January 17, 2015
[00:00] Greenfield Fitness Systems
[01:17] About Alik Pelman
[07:05] How Alik Built His Hut
[16:00] Alik's Rooftop Garden
[19:34] Alik's Indoor Walls and Floor
[29:14] Alik's Home Heater
[33:25] Alik's Toilet
[36:33] How Alik Grows His Own Food
[42:15] Strategy To Growing Your Own Food
[53:22] How Alik Uses His Water
[58:08] End of the Podcast
Ben: Hey, it's Ben Greenfield here. If you want to support this podcast, you can definitely do so by going over to the one website where I store everything that I've ever recommended for you to get to your goals as quickly and safely and effectively as possible, and that website is greenfieldfitnesssystems.com. So check out greenfieldfitnesssystems.com, it helps to support today's show, and now onto today's interview.
Hey folks, it's Ben Greenfield, and as you probably know, if you've been reading the bengreenfieldfitness.com blog, my wife and I actually traveled to Israel last month, as part of the tour of the burgeoning wellness scene in Israel, and today, you're going to get to listen in as I interview one of the most amazing individuals I met on that trip. A man named Alik Pelman, and Alik actually completed his PhD in Philosophy at the University of London, but then he took a break from academic life and he went to learn how to grow food, and he actually became a professional organic farmer for a couple of years. And when I visited him in this tiny village in western Galilee, I met him in this small hut that he built almost entirely with his own two hands and with the help from some friends from local natural materials. And now he lives there, he grows pretty much all his food from this little garden that he's able to water in this really cool way that you're going to learn all about during today's show. He spends most of his working hours doing farm chores and reading and writing and hosting curious visitors like me, and really during today's episode, you're going to get a little bit of a DIY guide to living in an eco-friendly way to growing your own food. Whether you want to live completely off the grid and build your own home or you're just interested in doing a few little things to be able to live a bit more sustainably and to take care of yourself rather than relying on say, the grocery store or someone to deliver food to you. You're going to learn about that in today's episode. So Alik is Skyping with me straight from Galilee. Alik, how are you doing?
Alik: Yeah, I'm great, so thanks for having me.
Ben: Yeah, no problem. So are you actually at your little hut right now?
Alik: Yes I am. I'm just at my living room, and the stove is burning which is quite unusual in Israel, but it’s winter, so it's great.
Ben: Yeah, and of course during the episode, I want to get into some of the cool ways that you're heating and cooling your home and in that same living room where you're at right now, that's where you served us bread that you made from your own harvest. I believe we had figs, we had carob, and we had this fantastic artichoke and fresh olive oil. Amazing meal, and I'd like to get into some of the things that you do to grow your own food too, but before we jump into that, Alik, how'd you come to where you are today? Why'd you go get a PhD in Philosophy and then wind up living in this little hut in Galilee?
Alik: Well it's been a very long dream of mine, for many years, and I had to wait. Actually my long wish, the long term aim, was to get to live in a balanced way 'cause I do think that producing your own stuff, whatever you consume is important in life, and I'll try to explain why, but I also think that this did not be everything you do. So this is just the, sort of, the foundation for living, and then you should do whatever you think. So this is how to live, then you need to fill in what the content of life is, and to me, it's Philosophy. Could be to you, it's something else and everybody. So the way the modern world is, I had to do one thing at a time, so first I got my degree and I did the Philosophy. Then I did only farming and learning how to live sustainably, and then now, I'm very happy to say that I kind of managed to combine it too. I produce my food, I built my home, and there's more to be done and also do my Philosophy. So that's just the general background.
Ben: So for you, it wasn't that you became disillusioned with the modern world and said screw this and moved off to this little hut. This has just been a dream of yours, to be able to kind of live sustainably and marry that to a modern life?
Alik: Well, I must say that I have my reservation about the moderning. I mean I do feel that the way the world is, the way most people live and the system that we're all part of is not going in the right direction. It is my belief that the way I live now, and that's why I tried so hard to get there is a better way for the planet. So there is, what you said, is part of what drives me.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. Well on today's show, I want to focus on home, on food and gardening, and on water. Some of the really cool things that you've done that I think people can learn a lot of lessons from. So first of all if you're listening in right now, Alik was kind enough to send over a PDF that's pretty much a step-by-step walkthrough of some of the things that he did to create this little hut with his own two hands, using all local, natural materials, and it is absolutely fascinating. So Alik, let's start there, let's start with how you built this degradable house that you basically call a compost heap, but actually, it's a beautiful, wooden lodge out here and on the side of the hill. So can you go into how you actually built this, kind of walk us through it?
