Reflections on October, 2016

October is a second spring in this region.  Plants that appeared desiccated to their death have reawakened.  Fall rains and cooler temps have granted them new life.  So many of the trees we planted in spring were presumed dead after the summer heat, grasshopper pressure, and accidental grazing of the cows.  4 out of 6 of the Hazelnut trees we thought were long gone have popped out new leaves.  5 mulberries are looking lively again, as well as 1 blackberry, and 1 service berry.  And, surprisingly, my decrepit-looking Mother’s Day plum tree is growing new branches and leaves, despite the fact that it’s laying horizontally on the ground.  We have great faith these trees will make it through winter and become more vigorous next spring.

I’m realizing this post is going to be one happy surprise after another, so I’ll just jump right into the next gratifying event.  We have a functional toilet, inside the house!  My dad wasn’t sure whether this was some hippie-contrived composting toilet or “the real deal,” so I’ll be clear for you.  It is an American Standard porcelain throne that uses 1.3 gallons per flush, is chilly to sit upon on crisp mornings, and efficiently moves our family’s waste outside the house to the…

Methane digester!  Wait, what?!  Ok, so a methane digester is a tank, ours is an airtight 250 gallon plastic tote, that holds organic wastes and allows microorganisms to break them down.  This happens through anaerobic (without oxygen) digestion.  The wastes are digested by bacteria and archaea, which consume them and then release a nutrient-rich affluent and biogas. Biogas is a combination of co2, methane and hydrogen sulfide.

Methane Digester

Methane Digester

All this gas is stored in a separate 250 gallon “cubey,” and then is delivered to the house, via black plastic hose.

Methane gas storage

Methane gas storage

For now, a temporary coffee can with holes punched in it proves that it does indeed create biogas and a beautiful flame! Our methane digester’s primary function is waste processing.  Someday it may do some neat things.   It could be used to run our new EZ Freeze absorption cooler gas refrigerator!  Or, a gas stove.

Methane gas for indoor appliances, made from household wastes

Biogas for indoor appliances, made from household wastes

It is astounding how we can create closed streams of resources in our home.  Super-efficiency if you will. Wastes can become resources, with a little research, some trial and error, a dash of determination, and a pinch of stick-it-to-the-man.  Waste is a verb, not a noun.

Now, I have to expound upon the luxury of the refrigerator.  I’ve done my share of complaining, so I must redeem myself here.  I’m going to revisit the complaints and then come back to the gratification of the modern convenience.  Coolers are a great thing.  They keep food and drinks cold with ice inputs for a temporary amount of time.  If you live in Oklahoma in August, this time is less than 2 days per 10 pound bag of ice.  Add the trunk of a black car to transport the ice home in, and you’ve shaved off 2 hours of that ice’s life.  Factor in the number of times the cooler is opened and, you get the point.  Lugging the heavy things from the car to the house is a real pain, as is dumping out the melted ice water when the cooler doesn’t have a drain spigot.  But the worst attribute to living out of coolers is when you reach in to pull out the lunchmeat and find it floating there, water-logged with the melted ice that also crept into the Rubbermaid container of potato salad, stirring up this cloudy muck of liquid that was supposed to preserve our lunch.

Enter the modern ice-box, complete with vegetable drawer, night light, and reversible doors.  I can put frozen meats into the freezer and they never melt or get water-logged.  Ice is in the freezer.  Drinks are in the fridge.  Bam!  Ice cold drinks.  Ah, the luxury.  Our 10-year old read the manual and brought to our attention that the fridge needs to be inspected, defrosted, and waxed yearly.  Check.  Now to the technical part.  What the heck is an absorption cooler?

An absorption cooling refrigerator uses heat rather than electricity to cool.  The heat can be derived from waste heat, such as in industrial processes, gasses, such as natural gas, propane, or biogas.  A thermochemical compressor is used to take a refrigerant, usually water, and move it through a system that causes it to expand.  As it moves through this system, it condenses, and moves heat out of the absorbant, usually ammonia or lithium bromide.  If this isn’t clear, you can point to the battery holster in the back that powers the night light in the fridge and say, “see, it runs on batteries.”  This is what I told the delivery guy when he asked me how it works.

diagram of absorption cooling

The absorption cooling process

Aaron conducted a fairly massive amount of research into the biogas digester before attempting to build one.  One excellent and thorough website he constantly referenced was the Solar Cities website.  Our digester is based on their IBC tote design, which you can find here.

