Rocket stoves are an incredibly efficient way to burn wood – they burn hot enough that they burn both the wood, and the gases it emits. While people do build them into their houses, I was looking for a simple one for outside for occasional and emergency use. You can build your own, and lots of people do (just google Rocket Stove plans), but I’d had a good one recommended to me, so with Christmas coming up I crossed my fingers and hoped Santa had got my note . . .

Luckily the post did get through, and soon I was happily unwrapping a Stovetec Rocket Stove from Wild Stoves. Rather than try and describe it myself, here is a video review of one in action:


An Esse, not an Aga

An Esse, not an Aga

George Monbiot in the Guardian is launching a campaign against the Aga. He reasons that they use a ridiculous amount of oil, and generate an obscene level of CO2. I have to say that I’m with him on this. You won’t find much about Agas on GentleDescent because once I’d done the basic research and found that you couldn’t get a multi-fuel version I realised they weren’t going to meet my post-peak-oil needs. The decision was helped by articles like this one in The Times about people ditching their Agas


If you’ve heard about peak oil at all then surely putting in an oil-fired Aga is profoundly stupid. It’s OIL-FIRED. So when oil runs short or is out of your price range then what are you left with?  A great useless lump of cast iron, and no heating or cooking options – not very resilient! If you have to buy an Aga then at least get a Gas or Electric version, but realise that you’re doing it as a lifestyle choice, it is not a resilient long-term option.

So what should you get? I’m still working that out! The couple in the Times article went for a wood-fired Esse with a back boiler.  Ive looked at some really beautiful wood fired stoves, and the Rayburn, paired with a Solar Thermal system, but I’ve yet to come to a conclusion.

But what should you do if you do have an oil-fired Aga already? Apparently their re-sale valus is terrible, so I guess if you were feeling optimistic you could convert it to Gas, which may last a little longer, and be a little more environmentally friendly. Twyford do official Aga Gas Conversions. Otherwise? Send it for recycling. And buy a Rayburn (probably).


An interesting one this – a slow cooker based on a thermos. Basically you heat up the pot of food and then pop it into the insulated flask. It’ll keep cooking for eight hours. Think of the energy you save – it only needs to be on the stove for about 20 minutes to cook a whole dinner.

thermos-shuttle-chefHere’s what one actually looks like – the 4.5 litre “Thermos Shuttle Chef” – and you can get them from Amazon for under £80.

A recent thread over at powerswitch unearthed a whole range of really beautiful – and practical – woodburning stoves. Here are some of the pictures, click on them to get more details.

Cucinotta Forno

Cucinotta Forno

Rosetta Maiolica

Rosetta Maiolica

Clearview Pioneer

Clearview Pioneer






While I love the look of the Cucinotta Forno, I can’t see it being practical to just have a wood-fired oven as a kitchen range. The Rosetta (and their larger Rosa) are still gorgeous, and seem more practical for a wood-burning kitchen range. The odd one out here is the Clearview Pioneer Oven – it could easily fit in a living room rather than the kitchen, but has a small oven – perfect for casseroles and baked potatoes – and a hotplate for a kettle. Might be a great choice as an introduction to wood-burning and an emergency cooking source. None of these have boilers though, so wouldn’t be ideal for our sole heating source.

passataJust been reading some great descriptions of how to make Passata, and Pasta Sauces. I’ve long thought that this could be a good way to make the most of our Aquaponic bounty through the long winter months – delicious home-grown-and-made pasta sauces, flavoured with our aquaponic-grown herbs. I think the Mouli that is already on my shopping list would be good at turning our tomatoes into passata while removing all the skins and seeds, but there are also specific Passata Machines – they look sort of like a mincer. The only ones I’ve been able to find in the UK are these red plastic models, sold by Seeds of Italy for £27.50, or Ascott for £25. Apparently you can process over 50kg of tomatoes in them in an hour! They both also sell the preserving jars we’ll need – Ascott seem to have the best range of jars at the best prices – 12 500ml jars for £17.

Not sure whether this makes it onto my list of must-have post-peak-oil kitchen gadgets, or whether I’ll stick with a nice strong metal mouli. Maybe if I can find a more traditional metal Passata machine like the one Contadino uses then I’d be converted . . . I’ll have to look next time I’m on the continent!

OK, time for another light-hearted one 🙂 . We’ve been baking bread as part of our after-peak-oil preparations, and it turns out that all our standard two-litre pyrex bowls are way too small for serious home self-sufficiency. So it’s time to go for the classic – one of those huge cream-and-white mixing bowls that everybody’s grandmother has somewhere!

Apparently they’re made by Mason Cash, and you can buy them at John Lewis – up to 5.8 litres for only twelve quid, which is a decent amount of bread!

As energy becomes more expensive and we all start our descent, we will no longer be able to depend on constant, reliable, electricity through the electricity grid. Don’t believe me? Have a look at this story on the National Grid from the Times. So in a post-peak-oil world it looks like we need to get used to the level of electrical reliability that non-western countries have long experienced: random, prolonged, blackouts and brownouts (where the voltage drops).

Most electrical equipment will cope with blackouts with just a surge protector, but I hadn’t realised that it’s not the case with any refrigeration equipment – fridges, freezers, aircon units etc. In a brownout these need to be disconnected rapidly or their motors will burn out, and in a blackout they need to have a delayed re-start to prevent any problems with high-pressure gas.

Luckily other people know this stuff, and apparently what you need is a Fridge Brownout protector like the  Fridgeguard from Sollatek. The other alternative is a DC fridge, connected to your solar PV battery supply (subject of a future post!). Sunfrost make great full-size 12v and 24v fridges which might be a good future-proof purchase, as well as using around 20% of the energy of a standard fridge.

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