Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Sunny morning in the garden, with Marx in my head and peak oil on the horizon.

The five blood lilies are looking pretty lovely this morning....
Before I went out there this morning,  I was reading some more of Capital (Marx) after being led there by Epicurus and John Bellamy Foster's  "Marx and Ecology" and it's true that Marx did consider the contribution of  "Nature" to capitalism.  Anyway,  I am reading about how labour-power is bought by the person with capital and used to make more money... so far so good.   The labourer has to have enough money to survive for 24 hours per day (not merely for the 8 hours or so of work time) and to raise children in order to provide labour for the future.  And so the value of his labour is determined.

As I have been out watering and raking and moving wood into shelter,  I have been thinking about this a lot.  I am trying to become a little more self sufficient... with a simpler, more resilient system in my own way.    Labour is valued differently when used to produce subsistance products for oneself rather than products that can be sold, adding value to capital.  However, the other thing that the labourer must be able to do (in a capitalist system) is to buy the products of industry, even after all of the subsistence needs are met.  The labourer must become a consumer as well when there is capital that needs to be "working" and making money.  (I have heard people talk about "putting their money to work.")

It used to be that the manufactured goods were inherited from one generation to another.  Nowadays,  most of what is produced and what we buy is added to landfills within a few years.  There used to be little need for landfills (and in some places there is still very little need) but these days there is even concern that we are running out of space in landfill sites!  The classic example of useless stuff must be the moulded plastic piece that is added to a food parcel at McDonald's in order to increase the profit for the food manufacturer.  It's hard to imagine how and why people can be convinced to work more to be able to acquire goods (such as that piece of plastic) that can later be dumped... but then there is a huge amount of money spent on persuading people to buy the moulded plastic and superfluous gadgets and therein is a whole other story...  the labourer must pay the costs of these promotional activities and advertising as well.

The technology that is actually needed is for food, clean water and shelter, and if people had to produce these things,  perhaps they would not need the gadgets, distractions, the landfills and the financial system and oil supply to support the overproduction of other stuff.
The necessary technology is pretty simple...
especially the beetroot...

And so we get to the next problem,  peak oil.

Oil is one of those additions to capital that comes from Nature (as Marx would express it) for no cost.  While there is a cost to extracting and refining it,  there is no cost of oil production... it all happened more than a million years ago.   Oil is provided free and gratis by Nature and its value is increased by labour, making the oil that is harder to get more valuable, owing to the extra labour required to collect and refine it.  This huge free contribution to our lifestyle that has enabled capitalism to thrive, has made us dependent upon this easy energy supply and eroded our collective abilities to meet our needs without it.  It has been suggested that our standard of living would require 200 slaves working for each of us to maintain us in the manner to which we have become accustomed,  should oil not be available.  The basic technology that is needed for the supply of food,  clean water and shelter has largely been forgotten, mainly because this gift of oil has lasted for so long...  or at least for enough generations so that the culture of planned obsolesence that suits the huge productive capacity of capital,  rather than the culture of scarcity and inheritance that existed before we had those moulded plastic artifacts that are destined for our landfills.

So what will happen next?

We  may have already passed peak oil.  It's hard to tell.
One can only see these things in retrospect.

There are many calculations and estimates of just how peak oil will change our lives.  The obvious changes will be to transport, food and fertiliser production and the prevalence of those moulded plastic bits and pieces in our food packages.  Producing food without the advantage of fuel will be a challenge.  People's labour will be more valuable and those with the skills to produce food,  clean water and shelter will be valued.  Dmitry Orlov, who is well aware of how the lack of fuel in the Soviet Union changed society there has spoken about how, despite bumper harvests after the political and economic collapse there, food was unavailable because of the lack of fuel to harvest it.  Who knows what might happen here.


Production for profit rather than for use value reduces the value of labour power, and at the same time reduces the ability of the consumer to consume because each has less money to spend.  The oil and capital based system upon which we rely is collapsing.   Political decisions can slow the outcome,  but in fact,  "People are a problem."


In the words of Douglas Adams,  in "Restaurant at the end of the Universe"....
To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.
... and I am beginning to believe him.  


The very people who are making decisions about these issues are those who are willing to take the biggest risks, as they are the ones who have benefitted from risk-taking in the past.  " politicians are mostly wealthy, benefitting from the profligate lifestyle, and anxious not to be the first to "change course."  The logic of this situation implies that the first to "blink" will be the loser. "  This all makes sense in the light of game theory.


There are many people who are trying to change these systems and behaviours.  Organic farming is booming,  farmers markets are popular,  and there are conferences and get-togethers...  earth hours and demonstrations...  though the mainstream is not taking much notice.  In the words of Dmitry Orlov,  stupidity is rampant.  


