permaculture 2: catch and store energy

DSCF5408These pretty little primulas have nothing to do with today’s post, I just felt in need of some spring-like colour and cheeriness.

I’m a little late with February’s permaculture principles post (ok, three weeks late, but let’s not worry about that). This time I want to talk about the second principle: catch and store energy.

This principle says make hay while the sun shines. In permaculture circles it’s often used to refer to capturing heat from the sun by building houses with lots of windows, or capturing rainwater to use later in the garden, or preserving fruit or even cheese when there is lots available to eat later when fresh things are scarce.

DSCF4205The basic premise is:

By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need (from here)

I’ve thought about this quite a bit lately – not in relation to capturing heat from the sun (although it has been rather chilly round here and some extra warmth wouldn’t go amiss), but in relation to my own personal energy.

I don’t work full time any more, but I still work four days a week, and on two of those days I’m out of the house for nearly 13 hours, including four hours of travelling. I have a regular commitment one evening a week (usually one of the days I’m also travelling to work), and I am involved in two voluntary projects that take varying levels of time and energy, whether that’s replying to emails, meetings in the pub or shovelling compost. My flute lessons have dropped back to an hour a fortnight, but for the last few months they’ve been two hours a week, and our flute choir meets for an entire morning once a month too. Then there’s running (er, sometimes), gardening, house-related things (occasionally), and that’s without ordinary socialising and time to myself.

Sometimes it feels like I don’t have much energy left.

DSCF5372When I’m having a busy week, some things inevitably slip. I stay up late, get up late, and end up getting the bus to the train station rather than walking. Sometimes I’m so late I don’t get chance to eat breakfast, so I buy it at the station. If I’ve been out the night before, I won’t have made lunch to take to work, so I buy it in a cafe. Sometimes I’m so tired when I come in from work that I don’t have the energy to start cooking, so I eat cereal for tea. That doesn’t help with longer term energy levels I’m sure.

If I dash in from work then out again ten minutes later, I’m likely to throw my bag on the kitchen floor, discard clothes in the bathroom, and scatter things everywhere in my haste. Then when I come back it’s late, and I don’t want to tidy up, and it gets harder and harder to find things, so more things get scattered, and so it goes on (please tell me I’m not the only one!)

The point of this sob story isn’t to make you feel sorry for me – I bring everything on myself by taking on too many things at once, and quite clearly I need to learn how to say ‘no’ (or at least ‘not right now’). The point is that I could make things easier for myself by catching my energy when I have it, and using it in times of need.

In the past I’ve spent entire evenings cooking rice and dried beans to put in the freezer, meaning when I get in tired and hungry, a decent meal only takes a few minutes to prepare. I’ve not done this for a while though. Sometimes I try and try to make flapjacks for quick and mobile breakfasts, but they’re just so tasty we often eat all of them before the next morning (oh dear!)

One habit I have got into is getting my bag ready for work the night before, and deciding what clothes to wear. I’m uselessly indecisive in the mornings, and have been known to miss my train trying to decide which tights to put on (try explaining that one at work). Taking those few minutes in the evening, even when I don’t feel like it, makes all the difference. Now I just need to add in preparing lunch too.

There are other things this principle applies to as well. Saving money is the obvious one – whether that’s putting aside a regular amount for a rainy day, or making small savings (which quickly add up) by shopping around, buying second hand, and fixing things rather than buying new. My success at this varies too – I saved a lot when working full time, and my £2 coin stash has reached £62 again now (after the first £100 was shared between my credit union account and charity). Most of my clothes are second hand, and I at least put things in piles to fix rather than throwing them away, but lately I’ve found myself losing patience with shopping around, and instead buying the most convenient thing (not necessarily a bad thing, but spending more means working more in the long term, and that’s something I’d like to avoid).

The other thing this principle makes me think of is not putting things off until tomorrow. If you have the opportunity and the energy to do something, do it now – tomorrow you might be tired, or full of cold, or someone might invite you out for the day and it would be nice to say yes without wishing you’d done whatever-it-was yesterday. I’m not entirely sure about this – sometimes the very thing is to ignore something until tomorrow. But today I spent two hours collecting and delivering compost for the community garden, and while it was hard work and so cold, I’m glad I did because it turns out we’re due yet more snow tomorrow.

DSCF5420Perhaps the thing to take away from this principle is that if you want to slow down, perhaps work less, make life easier for yourself, it takes some forethought and a bit of preparation. You can’t use your own handmade soap if you didn’t spend an evening making it six weeks ago, and two minutes before you leave for work is not the time to be thinking about making lunch.

DSCF0881That said, you don’t have to spend all your time preparing. Throwing home grown rhubarb and tomatoes straight in the freezer just as they are is much better than letting them rot because you didn’t quite get round to preserving them ‘properly’. Taking some of your lunch to work is better than taking none (or so I keep telling myself).

After all this pondering, there are a few things I’d like to do:

(1) spend a couple of hours each week batch cooking, and making sure I have lunches for work

(2) get to the end of the washing basket (this has been known to happen in the past, very occasionally)

(3) buy a water butt for the garden

I reckon that’s enough to be getting on with this month.

What about you? How do you store energy (of whatever kind) when you have it? Are you a Batch Cooker Extraordinaire? Do you always manage to take lunch to work? Do you save all your waste water for the garden? Do you get ahead when you feel really motivated to give yourself a bit of slack when you don’t? What else does this principle make you think about?

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11 Responses to permaculture 2: catch and store energy

  1. Robyn says:

    Oh this is SO not only you! I’ll cheerfully admit that the ONLY reason I take lunch to work every day is because MrEH makes it, but on the other hand the only reason HE takes breakfast, or doesn’t eat a large bowl of cornflakes for dinner sometimes, is because I sort those meals out, so I guess we’re fairly even there? Batch cooking – definitely – and I too must get back to cooking up a big pot of beans to freeze in portions – amazing how handy having those little pots there is, isn’t it.

    • Well, Peter’s now offered to make me packed lunches, so I anticipate lunchtime culinary delight from now on, hooray! I’m in tonight actually – might cook up some of the dried bean mountain – it really does make a difference!

  2. lynda kling says:

    Wow! You described me to a T…! My mother has cancer and we are all doing shifts of care for her at her house. I am often here 16 hours a day (including overnight.. ). Yesterday was a completely crazy day of running around trying to catch up, hubby sick in bed -after he did a 16 hour shift- caring for neighbors animals as well as ours, ….you know the drill…At 6:30 pm I finally turned the oven on to start dinner, when I looked at the calendar to realise I had a chicken seminar that was to start in 20 minutes in a town 20 minutes away..I grsbbed my pillow andf flew out the door ( turned oven off.)…after seminar, stopped at McDonalds, only thing open for my dinner…greasy lump now in my stomach…as I drove to mom’s to relieve my brother…I hear you loud and clear and w ill re-read your post and try to do better..thanks for the timely reminders. It is greatly appreciated…if I could only squeeze in 10 minutes for a shower…!

  3. Michelle says:

    Very thought-provoking post. Many a time (be honest, every morning!) I rush around getting ready for work and think “why didn’t I sort out lunch/clothes etc last night?”. And I recognise that cycle of putting things off but then not feeling up to doing them later, or not being in the mood to cook so just having cereal. And then I see a post like the one above, from someone who clearly has good reason for not always being able to find time to make tea, for example – really puts things into perspective! I have no excuses – I’m just lazy! I will also re-read the post and see if I can apply the ideas to my own life to give me some personal energy back. And to the lady above, best wishes to your mother.

  4. Your post could be me. I am one of those that can’t say “no” either so seem to be constantly running around.

    One way i try to get things done is I try to use “wasted” time and put it to good use. For example I hang the washing up on the Airer/take it off while I’m in the kitchen cooking tea. Dylan (my toddler) is too young to be left in the bath on his own but likes his independence so I clean the bathroom while he’s in there, I do the ironing while DH is catching up on work in the evenings.

    These are all times where I would just be sitting/standing around not doing anything so I put it to good use. Batch cooking is very useful or us too – keeps us out of the takeaway!!

    And do let us know how you got on with your flute exam x

    • Good work with using the ‘wasted’ time! One thing I *do* do is potter round and tidy the kitchen while the kettle boils – it’s a whistling one on the gas hob so it takes ages – since I make about 4 million cups of tea a day I could probably use some of that time making lunches!

      (oh, and thanks for asking about the exam – I passed 🙂 More details when I get the proper comments 🙂

  5. Maria says:

    I can relate to some of this as well!!! The busier I get, the untidier the house gets, usually until either a)I have a weekend day off and have a massive tidying session or b) (VERY infrequently) I decide to do some late night tidying because it’s really just Too Much.

    I’m afraid I don’t have any tips really – batch cooking seems to be a popular one. In terms of saving time & energy, for us having a big weekly supermarket shop delivered works well – it means I can top up on fresh veg/milk/what have you during the week, but don’t have to do a massive shop’n’lug on the bus at the weekend.

    I have to confess the only thing other than that which consistently works for me is being happy with doing less! Which I have to work on as a work-in-progress – I am more likely to try to do too much and over-exhaust myself than anything else, and then I become unappealingly grumpy…
    I have to confess I’m amazed at how much you cram in on top of work!

  6. e says:

    @lynda kling … mcdonalds & a 10 minute shower …

    nuff said

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