The Great Reskilling

This is a guest post by Michael Foley (user Greenuprising) who is another academic-turned-farmer. This post makes a nice follow-up to Nate's What Do We Tell Our Children? essay. Perhaps we don't have to say a whole lot if our actions align with newly emerging realities. Want a sense of purpose? Want to belong and feel valuable in your social sphere? Reskilling might make a whole lot of sense. What do you think?

Reskilling for an Age of Energy Descent

Transition Towns founder Rob Hopkins calls the educational work we need to be doing over the next couple of decades “the Great Reskilling,” acquiring and re-acquiring the skills we will need to manage the energy transition we face. I've already written a bit about the organizational skills we will need on the local level. Here I want to offer some thoughts about the sorts of practical skills adults and children alike could start learning now to cope with a world of drastically reduced and altered energy sources.

We're not talking here about turning back the clock in all respects. We come at the prospects of a generalized powerdown with a lot of technological advances that may make the transition smoother. Granted, photovoltaics entail a lot of embodied energy and currently draw on raw materials we can't continue sustainably to withdraw from the earth, to take just one example. Nor could we hope to replace the energy currently derived from fossil fuels from photovoltaics, wind power, small-scale hydro power, solar hot water, biomass, hydrogen fuel cells, wave energy, etc. That's part of the problem. But we can employ some or all of these technologies as part of a transition; and we need people who know them well and keep up with advances.

The same is true in transportation. We have lots of options for individual and mass transit that didn't exist a hundred years ago. Electric bicycles and scooters have reached a high level of sophistication, as have the batteries that run them. Light rail (OK, we had light rail a hundred years ago) is an important option for inter- and intra-urban transport that already has a small industry behind and some good examples on the ground. Plug-in electric vehicles, especially buses and mini-buses, have to be part of any transition. So we need more (transportation) bicycle builders and repair people. (I emphasize transportation, because most of the bicycle skills around today are for sport biking, which bears the same relation to our future needs as the military-industrial complex does to civilian technology development – yeh, maybe it has contributed to advances, but the cost just in misdirected energy has been enormous.) And we need rail specialists and electric vehicle people and people to figure out how to configure roads so everybody can safely bicycle without wearing funny clothes.

Some Skills for All

But there are also daily living skills that will become more important as cheap energy fades from view – or suddenly disappears. Growing food is one of those closest to my heart and experience. We've already seen a two-year jump in seed sales for home gardens. Books on how to do it appear with increasing frequence, from my glance at the listings. And for good reason. Growing your own food takes some doing, especially if you plan to do it on a really suitable scale. It can be done on a surprisingly small patch of ground, but it takes attention and technique. And getting started takes hard work. The good news is that more and more schools are incorporating kitchen gardens into the school environment and the curriculum. The bad news is that most of this effort is directed toward “giving children a sense of where their food comes from,” not toward training future farmers and gardeners. The best and biggest school gardening programs can have difficulty attracting students, for reasons I'll explore below.

Kids are also learning to cook, as are their parents, though progress is slow considering the continued profitability of the fast foods industry. Beyond cooking, we also need to preserve food for those lean times. Jason Bradford has described a couple of options for maintaining an adequate food supply in a powereddown future. Storing basic grains and low-energy canning and preserving are old skills with sometimes new techniques that we will need to learn.

Powerdown means energy conservation. It also means we'll have to wean ourselves from our throw-away culture, starting with the food front. Already many countries and localities have banned plastic bags. What do we use for packaging? How do we make it? You can buy fancy “green bags” for keeping fresh vegetables, but anyone with minimal sewing skills can make muslins bags that serve just as well – which is not just as well as plastic, in most instances; learning to shop frequently, or depend upon the garden more, is also an important new skill for most of us. We might also learn to cook more at one time. M.F.K. Fisher's The Art of Eating starts with her World War II ear book, How to Cook a Wolf, where she talks about strategies for cooking a week's meals with minimal uses of (rationed) energy by cooking one-pot dinners, sharing oven space among several dishes, and other tricks.

For the really ambitious on the food front, there are all those old animal husbandry skills. They haven't changed much, though we know more about disease today than a hundred years ago. What we've lost with the new knowledge are the old skills at handling disease. Today we rely on the vet to vaccinate, dose with pharmaceuticals, or put down out animals; but the old skills are still useful and still used, especially among those who raise large animals. One of the main obstacles to raising animals for food is the regulatory system. While you can still keep chickens, and even goats, in many cities in the United States, in other places, even semi-rural ones, planners trained at urban universities have written codes that make such “unsanitary” practices illegal. In most places, it's also illegal to sell fresh (so-call “raw”) milk, or extremely costly to set up the procedures for doing so legally, making it difficult for a family to dispose of the 3 to 8 gallons of milk daily that a dairy cow produces.

But how about those sewing skills? I can remember my grandmother darning socks for my father and her daughter's seven children. Who darns anymore? A recent intern on our little farm was a professional costume designer, who spent her spare time hearing knitting socks with amazing patterns and getting started on a bikini. None of the knitters I know has advanced much beyond the winter cap. We've started, at least, to turn old bedsheets and scraps of clothing into rags to replace paper towels and store-bought shop rags. But making clothing at home? Who has the time? As the Depression deepens, it's clear, more and more people do. But as long as Wal-Mart has access to Chinese factories, incentives may be short.

And then there are all those steel blades that make our life so easy. Most of us are in the habit of tossing out a knife when it dulls, or giving it a perfunctory run on the steel strop that comes with every kitchen knife set. And many knives, especially the serrated ones, simply can't be sharpened with any ease. Sharpening is a lost art, but one that can be easily learned. And once you've gotten used to it, all sorts of tools become fair game, from chisels (brittle and requiring heavy-duty grinding once they chip) to lawn mower blades. Last year I bought a hand-forged scythe to keep our yard and orchards trim. It requires regular sharpening and occasional peening, banging out with hammer; but it's a wonderful tool, and the sharpening is just part of the ryhthm of the work.

Some of what I cut turned out to be medicinal herbs, which my wife is now anxious to cultivate. Most of us, it turns out, already self-medicate. We don't trust doctors, or the pharmaceutical companies, often for very good reasons, and we're in searching of better answers. We tend to look for them, like everything else, off the shelf. A better answer might be to learn to identify and grow your own and prepare them to suit your needs. It's not hard, and it's not rocket science, despite a sophisticated industry dedicated to extracting the “active ingredient”, and just that ingredient, from herbs in an effort to give a veneer of science (and expense) to what has always been a folk art. If you're willing to trust that the folk art works (as reliably as the medical art works, at any rate), herbal medicine may be a skill you need to cultivate.

Then there are basic mechanical and carpentry skills. I learned a good deal from my father when I was a kid, but I succeeded, in a mostly academic life, in handing down few of these skills to my children. What a shame. We'll need to build for ourselves a good deal more in a powereddown world, I suspect, and do more of our own repairs. I'm in the middle of building a shack for one of my younger daughters, and I've sharpened those old skills considerably in the process, using hand tools as much as possible. The skill saw certainly came in handy, as did a portable drill occasionally; and I may yet regret that I don't have a table saw. But the whole process is one of learning when and where to expend what sorts of energy.

The Great Unskilling: Why It May Be Hard to Stop Saving Labor

The bottom line is that we need to engage in a serious effort at reskilling, not just ourselves but our children and our society as a whole. We'll also need to promote some serious changes in attitude, because two centuries of cheap energy have led to expectations that don't bode well for powerdown. Chief of these is the expectation that “labor-saving devices” will make for a better and brighter future. That, together with the myth of the unending drudgery of traditional work, militate against any mass embrace of the Great Reskilling.

As industrialization proceeded, small producers of all kinds were forced into “jobs” that allowed little time for the everyday tasks of providing for oneself, and into urban environments where the resources for doing so were very scarce. At the same time, consumers were increasingly recruited to enjoy ready-made products and home appliances that ended time-consuming processes of home cooking, manufacture and upkeep. Services were professionalized so that householders could count on professional plumbers and electricians, builders and gardeners, to do work that used to be done by everyone. In the 1920's advertising was devised to save American manufacturing from a crisis of overproduction by encouraging ever-growing consumption of such goods and services. (The other vehicle for sales was a foreign policy dedicated to opening and keeping opening foreign markets for American goods and buyers – a policy choice whose direct descendants are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

One result was the Great Unskilling, when homemakers forgot how to cook and sew and keep a garden (see Betty Friedan's classic account, The Feminine Mystique) and their husbands forgot how to build and repair and raise crops. Another, more insidious, was the discovery of “leisure.” The advertisers led us to believe that leisure was a product of modern ingenuity. In fact, most peasants over the millenia have enjoyed more leisure time than late twentieth-century Americans tied to the daily grind of the job, fifty miserable weeks a year. What modern ingenuity gave us was time on our hands, and marketers and others quickly moved to fill it up with something called “entertainment.” Who could wish it otherwise? After 8 or 10 hours on the job and a serious commute to and fro, many people just want to “veg out” in front of the tube, not tend the garden, cook a meal from scratch, mend clothes, or build a new chicken coop. Who has the time? Let's watch TV! The TV industry has been glad to accommodate with endless choices and endless spots for advertisers.

Along with the Great Unskilling came a growing aversion to physical labor. That – if you were unlucky in school – was for the job, not for home. For those who felt restless, or concerned about their weight, or worried about their health, the market produced a growing array of expensive hobbies and exercise regimes. God forbid we should put what energy we had left after work to use providing for our own needs. We had professionals to do that, even professionals dedicated to tending to our needs for physical exertion.

Perhaps worst off are the children. In place of jobs, we subject them to school, perhaps the worst job yet. There they have to please the boss – multiple bosses by the time they reach high school – who sets them progressively more difficult, arbitrary tasks and judges their worth on their performance. At the end of five or six hours of this, they are sent home with “homework,” usually even more arbitrary than the tasks set during school hours. Parents not only go along with this but often demand more homework, on the supposition that the harder the kids work themselves as 10 or 16 year olds, the better their hopes of what is called a good job in later life. Traditionalists may require “chores” on top of all this, and many parents worry that they are not demanding enough in this regard.

Is it any wonder that young people come away from this experience with a profound aversion to work and a dedication to entertainment that is rival to none but that of professional entertainers themselves? The real wonder is that so many of them – though not as many as in the benighted past – acquire a taste for making music themselves, a last gasp of creative self-assertion that seems to have wide societal sanction and is even encouraged, at local levels at least, by the entertainment industry. Most, however, would prefer chatting with friends on the internet or watching old sitcoms packaged by Netflix to tending to their pets, never mind cleaning the house, mending a shirt, or fetching salad from the garden. Who can blame them? Deprived of any contact with real life, driven to spend hours on meaningless tasks on the promise that this will prepare them to undertake equally meaningless tasks the rest of their lives, they are naturally drawn to the life of leisure that the entertainment world promises them if only they can wrest some time from their homework and their parents.

The myth of drudgery, of course, isn't entirely a myth. Even today in most households cleaning the bathroom is a reminder of the unpleasant and time-consuming tasks that go with providing for oneself. Keeping a garden starts with making a garden, often back-breaking work, especially if you're starting, god forbid, with a lawn. Then there's keeping up with the weeds, and the bugs, and the watering. Having animals means cleaning up after animals, feeding them on a regular schedule, and looking after their deaths and births. There are all sorts of joys in this work, as people who undertake it quickly find, but there's also lots of work.

But that's the point, isn't it? If we want to (or will have to) provide more for ourselves, we'll have to learn to work. If the Great Reskilling is to take place before we really need it, and not under duress, we'll have to do a lot of re-education, of ourselves and our fellow adults, our children, and our schools.

The good news is that there is a lot of enthusiasm out there for reskilling. Our intern was one of a series of “WWOOFers,” mostly young people attracted to our place and several thousand others around the globe through World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming. They bring energy (human energy, that is) to our little farm and learn some of those skills in return. We should be looking for such exchanges wherever we can find them. And older folks are learning new skills around the country and willingly sharing them. So there's hope yet and maybe a plan of action: share your skills, take a workshop, organize a reskilling course in your community.

You mentioned at the start that there are technologies that will make the transition easier but cannot we salvage enough as we transition to keep these technogies going or are we so hopelessly reliant on FF that their removal will eventually lead to us (long-term) going back to the horse and plough?


I think that going back to the "horse and plow" would be, for the small farmer, a good thing. I subscribed to "The Small Farmer's Journal" for years. It was about farming with horses and mules and quite informative. I think it is still published quarterly and I would recommend it for anyone interested in small agriculture. For small plots, horse farming is probably quite efficient, maybe more so, than using fossil fuels. I would use my mules to farm if I had the proper equipment but, alas, it's hard to come by although available, especially in the middle states and areas of the east coast.

I remember farm horses when I was a kid, though they were used mostly for hay wagons. Tractors became the norm after WWII. I knew an old feller, when I was a youngster, and as he told me how he had to kill his team of horses because of an encephalitis epidemic, his eyes watered over. It was during the depression and so he had to use a sledge to do the job; he said he had three bullets at the time for his Winchester, but he had to save them for venison for winter meat. Best from the Fremont

Take a few minutes to browse this.

"THERE is no doubt that of all the handy farm devices good tools head the list. So, in this book, we are going to start with carpenter tools and the place to keep and use them."

The Amish and Hutterites use oxen ie cattle. If the calves are introduced to pulling harness when young they are very able to do these activities, and in addition can give some milk.

Some of our Minnesota Universities have teamed up to let people who want to teach access to classrooms and facilities when not otherwise in use. I think this kind of collaboration with the community is a great concept.

