What’s Happening


Thanks for your comment. I hope to post more but I am not sure when that will be. I have more insect photos waiting in the wings.

Lately I have been experimenting with efficient twig-fueled cooking stoves. I am very pleased with the results. Anyone interested can find what I did by doing a search on “rocket stoves”.

I have also been experimenting with regenerative radios, trying to find the one that uses the least power and fewest number of active devices (read: “transistors”) yet performs with sensitivity, selectivity, stability and covering a wide tuning range that includes short wave as well as AM broadcast. Someday I may publish my results. So far, it seems to me that three transistors are the minimum needed for a practical radio. I have been able to get one to run a long time on the power left in a battery that, for other purposes, is essentially dead.

From my organic garden I have been eating strawberries. Also: peppermint, curly dock, dandelion leaves, wild grape twigs and leaves, lambsquarters, winter savory, sorrel, garlic chives, common chives, wild lettuce and green onions. I typically collect a bowl full of an assortment of the above, wash it, chop it up fine, mix it with a bit of mayo, and eat it with biscuits, along with a tea from roasted dandelion roots.

I also love poke. It is very tender and has a delicate flavor. I do not include it in the above mix because it needs to be boiled twice before eating (or so I have heard; being one never to doubt authority, I always boil my poke twice).

I have a potato plant I transplanted when it volunteered in an inconvenient spot. Sweet potato slips are sprouting in the kitchen window. I also have carrots raising their heads in the garden. Carrots are all I deliberately started from seed this year (so far). They are slow growers, but I am faithfully keeping them watered and weeded.

I recently dumped a good bit of compost on the raised bed garden. The compost came from worm bins kept in the basement and an outside compost pile.

I still collect rainwater and filter it with a slow sand filter. I use the filtered water to hydrate the basement worm bins. I use unfiltered water to hydrate the outside bins and keep the seedlings from wilting.

I am still eating last years’ sour kraut from a jar in the refrigerator. It has been several months since I checked what is growing in the crocks kept in the basement. Reluctance to look comes from a little fear about what I might find.

I have not baked sour-dough bread for a while but I know how easy it is to create another starter from whole wheat flower should I ever need to.

I recently learned that the secret to soft biscuits is adding sugar to the dough.

I have not used the solar oven yet this year, mostly due to a sparsity of sunny days. It looks like summer is about to put an end to our rainy season soon, though.

It has been a good spring for wild mushrooms, but I have not found any that I could identify well enough to eat.

I am still convinced we need to take a serious look at true socialism. Obamanomics, the hysteria of media lick-spittles aside, is not socialism.

I might take up oil painting again soon. I did that a bit a very long time ago but have some new ideas about mixing paint that I want to try.

As you see, I keep very busy. Blogging frequently sits on the back burner. Thanks, again, for your interest.


Kaleidoscopic Solar Oven / Cooker

by Curlydock

One of my earliest installments dealt with the theory of the best angle to use with the reflecting planes of the solar concentrators of the Box-type solar oven. Since then, I have come to prefer what I call a “Kaleidoscopic” type solar oven.

I feel I have many reasons for this preference, but the most important is simplicity or ease of construction. Roughly speaking, the 3-D description of a Box-type oven takes about 20 vertexes and 32 lines. For the Kaleidoscopic type, it is 8 vertexes and 11 lines. So the Box type is about three times more complicated than the Kaleidoscopic type.

image 92

Image 92 shows the Kaleidoscopic oven I used to bake many loaves of genuine sourdough bread over this past summer.

image 91

Image 91 shows a not-fully-risen loaf before baking. I consider it fully risen when the top of the loaf reaches the top of the bowl. The bread bakes in the oven-proof glass bowl which sits in the oven cavity. The cavity is detailed later.

image 82

image 83

Images 82 and 83 show a finished loaf.

image 89

Image 89 looks into the front of my Kaleidoscopic oven. Most of the essential parts are seen. Missing is the glass bowl that would sit inverted over the top of the black lid. The oven cavity is shown in position and ready to receive the bowl of dough.

The reflective concentrators are in four planes. Two that I will call R1 and R2 form a vertically hinged unit that opens like a book and sits at a 60 degree angle. The hinge for R1 and R2 is made with strapping tape. The oven cavity just touches R1 and R2 and sits on R3, which is a separate unit the shape of a triangle.

The R3 angles are all 60 degrees and the length of each side is three times the diameter of the oven cavity. R1 and R2 are as wide as the sides of R3 and considerably taller than that.

R4 is also a separate piece and extends from the open edge of R3 as if it were hinged horizontally to R3. It could be permanently hinged but I feel there is no need for it. A pole pivots from the outer edge of R4 and fixes on the ground. It is used to set the angle of R4 so that the oven cavity is the brightest you can make it. If the wind is not blowing, gravity and the angle adjustment pole will keep R4 in place.

If there is wind, then I fasten all the sail-away reflective panels to the table with shoestrings. The cardboard from which R1, R2 and R4 are made is reinforced along bottom edges with narrow wood strips and package sealing tape. The shoestrings go through holes punched in the cardboard, around the wood strips, and through the mesh of the table top.

The weight of the oven cavity keeps R3 in place.

When the wind is very strong I use sandbags to hold down the table legs.

Here is a diagram comparing the Box and Kaleidoscopic type solar cooker / ovens and labeling of the concentrator panels I have been describing:

oven types diagram

The Box type has only one side glazed. That is the side where the solar flux enters the box. The other five sides have to be well insulated to keep the heat in. The maximum reachable temperature will depend a lot on the effectiveness of this insulation and the quality of box construction.

The Kaleidoscopic type does away with this particular need altogether by making all sides glazed. So, solar flux would enter all around the oven cavity, in theory. In actuality, this will not be perfect. The reasons have to do with the positioning of the oven cavity among the reflecting walls. Some positions are better than others.

Here is a detailed semi-exploded diagram of the oven cavity:

oven cavity diagram

The oven cavity works like a green house to trap the heat from the focused solar flux. The ideal would be a series of concentric spheres. The outermost sphere is transparent glazing that passes light. The next sphere is an insulating jacket to keep the heat, for which a vacuum would be best but air is easier. The next inner sphere is flat black metal which absorbs light and converts it to heat. This heat ideally accumulates in the central sphere where the food cooks in its container.

The ideal is approximated here by the use of oven proof glass bowls and a stainless steel metal mixing bowl.

The outermost sphere consists of two glass bowls: (1) is inverted on top and (4) completes the bottom half.

The insulating air jacket is made by suspending the metal radiation absorber bowl (6) on a ring (7) cut from a double layer of heavy corrugated cardboard. The ring rests on the lip of outer glass bowl (4). The lip of the metal bowl (6) makes a snug fit in the ring (7) so that the metal bowl will not fall through. The metal absorber does not touch the outer bowls anywhere. It only touches the cardboard ring. The ring and air jacket are poor conductors of heat. They confine most of the heat to the cooking area.

The metal radiation absorber bowl is a stainless steel mixing bowl painted flat black on the outside with the kind of paint that withstands heat, or the paint you would use on a charcoal grill. Let the paint dry, cure under heat and air out for several days before using it for cooking. You probably would not like paint flavored bread.

I was lucky in finding a black metal cooking pot lid (2) that just fits over the lip of (6) and rests on ring (7). There are cake or pie tins that might also work if painted black on the outside.

Bowl (3) holds the food or bread dough. It does not have to be transparent. I have been using oven proof glass but recently found a ceramic bowl that should also work. Another metal pot identical to (6) would fit snugly and maximize cooking space and thermal conduction to the food, but I have not tried that yet. In fact, I suppose you could do without (3) altogether by putting the food in the radiation absorber bowl (6). But, since (6) is not easy to get on and off ring (7) and the cardboard of (7) should not be washed or get wet, I decided to use another bowl to hold the food.

On my wish list is some kind of thin wire handle to make food bowl (3) easier to get in and out of metal bowl (6). The handle would need to quickly and easily connect and disconnect from the edge of the food bowl and not compromise the thermal seals around the edges.

The whole cavity needs to be somewhat elevated so I put it on a transparent pedestal made by inverting the smallest glass bowl (5) near a corner of the bottom reflector, R3.

Most of the glass bowls I found and purchased as a nested set. I think perhaps the largest, (4), was not part of that set and had to be separately purchased, but I am not sure.

Why Kaleidoscope

To study the effect of the focal positioning and the angle of R1 and R2, etc., I decided to research the geometrical and mathematical aspects of multiple reflections in mirrors. From that, I realized the kinship between kaleidoscopes and this type of solar cooker. The next pictures should make the relationship obvious.

Fascinating as it was, I thought it might take too long, so I did an empirical study with a scale model instead of the exacting thought experiments. I gathered some pieces salvaged from a broken mirror (never throw anything away), tape, and construction paper. Also, I borrowed a large bead from a trusting and tolerant friend.

Image 74 is an overview of the apparatus:

image 74

The bead stands for the oven cavity or focus.

The mirrors that hinge on a vertical axis stand for reflecting planes or solar concentrators R1 and R2. R3, seen here on the bottom, will be moved in and out. R4 is not shown here but will be seen later.

image 57

image 60

image 61

image 62

Images 57, 60, 61 and 62 show how the number of reflections of the bead increase as the angle between R1 and R2 decreases. This inverse relationship says to me that the narrower this angle the better as far as solar flux concentration.

Surely, the more images of the bead (oven cavity) the sun “sees” then the more solar flux will concentrate on the bead.

But there are several trade-offs.

As you can see, the ring of bead reflections gets gradually larger as the angle decreases. To compensate for this, the sizes or areas of R1 and R2 need to progressively increase. At some point R1 and R2 are too large and cumbersome.

image 63

Image 63 shows how adding one more mirror, representing R3, doubles the number of bead images. Note how one of the images is lost because it is shadowed or hidden by the actual bead.

image 73

Image 73 shows how images are partially obscured when the bead is not elevated:

This is the reason that the oven chamber is elevated a bit by bowl (6).

image 72

Image 72 shows how the bead image count can be at least doubled yet again by adding the mirror that stands for R4. But, as the count and complexity of reflections increase, more and more images are obscured. There seems to be a threshold of diminishing returns.

image 66

Image 66 shows the concentrators at work. I used flash, which, I belatedly realized, is probably not good for a digital camera in a setup like this. Fortunately, perhaps most of the energy focused and dissipated on the bead instead of getting back into the camera lens.

If bead were bread, it baked.

How I Use the Kaleidoscopic Solar Oven

I use an angle of 60 degrees between R1 and R2. There may be a better angle. I have not tried others yet. I adjust the table orientation and the angle of R4 about once every 15 or 20 minutes. This needs to be done more often when the sun is high in the sky.

I frequently measure a temperature of 280 F between the top glaze bowl (1) and the lid (2), depending on the time of day. Morning hours, with the sun at a lower angle, seem to make the oven hotter than do the noon hours, probably because of the reflection obscuring effect already mentioned. Elevating the oven cavity even more when the sun is high in the sky might make the oven even hotter, but I have not needed to try that yet.

Either time of day works fine for baking my bread. The recipe for one loaf of sourdough calls for 45 minutes at 350 F in my conventional oven. I can bake 3/4 of that recipe in the Kaleidoscope solar oven in around 90 minutes. The crust browns nicely, especially on the top.

You might be tempted to let the finished bread cool just a little bit in the oven. But don’t do that. And don’t be fooled. The oven gets very hot. Be careful not to burn yourself.

While the oven is cooking, the moisture escapes as steam. As soon as the oven starts to cool, that moisture condenses on the lids and runs down to collect on the corrugated cardboard ring. The cardboard ring may dissolve if it gets wet. But, it can withstand the highest temperatures of the oven just fine. The high temperature helps keep the ring dry. As soon as I finish baking, I dump the bread on a rack to cool.

After a bit of practice, you can tell when the bread is finished baking by how it smells around the solar oven. Also, you will begin to see condensation on the inner side of glass bowl (1) when the bread is ready.

Outside of baking sourdough and cornbread, I have not yet cooked other things in this particular oven / cooker. I wonder if the condensation will be more of a problem if, for example, I make soup. I don’t know yet.

A Note on Construction Technique

Many instruct builders of these types of ovens to glue the aluminum foil to the cardboard with diluted white glue. I no longer do this.

I believe it is sufficient to bend the foil around the edges of the corrugated cardboard and fasten it in the reflective plane about every square foot using brass plated paper fasteners. Insert the fasteners through small holes prepared with a knife blade. These fasteners can be found where you get office supplies. They look like tacks with points that can be spread apart. This is much easier than working with glue. It is easy to repair.

But the main reason I do it this way is that the foil is easily removed from the cardboard when time comes to recycle them both. My red worms can eat the cardboard but the foil might not be good for them and would not be wanted in the vermicompost.

I do use white glue or carpenter’s glue to bond cardboard to cardboard where a panel needs more strength or a flap needs to be made rigid.

image 93

Sourdough Starter as Ecological Model

By Curlydock

Ever wonder what your sourdough starter gets up to when you are not looking? I spied on mine with a web-cam for about a day. Now I know the shocking truth of its secret life and will show and tell all in this installment.

Why care

about this? There are several parallels between what happens when you feed your sourdough starter and what has happened on this very planet Earth when the human population began to explode.

In both cases, there is a population of living things in an environment that is limited in size and resources.

The sourdough starter is populated with yeast and bacteria in symbiosis. It needs flour for the population to grow and will consume it all if you do not replenish it. Then, there is a die off or crash in the population as a result of starvation, resource exhaustion and poisoning by the accumulation of waste material. Sound familiar?

Earth is populated with people, all the species that people depend upon, and many species relegated to “weed” category, thought of as expendable because we have not yet figured out how to exploit them. Ecologists and those who understand the need for organic farming methods are among the precious minority who value species diversity. As much as we like to think we can dominate nature, the real truth is that we are also symbiots. Our determination to dominate instead of live in harmony is driving the planet and all its populations into a dead-end.

The sourdough starter cannot grow out of it’s jar. (Well, it can but is not likely to find more flour if it does.) The human population cannot leave this planet in any significant numbers any time soon. (And, even if it does, how much organic coffee can we grow on the moon?)

Perhaps the sourdough starter can teach us something about mindless consumption and procreation. “But”, you may protest, “Unlike yeast, people have minds!” I will counter: “A person in a state of denial behaves automatically and just as if they do not have a mind.” Mindless consumers. Purchase what you don’t need. Throw the left-overs in the gutter. Make babies like the world was going out of style. Well, perhaps it is.

The sourdough starter needs flour. Unless you replenish it, the starter will consume all that is available.

The human population of Earth has developed a crippling dependance on oil and other limited resources. Even if we don’t run out of coal and oil, we cannot continue to use them because their use in this already over-populated planet is what is triggering global warming. So, discovering vast new supplies of cheap oil is no solution. In fact, it could aggravate the real problem. Irony.

I mixed 54 g of flour with 103 g of water. To that I added 68 g of vigorous starter. Of that 225 g total mixture, I poured 122 g into a glass jar and loosely coverd with a plastic lid. The glass jar was placed in a temperature controlled chamber in front of a camera. The temperature was monitored and never significantly deviated from 79 deg. or 80 deg. F. For a period of about 12 hours, one picture was taken every 5 minutes, resulting in 150 images.


I selected eight of the 150 images to put here. In each image, you will see that I have inserted a set of numbers at the top center. These numbers represent the duration, in hours and minutes, at the time the image was recorded. So, the first image is “00:00”:

00 hours 00 minutes

The next image is after 2 hours and 26 minutes have elapsed:


At 02:26 you see the normal layer of “hooch” forming. I did not know until I did this experiment that it first forms at the top of the starter. You also see the bubbles of gas forming in the starter, causing the starter to “rise” as it would when used to leaven bread dough. The hooch and gas are the waste products from the yeast and bacteia, the populations of which are beginning to grow rapidly.
At 03:16 the starter has risen a good bit. The hooch layer is

getting pushed to one corner as the center bulges.

At 03:26 there is another unexpected phenomenon.


The corner where the hooch was is foaming violently. I say violently because this all took place on a time scale of 5 or10 minutes. This is after almost an hour and a half of liesurly, predictable rise in the starter volume and number of gas bubbles (correlate with population of micro-organisms). I watched this occure on the monitor, bemoaning the fact that all this excitement would be lost to posterity because I had decided to record only one image every 5 minutes. I would have needed a couple of images a second to capture all this short-term activity, which began suddenly and without warning and did not last long at all. I gripped the edge of my seat and practically left greasy nose-marks on my monitor, wondering what this portended for my little microbe-cosm.

At 03:46 the foam is leaving. Where did the hooch go?

If you look closely you can see the hooch is now all the way at the bottom of the jar.

At 06:26 you see you can’t keep good hooch down.


Now there are three distinct layers. Under the hooch is a layer of starter that seems to be inactive because there are no bubbles in it. You can’t see it in a few images, but I can tell you it was still very active. Small chunks and particles were seen both rising and falling in the hooch layer. Since the bottom layer was growing, it must be that more was falling than rising. Does this remind you of the economy and the extinction of the middle class?

At 07:01 you can see the first settling of the top layer.

This tells us that the yeast and bacteria are beginning to die off. They have used up their resource (flour) and are now starving and succumbing to the poisonous effects of their waste products. It looks like the peak occured a bit after six hours in this experiment.

At 14 hours and 30 minutes I ended the experiment.

The top layer is at its lowest level since its peak. Once it started falling, the fall was pretty monotonous. I could have let it run longer but it had been a long day and this felt very much like the end of history.


Can we take any macro lessons from this micro-biological model? There are some important differences. Our planet, unlike the starter jar that got only one charge of flour, is being re-charged daily with “free” energy from the sun.

The trouble is, we have not been living within the energy budget of the sun since technology allowed us to exploit oil and greed made it inevitable. The energy density of “black gold” cannot be matched by solar, wind, geothermal, etc. Nuclear has a waste problem and the likelihood of catastrophic accidents increases with time and the number of reactors in use.

We may be running out of time to reverse the toxic byproduct of burning fossil fuels: global warming. It may be too late. It could accelerate tenfold or more without warning (remember the foam and the inversion of the hooch layer happened catastrophically). Indeed, there may be evidence of such an acceleration now, see: “Global Warming Already Causing Extinctions, Scientists Say“, by Hannah Hoag for National Geographic News, Nov. 28, 2006.

These sudden accelerations and unpredictable changes can happen in non-linear systems that are under stress. A little push in a certain direction causes changes that themselves add to the push and you get exponential acceleration. The hooch layer suddenly inverts. The die-off caused by global warming or the loss of oil as an energy source could also happen more quickly than predicted by the most dire of doomsayers.

Here is a very good reference for those interested in reading more on the topic of ecosystems that experience overshoot and sudden extinction: “Overshoot in a Nutshell” by David M. Delany.

Personal/Planet Sustainable Survival Practice

If the world changes for the better, it will be the result of decisions made by individuals on a personal level. If we wait for salvation from government or corporate sources, it may never arrive. Many of us have been waiting too long. Now it may be already too late to save the planet. It comes down to you and me.

There are many things each individual can do. Sustainable technologies exist that can be used on a personal and local level. Many of these methods seem old and simple, as indeed they are. Others are not so primitive but are very healthy, like the democratic medium (so far) of the Internet.

Technology is not evil in and of itself. The problem is that science and technology have been hijacked by greed. But there are other ways to use technology.

Here is a list of things we can practice. It is incomplete. I deliberately leave out things like carpooling, walking, using public transportation, etc., because they have been flogged to death elsewhere. Other things, like the root cause of the planet’s problems, even the greehouse effect, being due to overpopulation, and the need to therefore limit our numbers, should be obvious to anybody who wakes up and starts to genuinely seek answers. Overpopulation is not a looming problem. It has been with us too long already. Instead, I list viable methods many people may have never given serious thought to.

Some are methods old to the planet, almost extinct, but new to the modern slaves living in a brainwashed stupor. Try what you can from the list. Add to the list if you can. Research, experiment and let the world know what you learn. I am trying to do the same.

I hope to go in greater detail in later installments.

Intensive gardening

Grow an intensive raised-bed vegetable garden organically. I was elated to learn there is even a way to reap from your garden in the cold of winter. This winter will mark my first winter gardening.

Instead of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that have to be manufactured, purchased and transported, use organic fertilizer from your compost or worm bin. Instead of tap water, use water from your rain-barrel in your garden. It will be better for the plants because it is not chlorinated. You will save on your waterbill. The planet will benefit because energy was not expended processing and getting that water to you.

Insecticides kill not only bad insects but good insects. Good insects do pollination, eat bad insects, help in composting, and condition soil naturally for permeation by air and water.

Herbicides kill plants other than the ones targeted, Even weeds are useful to the organic gardener. Many weeds are edible and nutritious. Weeds are a green manure. Roots of some weeds bring valuable nutrients from deep in the soil where other plants could not reach. Composting these weeds releases nutrients on the surface where the plants we cultivate can use them again.

Agrochemicals leave residues harmful to people and planet. The use of these oil-based products destroys life in the soil. After the abuse stops, soil takes years to recover.

The agribusiness soil is merely a dead thing used to hold the plant upright, and it is barely good for that. The ability of the soil to hold water is degraded, making plants more susceptible to drought. Soil erodes and these chemicals run off as pollutants when it rains. This runoff is toxic to life in rivers and the ocean. The need for irrigation is greater, but irrigating with ground water is also harmful, causing salt-accumulation toxic to even the cultivated plants.

Let’s about-face, people. This is literally a dead end.


Maintain a compost pile. You can use local inputs costing nothing: lawn clippings, fallen leaves, cardboard, paper, kitchen scraps, weeds (carefully), manure from herbivores, etc. Do not use dog or cat manure because it may harbor disease that infects humans. I live in the city, so I also do not put dead animals in the pile.

There are several ways to compost, broadly known as hot and cold methods. A hot pile happens when the “greens” and “browns” (nitrogen and carbon sources, respectively) are mixed in proper proportion, the pile is not too small, has the right amount of moisture and is turned inside-out and upside-down frequently. Hot piles reaching about 140 F will sterilize many seeds and diseases.

Cold piles are piles that are missing some of the needed ingredients or methods that make a pile hot, but cold piles work too. A cold pile may not finish composting until more than a year has passed. A proper hot pile may be finished in only weeks, depending on what is in it.

A partially finsihed pile may be sifted through a metal screen or mesh. What ges through the screen may be useable but may have more weed seeds that are viable if the pile has not cooked hot enough. Even a cold pile can eliminate seeds, though. I have observed that conditions in a cold pile are ideal for seeds to sprout. But, once they sprout, the seedling will die if it is too deep to get light. And, if it sprouts on the surface, one pile turning will put the seedlings deep in the pile where they quickly become green manure!

As with worm bins, the compost bin will not stink or attract pests if it is done properly. Bury fresh kitchen scraps deep within the pile so they will not attract rats, dogs, etc. If your pile is in the city, you may also want to keep herbivore manure (from cows and horses) out of the pile, merely to control odor. You can use, instead, what is called “green manure”, which is typically a living plant that is freshly cut: grass clippings, weeds, etc.

Composting with worms

Vermiculture is another good basement project. Use earthworms to compost kitchen waste. Cut-up cardboard and newspaper are fine worm bedding. That makes less waste to burden landfills or be recycled outside your home.

When I tried this, I was not prepared for the incredible reduction in volume of the kitchen scraps after they were worked by the worms. They tranformed into little black dots, worm poop! The scraps and bedding became virtually unrecognizable as anyhthing other than good dirt. I was also amazed that I could detect no odor whatsoever from the liquid that drained from the worm bin, worm pee! It took my bin about a full year to mature to this level. That was a bit longer than I expected but I suspecct I did not start with as many worms as I thought I purchased. It’s hard to tell, and I was not about to actually count them. That would have stressed them after already being stressed by shipping.

I use this leachate and vermicompost to fertilze the organic vegetable garden and make potting medium for seed germination.

Composting with worms is not hard to do. Properly done, there is no sigificant odor and no problem with flies.

Water collecting

Use rain-barrels to collect water. This lessens energy use and load on municipal sewer and water supply systems.

Mosquitoes cannot use the barrel to multiply if it is properly constructed and screened.

If the barrels cannot be kept in the shade, the chance of becoming sour or stangant is reduced by periodically dipping out and pouring back some of the water. This gets more oxygen in the water, which is especially important on hot days. A simple trick to maintain freshness is to use an aquarium air-stone and pump in each problem barrel. The amount of electricity used is negligible. You might even find an air pump that will run off an electric solar cell. The brighter the sun, the faster will the pump oxygenate the water; no need for batteries or charging circuitry.

Do not drink rain water unless it has been sterilized by boiling. Remember that it came from your roof where it has probably carried down dissolved bird and squirrel droppings, dead insects, etc.

However, it is better than tap-water for watering your garden because it has no chlorine. You can wash the car (if you must have one), water the lawn, etc., saving money on your water bill. It is soft water because it has not run through the limestone of earth. Once boiled, it is good for washing where you need soft water.

If you don’t like the suspended particles that made it through the screen, a sand filter can be used to remove the particles.

Water filters

You can use sand filters to clean your rain water. There are several types of sand filter.

A coarse filter will quickly remove visible floating things.

The other, the slow-sand filter, is very special. It is a self-healing living organic filter that is capable of making water very clean indeed. It filters water at microsopic level, even removing diseases that affect the roots of plants. The fact that it is a self-contained organic niche with living things in symbiosis puts it, to my mind, in the same class as other personal survival technologies, like the worm comosting bin, the starter used in sourdough bread and the fermentation that makes wine and cheese.

As in the organic garden itself, the substrate becomes populated with beneficial organisms, leaving no room for harmful organisms to grow, even feeding off of them. It is interesting how this theme keeps recurring in the organic world.

The slow-sand filter works by allowing water to very slowly seep through a bed of sand. The filter is not viable until a community of living things inhabit the filter from the surface to several inches below the surface of the sand. They live on whatever they mangage to filter out of the water.

I use an air-lift water pump, driven by an aquarium air pump, to oxygenate and constantly circulate water in the filter, even when the filter is not being used. Also, some s-bend plumbing I use to keep the surface of the head water at least an inch above the surface of the sand at all times. This helps to keep the filter in good health. The life under the surface of the sand will die if it is allowed to dry even a little. But, even if that happens, after restoring the water level and allowing a few days or weeks of circulation, the filter will self-heal!

My first filter ran for over a year. I have never had a filter clog, but it is supposed to be possible. To clean the filter when it is clogged, stir up the surface to suspend the detritus in the head water. The sand quickly falls back. Dip off and discard the muddy looking stuff. Then wait several days as the surface heals.

The slow-sand filters I made produced pristine looking water with no coloration or visible suspended particles. I would not drink it, however, without boiling it. It may be perfectly safe, but I will not take a chance until I have more practice in this method. Someday, I plan to have the before-filter and after-filter water samples tested in a lab. But even if that sample tested clean there is a chance that a later sample would not be clean, especially if the surface of the sand was disturbed in some way after the sample was sent to the lab. The living surface of the filter may easily be damaged if, for example, plumbing going through the surface moves a little bit. So, everything should be rigidly constructed. I made my fliters using plastic storage containers like clean new 30-gallon trash bins and another out of a plastic container meant for holding long rolls of wrapping paper. A better idea, probably, would be to make the filter out of concrete or ferrocement.


Plants need physical support, correct temperatures, air movement (oxygen and carbon dioxide), water and nutrient salts to survive. They don’t really need soil if they are in a protective environment or enclosure.

You might grow a year-round garden in your basement. There are hydroponic techniques that do away with the need for high-tech. Many plants can be grown in plastic gallon milk jugs without air pumps and without water pumps.

If needed, these jugs can be insulated agains temperature fluctuations by covering them with papiermache (more planet friendly than Styrofoam). It surprised me just how little flour it takes to make the glue used in papiermahe. Paper and plastic jugs are given a new life instead of being discarded.

The trick of doing hydroponics without the need of redundant water pumps and power supplies is to gradually reduce the water / nutrient level as the seedling grows. When the level is 5 or 6 inches below the top of the root system, keep it there. If it rises above that level again the plant will drown! The upper roots become what is known as the “O” roots, or oxygen roots. The roots still in solution are the “WN” roots, or water / nutrient roots.

I stopped my basement hydroponics garden because I became concerned that the HID (High Intensity Discharge) lamp, was using more energy or electricity than could be justified given the amount of food that was produced. But, you can also do hydroponics outdoors during the summer in a screened area. Perhaps you could do it on a roof where it would supplement instead of compete with the organic garden growing in your yard.

If you are growing large plants, like cucumbers or tomatoes, you will need a larger container than the milk jugs. The larger the water / nutrient container, the less often you will need to monitor and adjust the temperature, pH, nutrient and water levels. If you don’t want to use plastic, because it is a product of crude oil, you might build the nutrient tanks using ferrocement.

If you don’t want to use chemical nutrient salts, you can try organic compost tea.

Edible weeds

Carefully educate yourself on what “weeds” you can eat.

Beware: some are poisonous or should only be used after special preparation. Don’t collect plants that were growing next to a busy road where they may have been contaminated by automotive emissions or dog or cat excrement and urine. Be aware that many places have been used as toxic waste dumps. Try to learn the history of the area where you collect. Where has the water been that feeds the area?

What I do is let selected “weeds” grow where they volunteer in my garden. I cultivate them by weeding the weeds, you might say. You may or may not want to make green manure out of them before they go to seed. If a tasty weed goes to seed, the seedlings might make a nice salad when they sprout! Be careful, it is sometimes difficult to properly identify seedlings. Some of the weeds I have tried are extremely delicious. Some are said to be more nutritious than fresh produce from grocery stores. If it should ever come down to it, knowing what “weeds” you can eat may save you from having to go dumpster diving.

Solar cooking

Use solar ovens for baking and cooking.

I was amazed at how easy it is to do this. My very first attempts: baking cornbread and hard-boiling eggs, were entirely successful. It took about 3 hours for each, but I might not have needed to let the eggs take that long. More practice will tell.

These ovens or cookers can be made simply from cardboard boxes, newspaper, aluminum foil, white or wood glue or glue made fom flour, turky oven baking bags, a dark cooking pot that fits inside a covered glass casserole with a lid, and perhaps some of the flat black paint used on cooking grills. There are several types you can construct.

Wood cook stoves

When the sun is behind clouds, you can cook on an efficient wood-burning cook stove.

“Efficient” is the key word here. Through complete combustion, an efficient stove converts all the fuel to heat, water, carbon dioxide and little else. You can par-boil your poke salet with mere twigs for fuel. There will be little smoke or pollution. This is important to me because my lungs are especially sensitive to dirty air.

The stove is made efficient by skill in operation and attention to certain design elements. It needs a flue length and cross section that is able to supply enough air for complete combustion. Without a flue, you could use an electric fan to force the air through, but why use a high-tech fix when a low-tech one works fine?

Also, complete combustion requires high temperatures. The combustion chamber needs to be insulated so heat stays in the chamber. You can use wood ashes for insulation, but it takes perhaps too long to accumulate the ashes. You can also use perlite (heat-expanded siliceious rock) or vermiculite for insulation. My experimental stove was made of perlite held together with refractory cement.

Don’t worry about contributing to greenhouse gases by burning twigs. The carbon in the twigs would go back to the atmosphere as soon as the twigs decayed. The real culprit in greenhouse gases is the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil. The carbon in fossil fuels stays right where it is until some selfish ignorant monkey burns it.

Preserving food

Preserve food with solar dehydrators.

I have yet to try this, but it is on my plate. I believe driers can be designed in a way to work even in fairly humid environmnents.

This preservation technique requires no high-tech refrigeration. Like solar cookers, driers can be built from cardboard boxes. Neither does it require the purchase of jars and lids, as canning does. Dried food takes less storage space. It weighs less, very good if you’re traveling. I hear that the flavor of some foods improves when the food is dried.

Sourdough bread baking

Bake your own bread.

Particulardy, learn sourdough baking. Using sourdough eliminates a commercial input: yeast. Instead, wild yeasts from the air or the grain itself or even from the human body (the origin is uncertain) in symbiosis (that word again) with bacteria leaven the bread. The sourdough starter takes only flour, water and waiting. Visual and olfactory clues let the baker know when the starter is ready for making bread. The starter is alive, like the slow-sand filter, and must be kept fed and comfortable. It needs more flour and water on a daily basis at room temperature, or a weekly basis if kept in a refrigerator.


You won’t need light but you do need relatively cool and stable temperatures to grow sprouts, another good candidate for basement gardening.

Sprouts are cheap when you grow them yourself. It is said they are more nutritious and more easily digested than cooked seeds and beans. Since they don’t need to be cooked, energy is saved.

You don’t need big sprouting jars, unless you are going into production. If you have several small glass jelly jars, the sort of thing that might end up in a landfill or be re-cycled, you can have an assortment of sprouts at different stages of growth. That will give you just the amount of very fresh sprouts you want each day without the need to refrigerate anything.
Rinse the sprouts seversl times a day in cool water to help them breath and keep them from becoming rancid. Except for the smallest seeds (use a screen or strainer for those), hold your clean hand over the mouth, turn the jar upside down, and drain through your fingers until the water just stops dripping. Return the jar to an upright position and cover loosely with an over-sized non-metalic lid. Be sure flies and gnats cannot get to the sprouts.

If the sprouts smell bad, which might happen on hot summer days, feed them to your worms and start over after sterilizing the lid and jar in boiling water.

Enough mung beans to just cover the bottom of the jar will eventually grow to fill the whole jar!


These personal/planet survival methods are interwoven in many complex and beautiful symbioses.

I used the slow-sand filtered water initially to supply my basement hydroponics experiment. I use the water to hydrate my worm bin when it needs it. I mix flour with the water to make or feed the sourdough starter. Baking would surely sterilize any pathogen that the slow-sand filter may have missed.

I eat vegetables from the organic garden. Scraps feed the worms. Worms produce fertilize for the garden. The circle is complete. There are many other cycles. That is the way nature evolved to work. We should study and nourish these cycles instead of breaking them.

If you want to learn more about any particular practice, search the Internet. Some of the information may be ambiguous or just wrong; time for an experiment! Share what you learn! I plan to continue doing the same. I may not update my blog as often as some do because I will be spending time and energy gaining the experience to share when I finally return to the keyboard. However, I do hope to go into greater detail on some of these methods in future installments.

We can discover an alternative to the way that the world is now organized by man. We get to know the new-old survival technologies. They will help us survive on both the personal and planetary scale. Many of these methods are in reach of even those who are financially burdened. Knowing what weeds you can eat will keep you out of the dumpster. An efficient wood cook stove will not pollute the air or contribute to greenhouse gases and will cost only twigs to operate. With or without the cooperation of government and corporations, practice can renew and sustain our hope of survival.

Practice is so full of surprises that you are never bored. You discover a non-toxic fatigue, but no burnout and no spiritual or emotional damage. You discover something hard to explain but feels ancient and deeply right. The Green Man is waiting in the composting leaves for the next cycle.

You begin to understand how we are misled about our proper role on this planet because the resulting confusion is so profitable for a few. You discern the true meaning of freedom and how liberty is being lost today. Practice will heal your broken lifeline to the living planet. Practice insures your life means something more than that of being a corporate or government slave.

Down with noise, slavery, speed, greed and competition. Up with communication, consideration and cooperation. We can do it.