Firefly by Carol
July 22, 2011, 9:07 pm
Filed under: by Carol, Clothing, Food, Shelter

If you are new to this blog, you may want to check out the About page to learn why it’s here in the first place.
Some people know fireflies as beautiful beetles with iridescent internal organs that magically appear in summertime. We love them, as most do, and marvel at their magnificence every year. No less magnificent is the Firefly Gathering which happens around these parts every summer. A camp for people to learn “skills to live with the earth” it is an amazing meeting of minds and hearts with more interesting classes on offer than is humanly possible to take in. This was my second year attending and Cecily’s first. Last year I was there for 2 days and 1 night and this year I really felt the need to be there. Without even knowing all the classes that would be offered or who would be teaching them, it was pure instinct that nagged at me to make a bigger commitment this year.

So we packed up for a 4 day and 4 night full experience last weekend which required a couple of days off work and some help with cat and plant care. It has taken a while to write this entry as there has been much to synthesize and integrate from the experience. Where to start…okay well we rented a cabin since we don’t have camping equipment. That put us is in a small  but  happy minority considering the amount of rain we had the first couple of days. Not that we were without moisture. Nothing in the cabin was dry the entire time we were there. But at least our temporary home was not floating on the flooded fields as many tents were. Our first lesson was in proper packing for the outdoors. A mere 40 minutes north and at higher elevation, our downtown home has been so warm that we’ve been sweltering for weeks. Expecting sweaty sleepless nights, we packed two fans, sheets, lightweight clothes and proceeded to freeze our behinds off that first night in the woods. Cecily went back home the next morning to resupply us as her scheduled class was offered another time.

Speaking of the classes…. between us we took classes in felting, bee keeping, home orcharding, spinning, earthen paints and mead making, 3 permaculture classes and 2 plant walks. Most of them were amazing. The permaculture classes were taught by some of the country’s best and most experienced instructors. Lucky, lucky us. All this in a beautiful camp setting.

Then there were the people. It turns out liked-minded people come in many shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds. I think this is one of the best things about the gathering. Buckskin-clad 20 yr olds mixed with 40-something real estate agents related to 70 year old lifelong learners interspersed with children of all ages. At one point many of these people were waltzing together to live music before the hokey pokey broke out. This was followed by the drum circle which went until the wee hours.

Ahhh… the drum circle. We like us some drums as much as the next girls and can even appreciate the accompanying primal yells from time to time. But after 3 nights of it, combined with brain saturation from so much knowledge-share, we decided to return home to our DOWNTOWN condo one night early where we could get some PEACE AND QUIET on a SATURDAY night! Can’t wait for next year.


Food AND Shelter: A two for one visit by Carol
July 9, 2011, 4:03 pm
Filed under: by Carol, Food, Shelter

If you are new to this blog, you may want to check out the About page to learn why it’s here in the first place.

Purple Cone Flower

Photo courtesy of stock.exchng: Echinacea

A couple of weeks ago while searching about online I learned about Ashevillage, a sustainable living demonstration site, which turns out to be less than a 1/2 mile from our little urban wanna-be sustainable living demonstration (a.k.a. our condo home).  I was thrilled to learn they offer tours and we were able to tag along on a tour scheduled the next day.

The place is an oasis. The moment I arrived I wished I never had to leave. It is alive with edible and medicinal plants, arbors and trellises waiting for their viney cover, multiple levels of interconnected ponds thriving with water loving plants and animals, and a green house/chicken coop combo all arranged against a backdrop of mature trees as a three-dimensional feast for the eyes. We were lucky there were only 4 of us on the tour so we had the chance to ask our many questions.

If all that weren’t enough, it turns out Ashevillage is also the headquarters for Kleiwerks International, a not-for-profit organization for that uses natural building as a means to promote ecological and social resilience internationally. They had recently hosted a natural building workshop onsite so there were several examples of structures built (not necessarily completed)  using earthbricks, strawdobe and other natural building techniques. THAT was a bonus as we’ve long considered using some of these methods in our own home design and here we were walking around with a world expert in the field!

As part of my not-so-secret agenda to be allowed more time at Ashevillage, I offered unskilled volunteer labor when needed. I was invited to be part of an onsite work party yesterday to build out one of the walls of a partially built “casita”. So in what can best be described as a six-year-old’s dream come true, I learned how to mix piles of sand, clay and straw into the right consistency by throwing on loads and jumping around on them until they were well mixed. Next we learned how to apply a coat of mudslip followed by layers of our mixture in a way that would bind them all together and to the base of earthbricks and strawdobe wall forms.

I’m certain I’ve never been dirtier than when I left there after a great days work. My hands and feet still have a tint of orange from the clay, the tops of my fingers are raw and bloodied in places (from what I do not know), and every muscle in my body hurts today. In other words, I’m ecstatic.  And inspired! 🙂

Worms! by Cecily
July 3, 2011, 1:32 pm
Filed under: by Cecily, Food

We currently live in a condo. We have about 40 square feet of outdoor space on our deck and we are using much of that to grow veggies, herbs (medicinal and kitchen) and beneficial flowers.  While we are doing our best to implement permaculture principles on a micro scale, the one thing we can’t do, that we really WANT to do, is to compost. One of the guiding principles of permaculture design is to re-use inputs as many times as possible before they leave your land.  Another is to always look at ways to increase the fertility of your land over time.  Composting helps our plants grow stronger and heartier and reduces our waste, both really good things. But we don’t have room to do any of the traditional composting methods so what to do?  Well, use worms, of course!

You can make your own worm composting bin pretty easily with a plastic tote, a drill and some dirt but we decided to buy a commercial version with stackable trays.  This will let us expand operations as our worms reproduce. We want to do some serious COMPOSTING!  You can get your worms from the local bait store but we wanted to make sure our worms were truly the right kind (only a few work really well) so we ordered our red wigglers from a local supplier and within a few days a box of live worms in dirt arrived at our condo.  We prepared the bin with bedding and a little food and introduced our worms to their new home.  The literature says that worms take a few weeks to get acclimated before they start eating and doing their composting thing but we must have provided a pretty cozy space because they started in quickly and haven’t stopped.

Worms eat most kitchen scraps.  Our “waste” is their tasty delicious food.  They munch on all of that and provide you with wonderful worm poo to use directly in your garden. The worm bin does not stink because it is an aerobic composting environment.  The bin just sits there and the worms quietly do their thing and every so often you go in and harvest. We have already used a first harvest of worm compost and the plants loved it! It feels good to have found a way to apply such an important principle right here in our condo, even though it is on a small scale (but getting bigger by the day! worms reproduce really fast!).  Our waste is down, our worm population is up and our container “land” is growing ever more fertile.  What’s not to like?

Meeting needs by Carol
July 3, 2011, 9:41 am
Filed under: by Carol

If you are new to this blog, you may want to check out the About page to learn why it’s here in the first place.

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

I take a lot of sponge baths at night in the summer to cool off before bed. It saves on the water a shower would consume and really helps get the heat of the day off the body. As a result, I go through a lot of washcloths. I can only seem to get 1-2 uses out of a washcloth before it needs to be washed. Turns out the short stack of washcloths we own isn’t enough and I need a few more or I’m going to be doing laundry too frequently. Most people, myself included, would normally just go to the store and buy some more. I am ever thankful we have the means to do so. But now that we are on this path of greater self-sufficiency and sustainability I am starting to think about things differently.

In permaculture, there is a concept called “stacking functions“. It means essentially that every element of your environment design serves multiple purposes. For example, chickens produce eggs, control insects and their waste is excellent fertilizer. With this as my predominant mindset (obsession?) I think about how I can get more washcloths and serve another purposes. Well it turns out I am learning to knit. I’ve been going steady with crochet for quite some time and have flirted with knitting in the past but it has always seemed unwieldy to me. So as I’m exploring a new-to-me style of knitting called “continental” I come across a video and recipe (some people call these patterns) for a practice washcloth. BINGO!

I have some knitting needles and spare cotton yarn around. No matter that its orange.  And so the knitting began. This isn’t the quickest way to meet needs for sure. I started and restarted and started again that silly little washcloth but eventually I produced a reasonably satisfactory washcloth that is, incidentally, WAY BETTER than a store bought one.  I’m already halfway done with my second one now. So I’m making washcloths I need, practicing the knit and using up spare yarn. That is some beautiful function stacking in practice!

Happy Anniversary North Carolina! by Carol
June 27, 2011, 6:40 pm
Filed under: by Carol

If you are new to this blog, you may want to check out the About page to learn why it’s here in the first place.

Photo courtesty of stock.xchng

We moved to beautiful, mountainous Western North Carolina one year ago today. It seems like a good day to look back and reflect on the year. Our primary goals for coming were to find land for our homestead and learn all we could about sustainable living. Well we haven’t yet succeeded in finding our land though that’s not for lack of trying. It turns out perfect land is elusive! 🙂

On the “learn all we can” front we’ve made somewhat more progress. In the past year we’ve taken classes or received instruction in:


  • weaving, spinning, knitting
  • wood turning, furniture making
  • intro to permaculture, permaculture plant selection
  • homemade moisturizers, lip balms and deodorants
  • natural hair care (no “poo” shampoo)
  • herbal first aid, herbal medicine making
  • D.I.Y. solar, D.I.Y. oil lamp
  • humanure (just like it sounds but not gross, really)
  • intro to botany, planting for year round food production
  • raising chickens, raising fiber animals
  • bee keeping and homesteading
  • vermiculture (worms!)

This does not include the countless books and articles on natural home building, passive and active solar power use, homesteading, herbal remedies, humanure, permaculture, woodworking, raising goats and chickens. Some results of this learnin’ include 2 ply yarn, a shaker style table, no purchased shampoo or conditioner, wood planting boxes, woven bags, a knitted washcloth, stinging nettle tincture and an ever increasing harvest of worm poo for our patio garden. Whew!

I fear that if we cram any more knowledge into our heads without an outlet (Universe, may we please have our land soon?) we are going to burst! But as I’ve heard recently “fears faced fade” and so classes are already scheduled in wild food foraging, basket weaving, a specialty crochet technique and timber frame construction. Here’s hoping that on our 2-year anniversary I’ll have something to say about the practical application of all this knowledge on our homestead. That is if we don’t forget it all by then!

Millet by Carol
June 23, 2011, 6:19 pm
Filed under: by Carol, Food

If you are new to this blog, you may want to check out the About page to learn why it’s here in the first place.

Millet growing in a field

About six months ago we started feeding the neighborhood birds from a little feeder on our balcony. Happy birds, happy cats watching birds, happy humans watching cats watching birds. Along comes Spring and we decide to start our patio garden with planters and rail boxes. We fill with soil and plant our seeds and low and behold things start growing. But those things weren’t quite what we had in mind. The millet from the bird seed was growing like mad in the boxes where the messy birds would toss them.

So like good gardeners (but not so great permaculturists) we plucked out those little “weeds” and tossed them out to give our planned crops a chance. We also moved the bird feeder to a point below the level of the planters so that the many stray seeds would fall to the ground away from our crops.

And STILL some makes it into our planters. How DO they DO that? So I get to thinking “my word that stuff grows everywhere.” And then I get to thinking “my word that stuff grows everywhere AND it is something I BUY from the store and EAT!” Now here I just started this blog about FOOD, shelter and clothing and I’m tossing out “weeds” of a food crop that seems desperate to grow. What am I THINKING?

So I do a little research and find that it does indeed grow here and people do plant it for bird seed. Well if it can be grown for birds, how about for me? So now I’m experimenting with a couple of little pots each with a baby millet plant growing. We’ll see how it goes but these kind of “aha” moments are happening a lot lately. I think about everything I am eating now in terms of whether I can provide it, or something similar, for myself. And THAT is a whole lot of thinkin’!

Water by Carol
June 20, 2011, 7:53 pm
Filed under: by Carol

If you are new to this blog, you may want to check out the About page to learn why it’s here in the first place.

Photo courtesty of stock.xchng

We woke this morning to a raging thunderstorm and glorious sheets of rain. As we currently live in a downtown condo, we have no way of harvesting this beautiful resource but it sure got me thinking yet again about this crucial element of life. It might even be argued that our blog title should be WaterShelterClothing. That’s how important it is!

There it little argument that water is our most precious and diminishing resource on the planet. I can’t even spend time thinking about all of the people in the world who live their lives without access to clean water because my stomach just turns to knots. One need only see a movie like F.L.O.W. as we did at the Sarasota Film Festival to be forever changed.

So when we think about providing for our basic needs, this is a BIGGIE. Where and how do you get it? Many of the rural properties we’ve been looking at have springs. This was new to me as a city dweller. I like to think of springs as water sources eager to get to the surface to be appreciated and effectively utilized.  🙂 Capacity planning for appropriately-sized cisterns must be considered with springs as must water quality.

Other rural homesteaders drill wells to tap into the aquifer. These require an energy input (electricity for pump) to coax the water to the surface so are perhaps less ideal if you are hoping to eventually be off the grid as we are. Water quality is a concern here too as years and years of earth abuse have allowed many toxins to seep into the aquifer.

And then there’s the rain. Glorious rain that falls free from the sky. Except during drought of course. Many people can and do harvest this bounty for garden AND home use. Of course filtering must be considered and a rain catchment system might also require a pump (solar power?) to move the water to where it is needed.

There is no perfect solution. That’s part of the challenge and the fun of it. Ultimately, the more I study permaculture, the more I think in terms of redundancy. Pumps can fail. Pollution affects the aquifer. Springs can dry up. City water quality (our current source) is questionable at best and can be compromised. We’ve had tap water warnings twice in the 6 months we have lived in this mid-sized American town! So our plans now include  at least 2 water sources because really…our lives depend on it.