At EXCO, the Experimental College of the Twin Cities, everyone can teach or take classes and all classes are free. EXCOtc is a collective of Experimental Colleges in the Twin Cities that shares visions of a better world, offers free and open classes and is building a community around education for social change.

EXCO-TC is made up of four collaborating organizing groups out of: Macalester, the U of M, MCTC, and the Waite House. The first chapter based out of Macalester (EXCO-Mac) began in 2006 and a second one based out of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (EXCO-UMN) began in 2008. We are excited to be developing chapters all over the Twin Cities and are open to both campus and community groups starting chapters.

Transition Towns founder Rob Hopkins calls the educational work we need to be doing over the next couple of decades “the Great Reskilling”

I think the idea that we need to be doing this reskilling "over the next couple of decades" is seriously over-optimistic. We're going to need all/most of these skills already scaled up and running as soon as the existing corporatised life-support system fails us, which could be anytime from a few months to few years hence.

And rather than a Great reskilling, more like a dauntingly huge reskilling. How many people in the UK know how to make a half-decent shoe (rather than import one from a chinese factory)? How many even know how to make passable leather? How many can make a cartwheel?. How many know what a spokeshave is? Rather than a turning back of the clock I see a being stuck up a gumtree with no way down, because unlike all previous generations we have forgotten the traditions that for millenia underpinned our life-support systems.
I'll just add that besides a scythe, a surprisingly invaluable tool is a brace and bit(s) (the ancestor of the power drill)....if you can find one anywhere---I got mine from a man who was about to dump it in a skip!

Robin, exactly, it is huge task to reskill. Not only are the arts lost but so is the infrastructure. Where are the looms for large numbers of people to weave their own cloth if they learned the skill. Where are the forges for blacksmiths and the supplies of fuel - old growth forests with hardwoods and heartpine are gone. Hard antracite coal is less available. I guess charcoal can be used but then we need to learn another skill. Where are the people who know how to train mules, donkeys and horses. There are sycthes to be bought, but I imagine it takes years to get good at using them and sharpening them. How do you get people to learn skills for a future they desperately do not want and therefore refuse to believe possible.

One group that knows some of these skills is the peasant farmers south of the border in the US, but in a fit of zenophobia (not to mention feelings of superiority) we will deprive ourselves of their skills and labor as things deteriorate. Too bad for us.


How do you get people to learn skills for a future they desperately do not want and therefore refuse to believe possible.

I called my best friend from HS today. We hadn't talked in something like 15 years. I shared with him my plans and hopes for a place my family and perhaps some friends might build a nice little home we can hold on to for some generations. I barely sketched out that I see the need for de-carbonizing the economy and producing our own energy one way or another, etc.

His response? Well, sounds nice as a place to visit or vacation, but living without his toys was out of the question. He agreed that the world was changing and that in maybe 80 YEARS we might be all electric. Etc.

BTW, he's planning to go tooling around in his RV about eight years hence.


One group that knows some of these skills is the peasant farmers south of the border in the US, but in a fit of zenophobia (not to mention feelings of superiority) we will deprive ourselves of their skills and labor as things deteriorate. Too bad for us.

I guess too much of that Norse blood got into the US bloodstock, eh?

Robin, exactly, it is huge task to reskill. Not only are the arts lost but so is the infrastructure. Where are the looms for large numbers of people to weave their own cloth if they learned the skill. Where are the forges for blacksmiths and the supplies of fuel - old growth forests with hardwoods and heartpine are gone. Hard antracite coal is less available. I guess charcoal can be used but then we need to learn another skill. Where are the people who know how to train mules, donkeys and horses. There are sycthes to be bought, but I imagine it takes years to get good at using them and sharpening them. How do you get people to learn skills for a future they desperately do not want and therefore refuse to believe possible.

One group that knows some of these skills is the peasant farmers south of the border in the US, but in a fit of zenophobia (not to mention feelings of superiority) we will deprive ourselves of their skills and labor as things deteriorate. Too bad for us.

This in reply to your interesting "storing basic grains" link:

Pugsley's Alpha Strategy is an interesting guide to personal survival in hard times, if you can still find the book. How long will an unused bar of soap last? (Not forever.)

Of the canned goods matter, I haven't had very good results, as food juices tend to corrode the cans internally. After a year or two, some of the cans begin to swell suggesting microbial activity within.

I work with a wise old Chinese man who lived through very hard times in China, in his youth. He tells me that white rice grown in the US will last virtually forever. Granted, white rice has been scrubbed of some of its nutritients. But it'll keep you alive. My Chinese friend tells me that for long periods of time, in China, people ate nothing but rice and vegetables and now and then, a little shimp paste.

I myself have been buying and storing stuff for years, during this golden era, in which we have lived our lives.

Rice, beans, salt, and sugar are still pracitically free, in the US.

I'm growing supplementary greens in my yard. And I keep many jars of vitamins under refrigeration for possible use.

Fennil is delicious, by the way, and grows all year long, here in Californnia. (It is also plentiful, growing wild.)

One could gather kelp at the beach, although I hear it's not legal for divers to harvest it.

And of course, there's dandelion greens...

I keep bins of water as well as bleach and iodine to sterilize it.

Along the coast, here, near San Francisco, summers ar cool. No need for A/C. And the winters are mild enough that you could squeak by with little or no heat.

Housing has been expensive, but there are now houses going for under $100,000 in decent areas in the East Bay.

The cans in my pantry last around fifteen years before they show degradation. I've been storing food since the mid-seventies, some of it deliberately not rotated to see how it ages. The epoxy liners in food cans may give you an unwanted dose of bisphenol-A, but they're pretty robust against acidic water. That's the whole idea, after all. Once that plastic film liner is breached, the can will fail right quick - it's just mild steel, after all.

I've just put up a poll on my website asking visitors which skills they would like to learn. Here are the choices I've given them so far (would love to hear what others think):

1. Alternatives to oil-dependent medicine

2. Financial management

3. Gardening and food storage

4. Getting fit and healthy

5. Creating an energy efficient home

6. Building solar ovens, solar cooking and dehydrating

7. Post-peak first aid

8. Seed saving

9. Starting a post-peak business

Practical and Tradable Skill Series

100. Bicycle repair

101. Animal husbandry (keeping chickens, goats, etc.)

102. Appliance repair

103. Carpentry

104. Sewing

105. Welding

106. Convert a car to run on batteries

For trades, how about;

Wilderness Educator
Pedicab Driver
Home retro-fitter (adding insulation and smart energy conversions, composting toilets, root cellars)

I'm reading Lee Allen Peterson's 'Field guide to Edible Wild Plants' (1977 Houghton-Mifflin) .. pretty amazing all the food under our noses, and all the knowledge that has been duly recorded and hidden on bookshelves. I learned that Acorns from white oaks make a good flour, and have a lot of fat and protein (37% and 8%)

All of my personal acorn experiments have failed, they taste nasty. I've wondered if it would be worthwhile coldpressing them to get some oil for lamps, the fat content seems to vary quite a bit.

You sure they haven't been from Red Oaks? These ones need some processing (soaking) to get the bitterness out, I guess.

Aha! Here it is..

"Although a few white oaks have acorns sweet enough to be eaten raw or roasted, most oaks have extremely bitter acorns. Happily, the bitterness is due to an abundance of tannin which is readily soluble in water. Whole kernels, stripped of their shells and boiled in repeated changes of water until the water no longer turns brown, can be roasted and eaten as nuts or dipped in sugar syrup and eaten as candy.

.. They can be redried, ground into meal, and used to make excellent breads or muffins." page 204

Good luck!

If you go hiking along just about any river in the central valley of California you will find spots where there is a little bowl-like indentation in a large boulder close to running water.

They are reminders from a hundred years or so ago, when the Miwuk people pounded acorns to flour and then poured water over them to get the tannin out.

No it was from White Oak. I boiled till water turned brown five times. They had the texture and taste of a dirty sponge.

You might prefer hickory nuts instead.
Or as we call them "hickernuts".

The Native Americans used them extensively. There are more hickory trees than oak trees now days.

Also the Indians pressed out the milk from the hickory nuts and we called it hickory nut milk. Its very expensive and used by tony chefs.

The Indians cooked(boiled) with it as well. Very nutritious.

Lots of folks think that Indians had a very hard life full of drugery.
According to Eckarts Historical Fiction books(extremely well researched) the Indians had very good lives. Popular fiction notwithstanding.

This was the Shawnee more specifically who lived on very good land.

The game was very abundant as well. I could name the titles and have read all of them several times. You can google for them.

I have more Native American blood than the blood of my European ancestors so I read about this topic quite a bit. Where I live there were extensive settlements of Native Americans. I can usually go to almost any field and find remnants of them. As well many of their offspring(intermarried) live in this area.

Airdale-all hickories are not the same..pick wisely

You might prefer hickory nuts instead.
Or as we call them "hickernuts".

Oh, I do. There is no finer nut.

No finer? Well they are tough to shell.

Are you dismissing pecans and walnuts? Black walnuts are pretty damn good. Specially in fudge and cakes.

But my aunt used to make a hickernut cake that was supreme.


Definitely black walnuts for fudge. Pecan pie connisseurs get a wow moment when they get to try the hickory version.


gun smithing

What about combat skills? My wife and I own a martial arts studio, and 95% of the people who come through the front door do not know how to even throw a decent punch -- let alone protect themselves, their loved ones, or their property against armed or unarmed assault.

Preemptive note: I'm not intending to open a can of worms about the efficacy or lack thereof of gun use as a threat deterrent or protection device. I'm just trying to put unarmed, personal protection on the radar screen. Maybe it's further down on aangel's list.

What style and school is your studio based on? I realize, of course, that attitude and persistence can override style, though I'm curious due to my own martial arts training.

Hi, scordry.

So far I have not talked much about personal security, though I think knowing how to defend oneself is going to be a good skill to learn. To that end, I've been studying Kempo since last fall and should be ready to test for my orange belt soon.

I did take a sample class of both Krav Maga and Kempo. After both sample classes, I came away with the impression that Krav Maga would get me further faster in my goals of a) being able to defend myself (especially against knives and other weapons) and b) getting fit (since the classes are much higher energy than traditional martial arts). However, the Krav Maga studio is too far for me.

If Krav Maga isn't available, mixed martial arts is a good alternative but there is a lot of testosterone in those studios and that may turn off some people, particularly women. Traditional martial arts are fine -- and MUCH better than having nothing -- but not my first choice (my opinion, I realize others see it differently).

As for personal weapons, that too may become important, but my business partner and I have decided for the moment not to offer classes in that area. There are plenty of weapons schools out there that can fulfill that need.

Guns etc: A significant number of people specialise in physical dominance (by phys/psych nature as much as training). Another significant number don't. The latter would be ill-advised to vainly try to train up to equal the former.

I envisage that the day will come when (after system breakdown) one or more gunmen come to my house/hovel. I will be ready with my defence. I will say to them that they have the power of death, which I don't need; but I have the power of life, which they do need. The person with the power of death needs the person with the power of life more than the other way round. The person who knows how to provide a meal will be more powerful than the person who knows how to provide a murder.

Futhermore I repeat that after system breakdown (and population crash) people are usually going to be far too busy to have time or energy for conflicting rather than cooperating in survival.

In the system breakdown scenario you describe, your approach has some appeal of an idealistic nature; I see the following categories of potential outcomes;

  1. They shrug and go away (not very likely)
  2. They agree and you become one of their serfs, turning over 25% or more of your crops on a regular basis, and your daughter goes off as one of their concubines.
  3. They laugh, loot your place (i.e., food, hand tools, and anything else of perceived value), rape your wife and daughter, and shoot you if you complain

I'll review your outcomes:

  1. They go away:- unlikely as you say.
  2. I become their serf:- yes but they won't have many of us scarce life-givers and so they will need to respect me sufficiently to keep me in good order and not lose me to some other dependant masters.
  3. They loot, rape and laugh:- very unlikely given that as I said they need me more than I need them, without my help they are faced with starvation later if not very sooner.

So not anything like as grim as you suggest. And what alternative strategy can anyone suggest? Permanently manning gunposts when there is so much basic survival work to be done? And when one is not any sort of specialist in violence anyway.
PS- One might reckon there would be a significant number of idiots/loons/psychopaths such as would fail to appreciate the value of the expertise of power of life. But such defectives would be very rapidly weeded out by their own defectivenesses following a breakdown. (Even though this "weed-out" will of course include the well-meaning fantasists of the transition towns movement.)

I become their serf:- yes but they won't have many of us scarce life-givers and so they will need to respect me sufficiently to keep me in good order and not lose me to some other dependant masters.

In your scenario, serf = employee. In reality, serf = slave/pseudo-slave. Those good folks with guns would not be asking you to feed them, they'd be forcing you, else, why bring guns?


ccpo - you make the false assumption that I having the power of life would be a rather cheap/common individual as opposed to those gunmen having the power of death. Sure if the "serf" is just one of a whole surplus of people with merely the unremarkable ability to do some forking or ploughing or digging up potatoes. But it is very unlikely to be like that in post-industrial lands. The gunmen have only the power of death and will be desperate to find the scarce (as per this whole page!!!!) people who have the productive skills that confer the power of life.

The gunmen will be bringing guns because that's all such types pathetically have in order to beg for my assistance as one having the superior power of life rather than of death. They couldn't actually use their guns against me because they would be shooting their life-support system in doing so. And so their guns would be in reality a waste of time.

See the mad max 2 which for all its faults is realistic in showing the principle that making yourself useful is the key to survival.

Many negatives will become positives and positives become negatives and assets become liabilities and vice versa. The "powerful" will become the pathetic and vice versa. The "wealthy" will become the destitute.

