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Mary Cook

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since Jan 27, 2015
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Recent posts by Mary Cook

When I read your initial post, my reaction was (aside from enjoying the bit about chocolate)--what that woman needs is a partner. It makes SOOOO much difference in quality of life, to have someone who shares your little ups and downs, who  cares how you feel today. I wished you a mate. Then when I saw the second post, in which you acknowledged that your solitude is not by choice, that you're as lonely as I would be in your place, it only doubled my reaction but I have to note--from my own experience, the difficulty of finding a mate when you like the country life and hate cities. The way I put it--in the year and a half after I divorced my first husband and before I got tied up with my current husband, I was so hungry I found that any time I met a man I would instantly apply what I called the demographic screen: Is he male? Is he roughly my age? Is he single? Is he heterosexual? If the answer was yes to all four, he was possible...but what percentage of the people who merely pass that screen are actually compatible enough to be your mate? One in a hundred, to be generous? And then, how many people, new people who pass the demographic screen do you meet in a year? Two or three? So on average, you're likely to find the right person in, oh, maybe 50 years.  So, you can go to a city where you can meet several possibles in a day. Trouble is, they usually want to live in a city! So I tried Match.com which let me do all kinds of searches. That led to several interesting conversations, but never an actual meeting. Then my friend hooked me up with a mutual friend, and--we've been together almost 18 years now. I got lucky. So did my neighbor, whose wife died in March 2020, horrible timing as he is a very social person and the lockdown happened just when he lost his wife. But he found someone, moved for three months to another community, then it fell apart and he moved back...only to tie up with a widowed woman in a community not that far away, which looks like it will work. So he was lucky too but I think being an extrovert is an advantage, as is being male at his age (he 80 now).
So--I hope you manage to overcome this quandary and find a mate, and next time you face something like this it will be worlds easier. And don't forget--this will not only make your life so much better but his too. Or hers--if you're gay or even if not, a companion is almost as a good as a lover.
2 days ago
Another community to consult is Earthhaven in North Carolina. I believe they ran into trouble with doing that composting toilet thing, with the local government hassling them about health codes or something. And also had issues using consensus to make decisions. Clustering houses closely together is ecologically sensible if you're assuming that people's food is brought in from elsewhere--not very permie, though. Or if the gardening is done communally, which might be more communal than the OP has in mind.  And for enhancing neighborliness and community, I think at least one central meeting place should be included where music and dancing and storytelling and trading meets and...lots of other stuff go on. How about a hot tub or sauna? Also, not everyone has telecommuting type skills, and such depend on the civilization in its present form, which might not last much longer. Ideally you have some local businesses producing for each other as well as the nearby towns--bakers, blacksmith, herbalist/masseur/masseuse, bike repair, crafters, winemaker...
1 week ago
Hello. I live on a land trust on a ridge in kinda central western WV. My reaction is that your plan is too many households too close together and very little garden land. I would like more community than we have here--this place is 76 acres with four leaseholds. As it's a land trust, we can't own the land but accepted members get a lifetime lease. If they leave they can sell their improvements to new owners who must be approved by the board. I think our arrangement gives us the independence you mention; we do share a few things (we use another member's washing machine and freezer, he borrows our truck, we went in together on a log splitter) but each household makes its own decisions--we have one meeting a year. I think provision for a time when we can';t depend on the global economy or money would be wise (fewer households, more cleared land, and if it's in southern WV, even more than here you need flattish land--the ridge is better than the bottom because of flooding, but you might have both on a big piece like that. Also, you can really save on building a house if you don't have to mess with building codes and all--likely you wouldn't have to there (we didn't) but with that many houses clustered you likely would.
1 week ago
Now I gotta respond to Carrie's post to say: we got our initial system from Backwoods Solar, which is also good at helping people figure out a system, and offers set-ups all ready to go. But there's a key question here, which is whether you want to go off-grid, do a grid-tied system, or have a parallel off-grid system. Backwoods I believe specializes in off=grid systems, which is what we have, and has the advantages that your power doesn't go out when the grid goes down, and you aren't at the mercy of the %%$## at your utility. But grid tied systems basically consist of the panels, with micro-inverters built into each one--the grid is your battery and charge controller. Here in WV, you have to pay for a fancy meter that runs both ways, and they don't ever pay you for electricity, but you get full credit for surplus to use in a time of deficit and only pay $5/month for the privilege of using the grid.
Carrie talked about people getting together to get panels cheaper--there is an outfit here that does that. I think it's Solar United Neighbors, which focuses on one region at a time, collecting customers, then the installer goes around and assesses them all, and at some point is ready to order all the panels and install each system. There is also lobbying going on now for community solar, in which a larger system is set up in a good location, and you can buy into it and thus get cheaper electricity without setting up panels on your own place. Last year we did finally get third-party financing deals legalized, in which an outfit puts the panels on your roof (or yard?) and owns the system, you pay for the power and eventually I guess own the system. So you might want to check into what's possible where you live. But if you're thinking grid tied, I point out that you need not calculate your average use and put up that many panels--you could start with a small system that supplies a part of your power. Then, if the grid goes down for good you will be very glad to have what turns out to be all the power you actually need.
