If you wish to build a sustainable homestead then it is critical that you know how to control soil erosion in all its forms. Just a quick recap if you didn't read my last post soil erosion is caused by wind and water moving the soil from one place to another. It will depend on your location and management practices which type of erosion is more devastating to your land.
Soil erosion is the enemy of anyone who works with soil. It is a constant battle against the elements in a effort to save and improve the precious resource that is soil. The primary erosive forces that occur in nature are wind and water and they effect soil in different and subtle ways.
So in my last few posts I have been covering various topics in soils. From the basic structure of soils to soil pH there is much you need to know about soils in order to successfully manage them in a sustainable fashion. Without soil humans could not exist on this planet at all, it forms the base on which we grow our food, build our homes, and live out our lives. But soil is not something that forms overnight. It takes anywhere from thousands to millions of years to build even one inch of soil so it is not a resource that should be wasted or mismanaged.
There are 5 factors that contribute soil formation that take place in the natural world,
There are many methods and tools out there for figuring out what your soil it made of. They can range from very cheap to omg expensive and unless you have a big bankroll you will want to stay away from a lot of them.
One of the most common things you will want to know about your soil is what is it made of. All soil is made of a combination of sands, silts and clay's in various percentages. What those percentages are is critical for determining a lot of what you do on your land.
There are a few ways you can test to figure out what soil components your soil has. There is the soil texture triangle like I talked about in my last post or you can also use progressively smaller screens to separate the soil into its component parts.
The method I want to talk about today is the jar method. To do this you need a large jar like one of those gallon size pickle jars, a decent sample of your soil and water.
Take your glass jar and fill it about 1/3 full of soil. Make sure the soil you use is a representative sample of the area you are testing. The add enough water to fill the jar about 2/3 full. Shake the jar until all the soil is completely mixed and suspended into the water.
Then leave the jar to sit for at least 24 hours or longer if needed to get clear water at the top of the jar.
Once all the particles of soil have settled to the bottom of the jar you should see clear bands of different soil materials. At the bottom will be the sands then the silts and the clay's will be on top of that. By measuring how thick the bands of soil are then comparing that to the total thickness of the soil you can get a rough percentage of the soil composition.
This test can be more accurate for a novice to perform than the texture triangle as you can use simple measurements and little math to get a accurate reading.
When building a new sustainable lifestyle you will need to become well versed in topics you have never given a thought about before. One of those topics you will never know everything about even if you study it for years is soil. Soil when you dig into it (pardon the pun) is one of the most fascinating and challenging aspects of building a sustainable, environmentally friendly life. It effects the most basic parts of living, your food, water and shelter needs are directly tied to and influenced by soil.
Soil determines what food you can grow and how much of it you can grow. It will be a large factor in determining where groundwater is and how tasty that water is. It also tells you where you should and should not build a house or other structures.
So to sum up what could be a long rant, you need to know about soil in general and about the soil where you want to build a new life.
When you grow a large crop of carrots you can end up with a problem like I have. You can't possible keep all the carrots you grew in the fridge and you don't have a root cellar where you can store them either.
What does that leave you?
Soil pH is a critical aspect of soil that must be understood and managed correctly if you want to be able to create and manage a successful sustainable life. What pH your soil is determines a lot about what you can grow and where you can grow it as soil pH can very from plot to plot.
To kick off my new series the Science of Sustainability I have decided to start with a topic that is near and dear to me.
Soil is not dirt, I just want to make that clear right from the the start. Dirt is what happens when soil is no longer doing what it is suppose to do. Soil can be defined as a mixture of minerals, organic matter, water and air that together form a matrix that supports life. Without a decent soil, building a truly sustainable life for yourself is impossible. If you can't grow food, support livestock and otherwise sustainable use the soil you will have nothing that can provide you the basics of what you need. To truly understand soil you have to understand its components and how they work together to create this life giving substance
Now you probably have heard of bio-diesel made from soybeans, but you may have not heard of algae bio-diesel. A relatively new player in the bio-fuels games it promises by far to be the best option for weening us off of fossil fuels.
What is algae?
Algae is a group of single and multi-celled organisms that number over 100,000 species ranging from the microscopic to massive species of kelp in the oceans. Algae is composed of over half lipid oils by weight which when processed correctly can be a clean burning and more efficient bio-diesel than petroleum diesel. Under optimal conditions you can grow a almost unlimited quantity of algae that only needs water, sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce a amazing amount of the natural oils needed to produce biodiesel.
