Everything old is new again, it seems

I was at the library today, returning books that were overdue (bad, BAD TFH!!) and went to peruse the books and magazines in the ‘book sale’ section.

How very bizarre to find a magazine from the 80’s that I have actually made patterns from; have been thinking about lately; and when re-reading to realize that there are several patterns that would still look good today!  One of which I made in the 80’s. Of course I bought it!  It was only 10 cents — a bargain even after 22 years!

I feel so very anti commercialism about this time of year.  I have a terrible case of Scroogism/anticonsumerism; I have always been very gift oriented — but oriented to the home made side of things.

My gift giving list:

  • zucchini bread (zucchini from the garden, home ground flour, home dried raisins)
  • soap (hand made soap, various milled recipes such as rosemary, calendula hibiscus, and milk & honey)
  • bread
  • canned jellies and jams (peach, apricot, prickly pear)
  • bath salts/salt scrubs
  • hand knit washcloths and mitts
  • hand sewn breadwarmer for keeping home baked breads warm for longer than it getting out of the oven

I know, I seem cheap compared to commercial standards.  Last year I made hand knit socks for the important people in my life.  Mostly they think I’m goofy but on the other hand, they didn’t get custom fit ANYTHING from anyone else on their gift exchange lists.

The one thing I think I hate most about working so many overtime shifts, regardless of how much the money enables me to do what I want to see done around our little homestead, is that it takes time away from me being able to have the time to make things for people.  I spend more time than I should on the computer, it’s true, but if I wasn’t working extra hours I would still have motivation – time plays into this also – to do all those things I want to do …being tired makes me just sit and wish I’d slept an hour longer.

For those of you with not much money and a desire to give simply fabulous gifts, please refer to Crunchy Chicken and her holiday gift basket ideas; I will be happily borrowing several of those to flesh out my female oriented holiday gifts.

For those of you with a bent toward the not-quite-in-the-mainstream, please refer to The Anticraft for some ideas that are truly unique.  And perfect for those of us who prefer NOT to dress in pink.  Or peach.  Or to keep our hair the color that the Gods think it should be.  Black is beautiful…especially in hand knit thigh high stockings 😉

Happy holidays!  Merry Yule!  Happy Solstice!

The Long Water Emergency?

I just finished reading this book.  I know, I read the book that sets the tone years after I have read and gotten on board with the whole idea…typical for me.  It has taken me almost two weeks to read this; one because the Thanksgiving holidays meant I worked more before the holiday to have the weekend off, and two because what he has to say requires thought and digestion before absorbing more.

I have a couple of thoughts on what he has to say about my little neck of the woods — the Southwest.  I suppose yesterday’s post relates to what he has to say as well, because I don’t really offer any sweeping ideas for anyone outside of my home area, unlike Peak Oil Hausfrau.  Her part two is quite sweeping and fairly complete in describing methods of using less energy to cook. Preventing Deforested Moonscapes Part II What I want to talk about today is water.

First, he states that the we will be unable to grow anything in the Southwest. I tend to take issue with that, for the simple reason that the natives who were here long before us used irrigation that required no fossil fuel inputs, and grew an astonishing variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains; they also made extensive use of the cacti and other desert plants in their diet and lifestyle. I have been looking into planting my front yard using methods the natives used — sunken beds, more native plants such as corn adapted to my climate, beans that are native, tomatoes that do well if they are ‘ignored’, native vegetables such as chaote and sunchokes, and ollas in my beds.

The first, sunken beds, is a fascinating idea. The use of berms and earthworks to channel water into the beds is such a simple yet brilliant idea I really don’t know why the pioneers to this area didn’t look at it more closely — other than the fact that they were convinced that the natives were ‘savages’ who had to be civilized and saved, or exterminated in competition with the land. On the Tohono O’odham reservation south of Tucson there are many such farm beds nestled between hills that form small valleys within the larger ones. They are mostly fallow now, and many of the natives that still farm at all have taken to using Western methods using large petrochemical fertilizer inputs and heavy machinery, but the yields honestly aren’t any better than what their forefathers/mothers got using ancient technology. I can see a potential for going back to the old ways as food gets scarce and fuel gets expensive. Brad Lancaster, author and permaculture designer has a wonderful story including pictures of successful use of this very technology on his website Farming in the City with Runoff from a Street

This year was my first in harvesting prickly pear for jellies. I definitely think that I will try to make fruit leathers and other products besides the jellies next year. Maybe a prickly pear mead? I found an elderberry tree that I could potentially harvest for next year. The problem I see with doing these things in the wild rather than in my own yard is that if peak oil supply disruptions hit sooner than later, I will not be able to spend the gas needed to harvest these things in the wild. I really must plan to have these things in my own yard, or at least in the neighborhood.

