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Archive for March, 2015

Learning Tree Identification

Living on a lot covered in trees and planning to use anything we cut to it’s fullest advantage, we need to learn to identify what we have.  Each type of tree has different uses and each need we have can be best fulfilled by different species.  There is hardwood and softwood.  Trees that coppice well and trees that don’t.  Some trees are nitrogen fixers and some trees produce fruit or nuts.  The sap of different trees can be turned into soaps or drinks.  Some trees make good fence posts and other trees will rot soon after we cut them.  The list goes on.

So we are learning to identify the trees we have.  It is still pretty much winter here, so there are no leaves to help us in our identification process.  This makes it very difficult for beginners to identify anything.  All we are doing right now is trying to get a general idea of what we have in the area we plan to cut anyway.  That way, we know how far from our home site we will need to venture to get what we need to build.  It looks like the type of house we are building, we will need some hardwood for the frame and then softwood cordwood to fill in the walls.  Our current plan is to build a cordwood home.  From the information we have gathered, we are going to need a lot of softwood.  From what we have generally identified so far, we are going to have to do some hiking and lugging trees back to the home site.  Well, I won’t be doing much lugging, but the man will.  Either way, here are some shots of the trees we are looking at:

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A couple of evergreen trees.  I think that these are the softwood trees that we will be mostly using for infill.  I don’t know much of anything about tree identification yet, so forgive me if I’m way off.  Also, feel free to correct me!

DSC_0055DSC_0054I’m fairly certain that these are both birch trees.  We have quite a few of these.  Some pretty big ones too.

DSC_0058 DSC_0067These are likely ash.  I have no idea what variety, or anything like that.  We should know a lot more once the leaves are out.

DSC_0057I think this could possibly be an oak tree.

DSC_0073I think this could possibly be a beech tree.

DSC_0065 DSC_0083And now I’m lost and confused.  This is actually really hard for someone who has never tried to do it before.  Hopefully, with the help of the leaves, and some practice this won’t be so difficult.  Clearly, we will be spending some time working on this.

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I do not want to work as a nurse for the rest of my life.  I’m not saying it is an awful job or anything, but I want to work for myself on my own land at some point in the future.  I have been looking at some possibilities of what I could do instead for some time now.  I know it will be a few years before I can officially quit my job, I am particularly excited about one potential job idea.  Coppice agroforestry with livestock.

The idea is that you plant your land with various trees and coppice them in a five or so year rotation.  Coppicing is to cut the tree without killing it, allowing it to grow back even stronger in the future.  This means that you don’t need to replant yearly in order to maintain your lumber supply.  You can incorporate animals into this system easily, making it even stronger.  The animals provide manure and pest control and can graze more naturally.  There are many considerations to make in this system, but it can all be figured out with some research.  This type of a system would help to provide me with income through selling meat, eggs, wool, fruits, vegetables, lumber, and fibers.  I’m sure there are more things I could incorporate, but this is fairly new research for me.  Here is what I am finding so far:

Coppicing: Coppicing is the practice of cutting trees for the timber and leaving the stump to regrow for future cuttings.  By leaving the stump and root system intact, it provides a faster and stronger growth for the new lumber.  The new growth is called poles.  Pollarding is the term used for coppicing above the level where animals may be able to eat the new growth.  This allows for the incorporation of animals in you coppice agroforestry.

There are many different types of trees you can grow for the purpose of coppice.  A common variety is willow, which tends to be know for it’s rapid growth rates, especially with enough water and nutrients.  (The nutrients could come from manure.)  You could use apple trees.  When done in the right rotation, you would have apples and apple wood for many years.  And so would your children and grandchildren.  It’s the same idea with nut trees.  You get the wood and the nuts and you extend the life of the trees.  Keep in mind that you will have new growth from the trees, but I’m not sure how many years before they would begin to produce fruit or nuts.  More research required on my part.  You could also include nitrogen fixing trees in the system to increase the nutrients in your soil.  Don’t forget about including trees for animal fodder.  The animals will love the variety of food supply and there will be less food that you need to supply for them.

