Thursday, June 24, 2010

Frau's Garden June 2010

The Deepwater Horizon event continues to depress me. However, since I can't seem to do anything about it aside from reduce my own dependency on oil, and continue building community / raising awareness, I'll just keep gardening...

The 13 tomato plants in my garden have made a startling comeback from the hail downpour last month and are setting fruit like crazy. This is good, because they typically shut down and stop producing during the heat of the summer - which is usually much of July and August. The exception is the smaller varieties like cherries and Juliets, which just keep going... and going....

Unfortunately, the tags for most of the tomato plants mysteriously erased themselves, leaving only blank white markers. So the plants that I raised from seed are currently incognito, although the five I bought from Horn Seed as insurance have been neatly labeled. However, most of the varieties are somewhat unique (Black Cherry, Carbon, Orange Banana) so I believe I will be able to identify them once I start harvesting. Since I hope to save seed this year, it will be important to know which plant is which.

My Burgundy variety okra are looking lovely. They are just toddlers here; eventually they will get to be eight feet tall and I will have to bend them halfway over to harvest them. I planted them between a butternut squash (which has two squash already) and an Orangeglo watermelon so the long vines could run in between the tall okra. Will this work out? Stay tuned....

Like the tomatoes, I may have gone a bit overboard with the okra. I planted eight or nine plants this year, because last year I didn't have enough to freeze and I missed their mucilagesnous-ness in my soups all winter. Fried okra is a Southern favorite, but I don't fry. Instead, I use the okra in soups and curries/Indian dishes. I hear a local chef also grills them whole, and since "you haven't had okra until you've had her grilled okra," I will just have to learn that method, too.

Here, a cantaloupe is flowering in a front yard crop circle near the echinacea. I hope no one runs over my cantaloupes - I will endeavor to keep them out of the driveway.

Right now, we are harvesting the end of the kohlrabi (a very underappreciatd vegetable), a daily handful of blackberries, and gearing up for the peach harvest. Because of the hail, it may not be a bumper crop. But mark my words, there WILL be peach jam.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Local Food Fair

An evening of local food (and don't forget local beer) at a cool local landmark is this Thursday - the annual OKC Local Food Fair! Local food will be on display for sampling and purchasing. I went last year, and there was a lot of smiling, music, kids running around, and yumminess.

What: Local Food Fair, hosted by the Sierra Club and Buy Fresh Buy Local

When: Thursday, June 17th, 6:00 - 9:00 pm

Where: At the barn of the Harn Homestead, 1721 N Lincoln Blvd, Oklahoma City

Cost: $5 for 18 - 64, free for veterans and other age groups

Transition OKC will be tabling, so drop by and see us!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Reports Page

Please note the new page at the top of my blog - Reports and Resources (the font is so dark, it's easy to overlook). I plan to make it a repository for the most authoritative and educational materials available to persuade your friends and families that they need to ACT, and act soon, to prepare for the current and incoming financial/economic/energy upheavals.

Currently, it includes presentations from Chris Martenson and Stoneleigh about the relationship between finance, the economy, and energy/oil, as well as reports from the U.S. Joint Forces, Lloyd's of London, etc (sources that people view as authoritative and credible). This won't be a comprehensive listing, but a very selective one. Your average Joe doesn't know who Richard Heinberg is, but do they know the United States military? Yessirree bob.

I plan to add reports from Roscoe Bartlett and Matt Simmons, among others, and may create a Climate Change section as well. I'll be expanding it over the next few weeks, and hopefully this will become a handy resource for you. Feel free to submit your suggestions for additions (authoritative/high-profile and educational) in the comments. Thanks!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mother Earth Award Belated Acceptance Speech

I was honored over the weekend by the Oklahoma Sustainability Network, who presented me with the 2010 Mother Earth award for Sustainability Education, in recognition of Peak Oil Hausfrau and my work with Transition OKC. Naturally, I had no prepared remarks and so I mumbled something ridiculous about thanks and please head over to for more information about Transition.

Please, forgive me my deer-in-the-headlights moment, because what I meant to say was THIS:


First, thanks to my nominating committee of Shauna Struby and Vicki Rose, who spent a significant amount of time on my nomination. Knowing that you cared enough to write such lovely things about me is just as important to me as a formal award. Thanks to Shauna for reading my blog and recognizing that I was itching to get out behind from my computer and into the community. All it took was an invitation.

Next thanks to my wonderful husband, whose support, encouragement and (ahem) income allow me to spend so much time doing something so financially unproductive. Much like having a child, writing a blog and starting an unfunded non-profit community project are very rewarding, but not monetarily. Dear hubby has also never complained once about the dust bunnies that accumulate while I write (shhh - don't tell him they're there!).

Thanks to my only child, who despite not actually helping me with either of my projects, is very motivational. When my son was born, I realized that I held his life in my hand with my decisions. Should I prepare for the certainty of declining energy and economic turmoil? Or should I stick my head in the sand and embrace the pleasant fiction that all will be well without any personal effort to insulate my family against rising food and energy prices, uncertain food supply chains and unemployment? The responsibility for my son inspired me to greater heights of preparation.

Thanks to the bloggers and others who have listed me on their sites, including Crunchy Chicken, Sharon Astyk, Chile Chews, and Energy Bulletin, and all the other people who have listed me on their blogrolls, given me or nominated me for an award (i.e. Uber-Amazing, Fun to Read, Sunshine Blogger, Environmental Nutjob), posted a link to my site, Tweeted / Facebooked me, or just told a friend to visit. I appreciate you for spreading the word - and I enjoy reading your blogs as well!

And finally, thanks to you, my readers. Sitemeter informs me that people are visiting, whether or not they leave comments (HINT ;)). I started this blog as a way to help people by sharing information about the things I've learned in my preparation for peak oil - about solar cooking, gardening, useful books, rainwater tanks, food storage, paying down debt, etc. But it is also a platform for harsh reality checks, a forum to debate and share ideas, and a place to support each other in our transitions to a vastly different way of work, play, and living.

Dear readers, in the last two years, I hope I've amused you:

What's Your Letter?
Dear Universe
So God walks into a bar....

offered some inspiration:

A Day in the Life - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Overcoming Doomishness
Retrofitting the Suburbs

caused a controversy or shared a different perspective:

What is UNsustainability?

Magical Thinking

Myth of Efficiency

Power of Dissent
Turning Peak Oil Upside Down

provided a helpful resource:
Tips for Living Lightly
A Simple Plan
20 Low-Energy Entertainment Activities
Preventing Deforested Moonscapes - Part I, Part 2, Part 3

and perhaps even interested you enough to read a reaaaaaaaally long post (one of my claims to notoriety):
Infrastructure: Priorities and Painful Decisions
13 Ways to Promote Consumption
Resilient Gardening - Part 1, Part 2

Thanks again to everyone! I appreciate your help, support, ideas, and recognition!

Friday, June 11, 2010

10 Ways to Identify a Closet Prepper

Prep-dar n. Informal 1. The keen observation skills and attention to detail which allow you to identify other people who are aware of, and covertly preparing for, peak oil. 2. A shortened version of "prepper radar".

Although an increasing number of people are adapting to the realities of more expensive and declining energy, and a permanently depressed economy, many are still... shall we say, circumspect, about their activities. They may have been driven underground after encountering ridicule or denial from friends and family, or perhaps are just are leery about random people showing up at their door when crunch time arrives.

So how do we find these fellow prep enthusiasts, so we can join forces, help each other, and make our communities stronger? You could check out your local Transition initiative, or search online for a peak oil meet-up in your area. However, some of these undercover peak-oil-preparers may be people you already know.... friends, acquaintances, work buddies, even family - you just have to figure out who they are. To help you find them, here are the top ten clues that should set your Prep-dar buzzing. You might know a closet prepper if he or she:

10. Gives you a Bo-Go flashlight, first-aid kit, or copy of Just In Case: How to be self-sufficient when the unexpected happens for Christmas.

9. Knows the difference between the IEA and the EIA; and/or calls the EIA "the most incompetent bungling liars in the government."

8. Is overheard exclaiming "But Sharon Astyk/Richard Heinberg/James Howard Kunstler/Dmitry Orlov/Matt Simmons/Gail the Actuary says ____________!"

7. Sends you articles published by The Oil Drum, Energy Bulletin, or Life After the Oil Crash , "FYI."

6. Stores any type of food in a bucket.

5. Is fired after a happy hour at which she tells the boss he'll be doing hard labor when "TSHTF."

4. Privately admits to cashing out their entire 401(K) to purchase gold, ammunition, and prime farmland.

3. Complains of marital discord arising from arguments about the number of chickens that might fit on a quarter-acre lot, or the excessive amount of lawn which has been converted to okra production.

2. Tends to use terms like Cantarell, TEOTWAWKI or Hirsch Report after a few glasses of wine.

and finally.....

1. Offers to share seeds, teach you to can tomatoes, help you compost, build a raised garden bed, plant a fruit tree for you, car-pool, chop firewood, give you fresh eggs, set up a rain barrel, or show you how to use a solar cooker.

