As the comforts and convenience of life has grown in the west through a high dependence on fossil fuels, our creativity to meet our basic needs has been squashed. Thankfully a
revival of ingenuity has beset this beast of complacency to allow creativity to be channeled for growth and goodness. We can meet our needs alternatively in terms of heating water, cooking food, heating spaces and creating electricity through appropriate technology which leverages the expression of pattern recognition.
Greenhouse- Multifunctional season extension
One of our initial investments at Terra Alta was for season extension in the form of a greenhouse. This is in essence a way to warm a space which allows us to grow food all year round. While we can do so outside as well, it is slow because of the low soil temperatures. However the greenhouse helps to augment the microclimate beneficially as the cold wet rains and whipping winds are eliminated. We make this space multifunctional by housing our shower inside creating an oasis zone also with the cycling of the greywater. Even in mid summer finding shelter from the winds is an important part of washing up after a day works in the gardens or studying permaculture at our PDC’s.
In relative location to the greenhouse and the shower is a refurbished solar hot water panel for heating water. To be honest we do have a gas backup for the those grey winter days, but the panel does a lot of heating on sunny days. Our water source is quite cold as it does pour out from the earth in the form of a spring. It does heat up a bit in the tank especially in the warmer months but it does take energy to heat it up. The panel helps with this. We have also used in the past a simple version of it with 400 m of black pipe still coiled and under plastic. We make a mini greenhouse and stuff the inside of the coiled pipe with straw to act as an insulator where the sun doesn’t hit the pipe. Both systems definitely help and really do give some comfort which hard working bodies do need from time to time.
Rocket Stoves and outdoor cooking!
Another heating technology that we utilize is that of the rocket stove. We have two different versions of it for two different purposes. The first is the rocket mass heater which is used for heating spaces through charging a thermal mass with heat released from burning wood (stored sunlight) and letting it radiate out. These systems require lots of initial work for the set up and making the cob for the mass of the system, but are long lasting and provide radiant heat which the body loves. It uses a high oxygen intake design to create a really efficient burn allowing maximum energy cycling from this photosynthetic by product- heat and light. They are also beautiful features that allow for reuse and can be an artistic piece inside any natural building. It brings the outer shell feel into the house and encourages creativity all the while creating a cosy nook.
Congruently we can cook food either through thermal mass (on top of the barrel) or the immediate heat of a rocket stove. The latter is built on the same principles of the rocket mass heater but a
mass is not created. The flames whip and you can hear the fire roaring, well like a rocket. This J shaped intake allows the fuel to be converted efficiently and food cooked quickly. Again, we intuitively placed it in relative location to our cob oven.
The rocket stove compliments the cob oven we created beforehand and is again in relative location making this social space multifunctional. By creating a thermal mass with size proportions based on the golden ratio, the cob oven allows heat to circulate and charge the mass efficiently. This space facilitates the baking of bread and cooking of pizzas normally. We use this quite often in the summer months as our population grows with volunteers, friends and students. We can also dry fruit over night inside of it as the residual heat of the oven after the baking is done is perfect for dehydrating fruit.
Future Plans integrating with existing infrastructure
We hope to take this to the next step over the year by building a solar dehydrator and combining the two since our humid nights really prevent the solar dehydrator to be effective. Future plans also include bio-gas digestion and an expansion of our solar production. We do now power the site with solar and have batteries to store the energy. While they do have some negative aspects, these systems allow us to be off the grid and allow lighting, support in the kitchen, and the power for the projector during the summer courses. Employing the wind that whips around is also a great venture to broach as the technology emerges for small scale intensive sites to use such. We plan to continue as well to run courses on this subject as we do our best to get further and further off grid! A great challenge indeed!