Category Archives: Go Tiny Or Go Home.

The trailer by the numbers: living in the Mothership

I was introduced to “tiny living” when I worked for an Americorps trail crew in Vermont. We lived in tents at a remote campsite where we had to canoe in with all our gear. Personal belongings were limited to what could fit in 2 backpacks, and sleeping space was a 3 person tent shared with a co-worker and her gear. We all cooked and ate communally, and most evenings were spent sitting around a campfire. Definitely a different arrangement than living alone in a trailer, but it introduced me to living on less, in a small space, with the trees as my walls and the stars as my roof. I had to be more conscious about water use, and washing, and not leaving leftovers when I ate-among many other things. In some ways it was harder to live on less, but in other ways it was very freeing: not constantly worrying about paying bills and rent (and having great hiking and swimming less than 50 feet from where I slept) made up for bug bites and occasional wet feet. I’ve decided to take that philosophy a step further and live in my own more permanent dwelling, a 6×12” cargo trailer converted into a living space.

 

WHAT IS THE MOTHERSHIP?

The Mothership is a completely self-contained, off-grid tiny house built in a converted 6×12 cargo trailer. That’s the short answer. The long answer is-it’s been a long, crazy adventure of almost  4 months, an  extensive construction project, and a journey of self-discovery and learning.

 

WHAT MAKES IT SUSTAINABLE?

 

Off-Grid: The Mothership needs no utility hookups. Light is provided by solar-powered LED lanterns and natural daylight, water can be filtered on-site, and heat is provided by a tiny stove that burns scrap wood and small branches. I’m also planning to install solar panels for another source of electricity.

Reused materials: An estimated 25-40% of solid waste generated in the US comes from construction debris; much of this can be re-used. About 80% of the materials in the Mothership are scrap or reclaimed. I’ve sourced materials from barns, attics, secondhand stores, junkyards, dumpsters and abandoned buildings. I also tried to plan the construction based on the materials at hand, rather than making a rigid plan and buying materials to fit that. This construction method minimized the amount of waste/scrap material the project generated.  

Small Size: the house’s tiny dimensions mean it’s less resource-intensive even without trying! It takes less wood to heat, less electricity to light, less water for cleaning and other tasks…

Can be parked anywhere with a decent view (or not!): No need to clear land to build a house; the tiny footprint of the trailer means it can fit in just about any corner of the world, and it’s fully mobile. That also means I can park it somewhere that will minimize my commute to work, friends’ houses, stores, etc.

Less Stuff: The lack of space in the house means I have to be very conscious about owning and acquiring possessions, and not own any more than the minimum of what I need.

 

WHERE CAN IT BE PARKED?

Any flat area with enough room for a 6×12’ trailer, truck, and room to turn the truck around. Preferably somewhere with sunlight, as the solar water heater needs it to make hot water for showers.

 

WHAT ARE ITS NEEDS FOR WATER, TRASH DISPOSAL, ETC?

Water: I don’t anticipate using more than 10 gallons of water on any given day. The solar water heater has a capacity of 7.5 gallons, and daily cooking, cleaning, washing and drinking needs shouldn’t exceed 2.5-3 gallons. The sink has a water storage tank with a 5-gallon capacity and a grey water storage tank with the same capacity, so unless I’m showering a lot, I shouldn’t have to get water a lot, so it’s OK if I’m not immediately next to a water source. My grey water should be safe to dump in a sump hole or even use to water plants, as I plan to use only nontoxic and biodegradable cleaners and not dump anything down my sink like paint, glues, solvents, etc.

Electricity: I don’t need an electric hookup; my lighting is provided by natural daylight and solar-powered LED lights. Eventually I plan to install a rooftop solar array with battery storage for other electricity needs, which will be minimal-maybe a power source for my laptop and a small fan for ventilation. I don’t have refrigeration, and any foods I need to keep cool will be stored in a small cooler with ice. However I’ve found it’s surprisingly easy to live without refrigeration if you are careful about food preparation and consumption. Eating mostly vegetarian food helps. Produce can be stored at room temperature for 5-7 days, eggs and cultured dairy products for 3-4 days, and butter and many condiments for even longer.

