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Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

I read a disturbing article from Reuters this week, about children in Fukushima prefecture not being allowed outside to play, even two years after the disaster.   This is beyond sad, and I can’t imaging trying to raise Baby M in an environment where he had to be afraid of the air.

 

Playing outside in our safe, Canadian clean air.

Playing outside in our safe, Canadian clean air.

 

Since Fukushima, of course, there has been a lot of controversy about nuclear power, and its environmental and human impacts, especially when things go wrong.  There are a lot of vocal people who completely oppose nuclear power, under any circumstances.  I can see their point, and sympathize with it.

 

However, a lot of those same folks are also very vocally against the tar sands projects in northern Alberta, and the Keystone XL pipeline that is proposed to take bitumen from Alberta to refineries in the US.

 

I have a bit of an issue with this.  If you are living in a climate-controlled house in North America, drive a car, wear clothing you did not make yourself, and/or eating anything you didn’t grow, you need to recognize that you, too, are dependent on outside energy, and that energy most likely comes from petroleum, or, in many parts of the US, nuclear generation.

 

“Oh,” you say, “I have a windmill and drive an electric car”.

 

Not good enough.  The metals and minerals in your car and your windmill (and your solar panels and even your woodstove) were mined, and were mined using diesel.  The waste from the smelting still ended up in the environment, though probably in China, where it’s easier to forget.  I’ve read somewhere that an electric car takes so many resources to make that, in terms of total lifetime environmental damage caused by a vehicle, you are better off buying a second-hand car, even if it’s less fuel efficient.   As long as we continue to drive and live in big houses and eat food grown elsewhere, even if we slap some solar panels on the roof, there will be more generating plants, more tar sands expansion, more mines, and more environmental damage.

 

The fact of the matter is that windmills and solar panels and electric cars aren’t really a solution.  People don’t like to think about the real solution, which is to simply reduce consumption.   No more new wardrobes every season, or new iPhones every two years or new cars every three years, even if they’re electric.  No more strawberries in Saskatchewan in January.  We need to learn to do without, or, if we can’t, to buy well-made goods that will last for generations.  We need to start repairing things when they break.  We need to take some responsibility for our food supply.

 

Now, I’m no angel, here.  I drive a car to work, and heat my house with a furnace.  We grow a lot of food here, but we buy a lot, too…some of it even imported.  It’s hard to live a low-resource lifestyle in a country that’s set up for commuting and consumption.  But I sure get sick of seeing people drive up to join in a tar sands protest, or type furious internet comments about nuclear disasters on their brand new phones.  We’re all part of the problem, but until we define what, exactly, the real problem is, there won’t be any viable solutions.  So maybe it’s time to face our own hypocrisy and start working towards low-consumption lifestyles.  Then we can talk about tar sands protests.

 

 

 

 

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A couple weeks ago at work, three of us were taking a coffee break together.  Somehow, the conversation turned to 2012 predictions, pole shifts, zombie invasions, and the collapse of society.  One of our number sheepishly admitted to not having even an extra bottle of water in her house, and, basically, not being prepared for an emergency of any sort.

 

Now, I’m not a big believer in alien invasions or societal collapse, but I do strongly believe in being prepared for more-likely scenarios, like a simple power outage or a water main break.  Even a tornado or multi-day blizzard, or, my personal ultimate worry, long-term unemployment.  I gave my colleague a hard time, suggesting she should at least have a few basics on hand, like maybe a flashlight and a couple of big jugs of water, and possibly some extra food kicking around.  She laughed it off, telling me that if the water main broke, she’d just pack up the kids and head over to her parents’ place to do the laundry.

 

Fast forward a week or so, and the water treatment plant in town has broken down – there is a boil water order for the entire district.  You cannot even safely brush your teeth with the stuff, according to the Public Health advisory, or do your dishes or bathe your baby in it.  Wal Mart sold out of bottled water in about a day, and all the bottled-water shops (Culligan and the like) are backed up on orders.  The latest information I have been able to find is that this situation could stretch out for another month or more.   My colleague posted quite a forlorn note on facebook, likely feeling that this was entirely my fault.

