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I’ve Learned – by Kane, Koanga Urban Garden Apprentice

The following was presented by Kane at the conclusion of his 7 month Urban Garden Apprenticeship.

I’ve learnt many things in 7 intense months of big learning curves… and being out of comfort zones… and old habits.

3 major learning curves are:

  • Bio intensive gardening method
  • Co ordinating Hand Over A Hundy
  • Living in a busy ‘business community’.

 

simple things yet…I didn’t know to do them before,like;

  • Setting out the beds that fit the situation.
  • Planning the bed into meters and the 4 rotation crop types.
  • To make food for the garden through compost.
  • Killing the grass ahead of time.
  • Double digging (methodical digging…so its sustainable).

I’ve learnt how to grow seedlings form seed,
that PO (pricking out) is 3 stages:

Sowing many packets of seed to one tray to keep an organised and clutter free space. And that when two leaves appear I ‘prick’ them out into 25mm spacings into another tray, and when they are about as big as my thumb and smaller etc, i can plant them out in diagonal spacings in the bed to maximise plant numbers per metre available. Simple things, were the important success’s.

I’ve learnt that SS (scatter sowing) is 2 stages:

Sowing into one tray many packets and simply transplanting into the garden when the second leaves appear, especially root crops cos after a point, the roots need to get established in the bed and not in the tray.
All these things i could have read about, but I just wouldn’t have got it the same, and I learn best manually, methodically, systematically, slowly.

I’ve learnt to be more comfortable in larger groups of people, and have become more comfortable in speaking publicly (without my guitar).
I’ve learnt to be comfortable with cooking for many people and have gained confidence there.
I’ve learnt about broths and real milk, and tried a high fat diet for 7 months.
I’ve learnt to think in terms of looking for High nutrient value greens to grow, that lift calcium levels for the body, and urban garden shapes tat might provide more fat soluble vitamins and sources of vitamin A, like animal meat and bones and all parts and eggs.

I’ve become more resourceful and confident when faced with a bare bit of dirt…
a packet of seeds…and a spade.
I can create a food garden now, now that I have a system in my mind to call upon.
I didn’t have this knowledge before.

I’ve learnt leadership skills.
I’ve learnt to be more organised.
And I know I need to hone that more.
I’ve learnt the skill of; ‘just making a decision and running with it’, and jumping in and learning on the fly. Thats been a great gift,

Through having to ‘implement the theory’.. laid out in the Hand Over A Hundy coordinators guideline I’ve learnt to trust that ideas can turn into reality.
I’ve learnt that I couldn’t have broken the ice on achieving that, without Kay and Jade’s support.

  • I’ve learnt to communicate better and more honestly, though sometimes not enough and I get stuck.
  • I’ve learnt that I need others talents and abilities to grow and succeed.
  • I’ve learnt about my fuzzy mind when my energy drops, or I haven’t got enough psychological space around me between tasks and expectations.
  • I’ve learnt that its my own expectations often, that put the most pressure on me.
  • I’ve learnt I need to manage my own fears and perception better.
  • I learnt that I have trouble managing my time ‘sometimes’ so I can look after my own needs. And that that can lead to a heavy cloud when I’ve done too much and still feel the required tasks barking at me.
  • I’ve learnt that i can get a type of sulking going when I feel stuck about an undesirable situation, when I don’t know how to talk about or negotiate what would work for me…because i can’t see what the alternatives are.
  • I’ve learnt that I need to be clear about what I want. Or I’ll just get my own vagaries.
  • I learnt to value other peoples ability to bring things up, when I’m afraid too.
  • I’ve learnt that I don’t like keeping rabbits in a cages, as I traced the effect upon myself daily, being in charge of their quality of life and watching them scratch the cage, and be dependant on me for their food variety, getting it right, and watching them not being able to hide from the cage cleaner etc.
  • I’ve learnt that I don’t like the extra vigilance required for caring for 3 sets of animals.
  • I’ve learnt that chickens are enough for me, and what shape I would experiment with.
  • I’ve learnt a new use of the word ‘shape’. And to trust that there could be a satisfactory shape for both party’s.
  • I’ve learnt the value of doing something I don’t like to get to the things I do like.
  • I’ve learnt that I enjoy the ‘soil’… that the chickens create with their manure, kitchen scraps, weeds, oats and pampas grass etc.
  • I’ve learnt how good that compost feels warm in my hand as i mix it with the forest garden plants I plant.
  • I’ve learnt about guilds and perennial beds.  I’ve learnt to build garden structures and a solar cloche.
  • I’ve learnt to make many comfry plants from root cuttings, and gooseberry cuttings and pull up raspberry suckers roots n all.
  • I’ve learnt the joy of giving away excess plants and seedlings.
    I’ve learnt the joy of giving through time and sharing information.
  • I’ve learnt that I get muddled sometimes on a learning curve…without a systematic approach and specifics to remind, clarify and keep me on track.
  • I’ve learnt that I need to be this for other beginner gardeners.
  • I’ve learnt about a spread sheet…and making more lists and storing data.
  • I learnt to prune a peach tree into a vase shape ideally, and to let the plum tree fly right out, and to cut a lot back if need be, and leave a few fruiting spurs. And that apple trees are pruned into tares, and that you can prune trees to make them good for claiming into.
  • I’ve learnt there’s a lot of personal discretion in judgement calls when pruning trees, and always a few exceptions to the rule.
  • I’ve learnt to walk around the garden pinching out shoots to change the symmetry of young fruit trees, and flower buds to stop them fruiting so the energy goes into growth. And to tie branches down to enable other branches to get the growth sap.
  • I’ve learnt about nixtamalization of grain and corn to increase its volume and nutrient availability for the chickens.
  • I’ve learnt about how to make a bio char burner out of three 9 kg gas bottles, or two 44 gallon drums and a bit of flu pipe.
  • I’ve learnt how to put bio char in the compost to load it before applying it to any growing beds.
  • I’ve learnt about the journey of composting and it’s different outcomes given different ratios of greens n Browns and minerals etc.
  • I’ve learnt about the lemon and mandarin tree guild / forest gardening  and watched berry bushes grow and espalier fruit trees, and de-budded them or pinched off unwanted water shoots, or taken cuttings to make more berry bushes.
  • I’ve learnt how to graft an Aguta male to a female, and to train a grape vine into single leaders so it looks trim and tidy, and pinch off the growing tip if theirs two bunches of baby grapes, so they get the sap.
  • I’ve learnt about the effectiveness of solar ovens and rocket stoves and showers by using them weekly.
  • I’ve learnt to not take on too many things, because I want to do a few things really well.
  • I’ve learnt that I needed to take on many things, and try lots of things, to work that out.
  • I’ve learnt that I’m really grateful for this time, and how its feed my soul the way I needed, so I could be the person I need to be.

Resilient, resourceful, patient, consistent.

I’ve learnt that  I’ve found my thing, and can now be more present  and focused in life, by being active in things I value and sharing skills and empower people because I have been empowered.

I’ve learnt that I’m a Green Collar worker: I establish and maintain edible landscapes, back yard food garden culture, community resilience, food security, home grown health, and toil that gives meaning to my own life.

Thank you 🙂

kane

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Kays garden – January

Kay’s Garden January 2014

I love this time of the year, not only do we get to begin the full on summer harvest, we also get to be putting aside our  seed for next year. I really love that feeling of completing the cycle of saving the seed and knowing that it is that cycle, that ongoing cycle that creates the process of co evolution, the process that means we are connected to our ‘place’, and our ‘place’ is connected to us, and we communicate in many ways and create an ecology ……..that is what creates strength and resilience and health and that super alive feeling that one feels in these special places of huge connection and energy. These are actually places where the sun’s energy is being harvested and absorped, and recycled and gifted to the soil microbes by the plant roots , and recycled and used so many times by the diverse range of elements in the system that the energy exchanges and the life happening are palpable.