Laundry: I plan to use whatever local laundromat is closest, and I’ll try to air-dry my clothes when weather and space allow. 

Toilet and shower facilities: I have a solar water heater on top of the camper with a shower attachment; the black plastic pipe soaks up heat from the sun, warms the water, and gives me a way to enjoy a nice warm low-flow gravity fed shower outdoors (so it would probably be best that I parked a little out of the way…) If the weather gets cold, I can also use the shower at the gym where  I’m a member. As for toilet facilities, I didn’t have room to put a composting toilet in the trailer, so I figured I would just use the bathroom at work or any other nearby facility, and in an emergency, I’d resort to the old strategy of peeing behind an out-of-the-way tree.

Cooking: I have a 2-burner camp stove to do my cooking on, and a small sink with gravity-fed running water from a tank. Grey water storage is below the sink.

Trash, recycle, and compost: I compost food scraps, and would be happy to contribute my compost to any gardening going on wherever I park, especially if it’s something like pumpkins, which love compost. I have 2 bins for recycles (plastic/metal and paper/cardboard) and would not produce more than a few pounds of each type of recycle per week; I also generate very little trash (due to re-using plastic bags and avoiding packaged food or any item with lots of packaging). My total output of trash and recycles would be about 5 lbs/week, probably less. Compost might be a little more due to high water content.

Heating: For heat, I’m installing a small tent stove designed to heat an 80 square foot space with minimal insulation. This stove is made by the Three Dog Stove company and is a clean-burn, airtight stove. It can burn wood from downed trees, brush, or unfinished, untreated scrap wood. I don’t think it would get cold enough in summer to need it, but I would want access to a supply of scrap wood/firewood just in case.

Storage: Everything I own is going in the trailer, no exceptions! (except maybe a lawn chair and a couple potted plants.)

Advertisements

A Lone Woman Wandering In The Woods

Where’s all the other mountain mamas?

Seriously. In a survey of through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail, only 23% were female. When I worked on a trail crew in Vermont, there was only two other women besides me on my 9-person crew (one was the awesome crew leader…) and I noticed a similar imbalance on the other crews from the conservation corps. When I tagged along on a class backpacking trip from my former high school as a chaperone, I noticed an even more dramatic gender distribution: I was the only woman on the trip! And earlier this year, I was talking with my aunt about my interest in taking some classes at a primitive skills school, only to be startled when she told me that the instructors have a reputation for trying to put the moves on any young, attractive female students that come their way. Great-that’s really comforting.

So where’s all the other women exploring the great outdoors? I know there’s more of us out there, but we’re few and far between, or so it seems. It’s not as if we can’t do it. Before the walling off of the world and the rise of civilization, as humanity spread to all corners of the earth, women survived in the same harsh conditions and endured the same dangers that men did-and sometimes carrying a baby on their back or in their belly, too. Many mystical traditions see nature as female, and women by extension as having some sort of mysterious connection with nature. As women are so closely associated and involved with the creation and nurturing of life (even for those of you who can’t have children or don’t want to-there’s some ancient deep part of your consciousness that knows) we also have a deeper concept of our mortality and the fragility of life. Nature is very cyclical and death and life are closely intertwined. Because of its ability to create, destroy, then re-create in cycles, nature is associated with female-ness. I could agree with this; I feel pulled along by the mysterious cycles and currents of the natural world.  Yes, Nature is a mother, but she can be one mean mama.

