To Make An Ecovillage

Ecotopia

Ecotopia; A vision for the Future

Well, that’s the goal anyhow… Actually producing one is another matter entirely.

Let’s start with some clear definitions on this project. I was rather vague about what an ecovillage even is and what the project we’re pursuing is last time I posted so I shall be more up front this time.

An Ecovillage is an intentional community (a group of people with a desire to deliberately come together to support one another as a community under similar belief systems as a society) where the focus is on being sustainable and ecologically responsible. Ours would be a large plot of land, many aces, in northeast Ohio. People could come and build sustainable, community, and tiny houses on our land, grow plants and animals, collect water in rain barrels, hunt for deer, use kilns to fire clay, wander into a shared root cellar and generally homestead. Resources would be shared, from food, to money and cars and decisions would be majority vote or even consensus. Ours would be an egalitarian society, a sort of utopian socialism that puts both communism and capitalism to shame. The sort of society that is praised and lauded and exists in the most egalitarian and democratic places in the world with the lowest poverty rates and highest job satisfaction percentages. Places like Norway and Sweeden which have the highest rates of happiness for their citizens ever seen anywhere. Nobody would ever get rich or become powerful in our village, but nobody would ever go hungry either. Nobody would ever be without a job, a home, or medical care. Nobody would be standing on the shoulders of the poor, rising above… But so too would nobody be those carrying that burden of the rich and powerful.

Utopian idealism? Maybe. But tell that to the Nordic countries who consistently rank highest on objective surveys for the best places in the world to live and work and have children. Tell that to Bernie Sanders, who is now one of the top presidential candidates for THIS country who hold the same idealism, when nobody thought he could win. Tell that to the statistics that show that getting an education is the most affordable in socialist/democratic places like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, New Zealand and France. Tell that to an America that is the third WORST developed country to try to afford an education in. People want that life. And we’re not stupid, we know there will be problems and concerns. They’re things we’re already working through. But we are sick of income gaps and the creeping power of the government. We want something better, something more fulfilling, something that’s more natural and speaks to the heart. Most of all we’re willing to give up gas stations, fast food and HD flat screen TVs with a DVR and Blu Ray to get it.

In reality, many Ecovillages exist world-wide and are already practicing various forms of this utopian idealism. One of the most famous in the US is Dancing Rabbit in Rutledge Missouri. Two hundred and eighty something acres of nothing in the middle of nowhere, deliberately removed from society in the creation of something new. An egalitarian and sustainable commune filled with 50+ college age kids, families and open minded people interested in experimenting for the future. Another is The Farm, one of the largest communities around with a focus on religious and spiritual aspects, wrapped up in a church-like setting akin to a new-age Amish lifestyle. The Amish themselves could be said to like in a sort of ecovillage, and indeed, certainly consist of an intentional community.

Each of these places has some aspect about them we don’t like. Strict religious requirements that lead to a cult-like feeling, a separation from the modern world that leads to questions about openness and a lack of publication or lifestyles that are extremist that could cause a lack of effectiveness and membership. And most importantly? We love our city and our area, our hometown of Cleveland Ohio, one of the most impoverished major cities in the US. And we want to be able to effect the people here most of all.

To that extent I brought together a group of people that may be interested in the project; friends and family, people passionate about gardens and animals, about recycling and social change, about composting and peace. And we talked. And we talked.

And slowly we started to see something take shape. Mission statements were drafted, tossed out, and re-drafted. Technologies were considered. Research on crop yields, on building and agricultural laws, on natural building techniques, on emissions calculations, on natural biocides, on water management, on holistic animal management, on forestry… The list goes on and on and the amount that just I have learned over the past year would not fit into a dozen text books. Numbers were calculated and calculated again, adjustments were made, costs projected…

And thus fell our harsh reality. We just don’t have the immediate start up capital that we want to achieve our current goals. Not that we’re sitting on nothing, and don’t have plans the generate more. But we are pondering the purchase of 40 acres and a mule, here, not 5 acres near a suburb. Because there are nearly 10 of us that want to bring the project together, that want open spaces and forest, that want to garden and raise animals, that want to live in the socially just society we are trying to build, free of sexism and classism and racism, and all the other “isms” that plague our society… We just can’t get a small property, not if we want to truly be a village. Not if we want to open up applications for other people. Not if we want to change the world.

