Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Economics of Laundry

     Washing laundry at home is a significant use of water, accounting for up to 40% of total household water consumption. This is partially due to the incredible water demands that a typical top loader uses, 40-50 gallons per load! After a year spent going to the laundromat and being increasingly disgusted by the cost and how poor a job the "high efficiency" washers did (after all, how high is the efficiency when the machine doesn't do the job it was designed to do?) we have returned to using a wringer washer. I spent our early married years using a wringer, we've also washed clothes by hand with a plunger and scrub brush- which is hands down the cleanest our clothes have ever gotten.

     The wringer washer takes 16 gallons to fill, in that water I wash at least 3 loads in succession beginning with the lightest/least soiled clothes and progressing to dirtier/darker clothing. As each load is wrung it is put in a bucket or basket, after the 3-4 loads are washed the tub is refilled with rinse water, each load is rinsed, wrung and then hung. The rinse water then becomes the wash water and the cycle starts again. To fill my particular clothesline I can wash 6 loads, so water consumption for me equals 48 gallons (16 gallons to wash, 16 gallons to rinse which is also the next 3 load's wash water, and 16 more gallons to rinse.) That works out to 8 gallons per load of laundry.

     To my rinse water I add a splash of vinegar, we don't like our clothes coated with synthetically scented petrochemicals, then we line dry. In the Winter (which here is mostly rain) we use lines strung on the porches, drying racks indoors and/or lines strung through the living room. It takes around 12 hours for jeans to dry, but that's balanced by increasing humidity in the house and the fact that my kilowatt usage is zero.

     I like that our laundry method leaves a gentler impact on our planet, but I like the cost savings even more. We were spending around $30/week at the laundromat. Should we want to take our laundry system off grid this washer could be converted to bicycle power in about an hour. I found one of my wringer washers on Craig's List and the other at an auction, I paid $75 and $125 for mine. I can't image a laundry system that I'd be more pleased with than this, it has everything: clean clothes, low energy use, and very low water consumption!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Increasing Tilth


     The holiday season is past and our minds immediately turn to garden plans and other Spring endeavors. We are blessed to have relatively fertile soil for the area we live in, so much of the land here is burned out due to ignorance about soil amendments and crop rotation. Our soil is clay loam and we began increasing tilth as soon as the garden was turned for the first time. Improving soil obviously benefits the gardener by increased sizes and yields and it is an easy labor. The first thing to understand is how essential nitrogen levels are, nitrogen is the building block of plant structure, having a deficiency in this area with give you stunted, yellowish plants. Some of the organic methods we've used to raise nitrogen levels are:

  1.  The addition of  composted manure (we use composted horse manure from the stable where our daughter rides).
  2. Growing plants that boost nitrogen such as beans and peas. We will avoid planting corn especially because it depletes the soil rapidly. We tried a test plot of corn last year and the results were disappointing.
  3. Adding coffee grounds, either composted first or washed grounds directly. Washing first ensures that you aren't changing the pH and making your soil more acidic, obviously if you want to change the pH then don't wash the grounds first. 
  4. Plant borage, I haven't tried this one but it would work for a cover crop (as would oats or rye) that you till back into the soil.
     Improving soil organically is a process, not an event. Every year you will see soil improvement, changing from a clay color to the deeper richer black the denotes optimum fertility.

     In more immediate news, the sap will begin rising shortly and we'll be tapping again! Though we have more taps to put in this year than we did last year, it will still fall dismally short of what we used to do. You can read about that here and here, but it's a skill that we value and want to keep alive for the children. Because we won't have the quantity that we're used to my thought is to store the sap in the freezer until we have enough to fill the cast iron pot and then boil it down outside and finish in the house. That's the tentative plan anyway. Immediately on the heels of syrup season will be a brief window and then early garden things can be planted. My garlic is doing well and I think I'm going to divide my comfrey into 3 plants instead of the behemoth it currently is. I'm excited to begin the life cycle all over again, it never grows old.