Be Relevant

Relearning everything we've forgotten.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays - A Holiday Wish for the New Year

The other day at work I had quite the debate going with two of my co-workers.  We started with why the banking crash happened and ended with businesses adding value.

I won't bore you with the details but one of my co-workers believes that one person can't make a difference.  This saddens me greatly.

First, the greatest lie ever perpetrated on people is to vote with their dollars.  That their actual right to vote doesn't count.  Vote with your dollars when you are dealing with products from a company.  That's when it makes a difference.

The greatest thing about this country is that you may have a million dollars and I have $1 but we both each have a vote.  That's the great equalizer and don't let anyone ever tell you that your vote won't count.

My solution is to do both; vote with my dollars and my 1 vote.

So my Holiday Wish to everyone is to know that YOU, one person, can make a difference if you choose to.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and may we make 2011 a year we want to leave to our children.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Consumocracy: Washing your hands kills orangutans - 1 degree

Consumocracy: Washing your hands kills orangutans - 1 degree: "'Johnny go wash your hands before dinner.' 'Awww mom, I don't want to.' 'Don't make me tell you again.' 'But mom every time I wash up an ora..."

So I have decided to start another blog.  I felt that trying to do it all on this blog was too much.  By starting Consumocracy I am afforded an avenue to explore the journalism that I want to do.  That is report issues that are facing our world and to show how they relate to us in real terms.  I think I have found a way to do that.

KMOA is my lifestyle.  Consumocracy is a chance to reach out and make more of a difference.

Please follow along on both and give me suggestions.  It's pretty hard to stump myself (not impossible though).

Friday, December 17, 2010

What's Dirty about Soap?

One of the first steps to learning how to wet shave is building lather from the soap.  Now soap is something that I don't normally think about.  Its always there and its a good thing, right?  Not necessarily.

I first did a search for organic soap and low and behold there really is none.  The fact is that saponification, the process of making soap, requires lye.  Which wouldn't fall under the category of organic in the retail sense.  That was the first bummer.

So I began researching what all goes into soap.  In a grand oversimplification soap can either be animal or vegetable based.  Lard, tallow, fat all go into making the animal based soap.  Picture Fight Club.

For vegetable based soaps its all the major oils - olive, coconut, palm - and some lesser known ones- jojoba, castor - blended for different effects.  Olive oil gives you a smooth base, coconut oil helps for lathering, and palm oil for hardness and structure.  Its usually the vegetable based soaps that get labelled all natural.

Of course each company adds its own essential oils, fragrances, additives, preservatives, and that something special.  So if you are looking for an organic soap the best you can do is an all natural soap made from vegetable glycerin that only uses all natural ingredients.  Ixnay on the perfumes and preservatives.  Some of the chemical offenders are:

olefin sulfanate
cocamidopropyl betaine
parabens - extends the shelf life
SLS - sodium lauryl sulfates, sodium laureth sulfates, sodium stearate, lauryl sulfates, etc.
* Data extracted from Environmental Working Group's website

So going all natural should solve the problem.  WRONG!  Sometimes I wonder about life and coincidences.   Mel was showing me this video the other night on YouTube.  Mainly because we also have a Blue-Tick Hound.

At the end of this video there's a small caption box that says don't use Palm Oil.  What?  Don't use palm oil?  I had just happened to be doing research on soaps and this is a major ingredient in most soaps.  So I started digging around some more and found how devastating palm oil truly is.  It is not only affecting the environment but it is decimating orangutan populations.

"The forests of Borneo and Sumatra are the only two places on Earth where these gentle, intelligent creatures live. The cultivation of palm oil over the last decade has directly led to the slaughter of thousands of individuals as the industry has expanded into previously undisturbed areas of old-growth rain forest. The UNEP estimates that an area of Indonesian rain forest the size of six football fields is cut down every minute of every day. The palm oil and timber industries are guilty of truly horrific ecological atrocities, one of which is the systematic genocide of orangutans. When the forest is cleared, adult orangutans are generally shot on sight. In the absence of bullets they are beaten, burned, tortured, mutilated and often eaten as bush meat."

From: "Orangutans and palm oil: What's the connection?"

The sad part of all this is that Palm Oil is in so much more than just soap.  Try cereals, frozen dinners, candy, cookies, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, the list really does go on and on.  I guess an even sadder part is that its not just orangutans being killed.  Other species such as tigers and elephants are being slaughtered as well.  Huge expanses of the rainforest gone.  In Colombia there's guerilla groups threatening villagers to leave their lands so they can have it for palm oil plantations.

If you want to read more about this problem check out a couple of these sites.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Palm Oil Action Group

Palm Oil Crisis Blog

My First Blade: Silver King 6/8

So I committed to my first straight razor.  The price came out to $45 including shipping.  I have to say I'm slowly falling in love with this thing and I can't wait to actually hold it.

Description:  Vintage American steel. Good shaver. Its been descaled, lightly sanded, polished, put into a fresh set of vintage scales and honed. Takes a nice edge. It has some light speckling and a scratch here and there, but its all appearance, not very noticeable, and doesnt affect its shaving. Good newbie razor, its 6/8 and a round point. This razor is shave ready.

Let's decipher the description.  Vintage American steel is straight forward.  I get points for REUSE.  The handle's casings are called scales.  So descaled means the originals were removed because they were damaged and replaced with scales from another razor.  These razors have the ability to be repaired which is hard to say about most things manufactured today.  Honed is the type of edge that is put into the blade; wedge, convex, etc.  At this stage of the game worrying about hones isn't necessary.   Takes a nice edge means it will sharpen nicely - this doesn't necessarily mean it will sharpen easily.  The appearance is cosmetic but I think it shows its had a good life.  6/8 deals with the blade length and round point means the point is rounded.  Not squared and therefore producing that nice sharp corner for your face and neck.  Both 6/8 and a rounded point are recommended for newbies.  Newbie = me.  

Now granted I lose some points for having the razor shipped to me as that increases it's carbon footprint.  My only other option would have been to drive to an antique shop - there are none around within reasonable biking distance - which was just the same thing.  Plus I wouldn't have had the luxury of having some sound advice on what to get.  

Of course I'm excited as a kid waiting for Christmas.  Luckily Christmas is just around the corner.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Impact of Disposable Razors |

The Impact of Disposable Razors |

The Impact of Disposable Razors

The Impact of Disposable Razors
The Impact of Disposable Razors
Over two billion disposable razors are bought
in the United States each year. These 
non-biodegradable razors are filling landfills 
across the country. Although they are created
for convenience, they are costing more than
we can afford.

    Detrimental to the environment

  1. Disposable razors are made of non-recyclable metal and plastic pieces. This is severely detrimental to the environment.

  2. Disposable razors cost more

  3. Using disposable razors costs more than using safety razors. As of 2010, the savings would be $130 or more per year if one used a safety razor.

  4. Disposable razors are wasteful

  5. Over a person's lifetime, using disposable razors causes one cubic foot of waste per person. This waste is not degradable and remains for future generations.

  6. Disposable razors fill landfills

  7. In the United States, 68 million men use disposable razors. That's 34,000,000 cubic feet being thrown into landfills every year.

  8. Dispsable razors emit CO2

  9. Every disposable razor emits CO2. Carbon dioxide can cause headache, dizziness, nausea and other symptoms. It can cause asphyxiation at higher levels. When it replaces high concentrations of oxygen in the blood, it can be hazardous to your life and health.

Read more: The Impact of Disposable Razors |

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Razor's Edge: Part 1

Taken as a whole problems can become so overwhelming.  Where do we even begin?  I'm not saying anything new here but I think we all lose sight of the fact we can take smaller steps and need to be reminded of it from time to time.

I took an online sustainability test the other day and I was a little shocked at the results.

It's based in the UK and its called the Happy Planet Index.  OK, yeah I had the same revulsion at first but why?  Happy Planet sounds hokey but, again, why?  A happy planet sounds good to me.  I want to be happy.  So forget about the name and try it if you want.

2.92 planets is what it would take to sustain me.  Which means I'm using 2-3X my share of the planet.  Let's not argue property rights at this time and say its true.  WOW!  I thought I was doing so much better.   Yet I'm not.

Now how do I change this?  Well if I look at my life as a whole it is daunting to make a change right now.  So daunting I don't do anything except buy products that are greener.  Which is a good start but there is so much more I could do.  So I decided to start one item at a time.  First up is the thing I have to do everyday and I truly could do without but I can't:  shaving.   Besides my work requiring a clean, smooth face daily so does Mel and in the end her vote carries a lot of weight.

The Unsustainable Approach:
Like most people who have to shave or choose to shave I use a manufactured razor with disposable blades.    What an incredible business model from a purely economics point of view.  Most companies either give away their razors or substantially reduce their cost.  All their profit is focused on the recurring sales of disposable razor blades.  Now all that plastic and used metal is going to the landfill to never be reclaimed.

You're Trying:
The first thing that someone can do is Reduce the amount of razor blades they use.  If you are totally using the disposable ones - you know the yellow plastic ones I'm talking about - switch to the type that at least only has disposable blades.  Next, take care of that thing.  Get it out of the shower and dry it off after each use.  Water damage is the biggest contributor to the expiration of that blade.  Some people are saying they can get 2-3 months out of one blade.  As with everything results will vary but that sounds pretty good for the wallet.

A More Sustainable Approach:
The second step up from the disposable blade razor is the safety razor.  These things can be works of art in their own rights and many people become obsessive about their razor.  In this one you have a razor that is built (usually) of materials that are meant to last.  Then you buy individual blades to fit into the head of the razor.  These really cut down on the packaging and just as with disposable blades, if you keep them dry each blade will last you awhile.  An added benefit is that you can Reuse with these razors by purchasing a vintage razor.  So no new materials were used in it's making.

Kicking My Own Approach: 
The final step up is the straight razor.  These things hold a certain mystique.  Reactions to them range from abject terror to heartfelt longing.  If taken care of these razors will last several lifetimes.  Imagine passing on a razor that you had for so many events in your life to your kids or even thier kids.  And like safety razors, you can purchase vintage razors and really be sustainable. 

Suffice it to say I'm going for the straight razor.  But how does one pick out a straight razor?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

“We must become the change we want to see.” Mahatma Gandhi

It's so easy to get down about the state of the world.  I know I do all the time.  The danger lies in when the down feeling becomes so overwhelming that you feel like you can never make a difference.  Then a paralysis of action sets in which quickly turns into apathy.

There's so many things to argue over and causes to identify with.  We've entered a state where our strive for individuality has segregated us from one another.  In our effort to get back some of that collectiveness we reach for labels.  It seems every noun, pronoun, adjective, and verb is used to helps us detach from one another.

Who says that one way is right?  It's part and parcel of our egoic self to want to be right.  To have all the answers.  I find myself becoming unable to bend in my views as I become more entrenched in my beliefs.  My conversations take on a preachy air and I talk more to people than with them.  I solidify my segregation.

The truth is that there is hope in the world.  Its the one thing that does bind us all together.

We need to move forward focusing on the here and now.  Focusing on the solutions not the issues that divide us.  More importantly we need to act.  The smallest act of compassion will make a difference.

"We must become the change we want to see.”  Mahatma Gandhi

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Simplicity is the root

"I do not think that any civilization can be called complete until it has progressed from sophistication to unsophistication, and made a conscious return to simplicity of thinking and living."

