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Friday, July 13, 2012

Storing Water for Dry Times

Water is a vital nutrient for any animal or plant.  Without water, life would quickly come to an end on this planet.  Yet only a very small percentage of the water on earth is freshwater and can be used for the plants or animals that people normally raise.  So we must be careful with the water that we do have.  Right now most of the Midwest is in a drought.  This is not a completely uncommon occurrence, and it seems that every few years there is not enough water or too much water at the wrong time.  The rain is a blessing and a curse.  Yet it could easily be seen as a blessing whenever and however it falls.

There are several great books on storing and stewarding the water you have.  One of the best is a set of books by Brad Lancaster called Rainwater Harvesting Vol.1 and Vol. 2.  Lancaster lives in the "sun belt" and most yards and gardens there require huge amounts of supplemental watering.  Brad looked at the way in which things were planted and realized that there was a huge amount of water that could be used, freely, and would help with his own yard and garden.

Rainwater harvesting focuses mainly on using the landscape in such a way that water can quickly soak in and be stored.  Rather than encouraging runoff from storms; swales, dams and other earthworks help discourage erosion and aid in keeping the plants well watered.  Lancaster points to certain desert peoples from the ancient near east who could sustain agriculture on around 4 inches of rain a year.  Surely we could learn something from this type of dry land agriculture.

Art Ludwig's book, Water Storage, is another great help to those trying to use the water that is available to them.  Mostly the book focuses on the use of ferro-cement, a lightweight form of concrete, to make water storage devices.  He points out the amount of water available from roofs and other catchment systems, and the numbers are amazing.  If 1 inch of rain falls on 1000 square feet of impermeable surface (like a roof or a parking lot) there is 623 gallons of runoff.  If that runoff is caught and used, even for things like watering a garden or fire prevention, there is much less draw on well or city water.

The last book that I would like to recommend is The Home Water Supply by Stu Campbell.  Campbell's book focuses much more on domestic water issues such as water pressure, digging a well, or finding ways to prevent contaminating groundwater.  If you are in the country and are not going to be hooked up to a rural or city water supply, this book is the one that you need to find out more about your options and the challenges ahead of you.

All of these books focus on different aspects of water for the home.  Some of the books are about finding ways to use the water that is available naturally to our best advantage, while others are about the practicalities of hooking up a plumbing system and using well water off the grid.  No matter what you plan to do, or where you live, water and proper water usage is going to come up. 

These books and others on water and water storage can be found here.

Live a Hands On Life

Monday, July 9, 2012

Rose hips: Homegrown vitamin C

We have all heard references from the past to scurvy, whether it was scurvy dogs on pirate ships, or the use of scurvy grass to combat the winter ailment.  Now we know that scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C.  We have also learned that Vitamin C is necessary for the immune system to function properly, and we have all sorts of vitamin C boost for sickness. 

I have stumbled across another source of vitamin C that is much closer to home, and doesn't require highly processed and expensive pills or packets from the pharmacy.  Rose hips were used in Britain during World War II as a homegrown source of vitamin C when citrus fruit were unavailable or expensive. 

A rose hip is simply the fruit of a rose bush.  They are the red ball left behind once the rose has flowered.    Some I have had tasted like sweet tart berries, others tasted like sun dried tomatoes.  I guess that when they breed roses, they do not take into account the flavor of the rose hips, so you may have to find your own variety that has a pleasant flavor.  The problem with eating rose hips is that they are full of seeds, and around the seeds are tiny hairs that are irritating, not only to the mouth but to the digestive track as well. 

To get around this problem, the Brits made rose hip syrup or rose hip jelly.  First they would smash the hips, and then add them to boiling water.  Turn off the heat and let them rest for about 15 minutes, then strain through a jelly bag.  You can repeat the process up to three times with the same rose hips and still  get vitamins out of them.  Once you have the strained juice add about 1 lb of sugar for every 1 lb of rose hips you started with.  Put it in sterilized jars and you have your own homegrown source of vitamin C with many times the vitamin C of oranges.  If you want a thicker syrup you can heat the sugar mixture again waiting until it is as thick as you want, even going so far as to make a jelly out of it. 

The resulting syrup keeps wonderfully and can be used as a sweetener, or whenever you feel the beginnings of an illness, just like the store bought vitamin C.  If it ever becomes too expensive to transport citrus, or if you have an issue with eating things that have traveled thousands of miles just to reach you, then rose hips may be your answer.

Much of the information in this post comes from the book

Food for Free by Richard Mabey

You can find a copy of the book here

You can find other books on foraging and wild foods here

As always

Live a Hands On Life