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How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

Smallest wood stoves

How to help chicks during hatching

Plug and play grid tie inverter

Aug 2013

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Eleven months of the composting toilet

Why jam won't gel

The perfect chicken coop

New and improved chicken drinking device

Honey gate bucket installation

Aug 2012

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Strider posing with new fixed spatula

Our good spatula broke in two. I tried gluing it once, but it didn't hold for long.

It works okay like this...but we lost a pastured beef meatball last week due to it separating.

Today I got lucky with drilling a hole through both the plastic and metal and securing it with some found hardware. With any luck this will put an end to any future meatball casualties.

Posted Thu Aug 21 15:58:45 2014 Tags:
Homesteading gear

It turns out that a like-minded neighbor was living a mere half mile down the road from us all this time, and we only learned the extent of our similarities when she got ready to move away.  For health reasons, our neighbor is having to return to her home state, and she decided that much of her homesteading gear wasn't worth shipping south.  Did we want a rocket stove, hand-cranked generator, solar oven (with one broken pane), and much more?  Definitely!

Sun pantry drying rack

I'm most excited about experimenting with the rocket stove and the solar oven, while the Chinese military-issue generator from 1972 tops Mark's list.  However, what I actually used first was an item I thought wouldn't be much use to us here.  A simple wooden rack of drying trays makes sense if you live in a climate where the humidity doesn't often hover around 80%, but if we tried to dry food in such a device without building a solar dehydrator around it, we'd just grow mold.

Still, when I realized I'd picked too much basil for my current batch of pesto, I thought --- maybe the simple drying setup would work for herbs?  I filled the four trays with basil, oregano, chives, and Egyptian onions and will report back in a few weeks once I discover which, if any, dry quickly enough to maintain their flavor in our wet climate.

A huge thank you to our soon-to-be-ex neighbor for sharing the bounty with us!

Posted Thu Aug 21 07:19:08 2014 Tags:
how to modify an old military Chinese hand cranked generator?

An old hand cranked Chinese military generator found its way back to us recently. (More on those details tomorrow.)

It was designed to power Army radios in the field. Cutting the 4 pin cable reveals black, red, and white wires. The red and white wires equal 30 regulated volts at 1 amp and the red and black outputs 25 regulated volts at 2 amps.

I'm surprised at how little effort it takes to create 12 to 15 volts. The first experiment I want to do is hook up an additional voltage regulator/charge controller to try charging a golf cart battery.

Posted Wed Aug 20 15:57:21 2014 Tags:
Battery-powered chainsaw

When Mark's gas-powered chainsaw died after only a couple of years of use, I decided to see if there were any battery-powered chainsaws out there.  It turns out that quite a few battery-powered saws are starting to look like possibilities for homesteaders who just need to cut enough firewood to get them through the winter.  Is a battery-powered chainsaw a good option for us (and for homesteaders like us?).

While attempting to answer that question, I came across many pros and cons for battery-powered versus gas chainsaws.  The major disadvantage of battery-powered chainsaws is that they're not quite up to handling the same extreme cutting conditions that gas-powered saws are.  Most reviews of even the best battery-powered chainsaws suggest that cutting trees more than 9 to 12 inches in diameter (depending on the hardness of the wood) might stress your saw, and you'll need to be pretty careful with maintaining chain sharpness to get even that level of cutting.  Similarly, you can't cut all day with a battery-powered saw since the battery usually gives out after an hour or two, and, in the long run, replacement batteries usually cost over a hundred bucks once the cell stops accepting a charge.  (Of course, Da Pimp might extend that battery life considerably.)

Assembling an Oregon chainsaw

On the other hand, battery-powered saws have a major appeal for folks like us who wouldn't usually be cutting for more than a couple of hours at a time anyway.  There's the quietness factor --- not only are battery-powered saws silent when not cutting, they're much quieter than a gas-powered chainsaw even when zipping through wood.  We'd never have to fight those ornery pull starters (that always seem to get harder and harder to pull as a gas-powered saw ages), and maintenance in general is likely to be much simpler with a battery model.  Homesteaders who go for months without cutting won't need to be as worried about their saws if they opt for battery-powered versions since there's no fuel to go bad, and battery-powered saws probably cause less overall pollution than a typical two-stroke gas saw.  Finally, a battery saw definitely feels safer since the motor isn't running at all as you move between areas to cut.

Is the pleasantness factor worth the lack of power?  We received a review saw from Oregon to see if we can answer that question.  Stay tuned for a bunch of posts from Mark as he experiments with our trial saw, and for a later post from me explaining how we narrowed down the battery-powered chainsaw choices out there.  In a few weeks, I hope that we'll be able to tell you whether or not a battery-powered chainsaw is worth the expense for homesteaders.

Posted Wed Aug 20 08:03:52 2014 Tags:
oregon battery powered chainsaw

We tried out the new Oregon battery powered chainsaw today.

I was very impressed with the power. We cut down a medium sized walnut tree with no problem. We also cut up some small pieces for an upcoming Rocket Stove experiment

It's nice to not need ear protection.

Posted Tue Aug 19 16:09:33 2014 Tags:
Cover crop seeds

Even though I'm quite happy with my current cover-crop campaign (explained in depth in Homegrown Humus), there are some gaps I want to fill in both the book and in my own protocols.  Time for an experiment!

Part of this year's cover-crop experiment is going to take place off-farm.  As with any gardening book, Homegrown Humus is largely based on my own experiences, which means that people who live far away may have slightly different results.  So I tracked down ten readers scattered across the U.S. who were willing to accept free packs of cover-crop seeds in exchange for putting my experiments at work in their own gardens.  Seed packages went in the mail last week for folks living in zone 5 and colder, while everyone else's seeds will be mailed out tomorrow.  I'm really looking forward to learning how buckwheat and sunflowers do during "cold" months in the Deep South and how oats, oilseed radishes, and fava beans fare all over.

Fava bean seeds
"Fava beans?" you may be saying.  "You haven't mentioned that cover crop before."  Very astute of you!  In fact, fava beans are the other part of this year's cover-crop experiment --- trying out a new species for our farm.  I've read a lot about fava-bean cover crops on permaculture blogs, but the legume seems to be hardy primarily in zones 7 and warmer.  Since we live in zone 6 (and sometimes have nearly zone-5 winters due to our north-facing hillside), I figured fava beans were out of our league.  But why not push the envelope?

To that end, I soaked Windsor fava bean seeds for speedy germination, then planted 0.625 pounds in several different locations around the farm.  Soon I'll know if fava beans are worth the high seed price ($12.75 per pound once you factor in shipping), whether they can handle clayey soil, whether they will survive in waterlogged ground, and whether they do well when mixed with oats and oilseed radishes.  Stay tuned for updates!

Do you want to be part of future experiments?  I usually post this type of opportunity to our facebook page, but even if you're already a fan, facebook might not be showing you our updates.  Be sure to click the like button at the bottom of our posts when you notice them if you want to be sure to see them on your news feed in the future!

Posted Tue Aug 19 07:32:05 2014 Tags:
fixing the nest box on a chicken tractor

The bottom of our chicken tractor nest box collapsed this weekend.

After fixing it this morning I made a holder for a 2 gallon chicken bucket waterer.

Posted Mon Aug 18 16:05:19 2014 Tags:
Full chest freezer

I knew when we bought our quarter of a cow that we might run out of freezer space as a result, and the inevitable has finally happened.  Pastured beef, homegrown chicken, some strawberry jam and leather, plus 22 gallons of various vegetables equates to a freezer nearly full to the brim.  What's next?

If it were September instead of August, I'd say, "Time to rest on my laurels and prepare for winter!"  But the garden is still overflowing, and we should have at least a bushel apiece left of beans, corn, and tomatoes coming in over the next few weeks.  In a pinch, I can give some away, but we always wish we had more summer bounty come spring, so I'd prefer to preserve at least a few more gallons of warm-weather food.

The obvious solutions to round out our preservation campaign are canning and drying.  If I limit myself to plain tomatoes, canning is easiest since I can use the hot-water-bath method, but I'm tempted to brush off the pressure canner we bought years ago as a backup to the freezer and try my hand at canning soup.  Alternatively, I could dry tomatoes, which is a bit more nitpicky but is cooler since the heat source is outside rather than right in our living area.  And, if I were brave, maybe I'd even try my hand at drying corn and beans?

What do you do when you run out of room in the freezer and still have food in the garden?  (Don't say "Buy a pig!")

Posted Mon Aug 18 07:30:28 2014 Tags:
40 volt battery powered chainsaw review

Anna has been researching battery powered chainsaws and somehow arranged for the nice people at Oregon tools to send us a complimentary review chainsaw to drive around the block a few times.

The first test will have to wait till the massive 40 volt battery charges up.

Stay tuned to see how long the battery lasts and what kinds of firewood it can handle.

Posted Sun Aug 17 16:19:34 2014 Tags:
Solar watches

Back in 2003 when my previous watch died, I decided I wanted a watch that would really go the distance.  With my usual supreme unconcern for aesthetics, I chose the huge specimen shown on the right above, and that watch has served me very well.  Between waterproofness, shock resistance, solar battery charging, and automatically setting the time every night using something I can't recall (radio waves from Texas?), I haven't had to deal with watch issues in over a decade.

But all good things must come to an end.  The battery inside my beauty finally stopped accepting a charge a few months ago, and I decided to buy a new watch rather than a new battery.  Over the last decade, due to Mark's hard work to smooth down the edges of my type-A personality, I've stopped wearing a watch every day and instead simply use my time piece to check the hour if I wake up at night, to jerk me out of sleep once or twice a year when I can't wake at my normal pace, and to monitor how long we've been rubbing rocks when counting stream macroinvertebrates.  I do like the solar feature of my old watch since longevity is always a boon, but since I rarely take watches out in the field now, I'm willing to bypass the extreme waterproofing and shock resistance.  I'm even willing to set my watch twice a year to take care of daylight savings time the hard way.

Despite that willingness to downgrade, I put off buying a replacement watch for months.  I remember my old watch was pretty pricey (although I don't recall the exact figure), and I wasn't sure I was willing to spend so much again.  But apparently solar technology has come down considerably in the last decade.  A simple solar watch now costs under $10 even after you factor in shipping!  At that price, and with such good reviews, Mark said he wanted one too.  Here's hoping my second solar watch will last another 11 years, not just the 6 years promised by the manufacturer.

Posted Sun Aug 17 07:03:52 2014 Tags:

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