Instead of the blue water barrels seen beside many local homes, the water catchment system at a Woodstock house on S.E. 50th Avenue, north, of Raymond Street, consists of a yurt-like structure almost as tall as the roof – and big enough to hold 3,000 gallons of rainwater.
This water tank is just one example of how the couple who moved into the house in 2012 has converted their 60- by 120-foot lot into a showcase for permaculture and sustainability.
Before Zane Ingersoll purchased the ranch house, on a block of tidy mid-century Woodstock houses – some of them with flat roofs like his – it had been in foreclosure. The yard was mostly neglected lawn, with a sweetgum tree out front.
From the start, Ingersoll and his partner Marisha Auerbach aimed to set an example. They wanted to show how to minimize the negative environmental impacts of urban living and to maximize the positive.
Their lives now revolve largely around their house. In the process, they are extrapolating from their experiences, and applying them educationally via Auerbachs classes on permaculture, her herbal website, and their travels to permaculture conferences in places like Belize and Cuba.
Theyre proving its possible for a households energy needs to come from the sun – for most if not all of the meat, eggs, vegetables, and fruit they consume to come from a typical urban-sized yard, and for soil to maintain fertility without artificial fertilizers and pesticides, as long as the chickens and rabbits in their enclosures are rotated throughout the garden.
Fruit trees benefit from having chickens underneath, Auerbach explained. The coddling moths from the fruit trees are eaten by the chickens.
The transformation from unremarkable house and yard to a small-footprint house and farm is nearly complete. After laying out the yard in zones, putting big sheets of cardboard over the lawn, spreading wood chips, combining straw bales, cow manure, and composted organic fertilizers, and then planting vegetable seeds and fruit trees, the back yard is now grown thick with plants.
We started with inputs – for example, cow manure – and were closing the loop, and don't need to bring in manure, Auerbach said.
In a hutch in one corner, the rabbits, bred for food, are fed from the cover crop grains in the garden, and their pellets are spread around the raised beds – which were once the straw bales that are now decomposed.
I hadnt eaten rabbit until last year, Auerbach remarked, explaining that she stews the dense high-protein rabbit meat in a slow cooker. They eat meat, including chicken, about once a week.
Almost everything in the yard is edible, Auerbach said. We want this demonstration to be approachable by the mainstream, using sustainable practices and considering ecological choices.
In their view, its not so out-of-the-mainstream that the gas line that formerly fed the natural gas furnace in the house now serves as a garden trellis for their beans.
Because Ingersoll believes fracking for natural gas is environmentally destructive, he decided to get rid of the homes aging gas furnace. Recalling several days of high air pollution in the winter, Ingersoll said he also decided against burning wood, and simply closed up the fireplace.
The house has now been insulated, has new windows, and it has seven south-facing solar panels attached to part of the roof. The remaining space is slated for a roof garden, which is possible because the house has been reinforced to withstand the weight of a green roof.
With all the upgrades, the pairs electric bill averages just $18 a month. They own a freezer, which is packed with their own frozen food, but no refrigerator. They dont need one, Ingersoll said: We eat whats fresh from the garden throughout the year. Which may or may not be good news for the rabbits.