Your living fence can easily be incorporated into this system as well.  Willows are great for living fences and are great for coppicing as I mentioned before.  You could make more willow baskets than you could possibly imagine.  I know brambles are great for living fences too, but I’m not sure yet what you could do with coppiced thorny vines.  I’ll work on that thought.  Some research will have to be done on which plants won’t be good for corralling livestock.  All the different berries that can be used in living fences will provide an excess of fruit.

Adding animals into this system makes the system even stronger.  The animals fertilize the plants.  They eat the pest bugs that could destroy your trees.  They eat the low branches off the trees that would otherwise need to be pruned.  Animals can eat the weeds among the trees or keep the grass between the trees mowed.  I wouldn’t plant grass myself, put you could plant nitrogen fixing clover or some other tasty treat for the animals.

Depending on the animal you choose to keep, there are different benefits that can be offered.  Ducks and chickens provide eggs meat in addition to pest control.  Grazing animals like goats, sheep, and turkeys are wonderful at eating worm infested fruits as they fall dead off of the trees.  This interrupts the life cycle of the worms and maggots and helps to resolve this pest problem.  Removing rotten fruit from around the trees can also help from spreading disease by destroying the spores.  The rotten fruit is a good food source for these animals too.

This can be an excellent system to feed your family and provide a source for timber.  However, it can also easily over provide and allow for a source of income in your life.  This could be an excellent solution to the problem I have been having in deciding what to do for a new “career.”  My biggest issue in deciding what to do with myself was that I needed variety.  I can’t imagine that I would ever run out of variety with a system like this.  I can’t say that I have come up with any potential ideas that offer anywhere near as many different things that can all be incorporated into one idea.  Any thoughts, ideas, or insight?

The link to my list of information sources.

 

 

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Today’s episode of Changing the World comes all the way from Austrailia!  Here is what Sustainable in Holdfast Bay had to share with us:

What is your blog and/or project about?

“I started the blog about 8 months ago, primarily as a means to share information and as a way to document local sustainability initiatives. I live in Brighton, a suburb of Holdfast Bay in South Australia, and I write about the changes my husband and I,  and members of our local community, have made in our lives and on the home front in order to live more sustainably. I also trained as a Climate Reality Australia leader in June last year. The blog is also a way to promote this project and communicate local, national and global updates on climate change policies and initiatives.”

How do you think what you are doing is making things better?

“For us, living sustainably implies living within the means of our natural environment and ensuring that our lifestyle doesn’t harm other people and future generations. We value the knowledge and skills of indigenous cultures and are improving our local environment by practicing and promoting biodiversity. We share experiences in growing and preserving food, and contribute to our community through local share and swap groups, community gardens and volunteering for local projects.

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Local swap & share table

Over a few years, we managed to reduce our household’s carbon emissions by 90% from the average Australian per capita emissions – one of the highest in the world. If we can do this, so can many others in similar circumstances. We all add up. By informing ourselves, changing old habits, learning new skills, and joining others who share our concerns and values, we are contributing to a global movement of people acting to safeguard our present and future well-being. Sharing our stories is a way of promoting and documenting this movement.”

What inspired you to start doing what you are doing?

“It started with an interest in voluntary simplicity. I discovered the Down to Earth blog six years ago and became better informed about climate change. We decided to do all we could to reduce our household’s carbon emissions and quickly realized everything is interrelated. We assessed our use of energy and resources, and made changes to our consumption habits and waste management. It became a challenge to see how far we could go.

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Our youngest neighbors were also an inspiration. Their enthusiasm to learn new skills, grow vegetables and connect with others in our street led me to form a local sustainable communities group. The aim of the group was to support each other in making positive changes towards a more sustainable way of life. The group grew to 20 members over 2 years, and we had a lot of fun learning from each other and experimenting with different activities.”

What advice would you give to someone who may be out there trying to start their own unique adventure?

“Become better informed about the issues that matter to you. There are lots of excellent blogs and sources of information on the internet and at your local library. Be clear about what you want to achieve and why. You do not need to justify your decision to make changes in your life, but it does help if you can give a simple explanation to your friends and family. Be tolerant of disagreements while insisting your choices are respected. Everyone’s circumstances are different, so avoid setting unrealistic expectations. Work within your means and capacity.