Alik: Yes, well the basic idea is that I wanted it to be made of local material and natural local material. So as much as possible, it's not like 100%, but as much as I could, and the local materials we have here is stone, which is pretty much true of most places in the world. It's stone, it's mud, and here, I use sheep wool for the insulations, so that's very common stuff that you can find easily around here and stub wood. So this is what I used to build my house, and then I had to look for some info because I had no idea to make a house out of those materials, but fortunately, I spent quite a few. At the time, it had various farms over the years, volunteering at various farms around the world. Mainly in Spain and then the U.K., and so I had a rough idea of how to make it, but when you come to do it actually, then there's many points that which you have to make the decision 'cause you have no idea how to carry on, so I had to invent quite a lot, but yeah. It stands here for three years now, and hopefully it will stand here for quite a while more.
Ben: Yeah, so your foundation, you didn't really want to disturb the soil. So how did you put together a foundation without using concrete and without disturbing the soil when you put this home together?
Alik: Right, so they had reservation about the way I decided to do the thing. The most risky bit, as far as other people like professionals are concerned, but I had no foundation at all. I just compacted the soil, just to pack their driving on it until it was really compacted and then started building on that. And that was it, just making a frame for the bottom layer, so that the frame is one piece. Should anything happen and it will lean towards one side, then I can just lift it and the whole thing will lift together, so it makes the whole thing solid.
Ben: Yeah, I've got a picture. Oh and by the way, for those of you listening in, if you want to download this PDF and see some pictures 'cause Alik has a bunch of pictures that he took along the way, so you can kind of see this. I've got them all over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/alik. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/ALIK. So you mashed down the ground basically with like a tractor. So you didn't lay down concrete, you just pushed down the ground, you made it really hard, and then you created your entire frame. Your entire foundation, I know you used mostly pine, correct?
Ben: And so the whole home is built on this foundation that would allow you if you needed to, to basically pick up and move the home anywhere around if you had to. That's amazing, that's really cool. So then as far as your sighting, I know that you used sheep's wool and some of these things for your insulation, but before you did that, what exactly did you do as far as sighting and what went underneath the insulation?
Alik: Well I had to have the frame, so the house frame first was just pine poles and then the roof stood and then I started building the walls. So from the inside, I had just mud plaster, I think you call it?
Ben: Yeah, mud plaster.
Alik: Yeah, and then on the outside, I had these pieces of local pine that is from standing of woods. They plant more, they need and then they thin out. Trees, in order to make enough space, enough room, I mean the forest streaks on. Enough room for each tree, so there's plenty of wood tree coming up, and then I just sliced it in a way that people will see in the slide show. Actually it is being applied slightly like a couple of inches away from the house, so that it can breathe and get air from all sides, and in that way, I didn't treat it which is also very uncommon to do with wood. The wood is completely untreated, it's just natural wood, cut wood, and no chemicals in it. The worry in this case is that it will rot with its contact with water. So I realized that it's okay if it gets wet, as long as it gets dry, completely dry. I had to have the air circulated around it all the time.
Ben: And how'd you do that? How do you get the air circulated around it all the time?
Alik: It just doesn't touch anything from its sides. So from the outside, obviously, the sun dries it, and from the inside, it doesn't touch the house. It's a little bit further from the house, it's attached to just the same poles that are in between the house and this cladding, this external wood.
Ben: Okay, so then you have the cladding, and that's like the external wood that you've put outside the actual frame?
Alik: Right, that's what I meant.
Ben: Okay, and you used the spruce for that?
Alik: Yeah, I think it's beautiful, it's much better than pine 'cause it doesn't sweat, it doesn't have the, what do you call it? Sorry I can't remember.
Ben: Like the sap?
Alik: Yeah, the sap. Exactly, it doesn't have as much sap. Yeah, and it's pretty strong, so in terms of the local stuff we have, that's probably one of the best choices we could make.
Ben: Yeah, cool. Okay, so then you've got this crazy insulation that’s made out of sheep's wool, and I think that's kind of a novel concept that a lot of people in the U.S. at least, and maybe one of our listeners aren't aware that you could use things other than common commercial insulation. So when you use sheep's wool, how'd that go? Did you just have to like sheer a bunch of sheep, or did you hunt down a bunch of wool? Did you mix it with stuff, or how did you end up using wool for insulation?
Alik: You see the thing is with the advanced commercial industry of keeping sheep, we have two breeds of sheep now. The sheep that are being raised for meat are not the ones being raised for wool. So all the wool for the sheep for meat is just being discarded, just dispensed with. So it's free stuff, and I just went to one of those farms and asked the wool, and they were happy to give it to me because otherwise, they would have to drive it to the land filler, whatever. They throw it away, and I just save them work, so I could take the wool. I read about it, and then I realized that the details of insulation, of this stuff are better than the ones of the commercial. It's better in terms of insulation. It's better than the synthetic wool. I said yeah, why not? If it's good for the animals, why wouldn't it be good for my house? And yeah, I just put it. Its dead material, the fibers are dead, so it's not food for any animal or anything like that.
