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Self Sufficiency, Five Years In


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In March of 2006, Tulsi and Norris purchased a small house on a .2 acre lot, and used permaculture principles to design their food forest, sun garden, and house renovation. They aimed to …

In March of 2006, Tulsi and Norris purchased a small house on a .2 acre lot, and used permaculture principles to design their food forest, sun garden, and house renovation. They aimed to
create a low-maintenance, truly sustainable habitat for 2-4 people plus wildlife, providing from the property all necessary food, heating & cooking fuel, water, and waste treatment. Join us for a reality
check on what's worked and what hasn't, what seems theoretically possible for the future, and what all this means to the oxymoronic
goal of a sustainable city.

Many more details available at

Published in: Self Improvement

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  • 1. Norris Thomlinson & Tulsi LatoskiSummer 2006 Present: Fall 2010
  • 2. SELF SUFFICIENCY FIVE YEARS IN Summer 2009 March 2006 More details
  • 3. Site Info● NE Portland, OR. Mediterranean climate, Zone 8● Slopes slightly north● Almost full sun access● Well-drained, very rocky soil● Began with almost no topsoil, nitrogen 1 ppm● Inherited 1200 ft² of asphalt driveway, and ~6350 ft² of anemic lawn● Two large seedling cherries on property line● “Little shack on the prairie” - small house in need of some major work
  • 4. Site Info – Land Area Stats● Lot officially 50 x 175 = 8750 ft² = .2 acres● With unused parking strip 50 x 183 = 9150 ft²● House & garage & carport & porch = ~1620 ft²● Storage shed, chicken coop, wood shed, compost area = 400 ft²● Material handling zone = ~200 ft²● Side yard hang-out area = ~80 ft²● Paths = ~ 2000 ft²● Growing space + paths = ~6850 ft²● Actual growing space = ~4850 ft², non-growing=~4300 ft²
  • 5. Site Info – Ecoroof● Added 500 ft² of ecoroof in fall 2010, with 500 ft² more planned for this spring● 400 ft² of actual growing space● Experimenting with food production; too early to report results
  • 6. st1 Year: March – September 2006 ● Sheet mulched grass ● Bought in 6 cubic yards of mixed soil for instant annual beds ● Planted in wood chips & large pots ● Got chickens, bees, fungi ● Observed site: sun, water, wind, traffic & use patterns ● Discussed goals & ideas
  • 7. Site goals: Big picture● Self-sufficiency for 2-4 people in: ● Food - balanced paleodiet, (not 5 pounds of potatoes per day!) ● Water ● Heating & Cooling ● Cooking ● Lighting ● Waste treatment● Sustainable – really ● Giving back to the land more than we take ● Not dependent on civilization after establishment ● No pollution (exported waste) ● Create habitat – support wildlife, bees, birds, insects
  • 8. Site goals: Garden● Nutritious, diverse abundance● Protein crops – nuts, eggs, and meat● Peaceful & quiet – nature sounds● Low maintenance● Minimal digging● Urban model● Inspirational● Beautiful● Alive & vibrant
  • 9. Site goals: House Renovation Goals Parameters● Comfortable without fossil fuels & civilization ● Space for 3-4 people● Welcoming & inviting ● $25 - $30,000 budget● End result attractive to ● Mostly DIY buyers for resale ● Meets code● Low maintenance – mudrooms & outdoor shower to keep dirty people (Norris) under control● Model for low-budget DIY techniquesBegan Summer 2009Expect end Summer 11
  • 10. Design process: September 2006 ● Only observed 6 months before beginning food forest & site design, not full 12 months ● Permaculture principles ● Based on Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke & Eric Toensmeier ● Created accurate base map, cut out tree & shrub circles to scale, and shuffled around to maximize numbers of trees & shrub spots ● Left adequate space for paths & understory sunlight ● Prioritized favorite fruit & nut trees & shrubs to fit available spots ● “Planted” tall bamboo poles to represent trees & shrubs
  • 11. Yard Design Elements● Food forest ● Cooking & heating fuel ● Canopy trees ● Summer shade for house ● Berries & hangout areas ● Herbaceous understory● Sun garden (Zone 1)● Chickens● Bees● Ecoroof (came later)● Hangout areas● Material handling zone● Water integration
  • 12. Food forest designFront yard Back yard
  • 13. Element: Food forest ● Best fit for goals of low maintenance, nutritious abundance, diversity, protein crops, and habitat creation ● Encompasses entire food growing area except ecoroofs and zone 1 sun garden ● Most woody plants planted by spring of 2007
  • 14. Element: Food forest canopy Nuts & seeds Fruits● English Walnut ● 3 Pawpaws● Black walnut ● 2 Persimmons● Chestnut ● 2 Chinese dogwoods● 4 filberts ● 2 Plums● 2 Yellowhorns ● Cherry● 2 Pea shrubs ● Fig Misc ● Medlar● 2 Olives ● Mulberry
  • 15. Element: Food forest berries● Blueberry ● Lingonberry● Goumi ● Kinnick-kinnick● Autumn Olive ● Rasberry● Silverberry ● Blackberry● Salal ● Japanese wineberry● Evergreen huck● Serviceberry● Darwinian Barberry● Goji berry● Gooseberry● Red/white/black currant● Chilean guava
  • 16. Element: Food forest Vines● Kiwis ● Hardy ● Fuzzy ● Arctic beauty● Maypop passionflower● Grape● Akebia● Air potato● Cinnamon Vine
  • 17. Element: Food forest Herbaceous Understory● Theoretical polyculture assigned to each tree● Very experimental: little experience with most of the desired herbaceous plants● N-fixers, nutrient accumulators, beneficial insectaries, aromatic pest confusers, ground covers, plus direct yields for us
  • 18. Element: Sun Garden● Mostly perennial veggies: low maintenance, soil building, habitat creation, & nutritious diversity● Some annuals for things w/o perennial subs (tomatoes, melons, squash, etc)● Main greens growing area● ~ 1000 ft² including paths● Circular layout w/wide keyhole beds
  • 19. Sun garden design
  • 20. Element: Chickens ● Kept since summer 2006 ● Backyard as playground ● Integrated into food forest ● Fed dumpstered food ● Mainly for eggs, but eat them as they age or die ● Goal to feed them onsite
  • 21. Element: Bees● Kept since spring 2006● 2 colonies each spring● Langstroth & Top Bar hives● Minimal maintenance● Usually 1+ die each winter● Restock w/volunteers or captured swarms● Harvesting ~30 lbs/year from dead colonies
  • 22. Element: Food preservation● Eat fresh in season● Staggered yields● Storable foods – nuts, seeds, honey, eggs● Solar dehydration – fruits, berries, fungi● Wood stove dehydration – fall crops● Fermentation● Limited canning● Root cellar● Small livestock
  • 23. Element: Rainwater● Soil primary catchment; we added ~9,000 gallons by adding 8-9” topsoil and removing driveway● New metal roof● Ecoroofs will catch, hold, & use some rainwater● One or two ~5000 gallon water tanks● Mulch to conserve water● Perennial plants
  • 24. Element: Rainwater● Little implemented so far● Sunspace ecoroof drains fill 3 backyard bath tubs, ~150 gallons storage● Front porch drain will fill 2 55 gallon rainbarrels then ~300 gallon pond● Carport & garage roofs will irrigate plants in hedgerow. Could fill some rainbarrels first● 5 gal. buckets as stopgap
  • 25. Element: Greywater● Bathtub, kitchen & bathroom sinks: ~20? gallons/day into mini wetland (buried hot tub filled with gravel)● ~50%?? overflows into buried bathtub – clean water for irrigation● Laundry to Landscape ~30 gallons/week
  • 26. Element: Aquaculture● Very simple, no pumps/greenhouses/ etc. desired● Aquatic plants – wapato, cattail, etc● Aquatic floaters – duckweed & azolla for livestock● Fish – Gambusia & goldfish for humans & livestock
  • 27. Element: Fuel wood● Not based on hard numbers, just hope● Coppice for firewood ● Black locust ● Elaeagnus ● Hazel ● Chestnut? ● Mulberry? ● Paulownia new planting● Woody prunings for rocket stove
  • 28. Element: Hot water● Not implemented● 160 ft² solar water panels● Solar pump: water into insulated pondliner box (plywood) under house● City water flows thru 300 of 1” PEX in tank (12 gallons storage)● Excess thermosiphons (or pumped) into radiant floor tubing● Wood stove can heat water
  • 29. Element: House heating● Passive solar sunspace w/thermal mass● Bathtubs add some reflected light/heat● Minimize winter tree shade● Wood stove – should really be a rocket stove● Lots of insulation, ~R30 avg all around● Windows all insulated
  • 30. Element: House cooling● Summer shade, winter sun ● Black locusts east side ● Black walnut SW corner ● Grapes on south trellis● Ventilation● Sunspace thermal mass● Cold water through radiant floor pipes
  • 31. Element: House lighting● Sunspace● Bathtubs add light● Windows in most rooms● Privacy window between sunspace & bathroom● Mostly living with sun● Headlamps w/solar battery charger● Considered light tubes, but very expensive
  • 32. Mistakes, Problems, & Adjustments
  • 33. Design mistakes Problems● Not designing rotating ● SLUGS chicken paddocks ● Mushroom logs dried out● No ducks ● Nettles overwhelmed Ribes● Omitting nursery area ● Raspberry die off● Omitting secure material ● Kiwi establshment (arctic, handling zone hardy, & fuzzy)● Pawpaws in driveway ● Olives dead● N-fixers not necessary ● Yellowhorns weak ● Chilean guavas freeze● Planting garlic w/drought intolerant plants ● Salal & evergreen hucks dry● Assumed cold winter east ● Path maintenance-depends wind on woodchips ● Lack of security ● Lonely for community
  • 34. Adjustments● Planned for 1000s of ● Minor shrub changes gallons in water tanks but: ● Bamboo shoehorned in ● Too much space required ● Mulberry not planted ● Not economical after ~400 until fall 2010 gallons per 1000 ft² roof area ● Even fewer annuals ● 100% gravity feed difficult than orig. expected ● Rely on Bull Run ● Ongoing experiments watershed as giant gravity herbaceous perennials fed system ● All new polycultures● Outdoor kitchen moved ● Food balance (greens● House expanded extra 2 vs roots vs berries etc)
  • 35. Results: Accomplishments Meeting our needs● No fossil fuels for heat (but most wood imported)● Minimal gas for cooking (rocket stove would eliminate natural gas dependency)● No need for sewer● Garden goes til June w/o needing imported water● 675 calories, 40 mins maintenance & harvest per day ● Should scale well as fruit & nut trees begin bearing ● Ducks will add low-maint. high-efficiency calories ● Many calories from animal products imported from off-site
  • 36. Results: Accomplishments Meeting needs of others● Habitat creation & support of biodiversity ● More & new insects, spiders, soil critters ● More bird activity ● More worms, richer soil ● More trees & woody growth● Educational model – tours & classes● Source of seeds & plants for others
  • 37. Results: Food Harvest calories 2% 2% 3% 4% 5% Roots27% Animal products Greens 10% Fruit Berries Seeds Flowers & Buds Other 48%
  • 38. Results: target harvest calories 5% 12% 1% 2% 5% Roots Animal products Fruit Berries Nuts & Seeds 25%30% Greens Other veggies Mushrooms Squash 8% 12%
  • 39. Results: Harvests Meeting needs Importing● Greens & other veggies ● Meat - ~ ½ lb/day● Roots in winter (summer ● Milk roots scarce) ● Fats: veggie, butter, bear● Berries (close, anyway) ● Eggs in laying gaps● Honey (but may grow scarcer in future) ● Foraged fruits & nuts● Eggs (mostly offsite feed)
  • 40. Results: Greens harvest by month● Way more greens than we need in mid to late spring Ounces greens per day 25● Dwindles in summer, especially without irrigation 20● Picks up again in fall 15● Falls off cliff w/ hard freeze 10● Available through winter, but takes longer to harvest 5● Picking up in early spring 0● These #s affected by our April June August October February December April immersion in house project
  • 41. Results: Animal products calories 1% 12% Eggs - 184 kcal per day Honey - 95 kcal per day Chicken Squirrel & Rat 30%58%
  • 42. Results: Root harvest calories 6% 4% 5% Jerusalem artichoke 5% Garlic Potato Skirret45% Mashua 7% Elephant garlic Dandelion Yacon 7% Other 9% 12%
  • 43. Results: Root harvest by month● Abundant from late fall til early spring Calories of roots per day 400● Scarce in summer, 350 besides garlic in August 300● Potatoes comprise much 250 of summer harvest 200 150 100 50 0 June October February April August December April
  • 44. Results: Food preservation ● Much solar dehydration (mostly off-site fruit) ● Cherries dry on tree ● “Garden scrap kim chee” ● Created root cellar ● Freezer for bulk meat purchases ● Fridge - often “where food goes to die” ● Easier w/more ppl to eat perishables
  • 45. Results: Conditioning & cooking● Well burn ~1.5 cords wood this season - would need 1.5 acres to grow (!)● House heating projects incomplete: insulation, sunspace windows, solar hot water● Should use rocket stoves to heat & cook plus hayboxes● Cooking J. artichokes eats wood● Drying laundry eats wood● Body acclimatization to cold temps helps a lot● Run fan sometimes in summer, but not necessary● Dress appropriately!
  • 46. Results: Lighting● Havent installed all planned windows yet● Sunspace doesnt allow as much light into kitchen as hoped during gray winter. Does great on sunny days.● Havent adapted to living w/sun – still use electric lights● Headlamps alone for artificial light would work● Havent really tested ability of solar battery charger to keep up in winter
  • 47. Results: Summary Self-sufficiency Sustainable● X Food (can feed 1/3 of a ● √ Giving back to the land person) more than we take● X Water ● Not dependent on civilization after● X Heating establishment (will always● √ Cooling depend on water supply) No pollution (could get there X Cooking ●● by not buying packaged● Lighting (close) food) Waste treatment (still √ Create habitat – support● ● generate garbage, especially from house project) wildlife, bees, birds, insects
  • 48. The Future
  • 49. Future theoretical possibilities● Could maybe feed one person● Could meet heating & cooking needs by implementing all strategies and living with whatever temperature is possible – 50s?● Could meet all other goals except water self sufficiency
  • 50. Future yields● Fruit trees may yield ~350 lbs/year● Berries may yield ~200 lbs/year● Walnuts & filberts may yield ~80 lbs, chestnuts 10 lbs/year
  • 51. Future development: Meat● Ducks! ● Live under front porch ● Free range front yard ● Eat slugs● Rabbits ● Live on roof w/access to ecoroof ● Feed alfalfa, black locust, comfrey, paulownia● Trap or shoot squirrels● Expand chicken fodders
  • 52. Future development: Seed crops● Plant 15+ Oikos Tree Crops dwarf oaks for human & poultry acorns● Grow more fennel seed● Breed Good King Henry for seed production● Experiment w/perennials for humans or poultry● Legume seeds (favas, peas, runner beans...)
  • 53. Future development: Root crops● Adjust seasonal balance ● Cinnamon vine bulbils ● Yellow asphodel ● More summer potatoes● Diversify● Develop polycultures ● Mashua & jerusalem art & chinese art. or silverweed ● Lily & chinese artichoke ● Oca & lily & yellow asphodel ● Oca & skirret & potato ● Skirret & garlic● Grow for poultry
  • 54. Cities: Implications● If can feed one person & fuel one house from our lot, then Portland can support ~280,000 ppl.● Currently ~600k ppl.● So everyone needs to do what were doing, only do a better job of it, and kick out more than ½ the population.● Our conclusion...
  • 55. Conclusion: Lets move to Hawaii!● No need to heat or cool● Dont even need clothes● Fill our shorts with wild avocados instead