Capitalism, Gift Economy, and Prices that are too Damn High

I no longer have any clue what capitalism means. And it seems that some people desperately need to talk about it. And when they talk about it, it seems that the thing they need to say is “capitalism is bad”. Then they try to say “why” and that stuff seriously confuses me. By their standards I guess I am just too stupid to understand obvious truths and should just go along with what they say.

My feeble understanding of capitalism is that I can work super hard for a year, save up all my money and then live without working for several years. That’s probably not what capitalism really is, but …. I guess for the most part I don’t give a shit.

And when people try to tell me that capitalism is bad, I kinda get the impression that what they are really saying is that other people have stuff that they want. And rather than work to get that stuff, they want to simply have that stuff without all that work. I’m not sure why I get this impression. Probably that stupid thing again.

Then there is the “gift economy“. The idea is that there is a society where the goal is to have the least stuff. The people with the most stuff are icky. The people with the least stuff are cool. And the people that generate the most stuff and give away the most stuff are the very coolest. A dozen times, very passionate people have told me this and then point to what I am doing and say that I need to give it away in a different way. Apparently, the way I am already giving stuff away is not the right way (usually something about copyright). And when I talk about how a farmer could make more money with permaculture rather than using herbicides, I’m told that that is also wrong (my impression is that they think the farmer should give food away).

I do have this to say about “the gift economy”: I think it is a very real thing. I’ve given a lot of stuff away for free. It has been a lot of work and even a lot of expense. But there have been hundreds of people that have given me things that I never would have received if I had not started by giving things away. Plus, there is heaps of stuff all over the internet that’s there because people gave it away for free. So I do think that while it might not be “the” gift economy that some folks talk about, we do have “a” gift economy that is seriously cool.

I have three points to wrap up on gift economy:

1) I get the impression that the folks that are telling me about “the” gift economy want gifts. But I’m not seeing where these folks are giving much away. One time I did find out that they were giving away some YouTube videos, but they didn’t seem very good (and they had something like ten views each).

2) I’ve given a lot of stuff away, and I think 98% of the support for my kickstarters is BECAUSE OF all the stuff I’ve given away in the past. The people that come here to to volunteer, it is 100% because of the stuff I have given away. The people that help out here on permies, or for other parts of the empire …. I think a person could label it all as “gift economy”. And I didn’t plan on it, but this does seem to be working out the way the gift economy is designed to work out. It isn’t replacing capitalism, but happily intertwined within capitalism. Spiffy!

3) If you tell somebody they have to give something away, it stops becoming a gift. If you take something away from somebody, that is not “gift economy”, that is theft. If you demand that somebody create things and give it away, that’s not “gift economy”, that’s slavery.

And finally, I hear a lot of people say, “That is unreasonably expensive”. I think if a person tries to sell a thing and the price is “too high” then few people (or nobody) will buy it. And that person might choose to keep the price high – which is their right as the content owner. I have told some people that I thought the price they were asking for something was too high and then was shocked when a huge number of people paid the “too high” price. Wow.

Selling stuff is always a gamble. Is it better to price it high, or price it low? Might it be smarter to give it away? Might it be smarter to put a freakishly high price on something?

I set the price for a single deck of cards at $20 and was told “nobody would ever pay that much for a deck of cards.” 357 people did. And since then, about a hundred people paid $21.95.

And, finally, I get the impression that the person with “this is unreasonably expensive” on their lips is actually saying “I will buy it for a much lower price”.

All of these things really boil down to:

A) respect the person that created stuff.

B) do not attempt to shame a creator (or anybody) into …. anything

C) if you want something to be free/cheap, then maybe you should create something similar and “be the change you wish to see”

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Bee Huts

I’ve heard that by adding a roof to protect your bee hives, you can increase honey production by as much as four or five fold.  The bees stay generally healthier since they are much drier when it is raining, much cooler in the summer, and, if the bee hut is faced to the southeast, warmer in the winter.  A few straw bales strategically placed around the hive in the winter can help too.   The key to this strategy is that the bees will burn energy to maintain the right temperature.  And energy is honey!

