Kate McRae

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since Dec 27, 2016
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Recent posts by Kate McRae

I think hosts/employers need to be realistic about how alluring what they are offering is, as compared to what else is out there for people to learn and experience. Sites like WorkAway and HelpX often offer room and board for 5 hours/day 5 days/week in beautiful settings, where the volunteers gain experience and skills in areas that interest them. On top of that, they get a cultural exchange, as many are often from out of state or from abroad, and the host families take time to engage them in their lives and communities.

The majority of ag workers in the US are minorities and foreign nationals who come in to work in horrific conditions, oftentimes at great risk to their health and wellbeing. United Farm Workers (https://ufw.org) fight for the rights of those farm workers, who aren't paid either minimum wage or overtime, often with backbreaking, long hours in the summer, and little work in winter. Personally, that isn't a system I want to either support or emulate when I invite people to join me, and I do think that Ag workers should get minimum wage, or job training for a future they want, but I also take a lot of responsibility for helping them gain knowledge in exchange for their hours.

I do host volunteers, but it is with the understanding that aside from room and board, they are gaining skills that they are directly interested in. Before they arrive, they let me know why they want to come to my place, based on my profile and what projects I am currently working on. Also, what skills or work ethics they currently have, and what they hope to gain by being here. I take time to show them how to do things, put it in context of permaculture, ecology, policies and food forest gardening, to name a few.
Doesn't matter if it's digging ditches or roofing, it's all done for a reason of building more resilient systems, and I explain not only how to do it, but why and how it fits into the long term goals.

I've also seen and experienced hosts who make people do repetitive, menial chores day after day, not adding to their knowledge or skills, and not giving any context of why those chores must be done, basically treating them as expendable, and showing little respect for the time and effort the workers are putting in. I try to be a different kind of host, and that has given me a lot of return helpers, who not only come back themselves, but bring their partners, their parents, their friends and so on... it's important to me to build community and to help the people who pass through realize their potential and their dreams, and if there's a clear shared goal to achieve, most often the people coming to your place will put in the extra effort to help you make it come true.
However, they really do need to be gaining the skills I've offered to teach them, or I feel I would just be using them for cheap labor.

Of course, it does take time to train someone. I always have tasks to be done most anyone can do, such as mowing the lawn, raking the grass, making wood chips, crushing sea shells, picking slugs, stacking bricks, painting, sweeping the bigger buildings, carrying water and so on. I let the people who come here know what we're currently working on, what we're trying to achieve short and long term, what projects I need help with, and what they can fall back on doing whenever they're not sure what to do. That way, they own a little project, and feel they can contribute even when not doing the bigger things.
Then there are the projects I teach them to do, and this is where my preparation and planning come in - I put lots of time and effort in, and I also gain a lot from those who come to help by setting things up this way. While I do still get the occasional dud, I've become much better at nipping those in the bud through a thorough interview process, and most of our volunteers have a great time, contribute, learn, and want to come back again. And when they do, they bring the knowledge they gained, and understanding of the place with them.

To me, that is success.
2 months ago

Jules Silverlock wrote:

Samantha Lewis wrote:

Jules Silverlock wrote:Did I hear that Opalyn made a mattress at the last PTJ???  Is that going to be included?

Hello  Jules!

Yes!  Opalyn did so many things this year!  
She was just starting the mattress as I was leaving so I did not get to see it.

She made a pillow that smelled gently of organic coffee!   I would love to sleep with a pillow like that!  

She fixed a hand woven rug, and wove new rugs on a loom she made herself.

It was great to learn how easy this stuff can be.  I will try to find some pictures!    

A movie would be better...

I hope they do this kickstarter so I can share all these things!  

How lovely! A coffee pillow - I'm not sure if that would have the opposite effect on sleeping though ;) But I think it sounds delightful!

Also, the rug weaving/loom sounds amazing, that's something I'd love to learn about.  I hope this is included in the new Kickstarter movie :)

The pillow is absolutely delightful.
Take it from a deep-sleeping non coffee drinker who had the honor of being the first to use it - out like a light, every night.

The pillow is actually made with the chaff (basically, the husk), which smells decidedly different from the beans. Resting your head on it is like being embraced by every good outdoor experience you ever had, but with the luxury of comfort on top of that.
Of all the many things as Opalyn is great at creating, this one is my actual favorite.
2 months ago

Mike Haasl wrote:What are the thoughts about promoting builds that didn't get finished?  Would people expect to see a finished XYZ after hearing about it in the kickstarter, then be mad when the movie doesn't show that project getting done?  

Or might that be explained so that people know what they're getting?  Just don't want to "poison the well" for LTLM3, 4, 5, etc...

I think it needs to be made very clear to potential backers that many of these projects weren't completed,  and that some of the ones that were, took several extra weeks to do.

That way, if they are paying with the hopes of being able to copy certain projects, they'd have a heads up that they aren't completable in the amount of time initially hoped for, and that some are just plain experiments to see if previous tries by other builders are replicable and/or scaleable.

As for the ones that didn't happen, I'd feel better about having an honest understanding as to why the project didn't work, what could have been done differently, and how to set it up to work better in the future. That's the helpful type of analysis we can all benefit and learn from.
And, of course, a celebration of those that were successes, and all the fabulous people who participated in all the projects.
3 months ago
So, I just built my first solar dehydrator in August. It's loosely modeled after the ACT-one you guys built a few years ago, and now I've also made a smaller, demo-model for some classes I am teaching on the theme of building for the apocalypse. I plan on building a few more this winter, and gifting them for the holidays and such, but want to improve my design as I go.

A few questions that invariably (a)rise like hot air, is why do I have the sun trap (or heat collector) box coming in the top and the false wall outlet at the bottom, rather than the more common model of having the heat collector come in at the bottom and have the outlet at the top? The way I figure, what I'm really creating is a wind tunnel by using the zeroth law of thermodynamics (forget the abc of it, hot air follows cold is the takeaway).
With the air intake at the top, I can make a longer heat collector box, so the temperature can increase as compared to a shorter one that goes into the drying chamber, which makes for warmer air --> bigger difference in temperature --> the air moves faster through the drying chamber.

I've constricted the gap between the heat collector box and the drying chamber, so the air will move faster once it goes through the drying racks, same as wind or water speeds up through any narrow passage. The gap is as wide as the trays holding the produce, but is only about an inch tall, while the box is more than the double.

Also, hot air holds more humidity than colder air, so I assume that as the air stream loses temperature, while flowing down the chamber, water will precipitate out and theoretically pool at the bottom of the drying chamber, or if the temperature is still high enough, humidity will escape with the rest of the air through the fake wall.

Basically, what is the benefit of having the hot air intake at the top and the outlet of colder air at the bottom? It seems intuitively right, but I feel I don't have enough arguments to convince others while discussing the design choices I've made.

As I understand it, it is the wind tunnel effect, or the air streaming through the drying racks, that dehydrates the food and not a high temperature in there, which would cook the food rather than drying it.  Thus, I've made a slanted roof on top of my dehydrator to protect it from and rain, and from the sun heating up the inside of the drying chamber. Still, I notice that the produce on the top trays dries a lot faster than on the lower trays. Is this due to higher temperatures at the top, or that the air slows down as it works its way to the bottom and out through the chimney / false wall?

Lastly, someone suggested having rocks at the bottom of the dehydrator to make the bottom of the drying chamber warmer, and thus the drying more even throughout the chamber. Has anyone tried this? I've tried to make my dehydrators as light as possible, so this doesn't necessarily appeal to me, but I am willing to try it if it might improve the design and shorten drying times.

Your educated guesses or empirically formulated hypotheses are most welcome, and the sooner the better! Thanks!
1 year ago
I love this story, thanks for it!

In many aspects, I have also found solutions in the problems. A nightmare of slugs so I couldn't grow anything was remedied by using old bath tubs to grow in. Slugs and other pests couldn't get past the lip of the tubs, and I also got the added benefit of warmer soil = longer season, and easier to tend and harvest. Another was summer drought, just one intense month. I finally took the time to rig up a complex watering system, which worked out better than I would have done if I hadn't had the drought problem. A better solution all together!

One I am still struggling with is Japanese knotweed.
Not going into the problems here, as it's such a positive thread, but if any of you have found good use of knotweed or gotten rid of it in a productive way, feel fre to share. No horror stories needed, I am well aware of what it is and what it does... let's keep up the good energy!
2 years ago

Skandi Rogers wrote:My farm insurance covers both visitors and occasional helpers (not regular employees) so check policies they may cover anyway.

It would be possible to complete some badges at my place, we have 5 acres of mainly flat field but lots of smaller (and a couple of bigger trees) for felling badges bring your own bowsaw but we have a chainsaw. hugels would be possible as well and many other smaller things, as I said on the other thread that was started I'm not about to turn someone away who wants to clean my gutters :p

We can also provide accommodation in the house (with real beds and everything!) or camping space if that would be preferred.

I'm in Northern Denmark so I am not expecting a queue!

Hey Skandi Rogers, I'm just north of you, and I'd be interested in doing some badges at your place.
My goal was to be in Montana all summer this year, but well... that didn't happen! So, shoot me a message if you want some help later on in the fall. I've had a lot of experience in building, renovating, landscaping, etc., have my PDC and have had countless volunteers at my family's place in Sweden. Totally into food forests, too. I think it's fun to help out although this particular journey is primarily to start collecting badges so I can head into the BB20 and such in coming years.

3 years ago
We've got huge, rambling buildings about 130 years old. So, it's hard to keep mice out... add to that, generational living, with an aunt who believes a brown paper compost bag on the floor is "mouse proof" because the edges of it are a foot off the ground. I've showed her about ten videos of mice jumping or climbing far higher than that, but her mind is stubborn...

so, we had a lot of mice. And I have few phobias, but after having a couple much too close for comfort calls with the wee critters, I developed a raging one which makes me jump and cry as soon as I see one, dead or alive (the mice, not me. That would be weird.). So, I needed to get rid of the mice. Did the research. Put my hand over the screen whenever there was a picture of a mouse. Considered cognitive behavioral therapy to get over it. We got strong, plastic mouse traps from Switzerland, because the wire traps didn't kill the mice right away, and I hate listening to trapped opera mice sing till they die... it just seems unnecessarily cruel. Poison isn't an option, since it gets into the ecosystem and kills far more than just the mice. The traps would catch them, but if I was alone, I wouldn't have anyone to empty the traps (I promise, I am a really tough awesome person, in just about everything else than mice). Onwards.

Finally, I saw a pattern in that all the mice were coming out of a closet off a bedroom off the kitchen. Pulled out an old desk from the closet, and sure enough, right behind it were some holes they'd been coming in through. Cleared out the closet, mixed up some hempcrete (hemp shives, water and lime), and built a threshold about six inches high and three wide along the closet wall, and guess what?

We haven't seen a mouse inside since! They   h a t e     the lime in the hempcrete, and it's really tough for them to chew through, too. So, my suggestion is that if you're building something new, do it in hempcrete. I have tried steel wool around plumbing, but they just push it aside... so for me, hempcrete is the best answer, and adding it along the outside walls hasn't been a problem at all. It needs to be at least three inches thick in order to not crumble and fall down.

I am helping some friends build a chicken coop soon, and it will be made out of hempcrete. I'll let you know how it proceeds!
3 years ago
Aside from selecting your plant species wisely, I suggest looking into growing in sand or natural gravel instead of soil for the plants that wouldn't normally make it in your climate zones... first off, there's a difference between crushed gravel (done by machines) and natural gravel (done by the ice age, contains lots of microbiota which plants need to survive).

While I haven't tried it myself yet, there are three growers here in Sweden who use this system with outstanding results. One is Peter Korn, who's developed a beautiful park about a half hour east of Gothenburg, with plants from all over the world, including countries like South Africa. The plants thrive and bloom here in the cold, too, and taking a tour of the place is well worth the cost, as you learn a ton about even small shifts and differences in micro climates, for example how one species survived within two feet from a trickle in the rock, but not four feet from it.

Another is Roland, also on the west coast, and he grows cacti outdoors year round. He buys what he calls nature gravel (not the crush), and plants in that, then piles just any old gravel on top to quench weeds.

And finally, there's Sven Lindholm, who has grown all sorts of crops in sand for decades. He uses raised sand beds, and covers them with cut grass for nourishment. Never has to change the soil, keeps growing the same crops in the same place year after year, and claims it's a problem free system that works for him! I have been in touch with many who do the same at his recommendation, and they're growing roses in the north of Sweden with this technique.

While none of these ideas are citrus-specific, I thought someone might want to give them a try.
Myself, well, I love soil, but I will try some areas of the garden with sand and gravel beds for more demanding plants when I've got that far.
5 years ago
Old thread, but the story is still current (pun intended).

I didn't read through all 300 replies, so forgive me if this has already been posted.


Add water, and it's ready for the garden. Sturdy enough to sit on, too. What else... lived in a hippie commune in Colorado, and peeing outside/standing up was talked about pretty openly there.

In women, the urethra extends outside the body, not as far as a man's, of course, but actually enough for direction, if you chose to direct it manually pre-peeing.
Since you've got labia down there too, and they tend to extend earthward as you age, you want to make sure to free your urethra so you can pee forward and not aside the leg or on your shoes.
I know several women who can pee standing, though they've not to my knowledge tried it while wearing pants... seems kind of weird in a way that young boys are taught to pee outside, and young girls aren't to the same extent.
As for peeing in my garden, I have comfrey (Bocking 4 and Bocking 14: sterile sorts that won't spread by seed) growing in lots of different places. It's never far to go to use one as some makeshift tp, it's soft and kind of absorbent, and you can let it mulch down right there. Otherwise, shaking works quite well!
5 years ago
I would agree with previous posters on keeping with what you've got on site, when you fell the trees though, you can keep the stumps at varying heights for wildlife and for future diversity. Even stumps will create microclimates for other plants to flourish around. When you create your sediment traps with logs, remember you can probably use the burned wood both as posts and as filler to make stable banks on the terraces.

I make 90° terraces, or with a slight slope inwards to retain water, but certainly not 60°. Of course, I am on the coast of Sweden and we get huge amounts of rain pretty darned often, so it's quite different from Portugal.
I'd suggest visiting Tamera (in Portugal), the place Sepp Holzer helped plan, and also, read Sepp's book Desert or Paradise. It was a true eye-opener for me. Here's a video about Tamera

I think the gentleman suggesting you water the land may be quite right and has firsthand experience of it, and aside from that, I would say the main things are to start cover crops immediately, and also cover the soil with anything you have available to protect it. Whether that be wood chips, grass cuttings, branches, or whatever. And start planting bushes and trees, the more the better, just to get water retaining and soil stabilizing roots started. One of my mentors here in Sweden taught me that you want to create forest as soon as possible, so plant cheap trees to protect the land and the actual plants you want long term. Then, you can thin them and use them as mulch in a couple years, when your target plants are doing better.

Your place looks amazing, and I wish you the best of luck with it!
5 years ago