Thursday, June 15, 2017

Burn Season and No Burn Season

Stay safe this summer!

Back home in the Okanogan Highlands, we typically enter our seasonal Burn Ban between June 1 and June 30th each year.  (I'm writing this post just before our Montana trip, so I'm just guessing on this year's date.) 

The wet spring has been wonderful for us, overwhelming for some neighbors' culverts.  Yet summer's warm winds and intense sunshine will dry that lush grass out quicker than you think.

If you notice windy and sunny days starting to increase, consider ways to reduce fuel loads, or chop down easily-dried-out fuels like dry grass and pine branches to make a moisture-retaining mulch.

Ernie and his dad ran a burn pile this spring, for the first time in several years.
("We've had these dry springs" says Ron, "it's raining and too wet for anything to burn, and then it's too dry [and dangerous] to burn.")

It's amazing how fast pine needles will burn.  They are called "one-hour fuels" for a reason - it takes an hour or less, sometimes only minutes, for them to dry out in the sun.
We had very heavy rains earlier this week, then hauled wet brush out to the close-cropped part of the meadow near the pond.  This set of branches had been sitting in the sunshine, on green grass, for ... not even an hour.  It didn't even wait for the fire's heat to dry it out - flames popped up like there was turpentine in there.


As a tool-using fire ape, you are accustomed to riding around in literal chariots of fire.  (internal combustion powered vehicles).  Some of you probably breathe fire (smoke) on a regular basis.

It's easy to forget the power we hold, to cause or prevent fires.

But we also have phenomenal ability to communicate, in detail, and that gives us access to a wealth of expertise that other animals have to learn by instinct.  We can learn from others' experience without repeating the tragic consequences.
Places to get good information about the state of the weather, fire danger, and burn bans and Industrial Precautions:

What are Burn Bans?
Fire is fun and useful, but not always safe.  When seasonal conditions turn dry, windy, and fire-prone, fire-fighting and land management agencies may issue a partial or total "Burn Ban."  This may mean no fire works, no wood-fired smoker or barbecue, sing-alongs but no a campfire, and no more burn piles to dispose of yard or agricultural wastes.
Other times, fires may be restricted to designated (supervised or wetter-area) campgrounds, certain times of day, or certain areas in a larger park or landscape.

Find burn bans
State of Washington, here:
Anywhere in the USA, try this site:

What are Industrial Precautions?
Equipment with combustion engines, electrical discharges, or even just steel blades striking rocks can start a fire in dry conditions. Industrial Precautions tell you when it's legal to operate equipment in the woods (like chain saws, track hoes, harvesters, etc). Sometimes industrial forestry activities are fine in the morning (cooler hours) but not afternoons.

State of Washington:
For other local areas: regarding woodcutting in national forests: search the forest service site using your specific forest by name + "IFPL":
Or go to your local ranger station or forest service office.
(If you already know your geographic zone number, you can use a touch-tone phone to get Industrial Precaution updates: 1-800-527-3305.)

Why do I care?
Track current wildland fires here:

Sure, I'm a tree hugger.
I'd rather noodle around taking photos of wild flowers than drag hose through the smoke and ashes where they used to be.

My first year in training as a fire fighter, I made this T-shirt design to sum up most of the ways I heard of fires starting. 

(This does not include the trailer dragging chains that made sparks that caused multiple fires, or mysterious roadside fires well outside the range most people can flick a cigarette butt, or many of the other things that happened.  There were thousands of fire reports in our wild Highlands that year.

Maybe a third to a half were 'natural causes' - we had a lot of dry lightning that summer.  So rather than include more categories of human error, I felt it was only fair to mention the Excessive Smiting there at the end.)

If you would wear this T-shirt, or order a few to hang on the wall in your camp store / fire hall / school info center, please let me know!  (You are welcome to print a copy of this design and pin it somewhere to see what kind of responses you get.)

If you're interested, email, or leave a message at 509-556-2054.  The prices will depend on how many we order at once.  Realistically we are looking at printing them mid-summer, not before the end of June.

Here's to a great summer! Green and gold, pleasant, breathable, with distant purple mountains visible all day and clear starry night skies.
And every time we hear thunder, showers of pouring rain.  :-)

Erica Wisner

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Mycology and Human Networking

While we're hip-deep in projects in Montana, I thought I'd share this essay that I started in late winter.  (What a gift this year's birthday inspiration has been!) 

Where we are weak or broken, 

there is our best chance to connect with a greater whole

I'm writing this post in March, but scheduling it for May. I hope you are smelling those intoxicating healthy-dirt smells as you work in your garden, hugel-kultur, or start hiking the back woods.

Paul Stamets has a lot to say about mycelial networks (the hidden webs and channels that support fungi and soil health, transporting nutrients long distances to feed mushrooms, trees, plants, and healthy soils).  See Mycelium Running if you want a truly geek-out version of that story.

Image credit: Wikipedia
The image from those lessons that's resonating for me this week is the weird, observable fact that individual mycelial cells, in those networks, are busted open.

