Get a clothesline or please shut your mouth about climate change

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We’re living in times that are undeniably permeated with hotly-fueled, often polarized debates about many topics. One such topic that certainly has a large share of the opinionated conversation market is “climate change”.

We aren’t here to offer support to either side of that debate. To the denying side, we say that care of the environment is an essential duty given to us by our creator regardless if one believes the climate is truly changing or not. We aren’t doing a good job with this task and need to be honest about such!

To those on the other side, furiously and vigorously raising the climate change alarms we also have an admonishment – buy and use a clothesline immediately or please shut your mouth!

If you have one, good! Now go get your neighbors on board with using them.

We’ve participated in many conversations with people of all stripes, many of which are very concerned about climate change. Many of these have notions of how extreme measures must be taken to curtail the use of fossil fuels and how renewables will solve all our problems. Often the suggested solutions are mind-numbingly complex and the outcomes somewhat minimal or worse, undefinable.

One question we often immediately ask such people is “do you have a clothesline?” To which the majority respond with “no”!

Many of these fiercely chanting about climate change would  probably put a single item through a dryer cycle, go make some toaster treats, microwave some popcorn, and watch their 90″ tv (while texting on their smartphone), then perhaps take a nice long hot shower, iron their clothes, get in their cars and drive two miles to get a cup of coffee – single-origin and fair trade of course, before returning home to peruse facebook for several hours before retiring to bed where they might turn on the tv (for white noise of course) while they sleep.

Folks, sometimes there are simple answers to complex problems. Most of us needn’t look further than the mirror to find the source of most environmental issues.

We aren’t suggesting that clotheslines will solve all the large environmental issues of our planet. Changing our consumption patterns would be a good start tho!

Regardless, the difference that would be made by clothesline use alone offers perhaps the highest return on investment that can be found in the area of consumption changes.  They can cost as little as zero. They require no special knowledge or skills. They require no appreciable learning curve and almost every household can participate in their use.

It’s hard to pin down exact numbers, but most data we have found places clothes dryer energy consumption between 12% and 20% of energy consumption in an average household in The United States. In most households, particularly those with electric clothes dryers, only electric-based heat, and hot water consume more household energy.

Imagine for a moment if all households that used a clothes dryer invested in a clothesline? With nearly 126 million households in the US alone, the possible beneficial impact to the environment (not to mention, family finances!) are not trivial, offering a reduction in energy usage of up to 20%! Those with gas dryers also reduce fossil fuels and still benefit similarly. There isn’t a household that wouldn’t benefit from such with the exception of a few nudists here and there 😉

There is NO simpler solar device, nor one more accessible to the masses than the clothesline.

Folks, if you’re unwilling to do the simple things to contribute toward solutions to global issues, in our book you’ve lost all credibility and with it, your rights to complain about these problems.

Honestly, what basis do you have telling others how their lifestyles should change to address climate change if you yourself can’t make such a simple and meaningful change? Such a change requires no expensive renewables installation, no rebates, no governmental agency or legislation to address.

Ah, but you have an HOA that prevents clotheslines! As the old saying goes – “think globally, act locally”. Start your political efforts with your HOA to allow these climate-saving changes. If you can’t get one neighborhood to change, you think we can get entire nations to do so?

The world belongs to all of us, and if we are to care for it properly, we all must be responsible for such. All should be equally responsible for taking personal steps such as these to reduce consumption. If you can’t do that much, kindly remove yourself from debating such things because you might be a hypocrite.

Eight Essential attributes of an off-grid-capable ‘homesteader’

Homesteader? What is this about homesteading and off-grid-capable?

Living an off-grid-capable life, in many ways, could be fairly said to be a form of homesteading. For some, that word might conjure up images of venturing out west on a covered-wagon train, eating meals of cornbread and beans, and hand-clearing a hundred acres of raw wilderness with an ax and saw. While that is indeed a form of homesteading, that isn’t what most are looking to do.

Dictionary.com defines homestead (in its verb form) as:

to acquire or settle on (land) as a homestead:

On the other hand, Mother Earth News (a magazine that is essentially the “Sports Illustrated” of self-sufficient living) defines homesteading as:

Today the word homesteading is more apt to refer to a lifestyle that promotes greater self sufficiency.

More: http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/what-is-the-happy-homesteader.aspx

There are as many definitions of homesteading as there are homesteaders. From our experience, seeking to live an OGC life puts one mostly in the same boat as homesteaders – or makes you similar enough that it is easier to refer to those that do as such. Besides, “Off-grid-capable..ers” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

There are a few attributes found among homesteaders and those seeking to live the OGC lifestyle worth noting as essential:

1. Free thinking

For us, this journey began first by taking ownership of our thoughts, challenging our ideas, the ideas of others, and rejecting group-think. Rather than merely accepting the status quo, we set out to learn and decide for ourselves what we believe (or don’t believe) to be true. We’re generally ‘told’ that food comes from the grocery store, power from the electric company, and approval comes from our peers. One cannot begin to disconnect their dependency on systems without first challenging such dependencies in their thinking.

2. Self-reliance

Free-thinking can and should lead to new forms of self-reliance. At its core, self-reliance is self-responsibility. It is allowing the ownership of your mind to begin to move you toward taking ownership of specific areas of your life. As with thinking freely, this is an intentional decision to take ownership of aspects of your life rather than willfully or ignorantly delegating them to another party.

Self-reliance begins first with the conclusion that you are responsible for you. Certainly, there are times to make exceptions to this idea. For example, it wouldn’t be recommended to perform self-reliant open-heart surgery. They key is being self-reliant where possible, rational, and reasonable to do so. It is not someone else’s responsibility to feed, clothe, provide and protect you – unless you are a minor, or mentally incapacitated in which case that responsibility resides with your parents or guardian.

As the one responsible for you and your family, you’ll be required to learn, understand, and execute many things that will be essential to you and your family. This entails much learning, much hard work, and a considerable investment of your resources.

3. Community-reliance

Community-reliance is not often talked about in homesteading circles but should be. Some may choose to try to do everything one’s self, but we feel this is a recipe for failure, if not fatigue and sadness.

Part of self-reliance is knowing when you’re not adequately able to handle some aspects of life on your own, and when it is in your own best interest to work together with others to that end.

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts.  For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.  Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm?   And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken. – Ecc. 4:9-12

4. Determination

Becoming responsible for yourself can be a daunting task. You may learn first-hand many hard lessons. You will be fatigued, discouraged, and disheartened. You will want to quit or go back to an easier life.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race” – Calvin Coolidge

5. Courage

Heading in a different direction that most are not is daunting. Taking ownership and responsibility for areas of your life that have always belonged to someone else is equally daunting! Courage is a necessary attribute for those wishing to sever their dependence on the grid.

Courage is a necessary attribute for those wishing to sever their dependence on “the grid” because now, that weight is on your own shoulders! “Is this the right thing to do?”, “Have I made a wise decision?”, “Will this work when I need it to?”, “Have I prepared this food in a way that won’t poison my children?”, “Are these solar panels wired properly so I won’t burn my home to the ground?”… the OGC life is filled with opportunities to doubt that will require courage to overcome.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

6. Optimism

I once heard that an optimist knows there’s always a light at the end of a tunnel, and just prays it isn’t a train!

Seriously… optimism is the willful choice (free thinking!) to keep hoping and believing in a good outcome. An optimist isn’t ignorant of the risks and challenges before them but decides to steer their mind toward belief in a positive outcome despite these.

7. Desire to learn

An OGC lifestyle requires a lot of learning. Fortunately, learning is a lot of fun! When one decides to break their dependence on “the grid”, even if not going “off-grid”, they are agreeing to take responsibility of what would otherwise be handled by a much larger institution. One must become a subject matter expert, or at least proficient, in many areas: electricity, plumbing, heating, cooling, refrigeration and/or food preservation, gardening, farming, animal husbandry, weather, communications, security, et al. There is never an end to the learning involved in leaving the grid!

8. Hard work

When one is responsible for more of their life, more work results. Families who rely on the grocery store will spend little time obtaining their food. Being off-grid-capable and growing a portion of your own food requires a lot of hard work! Turning on a light switch is easy… monthly battery maintenance, cleaning solar panels, changing the oil in a generator, and tweaking your electric usage to stay within the capabilities of your energy – that is work!

Raised beds with pressure treated lumber?!

Pressure Treated?!

If you’ve ever looked into raised beds, you’ve likely looked for the materials to build them out of and, if wood, probably come across mixed advice when those discussions center around using pressure-treated (PT) wood.

Out of the abundance of caution, we’ve always steered clear of pressure treated wood – that is until recently. We decided we’d do our best to safeguard against what some worry about and see how it goes. We can’t help but believe that fresh produce grown in pressure-treated beds is any worse than most of the contexts where food comes from commercially. Furthermore, gardens near populations where pollution is a problem likely pose a higher risk of causing health issues.

To be clear, we’re NOT recommending you do this. We just decided to give it a shot and describe here how we built our beds. These instructions would be just as useful for non-treated lumber – they’d just last a lot longer.

Materials:

We started with these nifty raised bed blocks from Home Depot:

Next, we purchased our pressure-treated lumber. We were aiming to make long beds that were as wide as possible but still allow adults to reach the center of the bed from the edges. We ended up making beds that were approximately 5′ x 15′ and about 16.5″ deep (three courses of lumber) followed by another 1.5″ cap layer, so 18″.

Each bed required:

  • Beds
    • (12) corner blocks
    • (2) 1/2″ by 10′ rebar cut into 4 x 36″ pieces.
      • This leaves about 18″ of support in the ground.
    • (8) pressure treated 2″ x 6″ x 16′
      • 3 for each of the long sides
      • 2 for the long sides of the top frame
    • (4) pressure treated 2″ x 6″ x 10′
      • 3 cut at about half to form the short sides
      • 1 cut at about half to form the short sides of the top frame
    • Misc scrap wood for supports and accouterments
    • Screws
    • A dozen or so standard poly feed bags (scraps from animal feed).
    • Staples
    • Wood chips
    • Soil
  • Waterers:
    • (3) 10′ lengths of 4″ solid drain pipe (with flared ends)
    • (3) 90° drain pipe or schedule 40 PVC elbows
    • (2) 4″ PVC caps
    • PVC glue (primer probably not necessary here)

Tools needed

  • Circular saw
  • Small sledgehammer
  • Digging tools for leveling
  • Cordless driver (for screws)
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Tri-square
  • Stapler
  • Tractor (filling 15′ x 5′ beds without a tractor is no fun!)

The process

We live on a mountain. Nothing is easy when you live on a mountain, except falling down the mountain or finding runoff water where it ought not be! Garden on a mountain long enough and you’re likely to have one leg grow longer than the other 😉

Our first step in building the beds was to excavate flat areas for our beds. Oh, what fun. We used a combination of a backhoe, shovels, and many curse words.

Once excavated, we placed the corner blocks, leveled and plumbed them to one another, then drove rebar into the ground through the first block of each corner, leaving ample rebar for the two additional courses. You don’t pound that all the way in until the bed is complete and ready for the top “frame”.

We then proceeded to place the lumber into the “grooves” of the blocks. They just sit in there in slots – no screws or nails. We added three “courses” to get the depth we desired. We used scrap wood to cut braces to screw vertically to the long sides to keep them tightly together (see two in the picture below).

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We used the scraps cut off of the top layer (45 degree cuts) to make side supports as seen on the end here. We fastened it all together with screws.

Now, we still have our concerns about pressure-treated lumber and want to minimize exposure as much as we can…

We have a massive amount of used feed bags so we decided to line the bed with them to keep the soil from having any direct contact with the pressure-treated wood.

Unfortunately, we got the idea for that after we put the top frame of the beds on, so we took the top frame off, stapled them to the top edge of the last course of the bed, and also to the bottom of the sides, making it nice and tight. We did it this way to keep the feed bags firmly attached and to avoid ugly fraying bag edges. Once the top frame goes on (with screws), it makes a nice clamp for the bags. The bed material holds the bags up against the wood.

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Here you can see the feed bags lining the bed. Only the brick edges have contact with the soil

Watering

We had prior experience with copious watering chores and decided to borrow some concepts from Hügelkultr for our raised beds. We did so first by adding about 1-2″ of wood chips to the bottom of the bed. This does a few things…. first, it helps to wick water up into the bed when it does rain, and then it holds it there quite well since there isn’t any easy opportunity for evaporation.

To be double sure that we would have drought-tolerant beds, we also added custom waterers made from 4″ PVC drain pipe. We drilled 1/32″ holes every few inches along each side of the pipe. If you were to look down the pipe so that the opening appeared as a circle, we drilled holes at about the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions, and about every 6 inches down the length of the pipe.

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The pipe is capped at one end and then has a small stack that extends out of the bed and is loosely capped for filling. Then the whole waterer pipe gets buried with wood chips.  We added wood chips to about the top of the pipe.

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Note: We added horizontal braces (made of cedar) to add support across the bed and prevent the sides from bowing under the weight of the soil. These also pin the waterer down firmly.

This approach results in about 6″ of woodchips in the bottom of the bed and an expedited way to get water into them. This left us with a remaining 12″ or so of planting depth.

The idea is to saturate the woodchips so that they retain moisture and cause deep rooting of plants. It is also to prevent water loss. For what it’s worth, just from our common rainfall, we did not do any watering on these beds this year and had pretty nice results. We used these waterers in other beds with the same result – NO watering.

