Sunday, December 30, 2007

Our Humanure Setup

Paul requested a write-up of our experience doing the humanure thing, so here I write! We've been shitting in buckets for two and a half years now, except for the 6 months we lived at the Portland Permaculture Institute. We're following the system laid out in The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins, which covers pretty much everything you need to know about the topic. Basically, we poop in a bucket, cover our business with sawdust, and when the bucket fills up we dump the bucket in the compost pile and cover the new addition well. We mostly pee in a second bucket and spread that through the yard.

I don't have the skills to build a nifty throne for our shit bucket, and my one attempt at adapting a wooden regular toilet seat lid to a bucket promptly resulted in the lid falling off and breaking (luckily with no messier damage than that). So we still use a plastic toilet seat contraption designed for camping which snaps onto the top of a 5 gallon bucket. (We bought two back in 2005 from the local survivalist shop for $10 each, give or take.)

We used one bucket for poop and pee for a while, but eventually decided to add a bucket just for pee. This allows us to return nutrients to our garden more quickly, reduces the frequency with which I have to dump the poop bucket into the compost pile, and reduces the amount of sawdust we need to use. Enough moisture seems to make it into the compost pile between what urine does go in and the water from cleaning out the poop bucket when I dump it, that the compost pile still seems to get plenty hot and doesn't require extra water in the summer. I empty the pee bucket every 2-3 days (generally when it start to smell, which besides the obvious cue of unpleasantness also tells us we're losing nitrogen to the air). I empty the poop bucket maybe every three weeks or so.

So our bathroom currently has a poop bucket, a sawdust bucket (center), and a pee bucket (left). The standard ceramic toilet makes a fine stand for toilet paper, phone book pages for those who don't want to wipe their ass with trees killed just for that purpose, and candles and incense because Theressa likes that sort of stuff.

Way back when we tore out the driveway in a big work party, I wrote up instructions for how to use our bathroom, just in case it confused anyone. Occasionally when we have normal core folks over we clear the normal toilet off so they can easily choose their preference, but I think only about three people have used the ceramic toilet in the last year.

I haven't measured the temperature of the compost pile. When I shovel out a little hole in the center of the compost pile for the new additions, I put my hand over the divot and always feel some heat, which satisfies me that things are working. We plan to follow the schedule of one year to actively build the pile, then start a second pile and build that for a year while the first pile sits. So everything in each pile will sit for at least one year, and up to as long as two years, which should adequately kill off any potential pathogens.

I don't know what else to say, so I'll leave it at that unless I get any questions!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Liquid gold calculations revisited

David William House replied to my Nitrogen Fixers Vs Liquid Gold post with some alternate numbers for nitrogen content and daily human production of urine and feces:

"One adult on an ordinary diet will produce from 100 to 250 grams of feces per day. On a vegetable diet, an adult will produce from 300 to 400 grams per day. (Respectively, 0.22 to 0.55, and 0.66 to 0.88 pounds per day.) Feces are usually neutral to slightly alkaline in pH, 24% to 27% TS [total solids] (dry weight), with a C/N [carbon-nitrogen ratio] of 6 to 10, nitrogen 4% to 6% of TS, VS [volatile solids] is 85% of TS. Normal values for urine are 1 to 1.6 liters volume per day, average pH 6.0, 4% to 6% TS, with a C/N of 0.8, nitrogen 15% to 18% of TS, VS is 72% of TS. (That's 1.06 to 1.69 quarts volume produced daily). Every liter of urine weighs about 1,020 grams. Every quart of urine weighs about 2.9 pounds." [The Complete Biogas Handbook, p 69.]

73-75reported variations
95-96reported variations

Using the median values for the range of urine data means 1.3 liters urine/day (very close to the 1.26 liters I used in my other calculations), with 5% of the urine as "total solids", and 16.5% of that as nitrogen. 1 liter of urine weighs 1,020 grams, so we have 1,020 * 1.26 * .05 * .165 = 10.6029 grams nitrogen/day from urine. (Lower than the 14.112 grams nitrogen/day I used in my other calculations.)

Using the median values for the range of feces data means 175 grams feces per day for adults on "ordinary diets", and 350 grams feces per day for adults on vegetarian diets, with 25.5% as "total solids", and 5% of that as nitrogen. So for "ordinary diet" we have 175 * .255 * .05 = 2.23125 grams nitrogen/day. For vegetarian diets, double the figure for 4.4625 grams nitrogen/day.

So by these numbers, adults on "ordinary diets" produce a grand total of about 12.8 grams nitrogen/day. Vegetarian adults produce a grand total of about 15 grams nitrogen/day. Using the same assumptions I used the other day, the former could provide enough nitrogen for 3730-4660 square feet of forest garden (for canopy demands of 8 grams/square meter to 10 grams/square meter). Vegetarians could provide enough nitrogen for 4370-5460 square feet.

Obviously we don't have the precision of numbers with any of this to make truly exact calculations, but having numbers from two different sources give us results in the same ballpark gives me more confidence in the general idea: one adult can provide the nitrogen for around 4000-5000 square feet of forest garden.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Seeking seeds!

I've spent the past week organizing my seed orders for this coming year. Before I place the orders, I thought I'd see whether anyone out there has reliable seeds (or even better yet for folks around Portland Oregon, plant divisions!) I could trade for. Most of the seeds I order will probably come in packets with more seeds than what I need, so I could trade those, or trade some of the plants we have around the yard, or the extra plants listed at my Discount Permaculture website. If you have extras of any of the following and want to trade, please email me at

