And in my kitchen!
What a lovely meditation they are for the fingers. And the eye, too…
You see, some days are days for, well, this:
And in my kitchen!
What a lovely meditation they are for the fingers. And the eye, too…
You see, some days are days for, well, this:
Harold goes away to Palouse Falls and to the painted turtles of Conconully, and it is mighty fine, but summer is two weeks early this year, right, which means that when he gets back the apricots are almost finished their beautiful jammy thing and are not his apricots anymore. The drunkards have taken over the garden.Unfortunately, despite all the fermented apricot pulp one of them even managed to muster enough wherewithall to sting. Hoooooooooo, I tell ya.
Here’s some mullein blooming against a backdrop of grasses gone to seed. The seeds represent four months of light transformed into starches and stored in the seeds of the grass, which show up as bright light against the darker backdrop of the grass blades themselves.So, I have some questions about that:
1. Is light actually being frozen into shape here in complex carbon and hydrogen molecules?
2. Does that represent the nature of the earth, as opposed to the nature of the universe as a whole?
3. Are the human body and mind a sensitive tool for identifying these concentrations?
4. Can a mechanical or electronic tool be developed that would mimic this human process?
5. Could it do effective work?
6. Would it be worthwhile?
If so, it would be a combined engineering and aesthetic process, because this…
… is sure aesthetically pleasing. Again, questions:
1. Is beauty and aesthetic appreciation actually an accurate method of scientific measurement, as Goethe proposed 200 years ago?`
2. If so, what can it reveal that statistically-based, numerical science cannot?
If a human body is an accurate measurement device (so to speak) for the natural world, then the questions fly in rapidly:
1. What are the ethics of using mechanical or mathematical tools to measure the world instead?
2. What is the price that is paid? What is lost? What is gained?
3. Is that a price worth being paid?
4. What could be gained by integrating human measurement, through beauty, into scientific processes?
5. What would be lost?
6. What are the ethical dimensions of that choice?
Of course, there is another set of questions, of a very practical, procedural nature:
1. What are the aesthetic-scientific procedures best suited for these relationships between humans and the earth?
2. What part of scientific procedure do they adopt? What part of aesthetic procedure?
3. What kind of space and time do they create?
4. What kind of cities and human relationships come out of them?
And of course, the big question:
When can we start this exciting work?
Well over two hundred years ago, unified traditions of Western thought were recreated as philosophy (including science and mathematics), art (including literature, music, theatre and dance), and religion (including spirituality of all kinds,) all as diversions from nature. Accordingly, today the image below is viewed as an artistic intervention into natural space, in a manner in which art has taken over the former realm of religion and spirit and the natural space is defined by science.
I believe that this system of divisions no longer describes the world. What’s more, it means that the research and educational institution tasked with defining that new world, the university, has before it the chance for a kind of renewal that has not been possible since the 18th century. As I have walked the hills this past 22 months, moving through colonial, post-colonial and indigenous spaces, often all at the same time, I have found much beauty, many previously undescribed patterns, and many questions. Some of these questions are aesthetic, like this:
Or is it because it shows the human body its arterial web?
Some of them are scientific, like this:
Is it the way they are or is it our climate here? And why?
Some of them are philosophical, like this:
Or is it created by a human eye? Or by the technology of a camera? Do these questions have an ethical dimension?
I believe these are all important questions. In fact, I have thousands of questions like this. Tomorrow, I hope to begin a series of posts proposing areas of research that would benefit the growth and sustainability of the Okanagan Okanogan as a place, in all senses of that word, as a counter to contemporary philosophies grounded in a global sense of place. Both are important.
This robin’s first brood were two such big louts that I think they burst their nest. Certainly, they fell to the ground, where she fed them for a week until they were big enough to flutter off and figure things out on their own. Part of their survival strategy was a glorious day spent learning to forage … for my strawberries. They ate every last one. So, now I know why I grew those things. This apricot, though, strategically swelling right above the robin’s new nest, looks about ready to be ripe just in time for her second clutch of eggs to hatch. I hope she’s saving it for herself.
Now I know why I pruned out the snag of branches in that place.
It’s obvious: I need a technical staff. Not, perhaps, this guy …
This is what Scientific American circa January 1890 says about him:
“The accompanying fancy sketch from the N.W. Mechanic presents a popular but very erroneous idea of what is supposed to be going on in the head of a first-class inventor. If the inventor’s caput contained anything like the hodgepodge of ideas intended to be suggested by this cut, he would be a pitiable creature, never able to invent or accomplish anything definite or useful. The truth is, the mind of the inventor is rarely fixed upon more than one subject at a time. In order to succeed, he must have a clear intellect, and be able to concentrate his thoughts strongly in a single direction. He is generally the most practical-minded man in the world, though by reason of his power to think a little differently, on new lines, or in advance of the gaping crowds around him, they ignorantly regard him as erratic or lacking in common sense.” Source
He’s so iron age, you know. This is, too:
Popular Science, May, 1932
The Hoop Car
No, I need a technical staff that can invent other things. Things like:
1. The High Volume Water Pump
Capable of collecting water from damp or even near-dry soil and pumping it to great height using water tension, osmosis and the transfer through long chains of tiny cells in a process rather like breathing.
Look at this device: a central body, with a water drawing tongue and solar-collecting wings. If those wings could contain solar cells, as in a leaf, or even in the pattern of the leaf miner below …
… they might be able to pump and collect water from tiny spaces, even from leaves, or could be used to create airflow immediately responsive to heating and cooling.
3. The Rotational Engine
The seeds have a drill-bit shaped tip, which plants itself under power from the flexing of its long, hanging tail in the heating and cooling of the day-night cycle of the earth: one small flex per day.
This is a slow form of energy capture, but an effective one that uses the enormous energy changes of the earth’s rotation through day and night, effectively harvesting changes of heat and cold. Of course, you could also do that like this …
4. The Heat Battery
Most of the lakes in the high country above the Okanagan are used as water reservoirs. Water is pumped down from them for use in the valley deeps. The thing is, the water collects cold and heat, which are wasted in this process. The energy in the water could be extracted through pumping mechanisms before it was used for irrigation. You could also harvest the earth’s rotation like this:
5. The Heat Plane
A group of Buddhist monks searched for the centre for a decade. They found it in an island in this old fault line.
Forests are dark. Grasslands are light. As the earth rotates from one to the other, massive amounts of energy are transferred in the form of wind. One could plant strategically and farm that wind. One could also control snow capture and release in this way, and extend the energy potential of winter. Imagine, controlling floods without damming rivers. Ah, but we’re talking of technical devices today. Well, we could scale this down …
6. The Heat Face
Grass Splintering Concrete
This pour of cement in a parking lot (a practice of redi-mix concrete companies flushing out their drums on a parking lot after delivering a load to a building site) has become a favoured site of grasses. If this material, or indeed any sidewalk material, was developed to harvest either the sun’s heat or the difference between the sun’s heat and shadow, as it does passively today, huge amounts of useful energy could be gathered, transferred, or stored. However, before we get too technical, we should remember this:
7. Energy Crystalization
Don’t think: Grass. Think: energy crystals. Is it not storing time, in the form of starch, in those seeds? What’s more:
8. Energy Concentrators
9. Energy Transmitters
…if those little animals migrate, they are effectively moving energy from one place to another, where it can be gathered. In another example, the sockeye salmon of the Okanogan River gather the energy of the sun in the North Pacific Ocean, and carry it up the Columbia River to the grasslands around McIntyre Bluff, in the old bed of the glaciers.
Which is the greater technology: dam? or fish?
Probably the fish. And what does a salmon do? It flows down with a river to the sea, it gathers energy, and it brings it back. We have ignored that. I mean, the most efficient way to use that energy is to eat the fish, and people did that for 10,000 years before other people started thinking they could harvest more fish and sell them. After that, things went all wrong, but now, now, could we not release millions of small generators into the rivers, which would capture river energy on their way downstream? Could they not be netted at river mouths, drained of energy, and released to make the journey again? Could we not do that with ocean currents and tides? Why dam the rivers, when the flow is already there? With the dams gone, could we not also bring back the fish? But why stick with water?
