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?

March 11, 2020

Triplets for Ellie

At long last, Ellie had her kids. She was huge as a house and two days late. Two days isn't actually "late," but after a week of being on baby alert and checking on her every several hours during the night, I was ready for a good night's sleep! Finally, here they are, going on two days old.

A solid black doeling was first.

Second was a buckling who looks like his daddy.

Last was another buckling with frosted ears & nose & a white crown.

The birthing went well and all three are up & at'em. 

A couple of days later, we had our first outing.

Ellie's kids are the littlest, so she kept them away from the bigger, rougher kids (and adults).

A lazy snack.

When it came time to bring everybody back to the barn, Ellie's kids were nowhere to be seen.

I found her kids in the "kid cave" taking a nap.

New kids instinctively go to this large dog crate to lay down when it's time to rest. It makes both mama goat and me feel like they're safe.

That's it for this spring's kidding: 2 does and 7 bucks. Problem is, my waiting list doesn't stack up that way! lol. I have too many adult bucks too, so we're going to have to do something to get down to more realistic numbers.

Triplets For Ellie © March 2020

March 7, 2020

Chest Freezer to Fridge Conversion

Between my book giveaway and kidding, I haven't had a chance to share my progress on our solar pantry project. I left off about a month ago, when I showed you how we adjust our solar panels. The next step was replacing my old energy-guzzling pantry refrigerator with a low-energy DIY chest fridge.

My freezer and new 5-cubic foot chest refrigerator on the back porch. The
7-cubic foot size is more common for this, but this is what I had room for.

There are caveats, criticisms, and a couple of challenges that I'll discuss in just a bit, but first I want to show you how I did it. It was a simple procedure.

These are more energy efficient than uprights because cold sinks.
With a chest, cold doesn't fall out onto the floor when it's opened.

All that's required is a refrigerator thermostat/temperature controller.

This one cost about $55.

It hangs on the wall behind the fridge (the hanger chain was included) and the probe is placed roughly midway in the unit. The knob on the front lets you set and adjust the fridge's internal temperature.

The freezer's electrical cord is plugged into the back of the controller plug, which is plugged into the outlet. That's all there is to it.

In my case, I plugged the controller into a Kill-a-Watt meter because I want to see how much electricity my new appliance is actually using. The meter is what's plugged into the outlet, as you see in the set-up photo below. The power strip is plugged into the house (grid) electricity.

It's upside-down because of the placement of the power
strip. We use that because the outlet is behind the freezer.

The fridge surged to 80 watts when I plugged it in. I used a digital probe thermometer to adjust the setting. Now that it's cold, I'm finding it uses only 0.08 kWh per day—a huge difference from my pantry fridge which uses 2.6 kWh/day! The chest fridge will use less in one month than the old fridge uses in one day.

Caveats? Refrigerator/freezer experts say such a conversion isn't a good idea because a freezer compressor isn't built to operate at refrigerator temperatures. That means appliance longevity may be compromised.

The other problem is condensation inside the unit, since it is operating at temps above freezing. (In a freezer this becomes the ice that needs defrosting.) This is especially true of units which have the compressor in a box that forms a shelf. So the interior must be wiped out regularly.

Criticisms? Bending over to get food items is considered an inconvenience. Some people can't or don't want to bend over, others think it would be too much of a hassle finding things—although I can't say that an upright with shelves is any easier. The thing I'm looking for is always shoved to the back on a different shelf! The trade-off would have to be the desire for considerable savings in electricity and a willingness to develop new habits.

Challenges? For me, it's how to organize it as conveniently as possible. Most people use the milk-crate style file storage boxes. They have straight sides, are stackable. For the 7-cubic foot size chest fridge, they fit nicely, but for my 5-cubic foot model, they are just a tad too big.

The basket is too long to fit the width of the unit,

and too long to fit between the wall and compressor shelf.

The next size smaller milk crate is the 13-inch square. But I'd lose too many inches of storage space to make that a desirable idea.

Width from freezer wall to condenser unit shelf.

My pantry refrigerator is my auxiliary fridge. I use it for storing mostly homegrown foods such as fresh goat milk, eggs, whey, cheese, and garden produce. This chest fridge is going to take its place. I figured out that I can fit nine half-gallon jars of goat milk in the bottom and somehow place the crate on top of that. But how? Here's what Dan helped me come up with.

A stand made from PVC corner molding and PVC glue.

I'm thinking jars of the freshest milk can be cooled on the shelf first, then
moved to the bottom. The crate can hold leftovers, fruits, cheese, & veggies.

I still have some room above that, for which a sliding basket or two would be perfect for things like condiments and salad fixings. Unfortunately, the one basket that came with the unit is too tall if I use the crate.

The basket itself is 6.5-inches tall, but with the hangers it's 8 inches.

A six-inch depth including hangers would be perfect. Unfortunately, I couldn't find them that size. Happily, I found two totes that will do the job.

At only $4 each, how could I go wrong?

Two fit perfectly side by side.

I may look to replace the crate with a tote if I can find the right size. I like that the totes have bottoms, so spillage remains contained and easy to clean up.

Once we get the old fridge out of the pantry, we can start working on phase two of our plan, improving pantry insulation.

March 3, 2020

Master Plan 2020 (I Need Your Opinion)

The last time I showed you a new master plan was four years ago. But now I'm working on images for chapter four of 5 Acres & A Book The Sequel, and realized that I need to update it. In recent years, I've worked with smaller close-ups, for things like pasture managementpasture rotation ideas, the goat corralsoil-building, and the tractor gate. The time had come to incorporate those, plus other changes, into the big picture.

I'm going to show you two versions (and an idea for a third) and ask which you think would be better for a 6-inch by 9-inch paperback (with half-inch margins). The first version is labeled with text, the second with numbers and a key. I prefer the text labels for an "at a glance" view, but when I try to label everything it becomes too cluttered. So I must be selective.

Version 1 with text

The other concern is that in print, the text becomes very tiny to fit the map on the page (becomes about 5 inches wide in the book). The numbers and key let me put more in, more legibly. The map below is more detailed and accurate.

Version 2 with numbers.

1. house
2. greenhouse (planned)
3. peach and plum trees, herb gardens
4. cherry, pears, apples, elderberries, and hay growing
5. kitchen and canning garden and hoop house
6. grain
7. apiary and bee garden (to be revived)
8. rainwater tank
9. rainwater runoff tanks (for the garden)
10. woodshed & outdoor laundry Future outdoor kitchen (formerly carport)
11. solar panels
12. sawmill
13. goat barn
14. goat corral
15. workshop
16. tractor path
17. barn water catchment tanks (1 large round, 2 small totes)
18. chicken yard and coop, pecan trees
19. duck house and pond
20. compost bins
21. goat path to browse areas (failed hedgerow)
22. buck barn
23. buck shelter
25. forest garden hedgerow
25. hay growing
26. crabapple tree and field crops
27. seasonal pond
28. Leyland cyprus privacy hedge and windbreak
29. wooded browse areas to become silvopasture
30. wooded, unfenced

Dotted lines are electric fences subdividing pastures for rotational grazing.
D1 - D7 = doe paddocks
B1 - B4 = buck paddocks

However, it's a bit of a nuisance to have to look everything up by number. Unless I go with . . .

Version 3

One last option is a possibility. That would be to split and enlarge the map to cover two pages. They would overlap some in the middle, so nothing was lost in the crease. Then I could possibly use text captions. 

Looking forward to hearing which version you think would do best in a paperback.