Monday, August 24, 2009

I’m really starting to think I don’t want any electricity at all when I go off-grid. To totally do that I’d have to find a property with a spring or else a shallow well that would allow hand pumping. If that presents too much of an obstacle I can settle for a solar or wind-powered pump. But that should be the extent of my electric needs, unless I absolutely need a laptop.

And still this crazy idea to have a dirt floor is holding sway—and not one of these fancy, polished dirt floors that you see in multi-million dollar “green” homes—I’m talking about plain dirt. At least to start, then maybe filling in some or all of the floor with brick or stone as time goes by.

It seems like dirt would have many good qualities. If the house was too humid, wouldn’t it absorb some of the moisture?  And likewise, if the air was too dry, maybe it would exhale some moisture.  And it would probably help to regulate the temperature too, moderating between extremes. (And wouldn’t it be wild to grow your houseplants right in your floor?)

Of course there could be some potential drawbacks. I’m thinking a dirt floor would be best in a dry climate, otherwise mold might be an issue. Bugs could be a problem too. And of course dust getting tracked around.

But, ah, just imagine always having your bare feet in contact with the earth—something in me is screaming out that this kind of contact is vital for our well being. I don’t know why—I just feel that I need to have my feet on the dirt.

And the separation of indoors and out would be minimized—you’d always be connected to nature.

I wonder if building codes require floors? Or would I have to find a place where building codes weren’t in effect or weren’t enforced?

People would probably think I’d gone off the deep end if I had a dirt floor. But billions of people have lived and do live on bare dirt. I certainly wouldn’t be without company.

Of course there’s a stigma involved with dirt-floor living. But that’s okay. We’ve been so busy getting civilized and giving up our primitive and barbaric ways that I don’t think we recognize everything we’ve lost.

“Dirt-floor poor” people are connected to the earth. The dirt-floor poor are not the ones out there plundering the earth. Is it just because they’re poor and don’t have the resources to plunder, or is it maybe because they’re still connected to the land—Mother Earth?

I keep reading up on the topic of re-mineralization. It’s such a fascinating topic. Today I found a website that talked about re-mineralization in terms of raising healthy horses—what was necessary for the soil in order to grow healthy grasses in order to have healthy horses.

I never realized (then again I don’t know much about horses) that metabolic syndrome is a major problem for horses, just as it is for people. It seems that when soils are depleted in essential elements the starches and sugars that plants synthesize cannot be built into amino acids. The minerals provide the alchemy that allows amino acids to form. So, the animals who graze on depleted pastures get too much sugar, not enough minerals, and not enough amino acids or proteins.

The author at one point said something along the lines of—the metabolism of the grass and the metabolism of the horse are one and the same. That was a powerful statement for me to read. It feels like it has really far-reaching implications—not all of which I feel able to express just yet.

But part of it has to do with my thoughts about us being emanations of the land and globules of the land and expressions of the land. We’re so ridiculously interconnected with everything else it seems absurd to act as though we’re each independent entities.

There’s such a weird blending in my mind of the factual and the mystical when I think about these things. It’s so fascinating to me and as I’ve said before this is just a totally unexpected line of thinking for me. Wisdom wants to unfold--it’s not a line of inquiry I ever would’ve planned to pursue. It just wants to be known. 

That book I took out of the library last year—The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook--comes to mind. I was reading people’s reviews of it on Amazon once and while most people loved it there were quite a few people who were put off by the author’s “New-Age”, hokey, and fruity asides about plant energies or spirits or things like that. Those critics are clearly people who have not worked with herbs, because as fruity as it sounds, when you begin to work with herbs it’s obvious that these are entities, that they have specific personalities and powers. It’s not “out there” at all—it is what is!

So, when I think about such things as herbs, it’s this weird blending of these very practical matters—what essential elements does this specific herb tend to concentrate, which essential oils are present, what kind of soil does it prefer, what habitat?—and the odder, more mystical thoughts—what is expressing itself here, why does this blending of the earth and sky manifest as this, with these particular properties, what is being communicated here? Every living thing is a communication of sorts. The land communicates through living tissue.

