April 2, 2020

A New Normal?

Many bloggers are sharing the rigors of their imposed isolation in response to this latest health threat. I'm afraid I have nothing interesting to report on that front because our lives here on our homestead haven't changed because of the pandemic frenzy. Being self-reliant means we are relatively self-contained, anyway. We live with livestock, manure, and dirt, so we are already in the habit of washing our hands frequently. We never wear outdoor shoes in the house and we change to indoor clothes after working outside all day.

We keep a stocked pantry, not because we're afraid of the zombie apocalypse, but because it's common sense. Plus, growing our own food is necessarily based on annual growing and storage cycles. We know how to tighten our belts, if the need arises, and how to make do with less than we're accustomed to. I still make my weekly shopping trip, but even with random empty store shelves, we have enough to get by, or we have alternatives as back-up. We home church. The only thing we miss is videos from the library—but not enough to pick up a paid TV service!

No one would admire our financial status, but we are content. We have no debt except our mortgage. We have no investments, and we aren't trying to increase our wealth. So it doesn't matter what the stock market and Federal Reserve are doing. On the fortunate side, our fixed income isn't dependent on Dan going to work, although as a retired truck driver he'd still be working if he wasn't retired.

The bottom line is that we subscribe to a different social and economic paradigm than the world clings to, and as much as the world will let us, we try to live our lives in accordance with our beliefs. We've chosen greater self-dependence rather than seeking to meet all our needs through the consumer system. We've chosen interacting with nature instead of pursuing social trends. This has been our life for over a decade. Now, I hear folks talking about a new normal once this covid-19 scare is behind us, but I honestly don't know what that means.

I don't want to give the impression that I don't care how difficult this "lockdown" is for many. I do care, so I'm writing this blog post to find out how you're feeling about the future. Does a new normal mean personal changes? Social changes? Preparing for the future arrival of covid-20, covid-21, etc? I'd like to think this has been a wake-up call, and that a new normal means people taking back control of their lives:
  • Common sense stocking up, i.e. at least whatever supply of groceries and household items you wish you had now.
  • Growing even a small portion of their own food. (Can't put in a garden? Then how about a nursery cart and grow light?)
  • Learn how to strengthen the immune system.
  • Learn how to be content with fewer distractions and less stuff.
  • Realize that to the talking heads, bad news gets higher ratings than good news. Turn off the TV and engage in something constructive.
  • Realize that wealth isn't numbers on a computer screen.
For society, I hope we're paying close attention to who is now considered essential and non-essential. There are some important observations to be made here, such as, we've been overpaying the wrong people. I hope we're realizing that cities are not safe places when it comes to health security and resource availability. I hope we're realizing that there are different definitions of "truth." This has always been the case, but it's becoming more obvious to anyone paying attention. Lastly, I hope we're seeing for whom politics and power are more important than people.

Okay, that's just me. Not everyone will agree with me, so tell me what you're learning from this experience and what a new normal means to you, both personally and to society as a whole. The floor is yours.

A New Normal? © April 2020 by Leigh

March 29, 2020

Book Review: Building a Better World in Your Backyard

How many of you have spent some of your extra home time reading a good book? I have one that's well-written and filled with lots of interesting ideas. It's by Paul Wheaton and Shawn Klassen-Koup.

The aim of the book is to help you make an impact—not by being a better and louder complainer, but in realistic practical ways and without sacrificing personal comfort. The authors define this as "luxuriant environmentalism." That in itself ought to grab your attention, because most people claiming to try to save the planet tell us we need to make personal sacrifices to do that saving. The ideas in this book, however, offer less wasteful but comfortable lifestyle changes that will also save you money.

Do you already consider yourself environmentally conscientious? The first section of this book will absolutely challenge you on that. The authors begin with a very simple test, and then challenge some of the popular eco-ideas with which we've been greenwashed. This section wraps up by presenting three different footprints which can all be reduced without a sacrifice to personal comfort: carbon footprint, petroleum footprint, and toxic footprint.

Part 2 addresses general strategies to reduce these three footprints. It begins with the Wheaton Eco Scale, which gives the reader a chance to see how they realistically line up in a scale of zero to ten.

