Integrating Chickens and Rabbits on the Homestead

In our previous “homestead,” which was really a house with a tiny yard in a suburb, we tried very hard to raise our own food—much to the entertainment of one of our neighbors and the ire of the other. In our little yard, we had both chickens and rabbits, and while we wanted to free-range both of them, it didn’t work out.

The chickens demolished all the grass (and my tulips) in about thirty seconds flat and the rabbits broke out of the backyard and escaped the property repeatedly. Eventually, we expanded our chicken run (although it was still smaller than we would have preferred) and kept the birds inside it. And…well…we ate all the rabbits.

The Port Townsend Hens.

The Port Townsend Hens.

In our new homestead, which we are calling “Blackcap” due to the plethora of chickadees everywhere here, we want it to be a more ideal life not just for ourselves, but also for our animals. So, while the chickens are in an fenced-in run at present, it is very large, and when spring comes they will probably free-range (we don’t want to risk them free-ranging in winter when predators are hungrier and braver) or at the very least we will rotate them through different paddocks allowing the grasses to regrow, the dirt to be exposed to different manure, etc.

Rabbits kept in small cages don’t seem very happy to us either. When we keep our rabbits in cages, they are very anxious and afraid of us when we come near. In a free-range scenario, they hop right up to our feet and let us touch them and literally spend their day alternating between frolicking and napping (sounds hard, right?).

Ridiculously cute rabbit is ridiculously cute.

Ridiculously cute rabbit is ridiculously cute.

Plus, keeping animals in a smaller pen inherently calls for more work. They can’t feed themselves, they make a mess that no one can escape, they don’t get exercise, and you end up having to feed and water them twice a day (automatic waterers sound great, but don’t work so well in sub-zero weather). This prohibits us from going on hunting, fishing, and trapping excursions. In other words, it all takes the fun out of things for both the rabbits and us.

As a solution to this, at present we are experimenting with integrating the rabbits and chickens in one big run. Come spring, we plan to do similarly with more rabbits, turkeys, ducks, etc. Our dream is to allow the birds to go broody on their own and sit on their chicks so we don’t have to incubate. And for the rabbits to naturally propagate and raise their kits, as well. While we do light the chickens during the winter, we don’t plan to light the rabbits as it’s just too complicated (and energetically expensive—we are off-grid, after all) in the run compared to the cages.

I did some research online about integrating rabbits and chickens before we released the rabbits, and everyone I found had great results. One rooster even adopted the rabbits into his flock and tried to herd them into the chicken coop each night. Some rabbits even slept right in the coop!

Winslow came up with the great idea of using the space under our chicken coop as the rabbit warren. He mostly blocked it off except for a small “door.” The rabbits took to it immediately. The chickens were dubious about the whole affair at first, while the rabbits remained oblivious. After a day or two, everyone settled in just fine—except for when it came to the chicken food.

Chickens and Rabbits

Dopey-Bunny is one of the “pardoned” rabbits, although we’ll see if that lasts.

Chickens and Rabbits

Okay, seriously, Dopey. That’s not cool.

Rabbits, more than any other animal we’ve raised (and we’ve raised a few at this point), love to be in the food dish. And, as it turns out, rabbits also love chicken food. And, on top of that, our chickens aren’t very assertive and so they weren’t getting any food to eat because the rabbits were hogging it all even when we threw piles of alfalfa into the run.

So my DIY homestead project this weekend was to bunny-proof the chicken food.

Chickens and Rabbits

My husband showed me how to drill holes in the metal pan and we shaped some extra fencing over the top. If there’s anything we’ve learned in our short time homesteading in the middle-of-nowhere it’s that YOU THROW NOTHING OUT. EVER.

Chickens and Rabbits

It keeps rabbits out, but lets chickens in. P.S. Chickens LOVE back oil sunflower seeds.

Chickens and Rabbits

Alice the Rooster keeps watch while Ms. Cranky and Raven eat uninterrupted. We set the dish on 4×4 wood blocks to make the food unreachable even if the rabbits could squish their faces in.

Note: The initial design was not a total deterrent. We had to also screw the dish to the 4×4 blocks as after a few hours two of the rabbits conspired together and figured out how to drag the dish six feet and flip it over. Whatever!


Idaho Panhandle Panorama

Idaho Panhandle Panoramas: A Simpler Living

Greetings from the Idaho Panhandle. It’s been a little bit. We apologize. We’ve been pretty focused on things like:

  1. Not starving.
  2. Not freezing.
  3. Not getting washed down the mountainside.

Our new homestead life is getting a little simpler now in more than one meaning of the word. First, we have heat, running water, and a roof over our head. So that is generally less complicated than facing a winter of not having those things. And second, life is just simpler. We’re in the middle of nowhere. We’re in charge of our day and our schedules. And nothing that doesn’t matter to us gets in, physically or mentally.

So, as the days get shorter (and colder and snowier), we’ll be hunkering down to tackle our many and copious winter projects, and we’ll be posting a lot more regularly here on the blog again to share our experiences, advice, inventions, and philosophy. (Well, the inventions are all Winslow’s—if I were in charge of building things we’d be living in a hut made of hot-glue and duct tape, but I’ll share my recipe “inventions,” how’s that?)

We’ll also answer questions like, “Where’s Betty?” “Where’s the HPMDU?” and “Do you really eat the rabbits?” (The short answer to the last question is “Yes, and they’re spectacular.”)

Note: If you’re out there thinking, “Wait, how did you get to Idaho?” Then read this. If you’re really confused, this year-long timeline will help.

In the meantime, perhaps you will enjoy the “simple” things with us in this photo sampling of our daily Panhandle panoramas. Some are at sunrise, some at sunset, and some at whenever. They all represent both our physical and metaphysical existence right now.

Idaho Panhandle Panorama deck-view Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama


How Cheap Enslaves Us — And Our Way Out

When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that we cannot eat money.

Native American Saying

Why the Obsession with Cheap?

Becca and I and a couple of friends — let’s say Fred and Wilma — were discussing sustainable living ideas over dinner. Permaculture, animal husbandry, power generation, hunting, gardening, and more all came up. Thinking now about our conversation, it is clear how indoctrinated into the cult of “how cheaply can I do this” we all are.

Should I buy organic? Should I drive a fuel-efficient car or a powerful SUV? Which octane of fuel should I put in my car, and is ethanol in my fuel a good deal? Should I add solar power to my home energy system? Should I keep chickens? The list goes on, almost everything we “need” gets tested based on money first.

In the quest to optimize for enjoyment of life, Becca and I have put much of what we do to a version of this test. Is [thing or activity] at least as valuable to us as the part of our life it took to earn it (often expressed as money)? For example, do we want a big, expensive house? No, we don’t, because the time spent earning that house is more valuable to us than the house itself.

We're totally happy with the HPMDU as a house.We're totally happy with the HPMDU as a house.

We’re totally happy with the HPMDU as a house.

When Economic Questions Don’t Come First

What I found interesting, though, was that we set those calculations aside when we care about something. Fred brought up the intrinsic value of homegrown broccoli. Even if it costs more to grow it yourself (even while paying yourself zero dollars for labor), there is no broccoli that can compete with the broccoli you cut from your garden just minutes ago. I like broccoli, and I love homegrown broccoli, but I have not been inspired to put in the effort to grow my own when I can purchase very good organic broccoli for a few dollars a pound or less any day of the year. Fred cares about homegrown broccoli more than I do, for me it’s an economic question and for him it isn’t.

Our positions flip-flop when it comes to electricity. Fred pointed out that his cost for electricity is under 6 cents a kWh. There is no way to economically justify home power generation, with the possible exception of microhydro if you’re lucky enough to have access to that resource. Yet I happily spent $1/rated watt on solar panels, buy expensive batteries and inverters (which can fail and require replacement), and spend hours installing the equipment so I can make tiny amounts of power. It feels like a good deal to me, though any accountant would tell derisive stories about my folly at dinner parties.

Chickens and turkeys, too, fail the purely economic test. When the cost of the chicks (or eggs and incubation equipment), feed, housing, water, other equipment, time to care for them/opportunity cost (do not underestimate it!), losses to predation, disease, and other stupid shit, processing, and so on, you are better off buying the most expensive organic free-range roaster you can find. If you are doing it for egg production, the economics are a bit rosier, but still upside down unless you get lucky and/or don’t value your time. And yet, all four of us agreed — we will all have chickens as often as possible.

Chickens are a dubious affair.

Chickens are a dubious affair.

Made in USA is a big thing for me. The economics are often not good on this, either. Somehow, even with all the efficiencies gained from not having to ship raw materials and finished products around the world, pay import/export taxes, and so on, US manufacturing is unable to compete price-wise on most goods. Since the majority of companies seem to put profit before product quality or worker’s quality of life here in the US as elsewhere, there is little real reason to seek out USA made unless you just want to spend more. Still, I persist in seeking out products made here, imagining that I’m doing something to support the US economy. Or, at least, trying to.

What’s the Difference?

Why would we raise chickens, collect energy from the sun, grow our own broccoli, buy USA made goods, or make any choices that don’t maximize our buying power? I argue that we all know there is something much more important than money. But what?

Our world is ruled by the “laws” of economics. Small farmers go out of business and lose their land because mega-farms out-compete them. We can’t “afford” to grow our own poultry because organic cooperatives leverage massive buying power to produce chickens so cheaply. Many of us can’t even sell our own time (AKA life) for a living wage any more because industry buys foreign labor in bulk, too.

I sense that most of our readers are in agreement with me up to this point. It is a fairly common perspective that large corporations would rather have a dollar than a save a drowning child, but unless you’re that drowning child, what does it really matter, right?

It matters because the real costs of all this cheapness are anything but cheap. Once you have contracted out every last need — food, water, shelter, and so on — you are left with nothing to leverage. All you’ve got is money, but you have never been in control of what happens to that. The difference is control over your destiny.

Hey – I’m Totally Secure in My Destiny!

Think I’m crazy? Maybe I’m exaggerating. I assure you, I’m not. Maybe you know someone who lived through the Great Depression, like my grandmother did. Ask that person how much fun that was, and how much control they felt over their own destiny. Here’s an excerpt from the article I just linked:

“You wanted to take a bath, you heat up the water in these big cans,” Martinez says. “It was always a challenge to keep warm — we hugged each other on the floor. We had little beds that open and close. When I think about it, it was horrible. It was horrible. And then the sanitation of the community — garbage was just put in the alley — and did that create a condition? Yes it did: TB [tuberculosis]. I know my sister came down with TB. Sometimes I like to block that out and just say, ‘Thank God you’re here.'”

Or read about what happened in Germany, when the value of the nation’s currency, the Reichsmark, collapsed from 8.9 per US$1 in 1918 to 4.2 trillion per US$1 in 1920. Those who didn’t have the ability to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves without money had nothing but desperate need.

