Mason Bee House workshop

Finally another High Plains Permaculture event! Carleen Soule has invited us to her house in Mandan Sunday, Aril 1 at 2pm, to make your own Mason Bee houses. She’ll supply the wood – bring a drill (corded or cordless) if you have one. It’s looking like the weather will be warm enough to enjoy the patio! Pictures of last year, plans for this year, and kids are all welcome.

Email me for an address if you’re not already on our mailing list.


Pedal-Powered Drum Carder



I love No Tech Magazine!

I am on a huge kick for human-powered machines – I am seriously tempted to salvage a bike frame and experiment with some of the plans for universal pedal generators. This magazine goes further in-depth than I knew existed – the hand drills are incredibly interesting – and it’s giving me tons of ideas.

Alternative Housing – Shipping Containers

Ever since I saw a Discovery Channel? program on alternative houses feature a home composed of three stacked shipping containers nestled into a 10-foot-deep lot at the base of a cliff, I have been in love with the idea of making a home out of these amazing modular components.

  • They stack!
  • They’re inherently structurally sound and you’d have to work pretty hard to ruin that,
  • they’re much cheaper than standard building methods, yet still rectangular enough to use standard-sized components for alterations,
  • they require a minimum of external maintenance, which means you need to earn a minimum of future income to pay for that,
  • one end of a container will easily fit a full size bed across, or four twin-size bunks lengthwise;
  • the walls are magnetic and thus offer crazy interesting removable cabinetry options –
  • and most importantly, the insulated ones used for refrigerated transport have the same R-value as straw bale housing. Duuuuude.

Cut in some windows for ventilation and you have an infinitely rearrangeable transportable comfortable home that doesn’t advertise itself as full of stuff worth stealing. 😉

While realistically I will probably stay in this house for a while,  that doesn’t stop me from dreaming…

While this particular design includes a lot of glass that would have to be compensated for / covered at night to slow heat loss, the basic idea is perfect. Imagine four shipping containers, in two stacks of two with open courtyard space in between – and that courtyard space enclosed and finished. Each container would include all the privacy an occupant could want – bed space, a bathroom, a kitchenette/kitchen and relaxation/sitting space – and the shared public space used for large crafts, gatherings, exercise, board games, running around in the sunlight, and st-r-e-t-c-h-ing.  Given how much I miss the college shared-house arrangement of having interesting friends easily accessible whenever you want to debate some pop-culture reference, this would be an ideal setup for an extended family or four friends to live for cheap on a bit of cultivatable land.

My friend Trampas said he would come play with me if I didn’t call it a commune, but instead an Evil Lair. Named Skullcrusher Mountain.

It’s all about the branding…

DIY Erosion Control

This summer I had an unfortunate incident with water in the basement, and the people fixing the issue recommended I focus on the drainage in the front yard. Over the years, the dirt right by the house had become packed down to level instead of sloping away, therefore giving the water more opportunity to hang around by the foundation. This is exactly what you want when trying to store water in the earth for the benefit of trees; not so much near structures.

So, in November I had a bunch of black dirt imported to regrade the drainage before the first winter snow flew – with about two days’ notice. Not enough time to get the bare dirt covered. I bought covering material, but there was no time  to apply it before this fall’s Surprise Business Trip. Hooray, muddy mess in spring!

The snow melted, and was never replaced. Hooray, second chance! You can see from the smudges of dirt on the pavement from the melting of even the tiny bit of snow we did get that the risk of erosion was real.

The original plan was to separate bales of oat straw from a local garden center into those nice little “books” they tend to split into on their own, and lay them out to cover the bare ground evenly. The compression of the straw should hold the books together long enough for snow to mat them down for the rest of the winter; I would tack down the ones on the edges with landscape fabric staples. The straw would degrade over the winter and spring, and make a nice mulch-in-place for the medicinals I plan for 2012.

As I laid out the books this fine January day of 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and reflected on the 20 mph wind already tickling the edges of the straw, I realized this was a terrible idea.  I needed something better to hold the straw down. I dashed into the garage and found a lovely roll of 7′ bird netting!! A quick roll down the center sidewalk gave me a smooth place to unfold the amount I needed, and I had just enough landscape staples to tack down the edges. Voila! A nearly-invisible retention system that increased the visual match to the rest of the winter yard. Barely ghetto at all!

The best thing was, I completed an entire project by myself without having to run to the store for ANYTHING. A distinctly rare pleasure, that I hope to see more of in 2012. After taking Sharon Astyk’s Adapting in Place course in April 2011 I’ve been thinking about what supplies I should lay in; she emphasizes how nice it is to have project materials stored ready to hand, and after this I thoroughly agree.

The best thing about the entire original situation was that I HATED the plants by the foundation! And now they’re gone! Mwahahaha!

