We Grow From Here's Blog

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Produce No Waste

Category            Permaculture Principles

“Waste not, want not”, “A stitch in time saves nine.”

Today I drove through the aftermath of what has been referred to already as a five-hundred year event.  While this country’s West coast is in the midst of drought conditions, here in the Southeast, this winter has brought unprecedented severe cold weather in areas completely unprepared for freezing snow and ice.  All along route 95 heading North of Savannah the shoulders were littered with tree limbs downed by icy winds.  The first words that occurred to me, of course, were “mulch!” and “hugelkultur”, but I highly doubt that this is what the average motorist in the region might be thinking.  This is, however, the permaculture mindset:  “when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade”…and then compost the remaining lemon rind, or soak in vinegar for cleaning solution.

North of Savannah on US 95, hundreds of trees downed by '500 year' freezing weather

North of Savannah on US 95, hundreds of trees downed by ‘500 year’ freezing weather


If there were one quintessential concept I feel is most important for those who wish to embrace permaculture, it is this one:  “produce no waste”.  Seems simple, yet, as we saw in “Use and value renewable resources and services,” these concepts have not exactly been adopted by the masses, yet.  ‘Frugality’ does appear to be something of a dirty word in our culture, where the entire economy is driven by waste and consumerism, and yet I believe this one principle is the fast track to getting the whole of systems theory.  Start small.

For me, it began with water—Florida being in such dire straits with our sensitive and easily depleted aquifer (because, you know, it’s so much more important to pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of water into strip mining for phosphates which we don’t even use here), I personally feel that this is THE issue to address—hopefully before salt water begins to infiltrate.  As I embarked upon my first experiments with graywater and gardening, I wanted to ensure that the impact of growing food onsite would not be to deepen my water footprint, leaving behind a muddier mess.  So, I looked into all kinds of retrofit systems—for toilet flushing, for diverting graywater—and ended up with the simplest solution:  rather than going to the trouble and expense of installing something which may or may not have an impact, why not simply experiment with one simple step at a time?  In this case, it was flushing the toilet with clean, fresh water—I mean, whoever thought that one up was simply insane anyway!  The easiest way to do this, for me, was to stopper the tub while showering, and use a small bucket to transfer the water to the toilet.  Soon, I developed a system around this, saving ice tea bottles which I filled and left at the ready—the remainder I carried out to the garden for hand-watering.  For two years I did this—literally practicing Zen-like “Chop Wood, Carry Water”.  I think two years is a solid time frame to calculate impact, and indeed it was quite the impression.  Even though I had also installed an array of perennial trees and bushes in this same time frame, as well as a few annual food sources—my water consumption and thus the bill dove to a fraction of my former near-average usage.  The real ‘tells’ were my bills after having guests in the house—a stay of less than one week for two family members tripled the bill for the entire two-month period over one holiday!

Just.  One.  Thing.

Pick it—whether it’s water, or plastic, or maybe starting a compost pile or worm bin—choose ONE thing to focus on, and do it—give it at least a month, preferably six weeks, and see what happens.  Play mad scientist and keep a log, formulate a hypothesis, have fun with it—just be certain to look at all of the potential impacts—did removing or adding this one thing cause you undue stress?  Did it lighten the load, did you find yourself overwhelmed?  In the first year or so of my water experiment I did find myself frustrated from time to time, particularly when I’d left a tub full of water and needed to take a shower in a hurry.  Over time, I learned to plan ahead and redistributing the liquid immediately became part of the routine.  There is one essential component, by the way:  routine.  It takes six weeks to form a habit, so just imagine–after practicing so many habits which have negative impacts on our planet—only six weeks to completely turn it around and make a better choice.  Imagine if just two people stopped using fresh water to flush the toilet after reading this post, and they each told two of their friends, who told two of their friends, who told…

The moral of this story, if there is one, is that it does not take a total mind-shift to make a huge impact.  I can be a tad bit obsessive, it’s true, but I choose my obsessions carefully, for greatest impact.  It actually bothers me now to flush a toilet the ‘normal’ way, and I did simplify the process a year or so ago, by purchasing a simple sump pump to run the leftovers outside to the garden—no more ‘chop wood, carry water’…well, I take that back, there is the wood story—but that’s for another post.

So, if you come to visit me one day, you won’t need to ask why the water to the toilet tank is turned off, or what those jugs of water on the floor are for!

Read the Series:

Introduction:  ”Unplugging”

  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch and Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

© Loretta Buckner, 2014, We Grow From Here

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Who is “We”?

maypop01-24-13(*) Who is “We”?
There is something truly daunting about the blank page, as well as something else purely inviting, as if it begs to be filled with scribbles or these regimental symbols we call “words”.
It is 4:14AM. Sleep has been erratic, at best, since “The Great Shift” in December last. I am in the Vata stage of life now as well, which means my energy is shifting from primarily fire to air and water.
I thought a few words of introduction would be appropriate, because, while “We” is indicative of multiple people, and in fact I have been that in this life, the writer of this blog is one person: Me.
Some facts which have brought me to this point, and particularly, to this “permaculture” thing:
• My father’s family have been farmers in this country for over two hundred years. I know this, because until this past century, pretty much everyone did, in fact, grow at least some of their own food—it was necessary for survival. I’ve always been a little confused when, in Permie circles someone poses the question: “Can we grow enough food to sustain us?” (Meaning, of course, in our own backyards.) Of course we can—how do you think our ancestors brought us to here? But, back to the family—the Buckners were in fact a prolific bunch, who bred their children by the dozens to work in the fields…at least, that’s how my father tells it. (They did breed in nines, but I’ll tell that story another time.)
• In 1978, also known as “The Last Great Recession”, this same father, a bit ahead of the curve some might say, was living on what was then the family farm: 160+ acres in Siler City, NC. Along with organic farming—something unheard of in that region at that time–he was also attempting to sell solar heating products (water tanks), and synthetic fuel. Are we noticing any patterns here? Let me help: recession: recession; fuel shortage: fuel shortage; alternative energy and chemical free food growing: we’ll get to that in just a moment.
This is the part where I go into more detail regarding my involvement: my sister and I each went to NC to help—we were teenagers, fairly typical–full of romantic ideas and not terribly in touch with the realities of what goes into putting food on the table, even though we may have known a little more than the average American even then. She–my sister that is–was far more responsible than I: she took on the role of learning to cook and can and such things. I attempted to grow controlled substances and got a job at the local convenience store. (Rebellion has always been my forte.) I did learn about the market economy, however—I will never forget my father telling me that a cantaloupe was priced according to how many other cantaloupes were also for sale that day, and that this was known as “supply and demand”, regardless whether they were pale and tasteless.
• Leap forward thirty years (we’ll skip the garden which actually did quite well when my daughter was pre-school—I had tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers, herbs—many of which I’m sure grew out of simple ignorance of the fact that they weren’t supposed to grow well in this climate).
As most people are aware, the real estate market began to tip and tank in 2006, shortly after I shifted from accounting and finance, becoming a real estate broker (emphasis on the first syllable). It seemed like a safe bet at the time—in 1998 I had noted that the homes in Orange County, CA, were virtually identical to those in Pinellas County, Florida, the regions also quite similar, and yet the prices of these tiny suburban block homes were three times the price in the OC. When I returned to Florida in 2000, I began investing in real estate, and watched my wee rental portfolio climb in value for the next six years.
I don’t think I have to tell you how the rest of this story goes—suffice to say that depression was a big part of my reality by 2010. Everything I had worked for, from nothing, for ten years, was worth just that. With the knowledge that my property was not even really “my” property, now that the bank truly owned more of it than I did, the only thing I could do was make the best use of it that I could think of:
I planted a garden.
I might not make enough money to pay the mortgage, but I can eat what I grow on the land. Thus, “We Grow From Here” came out of the process of removing my own head from my… I mean the sand.
(*) A note about post date/time: Several weeks ago, after having spent two months attempting to switch from Bright House to Verizon, I chose to unplug instead, just to see exactly how important having a house phone, internet and TV really are. In short: I don’t miss them, and now I am writing (more!) blog posts offline, and posting once or twice a week, from the library or some charming, locally owned coffee shop, such as I am today, at Eco-Bean in Tarpon Springs!