Thursday, April 17, 2014


The Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC was this past weekend. We decided to attend this event rather than the one as Seven Springs this year. I'll try to get a blog entry up in a few days detailing the experience.

I spent the yesterday evening and night visiting a friend who is house-sitting an off-grid cabin in the next county over. It was a good experience, and I hope to spend more time there over the coming weeks. I found that I didn't miss the lack of electricity at all, although I realize that its much easier to spend a single night without electricity than live that way every day. I need to build my own off-grid cabin that I can visit anytime I want.

I plan to get outside this evening and work on some tasks that I've fallen behind on. It'll be nice to get back into the swing of things, assuming the weather cooperates. We had a heavy frost this morning, and just a couple of days ago we actually had snow. Its back into the 70s today, though, which is where I wish it would stay.

Friday, April 4, 2014


I have yet again been away for much too long. With the weather improving, things are starting to happen around here, which is great. Things are also extremely busy at work right now, though, which isn't leaving me a lot of time for doing updates. I need to do a better job of finding time, though.

Most of my free time in the evenings and on weekends is still being spent cleaning up the trees that we cut at the garden. That is going well, and I now have the existing garden cleared and will next move to the area we plan to plant this year.

We've also done our first spring planting of the year. On Wednesday we planted onions, including some onion sets I picked up at a farm supply store, and two varieties that Andrea started from seed. We plan to add some transplants next week, if the weather permits.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Kentucky Green Living Fair - 2014

This past weekend Andrea and I attended the Kentucky Green Living Fair in Somerset, KY. The fair is organized by Sustainable Kentucky, and is in just its second year. We attended the fair last year as well, and I'm pleased to see that it grown.. With 18 workshops, approximately 60 vendors, live music throughout the day, and more than 1,800 attendees I think its safe to say that the fair was a huge success.

My focus for the fair was, of course, attending workshops. I did, however, attend fewer than normal. This was partly due to the fact that I had already previously attended some of the workshops, either at last years fair, or heard the instructor speak on a similar topic at another event. Still, I attended four workshops, one of which lasted nearly two hours.

One complaint I had last year was that there was not enough time for the workshops. By the time one workshop ended, there was already a line outside the door of people waiting to get in for the next. This was not a problem this year. I suspect it was due to several factors, including larger classrooms, the fact that the entire event was inside, and hour long slots for the workshops to allow time in between.


Forest Gardening and Ecological Design - Micah Wiles of Cedar Creek Farm

I had attended a workshop on Forest Gardening at the 2012 Mother Earth News Fair, so had some idea of what to expect. Unfortunately I think that many of those attending were expecting something different, and several ended up leaving before the workshop ended. At one point there were only fifteen people left, although this number kept changing as people would leave and different people would enter. It was distracting for those of us who stayed the entire time, and I'm sure had to be for the instructor as well.

I really enjoyed the workshop. The instructor was very knowledgeable in the subject. I learned several things, but more importantly, I now have more of an interest in learning more. I'm sure that forest gardening will be going onto my list of subjects to research further.

Winter Gardening - Cathy Reymeyer of Mother of a Hubbard

I've attended workshop in the past on winter gardening and/or season extension, but have never really been that interested. I had not originally plan to attend this workshop, but did so at the urging of a friend who was planning to attend. In hindsight I'm glad that I did.

Winter gardening is obviously a popular subject, as the workshop was held in, what I believe was, the largest of the classrooms, and was still packed, with people standing at the back of the room. The information given about building a low-cost low-tunnel will definitely be useful. Perhaps what I most enjoyed, though, was that the instructor took the time to really explain some key concepts, such as the reason behind increased sugar production of plants for cold tolerance.

Growing Our Own Food & Farm Financing - Michelle Howell & Rona Roberts

I really wasn't sure what to expect from this workshop. I was hoping it would be filled with practical information, but I was unfortunately disappointed. Instead, the focus was on the slow money movement, as it can apply to homesteading, gardening, etc. This was explained through several real life examples. I ended up enjoying the workshop, much more than I would have expected,though,  and may do some additional research into the slow money movement.

Composting Toilets - Micah Wiles of Cedar Creek Farm

I was beyond excited when I saw that a workshop on composting toilets was on the schedule. This is something I have been interested in for quite some time, and actually intend to experiment with this year.

When the workshop began the instructor explained that he was not an expert on the subject, but does use a composting toilet at home. He has an outhouse which is used for most of the year, but also uses a basic bucket toilet during the winter months to avoid braving the cold to get to the outhouse.

Most of the focus of the workshop was on using a bucket toilet, with some discussion of designs that could allow for an inside toilet with outside collection, as well as ideas for urine separation. Commercial composting toilets were not discussed in detail, which was fine with me, since I plan to begin with the bucket system anyway.

I didn't really learn much from this workshop that I didn't already know. A couple of books, The Humanure Handbook and Holy Shit were recommended, both of which I've read. It was still nice, though, to hear a first hand account from someone who is currently using a bucket toilet. It was also nice to see that there is sufficient demand for information on the topic that a workshop was offered at the fair. This makes me hopeful that composting toilet use may become more common.

