Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Self-Reliance: Solar System

I went with solar to run the well.

There IS a power line crossing part of my property, and yet it would mean paying to set poles and run line to the homesite or well head or somewhere to get hooked in to that.  It was going to be  extremely expensive.  And then I'd be paying a monthly bill.

So, I skipped it.  As I plan the real cabin to live in properly, I'm planning to stick with stand-alone solar.  Not grid tie.  Grid tie here means paying to set those poles and hook up, and then having a more expensive solar system to avoid feed back and meter it and etc.  So, skip it.  I might get more panels.

Right now the system is 2 panels (I forget the size, but biggish, not crappy little ones), 8 batteries, a 24volt system into the inverter which runs the well and has an outlet on it.  There is also a charge controller, The panels are on a pole that can turn and tilt them.

I have learned that I should have gotten a 220/240V well pump, or a DC well pump, or a special one that can run on any power (220, 110, DC, whatever).  I got a 110.  Oh well.  We can't get it all right the first time.   It draws much amperage especially at start up so one scraped wire dropping volts meant it didn't work right for about a year until I found the right solar guys to figure out the issue.  That wire will be replaced when the real cabin goes in and the solar is moved and that portion will need to be re-wired. 

IF I wanted a fridge and washing machine and freezer and to live like someone on the grid, the solar would be too expensive or too high maintenance for me.  I will have lights, a bathroom fan, a few outlets, the well.  That's about it.  I may get a couple more panels to keep the charge up and I'm exploring microhydro and microwind for the not-so-sunny times, but that will probably end with exploration.

I'm not "self-sufficient" with the solar since someone built the panels and other components and I don't do my own wiring etc. I am self-reliant in that with this system in place, I am currently fulffilling most of my electrical needs.  I did bring the electric weed whacker and battery to work today to charge, but that was because I didn't want to leave the charger unattended, and yet I want to weed whack tonight while it's cool out.  I COULD have charged it at home.

Having the solar run the well pump, even the poorly chosen pump, is pretty darn self reliant.  The whole well/water system is pretty cool but I guess that's another post so I will save it.

Here is a picture of the solar panels and the well pump controller (power thingy) stuck on a post by the spigot.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

I Found the Tree!!!

It was closer to the bee yard than I remembered and I hadn't staked it immediately...then the hay left over from the land's previous life as a hay field grew as tall as the wee tree start.  Totally invisible until I nearly tripped on it.  I put in a stake and it has leafed out nicely.  This is the Wallis Cherry.  I may be spelling that wrong.

Friday, June 2, 2017

One of My Personal Heroes: Tyrone Hayes

Dr. Hayes is a biologist at Berkeley, UC Berkeley that is, who studies atrazine effects.  Atrazine is an herbicide used for a variety of things, especially corn crops.  Lots on corn.  I saw a map of atrazine use per acre of agricultural land and my home town is in the red zone.  For reals.

Anyway, Dr. Hayes studied what this atrazine would do to frogs.  At levels lower than EPA standards, atrazine chemically castrated the male frogs (they not only didn't turn into male-looking frogs, they made eggs, mated with other males, and had live baby frogs come out of those eggs).    The atrazine manufacturer who was paying for this study thought many things...one of which was that perhaps Dr. Hayes could report the results differently.  Perchance in a way that made it look like atrazine didn't do that. He said, "No."  He stuck with that.  He is a hero of mine.

Here he is on Democracy Now a few years ago:

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Self-reliance: Reference Library

1) Reference library.  I can find stuff out without a smartphone or even the interwebs!!!! OMG.  I'm rocking it 1990s style.


I didn't do this every time, but lots of times.  Once I decide I want something, like the Tightwad Gazette, I then start keeping an eye out at the free book bin at the Moscow, Idaho, recycling center, yard sales, and thrift stores.  If something is 25cents, I may get it and then feel free to donate it to a thrift store or little free library or the free book bin if it's not quite what I want.