We’re eating our early White Rocombole garlic, outstanding cultivar from the henry Harrington Collection, that was harvested and dried and ready to eat in mid November. Our early Fred’s dwarf beans are finished now, and the White Scotch runner bean in full swing. I love runner beans, if picked early they are the most juicy tender and flavoursome of all beans. White Scotch are my current favourites, they came to this land with our Scottish forebears. I grow them for green beans, shellout beans and dry soup beans. I have begun pickling beans too, to store the surplus and provide ferments with our meals. We’ve been eating Henry’s Dwarf Bush tomatoes for 4 weeks or so now too. They are definitely worth putting under a cloche and getting them ripe in November through to the main crop tomatoes.

We haven’t had the seed available for two years now but it will be available in the new catalogue out in February, we’re processing it already, and the seed looks beautiful.

 

Xmas lunch at the beach in Wairoa was all from the garden. I always make potato salad, just like mum’s (minus the condensed milk salad dressing), and I grow Yellow Fir potatoes to make that with because they are ready right on Xmas every year.  (Other waxy great potatoes for potato salad are Karoro, Pink Fir, Whataroa, and Chatham Islands.) They are good croppers of super waxy delicious potatoes . I always make stuffed eggs as well, another dish my mother always made for Xmas and this is a great egg time of the year, or it should be. If your chickens have stopped laying already they needed more minerals to keep their bodies mineralied and able to lay for far a longer. We find adding chicken minerals to the their food every day helps keep them laying, in fact ensures they continue laying for far longer than without. Taiamai made hams for us for Xmas from our own pigs and they were a great success , and the tomato salad from our own hennery dwarf bush cherries and basil was perfect .

The first sweet corn isn’t far away, I planted Blue Aztec this year,and the  Bloody Butcher flour corn is already over 2m tall …. The hulless barley and the Essene flaxseed will be ready to harvest in a couple of weeks, and I’m already planning for my winter garden.

Following the Koanga Garden Planner , means that the quarter of the garden where the flaxseed and barley is coming out of, will be the section that becomes my winter heavy feeders. If I want to ensure I don’t have a huge vege gap in Autumn early winter then I must plant seed now of Brussels sprouts Fillbasket and my first kale and collards. In Northland and other subtropical areas it is not yet time to plant these crops but here and in colder areas it is.

I’m also planting successions of heat loving summer greens like Tampala and Magenta Spreen, both of which we’re eating now but they will not last until march without replanting, along with lettuces which will need planting in the shade. I’ll also plant a tripod of late beans for fun now and also a late courgette plant or two. Crookneck squash is my overall favourite

My favourite thing now though is the seed I’m putting away for next season.

I have the best of the Early White rocombole, the best of the flowering shallots, which came in this week, as well as the potato onions, and the Yellow Fir potatoes. The Southland Sno peas are finished and they will come out with the pea pods I saved for seed. I’ll leave a few Fred’s Dwarf beans in with their pods so I have seed of those and a few lettuces can be easily left in for seed as well. All of these things are self fertile and easy to save the seed of. The peas and bean seed along with the onions ad garlic will be stored in a brown paper bag in a dry place and the potatoes seed in an onion sack in a dry light place.

 

In the forest garden I have two muscovies on nests, and lots of very long seeding grass which we’re about to cut to make a lot of excellent mulch for all the trees and the perennial vegetable bed around the vegetable garden. We  harvested our first elderflowers this spring,, with lots of berries to come, and the support species for the fruit trees are growing well. The tagasaste has been a huge hit here, the fastest growing of the forest garden support species, but everything is doing well including eleagnus multiflora, also quite fast growing, choke berry aronia spp., Siberian pea tree, far slower growing but 1m in two years…acacia retinoides are flowering now and 2m tall, the Maakia amurensis that went in this past winter area doing well, the cardoons are flowering.

The blueberry patch with it’s alfalfa ground cover looks great, as is the very important comfrey patch, planted to soak up any nutrients leaving our site to feed back to the chickens and ducks. Actually the Chinese Weeder geese love it the best, but the chickens go mad on it and also the Indian Runner ducks. Muscovies don’t call it edible!!

 

 

 

 

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Fundraising Update – Save our seeds

Kia Ora,

We have been overwhelmed at the fantastic support that the Koanga member community has shown over the last month, it has been absolutely amazing……thank you!

As a sign of our appreciation to our donors to the ”Save our Seeds campaign” for their support, we sent an ebook gift  from the Koanga Institute team, a copy of one of Kay Baxter’s best selling books in ebook format.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that seed saving is slowly moving into mainstream focus. People are starting to understand that we are dependent on heritage seeds for both food security and higher levels of nutrition and health. With the UN estimating in 1994 that 94% of seeds varieties have been lost, the work that Koanga Institute and its founders are doing is more important than ever.

We would like to thank you for the $132,000 donated so far!!!! This is absolutely amazing and we are immensely grateful for your support for both the Koanga Institute and New Zealand’s heritage seeds future.
We have managed to negotiate one more extension on our impending 3rd January deadline for the first funds due, this has now been pushed back to the 30th of January.

We received a few comments that our last update was a little confusing, so we have clarified our goals below:

We need to raise a total of $700,000 by  June 29th  2014  to secure the land the heritage seed and tree collections grow on. Without this money we are at risk of losing the lot. We have some interim dates for a portion of these funds to be raised and paid to the landowners, the table below breaks this down including how much we have raised so far:

Due Date Amount Due Amount Raised to date Possible source of fundraising source
30th  January $ 295,000 $ 122,000 Online crowd fundraising
30th  June $ 405,000 $ 10,000 Speaking tours, workshop tours, business memberships, online auction, possible grants
Total $700,000 $ 132,000

We are conscious of being a non profit organisation focused on financial self reliance. Whilst we can sustain ourselves on a yearly basis, capital purchases such as land are not within our grasp with our current operating expenses. We are largely staffed by volunteers or staff who get paid very basic allowances. We are frugal with our operating costs. We are in the process of improving our current business model and offerings to ensure further development of Koanga Institute but this will take time i.e. 2 years to ramp up.

In our goal to purchase the land to save the seeds, we are not just asking for handouts, there are many ways that people can help that have tangible benefits i.e. buying a ticket and attending a talk by Kay Baxter on our nation wide tour, attending one of our workshops held in 5 locations in New Zealand, becoming a business member of Koanga Institute with benefits, donating to our online crowd fundraising campaign and receiving a free seed saving ebook.

Securing this land will not just mean the securing of New Zealand’s largest heritage organic tree and seed collections. It will also mean the securing of a future home for some of our research and development projects in self reliance and regenerative living.

The Koanga Institute has committed to developing a campus at 96 Kotare Road dedicated to:

  • holding our heritage food plant collections
  • research into all aspects of regenerative living
  • sharing our experience and knowledge

Through this, we aim to ensure the long-term sustainability, and regeneration of New Zealand’s bio-diversity heritage, and to contribute towards transformation in the wider community.

