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 www.facebook.com/swmichiganhomestead.

-- John, 24 February 2015


Coursera:  https://www.coursera.org/
University of Wisconsin-Madison MOOCs: https://www.coursera.org/wisconsin
The Land Ethic Reclaimed MOOC: https://www.coursera.org/course/perceptivehunting


[1] MOOC. Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/MOOC (accessed February 23, 2015).
[2] "Aldo Leopold." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 24 January 2014. Web. 23 February 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldo_Leopold>
[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 www.facebook.com/swmichiganhomestead.

-- 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 www.facebook.com/swmichiganhomestead.

-- John, 04 February 2015