You are repeating yourself, so let me repeat myself. As you state above: making yourself useful is the key to survival. Not freedom, not equality, not respect and stature. Survival.

If someone comes to your home with guns intent on having what is yours, there is little chance of the bargain turning out equal.


The concern about people with guns coming to your house to take your stuff seems to be a peculiarly American middle-classed one, and restricted to those who've never experienced true poverty or a real disaster.

If you look at real world disasters, what you find is that the authorities may panic and turn nasty, but the general public co-operate and help each-other out.

During the San Francisco earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, September 11, the Black Saturday bushfires in Australia, the Boxing Day tsunami and a thousand other disasters, people risked their lives and emptied their bank accounts to help complete strangers. Almost nobody pointed firearms at anyone, except the police and army.

Sometimes the actions of police and army have led to a response from the general public, which then led to civil conflict. But common people, left to themselves, risk life, limb and wallet to help each-other out.

Probably a little late to respond but here goes.

"So not anything like as grim as you suggest. And what alternative strategy can anyone suggest? Permanently manning gunposts when there is so much basic survival work to be done? And when one is not any sort of specialist in violence anyway."

To see real-world example today look at Mogadishu. I wonder how the "life-givers" are doing there?

"...this "weed-out" will of course include the well-meaning fantasists of the transition towns movement."

Why them and not you? Are they not trying to learn and practice (as well as anyone) those "scarce life-giver" skills you seem to respect as valuable? Do they claim they have the answer? No. They even have a "cheerful disclaimer" saying it might not work.

A lot of those practical skills are covered in Scouts or 4-H. K-12 schools are not presently set up to teach most of them, and in an era of budget cutting, it is unrealistic to expect them to start now. Even in the good times, we relied upon Scouts and 4-H to supplement the formal schooling for those who had the desire and initiative to take advantage of the opportunity. Rather than re-invent the wheel, I suggest that we work with what is already out there. Get your kids (if you have them) involved in one of these organizations in your community, find ways to help them out with your time and money, and try to encourage them to develop in more practical directions. Volunteering to come in and demonstrate/teach some practical skill would be a particularly good idea; these groups are always needing program ideas, so any offer along those lines would usually be welcome.

The slow motion train wreck of PO will keep many people in the dark, as they will be confused by numerous talking heads with highly variant explanations; hence, people will try to stay with the 'reality' they've grown up with as long as possible.

Starting a garden is one step everyone should be taking now, even if it is a balcony garden. Picking and preparing for a post-PO career should be on everyone's mind. There is so much that cannot be covered by one post or one article.

Foraging is going to be important. For a large portion of the year, I eat something collected wild from my environment everyday. It is amazing how many people are phobic of mushrooms, and could not id or collect them from their environment.
Obviously with the population density of California, if even a small portion of the population was literate of the ecosystems they lived in it would not be sustainable. However, a portion of the population should be able to use there resources wisely.
We had almost 2 million indigenous americans living a hunter gather lifestyle for quite a while in California (they never bothered to develop agriculture). But that was with an intact ecosystem, and skilled populace.

Hightrekker: I would be interested to know just what wild plants you consume.

Of mushrooms, they are seasonal, here, along the CAL coast. That is, one hardly sees any 'til November, when wet, chill weather arrives. And seasonal fruiting of mushrooms varies much from year to year. The deadly poisonous mushrooms include pholiotinas, galerinas, and certain amanitas. They're fairly identifiable.

Actually, mushrooms are available fall/winter/spring here in Marin. The springtime agaricus and aminitas are out now.
I had a big huckleberry harvest last summer/fall, and am still eating them on a regular basis. Obviously blackberries would take over the planet in not harvested and cut back. There are wild plums everywhere, and abandoned apple and pear orchards within walking distance of my house.
Miners lettuce, cattails, etc., are added to the diet. Surf perch and clams also contribute.
This is just a quick and incomplete view--

Edible and tasty: Mustard (Brassica juncea, not really wild but naturalized)
Edible and moderately tasty: Plantain (Plantago lanceolata, naturalized)
Edible and bitter: Chicory (Chicorium intybus, I think its naturalized too)
Edible: Grape leaves. Highest calorie and alpha-lineolic acid content of any leafy green that I know of.
Edible put painful to pick: Nettle
Edible but must be cooked: Pokeweed
Edible and tasty: Purslane

Some others are Lambsquarters (goosefoot), Amaranth (hogweed), Dock (a relative of French Sorrel). Those three are kind of high in oxalates. Mustard, chicory and plantain are cold tolerant. Chicory is less bitter when its frosting regularly.

I think all of the above are widespread across the US.


A very tasty plant for use in the spring. I will eat a lot of poke sallet if I get the chance. Does wonders for my system , or so it appears.

I once brought a bunch in when my wife's mother and aunt was visiting.
Her aunt asked 'what is that'. I said poke.

She grabbed some out of my hand and started chewing on them.

I said "thats poison"...she gagged.


Since this a Campfire and speaking to skills for sustainable living I would like to set down some of the things I have recently re-learned or didn't think much of before now.

And IMO the most important of all the skills is producing food. All the rest is well and good but I think food production(gardening must top the list).

So here in Western Ky where I live on very fertile ground and the rain fall is about 60 inches or so per year the first problem is getting a window of opportunity to get the early vegetable in the ground as soon as possible when you can possibly work the soil. Quite a feat since for the last 12 days it has rained either every day or at night.

Yet if you wish to beat the insects and the weed crops of July, the earlier the better. At least of those crops that can resist temps down in the 30s.Like lettuce, radishes, onions and potatoes and a few more.

There appears to me to be two entirely different methods of gardening. One I call the 'open bare ground method' where you cultivate the soil to create a seed bed. The other seems to be intensive use of some ground cover where you disturb the soil as little as possible. You rake back some top covering and drop seeds quite laboriously into the ground. I am used to the first method mostly.

I cover 1/2 my garden with some unrolled bales of hay. Let it winter over yet I had this spring to go out and tiringly pitchfork it all over to the ends and also to get the soil to dry out and warm up. A lot of work.

Then here is the big big problem. If you dare to turn soil that is not 'in case'(that means friable and breaks easily) you will surely end up with a lot of very hard clods. These can stay with you a long long time. So you must time it very carefully. This is where experience and knowledge comes in. You have to find that magic window and work it just right and with the correct moisture content. At least in my clay-silt loam type of soil which is very high on the soil classification charts.

I did that and got the above crops in the ground and now I have waiting almost two weeks and still just as I get ready for the next stage here comes more rain.

The techniques are that you must work it right, No wind, Good sun, Warm soil, not too much moisture. Hard to do unless you are right on top of it and have the time to be there day by day.

Without a good seedbed you can't run a push type seeding machine(hand powered) to plant the long multiple rows of corn and beans and peas that I plant.

So my exposition is all I have described above. Attending to the soil when it is the right time.

Then I use Solomon's COF. I know it is outside inputs but I am trying to transistion away from FF N,P and K and am making my own compost as I go having started this last winter.

Do not till when it is windy. Do not till unless the soil is 'in case'. Do not use heavy powered tractors unless you are pulling a good disk and you won't compact the soil. Plant in hills as Solomon lays out. Its easier. Then you can spread rotted hay, weeds, newspaper or straw between the rows and let that decompose during the whole year.

The key point is not making a garden of clods. If you must till when the soil is too damp then try to continue until you break it just on the surface and until try to reduce the size of the clods to very small ones. Like egg size or less. Then the next rain should melt them. As you have worked it up it takes less and less sunny days to make it friable once more. Mine right now is at the perfect stage but I have disked it three times and then rototilled it once. 12 days of rain and interspersed sunshine have make it perfect. It will now dry in two days of sun and then I can plant more. Of course more warm season crops go in next and when chances of frost are the least. Cabbage is next.

This is the point. Try not to over work it. Try to make it friable. Try to get it worked enough so the rain doesn't erode or delete your topsoil.

This is all a matter of timing and observation and working closely with the weather. I think it should pretty much apply across the board but of course soils do differ. Mine will wash away like butter if it wasn't for the fact that my garden has the perfect very very slight slope to it. Enough to drain very well but not enough to erode and on high ground with not watershed above it.

Airdale-I use a very small IH 140 tractor, and a White Rear Tine tiller with reversible tine directions and side colters. The colters allow me to throw up hills. And what I call 'banana' tiller blades. Very wide and made to adjust to the tine direction via slotted bolt holes in the tine holders. 5 hp. Quite adaquate. Also many hand tools that I keep well oiled and sharp.

PS. Good luck to everyone on this spring planting. It may be the most important crop you ever planted.

Alright airdale, I read your comment way below and I'll bite.

Local, local local. The details are all in your local soil and climatic regimes. Ask around locally, not necessarily a blog. Our current garden is atop sand, gravel and rock, perhaps a 6-8 inch veneer of topsoil. We only wish for some of your clay and clod problems. But clay or sand, the big thing is to GET GOING. Each year, with the right practices, improves your production. We're 8 years into our current spot, and it's finally getting nice. Location is important-full sun, soils-yet for us-there are much better soils down in the valley. But for a number of reasons, you want your kitchen garden near the house. Not to mention easier keeping deer and varmints out.

Manure is our mainstay. Take the sheep bedding -straw, manure, and urine and apply it from the barn. Applied w/o getting wet first keeps the value of the urine from leaching out. In the fall, let it overwinter. May apply another load in spring. Till it in. Apply thick around the corn as it comes up. With the plant shading and mounded manure, those rows are almost weedfree. Till ground up around the spuds as they grow. For us, 2x and the spuds stays relatively weedfree. Spuds take alot of water, as does corn. Manure helps hold moisture in such a rapid water loss soil. Much of the west is windy, put snofences around the garden, cut that evaporative loss and drying out. Berm of a couple straw bales works well too. After a few years, depending on your location and how rapid rot is, the bottom bale is pushed into the garden and tilled.

Compost is an eastern thing to me. Need a massive piles to work here, definitely not a kitchen waste sort of endeavor w/o lot work, purchased contraptions. Summers are too dry, with zip humidity, winters too cold for microbial activity. So that pile of scraps and lawn clippings lasts for years. If you got the heat and humidity, go for it. But find more entertaining things to do with your time otherwise.

Main thing is local, even garden site specific. Ask around. Learn the soils in your spot, what they will take/need. But get it going this spring. It'll only get better.


I sit on Loring silt loam. As well as some Collins silt loam.

If there is a stone or rock its because an indian packed it in or I went and got it from a gravel pit and put it there.

No bedrock.Just sand and gravel below.

No hardpan either.

You sound like your way ahead of the game. Kudos for early starts.

The only way to go. I just picked my 5th picking of asparagus a bit ago.
My onions are breaking ground as is lettuce and radishes and arugula.



Way back when I was a youngster most every farm had a forge and a anvil. In fact as I get around the country here I go to some farms and still find an anvil somewhere most times laying around on a stand and unused. Unless the farmer has riding horses and shoes his own.

There are still a lot of folks here who keep a horse and there is still a county riding club with an arena and shows sometimes. A few guys I know still have a team of horses or mules and sometimes hook them up and drive around the back roads.

The blacksmith is noted as the only person who can make his own tools. Starting with just steel, a blower and a anvil he can fashion his own tongs,holddowns,pokers and basically all the tools he needs to do any blacksmithing task from forge welding to making horseshoes and all the other items made of iron and steel. Even cow bells. And repair all the horse drawn implements to farm with the old way.

I once gathered up about 9 anvils. Had 5 forges. Plenty of tools. 4 blacksmith leg vises. I let all this go in one farm auction after working with them for many good years.

Now I am slowly replacing them and its very hard. These items are becoming very scarce. I have one very nice Peter Wright 14x lb anvil. Sorta on the light side but will do for all but very heavy day to day work. Enough to get by. I still haven't been able to get a good forge and blower though.

I suggest that this is a skill that some people are going to definitely have to acquire. Else we can forget about metal and tools for the future if what we fear might happen does happen.


I recently bought a small metal turning lathe to augment anvils, welders and etc already on hand.
Also note that one can use tools for uses other than the original intent. Use a log splitter to bend metal for example.

I am still in highschool, and reading that paragraph about today's education system brought tears to my eyes. (tears of joy) Finally an adult understands what a load of BS it all is! I will probably forget all of it when I leave. (calculus???)

Maybe if they had a math class called "Taxes and personal finance" people like Tim Geitner wouldn't be steamrolling my generation with debt.

Maybe I'm strange, but I find myself using calculus all the time. Heck, I use a great deal of my high school and university math. And this is for real-world applications that will apply in even an agrarian lifestyle. I've applied calculus and linear algebra to everything from carpentry to raising livestock and especially when designing tools. In all honesty, I wish I'd taken a lot more math in school and worked harder in the classes I did take.

And my biology background has been astoundingly useful in the garden, the pasture, and when dealing ith livestock. Physics? I'd be lost without it. And psychology has been really useful in understanding why people can be so smart and stupid at the same time (especially myself).

If you're going to be stuck in school anyway, it's worth getting as much as you can out of it.

I agree !

One needs the basic knowledge and THEN the ability to apply it (I really to not think the courses the high schooler wants, all pre-digested and applied, are useful long term).

Things changes, physics, math, biology, etc. do not. Know the basics and then apply them to the changing circumstances.


"Maybe I'm strange, but I find myself using calculus all the time."

How do you use calculus in your everyday life ? I'm an electrician and I do a lot of d.i.y. - I have never used calculus ( integration and differentiation ) in my working life. ( I'm 27 )

psychology has been really useful in understanding why people can be so smart and stupid at the same time

hee hee!

