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Monday, October 8, 2012

Distributism 12 step program part 1

Recently I was reading an interesting article on the distributism 12 step program.  I felt that the steps could have a little more depth added to them.  The first step in the program was to begin thinking like a distributist.  They point out the distributist principle of subsidiarity, but what does that really mean.  Subsidiarity is a principle similar to the principles of E.F. Schumacher in the book small is beautiful.  Subsidiarity means that the higher should not usurp the power of the lower.  This can be thought of in many different ways.  The power of the state should not usurp the power of the city or county.  The power of the federal government should not usurp the power of the states.  Now this is only in cases in which the lower can sufficiently maintain order and complete its duties satisfactorily. 
There are many ways of looking at subsidiarity, but the essence can be condensed fairly easily.  The High should not usurp the power of the low.  The complex should not overtake the simple.  The remote should not usurp the local. 
Now, there are always arguments over what is beneficial or necessary.  No one adopts a complex system simply because of its complexity, but rather because they see some benefit.  Unfortunately, often we fail to see the full repercussions of our decisions. In addition, we rarely consider at which level things should be handled.  Often we simply want problems fixed, regardless of who decides. 
In politics, the 2 party system often fights over regulation or de-regulation, but rarely is there any consideration as to where the regulation should come from or who should make it.  Now obviously a business that has effects in multiple states cannot be sufficiently regulated by state government, but there are many areas in which state or even local governments could make better use of regulation, and could watch more closely than any federal regulation. 
The 12 steps of distributsim points to subsidiarity as the main way to think like a distributist.  However there is much more than subsidiarity at work for distributist  One aspect of distributist though is purpose.  Even the most stringent secularist can acknowledge that there is something different about mankind.  We have the ability to massively change our environment for good or for ill.  We seek purpose in our own lives whether we are the wealthiest in the world, or the poorest.  Distributism acknowledges this.  Both Capitalism and Socialism seem to reduce mankind to a machine, working for economics and nothing else.  We are more than cogs in a machine, partly because we do not see ourselves as only cogs in the machine.  Distributism is one of the only economic systems that treats mankind as people rather than simply economic machines. 
Distributism also proposes humility and limits.  Distributism realizes that humans are fallible, and as such we have the ability to make a mess of the things that we undertake.  If we are limited however, the problems that we create will also be limited.  Often the problems that we encounter are the result of ignoring human limits.  The amount of manure produced by the cattle on a homestead or farm becomes a source of fertilizer, while the same manure in concentrations of a feed yard, the same manure is so concentrated it forms a pollutant that causes huge amounts of destruction.  By seeking to limit economic activities, distributism seeks to limit the destruction our economics can cause.  The idea is that in general mankind is good and will improve, even though there are times when this is not the case.
And last but not least, Distributism believes in responsibility and solidarity.  The idea that our possessions are not completely our own is common through a range of cultures.  We inherit things from our ancestors, and borrow them from neighbors and our children  Distributism seeks to make people aware that they are not the utter end of their possessions.  Everything is oriented toward the common good.  This does not mean the abandonment of private property, but rather a sense of responsibility for the possessions that we do have. 

In conclusion, how can you start to think like a distributist?  First, think of subsidiarity.  What is the proper level for rules, regulation, government, and economics.  What are rights and duties proper to the family, which to the local government, which to civic organizations or guilds.  These questions are extremely important to any distributist thought.  Second, do you live your life with purpose, or do you act like a cog in a machine?  Have you investigated your own life and actions to try and discern the way in which you can change things in your own life, and thus change the world?  Do you investigate limits and think of what the proper limits and the proper growth are for things in your life?  Do you seek to grow your own wealth without limit?  Do you seek to influence others without limit?  Do you have the virtues of responsibility and solidarity with your fellow man?  Do you orient yourself and the things that you do toward the common good? Do you believe that you have anything to do with the common good?  Do you realize the advantages afforded you, and do you accept circumstances in your life with humility and gratitude?

 Once you start to think on these things in your daily life, you will have begun thinking like a distributist.

Live a hands-on life

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Persimmons seem to be an underused asset.  Yesterday I found an American persimmon loaded with fruit.  There was a little bit of fruit drop beneath it and these fruits appeared to be ripe.  I had never had a fully ripe persimmon before, and I was blown away.  Luscious is the best word I can think of to describe the taste.  The juice burst through the skin at the first bite and had the flavor of a less acidic mandarin orange with subtle cinnamon and nutmeg flavors.  How has this fruit not become more popular?
Since that first bite I have been trying to think of great uses for this fruit.  Persimmon bread is one of the things I came up with.  The flavors would be sweeter than pumpkin bread, and I am convinced that the fruit would yield a wonderful moist crumb.  Or persimmon fruit leather.  The spiced flavors would lend themselves very well to fruit leather, that I think would be similar to eating pumpkin pie in candy form. 
Now there are some downsides to this fruit as well.  This was an American persimmon and so the fruits were tiny, about the size of golf balls.  However, the tree was loaded with them, with a couple fruits every few inches of branch.  In addition the fruits were very seedy, with more fruit being seed than flesh.  This is a little disappointing when you are eating them fresh, but if you put them in a jelly bag and squeezed for juice, or a mesh bag for fruit pulp it wouldn't be much of a problem at all.  I know that if the fruit is not ripe, it will cause your mouth to pucker so hard that it hurts. 
All of these things combined probably have contributed to the lack of enthusiasm for the American persimmon.  But then I look at the oriental persimmon and the Sharon fruit and I realize what selective breeding could do.  These fruits are much larger, and have much less seed.  There are even a few varieties that do not have the astringency that American persimmons have when unripe.  These exotic persimmons are not as hardy as the American, nor do I think they are as drought resistant. 
Surely with a little more plant breeding, American persimmons could be a wonderful cash crop.  They may not be as great of a fruit for eating out of hand, but for cooking with, or juicing they would make a wonderful addition to our farmers markets.  People need to be exposed to thinks in order to accept them, and I can think of few things that would be received as enthusiastically as a beautiful orange fruit, with a magnificent taste.

Live a hands-on life

Monday, September 24, 2012

The oppurtunity of drought

I did not truly realize how bad the drought had gotten until I went to my little fishing hole.  My fishing hole with a place where 2 creeks enter the arm of a reservoir.  I went to hunt paw paws, but what I found amazed me.  The entire arm and both creeks were dry.  Not simply drying up, muddy, no, dry enough that I could walk across and not sink one bit.  Burdock and sedge were growing almost in a green carpet across the places where water was, but if you looked closely, you could see dry clay, with huge cracks in it. 
At first I was appalled by the fact that there was so little water.  But the more I walked the more I realized that drought can provide opportunities.  For years people have complained that the reservoir was being silted in by runoff from the farms.  Here was an opportunity to return some of the farm soil.  No expensive and destructive dredger would be needed.  Thousands of tons of topsoil that had drained off of land from poor use was ready to be reused.  The complete lack of structure at the lake was evident.  Rock piles, brush piles and fish attractors could all be easily built and placed precisely waiting for the water to return.  Small dams and holes could be created so that the fish that were stranded this time and left to die would have a shot at surviving the next drought.  Bank cover could be planted to help transform the muddy lake into one that could be excellent. 
Too often we see natural cycles of abundant rain and drought as a problem.  We think of too much rain causing floods and too little rain causing drought, but we do not stop and look at these things as cycles.  But we will never have a time when the weather completely cooperates and does exactly what we wish when we wish it.  And if we did have such weather, we would never have the opportunities to easily do what needs to be done.  Many farm ponds need repairs done to their dams, and why go through the trouble of draining the pond if a drought has made it possible to repair anyway. Earthworks that would help to catch flood waters and retain them are built when it isn't flooding. 
Every time we react by judging things only by the negative, we stop ourselves from doing anything but cursing at circumstances.  There are hundreds of things that can be done in any circumstance if we simply have the forethought and will to do them.  We can make improvements to any land, at any time.  We can find ways to mitigate drought and flooding, but we also can find ways to use droughts and floods.  Nothing is static, and we can either fight the changes around us, or use the changes around us.  It is our choice. 

Live a hands on life

Friday, September 14, 2012

Kudzu, the miracle plant that ate the South

If you are like me you have heard horror stories and seen disturbing pictures of kudzu.  Huge swaths of forest decimated by this one plant, street signs overran by climbing vines.  Even cars surrounded by the clinging tendrils of this green monster.  It has become the poster child for the dangers of invasive species.  That is why the book of Kudzu surprised me so much.  It taught me that there is much more to this plant than simply an ornamental that got out of control.
Kudzu is originally from Asia and is used there for the starch in its roots.  Here the starch is often sold as arrowroot.  It is a pure white powder, similar to cornstarch, and with many of the same properties.  It can be used to cook with, and especially can be used as a thickening agent.  Kudzu starch likely has the same industrial applications as corn or potato starch do.  But Kudzu is a legume, and improves the soil that it grows on, unlike either corn or potatoes. 
Kudzu is also a source of forage.  I was always under the impression that it was an ornamental that escaped into the wild and took over.  It wasn't.  Kudzu was used for erosion control throughout the south, often on steep embankments that nothing else would live on.  However, it was originally championed by farmers for its leaves, providing large amounts of forage in very little time, even on marginal land.  The original promoters of Kudzu saw it as a way to use corn, wheat, and soybeans for human use, while improving land and providing forage through the use of kudzu. 
In the South, there were a number of factors for why Kudzu erupted like it did.  One is that Kudzu has a phenomenal growth rate.  One joke says that when you plant kudzu, you should drop the seed and run so you don't get caught by it.  Another factor is that there are few if any natural controls of Kudzu. In its native land, there are numerous insects and animals that have evolved around kudzu, and thus limit its growth.  Another factor is that in Asia where kudzu is native, the climate is relatively cool and wet.  The warm wet seasons provide a boost to kudzu growth.  And lastly, in its native region, kudzu is harvested and used.  In the Southern U.S. there is little use of kudzu, so the vines have no checks to their growth.
Kudzu could be a major crop however.  In addition to the starch content of the roots, and the forage value of the leaves, the stems could be useful as well.  Kudzu stems are woody and are not palatable to farm animals.  However, they could be used for things like baskets, and could likely be a cheap source of cellulose for paper production.  In addition, the stems are fibrous, and like hemp or flax, can be used to produce cloth given the right conditions.  Granted it takes nearly 50 pounds of stems to produce 1 lb of cloth, but rampant growth of kudzu makes 50 lbs of stems relatively easy to collect. 
One of the main advantages of Kudzu is that it is a legume.  Legumes fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and help to improved the soil as they grow on it.  Few legumes offer the multitude of uses that Kudzu does, and few grow as well in a variety of conditions.  There was one case of Kudzu being used as a green manure, where 10 years after the kudzu was grown there was still a difference in yield between the test plot and the control.  If it could provide that much of a help with little or no input, Kudzu would be a boon to organic farmers.
Now I am not advocating that Kudzu be used in areas where it could take over like it did in much of the South.  However, there are conditions that would limit kudzu's growth and make it easier to control.  First would be relatively dry conditions.  Because of its large taproot, kudzu can easily withstand long periods of drought.  It does however need around 20 inches of rain per year or it would have to be irrigated.  It grows best in conditions of up to 40 inches of rain per year, and so the semi-dry areas of the country would be more likely to grow it in controlled situations.  In addition, Kudzu likes warm summers and mild winters.  Places with harsh dry winters have a much easier time to control the kudzu as it is dormant for longer periods.  Through the Midwest it seems kudzu could be used with less of a chance of it dominating the landscape as it does in portions of the South.
Overall, it seems that kudzu mostly has a bad reputation because people were unused to it and didn't know how to use it.  Perhaps if it was grown in areas where it would be limited, kudzu could become a beneficial crop.  And before you start to make the case that kudzu is a non-native species, remember that most of our farm animals and farm crops are also non-natives. 

The Book of Kudzu by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi can be found here to read online.

Live a Hands-on life

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What to do with rosehip syrup.

