Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Disasters are never fun and neither is having your daily routine upset in order to survive one. It can be stressful and full of things that can go wrong.

I’ve been checking out a variety of blogs and websites advocating a variety of ways to survive a disaster. Most people who prepare for a disaster tend to follow textbook advise by supplying themselves with modern conveniences and technology. For a short-term disaster that is often fine but not if it should last six months or more. What do you do then?

Here is an example of what someone might do to prepare themselves:

Buy a diesel powered electric generator, either a tracktor or plow and stock up lots of canned
food and other personal care items. So along comes someone who didn’t prepare but has weapons and takes what you have which took you so long to stock up in the first place. Then what?

If your scour blogs like I do you will come across those people who advocate that you militarize yourself with weapons and follow military survival techniques. Although helpful will not help you survive if there are also other people competing for the same resources in which case you both fight it out until one is dead, one gives up or you both decide to work together. That’s a lot of wasted energy and it only perpetuates the very mindset that created the problems in the first place.

Here is why I don’t recommend following prescribed plans for surviving a disaster:
For all modern things that require a liquid fuel such as a generator or tractor need a huge supply
of liquid fuel which means a large tank to hold it. Eventually you will run out then what?

Then people think about getting a plow and an animal, horses or buffalo to pull the plow which requires a large amount of feed (namely grasses and other plants) or large enough field for them to graze in. Don’t forget you have to train the animals and yourself too. That only adds to the work needed.

Instead here is what I recommend:
I say do away with conventional thinking and do the work yourself in small manageable sized plots. Figure out how much you can work in a day then figure out how much you need to feed yourself and that is the amount of land you need. Masanobu Fukuoka – a Japanese Permaculturist – said anyone can feed themselves on a quater acre by following his [permaculture] principals.

It is actually not that hard to feed yourself by building a quarter acre food forest which grows a large variety of edible plants which has built in resiliency. What does that mean?

When the potato famine happened in Ireland it wiped out the single type of potato they grew. If on the other hand they had grown a variety of potatoes like Peruvian people do then they would have survived the potato famine because not all of the potatoes would have been effected. That is what resiliency is about. If one thing fails not everything fails that means you don’t fail either.

So, if you are going to prepare yourself to survive a long-term disaster, which means you can also survive short-term disasters, you prepare yourself in such a way that includes resiliency in your plans. It also means not relying on any modern techniques, machines, technologies and so on. That way if someone with weapons should pass your way you stand a better chance of surviving because you don’t have anything worth stealing.


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I have been working for the last month very hard to find gainful employment and I have come to the conclusion that there is none. It no longer exists and we are not out of this continued recession, depression. In my book, Recession Survival Guide self-published in 2009 I said it wouldn’t be over before 2015. Now it looks like it will never be over. Anyone who thinks they are being told the truth by the news owned by the companies that manufacture the news is dumber than shit and ought to be composted. At least that would create something of value. The U.S. has an enormously large number of dumb people as compared to other industrialized countries. Reagan even lowered the I.Q. scale by ten points to raise the national I.Q. level.

The future on the current path looks very bleak. I have to back up for just a moment before going forward.

Robert Hayes who likes to comment on everything I post followed me from Facebook where all he did was post negative shit and now he is here doing the same. Here is my response to one of his comments he posted – a quote from Wikipedia:  “Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production is expected to enter terminal decline. Every oil well and field exhibits similar characteristics of being discovered, the logistics to extract the oil being put in place, a peak or plateau of production, followed by a decline.  US domestic oil production peaked in 1970. Global production of oil fell from a high point in 2005 at 74 mb/d, but has since rebounded, and 2011 figures show slightly higher levels of production than in 2005, as the definition of “oil” was changed in 2007 to include synthetic liquids.”   [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_oil]

So yes, the world oil production has gone up only because of fuzzy questionable bookkeeping not because there was anymore oil found all of a sudden which had peaked in the 1960s. We have only found less and less oil fields and wildcatters are coming up with more dry wells each year. Robert Hayes only finds enough information to support his point of view and doesn’t spend hours reading or cross references to see what he is saying is factual or supportive.

I say all this to show how so many people keep saying that we have lots of oil left for(ever), a long, long time. Discovery peaked in the 1960s and the entire planet has been surveyed so the question is where, or how, are people finding “new” oil. It is scientifically impossible.

So much for that.

The closer we get to the end of cheap fossil fuels the fewer choices we have or time left to act. Former president Clinton, Matthew Simmons an energy investment banker and adviser to George W Bush, and Dick Cheney all have said in one form or anther that we are running out of oil. Whether directly or indirectly stated we are on the downside of the Peak Oil curve and headed downward at an alarming speed. As Cheney said, “That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day.” That means replacing that which we have lost due to decline. There has been plenty more people in the last decade that have come forward to say the same thing from former geologists, oil explorers, and people who worked with oil production information (like the U.S. Energy Dept.).

No one agreed when Peak Oil will or has happened. That doesn’t matter so much as it will, or has and we are doing absolutely nothing to prepare for no more oil! Technology will not save us like some white knight or some savior, they don’t exist. Technology is utterly dependent on cheap energy to work or for its production. Without oil absolutely everything collapses. Do a mind exercise and research to find something that isn’t dependent on oil in some way or another. (I’ll give you a hint: You find a single thing that isn’t dependent on oil.)

I am afraid this country is being pushed into a Mad Max scenario where people will fight over whatever scraps they can find.  In the book, Raising a Nation of Whimps by Hara Marano, editor-at-large and the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, has been watching a disturbing trend: kids are growing up to be wimps. [from Amazon]

People in the U.S. have little or no backbone or character worth acknowledging.  That said I have come across some very remarkable people but when it comes push to shove many of them would whimp out.  Too many who would give in to anyone doing violence.

What does the future hold for us. Nothing good. There will be those who will know how to grow food, process fiber and produce enough energy for their needs. They just lack the ability to defend themselves against the people who would rather steal what they need than produce it on their own. My wish that everyone learn to defend themselves, be able to produce what they need, create a strong reliable resilient community in order to survive the decline in cheap and once abundant fossil fuels. It will be through these communities that people will be able to not decline to far into a dark age and find solutions for a real sustainable  future based on the principles Nature has set forth where there is no waste, everything has worth.

My mantra has become: Learn to grow food & fiber. Learn to become energy independent (that doesn’t mean using only trees for fuel or you will see a localized Haiti effect).


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My last post asked what will happen with people who have a disability and I got exactly what I expected no reads and no comments. That speaks volumes.

I a very short time I will have to take a dead-end job just to pay the bills because Not the governor of Colorado not any city I contacted here where I live care about creating any sort of transition plans or real sustainability, durability, resilience policy. It seems the state I live in could care less what happens after cheap energy is gone and that will happen soon.

A now former CEO of Shell just a few years ago predicted we will have $3 per gallon gasoline by 2010 and we did, and do.  He also said to expect by 2015 the price to be $5 per gallon of gasoline.  We are heading that way and I have no doubt we will reach it.

Former president Clinton said in more than one speech or interview that we were headed for Peak Oil soon.  That was in 2006.  He also gave a deadline of 2030 as the year we can expect to run out of oil.  He may have let the cat out of the bag.

Here are some links.  You decide for yourself.

At this point the U.S. is fu–ed.  There isn’t enough time to do anything really so here are my suggestions:

  1. Get some land, even within a city.
  2. Reduce your consumption of energy by super insulating your home.
  3. Learn to grow food and save seeds from one year to the next.
  4. Connect with people near you, within walking distance, to barter and exchange whatever you need.  This would include skills.
  5. Learn to grow fiber, process it and make cloths or whatever else you need. Also learn to grow dye plants.
  6. Grow some plants for easy fuel like sunflower for oil to burn in a lamp. Honey bees for honey and beeswax. Grow your own fuel.

That’s it people.  The other option to fight and defend precious resources is not the answer because those who rely on war and violence will die at some point when they can’t steal anymore because the people who know how to grow food, fiber and fuel will live far enough away for violence to reach them.

The future will change dramatically and we are not prepared.

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[ Sorry about the way this article looked. I am not sure what happened to the font. ]

Can we feed ourselves after the oil is gone?

This article is in response to an article in Permaculture magazine Spring 2012 issue, No. 71. The article,Can We Feed the World? Five experts give their views on the best methods of eco-farming, page 54 to 56.

These five experts each have their views with some cross-over. The five experts are, Bethan Stagg, Colin Tudge, Peter Harper, Patrick Whitefield, and John Ellison.

First there is Bethan Stagg who says we need to put into a practice techniques that take into account
local environmental conditions using intensification to get the most output possible. Saying it another
way, it is a type of polyculture farming technique.

Next Colin Tudge just says what I’ve have been hearing for some time now, we are growing enough to feed 14billion people but it all goes toward increasing profits rather than feeding people. Not completely true
as some of the food stuff are not meant for people but cattle or other farm animals because the grain has been genetically altered so people can’t eat it. He mentions the problem of wastage some of which can not be helped and that which can be helped should not be dumped but fed to people. People in industrialized
nations have been brain-washed into buying only the best looking and ignore blemishes or slight defects.
That needs to change.

Peter Harper talks about producing food in a post-carbon future. In other words, food production without
fossil fuels.

Patrick Whitefield is a strong promoter of Permaculture.

John Ellison and Bethan both agree that we can’t afford to rely on just one approach to solve our food
needs in the future.

They are all correct. We need to stop relying on mono-culture large factory farms and change the way we
farm altogether. This means we go back to the way we used to not too long ago. Also, we need to do away
with chemical inputs, tractors and so on to move away from oil and other fossil fuels, even biodiesel.

Based on their input and my views the answer to growing enough food is this:

  • We get away from the corporate farm and go back to many smaller farms.
  • We need to incorporate many approaches to grow the food we need.
    • Masanobu Fukuoka from Japan gave us no-work farming where there is no tilling of the soil, no
      fertilization, all organic and he has yields the same or better as farmers using tractors and
    • Sepp Holzer from Austria gave us poli-farming techniques. He combined fruit trees, herbs, grains, vegetables, hogs and fish all on the same land requiring again no equipment, no fertilization, and it is virtually self maintaining. He mostly spends his time harvesting and selling what he grows and does most of the work establishing his method and then there virtually no more work.
    • Polyculture at the most intensive manner possible geared to a local environment. This comes up in Permaculure in designing a Food Forest were in a small space you can feed more people than using traditional farming methods. Usually every three acres of Food Forest can feed around 8 to 12.
  • We need to produce food closer to where it is consumed. Places like the U.S. need to consume less calories overall, start by cutting the meat consumption by at least 50% the first year and again
    another 50% a few years later. Cows, pigs, chickens and other factory farmed animals need to be set free to feed the way they were originally intended, without hormones.
  • We need follow models like Cuba as a way to transition off oil and produce enough food for ourselves
  • The profit needs to be taken out of growing food, and feeding the people of the world.
  • Corporations like Monsanto need to be put out of business so food can again be put in the hands of

Everyone needs to decide what happens with their food, how it is grown and treated before it gets to theirtable. People also have to realize that for decades corporations (or governments) who have controlled their food have not had their best interests at heart only their own. That needs to stop. Our ancestors were either Vegetarians or near Vegetarians because they realized that it was a matter of survival and feeding an animal came second to their own survival. This meant that meat consumption was low.

Traditional methods of growing food need to be brought back and taught to everyone growing food if they
are to survive after the end of fossil fuels. Otherwise we will need to prepare ourselves, especially in the U.S., for food wars, riots, and uprising because people will want to eat and not know how to feed themselves in any other way than to steal it.

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There is a growing movement in Europe at the moment called I Don’t Pay! This post will be most controversial but it goes along with what I am trying to do with the overall Greenhouse Project.

We had Occupy taking over many major cities around the world. People camped out in good and poor weather to make a statement about the state of the world and the way things are being run. Even the major news outlets, blogs and websites keep taking about the 99% and the 1% and how the wealth has moved upwards. How it has been co-opted by few people for their sole greed and no social good has come of it. Phrases like, “too big to fail” have now become part of our lexicon and some have even said that they should have failed to help drag the top downward and broken up the “too big” into much smaller more manageable businesses.

