Natural Fruit

When I was a kid I grew up in a big city and I thought that fruit looked like it did in supermarkets — uniform giant fruit, much of it covered in wax so it’s shiny. I didn’t think anything about the fact that the fruit tasted a lot like cardboard, or that the wax they used was actually Carnauba wax, the same stuff you pay extra for at the car-wash to shine up your  car, or that the bitter taste on the skins of the fruit was me actually tasting the pesticides they put on them.

Since I’ve been in my adventure into the world of sustainability, and eating foods that are locally and organically grown, I’ve learned that fruit can actually be very delicious, have no bitterness, and often grow much smaller.

The picture is of a hand-full of organic peaches grown in my neighborhood. They’re literally bite sized, and sweeter and more flavorful than the supermarket variety. Life’s full of surprises!


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Sustainability for Pets

           Pets are good for our health—studies have shown that pet owners have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Our fuzzy friends also reduce stress and prevent loneliness. Just watching a cat can improve your mood (often because you laugh at their antics). Pets can also be great exercise buddies. But are you thinking sustainable for your pets as well as yourself?

One thing to keep in mind with pets is that a little care can prevent huge vet bills. Make sure your dog has healthy treats to keep his or her teeth clean—that means buy those made in the US. Buck Bone makes organic chews. Shop also for not just the cheapest food, but those with good ingredients to ensure a healthy pet. Look for Darwin’s Natural Pet Products, Castor and Pollux and Henry’s Health Pet Food. If you shop for non-GMO and organic, you’re encouraging those companies with your dollars.

Honest Pet Products can be found online and they make toys for cats and dogs—they are also from a company dedicated to sustainability. Another company with a ‘reduced pawprint’ is Only Natural Pet, which is a great place to go shopping for everything your pet needs.

Other pet care options are to look for friendly flea and tick controls. Wondercide makes a variety of non-toxic pet care and grooming products. The upside is that not only are you not exposing your pet to chemicals, you’re keeping them away from yourself and the rest of the family.

All of this doesn’t have to be expensive, either. Consider making a dog tug-toy out of an old pair of jeans cut up and woven together—and what cat can resist a box that’s been put out. Keep an eye out for vet clinics to make sure your pets are up on all their shots—and to make sure they get spayed and neutered so you don’t end up with lots of dogs or cats to feed and care for. To reduce cost even more, consider making your own pet food. Back in the early 1900s there was no such thing as dog or cat food—they ate scraps, hunted for their food, and did very well. Dogs love meat scraps, cooked skin and organs, and cooked veggies. Cats need to stay on a meat diet, but again you can cook up the stuff you don’t want to eat, freeze it and thaw it for their meals. You can find recipes for cats online at and for dogs at, or just do a search for “make your own dog food” (or cat food) and you’ll find tons more recipes that will end up being cheaper than buying food. This also avoids the disaster of pet food recalls and possible vet trips for pets made sick by the wrong kind of food.

If your pet passes and you are thinking of getting a new pet, consider adoption. Fur and Feather has cats and dogs looking for good homes, and if you want a particular breed, go online and search for that breed’s rescue site in your area. If you do rescue a pet, it is a good idea to do an initial vet check up–and many areas have local pet funds to help you if you’re short of cash, so check with your vet about that. Remember, a little bit of care can prevent major problems down the line. The same goes for making sure your pets have clean water, some regular grooming to keep their coats clean, and then you can enjoy sitting down together to enjoy life. You and your pets will all live longer.

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Zeer Pots

Modern refrigeration uses quite a bit of electrical power (especially the older refrigerators made before the advent of Energy Star). And, they require constant availability of electricity, which, in areas with lots of brown-outs and black-outs can be a real issue.

There is a practical small-scale refrigeration solution that anyone make themselves for very little money, and best of all it uses no electricity at all. The device is called a “Zeer Pot” or “Pot-in-Pot Evaporative Refrigerator”, which made of two different sized clay pots with a layer of wet sand in between. The pot cools as the water evaporates which works best in warm, dry climates.

