Archive for the ‘Permaculture’ Category

A new ecological community, Rancho San Roque, is being developed in the foothills of the Rincon de la Vieja volcano in Costa Rica.  The developer has engaged the services of The Project Office (TPO) to manage the project; Deppat to create the master plan; and Zurcher Architects to create the architectural detail for a private residential community in harmony with nature.  Each of the 37 fully-titled lots available for purchase has at least 1.25-acres (5000M2) and incorporates sweeping views of the Guanacaste countryside, enjoying cool mountain air and rich volcanic soil.

Residents will enjoy the tranquility of country living with the convenience of modern services.  Located in Cañas Dulces – only 30 minutes from Liberia – where modern shopping, fine dining, and premium services are abundant.  The international airport in Liberia is just 40 minutes away, and some of Costa Rica’s best white-sand beaches and fishing are also an easy drive from the community.

Rancho San Roque is situated at a comfortable 1500 feet above sea level, offering fresh cool mountain breezes.  The area is host to a growing number of ecotourism facilities such as Buena Vista Adventure Center and Spa, which offers adventure sports such as canopy tours, rappelling, waterslides, horseback riding, hiking, thermal spa baths, and much more.  A high-end eco-resort, Borinquen Mountain Spa, showcases hot springs, a luxury hotel, restaurants, nature trails, and many more attractions within just minutes of the community.  The community is also located within minutes from the planned Guanacaste Country Club designed by Jack Nicklaus and being developed by a U.S. group that includes Frank Biden (Joe Biden’s brother).

“Most of the development in Guanacaste has happened at the beaches, but an increasing number of full-time expats find it to be too hot and too touristy,” said Dan Harris the CEO of The Project Office. “That is why we chose a tranquil country setting with a cooler climate for our community.  We’re in a laid-back rural area, yet still close to all modern services and amenities in Liberia.”

The city of Liberia is continually expanding with modern services.  Several banks, shopping centers and restaurants make up the town center along with the Home Depot-style hardware store called the Do It Center.  Large commercial developers are betting that Liberia becomes the business capital of northern Costa Rica, similar to the Central Valley, as evidenced by the million square-meter Solarium office industrial complex.  Furthermore, the best hospital in Central America, CIMA Hospital San Jose, has plans to build a new full-scale private hospital in Liberia.

Rancho San Roque will engage in a permaculture project to restore the pastureland, and will feature a community center with a pool and fitness center, walking trails through orchards, a greenhouse, organic gardens and aquaculture ponds.  The rich volcanic soil is perfect for gardening where the project aims to produce fresh organic vegetables, many fruit and nuts, fresh-water fish, chickens and eggs for the residents.

“Our goal is to restore the land with an edible forest and permaculture gardens producing healthy food security for residents” Harris added. “The intention of permaculture is not only to produce food, but also give immeasurable benefits to the environment while creating a beautiful and diverse landscape to enjoy.”

All environmental permitting is in place and all lots are ready to sell with clear title.  The developers are encouraging alternative energy such as wind and solar power, but are providing electric grid service in the community.  Satellite TV is readily available and high-speed Internet will be on site creating a fully connected community.

Each lot comes with a Costa Rica corporation allowing for clean transfers with low fees, and gives buyers a vehicle to obtain cell phones and other utilities.  The community is currently one of the best values in Costa Rica starting at $50,000 during the development phase. Financing is available with 40% down at 8% interest for 5 years ($20K down, $608/mth).




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The global economic collapse became an eye-opening experience for many people. The ongoing crisis continues to create more joblessness at a time when the cost of essential items like food and energy continue to rise.

Inflation is only expected to continue due to excessive printing of money to compensate for the bursting economic bubbles, which were arguably created by printing too much money with artificially low interest rates in the first place.
The 2008 price shocks in oil followed by the financial collapse have led many people to begin taking measures to become more self-sufficient. Some have taken steps to conserve electricity, reduce spending and consumption, while others are planting kitchen gardens and installing solar panels on their homes. Even living off the grid is becoming a mainstream concept for those seeking independence.

Indeed, becoming more self-sufficient is proving to make common sense whether one anticipates more hardship to come or not.

Sure, many of us would love to live completely off the grid without giving up everyday comforts, but for most of us this is not practical. However, there are many steps that can be taken to move towards self-sufficiency which can be relatively painless and quite rewarding.

The following are 10 basic suggestions for more independent living.

1. Reduce your debt: Do you best to get your debt under control. Call your credit cards companies and ask for a similar work out plan that they received from the taxpayers. You can also do the same with mortgages.

2. Reduce your consumption: Evaluate your current budget and determine absolute necessity. Push your comfort level to find areas where you can scale back, and then identify comforts that you’re willing to sacrifice.

3. Reduce energy use: Change light bulbs, have entertainment systems plugged into a splitter that can be shut off completely to reduce phantom charges, etc. Carefully plan shopping trips and other transportation needs.

4. Store energy: Always have back-up propane storage and a large wood pile for a rainy day. Investing in a generator of some kind (even a solar generator) will be money well spent.

5. Invest in food storage: With a falling dollar and rising food prices, why not create a food savings account? Get some good books, dehydrators and vacuum sealers for storage methods. Best storable food items are grains (rice, beans, flour), canned goods, seeds, and some prepackaged items.

6. Produce your own food: Replace your lawn with a garden, fruit trees, and keep chickens. Go on hunting and gathering adventures for nuts, fish, and wild game. Store extra garden seeds!

7. Learn new skills: Surf the internet, read books, and take courses in practical skills like gardening, cooking with whole foods, composting, carpentry, alternative energy, natural health and wellness etc.

8. Start a side business: Turn your passion or hobby into a small side business to make some supplemental income. Who knows, it may become your path to full financial independence.

9. Install alternative energy: Start with small installations like a solar hot water system, a solar freezer, a solar attic fan, or a wood stove etc. If you have limited funds, tip-toe your way to independence.

10. Suggest solutions for your community: Engage your local community in discussions to take steps for self-sufficiency. Share your story and build support.

These steps will save us money as we move closer to the ultimate prize of independence. For me personally, each action my family takes to live more simply makes us more motivated to do better. So, the steps seem to become swifter after we took the first few awkward baby steps.

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We are now three to five generations removed from the rural backbone that strengthened America.  The world at large has undergone a similar transformation as the promise of easier work created a migration to big cities.  These mega-cities could be seen as an experiment gone awry, as general well-being has declined, suicide rates have increased, people work longer hours, and the cost of living has risen to the point where personal savings is virtually non-existent.  These conditions have led to rampant crime, pollution, corporate malfeasance, and a dog-eat-dog type of competition that I would describe (historically) as temporary insanity.  The recent economic crisis has been the final straw for many people, as promises of a better, easier, and more creative life seem to have been sold to us by carnival-style tricksters who are laughing all the way to (their) bank.  But there is a always a silver lining, in my view.  We now have a wonderful opportunity to recapture what we have lost over the last hundred or so years — independence.

Here are my top reasons for becoming self-sufficient; these are based on fundamental, systemic concerns for why undertaking this life change will not be a fly-by-night fad, but rather a long-lasting means for personal independence.  A companion article will follow on Jeff’s blog; he will give some immediate tips for taking back the reins and living a more self-directed life.  The following are listed in no particular order:

