Well first of all apologies for the recent bloggy silence. It has various reasons: one, I have to admit, is I discovered Facebook, and despite myself, I'm rather enjoying it. Now don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm spending all day and night on Facebook now, but having found many of my friends past and present there, I decided to put the more... how shall I put it... chatty bits, you know the "our-life-in Italy" anecdotes there and concentrate this blog on what it was created for: The Path to Self Sufficiency. I know some of you enjoyed those other bits too, so I suggest you simply find me on Facebook and you'll see photos of our 20th wedding anniversary bash, a jam session we had in our kitchen last weekend, some walks we go on, Eddie growing etc and I post links to links to articles regarding the environment, music, Italy and other subjects that interest me. Some photos are for general viewing, some you'll have to be known to me. I'm easy to find, I believe I'm the only one with this name on FB. See you there if you like?
Another reason for my recent inactivity on this blog is that of course it's a busy time in the garden. Most days we are out there watering (although the last week-10days has been somewhat cooler with intermittent rain), harvesting the bounty of fresh produce and preserving it.
Finally I spent some time thinking about the direction our "path to self-sufficiency" is going to take us next. In the 5 years since we started cultivating our plot of land we have achieved I'd say 80% food self-sufficiency. We cannot produce quite sufficient carbo-hydrates (only potatoes to feed us for maybe half the year and some corn) and we have no livestock to supply us with animal proteins. We get around that by buying flour directly from the mil to make bread, buying large quantities of cheap pasta, rice and other staples whenever we do have money, bartering eggs for jam or favours and greatly reducing our meat consumption to once a week (less when we are really broke).
We are still dependant on fossil fuels for electricity supplied by the state supplier at around €50 for every 2 months (at least Italy is currently non-nuclear), to cook with gas (about 2 x10kg gass bottles per year at €16 each) some of our heating (another 5 gass bottles per winter) and to run the car, which we are trying to keep at around €20 a month, which gives us a range of approximately 200km. The largest bill by far is for communications: Currently we pay around €100 every 2 months to have an internet and telephone connection. I do have a pay-as-you-go mobile, costing me a negligible €10 a year. There's also insurance and tax for the car, which is currently being paid for us, which isn't exactly a satisfactory solution. Water bills and other taxes I've been so far successful in dodging all together in true Italian fashion.
So if you do your sums it tells you that we live on something in the region of €3,000 a year. How can we reduce that? I have recently started following the activities of Mark Boyle. He has lived for the last 19 months in a caravan without money. He is promoting his "Freeconomy" as a counter-balance to the money-based economomy. It is a kind of bartering system, where everyone within a community offers their services free of monetary charge. I very much like this concept and in many ways it still exists in the village I live in although complete independence from money is in my opinion not quite possible unless we retreat back to the caves. However, Mark's ideas are if nothing else inspiring.
So back to our situation: Let's start with the obvious, the car. Why do I still need a car? Partially to earn money, a large part is needed to run the former. The other reason we need a car is the distance between our land and our house (12.5km). Whilst we cycle and walk as much as possible, sometimes we have to transport bulky items one way or the other and there's a steep hill to climb either side of the valley.
At the moment Eddie our puppy is starting to be too big to ride on the back of the bike, but yet too small to run along. He's also in the chewing-everything-in-sight stage, meaning he can't be left home alone safely for a long period of time. So it's walking or driving at least for the moment. We can afford to drive maybe once a week. Other days I put on my rucksack and put a heavy compost bucket in it, returning with it empty but several kilos of potatoes, pears, apples, tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, cucumbers... you get the picture. The other day I climbed back up our 300 metre hill with some 30kg on my back in the August heat.
This leaves us with very little energy to do a lot of the work that needs to be done and would therefore make us more independent, and we fall behind with pockets of jungle taken over various corners of our land. Also it greatly increases our calorie consumption, meaning we have to grow more to feed our greater calorie need. It's one of the reasons we are not complete vegetarians, because we literally crave higher value calories at times, feeling list-less and exhausted at times.
This summer we had come up with a part solution in setting up a semi-permanent tent on one of the lower terraces, but man I'm getting old. When I was young I didn't mind lying on any surface to sleep, but now I get up after a night on hard ground and I have trouble moving and my back is killing me, which is not conducive to a second days hard labour on our terraces.
Last year we had planned to build a larger and more solid wooden shed than our existing one, which looks like this:
We had gathered a lot of scrap wood off tips and were ready to start when I drove that %~+>£&** piece of bamboo into my arm. That put me out of any serious work for 4 months by which time the olives became a priority and then the weather changed. Now I look at the pile of timber gathered rotting on the top terrace and think of my efforts in woodwork classes in school. I was the kind of kid that came home with my piece from woodwork class and my parents would enthusiastically pronounce: "What a lovely... hedgehog?... piggy bank...? thing!"
Now finally the connection with the Michelin Man: last week I came across this web-site about how to build a house (low skill required!) entirely from recycled material, namely old car tyres, plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans. They called it an earth-ship And hey presto a plan evolved in me head, but PSSSSSSSSST!!!! don't tell anyone. Strictly speaking I have no planning permission to build a dwelling on our land and not likely to get one either. I am allowed an up to 12m2 agricultural building, but I want more. The plan is this:
I'm intendingto construct a semi-permanent structure on our land using old car tyres filled with our clayey sub-soil (I knew the clay would be useful for something!) as main supporting walls. Some parts will however be sunk into existing terraces and covered up again with a vegetation covered roof, making them invisible from the outside, quasi underground. Not sure yet whether the vegetation will be grass growing on top or simply some climbing plant. Having in the meantime spoken to a couple of people with an engineering background, I was advised that the weight of the tyres might cause my terraces to subside, and I can see that.
Having chosen a realitively shady area with not much growing on it bar weeds on terrace 6 for the location of what I estimate to become an approximately 25 m2 house, I decided to build a foundation on terrace 7, also from tyres.
Not one to hang about for long, project Earth Ship got under way yesterday:
The only problem now is to find a sufficient number of tyres, so if you read this and you are in the area, please let me know of any hordes of dumped tyres, pick up any you may find on the side of the road, safe any from the tyre change on your car, please.
Eddie was helping too.
The idea is that I would like to build a building where I can store my tools and equipment safely, and which has a proper sleeping area, a kitchen and a bathroom. This way we can spend most of the summer there, use our produce fresher (rather than mashing them on the back of a bumpy bike only then to carry part of them back as compost), we'll have facilities to preserve them on-site and we have a shelter near our food source.
Longer term we may be able to work out some energie and communication solutions which won't involve being connected to the main network. We could possible sell our current house to finance things like solar panels and water retention systems etc. We wouldn't need a car any more and we may be able to keep some livestock.
This obviously is going to take us a while. I need to do a lot of excavation and more importantly we need to find a couple of hundred tyres and transport them to our land. Any advice by anyone on this would be much appreciated. Anybody wanting to get their hands dirty and help, you are more than welcome. For the moment Eddie is having a rest from his part in digging on the beginnings of the foundations: