Monday, May 22, 2017

Getting our wild geese in a row

Ready... set... LAUNCH! 
(the lead gosling is already in over its head)
We are getting ready to head to Montana for most of a month.

Arranging for things to thrive during our trip - Ernie, me, Radar, and whatever else fits in the car; and the plants and homestead while we're away.

Taking a few more pictures of goslings before they outgrow the adorable fuzzball stage.

All lined up and taking care of business...

Flotilla in excellent formation

(Ernie is getting pretty good with that new-to-us camera, these are all his photos.)


Paul's Kickstarter for our Permaculture Design and Appropriate Tech courses has less than 48 hours to go.  They are installing a dedicated, separate internet link for streaming live video and chat from these courses to online supporters.

We have been warned that with over 40 people on site for these courses, the regular internet for other business may be slow.  So I likely won't be able to post in-person updates from Montana.  I've pre-loaded a couple of things for you while I'm gone.

If you'd like to follow along, now's the time to sign up for that Kickstarter before it closes.

Here's the link:

"Please form two lines as you exit the flotilla..."
Ernie's dad paddled the canoe out today, and measured the deeper part of the pond.  7'6" of water.
It's within a couple of feet of the highest he's ever seen it... and probably twice as deep as I've ever seen it, as it's been during the past 6 to 10 dry years.

Which means the gees actually have TWO islands, although the moat for the new one is a lot shallower than the old one. 

Water in abundance, and a good place to put it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

One Week Left + More Friendly Rocketeers

Worth mentioning again, with one week to go:
Only seven days left on this Kickstarter for virtual access to the Permaculture Design and Appropriate Tech courses. This is a pretty amazing team coming together in one place for several glorious weeks, it will be a LOT to take in, so I'm glad it will be recorded!

If you want a taste of all this, from the comfort of your own Internet connection, please click on the link above or below. (Full disclosure: We do get a small kickback if you use our link to pledge, so please do!)


Speaking of documentation:
More evidence that our book is working!
Fouch-O-Matic gave us a lovely plug in their Rocket Mass Heater Building episode (this link should take you to about where our book comes in):
Later episodes document how their project worked out.  Nice to see!

And this week also brought a friendly note from Jami Gaither, who also supported our 2016 Kickstarter (early and often, as I recall): 

"Here's a link to a radio show we were featured on last week.  Thought you'd like getting a shout out.  Milt was fascinated and entranced by our RMH."


We are excited to see Jami and Dan in Montana, not this trip but in early October, for the Rocket Jamboree. 
There is a super-early-bird deal going on for folks who register before they finish the official website for the event:

Hope your year offers as many fun people and projects as ours is doing!


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mothers' Day 2017

My mom will be giving some reflections on motherhood at church today.

A few weeks ago, she asked me about whether I had any particular thoughts on the topic.  After posting about this all last May, I didn't have a lot new to add... until I got back indoors.

Then I went on a sort of treasure hunt, finding the places in my life that a 'mother's touch' makes things so much nicer, cosier, or more functional.

Here are some images.  See if you can find the little sticky hearts on particular items from my Mom, grandmas, stepmom, great-grandmother, mother-in-laws, etc. 

(I ran out of sticky notes before I ran out of "motherly touches," so there are some 'secret', unlabelled elements my family may recognize.)

If you were looking

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Rocketing into Spring: Frog Ponds, Stoves, Garden Goodies

Heading outdoors for summer?
Consider these fun projects for outdoor kitchens, camping, and greenhouses.

Rocket into Spring Combo Pack:


People are not just reading our book, they are building cool things with it!
("My Creation... It's ALIIIIVE!!! Mwa-ha-haha....")

Check out this cute little mini-bench project:

RMH Builder's Guide

(To buy The Rocket Mass Heater Builder's Guide,
click HERE

We are going to be video stars again in Montana next month!
This year's Permaculture and Appropriate Tech courses are sold out, so jump on Kickstarter quick if you want a taste.  Any pledge will get you great project resources from many different instructors.  The full-price video access options will include something over 200 hours of instruction (likely to be streaming or thumb drive, not DVDs, because the full two weeks of each course would take too many discs).

The pond is filling - most water we've had in 15+ years!
The island, dock, and grazing horse...

While I was attending Flood meeting led by the county's Emergency Management Director, Ernie and Ron spent about an hour and a half sitting on the dock, letting their feet dabble in the water.

They reported seeing a LOT of ecology in this pond.  Even though it has been shallow for so long, the culvert allows little fish and other critters through from the lake.  Ernie reported some little fish, maybe sticklebacks, as well frogs, newts, water-striders, boatmen (beetles that swim with legs like oars), two or three kinds of ducks, and our resident Mr. and Mrs. Goose Goose.

