence to fence, creating a monoculture of a given tree mix. Not a mosaic of cover and open country.

My number one option is alternate energy schemes. That is, not to burn fossil carbon in the first place. For me, tree coverage should be a decision driven by the custodian’s knowledge of the land, not by some carbon exchange on Wall Street, The City or Chicago.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Romans: Water engineers

There is a scene from Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ that I really love. It’s the "what have the Romans ever given us" scene.

Reg And what have they ever given us in return?
Rebel2 The aqueduct?
Reg What?
Rebel2 The aqueduct.
Reg Oh yeah, yeah. They did give us that. That's true, yeah.
Rebel3 And sanitation.
Loretta Oh yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like.
Reg Yeah, all right, I'll grant you the aqueduct , the sanitation are two
things the Romans have done...
Mathias And the roads.
Reg Well, yeah. Obviously the roads, I mean the roads go without saying,
don't they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the
Rebel4 Irrigation.
Rebel2 Medicine.
Rebel5 Education.
Reg Yeah, yeah, all right. Fair enough...
Rebel1 And the wine.
Rebels Oh, yeah
Francis Yeah. Yeah, That's something that we'd really miss, Reg, if the
Romans left, huh.
Rebel6 Public baths.
Loretta And it's safe to walk the in streets at night now Reg.
Francis Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order. Let's face it, the only
ones who could in a place like this.
PFJ Huhuhuh. Huhuhuhuhuh.
Reg All right. But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education,
wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system, and
public health... What have the Romans ever done for us?
Rebel2 Brought peace?
Reg Oh, peace. Shaddup.

I want to focus on a group of the related systems: the fresh water system, irrigation, the aqueducts and sanitation.

SBS TV have just shown a 3 episode of documentary titled ‘The Roman Empire’.

The second episode includes a study/poke around the World Heritage listed ruins of the Roman city of Timgad in North Africa.
2: Timgad: Roman Africa – 1 July

The city of Timgad in North Africa is a perfect illustration of the Empire’s impressive system of expansion. It is testimony to the Roman method of cultural domination and assimilation. The program takes a look at this showpiece city, whose purpose was to instill in the natives of Mauritania the desire to become, and remain, Roman citizens. Every stone bears witness to an intense, exhilarating lifestyle, like the traces left by games of hopscotch or marbles, or the telling anonymous graffiti which reads: “Hunting, bathing, gaming, jesting – this is the life”.

The part of the episode covers the city’s water systems.

The city had a water collection and conservation system which provided water for its 15,000 people, plus numerous public fountains and baths. This included 27 public and numerous private baths. The city also had an extensive sewerage system, of a standard only surpassed in the last 250 years.

The city’s primary supply was via aqueducts from springs 3 miles away. Rainfall within the city was captured for drinking and other uses. Storm water run off was also harvested and filtered for reuse.

Other aqueducts carried water greater distances for irrigation of wider farmland areas. Some parts of these aqueducts are still in use today.

These local water systems were integrated into the fibre of the city. The city included house site up to several hundred metres square. This means, site large enough to include permaculture zones one, two and three. Site plan from the 'House of the ship Europa'(named for the wall drawing of a ship) in Pompeii, confirm the use of grape vines, fruit trees, olives, nuts, vegetables, cisterns (water tanks), terraces and plant nurseries (presence of grafting pots & crushed lava together) within a townhouse compound[i].

In a world with cheap energy (oil & coal), the cheapest/easiest way has been to use the low material/high energy solution of building big dams and pumping the water over distances.

In a world where the labour energy cost ratio have reverted to a pre 1750 balance. Material intensive solutions like those used by the Romans make sense again.

In a post peak oil/global warming world, permaculture mean embodying large amount of labour and materials in long lived infrastructure.


[i] Kevin Green, Archaeology of the Roman Economy, Batsford, London, 1986, p. 97 via G.H. Leigh, The World's Greatest Fix - A History of Nitrogen and Agriculture, Oxford UP, New York, 2004, p. 48.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Permaculture: A Crude Awakening - peak oil

Last week, At the Movies on ABC, did a review of A Crude Awakening.