Partly I think it’s because our view of nature has changed. In a way, even perceiving nature as something separate and removed from us is a great change from when it was simply…home, mother, whatever-an entity that could both give and take, create and destroy. Now nature is seen as an adversary, something to be conquered rather than feared, respected, thanked for our daily existence. And conquering is not thought of as something women do. There’s also a pervasive stereotype of the lone wolf isolated badass woodsman type. I seem to see this a lot in the backpacking/nomadic/bushcraft community. Guys just want to play caveman and grow a beard and get some nature-related tattoos and stomp around in the woods feeling all badass. Not that there’s anything wrong with that in itself. But for those of us with neither the capacity for beard-growing or lone wolfiness can feel a little put off and feel like we don’t have what it takes to survive in the great outdoors. Also, on the whole solitude thing: humans are not solitary animals. In fact, in modern studies of hunter-gatherer groups living in remote areas, people tended to value companionship and cooperation, and formed close social bonds with their small group. There’s many reasons for this, not the least of which is that an extra set of eyes and ears helps alert you to dangers you might not otherwise notice, and a second pair of hands helps deal with danger when it arises. And human contact and human voices are essential for the health of the mind and emotions, just as good clean food and water are essential for the health of the body. In fact, it’s good to take your friends and family into the wild with you; you will develop a closer connection sharing space and time and conversation with them uninterrupted by the noise of industrial civilization (which is good for many things, like the invention of antibiotics and hot showers, but not conducive to deep social bonding.)

There’s also a message that women get fed from a very young age, whether unintentionally or intentionally: You are weak, you are especially vulnerable, you should not go out on your own somewhere. The world is out to get you and exploit your weaknesses, you should be very much afraid and ever vigilant because you’re a woman! Eventually your gender can start to feel like a liability or something. But don’t listen; channel the spirit of your ancient ancient ancestresses. Get outside. Have fun. If you’re really concerned, bring a friend, as mentioned before: an extra set of eyes, ears, and hands.

 

Fellow mountain mamas, I’ll see you on the other side of the hill!

The 24-Day Minimalist Challenge

As someone who hates to sound self-righteous, this post sounds a bit self-righteous. Please know it’s not intended to come off like that-I have plenty of problems with unnecessary hoarding of crap, and I do a slightly less structured version of this bout once a year.

Before you begin: Identify the most cluttered parts of your living space; if you have things in a storage unit, garage, or at friends’ or relatives’ houses, include these too. Identify how minimal you want to go, and why. Your minimalist challenge will play out differently depending on how much and why you want to get rid of stuff.

Day 1: Where will stuff go when you need to get rid of it? Clear out a designated area of your house for things waiting to be donated, sold, or tossed. Research locations to donate items-you can start with Goodwill, but there’s lots of places looking for specific donations of specific items-for example, the library might light your old book collection, or some shelter dogs could sleep on your old towels. Also, sometimes you can re-sell your old books and clothes to a consignment store or used book store; just be sure they’re in good condition. Get plenty of empty trash bags and have a couple recycle bins handy.

Day 2-8: Identify the worst-offender cluttered areas. These don’t even have to be messy, just anywhere stuff has been sitting collecting dust. Sort that stuff into what you use every day (like your favorite coffee mug, your laptop, and-hopefully-your toothbrush), what you use maybe once a month (that weight bench in the garage) and things you only use once a year or less (does anyone in the family even like enforced snowshoe outings?) Put the daily stuff back in its place, but keep out the once-a-month/once-a-year things aside-you’ll be doing a little more sorting with these.

Day 9-10: What’s most important to you among the things you only use once a year or once a month? Decide your priorities-you would probably rather ditch a shirt you don’t really like and wear little, but not equipment for a hobby you can only practice seasonally. Also, for things you use this infrequently, see if you can’t do without some of them. Look into the options of renting or borrowing tools or equipment, or getting a gym membership rather than constantly stubbing your toes on workout equipment. You’re aiming to get rid of most of the “monthly” items and all but a few of the “yearly” items.