2 weeks ago
Okay, here's my experience. I live in West Virginia, which is far from the best insolation in the US, but not quite the worst. Winter clouds are sure yes indeed a thing here, perhaps makes more difference even than the shorter days and less ideal angle. We don't have a generator, but we have a line to our neighbor's--they have a larger, grid-tied system, and we take a kilowatt-hour or two a few times a winter, totaling maybe ten or 20 kwh a winter--half or close to as much as the typical US home uses in a day. But we use between 2 and 3 kwh a day. I have a huge advantage in that my husband knows his way around electricity and electronics; he planned and installed our system, and assisted others in the area, some with grid-tied or hybrid systems. He also figured out ways to save energy, power supplies for specific appliances so the inverter doesn't need to run. We got our system in 2009, and paid $9070 for four panels @ 220 watts each, eight T 106 batteries, and inverter and charge controller, and wiring and such.  Seven years later when these "training batteries" were shot we got a different kind of lead-acid battery, new here but long popular in Europe, tubular batteries--these are very heavy and taller, are in glass or plastic cases so you can see in, and the specs claim that they will be down to 80% original capacity in 25 years--so they'll last us the rest of our lives. They were $4000. We had a problem only once, six months after installation when a close lightning strike fried part of the inverter--luckily it was still under warranty and they quickly replaced the part. We now turn off most AC in times of storms, and even the refrigerator if lightning is striking violently around. My husband decided we needed a couple more panels a few years ago, and here's the interesting thing--the new ones are almost exactly the same dimension as the old ones, but they are 315 watts, and also more efficient in low light, so a good 50% better capacity--and the old ones in 2009 cost $600 apiece, these cost $200 apiece. A year or two ago my husband discovered that the cables which connected the new batteries were unequal and substandard--he replaced them and the difference was amazing--we can go three cloudy days, then in a half sunny day get recharged.
So. Absolutely, DO get solar because the day is coming, I predict, when grid power is either much more expensive or becomes intermittent. But DO figure out ways to cut your use FIRST--if you have to pay someone to help you with this, it will be worth it, but for $25 you can get a Kill-a-watt, which plugs into an outlet, then you plug an appliance into it and it tells you how much power the appliance is using; for things like a fridge it counts the hours so you can assess how much power an appliance that goes on and off uses in a day. (It also tells some other stuff I don't understand, about the quality of the electricity or something.) Also--mounting panels on a roof is not necessarily the best choice. It's best if you live in a city and have to worry about vandalism and theft, or if the roof is the sunniest part of your property and you have a good south face. But ground-mounted panels can be easily adjusted seasonally (the angle of the sun changes quite a bit). And a roof mount means making holes in your roof, quite a project and must be done right not to leak. Also panels are more efficient at lower temperatures, and roofs are warmer than other places. And--we go out sometimes more than once a day in winter to brush snow off the panels with a push-broom--such days are when we need the input the most, but how much fun would it be to hang out a window, or walk over an icy roof, to do it when it's 12 degrees out? My husband posted plans for the ground mount that we and several others in our area, and now others elsewhere have used, on his website which is spectrumz.com, under going solar. The mounts are made of pressure-treated wood.
Okay, aside from panels I'll put in a plug for my other favorite solar device--an attached greenhouse.  I have one on the 12-foot south face of our house, seven feet deep. I use it to start seedlings in spring, to dry towels all year and things like beans and peanuts in fall, to house orphaned chicks or injured hens in safety and once in an exceptionally frigid week, all my chickens; I also dry seeds inside paper bags there, and certain bulbs...and of course, it helps heat the house on borderline days so we don't need a fire.
2 weeks ago
FWIW--not very much--my neighbor tried grafting some scions from my goumis onto autumn olive and it didn't take. But one try doesn't prove anything. Might be you need the right time of year, technique, et c.
4 weeks ago
I live in West Virginia. Autumn olives are a nightmare of invasiveness here, worse than multiflora because if you dig out the crown of a multiflora, you've killed it but with autumn/Russian olives you have to dig out every bit of root. To the person who said he sees a single autumn olive that hasn't notably spread, I say GET RID OF IT WHILE YOU CAN! To those questioning whether goumi is a better option, I believed a book that said they were and got two--a Sweet Scarlet and Red Gem. This was 4 or 5 years ago. I've seen no sign of their spreading. They require zero care--I do prune them in February, to make picking in late June easier, not a lot of trouble and as some say, you can use the prunings. This year I'm going to use many of them as starter for cuttings to try to make lots more, to give away and I think I'll add a couple more in my orchard. They fix nitrogen, They have pretty silvery leaves and pleasant smelling flowers (so do the evil autumn olives). Every year I get lots of fruit--picking the berries in the main chore, it takes several hours over a couple of days. The negative is that the berries have sizable pits, and the only way I've found to deal with them is to steam the fruit  for 20 minutes or so and filter out the solids, then use the liquid for a syrup. They are loaded with antioxidant and other good things.
I think invasives generally do tend to settle into an ecosystem eventually, but it's also a matter of regional difference. I have Japanese honysuckle, and beat it back on the edge of the woods as it was doing too much damage to the woods, including the redbuds that ring my clearing and resumed their former spring glory when I beat back the honeysuckle. But I didn't get rid of the honeysuckle as I LOVE its scent. One year I realized it had crossed the clearing and was all over the copse on the other side, and tried to make a dent by ripping up the lacework of fine vines, hoping to at least have started the necessary eradication. To my surprise, that was it, it was gone the next year there. People talk about stiltgrass, and I don't get it--it's so easy to pull up, my definition of a "good weed," and you can just wad it up and use it as mulch. But I can see where it would be a problem if you farmed on a large scale. Wineberries--I deliberately planted a patch of those--the main negative is that I failed to eradicate autumn olive there first and have to keep snipping it out now. Wineberries are so pretty, and tasty. But they only bear once, while my red everbearing raspberries start in August and keep going until it frosts. The wineberries crossed the road in and established themselves in the copse aforementioned, and I wondered whether to get rid of them. But now that area is part of my chicken run--the predators got so bad I gave up on free range and we fenced a run which includes the orchard, this bit of copse, and a bit of open area above the garden. I had thoughts or running cord through the tops of the fruit trees and down to the fence to confuse hawks--but then thought, why don't I try making a sort of food forest instead, planting forbs and bushes that won't shade the fruit trees but will hide the chickens from above? I think, a couple more goumis, maybe some full dwarf fruit trees (that I can cover, as my next attempted solution to the squirrel problem), some wild sunflowers, chicory perhaps, more fennel, and as for the wineberries, all I have to do is not hinder their spread.
4 weeks ago
But then maybe your greenhouse won't be big enough! Ours is 7 X 12 feet. We used tempered glass which we got used at $10 apiece, 6 feet by about 20". It has some stains which nothing has been able to remove, but although that impedes the view through it some, it doesn't block sunlight. I should mention that the upper, metal roof slants slightly down to the south, while the under roof slants more sharply, so there is a big gap on the south side for the winter sun to shine in.
1 month ago
Well, first, for Carla--I just want to ask whether you could build a small attached greenhouse outside that south-facing window.  I have one and it is SOOOO handy. I only got salad from the bed on ground level the first year; the next couple of winters, some little bugs (aphids?) destroyed the crops and I haven't tried since--decided to do hoops of some sort in the garden instead. But those bugs never bother what's on the shelves, so I start plants for my own garden and a couple of others there. Later the greenhouse is a good place to dry things like beans and peanuts, and I also alternate between two towels, putting a damp used one where the sun will dry and freshen it before the next use. We've also used the greenhouse for sick or injured chickens, for orphaned chicks, and once for a winter week so cold the coop didn't suffice. I don't heat this greenhouse, but it sometimes helps heat the house. On cool days in fall, winter and spring, I open the sliding door to the house and the warm air may be enough that we don't need a fire. There is a window and a roof vent. And a trick of my husband's I want to pass on: we have big hickories over the house on the west (so we don't need AC). Therefore we have to have a tin roof on the greenhouse (falling hickory nuts would crack a glass roof). But he built another roof under that, and on the south side a couple of glass panels fit in, passing much extra sun into the greenhouse when the sun is low in the sky in winter, but in early summer the sunshine barely enters the greenhouse.
So, my plans for this year--My situation is pretty settled and my crops mostly successful, but I like to try at least some new varieties every year. Last year it was brussels sprouts, which was a bust; covering them with tulle worked great to keep the egg-laying butterflies off them, until the plants grew too tall for the covering. After that the worms moved in, and I think also some animal chewed a couple. I might try again this year if I can figure out a support system for the tulle that allows a taller cage. I'm trying onions from seed for the second time. Usually they're so damn slow growing that you can't get usable onions by what seems to be harvest time here, the beginning of July. So I use sets instead. But what if someday I can't get sets? Maybe I'll try harvesting my sweet potatoes a little earlier, as black rot (?) moved in at the end of the season last year.
I'm also just beginning to toy with the idea of creating some kind of food forest in my orchard. We've always mowed between the trees there, but last year the predators got so bad I finally gave up on free range chickens and we fenced a run, which includes the orchard. Reading a permaculture book it occurred to me that instead of stringing cord between the tops of the fruit trees and the fence to keep hawks out, maybe I could plant bushes and other plants between the trees, so the chickens aren't exposed anywhere? If the bushes and plants could also provide forage for the chickens, that would be even better. I might add more goumis even though the chickens didn't show much interest--because they fix nitrogen and are close to zero care. Blueberries won't work as they demand special, super-acid soil. Mulberries are too big. There is already a wineberry patch in there, which they do pick a few from. I'm thinking maybe chicory, Maximilian sunflowers--I'd need to cage smaller plants until established, or the chickens would likely scratch them up.  Ideas welcome.
1 month ago