Tag Archives: sustainable

Ding Ding Ding, end of round one


Yesterday saw the end of our first batch of syrup making. Leah slaved away at the cooker and stove for what seemed like days on end. With the weather in the mid 50’s and lower 60’s for most of the week, the sap had stopped flowing but there was the risk of it spoiling on us if we didn’t get it cooked down. This meant that we had to get it cooked, soonest. Because of that, we dragged the propane cooker out of the basement and brought the sap to a boil on it before putting it into the big cook pot on the rocket cooker. Not what I would have preferred to do as propane costs money that winter keeps in short supply. But we make do. When the temperature drops back below freezing at night and the sap freezes, only the water freezes, not the sugar. This allows us to pull water out without expending any energy. It also speeds the process along. That didn’t happen this time. Which has to be one of the oddest things I’ve witnessed in the years I’ve cooked sap. Remember, we are in the Northeastern corner of Ohio, and this is JANUARY!!! Why the temperatures are that high is beyond me. But no matter. We got a little over 2 gallons of syrup and the season hasn’t officially started yet. Here’s hoping for a long one.


Chasing off the Snow Giants


Tuesday night saw what I think of as the first day of a New Tradition. It’s really only new to me, not at all new to the history of humanity or to those currently living. 5 of us met out back to honor Mother’s Night and burn a Yule log in order to light the way for the Sun to return to us after it’s gradual waning. In the image above, you can see our Log nestled in the core of the fire (its bark runs horizontally while all others run towards the vertical). With its burning, we release the failures and angers and discomforts of the last year and look forward to the new year’s hopes and dreams.


As I was unfamiliar with the spirit of Yule, I had to make a few things up as I went along. Our Log was the bottom section of a Black Locust tree from our land (traditionally they are Oak). We had no Holly sprigs to carry our past year’s frustrations and no acorns to carry our hopes for the new one. This will be rectified in the future. Our Ceremony was loose and unorganized, but as Will said,”the archetypes are what truly matters, even if we aren’t as familiar with them and don’t get them exactly right.” It took me nearly 2 hours and at least 3 attempts to build the fire in a way that felt acceptable. A single attempt was made to bring the fire to light and it was a far greater success than even I had hoped. This is in alignment to my bone level KNOWING that I was never much of a Fire Fighter while I was on my local fire department. My personal history taught me that I am more of a Fireman.



noun  fire·man  \-mən\
Popularity: Bottom 30% of words
  1.  a person who tends or feeds fires:stoker

  2.  a member of a fire department :firefighter

  3.  an enlisted man in the navy who works with engineering machinery

  4.  a relief pitcher in baseball

It is in accordance with the first definition that I find guidance in my life rather than any of the others (the baseball reference is new and totally alien to me). I know that I have written before of the history of my family and how my mother’s father (Andrew Patrnchak) started his career in Warren Ohio as a Stove Tender, shoveling coal into the blast furnaces at Republic Steel. He retired as the Steel Pourer, actually controlling the Ladle as the liquid steel is poured into its forms. He would know what I’m talking about. Being able to look into the heart of a fire and tell, by color or texture or movement, the exact internal state of the Fire. My time spent at Ohio University firing their wood kilns to 2300 deg F is in line with this. Building a fire that will vent properly. Positioning the lay so that the wind works to draw the fire through the fuel rather than forcing it to choke on its own smoke. These things as as much instinct as learned. Maybe more so.


In the setting of making this fire, I had the added tension of the actual lighting of the fire. Tradition stats that the head of the household needs to spark off the fire on the first attempt to ensure good fortune. This I did with seeming nonchalance (I say seeming because I was more nervous than I apparently needed to be and certainly more than I looked.) The wind at my back, the tiny spark took to the kindling and rushed through the small stuff, forced down and inward. There it found and set the core of the fire. It is this moment of kindling that the year ahead rests upon. If in spirit and attitude if nothing else. The fire took hold and began to wrap back and around our Yule log, releasing to potent magic inherent in the woods I chose to carry the fire. Red and White Oak, Wild Cherry, Aspen and Tulip Poplar, Beach and Green Ash all played their part while Hophorn Beam was doing the real heavy lifting to release the true energetic potential in the Black Locust at the fire’s heart.

We sang no songs and intoned no chants. No animals were sacrificed to slake the blood thirst of angry spirits. In their stead, stories were shared, and libations were offered, to our Ancestors, to the sun and the darkness, to Thor, and to the Spirit that Moves Through All Things. We gave thanks for what has passed. We gave thanks for the day’s lengthening. We recognized Mother Night from which all things come. As she carries and cradles the seeds underground, in darkness, that spring forth into the light and give new life.

Our tradition is new. Our celebration small. Much like the seeds we press into the soil. In time our circle will grow. As will the sun. As will our endeavors. Our hopes and dreams will also grow and spread, bringing new patterns of life to this worn out, beaten down land. A land waiting, under its icy blanket for the coming spring to show us our paths.


May the log burn,
May the wheel turn,
May evil spurn,
May the Sun return.

As winter blows in

Even though the temperatures are starting to slip down towards the freezing mark, I’ve kept at it out in the barn. Why not? I’ve got the rocket stove out there now. For now, there isn’t a lot of heat retention as the walls are basically just a bunch of reeds bound up together. Around the edges, at the corners and the top, the wind can still come right in.  I’ve wrapped the outside of the addition with tarps and some old old greenhouse plastic. I’m not trying to seal the room up completely, that will come later. My efforts are simply in order to block out the worst of the wind and to keep the snow out of the room. In any case, every bit helps. The door to the outside has a removable window and a little sliding door at the bottom so that the birds will be able to get in and out without having to go through barn. More than that, I would very much like to get the birds to stop turning the yard in front of the barn into a mud pit. My intention is for them to go out this new door and turn the side yard into a mud pit. Hence the little door. Figuring out a door that is able to resist the intentions of a skunk or raccoon isn’t as simple as I first thought. But after about an hour of staring at the bottom of that door, I had a solution. The little sliding door actually nests inside the outer casing. Only time will tell if it will do the job. It feels like it should. I hope it does.

The walls, as I stated, are simply bundled reeds. So anything I do on the inside of the barn will have to be relatively removable. That and I want them off the floor. I don’t know if you can tell from the images, but the nest boxes are actually attached to the window cases with a brace at the bottom to hold them off the wall. When the time comes to finish the inside, the boxes will need to be removed. The way I attached them allows that. The red/white/green along the top of the boxes are small sections of metal roofing that was left over from cutting in the roof. This will allow the birds to use the upper boxes without getting pooped on. More importantly, the slope will make it so that the birds won’t be able  hang out on top. Anyone who knows chickens knows that they crap almost constantly. The slope will dissuade them from hanging out up there. It worked pretty well on the old boxes.


The perches are set. The way I’ve done them this time is to set boxes/braces on the wall that the perches can be set in. The perches aren’t actually attached to the boxes. This will allow their removal when I need to clean up under them. Instead, I ran wire through the wall and secured the boxes in place so that the cob/plaster layer will come right up to it. I think it was something I saw in one of the straw bale books that I have. The bottom 2 perches are most likely going to get replaced with straighter poles. If I have the energy to do so. In the current coop, the perches are actually secured in place. Until you have either been crapped on while mucking about under perched birds or simply felt the (literally) crappy perches rubbing along your head, neck and back as you try and work, you haven’t lived. It’s a not obvious in the image but there is also a window (same size/shape as the one in the door) set high in the wall. This will allow paper level ventilation in the summer and just a little more light year round. I’m just trying to make the space as light and airy as I can. Not that the chickens will let me know if they are content or satisfied with what I’ve made for them. If any of you can speak chicken, please please please come over and help me talk to these birds.


my Rubber Biscuit, the liar

As for the animals, Biscuit has apparently shown her true colors and a full on liar. I’ve been waiting on her to show signs of an imminent birthing and she as more than willingly taken the feed I’ve been giving her as if she is owed the sweetness. In fact, when I contacted the family that sold her to me (and assured that she was due “any day now”) they informed me that their other doe was also not showing signs of imminent birthing. What this leads me to believe is that their Pygmy buck simply isn’t up to the talk. In Biscuit’s case, I think that I mean it literally as well. I think he just couldn’t reach. She is a fairly big girl as far as it goes and he was just a little guy. The other nanny was his size though so who (besides the goats themselves) knows? As for the chickens, I now have 4 extra roosters and a young hen that is laying an egg a day. Another hen lays maybe 4 or 5 times a week. Everyone else seems to have stopped completely. 2 eggs in a day (at best) with 28 birds is pretty pathetic. There is a bit of electrical work to take care of and then I’ll hook in the timer and try and get a few more of them to start laying again. At least I hope they start back up. Time will tell.

Stink mouthed Dragon no more

The previous story was just sitting here waiting for me to publish and the world had already moved on. Yesterday afforded me time to sit with the stove and see what I could make happen. It had been suggested to point a small fan into the feed box in order to increase the draft. If it did increase it, I couldn’t really tell. All that seemed to happen was that the smoke just got pushed into the room faster. Another suggestion I had seen in the Rocket Stove book was to choke down the feed box by adding a brick at the back of the box. Well hot Diggity ding dong dang if it didn’t work. I’ve lost a bit of space for fuel but it works. In fact, after running the rocket most of the day in an attempt to dry it and the mass in the thermal battery, I did an experiment and removed the brick I had added. And, yeah, instant smoke fest. So there ya go. I put the brick back and it went smoke free. Just the cutest little roar. If you want to hear it purr, come on by.

If you want to direct message me, I’m at Charles@trilliumcenter.org


Lake Effected

Well dang if that didn’t just take an extra long while for me to actually write again. It’s not that I’ve been just sitting around, watching the leaves turn pretty colors and fall to the ground, because I have been doing a bit of that. No, it is said that a rolling stone grows no moss. Some times, though, occasionally, the rate of roll slows to the point that moss can just barely start to get a toehold. This summer presented me with one of those periods. The challenges and complications of existence can, at times, obscure the path ahead. At times like those, it can be wise to simply stop staring at the scenery and all the gee gaws there-in and focus on the spot where my foot will next meet the earth. One step. One step. One step.coop-the-girls

Great picture isn’t it? You can almost tell what happened back there

The Rocket has been buried. I added the small can so that I could keep litter from catching sparks. That and it allows me to stop the airflow altogether. I ran long screws through the metal can from the inside towards the outside and they are held in the  compressed soil around the can. This will keep the can set.

Finally finally finally got the metal roof over the new addition installed. Part of that includes the chimney flashing having been set in the roof. This means that all I need to do is connect the long pipe from the floor to the ceiling. This is only hampered by the issue that sweet little Viann appears to have caught her reflection in 2 of the 4-foot sections of pipe that I had left in the room. Being the hell-spawned monster that she is, she must have recognized that her reflection actually revealed her true form. As everyone knows, duh, demons hide their form from humanity. Rather that allowing me to catch a glimpse of her form, she proceeded to SMASH SMASH SMASH the pipe. And once she had satisfied her head butting, she then proceeded to do the tap-dance-o-death on the smashed pipe. Luckily she only weighed 45# when she did this. This means that the creases aren’t hard folded and that I can get them hammered out without a lot of deformity. Maybe today.

In addition to setting the rocket in the floor, I went and cut some more Phrag. Before you tut tut tut me for cutting it 3 months early, let me just say, Yes, it’s not dry yet. The inner parts of the bottom end of this year’s reeds are still green. Even some of the leaves are green. Just a little. As I’m not using this stuff in any way that resembles thatching, or exterior exposure, I decided to just go for the lesson and find out what happens with a far less than perfect set of reeds. I’m facing an issue this year that I hope to resolve in a definitive way. The patch of Phragmites you drove by yesterday (if you have or were in a car and near any amount of standing water) is filled with all the previous years dead reeds. That one is no different from the one in the Andes mountains or Sri Lanka or here at my place. This plant tends to mono-crop itself. Come to find out, it actually releases antialgel allelochemicals.  Pretty neat. Allelopathy is far more common than I at first realized. Certain plants, basically, “salts the earth” or lay down it’s own herbicide specifically crafted to ward off it’s primary contenders. Because of this, the dead reeds mostly get hung up in the 3-6″ between the next closest batch of reeds. They are just forced to stay standing. Heavy winds will snap them off, or someone walking through. These dead reeds further block sunlight from the ground with inhibits evaporation and germination of anything else. The bottom 4′ of the reeds tend to be packed in with all this dead stuff, tighter and tighter as you get closer to the surface.  This year though, all the best and tallest patches will get sliced off at the dirt which will allow everything to lay over and get pushed to the soil where it can rot. I think that is carbon sequestration. Something like it happens in mob-grazing ecologies. Here is the thing though. NEXT YEAR will mean a cleaner harvest, cleaner and far easier. The footing is remarkably treacherous. Oh yeah, and there are 2 common lengths of dead reed, eyeball level when I have my hands on my knees while I’m gasping for breath from all this work, and eyeball level when bent 90* at the waist when I drop the Kama, again. Pokey stabby slicy stuff. If you’ve ever played hide and seek in an endless ocean of field corn in shorts and short sleeves, you begin to understand. Of course sweating immediately describes the exact dimension of each and everyone of those minor lacerations. They itch and burn. Time well spent. And I need to take a final moment here and recommend that each and every person who reads this go out into or at least next to a patch of Phrag. A day with a light breeze is best. The sound of the long dry leaves whisk swish whisking against each other is pure auditory heaven. It’s hypnotic. I highly recommend it. It might change your life.