10. Wind Riders
Why does a wind energy generator have to stay in one place? What if it harvested the lightest puffs of wind?
Salsify Seeds, Ready for the Air
After a ride on the energy of the wind, they collect just as water does, in channels. Not only that, but they catch on leaves and flowers everywhere. They can, in other words, be combed or netted from the air, and the collision of wind-borne sail and net transfers energy, all at once. Using a device like the needle-and-thread grass, it should be harvestable.
You see how that works? You don’t generate energy. You capture it, move it, and harvest it. Still, look at that seedhead again…
11. The Wind Sphere
Tiny filaments, webbing convex dishes, and delivering captured energy, in whatever form, to a central collector. If a device were fashioned like this, from which the filaments were not removed by the wind, but merely caught it, or caught the light, then it could draw energy into a grid. As the plant has arranged it, it goes the other way: from the central collector outwards, which leads us to:
Or some other chemical could be stored in a stable form like this, or, if you wanted to look at it another way, time could be stored in this fashion. That is, of course, what seeds do:
13. Time Storage and Travel
Arrow-Leafed Balsam Root Seeds, A Syilx Crop
They store three months of sun through three seasons, and then release it as life. That is actually a reversal of the entropy of time. That is time travel.
That too could be used. No, this is not this kind of time travel:
Time Cheating is More Like It
I mean, the harvesting of time, its storage in a new form, and its release as another, with the net effect of stopping entropy. The thing is, this is not time travel for an individual. It is time travel for a collective, for a species, let’s say. Intriguingly, the Syilx, the first people around this place after the glaciers, used such technology to stop time. Intriguingly, the US Calvary, the Methodist settlers, and the Hudson’s Bay Company and California Gold Rush men, used such technology to cheat time and draw a profit from these processes. In other words, they increased entropy by drawing up on the vast store of stored time in the plant stuffs of the hills and the salmon of the rivers. They withdrew all the time from the bank, at once. Now the bank is crashing. It is time to invest in it again.
When such time capsules fall and roll away with gravity …
14. Gravity Harvesters
Ponderosa Pine Cones on the Move
… they are actually harnessing it. What if they were smaller, and carried up on the wind by wind-borne sails powered by solar energy, which then fell again when the earth turned away from the sun, harvesting gravity on their way down? Or if the sails were designed to decay after so many minutes or hours in the light? They could be gathered up, discharged of stored energy and released again. Or what about harvesting gravity like this:
15. Run of the Drain Hydro
This drain could be harvested by being diverted through a high grassland wetland, where it could be cropped, or its gradient can be used for a small hydroelectric turbine. What’s more …
16. Renewable Hydro
Water Wheel, Cordoba Source
This device uses the gravity created by the rotation of the earth to power a wheel. It can also be used to lift water against that gravity. In other words, by this method, you could passively lift water to great height, and then store that energy and harness it all at once.
Shorts Creek, Fintry
Over a century ago, these falls powered pressurized water and electrical systems.
You could even repeat the process, until the water that reached the valley floor was stilled, like this…
Ponderosa Pine, Stopping Water in Its Tracks
Note the deer trail that continues past it.
17. Climate Creation.
You could even pipe the water collected through rock, to release it where you wished, generating power along the way, or…
Natural Spring, Spences Bridge
Who needs a greenhouse.
…creating site-specific microclimates (or cooling houses.) If you wanted, you could pour it into a device like this…
18. Reverse Pump
Retaining Wall, The Rise, Vernon
Most pumps lift water. This one draws water downward, with gravity, through life, and the sun. The life and the sun slow the water’s progress, allowing for full utilization on its way down.
Crops grown on the face of such a pump would be easy to harvest. Soil compaction would be zero and transportation (the street at the bottom) would be a snap.
19. Mechanical Hydro
Neuthal, Zurich Overland, Switzerland. A stream stripped of gravity by a standard waterwheel about three hundred metres away, is harvested again by a waterwheel in this structure. Its energy is not translated into electricity but mechanical force, which is transferred by means of cables …
…back to the factory, where the cable sheds its energy to a system of gears and pulleys. There are lots of ways to move energy: steam, electricity, water, and cables are just a few. But what is energy? Yes, it is force — the means to do work. It’s also a more tenuous but equally powerful thing, a kind of spirit, like this.