Most plant cells, animal cells, and single-celled organisms are little sealed bags of carefully-portioned living matter, guarding their "guts" and nutrients from a presumably-hostile outside world.

A diatom, amoeba, bacterium... in fact most living cells ... have a carefully-guarded perimeter.  Symmetrical shells, cell walls (sometimes multiple layers and armor, in the case of woody plants and diatoms), and/or additional defences like chemical-detecting cilia or toxic slime coatings.  Yet the amoeba can just about give us dysentery, and requires pretty cushy watery conditions for active survival.

Our own cells - muscle cells, blood cells, nerve cells - maintain a pretty good perimeter despite all the specialized ports and exchanges they make for vital nutrients and waste.  It's not a bad recipe for staying alive.  Much of life on earth goes with it.

But what about alternatives?

Mycelial cells have wide-open gaps at both ends, and their nuclei and organelles may flow back and forth along with nutrients and fluids.  One mycelial cell alone would be a blue-plate special, spilling its guts into the cannibalistic micro-ecological void.

But a mycelial cell is almost never alone.  The mycelial networks of underground fungi can support whole forests, overcoming mineral and water shortages that would kill a crop-farmer attempting to raise the same biomass on chemically-sterilized soils.  Some species can convert "dark, dank, and stinky" toxic petro-chemical dead zones into food for bugs, birds, and new life.  Other specialists can turn the most rot-resistant trees into long-lasting nurse logs for huckleberries, mushroom soup, and wild honey.

Mycelial Network, Electron Micrograph
Image Credit:
Fungi Perfecti blog,
What you can do with a network of "broken" individual cells is pretty darn amazing.  The more selfless each cell, the more the whole network can speed the flow of goodness.  A mycelial network (or similar self-organizing networks like the Internet) is a pretty great way to combine limited organisms into a meta-structure.
We animals require specialized channels (veins and arteries) to carry blood and nutrients to individual cell areas, and when our oxygen and waste removal can't keep u with our activity we definitely feel the burn.  Worse, we are highly susceptible to arterial bleed-out or heart attacks when one area gets damaged or blocked.  With vast webs of cooperating cells, mycelial networks can bypass unproductive channels and grow new 'main routes'. 

It sounds like a pretty effective way to handle "drinking from the fire hose" rates of transfer - both of vital fluids, and of vital information.  The Internet functions in a similar way, with many self-developing channels of information instead of a single, centralized broadcast system.

I'm using the power of mycelial networks as a metaphor for dealing with my own weak points.  Where I have a weak point, like procrastinating my bookkeeping, or letting bedtime routines slide to finish "one more thing," it's not healthy to sit alone with it.

I've been more or less trying to hide those weak spots, or use "willpower" to overcome them.  Press that weak spot up against a wall, beat myself up about it, worry that all my business "guts" might spill out and show that I'm not perfect.

Instead, lately I'm learning to show my weak points to trusted friends.  To watch others' strengths and weaknesses, and to ask people for help in areas where they really shine.  Or even just to ask.

Barbara Greene recommended an excellent local accountant from Brewster, WA (a few hours south of us in the same county).  Skirko Business Services helped me learn the WA state sales tax system for destination-based sales.

Mariah recommended a helpful young lady as a potential virtual assistant.

Our new neighbor gave our Facebook page a makeover, with some edited graphics so you can see our whole logo:

During my February sleepless-euphoria experience, I even broke down on the "grownups go to sleep on their own" myth, and asked my sisters, mom, and favorite aunties to take turns calling me at 9pm and "put me to bed."
(See earlier posts from February 2017, such as "Erica Turns 40 and Levels Up.")

My wonderful sister Teresa reported feeling a series of emotional reactions when she saw that email:
"What?  You can't do that... grown-ups can do that?
"How come she gets to do that?
"Why can't I do that?"

Such personal coddling is NOT a long-term substitute for basic adulting.
After about 8 days of much-needed sisterly support and advice, I'm now back to a self-managed sleep cycle that is better than my old 'normal'.  Because when I need to, I'm using all my sisters' tricks: everything from mindfulness, physical activity, serotonin-boosters like Vitamin D3 and melotonin, and just plain regularizing my schedule with 9-6 office hours and a 10pm bedtime.

I notice that I didn't get here by toughing it out, or by making it Ernie's job to cover for me.  For a health or mental crisis, it's a pretty good practice to let trusted friends know what's going on.  It's part of the adult, responsibile communication skills package, you might say it's "reaching out instead of burning out."

And I think this sort of reaching out could be good for everyday business, too.  I'm watching for ways to build a team, where each person has good lines of communication, connection, and support at their weak points.

So is your main ambition in life to be an "I got mine" giardia cyst, or are you ready to open up and become part of something larger?
... one link in acres of mycelial soil networks..
... a sensitive eye with a whole glowing jellyfish to call upon for response
... a connected link in a larger community of co-creative intelligent life?