If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, assess your consumption habits including energy, food, transport and discretionary spending. Consider the life cycle and embodied energy of products. Start with the easiest measures for you and your family and go slowly. Decide what changes you can make, consolidate, keep moving forward and trying new ideas until you reach your goal. Be creative and think ‘outside the square’. If you have a bad week, don’t worry, just start again the following week. Don’t give up and remember to celebrate and share your achievements.  There will be plenty of those.”

I love to see how you got your community involved and continue to do so.  Especially getting children involved.  That is so important.  As I keep mentioning, getting children started at an early age by getting them involved and setting a good example is one of the most important things anyone can do.  It is also much easier to teach children.  Many adults are set in their ways and are harder to get through to.  Not that they can’t change if they want to, but children are so open and get so excited to learn new things.  It is always a lot of fun.

I really like the advice that you have to offer.  I don’t really have anything to add because you said it so perfectly.  I look forward to following your blog in the future, and I hope that someday, I will ahve the time to work on getting my community involved as well.  I will be looking for some advice from you when I get to that point for sure!  For more from Sustainable in Holdfast Bay, please check out their blog!

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DSC_0215I never noticed we had this great view here.  The lot has been up for sale for a while, but someone decided to log it.  The view would be much nicer without that big pile of gross snow and the pile of logs.

DSC_0200Our “bushcraft” storage unit survived the heavy winds and snow!

DSC_0201Even the wood pile is still standing.  The snow isn’t too deep here, it’s up on a small hill.

DSC_0203The snow is a little deeper here.  I love how the snow is melting around the bases of all the trees.

DSC_0205A little hard to see here, but those are some pretty big footprints.  We think they were from a moose, but it is hard to tell with the new snowfall on top of the tracks.

DSC_0211Our road.  I guess it is officially mud season.  It is raining right now, so this mud will just get muddier tonight.  I’m hoping in a few weeks the mud will calm down.  This is less than fun to drive on.

Well that is about all there is to see right now.  Nothing too exciting, but that is soon to come!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the many ways that permaculture mimics nature is by creating an “orchard” that is more like a forest.  The food forest.  In nature, forests develop through succession.  If, for any reason, a forest is destroyed, it will repopulate itself through a series of different kinds of plants that will eventually grow into a new forest.  Rather than waiting 50 years for a food forest to develop, we accelerate the whole process so that in 5-10 years we have a productive food forest.

First, let me describe briefly the succession of a forest in nature:

Pioneer plants grow in less than adequate soil.  In general, gardeners call these plants weeds.  However, weeds are often very helpful plants.  They are able to grow in less than perfect soil and make it better for the next group of plants. They have taproots that go deep into the ground and bring the nutrients up to the surface.  They fix nitrogen into the soil so that other plants can use it.  As these plants die they breakdown into organic matter, making the soil rich.  Once these plants go through their cycle in the succession, the soil is left nutrient rich and full of organic matter.

The next series of plants that come along are perennial plants and grasses.  Now that the soil can support these plants.  Perennials and meadow grasses are hardy and can continue to make the soil rich and better suited for other plants.

The grasses continue to amend the soil with organic matter and the root systems help to stabilize the soil and prevent erosion.  Now the hardy shrubs have a habitat that they can survive in.  It also takes shrubs longer to grow than the grasses and perennial plants so they will naturally show up later in the succession.

After the hardy shrubs comes the smaller trees.  The shrubs provide a protective habitat for the smaller trees to have the opportunity to begin to grow.  As the shrubs and trees begin to take over, the earlier successions begin to die out.  The weeds don’t live in healthy, rich environments.  The smaller plants and grasses are shaded out.  The larger shrubs and trees provide strong competition for nutrients and water.  What you are left with is now a young forest.

Finally, the larger trees grow and take over.  They are fierce competition for water and nutrients, and block all the sun.  These large trees are the final cycle of the succession.  Now you have a forest.  The forest you are used to seeing.  The forest that we want to create for ourselves to provide us with food, timber, and all of the other things that a food forest could provide us with.