Most people water the surface of their garden beds, which requires a substantial volume to soak the root zone of the plants. It’s a waste of water and time in our experience. It also discourages deep rooting. This approach soaks all the rainfall UP into the bed as well as down from the surface and saturates the wood chips. From there it maintains an even moisture level that is almost impervious to evaporation through heat and wind. It is a huge time saver even without the watering pipes. We just used those so that if ever there is a long drought, we can maximize our watering efforts.

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Finally, we add a mix of mushroom soil, topsoil, and rabbit manure to the beds, followed by another thin layer of wood chips (to prevent evaporation and for mulch). All that was left was to plant them.

Note: We’ve had plenty of armchair gardeners critique using woodchips like this, but we can’t argue with our success. Forests don’t demand only composted leaf litter and debris take residence on the forest floor so demanding only heavily composted wood chips in garden beds is erroneous. We aren’t using as a soil amendment but as a soil cover. Even a cover of newspapers would be better than nothing! I’d rather have a cover of plastic than no cover. There is a word for uncovered landscapes – “desert”.

Lastly, we stained the outside exposed wood using Cabot Australian Timber Oil (“Carribean Walnut”). We love that stuff!

Summary

If we die of cancer, you the reader can point to this post and proclaim where we went wrong. If we don’t, we can at least enjoy these beds for a a decade or more and the fruits that we grow in them.

Please feel free to ask questions or share your experiences with pressure treated garden beds in the comments below.

Building a Rainwater chicken waterer

We have built a LOT of chicken waterers in our years of chicken wrangling. They break, clog, or otherwise just become a pain to deal with. No matter the size, filling it is always irritating.

With that experience in mind, we set out to build an easy, affordable and quick to put together rain water chicken waterer.

The supplies

Note: that might not sound inexpensive to some – but bear in mind it has all be eliminated all water hauling for the chickens for about 9 months of the year and has eliminated the need to use well water for the same duration.

The process

Once the materials arrived, we simply laid out eight holes about 2″ up from the bottom of the barrel and drilled them (the drill bit size recommended comes with the packaging for the drinker cups).

Next, we screwed the cups in the filled the water up several inches above the cups to and let it sit a while to ensure there were no leaks.

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We then drilled a hole for the fill hose adapter that came with the rain barrel diverter and screwed in the adapter.

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We then took the waterer down to the coop where we installed the rain barrel diverter into the gutters of the coop. Per the directions, we installed this just a little bit above level with the rain barrel input hose. If it is too high, the overflow won’t easily flow back into the diverter. Too low and you won’t get any rain in your barrel. Installation was easy. Just make a cut in your gutter, slide the diverter on (requires some finagling) then trim down the excess gutter, insert

Installation was easy. Just make a cut in your gutter, slide the diverter on (requires some finagling) then trim down the excess gutter, insert it into the bottom of the diverter and re-attach all to the wall. Note: we found that this all worked best with some silicone caulk around the inside. Fiskars should really have designed this to slide INTO the gutter, not over it. Physics – duh!

 

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Easy diverter installation

 

Once all that was done, we simply trimmed down the hose to our desired length put the diverter into the ‘divert’ mode and waited for rain. What does that mean you ask? The inside flips over to direct all water down the spouting (ie. in the winter) or flipped the other way directs water first into the barrel. When the barrel is full, the back pressure of the water causes it to flow back into the diverter where it exits via the gutter.

The first mild rain filled the bucket half way. We’ve not watered our chickens by hand since the installation! We used our fingers to allow enough water to flow into each cup. From there the chickens figured it out quite quickly.

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Lessons learned

  • The Fiskars diverter works okay, but required caulking and some tweaking of the positioning to get the water flowing properly.
  • Take time to observe the water flowing into (hopefully) the barrel during a rain.
  • This won’t work when it begins to freeze, but sure saves labor and time until then!

Simple solar power for outbuilding lights and pumping water

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In this post, we’ll show you the simple steps we took to setup our goat barn with solar-powered lighting and running water.

Note: Though titled as ‘simple’, some will no doubt find this complex. Understandable, however, nothing beyond grade-school math or a calculator is necessary for figuring this out. Take your time and try to understand it, ask questions in the comments if you don’t understand.

Our goal

Our goat barn is over 1000′ from our home, and the thought of running power to it gives us heartburn. Not only would that be tremendously labor-intensive, but also expensive and disruptive. We needed power to light the goat barn when we needed to be in there in the dark, and also to support having running water. We don’t spend more than one hour per day in the goat barn, so the true amount of time we would need to light it or run water was small.

Calculating the loads

To determine what we needed was fairly simple. First, we located the 12v LED lights we wished to use. We wanted something simple and common and found these on Amazon. They had good reviews and only consumed 7w while running. We knew we wanted to install four light fixtures but typically would only have two on most of the time the lights would be on. The maximum “load” of these bulbs (the watts times the hours to get Wh) would be about 28 Wh/day, or .028 kWh.