20. Food for the Winter, for Both Body and Soul
Garlic, Gallagher Lake
Not just a product of agricultural industry but a spiritual substance that delights and sustains people by its taste and smell alone. All food is like that — some more than others.
That, too, is technology, as is this …
Joy in colour, balance and design gives humans energy and inspires them towards sustaining and intensifying experience, which might mean simply sharing it. Without that, without all of that, we have this …
Wasted Water, Wasted Earth
There is a simple word for that: death.
Well, there you have it. That’s 21. There are dozens more. As you can see, I come from a long line of agricultural fiddlers. There is so much we can do, while at the same time adding life to the planet rather than subtracting it. It’s all technology, and it’s all art. Science owns a small corner of it. Don’t let the gene-tech boys and girls tell you any different. I could sure use an inventor, though. I can observe things. I need someone with fiddly fingers. Not this guy, though …
I think he’s trying to look like Oscar Wilde, but I could be wrong.
Here’s Nikolai Tesla, with a similar pose:
Hey, maybe it’s the Hamlet look?
And what do I have? Just a happy garden gnome with his grandfather’s hair…
If nothing else, think of this: technology does not have to invade the earth. More on that shortly.
As the task lies before us of building a sustainable local food culture, let’s make that food taste as good as we can. Herbs and spices are high value crops that can be grown in small spaces all year long. They add extra value to food and are the foundation of a culinary culture, and, may I say, of culture itself. Let’s look at some that grow here, to whet our appetites, and then let’s get planting, growing, harvesting and cooking. The world is a place of delight. Let’s delight, I say!
Violas in Early Spring
Put them in lemonade, put them in a salad, add some spice or even some wintergreen. This is a spice for the heart, that makes you happy to be with your food, which, by the way, aids in digestion, and makes all food more valuable. And while we’re on flowers…
Hint: shake first.
This is another herb that makes the heart sing. Fantastic to brighten up a salad and what would look better in the centre of a strawberry shortcake or a stack of pancakes? Failing that, wine and syrup are made from this flower. With that, spring can be with you all year long, which is particularly splendid in the snow. Some dandelion wine, some wildflower honey, a bit of ginger and some canned peaches stirred on the back of the stove and then sipped from a mug in front of the window is my favourite way of welcoming in the winter. Remember: in its origins, food was medicinal; there was no distinction between food, cooking and medicine. The distinctions came later. For instance,
The second harvest is already 6 inches tall. Oregano comes back year after year after year. I like it before it goes to flower, but if you like the flowery way the Greeks do it, that’s easy, too. Don’t think of making marinara sauce, spaghetti sauce, grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches, pizza, or salads without this beauty on hand. It adds depth of taste. Originally, in Greece and Rome, in the day? A medicinal herb.
Oh, about those Greeks…
OK, look. It beats me why we import this stuff, when the stuff we can grow here has at least ten times the flavour. Look. You can almost see that flavour, right?
Greek Oregano Left, Harold’s Oregano Right
If there were a world spice championship, the Okanagan would win.
Sticking to the Mediterranean …
Even if you have to dry it is a kazillion* times better than the stuff in the spice rack at the grocery store.
*mathematically precise term
It beats me why sage is traditionally used mainly for stuffing chickens. This fresh herb can do most anything you ask of it, including standing in for many other green herbs. It is perennial and prolific in the Okanagan. The cuisine that celebrates this herb is barely in its infancy.
Note, not this stuff:
Okanagan sagebrush is not for eating, but the smell of it, crushed or steamed or smoked and filling a room, that is another matter.
Sunrise in the World of Marjoram
The most delicate of Mediterranean herbs is also under-used. A splendid addition to Middle-Eastern inspired dishes based around nuts, grains and lemon, mango or sumac. It thrives here. Once you let it go to flower, a little goes a long way.
The Spice with the Bad Rap
Long ignored because of the overpowering sweet, oily nature it takes on when dried and sold in little glass jars in the grocery store, the fresh herb is a pure delight. It thrives in the Okanagan. We could supply half the world.