Ben: Yeah, did you have to mix it with mud or anything like that?
Alik: With what, sorry?
Ben: Did you have to mix the insulatory materials like mud or anything like that to make it dry or just let it.
Alik: Nothing, and actually the way to put it is not to compact it, to leave it as fluffy as possible, so then the insulation is even better. So sometimes less than more, in this sense.
Ben: Wow, cool. Okay, so you've got the sheep's wool for insulation, you have this pine frame that's covered with the local spruce for cladding, and then on your roof, you're actually growing food on your roof, and this is amazing. So if you're listening in, Alik's roof is like this amazing, green, four-shade roof where he's growing food, and he's also got a bunch of carpets up there. Can you explain what you're doing with your roof?
Alik: Yeah, well basically, it's just like a big pot, and you can use your pot for many things. I decided to put food on it. So this here, its lentils, last year it was wheat, and it's really nice. Well I like very much the looks of this, it's very nice to come back to the living room for home, and it's also very good in terms of insulation. So I have this one layer of sheep wool, and above that, then I have the waterproof layer which is just plastic. Maybe the only natural material that I have at home. And then on top of that, I wanted to do this big pot to grow stuff in. So in order to have a pot, and my roof is, sorry I can't remember the word. It's not straight, but it leans, you know? It has to, what do you call it?
Ben: It's like a slope.
Alik: Slopes, exactly, thanks a lot. So it has two slopes, and I had to keep the soil from sliding down, so the first layer was on top of this waterproof sheet, which is just one big sheet all over the roof. I put this layer of old carpets, which is quite easy to get. I paid a little bit for it, but it's very, very cheap. Then it helps to keep the soil 'cause it's not slippery as the plastic, and I also applied a grid of thin wool pieces that I built. I built a grid on the ground and then I put the whole thing on top, and then you could imagine that once I put the soil in, it doesn't slide because the wood from the sides and the carpets from below keep it in place. That's all very important just for the first stage, so when the soil is empty of plants. But once the plants grow and you have roots, then the roots keep the soil in place and then nothing to worry about anymore.
Ben: And how do you water? How do you water food that's growing on your roof?
Alik: Well right now, I don't have any watering systems, so basically, I only grow in the winter. And then in the summer, it's kind of yellow. What I like about it this way is that it really blends in the view. If I go to have a walk on the hill around, I may try to look for my house. I can hardly spot it because it just blends in so nice, it always looks like everything around it. When everything is green, it's green. When everything is yellow, it becomes yellow, but I do have thoughts, I have to admit, of using it better by watering it in the summer as well, and then I'll be able to grow in the summer as well, but we'll see about that. Right now, it's green in the winter, yellow in the summer. No I don't water it, it's rainwater.
Ben: Cool, I like it, and so you've got wheat and lentils growing on your roof, and then indoors. When you walk into your house, obviously you've got this exterior wool based insulation, but it appears that you used just pebbles from around your house. Like rocks and pebbles to make your walls with inside your house, in between the framing?
Ben: Did you just stack them all together, or do they stick together? How did you do that?
Alik: Well I put two metal nets on both side, so I have the studs, I think they're called in English, the wood board? The studs standing, and then on each side, I put a metal net, just yeah. And then in between, so I had this space in between the nets, and then I could throw stones inside, and there were actually two kids doing it. The children of a friend of mine, and they were so happy they couldn't stop. It's just a fun throwing stones.
Ben: Did you have to use like a mortar?
Alik: No, you just fall them one on top of the other, and the end, I did. Not the mortar, I filled the gaps with mud, not to keep it in place because it would keep this way no problem. It's just that in order to have more mass, we call it thermal mass. That's how it's professionally called because it has a very important role in the passive cooling and heating of the house. What it does basically, it functions like a sponge. It absorbs, so say in the summer which is most of the year for us here, that's the climate, it's pretty hot, so the bigger worry is cooling the house, and in the summer when I open all the windows at night, it just absorbs the coolness. All the very nice and cool hours of the night, and then it gives it off during the day. During the day, I just close all the windows, and then it becomes pretty dark here. So I keep the sun out, my insulation keeps the warmth out, but some will get in, of course, and the walls give off all the coolness they absorbed over the night and make it very pleasant to be at home, even in the extremely hot days.
Ben: Yeah, and so then you've got these stones in between all this metal wiring that's in between all the studs in the home, and then on top of that or layered over that, how'd you actually build the wall? Because I know you didn't use sheet rock.
