DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS

DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS
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4 March 2015

Living the high life on low tech

This post was first published on 21 July 2011.

I really enjoy living where we live. The climate is wonderful, we can grow food all year and unless we have a bad year, it's neither too hot in the summer nor too cold in the winter. We live on a small piece of land at the edge of a pine forest that is bordered by a permanent creek, lined with rain forest. In the old days, trees were cut in the mountains behind us and brought to a timber mill on the other side of our one lane street. Logs were launched from our backyard into the creek and floated downstream to the Pacific Ocean. There, sailing ships waited for the logs which were loaded and shipped to places far, far away. Stripping tall timbers from our forests no longer happens here but not much else has changed at this end of the lane since those days. There are ten houses here now, but the mango and nut trees they planted back then are still here, and when you're quietly working in the garden you can imagine those days when logs would have rumbled by, probably right through where our house now stands. 

Our front garden (above) and our vegetable garden (below).


The house from the back. You can see the solar panels, the solar water heater (right) a couple of skylights and the whirly birds. Of course, Hanno's ladder is there; he's often on the roof pottering around, checking or fixing things.

Life is good here and we hope that even after we've gone, this land will look the same as it does now and support the efforts of a hard working family - hopefully our descendants. The key to this is to protect the land, to keep it vegetated, to remain organic gardeners, to use as few chemicals as possible, to continue to encourage birds and wildlife and to remain radical conservers of the land we live on. We will continue to harvest water from the roof, generate electricity with our solar panels and as much as we can, live a low tech life.

Our outdoor sink and one of the water tanks. We wash vegetables and fruit here, and our hands, so we don't bring too much dirt into the house.

Part of our low tech approach is to gently manage our climate for our own benefit. We use what our natural environment gives us. We dry our clothes in the sun instead of using a dryer;  we use the soil to produce food; we use harvested water on our crops, instead of using town water; we use cross ventilation as much as we can to cool our home. When we first came here to live we installed whirly birds to extract hot air from the roof space; they're powered by even the slightest breeze. Hanno has just finished painting the entire roof with solar-reflective paint which makes a big difference to the temperature of the metal roof and therefore, the temperature inside during the hot months. We also have three skylights on the roof that bring more light to the kitchen, bathroom and laundry without needing to flick a switch.

Water is harvested from the roof and stored in three water tanks. This small one (above) is used to water pot plants on our front verandah. This tank is also used as a platform for food that defrosts in the sun. Even now in mid-winter, a shoulder of pork takes about three hours to completely defrost (below).

Other smaller things we do include defrosting covered food in the sun instead of using the microwave and sometimes using the car sitting in the summer sun to dehydrate food. I sweep instead of vacuum, we removed our dishwasher a couple of years ago and wash up by hand. I would love to say that we harvest wood from our old trees and use it for heating but Hanno has an aversion to wood fires so we go without heating except on very cold mornings when we heat the kitchen for a couple of hours with a reverse cycle air-conditioner. I would also love to say we had an outdoor wood-fired bread oven that we use to bake bread, cakes and biscuits, but I can't. Maybe that is something I can look forward to in the future.

Beans drying in the warm air.

I wish we could use more low tech ways of doing house and yard work, or heating/cooling our home. I wonder what you're doing. I wonder if there are some things we've just not thought of but could easily do if we had a clue. So please, tell me how you manage heating and cooling, water, electricity, defrosting, cooking, drying and washing in a modern home environment. This blog has become a place for sharing ideas, often radical or forgotten ones, so I'd love to hear what you're doing in your home.

25 comments:

  1. this is really impressive, and shows what can be done with just 'thinking outside the box'. We have tried to do some of these things but we rent so it's a bit more tricky and also I need central heating in the UK!
    On a different note and to do with aprons (which I know you like) have you come across japanese aprons? I saw some recently on pinterest and thought they were beautiful, I ordered one in linen rather extravagently from etsy and it's lovely but now that I have one I am looking at it to see if I can replicate it myself. Do check them out everyone if you haven't seen them and are into aprons!

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  2. I hope your son's choose to retain your property and one of them live in too. This is a rarity these days, with most children quickly selling off the family home with little thought of what they are actually losing.

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  3. Living a peaceful productive life and giving back to the earth. Cannot do better than that. A lovely post Rhonda.

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  4. You live in a lovely little pocket of Queensland, Rhonda. When we drive through Landsborough on the way to the coast it always looks so lush around there. We have also out in solar panels in the last few years but wish we also had a solar hot water system but they are a bit too expensive for us now unfortunately, Have a successful writing day.

