Sustainability is about survival.

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Adventures in Traditional Soap-Making

A Brief History of Traditional Soap-Making

traditional soap-making

Pannikin of soft-soap on chair at left

Then Almanzo was left alone in the kitchen, to take his bath.  His clean underwear was hanging on a chair-back to air and warm.  The wash-cloth and towel and the small wooden pannikin of soft-soap were on another chain.  He brought another washtub from the woodshed and put it on the floor in front of the open oven-door.

He took off his waist and one pair of socks and his pants.  Then he dipped some warm water from the tub on the stove into the tub on the floor.  He took off his other pair of socks and his underwear, and his bare skin felt good in the heat from the oven.  He toasted in the heat, and he thought he might just put on his clean underwear and not take a bath at all.  But Mother would look, when he went in the dining-room.

So he stepped in the water.  It covered his feet.  With his fingers he dug some of the brown, slimy soft-soap from the pannikin and smeared it on the washcloth.  Then he scrubbed himself well all over.

Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Chapter 7 Saturday Night)

That “soft-soap” is what we are after.  I’ve called it “man soap,” or “kick ass soap.”  The traditional methods of making soft-soap go back literally thousands of years.  The basic process involves leaching ashes in water to produce “lye-water,” and then mixing the lye-water with a fat, or fats, usually over heat, to “saponify” the fats.  In Almanzo’s case the soft-soap would probably have been made from cooking and heating-fire ashes, saved from the previous winter, and left-over fats from cooking.  Soap-making was springtime work, and it was work, without question, and usually the responsibility of the woman of the house.  In a perfect world, the resulting product contains neither fat nor lye, but only soap, the two ingredients having been totally consumed in the saponification process.  I’ve called it “man soap,” or “kick ass soap.”  It’s real, it’s natural, it was traditionally made from waste products, and it does the job.  And, the devil is indeed in the details; more on that to come in this post. Read more

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Wellpump Failure!

Background

Equipment failures never happen at an opportune time, and this was no exception to that rule.  It was about 0300 the moring of the 21st when Geri woke me to tell me that we had no water pressure in the house, and that day was our first running the new Primal Woods Pure Michigan Maple Syrup evaporator, and all of the associated new equipment.  I had no time for this wellpump failure!  But of course, I had to make time.  That time was this morning, when sap was not yet flowing, and when I did not have enough sap onhand to fire up the evaporator again.

Today’s Actions

Wellhead cover off

The braided line is connected to the body of the wellpump, and ensures that it does not fall to the bottom of the hole if the PEX tubing and wiring break.  Read on to learn more. Read more

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Resilient and Sustainable Fresh Water Systems

sutainability and resilience defined

Sustainability and Resilience at Primal Woods

It’s safe to say I think, that these two words, resilience and sustainability, pretty well define our long term goals for the homestead.  The first three areas in need of attention that come to mind are shelter, and specifically heating the shelter, food, and water.  I have posted relatively frequently on all of these, and the focus of today’s post will be water.  My most recent post in the resilience and sustainability catgories was Sustainable Heat – Year 2 of Our Journey.  I also wrote some on these subjects in my Late Winter 2013/2014 post, and in the 2016 Year in Review post.  Well, as it turns out, we have come a long way, but we are still quite far from the goal line.

As I think about it now, both in retrospect and in looking towards future needs, we are probably furthest along in achieving the twin goals of sustainability and resilience, with the provision of fresh water.  This might be because we froze the Well House and the Studio in our first winter; the Well House systems were not permanently damaged, the PVC supply plumbing serving the Studio was shredded in its entirety, and that is not an exaggeration.  If you have ever heard of or seen a “spiral fracture” of bone, that is what each and every bone in the PVC skeletal system suffered.  Suffice it to say, the system was not the least bit resilient. Read more

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Sustainable Heat – Year 2 of Our Journey

Sustainable Heat; Resilient Home Heating Systems

Central Boiler Classic Edge 750

Central Boiler Classic Edge 750

Our home was built in the early 70’s, and I have to say, it’s infrastructure, particularly the foundation, crawl space, attic, septic system, electrical system, plumbing, and HVAC systems, were not well thought-out, executed, or maintained.  So far, the only item on that lengthy list that we have not at least substantially addressed, is the foundation.  The HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) was particularly inefficient, unreliable, and costly.  Sustainable heat: Not.  We inherited from previous owners, an old propane-fired forced air heating system, using two package units (you usually see these used industrially, the entire heating and air conditioning apparatus is outside the house, only ducting and wiring connecting it to the house), with installed electric baseboards as “back-up,” I suppose you could say.  The first time the propane-fired forced air system failed, due to operator error I might add, we learned that the electric baseboards were not capable of bringing the house up to even 45°F; they’ve not been energized since.  So what have we done, and what are we doing, to improve the sustainability and resilience of a system for providing sustainble heat?  Read on for the details. Read more