Be Kind to your Mother… Its the LAW.


We hold it in trust for our children

We hold it in trust for our children

In an insane week of politics -with a $700bln buyout seemingly a foregone conclusion, Bush using Patriot Act Tactics (Here is what I want, don’t ask questions, approve it or the world will end), and McCain seemingly growing more desperate and erratic by the day (no I won’t debate you…  I, I, I will go to Washington to help!) I stumbled across a really novel story that the NYT had picked up from the UK newspaper The Guardian.

Seems that Ecuador is voting on a constitutional referendum to treat the environment as a person in the eyes of the law.  Whereas we are giving supra-human rights to Corporations (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without the fear of bankruptcy) blessed little Ecuador is working on something truly novel.  I am no where near getting my hands around the legal ramifications of their move, but with only 23% of Ecuadorians opposing it, I just might get alot of time to mull it over.  

Have a good week, and enjoy the debate -even if it is even more onesided than previously thought.


March! Updates! Health!

First off we are finally pulling out of the influenza epidemic of the past several weeks with all its secondary infections and contagious bouncing around the family.  What a mess.  Thanks again to all the well wishers.  That was the first time we ever accepted meals from Church…

 Garden Updates:

Purchased another 2 grow lights and will be sourcing a table (will double as the market stand) soon.  This should give us the ability to have 12 flats going at any time under lights.  with 72 cell flats that is over 800 plants, though many will be larger 2″x2″ flats for the nightshades (peppers/tomato/eggplant).  Spinach transplants are up and just getting into its first set of leaves.

At the Hoop house the longer days and slightly warmer temps are having Big Results.  Yesterday with an outside air temp of 36, interior temps at noon were already 74 degrees at ground level.  I weeded in a T-shirt in rich, earthy and humid air-what a treat!  Spinach is on its second set of leaves and the ground is ready for transplants in a few weeks.  Next year will need to start transplants earlier to maximize the Hoop House.
Rotation for the market garden is about wrapped up.  Taking the garden completely out of production  every other year simplified the rotation immensely.  All beds are getting 2 crops, some 3.  Add 1 if you count the over wintering cover crops. Hold tight for an upcoming post on this.  Suffice it to say we will have 100 tomatoes, 120 peppers, 80 squash/melons, 1800 carrots and 600+ spinach (in 3 plantings) and more beets and mache than you can shake a stick at.  At the second farm will be 200#’s of seed potatoes planted on a huge leaf mould windrow, a 300 sq ft bed of drying beans, and another 300 sq ft “3 Sisters” polyculture using heritage cultivars traditionally grown by Native Americans. The livestock aspect is toning down some -the farm owners have agreed to double their chicken flock, and I will buld tractors to use as needed.  This frees me from having to come out twice a day to feed/water/inspect and gets them extra help on the farm -freeing them to take vacations.   Will start grant writing this week as well!

Household Ecology Center 

Otherwise known as the Eco Victory Garden, met with raves reviews at our Sustain Jefferson meeting and is so green lighted as to be radioactive.  Presentations with display units to be up on Earth Day in two county communities and counting.  We are even planning on displaying them, with a full presentation, at the MREA!  Current tasks are searching for a more sustainable lumber source than Menard’s, finding sponsors, and setting final pricing.  Have a strong feeling that my original goal of a dozen installs is wildly under the mark.  Current limit is that we only have 42 barrels…

Very exciting Spring -all the more so now that I am feeling healthier and more able to embrace the activity!  Soon the summer tires will be back on the Insight and I can’t wait to be getting 70mpg again!



It’s happening again, the distinct ying/yang effect of the amount of blogging waning as my amount of doing waxes.  Here are some quick updates to where some of the projects are at.

Market Garden 

BIG NEWS: I have permission to utilize as much of .5 acres as needed!  This is at the site about 4 miles from my home.  As reality sets in on the amount of work that this will take, I am thinking of sticking to just one 50×100 foot section that will be tilled under this spring, and then start a chicken tractor rotationally grazing what will be the other 50×100 garden.  This will allow for essentially ALL the beds to be taken out of production annually for soil building and grazed by 10-20 layers in 1-2 tractors.  As we get closer to planting time (OMG I have to start seedlings in less than 2 weeks!!) my research, planning, budgeting and shopping have gone into High Gear.  Uber exciting!

Eco Victory Garden

The presentation went over very well and we will be meeting again this weekend for a more in depth discussion.  The name appears to be morphing from a “victory garden” into a “Household Ecology Center” to stress the system thinking inherent in it.  Big Thanks to Emily at Eat Close to Home for her suggestion of using a second plastic barrel for the composter -that may very well make it to the final system: it saves $30, cuts an hour off the instalation and is better sized to the garden.  Lots of momentum on this

Winter Reading 

In addition to catalogues from Fed-Co, Johnny’s and Seed Savers, I am currently devouring Andy Lee’s Chicken Tractor  as I will be putting them to use in about 8 weeks.  Love his idea of simple straw bale structure for winter housing.   Also getting time in the queue is Lester Brown’s Plan B 3.0 which is one of the most important books I’ve read.  Lays out the immediacy, magnitude, and potential solutions to the problems of our generation.   We need to Get Real.  Now.  On the less immediate and lighter side I am also dabbling with Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage.  I plan to build one of these with the farm owners who are letting me use their land.  I’ll need it to -on another property I intend to grow 1500+ lbs of potatoes…

Garden Planning

Another tip from Emily was I signed up for their 30 day trial and so far the system is fairly slick and certainly faster than my cobbled together spreadsheets.  Really like the fact that you draw the plans and it calculates planting rates with numbers of plants and then builds a plant list including planting times, etc.  Interface is not as inuititve as I would like (very few hot keys), but its not bad.  Big downer is that it is a subscription based system, not a downloadable software pack.  At $35/year it will add up and I have to have internet to view the plans.  Grrr.

The reality of the coming year is sinking in.  I will be growing food on a scale completely outside any reference I have ever had.  It appears I will have livestock, and I will also be very involved in a local sustainability group that is dreaming big enough that we have booths at both our county fair and the MREA I am also still maintaining my 50hr/wk salaried job and then there are little things like my essential roles as husband and father…  I also would like to blog 70k words this year as I hope that others can continue to learn from my trials.  At least the days are longer in the summer…

Keeping perspective will be difficult this year, but I have had enough people offer help with the market garden that I am continuing to dillude myself that I can still juggle all these eggs without any breaking.


Eco-Victory Garden: The Sustainable Salad

I posted recently about an idea for providing low cost garden systems that came to me while blog surfing. There is so much buzz about Michael Pollan’s new book, and at the same time so many of the Garden Blog set have Spring Fever and are challenging each other to various great ways to expand their gardens. But what if you read Pollan’s books, get all fired up about eating fresh food, but have zero experience with gardening and no garden blogger friends?

I had proposed building a small raised bed of cedar, and then coupling it with a small 1 cu yard compost bin, and a rain barrel. Combining the three would allow a household to grow local food (at least some salads), begin learning about waste recycling, and also water storage and harvesting. Below is my first crack at the prototypes this weekend. All told, well under $100 in materials (and that is including enough fencing to make 4 bins) and about 3 hours for this armchair handy man if I had built the rain barrel.

Enter my “Eco” Victory Garden:

Earth Victory Garden

The product I will present for our county’s sustainability group will not use the oak whiskey barrel due to pricing, but I included it for now since I have not yet received delivery of the plastic 55 gallon drums. The pitch that I will be making to the group this week, is that with some grant work or sponsors we will be able to provide these systems to the community for $75 or so… installed. With Plants!

In our own family, we started down the road to a more sustainable lifestyle due in large part to our desire to find healthier food for our kids, and just look where it has led! Everyone eats, and even on taste alone the difference in home grown heirloom food is evident to virtually anyone. Food is a great “in” with fence sitters, but its not the only one. Composting can seem like magic to those not familiar with natural systems “you mean garbage can turn into dirt?”. And in conversations I had selling over a hundred of rain barrels last year convinced me that they have a great ability to start conversations about recycling, wastefulness, and common sense practicality. Why not put all three into a turnkey system and start turning the some small portion of the wastes of suburbia to good use?

Though I spent some energy paring down the designs to inexpensive form, there are cheaper ways to do this, and certainly more environmentally friendly ones using reused materials, etc. But I am choosing to break some eggs to get an “in” with those just starting to look for ways to lower their impact. I am banking that an attractive, long lasting cedar system will allow us to reach a larger audience -to make a bigger impact.

Once this country grew local veggies to help a War Effort. I believe that now the time is right to grow veggies in a sustainable fashion, across the nation, to show the world that American can unite for something besides destruction. The end goal hasn’t changed: we are still fighting for the future of our children. But this time, the stakes are, if anything, higher.

