Sunday, September 20, 2015

Lessons from A Beginner in the Field

Or the woods, as the case may be.  It was an interesting sit between two big beech trees yesterday.  First, well before light still, I heard a branch come crashing down, I think it landed less than 10 feet behind me and a bit to my left. (Later investigation showed it to be less than 6 feet, the branch 4 inches in diameter.)  I instinctively moved, quickly, to the right around the trunk of the tree my back was against.  Scary.  Widow-maker.  Lesson Learned:  In your scouting for a location from which to hunt, check for widow-makers, be that a ground or tree stand location.  The chances of being hit are small, the consequences large.

I was sitting with my back against the tree to the left

Then, after first light, I heard what sounded like baseballs dropping through the canopy, dropping through the leaves and branches, and hitting the ground with heavy, distinctive thuds.  "That would hurt," I said to myself!  I actually thought seriously about getting one of those hard hat shells that goes under a baseball cap, and Geri mentioned the same when I told her the story later.  I thought this was interesting because I did not hear any of it before sunrise, then, I heard maybe 10 or 20 fall over the course of 30 minutes or so, then nothing.  It had rained an inch the day before and into early hours, and an inch and a half the day before that.  There was a lot of water in the canopy, and under the trees it seemed like it was still raining as I sat.  At the time I believed that they might be black walnuts, that was all I could think of that made any sense, and I saw a relatively dark trunk (compared to the dominant sugar maples and beeches) maybe 20-25 yards in front of me; they are called black walnut trees for a reason.  I also looked this over during my "later investigation," and sho' nuf, there was a big black walnut tree and walnuts littering the forest floor.  Lesson Learned: Do not set your dumb ass under mature black walnut trees in the fall!

A black walnut falls from 80 feet onto your noggin and it is going to hurt,
and raise a lump; 
hopefully nothing worse
Fall  turkey season opened on the 15th of September; in Michigan in fall you can take either male or female, one per license, whereas in the spring you can only take the male of the species, I presume because it is mating season.  Note:  "After mating, the female turkey prepares a nest under a bush in the woods and lays her eggs. She will lay one egg each day until she has a complete clutch of about 8 to 16 eggs. The eggs are tan and speckled brown eggs. It takes about 28 days for the chicks to hatch. After hatching, the babies will flock with their mother all year."  That from no more an authoritative source than Vegan Peace, at  And no, I am not a vegan!  A male turkey is called a tom or a gobbler, a female turkey a hen, and a baby turkey a poult or chick. A young male turkey is called a jake and a young female is called a jenny.

I have seen turkeys as I sat this weekend, this time of year the hens tend to stick with other hens, and the toms with toms.  I am still waiting for that long-beard to come or be coaxed within range.

The first day of fall is the 23rd of September, and deer season opens 1 October.  Hopes are high.

All for now, and thanks in advance for your commentary.

-- John 20 September 2015

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Starcraft 11 ' 6" Boat Refurbishment - Part I, Seats

After turning it right-side up, just before towing it
This is part one of a multi-part effort to return this boat to life.  It was last licensed in 1999, I found it upside down in about a foot of water.  No telling how long it had been there.  I was able to float it out; there is a lot to be said for aluminum.  One seat, and the wood on both sides of the transom, were almost completely rotted away, the wood on the two remaining seats was heavily damaged.  There is a lot of work to do, and, I will start with the seats.

I had already removed the seats from the boat, and we power washed the boat and seat boxes yesterday at the local car wash.

Step one was to use a wire brush on my drill to remove surface rust from the galvanized sheet metal box that provides structural support to the seat, and protects the Styrofoam flotation located under the seat.

Step two was to disassemble the galvanized sheet metal box to allow access to blind nuts that with machine screws hold the wood seat to the box. This required the removal of 10 pop rivets, which I did using a one quarter inch drill bit on my drill. 

Before wiring brushing
Before pop rivet removal

Pop rivets removed
The flotation Styrofoam is 33 3/4 inches long by 10 inches wide by 6 inches high.  So,  33 3/4 in. x 10 in. x 6 in. = 2025 cu. in. per float, we know we have two floats, and we know there are 231 cubic inches per gallon, and that a displaced gallon of water weights 8.33 lbs.  Therefore, ((2025 cu. in. / float x 2 floats) / 231 cu. in. / gallon) x 8.33 lbs. / gallon = 146 lbs of flotation; more than enough to float the boat, even if it is holed in a bad way.

Visually the seat is slightly wider at the front than at the back, maybe a quarter of an inch overall. Measuring the length of the installed seat, that is the width as installed in the boat, it is 46 7/8 inches at its fore-aft midpoint, on its top surface. On its bottom surface the width is 46 3/8 inches. So, there is a taper of 1/2 inch in the overall width, wider at the top and narrower at the bottom of the seat; this is to accommodate the narrowing of the hull. This will slightly complicate cutting the seat to fit. The width of the seat, that is the four to aft dimension as installed in the boat, is 11 3/8 inches.

