Conservative Christians and Permaculture: separating the wheat from the chaff.

 the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.


Permaculture was originally a portmanteau of “permanent agriculture” and was related to forest gardening.  It has changed over the years though, and now has both very wise gardening techniques and quite absurd new-age-y progressivist elements as well.  This is a common graphic associated with permaculturists:
There is both wheat and chaff in permaculture, and I don’t have them all separated out yet.  Here are some of the things I agree with:
1. Rather than large swaths of sterile, barren lawns, humanity would be much better served if people learned to plant beautiful herb, vegetable, and fruit gardens.
2. Planting gardens the way God made forests is sensible.  Permaculture follows a “forest garden” model:


Without buying into the pagan new age spirituality associated with permaculture (to read a permaculture blog is to read the word “Gaia” ad nauseum), I’m still intrigued by their ideas about what it means to labor and obtain a yield, as well as their smart gardening practices.


We bought a little over ten acres of woods and disrupted farmland this past fall.  The land had been let go, which means it’s becoming overrun with autumn olive bushes, which are highly invasive thorny shrub that can grow ten feet tall and spread like wildfire.  Autumn olive was originally brought to this country from Asia as a means of controlling erosion; the fruit is supposedly edible, but it isn’t a smart plant to cultivate as it will take over and choke out native plants and trees; it even changes the soil chemistry, making the land good only for autumn olive.


I’ve slowly started clearing it out of our forest and meadow.  Here is an area I’ve cleared:


Here is what an autumn olive thicket looks like up close:


Here is another area I’ve cleared, transitioning from our yard into the forest; previously this was a thicket of autumn olive and thorns:


Using some of the techniques I’m learning from permaculture, I aim to transform it into this:

Image source: Starter Permaculture

In the fall I planted apple and peach trees with raspberry and blackberry vines under them.  I’ll add sunflowers, strawberries, herbs and other plants, following the permaculture technique for creating a “forest garden”.  Instead of recycling our cardboard waste, I am using it to mulch under the trees and plants for weed control, which saves labor (saving labor and producing no waste are both permaculture attributes).
As I separate the pagan chaff from the beauty- and food-producing wheat of permaculture, I will share those lessons here.  Looking at ten acres of work feels overwhelming, but the permaculture approach of implementing small, slow solutions is comforting and compatible with both my conservativism and Christian faith.
[This is my second post in an ongoing series, “Separating the wheat from the chaff,” in which I consider the health of our natural world and environment in the context of conservatism and Christianity.  The first post was Conservative Christians and the International Day of Forests: separating the wheat from the chaff.]



Conservative Christians and the International Day of Forests: separating the wheat from the chaff.


Angel Oak Tree, located in Angel Oak Park on Johns Island in South Carolina, is estimated to be up to 1400 years old.


Today is International Day of the Forests, which is a UN-created initiative, so we know it will be chock-full of progressive nonsense.  Yet at the same time, some truth is woven into it.  Our job as conservatives is to separate the wheat from the chaff, not to throw out the entire bushel:

“Participants stressed the broad importance of forest ecosystems and noted that forests comprise an inter-dependent web of animals, plants and microorganisms, which together provide a wide range of goods and services beyond carbon sequestration. These include biodiversity conservation, rainfall generation and products that are crucial to the livelihoods of local forest dependent and indigenous peoples as well as to the economies of many countries.

Those attending recognized the importance of building on the vast knowledge and experience that exists on sustainable forest management (SFM) and called on negotiators to consult with forest stakeholders as they develop climate policy.”

So far, mostly so good, but then:

“Include forests in climate mitigation and adaptation mechanisms and strategies

Ensure full inclusion and participation of civil society in international, regional, national and local decision-making processes

Recognize and respect the rights of women, poor people and Indigenous Peoples”

As conservatives, we can leave behind all the blah-blah about women’s rights and indigenous peoples, instead focusing on how important forests are for all of mankind’s well-being.

The problem with environmentalists is that they are nearly all leftists/liberals/progressives, and therefore, lacking in true religion, they resort to worshiping the earth (Gaia) and despising humanity as the corrupter of their god, the natural world.  Yet they have correctly identified a serious problem: Mankind is generally not behaving as good stewards of the garden that the true, living God gave us.

Conservatives rightly identify the false religion of leftist environmentalism as the paganism that it is, but instead of working on the actual problem (poor stewardship), they get stuck in reacting foolishly against environmentalists.  This is how we end up with childish idiocy like Carbon Belch Day, which occurs one week from today; here is their pledge:

Yes! I will increase my CO2 output on March 28th! I am joining people from all walks of life in taking the Carbon Belch Day Pledge! On March 28th I will do my best to increase my CO2 output and unleash a Carbon Belch on the planet. I do this with no fear or concern that I am destroying the planet, but rather to show the absurdity of the “going green” wackos who want to make something out of nothing.

