Friday, December 23, 2011

A year of commutes part one

Ok, actually around a year and a half. I drive a Honda Insight Hybrid for my commute, which for part of this time was 40.6 miles round trip, and 38.6 miles for the rest of that time. The Honda insight has great mileage, and the instrumentation makes it very easy to record both daily mileage as well as overall lifetime mileage. Once I learned how easy it was to reset the mileage calculation daily ( or hourly if you really wanted to) I thought it would be interesting to learn what cycles or patterns might show up to cause the overall average to be what it was.

I did not turn in to a hypermilage practitioner, but I did learn some things about the car and my driving patterns. Overall, I think it improved my mileage, since I did alter my habits a bit.
first entry
June 29- 2010: 43 miles, and 59.4 MPG
last entry
Dec. 22-2011: 46.5 miles, 50 MPG

These two entries point out one of the most significant findings. I thought I had noticed a seasonal swing in mileage before, but now it was quite evident, and I looked in to it and found three main contributors to this pattern. First, the engine does not reach full efficiency till it is warmed up above a certain temperature. I'm not an expert in ICEs, or even a car nut, but posts on Hybrid owner forums corroborated this. Second, the computer in the car had been programmed to keep the engine running at stops if the defrost was turned on. I presume this was a design decision that said visibility and safety trump mileage. Third, I live in an EPA ozone nonatainment area, meaning gasoline formulation changes between winter and summer. I have no idea how the Toyota engineers dealt with this, but it would be interesting to compare notes with a Prius owner. Anyway, just knowing these things changed my habits a bit. After my windows were clear, I was much more attentive to turn off the defrost until needed. One of the huge ways hybrids save gas is by shutting off the engine at stops, and if you take away that trick, mileage plummets. If all cars had instantaneous mileage gauges, and could easily track this, commuters would be up in arms demanding hybrids and better stop light algorithms.

I've never counted, but I would estimate my commute has around 30stop lights, and let's just say if I was an Xmen mutant, my special mutation was causing lights to turn red. Anyway, I'll cover other things I learned in future posts.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


WE decided to get the chipper attachment for our BCS. We're getting the small one, as I think it will work better for shredding mulch for the garden, and we'll probably burn anything too big for it. With all the sumac and other brush which sprouts continuously, it will get plenty of use. I still think that as long as we make up for the nitrogen, putting wood chips in the garden will speed up improvement of tilth and organic content. Most people say not to do it, but I have read the occasional counterpoint.

Got a batch of rough cut black locust to finish the compost bins, and also got a good lead from the neighbor for buying large quantities of compost. In order to get our terrace garden soil up to speed quicker, we might do that.

Trading with another neighbor this fall, we got some yogurt they made, and 55 lbs of pork from the pigs they raised this summer. They got bales of straw from us for bedding for their two milk cows. We still need to figure out how to evaluate our trades, to make sure we all feel things are fair. I just don't know the going cost for some of the items and help we have been swapping.

Monday, October 31, 2011

everything goes in

Started building a compost bin. Actually a three section compost bin as described in the Humanure Manual. Everything will go in. We had already started a low maintenance compost pile, not much more than a midden really, but will work on balancing the green and brown, making sure water and air are in the right range. Hard to do from afar, but will do what we can while we are there next summer.

When we live there, we'll start livestock, and have manure, but until then, it'll be lots of plant and kitchen scrap based compost. The garden will expand some this next year, and we plan to try winter squash as well as some sweet corn. Our very first garden experiment was a failure on the corn, since we hadn't yet put up a deer fence.
Corn takes a lot of room and nitrogen, but since we did a lot of dry beans this last year, we have several rows which will have fixed some nitrogen.

Monday, October 24, 2011


This on again, off again blog has not had much focus, but I think it will document our path toward a sustainable life on our farm. We are commiting to permaculture techniques, low energy input agriculture, and becoming part of a local food system. I'm finding websites and blogs with info that will help us avoid a few pitfalls, and recognize decision points as we come to them.

Apparently permies are people enamoured with permaculture. Others have called me a prepper or a doomer. Whatever. I'll list some of our plans and let that say what it will.

We will be planting chestnut trees and hazelnuts this spring, along the keyline ditches that are going in right now. We will have to delay livestock and other things till we move to the farm, but long term things like trees are starting now.

Finished reading both of Sam Thayer's books on wild forage foods, and I highly recommend them. We have a couple huge old shagbark hickories down in the ravine, so I gathered as many nuts as I could before the squirrels got them. I also gathers black walnuts from a youngish tree right near the house. Will practice cracking technique this winter, and hopefully get good at it.