Day 11-15: Now it’s time to sort the stuff you decided to get rid of. Refer back to the list of donation places you made on day 1. Sort out donations, box them up, and designate a day for donation drop-off. Sort out items to be sold, too. You can sell collectible stuff, electronics, etc. on a site like Ebay or Craigslist, or through the classifieds. Less valuable stuff, like stuffed animals or old furniture, can be sold at a tag sale. Anything that’s just beyond the pale gets recycled or thrown out. Recycle metal, glass, plastic and paper; old ragged clothing can be cut up for cleaning/shop rags, and unfinished wood scraps and wood items can be burned in a nice bonfire!

Day 16: Have a tag sale! (you can skip this step if you live in an area that doesn’t permit it-instead, resell or donate as much as possible.) If you have kids who are reluctant to part with their old stuff, encourage them to sell old unused items by giving them the profits from the sale of their old clothing, toys, etc.

Day 17-23: Identify the paths through which excessive crap finds its way into your house. (Trash counts too!) Weigh out all the trash you make in this week and figure out where it’s all coming from. Is it your to-go coffee habit (I know I have that problem!) or is it excessive junk mail? Are plastic bags choking your trash can? Figure out a strategy to combat trash generation, whether it’s buying a shiny new travel mug to keep in the car or unsubscribing yourself from the junk mailing list. Also, look at your shopping habits-are you tempted by the lure of sales? Ironically enough, window shopping can break your bad habits. Often, it’s enough to just admire the items you like in a shop; you’ll discover that you can enjoy looking at whatever you lust after (whether it’s chocolate-covered Oreos, a new chainsaw, or anime figurines) without NEEDING to buy it. Unless it’s the chocolate-covered Oreos. Don’t fall into the trap of buying stuff on sale because “you might need it later!” Stuff is still going to be on sale in the future. And besides, by the time you really do need the thing, you’ll probably have forgot about the sale. (The only exception here is winter clothes and swimming suits; end of season sales are great for these, and you know you’ll need them eventually.)

Day 24: Pat yourself on the back. You made it! Now you actually have space to walk through your garage/basement/efficiency apartment/wherever! Congratulations! Go out for pizza or whatever floats your boat.

 

Go tiny or go home: a virtual house tour

 

Welcome to my virtual house tour, now with crummy cell phone quality photos! Enjoy all 72 glorious square feet of my humble dwelling.  Highly recommended: listening to this while viewing. I got the keys to the highway!

 

20160517_124014

Just inside the front door-kitchen area, waiting for the second countertop. You can see my woodstove on the left side of the picture (still have to set that up too!)

20160517_123950

My countertop, finished with 6 coats of tung oil. I hang napkins and towels from the hooks in the wall, and stores knives in the block in the corner.

20160517_123943

The shower caddy by the door holds toiletries. The cabinet has hooks on the side for hanging stuff like grocery bags up. (Don’t tell my friend Justin I still have the book he loaned me…)

 

0516161055-00
The kitchen cabinets and shelves are built from recycled pallets and plywood scraps, plus some flooring samples I found in a dumpster.

20160517_123819

I found this sink in a junkyard. It cost $12, versus $80 to buy a similar sink brand new. I’m going to hook it up to a waste water tank.

0516161057-02
This bedside table was constructed from a scrap of siding I dumpster-dived. The legs are laurel branches.
0516161057-00
This rolling shelf slides out from under my bed. I use it to store clothes and books (in the cabinet).

20160517_123701

Detail of bed. This decorative piece was made by drilling holes of various sizes in a piece of 1/2″ thick stock, then sanding and coating with 3 coats of tung oil. (This  was a really nice piece, found in my grandma’s garage…think it’s maple?)

20160517_123618

I papered the shelves with recycled gift wrap to prevent delicate fabrics from snagging on splinters or rough areas in the wood.

20160517_123721

There was a vent over my bed, but it was basically just a hole in the ceiling; this louvered vent cover makes it possible to open the vent or close it while driving to keep out dust and debris.

20160517_123712

This decorative bracket is supposed to hold a potted plant, but makes a good holder for my LED lamp or a candle.

20160517_123739

The view out my window: the house I grew up in. This will change soon I hope…

0516161056-01
Over my door. The paper cranes were a birthday gift from my sister, the dream catcher was made by my aunt.