Thyme Shaded by the Queen Anne’s Lace from the Sun
Because I like it sweet like that. If you want sharper time, let the sun rip at it! A perennial that requires almost water, and which comes in a myriad of flavours. Another under-utilized herb. Exquisite with scallops, for one thing.
It Comes in Purple, too (And Thai, and Lemon, and Cinnamon, and …)
The, um, cough cough, starving sage sparrows ate my first crop before moving up on the hill to scrounge up what they could of what they could find, so I reseeded.
It loves the summer heat around this place. Great commercial possibilities.
10. Pineapple Sage
New for Me, but it Sure Smells of Pineapple
I’m excited about what the summer will bring.
It beats me why all of these things aren’t grown in lush fields throughout the valley. After all, they are all very tolerant of drought and are the basis of any food industry.
11. Summer Savoury
Your Potato’s Best Friend
And soups. Oh my. Dries excellently, too.
I hope you’re getting the idea that there’s a whole unrealized industry here.
Another Victim of the Hungry Sparrows
Another chance to replant. I’m thinking mini-röstis with smoked trout and yoghurt. Poor apricot leaf. We mourn for her.
Move Over, Sugar Cane!
Imagine local food cultures weaned off of corporate sucrose and creating sweeteners without large inputs of land and water. I sure can.
I think it’s time for Canada to grow up and accept the fact that it is a country of some 200 global cultures and use that to make itself culturally rich, by building something together. Right now the orchardists of the Okanagan are asking for assured access to future water supplies and massive subsidies to maintain their crumbling industry … none of that is necessary. It is time, as I say, to grow up and use our water, earth and sun, here where the desert threads into the mountains, to finally move into this land.
14. Coriander (and Cilantro)
This is my pest control in the tomatoes. Works like a charm, by attracting wasps, which take care of the crawling nibblers that want the whole wide world.
When young, it is cilantro. Once it goes to flower, the flowers are a good cilantro substitute, but subtler in flavour. Once it goes to seed, voilà, coriander. In between, it keeps the garden healthy, and looks real fine. There is no reason not to grow this stuff year round.
Not Just for Mint Sauce
Exquisite in soups and stews, with lamb, in tea, with coffee and hot chocolate, on cream cakes and so much more. So many gardeners rip this stuff out because it spreads. Spread on, I say. In the Yakima Valley, men grow this stuff in vast fields and harvest it like hay. We can do so much better. The oils from fresh mint make even the eyes sing.
16. Chocolate Mint
17. Orange Mint
Can you tell I like mint? There are so many more. Our wild spearmint is exquisite. Apple mint is the tenderest thing imaginable, and, um … do you have one of these?
They love to come out at night and sit on the warm concrete and eat blue bottom flies.
If so, look. You might also have one of these staring at it, for hours on end, waiting for it to blink. Hey, it happens.
Chuck Enjoying a Confined Space, Back in the Day
He stared down many a toad in his time. Blessings on you, my friend.
If so, do your friend a favour and plant some of this…
Catnip and Its Flowery Friends
Around this house, I call this a lawn.
Happiness will follow. Or, just zonkedness.*
*psychologically precise term.
Hey, it beats staring at toads. And as far as catnip goes, this Okanagan bud is mighty popular with the feline set. Come on, be a pal. Oh, and you can make a relaxing tea out of it too.
A very versatile herb, and if you haven’t stuffed chicken with it, or made a cream sauce for potatoes with it, or in any other way discovered your inner Dane, well, off you go!
We buy this from Mexico. Let me put that another way: we buy this from Mexico? Here’s an idea: let’s stop being a colony.
Sure, the stuff makes people with allergies go ballistic, but, really, bees collect it and beekeepers sell it as a herbal remedy. What’s more, saffron is crocus pollen, and fennel pollen now goes for a very high price indeed. A world of pollen as a spice is wide open for us (including fennel and saffron). What’s more, this is a new culinary adventure … and we can be in on the beginning of it. So, shake a tree, I say …
22. Desert Parsley
Hey, it has worked around here since the glaciers melted away. The desert parsley down here in the valley withered away in the heat months ago, but up in the hills, ah, it’s just coming in now. No water required.
These are Called Weeds
Actually, this is a hayfield owned by a man who just wants to use it as a tax dodge. Ergo: no hay.
If wild mustard can grow here, so can domestic mustard. It doesn’t make sense that most of the world’s mustard grows on the Canadian prairies, from which it is shipped to France, made into Dijon, and shipped back in little jars.
Chamomile thrives here and easily goes native.
Why are we importing our night time teas from California and Germany? Think how happy we could make these wild pollen-gathering beetles, too! Oh, and don’t forget …
Make Yourself Happy Too!
(Your blog, bringing home the mint!)
So, that’s 25. We could expand the list to a hundred or more. We could give this stuff to our chefs, and they could make this a world culinary capital. In the colonial model, the valley was sold to the English as a Garden of Eden, where they could grow apples and apricots and make jams for English tables, and live a life of genteel ease. Now that we’ve grown up, and now that other colonial outposts have put us out of the apple business, we can start cooking for ourselves. It has, after all, been a bit more than a century in coming. This is an agriculture we can all get excited about. Besides, you get to play in your kitchen, too…
Around here, my wife never knows what to expect on the table when she comes home from work!
So much technology remodels natural processes. Current water use regimes pour water on the surface of the soil and watch it sink in. Natural processes also bring water to the surface. The water surface is a kind of lung. But there’s more. Natural water processors draw water high above the surface of the soil. Like this Italian lady …
In fact, trees can draw water hundreds of feet vertically. Lots of water. In excess of a 1000 litres a day, each.
Perhaps the Okanagan’s Highest Ponderosa Pine
Drawing water from a hilltop into the sky.
Trees do this by using the power of the sun and the molecular bonds of water. The surface tension that allows a water strider to stand on top of the water …
Water Strider in the Rain
See how the surface tension of the water converts the energy of a raindrop into wave forms, without splashing or breaking the water’s surface?
… also turns it into something like high-tensile steel if it is in columns or piping of exactly the right dimension, such as you find within a device such as this…
Douglas Fir and Ancestral Rock, Ellison Provincial Park, Okanagan Lake
Note the flat plane gravity water collector just above the tree pump (the yellow-flowered mustard).
A humanly-engineered pump can lift water no more than 32 feet, due to the weight of the atmosphere. Trees have no such problem. They can lift it from roots fifty feet below the soil to branch tips a hundred feet or more above. Surely there is a way to use all this energy and this ability to lift water great distances and to use the natural processes by which trees make this possible, to pump water from underground clouds and fogs not only to the surface, but uphill, and even to use it in a series of stages to go, say, from the wetlands in the valley bottom (or any point in between) to the tops of the hills …
After all, the trees are doing it all the time. In this way, the 18 inches of water that fall on this land every year can be used over and over and over again, powered by the sun and gravity and the particular molecular energies of water. What one needs is a solar collector (leaves), a capturing mechanism (roots), piping in between (xylem and phloem) …
Plant Water Transport Systems, Source
… and some form of water collection technology. This is entirely within human technology capacity. After all, we do it all the time, in a similar but more energy hungry process, that looks like this…
Anacortes, Washington Oil Refinery Source
Crude oil is separated using heat, evaporation and pressure into various grades of petroleum products.
Here’s another kind of technology that should provide ideas …
Eau de Vie Still, Germany Source
Again: heat, upward movement of water, condensation, collection. This can be repeated.
And another source of inspiration for the development of this technology (there is more than one path to the waterfall, so to speak)…
Electrons trickling across a barrier and collecting into a flow of current. That is not that much different than transporting water through harnessing the electron bonds between water molecules (water tension). Other extrapolations of photoysnthesis should be able to do much the same.
And don’t forget medieval technology …
The Grist Mill, Keremeos Source.
A waterwheel powered from above can also lift water from below. Like here:
It lifts water 47 metres by water power and cleverness alone. It ran until 1965, when it was retired. It was still working.
We are close. Small or large or both, using trees or artificial substitutes, we can move water wherever we want. We can do it in individual trees (or devices) …
100 metres above Okanagan Lake.
