The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

archives for 02/2010

Feb 2010

Kale in JanuaryI've been a bit quiet on the garden front lately because now is really the time for dreaming, not for growing.  But the garden is actually in much better shape than any previous winter garden I've been in charge of, so I thought I'd take you on a quick tour.

It's quite possible to have some greens and lettuce even in the dead of winter around here as long as you start them in the early fall and the deer don't get them.  In previous years, the deer have always eaten my greens to the ground, but Mark's deer deterrents are worth their weight in gold!  This year we still have some kale and mustard hanging on --- just enough to put half a cup in potstickers every week or two.  (No lettuce because I planted it late and didn't get it up to speed in time.)

Parsley in JanuaryI've always read that you can eat parsley all winter, but the deer adore it so I've never had it later than August.  As a result, I've never even bothered to plant it in the sunny half of the garden (where I put the plants which will grow on warm winter days.)  Nevertheless, my small bed emerged from the snow a week or so ago green and beautiful!  The plants tend to have short stalks in the cold, but the leaves are delicious --- perfect for adding a bit of freshness to tuna or egg salad or soups.
Egyptian onions in January
Of course, no winter garden is complete without scads of Egyptian onions.  I planted a couple of beds of them, and then tried to compost the extras, which meant I instead spread volunteer onions all over the yard.  You can never have too many, though --- I put the fresh green tops into omelets and egg salad and cut up the entire onions into soups.

Meanwhile, inside, we still have enough sweet potatoes and garlic for several months, though the carrots are beginning to reach the bottom quarter of the drawer and we've only got three butternut squash left.  The freezer is still full of the bounty of the summer, and the only vegetables we buy in the store are potatoes and onions (because our crops were disappointing this year.)  And now it's February, and time to plant the first lettuce bed!

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Posted Mon Feb 1 07:22:32 2010 Tags:

Postcard of a Japanese farm in TexasIf you've been following along for a while, you may remember my series about traditional Chinese farming practices.  The book Farmers of Forty Centuries opened my eyes to farming methods that were clear forerunners of modern organic gardening, complete with nitrogen fixing plants and massive infusions of compost.  As the name suggests, farmers in China maintained the fertility of the same garden patches for as long as 4,000 years using their ancient techniques.

Fast forward ahead just forty years after the book's publication date, and farming practices in Japan (once very similar to those in China) turned around 180 degrees.  After the end of World War II, Japanese farmers were sucked in by the allure of time-saving American "innovations" like chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.  According to Masanobu Fukuoka, author of The One-Straw Revolution, centuries of building humus-rich soil washed away in just twenty years.  Within one generation, the Japanese soil was dependent on ever greater amounts of chemical fertilizers to produce a crop.

Was there any way for Japan to return to a more natural way of farming?  Fukuoka said yes, and his book struck a chord with both Japanese folks and Americans in the 1970s.  Stay tuned for his insights in this week's lunchtime series.

Check out our homemade chicken waterer and give your birds clean water this spring!

This post is part of our One-Straw Revolution lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Feb 1 12:00:10 2010 Tags:

 panoramic snow pic comparison

Another winter day at Wetknee where the snow is taking its sweet time saying goodbye.

Posted Mon Feb 1 16:35:50 2010 Tags:

Rocket stoves are currently being introduced to several third world countries to help lower the pressure of firewood harvesting on native forests.  The stoves are designed to need very little wood in order to heat up your cook pot, so trees get left in place.  I love the concept, but can't help wondering --- why don't we promote rocket stoves in the U.S. too?  I'd never tell someone in a third world country to institute environmentally friendly measures I wasn't willing to put into practice in my own life.

Before I knew it, I'd penciled a rocket stove onto our ten year plan and started researching.  First, I discovered that you can't use rocket stoves inside because they're basically an efficient hearth.  So, in practice, they'll probably be part of a summer kitchen in our long term plan --- something I want anyway because I always dread turning on the stove on a sweltering summer day.

The video I've embedded above is well worth watching if you'd like to build your own rocket stove.  It looks like we could probably make one quite cheaply, though it would take quite a bit of trial and error to figure out certain parts.  The sheet metal looks an awful lot like a stovepipe to me, suggesting that we might not need welding skills (the part that scared us off building our own initially.)  Alternatively, we could buy one pre-made for around $125.

Have any of you built or used a rocket stove?  What did you think of it?

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Posted Tue Feb 2 07:31:28 2010 Tags:

The One-Straw Revolution coverMasanobu Fukuoka's The One-Straw Revolution is a hodepodge of advice for farming and living.  To be completely honest, I adored the first third of the book, but was annoyed by the philosophical bent of the rest.  Sure, I agree that we should garden organically, eat locally, minimize our meat consumption, eat in season, turn away from commercial farms and back to the small family farm, reject growth economics, live simply, and work to live rather than live to work.  But those concepts are all old hat now.  Since I wasn't alive while he was writing the book, I don't really know whether Fukuoka's ramblings were insightful and innovative at the time or simply derivative.

That said, the first third of the book was rivetting.  His farming method (which I'll describe tomorrow) clearly paved the way for the entire permaculture movement.  Fukuoka dubbed his technique "natural farming", and it went far beyond simple organic gardening.  He advocated working with nature and mimicking natural processes, positing that many parts of modern agriculture systems are only necessary because the farms are out of balance and we're working against nature.  As a result, he also used the inspiring phrase "do-nothing farming", referring to the aspects of modern agriculture that he did without.

Although there was still a lot of work involved in Fukuoka's farm, his do-nothing farming was unique.  He promoted no-till techniques, green manure, and mulching.  You don't hear much about Fukuoka nowadays, but I wonder whether he wasn't as influential in the birth of the permaculture movement as its self-styled father, Bill Mollison.

Looking for a farm innovation?  Check out our poop-free chicken waterers.

This post is part of our One-Straw Revolution lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Feb 2 12:00:17 2010 Tags:

 overhead work

The home made storage building is pretty much sealed up in the upper rafter section thanks to several rounds of cutting salvaged wood to size and securing it in place.

Posted Tue Feb 2 17:09:51 2010 Tags:

Efficient, non-catalytic wood stoveWhile I'm on the subject of more efficient stoves, I wanted to do some research into efficient wood stoves for space heating.  Our exterior wood stove is a good choice for heat on our farm since wood is a renewable resource (and is cheaper than most other options), but I'm still concerned about the pollution that comes out the chimney.  Luckily, scientists have been plugging away at building a better wood stove and have developed models that can eliminate 90% of the smoke and use only about half the wood.

The new, energy-efficient stoves come in two categories.  The first, shown to the right, is a non-catalytic stove that increases its combustion efficiency using firebox insulation, a large baffle that extends the gas flow path, and pre-heated combustion air (which is actually a lot like the reasoning behind the design of the rocket stove.)
Catalytic wood stove
Wood stoves with catalytic converters (shown on the left) can cut emissions of even the most efficient non-catalytic stove in half, but they don't seem to use less wood.  Although I'd love to be polluting less, catalytic wood stoves aren't the best choice for most homesteaders.  The $100 to $200 catalytic converter wears out within two to six years, and you need to be relatively adept at tinkering to keep it in prime operating condition.  The startup costs are also higher

So how much does a new, energy-efficient wood stove cost?  From what I can find online, it seems like new non-catalytic wood stoves start around $1,200 and go as expensive as you can imagine.  In 2009 and 2010, there's a 30% tax credit in effect for buying wood stoves with at least 75% efficiency, which is a great deal if you can use it.  If you buy and burn a lot of wood, a more efficient wood stove might pay for itself even without the tax credit --- I estimate that we'd start saving money after about 4 years if we bought the cheapest model.

Although efficient wood stoves seem like a good idea, I'm still not ready to take the plunge.  I'm very curious about whether our current wood stove could be retrofitted to increase its efficiency.  Has anyone tried that out?

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Posted Wed Feb 3 07:35:07 2010 Tags:

Fukuoka's do-nothing farming, harvesting the grainsSo what did Masanobu Fukuoka's natural farming technique look like?  In the fall, he seeded white clover, a winter grain (rye or barley), and rice all at once into a field.  The seeds were rolled in balls of clay so that they could simply be dropped onto un-tilled soil rather than being pushed beneath the surface.

That autumn, the clovers and winter grains sprouted and grew while the rice seeds waited.  The clover formed a groundcover beneath the rye or barley, crowding out weeds and fixing nitrogen to enrich the soil.  By spring, the winter grains were ready to be harvested --- Fukuoka threshed the grains and tossed all of the straw back onto the fields, forming a thick mulch.  He added in a small amount of manure from his chickens, but no other compost or fertilizer.

Fukuoka's do-nothing farming, collageMeanwhile, the rice had already sprouted and started to grow.  The young rice plants were trampled down when the winter grains were harvested, but quickly sprang back to life, growing amid weeds and clover.

The traditional method of growing rice in most of Japan and China consisted of flooding the rice paddies for the entire growing season as a method of weed control, but Fukuoka realized that rice is actually healthier when growing in damp, but not sodden, soil.  So he opted to flood his fields for a mere week in the spring, long enough to drown out most of the weeds and weaken the clover, giving the rice a head start.  Then he dried the fields back out and the rice grew happily above its nitrogen-fixing groundcover.  In the fall, he harvested the rice and once again returned the straw to the field, along with seeds for next year.

Fukuoka noted that after 20 years of using his natural farming method, the soil on his farm was much richer than when he began.  He harvested just as much grain (or more) from his fields as the commercial farmers using chemicals nearby.  And the photos in his book look remarkably weed-free --- I'm jealous.

Check out our automatic chicken waterers, great in tractors!

This post is part of our One-Straw Revolution lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Feb 3 12:00:19 2010 Tags:

 modified bracket close up

We had a box of these corner brackets that flattened out nicely with a few bangs of a hammer. Extending the rafters will allow us to squeeze in some extra insulation.

Posted Wed Feb 3 15:48:49 2010 Tags:

Sweeping up sawdustMy mindset already seems to be taking in the permaculture mantra "one man's trash is my treasure."

All through our building project, I've been letting the sawdust slip into the mud and disappear, but this week I suddenly realized it was a gold mine!  I swept up about half a gallon and wish the wood-cutting part of the project wasn't nearly over.

Shall I use my precious sawdust for making bricks for a rocket stove or for mixing with wood chips to provide our mushroom spawn a better substrate?  Choices, choices!

Check out our ebook about quitting your job and starting to live.
Posted Thu Feb 4 07:33:22 2010 Tags:

Masanobu FukuokaMasanobu Fukuoka realized that his system of natural farming wouldn't be exactly replicable in other parts of the world --- for example, we'd be hard-pressed to grow rice here in Virginia.  So he summed up his method into four principles that can be used anywhere.

First, he admonishes us not to till or turn the soil.  Although Fukuoka doesn't go into the science behind the disadvantages of soil tilling, he did mention that cultivating soil gives troublesome weeds like crabgrass and dock a foothold.  As my father can tell you, once crabgrass gets into your garden, you might as well move on.

Masanobu FukuokaPrinciple 2 is "no chemical fertilizer or prepared compost."  I know the latter may be fighting words!  But I see his point --- in nature, plant matter is naturally composted on the soil surface, a process which promotes the growth of beneficial fungi.  Fukuoka adds fertility to his soil by returning straw (and a bit of poultry manure) to the soil surface and keeping a groundcover of white clover growing at all times.

Third, Fukuoka refuses to weed by tillage or herbicides.  Instead, he uses mulch, a clover groundcover, and temporary flooding to keep the weeds in check.  In addition, his winter grain/rice rotation keeps the fields constantly covered with crops, so weeds never have a fallow period to gain a foothold.

Finally, principle 4 is "no dependence on chemicals."  All organic gardeners will agree to that.

Check out Mark's Avian Aqua Miser invention.

This post is part of our One-Straw Revolution lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Feb 4 12:00:13 2010 Tags:
mark Caulk Talk

 caulking secrets revealed?

The home made storage building got about half way sealed today thanks to four tubes of caulk and five tubes of liquid nails.

Posted Thu Feb 4 16:25:31 2010 Tags:

illustration from My Father's DragonHuman names elude me.  Without really trying, I can rattle off the scientific names of hundreds of plants, tell you their lineage, their uses, where they like to grow.  But present me with a few people, and they blur together into a sea of faces.

I can just hear what you want to say --- "I have a hard time with names too."  Let me clarify with a short story.  When I was a freshman in college, a girl sat at my table every day, but for weeks (months? maybe even the whole first semester?) I didn't know who she was and I mostly ignored her.  Then, one day, she brought a potted heather plant to lunch with her.  "Nice plant," I said.  "Yes, it's a heather, just like my name," she replied.  A light went off in my head --- this girl's name was Heather, which was a plant, so I could remember her!  Now, to use modern parlance, we are BFFs. :-)

I've been thoroughly enjoying everyone's insightful comments, especially over the last few weeks, but it bothers me that I have a hard time remembering which one of you is the pig farmer and which one lives on the prairie.  I considered asking you all to rename yourselves after plants, but then I came up with an even better solution!  Anyone who wants can now create an account on Walden Effect.  This will make it easier for you since your comments will post immediately (rather than waiting for me to check in and mark them as non-spam.)  You'll also be able to create your own user page, with links to your main webpages, maybe a photo of yourself, and hopefully at least one reference to a plant or animal to jog my memory.

I hope you'll give it a try!  Just click here and follow the directions to make your account and user page.  If you run into any problems, just email me and I'll make them better.  You might also want to read about all of the registered users on Walden Effect.

Don't want to share?  That's okay --- you can still post comments anonymously or by typing in your name just the way you always could.  Either way, I look forward to learning more about you!

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Posted Fri Feb 5 07:32:29 2010 Tags:

Hulless oatsAs I mentioned before, Masanobu Fukuoka's natural farming helped inspire the permaculture movement, but I ended up being drawn in a different direction by his experiences.  I've been struggling to develop a workable no-till system for my garden over the last three years, and my constant problem is lack of sufficient mulch.  We mow all of our grassy areas and add the clippings to our garden beds and even rake leaves out of the woods to top things off, but I still end up with bare soil and way too many weeds.  So you shouldn't be surprised that my epiphany upon reading The One-Straw Revolution had to do with mulch.

The organic gardening and homesteading movement has us all growing our own tomatoes and broccoli, but I'd say that 99% of us have never even considered growing our own grains.  And yet, grains make up a huge percentage of our diets.  Clearly, they also made up a huge percentage of Masanobu Fukuoka's garden.  Perhaps the solution to my mulch problem is to return to a more holistic gardening method.  If we grew all of our own grains as well as all of our vegetables, I'd never be in need of mulch again.

Fukuoka says that his method of growing grains uses one hour per week per person, a figure that sounds remarkably manageable.  Could we tweak his system a bit, perhaps trading buckwheat, sorghum, or corn for rice, and replicate his success?  I'm suddenly determined to find clover seeds, buy a bit of straw to prime the pump, and plant my hull-less oats in a do-nothing test plot rather than in a traditional garden bed.

Don't miss the sister series on our chicken blog about homemade chicken feed.  Posts so far include What do chickens eat in the wild?, Percent protein in three types of chicken feed, and Recipes for homemade starter and grower chicken feeds, with more to come!

This post is part of our One-Straw Revolution lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Feb 5 12:00:17 2010 Tags:

coldest automatic chicken watererLittle house in the suburbs dot com is hands down the coldest automatic chicken waterer I've seen so far.

I can't prove it, but I feel like all chickens can appreciate the simple comfort of a cool drink on a hot summer day.

We've got side by side Avian Aqua Misers and one day last summer I put a handfull of ice in one of them and noticed how our Plymouth Rock hens favored the colder water.

I know it's not a scientific test, but maybe I can expand the parameters next summer to see if there's any truth to this crazy hypothesis?

Posted Fri Feb 5 16:25:58 2010 Tags:
EPA's recommended r-value for insulation in different parts of the house and U.S.

Our homemade storage building continues to be a learning experience.  When we started out, I blithely said, "Let's put in as much insulation as possible despite the cost," and Mark agreed.  What I didn't realize is that you have to plan for your insulation needs from the get-go.

The map and chart at the top of the page show EPA's insulation recommendations for new wood-framed homes when heating with gas, heat pumps, or fuel oil.  (They recommend more insulation if you heat with electricity, and don't even give you an option for heating with wood.)  We're in their zone 4, which means we should have at least R30 in our ceiling and R13 in our walls.  The latter is easy, but the former is a bit of an issue.

Putting up wall insulationAssuming you're using fiberglass insulation (which fits our wallet and our remote setting), you need thicker wall or ceiling cavities to fit more insulation.  A typical 2X4 wall will hold up to R15 --- if you try to cram R19 in, you compress the insulation and, I believe, actually get less insulative value than you would have with a lower rated batt of insulation.

Our original rafters are 5.5 inches deep, which would only allow us to put in R19 insulation up there --- makes me chilly just thinking about it (although I think the trailer ceiling has about R13.)  So we extended our rafters with some two by fours, giving us the space to increase our ceiling insulation to R30.  For future reference, here is the cavity depth you need for some common insulation r-values:

  • 3.5 inches --- R13
  • 6 inches --- R19
  • 9 inches --- R30
  • 12 inches --- R38

Most of our building project has been very forgiving of my learn-as-we-go mentality, but insulation requires some forethought.  For those who might want to try their own hand at building --- shun the fault I fell in!

Check out our chick waterers, perfect for day old chickens.
Posted Sat Feb 6 07:44:00 2010 Tags:

   another inferior automatic chicken waterer design
has an interesting automatic chicken waterer that caught my eye while I was enjoying their poultry project pictures.

It's a huge improvement over the regular gravity fed waterers, but still needs to be cleaned out, and it cost more than an Avian Aqua Miser.
I'm not sure I would trust the float not to get stuck, and would most likely be checking on it often to see if it were flowing. I never have this concern with the Avain Aqua Miser.

I would be willing to bet a box of doughnuts that if the chickens were given a choice side by side with this waterer and an Avian Aqua Miser they would forget all about those two big scary holes to peek into and start geting all their hydration from a source that will always provide clean drinkable water without nearly as much fuss.

Posted Sat Feb 6 16:17:38 2010 Tags:

Roland's drawing of a rocket stove which preheats combustion airA few of you were as intrigued by the rocket stove concept as I was, and Roland's comments sent me searching the web for more information.  Basically, I wanted to know if I could design a slightly modified rocket stove made out of found/bought materials to simplify construction.  I was also interested in any updates to the design that might maximize efficiency.

Preheating the combustion air

The drawing shown here is Roland's suggestion for preheating the combustion air to increase efficiency, in much the way that efficient space-heating wood stoves work.  A search of the web turns up contradictory pages --- folks who have tried similar methods are split on whether it increases efficiency or not.  Many sites suggest that the conventional design already preheats the combustion air by passing the air intake underneath the burning fire, so I think I'll stick with that.


