Dec 3, 2011

Cut Your Heating Bill in Half: Heat the Person Not the House (Video) : TreeHugger

Paul Wheaton can get pretty serious about energy efficiency.

From rocket mass stoves to really tiny houses, he's shared plenty of stories of low impact living already.

And while his criticisms of CFLs may be based on some atypically frugal green households (he believes few light bulbs should ever be used for more than 90 seconds at a time), he does know more than most about the hardcore end of living green.

As someone who's strategy for heating a home office efficiently includes wearing fingerless gloves, I was interested to note Paul's latest video focuses on heating the person, rather than the house. (See Lloyd's post on why insulating your body is cheaper than insulating your house for more on this principle.)

The video is an update to a rather informal, but nevertheless fascinating, article about Paul's personal heating system that includes a dog bed warmer, a heated keyboard, a skirt around his desk and a good old fashioned incandescent light bulb. (Yup, he's still not a fan of CFLs.)

Check it out. Would this approach work for you?

Hugelkultur on the Prairie, or Learning from Our Mistakes — Communities Magazine

By Alyson Ewald
Published in the Winter 2011 issue of Communities magazine - Issue #153

Author Alyson Ewald with mature blueberry plants in her new hugelkultur bed.
Intern Teresa Rutten covers logs with soil to create a hugelkultur bed.

I’m a sheet-mulching, swale-digging, perennial-planting lunatic like most permies, but no matter what I do I can never seem to get enough organic matter down into our solid clay subsoil. So when I heard about hugelkultur—burying logs in the ground beneath your plants—I was instantly sold.

I began shopping around our homestead at Red Earth Farms in rural Missouri as if it were a vast open-air hugelkultur store. My partner was thrilled with my sudden interest in all his piles of wooden detritus, too rotten to become firewood or construction materials. It seemed like every bit of degraded slope on our place was crying out for trenches filled with old sticks. I roamed around with a shovel and a deranged glint in my eye until I found two perfect spots. My only question was what to plant.

Hugelkultur, German for “mound culture,” may have roots in an ancient form of Eastern European sheet mulching. It has come to refer to a practice used by Austrian farmer Sepp Holzer and spread across the internet by permaculture maven Paul Wheaton and other bloggers. The idea is to build a raised bed by first digging a deep trench or pit and then filling it with woody stuff, adding some nitrogen-rich compost materials like grass clippings or manure if you have them, piling the soil back on top, mulching, and leaving it to break down. You can plant into it immediately or wait a while. You can also do it without the pit—just pile any soil or compost on top of a stack of logs.

The wood acts like a sponge, holding a tremendous amount of water and nutrients and feeding them slowly to your plants. The decomposing wood attracts earthworms deep into your subsoil, extends your growing season by adding warmth, creates air pockets for your plants’ roots to enter, and encourages mycelia to join the party. Sounded like a win-win-win to me.

I’d read that potatoes and cucurbits had been shown to do well in hugelkultur beds, but I had already planted those in other places. I’d also heard that the moist, decomposing logs could tie up nitrogen and lower soil pH, like a bog. I wanted to experiment with hugelkultur on a crop that I knew would enjoy the low pH. Like...blueberries!

Shockingly, the internet turned up exactly zero people who had tried blueberries in a hugelkultur bed. Clearly someone would have to launch this experiment. Then I received two things: a strong-armed intern, and a phone call from a neighbor offering me as many mature blueberry plants as I wanted. The universe was sending me a message. So we began to dig.

In the sites I had chosen, the soil was already quite acidic (pH 5.1). We dug a trench a few feet wide and about a foot and a half deep and laid the sodden, already crumbling logs and sticks in the bottom. Then we piled the subsoil and topsoil around the logs, stuck in some 10-year-old blueberry plants that were still holding soil around their roots, and mulched them like crazy with mown hay from our fields.

The plants initially thrived in our moist springtime. Although they had been completely neglected and unpruned in their old home, they stood proudly atop their hugels and set a fair amount of large, sweet fruit. Our daughter rejoiced in the berries and we celebrated our success.

Then came the drought. Two of the seven plants suddenly blackened and turned brittle. And I realized I had failed to heed fully two great tenets of permaculture: that we must put things in the right place, and that important functions should be performed by multiple elements.