Primary Goals / objectives for 2013-2015

1. To continue our stewardship of our heritage collections, including:

  • new seed storage facilities
  • developing an East Coast heritage fruit tree collection further
  • continued collection of seeds
  • development of a seed bank incubator program within New Zealand

2.  To develop a research center that supports our vision.  Including the research,   modelling and promotion of:

  • the best practice of biological agriculture and production of nutrient dense food
  • the connections between soil, plant, animal and human health
  • the value of heritage varieties for nutrition and health.
  • the use of multi-tiered, perennial agricultural systems
  • use of traditional (non-industrialised) foods and food processing for good nutrition and health
  • appropriate technologies and self-reliant housing
  • appropriate social organisations (eg Community Land trusts, Bio-regional Associations,  Co-operatives etc)

3.   To further develop our membership base and the range of services offered to the public to ensure financial self reliance of Koanga Institute (a registered non profit organisation) including:

  • sales of seeds, books, booklets, and other products
  • an on-site campus for workshops, courses, internships and apprenticeships
  • seed bank incubator program
  • on-line courses and e-books.
  • consultancy and design
  • strategic commercial partnerships

4.  Once the land is paid for to research the development of a village community that models all aspects of our vision, including purchasing our leasehold site within the village
5.   To engage with a wide range of individuals and organisations nationwide and internationally in mutually supportive relationships and partnerships.
6.   To complete the transition from an organisation with a dominant ‘founder energy’  to an organisation that can be independent of the founders and engaged strongly in the wider national community.  This will include a 3 year program of skills development with the staff team, ongoing apprenticeships, and a well documented institutionalised set of processes and protocols.

Thank you for taking the time to read this note, refer below for more information on how you become involved.

Once again thank you for your amazing support, it IS truly APPRECIATED.
Kind regards
Emma

p.s. Please feel free to share all of these ideas and our need with all of your friends and contacts.

Crowd fund raising campaign-

We still need to raise more and would like your help to spread the word. We would be honoured if you would help us promote our crowd fund raising campaign to your community and friends through e-mail, newsletters, blogs, facebook,  other social media or contacting the media to tell out story. Click here to see our campaign.

Nationwide Speaking Tour
Our founder Kay Baxter is going on tour throughout New Zealand in May 2014  to talk about two very important topics, all funds raised go directly towards saving New Zealand’s heritage seeds and our campaign to buy the land the seeds grow on. The talk topics are:
1) Seeds, humans and the process of co-evolution
2) Nutrient dense food production and preparation for health

The tickets for these tours will go on sale click below to buy now (the first 50 tickets sold will receive a free Urban Garden booklet)

Gisborne http://goo.gl/g4YV4e
Napier http://goo.gl/jAzW3i
Taupo http://goo.gl/MXwA4Q
Rotorua http://goo.gl/SZRQr4
Tauranga http://goo.gl/Z39auy
Auckland http://goo.gl/2fMqeQ
Auckland http://goo.gl/sXmzy1
Whangarei http://goo.gl/s3slLj
Hamilton http://goo.gl/xiWTYq
New Plymouth http://goo.gl/gs4w7t
Masterton http://goo.gl/AzOmKv
Wellington http://goo.gl/0rk4Hh
Wellington http://goo.gl/wYZJEA
Nelson http://goo.gl/2m1D0q
Christchurch http://goo.gl/xnKTXX
Queenstown http://goo.gl/y67FJh
Dunedin http://goo.gl/0xJMZX
Invercargill http://goo.gl/86GeDe

Or can you help us with either sponsorship of the travel for the tour which will cover a campervan, small daily expenses and petrol or event locations ? This would offer significant media coverage. If so contact Emma [email protected]

Memberships:

Buy a business membership that offers your company many benefits click here to find out more
Become a life member for a lifetime of benefits click here to find out more

Spread the word:
Spread the word on facebook, twitter, google+ or any other online media/ distribution list. Contact the media and tell that you want to see us on TV

Sponsor someone on a course/ offer a scholarship- email [email protected] to find out more

Become an apprentice: We have a group of people willing to pay us to train garden and orchard designers and managers for a serious new co operative community in the Wairarpapa. Being accepted by this group as apprentices could potentially get you free training with us and entry and a wonderful work opportunity in this community. If you are keen please contract us urgently, or if you know somebody who may be interested please send this to them. This could support us a lot.

Do a course with us: Permaculture design course in February, Appropriate Technology Internship in February

The Koanga Institute is a nationally recognised charitable trust, dedicated to preserving the heritage food plants of Aotearoa. Over the past 30 years, fruit trees, vegetable seeds and perennial vegetables that are unique to NZ have been saved from extinction through our work. The Koanga Institute has also developed a comprehensive education program that offers the skills and understanding necessary for truly sustainable living in New Zealand, encompassing all aspects of health, sustainable food production and self reliance.

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Soil Food and Health Internship – Did you get what you came for?

Soil Food and Health Internship 2013

Food Forest  focus

 

Did you get what you came for?

 

After reading about forest gardens prior to embarking on my internship here at Koanga, I had a lot of theory and much less practical experience.

This forest garden internship has met my expectations in more ways than I thought.  Although, I still had to spend time in the food and seed gardens for part of the week, there was heaps of practical application and time spent immersed in the forest garden and nursery.  Within the 10 weeks, both theory and practical application enriched my understanding of the forest garden design process, especially pertaining to how to meet the nutritional needs of plants and trees within such a system without using chemical fertilizer applications, but using, essentially, companion planting instead.

After learning about how to find heritage seeds and trees, how to propagate by cuttings, get them to root and then grow the cuttings in starter beds, how to store scion wood, root stocks, tree guilds, forest mimicry, grafting, transplanting, nicking, budding, pruning and fertilizing (with minerals) I could grow just about anything I set my heart to!

The forest garden internship definitely provided me with a solid foundation to either take on an already existing project or establish my own project from scratch!

Thank you for all of the valuable information and experiences!

 

– Cody Kerr

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A Whiter shade of pale by Tim Barker

Some may have read my earlier articles on constructing simple efficient wood fired ovens and water heaters. To date the ovens i have described are what are commonly known as “Black” ovens , now the mental image that  the description “black oven” conjures up may not be particularly appealing but the reality is i assure you far from it. Basically a black oven is one where the food being cooked is exposed to the combustion gasses of the wood so technically a wood fired pizza oven is considered a black oven. Now most i’m sure will agree that a good wood fired pizza is a beautiful thing. Having almost exclusively used a black oven these last three years for all my families roasting and baking i can attest to how tasty food from one of these ovens can be.

There are a number of broad differences between white and black ovens and i’m going to generalize here so professional pyromaniacs and oven builders please remain calm. Generally black ovens are stored heat ovens ,that is you burn wood in them and the mass of the oven stores the heat of the fire. You then clean the ash out and put your food in, be it pizza, roast or bread (again i’m glossing over a vast body of information here) and it cooks, all the while slowly losing heat. Now we’ve all seen wood fired pizza ovens where there is a fire going in the chamber. This is merely an adaption to the need in a commercial situation to cook for extended times or for ovens without adequate mass to store enough heat in the first place. Where my black ovens differ is that there is no attempt to store heat. You cook while the fire is burning with little or no need for preheating.

http://permaculturenews.org/2012/10/16/rocket-oven-a-permanent-wall-mounted-kitchen-oven/

http://permaculturenews.org/2012/11/08/rocket-oven-nitty-gritty/

Funnily enough though one of the most commonly asked questions is “doesn’t the smoke taint the food “ well to be honest i like the flavor it imparts to the food but by and large if the oven is well designed and tended then there is very little “added” flavor.

As i mentioned earlier we bake in ours, cakes, scones, biscuits lots of things with delicate flavors that wouldn’t benefit from a smoky flavor. You’ll notice i added the caveat “if well designed and tended”.  If its not well designed and smokes then it will taint the food ,ditto for wet or green wood or of particular horror if the wood is treated or painted. This cannot be overstated  Use Only Untreated Wood. And of course some people simple don’t know how to start or tend a fire (i would hazard to say most) so if the fire is poorly tended again it will smoke.

Now if your with me on this you’ve probably already guessed there is such a thing as a white oven and yes a white oven simply keeps the food and the combustion gasses separated. Now compared to the black ovens i’ve designed using old electric or gas ovens the white oven is a slightly more complex beast to construct. Firstly we have to have a gas tight inner chamber where the food cooks, this is then surrounded by a chamber where combustion gasses flow and heat the inner chamber through conduction, convection and radiation. In the interests of efficiency we also can have an outer insulating layer to trap and make better use of our heat.

So to recap we have black ovens where food is in contact with combustion gasses and these fall into two main categories and one sub category, those that cook with stored heat(mass ovens) those that cook with direct heat(Insulated ovens) and the third category being those that combine a bit of both (mass ovens with a ongoing fire).

Guess what ? White ovens fall into two main categories with a third sub category. Those that cook with stored heat, those that cook with direct heat, and those that do a little of both. Now when i talk about mass ovens and insulated ovens i don’t mean that mass ovens have no insulation, in fact the best most efficient ones do. However the insulation goes outside the mass and keeps the captured heat from escaping to the environment thereby staying hotter longer. By contrast an insulated oven has comparatively little mass and uses the heat of combustion as its produced.

White ovens that use mass to cook use ….well a lot of mass ! This can make them quite an undertaking to construct and because of the long preheat time removes a lot of the spontaneity that is the spice of life. As previously argued http://permaculturenews.org/2012/11/23/so-where-does-the-appropriate-in-appropriate-technology-come-from/ they are also very inefficient when used in the wrong context. So setting this type aside for a future date i want to concentrate on low mass insulated ovens.

But first a quick look at our sub category of mixed white ovens (some mass and ongoing heat).

Mixed white ovens have been around for some time and seem to often incorporate 200l barrels (44 gallon in old speak and 55 gallon if your from the US). I think that this is purely because they lend themselves so well to the concept and are cheap and easy to get.

rocket oven and barrel ovenAbove we see a more recent design by Max and Eva Edleson of www.firespeaking.com adapted from similar ovens they saw in South America which use some mass and ongoing heat.

Interestingly enough the ovens don’t appear to use any insulation as such and so must lose a fair amount of heat to the environment. However because of the slow heat transfer rate of the Adobe bricks around the barrel  and the large fire chamber, more than enough is soaking into the barrel. Also of interest is that the fire is a traditional sort in that logs are piled in, a fire lit and off you go. As a person who has spent a fair amount of time over the last few years mucking about with rocket stoves the design cries out for a big dose of efficiency in the shape of a rocket combustion chamber, less mass and better insulation.

barrel oven

 

This Photo is of one of the oldest barrel ovens i know it dates from the 1940’s and is at Moreton Telegraph station in Far North Queensland Australia. Note the similarities to the much later design above. These were know as Ant bed ovens as they utilized the material from termite mounds broken up and mixed with water to form the outer shell. You can clearly see a layer of ant bed (think cob) packed in between the inner and outer drum to create a space for the hot combustion gasses to flow around. It was probably this oven that really sparked my initial interest in wood combustion back in the mid 90’s.

This leads us by a long and tortured path to the brief for my latest design which is a white oven with as little mass as possible using a rocket stove as the heat source. Combining these two features should i hope produce an oven that is very quick to heat up and is very frugal in its use of wood. Its always a mistake to pre-empt a design but i’m guessing this oven should hit 300 deg c (great for Pizza) on very little wood. Stay tuned.

 

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August Kay’s garden

It’s that time of the year again…. This week I’ll be planting my early spring garden, and I’ll be planning my Summer garden.

My focus as always will be on finding as many ways as possible to maximize potential for growing nutrient dense food. That means a focus on soil health and a focus on choosing the strongest genetics, or the cultivars that contain the highest levels of nutrition. This month my focus is on choosing those cultivars I’m going to plant. I’ve been doing that now for 30 or so years and I find that I’ve developed very strong relationships with some of the vegetables in my garden. Some times that relationship feels so strong that those plants are now part of the family and I’ll probably always grow them. It actually feels as though my DNA recognizes them, and celebrates the nutrition they provide.

Others I still getting a feel for, and as I learn more about some of the cultivars in our collection, or as new knowledge or understandings come my way I rethink old choices and sometimes make new ones.

The longer I do this the more strongly I feel that the job now is to focus on nutrient density through both genetics and environment.

I love the way Jo Robinson explains .. in Eating on the Wild Side….the human tendency to choose sweet high carb fruit ad vegetables, the reason we’ve selected over thousands of years for these qualities rather than nutrition, and that challenges me to rethink my choices all the way through my menu.

She says in Eating on the Wild Side that as hunter gathers we were hard wired to spend our time searching for the food that made us feel good and kept us healthy, ie that food that was the sweetest, had the most amount of fat and the highest levels of carbs. When all of those things were hard to come by and when they did in small amounts that worked for us. After 10,000 years of plant selection for those qualities it no longer serves us to be constantly eating the sweetest and the fattest and the highest in carbs, we need minerals and vitamins and traditional fats

I’ve definately had a very big sugar addiction through out most of my life, and, and have largely succeeded in changing that . Following the principles of the Weston price Foundation which are the principles all indigenous people based their diets on made the big difference but choosing fruit and vegetable cultivars that contain higher levels of bioavailable nutrients helps a lot as well.

This season for my early Spring garden, I’m going to choose to plant more open leafy greens, (rather than hearting greens) that have a deep green colour or even better a lot of red or purple colouring. They simply contain many times levels of phytonutrients  compared to pale coloured cultivars with tight hearts.

These  will be my early salad ‘greens’

  • Dalmatian parsley, far darker green no other come near for brix levels
  • Rosso endive, deep green and deep red
  • Red mustard, red leaves even when young when I pick it for salads
  • Mignonette lettuce, magenta outer leaves and semi open heart, also Devil’s Ear lettuce with magenta out eaves and semi open heart, also Odell’s which has very dark green outer leaves with stunning sweet white heart
  • Welsh Bunching onions, aka scallions and reputedly the most nutritious onions there are when the green tops are used. They are my favourite onions and the easiest to grow. Once you’ve got them you just keep dividing them up
  • Coriander, deep green open hearted use both leaves and roots
  • Young dandelion leaves and flowers
  • Puha
  • Young red leaves from Bull’s Blood beetroot
  • My early peas will be edible podded peas because they also contain way more nutrition than shellout peas. I like Southland Sno and Havelock and Amish Snap

I’ll plant Ohno Scarlett turnips because of their strong growth habit and deep red veined leaves which are delicious as well as the thick but tender  red skinned turnips. These are a favourite ferment , and the red colouring colours the whole jar of pickles.

I’ll plant my favourite daikon, Aomaru Koshun, which have deep red mandalas in their centres, and I’ll plant Red Russian Kale and Dalmatian cabbage and De Cicco broccoli, for my Spring brassicas because they are also open hearted containing many times the nutrition of tightly hearing cabbages etc. Dalmatian cabbage aka Collards are just as nutritious as kale, and are our own NZ heritage vegetables. Cylindrical beetroot is my favourite not only because of the dark red colour but also because it is twice as productive as other cultivars.

I’m also chitting my potatoes ready for planting now and I’ll be planting Urenika and Whataroa, the two that feel the most nutrient dense to me. Certainly Urenika is well proven to have super high levels of anti-oxidents and bio available nutrients and Whataroa  feels way higher than most others as well.

In my next blog I’ll talk about my choices for the most nutritious Summer crops …. Happy Spring!

