News and Blog

A sporadically posted forum on permaculture and sustainability related topics. Posted when the urge to write something worthwhile presents itself, and I make available time. Most likely during the Winter months.
Posted 1/23/2008 8:36am by Leaf Myczack.

Two weeks ago in my blog, I criticized the role of land grant colleges that teach industrial-type farming techniques, calling it bad soil science, and a waste of an Ag- student' s time and money. Higher education should be about using knowledge to improve our way of living with the Earth and with each other. After thousands of years of agriculture activity, one would hope that tillers of the soil had come to understand the life processes occurring under our feet. However, when viewing modern agricultural practices, the sad conclusion is that short-term profit has trumped good soil science.

"It takes time to do it right," is a familiar cliche that nonetheless is a valid truism. Doing it right does not usually lend itself to taking shortcuts and skipping steps.To maintain and enhance soil fertility requires a process that is compatible with natural laws. It requires unbiased observation, patience, and an understanding of what is at stake, both short-term and long-term. Those who practice natural organic gardening and farming display an earth-based awareness not found in the conventional farming arena.

The most widely used and concentrated source of agricultural related nitrogen is a potentially deadly inorganic chemical product called anhydrous ammonia. Worldwide, 109 million tons were produced in 2004, with 80% used in agriculture. It is most commonly produced from natural gas (methane) or liquid petroleum gas (LPG) (propane and butane) feedstocks. It must be kept under high pressure, is caustic, corrosive, toxic, can cause severe chemical burns, and requires special handling. It has been labeled the most potentially dangerous chemical in agricultural use today.

It is widely used because it once was a "relatively" cheap source of quick concentrated nitrogen. Although the price has increased considerably in recent years, farmers have grown dependent on it use. It is most widely used in the nation's "corn belt" because it can grow corn year after year, without the need for crop rotation. Corn is the foundation piece of American food production, with corn syrup sweetner being the leading ingredient of overly processed food. However, as one might expect from this type of chemical abuse, use of anhydrous ammonia leads to poor soil health, therefore negatively impacting human and animal health.

The relative health of the soil can be judged by the ability of the soil to digest organic material. When essential soil microbes are present in abundant numbers, the digestion rate is quite rapid. At our natural organic farm, garden plots must be frequently mulched as the organic cover material is constantly consumed into the soil at a rapid rate. A three inch layer of mulch will start showing patches of bare soil within six weeks during warm weather. By planting time in the spring, there is no trace of last summer's crop residue, having been organically incorporated into the topsoil without tilling or plowing.

On the other hand, I have walked in industrially farmed corn fields in early-summer. The new corn was waist-high, yet underfoot, the residue from the previous year's corn crop was plainly evident on the bare ground and showed negligible signs of decomposition. Digging in the plant-free soil between the corn rows revealed no signs of earthworm presence or activity. The soil lacked that earthy smell of humus, and was difficult to crumble by hand. Small gullies marked the sloped fields where rain had failed to soak into the ground, and instead had run off the land, eroding soil into the river.

Healthy soil does not stay bare for long, as native seeds and plants quickly re-establish a green cover. In our fertile plots, nitrogen-fixing beneficial white and red clover spreads like wildfire unless it is mulched back. It is our guarantee that the land will remain a vibrant life force, even if left fallow. Our healthy topsoil is too precious to lose to erosion or chemical degradation. We cherish it as the source of our very sustenance as food consuming humans.


farmer leaf

 


Posted 1/16/2008 7:20am by Leaf Myczack.

Early accounts of European explorers on the North American continent are laced with descriptions of the seemingly endless forests they encountered. Colonial powers immediately took axe to fell trees for ship building material in order to expand their conquest and empires.

The history of the United States is set against a backdrop of "clearing the land' of those forests. First it was done in the name of agriculture, then it was the mantra of progress that justified the destruction of our woodlands. Today, we have seemingly lost sight of our symbiotic relationship with the trees of the Earth. Forests are viewed as commodities, their value reduced to board feet and metric tons of pulp feedstock.