A few weeks ago I posted an article on making rosehip syrup.  I mentioned that it was a good source of vitamin C and of pectin.  But one of the hardest things about having a new food is to find ways to use that food.  For years potatoes were utilized because the farmers were not used to eating them, and didn't see the value of this new food.  So how do we look at new foods, especially when we know that they are good for us. Are new foods a novelty or do they become part of the norm. 
I have been looking at different ways of using rose hip syrup and have found a few that I think are really good.  The first is to use rosehip syrup rather than sugar in tea.  The slight fruitiness of my syrup blends wonderfully with tea, and I am sure that it provides a bit of a pick me up vitamin wise.  I usually drink tea rather than coffee when I am starting to feel sick or when I am not feeling 100% so a boost of vitamins is probably another great thing for those days.
I made a form of cough syrup from rosehip syrup.  I took my normal rosehip syrup, and infused some candied ginger in it.  The ginger is supposed to help with sore throats and upset stomachs, and I find the taste delicious with just a bit of the spiciness of ginger in it.  I may try adding a little horehound (a very little goes a long long way) to suppress coughs, but this may make it too bitter.  I will update you on the future of rosehip cough syrup.
I found I can make a fairly pleasant shrub with it.  A shrub is a vinegar based drink, mostly popular before refined soft drinks became the norm.  It takes a fairly concentrated rosehip syrup to make shrub that has any kind of rosehip flavor.  Basically you mix the rosehip syrup with vinegar in a 1-1 ratio.  Allow a few days for the vinegar to mellow a bit.  You then use the new syrup mixed with soda water or lemon-lime soda to make a fruity sour beverage.  The sourness helps the drink to quench your thirst and is a lot like lemonade on a hot day. For some reason sour beverages just seem to refresh you more than sweet ones do. 
The last use I found for the syrup is rosehip rice pudding.  Using the syrup as a substitute for sugar in rice pudding gives a faint fruity taste that can blend well with the cinnamon that is usually in the pudding.  I find that it tastes like Christmas with fruit and spice flavors blending remarkably well.  While it is not remotely an every day dish, the substitution of the syrup for sugar can be used in a variety of desserts and would help to provide more vitamins than sugar alone does. 
Perhaps by using things like rosehip shrub, we will wean our taste buds off of the intense sweetness of sugar and learn more appreciation for the other flavors of life.  Either way, rosehip syrup makes a great addition to the pantry, and one you can make yourself.

Live a hands on life

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Review "Small Scale Grain Raising" by Gene Logsdon

Logsdon is one of the great voices of the homesteading movement.  This is a review of his classic "Small Scale Grain Raising" originally published in 1977.  I am reviewing the book from 1977, not the more recent reprint.  One of the things that set all of Gene Logsdon's books apart is you can tell that he actually lives the things that he teaches.  Logsdon brings real life experience and candor to the discussion of a variety of topics in his books, and his books are always entertaining as well as informative.
Small Scale Grain Raising gives a huge amount of information on different grains and how the grains can be grown, even on a small plot.  One of the many interesting facts in this book is the amount of land needed to grow a bushel of a variety of grains.  A bushel or two of grain is more than enough for a small family to cook with for most of the year, and Logsdon shows how a few hundred square feet can provide those bushels of grain.  If you have 1/4 acre of land that you can grow grain on, you could harvest a bushel of corn, wheat, rye, barley, sorghum, and beans from that 1/4 acre.  This is more than enough for the average family to experiment with, and to provide their own needs for most of the year. 
Individual chapters focus on the main grains, such as corn and wheat, or group similarly cultivated grains together, such as rye with barley.  Logsdon gives details on choosing varieties, planting, weeding, harvesting, storing, and even recipes for cooking the various grains. 
The final chapters of the book are on crop rotation and on equipment.  These are great because they provide a starting point for figuring out how to provide a good crop rotation to keep your production up and to limit erosion and pests.  The chapter on equipment is wonderful because as many homesteaders begin as gardeners rather than farmers, they are not necessarily familiar with the equipment used in growing and harvesting grain. 
The disappointing thing about the book is that it doesn't provide nutritional information.  I would love to see nutritional information on what grains are best in for protein, what have the highest minerals, etc.; I think this would provide a huge resource to homesteaders who want to grow grains for their own consumption, and it would be useful to know what grains provide different levels of nutrition.  I am also a little disappointed that grains such as quinoa and amaranth are not included.  These grains are gaining great notoriety for their nutritional content, and could be a great addition to the book.  The last addition I would love to see in the book is a guide to the amount of grain needed to sustain animals or give certain rates of growth.  This could help a homesteader know the amount of grain needed to provide for their own animals, without relying on trial and error.
Perhaps these gaps in content are filled by the more recent updated edition, but I do not have that edition to make the comparison.  From what I have seen it is simply an updated version of the classic, with little additional content.
Overall I would recommend this book to anyone seriously considering growing their own grains.  While grains take more space than the average garden, and often the grains themselves are cheap if you can find them (say at a health food store or a farm co-op) for anyone interested in being truly self-reliant, or to grow specialty grains, this book is an absolute must.  There simply isn't a better book on raising grain for the home gardener out there.

The new edition can be found here.

Live a hands on life

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I can scarcely call these things my own

"I can scarcely call these things my own" is the motto of one of some of my ancestors.  To me, that simple motto strikes at the heart of what it means to be a steward of something.  To be a steward is to realize that your decisions affect much more than yourself, or even your things.  Every decision we make affects the world, as a butterflies wings could eventually cause a hurricane, the decisions that we make in our own lives can cause huge changes. 
We are told to be good stewards of our money, of our time, and of many different aspects of our life.  But usually this is a misnomer. What people often mean when they say we should be good stewards is that we should investigate and look into things so that we do not foolishly squander what we have.  There is more to being a steward than that.  Being a steward means realizing that your possessions are not tottally yours, nor are your accomplishments.  Being a steward means working for others, and realizing that the choices that you make have real consequences for other people. 
I am a poor steward.  I can tell you that right now, often I find myself misusing the things that I have because I do not care enough about them.  I do not want my life to be ruled by possessions, and so I tend to treat my possession as if they are worthless.  This is not good stewardship.  As a steward, I should be treating my possessions with pride, because they are not totally mine.  I have been entrusted with them, but they do not truly belong to me.  We inherit the earth from our ancestors, and borrow it from our children.  The choices that we make have lasting effects for generations, and we need to be conscious of the fact that what we do will play out in history.
 There has been alot of controversy over the phrase "you didn't build that".  Well, when we truly look at ourselves, we didn't get anywhere by ourselves.  We had help from parents, from family, from teachers, from friends, from our own workers.  Being a steward means recognizing the contributions that helped us get where we are.  It also means recognizing that your decisions affect all of these people who helped put you into a position to make decisions.  The head of a company is not the only one who contributes to that company.  The leadership of a place is not the only important part.
We must realize that we are a part of a larger whole. I think that is the most important thing about being a steward, is to realize that your decisions affect your small part, but they affect every other part too.  We need to use what we have wisely, not becuase then we might get more of it, but because our use affects those around us, and affects the people and the things that we love.  We need to look at our possessions as barely ours, and belonging mostly to those who we want to serve, the people that we love, and the people who surround us. 
Surrounding us everywhere we turn is the motto of Milton's Satan, "I will not serve".  We are trained nearly from birth to think of ourselves as individuals, as the architects of our own fate, as islands, reliant on no one but ourselves.  We are told to think of service as the domain of the weak, as a place that is to be detested.  Yet the steward is by definition, a servant.  We must serve others, or else we will destroy ourselves.

