Saturday, July 31, 2010

Medieval Castle in Arkansas!

Ozark Medieval Fortress

Pictures later. If I stop to do this now I'll never post it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Bio Char Part I

So this is interesting. Charcoal buried in the ground increases fertility and captures carbon from the atmosphere, reversing the process of climate change - sort of? Some say it is the world's only hope besides oceanic algae? Or something?

I've got to read through all of this stuff to make sense of it. In the meantime, here's what I am reading if you want to read along:

BioEnergy Lists: BioChar

Joyful Living Article on Terra Preta


Someone begs to differ

More links from Treehugger

Modern Gasification Pioneer

Even USA Today has an article about this

DYI Home scale power plant

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Economic Sustainability

I would love to be posting pictures of our new Bale wall, but the project is on hold due to financial issues. Unfortunately, because I work all the time just for the priveledge of having financial problems, this is the only time I could have realistically built the wall.

It wouldn't have cost that much, relatively speaking - but straw bales can be expensive here in the city, and enough for a wall would have been several hundred dollars. Clay, readily available if you have land with clay soil, would have cost money as well. Then there is sand, which in most circumstances is purchased. We are no exception to that.

More and more, I am coming around to the idea that sustainability is incompatible with money. As members of the cash economy, completely dependent on and, if you look at how we spend our time, dedicated to it, we are supporting the death spiral of ecological devastation and endless wars while we "contribute" to keeping the businesses that we buy things from in business, so that their employees in turn can "do their part" to keep the machine going.

At the end of the day, this is our ultimate contribution to the planet.

My parents and grandparents taught me that "getting a good job" was something akin to a patriotic duty - that I somehow owed a debt to something greater than myself that I would repay by working. To fail to "get a job" was an unthinkable social transgression. Those previous generations also thought it was very important for everyone to open a bank account - this was part and parcel of the patriotic package. Although it wasn't articulated quite that way, I got the message all the same. And you know what? They may have been right. Back then. But the world, and this country especially, have changed a lot since my grandparents were born.

I won't spend a lot of time here discussing the corporate capture of our political system and press. The Tea Party activist that drove the shuttle to the train station and I did a mutual double take when we agreed that corporatism (his word!) was the biggest danger we face. Voting is not enough anymore. We must find ways to reclaim our independence, keep our goods, resources, and currency local. We must extricate ourselves from our dependence on corporate employment, corporate products, banks, mortgages, and oil, and find a better way to live.

Once we do, our lives will no longer be for sale, and we will no longer be bought and sold.

I am going to teach my own children something very different than what my grandparents taught me. Contribute, yes. Dedicate yourself to your work and goals, yes. But don't be fooled into thinking that a job at Walmart, whether working at the register or in the corporate office, is some sort of contribution. Sure it is - to Walmart. But what sense is there in making that kind of contribution unless you have no choice? There is nothing wrong with doing what you have to do to survive. But to the greatest extent that you can, build your life outside of the cash economy so that you free yourself up to make real contributions to this world, not fake ones.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cob Connection 2010 Kickoff Event

Cob Connection's 2010 Kickoff event was today at 407 N. Kedzie, which is a big vacant lot. It actually wasn't vacant today at all - in addition to tons of food and live music, the festivities included:

Cob Building Demonstration
Gardening Tour/Demonstration
Beekeeping Demonstration
Live Fence Making Demonstration
Chickens ("Feeding Zoo?")

The Cob Bench is incomplete - another two workdays will be necessary to complete it. Here are some pictures of the bench, and other pictures from the day:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sustainable Heating and Cooking Technolgy Part 3 - Stoves for Cooking

In my previous post titles "Sustainable Heating and Cooking Technology Part 2," I discussed three innovations in sustainable stoves for cooking. The first was the Lorena Stove, developed in the 70's. The second was the addition of the "rocket elbow" combustion chamber, and the third is the idea of insulating the combustion chamber to increase efficiency and deliver maximum heat to the cooking surface.

Combining the three results in a vastly improved stove:

Improvement on the Lorena Stove

Note the detail of the difference: Insulative material inside the stove

Here is another explanation, combining insulation and Rocket technology to improve the original Lorena stove and arrive at the Justa Stove.

"Increasing Fuel Efficiency and Reducing Harmful Emissions in Traditional Cooking Stoves" (scroll down to see "the new Lorena Stove")

After finding many, many stove designs and considerations online, this is the one I am going to build.

Here is a picture of the stove with Dona Justa, the woman it is named for!

Justa stove info:

Justa Stoves

Guide to Building the Justa Stove

Justa Stove Slideshow from Trees Water People

Youtube video of Justa stove in Honduras

Here are instructions for building the stove. These are in Spanish:

Here's a commercial version:

Prolena Ecostove/Justa Stove

There are many other variations of ecological stove designs for developing countries. More examples can be found here:

More types of rocket stoves

and for stoves in use in Central Africa, here:

Rocket Stove Designs for Central and Southern Africa

If that isn't enough stove design for you, here are some sites that I found interesting.

An entire list of stoves made out of tin cans! Most of these don't appeal to me because they use fuel that has to be purchased. I'm more interested in burning what is available, probably wood/twigs.

Archive of Tin Can Stove Designs

Some info on "DYI" Solar cookers - but they are mostly DIY anyway - though you can buy them if you want:

DIY Solar cookers

And Max Edleson again, with his super awesome looking stove in Bali:

Max Edleson's Wood Fire Cookstove

For further reading on the vast complexity of developing and introducing stoves in a social, cultural, economic and ecologicla context, the following articles are enlightening:

Issue of "Boiling Point" dedicated to the deforestation crisis and sustainable cooking and heating technlogy

Primer on the social, economical and environmental complexity of cookstove design

Interesting manual from Aprovecho "Fuel Saving Cookstoves"

Monday, March 1, 2010

Treekeepers- 1st Class

This Saturday I started my Treekeepers certification class. One of our presenters from the Bureau of Forestry didn't show up, but we did learn about dangers facing trees and a little bit about identifying some of them.

Between damage from people (lawnmowers are a huge danger to trees) and diseases, urban trees are in a precarious situation.

Poor Trees!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sustainable Heating and Cooking Technology Part 2 - Lorena and Rocket Stoves for Cooking

There is an enormous worldwide problem right now of scarcity of cooking fuel, combined with health problems associated with smoke from cookfires. I read somewhere that this is the number 1 killer of children under 5 worldwide!

In some places, deforestation is taking place due to the demand for wood to cook with. Haiti, before the quake, was well known as an extreme example of this phenomenon, but there are many other countries with similar problems.

Enter the Lorena Stove:

I first learned about Lorena Stoves from reading The Hand Sculpted House by Ianto Evans. When I visited Cob Cottage company I was able to get a zeroxed manual for building one. A description and explanation can be found here:

Lorena Stoves

I quickly learned, however, that much has happened in the last 30 years and there are stove projects all over the world, often directly connected to reforestation projects.

One group, Trees Water People, has done a lot of work on this and has a lot of information on their website. They have worked together with Aprovecho in designing more efficient cook stoves for people in developing countries who are caught in a trap of scarcity of cooking fuel/deforestation.

Enter the Rocket Stove!

These are little, portable stoves that anyone can rig outside. They also form the inside mechanism for larger stoves as we will see (and heating units for houses as we have seen).

The following links contain details on building one yourself, if you like:

Rocket Stove Design Guide

You tube video - building the Winiarski Rocket Stove Part 1

You tube video - building the Winiarski Rocket Stove Part 2

For even further reading, a detailed manual on building the Rocket Stove can be obtained here, along with other cooking technology such as solar cookers and hayboxes, which use no fuel and, combined with a stove, can drastically reduce the amount of cooking fuel needed even further:

Aprovecho Publications on Cooking Technology

One of the Aprovecho publications, "Capturing Heat," can be read online here:

Entire PDF of "Capturing Heat"

The great thing about these Rocket Stoves in their simplest form is just that - they are so simple! Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement, and insulating them improves them a great deal.

Without insulation, much of the heat generated is absorbed by the mass of the stove. This takes more fuel, and sends less of the fuel directly into the cooking of the food. When all of the heat generated is directed into cooking, and as little as possible is absorbed by the rest of the stove or leaks out, less fuel is used and the stove is more efficient. Fuel can also burn more cleanly, putting less smoke and pollution into the air, or it can burn "dirty." I don't understand this aspect enough to explain it more than that.

The following link contains design specifications, and clear pictures of the process of building an insulated rocket stove:

Insulated Rocket Stoves

More technical info on the reasons to insulate your stove can be found here:

Technical Specs for insulated stoves

So now we have three innovations, the Lorena stove, the Rocket stove (with its "elbow" shaped combustion chamber), and the idea of insulating the combustion chamber.

This results in an improved stove that I'll elaborate on in great detail next time.