Here are a few book types in the library:

--Budget/Thrift/Frugality manuals
        My favorites are The Complete Tightwad Gazette (from a thrift store) by Amy Dacyczyn, The Ultimate Cheapskate's Guide to True Riches by Jeff Yeager, various olde tyme housekeeping and thrift books from the recycling center free book bin or 25cents or less at thrift and yard sales.  I try to cull these every year or two.
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--Cookbooks (real ones) and recipes
         Old cookbooks are better for me in general.  Ones where the recipes start with flour, milk, eggs, rather than "a box of cake mix."  Others might like something else.  The classic Better Homes and Gardens cookbook with guides on roasting meats, making bread and cakes from scratch, how to cut up a whole chicken, etc, is a great place to start.  I got two excellent reference cookbooks from a friend (Hi Jon!) who got them at thrift.  Debra Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and Cooking Under Pressure by Lorna Sass.  Both have guides to cooking many many vegetables.  I use these as guides once I've learned how to deal with a meat or veg product.  I also check out cookbooks from the library and copy out the recipes I like.  A collection of recipes from family, friends, and events needs culling right now, but often serves as inspiration.  I also have a couple of solar cooking cookbooks that I found in the free book bin at the recycling center.
         Food preservation books on fermenting, canning, dehydrating and root cellaring are also in there.

--First Aid and Home Healthcare References
       I found both at thrift stores.  The first aid manual is an scouting one.  The healthcare is based on nutrition and herbs that probably grow in the garden.          

--Basic carpentry how-to
       This mostly lets me know that something is beyond my skills, but good to have.

--Various low cost and energy efficient housing design books (Alex Wade is my hero!!!!)
       These were and are used for planning my "real" house that I hope to have built eventually.

--Beekeeping book (Thanks Hilch and the girls!!!  Great gift)
         This one is a nice basic reference.  There are tons out there so I don't know if it is the best but it is very good.   I am on the look out for an old version of The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture partly as useful reference and partly for the history of beekeeping.

--Dictionary.  Actually 2.
          One basic new one and one vest pocket type from 1906!  Both found at thrift for about 25cents. 

--Manuals for my appliances, tools, systems, etc
        These come in SO HANDY when something breaks or I get the question "what is the model number?" or "when did you buy that?" from a repair person.  Write the purchase date, or at least year, on the cover and store them either all together in a good sturdy box, or in a protective bag/cover and on the wall right by the appliance/tool/system.

--Plant/Animal Identification guides
        I have wild plants (medicinal, food, and otherwise), wildlife, birds, and would like a good mushroom guide.  I also have free e-books on weeds and local native plants.   I may print them out so I don't have to turn on the computer to find the info.

--Gardening/Orchard guides
         From the free book bin at recycling, I got the Sunset Western Garden Book from the 1970s.  Excellent!  I recently found a newer hardcover version at a thrift store for very cheap.  Currently deciding which to keep and which to put in a "tiny library" for someone else to have.  I also have a second gardening techniques book that is similar and may cull down to just one or the other.  I have an old copy of the Square Foot Garden, Let it Rot (composting), and a set of handouts on various plants from gardening classes.  I keep the notes from the garden/farm classes I attend in a hardcover notebook (that I got at a thrift store), so these notes are all together and I can find them.

--Repair and Maintenance and Hack guides.
      I haven't settled on the ones I like, but these are books on how to refinish furniture, fix household items, mend clothes, and the like.  An old housewife's guide from the 1800s has been extremely useful and was a gift from my gramma years ago.  I found a new general fix it guide at thrift that is being auditioned.

--Guide to my garden/orchard
     This is one I am putting together myself.  I haven't settled on a format but I'm thinking one page for each type of tree/shrub/cane-berry to record when/where I got it, when/where it was planted, and how it is doing.   I'll put in notes on annuals in another section or another notebook.

I switch out books now and then.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Self-Reliant vs Self-Sufficient

I was watching the youtubes a while back, because...well, because I didn't feel like working for a bit.

I saw a random vlog post by someone who spoke about being "self-sufficient" vs "self-reliant."
Very interesting.  I think I prefer, as did the vlogger, to work toward "self-reliance" rather than "self-sufficiency."  Partly because people have ideas about self-sufficiency being an absolute.  Much like "off-grid" there are levels of self-sufficiency.  Is one off-grid if one uses gasoline?  One probably does not drill and refine one's own petroleum.  One did not make, probably, the engine into which one puts the gasoline.  You get it...there is a grid out there and it's not realistic to live in the US, or the developed world, and not bump into the grid now and then.  I have a stand alone solar system and a well.  But I do drink water at work from the tap and am typing right now on a computer that is plugged into the grid. So, am I self-sufficient and off-grid?  Is it like being a "flexitarian"?  Those vegetarians who eat meat sometimes?  I'm off-grid-ish at home, but not at work.  Anyway, I don't really care.  I'm not in an "off-grid" competition anymore than I'm in a "self-sufficiency" competition.  I do overtly work toward self-reliance.

So what do I think "self-reliance" is?  (Way to set up a straw man so I can respond to it!  Good debate technique.)

I think Self-Reliance means having the skills, knowledge, supplies and motivation to deal with one's problems, and the self awareness to know when one is in over one's head and needs help.
I'm working toward that.  I don't have all the skills, knowledge, etc yet.  Maybe one day, maybe not.

The last bit, knowing when to get help, is also important.  Being self-reliant falls apart if one can't deal with a problem but won't get help, or doesn't even know to get help.  The problem can upset the whole shebam.

E.g. Folks who don't have the skills or self-reflection needed to see that their debt is a problem and pay it down to a manageable amount, perchance an amount of zero.  I've seen people get credit card cash advances to pay the credit card bill, while not mustering up the motivation to cut up the card or otherwise quit using it.  The problem escalates and in a case or two I've seen personally, put the people out of house and home.  I've also seen someone figured out that they were not good with money, drowning in debt, and not able to sort it out. This person faced the issue, decided this was not something they could solve on their own, and got help.  The help was dramatic and possibly traumatic, but resulted in a better life with cash flowing through a money manager.  The person was able to free up time and mental energy and develop other attainable skills.

For me, I will never be a builder.  I want to learn the basics and play around the edges, but for the big stuff, it ain't a happenin'.  I will never get a roof over my head, but I might put up a wall.  Or maybe hang a shelf.  So, I am getting help with the roof bit.  That takes money so I'm using my mad penny pinching skills to pull together that money.

Here are some of the elements of my self-reliance (not yours, not anyone else's).  I'll do blogs on some of them individually:

1) Reference library.
2) Solar system
3) Well
4) Land
5) Housing
6) Reliable Vehicle (hear me knocking on that wood?)
7) Garden
8) Orchard
9) Composter
10) Paper calendar
11) Notebooks/writing stuff
12) Food stock
13) Sturdy clothes
14) Blankets!
15) "Junk" that seems useful (and often is)
16) Tools for building/gardening/etc
17) Cooking utensils
18) Liquid assets/savings
19) Friends
20) Phone
21) Bees
22) Manual Appliances (like not electric)

1) Knowing what I want vs what I need
2) Food: Production, gathering, processing, preserving, cooking, etc
3) Mechanics
4) Researching
5) Familiarity with resource sites (dumpsters, recycling center, community garden, libraries...etc)
6) Frugality

7) Observation skills
8) Record keeping skills
9) Willingness to try new things, to fail, to assess, to try again
10) Personal awareness/insight
11) Beekeeping
12) Chicken husbandry
13) Paying attention
14) Seeing the whole system and spotting the weak spots
15) Mending
16) Planning
17) Laundry

There must be more, but this is where my brain (and my break time) ran out.  This will be revised as I blog about the bits and pieces of it.

Monday, May 22, 2017


Seriously.  I was planting the final set of tree starts for this year and I can't find one of them.  I KNOW it got planted...but where.  There are about 4 good locations and I've check them.

I may have to use my mad archaeology surface survey skills and walk a tight transect pattern over the entire acreage.   Dang it.

If anyone has seen a twig in the ground without a stake and a label, let me know.