Alik: No, what do you mean? So this is the wall basically, what you just described, the stones in between…
Ben: Well, yeah. That's the wall, but what's covering that?
Alik: Covering? So I filled in the gaps in between the stones with mud, and then I had also another layer of mud as a plaster. So just another layer of plastering, so the whole house, it's the same plaster that was applied on the external walls, so the whole house looks the same. You can't see the difference between the walls when you walk in. You see everything 'cause it's the same plaster wall.
Ben: So it's basically all just mud stuck on top of metal frame that's filled with rocks? That's crazy, and it actually looks good, like I've been in this home. If you're listening in and this sounds like something out of Shrek, it's not. It actually looks pretty good. Once that mud dried, did you have to treat it with anything? Did you use an oil or anything like that?
Alik: Well that was one option, the thing is that the challenge once you have it dried is to keep the dust off because mud, when it's dry, it's just soil, it’s dusty. When you lean against the wall, your shirt becomes white, and you don't want that. So I had to find the solution on how to solve this problem. Oil would be one option, but then I wasn't sure whether you get oily, and I overheard a rumor like in some place, somebody applied just corn flour porridge on it.
Alik: It kind of becomes gooey, yeah.
Ben: Like porridge that you eat?
Alik: Exactly, the one that you eat. Have you ever made one?
Ben: Ever made porridge? Yeah.
Alik: Like the corn flour, from corn?
Ben: Well my wife's made corn flour, I've made porridge before. So is that what you use, just corn flour and porridge?
Alik: Yeah, you know what happens when you start cooking it, it becomes kind of gooey.
Ben: Oh, you made a porridge out of corn flour?
Alik: Exactly, that's what I did, and then once you apply that, then once it dries, it becomes a very thin film. You can't see it.
Ben: And you painted the mud with porridge?
Alik: Exactly, and whatever was left, we just ate it at the end of the day.
Ben: That's awesome. Okay, so you got your walls made of mud and porridge, and of course your roof is made out of wheat and lentils and carpet, and then you've got your floor. How'd you do your floor?
Alik: It's just local stone cut, so normally also this would also be something that most people make. You can't have the floor, you have to have a concrete floor, and then on top of that, you can do whatever you want. Wood or you can do whatever, but you have to have it first concrete to keep everything from coming up your house, and I said no. First, I don't want to use concrete because there's not a single ounce of concrete in the whole house, and that was a principle of mine that I, for some reason, stick to really, kind of radically I'd say. I was insisting on not having any concrete floor because also, I wanted to be attached just to earth, to the earth. So what I explained earlier about thermal mass, it's true for the worlds, but it's also very much true for the floor as well. Hence, I just wanted it to be connected directly to the natural ground. What I did, I basically just put sand to level it up. Once it was leveled, I had natural stone cut into, what do you call them? What is it you're working on? Just normal floor?
Ben: You mean just like dirt?
Alik: Oh tiles, tiles, sorry. Just cut it onto tiles, yeah?
Ben: You cut this rock, this local rock into tiles?
Alik: Yes, exactly, it's like a little bit more than one inch thick, and then in order for it to stick to one another, I used mud again instead of mortar. So I used mud as mortar, like mud mixed with horse manure to make it more kind of stick and stable. Old manure, like last year's horse manure. Completely, it has no smell or anything, and that's it, and hoped it was okay. As far as I know, I've never heard of anyone who made them.
Ben: Oh, it's a beautiful floor, you'd never think that it was made out of horse poop and rocks, it's crazy.
Alik: Well you don't see the horse poop.
Ben: You oiled it too, right? You oiled the floor to make it shiny?
Alik: Exactly, once you use natural stone, the worry is that it's going to stain very quickly because it absorbs anything, you know? It's like stone. So coffee, wine, whatever falls on it, oil, and then I started oiling stuff, you know? Furniture, I started to make it home. Oil actually fell on the floor, and it made some stains, but I noticed that the stains were the most beautiful bits. So I realized okay, the way to go is just to stain the whole thing, and I just poured oil all over, and it's just a very big stain on it and I think it's very nice.
Ben: Yeah, oh, I've got several places in my home that are made from stone. As soon as I get home, I treated all my stone with olive oil and it's amazing, and it's got this really cool shimmer, and of course now, like you say. Wine, coffee, stuff like that just wipes off it so easily. So it's a cool trick.
Jessa: Hey, quick break here, this is Jessa Greenfield, Ben's boss, I mean wife. I'm not sure if you know this, but Ben, being the complete nerd that he is, keeps track of everything he's ever recommended and found to work really well, and puts it all over at greenfieldfitnesssystems.com. From books to lab tests to supplements, he has it all there, so whether you want to build muscle, burn fat, fix your gut, sleep better, balance hormones, learn about smart drugs, whatever, it's all there. Check it out at greenfieldfitnesssystems.com. Okay, now back to the podcast.
