Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Things to do to save your soul and help the planet

Remember all those things you could do to save the planet?  Did we do them?  Did they work?  Given the dire forecasts for the years ahead, like this post from Guy McPherson, I think I'll just try to stay sane.  Here are some old and maybe new ideas in no particular order.

1. Drink water from free water systems, not plastic bottles.

2. Quit driving. Walk, ride a bike, or don’t go.  Or bum a ride.

3. Watch sunrises.

4. Grow food.

5. Replace lawns with gardens or wild vegetation.

6. Plant trees, even though you may not see the fruit.

7. Compost your shit. For heaven’s sake, stop dumping it in drinking water!

8. Catch rainwater.

9. Re-use grey water from your washer, shower, or kitchen.

10. Generate no waste.

11. Quit using the word “waste”, because then you will see things as resources.

12. Turn off the damn lights when you leave the room! Didn’t your mother teach you that?

13. Tell someone they’re beautiful.

14. Raise an animal, butcher it and eat it.

15. Buy from locally-owned businesses.

16. Use a local currency.

17. Shop at farmers’ markets.

18. Plan a ‘green burial’.

19. Darn a holey sock.

20. Hug someone you love.

21. Go for a walk with your children.

22. Decorate a plain surface with found or repurposed objects.

23. Learn to identify ten new plants.

24. Offer gratitude before each meal.

25. Make music, either alone or with others.

26. Recycle your television (and don’t just watch TV online).

27. Define “enough” for yourself, and then get there.

28. Get rid of ten things you haven’t used in two years.

29. Eat some wild food.

30. Cook dinner from scratch.

31. Know that you are good enough just the way you are.

32. Plant flowers that honeybees and other pollinators like.

33. Acknowledge the inherent rights of other organisms and act accordingly.

34. Include water, air, soil and rocks in the above.

35. Take some food to your neighbors.

36. Plant flowers.

37. Take a day off from work. Repeat regularly.

38. Give a handmade present.

39. Give a gift of your time.

40. Obtain something through barter.

41. Invest in relationships.

42. Help a neighbor with a project.

43. Invest in a new independent business start-up.

44. Join and help out at a CSA farm.

45. Take a class or read about permaculture.

46. Try a cotton “pee rag” instead of toilet paper. Wash it when you’re done.

47. Talk to a plant and listen for a reply. (You’ll hear it in your heart.)

48. Designate one day a week in which you buy NOTHING AT ALL; a shopping Sabbath.

49. Use a hand tool in place of a power tool on your next project.  (Hammers don't count!)

50. Post this list where you will see it regularly. See if you can check off these things in a year.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

This year's chicken project

We're scaling up a bit from last year's 18 hens for meat.  This year it's two batches of 25 Cornish roasters. Giant feed-sucking meat-producing mutants. I'm planning to finish some at about ten pounds so they dress out to nice Sunday-dinner size 7-8 pound roasters.
The first new addition was a hoop-style coop that can be used as a greenhouse when the second batch of chickens is done with it, in true permaculture function-stacking style.  The plastic sides roll up 2/3 of the way for ventilation.

I call it the Chicken Cathedral after the gothic arch design made with PVC conduit (gray stuff is more sunlight resistant). I'd cut the 10-foot lengths down to 8 feet next time, instead of leaving them at 9 feet.
Some construction details for the DYIers:
Plastic ridge pole notched to take arches and couplings.  Must think about snow load!

The wood frame and braces are 1x3s to reduce weight, so I attched the chicken wire with wood screws and washers. Pounding staples would have knocked the whole thing apart.

Involving the next generation in making the door from a leftover 1x10.  LR was a big help!

All moved in! 
I add straw bedding when things start to stink, and we recently moved the whole thing about 12 feet to sheet mulch a new section of garden.  The first batch is about ready to "move to the freezer".  They will actually eat greens and garden scraps, too.
We've hung burlap coffee bags on the sides for shade, and on hot days we spray water on the bags to provide a bit of air conditioning.  The heat has definitely slowed growth a little.

Update 26 September:
We raised 48 chickens, totalling 307 pounds (average = 6 lbs dressed wt.).  Even with increasing feed costs, we managed to do it for about $1.50 per pound.  The birds got mostly non-GMO grain, but we ran out toward the end.  Next time I might butcher earlier and shoot for an average of 4 - 5 pounds.  Pretty happy with the Cornish Roasters!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sugarin' 2012

It's begun early this year. I tapped our maples yesterday, and thanks to a wonderful Christmas present, most of the sap runs downhill on its own!!! Twenty-four of the thirty trees are connected to tubing, which gathers and runs down ...

to the shack (sorry about the thumb).