In addition, after reading the books, I find I'm in a whole new world. Every time I walk outside, I'm looking at plants, and both wondering if they are edible, and realizing I need to pracice identification. I guess this spring, I will give the nettles and dandelion a shot, and work on from there.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

swale cutting

This past week, Our neighbor has been using his tractor, and then his bulldozer ( doesn't your neighbor have a bulldozer?) to cut the water retention swales in our field. Next spring will come the tree planting. We didn't lay out and put in as many ditches as I had thought, to leave plenty of room for equipment to turn around if we continue to do crops like hay in between the trees. If we decide we can do narrower spacing, we can always add intermediate ditches.

And on to sadly tardy updates, this was a huge year for apple tree production in our area, and we finally found out which trees had good apples and which ones were bad. We tried to harvest as many apples as we could, but since we were only up on weekends, we missed a lot. We put up over 75 pints of apples sauce, and have some more frozen slices in the freezer.

The tub planters in the sun room are working great so far. We have a lot of herbs doing well, and will see how they do this winter. This is one of the first projects we are trying from the Mother Earth News magazine. The big one will be the outdoor grill/oven. That will be a challenge.

Lost my little camera, so no photos this post.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

permaculture steps

Another three months, another entry. I'm not giving up yet. Here is a photo from the Mark Shepard led workshop on keyline water swale layout. This was an unusually cool day in late spring. A large turnout, at around 30 people. We are in our field just after Bob had planted the oats and hay mix. The concept is that swales are cut in along contour lines to catch any water that may flow overland, and in areas where water is concentrating toward a gully, slope the swales away from the gully to spread the water back out and give it more time to soak in.

These swales are also where you plant trees and other perennials so they get a bit more water without irrigation. Any future row crops will have to be planted along the contour lines, between the ditches. We'll actually cut in the ditches this September, after the oats are taken and the hay has hopefully taken hold.

Monday, May 16, 2011

first graft success

Well, I took a workshop on grafting apple trees this spring, and thought I needed more practice, but it looks like my first one took. We'll see as the season progresses. I bought some deer repellent vials to clip on my trees. Let's hope they work. This workshop was put on by midfex, and I thought it was a good, no nonsense practical event. The midfex members are quite open to sharing their knowledge, and their scions.

Friday, April 8, 2011

the energy descent

I'm reading a good on permaculture. It's not a detailed "plant this here, and that there, and lay out your water collection this way" kind of book. It is a design philosophy overview. It was written in 2002, and is still way ahead of me in thinking through the things we need to do to figure out living in a world where we slowly transition off of the fossil fuel buzz we've been on for really only a few decades. Today's sharing: Reduce, reuse, recycle always sounded like a neat, tidy mantra to help you figure out the right thing to do in life choices. Well, the author goes this two better, and I hadn't even heard this till reading this 9 year old book. refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle. Damn, I was feeling all righteous green by at least filling the recycling tub each week, and I'm doing the least useful thing on the list. He starts with refusing to consume at all, and finding another way to accomplish your goal. The main thrust of this section of the book is that we are so immersed in the addiction to fossil fuel powered life that we can't even see the alternatives we could be doing. This book is very dense in ideas and observations on moving to a sustainable life, but it's also pretty spare on writing style, so it doesn't bog you down, although I'll need to read it again to catch more of the insights that went past me while I was mulling over the ones that caught me first.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

sprouts up 2011!

Here are the sprouts. Here we have peppers and some impatiens on the left. We usually buy impatiens plants at the home supply store, but we collected seeds last year, and are doing these from those seeds. Should save a lot of money if they work out.
And here are some of the tomatoes. This is second try on the tomatoes. I did something wrong on the first batch, they died. These look like they will be fine.

Put up rabbit fence and repaired the deer fence this past weekend, so things are slowly getting in gear. Bought some CPM ( composted poultry manure) and spread it on the strawberries, hopefully at the right dosage. We are winging it! CPM has a lingering stench- be sure to wear clothes you plan to wash right away if you get too familiar with the bags. Also planted my first two apple tree graft experiments. I don't think my graft technique is too good yet, so I will not be surprised if they don't take.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

sleeping garden

Here is a what kept us busy most of last summer, rebuilding the sunroom on the south side of the house. Got lucky and was able to find excellent carpenters to keep me out of trouble. Aaron helped with design and material selection, and I enjoyed working with him. I'll post photos of the finished product when it's finished. Got it closed in before the snow blew last fall, but plenty to do inside this winter. Insulation, wiring, and wall covering proceeded slowly.

Here is a shot of our main garden, with a bit of the deer fence still clinging to the wire we strung it to. That'll need some fixing before our plants sprout. This is from February, and as I write it's now March, but the sun is higher, the snow is leaving. I just planted our next crop of tomatoes, peppers, and onions in the basement today. A couple more weeks, and I will do some of our broccoli, a few other peppers. The wheel turns, and we are heading in to the next growing season. First in the ground will actually be potatoes, but we aren't quite to the point of saving our own seed potatoes.