Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Review - Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind

I recently finished reading Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind by Gene Logsdon. This book had been on my wish list for some time, so I was excited to finally get a chance to read it.

The primary focus of the book is storing and utilizing animal manures. There is, however, also a chapter on human waste, which I was particularly interested in reading. In that chapter a couple of other books were mentioned: The Humanure Handbook by Joseph C. Jenkins, which I have already read, and The Toilet Papers: Recycling Waste and Conserving Water by Sim Van Der Ryn, which I am currently reading. I would likely recommend one of those books for anyone primarily interested in the topic of human waste.

For anyone interested in dealing with livestock waste, however, I found Holy Shit to be a great read. The book includes a wealth of information on various related topics, including manure forks and spreaders and barns, stalls, etc. I suspect that most people either model their handling of manure after someone they know, or just figure out something as they go. I think it would be worthwhile for anyone dealing with livestock, however, to read this book for additional ideas and information on the topic.

I do have to say that, even though I'm not in the least bit offended by the title, it did prevent me from reading the book in public. This likely isn't going to be a concern for most, however, especially for anyone using an e-reader rather than a print copy of the book.


I accomplished next to nothing this past week. The only thing productive I did was on Thursday evening, after work, Andrea helped add insulation to Daisy's house. I then spread the remaining straw on the walkway between the front porch and driveway, since it stays muddy this time of year.

I spent this weekend in Lexington at a friend's house. A couple of other friends came in from out of town on Saturday to watch the new Hobbit movie. I rarely go to the theater, but am willing to occasionally do so with friends.

That's basically all I have to report. Not much, I know, but I typically don't accomplish a lot this time of year.

Monday, December 9, 2013


I really didn't accomplish much this past week. This was primarily due to the weather, but the lack of motivation that comes with this time of year certainly had an impact.

On Sunday I did spend some time cleaning up some trash over by the old house we're tearing down. We have a dumpster rented, which I can't remember if I've mentioned before or not, so I like to fill it each week if possible. There is an old outhouse on the edge of the property which was most recently used for storage, and there was a lot of trash in there requiring disposal. Andrea helped and we mostly finished cleaning that up.

On Monday I did get out for a bit at lunch time. I aired up the RTV tire, to see if it would hold, and took some paper shreds over to the garden to spread as mulch. Unfortunately by the next day the tire had gone flat again. That was disappointing, but the same thing happened the last time I had problems with it, so I'm not going to worry too much just yet.

On Wednesday I worked in the office in London, so accomplished nothing around here. That is typical for the days I work in London, but is pretty much guaranteed this time of year, since its dark before I even get home.

I didn't do much else during the week, except for advancing a bit in the online course I'm taking on electricity at AllAboutCircuits. A good friend recently expressed an interest in learning more about electricity, so while researching sites to recommend to her I ran across this one. I decided that it was well worth my time to work through the material myself, since I will eventually need an understanding of electricity when I start working with alternative energy systems. So far I have been pleased.

Saturday was cold, wet, and rainy, so I stayed indoors. Andrea had a quilt club meeting to attend, leaving me home alone for much of the day. I used the opportunity to watch some movies, and had an overall very enjoyable day.

On Sunday I did a task for Andrea in the kitchen. We'v had a problem with mold build up in the dishwasher, because we do not use the heated dry. We've since realized that we need to open the door completely, and pull out the racks, to let the dishes air dry. First, though, we needed to thoroughly clean the inside of the dish washer. After spending a couple of hours on it, I have it looking good. Once I finished we ran vinegar through it before running a load of dishes. We just need to work out a routine that ensures the dishes have the opportunity to air dry overnight, or while we are gone, since the kitchen is too small to be able to leave the racks out and still walk through the room.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I'm back, after a month long absence from the blog. I owe everyone a big apology, especially regular readers who might have been wondering if I had abandoned you. The truth is, I just haven't been very motivated to write during the past several weeks. I suspect this has had a lot to do with the cooler temperatures and shorter days. I'm back now, though, and intend to begin writing regular posts again.

I'm not even going to attempt to summarize everything I've done over the past month. Instead, I'll just back up to Thursday, which was Thanksgiving, and pick up from there. We usually spend a few days visiting family around Thanksgiving, but this year just drove in for the day. One of the kittens, Rosa, is currently recovering from, what the vets thinks is, pneumonia. She has been doing much better, but requires doses of an antibiotic twice a day, so Andrea didn't want to leave her here alone without her medicine. Driving there and back in the same day, having dinner at my grandmother's, then visiting Andrea's mom and the kids made for a long day, but it was nice to have the rest of the weekend at home.

I took the day off from work on Friday, since we had initially planned to spend more than the one day out of town for Thanksgiving. Andrea and I spent most of the day straightening up and organizing the house.

On Saturday we did much of the same, although, admittedly, also spent quite a bit of time relaxing and watching tv. One of the things I worked on was shredding paper and paperboard, to be used as mulch. We've stopped taking these materials to the recycling center, choosing to use them around here instead. It had been a while since we had last shredded, and there was a big backlog. I used the shreds to mulch the pathways between the rows of garlic.

On Saturday I also discovered a flat tired on the RTV. This is the same tire that went flat several months ago, so I suspect it is related. We never fixed the problem before, it just stopped going flat after a while. I hope the same happens this time.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tractor Shed

I recently completed the construction of a shed for the tractor. This has been on my to-do list for quite some time, and is the biggest project I've undertaken. Luckily I had my dad to help, else it would never have gotten built.

We initially considered having one of those metal frame 'carports' installed. After talking with my dad, however, we decided that building a wooden shed was a much better option, even though it would require a great deal of work.

I started prepping the spot for the shed even before we decided to build it ourselves. Levelling the area required digging down the high side, and using the resulting dirt to fill in the low side. I was able to do all of this work myself, using the tractor with a box blade attached.

I created the design for the shed using the 3d modelling software SketchUp. Having a 3d model of the structure really helped me make some key decisions regarding dimensions, etc. I also found it was very useful when putting together a material list, since I could see where each piece of lumber needed to go, and figure out what to purchase to reduce waste. The overall design was mine, but I did have some very helpful input from my dad.

I scheduled an entire week off from work to build the shed. My dad came down Monday morning, and we got started right away. The task for the first day was to determine where the holes should be drilled for setting the posts. I was afraid this might take up most of the day, but after a couple of hours of measuring and marking we had it figured out. The post hole auger I had schedule to rent wasn't going to be available until the following morning, so our first day on the project turned out to be a short one.

On the second day we left early to pick up the auger. I had hoped to get a PTO-driven auger for the tractor, but the equipment rental place did not have one available. We ended up with a towable post hole digger and 12" auger. On the third pull of the rope, when trying to start it for the first time, the rope broke. I called the rental place, and they said they could fix it quickly if I brought it back in. That was going to kill another 2 hours, or more, though, so we decided to find a way to get it to start on our own. Luckily we were able to do so. Unfortunately, though, the machine was not well suited to what we needed it to do. I thought the ground would be fairly easy to dig, since it had been worked recently, but that was not the case. The auger would stall when encountering even fist-sized rocks or tree roots. After an hour we gave up, and finished the holes up by hand. The auger had given us a good start, which made finishing them up go easier, but I suspect we could have completely dug them by hand in the time it took to drive to and from the rental place, figure out how to start it with the broken rope, and then do the little digging with it we were able to do. My set of Fiskars Post Hole Diggers and Truper San Angelo Bar cost less to purchase than the auger did to rent, and were much more effective.

On day three, after returning the auger, we started setting the posts. To ensure a minimum clearance of 8' I had purchased 10' posts for the high side, and 12' for the low side. We used treated 6x6s for the posts, which are quite heavy. In most cases we were able to slide them off of the trailer into the holes, but they often required being repositioned once we had them in the holes. The 10' posts weren't too bad, but the 12' ones were very nearly more than I could lift myself.

Physically setting the posts in place wasn't very time consuming, but ensuring they were square, plumb, and in line was. Once we had a post positioned exactly the way we wanted it, we attached two 10' long 2x4s as braces. Once the eighth, and final, post was set we took diagonal measurements to check for square. I was concerned that we would have to make adjustments, and was starting to consider just how out of square the posts would have to be for me to suggest we reset one or more of them. You can imagine my relief when we found that the measurements were within half an inch of each other, which was certainly close enough to square for me.

Instead of building beams to use as top plates to tie the posts together, I decided to use an approach I had seen on another similar shed. We attached 2x6s along both the inside and outside of the posts, so that the tops of the posts we sandwiched between them. This was much easier than building and installing beams, although I'm not sure how they compare in terms of strength.

On day four we were able to install the trusses. This was the task I had been most dreading, but it turned out to go fairly easily. We were able to transport the trusses with the tractor, by sitting three at a time on top of the box blade, and strapping them in place. I thought we'd also use the tractor to lift them in place, but we found that setting them in place by hand was easier than trying to use the tractor.

