Sunday, May 18, 2014

Has it really been two months since my last post!?

     Wow, I can't believe how long it's been since I've posted!  I haven't forgotten about you, it's just been really crazy around here lately.  I think of two new articles I should write every day.  There are so many details I want to share, but just have not had time, energy, and inspiration all at once.

     Our first child is due tomorrow, and the nursery still needs trim and carpet.  The foundation work is 98% complete, but I still have some return ducts to put back in place, some siding work, finish grading the yard, and a few other odds and ends. 

     We got 8 trays of seeds started and a bit of maintenance done on the gardens, but we are resigned to hold off on experimenting and focus on just maintaining what we have and growing things we know we will eat. 

     The chicken updates I have been meaning to write for the past few months has grown into an encyclopedia, but here are some highlights. 

     Chickens got better at digging and decided they like the neighbor's garden this year so we had to increase control and build a fenced off run for them.  We let them out in the late afternoon when we can keep and eye on things.  We use the electric netting to guide them when they are out.  We also re-homed 10 out of 26 birds to cut down on work and food bill.  We added a dustbox to help the chickens maintain better health when Winter got hard.  We had great egg production all winter long with no lighting! :)

     Forest garden project is limping along.  We are off to a good start, and have added things here and there, but it is going to take time before things really shape up.  Still, it's nice to have less lawn to mow.

     Oh my asparagus!   We are getting asparagus as big as 1" around that is still delicious and tender.  Unreal.

     Like I said, there are millions of details I want to share, but trying to balance a modern life, with wisdom from the past and hope for the future has not left any time for writing or photography.  I do see getting back to blogging regularly, but it may be a while with sporadic posting in the meantime.  I would like to improve my css skills and migrate over to Wordpress eventually.  Blogger has been good to me, but the text editor leaves a lot to be desired.

That's it for now, hope you are having a great Spring.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Video about Bitcoin

Found this great video of Andreas Antonopoulos speaking at the Milwaukee Bitcoin meetup about 3 weeks ago.  There is a long intro so start at 47 minutes in.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Crypto-Who?

     Let me start by saying that I am only offering my opinions and that this post should not be taken as financial or legal advice of any kind.  But yea, I am taking a pretty big departure from my normal material here because I want to talk about my latest fascination.  Cryptocurrencies.

What's a cryptocurrency?  Like some kind of magic internet money?


       Exactly...  Magic, Internet, Money.  I know, it sounds totally crazy; and it brings up a host of security and other concerns.  But the more I have looked into this, the more I realize that something really profound is happening beneath the surface.  I think that this is going to have a huge impact on the way our society works.  Many of you have likely heard of Bitcoin, which has received quite a bit of press after rising more than 6000% in value during 2013 and creating a bunch of new millionaires.  To put this into perspective; three years ago some techie guys were able to buy a pizza for 10,000 Bitcoins.  Today 1 Bitcoin is worth around $800.  How would you like knowing that if you had ordered 1 less pizza you'd be 8 Million dollars richer?  Bitcoin was the first, is the most recognized, and widely used crypto.  There are over a hundred new currencies that have sprung up trying to capitalize on Bitcoin's success, however my interest is primarily in Ðogecoin.  Ðogecoin started as a joke currency 2 months ago and has been taking the internet by storm ever since.  Today there are something like $50,000,000 worth of Ðogecoin in circulation. 

Ok, you've got my attention, but how does this all work?


     I think that the key to understanding crypto currency is that there is no spoon.  Or in this case there is no currency.  There is no physical currency, there isn't even any computer code that represents the currency.  The only thing that actually exists is a record of transactions.  All the transactions ever made since the currency was "created".  It's a really long file called the blockchain.  Since every user has access to the blockchain, and the system is constantly verifying all the transactions, no one can insert a fake transaction or the rest of the system would reject it.  I think the easiest way to think about it is a sort of computerized version of double entry book keeping where everyone has access to the books so no one can cheat.  

     Since all the accounts are numbered, it also offers a fair degree of anonymity.  Though I have no doubt that a sophisticated hacker could interpret the blockchain and figure out who holds what account.  It would certainly take a high level of skill and resources to do so.

I thought this blog was about your garden, why are we talking about computer money?


     Yes, this is my garden blog, but it's also where I talk about permaculture.  While I am sure many would argue that since crypto currencies depend on massive amounts of computing power (and therefore electricity) both to process transactions and to encrypt the network, that it is not exactly permaculture.  True, and it certainly raises the question of how this idea can survive the inevitable increases in the cost of energy.  But I look at the ways we use power right now and shake my head in disbelief.  From Christmas lights to video games and don't even get me started about really big entertainment based energy use like NASCAR or Las Vegas. 

     Currency is important.  It is a form of communication that has a profound impact on our lives every day.  Although it is not as important as water, food, clothing, and shelter to our immediate personal survival; I do think it has that same level of importance to the health of our social systems.  And let's face it, the way we have been doing business is not working very well anymore.  It is increasingly difficult to view the status quo as an equitable tradition, and there are enormous problems looming on the horizon in every direction for our financial institutions.  

      Suddenly we have this revolutionary idea.  A way to trade with each other that is actually functioning out there in the real world on a global level.  There are even people working on ways to use this concept in even more complex arrangements such as trusts, wills, and other legal mechanisms.   To me, dealing in such important human needs clearly makes it worth considering crypto as an example of appropriate technology.  (Acceptance of appropriate tech is one of the things that separates permaculture from the crazy hippies that want you to sacrifice your quality of life and eat grass).  I believe that even if every single crypto currency that exists today fails, some form of this technology will be part of what John Michael Greer likes to call our "Eco-Technic" future.  If nothing else, it's a fascinating moment in history that is well worth learning about.  

So why Ðogecoin, instead of one of the other hundred or so other alt-currencies out there?


     I got really excited when I found out about dogecoin.  Not because I thought it would succeed, but because I thought it showed all the signs of a classic speculative bubble.  Kind of like the tulip craze in 17th century Holland or the recent housing or tech bubbles here in the US.  Sure bubbles are bad and all that, but some people also tend to make a lot of money off of them.  I figured I had found a bubble that hadn't inflated yet.  A quick way to make a buck as long as I could be smarter than your average bag holder, so why not give it a try?  I figured out how to get my hands on some (a lot harder a month ago than it is today) and started learning more and more about it.  I have become hooked on getting the latest info daily from /r/dogecoin.  And over the last month, my views on this "joke currency" have changed... A LOT!

     I recently stopped caring what the "value" of dogecoin is.  I used to check (the official developer's site) daily for the USD price, but recently that doesn't seem important anymore.  Now I am among the growing ranks of users who are dedicated to doge regardless of the value.  Even if it dropped to zero, I would continue to find value  in the extraordinary community I have become a part of.  It's kind of hard to explain, but somewhere between the amazing charity drives, and the general fun spirit of things, I developed a genuine affection for this silly little meme based coin.  I still think the value will increase, but I and a lot of others are dedicated to using it regardless of the value, which ironically is why I think it will gain value.  

     Something really unusual is also happening in the doge community.  People are consistently being nice to complete strangers over the internet.  Not even just nice, but summoning the greatest and most noble of human behavior.  Generosity is abundant.  People are excited, happy, and finding a profound joy that carries over into their real lives.  There is a buzz of fun and humor in the air that reminds me of the world famous Seattle fish market.  And there is zero tolerance from the community of any kind of trolling or cruelty... ON THE INTERNET!  If you've ever participated in any type of chat or messaging then you will be well aware that the internet does not have a reputation for bringing out the best human traits (especially on reddit), so something really special is happening here.

So I should sell everything and buy Ðogecoin?


     No!  It would be really foolish to risk anything you can't afford to lose in this venture.  No one can predict what comes next.  All it would take is some government interference or a major bug or security flaw to bring the whole party crashing down right quick.  I encourage you to check it out, to learn about it, and to have fun with it which you should not have to spend any actual money to do.  Crypto currencies are very new, and very volatile, and should be approached with patience and caution as they are very risky.  They are basically digital cash.  There is no way to reverse a transaction.  There is no customer complaint line, or anyone who can catch the hacker that just stole your coins.  While they have the advantage of much lower transaction fees than credit cards or banks, they also lack the protection that those institutions can provide.  So proceed at your own risk, and be sure to follow the security guidelines.  Backup and encrypt your wallet people!

Ok... then why are they even useful?


     Ðogecoin in particular, I think, can fill a very useful niche by allowing for low cost micro-transactions online as well as for tipping over social media.  Right now as you read this, millions of doge are being transferred over reddit, twitter, and sms text messaging.  There is talk of a facebook app that will offer similar capability.  Which is to say, when you see a comment, story, video, painting, pic, or any other thing that you want to support; you can tip them directly, with a tiny amount of real money, at no additional cost.  Amazing.

     Coming back around to the garden...  The place I have found Ðogecoin to be most useful is in exchanging seeds with other seed savers.  It's really the perfect currency for it.  No longer do we need to find an exact match for an exchange to happen.  Hopefully we can form a thriving marketplace where we exchange seeds for dogecoin, and everyone can find what they need.  I started offering seeds on /r/dogemarket for Ð1000 per pack (currently down to about $1.20 USD) and have had a great response.  I have tried to offer my seeds online before, but the transaction fees required by all the payment processors and auction sites mean that you have to do a huge volume or charge a lot to be able to cover the fees.  Not very helpful to a hobbyist exchanging such an inexpensive item.

     Ðogecoin bypasses the gatekeepers so we can trade directly with each other, and makes this type of low value, hobby based exchange possible.  It's not something you're going to get rich doing, but  it's sure nice to be able to exchange seeds with a larger network than just two people.  That is what inspired me to start a new subreddit, /r/dogeseed.  It is a place where anyone can trade open pollinated sees for Ðogecoin at no cost.  There has been a great response so far, hitting 47 subscribers in just two days.  Eventually I hope this will lead to a modern, internet based version of what the Seed Saver's Exchange has accomplished.  But even if it never gets to be anything that large, you will find some good Shibes there, so I hope that you will come over and check it out too.

Friday, January 3, 2014

And so the 2014 Garden Planning Season Begins!

     This is the time of year to reflect on the past and dream up the future.  Our future is looking a little different this year as we get ready to welcome our first child into the world this May.  On one hand that makes me think we won't have as much time and energy for the plants and animals.  On the other hand it makes me want to redouble our efforts in growing our own food and healing the land.  Anyway my new years resolution this year is to increase the percentage homegrown food in our diet so there's that.  I am quite proud of the major effort over the last few years that has taken us from 0% to somewhere less than 1% of our diet coming from our garden.  But it's not where I want to be and not what I want to provide for our children.  Still, I was looking through some pics and realized that it has been almost exactly one year since we got our first egg so that's pretty cool.  We are still averaging about 8 or so a day in this dark time of year, though the ameraucanas are barely producing at all.  The leghorns are doing the bulk of the laying with the red stars and rhode island reds not far behind.

     We made it through the flurry of holiday traditions and obligations in fine style this year, though I am still somewhat recovering from the summer of masonry.  Busy summer, and the gardens sure suffered for it.  We had many successes but things started getting out of hand after July.  More produce than I'd care to admit went unharvested or unprocessed, and the edges of the lasagna beds never got cut this year.  Not quite as many as I would have liked but I did manage to save some collection of seeds for next year.

This years list of seeds saved:

Oregon Sugar Pod Peas
Daikon Radish
Mammoth Sunflowers
Aunt Molly's Ground Cherry
Strawberry Spinach
Amish Paste Tomatoes

     One exciting development has been meeting a couple of local seed savers this year.  A man named Bob who was giving a passionate speech about the importance of protecting heirloom genetics while demonstrating an antique cornshucker at a local event known as the farm breakfast.  We had a great conversation and he gave me two handfuls; one of heirloom flint corn that he got from some Amish, and the other a colorful Indian corn.  (I hate using the word Indian in this context, the corn has nothing to do with India and it makes me feel like a stupid American who's bad a geography and ignorant to the plight of the hundreds of unique human cultures that once inhabited this land)  I brought the handfuls of seeds back in my shirt pockets and carefully packaged and labeled them when I got home. Gonna need more garden space.

     A wonderful family came to our yard sale early in the summer and started talking plants.  They ended up staying for hours while Nikki gave a tour of the gardens and talked animal husbandry and such.  Mason, a boy of impressive intelligence and enthusiasm, traded me for some black krim and golden jubilee tomato seeds that he had saved and brought in clever envelopes made from reused paper.  We are very excited to be building a network with some fellow seed savers in the area.

     All things considered, this is looking to be a daunting garden year.  There is still much to do as far as grading and repairing the front yard that was reduced to mud by heavy equipment in the process of digging out and repairing the foundation of our home.  There is still a large pile of dirt close to the house in what will eventually be our kitchen garden.  Since we leave most of the plants standing over winter to provide shelter for beneficial insects there will be quite a bit of cleanup and prep work in the back gardens and hugel mounds.  I had hoped to have an herb spiral and new lasagna beds put together in the fall, but construction delays happened instead.  Such is life.  We do have the two hugelkulture beds in place though, so that will be a good place to start planning plantings.  I will likely use the straw bale method to get the rest of that area started after it gets graded this spring since we had such good success with the zucchini last year.  Also, come spring we will have a lot of damp straw bales that are currently insulating the hoop coops.

     I've got some new ideas to test out this year.  I am trying to design a cheap, modular frame system for the garden.  I am hoping that we will be able to use them for a variety of purposes including; starting seeds outdoors, extending the seasons for veggies, protecting plants from chickens and other predators, isolating plants from cross pollination, a pen for small animals or broody hen or injured chicken, perhaps even a solid wall version for creating temporary compost bins or planting boxes for potatoes.  The frames would all be the same, but the sheathing could be swapped as needed with clear plastic, remay fabric, screen, chicken wire, wood or whatever.  We will see, I put together a prototype so far but it needs a little bit of tweaking and a whole lot of testing.  

     Currently we are battling the snow and the cold of a real Wisconsin winter after being lulled into false confidence by the last couple of light ones.  But that's life here, and if you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes.  The hens seem to be faring well so far, though we have to shovel out an area for them or they won't leave the coops.  Unfortunately 5 out of the 6 babies we hatched out this year turned out to be cockerals and they are getting big rapidly.  But it has been too cold and we have been to tired and busy so far to send them to freezer camp.  Gonna have to do it before spring gets here and they get really rambunctious.

     Meanwhile life roars by at it's usual raucous pace and employment continues to demand the best from both of us.  But the seed catalogs are starting to come in and the time is here to make lists and maps and timelines and to dream of green things and fresh tastes!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More Better Hoop Coop

     Randy, the mason who worked through the basement repair project with me, also happens to be a fellow flockster (That means chicken keeper in Harvey Ussery speak).  When he saw our hoop coops he liked the concept and decided to build one of his own.  I have to say that he made some impressive improvements to the design.  For those that missed it, pics and plans of our hoop coop can be found here.  Below is a series of pictures showing some of the finer points of Randy's coop.

     He used a slightly shorter frame giving an overhang to the structure.  It's a nice look and offers some shade and protection for the front wall though it also makes the interior slightly smaller.  On the front are two brown barn steel panels that he had laying around, complete with j channel and bottom trim pieces.  Makes for a sturdy and attractive front wall.

     On the front of the plywood person door is a guillotine style chicken door.  I can see the advantage of this type of door, as our chickens sometimes push their hinged door shut and lock themselves out of the coop.  The ones inside are not smart enough to push it back open when that happens.

     Both screen and hardware cloth cover the vents in the front.  On the roof  are a couple of small solar cells powering led lighting inside the coop.   Randy and his family really love this feature so far, the fixtures stay on low all the time to give some ambient light all night.  They can be switched to high when someone is working in the coop. 

     The Led fixture, seen above, has a photocell to turn it off in the daytime.

     One of my favorite innovations about this build is the curved 1x4 on the edge of the cattle panels.  This gives some framework to the corners and makes attaching tarps and screen much easier.  In order to flex the 1x into place, Randy first cut a bunch of shallow kerfs into one side of the bord.  Then, after thoroughly soaking the wood, slowly pushed it into place against the cattle panel and secured it with a 2x4 in the center.  Tricky stuff, but it adds a great finished look to this project.

     The frame is covered by two tarps; a large canvas one and a smaller plastic one.  The ends of the tarps are held in place by lengths of shock cord that he happened to have a spool of.  For the canvas one he threaded the cord through the grommets but the plastic tarp is folded over creating continuous pocket for the cord to run through.

     The cords are tied to an eye bolt in the base of the coop.

      The sides are secured with bungee cords. 

     Inside the coop, straw bales give some structure to the corners and support a 2x4 perch.  A row of feed bins serve as nest boxes and clear plastic panels let in some natural light across the back. 
     With so many options, truly this is a building that is unique to each builder.  Thank you Randy for allowing me to publish pics of this fine example.