Actually, something like Calculus does have significant practical applications for engineering and the sciences, but I understand your point completely. And you are absolutely right; if folks really understood what was happening in the 'Taxes and personal finance' department, thieving dicks like Giethner and Madoff wouldn't have such an easy job of robbing us all blind.


PS: It's good to know we've got young brothers (and sisters too) tuning into TOD. For a while I thought we were the province of old farts exclusively. Good to have you here.

Granted, photovoltaics entail a lot of embodied energy and currently draw on raw materials we can't continue sustainably to withdraw from the earth, to take just one example.

What raw materials present limits on the sustainability of solar PV?

Not raw materials but speed of replacement. If the PV takes say 8 years to recoup embodied energy it may last another 20 years perhaps. Some of that lifecycle output should be set aside to make both its replacement and some new PV. This is for a solar economy with no FFs.

I still think ultra cheap PV ($1 a watt) combined with current battery technology could be a game changing event.

I still think ultra cheap PV ($1 a watt) combined with current battery technology could be a game changing event.

I don't think that will be cheap enough to change the game, installation costs are still too high, in my view.

When it gets as "cheap as paint," then we might have a game changer.

See Dr. Nate Lewis UC Santa Barbara and/or Watson Lecture for more:

Whether or not install costs kill the financial advantages of a PV install depends on region/incentives IME. In CA for instance, PV is a slam dunk, but in Chicago it's borderline even with incentives, so what we're really looking at is a somewhat jagged/blurry line across the states illustrating where PV is viable and where it isn't given current costs of ~$3.50/W for panels, ~$.25-1.50/W for install (DIY to a contractor hooking everything up, and everything in between), and ~$.5+/W for the rack/inverter/wiring/etc.

I was just looking at it for my region - Melbourne, Australia - and looking at it amortised over the 25 years of the guarantee. Basically, it's only worth it if you're a light user of electricity, and then only the small setups.

Looking at my power company's site here...

There are a few different government rebates, and Renewable Energy Certificates and all sorts of nonsense like that, but what it comes down to is, for a grid-connected (you get no rebates if it's off-grid) rooftop solar system, you get at most $8,000 ($8/W up to 1,000W, nothing thereafter) off your purchase price, and if you use exactly what you generate and neither more nor less, then,

System Output, kWh/yr Installation Over 25yr Retail price
1kW 1,825 $3,975 $159 $338
1.3kW 2,195 $6,695 $268 $407
1.5kW 2,550 $8,725 $349 $473
1.6kW 2,845 $10,995 $440 $527
1.9kW 3,433 $13,495 $540 $636

"Over 25yr" is the annual cost of the system over the 25 year period of the guarantee. Some people would want to amortise the cost over a shorter period, since for example they might only expect to live 5 or 10 years in one house, but the guarantee period is the most you could spread it out over.

"Retail price" is how much you'd have paid for that electricity bought straight from the grid, at the current retail price of $0.18535/kWh.

For reference, the average Aussie household consumes 6,265kWh annually. So whatever their solar panels generated, they'd have to pay that $0.18535/kWh for the rest.

It gets better if you're a low user. There's a Net Feed-In Tariff of $0.60/kWh. For example, our own household uses 5kWh/day (29% of average), or 1,825kWh/yr. So the 1kW system would exactly balance our consumption, and the effective cost of supply would be $159/yr over 25 years, or $0.087/kWh.

System Output, kWh/yr Surplus sold/kWh Earned Net/yr
1kW 1,825 0 $0 -$159
1.3kW 2,195 370 $222 -$46
1.5kW 2,550 725 $435 +$86
1.6kW 2,845 1,020 $612 +$172
1.9kW 3,433 1,608 $965 +$425

So that somewhere between the 1.3 and 1.5kW systems, it pays for itself - the earnings from net feed-ins match the cost over 25yr. After that you turn a profit. Of course again the figures look very different if you expect a return in 10 years or something, or if you assume the Net Feed-In Tariff mightn't be around in 2034, or if electricity will cost more, etc. Who knows?

So, if you look at it as a long-term investment, and if you can ensure your consumption doesn't exceed your production, then under the present scheme it has a small payoff. Under

All this will change after 2008-06-30, when the new Solar Credits scheme starts up. Basically, you get less of a rebate; instead of the 1kW system costing you $3,975, it'll cost you $8,643. That's another $346/yr and ensures that even for low-consumption households the system will only just pay for itself.

Of course even if it all broke even then there's still the obstacle of the upfront cost. The federal government established a renewable loans scheme, but after 18 months they've yet to lend a cent.

I guess they want to make sure that renewable energy can't compete with coal. The new system favours just sticking with main grid supply, which is mostly coal. The coal lobby in Australia is very strong, and will be given 80% of its permits free when the carbon trading scheme starts in a couple of years.

The above is why I just pay an extra 5c/kWh and tell my power company to buy wind-sourced electricity on my behalf.

From a business prospective, solar electricity is a bust.

Taking your figures for the 1.9 kW system as an example: installation $13495, replacing electricity costing $636 annually. To buy this system, you took out a 30-year, 5% mortgage, you would make a monthly payment of $72.44 (see calculator), or $869.28/year. You are $233/year in the hole.

There are a lot of uncounted factors in these analyses..

It's been shown that the resale value of homes with solar installations can make up a great portion (if not more) of the value of the system.

If we are heading into volatility, the value of having some reliable electricity might be invaluable, and a business opportunity.. both to you and your neighbors. Charge Batteries, Keep Milk Cold.. Offer hot showers and let the neighbors watch a movie with you (They have to leave their Uzi's at the door, and no marauding in the kitchen!)

Families who have installed solar will very often then pay special attention to their electricity use, so they economize in ways that may not have been done otherwise.

Averted pollution and CO2 is surely valuable, but impossible to put a price on. (Energy Payback is considered around 2-4 years for the whole 'Balance of System'..)

Pricing these systems out against current KWH prices is a great way to see the price but rarely the value. And of course, many and even all of these can be important to a business perspective, when the business is aware that profit is not the only thing to focus on..

No matter how you rationalize it, you are out $233/year, roughly 38 days of lunch money.

It's been shown that the resale value of homes with solar installations can make up a great portion (if not more) of the value of the system.

A separate issue. If it were strictly as a matter of business, then the added value of a PV-equipped house would depend only on the cost of electricity saved -- and after subtracting the installation cost, the difference would still be a bust. But if there were a resale premium because it is "cool," then you are beholden to the uncertainties of fashion. I wouldn't bet my money on fashion.

It's been shown that the resale value of homes with solar installations can make up a great portion (if not more) of the value of the system.

I don't want to sell my home, I want to live in it. Thus I cannot count any resale added value as income. It could add a million, or take a million off - irrelevant, I'm not selling it, I'm living in it. So the system has to pay for itself, or at least not be more expensive than just buying mains power.

If I take a job, then I expect that my earnings (wage) from that job will at least match the expenses of the job (uniform, tools, travel, etc). Or I don't bother taking it.

Likewise, there's no sense my installing a grid-connected generation system if it's more expensive than just buying mains power.

Families who have installed solar will very often then pay special attention to their electricity use, so they economize in ways that may not have been done otherwise.

As I noted, we already use less than one-third average electricity consumption. Given that, the larger system pays for itself - until July 1st this year, when the rebates drop in amount, then none of the systems will pay for themselves. We'll be paying extra for the privilige of having solar. If I'm willing to pay extra, why not just buy renewably-generated electricity from my retailer, then I can avoid the upfront payment? I can stick the $10-$30,000 in the bank instead and use the interest to pay the extra 5.5c/kWh.

Averted pollution and CO2 is surely valuable, but impossible to put a price on.

The price in Australia is 5.5c/kWh, which is the premium we pay for the retailer getting us renewably-generated electricity. Given that the coal-generated electricity in Australia causes about 1.3kg CO2e/kWh, we can say that averted CO2 emissions cost about 4c/kg, or $40/tonne. That's affordable.

Whereas if you put in your own rooftop solar PV, the averted CO2 costs you a lot more.

If the system had batteries, then it would have some extra value as providing security of supply. The town could have a blackout (as we've had many of this past summer) and your batteries would kick in. But there are no rebates for batteries, only for battery-less grid-connected systems. So there's no security of supply, except in the long-term and indirect sense that if lots of other people put in solar, too, then blackouts from system overloads on hot days are less likely.

And of course, many and even all of these can be important to a business perspective, when the business is aware that profit is not the only thing to focus on.

If it were a business I was looking at rather than a home, then I think it'd be worth it for the warm fuzzies - er, I mean the good PR. I'd consider it as like paying for advertising.

Likewise, if I were running a community hall or something it'd be worth it, both for the PR, and the fact that with a large roof area we could install a lot, but we'd consume relatively little of it, so the net feed-in tariff would turn the hall a profit, it could pay the annual rates or something.

But for my home? Not worth it. I'm willing to pay more for electricity, but the extra 5.5c/kWh, combined with our conservation making our consumption 5kWh/day, this makes just an extra $100 annually. That's $2,500 over 25 years. Much much cheaper. As I said, the several thousand or more I'd have to pay up front for a grid-connected solar system, whack it in the bank and I could get more than $100 interest, easily pay the extra 5.5c/kWh.

With the current price of solar and government rebates in Australia, especially with the rebates dropping, and given that we can buy renewable energy from our retailers, it's just not worth it.

It makes much more sense to build larger scale renewable systems at the utility level than trying to do micro generation at the household level. The grid is already doing a fine job distributing the power and the important thing is to have enough distributed generating capacity to keep the grid up. 1Kw solar panels, feeding 240V back into a local neighbourood transformer is not going to keep the grid up, even if every house in the street has one. A 1MW system that has its own step up transformer feeding say 22Kv is going to put more usable power inot the grid and can probably be sited, built and maintained for much less than the toy panels being subsidised by the government. I'm glad the subsidy is going. Waht should be happening is that green power or a goodly percentage should be made mandatory and a energy retailers forced to invest the proceeds into more renewables.

I'm happy for the subsidy to go so long as it's replaced with, as you say, renewables being built out elsewhere.

I don't care whether they're on our roofs or in our parks or along highways or on top of factories or wherever, so long as they're built.

But basically they're taking the rebate money away from householders and giving it to "clean coal". $2.3 billion over 7 years, $500 million to renewables, $500 million to coal. The coal money's coming straight away, the renewables money's been pushed out to 2012. The coal guys have received that money, the $1 billion for home insulation and so on - not a cent's been spent yet. Who knows if it ever will?

$500 million isn't much, really. I mean, $10 billion's coming in handouts of $900 to every taxpayer this week just to keep us buying iPhones and rubbish like that to delay the official recession. And there's two or three times that in tax cuts, too - not that tax cuts are much help in a recession when people have no job.

So the money is there to be spent in the tens of billions. It's just a matter of what we choose to spend it on.

Carbon taxes, raising price of coal-sourced power to match cost of renewably-generated power, or subsidising renewables to lower their price, to encourage people to ask for renewables from their retailers; simply closing down coal/gas in five years with notice so it'll be replaced with other stuff, PV on every roof and turbines in every park; a reduction campaign and regulations for electricity and transport like we've done for water...

There are a zillion ways to do it. The point is really to not be too fussed how it's done, and just get off our arses and do it. Instead we're busy giving handouts to coal and consumers. Australia thinks it can just dig stuff up and sell it overseas forever.

From a business perspective the problem was taking out a 30 year loan and paying it off over all 30 years, not the solar panel system. You're paying the bank who made you the loan $12500 in interest! Currently, with the OP's energy consumption, and the feed in tariff, the $13495 system would replace ~$340/year in electricity costs, and net ~$800/year thanks to the 60c/kWh feed in tariff for 15 years. That's a ~$1140/year net from a ~$13495 investment, or a 8%/year ROI. That's a pretty good return in anyone's book AFAIK. Returns like that, along with much lower bulk purchasing costs, are why companies like solar city are around.

Some people would want to amortise the cost over a shorter period, since for example they might only expect to live 5 or 10 years in one house, but the guarantee period is the most you could spread it out over.

I think that the guarantee period is the longest period you could spread it out over with a fair degree of certainty, but I doubt that panels will drop from 80+% output to nothing after 25 years, so the panels that can just barely pay themselves off in 25 years will almost certainly save the owner money past that given the feed in tariff. Unless of course the owners see fit to toss them in the garbage after 25 years. ;)

Given the structure of the incentives, especially the feed in tariff, solar is a slam dunk over there IMO. Looking at your level of consumption, the 1.9 kW system would pay itself off in ~14 years. While this may seem so-so from the perspective of a homeowner, a 5-7%/year relatively risk free return on an investment is tremendous IMO. The difference over here is that the pay-off time period is reduced, and the solar panel system seems to be cheaper, but there is no feed in tariff. The change in Au doesn't appear as favorable for small systems, but it scales for larger systems. It's still decent, since we're looking at a $23000 Aus system, less $9800 Aus for the new credit, for a cost of $13200. At your rate, 18.5c/kWh, the owner wouldn't pay $550/year for electricity, and the system would be paid off within the warranty period at worst. If they only used 1825 kWh/year, then they would get 60c/kWh for 1400 kWh/year, for $840/year, on top of the $338/year less paid for the initial 1825kWh/year, so the system would pay itself off in 11 years, and after that the owner would see a $800+/year for the next four years on top of the $338/year savings, then the usual $338/year after that. Like I mentioned before, the system probably won't go flat at 25 years and 1 day of age, so every year after than it'll save $338-550/year.

