In my last blog, I shared an article on homesteading. It described, in a nutshell, the adventure that my family has embarked upon. This stirred many questions and I promised that I would elaborate. The goal for many homesteaders today I guess is to become more self-reliant. This was never our mission but in many ways, we are doing just that. Let me explain…
We are operating a small 7.6 family farm in Hawaii and these are ways we are learning to use and appreciate the abundant resources that have been given to us.
Nearly all of our power comes from the sun. We have a small but sufficient photovoltaic system with a bank of batteries and a backup generator. Our family has learned how to conserve energy in many ways to make our system work for our needs. I never used to pay attention to the amount of kilowatts we were using. Now I pay very close attention. As a family of six, we were on average using 9-13kw of energy per day. Now we are down to 2-4kw. How is that possible…? We have given up a dryer. Now all our clothes get line dried. We no longer have an electric water heater. Instead, we opted for the Rinnai tankless gas-operated water heater. Gone are the days of pushing a button to preheat an oven. Now we must light a fire and burn it for two hours to get our homemade wood oven up to temperature. Instead of adding to our electric bill we are using a renewable resource of fuel grown right on our land – wood. All of our light bulbs are LED. All of them together add up to less than a 100w light bulb. We have all our chargers on power strips so that when they are not in use we are not burning power. Our kids turn off the lights now because they know what it means if they don’t – no power in the morning until the sun comes out. Watching a video on the TV is a luxury. If the indicator light on our inverter reads green we know we have enough power for such luxuries. When there is little sun we fire up our backup generator for about an hour and that will recharge our batteries and give us enough power to last through the day. The cost – a few inconvenient mornings with defrosted food in the freezer. The benefit – no electric bill and limitless power when the rest of the island is down.
Because we are not tapped into the sewage system all our greywater flows out to irrigate the surrounding trees. Now it is essential not to put anything toxic down our drains. This includes anything from the toilet. So instead we have three composting toilets used by our family and all the groups who visit the farm. Two are Sunmar self-contained non-electric models and one is a whiz-bang, top of the line flushing system (that I absolutely had to have!) from Environlet. You might not know the difference. But believe me, I DO!! I know every little last detail about these two different systems. WAY MORE THAN I EVER WANTED TOO! I am now a self-proclaimed certified composting toilet engineer. I can fix the fan, fix the leaks, troubleshoot the flusher, unplug, unsmell, unload….. you name it, I’ve done it! This has been the single most challenging obstacle for me in the development of Kapalai and has taken me to the core of my character (a subject for a future blog). Don’t get me wrong, now that I am trained and certified I think it is pretty cool that we are not adding waste to the overflowing city sewer system. Instead, our waste turns to beautiful, rich soil adding back many depleted nutrients to the land. Don’t worry all of you who are eating our kalo. We are not using this to fertilize our crops!! Anyway, it is a whole new aspect of nature that we are learning a lot about and it is very interesting. Stay tuned for more on that subject…
Did you know that 17% of the waste in landfills is food? I was shocked. And 20% is paper. We have reduced what goes into our garbage cans by about 75%. All food waste either goes to feed the worms for vermicast or to the grubs for chicken food. All our paper scraps go into the bins to light our fires to cook our food. We do not have garbage pick up so we are more conservative as to what goes into the can. Anything green gets thrown down on the bank and the land takes care of the rest.
Whenever possible if we have to buy building materials our first stop is Reuse Hawaii. It is my favorite place to shop now. Not only is there a staff of incredibly helpful people, but you can also find a mountain of treasure for all your building needs. If you have the time and the creativity, you can turn things that would have been taken to the dump into your own personal creative expressions, not to mention saving a whole bundle of money. We also have an incredible resource in an uncle who builds custom homes. Before he sends a load to the dump he gives the Wilhelm’s a call. “Could you use this or that”? “Of course” is always my answer. It is my secret outlet to challenge myself in creating something beautiful or useful out of something that would have been wasted.
So, I have given you just a few examples. Did we set out on a mission to become resource conscience conservationists? NO. But through the whole process of developing our land, we have been forced to become just that. It has been a great education for all of us. We all have a new sense of appreciation for our resources. Even Max (3 years old) reminds us all to turn off the lights. There is so much to learn, we have just begun to tap the abundant resources of our land. Continue the journey with us as we learn new technologies and face new challenges. And if you have any suggestions please feel free to share.
That is enough for now. In my next installment, I will explain how this is not about self-reliance at all…