January 25, 2020

Around The Homestead

A (mostly) photo update of projects and happenings on the homestead.

Weather


Cold and rainy! Water buckets have been frozen so every morning we heat water before going out to do chores. Then we break the ice off the surface and top of with hot water. Everybody likes warm water on a cold day and it keeps the buckets from refreezing too quickly.

In spite of the cold our daffodils have started to bloom.


This new bout of rain is supposed to warm things up, however. No complaints about that!

Freezer


Yesterday we moved the freezer from the pantry to the back porch! All that's left to get it on solar is to hook up the inverter and plug it in. That will probably be my next blog post. Dan put it on 2x4s to distribute the weight on the porch floor, but I'm also glad for the air circulation underneath. I gave it a good cleaning when we moved it and the bottom was mildewy. Better air circulation will help with that. I'm also going to repaint the top.


It's gotten pretty rusty over the years.

Front Bedroom Exterior Siding

Is up!


But it's been too cold to paint, which is the next step. Then the trim. Hopefully, our promised warm spell will be warm enough to paint. Even so, the new windows and new layer of siding have made a noticeable difference in the front bedroom. Quieter and not as cold.

Eggs


The hens are starting to lay again. Cat nose included for size! LOL

Goats

Kidding is right around the corner.

The Girls

Daisy has a due date of February 14 and will be first.


Then Ellie, then Miracle, both in March.

I still have too many bucks.

The Boys

If anybody's interested in a registered Kinder buck, let me know!

Parting Shot

Riley

UPDATE: Our lone Muscovy duck is dead. Dan found her this morning while doing chores. Evidence suggests she was killed by a 'possum. She was a favorite of his, so he's taking it pretty hard.

Around The Homestead © January 2020

January 21, 2020

Solar Project: Finishing Up Odds and Ends

Last week we had lovely weather and a break from the rain. We took advantage of it to put some finishing touches on our solar project.

First was to add an exhaust fan to the battery box to vent heat and hydrogen gas (a by-product of the batteries when they charge). A lot of people seem to like the Zephyr Power Vent, which can be installed as part of a vent pipe. It uses 3 watts of power and moves air at 6 CFM. It would be handy if one was venting from a basement, say, to the outside, but our battery box is already outside. Plus, it's pricey, about $110.

Instead, we got a DC cooling fan which Dan installed in the back side of the battery box. It uses 2.1 watts and pushes air at 43.6 CFM. It was $12.



The fan connects to the charge controller, which will regulate it.

Dan's roof design for the box allows air in under the roof eaves, but he also added air intake holes on both ends of the box.


To monitor temperature inside the box, we added a Remote Temperature Sensor.


This also connects to the charge controller and enables the controller to optimize battery charging according to temperature. It was about $30 and seemed a good investment for better battery management.

Another task was to check the specific gravity of the battery cells with a hydrometer. The battery manual gives details on the specific gravity. Battery cells were topped off with distilled water if needed.


Lastly, the batteries were connected. You may recall that they are 6-volt, 235 amp-hour golf cart batteries.


I showed you a diagram in my Solar Pantry Project: Batteries post and explained that by wiring pairs of batteries negative to positive (series connection) and then wiring the pairs together with all positive on the one side and all negative on the other (parallel connection), we now have a 12-volt, 705 amp-hour battery bank. Another task completed.

We're getting close to power day!

January 17, 2020

And the Next Project Is.....

We're almost ready to hook up the solar! First, we were waiting on a temperature sensor for the charge controller and a vent fan for the battery box, then came days of almost nonstop rain. However, Dan can't sit still, so he had to find something to do. After finally finishing the back corner of the house, he was in the mood to keep working on the house, so he set his sights on the front bedroom windows.


He replaced the other bedroom windows (on the left) in 2013!


Good grief, has it really been that long??? It's not like we haven't worked on the house between then and now. After we remodeled that bedroom we installed the new siding, rebuilt the front porchreplaced the living room windows, then the dining room windows, re-sided the front gable ends, replaced the front windows in the sun room, replaced the front window to the room we're working on now, re-sided the back gable end, and reroofed the pantry.

He started by pulling off the trim inside to see what he could see.

Here's an interior shot before he removed windows.

Our house was built in the 1920s, and these are the original windows. The iron window weights  counterbalanced the weight of the window to keep it from slamming shut.

Iron window weights.

The problem is that the spaces for the weights couldn't be insulated, making the entire window unit an energy sieve.

He had a nice day to remove the vinyl siding and take out the old windows. Rain was in the forecast, so he covered the opening with a sheet of plastic and worked mostly from the inside.

Windows out and plastic up.


Those aren't very good photos, but we didn't empty the room for this project, and I couldn't step back far enough to get a good pic. It's being used for storage, so everything just got moved enough for room to work on the windows. Here's a better shot from outside.


Now we need a string of nice days to put up and paint the new siding.

January 13, 2020

The Garden in January

Winter is a slow time in the garden, and the seasonal change of pace is nice. I've got a few things growing, and am harvesting lettuce and collard greens. On nice days, I work on jobs from our winter project list.
  • dig two more swale beds
  • cover and mulch main aisles
  • do something with that weedy corner!

Progress on these is slow going because we've had a lot of rain. Except for a few cold snaps, it's mostly been mild, with highs in the mid-40s and 50sF. But we've had cold, biting wind, which takes the enjoyment out of an otherwise nice day.

Of my list, the first new swale bed is about dug out and ready to fill with logs, branches, sticks, wood chips, compost, and soil.

The first of two hugelkulture swale beds
I'm hoping to make this winter.

I've made a start on mulching the wheelbarrow aisles too. Here's how it looked before:

Photo from "Modest Success in Controlling Wiregrass"

Here's my progress so far...

Eventually, I'll have the whole garden looking like this!

I use several layers of heavy-duty cardboard on the bottom and a thick wood chip mulch on top of that. I prefer to do this when the soil is wet from rain. The cardboard and wood chips will help keep it from drying out, and I need to retain all the moisture I can in my soil! This past summer, I had pretty good success with this method to keep wire grass at bay.

The last project on the list is doing something about "that weedy corner." Here's how it looked last August.

Except for the hoop house and winter squash in in the
background, you'd never know this was part of my garden!

Years ago this spot was my first no-till experiment, naturalized with violets. But honeysuckle and blackberry roots lurked underneath and after years of trying to conquer them they finally won. This past summer it was the weedy mess you see above. Eventually, I'll double dig more swale beds here, but for now my solution was to dig out all the roots that I could and mulch heavily with leaves.


What's growing? Not a lot. A couple months ago, I planted carrots, radishes, lettuce, and kale, but not much of that has come up yet. Garlic and multiplier onions are doing well, however.

I have garlic planted everywhere.
Here's some in the strawberry bed.

Multiplier onions

I mentioned harvesting collards.

Heading collards

These are actually from last winter! Somehow they survived the summer with very little watering and are still producing tasty greens. I expect them to bolt this year.

Lettuce with garlic and fava beans.

We're enjoying lettuce on sandwiches and in salads. The fava beans are new for me. They are a cool weather bean, so I thought I'd give them a try. They should do okay if we continue to have a mild winter. Our winters can go either way, however, so they still might get frozen out. So far so good, although I don't expect beans until next spring.

I should also be able to start adding miners lettuce and chickweed to our salads soon. The chickweed volunteers everywhere, and the miners lettuce was transplanted from a large pot the hoop house.

Volunteer miners lettuce (claytonia)

I transplanted it in clumps into one of the hoop house beds.

It's taking off well with plenty of rain and mild temps.

Also in the hoop house is a bed of Chinese cabbages. They suffered some bug damage earlier but are growing now. I trim a few leaves for salads now and then.

Chinese cabbage

Also from the hoop house are volunteer dandelions that I harvested. I dry both the greens and the roots.

Dandelions

I have two experimental grain patches too.

Hulless oats

The hulless oats look a little disorderly, but the seed did well. The heritage wheat, on the other hand, not so well.

Heritage wheat had poor germination.

I'll continue to plug away at my projects and enjoy nice weather while we have it.

How about you? Anything happening in your garden?

The Garden in January © January 2020

January 9, 2020

Solar Project: Grounding the System


Earth ground symbol
Electricity follows pathways. Typically, that's the wiring between the source and whatever requires electricity to operate. If there's a problem, it can jump the wiring and electrify nearby metal. This could be deadly to someone who touches it. Physically connecting the wiring to the earth gives the electricity an alternate pathway, if needed. Called grounding or earthing, this is an important safety feature.

Many solar setups tie all the components together and ground them as a unit. If we had been thinking several steps ahead we could have done that too. Because we were doing this one step at a time, Dan grounded the solar panels separately, as specified in their installation manual.

The grounding holes in the solar panels' aluminum
frames are marked with the earth ground symbol.

Lay-in lugs connect the neutral grounding wire to the panels.

This photo makes it look like the wire loop on the right is
touching itself. It's not! It's just the angle of the photograph.

The grounding wire is connected to a grounding rod.


Alternatively, the ground wire could have run
through the underground conduit (white
pipe sticking out of the ground)
 to the battery box.

At the battery bank box, the charge controller and inverter are grounded together. Each clearly shows where the ground wire attaches.

Charge controller innards. Ground wire on the right.

Inverter ground wire on the right.

The ground wires from the charge controller and inverter are connected in the battery box with a thingy called a busbar.

Busbar with two of the three ground wires attached.

The third wire above (yet to be attached) will connect the busbar to the grounding rod. The ground wire from the panel array could have been connected here too. The busbar is a conductor and will direct wayward currents from either the controller or the inverter to the ground rod.

Our second ground rod near the battery bank box.

That's a very important step accomplished!

Most of the cables are in place, but they aren't connected yet. There are a few more things to do first, and then we can put the system together.

January 5, 2020

Solar Project: Figuring Out the Wiring

In my last solar project update, I showed you the battery box Dan came up with. The batteries and charge controller are now installed in the box, so the next step will be connecting all the components together.


For that, we need various sizes of cables and circuit breakers.


To understand how it all fits together, I drew a diagram.

You should be able to click to biggify.

Cable size is based on current (amperage), so they become progressively larger as the electricity travels from source to use.


I used the sizes recommended by Prepper's Total Grid Failure Handbook and the charge controller user manual.
  • 10 AWG from solar panels to charge controller
  • 2 AWG from charge controller to battery bank
  • 4 AWG golf cart battery interconnect cables between batteries
  • 1/0 AWG from the battery bank to the inverter

The manuals helped me size the circuit breakers too.


Solar is a direct current (DC) system, so all of these are DC circuit breakers. Household (AC) circuit breakers are not recommended.
  • 30 amp (12-72 volts) between solar panels and charge controller. The formula is the PV array's short-circuit current (LSC) multiplied by 1.56. The LSC is listed on the back of the panels. For us, that was 6.39 x 3 panels = 19.17 x 1.56 = 29.9 or 30 amps.
  • 60 amp circuit breaker between the charge controller and battery bank was recommended in the charge controller manufacturer.
  • 175 amp circuit breaker between batteries and inverter was recommended in the inverter manual.
They are marine breakers, so they are waterproof. Even though they will be installed in the battery box, that still seemed like a good idea.

All of that is probably more technical than you're interested in, but I want to have all the information where I can find it. That's in case we need it for future reference. A blog comes in handy for things like that!

The next step will be grounding the system.