Filed under: Alternative Energy, Canning, Food Storage, Oven canning, Resilience | Tags: Solar Cooker, solar cooking
I canned my first jars of green beans when I was 21 years old. Forty years and thousands of jars later, I’ve never poisoned anyone with the foods I’ve put by. I attribute that to the fact that I am a complete NAZI about always, always, always using the safest approved methods for canning fresh foods. Cutting corners during canning is like cutting your own throat. Now, all that said, I want to introduce you to a ‘new’ method of canning I tried recently. It is NOT an extension approved method, but I was so intrigued with the idea I had to at least try it. You can google ‘oven canning’ and find ten sources for it and ten against it. It’s not meant to be used for wet foods, or those with fats in them, only for dry goods.
I like to buy foods in bulk because when I do, I’m supporting a small, locally owned business, packaging is greatly reduced, and because it’s usually more cost efficient to do so, both in terms of price per unit and in terms of environmental impact. The only con is having to store the stuff. I often store bulk items in five gallon food grade buckets, plastic lined tins, or gallon sized jars. My thinking is that by sealing some of those dry goods in smaller containers, (including the bags and boxes of ‘regular sized’ products that I open) I can store them more easily on my pantry shelves and that those sealed jars will be far better at keeping oxygen, moisture and bugs out of the pantry, which are the big threats to any food. Please understand, I’m not depending on this method to make the food safe to eat later, I’m just hoping it will keep the already safe foods that I do keep in my pantry, fresh longer. That’s a big difference from canning fresh foods! This method is being touted as being able to keep food fresh for 10-20 years, but my plans are simply for 1-2 years, just like with my regular canned goods.
This method was just as easy as it looks. I sterilized and dried two dozen jars, set them upright on rimmed cookie sheets, and then filled the jars, leaving 1/2″ headroom. Putting them on cookie sheets keeps them stable while in the oven, catches any spills, and if breakage were to occur, would make it lots easier to clean up. I then placed the cookie sheets with the filled jars in a preheated 200 degree oven for one hour. Just before the hour was up, I simmered my lids and rings in a saucepan of water to sterilize them and to soften the rubber seals. After reading this tip online (and you know, if you read it on the internet it MUST be true 😉 ) I sterilized some USED lids that I had saved for a craft project and screwed them down tight with the rings, returning the jars to the oven for another half hour. I let everything cool there overnight, and this morning, voila! All but one jar had sealed, even though I’d used the recycled lids. I love being able to see at a glance what I’ve got stored in the jars! Now I’m planning to use some half-gallon canning jars that were given to me but that were too tall for my canner, to oven-can some whole grain flours, dog biscuits and the freshly ground grits and corn meal that I buy at the Farmer’s Market.
The news is full of dire weather and climate change forecasts, predictions of food and energy shortages due to the prolonged drought in our western states, and rising prices because of it all. I’m certain our futures will be lived under dramatically changed circumstances and resilience is the key to improving our quality of life, regardless of all that. Using resources I already have on hand to keep food fresher longer (I’d LOVE to get away from a freezer altogether!) is just another form of resilience. And that’s awesome. Next up this summer: using this same technique in my solar oven!
Filed under: Alternative Energy, Biking, Buy Local, Climate Change, Community Building, Community Gardens, Creating Community, Energy Savings, Global Warming, Growing Food, Liveable Communities, Peak Oil | Tags: Fracking, growing food, One Acre Cafe, sustainable energy sources
Let me begin this long rant by saying I already miss Pete Seeger and I’m quite tired of freaking five degree temps, so maybe that’s colored my usually optimistic outlook on things. I should also tell you that the provisions put forth in the new Farm Bill are confusing, and that I voted for O’Bama. Both times. I think his State of the Union address last night was beautiful oration, and I did like a lot of what he had to say, but I totally disagreed with his call to retrofit our economy for natural gas. He’s going to make it easy for businesses to open factories that run on natural gas, by cutting governmental red tape. He never mentioned that 90% of the oil and gas wells drilled in America today are fracked — there could be no oil and gas boom without it. Everyone knows that there are no easy answers to the problems of Peak Oil and the fact that we’ve, well, peaked. However, he did say “… the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.” Thank you Mr. President for that acknowledgement. But shouldn’t the conversation from our nation’s leader at this point include at least some mention of alternatives to an energy-dependent future besides “In the coming months, I’ll (build on that success) by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump“? By God, if we had to pay the true costs of gasoline at the pump we’d ALL be riding our bikes, taking a bus, a train or walking! Our pump prices don’t even begin to reflect the environmental costs of that fuel. Just sayin’… And our food prices don’t reflect their environmental costs either, but I’m digressing here.
WHERE is the conversation about plans for mass transit and alternative transportation systems? WHERE is the conversation about retrofitting older buildings and factories and homes with simple systems like insulation, solar panels and windmills? WHERE is the conversation about our nation’s cities and towns converting public lands and commons areas to growing spaces, to food forests and community gardens? WHERE is the conversation about Americans needing to learn the skills needed to produce the foods and goods and tools and services we need to become self sufficient? Those conversations really do take place on millions of websites, in magazines and living rooms, but they’re never spoken of by our government. Well, I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!
In the last year or so I’d begun to feel somewhat hopeful that maybe the economic and financial experts hadn’t gotten it quite right, and that maybe our economy IS recovering. I’d also begun to feel that maybe the energy experts hadn’t gotten it quite right either and maybe we haven’t reached Peak Oil-yet. But as O’Bama said himself: “climate change is a fact”, and those of us lucky enough to live in First World countries can not ‘carry on as usual’ and expect that to change. I truly fear for my grandchildren at this point. I fear that they won’t have enough food, clean water and air to live healthy and productive lives. The government is paying some growers in California to not plant again this year because of lack of water. Let me say that again: The government is paying growers in California to not plant again this year because of lack of water. The ongoing drought in our nation’s breadbasket is so very serious and when I hear our President speak about ‘setting new (MPG) standards for our trucks’ it makes me angry.
You ask, “So, what are you gonna do about it?” I’m going to keep on writing about, talking about, and working for, the changes I think need to take place. But I’m going to write a little longer, talk a little louder and work a little harder. I’m going to continue to grow and preserve as much of my food as I can and teach others to do the same. I’m going to walk and carpool more-the walking keeps me healthy and doesn’t add to our environmental problems. I’m going to support local organizations like One Acre Cafe and The Livable Communities Group that are working to make a difference in our community, not by offering handouts, or asking for them, but that are “leaning in”, to use a new catch-phrase, to find out first hand what’s needed to make lives better. I’m going to learn new skills and share them with others whenever I can. I’m going to get more involved with politics so that the type of leaders we need to make big change get elected. I’m gonna write letters to the editor and sign petitions. And that’s just for February folks! I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!
The ‘About’ page of this blog, written exactly two years ago states: “If we collectively plan and act early enough, we can create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. Now is the time to take stock and to start re-creating our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being. This blog is simply about my attempts to visualize and help create that new way of living!” I still believe in this statement fervently. I hope you do too.
Filed under: Alternative Energy, Backyard Chickens, beekeeping, Energy Savings, Food Storage, Herbs, Resilience, Urban Hens | Tags: beekeeping business, chicken tractor, clotheslines, R.O.I., rocket stoves, the good life, tiny houses
I had a meeting with my financial counselor recently and asked him where I should invest my small inheritance that I received from my mother. I was thinking a CD, Money Market fund, or some other short-term investment where it could earn a bit of interest, yet not be penalized if I needed to use it. His advice? Keep it in my emergency savings account because interest rates are so low still that it wouldn’t be prudent to tie it up in anything right now. The assumption is that rates.will.rise. Yeah, and so will the price.of.things.
So I gave a lot of thought to where I might currently get the best R.O.I. for my little nest egg based on that advice, and came up with the some ideas; while CD’s are currently paying less than 1% interest, and mortgage rates are hovering near 5% now, perhaps I could hold a mortgage for someone? Nah. Not unless they intended to buy a tiny house to live in. The best Return On Investment would come from investing in my household: a new roof, long-term food storage, energy-saving measures or even learning new skills that might prove useful over the rest of my life. Self reliance tools like a pressure canner, a grain mill or sewing machine also came to mind but since I already own those things, I bought a new laptop instead. My old desktop computer was really outdated, and my daughter, whose computer was even older, can still enjoy the old one. I bought it during Tennessee’s annual back to school tax-free weekend and saved enough cash on the tax to pay for a new wireless printer. Both the computer and printer are tools for me, and learning the new Windows 8 operating system has turned out to be a REAL investment in my brain health (or brain degradation, depending on how you look at it). I don’t have a smart phone, (nor do I feel the need for one and the monthly fees to support its smartness), cable TV, a daily newspaper or any number of available technological wonders of the world. A computer is my tool of choice to stay connected to my family, the world, and to you. Besides, I’m writing the next Great American Novel and long hand is soooo 1980’s 😉
I’ve also decided to invest in a rocket stove and a couple of small solar panels too, so that if the grid goes down, I can charge my laptop and my ‘dumb’ cell phone while boiling the water for a cup of herbal tea, using only a few twigs as fuel. Rocket Stoves rock.
Speaking of herbal tea, I’ve also decided it would be wise of me to invest a bit of money, some time and a lot of labor into a new medicinal herb bed so that I can grow some of my family’s medicines. Learning to grow and use plants like Elderberries for making cough syrups, Comfrey for wound care, Feverfew for headaches, Camomile for upset stomachs, and Hawthorne for high blood pressure should keep me and Michael out of the drugstore, more money in our pocket, and healthier to boot. That’s what I call a really good R.O.I. !
Outdoor clotheslines, a chicken tractor and a couple of hives of honey bees will complete my investments for now. The rest will be saved for when we need that new roof on the house-another good investment in our largest asset, which is our home.
It’s true, you can’t buy happiness. That said, I’m sure I could be REAL HAPPY with a European vacation -for about 2 weeks. But what could possibly be a more satisfying start to each and every day than eating a fresh egg that I’ve just gathered at my back door, spreading my morning toast with honey from my own hives, and washing it down with a cup of herbal tea, while writing a new book or reading the morning news on my laptop- all while sitting in my garden? Call me crazy, and I’m sure some of you would, but investing in yourself, your health, your home and your own unique ‘good life’ will give you the very best returns. Guaranteed.
Filed under: Alternative Energy, Cancer, Closed Loop Systems, Energy Savings, Peak Oil, Resilience, Sustainability | Tags: Solar, sustainable energy sources
It’s the dog days of summer, almost mid-August. Back in June I wrote a post called “Room for Improvement” which is about my ongoing efforts to reduce my energy needs and costs. My intention then was to find something I could do each month to make that happen, and then let you know if it was something that I felt might be doable and useful for your household too. July brought a diagnosis of “The Big C” to my hubby and our lives have changed drastically since that post was written. In other words, I wasn’t able to make improvements in my energy usage in July, nor even think about how I might make that happen. John Lennon famously said: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”. (That said, it also points to my not-so-famous quote: “Prepare today for tomorrow; Screw that ‘location, location, location- it’s ‘Resilience, Resilience, Resilience’.”)
But never fear! I’ve found a way to offer you some inspiration in spite of my own dismal energy cutting efforts last month. I asked my super
heroes friends that live in Cottage Grove, Oregon to share pictures and a writeup about their latest in a very long line of personal efforts to reduce their energy dependence and they have come through with a knockout project that sounds easy enough that it can be duplicated for little money and just a bit of work. I hope you’ll enjoy this ‘guest blog’, and if you know of others that are trying to transition to a life that isn’t based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being, please direct them to me if they’ve got ideas to share here on this blog.
