Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Personal Thoughtpost

Not literally. But I'd like to sit down, light a funny cigarette, and tell you where I am now.

About two months ago, I was giving a talk somewhere, and my fellow speaker had "the answer" to farmer problems, compost woes. An organic answer, a natural one, etc. etc. And so these were microbes cultured in a controlled laboratory, guaranteed to give your soil a cocktail of vital nutrients. The technology originated in Japan, and used a type of mineral only found in several places in the Philippines. This entrepreneur had found a cheap source, refused to divulge where.

Beside me was a farmer who also spoke at the forum. He was an organic farmer who taught communities to cultivate their own indigenous microorganisms (in fact, his organization taught the farmer who taught me). We three got into a discussion about microorganisms.

The problem, entrepreneur said, with "capturing" microorganisms from the wild, is that you can never be sure of their composition, and you might end up "doing it wrong". The farmer replied that it seemed to work excellently for all the farmers they train. I attested to this observation.

And so the other dude left our circle in sort of a huff.

Microorganisms are alive. They are everywhere. I do not believe that any place lacks the ability to heal itself, create conditions for health and yield. If your land is lacking in microorganisms, take a walk or drive, and you can capture those from the healthy biodiverse areas around-- you do not need lab tests to tell they are healthy. You don't need to worry about bad bacteria, you can observe the color of the mold. There is "bad" bacteria everywhere. It is only bad if your immunity is weak. It will only take over if factors let it. We are not after eliminating bad bacteria, but creating cheap and sustainable ways that can limit them from dominating.

Take the microorganisms, take them from different places of your area. Look at the land, observe the species, observe how the soil retains water, how the plants interact with it. Enriching the land is only expensive if you do not cultivate the correct and self-supporting environment to support that health.

In the same manner, if we want health, and we look towards the lab, we may have revelations. But I believe that the value of examining persons who are not wealthy, but healthy-- and examining personal, environmental, cultural, and social conditions that make them so-- will outweigh the tests on those who are engineered by scientific doctrine, and products of expensive lifestyles.

This is because I do not believe that people lack the ability to heal themselves-- except perhaps the acutely ill, whose bodies have passed a line. Difficulty begins once they begin to consider themselves separate from the environment around them. Not in an abstract way, but once they lose the supporting flora around them (plants to eat, to heal, to give clean air), either their health suffers, or their wallets do. They begin to spend loads of money on supplements and herbal tea. This is preventative medicine that costs.

It is not enough to purchase everything organic. You need to build systems around you that make it easy to eat good, cheap, and healthy food and ecosystem services. If you want it cheap and easy enough, your push for this kind of system will extend to the social and structural systems around you.

Same goes for plants. Do you want good compost? Grow easy trees that give you biomass. It is only expensive to grow organic when you are not planning for biomass to support your efforts, hedge funds in the form of diversity, or little animal friends to do some work for you.

Commercial organic medicine, superfoods, fertilizer-- are only one notch better than chemical ones. Most especially if they are expensive and no cheap options exist.

The nineties trend (only now seeing cross-disciplinary migration) of systems thinking is the meat and bones of the once-abstract notions of interconnectedness. Systems thinking or design thinking leads to being creative in your own context. It is what makes places interesting, and diverse. Enough of brute force. Inside people, in the soil, there are things that don't even need to be summoned. We just have to understand them and design smartly, so they can make songs with the factors that want to, as well.

These thoughts will guide my work.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tick Treats

Dog blood must taste good, because we have another garapata (tick) wave now. Sarge brought the ticks in, and so now I am busy making some proven "tick brew" to rinse them with. More on that later. The point is that sometimes when I pet Oakley, I feel a fat stuffed tick (like a soaked raisin), and pull it out. I get a bit obsessed (like popping bubble wrap) and do it until I've got enough in my hand, I call the chickens with clucking sounds.

They know I've got either worms or fruit or something for them. In any case, one animal's parasite is another's chibog!