Next, we knew we needed to pump water from our rain tanks into the barn and out through a faucet and utility sink. This too was easily accomplished by using a 12v Shurflow RV water pump, also available on Amazon. This pump has an internal pressure switch which will turn the pump on when the pressure is low (ie, when a faucet is opened). However, we had an old pressure tank laying around and wanted to run the pump less often than every time we opened the faucet, so we hooked up the pump to fill the pressure tank. When the tank reaches pressure, it triggers the pump to turn off and also has plenty of pressure at the faucet. The maximum load of this pump we calculated at about an hour per day (which is very conservative since it runs more like 10 minutes a day). The amp draw is about 6 amps, so we calculated 12 Volts x 6 Amps = 72 Watts for one hour a day equals 72 Wh or .072 kWh.

So far, we need to support less about 1 kWh per day. No problem!

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Batteries

Now, we’d not typically recommend using deep cycle marine batteries for solar applications, because they’re really not designed for multiple cycles of deep discharging – something you regularly do with solar applications, but we had two on-hand, and let’s be reasonable – we needed to support some pretty small loads. So we wired these together in parallel, which keeps the voltage at 12 V but combines their amps. We did this to be sure that we’d never discharge the batteries below a very very small margin of their capacity, which helps them last a long time.

To help understand how this works, picture this… treat your batteries like a bank account. Treat your loads like withdrawals and your solar input like deposits. If you withdrawal more than you can put back in, you have a deficit (a dead battery). You need to size all your components so that the ratio of withdrawals and deposits keeps the battery happy.

Our system would take about 100 watts per day from the batteries. We need to put at least that much back in. Now.. to figure out what kind of solar panel to get, we needed to know about how many hours of sun we could expect on average. This is called “solar insolation”. There are many useful maps online that show what average hours are for any area. Ours is approximately 5.5 hours. This means that the average amount of usable sun hours per day, across all days of the year and average weather – would be 5.5.

Though we get 5.5 hours of sun a day on average, we can still go a week or so of no meaningful sun in our part of the world. We want to make sure our stuff works when this happens so we might need to support up to 5-7 day withdrawing  100 Watts of power, but with no deposits (no solar). These 5-6 days are called “Days of Autonomy” (DOA), or how many non-sun days we want to run without recharging.We also had to keep in mind that our batteries had to be adequately sized so that we could

We also had to keep in mind that our batteries had to be adequately sized so that we could withdraw 500-700 watts of power from the batteries without significantly discharging the batteries. This is why we used two because the amount taken out of each would be small. With something like a deep cycle battery, you shouldn’t really discharge them more than maybe 20% or you risk killing the batteries. Some solar batteries support much deeper discharges, but not these. The gist is that you need to make sure that after taking all you plan to take from your batteries, you still need to have the right amount of energy remaining. The percentage of how much of the battery energy you can safely take is called the “Depth of Discharge” or “DoD”. Our DoD would be 20%.

If we had been buying new batteries, we would have needed to buy batteries where 20% of their capacity was enough to supply 500-700 Watts. Solar batteries are measured by Amp hours. We have watts. How does that work? Well… take your watts, divide by the voltage of your system and you have the Amps.

100 W per day x 7 DOA = 700 W
700 W / 12 Volts = 58 Amps

Now multiply the Amps by the hours you need them. This is where it gets tricky because we don’t need our energy all at once. The most we will ever need at once is about8.33 Amps. How did I know that? Because, our total wattage, while everything is running is 72 Amps for the water pump plus 28 Watts for the bulbs or 100 watts total. Our system voltage is 12V (the voltage of the batteries, the soon to be solar panel, etc). 100 / 12 = 8.333.

If we ran all our loads for one hour, we would withdrawal the power at a rate of about 8.3 Amps per hour (8.3 AH). Assuming we need that for seven days, we’d need a battery that could support 8.3 AH for 7 days with a total of 58.1 AH.

Now… remember, we can only take 20% or so, so we actually need a battery that has a capacity 5x as much to get what we need out of 20%. 58.1 * 5 = 290.5 AH. Most solar batteries are measured in AH at 20 hours. Forget about what that means for now, but that is the number you want to compare when looking at your total AH needs vs the battery capacity. So, to summarize, to support 58.1 AH of need, we need a 290.5 AH battery. That gives us all the storage we will need to support 7 days of 1-hour per day usage and still not kill our battery.

Solar Panel

We needed a panel that provided as much resupply of watts to our depleted batteries as we’re taking out, plus a little room for margin. We were going to be taking out about 700/week, so we need to make sure we could at least put that much back in. So, we have 5.5h of sun per day on average, and 7 days to collect the sun during that week, that means we had about 38.5 sun hours per week to harvest about 700 W of power.  You shouldn’t just divide 100 w by 5.5 hours because there are a few more elements to consider. Namely, how many days we’d want to be able to run without any sun. We can get a week or so of no meaningful sun in our part of the world. We want to make sure our stuff works when this happens, so we might need to have 5-7 days of withdrawing 100 Watts of power, but with no deposits.

Since that represents best-case scenario and the weather and sun isn’t constant, we didn’t want to just divide 700 W by 38.5 sun hours and figure on an 18 W solar panel. It might work but would more often than not be insufficient. We decided on a 100 W solar panel from the great folks at Alt-E Store. They’re super-helpful, have a great YouTube channel, and are eager to help.

With a 100W panel operating at let’s say, 85% efficiency, we could potentially collect 3,272.5 Watts of power in seven days, or 467.50 Watts per day. Since we only should use 100 watts per day, this left us plenty of buffer and room to grow a little. We added this mount to a schedule 40 iron pipe placed 3′ into the ground and were ready to go.

Charge controller

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A charge controller is an important piece of the puzzle. Some try to be cheap and avoid them to their potential peril. A charge contoller manages the incoming solar power and charges the battery until the battery is “full”, at which time it prevents over-charging of the battery. They also often have a ‘blocking diode’ of sorts that prevents the energy in the battery from flowing into the solar panels when there is no sun (i.e. at night). We purchased this charge controller for that use. It is important to note that you need to have a charge controller that can support the charging amps you’ll be putting into it. Those charging Amps are a measure of the panel watts divided by the panel voltage (100 W / 12 V = 8.3 A). Your charge controller should be support slightly higher than your maximum charging Amps. Ours is 10.5 so we’re good.

Miscellaneous

To add some additional security and also to make things more organized, we purchased a marine battery terminal block on Amazon. We landed all our circuits positive wires to this block and all the negatives to the negative block it came with. This also gave us the ability to add fuse protection to all the circuits using auto fuses.

From there we simply wired everything together and turned it all on!

Using this for rainwater collection and pumping

We collect rainwater from our goat barn into IBC totes, some 3″ PVC pipe, a Rain Harvesting First Flush Downspout Water Diverter Kit, and a few misc pieces such as the Leaf Eater Advanced Rain Head and a stainless steel filter. We then use the RV (Shurflow) water pump mentioned above and pump the water through a standard household water filter and into a surplus pressure tank that we had on-hand. The pressure tank can be turned on/off with a valve

We then use the RV (Shurflow) water pump mentioned above and pump the water through a standard household water spin-down filter and a carbonb filter into a surplus pressure tank that we had on-hand. Oh… and we also have found that a 1/2″ PEX/SharkBite check valve is essential to make this work well – prevening the water from draining back into the tanks and keeping the pump primed.

The pressure tank can be turned on/off with a valve in-case we don’t want to bother with it. It can help the motor run less often by storing pressurized water. The pump has to run for longer periods of time, but less often. This can be handy for say… filling the pressure tank during peak sun hours then using the pressurized water during non/low sun hours.

Here are a few pictures:IMG_0238

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Open-Pollinated, Heirloom, Organic, or Hybrid – I’m confused!

There can be some confusing information about seeds when choosing to plant a garden. Who would have ever thought there could be so much strong opinion and controversy surrounding the kind of seeds we plant in our gardens! If you’ve shopped for seeds, you may have noticed several terms related to the type and origin of the seeds. These include “heirloom”, “open-pollinated”, “organic”, “hybrid”, and “bio-dynamic”. You might even find some more terms in your shopping!

So what do each of these mean and how do they affect you and your gardening? Let us explain…

Hybrid

Hybrid seeds are those that are derived in the labs of universities or large multi-national corporations. In nature, seed varieties emerge as plants naturally pollinate and the DNA of separate species combine to produce a new species that combine the two. Hybrid seeds are those where that process is purposefully performed in a lab, skipping all the happenstance of nature and replacing it with careful, calculated measures intended to produce a desired result. Furthermore, Hybrid seeds are often created by combining genetic material from species that would not typically combine in nature. This is done to create plants with more favorable characteristics such as color, growing season length, taste,  disease resistance, pest resistance, etc. Because this process occurs in a lab, the typical hybrid result – once grown, is unable to reproduce in kind. Therefore, if one were to keep the seeds of a hybrid variety and plant that seed, the result would not be the same as the parent, but of one of the original contributors of the genetic material of the hybrid seed. This is if the seed grows at all. Oftentimes, these are sterile, or have been “programmed” by the producers to not be able to reproduce.

GMO or Genetically Modified Organism

GMO seeds are those that have been engineered in a lab in such a way that genetic material is modified to produce a certain result. It would be fair to say that all GMO seeds are hybrid seeds, but not all hybrid seeds are GMO. In some cases, the genetic modifications simply mimic nature’s process but in a matter of weeks rather than millennia. Other GMO seeds are far more concerning and at times combine even non-plant genetic material with plant material to produce “super plants” that are resistant to pests and diseases and in some cases even produce their own pesticide! GMO seeds are hybrid and therefore cannot reproduce in kind. It is this family’s opinion that many GMO seeds should be avoided because of the “frankenseed” nature of them. These seeds may contain genetic material that would not normally be found in foods consumed by humans.

Heirloom

Heirloom seeds are simply seeds that are not mass-produced or engineered by large multi-national corporations, but rather come from the slower, manual process of individuals and families preserving the seeds of their best crops over time. . These seeds have been chosen from seasonal crops over many years or decades because of their unique and positive attributes.  Technically, these seeds are not necessarily “open-pollinated” because a farmer of gardener could have manually pollinated their plants in a greenhouse or field for the desired result. Nevertheless, heirloom seeds were produced under circumstances that are harmonious with the natural order of the plant world.

Open-Pollinated

Open-pollinated means that the plant has naturally pollinated in nature without human interruption in a lab. These are varieties that emerged by chance “as the wind blew” genetic material from one variety to another.

Organic

Organic seeds are those that were grown under organic growing conditions and have met the requirements for considering seeds to be certifiably organic. This usually means that the seeds were produced in an environment free of harmful pesticides or chemicals. Some would debate the impact this has on seeds themselves since the resulting plant would not necessarily be effected by the environment in which it’s parent was created. However, others would argue that the DNA of such plants could be damaged or unfavorable altered by being produced under such conditions. In general organic seeds are non-GMO and usually non-hybrid but open-pollinated varieties as well. If you plant these seeds, keep the resulting plant’s seed and re-plant it, you’ll get the same variety of plant. It doesn’t make your plant or garden “organic” all by itself . You’d still have to maintain organic conditions and processes to do so. That’s the topic for another blog – not this one 🙂

Biodynamic

According the wikipedia.. Biodynamic agriculture…

“is a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants and animals as a self-nourishing system without external inputs insofar as this is possible given the loss of nutrients due to the export of food. As in other forms of organic agriculture, artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides and herbicides are strictly avoided.

Biodynamic seeds are those that were created under such conditions and/or are intended for those wishing to plant the seeds under such conditions. Usually, this means that the seeds have been certified to be Biodynamic by organizations that define and maintain the standards for such. Most gardeners will not need to concern themselves with using certified biodynamic seeds unless they’re looking to start or maintain a certified biodynamic garden. This is not the interest of the average gardener, but usually a commercial pursuit.

Which is best to use?

We’ve been asked this question plenty of times. There’s no single answer to this question. As a family, we  endeavor to use organic, heirloom, open-pollinated seeds. We do so because we want seeds that were not created in a lab by those driven by profits. We also want to be able to save seeds from year to year in order to maintain a sustainable food production system. However, doing this carries some risk. In general, hybrid seeds are often going to produce higher yields and more resistance to pests and disease than most open-pollinated varieties.

Growing food can be similar to investing in the stock market, some (like us) want a balanced “portfolio” of produce that maximizes reward and minimizes risk. Therefore,  because we try to grow large volumes of our own food, a portion of our planting is often hybrid seed. We still try to avoid most GMO seeds. We choose this mix (at the moment) in order to get more return on our labors and less risk of loss. Were we to plant all open-pollinated varieties, or even single varieties of hybrid seeds, we’d be vulnerable to loss if a pest or weather pattern wreaked havoc on our crop.  However, our “emergency” seed supplies are entirely open-pollinated should we ever need to use them. No matter what you plant, consider planting a variety of the same fruit or vegetable. This minimizes risk and can also provide more enjoyable result.

Conclusion

People garden for a number or reasons. The choice of what seed to grow should be based on the reasons one gardens, the desired outcome, and the convictions of the gardener. We garden to grow our own sustainable food. We also don’t care for the immoral and deceitful business practices of some of the companies who produce hybrid and GMO seeds. We choose what we choose for our environment. At the end of the day, you must make your choices based on your needs. Take the time to learn more about the seeds you buy no matter what kind you decide to use. By doing so, you’ll become a healthier, wiser, and better gardener.

Sprouts – add this tasty super food to your emergency meal planning

Sprouts: Fresh produce all year long – no garden required!

Many people (ourselves included) who value eating healthy, organic, nutritious foods and who also concern themselves with securing a sustainable food supply will eventually ask themselves the question “How will we continue to eat healthy foods when we cannot harvest from the garden?”. There are many natural and disastrous circumstances that could keep one from  growing healthy produce – namely Winter!

We’re big fans of freezing, canning, root cellaring, cold storage, etc. However, those options don’t provide the participants with fresh green produce (typically). Enter sprouts! Sprouts are just what they sound like – sprouted seeds of vegetables, beans, grains, or grasses that are just days old when harvested and consumed. Sprouts are a wonderful addition to a simple, sustainable, healthy, and prepared lifestyle. Sprouts are super-easy to grow, offer superior nutritional and health benefits, require little to no energy to produce, can be eaten fresh, and require little investment.

Getting started with sprouting

Making sprouts is easy and requires little investment. While you can sprout seeds in mason jars, clear plastic or glass containers, etc. we chose to buy a sprouting kit. The kit below was a small $12-$14 investment was well worth it and allows us to sprout up to three kinds of sprouts at once with just a few square inches of counter space, a few cups of water, and a few days. To sprout three trays of sprouts probably requires us about 30 minutes of total time investment.

A great, simple sprouter

This great little sprouter is available for about $12-$14 at Amazon. Click to see.

The sprouting process is simple. You place a small amount of the sprouting seed (more on that in a minute) on the tray, fill the top reservoir with water, and let it trickle down through all the layers of seeds, wetting each layer of seeds. Do this twice a day and in about three to five days, keeping the sprouting container in a well lit area of your home and you’ll have fresh sprouts ready to eat. How’s that for quick and healthy food?

Sprouts as a survival/emergency food

Sprouts should be added to the food strategy of anyone looking to create a secure and sustainable food supply. Firstly, sprout seeds are vegetable seeds so they can serve the dual purposes of sprouting for food, or growing to fully mature plants in the garden. Secondly, seeds are easy to store. As long as they’re clean, dry, cool, and dark, they should hold up in storage for a between 1-10 years! We consider them sustainable because we can plant the seeds, harvest harvest the crops from those seeds, keep seeds from the crop and store them again and again (if using non-GMO, non-hybrid seeds that is). They’re also great because the don’t require much space, require no real “labor” to speak of (compared to gardening), very little water, and tolerate most indoor temperatures. In summary, sprouts are hard to mess up!

Sprouting seeds – a smorgasbord of flavors and variety

If all you know of sprouting is alfalfa sprouts you can buy in the store – it’s time to expand your horizons! There are tons of varieties of sprouts to choose from. Leafy sprouts such as alfalfa, clover, and arugula. There’s “Bean” sprouts such as mung bean, garbanzo (chick pea), pea, lentil and peanut. Then there’s Brasicca sprouts such as broccoli, radish, mustard and more. Perhaps you might like Grasses (wheat, barley), Grains (spelt, quinoa, kamut), Nuts (almonds, sunflower), or Allium sprouts (garlic, leek, onion). There’s not shortage of things to sprout! You cannot sprout everything (ie. never sprout nightshades like tomato, potato, and eggplant).

When we got started, we were not sure what we’d like, so we purchased a 12lb variety pack (seen below). It’s been a great way to add to our emergency food supply as well as discover what we like. So far, the clear winner in our home are lentils!

This is the 12lb organic sprout seed sampler we purchased. It's a good way to get a lot of seeds, and also discover what you like.

Ancient wisdom with modern repercussions

Sprouting seed has been around for a loooong time! Take a look at this scripture verse:

“Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. – Ezekiel 4:9

I don’t know about you… but if there were a food that I knew could keep me alive for 390 days eating nothing else, I think I’d add it to my emergency food supplies. In the verse above, God instructed the prophet Ezekiel to make a bread from sprouted grains and eat it (exclusively) for just such a duration. It’s no wonder… take a look at the nutritional value of sprouts:

  • Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K
  • Calcium
  • Carbohydrates
  • Chlorophyll
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Niacin
  • Pantothenic Acid
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • All Amino Acids
  • Trace Elements
  • Protein: up to 35%

Do we want to eat sprouts/sprouted bread for 390 days? Of course not. However, it’s nice to know that there are simple, healthy, inexpensive, and sustainable foods that can sustain our lives and the lives of those we love. Heh, sprouting was worthwhile enough for God to instruct Ezekiel to give it a shot – maybe you should give them a try too?!

Please post your own thoughts about sprouts in the comments below.