The Upside Down Fire

lt in the opposite direction: heavy stuff on the bottom, lighter stuff on top, tinder on the very top. Basically, the finished product looks like a bird’s nest sitting on a log cabin. This style of fire is great because it takes care of itself–build it, light it, and get on with your other chores. It lasts a long time too, as it makes very efficient use of the wood. I’ve done this many times, and it works like a charm. The video...

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What’s the Best Solar Food Dryer?

Appalachian Food Dryer. Image: Mother Earth News. Dehydration is a great way to put up food. Second to freezing, it’s the best way to persevere nutrition without adding sugar or salt. And if you use the power of the sun, you won’t need to spend any money on electricity. In a desert climate you can just put your food out on screened trays. But just a bit of humidity in the air makes this approach risky. Food can spoil before enough mo...

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The Other Kind of Fencing

That’s Mrs. Homegrown on the left back in 2005. It was with great sadness that we got the news of the passing of our fencing coach Amy Fortune in April. Both Kelly and I were lucky to have taken many lessons with Amy. She was one of those teachers that bring unexpected and valuable life lessons far beyond the topic at hand. She was patient, encouraging and always positive. We miss her very much and send our condolences to her husband Geoff...

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Decomposed Granite as Mulch: A very bad idea

There’s a well defined architectural vocabulary house flippers use in our neighborhood. Flippers buy a crumbling 1920s bungalow, paint the front door orange, add a horizontal fence, redo the interior in a Home Depot meets Dwell Magazine style and then turn around and sell it for a million bucks. When house flippers tackle a yard they tend towards the “low-maintenance” landscape (in quotes because there’s no such thing as...

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Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder

with bird and insect life. (A poorwill even visited, which apparently caused quite a bit of excitement in the birding community.) This is because the designers chose plants to serve wildlife, and the wildlife responded. Build it and they will come. Off in one shady corner of the garden, I watched two bird feeders being merrily ransacked by more types of birds than I’ve ever seen in one place. It reminded me that I had once wanted a bird fe...

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Tomato Can Stove

Here’s another stove based on the Penny Wood Stove by Mark Jurey for heating up that pot of coffee when the gas and electricity go out. It’s a bit simpler than the Pepsi can stove and doesn’t require fuel other than some sticks or small scraps of wood. The stove works on the same principle as a charcoal chimney starter and it is simple to build.1. Use a 28 ounce can – I used a Trader Joes tomato can. First, drill a bu...

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How to Make a Bee Skep

I was in a local thrift store a few years ago when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted an intriguing object. It was a bee skep. Trying to keep clutter in our house to a minimum I considered not buying it. But I just couldn’t pass this one up. In my mind it goes into my pantheon of epic thrift store finds along with Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space and a classified 16mm film rocket test film from the 1950s. Should you not be so...

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Straw Bale Garden: What I Learned

Straw bale garden–April on the left, November on the right. The straw bale garden I started this spring has been one of the most successful vegetable gardens I’ve ever planted. In fact it’s still producing well into November. Here’s what I learned from the experiment: Plants that suck up a lot of nitrogen, like squash, do well in a straw bale garden. My tomatoes flourished but, due to the high nitrogen, made more leaves...

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Cat Litter Compost, Installment #3

No, our cats aren’t privileged or anything. A gentle reader reminds us that it’s been too long since we updated you all on the cat litter compost. For background, see Installment One and Installment Two Long story short, cat litter composting can work (under the care of an experienced composter, mind), especially in conjunction with a worm bin–but I’ve found a method I like better. On the composting experiment: In our las...

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What is Killing the Bees?

What’s the cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD)? We may be getting closer with the release of a study from the University of Maryland about fungicides and other chemicals used in agriculture. This study is more interesting than many others I’ve seen. It looked at how pesticides interfere with honeybee’s resistance to a common parasite Nosema ceranae. Bees exposed to a widely used agricultural fungicide, chlorothonatil, were...

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