Posts Tagged ‘self-sufficient’

Books: John Seymour’s Complete Book of Self Sufficiency

In our eclectic library of green and gardening books, this is one of my favourites. I combines being a coffee-table “pretty” book and a great starting point for most smallholding topics. There are a couple of sections that I find invaluable: there is a better guide to deep digging than that inHow to Grow more Vegetables; and I find the crop rotation guide, and pictures of the vegetable beds through the year, to be the clearest I’ve read – it’s what inspired our Crop Rotation fantasy plan. But most of all, I like the fact that it has a couple of pages on any topic that might interest me – from bees to chickens, building a storeroom to preserving, and it has the ultimate dream – plans for mini-farming five acres.

The book is beautifully produced, the illustrations are a delight, and the content is relevant and comprehensive. This is another book I’d recommend buying – it’s something to refer to on-and-off for ever.

Please order it from your local bookshop, but if you have to buy it online please follow this Amazon link – The Complete Book of Self-sufficiency and the Trafford Eco House will get some money from your purchase (it won’t cost you any more).

Cheaper, better – vegan – bread – the results

I’ve finally tried the Real Bread recipe from my “Baking cheaper, better bread” post. I have to admit I was pretty sceptical. about a third of the yeast I usually use, no sugar to feed it and no butter? I put it into my standard one-hour breadmaker cycle and was expecting a flat, solid, uninspiring loaf.

Opening the breadmaker was not very encouraging, it had risen less than my usual recipe, but not by much:

It wasn’t a nice glossy brown on top, but it did look encouragingly bread-shaped:

Time to open it up then! The best reflection on taste and texture was that the loaf was half-gone by the time I managed to get a pic. It was a lot less crumbly than my usual  loaf, tasted nice, was pretty light, and sliced nicely. Pretty much all you could want:

So, it’s edible, how much does it cost? We’re using the same prices as my original “How much does it cost to bake your own bread” recipe, minus the milk, butter, sugar, and with the new Doves Farm large packets of yeast we’re getting from Waitrose – 125g for 99p.

250g Strong White Bread Flour 11p
250g Strong Wholemeal Bread Flour 16p
1 tsp salt 0.2p
5g yeast 4p
Electricity 3.14p
Total 35p

So this “Real Bread” recipe costs only 35p in comparison to my usual recipe’s 78p. That’s a pretty significant difference, so it’s our new favourite – until the next comes along! Any other suggestions?

Almost forgot to add – now it doesn’t use any chilled ingredients it’s even more green, and it can be made out of standard store cupboard ingredients – even better for our Peak Oil prep.

Book Review: Jeavons’ How to grow more vegetables

This is the bible by which we run our allotment-style vegetable beds. It’s not the only gardening book you’ll ever need – it assumes you have basic gardening knowledge already, or are getting it from another book. Where this book shines is in it’s explanation of Biointensive gardening practices. Unlike some “pretty” gardening books it is not a joy to read, however the tables of plant spacings, expected yields and typical consumption are invaluable if you are serious about trying to feed yourself from your land. One of my favourite parts of the book is the section of sample garden plans – they are a little complicated to follow but really help to build the confidence of novices like us.

The great testament to this book’s usefulness  is that it is probably the muddiest of all our books. It is the one with us when we’re working in the garden, not a coffee-table talking point or occasional reference.

If you want to move beyond just messing about, this Biointensive “mini-farming” approach is one of the ways to go. It’s not a book to get from the library, this is one to buy, and use. Order it from your local bookshop, but if you have to buy it online please follow this Amazon link – How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Can Imagine and the Trafford Eco House will get some money from your purchase (it won’t cost you any more).

Baking cheaper, better bread

An interesting challenge this – a comment from Chris Young from the the Real Bread Campaign on my post on “how much does it cost to bake your own bread“.

Apparently I can make delicious bread without the sugar or milk – Chris gave a link to this Real Bread recipe. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but will do next time I have a chance to play again. I think the main issue may be the small amount of yeast combined with the rapid cycle I tend to use, which produces a loaf in under an hour. We’ll see!

Here’s the recipe:

500g Flour (wholemeal or a mix of white and wholemeal)
5g Salt
350g Water
5g Dried yeast (or 10g fresh yeast, or 3g easy-blend yeast)
15g Butter or olive oil (optional – makes bread slightly softer)

Unless your machine’s instructions say otherwise, pour the water into the loaf pan and, if you are using it, add the fresh yeast. Disperse the salt in the flour and then sprinkle this over the water. If you are using dried or instant yeast and/or butter or oil, place them – not touching each other – on top of the flour. Secure the pan in the machine, close the lid and press the start button.

I’ll post a picture once I’ve tried it.

Aquaponics Update

Sorry, haven’t been posting much recently – have been sorting out our new house . . . due to move in in a few weeks – working hard – and I’ve been planning out our Aquaponics system.

It’s one of the first things that’s going up at our new house so I’ve been busily over-planning every detail. It’s looking pretty impressive now – go and have a look at the latest version of our Aquaponic Polytunnel over at Garden Aquaponics.

Inspirations: The Downshift Project

Just finished listening to the first podcast from The Downshift Project – a really interesting insight into the lives of budding escapees from this oil-based rat race.

I’ve never really got into listening to non-radio podcasts so this is a new one on me, an extra, personal, dimension to a blog. This podcast is an strangely intimate confessional, and as I found the content so interesting I didn’t really think about how vulnerable the author must feel, and I hadn’t had any thoughts about the quality of her podcast until she mentioned it at the end – which must be a good sign.

In it, Tess, the creator of the podcast, discusses how she got from traditional daily life to living in a wooden cabin in west Wales. She talks about the difficulty in leaving your established career, something which often defines you in our work-based society. She confronts the fear of losing skills built up over many year, but a turning point comes when she makes the realisation that she couldn’t survive without Civilisation. That was a good point for me: how could we survive without the constant crutch of nearby shops, water and power? And I guess that really is the ultimate question we’re facing here at Gentle Descent.  I liked her advice that the best way to free yourself from the constrictions of your existing job-and-skills mindset – focus on the future, and as you develop those new skills and interests, you’l leave your old “protective shell” behind without even noticing.

The description of their Narrow-Boat life was great – I liked the intimate connection to nature. Something that I remember from our un-insulated timber house in Brisbane. The community of narrowboaters sounded fun, and I wonder if our desire for land (and therefore space between us and others) is the sort of thing that reduces community bonds. It’ll be interesting to see if they can find that kind of community again in a rural, land-based world.

Their aim to be debt free, so they can minimise the time they have to work for others, really resonates with me. And the balance that they’re striking between life and career goals is certainly refreshing. I’ll be interested to see how their paid work/life/self sufficiency work balance pans out, and whether Tess manages to spend enough time writing and composing music or will her time all be taken up with producing food & fuel? Lets watch and see!

Rainwater tanks

grafcarat6500lAs promised in my previous post about drinking water, here are my thoughts on our rainwater storage.  In our current home town of Brisbane, Australia, the dams that supply our drinking water recently bottomed out at around 14% capacity. The severe water restrictions that we’ve had for years have meant that even in our inner-city suburb about half the houses have rainwater tanks, as without them you are effectively not allowed to water your garden. These aren’t your British-style 200 litre water-butt either. Hardly any would be less than 3000 litres, most would be 5000 litres, and quite a few have 10,000 litres. We’ve currently got two 3000 litre tanks, plumbed into to an underground weeper hose that runs through all the garden beds, controlled by a programmable timer that runs the two watering circuits on alternate days. This has ensured that we have kept our lush tropical garden alive through a seven year drought.

What it doesn’t do is supply any water to the inside of the house. For a while we did use it for our washing machine (a separate tap that we connected the cold water hose to) but as this required a manual changeover it only happened rarely.

To peak-oil-proof our water supply I want our UK system to be fully plumbed in to the house and able to supply our basic, emergency  requirements, and ideally all our requirements. I’m going to try to do this relatively scientifically – based on the Tank Size Calculator from RainWater Harvesting. Manchester provides a very different scenario to our Brisbane rainfall – there’s 400mm less a year for a start, and it is more evenly spread thoughout the year, minimising the need for a huge tank to cope with peaks and troughs.

With our roof area (about 100m2) and Manchester’s annual rainfall (806mm) we can expect to collect around 64,500 litres/year (at 80% efficiency). That sounds like a huge amount, but when you consider that our current water consumption is around 250 litres a day, we currently use 91,250 litres/year! So to be self sufficient in water with our current roof size we’ll need to reduce our in-home water consumption by around 30% – that looks like the subject of another post!

So what size tank do we need to make sure that we collect as much water as we can, without wasting any? I concocted my own monthly water use chart, based on meeting a target of 170 litres/day (then found out that there’s a very good one in the RanWater Harvesting spreadsheet!).  From looking at this (below) I’ll have a shortfall of 3000 litres in the first year – so in this table I’ve pre-filled the tanks with 3000 litres to ensure that they don’t drop below zero. In reality this “top up” would happen in stages during the year depending on our actual daily consumption to give us the chance to be extra-economical as the levels drop. 

  Rainfall /mm Water Collected /litres Available Litres
Water Used
(170 l/day)
Storage at Start   & End of      Month
Jan 71.5    5,720 184.5     5,270 450  3,000     3,450
Feb 51.8    4,144 148.0     4,760 -616  3,450     2,834
Mar 64    5,120 165.2     5,270 -150  2,834     2,684
Apr 49.1    3,928 130.9     5,100 -1172  2,684     1,512
May 53.8    4,304 138.8     5,270 -966  1,512       546
Jun 66.8    5,344 178.1     5,100 244     546       790
Jul 59.5    4,760 153.5     5,270 -510     790       280
Aug 70.9    5,672 183.0     5,270 402     280       682
Sep 69.9    5,592 147.2     5,100 492     682     1,174
Oct 86    6,880 221.9     5,270    1,610  1,174     2,784
Nov 81.9    6,552 211.4     5,100    1,452  2,784     4,236
Dec 81.4    6,512 210.1     5,270    1,242  4,236     5,478
Year 806.6  64,528 176.8   62,050   2,478    

In this our water storage peaks at around 5,500 litres, so unless we manage to keep at or below our tight 170l/day target for several years there is limited benefit to installing a tank any larger than 6,000 litres

Tank Suppliers


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