Archive for July, 2010

If you haven’t already read “The Humanure Handbook” I really highly recommend that you do. It is a simple, clean, and efficient solution to sanitation, responsible water management, and compost production improving your soil condition and your ability to produce food.

Here’s Joe Jenkins, the author, explaining the system to a group in Haiti…

I totally understand people’s hesitancy to try this but having used this system for about nine months now, I can personally guarantee- there is no odour, no mess, and no real work involved beyond emptying containers. Add to which we’re not using perfectly good water to poop in, electricity to pump said water, we’re not contaminating anything, and we’re producing wonderful compost that can be used at a later date in our gardens.

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We finally placed the windows this weekend. It was a pretty exciting milestone. As mentioned, we’ve lost about 6 weeks of our already short building season to extremely heavy rain so getting the frames in has seemed a long time coming.

The windows are interesting. We’re relying on solar gain as much as possible, while being mindful not to lose too much heat via unnecessary openings so it took a bit of planning. All of the kitchen and living room windows are oriented south. They’re also “regular” glass, as opposed to low E, which (surprisingly) took some tracking down. It seems the new standard is now low E which would entirely defeat the purpose of having south facing windows.

The plan for the living room, which has a total of 3 sizable windows, is to create a sunspace that will house an indoor greenhouse area. The greenhouse will both extend our growing season and provide additional heat to the home by virtue of its design. The garden will be several feet wide, about waist height, and have sliding windows on the interior for easy access.

The kitchen windows are also standard glass. We’ve oriented these south and slightly southwest to provide light and a certain amount of heat to the areas in which we’ll be most active.

We’ve recessed the windows so that we get the most winter sun as possible, while limiting the amount of summer sun. We were pretty happy the other day when we were able to measure the amount of afternoon sun permitted indoors and, with the protection of the overhang, it didn’t reach very far into the domes. We get some decently hot summers and it’s important that the house stay relatively cool. (On that note, we’ve also strategically placed vents in our design for a good cross breeze and ventilation- something not taken into consideration in the design of our current ‘traditional’ house.)

The only other windows in the house are one in each of the two bedrooms. The master bedroom faces west and the smaller room faces north so we went with fairly small windows and the low E option as we only need them for light and want to minimize the amount of heat loss through those openings. The only other window is in the front door which faces east (slightly southeast) and again, we went with low E as we’re not going to get a lot of winter sun through that opening. There are no windows in the pantry/system room (a dome divided in two by a wall) as we want this room to remain temperate throughout the year. The north side, which houses the pantry, will additionally be bermed up to maintain a consistent temperature.

Windows were an interesting exercise because I’m not used to thinking of them as anything other than aesthetic. I tend to like a lot of very large windows. The more windows, the better- on every side of the house. And I love, love, love skylights. I’d hoped to incorporate at least one into our design. Upon researching solar gain and heat loss, it quickly became evident our (my?) plans would have to change.

The skylight was out- pretty much immediately. We’d get the most light out of it during the summer, at which time we’d also be broiling, and we’d risk losing heat in the winter. And my dream of being surrounded by big windows- also out. According to every knowledgeable natural builder we reviewed, limiting the number of windows that are not south facing is an absolute must.

It kind of makes you rethink the way that you use a house. I have the tendency to use most rooms the same. I carry a laptop from room to room, or my books, or paper for writing, I eat wherever I find myself… This design causes you to evaluate how you use certain rooms. We only really need the bedroom to sleep in. And for other, well, activities that don’t require a lot of space or light. I never actually look outside when I’m shampooing my hair, I just like that I have the option should I ever be so inclined. I don’t need to type/write/read in the kitchen. It would be just as easy to sit in the living room. And the living room does tend to be the hub of all activity most nights, though we have an additional 7 rooms to choose from.

It’s just habit, I suppose, and a good dose of socialized thinking that I’ve come to expect that every room can be a ‘home unto itself’ and should, therefore, provide me with all the creature comforts that a home should- good lighting, lots of space, aesthetic value, and comfortable seating. This design caused me to review what purpose each room is actually intended to serve. Interesting concept.

Anyway, lots of noteworthy concepts incorporated into the design of our little dome-home, and I’ll try to touch on as many as possible over time. Our heating and cooking systems using only natural fuels is one that I’m very excited about. It looks like the rain is letting up though so time to head to the site and see what kind of damage I can do today, if any. Several inches of rain in the last 24 hours and another several predicted so it could be a slippery one. Ciao for now!

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Tired. Yup. Pretty tired. About 75 bags laid, window frames placed in the living room and kitchen, the front door set in place at the entranceway and several loads of gravel hauled. All in the span of 4 days. I’ll perhaps have something more to say once my energy levels return to normal, but for now- a few photos of our progress…

We're focusing on bringing up the walls of the largest domes

the window frames are finally in

living room & kitchen from the front

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I have so much to learn about seed harvesting, and hopefully will know enough to harvest at least some from our garden this year, but I also need to get moving on ordering some seeds. With the intention of expanding our permaculture landscape markedly over the next few years, a good seed supply is crucial. And because our weather can change quite drastically from year to year, a solid seed bank is a necessity.

The Seed Banks of the World Continue to Grow   Did you know that there are a total of 1,400 seed vaults that are located in various locations around the world? Yup, over one thousand seed banks. That is about 7 seed banks for every country in the entire world. This is usually an interesting fact that I bring up to those who are skeptical about purchasing a Survival Seed Bank. All over the world, leaders have acknowledged the need to safely store seeds in the case that war or natural disaste … Read More

via Nogmoseedbank's Blog

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I have a confession to make. I’ve allowed certain false perceptions about Shane and me to propagate. Okay, not just “allowed” but occasionally encouraged and even delighted in them. I get a giggle out it. God knows I love a good laugh.

I’ve been trying to convince Shane to write an article for this page for ages. He just cracks me up. Not much for writing though. But anyone who’s had the pleasure of speaking with him knows what I’m talking about. He gets so worked up. F*cking government, f*cking multinational corporations, f*cking banks, f*cking, f*cking, f*cking. And he’s a big man so it can be a little intimidating to see him go off. Not to me. I just find it funny, and part of his charm, but to the uninitiated…

He’ll talk to anyone who’ll listen about politics, the tanking and fraudulent economy, how we need to organize, what we need to do in order to be able to provide for ourselves in the not-so-distant future when it all goes to hell. His latest facebook status is a quote from Diderot, “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”. (I should really compile a list of his updates sometime- they’re funny as hell.) I, on the other hand, tend to just smile and listen. He faces the questions (“are you mad?”, “a house out of mud?”, “is that legal?”) and funny looks, I stand back and get the sympathetic nods.

But here’s the thing- I agree with everything he’s talking about. In fact, when we’re alone together I’m just as bad, though I credit myself with having a much better pantomime to accompany my tirades. I don’t feel badly about the misperception. If anyone thinks that I’m just out here building a house and gardens 7 days a week for the helluva it, or at the suggestion of my “radical” husband, you deserve whatever you believe. So it’s bullshit, it’s no worse than the rest you’re ready to swallow.

You see, the truth of it is that Shane’s the optimist. He keeps talking because he thinks there’s some point to it. If he can help someone to “see the light”, get prepared while there’s still time, he’s done what he set out to do. He’ll take the flack and the sometimes nasty comments, the belittling of his ideas and work- all for the sake of perchance enlightening someone. I can’t be bothered. If common sense doesn’t compute, who am I to argue? You can teach a monkey sign language after a loooong period of time with loads of patience, but really- what’s the point? Don’t get me wrong- I’m more than happy to help those who want my help, I just don’t think the majority are ready (or bright enough) to recognize the fact that they need any help.

Okay, so now you’re thinking that I’m an ass- and to some extent you may be right- but self-preservation is important to me. You can’t fault me for that. As far as I’m concerned I need my energy for other (read: “more important”) things. Arguing or defending my perspective isn’t high on my list of priorities. For example- among the many things that I need to do, I need to maintain a sense of humour. The world’s a pretty messed up place right now, and getting messier by the day, and I need some levity to keep me on track. I’d rather practice my running man than try to convince you that you can’t shop your way out of this. I’m about 20 years too late but I’m getting pretty good at it. Step, step, step, hold, step, step, step, hold… You can scoff but my dance moves do more for my state of mind than your consumerism does for your future.

Poor Shane. For all of his efforts to ‘enlighten’ people, he usually just ends up depressed that so many people refuse to see what’s right in front of them. As if the state of the economy, our food supply, peak oil, peak soil, warfare, the move to global government, the rise of fascism, and so on weren’t enough, he really does care that so many people have their heads in the sand. Not me. It’s unfortunate, sure, but predictable. Depends on how much stock you put in people’s ability to reason I suppose.

So that’s it in a nutshell. Just to set the record straight. Shane’s the optimist and I’m, well not the pessimist because I strongly believe in our own ability to survive, but let’s just say the ‘pragmatic’ one. I’m not standing there smiling for the same reason that you are. My husband is not off his rocker. I’m standing there smiling because I’m okay with you being an idiot.

