Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Porous borders


In my college studies to be a civil engineer, we were taught how to solve for the forces and resulting stresses by drawing a boundary around the item or area in question, and then systematically identifying and accounting for all forces that crossed this boundary. This was called a"free body diagram". 

This is a tool to break down complex systems so individual elements can be analyzed and quantified. It is also a tool that doesn't work well with a good bit of the real world. A beam connecting to a column is laughably simple compared to ecosystems.

This famous quote by John Muir is more like how things interact:

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

I was thinking about this as I wondered just how far we've come on our journey to self reliance here on our homestead.

Not very far. 

Now, I realize that to be completely self reliant is impossible and a very unrealistic, even counterproductive goal. But, ever striving to reduce dependance on the fossil fuel enabled economy and logistical chains is I think prudent.

So here is a rough first cut at defining the "free body diagram" for our home, and acknowledging all the dependencies that remain.

Crossing the boundary:

Sunshine, air and rain are givens of course.

Food from the grocery store as there are still many things we don't grow ourselves.

electricity- We generate a fair portion here, but the grid is the 24/7 backup and supplement. 

Feed for the chickens- It's organic, and they forage a certain amount, but the majority of their calories are still from the feed store.

Building materials for the various projects and regular maintenance.

Information from the internet that would otherwise be very difficult to find so quickly.

Seeds- We do some seed saving, but more than half our garden, and all the tree seedlings are from suppliers.

Chickens- We haven't pushed the incubating and hatching like we could, so still buy chicks every so often.

Gasoline- to run the brush mower, tiller, chain saw, and of course the cars that get us to town and haul things for us.

Money- Our savings and income leave the home in exchange for the above purchased items.

All manner of personal goods- Clothes, cleaning supplies, medicine, all the "normal" household goods we so easily acquire today, coming from hundreds and thousands of miles away.

I'll even count water, as the domestic water is from our deep well. It would be inaccessible if not for electricity and the well pump. Till now, we are only capturing a small percentage of rain from the roof, to use for watering trees. So much more to be had.

Just pausing to think about losing one or more of these connections should make one deeply appreciative of the flows across our boundaries that sustain us.

So where do we fit in here?


Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The egg report

 Update on the egg  storage experiment.........

From my March 29, 2021 post, we get an abundance of eggs in the spring, when the hens start back up after taking the winter off. I stored some eggs in half gallon mason jars covered in a water-calcium hydroxide ( pickling lime) solution.

This late winter and spring 2022, a year later, we have tried them out and find them to be fine for most things. They are quite edible, with no off taste that I could tell, ( and I'm still alive) but the consistency has changed a bit. The whites have a bit less body, and the yolks have a tendency to settle next to the shell, and sometimes stick to the shell a little. This means they are fine for scrambled eggs or baking, but are tricky to use if you want sunny side up fried eggs.

All in all, a success I'd say, and storage for a year is quite impressive. Again, these are unwashed, unrefrigerated eggs fresh from the hens, I don't know if store bought eggs would fare the same.

We have also been hand rolling egg noodles and drying them as another way to store eggs. Just this week, we used the pasta extrusion attachment on the KitchenAid, and the macaroni turned out pretty good. We ate some macaroni fresh, but have dried some also, and will see how they cook up later.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

From bees to beets

 To bee or not to bee, that is the question. Whether tis nobler in the hive to suffer the mites and diseases of outrageous nature, or....................to grow beets.

I've come to accept that for now at least, I do not have the husbandry habits to be a beekeeper. Chickens? Pigs? Other critters, yes, but bees seem to be a combination of bother with protection, non chemical hive health management, and remembering to tend  them with some regularity that it's not working for me. They seem so self sufficient most of the time, and it just slips my mind, or when I do think of checking on them, I just say one more day won't hurt.

 Keeping bees alive through Wisconsin winters and dealing with colony collapse, varroa mites and other pests requires more attention and interest than I have been able to give. Even long time beekeepers lose a lot of hives each year.

But I also know that I have an incurable sweet tooth, and there are a reasonable number of native pollinators that can do the honors in spring when the flowers bloom.

I've been tapping a few box elder and maple trees for a bit of syrup, which been great, but it's good to have redundancy in as many things as you can.

So, letting the hives stand empty for now. I plan to try growing sugar beets for the first time this next garden year. I've read up on it a bit, and found some methods described to extract and distill the sugar ( they are 20% sugar content by one source) that don't sound too tricky. 

Wash, shred, boil in water, strain, cook down, how hard could it be? We'll find out this fall.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Seeing the water


Don't know how much truth there is to it, or if the truth of it really matters, but there is a saying that fish aren't aware of the water they live in because they are immersed in it from birth, and it is just a universal aspect of every part of their lives.

The concept is then used for us to imagine what aspect of our lives is unquestioned and "invisible" to us because it's always there and is background to us, even though it is essential or has major impact on our behavior.

So, weak as the analogy is, what things are there that we "swim through" every day that we need to realize affect us? How could one stand to the side, summon up an impartial perspective, and see the paradigms we live by that might be completely arbitrary or even dysfunctional?

We are more complex than fish ( in some ways) so there could be myriad layers of reality and human interaction that are taken for granted but might be available for understanding and acknowledgment. 

White privilege is a concept recently in the news that is a good example of one of these layers that at least the Caucasian of us in the U.S. could try to gain awareness of. That particular layer is not a universal, but are there other, more universal media that all human societies are immersed in? If not, what does that say? If so, what are they?

I think one of, if not the most important invisible mediums we are immersed in is that of the luxury and ease afforded by our fossil fuel slaves. A barrel of oil contains the equivalent of roughly 25,000 hours of human labor. Here is a good primer on the concept:


Every waking minute, we ( at least those of us likely to be reading this blog on our electronic devices) are surrounded by materials, services, and ease of life entirely supported on a foundation of fossil fuels. To become aware, and appreciate the implications, one soon thinks about the ephemeral state of this ease that relies on a resource that is soon to decline. Ask yourself, what should a fish do when it senses the waters receding? Maybe swim toward waters from another source?

I've been reading books lately about the widely varied ways that humans have gone about organizing themselves in groups, cultures, empires, and what it might mean for our potential to chart a rational future path. 

I gotta say, there have been ( and are) some really weird beliefs and ways humans have chosen to organize themselves.

But we first worlders of usually European descent currently seem to all think that all that history inevitably led up to us, as we are, and things will just keep on progressing......Where?

We are in a time of change, and it will require massive acts of imagination and reflection to see the myriad waters we swim in, and figure out the direction toward water from deep, reliable springs.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

seeds of change

 I just received the last of the garden seeds I ordered. Last year, covid caused a lot of first time gardeners, and seed availability was affected. I had to scramble to get everything on our list, but ended up ok, just couldn't get some of our favorite varieties.

This year I ordered a bit early, and did see a bit of sold out stock, but in general, much better than last year. So, did all those new gardeners become once off gardeners? Did the seed companies ramp up in reaction to the new surge? Don't know, but we are set, and starting plants indoors is not that far away.

I have never listed what all we grow, but thought I would now just to show the large variety, which we feel is important to stay resilient, since the weather from year to year results in some veggies having a good year, and others a dud. This way we always have something to put in the larder. We are also shifting further to heirlooms and less hybrids, to do more seed saving than we have so far.

So here you go, in no order, just off the top of my head.





brussels sprouts

lacinato kale



red cabbage

green cabbage

shelling peas


flint corn

four types of soup beans

butternut squash

honey nut squash

kabocha squash


red onions

yellow onions


hard neck garlic

ancho peppers

sweet peppers

cherry tomatoes

slicer/sauce tomatoes


lima beans


swiss chard


So that's the garden. We have an asparagus and rhubarb patch, and some black raspberries that are going a bit feral.

We also grow cilantro, basil, rosemary, thyme, and mint in our herb garden near the house.

In past years, we've grown wheat, green beans and sweet corn, but we still have plenty of wheat and green beans ( both canned and frozen), and corn can be a pain, takes a lot of room, so now just buy from a local farm that specializes in it.

I also ordered some more trees. More apple, pear, tart cherry, hazelnuts, and some hackberry for the critters. I'll review the trees in more detail another time.

Here is the south garden, asleep in the snow. 9F ( -13C) as I type.

Monday, September 13, 2021


 Wow, time has flown this summer. I won't try to recap, but for now will just mention that we finished harvesting this year's hazelnuts.

Our hazelnuts are hybrids, and some plants have bushlike genetics, and some have more treelike genetics, and they all ripen at different times, and have different sized nuts. As the outer husk, or involucre starts drying and separating from the nut, you only have a short amount of time to pick the nuts directly from the bush. Once the nuts fall to the ground, collection is very tedious, and probably a net loss of calories.

So once "most" of the nuts are ripe enough, we pick them all, and let them finish drying in bins in the barn. Once they have finished drying, dehusking is much easier. They can then be stored for shelling later.

Each year, as the plants come more in to full growth and production, the yield has increased where it is real work to get them all picked before they fully dry and fall to the ground. Most will be sold, or traded as barter, but I'm saving back a good portion to eat and experiment with various recipes.

I'm bad at photographing progress, but here in the back of the truck is one of the harvest bins half full. We eventually harvested about three binfulls of nuts.

Friday, May 28, 2021

finger pointing


This article is just one of many I could have linked that describe the litigation, protest, and anger aimed at fossil fuel companies. The number of people around the world that are becoming aware of and concerned about global warming grows continuously, but full awareness is sadly lagging.

Oil companies would collapse into bankruptcy if there was no demand for their products. We the consumers are the other partner in this dead end pillage and waste of the planet's resources. Until we acknowledge our own complicity and truly make the changes needed, this era will continue ineffective and misguided confrontation theater.

I fully realize that the changes required are massive and painful, but we live on a finite planet. It's not an if, but a when the party will end. It would be preferable to wind down in an organized, methodical fashion than through chaos.  And I admit how far I have to go to change. All I can do is work on it one step at a time, and not waste time looking for scapegoats.

And while I'm at it, can we all quit fixating on climate change? It's a terrible thing we've wrought, but it's a SYMPTOM. I think I understand why the environmental movement decided to focus on climate change, but now wonder if it was a strategic mistake? There was probably no good way to tell people they have to scale back and live a much less convenient life.

The real issue is overconsumption, and climate is one of the many side effects of our population overshoot and lifestyles. If we somehow figured out how to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere from some Deus ex machina technology, we'd still be screwed by all the other impacts and depletion that are unwinding at the same time.

Won't be that long till they all look like this. What then?

Oil companies have been defensive and even deceitful, but they are protecting their interest as we all have been doing by denying our part in this.  So stop blaming oil companies and look inward.

Ok, end of rant. (too much coffee).