Below I will give a high level “How To” to help you make one for yourself, or if in case you want to start a program in your area. Keep in mind that I studied philosophy not architecture or engineering and absolutely zero CAD design software was harmed in the making of these products.

Material List for the $36, 5’x 3′ Raised Bed :

  • 4 1.25″x6″x8′ cedar decking boards ($32.50)
  • 1 1″x 2″ x 8′ cedar board (only use 4′) ($3.25)
  • Handful of 4d coated nails.


Cut the Cedar Decking boards into 5′ and 3′ pieces and then cut the 1″x2″ into 4, 11″ chunks. Use the 1×2 pieces as corner braces to support and nail the decking together. Done!

Material List for $48, 40″ Compost Bin:

  • 4 1″x4″x10′ Cedar Boards ($20)
  • 1 38″ piece of 1×2 left over from raised bed (free)
  • 120″ of 3′ coated wire fencing (I had to buy 50′ for $23)
  • 1 box 3/4″ poultry staples ($1)
  • Handful of 4d coated nails
  • 2″ Brass coated “L” brackets ($3)

Cut the 1×4 into 4 38″ pieces (verticals), and 7 40″ pieces. Cut 40″ of fencing and bend it flat. Using 2 38″ pieces lay them on the floor and center the 36″ fencing on the 38″ uprights leaving 1″ space on each. Now lay 2 of the 40″ horizontals on the 38″ pieces and the centered fencing and, once it is squared, nail the cedar boards together with 3-4 4d nails. It should look about like this:


Now you need to tack the fencing on tight so the weight of the compost doesn’t bow it too badly:


Try to hammer the poultry staples across corners of the fencing squares as shown to limit its ability to mover around. Repeat this for the other side. The back is tricky since you have to hold the side upright and then nail the 2 40″ cedar pieces on top the final 40″ fencing piece to complete the back of the bin. A helper or some clamps makes it possible. It might also be easier to just use a 120″ piece of fencing without cutting it. I will try that next time. Now, take that remaining 40″ board and use it to hold the bottom of the open front together. I know this makes the bottom uneven, but once it is in the yard you won’t notice. With the exception of the top brace (more on that in a minute), it should now look like this:


Now for the final touch. A simple, open framed bin like this bows something awful without a top brace. But a fixed top brace makes turning the compost VERY frustrating. So I included a removeable top brace. Take the left over 1×2 from the raised bed and cut it to 38″. Using pilot holes, screw the “L” braces to each end and then place it on the top of the front of the bin as shown:


The brace is sized to fit behind the front uprights which will prevent it from slipping off the front of the bin. Congrats! Your done!

Blessed Unrest, Moving Forward

Continuing the Community theme on One Straw this week I would like to chat through some of my reaction to Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest. The underlying premise of the entire book is summed up in the subtitle How the largest Movement in the World Came into Being, and Why No One saw it Coming.


The book spends very little time regaling the reader with the Doom and Gloom, just enough to bring you up to speed if you aren’t in The Choir. Most of the book is spent making the case that the current Sustainability Movement is the largest movement in the history of human society. Hawken lumps both environmental and social justice organizations into the same movement because he believes, and I agree, that the coming crisis of this century indisputably links the two. The results are astounding: over 1,000,000 organizations currently fit this bill. We are part of something, very, very, large.

What is now needed is the inter joining of these groups into a combined and more overt mission of Saving The World. Hyperbole? Maybe. So lets start smaller in a local example of the potential gains of network leveraging. In our community we have a fairly large local organization set up as a watchdog of the Rock River. They are well organized, adequately funded and preform a very valuable service in tracking waterway health and advocating for water issues. Now we also have an active organization in Madison focused on Slow Food that encouraging citizens to savor the culture inherent in, and environmental impacts of, our meals. Dialing in a third organization we have the ubiquitous Master Gardeners- agents of horticultural goodness and often espousing organic ideals. Each is Being the Change and following their mission. They also will most likely never cross paths. But what if?

Take my Victory Garden idea. The Master Gardeners are the most likely sponsors of this plan since it brings more people into gardening and composting. They also have very limited marketing capabilities in most communities and typically work on near zero budgets. But adding the rain barrel brings in the mission of the River Group to connect the (literal) downstream impacts of water use and bring along with their strong ties to local and state governments. Growing local heirlooms and adding monthly cooking classes and newsletter recipes covering whats in season in the garden easily loops in the Slow Foodies with their more urbane following and marketing savvy. Combine the 3 groups and this program shares the strengths of all (better rain barrels, great soil, wicked good meals) and becomes very, very powerful by adding in the marketing muscle and diverse followings of all of them. Local Media is suddenly more interested, local business starts to take notice, and regional grant organizations see Big Potential. Suddenly a program that would have affected a few dozen affects hundreds or thousands -even in rural Wisconsin. This isn’t Pie in the Sky. This is my Spring.

We each are members of separate and numerous groups as varied as our own interests. How may each of them better strengthen each other?

My dream? Imagine if the Nature Conservancy, Christian Children’s Fund, Amnesty International, the Red Cross, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Union for Concerned Scientists joined forces in a multi faceted media and political campaign on the current, available, solutions to Global Warming? Suddenly we have a conglomerate big enough to stand a chance to fight the lobbyists, to fight Big Oil, to win back the hearts and minds of the American Public before it is too late. Most of the root causes of the missions of these organizations are rooted in the current economic theory that places the focus on maximizing markets over optimizing quality of life. They share much common ground.

All the pieces are in place, but they must be assembled to create the finished puzzle that will allow us to survive this most critical century. All major technologies needed to avert the Doom and Gloom exist. The only things lacking are Political (or Societal) Will …and time. The latter is fixed, but we can change the former.

Be that Change!


Community… Get Some

This has been a great week for community in my neck of the woods.  Saturday we had the annual meeting of our HOA.  I was unable to get anyone to take over as president, but I met several more of my neighbors and it was good to catch up after a long winter locked in doors.  From there I quick went home to tuck the kids in bed, and then I was off to another meeting.  This time it was a gathering of some of the 300 or so citizens who have attended one of our The Natural Step study circles in the past year or so.  Over 60 people showed up and over dinner and wine, we heard reports from all the dozens of various groups and their actions spurred on by the circles.  Almost half a dozen are running for local and county elections, there have been severl hybrid car purchases, and every town represented now has an active local environmental group lobbying their local village board, holding educational meetings at libraries and otherwise making themselves useful in the Good Fight.  It was incredibly inspiring to see so many people, people from their early twenties to their early eighties, Being the Change.

This power, the power of Community, the power of Shared Vision, the power of wanting to leave a better world for our children and those that come after us is breathtaking and literally awe-inspiring.   We listened for two hours as we regaled each other with our sucesses -from simply planting a rain garden to winning a seat on the county board to starting 501C3’s- and each passing story further emboldened us with the belief that we are not alone.  And together, we are stronger than we ever imagined.

My kids have been singing a song lately from an new album we bought them: “One can’t save the rainforest, but Toucan, Two Can!”  Amen.

Be the Change!


Permaculture Concepts Video


So anyone reading this blog has probably figured out that I feel that in many ways overt and subtle, Conventional Agriculture as sold by Monsanto and ConAgra is destroying the very fabric of society on top of our ability to feed ourselves. When you look at the physical and social damage done in the Tropics of the Third and Fourth Worlds it is downright criminal. The only reason Industrial Ag and the Green Revolution worked here was that the Midwest had 12% organic matter in the soil that was many feet deep. With a resource reserve that deep you can ignore losing 5 tons of topsoil annually as long as yields are increasing -or so the propaganda goes. In the tropics, as well as most non savanna lands, the nutrients are stored in the in the plants themselves with the topsoil not very thick at all. Conventional farmers look at a Rain Forest and drool at the fertility they believe to be in the soil, but completely miss the boat. Permaculture is one of many answers for the productivity needed to feed our growing population in the 21st Century while restoring the lost fertility of our soils, be they in a Suburb of Milwaukee or South Africa. </rant>

Even I get tired of reading at times, and videos help me explain Permaculture to my kids -at least during the winter when it is a little esoteric to point to a 24″ twig and call it a Paw-Paw tree. Here is a great video found on Google videos that is a fab 1 hour primer on Permaculture Concepts. Grab some popcorn and a local (home?) brew and prepare to be inspired!

I am also in the works of compiling a playlist of the best permaculture videos on You Tube. I find it reprehensible that many of these amazing videos have views in the low hundreds while Import Drift Racing videos get 1,000,000…

Sustainability needs a better marketing department.


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