Sustainable Energy on a Homestead

I know we are taking too much.  You know we are taking too much.  We know its a finite resource.  We all know the damage we are doing.  Part of the heart of homesteading is caring for the earth.  Knowing that it provides for us and we give back to it.  It is being in the natural world with the birds singing and less sound pollution.  It is the earth between our fingers and perennials that feed the bees.  It is a respect for natural order and weather patterns.  It is about using less (but getting back more!) and making sure our grandchildren have a place to run through fields of wildflowers and drink fresh water.

It is so much easier to not think about it.  But homesteaders don’t shield their eyes to reality.  We know where the red dyed meat in the styrofoam packing comes from.  We know that the oil fields and their destruction are fueling our cars.  We know how much petroleum is used to truck in nectarines from Peru in January.

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I love my wood stove.  It is a requirement for me on a homestead.  Wood is carbon neutral.  It quickly heats the house, makes the air smell amazing, and creates a beautiful cozy glow.  We have many downed branches and friends with downed branches so we haven’t had to buy wood.  (I was also a smidgen lazy this last winter.)  When our only heat source was wood in a homestead long ago, we used three cords and still had some in spring.  A cord is 4 ft x 8 ft x 4 ft wide.  Beware paying too much and only getting a face cord, which is 4 ft x 8 ft x 16 inches.

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We take Grandpa’s newspapers and get them from places that are about to throw them out.  Junk mail can be used as starter.  My go-to is small, dry pine pieces and pine cones to start a fire.  I am not as good as Doug at starting a fire and have the patience of a squirrel so I really pile up the kindling to make sure it starts.  The pine cones with the cinnamon scent that you can get over the holidays are the best.

Blessed summer has finally arrived, cool and slow, but warm indeed and I no longer need to make a fire.  But I do need to manipulate the cool nights and hot days to keep from running the air conditioning.  Open windows wide at night to let the cool air in.  Grow more trees around the house.  I despise curtains, so I don’t use those but they will keep it cooler/warmer.

When purchasing a new item, see if you can get one that is manual.  There are manual grain grinders, blenders, food processors, graters, and more.  You get a workout and save some electricity.  Purchase well made appliances that use less energy.  Unplug anything with an LED light.  Those buggers just keep sucking energy.  I didn’t like the television anyway.

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We invested in solar panels.  I cannot even say it was an investment because there was no money down and we pay the same amount we paid our electric company.  It is a no brainer.  We are providing one hundred percent of our own electricity here on our urban homestead.

Well, that wraps up day 14 of “So You Want to Be a Homesteader.”  Happy Solstice and enjoy the longest day of the year!

 

Electric Items We Could Live Without (but don’t…yet)

oil well

A few days ago I mentioned what electric devices we do not use and don’t miss.  Electricity is tricky.  See, it seemed like a blessing upon its discovery and I am sure in many ways it was, but not without a hefty price.  Electricity and oil, resources that cannot be replaced, have become such a huge part of our world that no one wants to give them up.  We have billions of car parts that will never decompose.  They use tons of oil and gas and have the ability to maim and kill.  Of course, I don’t particularly want to walk to the next town over (seven miles on a highway) but I seem to be without a horse and carriage as well.  Electricity becomes such a constant factor that we only become aware of it the few times it goes out and we then realize (horrified) that we cannot make coffee!  Pollution, fracking, it is all a bit much so that we can turn on a light at 1 am.

wind turbineThe larger electric companies, like the one that serves Denver, is creating huge grids of solar panels and they have a large wind turbine farm an hour east of here.  I used to cheer and carry on with joy about it.  Except those are not perfect forms either.  Disposable solar panels, batteries that never decompose, and wind turbines that take out thousands of bats and migratory birds every year.  They would have to use so many of these forms because none of us want to give up an ounce of our electricity.  We should be educating people of another option.  Gasp.  Use less.  Ok, someone help me down off of this pulpit.

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I could go completely off grid.  Prairie style all the way.  Doug would be searching for a cellphone signal around the tiny cabin and probably catch a taxi.  We have to make compromises.  If we did get a little solar power, a small one we could keep the few things that we enjoy.  It would certainly be a smaller footprint than how the large companies are doing it and we could be more self sufficient.  Here’s a few things that we could give up, may give up, but haven’t yet.

