Friday, November 27, 2009

Rob Hopkins on TED: Our Future in Transition

Rob Hopkins is the founder of the Transition movement, which has been an influence on the Rodgers Forge Farm Initiative. The "transition" of Hopkins's movement is one away from an oil-dependent lifestyle -- because, Hopkins posits, oil is going away. The idea behind Transition is to make one's living situation as resilient as possible. In this talk, he outlines the Transition movement and discusses how it is different from the more popular notions of sustainability.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Peak Oil and Your Garden

At the Rodgers Forge Farm Initiative we've been concerned about climate change, soil depletion, and the health effects of chemical additives in our food. These are all reasons to garden here in the Forge. However, people are increasingly talking about another reason to garden at home, one we feel compelled to share with you: peak oil production.

You may have heard the term "peak oil" -- it has been in the news a lot lately. The idea isn't new, but it has remained on the margins of conversations about energy for decades. But with the steep increases in the price of oil in the summer of 2008, peak oil went mainstream.

Peak oil is the point at which oil production -- a single oil well or the entire production capacity of a country, or even a planet -- reaches its maximum. In the simplest terms, a peak corresponds to the midway point in reserve capacity. Oil production can increase year after year until the point at which half of the reserve has been reached. Then oil becomes harder and more expensive to extract, and production begins to decline. (United States oil production peaked in 1970 and has been in decline since.)

According to proponents of peak-oil theories, this decline in production can lead to price shocks and rising oil prices. While many proponents of oil interests insist that there are great reserves yet to be discovered, other geologists and executives of petroleum companies and energy investment firms refute such claims. The graph here shows the major oil discoveries of the past century. You can see that they mostly happened in the mid-20th Century and have been going down ever since.

What does this have to do with food and gardening? As Michael Pollan and others have pointed out, when you eat food from the supermarket, you are eating oil. Fossil energy was used to plow the fields and fertilize, harvest, freeze, and transport that food 1,500 miles from the field to your plate. The journalist Richard Manning has estimated that each food calorie in this country is backed by 10 calories of oil energy.

That means that food will have to be less energy intensive in the future, which means that it might have to be growing right out your front or back door. We'll return to this idea in future posts.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Preparing for Spring

So, you've read all about front-yard gardens and back-yard gardens in Rodgers Forge, and you're eager to start your own next year. Well, the time to start working on that garden is now. There is plenty of work you can do this fall to make your garden better next year.

Find a Place For the New Bed: Pick a sunny spot somewhere in your yard. Keep in mind that the sun is in a different spot now than it will be in June of next year. Make sure a water source is nearby. Also, make sure it is out of the way of any activity that might happen in the yard in warmer months.

Make Your Bed: We prefer raised beds, framed with two-by material -- usually 2x8 or 2x10. Make a box with no top or bottom (in other words, earth will be the bottom and the sky will be the top) that has a maximum width of three to four feet. (Your arms have to be able to reach the center to weed and pick.) The box can be as long as you like. Then dig that into your selected sunny spot.

Get Soil: You can get bagged stuff or bulk. Fill the box. You'll find it cheaper to get soil in bulk through, say, a compost operation.

You now have a garden bed that will hold plants next year. But you can do more to help the bed grow more vegetables come spring....

Set Up a Composter: You can set that up right on top of your new bed. Fill it with leaves and grass clippings and turn often. (See our brief guide to composting for more information.)

Dig In Leaves: It is absolutely insane that we bag up leaves and throw them away. The leaves are valuable soil amendments, filled with nutrients. Take a bagful, spread it on the soil, and dig it in. Take another bagful and use the leaves to cover the bed, insulating it from hard rains and cold snaps. When spring comes, you will pull those leaves off and compost them, and your garden bed will be ready to go.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009