Week-Long Workshops Planned Next Week For G4G Revival Tour: Outdoor Compost Toilets, Rainwater Showers, And Green Building Galore June 27-July 3

The amenities station that will be installed next to the Art Barn at Better Farm.

The amenities station that will be installed next to the Art Barn at Better Farm.

Better Farm welcomes Grateful 4 Grace from June 27-July 3 for a week of green-building projects, team-building and workshops.

Grateful 4 Grace is a non-profit group traveling all over the country to offer helping hands on projects that further a sustainable mission. From their website:

Combining our love for humanity and the love we have for our planet, we have set out to help others help others become more consciously sustainable. With the universe as our guide we plan to gather in effort to grow our sustainable-minded collective consciousness that will produce what we consider to be a balanced environment that all species can live harmoniously with. To accomplish this we are traveling across the world helping intentional communities and organizations that are currently helping with similar causes become self-sustainable. 

Twenty people from Grateful 4 Grace will be staying at Better Farm to help us construct an amenities station next to the Art Barn with compost toilets and solar showers fed by rainwater.  We will additionally be constructing a smaller version of the amenities station next to our new solar-powered tiny home, greywater filtration units, and working on other farm-related projects throughout the week.

The public is invited to help us on this project and gain valuable hands-on experience in construction, green building, sustainability, and alt-energy concepts. To sign up, just email info@betterfarm.org. Lunch and refreshments will be provided!

Volunteers are welcome to join us from Tuesday, June 28, through Saturday, July 2, at Better Farm between the hours of 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Harvesting Rain: How to Collect Gallons of Water for Your Garden

Harvesting Rain: How to Collect Gallons of Water for Your Garden

Originally published by Martha Stewart Living

With just a few basic materials and a roofline, you can collect rainwater for garden irrigation. This gravity-fed system uses no pumps or electricity and can be installed in minutes. Dress up your rain barrel however you like for a real conversation piece!

Read More

Grounds Stewards

A main springtime initiative at Better Farm this year is clearing the old farming grounds of the original homestead.
Part of the work we do at Better Farm has to do with reviving old spaces; turning what had become forgotten land into fertile new ground for people (and animals) to enjoy. Because our Annual Open House and Fundraiser is expanding this year, it was time to level-up on the property across the street from Better Farm's main house.

It's amazing how much stuff is just lying around old barn foundations, in open fields, and buried under tangles of vines, trees, and brush. Here's just one pile of junk we found twisted up in the old barn foundation (mental note: This is already after a huge dumpster haul three years ago, and an intimidating barn clear-out the last two years):
On the plus side, there is now going to be more space to utilize for meetings, entertainment, and for the natural bug and animal community to traverse without getting tripped up on some old rusty metal or other piece of garbage.

The photo above is of the mess discovered after clearing this space out:

Here's the space just about finished up, save for a few remaining piles of dirt:
 
While one work crew was clearing out the foundation this morning,  there was also some ATV activity clearing pathways through woods, removing old barbed wire, and lowering some brush:

Here's another pile of junked metal from decades ago:

Across the street next to the garden, we also got some repairs done on our rainwater catchment system. That set-up sustained some damage in heavy windstorms since last fall.



Stay tuned for more updates as we enhance the grounds for upcoming events and tours. To volunteer, please contact us at info@betterfarm.org or (315) 482-2536.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

August Produce at Better Farm

We checked in a couple of weeks ago with a pictorial tour of the Better Farm gardens. Since then, we've had a few more, good washes of rain. Those storms have sent the gardens into overdrive.

At our farm stand this week, we're featuring the following while supplies last:
  • Corn (several varieties)
  • String beans
  • Tomato (several varieties)
  • Zucchini
  • Cantaloupe
  • Peas
  • Broccoli
  • Herbs (several varieties)
  • Potatoes (several varieties)
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Cicoria
  • Swiss Chard
  • Carrots


We attribute much of our success this summer to our mulch gardening system, which retains moisture and nutrients for the plants even in times of drought. Between the mulch gardening and rainwater catchment setups (and our unbelievable cast of interns) we've had less work and more bounty. That's something we can all feel good about.
Companion plant: pole beans climb a corn plant.