Abelmoschus manihot Edible hibiscus
Acorus calamus Calamus
Acorus calamus americanus Calamus
Adenophora liliifolia Ladybells
Adenophora liliifolia Ladybells
Adenophora pereskiifolia Ladybells
Adenophora pereskiifolia uryuensis Ladybells
Allium canadense American wild garlic
Allium carinatum Keeled garlic
Allium fistulosum Scallion / welsh onion
Allium pendulinum
Allium perutile Everlasting onions
Allium sativum ‘ophioscorodon’ Rocambole
Allium senescens Ballhead onion / German garlic
Allium suaveolens
Allium ursinum Ramsons / Wild Garlic
Amphicarpaea bracteata Hog peanut
Anredera BASSELLOIDES Madeira vine???
Anredera cordifolia Madeira vine
Anthriscus sylvestris Cow parsley
Apios americana Groundnut
Apios fortunei Fortune's groundnut
Apios priceana Price's groundnut
Aralia cordata Udo
Aralia racemosa American spikenard
Asclepias speciosa Milkweeds
Asclepias syriaca Common milkweed
Asclepias tuberosa Pleurrisy root / butterfly weed
Asphodeline lutea Yellow asphodel
Astragalus pictus-filifolius Painted milkvetch
Atriplex canescens Saltbush
Atriplex halimus Saltbush
Atriplex sp Fat hen
Balsamorhiza deltoidea Deltoid Balsamroot
Balsamorhiza sagittata Balsamroot sunflower / Oregon sunflower
Beta vulgaris maritima Sea beet
Brassica oleracea alboglabra Gai Lon / Chinese Broccoli
Brassica oleracea alboglabra Gai Lon / Chinese Broccoli
Brassica oleracea ramosa Branching bush / perpetual kale
Brassica oleracea var. acephala Western Front Perennial kale
Brassica oleracea var. acephala Tree collards / Walking stick kale
Brassica oleracea var. botrytis Nine Star Perennial Broccoli
Brodiaea coronaria coronaria California hyacinth
Brodiaea sp.
Bunium bulbocastanum Earth chestnut
Callirhoe involucrata Purple poppy-mallow
Campanula portenschlagiana Dalmation bellflower
Campanula rapunculus Rampion
Campanula sp. Bluebells
Campanula versicolor
Canna edulis Achira / Canna
Canna indica Canna lily
Capsella bursa-pastoris Shepherd’s purse
Cardamine hirsuta Hairy bittercress
Ceanothus prostratus Mahala mat
Cephalotaxus fortunei
Cephalotaxus harringtonia drupacea
Cephalotaxus sinensis
Ceratophyllum demersum Coontail
Chaerophyllum bulbosum Bulbous-rooted chervil
Chenopodium hybridum Maple-leaved goosefoot
Chrysoplenium americanum Golden saxifrage
Chrysoplenium oppositifolium Golden saxifrage
Claytonia cordifolia
Claytonia lanceolata
Claytonia megarhiza
Claytonia megarhiza nivalis
Claytonia rosea
Claytonia virginica
Cnidoscolus chayamansa Chaya
Coccinia grandis 'Sterile Perennial' cucumber
Colocasia sp Taros
Conopodium majus Pignut
Cryptotaenia japonica Mitsuba
Cymopterus montanus Mountain spring parsley
Desmanthus illinoensis Prairie mimosa
Desmodium dunnii
Desmodium oldhami
Desmodium oxyphyllum
Dichelostemma capitatum Bluedicks
Dichelostemma congestum Bluedicks
Dichelostemma multiflorum Bluedicks
Dichelostemma pulchellum Bluedicks
Dichelostemma volubile Bluedicks
Dioscorea bulbifera Air potato
Dioscorea japonica Jinenjo yam
Erythronium californicum
Erythronium grandiflorum Glacier lily
Erythronium montanum Avalanche lily
Erythronium oregonum
Fagopyrum dibotrys Perennial buckwheat
Fritillaria affinis Chocolate lily
Fritillaria camschatcensis Kamchatka lily
Fritillaria pudica Yellow fritillary
Gaultheria hispidula Creeping snowberry
Gaultheria procumbens Wintergreen
Glycyrrhiza glabra Licorice
Glycyrrhiza lepidota American licorice
Heracleum sphondylium Hogweed / Cow parsnip
Hibiscus acetosella Cranberry hibiscus
Ipomoea aquatica Water spinach
Ipomoea batatas Sweet potato 'Beauregard'
Ipomoea batatas Sweet potato 'Beauregard'
Ipomoea leptophylla Bush morning glory
Ipomoea pandurata Wild potato vine
Lactuca perennis Perennial lettuce
Laportea canadensis Wood nettle
Lathyrus linifolius montanus Bitter vetch
Lepidium peruvianum Maca
Lilium columbianum Columbia tiger lily
Lilium sp. Lilies
Lilium superbum
Linum perenne Perennial flax
Linum perenne lewisii Perennial flax
Linum usitassimum ‘Omega’ Omega flax
Linum usitassimum ‘Omega’ Omega flax
Lomatium cous Biscuitroot
Lomatium dissecta multifidum Fernleaf biscuitroot
Lomatium macrocarpum Bigseed biscuitroot
Lomatium nudicaule Pestle parsnip
Lomatium utriculatum Common lomatium
Lupinus perennis Sundial lupine
Malva moschata Musk Mallow
Medeola virginiana Indian cucumber root
Megacarpaea gigantea
Megacarpaea megalocarpa
Microseris lactiniata (M. procera) Yam daisy
Mitchella repens Partridgeberry
Moringa oleifera Moringa
Moringa stenopetala Moringa
Nelumbo lutea American Water lotus
Nelumbo nucifera Sacred Water lotus
Neptunia oleracea Water mimosa
Oenanthe javanica Water celery
Oenanthe sarmentosa Water dropwort
Orogenia linearifolia Indian potato
Osmorhiza chilensis
Osmorhiza claytonii Woolly Sweet-cicely
Osmorhiza longistylis Anise root
Osmorhiza occidentalis Western sweet-cicely
Oxalis acetosella Wood sorrel
Oxalis deppei Iron cross plant
Oxalis violacea Wood sorrel
Oxyria digyna Mountain sorrel
Peltaria alliacea Garlic cress
Peltaria turkmenia
Perideridia gairdneri Yampah
Perideridia oregana Squaw potato
Perideridia spYampahs
Petasites frigidus Coltsfoot
Petasites japonicus Fuki
Phaseolus coccineus Scarlet runner beans
Phaseolus lunatus 7 Year Lima Bean
Phaseolus polyanthus Cache bean / Botil
Phaseolus polystachios Wild bean
Physalis heterophylla Perennial groundcherry
Pimpinella saxifraga Burnet saxifrage
Plantago coronopus Buck’s-horn plantain
Plantago maritima Sea plantain
Plectranthus esculentus Livingstone potato
Plectranthus rotundifolius Sudan potato
Podophyllum hexandrum Himalayan Mayapple
Podophyllum peltatum Mayapple
Polygonum Bistorta Bistorta
Potentilla anserina Silverweed
Potentilla pacifica Pacific silverweed
Psophocarpus tetragonobolus Winged bean
Reichardia picroides French scorzonera
Rumex acetosella Sheep sorrel
Rumex alpinus Monk’s Rhubarb / Alpine dock
Rumex patientia Herb patience
Rumex scutatus Buckler-leaved sorrel
Schizandra chinensis
Schizandra sp.
Sium sisarum Skirret with non-woody core
Sium suave Water parsnip
Smallianthus sonchifolia Yacon
Smilacena racemosa False Spikenard
Smilacena stellata Star-flowered lily of the valley
Smyrnium olusatrum Alexanders
Stachys affinis Chinese artichoke
Stachys floridanum
Stachys hyssopifolia
Stachys palustris Marsh woundwort
Stellaria jamesiana
Streptopus amplexifolius Wild cucumber
Streptopus lanceolatus curvipes
Streptopus roseus Rosybells
Stuckenia pectinatus Sago pondweed
Tilia americana Linden / basswood
Tilia cordata Linden / basswood
Toona sinensis Fragrant spring tree
Toona sinensis 'Flamingo' Fragrant spring tree, maybe variety chosen for food?
Trapa natans Water chestnut
Triteleia grandiflora Wild hyacinth
Triteleia laxa Grassnut
Triteleia peduncularis Longray tripletlily
Tropaeolum tuberosum Mashua 'Ken Aslet'
Ullucus tuberosus Ulluco
Valerianella locusta Corn salad / Lamb’s lettuce
Xanthosoma atrovirens Tanniers
Xanthosoma maffafa aurea Tanniers
Xanthosoma robustum Tanniers
Xanthosoma sagittifolium Tanniers

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why we love the N-fixers anyway

So in most urban lot forest gardens, you probably don't need nitrogen-fixing plants for their nitrogren input if you're recycling your urine. I'll throw out some reasons to keep them around anyway:

