Monday, January 30, 2012

Income from tours & classes

A friend and potential tribe-mate sent me a video of an Australian permaculture farm which makes most of its cash income from teaching classes and from tours. My friend wrote:
I know you aren't big on making $ but perhaps once you have a working system in hawaii (or even here) you can have tours which both teach people, inspire people, and maybe make a few dollars per visitor while also inspiring you to keep learning ?

My reply is meant not as criticism of what others do for income, but as an expression of my own approach:

I enjoy giving tours and teaching classes, and have hosted dozens here over the years. I don't like organizing them, and have left much of that up to Tulsey or to other folks who bring their class or a permaculture meetup group or whatever.

I really really dislike the notion of charging for tours. Partly because I dislike engaging in the cash economy in any way, but I have extra resistance to charging for information & knowledge, insubstantial and more or less infinitely reproducable goods. (I recognize that it takes time for someone to reproduce that by writing it down or speaking and presenting it, but I don't think of time as a commodity either.) I feel reasonably happy with my current model of giving information away to anyone who will listen, and having products like plants and books for sale at bargain prices for those who want to spend some money. I *hate* the idea of excluding people based on ability to pay, and I don't feel comfortable with "sliding scale" options because I almost always stay away from such classes myself.

I'm very concerned about the trend for middle class white people to be buying their way into peak oil / climate change preparation by stockpiling goods, buying land, and buying classes & information.  Giving away my knowledge is the least I can do to help counter that.

All that said, yeah, if we're hard up for income in Hawaii, I would entertain tours and teaching as part of our income model. But I'd rather not go into the project planning for that.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

House heat update & unintended consequences

Fuel Used To Date

With the whole house almost completely insulated, we've burned about 38 cubic feet of firewood this winter, a bit less than 1/3 cord.  (One cord of wood is a pile 4' x 8' x 8', or 128 cubic feet.)  We've been keeping the sunspace between about 50-62F, with the north part of the house generally a few degrees cooler during the day, but dropping to the same temps overnight.  We've made a fire every 2 or 3 days on average.  We made at least 1/3 of those fires for guests or for house showings, not because we needed the heat for ourselves.  We're probably on track to use a total of 4/10 a cord of wood.  We scavenge all our wood for free, but market rate is around $150/cord, so we'll use about $60 worth of wood for heating.

We still have extra heat input from showers (about 3 per week) and from cooking on our gas stove (8 therms=800,000 btus since Oct. 18, or the equivalent of 1/25 cord of wood.) This winter has seemed unusually sunny, so our passive solar heat gain has been higher than in a normal winter.

Future Steps

I'm fairly pleased with our relatively low energy consumption this winter, but we're still far short of our original goal of heating the house entirely from on-site resources.  Some pieces we're still missing:

  • Insulation for all house windows, especially sunspace windows, for better overnight heat retention
  • Finish insulating attic
  • Rocket stove instead of normal wood stove, for much greater efficiency in cooking and heating
  • Install our 5 solar hot water panels and run the hot water through the radiant floor tubing
  • Full growth of trees and shrubs for fuel from pruning & coppicing

Unintended Consequences

In past years, we used our daily fires through the winter to cook our jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes), converting the inulin to digestible sugars after 6-8 hours of pressure cooking. That worked well when we made fires daily. Now, with fires only every 2nd or 3rd day, it takes almost a week to cook the 3 pounds of sunchokes which our pressure cooker can hold. Last winter I ate twice that much per week. We could partially solve this problem with an additional and/or larger pressure cooker.

Same problem with processing acorns using our preferred hot leaching method. However, since we don't rely on a pressure cooker, we can "scale up" by using multiple pots of large size to leach the acorns, rather than relying on daily fires.

Similarly, without frequent fires, we're having a much harder time drying nuts, herbs, processed acorn meal, seeds, laundry, wet winter clothes, etc. Now I wish we hadn't sold our solar dehydrator last fall; we could have used it on our sunny winter days when we weren't making fires. If we were staying here longer, we'd probably set up the front porch or carport for initial drying of clothes, moving them inside for final drying as needed. Better yet would be a space protected from rain but exposed to the sun, such as my recent idea of an enclosed greenhouse to the south of our sunspace.

Friday, January 27, 2012

House Layout, Features, & Future Projects

Design Goals

Before embarking on our house project, we designed the final layout of rooms with a few criteria in mind:

  • Active living space at the south end of the house, to utilize the light & warmth from the sun.
  • Heat the entire house via passive solar with back-up wood stove.
  • Bedrooms at the north end of the house where the reduced light and cooler temperatures don't matter as much.
  • Natural daylighting in all rooms.
  • Add significant storage area for food, preferably unheated space (canned goods, fresh produce, roots, etc)
  • Integrate airlocks/mudrooms to reduce heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer, as well as contain dirt & wet clothes.

