Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I've been seeing a lot about The Food Safety Modernization Act going over the internet for the past couple of years. When people first started posting links to the actual verbiage of the law I read about half of it and did not see anything indicating the wild claims that were being made about it. The worst I saw was that it was written with vague language. Granted that vague means it can be interpreted a number of ways but I saw nothing that supported claims like farm animals being marked with GPS radio tags.

Since there seems to be no end to recirculating the claims about this bill I wanted to add a small (tiny really) piece of the internet dedicated to reason.

This bill is not the problem! Our representatives being controlled by the business oligarchy while parading around as a republic is the problem. By the time the bill gets passed there will be a considerable amount of amendments that benefit the corporate food industry the bill is meant to regulate. This is America after all.

Friday, October 29, 2010


House progress has been steady but not worth mentioning in a while. Finally grouted the fireplace, hung more drywall in the addition room, almost finished the drywall in the bathroom, made a room in the garage and hung drywall on it. Nothing is done though. However this isn't all about houses this is about projects and here is the latest.

I'm not a holiday person and definitely not a costume person so my Halloween costumes tend to be sparse and allow me to wear my regular pants. This year I'm going as a cetaphobe. Cetaphobia is the fear of whales (Cetacea being the order of marine mammals) and what better place for a cetaphobe than the mountains in the middle of a continent? Any way the costume will consist of carrying around a harpoon. Harpoons aren't the easiest to come by so making one out of scraps in the garage seemed the way to go.

First the haft. This is a piece of rough cut red oak left over from a table I made years ago. Through it through the planner, drilled a hole for the shaft, routed the sharp corners and put some boiled linseed oil on it.

Then the metal bits. The shaft is left over round stock from a treadle lathe that has been on the back burner for the last few years. The hook is from some sheet stock (14g?) left over from armor making days.

I forgot how to braze. After four attempts and a trip to the Depot I gave up and used silver solder. Maybe it was because the flux I was using was from my great grandfathers welding equipment? It looks better with the silver solder anyway.

Cleaned up the metal and put some rope on it.

I also resurrected the guillotine. It is shorter due to some of the parts having been used for other things but it still cuts melons with frightening efficiency.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dancing Rabbit

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit an intentional community along the eco-village vein called Dancing Rabbit.

They are located in rural northeast Missouri near two other communities. They are committed to creating an alternative to main stream consumer culture. The use of fossil fuels is discouraged as well as new building materials. Here are some pictures of straw bale houses they have built out of local materials and reclaimed lumber.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Summer update

It didn't seem like much was getting done but I was wrong.

In July I took a 2 day class on straw bale construction. It was by the same teacher that taught the natural finishes class and although she has a lot of experience and is good with sharing it I was much happier about the hands on the other class had. The class used to be 3 day and losing a day was noticed. We did get to tour some pretty cool houses in various stages of construction.

Then the last of the siding was fixed. It doesn't look like much here but it is a vast improvement. Now the house can be painted. There was also an issue with the gutter that was leaking water back behind the soffit. I'm pretty sure the cause has been located and some flashing should fix the issue.

There is a curve in the transition between the kitchen tile and living room floor. This means that there is no way to buy a transition strip. The first thing that had to be done was that I had to make a decent router table. The straight pieces were pretty easy and although I've got to redo one that is too short they are essentially ready for varnish. The curved piece is a whole nother story. Probably should be it's own post once it is complete.

Some fun was had too. Got to go on two hikes so far this year. I'm looking forward to the kid getting old enough to come along. Next year or the year after?

Friday, July 2, 2010


The first egg was left this morning. It is speckled greenish/blue so it must be from the Araucana. When I checked their water and food this morning there was no egg but 30 minutes later when I came out of the garage there was an egg. I would have expected to hear her, maybe since the egg was small she didn't make much noise?

The bearded layer herself,

Said egg, (the flash washed out all of the color)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Edible 'weeds' in my yard.

After pulling thousands and thousands of dandelions I finally broke down and ate some. It was pretty tasty, as far as leafy things go. While pulling other weeds I started wondering what else was edible. Turns out quite a lot. The chickens will eat most of it too.

Dandelion, Taraxacum Officinale

Purslane, Portulaca Oleracea

Pretty tasty, has a crisp lemony flavor. There were several plants last year but none growing this year so no picture.

Mallow, Malva Neglecta

I ate a couple of seeds and it made me feel weird.

Lamb's Quarters, Chenopodium Album

Prickly Lettuce, Lactuca Serriola

Suppose to be bitter and not worth dealing with the prickles.

Wild Lettuce, Lactuca Virosa

Also known as Opium Lettuce. The sap can be collected and dried to make a compound that is used as a sleep aid.

Pigweed,Amaranthus retroflexus

There are many species of Amaranth that grows in the western US and most are edible. I'm pretty sure there are two growing in my yard, maybe three. Retroflexus is the only one I'm confident about the identification.

Dill Weed, Anethum graveolens

Not really a native but it is definitely a wild weed in my yard now.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The end of blah

It has been close to two months since I posted anything. An extended illness and spring business have contributed but mainly nothing has been finished enough to take a picture. That and I just didn't care. But now I care and respond with more than just 'meh' to the overwhelming list of things to do.

I did most of the wiring in the garage. There are shop lights and outlets hanging from the ceiling now. The outlet thing is a great idea that I got from way back in high school shop class. Yes, I've been waiting nearly twenty years to hang an outlet from the ceiling. Also finished the drywall in a corner of the garage and was able to put up a work bench and hang a bunch of cabinets in the corner. The garage is organized unlike it ever has been now. It was so inspiring that I started to make more cabinet doors for the kitchen. A race has started, will my son start crawling or will I get doors on the lower cabinets first? Right now it is looking like he is winning the race.

The garden has a bunch of tomatoes taking off, some peppers too. My initial planting bug got side tracked by illness so a number of veggies haven't been started or were just planted in the last week. The pea harvest promises to be disappointing this year. Going out and eating peas right off the plant was the highlight of the garden last year and I'll miss it this year.

The chickens seem happy. I've got a gross story to tell so if you have a weak stomach skip to the next paragraph. My compost turner was overly wet and the green to brown ratio was way off on the green side and well it stank, a lot, I'm surprised the neighbors didn't call the police kind of stink. So While trying to fix the compost turner (hint: drill drain holes in the bottom!) I was using a 5 gallon bucket that got infested with fly larvae. My first response was to drop the lid and promptly go back inside. After some refection I braced myself with the knowledge that maggots only like rotting flesh and that the chickens would like a tasty treat. Next came a lengthy process of scooping out maggots and rinsing them to reduce the chance of the girls getting botulism. The chickens LOVED the maggots. Every time I walk out the back door now the chickens jump up and run over to the end their run and make a hooting/honking noise.
It kind of made it worth the grossness. I fed them the larvae a couple more times but now there are no more maggots. I've started doing research and found that people harvest Black Soldier Fly larvae for their chickens and that there are plans for building harvesters and people that will send a batch of larvae in the mail. More to come as experiments progress...

The half bath has all of it's drywall up and the plumbing for the vanity sink has been installed. Just one last light finish coat of mud and a light sanding will be it before breaking out the texture gun again.

There was also an earth plaster experiment in garden that was a partial success but the three days of rain that occurred before I got to put the lime coating on negatived a lot of the work. This will eventually get it's own post.

And lastly the exciting part. The list!

o Find a heater option
o Raise bedroom wall
o Replace windows
o Rewire lights
o Check sub-floor
o Replace siding
o Backdoor, sliding?
o Walls, more drywall!!

o Sidewalk, mud jack?
o Paint outside
o Addition gutters
o Spread driveway gravel

Crawl space
o Seal vent cracks
o Insulate between floor joists
o Spray fungicide

House - inside
o Cabinet doors
o Grout fireplace
o Make floor transitions
o Paint floor trim

Bathroom - Half bath
o Install new vanity
o Light fixture
o Drywall
o Power; GFCI outlet and light
o Tile floor
o Re-seat toilet

Garage & yard
o Wiring
o Insulation, walls and attic
o Attic vents
o Drywall
o Build room in garage
o Stone paths
o Put up side fence & gate
o Trim branches on neighbor's tree
o Repair back fence

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


One day years ago I was in a creperia in Coyocoacan and they served me a crepe with mango jelly. It was delicious. I was surprised when it occurred to me that I had never seen or heard of mango jelly before. It just seemed like a given that it would be available. I mean mango jelly, just think about it. Then I started seeking mango jelly out. Telling anyone who would listen. All the while craving it. After looking in several dozen grocery stores and a few specialty stores I finally found some. It was good but halfway across the state and not cheap. Then the epiphany. I can make it.

Mango Jam

1 lbs ripe mango
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

Put water and sugar in a sauce pan and boil until it thickens. Mash mango and puree into the thickened boiling sugar water. Boil for five or so more minutes. Pour into a jar.

I didn't let enough water boil off on mine but next time I'll know.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


The chicken coop is finally done. I still need to figure out a nesting box but I've a couple of months to work that out. They have a double pane window and insulation and it might be more sturdy than my house. Over engineered is the term that comes to mind. Moving it from the garage to the chicken run and up on the concrete blocks was an exercise in pyrmid technology. Levers and rollers and rope and such. The cement blocks are ugly and I've got a half baked idea on how to make em look better. One thing that was of concern was how to connect the chicken wire so that no animals could get in for a snack. The hardware cloth happened to be wrapped in wire and I was able to use the wire to sew the chicken wire together. It seemed pretty slick at the time, maybe I was out in the sun to long.

This site is a calculator for overhangs. Put in your latitude plus the hieght and width of the over hang and it will tell you what percent of the sun the overhang will block broken down by month.

With the chickens taken care of some attention can be paid to the house again. My dad was over earlier in the week and we spent half a day in the crawl space fixing wiring and getting plumbing ready for the half bath. About 4 more hours of crawl space fun and we should be done down there for good.

Spring also brings chores for the garden. Planted a bunch of tomato and peas and the seedlings are doing good. Everything else is going to get to grow in situ this year. Next year they will have a sun room and I'll be able to set out more than two trays.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


This is a 2 day old chick named Chipmunk.

A mere 4 weeks later she is nearly full grown and has lost her namesake strip.

Here for contrast is an infant of about 10 weeks who is at least 16 years from even remotely looking like an adult.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Soapy cakes

Before I forget, again...

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 corn flour
1/2 white flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar

1 egg
1 1/4 milk/soy milk
3 tablespoons butter/olive oil
1 pear diced or blueberries or both

I had to go digging for my soap recipe the other day too. While I'm in a documenting kind of mood,

12 oz olive oil (non-virgin)
10 oz vegetable oil
12 oz coconut oil
5.2 oz lye
2 cups water

Mix lye and water and let cool to 120F
Heat oils to 120F

Combine and stir until the mixture traces. If you haven't made soap before do some research, lye is dangerous and knowing what is happening makes the process more fun. I tried using a hand mixer for the first time and it went great. Well, other than having some not yet saponified soap slash up and hit my eyelid. It only took about 15 minutes to trace than the normal 75-90.

For some reason I only made a half batch. It is time to set up some more molds so that I can do a double batch and my procrastinating will have less effect.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


A while ago a friend showed me the difference between his dirt plants and hydroponic plants, very impressive. The pile of trash next to it was less impressive. All of the nutrients came from bottles bought in a store and most fertilizer is made with a large input of natural gas. I was still surfing the web for hydroponics info and daydreaming about setting something up a little more earth frienly when I found this website.

The site very clearly makes a case for an aeroponic tomato business. Still with most of the drawbacks from hydroponics it leaves some to be desired. Even with grow lights they estimate you can make $750 a month as a part time/weekend business.

Not long after I started reading about a local thing called Feed Denver. They are using the techniques from the super cool Growing Power.

Among the many things they do they grow fish and food in a system called aquaponics. The mixing of aquaculture and hydroponics. The beauty of this system is that the fish poo, effluence, fertilizes the plants and the plants filter the fish water. A good description can be found here,

I've seen sites that describe using fly larvae (you know, maggots) and extra worms from vermicomposting to feed the fish. Done right you can turn trash from local restaurants into fresh veggies and fish.

My yard is looking smaller and smaller.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Peep chirp peep!

They are only two days old. Very cute.

There are 2 Barred Plymouth Rocks and an Araucana. The Araucana isn't a pure breed so there is no guarantee of blue eggs.

When I first became a vegetarian 12 years ago I told myself that I could eat chicken when I raised, butchered and cooked one. It has been so long that I don't want to eat chicken anymore. I'm pretty excited about the eggs and fertilizer though.

Yes, I should have painted it before putting the hardware cloth on.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


A piece of cedar fence post that was a bit curved on one end and so rejected from a fence project finished off the compost turner. With a proper crossbeam the frame is a lot more stable when over turning it for replacing the drum.

After compressing out the cracked that formed there was 18mm of space. That comes out to 9% so the mud in my yard will work for earthen plaster. Yay! There is quite a few items on the list in front of that though.