Live a hands on life

Monday, August 20, 2012

Purslane, or Verdolagas an edible that deserves more respect

I have always had a thing for wild edibles.  Even having foraged for years, it is still amazing to me that you can go outdoors, pick something, and just start munching.  You do not have to carefully nurture the seed, transplant it, water it, weed it; the seed does what it is meant to and grows where it is suited.  This is one of the things about wild edibles, you get to see how life continues, even in inhospitable circumstances. 
One of my favorite wild edibles is purslane.  It has a unique shape, making it easy to identify, and it seems to crop up in the most unforgiving places.  One of the places I have seen it most is through cracks in an asphalt parking lot, and between bricks on an old brick street.  There don't come many wild edibles more hardy than purslane.  And it seems to adore the heat.  Usually purslane isn't even present during the spring or the start of the summer, but when the dog days get here and everything is wilting, purslane is at its finest.
And what a change from the every day plants it is.  Purslane is a succulent plant, with shining bulging leaves, that sometimes even sparkle in the sun.  The leaves are bright green teardrops, and are truly a beauty to behold.
One of the greatest things about purslane though is the taste.  Now a lot of wild edibles are wild because their taste isn't that great.  But purslane is mostly wild because it is too successful.  People have spent hours of backbreaking work trying to totally remove it from their gardens, and they aren't going to put it back in.  Which is a shame, because this is a green that has a lot going for it.
I find the taste of purslane to be similar to snow peas.  It is bursting with juice, and has a little bit of a slick texture to it.  The stems tend to be bitter, but if you only pick small stems they should be fine.  Purslane seems to have a bit of a sourness to it as well, and also seems to cool the mouth.  All of these attributes can combine well in a salad.  Adding less dressing, the purslane makes up for.  Opposing the crispness of lettuce, you have the slight crunch and slickness of purslane.  The leaves show up beautifully, and their shape and color blend gorgeously with a salad.
There are cultivated forms of purslane, and they do have some advantages, although the flavors are largely the same as wild purslane.  First, cultivated purslane grows more upright, which means that there is less dirt and grit in the leaves to be washed out.  Second, cultivated purslane grows much larger leaves.  The leaves of a wild plant my be 1/2 inch by 3/4 inch.  The leaves of a cultivated plant may be 1 inch by 2 1/2 inches.  It is much easier to harvest a few large leaves than a bunch of small ones.  And third, there are varieties of cultivated purslane that are a brilliant yellow, making this a beautiful vegetable that shows up well amongst others.
Purslane isn't simply good raw however.  It is delicious raw, but in Mexico and Central America, there are numerous ways to cook it.  One way is to saute it like any green, with a little olive oil and garlic.  This can be used as a side dish, or wrapped in tortillas.  Another great way is to make purslane into a salsa verde.  Recipes for a variety of Mexican purslane dishes can be found here.  Purslane remains a little slick when cooked, and can give a mucilaginous texture similar to okra. 
And that isn't all.  According to author Michael Pollan, purslane may be one of the most nutritious plants on the planet.  It has a high amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, which is hard to find in plants.  In addition to this, purslane is loaded with minerals, so much so that the ashes of burnt purslane can be used as a salt substitute. 
Purslane isn't just some plant that makes a nice novelty.  It is a truly useful plant, that grows in the harshest conditions and is amazingly healthy.  Add to this the fact that it taste wonderful and can be used in a variety of ways, and you have a plant that deserves much more use and respect than it is typically given.  Go ahead, give purslane a try, see if you cannot find some new uses for it.

Live a hands on life

Friday, August 17, 2012

The lure of moving water

Anyone who has watched small children near a creek knows about the lure of moving water.  The very sounds it makes as it trickles over rocks are mesmerizing and seem to induce a more peaceful state in those who hear them.  That is the reason that there are so many desktop fountains and water gardens to be found in nearly any store.  But are we replacing the natural with the artificial, are we really gaining what we seek to gain.
One of the most captivating things about a creek is life.  You can watch a school of minnows dance in the shadows for hours.  Or watch a crawdad slowly come from beneath a rock to scrounge a bit of food from the bottom.  If you are quiet and patient, you will see and hear birds and other wildlife that use the creek.  A kingfisher diving into the water and exiting almost immediately.  A green heron slowly stalking the shallows, blending with cattails and reeds.  The plop as a turtle dives from a log into the water.  These are the things that enchant children.  And sure they may be loud and boisterous, but they also can be quiet and patient, much more patient than their adult counterparts.
One of the things that makes a creek different than a simple pond is connectedness.  It is impossible to have one to yourself.  All creeks will meander through a variety of places, and come into contact with a variety of people and the creek seems to bear the mark of all of them.  Here in Kansas you will find creeks littered with old car bodies, and other trash.  Not to make light of this pollution, but the creek seems to claim them over time.  The rust changes from a blight to a different habitat.  There are raccoons that make their next in one of the cars.  A gar hides in the shadow of another, waiting for its next meal.  The more people who care about the creek, the better off it will be, but the creek takes both good and bad.
You cannot control a creek.  You can do what you can with your little piece, but the majority of it will always be in the control of others.  This is a lesson in humility.  We can control some aspects of our life, but others will always be controlled by those around us.  We can only do what we can with what we have.  Oh, but the things that we can do.  Creeks can be some of the most beautiful of all landscapes, with a beauty that is largely unrivalled.  And they can be functional as well.  Who hasn't seen a picturesque water wheel on a small creek, enmeshed by its surroundings, as though it has always existed, or as though the creek would want it and is embracing it.  In contrast, a modern hydroelectric plant almost always looks out of place and imposing, even if it is on a small creek.
And this is one thing about creeks is that they cannot be modernized.  Sure cities have paved the paths, and have diverted creeks through storm sewers to make the city less prone to flooding.  The creeks have become channels in concrete.  But they have ceased to be creeks.  We displace nature, and then attempt to mimic it.  We bury the creeks, or divert them, and then make faux creeks and fountains in our yards.  We make small fountains to put on our desks, which give a partial aspect of what we desire, but do not give the fullness of the experience.
Am I against water gardening, or fountains.  No, I love them both, but I realize their limitations.  None will replace the life, the majesty, the constant change and the unchangingness of the little creeks that I grew up around.  I see a well developed creek, with swimming holes and riffles, with shallow and deep, with short rapids and long lazy stretches to be one of the pinnacles of nature, and its lure is nearly irresistible.  Now the question is, can we enhance it, and not simply replace it.

Live a hands on life

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I am not wise enough to rule so small a thing

These words from "The ballad of the White Horse" illustrate great wisdom, and the great humility that comes from knowing your limitations.  We tend to think in terms of bigger is better.  This is not necessarily the case.  It takes much more wisdom to rule a small piece of land than a large one.  A large farm has room for waste, has areas that can be used improperly, and has a great ability to be misused.  A small farm on the other hand has little of this.  A small farm must be managed well, or it will fail.  The effects of misuse become more evident, more quickly when concentrated in a few acres rather than spread over hundreds. 
In a similar way it is easier to manage a business when there are huge amounts of capital and labor than when these are scarce.  Those who survive and are poor are much better managers of what they have than even the wealthiest in the world.  We as a society have seem to have forgotten this.  We view all things as a competition, and that the victors gain the spoils.  So whoever has the most spoils must be the victor.  Whoever has the most things, or the most money must be the best at using it.  Yet I have never seen where this is the case.  Having the most means that you cannot give things the attention that they deserve, and can afford to be careless. 
We have turned wealth from the production of something valuable, from the gainful employment of people, into a game.  We have made wealth a game played for its own sake, with the players competing for the best possible score, and then claiming that the best score makes them the best people.  We have lost sight of what wealth was meant to do, and have instead promoted wealth for its own sake, leading many to seek the growth of wealth at the expense of everything else. 
We have replaced people with machines, but do these machines benefit people?  The modern myth is that because machines multiply labor, they must make everyone's life easier.  Is this the case?  Look at the use of robotics in auto factories.  Do they simply make the workers lives more pleasant and less dangerous.  Typically, they make less workers.  The workers who are employed are no better off than when the machines didn't exist, and the other workers must find other employment or starve.  How is this beneficial?  It allows things to be produced cheaper, but for the displaced workers this is of no help at all.  They cannot afford the products.  The benefits do not go to the workers, but to the owners. 
Or look at farming machines  The Machines that allowed farmers to farm more land, or farm quicker did not result in farmers having an easier life or more leisure time, rather these machines resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of farmers.  These machines themselves often limit the number of farmers, because people believe that to make a living at farming, they must have the machines, and in order to have the machines they must have an amount of capital that makes farming appear to be a bad investment.  Family farms are all but gone, and there are almost no general farms anymore.  Farmers specialize and seek to gain the most production as possible with one specialty,  often because it doesn't pay to purchase a wide variety of equipment for a wide variety of crops.  So farmers increasingly specialize, leading to extreme risk if a single crop fails.
We have failed in wisdom.  We no longer see how foolish it is to simply seek size, or production, or income, or any one goal.  We seek after larger and larger things, not seeing how these things put us at risk, or harm those around us.  We have created large groups of people who are without purpose, and who feel dispossessed.  Perhaps we need to admit our ignorance, and return to the small.  At least in the small scale, we can recognize that we are not wise.  Instead we have ignorance masquerading as wisdom, and size masquerading as success.

Live a hands on life

Self sufficiency and freedom

How free are we?  I know that as a wage laborer, and more importantly as a laborer whose wages depend on sales, I am constantly worried about income.  The unpredictability of it all means that I do not know if I will have enough money to play bills at the end of the month, or if a good week or two will provide me extra income for expenses and savings. 
As a wage laborer, I must constantly keep in mind my job, so that I do not put it into jeopardy.  To lose wages means that you can lose your house, lose your family, and possibly even lose the ability to provide food for yourself.  Most of my existence as far as an earner is outside of my control.  Sure I have some control over it, a hard worker who always is on time and strives to do the best they can is unlikely to be fired.  But nonetheless, the control is in my employers hands, not my own.  No worker is perfect, and so any employer who looks hard enough is likely to find cause to fire anyone.
So how does this effect my freedom?  Well, it means that my life becomes structured more around the needs of my employer than the needs of myself or my family.  Sure there are employers who will take family into consideration, and even work with you on the hours you work to try to strike a balance between work and family.  But at the end of the day, an employer will choose what is best for the employer, not for the employee. 
The employee may express dissent with the employer, with politicians, or with any number of issues.  But in the back of their mind, there is always a question.  As long as you rely on someone else for wages, how far can you dissent, how much can you put forward for any movement or to address any issue before there are repercussions.  Business people want their public image to be in their own control, and so are reluctant to allow employees to do things that may tarnish that public image in the eyes of some consumers. 
So the Self sufficient person is more free in this regard.  A self sufficient person still has responsibilities, and still relies on others to a certain extent for income.  But this person has more leeway to change the business to fit themselves.  A self sufficient farmer can take time to think on and address political issues, with little expectation that these issues will somehow harm him.  A self sufficient person doesn't so much fear biting the hand that feeds them, for they feed themselves.
Now this is not to say that a person who is self sufficient  is some kind of superhuman.  No, everyone of us depends on others for income, for protection, and for support.  Humans naturally form communities, and we find it extremely strange for someone to not fit in with any community at all.  We as individuals all benefit from the things that other people do.  But benefiting is not the same as being dependent.  There is a difference between wanting the government to help with security, or with roads, and wanting the government to give money to a cause or to give tax breaks because you do something. 
The more that we can provide for our own needs, whether these needs be food, shelter, or even entertainment, the more we can actually engage with the world.  The more we learn to do things for ourselves, the more we are able to appreciate the things that others do.  It takes a skilled woodworker to recognize the skill in a well made piece of furniture.  Becoming more self sufficient does not mean that we withdraw from society, rather it allows us to engage more fully in it, to address problems and to truly appreciate the benefits.
I am working on becoming more self sufficient, and I know that many others are too.  I pray that some day we may find a path which will help people of all incomes become more self sufficient, and also become more engaged with the world at large.