Jacqueline Freeman of Friendly Haven Rise Farm is my favorite beekeeper.  Rather than raising thousands of colonies and focusing on honey production or crop pollination, she raises just a few colonies and focuses on the happiness of the bees.  I have visited beekeepers that show respect for the bees, but Jacqueline is the only person I know of that shows what I think is reverence for the bees.  In this video she shows us her bee hut, or, as she calls it a “bee house”.

When the hives are on the south side of a bee hut, they get shade in the summer, sun in the winter, and all year protection from rain.  Also, they are up off the damp ground.  This makes the hive easier for the bees to care for – now they can spend more time gathering nectar and building up those honey reserves!

These hives are mite free.  What does Jacqueline use to keep the mites off?  Nothing.  No miticides.  No insecticides.  None of the so-called “organic” solutions (powdered sugar, essential oils).  What she does do, is provide 3 season nectar forage close by.  If the bees don’t have to go far to get their nectar, it causes them less stress. And they are getting nectar that is high quality and free of pesticides and herbicides. Yay for happy bees!

Here is a picture of a bee hut recently built at Wheaton Laboratories.

Photo Source Kristie Wheaton

Special thanks to Jacob Wustner from Sapphire Permaculture Apiary for donating two hives and one colony to the lab.

For more information on caring for our bee friends you can listen to four podcasts I did with Jacqueline Freeman.

Podcast 284 – Reverence for Bees part 1
Podcast 285 – Reverence for Bees part 2
Podcast 286 – Reverence for Bees part 3
Podcast 287 – Reverence for Bees part 4

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Flies Really Bite. Are they Bugging the Cows?

Biting flies can sure make life miserable for cattle, horses and even people!  Big or small, those insects can inflict painful sores on the eyes, face, teats, and bags of the animal.   When I was a kid we would pour a stinky liquid on cattle – and it seems that that is the most popular solution today.   BUT!   It turns out there are excellent solutions without toxic gick!

Photo Source Kristie Wheaton


1) This is a very long term solution, but don’t panic!  Items further down the list can provide solutions for the short term.  If you watch carefully, you will see that some cows get flies and some don’t.  Breed the cows that don’t get flies.  Sell the cows that do get flies.  It really does work.   Some people that have reported success with this say that the cows that don’t get flies appear to have oilier hair.

2) Move the cows daily. Run chickens three days behind the cows.  This gets the cows to move away from the poop that is now hatching new flies.   The chickens dig through the poop to get the maggots.  Yum!

2.1) Move the cows more often even if you don’t tun the chickens behind the cows. This may help as much as 40%.

2.2) If you are going to move the animals just once a week, put the chickens in there with them.

3) Build dozens (hundreds) of bird houses. Or, as a shorter term solution, throw out heaps of bird feed.  Lots of birds will then be around the flies and birds think flies are made of ice cream.

4) Parasitic wasps.  These are teeny tiny little insects that think it is hilarous to make biting fly maggots into parasitic wasp baby nurseries.  This usually has a deadly effect on the maggot so it never gets a chance to be a fly.   Here in Montana you would have to buy new wasps every month or so during fly season. Want to give them a try? Check them out here.

5) Bats will eat a few of the flies, but they will eat a lot of things that other fly-eating things like too.   One fly-eating example is birds.   So it turns out that when birds are hungry for insects, there isn’t much else to eat but biting flies.

6) Hummingbirds (grow lots of plants that hummingbirds like).   Hummingbirds are famous for their love of nectar, but they eat insects too.   And hummingbirds are mighty quick.   Quicker than a fly.

Photo Source Madeline Dennis


7) Fly Traps.

Here is an example of a fly trap from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply.

And another example of a fly trap from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply.

8) I once saw a contraption that was a big plastic, vertical sheet about the size of a cow.

I found a picture:


The one I saw was much simpler than this, but this should do to give you an idea. The big vertical sheet makes the flies think “snacks!” and they bumpity-bump around the plastic until they end up in the soapy water. Their teeny tiny screams cannot be heard.

This guy is pointing out that with just this one thing, he has a complete solution!

Several of these solutions will be a complete solution by themselves, but I would probably implement three or four just to be sure.



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Infecting Brains with Permaculture 52 Cards at a Time

One of the questions I am asked repeatedly is “How do you convey to people what permaculture is?”  It is tough.   If you give a person a book, they might look at a few pictures.  If you send them a link to something they tend to save it for later.

In 2011, I made a podcast where I suggested the idea of Permaculture Playing Cards.  A thread started and people said they were going to make it a real thing.  When that didn’t go anywhere, I tried to shake a few trees to see if people would make this cool thing happen.  A lot of people liked the idea, but nothing came of it.  In May 2012, Alexander Ojeda and I got to work.

We spent hours arguing over each card.  We spent hours arguing over the whole deck and what stuff made the cut and what stuff didn’t.  Weeks and months passed and we had a dozen cards done.  More months and we had a system of “done”, “in progress” or “need to figure out how to start.”  On and on and on.  The amount of work that went into this was about twenty times greater than I originally thought it would be.   So in the middle of it all I thought that the people that didn’t make the cards were looking mighty smart.   But, wow – they turned out far better than I thought possible.

The Hugelkultur Ace

The idea of the deck of cards is that people might browse it like a book — but this is all pictures and just a few words.  Much easier to browse, and hopefully convey a bigger picture in a smaller package.

It’s all about infecting brains.  How do you get somebody that has never heard of permaculture to begin understand?  A deck of cards is small.  And each card has an image and just a touch of text.  The idea is that if we can get a person to take 3o seconds to look through some of the cards, we might be able to get them to look at more.

The cards are done!   It took over a year, but now they are done, done, DONE!




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Did You Just Should on Me?

Recently, I complained about somebody using the word “should” on me.  Another person then complained about my choice to “use the full beauty of the English language” (language that some might refer to as “harsh” or “colorful”), so how could I possibly be upset about the word “should”.

When I was a young man, I remember a woman telling me, “You should never say ‘should‘”.  For an hour or two we explored the idea.  In the end, I conceded her point: “should” sorta frames a relationship as one person is greater and the other is lessor.


And then a couple of years ago, a friend of mine opened that door again.  I conceded again.  This time the attempt to frame the relationship was basically the same error, only my friend suggested the word “should” is a word that is used by the parent to teach a child, or by the master to teach a padowan.  So when you use the word to suggest what somebody else “should” do, you are suggesting that you are the parent/master and the other party is the child/padowan.

I suspect that this is one of those things that is not absolutely true, but there is a lot of truth in it.

If someone says, “I found a great article. You should read it.”

I take that to mean:

1) You are claiming to be an authority on what would be good for me to read
2) The implication of teacher/student
3) Assignment of obligation on my time

I feel that if I wish to live my life in a way that is contrary to what you see that I “should” do, that I owe you an explanation.  So rather than taking it as a suggestion, there seems to be this bit of assigned chore – unless I can provide a sufficient excuse to the teacher/parent.

Another angle is that I can choose between compliance or entering into a state of conflict.  Urk?

I manage two really large forums. One about permaculture and one about software engineering.  I am trying to create a space for the gentle souls to share their experiences (and I should point out here, that this would be my idea of “gentle souls” (see how I used the word “should” on myself?)).  So while there might be some people that feel the word “should” does not carry a master/servant package, I think the majority do, to varying degrees.  So I suppose this is a feeble attempt to bring this to light.

If nothing else, please compare “I found a great article.  You should read it.” and “I found a great article.” …. or “I found a great article. I think you would enjoy it.”

The word “should” is seriously embedded in our culture and habits. And I think it is possible that it may have slightly different meanings for different people.


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Sweating the Summer Heat? Plug into Permaculture

It’s hot!  So it is perfect timing to talk about how to stay cool on the cheap – both long term and short term.

1) Grow trees to shade the house.  If the outside is cooler then the inside is cooler too.  The bigger the tree, the cooler it gets.   If you stand under a massive tree on a really hot day, you can feel the cold air pouring onto you.

2) Increase your thermal mass indoors: more stuff inside.  The heavier, the better.  A greater thermal mass makes for greater thermal inertia.  The cool from the evening, or even a few days ago, will cool you during the warmest part of the warmest day.

3) Go away – the less you are at home, the less power/water you use. Plus, your own body is a heater – heating up that space.

4) Layers of shade inside and outside.  Not just inside or outside, but both.  Burlap can be used on the outside to shade — so can bamboo or reed blinds.  These layers will block direct sun access through the windows.

4.1) Let the shady air in.  Let’s suppose you have this space outside a window that is always shaded.  That area is going to be cooler because of the shade.  Then when you open the window the cool air comes in.

4.2) Layers of shade aren’t just for windows — shade the walls outside too!

5) Open your windows in the evening/morning and keep them closed during the day.

6) For every style of roof (yes, even the three tab stuff, or cedar shake, or metal) you could do a rooftop garden which will cool the house tremendously.

6.1) Roof misting cooling system. Keep the roof temperature cooler through evaporation. Even the slightest mist could use just a couple quarts of water and do an amazing job of cooling your home.

7) Vent your attic space. It can get to 140 degrees in there!

8) Use fans, pointed at the people, instead of air conditioning.

9) Drink more water!

10) Haybox Cooking.   This is where you start cooking, then put the pot into a seriously insulated box where it will continue to cook without having to keep adding heat.   This means you can cook in your home, while adding less heat to the living space.

11) Cook less.  This is the time of year to focus on meals that require zero cooking.  Because all that cooking heats up the house.

12) Make that summer heat work for you: dry your clothes on a clothes line.   Plus the dryer adds heat to the inside.   As an added bonus, using a clothes line makes your clothes last TEN TIMES LONGER!

13) Cook outside.   Some people even build an outdoor kitchen for summer use.   It doesn’t have to be fancy.   Use your BBQ, Crock pot and/or Propane-burner to cook outside.

And while we’re at, let’s talk about a few quick tips to save energy in the summer:

14) Keep your fridge full and dust the coils.

15) With proper lawn care you can have a green lawn all summer without watering it.

16) Wash your dishes by hand – the right way.  Less water means less water bill AND less hot water which is less electricity/gas.

17) Put motion detectors on your outside flood lights.

18) Use permaculture techniques to reduce water needs for your garden.

19) Maybe it’s time to get a high efficiency front end loader washing machine – cut water usage by a factor of three.

20)  Save up to three gallons of water every time you pee (older toilets  use three gallons per flush!) by peeing outside.

Use the comments section below to add some tips of your own!



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Podcast Collection with Geoff Lawton and Paul Wheaton

Do you want to be fly on the wall for over 13 hours of permaculture banter between Geoff Lawton and Paul Wheaton?  The Crown Prince of permaculture and the Duke of permaculture cover gobs of diverse material in this collection of 11 podcasts.

Photo by Jocelyn Campbell

Summaries and links to access are listed below.

Podcast 089 – Geoff Lawton Part 1

Paul Wheaton interviews Geoff Lawton. Geoff has dvds out on SoilsFood ForestsWater Harvesting, Introduction to Permaculture, and Urban Pemaculture. Paul shares aout Norris Thomlinson. Geoff Mentions Path to Freedom, and 2 families living off of half the size land that Norris was on. Geoff says that permaculture is more interested in edge than area. He also says that you design around time, and you cannot ignore your symbiotic relationship with your neighbors. Paul mentions Helen Atthowe, a soil scientist, and his and her debate over nitrogen availability in legumes. Paul then asks about the third ethic, returning the surplus to the earth and people.

Podcast 090 – Geoff Lawton Part 2

Paul Wheaton continues his conversation with Geoff Lawton. Geoff talks about the importance of cooperation rather than territorialism–we need to promote anybody we can, and offer education wherever possible. It is the opposite of how you might normally think about business. We want to maintain networks and exchanges of information, and give away more than we take. Geoff talks about layers of community (generations, cultures) we need to work in, like layers in a food forest. You find a niche and fill it.

Podcast 195 – Geoff Lawton on his Food Forests DVD

Paul Wheaton talks to Geoff Lawton about his Food Forests DVD. Paul and Geoff talk about detractors. Geoff talks about having self-sufficient fun, and the peacefulness and contentment of setting up a permaculture system. They talk about being able to use the word permaculture without taking a PDC, although it is good for everybody to take a PDC. Geoff suggests sharing the 3 ethics. Geoff talks about using mainframe holistic design that is more inclusive than exclusive.

Podcast 227 – Spreading Permaculture with Geoff Lawton Part 1

In this podcast, Paul and Geoff Lawton talk about spreading Permaculture. At the time of the interview, Geoff is in the Dead Sea valley in Jordan. He is near the original Greening the Desert site, which he and Paul discuss along with the new Greening the Desert site, which is now 4 years in and funded by teaching courses.

They also discuss how Geoff’s Food Forest DVD has taken the world by storm. Geoff is in the process of making a new film about food forests in cold and dry climates, with more in depth films on each climate in the future.

Geoff talks about how he was a part of the Permaculture Convergence in Northern California where he did a talk and a 5-day workshop. Then they discuss TEDx San Francisco where Geoff talked about Resilient Cities and the counter culture.

Geoff also proclaims that Paul is the Duke of Permaculture.

Podcast 228 – Spreading Permaculture with Geoff Lawton Part 2

This is part 2 of Spreading Permaculture with Geoff Lawton. Paul and Geoff Lawton continue their conversation about spreading permaculture. They start off by discussing that there are enough people on the ground doing permaculture successfully and recording it, so the creditability is there to prove that permaculture is a system that works.  Geoff says that Permaculture Global shows people successfully using the practices of permaculture all over the world. Geoff tells us that if we can work with the world and stabilize the systems we can help save the world.

One of Geoff’s most famous quotes is you can solve all the worlds problems in a garden.

Podcast 276 – Geoff Lawton on Permaculture Part 1

Geoff Lawton answers a ton of questions like why he’s not on the Permaculture Playing Cards. Paul and Geoff discuss how they deal with detractors. They discuss the top women in permaculture. Why is there hostility in the permaculture movement.? How did metaphysics wind up in permaculture? Who is in charge of permaculture? If no one is in charge, who decides? The best system wins.

Podcast 277 – Geoff Lawton on Permaculture Part 2

This is the continuation of podcast 276They talk about the PRI certified instructors and whether the holding hand and singing sound is part of a PDC. Geoff’s opinion is that if a PDC will include a metaphysical portion, it should be advertised at such. They talk about why some people are moving away from the term permaculture.

They move on to talk about some techniques for greening the desert. Paul then asks Geoff some listener questions such as ways to mitigate salt in soils, challenges with the project in Jordan and some of the best tactics to spread permaculture.

Podcast 279 – Geoff Lawton Q&A

Geoff Lawton reached out to Paul to discuss the peoples questions. Paul explained how the forum generated a lot of questions. Topics were: trees generating more moisture thru condensation, gabion baskets, flood plains, food forest, Geoff’s DVDs, broad areas, design projects, online PDC, permaculture in mines, and more.

Podcast 280 – Geoff  Lawton Q&A Round 2 Part 2

More questions for Geoff Lawton, including good information about how you could help at the Jordan project (if you can get yourself there). Geoff says you could travel the world today going from project to project if you are a good worker and a good person. If you’re going to be an intern at Geoff’s farm in Australia (Zaytuna), you will pay for that “master class.” He does have WOOFers, one month would be the minimum and the really good ones will stay for a pretty long time, 6-9 months. The successful collaborations are like family–Geoff feels like he has multiple “homes” all over the world.

Podcast 281 – Geoff Lawton Q&A Round 2 Part 2

Questions and answers surrounding: establishing a food forest in the high desert, air wells, acres to self-sufficiency, cold climates versus tropical or sub-tropical climates, the connection between urban and suburban permaculture, and more.

Podcast 282 – Geoff Lawton Q&A Round 3

The final Q & A podcast wraps with national permaculture organization and Bill Mollison, internships, favorite storage / staple crops, animals for cold climate, berms, coniferous wood in hugelkultur beds versus deciduous wood, and even permaculture curriculum for homeschooling.

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