Category Archives: Home and Garden

The Cycle of Life, and Death.

This time of year has had special significance for millennia.

Why?

Because it is the end of the annual spiral to darkness and nature’s rebirth.  Solstice is a time of rejoicing because it means winter darkness is lifting, warmth will return,  and food will become available again.

New GrangeImagine you live 10,000 years ago, somewhere above latitude 45 or so, you would notice the lengthening of the days a couple of weeks after December solstice.  That meant you might survive.

Even 5,000 years ago communities had invested so much in understanding the solar cycle that farmers in the Boyne Valley, Ireland built New Grange, an 85 metre diameter stone  tomb, which has a light box which  illuminates a 19 metre long passage and chamber as the sun rises on solstice morning!  The solar bounce was important to their livelihoods.

No, this is not a morbid view.  It’s reality.  Facing reality gives truth to our lives. Continue reading The Cycle of Life, and Death.

Cosmic synchronicity in a hay field.

We baled today.  It was wonderful.hayman

It started a bit later than planned because the normal school run delay was compounded by an emergency breakdown of a client’s computer .,..

The field was rowed around noon and then square baling started.  Padraig would arrive at 3pm to round bale.  I needed 200 square bales for 2 customers who each wanted 100.

The baler was acting up.  The knots weren’t holding and a bale in every five would be lost.  Noel cleaned the knotter and after a couple of rows it loosened up and ran better.

Still it wasn’t easy to guess how much hay would equal 200 bales …

In the end we baled 241 square.  Padraig got 38 round.

One customer took 136 by mistake, and paid for the extras too.  The other took his 100.  And there were 5 left for us.  Unbelievable.  By pure chance we split the field precisely in the right place to get the square bales the customers wanted without leaving anything in the field to await the rain.  It couldn’t have been better if it had been planned!

Very lucky.  Or maybe we’re leaning to feel the rhythm of the universe and surf the cosmic wave…

I must have been on a roll because a similar coincidence occurred  in the evening.  #4 wanted to watch an inappropriate film that was playing for his elder siblings … Having said “not for you”, about half an hour later I had a feeling he might have ventured in to  join his brother and sister, so  I checked.  He had walked in 10 seconds before I checked!

The cosmic rhythm can be useful.

First cutting of hay – ahhhhhh, it’s summer time.

Started around 6 in the evening yesterday and took it slowly to avoid mistakes after winter inactivity.  Cut for about 4 hours.  Looking forward to turning and baling.  ‘Twas a lovely evening.

Hay is a foundation of civilisation.  Without it, animals can not last through the winter, making life difficult for humans too.

There are many types of grass.  The main ones are fescue (most predominant in the video), rye and timothy.   There are also herbs, like chicory and plantain, and clover.  And most of the weeds are not bad to eat, they can even be good, but if they are large leaved they can interfere with the curing and drying of the hay.  A mixed sward is the best feed – that’s what animals look for in the wild.  I’ve seen horse graze on nettles, brambles, oak, beech and even reeds!

BT Notes: Spring is springing, Book, TV, Yoga, Hay.

Happy new year!  We hope 2015 is off to a good start for you all. For those of you that made it to the walk in the woods over Christmas, photos are on Flickr. Enjoy!  We had a great crowd tromping through the woods and enjoying mince pies and vin chaud afterwards!

The start of the year has been unexpectedly busy for us because we launched a book Common Sense- a book about people, planet and profit by a venture capitalist just before Christmas.  It turns out that media says it’s topical, being about balancing economics, ethics and the environment which we’ve been working towards for over a decade and a half.  It took ages to write the book – I never imagined it could be so hard!  And thank goodness for Pam who is an amazing editor able to make it pleasant to read.  Thanks to all of you who’ve bought a copy and for all your positive feedback.

