Friday, March 27, 2009

urine as fertilizer - some links

Alert reader (despite being sleep-deprived) Brian Thomas - baker, blacksmith, and subsistence farmer - wrote me saying that he had heard that the nitrogen in human urine might not be in an accessible form for plants. To help us all out on this, I picked up some links to articles. I hope I can get the links to work for you. And if anyone knows a better way to supply links other than having to type each character in by hand PLEASE let me know. Cutting and pasting doesn't seem to work with this blog.

Brian also said that he fills his five-gallon bucket one-third full with wood shavings or scrap hay and then just adds the bucket to his regular compost. I noticed one article advised to never let the urine get more than 24 hours old unless you're just going to use it to get the temperature up in your compost heat. In the Washington Post article, note the cabbage growing capacity of just one person's piss. Cool.

And aren't we all glad I didn't match the color of this post to the color of hot urine?

For more info google "urine fertilizer".

nitrogen independence - it's only a piss away!

A week or two ago some other subsistence farmers were complaining about the high price of nitrogen fertilizer. They mean nitro fertilizer suitable for organic growing methods, not good-old industrial-grade urea. I thought to myself, at least that's one soil amendment you shouldn't really have to buy. You can make it yourself. Unlike lime or bonemeal - unless you have your own knackeryard and crematorium.

A fair number of my friends do not have flush toilets (although they all have hot-and-cold running water) and I have always thought septic tanks were a waste. :) Unless you're Japan, or whatever country is currently buying our cooked down septic waste. (Yes. That's what your shit and cleansers are going into - faraway fertilizers that may be coming back you as the food on your table. We got that info from someone who pumped tanks for a living.) Septic tanks are not just a waste, they are terrible bother when you need to dig a new leach field, because you're old one got buggered, or when you have to dig up the line to find where the clog (or break in the pipe) is between the house and tank. Yuck.

But it's hard to make the time to build a composting outhouse when there isn't anything broken about the toilets. (For now.) We have so very many other actually broken things to work on around the place. A humanure (google that word if you want more information on composting your waste) bucket isn't hard to set up but I figured we'd want to compost all that stuff separate from our regular compost. Give it a little extra time and all that. This would involve building another, and fairly large compost bin somewhere - which puts us back to that this is just not a priority project for us. Fencing a new pasture is. Building a lumber shed and a recycling shed is. So is putting a veranda on the west side of the house to end another of the various rain runooff and drainage problems this place has. A new milking parlor ... A compost bin just for our shit when we got goat and duck shit out the wazoo, and their shit needs little if any composting down, just isn't on the list for the next five years of things-to-do, probably. But a simple bucket just for pee is easy enough to manage. I've just been being lazy. Between us and the rest of the animals here we should be able to make all our nitrogen needs, easy-peasy.

I found a five gallon bucket and a lid and scrubbed it out and set it up in the bathroom. The five-gallon size is not for anywhere near that amount of pee. By day 2 or 3 the pee in the bucket will be starting to ... uh, ferment ... and getting mighty smelly. No, the large size is for making it easier to squat over and for fairly splash-free carrying even without the lid.

Ronan had already said she would switch to a humanure bucket if I got a decorative toilet seat for the top of it. Something with sea creatures, please. But Matt, Mr. Natural, baulked on the humanure plan - noted above. Just pee doesn't need a special seat, because you don't really need to sit at all. Ronan complained that it wasn't comfortable having to hover over the bucket for a piss. I countered with the fact that for the hundreds of thousands of years of this species existence, women have sat down for a pee only in the past 100 or so and that even then that's in a minority of the places on this world. With all the mod-cons we have here, losing this one tiny one is only going to make us both (very slightly) stronger people.

Ronan has been doing her share. So far she has not volunteered to be the one to distribute the urine in the garden. I'm doing that. With the watering can. That way I can get the pee directly into the ground without spraying any on leaves we'll be wanting to eat later. I can also dilute it (adding the water, first, of course). It isn't always necessary to dilute the urine, but dilution will dissipate the smell, which even at its strongest doesn't last very long and is not so bad compared to fish emulsion. The smell of fish emulsion is also harder to wash off y0ur hands. I am guessing people living on small plots in cities should opt for dilution before applying.