The line empties into the barrel, which can be drained into the pan through the green hose.

There's been a lot of wondering about sap quality this year, thanks to the insanely mild winter in the Midwest. We've only had snow cover for February, really, and hardly any really cold weather. What will we get??

Sugar levels test at about 2%, in the same range as last year, so it will probably be just as sweet. For us, it's partly about the ritual. It just wouldn't seem like spring if we didn't get our maple tonic.
Migwech anininaatig!
(Thank you maple tree in Anishinabemowen or something like that.)

Monday, December 19, 2011


At long last, the chickens have begun to earn their keep. About 8 days ago, our Buff Orpington announced her accomplishment with a big "bgaawwwk!" Since then a couple others have started to lay, and yesterday, they finally started using the nest box! Thanks girls!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Free food this fall!

Five pints of autumn olive berry jam from the bushes around the garden. Yum!

Apples from under the neighbor's tree. Will they last until I find a cider press?

About 2/3 bushel of English walnuts from another neighbor's tree. We'll dry them and nibble all winter long!
Get to know your neighbors and their plants! Make friends and trade stuff and skills. Begin the weave the fabric that will make this world a lot more fun.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sugar Shack update

Back in January, I left you with a picture of four posts and a roof, finished in a brief thaw. By the time we tapped in March, the shack had FEMA-style sides made with tarps.

We had a barrel-style stove, and burned mostly cut-up pallets. It did well, boiling over 550 gallons of sap. The pan only holds 18 gallons, so there were lots of late nights.

Since then I've been making some improvements, like recycled redwood siding:

The door and frame were left behind by the previous owner. Thanks!

The best shot of all - it's done!

Wood storage is on the back side, in the shade. The top panel with the window tilts out to let out steam when we're boiling. Can't wait to make syrup in style next year!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Chicken update (or whole story)

So I couldn't stay away all that long. Too much to say I guess, and a few things to show off.

Come sit for a spell, dear reader, and I shall relate a tale of innocence and innocence lost, of a despicable act of murder, and of resilience. This is the story of our first adventure with raising chickens.

My tale begins in April of this year, when I put the finishing touches on our hen house and the fencing for an outdoor run,

We were invited to adopt two mature hens from a colleague in town, who had too many hens for his space. So with giddy innocence, we took in Elizabeth and Annabelle, who promptly started giving us eggs.

Our spring day-old chick order arrived on April 28th, so in a couple weeks we also had six more tiny and adorable lives to care for. All went fine until the first week of June, when Annabelle, the lovely Buff Orpington died for no apparent reason. She had even laid an egg a few hours before. The remaining hen, a Barred Plymouth Rock, seemed lonely, so I hatched a plan to put the chicks, now 6 weeks old, in a pen adjacent to hers. I even rigged a little door so the younger birds could mingle and meet their elder, who frankly wasn’t all that nice to them. On a Monday morning, about June 12th or so, LR found a scene of ghastly mayhem and mass murder. Four of the six pullets were dead, and a fifth was mortally wounded. Only one chick had been eaten. She also found evidence the identified the attacker in the form of a big pile of raccoon shit. The family was distraught, and I spent the morning cleaning up the mess. One of the hardest things I’ve had to do was bury my 6-year-old’s favorite chicken.

In the meantime, we had ordered 25 chicks to raise as broilers. I quickly changed to order to replace the lost layers, and those chicks arrived at the end of June. Be advised that 25 chicks in brooders in July REALLY stink up the garage in a hurry! Our flocks now consist of 1 Buff Orpington, 4 Black Austrolorps, 2 Rhode Island Reds and a Silver-Laced Wyandotte for layers, and 18 Rhode Island Reds as meat birds.

I elected to get RIRs for meat on reports that they taste really good, and on comments by Carol Deppe in The Resilient Gardener the chickens don’t acquire a really beneficial fatty acid profile (more omega-3 fatty acids) until they are past the 8-week butchering age for Cornish cross broilers. I plan to butcher them sometime in October. Until then, they are doing fertility duty in the expanded Zone 2 garden (it’s a permaculture thing). Eat, grow and poop, that’s all I ask. Next year we’ll have some better soil to plant in.

The garden is surrounded by four-foot wire fence and a strand of electric wire to prevent invasion and more murder by Evil Raccoons or marauding coyotes. Note the welcome presence of an autumn olive next to the pen! The girls go nuts for the berries.

Just today, the 18 RIRs got to run around in a fenced-off section of the garden so they can poop-n-scratch. They'll stay that way, with the tractor as an overnight shelter, until The End.

Check back in October for the Egg Watch and more adventures!