Montana and the Rocket Oven

So I’m getting prepared today for a trip to Wheaton Labs in Montana to meet Paul Wheaton and get a first hand look at a Rocket Oven. Paul had a very successful Kickstarter campaign to put out a video documenting how to make and use a Rocket Oven.  You might not be familiar with the concept of Rocket technology, which can be included in a Rocket Mass Heater, a Rocket Stove or Rocket Oven. Overall a Rocket anything  is basically a super-efficient wood burning device that operates at temperatures of between 1200 and 2500 degrees Fahrenheit in the firebox area (the rest is cooler and safer than a typical wood stove).  Probably the most comprehensive book current out is Erica and Ernie Wisner’s Rocket Mass Heater Builder’s Guide.  It’s an awesome reference so if you want to know more get the book or check out the user forums at Permies for Rocket Mass Technology

Back to the upcoming trip. I’m excited to go for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that Paul has at least 12 functioning Rocket Mass Heaters and Stoves at the Wheaton Labs. I’m going to be building a Greenhouse this fall to use as a nursery for my TSL Urban Farm business that I am starting up and I’m seriously considering adding a Rocket Mass Heater to the build to help keep the heat up in the winter. I understand there are some challenges to running a RMH in a humid environment so I’m looking forward to seeing the outdoor season extension RMH they have at the labs and perhaps get the the opportunity to discuss the tech with some of the builders that are going to be onsite.

What is on your technology radar? What places will you be going soon that you are looking forward to visiting?

 

TSL Urban Farm

It turns out that I really like growing things. I’m not nearly as good at growing things as I could be, but I really enjoy it and I love experimenting. Miss Mercy didn’t nickname me “The Mad Farmer” cause I’m angry. I occasionally might get a little grumpy but honestly things in my life are going pretty well so there’s no need to be angry. Anyway, I’ve been trying to figure out a side business that allows me to grow things, allows me to experiment, allows me the opportunity to make a little side income and possibly give back to the community.

With that in mind I’ve been reading and learning about Permaculture, Urban Agriculture, Regenerative Farming and all kinds of other interesting things. Turns out there has been a whole wide world of stuff going on out there that I had no idea about. I started out listening to Jack Spirko on thesurvivalpodcast.com . Jack has all kinds of interesting people on his show talking about all kinds of different things. He calls himself “a redneck duck farmer” but he is really so much more than that. From interviews on his show I started to learn about people like Paul Wheaton, the Duke of Permaculture, Joel Salatin the Lunatic Farmer, Brian and Susy at Chiot’s Run, Diego Footer and his fantastic Permaculture Voices and Curtis Stone the Urban Farmer.

Based on several years now of listening to lots of people, watching lots of video on YouTube and reading many books and articles I am finally starting on the journey to create TSL Urban Farm. Exactly what we’re going to be providing is still a little up in the air. The idea is to start with Urban Market Gardening, Nursery plants and Miss Mercy is excited about possibly starting with cut flowers.

The Pond Project – Part 2

The water had completely drained out overnight. All I had accomplished was to drown some earthworms and I felt terrible about that. So I figured that I just had not used enough Bentonite clay.

The farm store was not open on Sunday so Miss Mercy, kind soul that she is, picked up another 200 pounds of Bentonite for me the next day since it was kind of on the way home from her job and the next Saturday the weather was perfect. So I put all four bags and raked it into the dirt and filled the pond again.

Fingers crossed – looking pretty good

Drained again! What in the world is going on?

Well with more internet time I found out that there are actually two different types of Bentonite clay: Bentonite Calcium and Bentonite Sodium. Turns out most farm and garden store sell Bentonite Calcium. Bentonite Calcium is a soil amendment to stiffen your soils and remove heavy metals but does not expand. I found out I could put a ton of it into my small pond and it’s not going to do a bit of good. If you want to seal a pond or dam you need Bentonite Sodium that will mix with the soil, expand and seal.

Because I have the best wife ever (they call them your better half for a reason) Miss Mercy did some research, made some calls and found a place fairly nearby that carries Bentonite Sodium clay at a reasonable price. So a road trip is in the offing and hopefully that will do the trick.

The Pond Project – Part 1

So for the better part of the summer I have been hand digging a new pond in our yard. Miss Mercy and I have had many discussions about how deep it should be, what it was going to look like, should it have fish, should it not have fish, etc. We finally determined that about 15 feet in diameter and a gradual slope down to about three feet deep or so would fit best in the space.

I started roughing out the hole I was going to dig and then built a hugelkultur type berm behind the area, to create a wind brake and give us a backdrop for the pond.

 

In case you are not familiar with hugelkultur it is basically a mound of dirt covering a core of wood. One of the best places I’ve found to read up on hugelkultur is at the Wheaton Labs Hugelkultur Forum. It would be best for the mound if I was able to pile it six feet or taller, but, because we live in the city, I tend to keep things lower so they don’t protrude over my privacy fence and make my neighbors wonder what I’m up to (I actually have great neighbors, but not everyone driving by might be as understanding, so lower it is).

Pond with hugel berm and hugel mounds

We had been pondering how to seal the pond and since I’m trying to keep things simple and less toxic we really didn’t want to use a pond liner so we researched other ways to seal the pond. The biggest problem I have is that we are blessed with great soil in our yard, drains well, with very little clay – excellent for growing things, horrible for holding water in a pond. We finally settled on Bentonite Clay. Bentonite is a clay that expands by 15 to 20 times and bonds with the earth to create an area that will hold water. Fantastic news! So on advice from a co-worker who is familiar with the process and after some online research I got 100 pounds of Bentonite from a local farm store, mixed it into the soil and filled my pond with about 3,000 gallons of water. Everything looked wonderful. Here’s the picture:

Pond filled up

 

So the next morning I was very excited to see if the water had cleared up.

 

What?!!!

WordPress and the State of Tiny Sustainable Life

So yesterday WordPress offered me the chance to try out a new editor. It seemed like a slap-bang idea and so I said yes to installing the plug-in (if you are not a WordPress author or an IT enthusiast you can pass on this post and wait for tomorrow’s).

My first experience with computing was when I was a newly minted teenager and my Grandfather, the king of all things new and shiny, bought an Apple computer from a Bell & Howell distributor (an audio-visual dealer that you can probably look up in the Internet Archive).  It’s my understanding that was probably one of the first 1,000 computers Bill Gates sold. My Grandfather being my Grandfather, always traded in his computer on a newer model  the day they came out so I was always getting to play with new stuff.

My Grandfather had a nephew who worked for Apple in the late 1970’s, early 1980’s, and I remember a huge box delivered to his office with a prototype of the first 5MB hard drive inside. The box was like 3′ x 5′ and mostly filled with padding. Took us 8 months and numerous long distance calls to California at $3.00 a minute (long distance was a thing back then kiddies) and it never really worked right until the new ProDOS operating system came out.

The reason I bring all this up is because I’ve been around computing for more than 40 years – I have horror stories of the early years for days, so I know that I should back things up. Always BACK THINGS UP. So, of course, I installed the new plug-in without BACKING THINGS UP. It failed to install correctly and broke everything.

I was finally able to delete everything broken and re-load things that were  missing but because I’m a WordPress newbie it’s going to take me a few days to put things back like they were. It’s a learning experience, and I knew better, so I have only myself to blame.

What does this have to do with a sustainable life you ask? Well, as the Survival type saying goes “One is none, two is one and three is better”. I should have taken the time to back things up. I should have had a plan in case things went wrong. Things always will go in the their own direction, and it won’t always be how you think it should be. Building in redundancy is always a good idea. I’m glad the lesson I had to re-learn wasn’t too painful. I’ll know better next time.

What kind of lessons has Life taught you when you weren’t paying attention? Were you able to adapt quickly? I hope so. Let me know, I’m interested.

Take care,

The Mad Farmer

Paul Wheaton and Permies.com

For quite some time now (at least two years) I have been participating/lurking at the largest Permaculture site online, Permies.com. If you are not familiar with the site Permies is run by a gentleman by the name of Paul Wheaton who in his own words is “bonkers about permaculture”. No less a permaculture dignitary than Geoff Lawton named Paul “The Duke of Permaculture”. Permies is a fascinating place to hang out. There are forums for almost every subject related to permaculture and regenerative growing that you can imagine, forums for raising animals, creating berms, hugelkultur beds and everything else you can think of.

Paul also has a YouTube channel and over 400 podcasts on a mountain of different subjects. Paul has just completed successfully getting funded for his 7th Kickstarter project. The current project is going to be a 2 hour DVD explaining what a Rocket Oven is and how to build one. For people not familiar with Rocket Mass Heater / Rocket Oven technology it is a super-efficient way to heat a space, in case of the Rocket Mass Heater, or cook with, in the case of the Rocket Oven. The Rocket Oven burns a small amount of wood and functions like a normal oven, only more efficiently. I am a supporter of this particular Kickstarter and am looking forward to building one of these ovens and trying it out. Those of you who know me, and those of you joining us on our journey through a Tiny Sustainable Life, know I love projects and I am really looking forward to this one.

