Saturday, September 30, 2006

Little break

There seems hours of work to do in the garden to currently clear up beds and do some fall planting. As autumn mellowness fills the air, I can be found in my kitchen making apple pie, chutney and all sorts of items.
I am needed by my family at the moment as my father has been admitted to hospital. My priority is my relationships and how I fulfil these currently, so if I am not posting for a while, it is simply because when it comes to the crunch, I go where I am needed and my thoughts need to be a bit closer to home.
One of the bonuses of downshifting has been that I have time to devote to relationships, as before other things materially seemed to get in the way. In the final analisys very little matters other than being with the people we love and simply being with them and holding them through a difficult time.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Saving water

Conserving water as a vital resource.....
On average we use 70% more water today than 30 years ago.

❑ Take a shower instead of a bath - showers save water
❑ use a glass of water to rinse your teeth as leaving the tap on uses 10 litres
❑ Fit a water saving device on your toilet cistern to cut back on the equivalent of 2 baths of water used to flush your toilet.
❑ When making a cup of tea, only fill sufficient water for your needs, rather than filling it to the top and heating that up.
❑ Use a bowl to do your washing up, using environmentally friendly liquid means you can then pour the grey water on your garden.
❑ Only use the dishwasher when it is full.
❑ Water plants in the garden with a watering can using harvested water. A garden hose uses a lot of water that evaporates on hot days. (also good exercise)
❑ Look at clay pot irrigation
❑ Don’t cut the lawn too close- longer grass sends down deeper roots and reduces weeds.
❑ Use water used for bathing to water your plants.

Remember that water is a necessity for living.......

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The tail of Hurricane Gordon

The weather has been hot today and the winds have been picking up speed. Hurricanes are rare in the Uk, only every couple of years so the announcement of the tail end of one is always a bit of a shock. Its certainly part of a different world where weather patterns become more unpredictable.

Here’s the advice from the met office

Make sure you know what to do
Before the storm
        •        Secure loose objects such as ladders, garden furniture or anything else that could be blown into windows and other glazing and break them.
        •        Close and securely fasten doors and windows, particularly those on the windward side of the house, and especially large doors such as those on garages.
        •        Park vehicles in a garage, if available; otherwise keep them clear of buildings, trees, walls and fences.
        •        Close and secure loft trapdoors with bolts, particularly if roof pitch is less than 30°.
        •        If the house is fitted with storm shutters over the windows then ensure that these are closed and fastened.
        •        If chimney stacks are tall and in poor condition, move beds away from areas directly below them.
During the storm
        •        Stay indoors as much as possible.
        •        If you do go out, try not to walk or shelter close to buildings and trees.
        •        Keep away from the sheltered side of boundary walls and fences — if these structures fail, they will collapse on this side.
        •        Do not go outside to repair damage while the storm is in progress.
        •        If possible, enter and leave your house through doors in the sheltered side, closing them behind you.
        •        Open internal doors only as needed, and close them behind you.
        •        Take care when driving on exposed routes such as bridges, or high open roads, delay your journey or find alternative routes if possible.
        •        Slow down and be aware of side winds, particular care should be taken if you are towing or are a high sided vehicle.
        •        Do not drive unless your journey is really necessary.
After the storm
        •        Be careful not to touch any electrical/telephone cables that have been blown down or are still hanging.
        •        Do not walk too close to walls, buildings and trees as they could have been weakened.
        •        Make sure that any vulnerable neighbours or relatives are safe and help them make arrangements for any repairs.
Reproduced by permission of the Building Research Establishment

Price of fuel check

Reducing the use of a car is great but getting fuel for the best possible price also means less money to spend. At they search the service stations in your area and you can also get an email update as to where the cheapest fuel is within a designated travel radius. It may only be pennies but as most cars take more than 30 l fuel in, its worth knowing where the best price is.

The website is also full of useful information on sharing lifts and a useful blog that keeps you updated with tips on reducing car need etc.

If you are starting a college course, why not find out if anyone closeby travels the same way and see if you can share their transport costs. can find out whether anyone close to you goes the same way.
If you are cycling to work or wanting some more info on how your employer can introduce a cycle to work scheme with tax benefits, check out the Department of Transport guidelines.