Again, this process could take 50 years or so.  We don’t really have that kind of time.  So we will just do it all at once.  Here is my plan on implementing forest succession:  This past year, I planted some small fruit trees, some brambles and some comfrey.  This year I will plant more trees and some small beneficial plants around the trees.  All the trees I plant are in hugelkulture beds that naturally amend the soil without having to wait for years of “weeds” to grow and die.  I planted some fast growing trees and some slower growing trees.  By doing this, I am including the different successions all at once and am speeding up the process.  Any trees we have to cut down in the area of the food forest are used in every way possible.  The branches and stumps can be left in place to provide organic matter.  The rotting also provides a habitat for bugs and mushrooms, which help the process along. We can grow all of the different successions all at once in layers

From all the materials I have read, after about 5 years, new permaculture systems bloom.  The fast growing trees have started providing.  The brambles and bushes have started fruiting.  The perennial plants are well established.  The food forest isn’t quite at full swing yet though.  We are still waiting for the larger trees to fruit and provide nuts.  The brambles and perennials are still spreading.  We still need to rely somewhat on our annual gardens.  However, in a few more years you will have a productive food forest.  NOT another 45 years.  And, everything is happy and healthy.

You can also add animals in to the mix if you want to.  One fairly obvious benefit of animals is that they poop.  This helps provide organic matter quickly.  Ducks and chickens eat pest bugs.  They help add to the biodiversity and so the health of the whole system in general.

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Today’s episodes comes from Inspirational Village.

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

“My blog is about the various building projects that my family has created to make our home and grow a garden on undeveloped land in the Gulf Islands of BC.  It began as a chronicle while we built a timber frame, straw bale home with a living roof.  The blog expanded to include other aspects of our rural lifestyle- homeschooling, food growing and preserving, expression through art, music, poetry and photography,  and spirituality.  As in a village, the blog represents many aspects of our lives that make it whole.”
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Cob workshop

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?

“All of our decisions include consideration for the consequences of our actions on the earth and on the people around us.  Being aware of the integral health of ourselves and of the vast system in which we function is at the root of all we create.  As human civilization has developed, and social patterns swing through history in waves of trends and beliefs, it is easy to see that large groups of us can be powerful and effective and intensely consequential.  I see myself and my family as apart of the growing community of humans who are choosing consciously to live with values reflecting a sustainable natural environment, and I think that being aware of that as a choice is what inspires me to see a better world in the future.”
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Strawbale house

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

“Having a family was the real start to doing what I am doing.  Although I can easily say that even before having a family, when what I was doing was less doing and more exploring, I was already drawn towards all the things I am now doing.  Having children really grounds one’s values, really gives a tangibility and accountability to everything.  They are precious beings so unscarred and not yet imprinted to the limitations that society often imparts through mainstream, thoughtless culture.  We have found a wonderful community which reflects our ideals, and offers a diverse collective of beliefs.  My husband and I began building our house in response to what we experienced while we traveled.  We met others who had built naturally- people just building their own homes around the globe as well as designers and builders in the industry.  We lived in a lot of houses that demonstrated the thoughtless, short-term consumeristic mentality, houses that use more energy than they are worth and create more garbage for the world.  We saw lots of abundant organic gardens, as well as places with nothing but nutrient empty, travel weary veggies.  We saw parents and families with strong loving connections, and we saw anger and hurt and loss.  My husband and I, while traveling, saw that we can create money when we needed it, connections with people wherever we were, and learn to express our ideas of the world with whatever creative projects we chose.  We visited various churches, festivals, sacred sites, ceremonies, and temples, reflecting on our own spiritual well-being.  Traveling and living in different cultures gave us an open-mindedness that erases many learned limitations.”
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Cordon orchard