Now I was sent a link to a YouTube video titled, Movement “I Don’t Pay” is spreading acrosss Europe (english subs) [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqeTGTU6FFg ] . The video is not even 5 minutes long and yet it has a powerful message, why pay for social programs. Why pay for things when the government subsides them? Why pay for something like public transit that gets government money? Why are people paying twice for things?

In the United States because our government offices at the state, federal or local levels don’t get audited or have to reveal where they spend their money we often don’t know how our tax dollars are spent or just how much a particular entity is getting. I suspect between the Occupy movement and the I Don’t Pay movement we are going to see much more information coming out to shine a light where there has been none.

Now I know what you are thinking, what does this have to do with food, food production, or the selling or buying of food. In the United States farmers, the big farmers, the corporate farms get huge amounts of subsides to either not plant crops, to plant particular crops, to manage the land as it is leaving it wild, or to produce a particular end product, like sugar. Food and non-food crops and end products are subsidized almost from seed to market, and in some cases they are when dumped onto the international markets.

When I came up with the Greenhouse Project I right away started wondering how can I produce food at the best price possible and even make good whole organic food affordable to people who don’t necessarily make a lot of money. What follows are just some of the ideas I’ve had.

Building the greenhouse where people are so they don’t have to go very far will reduce ‘food miles’ greatly. By reducing what it costs to get food from seed to table in this way will cut production costs. All people would have to do is walk, bicycle or if needed drive a very short distance to buy fresh food just picked moments earlier. People will also increase their nutritional intake by eating food that was harvested at the peak of ripeness.

Energy is one of the biggest contributors to the cost of food raised in a greenhouse. What if the cost could be greatly reduced or even completely eliminated how would that effect the price of food. By building the greenhouse as a passive solar greenhouse it takes advantage of the solar energy gain during the day storing excess heat underground in a heat battery which can help even out the temperature and reduce the need to heat the greenhouse. Now living in Denver, Colorado there will be times when heating the greenhouse in the winter is needed. In the summer there will be days when cooling will be needed or the greenhouse would overheat. How to handle this?

First, by having more than one method of extracting unnecessary heat and storing it. Heat can be stored under the greenhouse in what people now call a ‘heat battery’ which is a concept that came out of the 70s and has been updated a bit. Using fans excess heat is drawn downward underground and stored. When extra heat is needed the same fans transfer the heat back into the greenhouse. Simple actually. In the 70s a rock bed was used and today pipes laid underground are used instead. The same thing really.

Another way to deal with heating, or cooling needs, is to make use of a heat pump that can efficiently store heat in a large tank of water or use that heat for cooling instead. Either way a heat pump makes the best use of the energy input by returning about twice that in heating or cooling. If there is still excess heat on the very hottest days of the year vents and fans would help move the excess out of the greenhouse.

What if it’s the middle of the winter and there is not enough solar gain, then what? That’s where the passive design of the greenhouse comes into play. It doesn’t just rely on one source of energy to keep the greenhouse warm. To help supplement the need for heating small animals can be utilized, like rabbits. These rabbits can be housed throughout the greenhouse to distribute their heat output more evenly. People who work in the greenhouse would also contribute their body heat. These things would not be able to heat the greenhouse on their own so there has to be something more.

A methane digester could be utilized throughout the year to produce methane that is stored in ordinary LPG or larger tanks. The size of the digester would be determined by the amount of material added each day. A simple digester design used in India which holds about 2,500 liters of material would produce enough gas for a family of four to cook all three meals, heat water or produce light using a gas-lantern for several hours each night. Now this digester is small and meant for a single family, but the potential for producing enough methane is there. In the summer the gas would be compressed and stored and when it gets too cold it could automatically be tapped to keep the greenhouse well above freezing.

Combining the passive solar gain with storage, body heat, heat pump(s), and methane production the cost of heating the greenhouse could be reduced to nothing. Electricity could be produced on site using Photovoltaic panels and windmills. Excess electricity produced can be stored as compressed air in the same way methane is stored and when extra is needed it drives a turbine generator combination.

By reducing the cost of food production makes it that much more affordable. Along with these ideas there would also be the idea of Solidarity Economics. This is not a new concept but one that began in early 1990s which came out of ideas stated in the 1970s. It is all about being fair and less of a consumer driven society that is headed for self destruction.

Not one of these ideas is new. Everything I’ve present has been around for decades. Food shouldn’t need subsidizing it should be freely available to every person at a price they can afford.

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I have no idea why so many people treat what Nature does as something new, it’s not. Maybe it is because people have so removed themselves from the natural world, the soil, food production, or even maintaining a healthy organic garden that it seems like new science to them. Nature was the original architect here and it’s been around a lot longer than we have. It not new it is ancient knowledge.

What am I talking about? Simple, the biology of living soil. Of the Earth itself. Without it we would not exist.

I came across an article in the Colorado Gardner: A Thinking Gardner’s Companion, Education Issue 2012. The article titled, ‘Biological Farming & Gardening,’ the author Mikl Brawner. In the article this biological method is actually referred to as a “new” method (his quotes). He is right in saying that, “instead of a bellicose mentality that birthed the pesticide-fungicide-herbicide and chemical fertilizer approach, the biological approach taps the same cooperative relationships that Nature herself has long employed successfully for survival and sustainability.” So why use the word, ‘new?’

The author is also correct in that we shouldn’t be blaming Nature for poor responses in our farming or gardening methods. Pests in the form of unwanted plants (weeds) or insects are not Nature’s fault but people’s own misguided ideas about how to manage them. Plant health is dependent on far more than chemicals. We need to look at the soil itself, the health of the soil to see if all the macro- and micro-communities are fully intact and healthy.  The soil itself is a living organism teaming with many lifeforms from fungi to bacteria and even insects.

The chemical approach looks at only NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potash (potassium)) and sees the soil only as a holding medium for the plant and not as a living thing or living community. That is what “better living through chemistry” has given us – dead soils. Desertification, salt accumulations on the surface, increased water usages, land that is dying are all the result of this method of raising plants for food. The once ‘fertile crescent’ where farming began was turned into a desert by improper farming practices. The fertility of Egypt is disappearing the same way and in California as well as many other parts of the world still relying on improper use of the land. Technology will not help us with this problem. It would actually be better to put aside technology. Only Nature can help us, and is waiting for us to ask for her service.

Masanobu Fukuoka came up with a brilliant approach when he suggested making seed balls. Using seed balls along with other techniques can rehabilitate the soil by reviving the soils communities and allowing green to come back to land once abused by people.

Not many people have heard of Bob Dixon who created the imprinting technique for the Arizona desert. It is actually a simple technique. By dragging a drum with ‘V’ shaped points creating alternating ‘V’ shapes in the soil traps seeds when the wind blows and the next time it rains the desert comes to life with new grasses which begin the process of rebuilding the soil, preventing soil erosion and building up organic matter after just the first year.

Using such techniques along with composting in place or adding organic matter that decomposes on its own time, encouraging microbes and fungi, and the return of humus to the land rather than burying it in a landfill will go a long way to greening deserts and repairing the damage people have done.

In the home garden making compost or dung (poop) tea without brewing it, by steeping it like a sun tea overnight, will help to rapidly rebuild the soils organisms. The various enzymes released will help to break down other matter that then becomes available to the plants.  Using worm castings will help plants to be more healthy and resist damage. Learning to companion plant will help support desired plants or fend off invaders or insects. Once the community is rebuilt it is actually less work than current gardening methods.

In rebuilding your soil’s community it is very important to not constantly disturb the soil by digging or plowing. Rather learn to leave the soil alone and plant using seed balls or by making single holes to add a seed, or to transplant a small plant. Then add additional mulch and compost. Digging is one of the most harmful things we can do to the soil and isn’t necessary. Fukuoka and other No-Till methods have proven this. Whether in the field or garden, leave the soil alone to encourage better health of the soil.

A big thing in many cities is that people have learned to take away dead plants in the Fall or early Spring and send them to the landfill. This is one of the worst things anyone can do. Organic matter does not belong in a landfill.  In the Fall, gather up the leaves and other organic matter and either store it if it is too windy or mulch it right away. The same in the Spring as the ground thaws. All organic matter belongs where is came from, it shelters the soils organisms below, prevents soil erosion by not allowing rain to hit the soil directly, and provides nutrients to new growth. That is Nature’s cycle.