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  5. Your place is proof a whole lot of small changes here and there add up to a great lifestyle. I am looking out the window at snow and ice, looking forward to Spring!

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  6. Hi Rhonda Jean!
    Seeing the meat defrosting on the water tank makes me wonder if your country is less crazy about "defrosting meat on the counter is dangerous"? In the US we are always warned of illnesses like salmonella and other bacteria causing illness due to food being unrefrigerated for too long. Just wondering!!

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    1. Hi Barbara. I think they might recommend we don't defrost this way but I've been doing it like this forever and have never had a problem. We have occasional outbreaks of salmonella, in fact there was one yesterday at a school principals conference not far from here.

      If I thought there was going to be a problem, or if I'd ever had a problem doing this, I wouldn't be doing it now. I wouldn't leave defrosted meat out of the fridge for three hours but a frozen joint is not the same. We're encouraged to use technical means to do just about everything and often appliances are invented to help us do that. I still think there's nothing wrong with the suns rays helping me defrost food.

      And I have to tell you Barbara, every time I show one of these photos, at lease one American asked me about it. :- ) xx

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    2. Rhonda, is there a reason why you don't defrost your meat in the fridge ? It doesn't cost anything to use the fridge for defrosting and at least it eliminates any risk.

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    3. Wendy, as I said, I don't think there is a risk. If there is, it hasn't presented itself in the past 40 years. I usually defrost on the kitchen bench and almost never in the fridge.

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    4. Sorry, but I can't agree with this piece of advice. As the daughter of a butcher and the wife of a fresh produce stock controller, the safest method of defrosting meat is in the fridge. Pig products are particularly risky. You may have been lucky all these years Rhonda, but I wouldn't be encouraging people to defrost meat in the sun. Food poisoning can be fatal. The risks are not worth it, especially if you are feeding children or the elderly.

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    5. Tina, I'm not advising anyone to do it. I'm saying it is what I do.

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    6. Rhonda I defrost in exactly the same way as you and we are all still here to tell the tale....it seems to take an awful long time to defrost things in the fridge

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    7. As I was putting a frozen piece of beef out in the sun this morning I reminded myself of this wonderful "solar defroster" that we have at our disposal. I have been using the sun to defrost our meat for the evening meal for years and years, but as we have flies here I put the meat into a bucket with a lid on. As in your previous comments, using the fridge is also an option, but I'm not always so organised to think of what to take out of the freezer a day ahead. I always take it out in the morning, and depending on the day's temp, I bring it into the fridge just as soon as it has defrosted. Never been sick from doing this and I'll keep doing it.
      Beautiful part of the world you live in Rhonda. It's quite dry here in the Barossa Valley at this time of year and our five huge water tanks are almost empty. Hopefully rain will arrive before we need to switch over to mains water.

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    8. Yes, but as you know, readers look to you for the "how-to's" in self-sufficency. They read your posts and put them into practice. Not everyone has the common sense needed to be able to discern when to take the meat out of the sun. Just sayin'. xx

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    9. And yet, even though this was published four years ago, there has been no sharp rise in cases of food poisoning or deaths resulting from eating contaminated meat.

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  7. Wow Rhonda, that is impressive .. You two have accomplished so much.. We do heat our house with wood, grow our own vegetables and have a spring for our water,, I dehydrate, can, and ferment our produce.. Usually, I make our own bread but like you do not have an outside oven although I would love that, too.. I use a clothes line during 3 seasons but Winter as you can imagine would not be possible.. I would not be able to find the line here today.. grin.. I really admire all you do and cannot think of anything to add.. Your place looks lovely and lush my friend.. Are you in mid Winter? Spring is on it's way here but not for another month or so for sure.. hugs...

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    1. Hi Faye. We've just started autumn but it's still hot and humid here. I'm hoping it cools down soon. I've seen all your snow and have to tell you that I'm filled with envy.

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  8. What a great reminder to look at all things we have done to our home rather than focusing on what is still to do. A lot of small changes add up to something big. Thanks for sharing your journey.
    kxx

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  9. Your property looks so peaceful...You seem to have quite a few of the boxes checked off for conserving energy! Wow, you go girl!

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  10. Thank you for the lovely post Rhonda. An example for all of us. Enjoy your day of writing!

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  11. We've got solar power and hot water, harvest all of our water and have septic tank sewage because we live in the country. We raise our meat, fruit, veg, eggs and dairy, and don't own a dish washer or dryer. The winters are cold here so we heat with wood fire and, although there is an air conditioner installed in the bedroom, we've only used it twice in the past two years. I make our bread but bake indoors in the gas or electric ovens (bottled gas) but, as we generate the electricity I think I'll have to put the much-wanted wood fired pizza oven on hold as I lost my argument for building it when we put the extra solar panels in. I dehydrate, bottle, ferment and yes defrost all my meat on the kitchen bench. There is never enough room in the fridge and I never have my 'what's for dinner' plan sorted far enough ahead to use the oh-so-slow fridge thing. We've NEVER had the mildest stomach upset let alone food poisoning. I think it's worth noticing that the worst food poisoning outbreaks come from intensively raised animals slaughtered in .big commercial abattoirs (all inspected, quality assured and heavily regulated off course).

    We generally buy new clothes but they're mostly work clothes and are worn until they drop off and can be cut up for cleaning cloths. We've bought our (few in number) appliances to last and don't seem to be hard on them anyway.

    We do use diesel fuel for our ute/light truck and the tractor and I am never going to grow grains but I think we've gone as far as we need to go for a while.

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  12. I live in a different climate and in a rented house. One of the things I do, when it freezes outside I put those little blue cooling elements you use for camping outside overnight and when frozen but them in the fridge to cut the cost of electricity. Frozen items are stored in an outside shed as well (in a coolbox), so I don't have to have the freezer on. When the freezer is on in the summer I will do the same by putting them in the freezer. Besides having a well insulated house with double glazing I think in terms of keeping the body warm. So thermal underwear and woolen sweaters and cardigans and wool felt slippers on in the house. It always amazes me to see people walking about indoors in winter with just a shirt or a skimpy dress on. When I sit down I make myself comfortable and pull a woollen plaid over my legs. This way I hardly have to warm the house, just to 16 degrees celsius or when I am feeling under the weather sometimes 17 is enough. This does wonders for your skin as well, it doesn't dry out as much. I use rain water to water the plants and do outside chores with (cleaning the bike f.i., my only means of transport) and I use the warm water from the shower to put in the washing machine to save on water and electricity. Or if I do not plan to do the laundry I use the warm shower water with extra soap added to scrub the floors or the bathroom or flush the lavatory. Water is very cheap here but I think it is important not to waste good drinking water, if possible. All the above you could do in a townhouse as well, even if you just have a balcony you can attach a small watertank to the rainpipe. Be careful of the weight though. There are systems that have a small tank hanging in the rainpipe. The overflow continues on its way down. These are safe for a balcony. I do not own a dishwasher or a dryer.
    I grow my own herbs and some soft fruit and some salad greens, also I have 2 chickens. However, since my garden is not big and lined by big oaks (more than a hundred years old) I do not have enough sunny spots to have a big kitchen garden. The house is heated with gas (a very modern and energy conserving system though). But I use only a quarter of the gas and electricity the previous tenants (who were also living alone) used. I use 'green' gas (compensated by co2 certificates) and green electricity (generated by wind and sun) an option some energy dealers have around here. I use a haybox to cook foods such as rice and pulses without added heat. So even for those who rent, who are not rich, who do not have a garden or a big house, there is so much more we all could do.

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  13. This is a very interesting post as for me it highlights the differences in different parts of the world. In a climate that is warm enough year round not to warrant heating a house your needs are so different from mine. We simply could not get away without heating our house for at least half the year sometimes more. I guess what we all have to do is find an approach that works for us, we have to work on insulation and ways of keeping our house warm whereas you are looking at ways to keep it cool, if only we could join forces and have a happy medium! I am interested by your decision to get rid of your dishwasher, we did some sums and worked out that having one uses less water than by hand and as our machine is hot water fed uses very little power as the sun in summer and the wood stove in winter heats our water not the machine. It is lovely to see some photos of your lovely property. Thank you for re-sharing this post.

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  14. Wonderful. You are living gently on the earth, harmoniously with nature. May you continue to inspire others to do likewise.

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  15. I look forward every day to reading your sensible and informative blog entry. I wonder if you have tried using a solar oven? I took one with me when I moved to Mexico as I knew that heating a conventional oven was just not in the cards for me. I used my solar oven almost exclusively except during the rainy season. It was perfect for baking a chicken, cooking pots of beans, and breads of every kind. The food was good, very flavorful, and the meat juicy. Very inexpensive to make an oven if you are handy (Hanno?) and there is much information on the internet about making and using one.

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