Dan contacted me and sent me this video of an Earthship built in Australia. The video includes image sequences that are packed with information. If I find any more information on this build with still pictures and words I will update this post with it.
After the spring sale of the young sheep the rest are grazing all around the place. They have a fenced roundup area which has to be moved periodically so that the ground does not get overcome with their urine and manure (just the right amount means it will flourish like crazy next year) … and they moved it right next to our place so one evening I went out to see their milking … it’s done twice a day 6am and 6pm. First the sheep are brough into the fenced area:
The guy carrying the stick is the shepherd (Choban in Romanian). He seems slightly drunk most of the day and very drunk at other parts of the day. This is what he does. He gets paid per season (essentially a year, though he typically has the winter months “off”) per head.
There are still a few suckling youngsters in the herd:
The milking process is efficiently executed using a smaller separate enclosure. They try to herd into it only those sheep that need to be milked though a few others slip in too and skipped (it is important not to miss any of those that do need to be milked). Ricky always gets very excited when sheep are herded and always wants in on the action … though not always useful:
Once all the sheep-to-be-milked have been collected into the separate fenced area it is closed off
And then their only way out is through the milking station which stands between them and “freedom”
Hand are washed (the two guys on the right are the owners of the herd and the one on the left is the shepherd)
And the sheep start flowing through. Notice that the shepherd is taking his time … he will start after the other two and his milking pot will be filled when the other two are only half full … he’s the professional in the group
You have to be alert, the sheep are happy to just run through to their freedom without being milked. They are usually caught by the tale or a hind leg
And milked. There’s isn’t much milk in a sheep … they milk ~130 sheep and will have a yield of about 40-50 liters total … these are grass-and-weeds-fed-only animals. I asked but my Romanian is not good enough to receive an explanation of the purpose of the cup hanging in the milking pot.
On the other side of the wall the sheep are so crowded that they are practially lined up to pass through
Though there is a guy with a stick to prod and remind them and keep them packed against the two-passages. He can be (too!) fierce.
And all three are in full-milking mode
Clean shoes are awaiting their owner
Knees are used to keep keen sheep from passing through before they are invited in.
Beer is VERY big in Romanian villages … almost everybody drinks .. alot
But when you are the guy with the stick … you have to stay on the job otherwise
When the milking pots are filled the process is paused and the milk is transferred into large (25 liter) aluminum containers
And the guy with the stick gets “busy” as fewer sheep are left:
And this happens twice a day
Hands are washed
The pots are also washed and the milky-water is given to the dogs who happily make it disappear really fast
Some males showing off males
Some of the milk goes to personal consumption (including ours) and the rest is sold (via collection trucks) to one of the large national dairy-producers. There are other flocks whos milk is processed into cheese products. The milk containers fit perfectly into the trunk of an old Dacia … as if its trunk was designed FOR the milk containers. The Dacia needs to push-(as in by people)-started
Started the day with a walk to Ildi & Levente go give them stuff for Andreea. The day before yesterday I was invited to a cherry picking … so yesterday I made my first Vishinitsa (Romanian Tsuika with cherry syrup) … came out very nice. So I sent some to Andreea together with a jar of the leftover cherry-mush – also yummy!
Then I did another coat of paint on the pieces of wood that can now be constructed into the bases for the 6 new solar dehydrators.
Potential rain tomorrow … so I headed out to collect the hay I cut into a pile (keeping for winter, when we use it as bedding for the flock). Since I don’t have a horse & carriage nor a carriage to hook up the car it was either do a lot of walking with hay stuck on the fork … or … I tried to use the wheel-barrow to create larger piles. I think it looked ridiculous but it worked. I managed to load and esily transport in a single wheel-barrow 4 or 5 times the amount I would have been able to carry by fork. A nice pile is standing next to the barn … proud … its my first … cut, turned, collected and piled on my own. I even brushed the sides so that the rain would wash off (though I will probably cover it with a tarp too). It’s already starting to look less impressive as it settles into place.
Took a break, ate, snoozed a bit … then didn’t really feel like working more. So I did some kitchen-cleaning, did my on-the-mat Yoga practice and …
… went outside to check the beehives. Good news is that the pre-emptive split we did about a month ago (there were signs of potential swarming … lots of males and queen cells) looks to have taken well – plenty of activity, brood, construction and honey collection – though still a small family. I hope they are able to get strong enough and collect enough honey to make it through winter. However I have a feeling that the original hive also swarmed. I saw two swarms .. one was just around the time ours should have … so it may have … and the other just today. I couldn’t spot the queen (but I can rarely do that), the hive is still very active, plenty of honey but I also did not see sign of brood. I did see two queen-cells … so … looks like swarming (the colony split and many left with the queen and honey stores to form a new colony) may have happened.
The flock is set for the night, dogs are fed, all the wood from the finishing stand has been brought inside, dinner is cooking … and I am calling it a day.
Dear members of Cutia Taranului,
There are two things happening with Cutia Taranului that are causing us discomfort:
- There are more than a handful of members who are asking for boxes once every two weeks (instead of every week).
- There are quite a few cancellations piling up from members who are going away on summer vacation.
If Cutia Taranului was just about selling food then we wouldn’t be writing this. But it isn’t. It is about a supportive collaboration and for the most part long term relationships between families who produce food in villages and families who consume food in cities. One of the key features of this relationship is a continuous and reliable relationship for both sides. Canceling boxes (for either of the above reasons) compromises the reliability of the service.
Though its kind of dumb and obviosu to say this – we feel it needs to be said: plants don’t go on vacation and don’t stop producing food. The work and care that peasant families have put into farming does not and cannot “go on vacation”. The summer time, when people also go on vacation, is a time of peak production. Finally, after months of work, produce yields reach their peak … and just then … cancellations appear. The accumulative effect is a substantial loss of income for the peasant families for work they have already put in. Every time a box isn’t delivered is a direct loss to them. The work has been put in, the food is ready and the delivery route is already driven … but less boxes are delivered. This isn’t right.
It isn’t right because the burden falls completely on the shoulders of the peasant families (both for the work and the loss of income). The peasant families won’t say anything because you have put them in an uncomfortable situation. They are grateful for your memberships … more and more so as time passes and the relationships become long term ones … and so they are uncomfortable saying anything about this, but it hurts them.
We wrote about this last year (and were very happy when a few people acted accordingly) and suggested that the best option is “pass it on”. If you go on vacation or have to cancel for any reason try to find someone else: a friend, neighbor or family who can accept delivery of the box instead of you. This is really the best solution where you don’t have to pay anything, the peasant family get full payment and someone you care about gets to enjoy wonderful fresh food.
However given the cancellation this year we feel the need for a more aggressive intervention. As we see it there are two other options to better (than the current one-sided situation) deal with this:
- Members who go on vacation (or cannot find a way to deal with weekly deliveries) will have their memberships cancelled and their places will be made available to others. When they come back from the vacation, if places are still available, they can sign up again and continue getting food. Please keep in mind that there is a constant waiting list of people, so we expect these places will be quickly taken up and will not be available when you get back.
- Members who go on vacation (or cancel for any other reason) will be required to pay half the price of every box that they cancel. This payment will honor and value the continuing membership that is being reserved for them. This way the burden of cancellation is divided between peasant families and members.
The 1st option isn’t appealing to anyone (except maybe new members in the waiting list) – it is forceful and feels alien. We prefer the 2nd option. We believe it is better aligned with the “continuous and reliable” aspect of a healthy Cutia Taranului relationship. It will remind everyone and demonstrate that the membership itself is valuable and deserves to be appreciated.
We will be encouraging the peasant families to go with the 2nd option. We hope that they won’t need to – because we trust you, the members, to do the right thing and be one step ahead of them (the peasant families). Maybe there is another option we haven’t seen. Find it and make it happen. Please take responsibility for your part in this precious relationship – if you are going to cancel, please do it right.If you appreciate fresh food appearing at your doorstop reliably every week then please show your appreciation by providing the same reliability to your peasant families. If you are going to cancel you may as well do it right.
Following what felt like a drought during winter we’ve had an extreme spring. After the snows melted (for the last time) temperatures soared and it felt like we skipped over spring and into summer. It was really hot and really dry for 5 or 6 weeks. Then spring rains arrived. It’s been 3 or weeks of almost non-stop wet weather. Temperatures dropped (came down as low as 6c for a few nights), we even fired up one of the rocket stoves a few times. The weather has been mostly overcast, though we’ve had enough sunshine to start using the solar dehyrators (mostly plants for teas).
Most prominently we’ve been getting lots of rain. This has been quite a relief given the super-dry summer we had last year. While Europe is experiencing destructive flooding we are being blanketed by precious, well paced and well spaced (there’s time for water to soak into the ground) rains. I’m also doing a few experiments regarding water (much more on that in future posts) and the rain has been very collaborative.
A couple of weeks ago we got word from one of the Cutia Taranului producers that they were hit by hail and lost almost their entire crop. This morning we got a call from another small producer (getting started in life as a peasant and new to Cutia Tarnaului) who just notified us that he too lost most of his crop to hail yesterday. An hour or so later Andreea called me out to check out the bees – they were dancing like crazy outside the hive. It looked like swarming behavior – though it should not have been because we pre-emptively split the hive to “cheat swarming”. Andreea suggested that maybe they were indicating a change in the weather … and indeed ominous dark clouds were not far away.
Within minutes a storm broke out. Strong south-eastern winds (usually our winds come from the north-west) with strength that we’ve never seen before (granted we’ve only been here 2 years). Visiblity dropped as a blanket of water came down (and sideways) from the sky. A few lightning bolts also hit the ground. The winds have settled, yet moderate rain continues to fall.
I went for a walk outside to see my water expriments (going very well). Many grasses, a patch of mint and all of our potato plants are bent and leaning in the direction of the wind. One of Ildy and Levente’s greenhouse covers ripped open and seems to have been blown completely off (we can only see the arches of a naked greenhouse from where are – we are waiting to hear from them if they have suffered any other damages).
It’s all so fragile. We (all of us humans on the planet) live and exist within a certain tolerance of natural fluctuation. The more we stress the ecosystem the more extreme it becomes … extremeties that are outside of our tolerances of existence … expressing those stresses directly back into our life.
We must stop taking and start giving.
We must stop pushing and start dancing.
We must stop denying and start accepting.
We must stop denying and start embracing.
We must stop resisting and start surrendering.
For many years I watched my father struggle as he drilled holes into concrete walls (you know, for hanging stuff around the house and what not). He would work very hard, put a lot of force into it, needed someone (sometimes me) to hold up the ladder so he could push into the wall. And when I grew up and began drilling my own holes in concrete walls I did the same. One day, as I was browsing the drill bits in a DIY store I came across some Bosch bits which were much more expensive than the cheaper bits. I purchased one and the next time I drilled into concrete I was blown away … the quality drill bit took on a lot of the work I was doing. Good tools are not cheap and good tools are … well … good … or at least much better than cheap junk tools. I’ve applied that lesson many times since.
Fast forward many years … we move out to Bhudeva. We find an old scythe (worn blade) in the barn and decide to buy a second one with a newer, hopefully better blade. In our shopping we found two kinds of blades: cheap and really cheap. We decided to splurge and went with the cheap. It looked nice but it really wasn’t impressive nor pleasant to work with.
Fortunately, during our first year I was gifted with an opportunity to watch a guy who really knew how to work with a scythe. He did it really well, elegantly, efficiently, with correct effort (he could go on and on). I picked up some stuff from watching him and from an occassional tip he was able to communicate to me. Though a scythe may seem like an obvious tool to use … most people use it bluntly (hacking away). He didn’t, he danced with it … I think it was a meditative experience for him.
But no matter how much I practiced I couldn’t seem to find my way into this dance. I got better … but something wasn’t working out. Then a few months ago I came across some information on scythe’s and eventually wrote this post about it. As I did so I found an Austrian company FUX that produces Scythes and has been doing so for hundreds of years (the same company!) – hand forged to this day. I emailed the company to ask if they had representation in Romania and they replied with two contacts. Liviu (who has been really helpful interfacing on my behalf with the Romanian speaking world around me) spoke to them and indeed they had FUX scythes. We ordered one and it has been here at Bhudeva for a couple of weeks.
During this time a couple of (local) people who saw the blade asked me if I was looking to create back problems for myself. They couldn’t understand why in this day and age of power tools (small and large) I would want to invest in a back-breaking scythe (all the way from Austria). So …
I purchased a snath (a long wooden handle onto which the blade is attached) and a binding ring in the village market. Today I finally got around to setting it up. The snath was properly sized to my height. The scythe blade was installed at a correct angle … and I went swinging away … and I was immediately blown away. The blade flowed through the grass and weeds smoothly and with ease. It seemed like the grass was surrendering to the might of the blade and falling on its own, before the blade even reached it. What a pleasure to use.
When I finished playing around with it I wanted to wipe it clean and it slipped from my grip. I sent out a hand to catch the blade … mistake. In a fraction of a second it peeled a small patch of skin from one of my fingers. Later in the evening I also found that as I was playing around with the scythe it seamlessly cut through a power cord that runs through our yard (delivering power to the workshop). I found out because the same cable powers the electric fence that protects our chickens and ducks … and the fence wasn’t working.
It’s an amazing blade, so different from the cheap stuff that is so abundantly available. Thought I wouldn’t (for now?) want to cut down acres of grass with it, I do look forward to working and finding my groove with it. What a difference a good tool makes.
I was (again, as with the axes) disappointed that we couldn’t find a decent Romanian made scythe. I doubt there is a country on this planet where there is a higher scythe-per-capita ratio. Yet only junk is readily available here – no wonder people think it is back-breaking work! So now I have a Finnish axe and an Austrian scythe, both from companies who have been making them for hundreds of years. There should be Romanian companies who make axes & scythes (and many other such things). Everywhere I look I see so many opportunities to create meaningful things here in Romania 🙂
At the end of last summer I built our first two solar food dehydrators and our first experiments with them were really great. I have been asked a few times about our choices so I finally got around to writing this.
First things first. Why dehydrated food?
- It is an additional option for preserving and storing food.
- Dried foods are potentially more nutritious then pickled or cooked (tomato sauce, zakuska) preservation since they don’t go through any cooking … just drying … removal of water.
- Dried foods require no energy to prepare (just the sun) or to store (such as freezing) … just a sealed jar.
- Dried foods can generally last much longer.
- Dried foods are easier to process. It is much easier to cut up tomatoes and put them in a solar drier then it is to process them into tomato sauce.
A LOT Of my research starts (and often concludes) at BuildItSolar.com. Since this was my first solar project I invested quite a bit of effort in developing a basic understanding of thermal dynamics. It wasn’t easy at first but it was well worth the investment. If you plan to collaborate much with the sun (as I do) I suggest you do the same. Make an effort to understand how the designs work.
There are many designs and systems of solar dehydrators. In preparation for this post I found these two documents about solar drying stored on my computer. I browsed through them and they seem to offer a good overview – so you are welcome to have a look at them:
- Solar Drying from the Austrian Development Cooperation
- Solar Drying of Fruits and Vegetables from the Department of Agriculture of South Africa
After much research I was able to dismiss some designs by identifying a few criteria that were important for us:
- All passive – no electric ventilation – solar heating creates air flow, air flow dries food.
- Simple to build – I have woodworking tools and basic skills, I use mostly roughly sawn pine and I am unable (for now) to produce high precision, constant sized wood.
- Simple to use – a system with no “options” – no thermostat and no adjustments possible – fresh food goes in and dried food comes out.
- No backup heat – no option to hook it up to another heat source (such as a stove) for complementary heat on when the sun isn’t sufficient.
I was left with three possible designs. It seems that the most popular design is a cabinet-like design where a solar collector feeds hot air into a cabinet in which trays are placed with food for drying. The following design roughly describes them though their actual shapes and dimensions may vary:
The solar collector heats air and since warm air rises, in this case it rises into the cabinet (which is placed above the solar dehydrator). This flow of warm air passes across the trays of food, absorbs moisture and escapes out the top.
A major improvement over this design (though theoretical for me since I built neither design) is the downdraft dryer. Once upon a time I found a drawing of such a drier but I have had no luck finding it again. The main difference is that hot air enters at the top of the cabinet, falls down in it (and across the shelves) … all the way down, and then is sucked out (flows up) through a chimney (often a separate chamber built into the cabinet itself). You can see both cabinet designs in this video:
What is the improvement in the downdraft design? In the first (popular) design as the air rises it collects moisture and cools … and cool air tends to sink … which means that two opposing forces are now at work. Warm air is trying to rise from the collector and cool air is trying to drop down inside the cabinet. From what I’ve read this conflict can result in diminished air flow, which means that food may not dry well or fast enough, which may lead to mold … a conflicted design. The downdraft design works with the natural tendency of cool air to drop (which can be further improved by re-heating the air in the evacuation chimney so that air is both pushed in and sucked out) so it should result in better, more consistent airflow … and better drying.
Both designs rely on one core feature – air flow. For efficient air-flow the entire system needs to be built as air-tight as possible … so that air cannot get sucked in or escape anywhere but where you want it. That small, often understated requirement can prove to be either difficult and/or expensive to achieve (and maintain … remember, this thing is exposed to the elements). I was about to embark on constructing a downdraft cabinet dryer when I realized that I achieving air-tightness was not going to be trivial (within the constraints of tools and resources I have available to me). I do not believe these designs to meet the 2nd criteria – simple to build (even though they are presented as such).
Both designs are excellent space savers (many trays in a small space). Yet even when such designs do work well there is a functional inconsistency built into them. In both designs the top and bottom trays will never experience the same temperature, humidity and air-flow. In both designs humidity and odors build up as air passes through the shelves. Though this may work it does require more planning and thinking during usage (what goes on top, what goes on the bottom, what things do not go together, etc.). This does not meet the 3rd criteria – simple to use.
So I changed my mind and went looking for something else. Eventually I arrived at Bob & Larisa at Geopathfinder. They have a lot to offer on sustainable living, drawing from 30 years of experience – including solar food drying. Their design is simple to build (with a very high tolerance for error), simple to use and, from our limited experience so far, provides reliable results. One drawback is that their design takes up more space. This is not an issue for us (living in the countryside) though I am not sure it is an issue for anyone if you take into consideration ease-of-use and reliability. I see no need to repeat information that is presented simply and clearly on their website HERE. They offer a free PDF with images from a construction workshop showing in detail how they are built.
Last year I built a pair of solar dryers based on their design and in the coming weeks I will be building another pair. Spring has just started and the dryers are already working drying spring flowers for our year round tea consumption:
There is a lot to learn about food dehydration. Different foods require different times. There are varieties (such as with tomatoes) that are more suitable for drying than others. Some things dry really fast (herbs), other take longer and need to be timed properly especially for food (again such as tomatoes) with a high water content – in which case you need to start on a sunny day to get through the initial drying (to prevent molding over night). Most things are dried without direct exposure to sunlight, others benefit from sun exposure (mushrooms are supposed to become saturated with vitamin D).
The Solar Dryers, though a do it yourself project, were not inexpensive. The most expensive material (for us) was the mesh upon which the food was placed – this need to be something that comes in contact with food that you will east (so no rusting, off-gassing, etc.). Following Bob & Larisa’s advice we searched (and just barely found in Romania) stainless steel mesh upon which the food is placed. I estimate the total cost of materials to be ~250 lei per square meter (every dryer is one square meter divided into 4 trays).