Brief Notes on Building Regulation, Working on a Farm, Improvised Insulation, and Planting Avocado Pits

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ILLUSTRATION: KIM ZARNEY
Building codes prevent you from building a house any old way you want to, but when planting avocados you just have to get the pit to sprout.

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.

Working on a Farm

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 . . . .

Improvised Insulation With Styrofoam

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.

Planting Avocado Pits

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.