Monday, September 29, 2008

Community Kitchens

Many Americans are currently 100% reliant on the industrial food system to grow and process their food. For example, the industrial food system picks our produce, bakes our bread, cans our produce and jams, harvests our milk and eggs, makes our cheese and yogurt, catches our fish, slaughters our meat, dries our fruit snacks, and creates frozen and ready made meals. The restaurant business even puts together meals, sets them down in front of us, and cleans up afterwards.

We may enjoy not growing and processing our food. Perhaps we'd rather spend our time doing other activities. But this freedom comes at a price. Food skills have been lost to an entire generation - not just gardening, canning and baking, but even basic cooking. Along with the skills have gone the tools, the knowledge, and the equipment to feed ourselves.

For instance, during World War II, 75% of women canned their own produce, with an average of 165 jars per year, yet today few women have the time or ability (or inclination!) to do so. After the energy peak, many families will not have the skills, tools, or equipment to process food on their own.

University of North Texas Library, public domain

Community kitchens

A community kitchen can provide part of the solution to this problem. A community kitchen is a place where neighborhood residents can come together to cook and process food, and a place where experienced cooks could demonstrate and supervise food canning. For example, a community kitchen could offer:

  • A canning facility
  • Grain mill
  • Solar food dryer
  • Adobe oven
  • Solar ovens
  • A community well
  • Knowledgeable canning supervisors

During World War II, canning kitchens offered canning services and facilities to those who did not have the needed knowledge or tools to can their own food. The customer brought food and jars, and the canning kitchen operator processed the jars safely and efficiently in batches. Alternatively, customers could rent the facilities and knowledge of the operator by the hour.

Community kitchens also provide a place to exchange ideas, form and renew relationships among neighbors and to learn skills essential in a lower-energy future. Community canning or processing days would be great way to have fun working together as a group, rather than individually in each isolated home. These facilities are great for maximizing the resources (such as energy, knowledge and tools) that are available.

How To

A community kitchen could be as small as the one house in the neighborhood that has been prepared wisely, with a woodstove and an adobe oven, or as big as a purposely-created facility with multiple cooktops, solar panels and an industrial sized baking oven. Possible locations for bigger facilities are churches, soup kitchens, schools, hotels, or former restaurants, which are already designed to cook for large volumes of people.

A community kitchen could operate in multiple ways. The owners could offer their facilities via cash or barter rental, membership in a neighborhood association, or as part of a collective ownership. A strong neighborhood association could purchase or remodel an existing facility with neighborhood dues and donations and community volunteer labor, and offer the kitchen as a benefit of belonging to the association. Or the association could organize community canning days where participants receive some of the products in exchange for labor.

A community kitchen could also be a way to avoid deforestation in your area. If the kitchen was prepared ahead of time, with solar panels and energy efficient adobe ovens, perhaps an industrial sized bank of solar ovens, we could help people cook and process their food without destroying the forests around us. Because without the forests, we would soon find ourselves in a sad situation - without wood to heat or cook, with erosion potentially leading to dust bowls or flash floods, and without shade to keep us cool in the hot summers days.

Getting started

Many of us who are peak oil aware are preparing our homes and families to function comfortably on the downslope of energy availability. We're getting together the necessary tools and equipment, starting to grow our own food and learning to process our produce. But if we want to see our community continue to function, a real solution will need to be larger.

As we start to feel more prepared ourselves, we can start sharing our knowledge or begin community initiatives. For some people that point is far away. Others, like Verde who promoted food storage at her church, and Chile who is demonstrating solar cooking at her CSA, are ready now. If you are ready, and the idea of energy-efficient community kitchens strikes your fancy, what are some ways to get this idea off the ground? You could start small:

  • Demonstrate solar cooking to environmental or sustainability groups
  • Showcase your own preparations by holding tours of your garden & adobe /solar ovens
  • Help your church hold "canning days" to can excess garden produce for the poor
  • Build an adobe oven at your church (hint: good youth group activity!)
  • Offer a class on canning or preserving food to the public

Or go BIG!

  • Start or renovate a charitable soup kitchen
  • Start a for-profit business canning your own or locally grown produce
  • Start a fully energy efficient community kitchen, complete with all the amenities!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Stuff and more stuff

If you are preparing for peak oil or participating in Verde's 21 Day Prep Challenge, if you've been watching the trainwreck of desparation in Galveston and Houston, or if you simply want to convert your soon-to-be-devalued US Dollars into something worthwhile ;), you may be thinking about stocking up on some stuff.