Guest Blog by Dale Lugenbehl and Sandy Aldridge
“If you’re interested in a very effective way to reduce your home energy usage, you might be interested in a solar-powered outdoor shower. Although this may sound like more than a home handyperson might tackle, it’s actually quite manageable. We built one ourselves and are delighted with the final outcome. It has reduced our electrical use for the entire year by between 15 and 20 percent because we are able to turn off our hot water heater for 4-5 months and simply shower outside. We live in Western Oregon; if you live in a high solar area, you might be able to use your shower all year around.
Initially we built a 4×8 foot shower stall—one end for changing and one for showering–out of inexpensive cedar fence boards (59 cents each), laid a floor of pavers that were seconds (cost 40 cents each), and used a black camp shower bag ($8.95) for the shower. That worked well for one summer but we were really looking forward to not needing to hoist the bag of water up each time we wanted to shower. This spring we finished the actual batch heater that allows us to have a hot (!) shower any time of the day or night without hoisting the bag up into a tree and without using any electricity whatsoever.
The core of the system is a plywood box that contains a used, but not leaking, electric hot water heater which we got for free from a neighbor who was replacing his (One might also be found at a recycling center for a few dollars.). After checking to make sure it didn’t leak, we stripped off the outer sheet metal jacket and underlying foam insulation. Then we wire brushed (or one could sand) the metal surface and painted it black for maximum solar absorption.
Meanwhile, we had cut and painted the pieces of plywood that would eventually house the water heater. At this point, we lined the plywood box with polyisocyanurate rigid foam insulation (found at lumber yards and home improvement centers), that is covered with shiny aluminum to reflect any sunlight that enters the box onto the black tank.
Once the tank was installed, the top of the box was covered with a used patio slider door (34” x 76”). We actually got a new one for free (double pane glass! ) from a dealer who had one he couldn’t sell because it had a small scratch on it. Then we sealed the edge of the glass and plumbed the tank to the water supply and the shower itself and, voila, outdoor shower that uses zero electricity.
NOTE TO CITY DWELLERS: This same design can also be used to preheat water going into your regular household hot water heater. In our case, we opted for the outdoor shower because of complexities created by the original design of the house—the sun being on one side and the water heater on the other beyond a sunroom that we had added on several years ago.”
We haven’t listed all the parts above so there are other costs but we were able to do this for less than $200. The plans that we used for the solar heater came from the Extension Service of Oregon State University (first published in March 1986). The same plans we used are available on-line as a PDF file at http://solaroregon.org/residential-solar/swh-batch-doc . The plans are simple and straightforward. If you have questions, write to us at email@example.com or visit our website at http://ahimsaacres.org/
Sam here: Can’t you just imagine taking a solar heated shower under the stars?
Filed under: Alternative Energy, Energy Savings, Mindful Consumerism, Resilience | Tags: solar panels, sustainable energy sources, water heater timer
I know a lady that, over a decade, blew through over a quarter million dollars and is now living in a one bedroom low-rent apartment, with an old car in the driveway. I’d say there’s some room for improvement there. I know a couple that earns six figure incomes each year and yet they both have to work overtime and part time jobs in order to cover their monthly bills. I’d say there’s some room for improvement there too eh? Heck, my next door neighbors NEVER EVER open their windows, choosing instead to have their indoor air constantly controlled via air or heat. Again…room for improvement. So far this summer, we’ve only used our AC once on a 90 degree afternoon and the rest of the time we have our windows open and use fans to cool us. But there’s always room for improvement, especially when living in a 113 year old house.
Lately I’ve been trying to focus on ways to use less energy. And sometimes it takes spending a little to save a little. Last month we installed a water heater timer and this month we installed some roll up shades on our west-facing kitchen windows. An investment of less than $20 and 15 minutes time was a small price to pay to make our kitchen more comfortable. I suspect that in time, these little investments will be returned to us by way of lower electric bills.
My hope is that WHEN the day comes that we can install solar panels, all of the energy reductions that can be made will have already been made, which is the first step when considering solar as an alternative energy solution for your home. What little (or BIG) improvements have YOU made to make your home more energy efficient? Please share your comments below, so we can all learn how we can lower our energy use, while simultaneously making our lives more resilient too!
Filed under: Alternative Energy, Biking, Energy Savings, Growing Food, Local Food, organic gardening | Tags: Bike Kitchen, Blackberry Winter, eggshells, epsom salts, growing food, plants, water heater timer, worm tea
It’s that time again when I’ve got a few things I want to share with you, none of which are enough to write a whole post about. But here’s proof that good news comes in three’s:
Our one year old hot water tank quit working recently. I wanted a tankless, on- demand water heater to replace it. The good news is, the company that made the old heater is a LOCAL MANUFACTURER! American Water Heaters are made right here in good old Johnson City and are sold nationwide at places like Lowe’s and Sears. They agreed that it must be their defect so they replaced it. With the exact same model. They don’t make tankless heaters 😦 That was also the ‘bad’ news, because they wouldn’t give us a credit or refund, only an even exchange. So, we installed the next.best.thing. to a tankless -a $42 water heater timer. We set it to come on at 8 AM and go off at 8 PM but of course, you’d set yours for whatever works best for your lifestyle, since there are 14 possible settings on them. It’s a well-known fact that water heating is the single largest energy user in American homes, and installing the timer has reduced our electric bill quite a bit. Even though it goes off at 8 PM there’s always plenty of pretty hot water at 8 AM the next morning too! That tells me none of us need to be heating our water 24 hours a day, it’s merely a convenience we’ve all come to rely on as a result of decades of cheap energy. A timer like this is a completely painless way to reduce your household energy needs and make your life a lee-ttle bit more resilient in the process. Now granted, it’s no solar panel, but then again, it didn’t require a second mortgage either. I also found out that if we’d had to trash the old heater, the metal in it had some monetary value and could’ve been recycled; we had 4 people stop by and ask for it in the couple of days it laid in the yard waiting to be picked up by the company! Just sayin’…
If you have an adult bicycle you no longer use, I know of three places that could use it. First is the local Family Promise organization; they help homeless families transition to homes of their own. Sometimes those families have no transportation and a bike can certainly make their lives easier. They can be reached Mon-Fri by calling Aaron at 202-7805. Next is the ETSU Yellow Bike program that fixes up donated bikes, paints ’em
red yellow, then ‘rents’ bikes to students for free to help them get around campus more easily. Contact them about your donation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And last, but not least, if your old bike is in pieces, those pieces can all be used by the nonprofit Little City Bike Collective, which rebuilds and repairs bicycles for FREE. Their shop is located at 209 E Unaka Ave in JC. Here’s the link to their Facebook page. Make some space in your garage this spring, and make someone’s life easier by donating to one of these fine causes. And if you’re reading this and don’t live in Johnson City, I bet these same types of organizations in your community could use your old bikes too. Just sayin’…
After recently experiencing ‘Blackberry Winter’ here in Appalachia,we’re finally moving into a season of daily gardening now, and I hope to share tips with you over the summer that will help make your food growing more successful. I sure hope you’ll do the same and share any tips you’ve found that work for you in the comments section below. We started long ago saving our eggshells all year long, drying them, then grinding them in a little mini food processor-a mortar and pestle works well too, as long as the shells are good and dry. Then we add a handful to the planting holes of peppers and tomatoes which provides them with calcium and prevents blossom end rot, something we rarely experience any more. We also add a Tablespoon of Epsom Salts to those holes to provide magnesium as well. What better way to use your egg shells, eh? We finish by adding some compost to the hole, then fertilize with some ‘worm tea’ and stand back! Just sayin’…
Filed under: Alternative Energy, Climate Change, Community Gardens, Global Warming, Growing Food, Local Food, organic gardening, Peak Oil, Resilience, Transition Towns | Tags: Farmer's Market, growing food, hive bodies, raised beds, Solar Cooker, sustainable energy sources
I’ve been pretty busy with spring chores lately: building raised beds for our community garden plot…
cutting grass and making hot compost with the clippings, playing music, hosting company, working out and watching it rain a lot. But it’s mid-May folks, and I’m still making soups! I normally don’t make soups in warm weather, I like to reserve it for those cool days of fall and winter but last Thursday I had a guest for lunch and even though we were able to enjoy eating out on the patio for the first time this season, and it was sunny enough to cook it in my solar cooker…
the fact remains, I was making soup on May 2nd! Then, last weekend we had a house full of company from Nashville, so we decided to go to Asheville for the day. It was so windy and cool there that folks had coats and hats on all day. ‘course, we had fun in spite of the wind…
By the time the company left on Sunday, it was so cool and rainy I decided to make soup again, which we enjoyed again on Monday-May 6th and I gave the last bowl to my brother on May 7th, another cool day. It has gradually warmed this week, and I’ve been busy weeding and planting, but lo and behold, Sunday and Monday night low’s are forecast to be in the 30’s!!! If that ain’t soup weather I don’t know what is! My fall-planted pansies are still blooming their hearts out, and the lettuce hasn’t gone to seed yet. So I keep cutting it, thinking that any day I’ll see it elongate and begin going to seed, but so far, it’s holding well. And because it was a fall planted variety, it’s especially well suited for cool weather. Last year, I harvested a huge batch of honey in May, which was the earliest my bees had ever filled their supers, and that was simply because spring had arrived so early in 2012. This year, there’s not much honey flow at all because it’s been so wet and rainy. This week saw a RECORD BREAKING heat in Michael’s hometown in California, with 18″ of snow last week in Minnesota. “Record ‘latest ice out dates’ have been and will be set this year for many Minnesota lakes; a problem for some anglers this weekend as they gear up for the Minnesota fishing opener. Some may actually take their ice augers with them across the far north rather than lugging the boat along“. My friend from Oregon writes that her normally rainy, rainy season that used to last through May and often June too, has been replaced this year with weeks and weeks and weeks of dryness. You know, Portland, that rainy place.
This weather weirdness has made gardening difficult for me. I still haven’t planted my tomatoes or peppers, and just this week finally planted summer and winter squash, green beans, edamame and limas. Last year I picked my first beans in early June! If all this rain keeps up, I’m afraid my potatoes will rot before they produce, and the seeds I planted will be washed away. The good thing about raised beds in wet weather is that they drain faster. Conversely, the bad thing about raised beds in dry weather is that they drain faster.
So, why am I rehashing the spring weather? I just want folks to recognize and accept the fact that climate change is real, it’s happening and our weather is going to become even more unstable because unfortunately, we’ve reached the tipping point and the planet simply can’t ‘normalize’ anymore. We can’t change the weather, that’s a fact. All we can do now is to take steps to become more resilient. In order to survive and thrive in turbulent times we need to organize ourselves at the grassroots level to carry out a series of transitions-not only in terms of food and farming, but also in transportation, housing, health and education. From the state-wide climate action meeting I attended this week, to realtors touting a home’s walkability score as a selling point, we’ve started that transition. Just this week, Sebastopol,CA became the second town in that state to mandate that solar panels be installed on every new home built. The economic law of supply and demand ensures that the new mandates will begin to bring the price of the roof top electricity makers down to an affordable level for many more of us eventually. Community supported agriculture, community gardens and farmer’s markets continue to grow each year while 54 public schools are being closed in Chicago next year because of their being underutilized. Tennessee Transitions tries to explore some of the ways that we can gracefully make our own transitions to a rapidly changing climate and economy. After all, it’s not just the weather that’s weird.