June 2008

Peak Oil and Self Sufficiency28 Jun 2008 04:34 pm

Waiting for veggies

The gardening initiative continues, with mixed success, and is expanding. Some pics here.

So far the deer have been held away from my original veggie patches, though I did change my protection approach recently. The covers I made for the squares themselves (picture) worked ok, but made harvesting a pain (taking the thing off of each square every day was a hassle). Given that, and the fact that I was planting a bunch of perennials (brambles, kiwi, fig) near the veggies, I decided to fence in the whole area (picture). I like the fence much better — once a day I open a cheapo ‘gate’ and get access to all the plants on the south side of the house for watering and harvesting. Pretty soon I’m going to try expanding that fence to include some new planting area behind the house.

While deer are certainly capable of jumping a 5′ fence, I guessed that they wouldn’t be comfortable doing it into a small area. And so far, no sign of deer in there. We have had some smaller animal — presumably either squirrel or chipmunk, both of which we have in abundance — occasionally dig a hole or uproot a plant, but nothing too bad.

Elsewhere the deer are still a challenge. I need to put wire cages around many of the smaller trees I’ve planted, or the deer chew them up.

Some of the learning on the gardening front is just me absorbing stuff I’ve read (umm yeah, if you plant spinach in the middle of the summer here, the heat will cause it to go to seed very quickly). Other stuff I still don’t understand (what is causing my brocolli to grow so slow and scrawny?).

Some of the plants (tomato, summer squash) are starting to take off; I’m very curious to see how well they produce.

Interestingly, one of the bigger successes is sheep sorrel, which was a volunteer from the wild. All I do is water it occasionally and harvest — yum! In a way this makes me happy, because it lends weight to the ideas that foraging from the wild and using natives may be some of the easier ways to obtain food.

At this point the permaculture work is all investment ($ and planting effort) and no payoff (food). Since I’m starting with small plants, it will be several years before that situation even starts to turn around.

This whole effort certainly confirms my earlier notion that obtaining food in ‘the real world’ (that is, without the benefit of ultra-cheap energy) is a quite a bit of work. I probably average over 7 hours a week watering, tending, harvesting, etc., and here I am approaching peak season getting maybe 2% of my daily calories for my trouble.

Energy Conservation / Renewable Resources and Peak Oil28 Jun 2008 02:20 pm

I’ve heard it said that the cheapest energy is that which you don’t consume at all (or something to that effect). Indeed, better than using energy efficient household devices is not using the devices at all.

This spring I decided to try some sun-blocking window screens for our house. These screens are denser than ordinary window screens, and claim to block far more energy from entering the house (clearly it is better to block it before it enters the house, rather than afterwards, as happens with interior blinds).

Early this year I bought a big roll of the stuff, enough to replace most of the window screens on the house (cost was $165).1 Over several weekends I replaced our conventional window screen (in the winter I take the screens off altogether, to allow in as much sun as possible).

Here’s a pic of the heavy stuff (right) compared to regular screen (left):

Conventional and Sun-blocking screen

How’s it going? Well this wasn’t a properly designed scientific experiment¬† ;-) ¬† but so far so good. We also changed windows and siding last year, and I hadn’t taken data before the change, so I don’t know just how much improvement is due to the new screens. But as of now we’ve had a number of days in the 95 to 100 degree (F) range, and we haven’t felt the need to turn on the A/C yet.

When it is hot we run a whole house fan for half an hour or so in the morning to get as cool as possible, then close up all the windows for the day. On these hottest of days it gets up to about 81 deg downstairs (where we spend most of our time), and about 84 deg upstairs; we run a few ceiling fans as desired, and we’re fine with those conditions. Then in the late evening after it has cooled down again, the whole house fan comes on for an hour or two.

Last summer (before all our changes) we avoided the A/C most of the time, but IIRC it was running at least part of the day when it got above 90 or so.

Qualitatively, this heavy screen clearly does block quite a bit of heat. If you put your hand in front of a window with no screen, conventional screen, and uber-screen, the difference is immediately noticeable. Conventional screen does block some sun, but the heavy stuff almost feels like you aren’t in front of a window at all. You can get a sense of this from the following pic:

 Sun through conventional and sun-blocking screen

In the foreground the conventional screen of the sliding glass door is partly open. In the background, the windows have the heavy screen, and very little light comes through. [That it also blocks a fair bit of light isn't ideal, but is a price worth paying for keeping the house cooler.]

Here’s to simple, low-tech approaches to energy conservation!

1I got our screen from Arizona Sun Supply (the 80% line). It seems to be high quality, and their service was fine.

Life and Peak Oil28 Jun 2008 09:57 am

It was the best of times…

So here we are approaching the End of the Oil Age. It’s been a hell of a ride, but we’re now at the beginning of a slide down the far side of Hubbert’s peak. We don’t know how quickly we’ll descend, but we do know that we will.

What are you going to miss the most about the grand ole time we’ve had this last half-century or so?

  • Driving your air-conditioned Hummer down to the local ice cream shop for some cool relief on a hot summer day?
  • Grabbing a cheap flight to Daytona Beach for spring break?
  • Earning enough money in a few minutes to pay for a day’s worth of calories… shipped from faraway lands all over the earth?

It was the worst of times…

For all the cool things that we’ll be losing, surely there are some things you’re happy to be done with. What are you not going to miss?

  • Sitting on your ass in your car as you idle your way slowly to work… along with thousands of others?
  • Pumping enough hydrocarbons into the atmosphere to push the last remaining summer arctic ice into the history books?
  • Having an agricultural system in the US that lets us abuse, kill, and serve as food over 10,000,000,000 animals a year?

What are your BoTs? What are your WoTs?