Fall Projects

So I am in a mid summer lull.  Not that I have lots of free time mind you… we’re still building barrels, harvesting 1-200#’s of spuds a week, weeding, watering, working 50 hours a week etc its just that things are in a routine and I guess I have some mental free time which I have been putting to use.  Much of that has gone into Fall Planning.


We will not be putting in any large crops for fall, or more precisely any crops for market.  Projects are falling behind and I would like to catch up.  We still have alot of fall squash in the ground, and will see those, our beans for drying, onions, etc to harvest and will plant a winter hoop house for greens.  But the land that is coming out of production will be entirely put into cover crop at the market garden to allow us to get a better jump on weeds next year.  Hopefully next year will start to see a significant drop in the amount of tilling we do as well.  I also need to map out a Big Vigorous Veggie (BVV) rotation to ensure we are confusing the Colorado potato beetles and not taxing the land.


As we transition away from the Plug-in Prius plan (too expensive in a downturn), I am going full force into the TDI VW camp.  Still some major descisions there.  Do we go WVO?  Can I find grease, and will it still be there in 3-5 years?  Then there is what kind of VW.  Jettas are the more easier acquired and cheapest, but I want at least a Golf for the hatchback functionality if not a Jetta Wagon.  A Passat Wagon would be able to be a rain barrel delivery truck, and I have always loved them, but they are so dang pricey.  More thought, and more than a bit os serendipity, is needed


I am completely enamored with our gasifier, but it is impossible to put one in here.  We are committed to our next home being The One, but need to re build the $30k beating my 401k has taken in the past 6 months for that to happen.  Figure 2-3 more years.  I also think that a Bio Diesel still is where I will end up on the diesel front.  While a WVO is simpler and cheaper to maintain, every single engine will need one, while a Bio-Diesel still will allow me to make fuel for multiple, unmodified, engines powering everything from my Grillo to our cars, to farm trucks and tractors.  Also, if we build it oversized we could start a small fuel co-op and spread the start-up costs, but as importantly offset even more dino fuel by spreading to other families -in permaculture you strive for a surplus, right?  My wife Mia is uncomfortable with me making fuel in our HOA -safety, insurance, pushing the neighbors just a bit too far, etc so it will likely have to be off site.  Also, BD stills take a goodly amount of energy -the oil must be heated for a long time -and they typically use one or more 1500 watt heating elements.  That is like running 2-3 waterheaters for days on end -using electricity.  Ouch.   But back up a minute -BD stills need  heat and electricity.   Our gasifier  makes heat and electricity.   Can we do a “tri”-gen facility producing hot water, electricity to a grid tie, and Bio Diesel in one set up?  Time will tell.  But the ability to heat a home, power a site, and fuel a fleet from one contraption -that runs off of wood chips grown on site- may be eco nerd nirvana.

Lots of loose ends to wrap up here, but it will be an exciting Fall to follow an exciting Summer, which followed an exciting Spring.  Living in a time of Historical Change may be stressful, but at least its not boring!

Be the Change!


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!

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