Several interesting ideas are presented. One is a system of rating the production of food according to its carbon footprint: from the Standard American Diet (SAD) of purchased foods with its footprint of 10.5 tons of carbon, down to VORP grown (virgin—i.e. raw, fresh, or minimally processed—, strictly organic, rich soil, polyculture/permaculture) with a carbon footprint of -1. Another interesting idea is to label foods with a GAT score indicating the amount of government-mandated acceptable levels of toxicity in each food item.

Part 3 addresses reducing energy consumption within the walls of your home, but without sacrificing personal comfort. Analyzes general energy usage in typical homes and numerous small and easy ways to make a big impact. Chapter 15 offers numerous ways to reduce the toxic footprint in your home, all economical and easy to do.

Part 4 is entitled "More Than Half of Each Footprint Can Be Resolved in a Backyard." Of course, not everyone has a backyard, but you'll still find an interesting discussion of one's possibilities. The ideas in this section start with the easiest ("Double the Food with One Tenth the Effort") and progress to ideas that will take a little more work but reap huge benefits ("Harvesting Electricity in Your Backyard" and "The Conventional Lawn vs a Mowable Meadow.") Also discusses the dark side of native plants, 20 things to do with twigs that fall in your yard, not composting, and greywater recycling.

Part 5 offers even more ideas for those with the ability to homestead. Entitled "Counter the Footprint of 20 People on a Homestead," it discusses the benefits (to everyone) of livestock, replacing petroleum with people, dealing with poop and pee, natural swimming pools, and why you should destroy your orchard! (Shocked? Read the book for a great reason why!) For those entertaining the idea of building their own home, there's an excellent chapter on "A Building Design That Solves Almost Everything."

Part 6, "Conclusion," summarizes the book's message nicely.

One thing that impresses me about the authors is that they respect folks who have a different opinion regarding environmental problems and their causes, yet still give an extremely compelling rationale for adopting the ideas advocated in the book. This respect is extremely important. The current trend of trying to belittle those with different opinions by calling them names will never solve the problems. If we truly believe things need to be changed, then we can only be successful through cooperation. And cooperation requires respecting one another, something that's completely disappeared in politics, activism, and  journalism these days.

The only thing that's missing in this book is an index in the paperback edition. I always prefer paperbacks and often use an index, so that's a feature I will miss. However, the sections and chapters are clearly defined in the contents, so I'm sure I'll be able to go back to ideas I want to explore further.

So. Do you want to make a difference without sacrificing comfort? Then this book is for you. Do you want to cut your bills and save money? Then this book is for you.

It's available in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook.

March 26, 2020

Mushroom Fail

About a year ago, Dan and I prepared logs and planted about 200 mushroom plugs. (That post is here.) We read it could take up to a year for the harvest.

Well, the year has come and gone and, disappointingly, we have no mushrooms!

Mushroom logs one year after inoculating.

We followed the care instructions, but a couple of possible reasons for the fail come to mind. One is that even with a weekly watering, they probably needed more because our hot summer days tend to dry things out. The other is that the log location actually got more sun than we thought it would.

Not to be deterred, I bought a different kind to try, wine cap mushrooms. They can be grown in wood chips, which will be easier to keep moist. Plus they seem to tolerate a little more sun. Dan built a bed in the same spot as the logs and planted them.

Wine cap mushroom bed beside the path.

These, also, can take up to a year to produce so expect an update in March of 2021!

Mushroom Fail © March 2020

March 22, 2020

Pasture Soil Building Update

I've been going through my photo files for pictures for 5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel. I found these and had to stop and be amazed. They were taken in February and March of 2015 and 2016, before we started on our pasture soil improvement strategy in 2018. I know that soil building takes years, so the then-and-now photos I'm about to show you are extremely heartening to me.

February 2016

March 2020

March 2016

March 2020

March 2016

March 2020

March 2015

March 2020

I didn't even remember that they once looked like that in winter. Is anyone else as amazed as I am?

The straw at in the bottom of the last photo is one of the methods I've been using for building soil in the pasture. I toss a diverse forage seed mixture down on the bare spots and cover with dirty barn bedding. The other method has been to subdivide the pastures and rotate where the goats graze. The rotations have been sporadic, especially in winter when forage growth is slow, but we've still been sticking with it and doing it the best we can.

It's not as lush as I'd like it, but considering the time of year I can't complain. On the plus side is that  we've had a relatively mild winter, which means more growth because fewer species will go dormant. Even so, because of the temperatures, regrowth is slow. But something is there! And it looks so much greener than anything we've ever seen on our property this time of year. I am exceedingly thankful.

March 18, 2020

How To Survive Without Toilet Paper

While the rampant TP jokes and memes on the internet are good for a laugh these days, I'm sure there are a few of you who didn't have the foresight to snatch up the 240 rolls that so many think are the required number for the recommended 2-week supply. If you are running low, you aren't laughing and may even be worried about what you're going to do.

Did you know that toilet paper wasn't invented until the late 1800s? Have you ever wondered how people managed before that? Jokes aside about leaves and the old paper Sears catalogues, they obviously managed very nicely. And you can too.  I raised two babies on cloth diapers without a diaper service, so I speak from experience when I say that you can survive without toilet paper!

No, I'm not suggesting wearing diapers (no more jokes, please). I'm suggesting DIY reusable toilet wipes. Often called "family cloths," these are made from soft cotton and when properly laundered, are a more ecologically conscientious and cost effective that purchased toilet paper.

You can make them by cutting up old cotton t-shirts, towels, worn articles of clothing, even socks, or use wash clothes. Don't use synthetic fabrics. They are petroleum based and not absorbent.

Keep a basketful in the bathroom along with a soaking bucket. The bucket can be any size; preferably with a lid. The soaking solution is the same as for a cloth diaper pail: 1/2 cup of borax (as in 20 Mule Team) to 1 gallon of warm water. Mix until dissolved. The borax removes odors and stains.

In the unfortunate circumstance of a messy clean-up, you have a couple of choices. We used to rinse out messy cloth diapers in the toilet with our bare hands! (gasp). Or since the cloths are just rags, they can be thrown away just like you would a disposable diaper.

To launder, drain soaked cloths and wash in hot water with laundry detergent. If you'd like, add a little bleach to the wash water. Don't use fabric softener. Fabric softener makes fabrics less absorbent. If you use a dryer, dry on the high setting. To line dry, hang them in the sun for the sun's extra bleaching effect.

Speaking of bleach, I learned in nursing school that the best disinfectant is bleach. Much more so than alcohol. Alcohol is effective in pushing germs out of the way, but less effective at actually killing them. A bleach water solution was what we used to wipe down exam tables. Make a bleach solution of 1/2 to 3/4 cup bleach to 1 gallon water (3 to 4 teaspoons to 2 cups water) and use a rag for your countertops, door knobs, toilet seats, sinks, and faucet and flush handles. It's cheap and highly effective. The bonus is less trash to dispose of.

Along those lines, soap, water, and briskly scrubbing your hands is more effective than hand sanitizer. (Check out this grammar school science experiment to see the difference for yourself.) Why is this so? It's the friction heat of the scrubbing that kills the germs. Then you rinse them away. When you use hand sanitizer, you leave a pile of hopefully dead germs sticking to your skin.

Recommended scrubbing time for soap and water hand washing is at least 20+ seconds, or about as long as it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song (something else I learned in nursing school!) Hand sanitizer is useful to carry in a car, purse, or backpack, for times when you can't properly wash your hands. But it needs to be at least 60% alcohol, or it isn't effective. Then do a thorough soap and water scrub as soon as you can.

Hopefully, things will resume some sense of sanity soon! In the meantime, how is everyone faring? I'm hoping to get my first spring seeds in the ground soon if the weather cooperates.

March 15, 2020

2020 Master Plan Revised: What Do You Think?

Thanks to everyone's feedback, here's what I've come up with for the 2020 master plans in my upcoming 5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel. The "big picture" view will be on the left page, the detail view will be on the facing right page. Captions can list what's growing in the hedgerow and what fruit trees and bushes are planted, etc.

solid black lines = fence
dashed black line = property line, not fenced
pairs of black dots = gates
dotted gray lines = electric fence to subdivide pastures
italics = planned projects

I made a few more revisions thanks to your comments.
You can see the revised detail view on my Master Plan page.

In the book, I'll explain changes and rationales from the previous master plan and include photos to further clarify. I also need to note that everything is only approximately accurate.

To test how well these print out, I sized them for a 6" by 9" paperback with half-inch margins and saved it as a PDF. Then I ran it off at the library to make sure the text is legible. Both Dan and I thought the print-out was quite satisfactory, so unless any of you spot mistakes or things that otherwise need clarifying, these are what I'll use in the book interior. An actual physical proof copy will let me know for sure.

For now, I need to know what you think. Better? Suggestions? Did I forget anything?