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Make your own water filter

Posted on 23. Дек, 2006 by Park Girl in bioregionalism, permaculture

Meandering in search of info on low-tech water filters, I found these DIY instructions (thank you X.N. Iraki!), with close-up photos. It sets me to thinking, OK, then how might one make a homemade ceramic filter element …

I sometimes muse about making a rudimentary filter out of sand and gravel. I seem to recall seeing such a thing in one of the books in my small-but-mighty library, When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance and Planetary Survival by Matthew Stein (Clear Light Books). If I find such instructions I’ll summarize them later.

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Burn Biomass Burn!

Posted on 27. Июль, 2006 by Park Girl in bioregionalism, permaculture

EcoVersity is becoming a hotbed of biomass cookery. On Tuesday night, the Rocket Stove Study Group cooked popcorn. It took … three hours. D’oh. Combination of fire-starting ineptitude and the wrong-sized pot. The pot needs to be the same diameter as the burner, to bring as much of the hot flue gases into contact with the pot as possible. I spaced out and used a pot that was too big.

But we had a fun evening, and in the end we got our pot of tasty, butter-drenched popcorn.

Last night, by myself, I whipped up a pot of popcorn “just because I could.” That time I used the appropriately sized pot, and the process went much more quickly.

And tonight I used a few twigs to cook a fine meal of stir-fried potatoes and greens from the garden. I’m getting better at getting the fire going and knowing which types of twigs burn hotter. The stove is designed for maximum efficiency. Once the twigs catch fire, it only takes 5 minutes or so for the small stove to get hot enough to cook food. Also, the Aprovecho stove design really lives up to its billing in terms of not producing much smoke. When I get back to Austin, I want to show all my friends and permie co-conspirators how to make their own stoves.

The first night we fired up the stove, one member commented, “Boy, this thing is sort of fidgety, isn’t it. No hanging out and having a beer while your food cooks!”

But as I get more used to the operation, I find that it would in fact be possible to have a beer and chat with a friend while going about my wood-fired cookery.

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Haybox Cooking Update

Posted on 20. Июль, 2006 by Park Girl in bioregionalism, permaculture

To report on the results of our experiments the other day …

Norable’s yogurt turned out PERFECT: smooth; creamy; finer and more evenly textured than store-bought.

My vegetable stew didn’t cook well, but then again since it never got to the boiling point in the first place, I wasn’t expecting much. I subsequently boiled it for 10 minutes on the propane stove, then hayboxed it again. That time it cooked fine. Unfortunately, as it happened, I just wasn’t thrilled with my cooking (something that can happen no matter what kind of stove one is using). Fortunately, chickens will eat just about anything. And give us such delicious eggs in return.

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Rainwater Harvesting

Posted on 18. Июнь, 2006 by Park Girl in bioregionalism, permaculture

About 50 people squeezed into the seed barn at Plants of the Southwest for Brad Lancaster’s free presentation on rainwater harvesting yesterday afternoon. A lot of the tips for harvesting water were review for a permaculturist (careful protracted observation of your landscape; start at the top, etc.), but I also got a lot of new facts, inspiration, and useful hints.

A big eye-opener was a photo he showed at the beginning, of his hometown of Tucson, AZ, as it looked in the early 1900s. Back then the Santa Cruz river ran year-round through a sponge-like watershed lush with foliage. Bad watershed management practices, which included straightening the river’s meander and putting in cement-soil banks (which speed the water’s passage instead of slowing it down and giving it more time to soak into the earth), have since turned Tucson into the dryland that comes to mind when we think of Arizona today. Currently the water table there is 300-400 feet below the surface, dropping 3-4 feet per year and getting saltier. The solution to this is harvesting rainwater. But instead Tucson is importing Colorado River water, which must travel 1,000 feet uphill; most of the expense goes into electricity to operate the pumps. This story, or a variant thereof, is being played out all over the US. And urban landscapes, coupled with the prevailing approach to dealing with stormwater, exacerbate the problem: Tucson gets 12 inches of rain a year — not much, to be sure, but to add insult to injury, only one inch of that infiltrates the soil. Atlanta loses 130 billion gallons of rain a year to runoff. That’s enough to support 3 million households.

The good news is that if rainwater is collected efficiently, there’s a lot more water available than we think. Tucson’s current consumption is 165 gallons per person per day. As wasteful as that sounds, if Tucson’s rainwater were evenly distributed there would be 235 gallons per person per day available!

One thing I particularly liked about Mr. Lancaster’s talk was his emphasis on using soil and plants as water collectors, and avoiding the temptation to succumb to “tank envy” (thinking you need a really big-ass cistern when actually you can get by with a much smaller one). I also liked his advocacy of using graywater in the garden. He doesn’t even have a Watson Wick or anything like that; just hooks up hoses directly from his washing machine to his fruit trees.