That’s all so last-century. That shit can’t happen anymore, right? Okay, how about 2008?

Great Depression

City Life Breeds Dependence

How much do you trust the system you pay to keep you alive? If you live in a city, it must be a whole lot. Essential resources must be imported constantly, and, for economic reasons once again, from farther and farther away.

Unbelievably, it’s cheaper to ship food from California to New York City than to grow it ninety miles away in upstate New York. That supply line is fragile, and the supply of food within the city would last less than three days if resupply stopped. Suddenly, money would be nearly worthless — what would you pay for the last loaf of bread or can of baked beans within twenty miles? Oh, and there’s no gasoline left, either…

In light of those thoughts, what might the true value of that chicken, the eggs it lays, a stalk of broccoli, or a day’s worth of electricity be? How about the knowledge and experience to reproduce them day after day, season after season, without outside help?

How Can We Balance Autonomy and Economy?

Cooperative preparation. We’re not suggesting that you quit your job and move to the country to live as a Neo-Luddite. Our suggestion is to hedge against risk. While we can’t all be farmers with photovoltaic arrays and wood stoves, we can all learn skills which can make us valuable in a world that doesn’t run the way we’re accustomed to.

We can build relationships with others and create cooperatives to pool knowledge and resources. Who knows, we might even enjoy the time spent learning and doing something beside building a financial house of cards for the benefit of others.

Don’t Come Here When Shit Goes Sideways

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard, “I know where I’m going when the Zombie Apocalypse happens.” Well, guess what? Unless you’ve got skills and/or resources with intrinsic value, you’re not coming to our place. If worthless money is your only bargaining chip, it’s going to be a rough moment for you.

What if, instead, you had skills and experience that could directly help yourself and others? You would be in demand! Moreover, you might be able to take care of yourself and your family until you got somewhere safer. This is not just “Zombie Apocalypse” talk, but straight talk about self-reliance, self-empowerment, and self-respect. It wasn’t people who needed everything handed to them that built this country, and it will not be people who have nothing to offer but money who will pave the way forward. How far would Lewis and Clark have gotten with nothing but a fat wallet?

You Can Come to Our Place Now, Though

All of this is why Becca and I are setting up a teaching/learning/doing center for self-reliance skills. You don’t need to be a full-time survivalist to have a great skill set. You’ll be able to come here and immerse yourself in a demanding, realistic environment requiring self-reliance with almost total safety. Will it cost money? It could, but barter and trade is always better.

Our big announcement is that we’re now the owners of ten acres in the panhandle of Idaho that’s close, but not too close, to civilization (including a medical center) where you can join us for a weekend or longer and get hands-on experience on our renewable-energy powered, working homestead.

You might want to come just for the view.

You might want to come just for the view.

This will be a homestead in the true sense. We’ll be starting from scratch and building up all the elements we need to live — which, at their core, are likely shockingly similar to what you require to live, just in a little different color, size, or shape. So, if you come to visit us, you might:

  • Care for livestock
  • Learn how to process and preserve food
  • Build infrastructure like small buildings, solar power set-ups, and water filtration
  • Work in the garden and learn how to efficiently set up your own
  • Learn to build an emergency shelter
  • Hunt, trap, and fish with us
  • Identify and forage for local edibles
  • Condition your body through hard, physical work
  • Do some “circuits” on an obstacle course found in nature
  • Reduce your dependence on money
  • Increase your confidence in any situation
  • Enjoy the outdoors
  • Stop running in circles

Our long-term goal is to open the homestead free of charge to underprivileged kids, especially ones who’ve grown up in cities, who could use a dose of self-confidence and possibility-enhancement. But starting very soon we’ll be offering seminars, workshops, and other opportunities for you to participate in and contribute to this exciting project.

This isn’t about “prepping,” paranoia, or zombies. This is about taking responsibility for your food and your energy use. It’s about living inside nature instead of looking at pictures of it on somebody-else’s Instagram. It’s about becoming aware of the power you have to create your life exactly as you want it to be and living outside what “they” have been telling you all these years. It’s about those secret dreams you have of making the world a better place.

evolution-american-flag-betsy-ross (1)

Do We Have a Right to Consume?

This Independence Day, I thought it would be interesting to consider WHY we gave England the boot and HOW those motivations can be related to today’s world. First, let’s take a look at WHAT happened way back in the 1700s.

England had established some colonies in North America, among other places. England governed and protected those colonies and, in exchange, or so she thought, the colonies would produce goods (and profits) that would benefit England rather exclusively. This was a trans-oceanic version of the feudal system that was much loved by royalty and much-loathed by serfs. Just as the serfs found it to be a shitty way to live, some colonists felt the arrangement was unacceptable. They banded together and, long story short, those colonies became a sovereign nation.

So that’s the backstory. Moving on to the present day, the United States has grown in power and prestige. Some believe the USA is the #1 super power in the world. That may be true. What we can say for sure is that many citizens of the US have an exceptionally high standard of living compared to the residents of much of the world. This is familiar ground if you’ve been following along. If not, here’s the short version:

Nearly half the world’s population, 2.8 billion people, survive on less than $2 a day. About 20 percent of the world’s population, 1.2 billion people, live on less than $1 a day. Nearly 1 billion people are illiterate and 1 billion do not have safe water.   – UN.org

SO, how do the story of our independence and the story of global poverty relate? Simply put, our consumption is fueled by their poverty. Were it not for millions of people worldwide working for sub-poverty line wages, living in squalor, and being oppressed and exploited, we could not possibly live how we do.