So there you have it. One little thing you can do to make yourself more independent and self-sufficient. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

For those of you wondering about pathogens: generally it's the shit that has the pathogens; pee is usually pretty sterile when it first comes out (some people used to say it was completely sterile but that opinion has changed). It also contains antibodies, your own homegrown ones, unless you're taking antibiotics. Fresh urine can be used to cleanse and disinfect wounds in an emergency.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

closure on the haircut (for now)

Freedom, of sorts, has been achieved.

Ronan cut my hair. I gave her the directions, but I also gave her the clippers and the scissors, and let her go. She's a pretty detail-oriented sort of person. I had every faith in her ability. And now I feel as if a great weight has been lifted from my ... head. I have been cut loose. (This is the only "before" picture I have in digital format.)

Freedom is not having to buy conditioner. Freedom is not having to buy "calming" shampoos. Freedom is not having to do anything to keep my mop out of my eyes. Freedom is also not dreading the long process in the shower just trying to get the woolly stuff wet. Freedom is not scaring little children. (If I brushed my long hair so that all the locks of curls separated into individual strands, the whole mass grew and grew, not just to four times what you can see in the picture, but to a size that could stop traffic, commandeer a tank, maybe even stage a coup d'etat. Certainly my hair had practiced up during many guerrilla campaigns against me. Campaigns it always won. The only trick I ever learned to counter its insurgency was olive oil.

But are we ever truly free? Sadly not. I wanted a maintenance free haircut. On a day-to-day level, I got it - in exchange for a monthly appointment with my daughter and the clippers. Clipper jobs require a shower immediately after, because clipper-clippings itch maddeningly. Way more than hair cut with a scissors, and no amount of rubbing with a dry towel will get it all off. My haircuts also entail cleaning the sink and countertop afterwards and sweeping the floor. Such a fuss. I would have us do it outside, if I could rig a decent mirror near a convenient outdoor outlet. And if it didn't rain eight months of the year.

(Here is the "after" picture. The hair, at least, looks pretty good. See, Mom? You don't need to take me to a "professional" when I come visit in April. I've got one in-house.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

word of the day (or week) or whenever I get another word up here

The word is "brainish". It doesn't mean what your brain might first think it means. "Brainish" doesn't mean "smart" or "nerdy" or even "the way an animal hide might smell after it's been brain-tanned" (one of nature's many wonders is that every mammal has just sufficient brains to tan its own hide). Nope. None of those.

I found this word while Matt and I were wondering with our own weak and unsophiscated brains what "braising" is. I thought it had something to do with roasting but then started to doubt myself because the context was the back of a seed packet that recommended braising the largest leaves of the strain of mustard contained within. Braized mustard? We looked it up. "Braise" means "to cook slowly in fat and little moisture in a closed pot." Sounds rather like what happens in a dutch oven. On the opposite page and nowhere near "braise" was the word "brainish". One had to be grazing in the dictionary to find it. If you are starting to wonder why it is taking me so long to tell you want "brainish" means, that may be because I am trying to get a brainish reaction out of you, gentle reader. The color of this post is a clue, though.

Oh, all right.

"Brainish" means: impetuous, hotheaded. It's from circa 1530 and it's marked as archaic. Don't delay! We must rush to save this word from extinction! Use it today. Hell, be it today. Then use it. Then post a comment to tell the rest of us what you did that was brainish - and whether you need us to post bail for you.

bread-baking update

Here is an update from someone who is much more like an expert on making bread with no kneading. People have occasionally been puzzled by the lack of kneading in my bread recipe. This recipe goes way more than one better. The big catch: it only makes one loaf at a time. I make four. Once or twice a week. I haven't tried this recipe out to see how it works with a lot more whole wheat flour in it. Or how it works in Stella, our wood-fired cookstove. (Sorry no pictures of Stella are as yet available.) If this is something I would need to make every day, then I would want to make it in Stella - and it better be really easy. The dutch-oven would probably be very compatible with Stella's temperament; she rather likes to burn the back ends of the left rear loaves unless you rotate the batch every ten or fifteen minutes - and, yes, that's as tedious as it sounds. With Stella's eight- to nine-month season of use starting to wind down for the year, I think I will try this recipe as an occasional lark but I expect to stick with my own nearly-no-knead bread at least until next fall.

