Monday, February 21, 2011

Cool Hot Peppers

  It's harvest time!  OK, pretty weak but it's cool anyway.  We brought these two Santa Fe hot pepper plants inside this past October to see how they would do over the winter.  We grew them from seed that we bought from Seed Saver Exchange.  The peppers are really hot when they're raw but they cool down to almost bell pepper flavor when they're cooked.  We picked all of the peppers off when we brought them in and dried them on one of our spice drying racks. 

  We got lots of flowers after we brought the plants in but we never seemed to get any peppers.  While drinking coffee one Saturday morning and listening to our local radio garden program, we heard that if you bring a pepper plant in, you should give it a shake every once in a while to help it self-pollinate.  Voila, peppers started appearing although some are small and malformed.  I suspect that they were the victim of incomplete pollination.  We just can't compete with the bees I guess.  It's still really neat to be able to keep them going through the winter!

  Our pressure pump came in today for the water system at the homestead.  It's actually an RV replacement pump but I think it should work OK.

It's 12VDC and pumps 2.8 gpm at 45 psi.  I'm tying it in between a 250 gallon storage tank (no lift) and a 32 gallon pressure tank so I think it won't cycle on and off too much.  I'll be happy if we get a couple of years out of it.  The house sized DC pumps available through the Renewable Energy websites are 8 to 10 times more expensive.  I'd love to have one but can't justify the price right now.  I can buy a whole bunch of rebuild kits for the ShurFlo (really cheap) for that kind of money.
  I'm really enjoying the challenge of putting our off-grid systems together.  I guess everybody needs a hobby!  I wish there was more real-world info available to get ideas from.  There used to be more but it seems to be drying up.  A good example is Home Power magazine.  They used to show ultra detailed schematic type system diagrams but now leave out a lot of the particulars.  I suspect that this is either a protection from liability or the fledgling installation industry is trying to surpress this kind of information to ensure their job security.  Oh well, the experimentation is still fun, as long as I don't burn down or flood out the house!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Spring Is Here?/ Hot Water Blues

  I couldn't resist posting this picture.  My DW found this tractor for *E* a couple weeks ago on Craigslist.  He's gotten to the point where he can sit up on it even though his feet don't touch the ground yet.  He likes to be pushed all over the house but his favorite spot is right in front of the backdoor where he can look out into the backyard.  I'm not sure if he's watching the bird feeders or if he's just checking out the woods.  To me, it looked like he was waiting for Spring to go explore outside. It's so amazing watching the lights come on in this little man.  I missed so much with *J*'s issues when he was growing up that it makes me feel like a first-time dad all over again.

  I've been trying to crack the "hot water" nut all week long for the farm.  I think I have the bugs worked out for the cold running water and the well.  There are so many options for off grid water heating and all of them are incredibly expensive.  Any electric water heater is completely out.  There's no way I can generate the power to sustain the wattage needed to run the heating elements.  I looked at "on demand" models but they don't play nice with preheated water, meaning that we couldn't expand with a secondary system and I hate not having a backup.  I really thought I had the problem licked with the new heatpump water heaters.  Unfortunately, they require 220VAC and our solar system is only wired for 110VAC.  I did find a 110VAC model but it was $1600 and you still had to buy a standard heater to attach it to!  I think I've resigned myself to having the house plumbed for propane and going with a bottle that I can take into town to get refilled.  The nice thing about this set-up is that we can expand it with solar hot water collectors and possibly a heat exchanger in the wood cook stove's hot water reservoir in winter.  We should really be able to stretch a bottle of propane with this and not have to worry about warm showers when it's a 30 below night!  The one wrinkle in this plan is the ungodly price of solar hot water collectors. 

  Isn't everybody going green these days?!!  Shouldn't an increase in production for this type of product  bring the price down?  I've been watching renewable energy items since I bought the farmstead seven years ago and I've seen an explosion in the number of companies and the products they offer.  So what gives?!!  As near as I can figure out, government subsidies (in the form of tax breaks) are keeping the prices artificially high.  Why should a company try to competitively price there panels when there's so much of the taxpayers' money being doled out so freely by Mama government?  This whole green thing is such a racket and everybody just keeps buying into it and slowly breaking this great nation of ours.  For all of the equipment I've bought so far, I haven't claimed one nickle of it on my taxes.  I think that if I really believe in my reasons for being off-grid, then I don't need to be thrown a biscuit for being a "Good Boy" in the eyes of our supposed masters.  I went down this road once with the government already with the farm.  Part of it was in CRP when I bought it.  This essentially means that the government pays you to NOT grow anything on a certain acreage of your farm with the intention of providing undisturbed habitat for wildlife.  You would have thought that an alien walked through the door of the government ag office when I told them that I wanted the land out of their program and didn't really care if I lost the tax break.

   I have to be able to sleep at night knowing that I'm not part of the entitlement mentality that has so gripped our country...even if I'm not getting the same "sweet deal" as the next guy.  It's just too easy to sell your soul to the devil these days.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Huge Change In Plans

  It's funny how the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  My DW came home one night last week after a rough day at work.  She was pretty frazzled so I jokingly asked her if I should pack the truck up for North Dakota.  It's my running joke to try and cheer her up when the rat race has her down.  Surprisingly, she said "Let's go!".  It's just a little bit chilly in ND right now (-13F as I write this) so we decided to spend the summer out there instead and really hit the repairs hard.  This changes everything!  I had hoped to just get the house's roof re-shingled this summer but now I think we can get the 48V wind turbine/tower up and cold running water as well.  This would be huge since we are currently running on one 85W solar panel and three 12V batteries in parallel.  We're also currently carrying in bottled water and pulling water up from the cistern with a bucket on a rope through a trap door in the floor of the bathroom.  It's a very charming and rustic way to flush the toilets but just a little too Grizzly Adams for my taste.  This means that we have to get hot to get all the equipment and materials in place in a fairly short time. 
  Yesterday, we ordered a Husky (Homelite) 5000W generator.  I figured that this was plenty big to power my compressor for the roofing and all of my powertools.  After we're settled in, we can use it to supplement the solar panels and turbines during heavy loads and bad power generation days.
It lists a 12 hour run time and reviews said it was very quiet for a generator of this size.  I've had my eye on it for about a year and had to pull the trigger now that Home Depot has free shipping.  This model just wasn't available in any of the stores around here.
  Today, we ordered the next component for our running water.

It's a 250 gallon "food grade" plastic water tank.  The beauty of it is that it's 62"L x 29"W x 42"H so it should be able to squeeze down the steps and through the door into the basement.  I'll have to add a fitting in the top for the line from the windmill pump but this shouldn't be too much of an issue.  Until we get the windmill up, we'll end up hauling water in to fill it.  It's going to be a pain but we'll just have to look at it as one baby step of many.  It sure beats the bucket in the bathroom!

  So we had some drama this morning with *J*.  The Stairclimber batteries died halfway up the second flight of stairs from his bedroom to the main floor.  I ended up having to back down to the landing and dismantle the climber and bring it up in two pieces.  I then had to lug *J* up the stairs, followed by his wheelchair.  These were the original batteries that we bought with the climber and I have no real idea of how old they are.  I was almost afraid to see what the replacement cost was going to be but surprisingly they were a common 12V industrial battery.  A 20 minute trip to the battery store and $60 later and we were back in business!  I'm sure glad this didn't happen on my DW's watch.  It would have been a disaster.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Project Wrapup

  Finally!  I finished final assembly of the stationary motor cart this morning and am very pleased with it.

I had to wait for *C* to come home from school since the cart and motor are both more than one person can handle.  I figured he'd like to see the two mated together using only simple machines.  The cart was a royal pain coming up the stairs from my way overcrowded shop in the basement but we managed without getting any hernias.

I thought I would try out the block and tackle that you see hanging in the above picture to lift the motor.  It's a set of single/double wooden blocks.  I've seen them in museums but have never had a chance to seriously try one.  *C* and I lined up the motor under a scary looking rafter in the garage and I gave a test heave.  We actually had the camera out there to take a few shots but the whole operation was so spooky that we forgot to snap some pics.  In the end the, we decided that it was all too risky so we set up a tripod with some eight foot landscape timbers and the come-along.  I was able to move the motor with the block and tackle but, again, it just felt too scary.  We ended up getting the motor up on the cart and it is a thing of beauty.

I don't think *C* had ever seen an operation like this and he thought it was pretty cool.  Not sure if his mother would have felt the same way.

  We went to the wheelchair clinic at Children's Hospital yesterday for *J* and ended up choosing a very nice chair.  Its got a much smaller frame and is much more convenient for transferring.  *J* tried it out and really zinged down the hallway.  In fact, it took off so fast that it actually initially scared him.  Now we just  need to convince the insurance company that *J*'s present chair is totally unsuitable for him even though we haven't reached the normal five year span dictated by them.  Everybody say a prayer...this will really improve *J*'s quality of life and he'll really be crushed if he doesn't get it!