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Maura Will

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since Jan 09, 2012
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Recent posts by Maura Will

This book is such a classic, so original and so essential, I have to give it a 10 despite lack of polish. If you are serious about building this way, consider getting the DVDs (set of 2) and the underground greenhouse book. Both are available at

It can be used in combination with other building materials and it really a fairly versatile building system.

The DVDs are an elaboration on and updating of the original concepts with a lot more attention to strategies to make sure the house stays dry and lets in plenty of light.

I would defend the odd title because, if you had practically nothing but a couple rolls of plastic and a shovel and you were faced with building a survival shelter, this system with a rocket mass heater in the center would be your obvious choice UNLESS your only available site has a high groundwater table.
9 years ago

Thank you John S. for noticing my mistake, mixing up the poisonous camus (the white one) with the edible staple root camus (purple)!!! Oops! I was trying to make the point about managing plant resources on a community basis, planning, etc. If you came across a camus patch and there were no flowers, you wouldn't know if they were safe to eat. Also, as with so many resources, over-harvesting could wipe the resource in one year. Too bad the native Americans' sophisticated concepts of land ownership and land management were not appreciated for what they were.

About rodent dead falls, yes, this technique has saved many a soldier, concentration camp internee, etc. everywhere from the jungles of Viet Nam to the Siberian tundra, to desert environments. Cody Lundin illustrates how to make one in: "When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes " This survival only scores a 4 out of 5 on Amazon, but after reviewing a stack of survival books several years ago, I concluded this book was the single best one. It covers a wide range of subjects with amazing honesty and a sense of realism and humor. Many people felt the illustrations were juvenile or crass, but I disagree. They are just descriptive. I've seen rodent dead fall illustrations before but not really understood. The other essential wilderness survival book would be a primer on wild edible plants. There are lots of good ones now, such as Sergei Boutenko's 'Wild Edibles', Thomas Elpel and Nature's Garden, etc. Depends on where you live, too.
9 years ago
Response to John's question about calories in a survival situation:

Sadly, animal-based fats and meat are the major source of calories in most environments. Fruits could be the major source of calories in the tropics, but not in the north lands. Cultures in the north ate meat and fish. In some places, such as midwestern US and Appalachia, nut cultures existed. I think that nuts are the only protein alternative to meat in the northern hemisphere. Of course, most nut trees take decades to reach nut-bearing age. (Time to get planting!) Fruit in the northern hemisphere can provide a lot of calories, IF you have preservation systems. In a sense, squirrels that eat apricot nuts become a stored source of calories from the apricot tree.

Some root crops like camus and Jerusalem artichoke also have significant potential for versatile sources of calories on a community basis. These need to be community managed resources. For example, the purple camus (poisonous) but be found and dug up in the spring so that the camus patch can be safely and responsibly harvested in the fall. Check out salsify and Indian potato.

Many wild foods, like berries, are very nutrient dense, but not very calorie dense. Greens abound, in season.
9 years ago

Hi Erica,

I have no idea how to "like" a post but I would like a copy of the final product.

9 years ago

I enjoyed the interview with Diana. Thanks. Paul, I understand why you want to hire a super-mom to fix all the kitchen woes, but unless she drops in very soon here is another possibility to consider. If it is true that most of the people in the group are there to learn a wide variety of skills, then why not solve the kitchen dilemma with job sharing volunteers. You can experiment with this over the winter when you don't have the intensity of feeding workshop customers who have high expectations for meals.

Think of small overlapping circles of responsibility. Cooking is the biggie and should probably be split over several people. Split the week or split the day. Whoever does breakfast and lunch should probably not cook dinner, unless lunch is your big meal of the day (which is much healthier).

Shopping/food ordering and pickup comprise a separate job. The cook can make a list, but someone else has to pick it up and there are always decisions to be made at that point (substitutions, grabbing great sales, etc.) The shopper serves the cook(s) but must also make good decisions in the store.

Cleanup should be a rotating job in some way. Split the week or the meals of a day. Cooks rinse pots and tools after use. Other than that they do not do clean up.

Meal planning stems comes from (1) whatever type of diet the group decides it wants. (2) availability/seasonality (3) preferences and repertoire of the cook (4) feedback loop from the crew.

Finally, once you have a workable food prep system worked out with store-bought food, the next step is to build/evolve your local food production system. This is, of course, a vast endeavor, thus I shall only discuss the first step. Establish a small greenhouse close to the food prep area to provide fresh produce. Ideally, this would be a grow-hole, walipini-style, semi-underground structure, facing south with irrigation water from the kitchen greywater. Soil building could be a accomplished with native soil (possibly rough screened), sawdust and wood ash. Kitchen waste or manure from the animals that consume the kitchen waste should be used to make compost (tea). The goal of the kitchen greenhouse is year round greens and herbs supplied straight to the kitchen. Eventually, you can set up a slop sink for rinsing veggies in the greenhouse and return the rinse water immediately to the growing system. I would add that urine is a sterile source of urea nitrogen and might also be collected by providing a suitable spot to pee inside the warm greenhouse for anyone in the area. (Dilute 7: or 8:1)

It is amazing what you can grow with just a pile of straw bales with large windows leaning up against it on the south side. Just begin. Build a warm sunny spot where the deer can't get in. Start growing greens. Tomatoes, hanging strawberries, aquaponics, etc., etc. will follow once you are hooked on fresh raw organic greens. Ultimately, the abundance flowing out of your on-site food production drives the menu, then work flow and finally -- your dreams.
About Adrien's agroforestry vid. Thanks, nice summary. I would suggest planting hardwood (nut?) trees in rows, fence with 2-ribbon hot fence. Use tree spats around seedlings when you plant them. Seed strips inside fence with a low-growing grass such as sheep fescue and the rest of the pasture with a much taller grass/legume mix. (Years later, the pasture grasses will over take the short fescue but by then the trees will not need fencing for protection from cattle.) I see no need for herbicides or mowing if you plant this way. Cattle are the easiest grazers at first in that they require the most minimal fencing and aren't hell bent on getting at your baby trees. You can use (free) heavy cardboard for tree spats, perhaps with some straw or grass clippings on top. The cardboard should last about 2-3 years -- long enough if you have planted the less aggressive short fescue in the tree strip. Growing hardwood trees in a pasture is a 2 + 2 = 5 or maybe 6 kind of proposition. So many benefits! If you are growing hardwood trees for lumber, you should keep pruning up so that the trees take on a pomp pomp look. This produces more valuable lumber with fewer knots and lets more light down to the grasses. With nut trees, a more natural shape would maximize nuts while eliminating/minimizing pruning labor. Once the trees are big enough for the fencing to come down, the cows will prune up the trees to the height they can reach anyway, producing an attractive park look.
10 years ago
The first of these three videos shows a brilliant design for capturing and distributing water. A few additional points: The swales (ditches) which move the water along the contour are very heavily grassed in. That's important. Otherwise, the whole set up could be very erosive. The shape of these swales in cross section is a parabola. They are broad bottomed. Ideally, this super lush grass would be intensively harvested at intervals throughout the summer. You could cut the flat parts for hay, but it is more practical to use a grazing animal and some sort of movable fence. Obviously, you can't turn the grazers loose in the vicinity of the fruit trees, unless your grazers are very short (poultry, maybe). Cows require the most minimal movable fencing. You could use movable netting with goats if they are trained not to jump the fence.

The discussion toward the end of the video does a very good job of explaining the hydrological benefits of the keyline. It is about way more than just irrigation. This farm has completely changed the local surface and groundwater hydrology -- for the better. It is so common for damage and down-cuttting to happen in streams when the spring melt water runs off too fast (usually due to over-grazing high in the watershed.) This water can be captured and held in ponds and in the soil, a giant sponge, with the right structures in place.

A lot of people, including "professionals" working for government agencies should watch this video several times. It challenges many wrong ideas held by a lot of overpaid bureaucrats. If the whole planet was this well managed, the current 7 billion humans riding on planet earth would not be too many.
11 years ago
Some years ago, I listened to Joel Salatin speak for several days. On the bus tour, the economist sitting beside me observed that Salatin's approach was a human resource economic model. His son loved rabbits, so he developed new rabbit systems and a more efficient rabbit breed. His daughter loved flowers and art, so she made and marketed flower art.

There is no formula. Everyone has different abilities and interests. Each area has it's own environment and markets.

Begin with what you love....


11 years ago
Good project, Steve!
Yes, a bit more slope on the roof would feel more secure. Maybe some south-facing clererstory windows if you need to break up the roof line into two shed roofs. These work fabulously well for cooling on summer nights and will let in low-angle winter sun.

For making the seams in the builders' plastic I used acoustic tile cement along something like a 'flat felled seam.' Only you are not sewing, but spreading this goop on. You glue the two edges, fold, glue again, fold. So you wind up with a seam something like the seams on your jeans only much bigger and without stitches.

Alternatively, you could use butyl rubber roofing or pond liner instead of PVC sheeting. Costs more, but more durable.

Check out this house.
Lots of good ideas! Here is the goofy, but instructive, video of the house: (Is that Mike Oehler with the mask?)

There are so many ways to do things. Sounds like you have an excellent plan.

11 years ago
Interesting calculation (90 people/acre with potatoes) but something is wrong. That is just too high a rate. There are plenty of vids on utube of gardners saying they aren't even close to 1/person/acre production. The two super productive keeper annual crops for me are Irish potatoes and squash. Goats and chickens will learn to eat squash - probably potatoes, too, with some preparation. My intuitive sense is that I could support several people/acre with a fair about of vegetarian variety and a small amount of animal protein from eggs on a single acre as long as there was plenty of water and pretty good soil. Some dry peas, beans or lentils would help balance the diet, as would some fruit and loads of fresh greens. A greenhouse would help. So would a couple of nut trees. You would have to have some good food storage infrastructure: root cellar, dehydrater, etc. After a pole shift, skies are very cloudy for several years from effects of volcanic ash on the weather. A crop like potatoes would probably grow OK anyway, whereas a lot of familiar crops might not.
12 years ago