But WHAT stuff?

After stocking food and water, starting a garden, and obtaining some basic non-electric or solar-powered tools and technologies, stocking up on other stuff becomes important both to ease the transistion into a lower energy world and for bartering for other things that you need.

Here are some questions you might consider as you determine what to buy and store:
  • What items would be most valuable to yourself and those around you?
  • What items are used most often and would run out first?
  • What will be most needed in a world where electricity and oil supplies are unreliable?
  • How many people have the item now, and how many will need it (might stock enough to barter or help others)?
  • What is the shelf life or durability of the item?
  • Can the item be used for many purposes or in different situations?
  • Can I use the item now to decrease my carbon footprint?

Here are some tools and supplies I have purchased:

  1. Sun Ovens (2) - Good for cooking and baking, heating water, and sterilizing water. I use these fairly regularly, and feel I'm getting my money out of them. I recommend the Global Sun Oven over the Tulsi Hybrid.
  2. Rainwater tanks (2) - 850 gallons above-ground capacity. For watering the garden, especially in a drought, or for emergency water in the warm seasons. I use them now to decrease our use of groundwater.
  3. Katadyn water filter - in case the water system is temporarily or permanently incapacitated, or in case we need to flee the area in uncertain conditions. Water is key to survival. Most Americans have never had to worry about water (what a luxury!), but in other countries people frequently sicken and die from bad water. Even though it cost $200 and will last for 39,000 gallons of water, I've considered buying another one as a backup or for family, or in case the emergency lasts that long. Water is just that important. There are other ways to clean water, but this is a sure-fire one, and gets out many pollutants that boiling water can't eliminate.
  4. Country Living grain mill - for grinding the wheat we have stocked. I have also thought we could use it as a neighborhood grain mill to help others, because we will only need it for about an hour every day.
  5. Diva cup and cloth pads - to deal with the monthlies in a sustainable way.
  6. Wonder Clean - to clean small loads of laundry very well. To wash large loads, I'll probably use a bathtub, plunger, and wringer (still to be purchased).
  7. Drying racks and clothespins - for drying clothes.
  8. First Aid Kits (3) - one for each car and for home.
  9. Book library - to learn all the things I don't know about permaculture, crisis preparedness, gardening, cooking, seed-saving, and preserving food.
  10. Coleman camp stove - for emergency cooking during a power outage. Until I get my rocket stove or adobe oven built, I'll have to rely on this, an outdoor grill, and my Sun Ovens for cooking.
  11. Metal gasoline container - for storing an "emergency" 5 gallons in case we need to get out of town and the gas stores are already sold out. Keep in mind the gas is only good for a limited time - you have to rotate it.
  12. Sleeping bags and tents - more multi purpose items. Sleeping bags can keep you warm without heat in the winter. Sleeping bags can be used for guest sleeping (if other quarters are already taken). SB and tent can be used as temporary shelter on the road. SB and tent can be used as summer sleeping quarters outside, and can also be used to house extra guests if needed. Until TSHTF, can be used to provide cheap quarters during vacations - camping anyone?
  13. Solar powered lantern and regular battery powered lantern - Emergency or powerdown lighting. Can also be a safety item. We use these fairly regularly.
  14. Four 6-gallon water containers - For emergency water. This amount of water would really only last the three of us about 5 days at best. I should probably get more.
  15. Bikes - Well, we had these already. But we did get a little kid-carrier for hauling the little guy or possibly light loads.

Here are some things that I am stocking (aside from food and water):

  1. Seeds. The return on investment here is great. Consider how many tomatoes you can get from one tomato plant. Also, they don't take up much room to store.
  2. Liquor. A good multi-purpose item. It can be used to celebrate and entertain, disinfect wounds, and preserve food. Liquor sales also tend to do well in Depressions.
  3. Fire aids. Matches, firestarters, and Coleman Fuel. Also a little firewood for emergency heating. Firestarters would be the best birthday present EVER in a post-peak future.
  4. Containers (including canning supplies). Bottles, buckets, jars, lids, tops. For storing, processing, and transporting food and water, for transporting compost, soil, weeds, and odds and ends, for growing plants, as a portable toilet... the uses are endless. As I read somewhere, "Whole civilizations have been founded on their containers".
  5. Soap and toothpaste. Some of those things that just make you feel human, also good barter items.
  6. Kid clothes. An excellent thrift store near me had their end-of-season sale recently - all the clothes you can get in a bag for $10. I loaded up!
  7. Cash. If electricity or communication lines are down, but you need to buy stuff, best to have cash! In an emergency situation, cash is king.