Summary on transport costs

✓ Reduce the use of your car by planning journeys or sharing transport
✓ Reduce costs of fuel by checking out where the cheapest supply is located near you.
✓ Try alternative ways to go from A to B, use a travel planner to compare costs, time etc
✓ If you consider cycling to work, see if your employer has a scheme if not why not tell them about it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Continual produce

It can be daunting to create a vegetable garden that produces a full range and enough for a family. During my recent library trip, I came across a book by Lia Lendertz offering a half hour allotment plan. This book clearly shows what to grow on an allotment or large garden, how much of each plant etc. It prompted me to create a small excell spreadsheet ( very sad) with the amounts of veg I wanted to grow and when it all needs planting. It takes a more scientific approach avoiding the glut and famine of the home grocery and in principle you should be able to provide sufficient all year around.
As its September, it suggests this would be a sewing time here in the Uk for Spinach and Garlic and time to plant apple trees, october is the time to plant redcurrant bushes ( 2 for a family of 4) and in November you should sew mangetout peas 1 10ft double row.
I think its a useful exercise to look at what the garden can produce and how that can be strategically achieved. You can tell I was in financial planning can't you...the skills are however as relevant to cabbages as they are to money.

We are spending quite some time clearing the garden and preparing it for winter. A bed is being cleared of weeds and plants to make way for a peach tree and sunflower plot next year.I am also working on putting the claypot irrigation system in place.

Monday, September 18, 2006

On elderberry cordial

Thanks for leaving a comment about the elderberry cordial, could not reply directly as there was no email address to get back to, but here is the recipe:

Elderberries (still on stalks)
Cinnamon sticks (1 per each pint of liquid)

Pick the fruit on a dry day ,stew with the stalks in a large stainless steel saucepan, with just enough water to cover.

Strain through muslin squeezing to get all the juice.

To each pint of juice add 1 lb (450g) of white granulated sugar( or brown sugar), 10 cloves and 1 cinnamon stick.

Boil for 10 minutes.

Cool ( syrup is very hot) and bottle in sterile bottles with good quality plastic screw-on tops making sure you distribute the cloves evenly amongst the bottles (they act as a preservative).

The cordial can be used immediately, and will keep well for a year or two. I also keep some in the freezer ( leave some room at the top of bottle for liquid to expand)

Taken with hot water it is renowned as a guard against colds, and a glass a day through winter is a wise precaution..

Original recipe is from paul's elderberry page (

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Garden dyes off

The garden has had enough....the plants and trees look tired and they are dying off. The tomatoes are ripening fast and there is plenty of work to do clearing space and making the beds ready for the next occupants. I managed to find another 7 lbs of tomatoes on the vines which I promptly put in the freezer. I have my fill of tomatoe soup, chutney, puree and ketchup for the winter to come so this time, I am being a bit lazy and putting them in small bags straight in the freezer. Apparently when you need to use a tin of tomatoes in a dish, you plop the bag in boiling water straight from the freezer, the skins will fall off and then you just add the tomatoes to the dish. Sounds simple in a complicated world.
My cabbages are being eaten by yet another generation of white cabbage fly........I do look after them I do, so am walking along to kill off some caterpillars. The reason you ask? They turn into butterflies, that lay eggs and then these turn into caterpillars. I have been too kind this summer but next year I am going to be more picky ( pun).

What to plant now.....
I put in some winter lettuce mix, which is mustard seed, mizuna and mibuna and a few weeks ago planted my last lot of carrots to go in the polytunnel. Its still very dry, the waterbutts are getting empty and the leaves are drying on the plants. All in all it was a good season but I am planning to be a little more organised next year. One of the projects is to use claypot irrigation and see if that makes the watering a little easier. Its good to plan.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Almost daily there is some reporting on global warming, the effects on other countries of the way we use our energy. The latest story is the shrinking of the arctic ice.

I may be more aware of it because I am interested in it, as other people may completely go into denial about the situation.

I thought I would illustrate a common process happening to humans when they have a shock, be it through ilness, death, loss of any kind so you can see where abouts you are in the cycle.

It starts with shock,......
.........then comes denial
...........then comes anger and guilt............
..............then comes despair.............
.................then comes acceptance..............
.................then comes relocation........

Relating this to the news of global warming....where abouts are you?

It could be something like this......
Global warming, flooding in Bangladesh, changes in arctic ice ( shock, possibly)
Ah...that has nothing to do with me.( denial)
How is it possible that this is happening? Is it my fault? Why do politicians not act?( anger and guilt possibly)
Its hopeless for any individual to do anything about it...we are doomed.( despair)
We may be doomed but to effect change I am going to have to make changes now and its going to be hard and cost me money.( moving to acceptance)
heck, this is hard, giving up things( despair mixed with acceptance- some go back to denial)
I wonder what solutions I can find to change things around here ( acceptance)
Downshifting, community and communication........( relocation)

The most difficult and tricky point comes when you come out of despair and depression and realise that the way forward is going to be hard, acceptance and the need to change. This is where most people hit rock bottom, not when they hit rock bottom but when they are aware what needs to be done to make change happen.
It takes on average 2 years for people to journey from shock to relocation........where are you on this journey?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Energy conservation report

My energy supplier offers a free energy efficiency check on our home, by questionnaire,which implied that I would find out where I am and how I can reduce my energy requirements by taking simple measures.
It arrived today and frankly, I was disappointed, It gives our house an energy efficiency rating of 40% ( 100% being maximum ). The measures that increase efficiency are considered to be as follows :
1. Loft insulation
2. Double glazing of windows
3. Low energy lighting
4. solid fuel closed room heater
5. dryline the walls

Doing all of these would increase my rating to 70 to 80% and here is the interesting bit, see if I got that right:

Estimated potential running costs would come to £ 860 per year and my annual savings would be £ 490 per year which to me means that it is actually going to cost me £370 more than I am spending now. Maybe compared to another person’s home that makes sense but I was hoping to become more energy efficient without it costing me more each year. Was that unrealistic?

It did however include a leaflet for warmfront who will provide a grant to make your home warmer if you qualify. Central heating probably increases the value of your home, I am told by the local estate agent that ‘ people expect it’. I would love to have central heating but even if it is installed I wonder whether it is practical to have it running when ‘people expect it’.

My question is this, how does gas central heating make environmental sense? What heating other than solar or wind powered at the moment makes environmental sense? Currently we use logs to heat our stove in the living room and a gas stove which heats our water and does our cooking and also provides heat in winter in the kitchen.

I decided to explore on wikipedia and came up with this, an article about the environmental cost of wood, and yes it appears that it has an environmental cost.

Wood is said to be a greenhouse gas lean form of heating since the combustion of a tree releases the same amount of carbon dioxide as is bound up by a growing tree. Therefore, for this to be true, the resource must be managed accordingly. As far as the carbon dioxide released from the energy used in the processing and transport of heating wood, it does contribute to global warming.

Taking this into account, wood is a low cost energy, which is renewable if you manage a forest nearby and you do not need to travel far with the energy source. The reason for us using wood is that it grows on our land, and for every tree we cut, we plant another one.
Against that would be the use of gas and other fuels but the costs of manufacturing, transporting and delivering these is higher because they get delivered by road.

Electricity appears to be the most energy efficient but the cost of it is the highest.
A calculator can be found here.
So my thinking is as follows :

I have wood available, so I might as well use it,as long as I manage the amount I use and replace what I am using with new trees.
Electricity can be produced by using solar panels which is what I am investigating at the moment.

If you have any suggestions on how to deal with the cold ,apart from central heating, why not share it?

Ad free blogging

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You may have noticed that I have done a bit of housekeeping here today, no more ads and hopefully a clearer oulay of the blog for you to read. I had not even noticed the hypocrisy between having a blog about downshifting and reducing consumption and then having some adds on it to get you to buy. It appears that I still have some un brainwashing to do. I am working on it though.

It all adds up.....***pun**

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Your uniqueness

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium. It will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine satisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive.”

Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille


Isn't she lovely?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

And then there was the gas rebate

Just when I thought I was going to have to find some extra money a letter arrived with an incredible message. It was a bit like the card you draw in monopoly, the community chest card......we have noticed that you have paid too much, we overcalculated your usage and we will be sending you a cheque for X and be reducing your monthly payment by 25 %. I like getting these type of letters.

To give you an idea of the recent changes on my utility bill:
Gas now reduced by 25%
electricity up by 2 %
food consumption reduced by 50% ( not lost any weight though)
water utility bill is standard we are not on a meter.
Cable TV, managed to reduce regular payment and haggle.
TV line rental, reduced by 5%.

Some of it goes up and others go down, in general terms, money out is less and consumption is less.

Other changes that have had positive effects on our budget :
DVd and games longer buying. This is a halfway point as after some time we will not be accumulating games ( stuff) and hopefully interest will wane.
Using the library instead of pushing the amazon button. Hard one to do and occasionally I treat myself when they do not have the book in the library.
Growing our own food has made a big change to how much I cook and how much packaging is produced in this household.
Using the car for essential journey only and sharing transport has reduced our fuel consumption.

Its good to see it on paper ( or screen).

To reduce computer and TV time I am going to invest in a wind up timer and give us all more focussed time to play with.

The energy debate

Summer procrastination is over. I do not watch TV a lot but yesterday I saw an interview with Al Gore about the energy crisis and global warming etc etc. It reminded me why it is that I am doing all this stuff. One step at a time, now, not in 10 years time when it will be harder and harsher to do.
Al Gore wants people to take up the changes necessary and as we change , so will the politicians. Politicians are not going to tell us to change things because we have a comfort zone and actually what we are going to have to do is to give up some of those in order to save lives in the future.Granted, technology will come up with solutions, but we can be creative, use our resources, the brain come up with creative, innovative ways ourself. You do not even have to reinvent the wheel, there are many of us already doing this. The reason for this blog is to show you that an ordinary woman, with 4 kids, can make changes. Some are more popular than others but the solutions we find as a family, the savings and changes we make have an impact on what we then do. Less is really more when you get going but you need to switch off the consumer messages in your head, on the TV, in the papers...and switch on your own creative brain..working out a plan for a life that is worth living to you, a life that has value, a life that will be sustainable in the future.

To make changes, in any business, even a life business, you need to know exactly where you are at. I have said this before on money matters and it also holds true on energy matters. Despite many changes in lightbulbs and usage habits, I thought our energy consumption would go down. Imagine therefore my disbelief when I heard that my electricity payment was being increased. I wanted to investigate why. One of the reasons is that the unit price has gone up but secondly, it appears that our consumption also has increased. How is that possible?

Your electric supplier has all these facts on hand on a computer somewhere. This is what I found out. We have increased our use from an average of 19 units per day to 21. As it turns out, some of the changes we made to save water have increased our energy output. Let me explain that one. A bath, uses a lot of water but in this house, we have a tank of hot water each day regardless of whether we use a bath or not. It is heated by gas so our gas consumption is unaffected. We cannot change the process, it heats up our range cooker which heats up the water as a by product. Changing to showers has reduced the amount of water we use but increased the amount of electricity we use. A 10 min shower uses 3.75 units. There are 5 people in this house although some wash more often than others ( there is no right way in this, no preference, its individual). So making this change has affected our electricity usage. To put that right we can balance individual showers and shared bathwater.

The other items that use a lot of units are as follows :
Dishwasher uses 2.5 units per load
washing machine uses 2 units per wash
dryer uses 2 units per load
computer uses 1 unit every 4 hours, so if you leave it on 24 hours it will use 6 units.

Why do I fret about it. I don’t but I want to install solar panels in the future and enable this house to generate some units from that. There has to be a balance between what it can produce and what we use.

Our washing machine has a 7kg load and we can be more careful in using it when it is full and when the clothes are dirty. We hang them out to dry in the summer. Dishwashing could be done by hand.

Against everything is the convenience of time. Everything in the simple life, requires less money and more time and as you consume less, you have more money to spend on the things or people that really matter to you.

Appliances in our house have a certain lifespan and when they break we can repair them, we can look whether we want to replace them at all, and replace them with energy efficient appliances or with muscle power. It all depends how driven you are on this issue.

My boys looked incredibly at me as if to say ‘ and you spent all afternoon establishing how many units we use per day?’ Yep, I did because finding out and creating your baseline gives you the information to make changes if you want to.

Friday, September 08, 2006


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This picture tickled me, sent by a friend...must know my weakness.

Autumn glow

Its happening, the light is changing and all outside plants are being bathed in an autumn glow. Inside, the glow is due more to using energy, canning and working at a hot stove. Still canning tomatoes today. Question currently going on in my mind is how much food we actually consume over a year. Last year I could not manage missing a shopping weekly, then created menus to see what was needed and have managed to work that up to a monthly shopping trip. I am aiming to increase that knowledge learnt to make 12 monthly menus which will then give me a formula for which foods need to be grown, bought and stored. I am sure this is what the pioneers did. How many days can you live without going to a store?

Thursday, September 07, 2006


Another 14lbs tomatoes later........trying to make ketchup. This is another plastic bottle we use quite a bit of and then have to recycle. I have created 3 pints of ketchup today, the kitchen smells ketchup but the real test will come in a few weeks time when small boys taste the end product.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


What exactly is Glug? Glug is our new washing liquid. It is not available anywhere in the shops, quite exclusive! Another eyeopener. We love soft fabrics against our skins which meant that we went through 3 bottles of washing liquid per month in addition to 2 bottles of softener. Glug has changed all that. I used this recipe here. The second day I had a mass of slime at the top and water underneath and wondered whether I had done the right thing. I used a large balloon whisk to make it equal to the washing liquids we have bought so far.My Dh suggested pine fragrance and I added some essential oils to it but its not a fragrance I would recommend as it reminds me of disinfectant at the moment. Orange or lavender and camomile will be the next ones to try. 9 out of 10 washes turned out great with great washing power......and no softener required. My question therefore is whether the manufacturers make the powders so harsh that you have to use softener to deal with the residue of the washing chemicals. Some of my children have skin allergies and we have had to be very careful in choosing the right chemicals to bathe them in ( sarcasm!). Glug solves all these problems, no allergies, no plastic bottles to recycle. I am searching for that clean cotton smell.......

Monday, September 04, 2006

Shopping day

Today was the day, the one and only day that we go shopping in the month. I used to go shopping whenever the need or fancy took me there but these days, I go once a month and follow my list carefully made as the month goes on. It provides a focus. Sometimes things get crossed off and sometimes an impulse buy does creep in. Its become an interesting experience instead of a dull one. Today, the must have list was small, some shoes for DS 1, some tea for me and a treat.......a visit to Starbucks. I used to enter very frequently there and now again,I savour the delight of my chai tea latte, sip it very carefully. The flavour and sensual experience has to last a month. Of course I could go more often but the whole point about voluntary simplicity is that it is voluntary, I have choices and I choose to engage with my visits fully, knowing why I am in town, what I am looking for and then going home having really enjoyed my time out. Starbucks, what an extravagance.....only once a month and when I am in there, sipping tea, I people watch enjoying the variety of transient people sharing the same space as I do. Did we spend much, probably not as the norm goes, but as far as we were concerned, we spent enough.
Our monthly expedition in town has not only become more focussed but also much calmer. The boys walk patiently, they are not too extremely bored because we do not wander aimlessly. They know exactly how much money they have to spend and make informed choices about what they need and how they make that money stretch until the next trip. They even offered to carry my bag and get my tea at Starbucks which is a form of politeness I have rediscovered in them. The point is this, now we value our time in town and we value how we spend our money. There is a direct relationship between the money we spend, the time we spend together, what we spend our money on and what value it gives us. One of the boys looked at a game shop and then moved away saying,’ nope, I don’t really want to go in there, I don’t really want to buy another game’ Moments like these are heavenly to hear. I don’t think them deprived from violent games, I see them having the opportunity to make different choices, their own.
To finish, my youngest DS, aged 8 has come to the conclusion that if he saves his pocket money for a whole year, he will be able to buy that electric guitar he really wants. I know this is going to be an impact, but he has wanted one for the last 3 years, it keeps coming up and its not going away. He is however focussed on how he can make that happen and I have no doubt that it will happen for him. The guitar will have value. Sometimes the stuff we buy with focus are the ones we value most. You can learn so much from little kids.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Published on Thursday, August 31, 2006 by Energy Bulletin

Preparing for a Crash: Nuts and Bolts
By Zachary Nowak

This essay is intended to address the serious “peaknik,” that is to say a person who accepts as axiomatic that Peak Oil will occur and that the consequences will be devastating for most of the world’s Homo sapiens sapiens. As one of these people, I am often frustrated by the lack of practical suggestions for what to do to survive the Peak and the Crash. Recently I read a list of things that the people who participate in the forum of a noted Peak Oil site were doing “to prepare for a future that can no longer depend on cheap oil.” These included having a rain barrel, a one-month supply of canned goods and a one-week supply of bottled water, “adjusting my stock portfolio with more energy and other commodity stocks,” setting the thermostat at 62, and replacing the light bulbs in the house with compact fluorescents. While all of these are good things to do now, they fail to even minimally prepare for a world with no food distribution, no electricity, and lots of hungry people, things that I think are an acceptable picture for a post-Peak future. Therefore I would like to set out my suggestions, assuming that the worst-case scenario is the one we may have to deal with.

Before action one needs theory. My first suggestion in this regard is, if you’ve read three or more books on oil depletion, stop. You have reached a point where more statistics will not convince you any more. Use your time to read other books. First you need a basic understanding of how we got here, of why our subspecies of Homo sapiens sapiens is in this pickle. Essentially, our hunter-gatherer ancestors reached the limit of the carrying capacity for hunting and gathering and so needed to intensify food production. The solution was called agriculture, and while it requires more calories in for fewer calories out, it allows more people to live in the same area. In other words, twenty square kilometres could support many more agriculturists than it had supported hunter gatherers, but the agriculturalists needed to work a lot harder for their calories. This last part may come as a surprise: to “earn” the daily minimum of 2000 calories, an agriculturalist “spends” 1000, the hunter gatherer 400. For more information on the “agricultural solution,” read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael or Beyond Civilization, and Overshoot (William Catton).

Now you need some theory about where we are going. While there has never been a world-wide collapse, history offers us numerous other examples of societal collapse. They are best presented in Jared Diamond’s aptly-titled Collapse and Joseph Tainter's classic The Collapse of Complex Societies. Tainter’s book is especially important because he searches for a comprehensive theory for collapse, and concludes that it is essentially diminishing marginal returns – the same theory that explains why oil that is further away (underwater, in Siberia) is less attractive. He also presents us with a picture of what happens when collapses occur (e.g. decline in constabulary duties by the state, hunger, occupation of public buildings for shelter, etc.). Another much-maligned source of information on how the future could be are books of the so-called “survivalist” genre. These novels give us an idea of how people could react to a collapse. The best of these is perhaps Parable of the Sower, which deals with an America of the future where energy is at a minimum and a pseudo-fascist government takes over. Finally, if we do indeed return to a stone-age level culture, we need to know how to live in it. Luckily there are well-documented examples in anthropological literature of just how hunter-gatherers do it, how they eat and how they self-govern. Limited Wants, Unlimited Means is a collection of essays on the economics of hunter-gatherers and includes an essay from the groundbreaking book Stone-Age Economics by Marshall Sahlins, the first to understand that hunter-gatherers do not live on the edge of starvation, but rather are “the original affluent society.”

That done, you need a place to retreat to, if necessary. I hope that the collapse will be gradual enough that we can shift to an organic agriculture slightly less harmful to the environment, and that this gradual collapse will allow us to develop local currencies and smaller, more understanding communities. I am not, however, planning for this future. I am planning for one with lots and lots of hungry people that are desperate. In that case a small, energy-efficient condo in the suburbs with fluorescent lights (that don’t work), a tiny garden, and a one-week supply of food just doesn’t cut it, rain barrel or not. You need a place where you can be safe, far from the vast majority of people and out-of-sight, i.e. not a target for marauders (“marauders,” by the way, means hungry, desperate people, not bad people). This means a smallish house in the country with some outbuildings (for storage, food preserving operations, etc.). Yes, it’s hard to see an investment on that level, but see it as insurance. If Peak Oil and Collapse arrive, you’ve insured yourself. If not, you have a vacation house that is off-the grid and therefore has a higher resale value.

I can’t go through the intricacies of finding and buying rural property, but look for something relatively isolated, out of view from the road, with a large woods (and swamp if possible) and some areas for gardening as well as an existing structure. Having acted, you now need to return to theory. Begin your lists: lists of priorities to make your property a lifeboat, lists of books you need to buy, lists of supplies you need on-hand. For the first list you need to consider what I call “systems”: heating, cooking, hygiene, water-supply, and energy. Does the house have a super-efficient “Swedish stove”? Can you use passive solar energy? Can you cook for ten people, day in and day out, and with what energy (solar ovens, wood, etc.)? To avoid sickness and maintain good hygiene, are their suitable bathrooms and shower or sauna facilities? Is there a source of drinking water – if it’s a well, is the pump solar? Are there solar panels or a windmill? DC lights?

Obviously you may know little about all these things, hence the book lists. I find fantastic for this part, as for each search you do you turn up other topics you may need to look into. You search for raising barnyard animals and they offer you a book on common diseases, or slaughtering and preserving their meat. Spend a thousand dollars and buy a lot of books on a lot of topics: passive solar construction, active solar energy, windmills and microhydro, using greywater, composting toilets, gardening, orchards, preserving food, etc. These books will then help you develop the lists of tools and other supplies you need to survive. Chelsea Green ( and Storey Publishing ( are great places to start. These lists will give you many practical things to do, other than reading about greywater systems, the advantages of saunas, and windmill-solar cell combinations. You’ll soon be scouring yardsales for old tools and canning jars.

That brings me to the most important part of your refuge, and that which is least-discussed in other “Peak Oil planners”: food. You can go without a shower, melt snow in the winter, burn wood in a stove for heat, but eating is something that is hard to improvise. Assuming the average person needs 2000 calories to live, you have around ten people to feed, and that you’ll need a year to “figure out” how be self-sufficient (an extremely optimistic estimate), you’ll need about 7,300,000 calories stored. That’s seven million, three hundred thousand calories. Let’s imagine for a moment it weren’t a problem to get all of these calories from wheat (it is): you would need about thirty-five 55-gallon drums of wheat. Do the calculation yourself – there’s an extremely helpful Excel spreadsheet available from Walton Feed ( which gives you the values for sixty-five nutrients as well as calories for over one hundred and sixty foods. Already we have some major problems, the first of which is that even the Bible recognized that “man cannot live on bread alone.” You need a variety of foods to stay healthy, and monotonous diets in stressful situations causes bad health and “food refusal,” especially with the old and the young. You need other foods, and “comfort foods”, i.e. low-calorie and high taste. Then there’s the problem of storage: you can’t just throw all that wheat in fifty-five gallon drums and seal them with silicone. You need to put in desiccants (to absorb bacteria-breeding moisture), oxygen absorbers, and diatomaceous earth (to kill little bugs already in the grain). Foods are difficult to keep fresh, and buying that much canned food will put a hole in your budget.

“I’ll just garden!” you say! Remove this illusion from your Refuge plan. Ask friends who are gardeners and have large gardens what percentage of their yearly food intake comes from the garden and I’ll be astounded if any say more than two percent. Gardening, like agriculture, takes an enormous input of energy for the return you get, and that’s assuming your good at it. Ask yourself what you know about gardening, and whether that’s enough to risk your life on the tomatoes coming in and rows of corn ripening. Horticulture alone is not a valid answer unless you’re already an expert, and even then it’s tough. In addition to your stored food and the [initially meagre] returns from your garden, you will need another source of calories, and these (I have come to think) must come from wild plants. Pick up a book about wild foods (a classic is the entertaining book by Euell Gibbons, Stalking The Wild Asparagus) and you’ll be surprised at how much food (read: calories) is available all around you, with no planting, fertilizing, or other care. But you must know what you can eat and when it’s collected. While you may not get all your food from the wild (also because it takes a lot of rural area to support a small number of people), you can supplement your diet of stored and home-grown food. Wild foods, in my opinion, will be the difference between life and death, and becoming an expert in them is a lot easier than becoming an expert in gardening.

But whether or not lots of calories are available at a certain time of the year (Summer, early Fall) doesn’t mean that they will be in the winter or early Spring. You need to be able to store the harvest from your gardens and from the woods; this is both food preservation and food storage. You must, I repeat, must become an expert in this. You need to know about drying, canning, and fermenting foods in order to store them for the winter. Once again there are lots of available books (start with Keeping Foods Fresh from Chelsea Green and Janet Greene’s Putting Food By). You should start now with store-bought and garden-grown food try making pickles, drying zucchini and tomatoes, and making sauerkraut. You can speed up the process of educating yourself with good books but need to hone these skills with practice. Remember that botulism is not a big threat in First World conditions when canning twenty jars of pickles but imagine three hundred jars in Third World conditions. Learn about pressure canners and check out Lehman’s website ( for special tools. I personally am counting on making pickles and chutneys and fermented dishes from a mix of wild food roughage (to provide the bulk of the calories) and normal vegetables (to provide taste). Your research will be greatly helped by the freely-downloadable FAQ at compiled by Leslie Base (, as well as the files on Prudent Food Storage by Alan Hagan ( The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), because they believe in the “End Times,” also instructs its members to have a large store of food on-hand. Mormons often run so-called “Mormon Canneries” and these can be a wealth of information. Call your local Mormon church.

This is a tall order – find isolated rural property, add solar panels and other “systems,” buy hundreds of books, begin experimenting with canning and fermenting, become a food-storage expert, learn to identify and eat wild foods – but if you really believe that Peak Oil and collapse are coming, then turning down your thermostat and investing in energy-sector stocks are doing nothing to save you. Realize that things may potentially get much uglier than you can imagine, and plan for that reality. You may be pleasantly surprised, and if not, you’ll save your ass.

original text found here


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If you have an elderberry tree in your garden you might find it full of clusters of berries. They are ripe when they hang down. The recipe I followed is simple but I added some cinnamon to it ( just because I am partial to that).If you want the recipe, leave me a comment and I will send you an email about it.

The use of elderberry cordial is to sooth coughs and colds in winter and in a way it makes sense when looking at the plant and the clusters of flowers as they look like the bronchiae part of lungs ( for those of you interestesd in the shape of things). Plants have many uses.

Elderberry flowers make good cordial early in the spring time, the leaves can be used as a dye for yarn and apparently the branches were used to make flutes and other musical instruments. It grows like a weed in my garden, but at least its a product I can make use of.

Orange burst

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Aren't these colours to die for? Its a windy day today, raining and really an indoor day. Taking some scissors, I gathered a small bouquet of flowers ( before the wind destroys them). The flowers you can see are zinnia and sunflowers, the little orange flower is a favourite of mine and is called Tithonia.

Friday, September 01, 2006


The garden has yielded the following over the month of August :
  • 7lbs Courgettes
  • 21 lbs Apples
  • 6lbs Plums
  • 35lbs tomatoes
  • 5 cucumbers
  • 6 lbs french beans
  • 6 onions
  • 6 lbs runner beans
  • 2 peppers
  • 9 lbs blackberries
  • 52 lbs potatoes

That is a staggering total over 140lbs of fruit and vegetables. The amount of tomatoes is overwhelming from 8 plants though so may want to reduce the amount of plants next year.
I am still only growing for our own consumption and canning for winter use. The french beans I love have not been that successful seeing that I did 4 rows of sowings at various times, march, april and july. Its a learning curve. I used no fertilisers at all on the soil apart from compost.
I am planning on planting green manure in the beds to increase nutrients in the soil as I am not very good at growing cabbages. I can grow the seedlings, but overall the cabbage butterflies and their larvae eat more of the greens than I do.
What is nearly ready is some borlotti beans, they look great but I am as yet unsure what to do with them.