Lin Yutang, "The Importance of Living"

I seem to be on a theme here with the idea of simplicity.  The past week and a half I have been catching up on some much neglected reading and odd chores around the house.  No matter how many times I publicly state that I am going to blog more I inevitably don't.  However, my time has been put to good use and I've had some time to ponder new thoughts.

 I'm about done with "The Good Life" by Helen and Scott Nearing and it has me thinking.  Helen and Scott moved to Vermont in 1932 - a few years into the Great Depression.  Their goal was to create a "subsistence homestead economy" at which they were very successful.  They were unsatisfied with the state of affairs of the country and how big business had plunged the country into economic chaos.

"The Great Depression had brought millions of bread-winners face to face with the perils which lurked for those who, in a commodity economy based on wage-paid labor, purchase their livelihood in the open market.  The wage and salary workers did not own their own jobs, nor did they have any part in deciding economic policy nor in selecting those who carried policy into effect.  The many unemployed in 1932 did not lose their jobs through any fault of their own, yet they found themselves workless, in an economy based on cash payment for the necessaries and decencies.  Though their incomes had ceased, their outgo for food, shelter and clothing ate up their accumulated savings and threw them into debt ("The Good Life, Helen and Scott Nearing, p30.)"

Sound scarily familiar?  Now they were greatly principled people who had the will and conviction to stand behind their principles.  They believed in not making a profit and of a more social-centric viewpoint.  That doesn't mean that what they learned doesn't apply to all of us - seekers of profit or not.

Now its no secret that I want to start a farm.  That doesn't mean that I don't still enjoy things such as travel that require an outlay of money.  I also place a high value on financial security.  That too takes money in this world.  All in all I want to make a comfortable living farming.  So how do I start?  How do any of us start any business or begin becoming financially secure?

I think the answer is in starting first with a "subsistence homestead economy."  Whether you want to start a farm, a catering business, retail business, or just want to be left alone I think that this has to be the starting point.  Ideally this would be defined as land you owned outright with a home paid for that provided you with all your fuel, food, and income while minimizing your outlay of cash for necessities.  But as with everything in life one definition doesn't fit us all.  Not everyone has land, a paid for home, etc.

I propose a paradox - The more removed you are from the economy, the more you can interact with it on your own terms.

The closer you can get to a true "subsistence homestead economy" the closer you get to financial security and the more control you have in the economy.  The Nearings could have made a substantial profit over the two decades they lived in Vermont had they wanted to.  They had a Maple Syrup business going, they could have sustainably lumbered, they had the rights to the only gravel quarry in the county, and they had considerable skill at stone home building.  Any of those could have proved a lucrative income had they so chosen.  The key to those opportunities for them was the fact that they were virtually independent of the economy.  No bills and no debt save the tax man.

"Roughly 50% of small business fail within the first five years (US Small Business Administration website, retrieved October 2010).  Don't kid yourself - a small family farm is a small business just like any other.  Why do small businesses fail?

"In his book, "Small Business Management", Michael Ames gives the following reasons for small business failure: 
  • Lack of experience
  • Insufficient capital (money)
  • Poor location
  • Poor inventory management
  • Over-investment in fixed assets
  • Poor credit arrangements
  • Personal use of business funds
  • Unexpected growth "
(US Small Business Administration website, retrieved October 2010).

Starting first with a "subsistence homestead economy" helps someone solve each and every one of those reasons for failure.  Think of the management experience you'll get when you learn how to drive down costs and maximize your resources.  How can anyone run a successful business if their personal finances are a mess?  The quickest way to increase your income is to decrease your expenses.  If you sell a product for $1 a unit and you want to increase your income by $10 a month you need to sell 10 more units each month = 120 units more a year.  Or you could cut one of your bills by $10 a month (put a brick in the top of the commode and watch how much you start to save a month in water).  Which is fastest and easiest?

The point is the more we can do for ourselves - grow our own food, pay attention to our energy needs and the resources we consume, find alternative ways of getting the necessities of life - and the more we remove ourselves from the economy - get out of debt, save more, stop senseless consumerism - the more in control we become and the more successful we will be.

Joel Salatin says he's always being asked by a prospective farmer, "How do I start?" His answer is "What are you doing right now?"

I say, whether you're a prospective farmer or prospective CEO, start at home.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It’s so simple it’s difficult

That is how I feel about life in general sometimes.  You ever sit around and contemplate something to the extent of brooding over it so it bothers you and all of sudden the answer comes to you and you want to laugh at how simple the answer is? 

On the plane ride back from Italy I was sitting in the chair and noticed how big my stomach looked.  Granted I was slouched with extremely bad posture in coach seating but still.  I don’t have a six pack yet I’m not in the spare tire area either.  I have a little something that if I stand up straight and think about it goes away.  But of course I have to obsess over it.  A year ago I didn’t look like this.  A year ago I was close to a 6 pack. 
My first action was to complain to Mel.  “I’m getting fat.”  Mel being ever supportive said that I wasn’t.  Yet this didn’t make me feel better and I commenced to worry about getting fat.  I spent a good 2 days feeling like crap worrying about eating better and not getting fat.  Then it dawned on me.
Start working out again and stop worrying.  Now this might seem comical and very logical but honestly I was so focused on the problem – I put on some weight – and worrying over the unrealized future – I didn’t want to get fat – that I couldn’t see the solution.  Which of course is to eat better, start working out, and most importantly stop worrying about it.  Very simple indeed.
This brings me to two more points.  First, much of our unhappiness in this world comes from us.  I truly believe that all of our happiness is inside us and it is up to us to realize it.  Granted this is much harder to do than say and I am daily trying to remember it.  Trying to realize my happiness becomes extremely difficult during hour 5 of staring at Excel spreadsheets and making endless power points.  Second, it’s not the actual acquisition of something that brings us true happiness.  It’s the journey.  I’m constantly making the mistake of saying “I’ll be happy when we get our farm.”   But what about now?  I can’t be happy now? 
“My job makes me unhappy.”  Find a new one, hopefully your dream one.  It’s exciting to work toward a goal like that.  Plus making the physical and mental steps toward it alleviates the worry you feel.  If you have nothing to worry about how can you not be happy?
I used to worry about money.  Every paycheck was spreadsheet hell as to where money was allocated.  If I wanted to do this then the money had to come from over here.  Sometimes money was spent months in advance!  So I got out of debt so that I wouldn’t have to make payments if I fell on really hard times.   I also drove down my expenses to the bare minimum.  I actually need very little to live off of and all the rest goes toward starting up our farm or bad times.  Worry gone.  Every day that I got closer to being debt free made me happy. 
The fact that this sounds easier than it is isn’t lost on me.  In fact that’s the reason why we get stuck in these situations.  Why there is so much unhappiness in the world.   Most of the times the answer is so simple it’s difficult.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Back From Italy