There is plenty of informaton out there and plenty of indications that the current risky options might not be the cleverest way to go.  The fact that this has been understood for so many years... since Marx wrote Capital in 1867,  and since the soil association began in 1946 and  the  one straw revolution of Fukuoka...  makes me think that the decision makers are not going to change direction until there is a serious emergency.  (There are emergency situations in many parts of the world already,  but this will need to impinge on the lives of the wealthy before significant changes are made.)    The only sensible decision for individuals is to move towards independence from the mainstream,  moving towards a simpler, more resilient system...


Now,  back to the garden....
... so much to do,  so much good food and so much fun.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Full moon

The last full moon that I photographed was the full moon that occurred on Dec 31st,  making it a blue moon (second one for the month) and it seemed to be very far North from where it appears tonight.
The interesting thing is that I can tell from the trees and where the photograph was taken from just how far the direction of the rising moon has changed.  The current direction is at least 60 degrees further to the East than it was back in December.
Full moon must have been at about mid-day today,  but the moon tonight is beautiful....
... seen here across the neighbour's yard....
I could see the shadowy shapes on the surface,  though they don't show well with this little camera....
To the west is the last glow of the sun....
... an the well known silhouettes of my trees....
Back again to the east and the moon is rising high in the sky....
I had thought about writing a blog about some of the worries of the world,  but the moon distracted me :)

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Rain 6mm!

This morning it began to rain.   The plants look beautiful....
                              .... broccoli.....
.... red russian kale....
....  oak leaf lettuce....
..... cos lettuce....
.... red lettuce....
... and I checked the plants that I had transplanted just the day before... chicory and kale....
... and here are the blood lilies....  still only five....
I checked out to see how deep the water had penetrated... less than an inch, and when I raked the top over,  the dust rose!  You can see the wet part where it sticks together... the dry dust is underneath.
So,  off I went to check the rain guage.....
....... 6mm.....
By this afternoon,  the sky had cleared....
... the freezer is getting low... broccoli....
... and roosters....  (and a couple of bags of tomatoes as well.)
Back to the house and the sky is getting redder and redder....  red sky at night,  shepherd's delight (no rain!)
... more red sky....
... even in the east....  red sky.  I wonder when it will rain again.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Earth Hour

Earth hour is an interesting idea,  apart from anything else.
The plan is to have ordinary people turn off their lights for an hour,  once a year, to encourage thought about the energy that we (the wealthy) use daily.
The idea is simple enough,  and I understand the arguments for  and against the action,  but I have usually participated in  Earth Hour.

This year,  I decided to turn off the electricity at the meter box,  rather than just the light switches... not that it was such a revolutionary idea,  but that it was easier than running around making sure that all of our lights were off.     I did warn everyone first... there would be no wifi,  internet,  lights,  or tv...  no radio, or stereo... and I would prefer that the fridge wasn't opened either....  so how did it go....

At the minute of 8:30pm when the lights were supposed to go off,  I just got off the phone  (using the wireless, electricity dependent one..  from my cousin with news of a seriously ill relative)  and  I went out to turn the electricity off.

So far so good....  I had warned everyone what I had intended to do.   And so I did....   it's funny that it is the that part of the year when the light is just beginning to disappear earlier thatn we are used to...  the beginning of autumn.   I had assembled candles and my precious oil light and was prepared for the problem of illumination,  but that's not really the issue.   We did have a good time....  it was good to sit around playing silly I-spy games and wondering what other people (the majority of the people in the world who don't have electricity most or all of the time)  were doing at the same time... it may not have been a game to them!

Chris lit these candles....




And there were more....   my oil lamp....
and the stove still worked.....
hard to see in the dark,  but I opened the fire door....  there's a rooster cooking in the pot!
Then I got arty with the candles.... here are a lot of photos and they are really interesting....

... and what beautiful pictures of Chris.....



I think we should have Earth Hour more often.
I should add that we had such a good time that we had the lights of for almost two hours before anyone thought to turn them on again!

Friday, 26 March 2010

Another sunny and warm day, no rain.

The lovely sunny and warm weather is good for doing anything ouside.... except gardening.  It is that time of the year when planting for the winter crops in important.  The soil is warm,  I have added gypsum and some missing minerals,  and the compost is ready to go.  I have a few plants that are growing in polystyrene containers... these need thinning, and the surplus plants need to be transplanted into the garden.  The problem is the serious lack of rain.  It's not worth planting very much without serious rainfall,  as I don't have  enough water for much irrigation.  A few days ago (Monday?) we had 1mm of rainfall,  but that is irrelevant at this stage.   Even after that 1mm of rain,  when the ground smelled so good,  the dust was stirred by the dogs running across the yard...  not very inspiring when we are hanging out for rain. 
Whenever it does rain,  we need "follow-up rains" as well (do I sound like a farmer?)  And we  need rain, and preferably before the soil gets too cold for seed germination..
Yesterday I transferred a lot of water from the two tanks near the back shed to the "house" tank... and that is the same one that I water the garden from....  the few plants that are in the ground and  "on the way"  need daily watering now... the soil is very dry.
The house tank is now more than half full and the other two are down below half.   A very rough estimate is that we have about 13,000 litres left (out of 27,000 at about nov/Dec... when the last serious rainfall happened.)  We should have rain by June.
Today I transplanted some chicory and some kale, watered the seeds that should come up soon,  and kept the half grown vegetables going as well.
While I was out there,  I found another blood lily flower.  If you compare this with the photograph from Tuesday,  there is a fifth flower coming up...
I transplanted one very damaged bulb here three years ago,  and now there are five,  at least... so far.