Another notion he brought up that I really liked was the idea that, since our streets under the current setup are ephemeral waterways, then we should treat them as such by planting the edges with the kind of vegetation that grows along ephemeral waterways in each bioregion. This would allow the water to percolate into the ground instead of running straight to the waterways carrying pollutants with it. As existing examples of this practice, he cited the Sea Streets program in Seattle and something called WUSD in Australia.

Mr. Lancaster presented a lot more information; if your interest is piqued you might want to check out his book, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands. The information is applicable to all kinds of climates, not just drylands.

The talk was preceded and followed by refreshments (most notably cold juicy watermelon and minty organic lemonade) and friendly chitchat. Wise elders, cool chicks, and criminally hot boys were present in roughly equal measure.

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An Inconvenient Truth

Posted on 18. Июнь, 2006 by Park Girl in bioregionalism, permaculture

Thanks to my friend and permie buddy M. back in Austin, I had the word on when Al Gore’s global warming movie, An Inconvenient Truth, was opening here in Santa Fe. (Warning: The website is good but it has persistent music that I can’t figure out how to turn off.) Opening night, this past Friday, I dragged five fellow Freako-versity denizens along and we had a worthwhile and fun evening. Though I found the film a bit short on detailed practical advice, I personally liked a lot about the film. For one, Gore showed a lot of pictures and graphs that made the situation clear. The graphs that really stood out in my mind were the ones that showed temperature variations for the last thousand years and for the last 650,000 years — though, as global warming naysayers point out, fluctuations are normal, recent decades are totally off the charts.

The movie takes the form of a “town meeting” where Gore is speaking to an audience of regular folks in a gymnasium or someplace, and the people in the theater are made to feel like part of that audience. At the end, he gives some hope in the form of a graph showing various general things we can do that, if all of us did them all, would go a long way toward reversing the global warming trend. And he gives a website,, where among other things you can calculate your own carbon emissions in relation to the average.

I have to admit I got an eye-opener there. Average carbon dioxide emissions per capita in the US (which accounts for 30% of total global emissions despite constituting only 5% of the total world population) are 15,000 pounds per year. Excluding my driving, my carbon dioxide emissions are about 3,000 pounds per year, or about one-fifth the average. But when I factor in my driving, I’m more like two-thirds the average. The fact that I drive a Ford F-150 truck an average of 7,000 miles per year (5,000 miles less than the average, which is 12,000 miles per year) causes me to emit 7,500 pounds of C02 per year! Yikes. Really makes me think. I could get rid of my truck, or I could drive less. Since most of my driving consists of cross-country roadtrips, driving less would have to translate into hitching more, or taking Grayhound more (both of which would offer plenty of good points in addition to the environmental merits). For now I have no plans to get rid of my truck. But since I’m staying in one place for the next few months, I’ll only be driving an average of about 50 miles per month if that.

One thing I plan to do soon is write my elected officials and urge them to advocate tax incentives to companies that let their employees telecommute. I think that would go a long way toward reducing C02 emissions.

On a related note, of the six of us who attended the movie together, four drove to the theater, one in a high-mileage vehicle. One rode her bike, and one (me) walked. When I went up to the counter to get an extra squirt of butter for my popcorn, one of my (female, diet-obsessed) companions looked askance and said something like, “Whoa, if you’re gonna keep up that butter habit, you’d better step up your jogging!”

I just laughed and said, “Uh … have you taken a look at me lately?”

Walking is such a good way to see the city and to burn off recreationally consumed lipids. And Santa Fe, at least the part where I stay, seems to deploy outdoor illumination in moderation, making a nighttime walk a deliciously dark experience.

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My Hot Social Calendar

Posted on 16. Июнь, 2006 by Park Girl in bioregionalism, permaculture

By my own choice, I don’t get out much these days. My favorite hangouts are my cozy, kitted-out truck (The Nanopalace) and the school library here at EcoVersity. But even a homebody’s gotta get out sometime. Tonight I’m going with some other EcoVersity folks (interns, teachers, staff, miscellaneous hangers-on) to Al Gore’s global warming movie, An Inconvenient Truth, which opens tonight at Devargas Theater. I do not go see doom-and-gloom films unless they also offer hope, practical advice, etc., which this film supposedly does. Back home in Austin, the movie opened two whole weeks ago, and friends who saw it liked it.

Then tomorrow I’m headed down the street to Plants of the Southwest, where Brad Lancaster, author of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands, will be giving a presentation. For those of you in the Santa Fe listening area who might be interested, Plants of the Southwest is located at 3095 Agua Fria, and the presentation starts at 3:00 on Saturday.

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