What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

Blog Archive

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The Sustainable Living Project podcast episode #2 at AKG

Here is the transcript of the next episode now playing over at The Alternative Kitchen Garden Podcast.

"While still in England and waiting for Jacqui’s US visa, we are doing the initial planning for our off grid permaculture based lifestyle and educational project in the suburbs of Hickory North Carolina.

We hope to demonstrate that a low impact, ethical, resilient, comfortable, healthy, and convenient lifestyle is possible in existing suburban developments. You can keep track of our progress on this podcast and at our blog, Sustainable Living at sustliving.blogspot.com

Our project will be sited on 1/3 of an acre with a 1950’s era, brick and timber framed, 1800 sq.ft, 2 story home. It has grid supplied electricity, gas, sewage disposal and water. Since we bought the property we have installed double glazing and loft insulation, and have done some landscaping to reduce moisture under the house. It has been rented out for 8 years while we have been living in the UK and Bermuda.

We plan to occupy the site in the spring and are currently studying the basics of permaculture design in the hopes of making fewer mistakes at the outset. Eventually we will attend a permaculture design course that is based in the same growing region.

The Permaculture tip for this episode is from Permaculture: A Practical Guide for a Sustainable Future published in 1990 by Bill Mollison

The “Principle of Self Regulation - The purpose of a functional and self regulating design is to place elements or components in such a way that each serves the needs, and accepts the products, of other elements.” Thus “to enable a design component to function we must put it in the right place.”

As we apply this planing principle in our garden design, the siting of veggie gardens, fruit trees, biomass crops, compost heaps, leaf mould piles, water features, glasshouses and chicken coops will all require careful observation of the interaction between existing structures and environmental conditions. For example: a compost heap generates heat which can be used to warm a greenhouse or a chicken coop.

We will gradually transition to an off grid lifestyle which adds additional planning considerations regarding energy, waste and water. The placing of the energy systems will be governed by existing structural orientation, solar exposure and available wind patterns to which we will have to adapt.

Extensive collection of rainwater will require changes to the roof which is laid with asphalt tile. Dealing with waste onsite will require a whole series of design decisions which will be influenced by local regulations, relations with the neighbors, and our own ability to reduce waste producing consumption.

Some of the first design questions we are considering in detail relate to food production and initial structural modifications to increase the efficiency of passive cooling and heating.

Currently the clay subsoil is covered in a thin layer of topsoil, hosting lawn, shrubs and a few shade trees. How will we quickly create the large amounts of soil needed for growing? We will need a fast composting process with more inputs than our own property can provide and are considering a kitchen and garden waste collection scheme with our neighbors. This should foster an ethic of co-operation with our neighbors, a key principle of permaculture.

But how will the neighbors respond to this project and the obvious changes in the appearance of the property that will follow? What can we do to manage that issue? As we hope to spread the permaculture ethic, it is important to keep the neighbors happy. We are looking at where to put hedges and fences to screen less attractive items like biogas digesters, materials storage and compost piles. Any hedges will need to have productive qualities including biomass, habitat, and fruit, and fences will need to be durable but ultimately biodegradable; we are considering, bamboo and blueberries for this.

Next, Hickory is very hot in the summer and cold in the winter. What is the first thing we should do to reduce energy use in the house? Fortunately, we have excellent solar exposure along 3 walls of the house and this plentiful supply of energy needs to be properly utilized. In the summer we will need to utilize the excess solar gain on the south side of the house to produce ventilation, drawing cool air in from the North side. The first structural change will likely be the addition of a shade structure along the south side of the house that will block the sun in the summer but not in the winter.

This shade structure will also provide vertical growing space for climbing plants like cucumbers and grapes, further shading the area immediately surrounding the sunny side of the house. This interface between shelter and growing area will be the subject of our next episode when we’ll discuss the permaculture concept of zones.

And that’s it for this episode. If you have any questions about our project or this episode please leave a comment here at the Alternative Kitchen Garden Site or at our blog sustliving.blogspot.com."

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