While I was out there I heard the bronzewing again.  I have been hearing it for a few weeks,  but today I crept out there to see if I could find it....  it's in the pepper tree again...
... this was taken this afternoon,  and it's a lovely bird.   I can't find the other one,  but I'm sure there is a pair.    I can hear it!
There is a juvenile blackbird that is worrying about these pigeon invaders in the pepper tree...  it is making an assortment of distress calls while the bronzewings sit there with their quiet contact calls...  amazing to watch...  better than television!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

That saying must have come from people complaining about the temperature in the kitchen, in summer,  when all of the hot kind of cooking seems to happen... the jam making and the fruit bottling.
In fact,  I haven't had any complaints about the heat in the kitchen,  but it could happen today!   I am also putting some meat in the oven.  We don't often have a piece of meat like that (roasted)  but with the oven nice and hot,  it's a good opportunity.

Added later:  the dinner... and there was gravy too.
...  it was all good.

The jam is boiling, but almost done.  The jars are ready to go and while the stove was hot,  I caught up with a bit of ironing.  Chris wanted to have a go also...  (and he enjoyed it, I might add)  new experience?
This is one of the irons that I bought some time ago, and they work very well.  It's useful to have them handy when the fire is alight.  Notice the jam cooking in the background... behind Chris....

.... and looking good.

Later... the finished jars of jam...  20!

.... and the last dregs in a bowl for breakfast....
on toast.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Fig jam

Today I have been planting seeds for vegetables that will be ready in the winter...  carrots, onions, kale, leeks, beetroot and fennel.  The soil is still warm and I have dug compost and gypsum into it...  it looks ans smells good,  and I'm hopeful that the vegetables will do well... one is always hopeful when planting seeds!  I am planting a small area at a time and I'll leave some of it until the rain comes... I can't afford to water a very big area.

I went to the Barossa today too,  and so I phoned the farmer's market lady who has figs....  I had arranged to buy a box of them when I went over there.  They are just beautiful....
... after dinner tonight,  I began to cut them up for jam.  I have cut about 20lbs....  and I have added as much sugar as I had here (about 5lbs) and they are sitting, soaking,  overnight....
I have kept some for eating....  and they are lovely.  I know what I'll be eating for breakfast!
Tomorrow I have a meeting at the council but I should be home by lunchtime,  and I'll be cooking and bottling jam in the afternoon.

It is supposed to be hot again tomorrow (and no rain of course!) and it is supposed to continue for the next few days,  so I'll need to keep an eye on the seeds that I've planted.  If it gets too hot, I'll cover the seeded patch with shade cloth.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Autumn equinox

Yesterday was the day of the equinox,  when the sun was directly over the equator and the days are beginning to get shorter.  
Here,  in Kapunda,  we still have daylight saving :-(  and the weather is still very warm... most days are about 25C - 32C  and there has been almost no rain since before Christmas.   The garden survives with water from the tank (the same one that we use for the household)  so that showers are short and rare,  the toilet is rarely flushed and the silver beet survives on water from the washing up bowl.


I have begun to plant a few vegetable seeds....  beetroot,  fennel,  potatoes and some other winter greens... the broccoli and cauliflowers are doing well,  and I'm still picking a few eggplants, capsicum, zucchinis and so on...
I'm not planting much too soon,  as tiny plants need more consistent watering...  and that's the issue here, of course.  It is easier to plant a few new seeds more often than to put in a whole lot of seeds at the same time... not only is there less of a shock to the watering work,  but just a bit extra every few days is much easier to maintain.  
I have also transplanted the extra broccoli plants that I had resurrected in a styrofoam box  (these were plants that were "dead"  at the local nursery,  but I've looked after them.)  The lettuce plants (also supposedly "dead" are all doing well in the box,  where I'll leave them.  The chicory is nearly big enough to transplant and some of those can move to the open area soon.


As I worked in the garden today,  I saw the first autumn bulbs....
... this is all I saw first... there are actually four flowers here.   These flowers always come up first and then the leaves...   I'll put a picture of the leaves here later.


I went out to the front of the house to see if the ones there are up too....
... there are a lot of them there....
                                                ...... including these in amongst this huge jade bush....
The flowers are beautiful and the honeyeaters love them too.  




The other flower here is still the cactus and these are lovely too.