20160517_124156

The view with the back ramp door down. yup, this is it!

20160517_124319

From the outside-with the best little car ever.

20160517_124332

Wish the Civic could pull it. 😦

An Inventory Of Everyfreakingthing In My Trailer

I’m dead serious. You will be amazed at how much stuff I’ve crammed in a 72-square-foot space. If I can do it, so can you! Fear not, for the tiny life is totally attainable. And this isn’t even all my stuff.

NOTE: I didn’t list consumables like food and laundry detergent.

KITCHEN SUPPLIES

Large cast iron skillet, small cast iron skillet, medium saucepan, small saucepan, mixing bowl, plates (2), spoons (2), forks (3), mugs (3), chef knife, paring knife, knife block, kitchen towels (4), cloth napkins (4), wooden spoon, soup bowls (3), set of measuring spoons, dish scrubby, dish soap, plastic bin for drying dishes in, plastic storage containers (3), glass jars (too many to count), teapot, tea kettle, french press, pasta strainer, wooden cutting board, pot holders

BLANKETS/BEDDING

1 twin-size 2″ thick foam mattress pad, fuzzy blanket, quilt, flannel sheet, comforter, wool blanket, pillow, towel

TOILETRIES/MISC

toothbrush, nail clippers, tweezers, band-aids, necklaces (2), hairbrush, bracelets (3), handkerchiefs (3), hair ties (innumerable), earrings (4 pairs), LED lantern, LED solar powered light, solar powered radio, several family photographs, candles, reusable shopping bags (2), water bottle, bicycle, beads, thread and beading needles, scissors (1 pair), pocket knife, tiny bag and rolling papers for uh…herbal supplements….sewing kit (includes pins, needles, measuring tape), paintbrushes (3), bottle of India ink, watercolor set, notebooks (2), pocket knife, clothes pins, rope for clothes line, sponge mop, broom, rags for cleaning, old film camera & related equipment (this was a hand-me-down from a relative, and I still want to learn to use it.)

CLOTHING & SHOES

Hiking boots, Dr. Martens, cheapo crummy gardening/work sneakers, winter boots, sandals, 1 singular pair of “nice” shoes, dresses (6), shirts (12), fake fur vest (1, don’t judge), socks (~10 pairs), wool socks (~6 pairs, can never have too many socks), panties (12 pairs, I think?), blue jeans (2 pairs), cargo pants (1 pair), shorts (2 pairs), shredded work pants (2 pairs), coats (3), sweaters (2), sweatshirt (technically belongs to my friend), skirts (2), winter gloves (2 pair), bras (2), winter scarf, scarf for wrapping my hair at work so it doesn’t go in the food, pair of overalls

TOOLS

Hammers (2, not sure why), adjustable wrench, ratchet set, screwdrivers (5, different sizes), battery-powered drill and bits, staple gun, chisel set, pliers (not sure what kind), aviation snips (used for cutting wire or thin metal), clamps (5, different types), 1-foot level, tape measure, file set, oil can wrench (you should get one too, it makes changing oil in your car super easy), assortment of fasteners from IKEA (don’t ask), paintbrush, bottle of tung oil finish, hex wrench set

BOOKS (i have a few I keep around in a permanent collection, the rest I get from the library. I’m just listing mine)

Shelter Publications’ Tiny Homes On-The-Move -an awesomely inspirational book of people’s tiny home designs and builds (most much less crooked and gappy than mine…)

Sugar Baby  by Gesine Bullock-Prado contains recipes for the most amazingly tooth-destroying candy confections you could dream of.

the Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual, the book that has helped generations of my family to turn home-repair emergencies into even worse home repair emergencies.

The official CIA Baking & Pastry textbook. Even though I have no oven, I can live out my baking dreams vicariously.

A book on building shelves, cabinets, and cupboards-there’s a lot of similar titles out there, check your local library if you’re interested in this topic. It helped a lot when I was building stuff for my trailer.

