Flat Mountain Dispatches

journal

Back in August we cleared all the moss, grass and roots away from this exposed slab of granite bedrock. I've wanted to do this since we moved here, as it's one of the few places on our land where the thick skein of the flat mountain breaks through the surface of the Earth, giving you a sense of the landscape beneath.

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Concerning crop-rotation & fragile agricultural systems

Addendum to November 9th

Inadequate crop rotation is one of the many points of failure baked into contemporary industrial agriculture; an intensive farming practice that favours the monocultural production of a homogenous range of crops. Some of the distinguishing features of this model are a reduction of labour time, an increase of historical plant yields and a maximisation of profit-margins. The latter is particularly important to modern industrial infrastructures, which consider agriculture a primarily economic pursuit.

Commercial agriculture may also be considered the pinnacle of an open-loop system — meaning a system design that cannot be self-sustained — requiring a steady support of external inputs to function. For modern agriculture this means the continual use of agrochemicals and fertilisers to offset depleted soil-health, pesticides and fungicides which destroy vital microorganisms in an effort to control the build-up of diseases, and mechanical tillage to improve the take-up of applied nutrients. Heavy tillage has the side-effect of disturbing and compacting the soil, destroying complex soil-structures and — somewhat ironically — resulting in the need for further damaging tillage to break-up the now compacted land for re-planting. It's a process of ever diminishing returns.

This resource intensive approach to agriculture is currently enacted on a massively unsustainable scale, accelerating the regional degradation of land and soil-fertility. When a point of decay is reached in which the land can no longer support this industrial model, the agricultural industry must expand into new territory to continue production. In many cases this means occupying land inhabited by already marginalised — and often indigenous — communities. This exploitative process of expansion and depletion has caused widespread displacement of peoples, the loss of arable lands previously suitable for farming, and is a major contributor to increased rates of bio-diversity collapse throughout global ecosystems

Reliance on monocropping has also reduced our available range of food sources, with the four staple crops of 'soybeans, wheat, rice and corn' coming to dominate commercial outputs; never in history have so many humans subsisted on such a specialised diet of often relatively nutritionally depleted foods. More pressingly, over-specialisation has driven a sharp decline in genetic diversity among the crops themselves. Alongside climate, bio-diversity and erosion stresses, this weakens our primary crop strength, increasing industrial agriculture's susceptibility to devastation by outbreaks of disease; picture an event akin to a worldwide potato famine and you're part of the way there.

Unfortunately, our ongoing experiment with Global Capitalism oft trends towards negligent systems designs. Thus far there has been little response to the aforementioned fragilities, with world-leaders presenting themselves as unable or unwilling to adapt current systems to a changing 'nature' still broadly considered An Other. Discussions around climate-crises are still largely defined by the deterministic philosophies of the Industrial Revolution, enraptured by its call to unyielding Imperialism. From this position, 'Humans' and 'Nature' are understood to be distinct and separate entities, with 'Humans' evolved into a position of dominance over the latter. This intractable schism that lays at the cultural heart of modernity continues to dictate our relationship to 'Nature', which we have come to think of as either a resource to exploit or a sacred-space to conserve.

Disregarding your affinity for the contested merits of expansive globalism and the march of Industrialisation — and lest we forget, both remain in their infancy, as yet unproven on any meaningful time-scale — the pressures massing upon agricultural and ecological systems carry consequences that will eventually affect all of us; certainly they're already responsible for a rise in refugee crises, exacerbated by food-scarcity and desertification. These fragilities are ongoing concerns, developing on a scale that has scant regard for the arbitrary borders we imagine exist around our Individual and National identities.

Our shared futures demand responsive agricultural models; stronger systems untethered from exploitation and expansion, designed to evolve to meet ever changing environmental conditions. This lofty dream seems a long way off. It's doubtful that a global economic system whose relationship to 'nature' remains so fundamentally at odds with reality, can ever imagine or achieve such a thing.

