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The weekend was unlike anything I've ever done. I'm not retaining a lot of things, and there will likely be things that I'll think of to write about after I finish this post... It was a great weekend: I had on-going transportation hastles, but it was well worth it.

There was no canning workshop. I got all the way into Brighton and called Patrick, and he told me that no one had gotten back to him to express interest in the workshop, so they were spending the night shopping and preparing for the class. His note didn't say that we needed to rsvp, so I just assumed that I didn't need to (in retrospect, I obviously would have been better off replying anyway). He offered to give me a ride home later on, but I just got back on the bus.

We got there on Saturday, and I'd estimate that there were about a dozen people there (not everyone was there the whole time). It turns out that Dick Pierce, the instructor, not only knows McAllen (who I know from hosteling at House of Commons in Austin), but he is also John Bonifaz's father-in-law, which is how Patrick got acquainted with him. It really is a small world sometimes. Anyway, he talked about permaculture not being just one thing: it isn't just organic gardening, it isn't just sustainable building design or transportation, etc. It includes all of those things. He described a number of principles which apply when creating a permaculture design (and I don't remember all of them, although I have a hand-out). Things should have multiple uses, preferably at least three. If something only has one use, then it probably doesn't belong in a permaculture design. (I can only guess at his rationale for saying that.) He talked about our needing to bring animals back into the system where we have taken them out. A chicken coup can have multiple uses: producing eggs, fertilizing the soil, and clearing unwanted growth. There is no waste in nature: an output becomes an input somewhere else (manure fertilizing the soil, for instance). Things should be located in places that make them easy to get to in order to minimize the amount of energy that humans need to exert. An herb garden should be located as close to the kitchen door/window as possible so that people can go out and grab an herb from it when they need something. A chicken coup should be located near a garden or orchard; if the coup is located across the farm from the orchard, then people are less likely to use the chickens to fertilize the soil. A garden should be located near the house and the tools so that people don't need to go through a lot of effort every day to get to and from the garden. (He talked about one case in a developing country where people had land away from the house, and the men needed to walk two hours each way with their tools to get to their beans and vegetables, so much of the benefit from the land was taken away by the long walks.) We should use biological resources (as opposed to non-renewable fossil fuels). He did say that it would be okay, in permaculture, to, for instance, use a tractor powered by fossil fuels to till the soil if this was part of a project that would make the soil usable for the next couple hundred years. Nature likes diversity and always tries to squeeze as many species into an area as possible. And it is better to have redundancy, to have more than one way of accomplishing a needed task. Having more than one source of income would be an example. Nature likes edges since they allow for the intersection of two different types of energy. A river will not be straight because of this, so there will be more area in which the land and water intersect. This makes the water move slowly, touching and nourishing everything that it encounters along the way. A quickly-moving river or stream, on the other hand, will take the soil with it when it moves, causing erosion. People tend to want to straighten out rivers so that things can move more quickly. So a design should drain water slowly, allowing it to contact life that needs it along the way, rather than quickly flowing away. Dick compared it to a community in which there are a lot of local businesses, so money stays in the community rather than, say, going to Arkansas when people shop at Wal-mart. In general, a permaculture design attempts to mimic nature's designs and intends to be sustainable/unobtrusive.

After lunch, we went out to do an observation. Observing is another key component: before designing anything, we should observe the landscape to learn as much as we can about it and what designs exist there in nature. It might be best to leave a piece of land alone for a year or two and just observe it before starting a garden, for instance. Anyway, we went outside for 20 minutes to just observe. He told people to pay attention to what they hear, taste, touch, and smell, not just what they see. I tried to pay attention to the birds. I could hear several different types of birds, but I don't know anything about identifying birds by their calls, so I can't say what they are and don't even remember what they sounded like. It got me present again to the way louder noises can drown out softer noises: I could hear cars from the Mass Pike and probably would have paid more attention to nature if there weren't these other noises to distract me. I wasn't in a wild area, anyway, but the idea was to practice. It felt surprisingly suburban for a part of Boston (I wasn't the only person to make that observation). We went in and talked about what we sensed. Then he talked to us about patterns in nature, about things being different shapes for different reasons. I didn't retain much from that talk. He intentionally gave that talk after we did the observation since, if we had learned about patterns just before going outside, we would have spent all of our time looking for patterns. Anyway, I want to go out and try observing in the woods behind my building; I've been meaning to go back there anyway to clean up what I can of the junk left by other humans. Then we went out to make an herb spiral and a compost pile, which was fun. The herb spiral had circles of bricks with hay filling the spaces between the circles. The inner circles were higher than the outer ones. It allows herbs to be grown closely together and creates lots of microclimates: herbs planted on the north side of the spiral would get much less sun than the herbs planted on the south side. We created the compost from leaves, shredded paper, and various greens. Some of the greens were from the house, and some were produce that Shaw's would have thrown away and will give away to people who want to take it and make compost. The browns (paper and leaves in this case) provide the carbon, and the greens provide the nitrogen that the microbes need. If egg shells are composted, then they should be crushed or they will take a really long time to decompose: they were designed to resist predators. There was also some spent coffee grind that Starbucks gave them; I'm not sure which category those go under. You need browns, greens, air, and water to create compost. We looked at the pile this morning, and it was a bit warm already, although some of that was from the sun.

I spent two hours waiting for the 64 last night! It's bad enough that they only come once an hour at that time of night on a Saturday, but at least one, probably two buses, went right by me without stopping when I was at the bus stop! I was really annoyed. I should file a complaint with the MBTA. Someone told me that the light was broken, so maybe the driver didn't see me. So I spent almost four hours trying to get from Brighton to Waltham. Sheesh.

I wound up getting there late this morning. I wanted to take the 64 and assumed that I could, but the earliest one left Central Square at around 9:05. I'd never heard of a route having the first bus leave after 9:00, even on a Sunday. We had a check-in, then talked some about ecosystems and microclimates. Later we went out and built a raised bed. Then a woman named Joann Whitehead talked to us about gardening. She is involved with the Master Urban Gardening program at the Boston Natural Areas Network. Then we talked some about renewable energy, and Pat took us downstairs to show us the equipment he has to convert vegetable oil to bio-Diesel. He has a business that sells it and also does convertions of Diesel-powered cars and trucks to allow them to use vegetable oil, which people can get from some restaurants that are happy to give it away since otherwise they need to pay someone to take it away. Vegetable oil can only be used once the engine is warmed up, though, so you need two tanks, one for vegetable oil and one for Diesel (which can be of the petro or bio variety or a mixture). Then Carol Steinfeld talked to us about composting toilets. She said that composting can decompose human waste 90 times faster than the anaerobic process of a ceptic tank (there's no air in the water). I never knew about that aspect of it. And there is the issue of excess nitrogen in the water causing algae to form and fish to die. I don't see myself putting in a composting toilet any time soon, though, even as I might like to. Then we were pretty much done. Our course was essentially the first two days of what would normally be a nine-day course. Dick is planning on having other courses in New England next year (he likes to get out of Texas in the summer, and his daughter is in Amherst), so I might go to a full course with him next year.

So the question is what to do now. Several people mentioned Square Foot Gardening being a good gardening book, so I want to read it. I really want to grow some things next year. That will require talking to my neighbors, but, now that I think about it, they might really like the idea for all I know, especially if they can have some of the produce which will hopefully be produced. I want to generally get to know my neighbors better, so I'd like to just have a potluck and invite a bunch of them over, which, of course, will require that I cook something to feed several people, which I haven't done in a long time. I'd like to start a coop house based around permaculture principles, so I'll either do that if I find other people who also want to start something or generally work towards having community where I am.


Sounds like a great seminar. I'd definotly complain to the transit company.

July 2014

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