(Ron has been visiting the pond regularly each morning and evening, training the dogs not to bother the Canada geese.  As a result the geese are also now getting less panicked around us, when we mind our manners.  And they have what passes for names, in dog-training language.)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Spring Woodshed Challenge: 2017 Part I

How early is your wood stored and ready for winter?  Most experts recommend a full year in advance.

I've set myself a challenge to post pictures in spring as I improve and fill my woodshed.  (Think of these as the "before" pictures if you like... we can go back and look at the improvements over time.)
Year 1

Year 2 (tarpaper roof)

Year 3-4: shingled

Year 4 (experimental stack)

Year 5

This year's project: a DIVIDER. 

To stay a full year ahead (or more) on drying time, I need to be able to separate the cured wood from the drying wood.  And I need to start stacking wet wood somewhere to dry, in fall or mid-winter, while still having full access to my cured, dry stash. 

I do NOT want to re-stack wood back to front every time I start processing a downed tree.
The tool for this job is simple: a divider, like stalls in a barn. 

Now I can start the winter with two sides full.  I use the older, drier side first.  Whenever one side is empty, I can clean out and re-fill it. 

We seem to use a little over a cord per winter, and this shed is 8' by 12' inside.  So I've made the divider a little taller than 4 feet.  That gives us a cord+ on each side, plus 4 feet of semi-dry space for the chopping block and junk ... *ahem* ... "useful barbecue stuff".  
Maybe I will build a "stuff shed" onto the side of the wood shed, so we have a shaded place to store gasoline and other goodies without losing wood space.  But I suspect that no matter how many sheds you have, there will always be more stuff that drifts in there... it's like a junk magnet.

The divider is ... "ghetto chic."
A recycled pallet would have worked, but I am "saving" my palettes for a bigger project.
So this divider is made almost entirely of wood scraps that are crappier than pallet wood.  Stuff I prefer not to burn - pressure treated, OSB, painted boards.  It is gappy to allow air flow. 

It is REALLY messy looking because I got fed up with trying to find where I'd squirrelled away all my outdoor tools last winter.  (I am already a couple months behind the time I started stacking wood last year.) 
I ended up taking the scrap to a borrowed saw, cutting a few useful-ish gussets (little angled chunks of OSB), and just gobbing it together. 
I finally found my saw, safely tucked away in our new carport, about 20 minutes after I screwed the last board onto this mess.

But it works!

As of May 2:
about 1/3 cord
(1 face cord).
It makes it MUCH easier to quickly stack a pile of wood. And it gives me a thrill of hope to see the disappointed look on the faces of our two dogs. 

These two eager squeak-hunters have been tumbling the wood rows into piles, and eating chunks out of the woodshed itself, following the scent of long-gone squirrels and the sound of each others' scrabbling around.

Maybe with this divider in place, they won't be able to mix the wet wood quite so thoroughly into the last precious stacks of dry wood.

Maybe I'm being optimistic.  Two 60-pound dogs, one full-blooded terrier and one mutt, can rearrange a lot of wood when they are in the throes of "squeak-hunting."

So if I can't stop them eating my wood shed, at least I can look forward to the chewed-up corners giving a little bit of improved ventilation. 

As long as they don't chew through the support posts, we're good.  ;-)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

April 29 - Rocket Mass Heater Intro Day (annual event, Okanogan Highlands)

Our sixth annual Rocket Mass Heater Intro Day is coming up fast.

When: Saturday April 29th, 10:00 am- 3:00pm

Where: Okanogan Highlands, 35 minutes from Tonasket WA.
(Please register for driving directions.)

What:  Play with fire, mud, and bricks. 

Registration Contact:
Erica Wisner, 509-556-2054,


-$25 per adult, $12.50 for youth*,
FREE to emergency responders**
(*Youth: age 15 and under; those under 12 please bring a participating adult)
(**Any emergency responders (fire fighters, EMS, etc) whether volunteer or professional may register and attend at no charge.)

The Details:

What is a Rocket Mass Heater?
Rocket mass heaters are a clean-burning, super-efficient, affordable way to heat with wood.  They are also a fascinating real-life example of some very weird fire science.

Make flames burn upside-down and sideways.  Learn clean burn methods, so you can safely use ladder fuels as free firewood.  Peek inside the smoke-eating dragon that lets us heat on 1 to 2 cords of wood per winter at 3200 feet.
Non-Suicidal Wood Heat:
At least one fire marshall has called rocket mass heaters "the first non-suicidal wood stove I've seen."  Burning all the smoke not only gives much higher efficiency, it helps prevent chimney fires.  Storing heat in a masonry bench creates overnight comfort without the risks and hassles of overnight fire.  While they are not yet legal everywhere, they're increasingly popular as a common-sense alternative, and many jurisdictions will permit them under masonry heater codes or local rules.