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Yay- it’s raining and I won’t be able to work on the site today! I mean, “oh darn- I was so looking forward to another day of back-breaking labour in the 30 C heat”. I know- it wasn’t that long ago that I was complaining about the rain and how far behind schedule it had set us. But that was when it had been raining for pretty near two solid months. It’s been sunny and blazing hot on the bald-ass prairie for some time now and with the 7 day workweek that I keep, exhaustion has been kicking in. And maybe a wee bit of apathy. Okay, we’ll call it what it is- bad attitude. I’ve developed a nasty little attitude over the last several weeks.

We’re making some really decent progress. One more level and we’ll place the window frames. I’d take pictures but we tarp the areas that aren’t being actively worked on (to prevent the bags from breaking down in the sunlight) so the photos wouldn’t be much to look at. One day when we’re feeling extra ambitious we’ll remove all of the tarps to get some new pictures. It takes a while to place the tarps and secure them with heavy enough rocks that our prairie wind won’t simply pick them up and deliver them somewhere else in the middle of the night so it does take a certain amount of ambition to want to undo and redo it all.

In the meantime, today’s a good day to catch up with everything that I haven’t had time for. Like baking bread and cakes to freeze. And fifty or so loads of laundry. And dishes, and mopping, and sorting through the mounds of paperwork accumulating on the kitchen table (we don’t even eat at the table anymore- that’s how bad it is). And, and, and… This is why I’ve been feeling overwhelmed- I simply haven’t been able to keep up. I go out in the morning to work on the site all day only to come inside in the evening and face all of the work that’s been piling up in my absence. I say “face” because I haven’t been doing much more than looking at it and grumbling. Shane loves it- I do it for him.

I’m particularly looking forward to gardening today. It’s pouring rain and only 7 C with winds gusting to 60 km/hr. I think they’ve got to be stronger than that to have knocked down a tree though. We have an extreme weather warning on but I think they’ve miscalculated- it’s here! I love this kind of weather. Makes me feel alive. Sure, if it lasts more than a day or two I’ll be back to complaining about how it’s interfering with my building schedule but for right now I love it. I’m going to plant a few last things- pretty late in the season and they might not take but if they do we’ll be all the better off come fall. And I need to inspect for cutworms. They’ve been terrible this year and I can’t seem to get a handle on them. We’ve enjoyed lots of butter lettuce but haven’t even had a taste of the Swiss chard because the cutworms keep decimating the crop. (I’m planning on building bat houses for next year.) They’re also after my bell peppers which is ticking me off to no end. I’ve never grown peppers before and was really looking forward to a nice return on the plants. And if the rain lets up a little I’ll move some more earth for gardens I have started for next year. Kind of heavy and sloppy to move mud in the wheelbarrow though so that’s a big “if”.

So today should be a good day. No complaints from me. Mark it in your calendars.

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Okay- so I’ve purposely avoided using this as a political forum, instead focusing on the building and sustainable lifestyle side of things. Not that I don’t have some strong opinions. I do- on pretty much everything. Unless the conversation starts with, “so who do you think will win the soccer/hockey/baseball/synchronized swimming/football game?” in which case- I don’t care. But this folks, this is just too rich not to share.

Here we have Prime Minister Harper, speaking on April 29th, regarding the G8 and G20…

Um, wait a minute… My attention span is short but did he just say, “we need some semblance of global governance” but “I don’t think anyone’s going to come in and say we’re prepared to surrender our sovereignty to the G20 or some other body?” Global governance without a global government? No. Surely the interviewer would have confronted the contradiction. Must have misheard him.

I do really like that whole G20 as a “steering committee” though. Makes me much more comfortable with the whole thing. Kind of like “collateral damage”, I like that expression too. Mmm, happy thoughts.

Alright, so fast forward a few months to the G20 conference in Toronto and Mr. Harper again…

Oh he looks dapper, doesn’t he? Is it just me or are all Canadians thrilled to bits that he hired himself a new stylist and gave up those ridiculous sweaters? That’s much better. So what’s he have to say here? Hey- hold up a minute. Did he just say, “I know some people don’t like it, it’s a loss of national sovereignty, but it is a simple reality.” With a smile? I don’t understand… What happened to our global governance without the government? And the absurdity of anyone suggesting we’d surrender our sovereignty? Heeeey now…

Goddamn- it’s a good thing I have a short attention span. And shopping to do. I could’ve sworn… Oh never mind. Hey- what was that about LeBron moving to Miami? No shit, eh? Well I’m glad that endless speculation is over. What was I talking about? Ah, it couldn’t have been important…

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Our ‘shift to sustainability’ would not be complete without a plan for feeding ourselves. I’m reminded of this every time I visit the grocery store and get sideways looks from the other shoppers while I grumble about the overpriced pathetic display of produce and pitiful cuts of meat, packaged single serving but priced the same as multiple serving packages cost just a short time ago. I’ve become that grumpy old lady who complains and mumbles under her breath and pays for her order with loose change, not because I don’t have bills but because it’s a small revenge where none other is available. Except that I’m in my thirties and can move faster; I just choose not to.

So, we need a garden. A big one. Our soil is primarily clay though which, while great for building, is ill suited to support most crops. And I’m not a gardener. For those of you who haven’t read further into our blog, I’m a city girl. I used to buy, buy, buy everything that I needed and when it ran out or broke down or I got bored of it, I’d simply buy more. I’m of a generation that was born and socialized to consume, and consume I did. So this “self-sufficient” thing is a learning curve for me. I am, however, a natural researcher and research I have.

First things first- building the soil. I’ve never even heard of ‘building soil’. I thought it was something you bought in bags at the garden centre. Or something your property naturally came with. But there is very little topsoil in this region. One of the reasons we are called the “Special Areas”. A 5,000,000 acre disaster. A beautiful disaster, certainly, just no good for regular food production. Anyway, since the clay is no good for food production I have taken to building small garden plots from scratch, with the intention of expanding each year until I have a veritable jungle garden. Lofty goal you’re thinking. Absolutely. But I’m encouraged by the results already.

I started with breaking up the soil, or sod in some cases, and then laid newspaper recovered from a local recycling bin. Overtop the newspaper, I spread grass clippings and organic compost scraps, then some soil from where an old barn used to stand (nice and fluffy with bits of rotting wood), then some straw donated from a farmer, then some more of the fluffy soil and voila- raised bed gardens. Actually, it was more work than that. Never in my life would I have imagined I could haul so much earth. I’m impressed, and I don’t impress easily. We have a good stash of wood that we’ve recovered from various dumps so I used some of that to build frames, and rocks from the property to frame other small spaces.

It’s small, compared to what I envision in the future, but it’s already producing. And I’ve got a good variety going. We have two kinds of lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, red and yellow onions, three kinds of peppers, beans, raspberries, strawberries, garlic, two varieties of squash, pumpkin, cucumber, rosemary, and a variety of wild flowers to attract beneficial insects. This year is an exercise in beneficial pairings, we’ll see what does best (and what doesn’t) and I’ll refine it next year. But the other day when I was walking back from the work site and looked over to see my plants growing- well my heart just soared.

We’ve been building the house together. It’s a seven day a week job. I work on it every day and Shane works evenings and weekends, ironically (sadly?) once he’s home from work. It’s a team effort all the way. But the garden is all me. I’ve been putting it together in between working on the site. And it’s flourishing! Even with our disastrous spring weather and the pest problems that are plaguing the region this year. I’m thrilled. And encouraged. We really can do this. I have a ton to learn about seed harvesting and food storage- thankfully I was paying attention when my grandparents canned and made preserves so I can already do that- but I’m optimistic. We’re off to a magnificent start!

Alright, well back to work on the house. Ciao for now! Brandee

Early stages before much growth

A couple of weeks in- not much to look at

Cucumbers, squash, onions and carrots

Raspberries, butter lettuce (which we've already eaten a bunch of), strawberries, tomatoes, and flowers

I threw some potatoes in a couple of tires to see how they do

Squash, onions, and swiss chard

Tiny patch of swiss chard and beans

Rows of potatoes

I got lazy and threw some potatoes in a random pile of dirt

Pumpkins and beans

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We’ve had probably 3 good working weeks out of the last two, maybe two and half months. We’re breaking all sorts of records for rain in the area. Still, we’ve managed to get a fair amount done during the workable weather. And the rubble trenches we thought might be ‘over-kill’ have served us very well, with not a bit of rain accumulating on the work site even though we have several new lakes elsewhere on the property. Here are a few photos of our progress so far- granted, we’re further than these show but these are at least the most recent pictures.

Note the barbed wire tying the domes together as well as the bag layout

Shane's hand made barbed wire dispenser

Taking shape

View from the front entrance


Shane, goofing around

Starting to gain some height

Breaking at the end of another long day

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