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1. The Television.  We watch precisely three television shows a year.  Sometimes less if we get bored.  This does not include Bronco football games.  We watch American Idol, The Voice, and So You Think You Can Dance.  We both missed our chance at Divadom and though we can sing at Rodney’s house on his karaoke system and sing to the chickens (they rather enjoy that), we like to see what others out there are doing with their voices and dance skills.  It also keeps us from getting terribly bored and wandering out to eat.  Perhaps when all the kids move out completely we can think of other things to do.  Ahem…

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2. The Coffee Grinder. I can indeed sit there for a half hour contemplating the universe while grinding coffee by the early morning light of dawn.  But the quick buzzing thing does it in twenty seconds!  I’ll work on it.

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3. The Computer. Not bloody likely, my husband would say.  He needs wifi like he needs morning coffee.  I could be happy writing this at the library.

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4. The Music ChannelAlong the lines of getting rid of the television (or could we keep it just for movies?), there would also go my music stations.  I could pick up the piano again, or the fiddle, or listen to Doug play the mandolin.  We could start a band, or just sit on the porch with cold beers and entertain the neighbors.  We could make mountain music.  We could hum to ourselves.  We could make our own music.

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5. The Stove I want a wood cook stove so bad I could cry.  I would love to be able to heat the house and cook up some biscuits and eggs all in the same place.  I know that after cooking on a gas stove for many years I would miss the quick kettle heat up, the fast soup heat up.  I would need a summer kitchen in order to stand cooking indoors.  Oh wait, I need that anyway!

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6.The RefrigeratorAnd the last thing that requires electricity is the refrigerator and freezer.  I would need a darn good root cellar and a cold creek to get away with that one.  Let me think that one over.

There are many ways that we can lessen our use of electricity.  A potato masher instead of an immersion blender, turn off the lights when not in use, give up the curling iron (you look great), unplug chargers and turn off power strips when not in use.  All those invisible currents are still pulsing out.  These things not only save us money (that we can spend on seeds) but helps out the planet.  Even if it doesn’t feel like a lot now, in a few generations it will, because everything we do has a trickle down effect.

To Go Back in Time…

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I wonder what Laura Ingalls Wilder must have felt like at the end of her life.  To have seen the wild west as truly that.  To have only used candles, wood stoves, and root cellars.  Then to watch as electricity took the nation by storm, coffee makers and dishwashers plugged in, refrigerators and stoves.  I am sure it was amazing and something to marvel.  A woman’s life made easier.  But, I wonder if there was any mourning for the way things were done.

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Fast forward and we see that feminism brought with it the ability and expectation to not only work full time but also get to take care of the entire household at the same time!  Chemical cleaners, packaged poison food, and quick medicines with side effects, day cares where someone else can raise your child, and all the electronics you can handle are our everyday life now.  All to make a woman’s life easier.

Many folks want to go back a little.  Get a little land, live a lot simpler.  One overwhelming comment that I always here is, “But I want running water and electricity!”

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My Aunt Donna has a cabin up in the mountains built circa 1800’s.  I used to take my son there when he was small.  It sits nestled in a canyon with a sloping, giant of a mountain as the back yard.  Tree houses and forts dot the landscape from family members past that played in those woods.  A small meadow with a pond and a stream is in front of the house.  The sun rises over the meadow and brightens the landscape.

At the time I stayed there, electricity was not present.  There was water, gravitationally pulled I imagine, a well I don’t remember, for there was a shower outdoors in the back.  Water ran from the sink.  The outhouse was a small walk away through the fresh pines and the smell of clean air.  Birdsong escorting you there.  The peacefulness that the cabin bestowed was something that I wish for in my everyday.

At twenty one or so years old, I never even considered the fact that it had no electricity.  Oddly, I took to the woodstove instantly.  I started a fire and cooked meals on it without problems.  The smell of sweet wood.  Fresh fish.  I kept the cabin warm in the evening.  I also started a small bonfire by the pond and cooked potatoes and corn over the fire.  My son and my wolf by my side.

I know that running a full household that way day in and day out may grow old, particularly if one were to have several children.  It’s just me and Doug now.  The children skip in and out, mostly out.  And our house is getting quieter and easier to run.  I can cook on a wood cook stove.  I can heat the house with wood.  It certainly would be less shocking than the electric bill I got in the mail the other day.  I could use the water from the sinks to water the garden.  I could use a root cellar.  I could….

There is a small farmhouse with my name on it out there.  And a cook stove waiting to be lit.