Two Steps Forward, One Step Back – 90% Reduction Week 1

Sharon June 10th, 2007

Well, the first full week of the 90% reduction is up, and things are proceeding, more or less. I should start by saying that we are NOT going to make our garbage quota this week. The reason is that while I was cooking dinner on Wednesday, I suddenly heard a thunderous crash. The metal shop shelving on which I keep much of my food storage had collapsed entirely, transforming itself into a twisted heap of metal. On the top shelf were all my pickles, which came crashing rapidly down, with predictable results, on three 50lb bags of oatmeal and wheat that I had just acquired and hadn’t gotten around to transferring into buckets. The metal sliced open all three bags, soaked them with pickle juice and filled them with fragments of broken glass and pickle. So besides the metal shop shelving, and the pickle juice, I found myself with 150lbs of wet, pickle-smelling grain with lots of glass in it. Unfortunately, that can’t even be composted. So we produced about 4 times the garbage we were supposed to produce.

The other thing adding to the garbage problem is that 3 years ago, I got a bunch of perennial plants cheaply from a nursery that was closing. I’ve wanted a big, ornamental perennial bed for a long time, never mind that weeds had mostly overtaken even the foundation plantings – I just wanted it. My husband’s grandparents had, in their collection of garden items, a lot of landscape fabric, and I thought “Oh, what would it hurt, just this once, to use it. After all, then I wouldn’t have to worry about weeds and even permaculturists sometimes use landscape fabric, never mind that its made of nylon or something.”

Well, there were several errors in thinking here. First of all, the stuff is butt ugly (yes, you cover it with mulch, but it inevitably peeks through somewhere), and the effect of perennials seperated by landscape fabric is rather gas-station-esque. And then the weeds start to grow *on top* of the fabric, and it is way harder to weed the top of these things than to just pull out the plants. Oh, and then it starts falling apart in little shreds. So by year 3, I had a large garden of landscape-fabric topped weeds with some perennials sticking through. So this year, I ripped the stuff up – boy was that fun. The years of attached mulch certainly weighed a ton, and did I mention the tendency to rip into tiny little shreds. Sigh. Even after I scraped all the mulch off, that didn’t help my garbage allotment any.

I must digress by noting that there’s clearly a total idiot living in my house. Someone decided to do this landscape fabric thing. Someones stacked the shelves way too heavily. Someone let the Canada thistles go to seed near the garden and now has to pull 1000 little thistles out of the ground). I’ve never had a great deal of patience with stupidity and incompetence, so I’m particularly appalled that my house has this moron living in it. It isn’t my husband or my kids (trust me, I’d blame them if I could), so it must be someone…but who?

We did a great job with consumer spending this past week, although today killed it all. We hadn’t spent a penny of the $80 per month we’re allotted, but today at the local yard sales, I ran into an 80 year old metal jab corn planter (works great!) for 20 bucks, and my husband found a good condition banjo with strings for $50. Used items are discounted, of course, bu t we’re still nearly halfway through our monthly budget. Still, Eric’s birthday was coming up, and the banjo was well worth it.

We drove 3 days last week, and we’re still organizing which days we’ll need to drive over the summer. If we can really get organized and rearrange some existing schedule things, we may be able to get our driving down to two days a week over the summer – Saturdays (to synagogue) and Tuesdays (old son’s swimming lessons, errands, and every few weeks, the dump). We’ll have to see.

Food was easy – we’ve got stuff in storage, but for the summer, we’ve simply given up the grocery store. We can buy everything we need at the local farm store and the bulk shop nearby. Our very first strawberries came ripe this week! Yay, homemade biscuits, local cream and strawberries!

Our electric was up a little for May, because we were running the brooder lamp for our chicks and turkey poults. I’ve got to think about alternatives to that – maybe get the birds in June instead of May so it is warmer next year. We’re back down now – the critters are all feathered out. The next project is weaning my scared-of-the-dark 5 year old over to an led nighlight, rather than the kind we’ve been using, and turning off the fridge.

We’ve been turning off the fridge during at least part of each winter (these weird warm winters have played some havoc with this), but we’re going to turn it off for the summer as well. We also have a seperate freezer, which for now, we’re going to keep. It will provide ice packs for the cooler that we’ll use instead of a fridge. For now, however, the challenge is to get rid of all the half-eaten jars of things that are crowding up the fridge. I don’t want to throw them out, so we’re using them as fast as we can – cheese and chutney sandwiches, anyone?

Keeping the heating bill to 0 wasn’t too much trouble this week, even though it was 37 on Wednesday night and 92 on Friday. Not that I’m not used to the northeast and its temperature swings, but this is a little much for my taste.

We averaged 14 gallons per person per day, which isn’t too bad. I’m hoping the guy will come to dig the cistern in the next few weeks – we should be able to get things way down then. I’ve decided I prefer showering at night, when I shower – I have a tough time getting into bed cruddy from the garden.

Everyone here is enthusiastic about this project. The boys have been helping make more raised beds for the dooryard kitchen garden, and are enthusiastic harvesters of spinach and strawberries. Isaiah has learned to operate the hand drill (the great thing about manual tools is that they are often much safer for small people to use), and Simon is full of energy cutting ideas (my personal favorite is that if we built him a set of wings like Daedalus built, he could fly around the house cooling it down without fans. We’re getting right on that.) Simon and Isaiah are excited that we’re going to make gingerale for Daddy’s birthday. Eli has become a good chicken feeder – he’s learned to fill the pans. And even Asher loves to assist (umm, hinder), shouting “Ashie help!.”

Sometimes it feels like two steps forward, one step back. But even then, we still got a little bit ahead this week.



6 Responses to “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back – 90% Reduction Week 1”

  1. David says:

    Thanks, Sharon. Sounds like real life, for sure.

    Let us know when you find the moron. What a fascinating mystery!! ;-)


  2. Chelee says:

    What a wonderful real life post. I love hearing about the trials and successes. Very cool. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Mike says:

    “an 80 year old metal jab corn planter”? Wow! That’s not consumer-spending, that’s an investment and a heritage-preservation spend.

  4. Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd says:

    Re the chicks: Not sure what sort of set-up you’ve got there, but we just wait for the hens to go broody and then stick eggs under them to sit on — and the broody hen looks after the chicks until they’re feathered — so no expense or energy usage at all!

  5. Martha says:

    I discovered your blog today and have spent most of the day reading, taking notes, and calculating where my consumption stands — my biggest problem is that I rely on electricity for cooking and heat. (I ignore the baseboard strips in my low-end apartment and use a pretty decent oil-filled electric radiator. If anyone has suggestions, I’m game. No chimney or fireplace.)
    I am thinking that maybe a single burner propane device would make my kitchen more efficient? And are crock pot type slow cookers really energy savers or is that just company pr?
    I find the site really a wonderful resource and am deeply grateful to Sharon for what we would call evangelism back on my home planet (rural Virginia). I am now in Pennsylvania, Rodale country. Good to meet you all.

  6. Idelle says:

    I think other site proprietors should take this site as an model, very clean and great user friendly style and design, let alone the content. You’re an expert in this topic!

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