In keeping the soil healthy we stay healthy. By increasing the soils organism we encourage the number of healthy organisms in our own guts which keep us healthy.

Healthy soil = Healthy people.

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Where I live in Denver there is a wonderful project, the GrowHaus, in the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood.  Before I even took a trip out there I was told it looked like a bombed out city. There are a number of industries and train tracks that run through the area with people living wherever there is space enough for a house. In the past the area has had its share of  problems with pollution. It is listed as a Superfund site because the  soil is contaminated namely with arsenic and lead. There are other contaminants I am sure. What to do with such a site? How can you honestly encourage people to grow their own food when it would become contaminated?

Let me say this from the onset: I have not seen the EPA report on the levels of contamination or anything else. What follows are just my ideas in hopes to get something moving forward, maybe an idea, and begin the process of allowing people access to clean food from their own garden.

How to deal with persistent poisons like lead and arsenic? After all arsenic is a poison found in rodent kill kits. I’m not exactly sure the exact years, sometime during the Victorian era, people used arsenic in small quantities to harden nails or improve their looks and become resistant to it should anyone try to poison them which had deadly consequences in the end as arsenic accumulated in the body.

In bioremediation plants and other natural sources are used to deal with environmental pollutants. Lucky for us nature has a bacteria and an enzyme that breaks down, reduces arsenic to arsenate. I am no chemist or fully understand the process that allows this to occur. But it seems this bacteria uses arsenite as a food source. Arsenite and Arsenate are two versions with an electron shift. That’s as far as my chemistry goes. I’m sure there’s plenty of scholarly papers on the subject someone could find online.

Onward. Since we have these two toxic substances in the soil we have some ways of dealing with it: take the soil away and bury it or leave it in place. If you leave it in place there are plants along with soil organisms that can be used to help pull the toxins from the soil or deal with them in place.

In studying composting methods and soil building methods I suggest the following two things:

1) A combination of sheet mulching, worm towers and using straw bales to build up healthy soil levels to be able to grow food.
2) Create raise beds that are about four feet tall (or five) filled with clean healthy soil and worms with organic matter.

Both methods work well to get a garden started but the raised bed does little to address the toxins.  People would also have to be completely committed to composting and creating new soil which is added every year. The toxins can become diluted to a point but they are not gone. People would have to go against what they know about gardening and not stir up the soil by plowing or digging. Instead, it would be a process of building up, adding to the top new soil in the form of finished compost.

That is where I would also add worm towers. A PVC pipe with holes drilled in the bottom part of it which is buried in the ground. Compost materials would be added through the top closing it off with a cloth stretched over the opening. This encourages the materials to break down which encourages worms to come into the area to eat and deposit their poop. They will also go in and out of the pipe depositing their poop outside the pipe. Worm poop is a rich fertilizer which can help build up soil nutrients. This will encourage a host of other organisms to move in that can work with the contaminants to help make them not as harmful. Mushrooms have also been used to help clean up sites because they release various enzymes which break things down and recombine substances to make them bio-available for new plants.

Again, this is where I am a little lost in the chemistry. Arsenic is technically something that can’t be broken down. It is a metalloid, being the same family of metal like substances.

By combining methods of bioremediation, sheet mulching, adding new organic matter like compost, clean leaves or straw will help dilute the lead and arsenic in the soil. It is by dilution and as the soil becomes more active with organisms of all kinds that the toxins can become less of a problem. It would take quite a bit of work and time to accomplish this, but it is possible.  Bioremediation makes use of microorganisms which can reduce, eliminate, contain, or transform to a more benign state contaminants present in the soil.

By applying the methods of sheet mulching, composting, worm towers, and adding a good layer of organic material of leaves or straw can help those microorganisms to do their job much better. Feeding them will build a healthier soil and every year the process continues and the better the harvest becomes.

Just so people are clear, I am not claiming that all the poisons will just disappear or be gone in a year and everything comes up roses. This is a process which takes time and it may be that the first year will be a year of planting and discarding plants while adding more compost and organic materials the whole time. This process has been used and can certainly work for the Elyria-Swansea area too. I would love to be there to help this process of bioremediation along, and then maybe someone can teach me the chemistry behind this process.

Build some soil. Grow some food.


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