This week was a big step forward in grasping the basics of both electronics and off-grid living.
I took ownership of the first in a series of devices that will accompany my journey into the technical world of electronic experimentation, with a view to understand what (or should I say watt?) works, what doesn’t, what our basic needs are and what luxury items one can still use whilst being isolated from the grid.
So the sustainable energy basics are already acquired, this week saw two exciting deliveries; the first a 100w portable solar panel, the second an entry-level 240wh power station.
I intend to review both items in time, but what it has already allowed me to do is to think in a different way. Us on-gridders invariably don’t think about how devices work, how much electricity they consume and how much it costs to run them, one typically plugs, plays, enjoys and pays the hefty energy bills at the end of the month.
With the start of the build of my “Cabin In The Yard” (the prototype for the build of over a dozen ecolodges at our retreat in Wales), only weeks away, I wanted to fully explore and understand the art of what’s possible without drawing any resources from the house.
Thankfully, my son is an electrical engineer and he gave me an electricity 101 to explain what watts, amps and volts are, how to find out the inputs and outputs of devices, and by doing the maths, I could work out the drain from each appliance on the limited power reserves I have.
I’ll admit the 101 didn’t make much sense until I started to do some research on which devices and appliances are powered by 12v batteries, USB or AA / AAA rechargeable batteries.
Once I found out the watts for each device, the penny dropped. By documenting the watts of each device, I knew exactly how much each one would drain from the 240 watt hours I had to play with on my power station.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer volume of devices out there that could continue (somewhat) a life of luxury, totally cost free (besides the initial investment of course), as long as the sun was shining (the fundamental flaw in my plan of living in the monochromatic grey realm of North West England).
Here is the list of devices I found, not exhaustive by any means and somewhat primordial when compared to those in the house for the likes of heating, cooking and lighting, but still an impressive list nonetheless (those marked green I already possess):
🟢 Portable Showers (15w)
🟢 Cooler Boxes/Fridges (58w)
🔴 Heating Stoves (40w)
🔴 Travel Kettles (120w)
🔴 Hair Straighteners (20w)
🔴 Hair Dryers (150w)
🔴 Toastie Makers (120w)
🔴 Heater Fans (120w)
🔴 Travel Hoovers (12.5w)
🔴 Electric Blankets (55w)
🔴 TVs (40w)
🔴 Air Pumps (120w)
🔴 Water Pumps (60w)
🟢 Desk Fans (1w)
🟢 Desk Lamps (5w)
🟢 Bluetooth Speakers (5w)
🟢 iPhones (5w)
🟢 iPads (10w)
🟢 Surface Pro (60w)
🟢 Nintendo Switch (25w)
🟢 Logitech Web Cams (5w)
🟢 USB C Computer Monitors (25w)
🟢 Mavic Mini Drones (15w)
🟢 Sony XM3 Headphones (15w)
🟢 Apple Watches (2w)
🟢 Portable Power Banks (15w)
🟢 Recyclable Battery Chargers (15w)
🟢 Oculus Quest VR Headsets (15w)
🟢 Portable Shower (15w)
🔴 Portable Projectors (15w)
🔴 Mini Blenders (65w)
🔴 LED Lights (45w)
Rechargeable Battery Appliances
🟢 Portable Speakers
🟢 Nose Trimmers
🔴 LED Lights
Yes, I’m at the stage of my life now where nose trimmers have become an essential item!
The beauty of buying the items above is that they are all 100% portable, so not only can I use them in the soon-to-be-erected cabin, but I can take them camping with me later in the year, and if the zombie apocalypse does turn up some point soon, I’m sorted.
Clearly to stay connected, I’ll need to tether my phone to the internet-based devices I have, so not everything is free, but it’s a good start, and does go to show that the art of what is possible is both sustainable and achievable if you want it…
As Rabbie Burns famously once penned, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!”
It’s fair to say that as the dawn rose this morning, another day of being both completely healthy and totally locked in left me with feelings of melancholy.
In need of cheering up, I took it upon myself to make my wife a Valentine’s Day breakfast, her favourite of poached eggs on toast with sea salt and cracked pepper. With two small gifts and a hug or two exchanged, my mind quickly returned to the great outdoors. As the snowflakes fell again upon the cold ground, I could not help but feeling that this year was another one that is going to pass most of us by, certainly in the UK.
The extra-currlcular project that I am working to invent and create an eco-retreat in North Wales couldn’t seem further away than it actually is geographically (i.e. anything beyond the Boris Johnson invisible line of seven miles is out of bounds according to the latest “guidelines”). Here we will have something that when deployed, will bring so much personal achievement for me and my comrades, as well an avenue for many others to enjoy nature, commune with others and return to an acceptable level of mind-body-spiritual balance, all of which are out of kilter for the vast majority of the populace.
I am resigned to the fact that it’s not going to happen this year. With so much uncertainty and blockers, my proposed project plan is already slipping to the right with no actions yet completed.
Someone said to me recently to only concern oneself with the things one can control and let go of the things one cannot. Wise words.
With those sage words of advice keeping my tinnitus company this morning, I took to YouTube for inspiration, and man was I inspired!
After several attempts to find the right viewings on creating ecolodges, I came across two wonderful individuals, known in cyberspace as Bushradicaland the Girl in the Woods (move over Sarah Beeny and George Clarke).
Very recently, they have created what I had been dreaming of for the eco-retreat, an off-grid cabin/lodge erected simply and quickly from standard materials one can find at the reclamation/builders yards and hardware supply stores.
So impressed am I with the simplicity, speed and quality of the build, I simply have to share the videos below, in a hope to inspire myself to build a copy of their creation as a prototype in my own compact and bijou back yard, and if successful use the same design and materials as a template for our retreat.
Girl In The Woods
After being totally consumed by these videos today, I started to put pen to paper to see how I can use Dave and Brooke’s template to create my “Cabin in the Yard”.
With the temperatures at zero outside, there is plenty of time now to draw up my plans on what the dimensions of the cabin will look like, and what materials I need to procure over the coming weeks. The planned build is to commence on the Spring Equinox (21st March).
Communing with nature. Living off the land. Mind, body and soul cleansing. Community spirit and oneness. Consciousness expansion. Peace and love.
Deep down many of us want the ideals above but are either unable, unwilling or lack the courage to do those things that we know will be better for us and better for the planet.
This week saw my eagerly awaited trip to Lammas Eco-Village in South Wales, an expedition into the uncharted territory of off-grid living., a fact finding mission for our band of neophyte hippies to sequester information from the founders, Mr and Mrs Wimbush, in order for us to gain insights into their ten year journey from a barren greenfield plot of land, to a fully functional and self-sufficient settlement.
As a guy who has worked in and around IT projects for most of his life, I bring to the table my decades of structure, organisation and planning, so I took the responsibility to plan out our trip in advance, including timelines, itineraries and a large set of questions, the output of which would give us enough answers and direction to kick-start the build of our eco-retreat project in North Wales.
This is a work project not one of pleasure (although no doubt the journey and end result will no doubt be a joyous thing), and as such the trip was “allowed” under the strict “essential travel only” guidelines. Even still, I had a bad feeling before setting off that at some point over the four hour journey south, our collars would be felt at least once by the boys in blue, and in preparation for that eventuality I printed off all materials (Covid travel guidelines, agenda, emails etc) as a form of proof to plod that our trip was legitimate. As it turned out, the trip was “copper-free” and we arrived safely at Lammas, collars unfelt.
As we drove into the village, the first thing that struck us was the size. Each of the plots sized between six and seven acres and there were plenty of them (totalling seventy seven acres in all).
Our destination for the day however was Maes Melangell, the home of both the Wimbush family (pioneers of Lammas) and a newly-constructed and yet-to-be completed Lammas Earth Centre.
I had done some research on Lammas over the previous nights (reading the One Planet Life book as well as watching several YouTube videos) to provide at least some background knowledge on what the set up was like and what their journey had been like thus far.
But like a great many things in life, reading about something is one thing, experiencing it is markedly different, the whole day was testament to that.
We were greeted (after a few wrong turns) on the tracks by Hoppi (aka Mrs Wimbush), who welcomed the group warmly and invited us in to the main house for a socially distanced and hand-sanitised chat, so that we could get to know each other a little and our posse could set out its expectations for the day.