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?
“No doubt, it can be very challenging to create a unique path in the world.  It can feel vulnerable.  There are a lot of questions, from practical to philosophical.  I feel blessed to have met my husband 18 years ago and to be creating our journey together.  Finding support is important, at least to me!  However, I think that starting out on a new path will naturally lead to the support of those who are also on a certain path.  Social media has made it easy to find people and information that one can then physically access, face to face.  There may be sacrifice, but one must always look consciously at those sacrifices to see that they may be creating gifts of space for newness.  Also, things usually unfold in a step by step process.  While dreaming big and seeing larger goals and visions is inspiring, there are certain steps that sometimes need to unfold slowly in order to allow many elements of any process to emerge.  We are always acquiring skills and understanding, even if the process isn’t taking the steps we planned in our time frame allotted.  There is a lot going on around us, and we are intrinsically connected to all sorts of plans.  However, we have a lot of power to create and to manifest, and when we use this with the purpose of being respectful and honoring of the systems that support us, then we can do all sorts of great things!   Be creative!”
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Friends and family potluck by the pond- a summer swimming hang out for the neighborhood

The thought of having children very much opened our eyes to so many things.  We wanted our children to have the best chance at living happy lives.  Once we had children, our lives kept right on changing towards this new lifestyle.  I agree so much with everything you had to say about families and what you are doing for yours.  There is so much good out there available for our children if we look around.  Having a good community to raise a family means everything.  Your children are so very lucky to have what you have shared with them.  Our children are everything, as I have said before, and we owe it to them to provide them with everything we can.  This does not me money and things, of course.  It means tools to help them through life.  Surrounding them with good people and ideals.  Values and morals.  Teaching them they can build their own homes and grow their own food.  It makes me so happy when I see there are more and more people getting away from consumerism and back to nature.  You are a wonderful inspiration to those of us just starting out and to those thinking about starting out.  Thank you!
Spirituality is another thing that we are changing in our lives.  It is wonderful that people, like you, can go out and experience so many different spiritual paths and decide what works for you, rather than just going along with whatever is in front of you.  We have grown so much by looking past what was handed to us and looking at other options.  This is a process that I would encourage everyone to try.  See what else is out there, just in case there is a better option for you and your life.  This goes for all aspects of life, not just spirituality, but spirituality is one of those things that people tend to be scared to change.  The religion you have is what you have and that is it.  But that is not truly spiritual for everyone.  Take a chance and look around.
There has been so must vulnerability and questioning in our lives.  There has been a lot of sacrifice.  But this is all in the face of change for the good.  It can be very scary, but I know it will be worth it in the end.  The advice that Inspirational Village has to offer is very helpful in my opinion.  All the hardship is worth it in the end.  I am just starting out and know that this will be true!  Having a support system is also so valuable.  Although we moved away from our family, they are still an amazing support system to us.  We are also starting to develop a support system here, in Maine.  They are not our family that we love so much, but they are new friends and people who have so much to offer.  Information and advice is what I have found to be the most help from our new friends.  Once you get into a new community and start to find people who share your values, your world opens up.  It is a truly amazing thing.
Thank you so much for your answers to my questions!  Anyone who would like to read more, please check out this blog!
One final note:  I have only one more post to do from my Changing the World series.  Anyone else who would like to participate, now is the time!!  It is also now spring, so I won’t have much more time to do many more of these, so I hope you have all enjoyed!

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Spring!

Today is the first day of spring.  This should prove to be a hugely eventful spring for us.  We have many goals and many plans, lots of hopes and dreams.  Spring this year marks the beginning of a wonderful and difficult journey.  Things are slow for us this very first day of spring, but we will be going full tilt in no time and we will be wondering where the time has gone.  We have spent the winter doing our very best to prepare ourselves for this journey, but there is still so much to do.  I doubt we will ever really be ready for this, but I can’t wait to start.  Once  things get crazy, it may be difficult for me to really keep up with this blog, but I will do my very best.  I am very excited for every aspect of our new life, and hope to inspire many others with everything we learn as we go.  I haven’t had much in the way of pictures lately, but you will soon be sick of all the pictures I will be posting.  I really look forward to all the color and light this blog will be filled with, rather than just black and white words on the page.  I can’t wait to get the camera back out in full tilt.  This first day of spring begins an amazing journey for us, and I hope you will all be there rooting us on as we go.  I will be doing my best to keep up with all the blogs I have grown to love as well, watching to see see what everyone else is doing.  Maybe even changing our plans as we go because of the great finds.  We are going to change our minds a bunch anyways I’m sure.  So, happy spring to all, and good luck with all of your adventures this busy season and for the rest of the year.  GO!

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