Ready to remove rails from seats
The condition of the galvanized coating inside the box is good. I will not disturb that. On the bottom horizontal surface of the box, the surface facing the hull of the boat, there was significant surface rust. I will remove that with the wire wheel, and paint the box.

Disassembly complete
Step three was the removal of the "angle iron" rails from the bottom side of the wooden seat. This required a flathead screwdriver, impact drill, and 3/8 inch socket. (These rails are then pop riveted to the three-sided galvanized sheet metal box that holds the Styrofoam, the seat then forming the top of the box.) Turns out, these lengths of angle iron are aluminum. I find that a curious choice, since the boxes are galvanized sheet metal. 

As step four, I decided to finish preparing for paint and painting the seat boxes. This involved more wire brushing, cleaning with a spray cleaner, and then wiping down the boxes with paint thinner. The paint is oil based.  Battleship gray, what else. Damn that looks good! You can see the reflection of the paint can!

That's it for today. On to another project while the paint dries.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Calling

This post is along the same lines as my first, from back in February of 2014, titled "Spring 2013: In the Beginning..."  Focused on introspection, what's going on inside, as opposed to the "how" of this or that.  Like all of us, consciously or not, I have been on something of a personal development journey, and the past 6 years or so, with Geri's huge impact on my life, the speed of development has increased dramatically, and we have been on the journey together.  <Now some might say, "what personal development?"  Ha!  Well, if that is you, I will just remind you that there is this blind spot we all have, called "what I don't know that I don't know."  And in this case you should thank God for that!>  As we have eliminated a lot of the noise from our lives, attracted the positive and eliminated the negative, systematically, and with intention, we have been able to feel and hear ourselves with increased sensitivity, it seems to me.  The most recent example of this for me, was Facebook.  It just had to stop, so for those of you wondering about my silence, there you have it.  The homestead Facebook page is still being maintained, but I have not been on my personal page in several weeks.  It has made a huge difference; I have a lot more stillness in my life.  That is not saying anything bad about Facebook, and there are certainly great aspects of the experience, which I miss, but for me it became just another addiction, and I invested more time and energy in it than I should have.  The point is, after eliminating a lot of modern day distractions, TV being the first several years ago, the resulting quiet is gorgeous.  In the space left behind is the work, and a state of more heightened awareness of ourselves is a key benefit of "doing the work," as Geri likes to say, on ourselves and our relationships.

Of course, there is no end to this progression, hopefully, there is always another of life's challenges to surmount, another rough edge on our personality to be removed, another "3rd rail" issue to be addressed in a relationship, and so on.  I would not have it any other way.  I take some comfort in understanding that this is in large part, how the wise became wise, the empathetic empathetic, the compassionate just that, and so on.  At least that is my belief.  There is a method to it all.  Painful as it might be on occasion.

Two years ago, traveling along this path resulted in our acquisition of the "Southwest Michigan Homestead;"  a name I have been trying to replace since before it even came about!  And almost since day one, the pull to the property has become stronger and stronger.  Now I have come to think of it as a "calling."  I am being called to live from the property.  Doing what I am not quite sure.  We will figure it out on the way.  The call is becoming practically irresistible.

To that end, I have been bouncing some homestead-related business ideas around with Geri, and a few others.  As a guy with his corporate stripes firmly in place, I started thinking of a "vision" for the business.  Describing its future in some way.  What will it look like?  What will it produce, or how will it serve customers?  I did not get far.  I thought not of a single bigger business, but more of a collection of related "boutique" businesses, and really I only had one or two of those in mind.  I would not be going into business for its own sake; there is no "calling" to a particular line of work, at least not that I have heard, yet.  Then it came to me that, well, the business is really more of a vehicle for a achieving a mission, or a "purpose," and that the cart should be put behind the horse, by developing the purpose of the business(es) first.  I tend to stitch together "new" ideas synthetically, which is to say, from other ideas; "The Purpose" is no exception.  Beginning with a variety of source materials that have rung true with me over the years.  The Purpose is really about who Geri and I want to be personally, as a members of the community, and in our "life's work."  This is what we are up to.  It is unquestionably "aspirational" in my case.

This is all clearly a work in progress.  We have some fairly firm, and I like to think good, ideas about how to make maple syrup our first boutique business.  The maple sugaring business is definitely part-time and seasonal at its current scale.  To support starting that business quickly with the 2016 harvest, we will need to begin laying the foundations now.  It is an exciting time, and a little scary to be sure.

-- John, 22 June 2015

p.s. I read quite a bit; perhaps what is below will be a new section of my posts

Books recently read in whole or in part:


Book being read:

Books on the pile:


Friday, May 29, 2015

Of Birds, Bees and Apple Trees

It has been an active spring season on the homestead, and this post is the resulting "grab bag" of topics.  Last year I had made a commitment to myself to put up a couple of nest boxes, in hopes of convincing a pair of tree nesting ducks to stay, as opposed to passing through on migration as they did last year.  Perhaps it was a bit too late, but I did in fact build and install two nest boxes.

