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Things are busy again for reasons which will be obvious pretty soon, so I haven’t written much. Instead here’s Beautiful Daughter on our regular road trip, which is far more interesting than I am anyway.

Beautiful daughter generally drags me in the direction of the door by about ten in the morning, insistently saying “Ride to cow farm, Ride to Rabbits… so off we go.

First we ride out to the ‘cow farm’, and then walk to the meadows next door to pick dandelion leaves…

Then we ride to the next farm, and feed the rabbits. Those rabbits have a good thing going I reckon; they’re certainly very fat.

We say hello to the two ponies…

Before going a few more kilometres out into the fields, where there is yet another farm, With even more interesting friendly animals…

…and a Pile Of Sticks. Which have to be tested very carefully.

Eventually we find our way back to the apartment. Via the playground. Unless I remember to avoid it.

We could do this by walking of course. But then it would take all day with the distances involved. Thank goodness for Bakfietsen…

 

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Yesterday, Beautiful God-daughter -and others- were giving flute recitals, so naturally I went to watch. The Xtracycle can be seen above in the large plaza outside the town arts centre where the performance was held. It is a very tasteful rebuild of an old tram depot.

The tram used to run through here to a couple of other places, including this town. Unfortunately the line was closed in 1978 ‘for economic reasons’ and ‘because we need the space for cars’. Of course. A local group tried to build a museum on the edge of the town but the local government decided to use the space for a petrol station instead.

A walking/cycle way runs along the old tramway, which is a nice thought, but really, we’d have preferred to have the tram.

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Track on old level crossing

But the shell of the old tram depot has a few cycle racks in one corner, so that’s sustainable transport covered.

In 1995 a new road bridge was built over the valley, making it easier to drive, walk, and cycle from one side to the other. It was promptly closed to pedestrian & cycle traffic because it was ‘unsafe’, so schoolchildren now have to be driven by their parents or take the bus.

And the town centres on both sides are crammed full of cars.

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Eldest son on tramway.

So now the local governments are looking at plans to possibly, maybe, build a new tramway and/or railway running along a similar route, at a cost of millions of Euros…

Ah, well.

More importantly, Beautiful God-daughter was awesome…

Suddenly it is March and almost too late to deal with the greatest challenge of the year. I’m not referring to the whole complex business of registering as unemployed, or even sorting out our tax returns, but of course the challenge of getting the garden ready for spring and deciding what to plant.

In the first season in the garden I planted out a variety of seeds directly into the ground, which considering the ground is basically solid clay and infested with slugs, worked remarkably well. The second year I read lots of instructions, prepared seedlings, manured the beds, et c, and achieved mixed success. I decided this was because I was trying too many things at once and went for simple last year: potatoes and onions with a few other random seeds that I found lurking about.

We put more spuddies into the ground than we got out and I think I managed to harvest one onion before they were chomped by slugs/mice/birds/trolls.

It didn’t help that I’m still pretty clueless and that I planted everything at about the same time, so the surviving plants reached maturity while we were in the UK, bolted, fell over and got eaten.

This year, I’ve decided on a different tack. I’m going to concentrate on three ‘bulk’ crops in the garden: a root crop, a bean variety, and… something else, possibly onions or leeks, or kale. With only three varieties to worry about, I can hopefully be a bit more certain of what needs doing and when, maybe even get to them before the Mice.

Being about as clueless as four years ago, I’m passing the question to the real gardeners out there: What three varieties would you recommend?* The garden is west-facing, so it gets very warm. Is there any way of avoiding a massive growth/bolt in August/September? Or, with the clay being the solidity it is, should I just give up and open a pottery instead?

*Let us discount Rhubarb, Celery, and Cauliflower: these are not vegetables but abominations.

The lower third of the Very Smallholding is a steep bramble covered slope leading to a flat bramble covered space at the bottom. For the last few years I’ve just hacked a way through the bramble with a scythe every summer and scrambled down the slope, but it seems that more civilised people object to sliding down thorn covered mud on their backside. As we’d like to invite people over occasionally we need to have at least one route through the garden that people can use without getting covered in mud, which means adding ‘civilised’ features like steps on the steep bits.

It turns out making steps isn’t as complicated as I thought. The business of digging and putting the wooden support in place is in fact a lot easier than trying to keep your balance on a steep slope made of wet clay covered in bramble branches. On occasion it feels like I’m in an episode of a hilarious slapstick comedy, and the spade is less a digging implement and more of an ice pick. Fortunately it isn’t an exact science, and works more on the ‘it looks about right here’ principle, and sometimes the “I can reach this bit from the only part of the hill that isn’t either a bramble or potential landslide, therefore the step goes here” principle.

On balance it would have possibly been smarter to start from the bottom so I could stand on the steps I’d already made.

We live and learn. Photos will follow as soon as I find the bits to recharge the camera.

*This project will probably take a while and generate several more bad puns.

Our state government has decided it wants to investigate sustainability and tell us all about how to have a small carbon footprint.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The best way to do this is with a big truck, so we can see they are really, really serious about sustainability. As long as it doesn’t mean changing anything.

Remember: Infinite growth is possible with finite resources. We will discover a cheap recoverable energy source to replace oil. Technology will save us.

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So the big news for cyclists is that the town council has finally given up built the cycle lane they have been promising would be in ‘next years budget’ since long before we arrived here.

The lane should have been built when the town hosted the state garden festival sometime last century, but the money was needed for other important things, like a seven metre high plastic carrot which pokes into the ground at the exact geographical centre of the town and is surrounded by a circle of giant luminous pink and yellow rabbits, without which the garden festival and the town would obviously have been incomplete. I am not making this up.

Anyway, despite being only a couple of hundred metres long, and a vital link between two large sections of the town, the cycle lane remained unsurfaced, as in: “a field”, meaning that children going to school had to ride on the pavement/sidewalk alongside a major road for several hundred metres. This didn’t stop the town including it on their ‘cyclists network’ map (nor did it discourage one councillor from repeatedly claiming it was surfaced and we should all shut up and go home). Finally, the dogged persuasion by the local cyclists club has finally paid off and the government recently made a big announcement that at a cost of €20 000 (which would buy about 5cm of Autobahn) they had now put a cycleway in place.

It is 90cm (3′) wide*.

Some of the councillors are wider than that.

This, remember, is a major link for cyclists and pedestrians between the two largest parts of the town. It could reduce short car trips by providing an way to travel, if it wasn’t too narrow for a pedestrian and a bicycle to pass. Or even a pedestrian and a small dog.

The council have answered this criticism by saying it is a ‘good compromise’ and the cycle lane can’t be any wider for ‘environmental reasons’.

I’m not making that up either.

*How did they manage to make a 90cm wide gravel path cost €20 000? Is there gold dust in it?

The sky at sunrise a couple of days ago. About time too, I was getting tired of grey skies and dampness.

Tiny aircraft about to land on a massive chimney.

Something like this, hopefully.

(Deutsche Kursbeschreibung hier)

When we took over the garden I was already muttering about running workshops there, partly to help pay for what we wanted to do, partly to get to know people within the local networks. This wasn’t possible at first because when we moved in the place was full of asbestos, and it doesn’t look good if you hold a workshop in a garden littered with a health hazard, so first that had to go, and then the shed had to be cleared so that we could do useful things. Like get inside.

Now the shed is cleared, and most of the Asbestos at ground level is gone. There is the small matter of the shed roof but that’s keeping the shed and its contents mostly dry so it’s geting a reprieve. We are also lacking important items like a loo, but I’m almost ready with that and to get me to move a bit faster we’ve decided to organise a cob building workshop as the 28th to the 30th of May 2012.