One thing that did strike me on the way in was how impressive their homestead looked, it was clear that the well-built dwelling house, the super-impressive Lammas Earth Centre, the animal barn and all of the cultivation areas had taken years to achieve and a ridiculous amount of dedication and hard graft (both physically and meta-physically).
With a hot cup of Bengal Spice Tea in hand, Hoppi walked us through their ambitious journey so far, all of us playing silent witness and in awe in what they had achieved to date and how they had done it. Their home was warm not only in temperature (from the amazing wood-burner and impressively insulated walls), but in feeling too, clearly the house was also wrapped in the warmth of love, of oneness with each other, with nature and the universe at large.
It became apparent early on that what we saw before us had taken an Herculean effort, not only in planning, designing, developing and constructing, but in terms of pressure and stress too. Here we had a small family (children were six and nine at the time) living in a small touring caravan on an empty landscape, with huge plans for off-grid living in their heads and one hell of a journey in front of them.
We shared our own plans for the eco-treat which were met warmly too, but it was becoming apparent (to me at least) that our embryonic project was very different than what was in front of us in terms of components, requirements and end-state.
The five of us involved thus far all have day commitments that we don’t foresee giving up any time soon, and at this point we don’t envision any of us living at the eco-retreat permanently. So it dawned on us that going down the One Planet Development route for our project was likely to be a dead end and overcomplicated from a planning and local authority permission perspective. Ours would be a different path than the one Lammas has taken, but it would have the same ethos are drive for sustainability.
After a warm exchange, Hoppi then took us on a tour of the site, explaining the exact functions of each building and zone, safe to say that we were all in total awe of what we were viewing.
Their plans were not only realised by their own hands, but by those of volunteers too. Through the use of an entire tribe of volunteers (over seventy in total) they were able to morph their barren landscape into something truly remarkable.
And it’s is the essence of that very approach which has left a spiritual and collective resonance around the place, almost like a mycelium layer of positivity and love, woven into the very fabric of every component on site, borne from the many hands of like-minded individuals.
After the staggeringly impressive show and tell, we had the opportunity to wander the site on our own, I took the time to fly my drone over the site to get a birds eye view whilst my comrades meandered through various muddy pathways on foot, the site as impressive from the air as on the ground.
We finished our trek as the door to the main house opened and for the first time we met Tao (Mr Wimbush) for the first time. Set and setting are always important and the lunch of Pumpkin and Parsnip Soup with home made bread and goats butter transformed a basic meal to the best lunch of all time, ever.
It came across well on the videos I had seen, but in person, Tao’s calming nature juxtaposed against Hoppi’s effervescence made it a perfect partnership, and I saw the deep, loving and spiritual connection they both had for each other on a couple of occasions. Beautiful.
We shared our vision and hope for the eco-retreat with Tao and based on the components we wanted to develop (very different to Lammas), Tao advised that the One Planet Development wasn’t the best way to go for our venture and he suggested an alternative approach to achieve the desired outcome, to which we all agreed.
I was truly blown away by Tao, to be surrounded by such an amazing feat of construction and sustainable cleverness was one thing, but his calming, warming, nurturing, inspiring and guiding words (and well as long hair and beard), felt to me like I was in the presence of a modern day Jesus (affirmed by “L” on the way back home who thought the same).
As the darkness drew in and thoughts turned to the arduous long journey home in poor driving conditions, with a genuine sadness and gratitude, we bade farewell to our hosts for the day and headed back north to on-grid living, resigned and melancholic in the knowledge that workers boots and corporate laptops would called upon within just a few hours of returning.
We had so many take-aways from our trip to Lammas, hints, tips and nudges in the right direction we simply would not have hot had we not visited. We agreed that when we returned home we would double-down on our efforts to get things moving, albeit in a slightly different direction to our initial plans.
After visiting Lammas, Hoppi and Tao, it’s now very clear to me that one can live in the fruitfully in the future like we lived in the past, it just takes courage to detach oneself from what is, quite frankly, a broken and totally meaningless capitalist society.
That courage is within us all, we just need to do, there is no try…
Living even more sustainably in Twenty-Twenty-One is one of my primary goals (beyond surviving the impact of Covid-19 of course).
I made significant in-roads into reducing my own, my families and my colleagues carbon footprint (via a Sustainability Cook Book I released to the masses in late December). Some of it by my own volition and some of it as a consequence of this year’s limitations on travel and consumerism.
In the book “How Bad Are Bananas” by Mike Berners-Lee, it proposes that we should all try to live a 5 tonnes lifestyle (less where possible), and after doing the official UN carbon footprint calculation, my families overall tonnage was twenty-four tonnes, 6 tonnes per head, not bad when you look at the average in say Australia is twenty tonnes per head.
So a few further tweaks to the family processes next year (switching to hybrid car, off-boarding one of the children to his own house and eating a plant/fish-based diet with minimal red meat) will help reduce it to four tonnes per head. Phase One complete, Phase Two being the long term plan of setting up an off-grid small holding.
My foray into techno-agriculture (Blade Runner 2049 larva farm on standby) was met with some success. Growing my own produce (albeit in micro-quantities) gave me some insights to cultivating edibles and The Infinity Garden is currently performing admirably…
I have been impressed with the quality of the growth, I had heard mixed reviews on the outputs, but I must say everything that has churned out thus far has been very “Cuprinol”.
With an addition of not one, but two grow-your-own mushroom kits and a book of the greatest and best Indian Street Food recipes from one of the best (if not the best), restaurants in Liverpool (Mowgli), I feel more armed with organic opportunities already for the coming year.
A friend of mine “I”, who is also part of the eco-retreat build starting soon, has also just acquired nine allotment plots and is keeping an eye out for me so that I can join the collective, putting to bed my vision for a vertical garden in the confined space behind my house.
I would not have thought twelve months ago that I would be that much more in-tune with nature and the universe in general, but it just goes to show that even in chaos, opportunities for positive change are there, one just needs to take a breath, focus and do…
The universe of late, it seems, has been listening to my silent screams of frustration, a frustration that most citizens of these lands are also going through true, but my inner torment may have called out louder than any voice.
Two weeks ago, I was knee-deep in my drive towards activism, consuming hitherto hidden truths relating to the pandemic, circumventing that bipartisan and collective narrative spun by ministers and selected scientists across all constituencies and component parts of the “united” kingdom, in search for answers.
Truth seekers, also known as conspiracy theorists to anyone not following the BBC and Sky News, sniff out alternative narratives, forcing like-minded individuals to go to ground, gathering in clandestine fora, coming together to gain both numbers and momentum.
It is a very difficult process, as not only are the authorities against them, but so is more than fifty percent of the population, and as such, fatigue can set in with the spectre of negativity and despair shrouding their every move.
Two weeks ago I felt tired, beleaguered from the fight, longing to get away from it all, longing to fast-forward six years to the time that I clock-off for the last time and head for the hills, literally, setting up a retreat in the rurals to live out my days off the land, self-sufficient and abdicating from the urban nation.
In a strange and timely twist of fate, I got a phone call the next day from my yoga instructor, asking me to design, develop and project manage the building of an “eco-retreat” in North Wales on a piece of land her family had inherited a couple of years back.
I had mentioned my retirement intentions to her just briefly in a passing conversation a few months earlier, not going into any detail at all, yet here we were, discussing the intent for her commune as if I’d written a best selling book on the subject and had implemented installs several times over.
Needless to say the three hour conversation we had flew by and by the end of it, my head still spinning, I agreed to start work on it the very next day.
The very next day was a work day, and with it yet another dollop of kismet came my way. I was given an action in work to develop a “sustainability cook-book” which looked to call out all of the things we buy, do and consume and what the impact of each has on the environment, in an effort to drive down the carbon footprint of the organisations 140,000 staff.
Clearly the oil and gas industry has a lot to do to convince folks in the outside world that it cares. They of course acknowledge that it has been part of the problem (for a long time) but that it is also primed to be part of the solution; that is to produce sustainable and clean energy for the planets inhabitants and ongoing industrial processes.
That starts with the staff. We can all choose to sign up to individual plans to reduce our own carbon footprints, we can choose to develop sustainable and clean solutions by considering the environmental impacts before any functional or non-functional requirement. We can all help to drive the shift away from fossil fuels to renewables and sustainable fuels, leaving the nasty stuff in the ground.
Clearly some individuals who work in the industry want to play their part in putting a stop to the managed decline of the planet, but only time will tell whether the bottom line of profit outweighs the need to be eco-friendly, but do something we must and if I can influence that and change the mindset of my colleagues, then that is what I intend to do on my last rotation before I leave the company.
We must not pay lip service to climate change. We have been accused recently of green-washing by Greta Thunberg and many others which may well be true to a certain extent, so we need to partner with such individuals and groups to deliver real change and sustainable energy for many generations to come.
So within forty eight hours, I had put together the basic plans to build an eco-retreat and a how-to guide to change the hearts and minds of a massive workforce.
They say that there is nothing like the taste of your own produce, and if the biltong produced recently had anything to go by, then those first lettuce and basil leaves would be equally as sweet.
I have been very impressed so far with the output from the Smart Garden. Incredibly easy (although expensive) to set up with zero maintenance, just plant the pods, fill the reservoir, turn it on, click back and whittle some whilst watching stuff grow.
Of the three plants planted, the lettuce was by far the fastest to sprout and bloom into edibles, closely followed by the basil. The tomato plant however has taken longer to get off the ground but the guide advised this in advance so not quite ready for my first BLT.
So today I took the lettuce and basil with some mozzarella cheese and salsa, and I must say it was great. Clearly the amount of produce that the smart garden generates isn’t going to allow one to go off-grid, but what it has done is given me an appetite (in more ways than one!) to install my vertical garden on the patio and come spring, start growing my own vegetables, herbs and plants.
Clearly pre-prepped soil pockets, water, light, heat and a total lack of bugs has allowed Crop 1.0 to flourish, I’m sure outside gardening will be a whole different ball-game but looking forward to the challenge.
Many lessons were learned during the processing of the first batch of biltong.
The box needed some upgrades. First was to close off all open holes, the mesh at the back of the unit was too wide and one gnat did manage to make its grubby way in to v1.0, so some cheap fly mesh was acquired and secured.
The small holes too on the side of the box (which house the dowels) were plugged by a handy box of washers I purchased decades ago that I’d never used (who would have thought a small box of plastic tap circles would have ended up on a caveman’s kiln years later).
Next up was the velcro for the door and top hatch, this was upgraded to magnetic strips (different polarisations) which both lock down everything, nothing is getting in, hermetically sealed (like a presidential Covid cavalcade…)
In terms of the fan, that worked perfectly in v1.0 so no changes were required there.
For heating however, I couldn’t find an old fashioned filament bulb so I needed to replace the LED one as it gave off no heat, and in a moment of clarity, my aged brain came up with the idea of a vivarium bulb. So after looking at various heat lamps (avoiding those bulbs in “Roxanne Red” – not the look you want in the spare bedroom!), I found a 50w ceramic bulb, which had the bonus of no light emission. Tried it out, burned my finger, so that worked!
Finally, I dug out an old dehumidifier my son used to use and plugged that in to take the moisture out of the room which would likely condensate and mold up the office.
In terms of the meat, I went to the local butchers this time. What a difference! As I cut the slabs, there was neither a vein nor a sinew in sight, marvelous!
I also changed the preparation mode too. I left the meat to chill for 12 hours in the fridge after applying the vinegar and dry rub, could not believe the amount of moisture that came out overnight.
So after wringing the last of the moisture out over the sink and via hand toweling, I applied one more layer of course salt and hooked them up (placing a metal tray in the bottom this time to prevent seepage on to the unit).
I think I will leave the meat longer this time, at least 7 days (SEVEN – one day for every Aston Villa goal last weekend against our arch nemesis), so that it becomes as dry as it can be to extend its lifespan. I’ll also use my new vacuum sealer straight away.
As for the smell, well there’s not too much I can do about that except to keep the office door shut and open the windows when I’m not in there, it is getting chilly outside now.
The whole of next batch will come with us to our off-grid cottage in Cornwall week after next, lock-down permitting. I’m not confident any will be returning with us!
Well I’m starting to get quite excited about eating my first crop of BLT (Basil, Lettuce and Tomato).
It’s been just four days and already the seeds are starting to germinate in my new smart garden (well the Basil and Lettuce is, not sure what is going on with the Toms yet)…
I’m surprised I’ve not had a knock on the door from the plod yet, as the garden sits on the windowsill of the office, it does look like I’m growing my own weed through a hydroponics system from the pavement outside.
The list below contains the food I regularly eat as part of my paleo lifestyle, applying the 80/20 rule (80% of the food and drink is strict paleo, 20% is the wiggle room needed so the brain or stomach doesn’t crave so much, e.g. root crops, cordials and vegan chocolate etc).
I have also indicated whether I can grow, forage or hunt my own food and each item has, in project management parlance, a RAG status (Red = Cannot; Amber = Difficult; Green = Can) and next to it, if it is amber or green, what action I need to take to acquire it (VG = Vertical Garden; SG = Smart Garden; F = Foraging; H = Hunting).
Although I have only just started to grow basil, lettuce and tomatoes in my smart garden, the list below is my typical weekly shopping list, over time I hope to replace all of the amber items with green (red items being either luxury or things which will fall off the list over time), and self-produce all such green items rather than purchasing them from the local greengrocers, butchers shops and Bargain Booze store…
It’s also fair to say that with my limited space, I won’t be able to produce anywhere near enough food to disconnect myself from the food-grid just yet, but the skills and lessons learned over the coming years will set a true foundation for off-grid living which takes place in a mere 2462 days from now…
1. Bananas 🔴
2. Blueberries (F) 🟠
3. Strawberries (VG/SG/F) 🟢
4. Raspberries (VG/F) 🟢
5. Apples (F) 🟠
6. Kiwi Fruits 🔴
7. Ginger (VG) 🟢
1. Sweet potatoes (VG) 🟢
2. Carrots (VG) 🟢
3. Potatoes (VG) 🟢
4. Onions (VG) 🟢
5. Broccoli (VG) 🟢
6. Cauliflower (VG) 🟢
7. Mushrooms (F) 🟠
8. Tomatoes (VG/SG) 🟢
9. Sweet Peppers (VG/SG) 🟢
10. Leeks (VG) 🟢
11. Parsnips (VG) 🟢
12. Pak Choi (VG/SG) 🟢
13. Cabbage (VG) 🟢
14. Celery (VG) 🟢
15. Chilli Peppers (VG/SG) 🟢
16. Peas (VG/SG) 🟢
17. Garlic (VG/SG) 🟢
18. Ginger (VG/SG) 🟢
19. Lemongrass (VG) 🟢
20. Basil (VG/SG) 🟢
21. Apple Mint (VG/SG/F) 🟢
22. Rosemary (VG/SG) 🟢
23. Coriander (VG/SG) 🟢
24. Chives (VG/SG) 🟢
25. Parsley (VG/SG) 🟢
26. Black Pepper (VG/SG) 🟢
27. Vegetable Stock (VG/SG) 🟢
28. Coconut Milk 🔴
1. Eggs (H) 🟠
2. Salmon (H) 🟠
3. Asparagus (VG) 🟢
4. Spinach (VG/SG) 🟢
5. Lettuce (VG/SG) 🟢
6. Tomatoes (VG/SG) 🟢
7. Spring Onions (VG/SG) 🟢
8. Cucumbers (VG) 🟢
9. Tuna 🔴
1. Biltong (H) 🟠
2. Nuts and seeds 🔴
3. Vegetable crisps (VG/SG) 🟢
4. Vegan Chocolate 🔴
5. Blackcurrant Cordial (F) 🟠
6. Elderberry Cordial (F) 🟠
7. Herbal Tea (VG/SG/F) 🟢
8. Red Wine 🔴
9. Coffee 🔴
1. Venison (H) 🟠
2. Salmon (H) 🟠
3. Mackerel (H) 🟠
4. Tuna 🔴
5. Vegetables (VG/SG/F) 🟢
6. Salad (VG/SG/F) 🟢
Maybe I need to start watching the 70’s sitcom The Good Life to get some hints and tips from Richard Bryers and Felicity Kendall (mmmm Felicity Kendall…)