OK, so I may be addicted to preparing for peak oil. So sue me :). And I haven't even shown you my list of things I still have to buy! I do try to get stuff that I will use "anyway" and that I can get at a bargain price.

I've been preparing for the last three years, and I *usually* make progress every month. If I'm not buying something, I'm trying to learn a skill. If I'm not improving the house somehow (insulation, better windows), I'm planting something in the garden. It takes time, and money, and a lot of headaches trying to figure everything out. I know I haven't gotten there - but I keep at it.

For a more comprehensive list of good stuff to get - this handy link will give you some ideas: 100 Things to Disappear First.

Vice Presidents

For those of you pondering the role of Vice Presidents in American history...

Of 46 Vice Presidents, 9 succeeded to the Presidency (~20%). Those 9 were:

John Tyler (After President Harrison died)
Millard Fillmore (After President Zachary Taylor died)
Andrew Johnson (After President Lincoln's assassination)
Chester Arthur (After President Garfield's assassination)
Theodore Roosevelt (After President McKinley's assassination)
Calvin Coolidge (After President Harding died)
Harry Truman (After President Franklin Roosevelt died)
Lyndon Johnson (After President John F. Kennedy's assassination)
Gerald Ford (After President Richard Nixon's resignation)

Of the 46 Vice Presidents, 2 have become Acting President due to Presidential incapacitation:

George H.W. Bush (once)
Dick Cheney (twice)

So, of the 46 Vice Presidents, 11 have become or acted as President (~24%). This means that there is an almost 1 in 4 chance that an American Vice President will become our President at some point. Therefore, I propose that it makes sense to take Vice Presidential candidates' experience, qualifications, credentials, and political record into account when deciding who to vote for in November.

If you found this information interesting, pass it on!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Plan C for Your City

I was fortunate to participate in Bob Waldrop's "Plan C for OKC" workshop this weekend. About 20 people brainstormed ideas to deal with a hard crash - i.e. immediate shutdown of all fossil fuel dependent systems. The water and sewage system, the federal government, fire and police, the food systems, the electrical grid, the natural gas pipelines, the trailers that bring us all our food and material goods.


Or.... maybe not? How could we react to preserve as many lives, and our surrounding ecosystems, as possible? What kind of mitigation steps could we take, once we realize "we're on our own - no one is coming to save us?". How could we organize to communicate and help our neighbors with the information that we have, the sustainable tools we own, the seed banks we've been building?

It was a fascinating thought exercise, and inspired some hope for people who have already been staring into the abyss. Now, a fast crash certainly isn't inevitable, and in fact I don't think it's even likely, but eventually we will be getting into a place where some of these systems may still exist - but may not be reliable - and may not work in all places, as the ring of services tightens, and as infrastructure crumbles.

This exercise was also a great stimulus to participate in Verde's 21 Day Challenge! Assume in 21 days "TSHTF". What can you get done to prepare before then? And the way that things are currently looking in the financial markets, I wonder if we could have some kind of serious crisis soon. So it's a very timely challenge.

The major topics we covered included water, obtaining food, heating, cooking, transport, sewage and trash, public health, and community organizing. Bob has already prepared some pdf flyers for free distribution in the event of a hard crash/ emergency situation. I'll be posting on some of these topics over the next month. I also got to show off my favorite appliances - the Sun Ovens - and hand out a flyer I created on solar cooking.

So those of you who have already made preparations of your own, and who want to start helping your communities and inspiring some resilience, how about sending out an email to your local sustainability listserv soliciting volunteers for a "Plan C" workshop? If nothing else, you might meet some other like-minded people!

