This year’s garden has included the installation of a keyhole garden for tomatoes. New raised beds are still being set up now too. So far I have red potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, yellow squash, butternut squash, cantaloupes, watermelons, honeydew melons, and others. Using water from catching rainfall off roof to water everything so far and very little city water needed. First harvest of lettuce and plums was this week.
Cooking: The home has gas stove and was already hooked up to natural gas, so I continue to use that. The monthly cost of the actual gas I use is about $2 but the taxes on it are an additional $38 (grrrrrr) so $40 per month on the gas bill. I own a barbecue grill and smoker. That isn’t enough for me to feel comfortable if an emergency comes up, I want backup ways to cook. I built a small double block rocket stove in the backyard and made an in ground keyhole firepit that I can cook on 5 different ways. I own many cast iron pots, pans and frying pans so I’m set up for colonial style cooking as well. I’ve also installed a Zeer pot (or a pot in pot) refrigerator (nonelectrical) that’s ready to use any time I need it. I’m considering washing in a shallow well, later next summer to have a hand pump installed for the outdoor kitchen in backyard. Cooking there in summer is so much cooler and more fun.
Natural Gas: In winter the gas bill was running $100 to $120. per month. It is currently still $40 a month, haven’t had to use it so far this winter. I’m considering switching to propane for the gas stove in the kitchen.
Heating: The house was already hooked up for natural gas and my Aunt was comfortable using the gas furnace for many years. I decided to find alternative ways to heat the house. I built a cardboard box lined with tin foil and tested it to check temperatures. It produced temperatures of 120-140 degrees. I then built a solar window box heater. I used a free pallet, an $11.00 sheet of insulated foamboard, installed it into the pallet, and I already had some bubble wrap so decided to experiment. I used the clear bubble wrap as a cover for the front of the pallet and taped it to the lower half of one of the kitchen windows. I didn’t want to put a hole in the wall (concrete) so I added a dryer hose into the top of the box and placed a small fan that blows air from the kitchen into the box through the opened window making a closed loop system. The box has gotten up to 150 degrees and so far I’ve gotten temperature reading of 120 coming into the kitchen at 3 foot away from the window. At times I have to shut it off, it gets too hot. The house is concrete blocks and whoever built it was deathly afraid of daylight for they installed very small windows in the kitchen, 25 x 25 inches. I felt like it was a cave in there, so decided to experiment some more. I had a mirror cut to fit and then made a slightly longer plywood base for it to lay on and added a piece of 2×4 on the back. Then measured and cut a 2×4 to hold up the entire thing at a 22 degree angle in the window. The angle reflects sunlight into the kitchen onto the ceiling. It’s like I have a new window on the kitchen ceiling that moves all day and it is producing 90 degree heat as well. I like the two new heating methods and so far this winter, haven’t had to turn on the gas furnace. That’s a savings of $150 a month. I know, this is southern Georgia but we have had a couple of hard frosts at less than 32 degrees and so far the house has not dropped below 68 by early morning during the hard frosts and howling wind. The single pane glass windows are the old kind that use a crank and roll open, grrrrr. I used bubble wrap inside on all the windows as extra insulation. It’s clear, lets in lots of light, provides privacy and insulates, in short, it works well.
I’m built a modified rocket stove with metal cook top and heating bench in my office using firebrick that I obtained for free from freecycle.org. It’s built and been tested, and now I’m letting it completely dry out and cure. I can cook and heat with it although the temperature gets very hot on the metal top. Taking lots of photos as I go along to document. So far, I haven’t seen anyone build one like this before. Pecan trees are notorious for being somewhat brittle and drop limbs every time the wind blows, and I’m collecting them from my yard and my neighbor’s to use for firewood for the times the solar window box heater may not be enough. I didn’t like a big black pipe stuck up in the middle of the room, so I disguised it to look like an apple tree. I’ll later paint a wall mural behind it so that it looks like an apple tree with a bench under it to sit on.
Food storage: One deep chest freezer and a side by side refrigerator/freezer and both are full. I’ve obtained canning jars so that I can “can” and start removing food from the freezers. I plan to start cleaning out my freezer come January, canning a lot of the things that are in it. The heat from canning will help with heating the kitchen, dining and living rooms in the evenings during the coldest nights. I batch cook at least 3 times a week, and am canning things as I go.
Electricity: The cost was $160 per month based on Georgia Power’s flat rate plan for elderly individuals (my Aunt had the power in her name). Since September, I have modified the use of electricity for the house. I turned the hot water heater to the lowest position, using it for showers and it’s the perfect temperature without any cold water added. It takes 1 hour to heat an 80 gal tank, and after its hot, I turn it off. Water stays hot for 2 days and warm on the 3rd. I turn it on every 4th day. Granted I live alone, so there is less need for hot water. I prefer heating a kettle of water on the gas stove and using that heated water for washing dishes, and yes I do them by hand. (I’m peculiar about the cleanliness of the dishes and things that I use for cooking. I do not have, nor do I want a dishwasher.) I’m going to be adding a homemade solar heating system to the hot water tank soon.
It takes about 2 weeks to get enough clothing to make 2 loads to wash, one colored and one white load. I wash clothing with cold water only and use a clothes line in the backyard to dry them. I do have a dryer, just choose not to use it. I emptied and unplugged an older extra refrigerator/freezer. It’s available if needed and I run it once a month for about an hour to ensure the motor remains in working order. I do not own a television, and again I don’t want one. Televisions and specific other appliances are electrical vampires. If I did have one, I’d keep it plugged into a surge protector and turn that off instead. I own a computer to watch movies and use the internet to keep up with news, weather and emails.
I have a 25 foot long x 8 foot wide screened in front porch. I used 3 mil plastic visqueen (polyethylene plastic sheeting) to enclose the porch this winter. It makes a perfect greenhouse and heat sink. I have many plants that are growing safe from frosts sitting out there and it now gives me more privacy as well. I started growing potatoes there (they sprouted, and I decided to not waste them and experiment. The potatoes are thriving). I open the living room and office door, and the heat from the porch warms the two rooms nicely.
Monthly cost of electricity under the flat rate plan was $160 a month. October’s monthly bill was $42, November’s was $28.53, and December’s bill was $24.57. For the first time in years, I’m looking forward to see my bill for next month, January. I’m saving about $135 a month on electricity and with the savings from the natural gas for heating, that’s a savings of $282 per month that I can do other things with.
Summer is very hot and has high humidity and air conditioning is the number one reason for high summer electric bills. I have some things I plan to experiment with for that later as well. The house faces due south and it’s a block wall home with concrete floors and a two foot roof overhang so summer sunlight is blocked from hitting the outside walls, but in fall, winter and spring the sun does help warm the house. In summer, usually its 10-15 degrees cooler inside the house than the outdoor temperature. I don’t mind getting hot and sweating, I’m outside in the yard and garden a lot anyway. As long as I can cool off as needed, I’m okay. However, sleeping is much better for me if the room is cooler so that is the only room I plan to cool next summer and it’s on the north side of the house and it stays cooler during the summer anyway. I don’t use several of the rooms in the house except for storage, so why bother heating or cooling rooms I seldom use. I will be planting more gourds for the cooling effect on the roof.
Food: I have many trees and shrubs that provide food and have a small garden, and a keyhole garden as well.
Gardening: I planted 10 pounds of seed red potatoes this past spring, and harvested 4 bushels of potatoes and put them into storage. Carrots, cabbage, okra, watermelons, cantaloupe, lettuces, mustard greens, snow peas, yellow and butternut squash and many others. I have a fenced in yard so am able to take advantage of vertical gardening as well. I garden and freeze a lot of produce and dehydrate some also. I froze most of the produce, and now that its winter, I’m planning to can many of them, and take advantage of the heat produced to warm the house in the evenings. Why can in summer, its just to hot.
Plants: Property had 12 pecan trees in back yard when purchased. I added nut and fruit trees including Hazelnut, Plum, Pear, Peach, Pawpaw and several Turkey figs, grape vines and blueberry shrubs. I removed all the overgrown shrubbery, no dull, boring, high maintenance shrubbery for me. I left 2 azaleas and planted hundreds more flowering plants many of which are food or medicine producers. If I add a plant, it’s got to give me something back, food, medicine or at least flowers to enjoy. I’ll post pictures of some of them.
I added a new element to the garden this year, a keyhole garden. I made it out of some older plastic compost bins I already had. It has a working compost pile in the center of it. I placed limbs and branches into it, then covered with soil, then added some compost. Its working quite well so far.