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Concerning Alliums & crop-rotation

We're settling into Garlic sowing season, with around 200 cloves ready for the ground. This may sound like an awful lot of Garlic to those unfamiliar with growing-their-own; one clove today equals one bulb tomorrow. Rest assured that a 200 bulb supply soon dwindles when you're planning to use Garlic as a main-ingredient, producing sauces, pestos, dips, herb-salts and oils; not forgetting to save enough cloves to re-plant next season.

Whipping all these concoctions up to a sufficiently Garlicky level calls for more than 200 bulbs; unfortunately we lack the space to sow more within the confines of our kitchen-garden. Instead, we made a rough calculation of our annual Garlic use in meal preparation, deciding that 200 bulbs should fill that gap alone in the year ahead. If we have surplus for other produce then it'll be an unexpected surprise. We'll have expanded and prepared more growing space come Fall 2022, and thus be able to plant a much a larger crop.

Crop rotating among your growing spaces is important for maintaining soil-health and managing soil-borne diseases. To offer a gross over-simplification: individual plants are grouped into plant families, these families have their own nutritional appetites, and are each at risk of particular sets of diseases. Seasonal rotation between crops with varying needs minimises the impact and establishment of plant-specific diseases, whilst giving time for the nutrients taken up by the previously grown crops to be replenished. Different plants also have unique root-structures which impact the soil in a number of ways. Good crop rotation means that soil isn't subjected to the same patterns of root disturbance year-in-year-out, which can help control the long-term effects of soil-erosion.

Aforementioned space constraints forced us into an act of chicanery this year, which explains why we're planting today's Garlic in last season's Zucchini bed. Garlic is known as a heavy feeder, meaning that it requires a plentiful diet of nutrients to grow. Zucchini is a similarly heavy feeder, needing rich soil-fertility to bear its voluminous leaves, flowers and fruits — there are also active plants (Legumes such as beans and peas) which help replenish and rebuild the soil.

There appears to be an abundance of online misinformation about the soil-fertility requirements of Garlic and other plants in the Alluim family — notably Onions. This likely stems from the Alliums ability to grow successfully in a wide range of soils, leading some green-fingered souls to misrepresent them as neutral or light feeders with minimal needs. I suspect this observational knowledge has been passed down as a kind of common oral-tradition, as is the case with so many of our traditions. Regardless, although Garlic and other Alliums can indeed be grown almost anywhere, be sure that they require a fertile soil and a wealth of nutrients to produce to their fullest potential. They're also extremely prone to disease build-up — it's advisable to never grow Alliums in the same space without a gap of at least two years in-between.

With all this in mind, the progression of Zucchini to Garlic isn't so excellent. To attempt to off-set this unfavourable pairing, we've been adding heavy layers of organic waste and compost — something I've covered in recent journal entries — in order to replace as many of the nutrients taken up by the Zucchini as possible. This is far from the optimum approach to rotation, but as with all things on the flat mountain, we plan to have more sustainable solutions worked out in the years ahead.

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Nothing much to see or say here, except.. 'parsnips'.

The kitchen garden is now dominated by the usual Fall suspects, namely cabbages, kale, sprouting broccoli, sprouts, swede, leek, kohlrabi, chard and Jerusalem artichoke, which waits patiently beneath the Earth.

Roe deer ate all our parsley.

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Cop26, where the leaders of a global death-cult discuss which marginalised communities they should steal land from next, and which extractive new industries they should build there. Now with extra greenwashing!

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Concerning water-damage & death-omens

One year in and the restoration process has taken its first uneven steps. Opening with a typically nightmarish scenario.

The yellow panelling from the front of the house has to be removed in order to access the foundation and the floor, where some structural elements need replacing. Unfortunately, when the panels were removed, we discovered the wall behind crumbling to dust.

This damage was caused by a combination of water and the wood-boring “Clock of Death” beetle, which thrives in moist wood and is undisturbed by long freezing Winters. It got the name “Clock of Death” because of the tick-tock sound the adult male makes as it knocks its head against the wood to attract a mate. I suspect this beetle is a close relative of the “Death Watch Beetle”. Both are associated with regional lore that attributes the ticking/tapping sound to ill omens and impending death.

Thankfully the damage appears to be isolated to the front of the house. The rest of the walls are built in a lying timber style. Although standing timber was used in the 1700s it wasn't particularly common until the late 1800s, meaning this wall is likely one of the newer additions to the building. Based on our dating of other work, we guess it was put up around 1900—1920. We have no idea how this level of water damage initially occurred though!

For now we're covering the panelling up and putting this firsts stage of restorations on hold. We'll have to get the front wall rebuilt alongside the other foundation and floor work. We're already having new windows made in a more traditional style — re-using some of original glass from the 1870 windows that we found out in the barn. This will entail having some of the timber cut away in places, and new timber added in others. The plan now is to roll all of this work together next Spring.

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Concerning seed-banks & resiliency

Seeds are historical record, cornerstone of fertile present and seer of unwritten future. Seeds are nodes in a complex web of growth and renewal, a process connecting us to ancient lands and storied ancestors. Seeds are shards of frozen time, representing an embedded constant in our lived experience. Their necessary vitality spreads across all cultures and civilisations. In a very practical sense, seeds are life.

As you may have inferred, I have seeds on my mind of late. A crypt-chill has begun biting at the treeline, and it'll take a few days for this old house to adjust to the dropping temperature. Like its occupants, the house must re-acclimatise to the encroaching frosts and damp mists. For now I've retreated to the comfort and refuge of wool blankets and cups of tea. Turning to the windows, I can see that all but a few plants lie dormant. The last purple flowers of the Aster are wilting, the deciduous tree's have long shed their reddening berries and are now dropping their golden leaves. The dense canopy and verdant understory have retreated, revealing a dark warren, a wooded expanse watched over by looming evergreens.

The forest is hollowing itself out for Winter, exposing its core. The land slows its rhythm in accordance. When you inhabit a space so intimately, this shift in landscape conjures pressing thoughts of the future.

We maintain a small but healthy seed selection here on the flat mountain. Mainly a mixture of heirloom packets bought when we started growing, alongside a miscellany gifted by friends and family, or stolen from other forests and gardens. This selection is now bolstered by our first harvest and the crops that we allowed to fully mature. It's always advisable to allow some of your plants to go to seed this way, in order to be stored and sown anew.

Regardless of origin, these seeds share a common bond. All have been sourced from plants that grow well here in Sweden. The concern seeping into the background of all things is the unpredictability of what might grow well here in Sweden in the future. This has gotten me thinking about the importance of building a more comprehensive and inclusive seed bank, diversifying our existing collection with a range of currently less viable varieties. Think of this as a particularly seed focused form of prepping. One way of bracing for potential climate shifts.

One aspect of this has been to look at the products we buy from the shop and explore what we can replace or off-set those with. Here we find ourselves attempting to balance our produce needs with the amounts that we can reliably grow. To this end I've been researching alternative plants for staples like flour and oil, and I hope to experiment over the next few years with some of these. Ideally I'd like to expand to a community model, where staples like flour and oil are produced collectively from a diversified range of crops, rather relying on a single source.

This speaks to my communal roots, which are planted firmly in anarchism. I hold scant belief in alternative farming movements that merely reproduce capitalist relationships on a more intimate scale. I hold even less belief in modern survivalist fantasies, which have largely emerged from a US-centric frontier mentality and a general mis-education about natural selection and survival-of-the-fittest. This informs my lack of faith in how much of a viable solution I think that the going solo off-grid model represents. Which is not to say that I don't believe we can't learn multitudes from individuals who're going off-grid, and using that sandbox opportunity to explore — or rediscover — all manner of self-sufficiency practices. This is partly what I'm doing myself.

While I'm sure it's possible that a type of individual sustainability may be achieved, I have to sincerely doubt the wider value of this approach as anything but an edge-case. Co-operation and a striving towards community has always been the defining factor in human survival and prosperity. There's a reason we spent around 95% of our history living in a variety of often egalitarian communities* able to share, diversify and adapt subsistence needs among a wide range of practices and sources. The solely individualist approach is — I feel — part of a wider pattern of learned behaviours unique to a culture which wrongly ascribes concepts of violence, greed and selfishness to human nature. This approach is necessarily limited in its scope and potential precisely because it abandons the co-operative adaptation our species excels at.

Ideological approaches to post-capitalist survival aside. Global instabilities made it hard to source certain seeds last year, which is a difficulty I expect to see repeated in time. Pandemic disruption played an exacerbating role, but an unreliable seed market is also one of the million problems tied to our exponential rate of ecosystem destabilisation, soil degradation and species decline. But right now I'm in too good a mood to expend those topics any more thought. After writing this post I'll return to reading 1,200 year old poetry beneath my aforementioned blankets. Warm, content and distracted.

As my mind drifts back towards seeds, I remind myself that I have no idea what's coming next. Whatever awaits us, I suspect that a resilient and locally accessible seed bank may become an increasingly important feature of our future communities, in the event we are forced adapt to mounting pressures of food insecurity.

*I swear this is not the appeal to primitivism that it may at first appear to be. History doesn't tell a story of a bright and noble past any more than it tells a story of a dark and viscous one. History is one big greyscale, offering us only a series of lenses through which to view ourselves, our relationships to others and the environment, as well as a way of exploring the myriad different social structures that we're capable of developing society and culture within. I feel these lenses are important for understanding how we have adapted our way of life and our civilisations many times to many different external and internal factors. History doesn't tell a story of determinism or linear progression, only a story of shifting forms of 'civilisation' picked up and dropped as material and cultural needs dictated. To believe that modern Capitalism represents a time of 'peak achievement' — as so many of our pop-narratives teach us — worth preserving at all costs, is to appeal to an a-historical mythology that takes a complex lived reality and reduces it to fit within a rigid, restrictive frame.

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Wild grass dispatches from the Curonian Spit dunes.

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Concerning wild grasses

Earlier this year we planted this beautiful Miscanthus Sinensis in the garden..

When considering the textural fabric of a garden space, I feel there are few elements comparable to the lush aesthetics of a tall grass. Most of us don't expend much thought on grass, only familiar with the kept greens of lawns and playing fields. The abundant typology of the plant is often ignored or never encountered. As such, many of the larger ornamental species carry an element of imagined wilderness, calling to mind romantic windswept moors and ranging steppe.

The flat mountain is busy with old logging paths and dirt roads, some looping and leading to nowhere, some heading to houses concealed by the tree's. These are corridors of open ground characterised by a mix of loose soil and fine gritty stone. There's always an incredible diversity of grasses and wild flowers along these paths.

If you live in a more urbanised environment, the closest comparisons for these wild bio-diversity sites can be found alongside railways — where seeds are carried along the tracks by the wind-like movement of carriages — or in undeveloped brownfield sites. Often you'll find an equally rich ecology growing on motorway verges or other liminal embankments connecting edgeland to edgeland. If you want to find a vibrant ecosystem in a city, look for the marginalised and untended spaces where grasses, shrubs and wild-flowers can be seeded from far-and-wide without much in the way of municipal tending or civic oversight.

Frequently, the most vital parts of an ecosystem are these types of spaces. For many of us, they lie forgotten and under-appreciated, buried beneath our aesthetic cultural norms which value formal over-determined horticultural gardens and dead manicured lawns.

~ The 'road' leading to our house

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Starting to fill in gaps around the garden, tweaking the structure of our inner circle. Here's some hardy and shade tolerant planting alongside the jordkällare (root cellar). It's a mix of edible ferns, woodruff and geranium species, with a little transplanted wild strawberry cos why the fuck not.

It looks a bit sparse now but it'll be dense and sweet when it's established. All good choices for ground cover and pollinators with some foraging use for us too.

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