… or in vast plantations, to shift water in large patterns (forests) …
Eskers, Big Bar Lake
.. which would then be delivered to gravity reservoirs …
Enloe Irrigation Reservoir, Similkameen River
… or delivered back to the valley as rain …
… or fog …
Fog can be collected, too.
Let’s remember: Indians were created by a colonial misunderstanding that there were something like 500 separate peoples living in North America; Whites were created through the same misunderstanding; the idea that the West is a desert was created through the same misunderstanding. It is not a desert. We can have enormous volumes of water if we live with the land rather than against it. I would expect that the other social divides would dissolve at the same time. Environmental health is social health. To start, we need some clever technology, as clever as this…
… and as joyful as the tree behind the goof in the orange shirt here …
This blog has worn the soles away. They squeak. You can always hear him coming now.
Next I will talk about herbs for the Okanagan, and then I will get into the other tech that could be developed out of close observation of this land at work. Right now, I’m going camping in the hills.
Over to you.
Because land in the Okanagan Valley is vastly overpriced, due to its demand by Alberta oilmen for planting an American idea of French vineyards (a pure example of colonialism, if I’ve ever seen it), food farmers in the Okanagan Valley need to look to previously unvalued land if they are going to coax the earth into providing food. Fortunately, there’s lots of it. All of it can support non-traditional crops that make no demands on the monopolized water resources of the colonial society, which makes good political, environmental and economic sense. Just to clarify: the colonial period spans the years from 1858 to 2013. The colonial homeland has changed from England to Alberta and the colonized people from the Syilx to food farmers, but nothing much else has changed. Look what I’ve found, outside of that society’s interests …
1. Underwater Clouds
Take a look at the above ground clouds here, and the large fir trees at the crest of the slope.
The trees at the hill’s crown are rooted in the water of the lee side of the hill behind it, where the sun is less successful at drawing it from the hill and the trees do so instead. They indicate the place where water enters the subsoil atmosphere, where it reforms as clouds and flows downhill in winds of gravity and stone, subjected by increased atmospheric pull the further they descend. I call it clouds instead of rivers, ponds and lakes, because if you were to dig down into it, your hands would come up with dust. To flow in a depressurized and repressurized landscape is to vanish. The defence against it is to flow through life.
We all know this effect from watching above-ground streams. Here’s what it looks like when the stream is an underground fog…
There is enough land in this one shallow depression to provide a family with food for a year. The trees go up against an underground stone wall at the left, with other plants spaced out according to their water and soil requirements in the differing cloud densities to their right.
Oh, I know that hydrologists don’t talk like this. What I’m trying to do is to create a different story out of their technical wisdom — one that makes space for people, rather than one that fits the procedures of government. I believe that if we tell ourselves better stories, opportunity (and science) will follow. For example, let’s look at the top of this underground water system and the life it supports…
This volcanic outcropping lying atop old seabed is the deep, fortified retreat of some yellow-bellied marmots currently being harassed by some very industrious badgers.
The underground cloud system starts here, and draws fertilizer down from the impressive quantities of dung left behind by the marmots. In conventional agriculture, you lay your manure on top of the soil, or dig it in, and water it from above. In subsoil agriculture, you put it in at source and let it pass downhill, drawn by gravity. Take another look at that outcropping: what it takes to irrigate the whole three acres of this water system is the amount of rain and snow that collects against the face of this rock, plus that which falls on the three acres itself. In other words, the rock provides enough extra moisture to enable the right plants, growing in the right patterns and locations, to thrive, where they would otherwise not. There are several important principles here:
1. If you don’t waste your water on the surface, you only need enough to tip the balance over a threshold; you’re not starting from zero, and what water you put in largely stays in the system. Evaporation is prevented in numerous ways, including the pull of gravity, which keeps the water dilute enough that it attaches to soil particles rather than to itself.
2. Fertilize at the top of a system.
3. Different crops thrive at the centre of the cloud than at its margins. The greatest water users are at the margins, where the underground system strikes stone.