Note: "Plan C" is also the title of Pat Murphy's excellent Peak Oil book - referring to community and conservation/curtailment. Plan C, in this instance, refers to a Contingency plan.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Team building exercise

Scenario: This winter, you have 15 applicants - friends and family and co-workers (and their kids) - who have asked to stay at your house. They are obviously desperate, and have assorted job losses, health problems, bankruptcies, home foreclosures, and disaster areas they are fleeing from.

1. A 30% probability your applicants will be able to find other decent accommodations if you turn them down. A 20% probability they will endure frostbite, starvation or death/severe illness from exposure if you turn them down. And a 50% probability they will be able to find a homeless shelter if you don't have room.
2. You cannot have people sleep in your kitchen or bathrooms. All else is fair game. They will be bringing their own sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, and clothes. You will supply couches, floors, and mattresses as available.
3. The majority of applicants will need to stay indefinitely - meaning at least 3 months. Many will need to stay 6 months, or until winter is over.
4. Applicants have only a little money. They will not be able to pay you except in barter or work arrangements. But they will be able to provide 95% of their own food from food banks, jobs they manage to find, and "free-ganing".

I know this is a terrible scenario, but it may well apply if there is a Greater Depression, a devastating winter in the Northeast or Upper Midwest, or if hurricanes continue to knock out power and cause flooding and destruction along the Gulf Coast. Maybe all of these and more.

OK - search the house - the garage - the attic - the enclosed porch - how many spots can you find for people to sleep? How many of the 15 friends, family, co-workers, and kids can you let stay with you for the next 3 - 6 months?

These people are now your team.

Freeloading is bad for the soul and the self-esteem. So, what will you ask them to do in exchange for their accommodations - will they cook? babysit? chop firewood? gather firewood? work in your garden? can food? build you a new kitchen? put up a fence? make new raised beds for the spring garden? put up gutters for your rainwater system? dig out a root cellar? build an adobe oven?

With a team of people, you can accomplish a lot. What will your team do with you?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Transitioning to Fall Solar Cooking

There's a mild chill in the air in Oklahoma City. Fall is here! Fall, my favorite season (until spring, that is.) I love pumpkins, bundling up in warm clothes and anticipating the holidays. I love watching the leaves change color and eating a big veggie chili. I'm still solar cooking, but as the shadows lengthen and the days shorten, I have had to adjust my process.

1. Change location

Since the shadows are now covering my former perfect solar cooking spot on the patio, I have had to make alternate arrangements - just until the pecan leaves drop. This problem actually stymied me for a week or so! But I have now found another spot behind the garage which gets good afternoon sun. Sometimes I have to switch between the two spots if I want to cook in both the morning and the afternoon. That's OK - it only takes a minute to move the Sun Oven.

2. Clean the cooker

Since solar gain is more difficult to achieve as the sun's angle changes, now is a good time to gently clean the reflectors and glass of your cooker - INSIDE! No reason to blind yourself! Check out the instructions for your cooker to make sure you use the right cleaning fluid.

3. Adjust your timing

During the summer, you can easily cook between 9 am and 6 pm, but in the winter that timeframe changes to a sweet spot of 10 am to 2 pm (maybe longer in some places). Fall is the season of transistion between the two - so it's best to start planning ahead if you want to have dinner in the sun oven. Pop your supper in a Global Sun Oven before 2 pm and even as the sun goes down, your meal will still stay warm in it's insulated box (if it is still in a sunny spot).

4. Try new meals

It's autumn, so it's time to cook autumn meals! The Global Sun Oven will cook stews, chilis and soups, pumpkin bread, baked potatoes, roasted root vegetables. Mmmmm. I just yesterday cooked a potato stew in the Sun Oven for the first time. Happily, it worked. Also, if you want to cook your meal in the Sun Oven, but are worried about timing, you can cook dishes that don't take as long - like egg and cheese dishes, fish, couscous, etc, which can often be cooked in an hour or so.

Happy cooking!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Poking a hole in reality

Sometimes the feeling of living in an alternate reality, a giant stage-set, can be very intense. I look around, and it all seems perfectly normal. The sun is shining, the cars are whizzing by, people are shopping at the mall. Someone, somewhere, just bought a new Hummer. Could it all be about to change?

People believe this is the real world, this - the suburbs, the strip malls, the car dealerships, the highways, the grocery stores. They don't realize that everything around us has been built completely on a lie. The lie is that energy will always be cheap. And once I learned that lie, I always feel as if I could poke a hole right through our so-called real world and see the future on the other side.