And what about water supply here in the high desert? As I stated in yesterday’s post there simply isn’t enough water to support the present population here. The Big Chino Aquifer, our fossil water source and one of the big feeders for the Verde River, has been the subject of a long standing lawsuit between Prescott, Cottonwood, people who purchased water rights with their properties, and the Salt River project which supplies water and power to a great portion of the metro Phoenix area. Since gravity works, SRP says that the water is ultimately theirs since it ends up there. Prescott says it’s on their side of the mountain so it’s theirs. Cottonwood says the Verde runs through their valley so it’s theirs. The people with wells and water rights say the water runs under their properties and they bought the rights so it’s theirs. This lawsuit has been stalled in court for literally years, with no resolution in sight – I think ultimately the winners will be those with the most money; with the economy the way it is I still think that it’s anyone’s guess who that will end up being. And, people in this area being the children of pioneers and rebels, I don’t think it will change how things are done much anyway. People will still use their wells. The cities will still use theirs, they’ll just charge a WHOLE lot more for the water delivery in order to cover the further legal fees. Until it runs dry, that is.

The Big Chino is projected to run dry in less than 20 years, at the current rates of consumption. I think the bust in the real estate business, ESPECIALLY here in this ecologically sensitive area, is the best thing that could have happened. In Prescott Valley three homebuilders have gone bankrupt in the past few months. Their planned communities sit partially built and mostly vacant. A few short years ago, herds of indigenous pronghorn antelope grazed on these prairies. They were moved at the request of the developers so they could build up the area; the antelope were deemed a hazard to all the cars that were planned to be in use on the roads. Now the area is devoid of the animal fertilizers that kept the grasses growing, and kept back the erosion that is sure to follow as the diversity of plant life decreases. Let’s hope some of the antelope escape their confines in Chino Valley, and find their way back to the prairies of Prescott Valley.

But what about the rest of the Prescott/Prescott Valley area? The housing boom of recent years has meant that there are many, many transplants from the Phoenix area who actually commute to Phoenix every day for their jobs. What about all the water they use? As I mentioned yesterday, Chino Valley has instituted rules against home gardening due to the water shortages…yet there are no regulations requiring rainwater catchment nor greywater harvesting. This needs to change; I don’t think that presently there are many people who are even aware of these technologies or there would be more of them in place. The people who live here have grown up with the word ‘drought’ pounded in their brains and simply don’t think of what that means long term for them and their way of life. One thing that gives me hope this might be changing is that I know someone who owns a well drilling company; he has in the last year also gotten into water harvesting systems such as cisterns, above ground tanks, and the like; this is purely due to customer demand. I have also noticed a new rainwater harvesting company in Prescott on the way to the spinning store; it’s only been there about 2 months but I think they are doing well; the rules enaction in Chino I think has awakened at least some people to the potential in their own city for the same.

In my own neighborhood we have the Agua Fria river which still runs year round only about 1 mile from us. I have the rain barrels, I have a Berkey water filtration system, and if I have to I can always go to the river and haul water back to the house. I would like to retrofit our house for greywater harvesting however my husband is dead set against it unless we have a professional plumber come in and do it; the problem with that is that I don’t know of a single plumber in my area that is familiar with the concept. It is an option that is in the back of my mind however; as a low tech solution I could always put the plug in the shower and haul that water outside in 5 gallon buckets, or use it for clothes washing. Or even for filling the toilet tanks. Although we were very proactive in installing low flow shower heads, and made sure our toilets were low flow when we bought, we still have a lot of room for improvement in our water usage without suffering at all.

The upshot of this post is that while I think Mr. Kunstler is partially right, that the Southwest cannot sustain its population at present numbers, I think the Southwest can sustain many more than he suspects by adopting ancient technologies such as catchment, recycling, and overall less use for frivolous things like golf courses, and more use for home gardens using native technologies and permaculture.

Wood stoves in the desert?


Peak Oil Hausfrau has a very good analysis of the impact of using woodstoves to keep warm; I have recently read James Howard Kunstler’s analysis of the impact as well, in his book The Long Emergency.  Both point out that we can’t ALL go back to using wood, unless we have our own woodlots that we tend and maintain, and maybe not even then — you can’t really coppice an oak, for example, and have it continue to grow — and you can’t just plant another one this year and expect to harvest it two years later.  These points are especially important when you live in a forested high desert area, as I do.

Here in Northern Arizona (well ok it’s more north central as located on the map) the general altitude is 3800-5500 ft.  We do get 4 seasons, we just generally get our snow in March and April.  The forest 39 miles from me, in Prescott, is pinion – juniper with scrub oak and manzanita; here 1/4 mile from me on the state land, it’s mostly juniper with sycamore and aspen at water’s edge, and scrub oak.  In fact, we have two scrub oaks in our back yard which sadly will be dug out to make room for fruit trees; the acorns are much too small to try to harvest.  Oh, and we also have our share of mesquite trees in this area generally.

All of these trees with the exception of the aspen and the manzanita (OK, bush) grow rather slowly, and only the mesquite and aspen can reasonably be coppiced. So what does that mean here? Our rainfall is low, and we have been in drought conditions for at least the last 7 years. So for one thing it means that the trees are growing VERY slowly. Even more slowly than their normal growth rate.

As well, the fact that we actually do get four seasons means it does get cold here; it’s been in the upper 20’s overnight at least twice that I know of so far, and although it’s been mostly a balmy November the cold days of winter are coming, with daytime temps no higher than 40 (and I know those of you who live in colder climes are laughing at the thought that 40 might be cold).  At the higher elevations 4400-4700 it’s prairie and the wind chill is wicked this time of year.  Over 5000 when I am getting rain they are getting snow, but they also have the benefit of being more protected by the trees, and the snow doesn’t stay on the ground generally; the weather stays cold enough but the ground doesn’t freeze.

One thing the drought and subsequent bark beetle infestation has provided in recent years is a surplus of trees that are dead. The Forest Service burns large swaths of these every year in order to prevent more devastating forest fires, but I cringe at the amount of firewood that is burning up for no reason but management. Even still, I could harvest probably 4 cords of wood from the dead growth I see just on my way to work every day. This however brings up the issue of air pollution — how many people using this resource does it take to make the air quality that much worse than it is? Even here in the ‘wide wide west’ our air quality has gone down markedly in recent years.

Our population is much larger than this area can support, water wise and fire wood wise.  Before the economic crisis hit we were facing water crises and these will continue I’m sure — Chino Valley has instituted laws prohibiting home gardens due to the water shortage.  Why they don’t mandate rainwater and greywater catchment instead of prohibitions is beyond me but I’m just glad I don’t live there.  I DO worry about the possibility here in my county area, but that’s why I have a rainwater catchment system already mostly in place. I’m less prepared on the heating/cooking basis, but I have been researching that as well.

If I run out of propane on a permanent basis, what would I do?  Well I have started keeping scrap wood and tree cuttings. I have a couple of options for heating — for instance I could make a solar powered space heater out of recycled cans and PVC pipe; I already have used black plastic pinned to my curtains to create a venturi heater in my south facing windows; for us though we have HOT temperatures much more often than cold and so my main focus has been in keeping us relatively cool without the use of AC.

For cooking though options are more limited. I have made my own solar oven and my results have been mixed. I am really not that crazy about solar ovens, but I haven’t had a commercially manufactured one yet, either. I may change my mind if I did — but since I work so many hours it would require using every one of my days off to make meals. I do know that next canning season I will be canning outside over my fire pit! When it’s 100 outside the last thing I ever want to be doing again is canning at 10 pm to avoid the worst of the day’s heat.

One of the dual purpose tools I would like to explore in more detail is the rocket stove. Vavrek has a very simple, very doable small model that he demonstrates how to make in this video:

I have not yet amassed all the things I will need to make this yet but it is most definitely on my list of things to try for several reasons:

  1. It can be made cheaply from mostly recycled materials. This alone makes it worth trying as if I hate it, I am not out a lot of money, only my time.
  2. It burns nearly 100% efficiently. It uses smaller twigs that are mostly useless in a larger wood stove. This means I can bring it inside and and keep the air pollution in my house to a minimum
  3. It is portable; this with reason #2 mean that I can bring it inside the house and use it in my kitchen either on the oven door or on a couple of bricks set on the kitchen island. I can get dual purpose from it this way – I can cook on it and get heat from it. It also means I can use it outside for canning and cooking in the hot parts of the year. And, I can take it camping!
  4. If I wanted to also use it for heating as a main use, I could fill the interior of the unit between inside pipe and outside walls with a heat resistant perlite. This would hold and radiate the heat for quite some time after using it, and would also keep the indoor air pollution down simply because I am burning less fuel for a longer heat.

This is not an ideal solution, but larger versions of rocket stoves have been used with great success in experimental cob houses both here and in Europe; I have explored the possibility of building one in my own home but the retrofit would be prohibitively expensive. I do think however smaller scale ones such as the above model can be used extensively by even urban dwellers for basic heating and cooking without devastating the urban tree landscape too much, or contributing too much to air pollution – with the following caveat:

People must get used to the idea of being colder. People must use time tested methods of keeping warm such as eating hearty foods like soups and stews; they must learn to dress in layers, warmly; they must give up the idea of being able to walk around in shorts in December; they must use cheap insulating methods on windows and walls; and maybe they will need to sleep in the same room, if not together, to keep warm.