Tuesday, January 29, 2013


The weather today was absolutely beautiful. The temperature made it into the low 70s, which is unbelievable for this time of year, especially considering it was 12 degrees one night last week. Unfortunately I wasn't able to spend much time outside today, as I had meetings for work that interfered with my desire to get out during lunch, but I did get to spend some time outside.

One project I attempted was to replace the door knob on our front door. When we installed the new door we found out that the existing knob would not work. Since had a deadbolt, we really didn't care, so just put the old knob back in place, with no striker, to fill the hole and provide something to grab when pulling the door open. We picked up a knob at the Restore a while back, so I decided to install it today while the weather was nice. After removing the old knob and spending a few minutes looking at the new one I realized the pieces didn't fit together properly. It looks like someone mixed up the parts from a couple of different knobs, and they would not work together. I suppose this is the risk one runs when buying a used door knob. Its a risk I'm willing to take again, and I suspect we'll pick up another next time we're at the Restore. I have re-installed the old knob for now until we find another one to try.

After work I was able to get back out for an hour or so. My main task was to put up plant markers for the garlic. When I planted it I used temporary markers until Andrea could make some permanent ones. She finished the markers a couple of weeks ago, and I've just been waiting for some good weather to install them. I think the markers look fantastic, and I will be doing a post on them in the future, when I have a chance to take some photos.

Today I also signed up for an account on the Backyard Chickens website.  Andrea had suggested it as a good resource for researching chicken coops, so I thought it would be a good resource. I've already found several interesting threads, not all of which are about coops, such as one on growing fodder for feeding chickens during the winter.

Book Review - Trailersteading: Voluntary Simplicity in a Mobile Home

This is a guest post by friend, and fellow sustainable living enthusiast, Jennifer Kennedy. As mentioned in my previous post about the book, I didn't feel I could write an unbiased review since Andrea and I were featured in the book. I asked Jennifer to do a review as a guest post, and she graciously accepted. 

In 2008 my husband and I moved into a single-wide trailer—a 1969 Norfleet—in rural south central Kentucky. The trailer and the land it sits on, which is only about ¾ of an acre of mostly red clay and sandy soil, were free. It originally belonged to my in-laws, who abandoned the property when they moved into town a few years ago. When I finished college and we needed somewhere to go, preferably closer to family, this place was ideal.

Having been vacant for some time, the trailer and the property were both in desperate need of attention. The septic tank cried out for help, the landscaping warranted a little taming (even by our let-it-be standards), and the trailer simply wasn't livable until we replaced a few windows, floors, fixtures, and some of the wiring, and of course gave everything a thorough cleaning. Fortunately, my husband and I are both handy, and all of this was accomplished quickly and at minimal expense, leaving only a few cosmetic issues we knew we’d tackle as time permitted. Even with all of that, living here has allowed us to save a considerable amount of money, which we've been able to divert into activities that are far more important to us than going into debt for shiny new cars or a big house we don’t need.

My husband grew up in the trailer we live in now, and I spent several years of my childhood in a single-wide trailer. Many of our respective childhood friends also lived in single-wides, and some of our current friends still do. Trailers aren't at all uncommon in this region. Although there is some self-imposed regional stigma associated with living in a trailer, which I think is strange, I find trailers to be unassuming, approachable, and pretty darn comfortable, much like the people who live in them. Neither of us had any reservations about moving here. I was surprised, then, to discover that the longer we lived here, the more embarrassed we felt. Though we keep it clean, our home looks unkempt inside and out because of our unconventional attitudes toward repurposing, upcycling, lawn maintenance, gardening, rainwater collection, and animal stewardship. There are piles of bricks, cinder and concrete blocks, wood scraps, and a few spare rolls of fencing arrayed carefully around our home for future use, and our rainwater receptacles happen to be garishly colored and placed haphazardly around the front and back porches. We provide homemade “houses” for the stray and feral cats in our neighborhood, mostly made of plastic totes. Because we live in a small neighborhood with neighbors living close by, some of whom are less than understanding, we've come to feel a bit self-conscious of our choices—though not enough to make different ones—and we long for more space and privacy.

Anna Hess’ book, Trailersteading:Voluntary Simplicity in a Mobile Home, was recommended at the perfect time. When Jonathan mentioned it, I could practically feel my ears perk forward. Having become discouraged with my own living arrangements, I had some reservations, but I was instantly seized by Mrs. Hess’ easy, familiar tone. It helped that reading about her personal journey was in many ways like reading about my own, except that I haven’t gone quite as far down my path toward household independence.

It was a delight to see what other trailer-dwellers have done with their homes. My husband and I have felt rather limited in the projects we might undertake to further renovate our place, but Trailersteading has been an encouraging, inspiring read. Our list of possibilities has grown. However, we've also been considering whether to upgrade to a newer mobile home, perhaps with a bit more space for storage and food preparation, and ideally with better “bones.” In that case, Hess supplies plenty of helpful information about finding, buying, moving, and setting up a “new” trailer, as well as tips for energy efficiency. When living in a metal box—one likely to be poorly insulated, at that—it’s especially helpful to know how to keep it cool during warm months and warm during cool months. Positioning your trailer for passive solar heating, planning your landscaping to seasonally maximize shade and sun as needed, and adding thicker walls and a gabled roof both stuffed with extra insulation, for example, are excellent strategies outlined by Hess.

For me, the most interesting parts of Trailersteading were Hess’ frank look at the disadvantages of living in a trailer, and her exploration of ways to make trailers more like permanent real estate, with case studies (including Jonathan and Andrea) to serve as examples. It’s easy to extol the virtues of mobile homes as green homesteads, but there are risks and challenges of which anyone thinking of buying a trailer should be aware. The risk of fire, for instance, certainly shouldn't be overlooked. This is nicely balanced by her discussion of the homey additions owners might make, from choosing the right woodstove (and choosing the right place for it in your trailer) to adding porches, decks, sunrooms, permanent foundations, basements, redwood siding, or even combining two single-wides to create a larger home for a growing family.

When my husband and I moved here, we didn't intend for it to be permanent. We still don’t; in order to meet our goal of better supporting ourselves on our own property, we do need a bit more outdoor space. But we aren’t quite so firm in our desire to eschew trailers in favor of a stylish strawbale or cordwood home full of farmhouse-style antiques and stacks of milk glass dishes. We’re more pleased with trailer life than we initially expected to be, and, thanks largely to Anna Hess, we’re prouder than ever of our own homestead in progress. 

Chicken Coop - The Plan

Since we plan to acquire chickens this Spring I've been working on a design for a chicken coop. I haven't done a great deal of research on the topic myself, so have been relying a lot on input from Andrea. She has taken some workshops on raising chickens, and has read a couple of books on the topic. I have referenced a couple of websites to get some ideas on space requirements. I've also pulled inspiration from other chicken coops we've seen, such as the external cantilever nesting boxes we saw at Homegrown Hideaways.

The most common suggestion I've seen is to provide 4-5 sq ft per chicken. We plan to start with 10 chickens, so were targeting a minimum of 50 square feet for our coop. After talking with my Dad, and doing some rough calculations to try to find the dimensions that would best make use of materials I've decided to go with a coop with exterior dimensions of 10' x 6', which will provide 51 square feet of interior space. This should work well for 10 chickens, and should provide sufficient room for adding a couple more later if we decide to do so.

For designing the chicken coop I used a very different method than I've used before. I used Sketchup, which is a 3d modeling software, to "build" the coop piece by piece. Assembling the virtual structure one 2x4 at a time forced me to really think through what I was doing. I noticed things that I wouldn't have otherwise thought of, and I was able to make slight adjustments that should reduce material waste. I'm not very good with the program, but I think it will be an important tool to have for future building projects.

The design I have settled on is fairly simple. The outside dimensions, as mentioned previously, will be 10' x 6'. This will allow us to buy 12' long 2x6s, which will provide two floor joists, thus reducing costs and waste. The coop will have a solid floor, which we'll cover with some scrap linoleum flooring. The plan is to do a basic shed-style roof, which is much simpler than a gable roof. To support the sloped roof the walls on one side will be 6' tall, with the opposite wall being 7' wall, giving us a 6:1 pitch, which should be sufficient for a metal roof. The roof will overhang the coop by approximately 12" on all sides, allowing us to use 8' rafters and 12' long 2x4s across the ends. This should also allow us to use 8' lengths of metal roofing without the need to cut them.

One end of the coop will have a full sized door through which Andrea and I can enter when we need to replace the litter, etc. The opposite end will have a small door through which the chickens can exit to reach the fenced in run that we will be adding later. A ramp will extend from the door to the ground inside the run. On the side of coop with the 7' walls will be the cantilever nesting boxes. The reason for placing them on this side is so that we can collect eggs when its raining without having water constantly dripping onto us from the roof. On the opposite side will be the roosts, which we plan as a ladder style roost, having roosting poles at two or three different levels.

The nesting boxes will be framed out between the wall studs. The boxes will be 12" deep, and approximately 14.5" inches wide. They will slope from 18" in the back, where they connect to the coop, to 12" tall in the front. I will probably cover the top with some old scraps of shingles, to protect them from the rain, although the roof overhang will help with that as well. The front of each nesting box will have a door that we can open for collecting eggs, so we do not have to enter the coop to do so. I'm planning to build three nesting boxes initially, which should be sufficient for 10-12 hens.

The aforementioned run will be constructed later, as it will not be required most of the time. We plan to let the chickens free range during the day, but want them to have access to a run for days that we aren't going to be home to let them out. The run will be enclosed with chicken wire, including the top. We haven't discussed the dimensions yet, but we'll likely target something close to 120 square feet, which should be more than adequate for our flock.

I am also starting to think of a watering system that will allow us to provide water in multiple locations from a single water source. We will most likely use the Avian Aqua Miser, which is sold by Anna and Mark of The Walden Effect. I'm thinking that we'll use a single bucket or barrel for the water, possibly even using rainwater from the roof, which will then be piped into three separate containers, located inside the coop, inside the run, and outside. I'll probably add valves to each, so that we can keep the water flow to the run shut off except for when we're planning to use it. Water will likely be available inside the coop and outside at all times, so the chickens can drink from either during the day when free-ranging, or from the inside container at night. I still have a lot of details to work out on the water scheme, but I need to at least figure out the basics so I can be sure that the construction of the coop will accommodate it.

I have calculated that constructing the chicken coop using new materials will cost around $600. This does not include things such as the door, hinges, vents, etc, which we hope to pick up at the Restore. I am also hoping that we can pick up some used wooden siding, which will reduce the costs significantly. I haven't priced the materials for the run yet, but we are also hoping that we can pick up many of those materials used, perhaps from an old kennel.

Since this is our first experience with chickens, and obviously our first attempt at building a chicken coop, I suspect that we are going to make some mistakes. I'd love to hear some feedback on our chicken coop plan, especially if anyone sees any obvious flaws or thinks that we're going down the wrong path with our design.

Monday, January 28, 2013


Someone came to look at our furnace today. There was both good news and bad news. The good news is that the furnace is now working. The bad news is that it started working as soon as he turned it on, so he wasn't able to identify the problem. He has an idea of what is most likely wrong, and gave me a few things to check in case it happens again. He wrote down all of the information he would need to order the part for me, if it does stop working again. It would be easy to get discouraged from paying a repairman to fix a furnace that started working on its own.

Andrea has spent the evening sorting through back issues of magazines. I had no idea that we had so many. There are several that we need to evaluate to decide if we want to continue receiving them, or if we should start subscribing if we aren't already. It seems that we are magazine junkies.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Today has been an eventful day. I woke up several times overnight feeling cold, which was strange, but I was never fully enough awake to consider why I was cold. Finally when I got up at 6:30 AM I realized that it was much colder than normal. Normally when I get up the temperature is between 60 and 63 degrees, depending on whether I left the door open or not. This morning it was 47, which explains why I was cold.

My first guess was maybe the electricity was out. Even though we have a propane furnace it requires electricity and will not work without it. I quickly ruled that out, so next theorized that maybe we had run out of propane. I knew that was unlikely, however, because I had just checked the level last week. I tested the kitchen stove, which also uses propane, and it worked fine. At this point I decided the problem was nothing I could solve quickly, so I retreated to my room where I had an electric space heater running.

The space heater does a wonderful job of keeping a small room warm, so, other than first thing this morning, it has been comfortable in here all day. Once the outside temperature had warmed, which helped the inside temperature a bit, although not a lot, I decided to look at the furnace more closely. After looking through the manual, and browsing some online forums I developed a couple of theories of what might be wrong. I wouldn't even know where to start with figuring it out for sure, though, and would especially not know how to solve the problem if I did identify it. Tomorrow we'll call someone to come look at it. This is certainly one of those areas where we are not self-sufficient. In principle I agree that we need to be more self-reliant when it comes to repairs. In practice however, especially when dealing with something like lack of heat in the winter, we'd rather call in someone who knows what they are doing rather than waste time and money trying to figure it out ourselves.

I spent most of today in my room, and was very productive. Likewise, Andrea spent most of the day being productive in her room. Its amazing how much we can get done when we aren't spending time in front of the tv. Technically I could have been watching tv, since I have one in my room, but I wanted to work on projects instead, and am glad that I did.

I finished the online Beekeeping Training Program that I began yesterday. All that remains is to read the book that goes with it. I also spent some time working on the blog. Ever so often I'd get tired of sitting and would want to move around, so I used those times as an opportunity to put some things away that have been laying around for some time, and then I also took several photos of items that I need to list for sale on ebay.

Around 2:00 PM I happened to check the outside temperature and saw that it had warmed up nicely. I decided to go out and enjoy the warm temperature, even though it was overcast and very muddy. I uncovered the tractor and started it and let it run for several minutes, since it has been sitting for quite a while and the temperatures had been so cold. I decided to fold down the ROPS so it would be easier to cover with the tarp. What I expected to take a few minutes ended up taking the best part of an  hour.

My first problem was that I didn't really know what I was doing. Each side had two bolts, so I removed both. That turned out to be a mistake. One of them did serve the intended purpose of allowing the ROPS to fold, but the other was the one holding it in place. Instead of simply folding them, I ended up removing them completely. This in itself wouldn't have been a bit deal, if not for the difficulty I had with removing the bolts. Its likely they had never been removed since the initial assembly, and so they required some extra work. It took several shots of WD-40, a 12" adjustable wrench and pair of vice grips to get the bolts out, and again to get them put back into place. The good news is that the ROPS are currently folded down, which did make the tarp easier to apply, and the next time I do this task I'll know what I'm doing.

Between being cold most of the night and Luke barking, I didn't sleep much last night. I'm hoping tonight will be more restful. I plan to leave the space heater turned on low tonight so the temperature doesn't drop too low. It isn't suppose to be nearly as cold as last night anyway; the forecast calls for a low of 37 compared to 18 degrees last night. Hopefully someone can come out tomorrow and fix the problem. We're suppose to have a couple of days of warmer weather, though, so that gives us some time.

Magazine Review - BackHome Magazine

Andrea and I recently discovered Back HomeMagazine. I have to admit that for years I had this magazine confused with the similarly named Backwoods Home Magazine. Once I realized my mistake I started trying to decide if we should consider a subscription. A trial subscription, which consists of two issues, provided a good opportunity for evaluating it.

I just finished the Jan/Feb 2013 Issue (#122). This is actually the first magazine that I've read front to back in a long time. Normally I'll only read a couple of articles. I found that in this case, however, I was interested in almost every article, and those I wasn't particularly interested were still enjoyable to read.

The article from this issue that was most interesting to me was the one on Conservation Easements. Others that provided good information for our situation were Three Little Pigs, Caveat Hen-Ptor, and White Earth Cordwood Project. I am certain that we'll subscribe to the magazine and will likely remain subscribers for years to come. We also plan to purchase some back issues that contain articles on topics especially interesting to us. I have a list of maybe ten back issues to consider, but the two that we will be ordering for sure are March/April 2012 (#117), which has articles on natural beekeeping, building a chicken coop, and making biochar, and May/June 2011 (#112), with articles on heirloom chickens and building top bar beehives.

It is my understanding that the magazine was formed by former writers and employees of Mother Earth News Magazine after the latter was purchased by a major publisher. I have been a long time reader of Mother Earth News, and will continue to do so. I can certainly see the appeal, however, of BackHome Magazine over MEN, as it seems to focus more on practical articles and advice. I know that a lot of readers are unhappy with the direction Mother Earth News has taken in recent years, especially as it has become more about environmentalism and less about homesteading. BackHome Magazine seems like a wonderful alternative to those who feel that way. It is my guess that this was the original intent was the magazine was started, and based on my experience I have to say that they have been incredibly successful at achieving that goal.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


I was able to get out for a few minutes today, but didn't do anything other than a few quick chores. The ice is starting to melt, but the ground is, for the most part, still frozen. I'm hopeful that the weather will be nicer tomorrow.

Since I didn't do anything productive outside I decided to start an online beekeeping course. While doing some research on beekeeping associations in other states I found a free online Beekeeping Training Program that was offered by the Ohio State Beekeepers Association. The course consists of 34 video segments, 3 slideshow/audio presentations, and a PDF Copy of Backyard Beekeeping by James E. Tew. Today I watched the first 21 video segments. The course has been both informative and enjoyable. I'll be sure to do a complete review of the course once I've finished.

Living Without a Clothes Dryer

As mentioned in the Hills Rotary Clothesline post, we dry our clothes outside as often as we can. When we can't hang the clothes outside, due to the weather, we hang them up inside to dry. While it can sometimes be an inconvenience, it is a big energy saver.

We haven't used a clothes dryer since we moved into the trailer in October 2007. We had a dryer at the time, but it was apparently damaged during the move. Rather than buy the parts to fix it we decided to donate the dryer to the ReStore and switch completely to line drying.

An electric clothes dryer is one of the highest power consumers in the home. Since we don't have a dryer I can't take actual measurements, but most estimates I've seen indicate that many dryers use 4kw of electricity. If a cycle takes 45 minutes that means a cycle could require 3kwh. As a comparison, during the spring or fall, when we are not using the heat or air conditioner, our average daily electricity use is 13kwh. Drying three loads of laundry per week could increase our electricity use by as much as 10%.

Many people do not consider the amount of electricity used, but, instead, view it in terms of cost. For a household doing 3 loads of laundry per week, the cost would be around $4, assuming electricity costs of $0.10, which is the case in this area. Many people may view the benefits of using a clothes dryer as being well worth the added cost. If cost is the only factor being considered, then I can easily see how one could reach this conclusion. Of course costs would be higher for most families, since most do more than 3 loads of laundry per week.

For us, however, the cost of using a clothes dryer is not the deciding factor. As we plan for eventually moving to a renewable energy source, once we build a house, we continue to dry to reduce our energy use. The higher the energy needs of a household, the more expensive a renewable energy system will cost, especially a completely off-grid system. Line drying clothes instead of using an electric dryer is one very effective method of lowering household energy needs.

There are benefits to line drying beyond energy savings. One benefit is that clothes last longer, as the heat and tumbling of a clothes dryer can cause premature wear. Another benefit is the reduced use of chemicals. While it isn't necessary, many people use dryer sheets, which obviously aren't needed when line drying. Lastly, line drying outside has the benefit of exposing the clothes to sunlight, which can help revitalize some items, such as towels that have started to smell a bit sour.

There are a few situations in which having a dryer would be nice. Usually this is when we need something dried very quickly. With a bit of planning, however, these situations can be minimized or avoided completely. I'll also admit that there are times, especially during the winter, when it can be nice to slip on a pair of jeans fresh from the dryer. As nice as this might feel, though, it isn't worth having a clothes dryer.

After more than five years without a clothes dryer we are convinced that we'll never go back. In fact, we're so certain of this that we no longer have a place to put a dryer, or a fuse in the fuse box to support one.

Online Course Review - Introduction to Renewable Energy

One of the great things about living in the information age is the vast amount of information available at our fingertips. One of the best ways to take advantage of this information is by taking an online class. Many such classes are available for free, and can be great opportunities for those with some time to spare, especially during the winter months.

One such course that I've completed recently is the Introduction to Renewable Energy course offered by Solar Energy International. SEI offers both in-person and online classes and workshops, and uses the free course as a way of introducing their curriculum to a wider range of people in hopes that they will enroll in a paid course.

