The Physics of Energy and the Economy

There is a lot of information in this weblog, good work. I would like to see a world wide average price cost incorporated into the World Oil Supply and Price chart.

Our Finite World

I approach the subject of the physics of energy and the economy with some trepidation. An economy seems to be a dissipative system, but what does this really mean? There are not many people who understand dissipative systems, and very few who understand how an economy operates. The combination leads to an awfully lot of false beliefs about the energy needs of an economy.

The primary issue at hand is that, as a dissipative system, every economy has its own energy needs, just as every forest has its own energy needs (in terms of sunlight) and every plant and animal has its own energy needs, in one form or another. A hurricane is another dissipative system. It needs the energy it gets from warm ocean water. If it moves across land, it will soon weaken and die.

There is a fairly narrow range of acceptable energy levels–an animal…

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I don’t want to be a peasant

blue corn pic 6Chris Smajae wrote an article entitled:

Neo-peasantries: from Permaculture to Permanent Agriculture

In which he nearly immediately accused me of started a pissing match over my recent comment to another of his weblogs entitled:

Pondering Permaculture

I read these articles posted to

My comment was basically that I thought my permacultured-styled, or rather, scientifically constructed, section zoned,  bio-intensively planted, aerobic compost infused  non-tilled soil (I do input manure for the compost, the city won’t allow animals here), with annual planted raised beds in the main crop area, food forest in another, hugelkultur for all the surrounding trees to feed from through the mycelium network, forest garden, planted with species that are tolerant of the large black walnut trees nearby, with all the related fencing and edges (where plants really interact on a grand scale), in my backyard, is more interesting than his tilled market garden.

Even looking at the picture of the lupines linked to your article Chris I think so. But where’s the celeriac?

With that in mind, I planted celeriac as a monoculture, then as a test, also with tomatos, parsnips, and potato onions this year. About the same area in size. I’ll let you know if you are still of the mindset after reading this weblog, how much more produce I  gained by the interplanting.

Then, in the background of your picture, is close to as I imagined your garden, Chris,  with long rows of single specie plantings surrounded by bare recently tilled dirt. I used to do that. Not on as large of scale. But since I didn’t want to use the chemical fertilizers and biocide cocktails, it just seemed to peter out. Now I didn’t exactly refer to this farming as a detriment, but I would agree with that assessment. It is actually a mimic of the current agribusiness model being used on a grand scale all around the world. Since this farming method is totally reliant on fossil fuels all up and down the scale of inputs, it doesn’t have a future. For reasons mostly of using up the carbon in the soil, carbon is the main element that reacts with the nitrogen element, when the carbon is gone, its over. Plus the fact fossil fuels are finite.

Since,  Chris,  you elected to use my ideas as motivation, even in an instance creating a strawman argument, I will discuss in my response about my motivation to connect with permaculture.

Back to my neglected garden. The area worked was then left alone. First it was pigweed and purslane that grew. Followed by catnip, chamomile, yarrow, tansy, and finally, about a decade later, the eight foot high goldenrod dominated.

When I finally came back to work the area, and yes, I used a rototiller, it was truly amazing to find another inch of topsoil had formed. Then I found, yellowing and weak, hidden beneath the sun hogging wild plants, were a remnant of garlic, yellow raspberries, and my Grandma’s spring onions.

This was the point something popped in my mind. This in the year 2010.

From that standpoint I began a research, you have to admit Chris, all those connected to the internet are capable of learning many ideas. But my research didn’t take me into the peasant idea, I’m sorry to add. It was permaculture that blinked on to my computer screen.

Still, to this day, I have reserved bed space for a single planting of the onions and garlic I found, as I think it special for these plants to have been through all that competition for sunlight. But I have also intermingled it among the food forest and forest garden designated areas, and can attest it is tough stuff.

Think about that for a few minutes Chris. And imagine growing under the closer than is normally planted fruit trees, not arranged in a pattern, but as a polyculture, in the food forest, and somewhat in a pattern in the forest garden, are the onions and garlic, along with leeks, rhubarb, horseradish, mints, chives, asparagus, and an assortment of berry bushes, plus a few nitrogen fixing bushes and plants as support.

In the winter, I prune the trees to keep them away from each other, then drop the pruned shoots to the ground. Wild rabbits come to chew on the bark and leave behind a deposit for the trees, along with the occasional deer nipping at the bushes and lower branches of the fruit trees. Then in summer, the birds come scrounging through the pruning brush and under story for pests. Pest control and fertilizer from all their visits the summer long.

And I didn’t have to spend a dime or do a thing.

Then there is the life in the soil itself. Living, secreting, dying. Adding more fertilizer than anything else. You don’t have to imagine this Chris, growing soil fertility while growing healthy human food. Its the real deal.

Not only do I view some of this tree fruit as growing for free, but also all of the understory production. This view as compared to most people who would sooner plant an orchard of  similar trees and follow the instructions as set forth by the chemical manufacturing agri-business corporations through their agent universities.

Amazingly, since the fruit trees in my permaculture design are varying cultivars, all having different maturity dates, and along with the other bushes and plants,  my backyard harvest will span more than six months. Something to crow about seeing as though the area here is smack dab in the cold climate USDA Planting Zone 5! Again! Amazing! Without tilling, fertilizing, or spraying. The initial setup was costly and work was necessary in the setup, but now its nothing but picking in that area. Has to be something to sell at a farmers market coming out of this arrangement?

Ok, something negative. Sometimes a cultivar or variety fails to produce. Still the rest of it succeeds. And I also have the  main crop and kitchen gardens producing annual food to rely on. These do require a little more effort, like making compost to add in the beds.

I also, along with participating in a college length 72 hour Permaculture Design Course (PDC), did take an eight day Restorative Agriculture Course at Mark Shepard’s farm. Mark fits into the permaculture non-hierarchical movement seamlessly, by the way. I really like that part of permaculture, no one is telling me what to do.  Anyway, I’m here to witness Mark has a farm that has very low inputs and produces a lot of calories in the process. This is one, if not the feature arrangement of the farming future, period.

Along with many other insights gained from the Restorative Agriculture experience, one of the standout insights applies here concerning inputs and outputs: Not quite Mark’s words but close enough: Harvesting $300 produce, like asparagus, apples, hazelnuts, or whatever, from a permaculture designed arrangement similar to what I have described in my backyard, and wholesaling it to a coop, or some such other entity,  will put close to $300 in your pocket. This is far less work and maybe more profitable than tilling, planting, fertilizing, spraying, before harvesting $10,000  worth of produce – which most market gardeners attain by having to sit at the market selling the products, and maybe not selling it all – at the end subtracting the $9500 in costs. That doesn’t work out too well in my opinion.

But I guess this arrangement could employ a lot of peasants.

And I think this description is the difference between being a peasant laboring under the sun in the dirt, from a permaculture practitioner, sitting under the fruit trees watching the kids swim in the pond.

Oh yeah, then there is aquaculture! Mollison real nails it when he integrates aquaculture into a permaculture design (its in the manual).


Here is a link to my Youtube account.I have uploaded segments of my backyard permaculture progress:



The End of Wonderland

The revenge of the moment hid the pain of what this man thought to be a broken kneecap. The sense of urgency, and of actually having an emotion this strong, was an overwhelming experience. Still, he needed to catch his breath. Looking over the attack, the whole troup was of one mind, slipping, stumbling over the rocks, of what used to be a mix of river and ocean water. They pressed on in silence. This man turned forward driven to complete the mission, as taught to him in his past military experience. The island was close now, as to obscure the receeding ocean behind it.

That was just about the time the shooting started.

“Daddy, why is there so many guns being shot”? Alice, with her innocent teen voice pleaded to know. “There is nothing to worry about Alice, the island is well fortified. We have trained for attacks from the mainland”.  Said Hank. a former official of a large financial institution, before the drought took out the economy. He had planned well, but the idea of a receeding ocean never occurred to him. Those damned scientists had most on the island convinced the oceans would be rising, he thought as anger bulged his neck.

Well, you can’t know everything as he was fond of saying when confronted with surprises.

Men were dropping all around this man as the troupe scrambed through brick and block fortifications along the edges of the island. The adrenaline took over his body and mind now, and he could barely think to know if his aim had hit the marks. Then with suddeness, there was nothing to meet the advance. This man lept into the second layer of fortifications with the movements of a wild animal. His bunk mate Curly somehow had also made it through the firestorm of bullets, their eyes locked just as more shots rang out, lead ricocheting up off the dried-out compacted dirt before them.