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Transport in a Post Peak World

Let me just state right up front , for the record . I love fossil fuels , i can hear the howls of protest now  but there it is, i think their great.  As an exercise imagine if all the products and services provided by fossil fuels vanished from your life right now.  For a start you wouldn’t be angry with me for saying i love fossil fuels because you wouldn’t have a computer to read it on,  you’d also probably find yourself sitting on the ground because most if not all of your house just vanished and you would be wondering what the hell was going on !  Or maybe your feeling a little smug right now because your in an all natural building and so almost nothing came from fossil fuels. Did you dig the clay literally with your hands ? Or did you use a shovel made from steel ? Used your hands ? Im impressed  but i still got you cause your still reading this on a computer.

The point of the mental calisthenics was to point out that we’ve got to get away from the whole us and them mindset.  Us being the side of right who know that the current way we run our society  is totally unsustainable , that fossil fuels are evil  etc etc etc  and Them being the evil fossil fuel using society around us. People, hate to break it to you but  we are all Them.  As part of my work at PRI Australia and now The Koanga institute in New Zealand it’s been my privilege to meet all sorts of amazing young people from around the world and i must say i’ve had some fun pointing that out to them but the brutal fact of all this is that  we need to accept that fact and get on with  the first steps in moving towards a more sustainable society. Note i didn’t say sustainable i said more sustainable  because we simply don’t know what exactly that is , unless of course somebody wants to be dropped off with a tribe of Kalahari bushmen or some other increasingly rare group of hunter gatherers.  See the romantic notion of the wholly sustainable life is at the moment just that ,  a romantic notion.  Theres growing food because its good for you and the environment and it strikes a blow at the heart of the big multinationals and then theres growing food because your life depends on it.  The two are light years apart and so is the current hijacked concept of being sustainable and the reality that we don’t have a clue how we are going to achieve it and the fact that life is going to be a lot harder and dirtier and a hell of a lot less convenient.

 

Right about now is usually when the author says”but” and launches into an optimistic pep talk about how our lives will be better, fuller, richer etc. Sure they will be, no arguments but it will also be bloody harder !

So on to our main topic ‘Transport in a post peak world.’  Now if your not up with the concept of peak oil then i will direct you to my good friend Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_oil for a more in depth explanation but simply put Fossil fuels are a finite non renewable resource. They are also incredibly energy dense ,we have built our entire civilization around them,  they are getting increasingly harder to find and more expensive to extract.  The whole project of Globalization was only made possible through cheap transport fuels so as these fuels get more and more expensive this system will simply seize up and with it industrial agriculture.  Not convinced ? Fact is for every calorie of food we consume in the developed nations Ten (10) calories of fossil fuel are used to grow it package it and ship it.  Now even a small child will quickly figure out that that little equation is not sustainable.  In fact its not a little unsustainable its almost as though someone sat down and carefully engineered it to be as unsustainable as possible.  Added to that, for every kilo of food we grow using modern methods we lose between 6 kilos (in the USA) and 11 kilos (China) of soil forever.  So that which cannot be sustained will not be sustained, meaning our food production system will be coming a lot closer to home (Less food miles) and will be primarily along organic lines.  And if anyone cares to try and argue those points they can take it up with the laws of thermodynamics i’m just the messenger ! Of course what applies to transportation of food also holds true for all other goods such as flat screen TV’s, Ipods and such that are produced overseas and shipped to market.  Ditto the mined raw materials to produce these things  and Ditto the fuel hungry mining process itself. For interesting developments in the revival of sailing ships for goods transport check out  The sail transport network http://www.sailtransportnetwork.org/

Now we’ve discussed transport of industrially produced food and goods a little and i’m not going to say much more except that people really need to consider supplying most of their  non negotiable needs themselves (see “Walking the middle path”). But i suspect where most people will (at least initially) squeal the most is the effect these unfolding events will have on personal mobility.  Leaving aside the complex knock on economic effects of peak oil its a sure bet that transport fuel will be harder to afford be it from increases in price or a reduction in peoples ability to afford it.  And you can read into that what you will, but it seems to me to be baked into the cake.

Of course nothing is simply going to stop, its just gradually going to get harder and harder to sustain current personal transport habits.  And its the changing of personal habits that is our first line of response and also that which has the potential to give us the most bang for our buck. Recent studies have shown that simply by being more organized and more mindful we can reduce the kilometers we travel by a third without any real loss of quality of life. Im sure we all know what i’m talking about , the quick trip to the shop because we’ve run out of milk, the two or three trips by different family members to get different things or because they didn’t want to wait for the other, or the classic shopping two or three times a week rather than once because we can’t be bothered planning out our meals. It all adds up. Taken a little further think of the benefits of coordinating with  friends to shop together, the money saved in fuel can pay for a nice cup of coffee or better yet when they get dropped off you get to pop in for a coffee.

Untitled

 

 

 

 

Of course don’t overdo it !

 

Not only are you saving fuel your maintaining and strengthening social ties !

 

Join a car pooling club or co operative or a ride share scheme. Our cars spend most of their time parked in our driveways doing nothing except quietly but rapidly depreciating. Depending on your situation public transport might also make better sense.

 

Below are links to a few of the ride share schemes in NZ and OZ

http://www.coseats.com/      http://www.carpoolnz.org/   http://www.jayride.co.nz/

And then of course there is the humble bicycle one of our most efficient transport machines. Here not only do you get cheap transport but time to think,  and a free workout . Cargo bikes are big at the moment and for good reason, here you can take the little ones for a ride or bring the groceries home. I want one badly in fact before leaving Oz i was part way through building my own. See  http://tomscargobikes.com/tomscargobikes.com/HOME.html for great DIY instructions.

fossil fuel

 

 

 

 

Many cities in both Europe and the US are now running  bike share schemes to ease parking and traffic issues in the inner city

peak oil

 

 

 

 

 

And of course electric bikes are now readily available and coupled with the cargo bike concept are able to move fairly large loads over extended ranges.

aprop tech

 

 

 

 

 

 

While on the subject of electric vehicles i must say i’m not a fan of Electric cars. While i believe they have their place in the mix we must not use them to try and prolong  “business as usual “ Business as usual is going away.  We are far better keeping the cars we already have going as the massive amounts of energy that have gone into their manufacture is highly amortized  whereas new cars be they super efficient or not have a huge energy cost to manufacture.

As Dmitry Orlov says “The idea of making cars more efficient by making more efficient cars is sheer folly.”

Of course the Elephant in the room is Air travel particularly International Air travel.  Air travel is set to become something that only a few very well off people will be able to afford. For all the reasons previously laid out.  And yet the alternatives are few in fact i can think of only two . The first is don’t and the second is sea transport in general and sail transport in particular.

And in point of fact  passenger sail transport networks whereby tens of thousands of individuals travel between countries already exist.  Web sites where individuals can sign on as crew for a share of costs such as http://www.findacrew.net/secure-server/eng/yacht_crew_jobs.asp are constantly matching yacht owners needing an extra set of hands with people wanting the adventure of ocean travel . Im sorry theres not more to say here on the subject of flight except that fantasies of cheap flights using Bio fuels or such are just that Fantasies.

So while this is just a quick summary of potential transport issues and solutions heading into the future we all need to take a good look at where we live and how we are going to get by on less more expensive fuel. Questions like How far do you commute to work?  How many cars do you have? Do you live far out of town? Where do the kids go to school ? Where is your food going to come from? and can you afford it. All these are question people are only now starting to ask and unfortunately  due to the way we’ve designed our living arrangements predicated on cheap energy the answers aren’t good.

Its going to be an interesting ride !