  • Long-term stability. If something happens to change your urine-recycling contributions to the forest garden, nitrogen fixers will still keep the nitrogen flowing if you've designed them well. Crack-down by the neighborhood association on renegade pee-ers-in-the-night, exodus of your housemates on whom you depended for their piss, or selling your property to mainstream squeamish folks could all leave your forest garden without the nitrogen inputs it needs for optimal performance.
  • Ongoing slow release of non-messy fertilizer. For patches where you're growing salad greens you want to harvest frequently, n-fixers provide a much cleaner nitrogen source than splashing your piss around.
  • Frees up your nitrogen for application elsewhere. Knowing that you have ample nitrogen available at home, you can gleefully fertilize wild patches of vegetation, injecting helpful nutrients to partially compensate for the abuses they suffer from civilization. I find it a lot easier to go pee in the woods and grow a Goumi at home than to plant and tend a goumi in the woods and pee at home.
  • Other uses. Many nitrogen fixers have other uses which warrant their inclusion in your food forest regardless of their nitrogen contributions. Off the top of my head, I can think of nitrogen-fixers which also provide or act as ground covers, fast growing cover crops, tea, human food, wildlife food, chicken forage, bee nectaries, foot-tolerant steppables, and dynamic accumulation of phosphorous and other nutrients.
  • Learning about particular plants through direct experience now. When we move to a rural area and start growing quarter acre food forests per person, we won't be able to fertilize the whole area from which our food comes. I feel glad that we're currently growing Elaeagnus, pea shrubs, black locusts, and various herbaceous nitrogen fixers which I expect to use in our larger systems in the future. If you ever design or give input for project for squeamish neighbors or friends, or for public demonstration gardens where the public "ick" factor precludes urinal input, then having experience with n-fixers will allow you to do a better job of integrating them into a system which actually needs them.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Further thoughts on liquid gold

A few thoughts on factors which would reduce the amount of coverage one person's urine could theoretically fertilize as number-crunched in last night's post:

  • Not peeing at home 100% of the time, pretty much unavoidable unless you live the life of a recluse
  • Composting urine in a humanure pile. As I understand it, some nutrients unavoidably leach out of compost piles. I don't know how much you lose how fast, but presumably the more urine you put into the pile, the more rain that falls on it, and the longer the pile sits before being used, the more nitrogen you lose.
  • Loss of nitrogen to the air as ammonia. We primarily pee in a bucket (though of course some goes into the humanure bucket with our poop). If I wait too long to dump the bucket outside, an ammonia smell develops indicating nitrogen loss to the air. Again, I don't know how much how fast you lose nitrogen.
  • Inability of plants to use the nitrogen supplied. I mentioned yesterday my assumption that plants can't fully use the nitrogen supplied in winter during the dormant or at least slower-growing season. I made up a number of 25% efficiency for 4 months out of the year. I assume the same situation can occur even in the active growing months, where too much nitrogen in one spot at one time will lead to leaching of excess nitrogen. Careful application of water-diluted pee over large areas should avoid or minimize this problem. Still, I wonder how much nitrogen plant roots can grab how quickly and just how much square footage you need to cover with say a gallon of urine to make sure your plants can use it all...especially in our quick-draining soil at our house, or in soils with low organic matter content to help bind nutrients. I guess with a mature forest garden the deeper tree and shrub roots and rich soil should catch almost all the nitrogen applied, but younger immature plant communities with mostly shallow roots might require more careful application.
  • Even if you carefully apply your pee to a large enough area each time you fertilize, you still have to make sure you rotate your applications evenly throughout your whole food forest. If you never apply pee to your patch of perennial greens which you harvest every day for salad and don't want to contaminate, then you can't really count that square footage as part of your coverage. Maybe you could apply extra pee to other areas nearby and have the overstory tree(s) capture the extra nitrogen and eventually return it to the perennial green patch via leaf litter. Or maybe your extra nitrogen applications elsewhere will leach away and get lost. Or maybe you apply the soil from your completed humanure compost piles in those spots.

I don't feel too worried about quantifying the loss of nitrogen efficiency from the factors above. I think that with some care to avoid obviously wasteful application of your wastes (haha), the square footage coverage shouldn't decrease by very much, so we can still use the numbers from yesterday as ballpark figures. For our purposes, I'll assume for now that the extra nitrogen from our poop via the humanure pile offsets the losses from inefficiencies in our urine application, and use the numbers from yesterday as the total recycled nitrogen.

One more complicating factor: Obviously not every pee contains exactly 5.6 grams of nitrogen, and I don't know what level of water dilution Crawford used for that figure. Piss clear as a stream? Dark yellow? Presumably somewhere in between, but where exactly? And I assume the nitrogen content varies based on how much food you're eating, since urine disposes of the excess nutrients. So if you live an active lifestyle and eat a subsistence diet, you'll have less nitrogen in your urine than if you overeat and sit around all day. (The book Dirt by David Montgomery mentioned historic Chinese farmers in a certain area who had healthy land which yielded more food than in other areas; those farmers regularly gorged themselves on the excess food to recycle the nutrients back into the land via their wastes.) But I don't know how to quantify any of that so I'll just run with Crawford's 5.6 grams figure.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Nitrogen-fixers vs liquid gold

Every book and article on forest garden design stresses the importance of including nitogren-fixing plants in your plantings. Very few give any pointers as to how much nitrogen-fixing capacity you need. And even fewer talk about, let alone quantify, the nitrogen recycled by returning your own urine to your garden.

I've designed four food forests in the last two and a half years, and included nitrogen-fixing shrubs and understory plants in all the designs on principle. I knew in the back of my mind that pissing in the garden must help a lot with nitrogen, but only this past week have I sat down and penciled out the numbers based mostly on data from Martin Crawford in Agroforestry News, Volume 3 Number 3. He categorizes overstory canopy plants (trees and shrubs) by their nitrogen demand:

  • Very demanding: require 10 grams nitrogen per square meter of canopy per year. Chestnuts, Citrus sp, Plums, Walnuts, & blackberries
  • Demanding: require 6 grams nitrogen per square meter of canopy per year. Apples, Apricots, Bamboos, Filberts, Hazelnuts, Medlars, Mulberries, Peaches, Pears, Persimmons, Quinces, Blackcurrants, Gooseberries.
  • Slightly demanding: require 2 grams nitrogen per square meter of canopy per year. Cherries, serviceberries, Cornus sp, Elderberries, Yellowhorn, Raspberries, and many others
  • Undemanding: need no extra nitrogen. Figs, Spice bush, Pines for nuts, red currants, hazels for poles, and many others.
  • Ground covers: 1 gram nitrogen per square meter of canopy per year. Doesn't specify whether ground covers actively harvested for leaves or fruit would need extra nitrogen or whether the figure already takes that into account.

Crawford also mentions that one pee, which he defines as half a liter, contains about 5.6 grams of nitrogen.

So I crunched the numbers to figure out how much forest garden I can fertilize each year with my very own piss! I used the following assumptions/number bases/conversions (I don't do British math):

  • An average person pees about 1/3 gallon urine per day
  • 1/3 gallon = 1.26 liters
  • 1/3 gallon contains 14.112 grams nitrogen
  • 1 square meter = 10.764 square feet
  • 28 grams = one ounce. 16 ounces = 1 pound. 1 pound = 448 grams
  • Our forest garden canopy at our house here demands an average of about 8-10 grams/square meter for canopy areas. (In the heaviest demanding spots we have walnut or chestnut overstory with hazelnut understory, with ground cover beneath the hazel, for a total of 17 grams per square meters. Most areas have a demanding overstory with ground cover, for 7 grams per square meters. Many areas have even lower demand than that.)
  • I assume that nitrogen returned to the garden in the winter does not fertilize as effectively as during the more active growing season, and that some of that nitrogren leaches away or otherwise goes to waste. So I assume that 8 months of the year, 100% of the nitrogen gets used, but during the other 4 months of the year only 25% of the nitrogen gets used. So effectively you have 9 months worth of useful nitrogen.
  • According to this random website, vegetables typically remove 30-100 lbs nitrogen er acre, which is 13,440 - 44,800 grams Nitrogren / 43,560 square feet = 1249 - 4162 grams nitrogen / 4047 square meters = .3 - 1 gram nitrogren/square meter. So even assuming the heaviest demand, and more intensive gardening than standard far-spaced monocultures, 2 grams / square meter seems a reasonable high end guess for annual bed / open area nitrogen demand

Crunching the numbers for an average nitrogen demand of 8 grams per square meter gives the following:

1 day of nitrogen (14.112 grams) feeds 1.764 square meters of canopy.
9 months (270 days) of nitrogen feeds 476.28 square meters of canopy.
476.28 square meters of canopy = 5127 square feet.

If you assume the forest garden uses an average of 10 grams nitrogen per square meter, you knock off 20% of the coverage you got with 8 grams, so you get: 4101 square feet.

If you were only fertilizing open area using 2 grams nitrogen per square meter, you'd multiply by 4 to get 20,508 square feet, almost half an acre!

So between Theressa and me, we should be able to fertilize 8200 - 10,250 square feet of forest garden, without even taking into account our large open sun vegetable area. And that doesn't even take into account the nitrogen I bring into the yard each week in coffee grounds, and dumpstered bread and bins of produce scraps for the chickens. Nor does it include the nitrogen in our poop in the humanure pile. Not only do we not really need nitrogen-fixers, we may have an excess of nitrogen in the yard! Anyone know if an excess could occur in this situation, and whether we might harm the water table with nitrogen leachings?

In general, it seems urban lots don't need nitrogen-fixers for the nitrogen if the house inhabitants recycle most of their urine. Interesting!

I'll post later with a few redemptive reasons to keep including nitrogen-fixers in your designs. And I'll probably post a summary of Martin Crawford's recommendations for how much nitrogen-fixing plant canopy to plant for a given design.

Note: I wrote a few follow-up posts related to this one:

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Portland Q&A with Derrick Jensen

As I posted way back when, Derrick Jensen writes really really well about really really important stuff. I neglected to mention that he also speaks really really well about those really really important stuffs. And lucky for us around here, he will speak at a Q & A session in Portland on December 19!

So, if you don't have the time to read 1000 pages (Endgame) bashing hope, bashing civilization, bashing pacifism; and inspiring passion for reconnecting with and restoring your landbase, you can still get in on some Derrick Jensen wisdom! I highly recommend coming out for the event, whether or not you've read his books. See you there!

Derrick Jensen Comes To Portland!

“Civilization is not and can never be sustainable.”

This is the first of fourteen premises in author Derrick Jensen’s revolutionary book Endgame. For the last decade Jensen has written articles and books concerning the problems of civilization and what we must do about them. In Endgame Jensen challenges the values and tactics of some of histories most influential pacifists, the sustainability™ movement and the painful games we play with those in power while trying to save what is left of our environment. The last time Jensen came to Portland, the Q and A went late into the night and ended with many questions unanswered. This time around Jensen is throwing out the reading and going straight to the Q and A!

Mythmedia Presents: Q and A with Derrick Jensen
Wednesday December 19th, 7pm @ Disjecta (230 E. Burnside)
Advance Tickets $15, Door $18 (tickets @

His most recent work, As The World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Stay In Denial, is a hilarious graphic novel that he co-wrote with Stephanie McMillan, author of the popular online comic Minimum Security. This new book will be available for purchase at the event.

MYTHMEDIA was founded in 2002 by a group of high school dropouts who all agree on one thing: that civilization is going out of style fast! Our mission is to facilitate provocative and innovative ideas for a sustainable future using cutting edge media.

DERRICK JENSEN, activist, small farmer, teacher, and philosopher, is the author of A Language Older Than Words and The Culture of Make Believe (a finalist for the 2003 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize) among other titles. Jensen’s writing has been described as “breaking and mending the reader’s heart” (Publishers Weekly). He writes for The New York Times Magazine, Audubon, and The Sun Magazine, among many others. His works have received praise from authors such as Howard Zinn, Ward Churchill, Terry Tempest Williams, and Winona LaDuke among others. Jensen’s speaking engagements in recent years have packed university auditoriums, conferences, and bookstores across the nation.

For more information on Derrick Jensen go to:

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Seeking my successful sit spot

I really enjoy identifying, perusing, obtaining, talking about, and even writing about good information resources. I've amassed a very nice collection of permaculture-related books, and a good start of a collection of naturalist skills books covering plant identification and use, foraging guides, bird identification by sight, bird identification by song, detailed life histories of birds, tracking guides, insect guides, mammal guides, reptilian and amphibian guides, mushroom guides, etc. But I haven't even cracked open many of the books, and I've put even fewer of them to any real use! I've reminded myself lately that at some point I need to say "enough already" with the resource accumulation, and actually get my ass outside to learn in the only way that ultimately matters, through direct experience. Not that books can't help point the way and help answer certain kinds of questions...but they don't substitute for experiencing the real world.

I also notice that I spend way more time on the internet than I want to, feeding my internal information junky its information fix. Every day I make the rounds of the news sites, discovering that yep, peak oil has still peaked, the housing bubble is still popping, the US dollar is still declining, the broad economy is still breaking apart on the rocks, we're still so very doomed, the Tribe of Anthropik is still on vacation, and Ran Prieur still posts about five minutes worth of reading every other day or so. Then, unless I feel especially motivated by some other project or Theressa kicks me off the computer, I start the cycle again, reloading the same damn sites in case anything has updated while I was checking the others. I want to start feeding my information junky good clean data about the birds and the bees instead of all this internet porn! (See the October 29 entry for the porn bits.)

So between yesterday and today, I spent many hours poking around for a sit spot at Whitaker Ponds. Tonight I'll just write up a quick description of how a sit spot works (or at least, how I intend to use it). I'll write more in a future post about my search and/or details about the spot I find. And I'll probably post a lot after that with specific stories from my sit spot!

I plan to use my sit spot to jump-start nature awareness. I'll find a comfortable and safe place outside where I can sit, stretch out, and simply observe. I'll go there every day (or damn near) to gain an intimate feel for one particular spot, becoming acquainted with the birds and plants and the bolder land-based animals like squirrels who call it home. Eventually I'll also learn about the reclusive or nocturnal mammals and other land animals who live there, mostly from tracks and signs. I'll cart along field guides as needed, to begin to match visual sightings with names in books. I'll compare the bird calls I hear at my spot to tapes and CDs at home to increase my bird song recognition skills.

I'll visit my sit spot for at least the next year, giving me insight not only into day to day changes, but into the big-picture seasonal life patterns of everyone who lives around the spot. I'll see plants come into leaf, flower, fruit, disperse their seed, and go dormant or die. I'll see some birds migrate away to rejoin us again next year. I might see young birds of year-round residence taking their first flights, and watch them grow older to find a mate, make a nest, and teach another generation of young. Maybe I'll even read tracks well enough to see some of the same patterns in the land-based residents of the place.

I've never had much trouble sitting still, but only because I usually live in my head (moreso in the past than now, but I still spend most of my time there.) Whether I read a book or set my brain to work puzzling over some problem, I go inside almost wherever I am and whatever I'm doing. That instinct has helped me through my life to hide from scary or threatening situations outside, but it also left me with minimal observational skills or awareness of my surroundings. Unless I specifically focus on what's around me, turning my sensory input into data to be processed by my brain, I tend to miss all the details around me. The past two years of urban foraging have given me the ability to recognize many food plants without trying, while simply walking or biking along as usual. So I feel pretty confident that I can switch from an internal existence to living in the real world, and sitting at my sit spot and deliberately opening up to the world around me should help a lot. To that end, I'll practice specific sensory enhancement excercises, to better use my senses of vision and taste and feel and sound and smell.

