Wednesday, October 31, 2012


It finally stopped raining today and warmed up a bit. Its still very wet and nasty out, but I went out for an hour or so after work. Now that we have the metal building put together, a large section of my other building has been freed up. The only thing remaining in the way was 5 pieces of siding that a family member had given me, which I plan to eventually use to replace the siding on the existing building. Today I moved the siding out of the building to the new overhead storage in the shed where I park the RTV. I also moved a few other pieces of scrap lumber up there, including an old door that had been on the front porch ever since we replaced the front door. I plan to finish stacking the scrap lumber up there, then start organizing the building.

Book Review - Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty

Today I am reviewing Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty by Marke Winne. When I first picked this book up, I thought the focus was going to be on how sustainable farming practices, home and/or community gardens, farmers markets, co-ops, and CSAs could solve the problem of the food gap in this country. What I found, however, is that, while those topics get some mention, the focus was actually on various programs, both government and private sector, and the issue of food insecurity of poor, and more specifically, urban families. Had I realized this in the beginning, I likely would not have purchased the book, although after reading it I'm glad that I did.

The author has spent many years trying to help close the food gap, including 25 years as the executive director of the Hartford Food System in Hartford Connecticut. Much of the information presented in the book is based on his own experiences in the system. He presents many stories that illustrate the types of problems the poor face in getting access to affordable, nutritious food. Because the information comes from his own experiences, most is related to Connecticut and other New England states, although certainly applicable nation wide.

While I have always had a sense that the poor are limited in their food options, I had not realized the full extent until reading this book. The author does a good job of illustrating many ways in which the food system fails the poor, especially in urban areas.

Lack of downtown supermarkets is a topic that the author focuses on a great deal. Looking at this from a purely business perspective it's easy to understand why supermarkets have been leaving downtown areas to relocate to more suburban areas. Most of the large supermarket chains prefer buildings of certain shapes and dimensions, so they can use the same layouts for many stores, rather than creating a custom store layout for each. It is much easier to buy an empty lot, and construct a building to fit desired criteria than to find an existing building in a downtown area that will accommodate a pre-defined layout. Also, because these supermarkets rely on high volume sales, in order to make a profit from low-margin pricing, they must be able to accept a regular stream of large trucks to refresh their inventory. Most downtown locations are not set up for this, and attempting it would likely result in blocking traffic and causing other issues, especially in very busy areas.

Once the supermarkets relocate from downtown areas, however, the residents are left with only two options; shop at smaller, more expensive markets, or travel to the new supermarket locations. For most of us the choice is easy. We do much of our grocery shopping in London, which is a 45 minute drive. While it is a fairly long drive, it is worth it due to the increased options available and lower prices. Many poor, however, do not have this option. In downtown areas, many of the poorest families do not own cars. Driving several miles to do grocery shopping simply is not an option. According to the figures presented by the author the prices as many small downtown markets are as much as 25%-35% more than prices at suburban supermarkets. In order to save money, some people do choose to take the bus to larger supermarkets, when bus routes provide stops near those stores. This, however, presents several other problems. First is that in many areas there are few, or no, direct routes from low income urban centers to suburban supermarkets. What might require a 15 minute drive via car could require an hour or more ride on a bus. Another issue is that grocery shopping via bus limits the amount of groceries that can be purchased, as all purchases must be carried onto the bus, and often carried several blocks to and/or from the bus stop. This means that those taking the bus are unable to take advantage of the lower prices that buying in bulk offer. In other words, the poor, who can least afford the extra expense, are the ones who must pay more for their food, while those with higher incomes, who can afford to pay extra, are offered lower prices.

Throughout the years various groups have tried using different programs to help solve the problem of food insecurity for the poor. The author discusses several of these programs, and provides his theories as to why the programs did not have the desired effect.

The first of the programs discussed were food banks. The problem, it seems, with food banks, is that they quickly become a way for those in the food industry to get rid of unwanted food, rather than a way to provide quality food to those in need. While the result is that some quality food goes to those who need it, much of the donated food is low quality and is not nutritious. Apparently some of the donations end up being completely unusable, but the food banks are so desperate for donations that they can't afford to turn down any offer. The result is that volunteer hours are spent dealing with food that can't even be used, when that time could be much better spent performing other tasks.

Another of the programs discussed in the book, and one of the programs I am particularly interested in, are farmers markets. The idea of downtown farmers markets seemed, to those who began them, very logical. The thought was that, since many low-income families were not able to travel to supermarkets, the farmers markets would be a way of bringing fresh and nutritious food to them. In practice, however, many of the farmers realized that they could sell their products for more at farmers markets in more wealthy areas, so soon abandoned the downtown markets. Another issue is that any government assistance provided to the farmers markets was often aimed at helping the farmers, rather than helping the needy.

It is clear that the issue of food insecurity is a very complex issue. It is understandable that supermarkets and farmers make decisions to maximize their profits. Consider, though, how much better off we would be if profit was not the primary motivation for decision making. How different would our world be if decisions were made based on what was most beneficial to the community, rather than what would make the most money. The problem, though, is that those most likely to weigh the benefit to the community in decision making are those business owners who are part of the community, and therefore cannot offer products as cheaply as large corporations that rely on high-volumes and low-margin pricing. Still, its nice to dream of a world in which community, and the people in it, are more important than money.

It is also worth noting that some of those on the wrong side of the food gap are there voluntarily. There are many who claim they cannot afford to buy high quality food, especially organic fruits, vegetables, and meat, when in reality doing so simply isn't a priority. These people are not food insecure, in my opinion, they simply choose to prioritize other things. This, however, does not mean that food insecurity isn't a real issue. There are many people for whom gaining access to such food is difficult, and for whom affording such food, when available, is nearly impossible.

I don't know what the solution to the food gap in the US is, nor do I pretend to. This book, however, opened my eyes to challenges I had not previously considered. There is a real problem at hand, and I'm hopeful that a solution can be found.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Website Review - Permies

Approximately three weeks ago I discovered the Permies website. Actually, discovered isn't quite the right word, since I had stumbled upon it previously, but had never spent a significant amount of time there. This time, however, when I ended up on the site I realized that it is the type of site I've been searching for. I was tempted to write this review shortly after I began regularly visiting, but decided that the only way to give a thorough and fair review was to wait until I had more experience with the site.

After nearly three weeks I feel confident in my ability to accurately assess the Permies website. It is, indeed, the type of site I've been hoping to find. The site is primarily a forum, with links to external sites containing articles, podcasts, and videos created by the founder, Paul Wheaton. The site is described as being the largest permaculture site on the internet, and I'm inclined to believe the claim.

The forum is divided into 11 categories, each of which is further divided into several sub-categories, for a total of 88 different categories. The primary topics are: growies, critters, building, homesteading, energy, living, community, wilderness, regional, global resources, and the community. Some of the sub-categories focus on very specific topics, such as composting toilets, ponds, and medicinal herbs.

I have spent hours browsing dozens of topics on the site. I find that for a quick visit I most often use the "Recent Topics" link, which provides a list of the most recently updated threads. This allows the user to quickly view recently commented on or new threads, without having to check each forum individually. I also find the "My Posts" link useful, as a way of checking the threads I've been actively engaged in.

Even though I am not currently a permaculture practitioner, I have found a wealth of information that is applicable to the things Andrea and I are trying to do here. I have found information on two topics that I had not previously heard of: hugelkultur and biodynamics, which I am definitely interested in learning more about. At times I find myself getting immersed in some discussions, and checking our links and references mentioned in the threads. The most recent topics of this type include a thread on home grown rabbit feed and one on growing and managing kudzu.

There are other sites that offer a comparable amount of information. What makes Permies stand out, however, is the overall tone of the conversations. I have found that the vast majority of discussions maintain a positive tone. Far too often, it seems, good information is tainted by negativity and undesirable behavior. I have yet to experience this on the forums at Permies. I suspect that this is primarily due to the focus on Permaculture, which seems to attract people with the same general outlook on many topics as I have.

I believe that Permies will appeal to people with a wide range of interests, not just those interested in permaculture. Anyone interested in gardening, livestock husbandry, alternative construction, etc can expect to find useful information on the site. This is especially true for those interested in performing this activities with an aim towards sustainability.

Monday, October 29, 2012


Today was another rainy day. I really can't complain, though, since our weather is so much better than the weather in many other parts of the country right now. We are on the western edge of a forecast for snow. It looks like we might get an inch or two, if it sticks. My parents, on the other hand, who live a couple of hours southeast of here are expecting as much as 8" of snow.