Still, I sometimes doubt my sanity, because no one seems to know what is going on. My friends, families, and co-workers seem oblivious. Totally clueless. And the media doesn't help - they don't seem to know anything either.

Sometimes my thoughts are consumed with all the changes I must make to prepare. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with anxiety about all the unknowns - will the supply chain break down? will we be able to afford to drive to work and run our refrigerators? when are the cannibals coming? ;)

So there's anxiety, doubt, fear, obsession, and uncertainty. But what else is there to do but act? Perhaps today I put together a massive Peak Oil preparation spreadsheet (or three). Maybe tomorrow I write a blog, Wednesday I buy big bags of rice from Sam's, and Thursday I start a freakishly large garden. And don't forget gadgets - there's that Sun Oven, a water filter, a rain barrel, maybe a grain mill.

Over time, I begin to meet more people who have realized the truth. The truth is that there never was any chance for a world based on infinite growth and ever-increasing usage of energy. It just isn't possible. And Peak Oil is bringing that truth on home. We will, inevitably, revert to a sustainable way of life. We can choose to transition willingly, with grace and laughter, or we can choose to hold on to our orgy of consumption until we are dragged away, kicking and screaming.

As I have adjusted to the idea of complete and total change, I have come to see Peak Oil as a grand opportunity. An adventure. Yes, it will be horrible for many people, and ugly and messy, and uncomfortable. Maybe I really won't like a post-peak world. But since I have no other real choice but to confront it, why not have some fun? Why not CHOOSE to make preparing for Peak Oil a grand game?

It can be fun to know what others don't. It can be downright enjoyable to spend all night...or all winter... slobbering over the choices in the seed catalogs. It can be entertaining to pretend you are Nicholas Cage in the opening scene of Leaving Las Vegas. It can be amusing to find all the best peak oil bargains at a garage sale. And it can be spectacularly madcap fun to be a liberal feminist buying a shotgun.

So, if you haven't gotten started, you're missing out on all the fun! We may as well greet the future with a smile, a laugh, a garden hoe, and a margarita. I will be.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Retrofitting the Suburbs

Since World War II, the majority of development has been in suburbs, that much-maligned accumulation of single family housing, empty lawns, and soul-deadening strip-malls. From a historical perspective, it makes sense that people wanted to get away from the industrial pollution and crowded conditions of the inner city, to have a nice breath of fresh air and see some greenery every day. But we went too far!

The problems and evils of suburbs have been aptly chronicled elsewhere, but here they are again:
  • Difficulty in getting anywhere without a car, since suburbs are built for cars, not people
  • Conversion of fertile cropland into sterile houses, streets and lawns
  • Lack of community or interaction with neighbors
  • Less contact with nature and wilderness
  • Building of large McMansions which require many resources to build and which are difficult to heat and cool
  • Single family homes on large lots (= low density) make public transportation difficult to support
  • Insane use of energy (both gas and electricity) to support the suburban lifestyle
  • Insane use of pesticides, herbicides and gas for lawnmowers/blowers to support the vision of suburban perfection
  • Lack of interesting things to do - bored, isolated kids

I could go on, but I imagine you get the picture. In fact, you may live in a suburb, as I do. I live in an "urban" inner suburb in the middle of NW Oklahoma City. I call it urban because it was built in the 60's and so it has had time to develop some infill and there are shops and necessities within walking/biking distance. Surprisingly, there is also a bus stop near me. Perhaps the only bus stop I've ever seen here in OKC :).

The point is, if we are to do well in a future of energy descent, of higher prices for most food, energy, and consumer items, most of us will have to adapt where we are. We can't all move out to the country, or into the city. And many people want to stay near family. Some far-flung exurbs will undoubtably wither and die, or become like ghettos. Oklahoma City, having been built almost entirely after WWII, is in fact one gigantic suburb, and so this concerns every one in this city.

Essentially, we need to transform the problem of too much spread-out land into the solution of lots of land for gardening and home-based businesses. We need to turn our difficulties into advantages. So how can we retrofit the suburbs? (Note: I know that I am drawing these ideas heavily from books like Food Not Lawns and Superbia! and David Holmgren's work, but since I read them so long ago they have all meshed together in my head :)

The problem of unsustainable housing:

  • Transforming some single-family to multi-family dwellings
  • Allowing "infill" of small Katrina-homes for elderly or other family members
  • Converting garages to insulated add-ons for rentals or extended families
  • Retrofitting houses to be well - insulated and usable with minimal electricity
  • Retrofitting houses with PV systems, solar hot water, wind turbines, where sensible
  • Converting garages to mini-factories, businesses, bakeries, etc.