Although at this point I really dislike the idea, I'll at least try journaling. In his various books and tapes, Jon Young speaks and writes about the major benefits of writing down experiences, drawing maps, doing write-ups of track analyses or specific sequences of observations, etc. I never enjoyed taking notes in school (and usually didn't bother) and hate writing in general (hence the infrequency of my emails to friends and family, and the not-really-daily daily updates to this blog). But I'll give some of Young's recommended journaling excercises a fair try. If they do help with my learning process as much as he suggests, I'll try to figure out how to do them in such a way that I can enjoy it.

Although I expect to move out of the city within the next couple of years, and will leave behind the particular spot I'll have learned so well, the lessons of plant and animal life, the practice in opening myself up, and the ability to use all my senses with greater awareness should translate well to wherever we go to pursue our permaculture/hunter-gatherer life.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Sedentism, food storage, climate, human evolution, & half-baked theories

I don't have anything informative to write tonight, as I just blew all my energy researching a question to which I still have no good answers or even new pointers: what, if any, relationship do coldish (or temperate?) climates have to food storage, sedentism, warfare, and hierarchy in human cultures? I'll write more about hierarchy in future posts, as the current question came up for me because I want to understand why, when, and how hierarchy and other traits I perceive as negative arise in cultures. But for now I'll write a bit about my non-answers to the more specific question of climate's influence.

I read in Matson & Coupland's The Prehistory of the Northwest Coast that humans didn't migrate north of about 40 degrees latitude until about 40,000 years ago when they learned to make custom-fit clothes allowing them to brave colder environments. The authors made this statement as an aside, so didn't really go into much detail. After reading this, I wondered whether modern and ancestral human confinement to tropical and subtropical areas, where they could hunt and gather food pretty reliably all year long, resulted in evolution for not just hunting & gathering, but specifically fully nomadic hunting & gathering?

I say "fully nomadic" to distinguish from the semi-sedentary pattern seen both on the Pacific Northwest coast, and inland among the Kalapuya and, I think, of other inland people in northern California. The concentrated rainy season here would give a lot of incentive to adopt a lifestyle in which you actively gather resources during the dry and warm part of the year, and hunker down and relax under shelter during the wet and cold part. I assume tribes in other areas (of the US or of the world) also had semi-sedentary lives, but I don't know enough to find other examples yet. As I explore that more, I'll pay attention to the difference between horticultural tribes (cultivating certain patches of soil best suited to staple calorie production, thus setting up somewhat permanent residence around that resource) vs hunter-gatherers, relying more completely on nature's provision, with less intensive management techniques such as burning.

People in the Pacific Northwest had permanent houses in winter villages, which they used year after year. Some people, along the coast where they had water access to move things by canoe & raft, even had multiple house frames in different spots, and moved the planks of their houses from site to site through the year. Others migrated from the spring to the fall to different temporary, seasonal camps, but returned to their permanent houses for the winter. I imagine some people may have left their villages totally empty during the migratory part of the year, but others may have had people (maybe elderly?) in residence throughout the year, or tag-teams of coming and departing groups on resource-gathering expeditions.

I think that sedentism (semi- or full-) depends on food storage, since otherwise your group would seriously deplete the local environment as natural resources become scarcest through those winter months. FBy contrast, fully nomadic groups might travel in larger bands during the plentiful months, when ample game and plants could support a relatively high population density in a given spot. But for winter, they would break up into smaller groups, each group dispersing to take advantage of resources inadequate for the full, large group. The archaeological evidence suggests that for the first few thousand years after migrating into the region, pacific northwest people lived fully nomadic lives, leaving behind no evidence of permanent houses. Eventually they entered the pattern of semi-sedentism which continued until European contact.

People in tropical and subtropical areas don't have to deal with major seasonal shifts in food availability, so they wouldn't have much incentive to stay in one spot beyond its temporal carrying capacity. Why go to the trouble of preserving, storing, and safeguarding food when you know that you can always go out and find what you need, no matter what day of the year?

So, if we evolved as fully nomadic hunter-gatherers, with cultures which encouraged resource distribution amongst the tribe rather than stocking food away for lean times, what effect did storing food and settling down for the winter have? Could that explain the development of those traits I associate with civilization and with horticulturalists: hierarchy, slavery, and warfare?

Now that I've explained my question, I'll leave it at that for tonight. But I'll follow up soon with my feeble explorations of the answer!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Book Review: The Forager's Harvest by Samuel Thayer

I've been meaning to write up a glowing review of this book for some months now, because I absolutely love it! I've bought, checked out from the library, and flipped through more than a dozen foraging guides, but as soon as I started looking through this one I knew it had value way above and beyond any of the others and that I had to buy it. Why? The details! I love details! And this book has them!

The book starts with coverage of general topics related to foraging, such as safety in identification and sampling; differences of harvest, timing, and use of different plant parts (leaves, roots, seeds, etc); processing and storage techniques; and the shortcomings of most of the foraging literature to date. After extensive coverage of these sorts of topics, with a lot of useful information I haven't seen elsewhere, Thayer spends 32 chapters detailing 32 plants (a few more actually, since he covers some closely related plants together in the same chapter). For each plant, he includes multiple high-quality color photos of the given species plus lookalikes where applicable, gives a detailed description of multiple parts of the plant highlighting key identification traits, lays out the range and habitat, and describes his personal experiences (and sometimes information from existing literature where useful) harvesting, preparing, eating, and storing the plant. Very few books I've seen rely primarily on the author's personal experiences, and of those, even fewer go anywhere near as in-depth as Thayer does.

Thayer lives in Wisconsin, so we in the Pacific Northwest might not find all the plants he describes in the wild here. But we will find more than half of them out here, and of the rest, I have several on my list to deliberately cultivate (including Ramps (Allium tricoccum), Spring Beauty (Claytonia sp.), ground bean or hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata), and Groundnut or hopniss (Apios americana)...maybe also wild rice). So the book has great relevance all around. So far the book has helped me immensely in harvesting wapato (Sagittaria latifolia), describing the best way to muck about in the swamp so as to actually get lots of tubers, not freeze my butt off. And the book's descriptions of processing small seeds has helped me a lot with amaranth and dock harvesting.

My only complaint about the book is that it doesn't cover enough species! But Thayer is working on that, with a second book due out in a year or two. In the meantime, I'll just content myself with rereading the details to pick up all the info I missed the first time or two through!

Table of contents of the book:

    • Introduction
    • The Meaning of Wild Food
    • The Purpose and Organization of this book
    • The History of Foraging and Wild Food Literature
  • Getting Started With Edible Wild Plants
    • Why Forage?
    • Conservation
    • Where to Forage
    • Cooking With Wild Food
  • Plant Identification and Foraging Safety
  • Harvest and Preparation Methods for Wild Plant Foods
    • Greens
    • Shoots and Stalks
    • Underground Vegetables
    • Fruits and Berries
    • Seeds and Grains
    • Nuts
  • Storing Wild Foods
    • Freezing
    • Canning
    • Drying
    • Cold storage
  • Timing the Wild Harvest
    • Calendar
  • Plant Accounts
    • Ostrich Fern
    • Cattail
    • Wapato, Arrowhead
    • Wild Rice
    • Wild Leek, Ramp
    • Smilax, Carrion Flower
    • Butternut
    • Siberian Elm
    • Stinging Nettle
    • Wood Nettle
    • Sheep Sorrel
    • Goosefoot, Lamb's Quarters
    • Spring Beauty
    • Marsh Marigold, Cowslip
    • Swamp Saxifrage
    • Serviceberry, Juneberry, Saskatoon
    • Chokecherry
    • Pin Cherry
    • Ground Bean, Hog Peanut
    • Hopniss, Groundnut
    • Black Locust
    • Sumac
    • Wild Grape
    • Basswood, Linden
    • Evening Primrose
    • Parsnip
    • Common Milkweed
    • Virginia Waterleaf
    • Nannyberry, Wild Raisin, Black Haw
    • Highbush Cranberry
    • Burdock
    • Thistle
    • References and Recommended Reading
    • Bibliography
    • Glossary
    • Index

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Highlights from The World of the Kalapuya

Yesterday I mentioned the book The World of the Kalapuya: A Native People of Western Oregon. Today I wanted to write up some of the highlights I found most interesting.


