"Self-sufficiency does not mean 'going back' to the acceptance of a lower standard of living. On the contrary, it is the striving for a higher standard of living, for food that is organically grown and good, for the good life in pleasant surroundings... and for the satisfaction that comes from doing difficult and intricate jobs well and successfully." John Seymour ~ Self Sufficiency 2003

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Upgraded

It's Earth Hour again tonight, and I think a solar posting is therefore appropriate.
RSon convinced RMan to reconfigure the solar panels - to allow for
additional panels to be added in future - IF they were required.
In June 2014 we removed, re-wired / adjusted and re-installed / re-configured our 8 X 145 watt solar panels in parallel (amps) instead of the original series (volts) and the voltage spiking we had been experiencing during the coldest time of the morning (sunrise) was solved.  The 80 Amp Outback charge controller remained, but we also upgraded our Cotek inverter from 1000 watts to 2000 watts.


The system has served us well and has kept the house running for just under 5 years.

But, our initial mistake in 2012, was to install a 12 volt system.  Our (uneducated and, in hindsight, illogical) reasoning at the time was that camping stuff is mainly 12 volt (to run off car batteries) and therefore those off grid appliances available to us would be in 12 volt.  Plus - honestly - it was what we could afford at the time.

However, appliances that are now being manufactured are far more solar power friendly - using less watts to perform the same duty, if not more, as the limited older make appliances.

But our major power guzzler is our fridge.

We purchased an A+ fridge / freezer combo in December 2014 which only uses 132 watts / day (or 484 kWh / year).  But - a fridge works 24 hours a day - during the daylight hours it draws it's power from the batteries which are concurrently being charged by the panels, and it continues draining the batteries during the night - when no charge is happening.  In itself, that would work brilliantly, but add to that all the other household gadgets (TV, decoder, wi-fi, phones, laptop and printer [9 hours a day for our business], once a week vacuum cleaner (the broom suffices on the other days), lights, bread maker every other day, etc and our batteries were taking a bit of strain.

One of our 6 X 2 volt lead acid batteries failed over December - when the solar suppliers were shutdown for the Christmas season.  Isn't that always the case!?!  One of our neighbours, who had just experienced a break-in, and theft of his 3 X 240 watt panels, charge controller, inverter and 1 of his 5 X lead crystal batteries, kindly lent us his remaining 4 batteries which the thieves had found were too heavy to make a quick getaway with.  That act of kindness also ensured that his remaining batteries were not left in situ / vulnerable for the thieves to return and collect the balance of his system.

RMan was very impressed with the performance of the lead crystal batteries.  They have the ability of being able to be "drained" pretty low without retaining a memory of that drain - as is the case with the majority of other solar batteries.

So, RMan decided that an upgrade of our system would be in order.

We ordered another 2 volt lead acid battery to enable us to continue with our original 6 X 2 volt (12 volt) system.

In addition, we ordered 3 X 300 watt solar panels, 4 X 12 volt 200 Ah lead crystal batteries and a 5 kva 48 volt Replus charge controller and pure sine inverter combined.  The beauty of the Replus is that it is one unit, instead of two, and, providing enough power is being produced by the new panels, it enables power to be drawn straight from the panels whilst the panels are simultaneously charging the batteries.

The new 4 X 200Ah 12 volt lead crystal batteries are wired in series to provide 48 volts and do not produce any fumes - unlike the old 6 X 2 volt lead acid batteries.
With the roof space that the reconfiguration provided, there
was more than enough space to add 3 X 300 watt panels
Naturally, RSon to the rescue once again - climbing round the roof to install the new panels...  even though the 300 watt panels were much heavier than the 145 watt ones, at least he had to lower roof to stand on, which made getting them up on the roof and installing them much easier.

We have the two systems wired separately.  And - after RMan did a fiddle here and there, and installed a new power source to the house - they supply power to two different parts of the house. 
The old system :
6 X 2 volt lead acid batteries
 Outback charge controller and
2000 watt Cotek inverter
The old system powers the bedrooms / lounge / garage (minimal drain from there - just power tools every now and then).

The new system powers only the kitchen i.e. fridge plus 2 plugs (1 for my "Audi lights" and the other for my blender stick / mixer and bread making machine).

With 3 X 300 watt panels, wired in parallel, feeding 4 X 200Ah lead crystal batteries, power generation / provision to the kitchen is brilliant and, most importantly, less demanding on the system.
4 X 200 Ah lead crystal batteries
 and the Replus charge controller
 and inverter combined.

S'funny - you would think that a couple of low wattage lights, a TV, decoder and wi-fi (+/- 40, 35 and 30 watts respectively or +/- 120 watts together) would be easy for a system to handle.  But, over the course of an evening (4 - 5 or more hours) that equates to 600 + watts.  Add that to the fridge which runs for 12 minutes every 8 (on for 12 minutes off for 8 minutes ) and power consumption at night was generally working out to be higher than the entire house during the daylight hours.  We were consuming +/- 2 - 2.5kWh at night - when no power was coming into the batteries and the 6 X 2 volt batteries (when it was overcast for extended periods) were sometimes battling to handle it on their own.

Now that the load is shared - I am even able to use my 1200 watt hair dryer for 8 - 10 minutes (once a week) - providing that I use it during daylight hours - and have allowed the batteries to have a bit of charge before I place such a high demand on them.  So, until about 9.30 - 10.00 a.m. my hair drips dry.  Thereafter I am able to give it some semblance of a style.

Definitely no more power worries in this house anymore.

Cost?

For a stronger, more powerful system it was approx. 30% of the cost of our original solar set-up.

Sometimes I get giddy at the amount of power I now have at my fingertips... :D

Our old system, which is 5 years old, has paid for itself.  5 years of powering our home / business "head office" - if we has used grid power we would have paid more than the original system cost us - for the rural levy only (+/- R680.00 / month)!!!  The cost of the KWh we used would've been added to that.  Our old system is still going.  And now it's life is extended because it has "help" :D

We will not have to switch off our lights for Earth Hour tonight because we, personally, don't need to protest against our power being supplied by coal fired nor nuclear powered power stations - notwithstanding the power required to produce the various components - for only the sun is providing the power for us to use.

However, for the sake of this planet - long term - and for the sake of romance, we will be using only candle light tonight... :D


Disclaimer:  Products mentioned on this blog posting are products we have purchased for our purpose.  That does not imply they will be sufficient for your requirements / purpose.  No supplier is aware, nor has paid us, for mentioning their products.





For info on how you can obtain your own Foothills DryAway solar / wind food dehydrator please click the link.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Penalties

There are plenty of those in life, aren't there.

And they crop up in the most unexpected way too.

Just as we are adjusting to having the cutest, brightest little (well, actually - not so little anymore) puppy in our lives, Stellar has presented us with a whole set of restrictions which we have had to put in place.

Sadly, wielding a rolled up newspaper and emitting a sharp "No!" is taking it's time to have it's desired effect, and accompanying positive adjustment in her behaviour.

Pushing the boundaries is what's it all about...

For instance - the couch - now that is quite the bet place for a puppy to stretch out and catch her beauty sleep.
What a sight - climber netting covering the couches
Not on my watch, it isn't. 

I prefer dog hairless couches when I settle down to relax of an evening.  So, that involved spending just a little bit of money - on a preventative measure.  We opted for a garden rigid-ish climber netting that rolls up when not required, but is uncomfortable enough not to allow for canine snoozes.  As soon as she gets the message, the garden netting will assume it's intended purpose in my garden - perhaps even in time for the peas to wind their way up...?

Then, the relationship between Stellar and Squeak is - to put it politely, not good.  Squeak therefore prefers to spend her days in our bedroom, with her access to outside restricted to night times (through the bedroom window) whilst Stellar is getting her beauty  sleep.  And all Stellar wants to do is play... (sigh)
The make-shift barrier to prevent broken puppy legs
And, staircases - being wooden, and pretty slippery for dogs to climb, means that in order to prevent broken legs, we have had to come up with a hurriedly thrown together gate made out of chicken fencing and our good old Black Wattle poles...

When Stellar is not requiring attention / stimulation (we must get another puppy as a companion I reckon) we can breath a sigh of relief. 
A bolster made our of RMan's old jeans
Stellar has decided that the recycled doggy bed we made her - and blanket and a pair of RMan's old jeans which had their leg "opening's" sewn shut after being filled with wadding - is perfect for snuggling into at night, and during the day...
Her favourite 40 winks spot - under
 my writing desk - and under my feet...
...whilst she can still fit - when she needs 40 winks - climbing into the space below my writing desk is her preferred spot.  Which means I have to sit at the writing desk with my legs crossed otherwise I will constantly be kicking her.

The joys of owing a puppy.

You get the picture?  ðŸ˜‚

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Water wise boundary decor

I started this blog posting back in July last year when we first started on this project...

RMan and a neighbour, E, used to do the installation and maintenance of the potable water system, and the reading of each individuals water meters in our smallholding communnity.  Even though there are 150-odd smallholdings in our area, we are not "formally" recognised by the local authorities as a "settlement" and are thus not entitled to "services".

Whilst travelling to do the water meter readings RMan spotted these plants growing at the entrance to once of the smallholdings.
I'm sorry I didn't get a pic of them in flower - they looked seriously impressive!
However, RMan did pick up some of the fallen flower buds / seed carriers.
No exactly sure how to propagate agaves,
 I just plonked the base of the "flower" into
 some potting soil and hoped for the best...

Not finding any info online on how to propagate agaves, I just plonked the bottoms into a pot of soil in effort to try and grow them, so that, if I am successful, we could then place them, together with some aloe plants, along the front (dirt road) fence of our property.  They may not look like much sans flowers, but they are certainly water-wise, and will help to distinguish our property from the others nearby.
Aloes with red flowers...
Isn't it funny how your tastes change.  Before we had our smallholding I used to think that these types of plants, and aloes, were damned ugly.  Now I understand why they are grown - for their hardiness, drought resistance, and striking feature qualities.
... and aloes with yellow flowers
Fast forward from July to March 2017 and this is actually what was planted along our boundary this week:


The successfully rooted Agave plants
http://www.southafrica.net/blog/en/posts/entry/a-spiky-kind-of-beautiful

Kei apple trees
https://www.plantzafrica.com/plantcd/dovycaf.htm
Spekboom - propagated from our existing plants
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portulacaria_afra
Also, I understand that spekboom is excellent at
 carbon fixing - so, to help reduce our carbon footprint,
  I need to grow as many as I can, I reckon.

Home propagated lavender

NumNum bushes
https://www.plantzafrica.com/plantcd/carisbispin.htm

Geraniums propagated from our existing plants

The boundary fence March 2017 - it looks like nothing at this
 point in time, but I have high hopes of a stunning boundary in
 years to come.
 We have planted groupings of 14 plants / section so it
 should make quite a feature - once they are all grown up... 
We have planted groupings of 14 identical plants per section, so in years to come it should, hopefully, look stunning! 😉

Three of the plants are edible (Kei apple, spekboom and numnum) and all are waterwise 😃  Which is just as well as our drought continues and we have had only 5.5mm ( .2 of an inch) of rain since the 12th February...😟

Although I have never served spekboom in a salad or soup for our personal consumption - yet - apparently, alpacas can also eat it.  Due to their carbon fixing properties I'd love to plant up a whole field of them...  (Don't tell RMan, but I think I'm going to surreptitiously get that going.)

You can read more about the history of South African agaves here.  It's a pity that neither RMan nor I drink tequila... ;)

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Sorting out my excess harvests

I had some fun this past week.

Even though our drought continues, due to the mountains of mulch we scattered everywhere, plus the neighbouring shadecloth veggie patch offers plenty of protection against the drying southerly winds, my 2017 piquanté pepper harvest is beginning to roll in.

The only problem is I still have preserved peppers in my cupboard from last year.  So, what to do with them all?

Why, dehydrate them, that's what 😃
Washed, de-stalked and halved - let the dehydrating commence
So, after the stalks were removed and they were given a quick rinse, they were cut in half and were laid on the inner drying shelf in the Foothills DryAway.
Chopped piquanté peppers - to speed up the dehydrating process
As piquanté peppers, like green peppers, contain a lot of water, dehydrating them was taking too long.

So, plan B.

I roughly chopped them and spread that on trays in the Foothills DryAway.
The dehydrated piquanté peppers were ground down to a
 powder in my food processor
When they were dry (later that day) I placed them once again in the food processor and blitzed away until I had piquanté pepper powder.  I purposely left the seeds in - for that little extra "bite" on the tastebuds.
Dehydrated and bottled - these piquanté
 peppers will last for ages 😂
I can taste the piquanté pepper sprinkled roast chicken that I am going to make in the Rosie this winter already... 😂







For info on how you can obtain your own Foothills DryAway solar / wind food dehydrator please click the link.