We’ve been on a steep learning curve since launching it, including changing printers to a local Kilkenny family team, Digital Outputs, for the second, third and fourth small print runs.  We were interviewed on KCLR which was fun and friendly and then in mid January a film crew came from RTE’s Nationwide to find out more.  That was fascinating.  We learned that it takes 6 hours of filming to produce a minute of television! Nationwide’s team arrived on a blustery January morning and almost without a break filmed until the evening. It was a busy day here, with horse training, logging, building, tilling and harvesting going on in the background. Most of the family was here so we’ll all be cringing equally as we watch!  Check it out tomorrow night, Friday 6th February at 7pm RTE 1.

While the film crew was here we got a call from an friend we haven’t seen in over a decade who received the book as a gift from his brother.  He wanted five copies to give to friends and wanted to know when I was going to London.  So I went and spent a week reconnecting with friends and meeting new ones to talk about how to embed sustainability in organisations and find the elusive work-life balance. London is full of things to do, new ideas and fancy offerings, which was fun, and meeting so many people eager to make a positive difference from cancer research to solar energy to organisation enlightenment was exciting.  It seems that the momentum to breakthrough to a world of common sense is building.  Whew!

We’re holding our first gathering of the year of the Ballin Temple Nature Club on Saturday February 14th at 2:30pm.  It will be an open-hearted chat/walk/tea to talk about the Club activities from walking to fishing to logging to nature preservation to personal transformation.  Please let us know if you’d like to join in.  Everyone is welcome.

Pam’s yoga classes continue in Tullow on Tuesday evenings and in Carlow on Wednesday mornings. Her workshop “Establishing Your Home Practice”, run for the second time in January, went really well and is becoming more popular as people find out about it.  Another one will be held close to summer. Keep up with Pam’s classes and workshops via pambutleryoga.com and the Pam Butler Yoga facebook page.

February is a chilly month but already we see signs of spring – snowdrops out, daffodils on the way, lambs bouncing in the meadow.  Nature is wonderful isn’t it. But it’s still a time of year that demands wood for the stove and food to stay warm.  If anyone needs hay for their beasties we have top quality small square bales for sale and some round bales too.  Give Tom a call on 086 8179238 to get some.

We’re nearly out of the winter season of festivities, which culminates in Chinese New Year in a couple of weeks.  So, Kung Hei Fat Choi!  We could all do with a bit of that 🙂

Tom, Pam and the gang.

PS: Common Sense is available at Antonia and Gerry’s Alive & Well Health Shop in Carlow Shopping Centre, The Book Centre in Kilkenny High Street as well as here or online.

 

Irish anglers being fished by the state

Sorry, did I say fished?  I meant something else …

A two-day International Conference ‘Celebrating River Restoration in Ireland and Europe’ organised by MulkearLIFE and hosted by the project’s coordinating beneficiary Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) took place in Limerick this week.  The project received € 1.7 million in public money. Local anglers tried to protest the EU gathering because IFI and subsidiary groups are mismanaging fisheries and regulating anglers off the riverbanks in the process.

One example of this is the IFI handing out an on the spot fine of €100+ to an 87 year old pensioner  for fishing the wrong type hook; this is while ignoring the illegal netting practices taking place on the Lower Shannon which is at epidemic levels.

Anglers on our beat have eschewed fishing for a number of years as a contribution to conservation, but it all seems so futile when public money is wasted and the people who contribute the most to riparian maintenance are fished (I mean something else) by the state.

It’s another sign of increasing state control of people’s lives, not just in Ireland or Europe, but North America and elsewhere too. (Eg Yahoo ‘threatened’ by US government with $250,000-a-day fine if it does not hand over users’ data.)

Europa: MulkearLIFE end-of-project conference notice (second item)

Notes from protesters on Trout and Salmon Fishing Forum

Limerick and District Anglers’ Association notice of protest

MucklearLife notice of conference

IFI notice of conference

BT – Notes From The Edge – Spring has Sprung

Spring has sprung (in the northern hemisphere).  Even though you
can’t quite tell when the equinox occurs, the calendar reminds us of
the solar cycle – equinox and solstice alternating about the 21st of
every third month – March, June, September, December.  The spring
equinox  passed last weekend marking the beginning of Spring in
some places, like America, though most of us have been coming out of
winter for a month or more already.  The first buds of spring show
up in January and shepherds in this climate zone start lambing in
February.

