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Thursday, March 24,2011

Get ready: When apocalypse comes, what will you offer the world?

By David Accomazzo

To hear some people tell it, doomsday is just around the corner. From the 2012 crowd to Rapture-happy evangelicals who see divine judgment in every natural disaster to the alarmist climate change crowd who think the environment will finally settle the score with humanity in the next 15 to 100 years, it seems everyone is bracing for the worst.

With all of this end-of-days talk, the latent survivalist in you might be getting alarmed. What you need are the skills of self-sufficiency your grandparents had, and never fear: In Boulder County and beyond, there are a plethora of classes aimed at reskilling you into a self-sufficient, independent citizen capable of survival after 2012, the Rapture or the melting of the icecaps. And even if you don’t think the sky is falling, there are plenty of reasons to pick up a nifty hobby, learn how to make cool stuff and impress your friends. Ready? Let’s go.

Make your own soap
Saving money and gaining self-sufficiency are two great reasons for making everyday products yourself. Like soap, for instance.

Making this basic survival necessity is relatively easy, says Lelia Lyon, a certified herbalist at Rebecca’s Herbal Apothecary who teaches courses on making soap. Making those sudsy bars we all take for granted requires just three essential ingredients: lye, water and oil. You mix the lye and water, let it cool to the same temperature as the oil, and then mix the two, stir like hell, pour into molds, wait for a month or two, and voila — you have your own bars of soap. Working with lye can be very dangerous and should not be attempted without fully understanding the risks, Lelia stresses, but adds that with some basic knowledge and precautions it can be safe and easy.

“It’s really rewarding,” Lyon says. “All of my students come back and show me their soap, and there’s this great sense of pride. … It makes great gifts, it impresses your friends, and it’s just a really fun thing to do.”

Thanks to some ingenious meth heads who use it to get high, lye can be a tricky substance to find. (“It actually really pisses off soapmakers,” Lyon says.) Most stores in Colorado have pulled lye off the shelves, forcing soapmakers to resort to the Internet, but some hardware stores around town still sell drain cleaner made from 100 percent lye. The type of oil used determines how long the soap must cure. If you want to get fancy, you can add essential oils for scent, and coffee grounds, herbs, oats and more for interesting texture. For shorter curing times, you can use a combination of olive, palm and coconut oils; a soap using only olive oil can take 12 weeks to cure.

“Patience is required for soapmaking,” Lyon says. “You have to wait awhile before you can play with it.”

Lyon recommends Susan Miller Cavitch’s The Soapmaker’s Companion as a great resource for those interested in soap, and she will be hosting a soapmaking class at Rebecca’s Herbal Apothecary May 12 at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.rebeccasherbs.com/classes.html.

Teaching tools
The ReSource Tool Library, at 6400 Arapahoe Rd., opened last year. It’s a community resource where residents, for a $25 annual fee, can rent tools of all shapes and sizes for a week at a time. Smaller tools are free with membership, and larger power tools can cost a few hundred bucks a day. For those of us with a middle-school shop-class understanding of woodworking, this is a blessing, as it allows us to work with our hands without having to bum tools from the neighbor.

For those not in the know, the ReSource Tool Library offers a variety of classes to bring you up to speed, including courses in basic tools, workshop safety, power tools, compressors and pneumatic tools, and sanders and routers. While they only offer a few courses in skills like furniture building, they have classes on a variety of other home improvement projects, like how to give your home an energy audit using an infrared scanner and how to mitigate radon in your home. The educational curriculum is a young work in progress, says Cam Abidi, the library’s operating coordinator, and the organization is looking for ways to better serve the community.

“This is our first try at this, and so we want responses from people,” Abidi says. “We’re looking forward to it. And hopefully it will get bigger and better.”

For more information about the ReSource Tool Library, visit www.conservationcenter.org/ToolLibrary.htm.

Here fishy fishy

Growing your own food is a pretty common pastime for Boulderites, and it’s far from uncommon to see a vibrant, near-professional looking veggie garden in front of a random house in suburbia. After all, locally produced food offers an almost endless list of benefits — taste and safety being just two of them.

Aquaponics is a novel extension of the home garden. It’s a fairly basic idea: You take a tub and fill it with water and fish. Bacteria in the tub turn the fish waste into plant food, and you pump the water up from the tub onto a vegetable planter. The plants are happy, the fish are happy, and you’re happy with fresh produce. It’s a soilless system, and the only input is whatever you use to feed the fish.

“If you think about the backyard chicken thing, this is the next stage,” says Sylvia Bernstein, owner of The Aquaponics Source and one of the original founders of Aerogrow International.
Bernstein, who last year was featured in a New York Times article about aquaponics, teaches the craft for various organizations around town. The seminars she runs out of her own home are 14-hour events and involve building a model aquaponics system from scratch.

“By the time you leave, you’ll know everything you need to know to build your own aquaponics system,” Bernstein says.

Bernstein is using tilapia in her systems, and she says any number of fish could do the job, from giant goldfish to cod to catfish. It’s a great way to raise fish, she says, because it turns one of the main criticisms of farm-raised fish — fish waste — into an advantage. You have to raise a bacteria colony in your fish tank capable of changing the waste (ammonia) into food usable by plants (nitrates), but once the colony is thriving, it’s self-sustaining and easy to maintain, Bernstein says.
For more information, visit theaquaponicsource.com/aquaponic-gardening-workshops. Bernstein’s comprehensive weekend workshops are May 21-22, July 9-10 and Aug. 27-28.

Sewing en vogue

There was a time when everyone — or at least the majority of people — knew how to replace a button or darn a sock. Clothes weren’t cheap, after all, and hand-me-downs often had to last through more than one childhood. Though many of us have never bothered to learn how to thread a needle, picking up some basic sewing skills can save you money and maybe even a little time.

Studio Bernina in Lafayette offers sewing classes, from buttons to blouses. There are eight-week courses in sewing, fitting and design, and they can get very advanced.
Look no further if you’ve ever wanted to learn how to make your own clothes. For a complete list of classes, visit www.studiobernina.com/classes.htm.

Farming for knowledge

Growing your own vegetables is a worthy pursuit, but for some people, it’s just not enough. Lyons Farmette offers a variety of resources for the gardening enthusiast who wants to take self-sufficiency to the next level and start raising animals.

“People just really want to be more sustainable,” she says. “I think chickens are great, because they’re easy to keep.”

The Lyons Farmette offers chicken farming classes in late winter, in addition to classes in backyard composting, permaculture design, beekeeping, aquaponics (taught by Bernstein) and even cheese-making. Owner Betsy Burton calls the Farmette both a small farm and a sustainability center.

For more information on upcoming classes, visit www.lyonsfarmette.com/Lyons_Farmette/Upcoming_Classes.html.  

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