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Blue Bungalow Farm

Heather Zydek writes about life on the east side of Tosa.

On Peak Oil and Edible Landscaping

Peak Oil, Edible Landscaping, A Crude Awakening, M. King Hubbert, the Oil Crash

In the summer of 2008 I learned about the problem of peak oil, thanks to the documentary A Crude Awakening. The peak oil theory, first proposed by the geophysicist Marion King Hubbert, suggests that the discovery of petroleum and ensuing extraction and refinement into useable products will peak at a certain future point because it is a non-renewable resource. When oil production peaks, it will go from being cheap and readily available to increasingly expensive and scarce. The scarcity of oil will have a potentially disastrous affect on worldwide economies and the way of life of those in the "first world," where we've come to depend on petroleum and its byproducts to survive.
 
The peak oil concept, if you think about it, is logical. It's not exactly what I'd call a shocking revelation, that the world's oil supply is eventually going to taper off, and that this will have catastrophic consequences to Americans, who depend on oil for almost everything. And yet, this idea hadn't occurred to me until I watched A Crude Awakening. It was only then that I began to consider the origin of my fuel, food, clothes, shelter, and the countless needless things I buy from Target each week. Petroleum products are a part of nearly everything we buy, from plastic bags to vinyl to synthetic fabrics. Look around your home and try to determine what products could have been made without oil and you'll probably come up with a very short list. Even the food we eat arrives on our plate thanks to oil, from the petrochemicals used to grow vegetables to the plastic packaging of convenience foods and the transport of nearly everything we eat from far-away places. 
 
Once I recovered from the initial shock-and-panic of realizing I was utterly dependent upon a dwindling resource, I resolved to learn how to become more self-reliant, to create an existence for myself that didn't rely completely on petroleum. I don't have the money to buy solar panels and go off the grid, so I figured I would start my journey toward sustainability by cutting down on energy usage and growing as much of my own food as possible. 
 
That's when I discovered edible landscaping: the idea of planting a yard not with ornamental plants but with fruit bearing trees, shrubs, and perennials that provide sustenance for a home's residents. I chose to fill my tiny lot with edibles in the event that supermarkets can no longer carry affordable, healthy food. Doing so would help me learn how to sustain myself using traditional food growing methods and, in the process, I' be able to eat organic on the cheap. So I went to garden centers and bought as many fruit plants as I could find. I bought white and red grapes, June and everbearing strawberries, blueberries, apples, cherries, and black berries. I planted four raised beds with veggies and herbs and purchased a few dwarf varieties of fruit shrubs (pomegranate, fig, orange, coffee) to grow in pots indoors. I also discovered that I had a mulberry tree and chokecherries in my yard, which was nice, I thought, because if need be I could use those fruits to make jams and jellies.
 
Of course, it takes a few years for newly established perennials and shrubs to bear fruit. There's an adage about perennials that goes like this: "first year they sleep, second year they creep, third year they leap." I've found that to be about right; the first year I reaped maybe a handful of raspberries and blueberries and an apple or two from my yard. I patiently watered and pruned. I amended the soil in my yard with compost I created myself from yard waste and kitchen scraps. As I waited, I planted more edibles: red and black currants, arctic kiwi, another apple and cherry, hazelnuts, an herb garden, and lots of veggies. I also continued to plant "ornamentals" (a mix of native and exotic perennials), because not only are they beautiful but they attract pollinators that will be beneficial to my edible plants. They also lend to the biodiversity of my yard.
 
As my shrubs and perennials mature and as my skill in raising fruits and vegetables increases, my harvest has improved little by little. This year I am finally seeing the fruits of my labor. Just the other day I was able to harvest a colorful cornucopia of first fruits from my backyard, including green beans, peas, zucchini, basil, red currants, and a few raspberries:
 
 
This is encouraging. When I first got the sustainability bug, I thought I was going to go off the grid overnight. I soon learned the depressing reality that it is very difficult to go off the grid in an urban setting, and it certainly doesn't happen overnight – not without a substantial amount of money. Over the last four summers I've learned that it may take a while to grow a large volume of food on a small lot, but with patience and persistence, I can reap quite a bit of fruit from a tiny property – perhaps not enough to completely sustain my family of five year-round, but enough to reduce my number of trips to the grocery store at the very least. Am I living sustainably? Not quite. But for me, these steps are all an important part of transitioning – a luxury those with foresight are offered as we live off the glut of oil while preparing for times when that oil will be scarce. I'm not off the grid, but I'm building my knowledge of how to grow my own food in the event that access to grocery stores, fast food restaurants, and the gas to get me to these places is limited or gone. In that event, I would actually have some idea of how to provide for myself. This is important, as there is nothing so disturbing to me as relying on massive, impersonal institutions like the oil industry for sustenance, as opposed to relying on myself, as well as my neighbors. In our nationwide narcissism, we Americans tend to assume implicitly that the institutions we create are impenetrable, unfailing fortresses. But in reality, they are as capable of decay and failure as anything fashioned by mortal hands. When our institutions fail us, which history tells us is inevitable, what, then, will be our options? 

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