 

It has been interesting at work.  I have a kettle in my office, so, every day I boil a kettle full of water to do my dishes in – no big deal, really.  I keep alcohol hand sanitizer in the office, too, so I just use that or the boiled water instead of my usual hand washing.  I work for a major institution, and they are bringing in thousands of bottles of water every day, to supply staff and clients.  I shudder to think about how much that must cost, and additionally, I wonder where they are finding all the water – it is likely being trucked in from other places in the province, as it’s certainly not being bought off-the-shelf at the local grocery.

 

Some of my colleagues are really struggling with living “like this” – they forget about the boil water thing and give the pets tap water, for instance, making them sick, or just feel frustrated with all the extra steps involved in getting the dishes done, all of a sudden.  Luckily, I have spent plenty of time traveling in third-world conditions, and the sudden conversion to having to think carefully about the safety of my food and water supply is pretty easy for me.  Unfortunately, if you have never been outside of Canada, it does come as quite a shock to think that the water coming out of your tap might not be so safe to wash your blueberries in, and it’s fairly easy to forget the basic precautions.  I have heard over and over that ‘things like this shouldn’t happen here’ – people are really offended at having to deal with the inconvenience.

 

Now, at home out here in the country, we’re not directly affected, as we’re on a cistern – lucky us!  We will have a bit of a problem eventually, as our cistern only holds about a month’s worth of water, and our town has completely shut down the municipal supply for trucking out to places like ours.   We had probably two or three weeks’ worth of water in the cistern under normal circumstances when the boil water order was announced.  We’re generally pretty conservative with our water use, as trucking it in costs a small fortune, so there are not too many ways we can cut back.  We’re doing laundry by hand right now, which is a gigantic pain in the butt, but that’s really the only place we can really cut consumption.  The animals still need water, and we still need to cook, bathe, and do dishes. We could melt snow like we did last spring, but there isn’t very much on the ground, so I don’t know how well that would work this year.

 

I called our water hauler, to see if they were shut down entirely.  The fellow on the phone assured me that we could still get water, trucked in from an unaffected community; it would just double the cost, is all.  Considering how pricey it is to haul water in the first place, we’ll be on ultra-conservation measures (Hubby doesn’t know it yet, but I’m considering instituting a thunder bucket in place of the toilet), but at least we can get good water, for a price.  The day after I contacted the company, the owner called me back, just to make sure I wasn’t worried about the safety or reliability of my water supply, and to assure me that he is servicing his regular customers before hauling water to all the new folks who suddenly want some, which currently happens to include the city itself.  He’d just appreciate an extra day or two of notice, in order to arrange the scheduling.  I appreciate his loyalty to his customers – he’s a good businessman, as well as being a nice guy.  He’ll be doing a stellar business, at least.

 

Now, a six-week boil water order is not exactly the collapse of society, but it’s one of those major inconveniences that can cause real hardship, and even sickness.   Having some bottled water on hand would give a person time to adapt to the situation, and even things like having a bit of bleach (currently recommended here for dish and laundry water, to kill the pathogens) or alcohol hand sanitizer (recommended in place of washing hands with the contaminated water) on hand can save a trip to the store when everyone else is rushing there in a panic – to buy bottled water, hand sanitizer, and bleach, of course!  That is the sort of thing I’m talking about when I say I like to be prepared…

 

 

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Hubby and I have been going for a lot of nature walks lately, as walking seems to help my back, and I have been particularly sore.  I have been taking an identification book for edible wild plants, just for fun, and always keep a few ziploc baggies with me, in case we see anything interesting to pick.  My mother and father were both interested in edible wild foods, as was an auntie who I spent a lot of time with as a child.  There are numerous plants around here that I can identify with a glance, and know what it is good for, be it food, seasoning, or herbal medicine.  I had forgotten about that, after so many years of living in town, and mostly visiting parks and ‘tame forests’, or going high up in the mountains, where the plants are less familiar.  It is fun to be able to walk down by the river and point out to Hubby: “Hey, look, that one is a wild hazelnut!  We will have to come back here in a couple of months.  Oh, and here are some Saskatoons that are almost ripe!”

 

I have been picking things that I think are particularly tasty or useful, like rose petals and yarrow.  There is an important element of conservation to wildcrafting, though – you have to leave enough plants to regenerate for next year.  This is not such a big deal with the roses, as all we’ve been taking are the petals, which still  leaves the fruit (rose hips) to form, as long as you are gentle and don’t pull the whole flower off.  Later, though, we will be careful not to take all of the rose hips, as not only are they the seeds for new roses next year and on into the future, but they are also an important food for deer and wild birds over the winter.  There are lots, and we will remember to share.  With the yarrow, though, we have been taking the whole plant, so I am careful not to take more than one out of three or four, so that the patches can regenerate.

 

Just because of the time of year, most of the focus is on flowers right now.  There is white clover everywhere, and although I have not tried it (yet), I understand it makes a nice tea.  We have some drying in the pantry right now, to try out later.  I have also had an eye out for wild chamomile here at the Acreage; there is lots and lots of it on the driveway, but I don’t want to be drinking something that has been driven over a hundred times.  I am finally seeing some flowering along an old lane that used to lead to all of the granaries, and managed to pick a few flowers today, though that involves a lot of bending, which does not work so well with a sore back.  Maybe another day when I am feeling better, I will go back and collect more.  Chamomile makes a lovely tea, and smells sweet and soothing.

 

Later, we will take buckets with us as we walk, and pick the Saskatoons (probably in a couple of weeks, as they are starting to turn colours already), and hazelnuts, the rose hips after the first frost in the autumn, and maybe even wild highbush cranberries, if I feel I can identify them reliably enough.   For now, the house smells of roses and chamomile while the flowers are drying, and we’re eagerly anticipating the wild strawberries, which I see should be coming ripe soon…

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There are a bunch of thoughts I have been saving up, nothing big enough for its own post, but ideas I wanted to share.

 

 

Barn Pants:

The barn is…smelly.  In a good way – we clean it pretty regularly, but goats and chickens and cats have…aromas.  Aromas I do not necessarily want to be wearing to work.  Furthermore, chores involve a variety of filth – every morning and evening, we scoop the chicken crap out of the waterers, dole out several kinds of food to the various critters, pet and groom said critters, and milk – my aim is improving, but I still don’t always hit the bucket.  If I were to wear a fresh pair of jeans every day, we would be doing a lot of laundry…and I am pretty sure I’ve made it clear on this blog how we feel about laundry around here.  Therefore, Hubby and I have designated Barn Clothes, that hang in the entryway, ranging from somewhat soiled to totally filthy, and only get washed when it rains and the water is free.  For winter, we will be getting some coveralls, but for summertime, the designated clothing system seems to be working.  Just one more small way to conserve water…

 

 

Emergency Soup:

We have had a lot of storms here, lately, causing several power outages.  No power here means no water (cistern pump is electric) no sewer (ditto the septic pump-out), no lights (for obvious reasons), and no stove (until I get a wood stove, that is).   We have back-up plans for dealing with these things – we keep a couple of jugs of water on hand, for instance, and I have my trusty kerosene lamps.  Back up plans or no, though, these power outages are getting darn inconvenient.   The other night, we came in from chores just in time for a huge crash of lightning and thunder to kill the electricity…again.  We were cold, wet, tired, and hungry.   I had planned to make a quick meal of pasta and white sauce, and a cup of tea.   We waited around for half an hour to see if the power would come back on, but it did not.   We wound up snacking on cheese and crackers, but I was quite put out about it.  I really wanted a hot meal, but I could not justify wasting the time and fuel to dig out the camping stove and put a two- or three- pot meal together, and I was too cold and tired to think up anything easier.