I haven't posted in a while but that was because we were in Italy for Mel's sister's wedding.  Since we were there we took the opportunity to do some sight seeing.  We started in the small town of Rovigo then went to Venice, Florence, Pisa, Siena, and finally Rome.

Today is the first day back and we have to pick up the dogs, pay attention to the garden and rabbits, grocery shop, laundry and down load pics.  I'm renewed though which means I'm going to be posting quite regular here.  I hope to get some pics up tomorrow of the trip.

Two big pieces of news though that I'd like to share with everyone.

This month we just passed the financial goal we set for ourselves for the purchase of land for our future farm.  Now just to find the land!!

Also while in Venice, Mel agreed to marry me.  I got down on one knee in St Marco's Square and luckily she said yes.  This officially makes me the happiest man in the world.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Everything Starts with a Dream

I dream of having a farm in the mountains on the East Coast.  It has good soil but if it doesn't we'll make it good.  There's abundant water and we supplement that with clean rain water.  There are seasons with which we plant and live by.  Spring for renewing, summer for hard work, fall for preparing, and winter for rest.  We grow organically with the goal of providing the best possible food at a price everyone can afford.

 It's a family place.  A place were we build a home and raise a family.  A place were our family converges to celebrate all that life has.  A place were our parents can come and rest and be with us as we raise the next generation.  Several generations live together and are good stewards of the land.  The wildlife is abundant, we'll make sure of that.  The land will be better after us - not before us.  

I dream of days working outside and watching what we've built grow over the years.  A sustainable business that improves the community.  Creating community is what the farm does.  It will bring people together and, over time, teach others.  

I dream of fruits and vegetables, nut trees, bees, chickens, pigs, ducks, geese, horses, sheep, goats, rabbits, and ponds filled with fish.  To everyday bare witness to the cycle of life and death.  To watch nature at its finest.

I dream of having a farm in the mountains on the East Coast.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tennessee Here We Come!

It's not 100% official but it looks like we are gravitating towards Tennessee as the place for our farm.  Not quite sure where exactly but we are looking.  Which is a lot more narrowed down then we did have it.  The top finalists were Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

It will still be a couple of months before we even know when we'll be heading out there.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Serendipitous Timing, Garden Maintenance and Black Soldier Fly Larvae Creep me out

Well La Milpa Organica has closed down.  Apparently there were some labor issues with the state.  I don't know the whole story and since it was their private affair I didn't pry.  Yet that is serendipity at its finest.  I had just blogged that one needs to hop on the phone and call their local Farm Bureau for a place to volunteer.  I'm right there with you!

I called Tierra Miguel Farm and I am going to start volunteering on Saturdays.  It's an hour drive each way but since they are closed Sundays its roughly the same amount of driving I was doing.  La Milpa was 30+ minutes each way.  They are looking for some projects that I can do that are in tune with my interests but experience is experience.  Plus they are a Biodynamic Farm and I really want to learn.  When I know enough about biodynamics I'll post some stuff but right now it is a mystery.  So Saturday at 9 am - very excited.

Knocking out some much needed garden maintenance.  A lot of people in this world are so worried about doing things the wrong way that they never do anything.  This cannot be said about me.  Honestly, I have just begun to accept that the first time I do something I am going to mess up.  It is a real treat when I don't.  So what have I messed up so far this year on the garden?  At first I started with poor soil, small pots, and overcrowding.  I had a few successes - the potatoes, green onions, garlic and sunflowers being the best.  Then I made the broccoli leggy.  Leggy means that it got too tall before it really started to form.  I had hung baskets on the inside of the patio railing.   This only gave them a little light so the seedlings grew 3X the normal size to get to the light.  This made my broccoli unhealthy and open to attack by the imported cabbage moth.  Who is back by the way.
Look at the legs on that one
I solved all those issues and then I left the lettuce in the hot sun too long.   We were having those really cool mornings then we got socked with a week of sun and heat.  I should have covered it with shade cloth.  It didn't hurt the lettuce because my soil was good and retained the moisture.  But when it gets hot like that it bolts, or goes to seed.  It will also become bitter.

So now all of those are under control and I now know what to look for.  I just planted some Romaine Lettuce, Thyme, Lemon Balm, tri-colored Cauliflower, more Broccoli, California Poppy's, Nasturtiums and some assorted Carrots.  I'm stoked about the purple, white, and green cauliflower and the orange, purple, yellow, and white carrots.  Next week I'll start up some more green and red leaf lettuce.  One thing I haven't been very good about is Succession Planting.  That is planting so that as I harvest it I have some to replace it.  The key to this is a Garden Journal!  Good record keeping is essential to allow you to learn what works and what doesn't.  I'm not that good at keeping records.  My checkbook stays balanced for 3 days after payday and then I'm reconstructing all the spending at the end of the month.  I never learn.  Yet a Log for your garden is essential.  It really does take your gardening to the next level.  Even if you only have a window sill garden, knowing when you planted what will help you grow more effectively.  This will undoubtedly translate to higher yields and lower over all costs.  Both of which are good in my book.

