Have Traded Dryer for Food

I try to check our electrical power usage occasionally, just to make sure we’re on the right track with our energy consumption. Monitoring our power use gives me one more “sanity check” on the work we do here at Longleaf Breeze, to make sure nothing’s dramatically out of kilter.

I was particularly interested in checking it today, because beginning about the middle of August, we made two big changes in the way we use electricity:

  1. We began using the clothesline almost exclusively to dry our clothes, doing away with the power consumption of our electric dryer. I didn’t know what this would save us on our power bill but hoped the savings would be about $10-15 per month.
  2. We began aggressive use of drip irrigation to counteract the historic drought we have been experiencing here in Alabama this summer. I had no idea what additional power it would consume.

The irrigation system uses water pumped from our 228-foot well. Right now we’re watering all three zones (Veg Hill East, Veg Hill West, and the blueberries and beds) with three hours each, two times per week. My rough calculations tell me that’s about 3400 gallons of water per week that we’re pumping. Some of that is replacement; that is, we’re pumping drip irrigation water instead of running a sprinkler. But no matter how tirelessly Amanda schlepped her sprinklers and hoses, there was a severe limit to how much water we could distribute through two sprinklers, so we know most of that is new usage.

So it was with both excitement and dread that I began my review this morning. But I needn’t have worried. Move along, folks. Nothing to see here. No big change. Our usage his increased a little, perhaps 5%. But that’s it. Before August 1, there were heavy usage days and light usage days. After August 1, there have been heavy usage days and light usage days. I assume that the heavy usage days before August 1 were those when we used the dryer, and I can confirm that the heavy usage days after August 1 were those when we made heavy use of the drip system (Mondays and Thursdays), but there really hasn’t been much change.

What about air conditioning, you ask? Isn’t it a huge variable that may be distorting these results? Perhaps for most people, but not for us. Both before and after August 1, we turned on our window air conditioner for an hour or so only occasionally, honestly not enough to matter much in our power usage. If there has been any change from air conditioning, there was a slight increase in our usage after August 1, because that’s when the heat index (heat and humidity combined) became so brutal.

What that tells me is that, by hanging out our clothes instead of using the electric dryer, we saved more or less the same amount of energy we consumed pumping water for drip irrigation. I can’t tell you what that figure is, but I assume it’s in that $10-15 per month range that I had calculated several months ago.

What do we have to show for it? When nearly everyone we know has folded his garden tents and gone home, the Farmer-in-Chief is still bringing baskets of food in from Veg Hill every day. Yes, the tomatoes appear to be permanently stunted or maybe just disgruntled; each new fruit set is an occasion for a tiny worship service. But the peppers continue to bear, the herbs are doing well, we’re still enjoying watermelon and cantaloupe, we have what promises to be a great crop of sweet potatoes ready to harvest, we’re beginning now to get lima beans in earnest, the late-season squash and zucchini are claiming new real estate every day, the winter squash and pumpkins are funky and fun, and the okra (we just found out it’s native to Africa) never missed a beat throughout the drought and is still producing well, although it’s finally slowing down as the weather cools.

And that’s before you talk about the wonderful stands of lettuce on row 6, as well as the collards, cabbage, broccoli, kale, and brussels sprouts now under row cover.

Seems a fair trade.

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