Everything I purchased for the project is pictured (L); 12 feet of 1 in. x 10 in.
cedar board, cut in half at the lumber yard, a roll 25 foot roll of 2 foot wide
aluminum flashing, and a box of 50 stainless steel deck screws; the
instructions are from Ducks Unlimited.  In the second picture (R) the boards
have been cut to length using the Skillsaw.  Not pictured are a few roofing
nails for attaching the flashing to the tree, two big nails for mounting the box,
and some 1/2 in. hardware cloth, all of which I had on hand.
As projects go, this one is simple and easy.  Simple in that the design of the box is simple, and in that little material and few tools are required.  Once I had the materials and tools assembled, it probably took me less than three hours to build and install both boxes; most of that time was spent building the first box.

Of course much tree duck habitat has been removed to make way for development or agriculture, but the biggest reason for providing nest boxes is to protect the ducklings from predators.  One study I read [1] put duckling survival rates at about 35%.  "Of the total number of ducklings produced, about 65% (11 l/171) were lost and over 68% (76/l 11) of all duckling mortality resulted from the loss of entire broods."  The loss of entire broods was attributed solely to predation, specifically to mink predation.  Yes, this study looked at Mallard ducklings, which nest on the ground, not tree ducks.
Left (L) image shows hardware cloth that allows ducklings to climb to the
entrance, and the 4-1/2 in. wide by 3-1/2 inch tall entrance hole. The image on
the right (R) shows the box mounted on a maple tree, with the predator guard
in place below the box.
A second study [2], this one of Wood Ducks, indicated that the "overall survival of ducklings only ranged from 15-28%," though this study was made in Mississippi, so it too is perhaps a bit "weak" as an indicator of duckling survival rates in Michigan.  Later in the paper: "By now, you are probably wondering what was responsible for the relatively low survival of ducklings? The answer was PREDATION!"  From my point of view it seems safe to say that duckling mortality is high, something close to 65% - 70%, and that protection from predators can improve the survival rate.

Another first this spring was grafting.  The cleared area around the house has on its perimeter approximately 25 crab apple trees, which are well established and date, I am guessing, to the early 70's when the house was built.
Left to Right, cutting through the outer and inner bark to the cambium
layer (L); the bark has been "slipped" at the cambium layer and the prepared
scion inserted (C); and finally the wound has been protected with grafting
compound and the branch wrapped with grafting tape (R)
The deer love the crab apples, though the same cannot be said by any humans I know.  Fruit trees have been a part of the plan since the earliest days, and grafting apple scion onto established root stock is one of the quickest ways to a harvest of eating-apples; 2-3 years or so.  I used Tanglefoot 300000529 1-Pint Tree Wound Pruning Sealer and Grafting Compound and Parafilm® Grafting Tape (Genuine by Parafilm®) 90' Roll Clear (1" - One Inch).  I chose Honeycrisp and Winesap apple varieties for this experiment, and am now putting a frequent eye on the scion for growth; it felt right, but we shall see. <Leafing out of some scion was seen on 16 May and growth continues.>

And finally, on the "sad news" front, there is the condition of our sole remaining colony of bees.  When the temperatures were peaking at over 50 degrees F in mid-April, and no bees were flying, I decided to go into the hive.  What I found was certainly not what I had been hoping for all winter.
A mouse or a vole had taken up residence in the hive.

Dead bees preserved in time at the top of the hive.  There was
no honey in the hive; they either starved or were chilled,
or more likely some combination of the two.
It was a complete mess, as the picture at left attests.  Some sort of small rodent had taken up residence, and of course destroyed most of the comb in the process.  Even in the comb that was still intact, there was no honey.  I am not a specialist in failed hive forensics, but I believe the colony had failed and all of the bees had died before the squatter showed up to stay.  In the first part of June last year, with only two boxes on the hive since installation of the colony in mid-April, I checked to see how much comb the colony had built out.  Sure enough, they had built comb all the way to the bottom of the lower box; I felt lucky to have been just in time in adding boxes to make more room before the colony swarmed.  This was documented in the 18 June 2014 post entitled, "Late Spring Update from the Homestead, Part III, Beekeeping."  As I took the hive apart this spring though, it was perfectly clear that the bees had built no additional comb in boxes three or four, none, since the end of the first week of June.  What happened I do not know.  Is this what "colony collapse disorder" looks like?  I cannot speak to that.  Regardless of the reason why, I do not think that two boxes would hold enough food stores to get the colony through the long Michigan winter.

I went 0 for 3 in 2014; three colonies installed, zero survived to spring of 2015.  The list of mistakes I made at colony install in 2014 is long.  In mid-May of 2015 I installed two new colonies, and benefiting from the failure documented here, and from additional research, it seems we are enjoying at least more early success than last year.

More will be posted on the 2015 grafting and bee installation in a future post.

Thank you for reading and commenting on the blog.  Your comments and criticisms, your inputs and acknowledgements, are welcomed, and will help me to improve my posts.

