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
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.
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
For more information, visit
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
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