Week four of the internship was an interesting one that saw interns acquire a diverse range of skills from cutting sheet metal to stitching shwe-shwe fabrics, as the participants continued with the completion of their solar cookers and solar dryer and created new green technologies.
The kitchen is in many ways the energy center of the house. It is the heart of the home, a source of nourishment and also a huge consumer of energy. All technologies requiring heat (stoves, kettles, toasters) use much more energy than tools just needing movement, so in addition to building the solar oven which runs on direct sun energy to slow cook/bake dishes, we need a backup for boiling water or cooking on cloudy days.
The solution was to build a few small clay rocket stoves which run on minimal amounts of thin wood. The fuel for the stoves at Rocklands will be collected from pruning the windbreaks that surround the food gardens. While the rocket stove produces very little smoke due to its’ efficient wood burning features, it cannot be used inside unless you have a hearth (kaggel), but can however be used on a stoep without smoking everybody out. The fact that the rocket stove uses minimal and thin bits of wood makes urban woodlots much more feasible as we can grow and coppice a range of indigenous trees to supply wood for the stove in a relatively small area.
The emphasis on localized self-reliance leads us to look for technologies that are easily constructed from local materials that will further assist in the alleviation of our reliance on fossil fuel based energy.
To further reduce our energy usage in the kitchen, we looked at the uses and construction methods of Hot Boxes or Wonder Boxes. This is a fairly old tool – the Hay Box appears in a 1938 Agriculture Department cookbook. Under the guidance of Gail, an intern on the program, the participants were able to cut and stitch hot boxes – some interns sewing for the first time. The hot boxes will be used during the internship program to save on cooking gas – and can lead to a saving of up to 75% on costs. How it works is you bring your food to a rapid boil for 10 minutes and then wrap it into a sewn Hot Box which is stuffed with insulating materials and leave it to continue cooking. Insulating materials like straw, cotton wadding, polystyrene bubbles, foam chips and even dry leaves can be used.
As we develop our understanding of appropriate green technologies, we begin to see a clear way to energy independence and at the very least decreasing our use of non-renewable resources. From now on interns will be using the technologies they have made to continue saving energy in the Homestead kitchen whilst preparing the daily meal and teas for the rest of the team.
Next week, interns will begin designing retrofits for homes in Mitchells Plain, changing the world one house at a time.
Written by Calvin Dias: Co-facilitator of the Accredited Permaculture Training and Internship Programme.