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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Sustainability Holiday Tips

Did you know that you can celebrate Christmas with an eye toward sustainability?

First, try to buy your gifts from local family-owned stores and businesses. When you buy from a national chain, you’re helping to pay an executive’s bonus. When you buy from your neighbor, you’re helping them feed their kids, pay their rent, and you’re keeping local business alive.

Given that many of us live in rural settings, we have the choice of having a Christmas tree inside our home, or we can decorate a suitable tree outside on our property. If you use outside decorations, consider stringing cranberries and popcorn to attract and feed the local birds, and you can easily enjoy the fun of bird watching from inside by the fire.

With either an indoor or outdoor tree, if you haven’t already, switch to LED light strings. The LED lights burn very cool, use less than 10% of the power than the old incandescent variety, last for many years, and the frustration of trying to find the one burned out lamp is gone forever. In fact, they use so little power you can buy solar LED strings that charge during the day and come on automatically at night. Solar lights like these are perfect if you choose to decorate an outdoor tree.

If you have an indoor tree, consider some of these great ways to reuse and recycle the tree after the holidays. Take the tree outdoors and hang bird feeders and suet cages to turn the tree into a wild bird feeding station.

After the tree has seasoned outdoors, chop the tree into firewood, or chip it into mulch. Use the leftover greenery for winter wreaths, or to decorate planters. A whole tree provides shelter for birds and animals in the garden or over a pond. And use the tree branch for coat hooks.

You can also cut the trunk into thin slices and use these in many crafts. You can make:

  • a garden border edge (use wood slices or branches and tree trunks, cut into short blocks)
  • garden path stepping stones (but this really only works with a very large tree)
  • a decorative wreath (hollow out the middle and decorate the round edges)
  • garden signs (burn a letter on each wood slice or if you’re really handy, cut the slices into letters)
  • coasters (use butcher block varnish to give them a thick coating)
  • a clock (you can buy clockworks and hands at any hobby store)
  • a decorative snowman (pick a small, medium and large slice, paint them white and glue them together)

You can also turn the best Christmas cards into fun projects:

  • cut off the back of the card and paste in a blank card to reuse it and resend it
  • cut off the back of the card and use the front as a postcard, but make sure it fits postcard regulation size or between 3.5 inches and 4.5 inches in height (measured vertically, perpendicular to address) and must be between 5 and 6 inches in width
  • create gift tags for next years gifts.
  • create bookmarks and laminate them to make them last longer
  • create placemats by cutting out images and sayings and putting them between contact paper or laminate them
  • make a collage out of your favorite images and messages and add to a scrapbook
  • frame your favorite cards to create art for gifts
  • cut to the size of an index card and write favorite holiday recipes on the back—use this for any cookie gifts you make and give away
  • for photo Christmas cards, punch holes in the cards, buy some metal rings and create a ringed album

With gift wrap, think about using cloth gift bags with colorful tissue. The person receiving the gift bag will often re-use the bag to give a gift to someone next year, so the bag is a gift that keeps on giving and saving paper and reducing waste.

If you end up with torn-up wrapping paper, consider making bows out of it, or wrapping the paper around ornaments to give them a fresh new look.


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Extend Your Growing Season

Gardening is not just a great way to get some exercise—it’s also a great way to put fresh vegetables on the table for a very low cost. Now you may be thinking August is far too late in the growing season to get a garden growing, but there are ways to extend the fresh food you grow.

And just think how wonderful it would be to have lettuce in December, plucked from your garden.

Now you don’t need to invest in an expensive greenhouse for this either. You want to be thinking about using straw as your helper.

The first option is to create something called a ‘cold frame’. This is simple since it uses straw bales and windows plucked from Habitat for Humanities Restore or even from that pile of window headed for the landfill. Arrange the straw bales in a square. Put the windows over it, and you have an instant cold frame that will allow you to grow carrots, lettuce and spinach, as well as other vegetables all winter.

The other way to keep growing even when it gets cold and snow starts to fall is to set up some containers to keep your plants warm.

A straw bale is a basic container. The bales releases heat as the straw decomposes, so they keep plants warmer. You just may need to cover plants with a tarp for any really cold nights.

To get a straw bale garden going, buy a few bales. You can set them up in a row, or an even better way is put them into a square and use the center to compost. Put some red wiggler worms into the compost pile and the worms will turn your kitchen scraps into great soil.

Condition your bales over two weeks with about 2 cups of blood meal per bale (or about 3 pounds total for each bale), and wash the blood meal into the bale so water comes out from the bottom of the bale. After 2 weeks, you can plant seeds or seedlings. Water on the days there is no rain.