To solve this problem, we’re going to be holding a crowdfunding campaign and separately seeking out other people interested in our idealism who want to help us fund the project in exchange for a place in our society. We have enough to put the down payment on a property. A big one, 50-100 acres of land to house a small village worth of people. The kind of place I can invite my readers or fellow homesteaders to come live with me on, in our own little slice of heaven. We could even break ground THIS year! Imagine for a moment the dream; growing food, living in a home in the woods with a wood burning stove, and having a client base right next door who always wants to buy them from you. Well, that’s what it’s going to be like. That’s what I dream about at night while falling asleep; getting to grow food and feed people and as a result of that work my needs are taken care of. I couldn’t care less if there were green slips of paper involved in the middle of it or not. Who cares? If my needs are met and I am happy, what else matters?

But we do not have the money for the infrastructure to really achieve our goals… Solar panels, cooking oil cars, electric tractors or draft animals, start up herds of anything we want to raise at all… Chickens, goats, cattle, pigs… Plant heirlooms and feed people who live on the land with us. Create community spaces, buildings to serve as places of worship or learning, or to hold meetings in. That’s what we want to do. We want our life to be abundant and flowing and natural and beautiful. Hopefully we can get the ball rolling on funding the project. We’re certainly willing to put our money where our mouth is!

What about you? What do you want out of life? Would you live in an ecovillage? How would you raise the money to fund your dreams?

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Brave new world

Last year at this time I was so very ready to get back into blogging.

I talked about my new animals, the Christmas presents I was making, how exciting waking up on Yule was for me.

The fervor of the holidays hit, and I got busy. When the smoke cleared I faced the hardest three months of my life as my mother’s cancer became no longer treatable. I won’t go into details, but to say it was hard is an understatement… And I hope that by the time I reach that point in my life, death with dignity laws are in place.

The worst spring ever gone, some new friends and I started work on a project I’d been dabbling in the year before. The concept of a new home, a new life… Even a new society and culture.

The concept of an Ecovillage.

Now that my world is no longer falling to pieces, we’re making progress on the project. A little group of ten people, with various levels of dedication and participation, striving for a brave new world. One where we are at peace with our neighbors, one where we are socially and ecologically responsible, one where we live in harmony with nature, science and the world around us.

Homesteading continues. 13 pints of apple butter, sealed in mason jars, went into my pantry this week. A gallon of dried apple slices sits in a bag on my counter. Dozens of hatching eggs were carefully packaged and shipped to other chicken fanciers across the United States. The biggest zucchini ever came out of my garden. And this week, a few cubic yards of mulched wood will go into my chicken pen.

But this new project consumes my time. Crunching number and figures for feeding people, making building plans, water collection, sustainable animals, balancing our ecological footprint… My mind is a buzz with ideas and plans The future.

I only wish there was one more person still around to hear them.

Catching Up

Folks on here are pretty great. I vanish for a while and people express concern… It makes it feel like the past year of blogging was really worth something! Well, I basically got sick of talking about my life for a while. Homesteading can be rough and when you have losses and low production it isn’t very fun to be reminded of it constantly.  Things are looking a bit better right now and so I will probably go back to writing at least semi regularly… Thanks so much for your support!

Things have been generally busy here on the homestead. We lost all of the black and copper maran chicks we hatched out due to local cats. My four year anniversary with Greg came and went. We added several new rabbits to the herd and we now boast two rabbits out of a buck from Dave Mangiones rabbitry. We are still building new cages and our PVC shelf in the garage to go with ’em. Our garage is a mess of building right now!
One of our chickens (Tender, the nicer of our Golden Girls) was murdered by our killer husky, Nukka. RIP Tender. You made an awesome Coq Au Vin! Our Husky now wears a shock collar as this is the second animal dead due to her extreme prey drive and there have been far more than two attacks. While we haven’t used it yet it is there if we need it and we have plans for deliberate training sessions in the future, rigged so she associates the shocks with the animals, not us.