In that case, who cares if they know about peak oil - you want to be their friend!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Resilient Gardening - Part II

Growing your own food can be a way to increase the security and health of your family in a world facing the multiple challenges of peak energy and resources, unpredictable and more severe climate, and financial uncertainty. At the same time, gardening may become more difficult due to the strange and shifting weather and uncertain consequences of peak oil. You can increase the resiliency of your garden in order to help deal with rapid changes in the economy, environment, and energy landscape.

In the first installment of this Resilient Gardening two-part series, I discussed two ways to increase resiliency in your home gardens - diversity and localization. In this part, we'll cover feedback / knowledge and backup plans (redundancy).

Feedback / Knowledge

Knowledge of design systems like permaculture can help us create gardens to be resilient and less prone to failure, and knowledge of local gardening can help us create gardens that are well-adapted to our particular conditions. Tight feedback loops can help us respond quickly to changing conditions in our weather, economy, and environment.

A good start to resilient design is observation. Have you observed your property to find the best places to site trees, raised beds, the chicken house, pond, rainwater tanks, and the herb garden? Build resilience by choosing locations for these elements of food production where they are less likely to fail - out of the way of harsh winds or flooding or too much shade. You can also build resilience by arranging these elements so that they form relationships. Let nature do the work, reducing your level of effort so that any key maintenance is not neglected. (See Toby Hemenway's book Gaia's Garden for more).

Expand your information gathering to the wider community. Consult with the local long-term gardeners, and native/indigenous people in your area. What methods have they developed to bounce back from garden adversity? What weather extremes have they seen, and what were the results? What changes have they noticed recently compared to past conditions? Are there vegetable or fruit varieties they've noticed which do well under all kinds of conditions?

After your garden is designed and built, be sure to develop effective feedback between you and your garden / orchard. A gardening aphorism is "The best fertilizer is the gardener's footsteps." Your attention can help develop your understanding of the best way to improve / change your garden as time goes on as well as catching pest/disease problems early so that you can deal with them.

Information and feedback can assist in adapting to changing conditions. No one really knows what to expect as the effects of climate change become more apparent, but the Arbor Day foundation has shown that our traditional zones have already moved North; and more severe weather is expected as a result of climate change, hence the term "global weirding". This type of rapid change will be difficult to adapt to, as planting dates will change, some fruit trees won't get enough chill hours and will stop bearing, and plants will be subjected to new harsh conditions.

Noticing weather changes as early as possible will help you adapt your techniques to the new reality, instead of sticking by your tried-and-true methods. This means constant observation, along with monitoring and tracking data about your garden and the weather so that you can identify changes early. Start a garden journal, and record weather conditions, dates of planting, blooming, and harvesting, varieties planted, amounts of the harvest, pests and diseases. Record how you dealt with challenges and how well your strategies worked. This will help you identify changes as they occur, effective responses to change, and which varieties adapt well.

Another way to adapt to increasingly warm and weird weather is simply to learn about gardening in other, warmer zones. What do/did they grow there? What are their usual planting dates? What will you have to do to weather the harsher summer temperatures? How can you take advantage of the milder winters? This could help you adjust to gardening in a different zone.

Backup Plans / Redundancy

Redundancy is often seen as inefficiency in our efficiency-worshipping culture. In many cases, with cheap energy-dense oil easily available, the most efficient food option (although not the most tasty or healthy) is just to buy pre-packaged food from the grocery store or fast food outlet. With quickly changing conditions, peaking oil, decaying infrastructure, and bankrupt governments, it may not pay to rely on the system that provides high-fossil fuel density food that is grown, processed, packaged, and shipped from far away.

A backup plan is something which is not necessarily used all the time, or relied upon completely, but which we already have the infrastructure, tools, knowledge and experience to use - and hopefully, which has been practiced and tested. Backup plans can be both within and outside of your garden.

The idea (but not practice) of "having a garden" is a backup plan for some people - but keep in mind that gardens and fruit trees take time to grow. For a garden to function as a backup plan, the soil should be built up, the seeds and tools available, and the gardener should have a ready knowledge of planting dates, gardening techniques, and the rhythm of gardening. Ideally, a garden or edible landscape would be designed, planted and observed for several years before it was really needed as a food source.

A simple, but not necessarily easy, form of garden backup is to just plant extra. An old farmer saying goes something like this: "One for the birds, one for the bugs, and one for me." In a large garden, it requires work and seeds to plant extra, but in a small garden it also requires a lot of ingenuity to plant extra of this when you need space for that.