We’ll be hosting a workshop in cob building by Bernhard Gruber from Austria, who taught on my Permaculture Design Course, and we’ll be trying to build a cob oven as our first project. This is a simple oven that reuses the heat from one fire up to three times: first you put the fire in the oven and heat it up, then you use the heat in the clay to make things like Pizza, then you can put normal bread in to heat slowly, and finally you can use the residual heat to dry out fruit.

The goal is that everyone who comes is able to go home knowing how to build with cob, and able to make their own cob oven at home. If we get enough people on the workshop, we may go wild and try a rocket stove, but we have other pressing needs as well, so it would depend on the size of the group.

On the off chance that someone wants to come and join in, the boring but important details are:

Cost: €60 a day for tuition. (€180 total, 10% discount if you book and pay by Dec 31st)
This doesn’t include food or somewhere to stay: we’ll provide food and ask for what it costs us, and we are working on a place for people to unroll sleeping bags if you can’t find somewhere else to stay.
Course length: 3 days (From 10:00 on Monday the 29th to about 16:00 on Wednesday the 30th.) There will hopefully be an extra evening event with information on permaculture or Bernhards work in Tanzania on Tuesday.

Other details on request, but I don’t want to bore everyone more than I usually do. Please contact me through the form in the sidebar.

More of the usual entries next week, probably involing me panicking that I’ve got too much to do before the workshop begins.

BTW If any German speakers want to come, and would like a discount, I could do with some help making translations…

Many thanks to Utility Cycling for the video.

Bearing in mind that the difference between the cost of petrol to society and the much lower price at the pump amounts to a government subsidy, how exactly will increasing speed limits on motorways from the current 70mph to 80 mph, and causing a 20% increase in fuel consumption, help to reduce the budget deficit in the UK?

Answer that one Mr. Hammond.

And then answer this one.

Still on the reader suggestions* for themes about Japan, The Big Smile (German link, but with lovely pictures) suggested a topic:

…the earthquake and what traces it left. Traces in the outer world (buildings, nature, etc.) and in the people living in Japan.

There are collection boxes everywhere -around the shops, in railway stations, even in the airport.

In my in-laws house the ’emergency packs’ -which every family should have for each person- have been checked and restocked, and have been moved from under the stairs to a more accessible location by the front door.

A big supermarket in town has a big display showing emergency packs and signs saying “Be prepared”. It also has a big map purporting to show the extent of the flooding ‘If the same thing happened here’.

A disaster is good for sales after all.

I thought the economic downturn and increasing petrol prices after the disasters would have got more people walking or cycling.

This does not seem to be the case.

Possibly this is because we are so far away from the disaster itself: we aren’t supplied by the oil refineries that were destroyed, energy is still cheap, and the local power stations are still working, so people carry on as normal.

A friend who took two trucks of aid to the North-East found the local Red Cross were bogged down in red tape, and the army stopped delivering one hot meal a day to the refugee centre -in fact now the government are suggesting people should stop volunteering to help, because the people in the area should “rise up” and rebuild. They’ve no money, infrastructure, fuel, transport or materials, but they should just get on with it and sort themselves out.

She gets the impression the government is giving up.

Television studios are running the occasional story about rebuilding. The media is rarely critical of the government -not as they are in Europe anyway- so this isn’t covered as we would expect it to be. Most media stories look like ‘feel good’ pieces about companies restarting or children getting back to school.

The strange thing about all this is that if we’d stayed on the train in Tokyo it would have carried us through the area about thirty minutes later.  And yet everywhere else it’s pretty well business as usual. Even the nuclear lobby has hardly been affected by the Fukushima explosion. They have the support of the government, the opposition and the trade unions: they are still calling the tune.

Or at least most of the time: there were plans to build a nuclear power station on the coast about twenty kilometres away from where I am now.

Fukushima nailed that one, thank goodness.

*Does anyone else have an idea for a blog post about Japan? I’ve still got a week.

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