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Walking the Middle Path

Some of you, having looked at the title may be going ”uh oh“, some may be going “great something about buddhism“ still others may be going “whats he going on about?”. This story is for everybody. I don’t know much about Buddhism except that as religions go, it seems pretty balanced. In the area we used to live, the kids did buddhist studies at school and a lot of what came home seemed to sit well with how we, as a family lived. Getting back to my knowledge of buddhism, as I said  its pretty thin, except that the term “walking the middle path“ which is a central concept of Buddhism, just so happens to pretty much perfectly sum up my personal philosophy on dealing with the challenges in my life and the changes afoot in the wider world. Now don’t get confused and think I follow the Buddhist middle path, but that simply the term fits well with how I think and that certainly my middle path and that of Buddhism are ultimately about balance, self honesty and a healthy dose of critical thinking.

Now those that know me will know that  one of my central themes is not falling in love with any one idea or fix, as “The solution”. I think its a trap when we identify with, or are identified with, an idea, a movement, or a technology so strongly that we are trapped within that frame of reference and so miss other ideas or solutions other than those we are familiar with. Having said that, its why I identify so strongly with the permaculture movement. Without going too far into it, to me the strength of permaculture and the very fact that can make it so maddening to try and describe it to others, is its vigorous adoption of new ideas without diluting its core concepts. Its not an idea so much as an idea about how to arrange ideas. Confused ? Me too. I did say its maddening. Think of it this way, permaculture is both a bookshelf and the system of how we arrange the books on that bookshelf, its not the books themselves. So on our bookshelf called Permaculture we have such titles as, organic gardening, biodynamics, solar passive design, composting, holistic management etc etc etc. As new titles become available and/or we have new updated editions of our existing books, our library grows. As our library grows we begin to rearrange where we place our books on the shelves as the information contained within links with and forms synergies with our other titles. What is not Permaculture is when the authors or fans of a particular book insist that it’s the bookshelf, or at least the most important book in the bookshelf. As a permaculturist (or a follower of the middle path) I’m pretty promiscuous. I don’t care where or who the book came from. As long as it works for me it goes on the shelf with all the other books.

Anyway the trap as previously identified is falling in love with one title and constantly retracing the same familiar paths contained therein without questioning what is valid and what has merely become habit. We’re now approaching our central theme and while I’ve strayed far, I hope I’ve laid sufficient groundwork to illuminate my point.

Suppose we absolutely loved a book called  “Civilization is going to collapse and millions are going to die” or conversely a book titled “Renewable energy will allow civilization to continue on as usual” (I’d like to add at this point that the last title is a much edited and updated version of the classic “Fossil fuels are forever”).  At this juncture, I’d like to leave the whole book analogy behind as its getting pretty tiresome and I’m sure we all get the point.

The trouble with whichever story you believe is that its maddeningly difficult to predict the future and that even if you could, it completely ignores the possibility (nay probability!) of both futures and any number of variations in between unfolding simultaneously in different parts of the world. What I’d like to propose is that we take  the middle path and accept that we can’t accurately know the future beyond some very broad brush strokes (e.g Fossil fuels are running out, we’ve overshot the carrying capacity of the planet and “The Hobbit” will be a box office success) and get on with doing those things that work no matter what the future holds for us.

For example within the school of thought that says the global economy is falling apart (of which I’m one) there are two main sub groups, the deflationists and the hyperinflationists and every variation in between (who is right, I could care less). What I’m interested in is what will work no matter who is right and get out of the predicting the future game entirely. So the deflationists say money will be scarce and whoever has it can purchase what they want (cash is king) while the hyperinflationists say we will be flooded with money which will destroy its purchasing power, so load up on gold . If you choose to believe one story over the other, then you immediately expose yourself to the risk of choosing wrong. Refusing to choose one or the other is of course not the whole strategy – our next step requires us to look to the implications of both competing points of view and seeing what core issues they have in common.

As a general theme, if what you decide to do reduces your dependence on others (be they individuals or companies) for the necessities of life (food water shelter etc) then you have chosen the middle path, an action which immediately makes you more resilient to the vagaries of live no matter what they are. In fact what you will find, is that the same actions keep cropping up no matter the potential problem you are trying to circumvent .

This is why growing your own food is such a powerful act. It works and has huge benefits  whether or not the global financial system is falling apart, whether the inflationists or deflationists are right. Take our earlier example – the deflationist with his wad of cash and the hyperinflationist with his bag of gold. They both have to eat and if they are trying to buy food from someone who is also hungry, then I don’t care how much money or gold they have, they are going to be hungry. We do have to present both sides of the argument and so yes, growing food is a big commitment if you are doing it well. It also has lots of nasty side effects like increased nutrition from eating nutrient dense, toxin free food and increased flexibility from having to actually move your body, not to mention that members of your family may follow you outside from sheer curiosity and then you might actually have to talk to them instead of sitting in front of the TV watching Survivor or some such reality show. While food is a biggie, it is only one of a number of necessities in our lives that if we reduce or remove our dependence on others for, has vast benefits plus some possibly nasty side effects as previously mentioned. Where the middle path doesn’t help is if we are confused about what is essential and what is not. The trouble being, in this day and age we tend to get our wants very much mixed up with our needs and consider things like flat screen TV’s and i phones as not negotiable, a fallacy that can be quickly dispelled by a couple of days without food or having no home.

As a further example, take the typical modern house. Statistically they are getting bigger, the number of people living in them is getting less and we are spending less time in them. A thirty year mortgage paying off a $400,000 loan to get that house will keep you working for the best part of your life and see you paying much more than you borrowed. Now lets build a very modest house, small, recycled and local materials, no toxic substances like off gassing plastics, solvents or glues etc. I’ve known a few people do it for around $10,000. What would you do with all the spare time and/or money if you weren’t working to pay off in excess of $800,000 debt? You could have some nice holidays, that’s for sure!

Now why don’t more people do this? Well? Could it be that we’ve allowed ourselves to be convinced that we deserve it? That we need to have it, that it must be this way because everybody else is doing it? Convinced that we need to work for thirty years as a slave to a bank, that if we don’t have a vast house we might actually die, that people will actually look down on us if we have a small cheap sustainable house. My advice would be send them a nice postcard from wherever you’re next holidaying, or wave at them from your tiny house with the big garden and the solar system on the roof that supplies all your energy as they head off to work .

So what would I do? Nail down the essentials, grow as much of your own food as practical, get out of debt and reduce your dependence on anyone who is providing anything to you for a profit, especially if it is considered a need. Following the middle path, consider if what you do for a living  is resilient to things like economic downturns, get involved in community. Above all, learn to think critically and don’t fall into the trap of automatically believing those things you most want to happen.

Live life, be happy!
Cheers Tim

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Amaranth Porridge

Serves 3 or 4 depending how hungry you are!

  • 1 cup of amaranth
  • 1 can of coconut milk (you can use ordinary cows or goats milk too)
  • 2 cardamon seeds
  • 1 curl of cinnamon stick
  • 1 handful of dried fruit, possible raisins or dried apricots sliced
  • 1 Tbspn of whey (you can easily make your own, just and a little yoghurt in a cloth with a bowl underneath; it will turn into cream cheese in the cloth, and whey in the bowl)

Soak the amaranth in 2 cups of water and the whey for 24 or even 48 hours – the longer the better.  Drain through a sieve – make sure the seeds can’t go through the sieve – and put grain and can of coconut milk with all the other ingredients into pot with 1 cup of water. Bring to boil and simmer on slow heat until grain swells, turn off and sit for 20 minutes.

Serve as is, or add fresh , bottled or dried fruit, and sprinkle with toasted ground pumpkin seeds.

Enjoy!

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Monarchs, Brix and Nutrient Dense Plants by Oscar Morand

I will always remember this day, as my first day actually witnessing a practical understanding of the Reams Biological Theory of Ionization and the Trophobiosis Theory of Francis Chaboussou.