A 2kW system that'll pay itself off in 11 years, assuming your current electricity usage, is nuts. I would love to see something like that over here. Ya spend a lot initially, but after 11 years you'll see a $1000+/year net, for a ~$4000 over net during the first 15 years, and on top of that you or whoever buys the house from you when ya move won't have to pay for electricity for decades after the initial 25 years. That seems like a pretty sweet deal to me, but maybe we have different definitions of a good deal.

The rate of return is good, I agree - after more than a decade.

If a bank said, "give us $10,000, we'll give you nothing for 10 years and then give you $1,000 a year" I don't think they'd have many takers.

The thing is also that in the past few years our state and federal governments have really messed around with these schemes. First the rebate was only going to be for a year, then it got extended for a couple of years, then they capped it at 1kW systems, then it was only for households under $100,000, now it's for anyone but the rebate is less, but there the net feed-in tariff, and...

So who knows what it'll be five or ten or twenty years from now? Maybe they'll turn around and say, "everyone must pay back their rebate from their feed-in tariff earnings." Who knows? It's a very uncertain investment, because it depends on consistent government policy over the long-term.

Which ain't common.

You're leaving out a lot in your bank comparison. In your case/rates, given the 1.9kWh system mentioned, it would be equivalent to a bank saying "give us $13495 in exchange for some asset, we'll give you $1140/year for 15 years, and on top of that at 15 years, your asset will still be worth about $10000, give or take."

Granted, all the different incentives/changes are a pain, but that's something a buyer should definitely research thoroughly. The 15 year feed in tariff is outstanding, for as long as it lasts, and IMO better than the $3.20/Watt state/federal rebate/tax credit we have over here, even with panels at $3.50/Watt and the extras at ~$1/Watt with a 3kW system.

In terms of it as an investment, it's pretty certain unless the specific Austrian governments have a habit of breaking their agreements regarding the feed in tariff and/or the rebate terms. Change isn't exactly something that should be surprising, since local governments offer incentives because solar tends to replace expensive peak generation. In CA for instance, natural gas peaker plants cost ~15-25c/kWh, not to mention the extra transmission infrastructure needed, so by offering ~7-8c/kWh in rebates they can replace however much ~15-25c/kWh energy, and since they only need a certain amount, the rebate amount drops as installed capacity increases. The state wins in that they get much cheaper peak electricity, the consumer wins in that they can get solar power for as little as $1+/Watt installed, and everyone wins in terms of less pollution/GHG emissions.

What's really nuts IMO is that with solar cells at $1/Watt, and LFPs from China approaching $350/kWh and 10c/kWh stored, even off grid systems are more or less at grid parity given your rates, although given current policy, the rebates/tariff for a grid tied system are definitely m,ore lucrative.

Current Si based PV, at least based on what I've read, takes ~1-2 years to recoup it's energy cost and is warrantied for ~80% (seems to be a common figure) output after 25 years, so we're not talking about an EROEI of 3.5:1, but something around 20:1 give or take, and mind you this is for delivered energy (electricity) with a much higher exergy than chemical energy like gasoline.

To put this into perspective, energetic chemical fuels refined from oil like gasoline have at most an EROEI of around 6:1, assuming it took no energy to extract or transport the crude oil needed. If we take modern extraction costs, we're looking at an EROEI of around 3:1, and less, although probably not a lot less, with transportation included. If we managed to get along this far with a resource of an EROEI of ~3-6:1, I think we'll be o.k. with a resource that has an EROEI of ~20:1, and delivers much higher quality energy. If we look at what's delivered to the wheels in terms of private transportation or the heat provided by a heat pump, then we're looking at a ratio of ~1-2:1 for oil compared to electricity.

Granted, some applications are still going to need liquid fuels like freight and other heavy duty apps, but even after converting electrical energy into chemical energy for specific applications we're looking at a similar EROEI to oil's refined products. Not that we'll be restricted to one energy stream for applications that require liquid fuel in the future, just that EROEI at least won't be our problem.

I think the biggest limitation is simply manufacturing capacity and the energy required to produce photovoltaic materials. Silicon is one of the most common elements on earth.

Of course you always have the thin-film advocates chiming in about how very very thin their films are, and how they require less material... but the material is some weird chalcogenide mixture, which also requires a lot of effort and energy to extract from the ground.

Thin film Si is here, and at ~$3.50/Watt is by far the cheapest I've seen, so it isn't as if we require weird compounds for it. Granted, I'm not sure how that compares to the other thin films like CGS and the like, since their $1/Watt claims are for the panels at the factory floor, not counting the glass/metal casings, their markup, or the markup of their distributor, but at the very least thin film Si is here at a very reasonable price. In terms of supposed manufacturing capacity, renewables are at ~.65TW/year in terms of current manufacturing capacity compared to their EROEI, and if we include the exergy of the energy produced compared to other forms of chemical energy, at ~1.3-2TW/year equivalent. With their current 50+% growth rates, we're looking at a decade give or take before we have sufficient manufacturing capacity for a world at 10TW of fossil fuel energy consumption, and it's ~5TW renewable equivalent.

Let me know when it's available in Australia. As I note above, here the total installed grid-connected cost, excluding rebates, is $11/W, or US$8/W at current rates. So it's twice your price.

Panels over here run ~$3.50/W (U.S.)/ ~$5/Watt (Aus), and an inverter is somewhere around $1k (U.S.). Toss in the wiring/mounting stuff for another $.5-1k U.S. and we're at ~$6-7/Watt Aus, like you mentioned, about twice the price. Is there any significant taxation that would drive up the price for y'all or do solar panel sellers just charge an arm and a leg?

There's probably a bit of economies of scale going on. As in, Australia doesn't have them. As mentioned in this article, Australia has a history of inventing solar technology, selling the patents overseas and then importing the manufactured panels from those other countries.

Australia was behind the first wave of clean energy innovations now powering the world. Twenty years ago, solar photovoltaic cell technology left for Spain. Shortly after, evacuated tube technology went to China. Then evacuated glazing technology went to Japan.

In 2001, Dr Shi and his solar cells developed at the University of NSW went to China — and his company Suntech is now the world's biggest producer of solar panels. In 2002, crystalline glass technology went to Germany. In 2007, the solar thermal compact linear Fresnel reflector from the University of NSW went to the US.

Also, when the government removed the rebate for households earning over $100,000 (ie, the sort of households who have $10,000 or so spare to buy solar panels), orders for them dropped. This put a lot of solar installers out of business and their staff out of work. So the remaining ones can charge a lot.

I seriously doubt that the times requiring the skills you mention will come any time within 50 to 100 years--short of a major catastrophe like a nuclear war or a clathrate explosion-- and in any case these skills are secondary to other primary skills that will be needed.

If these times come, those people already in small towns or close to the land will not be moving anywhere; many of them have the skills mentioned and can adapt as need be.

The people who really will be affected by a lack of these skills are the urban dwellers. The very first thing these people will need is skill in exiting the cities and finding suitable land. They will then need skills in building some sort of dwelling place (more than likely underground). Then they will need to know how to collect or find water. How to find and use useful growths in forests--like mushrooms, berries, and the like.

Only after they have exited the city and settled into some piece of land and learnt the basics of sanitation, water collection, food gathering, and so on will farming come into play, and all those other "fancy" skills like fixing bicycles, assuming they have any, or canning food, assuming hey have enough to can, and so on.

How to sharpen a knife?

When travel, I often stay in hostel to keep cost down and meet new and interesting people. Most hostels have a kitchen where you can cook but often the knives are really dull. So I end up sharpen before I can really cook -- just a habit.
You can take a plate or a cup made from ceramic (china) -- the back of the plate/cup often is not glazed and leave a rough yet fine surface where you can sharpen your knives. Sprinkle some water on the knife and "sharpen" the edge... Pretty simple and yet quite effective for many cases.

would you sharpen an axe with the same mug?

IMO a fine tooth file does the bulk work of ax/maul sharpening, a stone (or ceramic) just dresses off filed surface. Use a vise to hold the head and wear leather gloves (sooner or later you'll slip).

I want to second Subkommander Dred up thread, welcome.
A good career NOT to pursue? Automotive design.

How to fix a bicycle flat w/out glue?

Riding a bicycle is a good thing to do to get our butts in shape. If you can do that to work, it really does save you a few bucks. One time while biking, I had a flat and guess what -- the glue I had was all dried up after many years of unused? What to do?

Necessity is mother of invention. Look around at the asphalt road -- you will see it covered with black tar. Click -- there is your glue -- take a small bit spread it on the hole --- give it a bit of fire to melt it further -- and slap your piece of rubber on the hole. Voila -- back on the road.

In most 3rd world countries, you can earn a living by fixing up bicycle tires... Set up your shop in a street corner with a bucket of water and you're in business.

A bike repair shop (sells parts, but not whole bikes) has opened on the new bikeway from the Upper 9th Ward to the French Qtr & CBD. Mostly lower class working and poor people. Transportation, not recreational bicyclists all (NO spandex). They are BUSY !

Their $40 bike tune up is gaining popularity (bike pedals easier, lasts longer).


you can make glue from milk,vinegar and wood ash. no idea if it will be good enough for bike repairs though.

The four P's of subsistence:

Permaculture [no tilling],
Perennials [especially fruit and nut trees],
Preserving [veg, dairy, meats],
Potatoes [calories].

potatoes (calories)--
Potatoes and bananas are huge producers per square foot. Bananas are ridiculous, in the hundreds of pounds on a small area.
Of course, they don't do well in most of the US.

Potatoes have to be moved and replanted regularly here, or the virus load builds up in the soil to the point that they don't produce any more.

I would suggest, pick whatever will grow in your neck of the woods, and get to planting.
This is a good, very quick reference to edible nuts.
4 pages PDF.

I also have used this reference (note the significant time difference to bearing between seedling and grafted trees); some risks need to be addressed, however.

Filberts: Focus on those cultivars that are highly resistant or immune to Eastern Filbert Blight, which is also starting to show up on the West Coast. Gamma, Delta, Lewis, Clark, Tonda di Giffoni, etc. Cross between a tree and a shrub.

English Walnuts: Care must be taken to keep them away from wooded areas where walnut anthracnose, walnut blight, and walnut bunch disease have any kind of a foothold. Require deep rich soil. Otherwise, one of the most nutritious (and sweet) nuts out there.

Heartnuts: Best kept secret, grow well in zones 5-7 (5 needs some graft protection in winter first two years), can grow in zone 8, though walnut bunch disease can be an issue. Easy to crack, delicious nuts. Can grow on marginal soils, though production is not as high as rich, loamy soil. Only plant grafted varieties, as seedlings frequently revert back to undesirable non-Heartnut characteristics of other Japanese Walnuts.

Black Walnuts: Native, though now easily hit with the diseases mentioned in English Walnuts above, and often has a useless nut crop as a result. Husks are a nuisance to remove, and shells are hard to crack.

Pecans: Thin shell (southern) and Northern Pecans are available, trees require deep rich soils.

Butternuts: Often called White Walnut, is under an epidemic in US of butternut canker and is not recommended for planting.

Chestnuts: Nuts must be harvested very soon after falling, and stored in a cool place (i.e., refrigerated in most areas) until used. Nut content is almost all starch, as opposed to most nuts which are healthy fatty acids and protein.

More highly useful information can be found following the links at this page;

I once worked with a women who keep a five year supply of can goods in her home just in case there was a nuclear war or some other failure of civilization.

She eventually died of long cancer because she smoked cigarettes. Go figure. You never know how the end will come.

And all the adherents of oil-independent medicine will be first to join her...

.. because oil-laden Pharmaceuticals are keeping us so healthy~!

The markers for Civilization now include Diabetes, Cancer, Stroke and Heart Disease..

Our diets and our health from the womb to the grave are now shaped by three sectors of the economy: the processed foods corporations, the medical/pharmaceutical giants, and the chemical industry. Together these economic interests have fostered a belief system — a belief that most of us have naively embraced — promoting synthetics as benign and superior to naturally occurring foods and medicines. Blinded by ambition and the spirit of progress and commerce, we have unwittingly created an unstoppable force.

Actually, if the ciggies hadn't finally gotten her, many of those canned goods that were more than a couple years old might well have! My dad had a nightmarish collection of bottled botulism in his basement, and probably would have ignored the dates and the pressure-contorted sides and eaten the stuff, thinking he was being 'frugal'..

Aaah, the illusion of 'Sanitary Conditions'..
(and I won't go near anti-bacterial handsoap, or let my daughter touch the stuff)

The aversion to physical labour is an interesting one... I suspect it arises from the low social status assigned to such work, which is itself a function of the low pay. Personally, I've done a pretty wide selection of jobs in my time, and the ones involving physical labour were by no means the worst. If it wasn't for the money, I'd have gone back to agricultural labour in preference to computer programming - and I'll take agricultural labour over factory work (or working in a call centre) any day of the week. Yes, it's physically hard, and the weather can be a problem. But at least you're not doing exactly the same goddamn thing every single day... And there's a satisfaction from physical labour that you don't get from anything else, other than maybe a good workout.

Plumbing & Public Health

Clean water and sanitation go hand in hand with public health. Since the Roman Republic, clean water and disposing of sewage has been highly valued.

Any area that cannot maintain these basics will be depopulated (by emigration and/or disease), especially if another area can maintain clean water and sewage.

Best Hopes for New York City,


Very much agreed on clean water. Attaining a reasonable world population will be much quicker without it.

I recently toured some SE Pacific island sustainable native villages. Food, and many tools, incl canoes and paddles, produced in village. Their water supply systems were a priority. Gravity fed cisterns from springs to central village locations for drinking, washing, and bathing.

