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Archive for November, 2014

Ground beetles eat all kinds of nasty bugs that are ground dwellers.  Snails, slugs, cutworms, etc.  I have read that the best way to encourage ground beetles is but laying boards around your garden to give them a place to hide.  Apparently they also will like tree bark in stacks in your bug hotel to hide in.  Spiders will hide in there too.  I’m not sure that I believe that ground beetles will climb up into an insect hotel, but plenty of other bugs will use the bark bundles, so I’ll set it up and see what happens.  I’ll put it near the bottom of the hotel too, just in case.

Here is my collection of bark I have started.  I collected it off dead trees that had fallen.  Then I found even more on standing dead trees.  This was even easier to collect and wasn’t as rotten.  I have a bundle started so far, but when I put the bug hotel together, I assume I will need to collect even more.

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After my less than awesome experience with the online PDC, I decided to re-watch all the videos from the PDC that I really liked.  Here is the link if you are interested.  As I go through and watch everything, I will attempt to take notes and share the information with you as I go.  It is a ton of information, but I figure that it can nothing but help me out as we are waiting for spring to come so we can dive in.  I have written up a project brief and posted it 6 months or so ago, but I have learned a lot and spent a lot of time on site since then.  The whole plan may be turned upside down, but I knew that was possible when I started.  All of the permaculture learning posts I do will be posted to a permaculture learning page in case you are looking for them at any point.  I hope to have a nice little informational page by the time I am done.

Here we go:  What is permaculture?  Broken down into its parts permanent agriculture.  It is a sustainable living methodology including home, garden, and community.  According to Bill Mollison, one of the founders of permaculture, it is,

“The conscious design and maintenance of cultivated ecosystems which have the diversity, sustainability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.  It is the harmonious integration of the landscape, people, and appropriate technologies, providing food, shelter, energy and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”

The other founder, David Holmgren, has this to say:

“Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre, and energy for provision of local needs.  People, their buildings and the ways in which they organize themselves are all central to to permaculture.  Thus the permaculture vision of permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture.”

What permaculture means to me is getting the most yield with the least work with the least amount of damage done to the environment as possible.  I want to be able to set up and maintain my land and still have time for my children.  I want to teach them to grow their own food without chemicals, but by using nature to maintain the system.  I want to have more food than we will ever need so that we never go hungry and have food to share.  The first few years, I have often heard 5 years as the magic number, will be a lot of work.  Designing and putting together a system like this is not quick and easy.  Taking the time to take in all that is around you and use what you have to build the system takes time.  Building without spending a ton of money takes more time and thought than if you just went out and bought everything.  But once you have a basic system established, the system should thrive, even if you neglect it some.  That is the whole idea of using nature as a role model and working with nature rather than against it.  Make it easy for nature to take over and it will.  Things will grow if you give them what they need.  This goes for plants and animals.  Give animals a food source and you won’t have to constantly feed them.  You won’t have to clean up after them as you would on a traditional farm because there is no waste in nature.  Redirect the “waste” and put it to good use.  Everything has a use and all needs can be provided for within the systems you create.

Permaculture goes beyond just your happy little homestead.  Get involved in a community.  If everyone keeps to themselves then most of us would never even know what permaculture was.  Get out there and share your ideas and time and find others who are interested in what you are doing.  There are many projects out there where you basically are an intern.  People need help getting the work done and you need the help to learn about what they are doing.  There is so much available because so many people are out there sharing and getting together to get things done.  Keep things going and get out there and find everything and everyone you can who has any interest in permaculture.

Here is a reading list if you are interested:

Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway

His website is The Center for Pattern Literacy

Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison

Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison

The Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook

The Carbon Free Home by Stephen and Rebecca Wren

Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren

His website is Holmgren Design

 

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Here is another interview response I got from Simplicity by Choice.  Click the link to check our her blog!

Our Homestead

Our Homestead

 

I found you through your blog. What is your blog and/or project about?

“My blog, Simplicity By Choice, came about after fielding questions from others about our journey to living off-grid.  We disconnected from the power grid 6 years ago.  The first three years, we were completely without any form of power.  Over the past 3 years, we have used 2 small, cookie sheet size solar power panels to give us enough electricity for cell phones.  Our laptops are powered by charging up the batteries using a power inverter when we are driving the car.”

My cookstove

My cookstove

 

I believe that you are someone who is helping to change the world in your own way. How do you think what you are doing is making things better?

“We believe strongly in the old fashioned idea that a family should live as self-reliant as possible.  In that way of thinking, we also find ourselves becoming more conservation minded.  You cannot live off the land, gardening to produce food for your family for example, if you are not taking care of your land.  We garden organically and use mulch and other natural means to avoid using too much water.  Our state has been in a drought and so the water issue is important to us.  When we cut wood for our woodstove for heat/cooking, we choose tree limbs that were storm damaged or trees that are dead.  We never cut down a healthy tree.  In trying to make changes in the world, we believe that if we can teach others how to live more simply and not be caught up in all the “haves and wants” of society, then we will have made a difference.  There is much to be learned from the old ways that earlier generations utilized.”  

 

Joe & I

Joe & I

 

Many people, myself included, have not always been on this particular path. What inspired you to start doing what you are doing?

“I grew up in an area of Ohio where many neighbors were the horse & buggy Amish.  I loved learning from them how to live and thrive without electricity.  The families that we knew were happy and the relationships within the families were very close.  In watching society around us, we noticed how detached families are becoming.  My husband and I wanted better for our children.  We also believe that being dependent on a public utility is a form of bondage/enslavement.  For example, you cannot shop around to get a better price for electricity when one power company owns the poles and lines that bring the electricity to your home.  You are bound to that company and have to pay whatever fee they choose to charge you.  By living a life free from the power grid, we are not in bondage to any public power utility.  We are also able to live on a single income.  We grow our own food.  When I do have to shop at a grocery store, I buy only items that we cannot produce ourselves on our homestead.  This drastically has cut down our monthly food budget.  We also have the assurance that we know what is in our food. ” 

 
Reading1

Reading

 

Doing things that are not the “norm” are sometimes difficult to get going with. What advice would you give to someone who may be out there trying to start their own unique adventure?

“First, read up and learn all that you can before moving to an off-grid property.  So many people make the mistake of rushing into the adventure without gaining knowledge & skills first.  Then, the dream becomes a nightmare and they fail within the first year.  When asked this question by others, I often return with a question of my own.  If you were to have a winter storm that knocked out your power for a week, how would you survive?  Would you have the skills needed to prevent food loss?  Would you have heat and a method of cooking?  If you depend on propane, what would you do if you ran out and couldn’t get a delivery for an extended time due to an ice storm?  Basically, how would you manage without public utlities or propane?  Prior to going off-grid, I learned to use our woodstove for meal preparations.  In winter, I cooked on the stove each day.  I already was using it for heat, so why not go ahead and cook with it as well and save on the propane usage?  I also learned to home can all of our perishable foods, including meat.  This eliminated the need for refrigeration.  Today, we only use an ice chest for refrigeration in the warm months to keep drinks, eggs, and cheese cold.  I cook only the amount of food needed for a meal, so there are no left-overs to refrigerate.  

Another piece of advice that I would give is to visit an off-grid homestead or property before making the leap yourself if it is possible.  Learn firsthand how to adapt to that life style and take the lessons home with you.  Start implementing them right away at your current home.  Cut back the usage of electricity a bit at a time, if that feels more do-able.  I began by getting rid of all my kitchen gadgets.  Then, I moved on to learning to sew by hand and later with a treadle sewing machine instead of my electric one.  By the time we had the electric company remove the line and meter from our house, we already knew what we needed to make the transition painlessly.  By making the changes before going off-grid, we knew what we were able to handle and what we were not.  

Before making the leap, make sure that your spouse/partner is fully on board with it.  This lifestyle can really strain a relationship if you are not both committed to it.  If you have children, help them prepare as well.  Living a more simplistic lifestyle doesn’t always mean that it is easier.  Without the modern conveniences, you have more physical work to do.  Everyone needs to be able to do their part.  One example of the way our lifestyle changed my daily routine was in laundry.  We had 2 young children, ages 2 and a 6 month old.  Cloth diapers were in use and needed washed daily.  I had to use a scrub board and hand wash our laundry in a wash tub.  In winter, I set up a clothes drying rack made from wooden dowels near the wood stove to dry the diapers and other laundry.  Unlike tossing a load in the machines and doing a week’s worth of laundry in one day, I washed a load of laundry every day to stay ahead of it.  

Our kids are thriving in this lifestyle.  They are creative and as a family, we have close bonds to one another.  Both kids love books, puzzles, and playing games as a family.  They enjoy the more simple things instead of spending hours each week sitting in front of a TV or video game.”

1st goat & lamb

1st goat & lamb

I really love the thought of taking care of what is taking care of you.  Take care of your land if you want to grow a healthy garden.  This is one huge thing that so many people today have no concept of.  If more people had even a small garden, more people might start to make this connection.  On a grand scale, take care of the earth that takes care of you.  We trash the earth in so many ways, it will eventually start defending itself in one way or another.  I’m not saying global warming is going to destroy mankind tomorrow, but the way society in general lives cannot be sustained.