When we took over as the latest human occupants of this small eleven acre farm, we could count the number of mature trees on two hands. The majority of them were clustered around the farmhouse. The remaining three were down at the lower edge of the farm. The land had been "cleared" for cattle raising, and having been overgrazed and poorly managed, resembled an open, dry wasteland.

Our first priority in creating a sustainable farm was to establish surface water sources (rainwater ponds). In order to maintain this newly introduced water source, we had to re-establish another major component of the hydrologic cycle-trees. It was with this concept in mind that we launched the "Lost Forest" project.

My most memorable lesson in soil building came about from sitting quietly under a woodland canopy. In the silence, I could hear a continual dropping of organic material to the woodland floor. Little bits and pieces of leaves, bark, twigs and insect droppings lightly rained down in what is a perfect example of sheet composting. My thought at the time, sitting in the cool shade on a hot summer day, was that trees are perhaps the most intelligent example of sustainability.

With the "Lost Forest" project, we want to recreate that native intelligence that is so obvious to the careful observer. To that end, we began to plant a mixture of trees that would thrive in a hydric (moist) soil setting. We planted low in the drainage, and we mulched heavily with woody debris in order to mimic a woodland earthen floor. When the extreme drought of 2007 threatened our young saplings, we pumped the liquid effluent from our septic tank onto the woody mulch.

In spite of blistering hot weather, the ground moisture (black water) we introduced gave the trees what they needed to not only survive, but to actually thrive and grow noticeably larger. In three short years, the trees are forming the beginnings of an overhead canopy. They are now capable of shading the root zone, and can produce enough biomass to begin the self-composting that builds a sustainable fertility in the soil.

"Lost Forest" is both a demonstration project and a reason for hope. With today's climate change producing weather anomalies that threaten our ability to sustain ourselves, our interaction with the tree reforestation program indicates that we are not without recourse. It does however, point up the need to rethink our relationship to the trees which make life on the planet possible. To this end, we have vigorously promoted the recycling of lumber as we rebuild the infrastructure of our once crumbling farm.

We heat with wood, build with wood, eat from trees (fruits & nuts), moderate climate with trees (shade and windbreaks), and fence with wooden posts. We are in fact, totally dependent on trees for our livelihood and well being. In order to complete the sustainable circle of give and take, we devote a significant amount of our time and energy to the planting and care of trees. It is a relationship well worth fostering.

farmer leaf

Posted 1/9/2008 10:37am by Leaf Myczack.

Due to our modern, rapid pace lifestyles, many people now suffer from the hurry, hurry, hurry sickness. As a result, we have become a culture of quick fixes. With instant message gadgets, instant credit, "fast food," Fed Ex, etc., we have come to expect quick action and results with little input from us. This is also true in the modern, US Dept. of Agriculture promoted farming practices. Farmers are led to believe that spreading a bag of synthetic fertilizer, or spraying a toxic poison will instantly improve the quality of their land.

On the face of it, the type of agriculture taught in most land grant colleges is not only harmful to soil, water, and air, but also a waste of time and money for the student. What passes as science behind the doors of academia is so lacking in real world merit, it is difficult to understand how people can believe that industrial-type farming is actually workable.

Soil is not depleted overnight, nor even in a year or two. It is a slow process of leaching out the vitality and fertility of the soil, and not replacing what's used with natural organic-based soil amendments. With the wholesale decline of the small family farm, the agricultural circle of take and return was severed. Sustainable family farms grew their own feed, which was fed to their animals, who then produced a rich fertilizing manure that could be returned to the feed growing field. Farming was conducted in a circular manner.

Corporate farming on the other hand is compartmentalized and linear. The feed is raised in one place, the livestock in another. Feed and hay are moved hundreds of miles from where they are grown by river barge and highway truck. CAFO's (concentrated animal feed operations), where animals are packed into pens or buildings and fed hormone and antibiotic laced feeds designed to promote quick growth, produce tons of manure daily that become a major source of pollution and disease. Fetid waste lagoons and manure saturated disposal areas contaminate rivers and streams during rain events.

In industrial farming, the rich fertilizing manure is far removed from the fields where the feed (and fertility) was harvested, so another source of fertilizer is needed. Today, that means a synthetic fertilizer (petro-chemical) derived from natural gas is used. It is toxic, caustic, and expensive.The only way to truly enrich soil is to provide the soil and soil organisms the "food" needed to renew and replenish. The process of feeding the soil results from the application of organic matter.