Live a hands on life

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Book Review of "The Earth Sheltered Solar Greenhouse"

There are many advantages to having an earth sheltered greenhouse.  One of the biggest reasons is that having earth as shelter, or having a greenhouse dug into the earth helps to provide thermal heat, helping to heat the greenhouse with no output on your own part. 
This book is entirely about using earth sheltered greenhouses and using these greenhouses in ways that traditional greenhouses can't be used.  The book begins with "grow holes" which are essentially a cold frame that is partially buried.  These can be used as season extenders.  The book then goes into how to build to resist the weight of the earth on the greenhouse, as well as glazing materials and the advantages and disadvantages of different forms of glazing.  The author also goes over various types of insulation and their uses in the greenhouse.
The book also has practical examples of earth sheltered greenhouse actually being used by gardeners and farmers around the country.  These practical examples give a good idea on the kinds of environments that an earth sheltered greenhouse can come into play in.  Knowing that a greenhouse could be used to start seeds, or even to keep plants alive in the coldest weather provides a good incentive toward using the greenhouse yourself.
One of the interesting parts of the book is the use of animals in the greenhouse.  While it is known that higher CO2 levels in a greenhouse can substantially increase the amount of plant growth, animals are often frowned upon in the greenhouse because traditional greenhouse can become too warm and can harm the animals.  However, the low points of an earth sheltered greenhouse can remain relatively cool, even on bright days, and so animals and their accompanying CO2 can be incorporated into the greenhouse.
Another interesting aspect of the earth sheltered greenhouses, is the use of things like earth heating tubes, that use the natural heat of the earth to help heat the greenhouse.  Even a greenhouse with supplemental heating can benefit by being warmed much closer to the final temperature than the temperature outdoors.  Typically Earth around 8 feet down is 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and this can be used to heat a greenhouse to around the same temperature.  This is especially useful in cold areas of the country where the outside temperature can be as low as -20 degree Fahrenheit.
Overall the book is an excellent resource for those looking to build a greenhouse.  While it doesn't deal as much with growing plants in a greenhouse, it still gives basic information on plants and pests in the greenhouse and how to deal with these problems.  I think that nearly anyone who is looking to build a greenhouse should at least investigate the advantages of using an earth sheltered greenhouse.
If you are interested in the book, you can find it here.

The Earth Sheltered Solar Greenhouse
By Mike Oehler
230 pages

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Acorn Dumplings

 Acorns are an ancient form of food, and one that shouldn't be wasted.  A single tree can provide nearly all of the flour a person would eat in a year, and can provide a huge amount of calories, in a small container.  If you want to live more frugally, there is little that can be better than gathering some free food from the wild, and don't worry, there will be enough left over for the squirrels and the deer.
I harvest mainly from burr oak for a few reasons.  One is that burr oaks are fairly plentiful where I live, and are easy to identify.  The second reason is that burr oaks are fairly low in tannin, a substance that makes acorns bitter.  And the third reason is that burr oak acorns are big.  I mean very big.  It only takes a dozen or so to make a cup of flour, and so there is a lot less time looking for and cracking acorns for the amount of food that you get out of it.
There are some tricks to harvesting acorns.  The first is to look for tiny holes in the shell.  If there are holes, the acorn probably has acorn worms and will not be good.  You can also put the acorns in water, typically the bad ones, or the ones with worms will float.  These can be crushed and thrown to chickens if you do not feel like wasting them. 
I decided that since I have a significant amount of acorns in the freezer that I collected last fall, I should start to experiment.  Seeing how acorns are similar to chestnuts in the fact that they have low oil, and high starch then the two may be interchangeable in some recipes.
First I leached the acorns.  Leaching removes the tannin that gives acorns  a bitter taste and can cause a stomach upset.  To leach you can run under cold water for hours or days, or you can have two pots of boiling water.  You put the acorns in one pot, until the water begins to turn dark, looking like tea.  Immediately the acorns are transferred to fresh water, the tannin water is dumped, the pot refilled, and heated again.  Continue this until the water stops darkening (or stops darkening enough to care about).  As a side note, this tannin water is quite an effective weed killer, although this may be the hot water and not the tannin that is having the effect.  The tannin does have an intense smell that permeates everything, so if you can this should be a step to do outdoors.  There are other uses for tannin, such as tanning leather, or as an astringent.  I will try to cover ways to use this tannin in future posts. 
After I leached the acorns I stuck them in the freezer because I didn't know what to do with them.  I stumbled upon the next step by doing this.  The bag that the acorns were in was not sealed tight, and began to fill with frost.  After a few months there was no more frost building up, and I believe that the acorns were effectively freeze-dried.  After taking them out, they did not stick to each other, and easily powdered into a pale tan flour.  It still had a little bit of a bitter taste, but mostly tasted like acorns, a somewhat nutty starch flavor, almost like flour that was mixed with ground nuts. 
I found a recipe for chestnut noodles, and decided that this would be the base of my dumplings.  1 cup nut flour, 2 cups all purpose flour, 1 tsp salt, 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk are combined into a stiff dough.  A small amount of ground pepper and ground nutmeg were incorporated into the dough as I kneaded it.
Once the dough was elastic I let it rest in the refrigerator for about an hour.  When I was ready to cook the dumplings I pulled off small pieces of dough with floured hands and made small football shapes, about the size of the thumb from the first knuckle to the end.  I dropped the dumplings into boiling water until they began to float, took them out with a strainer, let them dry a bit (otherwise they get gummy) and fried them with a little butter.  Overall the dumplings do have a wonderful acorn and nutty flavor with a hint of warming nutmeg.  They make a great side dish with game or other full flavored meat and gravy.  They seem to be a little dense and chewy to eat on their own, but it may simply be how I cooked them. 
Overall I think that my dumplings were a success.

The recipe again is

1 cup ground acorn flour
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
ground pepper and nutmeg to taste

Combine the ingredients as though making pasta dough.  Once you have a fairly dry dough, knead it thoroughly to incorporate all of the ingredients and to make an elastic ball.  Let the dough rest for about an hour.  Pull off pieces and make small oblongs (footballs).  Drop into boiling water or stock and cook until they rise to the surface.  Drain the dumplings.  Fry them with a little butter.

I think that this is a great way to enjoy acorns and may be the first step in a road to discovering more uses for this ancient and little used food.

One of the best books that I have found for using wild foods is Food for Free by Richard Mabey.   It has wonderful ideas on how to use wild foods and how to find new foods to experiment with. 

Live a hands on life

What are we called to be

There is a wonderful word that is rarely heard anymore.  That word is vocation.  Now as a Catholic, I hear this word when it is referring to someone joining the priesthood, or the religious life.  But there is so much more to it than that.  A vocation is a calling, a hint from the universe on how you fit into the grand scheme of things.
I think that in our modern society we have killed the understanding of such a word.  We rarely talk about what people feel called toward.  A vocational counselor at a high school may ask a student what they are interested in, and what they think that they might like to do; and these are important things.  But they miss the point.  We all have a place in the world, and will only be happy when we truly find out where it is.  Sure our inclinations and interests may point us in the direction, but we need to realize that a calling is so much more that doing something that interest you. 
The work of a vocation is the work that truly feeds your soul.  It harmonizes and energizes you.  Does this mean that you will never have a difficult day, or never be tired and worn out; of course not.  However it does mean that you will not feel the dreaded grayness that seems to infect our society.  We live in a world where people are expected to work for money, that is the point.  And money can be important, but it is not the goal.  Too often we lose sight of that fact.  We lose sight of the fact that we are called to multiple paths, and we must synthesize them.  We must bring them together.  I am called to be a Husband, and a Father, and a Worker, and a Teacher.  Somehow I must reconcile all of these in order to create something unique.  No one else on earth has the same calling that I do. 
Your vocation is part of your being.  It is part of who you are.  We still have remnants of this idea, even in our modern times.  Often if you ask someone about themselves that will answer with what their occupation is.  But this is but a shadow of what a vocation is.  An occupation is what is done to satisfy bodily needs, like food and shelter.  A vocation often satisfies those needs but deeper ones as well.  A vocation can help to satisfy spiritual needs, and is as much a part of us as our bodies.  A vocation is the blueprint that helps us to become what we should be. 
How can we instill this in the world around us.  I think the answer typically lies with the youth.  We forget because we are so limited that new ideas often do not flourish because they defeated existing ideas, but rather because the old ideas died with their holders.  The youth is what carries the ideals and ideas of a civilization forward.  We must attempt to change ourselves, try to find our own calling, and live that calling fully, and pass this passion for vocation onto others.  It does not take many to create a huge change.  One of the biggest movements in the history of the West started with 12.  I continue to look for my calling, and I hope that my encouragement may has helped you to look for yours.

"If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire!"- St. Catherine of Siena

"The Nation doesn't simply need what we have, it needs what we are"- St. Edith Stein

Live a hands-on life

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Artisan Revolution

Few things give me as much hope for the future as microbreweries.  They truly are an amazing thing when you stop to think about it.  There hundreds upon hundreds of different microbreweries in the U.S. all headed by an artisan.  And this makes up less than 10% of the U.S. beer market.  These artisan brewers have carved their own niche, pushing aside powerful marketing and dominated markets to help promote something that they truly believe in.
Now some people would call a brewer an artist.  I disagree, to me a brewer is much more than an artist, they are an artisan.  Art is a lecture, artisan crafts are a conversation.  Art seeks to create something that is beautiful and causes introspection.  Artisan crafts do the same, but strive to make things that are useful as well as beautiful, that cause introspection as well as joy.  Artist are expected to ignore the market place with their art, Artisans must find a way to express themselves and still make a living. 
It is amazing to see so many different breweries that can express the personalities of the brewers themselves.  Every beer that is tried in a microbrewery will pertain in some way to the brewers vision of beer.  While some may be favorites, and some may be not so favorites, always the brewer is seeking to engage the patrons in conversation, on beer, on flavor, on seasons, and on locality.  All of these things go through a brewers mind when they create beer.  Microbreweries are one of the bright spots in a world that seems to be dominated by large multi-national corporations.  Many Micros are locally owned, especially brewpubs.  These take into account local culture and local conventions, while still pushing forward with wonderful ingredients and an expression of world beer culture. 
It doesn't matter what you call yourself.  If you believe that the world would look brighter if there were more small local businesses, if you believe that it is better to know the people who make things that you use, if you believe that the world should have local cultures, Microbreweries provide a bright spot.  They show that it can be done, and that it can be done successfully.

Live a hands-on Life

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Book Review "The Resilient Gardener"

There are hundreds if not thousands of books on growing your own food.  However, almost all of them lack the vital understanding that as humans, we do not live off vegetables and fruits alone.  While these things are important to us, the complete lack of focus on calorie crops, specifically in books about homesteading is amazing.  We need to have crops that provide energy and vital nutrients first, and must have them in a way that we do not suffer from deficiency diseases as so many farmers around the world still do.

Perhaps the though is that Calorie crops are easy enough to grow that no instruction is needed.  Or perhaps because in the U.S. these crops are cheap enough that even a homesteader would be able to purchase them.  However, with the emphasis on preparedness and resiliency that we see among homesteaders, preppers, or even locavores, it is important to understand the role that main crops play in our diets.

This is where The Resilient Gardener shines.  Its subtitle is Food production and self-reliance in uncertain times.  Whether you think of climate change, erosion, overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, peak oil, or any number of other scenarios, these are uncertain times.  Carol Deppe does a masterful job of showing the many ways that we as gardeners can address our growing concerns on food security. 

One of the great things about this book is that it is personal.  Carol has a gluten allergy and so rather than focusing on Wheat as many in the U.S. would, she focuses on Gluten free crops.  These are the three sisters (corn, beans, squash) along with potatoes and eggs.  The three sisters were the base crops of many Native American cultures, and all three can be grown in a poly culture if you want.  Potatoes are tricky because we have all heard tales of how the potato famine ruined Ireland because of over reliance on potatoes as a food crop.  However, it was over reliance on one crop, rather than use of that crop that led to the famine.  Eggs provide fairly cheap protein and vitamins and help to round out the diet of these main crops. 

Carol Deppe does not simply focus on how these crops grow, but she also points out how these crops can be adjusted to suit the climate, and to address changes in the local conditions.  She truly focuses on how gardeners can become more self reliant and less impacted by things like weather, drought, or even natural disasters.  With beautiful stories and dozens of tips and tricks, this is truly a book to be on any homesteader's bookshelf. 

The Resilient Gardener
Carol Deppe
323 pages
Chelsae Green Publishing

You can purchase the book here

Live a Hands On Life

Friday, July 13, 2012

Storing Water for Dry Times

Water is a vital nutrient for any animal or plant.  Without water, life would quickly come to an end on this planet.  Yet only a very small percentage of the water on earth is freshwater and can be used for the plants or animals that people normally raise.  So we must be careful with the water that we do have.  Right now most of the Midwest is in a drought.  This is not a completely uncommon occurrence, and it seems that every few years there is not enough water or too much water at the wrong time.  The rain is a blessing and a curse.  Yet it could easily be seen as a blessing whenever and however it falls.

There are several great books on storing and stewarding the water you have.  One of the best is a set of books by Brad Lancaster called Rainwater Harvesting Vol.1 and Vol. 2.  Lancaster lives in the "sun belt" and most yards and gardens there require huge amounts of supplemental watering.  Brad looked at the way in which things were planted and realized that there was a huge amount of water that could be used, freely, and would help with his own yard and garden.

Rainwater harvesting focuses mainly on using the landscape in such a way that water can quickly soak in and be stored.  Rather than encouraging runoff from storms; swales, dams and other earthworks help discourage erosion and aid in keeping the plants well watered.  Lancaster points to certain desert peoples from the ancient near east who could sustain agriculture on around 4 inches of rain a year.  Surely we could learn something from this type of dry land agriculture.

