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The Walking Unprepared

by Robbie - May 24th, 2011

Many things strike me as metaphorical.  The idea of Zombie Apocalypse, even exploited by the Center For Disease Control, is, I believe, a metaphor for people who refuse to look at the economic situation we are currently in.  They also refuse to consider the ramifications of it.  State governments go broke, the Federal government can’t bail them out, massive jobs get cut, entitlements get cut, and you’ve got lots of people trying to live on nothing in a very expensive world.

Many urban homesteaders have thought about this.  They’ve taken steps to be more independent when it comes to food, transportation, and many other aspects of daily life, so as to live a better life now...and also, hopefully, when various financial infrastructures collapse.

The people who continue to live the idea of “work hard get rich” may be hit the hardest, because in order to work hard and get rich you’ve got to: A.  Have work and B. Be able to work for somebody who can pay you a lot.

I was raised with this idea.  “Get an education, get in with a good company, make lots of money! Then you’ll be secure!” (the subtext being, “Then you can take good care of me when I’m old”.  The irony here is, people my age and younger are already doing this.  We are paying for those nice pensions and medical plans for The Greatest Generation.  Literally.) I rejected the “work hard get rich” idea- like Aesop’s Irresponsible Grasshopper- and did stupid stuff like theater and radio, which have no pension plans.  But right about now I’m feeling a bit too vindicated.  I got called lots of names for living the way I wanted to.  I didn’t accept a beige cubicle.  I didn’t finish getting a degree. I just went out and lived every dream I had at the moment.  The only thing I invested in was experience.  That made sense to me.  It still does.  And now the Suze Ormans of the world get to blow me.  I’m trying not to love this too much.  Rejoicing in the misery of others is beneath me.

The Tao speaks about the physics of wealth in this way:  “Gather together all the jade and gold in the world, but no one can protect it,”  My 401K was wiped out years ago, and my savings is minimal.  I lean on some hope of my ability to Do Things.  I graduated from the EMT program at Swedish 10 years ago, but I still know enough field medicine to help out in a triage situation, for instance.  This year I took lots of gardening classes and yarn classes.  I can make a splint from newspaper, make compost and grow greens, grow wool and spin wool and knit a hat, tell a good story.  These things, to me, seem like wealth.  We’ll see if they are enough.

But back to our metaphor…many urban homesteaders are also big on the idea of Community.  This is enlightened self-interest.  Being nice to the snarky neighbor who disapproves of your front yard vegetable garden or back yard chickens is an investment in relationship, a relationship that may be heavily tested down the road when they come knocking because there’s no food at the store and they thought canning was a “hippie thing”.  It’s vital to be forgiving and gently instructive and to include everybody in solutions.  This view is shared by many authors of urban homesteading books.

And those humbled people knocking on the door, eyes agog and faces dazed with the shock of the failed system?  They are the Walking Unprepared.

Maybe it will never come to that.  I don’t want to encourage any negativity here.

But if we continue to help, to include, to gently instruct, maybe at first they’ll just be asking for eggs…instead of brains.



by Robbie - May 17th, 2011

Bindweed must die.

But bindweed is a great survivor.  It’s very aggressive and invasive and winds around plants, choking them to death.  It’s a garden menace.  So I must apply my best strategies, knowing what I know.

Bindweed comes up from a mother plant, the roots of which can be as deep as 30 feet down.  And the more you try to pull it out, the more shoots it sends up.  You could say it thrives on adversity, but no organism thrives on EVERY challenge.  Pulling it out is not the way to go.

So here’s my strategy:

1.  Assemble tools to create WMDs:  sturdy scissors, Exacto knife and lots of soda and water bottles I’ve gathered from everybody over several months.


2.  Create WMDs.  Using an Exacto knife, I start the cut around the bottom-most rim of the plastic bottle:

3.  Using the scissors, I cut out the bottom of the bottle around a neat rim:

4.  Then I’ve got 2 weapons:  the bottle top, and the bottom, which can be used like a little dish to put a molasses/water mix in to lure grasshoppers to central locations for extermination (grasshoppers ate ALL my fall crops last year.  If I’d had chickens by then it would have been fine, but I didn’t.  THIS year it’s ON with the grasshoppers)

5.  Find some bindweed.  I wish it were harder to do:

6.  Scrunch the bindweed together in your hand for easy and comprehensive capture:

7.  Take that bottle top and screw it down into the dirt around the bindweed, nice and deep. 

The flared edges of the bottle help keep it in the dirt.

8.  Do this to EVERY bit of bindweed you’ve got a bottle for:

See how the bottles are steaming up already?  This method cooks the plants, and the signal goes back down the root to the mother plant, warning that this is hostile territory.

OK, I made that up.  I have that kind of dork imagination.  I’ve seen Alien too many times.

And, yeah, it looks a little trashy.

But it re-purposes bottles, it destroys an invasive plant without any chemicals and I HOPE it’s effective.  It’s a little tedious and takes time.  But bindweed must DIE.


Bet Hedgin’

by Robbie - May 11th, 2011

My potatoes might be just fine.
Mom sent me potato bags.  They’re the size of 5-gallon buckets, made of some kind of newfangled polymer.  You fill them with dirt and stick your potato starts in.
Due to our location in a desiccating wind tunnel I mulch compulsively, which might seem counter-productive because I have to replace mulch regularly-it blows away.  But it’s crucial to keep as much moisture in the ground as possible, and covered ground helps to deter weeds and pests.  Anyway, I also mulched the potatoes INSIDE the bags with a couple inches of straw.
And this morning it’s snowing a fine, tiny-bead kind of snow.  Here’s hopin’ my potatoes aren’t dead.  I know that my greens and peas are loving this.
Poor little Plum Bunny is used to being in her outdoor pen romping on grass by now.  She actually came to the front of her cage this morning to greet me instead of hiding, asking with her little rabbit nose, “Wazzup?” but I’m keeping her out of the snow.  She’s still a baby.  She might be fine, but I’m not chancing it.
On the micro-homestead, every day has a few gambles in it.

Little-Bitty…and Optimal

by Robbie - May 10th, 2011

In our present culture the idea of doing something smaller, so as to do it better, is an alien idea.
Everybody wants to “go bigger”.  Bigger, or outsized from the scale of nature, is not better.  Growing acres of nothing but corn or soybeans is not better.  It’s just bigger.  You have lots more food “products” to fill junk food isles with; you do not have better food.  Making companies bigger dehumanizes the employees.  Making schools bigger has not improved the quality of education.
In 50 years in this culture I’ve observed this: increasing the scale devalues the parts.
I was raised with the idea that if you do something, you should do it with your best effort.  And my best efforts tend to be on a pretty small scale.
I started this micro-homestead with the idea of growing gradually, but also doing it with an eye for optimization.  It’s a mechanical-sounding word, a word associated with industry and corporate-speak.  But here’s what I mean by “optimal”.
Gardens should yield food, but not more than the soil can optimally provide.  Artificial fertilizers are not an optimal idea, and I won’t use them.  I’ll amend my soil with organic material, which this year I purchased.  Next year I’ll have my own compost and I won’t buy any amendments.  In fact, by October my compost heaps should be providing me with a lovely amount of fertilizer, and I’ll grow cover crops through the winter to add tilth and nutrients to my soil as well.
I used more heirloom seeds this year for optimal taste and sustainability.  Saving seeds is a way to save money and to do your own “genetic engineering” by selecting the best plant of that year and saving those seeds, year after year.  Over time you get plants that do better and better in our harsh climate.
Livestock should have optimal lives, and by this I mean all my animals must be healthy and happy.  Happy matters.  I built two roosts and two dust bath areas for my six chickens, and when I give them fresh greens every day (of a different kind every day for variety of taste and nutrients) I scatter them widely in the coop, which cuts down the need for competition. There are so many goodies to go around that there’s no point in fighting over them.  I think this is optimal.  In nature, competition is a lose/lose proposition-even the winner of a competition loses because that organism has to use valuable energy in the contest, energy it needs for survival, and ultimately, thriving.  So even the “winner” in a natural competition loses.  In nature when two organisms combine forces for mutual benefit, both organisms benefit from the relationship.

The win/win is optimal.  It’s what I go for.  I suck at math, but the win/win looks like great math to me.  So I strive to create those conditions in my chicken coop and run, in the garden with companion planting, in my herd and in my house.
I will only have four Angora rabbits in my herd at most, but each rabbit will have optimal attention, get regular grooming and the best feed and hay available, plus safe space to run on the grass and toys to play with.  Yes, even rabbits play, and it’s tremendously good for them to have time in the grass and to have new and interesting toys around on a regular basis.  They live in an outside hutch, too.  If you want optimal luxury Angora fiber, you need to pamper your bunnies and you need to keep them outdoors.  This calls for optimal security and care when setting up their dwellings.
I want my cat to be the best mouser he can be, so I make the time to play with him for at least 15 minutes twice a day.  It’s challenging to keep coming up with new things to stimulate him, but that’s crucial to keeping him in  “mousing shape”.  He also gets as much affection as he’ll tolerate, and near-total run of the house.  It’s His kingdom, so they’ll be His mice.  And I would never withhold food from a cat as a manipulation tactic.  It doesn’t make them better mousers.  It just weakens them.  Not optimal at all.
Dogs need to be walked, to be played with, to be loved on, and to have a solid routine.  They like stability, but they also need to be challenged regularly with new toys or games, new places to walk, etc.
So, to do all these things optimally I need to keep the scale pretty small.  One dog, one cat, four rabbits, six chickens, and a few hunks of soil to keep fertile.  That’s actually a lot.  It’s plenty, if you do it right.  If you want optimal return.
So for me, it’s optimal to be little-bitty.

Hard Things

by Robbie - May 6th, 2011

Nature is sometimes gentle, sometimes hard, and wields both forces in infinite wisdom.  Students and stewards of Nature seek to emulate Her, but we have limited wisdom.  We make mistakes.  Sometimes this hurts.

This morning wasn’t hard.  Just a reminder how hard it can be.

Hardening off seedlings is a process of gradually acclimating them to things like temperature flips and desiccating winds.  My tomato seedlings are ready to be potted up.  Actually, they’d rather go in the ground.  Now-ish.  I have to throw the bones and take my risk on frost dates.  I’m chicken to kill my carefully nurtured heirloom tomato seedlings, but I also need to plant them soon enough to get a good yield.

My new Angora rabbit, Plum, was nervous the first day I brought her home.  There were a lot of temperature fluctuations that night, too.  I kept her cage clean, free of drafts, and made sure she had a straw tunnel to hide in.  Prey animals can die of stress, so they need places to hide.  Yesterday, her second day here, I noticed there had been clear discharge around her eyes.  The breeder’s voice mailbox was full, so I prevailed upon Bob’s first Mommy, who’s a vet tech.  She told me Plum likely has Pasteurella, because most rabbits test positive for it and can live comfortable lives with it if their immune systems are strong.  Plum probably was exhibiting signs of it because of dust particulates and the stress of moving.  So I’m heading to the drug store for neomycin.

Before I called my vet tech friend, this morning Plum had been rambunctious in her baby cage, so I thought some time on green gass, protected, might give her a stretch, but when I put her in her playpen she just stayed frozen, so I took her back to her cage.

She’s sitting on the towel I set her on, as a transitional texture.  She’s only ever been in a cage and never on grass as far as I know, but she had been on the towel when I pet her.  Made no difference.  She just froze.  That’s wicked stress.  I sweet-talked her as I took her back to her cage, but she’s withdrawn again now.  I look for and encourage animals to be curious, sassy and playful.  That’s thriving.  Plum isn’t thriving yet.  But I’ve got my eyes on that prize.

I’ve talked to farmers who’ve said, basically, “Farming is the fight to keep things alive,”.  Sometimes it is, and I’ve lost lost before.  But I’d much rather fight to protect living things than fight to contain corporate panic attacks.

I’ll always prefer to serve Nature than man.

Hip & Yucky talk Spring Cleaning

by admin - May 5th, 2011

Hip & Yucky

Hip & Yucky talk spring cleaning…

MP3   H E R E

New video @ Denver Green Streets TV

by admin - May 5th, 2011

Robbie interviews Glenn Wilson from EcoTech Institute about educational opportunities in the green and clean energy fields, and Betty Heid from  Green Job Outsourcing Brokers regarding Denver Green Jobs.

Go here to see them, and to catch up on all of her Denver Green Streets TV interviews.


I Officially Don’t Know Poo

by Robbie - May 4th, 2011

Despite all my fancy and expensive classes, I still have no idea how to compost animal poo. It’s not easy information to dig up.

But it is that time of year to clean out the chicken run. THAT I know how to dig up. I’m taking a wild guess and reducing my risk by containing it.

I already screwed up my compost piles, so I needed to re-dig them anyway. Here’s what I did today.

First, I’d need to tear down my existing piles.

That means digging it all out.  Took about a half hour.  Nice workout!

I then dug out the chicken run waste from the winter that was curing on the ground, and layered it into the pile as I turned it over and re-assembled it…

There were about 12 buckets, give or take.

I watered each layer and then covered with black plastic.  Should be a real compost pile now, or closer to it…

And the chickens, their feet no longer in danger of freezing on bare ground, LOVE fresh dirt.  In fact, i also needed to build dust baths today.  Poopie eggs and the need to clean poopie chicken butts came from them not being able to get themselves clean.  Stewie likes the dust bath to the East of the run…

And the other Ladies check out the dust-bath-in-progress to the North…

But I need one more ingredient.  The formula is 1/3 soil, 1/3 sand, 1/3 diatomaceous earth.  I just bought a bucket of it…

But I’m not strong enough to rip the tab to open it.  I start going at it with pruners until my wrist is over it.  Crap.

I’ll start up again tomorrow.  There’s always a challenge on The Ranch.  This is very minor.

My Interview With Ana Johansen…

by Robbie - May 2nd, 2011

…in the latest issue of Denver Green Streets Magazine.


Earth Day in Denver

by admin - April 22nd, 2011

Join Robbie and the folks from Denver Green Streets at the Denver Earth Day celebration in Civic Center Park from 10:00am ~ 2:00pm today.

It will be a little breezy but it’s a great spring day in Denver.

And…it’s F R E E ! ! !


All the info over at Denver Green Streets.