Saturday, March 13, 2010


After weeks of discussion, debate, and intensive research, we have finally made the decision that we will indeed be creating a completely self-sustaining home on our piece of ground outside Knysna. Well, actually that’s stretching the truth just a little bit, as we will still be buying some necessities such as toilet paper and olive oil, but we will be self-sufficient with respect to water, energy, waste management and will grow most of our own food requirements. This was a daunting concept before we started doing the research, but it’s even more daunting now that we know exactly what will be required! However, it makes sense to us to “go green” from the very beginning rather than trying to gradually implement it afterwards. This means that we will be designing our new home from scratch to be as energy-efficient as possible, with self-sufficiency in mind. Below is a list of just some of the systems we will be installing:

- A solar heated geyser
- Solar panels and battery array for electricity requirements
- A rainwater collection and pump system
- A grey water treatment system and storage tank, linked to a drip irrigation system for our vegetable garden (no more Jik, Handy Andy or Sunlight liquid – only biodegradable, environmentally friendly options permitted)
- A small black water system for the kitchen sink
- A complete recycling system for paper, metal, glass, plastic and organic material comprising hatches in the kitchen, linked to chutes and bins in the basement (there is no garbage removal in the forest!) We do anticipate that we will be generating far less waste than we currently do, as our food will mostly be provided by our garden rather than by the corner Woolies and we will be reusing containers.
- Compost heaps and a worm farm
- Composting loos (we simply cannot justify the wastage of precious water resources required for a flushing loo, but, I must admit, this decision was very difficult for me to take)
- Solar-powered electrified fencing to protect the veggie garden from baboons
- An aeration and biofilter system for the dams to ensure the water doesn’t get stagnant or become a mosquito breeding ground and also to ensure the survival of the fish we will be growing for another protein source

Of course all this infrastructure is rather costly and hence the house we are building will be a really simple timber home, with a focus on optimal layout and efficiency. We have considered the possibility of building a packed earth house or even using recycled material to build the home, but I guess that’s where I put my foot down. I’m not particularly keen on living in a Hobbit-house or a rabbit hutch! I really want my home to be both beautiful and functional and I’ve always had a romantic attachment to the idea of a timber cottage in the forest.

The good part about all this is that, once the systems are installed and operational, we will have very minimal further input costs, other than routine maintenance. As we will be actively involved in the installation process, we will ensure that we understand how the systems operate so as to reduce our dependence on outside contractors for maintenance services in future.

I have also been planning my veggie garden and learning all about companion planting and intercropping and pest management strategies so as to ensure that we can grow 100% organic veggies.

This is becoming a very exciting and rather frightening adventure, as we venture ever further down the self-sufficiency rabbit hole. But those who know us well will not be at all surprised to discover that we aren’t particularly good at doing things by half-measures!

Our home has now been sold at a very good price. We are pleased that we held out and were not tempted to reduce the price in order to make a quicker sale. We plan to visit the property in Knysna within the next few weeks to start engaging with the builders and the suppliers of all the systems we require so as to do a complete detailed costing and project plan. We will probably be moving to the guest cottage on the neighbours’ land within the next 2 months so as to commence the building of our dream.

And so the journey continues..

For those interested – a quick update on Twiggy the stick insect:
Twiggy stayed with us for about 3 months. For a while she was joined by another smaller stick insect that we named Stalky. We thought that perhaps the insect grapevine had spread the word about the stick insect Utopia in our home and that we could expect to have an ever-increasing colony of stick insects taking up residence in our house.

But no, Twiggy was merely training her successor. After about 5 days Twiggy disappeared and we have not seen her since (we suspect she has subsequently moved on to stick insect heaven), but now Stalky has taken up residence in the ivy in the jug on the bedstand. So, Mother Nature has insured that we always have insect company. At night, when the lights are out, Stalky starts to feed. You would be amazed to hear how noisy stick insect mandibles pulverizing ivy can be! How privileged we are to experience this.

Next: Ego Revisited

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