Re Rustica

  (Squaw Valley, California)
love your food!
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Farming in Tents

We make sure all the animals and plants - wild and domestic - on our farm have enough food and shelter to be happy and healthy.  When they're sick (wild or domestic) we take care of them, get them the rest and medicine they need - usually special diets cure most disease - and otherwise do our best to be kind to them.

Every once in a while we have to take a moment to remember those often neglected and important animals that also live on our farm - us!

Today we got a brand new sleeping tent.  It's a Coleman "Trailblazer" and it seems real nice.  We got it on sale because the paper on the box was scratched up, sending it to the surplus outlet store.  We didn't mind.  We'll let you know how we like it and how it compares to our other tents. 

Since we're setting it up today, here's a picture from the website, www.coleman.com

We practice in-tent-sive farming (intensive farming)....  oh, that was a terrible pun.  No more puns!

For those readers new to this blog or who don't know us yet, we're "intense" (get it, "in-tents?") people (with no shame of using puns).  Don't worry, that'll be the last pun in this blog.

Tents are wonderful alternatives to houses or caves.  When we lived in Colorado, it wasn't uncommon to drive or boat along the mountain rivers and see all the cave dwellers.  Some were multimillion dollar mansions, others were primative things inhabited by wild people.  Of course, when driving around on deliveries, we would see all kinds of houses too: some were multimillion dollar mansions, others were little more than shacks.

But it wasn't until we came to California that we noticed other people living in tents.  Here, it is much more common: there are multi-thousand dollar yurts for the wealthy, there are rags strung up on poles for the poor.  No matter how expensive, tents will have all the conveniences of a house, and more conveniences than a cave.

Caves require water and light to be brought in, but require little heat and cooling.  Fire (burning gas, wood, oil, wax, or other fuel) or electricity are used for the light and heat.  Water is either brought in with pumps and pipes or is bucketed in.

With houses, water and light are also needed.  So is heat and cooling, if the house is not constructed well.  Water is pumped or bucketed in, and light is usually brought in by way of electricity or fire places and candles.  No cave torches here, please!

Tents require light in the night, and this is provided by candles, electric lanterns or an external fire.  Heat is provided by gas, electricity, or fire.  Some high-end tents have furnaces, but we use a space heater because we decided it was simply not cost effective to have a $5,000 dollar furnace when a $50 space heater would do the same job: the furnace might last 25 years, but even if we went through 2 heaters per year, we'd only spend $2,500.

Tents are more ecologically friendly than houses, requiring no wood lumbered or stone mined.  We do use some wood in our tent as a floor, but console ourselves that we did not kill even one full tree for our floor, and that the wood we bought came from farmed forests.  The stones in the retaining wall we have as landscaping about our sleeping tent came from our fields and needed no mining. 

Some high end tents are works of art: painted with murals and decorated with pretty stones, gold woven into the fabric's tapestry.  Our tent is made with space-age nylon and is water-repellant, sturdy enough to handle the Sierra snows. 

Tents are more clean than houses or caves.  A house gets mold between its walls, and the wood or stone eventually gets dirty.  A cave is nearly impossible to clean well without lots of scrubbing.  The cloth of our home is easily washable, and when the furniture is removed, it can be turned inside out and made very clean.  Some tents are made of wood fabric that cannot be laundered, but these panels are often replaced periodically for less cost than equivilant house cleaning or repair.

Tents are more affordable than houses and more available than caves.  Almost all the best caves are always occupied - if not by people, than by the bears, lions, bats, raccoons and other critters that like caves.  You'd be hard pressed to construct even a modular home for less than $75,000 these days, but a "mobile" home can be acquired for $10,000.  The most expensive and elaborate Yurt we could find (excepting those works of art imported from Asia) costed $9,000, and included a sauna, indoor toilet and bedroom, complete with electrical wiring and plumbing pre-installed.  that's a bit better than a mobile home!

The upkeep on a house is expensive in time and money, but tents require little work.  At $80, our modest tent could be replaced every year for less than what some of our extended family pays for basic house repair in the same period.

 

We have used many brands of tents in the past, but usually stick with REI and Coleman.  We use tents for some of our mushrooms, for some of our sprouts, for storage of valuables, for everything that needs a home like we do.  Our greenhouse is a tent!  We love tents.

Some of our neighbors continue to kindly offer their houses and their mobile homes to us, believing that tents are inferior living environments.  This is truly the spirit of America, and the generosity that made our nation great: these good people would offer their homes to their neighbor! 

But now that we have had a chance to think about it, we'll out-do them: we'll offer them a tent!

If anyone wants to try out tenting, we welcome you to our farm for a night, a few days, or as long as you like.  It's wonderful.

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Don't Fence Me In!

Is the grass greener on the other side?

Is the grass greener on the other side?

We’re constructing a fence to keep our birds from grazing on our neighbor’s field. They just discovered the tasty grasses and things there! They’re not bad birds, but they do need some structure in their lives. Several hundred feet of structure.

 

They are, thankfully, not complaining. They seem to remember that the fields they used to enjoy aren’t so bad. Here’s a picture of the fence going in by our driveway. See our truck? Look nearby and you’ll see Scuttle the rooster helping to corral one of the more determined hens.

The wood is coming from the trees we are thinning, and would have otherwise been composted. We are preventing fire risk by ensuring adequate fire block on either side, and not stacking the wood high. The wild animals will be able to get through, over and around. It presents a visual reminder for our domesticated animals where our property line is. They are very familiar with territory, and like to stay within our territory: our protection and food is best!

Saving the Sierras by Killing One Tree at a Time - now with an address!


Saws and axes are still good enough for thinning trees.  Shovels are still good enough for planting trees.  And, it turns out, tents are still good enough for living in!

Saws and axes are still good enough for thinning trees. Shovels are still good enough for planting trees. And, it turns out, tents are still good enough for living in!

We love trees. Who doesn’t? Yet we cut down a big one - almost 4 feet across. Then we cut down another! And then we cut down many smaller ones in our farm’s Sierra forest.

Why?

The monoculture on our farm is unnatural. Just a few hundred years ago, the pines - which provided better lumber - were cut down to help build Fresno, Clovis, and even far away cities. John Muir and other primary sources describe, besides the lumbering of the forest, cutting the trees to make way for sheep and other domesticated livestock.

The oaks were better able to survive this crisis. Even after the big oaks were cut down for wood, their acorns sprouted up. Now, the forest is mostly oak - several kinds of oak.

The larger herbivores that would have checked the growth of these oaks were destroyed by over hunting - they competed with the livestock. So the trees today grow too close together, and the lack of diversity further encourages disease. All trees increase the amount of water in an ecosystem, but the large sequoias and redwoods excelled at it. Now the forests burn so easy.

We are thinning the trees to a healthy density, and then a bit more so we can make room for sequoias, redwoods, pinions, junipers, and other evergreens. We will also be planting apples, cherries, pears, raspberries, blackberries and other native fruits.

A healthy forest is a diverse forest, but ours will still lack those necessary large herbivores! They will come when the habitat is restored. The carnovores and the necrovores will also return.

We see it whenever we reclaim land for our crops. An increase in biodiversity will lead to more diversity. And this healthy forest will improve the yields in our vegetable and fruit patches.

In other news,

If you’d like to come see our progress - or help in the lumberjacking or tree planting - you can more easily find us now. After long days of trying to talk to a human being (alas, time not spent blogging or doing real farm work!), the County has finally (kindly) given to us an address! There was some problem that we could not get an address without a house, but after a long discussion with the County, they have decided to recognize our tents as residences. Now we can vote, too!

We’ll be blogging more about this later, but were so happy that we had to share it today.


 
 

Dissapointed Coyote

This morning we saw in the snow that the coyote walked up to our coops and sat down for what had to have been an interesting converstion with our birds.  After a while (the snow began to fill in the tracks), the coyote circled and made fresh tracks over its older ones and backtracked... only to smell and see how a family of quail had made tracks over its own while he was trying to entice our birds out of their home!  The quail made for a safer hiding place after the coyote passed.

After circling in distress, the coyote left for an entirely differnt direction.

What a dissapointing night (for the coyote)

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Fire, Forests, Climate Change, Grasses and Farming

Fire risks are increasing as the global climate changes.  The increased temperature and decreased rain dries out the land and the vegetation on the land.  To prepare Herself for more adapted vegetation, Gaia allows fires to scorch vast acreages.  We don't intend the anthropromorphism of Earth to allude to some kind of pantheist theology, but refer to the Gaia theory of Dr. James Lovelock. 

In his landmark work, he sets forth the mathematical algorithsm necessary to predict and understand global weather, geology and biospheric phenomena.  When the sum of billions and trillions of factors - most of them living, breathing creatures - can be anticipated through math, it is easy to believe that earth is not so complicated a place, after all!

Yet the picture Dr. Lovelock paints is dire.  We are preparing for a new age of the world.  In the first age, the living creatures of the Earth stabilized the oceans from oxidization and evaporation through the manufacture of oxygen by photosynthesis.  During this first age, the ancestors of animals developed: microflora dined on the ancestral plants in the warm seas. 

When the atmosphere oxygenated, the second age began: the earth cooled and nearly killed all the micro plants and animals.  When this occured, the vast numbers of dead creatures allowed the evolution of a whole new class of creature: the necravore.  The eaters of the dead digested their dead fellows and produced vast quantities of methane, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. 

During this age, the earth began to gradually warm as the solar radition increased: the sun is gradually growing larger and more bright.  The balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide and methane has changed over time through ages so that recently the atmosphere was mostly nitrogen and oxygen, with decreasing or negligable quantities of carbon dioxide and methane.  The decreasing quantities of greenhouse gasses kept the earth cool.

But as the earth warms despite the increasing oxygen content of the atmosphere, there arrives a crisis: soon, there is so little carbon dioxide that those classes of creatures that eat the carbon dioxide (especially in photosynthesis) must either become more efficient or find alternative sources of carbon. 

The grasses are one of the newest plants to have evolved, and are ready for this new age.  Already, they present trees, bushes, slight ground covers and fill most ecological niches.  They are ready and waiting for the carbon-hungry plants to burn away.

Grasses are also more tolerant of heat, drought and the other challenges of this new age.  Whether we humans shall prove to be as tolerant is questionable.

To protect our structures, our selves and the animals and plants in our direct care, we must keep our 5 acres of the Sierras fire safe.  Normally, large herbavores would browse the dry wood and brush, keeping the trees wide and spacious, the brush lithe and verdant, and the grasses trimmed back. 

However, the extinction or near extinction of large herbivores has forced the people of the Sierras to either import domestic cattle, goats, equids and other herbivores, and pigs, geese, chickens and other omnivores.  And also to lend their hands to the problem. 

Our government fights the fires as best as possible, but acknowledges the fires cannot and should not be utterly stopped.  They are healthy for the forest, both in its present form and for its future development into a grass forest.  The giant grass trees of Asia (bamboo) rose in response to the same conditions we now face.  We are assured by Dr. Lovelock and other scientists that in time, the horrific fires that we are already getting used to will become rarer as the ecology adapts.

But for one factor.

Humanity is releasing vast quantities of carbon dioxide, against the global needs for less.  While this might be balanced against the good stewardship some of our species undertakes, it accelerates the progression from one age to another possibly faster than the animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms can adapt.  Instead of taking millions of years, we are seeing changes take hundreds of years.

Whether this is cause for despair, as the dismal Dr. Lovelock suggests, is debatable.  It is possible that this problem is easily overcome, that by human efforts, creatures can be bred to fulfill difficult niches.  It is possible that the fires can be mitigated long enough for creatures to adapt.  It is possible we can directly impact the atmosphere in a way that helps the entire planet.

Certainly, it is in our interests to make sure the transition from one age to another as gradually as possible so that we, ourselves, can adapt and fulfill our destiny.  So that the grasses can adapt and fulfill their destiny.

Humanity loves grass.  Though, globally, our principle food crop is the potato (a tuberous and VERY carbon-hungry shrub), we have recently acquired a growing taste for grasses: oats, wheat, rice, rye and corn, especially.  Though the first agricultural crop cultivated was the potato (simultaneously in Africa and South America), the innovation of bread during the 1st and 2nd millinia BC has not yet been regretted.  Grasses are delicious, nutritious creatures, ready to serve the needs of our species.

Grasses (bamboo) form the mighty timbers of our species' mightiest and largest cities, grasses tidy up what messes our newest space-age nuclear wastes by bioaccumulating the pollution for easy harvest and disposal.  Grasses feed our favorite domestic animals.  They can be made into plastics, they can be made into fuel.  They are our newest and best friends.  Surely, our mutual love ties our fates together: having evolved together at the end of a great age of the earth, we are both uniquely able to tolerate and shape the transition to the next phase of our planet's existence.

So we trim back trees and trim back brush, and introduce friendly herbivores to our lands, and succor as best we can the native large herbivores that remain.  In doing so, we must ensure that the brush is not entirely destroyed - it is important habitat - and that not all the deadwood is removed - it is also important to countless species.  A dead tree is not a hazard to everyone, it is someone else's home.  These are difficult tasks - nature knows best what trees to keep and which to fell, which forests to spare and which to burn.

But when nature has been harmed, our only choice until She can be healed (and we are doing our best to increase biodiversity, the cause and meaure of nature's health) is to do what little and clumsy work we can to defend ourselves and those creatures in our care.  Our fire fighting efforts are centralized about the 2 acres immediately surrounding our farm structures where solutions are very clear: keep vegetation low or absent within 100 feet of strucutres, and if trees are to be kept within that frontier for shade, food or other necessary service, keep deadwood off the trees.

This is not only common sense, but is law: the fire code of our land requires us to reduce the risk of fire to our structures. 

The wood we trim is not wasted, but is used to construct a perimeter fence for our farm, fences for our fields, perches for our birds, blinds for our privacy.  The mighty trees of our forest are precious things, but in these strange days, are dangerous creatures nearing the end of their age.

 
 

From Columella to Tull

 

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