Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

Book Review: Jeavons’ How to grow more vegetables

This is the bible by which we run our allotment-style vegetable beds. It’s not the only gardening book you’ll ever need – it assumes you have basic gardening knowledge already, or are getting it from another book. Where this book shines is in it’s explanation of Biointensive gardening practices. Unlike some “pretty” gardening books it is not a joy to read, however the tables of plant spacings, expected yields and typical consumption are invaluable if you are serious about trying to feed yourself from your land. One of my favourite parts of the book is the section of sample garden plans – they are a little complicated to follow but really help to build the confidence of novices like us.

The great testament to this book’s usefulness  is that it is probably the muddiest of all our books. It is the one with us when we’re working in the garden, not a coffee-table talking point or occasional reference.

If you want to move beyond just messing about, this Biointensive “mini-farming” approach is one of the ways to go. It’s not a book to get from the library, this is one to buy, and use. Order it from your local bookshop, but if you have to buy it online please follow this Amazon link – How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Can Imagine and the Trafford Eco House will get some money from your purchase (it won’t cost you any more).

Book review – Jared Diamond’s Collapse

I’ve had a few questions at talks I give about what books I’d recommend, and I’ve given out a few names depending on the topic. I realised though that I haven’t put anything about our growing library on the blog, so I’ll try and rectify that over the coming year (no promises!)

I thought I’d start with something scene-setting, rather than the slew of practical books that I usually recommend.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive” takes a look at the collapse of historical civilisations, and then sets that in a modern context. Diamond looks at deforestation, overpopulation and pollution, and the inability of civilisations to live within the capacity of the land they actually live in, rather than the one they wish they inhabited. I thought it was quite well written, although it did need a bit of perseverance at the start. It cleverly took me from the position of smug modern human, mocking those foolish primitive islanders, through to foolish modern Australian, being paid to deforest the land.

It was not all doom and gloom though – there are some good examples of societies that have struck a balance and survived whilst neighbouring civilisations fell. Overall, it does a lot to highlight how precarious our “all-powerful” societies really are. Well worth a read.

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.

If you like the sound of it, pick it up at your local library or bookshop, but if you have to buy it online please follow this Amazon link –Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive and the Trafford Eco House will get some money from your purchase (it won’t cost you any more).

The secret of happiness

Now that’s a pompous title to a post. I doubt anyone can ever really claim to have found the one secret to happiness, however there was a nice article on happiness over at Mother Jones today. I particularly liked the “10 techniques to help you get happier”:

  • Meet up with a friend that you haven’t seen for a while
  • Watch a funny film or tv show
  • Exercise 30 minutes three times a week
  • Cut your tv viewing in half (but not the funny stuff?)
  • Buy experiences not goods: go to a concert, movie, unusual place, or strange restaurant.
  • Create novel challenges by starting a hobby, joining an organization, learning a skill
  • Go for a 20 minute walk in the sun
  • Spend 10 minutes listening to relaxing or uplifting music
  • Stroke a dog (cat?)
  • Stop watching and reading the news

It’s all to easy to focus solely on the physical things we have to do – the garden, the house, etc – and to miss out on thinking about the mental and emotional challenges that we face. And none of those have to cost a lot of money – perfect in this post-crash world.

Interesting Post-Peak article

http://www.bohemian.com/bohemian/06.17.09/feature-0924.html

An interesting article that canvasses a wide range of post-peak views, from Transition USA to Life after the Oil Crash. Amidst all the gloom this quot amde me laugh:

These people must reprioritize their value systems now and quit “waddling through Wal-Mart.”

I can see myself in that mirror – it’s time to really question what we’re buying, and why, and how we’d survive without it.

And then start doing without it now.

Understanding Peak Oil video presentation

Just another quickie – a really good video from Post-Peak Living. This is a great introduction to peak oil, so if you know someone who doesn’t yet understand the issues, send them this link. It’s U.S. based, but is still good – I liked a couple of the points particularly:

People lived well before oil, and people can live well after it.

Life is going to get very local, very quickly.

Worth remembering!

A dark post-economic-crash moment

Dmitry Orlov is at his cheery best again, writing an article called “Social Collapse Best Practices“. In it he describes the grim future awaiting America if Obama’s administration continmue to try and resuscitate Business as Usual. 

What should their realistic new objectives be? Well, here they are: food, shelter, transportation, and security. Their task is to find a way to provide all of these necessities on an emergency basis, in absence of a functioning economy, with commerce at a standstill, with little or no access to imports, and to make them available to a population that is largely penniless. If successful, society will remain largely intact, and will be able to begin a slow and painful process of cultural transition, and eventually develop a new economy, a gradually de-industrializing economy, at a much lower level of resource expenditure, characterized by a quite a lot of austerity and even poverty, but in conditions that are safe, decent, and dignified. If unsuccessful, society will be gradually destroyed in a series of convulsions that will leave a defunct nation composed of many wretched little fiefdoms.

Not the happiest picture! He then goes on to describe the advantages that the USSR had during its collapse.

Essentially, because supplies of food were already poor, people had already adjusted to growing their own and obtaining supplies from elsewhere within walking / public transport distance. His suggestion for the West is to prepare for human scale farming, in or near urban centres. Identify spare spaces (or spaces that will become spare when fuel becomes scarce – car parks, some roads, overpasses etc – and transport soil in to produce raised beds. He suggests this once-off transport of soil will be easier than ensuring regular transport of produce into the cities. 

Their population density – many generations to an apartment – while a negative in prosperous times can be seen as aiding their resilience.  The density lends itself to good public transport and larger scale, more efficient, heating. In addition, they did not face the spectre of eviction as the first consequence of economic crisis. He contrasts this to the unsustainable nature of American suburbia with its car and heating-fuel dependence.

He has an interesting take on security – the thing that results in so many Americans’ response to peak oil being to lock them selves in a cabin in the woods surrounded by weapons. He takes the pragmatic approach of making friends with the many out-of-work soldiers and police that will be around – the if you can’t beat them, join them, approach.

The interesting thing I take away from this is one of his early insights:

Here is the key insight: you might think that when collapse happens, nothing works. That’s just not the case. The old ways of doing things don’t work any more, the old assumptions are all invalidated, conventional goals and measures of success become irrelevant. But a different set of goals, techniques, and measures of success can be brought to bear immediately, and the sooner the better.

The message is – get your head, and house – in the right place before you need to. Then you stand a reasonable chance of getting through this, and getting your family and friends through it too.

What is the Good Life?

In the middle of this dire economic crash, with peak-oil and climate change suggesting that the “best” is now behind us and that a long, slow (or short, quick) decline is what we face, a wonderful movement is being reborn. It shoots can be seen everywhere – in the flowering of Transition Towns across Britain, in the ever-growing waiting lists for allotments that were unwanted just a few years ago, local farmer’s markets sprouting in every town centre, and proposals for 2,012 gardens clinging to London’s rooves. It’s even discussed in the Guardian’s forecasts for 2009. Whatever your particular name for it, it seems that we are being shocked out of our ongoing “Greed is Good” mentality to ” The Good Life is Better”.

But what is this Good Life? I suspect everybody has their own. It depends on what has brought you to this point: increasing prices for petrol, gas, electricity and food? unemployment or financial uncertainty? unease at the origin and safety of your family’s food? concern over your environmental footprint? or a belief in the impending energy shortages that peak oil will bring? Whatever your overall direction or philosophy, frugality, self-sufficiency, and the rediscovery of community seem to be some common themes.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all of this, but when it all gets a little too interesting I like to take a step back and think “Isn’t this one of the most exciting times to be alive – to have a chance to shape a future for our children at this pivotal period in our history.”

Bring on an interesting year decade …

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