The SEI Introduction to Renewable Energy course is divided into 10 Lessons, each of which covers a different renewable energy technology or area of interest. The lessons are very short, and can easily be completed in less than an hour each. Most provide one or more short audio or video clips, which primarily serve as an introduction, as well as a couple of documents to read, most of which consist of only a single page. At the end of each lesson is an exercise and quiz, which is how performance is assessed. I scored 100% on the exercise and averaged 94% on the quizzes, which might provide an indication of how easy they are.


  • Why Renewable Energy
  • Energy Conservation and and Energy Efficiency
  • Green Building
  • Solar Thermal
  • Solar Electricity
  • Wind Power
  • Micro-hydro
  • Other Renewable Energy Technologies
  • Renewable Energy for the Developing World
  • Economics of Renewable Energy
This course truly is an introduction. I have taken several renewable energy workshops in the past, and have read a few books on solar thermal, PV, and wind energy, and this course provided me with no new information on those topics. I did, however learn several things from the Micro-hydro lesson. This makes me suspect that anyone with no prior knowledge of renewable energy might learn quite a bit from this course. At the very least the information might be helpful for someone trying to decide if they wish to learn more on a given topic. I assume this is precisely what SEI had in mind when they created the course.

Other than the lesson on Micro-hydro the course wasn't really worth the time I invested in it. The course may be more of less beneficial to you, depending on your interest in Renewable Energy and prior knowledge. I think it is worth at least considering for anyone with any interest in the topic.

Friday, January 25, 2013


Today we had our first real dose of winter weather. We've had plenty of gloomy days and cold temperatures, but no snow so far. We've still not had snow, but today we were treated to several hours of sleet and freezing rain, which left everything coated in a quarter inch layer of ice.

I was suppose to drive to Berea after work to meet someone who wants to buy some of my photography gear. I decided to go out at lunch to test the roads, which turned into much more of a challenge than I expected. The steps were completely covered in ice, and impossible to safely walk down. I ended up sitting down on the top step and then scooting down. I then poured hot water over the steps and used an ice scraper to chip the ice away. I had read that using hot water was a bad solution, since the water would just freeze back. With some of the icicles starting to melt, I thought it would be fine, but I was wrong. Within 30 minutes the water starting freezing back, making it difficult to get back into the house.

Once I had the steps clear I chipped the ice off of the windows of the truck then took a test drive. I drove a mile up the road, which was more than enough for me to know that it wasn't safe to be out. It was impossible to stop without sliding for 20-30 feet first. I nearly got stuck trying to turn around, and had to use four-wheel drive just to get back up the driveway. Since I didn't have to be on the roads, I decided there was no reason to risk it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


I didn't actually accomplish much of anything today. I did receive the two books in the mail that I ordered recently, but I can't really take credit for that. Andrea, on the other hand, was quite productive, so I'll list her accomplishments instead.

Last week I ran across an article about a homemade Winter Blues Spray, which I thought might be a good mood lifter for these dreary winter days. I asked Andrea to make some for me sometime, and she recently received through the mail the ingredients she needed to do so. Today she made it, although I've only tried it once so can't really comments on its effectiveness.

While she was working on the spry she decided to do a few other similar tasks. I had also requested some homemade lotion, as I had just finished using the lotion she had previously made at a workshop she attended at the Laurel County Cooperative Extension Agency. I used the lotion after my shower tonight, and am really happy with it so far.

She also mixed up a St. John's Wort tincture, which we're hoping might be a substitute for the St. John's Wort capsules I currently take. Lastly she made a liniment for cleaning cuts and abrasions, and a salve for treating them. I've yet to test either of those, and hope that it will be some time before I have the need.

Edit: 01/27/2013 - Andrea pointed out that I incorrectly said she took the lotion making workshop at the Laurel County Cooperative Extension Agency. She took this workshop, instead. through the Berea Festival of Learnshops program.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Even though today was cold, it was nice and sunny, which I much prefer to warmer and gloomy. I went out and lunch and did a few small tasks, including working on the area at the corner of the driveway and parking area that I recently filled in.

There was water standing there when I added the dirt, and it has rained a lot since then, so it was basically nothing by mud. When delivery trucks turn they tend to drive through that area, which means that the mud had deep tired tracks through it, and wasn't really doing the job I had hoped. I used a hoe to re-distribute the dirt to fill in the tire tracks, then used a tamper to pack it down. Its still muddy, and anyone driving over it will likely cause the same problem again. However, the weather forecast is calling for cold temperatures, well below freezing, for the next several days, so hopefully that will help to ensure it doesn't get messed up again anytime soon.

I also spent some time this evening typing up my notes from the Eastern Kentucky Beekeeping School event that we attended this past weekend. In the process I discovered that I never finished typing up my notes from the 2011 Mother Earth News Fair, so I need to work on that this winter as well.

I also need to do more reading this winter. I've been watching tv before bedtime instead of reading, which, while enjoyable, is not getting me any closer to getting through the stack of books that I have waiting to be read. Several of the books on my list will eventually be reviewed for the blog, once I manage to get through them.

2013 Eastern Kentucky Beekeeping School

This past weekend Andrea and I attended the Eastern Kentucky Beekeeping School event. This was the first of six such events scheduled across the state throughout the winter. The event was held at the Hazard Community & Technical College in Hazard, KY.

We were pleasantly surprised, both by how well the event was put together and with the turn out. There were approximately 100 people in attendance, which is very encouraging. Several people had driven an hour or more to get to the event, with some even coming from out of state.

The flyer for the event indicated that door prizes would be given away, but I assumed there would only be a few, relatively low value, items. I could not have been more wrong. I didn't think to keep count of the door prizes, but I believe there were at least 20-30 different prizes given away. While some of the prizes were relatively low value, many were worth more than the cost of admission, including some $25 gift cards, smokers, and bee suits. The grand prize was a complete Langstroth hive, which could have easily been worth as much as $100. The prizes were donated by several organizations, including the present vendors as well as the area extension agencies. Andrea and I left with a bee brush and smoker that we won, the combined value of which was close to the price of admission.

There weren't a lot of vendors present at the event, but there were enough there to provide a good variety of items. We didn't buy anything, but did spot a few books that we want to look into. If we were active beekeepers, or even planning to start this year, I suspect we would have picked up several items.


Walter T. Kelly Company - The Walter T. Kelly Company had the biggest display at the event. Since they are located in Kentucky we are very interested in doing business with them once we do get ready to acquire bees.

Dadant & Sons Inc. - Dadant & Sons was another major exhibitor at the event. Their main location is in Illinois, but they do have a branch in Frankfort, KY, which is closer to us than Walter T. Kelly, so we might have to go visit sometime.

The Honey and Bee Connection - The Honey and Bee Connection had a much bigger selection of hives than the other vendors. They were set up in separate area from the others so I didn't look around at their stuff very much. They are a family-owned company, located in Morehead, KY, so we'll have to check them out when we're ready to start buying supplies.

Abigail Keam - Abigail Keam is a beekeeper and author. I have actually bought soap from her before, which I really liked. I likely would have bought some from her this weekend, but she had apparently already ran out when Andrea stopped by her table, or had not brought any to begin with. In addition to being a vendor she also led a couple of the workshops, including one that Andrea attended.

Lani Basberg Agency, LLC - I thought it was strange to see an insurance agent set up at the event, but it is apparently not common for home owner's policies to provide liability coverage for bees, so it seems that she fills a much needed niche. I later found out that Lani was also leading a couple of workshops, both of which I attended.

The vendors and door prizes were nice additions, but the primary reason that we attended the event was for the workshops. There were four 45 minute sessions, and Andrea and I split up to maximize the amount of info we were able to acquire.


Opening Session - Beekeeping in Bangladesh - Phil Craft
The day begin with a talk by Phil Craft, who is the former Kentucky State Apiarist. The topic of the talk was Phil's visit to Bangladesh as part of a US Aid Program. I enjoyed the talk, but felt that it didn't really focus enough on the beekeeping methods used in the area. I was somewhat put off by the part of the talk where he addressed the fact that Bangladesh is a primarily Muslim nation. The way in which he spoke of the friendliness of the people made it seem as if this were in spite of their religion, and that either he was trying to convince the audience, or was surprised himself to find, that those who practice Islam can be nice people.

Getting Started #1 - Basic Bee Biology - Ray McDonnell
The Basic Bee Biology workshop was led by Ray McDonnell, former Tennessee State Apiarist and current biology professor. I enjoyed this workshop, and learned several interesting facts about the biology of the honey bee. However, it seemed far too technical for a "Getting Started" class, especially the first in a series of such classes. I'm not sure how useful the information presented will be for getting started with beekeeping, but having more knowledge about a topic can't be bad.

Getting Started #2 - Equipment, Costs, Companies, and Smoker Basics - Christine Smith
The Equipment workshop was led by Christine Smith. This workshop featured a wealth of information on topics ranging from choosing a location for you hives, how to acquire bees, what equipment is needed, and having realistic expectations. She made several suggestions, including starting with at least two hives, buying nucs instead of just packages of bees, and practicing using the smoker before using it around the bees. She made it clear that one should not expect to make any money from beekeeping in the first year, and illustrated that by sharing that she had $450 in up front costs her first year and only collected enough honey to fill 4 oz jar.

Lunch Speaker - Hive Count Initiative - Sean Burgess
Lunch was provided, and consisted of sandwiches, chips, and brownies. It wasn't exactly my kind of lunch, since I don't eat cold sandwiches, but most people seemed to enjoy it well enough. The first set of door prizes were given away during lunch, after which there was a short talk. Sean Burgess, current Kentucky State Apiarist, spoke about the Hive Count Initiative that his office has started. The stated goal is to get an accurate count of the managed hives in the state, which will help with acquiring grants and provide increased lobbying power. Apparently, however, even though the count is on a volunteer basis, there has been a lot of confusion and suspicion regarding the initiative. I suspect that many fear that by volunteering information about their hives they would be opening themselves up to increased regulation from the state or federal government, which is a fairly common concern, especially in areas such as Eastern Kentucky where many are distrustful of the government.

Backyard Bees (Bumble, Mason, and Honey) - Lani Basberg & Kate Black
The Backyard Bees workshop was led by Lani Basberg, of Lani Basberg Agency, LLC, and Kate Black, Achivist at University of Kentucky. This was a very informative workshop, with the focus being primarily on Bumblebees and Mason Bees, neither of which I knew very much about. I left the workshop with a desire to work on attracting more pollinators, both to our garden and yard. I think that we'll try to do something for Mason Bees this spring, likely near the herb garden. Several books were also suggested, including Humble Bumblebee and The Orchard Mason Bee, both of which are by Brian L. Griffin, and both of which I have since ordered. Also recommended was Befriending Bumble Bees by Elaine Evans, Ian Burns & Marla Spivak and Pollinator Conservation handbook, the first of which is available from, and the latter of which was produced by, The Xerces Society, which is an organization focusing on invertebrate conservation.