Included in the takes, was part of an interview with Dr Colin Campbell. Seeing this, especially with his accent, reminded me that I have some podcasts that include one presentation by Colin.

These were recorded at the Fuelling the Future Conference (link to podcasts) held at Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland on 18 & 19 June 2005.

There are a number of great podcasts from this conference, including from Richard Heinberg (peak oil author) and David Holmgren (co-originator of permaculture)

A Crude Awakening is on staggered release in Australia, so people are going to have to keep an eye on the papers/net and wait.

If they have got an interview with Colin Campbell, I expect it to be good, detailed coverage of the subject.


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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Context: Green Roofs

Green Roofs for Healthy Australian Cities has a word press blog called Green Roofs. It’s a great source of posts and particularly photos.

A post from the start of May interested me. The Brisbane City Council (BCC) is looking at green roofs in the ‘Action Plan’ that is currently being drawn up by its Climate Change and Energy Taskforce.

For me, it’s an issue of context. Over most of the BCC’s area, green roofs would not be a good course of action.

Where are green roofs a good course of action? I think three factors need to be considered. These are:
1/ Rainfall
2/ Open space
3/ Insulation

Is local rainfall high enough that the addition high quality run off from a hard roof would not be missed?

Is the value of the additional usable open green space is greater value than the value of the addition high quality run off?

Is the value of the insulation provided by the green roof is greater value than the value of the addition high quality run off?

Background: Brisbane is a city currently in a water crisis, due to climate change and a lack of government planning (since an incoming state government cancelled a major dam in the late 1980s).

Over suburban Brisbane, the additional run off would be of great use for both as drinking and garden water.

Only in the inner city, would the value of a green roof as open green space and insulation combine to make is a good choice of action.


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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fined for using home made fuel

The following story just hit Slashdot.

It’s titled ”NC Man Fined For Using Vegetable Oil As Fuel”.
"The News and Observer reports on an Charlotte, NC driver who has been fined $1000 for not paying a fuel tax when he fills his tank with vegetable oil. Perhaps the funniest quote is this one: '"With the high cost of fuel right now, the department does recognize that a lot of people are looking for relief," said Reggie Little, assistant director of the motor fuel taxes division. "We're not here to hurt the small guy, we're just trying to make sure that the playing field is level."' Sure, since the field is so plainly tilted against Arab oil interests.”

Now it may look funny from this side of the pond, but…

A few years ago, there was a situation here (au), where a government backbencher commented the ‘small’ farmers/hobbyist who brewed their own bio-fuels for their own use shouldn't/wouldn't be subject to fuel excise. The federal treasure rebuked the backbencher, saying the all fuel would remain subject to excise no matter who the producers & consumers are or how it was made.

Can't find the story on the net, darn pay walls!


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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Permaculture niche: Dry Climate Trees

Over a month ago, there was an interesting item on Gardering Australia. It featured a visit to the Waite Arboretum in Adelaide.

It highlighted a group of plants I feel fill a permaculture niche not filled by Australian natives, large deciduous dry climate trees. I had been looking to the Med Basin, particularly North Africa.

Here is a batch of links.

Fact Sheet: Californian Oaks

the ecosystems

Wikipedia list 6 ecostytems
* Oregon Oak woodland
* Blue Oak woodland
* Coast Live Oak woodland
* Valley Oak woodland
* Island Oak woodland
* Engelmann Oak woodland

Many species of oak and other tree are listed

The three highlighted species were
* blue oak or Quercus douglasii
* valley oak or Quercus lobata.
* coast live oak or Quercus agrifolia

Imagine these Oaks, in a line north (south in the Northern Hemishere) of the House, shading it in the summer and letting the sun in during the winter. Solar passive design.



Monday, April 30, 2007

Carbon Offsets

In this quarter’s issue of the Alternate Technology Association’s (ATA) ReNew magazine, there is an article about carbon offsets.