More great news is that our first month of homeschool went beautifully!  I absolutely love this quality time spent with my son.  I’ll put more detail in the quarterly Homeschool Journal post, but in a nutshell, we explored the ancients, including the first humans up to the Assyrians, learned about cells in detail, practiced grammar and writing, and covered some basic math.  Side note #1: The Assyrians used biogas to heat their bathhouses in 3000 BC, that’s 5000 years ago.

boy homeschool kitchen table book open

First month of homeschool was a success!

We also managed to get in some real math, in the form of researching his rabbit business, and some basic skills such as dish-washing, and constructing a bow for primitive fire making.   Oh, and I can’t forget the botany lesson: grafting cactus! Side note #2:  We have begun propagating prickly pear for possible use as a biogas feedstock, edibility and medicinal use.

cactus 10 year old boy dad help

A lesson in botany: grafting cactus

A pretty successful month of school if you ask me.  As I suspected, my 10 year old’s favorite subject is history, and mine is language arts.  Here is our end-of-the-month history project, because who needs tests?  We used the Risk Godstorm game to make a slideshow with historically accurate battle scenes.

Risk Godstorm and a mini-battle slideshow history exam

Risk Godstorm and a mini-battle slideshow history exam

On the days when homeschooling is not taking place, we get into our manual labor work.  While Aaron is adding pallet boards to the decking on the porch, I continue cobbing in bottles in the space above the wall.  We found an Italian restaurant that is happy to give us their used wine bottles for upcycling.  It’s really nice to have a steady source of bottles.  If you’re planning a visit, we will still gladly accept wine bottles of every color except brown.  The more unique the shape of  bottle, the better.

Help from kitty; cobbing in bottles

Help from kitty; cobbing in bottles

My dad stopped by for a day of manual labor.  I think he was bored and in need of a mini-vacation.  While he was with us, he took apart a bunch of pallets and helped us with some leveling in the “front yard.”  The boys always love Grandpa time.

boy 2 toddler big smile grandpa clapping hands

A boy and his Grandpa

We have this big mound of dirt just west of our house that was piled there during the bagging process and excavation of the walapini (underground greenhouse) site.  Usually referring to it as “dog mountain,” this mound has been a temporary play place for the last 2 years.  Now it is time to give that dirt new purpose, and spread it out, leveled, to extend the “front yard” area.  In the spring, this new level ground will make an excellent garden bed and will likely slow and sink precious rain water evenly.

Like father like daughter

Like father like daughter

It is a lot of work throwing the dirt down off the mountain, wheeling it to its proper place, leveling and tamping it all to satisfaction.  We find that paying it around 1-2 hours of attention per day is sufficient.

dad and daughter using shovels to level dirt

The spread of dog mountain into the front yard

I just can’t stop with the good news.  In last months’ blog, I talked about drinking raw milk.  Well, I have read that women who are usually lactose-intolerant, are less so during pregnancy.  This holds true for me.  I have been adding cheese to my favorite dishes and enjoying small glasses of milk with dinner.  So, I don’t know if the raw milk is easier to digest because it’s raw, or because my body somehow magically can handle the lactose because I’m with-child.  Either way, it sure tastes better, and I can’t wait until we can purchase some more.  Its too bad there isn’t a raw dairy closer to us.

There is one smidgen of less-than-wonderful news.  I began collecting surveys for some research I want to do on couples and alternative building.  I have only been able to get 8 surveys!  That’s hardly enough to show any sort of significant pattern.  If you are a builder or know any, please please send them the link to this survey so that I can learn and maybe help other couples during their building phase.  Here’s the link: I have extended the due date to mid November.

partnership-building-survey-pdf-updated-dealine

 

Books of the month:

Aaron finished the giant print Tom Clancy book, Locked On.

Mason has been thoroughly enjoying Hand Hand Fingers Thumb, and Are You My Mother, both a joy to read aloud.

Having begun a new trend of all-my-freetime-goes-to-homeschool-planning, I began Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home, but haven’t gotten very far with it.

Julius on the other hand, has been gobbling up his favorite genres every spare moment he gets.  Here’s his list: Homer Price by Robert McCloskey, Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan, The Odyssey, a graphic novel by Gareth Hinds (based on Homer’s original work), Aphrodite and Apollo both graphic novels by George O’ Connor, Loser and Do the Funky Pickle by Jerry Spinelli, The Warriors series’ Into the Wild by Erin Hunter, and he just began Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard.  On top of this, he’s done a lot of school-related (mostly history) reading.

And finally, we finished The Hobbit, the family read-aloud we began almost a year ago.  We’re going to have movie night with popcorn and watch the movie this coming week.

Happy Hallow’s eve to you all.  And happy homesteading!

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