Category Archives: Off-Grid Living

Passive Solar Water Heater/Shower

Oh boy, here goes another  dense, boring how-to post, you think. Great. Why can’t we have more stories about your ex, or Renaissance faires, or something cool and fun? But bear with me here, because I’m about to show you how to build your own solar shower. And there’s PICTURES! Even one of me demonstrating the shower! (Sorry, it’s pretty g-rated.) The instructions given here will help even the most distractible person with zero plumbing knowledge (that’s me!) build a working solar shower. A shower built with the dimensions specified will hold about 7.5 gallons of water, enough for a decent shower including washing your hair. It won’t get hot, but it will get warm enough to be nice on a cooler summer night.

But wait, excited readers, before you get started you will need some tools and materials. Tools for this are pretty simple: you will need a power drill with a 1 1/2″ hole saw bit and a star bit for driving screws, an adjustable wrench, pencil or other marking tool, 60-grit sandpaper, channel lock pliers that will accommodate a 3″ object, and I think that’s it. For materials, you will need:

10′ section of 4″ diameter ABS pipe (the black plastic stuff)

1 1/2″ ABS female adapter

1 1/2″ ABS cleanout plug

2 4″ rubber end caps for pipes

Metal pipe hanger strapping– you can also buy this as individual pipe hangers with a loop for the pipe to go through and a screw to hold the loop shut, I recommend getting them in this form but can’t find the right part on the Home Depot website.

3/4″ bulkhead fitting (ABS, of course. This might take some searching around.)

6-10″ garden hose (don’t just cut a length from a longer one, make sure it has the adapters on both ends.)

8  1-1/2″ self-tapping screws

Dramm sprinkler head and shut-off valve (product #10-12365 and #10-12349 in their catalogue.) Don’t try to use another type of sprinkler head-this works best for low water pressure.

Nice big tube of flexible watertight caulk (I used Through The Roof) and caulk gun

Roll of pipe thread sealing tape

Can of ABS glue (do NOT use glue designed for PVC pipes!)

 

Ok, first order of business is figuring out where to hang your water heater. Choose a location that will get lots of sun during the day, and provides a mounting point at least 8′ off the ground. Now, you’re going to make a hole for the fill cap. SLOWLY drill a 1 1/2″ hole in one end of the pipe with the hole saw; if the drill bogs down in the plastic, just back off a little. Clean up the edges of the hole with sandpaper to remove little plastic shreddies. Now, put the female adapter over the hole-this is going to be your fill hole. See how it doesn’t sit flush over the hole? We’re getting to that. Now, wrap the sandpaper over the pipe with the gritty part facing up. You’re going to run the female adapter over the sandpaper until you sand enough of a curve into it that it sits flush over the pipe. When that’s done, put it over the hole you drilled, making sure there’s no gaps between the adapter and the pipe. Now, glue the adapter over the hole, using the ABS glue. Make sure to carefully follow the instructions on the bottle-that stuff sets FAST! Also it’s quite toxic, so keep kids and pets out of the way. Once it sets up, paint a thin layer of glue on the outside of the joint. Let dry undisturbed. Once this is done, screw the plug into the adapter-you now have a filler cap. IMG_20160717_145815282_HDR

You’ll end up with…this.

Now it’s time to assemble the hose end. Screw the shutoff valve and sprinkler head together, then attach them to the hose. Unscrew the two halves of the bulkhead fitting. The sticking-out bit (for lack of a better word) that screws into the round bit will be the part that passes through the rubber cap. place this part towards the bottom of the rubber end cap, trace around it, and cut a hole for it with a sharp knife-make the hole slightly smaller than the fitting. Push the fitting through the cap so the threaded part is on the outside. The hexagonal bit should be on the inside. Also note: there are two gaskets in the fitting, make sure one goes inside and the other goes outside! Tighten the bulkhead fitting as much as you can-you may have to grip one side with the channel-lock pliers and turn the other part. It’s threaded backwards, so turn left to tighten and right to loosen. When the fitting is tight as it can go, run a bead of sealer around the edge, between the fitting and the cap. You will probably need an adapter to attach the hose to the bulkhead fitting; take both parts into a hardware store and they should be able to tell you what part you need. Put pipe thread sealer tape on the threads of the fitting and the end of the hose. Then, take the rubber cap and put it on the end of the pipe, tightening the bolt on the little metal band around it as much as possible. Once it’s all attached together it should look like this-

IMG_20160717_145728232_HDR

Put the other cap on the filler end of the pipe, tightening the metal band with the adjusting bolt as far as it will go. You’re now ready to hang up your solar shower. Put the 4 pipe hangers in place around the pipe. Next, mark off where you’ll hang the heater. You’ll need it to be at least 7-8′ off the ground to get a good flow. You will also need to hang it at a slant. Mark off the position for the fill end 3-4″ higher than the drain end. Space the pipe hangers out evenly, making sure they have a solid support to go into, like joists or a trailer frame. Line up each hanger over a support, and mark out spots for 2 screws in each hanger, marking through the holes in the hangers with a pen or pencil. If you’re putting this on a trailer, line each hanger up with the metal bars that make up the frame. Next, take the heater down, and drill pilot holes for screws. Put the heater back up, making sure the hangers are lined up right. Rotate the pipe so the fill cap is facing up and the bulkhead fitting/drain is facing down. Have someone hold the heater up for you while you drive the screws in. Don’t let go until you’re sure the pipe will stay put! IMG_20160717_145831834_HDR

(I actually attached mine to the roof. If you do this, put a bead of sealer around the screws to avoid leaks.)

 

Congratulations, you now have a solar water heater! You can fill it with a bucket and a funnel, or run a garden hose directly into the filler cap. IMG_20160717_145928590_HDR

And here’s the shower in action! Happy summer, everyone!

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I Moved!

I haven’t been posting anything because I’ve been busy because…I MOVED! I’m now living on the grounds of a local resort that’s been closed for years. Some of the buildings are beautiful and up to date, but many are dilapidated and decaying, giving it a crazy awesome air of mystery. There’s also miles of hiking trails and lots of gardens, some of which I’m going to be taking care of. I’m basically doing a work exchange in return for staying there. I’m helping with the veggie and flower gardens, doing a little night security, and occasionally testing the pool. The owner is hoping to fully refurbish the resort as a center for workshops on Eastern philosophy, qi gong, yoga, and meditation; my friends who work there convinced her to let me stay on the property in my trailer. She was interested in my goal of a low-impact life. I’m still a little in disbelief this is finally happening, and I’m really grateful to my friends who convinced the property owner. Here’s a day of my routine there:

Wake up, turn on my little stove, fry a couple eggs, and brew up a pot of coffee. Sit in my canvas chair drinking coffee and eating eggs on bread, still half asleep. Fill my water bucket and my solar shower from the outdoor tap on a cabin 10 feet away from my trailer. Stumble down to the tree where I’ve rigged my aerial silks, stretch and do a few tricks-I might have to take it easy, as my hands are pretty sore. Walk to the garden, passing a giant raspberry bush and pausing to eat a few berries…spend about an hour yanking weeds  from between the herbs. It’s slow going, the sun is hot, and I’m getting a blister from weeding; still, it’s satisfying  to see the herbs freed up from their weedy tanglement. As I walk back to the trailer, I cross a field of thyme, its aromatic purple flowers visited by numerous bees. It’s good to be back in the shade under the tree where I’ve parked; I do my dishes from breakfast, only using a little water. I spend a lazy few hours reading, including a book on bike repair. I think I’ve finally figured out the brake problem on my bike. I tinker with the brakes until they’re properly aligned, slapping away bugs the whole time. Before I know it, it’s time to grab a quick avocado sandwich before heading off to work, which turns out to be 6 hours of grinding boredom; not too busy, but not slow either. After work, I’m drained. I’m also jonesing for a pizza and some mindless Netflix, but it’s too late at night for one, and I don’t have electric or internet for the other. On the other hand, I’m getting a fair tradeoff, I think, looking around at the property under the light of the quarter moon that hangs in the sky like a flake of gold. I splash myself off with tepid water from the solar shower, brush my teeth, and head off to the mansion to retrieve the keys from the key safe. My first stop is the back of the mansion, where I lock up an open door and turn off some errant lights in the beautiful wood-paneled library. Then, I slip quietly through the dark to the pool building, and check up there; the pool is beautiful but spooky in my lantern light. I make sure the sauna and lights are off, then lock up. I walk across the property to the presentation hall, AKA the Tally Ho, passing the tree where our resident owl roosts. I check for its eyeglow in my lantern light, but don’t spot it. One door of the Tally Ho is open to the night air (and marauding bugs) so I close it, suppressing a little shiver as I walk under the creepy horse head sculpture mounted above the fireplace. After finishing my rounds, I put the keys back in the key safe. My exhaustion begins to settle in for good now. I walk past one of the most extraordinary view s I’ve ever seen, the mountains to the north framed by trees and lit by the moon and stars. I wish Tim was here, but I have to leave that thought be for now, and I’m just too tired to deal; back in my trailer, I sink into bed and fall asleep ignoring the buzzing of a mosquito in my ear.

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.)

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!

Slash your Trash-the 2nd minimalist challenge

Humans produce way, way too much trash. and when I say humans, I’m definitely including myself. This really struck home when I opened the door of my new (OK,  used, 14 year old) Tacoma to find the cab cluttered with paper cups, receipts, and all manner of detritus. When I think about the enormous amount of energy that went into cutting and pulping the trees, making paper, pressing it into cups and  rolls, printing my receipts, drilling for the oil that became the plastic bottle holding my juice, etc. etc. it just boggles my mind. The amount of energy used today to make things that will be used once and thrown out is staggering. And there’s also the problem of things that won’t biodegrade, like most plastics. In fact, plastic items have an annoying tendency to blow away and end up in the ocean where they get eaten by all manner of critters, from sea turtles to shore birds-none of whom can digest plastic. In fact, by 2050, scientists predict there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. Obviously this is not an ideal situation, unless you have some kind of rare mutation that allows you to munch on a plastic water bottle like it’s a grilled cheese sandwich.  So you and I need to find ways to reduce our trash output.

Which leads to this: the Slash your Trash challenge, or, how to cut your trash output down to a minimum. I’m going to try to follow the steps in this challenge over the next month too, because I’m starting to notice a pile-up of trash in my life resulting from ‘trashy’ habits.

THE CHALLENGE

  1. Stop using disposable napkins, dishes and silverware (or plastic ware, I should say.) This is a huge problem for me, as someone with a spotty schedule, a commute that takes me far from home base, and a weakness for two-eggs-on-wheat and a monstrous morning coffee. You can reduce your to-go ware output by several methods. One is to cut back on takeout, probably the easiest way in theory. Buy food like dried fruit and nuts that’s easy to carry around in reusable containers for unexpected attacks of munchies. Or start packing your own lunch if that’s applicable. Another way is to eat more sit-down meals, but I understand that’s not practical for some (or, hey, let’s be honest, most of) us. Another strategy is to have a designated fork, travel mug, and cloth napkin that you can carry around in your car, bag or backpack. Then you can use your mug for to-go hot beverages and you won’t need to ask for napkins or forks when you get takeout.
  2. Implement strategies to reduce food waste. A staggering amount of food in the world gets wasted. If you’re an average American, almost almost a quarter of the food in your fridge will end up getting thrown out (curse you, slimy greens and overripe avocado!) If you’re into in cataloging and quantifying everything, there’s apps available to track your food purchases and remind you before they expire; some are mentioned in the linked article. Alternatively for a low-tech solution you could split your grocery shopping for perishable items into several smaller trips during the week, increasing the chance you’ll eat rather than forget your purchases. Sticking to a planned menu and buying ingredients specifically for it also helps. If you are a restaurant owner, the EPA has published a guide to reducing food waste in your business, including resources such as a food waste tracker.

3. Eat food with less packaging in general. You’ll notice this forces you to eat a lot healthier, unless you’re really into home baking…in which case, bake your heart out. Homemade cookies can be whipped up in 20 minutes and taste way better than the kind that come hermetically sealed in 6 layers of plastic. Also, consider bulk-buying options for ingredients like sugar and flour to reduce packaging even further.

4. Carry a reusable bag around with you so stores don’t constantly try to foist plastic scraps of crap on you. This company sells bags  that fold up tiny enough to fit in your pocket, and you can also order stuff from them customized with a logo/words. (Warning: cheesy, buzzword-packed website.)

5. Why the heck would you throw out your perfectly good lawn trimmings and buy garden mulch? I have occasionally wondered myself. According to the EPA, 13.5% of waste in landfills is…lawn trimmings! You can use these to mulch around plants in your garden, I’ve tried it on my kale and it seems to keep the weeds down and protects the soil from drying out. Grass clippings also generate heat while decaying, and you can use their heat to heat a mini greenhouse in spring. Put pots with germinating seeds on top of a good layer of grass clippings, and their heat will warm the soil. My mom does this at her flower farm.

6. And since paper makes up another 27% of waste, it helps to be vigilant about recycling…and using both sides of the paper…and using the backs of one-sided printouts for scrap paper.

7. Finally, planned obsolescence is an actual conspiracy happening right under our noses, so buy things built to last if you can at all afford it.

And that concludes my trash challenge! I’ll try it myself and report back.

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

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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).

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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!