Paul Wheaton: Building A Better World In Your Backyard
The data is clear: humans are overtaxing the world’s ecosystems at an accelerating rate.
How can society wean itself away from its business-as-usual practices of natural resource extraction and depletion? What steps can we take to be agents of positive, regenerative change?
Paul Wheaton, proprietor of the websites Richsoil.com and Permies.com, has just published a Kickstarter-funded book replete with solutions that most of us can start implementing today. It’s titled: Building A Better World In Your Backyard (Instead Of Being Angry At Bad Guys)
In this week’s podcast, Paul provides a romp through a wide swath of the insights within his book, from rocket mass heaters to going ‘poo-less’ to hugelkultur — with a large side helping of his infectious humour.
His main point is that there is a TON each of us can do to reduce our impact on nature while boosting our quality of life, while having fun along the way.
There was a woman here recently who said, “Well, I want to be part of the community, but I can’t afford buying the land and getting started.” And so, then I said, “Well, but you can consider PEP.”
PEP stands for “Permaculture Experience according to Paul”. That would be me. I came up with the idea like four years ago. We’ve been fleshing it out, and now there’s a whole bunch of people that are getting certified for some of the smaller things and are working their way up. So, we’re just getting started on this.
Basically, the core of PEP is that there are these old people all over America–millions of them–sitting on 200 acres or more–and oftentimes, they have two houses on the property, they’ve got a damn fine truck and a damn fine tractor, and they’ve got like $90 to $100 grand in the bank, and they want to will it all to somebody. But they just need to have somebody worthy to will it to.
We’re trying to set up a program that’s totally free, so that way, you can build new experiences that would impress such a person into willing over these assets. You might think, “No one’s going to do that,” and it’s like, “Oh yeah, they will.” They hate their kids because their kids are going to just sell the land and pocket the money. But they think, “I put my life into this land, I want to see it continue on into the future being something farmesque. I don’t want my kids to just liquidate it. I want to see it move forward after I’m gone.” They so desperately want to find somebody who will continue caring for the land.
Let’s say there’s an 18-year-old and they’re contemplating going into college. How much debt do you take on to go to a public school these days? Something like $80 grand? It’s crazy. It’s like 10 or 20 times more than when I went to college.
Basically, they want to saddle you with $80 grand worth of debt. And then you’re stuck in the rat race. It takes 23 years on average to pay up your student loan. That’s amazing. Twenty-three years! When you’re 18 and you decide to go to college, then your commitment is greater than your lifespan to-date.
All right, so then what happens? Well for many, when you graduate, it turns out that you picked the wrong degree and no one wants to hire you–unless you get an MBA. But that’s two more years in school and a bigger ticket, too. But also, an MBA, that’s boring, man. That’s hard. You’ve got to stay awake in those classes.
Anyway, the key is like, alright, you’re 18 years old, you’ve added 23 years to that, now, you’ve got to finish paying off your house, and your car, and all these other debts you’ve accumulated–maybe you’ve got another ten years on that. So, what does that make you? If you add all that up, you’re 50-something years old. Now, you start looking at retirement. And what are you going to do when you retire? Maybe what you want to do is to get 200 acres with a house or two on it, et cetera, and retire living the permaculture lifestyle.
How about a shortcut? How about if you skip all that other stuff, you get PEP-board certified, it takes three years, and then you inherit 200 acres of land complete with the trucks and tractors, and whatever else–and a bit of coin–and you go right into the permaculture lifestyle? Ta-da!
Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Paul Wheaton (86m:05s).
Listen to the AudioRead the Full Transcript!
Paul Wheaton: Building A Better World In Your Backyard
The following is a transcript of recorded content. Please note, these transcripts are not always perfect and may contain typos. If you notice any major mistakes, please feel free to report them by opening a Technical Support ticket under the Help menu at the top of the screen.
Chris Martenson: Welcome, everyone, to this Featured Voices podcast brought to you by PeakProsperity.com. I am your host Chris Martenson, and it is July 23, 2019.
The data is clear. The world. is headed for trouble–and especially the natural world. Humans are overdoing it and the ecological stresses are clearly mounting. And the data is equally clear: people are tired of hearing that and they want to know what they can do. So, how can we wean ourselves from a system from extraction and depletion? What steps can we take to be agents of positive change?
Well, here’s the good news: there are lots of things you can be doing. Heck, I’ll go further: there are a lot of things you should be doing… there I go straying into the judgmental territory. But it’s absolutely true: if you can do better, why wouldn’t you at this day and age?
Well, today’s guest has made it his life’s mission to dodge the blame game and land firmly on the solution side of the conversation. Paul Wheaton explores, experiments, implements, tests, re-implements, and then teaches and shares practical solutions to millions of people who both want to and are ready to be agents of positive change. Paul is a contemporary permaculture theorist, a master gardener, software engineer, and disciple of natural agriculturalist, Sepp Holzer. He operates the website Richsoil.com and also Permies.com. You can also find him on YouTube where you can find videos on topics like super-efficient rocket mass heaters and maybe respectful chicken harvesting.
Now, a lot of you have been asking to have Paul on the program, and here he is. Paul, welcome to the program.
Paul Wheaton: Hi, Chris, I’m glad to be here. I’m always glad to infect brains with gobbledygook.
Chris Martenson: Well, let’s start big then. In your view, if humans stay on the current trajectory of prioritizing economic grown over ecological health and diversity, what lies at the end of that road?
Paul Wheaton: I don’t know. I’m glad we’re having this chat. [Laughter] I think that it looks scary, I’m worried about a lot of things, I do think, though, that when you start talking about bad people being bad. But if you live in a city, you better really keep an eye on that, and you better get a hyper-focus on what the politicians are doing, because one bad step and you could find yourself dying of starvation.
And so, it’s critically important to pay attention to that. But of course, if you’re living the permaculture dream out in rural areas, all that stuff really doesn’t matter very much–I mean, it still matters, but it’s like it’s kind of small and far away. You’ve got your own home that’s paid for, you’ve got a large garden, you go to town maybe only once a month to change the scenery, maybe, or something like that. But all those problems are very small and far away.
So, when we talk about like, what are the big issues, there are–there are a lot of extremely serious issues. I love the guy who said something to me about that whole thing about preparing for the zombie apocalypse is really silly. And he pointed out like, if you prepare for the zombie apocalypse, even though that’s funny and silly, you’re actually preparing for all of the other things that are yet to come. And so, it’s a little more fun to fun to prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse than say, total currency drop, or nuclear annihilation, or something like that.
Chris Martenson: Well, I’m absolutely agnostic as to the why somebody does something. So, I had an experience a while back; I was planting, I think, fruit trees. I’m doing it because I’m worried about food security and I actually like higher nutrition, and so I’m planting fruit trees. So, this is really in my becoming-resilient arc. And a neighbor, an old guy, comes over, and he’s asking what I’m up to, and I told him I’m planting fruit trees, and he happened to really like the apple blossoms that were growing up. So, he planted some for different reasons. It didn’t matter at all to me that he shared my particular concerns, but it did matter that he was taking action.
Paul Wheaton: True. True. And for a lot of the things that… hey, I wrote a book. [Chuckles] But the thing is a whole of our problems is, “Plant more trees.” It’s amazing how that just kind of fixes everything–you just plant more trees, it’ll solve everything.
And then, of course, take a lot of the trees that we have now that are undesirable trees, and rather than setting them on fire or something like that, “Hey, here’s a thought: let’s build some things out of them or make a large stack, or let’s bury it… let’s do something useful with this that keeps that carbon around.”
Now, where are you on carbon footprint?
Chris Martenson: Not that good, if you look at the amount of trash that goes out at the end of my driveway, or that I still drive around–I’ve got a hybrid. But honestly, I’m a United States citizen, so in the scheme of the world, I’m way up the bad end of scale–and there’s not a lot I can do about it, to be honest, because of the culture I live in. Some of it is structural.
Paul Wheaton: Dude, I want to make it so much easier–you’re going to be so happy when we’re done here. Because you already said to me that you planted an apple tree, right?
Chris Martenson: Uh-huh.
Paul Wheaton: Now, first of all, you’re saying like, “Okay, well, I’m only driving a hybrid, I’m not driving a Tesla,” I think I heard you say that.
Chris Martenson: Well, I’m not driving a bike around, for my daily use.