  1. Being free of market manipulation – The traditional market-driven investment vehicles are more and more obviously controlled by traders and banking institutions.  The recent debacle with the private Federal Reserve Bank is just the icing on the cake to a previous decade full of Ponzi-type schemes to defraud investors and flat-out steal money from people’s hard-earned retirement (Enron to Madoff).
  2. Hedging against inflation – Have you noticed the price of goods lately?  Prices on produce and necessities have doubled in the last 2 years.  People might have a choice whether or not to buy stocks or gold, but people have to eat — the current increases in basic goods portend hyperinflation, and will not ease anytime soon.
  3. Increasing health and wellness – It has now been revealed that some “organic” items have been falsely labeled.  In addition, a host of “GMO-free” brands have been exposed as deceptive.  GMO food lacks the nutritional value of what can be grown in the average backyard.  GMO mega-corporation, Monsanto, has a sordid history, and has continuously trampled on our trust.  It is time that we do the work ourselves.
  4. Building community strength – I constantly hear people say, “I don’t even see my neighbors, let alone know anything about them.”  Of course not:  80-hour workweeks and grabbing meals to go doesn’t exactly promote community interaction.  With such little time to interact with our immediate community, it is no wonder why many people report feeling disconnected.   In these trying times, it is a local community that can offer the best support.
  5. Working for yourself – Working hours are increasing, pay is often decreasing, and corporate executives are taking bigger bonuses than ever.  This is leading to a prevailing disgust, as people are being forced to admit that they are living lives of near indentured servitude.  Even for those not working in corporations, working for someone else is rarely as satisfying as creating and working for something where every minute you spend is yours alone.
  6. Having more free time – We have been taught to believe that life on a farm is arduous sun-up to sun-down drudgery where you collapse at the end of the day.  This is not so much the case anymore.  Sure, the setup of any farm or self-sufficient endeavor is often time-consuming and laborious, but new technologies and new skills of manufacturing food via permaculture and aquaponics are offering low-cost start up and minimal maintenance, as these techniques serve to create symbiotic systems that are remarkably self-governing.
  7. Generating food and energy security – The planet is running out of food and traditional energy.  Climate volatility, market forces, GM foods, a rising population, and rising costs of harvesting and transporting food are all conspiring to create food shortages even in the First World.  This trend will not reverse.  And our oil-soaked way of life is being threatened by mounting evidence that the oil lifeline could be disconnecting rather soon.  We should be looking to the air, sun, geothermal, and wave power to wean us from the energy grid.
  8. Acquiring an appreciation for life – As one gets closer to life-giving forces, there is a natural appreciation for how things come into being.  When you have created your garden, toiled there, selected the best for harvest, and have prepared that food for your family and community, the significance of what you have taken part in can be transformative.
  9. Restoring balance – Nearly everything in our society is at a peak, or is drastically out of balance.  The systems and governments to which we have looked for balance restoration are missing in action.  We must take it upon ourselves to restore our own financial and environmental balance sheet.  The best way to do that is to reduce our over consumption.
  10. Becoming a producer, not a consumer – This is the best way to reduce your cost of living and increase your self-sufficiency.  In the U.S. over 70% of the economy is based on people buying things.  This is a clear sign of imbalance and, by extension, is not sustainable.  Furthermore, we also have seen corporations race to the bottom to find low-cost production . . . on the backs of desperate people.  The exploitation of the Third World to clothe, feed, and entertain the First World is something that most people do not want to think about, but it is abominable.  Again, new technologies are making it easier than ever to produce your own food, and even your own clothes.

As the cliche goes: Freedom is never free.  But it sure beats the alternative.

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Jeff Rubin, the former Chief Economist of CIBC World Markets and the author of Why Your World Is About To Get A Whole Lot Smaller built his reputation as one of Canada’s top economists.  In this video, he explains peak oil, de-globalization, re-localization, and pollution as they relate to the current recession and the economy overall.

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Imagine growing fish and plants together in one integrated system.  This is the promise of aquaponics.  For those who would like to take a quick first step toward self-sufficiency, aquaponics might offer the least expensive, least time-consuming path to creating your own sustainable ecosystem.

Aquaponics is a full simulation of nature where fish and plants are both kept healthy and productive through a balance supplied by each in a recirculating environment.  The aquaculture side offers nutrient-rich water that is provided as natural fertilizer for plants.  These nutrients are normally a disposal problem for fish farmers who need to eliminate the toxic waste.  On the other side, hydroponics desperately requires nutrient-rich water in order to grow in a soil-less environment, and the plants serve as a natural filter for the fish.  This mini ecosystem is surprisingly easy and relatively inexpensive to set up thanks to emerging science and technology.

The beauty is in the small scale.  Just as micro-farming has taken root in urban environments, aquaponics can utilize a home aquarium, a mini garden of herbs, vegetables, or even flowers.  This is known as Desktop Aquaponics and serves as a great showpiece, or as an educational microcosm of what is possible through the fusion of fish and plants. And, yet, according to Aquaponics.com it is possible to convert a backyard into a system that grows hundreds of pounds of fish and all the fruits and vegetables a family needs.

For further education, visit Growingpower.org, a non-profit organization that has been instrumental in bringing this new concept to fruition mainly in urban settings.  They offer workshops in aquaponics and portable farms.

Once you are ready to begin your own endeavor, take a look at BackyardAquaponics for full systems information.  The great news is that for less than $2,000 you can begin taking the step toward self-sufficient food production . . . no matter where you live.

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by Melissa

My forefathers were settlers. I think most people from “out west” can claim this to some degree, but for my family it’s a lot about who we are. For nearly 100 years my ancestors were alone in the middle of nowhere, building a community from scratch and “making do”. I’m sure this is where my mother’s frugality comes from and where my father finds his tolerance for it: we come from a long line figuring out how to get things done on our own.

Since my husband and I moved abroad I’ve had to relearn much of this lost heritage. Corporate advertising jobs are cushy, and San Francisco has no shortage of stuff. But here, living in a third world country with limited access to the comforts of our former life, we’ve come to terms with “making do”. Like entertaining ourselves without 300 cable channels? No problem.  Looks of bewilderment when asking the local butcher about turkeys? We’ll work through it. Water cutting off for hours at a time and power being spotty? We’ll manage.

But we’re taking it a step further now. We’ve been here long enough that it feels like home, and now we’re ready to start making it our homestead. We’re reaching back to my heritage and pulling out the first thing we can towards making a home from scratch: we’re getting chickens.

There are many benefits to keeping chickens. Examiner.com narrowed it down to eight great reasons for having backyard chickens:

1) Eggs from well-tended backyard chickens are healthier

2) Eggs from backyard chickens are tastier

3) Chicken droppings enrich your compost

4) Chickens provide natural insect control

5) Chickens provide natural insect control. Their scratching for bugs is good for the soil

6) Chickens are a great way to meet people and start conversations

7) Chickens are fun and interesting

8) Backyard chickens provide lessons for children about responsibility and where food comes from

Now I know this isn’t rocket science. People all over the world keep chickens. Our friend and Co-Contributor Jeff keeps chickens. Chickens run all over our neighborhood, and each morning we awake to the sound of chickens. I can do this.

My problem has been with the first step: Where to keep the chickens? I don’t know why I’ve been caught up on this one, but I have. Well no more! We’re doing it. Today I found this website with a page of hundreds of chicken tractors. I guarantee at least one of these is doable, practical, buildable from recycled materials (an absolute must considering I’m just 20 days into my two-month The Compact pact). I’m drawing the line in the sand now. We’re getting chickens!

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by Melissa

From the Christian Science Monitor we read of one family’s struggle and expense in setting up a kitchen garden in Los Angeles. It makes me think of the Dervaes family in Pasadena, and the Urban Homestead they have set up there. So much work goes into their homestead, but oh! the rewards. For families and individuals who find it hard to give it all up and start their country homestead, the idea of an urban one is very appealing.

A city farmer faces the challenges of urban gardening

In Los Angeles, an urban gardener with dreams of farming in the city found that her soil was too polluted with lead and zinc to grow vegetables in the ground. But she didn’t let that stop her.

By Susan Carpenter  |  Los Angeles Times Writer/ November 18, 2009 edition

LOS ANGELES There are certain phrases I never expected to utter in my lifetime. Things like, “Excuse me if I don’t shake your hand. Mine’s covered in horse urine.” Or, to my son, “When you’re finished with dinner, clear your plate and feed the scraps to the worms.”

Yet those are exactly the sorts of things I’ve found myself saying in the months I’ve been an urban farmer.

A year ago, I didn’t have a vegetable garden. I had a couple of lemon trees, but I’d given up on potted plants, having killed every rooted thing I’d attempted to nurture on my back deck. I didn’t just have a black thumb. I had a black hand.

But last year I began to think that my little postage stamp of a property could do more than just look pretty. Ideally, it could be put to work. I just needed to learn how.

It’s kind of shocking how little I know about plants and soil, given that my mom grew up on a farm and one of my uncles still works major acreage growing corn. In a single generation, the information chain that had passed through my family for centuries was broken.

Like many others in Los Angeles, I bought my food at the supermarket, and my landscape was professionally designed and maintained. I rarely, if ever, touched dirt.

I needed an expert who specialized in small-scale city farming. That person was Tara Kolla. She has been running Silver Lake Farms from her double lot in one of the city’s hip neighborhoods since 2004.

Ms. Kolla teaches gardening workshops and is available for one-on-one property consultations. I hired her last September to do both, and she dug into my project with gusto.