Further, and this is simple economic theory, for everything we are able to buy it is because someone else has been priced out of the market. Is overconsumption violence against the poor of the world? It could be argued that it is.

If the colonists, our ancestors and people we hold in high regard, wouldn’t stand for it, why should the billions of people living lives worse than serfs stand for it? Is it any wonder the world is at war?

Simply put, every war is a war over resources. While there may be ideologies thrown around, the hard fact is that people who are at risk of dying for lack of food, water, simple hygiene, and basic medical care are scared, and frightened people are easy to sway with a glimmer of hope.

It speaks volumes about their character that so many people suffer peacefully. Would you? How would you handle watching your family starve so that some fabulously affluent society can landfill a third of their food? We are fortunate for the prevalence of peaceful demeanors worldwide.

All the resources we enjoy easy and cheap access to are precious to others. There is nothing wrong with using what we need, but is it possible that we’ve suffered a bit of “need creep?”

This Independence Day, be thankful for what our founding fathers (and the women who rarely get mentioned!) did for us, but remember why they did it – and that we are now the takers, the profiteers, and the exploiters. Perhaps not personally, but we pay others to do what would turn our stomachs to do with our own hands.

If freedom and independence are truly valuable to you, think about how much those who have none must value it.


We Are Getting Weaker

Do you ever wonder what the motivation is for all the crazy things we do? I do, all the time. I have a theory, and I’m just going to come out and say it. The human race is getting weaker. Admitting that, let’s have an honest discussion about it.

Civilized Does Not Have to Mean Impotent

We like to believe that civilization has bred the animal out of us, that we’re programming-based organisms, but anyone who behaves 100% programmatically is a robot. So, unless you’re a robot, you are influenced by instinct to some extent. The more basic the impulse (self-preservation, reproduction), the greater the influence of instinct and lesser the influence of programming, at least when it comes to what we’d like to do, which can be loosely translated as goals.


Harrison Ford Gets the Reference

Weakness is the shortfall between our goals and our ability to achieve them. For example, I’d like to have sex with Scarlett Johanssen, but I have many weaknesses that prevent me from doing so (including a lack of motivation to fix those weaknesses – more on that later.) The ways we perceive ourselves as weak – mentally, physically, and emotionally – define what we’d like to be via negativa. To eliminate those shortfalls is to become strong.


Motivating, but not Motivating Enough.

What Motivates Us?

I spent years as a coach and learned a few things along the way. I discovered that technical knowledge is important. Essential, though, is the ability to motivate. With the exception of the mentally ill, people behave in largely predictable ways. Marketers exploit this, attacking the shame and fear that stem from your weaknesses by promising to alleviate them. Do you strike out with the opposite sex? It must be your skin. Or your gut. Or your breath. Is your marriage a mess? You don’t have to try harder, just read this book…

From mainstream gimmicks (why do we continue to agree to be fooled by “ab lounges” and crash diets?) to organic food to dietary supplements to overprotecting children from every conceivable displeasure to the the extreme – obsessive CrossFitters, citizen militias, even ISIS, we are all aware of and reacting in a predictable way to a sense of weakening – a widening gulf between our goals and our ability to achieve them.

We project, both egotistically and correctly, that others suffer these weaknesses as well. This projection gives us permission to “go with the flow” because, after all, if everyone is a slow-moving, slow-thinking, physically and mentally ineffective, emotionally-broken person, then we’re all still on the same level. It’s a wash, right? I’ve still got a chance.

Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way and – here’s the take-home – we know it.

Resist the Weakening

The crushing sense of helplessness that comes from contemplating our weakness and doing nothing about it is what’s bringing us down. That’s why we love watching people do things that are outside of our comfort zone.

Any social influence I’ve ever enjoyed has come from doing what others can’t or won’t do, further proof that we just need to step up. If seeing someone else succeed feels good, imagine how it would feel to experience it firsthand?

Chase the Leader

If you agree that becoming weaker sucks, then do something about it.

Self-motivation (also known as intrinsic motivation and the only kind worth bothering with) is essential to goal attainment. When 20-year-old Andrew Miller became the youngest person ever to win the 100-mile long Western States Endurance Run this year, he said, “I had a chase mindset all day.” He thought he was in second place!

Intrinsic motivation relies on internal rewards. Enjoyment, satisfaction, a sense of security, instead of extra cookies if you do your workout, for example. Intrinsic rewards are only available by doing something. You can’t buy them, be gifted them, or find them in the back of your sock drawer or between the couch cushions.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

We retain enough of our survival instincts that we can react defensively to threats. Unfortunately, as we have discussed before, the most imminent and blatant threats are often ignored until it’s too late because we strive to maintain decorum. But the constant, low-level threat, the one caused by our weaknesses and what we know they mean, wears away at us every day and makes us sad.

Stay “safely” in-bounds if you wish, but I urge you to explore the edges of your comfort zone. Identify your weaknesses, get familiar with them, then either conquer or forget them. Living with them is a too-common way to waste your life.

Start with the Biggest, Easiest Win

You’ll have to be brutally honest with yourself for any of this to work. What is wrong with how you’re living? What’s bringing you down? Make as complete a list as you can. Write it down. This is a practical, as in practice, not theoretical, exercise.

Once you’ve got your list, organize it by severity. Put the most damaging shit at the top. Be fearless. Analyze what’s bringing you down and prioritize.

Now, make a second list with all the same items on it, but prioritized by ease of fixing/least disruption to your life. If you think of new items, add them in the appropriate place to both lists.

You can probably guess the next two steps – cross-reference the lists and make…a third list! The third list is your to-do list. It should only have one item on it at first, the easiest to achieve and most impactful item. Most bang for the buck type thing. You need a win, and this is how you’ll get it.

Get to It

Nothing else to do now. You don’t need try to recruit anyone to help you or share your plans with anyone, just get to it. The possibilities are far too varied for me to try to point you to resources. The exercise of solving this problem for yourself will make you stronger in itself. Once you’ve made some progress, add another item to your to-do list.

On to victory!


Giraffes Solving a Problem – Banner photo By GIRAUD Patrick – Own work, CC BY 2.5

Fallsview Canyon Trail

Hiking and Foraging, Waterfalls and Fruit

Two of the abundant benefits of living on the Olympic Peninsula are the scenery and the berries. All summer long we have endless amounts of fruit, and we are never very far from mountains, beaches, and wildlife. This week we decided to target some waterfalls as the overcast weather made summiting any of the local peaks unlikely to payoff.

Fallsview Canyon Trail and the Fallsview Falls

First up was the aptly named Fallsview Canyon Trail near Quilcene, Washington. The associated campground is closed to anything but day hiking due to prolific root rot issues in the trees there. Meaning, you can’t camp because a giant tree will fall on your camp site and kill you. We saw so many downed trees throughout the couple hours we spent in this area. Very sad. The upside to this is that you can park outside the campground gates easily and for free.

There is a big set of falls that is very easy to see on a tiny loop (0.1 miles) and then a 1.5 mile loop that takes you past many rapids in the Big Quilcene River and through the Quilcene Canyon. The small loop is #848 best seen in the white inset below, while the trail across the rest of the map is the #868.

Fallsview Canyon Trail

The Fallsview Falls are around 200 feet in height, but you can’t get very close to them. Apparently in the summer this area dries up quite a bit, as well, so if you are aiming to see these falls, then spring is a good time. We just had some heavy rains, so the waterfall and the river were definitely flowing!

The Fallsview Falls

The Fallsview Falls

Big Quilcene River

Clear pools of water in the Big Quilcene River.

The feeling of being in the forest and walking alongside the rapids and pools of the Big Quilcene were great, but for us the best part was the plant life—so many delicious berries! First, we came across the delicious red huckleberry, or Vaccinium parvifolium. I seriously could eat these all day. They’re like natural fruity SweeTARTS. I’m a little bit in denial that they’re related to blueberries because I hate blueberries.

The red huckleberry, or Vaccinium parvifolium

The red huckleberry, or Vaccinium parvifolium

Next, we came upon a bumper crop of salmonberries, which are Winslow’s favorite. The salmonberry, or Rubus spectabilis, are mainly orange in color in this area, though apparently they are redder in some other places. Winslow says they taste like “giant yellow raspberries.” I have to agree that they are pretty amazing—truly refreshing when you are mid-hike.

The salmonberry, or Rubus spectabilis

The salmonberry, or Rubus spectabilis

The salmonberry, or Rubus spectabilis

Elderberries were also everywhere to be found and attracting a large number of birds throughout our hike. Raw red elderberries, or Sambucus racemosa, are flavorful, though not everyone will like them. They have a bit of a juniper-cedar taste to me, and can be bitter when they are not ripe. Also, there’s the whole cyanogenic glycosides thing, so you probably shouldn’t eat too many raw ones even if you do like them. We really want to collect enough to make mead or wine out of them one of these days.

red elderberries, or Sambucus racemosa

Red elderberries, or Sambucus racemosa

No, we didn't eat this little millipede, but isn't he cute?

No, we didn’t eat this little millipede, but isn’t he cute?

We also saw a large number of ghost pipes, which are not edible, but are completely fascinating. The ghost pipe, or Monotropa uniflora, is a herbaceous plant, but it does not have chlorophyll. As Wikipedia explains:

Unlike most plants, it is white and does not contain chlorophyll. Instead of generating energy from sunlight, it is parasitic, more specifically a myco-heterotroph. Its hosts are certain fungi that are mycorrhizal with trees, meaning it ultimately gets its energy from photosynthetic trees. Since it is not dependent on sunlight to grow, it can grow in very dark environments as in the understory of dense forest.

Also, they look ultra-cool.

Ghost PipesGhost PipesRocky Brook Falls

Our second stop of the day was Rocky Brook Falls. I thought it would be a cool stop, but not a big deal since the associated hike was short. Boy, was I wrong—the falls are spectacular! These falls are not on federal land, so there’s no fee to park and there’s a small parking area across the street from the falls. Expect there to be other people since these falls are so easy to walk right up to, and also try to be respectful (as you hopefully always are in nature), as the falls are surrounded by private residences.

At the beginning of the walk (it’s really not worthy of being called a hike) features a hydroelectric building and a lot of warning signs about sudden water flow and not climbing on the rocks, but don’t be deterred. For a while you will think this is all going to be no big deal, but the water bubbling over the rocks is nice.