While I was messing about with planting I decided to put some worm castings on top of my soil.  Here was the plan.  I have a big soil tub that I mix soil with composted steer manure.  Then as I fill up my pots I mix the soil with compost.  I press the soil down to smooth it and to create a seed bed.  I then seed the pot according to the plant spacing required.  I then lightly cover the seeds with a layer of soil to the depth indicated on the package.  I water thoroughly.  Next I was going to add a layer of worm castings but my bin is way too wet and my castings look like mud.  Finally, I top it off with hay that my rabbits kick out of their cages.  Later I'll add some rabbit manure to the surface to slowly leach out as I water.  Rabbit pills, as they are called, are pretty high in Nitrogen.  I didn't try and add worms to the pots as I am trying to build up the number of worms I have plus this mud issue. Plus I haven't refined my potting mix just yet.

Back to the worm bin.  The mud is just nasty and the problem is that my bin is too wet.  I never water my worms.  The combination of the black bin with the yellow top insures that moisture stays built up in there.  So I have over fed them.  As the food breaks down it releases moisture.  It is all this moisture that is turning my once beautiful worm castings to muck.  The solution is simple - stop feeding them for awhile and leave the lid off to dry out a bit.  In a couple of days this should be back to normal.

While I was digging around in there I saw these.
BTW see the supposedly compostable potato chip bag all in one piece after months of sitting in here???
Yikes!  They creep me out.  I have never seen Black Soldier Fly Larvae before.  Apparently, these guys are great at composting too.  I was so worried that I had gotten something in the bin that I didn't want.  But these guys are good to go in the composting world.  They even have their own blog - Black Soldier Fly Blog.  No matter how beneficial they are they still creep me out and I'm not about to handle them bare handed.

Mulching my pots.  I use the hay my rabbits kick out of their cages.  I'm cheap I know.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Burning Needs - Documentary I can't wait to see.

Burning Needs feature doc - new trailer from Adam Wakeling on Vimeo.

This documentary was projected to be completed earlier this year but seems to still be in production.  I can't wait to see it.  It deals with alley cropping, which is the idea of planting between rows of trees.  The use of this type of agriculture helps prevent erosion and increase crop yields per acre.  In some extremely clever uses of this system leguminous trees (trees that are in the bean family) are used for firewood and fertilizer.  The trees grow rapidly allowing it to be cut down to a stump 4-5 times a year.  The leaves are then used as a mulch that will slowly release nitrogen.  The smaller branches are used as kindling with the thicker, stronger branches used as stakes for plants such as tomatoes.  Lastly the thick trunks are used for firewood.  Talk about sustainable!!

Here is the link to the Inga Foundation which is the parent site developing the film.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Nematodes have a sense of humor too!

Maybe they're trying to tell us something
Nematodes are microscopic worms that live in the soil.  They do various things to different plants but the Root Knot nematodes will cause damage in your carrots.  They will cause forking in the carrot and, if the carrots are left in the ground for a long time like we did, cause large galls like this.  They also attack both the tap root and secondary roots causing them to have large knots or spheres on them.

It doesn't harm the taste of the food and in some cases creates some interesting carrots.  But if you were commercially growing them you wouldn't be able to sell them for top dollar.  

Rotating crops is a great way of preventing the nematodes from one season to another.  Also interplanting with marigolds are supposed to help prevent them.  There are also nematode parasites that you can purchase at gardening stores and online that you release around the base of the plants as part of an Integrated Pest Management system.  Lastly, I saw something on YouTube a while back and if I find it I'll post a link.  Mushroom mycelia actually create tiny nooses that the nematode swims through and it tightens down on it.  Then the mycelia feed off of it and in the process kill it.  

If you have a small home garden you may not worry that much about it.  At least you get some entertainment out of them!


Monday, August 30, 2010

How to really Start Gardening, Farming, Homesteading, Self-Sufficiency, Survivalist Whatever you want to call it

Whether you want to get back to the land, be a little less dependent on WalMart or your local grocery store, or conserve more of our natural resources for the future I have a message for you.  YOU CAN start anywhere.

A lot of the books, magazines, and blogs that I read are great sources of knowledge.  The majority of them all push the same message; you don't need land to farm.  Another theme is you can start homesteading now where ever you live.  I believe both of these are true.  But, how the heck do you do it without land?  How the heck do you get started?  What do you do if you are cash strapped and land poor?  Most of the resources don't tell you how you can get started other than renting land or starting a community garden.

Renting a plot of land probably isn't the wisest if you have no experience.  Apartment complexes aren't the most community garden friendly either.  So how do we get started?

I'm suggesting two avenues that you do simultaneously.  First go online and google your local Farm Bureau.  Get the number to your local office and call it.  Tell whomever picks up the phone that you are looking for a farm that you can volunteer with.  They should give you a couple of names.  Here in San Diego its La Milpa Organica and Tierra Miguel Farm.  Now go to their websites and look at what they produce and what their philosophy is.  You don't really want to go to a farm that sprays if you are interested in organically grown food.  If you like what you see contact them.  Tell them what you are interested in - learning to grow food - and work out when you can volunteer.  I suggest for the first time early in the morning for half a day.  Farming takes some easing into.  Then go do it.  Over the next few months you'll learn so much (even if you only go once a week).   Plus some of these farms give fresh produce to their volunteers for helping out.  Depending on how much you volunteer you could wind up volunteering yourself into your own source of fresh fruits and vegetables.  No matter what you'll start to learn how to grow your own food and that's the point - to build up our knowledge base.

The second thing you need to do is take stock in what you have.  How many windows and windowsills do you have?  Do you have a patio?  Front stoop?  Garage corner?  What available space do you have?  Next what is the orientation of that space?  Which way does it face?  North, South, East, West.  That is important because we need to know which sides get the most sun.  Then how much sun does that area get?  Does anything caste a shadow over the space like a tree or another building.  My back patio gets the morning sun directly on it but by 10 am only the railing is getting sun.  So all my growing has to be oriented to grow on the railing to get the 6 hours of sunlight I get.  Most plants need a minimum of 6 hours of light with 8 being the best.  But don't fret we can find something to grow out there.  Is there ventilation from a breeze or does the corner just get baked by the sun?  Watch the area(s) that you are thinking about for a couple of days and jot that down in your garden journal.  You have to have a garden journal to jot down all your volunteer knowledge and to keep track of when and what you planted.

Luckily, it is the beginning of the fall winding down for most vegetable farms.  If you live in an area where you can grow year round then you are fortunate.  Honestly, I can't wait to get back to the East Coast and have seasons.  Seasons offer you a natural cycle of work and rest.  I'm not big on farming year round.  I want my yearly vacations too!  Since it is winding down it gives us some time to start thinking about next year's garden.  Also if you volunteer now they may have more time to spend with you to teach you more.  So now is the perfect time to get started.

Don't go out and buy anything yet.  We'll get to all of that later and I'll show you ways to keep from breaking the bank on your garden supplies.  In fact we can get a good bit of it for FREE!  That's always nice.

So the two things to do is contact your local farm bureau and volunteer and take stock in what you have available.  I know these seem like they are gardening centric and not necessarily homesteading centric but they are the first steps and when you start talking about self-sufficiency everything becomes intertwined.  I'm interested to hear what volunteer opportunities everyone finds and what resources they have available to them.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Airplanes, Bunnies, Dogs Eating Hay is No Longer Funny, and Snuffles

The past week has been full of events.  Mel gave me a flying lesson for my birthday and last Monday we were finally able to collect.  The weather here in SD has been quite funny this year.  We kept re-scheduling trying to get a day with clear skies so we could fly over the coast.  Check the little slideshow to the right for some pics.

I kept trying to use the yoke as a steering wheel on the ground but it isn't meant to work like that.   You have to use the brakes and rudders to maneuver which are controlled by your feet.   Quite a difficult task for someone as uncoordinated as myself.  We took off from Montgomery Field by where I live and flew up to the coast over La Jolla.  Then down the coast to Pt Loma and up through the bay and over the Coronado Bridge.  We went to Brown Field and did 2 touch and go's.  Check out the video of me landing!  Then we headed home over the city and the SD airport.  Pretty neat to be above the commercial airplanes.

I talked Mel into getting rabbits!!  She said if I found someone to watch over them while we were in Italy then we could get them.  My co-worker Liz is such an enabler.  Last Monday, yes before we went flying, we became the proud owners of 2 Angora rabbits.  One is a white English and the other is a black Giant/German Hybrid.  The English will maybe get to be 5 lbs and the Giant/German's g-ma was 13 lbs!!  That's the size of Scout our Yorkie.  We named the white one Lele which is Hawaiian for hop and the other is named Kueka - Hawaiian for sweater.  I really wanted to name them sweater and socks but socks in Hawaiian is a mouthful.


So the rabbits are actually inside.  It seems Angoras don't like the heat.  There goes my greenhouse heating up idea.  No biggie.  In an apartment its kind of inconvenient but once it cools off they'll be back outside.  A funny thing to watch is that our dogs, Bleu our blue tick hound in particular, is worrying herself to death over these rabbits.  Every slight move they make she has to be right at the cage to see and the shrill whining is ridiculous (she has stopped that by now).  But she picks up some of their kicked out hay and she takes it to her little bed and chews on it.  Kind of cute right?  It was even funnier on Thursday when she was passing the hay.  She was quite regular and it made us laugh.  It ceased to be funny Friday when she had the runs all over the house.  This lasted 2 days.  2 days I tell you.  Needless to say, dogs eating hay is no longer cute or funny.

Snuffles - A respiratory disease that can prove to be fatal if left untreated in rabbits.  It is characterized by yellowish, white discharge from the nose, constant sneezing, and a hacking cough.   Very contagious to rabbits.

Lele came down with the Snuffles so we took her back to the breeder on Saturday.  She offered us another one but we've started to bond with Lele.  The breeder is going to keep her for the next month and treat her and then we get her back.  That works with the Italy trip.

That was last week.  This week looks to be shaping up pretty well.  I'm trying to post more - daily in fact.  I also want to take this blog up a notch and give it some depth other than just rants and journal like entries.  I want it to be useful and inspiring.  Its all a journey!  Coop

Egg Recall Expanded After Salmonella Outbreak

Egg Recall Expanded After Salmonella Outbreak (full story)

Had this company just followed the FDA's new rule of not allowing tours of the farm this could have been prevented. Give me a break. This is exactly why WE need to know where OUR food comes from. Get ready for more of this since the FDA wants to separate US even further from OUR food supply.

Let's put this into perspective. The FDA law only affects those producers that have 3000 laying hens or more. That is roughly about 4,000 producers who make up 99% of the eggs sold in the US. Most of these, not all, are the large chicken factories that we all get a glimpse of on TV. 7 to a cage, 6 cages high, beaks clipped off so they don't peck each other since they are stressed, full of antibiotics because they are sick from the stress and no room to nest but only stand and shoot out eggs onto a conveyor belt that prevents humans from touching the eggs anyways. 

The other 1% of our egg supply is from some 50,000 small farms. That's how consolidated our food supply is. It's even worse in beef and meat production ( I think 4 major companies).  Allowing our food supply to consolidate into so few companies means that an outbreak like this can shut down 99% of the food. 

We all know what happens when we put all our eggs in one basket - pun intended.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Market Rant and Homemade Goat Sage Cheddar Ravioli with a Pesto Cream Sauce for Listening

Why does homemade pasta taste even better the second day?  Mel and I hit up the Farmer's Market in Little Italy yesterday.  The first time we've ever been.  We drove over to Mission Valley and took the metro downtown to avoid the parking issue.  I see now why two things are happening in this country.  First is public transportation has to be one of the most inconvenient modes of transportation.  Ok that's a blanket statement so let's just say half the time its inconvenient.  Who wants to be inconvenienced half the time?  No wonder everyone drives everywhere.  It cost us $10 for two day passes.  To have parked would have cost us $10 for two hours.  Gas money vice time spent waiting and trying to figure out the schedule.  The system is flawed from the beginning.

Second thing is that buying organic or from farmer's markets is very expensive.  I see a lot of good trends towards eating locally and moves towards organic farming.  I'd rather spend my money at a local farm rather than a grocery store.  Since I'm involved in farming groups it seems like the whole country is trying to get back to farming.  I wish it were the case.  But I can't shake this feeling that buying organic, being sustainable has, on some level, sold itself out to profit.  Don't get me wrong.  Farmers have the right to make a decent profit and when I finally get to rolling commercially on my own place I want to make a decent profit.  Yet I paid $6 for a dozen pastured fed chicken eggs.  That's .50 an egg for letting them roam across fields and eat grass and insects.  I'm over simplifying but that is pretty much what it is.

Again I don't begrudge a farmer a decent profit so they earn a respectable income.  However, we as farmers and farmer wannabes will never beat the industrial farms if our produce is priced so that only a percentage of our country can afford it.  The way we win and create good health in our country is by growing the healthiest food possible and pricing it competitively to the industrial models.  The chemical farming won't be able to hang on.  They'd naturally have to drop prices even lower but the cost of all that petroleum based "cides" and fertilizers won't be getting any cheaper.  Granted their government subsidies would spike to make up for it but that would be a sinking ship as lobbyists would move on to something that was floating.  At that point the government would be dealing, once again, with the small farmer.  Jobs would be created and cottage industries would be re-born back into small town USA.  Maybe we could reverse this onset of Child diabetes, rampant obesity, and all the cancers and medical issues that harm us physically and financially by over-burdening Medicaid.  The savings in health insurance alone would make up for some of the "lost" profit of pricing our healthy food competitively.

I got the recipe for the pasta from Leslie but the rest is all Mel and I.  I added 2 whole eggs instead of only one.  I did use a cup and half verse her cup and quarter.  Its your call. I also think that refrigerating it made it harder to roll.  Again your call. I used a small cookie cutter to make circular raviolis.  Remember you need 2 cut outs for 1 ravioli.  I was really worried we wouldn't have enough at first but this made enough for 4 servings.  Of course it all depends on how thin you roll it.

1 1/4 cup flour
3 egg yolks
1 egg
will be very stiff
knead it about 5-10 minutes til it gets elastic
will be pliable but still very stiff
refrigerate it for about 1 hour before making it into pasta

I cut up a Bartlett pear into little cubes, I'm talking diced onion small and used a "pinch" of pears with a "pinch" of cheese.  You'll start off under portioning then you'll figure it out very quickly and get it to what you need.

We bought some Goat Sage Cheddar from Spring Hill Farms This stuff is great and they sound like a great farm.  I totally want to visit and see how they make cheese.

To seal the raviolis is easy.  Place one pasta disk over the other that has your stuffing and pinch the edges together.  If you need to, run your finger around the edge after dipping it in water to help you seal.  Same thing with egg whites (which is the secret to making your dumplings stick together).  Then toss them into boiling water and they sink.  When they float they are done.  Fresh pasta doesn't take that long to cook.

The sauce was the Pesto that I froze from the large batch I made and half of a small container of Heavy Whipping Cream, 1 tsp of butter, salt and pepper to taste and some corn starch to thicken it up a bit.  Always dissolve your corn starch in water then add it to the sauce so as not to introduce lumps.

It was incredible! Thanks for listening to the rant.


Rationalizing Rabbits, The Art of Cuteness, and A Pseudo Homemade Rabbit Cage

"Adding any animal to a family is a big decision.  But once that animal is integrated into our family life things seem to run on autopilot.  Right?  Additionally, if WE want to keep larger animals in the future WE should learn how to keep smaller ones.  WE should start out with one or two first. "

Those were just a few of the rationales that I gave Mel on why we should get a couple of rabbits.  Couple that with pictures of cute rabbits (especially babies)  and it was a done deal.  (The pictures worked so well I'm trying it with ducks - check out Little Homestead in the City's blog titled Baby Quackers - but don't tell Mel!)

Part of the deal is that we have to wait till we get back from Italy.  We're going at the end of September for Mel's sister's wedding.  We were lucky enough to find sitters for the dogs so we can't push our luck with the rabbits.  However, having to wait a month and a half after we agreed to get them is killing me.  Waiting does not fit into my impulsive lifestyle.  Maybe I'm not as smart as I think I am.

How to pass the time?  Start getting set up for our two new little friends.  We decided - it was more like I kept suggesting - that we get two Angora rabbits.  Mel is very partial to the English and I want a German.  Mel has based her decision on aesthetics and I have based mine on economics.  At between $4-$6 an ounce for unspun hair, the German produces over 10 oz every 90 days.  The cute, aesthetically pleasing English comes in around 7-8 oz every 90 days.