I hadn't realized that hazelnuts grew in abundance, maintained along with oaks in the grassland savannahs via prescribed burns by the Kalapuya. The natives harvested the hazelnuts in July or August while still green, then spread them out to dry for 3-4 days. That may give us the best chance of beating the squirrels to them!

The Kalapuya collected grasshoppers, conveniently killed and pre-cooked by the deliberately set grassland fires. Apparently they could store the grasshoppers for the winter, which I hadn't expected. I don't think I've read anywhere else about people storing insects for the winter. Unfortunately, the book doesn't give any details on whether the grasshoppers required further processing for storage.

The Kalapuya ate yellow jacket larvae! When they found a yellowjacket nest, they built a fire on top of it, which drove off or killed the adults. Then they dug up the nest and ate the roasted larvae or stored them for later eating. The next time I visit Mossback Farm (where I interned a couple of years ago) in the summer we'll have to try this one out!

I learned of a staple food I'd never heard of before! Apparently natives harvested multiple bushels per family of the seed of tarweed, Madia sp. (in the Composite family). Again, the natives used set fires to aid in harvest; the fires burned off the tar-like bits and loosened the seeds for easy collecting. I definitely need to seek out this plant and try eating its seeds!

The book mentions Kalapuya harvesting camas shoots in March for boiling. I don't understand whether they boiled and ate the green shoots, or if they boiled the root (or maybe the root and the shoot?) Plants for a Future database doesn't say anything about edibility of the leaves or young shoots...

I read of another bulb the natives ate, called Cat's ear or Pussy's ear in this book. Pojar calls it Subalpine Mariposa Lily or Mountain Cat's Ear, and gives the botanical name Calochortus tolmiei.

List of some of the other lesser-known plant foods mentioned in the book: camas, wild onion, wapato, yampah, wild carrot, cow parsnip, Lomatium sp., skunk cabbage (people probably ate it more as an early spring desperation food than for any gourmet qualities), lupine roots, cattails, wild mint and yerba buena, balsamroot, and ferns (especially bracken).

I found it interesting that very few salmon ran past Chinook territory, which ended at the Willamette Falls. Only in times of heavy enough rain for salmon to jump the falls and continue further up the Willamette did Kalapuya bands have access to salmon within their own territory. The Kalapuya did trade for salmon and paid to fish for salmon in other tribes territories, and bands on the west side of the Willamette probably had access to salmon runs in the coast range waterways. They also fished for some other species found in their territories. But they never developed a culture centered around salmon the same way other Pacific Northwest tribes did.


The Kalapuya lived semi-sedentary lives, with main villages inhabited year round but with many temporary camps in different places from spring through fall to harvest, hunt, and fish seasonal resources. The permanent houses sound similar to others on the coast, built with wood framing and using planks, bark, grass, and dirt as siding, roofing, and insulation materials. They included opening(s) in the roof above the hearth(s) inside for heating and lighting. They usually built large houses for multiple families to share.

If temporary camps needed any shelter at all, the Kalapuya built quick & easy huts and windbreaks using brush, rushes, grasses, and branches of conifers. Sometimes they used mats (usually made of tule, maybe of other materials too?) which they carried from site to site to make temporary shelters. (They also used these mats for sleeping on and as dividers between different families in the permanent houses in the main village.)


I've read of some cultures where whites introducing competive games got funny looks or got killed for bringing in such a horrible concept. The book describes a hocky-like stick & ball game played by the Kalapuya. But the book doesn't give enough details or explore the culture of the game enough for me to know whether this clearly represented competition in a way some other cultures didn't have. (The book does quote an unidentified writer as saying '... the rules were that there were no rules.' and the book continues "People got hurt--sometimes seriously.")

Storytelling, as with all indigenous cultures without written language, carried the history and knowledge and wisdom of the tribe from one generation to the next. I found this interesting: "Storytellers followed rules which insured that stories were told correctly. In some bands, a story could not be told unless there were three people who knew it well. These experts could correct the storyteller if he or she made a mistae so that it would not be perpetuated."


This seems worth typing up almost verbatim from the book:

September: First month of the Kalapuya year. Small groups are still living in their summer camps scattered across the valley, collecting acorns, berries, and camas roots. Prairie burning begins for tarweed seed harvesting.

October: Month when "hair [leaves] falls off." Wapato harvest time begins in the northern Willamette Valley, and the northern Kalapuya groups move to camps close to the lakes where the wapato grows. Groups in the southern Valley complete their camas harvesting.

November: Approaching winter. The Kalapuya prepare their winter homes for the coming cold weather.

December: "Good month." The weather becomes colder but is still mild. The Kalapuya settle into their villages for the winter.

January: Month of "burned breast". The winter becomes cold and the old people sit so close to the house fires that their chests get singed. The Kalapuya spend much time in their winter houses, feeding the fires. Winter dances begin.

Februrary: "Out of provision month." The end of winter finds the Kalapuya short on stored provisions, and it is a lean time. Hunters spend more time in the woods trying to find game.

March: First spring. People begin to leave the winter village, making short camping trips to gather food, including the first shoots of camas, which are only finger high at this time.

April: "Budding month." The Kalapuya make more trips onto the valley floor to gather roots as the camas grows higher.

May: "Flower time." The camas begins blossoming as the Kalapuya leave their winter houses to camp out for the summer. The spring runs of salmon head up the Willamette River and its tributaries.

June: Month of camas harvesting. The camas becomes fully ripe. The women begin to gather and dry camas bulbs for the following winter, an activity pursued until September or October. The people also "catch all sorts of fish". Berry picking begins.

July: "Half-summer time." Weather is hot and dry. The Kalapuya begin to collect hazelnuts and caterpillars.

August: End of summer. The weather remains hot as the people continue to gather a variety of berries, nuts, and roots in preparation for the winter.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Resources on first peoples of Cascadia

Obviously, I haven't updated daily for a while now! I felt really whacked out after returning from California, plus I had lots of stuff to catch up on. My schedule and my balance feel more normal now, so I'll hopefully resume regular daily postings again.

I have started actively researching the natives who lived in Cascadia before whites came to this region. I want to understand how people used to live here, how they used to feed and house and clothe themselves; whether and when they migrated to temporary camps or stayed in permanent dwellings; whether and why they developed rank/hierarchical societies; and any other patterns which might influence the direction of my own tribe as we choose where and how to live. At this point, I have only read a little bit about natives in the area, so I'll just post here about resources I've found helpful or which seem promising.

Nancy Turner: much of her work focuses explicitly on issues of food and plant technology of first peoples in this region. I especially recommend Keeping It Living (examination of plant culvitation strategies of first peoples), Plant Technology of First Peoples in British Columbia, and her four-book Edible Wild Plants of Canada series with Adam Szczawinski (covering Wild Coffee & Tea Substitutes, Wild Green Vegetables of Canada, Edible Garden Weeds of Canada, and Edible wild fruits and nuts of Canada; her more recent Food Plants of Interior First Peoples and Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples cover much the same information, but didn't seem quite as in-depth and detailed when I spent some time flipping through the older vs the newer series). I also have her book Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America (also coauthored with Adam Szczawinski), but I really haven't used it enough yet to recommend it or not.

Native American Ethnobotany
: This book by Daniel Moerman gives encyclopedic information on plants used in different ways by different tribes. To learn how local tribes lived, you can look up the tribe in the appropriate section and browse through all the known uses of plants as drugs (for example: Burn Dressing, Love Medicine, or Venereal Aid), food, fiber, dye, etc. This book does not give much detail on how the plants were used, so you'll usually have to go to the referenced original source to see more information on how to process a plant.

Erna Gunther: wrote Ethnobotany of Western Washington, which I checked out from the library a while back and found interesting but haven't added to my own library yet. I don't have it here but I think it focused on coastal tribes (Gunther worked primarily with the Salish and Makah people.)

General pre-history & archaeology: I read The Prehistory of the Northwest Coast, by R. G. Matson and Gary Coupland, which gave me some good information mixed in with way too much detailed archaeological blow-by-blow history for what I needed. I skimmed over the archaeological details with eyes glazed, perking up for the summary bits or other interesting notes which jumped out at me. Also, when the book says "Northwest Coast", it means west of the coast range, not including the interior areas like the Willamette Valley, about which I feel most curious. I don't recommend this book unless you really want the archaeological stuff.

I've read halfway through a similar book, Peoples of the Northwest Coast: Their Archaeology and Prehistory. This one spends two chapters on much the same archaeological material but also spends eight chapters on theories and conclusions regarding how people actually lived. This book also covers only west of the coast range. I do recommend this one for info on coastal living.

So far I've only found one book specifically covering the Willamette and Umpqua Valleys: The World of the Kalapuya: A Native People of Western Oregon, by Judy Rycraft Juntunen, May D. Dasch, and Ann Bennett Rogers. Since I live in this area, I find this book particularly exciting! And since I don't expect my tribe to live on the coast, I find the information about inland first peoples more useful than that about those on the coast. I do wish the book would go into more detail on its subjects; the authors wrote 117 pages covering a wide range of topics, touching on many of them only lightly. Juntunen originally gathered information to provide to teachers and students. Although the authors rewrote much of the text to target a more general audience including adults, it still reads like a middle- or high-school book. It doesn't give botanical names for any of the plants mentioned, and warns twice: "Do not attempt to ingest any Willamette Valley native plant." Despite the somewhat simplified text and coverage, this book gives information I haven't found anywhere else yet, so I highly recommend it for this specific area!

Cultural Resource Overviews: I just discovered these! Apparently the US Forest Service released many volumes in the late 1970s into 1980s exploring the prehistory and history of different national forest areas. The volumes don't focus exclusively on first peoples, as they include recent white history, but they seem well enough organized that I can easily skip the parts about which I don't care. So far I've found mention of volumes covering the Siuslaw National Forest, Willamette National Forest, Siskiyou National Forest, BLM Lands in North-Central, northwestern, west central, and Lakeview District south-central Oregon (I don't know exactly which ares those BLM volumes cover). The Siuaslaw book through which I flipped had great detail on how natives lived. If they all provide the same level of detail they should help a lot in understanding lifestyles of micro-regions in this area.

Two broad-region resources I haven't read or used yet, but which look useful: A Guide to the Indian Tribes of the Pacific Northwest, by Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown, and Handbook of North American Indians Volume 7 Northwest Coast, edited by Wayne Suttles. Ruby & Brown's book gives short (one to a few pages) summaries of prehistory, history and current status (as of 1986) of many different tribes east and west of the Cascades. I notice that it has no entry for the Kalapuya, though it does mention them under other entries (for example the Molala and the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon). This definitely doesn't give great detail on individual tribes, but seems a helpful resource for a quick overview. Suttles' book covers primarily the coast, but has a chapter on the Chinook, one on "Prehistory of the Lower Columbia and Willamette Valley", and one on the Takelma also in the interior. The first part of the book covers general subjects of History of Research and History of Contact, before a few dozen chapters on specific tribes or regions.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

What blooms? October 6

I got back to town last night! Today I did another yard survey of blooming plants, and found Miner's lettuce newly in bloom. Several plants stopped blooming, and I assume the lists for the rest of this year will simply record the decline in blooms as the season ends.

As before, I saw almost all these plants in the front yard only; I'll mark plants in bloom in both front and back yard with a *.

  • Calendula
  • Arugula
  • Yarrow *
  • Foxglove
  • Lavendar
  • Garden Strawberry
  • Alpine strawberry
  • Bowle's Black violet (back yard)
  • Weedy mallow (Malva neglecta?) (back yard)
  • Oregano
  • Peppermint (back yard)
  • Tomato *, Tomatillo *, Wonderberry (Solanum x burbankii)
  • Unknown yellow-flowered weed
  • Lingonberry
  • Basil
  • Echinacea
  • Daisy
  • Radish?
  • Borage
  • Edible chrysanthemum
  • Monarda (in a pot, probably M. didyma) survived)
  • Sunflower
  • Squash *
  • Jerusalem artichoke (Red Rover)
  • Scorzonera
  • Perennial Chamomile
  • Beans (back yard)
  • Cardoon (neighbor's yard)
  • Comfrey
  • Campanula rapunculoides?
  • Nasturtium
  • St. John's Wort
  • Alfalfa
  • Zebra mallow
  • Dandelion
  • Fennel
  • Red clover
  • Wolfberry (back yard only)
  • Maximillian sunflower (back yard only)
  • Miner's lettuce (in pot, unsure whether Montia perfoliata or M. sibirica)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

No more posts for a while

I leave this week for my cousin's wedding in California, and I have too much to get done before I leave, so I probably won't be posting for a little while. But once I return and get caught up on other projects, I'll continue the post a day!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Food from national forests, part 2

Back to brainstorming options for food from national forests... I'll focus here on plant foods, since I don't much about hunting or ecosystem management for game animals. I see a range of strategies for harvesting plant foods. These different options have different risks in terms of impact on ecosystems already under assault from civilized humans, so I'll also mention some thoughts around those risks. I ordered the strategies from least to most potential impact:

  • Gathering only what nature provides, being careful not to gather anything in ways which would negatively impact the community. This could include activities like harvesting camass bulbs to leave patches thinned out and healthier than when we arrived, carefully harvesting leaves or other root crops, and of course picking berries galore!
  • Spreading native edibles:

    • Into clearcuts or other catastrophe-struck areas, to encourage regrowth of plants we can directly harvest down the line. We could sow seeds, plant cuttings, or plant starts. We might alter the terrain to some extent, to make spots with high organic matter content to hold water and nurture specific plants; or we could create seedbeds; etc. I walked a private land clearcut this year immediately adjacent to Tillamook state forest which I think someone cut last year, so I wonder how long it takes for companies to replant, or if sometimes they don't even bother? And same question for public forests? We would need different strategies for planting into replanted vs abandoned clearcuts.
    • Into second growth areas, in the same ways as above. I don't know much yet about second growth--how healthy are those communities already? Should we avoid messing with them? Are some second growth areas essentially monoculture tree farms for timber harvest, and if so would introducing more diverse edible natives enhance the community? In a monoculture tree farm, would we want to actually take down some trees to make clearings for planting diversity?
    • Into old growth forest areas. I suspect that we couldn't go too wrong with this strategy, but I feel very hesitant to mess with old growth! I'd need to learn a lot more before embarking on this.

  • Spreading non-native edibles:

    • Into clearcuts and similar zones. Here I start to feel even more uncomfortable, because I really don't know enough to predict the impacts on the nearby plant communities! Obviously we'd avoid known invasive plants, but that still leaves plenty of unknowns. I can imagine planting root crops like jerusalem artichokes (native to the US) or parsnips (which have naturalized elsewhere in the US), fruit trees and shrubs, or nut trees like chestnuts and walnuts. We could even intensively manage an area with a full-blown food forest design. For herbaceous plants we'd need perennials which can compete with other vegetation, or annuals which can self-seed themselves, but in both cases we wouldn't want them to compete so well that they spread indefinitely to become a nuisance. Bringing in new species and establishing different combinations of plant communities in different areas could enhance regional resilience as climate change alters weather patterns in years to come, and existing plant communities begin to fail and open up niches. Pockets and sources of non-natives here and there will prove beneficial in the future, but maybe those pockets belong on private, actively managed land/homesteads, not in forests in the midst of communities struggling as it is?
    • Into second growth. Similar questions as with spreading native edibles into second growth, plus the issues of understanding the non-native plant behavior.
    • Into old growth. This just seems dumb to me. If old growth areas suffer from climate change and niches open up which non-natives should fill, then those non-natives can work their way in from the "pockets" I mentioned above. But I see no need to tinker with non-natives in rare old growth in advance.

By the way, I finally found the section of the library with books on pacific northwest native tribes, Oregon history, etc! I found some really nice books and encyclopedias giving details on individual tribes and their subsistence patterns through the year, including what foods they harvested when and their migration patterns. At some point I'll probably post a summary of resources and the most interesting information I find and conclusions I draw...but that could take me weeks or months before I get a chance to go through everything enough to pull it all together.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Some of my favorite nuts & seeds

I feel too tired tonight to finish up yesterday's post about food from national forests, so I'll just rank the nuts and seeds Theressa and I have been foraging in terms of food yield per time invested. I have not tried to calculate any numbers for how many minutes it takes to crack out a cup of each nut...I may do so in the future, but for now, I will just give rankings based on my working impressions.

Factors I consider include how long it takes us to harvest the nuts, how long to process them (if required), and how long to crack them out of their shells.

I rank nuts from most efficient meat yield to least efficient:

  • Hazels (big nuts, super easy to crack, and I love their taste--perfect nuts if and when we beat the squirrels to them!)
  • English walnuts (our staple foraged nut this past year)
  • Chestnuts (I have only tried baking them in ovens and roasting them in fires. I still have some trouble peeling off the inner skin, which I can eat if I have to but which tastes bitter to me. Sometimes I get the cooking & cooling timing right and the skin crumbles right off when I rub it, but sometimes I either have to spend a bit of time on the skin, or just eat the chestnut still in its skin.)
  • Black walnuts (Between husking them, then having to crack them in a vise instead of a regular nutcracker, then having to pick out the nutmeats with little picks, these take so long to process that even though I love their flavor, so far I eat way fewer of them than English walnuts)
  • Beech nuts (lightly roasting them does facilitate shelling, but the small nut size means it takes a while to get much yield. Also, we still need to work out an efficient way to harvest them, such as a tarp/sheet to shake the nuts down onto; so far we have picked them up one by one which takes a while.)
  • Prunus kernels (All the Prunus we've tried but the peach pits have very small kernels, and I have not yet figured out a way to hit pits with a hammer and consistently shatter the shell completely off. Sometimes it works out that way, but about 75% of the time I need to spend extra time pulling the kernels out of the cracked shell.)
  • Sunflower seeds (small seeds mean it takes a while to get much meat out)

This season, we also harvested acorns, dock seed, and amaranth seed, but we have not processed them yet so I don't have even a gut feel for how much yield they give for time invested. I would love to try processing almonds raw from a tree, but have not had that opportunity. We hope to harvest some lamb's quarters (Chenopodium sp), butternuts, maybe heartnuts, and hickories this season to try out as well. I also want to learn when and how to harvest pine nuts and monkey puzzle nuts. And we hope that our yellowhorns will bear nuts next year so we can taste them for ourselves, plus of course learn how easy they are to harvest and use.

I will probably update this list in a few months after I try out some of the new nuts and seeds mentioned above. So consider this a rough draft!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Food from national forests

I posted a few days ago about our 3-5 year plan, to buy land adjacent to public forest land so we can set up a permaculture homestead on our own land, and hunt and gather on public land. I still have not spent as much time actually in national and state forests as I plan to, but I have made a preliminary observatino over the last year and a half of occasional outings: public forests have very little food diversity to offer humans! At this point I think I have a fairly good handle on native edible plants, but whenever I go out, I have a hard time imagining how we could get enough food from the forest to support ourselves. Obviously, with tracking, hunting, and fishing skills, we could harvest animals and fish. But still, I keep feeling surprised at how few edible plants I actually see.

I suspect as I keep learning plants, I'll see more edibles in the wild. I can also believe that a more thorough exploration of a given area would reveal more options than what I've seen so far. But I wonder whether some other factors also come into play...

Indigenous natives in the Pacific Northwest, probably like natives everywhere, cultivated food to some extent. Natives here routinely used fire to rejuvenate berry patches and to enhance hunting. Natives also maintained patches of camass bulbs and other root crops. I don't remember reading anything about natives cultivating plants other than berries in forests, but I have only scratched the surface of knowledge of how people lived here in the past, so I won't feel surprised to discover some level of active management of other plants such as filberts and oaks. So I wonder whether the forests today exhibit anything more than an echo of pre-European forests, and whether many of the native edibles occurred in much greater abundance where natives encouraged them. European genocide of natives (known as "settling the land") and genocide of forests (known as "logging") must have disrupted systems to an enormous extent.

Last year at, Jason basically stated that national forests in the US contain the land unsuited for agriculture, whether because of climate, soil quality, slope, etc. Jason expects some post-crash people to try cutting down forest to plant agricultural crops, but also expects them to fail so miserably that national forests will not suffer too much deforestation of this type.

That thought has stuck in the back of my mind, and I noticed when comparing Sunset's Western zone map to national forest locations that the national forests do coincide very closely with the super-cold Sunset zones, where people would find it very challenging to grow standard crops.

On our camping trip last week, I came across a fascinating section in Thomas Elpel's book Primitive Living, Self-Sufficiency, and Survival Skills. Elpel describes his early attempts to forage plant foods from the wilderness surrounding his Montana home. He kept finding himself hungry and frustrated, despite knowing all the edible plants natives did, plus edible european weeds. Eventually he realized that no native groups lived permanently in the mountains in which he foraged; all tribes known to use the area moved through it seasonally, harvesting certain crops at certain times of the year before moving tens or hundreds of miles to other areas. And even more to the point: "Many of the potentially sustainable [in terms of sustaining Elpel in foraging expeditions] wild foods on my list turned out to be species that grew only in the fertile, warm valley bottoms, around the farms and towns. This is no coincidence, since that is also where the native peoples camped. It is only us modern abos that expect to eke out a living perched on top of a mountain!"

So, if national forests do not currently grow many edibles, and if natives mainly used those areas for hunting or seasonal gathering of certain plant foods (such as berries), then we may need special strategies to live next to a national forest. The national forest itself may not support an unskilled tribe hunting and gathering, and the adjacent private land we buy may not be well suited to growing standard crops. (I still need to learn more about the private/public land interface.) I still think our plan for our private land makes sense: food forests designed using permaculture principles should give good yields next to a national forest where trees grow well. But the climate/soil/etc may limit our species selection, ruling out many common garden annuals, and even restricting our perennial species palette.

I feel totally exhausted (we canned apples and tomatoes well into last night (hence no blog post yesterday) and I didn't sleep in very late this morning), so I will finish up my thoughts regarding how the above ideas affect subsistence in a national forest in a future post. By the way, I always welcome feedback on any of these posts (even though I don't respond to every comment), but I especially welcome feedback on this one from anyone who knows more than I do (not hard to manage) about any aspects of this topic...