Rocky Brook FallsAnd then you come upon this…

Rocky Brook Falls

Rocky Brook Falls

The falls are about 229 feet tall, incredibly loud, and quite windy. The warning signs about climbing on the rocks cease a bit before you get to the falls, so we climbed right out into the center of the water and stood right at the base of the falls.

base-rocky-brook-fallsHere’s a video so you get a sense of what it was like to be there…

Next outing, we plan to investigate Murhut Falls down in the Hoodsport area and also drive to the top of Mt. Walker (it was too overcast to make that worthwhile today). In the meantime, our bellies are full of berries, our brains are full of new knowledge about the place we live, and our hearts are full of love for nature and all her wonders.


Ruminations on Energy

Living depends on solving each in a series of problems within the framework built by our beliefs, fears, desires, and convictions.

We believe that more autonomy is generally better, fear excessive dependence and the effects of greed, desire freedom and simplicity, and hold personal responsibility in the highest regard. When it comes to basic life needs, there is no reason these ideals cannot be respected.


Ready for a window on the frenetic shitshow in my head? Read on.

It’s not hard to realize that much of what we all consider (and in some cases truly is) necessary revolves around energy manipulation – controlling its form and flow. Much of my time is spent thinking about and working on systems to manipulate energy. From where I’m typing, I can see two solar hot air panels I just built, eight photovoltaic (PV) panels, a sunshade over the deck, a dryer, a two-burner propane stove, and a 100-pound propane cylinder.

The ability to store and release energy in various forms, as needed, is essential to living what is commonly known as a “normal life,” which we are not against in any way. The propane holds energy for us to call forth heat at a moment’s notice. The hot air panels turn light into heat (fairly efficiently) to dry our clothes and potentially heat the HPMDU. The PV system runs everything electrical whenever we need it via batteries and inverters.

The Honeymoon Will End

Early summer in western Washington is a lovely time, featuring a near-perfect mix of sun and rain, so we are in a bit of a honeymoon period. When the skies dry up (any day now) for a couple months, we will have to find water elsewhere, but from now until October, we should have little concern over sufficient supply of electricity or heat (to dry clothes.)

Beyond October, though, it gets interesting. At 48.117° latitude, there will be 16 hours of daylight today, June 29, 2016. On December 21st, 2016, there will be 8 hours 21 minutes of daylight. Half that of today. Of those eight hours, few, if any, will feature full intensity sunshine. Do we quadruple the size of our PV array and battery bank? What about heat in the winter when we need it most? How will we dry clothes when the house is cold and damp because it’s January and raining 6 days a week? What about warm water to bathe or wash dishes? FUCK.

What Is the Scope of the Problem?

I guess the first thing to do is make a list of ways we use energy so we can decide what types of energy would be most useful.

  • Refrigeration
  • Cooking
  • Heating water (bathing, dishes, clothes washing)
  • Home heating
  • Coffee roasting
  • Drying clothes
  • Vacuuming
  • Lighting
  • Air circulation and ventilation (specifically for dehumidification of interior air in winter)
  • Entertainment
  • Computers and internet equipment
  • Charging all the things (phones, emergency radios, etc.)

How Do We Fix It?

First things first, which we have mostly done (and will detail in another post) – reduce energy needs. Every dollar spent on efficiency pays back several dollars in reduced system capacity needed. We calculate that we will need about 6 kilowatt hours (kWh) per day if we include electrical water heating. Without that, our needs in winter might be as low as 3kWh, since we can move the fridger (our ultra-efficient chest freezer-turned-refrigerator) outside. For context, the average American household uses about 30kWh per day.

We don’t quite cover all the energy required to make hot water ourselves right now (it is the sole remaining item that sometimes pulls shore power), so our needs are about 4kWh/day. Refrigeration “costs” are high in the warm weather. Not much we can do about that, but luckily it coincides with plenty of available sun.

Looking over that list, I see two major forms of energy needed: electricity and heat. So how do we make sure we have enough of those two forms of energy when we need them, regardless of the solar (or wind…) resource available?

We could store energy, right? YES! But how? A few possibilities pop to mind…

  • GIANT PV array and battery bank, then run everything on electricity.
    • + Clean
    • + Quiet
    • + Simple to set up
    • ++ Runs on its own once set up
    • – Takes a huge system to make heat
    • — Expensive
    • — Heavy/bulky
    • – Can fail/hard to fix with found materials

I’ve got my eye on some more batteries I found used, but we have all the PV panels we want (they will fill the roof when deployed up there). So, more storage is on the way, but nothing like enough to go for a month or more. I put three minus signs next to expensive and heavy/bulky because those are obstacles we can’t or won’t overcome, AKA “deal-breakers.”

Next possibility:

  • Diesel-, gasoline-, or propane-powered generator
    • + On-demand power
    • – Noisy
    • – Can fail/hard to fix with found materials
    • – Must buy or make (and stockpile) fuel (requires money or one or more complicated subprocesses)
    • – [Recognizable] generators and fuel are good targets for thieves (though thieves make good targets, so maybe this one is a wash?)

Those are the two most common solutions. Neither one works for us, though. One violates limits we cannot control (weight and space limitations) within the confines of other decisions we won’t go back on and the other marries us to input from a functional civilization (fossil fuel system) and makes us targets.

Electric My Way

My relatively out-there thoughts on potential methods:

  • Wood-gas powered generator
  • Stirling engine powered generator

What I realized some time ago is that the most resilient systems are those with multiple inputs. Hybrid inputs. We have a small hot water tank in the house that’s heated with electricity. What’s to stop me from adding one or more additional heat exchanger loops out to solar hot water panels, a wood-fired boiler, an engine (water used for cooling heats the water we need hot), or even a well-constructed compost heap? There is nothing technically difficult about any of those possibilities. Maybe in another post we’ll talk about what stops us from giving a shit.