“Place the elements of your design in ways that create useful relationships and time-saving connections among all parts,” says Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden. Well, of course I was aiming for a placement that would create those connections. That’s why I’d planted them along a frequently traveled path, where my community members and I could observe and tend (and harvest) easily. And that’s why I had chosen them to extend the “edge” of our orchard, where scything and leaf-fall would generate sufficient mulch nearby. I had placed them uphill of the rest of the orchard, so that any excess nutrients would run down to the fruit trees, and so that liming the orchard would not raise the pH of the blueberry bed. I was stacking functions—the logs would hold water and build organic matter and soil health, the perennial plants would hold soil and provide food, wildlife cover, beauty, and mulch, and the mound and hedge as a whole would help buffer the orchard against prevailing winds. I was turning a problem (acidic soil, unsightly log piles) into a solution (tasty berries). I had even placed the mounds along a slope so they would catch and store water, reducing runoff and protecting against erosion. What had I done wrong?

As the hot, dry July days continued, the answer became painfully clear: I had placed them far uphill from the only source of water—our pond. This was not a useful relationship or a time-saving connection. There was no element serving the all-important function of providing adequate water to saturate the logs, encourage them to compost, and fill the cavities between them and the soil. The poor plants were left literally high and dry, and I had little patience for hauling buckets of water up the hill in a cart.

The saving grace at this juncture turned out to be community. Thank God I do not live alone out here on the prairie. Family, friends, and neighbors have all helped me get adequate water and more mulch to the blueberries, and despite a continuing drought we have managed collectively to stave off the death of the five remaining plants. Spring will tell whether the hugelkultur experiment has succeeded.

Interestingly, the blueberries closest to our house have shown no difficulty at all. I suspect they have received more attention, mulch, urine, and water than those farther away. Which reminds me of another principle I forgot—start close to home and work slowly outward. A friend just gave me a couple more young blueberry plants, which I’m planning to put near the surviving ones closest to the house (and pond).

Sometimes I think I learn more from my failures than from my successes. Hey, guess what? That’s Toby Hemenway’s Permaculture Principle #14: “Mistakes are tools for learning.” At least there’s one principle I’m following. I’m considering building my next hugelkultur beds right here below the house, downhill from the pond. I think I’ll put in potatoes.

The FIC publishes Communities magazine, the Communities Directory, the Intentional Communities Website (, and supports all forms of cooperative living. Please consider a donation to support our efforts.

Alyson Ewald is an organizer, fundraiser, baker, and founding member of Red Earth Farms, a 76-acre community land trust in Missouri. She and her partner Mark experiment with permaculture, natural building, and child-raising together, with varying degrees of success.

Articles by Alyson Ewald

Dec 2, 2011

Saving Seed for Years To Come!

Find out how to save seeds for years to come.

Roundup Ready Alfalfa Damages US Seed Industry | Truthout

Wednesday 19 October 2011
by: Phillip Geertson

Phillip Geertson has spent the last 30 years farming and raising many diversified crops, and has been a partner in alfalfa breeding programs for 25 years. Alfalfa is a perennial plant, which makes it extremely vulnerable to contamination.

When Roundup Ready (hereafter “RR”) alfalfa was first suggested I did not think that it would be developed and introduced because most alfalfa fields are never sprayed for weed control. And, if a chemical weed control was needed, there is a long list of off-patent low-cost herbicides that are effective if used properly.

Alfalfa hay is usually cut on a schedule of 24 to 30 days for each crop harvest. The entire plant above ground is removed along with any weeds. This frequent cutting and removal suppresses weed growth and will control, and sometimes even eliminate, persistent perennials and noxious weeds that Roundup will not control.

When alfalfa is properly fertilized and growing in appropriate soil conditions (correct Ph, well drained, etc.), alfalfa will outgrow and choke out most weeds. When alfalfa stands become weedy, non-thrifty, and otherwise poor performing it is usually because of poor fertility, insects, water logging, or winter damage. Weeds in an alfalfa forage field are a symptom of problems and simply spraying with Roundup to kill the weeds will not correct the underlying problem that is causing poor performance. A weedy alfalfa field should be plowed out, the soil conditions corrected, and then rotated to another crop that is not a host for alfalfa diseases, insects, or nematodes so that they die away. Afterwards, a new stand of alfalfa can be replanted.