There are 4 drawer fronts ready for staining too. Nice weather makes a difference.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


It has been a while since I posted progress. I was waiting for something complete to post but that just isn't happening until the weather improves. Next week should be in the mid forties so something might happen. Here are a couple of unfinished projects in the mean time.

In the summer compost breaks down pretty quick and a 5 gallon bucket lasted most of the summer. Then it started getting cold and I just had to come up with a better solution. First stop was, 2 steel 55 gallon drums for $30.

I cut a hole in the top about 12" x 12" and then cut out a larger piece from scrap sheet metal that was in my garage. Added some hinges and a latch that were from old cabinets that I cleaned up years ago and put some old paint on for a finishing touch. Sometimes it pays to never throw anything away. Also drilled some holes in the sides to let gases escape. I've a plan for pvc pipe with holes drilled in it to help get air to the compost, it's still a half baked plan though.

Mixing compost so that air gets in speeds the breakdown process and prevents anaerobic bacteria from creating methane gas. The next step is a frame to hold the drum on a pivot to make turning it easy. A few years ago I made a trebuchet and it was fun to play with but time to move on so the frame from the trebuchet will now be the frame for a compost turner.

The base will need new cross beams since the drum is much wider than the throwing arm was. Since trebuchets were medieval siege weapons I went with the old school carpentry and didn't use any glue or nails. That means that making new cross beams takes time and needs warmer weather. It is a simple enough process though. Drill two holes that are the width and distance of the tenon, as seen in the picture, then chisel out the middle. Drill a hole for the peg and then insert peg.

I saw a number of compost turners with plastic drums on the internet and it just doesn't seem like the plastic would hold up. In fact it doesn't seem like the steel will hold up so I reinforced the hole with a 3/4" washer that fits the 1/2" conduit pipe with a little to spare, I would feel better if the washer was welded on. 1/2" conduit seems like it is just barely strong enough, I wanted to start with something thicker but then I would of had to fabricate a reinforcement and it was cold in the garage. Why haven't I spent more time putting up the insulation and drywall in the garage? After putting up a 4x8 sheet of 1/2" drywall by myself on a 10' ceiling I decided to wait till warmer days and recruit some help. Anyway, the base will have wheels on one end to help move around the yard but also to aid in swapping out the drum. Once it is done the non-wheeled end can be upended to place the drum on the ground top up. Then the axle can be slid out and the frame wheeled over to a new drum where the axle gets put back in. More on that later.

The other project is earthen plaster. My yard is mostly clay and clay is a main ingredient in earth plaster but not all clays make good plaster material. There are some easy and basic tests that can be done to find out what properties a clay has.

This first test is to put some dirt in a glass jar with some water and shake it up. Then set the jar down for 24-48 hours and take a look. The sediment in the jar will give a rough idea of how much sand, clay and silt is in the dirt. The bottom will be sand, then silt and finally clay. This is almost pure clay. Sand will have to be added to make an earth plaster.

The next test is to make a box to test shrinkage. Some clay will shrink a lot when it dries and some hardly at all. My area is know for it's bentonite clay which expands and shrinks considerably with moisture and is a poor clay for plaster. This was some scrap maple from the kitchen cabinets and a couple of coats of varnish. There is currently mud drying out in it, since it is so cold it might be a few days before I know what kind of clay I have. As long as the clay shrinks less than 15% it should work for plaster. The test box is 20 centimeters long which comes out to about 5/8" maximum shrinkage.

Plaster recipes have anywhere between 2 parts sand to 1 part clay to 4 parts sand. Really it depends on the clay and the quality of the sand, river and beach sand should be avoided. To find the right mixture start on the low end and keep adding sand, take notes. Two things should happen when the right mixture is found. One is if you take some of the mud mix and roll it into a cigar shape, 1/2"ish round by 5"ish long and slowly push it off of your hand. If it crumbles falls apart add more clay. If it breaks about halfway you have a good mixture. If it doesn't break and just curls as it is pushed off of your hand then add more sand. Another test is to roll a half a handful into a ball and let it dry. If it easily disintegrates then add clay. If it takes pressure to break and crumble it is probably good. If you can't break it with your fingers then the mix probably needs more sand. It should also be mentioned that less water is better, add just enough to make the material workable.

The goal is to build a green house in the back yard out of earth plaster and then coat the outside in lime plaster. Really it depends on how long we will stay here though. It is fun to play with in the mean time though.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New skills

The end of 2009 taught me a lot of new things. I learned how to change a diaper for instance. How to feed, burp, swaddle, console and dress an infant.