“Hey dude!  What’s for lunch?
A hungry stag and his troupe visited for tea one day.

The first three months of this year have been marked by weird weather
all over the world – unusually warm, or cold or wet or windy in various
places.  It is not easy to recognise big picture patterns since it
is so hard to remember what it was really like when you were younger,
but it seems that the biosphere has a fever.  And people who grow
food have to be increasingly adaptable to the  unexpected.  It
used to be that food producers could ride out fluctuations but nowadays
with very intensive methods based on high capital, high fossil fuel
requirements and low margins at the producer end, small producers
continue to be squeezed.  Despite that, we have decided to get even
more involved in the land.

Some people observe that farming is difficult and offers low
returns.  That seems to be supported by the data.  The Irish
government report of farming indicates the the average farm income
(including the very rich farm-owners) is only €25,000 which not much for
people responsible for what we eat and, by some measures, is below the relative poverty line.  Nevertheless, we’ve decided to plough and sow a field this year for the first time in over a decade.

We asked for some advice: “How to make it pay without spray, meat or
government?”  The response was “Mmmm, that’s not easy…”
First on government subsidies – paperwork is the number one cause of
suicide among farmers.  That’s sad.  As for animals and
spraying, the situations is ruled by the equation that what comes out of
the soil must be put back, which is done either by resting the soil and
allowing natural regeneration every three years or so (traditional
rotation explained in primary school) or by adding fossil fuel based
soil enrichment (fertiliser).  If you don’t spray chemicals you
have to rest the soil which cuts your revenue capacity by a third.
Anyhow, we’re sowing a mixed meadow in the next week or so and are
really looking forward to seeing how the grass grows.  If nothing
else we’ll have hay for the horses.

We haven’t done much in the garden yet and, as usual, are behind
schedule.  No seeds have been germinated and plot preparation is
being held back by the need to “trim the beech hedge”.  We started
that a week ago but a branch fell on me and the saw broke and is now
being repaired.  Otherwise, in the garden, we’re lucky to be
harvesting beetroot and the last cabbages from last year.  There
are potatoes still in store and the birds are laying like mad – Easter
must be around the corner.  Get in touch if you’d like beetroot
(really yummy when shredded and fried – thanks for the tip Joe) or eggs,
especially duck eggs (great for sponge baking) or goose eggs (huge!).

The wind and rain has influenced progress in getting things done
around the garden, field and woods. A lot of timber has been flying
about.  Walking through the woods, where ever you look trees are
down.  Some lovely ones have been lost, like a huge ash which had a
cherry growing out of its side and a rhododendron at the “Asian water
garden”.  But it’s a chance to clean up and tidy up.  On the
subject of the woods, apologies to those of you who missed the walk
because we didn’t send an email (only text).  It was a great walk
and hopefully we’ll be organised to do another around Easter holidays
(we’ll let you know).  Some photos are on Flickr – check them out!

Beyond BT, Pam’s yoga remains popular and she has invested a lot of
time over the past months in developing a deeper understanding of it –
she is researching an MBA thesis on yoga in Ireland.  It looks like
a lot of hard work, including late nights on the computer, but sounds
very interesting and  worthwhile.  At the same time she
continues to train with international teachers which makes her teaching
fresh and relevant.  Although I’ve never been much of a yoga guy,
the technology behind the asanas seems to be gaining increasing
empirical support and can really make a difference to people’s
lives.  Even the simple exercise of meditating or visualisation can
improve memory and decision making success.  Even if you don’t do
yoga, try sitting still for ten minutes to reflect on challenges – that,
in a strangely magical way, could help.  As well as her yoga Facebook page, she is updating web pages on our other site here.

We finally finished a first edition of our book about “the search for truth, the meaning of life and the answer to everything”: Whoops! A big picture story.  We’ve put a nominal price on the pdf download, but you can read the important chapters on-line for free.
Having finished that unexpectedly challenging project, we’re trying to
reboot initiatives in business and education.  In parallel with
coaching individuals and mentoring entrepreneurs, we’re researching the
process of learning which seems to be the keystone to civilisation –
when people and societies expand their intellectual and emotional
capacities, they become enlightened and enriched.  If those ideas are interesting to you check out astraea.net and sign-up for the blog.

If you like our perspective, you might enjoy the blog.  The
subjects include business but here are some posts from the past few
months related to nature.

Linking weird weather to rapid warming of the Arctic

Farming in the city.

It’s easy to ignore what you put in your mouth.

We hope you are all springing in to Spring in this the Chinese Year of the horse.  Best wishes from us all,

Tom

 

Whoops! A big picture story.

A story about the search for truth, the meaning of life and the answer to everything.  Finally an edition that is readable.  It might have a few typos which will be removed as we find them, but the important bits read well enough.

Enjoy free chapters on-line:

The Meaning of Life

Clarifying the Big Picture

And buy the pdf of the whole book for € 5 here.

Initial reader’s comments include:

Wow!

Intense!

Makes you think.

 

 

Farming in the city.

It’s a cute idea and seems to have much merit.  Put a fish farm in a shipping container, plonk a hydroponic greenhouse on top and “hey presto” you have a self-contained, eco-efficient food production system that can sit in a small garden or yard behind your house or urban industrial/commercial building.

ECF Farmsystems Containerfarm claims:

Healthy Vegetables – With an ECF Containerfarm you can grow over 400 varieties of plants, including tomatoes, salads, cucumbers, basil, mint, eggplant, zucchini, gooseberry and even cut flowers.

Fresh fish – 75 tilapia perch grow in a Containerfarm. At the end of the season each fish weighs about 500-600gr. They are delicious fresh from the grill stuffed with rosemary and lemon.

Good for the environment – ECF farms are extremely economical in water consumption, minimize transport distances and cold chains and work without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Water, love, organic fertilizers and organic feed, that’s it.

In the middle of the city – Vegetables and fish produced directly around the corner. Eco-friendly and transparently grown, without transport kilometers and cold chains.

ECF.CF_.Outside3-2

EU Commission: German start-up offers eco-efficient urban container farming

It’s not easy to do the right thing.

So, I must confess that for three years we let a field to a neighbour for use in conventional tillage farming.  Previously, that field had been managed organically for over a decade, but we found we could not use it and the rent money would be welcome.  Now, we’re regalvanised to protect the environment and we planned to put the field back in to grass; we were going to start trying to manage all land organically again.

But then the tenant sprayed the field with glyphosate a week or so ago.  Now the field is dead.  And we are faced with an even more difficult decision.  It will take up to a year and will cost us a few thousand euros to get the field back in to production; or we could let the field again and receive rent, but chemicals will be spayed.  The choice: conventional approach and get some money vs no-chemical approach and not make any money (in fact this year it will cost us).

I don’t want to spray chemicals any more, despite calls for pragmatism from my family.

Although everyone seems to want me to “spray”, it seems unethical.  During the week, I happened to see this article on the front page of EarthSource: Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?  Roundup is the leading brand of glyphosate which most people spray around their garden or farm.  Is this a sign that I should be impractical, but resist the application of more chemicals to the land?

And a day after I heard that the land had been sprayed, this headline was on the BBC news: UN highlights role of farming in closing emissions gap.  A UN report (UN annual emissions report) says that emissions from farming, including nitrous oxide from applying fertiliser and CO2 from ploughing fields accounts for more than 10% of the global total right now, and simple changes in agriculture could cut emissions by four gigatonnes.  I know that conventional farming is highly toxic and that though we are an insignificant player, if we don’t all change, there is no hope that our biosphere will be able to support humanity as it behaves today.

Although land management without chemicals means more physical labour, there is a fringe benefit: You live longer.   A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine says that simply getting up and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle is a lifesaver.  (BBC: Gardening ‘linked to longer lives’)

All the signs point in the same direction.  Why won’t we change, before it’s too late?  It’s hard to do the right thing.

 

Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark? – See more at: http://earthopensource.org/index.php/reports#sthash.vWXwZijy.dpuf
Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark? – See more at: http://earthopensource.org/index.php/reports#sthash.vWXwZijy.dpuf