4. The system can be self-fertilizing, if animals that feed upon it are kept at the top of the slope; they must not graze on it directly, as their footsteps will damage the soil profile and allow the water to escape.
2. The Hillsides
300 Metres Above the Lake (700 metres above sea level at this hill’s crest).
This is prime gardening ground for dozens of indigenous plants. The altitude change of 300 metres, plus the variety of harvestable plants over an extended spring harvest season mean that labour costs can be extended over time. A farmer here does not have to hire a big crew, because there is no rush. As a result, storage costs are minimal.
3. Riparian Areas
Some of the cuts in the land are larger than the small trough I showed you above. These riparian areas (with minimal or no flowing water) are home to slow underground streams, where subsurface clouds have condensed against narrowing walls of stone. They are rich farming environments for berries and fruits, and can support rich crops of other streambed plants as well, such as medicinal docks, mallows, high carbohydrate rushes and herbs, such as mint. As well, they are vital wildlife and bird corridors.
Life here goes up and down, like the water. The hillsides of the Okanagan are covered with underground water condensers like this. Plants can take advantage of that water because of the shading effects of the steep sides of the slopes. Often one slope is exposed to the sun at any one time. When that effect happens in above-ground atmospheres, the result is wind. Underground, I expect it works like a lung or a pump.
After its long journey into a highly-pressurized, water hungry atmosphere of the lowlands, the water hits the end of the road and is pulled from the soil by the accumulating pressure of the water descending on it from above and the atmosphere drawing it out of the soil. Here, after its long journey through a rich and complex chain of life down the hills, largely intact, it provides its greatest wealth. This is a large version of the system we saw in place above.
This is an incredibly productive plant, which far outproduces conventional grain crops. All of the nutrient wealth of the hillsides above is concentrated in this environment and these rushes. It is also easily killed by covering it with two metres of gravel and building houses upon it. It’s not the only thing that can thrive in the open water, before it flows into the lake.
That’s the trick. Use your water over and over and over again.
Red Winged Blackbird
With Grub. Mmmm.
5. Roadside Ditch
This small thicket produces a crop year after year, on water running off from the road into the ditch. Before the water evaporates, it is turned into plums. There are tens of thousands of kilometres of road ditches. It is all productive space. The water collection devices (roads) are already in place and operate like the volcanic outcropping that opened this discussion. Entire industries can be built around this crop. Cost to produce? Zero! And not just plums, but …
Grow them for their beans; grow them for their wood. Stands of juvenile trees, regularly mown off, would produce stakes for an agricultural industry, without the need of wood preservatives. Black locust fence posts last in dry soils for 100 years.
And not just the ditches, but …
6. Road Shoulders and Other Gravel
This chamomile has escaped from a garden and is thriving just inches from passing cars, year in and year out, demonstrating that roadside gravel environments are incredibly productive. Purslane likes these environments as well, as well as clovers.
7. Bare Rock
The lack of soil is not a difficulty if you can quickly acquire the water the rock collects and then not let it go. Great for the bees!
8. Dirt Piles
Who Said a Field Has to Be Flat?
1/3 inch of soil over 100 square feet, or three feet of soil over 10 square feet? The latter will produce more, and earlier, to beat the coming heat when the water dries up. Here it’s a collection of weeds, but it could be spinach or lambs’ quarters. The alternating warm and hot sides of the mounds could be cleverly used to maximize cropping, cooling, and water flow.
9. Fence Posts
Fence Posts Provide Productive, Sheltered Environments
And they’re everywhere. Whether it’s herbs, pot greens, or asparagus, there are few better locations. There are millions of posts in the region. Many could support crops. In fact, you could plant them into hedgerows and crop those.
Vast acreages in aggregate, all easily accessible.
With the removal of poisons from public space, dandelions could continually be harvested for most of the year from spaces in which they are currently poisoned. I bet there are other plants willing to give it a try, too.
So, that’s ten spaces. There are many more. Most of them rely in one way or another on the water that passes in clouds through the soil, drawn by winds of gravity rather than the sun’s heating. The water that flows over the surface is largely all spoken for. Fortunately, it’s the minority of the water present here. The water might be hidden, but the potential for social renewal is not.