Ben: I want to talk about just a few other unique aspects of your home before we go into your garden and how you're growing your own food and also some of the cool water conservation techniques that you're using out there. Because you mentioned your heater, tell me about how you are heating your home?
Alik: Well for the heating, I use something called Rocket Stove Mess Heater. It's a relatively new invention, I think a couple of decades, and I think it actually originates in the States. So wow, it's a bit complicated to explain maybe. Well okay, it uses two principles, one which is to keep the heat as long as you can at home because actually it turns out a lot of the heat is just escaping through the chimney, and we don't want that to happen. We want the air going out of the chimney to be completely cold, as cold as possible, so all the heat stays at home. And the way to do it is just first of all, build a very long chimney. In my case, it's going inside a bench. So just a stone and mud bench, so it's going inside, and then it makes a little round, a little to air toned, and only then it goes up. So all the heat is absorbed in the mud, in the stone, in the bench, and also in a tome, it warms the air around it, makes the pre-heat quite a journey, and only then it goes out. So this is one principle to keep the heat in.
The other principle, well the thing is you can't do it with a normal stove, like wooden stove at home because it wouldn't draw. You have to have that very strong draw in order for it to be able to make all this journey, and that's where the other trick goes in which is the way the stove is built. The burning bit, actually it's built of like a J-shape, which for some reason, makes, I don't know the physics, but it works. It just blows the air so fast and so strong that what happens, first it enables the smoke as we said to go such a long journey and heat many things along the way, and the second thing is that the temperature, it reaches because of the strong blow. It's like 300 to 400 degrees above the normal ones, so it burn much more efficiently. So if you burn normally, about 70% of your stuff, of your wood, now you would burn about, I think 90 or more. So I can tell you for a whole evening of burning wood, at the end of the evening, I take out about two cups of ashes, can you imagine? Everything else burns, it just burns all the way, so it's much more efficient in terms of wood burning. So that's basically, that's what I did.
Ben: Yeah, and that's called the Rocket Stove?
Alik: Rocket Stove Mess Heater.
Ben: Okay, cool. Is that something that you built, or did you have to purchase all the materials for that?
Alik: Well I had two guys, that's what they just did. They just laid the metal, so they laid all the heart of the stove because they know there should be exact measurement and blah, blah, and I felt like I'd better have them do it. And then I made the building around it, so I made the bench and all the mud work and stone work which is most of the work. It's a lot of work, but then I felt more confident. I had enough, but I guess you can't buy the whole thing. Like you go to the store and buy it.
Ben: It's a style of building a stove, so it's not something you can go like grab off Amazon. That's called a Rocket Stove. Cool, and then another thing I wanted to ask you about was I went and used the bathroom and your toilet, and it's kind of a unique set-up you got going in there. It's a special kind of toilet, can you tell us about it?
Alik: Yeah, it's the simplest regiment that you can think of because basically what I have is just instead of using water and using saw dust, and in that way, everything is just biodegrading, but I don't want it to happen in my home, so the whole process, basically it turns into compost which is something you can use for your plants.
Ben: When you say that you're using saw dust, what do you mean?
Alik: So instead of having this water tank above your toilet seat, I have a bucket full of saw dust, and you go to the toilet and then once you are done, you just take a bit of saw dust.
Ben: Oh, you like cover your waste with saw dust that you've got right there, beside the toilet. And then that toilet, what's going on? How's the waste actually being removed from the toilet itself?
Alik: Basically it's just a bucket.
Ben: Does it stink? Like do you notice the smell?
Alik: No, it doesn't at all, not more than any normal toilet. So it may be a little bit smelly for a while, for like a few minutes, but then it becomes completely normal. Like a normal toilet, I have a big window nearby. It has a lid, it closes, so no, you don't smell anything. The thing is that once the bucket is full, I just remove it very elegantly from behind. I don't have to go through the house, I just take it from the outside and remove it to a big pile I have, far from the house. So I keep the whole thing happening, the whole composting process away, so I guess like hundred yards, maybe two hundred yards away from home, and that one, it's perfect. It's a perfect solution. It uses no water at all. Actually once I made the calculation and I figured the water I'm using for the veg garden which is pretty big as we saw is exactly the same as the amount of water I save by not using any water in my toilet.
