Monday, June 23, 2014

A Slow Cooker on Solar Power

This is not going to be some sort of fancy post about a "solar" cooker with mirrors or foil or glass or anything like that.  As simple and effective as they may be, I was more interested in something that would simplify our life, rather than complicate it.

Cookers of the solar type are generally home-built, something I wasn't all that keen to entertain at the moment, and I feel that they lose their power to keep food safely and consistently heated when a cloud passes overhead.

At the same time, I had noted that our charge controller has a habit of tapering off the amps going into the batteries shortly after peak output, as they take on more and more electrons.  This notably resulted in the solar system spending large portions of the day ignoring loads of potential energy.  We generally have been using that up by doing laundry on sunny days, and pumping water, and things of that nature.

After awhile I began to wonder about other loads that might be utilized during these times of overabundance of power.  Enter the humble slow cooker...

Research online revealed a great range of possible wattages, but the enticing price and overall hint of energy savings finally gave me incentive enough to at least try it and see.

I ordered one of the smallest ones I could find, while still feeling that it would have the capacity to cover the three of us, plus occasional guests.  I ended up with a 2.5quart model with a simple off/low/high range.

In practice, it has been really a great addition to our household and has so far this spring and summer earned a position in our pantry.

On low it seems to draw about 10 amps from our 12V battery bank, and on high I would say closer to 16 or 17.  This means that it is very realistic and not at all nerve-wracking to plug it in even at 11 or 12 on a sunny morning and already it won't be drawing down the battery bank.  We often turn it on high for the first hour or two before switching it to low to continue cooking our evening meal.

It also means that it doesn't heat up the cabin as much as starting some sort of fire would do at the end of the day.

One of our favourite meals has been to simply throw in a package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs with a large helping of barbeque sauce and enjoy this on some buns with a side salad.

Here is my attempt today at turkey burrito mix - it was a "mixed" success though - I added a bit of water to make sure it didn't dry out, but instead, it turned into a burrito slurry.  Worked okay, but soaked through the tortillas right away.

You can see that in spite of it being set on high, my battery bank was charging just fine.

Donna has become a wizard at making different casseroles, and one that I could have over and over again is her perogie one.  Each one has been different, first with chicken and gravy added, then with ham and asparagus, and lately with sliced sausage.

I am so blessed to have Donna here, enduring one scheme or experiment after another, and making the good ones actually work and be enjoyable.  Her commitment to keeping Kenny and me healthy, grounded and happy never fails, even at the expense of her own needs at times.  I am constantly amazed at the good fortune I have had to find her, and often find myself questioning if I really deserve someone so great.  Homesteading really requires an exceptional spouse and Donna is one of a kind!

Speaking of which, one of my friends from Aikido just told me that they were getting married this fall.  I'm very happy for them, they were such a great training partner and exhibited a wonderful spirit on and off the mat, and their future spouse will be very lucky to have them in their life!  Best wishes!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Finishing Off Cutting the Slab Pile to Stove Length

It has been a very slow progress spring for me here on the homestead.  It has been at various times rainy, and buggy, and hot, and I've been fighting though some pretty severe fatigure.  My off-homestead work commitments have also increased.

In between the other obstacles, and naps, I managed to spend a couple of solid days plugging away at the slab pile down by the sawmill.  It took much longer than I expected!  At least I had the ATV and trailer running well and was able to use the trailer to haul away the cut up slabs.

For now I cut them up by laying them across two metal sawhorses, strapping them onto both of the sawhorses, and then cutting one end and then the other.  I alternated to prevent the weight from moving off centre and tipping over the whole thing.  Finally I cut between the supports and repeated the process.

Well, except for breaks.

And a second break.  It was certainly the highlight to have Kenny and Donna come to visit, especially when they brought a cool drink of water.

Eventually I was able to nearly fill my largest woodshed with all these slabs - that's a nice feeling.  But I still have three more to go before winter, and that's assuming that I'll burn much less wood this year if I can improve the overall insulation of the sauna and cabin.

A nice side effect of cutting up the slab pile was that after having sat for so long, the slabs readily gave up their bark.  I had so much bark coming off of them that I was able to spread it around the sawmill site in a manner that smoothed out the landscape slightly.  I'll see if this can continue.

Wait!  That's not where those are to go!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Starting to Plant

With all the other things to do on the homestead, we have opted to make the garden one of the lower priorities.  This was on the advice of another famous proponent of rural living - Steve Maxwell, who suggested that gardening took up a large investment in time that he wasn't able to commit to while building his house.

Besides, in the western world, and Canada especially, food is sometimes incredibly cheap (but that's rapidly changing too).

This summer we couldn't resist the urge to at least begin to take some baby steps.  Now that Grandpa had given us a safe and easy means to keep our plants watered, we just needed to get started.

First Grandpa and I headed off to a nearby location to see if we could transplant some hazelnut trees.  Grandpa wasn't exactly sure where he had seen them in the past, but we found some likely candidates that he couldn't identify, so we brought them home and Kenny and I dug some holes for them.  It will be a laughable situation if they turn out to be something different and I spent so much time transplanting them.

Then a neighbour hooked me up with several large trays that Donna placed close to the pond and her and Grandpa filled them with soil.

Kenny pitched in later when Grandpa brought over some flowering plants that they had extra of.

Now we've expanded out to rhubarb, raspberries, strawberries, parsley and chives as our "perennials" - and Donna and Kenny also have some potatoes, onions, carrots, beans, lettuce, cucumbers, radish, pumpkins, sunflowers and other flowers all showing good signs of growth.

Some unexpected but appreciated red pine seedlings rounded out our efforts so far.

We'll try to keep our expectations realistic, but it's a fun start!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Grandpa Builds a Dock

A project that Grandpa had mentioned a number of times lately was a small dock for our pond.

While I don't believe we'll get much chance to fish from it, it certainly would make fetching water for the soon to come garden and plants much easier.

I pointed Grandpa to my rough lumber pile and told him he had carte blanche to do as he sees fit.  I have to admit, I was very impressed with the final result!  I didn't see any part of the construction progress, he simply told me one day he thought it was ready to put into the pond if I wanted to help him move it in.

He built it into a sort of sideways "L" shape - with the lowest end weighted down by some large, heavy, flat rocks.  The opposite end was where it would rest on the shore.

His plan went off flawlessly.  We slide a long board into the corner of the dock, where it balanced perfectly.  This let us both advance on opposite sides of the pond until the dock was as far out as he desired.  We lowered it down, and I slid out the board.

The dock felt stable, no rocking.  He then built up some rocks and soil at the shore side, and it looks and works great!  It actually makes me feel better about Kenny filling his bucket.  No more slippery rocks!

Another amazing gift from Grandpa!