Before sharing with you my experience, I would like to introduce myself and where I stand at the time of writing this article. My name is Oscar Morand and one year and a half ago my main occupation was to be a city boy living in the middle of Geneva, Switzerland. My focus has always been in science and the connections between them. I left the 31st December 2011 for Australia, and there I spent 6 months immerging myself in permaculture. Nature brought into my life the chance to meet Geoff Lawton and David Holmgren, with whom I spent time. After the Australian trip I returned to Europe, and afterwards went to Jordan to Greening the Desert – The Sequel, a project site with Geoff and Nadia Lawton. I am currently staying at the Koanga Institute in New Zealand, on the land of the Kotare Village, created by Bob Corker and Kay Baxter. Again, 6 months is the time allowed for myself to spend in this amazing place. There I have learnt about many beautiful things; having such a vast amount of knowledge and understanding at my disposal, I could freely dive into the subjects that I love. This is kind of new to me, to actually grab a book, a pen and some notes and tell myself: “Here we go, Oscar, let’s study!” And then, pure pleasure, spending hours and hours gaining knowledge and building practices for the now and the future, valuable and ethical stuff, things that resonate with my inner being, where afterwards I am like, “Yeah! This stuff is great, I want more!” And I dive again, into the realm of satisfying self-action transforming learning. I spent time in the gardens and also did the 10-week Natural Building internship, gathering skills into so many different practices that I will not list them here. But what stays on my heart is that this is a place where people can decide to be free of the “have-to” and be intentional about what they truly want to do.

Thank you so much to Kay and Bob, for allowing a space where my body and my mind can experiment freely. The article that follows shows an aspect of one of my learning journeys, gathering different kinds of theory and knowledge into something that, I hope, makes sense.

While having a wander in the garden with Jai, we found ourselves contemplating our fellow earthen inhabitants, the monarch caterpillars. Their beautiful black and yellow-striped bodies, crawling on the swan plants and munching the green leaves, invite anyone to just sit and slow down to the rhythm of nature. And so we did.

I will try in this essay to express the observations made on this day by Jai and myself.

We were in the Koanga main seed garden, at the Kotare Village. In front of us, several garden beds, let’s call them bed n°1 and bed n°2. At the end of each bed there were some swan plants for the monarchs. Our gaze was focused on bed n°2: there the monarchs were plenty and very active, eating vast amounts of the plants, the leaves, the fruits and the stems, leaving near to nothing. How hungry and devoted they were to accumulate large quantities of energy for their transformations.

monarch

But after a little while looking at this specific bed, my attention was caught by the plants next door, on bed 1, and what a surprise! The beds, two plants each, looked pretty similar but on bed 1 the monarchs were a lot less numerous and the amount of leaves still on the plants was way bigger than on the plants on bed 2. And the most surprising fact was that even if it was 2pm, even if the conditions were exactly the same than the “excited” monarchs of bed 2, these “bed 1” monarchs were mostly dormant, and a few were moving very slowly. I even tried to poke one on the antenna (peace upon him) and almost no reaction. As a good scientist I needed a reference point, so I went to poke a “bed 2” monarch and there the reaction was huge: the monarch moved all around and I could feel how annoying it could have been.

Another observation was their manures. And yes, I did spend some time observing very closely the output generated by our fellows the monarchs, and again two different results between bed n°1 and bed n°2. On bed n°2 the manure looked almost the same colour as the stem of the swan plant: a light green colour. But after looking at bed n°1’s monarchs’ packet of fertilizers it was different. The colour was a lot darker: a dark green. To be sure about what I was noting on the excrements of these insects I stood there a little hour comparing the manures from different caterpillars on the same plant, and still the same conclusion: the bed n°1’s manure is darker than the bed n°2’s manure. Here is a picture of bed n°1’s “output”.

monarch 2

And obviously a third observation was the number of chrysalides on each bed. The swan plants were at the very end of the bed and the rest of the bed was planted with lamb’s quarters. It looked like the monarchs were moving to the close-by lamb’s quarters to begin their chrysalises. And, logically, bed n°2, where they were the most active, had the higher number of monarch caterpillars ready to begin their journey as magnificent butterflies.

monarch 3

Now that I have shared with you my observations, I will try to explain why the same insects at the same moment have such different behaviours, through the knowledge that I gained by my study of the Reams Biological Theory of Ionization, and the work of great scientists like Phil Callahan, Dr. Arden B. Andersen, and Francis Maboussou.

My very first step towards the understanding of what was happening was to grab a refractometer and take readings of the swan plants in both beds.

Refractometer? Let’s explain a little bit: “The refractometer is a tool which measures the refractive index of a liquid. When light rays shine through the liquid they strike the carbohydrates, salt and other molecules depending upon the type of calibration used. When the light rays strike the molecules, they bend or refract. The greater the calibrated molecular concentration of the liquid in question, the greater the refraction.”1 And the molecular concentration of the plant is “the concentration of sugars, vitamins, amino acids, proteins, hormones, and other solids dissolved within the juice of the plant which is measured in BRIX (ratio of the mass of dissolved solids to water).”2 The Brix unit that the refractometer gives is basically the mineral contents of the plant; thus, the higher the refraction, the higher the mineral content, the higher the nutrient-density of the plant.

It is really a beautiful tool that allows each one of us to assess the nutrient density of our plants, which is a perfect reflection of the health of our soil. So the BRIX of the swan plants were as follows:

–          12 for the swan plant on bed n°2, the bed with the excited caterpillars

–          18 for the swan plant on bed n°1, the bed with the dormant caterpillars

What we can conclude based on these observations is that the plants on bed n°1 have a higher nutrient density than the plants on bed n°2. This may shed some light on the fact that the manures of the monarchs on bed n°1 with a BRIX of 18 were darker than the ones on bed n°2 with a BRIX of 12. The higher the nutrient density of a plant, the higher the nutrition of it, the higher the amount of minerals per caterpillar’s mouthful; thus, the higher the mineral concentration of the monarch manures and, therefore, the darker the poo.

Alright, this makes sense but it still doesn’t explain why their behaviour was so different depending on which plant they are feeding, and also why there were fewer monarchs on bed 1 than on bed 2.

First, let’s look at why the monarchs were more attracted by the plants on bed n°2, the plants that have the lower BRIX reading, 12.

If I think about universal patterns, I can observe – and it has been observed by a lot of other human beings – that the complex process of Nature allows the most adaptable to survive and, on the other hand, the less adaptable to be devoured. For life to happen a creature is born, then needs to harvest energy in one way or an other, reproduce and die thereafter to be consumed, or biologically decayed, by an other form of life – all of this in an infinite net of interdependence and endless cycles of birth and death. This is the guidance by which life is able to evolve towards more complex forms of life. If it weren’t the “sick” that were annihilated but the “healthiest”, the result would be a world covered by non-functional plants, animals and microorganisms. It just doesn’t make sense!

That’s the reason why we are able to see lionesses pack-hunting herding animals and getting the slower ones, being too young, old or sick; plants thriving where there is a healthy soil food web and others dying on soil without life; and insects developing pesticide resistance, enabling them to survive in high chemical environments compared to other insects, who just die.

This can partly explain why the monarchs are packing themselves on n°2’s plants. Nature follows the path of least resistance, trying to achieve the highest ratio of energy invested for energy returned. It will always first recycle the less functional, allowing the most adaptable and healthiest forms of life to perpetuate themselves.

For us humans, the difference between a healthy horse and a sick one is obvious, but what about plants? What about plants that look exactly the same to our naked eyes? How are the monarch caterpillars able to select the plants with the lower BRIX readings? Here is the answer, lying in the work of an amazing man:

“Dr. Philip Callahan of the University of Florida, a USDA entomologist, explains that insect antennae are actually like small semiconductors, and, as they are coated with wax, are also paramagnetic structures. They receive various wavelengths in the infrared spectrum. Once the information is received, the insect’s brain determines whether the frequencies correspond to a mate, food, water, or something else. Everything emits infrared radiation, and each thing has its own specific range of vibration. The vibrational frequency of all the component parts of a thing makes up its composite vibrational frequency. This is what the insect receives and processes.