The article deals with a number of factors and points. It defines the difference between the two main types of certification. These are the Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) and the New South Wales Gas Abatement Certificate (NGAC).
A REC equates to one MWh of renewable energy. A NGAC equates to one tonne of carbon dioxide ‘stored’ for a hundred years.

Carbon Abatement to me is cheating and consumes a different limit resource, land. Putting land under forest to tie up carbon is silly. You shouldn’t be paid to plant trees. You should be paid when you burn timber instead of burning oil, coal or gas.

For me buying RECs is much better. With that in mind, I looked at the article’s table of offset providers.

The two I would recommend is Climate Friendly and Neco (wind renewables), who are both private companies.


Monday, April 02, 2007

A Tree Farming Paradox

The paradox is that a system design can’t improve efficiency without reducing current effectiveness. There must be a trade off between effectiveness (gross output to time ratio) and efficiency (the output to input ratio)

Since the industrial revolution, horticulture & agriculture has tended towards short cycles, I.e. annuals. This is understandable. With cheap plentiful energy, the name of the game has been effectiveness. Growing as much food & fibre as you can from the land whist trying to reduce expensive capital and labour with energy being the driving input.

With the availability of cheap energy in question. The game starts to swing back to efficiency. I.e. perennials. You improve efficiency by increasing the amount of growing time per planting-harvest effort, by replacing bulk energy with smart compact energy (I.e. labour) and injecting capital instead of energy.

In the industrial age systems, the outputs were food & fibre. In a carbon constrained world, we start to consided energy as a valued output as well.

Here is the paradox. Generally, the higher the efficiency, the longer the production cycle. This mean reduced effectiveness, less food, fibre and energy out per annum.

So what is better, using hemp or timber for paper production?


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Why Planting Trees for Carbon Neutrality is a Problem, not a Solution.

Australian PC Authority magazine’s cover story for this month’s (April) edition is ‘Green Computing’. In the article’s ‘Before you buy your PC’ section, there is a picture of trees with the caption ‘Planting trees allows manufacturers to claim their products, on balance, don’t create CO2’.

The article criticizes the base assumptions the chip makers use to argue the manufactures are Carbon Neutral.

The more general problem with this kind of Carbon Neutrality is that it is not sustainable. It consumes a different, very finite resource; land. Land that we are going to need as we move away from using mined fuels (coal, petroleum and radioactives).

It is okay to use trees that are harvested to produce energy or fibre. These trees are not a carbon sink. They are being used as a pool in the ongoing carbon cycle. Carbon goes in as trees are planted and grow, carbon comes out as trees are felled for timber or to be burned as fuel.

The carbon neutrality described in the article mentioned above is fraudulent. There is no substitute for not burning coal & petroleum for energy.


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Queensland: How the West was lost.

Spent some time at home around Christmas time. There is an interesting/melancholy situation at home currently.

With people selling up or moving to other jobs, it looks like we don’t have enough kids to keep the school bus. People are trying to employee workers/get share farmers with primary school aged kids. Without extra kids, we’re likely to loose the bus during the year. Without the bus, we’re likely loose some of the remaining kids to other schools, local and not so local.

Looks like we may loose the local primary school at the end of the year, depending on what happens to numbers.

Without the local school, it makes it that much harder the keep/get young farmers and farm workers with young kids in the future too. Given that there has been Labor Queensland state governments for all but two of the last 20 years and we’re west of the Great Divide. Once we loose the school, it unlikely we would ever get it back, this side of peak oil.


Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Global warming: $75 billion fix

ABC News ran a story called Sydney given 'doomsday' climate change warning tonight.

Also, tonight (not sure where I saw it). There was talk about the move to lower emission technologies costing Australia $75 billion, in the long term.

Given that there are just over 20 million Australians, that is $3750 per capita. To me that sound like a small price to pay. Too small, but it's starting to get people ready to the scale of adjustments needed.


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