“Diseconomies of Scale”: High-tech Versus Low-tech Supply of Eggs

Summarized from [paywall]: Trainer, T., A. Malik, and M. Lenzen. “A Comparison Between the Monetary, Resource and Energy Costs of the Conventional Industrial Supply Path and the “Simpler Way” Path for the Supply of Eggs.” Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality 4.3 (2019): 9.

Traditional housing for chickens in Zembe, Mozambique. By Ton Rulkens – Traditional housing 2, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Global sustainability requires large-scale reductions in rich world per capita resource use rates. Globalised, industrialised and commercialised supply paths involve high resource, energy, dollar and other costs. However, “The Simpler Way” involving small-scale integrated localised settlements and economies can enable enormous reductions in these costs. This study uses input–output analysis of one product, eggs, to illustrate how big the difference between the two paths can be. [Read more…]

Pigeon Towers: A Low-tech Alternative to Synthetic Fertilizers

pigeon-towers-iranPhoto credit: Bekleyen, A. (2009). The dovecotes of Diyarbakır: the surviving examples of a fading tradition. The Journal of Architecture, 14(4), 451-464..

Many societies, ancient and contemporary, have innovated ways of supplying their fields with fixed nitrogen and phosphorus—two crucial ingredients for crop productivity. One is crop rotation, which alternates nitrogen-fixing and nitrogen-exhausting crops. Farmers around the world make use of chickens, ducks, and geese to add “fresh” guano to their fields. Cattle manure is another useful alternative—although it often lacks in phosphorus. Much more labor intensive than simply adding fossil-fuel derived synthetic fertilizer, these practices tend to build up soil, limit greenhouse gas emissions, and lead to less run-off into rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Persian pigeon towers are one of the more elegant solutions to the nitrogen-phosphorus problem. These are essentially castles built for thousands of wild pigeons, strategically placed in the middle of the fields. Their droppings were shoveled up once a year and sold to nearby farmers. While most pigeon towers existing today are in disrepair, the oldest still standing are dated to the 16th century (but they are assumed to have existed over 1,000 years ago) and helped fuel the cultivation of Persia’s legendary orchards, melons, and wheat production.[1] [Read more…]

Enough with the Vertical Farming

dicksondespommier“In their efforts to develop a system that sustainably supplies cities with a large share of their food, theorists and practitioners of vertical farming face insurmountable obstacles.”

“These include the limited range of crop species that can be grown; the tiny proportion of our population’s total food needs that indoor crops could supply; the elite market being targeted; and the irrelevance of indoor agriculture to the lives and diets of people living in economically stressed rural regions where the bulk of our food is grown.”

“Meanwhile, looming largest among the many factors that will restrict the growth of vertical gardening (a term I believe is more apt than “vertical farming,” given the potential scale and the types of food that can be produced) are its extraordinary energy requirements and heavy climate impact.”

Read more: Enough with the vertical farming fantasies: there are still too many unanswered questions about the trendy practice. Via The Urban Vertical Project.

How to Plant an Iroquois Garden

Three sisters“According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. This tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American farming societies, is a sophisticated, sustainable system that provided long-term soil fertility and a healthy diet to generations.” 

“Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb. Beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot by providing nitrogen to the following years corn. Bean vines also help stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash vines become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, thereby improving the overall crops chances of survival in dry years. Spiny squash plants also help discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans. The large amount of crop residue from this planting combination can be incorporated back into the soil at the end of the season, to build up the organic matter and improve its structure.” Read more: 1 / 2 / 3.

Straw Bale Gardening

straw bale gardening

“Straw Bale Gardening is simply a different type of container gardening. The main difference is that the container is the straw bale itself and is held together with two or three strings.”

“Once the straw inside the bale begins to decay the straw becomes ‘conditioned’ compost that creates an extraordinary plant rooting environment. Getting the straw bales conditioned is an essential part of the process, and should be started two weeks prior to your target planting date wherever you are located.”

“This gardening technique works well anywhere in the country or the world for that matter.” Read more: here and here.

Self-Watering Planter From Porous Earthenware

Unglazed clay pot for irrigationIndustrial designer Joey Roth developed a self-watering planter for use indoors or out. It is made from porous unglazed earthenware:

“Soil and plants are placed in the outer donut-shaped chamber, and the center chamber is filled with water. The unglazed terracotta’s natural porosity allows the water to move from the center chamber and into the soil, based on the soil’s moisture (and thus the plant’s need for water). The terracotta wall both regulates and filters the water. A simple lid on the top of the water chamber prevents evaporation.”

The design is based on the Olla, a terracotta pot for irrigation that has been in use for 4,000 years. See also: