April Riot Update

I have had so much fun being a part of The Riot for Austerity/ 90% reduction project. The project started last June 1st and our family joined in July. There are a growing number of people all over the world, still joining this movement to help halt climate change. What are you willing to do to help save the world as we know it?

I finally have all my numbers for the month of April. As I stated last month, as part of The Riot For Austerity we usually figure up how we compare to the rest of the country in terms of consumption of resources. We are a family of four, living in the USA,  so our numbers are compared to the average American or average American household. There are seven categories. For two weeks we had my husbands mother staying with us so I will adjust the figures that are per person. 

Gasoline: We purchased 13.11 gallons in April. The average American uses 500 gallons of gas per year. So  a typical family of four would use 2000. I break that down to 166.67 gallons a month. Our use of 13.11 gallons was 7.9% of average.  Our 11 month cumulative total is 223.02 gallons or 12.2 % of average. And as reported previously, this does not include airline trips taken in November. If I add in two weeks of gas allotment for an extra adult, we come down to an even 7% of average, woo hoo!

Electric: We used 315 Kwh from  April 11 to May13 . The average household uses 900 kwh/month so our usage is 35% of average. Our lowest usage was in January and the numbers have been slowly climbing. We jumped from 25% last month to 35% this time. The warmer weather makes the fridge and freezer work harder. And one week before the meter was read we had our water heater switched from gas to electric to have a solar water heater installed. Electric is per household, but we did have an extra member for two weeks.

Therms: We used 9 therms of natural gas from  April 11 to May 13. Our usage is 11% of average. More hot water was used with an extra adult.  The average household uses 83.3 therms per month or 1000 therms over the season, since much of it is used for heating. We have used no gas heat this past year, but do heat water and cook with gas..

Garbage: We created 14.75 pounds of trash and 20.75 pounds of recyclables in April. Recyclables count 80% of trash so we are at 5.8% of average. If I figure in two weeks of an extra person it brings us down to 5.2%. The average person creates 4.5 pounds of garbage per day. A typical family of four would then produce 540 pounds of garbage per month. We have the smallest garbage can the city provides and we could go a whole month before our can was full. I put our trash out every two weeks.

Water: We used 4 kilogallons from April 11 to May 13. It went up from 2. We have been watering our garden since about April 11th. We went five weeks with no rain! The average person uses 100 gallons of water per day. That is 400 gallons per day for a family of four and 12 Kg a month. Our 4 Kg is 33% of average. The creators of The Riot say that water used to water your vegetable garden or crops does not count the same as household water use. We cannot separate the two. But I can guess that we used 2 Kg for household and 2Kg for watering. That would take us down to 16% of average. And if I add in the allotment for another adult for 2 weeks we come down to 14.9%.

Consumer Goods. Well during April I was participating in the buy nothing challenge with Crunchy Chicken.  I was not able to truly buy nothing. I bought 24 books from our friends of the library book sale. $16 but counts as $1.60 because they are used. We spent money on a camping trip for spring break, but didn’t buy anything tangible. I did really need to buy my daughter some new tennis shoes for $21.85. Then our big expense/purchase for the month was a new toilet. $347.00.  It counts as half under riot rules since it is infrastructure to reduce usage. The average American household spends $10,000 a year or $833 a month. We spent adjusted $326.98 or 39% of average.

Food: This category is always hard for me. I just guess what I think we eat and spend money on and then I double check what my husband thinks. I think we did better than last month with local at 30%, bulk category at 45% and I think the wet, conventional, processed food is down to 25%. 

In summary our gasoline use decreased by 2 percentage points, Electric went up 10 percentage points, Nat gas use went up a percentage point.  Garbage had been dropping but went up 2 percentage points. Water use increased by 50% again, increasing 16 percentage points, but really staying the same for household use. Consumer goods is higher since we bought a big ticket item and will be next month since we plan to buy another toilet. And the food category is pretty much the same but with a definite move in the right direction….towards local!    

I have to say that my mother in law was a great sport the entire two weeks she stayed with us. She turned the water off while soaping up and shampooing, she sat outside and read books using natural light and enjoying the warmth(she is from Wisconsin). She gave us money for the farmers market and ate quite a bit of local vegetarian food. She even discovered some new foods she liked. It was a great visit all around!

If my mother in law can have a great time doing this, you can too. So why don’t you take some time to look at your utility and gasoline bills, and see where you fall on the percentage chart. To make things even easier, there is a calculator on the Riot site that will figure things up for you. You don’t have to join the Riot, just become aware of how much of our planet’s finite resources you are using.                

Independance Days

Recently I decided to join a challenge created  by Sharon Astyk who is one of the founders of the Riot for Austerity. Her challenge is called “Independance Days Challenge”. I almost wasn’t going to do it, but I find myself trying to keep up with the Joneses. These are Joneses from a very different sort of neighborhood.

Basically the challenge is all about increasing your personal independance from market society. There are ten things to work on during the week and you are supposed to do atleast one everyday. Now looking at things that way makes it look easier. Here are the ten things.

1. plant something 2. harvest something 3. Preserve something  4. store something  5. prepare something  6. Manage something  7. cook something new.  8. work on local food systems  9. reduce waste               and 10. learn a new skill

So this week so far, I have

1. It rained last fri so I Planted 16 pineapple tomatillos, 4 reg tomatillos, 2 pimento peppers

2. Harvested several cherry tomatoes, several small tomatoes, yellow squash, vegetable marrow, green beans and a pound of potatoes.

3. Preserved quart and pint of veg marrow pickles, and a quart and pint of Daikon radish kraut. Took all tomatoes from last year or older out of the freezer and made 6 pints spaghetti sauce.

4. stored 2 extra bottles vinegar, 3 extra bottles soybean oil(organic at $1 each!), 3 extra jars peanut butter I also went to 3 thrift stores and bought 11 canning jars, two 8 packs of candles, 2 pair of shoes for my son, four still in package pillow cases and kitchen curtains. Purchased case of pints and case of quarts, lids and rings, emergency candles and a mantle for my Alladin lamp.

5. prepared, well I bought salt to make more pickles, researched sites to buy a pressure canner and then bought the canner.

6. managed-I went through all the non-canning jars and paired them up with lids, organised panty

7. cooked something new- Made salsa fresca

8   local food – discussed gardening with a new friend                   

9. reduced waste- brought home 3 bags and two boxes from the dumpster, mostly clothes

10. learned a new skill- canned spaghetti sauce for the first time

Vegetable Fermentation

Last week I took a class in vegetable fermentation from a friend of mine. She is a bio-dynamic farmer and grows vegetables and cows. She milks the cows and we get milk from her every week. She took a class several years ago from Sandor Katz who wrote the book “Wild Fermentation”.

My friend brought about eight different ferments for us to taste. Gingered carrots, sauerkraut, beet kvass,  zucchini pickles, kimchee and some others. They were all delicious!

Then she showed us how to make the zucchini pickles and the beet kvass and then let us make our own. After four days of sitting on my counter, I tried the pickles and they were excellent, just as good as my friends.

So with quite a few vegetable marrow (heirloom zucchini) from my own garden, garlic from my garden and dill..well…from my garden, I set out to make my own pickles at home.

Place all herbs or spices in bottom of a quart sized jar. I added dill weed and dill seed as well as garlic. My friend recommends adding either grape leaves or juniper berries to help retain crispness. I had neither at home.

Select veggies and cut into pickle wedges. If they are small you can leave them whole.

Insert veggies into jar, leaving an inch or more of head space. Pack very tightly!

 Make a brine solution with 2T of all natural sea salt such as Redmonds(NO refined salt) if using whey. Use 3T of sea salt if you don’t have whey.

 This is whey. It is the clear yellow liquid you find at the top of your plain yogurt. You can strain the yogurt through a yogurt cheese maker or through doubled up cheese cloth. This should give you enough whey. You will need 2T per quart. It acts as a starter for the lacto-fermentation process.

 Add the whey and then fill the jar with the brine solution to cover the veggies. Put the lid on. Label your jar with the date and contents and leave it out on your counter. It will take four to ten days to become pickles. Here in Florida where it is 60’s at night(70’s in the house) and 80’s during the day, it will only take 4 days. Leave on your counter and keep an eye on them.

Even if you packed the strips tightly, they will shrink and float to the surface. This is why the spices go on the bottom. If the veggies are poking up through the liquid, you may need to weight them down with a glass.

 When the pickles are done the liquid should look cloudy. If there is any white foamy stuff growing on the surface of the liquid just scrape it off with a spoon and you are good to go. You can taste the pickles at any stage without harm to you or the pickles. Sandor does it all the time. If you have never done this before or eaten something like this, you will be amazed with your results. I sure was. Sandor Katz book “Wild Fermentation” is available at Amazon.com and sometimes even through your local independent bookstore. Happy fermenting.

(Edited to add that when your pickles are “done”, meaning you like the flavor or level of fermentation, then they should be stored in a dark, cool place. It could be a root cellar, closet or a refrigerator. The warmer they are stored, the more likely the fermentation will continue. You could end up with some mushy veggetables, although still safe to eat. Let your nose be your guide. If anything smells or tastes foul or putrified rather than sour then don’t eat it. They should stay good for close to a year if refrigerated. You can hot water bath can the pickles, but then it destoys all the lacto bacilli. But store bought pickles don’t have any anyway, so do what works for you.)

What am I doing?

First I want to say that I appreciate all the comments I get on this blog.  One person said they liked the clothing and dumpster diving posts, but to please post about how I was getting to my Riot goals, like using little water. Another person said they liked the water saving posts but missed the trashion posts. Well, I will see what I can do about trying to post on both. I actually had been taking a break from dumpster diving since it fills my house with stuff and creates quite a bit of laundry. It is impossible for me to just pick out a few things that I like and to leave so much good stuff.  When I go, I always come home with a trunk full! My mother in law came to visit for two weeks and so I put the diving on hold to get the house cleaned up. Then I didn’t dive while she was here, even though she thought it was great and took home several garments. She is even planning on telling her friends exactly where they came from. She said it was half the fun. These are two tops I found in the dumpster that still had the tags on them! She loved them both.


Then in two weeks my sister in law comes, so I have to get the house cleaned up again. I may allow myself one trip this week and then no more for awhile. I really miss diving. The treasure hunting aspect of it draws me as much as getting free clothes or saving things from the landfill. As the weather heats up I find I don’t have as many shorts as I would like.  And surprisingly I have lost some weight, so that some of the shorts I got three of four months ago are not staying up so well.

I may do some scavenging and have a yard sale. We have too much stuff in our house. So we could have a successful sale I think. Have to decide if I want to go to all that trouble.

I have also been very busy in the garden. Planting, watering, weeding and some harvesting as well. I plan on doing a post on pickles, my garden, and a few more on saving water.

Saving water in the kitchen

There are quite a few ways to save water in the kitchen. First, lets look at where water is used. There is food prep, cooking,  clean-up, and miscellaneous use.

A great way to make the water in your kitchen do double duty is to have a grey water system. It can be as rudimentary as washing vegetables in a dish pan and then carrying the dish pan outside to water plants. Here is a great post on grey water. http://thesustainablehome.blogspot.com/2008/04/safe-use-of-household-grey water.html Another method for capturing grey water is a funnel called Envirosink that is installed behind your sink and allows you to run the water till it is hot or cold, and capture that water for reuse. You could also pour water into it from containers like your dish pan. The Envirosink can be directed to a collection tank for processing or direct use.

When preparing food for meals, be aware of how much water you use. If you do not have an aerator on your kitchen tap, get one. It should slow the flow to 2 gallons per minute. When vegetables or fruits get washed, wash them in a dish pan or large pot of water. Don’t let all that valuable water run down the drain. We keep a five gallon bucket near our sink so we can pour water into it throughout the day and empty it onto trees, bushes or plants. Don’t use running water to defrost foods. Let them sit in the fridge overnight or use your microwave.

If you cook food by boiling it such as pasta, vegetables or eggs, let the water cool down and add it to your compost pile or garden. If you have ants or weeds in an unwanted location, the hot water water will kill them both. When cooking, chose your pot size wisely. Too large a pot will not only use more water than necessary, but use more energy to heat up as well.

When cleaning up, don’t throw all those food scraps and peels down the disposal, start a compost pile. If you are in an apartment or have a really good excuse for not composting, use that grey water from washing your veggies to run the disposal. Think creatively. There is a big debate about whether or not dishwashers use more or less water than hand washing. Well my answer is sometimes more and sometimes less. What it boils down to is exactly how much water is used in total for each method. Some people pre-rinse all their dishes before loading them into the dishwasher. Don’t do this if you have a new D/W. I do this because we have an 18 year old D/W. I only use about a gallon of water for all the pre-rinsing. An older or non energy star D/W can use 14 or more gallons per load. Whereas an energy star model will use more like 8.5 gallons/load. So, if you could measure how much water you used to hand wash dishes, it would have to be less than your D/W used to be saving water. One method for hand washing, if you have the sink room, is to have a basin for the initial de-grimming of the plates. Then a basin of warm soapy water. Then a basin of warm water to rinse. The first two basins could hold as little as one gallon of water. The rinse basin may need three. This gets you five gallon/load. So not only did you save water, but you saved electricity as well.  If you hand wash in basins, you can save the water, if you use a D/W you cannot. Just remember to use biodegradable soap. [Edited to add: When using a dishwasher always run a full load of dishes.]

The last couple of miscellaneous thoughts about saving water in the kitchen are, first, don’t let the water run till it is cold to get a drink. Keep a pitcher of filtered water in the fridge. And lastly, but may be the most important is to fix any and all leaks as soon a they are discovered. A leaky faucet can waste thousands of gallons of water per year. If you can’t fix it right away, keep a container under the faucet. As long as the container is clean, the water will be clean enough to use.

Homemade cheap solar water heater

Have you ever turned on your garden hose to find out that the water was so hot you would cook your plants unless you let the water run awhile?  Well if you haven’t, give it a try. It is the inspiration behind our cheap solar water heater. Several years back, my Dad gave us a bunch of irrigation tubing. We decided to try to turn it into a solar water heater. It worked really well, so when we moved, we brought it to the new house. This is how we hooked it up.

The solar water heater we have is a black garden hose connected to an outdoor spigot at one end. The hose travels up the side of the house and onto the roof.


The next end is connected to another hose, then about 100 feet of irrigation tubing.


Special fittings were added to be able to connect it to the hose.

The next part is a hose that is designed to withstand hot temperatures. It is red. We got it at Lowe’s.

At the end of the red hose is a metal piece that allows you to shut the water off.

We keep the water turned on at the spigot all the time. This keeps water in the hose. We have had problems doing this. The hoses sometimes weaken with the hot sun and you get leaks or large busted holes. Then my husband repairs it and we may turn the water off each time we use it for awhile, then go back to leaving it on. Even if you turn the water off in between uses, there will still be enough left in the hose for the next time. If you had the mental ability to do this, you could turn the water on about 30 minutes before you needed it and then off when finished. My mind just doesn’t work that way.

Obviously, the more hose length you have, the more water you can heat up. There is a formula to find out exactly how much water a hose will hold according to its diameter and length.  Someone else can figure that out. I don’t know how many feet of hose we really have, but we can get about 10 gallons of hot water. Now remember, we only use about 4-5 gallons of water for bathing. The only other thing we use the water for is laundry. The washer needs 7 gallons to get it going. I don’t add more for the rinse cycle. The other thing to consider is that the water temp will vary from 110F to 140F when it is in the sun. If you do a bucket bath you may need to add cold water to get a reasonable temperature. Don’t burn yourself!

If you were to attempt a do it yourself version like we have, remember we live in Florida. We have less than 20 days of below freezing temps. If you live in a colder climate you may need to drain all the hoses and store them for the winter. For even more information on various DIY solar projects visit this site:

http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/WaterHeating/water_heating.htm  They even have the garden hose as an option. Any questions?