Top Bar Hives - Lani Basberg & Kate Black
The Top Bar Hives workshop was also led by Lani Basberg and Kate Black. It was very interesting having the two of them leading this particular workshop, as they both come from very different backgrounds and have very different approaches to beekeeping. Lani said that she'll have over 100 Langstroth hives this year, and only has two top bar hives. She seems to have done the top bar hives solely as an experiment, but has no plans to switch away from the higher yielding Langstroth hives. Kate, on the other hand, has one of each type. She initially planned to only do top bar, but her mentor, Tammy Horn, who was also present, suggested she start with a hive of each. Kate suggested that other beginners do the same, because of the increased opportunity for learning that having both types provide. I'm not convinced that having both types of hives makes sense for us, but we will at least give it some consideration. Lani suggested a couple of books on the topic of top bar beekeeping. The first was The Thinking Beekeeper, by Christy Hemenway, which lead a workshop in the topic at the Mother Earth News Fair that Andrea attended. The second was Top-Bar hive Beekeeping: Wisdom & Pleasure Combined by Wyatt A. Mangum, PhD, which she said was the best book on the topic that she had read. Unfortunately this book appears to only be available from the author's website, and is quite expensive, but appears to be worth the cost for those serious about top-bar beekeeping.

As mentioned above, Andrea took different workshops than I did. The workshops she attended included Cleaning Wax for Candles, Honey Cooking, Soaps & Lotions, and Getting Started #4: Bee Habitat and Feeding. She seemed to learn a lot from the Soaps & Lotions workshop, which was led by Abigail Keam, although the focus was on the business aspect of making such products rather than the process of actually making them.

The complete list of Kentucky Beekeeping School events can be found on the Kentucky State Beekeepers Association website. Locations for future events include Scottsville, Williamsburg, Morehead, Henderson, and Frankfort. I am considering attending the Williamsburg event, and may consider the Morehead event as well, depending on the workshops being offered. I highly recommend attending one of these events if you're interested in beekeeping and live in an area where one is being offered.

I'm not aware of similar events in other states, but it would be well worth making an inquiry with your local or state beekeeping association if you're interested in such an event. If you live in a state that does have such events, please let us know about them in the comments.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Today we attended the Eastern Kentucky Winter Beekeeping School, which was held in Hazard, KY. It was a well put together event. Andrea and I both enjoyed ourselves, and learned several things. We also each walked away with a door prize, both of which will come in handy once we do start beekeeping.

It is a bit tempting to move forward with our beekeeping plans this year, but we're still going to hold off until next year. I think we'll be busy enough this year with chickens. Also, we are attending an all day beekeeping workshop in April, and I may fit in another Beekeeping School event. Plus there are several books that I'd like to read before we make our final plans. We will likely try to attract some mason bees this year, though, to at least increase our pollinators a bit.

I'll be doing a full post on the event, including summaries of the workshops I attended, so stay tuned.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


I haven't posted any updates in several days because I really haven't accomplished anything worth writing about. It has been raining for the past week, so very gloomy. This time of year I find that my motivation is directly related to the amount of sunshine, so, as you might imagine, my motivation levels are way down.

I did learn something interesting recently while watching Stephen Fry in America. Apparently I really want to ride in a hot air balloon, and would especially love to do so over the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There is a segment of the show where he visits the park, and as he was approaching the balloon I had a strange sensation that I can't quit explain. I was emotional for the entire time they were showing the balloon ride, which is realize probably sounds crazy. It is pretty clear to me that taking a similar ride is something that I have to add to the list of things I wan to do at some point in my life.

Our calendar for Spring and early summer is filling up quickly. Between workshops, fairs, and a couple of farm equipment auctions I already have plans for more than half of the weekends this Spring. Of course that isn't going to help get projects done around here, so I may have to cut a few of those out. As much as I value gaining knowledge, it is only a benefit if I take the time to actually put it to use occasionally.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


It has rained almost all weekend, but I've still been somewhat productive. Yesterday morning we drove into Richmond to pick up the Front Accessory Box for the RTV, which was one of my Christmas gifts. While in Richmond we made a few other stops, and also made a few stops in Berea. One of our stops in Berea was Happy Meadows Natural Foods. While there I picked up a Berea College Bluegrass Ensemble CD.

I also picked up a copy of Communities Magazine while at Happy Meadows. I had never seen the magazine before, but when I saw it on the shelf I knew I had to pick up a copy. I'm very interested in intentional communities, and enjoy reading about them. I can't imagine us ever being part of an one, but our visit to Egrets' Cove as part of the 2012 Berea Solar Tour really made me wonder if we should give it some thought.

Today I installed the Front Accessory Box. I figured it was a good time to do that job, since I was able to do it in the dry. I think it is going to work out well, once I really start using it. It should give me somewhere to store gloves, a trailer hitch, hitch pins, a winch strap, some tools, etc.

I also attempted to fix another leak in the metal building today. I discovered that water was leaking underneath the building frame, similar to what I found before, but on the opposite side. I applied some sealant, which I hope will keep the water out. It has been raining very hard all evening, so it is certainly getting a test. I just hope that the rain doesn't prevent it from setting up.

I've also helped Andrea hang a couple of window coverings this weekend. She was able to finish both of the coverings for her bedroom, so we installed those. She also has one for the window in the back door finished, and is just waiting for me to cut a wooden strip to mount it with. The one for the kitchen window is mostly read, she's just waiting on some draw cord that she has ordered. Once that one is installed, she just needs to make one more, for a small window in her closet.

Our Household Budget

As the end of 2012 drew near I found myself looking forward to working on the household budget for 2013. I realize how strange that must sound to many of you, but I love numbers, and get a tremendous  amount of joy out of working with them. I wasn't able to finalize the budget until getting my first paycheck of the year, which just happened a few days ago. Even though my pay did not change, the combination of increased insurance premiums, the expiration of the payroll tax holiday, and my decision to resume contributing to a 401k, now that my employer matches contributions again, made it very difficult for me to accurately estimate my take home pay.

I've tried a few different approaches, but have found that the most effective way for me to keep a budget is to manually track it in a spreadsheet, which gives me complete control over how the data is tracked. My spreadsheet is fairly simple, consisting of a list of expenses or expense categories, their budgeted amount, a running total of the actual amount spent, and the difference between what was budgeted and what we've spent. Each month gets its own worksheet, and whatever balance remains at the end is rolled over to the next month.

I have our expenses divided up into three categories. The first category is regular bills, including utilities, the tractor payment, and payment towards the loan for our land. Second are the regular expense categories, which includes household/groceries, dining out, and gas. Whenever we have unbudgeted expenses, like the vet bill this month, those get added into this category. My goal is to track these unaccounted for expenses for 2013, and consider adding new budget categories in 2014. The last category is for what I refer to as variable expenses. These include gifts, charitable giving, clothing, dvds, taxes/registration, propane, auto/home insurance, vacation/travel, and spending money.

Tracking for the regular bills is fairly straightforward. I pay the bills at the beginning of each month, and simply record the amount payed in the spreadsheet. Most of these expenses remain the same from one month to the next, so are easy to plan for. The only one that changes with any regularity is the electric bill, which can vary by as much as $100, based on the season.

Tracking for the regular expense categories is a bit more involved, but is still fairly simple. Anytime we have an expense that falls into one of those categories I simply add it to the running total for the category. The variance column of the spreadsheet allows me to quickly see how our expenses for the category compares to the budgeted amount. These are a bit more difficult to plan for, and we do go over with some regularity. Rather than adjust the budgeted amounts we're trying to reign in our spending, but if we continue to go over I'll need to make some adjustments to the budget. I should update the budget for gas, based on gas prices, and the season, but I do not do a good job of that.

The way I account for variable expenses changed in 2012, and has worked out well. Since these expenses do not occur every month, and since the amount spent toward each varies a great deal, it was difficult to plan for them in a monthly budget. Instead I've determined our annual expenses for each category, then divided by twelve to determine the amount to set aside each month. This money goes into a separate savings account, which is used only to pay variable expenses. Anytime we have one of these expenses, I record is on the variable expenses tab of my spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is set up to keep running totals, and to calculate the total amount that should be in the account at any given time. At the end of the month I do a single transfer, either from our checking account to savings, or vice versa, as needed.

I have found that handling the variable expenses this way makes things much simpler. By setting money aside each month for these expenses we can ensure that we have no big surprises. If it works out that insurance is due and we have to buy propane in December, that is no problem. However, if we weren't setting aside the month each month, it could be difficult to pay both of those bills close to Christmas, at least without dipping into our savings account.

Setting aside money each month also makes it more likely that we'll do things for ourselves. Having money set aside for buying DVDs, free spending, or for travel increases the likelihood that we'll spend that money. It can sometimes be hard to justify spending several hundred dollars on a vacation, but since the money is already set aside for that purpose it doesn't seem like such a big deal. I know this isn't a problem for some, but in the past we've been guilty of not spending money on ourselves as often as we should.

Many people do not like the idea of keeping a household budget. Some people feel restricted by a budget, and feel that one requires them to justify ever dollar they spend. I can't imagine not having one, however, which is probably due to my personality. I don't know how one can manage finances, or anything else for that matter, without tracking and planning. The budget allows us to know how much we spend each month, how much of our income goes towards any given category, and how much we can expect to save. The budget makes it easy to estimate our minimum required expenses, in case of a job loss or other unexpected situation, and that means we don't have to worry about such things. The budget also makes it easier to plan, and to determine if we can afford taking on a new expense. Without the budget, it would have been hard for me to feel confident about taking on the additional expense of the tractor payment. With the budget, however, it didn't take very much effort for me to determine that we could afford the extra payment without putting ourselves at financial risk. The budget offers peace of mind, which may actually be more important than all of the other benefits it offers us.

Friday, January 11, 2013


I haven't been very productive lately. We've been getting a lot of rain over the past several days, so its a muddy mess. The temperatures have been nice, though, and its forecasted to be even warmer tomorrow, so I'm hoping I can get out this weekend.

