Ernie DeVore

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since Aug 19, 2012
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Recent posts by Ernie DeVore

Oh, I wanted to share with you our solution for toilets.

I live in a very arid region in Texas. To waste so much as a drop of water would be a problem for us. We're not hooked up to city water and we don't have a well. We collect rainwater off the roof and we use that for all of our purposes.

We bought those orange Home Depot buckets for cheap. There's around $3, I think, and they'll last for years. I've got about 8 or so of them laying around here. We put in a layers of leaves, sawdust, and woodchips and then drop a toilet seat over the top of the bucket and do our business. Then we cover it up with another layer and sometime later the next person comes along and repeats the process. When the bucket is full, it is carried to a compost bin and dumped and a new one is started.

For inside the house we have a little bench with a hole in it we can slide the toilet under. For outside the house it's just a bucket in the woods with a toilet seat hanging on a stump.

These very expensive systems make me crazy. I think it's all part of the plot of the industrial systems ... they want to make it as expensive as possible to "live simply" in order to keep people from doing it.

I find that those buckets are the most comfortable toilets I've ever sat on. I'm about 6' and sometimes on standard toilets, if I'm there for very long, my legs will fall asleep. Not on my buckets though ... love those things and would never go back. In addition, I get to generate wonderful compost in order to augment our horrible soil here.

Someday anthropologists will be digging through the ruins of our civilization and say, "Look at all the wonders these people had! Their technology! Whatever in the world could have possibly have killed them all?"

And then they'll pull an ancient porcelain throne out from the ruins and all will exclaim in horror, "The savages! They flushed all their soil fertility down the drain!"

5 years ago
If you're well outside the city limits, like myself, you may just find that inspectors don't drop by. They cannot just approach your property and look for code violations. They have to have a complaint in order to come out to you. As long as you're not just running grey water off onto the ground, you will probably escape their notice.

I put myself outside of their jurisdiction by not creating "grey water" or "human waste". Those are terms they use. You don't have to use them. You recycle water and you create compost, neither of which activities are regulated by the state.

The system doesn't want you to be free, and so long as you use their words and follow their rules ... you won't be.

5 years ago
I find that the ram sets the tone for the whole group, even if there's only a couple of ewes and one ram. If you have a passive, calm ram then the flock will be calm and passive. If you have a flighty, easily-agitated ram then the flock will take on those characteristics as well.

A group of all females is just problematic in any herd situation. They may be calm, but there are other characteristics that will be missing. Just like I find it unnatural to have female herd animals without young by their side.

Aside from the whole zen aspect of this, there are very practical things to consider. Management of your livestock simply becomes much easier when you go with nature instead of against.
What area do you live in? I'm sure there is a permaculture buddy somewhat close to you.

For getting seeds on the cheap, I'm sure you've noticed that at online retailers they often sell seeds in bulk at lower prices. Find a nearby buddy and go in with them. The prices get lowered AND, because you're buying large quantities, you typically get better seed. I've got two gardening buddies and we plan out our gardens together in order to do this.
6 years ago
This time of year in NH you might not get any crop at all, but any sort of peas that dry well would be a great addition. They'll help fix nitrogen in the soil, have tremendous root systems that will help hold a new bed together while adding organic material deep into the mound, AND when dried they make excellent fodder for both you and your livestock.

Yes, I'd definitely suggest peas. Some of them are even frost hardy and can handle a little cold. You might get a small crop after all.

The only other thing I have to suggest is buckwheat. It's fast. Real fast. Doesn't serve as many functions as peas but if you get a small crop off of it then you're in the chicken-feeding business all winter.
6 years ago
Even before flush toilets, lazy people were a problem. People would toss their night waste out of upper windows and woe betide the unlucky Victorian gentleman walking on the street below!

I've been in a number of third-world countries in our modern times where people just urinate or defecate wherever they feel like. In alleys, on street corners, or in the street itself! These people don't have flush toilets and modern waste treatment, but they don't bother collecting their waste in a sanitary composting manner either.

The problem, as I see it, is one of caring. Most people simply don't care about soil fertility or proper waste disposal enough to go through the motions. There's no reason why a person living in a suburb couldn't have a composting toilet bucket set up in their bathroom beside the regular commode and use it instead, then take the bucket down to the backyard to compost it. Your neighbors don't have to know what's in the bucket or the pile if you do it right and the city government certainly isn't going to send someone to your house to stand over you while you poop to make sure you do it in the appropriate receptacle.

It's a city problem. In cities you will always find the largest concentration of people who don't care. It's not just a matter of proper education either. They simply don't care. The same resources that led you and I to the concept of renewable soil fertility and composting human manure are available to them, but they don't care enough to investigate further when the clues light up in front of them.

I'm not sure I'd even want the excrement of a million city dwellers. Have you seen what they eat? I wouldn't feed that crap to my beautiful compost piles. It's all chemicals and preservatives and probably would kill the pile, just as it's killing the city dwellers.
6 years ago
Lots of questions there. I'll do my best.

I can't speak to the lawyer you found, nor would I. You'll have to shop around till you find one. Get a lawyer who doesn't play golf, doesn't wear expensive suits, and has a picture of his grandchild on his desk. It helps keep them honest if they think you're becoming a member of the community or if they think you have family in the area. The lawyer may charge you a straight fee or he may charge you by the hour. I like the straight fee. Be up front with the lawyer and tell him you're short on cash. This is not a lot of effort for him and he'll likely as not pawn it off on a legal secretary to prep the documents and such. He's done hundreds of these and it'll be almost cookie-cutter, minus whatever special considerations you put in.

You can start by asking the seller to pay for the surveyor. The lawyer will know a good surveyor or you can check the yellow pages. You want the survey and you may have to pay for it. The property I ended up buying for my homestead ended up 800 feet away from where the seller thought it was. In rural country, many deals are done on a handshake between community people but you're not part of their community. You may not be able to reconcile property disputes, easements, and other problems later on as easily. Particularly if you're not living on the property.

You'll have to pay someone to run a title search. It's sometimes called title insurance. You might be able to make the owner pay this. Again, the lawyer can handle most of those details and you'd bring the money to closing. When we did mine, the arrangement was that if the title wasn't clear then I wouldn't pay and the title research company would seek their payment from the owner.

I'll have to get back to you on the different parcels. That's not an off-the-cuff response.

Again, I'll repeat ... no road access, no deal. No contract stipulations, or easements. Let's say you make a contract with the owner now that gives you access over a piece of his property. Then he dies and his kid who lives in Salt Lake City sells the property to someone else completely. That guy puts up a fence and locks the gate on it which you don't find out until you show up in the rain at night with a carload of groceries. No road access, no deal. This is my advice. It might not matter so much right now if you're not living there, but if you ever have plans to, or think you might someday have to ... then best consider it now.

Call the county and ask questions to find out about the regulations. Start with the county clerk.

As for who pays whom and how much, the lawyer can help you negotiate out a contract that is binding. I would not go into an owner-financed deal that would take me more than 5 years to pay off. Much of rural America is being sold off by geriatrics whose children have run off to the city. The property to the east of me is owned by 9 different people, none of which have ever laid eyes on it. The property to the north of me is in tax foreclosure because the grandchild who inherited it is on welfare and can't afford to buy a loaf of bread, much less pay property taxes on 50 acres of mesquite scrub that her grandfather wanted her to have. Make a rock solid contract and then get it paid off and the title in your name as fast as possible.

As for a lawyer, call them. Go sit in their office. Stare at them menacingly across the desk and see if they piddle their carpet. This is largely a "vibe" thing. If you wouldn't buy a used car from him then don't hire him as your lawyer.

If something bad happens to you financially, healthwise, or spiritually then you may be 80% paid off and not able to come through with the final 20%. You may decide to cut your losses and lose the 80% but hang on to the 20%. The contract should be written so that if that decision is made then they can't come after you for the 20%.

If you're really good at real estate deals then you can use the agent listing the land. My technique has been to go to an area and find a real estate agent, then have him or her talk to the listed agent for any properties I find (or that they find). Once I pinpointed the area in which I wanted to live then it became a lot easier.

You're very welcome. I've only done this a couple of times and I've not had the experience of getting burned. Going into it thinking you're a moron is a great way to do it. If you go in thinking you're Donald Trump and that you eat land deals for breakfast then you'll get screwed over royally. Morons who know they are morons are way more cautious and cautious morons keep their money in their pocket.

Farming is hard. It's even harder if some grandchild, neighbor, or bank comes out of the woodwork on your tenth year and lets you know that they have an easement right through the middle of your hugelkulture beds and the bulldozer will be there that afternoon.
6 years ago
I'll take a stab at some of these things.