Ben: Wow, this is really cool. Okay, so there's some other things that you do. I know that you power this home with solar power, of course, 'cause I saw your solar panels out there in the field and you built your own furniture from leftover spruce, and there's all sorts of other tips that you have in this PDF that you've got over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/alik, but I want to talk about food 'cause you've obviously got a garden too. And one of the things you told me when I was there is that you have your garden planned out for something like the next twelve years, or something crazy like that. Can you explain your gardening methods and how exactly you're growing all your own food right there in as efficient way as possible?
Alik: Right, sure, yes. I'm happy to, well the thing is that I think once you decide to grow your own food, I think the main worry is first of all, to have your grain. You know, 'cause that's the basic staple of food. I don't know, whether it's rice. It depends on where you live. Where you live, it's either rice or wheat or corn. Well at least most traditions in the world, that's how they were behaving, and that's what I did as well. When you were here, 'cause it's like a seasonal thing, so it wasn't the season so you didn't see any of it, but most of my land is covered with wheat right now, and the next worry is you have to have your oil and then you have to have your legumes in order to have the protein, and eggs in my case, I also grow. I keep chickens so I can have eggs for the protein. So the vegetable need not be very big, it's the most labor consuming 'cause this is something you have to maintain all over the year, and with regard to your question about the twelve years, actually to be honest, I have it planned forever because there is like a rotational system, and the thing is in order for you to be able not to use any pesticides and to have it grown completely, no chemicals at all, one of the most important thing is keep the families of the plants rotating, a rotation of plants. Actually it's the number nine, so the number is every nine years, what happens is that the same crop is being grown in the same place. So I see to it that no plant will grow in the same place that it grew unless nine year have passed, and I do it by a method of rotation, so every nine years, it starts all over again. So if you visit me in nine years’ time, you will see the garden exactly the same as you saw it once you've been here, but if you'll visit me anytime in between, things will be organized differently.
Ben: Why is that? What's going on with the soil or with the plants themselves that makes them grow better to be more efficient when you rotate them into a different area of the garden each year?
Alik: Right, so every plant is a bit different. It needs some different stuff from the soil, it gives different stuff to the soil, and also it has different pests that will try and get some of it and use it. So by moving stuff around, if for example, if I grew say a bed of broccoli and slowly they'll start to develop around this broccoli. Newcomer broccoli to this area, pests, they'd like the broccoli, and they will obviously reproduce and breed and become more and more, and if I plant broccoli in the same place next year, I'll have a much bigger community, I would say. Population, a much bigger population of the same pest, and it will be much harder for the broccoli to fight with. And also the ingredients that the broccoli needs from the soil, there would be less of them in the soil because the broccoli already used it. So the next generation of the broccoli will have nothing, so by moving it around, if I put it next time instead, I put there say beet root which is from a different family, then all the pests that were waiting for the broccoli are very disappointed. There's nothing for them to look for 'cause they don't like beets.
Ben: And they just don't quickly move over and find the broccoli in the different place?
Alik: No, they're very small, very tiny and very local.
Ben: Wow, they're that local, it's crazy.
Alik: If we're talking about butterfly and stuff like that, then you're right, but there's many more stuff that's coming from within. From the soil, going for the roots and going for the stem and the tiny animals and insects that will not migrate back too quickly.
Ben: Yeah, wow this is a really cool idea, I've got six garden beds right now inside my house that I just planted my winter crop in, and this is something I really wasn't aware of. That if you just rotate everything into a different garden bed each here that those tiny pests are so local that they simply can't keep up, that's a great idea. So one of the things that you sent me, yesterday actually, was a video that shows how you're also growing your own bread from seed to loaf, and I'll, of course, put that video over in the links for folks. I ate some of that bread when I was over. Can you walk through your strategy of basically taking a tiny seed and then later having a delicious loaf of bread? What's your process?
Alik: Yeah, well you know the funny thing about bread and about grains generally is that although it's such a basic thing, most people, I don't know, we have some phobia even if it comes to cooking. You know, we make all sorts of exotic food and we'll roll sushi, and we'll do all sorts of complicated stuff, much before we're ready to take the risk and start baking stuff. For some reason, and me too. Actually I had this fear of baking and bread and also when it comes to growing, people are so much easier with growing tomato or cabbage than growing wheat, also in the States, but here it's local stuff. It grows so easily, it's an indigenous of this place. All you have to do is throw some seeds in it, and it will grow. So in this sense, it's very easy. The challenge comes later when it's ready, when its right, and then the problem is how to get from a right wheat plant to flour and bread later on. So basically what they'll do is just grow the wheat, the amazing thing about wheat is that it can grow on rain irrigation only, so I don't have to water it at all. I have nothing, I do nothing.
So come November-December, at the end of November-December, I just gently, not plow. Just the first four inches about, I just turn the soil in order to get all the grass out and all the wheat, after one rain. So about the end of December, and then I just spread the seed as even as I can. It's about 20 kilograms which I guess it's about 40 pounds. So you have different measurements, so if people are interested, they can write to me, and I can give all the exact amounts. Basically I just broadcast the seeds and cover it, it's very important to cover right away. Otherwise we'll have those ants that are very quick and very efficient. You leave it for a couple of hours, and you're left with half. You leave it overnight, and you're left with nothing. They just take everything away, so cover it. That's very important, with a rake or anything, that's what I do, and that's it. That's it for the next five months. Then you just sit and watch, and enjoy how the strength and livelihood and the essentiality of this clock, and by the time it's right, if it's difficult to bite. Once it's difficult to bite, then it's ready to harvest. And if in doubt, just leave it. If you're living in an area like me which has no summer rain, if there's no summer rain, I'm just worried if you leave it too long, it will rot in the stem because of the humidity and rain, but here there's no worry. You can leave it for another extra week or for another couple of weeks just to make sure that it's completely arrived, and then come the harvest time which you know a sickle will do.
Actually I will tell you about my threshing method in a minute, and that will explain why I harvest the way that I do, and this way is plucking only the very top bits. So only where the grain is. I don’t know the name of it in English, but I leave all the stem and just the very upper bit with the grain. That’s what I pluck out of the stalks, and just fill the buckets with it. This is the most time consuming job, so this will take you, I don't know. In my case, it takes about a week. The thing is that so few people do it this way these days that people are so excited to hear that I'm doing it that I always end up with 20 people coming over to do the job for me because they're so excited about doing it. It finishes up within a day, everything, but even if I had to do it by myself, it wouldn't take me more than a week. So that's most of the work.
Once that's done, and you have a big pile of harvested wheat, now comes the threshing stage which is basically just taking the grain. The grain is stuck in very steadfast, it's really difficult to take it out. It's very stubborn, and I think it's the same with corn, now that we have the combine doing it for us. So the combine basically drives through your field, and by the end of the row, one of its side is full of grain and the other is just whatever is left. It's packed nicely into big cubes, and I can't have a combine here, it's a very small plot. So what I ended up doing after researching quite a bit and finding nothing, I had to invent something and what I did, I basically just made a big blender. So I have this plastic barrel, I fill it to about a third height, and then I use a grass cutter, I think? Just this machine that you cut grass with that has a little wire turning very quickly around like a plastic flower.
Ben: We call it like a weed-eater machine.
Alik: Weed-eater? Excellent, thanks for that. Okay, so I use a weed-eater, I just put it inside. I cover the barrel with its lid, with a hole in the center so I can get the weed-eater inside and start it. Twenty seconds later, I have a very nice mesh or mixture of grain and all the rest together, and then all I have to do is just, I think you call it waning or something? I just pour it from one bucket to another with the wind, against the wind. The wind will take all the shafts away, and I'll have all the grain, and doing it three times in a row, you will end up with a bucket full of clean grain that you can now mill. For milling, I just use my Vitamix machine. It mills pretty nicely. If you're really spoiled and you want your flower very extra-fine, you can sieve it through a sieve, and then you'll have separated the samulina which is the stuff that stays on the sieve, that doesn't go through it. It's the heart of a grain, it's a bit more hard, and you can use it to make couscous and all that kind of stuff. And on the other side, whatever goes through the net is the very fine bread that you can use for baking. It's the best bread. It's just amazing.
Ben: It's amazing, the difference in the taste and also the way that you feel after eating that kind of bread. I'm actually interviewing, I met a food historian when I was over there in Israel. I'm interviewing him in a couple of weeks, and we're going to talk about the difference in the wheat a lot of times we're eating from the grocery store here in the States and the wheat that you grow on your own backyard and kind of the difference in the concentration of gluten and gliadin and all of the things that people complain about sometimes in bread. It's simply amazing, like the difference in taste when we're using this procedure like Alik is talking about and doing all of your self-growing and self-milling, and obviously, you're not getting a wheat that's been sprayed with herbicide or that's been genetically modified as just the real deal.
Alik: Can I add something?
Ben: Yeah, go ahead.
Alik: I just wanted to mention that in terms of time consumption, it’s important for me to know that growing wheat for the whole year takes just about a week of my time. And the rest, so all the oil, all the protein will take about say another week or so, and vegetable garden is taking about half an hour a week. So all together, it's about two weeks plus half an hour a week for growing all your food, and I think that's an important effect.