I should be clear that I'm using "you" very loosely there. 
Because this is probably not news to YOU, personally.

This feels like an insight that I'm finally articulating after experiencing it most of my life.  I have the good fortunate to have a LOT of inspiring collaborators - family, friends, and on-the-same-wavelength "strangers".

We have always been part of this larger collaboration. 
We just forget sometimes.

Hope your week brings you plenty of wonderful reminders!


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:

Thursday, March 9, 2017

New Fee Schedule for 2017

We are moving away from "Squishy Mud 101" workshop projects, and focusing more on the highest and best use of our skills and experience.

And I am finally taking some excellent advice from some long-suffering partners and advisers (including Ernie and Paul).

- I am recruiting office support, including a virtual assistant, task assistants, an accountant, and special "scholarship funds" managed through colleagues' well-run offices. 

- I am working with several primary teams, focusing my energies near home(s) and proven collaborators, and turning down projects that require me to hold someone's hand through their own, preventable crisis.

- I am raising my rates.  Everyone who already has an existing, scheduled engagement for 2017 will get the agreed-on services at the agreed-on rates.  Others wishing to hire us, please see:

Please see
 for details on all of this, including 'help wanted' and 'gots and wants' exchanges.

The draft rates for 2017 are:
- Projects, Your Way: $10,000+
- Projects, Our Way: $3,000+
- Projects, Lead/Train Your Crew: $1000 per day + expenses
- Public Events and Custom Coursework: $500-1000 per half-day + x.
- Private Consulting/Tech Support: $150/hour + x.
($90/hour for flexible clients, $300 base rate/deposit for preliminary consulting).
- Self-Study Resources: $3-50 per book, plan, video, or online course

How can you Justify Such Fees?!?

Paul Wheaton's personal practice for private consulting is: Any time somebody actually pays my listed rate, I double it.  He is currently at $500/hour. 
(He prefers to make his advice available through his 'home turf' of online forums at, or through public speaking, podcast, and online video formats that give broader value for his time.,

I like talking with people, and I love giving advice, and I don't love juggling AV tech to make podcasts. 

So it's time to stop competing with my students, and with the YouTube self-help audience.

I liked what three other respected colleagues had to say, regarding the necessity for contract professionals to charge seemingly-prohibitive hourly rates, and restrict their time to those who make it worthwhile:

Art Ludwig / Oasis Design: "Send me $300 and I'll think about it"

Joseph Lstiburek / Building Science Corporation:
"Sonny, when you learn your high school physics, you can come and sit with the big boys."  (See his 'contact' form for a concise brush-off of casual/non-business inquiries.)

Jim Buckley / Buckley Rumford Fireplaces:
Finish today's reading with a wicked-fun plumber/lawyer joke:

Monday, March 6, 2017

Heating Safety Smoke Check - 2017 Draft 1

With the EPA de-funded this year, do we need stop-gap measures to alleviate public safety issues formerly regulated or enforced by EPA?

What if we could use intelligent rules of thumb instead of elaborate or expensive experimental mandates?

If you have never seen fire burn this clean, and my team can build this fox stove in a morning with a shovel, you might have something more to learn about fire.

Here's a proposed rule set for community self-regulation of solid fuel heating:

Safety check:
1) Not more than 20 minutes of visible smoke.  A concerned neighbor can document this with a cell phone camera; trained responders can learn to distinguish problem smoke from clean steam/exhaust in about 20 minutes.  Photo or video evidence of unacceptable smoke in violation of the 20-minute standard, verified by a trained smoke reader, triggers an inspection request.
(This is not just about air quality, it's about creosote and chimney fires.)

2) Safety inspection - this could be done by a chimney sweep, fire investigator, or any peer-qualified local inspector who can read smoke sign and building details at an expert level.  (Elected or appointed civil servants are not intrinsically qualified to judge expertise, but may conduct background checks and other due diligence).
- Chimney(s) safe and operable, no signs of past or future chimney fires
- Heater(s) safe and operable, no signs of over-fire, under-fire, or ill repair
- Clearances appear adequate (if not, mark with 165 F calibrated crayon)
- Operator demonstrated acceptable skills and practices for <20 minute standard of clean, safe fire
(check night-time burn practices if applicable)

If any points do not pass initial inspection, schedule a follow-up inspection in 40 days, or before the start of the next heating season.

3) 40-day Follow-Up Inspection: Repeat initial inspection, with special attention to previous problems.  Because operator practices may have changed, re-inspect all points to ensure no new problems have inadvertently been started.

4) Repeat Offenders / Non-compliance / 3rd strike
Operators not able to safely heat with solid fuels may be a danger to themselves and others.  Yet keeping one's family warm in the winter is a basic human right.

Communities need to find their right balance on the local level.  Encourage voluntary compliance, create incentives for good practice, and carefully work on effective tough-love policies: when to engage social services, cease-and-desist orders, fines or cost-of-response billing, or prosecute criminal non-compliance using existing laws and rules.


Building professionals, fire professionals, home-owners, and community safety volunteers:  What do you think?  Could this work?

Comments welcome below, or email erica at ErnieAndErica dot info.
Please include the phrase "Smoke Check" in the subject or body of your email.

For a wealth of detail on the why/how/resources behind my proposal:

I'm also thinking of putting together some excerpts from our book and other good sources about what exactly is involved in building a good chimney, safe wood stove installation, etc.  Welcome offers from other authors for good references.

What do you think?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

What Died In Here? Off-Grid Kitchens #1, DIY 2017

My family knows that I am no stranger to kitchen "experiments," those little collections of fuzzy former food that inhabit the back corners of a distracted life.

Even as I've become more responsible, there are still times when the dishes just don't get done on schedule.

With much gratitude and appreciation for Ernie and his dad who cooked for me while I was sick and sleep-deprived through most of February, I spent this early March evening in rubber gloves and a bandanna-style dust mask, disposing of some seriously toxic, dearly-departed, former food.

In the spirit of "write what you know"...

Safe Disposal of Biohazards in Off-grid and Rural Life:

A "biohazard" in this context could be toxic rotten food waste, diapers or vomit from a violently ill child, or other nasty by-products of human domestic life. A general rule is that the closer it is to human - actual human excrement, food that contains meat or animal proteins - the more dangerous it may become to fellow humans as it rots.
For this article, I will be focusing on the food-waste biohazard category, with a few digressions to excrement or plague wastes. (Thankfully, we two adults can mostly keep our poop in the crapper in our current phase of life.)

Good kitchen practices can prevent a lot of "biohazard" food waste from ever happening, but sometimes it does happen.  There's a sudden illness, and the main kitchen person can't cope with dishes for a few weeks.  There is a family medical crisis or work opportunity, and you have to leave NOW for an indeterminate time without cleaning out the fridge.  Or there is a funeral or elder-care crisis, and well-meaning friends bring endless casseroles... many people find it easier to drop off a quick meal, or to accept a delicious dish, than to arrange a mutually acceptable time to help with the dishes and disposal.  Our dirty dishes, like our dirty laundry, can become an intimate embarrassment.
  Those who repeatedly care for elders and the bereaved learn discreet, considerate tactics for fridge-cleanout and dish duties.  Often, these chores are undertaken on behalf of the whole loving support community by just a few, well-trained care givers who can maintain the owners' kitchen as they like it.

For those who are able-bodied and just dealing with an "oopsie," what do you do with that absolutely disgusting mess?

A) Down the Sewer:

If you live on municipal sewer, you can dump a lot of crap down a dispose-all and think it "goes away."  As far as your life is concerned, it does.

  Unfortunately, the processed sewage often can't be used safely in the cycle of life and soil-building, because municipal sewage contains a mix of organic nutrients, toxic chemicals, and household medical wastes.
  Drain cleaners, garage and shop wastes, pesticides and pest poisons, and expired medications are among the things that I often doubt should be allowed in the hands of the public.  Certainly I'd prefer that the public be informed and responsible enough to dispose of them properly, not dump them in the "away" without further thought.
  It's worth investigating your local the sewage treatment facility on a school trip or business tour, to learn if the disposal is being handled to your satisfaction, and whether/how the treated residues are used for agriculture.  You may learn a lot.  Some areas still have problems with combined-sewer outflow to rivers, overflow systems, leaks, etc; it takes a lot to build, maintain, and expand a city sewer system and keep it working properly.

  Those concerns aside, for those people who have access, disposing to sanitary sewer is the safest option for noxious human waste. This is exactly why sanitary sewage systems were designed. As long as they're working properly, sanitary sewer systems can handle any formerly-edible and sufficiently runny biohazards you care to flush their way.

B) Sanitary Septic:

If you live on sanitary septic, you learn to be a little bit careful.  "Away" is very close - in your own backyard - and if there's a problem, you will likely be the one dealing with the pump-out bills, plumbing emergencies, soggy lawn, or sick family members due to well contamination or leachate exposure.

On septic, you learn to check cheap toilet paper to see if it's septic-approved.  You learn exactly how much water it takes to use the Dispose-All, or whether it's not really an option in your particular rural home with its particular plumbing.  You may begin to think about your drain-cleaning chemicals in new terms - because if you "kill" the septic tank, it's an expensive process to remove the chemically-toxic, sterilized gunk and start over with a viable population of microbes for biological pre-processing of your sanitary waste.

    Most household biological waste can safely be disposed of to sanitary septic, even sick-people poop and moldy fridge-experiments.  The most common method is careful portioning of well-broken-down goop, directly into the toilet.   (Exceptions might include chunks too large for your toilet or plumbing, chemically-contaminated mixtures, and knowing your system's capacity so that you stay within the tank and leach field capacity at any given time.)

C) DIY Trash Hauling, Compost, and Scavenger Bait:

If you live without trash hauling or DIY trash service, you may have older "kitchen experiments" than someone whose sins are hauled away once a week.

On our wintry mountain, the trash trailer itself attracts carrion-eating wildlife, like bears, ravens, and coyotes. During the "hungry months" of late winter, the latter two critters have nothing better to do than track interesting smells for miles.  Whether you regard them as fellow-beings, or as vermin, the fact remains that setting up an inadvertent people-food-feeder is not healthy for you or them.

In our neighborhood, there are definitely people who poison or shoot scavengers. (I wonder if some livestock-harassment reports may be in consequence of these canny scavengers changing habits after some of their mates sickened on poisoned bait? Smart scavengers, who are forced by fear of poison to leave their normal "job" of carrion-disposal, might quite reasonably turn to living prey in spring's lamb-and-faun season.  Ernie's default answer to "evil wildlife attacked my lambs" is, "Where is your lambing barn?")
Regardless of mechanism or blame, is no kindness to either wildlife or neighbors to let mountain scavengers get a taste for people-food.
Therefore, most of the year, we bury our stinky waste (stuff too far gone to feed the dogs).  I dig far enough down that the dogs don't dig it up, but the trees can still tap the juices.  We keep this to a minimum - once or twice a year perhaps - by regular refrigerator rotations when we are home, and by giving the dogs as many 'treats' as we can during routine meals and cleanup.  For example as I'm putting away tonight's leftovers, I may give the dogs some 2-day-old leftovers to make room in the fridge.
The dogs get their 'taste' only after the two-legged people are done eating, and are expected to politely lie down without begging during our meals.
(For key differences between healthy people food and healthy dog food, ask your vet.)

Foods that the dogs are not interested in, like fruit and vegetable scraps, firewood debris and dog-chewed stick mulch, goes in the compost.  Our main compost is in a metal rotating bin.  There is a compromise between close enough to the house for winter access, and far enough to keep us and the dogs safe from a visiting bear.  Currently, the winter compost bin is inside the carport, so I avoid carrion-like compost.  A coyote might be hungrier than my dog and more likely to eat fruit, but the fruit in my compost is still not as smelly or slow to break down as the meatier materials.

I've only once seen a bear visit that metal-bin compost (in 6 years on this same site, practicing roughly these same methods).  That one night, I dropped in a bagful of frost-applesauced apples, and Ernie dropped in a stale pork chop, and we both managed to leave the lid off afterwards.  You can hardly blame the bear for thinking it was invited to the feast.  With more politeness than some of our human neighbors, the shaggy bear shook its head and reluctantly wandered off as soon as I made my objections known. 
(If you can remember your first time encountering a bear within 20 feet of your front door, or camping tent, while unarmed yourself, you can probably guess how I made my objections known.  I seem to have managed to fit in 4 of the 5 most common methods used by upright primates, learned and instinctive, although I'm still no good at girl-style screaming.
Interestingly enough, after all my excited ape-like hooting and tool-user hysterics, what finally sent the bear on its way was a stern verbal message: 
"This is not a good habit for bears.  This is your mountain, but we can't have you eating off people-food.  You go live your own life, go well, go on now.")

The point is, bear encounters are largely avoidable.  It's hardly fair to blame the bear, or coyote, or raven, or squirrel, for thinking that a yard piled with her choice foods means she's welcome there.
Some communities may create edible-trash dump sites, away from family homes, where scavengers are tolerated.  If your community as a whole doesn't share such a tolerance policy, please don't bait the animals. Especially, please don't bait animals in a scoff-law manner that goes against accepted local practice.  Both bleeding-heart sentimentalists and vengeful poisoners create problems for their mainstream neighbors, as wild animals are diverted from healthy habits into high-risk or harmful ones.

D) Greywater Kitchen:

If you use a greywater kitchen sink (as we do), or a camp kitchen where the "sink" is a section of meadow or woods, you learn to be even more careful than with sanitary septic.  Formal greywater systems often have sophisticated ways to keep people from direct contact with greywater in the landscape, and these systems can be overwhelmed by chunks or improper use.

I generally have cute warning signs on my kitchen sink discussing what is acceptable.  These notes are only a tiny fraction of the internal monologue with myself, about the level of responsibility involved in direct-to-woods disposal from my kitchen.

I think of greywater as an honor system where I agree to use this drain ONLY for things that will be a gift, not a curse, to all those who dwell outside my walls.  That includes me and my human friends, my dogs and horse who have to deal with visiting predators, the wildlife that has to deal with human intolerance, and the plants and fungi that may appreciate nutrients but can be killed by excess of salt or other human-favored ingredients.

  To live on this honor system, you really have to pay attention to where you are, and what are the needs and excesses of the land.
For maritime/high rainfall areas, your plants may be salt-tolerant and better able to tolerate high concentrations of table salt.  However, phosphorus, nitrogen, detergents, and other special nutrients may cause unhealthy algae blooms or toxic contamination of sea life and estuaries.
For arid/inland areas, sea salts and other solubles like boron may be land poison, where phosphorous or biodegradable detergents might have a lower impact or even be a positive nutrient.
There is a lot more to it than that. To calibrate your sense of what's needed by your own land, most extension agencies offer free or low-cost soil analysis.  They may also have pamphlets or research papers about common local soil types and soil deficiencies.  In non-agricultural settings, after doing what homework I can, I often find that the woo-woo method of "ask the trees what they need" gives surprisingly reasonable suggestions.  My method for working with complex systems involves a combination of peer-reviewed research; lifelong, iterative learning; and well-calibrated intuition.

After all that theory, what does it look like in practice?

Today's Fridge De-tox: Here's what I did.

1) Warned the husband, stuffed him and the puppies with healthy food until they couldn't eat another bite, so I'd have room to work.

2) Find my dishwashing gloves, apron, and face-mask for the moldy stuff.  (What grows on rotting meat, dairy, or fish residues is a meat-eating microbe, and may include pathogens that can live on your own internal tissues and cause infections. In any case I have a mold sensitivity.)
- Protect any open wounds (or consider waiting until they heal).

3) Get out a bunch of recycled zip-loc and bread bags.  This winter emergency disposal situation will be handled, regrettably, by a special trip to the landfill transfer station. At other times, when the ground is not covered in 2' of snow, I might give the dearly departed food wastes a decent burial.

4) Prep the kitchen with clean hands:
- Ensure there is room in my trash, compost, and liquid-waste transfer bucket.
- Find disposable scrubbies - today it was some well-used mesh onion bags, and a charred cotton rag.  Other times I've used paper towels.

5) Begin assembling and sorting the rotten stuff.
- Vegetable-based stuff (like tomato sauce) goes in the compost, with brown matter (floor sweepings from the woodstove area) to cover.
- Meat-type stuff (stews, fish in cream sauce): Use the first bag to scoop it up, then double-bag.  Use any contaminated plastic containers as bin-liners to further protect from breakage and scent-release.

6) Liquid Waste Triage/Pre-Wash:
- Use disposable scrubbies/rags/paper towels to remove any remaining solid residues.
- Rinse containers in the sink.  If on sanitary septic, just rinse away.
I did not allow water to go down greywater drain (my greywater empties near the house where I do not want to attract coyotes for possible conflict with my dogs).
-  Pre-wash triage: Get sterilizable containers to the point where the bad smells are mostly gone, and dispose of plastic bins and bakery-bins in trash as protectors for bagged-nasties.
- Clean gloves, scrubbies, other cleaning supplies, and sink basin to the point of tolerable contamination.  Then dispose of black water if needed.

7) Black Water/Liquid Waste Disposal:
- If using a camp kitchen or greywater, the nutrient-rich black water may need separate disposal (similar to the cat-holes or composting you may use for humanure/poop disposal)
- For today, I collected my smelliest water into disposal bucket, for mixing with compost in metal container.  In hindsight, I might have dumped this down the toilet if I was doing this again - compost smells may still attract predators, even if they can't break into the metal bins, so I've put my dogs at risk for dealing with an avoidable threat.
- Other noxious rinse waters, like blood or urine, can be diluted and disposed to forest scratch-holes or appropriate agriculture (e.g. orchard fertilizer or mulch basins not in contact with edible produce) if dumped promptly.
DO NOT STORE "black water," food-contaminated greywater, or other high-nutrient liquids when you can possibly help it.  Even urine which is supposedly "sterile" in the bladder becomes host to a LOT of fascinating and nasty microbiota within a few hours of excretion.

Black water tends to grow disease quickly if left to its own devices. This is why in this sequence, I emptied the compost and black water bucket as soon as I was done adding to them, before proceeding with the final steps of return-to-clean kitchen status.

8) Final Wash & Sterilize:
Apron and mask now in the laundry, I proceed with clean hands to do the final re-set to normal kitchen status.

Any plastic container (or grease-coated container like a frying pan) that has contained rotting, greasy foods is a semi-permanent biohazard.

There are two simple ways to sterilize effectively in every kitchen: Boiling, and heating to the point of charring (trace residues turn black).  Most materials that survive in my kitchen can tolerate one or the other.

- Cast Iron Sterilization:
Our brilliant friend, Paul Wheaton, has posted some beautiful instructions on for excellent cast-iron care.  This is one situation where I completely ignore his every-day advice.
The frying pan that had the sad remains of a lovel fish dinner:
 I scrubbed with soap and water, allowed to dry, then placed under the broiler until it was dull and charred all over.  (I vented the space during this process.)  Then I let it cool slightly, re-coated with a mix of olive and coconut oil, and it is safe to return to service.
The less often you have to do this, of course, the better it is for your cast iron cookware, and the better chance you will have of achieving non-stick cooking performance.

- Glass Sterilization:
For non-porous glass, washing with very hot soap and water is probably enough, but boiling is extra security.  I had only one glass container this time, a bacon grease mason jar.  As it wasn't moldy, just stale, I will likely just wash it thoroughly (it would be sterilized prior to canning in future).  I routinely use glass and milk-glass bowls for thawing meat and other chores, where I want to be able to de-contaminate afterwards.
 For porous ceramics, boiling is probably safest, or re-firing.  I try to avoid using porous materials to store perishable foods in the first place.

- Plastic lids and containers:
Since plastic is made from oil, it is very easy for oil-type germs to embed themselves in the plastic and refuse to be washed away regardless of how much soap you use.
I have my soapy-water pre-washed plastic in the sink, waiting to be boiled for 10 minutes at a rolling boil. (as I'm now at altitude, on reflection I might need 15 minutes or salt-water to bring the temp up properly).
Whatever doesn't survive the boiling process, would have been permanently contaminated and need to be retired anyway.
I generally avoid re-using biohazard plastics even for non-food purposes.  I use them only for garbage bin liners, and dispose promptly.  Even if you could count on the family reading "no food use" or "MR-YUCK" labels on hoarded containers, there is a chance with any re-use that someone could still get a septic scratch out of the deal down the road.
The possible sacrifice of plastic lids on Pyrex dishes due to moldy food contamination is a really good reason not to let things get this far if you can help it.  But these silicone lids can generally be boiled sterile again.

- Scrubber/Cloth Sterilization:
- Disposable: Compost or trash: After rinsing my charred dish-washing rag, I will compost it.  I am also cycling out the onion-mesh scrubbers to the trash, and replacing with fresh ones.  Compostable diapers and pads, from healthy people, can be composted in a well-designed humanure system.
- Disposable: Burn: For true, contagious pathogens like scarlet fever, one old accepted process was to burn all clothing and linens associated with the sick person.  The process of burning plague wastes cleanly, and not letting spores escape with unburned smoke, and not letting people or flies come into contact while the biohazard is drying to the point where it can be burned, involves a lot of non-trivial problems.  When these problems are solved responsibly, fire is a strong tool for biohazard waste disposal, and for preventing/ending public health emergencies.  I often burn greasy paper from bacon, for example.  For a more extreme example, military friends recount use of fire for sanitary human waste disposal, involving a steel poop-barrel and a lot of diesel.  Not pretty, perhaps, but they see worse out there.  A previous generation of GIs lost friends to naive poop-disposal, when "natural" pit latrines in Vietnam were used by the local enemy as sources of fetid matter to poison the stakes in tiger-pit-style man traps. We learn from experience in so many ways...
- Sterilize for re-use:
For the less-noxious, "stinky rag" situation, I boil my kitchen rags and scrubbers for 3 minutes on the stovetop or microwave, then rinse thoroughly with cool water.  This will remove most pathogens and smells (to the point where hydrogen peroxide will no longer bubble on the boiled sponge or rag).  It also loosens up the grime for easier physical cleaning; sometimes I change out the rinse water and re-boil if needed.  I prefer cellulose and cotton kitchen sponges and rags, so I can boil repeatedly, and compost the remainders when they are exhausted.

- Grease Disposal:
Grease is hard for compost microbes to digest, and hard on plumbing, and attracts scavengers if it does make it through to the end of the greywater dispersal system.  Greasy rags are also a known hazard for laundry, especially dryers, fire safety, spontaneous combustion.
Special process for grease in my kitchen:
The dogs get first dibs on grease. They love helping with this, whether it's evening dish time or fridge cleanout; it's how I bribe our "dog in law" to go home ever evening.  For things the dogs can't or shouldn't eat, like paper towels with grease, or wiping out the last residue of bacon-grease jars that their tongues don't reach, I often burn these in a good hot fire during wood-heat season.  Limited amounts at a time; too much grease is no good for stovepipes either.

And yes, I wash anything the dogs licked to a high standard of cleanness, hot soap-and-water, or sterilization by heat, as appropriate for the type of dish.

9) Waste Prevention:
Of course, it's easier to operate a greywater sink or off-grid water recycling if you don't put nasty crap in the water in the first place.

- Kitchen Cycling:
My goal is to store mostly non-perishable foods, and cycle perishables and leftovers efficiently. 
After dinner, there is about a 2-hour put-away mark (half the commercial food-service stay time) where I need to identify and salvage the remaining foods. Unused ingredients get returned to storage, the fridge, or (in the case of herbs) hung out to dry.  Thawed meat can be processed into sausage or canned stews.  Thawed fruits in excess of today's needs can be dehydrated, and tossed in with trail mix or Mueslix.  Leftovers can be packaged as freezer meals, or canned up if we have the energy/want the canning heat in the kitchen.  All of this is best done the same day, of course. 3-day-old leftovers are more likely to become dog food or compost.
My assets include labels and wax pencils or Sharpies, Mason jars, Pyrex storage containers that can go directly from fridge into the microwave or oven, a large dehydrator, friends who are avid for specific Ernie's generous cooking specialties, and a high tolerance for leftovers.  (I also like cafeteria and institutional food. While I share Ernie's appreciation for gourmet fare when available, he is often amused by my unabashed enthusiasm for plain, humble, no-work, everyday eats.

My weak points in the kitchen include a tendency to lose track of time, and the fact that both my husband and I learned to cook for crews/families of about 6 people.  It's really hard for us to make "just enough" for two people when it comes to one-pot meals like chili, stews, or soups.

We have more insights to share from years of camping and no-fridge kitchens in a future article about "Off-Grid Meal Planning: Happy Campers, No Leftovers, and Zero Waste." 

- Pre-Screening Oils/Chemicals:
Despite our esoteric knowledge of all the many uses of modern chemicals, I try not to allow too many paints or greases into my life that are not safe for fire or dog disposal.  There are some, such as epoxy paints for the boats, and fluids for the equipment.  But I watch and restrict them coming in, so I don't have to pay to dispose of any excess going out.
- I have a safety-locked bathroom cupboard and an outdoor metal storage cabinet for those non-edible oils, greases, and other chemicals that I do choose to keep in stock.
- Biodegradables: I prefer multi-purpose, food-grade, or biodegradable personal products when possible.  I don't stock detergents that can't be used in greywater sinks, or shampoos that aren't septic-safe.
- What did our ancestors use, before industrial chemicals came on the market for public consumption? 
Many of our friends have learned to care for their hair without shampoo, sometimes called "Going Poo-Less." The Tudor-era method I prefer involves self-care time with a fine-toothed comb, and plain or scented water as needed.  That's often enough for everyday purposes.
However, my life is not an idyllic Tudor farm.  We are often exposed to chemicals, paints, tars, sap, smoke from burning paper, natural debris, and structure fires (I'm a volunteer fire fighter), and the occasional, memorable burst of flying pesto (see The Pesto Incident, previous post).  I stock good-quality, near-natural shampoos in our bathroom, for chemical stripping of our hair to remove contaminants from our work and play.  One bottle generally lasts over 2 years, if we keep it out of reach of curious puppies. 

Kitchen Hygiene Level: Overkill?

This article describes my process in a kitchen where I host suburban family, people who may be sick or subject to infection, "mainstreamers"/finnicky folks, and myself (currently representing all 3 categories).

That being said, Ernie grew up on fishing boats, and has the immune system of a junkyard dog.  All of this probably strikes him like a very elaborate waste of good crab bait.

More Off-Grid Kitchens and DIY Household Tips?

If you liked this topic, or have a suggestion, please comment below.
We're thinking of doing a whole series on off-grid kitchens, with pictures.
(If you are willing to grant us unlimited copyright permission to use photos of your own off-grid or nature-cycling kitchen, including works-in-progress and nasty de-tox projects, please send them in!  Anonymity or publicity available.)

For rockets, natural building, and other upcoming events and projects, see:

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Ways to See Us in Early 2017

The calendar needs updating, and I need office help.

Two going-fast opportunities are:

Online summit:
Eat Your Dirt, starts March 5, we are on the schedule for March 8. 

All-access pass
Free/splash page

If you select the "free" page, please expect a bit of a sales blitz.  Click on through if you really don't want to upsell.

The content is well worth the all-access pass prices (worth 3x to 10x more), and the sharing terms are generous, so please support this project as we'd like to do more of them!

In person:

Missoula Area:
There are only two tickets left for the Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs - we will be attending the whole thing, and presenting on several topics, with leadership from the inimitable Tim Barker.

Alternative Technology course immediately following, same location, still has some room, and we'll be there for about half of this.

We're also hashing out final details for a natural building workshop just before the PDC, with Jim and the Ants leading basic building of the project, and me as an "expert" to lead a natural plasters mini-course toward the end.  Lots of fun times!

Tonasket Area:
Natural plasters with Green Okanogan on Earth Day, April 22, with opportunities for volunteers to do a more in-depth work party with us in early April to prepare.
RSVP to:

Rocket Mass Heater Intro Day, Sat. April 29th, $25 to the public. 
See previous descriptions for this, it's terribly fun, morning show-and-tell with a choice of hands-on activities in the afternoon.
RSVP as soon as you know you want to come, because parking is limited, our book came out last year, and I've invited the entire NE WA region to send fire fighters and emergency responders for free. 
We may be opening additional days, or offering a couple more sessions in neighboring counties, if demand is high. There may be options to earn a place as "staff" for the event by prior arrangement.  This is the cheapest public event we do all year.  We do it in order to generate good energy and local help for our home projects (including just plain fire safety, reducing the number of depressing calls we get to structure fires that started with an ill-fated woodstove or chimney.)
RSVP to:, with "Rockets 2017" in the subject line.

For family and friends:
We will be having a Portland visit during Spring Break, and another one in late July. 
These are supposed to be for family, not so much business. So if you're looking for a rocket stove consult, please respect our right to put you off until fall or later.