Paul Wheaton: Or a bike. Sure. Sure. But I think a big part of my book is about how do you have a more luxuriant life, while simultaneously addressing these things rather directly? So, first, let’s get the real numbers out. So, your carbon footprint. The average carbon footprint of an American adult is 30 tons/year, and that’s their personal footprint that they’re doing directly and their indirect footprint–which includes all of industry, because we’ve got to take ownership for that. Now, what we can do is go out and be angry at those guys, “Hey, you guys are screwing everything up,” wag your fist to people, and volunteer for dysfunctional organizations, and there’s all kinds of things you can do.
But if we just take ownership of it, like, “Okay, we’re at 30 tons, that’s what we’ve got to beat, that’s what we’ve got to correct.” If you switch to bicycle-only or if you switch from a standard American gas-guzzling car–and I shouldn’t say “gas-guzzling” because the average American car to a Tesla that reduces your carbon footprint by 2 tons/year. Now are you in a cold climate or a warm climate?
Chris Martenson: Massachusetts. Kind of cold.
Paul Wheaton: Kind of cold. Okay. So, now, what kind of heat do you have in your home right now?
Chris Martenson: Well, a good question. It’s all oil furnace at this point in time–New England residual, and I put solar hot water on this past spring, which reduces my oil footprint by about a third.
Paul Wheaton: Okay, alright. I want to talk about solar hot water in a minute and talk about legionella bacteria, but let’s set that aside, that’s another discussion for another day, perhaps.
But the big thing is that… let me pretend for a moment–why don’t we start with saying. if a person has electric heat–which hardly anybody has–but a third of the United States uses electric heat. But if you switch from electric heat to a rocket mass heater–which you mentioned at the beginning of the show, you will reduce your carbon footprint by, I believe it’s 27 tons.
Chris Martenson: Whoa, that’s a good place to start.
Paul Wheaton: So, if you switch from your current vehicle to a Tesla, that reduces your carbon footprint by 2 tons. But if you park the car completely and just didn’t go anywhere, that would reduce your carbon footprint by 4 tons. So, basically, switching from electric heat to a rocket mass heater would reduce your carbon footprint as much as parking seven cars or switching, I guess, 14 cars over from gasoline vehicles over to Teslas.
So, I’m realizing now that I’m saying Tesla like it’s the Kleenex of electric cars, I guess–which is probably is the electric vehicle, which by the way they’re lovely. Have you ever been in an electric vehicle?
Chris Martenson: I have. I’ve been in a couple of Teslas a long time ago, back when they were–before they were–
Paul Wheaton: Very quiet, very nice… I heartily wish to encourage everybody to explore this path, it’s definitely a move in the right direction. But I can do so much more. And it’s like electric vehicles are kind of expensive. And I want to paint a picture of a life that’s so luxuriant and so wonderful that you just end up not using your vehicle very often. And so, even if it’s a vehicle that doesn’t get particularly great mileage, you end up using it so rarely that you’ve actually making less of a carbon footprint than if you switch to a Tesla and continue living your old lifestyle.
Chris Martenson: Well, this is good. And part of what I’m really interested in are things that can be done at scale by average people. Because, look, half of households–median households in the United States–can’t scrape together 500 bucks. So, a $60,000 Tesla is probably out of reach. So, as much as I’m a fan of electrifying things, I’d actually rather electrify subway trains, things like that first–maybe buses–as a choice, but it’s not up to me always. But what can the average person do? You’ve mentioned–we’ve both mentioned this thing called the rocket mass heater, let’s decode that. I bet not everybody knows what those words mean in that combination.
Paul Wheaton: So, this is going to be something that uses wood. Now, of course, a lot of people are going to shun wood heat because of the smoke, but this is something where the design of it uses the smoke as a fuel, and so what comes out of the exhaust is generally steam and CO2, and so it’s kind of like… it’s very clean; the total pollution might be similar to burning a candle. And it is vented outside, and so…
But you generally–if you were to compare it to a conventional wood stove, you would heat your home with one-tenth of the wood, and it would probably put out like one-hundredth to one-thousandth of the smoke. You can heat your home–I live in Montana, probably a little colder than where you are. I heated my home a couple of years ago–we measured it very carefully. It’s a three-bedroom house–I heated it–and it’s not a particularly well-insulated house, it’s… let’s just call it a standard-issue house–with 0.606 cords of wood.
