Banking on the sun

BlogHighlight this month was the final day we got to throw the big red switch (literally) to turn on our new 9.9 kW bank of solar photovoltaic panels (36 Iteks made here in Washington state).
In the photos below, you can see a new, level terrace built on our hillside, followed by the concrete-based (2400 lbs per hole!) scaffolding erected to hold the panels themselves. This is a grid-tied system, meaning we still can buy electricity from our regional utility company when there is no sun, and sell that same company our excess solar-generated electricity (when we have it). This system does not help when there is a power outage (frequent in our windy winters with above-ground utilities)…but we’ll be able to solve that in the next few years. And for our last remaining friends who wonder if solar panels are worth it, even in the dark Pacific Northwest…read this.
Lowlight of the month is the significantly increased amount of stress in my day job, which I have mistakenly translated into less time with my hands in soil…exactly opposite of what I need. I need to remedy this fast as I threw out my back (that’s where I hold my stress), which of course makes it that much harder to get out in the food forest. I’m reminded of the formula proposed by one of my mentors – the Happo Dammo ratio – which I need to include in my new search for stress mastery, balance and grounding.
Given the new PV panels location, my wife and I plugged up the hives and moved the bees to a new home where they would once again be in full sun and allow my children to observe their behavior from the treehouse. Eventually the gardens beds will expand down in that direction, so the bees will be in the center of the garden. As we moved the hives we discovered the Perone colony had not survived the winter and harvested the remainder of their honey after checking on the supplies of the other two hives (still alive and kicking with plenty of stores). Delicious!

And here’s the time lapse-ish prep and install of the PV panels…


Balance

Perspective

Perspective

Mother Nature is keeping us in balance (at least by her definition) with some gorgeous January weather – blue skies, bright sunshine – that is opposite of this past summer’s Juneuary. I suppose it is a matter of perspective, but the sunshine sure makes me happy no matter what time of the year it comes.

Projects this month included (finally) bricking up the base of the attached greenhouse so it matches the rest of the house, starting the earth-moving work to prep level pads in our pasture for inbound photovoltaic panels that we’ve been thinking about for five years, and starting seedlings for spring planting under the grow lights.

 


Reflections

So, so, so appreciate my wife

So, so, so appreciate my wife

I use this time of year to reflect on what went well this past calendar year, what didn’t, and what I can do about it for the coming years. As the accompanying graphic from the always-brilliant artist behind The Oatmeal explains, greatness for any given project (or just life in general) is the oh-so-lucky intersection of at least four major influences.

Upon reflection, my day job of the last two years (where I have that excellent colleague as indicted in the graphic) is increasingly taking me away from food production duties, and yet that has only decreased our production by 10-20%, mostly due to not prioritizing the daily/weekly management of season extending devices like grow tunnels and Agribon paper.

This year I’ve continued to experience the benefits of a two decade-long buildout of a personal Board of Mentors. They’re like a Board of Advisors for a company, but at a personal level. I’ve found one gaping hole, however, with the lack of a mentor in permaculture. I’ll remedy that this year by carving out time this year to pursue a PDC certificate (permaculture design course) through which I can recruit a mentor specific to my bioregion.

Looking forward to this next year, our first major project will be installation of a ground mount solar PV system we just purchased (will pursue adding wind harvesting when the tech improves as our measurements are currently too low). The solar will be a ground mount system since our roof has way too many angles and not enough continuous space for PV panels.


Colorado comes to Washington

We’ve enjoyed almost a full month of Colorado-like weather with biting cold and glorious blue skies. Love, love, love seeing the sunshine around here, even if it means the chard looks like it is melting under the onslaught of below-freezing weather.

Below you’ll find a special collection of mushrooms found in our yard, food forest, hugelculture bed, and wood-chipped pathways connecting everything. An amazing variety, although we’re missing the return of the hoped-for morels! If you want even more mushrooms, head over to Fantastic Fungi.

 


Food forest’s fifth anniversary

Before

Before

Ah, the wonderful change of seasons in the Pacific Northwest.

One benefit of the increased rain flow is the quick refill of our water cisterns after flushing them a few times for cleaning. 5000 gallons refills in just a week or two. Man, that’s a lot of rain.

This month marks the fifth anniversary of our permaculture food forest. Many, many lessons learned (and some – like how to grow corn – still elude me). The current food forest has 15 fruit trees (eight varieties) – each with it’s own guild of flowers, herbs, and comfrey for chop/drop fertilizing – 13 berry bushes (six varieties), and an increasingly shrinking amount of space for ground crops like garlic, potatoes, and hot peppers. In the coming years, we’ll need to move down the hill for additional growing space, but the new hugel bed has an amazing amount of growing space.

You can see the before and after images here (notice the five year improvement in iPhone cameras as well). Click the panoramic image to view full screen. The posts on the far left are one year old grapes to take advantage of the heat that big black rock wall puts off.

After

After


Big moves for the fall

Before

Before climate change

After

After climate change

Big moves and changes this month:

  • While this blog is primarily for friends and family that always ask about our projects, other random folks have found this blog based on my obsessions with electric bicycles, long tail bicycles, permaculture, and more. For those of you reading this anywhere in the US other than the Pacific Northwest, you should probably go ahead and start the process of moving out here now.

    If the “before and after” images here denoting problem areas due to climate change don’t convince you, go read the full article for the details. Not for the faint of heart…but a big move may be in store for you whether you want it or not.

  • We did our annual field cut with our neighbors so I had the joy of several early meditations sessions watching coyotes and raptors hunt for mice/voles/etc now that their normal hiding places of a 7′ pasture are gone. Owls, ospreys, eagles, ravens, and various hawks. Wow!
  • We swapped out our used Prius for a used Chevy Volt. Between the Volt, the Leaf, and my electric bicycle, we’re now 99%+ doing transportation on electricity. Which means we’re now saving for solar panels and trying not to get fat.If you are still on the fence about the benefits of an electric car (particularly if you are a two-car family) check out the math from the always-funnny and usually-right Mr. Money Mustache.The primary behavior change I’ve noticed is a smile every time I accelerate the Volt. The Prius felt like driving a cardboard box in comparison. The fact that I was still burning gas while driving a cardboard box made me dislike the whole experience even more.
  • The garden suffered from a lack of attention as both my wife and I decided to take on intensive work projects at the same exact time. What I learned was some crops can’t handle it (I’m looking at you, corn) while others seem to do just fine being ignored. Case in point is the tomatoes. In previous years I’ve been careful with spacing, leafs off the ground, proper pruning for air flow, etc.

    This year (as witnessed by the below photo), I just transplanted them from the greenhouse and promptly ignored them…and we still have an abundance of healthy tomatoes. There is a lesson here that Ruth Stout has tried to teach me through her books, I’m sure.

  • We finished our treehouse. What was a 2-3 weekend project turned into a summer-long project since both kids were running the screwdrivers. But we just created lifelong memories, too.
  • We fired back up the greenhouse for winter salads and jumpstarting cool weather crops like broccoli, kale, and chard.
  • Evenings are currently spent processing the abundance of food. Dehydrators are our best friends.

Loaded

Everything is loaded this month. Garden is loaded with bounty. Work is loaded with excitement. Family schedule is loaded with activities.


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