In order to live a simpler life and to be more self-sufficient in case of disruption of our present sources of supply, it is important to rediscover and develop methods and tools that can be simply used and manufactured.   The manufacture and sale of useful and ecologically sound implements is a good place to start for families and communities attempting to become more self sufficient, both for their own use and for economic exchange with others.

Your contributions of ideas and plans for helpful tools which make life easier and healthier, are greatly appreciated. They will be published here when you e-mail them to us.  Please read the proprietary rights page before disclosing items you might someday wish to patent, if the ideas originated with you.

How to make and use a simple "sawdust toilet"

"My version of a "sawdust toilet" (as described in the Humanure Handbook) consists of a receptacle bucket, a removable toilet seat that slips into the top, and a bucket of sawdust for covering after each use. When the toilet is full the seat is switched to the empty sawdust bucket. The toilet is emptied, cleaned and sanitized and then becomes the sawdust bucket after filling with clean sawdust. The whole toilet system, including outdoor compost chamber, can be constructed for less than $10."

How to make and use a "sawdust" composting toilet

a view of our front yardother recommended articles and tools from

 Experiments in Sustainable Urban Living

Rooftop Gardening: Willamette Week article
Organic Gardening: Reflections article
Community Gardens Program
Hot Water from Composting
Recycling agricultural wastes to produce hot water
Rainwater Harvesting
Straw Bale House
Constructed Wetlands for Greywater Recycling
Tips for Sustainable Living
Sustaining health through optimum nutrition

A Pit Greenhouse

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A neighbor was so kind as to give me a large stack of unused mobile home trusses made of 2"x2" stock which I readily attached together with a few screws. I shoveled out a walkway 24" wide, and 36" deep into the earth, leaving easily workable growing beds at ground level. The same neighbor had pieces of plywood lying about which he wanted hauled away, and I used these to line the walls around the walkway. I used two sheets of foil lined insulation board on the north wall to increase the illumination, and covered the exterior of the wall with plywood and polyethylene film, before berming it with earth.

No additional heat source was ever installed, but the greenhouse works great for extending the season on both ends, spring and fall.  Some hardy plants such as Swiss Chard continue to flourish throughout the winter without damage in our zone 7 growing area.  It is a thrill to go into the structure in the coldest days of winter and bask in the warmth. Unfortunately the voles apparently feel the same way, because they burrow into the beds as well. Next time I build a below grade greenhouse, I will sink a barrier of some kind around the perimeter to discourage underground interlopers. Jerry B. (Plans for a  An easily built 12 x 14 Hoop Greenhouse which could be converted to this type of trench greenhouse can be found at: 

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The Missouri Designed Masonry Stove

A construction manual on how to build a do-it-yourself masonry stove
fireplace that results in 90% woodburning efficiency.

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To view the HTML copy, Go to:
Holly D's Blackbird Ridge Homesteading site at

For ease of printing and maneuverability, a .pdf  file of the masonry stove manual is now available.
The free Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to access the file,
This is a 2.0 meg file so it may take a good while to download.  To download directly to your computer, right click on the  link below and select "save link as" if you are using Netscape, or "Save target as" if you are using Microsoft Explorer. MASONRY .PDF FILE --2 megs



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Made using two 55 gal metal drums bolted together, with a polyethylene cover.

March 29. 1998

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For kitchen design, I'll put my testimony in for open cabinets and hanging utensils, designs that do away with drying dishes, and then having to put them away. For one kitchen I built, I made deep (6") doors on the two cabinets on each side of the sink, with racks for cups, and glasses. These items are directly placed in the opened door sections after being rinsed. I used a Formica covered bottom piece easily wiped dry when necessary. A slightly sloping ceramic-tiled shelf with rubber coated racks for plates was placed against the wall behind the sink. Wash the utensil, set it in the rack, or hang it on a hook....a single-stage operation! 

In our temporary, make-do kitchen, that we put together for our stays at our son's house, we bought a self-standing $39.00 rubber coated wire rack that straddled the entire 5' sink cabinet, with two 5' shelves, that serves the same function. Anytime we "do dishes"  using standard cabinets, it now seems an unnecessary pain to have to dry the dishes. We highly recommend open storage areas adjacent and over the sink area!   Jerry B

To use the device, choose a starting point in your field or garden. Set one leg onto the beginning point and move the other leg up or downhill until the string is exactly on the level mark. Now, leaving the second leg in place, pivot the device so the first leg goes past the second and on to the direction desired. Again, move that leg until the string is exactly at the level point. You are now following the contour of the land. You can put a stone or stake at each contour point or you can lay down a line and move it to the point each time. Continue across the land until you reach the end of your desired space to be laid out on the contour.

I have used this device to this year lay out a 150-foot chicken run across the field behind my chicken run and also to lay out my new garden design. I have made raised beds on the contour by staking oak two by twelves on the downhill side and filling the uphill side with soil/compost/leaves/grass clippings. I put the planks nine feet apart. The beds are now only about eighteen inches wide but I have lots of room to expand. I slightly sloped the path area uphill of each bed so that rain will run down to the bed and the path will stay dry enough to walk upon even after a rain. I will mow the grass and weeds in the pathway, blowing the clippings onto the downhill bed.

Beds or field crops laid out on the contour deter erosion and make maximum use of rainfall. My garden beds are most pleasant to work in as I am always walking on the contour, instead of up and downhill. When I irrigate, the water stays where I want it, on the beds.

                                                    with permission from Gene Gerue, author of How to Find Your Ideal Country Home

For a number of causes, solar energy usage for practical purposes which otherwise require much energy costly to the environment and pocket books, is presently much neglected.  I covered a six foot parabolic throw away dish antenna with silver mylar film, and stuck the holder support into a PVC pipe sunk into the ground. I hung a large black enameled canning pot from a hospital bed trapeze frame, filled it with washed apples, and in a few hours had delicious apple butter, without heating up the summer kitchen, and using no electricity, gas, or wood.  I look forward to the opportunity to design and construct a water distiller, an efficient food dryer, and several other modular appliances to use these dishes that are fast becoming obsolete.  Jerry B


This method of constructing buildings of infinite variety, I believe is the over-powering wave of the near future. The energy of the sun
will be used to melt sand and/or other heat responsive materials to form monolithic shells. Light impervious surfaces and walls will be formed by adding opaque substances in areas desired, or covered and/or bermed with soil. The design will be reverse molded in the earth, in any number of free form shapes.  The materials ... sand, the earth; the energy, the sun.  The cost? Dirt cheap.  Patents prevented by this public disclosure.  A free gift from the Creator. Jerry B.