Plants communicate with us through dreams, imagery, and intuition. I find it odd how casually people talk about the way animals instinctively know what to eat for health and healing and yet such a fuss is made when anyone suggests that our ancestors instinctively knew these things as well. Animals know, and people know (if they pay attention) because all living things communicate. Plant wisdom is available to us simply because plants exist, they emanate from the earth, and anything that emanates by default communicates. We don’t need scientists to isolate healing compounds in a plant before we go to that plant for healing. If we listen, the plant will tell us what it can do.

I came across something interesting yesterday too. I was reading about hops and came upon a picture of the female flowers—the part that’s most frequently used. Now I’ve seen hops growing before but had never noticed the flowers. They’re shaped like little nubby pinecones, about one to two inches long!  Just like the things in my dream in January. And then I read that hops can induce vivid dreams. Remember that in my dream the nubby things induced hallucinations in high doses. Vivid dreams—hmm, could I be getting warm yet?

I poked around a little more. Everywhere I looked when it mentioned hops in the context of vivid dreams it mentioned mugwort in the same breath. My impression is that mugwort is much more powerful at inducing vivid dreams than hops is. Still, extremely interesting.

And because of that dream last January, I’ve learned at least a little bit about three different plants: buriti, hops, and mugwort.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Self-sufficiency has become an absolutely enormous obsession for me. It’s frustrating that I can’t do it all now, but encouraging because I see myself making progress in knowledge and applied learning.  I’m just doing what I can for now.

I really want to get some hens next year. Definitely for the eggs of course, but they should also make a dent in the grasshopper population should we have a plague again next year. I think I’ll probably get about ten unsexed birds to start, and butcher all the boys at around fifteen weeks. Ideally, I only want three or four hens, but you just don’t know what kind of mix you’ll get when they aren’t sexed.

This year’s garden has been so wonderful. I found the 500 square feet to still be extremely manageable—I probably average ten or twenty minutes in the garden per day—and with that I’m able to deal with watering, weeding, fertilizing and bug stomping, as well as harvesting, as necessary. These 500 square feet really produce quite a lot even considering all the losses this year due to grasshoppers and hailstorms. Raising all of my food seems quite a reasonable endeavor. I, of course, am not saying that just these 500 square feet would be enough to live off of—no, of course not.  And I don’t have enough space here to grow everything I would want to--the grains are the killer. But I’m getting a good sense of what I can produce and how much space is required.

If I get hens and rabbits and a beehive and expand the garden to a thousand square feet, I think I could reduce our grocery bill to $50 per month or less. If only I could have a dairy goat here that would reduce it to about $15 per month. And if I was able to grow all of my wheat then all I would need to buy would be spices and exotic things I couldn’t grow myself—plus maybe some other types of meat for variety. 

So, when I get back to Pennsylvania, even if I’m only able to buy an acre or two, I feel confident that I could easily disengage from the system.

Next year I might try devoting 100 square feet to oats (the hulless variety) just so I can get a little experience growing grain. I forget what John Jeavons says is the expected yield per 100 square feet for oats, but I’m thinking it’s about 10lbs. (I could be wrong—it might only be about 4lbs). At any rate, that would provide enough for the year, I think. We don’t currently go through a whole lot of oats. The nice thing is that it would also provide me with some free straw, which I use for mulch and I’ll need for chicken bedding. I’ll need to get a grain roller though, but that’s okay because it’s on the master list.

Next year I want to go vertical much more--picking pole beans instead of bush beans and climbing varieties of the cucurbits. Growing potatoes in a bin or a couple of bins, getting pole peas. Building a good tall climbing structure for my indeterminate tomatoes. I’m already using space quite efficiently with the bio-intensive beds, but I could do even better. The three 100 square foot beds I put in this year beside the house are such a hoot—it’s just one massive wall of vegetation right now.  A jungle out there! I love it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about land lately—how I’m going to afford to buy a piece of land in five years. If I give up on the idea of Pennsylvania (where land seems to be fairly pricey) I open up for myself many more possibilities. I noticed on the web that many five acre plots in the San Luis valley of Colorado sell for $5,000. Sure some of them are on the valley floor (i.e. the treeless desert) but other parcels are up in the hills. It’s not exactly the climate or place I’d ideally want to be, but if it could be had for $5,000 and I could raise all of my own food there it might not be a bad idea. Property taxes for a plot that size are about $75 per year and building codes are unenforced.