Alfalfa is often planted with a companion crop of oats or other grasses in a spring seeding. The cover crop suppresses weeds and gives some protection to young alfalfa plants. An early summer cutting of the oats and new alfalfa plants produces valuable forage for horses, feeder cattle, and young dairy cattle. This practice, however, cannot be used with the RR technology because the Roundup will kill the oats or grass cover crop.

Forage fields of alfalfa are often planted with a companion perennial grass to produce forage that is an alfalfa-grass mix that is a superior feed for all classes of livestock. The grass component in the forage helps to balance the digestive process and gives a better balance of nutrients, so fewer supplements are required in high performance livestock. A grass mix forage is the best feed for horses and the grass in a dairy cow ration is very helpful in reducing laminitis in dairy cattle. Spraying an RR alfalfa field with Roundup will kill any companion grass.

The need for RR alfalfa is very limited; it only adds one more chemical to a long list of herbicides available.

From the standpoint of a conventional (non RR) alfalfa seed grower, the main problem with the introduction of RR alfalfa is the contamination of all alfalfa with the RR gene.

Alfalfa, a long-lived perennial, is cross pollinated by bees and other insects that fly long distances. Honey bees are known to fly ten miles, and wind gusts can pick up insects that have been pollinating alfalfa blossoms and gathering pollen and move them long distances.

Alfalfa sets and produces seed best if it is cross pollinated from another plant. If the pollen from an RR alfalfa plant fertilizes the flowers on a non-RR alfalfa plant, the seed on that non RR plant will contain the RR gene, and plants that grow from that seed will be roundup resistant. The RR gene will spread throughout the entire alfalfa population and would eventually make it impossible to raise conventional seed without some RR contamination and make it nearly impossible to breed and develop new varieties of alfalfa. This is not a good thing.

Conventional alfalfa contaminated with the RR gene will become a weed in the RR soybean, cotton, and sugar beet fields that cannot be removed.

Farmers that feel the RR technology is a valuable tool should and will avoid the introduction of any plant that is RR resistant . . . including alfalfa. The demand or acceptance of any conventional seed that has even a trace of RR contamination would be compromised, because a farmer who is growing other RR crops would not want his field contaminated with RR alfalfa.

Alfalfa is a native plant of Eurasia and grows as a feral plant throughout Europe. I have pictures of it growing along the Danube River in Austria, the Alps in Switzerland, and even in the median strip in front of the Nazi rally center in Nuremburg. It was introduced into North and South America, New Zealand, and Australia and other areas of the world where it now grows as a wild feral plant.

In a natural environment, the RR gene in alfalfa doesn’t give it any survival advantage. In fact, early yield trials show that alfalfas with the RR gene are poor performers. In the environment created by human activity, however, we have given RR alfalfa a survival advantage. The worldwide use of glysosphate (the active ingredient in Roundup and other generic herbicides) will give alfalfa plants with the RR gene a survival advantage over conventional alfalfa. There is no wonder that the rest of the world does not want RR alfalfa seed and have prohibited the import of any alfalfa seed contaminated with even a trace of the RR gene.

The U.S. Alfalfa seed industry was the world’s major producer of alfalfa seed. Historically, the U.S. alfalfa seed industry exported more than half of the alfalfa seed produced in the United States, but 2007 was the last time the USDA reported the size of the U.S. alfalfa seed exports. Why? Export data would be very useful in determining the amount of damage that was done to the U.S. alfalfa seed industry by the release of RR alfalfa into U.S. agriculture.

Alfalfa is the first important perennial plant to be genetically engineered and introduced into the environment that is cross pollinated by insects and that grows as a wild feral plant throughout the world. Putting a foreign gene that cannot be recalled into such an important crop without thoroughly analyzing its potential negative effects is, in my opinion, criminal. If Monsanto and/or other genetic engineering companies can get away with this introduction, then you can be sure that others will follow. Hundreds of other important plants will be subject to genetic mutation and if released into the environment could change the species forever. How does the Endangered Species Act come into play here?

Why was Monsanto given the right to introduce a gene into alfalfa plants without any published studies that prove beyond any doubt that it is safe, useful, and would not cause harm?

The timing of events: in 2004, Forage Genetics (hereafter “FG”) planted 5,332 acres of RR alfalfa for seed production.(This was more than one year before the USDA deregulated RR alfalfa in June 2005).

Then, in the spring of 2005, FG planted 5,468 more acres for seed production. Any plantings after June 2005 could not have produced any seed in 2005. 10,800 acres seems to be a lot of experimental acres that could have been planted BEFORE deregulation under the rules for experimental planting before deregulation. And, where did FG get the foundation RR seed to plant 5,332 acres in 2004?

That seed must have been grown and produced in 2003 or earlier, and had to be of significant size to plant 5,332 acres plus other experimental plantings.

In 2007, Paul Fry of Cal West Seed wrote a letter explaining the RR contamination Cal West found in seed lots produced in Montana and Washington during 2005. Those lots that were contaminated with the RR gene were planted with foundation seed produced in Solano County, California in 2003.

Therefore, it is obvious that FG/Monsanto allowed the RR gene to escape into the environment near the Cal West foundation seed fields in 2003.

It would be easy to determine where the contamination came from. All plantings of genetic crops not deregulated have to be registered with the USDA and with safeguards to prevent escape of the GM into the environment.

In the testimony given to the first RR court case and comments on the environmental impact statement, the so called “experts” claimed that the RR gene could be controlled so that there would be no contamination from the RR gene, but, in fact, the RR gene had already escaped in 2003 -- two years prior to being deregulated for the first time in 2005. The USDA should be required to release all details of the experimental plantings prior to the June 2005 deregulation. Those records should detail how much, their locations, what precautions were taken to prevent escape of the mutant gene, who was responsible for the test, and who in the USDA approved it.

My own experience with exported alfalfa seed began in 1990 when I visited New Zealand and found that little alfalfa was used because of acid soils and the lack of rizobia bacteria.

After helping New Zealand farmers with better agronomic practices, alfalfa became a more widely used crop in New Zealand. And, over the next 20 years I developed a network of dealers to sell our U.S.-produced alfalfa seed varieties. We were poised to substantially expand our New Zealand seed sales until 2005 when New Zealand moved quickly to ban alfalfa that contained even a trace of the RR gene. At that time I had a field in Nevada contracted for alfalfa seed production that I intended to ship to New Zealand. It was tested for the presence of the RR gene and one test was positive. It would have been a bad business decision to ship the lot and hope the RR gene would not be detected.

Therefore, after 20 years of work, many trips to New Zealand, advertising costs, time and effort expended, we ended our New Zealand seed business. I knew there was no way to grow alfalfa seed that was free of RR contamination in the United States.

FG/Monsanto had contracted alfalfa seed production on 5,332 acres in 2004 and those acres were located in the middle of the major seed production areas of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and Oregon.


Who will benefit because the U.S. alfalfa seed industry has lost most of its export market? International companies that own available varieties and have seed production facilities in other countries will benefit. FG/Monsanto and Pioneer International both own most of the alfalfa varieties and have production in Canada, Australia, and possibly elsewhere.

Dec 1, 2011

Easy Newspaper Pots

By Angela Blackerby

Last year, I spent a good amount of time making newspaper pots for my seedling transplants during the busy spring season. This winter, I am trying to make a few as I go, so that I will have them ready when I need them. This is the easiest and most effective way I have found to make newspaper pots.

No glue, tape, scissors or black belt in origami necessary. I swear.

First, gather your supplies. You will need newspaper, preferably black and white, with few pictures. Soy-based ink is the best for the planet and your garden, and you should try to avoid colored ink completely. You can call your newspaper to find out what kind of ink they use.

You will also need a can. Any can will do! Truly, any kind. Even Japanese sweetened Azuki beans. No one will know.

That's it! Now for the good stuff. Double up your newspaper if you have a single sheet. If you have an attached middle section, you won't need to do that. Fold your newspaper section in half, lengthwise.

Place your can on one end of the newspaper, so that about half the can is above the paper.

Next, tightly roll the newspaper around the can. Don't worry too much about keeping it lined up, it should work out naturally. Keep rolling the newspaper until you reach the end.

Now, this part is important. While holding on to the seam, push the open end of the newspaper down, using the bottom of the can as a guide. This helps to "lock" in your seed pot so that it stays together.

Next, make two other folds to close the bottom of your pot. Again, fold against the bottom of your can as a guide.

Now, flip the whole thing over and smash the newspaper down a bit with the can inside, to help make sure the folds will stay. Gently wiggle the can out of the paper. It may seem a little fragile or unstable, but when you add the soil in, it will hold! Also, because the bottom overlaps, there is no room for the soil to leak out. The newspaper pot below is filled with soil to the halfway point.

This project is very easy and inexpensive. When it comes time to plant, you can open up the bottom of the pot, so that the roots can grow down, and place directly in your garden. The newspaper will decompose naturally.

Photos: Angela Blackerby

Read more:

RIA - Rock Island Auction - Ready Aim Sold Pilot Teaser

Quad City Times Article
TV show to feature RI auction business

Premieres Wednesday, November 30 at 10PM e/p on Discovery Channel

What do you get when you mix family, firearms and millions of dollars of business?

Local TV stars... Monte


The father son team of Pat and Kevin Hogan show the world what it takes to turn a passion for history and collecting into an industry leading company based right out of the QCA. This November 29th, Pat, Kevin and Rock Island Auction Company will be the feature of a new pilot episode on Discovery Channel about everything that goes into firearms auctioning.

Each year Rock Island Auction Company auctions off more than 20,000 firearms, each of which has its own history. Whether it was presented to the Sultan of Turkey, the first gun off the Colt assembly line, or grandpa’s sidearm from WWII, each gun has its story, and its price.

Collectors from around the world make their way to the Rock Island, IL five times a year for theirchance to take home their own piece of history, some paying close to a half million dollars for a single gun. And that’s only half the story.

The show sheds light to what happens before each auction. The challenges of finding firearms to bring to auction, researching their history, and meeting the collectors, their stories, and what drives them to bid are brought to the public’s eye. All while mixing in a bit of education on what makes a firearm that has been sitting in a closet for 30 years worth $125,000 or rifle thought to be $300,000 less than $40,000.

Search Online Catalog

Consign Firearms in an Upcoming Auction

Firearm Photo Database 60,000 Photos and Growing!

Nov 30, 2011

Farmers Anticipating Harsh Winter - Hines Farm Hay Sales are Brisk

Getting ready to load semi - Larger Photo

Loading Begins - Larger Photo

Loading Continues - Larger Photo

Load ends with 35th bale - Larger Photo

Syracuse, Penn State and the Problem with Sun Kings | The Nation

Dave Zirin on November 30, 2011

Last night, Syracuse University men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim walked onto his home court at the Carrier Dome and received a rousing standing ovation. This wasn’t because he was starting his thirty-fifth season as the team’s head coach, or to commemorate the Hall of Famer’s forty-ninth year in association with the school as student, athlete and coach. It was a community-wide show of support for their embattled leader now facing pressure to resign after his longtime assistant and friend Bernie Fine was accused of being a pedophile.

If that sounds like a horrible echo of the happenings at Penn State University, the similarities don’t end there—and not only because Fine is accused of using his position as coach to find his alleged victims. (Two of his three accusers are former Syracuse ball boys.) It runs deeper: another example in our culture of athletic complicity.

Like the football at Penn State, the basketball program at Syracuse is the cultural, social, and even economic hub of the region. The Syracuse hoops program brings in $19 million in revenue per year, fifth most among basketball programs in the United States and more than storied programs like Kentucky and Indiana.

Like Penn State’s Joe Paterno, Boeheim is more than a coach: he’s an institution. The Syracuse hoops program resembles a kingdom overseen by a benevolent dictator, who, as one source said to me, “tends to see what he wants to see.”

Like Penn State, there is a history of student/athletes having a wide array of misdeeds defended by Boeheim, often in a manner that seems to expect the campus equivalent of diplomatic immunity.

(Unlike Penn State, Jim Boeheim originally, and to his great shame, went after Fine’s accusers calling them “liars”—something for which he has since apologized.)

Like Penn State, allegiance to the program runs deeply in the marrow of the community and well beyond the boundaries of the school. The police chief who heard the original abuse claim against Fine in 2002 is named Dennis DuVal. DuVal played for the Syracuse Orange hoops team from 1972–74, leaving one year before Boeheim took over the top job. DuVal and his underlings kept no written record of the accusations against Fine, telling former ballboy Bobby Davis that “the statute of limitations” had expired, making an investigation impossible. The police department announced this week that they were now changing policy and keeping files of every child abuse accusation going forward.

Like Penn State, Syracuse knew about the allegations for years and conducted their own internal investigation independent of the authorities. In 2005, the school investigated, allegedly—and frankly unbelievably—without telling Boeheim. They buried their findings until turning them over this week.

Like Penn State, there is an incriminating piece of evidence that was entombed for years: at PSU it was graduate assistant Michael McQueary witnessing a shower rape of a 10-year-old; at Syracuse, it was a recorded phone call between Bobby Davis and Bernie Fine’s wife, Laurie, in which Fine’s behavior is acknowledged.

There is one aspect of this scandal that could make it mushroom even beyond Penn State‘s. That’s the role the media played—or didn’t play—when they were given the tape in 2003. They made the decision not investigate or hand it over to the authorities. ESPN’s senior vice president and director of news Vincent Doria defended that decision this week, noting that they had no one to corroborate Davis’s story in 2003. He also said, “It’s not necessarily the journalist’s role to go to the police with potential evidence that at the time we didn’t believe was strong enough to report ourselves.”

ESPN did release the tape this week, after other Fine accusers emerged.

Former ESPN anchorman Dan Patrick and many others have blasted ESPN for not taking the recording to the police, strongly inferring that ESPN was more interested in protecting their relationship with Boeheim and the powerful Big East athletic conference. An ESPN employee, requesting anonymity, told me, “Also don’t discount the influence of the ‘Syracuse mafia’—it seems sometimes like every other person at Bristol is a graduate of this place.” (For what it’s worth, I personally agree strongly, no matter the motivation, that it’s not the journalist’s role to turn their stories over to the police or report on stories they cannot corroborate.)

Finally, like Penn State, if it’s found out that Boeheim even had the slightest indication that his friend of four decades acted inappropriately toward children, he’ll be gone, unceremoniously dumped, a victim of his own power and success.

If it’s proven that Boeheim truly knew nothing, many will crow about his vindication. But no one is vindicated when these kinds of charges surface: there are only degrees of suffering and culpability. Bernie Fine maintains his innocence and he will have his day in court. But there is already demonstrable guilt of a different kind: it’s the guilt that hangs on a powerful institution that feared the allegations of child molestation more than they feared the possibility that a child predator could be hurting more kids. It’s the guilt that hangs on a whole community seeing a sports program as “too big to fail” and then warping every pretension of a moral compass to make sure it doesn’t. We saw this at Penn State. We see it at Syracuse. We could see it at more schools in the months to come.

One thing is certain: we need coaches, educators and teachers at our universities. We don’t need benevolent dictators with clipboards. We don’t need collegiate Sun Kings. We don’t need coaches who look across their expansive campuses and say “L’├ęcole c’est moi.”

Cartoon: Who’s Going to Jail? | Fishink

Protesters against corruption are being jailed while those who perpetrate the corruption go free. Steve Sack ably illustrates:

Largest single-story building in the United States switches to woody biomass heating | Forest Business Network

November 27, 2011

General Motors’ Chevrolet division has embarked on a 5-year effort to invest 40 million dollars in American projects that aim to reduce up to 8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. From post-wildfire reforestation, to wind farms, to pipeline heat recovery, and more, the corporation has some interesting CO2 reduction projects underway.

One that specifically caught our eye is an effort to help the United State’s largest single-story building, the Metrolina Greenhouse in Huntersville, North Carolina, replace its use of fossil fuel energy with that of woody biomass. The immense building—over 120 football fields—houses and turns over 70 million plants a year. An operation of this size requires a lot energy, to say the least. Last year, Metrolina switched from extensive fossil fuel use to generating virtually all of its heat from wood chips. The company feels its smoke-free biomass heating helps them be a much better corporate neighbor to surrounding communities than when they used old fossil fuel boilers in the past.

Jeff Woolsey, the Systems and Boiler Engineer for the greenhouse states:

When our biomass boilers are running and burning this wood, you cannot see any smoke. You can’t even tell they are running.

Watch this excellent video to see Metrolina and its biomass boilers in action: