A contributing writer responds to comments from readers about building regulation, experiencing farm life, improvised Styrofoam insulation, and sprouting and planting avocado pits.
I noticed that in his letter to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Chuck Boothby raised the question of "intrusions" by building inspectors but didn't seem to realize why the regulations he resents were put into effect originally.
Back during the early settlement of the East and the western pioneer days, there were no—or very few—building codes. One reason was that every man, with rare exceptions, had a good grasp of all kinds of building, drainage, etc. And, since there was no true plumbing and no electricity, more specialized knowledge wasn't necessary. Moreover—except in towns and cities—homes were so far apart and population so small that it didn't seem possible that we could ever pollute our environment or endanger our fellow man.
However, as population density increased and as more sophisticated forms of sanitation, lighting, and heating were invented and perfected, the "common" man lost touch with the knowledge he needed to build his own home, and many mistakes were made which began to create social disturbances such as fires, bad water, building collapses, etc. Then laws were made to insure against such occurrences, and these have become our building codes.
Every state has some building regulations, which are usually confined to sanitation, electrical, and plumbing requirements. Most towns, too, have codes, which must meet and can exceed the state's enactments. However, some communities have none at all.
To be sure that you're in the right when you build, contact your town hall and find out what rules are in force. Unfortunately, although many of the smaller municipalities are lax about close adherence to the code, some are very strict and failure to comply can mean tearing everything down or paying a fine which may amount to $10,000 for endangering the public.
These restrictions, which seem so unfair to some, are there for everyone's protection. You may think it's ridiculous not to be able to build your own dry well and septic tank system on an isolated farm, but the overflow from such an installation could endanger you and possibly feed into the water supply for a faraway town. Most of the time this might not pose much of a problem, but there are many bacterial and viral disease organisms which can't be filtered out by the soil and which could cause a massive epidemic if they weren't watched closely.
Sure, these policies may be made by the politicians and by the rich—although many of the rules have been suggested by the poorer classes as safeguards to themselves—but they're still meant for the good of the public. I think, therefore, that Chuck's stand is a little harsh. But (or should I say and) where these codes are useless and/or ridiculous, you can take them before the town meeting or an open session of the city council for argument. Just make sure you have all your facts before you do.
Clark Hall made a good point when he suggested, "it seems to me that potential back-to-the-landers should work on a farm just to see if they can hack it." As a born-and-bred farm girl—although I now live in the city—I know just how much hard work rural life can be. It means long hours, rough schedules, and little freedom . . . and many people who think they'll love living in the peace and quiet of the country find the isolation hard to bear.
If you aren't able to work on a farm for awhile, try farming at home in the city. In some ways it's harder, as you don't have the room or facilities to do as much, but it will give you some idea of how difficult the work is and how much time you'll have to spend doing it . . . and it'll give you a chance to work your book knowledge into a practical approach. After all, what you learn from reading is all fine and good, but . . . .
Ronald J. Ballard's suggestion for using Styrofoam is great, and relates to an idea I've been fiddling with. Because there are hundreds of round plastic bottles just lying around doing nothing (they don't decompose well, and you can make only so many plastic bottle dolls, birdhouses, etc.), I've been trying to find a way to use these containers—cut down to wall depth—as receptacles for shredded Styrofoam and other light foamy plastics. These should be not only great insulation but convenient, too, since the units could be made up a few at a time and the inner walls of animal housing sealed in as you have enough bottles to fill the insulating gap. Regular Styrofoam glue is expensive to use for this project, so I've been experimenting and trying to find a good cheap substitute.
If Styrofoam isn't available, you can make "curls" out of strips cut from plastic containers, and use them to form a network of air passages inside the bottle. This method might not be as good, but will still take care of a garbage nuisance productively.
To Pat and John Thomas I send the following directions for planting an avocado seed. I had to work them out myself because I couldn't find any book that had instructions.
Remove your avocado pit from the fruit and peel off its outer skin. If you can't get to this right away, put the seed in a cup and cover it with water so the husk won't dry out and be hard to strip. If the stone should get dry, soak it overnight before you start to pare.
When the seed is peeled, locate a spot about one-third of the way below the pointed top. In three or four places—spaced more or less equally around the sides—make holes with a sharp-tipped knife and insert toothpicks. Place the seed in a small glass or cup so that the toothpicks rest on the edge, and add water to cover the pit halfway. Let the glass stand in either a light or a dark place (I prefer light) until the avocado's roots form. Change the water whenever it gets cloudy.
A seed may root in days or it may take months, so don't get impatient. When the roots are from two to five inches long, plant the seed in a container at least 12 inches in diameter (15 is better). The pot should also be at least a foot and preferably a foot and a half deep to allow growing room for the heavy taproots. Leave the top of the pit above ground for rapid growth . . . you can cover it later if you wish, but I prefer not to because the exposed seed seems to grow better and looks rather attractive to me.
Water the avocado well—it needs a lot of moisture in a warm house and bright sun—and side dress periodically with rotted manure, dried granulated cow dung, or humus. These warm-or-temperate-weather plants won't survive hard winters, so Pat and John shouldn't put theirs outside in the Wisconsin climate.