Old metal drinkers that have holes in the bottom also make great containers Or use lick tubs, clean them out, and drill holes in the bottom.

If you’re using a container, add wood to the bottom, and newspaper soaked in bone meal. The wood will decompose over time, but it will also help retain water, so you will have to water less.

Now is the time collect rain water, or simply put your containers under your roof line to have your garden watered with the monsoon rains. And then you can look forward to fresh greens this winter.



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Add Some Solar to Your Life

   Going solar used to mean spending a lot of money. It is now possible to add in solar energy to your place in both small steps and inexpensive ways.

Go for solar outdoor lighting. Solar lamps can be bought almost anywhere, from online stores such as to big box stores, to the local hardware store. Best of all, they provide free light and direct the light down so there is no light pollution of our dark skies. And they come in many sizes, ranging from on the ground to lamp posts. And a lot of these lamps work great in the house, too.

Buy rechargeable batteries—and then some solar panels to charge them. These days you can get small solar panels that will recharge a laptop, a cellphone, or any other small electronic device, including a battery recharger. These can sell for between $20 to $200 depending on the size and wattage. You can search for “solar recharger” on almost any retail site to find them. Be sure to check the reviews to see they work with your electronic equipment—and you’ll save money in electricity bills.

You can get a solar panel gate opener at Costco for about $200, if you’re inclined not to open your gate manually.

Solar backup generators are also available these days. If you buy one ready made and set to go, expect to spend about $2000 to $4000. But if you’re handy, you can build one for around $500.

To build a solar generator, you’ll need a solar panel for about $150 (and you only need 1), deep cycle batteries (at least 2), a solar charge convertor, which is about $80, a heavy-duty cart to carry everything, an invertor for about $100, and the wiring (and DC wires need to be thicker than AC wires—and the wiring must be done correctly). You can build your own mounting with wood or metal—you do need some mounting hardware.

For help in putting it together, go to Google and search for “How to build your own solar generator”. There are plenty of good articles.

A great place to get your batteries is at Recon Battery Warehouse (505-750-0276) in Albuquerque. They sell reconditioned batteries that are fully sealed—meaning no maintenance. They’re perfect for a small solar system—either a generator or for a greenhouse, or to add a solar system. They’ve got some of the lowest prices for batteries, too.

   And for a great deal to get your cabin or RV off the grid, Home Depot offers a full system (it’s only missing batteries) for about $1000.

You can also get a solar powered water heater for about $200, which can save in propane costs.

Remember when buying a solar panel you want to look at the watts produced. You really want something that produces the watts you need—not something low cost that only puts out 5 watts (meaning it could charge a cell phone over a very long time). A typical lightbulb is 60 watts, so keep that in mind when buying solar.

For a list of even more ways to start going solar, head to:

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Spring 2016 Sustainability Tips

If you’ve got a computer, and most of us do, you can do a simple thing to simplify and unclutter your life. Take a few minutes to receive and pay your bills electronically. Almost everything from your phone bill to your credit card statement can be viewed online and often these companies will discount you a few dollars for going paperless.

To save more pennies, turn off your electronics when not in use. A computer left on for 24 hours can use a lot of electricity—up to 1000 kilowatts. And, even when your TV or computer is off, it is still using power. Many appliances aren’t really off when you turn them off—they are in low power “sleep” mode instead. Either unplug all your electronic devices or use a power strip and flip of the switch when you’re done.

Use less disposable items to save on having to re-buy the same things. Go for eating ice cream in a cone rather than a cup. Use your travel mug when buying coffee. Keep your water bottle handy. Don’t forget your reusable shopping bags.

It’s a fantastic new trend to say no to disposable shavers and go back to an old fashioned “safety razor” like the one your dad used. They’re just as safe and handy as disposable razors, but much cheaper to use and produce much less waste. A single blade will give between 10 to 15 shaves on each of its two sides.

Upgrade your lights. Changing light bulbs with the new low cost LED lamps can save ten times the amount of energy than a regular bulb while lasting for many years. Don’t for-get to turn off lights when not in use.

If you can get motion-sensitive lights, give them a try—they turn off when no more motion is detected. Also, if you like using outdoor lights go for the solar powered ones.
Are you a hoarder? A hoarder in training perhaps? Simplify your life as much as possible.

Only keep belongings that you use/enjoy on a regular basis. Making the effort to reduce what you own, you will naturally purchase less/create less waste in the future.

To reduce what you have—and give your old items a chance at a second life, visit

From there you can print a label that you can apply to a box from or other online retailer. Put your donations in the box, add the label and ship! You can even print a donation receipt from, and you don’t have to deal with old boxes.

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Simple Sustainable Science – Baking Soda

Have you ever mixed hydrogen monoxide and sodium hydrogen carbonate together into a paste and brush your teeth with it? Hydrogen monoxide (H2O) is, of course, water. Sodium hydrogen carbonate (NaHCO3) is commonly known as baking soda.

Baking soda is an amazing substance. It’s inexpensive, and has many uses:

  • Add baking soda to you bath water to relieve sunburn or itchy skin. It also removes oils, perspiration, and leaves your skin silky smooth. It also helps ladies with healing yeast infections.
  • Mixed with water it makes a great cleaner for your refrigerator that not only cleans it removes that nasty refrigerator smell.
  • Pour baking soda into a clogged drain then drop in a cup of hot vinegar. After a few minutes flush the drain with a quart of boiling water.
  • If you’re having a major craving for sweets, rinse your mouth with a glass of warm water with one teaspoon of baking soda. Swish it around and spit it out. The craving will disappear instantly!
  • Add three tablespoons of baking soda to a bowl of cool water. Washing your fruits and vegetables in that water will remove pesticides, dirt and wax. Of course, you don’t need to do this if you buy organics in the first place!
  • Gasoline, cigarettes and oil can leave a persistent smell to clothes. Pre-treat those smelly garments by putting them in a trash bag with a generous amount of dry baking soda for few days before washing them.
  • Baking soda on a wet rag will remove bugs from your car without damaging the finish.
  • Baking soda acts as non-toxic and effective deterrent to insects of all types. Use it under your sink and other places where bugs are an issue.
  • Salt is effective to improve traction on front steps and other icy surfaces, but it damages shoes and rusts metal steps and the screws and nails that hold your wooden steps together. Baking soda can be used instead. It’s just as effective but doesn’t damage anything.
  • Red chili lovers note – a paste of baking soda and water removes red sauce stains from plastics.
  • Add a bit of baking soda to your shampoo to give it the ability to remove shampoo residues and get your hair extra clean.
  • Sprinkle baking soda all over your carpet and then vacuum it up. Nothing is more effective at removing carpet odors.
  • Supermarket oven cleaners are toxic and smelly. You can make your own with baking soda and vinegar.
  • Baking soda is great for cleaning car battery contacts.
  • A paste of baking soda and water provides instant relief from any bug bite.
  • Keeping a box of baking soda on your kitchen counter not only makes it handy for all these tips, it also makes it readily available for one if it’s greatest uses – a natural fire extinguisher. The worst thing you can do with a grease fire is to put water on it! Baking soda will put out a grease fire and it won’t spread the fire or damage anything.
  • Yes, baking soda plus a little sea-salt makes a very inexpensive but effective tooth paste.
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Beating the High Price of Eggs

We bough chicks last year from Southwestern Supply and they started laying for us in late August, after they matured. They’ve been laying steadily ever since. We bought Rhode Island Reds and Leghorns and built a straw bale coop that is elevated with a wire run to give them shade and protection.

The coop is roofed in double-bubble for waterproofing and we’ll be adding a tin roof m

Laying boxes still needing a hinged door

ade of recycled cans. The hens are warm in winter and cool in summer. With five hens we average between two and six eggs a day. Snow took the egg production down a little, but there has been enough for us and our neighbors.

We also feed organic seed, and this year we’re looking to add to the flock with a couple of Barred Rock chicks. But there are some other good chicken options for those looking for good laying hens.

Barred Rock
This is called an ideal American chicken. They’re prolific layers of brown eggs and are not discouraged by cold weather. They’re often called Plymouth Rocks, but that name belongs to the entire breed not just the barred variety. Developed in New England in the early 1800’s, they came from crossing Dominiques and Black Javas. Their solid plumpness and yellow skin make a beautiful heavy roasting fowl.

We’re looking to add a couple of Barred Rock hens to the roost and we’ll expand the coop a little to acomodate them and give them a little bigger run for ranging.

Rhode Island Red
The Reds are outstanding for production qualities and have led the contest for brown egg layers time after time. No other heavy breed lays more or better eggs. We love the flavor in our eggs from our red hens.

The Reds also seem to be our comic relief in the hen house–they’re curious about anything, and are always eager to get treats.

Leghorns, rose comb brown
These hens have the same plumage color as the single comb variety, but instead of the straight-blade single comb they have rose combs, which are low, solid, thick and covered with small rounded points. An advantage of the rose comb is in cold climates they are less likely to suffer frostbite. The dark color and quick action make for a good range bird where there is danger of predators. They are real hustlers, range far and look out for themselves very well. Our Leghorns lay white eggs and they have been great layers over the winter.

We may add to our Leghorns–we have the white varity right now–but we’re going to introduce new chicks only a few at a time. You can overwhelm your hen house and newcomers need some time for the old timers to get used to them.

Overall the chickens have been a great addition to the ranch, laying enough that we’re able to give eggs to our older neighbors and those who don’t have the joy of chickens around.


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Help Bees

From an article by Food Futures Campaigner, Friends of the Earth

Before your next trip to the supermarket, grab your shopping list and Friends of the Earth’s scorecard to see where your go-to grocery store stands in the fight to protect bees and the environment. Bees and other pollinators are essential to many of the most nutritious and delicious foods on grocery store shelves. They pollinate one-in-three bites of food, from strawberries and broccoli to almonds. Globally, between $235 and $577 billion worth of annual global food production relies on direct contributions by pollinators.

Unfortunately, pollinators are in serious trouble, which means the food in our supermarkets is too–40% of all invertebrate pollinating species are on the brink of extinction. And a growing body of scientific evidence points to neonicotinoids and glyphosate—chemicals used in everyday weed-killers—as key contributors in the bee and monarch butterfly decline.

In the report, “Swarming the Aisles,” Friends of the Earth scored 20 of the largest food retailers in the US In recent years, due to rapidly growing consumer demand, food retailers have been stocking store shelves with more healthy, organic and sustainable options. However, the majority of top retailers, those ranked by total US sales, have failed to do their part to protect pollinators.

The report found that 17 out of 20 leading food retailers received an “F” for failing to have a public policy to reduce or eliminate pesticide use. Only Aldi, Costco and Whole Foods received passing grades.

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Winter Sustainability Tips

snow_westwallFreezing temperatures are here, and there’s no reason for them to give you a chill or cost you a lot in heating costs. Here are some tips for keeping warm:

  1. Open your south-facing curtains and drapes during the day to let in free heat from the sun.
  2. Place dark blankets on the floor, furniture or bed in direct sun to soak up the sun’s heat.
  3. Wear cozy warm clothes and turn down the thermostat. Sweats and thick socks are a great choice.
  4. Did you know that if the rest of your body is dressed warmly, you’ll lose 40% of your body head from your uncovered head? Wearing a knit cap will keep you much warmer – even inside the house.
  5. Did you know that your ceiling fan can be reversed and blow hot air from your ceiling down?
  6. Lower your thermostat down 10 degrees at bedtime and back up when you wake.
  7. Invest in flannel sheets and a warm comforter.
  8. Only heat the rooms you use. Close the doors between rooms to keep the heat in the rooms you heat.
  9. It’s a pain, but clean your heaters to make them work at top efficiently. Replace filters yearly.
  10. Start saving up to have additional insulation installed in your home. It makes a huge difference in heating costs.
  11. While you’re saving, save up for double or triple paned windows. Single pane windows provide almost no insulation allowing much of your heated air to go literally right out the window.
  12. Install weather-stripping to seal all of your doors and windows.
  13. Block drafts by placing a rolled up towel at the base of a front door or drafty door to keep heat in or cold out. Hang blankets over windows and doorways to block out even more cold.
  14. Ask your local fire department to use their Thermal Imaging Camera to tell you exactly where the heat is escaping your house so you can know exactly what work needs to be done.
  15. Have you ever heard the expression “Three Dog Night”? Legend tells us that Eskimos would help heat their igloos by inviting in some of their sled dogs; the colder it was, the more dogs they’d let in. The fact is that dogs are actually very warm, and getting over the thought that “dogs are not allowed on the furniture” can mean warmer nights if you invite them onto the bed. Plus, the dogs will love this.
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Porch Become Storage Building

The back porch was meant to be a place where we sat and enjoyed the sunset. Well…it was never used. This shows the importance of knowing the area where you are building. Our wind and weather comes in from the west–meaning this was not a useful space. However, we had need of more storage space, mostly for batteries for solar and  wind power. So…time to update.

Given that the porch already had adobe walls, we brought those up higher, and then used light clay (straw dipped in a clay slip) to finish the tops. On the west, we’ve also now added a cob bottle wall above the storm door.

Next step is to add in a floor–we’re leaving the walls rough inside so folks can see what’s been done here. But we’ll plaster the outside next building season–it’s  now too cold for plaster. Once the ceiling is in, the shelving goes in and we have storage space.

This work took about three weekends–light clay goes really fast, and you can still see the framing (now down) for one section of light clay. We’ll post more photos of the inside as we get it finished and ready for when winter hits harder (usually in January for us.)

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