Since the weather forecast has also been calling for strong winds I decided to go out this evening and attach the metal building to the foundation better. I was going to wait until I was able to put drip edge around the foundation, but decided it was best to get it done before the winds hit. It only took a few minutes to screw the building frame into the wooden foundation. I'll need to take the screws back up when I put down the drip edge, but its worth a bit of re-work to make sure the building doesn't blow away :-)

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Today was another cold, rainy, and gloomy day. Winter is clearly on its way, and I am not looking forward to its arrival. The weather forecast is calling for a chance of snow over the next couple of days, but then a stretch of warmer weather after that. Hopefully I can take advantage of those few nice days to get some work done in the garden, and enjoy the weather before the next cold spell.

I slept in today, which felt nice after getting up early and putting in long days recently. After lunch Andrea and I went out and worked on the metal building. We assembled and installed the doors and added a few finishing touches. I also finished nailing down the floor. It was raining the whole time we were out there, so I was able to check for leaks. I found three different leaks, although none of them are bad. I'm hoping that the problem is something simple like a bad washer or something similar that I can fix by just replacing the screw and washer. If that doesn't work I'll try some caulk.

Book Review - Garlic: Nature's Original Remedy

I just finished reading Garlic: Nature's Original Remedy by Stephen Fulder and John Blackwood. This is the first of the books we picked up at this year's Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs that I've read. Andrea picked this one up for me because she knows I am very interested in garlic, both for its culinary and medicinal uses.

At just 118 pages, this book is fairly short, but contains a lot of good information. The focus, as one might guess from the title, is on the medicinal uses of garlic. The author presents many examples of garlic being used medicinally throughout history and various cultures. Several quotes are provided from influential figures such as Hippocrates and Herodotus, as well as many others. It is very clear that garlic has been widely used for much more than just a food.

This book is much more than a history, however. As the focus shifts to the various medicinal uses of
garlic the author begins citing several scientific studies. While I'm sure that some of the claims may be somewhat exaggerated, it seems that there is enough evidence to justify at least experimenting with garlic for treating some of the ailments listed. Conditions that garlic has been used to treat include infections, digestive problems, high cholesterol, and several others.

Also included in the book is information on the various preparations of garlic. The recommended method of consuming garlic is raw, which happens to be my preferred method. It is mentioned, however, that many people in the US find the taste overwhelming, so alternatives are given, such as mixing crushed garlic with water and honey. Commercial preparations, such as garlic powders, tablets, and oils are also discussed, along with an explanation of which of the benefits of garlic can be gained from each.

The author does not claim that garlic is a miracle drug, and provides examples of situations where drugs should be taken instead. For example, while it is suggested that natural remedies are great alternatives to antibiotics for minor infections, it is suggested that for the treatment of something such as pneumonia, antibiotics are the better option. I find that I trust a source more when they provide examples of cases in which the idea they are promoting may not be the best solution.

I have previously attempted a regular regimen of raw garlic intake. I did seem to feel better while regularly eating garlic, but didn't stick with it. Reading this book has made me want to give it another shot. The author suggests consuming 9 grams of raw garlic daily, ideally in three doses of 3 grams each. I was not weighing the garlic before, but was likely averaging around 5 grams per day I believe. A dose of 3 grams should be easier to handle, so I will try doing this at least a couple of times per day if I can remember to do so.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Today was the last day of my Dad's visit. It was raining when we got up, so we had to wait until it stopped around 10:00 AM to start working. It wasn't a very good day to work, because it was cool and wet. I don't think the temperature made it out of the 40s all day.

Our first project was to build a ramp for the new metal building. The front of the building is about 18 inches from the ground, so I knew a ramp was going to be necessary for getting the lawn mower, tiller, and chipper inside. I was worried that building the ramp would be a fairly large project, but it ended up only taking us a couple of hours. Since we still had a bit of time before my Dad planned to leave, so we decided to go ahead and put up the plastic around the front porch. I had planned to just get Andrea to help me with the plastic later, but I'm glad we were able to do it today. I had never enclosed a porch with plastic before, so definitely wouldn't have done as good of a job without help from someone with experience.

We were able to get a lot done while my Dad was visiting. I'm always very grateful for his help. It was nice taking the latter part of the day off, though. It'll also be nice to sleep in a bit late tomorrow. I still have some work to do on the metal building tomorrow, though, so won't be taking the day off completely.

Friday, October 26, 2012


I'm not feeling quite as good today about putting in a hard day's work as yesterday. It is apparent that I am in no condition to do this type of work every day. That is definitely something that I need to work on. We did make some good progress, but still did not finish assembling the metal building. We only have the doors left at this point, though, which is something that Andrea and I can do some other time. We also put up a couple of overhead 2x4s in the shed, which will allow me to store some extra lumber and similar items up there. We also added a temporary 2x4 post on the front porch which we'll use for attaching plastic when we enclose the porch in plastic for the winter.

I'm tired and stiff this evening. I'm getting ready to take some pain medication for my knee, then go to bed. The weather forecast for tomorrow is calling for a chance of rain and cooler temperatures. If there is no rain, we plan to put in another half day of work, so I need to get some rest.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Today was another tiring day. We got a lot done, though, so I'm pleased. We finished up the foundation and started assembling the metal building. We managed to get all four walls up and finished some prep work for the roof. We'll be able to start on the roof first thing in the morning and hopefully finish it in time to work on a couple of other projects tomorrow.

I've decided to build a ramp from the ground to the door of the building. Andrea already had a trip planned to London for a workshop at the extension agency. I asked her to run by the home improvement store while she was there and pick up the materials for the ramp. I'm hoping to at least get the ramp finished tomorrow in addition to the building.

I'm very tired and stiff, but its a good feeling. I like the way I feel after putting in a hard day's work. I know I couldn't handle doing this every day, not without getting in much better shape, at least, but I enjoy it from time to time.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Today has been an exhausting day. Andrea had an appointment in Corbin, which is an hour away, for a medical test. We had to be there by 7:30 AM, so got up at 6:00. When we got back home at noon, my Dad was here waiting for me. We reviewed the projects we have planned for the weekend and put together a list of the materials we needed. Then we headed to the home improvement store in London to buy the materials. We were back home at 4:00 PM and got started immediately. Our first, and primary project, is to assemble the metal building. We had to change our plans for the foundation just a bit, but made some good progress on it in the few hours we had before dark. Tomorrow is likely to be a long, tiring day, so I hope to get in bed early so I get plenty of rest.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Today I finished getting everything ready for putting together the metal building while my Dad is visiting. I cleared out the area where it will go, which involved moving the mowers and tiller to another location. I also moved the four-wheeler, so I could store some stuff under the shed where I normally park it. I needed to move the trailer as well, so went ahead and hooked it to the truck since I'll need to use it tomorrow for hauling some lumber.

I also had to move a bunch of stuff out of the existing shed. The metal building is in a box, which has been laying on the floor of the shed since we moved here. During that time I've stacked scraps of lumber on it. I've also been using the top of the lumber as a make shift shelf, on which several items were stacked. I moved most of those items to the shed where the RTV is parked, then moved the scrap lumber there as well. I also dug out the box containing the floor kit, which was standing in the back corner of the shed. It took a couple of hours to get everything out of the way, so I'm glad I did it today. We should be able to get started right away when my Dad gets here tomorrow.

The last project I worked on today was replacing the air filter in the car. This was the first time I've replaced it myself, and I was surprised at how complicated the process was. It really didn't take very long, but I was surprised at the required steps. I guess the last one I changed was one that simply required loosening a wing nut and lifting off the top.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Today was the first day of my week off from work. I like to take a week off during the fall, so I can take advantage of the nice weather and get some things done around the house. My Dad is coming down later in the week to help me put together a metal shed. I began the prep work today, so that when he gets here we're ready to get started.

The spot where I plan to put the shed is where I am currently storing the trailer, mowers and tiller. In order to clear that spot I needed to clear a spot next to the existing shed to park the mowers and tiller. Today I worked on clearing that spot, which didn't take too long. I ended up with a load of compost, of which half was weeds and half was some old loose straw. I also had a few items for the trash, and a few more that just needed to be moved to another spot. Andrea came out and helped me, and in less than two hours we had the spot cleared.

I had an appointment to see the eye doctor this afternoon, so after clearing that spot I went in and got ready for that. The eye doctor is in Richmond, which is about an hour away, so we try to do several things when we go there. One of the places we stopped was the Kubota dealership. Andrea wanted to see the tractor that the dealer had suggested the last time I was there. After a couple more stops we headed back home.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Today I finished tilling the garden. After finishing I had Andrea help me measure it. The tilled area is 30' x 47', or 1,410 square feet. I have no idea how much space we are actually going to need. Andrea plans to do a garden plan, which will hopefully give us an idea about whether I need to till a larger area or not. I also hauled a load of rocks that I had picked up while tilling. I then hauled the weeds I had piled up, and started a new compost pile where the new bin will eventually go.