And so, to give you an idea, if you had a box that was 4 ft³, so 4 ft. X 4 ft. X 4 ft., and I just threw the bits of wood that fell off of trees in my yard into this box this summer, I could use that box with heating, that would be the amount that I would use to heat my home through the winter–and this is not like, “Oh, I’m heating it to just something barely tolerable by polar bears or something like that,” this is keeping it around an average of 69°. So, when you get it up like 72 during the day, and two days later, it would be down to 66, and so we would build another fire.
Chris Martenson: So, let’s talk about–so this rocket mass heater, so there’s mass involved, and there’s an efficient combustion process, because you said basically, there’s no smoke. So, we’re burning everything that can be burned. But how is it so much more efficient than a standard wood stove?
Paul Wheaton: That is like the best possible question. Because when you go to the woodstove store, it’s like, “Oh, look at these wood stoves. They say they’re 75 percent efficient.” Well, when they say they’re 75 percent efficient, the government allows them a 16 percent to add on to what goes up the chimney. So, actually only 59 percent efficient. And then on top of that, 59 percent efficient was the best they could get in the lab that did the testing; so, they would have performed like a dozen different tests using kiln-dried wood and special conditions to give that very good, good number.
But the thing is when you bring it home, you’re probably operating it at 30 percent efficiency or less–and at night, the way most people throw big logs into the fire and turn the dampers down, they’re probably operating it at 5 percent or less efficiency. Thus giving us a lot of room for expansion.
A rocket mass heater generally runs at 93 percent efficient, but even more than that, while the exhaust of a conventional wood stove, the smoke that goes out the chimney is going to be–is legally required to be 350 to 600°, that’s a lot of heat going outside. Whereas the rocket mass heater, the exhaust temperature is somewhere between 70 and 140°; we’re keeping a lot more heat indoors. So, we burn more efficiently and we keep a lot more heat indoors, and we have a mass. And the mass makes it so that–because, with a conventional wood stove, a lot of people have to get up in the middle of the night to stoke the fire. So, they’re sleeping and then they wake up at 2 am because it’s gotten so cold–and if they don’t get up, the pipes in the house would freeze. So, they have to do that.
Whereas with the rocket mass heater, the mass was warmed up, and the mass slowly radiates heat back out, and so usually, you go to bed and it’s 72 and you wake up and it’s 69. So, it keeps putting heat out throughout the day. Now, we could get it even more efficient if the house is far more insulated, or there’s passive solar, or if you’ve got a structure that happens to use _____ [00:15:14].
Chris Martenson: We’re going to get to that topic in just a second, but first, let’s talk about the complete deal-breaker: zoning, permits, local people in inspection boards who have no clue what “rocket mass heater” means when you put those three works together. What have you found there?
Paul Wheaton: Good news and better news. So, the good news is that I think reading an article recently, and 70 different boards now recognize rocket mass heaters. And I’ve heard from at least three different insurance companies that recognized rocket mass heater. So, there’s progress in that space. I’ve also heard of people that are doing it without permission, and more power to those people for having that kind of courage. Where I live, it’s not a problem, there are few places in the United States where it’s not an issue, you can do whatever the hell you want–at least so far–I mean, that could change, right.
And the better news is that we’re seeing a lot of people, there’s been so much more demand that the regulators are now catching up to the demand. So, we’re seeing hundreds of thousands–we might be a point now where it’s beyond a million people that have put in a rocket mass heater. I mean, think about it: right now, you’ve got a listener that’s living in a highly regulated space, and they’re just thinking like, “Okay, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to go ahead and do this, because I can save $2000 a year on my heat costs.” And it’s like just the idea of saving the money is worthwhile to them. So, they make the leap.
And so, it’s possible that that could end up being some kind of problem down the road, but generally, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. What I’ve heard stories of is when people build it and then the regulators come, the regulators are actually quite excited about it for a bunch of reasons. And the number one reason why insurance companies and regulators are excited about it is because here is a form of heat that has almost zero chance of causing–the number reason it’s a problem, why insurance companies hate it–I mean regulators hate wood-burning things because of the smoke. And the insurance companies hate wood-burning things because of the creosote–it’ll start a chimney fire. And so, like the… you talk to somebody who works for a rural fire department and the number of times they’re called out for a chimney fire is immense.
And so, basically, one of the things the rocket mass heater is doing is domesticating the chimney fire. We try to make a chimney fire with every burn, and use that creosote effectively as fuel to heat your home, rather than burning your house down in a chimney fire.
Chris Martenson: Well, and the No. 1 cause of fires out here is people putting ashes out in a burnable paper bag or a plastic trash can on the porch–that happens all the time. What’s the cause of coal/ash situation with the rocket mass heater?
Paul Wheaton: You’re going to have extremely low coal because the fire burned extremely hot and fast. So, usually, you’re going to get your coals from a fire where you turn the dampers down. So, you put generally a large log–oftentimes a wet long on the fire to have that all-night burn in a conventional wood stove, and then turn the dampers down. But with a rocket mass heater, there are not dampers to turn down; you can’t have a slow burn. In fact, you don’t want a slow burn. I mean, a lot of times, what they’re doing is they’re doing that late at night. Like it’s ten o’clock at night and they’re getting ready to go to bed, they’re going to put a couple of big, slimy logs on the fire and turn the dampers down to get through the night with a bit of a burn.
But with a rocket mass heater, you had a fire this morning, and that fire went out hours ago, and the house is still very warm. You’re not running a fire at night, generally–I mean, you could if you wanted to, but most people don’t.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, I’m really sensitive to the idea of not wanting more wood stoves going, because here is an experience: the place I lived a few houses ago was in a little valley and there was some gentlemen–I don’t know–ten houses away, had one of those outdoor wood furnaces things that he would–I think he was burning tires–I don’t know what he was doing. But anyway, when this guy would fire up on a cold morning, he could fill the whole valley with smoke. It was amazing.
Paul Wheaton: Yeah, we’ve seen lots of places like that. Whenever you live rurally, there’s always somebody who’s got… it’s like are they burning brush? I mean that’s a lot of smoke–no, it’s coming out of their chimneys. Or you’re right, it’s one of those things that’s outside and it’s just polluting the whole county, and it’s like, “Yeah, those are not cool.”
Now, here’s the thing to keep in mind–and I don’t know about where you are, but where I am, we get forest fires–wildfires. And so, then the wood gets burned up in an inefficient way. And then when it’s not getting burned up, then people are out there–mostly the Forest Savers–and they’re trying to burn wood intentionally so it doesn’t have… so, there’s less chance of this area having a forest fire later–and they’re burning it very inefficiently. And so, it’s kind of like the great thing is, “Let’s go grab that wood before they burn it and we’ll use it for a variety of things– including heating our homes–instead of creating all this smoke which is just putting it up into the atmosphere.”
Chris Martenson: Yeah, so let’s imagine–this is the perfect situation for me: I’m sitting here, I’m in Massachusetts, I’ve got a place in the living room where I could put wood stove, but I’m sitting over–there’s a large basement underneath all that, if I just have standard 2×10 16 on center joist, would I be able to put a mass heater there on that floor–would I have to bolster that somehow? How much mass is involved?
Paul Wheaton: I think you should expect to have something on the order of 10x. And so, yeah, you’re going to need to bolster that somehow. I know that the house I’m in right now, I needed to have support underneath the house for the mass of the rocket mass heater, and that’s what we did. But when you’re talking about you have a basement, that can be managed in a lot of different ways. But it’s up to you which way you want to go about doing it. Do you want to put an extra pole there, or do you want a sister on your joist or what do you want to do? There’s many ways to go about that.
Chris Martenson: Alright. So, let’s imagine somebody is very interested–do people sell these things or are they all kind of homebuilt? How does one go about acquiring one?
Paul Wheaton: There are some people that sell the cores, but I haven’t seen any of them that I would endorse. Most of it is going to be self-built at this time; I have heard of some people that will come and build them for you, but the big resources at this time is going to be… Ernie and Erica have a book out, The Rocket Mass Heater Builder’s Guide. And so, there’s that. I also have an eight-DVD set that kind of helps to paint a picture. In fact, the main example in the builder’s guide is the same rocket mass heater that is in my single-DVD, Building a Cob Style Rocket Mass Heater. So, that’s a little… it’s a little cheap quick thing there.
Chris Martenson: Well, that sounds excellent. And at the end of this program, we’ll get to all the ways people can access all these materials, including a DVD set. So, carbon is one thing people could worry about; it sounds like taking care of the heating is one of the largest single things you could do for a household. But now, let’s imagine city dwellers that don’t know what to do if they have no access to land–but for everybody else, whether they live rural or suburban, what are some of the next things they might begin to do if they’re concerned with say, I don’t know, biodiversity or eating more healthily?