Think about it. Five thousand dollars would put me on a piece of land. I could erect a small temporary shack right away with a wood stove, a composting toilet and I could haul in my water to start. As I was able I could have a well drilled, start improving the land’s fertility, putting in the gardens, building the animal pens, eventually building the main house. It seems quite attainable.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I was reading up on soil mineralization on the web yesterday. Next year I want to get my garden soil re-mineralized, but I’ll need to get a soil test done first.
The one site gave me some food for thought. It was talking about all of the elements and how carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen come from the atmosphere and the rest come from the earth (of course, oxygen is also bound up as oxides in the earth). Ninety-five percent of our bodies and the bodies of all living things are made up of these atmospheric elements while only five percent of our bodies are comprised of the remaining elements and yet those elements are absolutely vital for our well-being.

This got me thinking about my insights (or glimmerings of insights) from earlier this year about the meeting of earth and sky within us. If the mineral elements have largely been leached out of the soils, then we are unbalanced in favor of sky influences. To be healthy and the fullest expressions of ourselves we need to feed on mineralized soils.

We are globules of earth and must carry the earth within us. The earth elements root us to the land. But instead of insuring our adequate intake of earth elements, we gorge ourselves on sky foods--carbohydrates, especially.

Healthy people need to eat from mineralized soils. They need to eat a diverse diet of plant foods—vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, grains and other seeds—as well as healthy animal foods. Each living thing concentrates its own unique spectrum of elements. By eating diversely we ensure that our own unique spectrum of elemental needs will be met.

I’m eager to remineralize the soil here and begin to become a healthier and fuller expression of my humanness.

Another thing that interested me on this website was the mention that ocean animals are always fully immersed in all of the natural elements, and that before we fouled the oceans with our toxic pollutants, sea creatures did not suffer disease or degeneration the way land creatures do. 

I realized that water is where earth and sky meet. They can’t mingle otherwise, or not readily. Our bodies are containers for holding water—the necessary medium for earth and sky to meet.

Sea creatures are bathed in the ideal medium. We land creatures are vulnerable to deficiencies because we are not.

The website mentioned the work of Dr. William Albrecht. He was the soil scientist who first recognized the importance of minerals for healthy soils and healthy people. Anyway, the website said Albrecht called foods comprised of the atmospheric elements “go foods” because they gave the body energy (which indirectly comes from the sun through photosynthesis). He called the foods comprised of earth-bound elements “grow foods” because they are necessary for the growth and maintenance of healthy bodies.

I find all of the earth and sky metaphors really fascinating because there seems to be truth lurking here. The sky is cerebral, ethereal, mental. The sky is about energy and Doing. The earth is grounded, rooted, about bodies and health and Being. Sky foods give you energy to Do, earth foods give you health to Be.

An imbalance which brings too much of the sky within us causes too much Doing, too much cogitating, too much ungrounded, disconnected action.

If we all ate properly balanced, mineralized foods would we all become more grounded and more balanced? If you fed the CEO of Monsanto healthy foods would he suddenly mend his ways? I’m sure it’s not so simple—the patterns of a lifetime probably could not so easily be changed—but I’ve no doubt he would see changes, in health, in mood and attitude, and possibly, just possibly, in more fundamental ways.

To really see changes would probably take a few generations. We raise our children from the day they’re born on healthy mineralized foods (well, okay breast milk from day one—hopefully mineralized breast milk),but we may still pass on some deficiencies to them because of our years of eating unhealthy, unbalanced foods, but their children stand a chance of achieving optimal well-being, and of expressing their fullest potential.