Tennesseetransitions


Bees and Peas and Worms- Oh My!

My days are once again revolving around the weather and the garden. I’d been waiting for the perfect night to relocate my growing bee colony to a more permanent place (from atop their temporary headquarters  on top of our camper!), and after several stings and some help from two strong women, the move seems to have been a success. Tuesday night was a full moon with no wind so it was as good as it gets.The little pollinators are now located in a private corner of my yard, surrounded by  copious amounts of blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and blooming butterfly weed with a picket fence to keep curious dogs or kids at bay. I love my bees and my neighbors are  in complete agreement with me having them, so all is well. Thank you again City Commissioners for realizing the importance of honeybees and making them legal within our city limits. Next bee hive: the community garden of course!

It’s also ‘pea-pickin’ time in Tennessee’ and I’ve already picked three pounds of sweet, organic sugar snaps from my 4’x5′ bed, with a couple more pounds to come. That little space makes tremendous use of a discarded and inverted umbrella-style clothes line pole that we string with twine for the peas to twist up and around on. After the peas are finished, the plants are cut off so the nitrogen-fixing roots can continue to nourish the soil, the lightweight pole is folded up and stored underneath my tool shed until the next viney crop needs it, and the bed will be planted to Longkeeper Tomatoes for fall and winter eating. Not bad for 20 square feet of soil!

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In addition to my tower of peas, I saw another neat idea downtown today for a ‘tower of power’. What a great way to grow strawberries or greens in a small amount of space! The perforated pipe you see in the center has a removable cap, allowing the pipe to be filled with compostables, which the worms promptly draw into the surrounding soil, making nourishing castings in the process. The owner of this growing tower bought one like it and realized how easily he could make one himself…I saw the ‘store bought’ one too and it really didn’t look much different at all except the planting pockets were a little wider and he’s growing full sized kale and other greens in them. So, if you’ve got an extra plastic rain barrel laying around…

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Speaking of worms…my new-to-me worm bin has four levels, with a spigot at the bottom for drawing off ‘worm tea’ which I then feed to nearby plants. It fits in this out-of-the-way corner of my patio and I love the idea that the worms are constantly and quietly working to help me grow food, just like the bees…

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OK, so what do honeybees, worms and homemade growing towers have to do with transitioning? They’re all good examples of closed loop systems. Anytime you can create a closed loop system-that is, a system that creates no waste, you will find yourself one step closer to sustainability, a common theme that runs through many of this blog’s posts and is a central tenant of living a lifestyle that is NOT based on constant energy input. These are but three examples of closed loop systems right here on my little urban lot. Using rainbarrels, planting and growing food using open pollinated seeds, building compost bins or even tending a flock of hens that are able to thrive on food that you grow for them or where they have access to wild foods are more examples of closed loop systems. Solar panels and wood stoves that are fed with managed woodlot cuttings or blow downs are yet more examples. I even consider the food that I grow and can sort of a closed loop system since I save many seeds and then reuse the same canning jars and reusable lids year after year, as well as the canning water itself. 

It’s all part of  a simpler way of life that I find more satisfying and creative than one based on consumerism. I love the sense of freedom I have when being in charge of my life-even if just a small part of it- and find the challenges this ‘good life’ presents are far more pleasant than those that require paying for solutions. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s the journey, as much or more than the destination, that feeds my soul. I hope this blog provides you with food for thought as you seek ways to pilot your own ship. 

 



Fall Has Fell

“Fall has always been my favorite season. 

The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year

for the grand finale.” Lauren DeStefano

 Fall is my favorite season too, even though it’s bittersweet for me, knowing what lies just beyond it. I’m still working on my summer to-do list, and now I’m in the midst of my fall list! Many of you have asked me to let  you know what’s going on in the garden during each season, so I hope this helps, although I suspect I should’ve written all this out back in August.  I hope it will give you an idea of where you need to be now anyway.

All of my raised beds in my community garden plot are now planted to either fall crops or crimson clover, which I like as a cover crop for winter.

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I’m harvesting broccoli and lettuces, beets, August-planted potatoes, and carrots there, with the kale, cabbage and cauliflower ready in another couple of weeks. Brussels sprouts remain a mystery to me, but I still plant them anyway. Maybe someday I’ll actually get some sprouts from them! 

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At home, I’ve started harvesting bok choy:

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I always feel like it’s a race to get the late summer plantings almost to harvest stage before the fall equinox, because things really slow down by then. This proves to be especially tricky with Longkeeper tomatoes! I have full-grown plants  loaded with green tomatoes now that were set out in August,. If they can just begin to turn pink before our first frost, they will slowly continue to ripen inside the house, allowing us to have fresh tomatoes until about Valentine’s Day- if we don’t eat them all before then. The key is that they won’t ripen if picked green, they must have at least a slight blush of color to continue ripening. I usually plant them out in July,  so don’t have as many this fall as in years past, but we’ll still have enough to last til Christmas with any luck. Longkeeper -the name is accurately descriptive. Even though they’re not as sweet and juicy as a summer ripened fruit, they are far, far better than ANY grocery store tomato you might buy in mid winter. And by golly, they’re local 😉  Some Farmer’s Market vendor is missing the boat by not selling them during the winter months.

I finished preparing my final bed today, turning in compost and shredded leaves. I’ll add some bone meal to the holes when I plant my garlic there at the end of October, but today I just raked it smooth and planted winter lettuces and spinach, neither of which will be ready until spring. With a simple little hoop house over that bed, those plants will just sit there, almost dormant, right in the row, until late winter. When the days begin to lengthen just a bit, that spinach and cold hardy lettuce will burst to life and offer us fresh greens, just about the time the kale and swiss chard grow tough and we’re tired of them anyway. Last, but not least, the parsnips that were planted way back in July won’t be harvested until after several hard frosts, but before the ground freezes solid (boy did I learn that the hard way!). The freezes sweeten them, and then they’ll keep in the refrigerator for a very long time; I consider it one of nature’s mysteries that just as my vegetable drawers are finally empty of all the fruits and veggies they held all summer, along come the greens, apples, nuts and root crops to fill ’em up for the winter.

I set up another compost bin today, and will let the one we filled during the summer cook and decompose all winter, hopefully ready for use in the spring, with this new one full and ready for use by next fall. And so the gardening cycle continues. After all this intensive digging, planting, harvesting and storing it’s nice to know we’re moving into a quieter, slower pace in the garden for a few months. God willing, the wheel of good health and fortune will continue to turn and the seed starting trays will be full again come February. Happy Fall Ya’ll!

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Contributionism: Or, Simply Put, We Need Each Other

I’ve attended several meetings this week, all aiming to make our community a better place to love live. Before moving to this area, I’d raised a family and worked a full-time job, with little time or energy left for civic affairs. Perhaps every town and community is as focused as mine on making life better, but I can’t really say since this is the only place I’ve lived that I’ve liked enough to get involved. (Something within me though tells me that MY town is special in this regard.) Over the last couple of days I’ve witnessed over 150 different people come to these meetings straight from work, while on their lunch breaks or during their dinner hour to show their support for initiatives in this area that are important enough to them that they take the time to show up and contribute. Some of us have time, some have special talents, others have lots of energy, a few have money, but we all want to contribute in some way to make our community better. It’s not all altruistic of course, since we will benefit individually as well as collectively from our efforts.

The recently formed Rails to Trails Task Force has been charged with overseeing the conversion of an old railroad system into a 10+ mile long hiking and biking trail by Labor Day of next year. The ‘Tweetsie Trail’  will bring many new visitors and their dollars to our community, while giving those of us lucky enough to LIVE here a free fitness trail that just happens to offer us lots of natural beauty while we get fit and have fun. My city has committed $100,000 to jumpstart this project, that after investing $625,000 to purchase the land itself. The task force meets monthly and manages to get lots of homework done between meetings. All volunteers. All contributing whatever they can.

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One Acre Cafe is a soon-to-be-opened restaurant that will be located between our downtown area and the college campus. It will use a nonprofit status and a  ‘Pay It Forward’ concept of making sure that everyone eats. If you can pay a bit more for your meal, any extra will go towards buying a meal for someone who can’t afford to pay. If you’re one of those,  you can work for an hour at the cafe to earn your meal, all while learning valuable kitchen skills that might eventually earn you a paid job in the food service industry along with that meal. This whole plan is run by volunteers and is operating entirely via donations. It’s been a tremendous undertaking but is becoming a reality due to many, many volunteers contributing. (there’s that word again)

Last but certainly not least, a joint meeting was held yesterday between the Washington County Economic Development Council and the Liveable Communities group to explore the possibility of combining our forces in hopes of being able to make a better contribution (ahem…) to making our region a nicer place to live. A city/county entity combining with a civic group- is that sweet or WHAT? It’s part of contributionism, that’s what.

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When I first began thinking about the purpose of this blog, I wanted, most of all, to provide my readers with positive alternatives to the present reality of Peak Oil, Climate Change and an oil-based lifestyle and economy that is unsustainable. I am convinced that a new, clear, vision is what is needed to  re-create 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.  If you too are interested in these things, simply pick a project that you care about and contribute your unique gifts to it. Our gifts of contributionism will manifest themselves into even more generosity from those affected and will help see us all through times of turmoil. In contrast to the age of oil and money where we can pay for anything and need no gifts, soon it will be abundantly clear: we need each other. 

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Cool Off With a Hot Shower!

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 ahimsaacres@gmail.com or visit our website at http://ahimsaacres.org/

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Sam here: Can’t you just imagine taking a solar heated shower under the stars?



Empower House
A home is considered a refuge not only from nature’s elements, but from societal pressures as well. It’s a basic need, right along with food and clothing. But I’ve got a question for you; Is your home living up to its’ potential?
Turning our homes into a place of production, rather than consumption, can help us produce the food, energy, water and products we rely upon and can even produce extra income in a pinch! To really become resilient, we need to make sure our homes are able to provide for at least some of our needs.
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Here’s an example:  Let’s say you have a beehive and a little coop with a couple of laying hens in the backyard. And let’s also say you have a modest vegetable garden, a few fruit trees, a strawberry patch and some blueberry bushes planted out by the shed. The one thing all those things need for survival is water. Now, suppose your region suffers through a drought like the one that’s been going on in the midwestern states for several years now and water rationing becomes a reality in your town. Or suppose storm-produced flooding or power outages overwhelms and shuts down your city’s municipal water system. How would you take care of your water needs? Our great grandparents had wells, springs, cisterns and outhouses for dealing with their water needs but we modern urban dwellers are completely dependent on complex, energy- intensive water systems.Why not put in place your own water system? Here’s some ideas to help you do just that:

  • Landscape your yard with a rain garden to capture and divert excess rainwater into an area that your bees and fruit trees can easily access
  • Set up rain barrels, using your roof  as the channel device
  • Install an underground tank in the yard, a dirt-floored cellar or even under a deck to store even more rainwater. If underground storage isn’t feasible, above ground tanks are available, and now you can buy slimlined tanks that form a fence, serving dual purposes:

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One option for an almost endless supply of drinking water is to purchase a gravity-feed counter top water filtration system that uses no electricity and very long-lasting carbon filters that can clean raw, contaminated water well enough to allow you to drink it. This is our home’s ‘drinking station’ and I’ve read where this particular type of filtration system is used by Vista and Peace Corps workers to enable them to have clean drinking water while working in third world countries.

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At the very least, you can also store extra drinking water in jugs in the basement or even under the beds-anywhere it won’t freeze. Humans and pets can go for weeks without food but only a couple of days without water. When tornadoes or storms are bearing down on us is NOT the time to think about emergency water.  Plenty of clean water can be provided right from your own home with a little advance planning.

What are some other ways your home can become empowered to support YOU?

  • A small solar array can provide you with some hot water or generate a bit of electricity, and with prices at an all time low, coupled with tax incentives, solar has become more affordable
  • Using your backyard to grow a mini orchard, a  garden- and perhaps raise some meat rabbits in hutches- could go a long way towards feeding your family
  • Hanging your clothes to dry outside on a clothesline or inside on a rack
  • Growing fresh herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes
  • Brewing your own wines and beers in the basement can make hard times a little less so
  • Adding a small solar greenhouse over a south-facing window of your home can provide you with fresh food in winter AND be an extra source of heat
  • Building a wood fired brick oven on the back patio can provide you with a wonderful way to cook food and heat water if the power is out-or not
  • Or convert that patio into a full-blown screened in ‘summer kitchen’ with running water from, you guessed it, your stored rainwater
  • … the list of things your home can be empowered to do is almost endless.

Many people make money by using part of their home for a purpose other than simply shelter and refuge; from renting a spare bedroom to offering daycare, the possibilities are endless. One very popular family owned pizza shop in the heart of  our downtown has built a wood fired brick oven that’s used for baking their pies, and they live upstairs. Root cellars and basements can be mighty useful for food and pantry storage as well as work space. Garages can be converted to workshops, studios and more.

The systems you put into place in your home make you able to produce more, become less dependent, and live a better life.  Whether it’s a water, energy, or food system, the synergies between these systems compound this effect. Just like in the case of modern-day financial assets, savings or investment accounts get increasingly valuable due to compounding over the long term. Empower your home to take care of your needs!



Closing the Loop
November 6, 2012, 10:37 PM
Filed under: Closed Loop Systems, Composting | Tags: , , ,

It’s 8 PM on election night, and I decided to write a new post here to take my mind off the voting results for a while. It’s not my intent to discuss politics (or religion) on this blog, so if you’re here for that, moooove on.

Next Thursday, November 15th Johnson City Public Works and Keep Johnson City Beautiful will be holding a recycling symposium  called “Closing The Loop” at The Millennium Center, from 8:30 AM-1:30 PM.  Local and regional recyclers will be sharing their ‘best recycling practices’ with us. I understand  there will be two tracks for this event:  One for residents, the other for businesses, so there promises to be something for all of us.  We will learn how our local efforts affect our world resources, but I am hoping specifically to find out how we might start a city-wide metals recycling program.  Tickets are ten dollars and include lunch-served on something recyclable or reusable I assume. If it comes on styrofoam I’m going to protest~ loudly! Registration is required for this event, so you can call Eva Hunter at 423-979-6318 to have your name added, and then you can pay for your tickets at the door.

Closing the Loop.. what exactly does that mean? It refers to the continuous life cycle of a product from production, consumption, recycling and ultimately, returning to production. Examples of closing the loop include the use of recycled materials instead of raw materials during the manufacture of new products or the recycling of food wastes into composts  which are then used to help in agriculture and food production.  Nature operates under the condition of limited and finite resources. It therefore reuses, recycles, and rebuilds everything it needs to sustain life. Take trees, for example. They drop their leaves in fall, those leaves break down and return nutrients to the tree, which in turn take the nutrients from the soil to grow and make new leaves. In nature, one organism’s waste is another’s food or building material. In nature, (which really is perfect), everything is interrelated and part of the natural food chain. It’s the only way nature can thrive and survive. We humans are the only part of nature that break that loop by taking more than we return. EXCEPT this little guy…

Living in a Peak Oil, lower energy world that is rapidly undergoing environmental and economic changes means that we MUST learn to create closed loop systems for everything we produce, buy and use. I want to live in a place that is based on local resilience, rather than oil dependence. Please consider supporting our city’s efforts to teach us how to do this! If WE show up for these kinds of events, they’ll offer more of them.  However much I can do, we can do more.  However much you can do, we can do more.




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