If a plant is in perfect or near perfect health (mineral balance), it will vibrate at a given composite frequency. If there happens to be a mineral deficiency, it will vibrate at a slightly different composite frequency. If there is a serious deficiency or several deficiencies that make that plant unfit for animal or human consumption, it will vibrate at a significantly different frequency that the insects know as food, hence an insect infestation. This phenomenon is easily proven. Grow a plant, a potato for instance, according to the program that is laid out in the next chapter of this book, and also grow one according to conventional practices. Keep track of the sugar (BRIX) readings and notice which plant is devoured by insects and which is not. Once the quality of a crop surpasses a given level, there will not be an insect problem with it because the crop will not vibrate at a composite frequency corresponding to the insect’s food.”3

Amazing isn’t it? The insects are able to sense, to capture the vibrations of their environment and process it to determine if it is food or not. Now we understand why there were more monarchs on the plants of bed n°2 than on those of bed n°1. The plants of n°2, with a BRIX reading of 12, have a lower composite vibrational frequency than the plants of n°1. Not only that, but I suppose that the BRIX of bed n°1’s plants are high enough to not be considered as proper food by the insects.

But there were still a few caterpillars on the swan plants of bed n°1, remember? The ones that were dormant, as if the plant had poisoned them. And guess what? That is what happened or, more exactly, it is a kind of indigestion from the too-high-to-digest mineral content of the plants. Dr. Arden B. Andersen explains: “Insects get sick from healthy plants because they cannot handle the rich nutrients present in those plants. Further verifications of energetic communication can be found in the writings of Robert Becker, Vlail Kaznacheyev and Phil Callahan.”

This statement leads me to the Trophobiosis Theory of Francis Maboussou, an agronomist of France’s National Institute of Agricultural Research. The Minister for the Environment in Brazil, Jose Lutzenberger, reformulated this theory in a simple statement: “a pest starves on a healthy plant.” 5 The idea is there, but let’s explore the theory a little bit more deeply. Kay Baxter pointed me towards an article by John Kempf6 where he beautifully explains what is actually happening inside the plant.

Basically insects and pathogens have a less complex digestive system than higher animals and humans. And through their field study his team observed different stages of plants’ health. Each one corresponds to an increase in the overall health of the plant that affects the way it functions, the way it behaves. The product created by the plants will tend to complexify, which results in the inability of simpler organisms to have the digestive capacity to process the available components of the plants.  For all this evolution to happen the plant needs primarily efficient photosynthesis through adequate quality and intake of air, water, carbon dioxide and sunlight. And afterwards, it will need a healthy and active soil food web developed in the rhizosphere (the digestive system of the plant) to support it:

  • During the first stage there is the production of simple sugars, food for insects and disease pests, then the process evolves and goes towards the production of complete carbohydrates resistant to soil-borne pathogens.
  • In the second stage the plant, having this symbiotic relationship with the soil food web, forms complete proteins resistant to larval insects.
  • The third stage sees the abundance of energy being stored as complete lipids resistant to air-borne pathogens. This is only possible through the support of a well functioning soil food web.
  • And, finally, the fourth stage opens us to the creation of “complex plant protectant compounds”, built by the presence of the elevated lipid levels. The plants create these phytoalexins, which are part of a wide diversity of PSMs (plant secondary metabolisms). These PSMs act as anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties and also produce digestion (enzyme) inhibitors, resistance to beetles and various other insects occurs. 7

Agri-Dynamics Director Jerry Brunetti says, “The plant hormones, gibberellins and abscisic acid are also terpenoids (diterpenes) and some of the diterpenes act as phytoalexins, which are molecules whose production is triggered by an infection or predation. Thus the phytoalexins’ chemistry is strongly anti-bacterial or anti-fungal.” 8

In his work, John Kempf stops at the fourth stage but doesn’t state that the evolution process stops there.

I don’t know what specifically inhibited the voracious hunger of the monarchs. By referencing the work of Francis Maboussou, John Kempf and others I just want to highlight that in life and Nature there reside some powerful evolutionary processes. Even if I am unable to precisely determine if our swan plants have reached the fourth stage or went further, I can only guess that the monarch caterpillars began to be affected by the overwhelming health of the swan plants at 18 BRIX.

This does mostly answer the questions raised by our observations of the monarchs, but doesn’t end the story. From our perception the plants stopped producing food for insects, fungi and bacteria and began to produce healthy human’s food as soon as the general vibrational frequency of the plants increased.

All this is very new for me and I recommend reading the article by John Kempf – you can find the reference in the notes. I don’t know for you, but inside me it creates even more questions than answers. What does it really mean to have a crop destroyed by insects? Does it mean it is not meant for human consumption? What can we do to increase the health of our soil? Are we designed to digest stage 1 plants or more complete ones? But also, how healthy can a plant become, and how can we achieve the best quality crops? And, finally, how healthy can we become if we have the opportunity to eat only the most nutrient-dense plants?

A last observation would also be, why do these two garden beds, next to each other, have such different BRIX readings? Here at the Koanga Institute we give it our all to remineralise the soil into a healthy and living super-organism. We add a wide range of inputs, in the form of minerals, pre-composted fertilizers, liquid fertilizers, biofertilizers, compost teas and, obviously, compost. All this work is done by hand, where an uneven application of any fertilizer is very probable. We also use the Grow Biointensive method of John Jeavons and follow a strict rotation in the garden beds. With this information we can see that our two beds have probably not had the exact same treatment in the past. And I am grateful for that, allowing me to deepen my knowledge through deep observations.

Too conclude, this is a win-win situation for both species: the monarch caterpillars and the swan plants. The monarchs that have the most accurate ability to sense their vibrational environment are able to direct themselves to the plants with lower mineral content, therefor being food for insects, which allows the monarchs to thrive. And the swan plants with the higher mineral content, hence, the healthiest, are the ones that will set the greatest number of seeds, being untouched by the insects, to perpetuate their lineage and even reinforce it.

I would like to acknowledge the fact that it is a win-win situation not only for the two but also for the greater whole, including, for example, the microorganisms thriving in the rhizosphere of the high BRIX swan plants, and us, human beings, receiving these gifts from Nature.

How wonderful and miraculous Nature is? The more I study it, the more amazed I am by its inherent tendency to be perfect.

Oscar Morand

Ps: Thanks to Ashly Dyck for the patience and the time spent on editing.

Notes

1  Dr. Arden B. Andersen, The Anatomy of Life & Energy in Agriculture, page 84

2  Albert Bates, The Biochar Solution,

3  Dr. Arden B. Andersen, The Anatomy of Life & Energy in Agriculture, page 50

4   Dr. Arden B. Andersen, Science in Agriculture, page 251

5   Jose Lutzenberger, quoted in “Trophobiosis Theory: A Pest Starves on a Healthy Plant” by John Paull, ELEMENTALS ~ Journal of Bio-Dynamics Tasmania # 88 2007, web. http://orgprints.org/12894/1/12894.pdf

6   John Kempf, “Crop Health Transitions,” Acres U.S.A. November 2011, Vol. 41, n° 11, page 22

7   John Kempf, “Crop Health Transitions,” Acres U.S.A. November 2011, Vol. 41, n° 11, page 22

8   Jerry Brunetti, “Plant Seconday Metabolites, Acres U.S.A. December 2011, Vol. 41, n°12, page 60