Thursday, August 27, 2009

No Wheezing the Juice

I referred to myself as a "hardcore doomer" the other day, but after spending the better part of the day today reading some other blogs around the Internet, I'm not so sure I deserve that title.

I mean, I totally believe that we are in a world of hurt and that life as we knew it has come to an end. That is, I think our future will look nothing like the 1980s and 1990s, when I was "growing up." And technology is grand, but the days of DVR, HDTV and iPod are numbered, as far as I'm concerned. Enjoy them while you got 'em, I say. The End of the World as *we* (the generations born between 1960 and 1990) know it has happened.

But we're all still here, right? I believe that our world is changing, but I don't believe we're all doomed, and while there may be pockets of serious, intense, militaristic-type violence in every country on every continent on earth in the very near future, I don't believe we all need to be armed to the teeth.

And if climatologists are correct, and I have no reason to doubt them, there will be more intense storms and some mass migration out of some of the areas with more intense weather patterns, but that doesn't mean everyone should have a hurricane bug-out bag ready.

I don't expect that we'll have food riots everywhere.

And while the Swine Flu has already been dubbed a pandemic, I don't expect we'll be dropping like flies in a cloud of Raid.

When I talk about the end of the world as we know it, I'm talking about moving very slowly (or maybe very rapidly - I don't know which) toward a lower energy future, where things just aren't as available as they are today, and where we live more fully where we are, than we do today.

And what I mean by live more fully where we are is that our lives will be much more local. The things we need to make our lives comfortable will be produced right where we are, rather than in a factory thousands of miles across an ocean and a vast continent away. The food that we eat will be grown by farmers in our region, and things like pineapple and oranges for those of us not living in a tropical climate will be incredibly expensive, or just not available.

I'm a hardcore doomer, and I'm also a "prepper", but having done some reading around, I think my prep strategy is very different from other people's, and maybe part of it is where I live. We don't have a lot of natural disasters - no earthquakes or mudslides or tornadoes or hurricanes - and our current crime rate is pretty low, and I think those things tend to make us rather complacent, compared to someone who lives in Florida, say, where the threat of devastating hurricanes is a fact of life.

Recently, I read on a couple of different blogs the "power down" challenge. The idea is to turn off the main power switch to one's house for a designated period of time (usually 24 to 72 hours), and live without electricity. I think it's a great idea, and if I didn't think Deus Ex Machina might actually hog-tie me to a chair and flip the switch back on if I tried it, I'd flip the switch tonight before I went off to bed (well, not tonight, but tomorrow night ... because I have to work during the day tomorrow, and I work from home on my computer :) just to see how we'd do.

The problem I have with these challenges, though, is the preparing, like I would be doing by not turning off the power on a "work" day, and reserving our experiment for a weekend, when it's more convenient to be powerless. But if the whole idea is to see how we'd manage without electricity, I think it's a bit disingenuous to make some of the preps people are making prior to flipping the switch.

First is the whole idea of knowing that the power will go off at this moment in time and will come back on after this much time has passed. If we end up in the kind of scenario that is most likely, with rolling blackouts and sporadic coverage, having had the type of artificial experience described in the challenges will not ever, really, prepare us.

I think a better option would be for there to be more than one person flipping the switch. Like, maybe Deus Ex Machina and I could agree on a weekend during which we would flip the switch. One of us would be in charge of turning off the power, and the other one wouldn't know when it was going off, and the other one of us would be in charge of turning it back on. I think having a more random time frame is more realistic, because in a real-life scenario, we won't have the luxury of knowing, "Oh, we don't need to do laundry, because we can just do it Monday morning when we flip the power back on."

Second aspect of the challenge has been the kinds of things I've seen done in preparation. In one after action review I read, the author said that prior to starting the power-down weekend, he filled his bathtub with water. Okay, seriously? We've lost power before due to weather-related activity, and we had no idea it was going to happen. There was no opportunity to fill my bathtub with potable water, and unless I always keep the bathtub full of water, this sort of prep is not going to help me assess any areas of weakness in my preparedness.

Likewise, if I go to a dinner party in the middle of my "no power" weekend or go to the library to access the Internet, or decide to go out to eat instead of cooking, I'm really not getting the full benefit of turning off the juice. What have I learned about where I am with regard to being able to live comfortably without electricity, if I'm eating out at restaurants or using the library's power? That would be just like the people who have not made any preps at all, and just always assume there will be power. So, when the electricity is disrupted, for whatever reason, they spend the night in a motel.

The thing is, if we approach these challenges as an "Oh, not to worry, we'll have power on Monday," then we kind of lose any benefit of having done the exercise.

So, instead of actually turning off the juice for a test weekend, I started to think about all of the things we use electricity for that we think we need in our daily lives, and I started trying to find alternatives. For some things, there just is no alternative. I could do the typing part of my job with a manual typewriter, but I am a transcriptionist, and there is no non-electric alternative for listening to tapes. I'm working on finding some inexpensive ways to power things like just my computer in case of a long-term blackout, but I haven't gone far enough in my preps on this one, yet.

But for other things there are non-electric alternatives. For instance, last year, I bought an antique wringer, and recently, I found a wonder wash on freecycle. If I have no electricity, I can still do laundry, because I have a washer and a wringer, and I've been hang-drying my laundry outside (or using my indoor wooden drying rack) for a couple of years.

We've been making all sorts of preps for years, because losing power due to winter storms is not unusual for us, but it wasn't until after I started really doing some thought exercises into the likelihood of things like rolling blackouts or not being able to afford electricity, that I started really trying to find alternatives. I haven't, and likely won't, turn off the juice to test myself and my family, but this past December (2008) Mother Nature tested us, and I believe we passed, not with flying colors, because there were a couple of weak areas, but we earned a good, strong B+ ;).

I will relate our powerless experience in full detail, but for now, here's a picture of the potato towers at the beginning of the season.

I keep meaning to get out and get a picture of it now, but I keep forgetting. Anyway, what I did was to take a piece of 48" by 72" 1" hardware cloth and cut it in half. Then, I rolled each half into a circle. In the bottom of each, I planted a couple of seed potatoes. As the plants grew, I should have buried them every 6" worth of growth, leaving only about an inch of growth uncovered. To bury them, it is suggested that one line the outside, next to the wire, with straw, and then fill in the middle with compost. I, sort of, did this, using spent hay from the rabbit hutches. I didn't do a very good job of covering them, as I mentioned before. One of the towers I almost completely neglected, and was rewarded with a one pound potato, and I still haven't harvested the other tower. Next year, this bed will have nine to twelve towers, depending on how many I can get across with room left for me to fill them, but next year, I'll be more attentive to them :).


  1. That's a good point. And I think when we realize that the power ISN'T coming back on is when there will be panic and food riots.

    Thanks for the pics of the towers. My only concern with those would be I'm pretty sure the moose back home (where god willing we'll be in a few years and where I'd be in a position to try a potato tower!) would treat it as an elevated buffet.

  2. Bezzie: I totally got a visual of a moose eating my potato plants out of the tower (we have moose in Maine, too - although not so many this far south :). Too funny! That part of my garden is in the fenced part of my yard, and - so far - no problems with animals ... except my own ducks and chickens, that is ;), and in that case, the towers actually kept my plants safe. It's the rest of the potato patch that was trampled.

  3. Thanks for the photos of the towers, and all the info. Next year I am definately trying those!
    Losing power in the winter worries me and has for some time because we don't have a backup heat source and can't afford one at this time.
    Technology can be fun, but I never worry about losing it.

  4. Wow you found a Wonder wash on freecycle. Thats awesome!

  5. I mentioned to the hubby that I want to "splurge" this weekend on a trash can (big, plastic one) to devote purely to soil/good compost for the potato bins next year. Tired of storing the dirt/compost in 5-gal buckets. A 44 gal trash can ought to hold quite a bit of dirt.

    Some great points made about the voluntary power-off weekend. But I think the origional supposition was that a spouse would semi-unknowingly (maybe tell the spouse/kids it's coming, but not when) inflict a power-free weekend on the rest of the fam. and see how far the preps already in place would take them, with the personal understanding that if things ACTUALLY got out of control or impossible to deal with, the power COULD be turned back on. But it would leave that fam. with a sense of what they're doing right, and what they need to improve.

  6. Oh, and for Bezzie, not sure where in AK you're looking to live, but here in the middle of NP (with moose that wander periodically through the neighbourhood, and one mama & baby making their home IN the neighbourhood this summer) I've had no problems with the moose viewing my potato towers as an elevated buffet. In fact, the only non-human noshing of my veggies happened by something (cutworm?) this spring with my cabbage & broccoli plants.

  7. I tried covering my potatoes with dirty straw from the goats. It didn't work well. I think dirt may be necessary.

    I can't believe you got a wonder wash on Freecycle! Nothing good ever comes up on our freecycle. I can't wait to hear your review.

    Were you doing a herbal medicine course? I'd like more information if you are.

  8. Work just about stops when there's a power interruption here (I work in a law office). Everything requires power: photocopiers, fax machines, computers, printers, even entering the building requires an electronic key. I do a bit good of transcription myself (I have an old-fashioned boss who loves and won't part with his dictaphone). The only thing I can do without electricity is go the file room and shuffle paper. If the power outage lasts too long, we're just sent home. Fortunately that doesn't happen too often.

    I love everything you bring to your blog, Wendy. Have an inspiring weekend. - Conny

  9. I am looking at those towers and thinking that with the addition of floating row covers you could keep the creepy crawlies and the mouses like critters from snacking on you plants.

    We usually lose our power for a few hours every couple of months or so. Rural Maine and a good storm are great tests. We are okay in the winter. Our freezer is in an out building and I could get my canner working if I needed to. We are okay for lighting too. Water was interesting. We had our rain barrels but we don't use them in the winter. I had water for cooking and washing but not for our ovine critters. Summer would be okay but winter we would just give them snow.

    It is the unexpected, in between stuff. A cold winter with no snow but ice storms and we would have to improvise. Which just means that the most important prep is a mindset that says ,"I can be creative and resourceful and solve this problem. "

  10. Christy, and anyone else wondering about wonderwash....I had one for a few years myself (and just recently "retired" it because the handle broke and I couldn't get a new one. I give the product itself a big thumbs up, but service/help from the company not so much. I really loved my wonderwash and am contemplating getting a new one. I actually did ALL my laundry it it for about 2 years. I literally went 4 years without a traditional washing machine. I'd wash clothes using the wonderwash or in my tub - in the grey water left over from use soap to bathe with, so no need to add any extra, really (and I use Dr. Bronner's to bathe with, so it was perfect for the laundry and for the septic).

    I rent as well, and wish I could have a wood stove here. We're hoping to buy our own place in the next two years and a woodstove (or at least a hookup/chiminea) is a prerequisite for me. I always keep oil lamps around and water stored as well, not to mention easy-to-heat meals, so those things are covered for an emergency. I'm hoping for a passive-solar house (hopefully I can partially berm it, too) and then add some solar panels and wind turbine..but that's probably a good 5-10 years in the future for us right now. One step at a time I guess. Becoming as self-sufficient as possible I think it going to be a mantra for many of us in the future, as will be bartering and eating locally. It's not such a bad thing, in my opinion!