Insulating the burning chamber is another important factor in rocket stove efficiency.  The official Aprovecho design calls for making your own fire bricks, which are rated at about R10 when fully assembled.  Roland's suggestion --- perlite --- has an R-value of 2.7 per inch, so four inches of loose-filled perlite placed between an inner and an outer wall could be a much easier option than making our own fire brick.  (For future reference, other folks mention using materials such as vermiculite (R2.08 per inch) and pumice (R2 per inch).)
Modified rocket stove

Body materials

I've seen various DIY rocket stove options using found or bought materials, and the ones that caught my eye used nested stove pipe.  The image shown here is my revised version of the official design made out of one big stove pipe, two pieces of smaller stovepipe, and an elbow to connect the smaller stovepipe pieces together.  As Roland mentioned, the bigger stovepipe might be replaced by a metal bucket --- otherwise, I'd have to add some kind of cap to keep the perlite from coming out the bottom.  I'm envisioning the pot sitting on pieces of rebar stuck through the exterior walls rather than welding anything together.

There's a bit of math involved in deciding how high the interior chamber should be and how much air space should be left between the pot and the skirt -- more on that later!

Check out our ebook about quitting your job and starting to live.
Posted Sun Feb 7 10:13:49 2010 Tags:

solar powered automatic chicken coop doorWhat do you do if you want to install an automatic chicken coop door but you don't have electricity running to your coop?

Chicken coop has recently come out with a new solar powered option that will save you the chore of letting your girls out in the morning and remembering to lock them back up at night.

The price is 324 dollars and maybe worth it if you don't have the skill and time to build an automatic chicken coop door yourself. Automatic chicken door

Edited to add:

After years of research, Mark eventually settled on
this automatic chicken door.

You can see a summary of the best chicken door alternatives and why he chose this version here.

If you're planning on automating your coop, don't forget to pick up one of our chicken waterers.  They never spill or fill with poop, and if done right, can only need filling every few days or weeks!

Posted Sun Feb 7 15:36:39 2010 Tags:
Anna Haybox

Old German hayboxAs part of  my continued obsession with lower-energy cooking, I decided to try to make a haybox to cook my chicken carcass down into stock Sunday.  Someone (Heather?) had emailed me in response to my Dutch oven post, telling me that you can bring a pot of incipient soup to a boil, wrap it in towels, and leave it alone for the afternoon.  The cast iron and towels will hold in the heat, and the soup will cook itself.

While researching rocket stoves, I stumbled across a mention of hayboxes, which seem to work on a very similar principle to Heather's idea.  You fill up a box with hay (or other insulation), put in your boiling pot, and leave it alone for several hours.  I've seen figures suggesting that using a haybox with long-cooking recipes like chicken stock will save 80% of the energy you would use to simmer the stock on the stove.  You should leave the pot in the haybox somewhere between once and twice as long as you would have left it on the stove.  If you're worried about bacteria, bring the whole thing back to a boil for a few minutes on the stove before serving.

Homemade haybox

So how did my experiment go?  I brought my carcass and water to a boil and tucked it into an old comforter in a cardboard box.  (The image on the left shows the pot before I bundled the rest of the comforter over the top.)  Our house temperature was low on Sunday --- 50 degrees Fahrenheit --- but when I peeked in six hours later, the pot was still steaming and the stock was a lovely yellow.  Success!

Check out our ebook about making a living on the farm.
Posted Mon Feb 8 06:55:30 2010 Tags:

Everett commented on my mention of planting clover to say:
Bumblebee on white clover

You probably already know this, but just in case... Don't forget the inoculent (tried spelling it three different ways. I'm sure it's wrong but you get the point) for your clover. I tried some without it and they were patchy at best. Then I tried WITH inoculation and had a nice thick patch of clover. I guess it really makes a difference.

I don't know why inoculant is so hard to spell, but I struggle with it too and seem to have to look it up every few weeks.  Anyway, back to the point....

If you're not a gardener, you may not realize that nitrogen is usually the limiting ingredient in many plants' growth, and is thus one of the big three components of chemical fertilizers.  Organic gardeners often add nitrogen to the soil with compost or manure, but others take advantage of nitrogen-fixing bacteria to turn the copious nitrogen in the atmosphere into nitrogen their plants can use.  This week's lunchtime series will explore how this symbiosis can be worked to your advantage in the garden.

Check out our chick waterer, perfect for day-old chickens!

This post is part of our Nitrogen Fixing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Feb 8 12:00:19 2010 Tags:

  hyrogen powered chicken coop door opener

A perfect complement to yesterday's solar powered automatic chicken coop opener would be this portable hyrdogen generator.

Kristie Lu Stout has an interesting post about this exciting new product that will allow everybody to generate their own hydrogen from water and store it in a safe, low pressure battery-like container. No word yet on how much it might cost, but plans are to have a tabletop model available by the end of 2010.

Getting off the grid with solar or wind has always come back to battery storage. If this technology improves, it could replace most of those expensive and toxic chemical batteries and bring alternative energy within the reach of the common homesteader.

Posted Mon Feb 8 17:57:21 2010 Tags:

Hauling plywood through the mud with the heavy hauler.As you've probably gathered by now, we don't live next to the road.  A third of a mile of floodplain lies between our trailer and our car parking area, and during this abnormally wet winter that means a third of a mile of mud.

It's been weeks since the ground has been dry enough for the golf cart to traverse our swamp, but we went ahead and
bought a vanful of building supplies last week to finish up the homemade storage building.  Since insulation is, by definition, light and airy, we didn't have a problem hauling in enough to finish the walls.  But the sheets of plywood we plan to cover the interior with were another matter.  Mark wisely asked at the store to have the four by eight panels cut in half, but even a four by four sheet of plywood is extremely ungainly.  I set out on Monday to see how many sheets I could haul through the mud to move our project along.

Attempt 1 began with me hoisting four sheets onto my head.  By the time I crossed the creek, I knew this method wasn't going to work.  Luckily, I ran into the heavy hauler halfway home, lashed the plywood down, and marveled over how wheels made the work lighter.  Elapsed time: 1 hour.  Sheets per hour: 4.

Hauling plywood by tying it to my back.My major physical weakness is carpal tunnel, and I knew that I couldn't pull the heavy hauler through the mud again without waking up the next night with tingling hands.  So for attempt 2, I got out my hiking backpack and some rope.  Out at the van, I lashed four sheets onto the backpack and manhandled it onto my back.  The boards felt positively light, but they also went a bit akilter and I had to constantly push them back into place.  Elapsed time: 40 minutes.  Sheets per hour: 6.

Hauling plywood tied to my backFor attempt 3, I got smart and stupid all at once.  First the smart part.  I realized that the pea trellis material would make a perfect sling to hold the wood together, making it easy to tie it onto my backpack.  The whole thing seemed so easy, in fact, that I got greedy and decided to haul in six sheets instead of four.  Bad idea!  By the time I sloshed through the mud and made it home, I was worn out!  Elapsed time: 50 minutes.  Sheets per hour: 7 --- but that doesn't count the hour I spent collapsed on the couch afterwards!

At least we have some wood to work with, now.  Mark has plans to fix up the driveway, which may make all of this muddy hauling a thing of the past.  More on that later....

Check out our ebook about quitting your job and really starting to live.
Posted Tue Feb 9 07:51:36 2010 Tags:

Nitrogen-fixing bacteria infecting a root"Nitrogen, nitrogen everywhere, but not a drop to drink," could be a plant's plaintive song.  The atmosphere we breathe is 78% nitrogen, but plants are incapable of putting the elemental nitrogen to use.  Instead, they need ammonia or nitrate and depend on the useful nitrogen they can suck out of dead plants and animals as part of the nitrogen cycle.

Nitrogen-fixing bacteria are the flip side of the coin.  These microorganisms can take the nitrogen from the air and turn it into a useful form, but the process takes up vast quantities of energy.  Some bacteria species are able to scavenge the energy on their own, but others have opted to team up with nitrogen-hungry plants.

The best-known symbiosis is between rhizobia bacteria and legumes.  It all begins when a bacterium senses flavonoids given off by the legume's roots.  "Home for sale!" the flavonoids say, and the bacterium secretes a chemical in reply --- "I'd like to move in."  "Great!" says the root, and it curls its tiny root hair around the bacterium to make a safely enclosed root nodule.  The plant fills the nodule with carbohydrates (free energy!), proteins, and oxygen, and the bacterium responds by fixing atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia to feed the plant.  The pair lives happily ever after.

Dreaming of spring chickens?  Check out our automatic chicken waterers that will make their care a breeze.

This post is part of our Nitrogen Fixing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Feb 9 12:00:20 2010 Tags:

Golf cart in the snowMark read my post this morning and said, "Everyone's going to think that I'm a slacker, sitting back and watching you carry all that plywood in!"  I said, "Of course not!  Everyone knows you were working really hard on another job and that you usually do all the hauling anyhow."  "Hmph," Mark replied.

Clearly Mark was right, since my mom just sent me this email: "Does Mark haul any plywood in?? I love the photos of you,--but, seriously, does he??  What has Mark been doing while you've been dragging?"

I'm going to post more about it tomorrow morning, but Mark was busy doing manly chores in town, talking to mechanics who won't really talk to me and moving forward on the driveway repair project.  I took the photos of myself using the timer function on the camera.  Shame on you all for not thinking that Mark does his share! :-)

To further muddy the waters, here's a picture of the golf cart in the snow a week ago....

Posted Tue Feb 9 14:23:36 2010 Tags:
mark Roof proof

 electrical outlet closeup

We've had a really good test for the storage building roof today thanks to a steady stream of rain. No leaks so far while we begin the process of measuring, cutting, and installing the plywood that Anna worked so hard to bring in yesterday.

Posted Tue Feb 9 16:00:30 2010 Tags:
Anna Retreads

Retreaded truck tiresRemember our huge pile of firewood?  We ran through it unbelievably fast --- first the power was out for two weeks and we had to keep a big fire going just to keep the trailer above freezing due to lack of a fan.  Then we had two weeks of below freezing temperatures and again had to keep the fire raging to keep us warm.  The result is that the 1.75 cords of wood that we thought would last all winter lasted a mere month.

So in January, we went back to electric heat.  I hated to give in to the coal-fired power plant, but our firewood supplier took our $50 down payment and dropped off the face of the earth.  Due to major environmental guilt, I keep the trailer between 40 and 50 degrees when heating with electricity, which is really quite comfortable if you wear layers (and are used to it.)

That's all a long explanation for why Joey came in his truck last week instead of his car --- he wanted to drop off a load of firewood for his poor, freezing baby sister.  The firewood was much appreciated, but the truck got stuck due to completely treadless tires.  Rather than calling a tow truck to haul Joey out, we called our mother and begged her to come pick Joey up so that Mark and I could take advantage of this opportunity to haul gravel for our driveway.  (We ordered some of that from our hauler too, but we really haven't heard from him in over a month....)

On Monday, Mark babied the truck out of the mud (now thawed and thus a bit less precarious) and took her to town to get new tires.  We thought the two back tires we needed to replace would come to about $300, but Mark came home with a receipt for only $140 --- he had discovered the wonder of retread tires!  If you, like me, have never heard of retreads, you're in for a treat.  Old tires end up in a factory where they're tested for safety and have the old tread buffed off, then a new tread is is applied.  The end result is nearly as good as a new tire (and every bit as safe), for a fraction of the price.  Apparently, at this time, only big tires (R16 and greater) are retreaded, so most of them end up going to large-scale trucking and bussing fleets, but farmers are also retread fanatics.  If you have a truck that needs new wheels, retreads seem like the way to go!

Check out our ebook about living simply and quitting your job.
Posted Wed Feb 10 08:40:53 2010 Tags:

Comparison of a field with and without inoculant.Scientists have discovered that inoculating legumes with nitrogen-fixing bacteria can increase crop yields.  The theory is simple --- if your plants lack the proper bacteria to team up with, they're stuck begging ammonia out of the soil rather than producing their own.

But you can't just inoculate your entire garden with one kind of bacterium and be done with it.  Most plants that team up with nitrogen-fixing bacteria are picky about the bacteria species they move in with.  Clovers share one set of bacteria species, garden and soup beans another, and alfalfa, soybeans, peanuts, clover, and peas each have their own.  You can often buy seeds already coated in the proper inoculant, or can even transplant a bit of soil from your previous pea patch to your new one to get the useful bacteria started.

As a side note, I was intrigued to learn that legumes aren't the only plants that team up with nitrogen-fixers.  The other common, nitrogen-fixing plant in our area is the shrub alder (Alnus sp.)  I've been keeping an eye out for some wild alders to transplant into my forest garden as a method of naturally boosting the area's fertility.

Don't miss our series on making your own chicken feed this month on our chicken blog.

This post is part of our Nitrogen Fixing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Feb 10 12:00:11 2010 Tags:

 how to build a door frame

We forgot to use a level when we were setting up the outer door frame of the storage building and because of that a small gap needed to be added towards the top to level it out.

Posted Wed Feb 10 16:18:50 2010 Tags:

Alpine strawberry seed curling out of its seed caseWhy do gardeners start so many seedlings indoors when the plants nearly always do just as well when planted in a cold frame or simply direct-seeded after the last frost?  My best guess is that the same antsiness I feel as the days get longer affects everyone else too.  Starting some alpine strawberries this winter has been a good way to feed the ache without going nuts with grow lights and flats.

It took two solid weeks for my strawberries to germinate, but this weekend I noticed the first tiny specks of white as roots started digging into the stump dirt.  Monday, the cotyledons began to unfurl from Alpine strawberry seedlingthe seed coats, and Wednesday the flat was full of tiny green leaves, each one heavy with a drop of dew.  I guess it's nearly time to take the lid off and let them start growing!

We're due to start some plants outside this week, too, if the ground thaws out.  People around here traditionally plant their first peas on Valentine's Day --- it's a crap shoot, but in the years when the early peas grow, everyone who bowed out is jealous.  I'll also be tossing out some poppy seeds, some for us to eat and some just for the bees.

Check out our ebook about creating a product that pays all your bills.
Posted Thu Feb 11 07:55:32 2010 Tags:

Nodule on clover roots for nitrogen-fixing bacteriaSo let's return to Everett's comment --- should I buy an inoculant to get my clover patch off to a good start?  If you already have clover growing in your yard (which we do), chances are good that the proper bacteria are already present.  Go out and dig up a plant, and you should be able to see little white bumps on the roots --- the nodules.

However, even if the nodules are present, your plants may not be currently teamed up with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.  The way to be sure is to cut a nodule open and look at the color.  Nodes that are actively fixing nitrogen are pink or red inside, while inactive nodes are white, tan, or green.  My nodes were white --- why?

The clover I dug up was right in the middle of our muddy mess, an area which has been waterlogged for about a month due to heavy rains and snows.  When legumes are stressed, they stop feeding their bacteria and start paying attention to their own survival, so acidic or waterlogged soil, drought, lack of organic matter, or even high soil temperatures can kill off your nitrogen-fixing bacteria.  I'll dig up another plant in the part of the yard where I want to plant my clover (currently under snow), and if I find more white nodes, I'll need to inoculate.

Check out our homemade chicken waterer, great for chicken tractors.

This post is part of our Nitrogen Fixing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Feb 11 12:00:17 2010 Tags:

 home made door frame details

The do it yourself storage building now has a door up thanks to a couple more smashed brackets that work great at keeping the stopping portion of the frame in place.

Posted Thu Feb 11 15:40:50 2010 Tags:
Putting up wood paneling on inside walls

Somewhere in the middle of the morning Thursday, the homemade storage building began to feel like inside rather than outside.  I could tell because Mark went outside, leaving the door ajar, and I came along behind him and closed the door to keep the room warm.

And it was warm inside.  Despite being snowy and barely above freezing outside, once Mark fired up the wood stove, the building heated up surprisingly fast.  We don't even have the insulation up in the ceiling yet, but within an hour we were shedding our coats and working in our indoors clothes.  I guess we've been losing a lot of heat from our exterior wood stove to the outside!

I wonder if, rather than saving up for an efficient wood stove, we should instead make another small building and install two small wood stoves, relegating the trailer to summer use.  Not this year, though!  The garden is already starting to pull at my brain, begging me to finish up winter chores and start the pruning.

(The photos above show what I've been up to while Mark was putting in the door --- covering the walls with a nice, smooth plywood.  I find myself getting lost in the swirls of the wood grain.)

Check out our ebook about making a living in a day or two a week.
Posted Fri Feb 12 08:05:45 2010 Tags:

Three sisters: corn, beans, squashDue to their nitrogen-fixing bacteria, legumes are a great way to break your garden out of the nitrogen cycle.  It's almost like printing your own money, this ability to create your own usable nitrogen out of thin air.  So how do you put your newfound knowledge to use?

The first thing to understand is that your legumes are holding onto every bit of nitrogen they can.  Planting beans beside corn plants and hoping that the beans will feed the corn is mostly just wishful thinking --- the beans are going to feed the beans.  However, when nitrogen-fixing plants die, the nitrogen in their bodies will end up back in the soil, so the next crop will benefit.  Take advantage of this bit of biology by planting spring peas, then follow them with summer corn.

Legumes also shake off their nitrogen-fixing nodules when they are stressed by drought, shade, defoliation, or grazing.  Robert Kourik suggested planting a row of corn between rows of clover, mowing the clover, and watching the corn take up the off-loaded nitrogen and increase its Mowing strips of clover between corn plants to add nitrogen to the soil.growth.  In fact, for those of you (like me) who are a bit leery of clover taking over in Fukuoka's do-nothing clover/grain permaculture, you might get the best of both worlds by interspersing rows of clover with rows of grain.

Of course, the most common method of using legumes to increase a garden's stores of nitrogen is green manuring.  You plant a legume as a cover crop, then till it into the soil when it is just about to flower (the stage at which the plant contains the most nitrogen.)  This method, although widespread, is difficult in a no-till garden.

Check out our homemade chicken waterer.

This post is part of our Nitrogen Fixing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Feb 12 12:00:21 2010 Tags:

 home made door frame close up of handle

The downside to fabricating a door frame with a stopping plate is allowing for enough room for your hand to grip the knob without banging it against the frame when you pull it closed.

I decided to solve this problem with a small section of a rubber door sweep. It blocks the gap nicely while providing a smooth and soft surface for any close calls that might happen.

Posted Fri Feb 12 16:26:29 2010 Tags:
Homemade plywood carrying device

Hauling plywood on the golf cartWith Mark on the job, our second round of plywood hauling went much more smoothly than the first.  While I was finishing up the inside walls of the homemade storage building, he wandered off to the barn and rigged a holder out of discarded boards within half an hour.  If I hadn't overloaded it ("Surely twelve boards won't be too many to carry between us!"), it would have been perfect, but as it was we barely made it two thirds of the way home.  Luckily, that's where dry ground begins, so Mark was able to go get the golf cart and drive our load back to the building.

Fiberglass insulationMeanwhile, I hauled in some more insulation using the old hoe trick.  You stick the handle of the hoe through the plastic wrapper of two rolls of insulation, pushing one roll all the way back to the hoe blade so that your head has room to sit between the two rolls.  Stuff some discarded underwear under your coat as a shoulder pad, and it's pretty simple to carry the insulation home.  Now we're all set to start on the ceiling next week!

"Is that men's underwear sticking out of your jacket pocket?" Mark asked in disbelief as I set out.

Our chick waterers are perfect to give baby chickens the clean water they need to get off to a good start on life.
Posted Sat Feb 13 08:41:32 2010 Tags:

 art museum montage

It was a great day to take in some southern Appalachian contemporary art and well worth a trip to the big city on a Saturday. We got drawn to the William King museum to see some big names like Matisse and Picasso, but I think the local collection had more style and flavor. It was curated by Ray Kass, a painter and writer who bi locates between Blacksburg and Manhattan.

Posted Sat Feb 13 15:59:41 2010 Tags:

Dog in the snow from Sugar Mountain FarmAre you looking for some more blogs to follow?  I read over fifty, ranging from personal odysseys to nonprofit newsletters, but only a few are so rivetting I want to share them.  These top three blogs are my personal picks based on: posting frequently enough to keep me hooked, mixing personal and informational in a fun proportion, and either being beautiful or well written (or both.)

Causabon's Book is probably the blog I discuss the most at the dinner table.  Sharon Astyk is a Jewish homesteader and peak oil writer who sucks you in with her tales of family life and simple living but adds plenty of meat about how to store your food and prepare for the end of civilization.  Her posts are thought provoking and mirror my own world while also veering off in other directions.  (She used to write over on her personal blog, but is mostly writing at the link above.)

Sugar Mountain Farm is "stories from a small farm in Vermont's mountains raising pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks, dogs and kids naturally on pasture."  I started reading because we're contemplating running pigs on pasture some day, but I kept reading because Walter's photos were astounding --- really the best I've seen on any blog.  It's also fun to read about someone running a successful small farm.

Not Exactly Rocket Science
is a new favorite, interpreting new scientific discoveries into layman's terms.  This isn't precisely homesteading, but you need to know the science to make it all work!

What are your top three blogs and why?

Don't forget to subscribe to our chicken blog where I'm currently going on at great length about formulating homemade chicken feeds.
Posted Sun Feb 14 09:04:50 2010 Tags:

 home made diy door frame

The home made door frame stopping plate gets most of its firmness from this bottom corner bracket. I chisled out about a 1/4 of an inch of the floor to compensate for the depth of the bracket. This is done to avoid a bulge in the future linolem floor.

Posted Sun Feb 14 16:20:47 2010 Tags:

Last year at this time, the snowdrops were blooming, but this year the ground is hard and chilled.  So I set out on Sunday afternoon to search for spring.

Hazel catkins and honeybees

For the first time in weeks, the bees were out on cleansing flights and the nearby wild hazel bushes were close to blooming.  The catkins had elongated and softened, but still no sign of stamens --- not spring yet!

New comfrey leaves
In the forest garden, the comfrey leaves had died back into a brown mulch.  But in the center of each plant, little green tufts of new leaves were poking up.  Spring?

Sycamore leaf in the creek
Down at the baby creek, I got captivated by flashing ripples over the clay streambed.  Not spring, but definitely pretty.

Witch-hazel flower
Then, at last, I found a flower.  Sure, it's witch-hazel (which can bloom at intervals all winter), but I'm counting it!  February's first flower --- spring!

Check out our homemade chicken waterers, perfect for chicken tractors or coops.
Posted Mon Feb 15 07:51:57 2010 Tags:

Your Money or Your LifeDid you know that before the Industrial Revolution, the average person worked for about two or three hours a day?  Studies from a wide range of pre-industrial civilizations show similar data --- it takes only about fifteen hours a week to provide for all of our basic human needs.  And that's using hand tools.

So why is the average American working a dreary forty hours a week?  I've heard from at least half a dozen readers who say that they'd love to live like Mark and I do, but only once they save up some large sum of money or bring their microbusiness up to a level where it can pay them some other large sum of money per year.  So, even though it's a bit off topic, I want to spend this week's lunchtime series talking about money --- how much do we really need and how can we make it without selling our souls?

Most of the information I'll present is drawn from Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin's Your Money or Your Life and the loosely affiliated Financial Integrity website.  You can find the same nine step program, complete with worksheets and examples, in both the book and the website.  (Download the worksheets and examples from the website for free here.)  Both are highly recommended!  I'm going to gloss over some aspects of the program that seem old hat to me, so if you like what you read here and want to learn more, I highly recommend you go straight to the source.

Check out our ebook about quitting our jobs and starting to live.

This post is part of our Your Money or Your Life lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Feb 15 12:00:09 2010 Tags:

door foam sealer

The hinge area of the home made door frame ended up with a small gap even though I chisled out enough wood for the hinge to be flush with the frame.

A medium sized strip of stick-on foam was enough to seal most of the space.

Making a door frame from scratch wasn't as hard as I thought it might be, but I can already see how much time a fabricated frame would save, especially if you're trying to make it look perfect.

Posted Mon Feb 15 16:26:54 2010 Tags:

Morel plug showing spawnMy first attempt at home mushroom cultivation involved morels.  It was a dismal failure, although I'd like to try again this year with all of the new tricks I learned during my oyster mushroom propagation semi-success.  Meanwhile, Mark talked me into adding a few morel plugs to this year's spawn order.  The spawn arrived this weekend, and I quickly set out to plant the morels.

The factsheet that came with our order made planting morels from plugs seem extremely easy.  First, find trees that morels like (apples, ash, aspen, elms, maples, or birch.)  Make sure the soil under the trees is appropriate --- no long-undisturbed soil like you'd find in a mature forest, but plenty of organic matter and good drainage.  We have six young apple trees and six morel plugs, so it was easy to decide where to plant them.

Planting a morel plugNext, push the plugs all the way into the ground with your fingers at the tree's drip line.  Five minutes later, I was done planting.  It's really that simple!

Now, the trick will be getting them to fruit.  Field and Forest Products asserts that it's quite easy to grow morels in the soil (as long as you put them near an appropriate tree.) The difficult part is getting them to fruit.  No one's quite sure how to do it, so your best bet is to plant morels in several different areas to hedge your bets, then wait and hope.  For $7.50, I'm willing to gamble.

Stop by our chicken website to see our homemade chicken waterer which helps prevent chicken pecking.
Posted Tue Feb 16 07:30:41 2010 Tags:

Calculating your true hourly wage, from Financial Integrity.Did you know that your job may be costing you money?  Step 2 of Your Money or Your Life involves calculating your real hourly wage, which is a very powerful exercise for folks who thought the $50 per hour they're supposedly making really ends up in their pockets.

To follow along at home, first make some notes on how long you really spend working.  Start with those 40 hours in your cubicle, of course, but then add in the hour you spend grooming, your daily commute, and the extra hour you vegetate in front of the tube to wind down after work.  Do you have to study or take classes to stay up to date in your field?  Do you end up spending a week in bed because you're so run down from work that you catch the flu?  Add it all up!

Next, add up all of your work-related expenses.  These include the gas and upkeep on your car, those fancy duds you wear to the office, every meal or $5 cup of coffee you consume away from home because you're too busy to pack a lunch, the six pack of beer you drink while winding down in front of the tube, the massages you pay for to wipe out the work stress, and the money you give other people to do your household chores since you don't have time (daycare, house cleaning, lawn upkeep, etc.)  Don't forget to include your taxes. 

Finally, use the formula below to figure our your real hourly wage.

Weekly income - Work-related expenses = Real hourly wage
  Total hours you really work in a week

The example at the top of the post from the Financial Integrity website shows how someone who thought she was making $48 per hour was really making $25.57.  The book includes someone who thought he was making $11 per hour who was actually making $4.  Without too much of a stretch of the imagination, I can see how working could send some job slaves into debt!

Luckily, I've very rarely had a real job, but when I did I could clearly see that the extra job-related time and money was a trap.  If you're working a real job, I encourage you to add it all up and figure out your true hourly wage.  Would you have accepted that job if you'd realized you were only making $7 per hour?

Check out our ebook about making a living on the farm in a few hours a week.

This post is part of our Your Money or Your Life lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Feb 16 12:00:29 2010 Tags:

do it yourself door frame close upI would like to express some appreciation here for all the comments lately, especially the tips given for the home made door frame.

I thought adding another stop plate to the hinge side was a great idea and jumped on it today while at the same time deleting the L bracket, which is no longer needed since the liquid nails has finished curing.

Would I build another door frame from scratch in the future? wasn't all that bad and the finished product will meet our needs for years to come.

Posted Tue Feb 16 16:23:21 2010 Tags:

Cutting out a small rectangle with a jigsawThe couple that works together, stays together...or pitches a huge hissy fit and gets a divorce.  Mark and I don't celebrate Valentine's Day, but we do spend every day living in each others' pockets, usually very amicably.  In fact, one of my favorite parts of the day is the time I spend working on a project with Mark.

