Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green From Traditional Japan

Japan’s Edo period found it serving as home to some of the largest cities of the time, and although it ended nearly 150 years ago, its people were faced with the very same issues of resource conservation, food production and population control that the we struggle with today. In Azby Brown’s recently reprinted book, the pragmatic solutions developed by the Japanese people during this time are presented to the reader in a format that is immediately engaging and a joy to read.

Just Enough is a self-professed “book of stories” separated into three sections that take us from the rural landscapes of a forest-dwelling rice farmer to the crowded row-house apartments of a city carpenter, and finally to the dignified formal lodgings of Edo’s samurai districts. In each section we are guided by the author into the lives of the area’s inhabitants and introduced to the way they live as if we were guests in their home, with an eye toward resource conservation at all times. At the end of each section critical points are summarized and reinforced, and throughout the text Brown’s beautiful sketched illustrations and hand-written margin notes bring life to each topic.

The book is packed with information and features an extensive bibliography. While many of the solutions featured may not be directly applicable to life outside the Edo period, they remain fascinating and are usually rooted in ideas that will have value in any time period or environment. Highly recommended to anyone with a remote interest in low-impact living or traditional Japanese culture.

-- Cody Raspen  

Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green From Traditional Japan
Azby Brown
2013, 224 pages
$14

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

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The Japanese have used these pounded earth floors since they began to build three thousand years ago, and the firepits and lashed and thatched roofs bear an identical pedigree. In fact, the doma sometimes goes by the name of niwa, “garden” or “courtyard,” implying that it began as a truly outdoor space. This degree of continuity, with design solutions being continually refined but surviving from neolithic times into the early modern period in clearly recognizable form, is remarkable and probably unprecedented among literate civilizations.

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The kitchen is equipped with a variety of storage shelves, but there are only a few dishes and cooking implements. Good durable dishes must be purchased from specialized craftsmen, such as potters and woodturners, and like most farm families, Shinichi’s tries to use only what they can make themselves, minimizing cash expenditures. Each family member has a bowl, a cup, homemade spoons and chopsticks, and little else. On the other hand, durable storage jars are considered worth the expense of purchase.




Woolzies- Wool Dryer Balls

Woolzies are felt wool drier balls the size of a tennis ball. I have been using them for several months – after purchasing them on Amazon, and trying for the first time, I just keep them in the drier all the time now.

They save quite a bit of energy as the drying time is reduced by 30-40% or so [See note below - Mark]. Woolzies also work better than plastic drier balls: I have noticed a marked difference in the quality and softness of the dried garments.

This product is efficient and environmentally friendly through and through: they’re made of pure wool so no plastic or other chemicals are used to make them. They drastically reduce the time required to dry clothing, they are gentler on the dried fabric, which also comes out softer and almost wrinkle-free.

-- Denis Zaff  

[We use these at home, too. A couple of drops of essential oil (lavender, for instance) make the clothes smell good. A note about drying time from Cool Tools reader Morten Nisker Toppenberg: "I think the science behind the claim to drasticly reduce drying time is somewhat sketchy. "I'm unable to find the any information from the company or other companies making dryerballs on how they come to this result. However a couple of private test pop up: Do dryer balls reduce drying time? | Do Wool Dryer Balls Cut Down on Drying Time? "They seem to suggest that there is little or no effect and describe their method of testing allowing you to replicate the test." - Mark Frauenfelder]

Woolzies- Wool Dryer Balls
$30 / 6-pack

Available from Amazon



The Backyard Homestead

A pretty good introduction to all the homesteading tasks you can do in a small urban space. I found it a bit more helpful than similar tomes like The Urban Homestead. Most of the subjects covered — vegetable gardens, bees, composting, fermenting, animal husbandry — are just scaled down versions of rural homesteading — a huge education that can’t be squeezed into one volume. But this book has a few good ideas that only work in smaller city patios or rooftops.

-- KK  

The Backyard Homestead
Carleen Madigan
2009, 368 pages
$13

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Threshing wheat in a large, clean trash can helps keep the released grains contained.

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Tips for Buying Feeder Pigs

The greatest variety and highest quality of pigs is available in the 40- to 60-pound weight range.
Crossbred pigs are generally more vigorous and faster growing than purebreds.
Male pigs should be castrated and healed.
Buy pigs that have been treated for internal and external parasites.
Buy pigs that are well past the stress and strain of weaning.
Bear in mind that while females (gilts) may grow more slowly than barrows (males), they will generally produce leaner carcasses and can be pushed harder with more nutrient-dense rations.




Practical Bamboos

In our yard we’ve been nursing along some small clumps of bamboo, and since then I’ve been investigating other hardy bamboos. I own a lot of bamboo books, but Practical Bamboos is by far the most useful of all. Other bamboo books are more encyclopedic; this one focuses on “only” the 50 most useful bamboo species, spelling out what types are good for fence rows, which are drought resistant, which work well in containers, and how to identify those variants from lookalikes. There’s very specific growing tips for each variety and solid advice about the principles of growing bamboo plants in general. This is the manual to get.

-- KK  

Practical Bamboos
Paul Whittaker
2010, 176 pages
$16

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

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A selection of bamboo culms showing variation in shape and form.

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Simple division using a saw.




Fantastic Ice Scraper: For More Than Just Ice

Ever since reading about the Fantastic Ice Scraper on Cool Tools, it’s been my go-to ice removal device. I liked it so much that I bought them as gifts for several family members. My mother immediately put it to use as a general-purpose cleaning scraper. I was so impressed with it that I now keep one in the kitchen for cleaning counter tops, glass tables, stove tops and any other hard surface that needs an occasional scrape down. I also keep one in the garage for general scraping and cleaning.

The brass blade is softer than glass and most common metals so it tends not to scratch the surface you are scraping. On painted surfaces (like a stove top) scratching may still be a risk, but it’s probably still safer than using a steel razor blade or even a Brillo pad. I don’t use it on cookware and would not recommend using it on non-stick surfaces.

Perhaps the most fantastic thing about the Fantastic Ice Scraper is the price. At less than $6 on Amazon, it’s affordable enough to keep a few on hand in convenient locations. And when the snow falls you’ll always be prepared to scrape a windshield or two.

-- Scott Lyman  

Fantastic Ice Scraper with Brass Blade
$6

Available from Amazon



Cheap Surgical Brushes

Lee Valley tools sells these cheap plastic disposable nail brushes by the pair for a couple bucks each, or in packs of a dozen for about ten bucks. I believe they’re used as surgical prep brushes. I buy a dozen every few years. I have one or two by the sink in the bathroom and kitchen, a couple in the garden shed, and one for when I do intensive clean-out of our chicken coop. As the catalog copy says, they’re fabulous for cleaning out your nails or for scrubbing dirt off of vegetables. Buy a dozen, and I can guarantee that you’ll find lots of uses for them.

-- Amy Thomson  

Available from Amazon



Just One Club Card

I have carried my Just One Club Card around since 2006. This free site allows you to consolidate up to eight different bar-coded store loyalty cards into a single card that you can print out. Just enter the bar-code numbers in the form and select the store from a pull down menu, and click the “Create your Card” button. Instead of carrying around a bunch of cards in my wallet or key chain, I now have all of them on a thin piece of paper that I’ve laminated with packing tape.

Every time I whip it out to make a purchase it never fails to get a comment from the cashier about what a good idea it is.

-- Jason Tan  

[The FAQ section of the website has a template for a folder with a cut-out window so you can slide the appropriate bar code into view for the scanner at the store you are visiting. Also, the "Create your Card" button is hard to find -- it's between two banner ads at the bottom of the page. -- Mark Frauenfelder]



Worms Eat My Garbage

Worms convert kitchen scraps into high-potency garden fertilizer. In the process they multiply, and can be used for fish bait or for chicken snacks. The worms reduce your trash load. The fancy name for this is “vermicomposting.” It requires little beyond a modified wooden box or plastic tub in the kitchen, basement or backyard. This perennially best-selling, and now up-dated, book will tell you all.

Wormpoop.com is an all-worms site that sells worms (by the pound) and worm poop fertilizer (by the gallon), and worm-raising information and supplies.

-- KK  

Worms Eat My Garbage
Mary Appelhof
1997, 162 pages
$12

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

>From Worms Eat My Garbage

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Whichever you start with, breeders or bedrun, when they produce more worms than the garbage you are feeding them will support, many will get smaller, some will slow reproduction, and others will die. Eventually, no matter how many worms you start with, the population will stabilize at about the biomass that can be supported by the amount of food they receive.

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Any vegetable waste that you generate during food preparation can be used, such as potato peels, grapefruit and orange rinds, outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage, celery ends, and so forth. Plate scrapings might include macaroni, spaghetti, gravy, vegetables, or potatoes. Spoiled food from the refrigerator, such as baked beans, moldy cottage cheese, and leftover casserole also can go into the worm bin. Coffee grounds are very good in a worm bin, enhancing the texture of the final vermicompost. Tea leaves, even tea bags and coffee filters, are suitable.

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Still another method for harvesting worms is the divide and dump technique. You simply remove about two-thirds of your vermicompost and dump it directly onto your garden’s surface. No digging nor turning; no muss, no fuss. Add fresh bedding to the vermicompost still left in the box. Enough worms and cocoons usually remain there to populate the system for another cycle.

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>From Wormpoop.com

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The worm bed is 36″ high (about waist level), reducing stress on the back and legs from bending. This worm bed has four removable partitions for easy access for feeding and harvesting the worms and wormpoop castings (also called Vermicompost). It allows the person working with the worms to do so with less effort. It also helps reduce the workload when harvesting the worms.

Adding Vermicompost to soils aids in erosion control, promotes soil fertility, stimulates healthy root development in plants. This life cycle is the process of things being born, living, dying, and being reborn again. This is nature’s way of recycling and keeping the earth in balance.




3M VHB Heavy Duty Mounting Tape

This product is a game-changer. Goodbye glue, screws, nails, rivets and studs. In the right application, it permanently bonds plastic, fiberglass, porcelain, glass, PVC, wood, cloth, concrete and just about any other material you’re likely to encounter.

Mounting a GPS unit on a car dash? Done. Need to secure a circuit board to a metal rack? No problem. Want to stick together tricky space-age materials, like Velcro to a Kydex knife sheath? Forget about exotic adhesives; use VHB tape (it stands for Very High Bond, by the way).

Don’t mistake this stuff for temporary mounting tape. It forms a PERMANENT bond, and trying to remove it will likely remove the finish on both bonded surfaces.

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-- Douglas Cawley  

3M VHB Heavy Duty Mounting Tape
$36

Available from Amazon



IKEA Ljusa hand powered flashlight

Over the last five years, I have owned a number of hand powered LED flashlights, some of them using a “direct feed” approach (generated electricity is used directly to power the light), others using a rechargeable battery to store the electricity.

My issue with the direct feed type is, that you need to “keep the motion going.” Stop operating the generator it, and you don’t have any light. This means that — for instance — you cannot put the flashlight down if you need both hands to do a job (replacing a defective fuse comes to mind).

The rechargeable battery type tends to work a little bit better, but I’ve yet to find an affordable type where the battery capacity does not start to diminish sharply after a fairly low number of recharge cycles.

Then, when shopping at Ikea a couple of months ago, I came across the LJUSA flashlight. It’s not the nicest looking or smallest flashlight out there, but it does have a number of things going for it: It’s sturdy, quick to charge (wind lever 20-30 times for 1-2 minutes of light), and fairly bright. Furthermore, it uses a capacitor rather than a battery to store electricity, so no more degrading battery capacity. What really blew me away, though, was the price: at €3.99 ($4.99 US) they are a true steal!

I immediately bought a couple for my kids. While I had some initial concerns about the quality of the lever, both flashlights have withstood months of abuse without breaking, and still function as well as the day we bought them. I’ve since been back to Ikea, and have bought a couple of additional units to keep them handy in our car, near our home’s fuse box etc., and have also recommended them to family and friends.

-- Remko Klaassen