Evaporative coolers like the Zeer Pot have been around the Old Kingdom of Egypt, around 2500 B.C. For centuries in Spain, botijos, porous clay containers, are used to keep and to cool water and in the 1890s gold miners in Australia developed the Coolgardie safe, based on the same principles.

A Zeer Pot will keep items inside it about 15 to 20 degrees cooler than the surrounding area. This makes it ideal for storing fruits and vegetables, making them last much longer. You can cool drinks in a Zeer Pot, and it’s also great for storing butter to keep it cool and fresh yet not as hard-as-a-rock.

If you don’t already have the materials at hand, they can be purchased at any fair sized hardware store. You’ll need two unglazed terracotta clay flower pots of different sizes – The small one should be big enough to hold whatever you want to keep cold, and the large one should be big enough to hold the small one with about 2″ – 3″ around the edges; some sand; and a lid that fits the inner pot (this is optional).

First, cover the drain holes in each of the pots – this can be done with a sturdy, waterproof tape or epoxy, etc. Add a layer of sand to the larger pot, smoothing it out as you go. You need enough in the bottom of the large pot so that you can set the small pot inside it and have the lips of the two pots be on the same level. In fact, you should really have the inner pot just a tiny bit higher. Continue filling the space until you’ve reached the upper edges, and pack the sand down as much as you can.

Then add water. You’ll want to pour the water slowly onto the sand while constantly moving your water container–you don’t want to flood just one area. Keep filling until the sand is soaked, but don’t fill it so much that water is standing.

Move your Zeer Pot to its permanent home–it should be in a shaded location with good air circulation–such as a counter near a window. If you have a lid that fits the inner pot, use it, or just cover it with a damp piece of cotton cloth.

If the top half of the pot is turning dark, that’s a sign you need to add more water. You’ll need to water the sand once a day, usually in the morning. Try to elevate the entire pot on a wire rack to increase the amount area of the pot that is exposed to airflow.

A Zeer Pot is not a replacement for a modern refrigerator, but it can help keep cool items at hand, and help you become self-sufficient if you don’t have or don’t want electricity in your home.

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Farmer’s Markets

There are few things better than local produce, but you can get far more at local farmers markets. Eggs, honey, bread, jams and jellies, dried herbs, locally produced meats, and handcrafted goods can often be found for sale. You can find even more at
The New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association is dedicated to strengthening the local food system by supporting agriculture producers for a healthier New Mexico. Their website lists locations for local markets all over the state, including Magdalena, Glen-wood, Socorro, Silver City, Grants, Gallup, and even more spots. They also provide great recipes that use seasonally available produce.
Right now markets are just staring to gear up based on local weather and what’s seasonally available. Many markets will have root crops such as carrots, garlic, spinach, greens, and even some red chiles.
If you’re on the SNAP program and looking to extend the value of your food dollars, you can use the Double Up program. For every dollar you spend on fresh New Mexico grown fruits and vegetables, you get another dollar to spend on New Mexico produce. That’s more than a bargain.
Another advantage to shopping at local farmers markets is that you’re supporting your local farming community—every little bit helps our local farmers and ranchers. Local produce and meat will tend to be healthier for you as well. Recent studies have shown there are beneficial microbes in produce which tend to get washed away by large chains which try to sell the best-looking produce instead of the best for you
fruits and veggies. You’ll get a better taste as well from local produce. You can be sure you are buying fruits and vegetables that are in season, and which don’t have to be picked before they are ripe to allow for long-distance shipping.
Finally, shopping at a local farmers market will get you outside so you can start to enjoy some sunshine after this rather long, snowy winter. Local markets often have local entertainment as well as food ready to eat—maybe even some homemade tamales! That means you can make a day of your shopping trip. So pick a day, find a market and head out to become a regular shopper for home-grown goodness. You might even pick up some plants that you can put into your own garden for even fresher produce and herbs to add to your meals.

