Wednesday, September 23rd

Advice for Building Sustainable Living Spaces

Great advice from Whole Systems Design‘s Facebook page for those looking at building sustainable living spaces. Image is of their permaculture farm in Vermont.


Some repetitious patterns that have emerged on recent site consults… Sharing in the hopes that others can learn from it. I’ve been seeing these patterns for years but they’ve been especially acute in almost all of the past couple dozen consults:

  • Start small: find the area with the most solar access near your house (south of house usually) and build raised beds there. Then move on to bigger things. Utilize your Zone 1 first. What values are you getting from the sunniest outdoor space closest to your kitchen door? It should be the most useful space in your landscape.
  • Don’t take on too much: do what you do well, then expand as things are managed well. At the same time, try stuff—don’t be paralyzed by analysis.
  • Don’t get spread out!: Most folks tend to place elements too far apart to be most useful: barns need to be very close to homes, gardens close to homes. Cluster. Take a huge cue from vernacular design in both site planning and building systems. Walking around on site will add up to years of time if you’re not careful.
  • Nuts to the north—berries to the south: from north to south is tallest to lowest growing plants for maximum energy capture. Apply this pattern universally (reverse south of the equator or if you WANT shade).
  • Honor thy zones: From your kitchen door working outward: intensive veggies/greenhouse space, most intensive perennials, less intensive perennials, grazing, forestry. Greenhouses are super intensive—should be within 20 steps of the kitchen and against a building, but not up against an insulated building in cold humid climates ideally, shed and barn are ideal.
  • Ensure that maintenance can keep up with implementation. Implementation often means mulching/deer protection, watering, etc. And that is dependent highly upon ACCESS and your TIME. Planning, establishing and maintaining your access is primary, if you can’t access it you can’t maintain it. Even perennial plantings require maintenance, except for the unusual plant like black locust and willow, most plants in most places are a 3-6 year commitment minimum to get above deer browse and working for you. The designer may be “the one in the recliner” but only after a decade or five. For most people in most places for most of the time the designer is the one with dirt jammed under their fingernails.
  • Manage your water early and often: map its flows and THEN place buildings, roads, gardens, etc.
  • Seed early and often: find your bare soil, seed it, keep it covered. Look for moving water in storms, check dam it, seed it, slow it. Divert to low angle slopes.
  • Use what you have: it’s common for infrastructure and space to be underutilized, rarer that it’s maxed out. Do you really need a new building? Chances are your existing space is not used fully. Consider that before building more. Zone 1 is never full.
  • Building issues: are lower areas of the structure getting wet from splash back, snow drifting or surface flow? In cold humid climates buildings rot from the ground up most often. And the structure earth connections are rife with mistakes, take extreme care in these areas.
  • Do site planning before you build!
  • Do goals planning and understand site processes and features before you choose a site. More than one third of the visits I do are on sites not well suited to client goals. You can’t fix that later on.

Monday, August 31st

homemade soap mold, and alchemy


Artwork: The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse

My husband is a genius. I showed him a pic of a soap mold made from wood and asked him if he could make one like it. This is what he cranked out for me (below). Cost us a couple dollars to make—awesome. Next step is making the soap, and I haven’t said anything about my soap making adventures in this space, I don’t think but I burned a couple stumps to the ground this summer (back when they lifted the burn ban) and with the wood ash will practice some alchemy—turn the wood ash into potassium hydroxide, or lye. I also rendered beef fat into tallow (far below) which I will use for both soap making and cooking. I’ll post more about my newly acquired magical skills later.





Homemade wood soap mold


Tallow made from rendering beef fat

Monday, July 6th

Clippings from the garden













Monday, June 15th

Fig Jam and Brie on Slices of Apple

Sometimes when my husband and I go out for dinner and we enjoyed the meal I will try to remember what the ingredients were and then make it at home. This is a version of Bruchetta with Fig, Brie and Julienne Apple, without the bruchetta. There is also Gorgonzola, Walnuts, Asian Pear, Local Honey that is good too. Tasty blend of flavors and oh so quick to make.


Friday, May 29th


I’ve been trying to upload videos onto my blog without having to upload them onto youtube first but obviously I couldn’t figure it out. Not to worry, youtube it is. But here she is, the little (red) lady at work. She sounds very noisy in the video but in real life the noise isn’t too awful.

Thursday, April 9th

Spring is here












Tuesday, April 7th

Banana Cake


No it’s not salted caramel ice cream. It’s banana cake batter. I keep a bowl of it in the fridge—enough to make three small loaves—for the times we get hungry for dessert fresh from the oven. If I have granny smith apples or carrot, or both, I will juice them and use the pulp to make into cake. The banana cake recipe is from the Edmunds Cookery book, a cook book I inherited from my mother so although the book is tattered and falling apart I keep it because it has her handprint on all its pages and bless myself and her when the recipes turn out the way they look in the book. The description on wiki says that the cookbook is the “quintessential guide to traditional New Zealand cuisine” and that it was first published in 1908 as a marketing tool by the manufacturer for baking powder, which is funny because it’s the one ingredient in the recipe that I don’t use.



We like to eat it dusted with powdered sugar or drizzled with chocolate icing, or both. The chocolate icing is made from powdered sugar, cocoa and hot water. Super easy. Usually I wait until the cake has cooled down some but the light was fading (the ISO setting on my camera was on very high) so the icing is not as thick as it usually is but you get the picture.





Wednesday, April 1st

High Extraction Flour


Yes, I’ve been busy grinding wheat and experimenting with the different levels on the grainmill as well as experimenting with my culture and dough which the change in season and temperatures has been affecting. These are images from this morning of the results of extraction.

Thursday, February 26th

Lady in Red


She has finally arrived. I’ve named her lady in red and she’s beautiful. A grainmaker grain mill and I can’t wait to put the little lady to work.





Sunday, February 1st

In which the pizza blows up

A couple months ago I made some bread dough that developed into an idea to turn some of it into pizza and storing it in the freezer for future use. I flattened the dough and placed it into the oven to semi-cook the base. When I opened the oven however I was faced with a bloated puff ball instead of the expected semi-cooked flat bread. Weighing the options before me, I decided to cut into the bread and the next thing I knew, I had a couple of pocket bread. A lesson that maybe some outcomes, seen as a case of bad luck, can be an outlet for learning something new.


I wrote a post yesterday about my period and how I was going to go on the pill to regulate the bleeding. I’ve changed my mind. I have no idea why I have menorrhagia or von Willabrand disease or all these things I get diagnosed with but maybe it’s nature’s way of telling me something about my body. If I didn’t have my period, how would my body tell me if something was wrong. So I’m going to accept what I have and that for the days I need to stay near my room, I will imagine that I am in my moon lodge until I figure out where to go from here.

Artwork: Ophelia by John William Waterhouse.