The problem of lack of community:

  • Reclaiming abandoned homes in neigborhoods to become community buildings (such as canning kitchens, or medical clinics with fridges for insulin and other needed medicines)
  • Creating barter networks
  • Pooling resources such as rarely-used tools, children's items, etc.
  • Creating local knowledge sharing networks to teach gardening, solar cooking, food preservation
  • Creating work groups for community projects such as retrofitting homes to become community buildings

The problem of transportation:

  • Creation of needed businesses and services within each neighborhood (health clinics, bakeries, farmer's markets) - in garages, homes and abandoned houses
  • Building or just allowing bike lanes and paths to develop
  • Park n' Rides springing up in church lots and other empty parking lots
  • More crosswalks and pedestrian right-of-ways

The problem of energy-intensive lawn and median maintanance:

  • Converting lawns to front and backyard gardens and orchards
  • Converting big empty lots to community gardens or forage for goats/chickens
  • Converting big empty lots to mini farms of corn, beans, and potatoes
  • Converting big empty lots to forests to attract rainfall and yield wood, fruit, and nuts

As the energy contraction begins, these types of actions will be painful for many people, an affront to sensibilities, and a danger to property values. People will be shocked, shocked! At every downturn in the price of energy, people may go into denial and try to claim that such "extreme" measures are not necessary.

But if we hope to be here for the long-term, if we hope to maintain a decent quality of life, we need to start letting go of our old ways now and begin transistioning to a sustainable way of life. The ideas listed above are just a small start on the road to sustainability. There are so many more possibilities. It IS possible to live well with much less energy - even without miracle technologies - when we get creative, change our expectations, turn our problems to solutions, and work together. And did I mention getting our a$$es in gear today?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wonder Clean: Product Review

I ordered the Wonder Clean Pressure Handwasher from Lehman's, thinking it would be handy to have in the event of an extended electrical outage. This handwasher requires no electricity to operate, but does require hot HOT water to clean efficiently. It operates by forming an airtight seal, which combines with the hot water to create pressure, forcing water and detergent through the clothes and blowing the dirt/stains out.

Here are the features that enticed me to purchase the Wonder Clean:
  • Requires no electricity
  • Cheap compared to other washing options ($45)
  • Requires only small amounts of water and detergent
  • Takes only 2 minutes to clean laundry
  • Supposedly cleans very well (we'll see!)
  • It's small, so it's portable for camping, road trips, evacuations, dorms, etc.

On the downside:

  • Only holds 5 shirts, or 1 pair of jeans, or about 5 lbs of laundry at one time. This would definitely not serve to clean the laundry of a large family.
  • Requires hand cranking of the drum
  • The Wonder Clean (WC) does not wring out the laundry
  • The Wonder Clean requires water at temps of 190 degrees F to wash white cotton, 130 F for colored cotton, or about 110 F for delicates/synthetics

The washer arrived in good order, but I had to call the company to send me operating instructions. My first impression was that it was a little rickety, and not that easy to turn the drum. It's completely made of plastic, and the handle does not attach all that well.

I decided to do a full test run using no electricity to heat the water, wash the laundry, or dry the laundry. If you have no electricity, it might be hard to get hot water at the high temperatures required to clean the laundry. My thoughts on how to get the hot water without electricity were: natural gas or propane hot water, boiling water over a propane campstove or wood stove, heating water in the Sun Oven, or heating water in a solar shower. I decided to try the Sun Oven and the solar shower.

It was a sunny day and the Global Sun Oven was registering temperatures of 250+. The GSO quickly heated 1 1/2 quarts of water up to 190 degrees F, as measured by a candy thermometer, which was the perfect temperature for washing the cotton whites that I wanted to wash. When I measured the solar shower, I was disappointed - only 105 degrees F after sitting on a brick patio from 8 am to 11 am.

This was the first bottleneck - heating the water. The pot that fits in my GSO will only hold 2 quarts of water, which according to the Wonder Clean will wash about 2 lbs of laundry.

