Posts Tagged ‘community’

Urban Homestead Tour: The Redux

grass, urban homestead 207

So . . . my covering of the tour got a little wordy. Sorry about that. For those of you that got glassy-eyed at around word 600, I wanted to pull out the main points that I got from the tour. It’ll help me sort through it all, too.

What did I learn on the Urban Homestead Tour? In no particular order:

  • Anyone can do it. Even if you don’t have access to so much as a porch for container gardening, you can still can, freeze, or sew. Heck, knitting takes up practically no space at all.
  • It’s ok to start small. Most of them seemed to start with gardening, but you could even start smaller by buying produce at farmers markets to can or freeze.
  • Chickens are the gateway drug. Some people stop there, but for others it just opens up a whole new world.
  • Eggs, honey, and veggies can be sold by anyone as they are whole foods. (Milk is not.) You just aren’t allowed to put up a sign advertising that you sell them.
  • Be prepared to meet your neighbors. You may also need to bribe them.
  • An urban homestead shouldn’t stink. If it does, you’re doing something wrong.
  • Get used to that non-city smell.
  • Be creative. Raising meat rabbits? You can sell rabbits, pelts, and manure, not just meat. (Also not a whole food, so look at the rules governing selling meat.)
  • It’s not about going back in time, it’s about bringing that knowledge forward.
  • It’s about being resilient. You’re reducing the impact a disaster will have on yourself and your loved ones.
  • Be very, very, very wary of buying second-hand housing for your stock, whether it’s chickens, rabbits, bees, or goats. Disease can get imbedded in the wood and wipe out your new stock.
  • Think outside the box. What do you have that can be repurposed? What can you find for cheap or free to make into what you need?
  • Also know when you really do need to pay for quality. Buying any old thing for breeding stock isn’t usually a good idea.
  • Craigslist is your friend. So is Freecycle.
  • Make horse friends. Why buy manure when you’ll get thanked for hauling it away for free?
  • Read, learn, and take classes, but don’t procrastinate through your research. Sometimes you just need to make mistakes.
  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Learn the local building codes, rules for selling food and other items, and rules for keeping animals.
  • Learn which rules are enforced and the penalties for any rules you choose to flout.
  • Learn to talk to your local leaders to change the rules you don’t agree with.
  • Meet locals that are doing what you want to do. They may already know most of the above.
  • One you’ve acquired a skill set- how can you pass it on to others?

Urban Homestead Tour: Day 2: Part 2

How pretty is this coop? Starting with something simple is good- but this is something to aspire to.

How pretty is this coop? Starting with something simple is good- but this is something to aspire to.

Sorry for the delay. Jury duty, you know. It’s a rather fascinating process, actually, but I think I’m glad I wasn’t picked for that particular case.

Stop three on day two was cob building with Niko and Brandi Woolf (ooh- another blog!). Sadly, I missed a fair amount of this lecture because their backyard is set up to maximize its use rather than to fit the maximum number of people. It was a very popular lecture. Quite possibly because it was how to build weather-tight buildings and ovens using cheap to free materials.

The word “cob” comes from the Old English word for lump. To make the material, you mix one part clay with one part manure (he uses horse for his buildings), and after it has sat for a week or so and the enzymes have worked, you pull cobs, or lumps out of the water. That is then mixed with one part sand. The finer the sand that you use, the finer the finish on the wall. Your insulation is generally perlite or straw.

That's one happy chicken. You know, if we would close the coop and leave her in peace.

That’s one happy chicken. You know, if we would close the coop and leave her in peace.

The first building we saw was the chicken coop. The thick walls keep it cooler in the summer. The large overhang helps with that, and it helps with protecting the walls from the rain. In the winter, it works the opposite way. He closes off some of the ventilation to stop drafts and the hens are perfectly comfortable without any extra heat. They did buy a couple of 2x4s for the basic structure, but other than that, it was all free and reclaimed materials.

Feed me!

Feed me!

The second was the oven. I think one of my favorite parts about cob building is that it fits an imagination much better than your standard building materials.

When you are building, you want to try and build daily. It takes a while, but you don’t want your cob to get too dry before you apply the next layer. You also don’t want it to dry too quickly, as that can result in cracks. A couple tips he provided were to keep the work in progress covered and to leave holes in the top of today’s work, so that tomorrow’s work can fit into it like a puzzle.

The eastern side of the greenhouse.

The eastern side of the greenhouse.

Speaking of taking a while, his greenhouse took about two years. It’s an earthship with the open end facing due south. That means that it takes full advantage of the winter sun, but as the sun moves higher for the summer, it’s somewhat protected. Unlike the coop and the stove, this one could potentially run into building code violations. As an unheated, nonresidential building, if it’s short enough and has a small enough floor-space, it shouldn’t need a permit- but check your codes! You don’t want to spend two years building something just to have an annoyed neighbor rat you out. (It seems like any trouble from homesteading tends to come from a cranky neighbor. Consider bribing them with veggies, eggs, milk, or honey. It will also help you meet your neighbors.)

You can even plaster with  colors.

You can even plaster with colors.

The very outer layer should start about 18″ off the ground, and should be protected under a sturdy roof. However, it is the sacrificial layer, so it should get replaced every one to three years depending on the wear. The upside to this is that you get to re-explore your artistic side each time.

The very last one was talking about building chicken coops with Lindsey and Herbert Aparicio- The Goat Cheese Lady and her husband. We also met their guard dog- an Anatolian cross. Apparently they are fantastic guards from predators. Unless the predators are humans. Then they just want to be petted.

I think he would have climbed in someone's lap given half a chance. Such a sweetie.

I think he would have climbed in someone’s lap given half a chance. Such a sweetie.

Speaking of dogs- of all the predators we have around here, dogs are the worst. We did hear on the tour one story of someone who had a chicken-eating dog that stopped when the older dog, the bad influence, passed away. However, in most cases, once a dog realizes chickens are mobile food, you probably can’t let them mingle. The other side of the coin is that if you can convince your dog that your chickens and other critters are, in fact, part of the family, they can be the biggest part of your protection for your farm animals. This is usually done by raising the dog from a puppy with the animals. However, whether your dog can mingle with the critters or needs to be on the outside of the fence, it can be very helpful. Cats are also a problem while the chickens are smaller than cat-sized. Again, they are useful for rodent control, but keep an eye on them.

Make it dual-purpose whenever possible- a way to deal with mud and a way to rebuff predators.

Make it dual-purpose whenever possible- a way to deal with mud and a way to rebuff predators.

As far as inanimate protection goes- remember that your fence is only as good as your gate. Don’t forget to close them. A rule of thumb for visiting big farms is to leave the gate as you found it, whether it’s open or closed. I expect the same applies to little urban farms. (Although if I run into an open gate, I do usually ask if it’s supposed to be that way, just to be on the safe side.) Lots of predators will try and dig under your fencing, but if they run into barriers right at the fence line, they generally won’t think to move out a few feet and dig a longer tunnel. To achieve that, you can place concrete slab or very large rocks on the surface at the base of the fence. You can also dig your chain-link into the ground. If you go straight down, you need to go down about two feet. If you flair it out, you don’t need to dig it in as deep.

Clearly reclaimed materials- and a very cool result.

Clearly reclaimed materials- and a very cool result.

When it comes to your runs and chicken housing, beauty needs to come second to function. We saw some gorgeous coops on the tour, but none of them sacrificed the necessary bits for the pretty bits. Whether you’re building a mobile coop or a stationary one, also bear in mind that heavier really is better. If you can pick it up easily, so can a curious dog, or child, or a gust of the wind we have around here. He prefers to build with 3/4″ plywood whenever possible for that extra weight and sturdiness. Think about your materials, too. Plastic and PVC can be chewed through. good, old-fashioned metal chicken wire and chain link is pretty impervious to that. You will also want to consider building your coop a couple of feet off the ground. This will give the chickens shelter from sun or unexpected rain without requiring them to go back in the coop itself.

I love the edging on the raised beds. They have pipes under them for hot air in the winter to be able to grow more crops out of season.

I love the edging on the raised beds. They have pipes under them for hot air in the winter to be able to grow more crops out of season.

Using chicken wire, 3/4″ plywood, and concrete slabs doesn’t mean you have to buy them new, though. He is also all for salvaging materials for building. He also did a fair amount of building using the rough outer edges of trees from a local sawmill. It gave everything a more artistically rustic look and I have no doubt it was cheap to free, since those pieces couldn’t be cut into “standard-sized” boards. They also use their neighbor’s leaves for bedding through the winter. It seems to be a popular use for something that really shouldn’t be going to the landfill.

Hello, Ma'am.

Hello, Ma’am.

For your chickens- you can’t go wrong with Rhode Island Reds. They’re sturdy and pretty steady producers. Another good one is the White Leghorn. Apparently Leghorns in general are smaller, so they eat less, but they’re steady producers. The White Leghorn might not be pretty, but it’s very sturdy. A couple of others that might be suited to Colorado are the Star chickens and the Wyandotte. When your hens get old, bear in mind that you need to be more careful when you stick them in the crock pot, but if you do it right, the meal you end up with is often much more flavorful than the youngsters raised specifically for the pot. If you feel like keeping the elderly hens, though, he had one that at the age of 12 would still pop out an egg every so often.

It’s That Time, Again

My state is on fire again. This is a week-and-a-half earlier than the Waldo Canyon Fire last year. Why is that a problem? Because it’s only mid-June. Grass should still be growing and green, but our grass and trees are dry enough to allow for raging fires. Yesterday, three fires started. The one just north of Colorado Springs is the Black Forest Fire. Due south in Pueblo there was a small grass fire, and south-west of the Springs, in Canon City, is the Royal Gorge Fire. Today, another tiny one sprang up to the west in Florissant. The one in Pueblo and the one in Florissant seem to be under control.

The Royal Gorge Fire topped out at 3,500 acres and as of the last update is down to about 3,000 and is considered to be 20% contained. In order to call it “contained,” they need to be sure that the fireline or other border that is established won’t be broken through. That means that 20% of the outer edge of the Royal Gorge Fire has been stopped. If it so chooses, the fire can still grow in size, since 80% of the outer edge is not yet trapped behind a border. I did find it a little amusing, though, that before any sort of containment was even announced, they were already talking about setting up a meeting to discuss how to rebound from this for the tourists.

Our fire, however, simply scoffs at our puny human efforts to contain it. Apparently it went from ignition to 8,000 acres in about 10 hours, yesterday. As of the 5:00 update today, it was 11,500.

I apologize for the lines in the blues and greys in the following pictures. Compressing my camera’s pictures to a reasonable size tends to mess with the gradients.

Black Forest Fire 008

While I was driving, I saw one of the helicopters on its way back to the Air Force Academy for a refill. They opened their runway to help with all of the air support. See that green tree in the corner? The haze between me and the mountains is the smoke.

Black Forest Fire 009

I also saw a roadblock. Not that I wanted to get that close to the fire, anyway.

Black Forest Fire 026

I ended up in a field near Pine Creek High School. It had a great view, and it was at the southern edge of the voluntary evacuation area, which was the evacuation area the furthest away from the fire. I wasn’t the only one that wanted to see what was happening but didn’t want to get in the way of the people working their butts off to protect our city.

Black Forest Fire 010

Unlike Waldo Canyon, which was a fairly steady wall of fire, this one has a ragged edge that moves forward with spot fires.

Black Forest Fire 023

I’m kind of hoping it’s a back-fire, though. Otherwise, that house is screwed. The official count, as of noon today, was over 100 structures lost, with 92 of them being homes. It isn’t a complete count, though, as I talked to a man whose house is in the affected area but it was not on the list of lost structures or the list of ones that were unharmed. It will be a while before we can get a really accurate count.

Black Forest Fire 011

This one flew right overhead, since it was coming from the other end of the fire to be refilled at the Academy. We have fire-fighting aircraft and military aircraft in on the action. There are perks to being in a military town.

Black Forest Fire 021

I think this one is even from the Academy fleet.

Black Forest Fire 012

If this dark plume is one house . . .

Black Forest Fire 017

. . . then what the hell is burning here?

Black Forest Fire 013

It has been quite windy today, but because the fire is more in the plains than the mountains, it is safe enough to keep the air support flying. They were mustered a whole lot faster than last year, and thank goodness, too. The area isn’t as densely populated as the Springs, but it’s not empty, either.

Black Forest Fire 022

Bright blue skies and fires. Both products of being in such a dry area.

However, on a positive note, Care and Share received over 100,000# of donations of food and drink, today. I saw them put out a note that they needed Gatorade. It was only two or three hours later that they put out another note saying that they were now swamped in Gatorade. I live in a pretty awesome community.

Waldo Canyon Fire: Community

Friday, 4 pm.

The fire is about 45% contained, and the evacuee count is down to 3,000. One couple was killed, but my understanding is that they chose not to heed the evacuation notice. The freedom to make your own decisions unfortunately comes with the ability to make poor decisions. However, two dead and two injured out of 32,500 evacuees and 1,500 firefighters speaks to how well the people in charge were able to protect the people under their care.

Like many people, I went to church this morning. In fact, I’ve never seen that many people in my church. Our congregation, I suspect like most across Colorado Springs, had a service focused on the fire and how to deal with it now and moving forward. Our congregation was almost unscathed, I heard that only two houses owned by members were burned. I also heard that everyone who had to evacuate had somewhere to go. However, a fund was started by our district office to help people in the Springs and elsewhere in the Mountain District that are affected by the fires here and throughout the west. It was a time to share, to see our friends and neighbors. It was a time to connect.

Friday, 4:10 pm.

The outpouring of support for each other in our city is amazing. The collection plate that went around for the fund was not only full of bills, but full of significantly sized bills. I cannot speak for other congregations, but I suspect the same thing happened in the other places of worship as well. What I can say is that with 32,500 evacuees, I kept hearing from the shelters that they had lots more openings and some had to ask people to stop dropping off supplies because they had more than they could handle. Some evacuees I am sure ended up in hotels, but that still left a huge number unaccounted for. Those were the people that moved in with family and friends who opened their homes. In an emergency, you usually hear about the opposite problem, too many people and not enough supplies in the shelters. Perhaps if the fire had taken more of the city, that might have ended up being the case, but we certainly had a head start in stocking what would be needed.

One of the things mentioned in this morning’s sermon was to not mistake “being connected” for actual connection. I did have friends and family check in with phone calls and e-mails. As they are back east, that is the best way for them to check on me, and it was very appreciated that they did. However, there is something to be said for having physical people to touch and hug to know they are ok. A Facebook update that “everything’s ok” is one thing. It’s quite another to be able to look into a person’s eyes to see for yourself whether everything is, in fact, ok. I’ve talked about community before and I will talk about it again, I’m sure, because it is something that isn’t focused on. It is fantastic that people can have friends on the other side of the world, but too often they appear to me made at the expense of being friends with people on the other side of your street. A friend in Australia can give me advice and well wishes, but it’s the friend on the fire-free side of town that I would need to turn to if I were evacuated. It’s the friend who lost a house in this city that I could take in, not the one that lost a house to the flooding in Great Britain.

The Montana/Nebraska team warming up.

On a lighter note, the working cowboy rodeo was still on despite the evacuated animals taking up part of the event center. They encouraged the evacuees to come out for a night of entertainment by at the very least providing them with free food and drinks, and I believe letting them in the rodeo for free. It was, as always, a good show. Also, as I’ve come to expect, there was quite a collection of good-looking . . . critters.

I was looking at the horses . . .

Ranch Community Garden: Setting Beds

The tools of the trade. Yes, those are Tonka trucks.

The countdown is on until opening day for the Ranch Community Garden where I will be having a garden plot all of my own. The workdays are getting longer as they hustle to get everything in. Today, we finished setting the frames for the raised beds and filling them with dirt. It was a lot of beds, there are 120 in total and not quite half had been put in already, but just over a dozen people came and went throughout the day as schedules and sore muscles dictated, so the task wasn’t overwhelming.

I like the way the raised beds were handled. In a community garden like this, it is necessary to have the plots clearly delineated. The frames do that, showing clearly where each 4’x8′ plot begins and ends. However, instead of filling the frame with imported soil, we were digging the frame into the ground a little and filling it with the partially amended dirt that was already in the garden. Over the winter, the soil for the garden plot had been covered by wood mulch to start it decomposing into the soil and to protect it from

Partially done as we move down the line.

drying out excessively. What we were shoveling into the gardens was the mostly decomposed wood mulch and the soil it had been protecting. I think that amending the soil and then adding a frame to mostly just delineate the bed is a good way to go for someone who has the time for the amendments to be worked into the soil and has soil they don’t mind using. It is certainly cheaper and has a smaller carbon footprint than importing soil to fill a frame.

The garden is on the grounds of the Beth-El Mennonite Church. The founder of the garden is a member of the church, and they had land that suited his needs, so they were able to help him get the idea under way. Each time I have been out to help with the set-up, there were church members helping out, too. Most of them weren’t going to have plots, they were just volunteering in their community. I actually had a very interesting conversation this afternoon with one of the members about community and comparative religions. Being Colorado Springs, conversations about religion are bound to happen eventually. The conversation we were having, I feel, was starting to build community in the garden. When you work with people for several hours, you’re bound to talk about something. It was very interesting to have a deeper conversation than I was expecting, and it reinforced my hope that being part of the community garden will help me to build my community.

Two days worth of work. I like the subtle terraced effect the slight slope of the hill gives to the beds.

I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back there myself, but there are several more work days coming up if you happen to be in the area. There are also available beds, if you feel the need to play in the dirt with the rest of us. Once the garden is open, there will be plots set aside for a local food bank that I’m sure will be able to use the occasional afternoon of community work. In the meantime it’s back to nursing sore muscles and missing the calluses I used to have on my hands.