As is always the case with trusses, since they are top heavy, we had to turn them by hand and hold them upright until they were attached. Initially I tried doing this completely by hand, from a ladder, but found that I was not comfortable enough on a ladder to be handling so much weight without something to help me balance. After considering a couple of options, I finally came up with a solution that worked well. I was able to use the tractor's front end loader to raise the peak so the truss was close to vertical. I then positioned the ladder so that my body would be square to the truss when I was standing on it, allowing me to hold onto the tractor bucket with one hand if I needed to steady myself. With the other hand I was able to raise the truss on into place, with the comfort of knowing the bucket would catch it if I lost my grip or had to let it drop for some reason.

Since we used the 6x6s in place of a top beam on the posts my Dad came up with an idea for making the trusses easier to attach. We cut some 6x6 scraps into 18" to 24" lengths, and positioned between the 6x6s, perpendicular to them, so the trusses could be screwed into them. Once attached, this helped the trusses to remain upright without the need for additional bracing.

Once the trusses were set we began installing the laths. We didn't make much progress, though, and finished that up on day five. To save money I chose to space the trusses four feet apart, and then use 2x4s for the laths instead of the typical 1" thick lumber. It took us most of the day to install the laths, partially because we had used some of the 2x4s for bracing and so had to install some permanent bracing so we could take the temporary bracing back down. I also had some 8' 2x4s from a previous project which I dug out and used for the laths, so we didn't have to remove more of the temporary braces, which we really wanted to remain under we were completely finished.

Once the laths were installed we began installing the metal on the roof. I am not comfortable walking on a roof in the best of conditions, and the slick metal and distance between trusses was far from good conditions. My dad handled all of the on-roof work, while I helped from a ladder. Progress was slow, while we figure out a good process. This wasn't helped by the fact that he had trouble keeping his footing on the slick metal. We managed to get six of the seven pieces on one side installed before calling it a day.

We had hoped to finish in five days, but we had realized a couple of days prior that it wasn't likely. We woke up on day six to a heavy frost, which prevented us from getting an early start, especially since the the moisture would cause the metal to be even harder to walk on than the previous day. We were able to do work on some other tasks while everything heated up and dried off, though, including installing the rest of the permanent bracing and pre-drilling the holes in the remainder of the metal.

Once the time came to climb back onto the roof, my Dad changed into a pair of tennis shoes with clean soles. This made a tremendous difference, and allowed him to much more easily walk on the metal. The first few pieces of metal went up much more quickly than the pieces on the previous day. I asked Andrea to help me carry the remaining pieces to the shed, so my Dad didn't have to climb down and risk dirtying his shoes. I had tried carrying a piece by myself, but at nearly 14' long I wasn't able to get a grip on them that allowed me to easily carry them. The remaining pieces went up just as quickly as the first ones of the day, and it wasn't long until I was cutting the final ridge cap to length so it could be installed.

The entire build took my Dad and I approximately 30 hours. In idea weather, and without having to wait to rent the auger, we could probably have finished in three days, or four at the most. The total cost for the project was approximately $1650. Around $200 of this was spent on tools, including the rental of the auger, and the purchase of the digging bar and drill bits for the metal, of which some will be returned since they were not needed. The purchase of a metal carport, on the other hand, would have cost $1500-$1600, and would have been slightly smaller, without the flexibility of being able to easily add a section onto the side later and without the overhead storage provided by the trusses.

At 24' wide and 20' long the shed provides 480 square feet of storage. That should easily be enough to store the tractor and all of my implements, plus the big mower, four-wheeler, and wood chipper with plenty of room left for stacking some bales of straw. I plan to later add a 16' by 20' shed off of one side, which we'll partially enclose for storage and possibly as a summer kitchen where Andrea can do some canning.

Monday, October 28, 2013


Its hard to believe that I haven't done a post in 2 weeks. I was busy all last week, working on building the shed for the tractor. My Dad came down and helped me, and even though it took six days, we finally got it finished.

I was tempted to just rest on Sunday, but the weather was nice so thought I should be productive. Andrea helped me take some measurements of the garden space, and mark out a section so we could figure out where the garden bed needs to go. After finishing that I did a bit of finish work on the shed, and took down the extra braces that were no longer needed.

It rained today, so I didn't get out and do anything. Andrea did schedule to have someone come out and look at our furnace, which isn't working. She also found a local garage to replace the brakes on the truck, which is something we just found out needed to be done.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


I'm starting to feel like my daily posts are turning into weekly posts instead. I may consider switching to weekly updates, if I find that I don't have enough to report every day. I'm sure this will vary depending on the time of year, though.

On Monday I had to work late, so didn't do much else. We did, however, take some time to collect some hickory nuts and butternuts from around the property.

On Tuesday we drove to Berea for a Field to Fork Festival Planning Committee meeting. I had actually met everyone who was there, as two of the gentlemen taught workshops I attended at the 2013 Field to Fork Festival. The meeting went well, and I think we can put together an even better festival next year.

I worked in London at the office on Wednesday, so didn't really accomplish anything else.

On Thursday I spent a couple of hours working on more levelling of the area where the tractor shed is going to go. I have it in pretty good shape, and think that with just a little more work it'll be ready.

My parents came down again this weekend to work on tearing down that old house, so that took up Friday evening and all day Saturday. On Sunday we did get out on the property a bit, so my Mom could collect some butternuts. We then drove up to to a nearby recreation area and explored the backroads there.

After my parents left on Sunday Andrea and I went back out to the old house and spent a couple of hours stacking salvaged lumber under a shed that is out there. We hope to use the lumber to build a chicken coop, so wanted to be sure to get it in the dry.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

2013 To-Do List Update #3

When I did the last update on the To-Do List I stated that four of the thirteen items had been completed, with two more being roughly halfway finished. Not a lot has changed since this, as now I'm counting five completed projects, and one than is nearly completed. This leaves seven projects that have had little, to no, progress made. Of those, I think that three of them can realistically be completed this year, with another being completed either this year or Spring 2014 at the latest.

Build a chicken coop
I suppose I have made a small amount of progress towards this goal, since I have started collecting some salvaged lumber from the old house we're tearing down. We plan to use as much of the salvaged lumber as possible in the building of the chicken coop. I still hope to get to this before the end of the year, but am starting to suspect that it might be pushed back until Spring.

Build a hugelkultur bed
We need to do a garden plan to figure out where to put a hugelkultur bed, and that hasn't happened yet. I'm hoping that we can get to it this winter or next spring, which means the hugelkultur bed will definitely have to get pushed out to the 2014 list.

Repair the ditches and gravel the driveway
This project has been completed. The repairs to the ditches I made earlier in the year have helped a lot, so I finally had a load of gravel delivered several weeks ago and finished the task. It has been a huge help, and I'm optimistic that it will last for some time.

Complete the expansion of the herb bed
This project was complete when I did my last update, so no further progress has been made since then.

Make and install rain barrels
I'm calling this goal 90% complete, since I have constructed all four of the rain barrels, and have three of them installed. I'll make it a point to install the last one before the end of the year so I can mark this project as complete.

Buy and start using a lawn sweeper
This project is complete, since I ended up buying both a lawn sweeper and landscape rake, although I'm still not sure I made the right decision. I have more experimenting to do to figure out the best approach for collecting different materials in various locations. The lawn sweeper does work great for collecting grass clippings in the yard.

Finish clearing along the front edge of the yard and plant bushes
This project is complete, but will require some additional work as not all of the bushes survived. I'm also suspecting that the use of clover as a green mulch may not be sufficient, in which case we'll have to apply a fairly serious layer of traditional mulch, or I'll need to continue mowing around the bushes with a string trimmer.

Purchase or build a shelter for the tractor
This project is planned for later in the month. We have decided to construct a 20' x 24' wooden shed with metal roof. I plan to take a week off from work, during which time my Dad is going to come down and help me build it.

Fix a route to get across the road with the tractor
No changes to this since the last update, at which point I was considering it complete. I need to do a bit of work to be able to get the truck over there, but I can get the tractor over there with no problem, which was the goal.

Build the pallet compost bin
I haven't done any work on this, but still hope to complete it by the end of the year. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll get to it before winter sets in.

Make a worm bin and start vermicomposting
I still have made no progress toward this goal. I'm not willing to write it off yet, though, since it is something I can easily do later in the year when the weather is too bad, or its too dark, to get out and do anything else.

Install solar panels on the shed
This will definitely be pushed back until 2014, or later. Now that I'm building a sizeable shed for the tractor, which I plan to later expand, it may make more sense to install a PV system there, rather than the smaller tool shed, I'm just not sure yet.

Replace the siding on the shed
I suspect that this project is going to end up getting pushed back until 2014. It should go fairly quickly, but I'd like my Dad's help and building the new shed and the chicken coop will definitely take priority. Now that we are also tearing down that old house I don't know that we'll find time to replace the siding before winter gets here.