I’m currently in the middle of building an ornamental pond in our back yard (more on that in future posts). What are you building/making? How about projects you started but never finished? What happened with that?

Blogging is Hard

Man blogging is hard. At least consistent blogging is hard for me I should say. Some people seem to do it effortlessly, like Susy at Chiot’s Run. I don’t remember exactly how I got turned on to Brian and Susy’s podcast, I think it might have been from a mention on Jack Spirko’s Survival Podcast. However I got there I listened to the first podcast from this fantastic couple and I was hooked. It was a little like being part of their family, vicariously listening as they discussed the day-by-day trials and adventures of moving to a homestead in Maine and learning a more “organic lifestyle”. As I caught up on the weekly podcasts I started to learn about other homesteading and permaculture resources, as well as a few interesting side journeys like discovering the No Agenda Show by Adam Curry and John C. Divorak (but more on that in another post).

 

Eventually Brian felt like they had covered everything unique about their homesteading process and terminated the podcasts but Susy has continued to blog, almost daily, for a long time. She is always upbeat, encouraging and includes beautiful pictures from around their homestead and from places they visit. Reading her posts each morning is  becoming like having coffee with an old friend even though we have never met. Anyway, to bring it back around to the point I don’t know whether her ability to write consistently is natural or disciplined work turned into a habit but her steadfastness in pursuing her craft is something I hope to emulate going forward.

If anyone else struggles with doing things consistently I would love to hear how you attempt combat that trend. Please write me and let me know.

Winter in Kansas

Today is January 20th in Kansas (actually it’s probably January 20th everywhere except across the international dateline) and for a change the weather is not as cold as it has been.  For the last several weeks we have had below zero lows and highs ranging from 8 to 20 degrees. Most people would agree that is fairly cold. In the fall I built some cold frames and things were going along swimmingly until the weather got brutal. I’ve read many people who cheerfully grow veg in their frames all winter. In none of the accounts did I read what happens when you have long periods of sub-zero weather. Well I can attest from personal experience my Swiss Chard and most everything else did not enjoy it. I’m hoping that it will come back as temperatures get warmer, I guess we’ll wait and see.

Anyone out there have cold frames? What have you had success with? How have your plants fared in extreme weather? As we journey on our path towards sustainability I find that there are always more things to learn and more things to try. Stay warm, Keep learning…

Mother Earth News Fair

So we (my wife, Miss Mercy,  was there also) just got home from the first day of the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Ks. In case you are not familiar with the Mother Earth News magazine it is published by Ogeden Publications in Topeka, Kansas so it was nice when they started having the one of the fairs in our home town. They hold several a year in various locations throughout the U.S. The fair is a mix of vendors, workshops and lectures on homesteading, gardening, solar power, sustainable living, portable saw mills and oddly enough, infrared chairs to fix your aching back. Like most of life some of the events are great and some are not so great.

So far a couple of the breakout sessions that we attended were very informational. Miss Mercy went to one by Shawn and Beth Dougherty on adding a cow to your Homestead. The Dougherty’s have a new book out, The Independent Farmstead, which I’ve just started reading and so far it’s a very worthwhile read. It’s a really interesting event, especially if you’re into homesteading or possibly just people watching. We’ve attended all four years they’ve been having it here and we haven’t regretted it yet. If you have a chance to go to one near you we highly recommend it, it’s an interesting experience and you might actually learn some really interesting things. Sadly this year we were ready to purchase a broadfork for our garden and the vendor we were hoping to get it from was not there this year – so road trip or mail order – we’ll let you know how it goes…

Why Tiny Sustainable Life?

What is a Tiny Sustainable Life? Should I care? Does it require me to have long hair, a beard, wash rarely or not all, smell of patchouli oil and listen to a lot of Grateful Dead? *

Of course not! Anyone can live a sustainable life, or at least live in a more sustainable way then they are now.  I have short hair, a corporate job and live in Kansas with my wife, Miss Mercy.  We (I’m pretty sure based on our recent discussions that it’s “we”) are looking for a way back to an idolized simpler time. I say idolized because we don’t really want to live in the 1800’s with the bugs and dirt and general hard living that entailed. We do want to be more self-sufficient, grow more of our own food, reuse, recycle and repair and generally be less wasteful. This is our on-going story of what our journey towards those goals look like. Let me assure you, if we can get there, I promise you can too. So join us on our journey to get through this thing called life..

*Please note: I  mean no offense to hippies, who probably don’t have internet, or Dead Heads, who are some of the best people I know…