The lower section of the wall is 3 garage door insulation panels thick. The inner layer is part of the wall holding back the infill. I figured that since I’ve got these things laying around, they won’t speed up heat loss through the floor. So why not? The outer panel is about 4″ taller than the inner floor.

west wall exterior
coop north wall with window Phrag bundles

The rest of the wall is made up of the bundles of Phrag. The bundles average around 4″ in diameter. Leah and I tied them up. One on each side, hold the bundle in place, weave the baling twine over around under through over tight, pick up all the reeds that fell, repeat 4x per bundle. It got a lot more straightforward after a bit. This will get covered with the same sort of earthen plaster that is inside the Seedhouse. I haven’t figured the outside yet. The eaves are pretty deep so I might try straight earthen plaster outside too. Or maybe a mix with just a little lime to tighten things up. I can’t grow or mine plaster lime here. Ever. And the trick is as small a footprint as possible. The insulation panels are/were garbage.


Coop interior Phrag bundle detail
coop interior west wall Phrag bundles

I doubt I can pull off plastering this thing before the freeze is here to stay. Maybe the inside only as I have the capacity to heat that room. The exterior walls will remain covered with a membrane for the winter. Something to cut the wind. I would like to get birds in here fairly soon so, I’ve still got a bit of work to do to pull that off.

Oh, and I redid the kitchen some.




Just throwing this one out there really quick.


especially at night, cooking with small sticks and a friend in from out of town.

I lost a lot of syrup last night when this happened. Not all of it. The pot contained everything I’ve cooked down in the last 3 weeks. It’s not devastating. I did catch it before it just burned into the bottom of the pot. When it happened to me a couple of years ago, it took a wire wheel on a drill to get it off the bottom of the pot.

Joys of DIY

Oh, What have I done?

Got a little set back on my heels last night on Permies.com’s rocket stove forum.

It wasn’t a case of trolling or keyboard rage or anything like that. Simply my realizing that the words I was reading were in fact true and in fact, truer than my own thoughts to that point.

I designed this system to operate with a 6″ duct pipe. my first drawing offered up 2 possible routes around the new coop, heating as much of the floor as possible.

There is just no way my stove, as I built it, and the duct system I have planned ,will draw, let alone heat the room. The best solution would be to tear down the stove and rebuild it to a 7×7″ interior which would support an 8″ duct downstream. If I had the soft brick to do it, I would do it. The thing is, I cut almost every single piece of soft brick I had in order to insulate the riser. It was also recommended that I make the entire riser out of soft brick as that would allow it to heat up very quickly.

The one I build in the pottery studio across the road will be made that way.

Last night was an unsettling one for me as I was contemplating tearing down what we had spent so much time assembling. This morning while I was in the barn doing my chores, it dawned on me. I don’t need to heat the entire place. If I can pour heat into a smallish mass at the core of the structure, I’ll achieve my goal of taking the worst of the edge of the brutal winters to come. I don’t need to heat the entire room to “room temperature”. Above freezing is fine.

So, insulate around and under the mass contagious to the pipe and cut the entire thing down to 10′ or 20′ with a 15′ chimney.

And, the fire tunnel between the fire box and the riser is much longer than it needs to be. The sooner the flame is going up the riser and getting the turbo vortex going, the better it runs. With the long tunnel that is on there now, that extra length has to heat up before heating any of the riser. There is some fire physics and thermo dynamic interplay of exchanging gasses or something going on here that I sort of understand but can’t really explain yet. The “Kiln Tech” parts of my brain from back once ago are pretty rusty. Switching my thinking towards a place that I can see these stoves, not as stoves, but as kilns has changes my perspective. I’m not all the way to understanding what these things can do. Not even close to a long shot.

The question is, what am I trying to heat? Not the air. Just the wall and the floor. The wall is already dry and isolated. The mass around the pipe MUST be dry. Wet mass won’t heat up. I think it will just use the heat to evaporate away the water. The entire floor will need to be isolated away from the ground. The cement and shingles and assorted junk getting thrown into this floor won’t stop water completely. Separating the specific mass around the pipe away, from the rest of the floor, will allow it to capture more of the heat and release it more slowly. I’m thinking of it as a bench set into the ground. The side towards the barn will remain uninsulated so that it can also capture the heat and release it into the barn itself.

There is a lot of floor to fill in before I need to finalize the size shape and philosophy of this stove. the exterior goes down to the footer for the block wall, making it nearly 3′ that needs filled in. Not all of it comes from across the street, to be sure. A lot of it does though.

Back to the syrup.