TIO&OIN – it’s not just for Navy Seals

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This expression has come to be a mantra in our family. In fact, recently one of my youngsters was snacking on some freshly made cookies and asked me for another…

“After all”, she said, “two is one and one is none!”  

Of course, she knew what we really mean when we say that, but her clever use of this common phrase gave me a smile. A real proud father moment!  She got the cookie for her efforts and – because I’m a sucker.

The real concept this term represents is about redundancy, and in my view, specifically redundant capability.

What’s the difference?

If you were to buy two cheap kitchen knives that turn out to have the same defective design flaw – congratulations – you’ll soon have two broken defective knives! You’re not in a better place for having two because of the common weakness the knives share. Had you bought two different kitchen knives, your chances of having a working kitchen knife would have been much greater.

TIO&OIN is about much more than having duplicates, it’s about having multiple means to accomplish the same thing, but in different ways and often with different resources.

On a homestead that can look like a lot of things…

  • Raising multiple kinds of animals for food.
  • Raising multiple varieties of chickens so that their strengths and weaknesses don’t result in any period of lack.
  • Raising ducks and chickens for eggs in order to get more consistent eggs supply.
  • Keeping more than one generator, and/or more than one fuel source.
  • Planting vegetables and fruits in different spots and different plantings.
  • Having a backup heat source for your home.
  • Having mozzarella and parmesan cheese 😉

The reality is… things go wrong in life. Plan on it! Tailor your life and resources to have multiple, diverse redundancies in place. This mindset, when permitted to permeate your life, adds good things to your life. Imagine adding these concepts to your finances, health, knowledge and more?

Careful though… one area this doesn’t work well is romantic relationships. In that case, the abbreviated cousin expression applies here:

“two is none”.

Raised beds with pressure treated lumber?!

Pressure Treated?!

If you’ve ever looked into raised beds, you’ve likely looked for the materials to build them out of and, if wood, probably come across mixed advice when those discussions center around using pressure-treated (PT) wood.

Out of the abundance of caution, we’ve always steered clear of pressure treated wood – that is until recently. We decided we’d do our best to safeguard against what some worry about and see how it goes. We can’t help but believe that fresh produce grown in pressure-treated beds is any worse than most of the contexts where food comes from commercially. Furthermore, gardens near populations where pollution is a problem likely pose a higher risk of causing health issues.

To be clear, we’re NOT recommending you do this. We just decided to give it a shot and describe here how we built our beds. These instructions would be just as useful for non-treated lumber – they’d just last a lot longer.

Materials:

We started with these nifty raised bed blocks from Home Depot:

Next, we purchased our pressure-treated lumber. We were aiming to make long beds that were as wide as possible but still allow adults to reach the center of the bed from the edges. We ended up making beds that were approximately 5′ x 15′ and about 16.5″ deep (three courses of lumber) followed by another 1.5″ cap layer, so 18″.

Each bed required:

  • Beds
    • (12) corner blocks
    • (2) 1/2″ by 10′ rebar cut into 4 x 36″ pieces.
      • This leaves about 18″ of support in the ground.
    • (8) pressure treated 2″ x 6″ x 16′
      • 3 for each of the long sides
      • 2 for the long sides of the top frame
    • (4) pressure treated 2″ x 6″ x 10′
      • 3 cut at about half to form the short sides
      • 1 cut at about half to form the short sides of the top frame
    • Misc scrap wood for supports and accouterments
    • Screws
    • A dozen or so standard poly feed bags (scraps from animal feed).
    • Staples
    • Wood chips
    • Soil
  • Waterers:
    • (3) 10′ lengths of 4″ solid drain pipe (with flared ends)
    • (3) 90° drain pipe or schedule 40 PVC elbows
    • (2) 4″ PVC caps
    • PVC glue (primer probably not necessary here)

Tools needed

  • Circular saw
  • Small sledgehammer
  • Digging tools for leveling
  • Cordless driver (for screws)
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Tri-square
  • Stapler
  • Tractor (filling 15′ x 5′ beds without a tractor is no fun!)

The process

We live on a mountain. Nothing is easy when you live on a mountain, except falling down the mountain or finding runoff water where it ought not be! Garden on a mountain long enough and you’re likely to have one leg grow longer than the other 😉

Our first step in building the beds was to excavate flat areas for our beds. Oh, what fun. We used a combination of a backhoe, shovels, and many curse words.

Once excavated, we placed the corner blocks, leveled and plumbed them to one another, then drove rebar into the ground through the first block of each corner, leaving ample rebar for the two additional courses. You don’t pound that all the way in until the bed is complete and ready for the top “frame”.

We then proceeded to place the lumber into the “grooves” of the blocks. They just sit in there in slots – no screws or nails. We added three “courses” to get the depth we desired. We used scrap wood to cut braces to screw vertically to the long sides to keep them tightly together (see two in the picture below).

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We used the scraps cut off of the top layer (45 degree cuts) to make side supports as seen on the end here. We fastened it all together with screws.

Now, we still have our concerns about pressure-treated lumber and want to minimize exposure as much as we can…

We have a massive amount of used feed bags so we decided to line the bed with them to keep the soil from having any direct contact with the pressure-treated wood.

Unfortunately, we got the idea for that after we put the top frame of the beds on, so we took the top frame off, stapled them to the top edge of the last course of the bed, and also to the bottom of the sides, making it nice and tight. We did it this way to keep the feed bags firmly attached and to avoid ugly fraying bag edges. Once the top frame goes on (with screws), it makes a nice clamp for the bags. The bed material holds the bags up against the wood.

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Here you can see the feed bags lining the bed. Only the brick edges have contact with the soil

Watering

We had prior experience with copious watering chores and decided to borrow some concepts from Hügelkultr for our raised beds. We did so first by adding about 1-2″ of wood chips to the bottom of the bed. This does a few things…. first, it helps to wick water up into the bed when it does rain, and then it holds it there quite well since there isn’t any easy opportunity for evaporation.

To be double sure that we would have drought-tolerant beds, we also added custom waterers made from 4″ PVC drain pipe. We drilled 1/32″ holes every few inches along each side of the pipe. If you were to look down the pipe so that the opening appeared as a circle, we drilled holes at about the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions, and about every 6 inches down the length of the pipe.

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The pipe is capped at one end and then has a small stack that extends out of the bed and is loosely capped for filling. Then the whole waterer pipe gets buried with wood chips.  We added wood chips to about the top of the pipe.

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Note: We added horizontal braces (made of cedar) to add support across the bed and prevent the sides from bowing under the weight of the soil. These also pin the waterer down firmly.

This approach results in about 6″ of woodchips in the bottom of the bed and an expedited way to get water into them. This left us with a remaining 12″ or so of planting depth.

The idea is to saturate the woodchips so that they retain moisture and cause deep rooting of plants. It is also to prevent water loss. For what it’s worth, just from our common rainfall, we did not do any watering on these beds this year and had pretty nice results. We used these waterers in other beds with the same result – NO watering.

Most people water the surface of their garden beds, which requires a substantial volume to soak the root zone of the plants. It’s a waste of water and time in our experience. It also discourages deep rooting. This approach soaks all the rainfall UP into the bed as well as down from the surface and saturates the wood chips. From there it maintains an even moisture level that is almost impervious to evaporation through heat and wind. It is a huge time saver even without the watering pipes. We just used those so that if ever there is a long drought, we can maximize our watering efforts.

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Finally, we add a mix of mushroom soil, topsoil, and rabbit manure to the beds, followed by another thin layer of wood chips (to prevent evaporation and for mulch). All that was left was to plant them.

Note: We’ve had plenty of armchair gardeners critique using woodchips like this, but we can’t argue with our success. Forests don’t demand only composted leaf litter and debris take residence on the forest floor so demanding only heavily composted wood chips in garden beds is erroneous. We aren’t using as a soil amendment but as a soil cover. Even a cover of newspapers would be better than nothing! I’d rather have a cover of plastic than no cover. There is a word for uncovered landscapes – “desert”.

Lastly, we stained the outside exposed wood using Cabot Australian Timber Oil (“Carribean Walnut”). We love that stuff!

Summary

If we die of cancer, you the reader can point to this post and proclaim where we went wrong. If we don’t, we can at least enjoy these beds for a a decade or more and the fruits that we grow in them.

Please feel free to ask questions or share your experiences with pressure treated garden beds in the comments below.

Reconsider your food budget

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We don’t budget for food. Gasp!

We are of the belief that “we are (quite literally), what we eat”. Why then would we want to be frugal or even worse – stingy – with what we place into our bodies?

We are all about wisely using the resources we have available to us. However, we often scratch our heads at the concept of trying to feed a family for as little as possible. That can be somewhat self-defeating. Americans have one of the lowest ratios of food cost to income in the entire world. We spend less on food that nearly every other country on planet earth! Yet, we still often want to spend even less!

Consider this… if someone can go through all the trouble to feed you and make a profit and you only spend $.99, how good can the quality be? What value can a “value meal” have in such a case? The only “value” is to the producer. The consumer may feel full but is not consuming quality.

We raise (among other things) pigs. We feed them non-GMO feed produced by a local small producer.They can’t produce feed for the cost of feed from the local mills typically. Because it costs us more, we couldn’t sell a pig for what others who feed less-premium feeds could. We simply couldn’t sell a pig fed on premium quality feed and beat $.99/lb prices found in the grocery store. Fortunately, we don’t aim to!

So as both producers (for ourselves) and consumers, we want the best quality foods possible. If those cannot be obtained inexpensively, we will spend more for food before we will eat lesser-quality food.

We once heard it said “You make your healthcare decisions at the grocery store. You make your sick care decisions at the doctor’s office.” We couldn’t agree more. We live in a culture that is conservative on food spending but liberal with “health” spending.  We’ll think nothing of spending $500-$1000 per month on health “insurance” but half that or less to feed our family. Folks, good food nourishes far beyond the best medicines.

Food and nutrition should be a high priority in the budget – perhaps the highest. For some, all that is needed is a shift – spend less on sick care and more on quality nutrition. Raise your insurance deductible and use the extra funds on a bigger grocery budget. When we did so, we found our doctors visits dramatically declined.

We get it – some folks have little to no choice with their budgets. Nevertheless, most of us, with a change in our thinking, can find resources for the things we value. Place yourself and your family at the top of your list, not your insurance company or Physician.

 

Don’t forget beauty on your homestead

One thing that has often bugged us with many homesteading approaches is what we would call a hyper-practical approach that many employ. We sometimes refer to this as ‘pallet homesteading’ because of the widespread practice among this crowd of fashioning damn-near everything out of pallets. Pallet buildings, fencing, furniture, etc. Now before you flame us as being anti-pallet, realize that we DO use them!

Here is a pallet chicken coop (before we finished it) on our own property…

 

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Our pallet chicken coop

 

Like many homesteaders, we enjoy resourcefulness, upcycling, etc. – however… we’re not into a homestead that looks straight out of the Great Depression, especially so we can feel like some sort of hero for having saved $10. If we were living during such a time, and that is the best we could do, fine, but for the moment, thankfully we aren’t. Look for a separate post or two from us regarding our thoughts on hyper-frugality.

One of our favorite authors, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms writes that farming and the production of food should be aesthetic pleasing, aromatic, sensual and even romantic pleasure. We would agree! We would summarize all those things as “beauty” and where possible aim to make our homestead as beautiful as possible. To some this is vain, for us, it’s about joy. We are here all the time and want to enjoy where we live. Investing in your home and property – even in what feels superficial, can be a very good and noble thing to do.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so for some, that may result in pallet homesteading, old tires for garden beds, and the like. If that’s your thing, go for it. Our point isn’t to discourage frugality or resourcefulness. Rather, our encouragement is: don’t forget beauty in the process of homesteading.

Hopefully, you’re going to be homesteading for a long time and live where you live for a long time. Someone will inherit your space after you. Don’t be stingy, invest in the beautiful on your homestead, even if it doesn’t directly result in food in the pantry or freezer. For many, this will be hard and may require revolutionizing your worldview, especially if you gravitate towards being stingy. In our experience, this can be harder for men than women. Men might want to give their gals a new casserole dish for a special occasion when their gal would much rather have flowers or an updated garden bed. Beauty is important!

Let us encourage you with this… beauty feeds the soul, first and foremost, the souls living on your homestead – including your own! Secondly, it will feed the souls of those who will visit your homestead. Beauty creates warm, welcoming, and hospitable places to welcome the weary, including yourself. A beautiful homestead delights your soul and brings health to your bones. It’s nice to look with pleasure on your land after a long hard day of working in the garden or orchard. Invest in it!

 

Why your family should own a quality water filter

We’ve blogged plenty of times about water and the need to have access to good, clean, quality drinking water.

Something every family in the world should consider is this… Where and how do we get access to good, clean, healthy drinking water?

Many in the world cannot answer this question because they have nothing but unhealthy, compromised water to drink. That’s why our family supports organizations like World Vision. However, even those in well-developed countries such as the United States can have compromised drinking water. Most Americans and Europeans wrongly assume that they will always have access to good, clean, healthy drinking water. So let’s ask a follow-up question to the the above question.

Is there anything that could happen that would interrupt how and/or where we secure good, clean, healthy drinking water? Or how about this… What dependencies are there for us getting this water? Is a utility company responsible. Must electricity be present? Must we be able to drive to a store to get water?

Water is essential for life. Without it, most people can survive just around 3 days or so. Yet, for something so important, we invest very little thought, time, and resources into making sure we can continue to have access to such a necessary resource!

Most of us are utterly dependent on systems and variables beyond our control for our water and many other needs. Consider this… A utility could encounter a problem and need to shut off water. The power can be turned off. The store could run out of water. Bottled water companies could shut down. Truckers could go ons strike. A water main could break. The weather could prevent you from reaching the store. The well could break.

These are not extreme, apocalyptic scenarios. These are common events. These things WILL  happen – and they do all the time. Just ask anyone who has been without power for several days due to flooding, hurricanes, etc. All the victims of these events have quickly realized how delicate access to clean water and other necessities can be. A few gallons of water squirreled away in the closet is better than nothing, but it’s not good enough!

Our family has developed our own “Preparedness Pyramid” approach for planning for unexpected things like this. This process allows us to determine how we would meet any need for our short term, intermediate, and long term needs. You can read more about our planning strategy here.

It is our belief, that every family should have a water filter on hand. Not the water pitchers with carbon filters found at Stuff Mart, but a quality product built to make undrinkable water potable.  Yes, these will cost you money. However, the costs are very small and would be of no consequence when clean water is necessary for life to continue! Is your life or the life of your loved ones not worth $50, $100, $200?

My past experience consulting with those going on extended outdoor adventures gave me the opportunity to get an education on these matters, and also learn about some great vendors and products in this arena. Further my own experience backpacking, camping, and several extended trips to third-world countries have given me practical experience in with the tools and processes for making water potable (drinkable/useable) and, unfortunately – what happens when you don’t 😦

So it was without doubt or hesitation that we recently purchased the Katadyn TRK Gravidyn Drip Water Filter. Katadyn has been a world leader in water filtration for a looong time. We’ve been following and using their filters for about 20 years. This filter is perfect for a family of group of families looking to provide emergency fresh water. If you can have only one device for making water drinkable – get this one!

We like this filter because:

  1. It can provide for a family or reasonable-size group of people (1-6 people’s full-time needs) – this could be stretched to meet the needs of more in my opinion.
  2. It can be cleaned and used over and over again for an average of 150,000 litres of water. The cleaner you can make the water going in, the longer it will last.
  3. It’s gravity-fed, meaning it’s simple, passive – requires no pumping and has no moving parts
  4. It can serve functions on picnics, camping trips, and emergencies
  5. It’s robust enough to meet your families needs for weeks to months – long enough for normal systems to come online again or more permanent alternatives to be developed.
  6. It’s a Katadyn, duh!
We’d be happy to answer any questions about sustainable, emergency water source planning you might have. Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line!

T-Minus 37 Hours

Well, if you’ve read our blog, know us, or have heard crazy rumors about us elsewhere – you already know that we’re seriously interested in living a simpler, healthier, less-complicated life. We’re also big on “community”- not in the common sense of “being involved in lots of stuff close to our home”, but in the idea of community – more specifically, living in such a way that we are interdependent on others around us who wish to do the same.

In about 37 hours we’ll be attending an auction where we’ll likely be bidding on a piece of real estate that could further our efforts and journey to live a simpler life.

We’re joined by three other families in this pursuit – “our community” of sorts. No, we’re not looking to start a commune or anything of the sort. We’re not the type to sit around the sweat lodge in our hemp shirts singing Kumbaya and howling at the moon. We just value friendships and working together. We are interested in being in closer physical proximity in order to make the process of living a simple life shared among others a bit easier. And so, we bid…

We have goals… Big goals.

We want to be out of debt… All of us.

We want to grow healthy, organic food… Lots of it.

We want to give food away… For free.

We want to bless people in our community… Anyone who needs it.

We want to restore to ourselves and our families, a sense of community.

We believe this land would allow us to do these things we’re already doing in part, but better and more effectively. There are many, many impossible challenges to getting this land but we’re going to go and bid regardless. We have no idea what will happen, but we don’t need to. Our hope isn’t pinned on getting this land and we’ll press on regardless. Nevertheless, if you’re the praying sort, we’d covet your prayers for success and the means to make this happen. Please leave a comment and let us know you’re with us.

Juice Fast – Day 8-10

Day 8!  Two more days and counting!  The biggest struggle for me (Laura) right now is that every juice tastes similar.  The vegetable (Mean Green) tastes like ginger and celery and the fruit juices taste sweet.  The fruit juice is made yummier by blending it with a banana.  So I find myself just sucking it down as fast as I can, to be rid of the taste.  We had a treat yesterday, Iced Coffee (decaf) made with Hemp Milk.  Utterly different than normal, but remarkably tasty.  We have both had some minor health changes, but nothing radical (like the folks in the movie “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead“.)

Right now I am wondering what it will be like to “eat” again.  Will my mouth feel weird?  Will my guts?  I am in utter awe that people really do this for 30-60 days!  “Good on them!” as our mate from down under would say.  We have decided that on Tuesday, we will follow a 15-day plan for eating all fruits & veggies.  These are actual meals, so we plan to feed our children in the same way.  To an extent of course.  The plan reccommends no dairy or bread, of course the baby still needs her bottles.  And since she kept handing me the veggies out of her tortellini stir-fry, today, she will probably still get her mini-sandwiches.

Andrew: We’ll see about making the baby sweet on veggies. That’s my goal at least. I started reading a book “Disease Proof your Child” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, MD. In it, he makes the case for early nutrition (or lack thereof) being the biggest contributor for predicting disease later in life. It’s really got me thinking about how we feed our children.For certain, we do feed them healthy foods, but perhaps still desperately short on fresh produce. This book explains what is needed, why supplements are not adequate and how to change. So far, good reading (though I don’t care for the occasional reference to Humans being another of the animal world).

As Laura said, we’ll be following another “Reboot” program (with some modifications) starting Tuesday. We’ll be doing this for fifteen days and hopefully will use this as a way to get our start in eating a diet of 60%+ fruits and vegetables (most Americans eat 5%). I’m excited about this. We’re not going to stop eating other things we love – just smaller quantities or less frequently. We believe the long-term health of our children and ourselves will be influenced by doing these things. More on that another time.

Juicing is getting old. Or rather, not eating is getting old. My mouth just needs to feel food in it again – plain and simple. I’m not craving much of anything, and not really anything unhealthy either. That’s one benefit of doing this – dealing with cravings and getting to their root. When I’m truly nourished, I don’t need/want the other stuff. Lots of stuff sounds good to me, but I have no plans to gorge myself on unhealthy stuff when this is done. What I do have a hankering for is beans and legumes, stuff like that. Something with some hearty flavor. It’s hard to stomach such flavors in juice – though I have tried!

In the beginning, I thought I might go 3o or more days on this. I’m not giving up, I’ve just learned more about what I need. According to the Reboot “Needs Assessment“, all I really needed was this fifteen day program – not really a juice fast. The juice fast would be better for folks with health problems or a lot of weight to lose. Since neither of this really need such, we don’t get much benefit from juice fasting. So, why continue fasting when we can get the same benefits from the fifteen day program? Nevertheless, I might do this 2-4 times a year just to center my mind and give the insides a break.

On another note… we made the best-tasting fruit juice to date. Papaya, Pineapple, Mango, Kiwi and Green Apple. Wow – it was like something I’d expect to be served in glass with an umbrella on a resort in the tropics. Totally delicious!

So today is it… the last day (shwew!). Tomorrow morning we’ll be eating solid foods once again. Should be an interesting time! We’ll do another post with some final summary thoughts once we’ve made the transition. Thanks for following along on our journey. Best wishes if you go on your own! Please drop us a note/comment if you’re on, or are planning something like this. We’d love to hear about it!