Living Sustainably

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Archive for January, 2007

The Physics of Everyday Life

Because we live off-grid, and build our own energy systems, there is a need for a good understanding of physics. Most physics texts are heavy on theory, and dry as a piece of straw. We have found an exception. Written in an easy to comprehend style, and filled with everyday examples and explanations, How Things Work by Louis A. Bloomfield is a reference that should be in your personal library if you are in the least bit curious about how the things around you work, and it’s a necessity if you are designing your own energy systems.


Teach a Man to Fish ….

You have heard the old adage, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”

Well, World Vision ofter fishing kits, goats, and other bootstrap items to needy folks all over the world, and we can sponsor such a gift through their website at


Government Program Seeks to Tag Every Livestock Animal in the United States

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is embarking upon a new program that seeks to have every single livestock animal in the United States identified, tagged and possibly implanted with a radio chip. The highly controversial National Animal Identification System (NAIS) would require anyone who owns even one livestock animal – such as a pigeon, rabbit, chicken or horse – to register that animal and its location in a federal database.



The New Grit

We rediscovered an old friend. I remember reading the rural newspaper GRIT as a kid, and recently, they moved to a new format that really works. Now a glossy magazine, the articles are more relevant than ever to living a more sustainable, self sufficient rural lifestyle. With great articles on the USDA’s plan to register and tag all livestock (This is bad), to promoting the rural craftsman (This is good), to fencing in and caring for livestock (This is very good), this is a resource you won’t want to miss! Advertising? Yes. But it’s topical and contextual. Woodsplitters, small tractors, woodstoves, and generators, not cigarettes and alcohol, and the male enhancement ad is in the classifieds section in the back, thankfully (come on Grit, did you really need to allow that one?). Rediscover an old friend …..


Pressing your own fuel from crops

Our friends and neighbors the Martin’s have their oil press up and running. They are pressing oil from oil seed crops, and experimenting with a variety of crop types to determine the best crops for our climate and geography. Pictures can be found in our photo album, and movies can be found at:

Movie 1, 3.2M
Movie 2, 61.8M
Movie 3, 49.2M
Movie 4, 12.1M
Movie 5, 9.3M

Additionally, Melvin and Luray are working with some new >1 watt LED’s. Melvin had this to say:

We got some new LEDs to replace the old ones we installed last winter. The old ones were not right from the day we got them, and since, they have lost their light output. The new ones act like they are supposed to, they are many times brighter, they have a much wider viewing angle, cheaper per amount of light output, more efficient, and give a nice white light. As you can see in the picture, these new LEDs need to have a big heat sink. So far we really like them.


Teach a man to fish ….

Our good friend Jim Juczak at Woodhenge.Org made an interesting observation recently:

The old quote; if you give a man a fish he’ll eat for a day, if you teach him to fish he’ll feed himself for a lifetime” isn’t quite enough. It should be more like “if you give a man a fish he’ll feel he’s entitled to get one from you every day, if you teach a man to fish he’ll be hungry until he gets good at catching fish”.

I don’t want to tell people how to survive a crisis. That’s too short of a timespan. I want to show them that sometimes the simple stuff works the best, but just like advanced technologies have their pitfalls, so do simple technologies. The problems of modern technologies are pollution, resource depletion and depersonalization of peoples. The problems of simple technologies are having to learn them and practice them until you become proficient at them. No instant gratification here! You actually have to ask and talk to people to learn how to do stuff efficiently. Yes, you can learn from a book or how to DVD, and I do this a lot of the time, but I find my efficiency level goes up at least an order of magnitude when I learn directly from ‘them that’s doin’.


The Switch

Want a carbonated juice that the kids will think is soda, but has nothing in it but 100% juice and carbonation? At just under a buck for 12 oz., soda is cheaper, but the sugar, caffeine, and color dyes can send the kids off the walls. So switch to the Switch, it tastes good, and it’s good for you. My wife’s favorite is the Citrus Blend, mine is the Peach and Apricot blend.


Staying warm when it’s cold

It was -20F this am. I have both woodstoves going, and it’s a balmy 85 inside. The generator wouldn’t even turn over this morning, but there was enough juice in the batteries to keep us going all last night and today. Finally got the generator fired up about 9pm so Linda could get the laundry done. I’m on call for the Hospital, but I’m hoping it’s a quiet night. We have about 6″ of new snow in the last few days. Not enough to make life difficult.


Cornstarch Packing Peanuts

A Public Radio Commentary by Bill Hammack:

My wife and I got a package in the mail that fascinated me. I don’t even recall its contents, because I was taken with the the green packing peanuts used to protect whatever it was from damage. As I scooped up the pellets to toss them in the trash, my wife said, with a very knowing voice, “Just toss them on the compost pile.” What! Plastic in the compost? No. She showed me a slip of paper that explained: There was no “plastic or polluting gases” used to make these peanuts; they were made of cornstarch.

Toss them on your compost pile or spread them on your lawn and with a bit of water they’ll dissolve in minutes. These cornstarch packing peanuts are part of a movement called “green engineering.”

It’s a design philosophy where the environment is explicitly considered from the beginning: A goal is to find processes and products which are feasible and economical while minimizing pollution at the very beginning. These cornstarch packing peanuts are the work of food engineer Bill Stoll.

Read more at and at

Available online at $18 to $25 for 12 cu. ft. at a variety of sources including Uline.


Rver’s Guide to Solar Battery Charging

This excellent reference is written for the folks who believe camping doesn’t mean hooking up to water, cable, and electric at a mobile version of a trailer park. Off-grid camping doesn’t have to mean spoiled food and no lights, or noisy smelly generators. It’s also a good start for folks who want to learn more about living off-grid in general in RV’s without wheels (camp or primary home). You will learn about solar panels, batteries, chargers and inverters. You’ll learn how to hookup and maintain your system. We highly recommend this resource.

Rver’s Guide to Solar Battery Charging