Winter is now in full swing here. We have had a lot of snow lately and the past few months as it got colder the rabbits were just not producing. Nobody is sure what happened to give us three months of no rabbits but a week ago Kibbles and Iams popped out 20 kits for us! Yikes! Unfortunately, we lost four rabbits from these first litters of the season. We struggled a bit with the cold last year, and I suspect we will just loose more kits in cold weather than warm. Two of the kits simply got out of the nest box and it is far too cold for them to survive without their siblings. One of the kits was a runt, and didn’t get fed enough. That kit was in a litter of 11, so I cant say I am surprised that one did not get fed. The fourth kit Iams removed from the nest deliberately. It had a large, infected looking lump on its face when I found it. I am not sure how the lump got there in the first place but Iams knew that this kit wouldn’t make it and pulled it out of the nest. This leaves 8 kits in each litter which is still substantial and they are doing great now. I am really looking forward to what the future holds for our rabbitry!

Egg production for the chickens has fallen off. At this point none of the three Australorps are laying, but at least two of them molted also. Nugget is still going strong and laying an egg every couple of days… But her eggs are often coming out strangely shaped, too big, or double thick shells. This is how double yolker eggs are born, but it is also how chickens prolapse and die. Golden comets are notorious for having issues with their reproductive tracts and are twice as likely to prolapse as a heritage breed as a result. But they also lay very large eggs even through the winter. It is a trade off we make with many domestic animals; High, year-round production often means a higher mortality. This is why I only breed my rabbits once every 2-3 months and why many dairy cows die after only three pregnancies.

And speaking of unreasonably productive chickens, we put the last of the Cornish Crosses in the freezer a couple weeks back. This experience has taught me that I do NOT like processing chickens. I have no problem with slaughtering the bitey monsters, nor with gutting them… But feathers are the worst, whether you skin or pluck. It takes forever and a lot of effort to do either and it left me with a large feeling of apprehension every time I had to dispatch another bird. I started thinking that their constant attempts to bite off my fingers were charming and wondering how well Cornish Crosses would lay… All because I did not want to deal with that awful skin. Eventually every one of those chickens met their fate at the end of my butchering scissors, but it was rough. Next time I am taking them to a processor and letting them deal with it. Can I butcher any chicken I need to at any time I need? Heck yeah, but I have no reason to take on that much stress and effort at this point in my life. Some day I will invest in a plucker and then I will consider butchering chickens myself again. For now the ones I did process have gone on to feed some great local people including myself and are delicious!

Our gardens have gone dormant for the winter. I have some root veggies in the ground under the vauge hope they will come back in the spring… The pepper plants were potted and brought indoors and the tomato plants were ripped out and deposited in the chicken pen. The real champion of our garden was our heirloom organic Kale. This plant took the hot and the cold like a champ and are only just being ripped up as the weight of the snow is crushing them, not the cold. The mother rabbits really appreciate the huge hunks of kale they have been getting as a result! I will be planting a HUGE patch of his kale next year and making kale chips. It is very exciting!

And Christmas is on us once again. Some of you may have guessed but I am not Christian. I still celebrate our modern Christmas, though, because I love the ideas behind a modern Christmas. Almost every culture has a winter fesiltival of lights to bring a bit of sunshine into the grey and cold. I love giving and getting presents and I love how many different cultures went into producing the holiday as it is today, from the Christians to the pagans with Saturnalia and the history of the tree and even the contributions of a commercial society like Santa Claus and holiday TV specials! I feel like Christmas is our modern society’s festival of lights and whether you put an Angel, a star, or a peacock on top of your tree it is beautiful to look at. I hope everyone has a happy holiday this year, and whatever you celebrate for your religion I hope you have a Merry Christmas anyhow!

And don’t worry…. I am sure you will hear from me again soon!

Looking Up

Seven baby rabbits seems to have been all it took to make things turn for the better. They have grown rapidly. Generally it’s been cold and I haven’t been checking on them too closely but last night I found their seven squishy fluffy warm bodies laying like sardines in the nestbox, completely uncovered. Some of them have started opening their eyes, they are all well-furred and their ears are growing out! This litter is also growing VERY quickly. They are not even two weeks old yet but they are HUGE and chubby. Purina, the mother, is eating almost two cups of food a day, maybe more, in pellets alone! Greg and I have decided to keep one of the does from this litter to raise for our own use to replace Evo or even Purina as she gets older. These rabbits have to be at least 6-8 months old before you can breed them and who knows what those six months will do to Purina’s breeding capabilities. I’m hoping nothing but she’s getting older. The fact that she can produce a litter of seven at 3 years old is impressive!

I did re-breed Evo. She is on her last call for a live litter. Normally I would not be breeding her again, but she IS an experienced mom and I bred my Rex, Kibbles, at the same time. Since, if this pregnancy takes, it will be Kibbles first litter it’s possible that having a second mom (even one with a small or dead litter) would be a great boon to keeping the kits alive!

Some of my new plants are sprouting! As I said before, the Kale and Arugula ARE in fact popping up but more surprising is the swift and powerful germination of our peas, which exploded with life almost immediately. No sprouts have come out of them yet but if you nudge the dirt, these tiny dried-up seeds have become huge, broken open monstrosities with shoots coming out. Not a bad thing at all! My spinach and my non-heirloom/organic herbs are in seed starters too. I bought the herb seed packets for funsies one day and I figure I should grow them! I will also be trying to grow non heirloom but still organic beets and cucumbers that I bought seeds for at the last minute. Whew!

And work on the chicken coop has begun! A nice lady with some australorps agreed to try to hold them for me while I got my coop together! My brother in-law and I went out to Home Depot and heaved large peices of lumber and cinder blocks into the back of his smalish car. With some cramming (and some probably illegal beams-sticking-out-the-windows-of-the-car-as-we-drove) we got all of the non-deliverable peices of my coop home at last! Today I can start work on it! But I may have gotten the wrong size screws. Again. Derp.

This weekend Greg’s mother and two of his siblings came to visit. It’s a little annoying for both of us when they only visit for one day like they did this week. Greg always is left feeling like he didn’t get to spend time with them. Personally, I wanted to show off my rabbits and didn’t really get to. Also it’s so much work to make our house so clean for someone who is showing up for one day. On the brighter side, however, we got my mother out of the house for an awesome breakfast and she had a great time! It was so good to see her smiling and laughing and acting normal again. I think with this she may end up with the confidence to go more places more often despite her medical issues… And that’s good. She needs to get her normal life back to be happy.

Today I work on the coop and place orders for garden dirt, wood chips for filling low areas of my lawn, and for the last of my coop supplies! It feels like spring is FINALLY getting here so I better get to work on it! Wish me luck!

Planting, Cleaning, Growing.

Well, I hope everyone had a great easter! I have finally gotten the rest of my seeds in dirt. My kale and arugula should be popping up any day and the peas and carrots will be a couple weeks behind. I transplanted my pepper and tomato sprouts into bigger containers. They are ordinary posts with clar plastic cups over them. These make great make-shift greenhouses and are stupid easy to put together. My pumpkin has several growing sprouts aside from a nearly foot-tall mother vine, and is spreading in it’s milk-jug greenhouse rapidly! By the end of planting season I should have dozens of plants popping up!
My compost is coming along well, too. There are some mushrooms desperately trying to take hold in the topmost portion (though not doing well), but further down the pile is rich and black. I will soon be ordering $100 of soil ammendments and wood chips from a local landscaping supply company. This will let me level out the low parts of my lawn some and build my raised garden beds. I will be getting two yards of garden bed materials, and a dozen yards of wood chips. The wood chips will go in the back end of my lawn where the chicken, duck and rabbit pens are/will be. The carbon-heavy chips will mix with the nitrogen rich bird and rabbit poo and become some fantastic dirt for next year’s garden beds! And the chickens will regularly turn it and pick out bugs for me so it’ll be well-aerated and maintained!
Speaking of chickens, those will be happening fairly soon! I found someone with Black Australorps for sale and this weekend I will be getting the last of my coop materials. The coop will be about 4’W X 4’L X 3’H with one or two nest boxes off the side. The coop will have a couple of windows, one BIG door that opens to allow for cleaning, and then a lid over the nest boxes that lifts easily. At least that’s the goal! For winter I will have little solar-powered LED lamps in the pen. For summer I will be buying a big peice of canvas and setting up a makeshift swamp cooler.
If the chickens work out I will be moving on to ducks for next spring! Looking WAY forward to that! Greg loves ducks. For that matter, Greg likes Silkie chickens and we may end up with just one of those. In fact since the plan is to have a very small number of chickens (so we’re not FLOODED with eggs) a silkie might be good just to bulk up the flock and make the chickens feel safer. I will also be building my own chicken waterers and feeders! Hoorah!