Even though I grew up with a handy father, I somehow missed most of the lessons on basic tool-use.  So Mark has taught me how to use a power drill, a miter saw, and so forth.  Monday, I was putting up the last bit of wall paneling, this time around the newly re-wired electric outlets.  How, I wondered, does one cut a small rectangle out of a piece of plywood with a jig saw?
Steps to cutting out a small rectangle with a jigsaw
I know this is old hat to those of you who dabble (or work) in construction, but I found this technique elegant and captivating.  First, Mark used a drill to start a hole in the plywood.  Then he cut along the line, curving around each corner so that he could keep cutting until an oval section fell out.  Third, he went back and cut the corners out --- the pictures hopefully make this process clearer than my description.  It's always a good day when I learn something new!

Check out our automatic chicken waterers --- they'll keep your chicken coop clean and dry!
Posted Wed Feb 17 08:08:45 2010 Tags:

Example of a tally of how much life energy was spent on each monthly expenseThe next step in the Financial Integrity process is to keep track of all of your expenditures for a month.  Now sum up the expenditures in categories and divide each one by your real hourly wage.

This can be a bit of an eye-opening experience for many people because money is an abstract for most of us.  We often don't realize that the $500 plasma screen TV we bought on a whim last month actually represented 45 hours of work --- that's a solid week of full time employment!  This exercise alone is probably enough to tempt many people to cut back drasticly on their spending.

On the other hand, dyed in the wool skinflints like me sometimes come to another realization.  I simply don't believe in spending money on non-essentials (something Mark has worked hard to train me out of), and this step helped me realize that a few luxuries really are worth it.  I defnitely don't mind working for an hour to get to enjoy a meal with my family at a restaurant now and then, or to get a whole month of entertainment through netflix.  After reading Your Money or Your Life, I finally made peace with spending a bit of money on luxuries.

Whichever end of the spendthrift/skinflint spectrum you stand on, this step is definitely worth your while.  Try it out and watch your spending habits change.

Check out our ebook about starting your own microbusiness and quitting your job.

This post is part of our Your Money or Your Life lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Feb 17 12:00:19 2010 Tags:

plywood ceiling detail
Holding up the plywood for the ceiling is a challenge to say the least.

I eventually adopted a technique of using the upper portion of my arm along with the top of my head to hold each piece in place.

I knew having a hard head would come in handy one of these days and that day was today.

Posted Wed Feb 17 16:43:41 2010 Tags:
mark Teamwork

Hey you two...what's your secret to a smooth working team?
George W-Texas
 working together early 2010

Thanks for the question George. It's really hard to pin down just one thing that makes two people work well together. We try to figure out which task is best suited for our skill set. For example. Anna is really good with math, so she is in charge of measuring for this project. I've got a little more upper body strength so I usually do most of the heavy lifting.

Last but not least you should both agree on a time to stop working. A sure way to create extra friction is to have one person thinking it's 10 minutes till the end of the day and the other wanting to push through till sunset. Anna and I usually wind down around 4pm and shift into an evening chore routine.

Posted Thu Feb 18 09:04:19 2010 Tags:

Income does not determine happiness.Many people chase the almighty dollar because they think having more money will make them happy.  But scads of scientific studies have shown that people with more money are no happier than those with less (once you pass over the lowest income hurdle of having food and shelter, that is.)

In fact, affluence is a relative thing --- if you hang out with folks who barely have two pennies to rub together and you've got two nickels, you're going to feel rich.  On the other hand, if you hang out with someone who owns his own island, you're going to feel poor despite having a huge house and a fancy car and your own yacht.

The American dream tells us that we'll really be happy once we've got all of the modern conveniences that our neighbors have, but most of the time when you try to have it all, you just end up with lots of little bits of nothing.  You work so many hours that you barely enjoy your McMansion, then you're putting in overtime to save for your kids' college education and end up feeling like you're living with strangers.  How can you break out of the cycle of measuring yourself against your neighbors and always wanting more?

The trick is to learn the value of "enough" by recalibrating your financial sensors.  Throw away your television and stop listening to commercial radio --- those ads that you think you can ignore are really seeping into your dreams.  Even movies are nefarious --- have  you noticed that most movie characters have a fancy new car and all of the modern conveniences?  By watching, you're telling your psyche that these movie stars are who you want to measure yourself by.

If you can disentangle yourself from the mainstream media, chances are you'll stop wanting so much stuff.  Mark and I are barely middle class by most people's standards, but when people ask me what I want that I don't have, I honestly can't think of anything.  (Except more mulch, of course...)  By learning that "enough" for us costs very little money, we were able to quit our jobs and devote most of our time to the things we really enjoy.

I think that people who achieve financial independence and true happiness are marked by only one thing --- they can figure out when they have enough.  Are you always in search of the next raise, a new car, or a fancy gadget to make you happy?  Or do you realize that the things you really value in life are time with friends and family, time to explore your hobbies, and time to change the world?  If the latter, then you have learned the value of enough and can skip most of the Financial Integrity process --- you're there!

This post is part of our Your Money or Your Life lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Feb 18 12:00:19 2010 Tags:

 do it yourself linoleum floor instructions

We decided to go with these peel off and stick linoleum pieces for the floor of the home made storage building. They turned out to be a cheaper option compared to getting a roll of the stuff and I'm thinking a bit easier for amateurs like us. It was a smooth operation and we had most of it done before we knew what hit us.

Posted Thu Feb 18 15:10:14 2010 Tags:

Last fall, I raked leaves out of the woods to cover nearly all of my vegetable garden beds.  My hope was that the leaves would keep weeds from growing over the winter, expedite spring planting, and also rot down to fertilize the soil.

Un-mulched garden bed covered with weeds

Those leaves seem to have done their weed-killing job admirably.  The photo above is a bed which didn't end up getting mulched --- it's now completely covered with dead-nettles and chickweed.  The bed below was mulched --- notice the bare soil where I raked the leaves back to give me a spot to plant poppies.  The soil under the leaves was also unfrozen and I glimpsed a spider scurrying around, which is in stark contrast to the lifeless permafrost atop the un-mulched bed.

Bare soil under leaf mulch

I was a bit disappointed to see that the leaves hadn't decomposed much at all, but in a way that's a good thing.  We'll add manure before planting to boost the fertility of the soil, and will push leaves back around plants once they come up to keep the weeds at bay.  I can already feel the year's weeding being cut in half.

Check out our homemade chicken waterers --- they keep the water POOP-free!
Posted Fri Feb 19 08:07:33 2010 Tags:

Lounging in a hammockJoe Dominguez, one of the authors of Your Money or Your Life, retired at age 31 using the formula he outlines in the book.  After figuring out the true value of his time and minimizing his spending, he invested his savings in long term U.S. treasury bonds and lived off the proceeds.  Unfortunately, I don't know that his success is replicable any longer --- treasury bonds are currently only paying half of what they paid at that time, and I haven't stumbled across any other types of investments that are as safe and stable while paying such a high rate of return.  I feel like it would take a very determined person to save up a quarter to a half a million dollars of investment capital and then manage to disentangle their souls from the rat race.

While discussing the book's anticlimactic ending with Mark, he pointed out that we've really reached the same point using our chicken waterer microbusiness.  With just a few hours of work per week, we make enough money to pay all of our bills and get to spend the rest of our time pursuing our dreams.  Basically, we're retired.

If you're still working a full time job and dreaming that some day you can retire and live your dream, now's the time to rethink your priorities.  You only live once, so you might as well enjoy your hours here on earth!  Here are a few more resources to speed you on your way:

  • Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin --- a bit out of date now, twenty years after being published, but most of the book is still right on track.  (There's also a new edition that might be a bit more up-to-date.)
  • Financial Integrity website --- the up-to-date and free version of the above.
  • The Ultimate Cheapskate's Roadmap to True Riches by Jeff Yeager --- if you need some more help learning to save money, this book should be on your reading list.
  • The Four-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss --- this is the book that jump-started us on our own quest to leaving the rat race.
  • Microbusiness Independence by Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton --- This is our own personal story of how we created a small business that pays all of our bills in just a few hours a week, along with lots of tips to replicate our success.

This post is part of our Your Money or Your Life lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Feb 19 12:00:25 2010 Tags:

 load of big gravel 2010

It was a good day to take advantage of the nice weather and do some driveway repair.

Push with the rake, shovel, rake some more and repeat several times.

Posted Fri Feb 19 16:44:22 2010 Tags:
Snow pea in the ground, and feeding extra peas to chickens

Tradition dictates that we plant our first peas on Valentine's Day, but the weather thought otherwise --- it snowed on Valentine's Day, and on the four days thereafter.   We finally got lucky on Friday, with a stunning day that sent us scurrying in five directions to take advantage of the warmth.

I had soaked my snow pea seeds the night before, so they were plump and ready to hit the ground running.  Without fungicidal coatings (that pink stuff on some storebought seeds), the earliest spring peas are in a footrace, trying to sprout and grow before bad fungi in the cold, wet soil causes them to rot.  Since it's supposed to be a stunning weekend (temperature in the fifties!!!), I've got high hopes for my peas.

As always, I soaked a few peas too many, so I tossed them to our four year old hens.  These girls are still laying, probably because I give them treats now and then like these plump peas or last week's chickweed.  They gobbled down my excess seeds in seconds and then stood and stared up at me --- more please?