Ben: Yeah, that's what I'm finding too. Once you set up these systems in place, it's so easy to just basically put things on auto-pilot, and it doesn't take that much time and the time that it does take is extremely enjoyable in getting in touch with the planet and the Earth and growing your own food and living sustainably. I mean you took things to the next level, you built your own freaking house out of cow poop and stones or horse manure, but either way, it really is amazing. I mean you're a perfect example of how, with a few little tweaks, I mean you can do everything from making your own home to perhaps just putting a composting toilet in your house to actually getting out in the garden, rotating your garden crops, making your own bread. Amazing, amazing things that you can do. One last question because we're running up on time here, Alik, and of course I know that in Israel, water conservation is a big issue because water is not that plentiful there, how have you found a method for making sure that you're not using too much water for your garden and your home?
Alik: Well, I'm very lucky to be living… I guess what's more relevant to most of your listeners is that I think the biggest and most significant decision is to replace your toilet with composting toilets. That saves huge amount of water, and the toilet is the biggest consumer of water in the house, and once you give this up, then you made the most significant step towards saving. In my case, I'm very lucky to be living just near relics. So I have a very old system, it's about 1,000 years old. Just very near, like about 30, 40 meters away from my home. Actually it collects rainwater, it's not going to the ground water. It collects the rainwater because it's in the middle of kind natural, rocky area, and it's the lowest part of it, so they carved. Those people 1,000 years ago, so we assume that they were bees hunting Romans, and they dug this well. It collects water, about thirty-five cubic meters of water. I just use a solar pump, and I use it to water all my trees.
Ben: So you're pretty much just pumping water out of a cistern, and it's going into your garden?
Alik: Exactly, that's what I do.
Ben: Is that what you use for the water that you're drinking as well?
Alik: No, I wasn't as brave. I didn't know the quality of water, so I am connected to this village. Although we have no maintenance power, so no electricity and everybody has their own sewage system like Central, but we do have a central water system, so we are connected to the main water system of the country. I have it, but I use it only for drinking and the shower. That's it. All the rest, it's from the wells.
Ben: Yeah, well you're a wealth of information. We could go on and on, I'm sure, about everything that you've done, and I would actually love to if I didn't have to go to another call. Those of you listening in, I'll open the Kimono on podcast and tell you that I've got another call to talk about sports nutrition with Tawny Prazak from Endurance Planet coming up here, so Alik and I are going to have to wrap up. However, what I have over at the show notes at bengreenfielldfitness.com/alik is the PDF that Alik and I discussed, Alik's video that he created that's really cool. It documents all stages of growing your own bread from seed to loaf if you want to get into it even more. And then also I know a lot of people wonder how I personally put together my own home as far as some of the things that I've done in the home that I live in and I put a little book in there too in the show notes. It's called “How To Biohack The Ultimate Healthy Home” and it talks about some of the things that I've done in my own home from lighting to flooring to heating to the wiring and some of the things that make it a healthy place to be. So if you want to get any of that stuff, head over to bengreenfieldfitness.com/alik.
Alik, thank you so much for coming on the call today and sharing all of this really cool and inspirational stuff with us.
Alik: Thanks so much for having me, Ben. Thanks, it's been great.
Ben: And folks, of course, leave your comments over there at the show notes if you want to ask Alik or myself questions, and we'll be happy to help point you in the right direction. Alright, Alik. I'll talk to you later, man.
Alik: Okay, cheers. Bye.
Ben: Okay, thanks.
Last month, my wife and I traveled to Israel with Vibe Israel, an organization that brings international on- and offline opinion leaders in health and nutrition on a weeklong personalized experience of the burgeoning wellness scene in Israel.
I've already released three valuable lessons I learned on that Israel journey: “5 Things You Can Learn From The Burgeoning Health, Wellness And Nutrition Scene In Israel“, “Why You Get Cancer And What You Can Do About It“, and “The Problem With Paleo: Why It’s OK To Eat Bread, Grains, Legumes, Cheese & Milk.”.
Today, you get to listen in as I interview one of the most amazing individuals I met on the Israel trip – a man named Alik Pelman (pictured above with myself and others at his property, photo courtesy Or Kaplan). Alik completed his PhD in philosophy at the University of London and then took a break from academic life and went to learn how to grow food, becoming a professional organic farmer for two years.
Alik then set up his own self-sufficient home in the small village of Clil, in Western Galilee. I had the pleasure of visiting him in his small hut, built almost entirely from local, natural materials. This is where he grows virtually all of his food, and spends most of his working hours doing farm chores, reading, writing and hosting curious visitors like me.
In this show, you'll discover:
-How to grow food on your roof…
-How to use sheep's wool for insulation…
-How to make walls out of completely edible corn flour porridge…
-How to use natural oils to protect your floor and furniture…
-How to build an efficient, composting toilet that uses no water…
-How to easily rotate your garden crops for maximum yield…
-How to grow and make your own bread, from seed to loaf…
Resources from this episode: