A Year After the Age of Limits: Mr. Homegrown’s Take

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Our culture tends towards false dichotomies, in the case of last year’s Age of Limits conference, the “desparium” of climate change and resource limits versus the broader culture’s “hopium” of techno-utopianism. As filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsy once said, “One day, someone showed me a glass of water that was half full. And he said, “Is it half full or half empty?” So I drank the water. No more problem.”

In her post Mrs. Homegrown mentioned that I had more to say about last year’s Age of Limits Conference. I don’t have much. She’s is a much better writer than I and she said pretty much everything I would have said.

Not to minimize the challenges we all face from resource limits or climate change, but we humans are very bad at predicting the future. And we have a tendency to turn our desires into apocalyptic fantasies. Whether we have or have not passed the point of no return with these problems, it is immoral not to try to come to the aid of all beings and work to maintain the paradise that is the living earth. I’m especially concerned when I hear dark fantasies about sudden population decline combined with notions that the plucky and righteous survivors will get to choose who lives and who dies. More than one participant suggested such a scenario at the conference.

And, I have to get this off my chest: the fabricated rituals dealing with both personal and societal grief bugged me. Far from helping, they seemed to reinforce a depressive and unproductive group dynamic. Meaningful ritual comes from deep in the collective unconscious. It’s not something you can wing with some bad poetry, encounter sessions and bongos.

On the positive side, it was a pleasure to hang out with and talk to John Michael Greer. Throughout the conference he held court outside the tent and discussed many of my favorite topics: organic gardening, Ham radio, appropriate technology, fraternal societies and even letterpress printing. When a talk or activity annoyed me, I’d walk out and find Greer.

What I would have liked to have seen at the Age of Limits was a wider range of voices. A few mainstream climate scientists would have been a good start. Instead, we were only hearing the most extreme points of view.

One of the organizers emailed us shortly after the conference to ask us to return this year and speak. I wrote back and said I’d do it but never heard back. Perhaps my email ended up in a spam box. I’m glad that I’m not going. I’ve got bread to bake, talks to give and a much delayed vegetable garden to plant.

Saturday Linkages: Gourds, Cats and Cider Bread

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The Mukombe. Image: Afrigadget.

The Mukombe–a hand washing station made out of a gourd:  http://www.afrigadget.com/2014/04/06/the-mukombe/ …

Farine: Mike Zakowski making cider bread http://www.farine-mc.com/2014/04/mike-zakowski-making-cider-bread-video.html?spref=tw …

6 Methods for Harvesting Rainwater – Homesteading and Livestock – MOTHER EARTH NEWS http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/6-methods-of-harvesting-rainwater-ze0z1404zjhar.aspx …

Are probiotics helping you? | Food Matters, Scientific American Blog Network http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/food-matters/2014/04/29/are-probiotics-helping-you/?WT.mc_id=SA_sharetool_Twitter …

Photos, Videos: Up Close With The Kitties At NYC’s Cat Cafe http://gothamist.com/2014/04/23/nyc_cat_cafe_photos_video.php …

Corro Kitty DIY Feral Cat Shelters – http://go.shr.lc/1knpbqd 

ScienceShot: ‘Chameleon’ Vine Discovered in Chile | Science/AAAS | News http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/04/scienceshot-chameleon-vine-discovered-chile …

A warning about “bee-friendly” plants http://www.honeybeesuite.com/a-warning-about-bee-friendly-plants/ …

L.A.’s First Public Transit Used Actual Horse Power http://southland.gizmodo.com/l-a-s-first-public-transit-used-actual-horse-power-1566350171/+nathanmasters …

Neuroscience of junk-food cravings, researched in a Chili’s dumpster – Boing Boing http://boingboing.net/2009/04/27/neuroscience-of-junk.html …

What the hell to do with the parkway? http://gardenrant.com/2014/04/hellstrip-gardening-highlights-and-give-away.html …

The Case Against Cars | VICE United States http://www.vice.com/read/cars-should-be-safe-legal-and-rare …

How to scare kids away from riding bicycles: http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2014/04/bsnyc-no-quiz-because-in-my-mind-its.html …

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Mulch Volcanoes: Another Bad Gardening Idea

Root Simple reader Donna, in response to my post on decomposed granite as mulch, alerted me to a related phenomenon: the infamous mulch volcano. For whatever reason, I don’t see this viral gardening phenomenon much here in Los Angeles but it’s really common elsewhere in the US.

Mulch volcanoes are generally considered to be a bad idea. It’s thought that the lack of air circulation at the base of the tree can lead to disease problems and you don’t want roots to grow up into the mulch so close to the trunk. When applying mulch you should keep it a few inches away from the base of a tree.

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Artist Herbert Bayer’s EarthMound, 1955. Image: GardenHistoryGirl.

How strange gardening practices, such as mulch volcanoes, get started is really interesting to me. Mulch volcanoes remind me of miniature versions of minimalist art earthworks or Native American mounds. Is the mulch volcano a kind of outsider landscape art? Is the mulch volcano a misguided attempt at putting a human imprint on nature, what landscape architects call “clues to care?”

Decomposed Granite as Mulch: A very bad idea

Decomposed Granite

There’s a well defined architectural vocabulary house flippers use in our neighborhood. Flippers buy a crumbling 1920s bungalow, paint the front door orange, add a horizontal fence, redo the interior in a Home Depot meets Dwell Magazine style and then turn around and sell it for a million bucks.

When house flippers tackle a yard they tend towards the “low-maintenance” landscape (in quotes because there’s no such thing as a low-maintenance garden). One of the favorite tools in the flipper landscaping toolbox is decomposed granite (DG) used as a mulch. Put some plastic landscape fabric down (blocks rainwater in our climate, fyi) and top that plastic with DG. They then punch some holes in the DG/plastic and pop in succulents and maybe a rosemary bush or two. By the time the yard becomes a sad, desertified tangle of unhappy succulents and crabgrass, the flippers are long gone.

I’ve got a big issue with DG as mulch. In order for DG to look good, it’s got to be compacted and soil compaction is really bad for plants, including hardy natives and succulents. It stifles the life of the soil, and does not build new soil. And eventually, the plastic will fail, and the weeds will come through (some come through even when the plastic is new), and whoever is left holding the bag a couple of years down the road will be pulling decaying bits of plastic out of their garden for evermore.

What’s a better approach? Wood chips. Pile it on thick. Skip the plastic liner. Eventually your new plantings will cover any bare areas if you space them correctly. It looks good,  and the mulch breaks down and turns into soil. You will still need to weed but that’s called gardening. Save the DG for walkways. Or use mulch on your walkways too. Mulch is free or low cost. Just ask your local arborist to drop off a load.