January 21, 2013
Maple syrup may be the top event going on here at Pot Hole Farm, but its not the only one. We still have daily chores to attend to that include gathering firewood, taking care of the guineas, chickens, turkeys and cats and dogs. Because we have had few days of sunshine the generator needs to be fed as well and that means going down to the Country Store to fill up gas cans. Gray cloudy days do not make enough energy for the solar panels to charge the batteries.
January is also the month we start to plan for spring projects and one of those projects is the garden. Today we took a trip over to John and Carols where a nice pile of composting donkey manure was waiting behind the barn. John used the bucket of his dependable 1970’s Ford tractor to dump four large scoops of manure into the bed of our old farm truck.
We were almost home when it began to snow. Large fluffy flakes floated on the wind and landed on the frozen ground. We used pitch forks to spread the manure over about a third of the garden while snow flakes swirled around us creating a scene fit for a snow globe. The manure was black and rich with pink earthworms playing hide and seek in the clumps. It will lay atop the garden for the rest of winter where it will continue to decompose and feed the soil. We still need to get three or four more loads to finish covering the garden.
The snow is continuing to come down and the temperature is dropping. Time to curl up with a cup of coffee and a seed catalog.
October 30, 2012
Well we weathered the storm here on the homestead. Like most places on the east coast it rained and the wind blew. Lucky for us no trees were blown down and no flooding to speak of. Around 4a.m. in the morning is started snowing and it has continued all day. The ground temp never got quite cold enough to freeze so the snow never accumulated more than an inch.
But, there was enough snow to cover the solar panels. A couple of years ago, we got a extendable squeegee and it worked just fine for the chore. We have also been working a lot on the sap evaporator. We built a heavy duty stand to hold the raw sap, plumbed the 100 gallon tank to the evaporator flue pan and will be putting up the smoke stack and flashing as soon as the weather gets better.
December 22, 2011
Well today with the help of John we started phase 1 of the Solar Hot Water project. A couple of months ago I ordered everything for the project from the Alt-E Store and have just been waiting for the time to get started. We finally have enough firewood to get us through the winter so now it was time to get moving on the other projects.
Lucky for us each of the two hot water panels weighed only about 100 pounds each. We were able to move the Kubota RTV up near the mud room roof and get each panel in the bed, leaned up on the rain gutter. We then climbed on the roof and lifted each up. Next we secured four mounts per panel and used roofing tar to ensure no leaking from the roof.
Soon we will get started on Phase 2. This will be fitting the 3/4 copper pipe from the panels to the holding tank and on the the existing gas hot water heater.
July 9, 2011
We had been using a small underpowered 3500kw Champion generator as the backup generator for the last two years. We always had plans to replace it with a bigger one but just never got around to it until this weekend. The Primary generator is a 8kw propane Guardian and it takes care of all our charging needs for those long dark rainy weeks.
You see, nothing is the same living out in the boonies and living off the power grid. We have solar panels for electricity, a primary generator but also a backup generator. Everything has to have a Plan-B to go with it. Our heat is from out wood stove but we also have propane backup. We have 4 wheel drive cars, and a backup 4 wheel drive tractor just in case the snow is too much. We have lights but have oil lanterns, Gas stove to cook on but we can also cook on the wood stove. We have Internet, Satellite TV and Satellite radio to know the weather. We even have multiple stove-top coffee peculators. We even have a great refrigerator but we still built a root cellar.
It is just our way out here. And to be honest, continue to learn lessons every day on PHF.
December 6, 2010
The hectic days of Spring planting and Fall harvest are behind us, but that doesn’t mean we get to hibernate through Winter here at POF. Cold nights mean a wake up call at 3:00a.m. to put more wood in the stove. I’m talking about on nights that are 20 degrees and below. It’s supposed to get down in the teens tonight. We insulated the house very well so it would stay fairly warm if we didn’t stoke the fire but it wouldn’t be that toasty warmth you enjoy waking up to. We do have propane wall heaters as backup if needed.
The first chore of the day is usually to scoop out some of the ash from the stove and get the fire going again. In cold weather the stove is your lifeline to cozy comfort. That and a cup of coffee which I didn’t get till much later this morning.
Snowy solar panels
No sun today and more light snow means minimal power being absorbed by the solar panels. It is imperative to keep the panels clear of snow even on an overcast day. Although there was no direct sun the panels still absorb whatever light there is during the day. Even the light reflected from the white snow can be utilized as power for the panels. So, second chore of the day….Turn on the generator for a charge and sweep the snow off the panels. Which I did about four times today.
Cool squeegy gadget
Luckily the snow was light and fluffy like packing peanuts. Sonny bought me a long handled squeegee that works great for dragging the snow off. Last year we only had a broom which wasn’t even close to being long enough to reach the top of the PV Array. The right tools make all the difference.
Next stop, the chicken coop. I turned on the solar lamps that Sonny installed to give them some artificial light on this grey day. I wasn’t sure if the battery would be charged enough from the solar panels on top of the chicken coop since we haven’t had sunlight for days. A flick of the switch and the coop went from dreary to cheery. I switched out the water container and replaced it with one that wasn’t frozen. I know they have heated waterers but I think they use electric. That would not be an option for us. So my job will be to switch out the water containers frequently throughout the day. Chickens need plenty of water even when temperatures are freezing. I only collected two eggs today, but that is to be expected in this weather. The chickens didn’t want to go out in the snow today and I don’t blame them. I added some more straw on the floor and I think that will give the coop some more warmth.
A quick stop by the woodshed to grab a load of wood and finally back inside the house for a cup of joe. With the snow continually coming down this circle was completed numerous times throughout the day.
I did get a chance to finish filling out my Christmas cards except for a few of Sonny’s friends of which I can’t find the addresses for. I will have to get them from him later.
Even though it was cold out and the snow wasn’t blowing Ruby and I decided to walk the mile down to the mailbox to post the cards. It was actually an enjoyable walk. I made sure I dressed warm in the Carhart coat Sonny bought me, a wool scarf, mittens and my brown plaid Elmer Fudd hat with ear flaps down. Just like the right tools make a job easier the right winter gear will keep you warm. I’m sure I looked very enticing in my ensemble that included L.L. Bean boots and an orange grocery bag left over from Halloween to tote the cards in. It was a colorful accessory that complimented my brown color scheme and it could double as a beacon for hunters not to mistake me for a deer. In my case that would probably be a moose.
It looks like the next two days will be the same. More snow, more grey skies and cold. It’s been a busy day and I think I hear the bed calling my name, or could it be that pesky 3a.m. alarm I hear.
September 6, 2010
Labor Day weekend is the best description of what our weekend was. It was not a lazy laid back weekend, it was a work weekend. Friday we planned to take the lawn mower to the John Deer dealer for service work. One of us, probably me must have run over a root or something and caused a vibration problem with the deck. Sonny borrowed my cousin’s flat bed truck and pull trailer. He tried to put the lawn mower on the trailer, but the trailer wasn’t wide enough by about 3 inches. So we decided to put it on the back of the flatbed. We made some make-shift ramps from a couple of 2×6’ss and Sonny drove the mower up on the flatbed, but it wasn’t all that easy. The boards were to short and made the ramp steep and the mover deck dragged. It required me to help push the mower to get it started up the ramps. We got it up on the back and strapped it down with some ratchet straps. Off to the dealer.
On the way home we decided to stop by Lowes and pick up a log splitter. It won’t be long before we will need some heat in the house and we have to get stocked up on wood. There was a time when Sonny could have split all the wood by hand, but shoulder problems prevent him from doing that now. So Sonny and a Lowes salesperson got the thing loaded on the flatbed. They have better ramps than our wooden substitutes. Getting that thing unloaded was a job, but with teamwork we got it done. Sonny had a big pile of wood split in no time. It was definitely worth the investment.
We also did a lot of little jobs that needed to be done around here. We put up a proper clothesline, put up some shelves in the electrical room, cut grass the old fashioned way with a push mower and built a platform for the generator to sit on so it is up off the ground. We used 2×6 boards for the frame and then placed the generator on cement blocks. We then filled the frame with gravel. This way the generator no longer sits in mud or snow. We did manage to enjoy a nice Labor Day BBQ with John and Carol. It was a great ending to a busy weekend.
Off the deck now
August 18, 2010
Summer of Sustainability: Off the Grid in Doddridge County – WBOY-TV – WBOY.com. (click this link)
Last Saturday one of the local television station came to our place and did an interview with Linda and I about our Off Grid Homestead. Although it was very hot and humid it was still fun to do. The link above includes the video of the story they actually aired on tonight’s 6:00 p.m. local news. Hope the paparazzi don’t start running up and down my road taking pictures of me when I’m out trying to mow the lawn.
August 4, 2010
A loud rumble of thunder was my alarm clock this morning. It was 0630 and the overcast sky was dark. We already had a good storm last night with rain and thunder clappers and lightening. It appeared this morning may be a repeat. I threw on some clothes, let the dogs out and hurried down to the coop to check on the chickens. I wanted to make sure they had plenty of food and water in case this was going to be an all day thing. The storm passed but the sky was still cloudy.
I thought I better turn on the generator for a while since we didn’t have much sun the day before to charge the house batteries. I hit the manual start button. Nothing. I checked to make sure that the main switch that connects the generator and the charge controller was in the correct position. It was. Tried the manual start switch on the generator again. Nothing. I checked the propane tanks. Full. At this point I was at the end of my trouble shooting abilities. I emailed Sonny at work to see what he thought. Apparently we left the cut-off switch on the generator panel “on” and it ran the primary generator battery down.
So Sonny called John (since we don’t have a phone yet) to come over and hook up a external charger to it. In the meantime I dragged our backup gasoline powered generator out of storage and hooked it up and with a couple of pulls on the rope it fired up. It worked just fine. I let it run until John and Carol showed up. I was already supposed to be at their house this morning. Instead they had to run over and rescue me. Once John got everything set up they went home and I let the battery charge for about three hours. I think we’re fixed now. I won’t be leaving that switch on again.
The sun popped in and out for a while and I headed over to John and Carols for the afternoon. Carol was going to make me a home cooked meal. We spent a nice afternoon in her studio. She’s a great sculptor. She is working on a bust of John. I’m amazed at the likeness. While the artist was at work I played with some clay myself. My fourth grade art teacher would have been proud of the Magnolia flower I created. I didn’t intend for it to be a magnolia but that’s what it turned out to be. You can’t argue with art.
I was getting hungry and looking forward to that ham and homemade macaroni and cheese. John came in and informed us that a big storm was on it’s way heading East from Ohio. Sonny called shortly after that and said it was getting real close. Around here the roads can quickly flood and there is always a chance that a tree can get washed out and fall across them as well. I had animals at home to think about so I hightailed it home. I was getting close to my destination, about two miles away from home when the sky became angry and drops of rain hit the windshield. The wind was beginning to whip up and blow leaves and brittle branches off the trees. I prayed a tree wouldn’t fall on top of the Jeep.
When I reached the mile mark there was a huge limb across the road. Thank goodness it wasn’t a full sized tree. I really hate backing up (my tracks look like a snake). With some maneuvering I was able to drag the big branch to the side of the road. When I reached home the wind had blown over my patio chairs. Once again I let the dogs out before the storm really hit hard and ran down to check on the chickens. They were safe and sound in their little coop and I battened down the hatches. The dogs and I, and of course Annie the cat were safe and sound while the storm raged. I just wish I could have had my ham dinner first, but that’s August.
Heat, humidity, and big storms to remind us that we are pretty small in the scheme of things, and the Almighty has the reins.
May 5, 2010
Wanted to take a few minutes to explain my back-up charging system that I use to keep my batteries charged. I got this great package from Lowe’s and have been very happy with it so far. I had to do a few minor mods and tossed the switch box that came with it. My Xantrax inverter automatically detects the generator, syncs the cycles and controls the charge for my 380 amp batteries.
The Guardian 8kw provides around 25 amps to feed my batteries on those days that give me little to no good sunshine for a couple of days. This only happens during rain storms or heavy snow falls. Typically last winter when the days were short and the sun was low in the sky we got buy just fine running the generator for 1 hr in the morning and then late in the afternoon for about 1 1/2 hrs. But on days with fair to moderate sunshine it just sits there looking good.
February 3, 2010
Battery Bank before the Upgrade
When I ordered my batteries for the solar system the company recommended that I use a 48 volt setup. I then purchased eight 105 amp AGM 6 volt batteries and connected them in series. A few weeks later we decided to get a second identical setup and connect them in parallel. This configuration still gave me 48 volts but with twice the amperage.
I had originally put a “Battery Room” next to the “Electrical Room” (as pictured) and vented it for safety. As it turned out, the AGM glass mat gel batteries do not “off-gas” which means that I could have put them anywhere I wanted. We still put them in the Battery room and now also store the backup 3500 watt Champion generator in there as well.
More on the primary Guardian Whole House Generator later.
Electrical Room and Battery Room