I didn't actually spend much time browsing the vendors at the fair this year. I spent one of my breaks looking for food and eating lunch. My later, longer, break was primarily spent talking with Dan Adams from Earthineer. He had requested some time with me to discuss some ideas for the site, and I'm always more than happy to spend my time doing that. My last workshop ended before time for the fair to close, but Andrea was also finished, so we left early and had dinner with friends, who were also attending the fair.

Andrea did spend more time looking at the vendors, and picked up a few items. She also helped out at the booth where the Field to Fork Festival was being promoted. She did attend a couple of workshops, one on Medicinal Teas and another on Permaculture in Practice, as well as participating in a seed swap.

All in all it was a wonderful day. I was very happy to see so many people come out to the fair. I hope it is a sign of increasing interest in sustainability in the area. I'm already looking forward to next year's event, even though the 2014 event season is just getting underway. With the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC coming up in April, and then the Field to Fork Festival in May it is shaping up to be a spring filled with learning opportunities.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


I've not accomplished as much as I would have liked since this weekend, but I've gotten a bit done.

Monday evening I went out after work and spent a couple of hours working up the downed trees over at the garden. I made more progress than expected, so was pleased with that. I didn't get to work on it Tuesday or Wednesday either one, though. On Tuesday we had to go to Richmond after work for the Field to Fork planning committee meeting. Then, on Wednesday I worked in the office, plus the weather turned cold and rainy. I did get out for a few minutes after work this evening, but managed to fall and hurt my wrist a bit, so came back inside. I'm sure it'll be fine by tomorrow.

Monday, March 10, 2014


I had a productive weekend, which is definitely a nice change of pace.

In preparation for the weekend I took the RTV tire that has been going flat to the repair shop in town. Strangely the couldn't find a leak, but I had told them it was leaking around the rim so he went ahead and cleaned it and replaced the valve stem. He ended up not even charging anything, since he didn't find a problem. That's service you only get with small, local businesses.

Andrea also stopped at a hardware store in London and picked up a new chainsaw for me. I had been planning to get one for a while, and decided now was the time. I went with the Echo CS-400, which seemed like the best fit for my  needs.

On Saturday my Dad came down to help me cut some trees. The original plan was to just cut the trees in the way of the garden expansion, as well as some of those casting shade on the garden and the black walnuts close by. It went quicker than expected, though, so we went ahead and cute every tree within the actual garden area. I'm left with a huge mess to clean up, but it is going to be a big improvement once its all done.

I spent yesterday working on the cleanup. I'm stacking the logs so they can season, in hopes of using them for a cordwood construction project down the road. So the cleanup consists of trimming off the branches, piling them up to be chipped later, then moving and stacking the logs. Andrea helped me after lunch, and we managed to get about fifteen logs stacked. I suspect most of my free time during the month of March, when the weather permits, will be spent trying to finish up that project.

It seems a little strange to me to cut down so many trees, since I've been looking at potential house sites with an eye towards not having to cut anything except the smallest of trees. Most of those in the garden were over-crowded, though, so had grown incredibly tall, without putting on much trunk size. That's one thing that should make them great for cordwood, because they are tall, straight, and relatively slender.

Monday, March 3, 2014


I am both surprised and disappointed to see that it has been nearly a month since I last wrote an update. Not a lot has happened in that, time though, really. I was sick for a week, with what I assume was the flu, even though I never went to the doctor. Other than that, I've attended a few meetings, including a couple more Field to Fork planning committee meetings, as well as one to discuss the Earthineer Marketplace and bartering system, which is going to enter beta testing soon.

We did have some nice weather this weekend, and I hoped it was going to mark the beginning of Spring's arrival. I got out on Saturday and worked in and around the garden, spreading mulch on the garlic beds and between the rows, as well as turning the compost pile. I was happily surprised to see how well the compost has broken day. After that I spent some time exploring the woods, and just enjoying the nice weather. I located a large Sycamore tree by the creek that I was previously unaware of, which I was very happy to find. Large and/or old trees always fascinate me.

The weather turned to rain yesterday, and to snow last night and today. I went out at lunch to around five inches of snow, which I think is the most we've had all year, possibly since we moved here. I decided to get the four-wheeler out, and enjoyed speeding through the fresh snow and sliding around turns. Afterwards I played with the dogs a bit, before going in to warm up and eat. Its nice just getting out and having fun occassionally. I certainly need to do it more often.

Monday, February 10, 2014


We attended the 2014 Southeastern Kentucky Beekeeping School event this weekend. We attended the Eastern Kentucky event last year, so decided to mix it up and do the Southeastern one this time around. The drive should have taken about an hour and forty-five minutes. It snowed Saturday morning, however, and the roads hadn't been treated when we left around 6:15 AM. It ended up taking us close to two and a half hours to get there. I considered turning and going back home at one point, after nearly losing control of the truck on a four-lane highway, but we were more than halfway there, so I figured the drive back home would be worse than continuing.

The event itself was very informative. I attended workshops on Natural Beekeeping, Forage Crops for Bees, Queen Rearing, and Races of Bees. The workshops gave me a renewed interest in beekeeping. I was especially pleased with the Races of Bees workshop, because it helped me to understand more about the diversity of European Honeybee available, and how to determine which might be the best fit for us.

After the workshops ended we met a friend in Somerset before heading home. Its always nice when we can work in seeing someone we don't see often with attending workshops.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Exploring the Uses of Raw Milk

As I mentioned previously in Obtaining Raw Milk via a Herd Share, we joined a herd share about a month ago. Since then we have been enjoying the many uses of raw milk, as Andrea has experimented with making various products that we previously had to buy.

When raw milk is allowed to settle, the cream separates and rises to the top. This can either be skimmed off, and used in place of heavy whipping cream, or mixed back into the milk by shaking it. The lady who runs the herd shares indicated that some of her customers like the richer taste of the milk without removing the cream, but we've found sufficient uses for the cream that we've been removing it so far.

The first thing that Andrea made from the cream was an Alfredo sauce, which we had with some homemade pasta. The sauce was delicious, but homemade sauce is not something we have regularly, so I can't really judge how much of a role the fresh creamed played in the way it turned out.

Next Andrea decided to make some butter from the cream. I had no idea how simple it was to make homemade butter, especially if an electric stand mixer is used. The first taste of the homemade butter was on fresh from the oven homemade bread, which was an incredible combination. We gave up margarine long ago, and like to use locally produced butter whenever possible. I think homemade is better than even the locally produced stuff, though, but I'm likely biased. I've been told that making homemade butter from store-bought heavy cream is also quite tasty, and preferable to store-bought butter.

Andrea has also began experimenting with cheese-making. She has made ricotta a couple of times, which we've used in calzones, a baked pasta dish with alfredo sauce, and most recently cheese filled ravioli. The last batch that was used in the ravioli had a bit of an off taste, which she attributed to the vinegar that was used. More experimentation is needed, which just means more tasty foods to eat.

She has also made homemade mozzarella, which is nothing like the shredded pizza cheese most people are accustom to. We like to buy fresh mozzarella, so were able to compare the homemade version to that. The homemade cheese was easily as good as the store-bought fresh cheese, and can't even be compared to the pre-shredded stuff that you find in most grocery stores. The homemade mozzarella was tasty to eat by itself, and wonderful in calzones.

Andrea hopes to experiment more with cheese-making in the future. She also plans to experiment with either making yogurt or kefir, which I'll integrate into my morning smoothies. We typically have about half a gallon of milk left over each week for experimenting with, so she should have ample opportunity to try out everything she wants.

Raw milk is not required for making dairy products. There are, however, advantages to using raw milk instead of pasteurized. Of course there are risks as well. There is much disagreement over the seriousness of those risks. I urge everyone to do his/her own research and decide whether or not to try raw milk, whether for drinking, cooking, or making cheese, butter, etc.

What is Sustainability?

Yesterday, at a beekeeping workshop, one of the speakers made a statement about "sustainable beekeeping" that caught my attention. During a brief introduction of natural and sustainable beekeeping he defined sustainable beekeeping as maintaining the same number of hives from one year to the next. This is certainly not how I would define sustainable beekeeping, and it caused me to think about the way in which definitions such as his weaken the term.

I'm not picking on this gentleman specifically. I see many examples of sustainable being used in a way that I disagree with. Most often it seems, like with this sustainable beekeeping definition, the vision for sustainability doesn't extend past the farm, organization, or relevant industry. I've seen homesteaders describe the term sustainable as being an activity that generates sufficient income to allow the person to not hold an odd-homestead job.

According to the USDA the legal definition of Sustainable Agriculture is: "... an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long-term:

  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends.
  • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole."

I find it interesting, though, how different this definition is from the definition of the individual words. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary sustainable is defined as "involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources". Nowhere in the definition of sustainable agriculture, however, is there mention of ensuring that natural resources are not depleted. The focus seems more on the benefits to the farmers, the society, and the economy.

In Miles Olsen's Unlearn, Rewild, the author asks an important question about ideas of sustainability. He provides the following example, 
"The Brazilian rainforest is being cleared at at alarming rate to make way for vast plantations of soybeans. Hundreds of thousands of acres of genetically modified monoculture. What if those tractors were powered by biodiesel? What if they were powered by methane trapped from composting human feces, which was then used to fertilize the field? Imagine that picture as an example of sustainability - vegan food being farmed using green fuel and human compost."

Then he asks the real question, "But why would anyone want to sustain that?" Olsen makes the point that we are trying to find convenient ways of somewhat reducing the environmental impact of our lifestyle, and calling that "sustainable". No matter how much we invest in alternative fuels and renewable energy, however, we are never going to turn the modern "civilized" lifestyle into something that is sustainable without making significant changes.

That is not to say that renewable energy and alternative fuel sources do not have their place in sustainability, because they certainly do. Those things, alone, however, are not sustainable, especially when paired with damaging practices like Olsen's Brazilian rainforest example.

We need to view sustainability in terms of overall impact to the environment, natural resources, and society, and not simply whether it can financially sustain our lifestyle or allow a given industry to continue for some period of time.

Sustainable beekeeping, in my opinion has nothing to do with how many hives one has. In fact, I see no reason one can't expand every year and still be practicing sustainable beekeeping. The key to sustainable beekeeping is ensuring there are bees and forage plants for them to feed on. I suspect that reducing chemical pesticide use, both in agriculture and landscaping, is a much bigger factor in sustainable beekeeping than anything an individual beekeeping may do in his/her apiary.

Many people will tell you that sustainability is subjective. It should not be, however.

Monday, February 3, 2014


Like most recent weeks, last week was pretty unproductive. The weekend was a bit of  a change, though.

The one productive thing I did during the week was attend the Field to Fork Planning Committee, during which we discussed which workshops to offer. I was volunteered to lead a workshop on growing garlic, which should be interesting. Leading a workshop is definitely a first for me, although its something I've assumed was inevitable to happen eventually.

By Saturday morning most of the snow had melted, and the temperatures had improved considerably. I'm not sure what the high temperature for the day was, but I suspect it was near 60 degrees. There was even a brief period during which I was outside working in a t-shirt.

I didn't tackle any major projects, because of the mud. I began by clearing some of the trails of briars that gone along side them and fallen over into the pathway. I especially focused on the trail from the trailer to the old house we're tearing down, since that is, by far, the closest way to travel between the two points for anyone walking.

While I had my pruners and brush axe out I decided to take a better look at the spot where I think we might eventually build a house. I walked around the edges of the most level section, and used the GPS to record it. Later I was able to download the data from the GPS and get a good look at the shape of the spot, and determine its area, which is roughly one-quarter of an acre, which should be plenty for the small house we plan to build.

Next I decided to ride the 4-wheeler up to check out one of the upper trails, an old logging road. There is only so much of the road passable, due to overgrowth, but with most vegetation dead I was able to park and walk the rest of the road, with help of the pruners in the most overgrown areas. I had followed the road partially before, but never the entire distance. It extended another quarter of a mile or so, where it ran into the property boundary. From here I was able to follow the property boundary for another tenth of a mile, before getting to a rather steep area that I thought might be too dangerous to tackle with Andrea gone and not aware I was out in the woods, so I turned back. I suspect I was getting fairly close to the northeast corner of the property, which I've never been able to locate. I'll definitely go back and try again.

It rained all day Sunday, so I spent the day working on projects inside. I listed some unwanted books for sale online, and then spent much of the remainder of the day shredded paper, which I'll later use as mulch in the garden. The weather forecast was calling for snow over night, perhaps as much as five inches, but at first glance this morning it seems they missed the forecast almost entirely, and we only have a dusting of now.

Monday, January 27, 2014


We had our biggest snow of the season this weekend, with around four inches of accumulation. I wasn't home to see it, though, as I was visiting a friend in Lexington. It snowed there as well, and I was totally caught off guard when we got out early Saturday morning to find no roads had been cleared, not even the Interstate.

Temperatures were warmer yesterday, and by the time I came home yesterday most of the show had melted. The warmer temperatures are forecasted to stick around, though, and we're looking at another round of bitter cold. This winter is definitely shaping up to be a cold one.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Obtaining Raw Milk Via a Herd Share

Andrea and I recently bought into a herd share, as a way of obtaining raw milk. Unfortunately, in Kentucky this is the only way of legally obtaining raw milk, short of raising the cows yourself. The selling of raw milk is illegal by state law. There are, however, no laws regarding herd shares. There has been legislation proposed to protect herd share arrangements, but so far nothing has been past. For those of who do not live in Kentucky, you can check this graphic, from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund to find out your state's position on war milk and/or herd shares.

For those of you not familiar with a herd share, I"ll give a brief summary. Basically, a herd share is an arrangement in which multiple people buy a share of an animal, such as a dairy cow or goat. By having part ownership of the animal you are then allowed a portion of the milk it produces. A regular fee is then paid to the person who houses the animal, to help pay for feed, milking, and any other care that may be needed.

I learned of this particular herd share through an online group, and we emailed the organizer a couple of times, before we decided to sign up. The farm is a just over 20 miles away, but because it is on the way to Berea, Richmond, or Lexington, we figured we could manage a trip per week. Andrea will normally be doing the pickup, but I was able to go with her the first day, which was good since I was already familiar with the area in which the farm is located.

On the day of the first pick up, we headed out immediately after I got off from work. We had no idea what to expect, so were a bit nervous. Once we arrived at the farm we were greeted by Amy, who runs the herd share, and then given a tour. We first met the resident farm dog, and then met the cows and calves, and were shown where treats for them are kept in case we want to interact with them on subsequent visits. We were then shown around the barn and milking room.

Amy has a nice setup, with a newly constructed room off of the barn specifically for the herd share. Before the addition of the room she was operating it off of the front porch of her house, which I imagine was less convenient for all involved. She explained the pick up process, which is very straight forward. The door to the room is left open, so we can help ourselves if she isn't around. The milk is stored in a refrigerator so it can be kept cold. Each bottle is labeled, so there is no confusion as to which bottles to take. There is a table to the side on which the empty, and cleaned, bottles from the previous week can be left

There was a $25 up front buy in fee, and a $25 per month fee for the herd share.. This entitles us to one gallon of milk per week, during the milking season, which is estimated at nine to ten months. This is more milk that we typically use, but we expect to be able to find uses for the excess. At $6.25 per gallon, the cost of the milk is less than we'd pay for a gallon of our preferred local milk from JD Country Milk. The fact that the milk we're getting from the herd share is raw, so can be used more easily for things like cheese making, and can have the cream skimmed from the top for making butter or pasta sauce are definite advantages. We're only a few weeks in, but so far I think the herd share is going to work out great for us.

Itasca Winter Snow Boots

I have been looking for a good pair of winter boots for the past couple of years. This year I picked up a pair of Itasca Winter Snow Boots as a Christmas gift. The pair I have are slightly different than the ones linked to, but the differences appear to be entirely cosmetic.

The boots have a rubber bottom and leather upper. They feature thinsulate insulation, which is very nice in cold temperatures. I've had a chance to put the boots to the test in both water, and cold temperatures, and have, so far, been very pleased.

These boots are not going to be water-proof, nor do they claim to be. However, I was able to cross the shallow creek on our property without getting my feet wet. Obviously this is very important in a cold weather boot, since wet feet very quickly turn into cold feet in low temperatures.

My biggest priority was finding a pair of boots that would keep my feet warm. So far these have exceeded my expectations in this regard. Yesterday I slipped them on, without socks, to walk down to the mailbox. The temperature was around fifteen degrees fahrenheit, and, in addition to the boots, I was wearing insulated underwear with sweat pants over that, a t-shirt, sweatshirt, and insulated hooded sweat shirt, gloves, and a toboggan. By the time I got back to the house my feet were the warmest part of my body, even though I wasn't even wearing socks. That meets my criteria for cold weather performance, since temperatures rarely drop below twenty degrees here, at least during normal winters.

Fit was another considering when choosing these boots. I have wide feet, and often find it difficult to find boots that fit correctly. The rubber boots I have, for example, are too narrow to be comfortable for more than short periods. The Itasca boots, however, fit great. In fact, I think they might be the most comfortable shoes that I own. I suspect this is, at least partially, due to the padding and insulation.

Having only owned these boots for a month I can't comment on their ruggedness. They seem to be well constructed, but only time will tell how well they hold up. If I run into any issues I'll be sure to update this post with that information.

So far I'm very happy with the boots, and would recommend them to anyone needing a pair of insulated winter boots for occasional use. They certainly do the job I need them to do.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Rural Living vs City Living Series - Shopping

For my third post in the Rural Living vs City Living Series I am going to look at the topic of shopping. By shopping, I do not mean shopping as a leisure activity, but the act of obtaining material goods that are needed for use around the home.

I think that, when it comes to shopping, living in the city has less of an impact on the environment than living in a rural setting. Sure, there is the impact of destroying ecosystems to construct shopping malls and parking structures, but I consider those to be infrastructure and not shopping related.

The biggest reason I feel that city living has the advantage is that, in most situations, all of one's shopping can be done relatively close to home. In a rural setting, however, while some of the shopping can be done close to home, there are always situations that require travelling farther to get speciality items. Unfortunately, for us, these speciality items include organic foods, meaning that we make regular trips to London to shop as well we trips to Lexington every few months. Likewise, the transport of items to the store in rural areas requires the use of much more energy, than transporting the same items to an urban area, due to the rural areas and stores being so spread out.

We overcome some of the travel issues with shopping by doing a lot of shopping online. I have seen evidence that indicates that having products delivered, rather than buying from a brick and mortar store has less environmental impact, especially in situations such as ours. We regularly buy entertainment, household items, and even tools from online stores. The bulk of our food, however, still requires travelling to the establishment.

When it comes to shopping, I feel that natural living, sustainability, and self sufficiency are all very closely related. I believe that rural living has an edge over city living in each of these categories. One big reason for this is that stores in rural areas are more accustomed to providing the types of products required for a natural, sustainable, and self-sufficient lifestyle. Gardening and farming supplies are typically readily available in such areas. There also seem to be more opportunities to purchase direct from small, local businesses, which can be more flexible. This includes things such as saw mills, which can custom cut lumber, even using logs provided by the customer, if desired.

I believe that reusing items, by buying used, is a very important part of sustainability. I do sometimes think that it would be nice to live in or near an urban area to have increased access to used items for sale. Browsing the Lexington Craigslist page versus the Eastern Kentucky page really makes it obvious that the more people in an area, the more used items that will be available. However, one thing I've noticed is that, often, the type of items needed for living the lifestyle I'm trying to live are more readily available in rural areas. People in cities do not have the same need for certain items as people out in the country, meaning they are also less likely to have those items for sale. On the other hand, though, household items, clothing, etc can be found at thrift stores, which are abundant in cities.

Ultimately, I think that city living has the advantage when it comes to the topic of shopping. Having access to a wide variety of items in close proximity to ones home can be very beneficial. I do not, however, want to overlook the benefits of shopping with local merchants. While both rural and urban areas have a mix of locally and corporate owned stores, it seems that rural areas tend to have a higher percentage of locally owned businesses. This is more of an economic advantage, than a shopping advantage, but I felt that it deserved to be mentioned.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Conservation vs Cost Dilemma.

Back in September, as we were preparing for our annual trip to the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania, we were faced with a strange dilemma. Neither of us has SMS service on our cell phones, but we wanted to be able to send text messages to each other while at the fair. I was able to add it to my phone relatively cheaply, approximately $5 for the month. For Andrea's phone, however, it was going to cost closer to $10, if I recall correctly. That itself wasn't a big deal, as it was going to be worth the expense to have the functionality while at the fair. The odd part was what Andrea found out when she shopped around.

The local discount store sells pre-paid phones. At the time they had a deal that provided a new phone and more text messages that she would need for the trip, all for $6. Our preference would have been to add the service to her existing phone. It seems wasteful to buy a new phone just to save a few dollars on the SMS service. However, we didn't especially like the idea of rewarding our provider for attempting to over-charge, in my opinion, for a service which we could get elsewhere for less. In the end we decided to go with the new phone, which was used only for that month, and is now sitting in a drawer.

I feel that the situation illustrates a real problem we have in our society. For most of my life most consumer electronics have been priced low enough that replacing them was often more practical than having them repaired. Now, however, we are starting to see situations in which buying a new device is cheaper than adding a service to an existing device, even if the new device is only going to be used temporarily. There could, conceivably, be a situation in which it is cheaper to buy a new pre-paid phone each month, and then throw it away and buy a new one, than adding minutes to an existing phone.

Electronic devices should not be disposable, yet it appears we're continuing to move in that direction. With so many people prioritizing price over all else, I hesitate to even think about the amount of waste created by situations such as the one we found ourselves in. I suspect that most people would gladly buy a new phone in order to save money, with little or no regard for the amount of waste resulting from that decision.

On the flip-side, many people are only able to be motivated to conserve if it results in a noticeable financial savings. When there are financial incentives for not conserving, however, most would not even consider it. Even in a break-even scenario, most people would likely choose to own a new device over conserving resources by keeping their old device. This doesn't bode well for the future of conservation, if people view it as something that costs them money, rather than as a way to save it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Book Review - The Toilet Papers

I have, for quite some time, wanted to read The Toilet Papers: Recycling Waste and Conserving Water by Sim Van der Ryn. A few months ago I picked up a copy, and just finished reading it.

The Toilet Papers, along with Joseph Jenkins' The Humanure Handbook, is one of the books most often suggested for information on alternative methods for the handling and treatment of human waste. While some of the information was dated, having been originally published in 1978, I found that the frequent recommendations were spot on. This is certainly a must read for anyone interested in the idea of humanure composting.

Amazingly, in spite of being just 122 pages long, the book not only covers the topic of human waste, but also of gray water systems and specific toilet designs. The chapter on the "Notes on the History of Easing Thyself" describes some of the various toilets in use throughout history, and explains how we ended up with the modern, water based system, that we have today.

Rather than go into more detail about the information provided in the book, I am just going to recommend that you pick up a copy and read it for yourself. Its a quick, and enjoyable read, while at the same time being very informative. Even if you have no intention of ever using anything other than a traditional toilet, it is likely you'll find some tidbit of interesting information, such as the benefits of relieving oneself while squatting, rather than sitting.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Yesterday was a productive day, even though we didn't do any projects around the house.

We recently learned of a local farmer offering raw cow's milk via a herd share. Because sale of raw milk is illegal in the state, herd shares are the only way of obtaining it, other than raising the cow yourself. We've been interested in this for some time, so decided to sign up when heard about openings in this share.

After work we drove the 30 minutes to the farm, where we met the cows and calves, and was given a tour of the barn and milking room. After a pleasant conversation with the lady running the herd share we took two half-gallon jars of milk from the storage refrigerator, then were on our way.

After leaving the farm we drove on into Richmond to attend a class at the Madison County Cooperative Extension Service Facility. The class was entitled "All of the Alliums" and was offered as part of a monthly program by the Eat Local, Grow Local organization. The class focused primarily on onions, which is what we hoped, as we have only grown them once, with minor success. It was an informative session, and because of it we plan to grow additional varieties of onion this year in hopes of having being able to have onions on hard throughout the year.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


As you might expect, I haven't done a whole lot productive over the past week or so. Thankfully the weather has improved, or at least the temperature has, but it has been rainy. We received a lot of rain Friday night and Saturday morning, leaving more mud than I like to deal with. Instead of trying to stay home and work, I spent the weekend visiting a friend in Lexington.

I did go to a farm equipment auction in Richmond Saturday morning. I was hoping I might find a good deal on a set of pallet forks, but didn't see any. I stuck around long enough to get a feel for the prices that equipment was bringing, then headed on to Lexington.

Yesterday I witness something that I'm at a loss to explain. The shed where I park the RTV has two 2x4x running horizontally at 'ceiling' level. These are not structural, but were installed to provide a place to store things overhead. Last week, following the extreme cold weather, I noticed that one of those 2x4s had bowed enough that the RTV was rubbing when I drove under it. At least I thought bowing was the problem. When I got the RTV out yesterday evening, to take out the compost and trash, I discovered that I had close to an inch of clearance between the RTV and that 2x4. I had suspected that the cold could have caused the initial problem, but never dreamed it was only temporary and that it would be back to normal once the temperature improved. I've been assuming that something had changed with that 2x4, but now I wonder if the change occurred elsewhere.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Christmas Gifts - 2013

I decided to do a post this year, similar to my Christmas Gifts - 2012 post from last year. There is a striking difference between the gifts I received, which I find encouraging.

Itasca Mens Winter Snow Boot - I've been wanting a good pair of insulated boots to wear in the winter. Several months ago I ran across a pair that fit the bill at a farm supply store, so picked them up with the intention of them being a Christmas gift. Since my grandmother always gives us money to pick out a gift, I decided the boots would be from her.

Stanley Thermos - This was gift was a surprise as I received it as part of a gift exchange which typically includes lesser value items. I'm assuming that whomever gave it had either gotten an incredible deal on it, or had received it as a gift and didn't need it. Either way, I'm very pleased to have ended up with it, and will put it to good use keeping my hot chocolate warm this winter.

West Chester Insulated Deer Skin Gloves - I have been using West Chester gloves for a couple of years now, so typically ask for a new pair for Christmas, since I know I'll use them. This year I was pleasantly surprised a pair of the higher quality deer skin gloves, with the Thinsulate insulation.

Black & Decker 18-Volt Cordless Pole Saw - This was another item which I picked out for myself, as a gift from my other grandmother. Earlier in the year I had tried pruning limbs from the Black Walnut trees along the driveway, and after a lot of frustration decided it was time to get a pole saw to make the job easier in the future. I considered investing in a gasoline saw, but due to the cost opted for the 18-volt.

Torin Big Red 3.5 Ton Fast Lift Service Jack - My parents typically try to buy a Christmas gift for me that I don't know about, but this year decided to go ahead and buy this jack, since I had expressed an interesting in getting one. In fact, my Dad had me pick it up one day when I was in London, and just keep it here rather than transporting it to their house to open it, then back home after Christmas.

Torin 3 Ton Jack Stands - To go with the floor jack, Andrea picked me up a set of jack stands as a gift from her mother. I was going to buy a set anyway, so it was certainly a good choice.

Amazon Gift Card - Since much of my shopping, especially for items like books and music, is done via Amazon I asked for gift cards this year. It worked out well for my uncle who wasn't able to make it in this Christmas, as gift cards are much easier to ship than a physical gift would have been.

Visa Gift Card - Andrea and I also received a Visa gift card to split. Its always easy to split something like this, as we can just use the card for household purchases and then spend an equal amount of money in cash on whatever we choose.

TGI Friday's Gift Card - This was yet another gift card that Andrea and I received as a joint gift. One of my aunt's likes to buy restaurant gift cards for us, which is always appreciated. The closest TGI Friday's is in Lexington, but we travel there often enough that we should have no problem spending it.

Cash - Finally, I received cash from a couple of different people. Andrea's grandparents use to write us a check, but have, in recent years, switched to giving cash instead. We also draw names with her aunts and uncles, and this normally results in receiving a gift card, although sometimes cash is given instead, which of course if appreciated. I can't think of anyone who couldn't find a use for cash.

I was very pleased with the gifts I received this year. I have nothing that needs to be returned, unlike last year when I received four truck nets. I also received fewer gifts, eleven, compared to the twenty-two I received last year. This is from a combination of receiving more higher priced items, and from not getting a gift from as many people. I'd love to see this drop even more next year, if I can convince some of my aunts and uncles who still buy for us to stop, but I'm very pleased with the decrease.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


We survived the extreme, at least for KY, cold weather of the past few days. I didn't accomplish anything productive during that period, other than staying warm and making sure the animals were ok. Luckily we had only had the dogs and cats to worry about, and no chickens or livestock yet, that would have required actually going farther outside than the front porch to care for.

Monday night was the coldest, with temperatures dropping down to six degrees below zero. Wind chills were being forecast to top twenty below. As if the cold nights weren't bad enough, though, the days weren't much better. The high temperature yesterday was only thirteen degrees. It was cold again last night, although not nearly as cold, with a temperature of eight degrees when I woke up. The high for today is forecasted to be in the upper thirties. It looks like we made it through this cold spell unscathed, which is certainly the worst since moving here.

We're fortunate that we did not lose power, like some people did, even in cities as large as Lexington. We would have managed without electricity, since we would be able to cook, and use a propane heater to keep one room warm, but it would not have been pleasant. We were also fortunate to have not had to deal with frozen or burst water pipes. I know several people who did have this problem.

Monday, January 6, 2014


I had a fairly productive weekend. As mentioned in my previous post, we woke up Friday to a cold house and a furnace that wasn't working. I quickly found the problem, which was the same as the last few times I had someone come out to repair it. There is a small electric motor, that must be running for the furnace to fire, and it wasn't coming on. After fiddling with it, I finally got it to come up, although didn't really do anything specific to achieve this. Its been running fine ever since, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed since we're expecting the temperatures to drop below zero in the next day or two.

We spent Saturday running errands and grocery shopping. We began the day with a quick trip into town to buy straw, which would later be stuffed into the dog houses to provide Luke and Jack with some extra warmth in preparation for cold weather. After this we went to both London and Corbin, primarily to do grocery shopping, but also made a few other stops. We're trying to play ahead and buy a couple of weeks worth of food at a time, including food for the dogs, which, by itself, is about 70 pounds of meat.

The weather on Sunday was surprisingly nice, especially considering the bad weather that was forecasted to move into the area. We decided to take advantage of this and do some work outside to give the dogs a warmer place to stay during the cold weather. We started by enclosing the porch, or two sides at least, with plastic. It didn't turn out as well as it did last year, when I had my Dad helping, but as long as it holds up during this abnormally cold period I'll be happy. After finishing with the porch we stuff straw into the dog houses, covered one, to block off the ventilation holes, and set up a place for Daisy to sleep on the porch, in case she didn't want to use her house, which is under the shed. I feel pretty good about the preparations we've made, and that the animals should be fine.

Before coming in for the day I decided to plug in the heat tape for the water lines. I haven't used it since we finished installing the insulated metal panels around the base of the trailer, which was three years ago, but we've also not had temperatures this cold. I considered not using it, but decided that the small amount of electricity it will use is a small price to pay for the piece of mind of not having to worry that the pipes will freeze and burst.

Much of the rest of the day was spent at the computer, paying bills and working on the budget for 2014. The budget for 2013 had some holes in it, and needed some tweaking to fit our current spending patterns. I added new categories to the variable expenses account for things that we spent money on regularly in 2013 that wasn't budgeted, including pet care, home improvement, and workshops/classes. We've also added a regular monthly deposit to our savings account, so that we're adding something every month. Last year I planned to only add when we had money left over, and that didn't happen as often as I would have liked. This year we're putting in around 8% of our net income, which isn't as much as I'd like, but is much better than nothing. We'll add more to that in months that we have money left over.

Friday, January 3, 2014


As mentioned before, I've been having a serious lack of motivation this winter season. You might imagine, then, how nice it felt to kick the new year off with a day outside working. Wednesday was a happy coincidence of a day I had off of work when the weather was actually fairly nice, sunny and temperatures in the 40s.

Andrea was attending an event with her quilt club that day, so I had the place to myself. Once it warmed up I decided to hook to the mower and do some clearing work I had been wanting to do. I had tried this once before, on a particularly cold day, only to find the mower would not start. It was stubborn again this time, but finally started for me.

After a couple of hours of mowing I started seeing smoke. When I went to see what was going on, I realized it wasn't just smoke, but also a liquid spraying out of the mower. After getting it shut down, I realized that the oil fill cap had been torn off by some briars, allowing oil to spray all over the mower. The smoke was from the oil hitting the hot engine. I covered the opening left by the missing cap, and pulled the mower home and parked it. I'll need to get a replacement cap, and change the oil before using it again.

With my mowing brought to an end for the day I decided to run into town and pick up lunch. I also used it as an opportunity to fill up a can with diesel, since the last time I used the tractor I very nearly ran it out of fuel, thinking I had a full can back at the shed.

After having lunch I went ahead and fueled up the tractor, and then greased the front end loader. The manual suggests greasing it after every 10 hours of use, but with the way I use the tractor its impossible to know how many hours of use are actually on the loader. I've been trying to grease it every 15 to 20 hours, depending on what I've been doing. Its a quick job, and doing it too often is definitely better than not often enough.

I'm hoping that my productive first day of the year is a sign of what is in store for 2014. Unfortunately today I woke to find the furnace not working, which is really bad since we're going into the coldest temperatures of the year so far. I'm hoping I can get it to fire up on my own, otherwise we'll either have to get someone out here to look at it quickly, or resort to using the portable propane heater. Andrea and I both have electric space heaters running in our bedrooms this morning, which work well for small rooms, but not the entire house.