I also love the idea of visiting a homestead before you start your own.  We never even thought to do this.  It would have been a great thing to do.  We have been preparing as best we can not fully knowing what we are getting into, but we don’t really, truly know.

I am going to have to start looking for a treadle sewing machine now.  What an amazing thought that I never had!

Thank you for everything you have shared with us and for the pictures too!  Again everyone, be sure to visit Simplicity by Choice!

One more thing…I am really loving this project and getting to share the stories of others!

 

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Stop and Smell the Roses

 

 
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Since we will be totally off-grid, we will be in need of some sort of non-conventional oven.  We chose to build a cob oven.  If you don’t already know, cob is a combination of sand, clay, and hay that functions similar to cement.  Cement is much more expensive and much worse environmentally speaking.  This should be a good starter cob project for us to do.  The cob is pretty simple to mix and the oven is pretty basic in design.  The way the oven works is by cooking with retained heat.  You start a fire in the the same space you will use for the cooking and let it get good and hot.  After an hour or so, you can push the coals to the back of the oven and the retained heat in the oven will cook the pizza or bread or whatever else you choose to cook in it.  I’m sure there is a learning curve, but your food will be amazing once you learn to use the oven.

This is what I imagine ours will look like:

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The construction should be simple and nearly free.  (This is not some much an instructional post but more our plans, here is a link to some off grid cooking links with more detail and pictures.)

You start with a base which we will make out of rocks we find on the lot.  They will be put together with the cob which should be free other than a hay bale or two.  Maybe $10 if we don’t get lucky.  That should make plenty of cob even for the next project.  The sand and clay can be found on the land.  The ratio for making the cob is 2:1, sand to clay, add water until you get a nice thick consistency.  Add in the hay to give it some texture.  I’m not sure how much yet.  The base should end about a foot below the height you want your cooking surface, about a 3 foot diameter for our oven.  .

Above the base, is an insulation layer. Old beer bottles surrounded by more cob does the job.  I have seen the beer bottles laid out flat in a circle above the base.  More cob to cover the beer bottles.

Next is the cooking surface.  We will need to buy fire bricks for the cooking surface.  Maybe $15?  Those will go on top of the insulation layer laid out nice and flat so that your food doesn’t come rolling out of your oven.

Next you make the arch for the opening.  Free.  Rocks from the site held together with the cob.  The opening of the arch should be a little over a foot wide.  Bigger if you plan on cooking big pizzas or anything else that could get wide.

Once the arch is in place, you shape the cooking chamber with a large pile of sand that you dig out later.  This is just a mold.  A layer of cob goes over the mold.  Then you make an insulation layer.  This is made of hay that is held together with some wet clay, mostly hay though.  Over this layer, another layer of cob.  There is lots of waiting and letting it dry between layers.  Don’t forget to let things dry!

Since cob is a more natural building material, you may want some sort of waterproof layer over the whole thing.  I don’t need ours to last forever since it is all part of the temporary living arrangement, so it will just be under the tarp of the outdoor kitchen.  I plan on this project taking a week or two to finish because of all the drying time.  I will work on it in between other projects I suppose.  I will make a more instructional post with a bunch of pictures when we build our oven.  There will be cooking posts too, that will be the best part!

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Many people will be forced to work on Thanksgiving this year. Many of them shouldn’t be, I totally agree, but I am a nurse and work many holidays. There are some things you just can’t change. I have accepted this and moved on. Yes, the “meaning” of Thanksgiving is family and being together, but why does it have to be a holiday to spend time with your family? Pick any day you can all make time and get together then. Celebrate your family because they are your family, not because Columbus discovered America and feasted with the Native Americans. I am not downgrading the holiday, but how many of you even actually celebrate the meaning of the holiday anyways? Sure, we eat turkey and stuff ourselves with pie, but are we actually “remembering” the first Thanksgiving? Do we really even know for sure when it was?