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Sustainability Tips

Image result for axe handle

Got a big drill or screw hole in a piece of wooden furniture, wood paneling, or door or window framing? Stick dip the tip of a wooden golf tee in wood glue then tap it into the hole with a hammer. Cut the excess off with a saw then repaint or refinish the wood.

If you’re worried your UPS or FedEx packages will be stolen from your porch, put a large beat-up and unattractive cardboard box, cooler, or other container with the bottom removed on your porch and have your package delivery company put your packages underneath it. Out of sight, out of mind.

Next time an axe, rake, shovel or other tool breaks, don’t buy another tool, just buy a replacement handle. Also, remember to keep those tools sharp! Sharp tools work much better than dull tools.

Use C-Clamps on your ladder at whatever height you need to keep tools just as a hammer at your fingertips.

Dip woodscrews in dishwashing liquid before driving them in to make them turn more easily.

To reduce splintered edges as a saw blade exits plywood, press masking tape onto the back side of the cut. The cut won’t be absolutely clean, but it will be better than without tape.

Have you ever pulled a drawer too far out and had the contents and the drawer itself crash to the floor? Here’s a solution – pull the drawer out as far as it’s safe to go then put some tape on the rail right where it protrudes from the cabinet. Look for that tape the next you pull the drawer and don’t pull it out past the tape!

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Ollas and Watering Stakes

Ollas (pronounced “oy-yahs”) are an ancient, highly efficient watering system in use for over 4,000 years. They are unglazed terracotta pots that are buried in the ground with the neck exposed above the soil surface and filled with water for sub-surface irrigation of plants.

The way it works is that the microporous (unglazed) walls that do not allow water to flow freely from the pot, but the water seeps down near the roots only as the plant needs it, never wasting a single drop. Ollas nearly eliminate the runoff and evaporation common in modern irrigation systems, allowing the plant to absorb nearly 100 percent of water.

To use ollas in a garden or farm, burry ollas in the soil leaving the top slightly protruding from the soil The olla is filled with water and the opening is then capped with a lid – such as rock, clay plate or other available material to prevent mosquito breeding, soil intrusion and evaporation. Depending on the size of the ollas, watering could be done weekly, or twice a month instead of daily.

A modern take on ollas are Terracotta Plant Watering Stakes. They are inserted into the ground near the plants, and then a bottle is filled with water and inserted upside-down into the hollow terracotta stake.

The advantages stakes have over ollas are numerous: they can be added to existing plants indoors and out, you can easily adjust the bottle size to accommodate how thirsty your plants are, they don’t need a lid as the bottle provides a good seal, and it’s much convenient to remove the empty bottle, fill it elsewhere, then put the now full bottle into to stake.

Also, if you’re planning to be away for a long time you can replace the normal wine bottle with a magnum to achieve a longer unattended watering cycle.

Ollas cost between $20 and $50 each depending on the size, whereas Watering Stakes cost as little as $3 each and do the same job (wine bottle not included).

Plants benefit tremendously from the use of this ancient technology. Plants do much better when they are watered deep near the roots, and when their water supply is regular rather than sporadic. So expect not only to use a fraction of the water you do now, expect your plants to grow bigger, healthier and to produce more flowers and better fruits and vegetables.

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Dealing with Allergies

   Warm days are upon us The trees and flowers are bursting into bloom, and you’re spending more time outside enjoying the sun. But hours later you start to sneeze and cough, your eyes water, and soon you have other cold-like symptoms thanks to common allergies. Here are some tips for natural relief:

You may have heard the old wives’ tale that eating a spoonful of honey a day will cure your allergies. Well, it won’t cure them but it can significantly decrease your susceptibility to local allergens. Eating small, regular doses of local honey or bee pollen supplements can help your body build up a tolerance to pollen allergens, reducing the havoc they wreak on your sinuses. You can find locally produced honey and bee pollen at farmers markets in your area, as well as in many organic chain markets. It’s important that you choose local honey. The top three imported honeys in the US comes from Vietnam, Argentina, and India. You can be sure their pollen is going to different than the ones here. (For really local honey, try Springerville farmer’s market or Bee Chama honey from Southwest Feed in Socorro.)

In your diet, avoid melons, bananas, cucumbers, sunflower seeds, chamomile, and any herbal supplements containing Echinacea, as these can make symptoms much worse. Garlic and ‘butterbur’ may help relieve or ward off symptoms. Apples, broccoli, and cauliflower are also known to help as these tend to be low in histamines.

    Onions, peppers, blueberries, and parsley all have quercetin. Dr. Elson Haas who practices integrative medicine, says quercetin is a natural plant chemical that can reduce histamines, which are part of any allergic reaction.

Nasal rinses can wash out the allergens that get in your nose. Irrigation with squeeze bottles, sterile water and saline solution will moisturize your sinuses. Some experts think the treatment is even more effective than medication! This is a cheap and easy way to alleviate allergy symptoms.

A recent study found that eucalyptus oil and frankincense oil are effective to reduce symptoms when used in laundry and rubbed on the chest.

Also check out local herbalists. In New Mexico, we have The Cactus Company in Quemado or Ember’s Herbs in Socorro, which specialize in local treatments for allergies.

If all else fails, visit your doctor to see what kinds of relief are available.   ●◊●

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Spring Compost/Vermiculture Cleaning!

Breaking down the strawbale walls

It’s Spring! And that means it’s time to harvest the rich black soil from the Compost/Vermiculture system.

First let’s review what the system is and how it works. All of the organic waste on the ranch is digested by the system. It is similar to a compost pile, but it’s supplemented by vermiculture — which is to say worms — red wigglers to be precise.

The worms consume everything that the composting bacteria don’t — which includes paper, cardboard, human and animal waste, and nearly anything else.

The straw bales provide insulation to keep the worms comfortable, and the placement under the south side of the tree provide shade to keep the worms cool in the summer and sunshine to keep the worms warm in the winter.

The old bales are used to cover the compost, and to line the bottom of the composting toilet buckets

Each spring we remove one wall, move the compost, take the enriched soil from the bottom, and rebuild the walls.

The soil created by this system is dark and rich. We put it into our cold-frames and container gardens and use it to grow vegetables for the ranch.



What the finished job looks like


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Adoption of Sustainability in Business

Over the past two decades, sustainability has become more than a fad or just a buzz word. Research shows that sustainability has real business benefits when conscientiously integrated into business operations. Five major advantages for practicing sustainability are:

1. Being sustainable improved brand image and competitive advantage. Surveying more than 53,000 U.S. consumers, the Natural Marketing Institute discovered that 58 percent of consumers consider a company’s impact on the environment in considering where to purchase goods and services and are more likely to purchase from companies that practice sustainable habits. That translates into a client base of 68 million Americans who are favorably predisposed to companies showing positive track records in personal, social, and environmental values.

2. Sustainability increases productivity and reduce costs. Critics of sustainability claim that sustainable business practices eat into corporate profit. Development of sustainable business practices lends itself to efficient operation that streamlines effort and conserves resources, which enhances employee productivity and reduces cost. Reducing cost also encompasses energy conservation strategies that can be as simple as turning off unnecessary lights and insulating walls to more sophisticated efforts such as installation of geothermal heating and cooling systems.

3. Increase business ability to comply with regulation. With all the discussion regarding climate change, dwindling energy resources, and environmental impact, it’s no surprise that state and federal government agencies are enacting regulations to protect the environment. Integrating sustainability into your business will position it to meet changing regulations in a timely manner.

4. Sustainable companies attract employees and investors. People like to be associated with the positive, especially younger generations raised on a steady diet of environmental protection messages. They do not want to be linked to companies implicated in ecological disasters and social welfare scandals. Show your company as respectful of the environment and of its employees and it will attract the caliber of people whom you want to employ and the funds your business needs to expand.

