Tag Archives: permaculture

Bitcoins – the missing link?

A concept that has intrigued me for many years, is a lifestyle combining the simplest of permaculture living with the absolute “bleeding” edge of technology. An eco-village (real or virtual) where we grow our own food, generate our own power and educate our children, free from the pressures and interference of big governments and rampant consumerism.

Now its easy to give up the day job, sell the house and cars and buy a piece of land in the country, but where will the money come from to feed, clothe, educate and protect your family? How will you afford healthcare? Many folk like me, with some web-based income, will find it easier to adapt, but what we cannot do without, is high speed Internet connectivity and the ongoing means to sell our wares online.

Once you have an online business up and running, the reality of payment options rears its head. I have fiddled with PayPal, credit cards and direct deposits over the years but the manual interventions required at almost every step makes the income earned not worth all the admininstration involved.

I started researching online virtual currencies a few months ago with a view to adapting my business model to a wholly online experience. With the recent financial upheavals in Europe I realised that governments and banks could not be trusted with our money and although online currencies where fraught with growth pains, they offer a welcome break from the traditional financial model.

Over the next few months I am going to re-visit my dreams of an eco-village, start another web business helping folk earn an income online and move all my payment options to virtual currencies, namely Bitcoin.

My ebooks book can now be paid for with Bitcoins.

Aquaponics – The Synaptoman way

If you’d like to trade in virtual currencies, including Bitcoins and SLL (Second Life Lindens) pop over to  VirWoX

To buy or sell Bitcoins, go to Mt.Gox and open an account.

Enough for now.



Small bites of Synaptoman

Thank you for all your votes on the SA Blog Awards, your support was greatly appreciated. Although I won no awards this year, Synaptoman still maintains a Top 10 position in the News and Politics category in the South African Blogosphere.

The weather here in Paarl has been challenging with regular daytime temperatures of close to 40 deg C. February is normally hotter and we are starting to wonder if 2013 will be another 50 deg year.

The grape harvest has started coming in and we look forward to a great vintage. The Child Bride (back from the UK at last) has started spending more time here in Paarl with me while the Knysna house is being used as a holiday destination. The garden and small fruit orchard looks after itself and we pick fresh produce whenever we go there.

On the Aquaponics and Permacuture fronts the vegetables and fresh eggs flowing from my Paarl garden now form a large part of my daily diet. Those following my Twitter feed will also know that I have been flying my ARDrone 2 on a regulare basis and taking some awesome aerial photos of the Cape Winelands. Bush fires have recently threatened many wine farms in the area and violent labour strikes have also added their share of irritation.

For my US readers, why not pop over to the Aquaponics Store (link on the right)? They have some great aquaponics equipment for us “geek gardeners”.

My Twitter account is slowly gaining traction and a steady stream of Aquaponics, Permaculture, Technology and current affairs tweets have attracted some followers. Have a look around and I promise you won’t be bored.

Well, enough for now. Time to make some delicious Basil Pesto.

Fresh Basil

Modern Survivalism 101 – An Introduction

Synaptoman, the blog, has concerned itself with many topics over the years and has, surprisingly, thanks to you, the loyal reader, reached the #7 spot in the News and Politics section of the local South African blog charts. Topics have ranged from Aquaponics to Sustainable Living, Permaculture, Humour and even some local politics. I have carefully charted a course for this blog based on what my readers want to read about and have even had the occasional reader survey, not that I have a particularly democratic personality.

What is clear is that most of my readers come here for the Aquaponics. While I could write indefinitely on this subject, I have put most of what I have learned into my book, Aquaponics – the Synaptoman Way, which you can buy from this website. This little publication sells a considerable number of copies and I am sure ranks as one of the most downloaded eBooks on the subject of Aquaponics worldwide.

What you must bear in mind however, is that Aquaponics is just one small component of the ‘bigger picture” and it is this, that will be the main focus of my blog for the foreseeable future.

Modern Survivalism, as practised by Jack Spirko and the other good ol’ boys at The Survival Podcast represents a 21st Century approach to mankind’s oldest problem that is, how to survive as a family or community when things are going well or even when they go pear-shaped. It is a concept far removed from the wack-job bunkered down in a cellar surrounded by guns and “surviving” on tinned food while the world around him goes to hell in a handbag.

No, Modern Survivalism is a holistic approach to the old Boy Scout motto of “be prepared” and the important thing here is that in your preparations (preps) you should not do anything or spend any money on items that you would not need anyway. In a real “Shit Hit the Fan” (SHTF) situation, your preps should place you and your family in a far safer place than all those around you without unnecessarily attracting any attention to you.

I will spend the next couple of posts dealing with the basic concepts of Modern Survivalism and then outline how I have applied them in my life here at the southern tip of Africa.

Be Prepared


Chickens Revisited – The Holistic Gardener

A phrase I have read on numerous forums regarding chickens goes as follows, “If I had known how easy and fun it was to keep chickens, I would have done it years ago.”

This is spot on. Chickens, especially a small flock of hens only, are clean, quiet, cheap, productive and a load of fun to have around. Today I’d like to discuss where they fit into my self-sustainability plans.

This has been a long and really interesting journey and probably started with my first interest in Aquaponics almost 5 years ago. I found the concept of a closed-loop food production system intriguing but questioned the blinkered approach of the purists in this industry. Aquaponics, despite being a really cool way to produce food still seemed overly reliant on technology, power and it was also expensive to build and maintain. Also, over time, minute nutrient deficiencies developed and had to be supplemented by artificial inputs.

At this time I really started researching a more holistic approach to home food production and delved into composting, mulching, permaculture, worms, food forests and heirloom seeds. It was only after my chickens had joined the mix that I started getting a really comfortable feeling that, at last, my system was complete.

It was not the first time that I had incorporated chickens. A client, for whom I built a commercial system, suspended his chickens directly over his Tilapia ponds, a practice I subsequently strongly disagreed with. Keeping my own chickens now has enforced this view even more. Not only was it extremely unhealthy and potentially fatal, but also particularly cruel to the chickens, even if they only spent short periods of time over the tanks.

Here is a short description, in point form, of what I believe is an extremely productive, environmentally friendly, sustainable method of producing food on a micro to commercial scale.

  • Extensive soil preparation and conditioning.
  • Zero Till thereafter.
  • Extra deep mulching.
  • Composting, with and without worms.
  • Design using permaculture principles.
  • Chicken kept for litter (mulching), eggs and meat.
  • Aquaponic system used to produce fish and supply nutrients for seedlings and out-of-season vegetables in a greenhouse.
  • Use of heirloom seeds only.
  • Zero pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
  • Companion planting.

I don’t think I have all the answers, but nature itself is teaching me some valuable lessons. When you do something right, you are rewarded with a cheap, bountiful harvest. When you fight against nature, your results are disappointing and expensive.



Chickens Revisited – Let’s start at the beginning

In a previous post (Aquaponics-101-chicken-sht-and-swimming-pools), I documented an integrated chicken, fish and vegetable system which drew plenty of comment and scepticism. It entailed housing chickens above a Tilapia tank. Their droppings fell into the tank and were greedily eaten by the fish. The fish poop on the other hand provided valuable nutrients for Aquaponic vegetables in a closed loop system. While I was never comfortable with the hygienic elements of this system, the client, to the best of my knowledge, is still using it and hasn’t killed or poisoned anyone yet.

My circumstances having changed somewhat, I now find myself behind a computer terminal programming and my more agricultural pursuits have had to take place after work or over weekends. I also live alone in a small cottage on a wine farm and commute home to the Child Bride and Brat Deluxe in Knysna every 2nd weekend. This did not stop me immediately establishing a very productive little vegetable garden and recently my thoughts wandered back to chickens.

I am currently able to feed myself at least 3 days a week from my garden and the logic behind keeping chickens was to make myself even more self-sufficient. I have been a forum member of backyardchickens.com for a few years and I turned to this site for inspirations for a small chicken tractor (moveable coop) that could provide me with 3-4 eggs a day.

In my research I discovered that a laying hen produces an egg every 26 hours. I would thus need 4 hens and set about designing a coop to fit this bill. Ever on the lookout for integrated systems I also figured that 4 hens would also provide me with plenty of manure for my blossoming garden.

The coop would also have to be neat and well-constructed as I rent the cottage that I live in here in Paarl and try my best to keep my landlords happy. I wanted to design and build a piece of garden furniture and not some cobbled together creation of wood and wire.

This then is what I was aiming for, which I found at backyardchickens.com

The next couple of posts will document the build and my own interpretation of this design.

Enough for now



Permaculture 101 – Sheet Mulching

In my previous post I mentioned that I would be spending some time on the concept of Permaculture (PC).   A normal person would slowly introduce the concept, the basic principles and other background information before dealing with specific details, Not being normal I intend, after a simple definition of PC, to plunge directly into sheet mulching.

Firstly, what is PC?

The aim of PC is to design ecologically sound, economically prosperous human communities.  It is guided by a set of ethics; caring for the Earth, caring for people and reinvesting the surplus that this care will create.  (Gaia’s Garden, A Guide to Home Scale Permacuture, Toby Hemenway. ISBN 978-1-60358-029-8)

One of the first tasks in building an ecologically sound (and productive) garden is to build the soil.  I was immediately attracted to the concept of sheet mulching because it was irrelevant what the current condition of your garden is, whether it be sandy, clay soil or even a water-sucking lawn, sheet mulching was guaranteed to work because the soil was built upwards from scratch.

Briefly sheet-mulching entails building a raised bed of compostable material into which one can immediately start planting.  Planned and implemented correctly, it will immediately start breaking down and composting, retain water on an impressive scale and last for many years.  Even when it starts becoming less productive, one just adds compostable material on top to start all over again.

Anyway, here is Sheet Mulching – The Synaptoman way.

The best advice I can give here is to start small.  My first attempt at sheet mulching (SM) was an area of about 4m x 3m and it took a hard day’s slog and plenty of material to complete the job.   You will need the following;

  • Enough cardboard or newspaper to cover the area.
  • Manure (cow manure works the best)
  • Organic material (straw, grass cuttings, bark, almost anything)
  • Weed free compost
  • Mulch

I bought 12 large bags of pine bark chips which would act as my organic material and my mulch, 10 bags of mushroom compost and a pickup load of cow manure and got cracking.

 We had to fetch the manure ourselves, here’s a very rare shot of Brat Deluxe doing some work for a change.

After the manure episode he deserted me and I built the SM bed single-handedly, although I shouldn’t be too harsh on him as he looks after my garden while I’m out “hunting and gathering”, including watering the rapidly expanding fruit orchard, which in his own words is, “no joke”.

First Step is to spread a fine layer of manure over the area.

Water thoroughly and then pack cardboard or newspaper over the area.  This will kill all grass or weeds by depriving them of sunlight.  At every step from now on, water thoroughly.

After this goes the manure.  Aim for about an inch (25mm)

Then we start packing layers of organic material (in my case, the wood chips).  The deeper the better but I managed about 6 inches (150mm).

After that comes the compost. About 1 inch (25mm)

Followed by a final layer of mulch (more wood chips)

It is very important that you water at every stage.  It is absolutely amazing how much water this solid pile of material holds.  It acts as a sponge and I estimate that I added between 500-700L of water to this pile without a drop seeping out of the sides.

Now we wait a few weeks (or the whole of our Winter here in South Africa) and then start planting.

Wish me luck.

*Breaking News*

I have started testing a Forum for Synaptoman where subscribers and regular readers can discuss subjects dealt with in this blog.  I have a rough site working and am busy conducting tests after which I will open it up to subscribers to this blog first and thereafter the general public.  I hope to have this ready by next week and would appreciate any suggestions for Categories.  So far I have Categories with the following headings;

  • Aquaponics (obviously)
  • Permaculture
  • Sustainable Living
  • Alternative Energy

I am also looking for some volunteers to moderate individual categories.  I think it is going to be immensely popular and a lot of fun to have a small focused community where folk with similar interests can throw ideas around outside of the madness that the Internet has become.

Enough for now


Aquaponics as a component of Permaculture

A while ago I conducted a survey on this blog to determine what my readers wanted me to write about.  Predictably, Aquaponics (AP) won hands-down and I attract a regular 200-400 hits a day reading mainly my older AP articles.  This blog has attracted well over a 1/4 of a million hits since its inception and has readers from all corners of the globe, but I mention specifically the USA, Australia and the UK as my most ardent followers.

I am humbled and also slightly intimidated by the 60+ subscribers to this blog who keenly await my next submission, so before I begin this missive let me lay a brief foundation.

I started as a backyard AP fan and rose rapidly through the ranks and found myself eventually designing and physically building backyard as well as commercial AP systems.  I also wrote an eBook on the subject (still available on this site) which still ranks up there with the best available for newcomers to this subject.

What really worried me, however, was the sustainability of AP and where exactly it fitted into the bigger picture.  My research eventually took me into the concept of Survivalism and from there it was relatively easy to work out that AP was actually a key element of Permaculture.

Two factors reinforced this realisation. Firstly, although the income from consulting, designing and building AP systems was good, it wasn’t sufficient to match the income I could earn in my primary profession, which was IT systems design, consulting and programming.  Secondly, despite what was claimed on numerous AP sites, we still had a long way to go insofar as yields and particularly financial viability of AP.

This gave me pause for thought and what I eventually did was to join the “Dark Side”, take a well-paying programming job in a distant town (Paarl) and leave the Child Bride and Brat Deluxe to manage my AP system in my hometown of Knysna, South Africa.  The objective here was to consolidate (which we all need to do at some stage in our lives), accumulate some capital and plan our next step.

My ultimate objective in life is to design, plan, implement, build and eventually live out my last days in an Eco Village.  I dealt with this extensively in my series entitled, Newtopia and only now this whole concept all seems to be taking shape.  So please excuse me while I deviate somewhat from AP for the next month or two and plunge into the subject of Permaculture.

In my next posts I will deal extensively with Permaculture and why we as aspiring AP experts should be embracing the concept.  My next subject is sheet mulching and if you have ever been frustrated by the limitations of AP or the fact that you don’t have “green fingers” read carefully. 

I’d like to end this post by wishing my wife, the world famous Child Bride all the very best for her birthday.

My Wife, my Life, my sole reason for Living.

Cheers for now