Unfortunately, however, I had a few mishaps while working today. Both the drag bar and the wheel brackets ended up bent. I'm not sure if this was caused by something I was doing wrong, or if the metal is just that easily bent. My dad is coming down in a few days so I'll ask him for his opinion. I also managed to get burnt twice. The first was when trying to load the tiller into the bed of the RTV. I accidentally touched my arm to part of the tiller that was very hot. Then, while looking at the bent wheel brackets, I did the same thing, except with the other arm. The spot on my left arm is bad enough that it has blistered, but at least neither of them hurt too bad.

Earthineer Day at Blue Rock Station

Andrea and I recently had the opportunity to visit Blue Rock Station, near Philo Ohio. We had been planning to visit for some time, so were very excited when it was announced that the owners, Annie and Jay Warmke, were hosting an "Earthineer Day" for members of the Earthineer community.

Our day began with a 7 hour drive, which left us arriving about an hour later than we had hoped. Most of the group had already arrived by the time we made it, although fortunately we hadn't missed anything other than conversation. After a quick introduction, and a briefing on the privy, the tour began.

The center piece of the tour is the 2200 square foot Earthship, which serves as the Warmke's home. This was my first visit to an Earthship, so I was very excited. I felt very at home inside the Earthship. I can't quite describe the sensation, but it just felt right. In fact, the Earthship felt much more homey, to me, than most traditional stick-frame houses. In addition to the Earthship itself there were several other interesting features, including the rocket stove, sun room with brick floor, and a large larder.

Several other structures were also featured on the tour. Since the Warmke's offer regular straw bale construction workshops, there are many small buildings throughout the grounds. Some of these buildings are used as sleeping quarters, either for the interns or for overnight visitors. There is also a summer kitchen, shed, barn, and shelter for the animals.

In addition to the many buildings on the site, there is also plenty to see for those interested in animals and plants. The animals of Blue Rock Station include chickens, llamas, goats, dogs, and cats. The small patch of willows, the wetland garden, and raised strawberry beds are among the plant life of the farm. We didn't spend much time discussing either of these topics, but I am sure that either Annie or Jay would have been happy to go into more details had we asked.

After the tour we took part in a group exercise during which we helped to fill in a living roof with soil. The exercise clearly illustrated how much a group of people working together can accomplish. We had two people filling coffee cans with dirt, a line of 4 people passing them from the dirt pile to the ladder, one person on the ladder, and two on the roof spreading the dirt. I'm not sure how long we worked, but the roof was covered in a surprisingly short period of time. Not only did the work go quickly, but, with so many people doing different jobs, there was ample opportunity to switch positions in the line in order to get a break. It seems that the benefits of being part of a community is a subject that keeps coming up. Its becoming clear to me that, while it may be possible to build a homestead alone, it is certainly not the most efficient way to do it.

After the group exercise we made our way back to the Earthship and ate. The meal was a pot-luck, so Andrea had made some homemade bread as our contribution. In addition to the bread she took some herb butter, garlic butter, basil oil, and herb oil. The arrangement looked very nice, presented in a basket she made, which was lined and covered with towels on which she had embroidered flowers. The bread seemed to be a big hit, and I had to brag on her presentation just a bit.

 After the meal we were able to just sit around and talk or explore the grounds. We did explore a bit, but mostly just enjoyed visiting with the others. Topics of conversation covered many subjects, such as renewable energy, beekeeping, raising goats, and raw-feeding of dogs and cats.

Before leaving Andrea and I looked at the various books that the Warmke's have written and ended up buying four booklets: Building a Tire Foundation, Building a Plastic Bottle Greenhouse, Building a Vaulted Straw Bale Wall, and Restoring Health to Cats and Dogs. I had wanted to buy the book on building tire foundations for a while, but had been waiting until we visited to avoid the shipping. I was able to not only buy the booklet, but also see an in-progress wall being constructed of rammed earth tires.

Even after several days of reflection, I can't decide what my favorite part of the visit was. I enjoyed meeting several fellow-Earthineers that I had not met before, as well as getting to chat with a couple that I had previously met. I really liked getting to see the Earthship, and other buildings, first hand. The straw bale privy was interesting, as it was my first experience with a composting toilet. I also left Blue Rock Station with several ideas that I want to consider implementing here at home.

One of the first of these ideas was the self-watering system that the Warmke's use for the animals. They  collect rainwater from the roofs of the animals' shelter, which gets stored in barrels. These barrels are connected to watering containers, so that, as long as there is water in the barrels, there is water available for the animals to drink. I can see this being a real time saver, and is the type of efficiency we need to keep in mind. I was also very interested in the vaulted straw bale cabin. I've looked into straw bale building before, and we actually plan to experiment in the future with a small straw bale structure. I had never seen a vaulted straw bale building, though. I can see some distinct advantages to the design, especially in a small structure. I look forward to reading the book on the topic that I picked up. One idea that I saw at Blue Rock Station, which I had already been considering, was the use of the exhaust from the rocket stove to heat a nearby bench. The idea is that a bench, or bed, can be built of material that serves as thermal mass, such as stone, concrete or cob, which will store the heat from the stove. By running the exhaust from the stove, through the bench itself, even more heat can be collected, making it one of the warmest spots in the house, even when the fire is not burning. Another idea, which Andrea and I both liked, was the covered deck, which wasn't connected to the house. We always picture a deck as being a physical extension of the home, but after our visit to Blue Rock Station we realize that isn't actually necessary. The deck was close enough to the home to be convenient, but by being separated was able to have a much nicer view.

I look forward to visiting Blue Rock Station again in the future. I hope that we have the opportunity to attend one of their Green Skill-Building Workshops at some point. I may eventually attend one of their straw bale workshops as well, especially if we ever decide to build more than a small structure from straw bales. For anyone in the area, I can't recommend a visit to Blue Rock Station enough. I found our visit to be very inspiring, and left with several ideas and increased motivation to continue down the path to increased sustainability.

Book Review - Building a Tire Foundation (Blue Rock Station Style)

One of the books we picked up during our recent visit to Blue Rock Station was Building a Tire Foundation (Blue Rock Station Style) by Jay Warmke. I was very interested in this book because I would like to use earth-rammed tires for the foundation of some of the small buildings we have planned. I actually considered ordering the book from the website, but decided it made more sense to just pick it up when we visited, because I knew we would do so eventually.

The book is relatively short, at 36 pages. This doesn't mean, however, that it is short on information. The book provides step by step information for building a tire foundation for a 12' x 8' rectangular structure, although, it should be relatively easy to adjust for various dimensions. Topics covered by the author include site preparation, tire selection, laying out and leveling the tires, filling the tires, construction concrete half-tires for the corners, installing a wooden sill plate, and creating a french drain around the structure.

I learned several things from the book which I expect to really help when I attempt my first tire foundation. The first thing that I learned, which I probably would have done differently, is to lay out the first course of tires, and then make sure each is level, and that they are all level with each other. This seems like such an obvious thing to do, yet I'm not certain I would have thought of it. The next, and probably biggest, thing from the book I think will be helpful is Jay's approach to filling the tires. I always wondered what the best way to pound the dirt into the sides of the tires was. Jay's suggestion is to push the dirt into the sides of the tires by hand. Then, when you begin pounding the dirt in the center of the tire with a sledge hammer, it also compacts the dirt in the sides as well. Lastly, the tips for constructing the corner half-tires were very helpful. This may not be applicable for our buildings, as we are considering round or oval shapes, rather than the traditional rectangle shape, primarily to avoid corners. Knowing how to handle the corners, however, in case we decide to build a rectangular foundation will certainly be helpful.

This book was well worth the cost to me. However, it is very specific and is going to be of little benefit to anyone not planning on building a foundation from earth-rammed tires. Also, I expect that much of the information presented in the book can be found online, although I like having it combined into a single source. I also like knowing that the information comes from first hand experience. I know that Jay has a lot of experience with earth-rammed tires, from the construction of their Earthship home and the many small straw bale buildings constructed on their farm using tire foundations. I have seen the results of Jay's process first-hand and have confidence that it works.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Today I spent several hours prepping the garden for planting cover crops and garlic. I tilled approximately 1,200 square feet, and will probably go back over tomorrow and do another couple hundred square feet. We realized that the original estimate I gave Andrea on the amount of area we need to plant in covers crops was very low.We are going to have to order more Winter Rye before planting.

I did run into some problems while tilling. After my first pass with the tiller I had to stop because of the weeds that had gotten wrapped around the axle. It took me several minutes to get them all removed. It took a bit, but I finally came up with a process that worked fairly well. I found that by only stepping over a few inches at a time, the tines were able to cut through the weeds without getting tangled up too badly. Progress was slow, and I still had to stop several times to clean weeds from the tines, but it worked much better than that initial pass.

I did end up with a large pile of weeds that will go into the compost. Even with this, however, I'm pleased with the amount of vegetation that was chopped up and worked into the soil. There were also several dead leaves that were also worked in. While I'm sure it is nowhere near enough, there is certainly more organic material in the soil now than before I began.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Blog Milestone - 1000 Page Views

Yesterday the blog reached a small milestone, with the 1,000th page view since its beginning. That isn't a large number by any stretch of the imagination. It does, however, show me that at least a handful of people are reading the blog, and are coming back. The blog is averaging around 10 page views per day, so yes, the readership is small, but it is certainly enough to motivate me to keep writing.

I'd like to thank everyone who has helped the blog reach this milestone, and everyone going forward who is helping me work towards the next milestone.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


My plan of starting my workday earlier than normal, then taking an extended lunch break is working out well. The weather has been perfect in the middle of the day lately, so it has been a great time to get outside and get something accomplished.

Today at lunch I hooked to the mower and mowed the garden plot. I didn't mow the whole area, but did mow everything near where we're be planting next year's garden. While I was mowing I did discover that I was a bit premature in saying that the yellow jackets were taken care of. One of the nests was actually quite active today. I am surprised I didn't get stung yesterday, since I was on my knees with a chainsaw cutting the stump that was right next to the nest. I applied some more Pyrethrin Dust and will just have to check back in a day or two to see if the second attempt was more successful than the first.

After work I went back out and mowed some more. I finished up the portion of the yard that I wasn't able to mow the last time, and then also mowed along the edge of the driveway. After parking the mower I went back over to the garden and moved a couple of small logs I had uncovered while mowing earlier in the day.

We also tried out the Sun Oven today. Andrea had some peppers to dry, so she had me set the oven up this morning. We still have a lot to learn to get the process down, but I think that the oven is certainly capable of doing what we want.

Yellow Jacket Nest Removal - Attempt #2

My first attempt at dealing with the yellow jacket nests failed. I tried two natural methods of killing off the nest, which you can read about here, neither of which worked. For a while I toyed with the idea of simply waiting it out, and letting the cold weather take care of the yellow jackets for me. In the end, however, we decided that we really needed to be able to get in that area of the garden and work, so that we could plant cover crops.

After considering a few more natural methods, I finally decided to go with something more potent. I   ordered some Pyrethrin Dust, which is a botanical insecticide, made from crushed chrysanthemums. I had looked into Pyrethrin Dust before, but its fairly expensive, and I also had concerns about the dogs getting into it. I managed to find a company selling Pyrethrin Dust under a no longer used product name, Pyganic Dust, which I was able to purchase for quite a bit less than the same product labelled as Pyrethrin Dust, so decided to try it.

I've read mixed information regarding whether or not Pyrethrin Dust is harmful to pets. I didn't want to take any chances, so had Andrea feed Jack and Luke to keep them occupied while I applied the dust. I wore long sleeves and gloves, although I'm not sure that was entirely necessary. Again, however, I figured I should play it safe. Applying the dust was very simple, I just poured a bit down the hole and applied some extra around the opening. With that done I just had to wait and see if the product was effective.

After a few days I went back over to the garden and checked for yellow jacket activity. I didn't see any flying out of the holes, but wanted to be a bit more certain. I poked a long stick around the opening, and eventually into the holes, with no reaction. Finally I pounded on the ground near the opening, in hopes that the vibration would cause any remaining yellow jackets to show themselves. When this didn't cause any reaction either I decided that the job was done.

I've been back over there working a couple of times since then and haven't seen any more of the yellow jackets. At this point I'm satisfied that they have been dealt with. I would have preferred finding a more natural method of dealing with the problem. However, I feel like the Pyrethrin Dust was a good compromise between completely natural methods and some of the more toxic methods I've seen suggested such as using a bug bomb, or the very common suggestion of pouring gasoline down the hole. I still have plenty of the dust left, so will likely be using it again next year.

Monday, October 15, 2012


Today was a productive day. I've been sleeping late a lot recently, but was able to get up at 7:00 am this morning. I wanted to put in some extra time this morning so I could take an extended lunch, so started my work day right away.

At lunch time I went over to the garden. I mowed the weeds around the stumps that need removed and trimmed up the saplings growing from them. Since I was mowing weeds over there I also went ahead and mowed the area where we plan to build the pallet compost bin. After finishing that up I went back in and had lunch and then finished up my work day.

After work I went back over to the garden. This time I took the chainsaw and cut down those stumps. I tried to cut most of them level with the ground, but wasn't able to get them all that short. They are all cut short enough, though, that I will be able to easily mow the area without worrying about the mower hitting the stumps. Now I just need to take the mower over one day so I can get the remaining weeds cut. Then I can till the area and prepped it for planting the cover crops.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Andrea and I just got home from a nice weekend away. On Saturday we visited Blue Rock Station in Philo, OH, where the owners Annie and Jay were hosting an "Earthineer Day" for local members of the Earthineer site. We spent Saturday night in nearby Zanesville, then head into Athens, OH this morning so Andrea could visit the Companion Plants greenhouse. She picked up some harder to find herbs and seeds, which will be going into the expanded herb garden this Spring.

We had a very enjoyable weekend, and I'll be writing about the trip to Blue Rock Station in more detail soon. As always, however, its great to be back home. I have yet to find a bed that sleeps quite as good as my own.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Andrea and I attended workshops at the Laurel County Cooperative Extension Agency again today. This time we each attended a different workshop. The one I attended was Composting and Vermicomposting and Andrea went to one called Let's Make Pasta.

I didn't learn a whole lot at the composting workshop. I've attended several workshops on the topic, and have read quite a bit on the topic already. I still, however, feel that there is always the potential for picking up something new at such workshops, so I enjoy attending them when possible.

Andrea enjoyed her pasta making class. She's made homemade pasta before, but picked up a few tips from the class tonight. She also came home with a pound of fresh fettucini, which I'm looking forward to trying. I'm hoping that maybe this class was the little push we need to start transitioning to eating more homemade pasta. It will be an especially good fit next Spring once we, hopefully start producing eggs from our own chickens.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


The weather forecast is calling for another cold night. There is a frost advisory in effect for our area again. I've covered the peppers and some of the herbs with sheets. It appears that if the plants survive tonight we should be in the clear for at least the next week or two.

I worked in London today, so didn't accomplish much else around here. I have been exploring the Permies website, and so far I like what I've seen.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Fall is definitely here. The day started out cold, but it turned out to be really nice. When I woke up it was in the low 40s outside, and low to mid 50s inside (depending on the room). We haven't turned the heat on yet, and I'm hoping we can hold off for at least several more weeks before we do. I have to admit, though, that I did use an electric heater for about 15 minutes this evening while showering.

Because there was a frost advisory in effect for our area last night we had covered the pepper plants and some herbs with sheets. Once it warmed up a bit this morning I went out and removed the sheets. Fortunately it had not frosted, but I'm glad we covered the plants up just to be safe.

I took off from work a few minutes early today so I could go out while there was still some sun. The sun was already mostly behind the trees, however, so it was starting to cool down. I went over to the garden to check on the yellow jacket nests. I saw no sign of activity, so it looks like the pesticide I applied worked. After that I raked a few leaves, and added them as mulch to the herb garden extension. I shouldn't have any problem getting enough leaves to finish covering the entire herb garden with several inches of leaves.

I am considering changing my schedule a bit now that the temperature is cooling down and the days are getting shorter. I should be able to go out for an hour during lunch, and may even extend my lunch break beyond that and just work later in the evenings to make up for it. It is very nice having the flexibility to adjust my schedule like this if I want to do so.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Today I was able to get out and enjoy the weather. I'm sure I could have gotten a lot of work done around here, but I went hiking with a friend instead. I had a great time, and am glad that I took the time to do it. Its easy to get wrapped up in other things, but I think its important to set aside time for leisure and especially important to make time for friends. I don't do it enough, so really enjoy it when I do.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

2012 Berea Solar Tour

Today we took part in the 7th annual Berea Solar Tour. The day began at the Berea Welcome Center, where we visited a few vendors. After leaving the welcome center we visited 6 of the tour sites. There were 13 sites on the tour, but there was just not enough time to visit them all. We chose the sites that were most of interest to us, some of which were quite out of the way. Had we focused on those closer to town, we probably could have visited 10 or 11 of the sites.

Berea College Sustainability and Environmental Studies (SENS) House

The tour of the SENS House was very interesting. The house itself features various designs elements and technologies that we are interested in, including passive solar design, solar tubes, solar hot water, grid-tied pv system, rainwater catchment, a gray water system, and even a composting toilet.

In addition to the house, there were several other features of the property that I enjoyed. We were given a tour of the garden, and discussed the raised beds, cold frames, and composting. My favorite part of the tour, however, and the feature that made the SENS House a must-see stop on the tour, was the Natural Building Shelter.

The Natural Building Shelter was built using a different natural building method for each wall. The methods used include earthbags, straw bale, cob, and cordwood. Both the inside and outside, other than the cordwood wall, have been finished with a natural plaster. The roof features a small cupola with windows, which is an idea I would like to experiment with in our building projects.

I have to admit that I'm a bit envious of the students who live in the SENS House. I'm not suggesting that I'd be willing to go back to college to have the opportunity to live there, but if I were a student at Berea College, I would, without doubt, be eager to have the opportunity to live in such a unique house.

HomeGrown Hideaways

When we showed up at HomeGrown Hideaways we were immediately greeted by a couple of friendly dogs. Jessa, one of the owners of the farm, was inside making lunch, which gave us the opportunity to see the beautiful interior of the home.

Since natural building is one of the topics I am most interested in, much of the tour focused on the natural building projects around the farm. The first stop was the earth bag fence. Rather than being built with the long, tube-like earthbags that I've seen before, the fence was built using old feed sacks, filled with dirt. Jessa said that earthbag building is one of the most physically demanding building methods that she has tried. The only reason they built the earthbag fence is that they had been requested to host an earthbag building workshop. Rather than finishing the fence using earthbags, however, they decided to finish by adding strawbales on top of the earthbags, which were only a couple of feet high at this point.

After seeing the earthbag/strawbale fence, we toured the cottage which is in progress. The cottage is a  modified geodesic dome with cob infill. Unfortunately the structure is far from being complete, so didn't really provide the feel of being inside a cob home. I would love to go back and visit once the building is complete, or, maybe, attend a future workshop and help with the cob infill myself. One aspect of the dome that is very interesting is that because the walls are angled, it means the windows are angled as well. I'm curious to see how well this works out.

We finished the tour by checking out the mobile chicken coop and tractor. The coop was built on the frame of a small trailer, which allows it to be easily moved. By moving the chicken tractor against the coop, they are able to leave the doors open and allow the chickens to choose whether to be inside the coop or outside in the tractor at any given time. Andrea has been researching coop designs lately, and I think she picked up a few good ideas from Jessa.

The Jeantheau House

The Jeantheau House is a modern residence that utilizes many technologies to make the building more sustainable. The home includes many sustainability-focused features such as passive solar design, rainwater catchment, grid-tied pv system, solar hot water, geothermal central heating/cooling system, and trellises for growing vines in the summer to cover the east and west exterior walls. There is also a greenhouse and solar composting toilet, several garden beds, various berry bushes, and fruit and nut trees.

Of all the homes we visited on the tour, this one is the farthest from the type of home we would like to live in. The house would be, however, a great house for anyone wishing to decrease his/her environmental impact without giving up their modern lifestyle and conveniences. Even though the house isn't my style, I did take away several ideas that I want to at least consider implementing.

The first idea that I really like is the way the owner had constructed the trellises for growing vines on the east and west walls. Rather than having permanent trellises, he ran bailing twine vertically between supports at the base of the wall and the roof. When it is time to cut down the vines, he simply disconnects the bailing twine at both ends and disposes of both the vine and twine, which makes cleanup much easier than with other trellising methods.

The second idea that I really like is the way in which the rainwater is initially diverted. I've never really considered a roof-washing system before as part of our rainwater catchment process, as they seem overly complicated. The system used in the Jeantheau house, however, is very simple. The water is initially caught in a 55 gallon barrel. Once the water level rises to the top, a rubber ball seals off the bottom of the downspout, allowing the remaining water to be fed into the cisterns on the property.

The final thing that I saw at this house I want to look into is the solar composting toilet. I have read a bit about such composting toilets in the past, but this was my first time seeing on in person. There appear to be several real advantages to such a system, most notably the ability to clean the holding area out from the outside.

Egrets' Cove

Egrets' Cove is an intentional community, consisting of 4 cabins and a community building. Unfortunately we had to cut the tour of Egrets' Cove short, because we were running short on time. Even without being able to receive the complete tour, however, we were very impressed. The lifestyle the inhabitants live is inspiring, and makes me wish that we could surround ourselves with a group of like-minded individuals as these folks have.

During our tour of Egrets' Cove we saw the community building and two of the cabins. The community building houses the components for the shared pv system as well as the washing machine and freezer that are shared by the residents.

The first cabin that we saw was a recent construction, with an interior that isn't completely finished at this point. The building itself is a strawbale structure. There was a green roof, which I was able to climb a ladder and look at. Unfortunatley, however, there wasn't a whole lot to see. We didn't spend a great deal of time in the first cabin, as the owners were not available, and the lady giving us the tour didn't have a great deal of information about the home.

The second cabin that we visited was a more traditional stick frame structure. The lady who lived in the home was present, and was able to give us a tour and answer several questions. There were several features of this house that Andrea and I liked, and that we may want to consider implementing when we build. One of these features was the use of vents below fixed windows, rather than having more expensive operable windows. In addition to using the vents for creating a breeze in the summer, the vents are positioned so they can draw hot air in from a cold frame in the winter. Another feature that I was really interested in was the chest-style freezer that had been converted to a refrigerator. This is a topic I had recently been talking to Andrea about, so it was nice to talk to someone who uses this method. The owner indicated that the freezer-turned-refrigerator used so much less energy than a refrigerator that each cabin was able to have their own, with less energy used than with the previously shared refrigerator at the community building. Also, the refrigerator was located on the back porch, which provided significant energy savings in the winter. Even during the summer she said that the energy usage was still much less than that of the high efficiency refrigerator that had been in the community building previously. One last feature of the cabin that really caught my attention was the alternating tread staircase. I'm not sure if we'll have an upstairs or loft in our home or not, but if we do, a space saving stair design is certainly something that we'll need to look into.

If Egrets' Cove is on the tour next year, I would love to return and see the remaining cabins. It is very encouraging to know that there are local people who are building such communities. I suspect that these people are a rare breed, and that the majority of people would find such an arrangement difficult. If only all communities were so well integrated.

Reedy/Clemons Residence

The Reedy/Clemons Residence is a modified geodesic dome located in rural Rockcastle County. The house, and its setting, are picture perfect and I would challenge anyone to visit without becoming inspired. The home is completely off-grid, with the only utilities being a land-line phone and liquid propane, for which they use a 20lb tank like you'd use with a grill or RV.

The home has many features which allow the small 350 watt pv system to provide all necessary power. The efficiency features include the passive solar design, 12v DC refrigerator and other appliances, and the propane on-demand water heater. Not only does the pv system provide the necessary electricity to power the home, they also have a battery bank which can store a week's worth of electricity. We weren't able to see the battery bank, as we were trying to make one last stop before the end of the tour.

There were a couple of features of the home, which were very different than what you might see in a "normal" home. The first was the spiral staircase to the loft area. The staircase took up an amazingly small amount of space, although it was quite narrow and steep. I did climb the stairs to check out the loft, but I believe it would get old after a while. The other feature that stood out was the lack of a traditional bathroom. The bathtub was visible in the corner of the home, and I assume that the toilet was located behind the curtain that obscured the area near the tub. As long as Andrea and I were the only people in the home, a setup like this might work for us, but I'm not sure either of us would be very comfortable with the arrangement when entertaining guests.

Similar to the Natural Building Shelter of the SENS House, this geodesic dome has a cupola. In this home the cupola serves several purposes, such as providing light, providing ventilation, and reducing the risk of leaking that apparently is a problem in some traditional geodesic domes. Seeing this cupola convinced me that we need to strongly consider incorporating one into our home design.

The Reedy/Clemons Residence was one of my favorite stops on the tour. Tammy and Timi, the owners, were great to talk with. They built the home, with the help of friends, over the course of five years. This home is yet another piece of evidence I've seen for the necessity of being part of a close community, or at least, surrounding ones self with friends who are willing and able to provide help and support. Timi said that the work done on the dome actually resulted in the formation of a "garden group", which is a monthly event in which they gather with several other friends to help out with projects around the home of one of the members. This seems like a great way to, not only connect with people, but to also help friends.

If the Reedy/Clemons Residence is on the tour next year, we will be certain to make it one of our stops. I would like to hear more about the pv system and see the battery bank. The primary reason, however, for stopping back by will be simply to say hi to Tammy and Timi and see what is new around their home.

Disputanta Cob

I have been wanting to visit Disputanta Cob for some time. I drove by there a few weeks ago, and was very excited to see one of the cob structures from the road. Unfortunately, however, we were late getting to this stop. We hoped to be able to still tour the solar powered cob cottage, but were unable to do so. The owner's ill mother lives in the home, and just gotten settled back in after being displaced all day for the tour. I was able to check out a smaller cob cottage that is still in progress, which was nice. I was also invited to make arrangements to come back another time for a tour of the solar power cottage. I would love to go back sometime, so will very likely take her up on her offer.

The 2012 Berea Solar Tour was a wonderful event. I wish we could have toured more residences, but, I am very happy with our choice of sites to visit. I definitely plan to attend the tour again next year. While I'm sure that we'll visit a few additional homes, I am just as sure that we'll be revisiting some of the sites we visited this year.

Friday, October 5, 2012


I love the weather this time of year. I think the month of October is probably my favorite month. I'm hoping to get out more and enjoy the weather. I did get out for a bit today. After work I mowed the grass. I still need to do some trim work, but I finished the bulk of it. This should be the last time I have to mow it this year, although I'll still need to mow over by the garden and across the road. I also went back outside once it was dark out and treated the entrances to the yellow jacket nests with the insecticide I bought. Hopefully within a day or two I'll know the results.

I also ran across a couple of media sources today that I want to check out in more detail. The first is Backwoods Magazine. I'm not sure if I have just never heard of the magazine, or if I've just always confused it with Backwoods Home Magazine. Either way, I checked it out today because one of the members of Earthineer recently had an article published in the magazine. I also ran across the Permies website today, which technically I had heard of before. I didn't look around a lot, but from what I saw the site looks like something I might be interested in. I'll check it out and may do a review once I have formed an opinion of the site.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Guide to the Getting the Most From the Mother Earth News Fair

Andrea and I have attended the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA each of its 3 years. Things have gone more smoothly each year that we have attended. I believe that is due, in part, to changes implemented by the fair coordinators. I believe it is also, however, due to the fact that we have learned what to expect and how to better navigate the fair and the fairgrounds. I'd like to share some of what we have learned, in hopes that it may help others who are not as familiar with the fair as we are.

My tips are based on my experiences with the Mother Earth News Fair, and specifically the even held in Seven Springs. I believe that many of these tips will be applicable to the Mother Earth News Fair at other locations, and likely at events other those hosted by Mother Earth News, but some of these tips are clearly specific to the Seven Springs event.


We have stayed at the Seven Spring Mountain Resort, where the fair is held, each year that we have attended. The first two years we stayed in the hotel, known as the tower, and this past year we stayed in the lodge. The lodge was a bit cheaper, and is closer to the exhibit hall and exit to outside fair area. We purchase the Mother Earth News Fair package offered by Seven Springs, which includes lodging, weekend passes to the fair, and breakfast. We always book our rooms early, because Andrea worries that they will sell out. This past year we booked our room in April, 5 months before the event. Andrea did speak to a lady who was unable to get a room because they had sold out, but I don't know how close to the event she tried.

Staying at Seven Springs is rather expensive, so it is certainly not the best option for everyone. We consider our trip to the fair a vacation, and use the bulk of our vacation budget for the trip. Having a room on site has several advantages. First is the convenience. If a member or the party needs to take a break in middle of the day he/she can go back to the room for a bit. I did that last year, and after a couple of hours in the room I was refreshed and ready to attend the remaining workshops of the day. Without a room to go to, it would be difficult to find a spot to really rest and relax if not feeling well. It is also nice to be able to go to the room to drop off purchases, especially if buying anything bulky and/or heavy. Finally, the ability to explore the grounds prior to the start of the fair can be helpful for first time attendees; it is nice knowing your way around.

I hear that within 15 to 30 minutes there are some small communities with rooms available. The suggestion I've heard is to book them early, because, as it gets nearer to time for the fair, the rates are likely to increase. I also know that there are nearby campgrounds, although it is a bit cool in Pennsylvania in September for camping, in my opinion, unless you are staying in a heated RV. I have heard a rumor that the Seven Springs event may be moved to the summer, though, in which case camping might be a better option.


There are several dining options at Seven Springs as well as several food vendors at the fair. Unfortunately, most of the food offerings are fairly expensive. In the past our approach has been to take advantage of the breakfast buffet included with our lodging package, which is fantastic by the way, then buy lunch from one of the food vendors, and finish the day up with dinner at one of the Seven Springs restaurants. This year I had limited time between workshops, so actually snacked through lunch a couple of times rather than buying an actual meal. For dinner, we've decided that the most economical option is to buy a pizza from the pizza place inside the lodge, and eat it in our room. By providing our own drinks, this dinner costs just over $15. Compared to the $30 per person buffet I saw advertised in one of the Seven Springs restaurants, that is a great deal.

Even if planning to eat lunch from a food vendor, I suggest taking snacks. You never know how long the lines to get food might be, especially between workshops. It can be very difficult to get food and eat it during the 30 minute break. Packing snacks provides some flexibility. It may be that by snacking, then having lunch an hour or two later, the crowds will have thinned down enough to make grabbing something quick feasible. Snacking may also be a way of satisfying your hunger until a period later in the day during which there are no workshops you want to take, in which case you can take your time and have a more enjoyable meal.

Day Bag

I am a big fan of taking along a day bag to events such as this. I used a backpack the first year, because I also had camera gear in it, but in the crowds I found it a but cumbersome. This past year I carried an over the shoulder bag. It is smaller than a traditional messenger bag, but I wear it the same way.

I've experimented a bit with the contents of my day bag, and was pretty happy with the items I packed this year. My bag included a medium sized notepad and ink pen for taking notes, a book for keeping me occupied while waiting for workshops to start, a bottle of water, snacks, the fair program guide, some of Andrea's homemade bug spray (which I didn't need), a couple of handkerchiefs, and a wide brimmed hat in case of rain.

Workshop Schedule

I began deciding on my schedule for workshops to attend several days before the fair. Before finalizing my schedule I reviewed it with Andrea, and made adjustments to account for workshops that we both wanted to attend. Our goal is to take as many workshops as possible, so we try to never both take the same ones.

Our first year at the fair I made several mistakes when deciding on my schedule. Without being familiar with the layout of the grounds, and without realizing how long it would take to get from place to place I found myself often having trouble getting into the workshops. There are also a couple of areas where traffic jams occur, most notably on the stairs, and the hallways near them.

As much as possible, I like to attend workshops that are located in the same general area. In fact, last year I only attended workshops that were presented on the outside stages, which simplified things tremendously. This year I did move back and forth a bit, but tried to make sure I wasn't just going back and forth from one place to another. One strategy I used was to start the day inside, then after attending a few inside workshops, move outside for the rest of the day. This allowed me to only have to transition from inside to outside once during the day. Of course this isn't always practical. I think it is more important to attend desirable workshops, regardless of location, than to choose something just because its convenient.

The time between workshops was increased this year from 15 minutes to 30 minutes. This was a big help, but the workshops still filled up quickly. I tended to go directly from one workshop to the next, and just read my book while waiting for the presentation to start. One advantage of getting there early was that I was able to choose my seat. It took a little experimentation, but by the last day of the fair I had come up with a strategy that worked well for me. For the workshops held inside in one of the lecture halls, I preferred a seat against the wall, on the side of the room where the podium was. This gave me space between my seat and the wall to sit my bag, and ensured that I wouldn't have people needing to move past me to get to their seat. For the other workshops, I found that I preferred an aisle seat, in the section on the left. This allowed me a bit more room, since I only had someone sitting to my left. I found that when I sat on the other side, I still felt a bit cramped when taking notes by the person sitting to my right.


I have one primary piece of advice regarding shopping at the fair, and I can't stress this point enough. If there is an item that you wish to purchase, do so as early in the fair as possible. Andrea and I both made the mistake of waiting too late to buy certain items. I planned to buy several varieties of garlic from Enon Valley Garlic, but by the time I stopped by they had sold out of more than half of their varieties. Andrea wanted to buy a soap-making kit from Quiet Creek Herb Farm, but since it was going to be heavy she asked me to stop by the following day and buy it for her. By the time I got there, however, they had sold out of the specific kit she wanted. Even the Sun Oven that we bought was sold out, but they were honoring the fair price for orders placed during the fair and offering free shipping, which actually worked out better for us since we didn't have to transport it back home.

My other suggestion would be to shop at the busiest booths while workshops are going on, if you're not taking a workshop during every time slot. Some of the booths get really busy between workshops, especially the Mother Earth News Bookstore in the exhibit hall. I also found that taking advantage of the time before workshops begin and after they end can be good times to shop certain booths, but waiting until the end of the last day of the fair is not recommended.

Above all else, however, my advice is to enjoy yourself, try to learn as much as possible, and meet some new people while at the fair. These are fantastic events, and I hope that everyone who is interested gets to attend at least one of the fairs at some point in their lifetime.


Today we decided to try out our new Sun Oven solar oven. We have some peppers to dehydrate, so wanted to get the oven prepped and ready for use. The first step before cooking or dehydrating food in the oven is to clean the inside. This involves setting the oven up, putting an uncovered pot of vinegar inside, and letting it sit in the sun for a few hours.

Today was very overcast, so there were no extended periods of full sun. We were still able to get temperatures of 250 degrees, with the low being around 140. This was enough to heat the vinegar up nicely and coat the inside surfaces of the oven with the residue. Andrea then wiped everything down, and the oven is sitting on the front porch with the lid cracked so it can air dry.

I can tell that the oven is going to definitely require some getting use to. Getting the direction right isn't too difficult, as long as there is plenty of sun, but I haven't quite figured out how to get the angle of the oven just right. I'm sure that as we use it more this will become second nature.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mother Earth News Fair 2012 - Exhibitors and Vendors

Even though my primary focus at the Mother Earth News Fair was the workshops, I did take some time to visit the booths of several vendors and exhibitors. We bought several items, and stopped by several additional booths. I thought it might be helpful to do a post about the various booths that I visited at the fair.

Our first stop on Friday was the Earthineer booth. That gave me the opportunity to chat with Dan, the creator of the site, for a bit. I'm glad that I stopped by when I did, as every other time I passed by the booth Dan was busy talking with other fair goers. I would like to be able to volunteer to help work the Earthineer booth sometime, but I can never seem to find enough extra time between workshops. Dan did give me a nice burlap tote bag with the Earthineer logo, which several people asked me about, so hopefully that helped to drive a bit of traffic to the booth.

Over the next few days, I visited several other booths, as did Andrea. Rather than trying to list the booths in the order in which I visited them, I thought it might make more sense to group them based on the type of product or information they were promoting. Click on each category to be taken to a more detailed description of each vendor/exhibitor and my experience with them.


The fair itself had a large "bookstore" set up in the exhibit hall. In addition to the bookstore there were several publishers with booths of their own.


Other than books, one of the items I was most looking forward to purchasing at the fair was garlic. For the past two years I've purchased seed garlic at the fair from Enon Valley Garlic. This year I used their website to pick out 8 varieties that I wanted to purchase.
  • Enon Valley Garlic - I made the mistake of not buying my garlic at the very start of the fair. Every time I passed by the Enon Valley booth they were packed, which should have made me realize it was a mistake to wait as long as I did. By the time I stopped by the booth towards the end of the day on Saturday they had sold out of many of the varieties of garlic I had planned to buy. I was able to pick up three varieties, including Inchelium Red, Tochliavri, and Silver Rose. I was very disappointed to not be able to get any Stull, which I've only ever been able to buy from them. I'll definitely have to either get to their booth earlier next year, or maybe even play it safe and order online. I later stopped back by the booth to see what other products they had available. They had a variety of garlic products including cooking wine, hummus, and pickled garlic. Since I had never tried pickled garlic before, I decided to try a sample. I wasn't crazy about the flavor. Its definitely not something that I plan to buy or try making at home. I'm glad I was able to try a sample to learn this.
  • Lambert Mountain Acres - When I first stopped by this booth I didn't think they had anything I was interested in for planting, as they only carried one variety of garlic, Korean Red. I went ahead and picked up a bulb for eating, but nothing for planting. After realizing that I wasn't going to get everything I wanted from Enon Valley, though, I was double checking the other vendors selling garlic against my list and realized that Korean Red was on my list after all. I went ahead and bought 5 more bulbs, some of which I'll probably eat, but most of which will be planted. In addition to selling garlic, they also had a few other products. I tried a sample of their garlic buffalo wing sauce. I wasn't a big fan, but maybe that's because I don't eat wings. 
  • D. Landreth Seed Company - The D. Landreth Seed Company had several of varieties of garlic available, but nothing that was on my list that I wasn't able to buy elsewhere. I actually looked twice, just to be sure, because the had so many different varieties. 
  • Southern Exposure Seed Exchange - Southern Exposure also had several varieties of garlic available. I was able to find one that may have been one I was looking for, but I really am not sure. I had the Polish variety on my list, and they were selling a variety called Polish White. The description made me think that maybe it was the one I was looking for, so I took a chance and bought a pack. Unfortunately they were only selling the garlic in 8 oz packs, so I bought more than I otherwise would have.


Much like the way I had been waiting until the fair to buy garlic, Andrea had been waiting until the fair to buy seeds. She has had a list of what she wanted to buy for quite some time, and the fair provided a good opportunity to buy the seeds from the types of companies that we consider trustworthy sources.

  • Southern Exposure Seed Exchange - Andrea bought several types of seeds from Southern Exposure. She bought a pound of Winter Rye and half a pound of Hairy Vetch which we will plant as cover crops for the winter. She also bought Anise Hysop, Cayenne, Habanero, Roma Tomato, Dill, Caledula, and Sage.
  • Botanical Interests - Botanical Interests was selling seeds for $1 per pack, so Andrea bought as many of the seeds from her list from them as she could. She bought Lavender, Echinacea, Early Jalapeno, Serrano, Garlic Chives, Chives, Chamomile, Feverfew, Mammoth Russian Sunflower, Parsley, and Marigold.
  • D. Landreth Seed Company - We didn't buy anything from the D. Landreth Seed Company, but I thought it was at least worth mentioning them.

  • Miscellaneous

    We also bought items or tried samples from several other booths.

  • Bo's Bones Gourmet Dog Biscuits - Andrea wanted to bring the dogs back a treat, so she stopped by the Bo's Bones booth. She ended up buying them each a Jack o'Lantern shaped dog biscuit. They also gave her a couple of small samples for free. I gave the samples to Luke and Jack yesterday and they seemed to like them. They aren't used to eating that type of thing, so it was a nice treat for them. We haven't given them the bigger ones yet, but I expect that they'll enjoy them.
  • Bumbleberry Farms Heritage Select Honeys - We stopped by this booth early on and I saw a product that caught my attention. They were selling a lotion bar, which I thought might be a good alternative to traditional lotion. My skin gets really dry in the winter, but I don't use lotion like I should because it is so cold. I thought that I might be more likely to use a solid lotion. We didn't buy anything that day, but I stopped back by later and picked up a Lotion2Go Bar. It was packaged with a free lip balm. They also gave me a coupon that is good for an online order, so if I like the product I may go ahead and order a larger bar so I can use the coupon.
  • Sue's Salves - I didn't stop by the Sue's Salves booth, but Andrea did. She ended up buying a Living & Planting by the Moon 2013 Calendar. That seems like an odd product to buy from a company that specializes in beauty care products, but you just never know what you'll find when you stop by a booth.
  • Sun Oven - Sunday morning I had some time to kill before my first workshop started, so I stopped by the Sun Oven booth to get some info about their Solar Oven. I was impressed by what I heard, so wanted to get Andrea's thoughts on maybe buying one. During my last workshop of the day, Sustainable Living Simplified, John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist mentioned that they had purchased a Sun Oven, and wish they had done so much sooner. They said that after only a couple of years it had easily paid for itself. When I met Andrea at the end of the day, I mentioned the Sun Oven to her, and she said that she had been considering getting one. We went back to the booth and talked to them, and decided to go ahead and order one. It arrived a couple of days ago, but we haven't used it yet. I think it will turn out to be a good investment.
  • Hempzels - I wanted a snack one day, so decided to stop by the Hempzel booth and try one of their soft pretzels. It made an okay snack, but I'm not completely sold on the idea. The taste certainly can't compete with a traditional soft pretzel.
  • Cabot Creamery - I ended up stopping by the Cabot Creamery booth twice. The first time I tried a sample of their Hot Habanero cheese, which certainly lives up to its name. The second time I tried the Horseradish cheese. Both were very tasty, and I would very likely buy either of them in the future. The local Walmart and Kroger stores do carry Cabot Creamery products, but according to the website neither carries the flavors I sampled. I'll have to see which flavors they do carry, however, and maybe try one of them.
  • O'Keeffe's - Andrea stopped by the O'Keeffe's booth and picked up a sample of their Working Hands salve. I haven't tried it yet, but it seems like it might come in handy this winter. 
  • Gorilla Glue - Andrea also stopped by the Gorilla Glue booth and picked up a sample of their product as well. I can't imagine that it'll be hard to find a use for a small tube of glue at some point.

  • Other

    We didn't buy something or get a sample from every booth that we visited. In fact, I stopped at several booths where I only browsed their offerings or talked with someone about the product or information they were offering.

  • Affordable Barn Company - I stopped by this booth on Sunday, but no one was there to answer questions. They had a building on display that was set up to serve as a small off-grid cabin. It was much nicer than I would have expected. The price seemed very reasonable as well. It isn't something that Andrea and I need, but I think I'll pass along the information to a friend who has been looking for a low-cost, temporary housing option.
  • BCS America - I had looked at the BCS Tractors last year, but decided to stop back by this year after they were discussed in the workshop Hoeing the Long Row. I was pretty sure I knew the answer already, but I wanted to verify that there was not a loader attachment available for the tractors. Unfortunately I was right. Otherwise I would probably be strongly considering purchasing one.
  • The Evergreen Institute - The Evergreen Institute is a renewable energy education center ran by Dan Chiras. I dropped by the booth and glanced at the books to see if they had any of Dan's books that I had been wanting, but had not yet bought. I ended up not buying anything, though, and since Dan wasn't there to chat with I didn't spend much time at the booth.
  • The Homestead General Store - This store had several interesting items for sale. I looked at a few garden tools, and noticed that they were selling the Sun Oven, even though the Sun Oven vendor also had a booth.
  • The Natural Building Network - I stopped by this booth a couple of times and received some very useful info. They people working the booth were very friendly and helpful. I was able to get their impression of the CobWeb Archives, which is a set of books I considered buying in the past. I also learned that the people who run Disputanta Cob, which offers local cob building workshops, had trained under one of the ladies who was working at the booth. It wasn't until I got back home that I realized I was actually a fan of the Natural Building Network on Facebook. 
  • Nature's Head - We stopped by the Nature's Head booth last year and talked to them a bit about their composting toilets. I stopped back by this year to look at their display model to get an idea of how it handled the diverting of urine. It works the way I expected, in that it probably works fine when sitting but would not work well when standing.
  • Smokeless Heat - I had thought that I read in the fair program guide that this vendor sold high efficiency stoves. I stopped by their booth to talk to them, but the man running the booth was busy chatting with someone else. While waiting I looked at their literature and realized they only sale boilers, not traditional wood stoves, so I decided there was no use in waiting around.
  • Weston A. Price Foundation - Every time I stopped by this booth they were very busy. I didn't get the chance to talk to anyone or look at their literature. Andrea was able to talk to them, however. She suggested I try to talk to them, as she thought I'd like what they had to say since they have a focus on real food, which is something I am very interested in.
  • Breeze Dryer - I didn't stop by the Breeze Dryer booth this year, but we have talked to them at each of the past fairs. After the first year we ordered one of their rotary drying racks, and the second year stopped back by to tell them how well it was working and to ask them a question. The man remembered us because when our purchase had been delivered we left it on the back porch for a while before installing it and Luke tore into the box and chewed through some of the lines. Andrea had to contact them to request a new set of lines, and he remembered  us because it was such a strange reason to need replacements.
  • Bush Hog - Last year I stopped by the Bush Hog booth to talk to them about pull behind mowers. They had previously carried a model that could be pulled behind a four-wheeler, but it had since been discontinued. I didn't stop at the booth this year.
  • Grainmaker - We stopped by the Grainmaker booth last year and saw a demo of their hand powered grinder. Andrea asked me to stop this year and ask them how their products worked with rice. I forgot to stop, but luckily she had some free time and was able to talk to them and get the information that she needed.
  • Sweet Springs Hammocks - This was my first year not stopping by the Sweet Springs Hammock booth. The first year at the fair we bought a hammock from them. The second year I stopped by to get some pointers on hanging it, since I had yet to do so. He made me promise to get it hung by the next fair so I could tell him how I liked it. Since I still haven't gotten around to hanging it, I decided not to stop, in case he remembered me :-)

  • A complete list of the exhibitors at this year's fair can be found on the Mother Earth News Fair website. There are far too many vendors and exhibitors for me to mention here, even if I could remember them all. While the list varies from year to year it is a good indication of the range of vendors that attend the fair.

    Mother Earth News Fair 2012 - Workshops

    At this years fair I attended 13 different workshops. There were 15 available slots, but I skipped one workshop on Saturday and another on Sunday. There was such a variety of workshops to choose from that it was difficult to decide which to take. I began trying to narrow down the choices several days before the fair began and made my final decision for each day's schedule the night before. Some time slots had as many as 5 workshops I was interested in, with none having less than 2 that I would have liked to attend.

    While it is obviously no replacement for actually attending the workshop, I thought it might be helpful if I provided a brief summary of the workshops I attended. If nothing else, this will hopefully provide some additional insight on the types of workshops available at the fair. Clicking on the title of each workshop will take you to a more detailed description of the workshop and my thoughts on it.


    Off-Grid Living - Christine Tailer and Greg Cole of Straight Creek Valley Farm

    This presentation focused on life for the couple on their homestead, including living in a small home, using renewable energy, gardening, and raising animals. It was one of my favorite workshops of the day.

    Forest Garden Design - Lincoln Smith of Forested Training and Research Center

    This workshop focused on the forest garden concept, including the benefits of this type of garden, and  some basic info on how to begin the process of planning a garden using this approach.

    Retooling for Tomorrow - Philip Ackerman-Leist

    This presentation was a mixture of anecdotes, regarding homesteading and living a traditional lifestyle, and suggestions of various tools and technologies that are useful around a homestead.

    Biochar - Albert Bates of The Farm

    In this workshop the presenter covered the benefits of biochar as a soil builder and discussed several methods for generating biochar, with a focus on methods through which the heat could be used for other purposes. This was one of the workshops I wanted to be sure I took, as biochar is a topic I only recently became familiar with.


    Choosing Organic Fertilizer and Building Soil Fertility - Cheryl Long of Mother Earth News

    This workshop focused on the importance of building soil fertility, and various ways of accomplishing this goal, such as through the user of cover crops, heavy mulching, and liquid fertilizers.

    A Homesteader's Hindsight: 20 Great Ideas and 20 Not So Great Ideas - Philip Ackerman-Leist

    This workshop was an odd combination of practical advice and entertaining sentiments. The information was presented as 20 pairs of lessons, one positive, and one not so positive.

    Energy Alternatives for Small Farms and Homesteads - Chris Lent of The National Center for Appropriate Technology

    This presentation focused on various forms of alternative energy that can be used around a homestead, including photovoltaic, wind turbines, bio-diesel, and draft animals.

    Energy Performance of Natural Buildings - Ace McArelton and Jacob Deva Racusin of New Frameworks Natural Building

    This workshop was basically divided into sections. The first was a description of the design philosophy that Ace and Jacob use when designing straw bale homes. The second was a review of testing they had done on several of the homes they had built, and a review of the results.

    Ordinary Tools, Extraordinary Results - Laurie Freeman and Jim Strickland

    This workshop was, without question, the most inspiring workshop of the fair for me. Laurie and Jim discussed how, with the help of some friends, they built their home and a barn almost entirely without the aid of power tools. The feat seemed impressive enough at the start, but after hearing the details of what they have accomplished, it is indeed extraordinary.


    Hoeing the Long Row - Andy Pressman of The National Center for Appropriate Technology

    This presentation covered the process of choosing the appropriate tool for several garden jobs, and well as the correct way to use these tools. Tools covered include various types of hoes, spades, forks, seeders, and even walk behind tractors. This was a particularly informative workshop for me, since we are beginning to build our tool collection.

    Integrating Woodlot Management - Dave Scamardella of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

    The focus of the workshop was creating a woodlot management plan. This included tips on figuring out a goal for the property as well as information on the various types of professionals available to help with the planning process.

    Bioshelter Design and Management - Darrell Frey of Three Sisters Farm & Nursery

    This presentation covered the basics of a solar greenhouse and included details about the presenter's own greenhouse. Discussion topics included the building of the greenhouse and day to day operation.

    Sustainable Living Simplified - John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist of Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast

    This presentation focused on the process through which the couple has built their homestead and business over the years. Topics discussed included renewable energy, gardening, community, and small business ownership. This was one of the most enjoyable workshops that I attended at the fair this year.

    In addition to the 13 workshops that I attended, there were 2 others that I had planned to attend. On Saturday I had planned to attend the Grow Biointensive Sustainable Mini-Farming presentation, but decided that it wasn't something I was all that interested in, and that I could better use the time for looking at the vendor and exhibitor booths. Also, on Sunday, I was planning to take a workshop titled Home Sweet Zero Energy Home, but skipped it since there were no seats available by the time I got there after the Hoeing the Long Row workshop lasted longer than expected.

    As always, the workshops were very educational and enjoyable. While some were not as good as the others, I learned something from each one I attended. I enjoy visiting the vendor and exhibitor booths, but the workshops are my primary reason for going to the fair. I'm not aware of any other event that offers so many quality workshops for such a reasonable price. The workshops alone make the cost of attending the fair a tremendous value. Many of the workshops offered this year were also offered at previous fairs. In fact, during one time slot, I found I had previously taken three of the available workshops. However, there were still plenty that I was interested in, and several that I had to skip because of conflicts. I am confident that I will be able to put together a full schedule of workshops to attend at next year's fair with no problem. I'm already looking forward to it.