I did spend much of today going through my photography gear, and creating an inventory of what I have. Since I've decided to no longer pursue photography as a hobby, I've decided to sell my gear. It'll be nice to have the extra space, as well as the extra cash.

Buying Gravel

This past weekend I bought some gravel to use for covering the walkway to our back porch. Before making the purchase, Andrea called a few places to check on pricing. I was very surprised to see how much pricing varied, based on the quantity of gravel being purchased. Because of that, I thought it would be a good idea to do a post on the topic.

Home Improvement Store
The first place we checked was the home improvement store. We had previously bought gravel there for the drainage ditch that routes water away from the air conditioner. I expected the price to buy high, but had no idea how high until I compared to other sources. At the nearby nationwide home improvement store a bag of gravel, which covers 0.5 cubic ft, costs $3.58. Based on information I found online, a bag weighs, roughly, 50 lbs.

Even though the price is high, there are some benefits to buying from a home improvement store. The first benefit is that, since the gravel are in bags, it is more convenient for people without access to a truck or trailer. Also, if you really only need 0.5 cubic ft, it may not make sense to buy a larger quantity, especially if you have nowhere to store the excess.

Landscaping Supplier
The landscaping supplier, in the same town as the home improvement store, sells gravel in larger quantities. They sell them by the ton, although will also sell smaller quantities, down to half a ton, and maybe even less. Their price, as of this past weekend, was $15.00 per ton. I was told, however, that prices were expected to go up, because the quarry had informed them that they were raising their prices soon.

The obvious benefit to buying from the landscaping supplier, as compared to the home improvement store, is the pricing. It would take approximately 40 bags of gravel to equal a ton, at a total cost of $143.20. In fact, if buying anything more than 2 bags, the landscaping supplier is cheaper, since a half ton can be purchased for $7.50, compared to $7.16 for two bags from the home improvement store.

Another benefit is that the landscaping supplier has several different types and sizes of gravel to choose from. I went with #57 gravel, based on the suggestion of the employee there.

The local gravel quarry is, by far, the cheapest place to buy gravel. The only problem is that they require a minimum purchase of 2.5 tons, which costs $20. This works out to $8 per ton, which is significantly cheaper than the price charged by the landscaping supplier. The problem, however, is that its not easy to half 2.5 ton of gravel. In fact, the weight limit on my truck is around 1200 pounds, so I'd be afraid to trying haul much more than half a ton, although some full-sized pickups would be able to haul much more. I could use the trailer, which can safely haul a ton, or maybe ton and a half, but that is the most I could hope to haul with my current equipment.

If buying in bulk, the quarry is clearly the most cost effective place to buy gravel. What cost $20 there, 2.5 ton, would cost $37.50 from the landscaping supplier. They also have, by far, the best selection. I'll likely buy several ton of gravel from them this summer, and have them delivered, for use on the driveway and parking/turning area.

Even though the per ton price at the quarry is cheaper, the minimum purchase requirement means that for smaller quantities, the landscaping supplier may actually be the best option. If one were to use a truck or trailer that was capable of  hauling a full ton, the cost at the quarry would actually be more, as they would still charge for the full 2.5 ton minimum. However, if one could haul 1.5 ton, then the cost at the quarry would be slightly less.

Obviously these prices are going to vary from one area to the next. This information is based on my experience with local suppliers. I think it is safe to say, however, that buying bags of gravel from a home improvement store is always going to be the most expensive option, and is probably only a good idea if you only need one or maybe two bags.

Also, I realize that not everyone is going to have access to a quarry, so that may not even be an option for some of you. I highly suggest, however, that if you are in the market for gravel you check local landscaping suppliers. The one I bought from actually works with someone who can deliver larger quantities, although for me it makes more sense to buy from the quarry in that situation. For anyone not living near a quarry, though, it could be worth asking landscape suppliers if they do have someone can deliver. The charge I was quoted was a $40 delivery fee for up to 5 ton. That might sound like a lot on the surface, since 5 ton of gravel would only cost $75. However, when I factor in the time and gas required to haul them myself, even if I used the trailer and hauled a ton at a time, it starts to seem much more reasonable. Making 5 trips, with the trailer, would require approximately 13.5 gallon of gas, which would most likely cost more than the $40 delivery charge. That isn't even including my time. It would take, at least 6 hours of driving time, not to mention the time it would take to manually unload 5 ton of gravel. I think its pretty clear that, at least in my situation, a $40 delivery fee is more than reasonable.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Solar Powered Shed - Determining the Equipment Needs

This is my third post regarding the project to install a PV system on my shed. The previous posts were Solar Powered Shed - The Idea and Solar Powered Shed - Sizing the System.

Once I had calculated the theoretical maximum power I would need for my system to generate I was able to start looking at equipment. This is where having input from someone with experience was a big help, because I would certainly have otherwise over-sized the system, at a much greater expense. I presented my plan on Eathineer, where I received some very helpful advice. My stated goal was to do the install for less than $1,000. To my surprise, the suggested system could be put together for just over $500, although I've since decided to build in a bit more leeway, so the final cost will be more than that, likely around $850.

I've known all along that I would have to rely on batteries for this system to work. Powering power tools directly from a solar array without batteries would require many more panels that I want to use, would be very expensive, and would be wasting a lot of power generation capability during the times I was not at the shed. Determining the battery requirements can get quite complicated in situations such as mine, where the actual usage patterns are unknown and will vary a lot. It is fairly easy, though, to add more batteries if needed, so I'm not going to stress over this point too much.

The advice I received was to start with a single 12 volt 55ah deep cycle battery. After doing some research I decided that I would really like to have have two batteries, so the load is spread across them both. My current plan is to go with two 6 volt 115ah golf cart batteries. When wired in series the two batteries will provide 12 volts, and the 115ah is more than double the suggested 55ah, although of course the cost is also double. I could have just as easily gone with two 12 volt 55 ah batteries, wired in parallel, which would provide 12 volts and 110 ah.

Once I decided on my batteries, I needed to decide on panels that would be able to keep them charged. The original suggestion was a single 100 or 120 watt panel to charge the single battery. Since I decided to double my battery capacity I also decided to double the panels, so plan to purchase two 100 watt solar panels, which, when wired in parallel, will provide 200 watts in full sun. The average solar hours/day in my area is approximately 3, which means, on average, the panels should generate roughly 600 watts per day. Of course this will vary a great deal, and will be much higher in the summer, which is when I'll likely be outside in the most anyway. At an average, however, of 600 watts per day, I can expect 4200 watts per week, which is less than the 5810 theoretical max I determined previously. However, since I don't expect to ever actually hit that max, and expect my usage in the winter to be far less, I'm ok with this. In most situations I should be able to recharge my batteries in two to three days, which meets the goal I had for the system. I have found a 200 watt pv kit that comes with two 100 watt panels a charge controller that I will likely purchase.

The remaining piece of the puzzle is the inverter. The suggestion I was given was to go with a 2000 watt standard inverter. After doing some research I think I've decided on an inverter that produces 2000 continuous watts, with up to 4000 watts surge capacity. While this might be overkill, it will make me feel better knowing I have capacity beyond what any of my tools should require.

The efficiency and power use of the inverter can, as I understand it, have a significant impact on the sizing of a PV system. I have decided to do a separate post to discuss this, where I can share the information I have gathered thus far about inverters and ways of dealing with the losses due inefficiencies of the conversion process.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Solar Powered Shed - Sizing the System

As mentioned previously in Solar Powered Shed - The Idea, I am planning to install a small PV system in the shed, to provide power for lights, etc and the occasional power tool. Since my last post on the topic I've done a bit of research to determine my needs. I have also talked with someone who has experience with such systems to get some much needed advice.

The first step in determining my needs was to list the items that I want to be able to power from the system. Since I do not currently own all of the items that I may wish to use in the shed, I did some research to get an idea of the average power requirements for the tools I think I will most likely add in the near future.

Power Requirements
Lights - 200 watts or less, depending on the type of light I go with
Radio - 10 watts, again depending on the type I use
Fan - 50 watts or less
Circular Saw - 1430 watts
Jig Saw - 550 watts
Small Table Saw - 1650 watts
Small Chop Saw - 1650 watts
Air Compressor - 1540 watts

Once I had completed the list I needed to determine how I would use these items together. The first three items on the list will be used more often, and will be used together. This means that I may need up to 260 watts of continuous power for extended periods of time. The remaining items will not be used in conjunction with anything else, so the maximum power requirement would be 1650 watts for either the chop saw or table saw.

Knowing the maximum power requirement, however, is only part of the equation. I also needed to estimate how often I would use each item, and for how long. This is where a lot of guess work comes into play, but I made my best guess.

Usage Patterns
Lights - Max of 3-4 hours a day, a few times per week, less often during the summer months
Radio - Max of 3-4 hours a day, a few times per week
Fan - Max of 3-4 hours a day, a few times per week, with no use during the winter months
Power Tools - A few minutes at a time, for a total of maybe 30 minutes total use spread out over 3-4 hours, maybe as often as twice per week

After reviewing the numbers I was able to come up with what I expect to be the maximum power requirement over a period of time. I'm going to assume, for the purpose of this calculation, that the lights, radio and fan are used 4 hours a day, 4 times per week and either the table saw or chop saw is used for 30 minutes twice per week. This means that, based on a 100% efficient system, I should need to supply 5,810 watts of power over a seven day period. Of course no system is 100% efficient, so I will need to account for that when it comes time to actually pick out equipment.

Something else I should point out is that for these calculations I'm using the worst case scenario. The lights, for example, will most likely require much less power than I'm estimating. This estimate is based on a couple of halogen shop lights along with a couple of additional light fixtures. If I use more efficient lighting, however, that number should be able to reduced significantly. Also, I do not expect to ever use the lights, radio, and fan all for 16 hours each in a given week, but I wanted to be on the safe side with my numbers.

Gadget Review - Sonim XP3400 Armor Cell Phone

A few weeks ago, the day after Christmas to be precise, I stopped by my local wireless provider's store to look at phones and ask a few questions. I had been thinking of getting a new phone for a few months, because the battery of my old phone wasn't holding charge like I'd like. I actually bought a replacement battery, hoping it would solve the problem, but it didn't seem to help very much. I don't like replacing items when they are still working, but since I had owned the phone for three years I didn't feel too bad about the idea of replacing it.

The phone I wanted to look at was the Sonim XP3400 Armor. I originally heard about it from the wireless provider's web site. Since this phone was one of only two non-smart phones they had listed, I started doing some research and decided that it might be a good fit for me. While at the store I had a chance to hold the phone in my hand, and really liked the feel. Once I found out I could get a discount on the phone by switching to a lower priced, non-contract plan, like I was already planning to do, I decided to go ahead and make the purchase.

The first thing that one notices about this phone is the size. This is a big phone, likely the biggest phone I've owned in my 12+ years of using cell phones. Based on the manufacturer's stated specs, the phone measures 5" x 2.3" x 1" and weighs 6.5 ounces. Most people will likely find the phone to be much too bulky. I, however, love the size. It feels right in my large hands, and the weight makes it feel sturdy and substantial. My previous phone, the Motorola Quantico, wasn't a bad fit for me, but compared to the Sonim it almost feels cheap.

The XP3400 is suppose to be one of the toughest phones available, and I'm inclined to believe it. Features include dust-proofing, being water-submersible (to depths of 6.5 ft for up to an hour), scratch proof glass, and most impressive of all, a 3 year warranty.

The real reason, however, that I decided to buy this phone was the advertised battery life. The specs list the battery life at 9.5 hours of talk time, or 850 hours of standby time. Of course those numbers are meaningless in real world situations, but when compared to other phones, they are impressive. I've actually been waiting to do this review until after the phone died for the first time, so that I could provide some info on the battery life. After the first full charge, the phone lasted nine full days. During that time I talked on the phone for 12 minutes, used the alarm a few times, and added several numbers to the contact list. For the most part, however, the phone was in standby mode. One thing worth noting, however, is that at night, the phone isn't able to get a signal, due to its location by my bed, which means it uses additional battery life searching for a signal. I probably should just leave the phone on the edge of my desk where it does have signal, but then I wouldn't be able to use it as easily as an alarm and clock at night.

The phone seems to get at least as good of reception as my previous phone. I'm often in areas with limited connectivity, but I haven't had any problems yet. Calls are nice and clear, and I've been told the same is true for those I'm talking to. The XP3400 has a noise cancelling microphone, which is intended to improve clarity when talking in noisy environments. I haven't had a chance to test that feature yet, but it really isn't something that comes up often for me.

I have found that, due to its size, the phone isn't as comfortable in my pants pocket as other phones. Usually this isn't a big problem for me, though. When I'm outside working, I just throw the phone into the cup holder of the RTV. The back and sides of the phone are covered in rubber, which seems like it would help to prevent the phone from sliding around if it were placed on the dash of the truck or similar surface.

All in all I'm very happy with the phone. The battery life meets my expectations, and that was my number one priority. The ruggedness of the phone was also a consideration. Its too early to know how the phone will work out in the long run, but after a couple of weeks I am impressed and would gladly recommend it to anyone looking for a basic phone, with a long battery life, and that can stand up to the elements and a bit of abuse.

Book Review - Worms Eat My Garbage

Since we are planning to attempt vermicomposting for the first time, I decided to re-read Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof. I first heard about this book at the 2010 Mother Earth News Fair, where I attended my first workshop on the topic. Since the book came so highly recommended, I went ahead and bought a copy then, and read it shortly after, but clearly had forgotten quite a bit of the information covered in the book.

This is a fairly short book, with only 126 pages of information, plus a few appendix pages at the end. There are, however, several references to other works for those who might be interested in a more detailed information. For the recreational worm composter, or those just getting started, this book provides plenty of info on its own.

The first several chapters focus on the practical aspects of setting up a worm bin: Where should the bin be located? What materials should it be constructed of? What are the idea dimensions? What worms should I use? To answer that last question the author provides summaries of several types of worms, with information on how well suited they are to worm bin composting. She then moves onto to the topics of reproduction and eating habits, to help with the decision of how many worms may be needed to process a given amount of food waste.

I was pleased to see in the chapter on what items can be composted in the bin that the information is more aggressive than is normally presented in composting information. Along with the normal fruit and vegetable kitchen waste the author indicates that dairy and small amounts of meat can safely be composted in the bin. In fact, the only items she lists that should be strictly avoided in the bin are items that are not biodegradable, which should be pretty obvious, and pet manure. I suspect that when she says pet manure, she is really referring to cats and dogs, since those are the most common pets in this country and are both carnivorous. I'm sure that if one were to have a herbivore for a pet, such as a rabbit, its manure could probably be added. However, there are also likely better uses for rabbit droppings than throwing into the worm bin.

The information presented for using the castings isn't as detailed as I would have liked, but is sufficient. The author talks about ideas for getting the most benefit from the, relatively, small amount of castings that will be available after the process has completed. The topic of using the compost tea, however, was not really addressed at all. The book discusses some methods for dealing with excess moisture in the bin, but not for using it for fertilizing plants.

I would recommend this book for anyone just getting started with vermicomposting. It has been recommended in multiple workshops I've taken on the topic, and I can see why. The length of the book makes it easy and quick to read, which is really nice for those short on time. A great deal of information is packed into the pages, however, so that the book is more informative that one might guess from its length.

I feel the need to qualify my recommendation, however, with one additional piece of information. Since this is the only book I've read dedicated to the topic, I can't say how it compares to others. I have read other books that touch on the use of worms for composting, such as The Complete Book of Composting by J. I. Rodale. Since those books do not cover the topic in detail, though, they can't really compare. I'll likely pick up another book or two on the topic once we get started with our bins, just to get some additional information. Of course, if I do, I'll do a review of those as well.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


I had a productive weekend. The weather was nice yesterday, sunny and temperatures in the 40s. Today it was in the 40s again, but overcast and windy, so felt much cooler. Regardless, since there was no rain, it was good weather for getting out and getting a few things accomplished.

Yesterday morning I got up early and headed to London. After grabbing some breakfast I dropped by the farm supply store to pick up a few items for the tractor. After getting my new plow home Thursday night I realized I didn't have everything I needed to attach it. I should have picked up what I needed when I bought the plow, but since I had never used a three point implement I had no idea what I needed. After a bit of online research, Youtube is great for this stuff by the way, I knew what to get.

After buying the parts I needed for the tractor I went on to my next stop, which was the primary reason for the trip, and bought gravel. The path from our parking area to the back porch is very muddy, and has been in need of regravelling for a while. I bought a half ton #57 gravel, which is pretty much the limit of what I could haul in the truck without going over its rated hauling capacity.

Once I got home, I unloaded the gravel and spread them over the walkway. I was able to apply a good layer, approximately 2 inches thick, which should get us through the winter at the very least. It was a quick job, taking maybe an hour total. There are a couple of other spots where I could use some gravel, so will probably stop by and get another load the next time I am in London with the truck.

Saturday afternoon I got the tractor out and mounted the plow. I had Andrea come out to help me, since I wasn't sure how well I'd be able to see how well I was aligned with the ditch I wanted to clean out. I had a bit of trouble keeping the plow where I wanted, because the mud was making the front end of the trailer slide downhill. Also, the plow wasn't digging quite as deep as I had hoped, but it got the job done well enough. After looking everything over later in the day I realized that I could have lowered the lift arms on the tractor a bit, which would have given me a little more depth. The next time I clean the ditch out I'll try that.

Since I had the tractor out I decided to use the front end loader to move a bit of dirt. There was a hump of dirt alongside the driveway, directly next to a low spot. It only took a few minutes to knock down the hump and fill in the low spot. I also removed some dirt in front of the steps to the shed. When I installed the steps I had to dig down, which caused water to pool at their base. So far it hasn't caused a problem, but I'm sure will start causing them to rot soon enough. I used the tractor to remove enough dirt that the water should, hopefully, drain away from the steps now. I'll find out for sure after the next good rain.

I slept in today, which was very nice. I waited until after lunch to go outside. My first project was to move the dirt I had piled up in front of the shed yesterday. If I had known what I was going to do with it, I could have just moved it with the tractor. In hindsight I probably should have at least used the tractor to load it into the bed of the RTV, but I didn't think of that until I had already parked the tractor. I certainly thought of it today, though, as I was loading it into the RTV with a shovel. I used the dirt to fill in a low spot at the edge of the driveway that fills with water when it rains.

After moving the pile of dirt I started working on the ditch. As I mentioned before, the plow did a pretty good job. However, it left dirt piled up on either side of the ditch. Normally that would be no problem, but in this case I didn't want dirt on the uphill side of the ditch, as I knew it would eventually just get washed back into the ditch by runoff. I used a shovel to move the dirt from the upper side, adding it to what was already piled up on the lower side, which I'm hoping will make the ditch less likely to overflow. That section of ditch is looking pretty good at the moment, although I still need to work on a couple of other sections sometime.

This evening, I had one task inside to do for Andrea. She found that there was mold growing on the inside of our dishwasher, and wanted me to clean it since she's allergic to mold. I was shocked to see how much mold there was. We hadn't noticed it before, because it was on the top, which you never really see. A mixture of hot water and bleach made the mold scrub away easily. Normally we do not use the heated dry mode when we wash dishes, which we believed to be the cause of the mold formation. Even after Andrea ran it this evening, using heated dry, however, we noticed quite a bit of moisture was present. I suggested that we might need to open the lid a few inches after the dishwasher finishes, to provide some airflow to help dry out the inside. This seems to have helped this time, although there is still a small amount of moisture present. I'm sure it will be gone by tomorrow morning, though.

Friday, January 4, 2013


Have you ever noticed that no task is ever as simple as you think it will be? Andrea had an appointment this morning to take Jack to the vet to have him fixed. She was suppose to have him there at 8:30 AM, which meant leaving here around 7:30. He has missed three previous appointments because he wasn't here on the day he was suppose to go. To make sure he didn't miss another, I volunteered to get up early this morning to make him stay home, since he and Luke normally go out every morning. Yesterday at 7:00 AM they were gone, so I decided to get up at 6:00 today, thinking they wouldn't leave before day break.

I woke up early, so got up and dressed and went out around 5:40 to check on them. To my surprise they were already gone. I tried blowing the dog whistle, then went out again about 10 or 15 minutes later and tried again. After a third attempt with the whistle, I decided maybe I should go looking for him, so headed out in the truck around 6:30. About a mile up the road, just before getting to the house where Jack hangs out sometimes, I saw something dart across the road behind the truck. I stopped and opened my door, and saw it was Jack. I loaded him in the truck, and headed back home.

Since I had known I would need to be outside this morning, I didn't bother unloading the truck when we got home last night. So, even though it was still dark, I started unloading it, since Andrea was planning to drive it to the vet. My plan was to transfer the plow into the bed of the RTV bed so I wouldn't have to lift it. Unfortunately I had forgotten that the RTV bed was full of the boxes we had brought home with us after Christmas. We have been storing the cardboard in the metal building so I started carrying them there. When I walked up the ramp I noticed it was very slick, from the frost, so tried to be very careful. After placing the first load of boxes into the building I decided to back down the ramp, rather than trying to turn around. That was a mistake, because my feet flew up from under me, and I felt, face first on the ramp. My left wrist felt sore when I got up, but it doesn't seem like I suffered any real injury.

After that mishap I managed to put the remaining boxes in without walking up the ramp. I then unloaded the wheelbarrow from the truck and transferred the plow to the bed of the RTV without mishap. With those tasks done I sat on the front porch until Andrea was ready to leave, just to be sure that Jack didn't decide to take off at the last minute.

As the day has gone on, I've noticed more soreness in my wrist, as well as my elbow and, at times, back. Right now my elbow is the most painful, although only when I bend it quite a bit. I have plans for working this weekend, so have tried to let my muscles rest today in hopes that the soreness will subside.

Andrea went back and picked Jack up this evening. He has some swelling, but seems to be doing well. We're suppose to keep an eye on him for a few days, but he should be fine. He has seemed tired this evening, and hesitant to move around a lot, which is no surprise since he's probably quite sore.

75 Ways to Live More Sustainably in 2013

I recently shared on article on the Facebook page from Sustainable Kentucky entitled 75 Ways to Live More Sustainably in 2013. After posting the question of, 'how many of these do you already do, or plan to start doing?', I decided I should answer the question myself. It didn't occur to me when I started this post how long it would be. I apologize for the length, and applaud anyone with the patience to actually read the entire thing. I'd love to hear feedback on which of these items you currently do, or plan to do in the future. Comments can be posted here, or over on the Facebook page.

1. Start reading the labels on your food - I don't do this with any regularity, primarily because Andrea does the vast majority of our grocery shopping. We do attempt to buy more natural and healthy foods, but label reading in certainly one area in which we could be more attentive.

2. Start reading books - This is something that I already do, but can certainly do more. I believe that obtaining knowledge is very important step to implementing a sustainable living plan, and reading books is a great way to obtain such knowledge.

3. Log your chemicals - The suggestion is to make a list of all chemicals consumed in a day, and then put together a plan to eliminate some of those. This would include chemicals found in toothpaste, soap, shampoo, cleaners, etc. This is something I have never done, but seems like it could be worth trying.

4. Get to know your neighbors - This is an area that I really need to work on. I barely know any of the neighbors, and have certainly not developed the sense of community that I know is very important. We tend to keep to ourselves, and be private people, which makes connecting with neighbors difficult. I certainly need to work on changing this, however.

5. Adjust your thermostat - We do a pretty good job of this already. We keep the thermostat set at around 63 degrees during the winter, and 78-80 during the summer. Of course this can't compare to the settings of 55 and 85 that the author of the article uses.

6. Salvage for your next building project - We like to reuse materials whenever we can. In fact, the PVC Pepper Cages that we are planning to build will use only salvaged materials, most of which we are purchasing from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

7. Switch to reusable grocery bags when you shop - Andrea does a good job of this. She has several reusable bags, some of which were purchased or received as promo items, but most of which she made herself. She has also tried to promote the use of reusable bags by making them to give as gifts at bridal showers.

8. Buy second hand... everything - We do not do a good job of this, even though we are very supportive of the idea. One of the big problems I have with buying items is having to call the owners, set up a time to see the items, etc. If I could do all of the communication via email I'd be much more likely to buy things secondhand, especially tools, and equipment.

9. Try substituting healthy, local sweeteners - like sorghum or honey - for sugar when you bake - We do not do this, although recognize that we should. I do not like the flavor of honey, so never eat it. Andrea does like honey, but doesn't eat it very often. Yes, I know its strange that we are planning to attempt beekeeping in the future since we do not eat much honey, but we have other uses in mind, and maybe having fresh honey will motivate us to use more of it.

10. Quit using paper towels - We haven't completely stopped using paper towels, but have greatly reduced our use of them. We use cloth napkins, which I very much prefer to paper towels, at meals. Andrea uses flour sack towels in the kitchen for many tasks that paper towels would normally be used for. We still have some room for improvement though.

11. Get some backyard chickens - As I recently mentioned in 2013 To-Do List acquiring chickens is our top goal for 2013. This should give us a source of more eggs that we can use.

12. Start composting - We have been regularly composting for several years. In fact, two of my goals for 2013 include composting: building the pallet compost bin and constructing and using a worm bin for kitchen scraps.

13. Downsize - I can't see us downsizing anytime soon. Our home is only 924 sq ft, which is already well below the national average. Both the car and truck are relatively small, and neither will need to be replaced anytime soon. This doesn't mean that we can't still get rid of stuff, because we are currently working on that, it just isn't likely to result in being able to actually downsize.

14. Line dry your clothes - We haven't had a working clothes dryer since moving into the trailer. For a couple of years Andrea dried all of our clothes by hanging them inside. We now have a Hills Rotary Clothesline, which I previously wrote about, that she uses when the weather is nice. During the winter, though, we still dry clothes by hanging them inside.

15. Skip a traditional Christmas - This is something that I'd love to try, but isn't likely to ever happen, as I mentioned in the recent Longing for a Simple Christmas post. Perhaps, however, we can still find ways of continuing to reduce the environmental impact of Christmas by using recycled or reusing cards and paper, giving homemade gifts, etc.

16. Join Community Farm Alliance - I had never heard of Community Farm Alliance prior to reading this post, so obviously its not something we are currently doing. At first glance, however, it seems like something that we would be interested in learning more about.

17. Eat less meat - We have made some effort to eat less meat, but it isn't something we put a lot of effort into. I would guess that on average Andrea and I each eat maybe one and a half servings of meat per day. That is probably less than many Americans, but still probably higher than it should be.

18. Buy meat produced from animals that have been treated humanely - This is an issue that is important to us, and we go out of our way to buy our meat from trusted sources. In the past this has meant that much of our meat is purchased from the Good Foods Market. Recently, however, we discovered Pike Valley Farm, and will most likely buy our ground beef and chicken from them whenever we can. Their products are available at Good Foods, but we prefer buying direct from the farmer whenever possible.

19. Share the good news - This is one of the purposes of this blog, and the Facebook page. Around family we tend to be more subtle with our comments, since most of our family do not share our interest in sustainable living.

20. Visit a farm - We love touring local farms. In the past year we've toured Wonder of Life Farm, and visited Pike Valley Farm, although did not take a tour. We also considered touring the JD Country Milk farm recently, but didn't make that one.

21. Quit buying bottled water - I do not do a good job of this. I do make sure that any bottles get recycled, but not buying them in the first place would be much better. We have made some effort to take our own water in reusable bottles, but still haven't made it a habit.

22. Switch to CFL bulbs if you still haven't made the leap - or even better, invest in LED! - This is something we did a long time ago. I think there is still one lamp that has an incandescent bulb, because it almost never gets used, but aside from that we've been using CFLs for several years. We haven't experimented with LEDs yet, but I would really like to try them out.

23. Start a sustainable group - This is a fantastic idea, but I'm not quite sure how to go about getting started. It would probably more easier if I were more of a social creature. Earthineer is a great online community, but it would be nice to be part of a local community that could meet in person.

24. Join a CSA - This is something we have never considered, and likely never will. I think that CSAs are great for some people, but just not for us. Since we are both picky eaters, a CSA would likely provide us with a lot of vegetables that would simply go to waste. We prefer to continue to focus on expanding our garden, so that we can grow what we want ourselves.

25. Ride a bike - I haven't even owned a bike since 2005. When we had bikes we never rode them, and I can't see that changing now. If we still lived in town, the idea would be more attractive. I just can't see either of us riding 6 miles on a narrow, curvy, rural road to grocery shop, though.

26. Find a better source for your imported goods - I have to admit that I can't even list all of the imported goods that we currently use. That is not to say that we haven't made attempts at finding better sources for some items, because we have. We just haven't gotten very far into the process. This is an area where we have a lot of room for improvement, and is probably an area that should start receiving some attention.

27. Plant a garden - As mentioned before, we are focusing on expanding our garden. I recently posted about our gardening experiences in the 2012 Gardening Recap.

28. Try homeopathic remedies first before heading to the doctor - We do some use homeopathic remedies, but need to do more. I actually took a homeopathic treatment this morning, Arnica Montana, for muscle soreness after slipping on the ramp to the metal building and falling.  It is a topic that Andrea is very interested in, and she has taken several workshops to learn about herbal remedies, making tinctures, etc. The planned herb garden expansion will provide her with many of the ingredients needed to increase our use of homeopathic remedies.

29. Share a meal with someone in need - We very rarely do this. In fact, unless we are having overnight visitors, we really never have guests for dinner.

30. Read Wendell Berry's "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" - Surprisingly I have never read any of Wendell Berry's works, but have been wanting to do so for some time. I recently added The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture to my wish list. It sounds like maybe I need to also add Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front as well.

31. Take a walk - I do not do this nearly often enough, which is really a shame. This is something that I want to remedy in 2013. Now that I'm surrounded with nature, I don't spend much time just enjoying it.

32. Hunt and eat wild game - I am not a hunter, and doubt that I ever will be. We aren't even sure that we can stomach the thought of killing our own chickens, which is why we are focusing on egg production with our first flock. I respect those who choose to hunt for their own food, but just can't visualize myself ever following suit.

33. Take a farm-cation - I like this idea, on the surface, but I can't imagine ever being able to take the time away from our chores at our own place to do so. We have entertained the idea, though, of eventually maybe offering WWOOF opportunities here.

34. Take a staycation - I don't technically take staycations, since I tend to use the time away from work to do projects around the house. I do, however, try to take at least one week off from work each year to focus on a big project. If things go well I'd like to take two this year, one in the spring, then another in the fall.

