Monday, August 31, 2015

A couple of weeks in our new house

Thanks for support from afar as we moved into our new house. It has been super momentous and blessed, though perhaps I was being overdramatic in weathering what felt like a particularly overwhelming few months.

The off grid stuff:

We learned our small fridge, which we brought over from our old house, is pretty low quality, in that it sucks massive amounts of energy every time the motor starts up, thereby tripping our inverter (the thing that converts DC to AC). We also returned the pump that was going to pump water from our Jojo rainwater tank into our solar geyser and bathroom, as it had the same problem. The amount of power we have from our 4 panels seems to be close to ok, but our main challenges are related to surges and starting motors. For now, we're using our deep freeze, which does not have the same problem as our fridge when it comes to surges, and then using our fridge as a glorified cooler box, where we move items from the freezer to the fridge as we need them. We generally have to be super careful about our batteries, and must choose when we have electricity (i.e. not in evenings/at night)-- which I think is going to get better as we get closer to summer, but is surprisingly not a huge deal.

Given the issue with our Jojo tank pump, we're currently using all municipal water inside the house. Which means we're not really off the grid. With a low-pressure gravity solar geyser, our hot water pressure is very low, and we use very little water when showering. We have to start filling the bath an hour before the kids are set to bath, to get them a few centimeters of bathwater. Yet what the geyser lacks in pressure it makes up for in heat. It's a very simple hot water heater, and it basically heats up the water directly, in glass tubes. So even though we're still coming out of winter and the sun is often hidden by clouds, the water is steaming hot. Given that we're not using water in our toilet, our water needs are quite modest and we're wondering if the most practical thing is just to continue to use municipal water in our home. The good news is that our 5000L Jojo got lots and lots of water with recent rain.

Our trees are surviving, and starting a food forest is a complicated, slow thing. The big challenges so far seem to be giant moles and wind. The wind can be fairly brutal on young trees, and our plot has about a trillion brazen moles. There's not a lot we're keen to do about the moles right now (it's low on the long list of projects-- I heard you can eat the moles but I'm really not sure how to start with that?), so I'm trying to think of ways to break the wind, and extend the food forest gradually from more sheltered areas of our farm, outwards. As summer comes, we'll need to start thinking of ways to conserve water while giving the trees the best start we can.

Eli with Cutie the tortoise. He is pretty hard to find, but we know he's always somewhere on the plot!
Eug made a sand table from scrap wood and leftover building sand. 
Wonderful fireplace. Heats up the house, and is hot enough that we're able to cook bread and use the stovetop as well. 
The fire is pretty tiny, but the heat gets spread along the flue.

Eug had the idea of drawing on tiles with acrylic pens.
Unstaged, the other side of our bathroom. Up to now we've just had buckets of dry grass next to the toilet. We've recently bought hay so that I don't have to keep gathering dried grass...
In the Humanure Handbook, the author suggests that you have four buckets with good lids, then you just have to take the buckets out to the compost pile once a week, at most. Our bathroom is too small to store buckets, and our compost pile is relatively close to the house, so once a week doesn't work for us. It makes the most sense to take a bucket out as soon as it gets full, which is currently every 2-3 days.

I'd love to talk more about the toilet as we get more experience with it: shared toilets in South African townships are dangerous for women and children, frequently dirty or fill or locked, and generally problematic. We're too new to this way of doing toilets, and to the complexity of issues in townships, to espouse specific views just yet. Nevertheless, it's super cool that you can get some old buckets, some old grass, and make a wooden box and a toilet seat and voila! a safe (from a public health perspective), non-smelling toilet.

We don't have any greywater system per se just yet. Our water comes out in two places into rocks, underground, a few meters from our house. It's pretty high on our list of projects to turn this water into a resource. Our bathroom water can be sent directly to our food forest, as it's fairly clean. Our kitchen water will need to be filtered through a reed bed, which makes it more work to set up, but it is also more urgent because we're going to be washing diapers again soon.

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