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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Home production of simple needs

Rhonda Jean
Down to Earth

It's easy to get caught up in posts about producing food when we're trying to live a frugal and sustainable life but the truth of it is that there are other things we can be doing in our own homes that will help us move towards a simple life. Food and groceries are the easy ones because they are products we use everyday but other things can help up live well and remain green, and be doing it quietly in the background.

Above is a photo of part of our roof. Further down, unseen in this photo, is an unused satellite dish that we used to use for our pay TV, but what I have photographed is far more exciting than that - in this photo are our solar hot water unit, some skylights and a whirlybird. Australia has been making solar hot water systems for at least 30 years that I can remember. We have had solar hot water for 25 of those years. It's fairly cheap to install and free to run. Ours can be plugged into an electrical socket in case of a few days of cloudy weather, we rarely use that. When we know bad weather is coming, Hanno and I are very conservative with our water usage until the sun shines again. That way we have enough water for showering and we don't have to rely on electrical or gas to heat it. I think we've plugged into the grid with our system maybe twice since this unit was installed, which was about five or six years ago. This unit and our previous ones have all been Solarharts and we have never had a problem with any of them.

There are two skylights in the photo but we have three installed, they are in the kitchen, the spare bathroom and laundry room. We installed them because we needed more light in the house and I didn't want to have lights on all the time. Shortly after we came to live in our home we built verandahs front and back. We needed sheltered areas for drying clothes, storing bits and pieces and an area for the dogs to sit out of the sun and rain. But our main reason for adding the verandahs was to create cool air around the house. In the style of the old colonial houses, we wanted to create cross ventilation of cool air through our home and for this reason, our house is comfortable in all but the hottest summer weather. The air is cooled just outside the windows and doors, and by opening the windows and doors the cool air flows in one side of the house and out the other. There is more information about passive design here.

There is a price that is paid for that cooled air, the rooms are darker because of the verandahs. No sunlight reaches the windows and while that is fine, it makes the rooms inside darker. Enter the skylights. They give us good natural light every day and have paid for themselves over the 11 years they've been providing that light.

Whirlybirds are a great idea in any hot climate. We have two and they've made a big difference to the heat retained in the house during summer. True, there are days when nothing like this helps, but there are many days when it's hot outside but okay inside because the hot air is constantly escaping from the roof.

I've blogged about our rain collection tanks before. We have two tanks that hold a total of 15000 litres and that is the water we use to keep our vegetable garden going. The tanks silently collect rain water, with no help from us, and that water is stored until it's needed on the garden. If you can harvest some of your rain water it will be a great help in maintaining a sustainable vegetable garden.

So that is some of the hardware we're using here but how could I leave a post about home production of simple needs without mentioning sewing and knitting. The ability to sew and knit will help you keep your family clothed. Mending will help you look after the clothes you have and will keep them wearable for a much longer period. I think of the days I used to throw away clothes that needed mending as the 'dark ages'. That was when I had more money than sense and before I realised that by teaching myself a few simple skills I would be a much better custodian of my belongings, and in doing that would cut down dramatically on what I need to buy.

Simple living isn't all about cooking from scratch and stockpiling, it's a holistic approach to life that relies as much on your silent partners working away in the background, and your ability to reskill, to look after what you have and to produce as much as you can at home. Sometimes there is a price to pay to have the hardware installed, but often our lives are made easier and greener by just learning how to do something we couldn't do before.

I would be really interested in hearing about what you have at your home that helps you live simply. Do you have water tanks, knitting needles, a sewing machine, solar panels or a solar oven? How have you reksilled yourself? What do you know now that you didn't know last year? If I walked down your street today, what would make me know that yours was that one house where people were getting back to basics and living a simple life?


VintageGirl said...

Wonderful post! You would know I was trying to live simpler by my clothesline out back, quilts (made my me) on that clothesline being aired out and put back on beds, my garden being put to bed for the winter, a table full of tomatoes ready to be brought in to make chili sauce, fall decorations all from the garden (pumpkins, gourds, corn stalks etc...), a rain barrel to catch the rain water and use for watering the flower beds. And if you stepped inside my home you would see me still making baby steps all the way to my simple life. I love getting one thing down pat and moving on to another. I've canned much more food this year, made more gifts, decluttered SO much (sold and donated excess) and am really enjoying my home alot more.

LOVE this site. Hugs, Heather

heather said...

if you were to walk down my street regularly you might observe that my car is in the driveway ALOT. we are a family that stays home most of the time. we really like being home as a family. because we live in an urban area we do drive to take hikes weekly. there is no way to take a walk in nature here without getting in the car first. sad but true...

if you were to peel into our back yard you would notice we are growing a modestly sized veggie garden and we have a compost bin.

in the front yard we have an extensive perennial and herb garden.

oh! and in this past year i have learned the skill of canning!!! yay! :)

heather said...

oops. peek into our backyard, not peel. ;)

JessTrev said...

I'm so interested in your solar hot water system... if you walked by my house you'd know I was seeking a simpler life...hmmm, by the fact that our neighbors and us all live in rowhouses? That's probably the most impactful thing of all - the dense population of our nhood. We all walk our kids to school, to the playground, to our local grocery store. In our back alley we have a tumbling composter. In the woods down the street, we share a plot in a community garden. What's new? I am starting a sewing class Monday night (yay!). And I have been experimenting with which herbs I can keep alive (switching out non edible houseplants for edible ones). Love your co-op! So pleased to get to read you all here.

lightening said...

We LOVE our solar hot water system. Although we only get about 80% of our hot water through it (not being in quite as sunny a place as you are). We've gone for a system where the hot water tank isn't sitting on the roof. I would really like to get solar panels for our electricity only I'm still uncertain if they're the right way to go yet. It's a higher initial investment plus I've heard reports that up until recently the technology hasn't been there to make the manufacture of them less drain on the environment than what they return. Do you have an opinion on these?

Amy said...

I knit and sew. My kids wear hand me downs from siblings and neighbors. If that isn't enough I find the rest at thrift stores or yard sales. We walk as much as possible to school, church, playground.
Our house is heated by a boiler. My husband is very interested in converting it to waste vegetable oil. We still need to do more research. If anyone knows more about this let us know.

belle said...

My car also stays garaged a lot...I walk to the shops, catch a bus home if I'm tired or have bought heavy items.

I've recently had a rainwater tank installed, and have it plumbed into the toilet and washing machine. I made a substantial monetary investment to buy the most water and energy efficient front loader, but it will last me out my days.

I have chooks, compost and a worm farm, and have just started a veggie garden....a recently broken arm has halted this for a little while, but I trade my surplus eggs with a neighbour for his surplus veggies, and with another neighbour for help with the housework right now. I think this step has me happier than anything, that as a neighbourhood, we're relying on each other, an exchange of goodwill, not $'s.

I shop at thrift stores for whatever I might need.....recently bought a doona cover for $8..almost was one I'd seen and coveted in a swanky magazine, but had a $200 price tag. It had been donated, I'm sure, because a couple of inches of the ruffle had come unstitched...5 minutes work to fix....lucky me :)

Love the co-op, thanks to all the contributors for a diverse range of topics.

Karen said...

well, i'm still young and live in a tiny apartment in a city, but i have very recently learned to knit ... and a friend is giving me a sewing machine she doesn't use. i have no idea what to do with it or where to begin, but you will now find me very frequently at the library. i'm thinking of starting a huge binder full of useful photocopies from all the how-to manuals i peruse there. and recipes. and so on. the library is an incredible resource. i have a basil plant in my window, it's the first thing i've ever grown and doing well. i have plans to join a CSA in the spring so i'll get a box of locally produced, seasonal vegetables every week and won't have to rely on supermarket bought almost ever. i will learn to bake my own bread this winter so i don't have to buy storebought. i'm switching from a cell phone contract to a prepaid cell phone. i'm budgeting money to pay down debt, not toward coffees or bagels or beers or shoes or ... this is a hard one ... books, even though i often buy them used. done, done, done. after all, i have three huge shelves of books at my apartment i've never even read. so .... these changes may not be physically visible, but these are juts some of the things i'll be putting into action now and in the months to come. i'm so happy to be in this new world. i hope everyone crosses over. it's the real, the really only, way to live "richly" and well.

jacqui jones said...

great post
food for thought really
we r in the middle of finding a water tank or two, getting a well going and puting up sheding and green houses with guttering to collect even that extra 50 litres
we would love solar panels to provide us with electricity, still looking into that one as its not the total solution in the cool climate we live.

Compostwoman said...

Good post!


We grow most of our veg in our 3/4 acre garden/orchard/ polytunnel, have chooks and sell eggs, have 3 acres of woodland so have wood for our woodburner to heat the house...

Collect rainwater for plants (our other drinking water is from a bore hole ( not usual in the UK!) and we have private sewerage which discharges into our wood underground ( also not usual in the UK!)

Hmm are going to install solar thermal next year ...(also not so common here but getting more so....)

and manage our land for the benefit of wildlife organically, and grow all our food/ feed hens etc organically...

We Reuse, reduce, recycle
charity shops, freecycle, make do and mend,

I volunteer teach at my DD primary school , teaching organic gardening - I also volunteer as a community compost advisor across my own and the neighbouring region.

hmm...we eat local food, free range / organic, meat / dairy from within a few miles, veg home grown or within a few miles .....

we drive less in 2 cars , living in a rural location, than most rural people do in 6 months in one car! we think very hard about journeys and combine trips for stuff as much as we can...

I really can't think what else we do, although I know we do more!

oh ..I knit, sew, make soap, cosmetics, am a holist therapist so make face oils etc, and massage injuries, we make jam, wine, chutney, dehydrate food, freeze it, preserve it, can it, and are making cider this weekend!!

Compostwoman said...

Oh and cook all meals from scratch, bake bread, cakes, biscuits etc!

Laurie from Amish Country said...

Wow, great post!
To answer your questions
1. I reskilled myself to crochet ( I don't knit) and have broken out the vintage sewing machine. I have been making simple items that hopefully will grow into bigger items.
2. I found out that circumstances can change in a hearbeat. You need to be prepared for anything and everything....for example - the economy the way it is right now - I am learning to grow my own veggies, something I have not really done before.
3. If you walked down our street behind our house on any given saturday night, you will see my hubby cooking dinner over a fire in our chimenea. We cook our entire dinner over the fire to save energy in the house. We do that from spring until winter when it gets too cold here to enjoy sitting outdoors on the deck. We also installed a canopy to help conserve energy from the beating sun on the back of the house. It has helped curb the AC on the hottest days. Lastly you would see my garden that is growing cold weather veggies.

claudia said...

My grandma lived on a farm and knew all the stuff we SHOULD know today. I spent a lot of time with her as my mom worked outside the house so I suppose I came by a lot of the stuff I do naturally, and think that today it is wonderful that everyone else is learning to do what I learned at a young age!
Grandma taught me to sew and crochet. We baked bread every week, washed her laundry and hung it outside to dry when we could (we live in a fog belt)
She made 90% of my mom's clothes, and about 75% of mine and my sisters. So naturally I sewed when I got a little older. (I guess I was a geeky teen in the 60's - love it!) I still sew sometimes today, I taught myself to knit (although I prefer crochet). I re-taught myself to bake bread recently. I bought bins so my middle daughter could separate the recycling, and use that money for herself. We hang our laundry out when we can. (Since I work full time we don't always have the sun on my days off) I am saving up to buy property so I can go full on self sufficient, because that is the way I want to live.

jan m said...

I have been the one house on my circle to have a clothesline, and we have the only compost bin that I have seen. Growing by our front steps is a little vegetable garden, whereas our neighbors have manicured flower beds and garden statues.

suzan said...

People see our sheep, chickens, and garden. (I've come to the humbling conclusion that growing tomatoes at 7,000 feet is a skill I don't currently possess). They also see our propane tank which is not very "green" at all. We're very much on the grid and I'd like to move away from such dependencies. What else? Hmmm. My lovely clothesline. (As an aside, do you know those clothesline poles are 40 feet apart? That was a bit of overkill, I think. I tried googling some info on how far apart a clothesline "should" be. I'm giggling as I write this) The woodstack. My next project is a coldframe.

Bovey Belle said...

Our set up is quite similar to Compostwoman's in that we have our own (spring) water supply, and aren't connected to mains drainage either. We also have our own woodland which we can harvest for our woodburner, though we will also pick up bits of wood by the roadside, or fallen branches if we are out on a local walk. We have a generator for emergencies. sufficient just to run the main freezer.

If you called round right now, you would see that the veg. plot (about to be extended into a 2nd plot in the paddock) is being put to bed right now, though it still has leeks, curly kale, carrots and parsnips growing - along with a lot of weeds right now! You would notice the soft fruit bushes (still a small picking on the autumn raspberries), and you couldn't miss the STACKS of apples we have. I am using windfalls daily and the best apples are picked and stored in boxes in the stable. You would also see that I haven't tidied the herb bed for the winter yet, but I have dried some herbs for winter use.

A tour of my larder would show you the fruits of my labours this year - bottles and bottles of Elderflower Champagne and E/flower syrup; jars of chutneys (emphasis on the WINDFALL apple chutney this year!), pickled onions, jams, and this year lots of Crab Apple or Wildings Apple jelly (another 7 lb made yesterday). Elderberry Rob for colds is in the fridge.

I also make home-made beeswax furniture polish which is SO much better than "boughten" stuff.

The sewing machine is permanently out in my sewing room in the attic, there are hand-made quilts on the beds, and this year I taught myself to crochet which I prefer to knitting, if I am honest. On the sofa is a pile of mending, a jacket with the zip being unpicked and to be replaced, a quilt to be mended, a beautiful Victorian embroidered tablecloth (virtually past mending - but I am darning and darning it anyway), and several crochet blankets I have found at charity shops and car boot sales recently are across the back of the sofa for cold winter nights in front of the wood burner. I am also working on several x-stitch projects for Christmas gifts.

We don't have your problems with not much water, but we do have 2 big blue water containers to make it easier to water the veg plot in the summer (when the water supply that the farm next door shares with us often dries up). Solar or wind energy here is just not financially practical, which is a pity as we have a huge south-facing catslide roof, so we are toying with the idea of heating water in old radiators attached to that roof and providing washing up water perhaps.

My husband is brilliant with wood and repairs and both makes and restores furniture. I can do basic reupholstery and have 6 Victorian Balloon back chairs to reupholster this winter. We don't buy new furniture (EVER) - it all comes from auction.

What started off as a necessity is a way of life and some skills are being passed on to our grown children, I am glad to say.

Constance said...

In addition to things others have mentioned, if you passed our house, you would see my husband mowing the lawn with a manual lawn mower. This despite our new neighbours' repeated offers to lend us their gas-powered ones! They're easy to push, if you invest in a good one, and quiet - making yard work much more enjoyable for him and for all of us within earshot!

Carolyn said...

Great Post.

We just started doing simple things like turning down the heating, hanging laundry to dry and other energy saving methods.

I dream is to have some solar panels.

MystikMomma said...

What have I done this year that I didn't do last year?
I taught myself to crochet again and I picked up knitting - still practicing that one.
I sew! My aunt gave me her old machine and I broke it out more than once this year, very excited to get started on more projects.
We resell our clothes to shops and we also buy our clothes there at times.
I crocheted produce bags for the grocery trips and bring my own bags.

We sold our second car and try to bicycle more. We turn out AC up to 79 (live in South Florida apart building).
We unplug unnecessary items when not in use.
Buy organic, local when possible.
Stay away from chemical beauty, bath and body products.
Make homecrafted gifts when possible.

I homeschool and try to instill solid values of loving mother earth with our boys.

It is a touch task all that is required, but we are trying to make changes every day that will lead us in harmony with our world.

In the next year or two, we will be moving once again and at that time, we plan on buying a home that allows for gardening, rain water collection, solar panels, and much much more.

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jinger said...

I don't think you would notice any difference in my home from the outside. I live in an apartment and have a small porch that I call my outdoor room. I can set my drying rack on the porch to dry my clothes.In my utility closet is a container for tin and glass recycling. Inside my home, you would see a basket for recycled paper. Under the sink, a container for plastic and aluminum.My cupboard holds only environmentally friendly cleaning products. You probably wouldn't realize that almost all my furnishings and decor are second hand, repurposed by me with paint and antiquing. You would see movies and books from the library. You might notice the collection of baby quilts I make from recycled fabric and my craft table filled with ideas and projects made from objects I find in various places.

This is the simple life I love.

Kimberly said...

In this last year, since Sweetheart and I decided to simplify you'd see quite a lot of changes around here. You couldn't tell from the street so much as we live in a really restrictive neighborhood.
Although, like another commentator said-the van is almost always home. That says a lot for simply living.
There is no satellite dish on the how for tv. That's noticeable around here. We've been tv free for over ten years though.
On the porch you see all the flowers and herbs grown from seed and the cushions on the furniture that I sewed myself this year.
We have a large garden with plans for expansion. Everything is grown naturally and the compost bin has begun.
The biggest changes are inside the house.
The regular cleaners have been replaced with vinegar, baking soda, lemon, borax and washing soda.
The food is mostly organic, mostly local and mostly natural. We eat with more mind to the seasons and nutrition. Most things not fresh are bought in bulk. Except those little Goldfish crackers. Wish I could find a bulk alternative for those!
I cook 95% of everything from scratch.
I mill our grains now.
I sew now.
I can now. Never did that before!
We've massively de-junked and cluttered.
I reuse most things including cloth bags for shopping.

Still on the list to do:
Make homemade gifts for Christmas.
Make soaps.
Make cheese.
Sew clothing.

Grow more--food and personally.

Wow. A lot has changed this year. Still room for more!

Wish I had local friends who thought the same. I've become the real odd duck out around here.