Conservative Christians should not participate in this nonsense, which surely cannot please our Lord.  Rather than behaving just like environmentalists, we conservatives ought simply to point out where environmental alarmists are wrong and then move forward on fixing those areas where they are right.

So where are they right?  I believe they are right when they say that forests are of great importance to the health of our earthly garden and its inhabitants.  The reason we should care about sustaining forests (and we should) is not because we hate humanity (as environmentalists seem to) but because we love humanity and want forests to serve human flourishing.

I do not worship Gaia and I am not a climate alarmist, but I recognize my role in taking care of the true, living God’s garden.  To that end, I want to manage my own little piece of God’s garden as well as I can and I want our earthly governments to enact sane, reasonable policies that both serve mankind and manage our natural world well without giving in to hysterical, left-wing, human-hating climate alarmism.

 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Genesis 2:8-9, 15

[Note: This is the first in what will be an ongoing series called “Separating the Wheat from the Chaff”, in which I will consider the health of our natural world and environment in the context of conservatism and Christianity in an attempt to extract the wheat and discard the liberal, progressive, Gaia-worshiping chaff.  I’d be grateful for reader input on these issues.]

How to fix a slippery driveway hill without damaging the environment.

It snowed again last night and now the temperatures are dropping and the wind is whipping. By tonight, the air temperature is supposed to fall to -13 F (-25 C) with wind chills of -30 to -40.

Despite having our driveway professionally plowed now, the constant light snow, cold temperatures, and high winds have turned our long driveway with its steep hill up to the house into a sheet of glass-like ice.  We’d been wondering what to do about this – should we salt the heck out of it? We didn’t know if that would even work on a gravel driveway, but not only that we also don’t like to use road salt because of its environmental impact.

There is a gravely mistaken belief among some conservatives that because environmentalists are largely extreme left-wingers who come up with incredibly foolish and destructive ideas, we therefore should embrace wastefulness and not care about polluting the environment. I suspect this foolish belief comes from wealthy fiscal conservatives who want us to be wasteful so that we will consume more and thus have to work more, thereby lining their already-stuffed pockets.  I don’t believe it is either morally-licit or wise to embrace this wasteful attitude; I lean toward the orthospherian side of reactionary politics, which makes me very conservative, but I care about taking care of the natural world as much as possible. While I don’t go for any silly Gaia-worship, neither do I want to needlessly destroy God’s beautiful creation if I can avoid it.

But we knew we couldn’t safely drive on this glare ice up a steep hill, so what to do? Well, it turns out our plow guy grew up on a big farm in this area, and he told us his family spreads diatomaceous earth that is specially processed as an industrial absorbent on the steep hills that their farm equipment and pick-up trucks need to get up and down.

What is diatomaceous earth?

“Diatomaceous earth…is a naturally occurring, soft, siliceous sedimentary rock that is easily crumbled into a fine white to off-white powder…Depending on the granularity, this powder can have an abrasive feel, similar to pumice powder, and has a low density as a result of its high porosity. The typical chemical composition of oven-dried diatomaceous earth is 80 to 90% silica, with 2 to 4% alumina (attributed mostly to clay minerals) and 0.5 to 2% iron oxide.

Diatomaceous earth consists of fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae. It is used as a filtration aid, mild abrasive in products including metal polishes and toothpaste, mechanical insecticide, absorbent for liquids, matting agent for coatings, reinforcing filler in plastics and rubber, anti-block in plastic films, porous support for chemical catalysts, cat litter, activator in blood clotting studies, a stabilizing component of dynamite, and a thermal insulator.”

I had used diatomaceous earth that I bought at a garden store years ago to kill grubs in our lawn without using pesticide. I had also read at Rural Revolution about using food-grade diatomaceous earth as an additive to grains like rice when preparing them for long-term storage because it prevents pest infestation of the food.  But I had never heard of using it as an absorbent or for traction.

We were a bit skeptical and weren’t sure if it would work, but we were getting sick of sliding off our driveway, so Phil went to The Parts Peddler in Dexter (I love small-town, independently-owned businesses) and bought some. This is the kind he got, but there are other brands I’m sure:


The package says the contents are 100% diatomaceous earth.

This is what it looked like when he spread it on the driveway – like dirt, basically.



But oh my goodness, it works! I mean, it works perfectly. You can drive right up that hill like you’re driving on bare gravel, not a slip or a slide. Phil went back and bought several more bags to keep in the garage; several times a week now, he will go out and spread a fresh layer. I believe he uses one bag each time he does this and each bag costs about $8.

My advice to anyone who needs to get up and down a steep driveway hill in the winter is to try spreading diatomaceous earth that has been processed as an industrial absorbent. You won’t damage God’s beautiful green earth but you’ll be able to drive right up the hill no matter how icy it is.