Art Ludwig's book, Water Storage, is another great help to those trying to use the water that is available to them.  Mostly the book focuses on the use of ferro-cement, a lightweight form of concrete, to make water storage devices.  He points out the amount of water available from roofs and other catchment systems, and the numbers are amazing.  If 1 inch of rain falls on 1000 square feet of impermeable surface (like a roof or a parking lot) there is 623 gallons of runoff.  If that runoff is caught and used, even for things like watering a garden or fire prevention, there is much less draw on well or city water.

The last book that I would like to recommend is The Home Water Supply by Stu Campbell.  Campbell's book focuses much more on domestic water issues such as water pressure, digging a well, or finding ways to prevent contaminating groundwater.  If you are in the country and are not going to be hooked up to a rural or city water supply, this book is the one that you need to find out more about your options and the challenges ahead of you.

All of these books focus on different aspects of water for the home.  Some of the books are about finding ways to use the water that is available naturally to our best advantage, while others are about the practicalities of hooking up a plumbing system and using well water off the grid.  No matter what you plan to do, or where you live, water and proper water usage is going to come up. 

These books and others on water and water storage can be found here.

Live a Hands On Life

Monday, July 9, 2012

Rose hips: Homegrown vitamin C

We have all heard references from the past to scurvy, whether it was scurvy dogs on pirate ships, or the use of scurvy grass to combat the winter ailment.  Now we know that scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C.  We have also learned that Vitamin C is necessary for the immune system to function properly, and we have all sorts of vitamin C boost for sickness. 

I have stumbled across another source of vitamin C that is much closer to home, and doesn't require highly processed and expensive pills or packets from the pharmacy.  Rose hips were used in Britain during World War II as a homegrown source of vitamin C when citrus fruit were unavailable or expensive. 

A rose hip is simply the fruit of a rose bush.  They are the red ball left behind once the rose has flowered.    Some I have had tasted like sweet tart berries, others tasted like sun dried tomatoes.  I guess that when they breed roses, they do not take into account the flavor of the rose hips, so you may have to find your own variety that has a pleasant flavor.  The problem with eating rose hips is that they are full of seeds, and around the seeds are tiny hairs that are irritating, not only to the mouth but to the digestive track as well. 

To get around this problem, the Brits made rose hip syrup or rose hip jelly.  First they would smash the hips, and then add them to boiling water.  Turn off the heat and let them rest for about 15 minutes, then strain through a jelly bag.  You can repeat the process up to three times with the same rose hips and still  get vitamins out of them.  Once you have the strained juice add about 1 lb of sugar for every 1 lb of rose hips you started with.  Put it in sterilized jars and you have your own homegrown source of vitamin C with many times the vitamin C of oranges.  If you want a thicker syrup you can heat the sugar mixture again waiting until it is as thick as you want, even going so far as to make a jelly out of it. 

The resulting syrup keeps wonderfully and can be used as a sweetener, or whenever you feel the beginnings of an illness, just like the store bought vitamin C.  If it ever becomes too expensive to transport citrus, or if you have an issue with eating things that have traveled thousands of miles just to reach you, then rose hips may be your answer.

Much of the information in this post comes from the book

Food for Free by Richard Mabey

You can find a copy of the book here

You can find other books on foraging and wild foods here

As always

Live a Hands On Life

Friday, June 29, 2012

What is Aquaponics?

There is a new form of agriculture running around that may help with tight spaces and poor land.  This agriculture is called aquaponics, and it is a mixture of aquaculture (raising fish or aquatic animals) with hydroponics (growing plants without soil).  What aquaponics allows is for the waste products of the fish, mostly ammonia, to be converted into nitrite and then into nitrate so that the plants can use this form of nitrogen to grow.  This allows for the fish wastes, which otherwise can be quite harmful to the environment, to be used, while encouraging the growth of plants in a medium that is usually difficult to perfect.

Basically it works like this.  You feed fish.  Fish are one of the best sources of animal protien because they have a high conversion ratio, in other words it doesn't take a lot of fish food to make a lot of fish.  The fish do produce large amounts of ammonia though, and ammonia is extremely toxic to them.  Luckily there is a group of bacteria that convert ammonia into nitrate, and another group that convert nitrite into nitrate.  Now nitrates are still a big pollutant, and too much can harm the fish, so how do we solve that problem.

By growing plants of course.  Almost everyone has seen what high nitrogen fertilizers can do to plant growth.  Who hasn't wished that their plants could shoot up green and healthy almost overnight.  The nitrates are a form of nitrogen that the plants can easily use, so the nitrates are removed from the water and provide a perfect fertilizer for the plants.  Now the plants need more than just nitrogen, they also need phosporus, potassium and all sorts of trace minerals, so this is not a perfect set up, but it is better than many ways of growing plants.  In addition to having ample nitrogen available, the plants are watered nearly constantly and so never undergo the water stress that can severly limit the growth of a normal garden. 

This system will never replace mainstream agriculture because you will always need something to feed the fish, and the nitrogen loving plants are typically leafy green vegetables rather than fruiting vegetables (like tomatoes, and peppers) but there are many ways that aquaponics can be helpful.  Tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables can be grown aquaponically, but not as well as leafy greens.  In dry environments aquaponics is useful because the water is right where the plants need it and is recycled, only being used by evaporation, transpiration, or plant growth; never by being absorbed into the soil.  In urban areas, the large amount of production from a small space can be a God-send.  And for homesteaders, being able to provide a large portion of your food, both vegetable and animal for small input in terms of fertilizers, time, and money is always a blessing. 

There are hundreds of different aquaponics systems around the world, and they are almost entirely home-brewed, that is, created by the people who use them.  These systems all have their positives and negatives, but they all help to accomplish something that their owners see as necessary.  Perhaps aquaponics could help people take more charge of the food that they consume, and provide a healthier more varied diet for a large number of people.

To see some books on aquaponics please visit

For some great examples of aquaponic system and how they are used (along with some free info on aquaponics) visit or  Both are great resources for those thinking of setting up an aquaponics system.

As always

Live a Hands-on Life

Monday, January 23, 2012

Uncommonskills becomes an Amazon Affiliate

After a year of no sales, I have decided to make a major change to the website. Rather than take it down, I have decided to attempt to make a go of things as an amazon affiliate. In this way, the money that you spend on books will still help create more book reviews, more expiraments, and more blog post. Rather than working so much on the nuts and bolts of a web site, I will have more time to review books, and to provide examples of how to live a hands on life.

I hope you check out the site and find it just as useful and informative as before.

Thank you for sticking with us through all the changes.


Live a hands on life