Catching up …

Wow, I haven’t posted since before Hurricane Florence ripped through my area like a slow moving train wreck carrying a few trillion gallons of water!

Besides spending a lot of time cleaning up my yard and my precious woods (a job I’ll never finish), I installed all new PV (photo-voltaic) panels on my tower. I now have about 800 watts of solar attached to the house. I also have about 300W charging batteries and powering some devices in an outbuilding. I recently mounted those on a pole for better exposure and to make it easier to mow around them.

This was my first full year with some grow beds in my dome greenhouse, and I’ve been growing some leaf vegetables and radishes through the winter months. I’m transitioning now to summer crops, but obviously, the greenhouse isn’t as useful in the summer. My aloe vera has been propagating like weeds, so I have aloe growing all over the place.

I’m looking forward to some wild blueberries and blackberries in the coming months. Things could be a lot worse, although I am anxious about the upcoming hurricane season. Having seen what Hurricane Michael did to the Florida panhandle last year, I am wondering what will be left around here if we get hit by something similar.

I hope everyone did something for Earth Day. I helped with a roadside cleanup; something I do often. I went out and cleaned up a ditch full of water, today. I filled a 30 gallon trash bag with trash from the ditch, but there is always more.

On that note, I’ll try to do another update in the coming weeks. I’ve been working on a privacy fence because one of my neighbors decided to remove every tree in his back yard, which used to be pretty heavily wooded. Why don’t people understand the importance of trees? Sigh.

p.s. My new fence is being built from wood that I am milling out of trees that fell in the storm.


Not Dead!

DJT_1103w.jpgI haven’t written a blog entry for this site in over 2 years! I’m not sure how that happened. Since I last blogged, I built a bucky-dome greenhouse. I finished the door, since this photo was taken, and I’m still working on the automatic opening/closing vents.

I’m still heating with the outdoor wood stove, when it’s cold enough to justify a fire. I had to replace my heat pump this year, because the old one died. The heat pump is great for mild winter days, and to maintain the temperature when I’m not home to stoke the fire.

My supply of firewood is not as ample as it could have been. I herniated a disc in my lower spine in early 2017, so I wasn’t up for a lot of lumberjacking.

My solar water heater is still providing 99% of my hot water. I found another slow drip in my plumbing the other day that I will need to address. It seems like there is always something around here that needs attention, but that’s the nature of being self-sufficient. You can’t have all these systems without maintaining them. I think that’s why a lot of people just want to rely on the grid for everything. Personally, I enjoy the work, and I take pride in having designed these systems in such a way that I can maintain them.

We’re heading into winter, now. I probably won’t start any big projects before the days get a bit longer. I’ll try to keep you up-to-date on my progress.

Go Fund Me Campaigns

Beach on Queens Creek. Red Speedo

I get asked, from time to time, to contribute to someone’s crowd-sourcing campaign, like I’m sure many of you do. Recently, I was asked to spread the word about a campaign to help fund someone’s cancer treatment. Being the blunt asshole that I am, I asked the beneficiary of the fund if she had ever, or would ever, help someone she didn’t know well with their medical bills. I was surprised she humored me with an answer. She said that she often gave money to save animals and helped out with a funeral, once.

So, I felt a little bit like pond scum for asking, but the question needs to be asked. I completely understand why someone would set up a crowd-sourcing campaign when they are confronted with insurmountable medical bills. The crowd-sourced fund can help fill a huge gap left by inadequate medical insurance coverage and ridiculous health care prices.

Having said that, you can’t expect others to help when you wouldn’t. What I want to know is, how many people, who are now campaigning for donations, have not contributed, or would never contribute to a similar campaign by a non-family member? I know it’s an impossible standard to enforce, but people shouldn’t ask for help if they’re not willing to help others when they’re able. To put it another way, if you’d rather upgrade your video game console than give $10 to someone you know who is in dire need of help, then, maybe, you should not be asking for others to pitch in to buy you a new X-Box when yours is consumed in a house fire.

What goes around comes around, as they say. I’m not sure that’s always the case, but I wish it was. I want to help people who really need it, but I don’t want to help someone who would not lift a finger to help someone else, AND there are so many people who sincerely need and deserve help. Then again, if you’re dying of cancer and 10,000 strangers pitch in to make your life easier, maybe you’ll be inspired to be a better person.

The Sad State of Yogurt

I’m strongly leaning towards a vegan diet, but I still indulge in foods that are not vegan; often to my detriment. Lately, I’ve had a hankering for some yogurt, and I’ve been scouring the shelves of the grocery stores I frequent for something that would resemble real yogurt.

Every yogurt product I see is either “low fat”, “light”, or “no fat”. I wonder how that is even possible, since yogurt is traditionally made from a fatty product. What’s worse, is that some of them replace the fat with copious amounts of sugar, or artificial sweeteners.

After standing in front of the myriad brands of yogurt on display on several occasions, I finally gave in and purchased some Yoplait light yogurt that was on sale. Sadly, I didn’t look closely at the ingredients before I made my purchase. I noted that it had 10 grams of sugar, vs. 26 grams in some other varieties, and it proudly proclaimed that it contained no Aspartame.

What I didn’t notice was that it contained many unnecessary and unnatural ingredients, including food coloring (Red #40 and Blue #1). Why does yogurt need food coloring? It had potassium sorbate to maintain freshness, and Sucralose! Why? The ingredient list reads like a science experiment.

yoplait-yogurt-containerI’m pretty sure I’ll never buy yogurt, again. I am absolutely sure I’ll never buy another Yoplait product. The packaging is recyclable, but it’s not recycle friendly. The container is difficult to rinse out thoroughly, and you can’t stack them to save space in the recycle bin. What could possibly be the advantage in such a backwards package design?

The fact that there are no natural yogurt products available at any of the stores I frequent tells me that consumers have demanded this bastardization of an otherwise healthy, pro-biotic food. Wake up people! Stop buying over-processed, chemical soup foods that mimic real food in name only. Stop demanding low fat versions of food that are made of fat. Fat is not evil; preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and food dyes are evil. I get headaches from this stuff; literally. I can measure the difference in my performance when I exercise after eating this stuff. I’m pretty sure I’m going to go vegan and eat only whole foods. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine living without meat and dairy products, but that time has passed. I am not a strict vegan, yet, but I do eat vegan for days at a time, and I have more energy and mental acuity during those times than when I’m eating non-vegan or processed foods.

I got up this morning, ready to take on the world. After days of clouds and rain, the sun was breaking through. After eating 6 ounces of Yoplait yogurt, my brain is fuzzy and I can feel the drag on my body. Food isn’t supposed to make you ill. I hope people get smart and demand more wholesome foods. Yogurt doesn’t need a 3 month shelf life and it definitely doesn’t need artificial coloring.

Thanks for reading!

Short Days and Warm Showers

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I use solar to heat the water I use in my home for washing and bathing. It takes about 3 hours of good sun each day to keep up with all of my hot water needs. When we get a few clear days, the water storage gets hot enough that I can go a couple days with heavy overcast conditions.

This time of year, the sun is only effective for heating from about 09:00 AM until about 3:00PM. That’s not a big window, if the day is partly or mostly cloudy. Furthermore, we seem to get a couple of sunny days, followed by 3 or 4 cloudy days. I gave in and turned on my electric water heater for one day in late December. Otherwise, there are days when I have to take a warm shower, instead of a steamy hot one.

For me, this has sort of become a crusade; to try to get by on what the sun provides. It’s not much of a sacrifice. Most of the year, I have more hot water than I can use. However, these short days, combined with overcast conditions, really do test my resolve. Occasionally, in the summer, we get a week of rainy dark weather and I run out of hot water, but it hardly matters, because I take some of my showers outside in the summer, anyway. Hot showers just aren’t as important to me when it’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32C).

I just purchased another photovoltaic panel and a new charge controller so I can add about 300 watts of capacity to my solar electric system. It also suffers a bit when the days are short and overcast. I have batteries to get me through the dark times, but they need time to recharge at least twice a week. I hate to add more batteries, because they have a relatively short lifespan (see my other blog entries on battery woes). I don’t need more photovoltaic capacity in the summer, but I definitely need it in winter. I’ll figure out some way to use the excess power in the summer. I’ve been working up some ideas for a while. One of those ideas is to power the refrigerator off the solar during the day, and let it switch back to the grid at night. That would let me use more energy while the panels are generating it, and not put an additional load on my batteries.

I took the Polar Bear Plunge on January 1st. It’s the 2nd time I’ve done it in North Carolina. It was a good time. The water was 49 degrees Fahrenheit (10C) and the air was about the same. The sun was shining and it wasn’t windy, so it was really a nice day, considering it was January 1st.

Bad Caps, Solar Cooking, and the Outdoor Wood Stove

goopWhat’s up with the caps on adhesives? This isn’t the first cap that I’ve broken like this, and I don’t think I’m over tightening them. This isn’t a cheap product. You’d think they could make a cap that would last through a few uses. It seems to be the smaller sized tubes that have this problem. I think I’m going to start saving caps, if they don’t break.

_DJT3504Now that I’ve got that behind me, let’s talk about something much more appetizing. I don’t often eat meat, but I bought some chicken legs so I could bake them in my SunOven, and I was not disappointed. I let them bake for 90 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The SunOven is powered 100% by ambient sunlight, so the cost of baking the chicken was zero. The SunOven is a good deal when you have clear, sunny days. I love my SunOven. I use it to bake bread, brownies, energy bars, etc. I use it as a dehydrator, simply by propping the lid open a bit to let the moisture escape.

I don’t know if you remember my outdoor wood stove project. I heated my house with it during the severe winter of 2013-2014, but the design was not optimal. I had a 6″ diameter round duct transferring the hot air from the stove to the house, and that simply wasn’t a big enough pipe. In a nutshell, the outdoor wood stove consists of an insulated box around a combustion chamber that heats the air in the box, which is circulated into the house by a blower. There is a cold air return duct and a hot air duct. The hot air box is sealed and insulated to minimize heat loss, and it is separated from the actual wood fire, so no smoke goes into the house.

_DJT3499I removed the old duct and built a 6″ by 14″ (inside dimensions) rectangular duct that is also insulated and encased in a plywood enclosure. In the photo on the left, you see the outer box around the duct. The wood stove enclosure is on the right and the house is on the left.

_DJT3497The photo on the right is a view, looking down the duct from inside the house. There is a door on the outer box that is open, or it would be dark inside, since the box is completely enclosed in cement board (fireproof).

The old 6″ pipe had approximately 19 square inches for airflow. The new duct has 84 square inches, which is more than 4 times as much capacity. That will not only allow a greater volume of warm air to move into the house, but will also prevent pressure from building up in the outside box. That should cut down on heat loss through air leaks.

I made some additional improvements to the wood stove and I’ve got a lot of wood split and stacked for winter. There are a few more things I’d like to improve on the stove, but they might have to wait until next year. I’m looking forward to sitting by the warm fire and reading a good book on cold winter nights.

Making up for Lost Time

The winter was rough, and spring seemed unwilling to commit itself for a long time. My garden barely happened, this year. I have some wonderful spinach, but that’s all I planted. I guess I’m going to learn to be a better forager, this year.

I’ve been kayaking a lot. The filamentous algae in my local creek is really bad, this spring. The extension agent told me it is most likely due to the excessive rainfall we’ve had, carrying in lots of nutrients from the surrounding area. The algae chokes out fish. It’s a good reason to be very careful about how much fertilizer you put on your lawn, and when you apply it. Personally, I don’t use any chemicals in my lawn. It’s more of a meadow, than a monoculture of manicured grass, but I like it that way, and the local wildlife definitely prefers it. The wildflowers provide food for pollinators, and the birds find lots to eat.

_DJ23294Here is a photo of my outdoor wood stove. I still owe you a detailed explanation of it’s design and operation, but I’d rather do that after it is completely finished. In a nutshell, the square duct in the foreground carries hot air into the house and the round duct in the background returns cold air from the house to the enclosure to be heated by the wood stove that is mostly embedded inside the enclosure. No smoke gets into the house, just heat from the stove. I still have a good deal of work to do to make the wood stove fully functional and more efficient. As I mentioned in a previous post, it got me through a hard winter, but I learned a lot from the experience, so there will be improvements before the next heating season.