“We are going to die Daddy”! Alice shreaked when confronted by the sight of two raggedty-dressed men as they hopped over the wall. Hank didn’t say a word, but lined up the sights of the fully loaded AK 47 auto rifle towards the intruders, and squeezed off a dozen rounds in their direction.

Rattatatatatatat! The closeness of the noise was shocking to Alice. Her shoulders began to heave with despair. “I think I stopped them”  Hank whispered. ” Oh Alice, we are going to be ok. Oh Alice, you are such a beautiful daughter, I will protect you. We’ll get through this and life will be much better”.  A too often repeated promise of late, Hank thought.

This man layed out, sliding his rifle forward, he nestled the barrel into a cracked brick and began to scan the forward position. He intensly studied the building, ranging the rifle sites from one opening to the next. There. A movement flickered in the morning sunlight. He studied intently, drawing in a huge breath of searing air, he relaxed his grip on the gun and slowly squeezed the trigger. At the report of the gun, this man slumped his head into a fast forming pool of blood.

” Daddy”! Oh Daddy”! Alice rolled over through the dust and clutched the lifeless body of her father. Her screams becoming even more frantic, as a lone intruder scrambled through the opening her father had manned…

Hours later, the island being cleared of the financial scum that wrecked the Earth, Curly had one more obligation in paying respects to his bunk mate.

Curly prayed a long time crouched over the body of his friend, thin muscles impervious to the cramping pain. “I don’t know how you did it, but your shot killed him dead, even as you died from his”. Curly bowed his head, “A just reward for you my friend, I pray your mist seeks the heaven in atmosphere, Amen”.

Then as he finished covering over his friends body, Curly bowed and sifted one last handful of dust through his fingers . “May there be enough protien left in your body to compost this dust into living soil”. Curly started along his way, turned back, and with spoken retort, “I’ve had enough of killing”, talking to his friend as though he were yet alive. “I’ve heard there were chestnut seedlings that have lived beyond a year up in Maine, I’m heading there to guard ’em”.

Only with the declaration did this man’s livened soul mist up into heaven.

Hopi Blue corn – garden to plate

The backyard, and I do mean this city backyard where I reside, is now being transformed into a Permaculture setting. Food producing trees and bushes have been planted, and fences erected to protect luscious annual crops from sharp animal teeth.

One particular fenced area, one foot deep holes were dug, and different natural fertilizer mixtures including fish (as in the traditional three sisters method), compost, and aged sheep manure, were shoveled into the seven staggered holes, with the topsoil heaped over the top. This in preparation for the Hopi Blue corn seed, with sisters Rattlesnake Pole beans and various types of watermelon.


Picture shows holes filled with natural fertilizer. The hills were planted with five corn seed, and surrounded with bean seeds, with the watermelon planted along the edges.


Although June was a cool month, here in USDA Planting Zone 5 Wisconsin, the corn and beans were off to a terrific start! Then came the hail. A fantastic looking front came bearing down from the Niagra Escarpment west, and the monster tall wall thunderheads let loose 4+ minutes of hail, the largest the size of golf balls. All of the plants were pommeled. The plants that were cut off at ground level didn’t make it.


But the rest of them grew out new leaves, as this mid-August above picture highlights.


Late Septmeber I harvested the corn by cutting the stalk at ground level, leaving the roots in the ground to decompose. Planning to compost the stalks for its nitrogen and biomass content.


One of the stalks glowed dark red!


The hills with multiple fish produced the most ears!


After a few months of drying in the shed, the cobs were packed into a cardboard box in wait for a cold winter day. Last week was that day, when I hand shelled the corn from the cobs.


The first setting for the full kernals was tested to allow for an easy grind, as I had plans to regrind the corn until it became a semi-fine flour.


Second grind was adjusted tighter, but left loose enough for an easy turn.


Tightened the mill down for a third hard turn, but the reward was nearly two gallons of beautiful blue corn meal!


Mixed 1.5 cups each of corn meal and standard organic flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and baking power, then mixed. In a separate bowl mixed 1 cup each of honey and buttermilk, and 2 eggs whipped to a lather. The picture above shows all the ingrediants thoroughly mixed.


After filling the cups, 1 teaspoon of olive oil was poured on the top of the mixture, over each muffin. Placed in the oven at 400 degrees for 3o minutes,  baked. Golden brown on top, the center poked with a fork to determine its condition, removing a clean fork indicating well done!


The blue color of the kernals stood out, the flavor held in high regard. Video of the entire process can be found here:  (more…)