35. Take shorter showers and less of them - I already do this, or at least the latter half. I haven't taken daily showers in several years, unless I've been working and gotten sweaty or exceptionally dirty. I've experimented with shorter showers, but it has never stuck.

36. Carpool - Carpooling isn't as practical when you live out in the middle of nowhere, like we do, as it is for those who live in a city. Its not really a big issue for us anyway, since we don't go places all that often. If I had to drive to the office every day I would be more interested in finding carpooling opportunities.

37. Visit a national park - National parks are actually one of our favorite vacation destinations. We've slowly been working our way through the National parks in Kentucky and the surrounding states. Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina is probably our favorite. Our next National Park visit is likely to be Gettysburg National Park in Pennsylvania, at which time we'll likely also visit some of the other parks in the area, such as the Eisenhower National Historic Site and Catoctin Mountain Park.

38. Volunteer to help your church, school, or civic organization go green - This is a fantastic idea, but one that we've never tried. This is primarily because we really aren't a member of any civic organization. We've discussed the need to get more involved in the community, so maybe this will change at some point.

39. Switch your printer to double-sided printing - I'm not sure if our printer supports double-sided printing or not. Its not that big of a deal for us, though, since Andrea reuses printer paper anyway. A lot of stuff she prints for our own use is on the backs of other paper, sometimes even things we've received in the mail.

40. Glean - The article is specifically talking about organizations such as Faith Feeds for this item. I think this are very worthwhile projects, and is the type of thing I might be interested in getting involved in at some point.

41. Start a community garden - This is one of those suggestions that is likely much more applicable for folks living in a city. In rural areas, those who want to grow a garden have sufficient land to do so, which makes a community garden less important.

42. Come to I Love Mountains Days in Frankfort on February 14th - Andrea mentioned this to me recently and asked if its something I would want to attend. It is the type of thing I support in theory, but probably not in practice. I probably should be more involved in such events, but, being an introvert, I'd rather find other ways of supporting the cause.

43. Learn to can, freeze, and dry food - Andrea already does all of these things. However, we still have a lot to learn. I suspect that as we produce more of our own food we will be looking for new ways of storing the excess. Building a root cellar is one project on our wish list, although it did not make it into my 2013 To-Do List.

44. Join a co-op - Co-ops may very well be my favorite form of business. We are actually a member of three co-ops, Good Foods Market, as well as the local electric company, and the company that the loan for or property is through.

45. Get a rain barrel or two - This is yet another item that is already on my 2013 To-Do List. I have one rain barrel, which I constructed at the 2012 Field to Fork Festival, but have never used. My goal is to start using that one to catch rainwater from the roof of the shed, and make four more, one for each corner of the trailer.

46. Buy Kentucky Proud - We like to buy local, whenever we can, although do not always look specifically for the Kentucky Proud label. I think it is a good program, but I'd prefer buying a product produced in the next county over without a Kentucky Proud label than one produced on the other side of the state that does have one.

47. Plan a green burial - If I planned for my body to be buried when I die, I would certainly want to receive a green burial. Since I plan to be cremated, however, it isn't really an issue. Still, I plan to do more research on the topic, in case there is information that may cause me to change my mind.

48. Share your knowledge with someone else - Much like #19, that is one of the purposes of this blog. At this point I'm still trying to gain knowledge, but figure that I may have picked up something along the way that could be helpful for someone else. If I were more outgoing I might consider leading a workshop at a local festival sometime, but the thought of doing so stresses me out.

49. Quit getting catalogs - We've tried, oh how we've tried to do this. I cant' imagine how much junk mail we'd get if Andrea hadn't put so much effort into getting us removed from mailing lists. Some of them we don't mind so much, like seed catalogs, but most of the catalogs we get are from companies that we've ordered from online. I don't understand what makes a company think that us ordering online means we need a physical catalog. Seems pretty obvious that we'll just order online next time too.

50. Visit your local farmers market in the rain - We've not big fans of being caught out in the rain, so I'm not sure how likely we are to follow this suggestion. Going when the weather is gloomy, however, is a different story. We love farmers markets, and certainly won't let a few clouds keep us away.

51. Save heirloom seeds - Andrea has started experimenting with seed saving, but we have a lot to learn. Eventually we would like to use only heirloom seeds, and keep our own collection to plant.

52. Learn to sew - Andrea has this one covered, so I'm not going to bother to learn. She makes all of our quilts, window coverings, etc. She's talked about making some of our clothes, but so far has just made some lounge pants and a few skirts for her. She has the ability, though, to make whatever we need I'm sure.

53. Convert your lawn to food production - I love this idea for people who do not have room for a garden elsewhere. Even for people, like us, who have plenty of room for a separate garden, I'm a big proponent of alternative lawns instead of a traditional manicured lawn of non-native grass. I like to refer to our lawn as a Natural Lawn, since it consists primarily of vegetation that grows naturally, without us having seeded or planted anything.

54. Become a minimalist - I am fascinated by the concept of minimalism. Living in a, relatively, small home forces us to be somewhat minimalist. However, I think that we have a long way to go, and will likely never achieve any sort of extreme minimalism. We're likely to continue in that direction, however, as time progresses.

55. Become a nudist - When I first saw this on the list, I thought maybe they were just checking to see if anyone actually read the entire list. The logic seems to be that being a nudist means less clothes to purchase and launder. I suppose if one practiced nudism at home, especially during the warmer months, it might make sense. I can even see how it might allow for a warmer temperature to be maintained inside the house. In the colder months, however, it seems that nudism would result in using much more energy to keep the house warm. I normally wear two layers of clothes during the winter, which allows us to keep the thermostat turned down.

56. Buy sustainable seafood - Andrea tries to be sustainable seafood, and buys most of it from Good Foods Market. I don't eat seafood myself, though, so I really don't pay a lot of attention to where the seafood we buy comes from.

57. Make and eat more fermented foods - I have never tried any fermented food, and, for some reason, the idea isn't appealing to me. I know that it is suppose to be healthy, so I suppose I should look into it sometime.

58. Quit taking the elevators - I do not use elevators with any sort of regularity. We did have elevators at my old office, so if I were still there this suggestion would be a good one. Now, though, I really only use an elevator when visiting somewhere like a hospital, which is rare.

59. Ask for local food - This suggestion is focusing on the use of a caterer, which is something we have never done, and I don't expect that to change anytime soon. However, if one were having an event catered, I think that requesting local foods is a very good idea.

60. Get really dirty - I get plenty dirty working around the house, especially during gardening season. I can remember spending hours as a kid digging in the dirt, and feel bad for kids today who do not have that opportunity.

61. Learn to forage wild edibles - This is something I've never done, but am interested in learning about. In reality, though, I suspect that little, if any, of the food we could forage for would be something either Andrea or myself would eat, since we are so picky about food.

62. Install a composting toilet - When we build a house we definitely want to install a composting toilet. Since we have fairly new bathroom fixtures now, and since we already have a septic tank, it seems a bit of a waste to switch. The next time we need to replace a toilet, however, I think we'll at least consider replacing it with a composting version. I wouldn't be opposed to building an outside composting toilet, for summer use.

63. Wash your clothes less... and always in cold water - We already do this one. We try to wear our clothes multiple times between washes, as long as we don't get them dirty. Andrea almost always uses cold water to wash them, unless there is some special circumstance that requires warm water instead, which is rare.

64. Bring your own reusable takeout containers when you eat out - This isn't something that I've thought about before, but seems like a good suggestion. I can especially see the benefits of doing this when frequenting a restaurant that uses styrofoam containers for takeout. We don't take food home from restaurant a lot, though, but if we did I'd have to strongly consider doing this.

65. Quit eating out - This suggestion is more attractive to me than the previous one. Compared to a lot of people we probably don't eat out a lot, but we do it more often than we should. There are so many problems with eating out, including the cost and inability to know exactly what is going into the food or where it came from.

66. Have a green wedding - If Andrea and I were getting married today, the ceremony would certainly be green, if we had one at all. I suspect that we wouldn't actually have a ceremony, though.

67. Avoid buying things packaged in styrofoam or plastic - This is an area where we really need to put in a lot more effort. There are a few small things that we do, like buying milk in reusable glass containers when we can. We do like to minimize packaging, but usually there are other factors that take priority in our decision making. I will say that I've been impressed with the minimal packaging of the AmazonBasics products that I have ordered.

68. Vote for candidates who have a good record with environmental concerns - I agree that showing support and voting for candidates with a good environmental record of pro-environmental platform is one of the simplest, yet potentially most impactful, actions we can take. In some political races, this can get tricky, especially in the case of third party candidates.In other situations, though, such as the presidential race in Kentucky, there is no doubt who will receive the most votes, which makes it a little easier to vote third party without inadvertently impacting the election in a way you would not want.

69. Watch a green documentary for inspiration This is a good suggestion, especially during the winter when we're often stuck inside for hours in the evening. The article suggests the film Y.E.R.T, which I haven't seen, but will add to my watch list.

70. Eat organic foods - Eating organic is a priority for us. There are still a few conventional items that we buy, especially because our options are so limited in London (there are no organic options in the town in which we live), but we try to stock up whenever we go to Lexington. Of course the best way to eat organic is to grow your own food, which we're working on.

71. Turn off the TV indefinitely - We have taken one step down this path, although I don't see us ever going the whole way. We haven't had cable for several years, and have found that we do not miss it at all. Instead we spend less than half of what cable use to cost us on buying DVDs and subscribing to Netflix and HuluPlus. For watching streaming video I can't recommend a Roku player enough. We love our Roku LT, enough, in fact, that we now have two of them.

72. Eat seasonally - We do not do a good job of this. Thus far we've really put only minimal effort into seasonal eating. Aside from eating organic, our biggest goal is simply eating healthy. We do need to start trying to eat more seasonally, however.

73. Reduce, reuse, recycle - I've discussed in depth our recycling efforts in the posts on recycling paper & cardboard, plastics, and glass & metal. While there is still room for improvement, I feel that we do a fairly good job of recycling. We like to reuse materials whenever possible, which is helped by Andrea's love of using salvaged materials for projects.

74. Shop local - Shopping local is something that I support 100% in principle. Unfortunately, though, in practice my support falls far short of 100%.

75. Know your farmer - The final item on the list, unfortunately, is yet another one that we have not done. I could try to make excuses, but instead I'll just admit that we don't do it, but know that we should.