Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Peak Oil Revisited

I remember when I became "Peak Oil" aware. It was 2004, and somehow I had come into possession of Ken Deffeyes book "Hubbert's Peak" (actually, it was a few years before that... but I don't think it was called "Peak Oil, then). A couple years later he followed with "Beyond Oil". I began telling the story to clients and prospects at my stock brokerage business. Some guys started a blog called "The Oil Drum". I started a blog called "Mentatt" (my buddy, the Mad Scientist thought it was slang for "Meant That"... actually, it came from Frank Herbert's sci-fi classic "Dune), which I later renamed The American Energy Crisis.

Back then, "Peaknics" were enthused about the West's coming economic disaster. It is ever so much fun to brow beat the establishment while you still have a job, equity in your home, and a career with a future. 5 years of economic stagnation, lousy employment prospects, and flat world wide oil production (and declining oil consumption in the OECD)... and its just not that much fun anymore. The "Peaknics" faded. "The Tea Party" and "Occupy" took over... though neither one really knew what was at the bottom, or the root cause, of their anger: Oil (and credit).

In 2005 you were smart. A thinker with a vision. Now? Gil Scot-Heron's "The Revolution will not be Televised" comes to mind. For the already established that did not lose their jobs or businesses, so far this has been no big deal... for the graduating classes (high school, college, grad) since 2008, real estate agents, stock brokers and investment bankers, banks, mortgage companies, retail mall operators, etc... this has been an unmitigated disaster (and granted... this has been more about credit contraction than Oil... but that train is rolling down the tracks).

And you ain't seen nothing yet.

The first 5 years of this "adjustment period" were merely a pain in the @$$ in the OECD and industrialized West. The next 10 or 15 years or so is where the rubber meets the road. So far the decline rate for Oil consumption in the OECD has only been 2% per year or so... what will the economy look like with a 4/6/8/10% annual decline rate?

2% is slow-drip-water-torture. 10% is light-your-hair-on-fire-and-run-around-the-room torture.

At some point, Oil imports into the OECD are going to see those kinds of declines... and not that far off.

And blaming politicians for not "doing something" about this? Pointless. Energy descent is going to happen... "conservation" (lol!!) is going to happen (one way or another)... and the economic consequences are going to happen... to Democrats and Republicans alike. I wouldn't put much stock in the folks in government being much help to The People. They will be too busy seeing to themselves.


Our farm seems to be working out well. Here are some ideas for any homesteaders out there:

This was our fall and winter chicken run. It is about 1/8 of an acre. This is more than enough for a family of 5 for sweet corn (not corn flour corn... we grow that on the other side of the farm), beans, and squash (which we grow together). As you can see, the chickens have eaten every blade of grass down to the dirt, and then scratched up all of the roots. They have cleared the ground of weed seeds, too. Their manure is too hot (in Nitrogen) for most stuff, but not corn. Corn LOVES chicken manure. We plant the beens and squash about 4 to 6 weeks after the corn. This is my 4th year moving the chickens around to where I plan to plant my sweet corn.

180 degrees and up the hill is our "goat run". This is "reclaimed" front yard, about 1 acre. This area can support about 8 goats 7 months per year. In winter I feed them round-bale hay (about 1 per month - $22) and a little corn (for about 5 months). We eat a few goats per year and sell a few. They cover their feed expense, and save me from having to mow this area. Besides, I love to eat cabrito/chevon (goat meat) and soup.

In the winter, I keep the horses in this corral. It is about an acre in size. They eat 3 round bales per month (1500 pounds each) for 5 months. 10 to 12 tons of horse manure (the urine is the primary nitrogen source) on an acre leaves the ground plenty fertile. The horses get moved to the pastures and I plant the lower half (as it slopes I want to avoid erosion. I throw down some clover seed on the top half to hold the soil and keep the bees happy) of the corral with corn/pumpkins/peas/something or other. This year it will be field corn for corn flour.

Here in Tennessee garlic and onions are planted in the fall. Garlic did very well this year, onions were not great (but enough). Just in case, I planted some onion sets today. When I harvest the garlic in mid-Spring, the bed will be planted with sweet bell peppers. The beds to the right are covered in clear plastic because they are "baking" too-fresh manure for this spring. If you keep it wet and covered the manure will compost completely in about 2 or 3 months, rather than a full year.

This is the winter hog-yard, between 1/3 and 1/2 acre. They clear the area of everything, then I move them to the back and plant this with potatoes, both sweet and white. Also melons, pumpkins and sunflowers, and peas. Whatever we don't harvest won't go to waste... I turn the hogs back in here in the late fall. They find whatever potatoes we missed (and its a bunch), and are delighted to  cleanup rotten mellons & pumpkins right down to the roots. We slaughter 3 hogs per year, and make our own sausage (breakfast and Italian) and bacon. (My kids thought we were kidding when we told them the stuff they got at IHOP was "bacon" on a recent trip to Florida).

We will plant over an acre of "garden" beside the raised bed vegetable garden. Gardening is the easy part... preserving it all is a lot of work and not as much fun. We dry some, freeze some, and can some.


kathy said...

I know we don't always agree with each other (Massachusetts liberal woman-guilty as charged) but I must tell you how happy I am that you're posting again. I appreciate the analysis and the different perspective. It keeps me on my toes and challenges my rock-solid belief system.