She pawed into my soil with bare hands, scooping out samples to send to a lab so she could see what we were working with. A couple days later, we found out. It was poison, basically. Like a lot of dirt in this city, mine was a victim of car culture, containing high, unhealthful levels of zinc (from brake dust) and lead (from the days of leaded gasoline).

If was going to farm my property, I had two options: build raised beds or remediate the soil by growing a cover crop that would suck up the metals. I chose option No. 2.

At that time, my property was a thriving xeriscaped paradise, which meant I needed to get rid of all my plants. The idea of throwing them away sickened me, so I threw a dig party, inviting my friends to come over with their shovels and take away the flax, hibiscus, and any other plants they wanted.

That cleared about two-thirds of what needed to be removed. The rest required professionals.

At Kolla’s suggestion, I planned to grow vegetables in my front yard, because that’s where I had the right amount of sunlight. The side of my house, with its morning light, would be transformed into a berry patch. My backyard: an orchard of citrus and stone fruit trees, as well as flowers.

For the front and side yards, Kolla suggested something that seriously upset my street’s landscape status quo. The scraggly mess of sweet peas, hairy vetch, and beans looked like weeds. But I let them grow. For months. I pulled them out in May so I could plant my first summer crop with the seedlings I’d successfully grown from scratch, thanks to Kolla’s seedling and soil workshops.

Before planting, I sent another round of soil samples to the lab to see if the cover crop had helped.

It had, but not nearly as much as needed. The lead level had dropped by half and the zinc by about 40 percent, but according to Garn Wallace, the scientist who was doing my soil testing, I would need to do the same cover crop regimen for 10 years before I could eat vegetables that grew in that dirt. (Berries and fruits would be fine, he said, because their roots drill down to better soil, and because most soil toxins end up in stems and leaves, not the fruit.)

The sobering lab report meant I had to replace the soil in my front yard or build raised beds. My yard isn’t big — just 70 square feet — so I decided to dig. I needed to excavate 2 feet deep. That’s as far down in the topsoil as the airborne toxins from cars tend to go and as deep as the roots of most vegetables tend to extend.

But I underestimated exactly how much dirt that was. Hiring three day laborers for two days had gotten rid of only the top 6 inches. I had spent $600 and hadn’t even purchased my replacement dirt.

So I bailed on my original plan and went with raised beds, which, like everything else, were problematic, time-consuming, and expensive.

I needed to use untreated wood so that chemicals wouldn’t leach into the soil, and I wanted a hearty wood. That meant redwood, which, in the 14-foot lengths I needed, cost more than I had spent on grocery-store vegetables for, oh, at least three years. But at this point I was deep into the project and determined to see it through.

A friend and I built the boxes, I bought a load of dirt from a nursery and a load of horse manure, and I was in business. I repurposed my sprinklers to drip line and planted my seedlings in the boxes.

On to the backyard. After putting in a few citrus trees, I realized I was seriously challenged in the design department. What I’d done looked OK, but I wanted beautiful. I reached out to a landscape designer whose work I’d admired for years and who is willing to advise for an hourly design fee of $90 with a 10-hour minimum.

I appreciated her eye for Dr. Seuss-ish flora and her use of California natives. In designing my backyard, she used a mix of exotic flowers and an artful display of edibles, such as blueberries and grapes — all of it to be fed from a rainwater catchment scheme she designed for my roof.

Once it actually rains in Los Angeles, the system will channel the water into infiltration pits and keep it on my property to deeply hydrate the soil.

It’s been one year since I began my edible-garden adventure. For the most part, I’m pleased. I love watching my 6-year-old roll down the driveway on a scooter and stop for a strawberry. I love being able to chop fruits and vegetables without having to peel off a sticker. I love knowing that what I’m growing and feeding my family is healthful.

Although my backyard has yet to bear fruit and flowers, I did one last test to see if the vegetables from my front yard were clear of toxins.

I picked a bean, a tomato, and a passionfruit from my front yard and a leaf of chard from a deck-top planter box I had built and filled with bagged soil. The bean, tomato and passion fruit proved perfectly edible. It was the chard growing in the bagged soil that came back high in lead. That made me realize two things:

1) We’re living in an incredibly polluted society.

2) As difficult and expensive as urban farming is to get started, and as labor-intensive as it is to maintain, it feels good to be closer to the land. The fresh veggies are only part of the benefit.

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