 Please "follow" the blog by clicking on "g+ Follow," or by e-mail at  "Follow by Email."   Also, "Like" us on Facebook at

-- John, 29 May 2015

[1] "Survival of Mallard Broods in South-Central North Dakota,", accessed 24 April, 2015
[2] "Wood Duck Broods in Dixie:  Striving to Survive Early Life,", accessed 24 April, 2015

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

It is Tapping Time, And That Means Spring!

Here we go, in southwest Michigan!  The 10-day forecast includes what appears to be an almost picture perfect start to the maple sugaring season.

10-day weather forecast for Kalamazoo, Michigan
Starting on Saturday, 7 March, you can see that the daily high and low temperatures will bracket the freezing point for six days in a row; that dynamic is what causes maple trees to develop a positive pressure when the temperature rises above freezing, pushing sap out of the tree.  I will plan to tap at least some of our trees on the morning of Saturday 7 March, and I would bet that they will start flowing that afternoon.

A call to the Kalamazoo Nature Center revealed that as part of previously scheduled public events, they have already tapped their maple trees.  Based on what I have seen the weather doing in recent weeks, we have not missed much, if any, of the season.

This year we are planning to scale up the operation, from 13 taps to 20 taps, still a small operation by most measurements.  For more information on the process you can read my previous posts on the subject:

Very Early Spring 2014 - Tapping the Sugar Maples!
Very Early Spring 2014 - Sugaring! Part II of Tapping the Sugar Maples!

For those of you in southwest Michigan, you might want to check out Dodd's Sugar Shack in Niles (no web presence), call Don at 269-683-3283; they have some new and used equipment available.  Or try Sugar Bush Supply Co. in Mason, MI, at 517-349-5185.  You can also find equipment on eBay, in fact I just found 10 used buckets with lids and spiles there, at a very good price.

There are all sorts of ways to get started inexpensively, using materials you might have around you, like wire, piping (PVC, PEX, copper, etc.), and empty milk jugs, for example.  The most commonly tapped maples are Sugar, Black, Red and Silver, according to Tap My Trees.  Get out there and have some fun on a small scale; you will not regret it!

Thanks for reading, and keep us posted on your progress!

-- John, 03 March 2015

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Top 7 Messages from The Land Ethic Reclaimed MOOC

Perhaps as I did, you might ask, "what is a MOOC?"  According to Oxford Dictionaries [1]:

Pronunciation: /mook/
Definition of MOOC in English:

A course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people:  'anyone who decides to take a MOOC simply logs on to the website and signs up'

early 21st century: from massive open online course, probably influenced by MMOG and MMORPG.

My homepage in the Coursera iPad app
I believe I owe a debt of gratitude to Mary C., and the Van-Kal Permaculture Facebook page, for the lead to this treasure trove.  I am sure there are other sources, but this particular course was offered through Coursera, so I signed up on-line and also downloaded the app for my iPad.   There are many course offerings from a large number of prestigious institutions, accessible by browsing or searching the course catalog.

As you can see on my Coursera homepage, since completing the Land Ethic course, I have signed up for three others:

The Coursera course catalog and search tool
-- Changing Weather and Climate in the Great Lakes Region, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
-- Forests and Humans: From the Midwest to Madagascar, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
-- Chicken Behaviour and Welfare, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

It seems like there is something available for everyone, and it is all free!

Now then, let us get back to a discussion of the Land Ethic course in particular, and the Top 7 Messages that I took from the course.  The curriculum spanned 4 weeks, new topics starting on successive Mondays.  Each week included several short videos in the 2 to 15 minute range, a few selected texts from 2 to 27 pages in length, "Hands-On Learning" and "On Your Own" activities, and, if you signed up to receive a "Statement of Accomplishment," which I did, a short Quiz (mulitple choice and true/false) of 7 or 8 questions.  There was also a "Discussion Forum" available for making comments and asking questions of fellow students.  I watched all of the videos, read all of the texts, and successfully completed all of the quizzes; I was less diligent in completing all of the Hands On and On Your Own activities, though I got better at that as the course progressed.  I would estimate that the course required of me two hours per week, on average.

Top 7 Messages

1  Who was Aldo Leopold?  From the opening two paragraphs of the Aldo Leopold wikipedia entry[2]:

"Aldo Leopold (January 11, 1887 – April 21, 1948) was an American author, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist. He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin and is best known for his book A Sand County Almanac (1949), which has sold more than two million copies.

Leopold was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness conservation. His ethics of nature and wildlife preservation had a profound impact on the environmental movement, with his ecocentric or holistic ethics regarding land.  He emphasized biodiversity and ecology and was a founder of the science of wildlife management."

2  What is the "Land Ethic?"  According to Leopold in "The Land Ethic," from A Sand County Almanac[3]: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”  There was discussion in the assigned media that perhaps the phrase "integrity, stability and beauty" could be replaced by the word "diversity" alone, though I think that is a bit of a stretch.  The word "stability" could perhaps be replaced by "resilience," as it seems all too often conservationists have done more harm than good in their attempts to stabilize natural environments, the control of forest fires in the mountain west comes to mind.  Still, I think Leopold put it quite well, and there really is little need to modify his wording.

3  What is the "North American Model" of conservation?  According to the instructional materials, Week 1 Take Aways, "There are seven principal characteristics that together define the way that public wildlife conservation occurs under North American democratic governance. These are:
  • Wildlife Resources Are a Public Trust
  • Markets for Game Are Eliminated
  • Allocation of Wildlife Is by Law
  • Wildlife Can Be Killed Only for a Legitimate Purpose
  • Wildlife Is Considered an International Resource
  • Science Is the Proper Tool to Discharge Wildlife Policy
  • Democracy of Hunting Is Standard"
Again according to the instructional materials, this "sets Canada and the U.S. apart from many other nations where the opportunity to hunt is restricted to those who have special status, such as land ownership, wealth, or other privileges."

4  Hunting is now necessary for management of herbivory, which is to say that hunting is necessary to manage the impact of large herbivores, like White-Tailed Deer and Elk, on ecosystems.  In Wisconsin in the first half of the 19th century, large predators including the Wolf, Wolverine, and Cougar, together with Indians, helped to control the populations of Elk, Woodland Caribou and White-Tailed Deer.  At that time, the population density of White-Tailed Deer is estimated to have been 5-10 animals/sq. mile.  Logging, clear-cutting in particular after European settlement, opened up vast tracks of land to regrowth and formed edge habitat, favoring deer, while at the same time predators were largely extirpated, and hunting seasons were shortened to as little as 9 days in this example, Wisconsin.  Deer population densities rose to as high as 40-50 animals/sq. mile, and they became so-called "keystone herbivores."  The impact of high deer densities on plant diversity has been shown to persist for a half century or more.  Data exist from the 1940's and 50's that allowed researchers to measurably establish the impact of deer on plant diversity between then and the first decade of the 2000's:  On hunted lands in studied areas 10% of plant diversity was lost over the next half century, while on unhunted lands a 30% reduction was measured, and in state parks 50% of plant diversity was lost.  Conversely, on Indian reservations plant diversity slightly increased during the same time frame.  More generally there has been a change in the landscape of at least 40% since the 1950's, and by studying tree seedling numbers, islands with and without deer, fenced "exclosures," and 50-year changes, the researchers have concluded that substantially all of the change was due to deer over-abundance.

5  Deer management is problematic.  While the science of managing the size of a deer population seems to me to be pretty well defined, it is counter-intuitive to some I can imagine, and with others it may not even be agreed upon in the scientific sense.  In the case of a conversation between hunters and managers what we seem to have here is at best merely a failure to communicate, effectively, as conflict arises regarding the desired size of the herd, the size of the hunt, the consist of the hunt (buck and/or doe numbers), etc.  No doubt there could be an argument as to the "carrying capacity" of the land in question, which if established then according to the science sets the population level (1/2 carrying capacity) at which maximum herd growth rate occurs, which would also be the herd size resulting in the maximum sustainable harvest.  Oh, and lets not forget the real and perceived impact of re-introducing native non-human predators to the mix.  Worse yet, in a conversation including anti-hunters, there is I suppose a problem of convincing them that the impact of over-abundant deer is a problem in the first place, or that there is such a thing as an "over-abundance of deer," not to mention a problem of convincing them that hunting is a part of the solution to a problem that they may or may not agree exists!  Sprinkle some politics and a little money on top for good measure and there is likely a level of "excitement" in the management process that I would not personally be willing to tolerate.

6  Private lands and farmers are key to wildlife conservation.  Take "deer management is problematic" and put it on steroids; there you have it.  Private lands and the potential for attendant hunting restrictions disabling herd management; the intersection of wildlife as a "public trust" and private property rights in general; the possibility of private landowners legally limiting access to public property that is isolated/surrounded by private property; offsite/remote, disinterested, willfully ignorant, or simply ignorant though well-intentioned landowners, etc.  What could go wrong?  In  the face of all that, and more, Leopold conducted the successful experiment that was the "Riley Game Cooperative," with farmers and fellow sportsmen.  The course used Montana as another example, and the challenges of managing the Elk heard that migrates from within Yellowstone National Park, to large swaths of privately held land outside the park.  It is necessary for effective wildlife management that private landowners and farmers are positively engaged in the process, especially so in the eastern 2/3rds of the country it seems to me, where privately held lands dominate the landscape.

7  Among hunters, the divide between the traditional hunters and the so-called "green hunters" must be bridged, and bridging the gap presents a huge opportunity.  Hunting is seen by some in the green camp as an ethical alternative to the industrial food systems, specifically in view of the lack ethical treatment of animals in the industrial systems.  And, perhaps concern about their personal health has led them to a strong desire for lean and clean meats.  Also, hunting could be seen as an extension of the "locavore" movement; some have come to think that if they are going to eat meat, and they want to know where their food comes from, then it is logical to conclude that they should kill their own meat, taking ownership of that process.

From the green end of the hunter spectrum, the other end is sometimes seen as the tobacca' chewin' animal abusin' red neck end of the spectrum.  In my experience that is a ill-fitting stereotype, a stereotype though that will only be broken when the two ends of the spectrum are brought into close relationship with each other.  (It comes to my mind that the same is true of our polarized politics, at least at a national level.)  The onus is on the community of traditional hunters in my opinion, to engage the "green hunting" element, to share with them, to give them the benefit of their experience, and to help them to scale the many, potentially time-consuming, and sometimes expensive, barriers to entry into the firmament of successful hunters.  I find myself somewhere near the center of the spectrum, having been absent from the hunting scene for over 20 years, and having been brought back to it through a strong desire to be more self-reliant, and healthier, sustainably.  And fortunately, I have had the benefit of the time and experience of long-time traditional hunters in my reintroduction.

In summary, management of wildlife is clearly much more difficult than I had assumed.  Of course it make sense now that I have been exposed to at least some of the factors in play, but it is disappointing that even though I recognize that I know a lot less than I do not know, I still walk around inside my life with massive blind spots.  It is humbling to say the least.

The course was a great introduction into MOOCs, to which I had had no exposure, and it was a great overview of wildlife management in North America.  I highly recommend the course.  Coursera too, seemed to be a great provider of the service; their iPad app worked flawlessly.

By way of furthering my education on this subject, I added to my reading list a couple of books that were cited in the course:

White-Tailed Deer: Ecology and Management, by Lowell K. Halls

Thank you for reading and commenting on the blog.  Your comments and criticisms, your inputs and acknowledgements, are welcomed, and will help me to improve my posts.  I am learning, too.

 Please "follow" the blog by clicking on "g+ Follow," or by e-mail at  "Follow by Email."   Also, "Like" us on Facebook at

-- John, 24 February 2015


University of Wisconsin-Madison MOOCs:
The Land Ethic Reclaimed MOOC:


[1] MOOC. Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. (accessed February 23, 2015).
[2] "Aldo Leopold." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 24 January 2014. Web. 23 February 2015. <>
[3] A Sand County Almanac (Outdoor Essays & Reflections), by Aldo Leopold (1989) “The Land Ethic” pp. 201-226. Copyright 1989 Oxford University Press. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Insulating Can Lights: The Rest of the Story

In my post of 4 February 2015, I discussed "energy leaks," and specifically leaks that I thought were due to air flow through "can light" fixtures that penetrated the ceiling of the kitchen and floor of the attic.  I noted at the time, "The only break in the insulation envelope, is a pair of can lights above the kitchen counter, their location corresponding to the left (west) edge of the heat shadow on the roof."  A "small and slow improvement" was made, which was basically to add more fiberglass batt insulation on top of the can lights.  The folly of this effort was soon in evidence, as after a more recent snowfall I could again see a "heat shadow" forming on the roof in the same location.  Fortunately, my friend Sam saw the post, and gave me some good advice:   "As for your fiberglass experiment over the recessed lighting. In my experience the air flow through fiberglass batts make excellent air filters and not much else.  Recessed lighting is notorious for being leaky devices that as you rightly state let the warm conditioned air of your living space into the unconditioned space of your attic.  Fiberglass loses its insulative capacity and is short circuited by air flow, so if it is not installed in a situation where there are an air barriers the R-value is decreased.  You might want to try recessed lighting insulation covers (yes, they are a thing) and then place the insulation over the top of those.  The covers allow you to seal around the light and reduce the air exchange going on with the hole in your ceiling."  Indeed!  And thank you Sam!

Kitchen attic and fiberglass batt insulation over can lights (left), and close-up
of can lights (right)
I picked up some Insulmax CanCaps at Menards; I surely could have rigged up a homemade solution, but I was concerned about matching the "Class A fire retardant" rating (850 deg F) of the CanCaps, and at $15 each, I decided to take the surer, and easier, route.

It is marketing material to be sure, but on the label of each CanCap is the statement, "Over 2.6 Million cubic feet of air and humidity flow in and out of ONE recessed light fixture in a single year.  To give you an idea of how big that is... you could fill the entire Houston Astrodome with the air transfer of only 6 light cans in less than 3 years!"

I am not sure about you, but I would rather not be cutting that much firewood!

CanCaps, cut to fit, with special adhesive (left), and fitted in attic space
before application of adhesive (right)
In the pictures you can see that some fitting was required, and so the gaps between the caps and the floor joist and roof rafter must be filled.  Loctite PL300 Foamboard Construction Adhesive was used, which will not "eat" the foam that the CanCaps are made of.  Probably most difficult was the fitting of the CanCap nearest the eave in both pictures, between the roof rafter (2 x 12 in.) and the floor joist (2 x 6 in.), and ensuring that the joints were sealed completely with construction adhesive.  No doubt I could have used less adhesive had I been more experienced; as it was I went through the entire tube of adhesive to seal and secure these two CanCaps.

Construction adhesive "seal" in place
Remaining then was to notch the CanCap covers to allow for entry and exit of wiring, and to install the covers.  The penetrations for the wiring were also sealed using the foam board construction adhesive.  Finally, I re-installed the R-19 fiberglass batt insulation around and above the caps.  The CanCaps have a R-Value of 4.35.

There were two other light cans penetrating the attic floor, in the main section of the attic; those cans were also covered with CanCaps, although no "fitting" was required.

CanCap installation complete (left), fiberglass batt re-installed (right)
I have not performed any calculations, but it seems likely that the number of BTU's being lost from the house through microwave vents, bathroom vents and can lights, is significant; in each instance there is in effect, an open hole between the climate-controlled interior of the house and the outdoors.  Since the future includes heating the home with wood burning stove(s) and a outdoor wood boiler (OWB), avoiding unnecessary heat loss is a top priority.

Thank you for reading and commenting on the blog.  Your comments and criticisms, your inputs and acknowledgements, are welcomed, and will help me to improve my posts.  I am learning, too.

 Please "follow" the blog by clicking on "g+ Follow," or by e-mail at  "Follow by Email."   Also, "Like" us on Facebook at

-- John, 09 February 2015

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Winter 2014/2015 - Work in the Woods, Hunting, and Planning

The forest in snow
Winter is hard, though perhaps not always in the sense you would at first imagine.  In one sense, there is of course the weather, but I rather enjoy winter, absent the freezing pipes of winter 2013/2014, and the aftermath.  I spent all too many hours under the house replacing the plumbing.  In terms of the variety of the work there is to do, there is less in winter it seems; there is no gardening going on, the bees do not require any management, no maintenance of other plantings, and so on.
Temperatures have been relatively mild compared to last year, so there has been no ice fishing, yet.  There have really only been three activities calling for my time and energy; hunting, wood harvesting, and 2015 planning.

Decanting the last of 2014's maple syrup
I did winterize the wood chipper and the lawn tractor, which boiled down to ensuring that the carburetor's are dry, so that I do not have to deal with fuel issues in the spring.  We processed 40 gallons of maple sap that we had stored in our chest freezer from last year, yielding 14 cups of syrup.  The Lewis Winch was commissioned.  Put up a couple of cords of firewood.  Attended a Round Pole Building workshop, two days, at Straw Bale Studio, in Oxford, Michigan, and learned a new skill I intend to put to use later this year.  And, there is a plan to attend a two-day blacksmithing workshop at Tillers International this winter; another skill to eventually be put to good use.  I suppose I could add a fourth activity to the list of what goes on in winter, that being "continuing education."  And lest I forget, the lights on the utility trailer were replaced.

Still, there is much less going on than in spring, summer and fall, or so I thought until writing this post!

The Lewis Winch, primarily to be used for log skidding
Trailer lighting made road-worthy
Sadly, and somewhat embarrassingly, I must admit that it was another unproductive white tail deer season.  We saw plenty of deer on trail cameras, before the season opened, and a friend took a buck from our property, but I saw very few from my stands, and took only one shot.  I missed.  No excuse, Sir.  I have done more scouting this year though, met more hunters in the area, and I think I will be much better prepared for the 2015/2016 season; now having a much better idea of deer behavior patterns on the property.  It was hard to sit in the stand so often, for so long, and so unproductively, when knowing of other endeavors that are predictably more productive uses of my time.  Hunting will be productive, though to be sure my results have been anything but predictable or productive.  I did have some amazing experiences in the stands.  On one early morning hunt, about a half hour before sunrise, I could start to make out several turkeys in trees near me.  Within only a few minutes of sunrise, six of them glided down from their perches and began to forage.  It was simply amazing to watch turkeys waking up and going about their daily activity.  That evening, from the same stand, as sunset approached I could see several turkeys moving towards me.  Sure enough, as if by mechanical clockwork, at sunset they took flight for their perches, again six, one by one.  An hour or so later I walked home, passing immediately beneath them in near complete darkness, and they did not move or make any sound.  It was awesome.  It is hard to put words to the experience of such abundance.

The sugar maple harvest for the wood floors continues.  I have only taken down three trees that were not already brought down by storms, or that had not been severely storm damaged.  Those three have been taken from a location that is being cleared for the sugar shack (outdoor kitchen) at the top of the property.  Arguably I could have made much quicker work of putting 2,800 board feet of lumber on the ground, but I now have this nasty habit of cleaning up after myself, and it takes quite a bit of time to process the major limbs into firewood, smaller branches into wood chips, and twigs and leaves into compost.  Simply leaving the tops on the ground, would lead to much quicker progress.  As it is, there are two or three 8 foot logs ready to skid to the pick-up area, and another large, downed sugar maple that needs to be cut to 8 foot lengths, and the logs skidded before pick-up.  The first pick-up by the saw mill is tentatively scheduled towards the end of the first week in February.  When pick-up is complete, approximately half of the necessary logs will be in process at the mill.  Two or three more trees are already tagged for felling.

And finally, there is the planning for the spring of 2015 and beyond.  The first principle of permaculture is to "observe and interact," and as we have done so in our first 18 months on the property, a few items on "the list" have risen to the top.  Among those at the top are: 1) reducing the cost of energy; and reducing our dependence on external sources energy, for heating the home; 2) a workshop, as an enabler of greater self-sufficiency and homestead improvement projects (vehicle, boat, machine, and building maintenance, woodworking, blacksmithing, etc.); 3) expansion of perennial food crop production; and 4), collect and manage rain water and runoff.  Further, if I can find any way to make it happen, I would add to that list an outdoor kitchen for maple sap evaporation and syrup bottling, butchering and food preservation (canning, dehydrating, etc.), and a root cellar.  So, what does that mean, specifically?  Well, here was my first pass at what I would do in 2015:  "It means building and equipping a workshop, installing an outdoor wood boiler (OWB) and associated equipment to heat the house and potable hot water, collecting and storing rainwater run-off from buildings, installing a diversion dam/swale to manage the run-off on the hill south of the house, and pruning and grafting onto existing crab apple trees to provide for edible apple production in coming years."  Then, a wave of self-imposed austerity came over me, in a good way, I only grudgingly admit.  As a result, another permaculture principle will be applied, that of using "small and slow solutions."  The austerity-constrained plan includes:  1)  Perennial food crop production will be expanded as planned, and will likely include the installation of some fruit-bearing shrubs and trees, and grafting apple scion onto established crab apple trees.  Being considered include grape vines, Paw Paw and Common Persimmon trees, Serviceberry and Black Elderberry shrubs, as well as some apple varieties' scion yet to be determined.  2) As also in the original plan, installing a diversion dam/swale to manage the run-off on the slope south of the house will be accomplished.  Both 1) and 2) are relatively low-capital improvements.  Instead of "building and equipping a workshop," we intend to 3), build a garden shed to store gardening equipment, and possibly to build a small boat house for storing any and all small watercraft and associated equipment.  Both of these DIY projects will free up space in the existing 2-car garage, allowing that space to be used for "vehicle, boat, machine, and building maintenance, <and> woodworking," but probably not for blacksmithing.  The building projects will help me to develop my carpentry skills, which are sorely lacking.  Barring unforeseen circumstance, the OWB is being dropped from the 2015 plan; I will though continue to find and mitigate energy leaks from the home.

Speaking of energy leaks.  You might remember the post of 3 August 2014, where the build and installation of an insulated box over the attic ladder was documented.  Recently I saw another heat leak "shadow" on the roof, this one over the kitchen.  The fact that the snow cover is complete over the east end of the house, is testament to the effectiveness of the insulated box over the ladder, and frankly, to the existence of the ridge vent, which will allow some warm air to leave the attic, before it is able to melt the snow on the roof to a noticeable extent.
Snow melted creating "heat leak shadow" on the roof, directly over the kitchen
Upon further investigation, the insulation in the attic above the kitchen seems to be intact, and on par with the insulation over the east end of the house.  The only break in the insulation envelope, is a pair of can lights above the kitchen counter, their location corresponding to the left (west) edge of the heat shadow on the roof.  Also problematic, in the section of the attic above the kitchen, warm air rising has no access to the ridge vent, because the north wall of the kitchen ascends to the roof blocking its path, and because there is a 2 x 12 in. roof rafter at the east end of the attic over the kitchen, partially preventing air communication with the main attic space above the east end of the house.

The incandescent bulbs in the can lights were replaced with CFLs; that should have cut their heat output markedly.  Still, I do not think it is the heat from the lights that is the problem.  As with the microwave vent that I mentioned briefly in the 3 Aug 2014 post, I believe the cans are acting as a chimney of sorts, between the warmer house and the cooler attic.  Warm air is simply flowing through the receptacles and into the attic, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Previously, last summer, I had removed the paper backing from fiberglass batt insulation, and laid it out over the can lights.  This past week, I added two layers of fiberglass batt insulation, with the paper baking; we shall see if that improves the situation.  Warm air flow from the house to the attic is the root cause, if I am right, so stopping that is the first priority.  Further down the list is to prevent the warm air that makes it to the attic from melting the snow on the roof, creating ice dams at the eves, and to that end the roof rafters over the kitchen could be modified slightly to allow for air passage to the east end of the attic, and ultimately to the ridge vent, I think.  One step, one "small and slow solution," at a time.  I will wait to see the impact of the additional insulation before taking further action.

Spring is very fast approaching,  I am anxious to get the flooring logs to the mill before the Maple sugaring season arrives; shortly thereafter it will be planting season!  Our garden planning, to include the perennials noted above, is also in progress.  This spring promises to be busier than last, and more productive, so I am very excited to see how the property develops.

Thank you for reading and commenting on the blog.  Your comments and criticisms, your inputs and acknowledgements, are welcomed, and will help me to improve my posts.  I am learning, too.

 Please "follow" the blog by clicking on "g+ Follow," or by e-mail at  "Follow by Email."   Also, "Like" us on Facebook at

-- John, 04 February 2015