1. Owner financing is not too bad, but it can be dangerous. Get a good lawyer ... don't use the seller's lawyer. Make sure YOU pay the lawyer in full so he works for you. Make sure he isn't the seller's cousin.
2. Get the land survey, otherwise you don't know what you're buying. Fences may not be on property lines, there may be utility (or other) easements, or any number of things that would mess you up.
3. Make sure the seller has a clear title. You'd be surprised how many times this screws you up, particularly out west where land deeds used to be transferred across a poker table.
4. If you can negotiate then negotiate. If you really want the land and aren't going to be willing to walk away then don't do it aggressively and burn any bridges. Try to feel out why the owner is selling in the first place. They don't need the land, or are they in a financial bind? There's a lot there but your position sucks. The owner holds all the cards unless you can pony up full cash.
5. If it doesn't have road access, don't buy it. Seriously, don't do it. There's a billion LEGAL ways in which you could lose full access to your own property and if you ever need to sell it for any reason then it seriously limits the sale to other people who foolishly neglected the "don't buy property without direct road access" rule.
6. You should know about water, utility, and septic tank regulations as well as any other zoning issues LONG before you ever talk to the seller. If there's any restrictions at all, I'd pass on the property and look for something else.
7. The more you give down the less you have to pay off in the future, but remember that you don't own the property until the last dollar is paid and the title is registered with the county.
8. Like I mentioned earlier, get a good lawyer to help you set up payments and such. It'll cost you maybe $200 or so for the lawyer's time and it is well worth the trouble.
9. Make sure that you can pay early or pay in full without any penalty. That should be a stipulation in the contract. Also make sure that you can completely walk away from the deal at any point. Most of the time the seller will keep the money you've paid in so far as a form of "lease payment", and that is fair, but you don't want to end up owing the remainder. The only thing that is less heartless than a bank is a private owner who thinks they have you over a barrel.
10. Do NOT use a real estate agent representing the seller. They work FOR the seller and they're not going to get you the best deal. They're going to get the seller the best deal.

Often when we buy rural property, we're buying it out in the boonies where everyone is everyone else's cousin or brother-in-law. There are webs of intrigue going back generations. The seller may have went to high school with the real estate agent and be married to the local lawyer's sister. You are an outsider. Some small rural communities think taking an outsider's money is fair and just. Some won't feel any compunctions at all about swindling a "city slicker". Protect yourself.

Good luck.
6 years ago

Tyler Ludens wrote:Ernie, if you're addressing the person who started this thread, I have land (20 acres) and raise some vegetables and chickens. I also have sheep. I do not consider myself a farmer. I do not want to be a farmer because I do not think I'm very good at growing food. It would be an insult to farmers to call myself a farmer. I consider myself a gardener.



Well, it was a generalized address but we can discuss it.

I'm not a farmer either, per se. I'm a knifemaker and beekeeper. However, the only way I can survive as a small craftsman is to provide at least 80% of our own food and sell some meat on the side. I do not try and sell vegetables. People don't pay well for vegetables because they don't know what's good for them. Let them eat their crappy Walmart veggies for all I care. I do sell meat. The best use of last week's turnips is to feed them to a pig and then at the end of the year you only have a pig to sell ... and people will knock down your door and BEG to give you money for good organic pork where you would have had to tie them to a chair and torture them to even take your turnips for free.

I practice permaculture because it's an energy efficient system. The acres I live on are essentially a giant solar-collecting machine. The sunlight that falls on us needs to be channeled towards me, the producer. Plants are good for this. Livestock are good for channeling the energy captured in plants that I either can't or don't want to consume myself (such as grass). A pig is like a big food battery ... you charge it up in the summer when there is excess and draw on it during the winter when there is a shortage.

My wife once noted that our gardens seem to be primarily focused on growing side dishes for the meat we produce. That's exactly their purpose. That, and pickles. I love lacto-fermented pickles and you can't just go pick them up at the grocery store. You have to make them or sweet talk someone else into making them for you. Most of the really good things to eat can't be found in the grocery store.

Every dollar saved is equivalent to a dollar earned. If I grow five pounds of potatoes then that saves me some money. Plus, it's technically interesting to grow plants. My early training was as an engineer and I find that biological systems dwarf any man-made system for complexity and interoperability. There is more complexity in growing a tomato plant over a single season than in all of the billions of lines of code of software or the million nuts and bolts that comprise the space shuttle. I could happily spend whatever of my life remains just trying to figure out exactly what magic combination of water, soil, and sunlight makes the sweetest grapes.

6 years ago
I've pondered over this thread somewhat and I'm going to ask a difficult question. Think it through carefully and know that I mean no offense.

If you're interested in nature, permaculture methods, and sustainability ... why would you NOT want to be a farmer?

I'd rather live in a plywood shack on a remote piece of rural property and DO things than sit in the city all day long and dream about it. Picking up a piece of agricultural land is not that difficult or expensive and there are many, many ways to do this without shelling out big bucks. If this is your interest then time is wasting!

That said, there are plenty of permaculture techniques and methods that lend themselves well to backyard gardening. Even if you only achieve 5% food independence in a small backyard plot or community garden bed then you're still getting some great exercise, entertaining your mind, and engaging in something healthy and productive.

At the very least, the non-farmers who can appreciate permaculture can open their wallets and buy the food of the permaculturists who are struggling to make a living at it.
6 years ago