This era in history may be remembered as the "Peak Age", a brief time when nearly all materials used to power and create our society reach the maximum extraction and production potential. Past this point, all of these resources become increasingly difficult to extract until they are no longer economically viable resources to be using. There are hundreds of examples of resources, currently embedded in our industrial society, which have reached their peak in the 50 years surrounding 2010, but the one which will most impact our society is petroleum.

The goal of living for 100 days without oil is to understand the extent of our dependance on oil in American society today. Specifically, how it will affect my life, as a 25 year-oil living in Minneapolis, MN. By using myself as a metric I can take a close and conscious look at where oil dependance occurs in all aspects of our daily lives : How we transport ourselves from one place to another, what we eat, how much waste we create, how water is cleaned and transported, where oil is used as; an energy resource, in conventional medicine and for hygiene and how oil affects how we entertain ourselves and communicate with others. By demonstrating how someone would be forced to live without using any oil resources, outlining both what the sacrifices will be as well as the benefits, we can can identify the many systems which will have to be re-designed in a world without cheap oil, and explore a new way of living in which we live in an energy balance.

(At the bottom of this page is a link to my version of a flow diagram of 'Where Petroleum Exists in Our Daily Lives' (using information from the Energy Information Administration-Annual Energy Review 2008 fig 5.0 Petroleum flow) click and zoom to enlarge)

Monday, September 27, 2010


25 September 2010

I finally feel like some of the stuff I planted might actually grow into food I can eat :)  I now have had greens growing for 3 weeks, planting a new bed each week.  Here are three bins of greens I have growing:

Collards (3 weeks old today):

Collards (2 weeks old today):

Arugula (1 week old today):

I also have some nice cilantro growing.  I have rosemary, basil and lemon balm also growing, but they are much smaller still. 

I've been reading some books on container gardening.  This has become a popular method of gardening lately as more people are trying to find ways to grow foods in small and indoor spaces.  A 2007 United Nations report concluded that over half of the world's population now lives in cities instead of rural areas.  This trend is likely to continue, and as it does, there will be more and more need to find ways to grow some of our own food in urban environments (our homes).  As petroleum decreases, and non-local foods become increasingly expensive, there will be more economic incentive to growing certain plants indoors to mimic their natural environments.  There are also health benefits to having growing plants around you.  E. O. Wilson most famously describes this phenomenon as the Biophilia Effect, "the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.” Basically, because we are natural beings ourselves, we have a deep-rooted affiliation with all that is natural.  Studies done in hospitals where a group of patients faced a brick wall while others had a view of nature, found that the patients who had a view of natural had faster recoveries.  By surrounding ourselves with plants, we can benefit from this phenomenon as well.

One advantage of growing plants indoors is that the space is already conditioned for our inhabitance.  Unlike a greenhouse, the space for growing doesn't require any extra energy for heating and cooling.  Unlike a garden, the indoor container garden can grow food all year round, regardless of season.  By having enough light, feeding and watering plants appropriately, the indoor environment can fool mother nature into thinking it is in its ideal climate all the time.   D.J.Herda's book, From Container to Kitchen outlines how to begin container gardening.   A few tips from Herda's book:

_Most plants need at least 6" of depth.  A good rule of thumb from Herda is that the foliage of the plant should not exceed this ratio (2/3 plant to 1/3 pot depth).  Pots can be found anywhere, old ice cream containers, coffee tins, mason jars, cut-in-half milk cartons. 

_Overwatering is the leading killer of indoor plants.  Because water in containers has no where to go it settles at the bottom of the container unless properly drained.  The bottom roots of the plant are where all nutrients are soaked up into the rest of the plant, and if this part of the plant is constantly too wet, it will being to rot and cause the plant to weaken, get disease, and possibly die.  A good rule of thumb: if the plants leaves are turning brown and crispy it is underwatered, if the leaves are turning yellow it is overwatered.  Many plants like to have the soil dry out completely between waterings.  This means when plants are watered, they should be watered until water starts coming out of the bottom holes to ensure that water got to the very bottom. 

_Having enough lighting is also extremely important, and the most difficult thing to achieve indoors.  Indoor light levels are really crappy.  Even a space we think is quite brightly lit, is actually fairly dim compared to the outdoors.  From the book:

reading/writing - 20 footcandles
ironing/sewing - 40 footcandles
circulation areas - 10 footcandles
display areas - 100-200 footcandles
conference room - 30 footcandles

cloudy winter day - 2,000 footcandles
sunny summer day - 10,000 footcandles

So you can see that typical indoor lighting isn't nearly sufficient for plant growth.  Light has to be introduced in some way.  I have a high-efficiency fluorescent grow light with 4 tubes and that has worked so far for what I am growing.  Fluorescent lights are an inexpensive way to add a lot more light to the space.  Reflectors are another way to utilize the existing light more efficiently.  By using mirrors, reflective metal surfaces (panel covered in aluminum foil) or white surfaces, more light can be reflected back onto the plants.  According to tests conducted at the Rodale Experimental Farm in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, white is a better reflector than metal surfaces. 

_Proper drainage is another important aspect.  As I mentioned above, it is bad for plants to be sitting in water (even a little bit at the bottom).  To avoid this, fill drainage trays with rocks and set plants on top so the water can drain, but the plant doesn't have to sit in the overflowing (standing) water.

All in all, in a post-cheap oil house, it would be ideal to have a dedicated space for growing food.  This space would ideally be a greenhouse space attached to the house so no additional light would have to be introduced.  It could be enclosed by reflective walls (mirrors or white) and have zones for various temperatures/humidity.  This way, plants which are typically grown in tropical regions could grow in one part of the space, while other plants needing less sun/heat could be grown in another part of the space.   Ample room for storage would be required.  The table could be a large tray covered in stones which would serve as a giant drainage space (or possibly just drain onto the floor).  This space could be heated passively by having glass angled perpendicularly to the noon-sun angle (at the coldest time of year).  The space would be a pleasant place in be on a cold, winter day in MN :) and excess heat could be introduced into the living space as needed.