Scarlet, center, Bernadette and Delores work the grounds for us.
Destiny's Child, far left, and Scooter, far right.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Water, Water, Everywhere

Interns Tim Serkes (left), Noah Bogdonoff, Amanda Treco, and Salman Akhtar with our newest rainwater collection system.
With more than 60 percent of the nation in some form of drought, water management is more important than ever. Better Farm's mulch gardening system has protected our crops from most irrigation needs (only having to resort to daily watering for the last two weeks as the drought has wreaked extensive damage throughout the North Country), but our single rainwater barrel connected to the Birdhouse dried up awful fast.



So, we expanded our rainwater harvesting systems with additional, 50-gallon drums: one next to the Art Barn for the artists to use, and another one on the other side of the Birdhouse to help with irrigation needs. Click the link after the photos for information on making your own rainwater catchment system!



For more information on our rainwater system and complete instructions on how to make your own, click here.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Art Barn Gets a Rainwater Catchment Slop Sink

The Art Barn in the last week gained running water to activate a slop sink for artists, thanks to a little rainwater harvesting project undertaken at Better Farm.

Utilizing a blueprint created last year by intern extraordinaire Lizzi Musoke, we constructed a gutter system to catch rainwater runoff on the Art Barn and divert it through a downspout and spigot into a laundry sink. Biodegradable products will flow out of the sink drain and disperse on the ground; and for toxic chemicals and paints, a catchment bucket can be placed below the drain to collect that waste for disposal.

Here's all you need to create your own rainwater catchment system, applicable for any non-potable water use (irrigation, outdoor shower, or outdoor sink):


Materials:
  • Length of plastic gutter to fit along your roof edge
  • End cap for gutter
  • Downspout cut to length
  • Downspout connector to gutter
  • Braces for gutter
  • Exterior screws
  • Spigot with washers
  • Drill with with various bits: one to fit your screws, one with a drill head of the same diameter as your spigot
  • Rainwater catchment barrel (check with your local farms, they're always flush with barrels like this!)
  • A stand for your barrel (cinder blocks at least for a hose attachment, something taller if you want a sink—you are using gravity to pull the water from the bin to your spigot, which should be at the bottom of the rainwater barrel!)
  • Skill saw to cut a hole in your barrel for the downspout
  • Mosquito netting to surround the entrance point of the downspout-to-barrel to ensure no bugs lay eggs in the water
Directions:
Carl Frizzell helps us out by cutting some gutters and downspouts
  • Measure your roof edge and cut your gutter length to fit (any saw will be able to cut through plastic gutter).
  • Take your gutter braces and screw them along the roof line, ensuring a gradual angle so the water runs downstream to where your catchment bin is waiting.
  • Put your gutter in the braces and attach the end cap at one end, downspout attachment piece at the other.
  • Measure from the gutter to where your catchment bin is and cut your downspout to be just a few inches longer. (NOTE: make sure your measurement for the downspout accounts for the fact your rainwater barrel is sitting up on something. This measurement should not be to the floor!)
  • Attach the downspout to the gutter system.
  • Cut a hole in your rainwater barrel's top to fit the downspout.
  • Use your drill to cut a hole in the barrel's side a few inches up from the bottom for your spigot. 
  • Put a washer on your spigot and screw it into the hole.
Any questions? E-mail us at info@betterfarm.org.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Signs of Spring

Hands in dirt: sure sign of spring.
The first week of March marks the very beginning of the growing season up here in the North Country: prepping and planting seeds, stocking the greenhouse, turning our compost, and getting the rows in the garden ready.

First, we went out to the compost heap and shoveled beautiful, black dirt into old plastic bags to use as potting soil. Then we took all our flats out of the greenhouse and set them up on the picnic table:
Our weekend intern, Shani, at left, and our latest resident, Sue.
Here are Shani and Susan filling the trays with dirt:

To make labels for the plants, Shani cut up empty plastic water bottles and Susan used a Sharpie to write out the names of the veggies we were planting. Once we pushed the seeds into the dirt, it was out to the greenhouse with the soon-to-be sprouts:

To keep the babies hydrated, we're utilizing rainwater from the catchment system installed last summer:

This week we'll be filling the greenhouse, moving the compost heap, and beginning construction on a new chicken coop for our incoming feathered friends. Spring is upon us!

If you'd like to volunteer with us, e-mail info@betterfarm.org.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Introducing the 'Poop and Paddle'




Back in May we told you about our friend Adam Katzman and his now-famous Jerko the Gowanus Water Vacuum, a houseboat functioning as a living lab that was moved to Marina 59 in Queens, N.Y., as part of a revitalization effort.

Well, turns out Adam's been pretty busy since then, working on the "Poop and Paddle", a floating toilet that functions as an outhouse and sewage-treatment plant-in-one. The structure, which Adams says is meant to be more inspirational than practical, demonstrates how sewage and rainwater can be converted to cattails and clean water. Science Friday last week produced the above video on the whole operation.

Go, Adam, go.

Music: Apocalypse Five and Dime
1 Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Former Artist-in-Residence Revisits the Better Farm Canvas

Former betterArts resident Erica Hauser stopped by the farm last week for a visit. Never one to let a blank space go to waste (she did, after all, paint the interior walls of the Birdhouse during her June stay here), it wasn't long before she'd grabbed a bunch of leftover cans of paint and set to work.

Noting that Lizzi Musoke's new rainwater catchment system abutted Erica's former beloved birdhouse bedroom, Erica set right to work giving the rain barrel a beautiful facelift:



The next day she caught me upstairs, where I was touching up some trim on doorways. Asking if she could help, I directed her downstairs to a blank patch of wall over the front entranceway...
 It was less than an hour later that her newest creation was completed:


Many thanks to Erica for donating her time and resources to beautifying Better Farm for all who visit here. To learn more about Erica Hauser's betterArts residency, click here. To commission a painting by Erica or see more of her portfolio, visit her website.

And When the Sky Was Opened...

By Elizabeth Musoke

So, the rain came down pretty hard yesterday afternoon. I was sitting in the house and I peered out of the window. I noticed that the barrel looked a shade darker than it normally did. I thought to myself, "No, way! Could we have collected that much water from one rain shower!?" I rushed downstairs to check it out.

From afar I thought I may have imagined it; maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to see...


But upon closer inspection, the water level in the barrel was just above the 12-gallon mark!


Turning the spigot, I let the collected rainwater run through my fingers.

For a small structure with a roof that is pretty steep, and thus has less of a surface area to capture rainwater, I thought this was quite the feat! This water can immediately be utilized for the garden and the greenhouse.

Think of the impact we could have if we all considered having some form of rainwater harvesting on our properties. The Birdhouse collected 12 gallons (from just one side of the roof)—imagine how much your roof could possibly collect (click here to find out!).

Ingredients for a Rainwater Catchment System: The final installment

By Elizabeth Musoke

It felt like Christmas came early this year, as the last screw tightened the downspout into place. We are proud to announce that the rainwater catchment system is up and running! We have never been so excited for it to rain. A special thanks goes out to Mark Huyser for his construction expertise and skills.

Here's how it all went down:

After we traced an outline for the opening, four holes were drilled at each corner, to allow the jigsaw (pictured above) to maneuver around the outline. 

The opening for the downspout.

Cinder blocks were used as a platform to raise the barrel off the ground and provide a stable setting for the barrel.

Soon Kai and Mark placing the spigot in the barrel.

A 3/4 inch hole was drilled into the barrel. The spigot was placed through the hole and reinforced by metal washers, rubber gaskets, and finally tightened by a bolt. The downspout was placed in the opening and insect screens were placed around the opening  to prevent mosquitoes and debris from entering the barrel. 

Et, Voila! 


So now, we have a working rainwater catchment system that can be used to supplement the watering needs of the greenhouse and the garden!  Well done, Team Better Farm!

Ingredients for a Rainwater Catchment System: Part II

By Elizabeth Musoke

We can now check most of the materials off our rainwater catchment ingredient list. The subsequent blog entry details the parts that make up our rainwater catchment system.




The structure in question: The Birdhouse. This structure was chosen because of the solid tin roof, as compared to the plastic sheeting on the greenhouse. The dilemma with this building is the steepness of the roof; steep roofs collect less water. But we are going to make it work somehow!


The gutter (left) and the downspout (right). The gutter will be cut and attached to the roof, and the downspout shall lead directly into the rainwater barrel.


The gutter drop outlet that connects to the downspout.


Brackets to hold up the gutter.


Reclaimed barrels that will be sanitized and used to collect the rainwater.


I have made preliminary mark-ups. The spigot will be placed 3 inches from the bottom of the barrel and fitted tightly into the barrel (X marks the spot).


The downspout has a width of about 2.5 inches. I marked out a square opening that is about 4 inches across to allow for water to flow easily into to the barrel.


Mosquito proofing! This is absolutely essential! An insect screen shall be placed over the openings of the barrel to stop mosquitoes, other insects and debris from entering the barrel.