Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Washing Dishes at EntropyPawsed

We learned a lot about water conservation while backpacking. Having to carry and/or filter all of our water while hiking and overnight camping made us very aware of how much water we were using. We figured out how to wash our camping dishes (usually a cooking pot and two plates, cups and spoons) in less than one cup of water.

At EntropyPawsed, we have a hand pump well. This reminds us at least daily of our water usage. This daily reminder encouraged us to develop our current system of dish washing in which we use about one gallon of water to wash the dishes.

Instead of filling the sink, we pour about a quart of water into a small rectangular container that fits down in the sink. We prop the far end of the container on the back of the sink, so that all the water in the container collects in the front. We add to the water a fair amount of a non-toxic, biodegradable dish detergent. After all, soap is what kills any germs!

We put another quart of water into our tea kettle to heat on the stove top, then add one or two cups of the hot water to the water in the sink container. This creates a pool of water deep enough to wash the dishes. We have a double sink; we put the water container in one side and the dirty dishes in the other.

We put rinse water in a recycled plastic litre bottle with a drinking spout. This gives us greater control over how much water comes out of the bottle. Those who want to avoid plastic could use a glass bottle or a ceramic or metal pitcher instead.

We usually lick obvious food particles off our utensils, then place them in the sink container to soak. While we sometimes also lick our own plates and bowls, we also allow our dog and cat to lick them. Yes, we know many others who do this (including my mother!) and, no, there aren't any diseases we can catch from this.

We wash the drinking glasses and cups first, when the water is the cleanest. When rinsing a dish, we make sure the rinse water flows over and into the dirty dishes in the sink. We then use this rinse water to pre-wash the dishes, thereby keeping the wash water clean.

About halfway through the dish washing process, we frequently add to the wash water a little more hot water from the kettle, and refill the rinse water bottle. If we have a lot of dishes, we may need to fill the rinse bottle a third time.

We prefer to allow the dishes to air dry. We think this is more hygienic and definitely less labor intensive.

According to the EnergyStar website, the average dish washing machine uses 4 to 6 gallons of water per cycle. Plus, the website states that some households use up to 20 gallons of water pre-rinsing dishes prior to placing them in the dishwasher.

In a time of resource depletion with impending energy shortages, we think it prudent to be aware of, and appropriately modify, all our resource usage.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

EntropyPawsed Chickens

Chickens are great Permaculture animals. They require very little energy and time input, and they can convert unpalatable biomass to highly palatable and nutritious eggs and meat. Furthermore, with the utilization of chicken tractors, chickens can convert unproductive weedy areas to high quality pasture within one year through rotation, or can clean, fertilize and cultivate a garden bed within days.

Permaculture has been defined in many ways. The definition I like best is “a design system for creating sustainable human settlements.” One Permaculture technique is known as “Needs and Yields Analysis”. In this type of analysis, chickens are found to be overwhelmingly useful. See “Permaculture, A Designers' Manual” by Bill Mollison for more information.

Our daily routine at EntropyPawsed includes a brief visit to the chickens each morning. We make sure the birds have enough fresh water and food for the day, and open their door to the chicken yard. We often throw some two grain scratch (corn and wheat) and/or winter hay on the ground.

The parade out the chicken door starts with Red, the rooster, followed by most of his ten hens, clucking a bit excitedly at the adventure of the great outdoors. When the ground is snow covered, the birds will not venture forth. So often we do not bother to open their door on snowy days. Each evening, we close the door, thus making the chicken house totally predator proof.

Back in Ohio, when we were first considering chickens, we learned by talking to others a big mistake often made is to house the chickens in a place inescapable to them, but not tight enough against predators. We lost two of our hens to raccoons in the first couple months because they were outside their accommodations in evening. Since then, we have not had any further predator losses.

On most days, we require less than five minutes committed to attending to the chickens. In return, they provide us with eggs. During most seasons, the eggs number in excess of what Bonnie and I can eat. In the winter months, we sometimes have to supplement by buying a dozen local eggs at the market now and then.

We first had chickens back in Ohio in 1998. We purchased ten hens from a hatchery. The poor ladies were featherless on their backs from too many roosters. We learned after the one year old hens are finished supplying chicks for the season, unless the are sold as one year old slightly used layers like ours , they are destroyed.

Our hens and rooster were boxed up for the 100 mile drive back home. In the evening, we put them in their new accommodations, a chicken tractor built to the specifications provided in “The Chicken Tractor Handbook” by Andy Lee and Pat Foreman.

Over the next several days I watched them quietly for extended periods of time. I was practicing the “fox walk” during this era. I was able to successfully disappear from the chickens perceptions. What I noticed was remarkable. The chickens behaved almost exactly like groups of humans behave. Quiet talk(clucking) for a time, then uproar. Then quiet, cycling over and over.

The chickens lived in the chicken tractor except for winter when we moved them into the straw bail chicken house, also designed from the “Chicken Tractor Handbook”. We rotated them through 20 year old abandoned pasture, filled with poison ivy. Not only did we stop getting poison ivy after eating their eggs, but we noticed the land behind where the tractor had been was returning to high quality pasture.

After a two or three years, the chickens started to die of old age. We did not try to replace them, as we were by this time thinking of making a move. The result of that move is to what has now become EntropyPawsed.

Last summer, we received a phone call from someone in a neighboring town, inquiring as to if we were seeking chickens. We had pretty well resigned ourselves to waiting until Spring to raise some chicks, but did have the chicken house in place already and had put out the “word”. So within days we were once again with chickens.

Our land here in West Virginia is not as flat, and our area is wilder than back in Hocking County, Ohio. We are concerned about being able to keep chickens safe from predators in a chicken tractor. So we have adapted a well built, tight shed with a chicken door to our chicken house.

We still have not figured out how to pasture them around, but hope to come up with a solution this spring. Our ultimate goal is to have them pasture behind goats starting in 2010. In the meantime, we enjoy their eggs and their company. They are really demonstrative of their pleasure at the small things we do for them; feeding, bringing fresh water, and cleaning their house.

Gene Logsdon is a good source of information about chickens. He writes prolifically, having published many books. “The Contrary Farmer” is a good starter. Here is an interview with him, http://henandharvest.com/?p=51 and here is his blog, http://organictobe.org/index.php/category/gene-logsdon-blog/ .

Chickens are a good addition to any home that has some space to accommodate them. Not only do they convert unusable biomass to palatable eggs and meat, but they can also help with soil building. And they can be entertaining, too!

Visit our website http://entropypawsed.org

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

EntropyPawsed Water Use

Water Use: How to get by on less than 10 gallons a day

At Entropy Pawsed, we use less than 10 gallons of water a day. We know this because we hand pump it from our well.

We are blessed to live in a location where water is abundant. The Appalachian Mountains in our region have many springs and streams, and potable deep well water is still easy to find. So why concern ourselves with conserving water?

Energy conservation is an important principle of Permaculture. Water use requires energy input. In cities, this energy input is in the form of water purification, water distribution infrastructure, and pumping systems. In our case, the initial input was in the form of the fossil fuels needed to build and operate the equipment to drill the well. Permaculture accepts the use of fossil fuels as a means to create systems that will minimize or eliminate future fossil fuel use. Certainly, fossils fuels were used to make the hand water pump. And, with proper maintenance, the pump will last for many generations, with energy savings exceeding the manufacturing energy input.

When we installed our well in 2003, the hand pump was three times more expensive than the electric pump (~$1,200 vs. $400); however, we are off grid and thought the benefits warranted the additional expense. We chose a hand pump partly because we have a small solar power system (see module …..), and did not want to use our limited electricity on an electric well pump. We also wanted to avoid the expense and energy input of the infrastructure necessary for running water. Indoor plumbing would have either necessitated a different heating system in our cabin (see module...) or prevented us from leaving home during the colder times of the year. We did not want to be so constrained by something that only a few generations ago was considered a luxury, not a necessity.

Usually once a day (depending on our usage and the weather) we pump water from the well into gallon water jugs we bring inside. Our primary water uses are for drinking, cooking, and washing dishes, using two to three gallons daily for these purposes. We provide drinking water for our chickens, about two gallons twice a week. We put down water bowls for our cat and dog, although usually they drink out of the nearby stream.

In most American homes, the toilet consumes the most water – 4 to 6 gallons per flush on older models, 1.5 gallons for newer models which, in our experience, frequently need to be flushed twice to completely empty. We use the Humanure system (add link?) to recycle our solid body waste. This requires no water at all. For convenience for urination at night, we have a five gallon bucket under a wooden frame with a toilet seat in the dressing room of our cabin. We dilute the urine 4:1 with water, and recycle it to the soil. This takes less than a gallon a day.

According to the EPA, the average 5 minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons of water. We shower once or twice a week (more on the health benefits of this in a future module) using less than 3 gallons per shower. We have two systems for showering. In cold weather we shower in the tiled “greenhouse” space inside our home, using a cylinder camping shower which we heat on our stovetop. During the warm months, we collect rainwater and use a gravity shower system at a separate structure we call our Wash House. (We will describe details of our rainwater collection and Humanure systems and the Wash House in a future module.)