Past Permaculture Photographs

There are lovely photographs I have not shared with you! These are all from my Permaculture Design Certificate course in Columbiaville, MI in the summer of 2009.

From PDC Aug 09

This was the first time I’d seen teasel. One of the earliest fiber prep tools – you can see the resemblance to cards for aligning fiber, or a stiff brush to raise nap. This seedhead dried to a lovely stiff tan and still resides in my craft room.

From PDC Aug 09

Detail of a bark wigwam at The Willows.

From PDC Aug 09

The inner bark of the Basswood / Linden / Lime tree makes a lovely strong cordage. This was conveniently harvested for us by car tires running over the fallen branches. At The Willows.

From PDC Aug 09

A lean-to roof in the process of being thatched. This was absolutely so much fun to do, and as I worked above my head, I ended up with plenty of scratches on my forearms to show off with the pride of a 3-year-old. At the Straw Bale Studio.

From PDC Aug 09

Someone else was interested in the lecture.

(Chicken forage planted where the chickens have access to it directly means less food you have to bring to them.)

From PDC Aug 09

Morning at the Land Stewardship Center, where we camped.

From PDC Aug 09

Some geese camped with us.

From PDC Aug 09

Does anyone know what these gorgeous 5-foot-tall flowers are?


You can identify a permaculturist’s house by the candy left on the pillow. The lovely Holly hosted me two nights during my travels.

Independence Days Challenge

I’ve wanted to internet-marry Sharon Astyk since the local Urban Harvest group read her book, Independence Days, in 2009, and I became a loyal blog reader. Here was someone who values the same things I do, who worries about taking care of her loved ones in such a way that resources are left for other people to take care of their loved ones, and who had gone past worrying to actually doing things to make the world around her better.

Around the time the book was coming out, she had started an Independence Days Challenge on her blog – following in the footsteps of Carla Emery to each day:

  • plant something
  • harvest something
  • preserve something
  • waste not
  • want not
  • eat the food
  • build community food systems

Holding the challenge on one’s blog is a lovely idea – not only formally reminding yourself of your committment, but holding yourself accountable for results in the eyes of The Intarwebs. So this year, I am formally joining. (I will probably also start tracking my progress on her Anyway Project as well, as eating mindfully is inextricably intertwined with building resilience.)

So, this last month:

Plant something: mung bean sprouts. Wayyy too early for starting things for outside. I shall also count taking advantage of the unseasonally disturbing weather to cover the emergency-drainage-fix bare dirt in the front yard with straw “books” – if we get any moisture this winter yet, this should prevent erosion AND give me a head start on mulched beds. I was going to plant herbs there anyway, but how nice not to have to remove the sod myself!

Harvest something: mung bean sprouts

Preserve something:  Becky Vs The Pressure Canner Round 2: Beef Stew: The Redux went much better than last time (although the claim that the canner can hold 19 pint jars is an utter lie. I only got 17.)

Waste Not: Veg scraps go to rabbit, and rabbit is now mostly litterbox-trained! woot! I don’t really mind having to add the paper pellets in the litterbox to absorb the urine, as it smells less than the de-facto hay absorbant from her previous arrangement, and has less seeds for the compost pile to worry about. Plus, having a lovely 5-gallon pail (with Gamma Lid) of droppings at the top of the stairs waiting to be carried to the freezing outdoor compost pile gives me a convenient spot to park the veg scraps she can’t eat. Bunneh definitely illustrates how the permaculture technique of adding new elements to a design connected with multiple other elements, makes everything function better.

Want Not: put up shelves on a long unused wall in the living room; got a drumcarder for the 7 lbs of black Corriedale in the garage that’s wanting to be blended with the grocery sacks of angora; splurged on Spoonflower prints for living room window quilts.

Eat the Food: made lots of 100% whole-wheat and flax bread dough for Christmas, and am still eating the last of the frozen flatbreads from the last batch; used 2 cups of my precious Hidatsa Shield Figure bean stash in a Jamaican Oxtail recipe (with actual grass-finished oxtail and neckbones.  The neckbones were quite meaty and amazing, actually.) Lentils in crockpot right now, with the last of a bag of onions and some disappointing sausage from the depths of the freezer. Terribly proud of myself for making last-minute veggie stirfry for two without having to go to the store.

And incidentally, started (albeit did not finish) two knitting projects from stash.

Build Community Food Systems: added eggs to my grass-finished beef herd share; for Christmas got 50 lbs each of local organic dried black beans, green peas and green lentils, and shared with friends and family; applied for the open spot on the North Dakota Community Forestry Council. I’ll be presenting two sessions at the ND State Horticultural Society Conference in Bismarck in July, and just learned this entitles me to a free vendor space. Now to plan for a High Plains Permaculture presence…