Book Review - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: An Easy Household Guide

Several weeks ago Chelsea Green Publishing had a huge sale on books, during which we purchased several. Some of those books were ones I would not have purchased at regular price, but thought it was worth giving them a shot at a deeply discounted price. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: An Easy Household Guide by Nicky Scott was one of those.

This is a small book, measuring approximately 5" x 6.5" and with only 94 pages. Nearly two-thirds of the book, 60 pages, is taken up by the A-Z Guide, which is an alphabetical list of various products with ideas of how to reuse or recycle them. The A-Z Guide is, at times, oddly specific, in ways that makes me think the author was trying to just fill space. As an example, a quarter of page 52 is taken up by the following:
Herbicides - see Chemicals
Household Cleaners - see Cleaning
Hypodermics - see Needles 
Personally, I can't imagine ever looking up hypodermics without even considering to check needles, when I didn't find a match. This sort of thing happens often throughout the A-Z Guide.

Most of the info in the A-Z Guide, though, is helpful. I can't say that I learned a great deal, but I have been recycling for quite some time. For someone new to recycling, I think this guide could be helpful. I'm sure the same information is readily available online, but it could be handy to have it compiled into one book, which is small enough to carry in a pocket.

The main reason I purchased this book is its promise to answer the question "What happens to the stuff you recycle?". I know very little about the actual recycling process, including sorting, availability of facilities to recycle various materials, uses for end products, etc, so was interested in learning more. Unfortunately this book failed to really answer those questions, although that isn't surprising given the small number of pages. The book does make some of the same statements about mixing of certain materials causing an entire load to be un-recyclable that I've heard before, but I have my doubts about the accuracy of this due to the variety of pre-sorting requirements of different recycling centers. The book was published in 2007, so it is very possible that many improvements have been made to the recycling process in the years since its initial publication date.

I can't really recommend this book at normal retail price, because I just don't feel that it contains enough information. However, I picked it up for, literally, a couple of dollars, so feel it was worth my investment. If you can pick it up cheap, you may find enough helpful tips to justify the cost. There is one situation, however, in which I think the book may be worth the full cost. I think it could make a good gift, especially for someone who isn't already recycling, or is just getting started.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Kentucky Beginning Farmer Conference - 2013

This past weekend we attended the Kentucky Beginning Farmer Conference at the Kentucky State University Center for Sustainability. The conference was created through a partnership between the Cooperative Extension Service FarmStart Program and Community Farm Alliance.

This was the first year for the conference, but the organizers are hoping it will become an annual event. They seemed genuinely surprised by the turnout, which I estimate was approximately 80 to 100 people. I was happy to see the good crowd, and am hopeful that it was enough to ensure they make the event a regular thing.

There were seven presentations, ranging in length from forty-five minutes to one hour each, with a few shorter talks sprinkled throughout the day. For the last two sessions of the day the group was split based on interest, with one attending the horticulture track and the other attending the meat production track presentations. Topics for the day included a keynote address by Ivor Chodowski of Field Day Farm, record keeping, grants/loans, alternative approaches to acquiring land, and farm legal issues. The horticulture track, which we attended, included sessions on retail vs wholesale and meet the buyers, with the meat production track also having a meet the buyers segment in addition to one on the cost analysis of grass fed beef.

Most of the presentations included multiple presenters, each with his/her own perspective on the topic. Initially I thought this was a good approach, but I don't think it worked very well in practice. In most cases each presenter spoke for some predetermined amount of time, then yielded the floor to the other speaker. I think this could have been accomplished more easily be scheduling a separate slot for each presenter, which would have had the advantage of ensuring equal time to speak.

The biggest complaint that I have, however, about the conference is that the speakers spent far too much time introducing themselves and their business or favorite cause, and not enough time providing practical information. This was especially bad in some situations when two or three people were splitting a forty-five minute or one hour block, and each would spend five to ten minutes of their allotted time talking about themselves or whatever they were trying to promote. I realize that the presenters volunteered their time to speak at the conference, and saw it as an opportunity to spread the word about something they likely feel passionate about, but I would have preferred having them spend the time speaking about the topic at hand, and using brochures or business cards as a way to give people a way to find out more info about them and their business or cause after the conference.

Another issue is that there was one attendee who felt the need to repeatedly interrupt several presentations to ask questions. That isn't to say that he was the only one asking questions, because others were as well, although the other questions were typically related to topic and added to the overall conversation. This gentleman, however, often seemed more interested in being argumentative, than anything else, and when the answer did not suit him would continue asking questions or posing anecdotal evidence to suggest that the presenter was wrong. This was especially bad in the Selling Retail vs Wholesale presentation, during which someone finally stepped in and asked that all questions be held until the end. When the floor was re-opened for questions after both presenters had finished, he started again, often without giving anyone else a chance to ask a question or waiting for his request to ask a question to even be acknowledged. The most surprising part of all of this is that this was an older gentleman, who I would have thought would have had respect for the others in attendance. I found myself feeling bad for the presenters, who at times must have felt they were being heckled by this man, who clearly should have known better.

Unfortunately I've found that disruptive participants is more common at such events that one might think. I'm sure that the organizers assume that attendees will be respectful adults, who will be able to get along with the presenters and other participants without causing trouble. It seems, however, that event organizers need to consider the possibility of such disruptions, and have a plan for dealing with them so they do not get out of hand and have a negative impact on the experience of others in attendance.

Even with the issues I've mentioned, I feel that the conference was well worth attending. I do wish it had started a bit later, since the two hour drive required us to get up at 4:30 AM to get there on time. That is just a minor annoyance, though, and is not something that would prevent me from attending next year. I learned some useful information, even though some of the presentations turned out to be quite different, and much less useful, than what I expected by the title and descriptions. For a first year conference, I'd say it was a moderate success. I'm hopeful that some of the kinks will be worked out by next year, making it an even better event.

Ultimately I'm just glad to see new events such as this one being held in the state. I'm always pleasantly surprised by the turnout. This gives me hope that we'll continue to see more similar events pop up in the state, and that the people attending will put the information to good use.


I've been somewhat productive over this past week, but am just now getting around to doing a daily update. I completed a few small tasks, and have enjoyed this wonderful fall weather.

On Tuesday I finished prepping an area for drying logs. I'm hoping that we can start cutting some trees soon, to get the garden spot cleared for next year. On Wednesday I worked in London, so didn't really accomplish anything else. I did make a trip to the home improvement store to pick up some 2x2s for a project Andrea has planned. On Thursday I helped Andrea cut some of those 2x2s to the correct lengths for constructing herb drying trays. She also made arrangements on Thursday for a dumpster to be left at the old house we are tearing down, so we can use it for the debris we're tearing off. On Friday I finished cutting the pieces for the herb drying trays, and then we collected black walnuts from around the property. We attended the Kentucky Beginning Farmer Conference in Frankfort on Saturday, which pretty well took up that entire day. Finally, today, I finished constructing the last two rain barrels, and placed one of them. Afterwards we hulled the walnuts picked up the day before, then Andrea rinsed them and spread onto trays to be dried.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Another Lost Kitten

When I wrote about losing Mari a couple of weeks ago, I hoped that would be the last such post I had to write for some time. Unfortunately that is not the case. On Monday we lost Lilly in an unfortunate altercation between the cats and dogs.

Typically the kittens do not venture outside of the yard, at least not more than a few feet. The dogs have accepted the fact that they are not to bother them, and have done very well with that. On Monday, however, the kittens decided to venture much farther into the woods, presumably to get to us. We were working near the garden, and the dogs were there with us. When the dogs ran into the woods, towards the creek we thought nothing of it, as this is normal behavior for them. A few minutes later, though, we heard hissing and meowing, and knew something was going on. Andrea went one direction, and I went another, through the woods. I found the dogs in the creek, and Lilly on the ground, not moving. When I got to her she was breathing shallowly, but she was clearly badly injured. Within a few minutes she was gone.

I led the dogs back to the garden, so that Andrea could have some time alone with Lilly, and carry her body back to the house. When she got back up here, she noticed that Tiger was limping and called for me. It seems that he was involved in the altercation as well. We don't know if he was simply attacked, and managed to get away, or if he could have been attempting to defend his sister. I like to think the latter, because he has demonstrated a protectiveness of them.

After a call to the vet we decided that keeping him at home for the night was best, since they would not be able to do anything until the following morning anyway. He was very alert, and did not seem to be in obvious pain, which seemed like good signs. Andrea took him to the vet on Tuesday, and they did some x-rays, which revealed a fractured pelvis. He was given some medicine, and we were told to keep him contained, so he doesn't do further injury, and just to watch him. He has been living in Andrea's room, since the incident, along with Rosa, and seems to be doing very well. He has good appetite, and is able to move in or out of his house when he wants. There is still some risk, but I'm feeling good about his chances of recovery at this point.

