Saint Ambrose

Saint Ambrose
Photo: Journey Worker Productions, CC SA 3.0 (C)

Friday, 30 October 2015

Broad Beans

Today I came home and harvested most of the broad beans for dinner. Ive been snacking on them raw as I have walked past in the last few weeks, so most of them were not in this batch, but there were enough there to go on a meal. I also kept about 1/3 of whats here again, for drying and planting again in March.

Im quite happy with how they turned out, this is about half of what I ended up eating:

Im quite pleased about how the broad beans experiment has worked. I will definitely try it again next year.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Groves to deal with heat from Jackie French

Jackie French has a nice webpage, with a good post on groves -

Well worth checking out.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Review of ´Soil Food´

Some notes of Jackie French´s ¨Soil Food¨, Melbourne: Aird pr. 1995, ISBN 0947214445; viii; 181pp + ind. 4pp.

Jackie French is a notable Australian author of organic/conservation/sustainability themed works I have mentioned before here - her book on natural pest management for example. In this older work, she addresses how to add fertility to soils.

The book is quite good, although like her other works, it contains a 1. manageable amount of scientific research, 2. quite useful tips and tactics (in this work adding nutrients and structure to soil), her own historical anecdotes, 3. tips and tactics apt for orchard/farm sized operations, and 4. some personal (and sometimes annoyingly didactic) political-social observations.

Its worth getting for the mix of the 1 and 2 (and 3 if appropriate), and sucking up the presence of 4. If you´ve read a good work on soil structure, 1. will be a light reminder, but otherwise it is a bit too light to be the only thing to rely on. Get a guide to soil structure science/ecosystems and spend an hour with it and cover it properly.

The chapters are: intro, intro to soil deficiencies, what plants need what nutrients and minerals, fertilisers (organic vs artificial), green manure, manure, compost, mulch, test cases - 10 plots and how to feed them.

I am about half way through, reading chapter 4, which is what I bought it for - on green manures. This is where you grow a crop and then slash it to mulch for things growing around it. The book details combinations to grow together, which is really very precise and well written. (This is also a sort of mulch strategy; she is generally very good on mulch strategies)

Ch 4 on fertilisers is also very good. Her position on artificial fertilisers is that they are a bandaid for an emergency terrible situation that is dire, and shouldnt be used for regular, general use, and that their bandaid function should be respected. I think this is reasonable, although one has to recognise (and the book does this but not explicitly enough) that in the absence of the sort of techniques and care she advocates, there will be a drift of commercial agriculture to needing more and more bandaids! The book is mostly practical in its orientation (fair enough) there is not really a focus on comparing systems of agriculture and land on-dwelling (what post-Lockean world calls ´land use´). And that´s ok: the value of the book is what is says on particular tactics.

I will write more when Ive

Monday, 19 October 2015

Harvesting and planting

I have done a clean out of the garden in the last few weeks. I had slowly cut off various plants and froze the foliage, which I am slowly adding to soups. Here is a handful of buds of the daikon plant that I added (along with NZ spinach) to a tomato and chickpea potage:

Quite delicious.

I have replanted various things - most notably amish paste tomatos, and rearranged things considerably. More detail to follow!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

transition movement doc / Flower in the garden

This has suddenly bloomed, after the plant had grown in the garden for a few months. 
Any idea what it is? Looks like a sort of poppy, but a far lighter shade of red.

I was reading this doc, an explanation and critique of the Transition movement.

I am quite fond of the transition movement´s goals in micro, even if its concern with peak oil is a bit dated/naive (it is now obvious that the globe will mine and burn tar sand resources down to the last tank of petrol for driving up to the supermarket and buying frivolities rather than bothering to change).

Here´s a sketch of the transition assumptions from the doc (pg. 3) which animate its programme -

(1] That life with dramatically lower energy consumption is inevitable, and that it’s better to plan for it than to be taken by surprise;
(2] That our settlements and communities presently lack the resilience to enable them to weather the sever energy [and economic] shocks that will accompany peak oil [and climate change];
(3] That we have to act collectively, and we have to act now;
(4] That by unleashing the collective genius of those around us to creatively and proactively design our energy descent, we can build ways of living that are more connected, more enriching, and that recognise the biological limits of our planet.

