Making Choices – Electricity


You can argue until the cows come home over the issue of peak oil. I don’t think it matters whether we’ll have less oil because there’s less in the ground, because we can’t get it out of the ground or because it costs so much that we can’t afford to get it out of the ground. The fact of the matter is that there are plenty of indicators out there which are indicating we’re going to have a problem in the not too far distant future. So I’ve started thinking about what I would be willing to give up if I have to start making choices because oil and the various products or services related to it are either too expensive or not available.

Electricity: although hydroelectric is the biggest source of power in my neck of the woods, natural gas and coal-generated steam turbines provide the majority of the power in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Association. Both of those sources need oil to power delivery trucks and mining equipment, so they could be affected by peak oil issues. Odds are places that produce electricity through hydroelectric or other means (which is only 13 percent of current energy production in the U.S. and I’m willing to bet that figure is inflated) will be forced to share if oil supplies are not available to run heavy equipment. So, let’s talk rationing of electricity.

We use electricity on the ranch for the following purposes:

1.       Lighting

2.       Electric and electronic devices (such as the computer on which I’m currently typing

3.       Pumping our house water

4.       Ranch equipment such as the welder, power tools and so on

5.       Cooking and food preservation (although the stove is propane and we also have a wood stove, we have appliances such as toasters, waffle irons and crockpots)

6.       Fans and air conditioning in the summer.

We could manage our lighting needs with candles and lanterns. I can make my own candles from tallow and beeswax if necessary. Kerosene is one of the byproducts of the oil industry and is used for jet aviation fuel. I would cheerfully give up flying to have light.

If I had to make a choice, I could happily give up television, cell phones, radios and the like. We don’t play video games or have fancy hand-held smart phones (and neither do the grandkids, by the way – oldest granddaughter has an older IPod to which she is limited to one hour a day unless she’s listening to music). I would find it much more difficult to give up my computer, as that’s how I make my living. Hubby would fight to keep his television, so that might make for some interesting discussions. Although my main sewing machine is electric, I also have a back-up machine from the 1940s that could easily be converted back to treadle power.

Our well is only about 45 feet deep. We could easily get by with a hand or solar powered pump.

Most power tools come in hand as well as power-operated versions, and we have a fair number of the hand versions, such as the wood plane that belonged to my husband’s father. We don’t use the welder a lot, but it’s one of those when-you-need-it-nothing-else-will-do kind of tools. So I suspect we’d go to hand tools but keep the welder.

The small appliances draw very little power and stovetop substitutes are available; I could get by without them. For that matter, you can make toast over an open fire and cook waffles in a stove iron that way. The tough issue for me would be the big freezers (we have three). I could see us using the freezer to make ice so we could use the refrigerator as an old-fashioned ice box in order to use rationed power to run the freezers. Alternatively, I would be canning and drying a lot more meat, veggies and fruits.

I could live without air conditioning if I had to. As it is, we rarely turn it on unless the weather hits triple digits. We do, however, use the two big box fans quite a bit in the summer, and I would be hard-pressed to give them up.

What about you? What changes could you (or would you) make if electricity were rationed?

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Saving Seeds


Wish books!

Wish books!

Planning for the future is always a good idea. It’s reasonable to expect that there will be good times and bad, rain and sun, night and day. You want to be sure you can handle pretty much anything life throws you, so be a good Boy Scout — even if you’re a Girl Scout — and prepare (actually both groups have the same motto, anyway). What would you do if the transportation system in the U.S. collapsed, even temporarily? Or if there was a serious drought in the major food growing regions of the country? Could you grow enough food to feed your family? One way to be assured of a food crop no matter what life throws at you, is to save your own seeds. Just follow a few basic rules.

Volunteer lettuce in the strawberries.

Volunteer lettuce in the strawberries.

First rule of thumb: only grow open-pollinated seeds. Although hybrid seeds might grow, they are unlikely to resemble the plant you started with. That might be a good thing or it might be an unmitigated disaster. Open-pollinated heirlooms offer genetic diversity, which means at least some of your plants will grow and mature no matter what the weather or gardening conditions.

Second rule of thumb: NEVER plant all of your seed. A crop failure means you are SOL. Since nearly all seeds can be saved for several years before planting (onions are a little iffy, but even they can be stored for a couple of years) holding some of your seed over increases the odds that if this year’s crop succumbs to drought, insects, deer or the neighbor’s destructive dog, you can try again next year.

Third rule of thumb: make it easy on yourself. Start with annual seeds from plants that are likely to self-pollinate and easy to save. Beans, for example. The plants usually pollinate themselves before the flowers even open, and saving the seeds is primarily a matter of letting them dry on the vine and shucking them out of the seed pods when completely dry. Cucumbers, on the other hand, must be hand-pollinated and managed to prevent cross-pollination from other cukes in the neighborhood. Corn is notorious for cross-pollinating and the pollen is wind-carried.

Fourth rule of thumb: store and use your seeds properly. Generally, this simply means keeping them cool and dry. Those little desiccant packets that come in prescription pill bottles are great — just tuck one in each seed packet or jar. Seeds must be PROPERLY LABELED — type of seed, variety name and year harvested — and you must plant them often enough to harvest fresh seed every few years.

If you save your own seeds, you are no longer at the mercy of Monsanto or the other mega-seed houses. Ten major seed houses provide 73% of the seeds on the market, and three of those control 57% of the seed market. Monsanto leads the pack at 27%, followed by DuPont and Syngenta. All of them are big on genetic engineering, chemical dependence and patent monopolies (meaning if you buy their seeds you can’t save your own seed unless you want to be sued). For that matter, Monsanto is notorious for suing farmers even if their GMO seed contaminates the farmer’s corn patch, because the farmer is presumed to have “stolen” the patented genes that were blown there by the wind.

Strike a blow for better taste, genetic diversity and freedom (not to mention saving considerable money) by growing and saving your own seeds.

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Kids and Pesticides


Pregnancy and babies — human or animal — are the early warning system of problems in the environment. The signals are infertility, birth defects, a rising incidence of premature births and nervous system diseases. Just as the birds began to die because DDT and similar pesticides caused them to lay thin-shelled eggs, too many indicators are currently sending signals that the various organisms are reaching the limits of tolerance. Environmental tampering, greed, ignorance, arrogance and indifference are causing serious problems, folks.

Try a few of these numbers on for size:

  • Developmental disabilities (the current politically correct term for birth defects) increased 17.1% between 1997 and 2008.
  • Autism increased 289.5%!
  • ADHD increased 33%.
  • Hearing loss in children increased 30.9%.
  • In 1960, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. was 12th on the global list; but by 2008, we had sunk to 28th place.

      I’ve heard all the arguments.“We’re getting better at diagnosing autism, so it looks as though the prevalence is increasing.” Ditto for ADHD. “Our infant mortality rates are skewed because the birth rate is higher among African Americans, who are more likely to have high infant mortality.” I’m reminded of a comment in a book I read — unfortunately I can’t remember where or I would credit the author — “Sure sounds to me like a man trying to maintain with his mouth that his feet aren’t going where they’re headed.”

The facts are that pesticides affect children’s brains. Pesticides and other toxins are making our kids less intelligent, and probably causing or at least contributing to autism and ADHD. Monsanto’s Roundup has been implicated in miscarriage, birth defects, DNA damage and problems with neurological development. GMO foods are not harmless, but cause liver, kidney function and immune systems problems in the animals studied. Worse, the pests are evolving to eat the GMO corn that’s supposed to kill them.

There are plenty of smoking guns, if you just pay attention.


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