I don't know why I can't get this link to work. It drops off the first "story" after "templates" in translation. Once you get the npr site just type in "kneadless bread" in the search window and you'll get there after all.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Back to the Land - the Kid Version

I suggested to Ronan that she should maybe stop waiting for the adults to build her a treehouse and build her own fort. That suggestion didn't go much of anywhere until Ronan and I discovered a less frequented part of the public land across the way from our five-acre plot of hillside. Somehow this place inspired Ronan and she and two of her friends set off with a bagful of baling twine, a pocket knife, and a faithful dog and built themselves a fort in the woods by the Coast Fork of the Willamette River.

[I can't seem to figure out captions yet, so the picture above is their fort after one's day work on it. The structure on the right is an additional fort for Sophie.]

I'd rather wished they hadn't. The fort is something like a half a mile away from our house. But you got to let go sometime.
Many sometimes. Over and over again as the kids grow up. I reminded myself that when I was ten I rode miles and miles away from home with no patch kit or any knowledge of how to fix a bike, no helmet and no cell phone, pedalling up and down windy shoulderless rural state routes. I settled for warning them that they might go to their fort someday and find it destroyed while at the same time reassuring them that if that ever happens they have the know-how and the materials to do it all again somewhere else. I hope I got the message across that those with skills can never be completely bereft. The three of them listened to my heavy hints (all ignored) that they should consider building a second fort on our property up in the woods so that they could then migrate between the two like the Kalapuyas did or some Greeks we know. Ronan protested that our property isn't as pretty. Right. Doesn't have the river. Right again. Doesn't have all the birds: the kingfishers, the ospreys, the herons, the mergansers, the occasional bald eagle, etc. Doesn't have rocks to scramble on. Right.... Doesn't have the wildflowers. Not true, but different species. But okay, I give up. There's three of them there and a scruffy-looking dog. Where their fort is they are at they are less likely to run into super-troublesome types as they are to encounter people with unleashed dogs. I make sure they take a spray bottle with vinegar water in it every time they go down there. Advise them that each of them should have a nice stout walking stick with them. And remind them that the trashcan lid they found can be used as a weapon, especially edge-on. What the kids would really do if a situation arose, I can't tell. All the parents involved have encouraged resourcefulness. That's the best we can do. Now we also must remember not to make our children fearful and overly cautious.

[Different view of fort, with much more work done on filling in the walls.]

It was winter when they started their project and everything has gone fine so far. I don't really expect their fort to survive the summer without something happening to it. As with everything else involved in raising a kid for me, I just have to muddle along as best I can, taking things as they come, and improvising, improvising.

One last thing: I was particularly proud of them all when the three young pagani (pagan being Latin for "country person") found and altar to sanctify their new home-away-from- home. The altar is a hollow stump from which is growing a new young - and unrelated - tree. The hollow stump allows for many offerings to be placed inside the altar.

[Hazel, Vesta, Ronan, and
Sophie at the altar. I wish I could have gotten more of the new tree in the picture, but it was already too tall.]

One more one last thing: Hazel found a patch of stinging nettles near the fort. (Yes, she found it the hard way. The nettles were just coming out of the ground at the time she fell into them.) I sympathized, but I was also very pleased. Matthew, Ronan, and I had steamed nettles last week, one of our
favorite vegetables. Plus, now we have a second source for our year's supply of dried nettles. (We have as yet never gathered and dried as many nettles as we use in a year. I put nettles in almost everything that has a sauce as well as in breads and pastas.)

[At left: a nettle plant, about as old in "nettle years" as Ronan, Vesta, and Hazel. I want to post Cornelia Nettle's herb column on nettles from my old zine bummers and gummers on this blog. I've asked Ms. Nettle's permission (she's also the mom of Hazel and Vesta), but I will probably have to type the whole article in over again. A nuisance which may derail my plan.]

Thursday, March 12, 2009

sleeping with the sharks

Ronan slept with the sharks last night. She survived it. In fact, she did great according to her dad. I survived my first two days and one night alone since ... I can't remember. I had a good time. They had a great one.