This incident has been more traumatic than the last for both Andrea and I, for several reasons. At this point most of our focus is on caring for Tiger, which I think has helped to distract us from thinking about what we could have done to better protect Lilly.

As easy as it would be to place blame on the dogs, I don't think its warranted. I realize that their conditioning only extends so far, and once they are in chase mode, their instincts kick in. They had no reason to suspect that whatever noise caught their attention in the woods were the kittens. They've ran into those woods dozens, if not hundreds, of times in chase of wild animals, and there has never been a problem. It was unfortunate that this time, the kittens were in an unexpected place, and when the dogs arrived there, their hunting instincts had kicked in.

Andrea and I are certainly receiving a lesson in the realities of sharing our home with animals. Sometimes I wonder if the sorrow of the inevitable losses outweigh the benefits. I quickly find my answer, though, after interacting with one of them and being reminded of why we open our home to them in the first place. Death naturally accompanies life, as sorrow does joy.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

2013 Mother Earth News Fair - Sunday Workshops

I was back to a full day of workshops on Sunday. When looking over my schedule, there was only one that I was particularly excited about. Fortunately, though, I found myself enjoying everything I attended that day. My favorite workshop of the entire fair ended up being one I took on Sunday, that wasn't even initially on my schedule.

Small Farm, Big Exposure: Inexpensive Marketing Solutions - Ryan Walker of The Livestock Conservancy

Now that we've started some preliminary planning for a farm-based business, I felt like it was important to start learning a bit about marketing, and other business-related topics. This workshop seemed like a good opportunity for an intro. There were only 60 people or so in attendance, though, which seems to indicate that this isn't a topic that most people at the fair were interested in.

The presenter made a few suggestions that I think we definitely need to consider. The first was to develop a story, and communicate to your customers and potential customers. This seems like good advice, as it provides a way to stand out from the competition, and gives customers something to relate to. Another suggestion was to develop a logo, and be consistent with its use. I wouldn't have considered the importance of using labels and packages that use the same color scheme as the logo, but he made a good argument for this.

How to Walk Away From Civilization - Mike Olson, author

This was one of the workshop which was on my list of possibilities, but I didn't decide to take until the day before. Andrea suggested that it sounded like something I would enjoy, so I decided to check it out. I'm glad I did, because it was, by far, my favorite workshop of the weekend. A lot of others were also interested, as was apparent from the fact that more than 100 people were standing or sitting on the ground around the edge of the stage to listen to the presentation.

This workshop was a narrative about the presenter's experience with living alone in the wilderness for a summer. While I am typically not a fan of this type of presentation, I found this one to be very interesting, so much so that I immediately ordered his book, Unlearn, Rewild: Earth Skills, Ideas and Inspiration for the Future Primitive, when I got home.

There were several inspirational comments from the presentation. The one that sticks in my mind the most is the idea that even if we change the world in which we live, we must also change ourselves for the changes to be complete, as we have to change the fundamental factor that shaped the world in the first place. This reminds me of the well known quote by Mahatma Gandhi, "Be the change that you wish to see in the world.", which I admit I never really got until attending this workshop.

Heat Your Home with Solar Energy - Dan Chiras of The Evergreen Institute

I have actually taken this same workshop in the past, but felt like it would be useful to take it again. I've learned more about passive solar design since initially taking it, and am starting to think about a home design, so thought a refresher would be helpful.

The presenter gave many examples of passive solar design, including several from homes he has lived in. His passive solar home in the Colorado Rockies, at an elevation of 8,000 feet provides a good example of the benefits of utilizing these design principles, and also gives him a great deal of legitimacy when speaking on the topic.

Earth, Straw, and Wood: Build a Mortgage-Free Natural Cottage - Chris McClellan of The Natural Cottage Project

This was another popular workshop, with approximately 30 people standing just to hear the presentation. My interest in the topic is due to my desire to use natural, and when possible local, materials for building a home. I suspect that many, if not most, in the crowd, however, were primarily interested in the possibility of constructing a low-cost home, which might require no mortgage.

The presenter used Henry David Thoreau's well known cabin to illustrate the cost effectiveness of building with natural materials. While Thoreau's cabin only cost the equivalent of $850 (some sources I have found suggest closer to $3,000), it was stated than an earthen shelter of similar dimensions would have cost roughly half of that amount. Most people in the crowd seemed to agree that such a small cabin, which was 10' x 15', would be much to small. While I do agree that it is on the small side, I believe that learning to live in smaller homes is something that would be beneficial for us all.

The primary method of construction being discussed in the workshop was cob, but a couple of other methods were mentioned as well. Several books were recommended, which I plan to check out. These include ShelterHome Work: Handbuilt Shelter, and Tiny Home: Simple Shelter by Lloyd Kahn, The Cob Builder's Handbook by Becky Bee, The Hand-Sculpted House by Ianto Evans (which I already own), and Building a Low Impact Roundhouse by Tony Wrench.

He also talked about the workshops offered by his organization, which I'd like to check out sometime. They offer two-week workshops approximately four times a year, and several weekend long workshops, which I'm more likely to attend, at least at first.

Conduct a Home Energy Audit - Kale Roberts of Mother Earth News

I was interested in attending this workshop because I know that we need to perform a home energy audit, but I'm not sure that I want to pay a professional at this point. I figured it would be nice to learn to do some of this myself, even if ends up not being as thorough and accurate as a professional audit.
There were very few people attending this workshop, I'm not sure if this is an indication of a lack of interest in the topic, or if it was primarily because it was the last workshop of the weekend.

Several tools were discussed that can help perform a home energy audit, including the Kill a Watt , which I own and use and The Energy Detective (aka TED) which I'd like to buy at some point. Unfortunately the workshop was sidetracked by a gentleman who had had a negative experience with compact fluorescent light bulbs, and wanted to use the workshop as an opportunity to make his displeasure with them known. The instructor handled it well, and explained that the issues he described had been known to occur with cheap Chinese imports that had, at one point, flooded the US market, and that those issues were not expected with quality bulbs, of which he gave some recommendations. He also went on to explain that CFLs had always been intended as a transition technology, until something better could be developed, but the use of CFLs grew quickly, and government policies were enacted that seem to push them, even though LEDs have now became more readily available and affordable.

Due to the distraction, the presenter didn't get though all of the material he had planned. He did manage to rush though much of it, but clearly not in detail as he had hoped. I still came away from a few useful pieces of information that should be helpful down the road.

2013 Mother Earth News Fair - Saturday Workshops

Saturday got off to a good start, with workshops on topics that I was very interested in attending. As mentioned before, however, there was really nothing I was interested in attending during one period, so I volunteered at the Earthineer booth during this time slot instead. I ended up skipping the last two workshops of the day as well, both of which were on the schedule more as filler than anything else.

Top Bar Hives: It's All About the Wax - Christy Hemenway of Gold Star Honeybees

Andrea had taken this workshop in the past, and felt that it would be beneficial for me to also take it. I'm very glad that I did, as I found it to be the most informative of the workshops I attended this year.

After hearing the instructor's explanation, and being shown a sample, of the differences between wax made by bees in the wild and that made in 'traditional' foundation based hives, I'm sold on the idea of foundation-less beekeeping. We were already leaning towards top bar hives, but now I have no doubt that this is the best approach for us.

I was especially surprised to learn that in nature bees make different sized cells, for different gender of bees, and will adjust this based on the needs of the hive. In a hive that uses artificial foundation, however, the cells are forced to be the same size, which is clearly not natural. I was also very interested to learn that bees that are allowed to build out natural foundation are slightly smaller than those forced to use artificial foundation.

In addition to her own website and book, The Thinking Beekeeper: A Guide to Natural Beekeeping in Top Bar Hives, she also suggested sources by others, including Phil Chandler's website The Barefoot Beekeeper and Michael Bush's website and book, The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally. I find that I am more likely to trust someone who recommends works by others in addition to his/her own books and website.

I also learned, just prior to the fair, that the instructor is a member of Earthineer. I promptly looked her up and sent a friend request, since I enjoyed the workshop so much.

Foam- and Fossil Fuel-Free Building - Jacob Deva Racusin of New Frameworks Natural Building

I attended a workshop led by this presenter, and his partner Ace McArelton at the 2012 Mother Earth News Fair. Because I enjoyed that one, I made it a point to attend this one to see what additional information I might gain.

As the name suggests, the primary focus of this workshop was on finding ways to minimize the use of foams when building, due to the environmental impacts of using them. The discussion of fossil fuels was limited to the fact that foam is petroleum based, so even though it's production isn't a direct cause for oil extraction, it is part of the overall process that we need to be reducing the demand for.

The presenter did indicate, however, that they do use foam in their designs in certain situations, such as when needing below grade insulation. He also talked about situations in which a limited budget can sometimes dictate the use of foams, due to their low (financial) cost.

Near the end of the workshop the presenter made a comment which really stood out to me. He pointed out that a home built to code minimum is the lowest quality home that can be legally built. Even though in some situations building code may be overkill, it was good to be reminded that building to code minimum results in a home that is no better than, or possibly inferior to, other homes being built in the area.

Forest Diagnosis - Dave Scamardella, consulting forester

This workshop was well attended, even though it was held outside, and it had started raining in the time leading up to the workshop beginning. Most of the chairs near the edge were wet, but I would guess that approximately 90% of the seats were full.

I attended a workshop led by this presenter at the 2012 Mother Earth News Fair. He was clearly knowledgeable, so I thought it was worth attending another of his workshops. I was interested in this one specifically as it dealt with invasive species, and I hoped that, due to the venue, it would focus on chemical-free methods of dealing with them. Unfortunately, however, like other presentations I've seen on the topic, the focus was almost entirely on the use of chemical pesticides for removing invasive plants.

The rain picked up during the workshop, and by the mid-point I was getting wet from blowing rain, even though I was sitting near the center of the tent. By the time the workshop ended water was running throughout the tent. I lt the workshop a feefw minutes early, when the rain slacked down, but still became drenched during the walk to the exhibit hall, forcing me to go to the room and change close before continuing my day.

2013 Mother Earth News Fair - Friday Workshops

There were four workshop sessions offered on Friday, and I attended something during each. Only one of the workshops I attended on Friday was one that was on my have to do list. While I enjoyed the workshops of the day, I found that I wasn't as excited and energized for the rest of the fair at the end of the day as I have been in the past after the first day.

The Homeowner's Energy Handbook: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Sources - Paul Scheckel, author and energy consultant

The focus of this workshop was improving energy efficiency in ones home, and the benefits of doing so. The gentleman leading the workshop was also promoting his book, The Homeowner's Energy Handbook: Your Guide to Getting Off Grid, which I might end up buying, after it was recommended by others.

There were a couple of things from this workshop that stood out to me. First was the discussion of the inefficiencies of our national electric systems, aka the grid. It was stated that for those living in an area in which electricity is generated primarily by burning coal, the overall efficiency of an incandescent light bulb could be as little as 3%, due to the inefficiency of coal fired plants, transmission of electricity over large distances, and the inefficiency of incandescent bulbs themselves. Thinking in these terms makes it clear that improving efficiency has much more impact that might be readily apparent.

The second thing that stood out was a thought-provoking statement about butter, of all things. While I can't repeat the exact quote, the basic idea of the statement was that because it requires so much work, if you had to make  your own butter every day, you'd eat much less of it. When compared to energy use, especially when thinking in terms of off-grid living, this is a simple, yet profound statement.

Certified Naturally Grown - Joe Bozzelli of Five Elements Farm

Attending this workshop was one of my top priorities, since we are starting to plan for a future farming venture. Apparently it wasn't a very popular topic at the fair, though, since there were only 60-70 people attending, as opposed to the renewable energy workshops, for example, which typically draw 200 people or more.

The focus of this workshop was the Certified Naturally Grown program, and how it compares to the USDA Organic certification. I was only vaguely aware of CNG prior to the workshop, so learned a great deal about it. CNG seems like a good alternative for small or new farms not wanting to go through the expense of becoming certified organic, which can easily cost $1,000 or more. We do need to look into the cost for Kentucky, however, as an organic farmer in the next county over indicated to us recently that it wasn't very expensive, which makes me think that maybe Kentucky has a program to help cover the costs.

After the fair, while browsing the Certified Naturally Grown website, I was pleasantly surprised to find Salamander Springs Farm, of Berea listed. Salamander Springs is operated by  Susana Lein, whom I've taken workshops from at the past, at both the 2011 and 2012 Field to Fork Festival. I also saw that Salt River Garlic, of Taylorsville was listed, which is whom I recently ordered a couple of new varieties of garlic from. I was surprised to find that their CNG status isn't promoted on the main page of their website, although is discussed, briefly, on the About Us page. This makes me wonder if being Certified Naturally Grown is as valuable from a marketing perspective as USDA Organic certification.

Small Stories, Big Changes - Lyle Estill, author

This workshop didn't have a primary focus, but turned out to be very enjoyable and informative. The gentleman leading it spent the first fifteen minutes talking about his experience with Biodiesel, use of a local currency in the community in which he lives, and a few other things from his life. The remainder of the time was spent answering questions from the audience, of which there were many.

I was most interested in learning more about the Piedmont Local Economy Tender, also known as the PLENTY, which is the alternative currency used in the community in which he lives. I was under the, incorrect, belief that alternative currencies were not legal, so was thrilled to learn that this is not the case. While I'm sure it is difficult to successfully integrate an alternative currency into a community, it seems to have some real advantages, including promoting the use of local businesses, since shopping out of town requires exchanging the local currency for US Reserve Notes.

The author has a book about local economies, Small is Possible: Life in a Local Economy, which I would like to pick up sometime.

What If: Homesteading as a Way of Life - Gloria Varney of Nezinscot Farm

This turned out to be more of a narrative than an instructional workshop. The speaker, along with her husband, was the winner of a Mother Earth News Homesteader of the Year Award, which I assume is one of the reasons she was asked to speak at the fair.

I'm typically not very interested in 'workshops' in which the speaker is just talking about his/her life or farm, as I'm there to learn new skills. However, there were a couple of things from this talk that I was interested in. The first was learning that the speaker practices biodynamics on her farm. I know only a little about the subject, but it is something I would like to hear more about.

The other thing that interested me was her unique way of treating illnesses with herbs. She has a medicinal garden, which has resulted in many visitors asking for her to treat their ailments. Due to time restrictions, she has began asking these visitors to take a walk through the medicinal garden, and bring her the herbs that speak to them. While some people may view this as dangerous, I find it to be an interesting approach and wonder about its effectiveness. She reported positive results, and gave some examples of solutions that she likely would not have found otherwise. Once we arrived home, I decided to look up the medicinal uses of sage, since I seem to be drawn to it when visiting the herb garden. I found that it is used for a couple of purposes that could benefit me, so I'm trying to begin using it more regularly.

2013 Mother Earth News Fair - Workshops

Like most festivals that we attend, the workshops were my primary focus at the 2013 Mother Earth News Fair. I started planning my schedule weeks in advance, as soon as the schedule was made available online. Unfortunately, though, the schedule changed several times, which caused me to waste a lot of time. It seems that, until the program guide is finalized, it is probably not wise to spend very much time trying to plan a schedule.

The workshops were offered in fifteen different time slots, spread out over the three days, with four on Sunday, six on Saturday, and five on Sunday. There were fourteen different stages to choose from, many of which were themed, such as the Renewable Energy Stage or Organic Gardening Stage. I learned my lesson in the past, and so tried to attend workshops that were fairly close to one another, or at the very least, didn't require constantly traversing the grounds, or moving from inside to outside, then back inside every hour.

My initial schedule included attending fourteen workshops, with the only "down time" occurring while I was volunteering at the Earthineer booth. I ended up, however, skipping the two workshops after that one as well. The first of these was the Herbal Soap Making workshop, which was led by Rusty Orner of Quiet Creek Herb Farm & School. Andrea had taken the workshop in the past, and thought it would be good for me to take as well. By the time I got to the stage, however, the seats will filled and several people were sitting on the floor or standing around the edges. I decided to go back to the Earthineer booth to help them out instead of attending the workshop. I planned to attend the Ecothrifty Living workshop by Deborah Niemann as the last workshop on that day, but I really was just taking it as a filler. Andrea decided to skip her last workshop, so I did the same, so we could look at the exhibitor booths together, and then call it a day.

I had initially planned to do a single post in which I summarized all of the workshops I attended. However, after writing up the summaries, I decided that the resulting post would be too long for a single post, so am splitting it into separate posts. Workshop summaries will be posted by day, with one post each for the Friday Workshops, Saturday Workshops, and Sunday Workshops.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


It seems like we've been on the go ever since returning from the Mother Earth News Fair.

I had taken Tuesday off from work, in case we decided to spend an extra day on the road. Even though we came back on Monday I decided to go ahead and take Tuesday off since it was planned. We spent the first part of the day resting, although did take a bit of time to go check on the garden and pick a few tomatoes. After this we finished unpacking the rental car and getting it cleaned out, so we could return it. We had our final Gardening 101 class in London that evening, so left early enough to return the car, even though it wasn't due back until Wednesday.

Wednesday was my first day back to work, and I went ahead and went into the office. Andrea also spent much of the day out, as she had her Farm Start class in Richmond. We didn't really do anything once we made it home that evening.

On Thursday I worked from home like normal. We had to go back to London as soon as I got off of work, though, for another class. This one was on herbs. The class lasted until nearly 8:30, and we had to run to the home improvement store to pick something up afterwards, so was fairly late getting home.

On Friday my parents came down, so they could work on tearing down the old house where they plan to build a cabin. We all went over once I finished with work, and spent a couple of hours over there. We didn't get a whole lot done, but it was a good start.

We spent most of today working over there, and did accomplish a lot. We started a fire first thing, so that the lumber that wasn't worth saving could be burned. My mom took care of adding stuff to the fire, while my Dad and I work on demolition. We managed to pull several good boards off of a couple of walls, then hooked a cable to the tractor and pulled that side of the house down. We managed to get several more good boards from the roof of that section. There is still a lot to do, but we certainly made some real progress. Hopefully after several more productive weekends we'll get it done.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

2013 Mother Earth News Fair - Seven Springs

This was our fourth year attending the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA. The fair itself hasn't changed much since last year, so I will not repeat what I said about the event before in the 2012 Mother Earth News Fair - Seven Springs post.

Like last year the fair was a three day event. The organizers kept a couple of the key improvements from last year, which I feel improve the overall experience. These changes include expanding the exhibitor hours beyond the times that workshops are in session as well as allowing thirty minutes between workshops. This does make for long days, especially on Saturday, but I prefer the longer days to trying to pack it into a shorter period and constantly feeling rushed.


There were fourteen different "stages" this year, most of which hosted workshops during each of the fifteen time slots, for a total of more than 200 workshops. Unfortunately, or possibly fortunately, depending on your view, some of the workshops were offered multiple times, resulting in far fewer than 200 different options to choose from. It looks like there were close to 160 different workshops, with four of them being two parters.

I expect that for most people having 160 different workshops to choose from was plenty. However, I found that many of the workshops had been offered previously, and I had already attended several of them at past fairs. I was able to put together a fairly full schedule, although only a few of them were ones I was particularly excited about.

I initially planned to attend fourteen workshops, but only ended up going to twelve of them, four on Friday, three on Saturday, and five on Sunday. Andrea also attended twelve workshops.

Workshops that I attended:

  • The Homeowner's Energy Handbook: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Sources
  • Certified Natural Grown
  • Small Stories, Big Changes
  • What If: Homesteading as a Way of Life
  • Top Bar Hives: It's All About the Wax
  • Foam- and Fossil Fuel-Free Building
  • Forest Diagnosis
  • Small Farm, Big Exposure
  • How to Walk Away from Civilization
  • Heat Your Home with Solar Energy
  • Earth, Straw, and Wood: Build a Mortgage-Free Natural Cottage
  • Conduct a Home Energy Audit
Workshops that Andrea attended:
  • Hands-On Healing Remedies
  • Building a Natural First-Aid Kit
  • Herbal Balance
  • Herbs for Longevity and Well-Being
  • Six Inches of Soil in Six Months
  • Primary Poultry Healthcare
  • Put 'em Up: Fruits
  • Planting by the Moon
  • Herbal Medicine Making 101
  • Growing and Grinding Grains
  • Employing the Family Flock
  • Choosing Herbal Remedies for Sustainability
I will be posting summaries of the workshops I attended in the near future, so be on the lookout for that if you'd like to hear more about any of them.

Much like the workshops, I found that there were a lot of exhibitors that had been at the fair in previous years. While I did stop by a couple of those booths, if I had something specific to look for or to as about, I skipped many that I had visited before. The result was that I didn't spend as much time at the exhibitor booths as I have in the past.

The only exhibitor that I purchased anything from was Enon Valley Garlic, which I made it a point to visit first thing, before they sold out of Stull, which is a variety of garlic I missed out on last year by dropping by their booth too late. Andrea did purchase several items, including a few books, some soaps for a friend, and some seeds. Other exhibitors that I talked with include:
  • Bee Thinking - I stopped by to ask them about Warre hives and how they compare to top bar hives.
  • CobraHead - I stopped by to look at the broadfork they had on display.
  • Gardener's Workshop Farm - This booth had several items that we looked at, including Atlas Nitrile Gardening Gloves, a heat mat, and a trake.
  • Natural Cottage Project - I wasn't able to catch one of their demonstrations, but did chat with someone at the booth for a few minutes about cob building, and local workshops.
  • Kunz Engineering - I was very excited to see Kunz Engineering at the fair, as I have been wanting to look at their AcrEase mowers for some time. I was very impressed, and if I were buying a new mower today would most likely buy one of their products.
  • DR Power - I stopped by the DR booth to ask them about their 3-Point trimmer for mowing fence lines. I was able to get some info, but neither of the salesmen working the book seemed all that interested in talking with me.
  • Yurts of America - I mostly stopped by this booth just to be able to see the inside of a yurt. I have a friend who would like to buy one, so I glanced at the literature, but since no prices were included I didn't bother picking any up.
Of course I also dropped by the Earthineer booth a couple of times. Unlike previous events, I was able to make time in my schedule this year to stick around the booth for a couple of hours and help out, while Dan and Don were presenting the DIY Solar Panel workshop. It was great meeting people interested in the site, and answering their questions. It was also nice getting to talk with Leah a bit, although we stayed too busy for much chatting. I am hopeful that I'll be able to help out at the booth at future events.

While the fair was overall very enjoyable, it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows this year. In fact, Saturday was just the opposite. I knew the forecast was calling for rain, so I went prepared with a jacket that sheds rain, and a wide brimmed hat. On the way to my third workshop, I found Andrea and left her the jacket, since I was planning to go back inside after that workshop. Of course this is when it really started to rain. Fortunately I had a good seat near the center of the tent, but even that wasn't enough to keep me dry once the wind picked up. Not only that, but by the time the workshop ended there was a steady flow of water running between the seats, and puddles on the outside that were deep enough that my socks got wet while walking through one. Even though the rain had slacked down a bit by the time I left the workshop, it was raining still hard enough that I was drenched by the time I made it back inside. I had to go to the room and change clothes before doing anything else. Andrea managed to stick it out, and make it to the rest of her scheduled workshops, all of which were outside. Of course the organizers of the fair had no way of anticipating such heavy rains, so the blame can't be placed on them. However, I do hope that they do a better job in the future of locating outdoor tents, so that, in the event of rain, water isn't literally being funneled into them.

The other complaint that I have is that there seemed to be more disturbance of the workshops from nearby booths this year. I'm guessing that some exhibitors were given instructions regarding "quiet times" because the Wood-Mizer folks did not interrupt any of the workshops I attended at the Renewable Energy stage, even though they had multiple portable sawmills set up around the tent, and ran them frequently between workshops. The tents near the Kunz Engineering booth weren't so lucky, however. One of the workshops I attended was interrupted by a demo of one of the mowers, which thankfully didn't last very long. There were also several stages that were close enough to booths that people shopping at those booths were, at times, loud enough to be heard over the speakers. The worst of these was the Mother Earth Living stage, which was located in the middle of the exhibit hall. Andrea attended several workshops on this stage the first day, but then started avoiding it due to the distractions. 

It is very likely that we will not go back to this event again next year. This is partly because of the lack of new workshops that we are interested in. Mostly, though, this is because it has been announced that a new event is being added to the 2014 schedule in Asheville, NC. Not only is Asheville a much shorter drive for us, but it has several other advantages as well. We expect the trip to be less expensive, due to a wider range of lodging and dining options. I'm also hopeful that there will be several new workshops to choose from, led by locals from the area. Lastly, the Asheville event is schedule for April, which is early enough in the year that we could still do another event in late summer or the fall.

If you have never attended a Mother Earth News Fair event, I highly recommend doing so. It seems that the Seven Springs event is the largest, which I suppose makes sense because it is also the oldest. While I have no experience with the events at the other locations, I am confident that either would be worth attending.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Andrea and I just got back from the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA. We had a great time, but are glad to be back home.

We were gone for five days, which is a big reason I haven't posted anything lately. We drove up on Thursday, so we could get settled before the fair started on Friday. After three days of workshops we left PA on Sunday evening and drove to St Clairsville, OH, where we spent the night. After making a trip to the local Rural King the following morning we then drove to Charleston, WV to meet friends for lunch, then headed home.

A couple of friends house-sat for us a couple of days while we were gone, and cared for the animals, which was a big help since we didn't have to worry about them while we were gone. This is yet another situation where I recognize the benefits of living in a close community, rather than attempting to make it on ones own.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Our First Lost Animal

Ever since Kitty came to live with us I've known that eventually we'd have to deal with death much sooner than if it was only the two of us living here. As we've opened our home to more animals, the likelihood of this happening soon increased. Unfortunately that first experience happened on Friday, when I found one of the kittens, Mari, dead.

My biggest worry was telling Andrea, because she was gone when I found him. She took it ok, though, and while we are obviously sad to have lost one of them, we came to terms with it quickly. I'm sure the fact that neither of us has been able to really develop a relationship with him played a major role in this. At least now we know that, as long as we don't get too close to them, we should be able to handle the loss of a chicken or two once we get them without it being a major ordeal.

Any loss of life is reason for sadness, but its part of the natural order. As we try to live more in tune with nature, we must also learn to accept death and recognize the vital role it plays in the cycle of life.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


I had fairly productive weekend, although maybe not in the traditional sense.

On Friday my parents came down to visit. Andrea and my Mom went to Lexington to do some shopping, and my Dad stayed here. I assumed he'd just hang around and watch tv while I worked, but he spent most of the time outside. He spent a couple of hours checking out the area where they plan to build their cabin. Then, after lunch, he decided to try out the tractor and spent a couple of hours on it, learning the controls and trying to smooth out the driveway a bit, since I hadn't been able to do so after spreading the last of the gravel.

After work my Dad and I explored more of the old house where they plan to build, as well as the area above it which contains a large cistern that needs to be torn down. We then came back over here and worked on the trim on the trailer I had damaged earlier in the week. We finished tearing it out, and then  managed to reuse a piece of the metal to cover the area so it would not be exposed to the elements. Its only a temporary solution, but I actually think it looks better than the way it was originally.

It was while finishing up that project that I discovered the body of the kitten which I mentioned in a previous post. I secured the body in the shed, where nothing could get to it until I was able to talk with Andrea. Once she got home I told her what happened and she agreed to let me take it offsite to dispose of it.

We all got up early Saturday morning and drove out to town for breakfast at the locally owned restaurant that Andrea and I like to frequent. After breakfast we returned here and went back out to future cabin site, so that my Mom could see it. After that we came back here and my Dad helped me reinstall the light fixture in the bathroom that we had taken down the last time they were in town. After this they loaded their car and left, since we were expecting other visitors.

That afternoon a couple of our friends came by to meet the animals and get a tour of the place. They are going to be house sitting for us this weekend while we attend the Mother Earth News Fair, so we wanted to be sure they knew their way around, and that the dogs knew them. We didn't have a lot of time to visit, but they met all of the animals and I was able to show them around the property a bit. It was nice getting to see them, and I enjoyed showing someone around the place.

I spent a couple of hours this morning working on my schedule for the MEN Fair. We then drove to London, because I needed to pick up a couple of things for reinstalling the gutter downspout on the corner of the trailer where we had removed that piece of trim.

Andrea helped me with the downspout this evening. We went ahead and cut it the length it needs to be for when I install a rain barrel. I hope to get another barrel finished and installed before we leave for the fair. In the meantime I have a piece of rain pipe attached to direct the water away from the trailer.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Movie Review - Into the Wild

I had not planned to do movie reviews on the blog, but I've realized that there are some movies, and even tv shows, that fit into the theme of the blog and deserve to be mentioned. The first of those movies, which I recently watched for the first time, is Into the Wild, starring Emile Hirsch and directed by Sean Penn. Please note that this review does contain spoilers, so if you've not seen it yet, and plan to do so, you might not want to continue reading.

The film is an adaptation of Jon Krakauer's book, also called Into the Wild, which details the real-life wanderings of Chris McCandless and his eventual demise in the Alaskan Wilderness. I have yet to read the book, so don't know if the film is true to it or not. After having seen the movie, though, I have every intention of also reading the book.

It is likely that many are already familiar with the story of Chris McCandless, but for those, like myself before seeing the movie, who are not, I will provide a brief summary, as portrayed in the film. After becoming unhappy with the society in which he lived, including the materialist mindset of his parents, McCandless decided to take a journey to find himself. After graduating from college he donated the remainder of his college fund, which he was suppose to use for law school, to charity, and hit the road. Knowing that his parents would try to stop him, he told no one of his plans, including his sister, who narrates parts the movie that focus on how his family deals with his absence.

Along the way, McCandless abandons his car, after it was caught in a flash flood. He continues his journey by hitchhiking and train-hopping his way across the country. Deciding that it is unwise to use his real name, he eventually adopts the alias of Alexander Supertramp. Along the way he meets several people whom he forms connections with, sometimes temporary, sometimes longer term. Throughout his travels, Alex, as he is now calling himself, tells those he meets about his plans for a grand Alaskan adventure. After two years of this lifestyle, he eventually makes his way to Alaska, and journeys, with meager supplies, into the wilderness.

Shortly after hiking into the wilderness he finds an abandoned bus, where he sets up camp. He lives here for the next four months, living off the land and a small amount of food he packed in with him. As food more and more scarce, he becomes increasingly frustrated with this situation. This leads him to mistakenly eat a toxic plant, which leaves him in a weakened state, and eventually leads to his demise. The film ends with a shot of McCandless' body lying in the bus.

There is much debate as to what actually caused McCandless death. The author of the book made some assumptions, based on the journals that were left behind. Many people question those assumptions. There is also a lot of controversy regarding the positive portrayal of McCandless in general. It seems that many, especially those experienced with living in the Alaskan bush, feel that his lack of preparation was foolhardy, irresponsible, and some even claim suicidal.

Personally, I feel a strong connection to McCandless,  at least as portrayed in the movie. His sense of unhappiness with the focus of society on unimportant things, such as material possessions, is something that I feel myself. I could never, however, leave my family behind and live such a spontaneous life. I have a great deal of admiration, though, for those who can, especially when doing so in search of themselves.

This film also makes me think about the how we have become so reliant on technology, that people have questioned McCandless' sanity for daring to go into the wilderness without a compass or map. There was a time when humans roamed North America with nothing more than primitive tools and instincts. As those primitive tools have been replaced by more technologically advanced ones, the instincts have been replaced with, well I'm not quite sure what. I believe that McCandless set out to prove, to himself, that he could make it without the luxuries of modern society. I feel that the negative reactions to his attempt may have proved as much or more than his death. I suppose those questions about his sanity are similar to the questions that arise anytime someone voluntarily gives up modern conveniences, whether off-grid homesteaders or minimalists living in an apartment in the city.

I believe that Chris McCandless was far from insane. In fact, I think he was one of the few people able to see through the curtain of modern society, and focus on what is really authentic and true. I like to think of these people as visionaries, who are able to see a better future in which humans begin to regain our connection with nature, and ability to live cooperatively within it, rather than fighting against it as we do now. I have to wonder if the life that McCandless lived during time on the road and in the wilderness might not have been a better life than many of us live over a period of decades.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


As you can probably guess, most of my free time this week has been spent spreading gravel. I've managed to get them all spread, but still need to do a bit of work with smoothing out a few places. Eventually I will need to get a few more hauled because there was one section of the driveway that didn't get any because I ran out.

Andrea helped me for a while Tuesday evening by running the RTV. I was using the tractor to load the RTV bed with gravel, then we'd take it to the end of the driveway and dump them. Eventually I decided it might be just as quick to carry them in the bucket of the tractor, though, so switched to that approach. I worked until after dark, using the headlights of the tractor on the last couple of loads.

I didn't go to the office on Wednesday, so hoped to make a lot of progress on spreading the gravel after work. Unfortunately, though, we had some storms move through in the late afternoon, with some spotty rain throughout the rest of the evening. I suppose I could have worked in the rain, so chose not to.

I was afraid that today was going to be a repeat of Wednesday, when it began raining around 3:00 pm. Luckily, though, by the time I was ready to go out it had stopped raining. Even though it was wet out, I wanted to work, so went out anyway. About an hour in, it started raining. I tried to keep working, but the rain picked up quickly, so I gave in and went into the house. It quit raining fairly quickly, though, and I was back outside maybe 30 minutes later. As the gravel pile grew smaller I decided to try to finish the job, since we're having visitors both tomorrow and Saturday. I worked until after dark again, but managed to finish. Unfortunately by the time I finished I couldn't see well enough to know how good of a job I did in a few spots, but I'm sure it'll do until I can work on it again.

Monday, September 9, 2013


As expected, the gravel were delivered this morning. They got here at just past 8:00 AM, and now there is a bit more than 26 ton of gravel in a pile in the driveway. Technically they aren't all piled up, since I did spread some this evening, but I'll get to that.

In preparation for spreading the gravel I went out at lunch and fueled up the tractor and hooked it to the box blade. I had a bit of extra time before lunch was ready, so decided to go ahead and spread a few to work out how high I wanted the box blade set, etc.

I headed out immediately after work and began spreading gravel. My initial focus was the area where we park, and the area between where we turn at the trailer, which we've decided to go ahead and gravel. Unfortunately, while doing this I had a bit of an accident. Our trailer has some trim on the end that sticks out about a foot, and is about a foot wide. It was damaged when we bought the trailer, and I had been considering removing it entirely. I got a headstart on that today, when a was too close to the trailer when turning and the bucket hit the trim and partially tore it off.

At first I thought I might go ahead and take it on down, but it was just an hour until dark, so I decided to wait on that. The downspout had been attached to the trim, and it was torn loose and partially pulled down the butter on that end, so I reattached the gutter, and while I was up there, cleaned it out a bit. Hopefully that will be enough until this weekend, when my Dad will be visiting and I can get him to help me tear the trim on out.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


I had a very productive weekend, probably the most productive one I've had in quite some time. I did run into some problems on Sunday, and wasn't feeling well due to allergies, but overall it was good.

On Friday Andrea called the local quarry and ordered a load of gravel. They should be delivered tomorrow morning, which is much quicker than I expected. After work I hooked to the mower and mowed around the garden. This included clearing the area I want to prep for drying logs as I cut trees this fall, as well as the area around the one tree I cut earlier in the week.

Nearly all day Saturday was spent mowing. I mowed across the road, adjusting the mower to its lowest setting, which I had never done before over there, so I would have more clippings to collect. I then mowed the yard. While mowing the yard I discovered a yellow jackets nest, but unfortunately was not stung. After that was done I decided to drag the mower over to the old house and mow around it. I don't mow there often because it requires moving the mower to the front of the RTV so I can better maneuver it, which takes longer. My parents have decided to build a cabin out there, though, which means we'll be tearing down the old house finally. They are coming down next weekend, and I know they'll want to go out there and look around, so I wanted to get it mowed ahead of time. I barely finished before dark, although this was partly because I ran the RTV out gas and had to ask Andrea to bring me some.

I wasn't feeling well when I got up on Sunday, so it took a while for me to get motivated to get out. I needed to wait for the grass to dry anyway, so it didn't really put me behind. I used the lawn sweeper to collect the grass clippings from the yard. There weren't as many as the previous time I had mowed, but the grass was nearly as tall, so that is to be expected. After finishing the yard I drug the lawn sweeper across the road to the area I had cut short for clippings. I gathered quite a few, but in the process damaged the sweeper. I had to literally drag it back home, because the wheels would not turn. Once I got it home I spent thirty minutes untangling weeds and vines from around the axle, then parked it.

By this point I was hot, tired, not feeling well, and frustrated, so I went in. I spent most of the afternoon being unproductive, until finally going back out once the sun started going down. I collected the clippings from the yard and hauled to the garden where I applied them to the previously mulched area which was starting to have a few weeds sprout. Andrea rode over with me during one of the trips and picked a few tomatoes. While she was picking tomatoes I fixed the long-handled tool carrier on the RTV, which had come loose a few days before when Andrea pulled under the shed with a rake in the carrier. Fortunately the zip tie I used to mount it are the weak point, so they broke, leaving nothing else damaged. I had picked up a new pack of zip ties when in London on Wednesday, and it only took a few moments to re-secure everything. Afterwards I moved some things that were stacked at the end of the trailer, in preparation for receiving the gravel tomorrow.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Composting Motivation from the Field to Fork Festival

When I signed up for the Urban Composting workshop at the 2013 Field to Fork Festival I knew that the focus would be primarily for those in situations unlike mine. Clearly I'm not in an urban environment, but I reasoned that composting is the same regardless of location, and as long as the focus was on the act of composting, and not how to disguise backyard bins, etc, then I should learn something. I'm glad that I chose to attend, as I not only learned some useful tips, but more importantly, was motivated by the workshop leader to step up my composting routine.

The gentleman leading the workshop explained that he included things normally on the 'do not compost' list, with no ill effects, such as meat, dairy, and oils. In addition to this he talked about the lengths he goes to in search of material to add to his compost, including collecting material from around his office which he takes home daily. Surely, I thought, I could do the same.

Over the past month and a half I've found myself more active in seeking out item to compost. I've noticed small things which were being trashed before, which I'm now adding, such as oil soaked paper towels used to oil the grate of the grill. We also bought a bucket for collecting liquids from the kitchen, which is now being regularly added to the compost. This includes water used for boiling foods such as pasta or corn, as well as water used for washing vegetables, etc. While the compost may not always need the additional liquid, there are bits of organic material in this water, along with starches, etc that are beneficial to the pile.

I've also started bringing home things like boxes and paper bags from fast food restaurants, including pizza boxes, to tear up and add to the compost. Clearly it would be better, for other reasons, including health and finances, if I wasn't accumulating such items, but when I do, I figure I might as well put them to good use rather than let them end up in the landfill.

While the things I've mentioned are just small steps, they are also the type of changes that are easy to implement and keep going. Whether its energy conservation or composting, small steps add up over time, making them well worth the effort. I'm thankful for the motivation received from the workshop to undertake these changes.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


I was more productive today, so thought it was worth writing an update to celebrate the fact. I went over to the garden immediately after work to tackle a couple of projects. First was to drag a grape vine out of a tree that has been getting in my way. I had tried doing it by hand a couple of times, with no luck. This time I hooked the brush grubber to it, and then to the RTV and it was a simple matter to pull it down. I should probably go around one day and drag out any others that are giving me problems.

After taking care of the grape vine I started up the chainsaw. There was one small tree in particular that I wanted to mow. It was preventing me from mowing an additional 4-6 foot wide section in one area, where I hope to start seasoning some logs that I'll be cutting. Once this was cut, since I had the saw out, I decided to work on a tree at the corner of the garden that I've cut limbs out of before. Once this was cut and drug away I started cutting up the stump, but didn't get finished. I was getting pretty worn out, because for some reason running a chainsaw does this to me, and I was also expecting Andrea to arrive home soon. When I ran out of gas, I decided to just call it a day rather than filling up and trying to finish the job. Apparently I had missed seeing Andrea drive by, because she was waiting at the creek to meet me when I pull up to the crossing.

Book Review - A Way of Life Less Common

I discovered author Anna Hess, and her blog, The Walden Effect, by responding to her search for people to be interviewed for her book Trailersteading. Since then I have read, and reviewed, several of Anna's ebooks, and her lone print book, The Weekend Homesteader. Due to the way in which I discovered Anna, I was very interested to see that she, and partner Mark, had similarly been profiled in A Way of Life Less Common: Modern Day Pioneers Volume One  by Christine Dixon. I eagerly ordered a copy of the book, and put it at the very top of my reading list.

Since finishing the book I've been giving it a lot of thought, in preparation for writing this review. I even went so far as to ask for some feedback on the Homestead Library group on Earthineer, to see if others shared some of my concerns.

The book is uniquely formatted, in that it consists almost entirely of the text from interviews. There is a one page preface, and each couple or individual is introduced with a short summary, of a paragraph or two, but that is the extent to which the author lends her voice to the book. Not only is the rest of book made up entirely of interview questions and answers, but it appears that these were presented as-is, with little or no editing. I say this because there are situations in which the same information will be discussed multiple times in the same interview, because the info was given in the answer to one question, then another question was asked afterwards relating to that already given information. It seems this may be the result of a set of predefined interview questions being given, rather than the questions being adjusted based on the previous responses.

The people interviewed for the book come from a wide range of backgrounds, and are now living in a wide variety of locations and situations. I found that I did not really connect with most of those interviewed, however. Take, for example, the lady who mentioned her Lexus twice during the interview. I think its great that people are able to have nice things if they can afford it, but specifically referring to the car as a Lexus, twice, in a short interview, gives the perception that the car, and the status it provides, is of great importance. That isn't the type of "modern day pioneer" that I am likely to look to for inspiration.

The interview that really bothered me, though, was the one with the couple who finished their cabin on credit. I'm not against the use of credit; we financed both our property and the tractor. However, this couple specifically stated that they weren't worried about their credit score, since they intended to live a cash only lifestyle. Because they weren't concerned about their credit score, they maxed out multiple credit cards with no intention of paying back the loans. In fact, based on their account of the situation, they called the banks and informed them that they were broke and would not be paying them, and then it seems, washed their hands of the situation.

Personally, I find this behavior to be morally questionable, at best. I realize that readers of the book are, for the most part, adults who are free to make their own choices. However, I was very surprised that the author offered no commentary on this. The inclusion of this information in the book, without commentary, could give the impression that the author considers such actions to be acceptable, or even encourages them. I don't know if the author actually feels this way or not, since she doesn't tell us one way or another in the book. I find it to be irresponsible, though, to use this as an example of a successful approach to homesteading.

In the end I found that, for me, there were more negatives than positives with this book. I thought that the idea was a good one, and if the information had of been presented in more of a narrative format, it would have been better. Since the author added no material herself, I think that it would be better to just visit the blogs, websites, etc of those featured in the book, as one could likely learn more about their journeys, without the expense of buying the book.

Edit: After receiving a comment from Linda, of the couple who used credit cards to finish their cabin, I felt compelled to add note to the review. It appears that the circumstances surrounding the decision not to pay off the cards was quite different than it appeared from the quotes in the book, and that it was unforeseen circumstances which caused them to be unable to pay. If the original intent was to pay off the cards, this changes the situation dramatically.