Ben Tyler

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since Jun 07, 2012
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Recent posts by Ben Tyler

Unadilla Community Farm is seeking community members to live & farm cooperatively on 12 acres in Otsego County, New York!

Founded in 2013, Unadilla Community Farm is an off-grid solar-powered organic fruit and vegetable farm and permaculture education center. Our mission is to provide a space for the teaching and practice of sustainable skills. Currently, we have 4 farm members (2 of whom live on-site year-round) and a crew of seasonal interns. We're seeking additional members who want to live and work with us cooperatively.

We grow a diversity of cold-hardy organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, and mushrooms, following the principles of agroforestry, organic agriculture and permaculture. We are establishing a regenerative food forest with over 50+ varieties of fruit and nut trees and berries. We're also currently building our infrastructure from the ground up, using natural building methods and local + salvaged materials. We have completed a self-sufficient tiny home, and are in the process of building a barn and converting a school bus into another tiny home.

Potential members are invited to live and work with us for a trial period of at least 3 months during the growing season, with the opportunity to move in full-time if it seems like a good fit. There are several pathways to communal landownership that we can pursue, depending on the interests of new members. Our project is run cooperatively, so new members are invited to share their unique skills and ideas for communally driving the project forward as we expand and diversify.

Visit our website for more details about our work - and please email us at to get in touch! And please share this with your networks.
Unadilla Community Farm
7 months ago
Does anyone here have experience with long drop compost toilets in areas where the humanure will freeze solid in winter? If I have a cement chamber filled to the brim, will the humanure expand as it freezes and break the cement? Would a pee separator be enough to prevent this from happening?

Backstory: I'm planning to build a bath house with a proper long drop in it. I'd like to pour a cement slab, build 4 cement chambers, and have a little staircase going up to the toilet seats. We would fill one chamber a year (3 years cure time is required by my farm's organic certifier). I've built these before, but it was years ago in a mild climate. Now I'm in upstate NY, and it gets to -30 F every winter. Will my humanure expand as it freezes, and break the cement chamber? Would a pee separator (and proper sawdust applications) be enough to keep the water content down and prevent expansion?

7 months ago
I recently learned from a friend that kombucha scobys are edible, and he introduced me to the world of scoby jerky. Now I don't make kombucha, but every autumn we make several gallons of apple cider vinegar. Has anyone ever tried making scoby jerky (or otherwise eating) ACV scobys?
11 months ago

ronie dee wrote:
How much electricity do you want from the pedal machine? If you want just enough for a few LED lights and want to spend the hours pedaling, maybe might be worth it.

I think it is a waste of time and resources to generate any decent amount of electricity with pedal power. It's possible, but quite involved. You are far better off hooking the bike to the appliance and grind your grain with a mill. Pump some water, hook it to a sharpening wheel, hook it to a makeshift washing machine. ...................

If you think you can make an 8 ft diameter wheel that runs perfectly straight and spins perfectly and most likely has a fly wheel that is also perfectly true, and you want to spend a lot of hours manually spinning electricity, you might get enough electric to run a few things.

I think finding a temp job for a week and getting a solar panel or two then instead of pedaling electricity you spend time with other chores and let the sun do the generating. 25 years of sun electricity for a weeks work in 2018.

Ronie, I would agree with you that pedal power is generally not as desirable as solar, since you need to be actively pedaling to generate the power. However, one particular permaculture principle that I am drawing on here is that you should always try to make good use of the resources available to you. I happen to have a girlfriend who insists on expending large amounts of energy through indoor exercise. She's like a clock: for 1.5 to 2 hours a day, she's moving unnecessarily and wasting who-knows-how-many calories! Now, what could be more permaculturey than hooking her up to a generator and harnessing some of that energy?

Regarding our energy needs, the two of us live in a 160 sq ft tiny home, with solar panels already providing us with all the lighting we need. We're hoping the bike will give us enough additional electricity to run a laptop and charge cell phones. We'll be using the bike to charge a 12V deep cycle battery, and going DC to DC by using a car charger cord for the laptop. I'm curious to see the ratio between "hours pedaling" and "hours on laptop"!

1 year ago

Peter VanDerWal wrote:
So chains come in two basic varieties, metric and "standard".  
Pitch on Standard chains come in 1/8" increments and the first number equals how many '1/8's.  So #40,#41,#42,#410, etc. are all 1/2' pitch (same as bicycle chain).  
A standard size frequently used on go-carts, etc. is a #35 which has a 3/8 pitch , that's probably what you have.  Measure it from the middle of one tooth to the middle of the next.

