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…




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.



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.

Big moves for the fall


Before climate change


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.


This month’s highlights:

  • June’s cold weather finally broke towards the end of the month, giving much-needed heat to the corn, tomatoes, and peppers.
  • We threw our first annual Summer Solstice party BYOLS (bring your own local stuff) with everyone wearing all-white. Much fun, great relationships (true wealth), and a celebration of everything hyper-local…from kombucha to kale.
  • Camping with kids = no sleep for anyone but good lifelong memories.
  • Hand-watering got to the point where we reestablished the fully automated irrigation in all it’s geekiness glory. A few years ago we repurposed the fancy lawn irrigation controller to control water dosages to all our veggie beds and food forest with an A/B switch to move from our neighborhood water (shared well system) to our cisterns holding harvested rainwater. Now with a few hours of patching work the full system is up and running again.
  • Newly refilled sheds for of green firewood (not to burn this winter, but the following) give me a good feeling of preparedness for ourselves and our neighbors.
  • Serious growth on the fruit trees should mean our first significant harvest this fall. Hooray!

Breathless from the bounty

This month’s highlights, capturing the benefits of bounty:

  • Oh my goodness, the tomatoes and tomatillos just kept coming, and coming, and…good thing the kids and I like sun-dried tomatoes. The sun-dried tomatillo is amazing as well. We’ve had the food dehydrator going 24/7 for weeks now.
  • And the chili peppers. I believe pure happiness is a little red fruit.
  • A seasonal flush of the water cisterns and they are already full again.
  • Both our wood burning stoves are the cleanest they will be all year. Ready to burn!
  • New-to-us used bicycles for everyone. Just in time for the rains (oops!).

The fast growth of Spring is back

Zen rocks training branches for a good spread on fruit trees

This month marks a number of new experiments and the completion of several projects. Thank goodness for longer daylight; there is a ton of stuff to do.


  • The fruit trees in the food forest are blossoming just in time for the arrival of our bees. This year I’m hanging rocks on various branches to help guide their shapes for balance and fruit production. Feels quite zen when walking by them.
  • The kids and I have been training the chickens to follow us using scratch corn in a shake can so they can weed in the food forest for us. We enclose the area in an extra strand of electronet to keep them out of areas we don’t want them (like the burgeoning garlic patch) and let them do their chicken thing on the soil.
  • Pair of rocket stoves built with a friendFinished building a pair of rocket stoves built with a good friend (and our kids). We used perlite and cement inside, so while heavy, they are still luggable for car camping and at-home no-electricity cooking. We’ll rely on our Biolite rocket stove for  backpacking. The initial test burns worked well and we quickly learned what type of fuel works best.
  • Starting a hugelkultur (“woody beds”) experiment with our potatoes this year. Same soil, same location, same seed potatoes, but will compare the trenching method versus a hugel method of burying wood debris at the core of a bed with straw and soil on top. Hugels retain water well and attract mycelium to make for very rich growing soil. Here’s a 10-second visual description of hugelkultur.


  • Hugelkultur Experiment with PotatoesI somehow messed up the recipe for soil blocks and had one grow light burn out unbeknownst to me while I was gone for a week of work travel. I came back to moldy soil blocks growing mushrooms rather than chili peppers and squash. Oops.
  • The Biopod I purchased is not working. At first I failed to attract local Black Soldier Fly, and then when I stocked the unit with purchased BSF, they did not take. I’m sure this is user error rather than a flaw with the Biopod design, but I’ve not yet figured out what I’m doing wrong.
  • Our new bees colonies are in, but we lost one immediately to an epic war with ants who showed up overnight en masse. Thankfully our local supplier had an extra package of bees which I installed after assisting the remaining bees in their righteous battle over the ants. Dug out the ants, *carefully* applied dichotomous earth, and left a bomb of boric acid + cat food for them to carry down to their queen. All three hives are now up and running.

True Wealth; True Health

True Wealth – Winter Warmth

Our heat (and sun) is leaving us too quickly for my taste. I find myself going outside every chance I get while taking work phone calls to enjoy the last days of our sunshine and mild weather.

Hoping we retain enough heat in the next few weeks for our chili peppers to ripen on the vine but they’re all huge so finishing them off inside would not be so bad.

This month’s learnings to share with both highlights and lowlights…

Beauty Set Into Strength


  • An appreciation of true wealth (2-3 winter’s worth of good Douglas Fir stored) and true health (a year’s worth of garlic in storage).
  • The entrepreneurial spirit I see in my son with his care and responsibility for our chickens and his egg business
  • The joy on my daughter’s face as her toes wiggle out another huge potato. We had several 5 gallon buckets worth of gorgeous red-white-blue volunteer potatoes despite planting no new eyes this past year.
  • New woodsheds were made by a local woodworker father-son crew and purchased via barter. Love barter deals!
  • Steady supply of salad through the heat weeks where normally everything bolts. My wife’s brilliant idea was to create a new bed in the shade, and the lettuce transplants there did wonderfully!

True Health – Garlic and Sun-Dried Tomatoes


  • Almost blowing up myself and my house. Nicked the copper feed line for my generator’s propane tanks when trimming the bamboo surrounding it. One little spark from my shears before I got the tanks shut down would have been a disaster.
  • Another failed corn year (four in a row!) after a promising start. Think my problem this year was lack of water. Will push out drip irrigation to the corn next year and tie into my timer system.
  • Actually, it’s hard to think of many lowlights from this past month. It’s gorgeous and pleasant most every day outside this time of year and we’re not suffering from the droughts plaguing the rest of the country. Sunshine, blue skies, white clouds, gorgeous mountains, and deep healthy forests. It all goes a long way to erase work stress, crop failures, and any other problems. Feeling very grateful at this time of year as we head into Harvest Festivals and the celebration of this season’s bounty.

Open source blueprints for civilization

Do you love farm hacks as much as I do? If so, check out this mother-of-all hacks architected by Marcin Jakubowski.

Using wikis and digital fabrication tools, Jakubowski is open-sourcing the 50 most-used farm machines that can be built cheaply from scratch.

TED Talks calls his Global Village Construction Set a “civilization starter kit.” At just $10K that could be shared among several micro-farmers and permaculture enthusiasts, I call it affordable.

Compressed sawdust logs – not a fan

While I like the idea of taking what was a waste product and making it useful, I’m less than impressed by the compressed sawdust logs I’ve purchased (seen here below our Go Bags).

Compared to regular seasoned firewood, they are more of a hassle to store (can’t be outside – absorb too much moisture from air), take much longer to light (even with a good hot kindling fire started), and don’t smell particularly pleasant (at least not compared to our aged doug fir).

I read many wonderful blog posts extolling their features, but I won’t be buying any more for next winter.