I think we at CSA would agree with all of these except 4; 3 probably needs a modifier to ´collectively and individually´ but OK;

(4) would be nice, except the power progressive metaphors are a bit questionable - unleash suggests its there ready to go and only artificially restrained; the concept of collective genius also needs an individual to do it, but if we eased it back to ´communal talents´ it would be OK and not grandiose or Bolshie/Averroist;
the claims to be more connected and more enriched is pretty dubious on any level higher than reintroducing a concept of wonderment at nature: if transition leads to planetary secularisation and ¨scandinavianisation¨ of low energy bike paths, organic food, etc, but no religion or a universe worth caring about, then Im not sure how that works: I can see people clinging together and valuing a society in an indifferent or pointless universe, but that doesnt strike me as enriched, but rather, quite pointless. And doing a community focus rather than a cosmic focus is a bit misguided.

But for all those reservations, and thinking of (4) as something like ´enriching human societies to achieve their respective genuine common goods, and accordingly, the common good´, it strikes me as quite OK.

Two paragraphs leapt out at me for thinking about a Catholic environmental ethic that has some of the same goals as transition. The first from p. 8 on the social group that gets involved:

The suggestion is that caring for the environment is a privilege that generally only arises once the struggle for basic necessities has been won. Whether that is a valid characterisation of the broader Environmental movement is a question we leave to one side (Martinez-Alier, 1995], but we do wish to explore the question of whether the Transition movement is just another ‘pleasurable, leisure based community movement’ (James, 2009a: 19] and an expression of ‘bourgeois community resilience’ (James, 2009b: 15], as some of its critics, often from the political left, assert (see Trapese Collective, 2008]. We contend that the reality of what Mason and Whitehead (2012: 511] call ‘inclusive localism’ is more complex than that, although the danger is real that the Transition movement may end up as little more than an exclusive middle- class club for nice, comfortable people who already have the resources and options to adapt. 

Yep. A Catholic version of this gets around this problem because everyone is already there. And it resolves the terror of the left - ie the need for a mix of top down along with bottom up, in the same way its top down and bottom up structures mediate parallel issues elsewhere - by being unembarrassed about the concepts of hierarchy and governance and some top down direction built into the system. (This means that it really cant be a leftist movement any more).

The other quote:

To what extent can the Transition movement avoid the pain, hardship, and conflict historically associated with significant social movements (e.g. Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, etc.]? After all, vested interests in the status quo are almost certainly going to try to maintain the status quo, suggesting that the ambitious goals of the Transition movement (including decarbonisation, relocalisation and building a new economy] are probably going to confront, or are confronting, hard political opposition from enormously powerful political and economic forces. For this reason, we would argue that pain and conflict cannot be sidestepped on the path of ‘transition’, while at the same time acknowledging that activists and participants in the movement may well find the struggle meaningful and worthwhile, no matter how difficult the path may turn out to be. To paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche: they who have a why to live, can bear almost any how.

A CSA response to this is that a catholic version has sacrifice right at its centre, and has the resources to avoid this entirely. The cross and centuries of monasticism mean this isnt an issue; what we see in the quote is the paradox of leftists who are idealistic hedonists and utilitarians struggling against making the sacrifices required to bring in the reign of utility/enrichment that they are looking for. Indeed, one could make a sort of Bellocian response to these people that the task of fixing things has been made far worse by the modern state´s appropriations of church lands in the modern period running from 1534 to the Cuban revolution´s landgrabs. We took all the land and control away from the church to make a more hedonistic, efficient world, and it turns out that we´ve overdone it, and the very virtues that we require to turn things around are parallel to the very ones contained in the programme that the church and in particular the monastics were set up to implement.

More later, but I´d recommend the doc as a good introduction to the transition movement, and also a good introduction to thinking through the ethics of how to do environmental change: use it as an ¨if not, why not?¨ guiding process. My suspicion is that the utilitarian/immanentist side of the left will blunt anything it tries to do in terms of implementing social ideals on a sustainable (!) basis; I suppose this is my Ratzingerian pessimism that we can never have a social architecture or rules to fix broken societies, if character and virtue is absent; and that the Church is required to get the virtue story right on a tenable basis.


Appended note

My attitude is nicely summarized by Dorothy Day writing about Fidel Castro´s Cuba:

I am most of all interested in the religious life of the people and so must not be on the side of a regime that favors the extirpation of religion. On the other hand, when that regime is bending all its efforts to make a good life for the people, . . . one cannot help but be in favor of the measures taken.