When I was a boy, one of my chores was to clean out the leaf mulch in the flower beds each spring. Pulling the wet thick leaf mat off of the soil exposed damp, loose soil full of earthworms. The leaves were hauled to a disposal area on our land which we called "the dump." After a week of being exposed to the sun and wind, the garden soil was no longer loose, moist or full of worms. It didn't look as alive and healthy as when I first pulled off the mulch cover. On the other hand, "the dump" was where we went when we needed worms for fishing. They seemed to thrive under the piles of decaying leaves and brush. My first garden was planted in "the dump," as my family was not willing to sacrifice lawn for potential food.

Soil is a complex structure, full of symbiotic relationsghips between minerals and organisms. It has countless components that all function in a manner that sustain and perpetuate itself. It does not naturally lend itself to quick changes. When we attempt to "spike it" with some sort of miracle grow formula, we get in the way and do harm. Using chemical fertilizers betrays our ignorance of the complexity of natural systems. There is no quick "magic fertilizer" that can replace the slow, natural decomposition of organic matter necessary in building soil fertility.

 

-farmer leaf

Next blog to be posted Wed. Jan. 16, 2008

 

Posted 1/2/2008 10:11am by Leaf Myczack.

The Georgia Office of Climatology has forecasted that the current exceptional drought will continue through the Winter and Spring of 2008, which is bad news for all of us. We ended 2007 15 inches below the average rainfall total for the year. If you are concerned about having enough rainwater to grow a garden this coming year, then we encourage you to check out our webpage on rainwater collection workshops.

When I was going through my Boy Scout experience fifty years ago (I'm 62 now), we had the Boy Scout motto "Be Prepared" drummed into our heads by our ex-Marine scoutmaster. It is good advice that has seen me through all phases of my life, including a fifteen year stint as a RiverKeeper that had us making numerous wintertime crossings of the Gulf of Mexico in a small, hand-crafted sailing vessel that my wife and I designed and built. Preparedness kept us from being "lost at sea" and/ or drowning.

Today, it is apparent that the "normal" weather patterns have changed, and have now been replaced by climatic extremes that have thrown the natural and somewhat predictable cycles into disarray. Reactions to this fact have ranged from official denial to individual panic. We have witnessed the governors of Georgia and Alabama, two states being devasted by the current drought, proclaim a day of prayer in hopes of overcoming the lack of a comprehensive statewide water policy. We have witnessed others engaging in wishful thinking that somehow the "weather will return to normal", and thus end the crises. And still others have begun to stockpile bottled water as a survival mechanism. What all of these responses have in common is a failure to look at the big picture in a comprehensive manner.

If people want to pray for rain, or engage in wishful thinking, okay, but don't let that prevent anyone from also developing a legitimate plan and executing it in a timely manner. Summertime is not that far off, and if we wait until the earth is parched once again, it will be too late to "Be Prepared."

Preparedness must begin long before the event. Otherwise it is a reactive reflex instead of a plan, and while sometimes winging it can work out favorably, it would be foolish to adopt this approach in lieu of real planning. One could begin with a household or personal water needs / water allotment assessment. How much daily, weekly, monthly water do I need? How will I supply my daily, weekly. monthly water needs? What is my backup plan to meet this need if my primary source should prove unreliable? How can a change in my behavior and / or conservation play a role in meeting my water needs?

These are basic questions to help you get started in being prepared for an event that is unfolding now-and that is the continuing drought. We have been asking these questions for over twenty years, and have arrived at some effective answers for our own situation. As we learn to tweak and update our plan of action, we are also ready to pass this information on to you in the form of workshops and seminars so that you don't have to re-invent the wheel and waste precious time. We are getting prepared, are you?

 

 


Posted 12/26/2007 9:07am by Leaf Myczack.

One of the main characteristics of commercial food production is the quest for uniform appearance of product. Taste and nutrition it seems, play a secondary role for the suppliers of mega-sized food outlets. American shoppers have been conditioned to judge food by appearance alone. No matter what type of produce you look at, the impression is that fruits and vegetables come blemish free, have uniform color and size, and grow year round. Lost is a sense of seasonality and product diversity.

