Big moves for the fall

Before

Before climate change

After

After climate change

Big moves and changes this month:

  • While this blog is primarily for friends and family that always ask about our projects, other random folks have found this blog based on my obsessions with electric bicycles, long tail bicycles, permaculture, and more. For those of you reading this anywhere in the US other than the Pacific Northwest, you should probably go ahead and start the process of moving out here now.

    If the “before and after” images here denoting problem areas due to climate change don’t convince you, go read the full article for the details. Not for the faint of heart…but a big move may be in store for you whether you want it or not.

  • We did our annual field cut with our neighbors so I had the joy of several early meditations sessions watching coyotes and raptors hunt for mice/voles/etc now that their normal hiding places of a 7′ pasture are gone. Owls, ospreys, eagles, ravens, and various hawks. Wow!
  • We swapped out our used Prius for a used Chevy Volt. Between the Volt, the Leaf, and my electric bicycle, we’re now 99%+ doing transportation on electricity. Which means we’re now saving for solar panels and trying not to get fat.If you are still on the fence about the benefits of an electric car (particularly if you are a two-car family) check out the math from the always-funnny and usually-right Mr. Money Mustache.The primary behavior change I’ve noticed is a smile every time I accelerate the Volt. The Prius felt like driving a cardboard box in comparison. The fact that I was still burning gas while driving a cardboard box made me dislike the whole experience even more.
  • The garden suffered from a lack of attention as both my wife and I decided to take on intensive work projects at the same exact time. What I learned was some crops can’t handle it (I’m looking at you, corn) while others seem to do just fine being ignored. Case in point is the tomatoes. In previous years I’ve been careful with spacing, leafs off the ground, proper pruning for air flow, etc.

    This year (as witnessed by the below photo), I just transplanted them from the greenhouse and promptly ignored them…and we still have an abundance of healthy tomatoes. There is a lesson here that Ruth Stout has tried to teach me through her books, I’m sure.

  • We finished our treehouse. What was a 2-3 weekend project turned into a summer-long project since both kids were running the screwdrivers. But we just created lifelong memories, too.
  • We fired back up the greenhouse for winter salads and jumpstarting cool weather crops like broccoli, kale, and chard.
  • Evenings are currently spent processing the abundance of food. Dehydrators are our best friends.

Summertime happiness…

Happiness is a warm scytheWhen you live in the Pacific Northwest, you get used to thinking of “summer” based on the calendar alone, as you certainly can’t count on the weather to inform you. But despite overcast skies, colder temperatures, and drizzle, we have some spectacular days/weeks that give you a glimpse of what’s to come each July-August.

These glimpses also offer occasions where I reflect on true happiness, and it reminds me that each day I can choose happiness whether it’s dreary outside or not.

Taking a break from our normal highlights/lowlights update, many of you know that recently I’ve been reflecting on happiness instead.

Happiness is:

  • A sharp scythe
  • Colorful foxglove rising among blueberries
  • Healthy bees
  • A bicycle ride through blossoming cherry trees with your daughter in tow (and not needing rain protection gear!)
  • Early morning sessions at dawn of moving meditation in the pasture, clearing paths
  • Wildflowers spreading along pathways in a food forest
  • Watching your son take 45 minutes to simply collect eggs as he’s carrying on extended conversations with the chickens…in their language
  • A greenhouse full of chili pepper plants
  • Calendula flower petals finding their way into your salad…medicine that tastes good!
  • Finding carefully piled collections of natural materials curated by a six year old, ready to make another fairy house
  • Hugelkultur beds actively producing crops with minimal watering
  • The blessing of viewing Mount Rainier from above the clouds
  • Finding semi-wild elderberry trees with bright red berries…medicine growing on trees!

Buying nothing new (except toilet paper)

As our rains and colder weather invade, we button up many of our outside projects and batten down the mini-hoop houses, cloches, and Agribon paper to extend our growing season. The remaining chili peppers – full grown but still green – will be brought in to ripen inside, and the water cisterns will be flushed/cleaned so they can quickly refill for emergency water storage during winter storm power outages.

And so we turn our attention to inside projects like bread-making, cheese-making, and another One Year experiment (our last one was on transportation). A few months ago we began a one year experiment of Buying Nothing New other than food, vitamins, and toilet paper to see how we would fair on 12 months of salvaged, repurposed, or used items. For example, we’ve shifted our apparel purchases to consignment shops (both local and online) for our fast-growing kids and for ourselves as we wear through items working in the garden.

The effect of “buying used” has had an interesting affect on us of actually acquiring *more* stuff in my life. Yikes! We’re actually buying more stuff now than we were before, because our brains were thinking “Oh, I’m saving money because it is used!”

But of course, we’re not. We’re spending cash where we were not before. And we now have more stuff coming into our lives, which is the opposite of the our previous simplification focus. Now that we recognize the behavior change, we’ve corrected it. But for several months, this experiment was clearly a wash (at best) on our finances. I expect we’ll begin making gains now.

This month’s highlights and lowlights:

Highlights:

  • Lessons learned re: our Buy Nothing New experiment. Time to combine a repurpose focus with a simplification focus!
  • Cool weather crops coming on strong; warm weather crops still doing well under their cold frames.
  • Addition of a Kenyan bee hive (aka Top Bar) that I’m bee-sitting for a friend who is injured. Fun to learn a new style of beekeeping.
  • Giving away our honey to friends and family as gifts!
  • Renewed interest in finishing my book on Prepared Neighborhoods (citizen-led emergency preparedness at the neighborhood level) and reinvigorating our own town’s preparedness activities.

Lowlights:

  • The biggest lowlight for our country is seeing the suffering of our East Coast neighbors from the superstorm. So, so, so wish more towns had citizen-led preparedness projects underway. We can’t rely on our government to bail us out; they are going to have their hands full just repairing the core infrastructure.
  • The biggest lowlight for me personally is literally the low light. Time to start taking Vitamin D supplements and St. John’s Wort to ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder.
  • Learning from our failures for the Buy Nothing New experiment that were not always so fun. Example: had to buy a new car tire jack in a hurry (no time to search for a used or salvage option) when I discovered our Nissan Leaf does not ship with a spare tire nor a jack. It was a bit of dumb thinking on Nissan’s part that was not fun to discover as we blew the tire away from home – surprising given the Nissan engineers got so many other details about the Leaf correct.

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.

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.


New bio-fuel source from zucchini!

My grandchildren will look back at all my fretting about Peak Oil as pure silliness.

“Thank goodness we discovered a bio-fuel source made from zucchini in 2013!” they will say as they poke fun of me riding around on my electric bicycle. Happy motoring, indeed.

(Good gosh did I overplant zucchini, cucumbers, and gourds this year.)


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.