They love the stuff. And can you just imagine? It must taste to them like a chocolate truffle with rich ganache in the middle. Or some onde-onde. Some people may think it absolutely nauseating, but our dogs aren't bathed or powdered with chemicals, so it's just insect matter and blood.

An added thing is that fallen ticks climb to the tops of grasses and plants to wait for a someone or some animal to hitchhike on, and walking-round chickens can solve that.

Chickens Are Great (and Confusing)!

Some stories and tips! It seems like only yesterday that new mother hen Meng (above, named after my favorite tsokolate joint) was a chick. Now she has seven little chickies of her own! I woke up to the little twitting sounds last week. I checked in the kaing and true enough, there were heads sticking out! We moved the kaing to the empty aviary (birds set free) so that the little ones will not be eaten by cats (or the dog, more of that later).

It is actually a bit of a confusing story here. Before this "wave" of chicks, Puti's eggs had exploded, and I moved Uldarica's eggs into her nest, on dried neem leaves to combat further infection of eggs. I thought they were Puti's eggs that she laid in a different place (our barrel of mucuna beans).

Turns out, Uldarica had already started laying some of her own! I stopped transferring them to Puti's nest, and after a few days, she promptly began sitting on the beans.

And so we had two batches of eggs hatch, both Uldarica's, at almost the same time (few days difference). Puti (the white one) thought they were her own chicks, but she was actually an adoptive mama to two. These were the two mamas with two chicks each:

Both the chicks in the last photo above are dead. Only very recently, after they had grown to about 5-6 inches long already, one was eaten by a cat, and the other, was bitten by Sarge yesterday. I heard it crying and turned around and startled the large puppy, and he laid it down. I carried it (it started flapping wildly and was still drenched in saliva) to a safe spot and later gave it to Evon for safekeeping. It eventually died, with a bone sticking out of its neck.

Sad fact of life. Well, that is why they lay so many eggs. There are so many more predators and dangers if you are small and probably tasty.

Since her two chicks have died, Uldarica has started making laying sounds again.

Anyway, as I mentioned, after hatching, we now place the chicks in our aviary so they can scratch around the ground under. After they grow larger, we put them in this movable cage that we shift around the garden, so that new area may be conquered for worms and fruit and such:

Chickens are great and are good friends for making your garden nice and healthy. They distribute wild fruit and vine all over the place. Eventually, if you don't clean up, chicken-friendly plants will start to grow. Also be sure to have a lot of places of refuge like thorny bushes that have hollow hiding spaces in the middle.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Absentee Gardener Plot Startup

I've been gone from the garden. But nature never sleeps, so here are some things I do to make use of the continuous activity that happens while I'm running around. They involve preparing plots in a pretty throw-together manner:

Collecting dead plant material from everywhere. This is nothing new to my blog, but if you're gonna be around subdivisions, watch out for biomass that people are throwing away. This makes you a gatherer on the go, it only takes 2 minutes to toss those into the trunk. I mean logs and leaves.

Arranging or dumping these strategically. You want to create situations where decomposition and explosions of fecundity are likely to occur with minimal intervention. I arrange the logs (they are palm logs so they are really stringy inside) into triangles and squares and dump leaves inside, tell them to throw all compost there. Our chickens will mix them about.

Throwing seeds, transplanting, then growing some babies in pots. While preparing these mini-plots, you want to get small ones going. I get some herbs that are growing already, and recently got some legumes in. Ocassionally I throw some of the composting leaves in, to get the microparties started.

In the next coming days I will get some in. Really, instead of just giving up and saying, "sorry garden", about 5 minutes a day prepares me for a day or two of solid fun.

Monday, November 3, 2008


This caterpillar of a moth was caterpillaring around the lagundi plant. As I touched it, it started thrashing around like a wild woman. Its skin is hard, not at all like you expect, as you think it would be like a marshmallow. It is a hornworm, sometimes called a unicorn caterpillar, for obvious reasons. A curious little creature.