Archive for August, 2017

I discover Permaculture

14 August 2017

It all started with this guy…

David Bellamy 2005

David Bellamy, 2005, by Begaoz – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

British botanist and educator David Bellamy created an educational TV series “Bellamy on Botany” that I watched on Canadian public television while I was in high school. The point I remembered most about it was how Spain had been overgrazed, which eventually deprived it of tree cover and totally changed its climate and local ecosystems.
Bellamy was just using Spain as an example. This same thing has happened, and is happening, throughout the world. This is sometimes called “desertification.” Though it is more than unlikely that all deserts here on Earth were caused by overgrazing, when you let cattle or sheep graze through a forest, or burn down the forest (as has been done in Brazil) to create grazing land, then you have, at minimum, lost a forest with everything that goes with it.

Thus I became interested in attempts to reforest land of all types, and hoped I could some day try my hand at it.


Here in California, there has been a water supply problem for a long time.

In the north, damming of local rivers has provided the more regulated flow needed by modern agriculture, southern California had to reach out of state many years ago to supply its water needs. All across the state, ground water is also used. Though there are many reasons that water supplies can vary from year to year, amount of precipitation is the most obvious. And in Sacramento in the summer, that can get very obvious, as it might not rain at all for two months or more. So every year there is a mini-drought during the summer, and in recent years there has been an overall drought of some magnitude. As a result, residents are asked to conserve water, and have been whenever I have lived here. One way to do this is to plant a drought-resistant garden. We also had a water problem in Pullman, so I have been interested in how one goes about replacing an ordinary lawn with low-water plants. And now I have had a chance to look into this more, and that led me to the subject of permaculture.


Permaculture is a coined word invented by Bill Mollison, an Australian from Tasmania, who in his mid-life studied “bio-geography” at the University of Tasmania. He was nearly 40 and being a university student at about the same time I was being a high school student. The ecology movement was gaining steam at that time. Ecology had been an academic subject since the early 1900s, but turned into a political movement in the mid-1900s as it became more clear that some of our human enterprises were making very poor environmental decisions.

During the 1970s Mollison worked with a graduate student to develop an engineering approach to environmental design which involved water systems, agriculture, architecture and social development which they called “permaculture” in the sense that the systems so designed were meant to be permanent; what is now known as sustainable. This goal was based (roughly) on the premise that if natural systems can survive for thousands of years, then human systems should be able to, too. He believed in taking his lessons from those natural systems and implementing them in his designs. He fostered a whole movement by offering a “Permaculture Design Course” which would result in someone certified to practice or teach permaculture. By this time nearly half a million people have been so certified.

One such certificate holder is Geoff Lawton.

Geoff Lawton

Geoff Lawton, by Bonnie Freibergs – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Geoff is almost exactly my age. He’s a Brit who moved to Australia and took up permaculture as his mode of life and his creed. Geoff has crafted many videos – many relatively short – often produced by quite excellent videographers, which communicate his knowledge and excitement regarding this subject.

Oddly, for one of his videos he visited Davis, not too far from here, where a development (Village Homes) using permaculture practices has existed for about 30 years (construction started in 1975). Though this is an upscale subdivision in a university town, the basic fact remains that it grows an incredible amount of food that is available to residents almost year-round, and is a very shady, livable space. Other neighborhoods or communities could follow the design practices used to create Village Homes. And I was very interested in these practices because they are much more sustainable than conventional suburban design, and they create food and shade, as forests do.

Lawton has traveled all over the world spreading his permaculture philosophy and doing consulting work. He has worked in the Middle East and in India, two of the most ancient human areas on the globe, and both desperately in need of more sustainable practices. Unfortunately, current culture and big business agendas favor a restricted-access approach to this technology. Current culture does not expect life on earth to be permanent, and certain big businesses don’t plan for – or even particularly want – a sustainable Earth. Those groups seem to favor the “rape and pillage” approach to planetary life, and apparently are preparing – even as this is being written – to find some new planet to take advantage of once this one has been worn out.

Personally, though, I would very much prefer to leave behind at least a piece of ground – if not an entire planet – that keeps on giving long after I have left.


Biking to TAP Plastics

6 August 2017

TAP Plastics Sacramento storefront

The challenge this Sunday afternoon was to bike north through the Arden-Arcade suburbs to the location of TAP Plastics on Auburn Blvd. (old U.S. 40).

The data I had from the city on bike paths in the area did not look promising. Their map showed large discontinuities.

In my travels so far, I have learned to rely heavily on residential streets in the suburbs. Even though not officially bike-friendly, people use them and drivers know to be aware. The “bike ways” are on the main streets. They are usually narrow and there is lots of traffic. This is not ideal for a bicycler. There are some areas of the city that are serviced by purpose-built bike trails in parkways. These are the best choice for most bike riders. But downtown and in the suburbs, these disappear. (Pullman was an exception, with a nice path close to downtown that followed the creek. It could have been wider, though.) In Pullman I also relied heavily on sidewalks. But I have not always been able to do that here, as in the unincorporated areas, most streets have no sidewalks.

So I looked up the area on the now-trusted Google Map web application:

Google map of north Arcade neighborhoods

My destination was the red star at the top. My origin point, the blue star at the bottom. Some parks and an interesting pathway are noted with yellow arrows.

My focus was on Pasadena Ave. And it kept coming up during my ride. It turned out to be a key element to a fairly safe and interesting ride north.

Getting out of my neighborhood and across Marconi was the first major step. I found on my way back that looping around to Eastern where there is a sidewalk to the corner is the best way, as there is no such sidewalk on Marconi. On my initial study of the map, it looked like Norris would be the best way to go north. But I passed it without seeing it, and took a street called Montclaire, which got me to Auburn Blvd at Watt Ave. Auburn is sidewalked on one side, so that was not a big problem. But it was a long way around. I also noticed Pasadena coming out on Auburn at a place I didn’t expect. Turns out Pasadena starts at Auburn, loops down (south) into the suburbs, then turns north and returns to Auburn much further east. So on my trip up Auburn, I turned over on Winding Way and ran into Pasadena again. However, it appeared to end at the Creek. From the other direction, you get this sign:

road ends sign on Pasadena Ave.

But there was as footpath – which shows up on the map. I followed it and went past a big back yard where two horses were standing under a fig tree. Then I came to a footbridge across the creek. And from there the road started up again, appearing as a narrow piece of asphalt like you’d find in the mountains. And with all the old pines in the area, it smelled like the mountains, too.

foot bridge across the creek

This is an area where people are allowed to keep horses – and they do.

horses grazing in back yards

I had made it to TAP! But I wanted to go back a different way. I didn’t have the map with me. I just knew I needed to head south. I went past the bike-laned Edison Ave, attracted by a man selling watermelons, and found a park. Parks (when they aren’t crowded) are another good bike path resource. At least you don’t have to worry about cars!

Gibbons Park playground

I found my way to Mission Ave. It is not officially bike-laned like Edison, but it was not busy, so OK to ride. The way back along Marconi was actually more favorable for bike riders than the section above my neighborhood, though no official bike lanes.

On my next trip I will try the Mission-to-Edison-to-Pasadena route. It should be more direct, though this trip was not very time-consuming, either.

Next trip: All the way downtown!