Matt and Stephan took Stephan's class of Kennedy Alternative High School students to the Newport Aquarium. In trade for four hours of cutting blackberries, the students got to sleep in the tunnel under the shark tank. They also had a scavenger hunt through the displays and watch the seals and sea lions being trained. The seals were being conditioned to accept medical examinations; the sea lions were doing tricks. I knew Ronan would do just about anything to get to sleep under the shark tank, so we asked for permission and then sent her along with Matt, geared out with a pair of sturdy Red Wing work boots (handed down by Kris Woolhouse, an organic farmer - good thing Ronan has such big feet) and some leather work gloves. Ronan hates wearing work gloves and would rather get any amount of splinters than wear them, but these would be blackberry thorns, not tiny pesky fir slivers. Also as the daughter of Matt, the forester and Kennedy "crew leader", she had to keep up, no slacking off, especially if she wanted to go on other Kennedy trips.

Ronan returned from the trip proud of the blackberry scratches on her cheek. She made friends with two of the high school girls. She laid out her sleeping bag right up against the glass and on top of another viewing spot in the floor. She fell asleep watching the softly glowing shapes of the sharks and rays drifting to and fro in the dim lighting ... and was the only person there that slept soundly that night, according to Matt.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch ... none of the goats have had kids yet. They are due any day, and because of that we opted not to try to get someone to farmsit for us. I'm just as glad the goats held off. I enjoyed my day and half of time mostly to myself. I ate only leftovers (Hi-diddely-dee, the bachelor's life for me!), did the farm chores and spent the rest of the time getting as much writing done as possible.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

word of the day

Today's word is cringey. It's Irish English for things that make you want to cringe. I heard a bloke from an Irish band use that word on the radio the other day. He was describing Irish pubs in America and why he never goes in them. They, the pubs, were cringey, what with their plastic leperchauns and shillelaghs and all that oragh-beggoragh (however that's spelt). So ... cringey. Use it in a sentence today. It would be fair, I think, to use it also to describe a person or creature that cringes a lot. For full doublemeaning value, there's this: "I don't like your dog because he's cringey." Does that mean I don't like your dog because he is an untrustworthy cowardly skulking butt-biting beast or because he's a flea-bitten mangy flatulent cur with breath that curls me up like a pillbug at three paces ... or both? No, I am not talking about anybody's dog in particular. The Fujiko Farm dog, Sophie, is a wee bit nervous and cringey but on the whole she's a good dog and her breath is in the normal range for dogbreath.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

vocabulary words of the week

Can a carpenter have too much lumber or too many nails? Can a writer have too many words?

This week it's colors:

Sub fusc: dark brown, brownish, dusky. I'm thinking of a kind of wet-sea-lion brown. I have as yet been unable to use this word in a sentence, despite having just finished a story about selkies. Means also "drab, somber". I can't remember reading this word in a book, either, maybe I was reading the dictionary, which I do sometimes.

Glaucous. I remember falling over this word over and over in Richard K. Nelson's The Island Within. It's been awhile since I read that book but I imagine he meant it as definition 1.b. "of a light bluish gray or bluish white." I was able to use this word to describe the moon when shining through thin cloud cover. But there is also definition 2. "having a powdery or waxing coating that gives a frosted appearance and tends to rub off ( ex. glacous fruits). So I can finally describe the glaucous purple or glaucous yellow of ripe plums. There is also the challenge of definition 1.a.: "a pale yellow-green color" - as in not ...

chartreuse: "a variable color averaging a brilliant yellow green" -- the color the pasture grass is on a bright sunny day right now, but not for much longer. Haven't used this one in writing yet, but I have come to favor it on the walls. Half of my kitchen is now something the paint chip label called "Japanese Quince" and I call "Wince." An enlivening color.

and last for now ...

Cerise. I love the sound of this color. I don't know when I'll use it as an adjective, but I have used it as a name (in an unfinished piece). The definition does not hold up to the sound, either: " a moderate shade of red" and then goes on to say it's from the French and Latin word for cherry. Okay ... maybe not such a great name for a strong female character.

There does not appear to be a good cerise in blogspot's color choices.