Check out our ebook about starting a microbusiness and quitting your job.
Posted Sat Feb 20 08:04:43 2010 Tags:

 box elder tree day

Project oyster mushroom logs step 1. Cut down small, fresh, box elder trees to be carried to the new soaking station.

Posted Sat Feb 20 16:45:57 2010 Tags:

Did you know that checking on your honeybees in the winter can be dangerous?

I tossed together this video of Friday's events to prove it.

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Posted Sun Feb 21 08:27:03 2010 Tags:

 mushroom soaking pool

Just flipping your mushroom log soaking pool over is not enough to winterize it. This one was crushed by the weight of falling snow during the blizzard of 2009. Next year we'll hang it up somewhere in the barn.

Posted Sun Feb 21 17:26:02 2010 Tags:

Winter hive check.When I last checked on our honeybees, a little over a month ago, I was a bit concerned that one hive might not have enough honey to make it through the winter.  The one I worried about was a healthy hive, but I'd made the mistake of combining a very weak hive with the stronger hive that fall, and I think the double dose of workers ate through their honey stores very rapidly.  I knew that our strongest hive had honey to spare, but I decided to wait until February to do anything about it.

February came in like a lion, and just kept roaring for most of the month.  The weather was far too chilly to get into that hive, and I started worrying (and having nightmares about starving bees.)  So when Friday warmed up, the bees were at the top of my agenda.

I opened up the hives, and was shocked to see that all three seemed to have nearly as much honey as had been there a month ago!  I can't quite figure out why they ate masses of honey in December, but very little in January --- maybe they finally killed off their summer workers in the interim and had fewer mouths to feed?  Maybe the sugar water they were still evaporating from my late fall feedings had been turned into honey?  No matter --- I needn't have been concerned.  Just to keep the nightmares at bay, I moved a few frames of honey from the strongest hives to the other two hives, even though now I didn't think they would need it.

Honeybee on my pen.Meanwhile, the bees were so pleased by the weekend's balmy weather that they went out foraging.  They kept coming by and visiting with me as I played in the woods --- one buzzed around me at the ford (a fourth of a mile from the hives) and another landed on my notebook as I read in the woods Saturday (maybe even a little further away, on the top of a tall hill.)  Granted, my visitors could have been wild bees, but they seemed extraordinarily tame, and almost interested in me.  Or maybe it was the smell of recently peeled orange on my hands....  I wonder if they found the witch hazel blooming on the north side of the property and had a winter snack?

Check out our ebook about starting a business on a shoestring.
Posted Mon Feb 22 08:00:01 2010 Tags:

Forest Gardening: Creating an Edible LandscapeAlthough Edible Forest Gardens is truly the book to read for North American forest gardening information, I'm always intrigued to go back to the primary sources.  So I checked out Forest Gardening: Creating an Edible Landscape by Robert Hart, the father of temperate forest gardening.

I have to admit that I was sorely disappointed by about two thirds of the book.  Robert Hart was clearly a dreamer, a poet, and a philosopher, not a scientist.  His book jumps around through a discussion of how important it is to eat your vegetables, how ley lines can impact your garden, and through several similar topics.  But in the midst of all that, he also documents his journey toward creating the first temperate forest garden.  As I suspected, there were some fascinating ideas waiting for me in the book --- we all have something to learn from this forest gardening pioneer.

Stay tuned for more information in this week's lunchtime series.  Meanwhile, if you haven't already, check out our series about the roots of permaculture and our how to series about planning a forest garden.

Don't miss our homemade chicken waterers, great for starting spring chickens!

This post is part of our Robert Hart's Forest Gardening lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Feb 22 12:00:29 2010 Tags:

  mushroom log detail montage

I upgraded the beer can from last year's wax melting kit with this bigger and stronger tin can. I also improved the heating process by using a hot water bath as seen in the photo. This allowed for much better control and a safer place to rest the can while we drilled the next round of holes for the new oyster mushroom logs.

Posted Mon Feb 22 17:08:09 2010 Tags:
Oyster mushroom plug going into a log covered with lichen and moss.

Oyster mushrooms are a lot less picky than shiitakes, so you can put them in the easier to come by deciduous softwoods rather than in the more difficult to come by hardwoods.  Last year, though, we had a few extra sycamore logs leftover from shiitake inoculation, so we went ahead and inoculated sycamore logs with our oyster spawn too.  As a result, this is the first year we're putting oyster mushroom plugs into our ubiquitous box-elders.

You might have wondered why Mark was cutting down fresh trees on Friday when our woods is full of deadfall from the December storm.  We could have used some of that deadfall for our mushroom logs, but it wouldn't have worked as well.  When the trees tumbled down in December, they were dormant and were storing all of their sugars in their roots --- the deadfall that resulted was very low quality from a mushroom point of view since it lacked any sugars at all.  Now that spring is coming, trees are starting to push nutrient-filled sap up to the branches, a process that maple syrupers take advantage of to fill their buckets with maple sap.  By waiting to cut down fresh trees in late February, we're giving our spawn a higher quality substrate, full of sugars to help them grow quickly.

Our box-elder logs were completely coated with a dense mixture of mosses and lichens, unlike last year's sycamores which were bare-barked.  I can't seem to figure out whether these epiphytes will help or harm the oyster mushrooms' growth, but they sure are pretty!

Learn to make a living in just a day or two a week with our microbusiness ebook.

Posted Tue Feb 23 07:50:06 2010 Tags:

Sri Lankan forest gardenOne of my favorite parts of Forest Gardening was its in depth description of several tropical forest gardens.  In locations as diverse as India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Nigeria, Central America, and the Amazon, people have been creating forest gardens for at least a thousand years.

I've described Central American forest gardens and Amazonian forest gardens in the past, and all of the tropical forest gardens seem to be pretty similar.  These forest gardens are usually small --- less than two acres in size --- and are located around the farmers' homesteads where they serve as a kitchen garden.  The many-layered forest includes fruit and nut trees as well as plants that produce timber, fuel, medicines, and other products.  In many cases, some of the trees are cash crops --- coffee, cinnamon, and nutmeg in Sumatra, bananas and coffee in Tanzania.  Most forest garden owners had plots out in the open where they planted cereals and other sun-loving vegetables to supplement their forest garden food.

Alley cropping in the U.S.Forest gardens are often in mountainous areas where tilling the soil would lead to erosion and soil loss.  In fact, a more modern incarnation of forest gardening was developed specifically for this erosion-reducing purpose.  In the 1970s and 80s in Nigeria, B.T. Kang developed a system called alley cropping that consisted of growing cereals and vegetables in strips between leguminous trees on hillsides.  The trees prevented erosion and fertilized the crops by fixing nitrogen.  The trees were also pruned heavily, with the cut branches used as mulch in the annual garden and as garden stakes, firewood, and fodder.

Why was forest gardening so widespread in the tropics but not in temperate regions?  The fact is that many useful tropical plants will fruit in the semi-shaded understory, while most temperate fruits need full sun to grow.  In addition, the light in the tropics is intense enough to enable tropical forest gardeners to grow traditional vegetables like beans, tomatoes, and corn in the understory of an open forest, another element that won't work here.  Developing a temperate forest gardening system was the challenge that Robert Hart and later pioneers faced.

Dreaming of spring chickens?  Try out our automatic chicken waterer.

This post is part of our Robert Hart's Forest Gardening lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Feb 23 12:00:09 2010 Tags:

 mushroom log closeup

We finished up the new oyster mushroom logs today and carefully moved the old logs to the new station. This time we're using two rows of metal pipe to keep the logs off the ground, which helps to keep out unwanted fungus that's not as edible.

Credit goes to Chest of for the lovely image next to our picture.

Posted Tue Feb 23 15:45:49 2010 Tags:
Blooming speedwell

I should have given our honeybees credit for more good sense this weekend.  I thought the bees were out scouting the woods for witch-hazel, but now I suspect they were instead out for the first real spring flowers.

Monday, I stumbled across this speedwell blooming in the yard.  Even though it's an alien invasive species, I was pleased as punch --- this blog post had about fifty exclamation marks in it before I toned the punctuation down.

The little blue flowers were closed up from the cold rain, but had clearly been in full bloom over the weekend.  Since blue is one of the honeybees' favorite colors, I think it's highly likely that our workers found the patch and sucked it dry.  No wonder they were so visible on Sunday --- our bees probably found spring's first flowers long before I did.

Check out our ebook about starting your own business on a shoestring.
Posted Wed Feb 24 08:06:28 2010 Tags:

Robert Hart in his forest gardenRobert Hart began his adventures in forest gardening as a plain old back-to-the-lander like us.  He had a twenty acre farm in England, most of which was pasture.  There he ran poultry, goats, sheep, cattle, and bees, but he soon found the inevitable slaughter involved in livestock-rearing to be too much and became a vegan.

Hart's forest garden was a replacement for the food he had once gotten from his livestock.  He focused on a one acre tract beside his house and began planting.  About an eighth of the garden was an old orchard, full of apples, pears, and damsons (plum-like fruits), while the rest of the area was originally a traditional vegetable garden.  Hart began planting herbs and black currants in the understory of the orchard, mulching heavily with with straw, compost, and grass clippings in the spring and early winter.  He quickly realized that the combination of mulch and perennials made the forest garden much simpler to keep up than the traditional vegetable garden, though he noted that he would occasionally have to go on a "crawl-and-claw expedition through the undergrowth" to weed.