I set the Wonder Clean up by my sink, put in the micro-load of laundry (fairly dirty cotton whites), and put in the hot water and 1 Tablespoon of liquid detergent. Then I tightened the airlock and started turning. Oops! Lesson number 1: Must tighten airlock all the way down, which takes about 2 minutes to do. Otherwise water will spill out when the barrel is turned upside down.

As I suspected, the WC was not very stable. It rocks about and needs to be held down with one hand while the other hand turns the handle. The handle tends to scrape against the base (very annoying) unless careful attention is paid to keeping the edge of the handle out. I've read a review that stated that it was easier just to push the barrel around, but I didn't try that. However, 2 minutes was not very long to put up with this kind of annoyance.

After 2 minutes, I moved the WC over the sink and turned it upside down, dumping out the cloths. I sprayed down the cloths with the sink sprayer, wrung them out by hand, sprayed them down again, and wrung them out again. Since it was a very small load this part was not difficult.

I have to say the laundry did appear to be very clean, as clean as it would have been from an electric washing machine. Except for the cloth that somehow dropped into the sink drain and had eggplant parmesan remains rinsed all over it - I'm not sure that will ever get clean again. (If you look closely in the picture above you can see what I didn't notice until the next morning.)

Then I hung the laundry up on our inside wooden dryer. Done! I would estimate that the whole process took this amount of time:
  1. Setting up the Sun Oven with water to heat: 2 minutes
  2. Waiting for water to heat: 1 hour
  3. Putting in laundry, hot water and detergent: 2 minutes
  4. Turning Wonder Clean: 2 minutes
  5. Rinsing and wringing laundry: 5 minutes (would take longer for a bigger load)
  6. Hanging laundry: 5 minutes

Total working time: about 20 minutes. So to extrapolate - to do a "full sized" load of laundry with this method would probably require repeating this process 3 times, taking about 1 hour of work and 3 hours of waiting for water to heat (on a sunny day in the Sun Oven).

If I had to use the Wonder Clean to clean a larger amount of laundry, I would set it up outside and use the hose to rinse out the clothes. This would put it closer to the Sun Oven, decrease going in and out of the house, decrease mess and make it convenient to an outside clothesline. I wouldn't leave it outside though - the plastic would soon start to photo-degrade.

So: caveat: I haven't field tested this product extensively. I have just cleaned one very small load of whites. So, noting that, and considering the limitations of the Wonder Clean, AND if you have a reliable way to get hot water, you might consider it for these situations:

  • For use during electrical blackouts or if you expect intermittent electricity
  • If you frequently want to wash small loads of laundry without a washing machine
  • If you want a portable way to launder clothes (evacuations, road trips, camping, missionary work)
  • If you want a cheap way to launder small amounts of clothes and you can't yet get a washing machine or can't fit one in your home. (student, apartment dweller, etc). This would probably pay you back fairly quickly vs. the cost of a laundromat.

Otherwise, there are obviously other ways to do laundry without electricity - I'm picturing an old bathtub with a plunger and a wringer set up outside right by your hose and your clothesline. Maybe that will be my next product review :).

Update: See comments below from Anonymous who, after 10 uses, found that the top would not screw on properly.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Frau Garden Report

The summer garden is winding down, although the tomatoes are now recovering from the spider mite infestation, the cucumbers are re-fruiting, and 2 pumpkins are still ripening. We are harvesting okra, bell peppers, jalapenos, banana peppers, poblano peppers, and cucumbers, and the occasional cherry tomato. I haven't harvested the carrots yet. They call "Hausfrau...when are you going to pay some attention to us?".

Carrots, lonely no more.

The zuchinni and winter squash were devastated by squash bugs and had to be euthanized. Ewhhughh! I hate seeing those things! Next year I will recognize the eggs and try to destroy them straightaway.

Disgusting squash bug nymphs.

The herbs are still doing well, as herbs usually do. Parsley, basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, lemon balm, and chocolate mint. Bumper crop of that :).

The apples were basically eaten up by birds and worms. There is one left on one of the little semi-dwarf trees, we'll see how long it lasts. Next year maybe we'll get a real crop, if so we need to cover the apples with some kind of bags or netting. Grapes - similarly eaten by birds. We actually got figs this year, but strangely they ripen up randomly, not all at once. They must be picked only when ripe, but if we don't get them the first day that they ripen the birds will get them.

Fig, partly eaten, by me.

2 weeks ago, I planted bush beans and brocolli from seed, and as always, covered them with netting to prevent birds from getting in and eating all the seedlings. The bush beans look great! They have really popped up. The broccoli is coming up slowly but surely (well, I hope surely).

Netting over new seedbed.

Today, my SIL is watching my toddler boy, and I got to plant some more seeds! Kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, kale, parsnips. Since I have only planted lettuce and peas before, I am curious to see how everything else does. I got the idea to write my row identifiers on plasticware we have gotten from take-out places. Seemed to work!

Row marker, donated by Pei Wei.

In another week or two I'll uproot the pumpkins (I hope they are ripe by then!) and plant beets, carrots and garlic. Then I'll pretty much be done with planting for this year. I will just need to pay attention to the frosts and mulch everything up pretty well when the first frost looms.

Lessons learned this year:

  1. Mulching with straw actually works to keep down weeds! It was totally worth the time it took!
  2. Peppers love us here. Plant more.
  3. I need to plant either more or less cucumber plants. I had too many to eat but not really enough to pickle.
  4. No winter squash or pumpkin plants - they take up the whole dang yard.
  5. Plant zuchinni plants in separated locations in case the squash bugs strike again.
  6. Do not mistake squash bug eggs for ladybug eggs! Destroy on sight!
  7. Eliminate tomato plant at first sign of spider mite infestation, before they can spread.
  8. Plant more okra. It does well here and one plant is not enough.
  9. Spray organic horticultural oil (??) on peaches. Peach worms are gross.
  10. Protect apples with some kind of bag or netting. Birds are ruthless. And sneaky.
  11. Plants need fertilization even if compost and manure has been dug in. Do not believe hype about "feed the soil". Well, partially believe hype. But still fertilize.

Sun Oven Journal

Here's the ongoing list of all the Sun Oven meals I've cooked in my Global Sun Oven and/or Tulsi Hybrid Sun Oven.


November 18th
Roasted Vegetables and roasted garlic sauce

November 17th
Banana bread

November 16th
Butternut squash for Butternut Bisque and Butternut Quesadillas

November 12th
Spinach manicotti

November 11th
Banana bread
Roasted sweet potato

November 6th
Tomato sauce

November 3rd
Roasted sweet potato

October 26th
Butternut squash

October 4th
Butternut and acorn squash

October 1st
Banana bread

September 29th
Sweet potato and black bean burritos

September 28th
Spinach lasagna

September 26th
Basmati rice and chickpea veggie masala

September 24th
Banana bread

September 17th
Veggie quesadilla stacks

September 16th
Roasted sweet potato
Banana bread
Potato soup

September 2nd
Banana bread

September 1st
Eggplant parmesan

August 28th
Roasted Buttercup squash

August 25th
Sweet potato, Apricot nut bread, Pasta bake

August 15th
Corn and zucchini enchiladas

August 13th
Ratatouille and basmati rice

August 12th
Banana bread & roasted sweet potato

August 2nd
Deep dish veggie pizza

August 1st
Chile relleno casserole

July 29th
Sweet potato and black bean burritos

July 25th
Ratatouille and basmati rice

July 22nd
Veggie pasta bake

July 21st
Cornbread, baked beans and sweet potato

July 18th
Zucchini casserole

July 16th
Ratatouille and basmati rice

July 14th
Black bean & sweet potato burritos

July 11th
Banana Bread

July 7th
Herbed carrots, corn on the cob, baked beans

July 6th
Couscous for Tabouli

July 4th
Mexican pizza

July 3rd
Nachos & Quesadilla stacks

July 1st
Sweet potato and black bean burritos
Basmati rice, chickpeas and vegetables

June 29th
Banana bread
Couscous and roasted marinated vegetables

June 28th
Margherita pizzas

June 26th
Baby food - Sweet potatoes & carrots
Vegetable quesadilla stacks

June 25th Spinach enchiladas

June 23rd
Baby food - Sweet potatoes and carrots

June 22nd
Cajun Tilapia
Peach Cobbler and Roasted Baby Potatoes

June 20th
Baked Potatoes & Sweet Potatoes

June 19th
Spinach Lasagna