Sustainability and Biomimicry #4

This is a series of posts made up of a course in school on sustainability and biomimicry. My class was divided into groups and each group was given an animal to design for. My group got the earthworm. Our assignment was to figure out what the earthworms need and how to give it to them. We studied the earthworms from both a macro and micro perspective to understand what role they have in our ecosystem and how they function in themselves.

Initially, we came up with design ideas using earthworms for human beings’ benefit. Then we iterated but still made the design proposals that were for the human beings’ sake even though these designs somewhat protected the earthworms from harm, inflicted on them by the human. Then we reiterated and came up with Seed Globes on Rope.

As we decided to work with farmers we studied the habits of farmers and what their different tasks do to the earth, where the earthworms live and preferably undisturbed. We finally found the community of no-till farmers who dig into the soil as little as possible. We decided to reduce their digging even further and created the Seed Globes on Rope.

Initial sketches and thoughts on Seed Globes on Rope.

These are balls of soil and natural matter such as old coffee grounds and inside are seeds. They are attached to a rope so that you do not have to think about spacing your seeds but instead simply stretch the rope across your mulch bed and lay it down and water in order to activate the seed inside.

Bio based plastic

To understand what materials we needed to create sturdy Seed Globes we started out by making a variety of bio-based plastic. The version shown below is made out of carrageenan, which is an algae. I also added old coffee grounds to the mix.

Preparing. Carrageenan iota, glycerol, disinfection, leftover coffee grounds dried, a sterilized jar, food scale, and the recipe written down. 🙂
Carrageenan iota mixed with water and left in the fridge overnight.
25 grams of coffee grounds to the left and 50 grams of coffee grounds to the right. The different dimensions make the bio-based plastic hard and pliable or hard and brittle.

Seed balls

We left the bio-based plastic behind as we realized the Seed Globes pretty much only need soil and water to keep together. Below I have documented when I try out different recipes of Seed Globes using water, soil, ash from our own fireplace where we have made fires from the trees in our garden, local newspaper and cornstartch. 🙂

Setting up my baking station.
Mixed flower seeds.
Making ash, soil and seed balls with thread.
The first two rows are done.
Recipe overview.
Recipe overview.
Newspapers blended with water and cornstartch.
I really got the hang of it. 🙂
After hours in the oven and the in the sun, they finally dried.
Stretching out the rope to get the spacing.
AND SUCCESS!

I have never been this happy to see a seed sprout!

Raw Cashew Brownie

Dough ingredients

  • 2 dl natural cashew nuts
  • 10 dates
  • 3 tbsp cacao
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp coffee, cooled
  • 1 tbsp water
Ingredients.

Topping ingredients

  • 1/2 dl coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cacao
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • Shredded coconut
Ingredients for toppings.

Instead of honey, use agave if you want to make it vegan. 🙂

Directions for the dough

Blend the nuts by pulsing the mixer until they turn grainy. Remove the seeds from all dates. Add the dates, cacao, and salt to the nuts. Blend until it has turned into a cohesive dough. Press out the dough on a baking sheet lined form.

If you used a blender for mixing the nuts and not a food processor, switch to a KitchenAid or similar when adding in all other ingredients.

Directions for the topping

Melt the coconut oil on low heat if needed. Add the other ingredients and mix to a sauce. Pour it over the cake, sprinkle shredded coconut over it.

Put it in the freezer for at least an hour.

Store in the fridge or freezer. 🙂

Blend the nuts, add them to the KitchenAid bowl, remove the seeds from the dates, add all other ingredients to the dough and let the KitchenAid work its magic. Low and slow.
A bit of salt in all the fatty and sweet sits perfectly.
Ingredients for topping sauce added to a saucepan and whisked together.
Dough pressed out on a baking sheet in a form. Topping sauce poured over it, then sprinkles of coconut were added before it went into the freezer.

Sustainability and Biomimicry #3

This is a series of posts made up of a course in school on sustainability and biomimicry. My class was divided into groups and each group was given an animal to design for. My group got the earthworm. Our assignment was to figure out what the earthworms need and how to give it to them. We studied the earthworms from both a macro and micro perspective to understand what role they have in our ecosystem and how they function in themselves.

In our first round of ideas, we drew objects that would use the earthworm for the benefit of humans. This was not the purpose of the assignment. These designs also made us mean people as they did not consider what effect they had on the worms. We needed a new perspective.

“Who is benefiting from this multi-species design?”

Among us humans, who lives closely with the earth? Who depends on the soil’s health for his/her own well-being and livelihood? Who directly affects the soils the most? Farmers.

What do farmers do that affects the habitat and life of earthworms? Farmers plow, dig, weed, and harvest crops. They use fertilizers and pesticides.

There are commercial farmers who use a so-called no-plowing method, meaning they do not plow as regular farmers do (machines, depths, regularity) but they still scoop up the soil and turn it over in order to plant their seeds. The machines they use impact the soil and are heavy, which compact the earth.

Sketches on lightweight machines that sow seeds just below the surface.
Static and mobile vibration warnings systems for the farmer to warn the worms before they cultivate the land.

“Who is benefiting from this multi-species design?”

We realized these warning systems were still in favor of the human. These designs still made us mean towards the earthworms. We needed something different.

Site visit

We went on a site visit to a no-tilling farm one hour outside Stockholm. They are a cooperative farm that calls themselves Under Tallarna, which translates to Underneath the Pine Trees. 🙂 We got to meet with Ossian who founded the farm. He showed us around and shared his experiences and knowledge on no-till farming.

They use no machines. The tractor they have is a gift and only used for transporting the crops. They do not remove the weeds, they simply cover them for a few months so that they die but remain in place. This makes the soil more nutritious and they do not destroy the very important fungi (transport nutrients in the soil) nor the important tunnels made by the earthworms. The tunnels actually aerate and drain the soil naturally and as earthworms go about making them they transport natural matter down into the deeper layers of the soil since they go up to feed and down again to eat and poop. 🙂

Overview of the farm and the yellow greenhouse.
Tools.
Tarpaulin to cover the soil and deprive the weeds of sunlight. As they die their root systems and their natural matter turn into nutrients for the soil and coming plants.
The rows are made out of wood chips gifted from a lumberyard. The mulch is then laid in rows and planted in.
Ossian showing us the plant’s roots.
Bokashi composting barrels.
Wood chips for making pathways between the planting beds.
The tractor that was gifted to them. They use it for initial plowing when they truly have to, but mainly to transport crops.
The greenhouse kitchen.
The greenhouse.
Seedlings.

Sustainability and Biomimicry #2

This is a series of posts made up of our course in school on sustainability and biomimicry. My class was divided into groups and each group was given an animal to design for. My group got the earthworm. Our assignment was to figure out what the earthworms need and how to give it to them.

Research

We learned a lot about the earthworm from lectures on Youtube, by reading on the wonderful website Earthworm Society of Britan and finding Darwin’s study on earthworms and we read recent studies as well.

We read about the earthworms in a macro perspective, its habitat, what condition it needs to survive and thrive, and what function it serves in the ecosystem. We also read about it from a micro perspective, how it eats and digests food, moves and digs its tunnels, reproduces and lays its eggs.

We also interviewed a professor who questioned if earthworms could be an invasive species. Because of the ice age that ended about 10 000 years ago, the non-ice-covered soils are ecosystems developed with the earthworm as a participant, and the ice-covered soils are ecosystems developed without the earthworm and so they function best without them. Earthworms might therefore be an invasive species in these parts of the world, like in Sweden for example.

From input to output

We did different brainstorming exercises with the new information we had collected. We also left our desks and met with earthworms and painted as they dig. This to approach them both intellectually and empathetically.

A kitchen bowl that grips the surface just as worms do when they move, a bus that extends itself when more passengers travel, just as worms extend themselves.
A compost system that when weighed down extends itself and so presses the excess moisture out. A compost bench, and a composTABLE. 😉

Though “Who is benefiting from this multi-species design?”. Who are we actually designing for? Who does this design affect? Who are we prioritizing and by doing so, who do we step on to get there?

Sketches

To get out of my head and into my body I decided to paint big and outdoors. To draw these lines I had to extend my legs and arms as long as I possibly could, stretch, reach, move.

Painting like the earthworm digs. Chinese ink on paper.
Home-made painting tools.
It broke but it does not matter. Keep on going.
An illustration I made of the worm’s habitat and the various types of earthworms there are.