The real foods movement began in California over 40 years ago and started with peaches. A small family farm grew an hierloom peach as its' primary crop. Tasty and quite delicious, the peach had one aspect that hurt it commercially. It seems that where the fruit was shaded by contact with the tree leaves, it would not produce the same color as the rest of the exposed to the sun peach skin. It in no way affected the taste of the peach, it only affected the color of the peach skin. Because each peach was slightly different in color from the others, it was rejected by wholesale food buyers who wanted a product with a uniform color. Fortunately a woman with more brains, vision, and taste buds than these corporate food suppliers, came to the rescue and began a local foods movement based out of her restaurant. The rest is history.

A garden or orchard is a collection of micro-climates; more sun here, more shade over there, more soil moisture here, a little drier there, soil composition slightly different throughout. As a result, plants have slight variations, even those growing next to each other of the same varieties. A prime example is purple top turnips. We grow a lot of turnips each Fall from seed we saved from the previous Spring. Our customers remark how wonderful and sweet they taste. The turnips come in many shapes and sizes. Some are round like balls, while others are long and more cylindrical. Others are more squat and flatish. All are tasty and nutritious. Most would never make it to the super-market shelf because of this hodge podge of shapes and some superficial blemishes.

Eggs are another example. We do not grade our eggs by size or color. When you open a box of our eggs, your eyes will be greeted by a diversity of shapes and shell coloration. This is because we have many different breeds of hens, although even within the same breed there can be great diversity in color and shape. Again our customers return again and again because of the wholesome taste of our farm fresh eggs. However, we have lost some business because we couldn't supply uniformly large eggs, or folks couldn't get past the multi-colors (shades of brown, and green) of the egg shells.

Uniformity of color or shape comes with a high environmental cost. Sprays, food dyes, and food waste are employed liberally in order to get the desired results. Perfectly good food is rejected, not because it is inherently inferior, but because it "doesn't look right."

The "Eat Local" food movement has addressed this issue through the advent of small organic growers like us who provide the customer with the same quality food that we eat. When you know who grows your food, and how it was grown, the need for uniformity of appearance seems irrelevant at best. Diversity is not something to be avoided, but embraced. Our customers are a diverse segment of our community, and for that we are grateful.

-Farmer Leaf

 


Posted 12/19/2007 7:44am by Leaf Myczack.

In the last weekly blog, "Restoring native soil fertility," I described how we accomplished this task of enriching the soil here at the Broadened Horizons Farm. Now I would like to list some of the benefits of undertaking a long term, methodical soil enrichment program.

The most obvious benefit of fertile soil is that one can feed themself with wholesome, highly nutritious food. As the soil fertility improves, the quality of the product also improves. Appearance of produce is not nearly as important to us as nutrional value. We grow some wonderful "standard profile" specimens, but we also grow a large number of "irregular" shaped and slighly blemished produce. What matters for us is how it tastes. Good soil adds good taste to the food.

Our customers in search of nutritionally loaded food understand the health benefits of eating wholesome food grown organically on healthy soil. They have come to appreciate the superior flavor and strong natural color inherent in our farm produce. There is nothing weak or pale about our food. Eating healthy food from healthy soil should make the eater healthy, whether it be human, or livestock.

Healthy, naturally balanced organic soil resists plant diseases and pathogens, weed pests, and soil-borne parasites, eliminating the need to spray poisonous insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides on the land. If one has trouble growing healthy crops with good seed, then the problem lies within the soil. The answer is not to harm the soil with chemical quick fixes, but to build the soil to enable a long term and sustainable improvement to take place.

Fertile, well aerated soil drains water from the surface which prevents surface puddling, which in turn can drown plant seedlings. Conversely, it helps retain moisture during dry times. The soil fertility encourages an abundance of beneficial earthworms and organisms, which in turn enriches, oxygenates, and aerates the soil. This in turn creates more plant matter, which will be returned to the soil as "food" for soil organisms. Re-establishing this self-perpetuating circle-of-fertility is of the utmost importance in creating a sustainable garden or orchard.

Loose, fertile soil is easy to plant in, and guarantees good root penetration. When planting, I mostly use a small, pointed masonary trowel for potatoes, garlic, and onions. I just stick the point in the soil, wiggle it back and forth a couple ot times, and then drop in the bulb or tuber, and let the soil fall in on top of it. The results speak for themselves. The same at harvest time; a gentle wiggle and tug to remove the onion or garlic or potato vine. This eliminates damage to the food through accidental slicing or stabbing by eliminating conventional digging methods.

Fruit trees in fertile soil can accelerate their growth sequence through their early stages, thus reaching fruit bearing maturity up to five years earlier than trees in mediocre soil. If a fruit tree or berry cane is advertised as tolerant of poor soil, don't keep it there-enrich the soil until it mimics your best garden soil. The better the soil conditions, the better the growth and disease resistance of the fruit tree or berry cane.

In summation, fertile soil is easier to use, grows more food with less time and effort, and produces a more nutritious product. It costs time to work in a disciplined, harmonious manner with the soil under our feet, yet in the long run we save ourselves from lots of money related expenses. And we have the satisfaction of knowing that the soil fertility and harvest improved under our stewardship.

-farmer leaf

Posted 12/13/2007 10:16am by Leaf Myczack.

Back in the early seventies when I was just entering the world of agriculture as a vocation, an older  woman named Ruth Stout had been dubbed by Mother Earth News as the "queen of mulch." Her approach was to never till the soil, but to just keep adding mulch to her garden. When it came time to plant, she simply parted the mulch and placed her seeds on top of the ground, then replaced the mulch. My initial attempts to duplicate her method ended in dismal failure. What I had overlooked at the time is that over many years of mulching, she had built up wonderful friable soil.

With my failure to replicate Ruth's success, I reverted to the shovel and fork and turned up and over the garden soil. It was hard and exhausting work and slow. In subsequent years we used a horse to plow, and although that is also hard work, it was much faster. The downside was that caring, feeding, and sheltering the horse took lots of extra work. I resisted a mechanical tiller for a number of reasons; cost, fuel, noise, pollution, but most of all, the destruction of earthworms and other beneficial soil dwellers. Today we use Ruth Stout's method with great success. What changed?

In Bill Mollison's "Introduction to Permaculture,"  he writes that "the soil ecology, over some years and with the proper attention, can be changed and improved." He also states that "bare soil is damaged soil, and occurs only where people or introduced animals have interfered with the natural ecological balance. Once soil has been bared, it is easily damaged by sun, wind, and water." Conventional cultivation of the soil then not only damages soil life processes, but may even cause more extensive soil losses.

At the Broadened Horizons Organic Farm, we practice a form of no-till cultivation that is based on thick mulching of the ground in order to suppress plant growth. We have an arrangement with a local horse farm (two miles away) to pick up all their stable litter. When they clean the horse stalls, they pile it up where it is readily accessible to load into our truck and 4 X 8 utility trailer. Each week we move a ton or so of this manure / litter mix to the farm and pile it on our crop growing areas. We then turn the chickens loose to pick through and level the piles. They cheerfully do the work- a) because chickens love to scratch in loose organic material, and b) there are little food treats of corn and oat kernels for them to eat.

A six inch layer of this litter will suppress and kill mature fescue grass in a couple of months. By the time the litter has rotted down and is safe to plant food crops, the ground has turned a rich black color, free of all but the most persistent deep rooted plants such as burdock. These few holdouts can easily be dug out. After the seed has been planted, we mulch the ground with grasses we cut from our field areas. We also use wet leaves from drainage ditches when available. This activity mimicks nature in that litter from dead plants is deposited on top of the soil and digested from below. The ground covering mulch enriches the soil, prevents soil moisture loss, suppresses undesireable competing plants, and feeds beneficial soil organisms. 

This same process of soil enrichment can be duplicated anywhere if we view all the organic litter generated by nature on our lot or homestead as a resource. We would do well to abandon the myopic contemporary view of it as "yard waste."  In the natural cycle, there is no such thing as waste, only organic resources.