What if I built a large (500+ gallon) insulated water tank that could be easily deconstructed and moved to store a massive amount of heat from any/all those sources? Well, then, I guess my heat problem would be solved.

Regarding electricity, I want so badly for human power to be the answer, but it isn’t. If you needed 1kWh of electricity and had a lossless system for generation and storage, you would have to be a world-class cyclist and pedal for FOUR HOURS at race pace. FUCK THAT. We couldn’t afford the food. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed in form, yo.

The answer I’ve come up with for now is a Stirling or (more likely) steam turbine powered generator running off of biomass heat from the same outdoor boiler that will provide for our domestic hot water and heat the house. I’ve got some fun ideas for fuel sources and automation to work on that will make it an easy system to run that we can ignore most of the time.

What About Cooking?

Cooking is a pain in the ass. There are all kinds of ways to set yourself up for full-time employment as an energy storer, like building a hydrogen generation and storage system or a biomass digester to make methane, but I don’t want those jobs. Those kind of things tie you down, too. Hard to load up in the trailer and drive off with.

So, cooking. Electrical energy is perfect for it, and if I can make one of my generator ideas fly then that will solve it. Otherwise, we’re stuck with propane for the moment. Although, it would be fun to set up a small still and use alcohol as a cooking fuel…

What Do You Think?

I think that’s quite enough of my rantings for one post. Thanks for hanging with me if you did, and I hope this inspires a thought or two for you. I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.



What Price Convenience?

How Much Is Enough?

Today, I “made” $20. To be more accurate, I didn’t spend $20, which is even better, because I won’t be taxed on it. I did three loads of laundry using my own muscle power and power from the sun. It took a lot of the day. In comparison to many incomes, $20 a day isn’t much. Let’s not forget, though, that $20 a day puts me in the “insanely fortunate” bracket worldwide.

To wit: (from UN.org):

Nearly half the world’s population, 2.8 billion people, survive on less than $2 a day. About 20 percent of the world’s population, 1.2 billion people, live on less than $1 a day. Nearly 1 billion people are illiterate and 1 billion do not have safe water.

Side Benefits, or the Whole Point?

SO, as I was saying, I didn’t spend $20 doing laundry today. I did get some upper body endurance training cranking the washing machine I built. I did have a lot of free time to do as I pleased with. I did get to experiment with my solar clothes dryer. I did learn a lot that will help me and others in the future.

Some might say that hand-cranking my washing machine, getting wet, soapy, a little sunburnt (my own fault), having to handle the clothes several times, wring them out (grip strength!), load and dump the water, wait a long time for the clothes to dry because my drying system isn’t working that well yet, and so on is inconvenient.

Maybe it is, but I find sitting in traffic, missing family, getting in car accidents, not having enough free time, being stressed out, making car payments, buying $1200 washing machines, having to call repair people when the washer or dryer breaks, waiting for the installation crew to show up and fuck up your house and still expect a tip, etcetera, etcetera pretty damned inconvenient, too.

Asking the Question

I did one hell of a lot of thinking today, all that I wanted, about what I wanted. My body is tired but my mind is energized. I am delighted to be alive and typing. I don’t find that inconvenient at all.

This is not an “I did something right and you didn’t” piece. It is a call to arms, something to get you thinking about the places you could be more hands-on or brain-on in your life instead of just being “money-on.” I find it ridiculously gratifying. Maybe you will, too.


The house of Jenkins

Your Infrastructure Footprint

We Like to Provide for Ourselves

I spend a lot of time thinking generally about how we can provide for our needs. Shelter, water, food, energy, etc. Then, I pick a particular problem and attack it until I solve it or realize it isn’t possible in the scope of what we’re willing or able to do. For now.

My big, bad, meanie problem right now is how to recycle grey and black water to reduce our total water usage by at least 50%. The solution evades me, at least without a commitment to a large amount of infrastructure.

(We Pay Them, so) They Built Us a World

That’s what I want to talk about right now – infrastructure. I look around our parking spot and see that we have not only a 35.5′ fifth wheel, but a car, truck (both of which are being sold to buy a minivan), another truck to tow the fifth wheel, 8 photovoltaic panels on racks, two hot air panels (that don’t have racks yet), two rain barrels, a propane tank, a dryer and washer, an 8’X8′ deck, and some other shit. I have never had less tolerance for clutter than I do now, and I’ve never had less room to hide it.

Some of the clutter is raw materials that I’m using in projects. That stuff will be integrated into the house or a project or passed on to someone who can use it, so right now that doesn’t bother me too much. Some of the “clutter,” though, is here to stay. We just bought a used dryer and converted it to use solar hot air. We’re going to keep that, though it does have a dedicated place in the HPMDU it will soon occupy. The photovoltaics will go on the roof soon, and the solar hot air panels and hot water panels will be mounted vertically to the outside wall in the future. Our footprint will satisfyingly shrink. Less clutter. More better.

How Bad Is It, Really?

Just when I start to freak out and want to burn it all, I realize that this is most of it for us. With the obvious exception of food that we don’t yet hunt, gather, or grow, and cooking and vehicle fuel we haven’t replaced yet, there isn’t that much else out there that we’re culpable for. We have “insourced” much of our resource collection activities.