We have not yet developed a low energy home system for clothes washing. Once every two or three weeks we take the laundry along with us when we go to town and do it in the laundromat. We have left the laundromat water use numbers out of our equations. From one perspective, shared appliances can lead to a significant reduction in our personal energy footprint.

To paraphrase an old Appalachian joke, “We don't have runnin' water, we got walkin' water – we walk out to the well to get it.”

Visit our website, http://entropypawsed.org

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

EntropyPawsed: Heating With Wood

For Bonnie and me, heating with wood was the catalyst that reconnected us with nature and put on us a path of a low energy lifestyle. How can something seemingly as simple as wood heat be such an important factor in our lives? The question is possibly answered by the process of heating with wood itself.

Our wood heat adventure started in 1994 when we moved into a small cabin in Hocking County, Ohio, about one hour southeast of Columbus. It had previously been a weekend retreat, and had a fireplace insert-type wood stove, along with baseboard electric heat. During plans for the remodeling, we decided to remove the electric baseboards and heat just with wood.

We purchased a Husquavarna chain saw, and I proceeded to read the owner's manual. When making my very first cut on a downed tree, I pinched the saw in the kerf. It was to be the first of many such pinches. That first winter, we bought most of our wood. But in all subsequent years in Hocking County, we cut, hauled, and split 100% of our wood ourselves. Some we scavenged by the roadsides in the area, some we cut from our own woods, the rest we cut for neighbors, keeping the wood in exchange for removing undesirable trees.

Ten years of cutting, hauling, and splitting wood for burning has the potential to provide a lot of education about trees and wood. Oak has a distinctive smell. Its grain is straight, making it easy to split. Hickory grain is not straight, making it difficult to split. Standing dead elm quickly dulls the chainsaw, and tends to be hard to split, but it holds fire even when dampened back 100%, black gum is almost impossible to split....

On a small rural holding, heating with wood can be sustainable. A rough estimate is “a cord per acre per year.” (A cord of wood is a stack that is 4 feet wide, 4 feet high, and 8 feet long.) Learning how to identify and make select cuts can improve a forest while yielding free fuel. Your local extension service office probably offers information and maybe even classes on how to improve your woodlot. Here is a comprehensive site offered by the University of New Hampshire Extension Service.

Early painful lessons have made me a zealot for wearing a helmet with hearing protection and and a face shield. I always remind myself when working with the chainsaw that an accident could kill me. It may be morbid, but it also hopefully keeps one fully present and focused on the job. When a cut is in doubt, don't do it. Wait and come back, ask for a second opinion, or just give it up. If you become reasonably proficient with a chainsaw, you may develop a whole new prospective on life.

The wood is first cut to the desired length (our current stove takes relatively short 12 to 14 inch pieces). Then it must be split to size. We have always split everything by hand. We have several metal wedges that we rarely use anymore, but they are handy for splitting big logs.

The tool of choice for splitting is a maul. It is a combination ax/sledgehammer. Maul heads range from five to nine pounds. The piece of wood is put upon a block (I use a log that will not split), the maul is lined up, and swung from straight over top the head. The idea is to generate speed at the maul head, similar to a golf swing. There is a satisfying “swack!” as the maul contacts and splits the wood. It takes a bit of practice to make the maul head hit the wood in the right place. The rule of thumb is that the maul goes where you look, so look right at the exact spot you want to hit!

Moving to West Virginia in 2001 gave us an opportunity to place our wood stove where it functioned best in the unfinished cabin. We previously blogged about “A Pattern Language” and the fire circle pattern that we used. We put the stove close to the center of our cabin, and the flue pipe goes straight up through the living space for more efficient dispersal of flue gas heat. The flue pipe pierces the building envelope close to the peak of the roof, and the triple wall chimney extends from the ceiling to above the peak of the roof. This design allows for a most efficient chimney system. More information about designing fireplace and stove systems is found here by the Wood Heat Organization.

It is important to properly maintain the chimney for efficient smoke removal and to reduce or eliminate the possibility of chimney fires. We always clean the chimney and flue each year at the start of the heating season. This year, due to winter's early arrival and much colder weather, we cleaned the chimney for the first time ever mid-season. Most stove manufacturers will suggest monthly cleanings. I recommend obtaining an appropriately sized brush for your flue, some poles, and doing your own cleaning. You can get it done in one afternoon. You will learn a lot about your system, you won't get scammed, and it won't cost you any money, and you will feel the satisfaction of a job well done when it is over.

Our nature-linked low energy living journey started with wood heat. There is a beauty and immense satisfaction in being able to supply ourselves with our own fuel for heating. Maybe there is something to that old Zen saying, “chop wood, carry water...”