Alder Burns

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since Feb 25, 2012
Homesteader, organic gardener, permaculture educator.
northern California
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Recent posts by Alder Burns

I also live in CA and have lots of oak leaves.  I also try to avoid the work involved in deliberate composting and try to minimize the amount of time I spend handling stuff like this.  And they must be taken up for fire suppression, along with the pine needles which are the other main item.  Some end up under the sheep in their night pens, but that only needs so many.  Every year I completely dig out one of my 30 foot raised beds, setting the soil off to the side.  This allows me to look at the mesh and plastic in the bottom and be sure that no rodents, tree roots, or bermuda runners have encroached, and then I begin to refill the bed, layer by layer, and add in all the leaves, as well as any other garden cleanup stuff.  I cut up cardboard and put it in there too.  When a layer of this stuff is six or eight inches deep, I pour urine on it for a couple of weeks, then add a layer of the soil back, and start again.  By spring planting time the bed is topped up to the brim and all the rakings and garden prunings and sheep manure and humanure and livestock slaughter scrap and everything else compostable is down in there.  As time goes on it all composts, down there while I'm irrigating stuff over top, and since I have three such beds it will be three years before it's dug out again, at which time all the stuff has become fluffy soil.  This process gradually increases the volume of the soil in the beds, but that is fine since I've been slowly adding more beds elsewhere!  I long ago gave up trying to mulch on the surface of the soil, like I did when I lived in the South.  The stuff never breaks down, it's a fire hazard, and it seems to make an instant habitat for large numbers of earwigs, millipedes, pillbugs, and slugs.  My conclusion is that in the dry West, mulch really belongs below the soil, not on top of it.  Compost happens by default, without direct attention.
23 hours ago
I have done it several times with a small glass still sold as laboratory equipment.  There are several websites out there giving detailed instructions on distillation...the ones I like are out of New Zealand where it is legal.  I think that glass, copper, or stainless can work...but not iron or aluminum.  One advantage of glass is that you can see and supervise what's happening in there.  The biggest issues, in my understanding, are making sure to throw out the first bit that comes off, this is high in methanol and poisonous....having an accurate thermometer helps decide the cutoff point for this, and the other danger is the extreme flammability of the distilled creates a vapor above it like gasoline.  Since you're using a flame or heat source to run the still, it's vital to direct this well off to the side, preferably behind some kind of barrier from the flame or heat.  With this in mind, I've done it on a propane camp stove many times.  It is a good way to convert "bad" wine or other homebrew, and a basic wash to make it can be made out of anything sweet.  I have thrown yeast onto dissolved candy, bananas, dried fruit, or whatever....and by the time it comes out of the still and sits on charcoal for a while it all tastes like tequila no matter the source!
1 day ago
I've been making tempeh frequently for many years (maybe around 1986!?)  I've basically followed the directions in the old "Book of Tempeh" from the '70's and pretty similar to what you do.  Usually I just trample on the soaked, briefly cooked beans in a bucket barefoot to separate the hulls and break the beans in half, and then slurry them off with repeated rinsings.  I often pre-ferment mine then, in a pot with water to cover and set somewhere warm for 24-48 hours more....sometimes I add a bit of kefir, homemade wine, or sauerkraut juice to this as s starter.  This prefermentation naturally acidifies the stuff so you don't need to add vinegar, and it can improve it's nutrition also.  Then I boil this up for 45m to an hour and proceed as you show.  For an incubator I have small brooder heater in a cardboard box with some racks rigged over it....this has the advantage of a thermostat so I can basically set it and leave it till I think to check it.  I have done pots of hot water in coolers and ovens and moving tempeh closer and further from woodstoves and things like that too.  Been getting my starter from direct from Indonesia...prices are good and several kinds available, but I also do my own starter and usually get several generations before it begins to degrade.   Lately been playing with making it out of fava beans, since these grow easier in my climate....
1 month ago
Years ago when I lived in an offgrid cabin in the backwoods of Georgia I made a shower with a 50 foot coil of black plastic irrigation hose, laid on the cabin roof under a piece of clear plastic.  A tank on a hill provided pressure to this, and to a cold water hose that ran directly to the shower head, where a simple hose "Y" enabled me to mix hot and cold as needed.  The shower itself was inside a greenhouse/shadehouse....covered with plastic in the winter and attached to the back door of the cabin which usually stood open, enabling heat from the woodstove to heat the greenhouse at night and on cloudy days.  The plastic was taken down and replaced with shade cloth for summer.  This basically enabled hot showers in the afternoon in all but the most hard freezing or cold cloudy other words all spring-summer-fall and probably half the time in the winter.  In hard freezes I would shut this all off and go to plan B...a pot of water on the wood stove!
1 month ago
If you have clear-grained logs and want the most rot-resistant parts for outdoor use, try to split off the heartwood from the sapwood.  This will be more easily done if you first split the log at least into quarters.  The heartwood is the dark red, highly aromatic center of the log, and this will last much longer in any outdoor use, including ground contact, than the whitish outer sapwood.
1 month ago
I totally agree with Trace.  On a clay soil digging a big hole and filling it up with all kinds of improved soil and loose fluffy amendments is a recipe for disaster.  When it rains heavy water will fill all the loose airspace in there and only very slowly seep away into the surrounding packed clay.  Imagine a bucket sunk into the ground with the tree in it.  A day or two and it drowns!  This has happened to me on multiple sites multiple times.  On a sandy or loamy soil it isn't an issue....dig, improve, bury what you will and the tree will thrive.  But not on clay!  On clay now I plant directly into unimproved soil, only dug out enough to accomodate the roots.  Most fruit trees actually get planted on mounds raised above grade....especially if water hangs around in puddles for a while after a good rain.   The portion of the mound above grade can consist of improved soil, but it's even better laid on top as mulch.  If you really want to bury something nasty but valuable for the trees, like humanure or slaughter waste, put it into a separate hole off to the side...the roots will grow over to it and access it eventually.
1 month ago
I'm pretty sure I've posted stuff about this somewhere else on this site, but I'll drop the idea here too.  Many people's closets, and many thrift stores, garage sales, and dumpsters have an overabundance of perfectly good T-shirts.  T shirt fabric is unique in that it often won't fray or unravel easily along a cut edge, and so this improves the possibilities for making them into other things with minimal sewing.  Whole books are written about this...called the "Generation T" series, featuring all sorts of other clothes, bags, accessories etc.  I first saw the possibility of this years ago living in communes several women would cut out a T-shirt into a halter top in a few minutes!
1 month ago
Not sure if this will work for blackflies but it might be worth a try....several places I've lived the mosquitoes were so bad that I made up a smudge pot....basically a metal can on a chain with a few holes in the sides, into which I put some dry stuff and get it burning, then follow with some slower stuff that will make a lot of smoke.  Sort of like a bee smoker (which would also serve the purpose).  I would take this everywhere I went in the garden, and swing it around me like a priest with a censer, and then set it down such that any air current would keep the smoke wafting around me! At least mosquitoes, and many other insects too, cannot stand to be around smoke!
1 month ago
In various places I've homesteaded, I've learned that another way to approach this problem is to start with the place and the land and work back to a diet from that.  Learn by research and trial and error what grows easily for you (and be sure to include what can be foraged from the wild in quantity) and then try to base your diet around those things.  When I lived in Georgia, sweet potatoes rapidly rose to the top of the contenders, plus whatever fruit and greens were available.  I even made granola out of them!  This, plus eggs and goat milk, and I was good to go.  Since coming to California, I find that the small grains like wheat and barley, and fava beans are becoming important, as well as acorns.  Mostly because all of these will produce without profligate summer irrigation which is required for most ordinary summer crops.
Even better, I've found, is to use something durable like old scraps of carpet, laid in well-overlapping layers. Put a cover mulch over it for aesthetics if desired, and leave it for a year or so.  Then move to the next zone and plant up where it was.  This is a slower process, but will give better control than a cardboard sheetmulch. In some cases it is more effective to push the vegetation down flat and mulch over it, rather than cutting it down first.  This can be done with feet, or possibly with something like a weighted barrel rolled over the top.  This is less prickly and dangerous than getting up next to things like blackberries or poison ivy in order to cut them by hand.
2 months ago