“Only when we see that we are part of the totality of the planet, not a superior part with special privileges, can we work effectively to bring about an earth restored to wholeness.” Elizabeth Watson, Quaker


the right to garden


In many parts of the country edible plants are considered “unsightly” and officials are having them removed, as in Tulsa, OK, or are bullying homeowners, as in this site below.

Our garden just happens to be in the front yard. There are no ordinances against doing so, but we have been repeatedly told to remove our garden from the front yard, told to seed and straw our front yard, threatened with fines, and harassed for the last three months without justification. When we attempted to file charges for harassment at the Ferguson Police Department, we were laughed at and told to leave. It was said by the public relations officer that “this is a civil issue, not criminal”.


via About.

Backyard progress

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It’s finally been sunny for a few days in a row, sunny enough to hang clothes on the line to dry without fear that it will take all day.20120619-172046.jpg

My aunt bought me these great wind chimes at the Garden Fair on Sunday (an early birthday present) and we hung them up so the spoonshrooms can jingle in the breeze.20120619-172059.jpg

I have two pots of kale on the deck that are getting huge! The third, below, bolted last week but I’m enjoying observing the differences because these are all the same age and in the same location.20120619-172113.jpg20120619-172127.jpg

I think this little guy is a Brussels sprout – one that I started from seed.20120619-172140.jpg

This is a tray full o’stuff I have to gift or get planted ASAP.20120619-172153.jpg

Fava bean from our visit to the Eagle River Bioshelter. There’s my little pepper plant in the background.


Lettuce mixes on the roof.20120619-172237.jpg

My lupine and weed mix, LOL. I need to do some serious weeding in the next two days to get it back under control.20120619-172300.jpg

Whoa, that’s blurry but it’s a Brussels sprout. I bought this as a start and it is SO much bigger than the ones I started myself, isn’t it?20120619-172249.jpg20120619-172312.jpgBlueberries with strawberries in the background.


The raspberries are flopping over so I need to prop them up soon.20120619-172437.jpg

The new sheet mulch bed is doing really well with the row cover. Everything is HUGE under there.20120619-172446.jpg



The compost is cookin’!


I was relieved to see potato leaves finally poking out of the bin. The one loose seed potato that I planted in row cover has huge leaves so I hope these are doing well.


I should have sheet mulched over this. I have A LOT of chickweed but there are carrots and beets in here. I plan to weed it vigorously tomorrow and then plant a few more seeds. It’s an old bed so I will add sheet mulch this fall and let it break down over the winter so it’s fresh in the spring.

Kinda sorta herb spiral


Herb spirals are a permaculture technique to grow herbs with different environmental needs (full sun, moist, dry, shade, etc.), in a minimal amount of space. You also conserve water since each watering flows from the top down to the plants at the bottom, water reaching each of them. The one I made is not nearly as cool as the one in this video or in the links below.

Welcome to Voluntary Simplicity

Herb spiral Flick photoset

I read about herb spirals in one of my books (Urban Homesteading) and decided to make one, decluttering my yard of extra plants and mulch at the same time. I’d used newspaper (to suppress weeds) and bark mulch around the two other trees in the front yard and they looked really nice and neat – it was very difficult to mow or weed whack around them. around the last tree I spread newspaper, added mulch that followed the angle of the ground around the tree already, used some river rocks to lay out a spiral pattern, added rich soil, and then chose the plants and herbs. It’s not really near the kitchen of our house but I think it will be pretty convenient and interesting looking once it all fills in. I used plants that do well in shade and mixed in leftover kale and chard starts with herb seeds that I am hoping will be decent looking within a month.20120611-134644.jpg



You can see that I adjusted the spiral once I starting adding in more rocks. I realized I wasn’t really leaving enough room for plants and the effect was leaving me a little dizzy.



This is the west side of the tree. From the top of the spiral down we have: cilantro seeds (probably not enough sun for it, honestly), lots of arugula seeds, chard, chives, kale, mint, more chives, and a Creeping Jenny.

Compost Fascination and Chicken Education

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Okay.  So I am way deep into things breaking down, must be the entropy lover in me.  The heap has been stuck at 155 Degrees for days and I am totally in awe, I saw eggshells that were actually toasted after turning the pile.  They were burned!

Chickens are doing great.  We had to put one in Chicken Time Out overnight.  I opened the coop and she had feathers dangling from her mouth.  We named her Bully, and swiftly put her into solitary confinement.  I think that you are supposed to do it for 2 days, I could only endure  one and a half.  Tree Top, Rainbow Dash, Red Riding Hood, Sadie and Lioness are all doing fabulously well.  Tree Top is fine with being picked up and carried around by Tahlia, my 5 year old.  She has a new chore, letting the chickens out in the morning….

Anchorage solar tour



Today was the 3rd Annual Anchorage Solar Tour, and I managed to attend most of the featured buildings. You can read more about the tour and the American Solar Energy Project on the website.

We began the tour in glorious sunshine in downtown Anchorage. Given our location most people have difficulty imagining successful solar projects in Anchorage but there are many stand-out examples. Our first site was a commercial office building next to the Egan Convention Center and across from JCPenney. Built in the 1960’s, the original facade was siding with a big sign about the Chamber of Commerce. The architect, Klaus Mayer, and the owner of Renewable Energy Systems were both present to explain the details, many of which went over my head. So I focused on taking pretty pictures. I did learn the panels only cover 10% of the energy usage for the building.

Solar Building – Downtown Anchorage – 441 W. 5th Avenue
Commercial office building.  The solar building features a photovoltaic solar array of 96 Trina Solar tsm180-da01 at 180 watts = 17.28 kilowatts output.  Three SMA 6000 watt inverters convert the dc power into ac and feed it into the building electrical service.  This system is now the largest net metered solar PV array in the Anchorage area, the local utility is ML&P.  Part of the south facade was used to place the panels at 90 degree tilt.  This incorporates the array into the existing building envelope with very little maintenance requirements.”




The next stop was a home about 2 miles from mine, in the Sand Lake area of Anchorage. It looks like a normal suburban house but the owners (so sweet and helpful – they had ice water with cucumber, lemon, and mint for us) designed it from the ground up. Even in the winter it can get over 100 degrees in the living room. The plants growing in the windows reminded me a little of the Earthship and I wondered if they’d tried vegetables over the winter months instead of just these lush houseplants. The window in this photo actually faces west but the length of the house is oriented south. The project cost $14,000 with a $4,000 tax credit. The Kittleson’s keep a really detailed website about the home, including energy use data.

Kittleson House 5976 Muirwood Drive Sand Lake Area Site
This cutting edge house was designed from the start with the correct roof angle and orientation for great solar gain. Here is how owners Nicholas & Joann Kittleson describe the solar performance of their 2,000 sq ft house (new in May 2011): “Amazing! Passive overheats house unless we regulate by opening windows. In winter we use HRV to keep and circulate heat. Our domestic hot water has been provided nearly completely by solar collection since early March.” Built by Levi Smith of Alaska Decks & More LLC, with solar energy consulting by YourCleanEnergy LLC. The passive solar performance is enhanced by a large area of south facing Shiloh windows, moderate east and west window area, and minimal windows on the north side. The active solar hot water system consists of two Heliodyne 4 ft x 10 ft cold climate flat plate collectors, plus two 80 gallon storage tanks inside the building envelope. Federal Tax Credit of $4,000. 5Star+ rebate = $7,500.”



From there I was off to H2Oasis, Alaska’s only indoor waterpark. I have been here a number of times but didn’t know they use solar power. We went out on the roof to learn about the panels that were just installed last summer. The two in the first photo are angled at 65 degrees to capture the maximum sunlight. The others follow the angle of the roof. The usual summer power bill is $30,000 and these panels lowered that amount by about $6,000; the owner said they would like to get that number up to $15,000.

H2Oasis Indoor Water Park –  South Anchorage – 1520 O’Malley Road
 Commercial water park.  Solar Thermal System Pre-heats Pool Water In Summer Months:  A total of 60 Vortex 4ft x 12ft polyethylene flat plate collectors are located on the roof, along with a 50 gallon Progressive Tube Solar Water Heater.  City water is used as make-up water for the large swimming pools and this enters the facility at 45F.  The solar thermal collectors heat the city water up to about 120F before it is piped into the pool that is maintained at 85F.   It is necessary to climb a steep set of stairs to access the roof and see the collectors.  The owner of contact is Dennis Prendeville and the system was installed by the staff of H2Oasis.  ”





And my last stop (I didn’t make it to Eagle River) was way, way up on the hillside. Beautiful and serene.

Doolen Residence – Anchorage Hillside – 15051 Echo Canyon Road
Over 20 years ago this off grid home started with a small PV and wind turbine system installed by George Menard of Invertech.  This year a major system upgrade was completed to bring the PV array to 1,600 watts.  This energy efficient home was constructed using SIPS (Structural Insulated Panel Systems) by Enercept and JADA Construction Company.  The owners and installers are Dave and Dale Doolen.”





Butter churning


All of my posts seem to be about me. Isn’t this supposed to be about families? Well, I’ve been reading a lot of books and posts about basic homesteading/home-making skills lately and trying to do a little more around the house.

Well, this morning my seven year-old and I were inspired by a little video we stumbled across on Pinterest.

Kids! On the computer! Making butter?!?!

And then I discovered that he’d never made butter before. I have very clear memories of making butter in jars in Mrs. O’Sullivan’s first and second grade class at Ruth L. Chaffee Elementary for Thanksgiving in the classroom. Easy peasy!

It’s actually a lot easier than my son’s expression would have you believe.

We added heavy whipping cream to some lidded containers. The big kids (that’s our neighbor at the back) got large Ball jars and the two year-old has a container from the little blender. Then we shakeitshakeit.


First it makes whipped cream. And you may be confused, take some out, add a little sugar, and make your toddler eat it with strawberries.


Then you stop second guessing yourself, shake a little longer, and realize that the buttermilk really is separating from the fat!


Voila! Butter! I should have taken pictures of us all doing shots of buttermilk, but I forgot.


The kids were a little too shocked that it actually worked. Do teachers not do this in school anymore?

Reuse – file drawers

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Earthships use recycled material as building materials but most of us just use recycled or up cycled material where we can, and to save money.
I bought these gigantic file drawers at the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore (this is one of my favorite places to shop – I bought a bunch of old cabinet doors to finish off the coop there too) several weeks ago to use as planters. All three of them were only $5 and look interesting against the side of the garage.
The drawers have holes in the bottom, but I put them up on old cinder blocks and added gravel to the bottoms for better drainage. I planted them with zucchini and marigolds for some color and variety. The middle drawer has a couple bundles of firewood in it instead of plants because I needed someplace nice to put it. 🙂
The planters face west and get a little to dry to suit me so I added straw mulch to them yesterday.