Posts Tagged ‘permaculture’


7 December 2017

This post is to introduce a new category into this blog that may get some attention now and then. “Home and Garden” is meant to echo the vibe of the long-time and very popular magazine, Better Homes and Gardens. This has been the fourth best-selling magazine in America per Wikipedia and epitomizes the old American ideal of a privately-owned homestead for raising one’s family and enjoying one’s ample leisure hours.

As I haven’t been a part of that whole scene for most of my adult life, I have a hard time taking it seriously. But there are about 76 million owner-occupied homes in the United states (the statistic has been flat for over ten years), which is one house for every 4 and a half people or so. So it’s a pretty big deal in this country.

And now that I am winding down a bit, the idea of living in a house instead of a room or an apartment has resurfaced in my awareness. And so, this new category.


My discovery of Permaculture came out of my interest in food forests, which is one way that some suburbanites have made urban life more sustainable.

This lead to my interest in the work of Alosha Lynov, who has aligned himself with the work of Michael Tellinger (Contributionism, a moneyless society). They are both living in South Africa, and are into New Age ideas. But Alosha is from Russia. He is young and very gung-ho about Permaculture and building curvy houses out of special cements. He has made lots of videos, including some about his less-than-optimum financial situation. These videos show you how to clean your waste water, create catch basins on your land, and stuff like that. The pics below are from his commercial website.

domed house

A different style of house.

Alosha and Michael

Alosha Lynov and Michael Reynolds.

Michael Reynolds

Michael Reynolds is an architect who has developed a passive solar home design. Most of his designs are for single-story buildings. His emphasis is on reuse of waste for building materials. But his “earthship” design also makes effective use of passive heating and cooling techniques.

Thermal Mass

I had to study thermal mass for a project I’m working on. Certain materials can absorb and retain heat much better than others. Use of these materials inside buildings reduces temperature swings, putting less peak demand on heating and cooling systems. For best effect, the material must be in direct contact with the air in the room, or via a thermally conductive material, like a metal. It also helps for the mass to have contact with the ground. Most ground and soils have pretty good thermal mass. Water also has great thermal mass.

Think of an example of an early human house: A cave. That’s also an example of the use of thermal mass. “Rich” people of old could afford stone houses. Stone is a good building material when you want thermal mass. So are brick and concrete and other stone substitutes. The big problem with bricks and concrete is the energy required to produce them. Reynold’s earthships use dirt pounded into old tires, stacked like big bricks.

Interesting Sacramento House

This house has been listed for sale for some weeks now. It’s on Academy Way, which is north of downtown, but very near a light rail station. I went over to take some pictures of it recently.

house on Academy Way

House on Academy Way in Sacramento.

Note that is is faced with stone and brick. This sort of facing makes a house “look rich.” But if it doesn’t go all the way through to the inside of the house, it won’t contribute much to the thermal mass of the house (only to its mass!).

This is a largish house on a corner lot. It is listed for less than $200,000. Why hasn’t it sold? I can’t fully evaluate without knowing more about the house than is obvious from the outside. I know from observation and the listing that it needs maintenance. Depending on how deep one goes, this could cost a new owner anywhere from 10 to 50 thousand dollars. Thus, a house that looks new can be sold for that amount more than one that doesn’t. There is also the factor that this is not considered a desirable neighborhood. You’d think being close to a light rail station would increase the value of the property. But perhaps in some cases it has the opposite effect.

Permaculture and passive solar design are not happening things in Sacramento right now. But if we want to stay alive on this planet much longer, these ideas will need to become household words.

I plan to explore these topics further in the not-too-distant future.


It rains!

20 October 2017

I never thought I’d do a post just on account of some rain.
But per the records I’ve been able to find, it hasn’t rained in Sacramento since April. That’s six months with no rain! I didn’t even notice any foggy mornings.

But last night, as the weather guys predicted, we heard the soft pitter-patter of rain drops on the roof and in the yard. And this morning it was wet outside.

roses after a rain

Of course, people and other biological forms survive under conditions like this because of ground water and stored water upstream behind dams. Our garden stayed well-watered. Those who decided to continue the water conservation effort got very dry and brown lawns. However, most trees and even bushes did OK because of water in the soil.

We could leave even more water in the soil if we didn’t flush roof runoff into the drain system, but flushed it onto the soil instead. (That’s the permaculture way.)

When I took a photo of droplets in an old web under our pine tree, I found something interesting. Can you tell from the photo?

old web under pine tree

There is also sap (what amber is made out of) falling out of the tree and collecting on this web. The one darker blob is really obvious. This sap is quite messy. I got some on my fingers; it’s hard to get off.

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.