Let me preface everything with the fact that these two rabbits are pets first.   Eventually when we get the space and setup a greenhouse for transplants we plan to house rabbits out there as well.  They'll help provide heat in the greenhouse and also a fair amount of manure for composting.   But to use them for only that is cost prohibitive; their costs outweigh their gains.  To find a solution that doesn't incur selling them as meat we came across using them for fiber production.  So our two little rabbits are going to help us see where the break even point is.  How many would we need to produce heat, how much fiber do we need to sell, etc.  They will also help us see if we can set up a small market for their fiber.  Whether in raw materials or finished goods.  We want to find out if this idea is economically feasible before we go out and actually purchase a bunch of rabbits and find out that we just made a huge mistake.   Our number one goal now and for always will be to produce the healthiest, organic product possible while being good stewards.  Bottom line.

To follow through on our promise to be good stewards we needed to get them a good rabbit cage.  I am the biggest advocate of using  I posted an add wanting a rabbit cage but didn't get any hits.  Side note:  if you live within driving distance of San Diego, own a truck, and have space there is a lady trying to get rid of a 6 ft tall, 4 ft long, 2 ft deep rabbit/chicken hutch with storage underneath, let me know.  I started searching for information on rabbit cages and came across Harvest Moon Angoras website.  This is a great site and has tons of information on care and feeding as well as detailed directions on building your own cage.

I was all set to start from scratch when I realized that we had an old kennel of Bleu's.  When we first got her she weighed 20lbs and everyone said she'd only get a little bigger so go with the medium kennel.  50lbs later and she's sleeping comfortably in the large kennel.  The old kennel was taking up space in the garage but Mel being a pack-rat (Seriously she doesn't qualify as a pack-rat but trying to get rid of anything with her  concurrence is difficult.  What if we need it down the road?  Apparently, she was right this time. I should just start listening to her) didn't allow me to get rid of it.  Good thing.

The cage is perfect.  It has 2 doors and the tray is removable without opening them.  Its also made of extremely durable metal.  Best of all it saves us $$ and time.  We need to make a few adjustments to the cage so that our furry friends will be comfortable.  Also we can't have them directly on the tray as that is not sanitary for them to be housed with their droppings.  It also would ruin their hair which defeats the intent here.

I used the directions on Harvest Moon Angora's website for constructing the floor of the rabbit cage.  I figured if I put in an additional raised floor that would solve all our problems.  I went to Lowe's and found in their garden section a roll of 1"X1/2" Galvanized Hardware Cloth.  The dimensions are small enough for the rabbits to sit on but large enough to allow their droppings to pass through.

We unrolled the hardware cloth on top of the cage leaving an overhang on all sides of about 2 rows.  We did this to insure we cut the right size - you can always cut more off - and we wanted the edges to be bent down vice cut so as not to create sharp edges for the rabbits or us.
A great hint here from Harvest Moon Angoras - MAKE SURE THE 1/2" SIDE IS FACING UP, I.E. THE SIDE THE RABBITS WILL BE ON.  It doesn't sound like it makes sense and it actually takes a minute or two of staring at it but it does matter and there is a difference.  Angoras have very furry feet.  These furry feet create padding that allows them to sit on the wire, or walk across things in comfort.  Much like we use shoes.  But there is an extent to the size of their feet.  The 1" side is soldered in such a way as to create miniature troughs.  Where as the 1/2" side creates a relatively flat surface.  Besides having to constantly step on a raised bar every 1" if one of those freak accidents happen the troughs have the ability to allow the rabbit to get its foot stuck.  I don't want my rabbits pulling an Aron Ralston.

Next bend the sides down to form a hat for the cage.  We then slid our new floor into the kennel.  We had to unhook the end to get it in and we had to cut a little here and there and received a couple of mashed fingers.  Well I did anyway.  Finally, we zip tied the flooring into place a couple of inches above the sliding tray.

We decided to zip tie it for three reasons.  First it was cheaper than buying the metal clips and metal clip attacher thingy.  Second it allows us to break the cage down if we needed to move or we ever want it to be a kennel again.  Lastly, I'm not sure if it is high enough off the tray once two rabbits get in there.  Scout, our 13 lb Yorkie, graciously simulated one rabbit and it held up nicely.  Still not sure about two though.  If when they do arrive and they weigh down the floor I can easily move it up to the next horizontal rung.  The only drawback is that Mel says they will probably chew through the plastic.  My plan is to replace them with metal clips as we go through them if that is the case.

Total tools so far are a $10 pair of tin snips which I'll use again.  $16 roll of hardware cloth which probably can be found cheaper.  The roll will provide me with at least 2 more floors when we plan to build more cages.  Zip ties I had but they do not cost that much.  Oh, make sure you bend under the cut edges of the zip ties.  They always seem to find a leg to scratch.  The cage we had laying around otherwise it wouldn't have been worth it.  Total time was about an hour for two people - I tend to goof off a lot.

Last note:  What to do with the droppings you ask?  Well my friends they will be added to the worm bin that I have on the porch.  I started with 1 lb of Red Wigglers and am now up to 2lbs after 4 months. They eat, collectively, a lb of organic waste a DAY!!  That is they eat half their body weight a day.  They also provide me with castings that the plants love.  Plus the bin smells like wet earth.  Is there a better way to dispose of such stuff?

Things we need to look at next BEFORE we get the rabbits.

Feeding and care
Finding a local vet that has experience with rabbits
Finding a breeder that fits our needs.

Parting shot:  I love harvest time.  Summer Squash, Butternut Squash, Yellow Squash, Basil, Leeks, and more!  Coop