If it's smaller than 3/8 pitch, then it's probably a 8mm pitch metric chain.

Kenneth Elwell wrote:Peter VanDerWal's info on the chain is great...

However, since you are searching for the chain without any samples to work with... I'd suggest finding a local bearing distributor and take your sprocket to their counter and get their help in sussing out what pitch it is.
Bonus: they can sell you the parts you need! I'd also go armed with the shaft dimension for the bike end (use calipers or a micrometer) so you can get the correct bore on the hub to fit the bike.

You might also find roller chain at a GOOD hardware store, or an outdoor power repair shop, that you might be able to try some different chains to your sprocket...but they won't likely have the bike side sprocket you want.
So, you'd just be "showrooming" to purchase online later...

If you happen to find some chain, sometimes the plates are stamped with the pitch, and that's a great help...
If you measure ten links and divide the result by 10 you can increase your precision, and maybe tell the difference between metric and standard pitches that are close in size.

Thanks for the detailed advice, guys! I *think* I have a 25H 11T sprocket, and I've ordered a larger 25H 80T sprocket for the bike end, and a #25 chain. I couldn't get much help from the local populace, and I eventually just measured as best I could, searched the internet a lot, and ordered online. My fingers will remain crossed until this thing is hooked up and functioning.

Greg Macmillan wrote:One thing I know for sure is that it is better to have a direct drive from the pedals to the generator using chains and sprockets as if they are set up correctly they are the most efficient versus belts or a two stage approach or running a generator from friction on the tire. You need as good an efficiency as it is really hard work to make a useful amount of power. The average person can do 200 watts for a short time and maybe 50 for a more sustained period.

Greg, I've heard from several people that this thing is going to be difficult to pedal, and thus I shouldn't try gearing it up too high. However, being how I am, I have to take my chances and risk needing to disassemble the thing later on! The exercise bike uses a nice belt to gear up from the pedals to the flywheel. I'm going to try attaching the sprocket to the side of the flywheel, thus gearing it up even higher to the generator. And the belt will be on the torque end, rather than the stronger chain! I'll see how it goes and get back to you. Either it's going to work great, or the belt is going to slip from too much torque, or else my girlfriend won't be able to handle the workout

1 year ago
Hi, I'm in the middle of converting an old exercise bike to generate electricity for my off-grid tiny home. It's turned out to be a little more ambitious than converting a regular bicycle, as the internal workings of the exercise bike are very... unique. But I think I have a solid plan. I just need to buy a gear and a chain, attach the gear to the exercise bike's flywheel, and use the chain to attach it to my generator. Sounds easy enough. I bought a small 12V permanent magnet motor, made for wind turbines, and it has a little gear on it. I just need to find a second compatible gear, and a chain that fits on those gears.

And suddenly, BAM! I've hit a wall. It turns out the world of gears and chains is immense, and virtually impenetrable for a noob like me. Now this may be a long shot, but does someone on this forum have experience with pinion gears, possibly from a small wind turbine project?

I have an 11T pinion gear, and the Chinese manufacturers of my generator can't tell me any more than that. It seems to be 2mm thick. I think I'm missing some crucial information here, like the "pitch", or the "distance between teeth" or something. Its teeth are slightly too close together to fit on a regular bike chain.

Thanks to anyone how might be able to help!
1 year ago

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I did my usual... Instead of talking about eating sunroots on the Internet, I went out to my garden, and picked a sunroot flower and put it in my mouth.

They are inedible!!!

The flower petals have spikes on them, which makes them about like eating thistles. They are fibrous, so take a lot of chewing.

With the petals being too fibrous to eat, the rest of the flower is even more fibrous. Still with the same spikes as the rest of the plant.

And that resinous taste!!! It is super concentrated in the flowers. A disgusting taste that I don't want anywhere near my mouth.

I've tried eating a lot of things that are supposedly edible, and I might eat them if I was hungry. However sunroot flowers are something that I would not attempt to eat no matter how hungry I was. Bleck. Ugh. Yuck. Spitting.

Thanks for this important field data! I guess that rules out raw eating, possibly cooked too, although cooking helps neutralize hairy textures.

