New School Indoor and Old School Outdoor Hydroponics

New School Indoor Hydroponics

I got a invite to support a “new venture” from Kickstarter the other day, Windowfarms, Vertical Food Gardens. They are a little high tech from a permaculture point of view but I think the idea of indoor hydroponics is worth additional consideration, especially as a way to grow food indoors for urban dwellers.

  • It provides food supply redundancy for the city dweller.
  • It uses heat and light already available indoors.
  • It obtains a food yield.
  • It makes use of the window “microclimate”.

If only the pump were solar powered and the nutrient pack was some combination of compost and worm tea……

Windowfarms DIY

While looking for a picture to add this post, I stumbled on this post at the Cheap Vegetable Gardener  from which I learned that the Windowfarms concept  started as a DIY and is an open source community continually improving the system design  and focusing on using recycled materials.   Now this looks more like where I want to go (though I’m still looking for a solar powered pump).

Chinampas, Old School Hydroponics

On another note, looking at my PDC course notes this morning (before heading out for Thanksgiving activities)  I also read about the Chinampas, the floating gardens of Mexico.  Although these do not exist as once did, here’s a more permaculture approach to hydroponics from back in the day.

“Abbe Francesco Clavigero describes the true floating gardens as follows: “They plait and twist Willows and roots of many plants, or other materials, together, which are light, but capable of supporting the earth of the garden firmly united. Upon this foundation they lay the light bushes which float on the lake, and over all the mud and dirt which they draw from the bottom of the same lake.”
The common form was a quadrangle, and the average size about fifteen by forty feet, although some of the largest were a hundred feet in extent. Many of the latter contained a small hut, in which the cultivator sometimes lmed; one or more trees were also growing in the centre of these largest plots. The earth used was extremely rich, and this being kept in a moist state by its proximity to the water (the elevation above it being not over a foot), the gardens were productive of the choicest vegetables and flowers, including also Maize.
The gardens of the present day are very different affairs. They do not float, but, on the contrary, are composed of strips of solid ground, usually about fifteen by thirty feet in extent, although some are larger. These plots are intersected by small canals, through which visitors are propelled in canoes. They are constructed by heaping up the earth about two feet above the water…..”

Charles H. Coe, Garden and Forest 8, [1895] :432-433


Permaculture for the People

Photo: Angela Angel, Permaculture for the People

While looking for photos for this blog which had  black, brown or yellow people in them, I stumbled across this PDC,   Permaculture for People  presented by the Movement Generation

The permaculture principles that they use are:

  • Start by Listening: Observe my environment and people before beginning anything
  • Make the Most of it: The way I do anything is the way I’ll do everything
  • What’s the Problem? How can I turn problems into solutions
  • Use What I Have: Play to my strengths
  • Return It: What ever I get – give something back
  • Maximize it: One element can have many functions
  • Diversify: The most efficient systems are the most diverse ones
  • Plan It: Planning for the long-term maximizes results
  • Brains not Brawn: Work smarter not harder (with nature not against it).

This is a group I want to keep on my radar screen. I particularly like Movement Generation’s curriculum tools which link to lesson plans for several workshops they have presented.  All of them seem consistent with Permaculture Principles and are great teaching resources  particularly for those working with youth and coming from a social justice standpoint.

Have you seen any other versions of the principles of permaculture geared toward an urban context?

Unable to See the Way Forward

I know I’m been a little off my writing schedule for the last week or so , but I’m a bit stuck. Not blocked but stuck.  Over the past few months I’ve done a ton of reading about permaculture with a good bit about peak oil, the long descent and transition as well. but now I’m stopped.

Putting this all together is difficult

The first thing that is getting me stuck is trying to connect all of this knowledge swirling around in my head into one big picture though this seems to be least of my issues.

Incorporating this into an existing suburban dwelling is difficult

The second thing that is getting me stuck is trying to incorporate all f this into my existing house.  Maybe I’m a perfectionist but it is awfully difficult to come up with permaculture solutions in an existing suburban house in an existing suburban neighborhood designed for unlimited fossil fuel use. Ideal solutions would be  low priced, reasonably priced or higher priced but with a high energy payback.  I can make some decent improvements but it’s difficult to see the path to a breakthrough.

I feel like I need to move to another place but neighborhoods that are  “locally” self-sufficient are scarce. There really doesn’t seem to be a lot of “better” out there from a neighborhood context. I feel like I need to move to another smaller house but it’s awfully hard to sell a house in  the current real estate market.  I feel like I need to build a house but how is using more energy to build a new structure consistent with permaculture when there are so many existing buildings already out there?

Getting beyond the garden is difficult

Lastly I’m getting stuck around permaculture beyond the garden. It seems that ( and trust me this is not backed up by any scientific research) that permaculture information focuses 90% of their efforts on the garden. The 10% that is not garden seems to be individual projects, without a core philosophy backing them.

(Generalizing here) When you are living on a large plot of land if  you can meet your needs for energy and cooling, you can pretty much stay on the land most of the time, minimizing your needs for travel and use of fuel. You can have a well on your own land and become self-sufficient in water, recycling gray water. Your solid organic wastes can be composted. If you reduce your other purchases and stay pretty close to home, you can achieve  a very balanced lifestyle.

These strategies are less workable in the urban/suburban context. We have so little land to work with, the garden becomes less important.  Transportation and travel become much more important. Also neighborhood sharing and community building become much more important.   This seems difficult when you don’t have like-minded neighbors.

Unable to See the Way Forward

Last week I read Dave Pollard post entitled The Second Denial on How to Save the World.  I remember distinctly the first time I lost someone very dear to me, how I couldn’t see  a future for a long time. This person was so much a  part of my future that all of my visions of the future included them; I just couldn’t imagine a future without them in it. I remember looking at the 5 stages of grief model and wondering, was this depression? I was stuck then. I sort of feel like that now.  I wonder if others are not in denial; if rather they are stuck , not able to see their way to a post oil or sustainable or whatever you want to call it, future.

New Uses for Urban Roofs

rooftop beekeeing

Arvin Pierce places honeybees into one of the rooftop hives

Following the permaculture precept that each element should have many functions, see this article from Building Sustainable Lifestyles, Your Home’s Most Underused Resource, the Roof  showing new uses for the urban roof. I particularly like the bee keeping idea and the gardens made in re-used kiddie pools.  Come to think of it, you could probably start a lasagna garden and create a compost pile in a kiddie pool too.