 

Last summer, Hubby and I planned to do a long (week – plus) kayaking trip.  We taste-tested a bunch of freeze-dried / dehydrated camping food, but found most of it over-priced and / or inferior.  So, we bought a bunch of freeze dried and dehydrated ingredients, with the intent of creating our own meals for the trip.   I remembered those ingredients the next day (after the power had come back on, of course), and put together a couple of meals in quart jars – freeze dried green beans and celery, dehydrated carrots and onions, parsley, pepper, and minute rice – all we have to do is add some no-MSG bullion (I can’t tolerate MSG), and some boiling water – voila, instant vegetable soup!  I taste-tested a batch, and it was quite nice.  The next time I want a hot meal during a power outage, all I have to be able to do is boil a pot of water – just one pot, and no thinking necessary.  At the rate the power has been flickering here, though, I may need to come up with a couple more recipes, just for variety.  We are at the end of the road, and not a priority for repairs, I suspect, and it has been a bad year for thunderstorms already…

 

 

The Wayward Cat:

Earlier this week, we opened up all of the barn doors, and finally let the three new cats roam free.  We had been putting it off, due to inclement weather, plus various construction projects we were still completing – Stevie is a bit…tightly wound…and we were afraid the pounding and sawing would scare him off.  Sure enough, even without the pounding and sawing, Stevie immediately disappeared, and did not turn up for supper.  Bobby did not want to come back into the barn to be locked up for the night, but at least she put in an appearance.  We really want to keep everyone in the barn at night, as there are so many predators here – owls, foxes, coyotes, and apparently even bears and wolves, though we’ve never seen either here.   Today was about day four with no sign of Stevie, and we were beginning to give up hope.  We were feeling pretty bad about it, as he was a nice cat, even if he was a little sketchy.  Lo and behold, though, at supper chores tonight, who turned up but Stevie, hungry and a little ragged-looking, but otherwise unharmed.  Sighs of relief all around!

 

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It rained yesterday, finally.  The weatherman had called for rain on at least six separate days lately, with no luck.  Even yesterday’s shower wasn’t exactly a downpour, but enough to properly water the garden, at least.

It was also enough to have Hubby running around outside, putting various containers under drips from the eaves.

There are only so many water conservation tactics we can use in our situation.  I have to shower more frequently than I might bother with if I were not dealing with the public every day, for instance.  My “showers” (bucket baths, as the shower is not working, and not all that high on our priority list right now) only take 5 or 6 gallons, but I do that most every day, which makes a dent in the water supply.  We re-use the bathwater for watering the freshly-planted trees, so we are getting two uses out of every gallon, at least.

My clothing also has to be presentable or better.  With cats and dogs and living in the middle of nowhere where it is either dusty or muddy almost all of the time, we do a fair bit of laundry.  We put off doing some things – kitchen floor mats, for instance, or the doggie beds – but it all needs washing eventually.  We were holding off, waiting for the rain, since every full load ‘costs’ us 60 gallons of water.  And water costs a fortune.  We need a front-loading washer or some other low-use option, but for the moment, money is tight, so we have to improvise.

So with the rain, I sorted the laundry while Hubby hauled buckets of water in.  To do the laundry with rainwater, we load up the washer, add the soap, and start pouring water in.  When we think we have enough water in the tub, we shut the lid briefly to make sure the washer does not try to add more.  We make a note of how much water we added, so that we put in enough for the rinse cycle.  Then we run downstairs and turn off the water supply to the machine.

You have to pay a lot of attention when you are doing laundry this way.  At the beginning of the rinse cycle, the machine makes a funny noise, which sounds like it is straining for something.  We have been careful to add water right away, so as not to burn out any motors or anything.  Hauling the water is quite a bit of work.   However, with this rain, we managed to do five loads of laundry (two normal loads of clothing, and three loads if stuff we had been saving, like towels and dog beds and the like), and did not use any hauled water at all.  The laundry smells quite nice, too.  Hubby was a bit dubious about using the water off the roof for the rinse cycle, as there was some dust and pollen in it, but our laundry looks as clean as ever.   Anyone with a rain barrel could do the same.

Hopefully it keeps raining at least once a week, and we can keep doing laundry cheaply until we can afford that darn front-loader…

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So we had our TV – less home invaded by two adults and three kids (aged 4 to 10) for the weekend – Hubby’s brother and his family.  I say invaded, but really, we were absolutely delighted to have them.  They drove all day to come and help us dig holes and plant things and cut down trees and bushes.  They said they wanted to do some ‘real work’ for awhile.   And take pictures of their kids doing ‘country’ things like building forts and planting trees.   The kids were pretty disappointed that we did not have chickens or goats yet, but made do with the house pets.   One of our dogs outweighs any two of the kids put together, but by the end of the weekend, even the littlest one could boss her around – the pooches soaked up all the attention.  The cats were less impressed, and mostly hid out, but that just gave the kids a new thing to stave off boredom – cat stalking.

The weather co-operated, sort of.  It was clear and sunny, and sweltering – almost thirty degrees Celsius on Sunday.  Not ideal for yard work, but certainly better than cold and rainy.

On Saturday, I grabbed my hand pruners to cut a couple of eyeball – poking – height dead branches from the crab apple tree.  Five minutes later, I was searching for pruning shears for two kids to help.  Twenty minutes after that, their mom came out with the bow saw, and by the end of the morning, we had cleared a big, gorgeous area under a maple tree that had been completely obscured by caraganas and lilacs.   It took hours and hours, and our sister-in-law spent even more time cleaning up the ground and raking everything out.  It was not a job we had planned to tackle, but it is much appreciated – now we’ll have a shady spot to kick back with beverages on those thirty-degree days.  Sis says it is her housewarming gift to us, and I can’t think of anything I would have liked better!

Meanwhile, the boys (all three of them) dug post holes.  The little guy was really enthusiastic about digging, and motivated the adults to keep at it, which was an accomplishment all in itself.  While Hubby was digging by himself, one of the ground squirrels came by to tell him off, and was so busy watching Hubby while it ran that it fell in one of the post holes.   That one was good for a laugh!

The kids were fascinated by the hummingbirds at the feeder, and the littlest one would holler every time one came to have a drink.   “Hummingbird!  Hummingbird!  Hey. guys, come see the…oh, it’s gone now…”  It was pretty cute.

Somewhere along the way, I wanted to identify a couple of plants that I was wondering about.  I had my wild plant book and a ten year old shadow, and we wandered off into the woods beside the house.  it turned out that yes, in fact, we do have stinging nettles, and also tons of  chokecherries and possibly wild gooseberries or currants, though I will have to see them bloom to be sure.   We also disturbed a frog.  Instead of shrieking and being grossed out, my niece tried to catch it.  When she couldn’t, she asked me to help.  We dragged the poor little guy in and set him in a jar on the windowsill until suppertime, when we let him go again.

Having kids around really brought back memories of my own summers on my Auntie’s acreage when I was a kid.  I hope they had as much fun as I always did.

I was also very impressed at how little water an extra five people used.  Now, this family has been on missions to third world countries where water is precious, and know all about conservation, but really, the five of them used less water than the two of us usually do.  They did, however, eat more than we had accounted for.  After going through a loaf and a half of bread and a whole box of cereal by the end of the first day, we made a quick run into town for groceries.  It would have been less of a deal if the weather had been cool, and we could cook on the stove without heating the house too much, but in this weather, we were kind of down to sandwiches and cut veggies.

We accomplished a lot over the weekend.  The boys finished digging all of the post holes for the goat yard, and started putting the posts in, as well.   They also dug a bunch of holes for our latest delivery of trees and bushes, and my sister-in-law and I planted blueberries, currants, blackberries, hazelnuts, cherries, apricots, apples, pears, and a plum.   I now have four big circular flower beds in the front lawn, though they mostly won’t hold flowers this year – we never got around to building the raised beds for the strawberries, so they are living in the flower beds with the roses.  It will actually probably be quite pretty.   Brother-in-law figured out how to get one of the painted-shut windows open, and we took down storm windows and hung screens for the summer.  Hubby and I also put in fifty asparagus plants and a couple of rhubarb roots.  Those ones looked kind of dead, so we will see if they actually grow or not.   Sister-in-law and the kids moved most of the brush pile for the kids to build a fort with – ‘coincidentally’ in the spot where we had wanted to move the brush pile to.   Then there was a lot of pruning, and clearing the sitting area.  All in all, I am not sure if they will want to come back, with all the work we made them do, but it moved us forward by weeks on the digging, planting, and building, and we are very grateful for that.

Of course, now the forecast is for frost tonight, so it appears that planting out the peppers and tomatoes was, in fact, premature.  Oh, well – we’ll find some old sheets and towels, I guess…

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We have been making little discoveries all over the acreage, now that the snow is gone and things are starting to leaf out.  We’ve found wild strawberries, wild roses, peonies in a random patch of tall grass by the (crab?) apple tree, raspberries, and what looks like an elderberry bush.  Hubby stumbled across an old rhubarb patch, right in the middle of a truck track behind one of the sheds.  There are a few other odd plants that I will have to identify – one of them might even be horseradish.  Of course, there are also a ton of what look like little stinging nettles – they are too little to tell if they are nettles or wild mint, just yet, and I have no interest in finding out the hard way.

There have also been swarms of bumblebees and hordes of little wood frogs.  Today, we saw hummingbirds for the first time, and also caught a glimpse of the woodpecker that we have been hearing for ages, but had not seen.   There were magpies squawking and swallows swooping.  We heard a bird song that sounded like all the world like a ringing phone, though it went on long past when the machine would have picked up, and was in the wrong direction, anyhow.  There are these little rodents, that look like squirrels but act like gophers, which we have been watching for a couple of weeks.  We also saw one of the bunnies on the lane while we were eating dinner.   This place is suddenly crawling (and sprouting and hopping and flapping) with life.   Unfortunately, the mosquitoes are out in swarms, also, but it’s a small price to pay to have the rest of it.

Hubby is determined to take pictures of all of the birds here in our area, so we hung up a hummingbird feeder, as we doubted we would ever get one to stay still for the camera, otherwise.  So far, there have been two ruby-throated hummingbirds visiting, and hopefully we will see lots of them, as we hung the feeder just outside the kitchen window, where we can watch it while we eat.  Of course, as soon as Hubby set the camera down, one flew right up to the window and tapped on it with his little beak.  I laughed!

In other news, the garden is coming along, albeit more slowly than we would like, with me being so creaky and all.  We’ve gotten the potatoes in, now, and also some radishes, parsnips, kale, chard, spinach, golden beets, lettuce, and broccoli.  We are going to try adding another quarter – row every week or two, to have a fresh supply through the summer.  That’s the theory, anyhow – we’ll see how fast we run out of room and / or patience.  We’ll make a big planting of the storage crops (beets, turnips, carrots, and such) later in the summer, so that they mature right around first frost.

Hubby found an old compost pile from some former residents, and hauled a few wheelbarrow loads over to my front flowerbed, which I decided to plant in tomatoes and peppers, instead.  It seemed like a great place for them, as it is sunny, protected, and close enough to the bathroom to lug buckets of used bathwater (“greywater”) out to water them with – the bed is right out the front door.   It is still a little early, but Hubby has been hauling the plants in and out every day to harden them off, and the weather has been fine, with a forecast for more of the same, so hopefully they won’t get too chilled at night.  We put in eight tomatoes, four hot peppers, and four sweet peppers – we started more, but they would not all fit.  While I was at it, I planted some little potentilla bushes that I bought on a whim, and some tulips and daffodils that were given to us by a friend who neglected to plant them last fall.  I tucked some herbs in between the bigger plants – parsley, basil, oregano, chives, and some garlic cloves that I just tucked in here and there.  That should be an entertaining “flower” bed, for sure!

We likely will have to put the rest of the garden on hold, now, as we have family coming in for a visit over the weekend.  If the kids get too bored with our lack of a television, we’ll set them to work planting beans and corn, but otherwise it’ll just have to wait until Monday…

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