My biggest pet peeve for years has been serrated consumer knives. Most foolish purchase yet, ranking right up there with the Veg-o-matic. Get a hi quality carbon steel knife, sharpen it, and it will last generations.

Ooooh.... and make it a single piece of metal.. no handle to fall off.

Carbon steel? For a kitchen knife?

You can have my second-hand Global when you pry it from my cold dead hands.

I hesitate to place myself in the midst of this knife-wielding event, but my understanding is that self-sharpening knives are very much a useful reality now, even in my own kitchen. I guess they must work on the same principle as for instance the Malvern Hills which remain still quite sharp 2000 years after the ancient Britons defended there.

I really don't see this Topic Post going anywhere but to the same old mantras.

Most are talking about a very slow, 'lets go to school and learn some stuff' ideas.Some guy named Chu might pull something outa his ass.

This is not real. Schools don't teach. Governments don't work anymore.

Another tells of getting a small metal working lathe which will be of zero value in the future with no electricity.

Some are afraid to can food for some oddball reasons.

Can we just then go back to talking about Light Rail being the save-all do-all once more?
Once more around the mulberry bush with wind and PV panels?
They will transistion but they won't last long term. Like for your grandchildren. "But I will have no children"...great then we will cease to exist.

One says we might need the Mexicans to show us. What?Those people are already on the road to hell due to our technology. Haven't we done enough damage to other countries already?

Skills that are needed are about gone. In fact are gone.
Wake up.

Get our of your recliners and throw the Big Screen TVs in the ditch and go get some land while you can and start learning on your own.

Sitting talking about 'maybes' aint gonna work much longer.

Opportunities are being passed by. They may not come around again. Better get with the program or else go pick out your cemetery plot and headstone.

Airdale-wake me when it gets REAL


I like your posts and I like your attitude however...

I ain't about to give up electricity and I ain't about to give up my diesel tractor. One way or another.

I just got done drilling about 24 3/8" holes in a thick walled 2" piece of steel pipe. Took me about a half hour with my drill press. It will be the fire tube of a wood gas fueled charcoal burner, make biochar for the land and heat for the forge. Could I have drilled those holes with a hand brace? Maybe, if I had a colbalt drill to sock into it - which I do. Would have taken me all day or more and I would be whipped, no energy to do much else.

Electricity? I'm putting together an Imbert type downdraft wood gasifier that I bought from a bunch of guys out in Berkeley Ca. When I get that working satisfactory I'll pipe the gas into a small genset of some sort and turn out 7 or 8 KW of power whenever I want for as long as I want, maybe heat hot water with it too. I got lots of wood.

Diesel? Nice thing about a diesel engine is that it can burn just about anything. Sunflower oil if necessary.

My point is that PO notwithstanding, or perhaps even because of, there are plenty of ways to keep a modern homestead going that don't require going back to a medieval standard of living. And we do not necessarily need to depend on a bunch of city people learning primative skills. There are lots of people in the woods or in their garages who know how to do things and make things. Some city people will be able to ride along and learn new things others won't.

I too do not wish to give up my electricity but this last winters month long outage brought home the lesson that I have little control over it.

Some folks in town are getting a utility bill of around $5xx to $6xx for last month , when most had no electricity even.

Nothing they can do but pay up. Some are frothing at the mouth.

I have lots of woodworking tools that are electric powered. Not too mention my welders.


One of my recommendations is to start adding to your library of PAPER BOOKS on skills.
I have books on coopering (making wooden buckets), metal casting & other metal working skills (basic), gardening, woodstove cooking, copper working, metal engraving, wind and solar energy projects & technology, fun hobbies like making boomerangs (not the Australian type), making kites, etc.....
If things wipe out the internet or electricity you are not going to be able to get all that wonderful information now available from the internet (download it and print it now if you thing you might need it in the future!)or that stored on your computer. Do NOT trust digital storage for critical information.
Practice your non-battery skills from time to time. Can you use a "slip-stick" (aka slide rule) to do the calculations you need to do in your daily functioning? How many have ever practiced on a circular slide rule? (Much faster for some things than linear slide rule & much smaller - ie 4" circular slide rule has same accuracy as 12" linear slide rule) Carry one in your pocket when going to the grocery store to figure which items cost less per unit & drive some of the younger generation to distraction trying to figure out what you are doing (big grin). Almost as much fun as asking most people to tell you what some of the ingredients listed on the labels of the food they are buying are.

Machine parts and threaded fasteners will only get more valuable with time. Without electricity, it'll still be worth it to connect a giant flywheel and get a team of strong men to crank that lathe.


I know you don't like me much, but I hope you'll consider these comments as intended rather than knee-jerk negativity you usually reserve for me.

You said:

kills that are needed are about gone. In fact are gone.
Wake up.

Get our of your recliners and throw the Big Screen TVs in the ditch and go get some land while you can and start learning on your own.

Sitting talking about 'maybes' aint gonna work much longer.

Opportunities are being passed by. They may not come around again. Better get with the program or else go pick out your cemetery plot and headstone.

Airdale-wake me when it gets REAL

It seems to me the people who can do the teaching are.... you. I've yet to see you make the offer. Yes, you did state recently if some perfect young person showed up you *might* be willing to help them out, but maybe not. The rest of us don't seem to be worthy.

I have found a similar issue in looking at intentional communities. Every single one of them has the same requirements, the ability to sing Kumbaya out of every orifice being the most common. Additionally, you have to be able to visit for weeks and live there for as much as a year or more - some require three! - before they will be willing to make a commitment to you and invite you to join.

Wow. Wish I could take the time and money and risk to wait a year or two to see if I'm good enough!

On the other hand, perhaps what we really need is people who are a little less picky and/or judgmental. Does it make sense that we could build a community in which everyone were of the same exact way of thinking, living and being? Not to me. And perhaps that is why 95% of intentional communities fail. Sure, a commitment to certain practical issues: low or no carbon lifestyle; cooperative vs. competitive, etc., etc., etc.

i see the same weakness in your stance and their's: you accept a small range of people into your sphere.

Here you are, brimming with skills to share, but unwilling to share them. I wonder how many people on this list would love to stop by and get some training with you and people like you? I wonder how many would even pay for the "workshop?" I wonder how many would love to buy a piece of your land - if you've any left - and settle in as a neighbor?

But you've made it pretty clear few are up to your standards.

A final point. As a teacher, I don't expect my students to be perfect. Hell, I don't even expect them to like me, or even for me to like them sometimes. But that's irrelevant. My job, both practically and ethically, is to share what I know the best way I can and let them do with it what they will. As people are fond of saying, if even one of them does something with the knowledge, then perhaps it was worth it.

A story: Years ago an artists was losing his eyesight so he took out an ad offering free art lessons to any comers. About 7 of us did. Sad, that. I was only able to attend about four of the classes, but was lucky enough to attend the first one and it was about light and color. He said color is the absence of darkness. He started every painting by painting the canvas black. It absolutely altered my sense of color and light. To this day I actually see the world differently.

You never know what's going to stick.

I'm suggesting you might get more out of your time offering skills to others - even if they don't follow through - than by complaining that nobody is worthy of your teachings.

We need a lot of people like you teaching what you can. As you have pointed out, we need this yesterday.

For your consideration,


PS. Nate H., perhaps there's a key post in this idea.


I hear you.

Some responses then.
A key post? Check the number of comments in this key post. Not that many.Most of the mainline TODers are not commenting on this subject.
The Religion/Science garnered I think somewhere north of 275 or 300.
This one is around the bottom. Slighty more but its life is now over and what is posted here goes to the eternal resting place of 'used bytes'.

So is it worth the time and effort? Jury is still out.

People Trust? Even here where I live and was born and raised there are many who talk the goodish talk but keep a sharp knife to use on your ribcage. There are really very few here I would trust if my life or resources were in danger. In fact not my best friend as he has two very different sides to him. When your 70 years of age you don't care to waste too much of your time on projects with little return.
So how does one judge? The person you take in not slitting your throat in the middle of the night when we are in full powerdown mode and zero law enforcement? Jury again still out.

Yet for all that I feel like I should contribute my share. I try to do that as you can see from my comment above on how to till your soil. This is extremely important. And the one on blacksmithing. Again something I have spent a lot of time on in the past.

Yet both comments garnered no real responses.

To be a smithy one absolutely must have a very good anvil. I mentioned one excellent brand that was out of production long ago. The chinese ones are pure trash. Many others as well. There is Hay Budden which rings like a bell like the Peter Wright. The only two I would dare to own. And I had 9 of them. One railroad anvil/table took three men to lift. My favorite Hay Budden weighed around 300 lbs. and a masterpiece.

The Amish got all at my farm auction. They will never come on the market again. The Amish know how to appreciate quality. We Merikuns do NOT.

Likely what I will do is go back to my old website and update what I have there. Then when I post here I will just put in a link to that subject on my website. I hate to put time and effort into something that has a half-life of jello.

And in closing I seen little interest in the two subjects I made lengthy comments on. I think its beyond the ken of most.



PS. BTW more rain and more rain. Here is one way to beat the rain. Keep a large tarp or goundsheet handy. If you have a long row already 'worked up' and rain is coming? Cover it with the groudsheet/plastic/tarp or whatever. Rain over,remove and plant.

Now I have to wait three more days to get back in my garden because I was gone when the rain came. Should have stayed home.

Flash: There are NO seed potatoes left in this area and the stores say 'no more coming'....I think we might have a very scarce supply of seed potatoes. I drove everywhere and came up finally with a few pounds. I had saved all the white potatoes I could need but no red. Pontiac Red that is.

Some comments don't get responses because there's just no argument. You may not get much chatter, like the religion and population threads (God, how I love those! Immortality, Omniscience and Eternal Growth, all wrapt up in one humble blog!!).. but would you even want that? I finish one of your chapters, and feel like I've had a good meal.. Nuff said!

You might be hearing crickets, but it's probably the sound of people reading what you wrote. I do, since I know there will be good practical info in there.

But I agree that the half-life is poor. The way you are writing is good here, (I kind of skip over the despair parts) I think that has to do with writing to other people, not just to yourself.. Please keep writing, just cut and paste them onto your site for the Full Archives, so they aren't lost in 3 days..


Thanks for the response.


I can understand ccpo being unliked given the underappreciation he shows you there. I for one am very grateful for the many crumbs you have thrown down to us ignoramuses and I think your point about not labouring at something that goes to waste anyway is understandable. A suggestion - if you write up a key post it could be the same write up as to put on your own site, or go towards a later published handbook which I am sure there will be some demand for. Could be good to work it up in collaboration with one or more other "oldies".

Thanks fellas,

I appreciate the thoughts and posts.

I do have time here on my place when the weather is inclement, like today. Too wet to work. Just rebuilt my JD Riding mower. I intend to use it more for mulching than mowing. Mabye hook a small trailer to it.
Finish getting my IH 140 fixed.

CCPO is just ccpo. I finally learned to understand him more of late.

Airdale-on my way for a fish dinner...

Hell, you probably already have a whole book here, if you want to just scan back and paste them up.

(Sorry about the Heston quip over at Drumbeat today.. I'm ok with JC, but seeing him like the Lone Ranger just brings out the worst in me)



I too have a lot of problems with the Christian religion but not too much with the Christian FAITH.

If one hews mostly to what Jesus Christ said and did and tries to overlook what Paul says and demands then it becomes far easier.

For one thing note that Christ DID NOT write a single thing down. Not a jot and not a tiddle. He spoke. He did things.

What all came after was a lot of using him for their own purposes.

But I study more the issue of God. This is where I spend my time. The time that I do spend in chasing that will of the wisp known as spirituality but I do respect most Christians and especially if they are not suborned for other reasons that have not too much to do with spirituality.

I do believe in God. I do believe in a spiritual aspect to this world. I have a bit harder time with what we term his son. Yet I try to break the veil. For me the spiritual person can encompass quite a bit without really trying his faith and if others can crush it then it must not have been built on too much to begin with.

I don't recall the Heston quip unless it was about Moses..Oh yes I now recall. I read it and went on.

We could argue this topic forever. I think the Key Post on Religion vs Science did a bangup job and was timely. Lots of folks stuck their heads up out of their personal foxholes. Some were too timid. Some didn't care. But overall it was worthy. I learned as well and the sharing of different folks ideas was worthwhile as well,believer or not.


Robin should comment on that which he/she knows. I am not within that area of his/her knowledge.

Your response above went a bit beyond what I was getting at. That is, your contribution here is obvious. I have complimented you on that more than once. What I was getting at above was your rant about things being real. I hoped to point out that you might have the opportunity to move your "teaching" off these pages and into the real world.

I see a real opportunity for that and I suspect you and some other posters here could even get a little money out of the bargain by running workshops and such. That's how a lot of ecovillages and such get by; they run workshops.

The rest was just to encourage you to open up a bit with the primary point being, in a constrained world, cooperation will be important. Even with people we don't like. But based on what I have read from you here, I would be quite unlikely to broach such ideas with you. I am likely not the only one.

I think you understood this, but I wanted to clarify.


Thnaks for the clarification but once more I need to point out that I am no longer a younger man. My age now drives me more than anything.

So if I spend time doing something there must be some really decent payback, else I chose something else. Not to sound snarky but as one ages I think many come to that time in their life.

I would like to share. I have owned businesses. Consulting Company and a Outdoor Power Equipment business. I prefer to not go there.

Right now I am heading off to an auction to check out a aircraft being auctioned off.This really does interest me.


My age now drives me more than anything.

So if I spend time doing something there must be some really decent payback, else I chose something else. Not to sound snarky but as one ages I think many come to that time in their life.