We pull much of our water from our roof – I designed it to catch rain and do so at the rate of 87 gallons per inch of rainfall. That’s going better than expected. So there isn’t a water treatment plant out there somewhere with our names on it. We produce our own electricity, so there isn’t some gargantuan coal, nuclear, or hydroelectric plant out there wrecking the world in our name. We do barter and forage as much as possible for food to consume or preserve.

I Still Loathe Stuff, But It’s Not so Bad

It looks like a lot of stuff when you pack it all into somebody’s back yard and think about having to drive around with it all, but in reality, it’s a speck of nothing in comparison to what it was a year ago. I guess it’s time to get serious about the food issue, and solve this water recycling problem. I want to get down to 50 gallons/week from our current 100. I’m pretty sure we can produce or procure that almost anywhere.

As far as the vehicle problem goes, it’s biodiesel/vegetable oil or electric. Probably stick with biodiesel for the big truck and go electric for the passenger vehicle. That’s a long-term plan, though. We need at least a year to get everything running super smoothly in the HPMDU first. Maybe the solution to the water problem will come to me soon.

What’s your infrastructure footprint like?


Current Coffees

Welcome, coffee lover! You’ve found our list of currently available coffees.

If you’d like to learn more about solar-roasted coffee, click here. If you’ve tried our coffees and would like to leave feedback, please do so in the comments at the bottom of the page. Thank you so much.


Now roasting to order – dark, light, decaf, Central American, South American, Brazilian, Ethiopian, whatever you like! If you don’t know what you like, give me an idea of what flavors you enjoy and I’ll make up some options for you to try.

I can handle just a bit more demand, so get in touch. huntgatherbrew@gmail.com

– Winslow

Coming soon: a DECAF! Yes, you read that right, you can now enjoy SolaRoast coffee (what do you think of the trade name?) before bed and/or in your favorite coffee-based cocktails/drinks without having to be up all night.

We’re taste-testing them now to be able to put up an accurate appraisal. All of our decaffeinated coffees will be Swiss Water Process (SWP) so you don’t have to worry about carcinogenic solvents in your after-dinner cup.

For more on the mostly-scary decaffeination methods and relief-inducingly different SWP method, visit http://www.coffeeconfidential.org/health/decaffeination/.

Here are the coffees we’ve got for you right now:

a map of central america centered on panama

Panama Boquete Camiseta Estate

3 2 1 batches available SOLD OUT roasted 6/22/16. $9 for one batch, $17 for two, plus actual shipping. Email huntgatherbrew@gmail.com to order.

Delicious, easy-to-enjoy, with good acidity, especially for a central American coffee. Please don’t mistake the term “acidity” for bitterness.

Acidity does NOT mean bitterness in coffee any more than it means bitterness in wine. Acidity provides the structure on which the flavors are arranged, and is the essential difference between coffee and brown water.

a picture of roasted coffee beans from Panama

map of Africa showing Ethiopia

Ethiopia Yirga Cheffe Buufata Konga

2 0 batches available, roasted 6/22/16.$9 for one batch, $17 for two, plus actual shipping. Email huntgatherbrew@gmail.com to order.

The cupping notes below are accurate, but I think they left out CHOCOLATE. At least, that’s what we’re getting with this very young full city roast.

The flavors will develop more fully over the next 2-3 days, and we are excited to see where this goes because it is already one of those coffees that make you consider brewing another pot because it’s over too soon.

a picture of green and roasted coffee beans from Ethiopia

In case you’re interested to know a bit more about where your coffee comes from, I’m sharing the postcard that comes with each coffee order from Sweet Maria’s. The postcard changes regularly, and I enjoy reading the stories or informative passages and seeing the pictures they send. I though you might, too. Visit SweetMarias.com if you want to delve further. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Coffee cooperative workers sorting green coffee beans.

Your Coffee Is Lovingly Crafted From the Bush to the Cup

Picture of first and second grade green coffee beans

Before and After: Careful sorting produces better green coffee beans!

Well, that’s it for today, 6/23/16. The weekend forecast promises much sunshine, so I hope to get more roasting done for next week.


6/20 – The forecast is for enough sun to roast some more tomorrow and probably Wednesday, too, so there will be more caffeine very soon!

6/20 – Sold Out

Roasted 6/19 – Guatemala Antigua Pulcal Inteligente


Sweet Maria’s tasting notes: Clean, complex, honey, caramelized sugar, ripe plum, pineapple, blackberry, Asian pear, elegant acidity. Superb brewed coffee.

Roasted Coffee Beans - Guatemala Antigua Pulcal Inteligente

Guatemala Antigua Pulcal Inteligente

Our experience: We’ve drunk gallons of this coffee. We bought a 20 pound bag of green beans and this is just about the last of it. This coffee loves simple, convenient brewing methods. In a drip coffee maker, it a can’t-miss bean. It can take a small amount of milk or cream, but also shines when drunk black.

Like most coffees, the flavors blossom when slightly cooled. If you let it go all the way to room temperature, do not throw it away – it’s a whole new level of amazing when fully cooled. I would not hesitate to serve this to anyone, even those who profess to “hate coffee.” Who knows, they might be surprised.

Email us at huntgatherbrew@gmail if you want some – first come first served. This is freshly roasted, so it will be drinkable starting 48-72 hours from now and continue to improve for several days beyond that. We often have three or four coffees roasted at once, so we don’t finish them for two weeks or more and they are still terrific. Just don’t grind it all right away!

The forecast is sunny for the next couple days, so expect more and different coffees to come available soon.


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