 -Leaf

Posted 12/4/2007 7:34pm by Leaf Myczack.
I am not the only one confused about what season we are experiencing. The calendar of course says we are in early December, and therefore it should be nearly the season of winter. That would mean wet and cold under “normal” conditions. A time when most plant life is dormant, and the abundant seasonal rain and snow turn the land wet and squishy underfoot, but not so this year.

Probably due to the severity of this year’s drought, many trees and plants went into a seemingly static state. Almost all-new growth stopped, and plants and trees seemed to have allocated themselves the existing minimal ground moisture reserves based solely on survival and not on expanded growth. While a plant’s normal goal is successful reproduction and perpetuation, it usually creates a healthy and vigorous plant before forming the reproductive organs / flowers. It was fascinating to watch a portion of a plant’s foliage die off in order to have enough moisture to form a seed head. Some plants mostly skipped the foliage to concentrate on creating the next generation.

Early into the drought, it became apparent that we would not have enough irrigation water to take care of all of our fruit trees or berry canes through the summer months if the drought deepened. As farm water resource manager, I made the decision to allow some of the fruit trees and berry canes to naturally shut themselves down in response to the drought. My intuition told me to step back from the role of farmer and take on more of the role of scientific observer. I believed that through evolutionary response to the vagaries of weather and climate, that plants would have an appropriate response to soil moisture shortfalls by going dormant. Subsequent plant activity bore out the correctness of my belief.

However, when we entered a cycle of more regular rainfall beginning on October 19th, a strange phenomenon occurred. Responding like desert flowers to a rare rainfall, plants and trees sprang “awake” and began to exhibit new growth even though the normal growing season was supposedly winding down based on the shorter daylight hours available. Warmer and wetter than normal weather during the month of November fostered this late season growth spurt. Our rose bush next to our farm sign acted like it was spring and produced big red roses in time for Thanksgiving. The methley pear trees are still leafed out at the ends of branches and they exhibit the pale green tips of unfolding new growth. They seem oblivious to the occasional frosty night.

In a protected niche behind the greenhouse, purple salvia merrily bloom forth at the same time that paper-whites are pushing up slender leaves. Other plants are burned to a dead crisp by the icy death grip of a hard freeze, while some saplings seem reluctant to yield their leaves, as do some of the mature trees nearby. It is as though the summer growth cycle was suspended for a couple of summer months, and then rescheduled for the fall months. Plants from different seasons are growing at the same time, when normally their growing paths would never cross.

While plants may have evolutionary response mechanisms that work to protect them, it would appear that a combination of extreme weather anomalies this year has disrupted the once normal seasonal transitions of many species. As farmers, we must learn how to successfully operate within these new and unique climate gyrations. As part of a sustainability-teaching farm, we are ready to share what we learn with those who seek information on weathering these new agricultural challenges.

-Leaf

Posted 11/28/2007 7:00am by Leaf Myczack.

The community weather climate is influenced somewhat by the collective micro-climates it contains. For example, a tree filled neighborhood, with minimal vehicle traffic will normally be slightly cooler on a summer day than say a commercial strip along a major thoroughfare. It can even subtly change from yard to yard depending on the topography, vegetation, shade area, etc. Most micro-climate areas around a house and yard will occur where there is summertime shelter from the hot sun, and wintertime protection from cold winds. Above ambient moisture such as found with a creek, pond, or water-garden, or even roof runoff, will also produce a micro-climate.

So why are micro-climates important? Let's begin from a strictly economic perspective. If you had the ability to positively alter the temperature around your house a few degrees year round, you would significantly lower your energy consumption. Energy costs are on an upward trajectory and they will only get more expensive.

The two weather conditions we face are heat and cold. One low cost, natural factor that can address both issue are trees. By planting the right type of tree in the right location, one can block summer sun and winter wind with equal efficiency. Conversely, it would be counter-productive to block summer breezes and the winter sun. So it is very important to plant the proper type tree in the proper location.

Our farmhouse was built as a low cost "starter house" with a conventional design based on the road rather than the sun direction. The majority of glass was on the north side (facing the road), while the south wall had large solid runs punctuated only by two small and one regular size windows. Deciduous trees were planted on the north and east sides of the house, while pines were planted slightly away from the house on the SE and SW corners of the yard area. The pines were too far from the house to shade it in the summer, but with the lower angle of the winter sun, they effectively blocked most of the daily winter sun.

This misplacement of the trees, and the poorly located windows in the house, caused the house to be colder in the winter and hotter in the summer. In other words, it cost a lot of fossil fuel energy to keep this house at a comfortable temperature for the occupants. Even though it is a small and simple house, it was disproportionably expensive to heat and cool.

Our need for an energy efficient farm operation prompted us to undertake a short and long-term strategy that would drastically cut our utility supplied energy consumption. You can read the details of our plan in a previous blog, tagged-Cutting the electric bill without cutting comfort. (click on the sidebar tag) Much of the long-term energy savings will come about from landscape work.

On farms of my boyhood, tree lined wind brakes protected fields, crops, and buildings from harsh New England winter winds. Somehow we have forgotten the basics of shelter design with the advent of cheap fossil fuel energy. However, now energy, both economically and environmentally, has gotten much costlier.

We can meet this energy challenge through intelligent design principals that are quite ancient in their wisdom. The answers are in the natural world-all around us. We just have to be observant enough to understand the message provided by the micro-climates we experience around us.

-Leaf

 


Posted 11/21/2007 12:20am by Leaf Myczack.

It seems that each day more bad news is reaching us that indicates the global climate crisis is steadily worsening. As we humans push past the planet's biologically sustainable threshold with our species overpopulation, widespread deforestation, rampant pollution and excessive use of fossil fuels, the normal weather patterns are being thrown into disarray. Our overall climate condition seems to be shifting from benign to hostile as witnessed by the exceptional drought we are currently experiencing.

While there are a few things we can do to lessen the negative impacts on the overall global climate, there is much more we can do on the local level to create positive climate improvements. These landscaping-type activities are referred to as creating beneficial micro-climates. We also have the ability to create hostile micro-climates if we fail to keep the big picture front and center in our long term planning.

Some simple examples of beneficial micro-climates are; a grove of shade trees in an open field, a pond, the shady side of your house, a rock pile, and a hedge or vegetated fence row. Local examples of hostile micro-climates are paved parking lots and driveways, non-shaded exposed rooftops, outdoor fires, and plowed or scraped earth. What all these examples have in common is the ability to measurably raise or lower, soil moisture, humidity and temperature in a given space, making it different from the overall ambient humidity and temperature surrounding the area of micro-climate.

Beneficial micro-climates assist in the process of propagating bio-diversity and promoting life, whereas hostile micro-climates restrict or diminish life.

The two cycles we are working with to naturally moderate local climate conditions are the rain cycle, and the wind cycle (which steers the rain cycle). It is learned through observation that extreme plant damage from drought and freeze is primarily caused by wind exposure. Other farmers have also observed that ground crops protected by tall grasses (or "weeds") are significantly less damaged than their more exposed counterparts, all other factors being equal. This would suggest that something as simple as a patch of tall grass or tall plants, acting as a wind brake, could be the difference between plant survival or plant loss.

Here on the farm we use every opportunity to create beneficial micro-climates. The cumulative impacts from this work are readily seen in the lush pockets of vegetation, the abundance of biodiversity, and the pleasant conditions created. We can leave a hot, dry area of the farm and go to a cooler, more moist area and be refreshed, both physically and spiritually. During a drought situation, this coming into this body-mind balance is especially needed to ward off anxiety and depression.

We have a twofold purpose when we do restoration work on our eleven acres. One is to renew the land through thoughful stewardship, answering the needs of the land in order to meet our own needs. The other is to renew the primal spirit through positive conscious interaction with all the natural components of our farm. To be master gardeners in co-creating an environment that is both biologically wholesome and functional.

When we dig a pond, we don't just bring water to the land. We bring an element capable of supporting a wide array of both aquatic and terrestrial life, which in turn supports a larger circle of life. When the pond goes dry, the life it supported disappears and the empty hole becomes a hostile and barren micro-climate. The only difference between a lake and a desert is the water! This is why we work so hard to keep the rainwater in the ponds.

(to be continued next wednesday Nov. 28th)

-Leaf