Craig Cavanaugh said...

Yeah, "conserving" here at $3.48 per gallon (again). Pretty soon I won't be able to afford to drive to work, and I only put 7k miles on my truck in the last year. I know folks who commute 200 miles a day. They're going to feel some serious pain when that gas hits $5 and more. My "commute" is 10 miles and I've been feeling it for years now. $5 gas will make driving to work not worth the expense. Gonna look for a horse...

Craig Cavanaugh said...

Oops, meant to say my "commute" is 10 miles ROUND TRIP...

Anonymous said...

I haven’t had chickens in 21 years but I’m getting some Rhode Island Reds this spring. It’s two parts excitement and one part apprehension. I can’t do free range but I don’t want to ever deal with another nasty stinky coop. I’m planning on building a coop with an attached yard on skids and putting the roosts over chicken wire that falls to the ground to simplify cleaning the indoor part. The finishing touch will be some cattle wire around the outside just off the base to discourage digging. Then just move it around as necessary.


Anonymous said...


Farm looks great buddy, it looks like you got your ducks in a row. As Kathy pointed out, it is good to see you writing here again. It is nice to see the larger overview of your homestead. You better not try to sell any of that non-pasteurized milk or the FDA will be busting up into your curtilage. haha


Nice looking plot you have there. I don't think I ever looked into your profile link before.

As regards to current events, I found this nice little article showing that raising the top tax rate in the UK actually brought in less revenue. Can we finally just admit that the Laffer curve should be the Laffer Law?



kathy said...

Than you so much! I'm like the lady with a new baby. I so love it and I want everybody to comment on how wonderful it is. It was not much of a much when we bought it but 20 years of hard work and putting every spare dime into it has turned it into a food-producing oasis. We have 42 varieties of perennial food plants, mostly fruit trees, berry bushes, nut trees, mushrooms and reproducing vegetables. We have another 25 typs of permanent herbs as well as a small sugar bush, a pig pen, 10 bee hives and we share chickens with a neighbor. Another neighbor has a raw milk dairy and another does grass-fed beef. For those of us without enough land to grow everything, figuring out how to support a local food shed is necessary. It will all come down to family and neighbors.

Anonymous said...

Kathy you should be proud. You really have it organized and your land is beautiful. I live 20 minutes outside Ann Arbor and it reminds me a lot of here. I cannot wait for spring, this winter has been no fun.


kathy said...

DH is a skiier and doesn't mind the winter but since I gave up skiing a few years ago, winter is just one long slog. I get through it with seed acatalogs, creative use of the two greenhouses and using the downtime to write the workshops I present in the spring, summer and fall. I began teaching food preservation classes a few years ago and now teach a lot. I'm delighted to have asked to join the faculty at our local community college. They have a new reskilling certificate program. Some things just give one hope.

Greg T. Jeffers said...



My garden needs some prettying up!

Greg T. Jeffers said...

I miss that good soil back east... Here I am working with the precursor to brick....

www.johncall.com said...

Farm is looking good. Noticed your garlic/onions are spaced out a good bit. You ever try to do more intensive on those like square foot gardening? I put my garlic at 12 per sf and my onions at 16 per sq.

Last year I harvested 320 onions off 20 sf of space.

Greg T. Jeffers said...

I use sqft gardening for everything else.... good question.... I think I have tried to over jam the onions and that didn't work... so I began 6 inch spacing and foot between rows.

Do you use rows? If not, how do you space them in a sqft scenario?

kathy said...

I do my onions in a grid, maybe 3 inches on each side. I ammended the soil with micronutrients and lots of rabbit shi..I mean poo. I just added perennial onions to my permenant gardens. As onion is one seed that can't be stored and because I find them a bear to germinate I want to give these a try. We eat so many onions; I could easliy manage to go through 300 onions a year.

Greg T. Jeffers said...

We go through about 150 onions, but the kids are still small and don't eat them...

Can you tell me or link me anything about the perennial onions?

Greg T. Jeffers said...

Gardening is imperfect... we have more garlic than we can use this year, and not enough onions - just the way they grew this winter... spring onions do not do so hot around here... but this year I planted them earlier than usual.

Any other perennial food plants that are favorites of yours?

Stephen B. said...

I have bunching (perennial) onions.

I planted some about 8 years ago and have had them ever since. To me, they're more like scallions in that they don't seem to give much bulb size, but that's okay since I just pick more to compensate.

They seem to be at their best in the spring when they get a head start on just about everything else since they're already established. They even beat their cousins, the chives. I have the bunching onions against a east-facing wall at the MA house and they're already greening up.

By late spring they are putting up a central flower stalk which seems to toughen up quite a bit, so at that point I just pick the softer-feeling bunching onion greens around the seed/flower stalk. As the seed heads mature I let most of the seed fall back into the bed and that reseeds any thin spots from my previous picking and/or where some older plants died back.

They can get rather crowded, which can make the clumps of bulbs rather hard to divide for harvest, that and the fact that I think the quality of the entire plant goes down hill after flowering, so by late summer I'm glad I have conventional onions too. Still, I wouldn't be without bunching onions because they get me into fresh onions in the spring long before the regular onions would.

kathy said...

I got mine from the Southern Seed Savers Exchange booth at the Mother Earth Sustainable Living Fair.