I understood that point and don't fault it. It is part of the reason I am so short with the climate deniers: time is too short.


At what age can I use "time" as an excuse for being short with deniers? I'm only 37 :)

"Damn kids! Get off my organic vegetable patch or I'll throw a sandal at you!"

How to reply to this?

You spend most of your younger years denying the absolute 'Truths' of life without getting to carried away with the conversations you have with yourself.

Mainly you just try to enjoy the hell out of it,life.
I did very well at this. I had a very very good life.

BUT then something happens around 55. You start going to friends funerals. You start hearing that 'so and so died recently'. You very soon find your skin changing texture on your hands. You hair falling out. What you have left becomes whiter. You don't get up as early in the morning with a lot of vim and vigor and rush off to do things anymore.

Then you start to see those caskets in the back of your mind. You might go buy a cemetery plot. You think about what might be written on your tombstone. Your wife might leave you. Your kids no longer consider you that important.

Life has suddenly over a few years changed and you now know for sure that it does not go on forever.

So you decide to make what you have left count for something. You become more lazy in keeping up appearances. Lots more changes.

You have become aged. The girls don't even glance your way anymore. This is part of the cruelest cut of all.

You have a 'sea change' in your life.

Then you pick up and go on. To what and where I am not sure. Of myself I am sure. I don't waste time doing things I get nothing out of. In fact leaving of something of value behind IMO recedes quite rapidly.

You may revisit old haunts trying to recapture the past. You think endlessly of what you did and all lifes events in the past. You tend to live more and more with memories.

Women you have loved. Women who did not love you. How very much the world and morals and standards have changed.

Suddenly the country you once lived in and understood makes no sense anymore.
Things youngsters say makes no sense anymore. Good books become part of your refuge. You might rent old movies that you liked and watch them once more and remember and remiense about the past you once seemed to be master of.

Lots of folks no longer pay you much attention. Particularly your own children. Usually your wife seems to be your own enemy unless you married extremely well. You might find you both have very little in common. Or it might be just the opposit and then you need to perhaps say a little prayer to your form of God or just get down and kiss the Mother Earth. If you are bring food out of that earth then bless it twice over.

Airdale-YMMV as is said but I am going out with little qualms afterall,whenever that happens to be and I am taking my rolex with me and not much else,some things do need to go with one


I can only speak for myself, but I really appreciate the occasional technical posts I find.

I remember the poll done of TOD posters a while back. Barely 14% are under 30: It's hard being a younger person on this forum... I'd love to buy land and start working it, manage a woodlot and grow food, but for now all I can do is save money and learn everything I can for that day.

Does anyone have a recommendation for a good book on herbalism? I've been interested in growing some herbs for a while, mainly for cooking. But I'd like to know about other practical uses for them.

That depends on how deep you are willing to go....

The most effective herbal medicine I have encountered is the Chinese model, but the path to knowledge is long and arduous due to the alien nature of the underlying classical Chinese mindset to a westerner. It is not a simple case of "what do I take for 'flu" - one must determine what kind of 'flu and why one is suffering it...

This requires much more study than expected...but if you are interested the "bible" in the English language is Bensky et al. "Chinese Materia Medica" and "Formulas and Strategies". You probably also need something like Giovanni Maciocia's "The Foundations of Chinese Medicine" to make any sense of this at all...

Many of the herbs used in Chinese medicine are readily available in Europe and the US, though by no means all (and one must be VERY particular on the specific variety being used, and the preparation of the medicinal). I am involved in a project to cultivate medicinal herbs (including native and ayurvedic) in California, though this is in the very early stages.

For a more Western herbology, I recommend looking at Plants For A Future, based in the South West UK (Cornwall). They have an AMAZING plant database (something over 7000) including medicinals and many edible plants that fall outside the major cultivars currently in use. You can download a stand-alone version of their database for a donation, or just use their website to access it online.

Hope this helps.

The most effective herbal medicine I have encountered is the Chinese model, but the path to knowledge is long and arduous due to the alien nature of the underlying classical Chinese mindset to a westerner.

Actually, the road is long and arduous for anyone. I've met some herbal docs here in Korea and one former co-worker who was studying. Long, hard years of study.


The most effective herbs?

I hunt and gather my own ginseng and yellow pucoon as well. Yellow pucoon is known as Golden Seal.

The ginseng is my favorite. Haven't used the golden seal much.

Both are getting harder and harder to find. The habitats are being destroyed very fast. Or something like drifting crop spraying is killing them off.

And there are those who hunt and steal them to sell.


I've no empirical data on the subject, but I find the book The Green Pharmacy to be quite intriguing.

Dr. Barton ( recommended "Rational Phytotherapy: A Reference Guide for Physicians and Pharmacists" to me and I'm including it in my presentations.

I've also got the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, The Green Pharmacy, The Healing Power of Herbs, and The Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth.

And everyone should have a copy of:
Where There Is No Doctor
Where There is No Dentist
Where Women Have No Doctor

by the Hesperian Foundation.

The Michael Moore Southwest School of Botanical Medicine has some extremely valuable downloads here. They are also mirrored here. Though he passed away a little over a month ago, the school is continuing to offer distance learning.
He authored several books on medicinal plants for regions in the western US.

That is one heck of an extensive website!!

Thanks for posting it.This gives me something to dig into tonight as I have ran out of Lamour westerns once more.


Yeah, big thanks from me, too!

That's quite a legacy he's leaving behind...thanks for posting it.

There is a VERY strong anti-school bias in the peaker community and I do not share it. I think all this amounts to is finding a scapegoat for underacheiving kids who grow up to be f*ckups. I think bad parenting and anti-intellectualism in our culture is more dangerous than a mediocre school system, which is why the kids who get the best grades are typically immigrants who realize that education is the key to success.

Its all part of the 'society is going to collapse' mad max apocalyptic cult mentality. None of the skills referenced here will be needed outside of an SCA event.

The most important skills to have going forward are those demanded by industrial society. Engineering, law, medicine will get you much further than learning how to weave your own cloth or do blacksmithing by hand. In no concievable situation are we going to decline to the point where these skills are going to be even remotely relevant.

In no concievable situation are we going to decline to the point where these skills are going to be even remotely relevant.

You, sir, have no understanding of risk identification and assessment. There could be many such conceivable situations.

Do you buy meteorite insurance?

Meteorites are objects which have fallen from the sky; I doubt I will trip on one and hurt myself.

Perhaps you meant meteors; part of risk assessment is identifying risk probability. I personally don't see any significant risk in meteors to myself or my family, so I have no need of insurance from such an event.

The risk of a systemic decline (or even collapse) is several orders of magnitude higher, however; note how the Russians managed to pull themselves through their situation by gardening and doing any number of odd jobs, many of which were based on manual labor. We here in the Western world have far higher dependence on critical infrastructure, petrochemical industrial agriculture, and Just-In-Time deliveries than the Russians ever had. Hence, a collapse would leave people completely confused about what was going on and what they should be doing. Not unlike the situation now...


"In no concievable situation are we going to decline to the point where these skills are going to be even remotely relevant."

That's a good one,,,hahahahahahahahahaha

Yes sir, you just move to NYC in a year or two and write to us. Let us know how the corn is doing in the Park?

That's a pretty broad stroke, Dezakin. NONE of the skills? We've been talking about a lot of different trades, here..

Nothing wrong with having a few basic skills in your sack.. even Lawyers need their trousers mended, or as the Lord said to Noah.. "How long can you tread water? Ha, ha, ha..!"

Nothing wrong with having a few basic skills in your sack.. even Lawyers need their trousers mended,

Which is why lawyers pay someone to do it for them, or more likely, just buy a new pair.

I'm just saying that just because you're a great sea captain, you might still find it useful to know how to swim..

The point isn't that you have to be a blacksmith or a farmer, but that you have some kind of a plan that could help get you through if things go to hell, even if just for a while..

I interviewed a guy who survived a Khmer Rouge prison camp.. he had been a college prof, but lied to the teenage prison guards that the reason he wore glasses and spoke languages was that as a 'Cab Driver', he needed to read the roadsigns. When he got to the US, he became a cabbie, and by the time I shot the interview, he owned a cab company.

Life can get crazy.. and if you have a chance to see it coming, a few preps might not hurt. A lot of other College Profs went into mass graves. Torn Pants might not be the worst thing that will be happening to these Many Many lawyers.. and everyone else.

I can't be 100% certain that collapse is going to happen but for me the likelihood is high enough that I've chosen to prepare for it. I think the chance of our complex, interconnected systems failing catastrophically is actually rather high. Drawing from the experience of other species failing when their food becomes scarce, I would even go so far as to say that scenario depicted below is the likely endgame for humans. The game now is to make the best of it.

World Crude OIl and GDP

We may not get to 'Mad Max' here but it might come awfully close in some regions of the world. And it's a non-zero probability here, too.

You, of course, have to make up your own mind and it appears that you have.

Oh boy. You should buy puts then.

You're living in complete loony bin fantasyland. In ten years, the biggest news is that the PS4 doesn't have enough games.

'Fantasy land' actually sounds kind of fun, reminds me of that T.V. show Fantasy Island. Do I get any wishes? I could really use a flour mill and some solar hot water panels.

Given a choice, though, I think I much prefer Alice's sounds much more interesting!

But this is perfect, actually. Now I know who to turn to ask whether:
I have gone too far off the deep end
that I've got too many pages stuck together
that I'm too many cards short of a full deck
that all my cups aren't in the cupboard
that I'm half a bubble off plumb
that I'm a few sandwiches shy of a full picnic
that my elevator doesn't go to the top floor
that I'm a few gallons short of a full tank
that my copier is out of toner
that my train has derailed
that my boat has sprung a leak
that I don't have all my marbles
that my parents haven't had any children
that I'm flying with one wing and
that I'm a few french fries short of a Happy Meal.

I'm counting on you to judge my sanity when the time comes, don't let me down Dezakin...

Go ahead and put some money on your prediction then.. Sounds good.

But look at the biggest news today.. it might all just calm down and go back to video games.. that would be pleasant. If not, you can at least sleep well, knowing nobody ever thought you were loony.

Having long and intensively studied this question I'm very with André aangel on this. Indeed I consider it almost 100% inconceivable that the corporatised/globalised/industrialised system can continue for more than a few years at best. The system has already broken and is just drifting along by momentum of hope, with the "leaders" groping at straws of facile delusion.
(One semi-valid hope might be toe-to-heel air injection of tar sands if it can be scaled up fast enough but even that would just put off the end to a far worse collapse a few years later.)
The lesson of history is that domineering "leaders" are consistently useless, markets fail catastrophically and grand civilisations collapse just when their "leaders" are developing manic delusions of immortality.

No argument here. I was replying to Dezakin's prediction that our big news in ten years would be about Video Games.

I don't want to make predictions.. I just want to clear a couple extra paths up ahead, and make sure I've got something that floats with hooks and string packed under the seat.

I still want an Oscar, man. (Ma'am?) But I'm not too proud to hedge a bit..


I live very well growing my own vegetables, making my cheese from the milk from my goats, slaughtering a pig or a lamb, or a beef, and basic Black Smithing for profit. So, I would disagree. I think the skills of the Lawyer, Accountant, Engineer, or Scientist may very well be the less relevant skills in the future. In the world I live in they're not relevant now. We call em Dudes. Blacksmithing is relevant in my area as is leather working, cabinet making, boot making, and saddle making. A guy who knows how to build a good five strand barb wire fence can always make a living. I am able to make good money braiding rawhide items for Cowboys and making their spurs from scratch (I know my definition of "good money" is probably different than what most in the urban areas would consider "good money"). The Farrier is a valued member of our community as is the Mechanic, the Physicians Assistant (We have two Doctors in the county with a PA), the Mid Wife, and the Bronc Buster aka the "Horse Trainer". The Farrier makes a very good living shoeing ranch horses. By the way, we don't have pet horses here, no arenas, no cutting or reining horses, no performance horses, just good, solid, old fashioned ranch horses. I call them "Charlie Russell Horses". We don't give a damn about the PBR but a ticket to the NFR in Las Vegas is worth while for sure. Best from the Fremont

I visited a guy I knew for some time who trains horses. Mostly saddle horses.

His horses would come out of the stall at his spoken word or return. With no halter or any gear they would backup. Walk forward. Siddle sideways to his beck and call. Even get down on their front knees at his command and stretch out(show stance).

He was the best trainer I have ever known. He doesn't ride much. He trains as a hobby. He owns some nice stock which I intend to purchase from in the future. He imparted a lot of his method to me in one afternoon.

He normally doesn't do this but were are sorta related and I had some knowledge to pass on to him as well about his tractor and a owner/repair manual I had for it.

In a few hours I learned the essentials of horse training. I have owned horses, bred them,owned two studs, broke them to ride and shod them yet this guy knew far far more than I could have ever learned on my own or gotten out of a book. I have many books on horses but what he showed me was nothing I had ever seen in a book.

He would put his arms around the horses necks and head and make certain moves that to me were almost magic. Like the 'horse whisperer' I suppose. Something I didn't believe too much before.

I was astounded in fact. He did the rest of the training with only two pieces of gear. He never did more than jangle the reins to remind the horse. He never used any other force. Just his voice mostly.


Hi Mos,

The counter balance to your point is John Taylor Gatto, author of 'Dumbing Us Down'. He was a teacher for 30 years, and won NYC teacher of the year several times.


I think it is important that people realize that they don't have to be journeymen/experts for every conceivable skill-set. However, it is imperative that they know what they don't know so as to avoid getting in over their heads.

Here's a personal example: A large doug fir died by my neighbor's cabin. It was probably about 5' in diameter. Now, I've felled hundreds of trees up to 3 1/2' in diameter but nothing that big. They asked me to fell it but I said no. Why? First, it was pushing my chainsaw length. Second, I felt it was beyond my skill range. One screw-up and it could crush the cabin or, perhaps, me.

Tools have the same requirements: You don't need the exact "tool" for many things if you know what you are doing. But, there are some occasions when only the right tool will do. Canning is a good example. Some foods absolutely require a pressure canner and there is no alternative (yes, you could dehydrate, smoke or pot some things.).


PS - I noticed spokeshaves mentioned up thread. Sure, I have some. But how many of us have a flexible sole hand plane? The one I have does both inside and outside curves.

After reading all the comments I noticed no one had mentioned forest gardens.
These things are my most recent obsession - basically you engineer your own woodland ecosystem where every plant is edible. from large fruit or nut trees down to ground covering edible plants and vines that grow up the large trees. with several layers in-between. apparently you can get almost 10 times the amount of productivity than using the standard 2 dimensional flat gardening of vegetables etc. also if you use trees that encourage insects, the birds will come to your woodland and deposit one of the most potent fertilisers known to man!

If done well this system needs very little maintenance, just harvesting when you need the food.

Yes, for sure.

THIS BBC documentary is worth watching - it gets to forest gardens at the end.

Then there are these:

promo - establishing a food forest

food forest pt1

food forest pt2

Jim Channon

and last, but by no means least, a 300 year old Vietnamese Food Forest

Also I can't think of any future scenario in which planting some trees is a bad thing !

Actually, they've been talked about quite a bit. Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Research Institute has a vid on it that is much more informative than the vid linked above. (The BBC piece is great, just not a how-to vid, more of a rationale for change vid.)

Play list on youtube:


A forest garden?

Can you plant corn there? Wheat? Potatoes? Beans?

Can you store away what you gather there for the winter?

How long to do all this work to create this forest?

The grains are able to be stored for long periods.

The recent ice storm here would have easily decimated any such forest. What then? Severe weather I think may be come more common.

Fruit and berries are fine. I love them but not sure how to store them.

Its winter. Everything is frozen. What do you eat then?
Its spring and trees are just budding. What do you eat before they produce edible food.

Many Native Americans practiced hunting/gathering. They used animal meat. How does that work with a forest garden?


Huh - be nice to have some answers as well as questions!

Airdale, I don't think anyone is seriously proposing forest gardens as exclusive food source.

The grains are able to be stored for long periods.

....providing you have enough mouse-proof storage?

There hasn't been much woodland decimation (other than by humans) in the uk in recent decades. Natural vegetation.

Fruit and berries are fine. I love them but not sure how to store them.

By making jars of jams and stewed fruit. In absence of other sugar sources presumably honey from bees is needed?

It's winter. Everything is frozen. What do you eat then? Its spring and trees are just budding. What do you eat before they produce edible food.

The above preserves. Jars of vegs you have preserved by salting and pickling. Nuts stored in shells. Eggs from your hens and milk from your cow.

All this looks like needing vastly more careful forethought than a trip to Tescos, but then not for nothing did the northern europeans became the most organised and ingenious people in history and agreed on a calendar that keeps up with the seasons 6 centuries before Islam came up with one that doesn't.

I grew up on white beans, boiled potatoes, and pork. Chicken oftimes and all the rest as the seasons provided. Vegetables in abundance.

Cornbread and biscuits. Yes and lots of canned goods. Some wild game of mostly squirrel. No game laws then.

Lots of fish often.

And of course eggs and gravy for breakfast.

This was on a subsistence farm of my grandparents. I ate good and grew strong and healthy.

Answers? We kept our corn in the crib. Open to everything. Thats all the grain we stored. Food for mules, chickens and us. Put our potatoes in the crib too and sprinkled lime on them. They kept thru the winter pretty well. Our cured meat hung in the smokehouse.

I don't disagree with the forest garden. I need to study it more.

Thanks for the information.


BTW I used to gather some mushrooms from the woods. Morels mostly. Now they seem to no longer grow there. I think Big Ag did them in. The environment , airborne chemicals, whatever.

Hi Airdale. Why did they sprinkle lime on the stored potatoes? First time I've heard of that. The learning curve is certainly steep when trying to relearn old skills which have been lost.

I don't know why we did that. Maybe to keep the rodents at bay. Maybe to help keep them from going soft. It worked though.


Hi Folks,

Keeping a garden starts with making a garden, often back-breaking work, especially if you're starting, god forbid, with a lawn.

Here is a simple solution to take out some of the hard work:

  • 1, In late autumn, or at least a couple of months before you want to plant stuff out, cover the area with cardboard and weigh it down with bricks or stones. Do not Dig!

    2, Then in spring (late March/April) cover this now partly rotted cardboard with 2" - 4" of compost or rotted manure. Leave for a couple of weeks to settle - + check for any vigorous perennials that make if through - just use a trowel to cut off the new growth a few inches beneath the surface, the root will die off naturally without a food source.

    3, Plant out crops grown on in pots or 'plugs' (made from cardboard tubes found in the centres of rolls of paper/foil etc, or made from rolled up newspaper)

    4, For following seasons a fine tilth will develop that will enable seeds to be sown direct into the soil. Adding a mulch of 1" to 2" of compost/manure/leaf litter will help build the soil naturally. Again, Do not Dig!

  • I have been experimenting with this system for three years now, on different locations with different depths of compost/manure, and a variety of crops. Its a very easy system to work with, and only requires the digging up of weakened perennials and normal weeding. In fact, the weeds are far less numerous than dug plots as the seed bank in the soil is not brought to the surface for germination, so all you have to contend with are seeds from the compost or manure, and those that naturally drift in. Even root crops such as carrots and parsnips will go down deep - contrary to popular myth, they do not need 'loose' soil, and from my own experience seem to prefer the undisturbed soil profile to grow strong and straight - as their ancestors did for millennia!

    I have some photos, but haven't a clue as to how to upload them! but I think you get the picture...


    A very good technique. I am saving this on my gardening archive on my PC.

    Thank you very much.


    Sid, it would be great to see photos, if you're up for it.

    I use because TOD doesn't provide the ability to host photos. Here are the steps I use:

    1. Get an account.
    2. Upload and name your photos.
    3. Click on the HTML link below the photo, photobucket will post the link to your photo on their servers into your clipboard.
    4. Here on TOD, paste the img link in the body of your text.
    5. Add a width="500" tag or smaller if the picture is too big for the screen.

    Like this but replace the square brackets with angle brackets below:

    [img src="" border="0" alt="The Staircase Model" width="300"]

    The Staircase Model

    Sid sent me the photos and I'm posting them on his behalf:


    Sid Garden 1

    Thanks Andre.

    These are two photos of a bed I did on the lawn in my back yard in spring 2008. Cardboarded from late January, it was prepared in April with about 4" of compost - the wood scavenged from a skip, and the pictures where taken in July 2008. In the forefront of the top pic are parsnips dwarfing a few carrots on the end, and to the left of bottom pic are more carrots. There where also lots of radish and mixed greens, with leeks and onion and lettuce - harvested as the slower growing crops got bigger. The blue water pipe acted as a support for netting to keep cats out while seedlings grew.


    I wonder if it might need quite a lot of cardboard there. Also in wet weather I can imagine under the soggy cardboard a huge harvest of slugs ready to eat by springtime. Bon appetit!

    Hi Robin,

    I wonder if it might need quite a lot of cardboard there.

    Yes, and it saves it being shipped either to China or 'landfill' for 'recycling'. Its available from most retail outlets if you ask - often they are pleased to get rid of it!

    Also in wet weather I can imagine under the soggy cardboard a huge harvest of slugs ready to eat by springtime.

    In winter I have found slugs to be mostly dormant. Also, as cardboard is effectively a cellulosic and lignin concentrate it mimics the natural leaf litter of the forest floor, and promotes the soil biota that decompose this.

    Bon appetit!

    What slugs there are, are available to birds. On the allotment the other day, a friend observed how a blackbird (I think) wiped the slime off a slug on her apple tree before eating it. L'escargot sans coquille I guess!


    Thanks though I guess the location-dependence comes in here too. In a mild winter of the uk slugs might not be so dormant. And i've never noticed enough birds or hedgehogs sufficient to acceptably minimise the slugs and snails, especially if hiding out the day under cover. But a useful tech so long as retailers are still happy to be so indulgent with their waste.

    Hi Folks,

    Interesting email recieved this morning:

    ----- Original Message -----

    Sent: Thursday, April 02, 2009 9:35 AM
    Subject: URGENT: Bill against organic farming: Please forward to all of your U.S. contacts

    'We need to help stop this proposed legislation!

    What happens in the U.S. is of major concern to us as the big agri-companies there are putting increasing pressure on the whole world to use and accept their poisons.

    Please forward this email to all of your U.S. contacts - they urgently need to take actions as below.'

    - Peter Pure

    'Wow, can you believe that in the U.S. they are trying to pass a bill REQUIRING use of CHEMICALS on all cultivated soils to protect the public.

    It seems that the sponsor's husband is on Monsanto's payroll; no surprise.

    Read on to see what we can do to stop this bill with 40 sponsors, from becoming a law none of us want. '

    - Garry F. Gordon MD,DO,MD(H)

    #1: From: Lyme Angl

    'Outrageous Bill HR 875....S 425 bill to make organic farming illegal....WHAT?? '

    'Please read through the following information. When you're finished, please make the calls and send this to everyone including small local farms that you know

    This is really frightening and substantially takes away our crucial rights. We must do all we can to ensure that something like this is never allowed to happen.'

    Dear Friends,

    'US House and Senate are about (in a week and a half) to vote on a bill that OUTLAWS ORGANIC FARMING (Bill HR 875). The name on this outrageous food plan is Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009

    ... And, there is an enormous rush to get this into law within the next 2 weeks before people realize what is happening.

    This bill must have been handled in a really stealthy manner, since it came out of nowhere in the last week

    No doubt, the way it's backers, "the Agri-Giants" wanted it. Perhaps a coincidence with "Spring Break" and many people out of town in the weeks before. With enough congressmen signing bills without reading them, there's no time to sleep on this one.

    How do you organize all these small farmers to fight the big guys? Spread it far and wide my friends. Make a noise.

    The main backer and lobbyist is Monsanto - chemical and genetic engineering giant corporation (and Cargill, ADM, and about 35 other related agri-giants).

    This bill will require organic farms to use specific fertilizers and poisonous insect sprays

    dictated by a newly formed agency to "make sure there is no danger to the public food supply".

    This will include backyard gardens that grow food only, for a family and not for sales

    If this passes - then NO more heirloom, clean seeds will be allowed, but only Monsanto genetically altered seeds that are now showing up with unexpected diseases in humans

    Here's a link that gives you an idea how this can be happening and information about the bill:

    For getting the scoop by video, here are a couple more links:


    Get on that phone and burn up the wires.

    Get anyone else you can to do the same thing.

    The House and Senate WILL pass this, if they are not massively threatened with loss of their position....

    They only fear your voice and your vote.
    Again, the best thing to do is go to
    all you have to do is put in your zip and it will give you your congressperson
    and how to get in touch with them.
    When you call their office someone will answer the phone, just tell them
    (politely) that you are calling to express your views on HR 875.
    Tell them your views, they'll take your name and address
    and pass your comments along to the congressperson.

    For a list of U.S. Senators and their contact info. go to:

    I you live in California, the info you need to contact your state senators, is at is right here:

    Barbara Boxer
    112 Hart Senate Office Building
    Washington, DC 20510
    (202) 224-3553 DC office
    (415) 403-0100 San Franicisco office

    Dianne Feinstein
    331 Hart Senate Office Building
    Washington, DC 20510
    (202) 224-3841 DC office

    To those in other states please go to: all you have to do is put in your zip and it will give you your congressperson and how to get in touch with them. When you call their office someone will answer the phone,

    just tell them (politely) that you are calling to express your views on HR 875.

    Tell them your views, they'll take your name and address and pass your comments along to the congressperson.'

    #2 From: Sally

    Monsanto is trying to make "organic" illegal

    I have watched hours of youtube videos pertaining to Monsanto.

    I am convinced, that amongst stiff competition,

    Monsanto is easily the most evil corporation on the planet.

    Please help by taking action asap!!

    This is serious.

    This is a typical corporate ploy to pull "a fast one" while everyone is looking the other way. (i.e. the economy).

    Thanks Robert Trafeli

    (original email addresses removed)

    It seems real if one check the links. Anyone know about this stateside?


    The bills are real, but the hype is a little bit over the top. You should go read the bills yourself.

    (7) CATEGORY 3 FOOD ESTABLISHMENT- The term ‘category 3 food establishment’ means a food establishment (other than a category 1 or category 2 establishment) that processes cooked, pasteurized, or otherwise ready-to-eat seafood or other animal products, fresh produce in ready-to-eat raw form, or other products that pose a risk of hazardous contamination.

    (8) CATEGORY 4 FOOD ESTABLISHMENT- The term ‘category 4 food establishment’ means a food establishment that processes all other categories of food products not described in paragraphs (5) through (7).

    (9) CATEGORY 5 FOOD ESTABLISHMENT- The term ‘category 5 food establishment’ means a food establishment that stores, holds, or transports food products prior to delivery for retail sale.
    I don't recall any provisions demanding specific fertilizers or pesticides.

    That said, the problem with the bills is that both are written so generally that your backyard garden could be treated like a Monsanto farm by the government.

    Both bills need to be defeated if not written to specifically either exclude organic or specify minimum sizes, i.e. a small family farm or CSA.