Lisa Brunette

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since Apr 29, 2020
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Midwestern USA, Zone 6b
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Recent posts by Lisa Brunette

I give this book 10 out of 10 acorns.

My husband and I have benefited so much from 'A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen' that I invited Kate Downham to serve as a guest author for Brunette Gardens, and we also gave away a paperback copy of her book (we host one giveaway each season for paid subscribers).

As I said in my review of the book:

While there are plenty of sources out there—you can watch endless sourdough-making videos on YouTube, take fermentation classes, and Google ‘elderberry recipes’ ‘til the cows come home—it’s the rare source that cuts through all the noise and delivers practical, time-tested techniques based on a real, honest-to-goodness life of homesteading. A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen is that rare source.

I’ll give you one example of how not all homesteading tips are the same: The conventional wisdom on making jellies and jams is to use copious amounts of white sugar and pectin. Kate’s method, on the other hand, sidesteps both, harkening back to a time before we instituted those modern crutches—at the expense of our health.

Kate's guest post is called, "How I started homesteading without any land," and that's just right for us permies.

I also wrote about my personal experience (and great joy) using her sourdough "pre-ferment" technique to a) bake sourdough more quickly and with less hassle and b) digest it more easily in the piece, "The magic of the sourdough 'pre-ferment.'"

Thanks to Kate for writing this book in the first place and for her gracious participation in our giveaway, and thanks to Permies for introducing me to Kate.

Seriously, I don't know what you're waiting for if you haven't already read this book. Go get a copy, now!

3 weeks ago

Jane Mulberry wrote:This is such a complicated question! I would love to travel by train within Europe to reduce the environmental cost, but when train travel costs more than ten times a flight, the personal financial cost makes it not an option! Best is to travel as little as possible. I did recently fly a 3 hour flight, and chose the airline that had the lowest carbon burden for the trip.

But car (or other land transport) vs plane is an issue for sure, and sometimes our assumptions about what's best for the planet can be wrong!

Jane, we have the same problem with the relatively high cost of train travel when looking at a trip out West, further than we have the time and wherewithal to drive. We'd much rather take the train than fly, but it's 2-3X the cost.
2 months ago

Anne Miller wrote:I have only made a couple of trips by plane.

It is convenient for business.

For vacations to places in the US, you miss a lot of the scenery when traveling by plane:

2 months ago

Douglas Alpenstock wrote:Dunno. The math seems a bit thin to apply across the board.

As I understand it, the holy grail of the permaculturistae mindset is to negate the need to travel as much as possible, across the board. That's the best case. That's the most efficient option.

But travel is sometimes necessary and worthwhile. I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation a while ago to figure out how much biochar I needed to produce to offset a 1.5 hour flight vs. a 12 hour drive. The flight actually needed less, in this case. It was quite a lot of char, measured by weight. (And I didn't believe that a $3.00 offset was anything other than bullshit.)

It's pretty hard to do a full accounting. Tire wear and road wear and supply chains and fuel consumption and the embodied energy of all the hardware and infrastructure involved -- gracious heavens, I throw myself upon the mercy of the court.

Could you elaborate on where the math seems "thin" to you? And how you would make it "thicker"?
2 months ago

John C Daley wrote:I am surprised that you bought so much 'take away' food.
I would always carry food and  or make sandwiches etc. Which I am guessing would be moere permi like.

Not really sure what you mean. We brought as much food as we could from our garden, ate sandwiches we made both there and on the way back. But if we're playing the "who's more of a permie" contest, then I cede to you.
2 months ago

My husband and I recently opted to road trip cross-country rather than fly after calculating both a) the carbon footprint of travel by car vs. by plane and b) the relative cost of each.

It was a big deal to us to make the switch, as neither of us had been on more than a day trip by car in 20 years.

Having done the calculations, and now completed the trip, I have to say that car travel is more squarely permaculture-appropriate than air travel. While there is an even greater advantage if you can do so by electric or at least hybrid vehicle (ours is a hybrid Toyota Prius), the advantage holds regardless.

We've written this up as two articles:

Driving the point home - on the CO2 calculations
Podcast version if you rather listen.

The cost of travel in the slowpocalypse - on the $$ comparison
Podcast version.

Before running the numbers, I hadn't realized there was such a clear advantage to driving. As a former environmental activist and longtime green enthusiast, I think I had totally absorbed the ideology that cars are evil. Or maybe that was a handy self-delusion to support my preference for air travel, when really it was just more convenient, less time-consuming... and kind of a stature thing as well for me. I'm willing to cop to all of that.

Questions for fellow permies: As you've adopted the permaculture mindset, are you opting to travel by car instead of flying? What is the future of travel in a post-limits world? What place does travel have in permaculture?
2 months ago

Carrie Graham wrote:

 I sense you are somewhat intimidated.  The intro system at Harbor Freight, though overpriced per watt, is still a complete basic system.  Even my fancy internet-monitored system is basically exactly the same thing at its core.   I suggest you might purchase or at least study one of those to see how easy it really is to familiarize yourself with a solar electric system installation. Play around with it. Add some stuff, use it as a generator, try to envision the possibilities.

How about option 2.5?
Do the panel part yourself (or oversee a handyman or teenager)  and hire an electrician to do the final connection to the house for you.  The actual connectors are very low voltage, small wires and look similar to plugging in a phone or computer.  For several reasons, even though I have a roof system, I do not suggest that as a first choice. Panels that are easy to get to are easier to clean every so often. Start with a design like that.  

An optimal system in my opinion would be a south-facing carport system that eventually charges an electric car. The car can serve as a generator for the house, the expensive part of the generator is already in the car.  Backup batteries would need to be stored and charged inside the house, as batteries don't do as well in extreme cold or heat. More panels could be added for the house or built into the south facing part of the house, but I really think they need to be designed in so they are accessible for easy cleaning from the start.  Not so you have to pay a company or suffer decreased output. Or maybe inexpensive cleaning drones will be marketed soon.

I am also not sure why more people don't get together and purchase solar panels in bulk for projects.  That would save them a great deal.  

I have had no breakdown cost so far in 6 years nor do I see any. I did replace one warrantied controller on a panel.  



I don't know if it's "intimidation" so much as feeling outright thwarted by the reality of limitations: of our site, our budget, resources, and capabilities. The professional solar companies have deemed our roof not well-suited to solar. We're in a suburban area, entirely on-grid, with zoning restrictions that preclude off-roof solar arrays, plus we lack the space (whoever suggested we build a garage/carport and put the panels on that roof, same issue there). It looks like our current home might not support what we want to do.

We are also engaged in a long-term decision whether to move to a more rural/small-town area with more acreage, and in that case, we could possibly have the freedom to experiment more. But doesn't that then suggest that solar in the suburbs, if not possible for us, might not be possible for many people? For example, our south corner is blocked by the adjacent four-family apartment building, which is a mere 6' clearance. We don't even have windows on that side of the house on the main floor, as they'd just look out onto a brick wall.

My husband and I really like the example of Morris Dovey's passive solar system linked to above... but building something like that ourselves is outside our skill set, even if we were to move to a location where it would be possible.

There's a lot to consider, but this thread is full of great info. Thanks again, everyone!
2 months ago

Trace Oswald wrote:Solar heat definitely seems to be the way to go in my mind.  Morris Dovey has effectively solved the heating issue for people to a very large degree with his plans to build solar heaters.  They have no moving parts, can be built DIY, and are not expensive.  Other people have created similar units, but not as elegantly, and not completely passively with no moving parts whatsoever.  It took him 8 years to perfect.  A fascinating story.  

His article can be found The Zen of Passive Solar Heating .  Warning upfront - there is a lot of information about heat, and the details are somewhat complex.


Thanks for this source. My husband and I have started to dig into Dovey's passive heating system, and it's really fascinating, with no moving parts or electricity lines. So cool!
2 months ago

Steve Marquis wrote:There's a brilliant how-to on solar in Lonny Grafman's (free to download) book To Catch the Sun – full of inspiring stories of communities coming together to harvest their own sunshine, and how you can do it too to create your own renewable resource.

He has another on water systems (to catch the

Thanks! Just ordered a free digital copy.
2 months ago
Thanks, everyone! Really useful information, especially some of those links, videos, and examples.

It's hard not to get discouraged or feel a bit overwhelmed, as the commentary seems to break solar into two options:

1. Pay for a professionally installed system. This comes with a high cost, and depending on your solar "fitness," (roof and house position, climate, etc.), it won't pencil out.

2. Go DIY. This is the more cost-effective option, and it's great permies ethos, as you're empowered to do the work. BUT, it requires some training or self-study in electrical tech, specifically in solar, which is rarer, since most focus on traditional electrical systems. The risk is that you get it wrong and incur more cost fixing it, or even start a fire or other hazard. I don't possess enough background in this stuff to understand some of the back-and-forth comments in this very thread, unfortunately.

I guess there could be a third option, which is to barter/trade your skill set with someone who has a solar tech skill set. I don't know anyone who does, but it would be a good option if I did!

2 months ago