Just because the Thanksgiving holiday made me think of this: acceptance.  There are many things in life that we just have to deal with and we should learn to accept that.  This is one lesson that I struggle with all the time.  Rather than getting mad about something that you can’t change, figure out what you can do to deal with what you have.  Take Thanksgiving for instance.  One year we had such a hard time all getting together that we didn’t get to a whole family gathering until New Years Day.  The wait was totally worth it.  We had a great time and had Mexican food rather than turkey that I don’t like anyways.  And the vegetarians didn’t “miss  out” on the main course.  We also get together throughout the year for various reasons, so having to wait a while in between isn’t horrible.  Another example of having to deal is getting an apartment.  We just couldn’t follow our plan and had to get this apartment.  And I don’t like it at all.  But I am trying to take advantage of the time we have over the winter to get things in order for our living arrangements on the land.  Things that we would have had to buy I may have time to make.  I can also get some decorations made that I wouldn’t have been able to make for various reasons.  Sometimes you have to dig deep to better a situation, but getting upset or angry doesn’t do you any good.  That is what I am reminded of all the time.  It is a skill that I have yet to master, but I am getting there.  This apartment has helped me with that for sure.  I calmed down best I could, came up with some good things about the situation and the bad things have calmed down dramatically.  It is amazing how much acceptance has helped me here.

I know that was a lot of rambling, but that is what I had to say for today.  Thanks for tuning in!

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The article I posted the other day about changing the world inspired me to reach out to my fellow bloggers and get their stories.  I wanted to share them with all of you and show the many different things people are doing to make the world a better place.  I asked them all 4 questions about what they are doing and why, and I got more replies than I thought for sure.  The first response I got was from Family Yields.  Here is her story:

I found you through your blog. What is your blog and/or project about?

“My blog was started as a way for me to share what our family is doing to live in line with Permaculture Principles and Ethics.  We are homesteading on half an acre with three young children (4, 2, and 7 months).  My husband has completed his Permaculture Design Certificate and is very interested in Forest Gardening, having recently started his own nursery.  His work is pushing him in some very interesting and wonderful ways.  As his wife, I found myself a bit lost as my strengths do not lie in garden design and frankly, I just don’t get a charge from digging in the dirt like he does.  What I do know is that my work is that of growing as well, except I’m cultivating our family.  My blog is a way for me to bring some clarity for myself on issues of inner permaculture or inner transition.  I try to look at all of the simple ways that we are pulling Permaculture into our daily lives, hoping to show that anyone can do it through slow and small changes.”

I believe that you are someone who is helping to change the world in your own way. How do you think what you are doing is making things better?

“I believe that the only thing in this world we can truly change is ourselves.  By changing my inner landscape, I am hopefully becoming a better role model for my children.  I also hope that in sharing my stories with others, they can realize that we’re all just muddling through The Great Turning.  As a family we are committed to sustainable living in as many ways as possible; permaculture, forest gardening, homesteading, sustainable animal husbandry, preparing and eating whole foods, preserving, disconnecting from mainstream media, mindfulness, unschooling, eating locally, the transition movement (including an inner transition group), and in general, deeply listening to how each of our choices affect the permaculture ethics of earth care, people care and fair share.  I am involving myself in things that are important to me.  From there, hopefully my actions will inspire others.  “Be the change you want to see in the world” ~Ghandi”

Many people, myself included, have not always been on this particular path. What inspired you to start doing what you are doing?

“I am currently on leave from teaching middle school aged children.  What I see when I walk into the classroom scares me.  Children are so disconnected from nature that it makes me afraid for the future.  They have difficulty thinking for themselves, and authentically responding.  I also have the feeling that what I’m doing in that room makes little difference, as I am often pushing against all that the children bring with them from their home lives and culture at large.  The current of our culture is often too strong to allow me to guide my students upstream and it sweeps me away with it.  As a mother, I know I am able to create lasting and meaningful influence in the lives of my children.  Through my mothering, I hope to inspire my children to impact the future in unfathomable ways.”

Doing things that are not the “norm” are sometimes difficult to get going with. What advice would you give to someone who may be out there trying to start their own unique adventure?

“Just take action, no matter how small that action may seem.  Feeling like someone else is an expert or has it all figured out is self-defeating.  I had to get over the feeling that everyone else out there doing ‘permaculture things’ knew more about it than me.  Even the smallest actions initiate change.  Don’t be afraid to be different, we all bring our unique gifts to all that we do.”

Be sure to check out Family Yields at her blog!

I think that just living on a homestead is a great way to better your life.  Getting closer to your work, food, and children is a perfect way to feel better about yourself and the work you are doing.  Changing ourselves is truly the most important thing any of us can do to better life.  You can’t change the world unless you start by becoming what you want to see in the world.  Along with that goes raising your children to see that better world.  So many people say that they don’t want to have kids because the world is such an ugly place.  Well, it doesn’t have to be.  We can teach our children how to live better lives and live outside of the ugliness.  There is no reason that I can see that their world can’t be beautiful and happy.  I think that children growing up in the kind of environment that a homestead provides is an amazing opportunity for them to become connected adults who understand the importance of happiness and self sufficiency.

 

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