Fire Science, Survival Skills, and "Magic" Tricks:
Even if you don't care about safety or efficiency... there's something awfully fun about upside-down fire siphons, flame vortexes, and the ability to throw together a sneaky stove that is virtually undetectable.

What Would We Actually DO on Saturday?
This is our local 'taster' to share our work with friends and neighbors.  You will not see everything we offer in a full 3-day weekend builders' workshop (nor pay the $350-500 sticker price).  Instead,
- inspect and run an already-working rocket mass heater
- choose from a selection of live, hands-on practice projects.

The specific hands-on activities are chosen by the group on that specific day.  We have materials, tools, and fire-safe space on site for a wide range of practice activities and small projects.
Past groups have built modified full-scale rocket fireboxes, split up into teams for survival fire-making or primitive stove cooking contests, learned Erica's favorite green-fire magic trick, and built practice projects with non-toxic fire clay mortars and fire brick.  This year, we could do any of the above, or something else.

You will always get a chance to see fire burn upside-down and sideways, and you will have the option to make it do tricks yourself.

What to Bring/Prepare:
All necessary tools and materials will be provided. 
- Personal Gear: Wear your grubbies.  You may wish to bring rain gear, work gloves, and/or boots for muddy and sooty conditions.
- Food and Drink:  Bring pot-luck lunch/snacks. We'll provide at least one main dish, and coffee/hot water will be on from 9:30 am before class starts.
- Road Conditions: Consider 4WD, AWD, and printing the directions.  When you register with a valid email address, we'll send you driving directions following the local school bus route.  These are gravel roads, generally well graded (by Highlands standards, anyway). Your GPS may mislead you onto ill-maintained back roads at your peril.  Cell phones have poor reception up here.  Please let us know if you'd prefer to carpool or have someone shuttle you up from Tonasket or Ellisford. 
- Emergency Responders: to attend free, please wear your colors (hat, shirt, etc) or bring a badge to show at check-in.
- Pocket Money: We will have books and videos available for sale, if you're looking for training or self-study resources.

About the Hosts:

This private event is hosted by Ernie and Erica Wisner of Wisner Resources, and not sponsored by any agency or fire district.  Fire demonstrations will be small scale, suitable for family and public participation as entertainment/cooking/campfire activities.

 For questions, larger groups, or for wait list registration after the event is sold out, please email us at, or call 509-556-2054. 


To look for a full-length workshop this year, please visit

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

April DIY - 2012 experimental Rocket Cooker / Canner / Forge

So as I'm moving our digital store from Scubbly (now sadly closed) to the digital marketplace, I'm coming across all kinds of memories and fun projects.

this is one from 2012, where we accepted Paul's dare to out-fry a propane-powered turkey fryer:

 It turns out a propane turkey fryer is a little more than an ordinary propane camp stove.  It sounds kind of like a jet engine.  Our ears were ringing when we turned it off.  So it took us a couple of tries, and we did end up insulating the pot lid as well as the stove and pot-skirt.

well, if the propane stove makers had bothered to "cheat" by improving their efficiency even 25%, they could easily have made it a lot harder to beat.  We turned their fryer on full-bore, and made ourselves beat it at its highest setting.
So whether or not it's 'cheating' to use old familiar tricks like insulation and heat conservation, I still do it, and they don't. (I sometimes leave a spare pot-holder over the lid on pots at home, now, too.)
So if anybody is upset that we 'cheated,' they are welcome to cheat too.

Afterwards, the cook found she had to put a grill, and some bricks, on top of the stove to vent off some excess heat in order to use it for ordinary cooking.  ("ordinary" in this context being 4-gallon pots of soup or chili for 20 people.)

We wondered if you could call it a rocket forge.
So we tried blacksmithing with it:

Answer: yes.
Ernie made me a few pot hooks, and though we didn't have any real flux, we got indicators that we might be at forge-welding temperatures.

This design could be a fun one to modify with a pass-through for working on leaf springs and stuff like that.

Our favorite wood mix was a blend of dense, dry wood (we got some black locust scraps, but oak or madrone should work about the same), along with ordinary softwood like pine.  Using cut wood or large kindling, 1" to 2" pieces, seemed to provide the best high-intensity heat from this small firebox.

We're putting our notes and some diagrams up on as a plan for sale, and will be releasing them to our 2016 Kickstarter supporters with this spring's DIY updates.

Here are the threads:

Plans for sale:

Discussion from the 2012 workshop and video fans: