Thursday, April 24, 2008

worm poop

Harnessing the mighty worm!
One of the most amazing creatures on the planet is the earthworm: worms break down organic material, leaving a nutrient rich, aerated trail.

As permaculturealists we are always looking for ways to harness natural systems to give us higher yields and reduce our over all footprint (and give us more hammock time).

One design that meets those criteria is the vermawash system designed by Cliff, our Garden Magician. Cliff wanted to create a system that could meet the nutrient needs of our garden as well as create a micro enterprise to help the Ecovillage Training Center earn funds for futre research.
The design he decided to use came from the Eco-Science, a leading research organization focusing on vermaculture (worm based soil and agriculture systems). The design Cliff found came from their database of vermaculture designs at This vermawash design can produce 20 liters of worm juice per day, more than enough for the needs of an average garden. A vermawash mimics soil systems by creating habitat for worms and other beneficial mirco-organisms to decompose manure and household organic waste. The micro nutrients are then washed through the system and can be bottled and used for organic folier spray or fertilizer. In fact, you can buy worm juice at your local home and garden center for 10-20 dollars per liter, opening up the possibility for local micro-enterprise supplying people with homegrown, organic fertilizer made with worms and micro organisms indigenous to the local area.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Zero Emission Mission

Today I am inspired to write my first blog entry for Terra Firma. My name is Jason and I am the site manager here at the Ecovillage Training Center. Normally I am just the guy behind the scenes who is fixing things. Among those things, I take care of the wiring and electrical of all the buildings and our Photovoltaic arrays. As part of last year's Solar Photovoltaic Installation Course held here, a small power station was setup using a hodgepodge (popular word for around here) of components we had available on site at the time. The result today was the ability to go into the woods, far away from the extension cord's reach and use an electric chain saw drawing over 800 watts to cut firewood for winter after next. Powered by the sun. No stinky smell, no loud noise, and no pull starting!

I also was able to transport the necessary components to power the saw, and the firewood, using stored energy from the main solar array that powers the Eco-Hostel. I took my golf cart. She is an 800 pound electric mule that can pull her own weight in a variety of ways. Charged up from the surplus solar energy coming from the 1.2 kilowatt array atop our Eco-Hostel, My carbon footprint is looking minimal so far for this otherwise petroleum dependent task. Not to mention I barely made tracks in the soft earth. The hodgepodge I mentioned is mostly recycled stuff. We reclaimed the batteries for this power station and for the golf cart from a corporation that chose to dump them as they switched to internal combustion generators. The golf cart was also rejected as junk by the same unnamed cell phone tower management company. I put two and two together and made a working electric truck. All available torque to pull almost one-half ton at zero rpm. It has pulled its share around here in the last year!

To quickly name a few other components in the setup: A 1500 watt inverter, a DC mulitmeter reading the bank's votage potential, and a “kill a watt” meter reading watts of energy being transformed from potential lead-acid ions to real cutting power on the ol' oak tree.

Alas, my carbon footprint crumbles as I realize the goal of today's mission: Firewood. Or is it so bad? Even though it is nowhere near zero emissions, firewood is more renewable than propane, natural gas, fuel oil, as well as coal and nuclear electricity. The big plus for us here in the Tennessee high forest of the Cumberland Plateau is it is local, and abundant. With the right stove design in an energy efficient, naturally built home, Burning good quality dried hardwoods can be a radiant and inexpensive way to heat your home. If you don't mind a few ashes. A word of caution while we are on the subject. Chimneys and stove pipe installation is not for the amatuer DIY homeowner. I safely recommend professional assistance when converting any indoor space to containing an alive portion of one of the elements we must respect: Fire!

My goal was not completed today as a result of another more earthly elemental that demanded my respect-- deer ticks by the hundreds hanging out in those upper branches I was sawing. Run away!! After over an hour and about seven feet of box tape, I sequestered the little blood suckers, leaving me no time left except to put away the heavy battery setup my mule toted into the forest. All's well that ends well, except it hasn't ended yet! Check back again for more of my energy related ramblings.

Friday, April 18, 2008

MTV is watching me

photo by Greg Landua

Gigantic productions of NYC
TRUE LIFE: I'm Living Off The Grid will be airing on MTV in June

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Natural Building

what a whirlwind it was. The April Natural Building workshop was such a success and covered so much ground, I am just now starting to come back into my daily routine. We had 25 people show up from all over the country to learn various styles of Natural Building. In three days we covered Cob, Strawbale, Earthbags, stone/masonry, adobe, Zacacilla, Waddle and Daub, Earthen Floors, Thatch and Timber Frame. Most of those involved hands on activities to help illustrate technique and use of materials.
It was quite a show...and to top it all off MTV was here to film for their upcoming documentary: True Life I am moving off the grid.

It was amazing to see how we all came together as a community to help cook, clean, prep, teach, and pitch in with all the tasks associated with hosting a large group.

Go Team!

The highlight of the whole crazy weekend was dancing and stomping as we cobbed the strawbale cabin.
Lead by our dear friend Biko and Cliff of the ETC along with Jessi and course participants a stellar rhythm section provided us with music to move our feet, bodies and souls as we learned and built does not get much better than that.

Learning to build: Biko drums as we stomp our souls down into the cob (and look at the camera in the corner! ;)