Like traditional forest gardeners in the tropics, Hart maintained sun-loving plants in a different part of the garden.  But he was able to grow a surprising amount of food under and amid his trees --- masses of mints and other herbs, his signature black currants (one of the few temperate plants that fruits exuberantly in the shade), and a host of wild and semi-wild vegetables like dandelions, nettles, and chicory.  He also grew patches of osier and willow that he allowed his neighbors to coppice for use in basket-making.

Want to make your life easier?  Give your chickens an automatic chicken waterer.

This post is part of our Robert Hart's Forest Gardening lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Feb 24 12:00:09 2010 Tags:

 wife holding 4 ton winch

I got this cedar tree notched and ready to come down when a feeling came over me that it might still fall the other way, which would take down one of the power lines and leave us in the dark.

Nothing our little 4 ton hand winch can't handle. We just used the ladder to secure a cable high up on the tree in question, secured the other end to another tree and cranked it in a way that left it no choice but to fall away from the electricity.

Posted Wed Feb 24 16:36:29 2010 Tags:

Bent red cedar against the barnAs you've probably figured out, we've put a halt to our building for now.  We're not quite done, but we need a few days over 50 degrees to allow us to seal in the skylight so that we can finish the roof, then the ceiling, then the floor.  And we need the same temperatures to caulk around the windows, paint the outside walls, and then paint the roof.  But that's all okay, because there's a lot to be done outdoors before the growing season really gets into full swing.

Wednesday, Mark cut down a lot of red cedar trees while I stood around and looked pretty (aka watched to make sure the trees were falling the right way.)  We've had trouble getting our apple trees to grow since they keep coming down with cedar apple rust.  The solution seems to be cutting down nearby cedar trees, which serve as an alternate host for the fungus, so we took out the ones closest to our orchard and will take out more if necessary in later years.  We ended up girdling some of the ones closest to the power line rather than risking losing our electricity --- I hope the girdled trees die quickly and don't grow over the wounds.
Girdling a red cedar tree
I'm afraid that opening up the canopy over there has made me think big again.  I know that we don't have the manpower to expand our garden area now, but I can't help wondering if we should figure out what we'd like to use that space for and do some preliminary work to keep it from growing up in brambles and honeysuckle.  I could seed it in clover and turn it into spillover chicken tractor pasture, or plant some fodder trees and figure it'll someday be part of a pig or goat pasture.  I could take advantage of the sparse canopy of tulip-trees left behind and fill the space with fruiting shrubs like hazels or gooseberries, or could plant black locusts and sourwood in the understory for bees.  So much potential, and so little time left before the growing season will make its own decisions about the disturbed ground!

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Posted Thu Feb 25 07:55:29 2010 Tags:

Building mounds and swalesRobert Hart created mounds in his garden just like the mounds I built for my hazel trees.  He layered branches and leaves on the ground, then topped them with turf (grass-side down), compost, and soil.  He considered the mounds a method of increasing his gardening space, with the improved drainage being secondary.  According to Hart, mound-gardening originated in China and was also very popular in Germany, where it was known as Hugelkulturin.

Hart also created little bog gardens, laying down a sheet of plastic and topping it with peat.  The bog gardens allowed him to extend his repertoire to include cranberries and other bog plants.  In fact, varied habitats could be considered one of the themes of his overall garden, which contained the forest garden, bog garden, annual vegetable garden, and even a little pond.  Intuitively, Hart had latched onto an idea that every ecologist understands --- areas with multiple habitats can support more species than less diverse areas.

Check out our homemade chicken waterer.

This post is part of our Robert Hart's Forest Gardening lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Feb 25 12:00:35 2010 Tags:

Mushroom wax teflon potI finally got around to washing the mushroom wax pot last night and had some trouble.

It seems like a small amount of wax somehow leaked out and bonded with the teflon.

Next year I'll use stainless steel instead of teflon and avoid this sticky problem.

Posted Thu Feb 25 15:56:59 2010 Tags:

Filming an audition tapeWe played hookie Thursday morning to help our movie star neighbor film an audition tape.  I was a bit daunted by the idea of reading lines with him, but was thrilled once I learned I didn't have to be on camera...and found out that we'd get some of his homegrown honey as payment.  I forgot to mention that the beeswax we used to seal over our oyster mushroom plugs also came from this same neighbor, traded for a dozen eggs.  It sure is fun to barter with like-minded souls!

When the camera stopped running, I drooled over our neighbor's Meyer lemon tree.  I posted a picture of it last year, loaded down with over a hundred fruits, and this year the tree felt like it was twice as big.  I hesitate to call it a "dwarf" anymore, although the lemon isn't tall --- just six feet wide.  "My tree is so big, I can't move it outside any more," our neighbor complained.  "That's part of the reason I want to add a room to the house, to give my lemon space to grow.  I feel like I'm married to a tree," the bachelor finished, in mock despair.

Dwarf Meyer Lemon tree"I can take it off your hands if you want," Mark said, ever helpful.  "I'd trade my wife for two of them."

Okay, so Mark only mentioned the part about two trees when I got indignant at only being worth as much as one lemon plant.  Luckily for us both, our neighbor only had the one tree on hand, so we decided to beef up our own lemon tree's existence instead.  Our neighbor attributes a lot of his success to the huge pot his lemon tree is growing in --- it looks to be about ten gallons in capacity.  We'll have to plan on hunting down a couple of mammoth pots to give our citrus room to grow.

Want to play hookie?  Check out our ebook about starting your own business and working on your terms.
Posted Fri Feb 26 07:34:25 2010 Tags:

Bouche-Thomas hedgeThe last forest garden tidbit that caught my fancy was Robert Hart's Bouche-Thomas hedges.  He planted apple trees diagonally so that they grew into each other and created a rigid fence like the one shown in the drawing here.  Since I'm currently in the research stage of including hedges on our property, these looked intriguing.

Overall, I found Robert Hart's Forest Gardening to be a bit disappointing since it was low on how to information and on plants suitable for North American climates.  His book isn't a reference work so much as it is a dreamer's manifesto.  But it often takes a dreamer to bring an idea like forest gardening to a temperate climate.  The next generation of forest gardeners are still working to make his dream a reality.

Mark is also a dreamer, bringing the automatic chicken waterers used by the pros to the backyard.

This post is part of our Robert Hart's Forest Gardening lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Feb 26 12:00:35 2010 Tags:

hearing protection damage
I made the mistake of storing my hearing protection in the barn after a round of chainsawing a few months ago.

Not only did a team of mice shred the foam padding but it looks like they took out a long term lease and moved right in.

Posted Fri Feb 26 18:57:51 2010 Tags:

Turkey tail mushroom on a shiitake log.My mushroom identification skills are sub-par, but I know for a fact that this little guy shouldn't be growing out of the side of one of my shiitake logs.  I'm pretty sure it's a turkey tail, which is a medicinal species and a useful decomposer of fallen logs.  Unfortunately, the turkey tail's presence means that the shiitake spawn probably lost the battle for that log.

We're still relatively new to mushroom cultivation, and losing a few logs to invasions of wild fungi is pretty normal.  Nevertheless, we'll take some steps to keep our other logs turkey-tail-free.  It's good for our logs to be close to the ground for humidity, but we've propped them up on metal pipes to prevent direct contact.  After all, as I learned this winter, the soil is jam-packed with fungi.

Check out our automatic chicken waterer, great for day old chicks.
Posted Sat Feb 27 08:52:26 2010 Tags:

 last couple in ANWR still homesteading

Heimo Korth grew up in the suburbs of Wisconsin and when he was 18 wrote a letter to a random trapper in Alaska looking for work. He got a job as a packer, learned to love the wilderness of Alaska, and has been there ever since homesteading with his Eskimo wife Edna.

A small 3 man film crew spent 10 days with Heimo and Edna to get a feel for what it's like to be one of the last full time homesteaders in the 19 million acres of prime boreal forest that is now known as the Arctic National Wilderness Refuge.

It's an excellent documentary you can watch for free here that provides a glimpse into this lifestyle and climate. The producers don't hold much back and you learn first hand how to snare and skin a rabbit without using a knife. I really liked Heimo and Edna and felt like I was visiting them with this film. Makes our recent bout with a colder than normal winter look like a day in the park compared to the struggles they've got to go through to get by.

Posted Sat Feb 27 15:51:40 2010 Tags:
Anna Our moat

SIlhoette of treesWe have a glorious moat between where we park the cars and our trailer.  There's the creek, of course, but also a third of a mile of woods --- far enough that we usually can't hear any road noise and never get trick-or-treaters or uninvited visitors.

Even when the golf cart can't make the trip and I'm stuck hauling in big sheets of plywood by hand, I never wish we lived closer to the road.  In fact, if given a choice, I'd rather be a bit more isolated --- we can actually see one neighbor's light if we stand in just the right spot in the yard during the winter.

When we come home from the outside world, the ten minute walk back to the trailer is decompression time, returning us to the present and reconnecting with nature.  I see wood ducks and great blue herons along the creek and check out tracks in the mud.  By the time I get home, my head is filled with beauty, not cars and stores.

Craving independence?  Check out our ebook about how we escaped the rat race.
Posted Sun Feb 28 08:33:35 2010 Tags:

 New Zealand Bush video Long family

If you enjoyed yesterday's documentary on Arctic homesteading then you will most likely appreciate how Robert Long and his family get by homesteading in the New Zealand bush.

It's a nice short video which takes time to interview the 13 and 16 year old kids and show how they feel about growing up in such a remote and beautiful setting.

Posted Sun Feb 28 16:51:36 2010 Tags:

Anna Hess's books
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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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