Spring Beekeeping Workshop

Spring Beekeeping Workshop
Demonstration Hive

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Few Quotes

In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything left to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.
Antoine de Saint Exupery

One day of sunlight on the earth would power everything globally for 27 years.
Dr. John Nelson

The early vision of permaculture reclaiming the delusional ornamental landscapes of suburbia to create an abundant support base for its inhabitants has not eventuated to any great extent. However, that vision can also be taken as a meta-model for a larger and deeper process of change: from dependent and demanding consumers to interdependent and responsilbe producers. A global consensus about the reality of energy transition and descent necessary for constructive top-down change could emerge remarkably quickly in an electronically networked world. Permaculture is for those who already understand or sense the reality of transition and descent and want to give practical and integrated expression to that reality, whether the rest of society is ready or not to do so.
David Holmgren, "Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability"

Pollution from coal-fired power plants (sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and particulates)is linked to thousands of premature deaths each year through heart and lung disease. The EPA estimates that proposed emissions limits on these plants would save between 14,000 and 36,000 lives in 2014 ALONE (my caps).
Union of Concerned Scientists, Earthwise, Vol 12 No 4 Fall 2010.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Response to Op-Ed in New York Times about Local Food

“Math Lessons For Locavores”, (Stephen Budiansky, NYTimes 8/20/10) I believe misses the mark on eating locally.

Using facts and figures, which, frankly, just snow us with unverifiable information, Mr. Budiansky tries to refute the claim that eating locally is beneficial. But, by limiting his observations to only one issue, that of carbon emissions, he conveniently ignores other critical aspects of sustainability. There are many issues at stake for the health of our planet, society and our economy.

Food security could be at the top of the list. When we depend on food shipped long distances, we are vulnerable to forces beyond our control such as weather and natural disasters in far flung places, labor strikes, oil embargoes, oil pricing, food contamination such as the recent egg recall due to a salmonella outbreak in one of the massive egg factories that supplies many parts of the country. Nobody doubts that salmonella can occur on small farms, too, but that event would not jeopardize the availability of such a basic and valuable food staple, nor have the potential to affect as many people with disease.

The short-term supply of food in urban areas is another issue, as evidenced by reports of depletion of supermarket supplies in the DC area during last winter’s severe snowstorms. Reports were that those markets stocked only a 3-day supply of food.

When we choose to eat mostly locally-produced food, we choose to promote food security in our own regions by supporting the local food producers – i.e. the farms. Everyone has seen the bumper stickers “NO FARMS, NO FOOD”. This is not just an empty slogan but an aphorism that has true meaning. Supporting local farms also supports our local economy.
A viable farm provides jobs for local people, spends money in local businesses and helps to keep money flowing in the local economy.

A local farm provides food that is demonstrably more nutritious, possibly because of the way it is grown, and at least that it is harvested in a more mature state than food which has to travel thousands of miles.

My daughter’s college roommate from rural western New York state (a very smart young woman now in the US State Department) observed that the economy of her region is not as volatile as others because it is has always been a farming economy where goods and services are mostly moving locally. Perhaps that region has not seen the highs of a Fairfield County, CT or a Silicon Valley, CA, but may also not have seen the lows of other areas hard hit by the loss of a county’s sole corporate employer.

Producing out-of-season food in oil or gas-heated greenhouses is something I know about. I closed down my oil-heated commercial greenhouse operation after fifteen years, partly because of escalating oil costs and personal anguish over the pollution the oil furnaces were causing. Solar greenhouse technology is now advanced and very successful. Anna Edey of Martha’s Vineyard, MA, for example, publishes her brilliant and practical designs for anyone to use. These designs have been tested and verified by scientists from several institutions and are marketed under the name SOLVIVA.

Mr. Budiansky also fails to discuss the negative affects of industrial, large-scale farming on our soil and water. As a professional soil scientist for 30 years, I can attest to how vital soil is to life on this planet. This is not an over-dramatized statement. However, using chemical fertilizers and pesticides has led to an almost complete breakdown of the soil-food-web in some places. In turn, this breakdown has led to severe soil erosion and the inability of formerly rich, valuable soils to produce quality, nutritious food. It has also led to severe damage to oceans. For example, there is an expanding dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico (recent oil spill notwithstanding) where soil, eroded from the agricultural lands of the Mississippi River watershed, carries nutrients and pollutants into the sea, killing the biological life in those waters.

Wherever industrial agriculture is practiced in the world, we see the breakdown of soil structure, loss of fertility and increased dependence on chemicals, like a drug addiction.

Since the end of World War 2, chemical farming has ruled worldwide, despite the evidence brought forward by numerous agricultural scientists. As a former USDA Agricultural Extension Agent, I saw firsthand how the government persuaded farmers to give up traditional organic farming methods in favor of chemical farming which favors only the corporations that manufacture the products and, temporarily, while the chemicals are still available, the corporate farms. Independent-minded scientists called the warning alarms on this system. Interested readers could look up and read the works of Masanobu Fukuoka, Rudolph Steiner, Sir Albert Howard, J.I. Rodale, and David Holmgren, as a start.

Vandana Shiva told the Soil Association in 2007:

“The future of the world in farming is to produce more food in diversity, locally. And that can’t be done without substituting fossil fuels for renewable energy, including human energy.”

When oil runs out or becomes too expensive, how will industrial farming continue? In a recent NPR report about oil production in Canadian tar sands, which provide most of the oil the US imports, Cenovus Oil Company Vice President, David Goldie, stated that “the era of cheap oil is over”. All the big oil companies acknowledge this. It is no longer a fringe sentiment held by a few prescient academics. Since this is true, why are we not facing up to this impending catastrophe and making plans to meet our human needs in other ways?

Actually some of us are making such plans, locally, at a community wide level. The Transition Town Movement, the organic farming movement, the community gardening movement and the worldwide network of Permaculture practitioners, are facing these issues head on to move our communities towards local food and clean energy production.

It is imperative that we make plans now to transition to organic farming with an emphasis on local resilience and stability.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Workshops Offered

Two new workshops are offered by our Center for Sustainable Living.

Coming for October 9 and 10, 2010, is Mark Krawczyk who is returning to teach a class on Building an Outdoor Oven. This workshop will demonstrate how to create a very efficient oven from locally sourced or recycled materials. You will come expecting to participate in the construction and get your hands into the project.

Mark is a Permaculture teacher and design consultant who owns Rivenwood Crafts in Burlington, VT.

On October 30 and 31, 2010, Giovanni Ciarlo will be coming to teach about waterless toilets and water conservation. The current flush toilets waste potable water and also contaminate our ponds, streams, and rivers through the loading of nitrogen which is not removed by septic systems or sewage treatment plants. The waterless toilet prevents the nitrogen in human waste from entering the hydrologic cycle in a detriment way. Also, this program will teach you skills you may need if the electricity goes out or your well runs dry. You will learn how to deal with every human's little dirty secret in a healthy, easy, non-polluting way.

Giovanni Ciarlo earned an MA in Sustainable Communities and Businesses from Goddard College, was a founder of HueHue Coyotle ecovillage in Tepotzlan, Mexico where he has spent several months of each year for 29 years, and has been Chairman of the Global Ecovillage Network Board of Directors since 2003. Giovanni resides part of the year in Watertown, CT and with his wife, Kathleen, performs with their musical ensemble, Serius Coyote.

The charge for each of the 2-day workshops is $125 which includes lunch and snacks each day. Camping is available at a nominal charge for those who wish to stay the night.

Contact me at cynthia@hgconnsoil.com for more information or to register. Pre-registration is required for both classes.
My husband, Stuart, and I decided years ago to change our lives to get closer to the goal of doing no harm. Some things are difficult, like driving cars and flying on planes, both of which contribute to climate change and ordinary noxious air pollution.

Other things have not been so hard.

In 2001 we made the decision to close down our commercial greenhouse operation because, among other things, the oil needed to heat the greenhouses was unacceptable from an economic and environmental standpoint.

Now, we are moving slowly toward a much healthier life that is more in harmony with nature. However, for as long as we have family spread around the globe, we will probably continue to fly to different places. My hope, in this regard, is that technology will, in fact, find a solution to the problem of flying on fossil fuel. Similarly, driving a car, will, I believe, become more environmentally friendly in the not too distant future.

At home, we have made changes. We changed to compact florescent light bulbs. We changed to energy efficient appliances whenever we could. Our freezer and washing machine, for example, are energy efficient. We have installed solar photovoltaic panels with the help of a grant and lease program from the State of Connecticut. Now we feel terrific that we are selling electricity back to the utility company.

We have removed most of our old 10,000 square feet of greenhouse space, retaining some square footage for our own personal use. this has freed up a large area of land that has now been covered with raised beds, fruit trees, composting areas and firewood processing and storage. There is also room for a woodworking shop in a portion of one of the old greenhouses we kept, and a bright classroom in a converted section of a garage building.

Because we live on a piece of land that has very little arable soil, we are continuing our, now 30 year-long, endeavor to build soil every way we can. Eradicating lawn by spreading cardboard covered with leaves and manure, or spreading out sheets of black plastic and then moving them when the grass underneath is dead, is a way we have used to create more food growing space. By spreading copious amounts of fallen leaves (we live surrounded by hundreds of acres of forest, by the way) with light layers of horse manure, we have created beautiful soil and lush gardens where forests of tomatoes, beans, garlic, zucchini, sweet potato, sunflowers, potatoes, onions,root crops, herbs and flowers, all thrive.

The soil is the key to all this productivity. In fact, soil is the key to life on the planet, although we do not treat it as such. Organic matter is the key to all that may ail the soil. Believe me, as a soil scientist, I can tell you, the soil is ailing in most of the country, and possibly the world from what I've heard, too.

We have so much free organic matter going to waste that could be used to increase soil health and create better productivity for nutrient rich food crops.

Let me tell you, the food you buy in the supermarket is not healthy and not nutrient rich, unless you shop in organic markets. Why do we have an epidemic of asthma, allergies, autism, cancers etc? My intuition tells me what the answer is and I believe others know it too, but as a society we refuse to take the steps we need to, to clean up our place. We are the only animal I know of that fouls its bed.

Here are some thoughts for today:

"A teaspoon of living earth contains some five million bacteria, twenty million fungi, one million protozoa, and two hundred thousand algae. No human can predict what vital miracles are locked in this dot of life, this stupendous reservoir of genetic materials that have evolved continuously since the dawn of life on Earth. One pound of topsoil has as much surface areas as the whole state of Connecticut."
From "Septic Tank Practices by Peter Warshall.

"One gram of living compost can contain 10 billion bacteria belonging to several thousand species, almost all of which are still unknown to science." E.O. Wilson

Step lightly as you go.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Annual NOFA Summer Conference

I'm just back from the NOFA conference held at the University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst, MA. I am REALLY FIRED UP! What a great event! I could only attend one day out of the three but even that was worth it.

Arriving on the last day of the conference, I walked up from the parking area into the center of the campus and there below me, like a gigantic Bedouin city, was a tent encampment around the central campus pond. The huge registration tent and exhibitor area was centrally located with colorful one-man to family size tents by the scores set up all over the lawns surrounding the pond (really a detention basin - but who else but me would know that?!). Happy hippies with dredlocks sauntered around arm in arm while older back-to-the-landers reconnected with old friends or rushed off to workshops to hear the latest developments on vermiculture, permaculture and lots of other kinds of culture! A high point for me was an intriguing workshop on Financial Permaculture. More on this later when I sort out all my workshop notes.

Connecting with old friends, some of whom I haven't seen in years and some recent ones, is always a bonus, but it is the energy and excitement of the conference that gets me going. It's so energizing to see the younger generation so enthused about organic farming, community building and local grass-roots efforts to overcome the serious issues we face as a species. It reminds me of where I was in the 80's, but then all of my old friends from back then are still in the movement. I'm on a high and need to come back to earth so I can report factually on some very interesting developments going on in the organic movement.

More later.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Summer is a special time for me. This is when all my thoughts turn to provisioning my household for the rest of the year. I guess this is "putting food by" as they used to say. Not only food though, we are thinking also about our fuel, which is wood, and takes all year to acquire, cut, split, and stack so we have what we need to be cosy in the colder seasons.

When others are taking summer vacations and going to the beach, I'm drawn to my garden and orchard to pick, dig and care for the cornucopia of food growing there. Also, foraging is a fun activity too. In our neighborhood, there's a lot of free food for the taking. Yesterday I picked a few PINTS of blackberries from the edge of a field just a half a mile from my house. We have our own wild blackberries too. The brambles are mixed in among the woodland edge plants surrounding one of our vegetable gardens. I can't resist going to pick down the street as well. That way I know I will have enough for eating now and preserving for later. Jam and fruit sauces are a lovely way of keeping a little summer in reserve for winter. I also freeze our fruits to mix into smoothies or to make pies. Frozen berries are scrumptious sprinkled over ice cream, cereal, yogurt or popped right into your mouth like little icy jewels.

The season starts for me with our early rhubarb and strawberries. Then, in rapid-fire succession, come blueberries, currants, gooseberries,and blackberries. Nature arranges it so well and conveniently. These berries progress in a methodical fashion so harvesting is manageable. Occasionally, a bit of traffic jam happens when the berries overlap. That is happening now because my everbearing strawberries are having their second flush of producing fruit and I have to go between the blackberries and the strawberries to get them harvested.

Coming along now, too, are the tree fruits. We've picked the peaches. There weren't many this year as the trees are too young. Apples are ripening and the harvest looks to be good. We've surrounded our best trees with wire fencing to keep the deer away. Last year one tree was stripped of apples overnight. That can be a heartbreaker.

I do love going to the beach, or hiking, biking and other summer activities with friends or solo. I look forward to Tanglewood with enthusiasm every year. It just isn't summer if I don't get there for the music a few times. But I do not want to go away much - especially for overnights. My garden is my place. I go to the garden to find food. I go to the garden to find peace.