Goal Implementation

We built the sunspace at the south end of the house as one large room, suitable for a wide variety of active living uses - living room, dining room, party room, play room, study/office, etc. We "planted" our bath tubs to the south of the sunspace for extra heat & light gain in the winter. We planted a black walnut to the SW of the house, and built a grape trellis south of the sunspace for seasonal shade.

We installed an EPA certified wood stove facing the kitchen for radiant heat gain and comfort from the cheery glow. It heats the sunspace quickly. The sunspace sits 2' below the rest of the house, creating a natural convective loop of heat rising from the sunspace into the rest of the house, for fairly rapid heat distribution.

We added east windows looking onto the ecoroofs, to allow morning light into the NE bedroom, the pantry, and the sunspace. We added a wavy glass privacy window between the bathroom and the sunspace, since the bathroom had no natural light. The sunspace allows a lot of light into the kitchen and the SW bedroom (which also has a west window.)

We created a pantry with a 2' path down the middle and shelves lining the walls for efficient storage of lots of goods.

We didn't build the airlocks, but we left room to add them if desired: one in the sunspace around the back door, and one on the current front porch, enclosing the upper portion of the deck.

Other Features

The front porch makes a wonderful hang-out area in the summer, opening to the front garden to the north. Walls block the sun to the east, west, and south, and the ecoroof limits heat gain from above.

We made it easy to add a third bedroom (or office space) by constructing a single partition wall to turn the northwest portion of the house into a large closed off room.

We installed a sliding glass door between the sunspace and the kitchen, and of course the southwest bedroom has a closing door, so it's easy to isolate the sunspace for cozy temperatures in the winter without needing to heat the entire house.

We built nice big stairs from the kitchen to the sunspace, very inviting for people to sit and gather on.

When we lifted the original house and put a perimeter foundation under it, we wound up with three holes in the foundation wall so the I-beams could lower the house onto the wall. We discovered that in the summer, opening those holes creates a natural air conditioner as cool air from the crawl space flows into the sunspace.

Future Projects

If we were staying in this house, we would:

Add insulating curtains to the sunspace window wall. (And figure out insulation for the other windows in the house.)

Replace the wood stove with a rocket stove, for dramatic efficiency improvements in heating and cooking.

Remove the natural gas forced air furnace and associated ductwork in the attic, since we never use it and it wastes a lot of space (usable room space in the southwest bedroom, and insulation space in the attic).

Install the five hot water solar panels we bought, using them to heat domestic water and to run the excess heat through the radiant tubing under the original house.

Build a greenhouse on the south side of the sunspace, enclosing the bath tubs with the grapes growing on top. Move the chickens to sleep in the greenhouse.

Plant more plants on the west wall or west side of the house to create more summer shade while utilizing that growing space (without interfering with its current use as hang-out party space.) Perhaps plant akebia or scarlet runner beans against the house, and/or trees further out trained to high-branching trunks for easy human passage underneath.

Build a cold cupboard to tap into the cool crawlspace air and pull it up through a small pantry area to keep perishable foods a little cooler in the summer.

Site Plan

Here's the house in relation to the property boundaries, showing setbacks for addition of an Accessory Dwelling Unit:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Neat seeds from Adaptive Seeds

Since we're trying to sell our house and move to Hawaii any month now, I'm not planning new experimental plantings. But that doesn't stop me from dreaming, and I might as well share that here.

I just received the 2012 seed catalog from Adaptive Seeds. They have a few interesting perennials and Pacific Northwest (PNW) adapted calorie crops:

  • "Western Front" perennial kale - newly available after last year's unavailability. I bought seeds of this in 2010, but didn't get very many plants well established. Chickens ate the best plants and none wound up overwintering successfully. So I can't vouch for their perennial nature, but they seem to have potential.
  • Withner's White Cornfield Pole Snap Bean - according to Carol Deppe (author of Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties and The Resilient Gardener), this variety is the best for the PNW and for growing in the cornfield (or in partly shady conditions).
  • Corn varieties recommended by Carol Deppe for the PNW: Abenaki & Mandan Parching Lavender.
  • Amaranth seed varieties: Copperhead (A. cruentus) and Rodale Red Leaf Grain. I still have hopes of getting seed amaranths growing in the yard as self-seeding "grains."
  • Japanese buckwheat - supposed to have larger seeds than the usual cover crop varieties. They say they've planted as late as mid-July and still harvested a crop; maybe this could work as a follow-up to garlic or favas?
  • Elka White Poppy - large seed pods stay sealed instead of scattering their seed. I've always liked the idea of poppies as a staple seed source, with their ability to grow a bit over the winter, but have had no success growing them.
  • Millwright Perennial Rye - bred by Tim Peters.
  • Douglas Triticale - from Tim Peters, shows some perennial regrowth when plants are spaced out well. May not work well with our system of dense plant growth everywhere.
  • Silene inflata - perennial herb with winter-available greens.
  • Oregon Homestead Sweet Meat squash - selected by Carol Deppe for the PNW.