I have also been cleaning the house like crazy. Greg’s mom and siblings will be in town this weekend! The house needs to not only look nice but all my homesteading stuff (normally spread all over the place) needs to be put away and the animal cages tidied up. Greg’s familly is from New York, NY. Having a pile of fur in one corner, a canner in another and rabbit poo in a third will just not be acceptable! So after this week our house will be spotless! Whew! They will be very excited to meet the baby rabbits though, and the babies already have fur on them! They are also the most active baby rabbits I have ever met. They are constantly squeaking, wriggling and when I check on them they start flipping out of the nest box!

This week is supposed to get warmer, sustained warmer. Is pring finally here? I sure hope so!

Sunny Days

Well, it’s been a rather uneventful week on the homestead. After the rush of rabbit processing, things slowed down immensely for a brief while. Daily tasks were accomplished and we took some time to sleep and recover. My mother, who has been in the hospital for a month, is now home but requires at-home assistance which has been the main focus of the past week. With my father home over the weekend, I got to stay home but I will be back attending to her come tomorrow. She has a large open wound and is very unsteady on her feet after being in a bed for a month but she is recovering.

We’ve had some sunny days this week and all four rabbits got some time outside in the sunshine on a finally (relatively) dry lawn. We had some fresh grass so I decided to just let them go to town. I simply took my “spare cage” as a rabbit tractor (which is one of my not-so-spare dog crates with no tray and a rabbit toy in it) outside, put a cloth up for shade and a bowl of water in it. They were quite pleased over it! But we found out that Kibbles has some serious allergies of some sort. Inside the garage she couldn’t care less, but outside she started sneezing a lot. I brought her back in and the sneezing stopped. I hope this is temporary. I would like to move her outside permanently after she has her litter.

You can’t tell but it was super sunny in this shot and I could hardly see my screen so all the shots came out at akward angles.

Today in particular the sun decided to shine brightly! It got up to a whopping 68 degrees today! Tomorrow the temperature plummets back below 30 and we get lots of rain. But for this one day I spent it outside in nothing but jeans and a sports bra doing yard work and watching the dogs play. The rabbits were happy to be in a shady, cool spot in the lawn today, and while Purina took her time in the temporary bunny tractor and I cleaned her cage. She feels a little starved for fiber for some reason and started litterally eating the fllor of her cage. I made sure this evening that she had a very thick layer of hay in her cage and I gave each of the rabbits a cm thick peice of rose branch nearly a foot long. They were delighted and my sister who came over to have her dog play in the back yard was a little mortified by how quickly they can slice through such a thick twig. (But was very intrigued by the possibility of getting some rex or half-rex furs in the future out of kibbles!)

I also cleaned up around the rabbit hutch. I dragged a rake out and raked up all the hay, wood, carboard and feed that had spilt on the ground. Between that, cleaning up the garage a bit and cleaning out Purina’s cage the compost pile re-filled quickly and will now take a week or so to mellow down again. Every time I add new compost it is huge and in a few weeks it’s half the size. Still, I’ll be adding even more to it soon when I change the other three cages of bedding. I still haven’t gotten aorund to cleaning up Tasty’s old cage for kibbles to move in… Because kibbles has a potential 2-3 months indoors still! I tidied up the lawn a lot in general as well, stacking some branches and raking out garden beds. My wild garlic is trying to sprout as well. My peppers in my seed starters finally sprouted too!

I got myself 6 sheets of 1/4inch plywood for my chicken and duck coops as well. The plywood sheets had to be cut in half to fit in the car and we had to work at it but it happened. They were being sold for $7/sheet, when at a box store they tend to go for $24/sheet. I am quite pleased to have saved $100 this way. I may also be getting a huge load of wood chips from a tree service company that I can fill in the low points in my lawn with for free. If I just fill all the gaps everywhere with wood chips they will decompose slowly and become great fetile ground. Bugs love wood chips and chickens love bugs, so the birds will be happy living on the wood chips and the carbon in the wood chips will react with the nitrogen in the chicken poo causing a glorious scent-absorbing composting bed right where the birds live. It’s like a deep litter method of bedding in a chicken coop… But outdoors!

The taxidermist that took Red and Orange sent me a photo of her work. I’m not sure it’s very respectful, but I don’t feel like these particular baby rabbits were very dignified anyhow… So maybe it’s appropriate.

And lastly, Evo is due this week. This will be her second chance to try to have a good litter. Last time she did not cover her babies well and they froze. She seems to be accepting the nest box but this may still not go well as right before she’s due to give birth she has a massive temperature drop and has recently been seen to be trying to nest… Directly in front of the nest box. 😛 Here’s hoping she’ll actually use it! Either way we’re going to be monitering her VERY closely.

Finished and Baby Bunnies!

Okay, that’s a lie. I’m not ACTUALLY finished, but work on the hutch is sincerely about 1-2 days away from being complete. In fact it is so close that we have one of the cages completely buttoned down and secure. And not a moment too soon since Evo got out of her cage today once again.

We put the door frames up on monday and set about affixing the wire mesh yesterday. I really wanted to put the mesh up pre-door-frames but Chuck insisted this was better. Turns out that the only way to affix the mesh to the walls this way is to crawl into the cages. I weigh too much for this and am too large to fit my fat hips through the door frames, but luckily Greg is significantly lighter and slimmer. He generously crawled into each hutch to staple the wires in place along the door frames and walls. The fact that a grown man can fit into an individual unit of this cage should give you an idea of how spacious they really are. And the fact that each unit can hold well over 100lbs says that my construction is very sturdy.

Greg is completely inside this cage stapling the wire down.

We finished one whole cage and the second one only needs it’s wire for the door stapled in place. But because of Evo’s most recent breakout we decided the priority was moving her outside where she will be safer.

We brought out a pile of used hay and fur from Tasty’s old nest and dropped it around the hutch for the dogs to examine yesterday. And today we brought out huge handfulls of hay and thoroughly covered the bottom of the cage floor. While the breeze is still chilly we’re getting another warm-front through this week so there should be no serious issues with the transition to outdoors. It is the week after that brings up concerns as it will be dropping possibly as low as 10 degrees. Still, with extra hay and their shelter boxes the bunnies should be toasty warm. The hutch is well-ventillated to prevent the buildup of moisture which is the real problem for bunnies. In a dry environment with bedding and shelter they can easily withstand lower temperatures than we ever get up here.

Evo looking around her new home.

Also the cages have a little design quirk in them that I built-in. The cages don’t have a built-in latch. Instead each cage has a pair of eyelets (one on the door and one on the frame) that a padlock slides through. The ONLY way to shut the door is to lock it with a padlock. This is not exactly required but I really wanted to make sure that my cages were always locked.

You can see that the only way this will stay shut is VIA the padlock on it.

Today we finish the door on the second cage and start wrapping the wire on the third. And tomorrow we move Nutro outside and Purina and her litter into the empty grow-crate. Eventually all four rabbits will be outside but for now this is a good way to transition them.

Moving Purina is especially important as the baby bunnies have grown quite active. Momma is eating over 1lb of food a day at this point as her babies are almost 10oz each and STILL nursing.

I was 9oz when this picture was taken.

At this point the babies are trying to explore and have been slipping out the wide bars of what was supposed to be a VERY temporary location. If we can get them into the grow-crate they will have deer netting stretched across solid bars for walls and will have both more space and less escaping!
luckily for Purina her babies are starting to eat solid foods. They won’t be close to weaning for another week or so yet (in the wild rabbits are typically weaned at 4 weeks) but right now they’re trying out their new teeth.

They have been seen to consume some of the hay and mouth on the pellets a bit. I also have some oats mixed into mom’s food that will entice them to eat it. And some have even been trying the water bottle. At this point I can’t even tell the runt apart from the rest because they are all healthy and active. Hoorah!

I also added a little page about my rabbitry. I linked to this blog in a few directories and ad sites so I figured having a page on my rabbits would be wise. It has a brief description of my rabbits and husbandry practices, the latter of which I am proud to be able to state. I feel like my rabbits are very well cared for and I like to show it. If you’re interested in one of my rabbits… Send me an e-mail! :3