Companion planting has a long and documented history. While there has yet to be any serious scientific research into whether companion planting actual works the anecdotal evidence is intriguing. There are as many companion planting combinations as there are garden plants so the choices can be daunting. I wanted to narrow it down a little bit by talking about cucumber and what companions are suitable for them.
Trellis- "a frame of latticework used as a screen or as a support for climbing plants"
What a dry definition for a wonderful tool in the gardeners toolbag. There is so many ways you can utilize a trellis in the garden as just a simple support for plants or as a frame work for building a beautiful landscaped area using living plants and flowers. Now I do not claim to be a expert in any sense of the word about trellising plants and what you can do with it. In fact this is the first summer I have every tried to trellis anything other than putting cages around tomatoes.
You either love em or hate em.
Two Pictures to Help You Appreciate Earth Sheltering Techniques
So on this nice hot day I came home to find out again just how much I love the fact that I live in a basement apartment. While it is not the ideal home that I will have one day in the far distant future it has two redeeming features.
-The fact that it is 3/4 underground
If you have never heard of earth sheltered homes that's ok, it occupies a curious hole in the knowledge base of many people in this country. In the United States we have grown accustomed to a system of home building that has giving us suburbia, urban sprawl, an astonishing amount of trash and or course the lovely utility bill. Many people are convinced that this is the only way to build and live in the modern world. Well luckily for us that is just not the case if you are willing to think outside the box (pardon the cliche) and to dig a little deeper (whoops did it again) into the idea of earth sheltered home.
If you want to learn more right this minute on the merits of earth sheltered homes please read on as I pull a few diamonds out of the rough ( I really have to stop I'm sorry) and present them for your consideration.
I came across this book at my local library and it immediately captured my attention with its intriguing title The Hand-Sculpted House
Hand Sculpted House...?
Since food has been my focus these past few months as I geared up for planting season I thought it was about time that I presented what I thought are three excellent food and agriculture documentaries that really bring to light what food is really about in the modern age. While these three only cover a smattering of what is out there they do provide a cross section that I feel is relevant and important.
If you want to learn more about food and agriculture as it is today what I have here in this post would be a excellent start to your journey. But what can be found here is but the tip of the iceberg and I will caution that some of the assertions made in the documentaries must be approached with a open mind and a grain of salt.
If you live in the Midwest like I do you you are familiar with a little thing called wind. Wind is what defines many aspects about our lives. It effects where we build homes, if we plant trees, gardens, snow management, what we drive and the list goes on and on. Someone who is not from the plains states may have a hard time understanding just how much wind impacts our lives. Sometime in the dead of winter with the wind howling along at 40 miles and hour with snow and ice flying through the air it sometime seems like the wind has it out for you.
Recent dental troubles have gotten me thinking about what I could have been doing more to help out my teeth and gums over the past few years. The obvious things come to mind first, brushing flossing mouthwash, regular dentist cleanings, etc. But I wanted to find out beyond that what I could have done and be doing from this point on. Since food is my primary focus right now with the spring planting season coming I wanted to know more about what types of food would be good for my teeth.
I find that there is a lot of confusion out there to what does it mean to eat sustainably. For some people it means going organic. Going organic is a good step towards eating sustainably since it does support a environmental sensitive approach to farming that seeks to protect and improve the soil and the land. But eating sustainably is not just eating food that was grown or raised in a responsible manner there is also the concepts of embodied energy and food miles to consider.
Urban Agriculture is the practice and the fast growing phenomenon of growing food in city settings. This is done through community gardens, utilizing vacant lots, balcony gardens, back yards and for those willing to deal with the scrutiny of there neighbors their front yards. Urban agriculture despite all the hype that it is receiving today is actually not a new phenomenon. Here in the US it has cropped up several times in the past couple centuries. One of the most notable occasions was during WW2 when people were urged to plant Victory Gardens. These gardens supplied more than half of all vegetables eaten during war years. This production right at people homes in cities led to supplies being freed up for the war effort. Growing good food in the city is not as difficult as some people might think. There are many things about cities that make growing food in them easier and more enjoyable than growing it in the country.
Hello my name is Josh Larson and I am the creator of the Green Living Library. Here on the blog you will find updates to content found in the Green Living Library as well as stories from those living the sustainable life already.