Back To Basics, A Complete Guide To Traditional Skills: not only does this book offer comprehensive advice in an easy-to-understand format, it provides a pretty clear picture for prospective homesteaders like me how much hard work we’re going to encounter!

World Changing, A User’s Guide To The 21st Century: Actual solutions to real problems. It’s a good read when you’re feeling down about the state of the world, and might inspire you to get involved in one of the efforts mentioned in the book! Awesome!

 

FURNITURE: Kind of all part of my house. 4-person tent, small bedside table, bed, folding camp chair, cabinet, shelves, sink, 2-burner camping stove, wood stove, rolling shelf for clothes, laundry basket, storage boxes (2), milk crate (1), wicker laundry basket (1), plastic bucket for cleaning supplies, plastic buckets for water (3)

That’s pretty much everything. I’ve probably left out a few things, but this pretty much maxes out what you can fit comfortably in a 70-square-foot space. Still, relatively speaking, it’s a lot of stuff. Hope you enjoyed my post!

 

Why live tiny?

For me, it started out with being angry about paying rent. At one point I was shelling out $750 a month for four rooms, not including gas, electric, internet, and phone bills. This may not seem like much, but it’s quite a stretch on a cook’s pay. I didn’t want to choose between working 70 hour weeks driving myself crazy with no free time and driving myself crazy having to pinch pennies but working more reasonable hours. With a tiny house, my only bills would be phone and vehicle-related expenses (which I would have to pay anyways). If I built a trailer for under $5,000 and figured I was saving at least $500/month on rent, the trailer would pay for itself in under a year. Plus, I was getting sick of moving in and out of my parents’ places when I couldn’t manage to make ends meet on my own.

Then I realized how massively I would be shrinking my carbon footprint. Americans, per capita, have one of the highest carbon footprints in the world, second only to tiny, landlocked Luxembourg. (see this great website for a detailed breakdown and data visualization: Carbon Footprint Of Nations)

And I’m no exception to the profligately carbon-spewing American standard: I own and drive my own car, eat meat, drink coffee from paper cups, take lengthy showers, and park in front of a computer screen when I’m bored.  As you can see, most developing countries, such as in South Asia, Central America, and Sub-Saharan Africa, have relatively small per capita carbon footprints. But what’s even more surprising is that many developed, fairly wealthy countries, like Sweden, Germany, and Japan, have far smaller per capita carbon footprints than the US. And these smaller-carbon-footprint countries have equal or even better quality of life. So this brings me to my first point: it’s possible to live on less and still be happy-or if you do it right, even happier. And it doesn’t have to be viewed as giving up things, it can be viewed as unburdening oneself from the weight of wasteful excess. After all, keeping up appearances takes lots of effort. Why would you work to pay for an enormous house that you can never enjoy because you have to work overtime and weekends? For that matter, why waste gas and energy mowing a uniform green lawn, when you could be using that time to weed a garden that produces delicious vegetables? Follow down this path and you come to a place where you can naturally live more efficiently and at the same time be more relaxed, just by being more conscious of how you use the world’s resources and less self-conscious about keeping up appearances. In my tiny house, I’ll be limited to what possessions I can fit in a 70 square foot space. I won’t have internet, or even electricity until I install solar panels. Heat can be provided by a tiny wood stove burning scrap wood, and water use will be limited to less than 10 gallons a day (by contrast, the average american uses 10 times as much.) To cure my bad habits, I’ve put myself in a situation where I have no choice but to make the right decisions.

 

Anyway, back to the resource-frugal folks in the developing world: there’s a lot of concern, with climate change and the depletion of resources such as arable land and fresh water, how we can feed everyone as the population continues to grow. Which leads to concern about population growth. Surprisingly (or maybe not so), the areas with the highest population growth rates pretty much overlap with the areas with the lowest carbon footprint per capita. So while population growth stresses the planet, we shouldn’t be panicking about it as much as about the wonky distribution of resource use: a little population growth in the developed world stresses the environment disproportionately. For humanity to be able to move ahead into an uncertain future, 2 things need to happen: a massive shift in the developed world in how we use the world’s resources, and for the developing world to learn from the developed world’s early mistakes and be able to develop infrastructure and industry without causing massive environmental devastation.

 

So, you say, how is living in a human-sized Habitrail going to help the world? Can’t I just take a 2-week service trip to Thailand to assuage my guilt, then go back to sipping lattes from paper cups and upgrading my laptop every 6 months to a thinner version? Not so, dear reader-you’ve come too far to turn back now. I used to feel this way too, but deep down some snarktacular little part of my subconscious was saying, Hey, this just smacks of privilege and resume polishing bullshit. My snarky streak was satisfied when a few months ago, a good friend posted this article on her Facebook. It turns out I was at least somewhat right, which brings me to my second point: to really help out folks in the developing world, the vast majority of us are better off fighting for what’s right on the home front. In other words: instead of wasting fuel flying halfway across the world to provide unskilled labor and get Facebook likes, downsize your lifestyle at home and reject the consumer paradigm. The choices you make every day affect the whole world (and you thought you weren’t important!). But how does me not impulse-buying a flatscreen TV, or eating something besides cheesesteak, affect the world, you ask? I can’t see giant piles of industrial waste outside my window, so everything must be ok! Nope. Here in the developed world, we’ve gotten pretty good at outsourcing the nastier parts of our consumer lifestyle somewhere else. A few examples:  Amazon deforested for cattle farmingpeople fight & die over minerals in your computerelectronic equipment dump in GhanaPacific garbage soup. Anyway, enough moralizing from me. Here’s a quote from the original minimalist to wrap things up:514_400x400_nopeel

That’s it, folks! Go play outside!

Off-Grid Living Topic: Storing Food Without Refrigeration

I worked on a trail crew for Vermont Youth Conservation Corps in fall of 2015. We lived in the woods on a remote campsite, meaning the campsite had no access to electrical hookups, plumbing, or running water. We had a composting toilet, filtered our own water from the nearby resevoir, and stored our food without refrigeration. We also didn’t get to wear clean clothes or shower every day; there just wasn’t the facilities. Nor did we wash our hands a huge amount. Yet no one ever got sick. There are even studies that show that as long as you follow certain basic common sense rules for cleanliness and safety, a little exposure to germs and dirt will actually build up a healthy immune system. Which brings me to a discussion about storing foods without refrigeration.

FRESH FOODS

Perishable Items:

This includes fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat, fish, and eggs. Fruit and vegetables will store quite a while at room temperature. Be sure to keep them free from condensation and excess moisture, as this will make them rot faster. Use cut fruit and veggies immediately-cut surfaces will decompose faster. Do not use any produce that is slimy or has an off smell. Soft fruit like raspberries and tender greens like lettuce will last only a few days, while harder produce like apples or winter squash will last weeks, especially at cooler temperatures. Do NOT try to store raw meat or fish without refrigeration. If you buy some and don’t have refrigeration, cook it IMMEDIATELY. With dairy products, cultured ones will last longer; cheese will last up to a week, yogurt and sour cream a couple days. Don’t try to store uncultured pasteurized milk at room temp; if you take milk in your cereal or coffee, switch to almond or soy, which can be stored at room temp opened for 4-5 days (look for the shelf-stable, sealed variety.) Eggs can be stored at room temp up to a week as long as the shell isn’t cracked. To test for freshness, put egg in shell in a bowl of water; if it floats, don’t use it!

Non-Perishable Items:

These dry foods will last months without refrigeration; just keep free of moisture. Non-perishable foods include dry herbs and spices, sugar, flour, baking powder & soda, cocoa, dried milk, dry beans, nuts, grains and seeds, pasta, and canned items. Any dry prepared food is also nonperishable, like cookies or crackers. You can also find shelf-stable juice and milk that can be stored unrefrigerated until opening, but I try to avoid pre-packaged juice and snacks because they tend to be high in sugar and generate lots of trash with their packaging. Potatoes, onions and garlic kind of fall under this definition as long as you keep them dry. Garlic and onions can be hung up by the stem end, and onions and potatoes can be stored in a mesh bag in an area with good air circulation.

Prepared Foods:

Baked goods will last for days. Otherwise, try to eat leftovers within 24 hours.

Preserving Foods:

There are many many excellent resources on preserving food out there, so I’m going to cover the ups and downs of a few basic methods and trust you too look into whichever interests you most. Different people will use different methods for different needs-and don’t limit yourself to just one method of preserving.

Drying: Super easy. Can be used for almost anything except leafy greens. Tomatoes and apples dry especially well. Items for drying are sliced and dried on metal sheet pans in a very slow oven or hot sun. Pros include being one of the safest methods, easy to do with little equipment, and keeping most of the flavor. Dry food is also light and takes little storage space. Cons include needing sunny weather or lots of oven space, and foods not reconstituting to their original texture.

A comprehensive guide to solar food drying: http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Solar_food_drying

honda-civic_si_hatchback-1990-hd

Behold! My beloved mobile solar herb dryer (above).

comprehensive guide to drying safety procedures and general guidelines: http://www.aces.uiuc.edu/vista/html_pubs/DRYING/dryfood.html

Fermenting or pickling: This process involves the partial digestion of food by microorganisms to change its chemical composition. Pickled items are also packed in a salty brine that helps preserve them. Pros include increased health benefits due to food becoming more digestible through fermentation and having live/active cultures, and change in flavor. (pickles are delicious!) Cons include requiring more specialized knowledge and tools, and the possibility of making yourself sick if your pickling project goes seriously wrong. Also, fermented foods prefer to be stored at cooler temperatures and don’t last as long as canned, frozen or dried foods. For two books that offer comprehensive guides to fermenting and pickling, try Nourishing Traditions  by Sally Fallon (http://www.thebookloft.com/search/site/nourishing%20traditions) and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz (http://www.thebookloft.com/search/site/wild%20fermentation).

jarsofpickledfermentedfoods-m-0623-653x0_q80_crop-smart

Don’t these pickles just make you all hot and bothered?

Canning: This is probably the first thing you think of when you think “food preservation”, but surprisingly, canning hasn’t been around for that long. It was invented in 1803 by a French chef, Nicolas Appert, who wanted to win a cash prize offered by Napoleon to the first person to develop a new food preservation method to feed the French army. Appert’s original canned goods were heated and sealed into Champagne bottles stopped with a mixture of cheese and lime to exclude air. The basic principle of canning is to heat food up to kill bacterial growth, then seal it off in an airtight container. Many many foods can be preserved this way-meat, fish, beans, fruit, veggies…the biggest drawback to canning is that it requires a lot of equipment, attentiveness, and specialized knowledge to produce a safe and tasty product. For example, low-acid and low-sugar preparations must be processed differently than, say, jam or tomato sauce. But you can easily overcome these obstacles by working with a friend or relative who is an experienced home canner, and only buying your own equipment once you learn the ropes.

A comprehensive guide to home canning, explaining various methods and IMPORTANT safety guidelines: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html

My mom is a legendary home canner. Here’s one of her favorite canning books, which covers freezing, drying, and pickling, too. There’s recipes for just about every fruit and vegetable: http://www.thebookloft.com/search/site/put%20%27em%20up

 

Freezing:  if you don’t have access to refrigeration, you probably also don’t have a freezer, so I’m just going to skip this one.

Smoking: I’ve never really tried this, but I enjoy smoked meats and fish. If you want to try, here’s a comprehensive guide from the University of Georgia that compiles a bunch of resources on procedures, types of smoked food, and safety, all in one handy location: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/nchfp/lit_rev/cure_smoke_postproc.html

Anyway, that’s all for now-preserve away, and enjoy!