True Wealth; True Health

True Wealth – Winter Warmth

Our heat (and sun) is leaving us too quickly for my taste. I find myself going outside every chance I get while taking work phone calls to enjoy the last days of our sunshine and mild weather.

Hoping we retain enough heat in the next few weeks for our chili peppers to ripen on the vine but they’re all huge so finishing them off inside would not be so bad.

This month’s learnings to share with both highlights and lowlights…

Beauty Set Into Strength

Highlights:

  • An appreciation of true wealth (2-3 winter’s worth of good Douglas Fir stored) and true health (a year’s worth of garlic in storage).
  • The entrepreneurial spirit I see in my son with his care and responsibility for our chickens and his egg business
  • The joy on my daughter’s face as her toes wiggle out another huge potato. We had several 5 gallon buckets worth of gorgeous red-white-blue volunteer potatoes despite planting no new eyes this past year.
  • New woodsheds were made by a local woodworker father-son crew and purchased via barter. Love barter deals!
  • Steady supply of salad through the heat weeks where normally everything bolts. My wife’s brilliant idea was to create a new bed in the shade, and the lettuce transplants there did wonderfully!

True Health – Garlic and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Lowlights:

  • Almost blowing up myself and my house. Nicked the copper feed line for my generator’s propane tanks when trimming the bamboo surrounding it. One little spark from my shears before I got the tanks shut down would have been a disaster.
  • Another failed corn year (four in a row!) after a promising start. Think my problem this year was lack of water. Will push out drip irrigation to the corn next year and tie into my timer system.
  • Actually, it’s hard to think of many lowlights from this past month. It’s gorgeous and pleasant most every day outside this time of year and we’re not suffering from the droughts plaguing the rest of the country. Sunshine, blue skies, white clouds, gorgeous mountains, and deep healthy forests. It all goes a long way to erase work stress, crop failures, and any other problems. Feeling very grateful at this time of year as we head into Harvest Festivals and the celebration of this season’s bounty.

End of summer summary

Well, our summer here does not really end until late September, but for most of my friends around the country, Back to School means Summer End.

A quick summary of learnings to share with both highlights and lowlights.

Highlights:

  • Successful brooding of next batch of laying chickens. All 25 Golden Comets survived and transferred well to our Andy Lee style of day ranging chicken tractors.
  • Very high production continued for berries as well as many of the vegetables.
  • Learned why our 30+ blueberry bushes were just doing mediocre (surrounding strawberries too healthy and grabbing all the nutrients at the same shallow soil level) and how to fix it (transplant strawberries down to food forest and surround each blueberry bush with aged sawdust, which I can get for free).
  • Fruit trees bore a decent amount of fruit for the first time. That taste on some of these like the cherries and asian pears is amazing compared to store bought (even organic + local). The ability to wait until the exact day of full ripeness makes an enormous difference in the taste.
  • Surprising crop of volunteer potatoes. For planting zero seed potatoes this past year, we’ve got enough of a crop of volunteers to last us several months.
  • A monster amount of tomatillos and tomatoes are coming in, which combined with our cilantro and hot peppers, is making for some awesome salsa.
  • Bumper crop of peppers, both sweet and hot. Not much makes me happier than cayenne and habanero peppers.

Lowlights:

  • Lost another bird to an eagle attack, despite the ceiling. Found the hole that the eagle did after the fact to close it up. Bummer.
  • Forgot to switch from my rainwater harvesting cisterns over to the well water at the beginning of the irrigation season, and promptly drained my backup water in just three weeks. Won’t get to refill them until the rains return in force this fall.
  • Another year of multiple failed carrot plantings. I lose some to wild rabbits, some to potato bugs, and some to I-don’t-know-what. Top of mind to fix for next year. Trying a different type of carrot for overwintering this year.
  • On the alternative transportation front, finally broke down and bought a replacement battery for my electric bike after I toasted my old battery. $450…ouch! But love being back on my bike, especially in these sunny months.

Open source blueprints for civilization

Do you love farm hacks as much as I do? If so, check out this mother-of-all hacks architected by Marcin Jakubowski.

Using wikis and digital fabrication tools, Jakubowski is open-sourcing the 50 most-used farm machines that can be built cheaply from scratch.

TED Talks calls his Global Village Construction Set a “civilization starter kit.” At just $10K that could be shared among several micro-farmers and permaculture enthusiasts, I call it affordable.


Back to the (micro) farm

After taking off December from posting to sell one business, launch another, and take a much need vacation to see the sun again, we’re back and ready to dive into our winter projects as we seek ways to opt out en masse fro the typical North American culture.

First up was finishing up a lean-to style greenhouse so we can continue growing our own food throughout our dark winter.We started with digging in to lay a foundation and finished with adding water barrels to store emergency water and absorb heat during the day (to then release at night).

Side note on the water barrels: they also serve as a more long term economical (and environmental) solution for storing emergency drinking water. Several years ago we bought (lots) of 1 gallon plastic containers to keep on hand in case of emergencies. It’s a lot of plastic and cardboard that now, when it is time for me to cycle back in, I have to find other uses for. Oops. Since I don’t want to repeat this every few years for the rest of my life, the food-grade plastic rain barrels and a siphon are a much better long term solution.


Map Your Neighborhood Step 10

There is a brilliant woman named Dr. LuAn Johnson in Olympia, Washington who created the Map Your Neighborhood (MYN) program. It has the nine steps to complete immediately after a wide scale emergency such as a tornado or earthquake.

For our small town, we are adding a “Step 10” series to various citizens’ nine step guidebook to bridge the gap between an individual set of neighbors and the larger community surrounding them. Steps 1-9 of Dr. Johnson’s MYN program ensure you, your loved ones, and your direct neighbors are cared for and secured. As we roll out our town-wide plans to connect our neighborhoods for both emergency preparedness and sustainability projects, the Step 10 series will shift the focus of specific individuals to securing entire neighborhoods and then the whole town (which happens to be an easily defined area – it’s an island).

Perhaps this list will be useful for your town as well. Here are a few examples of our Step 10 additions for citizens to pursue after they have finished their Steps 1-9. They will seek to travel (safely, short distances) to their neighborhood’s designated shelter:

  • Ham radio operators to begin communication coordination
  • Doctors, nurses, EMTs and CPR experts to to provide medical attention
  • Mechanics and engineers to ensure all generators are safely up and running
  • Members of the horse and bicycle communities to begin transportation duties (medical supplies, communication devices, etc) where roads are likely blocked by landslides and fallen trees

As we do further work on these Step 10 actions, we’ll document them on our main website, as well as excerpts here on this blog.


What can you do about the global food crisis?

Sending both financial and spiritual support to farmers across the globe is a good response to the global food crisis, but you can also directly help by growing your own food close to home.

Whether it is on the balcony of your apartment, the community pea-patch down the street, your own backyard, or via your local CSA, growing your own food not only helps you and your local loved ones, but those farmers around the world.

Learn more via OxFam’s interactive map on food prices around the world.


Keep Calm & Carry On

I have British friends who use this old catchphrase often and many times tongue-in-cheek. Which made me smile all the more when I saw the nearby graphic while reading one of my favorite blogs, Little Homestead in the City.

As we are ramping up our local efforts to build resilient neighborhoods on our island, it’s a good reminder to read about the history of victory gardens and related sustainability projects that our grandparents were quite familiar with, and that are becoming new again.

In her post Anais asks her readers their preparedness levels in these areas (at least one of which you’ll see we’ve not listed in our categories to the right – oops): Food, Water, Fuel Energy, Sanitation, Alternative Currency, Transportation, Communications, Medical & First Aid, Survival, Security.

I’ll prepare a future post regarding our sanitation plans in low or no power scenarios.


Here comes the sun

Gene Logsdon recently described August as a Glut Month and the reason why farmers put up with the headaches from the rest of the year. Although we are just micro-farmers, I could not agree more.

Once the sun finally decided to arrive in the Pacific Northwest, both the food forest and the raised beds started pumping out produce.

Between a crazy-busy work schedule this month from my day jobs + harvesting, storing, and replanting for Fall crops, this blog almost looks like we went on a European-style vacation for the entire month of August.

And now for one of the annual photos that makes me smile…a year’s worth of garlic hanging up to dry.

We’ll combine this with the tomatoes that are starting to come in heavy to make salsa for the winter months.

I did discover that with our recently expanded beds in the food forest (30 new blueberry bushes and more), our 5000 gallon water cistern system no longer provides the targeted two months of irrigation. In fact, we ran dry in just 10 days. Oops.

Next on the big project list: digging a 50,000 gallon pond and installing a solar pump to bring the water up to the cisterns for redistribution to the food beds.


“In Transition 1.0” the film

Wow.

I think this short collection of vignettes may have just set the direction for my personal and professional time for the next 5+ years.

Highly recommended.


Emergency water supply installed

Water security. For me that means we could use as much water as we want to irrigate our food crops, even in the middle of a drought. For me, that means a significantly sized source of potable water to use in an emergency. And for me, that means harvesting rainwater.

The nearby sketch shows the setup we built over the past three weeks. We’re harvesting rainwater from the roof gutters, into a “trash can” silt catcher, through to a 3P Technik VF1 Volume Filter, past a 4″ first flush diverter, and then into a pair of 2500 gallon cisterns. Extra rainfall can be diverted into an existing large diffuser once the tanks are full.

Water then passes through a Graf floating inlet filter with 8’’ hose to be pumped back up our hill out of the tanks with a new Grundfos MQ 3-45 1HP 110v pump, feeding the two yard hydrants near the food forest and one yard hydrant near the house.

From sketch to completion…look in this slideshow for more photos.
This water storage book – although quite short – was by far the most useful. I could not find several components locally, so I ordered them from Rain Harvest.
Now to go clean up the construction mud and replant grass for the chicken tractor…