I just tried searching for "sunchoke flower tea", and got only one result: an account from a tourist in a restaurant in Zwolle, Netherlands:

"It’s raw scallops to begin with, laced with black garlic and a warm broth of smoked celeriac. Cod comes later, with slices of raw hazelnut and a puddle of wildly expressive sunchoke-flower “tea.” Neither dish feels familiar at first. But my tongue and my brain start to dig, and they uncover in each a certain sweetness that is nothing if not alluring."

I wonder if sunchoke flower tea is an accepted thing in the Netherlands?

Ken W Wilson wrote:Do you eat the buds? Someone on here mentioned that they do, but I can't find it again. I don't think I've heard about the flowers. Mine are blooming now too, so that's an interesting question.

It's my first year growing sunchokes, and I simply tossed the buds without thinking about it. They sound like a good candidate for battering and frying though!

I'd like to figure out if this is a viable food source we can eat in mass quantities without reservations, or if it's like tomato leaves in that some people do it but it's mildly poisonous in large doses...
A straightforward question, which a long internet search has failed to answer.

I missed a few flower buds when pruning my sunchokes last week, and now I have some deliciously sweet smelling flowers. Do I chuck them on the midden heap? Or are they useful? If they are edible, I'm sure there's loads of useful things to do with them, ranging from garnishing dishes, breading and frying them, maybe even brewing a sweet tea from them?

Anyone have any experience with this?
Wow, what a great thread! Thanks for all the info everyone! Here's my 0.02 on preserving methods:

First of all, we're off grid but I sure do wish I could plug in a couple chest freezers in the basement.

This year we're actually trying to NOT can anything for the first time, and so far it's not that bad. My reasoning is that canning is by far the messiest and most involved preservation method, and it's only been around since the mid-1800's. So before that everyone got along just fine without it.

#1 Easiest Preservation Method: We grow lots of cold-tolerant crops (and the most cold-tolerant varieties of them) that can simply be kept in the ground until needed, possibly under row cover or mulch. Carrots, parsnips, leeks, cabbage, kale, Brussels, chard, collards, these things are all just going to weather the storm out there. We'll keep an eye on the night time temps and give them more row cover when they need it, or harvest and process if we think it might get too cold.

#2: As previously stated, storage crops are great, like potatoes, onions, garlic, squashes, pumpkins, apples, beets, winter turnips - and eggs too, actually. We have lots of paper bags full of these things now. Just have to remember to check on your stores weekly and remove anything that's starting to go bad. Also, we don't bother trying to keep everything at their proper humidity levels. Everything is in the same cool, dry location. All this means is our root crops become dry, shriveled little rocks that need to be boiled to soften them before eating, not a big deal.

#3: Drying. This year we're drying a LOT of stuff. All of our fruits (except for our best appes), greens, herbs, mushrooms, and most veggies. Our drying locations have been running at maximum capacity since early June. Things are tapering off now, but we'll still be drying things into October. We have 3 drying locations: solar dryer, greenhouse, and barn rafters.

The solar dryer is the powerhouse of the three. One or two sunny days will turn anything crispy dry. Its main drawback is its small size. We reserve the solar dryer for the wettest, choicest crops, like fruit, mushrooms and tomatoes.

The greenhouse is second-best. Once all the seedlings are planted out by early June, we scrub the greenhouse clean, tie down a shade cloth over the whole thing (don't want too much sun exposure), scrub all of our wooden seed trays, and turn them into drying racks. The greenhouse takes 2-4 sunny days to dry most things, but its capacity is MUCH bigger than the dryer. One drawback is the risk of flies. This is why we keep our wettest stuff in the dryer, which is totally insect-proof. Drying greens and herbs are of little interest to insects and pass unnoticed.

The third best is the barn rafters. Our barn is dark and cool but very dry and well ventilated. It takes a week or two for things to get crispy dry hanging up in the rafters. But the beauty of the barn is that it can quickly receive a huge amount of produce for drying, with very little prepping needed. We tie bunches of herbs, flowers, greens, onions and garlic with twine and hang them from the rafters. No up-front chopping necessary, just a quick wash and tie em up. When they're done, cram them in brown paper bags and move them to their permanent storage location. Later, in winter when we have more free time, we revisit the bags and remove the stems, or crush the long onion greens into tiny bits with our hands, etc. Mush easier to do those things when the plants are brittle and dry.

EDIT: I almost forgot to mention lactofermentation and making vinegar! Sauerkraut will last for months and months in jars in the pantry, and our apple cider vinegar made from the slow accumulation of cores and unsavory bits lasts for 2 years or more. I make big batches of both in food grade 5 gallon buckets.
1 year ago