One strategy for planting extra is to use the permaculture principle of valuing the margins. Is there a 2x2 sunny spot where you could fit a container on your patio, or could you fit two tomato plants up against a fence? Could you espalier a fruit tree against the wall? You can fit a lot of additional plants by tucking them in here and there. Gardening books about using small spaces help with this principle - even if you already have a fairly large garden, it can help you optimize your growing area.

What's your backup plan for total plant destruction? Some people grow extra vegetable transplants just for this purpose - to replace plants that have been killed by pests, weather, etc. You can also keep some seeds in reserve, instead of planting all of them. In many years, the effort of growing extra transplants may be "wasted" - although you could give or sell the plants to neighbors - but in other years, you will be glad you bothered. If a fruit tree is severely damaged by the weather and appears to be dying, you might try to preserve the variety by grafting branches onto another tree (for example, to ensure healthy pollination for your other fruit trees).

Having several months of food storage creates resilience - not only to crop failures, but also many other kinds of disasters (job loss, illness or disability, supply chain breakdowns, hyperinflation, etc.). When all else fails, the fruits and veggies from last year have been dried, fermented, canned, frozen, and stored in the root cellar, and the bags of wheat, beans, and rice are still there. Which brings up a related topic - resilience in cooking and food preservation - which I won't get into here, but which you can investigate through Sharon Astyk's extensive website.

Another form of backup plan is having a way to get cheap food if your garden is doing poorly and you have few funds. Freeganism - urban foraging from dumpsters - has gained attention in recent years, with some people pronouncing it to be disgusting, while others think it's simply good sense to use perfectly good food that will otherwise be wasted. Novella Carpenter, in her book Farm City, describes how she uses dumped food from restaurants to feed her urban pigs. Other people arrange to pick up the vegetable waste from restaurants, or used grains from breweries, to feed it to their livestock or turn it into compost.

There are plentiful books, videos, and classes available to help you learn how to hunt, fish, and find edible "weeds." There are even online resources in some cities that point out the locations of fruit and nut trees. A lot of nutrition (if not calories) can be had from lambs quarters and dandelions, and bamboo is both a food and a great trellis system.

Outside of your personal garden, what does your neighborhood "foodshed" look like? You could benefit from having more people in your neighborhood who are growing food and who can share seeds with you, and who have the ability to ramp up their own production if needed. Gardeners often naturally exchange produce - butternuts for watermelons, peaches for plums - helping gardeners with little space. Starting or supporting community gardens, school gardens, church gardens, and hyper-local food production like CSA's can all be ways to develop the foodshed in your area.

It may be worth your while to develop resilience outside of your nuclear family and personal property and in your community. How are your relations with your neighbors, friends and family, a church? Have you helped them start a garden, or given them some excess produce? Are you on good terms with them? Have you established a foundation of trust and reciprocity? Community help can be invaluable in helping a family deal with hard times or disaster, especially if that family is seen as a valuable asset to the community. (See Dan Chiras and Dave Wann's book Superbia! for ways to create sustainable neighborhoods.)

Relocation is another, more final, backup plan, and is worth thinking about for many reasons. If you realize that food production in your area is ridiculously difficult, or even outright unworkable, you may want to have a secondary home in mind. This may seem extreme, and there are definite downsides to relocation, but knowing when to hold 'em - and when to fold 'em - will be a key skill in a rapidly changing environment.


A resilient garden would not be complete without a resilient gardener. In order to recover after a catastrophe, you need the will to go on - to replant, to rebuild, to try again after poor results or failures. But a resilient attitude is one in which you not only have the tenacity to persevere, but also have the ability to notice and discard what is no longer working, and start experimenting instead.

So notice what may be prone to failure as peak energy occurs - our oil-dependent, industrialized food system and our growth-based economy. Prepare for change as our climate gets weirder. Re-localize your food production into your garden and local foodshed, use diversity and redundancy in your gardening, pay attention to conditions as they change, adapt and adjust your techniques, and have a backup plan (or two or three).

I hope these ideas to increase your garden resilience will help you weather the storms that are coming. Please contribute to the effort by adding ideas and thoughts from your own experience, and may your garden bounty become legendary!


Special thanks to the authors whose ideas inspired these posts.

Rob Hopkins - The Transition Handbook
David Holmgren - Permaculture Principles
Richard Heinberg - Food and Farming Transition
Sharon Astyk - Casaubon's Book, The Chatelaine's Keys, A Nation of Farmers
Toby Hemenway - Gaia's Garden
Eliot Coleman - The Winter Harvest Handbook and Four Season Harvest
Sally Cunningham - Great Garden Companions
Novella Carpenter - Farm City

Ben Sherwood - The Survivors Club

Dan Chiras & Dave Wann - Superbia! 31 ways to create sustainable neighborhoods