5. Sustainability reduces waste. This is likely the simplest and most obvious way to engage in sustainable practices. Beginning in the 1990s with offices collecting empty cans for recycling, the effort has grown to encompass waste mitigation in paper (conserving trees and forest habitats), value engineering of products (reworking or developing new processes that use less raw materials, waste less material in production of goods), to changing out incandescent lights for LED lights (greater efficiency combined with fewer bulbs used).

The old truism that anything easy isn’t worthwhile applies to sustainability. It takes dedication, commitment, and follow-through from the president to the employees to jump on board the sustainability bandwagon and make it succeed. However, if your business can do it, morale and productivity will improve even as sales increase and costs decrease. It’s the ultimate win-win achievement for the business owners, the consumers, and the employees. “We are witnessing an important shift in how companies in the United States view sustainability,” Gerald Walker, CEO of ING Americas, said. “Our research shows that it is no longer just about cutting costs or creating positive brand awareness ­— sustainability strategies are being deployed as true revenue drivers.”

Sustainability strategies are starting to play an integral part in overall growth strategies, with 48 percent of executives reporting that sustainability concerns have at least some influence over a business’s growth strategy.

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Dead and Down

electric chainsaw

The Little Electric Chainsaw that Could

One of the reasons that we chose this location for our ranch was because the land here is littered with cypress, pinon pines, red cedar, and juniper trees by the hundreds.

These trees are regularly hit by lightning, and this causes them to die, or to lose branches. This type of wood is referred to as “dead and down” as we can harvest it without cutting down and killing trees.

Although most of our heat comes from the sun with our passive solar building design, there are times when it is cloudy and we need to additional heat. To generate this head we use a kiva-rumford fireplace and we burn dead and down wood from the ranch.

In the six years we’ve been doing this, we’ve used less wood than the lightning is providing – so our system is fully sustainable.

To harvest this wood we have been using a traditional gasoline chain-saw that we purchased from, the “Poulan Pro PP5020AV 20-Inch 50cc 2 Stroke Gas Powered Chain Saw With Carrying Case” for $231.14.

Initially this gas chainsaw worked fine, but after less than a year it began developing problems. We spend a lot of money buying parts for it (fuel filter, primer bulb, spark plugs, etc), and finally gave up and took it to a repair shop. At that point we’d spend over $150 and the saw still didn’t work reliably or cut particularly well.

Tired of the smell of gasoline, leaking oil, unreliability, difficulty starting and very high expense we finally gave away the Poulan and bought an electric Earthwise chainsaw. The Earthwise saw was on sale for $62 down from $109 (which was less than the $83 we spent on our last repair bill on the Poulan).

We bought a 100 foot extension cord and with either our Honda EU2000i generator or our truck battery and a 2,000 watt inverter. The result was amazing!! No more need for hearing protection! No struggling to start the saw! No worries about having put Stay-bil in the chainsaw gas can! No more mixing fuel!!

The Earthwise runs instantly without hassles. It’s much lighter than the Poulin, and that means less fatigue when cutting. It slices through 10 inch and 12 inch logs with ease — just as fast or faster than the Poulin. And we don’t have to stop every few minutes to re-fuel, tighten the chain, and guess if the bar/chain oil is out. The Earthwise has a bar/chain oil reservoir that is visible, so you can see at a glance when it needs to be refilled. The chain can be tightened with a turn of a nob. Why didn’t we do this years ago?!

We’re working now on creating a little solar generator on wheels that we can use to power devices like this saw with free solar energy and deep-cycle batteries. This will make the process even more sustainable and clean

I recommend that you look into this new generation of powerful plug-in chainsaws, as well as the new cordless chainsaws with high-voltage battery packs. This saw has dramatically improved winters here on our ranch and we’re thankful to have found it.

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