Paul Wheaton: Oh, now… so, the minute you say that, I’m thinking about gardening, because you limit based on how much space they have–how much space do they have?
Chris Martenson: Well, I’m really interested in what a half-acre solution might look like, because I think that would apply to the most people; but, if we wanted to then say what you would do with five acres, that would be a separate conversation.
Paul Wheaton: That’s true. That’s true. So, let’s start with the half-acre. I mean, basically, throughout this book, we focus most on carbon footprint, petroleum footprints, and toxic footprints.
Chris Martenson: And that book, by the way, is Building a Better World in Your Backyard.
Paul Wheaton: Yes. Instead of Being Angry at Bad Guys.
Chris Martenson: Yes, I love that part.
Paul Wheaton: I mean go ahead: be angry at bad guys all you want. But let’s provide the other part too.
Chris Martenson: Alright. It’s both.
Paul Wheaton: And the big part of the book started with… Al Gore came out with that movie, An Inconvenient Truth, and then a year later, Derrick Jensen wrote a book called As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial. And basically, one of the things he points out in that book is to talk about like… if you did everything Al Gore suggests you–like if everybody–everybody in the United States–does every Al Gore suggests: we have cut our carbon footprint by 22 percent, but we need to cut it at least 75 percent if we’re going to stop global warming.
And the next thing is like, okay, everybody has done everything, so that cuts it 22 percent, but we add two percent every year. So, in 11 years, it’s a loss. And so, my philosophy is that the recipe that Al Gore provided was really weak–and of course, Derrick Jensen, he goes off on a whole other direction.
Chris Martenson: It gets a little dark with Derrick, but yes.
Paul Wheaton: Yeah, so, that’s not my style. And so, I want to come up with a much better recipe, and so I want to make it so that if 10 percent of the people did it, that we can have a 200 percent solution. And so, that’s what the book is about. Let’s have much better solutions.
Now, it turns out that when it comes to petroleum footprint, more than half of your footprint–if you include industry–is your food. And with food–if you look at carbon footprint, it’s about 35 percent, and so it’s kind of alright. And of course, with toxicity, it’s about 70 percent is in your food. So, it’s kind of like… really, taking care of your own food is a big, big, big part of it. And I do have a chapter in the book that’s how to grow twice as much food with one-tenth of the effort. And so, half an acre will be great. Let’s start there.
I think that the average urban lot is about a quarter of an acre, and I have a YouTube video I took years ago, where it really focuses on, “If you’re not bringing in inputs–which a lot of people are bringing inputs and there’s a lot of problems with that, and that’s a whole nother book right there on why you don’t want to bring in input. But if you’re not bringing in input, how much food can you grow, and so basically, one of the conclusions was, there was a family, a couple living in Portland, Oregon, and they had been doing permaculture for about like five years, and they felt that if they could go five more years–and they were intensively working this standard urban lot–that by the end of ten years of super-duper, heavy-duty effort, that they would be able to grow enough food on that plot to feed one small adult. That’s without any further input.
Now, of course, if you’re going to bring all kinds of stuff in, there’s more you can do, but you don’t want to do that because of reasons–especially if we’re talking about health, which I believe you mentioned.
So, I want to explore space of like what makes for good food? If you’re going to grow carrots on a field and you’re going to grow organic carrots, then it’s kind of like, “How good are those?” I mean, they look the right color, they look the right shape, they look fine, they taste fine, but I kind of feel like… have you ever tasted a carrot that wasn’t grown in a monocrop? Much more flavor, much more delicious–and I mean sometimes you say, “Oh, it has more flavor, ” and that’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s like, “Man, it tastes like dirt.”
Chris Martenson: But it is earthy [?].
Paul Wheaton: Hard to digest… it’s not exactly palatable. But “palatable”, I think, is a huge part of what we’re looking for. Now, I kind of feel like not only do we want to have rich soil–and that’s going to be such a key component–and I think I would suspect that you probably already know a lot about that, but I want to go a step further. I want to go rich soil, and then let’s talk about polycultures. So, every plant produces an exudate. And so, we’re talking about a carrot, we can refer to it as… not exactly, but kind of sort of, carrot poop.
And then, every plant has stuff that it wants: water, air, and stuff from the soil. And so, it turns out that if you create a polyculture–and there’s been tests that have been done where it’s like they would put a radioactive substance into one plant, it’ll show up 30 ft. away within a few days, because that plant had this stuff put into it and then it exuded something, the next plant over took up that exudate, and then it processed it and took the things it liked, and then it had an exudate, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, all the way until 30 ft. away, some other plant has been able to pull this stuff up. So, what does a carrot taste like that’s growing in rich soil and is surrounded by 40 different species of different plants? And it is taking in what’s in the rich soil plus the exudate of these 40 different species. What does that carrot taste like?
Chris Martenson: Yeah, that’s fascinating. We’ve had… other guests on our program, people we know well–Toby Hemingway–obviously, before he passed. And then Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farms, out of Sebastopol–and they are soil farmers, first and foremost–brilliant, just really dedicated, very smart people. And when I first visited their farm, the first thing I noticed was at least 30 species of birds, and that they had rows of inter-planted things. But the thing that got me, as a gardener of 30 year–who was doing it all wrong for 29 of them–was that their broccoli was just sitting there and there were cabbage loops all over it. And I didn’t get that, and they had explained that they don’t just do organic, they don’t start any sprays, even Safer Soap or something or aphids, because they as soon as you knock out the aphids–those are the prey species–what happens? Well, you lose the predators. And who comes back first? And all that.
So, they had this really complex integrated thing, but it was about the soil. And a very long way of introducing this, but in order to run their CSA operation, they had to bring inputs in. Twice you said, “Don’t bring inputs in.” What’s your caution there?
Paul Wheaton: Alright. I think that the No. 1 caution is going to be persistent herbicides. I mean, if anybody has read Ruth Stout’s amazing book, wonderful techniques, so much to learn from that, it’s really the path to go in 1980. And now here we are, damn near 40 years later, and so what Ruth Stout did was, is that rather than tilling our garden and tilling in manures like all the other people did in her neighborhood, she went and just got hay, and she laid the hay out on her garden, and then she just plopped feeds in between the bits of hay or underneath the hay or whatever, and that was it. She didn’t even irrigate, and she has a magnificent garden. You can’t do that today, unless you’re able to not only find organic hay, but make super, duper sure it doesn’t have any spray on it, because of the persistent herbicides.
So, let’s say you go out and you get a standard bale of hay and you do this. First of all, all your garden dies, and so it’s all dead–except for the grasses because these persistent herbicides are broad-leaf herbicides; so, grasses do fine. And then the hay is oftentimes a grass hay, so what happened was is that the farmers spread the persistent herbicide, and it was presented as, “Oh, it’s so eco,” because you only spray once every five to ten years, you don’t spray it three times a year like you do with the other herbicides. And so you’re thinking like, “I’m eco, I’m doing environmentally-friendly things.” But the thing is is that if a cow comes and eats that, it passes right to the cow; if you take that and you put it into a compost pile, it survives the composting process. And so, which is why all commercial compost contains persistent herbicides–all of them.
Chris Martenson: I can confirm this. I bought this beautiful stuff at _____ [00:33:23] and it’s made by this local firm that they bring in a lot of inputs from wherever, and then then they compost it. I bought this two years ago, and I have spots where I spread it where seeds won’t sprout–two years later. Nothing. We call it the Black Death in our household, but there it is. And I didn’t know what was wrong, but I suspected a herbicide or something–or some biocide. I don’t know what’s wrong still, to this day.
Paul Wheaton: It’s probably a persistent herbicide. It has a half-life of seven to 11 years, depending on which one was used. Aminopyralid, Clopyralid, Tordon–there’s quite a few. And then the thing is that as soon as we ban one, they come up with another one. So, it’s kind of like… it’s a mess, and it’s very problematic, and it’s in everything. And then the other thing is when you get commercial compost, not only is it going to be laced with persistent herbicides–guaranteed, it’s just a matter of like, is it so little that it’s only going to stunt the growth of your plants, or is it enough that it’s going to kill everything?
But even more than that, it’s like most of the compost you get as some form of industrial waste, if you get the stuff that has–that comes from _____ [00:34:30] plant, it’s going to contain a variety of heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, et cetera. B
– Peak Prosperity –
NOTE: Comments from the old website are still being migrated, but feel free to add new ones. Please be patient while we complete this process. Thanks!