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.
May 16, 2012
Great day to use the Solar Cooker.
February 23, 2012
Last night Sonny and I dropped off fifty- five gallons of sap to TwoLynn’s Farm. That combined with the thirteen gallons we dropped off the other day gives us sixty-eight gallons. We poured them into the evaporator and Lynn will begin to process them today. So we will get a little over a gallon of syrup, but remember Lynn and Sandy will get half of that for their services. Boiling down the maple sap takes hours and requires constant observation, feeding the fire and monitoring the temperature. Excellent maple syrup can’t be rushed.
The temps didn’t drop enough last night to cause the sap to go back down into the tree roots which has made the sap slow to flow today. I am hoping to get at least one five gallon bucket filled or possibly one and half. Nature has its own plan and way of doing things. We all just have to stand by and patiently wait.
Sonny wants to tap more trees, but the sun is already starting to slip down behind the hills by the time he gets home from work. Hopefully he will get a chance to do that this weekend. Maybe he can tap a few Saturday morning before we head off to a pruning class we signed up for. We are going to learn how to prune fruit trees and berry bushes. Should be fun. The class will be held at a nearby farm so I will try to get a few pics and let you all know what we learned.
I know I promised that Sonny would do a blog on the solar hot water heater install but he has been spread pretty thin. We did have a small mishap when he first turned it on. There is antifreeze (non-toxic) that flows through lines attached to the solar panel. When he turned on the pump for the heater and when the very very hot fliud hit the pressure relief valve all the antifreeze blew out and ran down the roof into our rain water barrel. I am not really sure what went wrong, but sometimes good ‘ol Murphy likes to throw his law at us. As a matter of fact he often sends his brother Mayhem over to check in on us. The only problem is Mayhem leaves his gremlin children behind and we end up with a mess. Maybe they turned on a valve or something, but anyway we’ve ordered another batch of antifreeze from the company and it should arrive sometime tomorrow. I have no doubt that Sonny will have it reinstalled and working in no time. Thats if he has time and the gremlin children get lost in the woods.
January 17, 2012
A soup of ominous gray clouds covered the sky as Sonny and I drove toward home from Ohio. I gazed out of my side window at the landscape dotted with farms, one connecting to the next as far as you can see. It reminded me of Delaware, my birth state, before the developers raped the farmland and covered it in a cheap coat of houses. Except for a few farms that have held out, there is nothing left of the many peach and apple orchards,or the small family run dairy and vegetable farms. In southern Delaware crops have been replaced with production chicken houses. As you can tell, it is a bit of a soar spot for me, so I gaze out of the window at the flatlands of Ohio and reminisce about my childhood.
As we pass miles of farmland set with nineteenth century farmhouses and barns, Sonny and I discuss how they could possibly benefit from the energy of a windmill. Solar and windmill power is not the cure all for our nations energy problems, and not everyone can or wants to live off grid, but I think that solar panels and windmills could certainly take some pressure off the power grid. They could all be used in conjunction with each other.
One would think that in a wide open landscape such as Ohio, and I can only speak for the area we were driving through, that there would be the potential for plenty of wind. Even solar panels could be a good choice in areas where there are few trees. Its a bit more difficult in places where the sun has to rise above a high hill or mountain range. It is doable though as we have seen here at Pot Hole Farm. We just get less hours of sunlight to charge the solar panels.
Unfortunately for many who are interested in solar panels and windmills it is still a costly investment. As the price of electricity rises and the power grid becomes overloaded and feeble with age we may not have many choices left. I think its naive to think that we can continue to add to the power grid we have now and think that it will be able to handle the load. All we need is a summer of sweltering heat and the on switch of air conditioners. We might find ourselves with rolling blackouts and empty pockets. Or worse.
I certainly don’t have all the answers to our power quandaries, but I think solar and wind could be good alternatives. In the future I would like to see businesses with a few solar panels on their roofs. If you think about how much power an office building uses in a day a little sun power couldn’t hurt.
The skies may turn dark and cloudy, but the sun will eventually shine. Good for making electricity and good for the soul.
January 8, 2012
After living off the grid for almost two years now we have figured out that by managing our power we can still use a few luxury appliances.
Last week we went to visit Two Lynne’s Farm and Sandy showed me how to make butter from fresh cream. Sonny and I tried to make some a few months back and it just didn’t turn out. I’m not sure what we did wrong. We followed directions from a youtube video on the internet. This person used a quart jar and shook the cream until the whey was separated from the butter fat. Then there were various steps that required squeezing and rinsing.
Sandy had a much better method. She used her counter top mixer. The combined turning motion of the bowl and the whipping beaters separated the butter fat and whey in just a few minutes. The butter particles splattered against the sides of the bowl. We drained off the whey and then used a butter paddle to shape the butter and squeeze out more whey.
Large and small butter paddles.
This time our butter came out perfectly and tasted delicious. So, today Sonny bought me a Kitchen Maid counter top mixer. It will not only come in handy to make butter, but bread dough and pizza dough as well. It will make these chores a lot easier for me too. Even before we went off the grid I kneaded all dough by hand and whipped up cake batter as well using the old spoon method, but I have been having a lot of problems lately with my hands. Maybe I have worn them out. Any way, I think this mixer will make a big difference.
Kitchen Maid mixer.
On sunny days the power needed to use the mixer won’t make a dent in the energy stored in the batteries. When the weather is not so nice and the days are cloudy, I can wait for a sunny day or use it while the generator is running. Too many grey days in a row and we have to charge the batteries with the generator. Its all about power management.
I enjoy doing things the old fashioned way, but its nice to know that our off grid system can handle the load when I need to step into the present and use modern kitchen appliances.
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.