Wanted to post a hello to listeners of the Survival Podcast that came here after hearing the show. I’ve included some links for things mentioned during the show. They are not affiliate links or anything just informational.
How to build a tiny house in 383 pics – link to Google, let them provide the bandwidth
Tiny House Entertainment System – the projector system I use to watch TV. Uses only 18 watts!
Morningstar Sunsaver MPPT charge controller - awesome charge controller at a good price
Sun Pumps DC SDS series pumps - DC pump that uses less than 48 watts and provides 230ft lift
More to come…
This past Memorial day weekend I visited a bike shop in the small MA town/village? of Turners Falls. The nice folks at Basically Bicycles let me try out a recumbent trike. After a few minutes doing figure 8′s in the parking lot I decided that I wanted one. The advantage recumbent trikes have is comfort. No more numb hands, stiff neck, or sore butt! I picked out the Catrike Trail model.
In the short term I want to get my “bicycle legs” back and do some fairly serious riding. Long term I will add an electric motor and build a solar powered charging station. It will make a very nice platform for short trips to the market.
My little Chevy Spark is not what I would call an optimum vehicle for transporting bikes of any variety. With the rear seats folded down, passenger seat folded forward, and all the hatchback stuff removed I can barely wedge my full size mountain bike in there (with front tire removed).
The trike is too wide for the hatchback because GM in their “infinite wisdom” decided that rear speaker placement is more important than hatchback width. The plastic mounts for the rear speakers intrude about an inch on either side making it impossible to put the trike in…so I removed them.
Each speaker mount is held on with 3 phillips head screws and comes off with very little effort. With the speakers removed the trike fits perfectly! The rear tire goes between the seats and sits on top a strategically placed cardboard box (I’ll make something better). When placed correctly my shoulders don’t hit the bike when I am driving and I can shift without bumping the bikes rear tire.
Speakers intrude about an inch on each side
Speaker removed…was pretty easy and reversible when I sell the car
View with the speaker removed
Trike all tucked inside the car…no disassembly required!
I visited the rail trail in Ayer MA for the maiden voyage of about 16 miles (dependant on my legs). I drove about 10ft and realized something was wrong as the chain and rear deralier were all twisted up in a bad way. Not 100% sure what happened but I think I bent the rear derailer putting the bike in the car. When I started pedaling the misaligned chain bent things even more. Not a good way to get started!
After a bit of cursing and some help from Tim I managed to “unbend” things enough to get a ride in. Later that night I sat on the porch with vice grips and a straight edge to get things bent back to more or less normal.
The ride went well although it does exercise different muscles and I felt like I was riding in slow motion….especially up hills. As I ride more it seems like i’m getting faster and my legs are getting used to the different pedaling position.
If you get a trike you need bike shoes period! There is a phenomenon known as “leg suck” where your foot slips off the pedal and in the best case you get bashed on your calf by the bike frame. In the worst case your ankle gets sucked under the bike and possibly broken. I outfitted the bike with the very grippy pedals used on my mountain bike while a new pair of bike shoes came in the mail. One of my rides I got whacked pretty good in the calf and won’t go for a serious ride without bike shoes firmly clipped to the pedals. Oh yes, be sure to set the tension on your pedals to “max”….no reason not to.
Overall I’m very happy with the trike. At the time of this writing I have well over 100 miles and the bike has performed flawlessly. It did take a few rides to get the legs used to the different pedaling position. Last weekend I completed a 25 mile ride and other than my legs nothing else was sore…thats a win in my book. Overall I’m pretty happy with this purchase.
Planting weekend started with a shipment of trees from Stark Bros nursery. A nicely packed box contained bare root apple, cherry, peach, almond, and raspberries ready to plant. The instructions say to soak the trees in a bucket for 4-6 hours prior to planting so I set them out and began digging holes.
I learned a couple of things as part of the hole digging process. First, thank god I have a backhoe to dig holes! Second, the soil under my garden is pretty poor its a good thing I bought so much compost. Last, the water table is not that far down. The roots of the trees with a bit of growth can easily get to a source of underground water. At the same time the soil is well-drained so the roots wont be sitting in water….reminds me of a self watering container used in container gardening.
Since none of the soil was very good I made the executive decision to dig really big holes and use the soil I brought in for planting. This may not be optimal as the roots will need to get used to the native topsoil at some point. I think it’s better than trying to grow them in soil that barely supports weeds. I used about a half yard of soil per hole which should be enough to get the tree established.
I didn’t want the deer coming in and munching on the delicate branches of my new trees. So I started work on the top part of my fencing. My fencing system is made using steel (green) posts that are 8ft and 5ft tall driven in every 10ft. The soil is rocky so some of them went in a bit crooked. A small trench was dug around the perimeter so the bottom of the fence can be folded into an “L” and buried. This will keep small animals like rabbits from digging under it. I found 36″ tall chicken wire on sale at tractor supply so I went with it.
Even Ajax is capable of hopping a 3ft tall fence a deer wouldn’t think twice, so I needed to add additional height. I do this by stringing wires at regular intervals up the posts. A spool of 350ft only costs $9. It’s a very inexpensive way to make an 8ft tall fence. In the pics you see the tensioning devices I use to make the wire tight. They only cost $3 each and do a really nice job. In the future I may need to add an electrified wire to the fence to keep the coons from stealing my corn. The same wire can be used along with some cheap plastic insulators. I will be attaching some white cloth streamers to give the deer a visual clue that there is a fence.
I fashioned a couple of simple gates from 2×2 pressure treated wood with chicken wire attached. The rough edges of the chicken wire are covered with a piece of 2×2 that I ripped in half lengthwise. At this point the gates are pretty crooked but I will adjust the posts they are attached to and get them straightened out. Also need to install a latching mechanism…something more high tech than string from a hay bale.
Planted so far: apples, peaches, cherries, almonds, asparagus, raspberries, grapes, strawberries, snap peas, bush peas, cherry tomatoes, early tomatoes, peppers, radishes, onions, fingerling potatoes.
Still left to plant: cucumbers, sunflowers, more tomatoes, pumpkins
Lots of cleanup work to do and also need to get a system set up for watering the plants….probably a sprinkler. I don’t have electricity or gravity working for me. I do have lots of water close by so I’ll figure something out.
The garden is progressing nicely. I was able to get an area 33x25ft cleaned up enough so that it is ready to plant.
This area was full of small trees and bushes which made preparation pretty tough. In addition to having a ton of roots and sod to shake out and remove I had tons of rocks. I would make a pass with the tiller and then follow it up with a 5 gallon bucket which would be full of rocks. My tiller does a path 10 inches wide. Thats about 40-50 buckets of rocks removed by hand! Sadly there are more rocks in there.
With the beds de-rocked I added a generous layer of compost and tilled out some paths. My tiller naturally pushes the dirt to each side so I could string a line and follow it with the tiller. A flat bottomed shovel is used to scoop out anything left behind.
There is an old telephone pole left behind with a mound of sand holding it up. I took all the hay from my silt barriers and covered the mound with rotted hay. This weekend I put a good layer of compost over the hay. I will plant my strawberry plants on this mound and probably some grape vines that will use the fence as a trellis.
I have some asparagus and potato sitting in a box that need to be planted. I need a permanent bed for the asparagus that is out of the way so I began preparing that with the tractor. My potatoes will use some towers made from composite decking I have in my scrap pile (blog post to come).
This week I expect Stark Bros to ship out 10 fruit trees (apple, peach, cherry). Next weekend will be tree planting!
This weekend the weather was awful. I was not able to do any soil work but I did manage to remove my siltation fencing and finish the greenhouse. Friday I received 24 yards of really nice compost from a local farm.
My strawberry plants, asparagus, and potato plants are in. I have my fruit trees on order and should be here next week. This week I really need to get the soil prep finished. Crazy getting so much ready for planting season.
Have been a little burned out blogging so I stopped for a short while. Its the end of winter here and not much has been going on anyway. All that has changed now that most (not all) of the snow is gone. I’m starting work on my garden this spring this is the first progress report.
I need an area to grow veggies, fruit trees, and berries. I also need an area to start seedlings since my house does not get much sun. The area in my pics is about 80×40. I will be hauling in topsoil so I need to limit the area for veggies to what my budget will allow.
The greenhouse is built from construction scraps from my house build plus a fair number of 2×2 pressure treated boards. The roof is Tuftex available at Lowes and the walls are a material called Solexx which is an insulated greenhouse material.
More pics in a week or so…
Every picture that I took during the build is contained in this collection. If you view this as a slide show I added captions to most of them describing whats going on and giving useful tips. You can use this link to view all my albums which may be easier than viewing them here on the blog. I have them organized in one mega album (below) and then in smaller topical albums (on Google) depending on your needs.
Refrigeration is a tough problem to solve for people who live off grid. The refrigerator does not care how sunny it is out. You can’t conserve on refrigeration use like you can with other things such as lighting and television. Your off grid system needs to match the demands of your refrigerator or you will kill your batteries dead dead dead!
There is also a lot of misinformation floating around due to most people’s lack of electrical knowledge. In this post I will help you to understand the electrical and physical concepts you need to understand when selecting an off grid refrigerator.
There is a fellow that reviewed what he thought was a great off the shelf Kenmore fridge on YouTube. It only consumed “30 watts per hour or 720 watts per day”. Thats pretty much nonsense to anyone not schooled in electrical theory…even if you are, its still nonsense. What he meant to say, was that his fridge draws 30 watt hours (per hour) or 720 watt hours per day. Few can relate that to how many amp hours his Kenmore fridge uses without some math.
To derive the amp hour number you can divide the watt hour number by the voltage of your battery bank. In my case I use 12V batteries, so 30/12 gives me 2.5 amp hours of consumption each hour or 60 amp hours each day. Wait a minute…I thought this was supposed to be an efficient fridge! When you compare it to the Sundanzer DCR50 which uses only 9 amp hours per day you realize that this Kenmore fridge is total crap for off grid folks!
The Kenmore fridge he reviewed is actually a pretty good fridge (power-wise) when compared to other fridges designed for on grid use.
The most important component in an off grid refrigerator is insulation. Thick insulation keeps things cold longer which allows the compressor to run less….very simple.
The second most important factor is the efficiency of the compressor. In other words how much power does it use and how long must it run to cool the refrigerator contents. Unfortunately, this is not something thats easily determined from manufacturers spec sheets. The small compressor used in the Engel 12V coolers run for between 2.5 and 3 minutes to maintain 40 degrees with the outside air temperature of 70 degrees just to give you a point of reference.
Another factor that plays a large role in power consumption is the temperature where the fridge is located. If it’s in a 90 degree sun room the difference in temperature between inside and out will be large. This means it will run more and use more power. On the other hand, a fridge kept in a cool basement at 60 degrees will run very little.
Another factor that consumes power is opening and closing the door and putting new things in the fridge. Off grid fridges tend to be chest style so that the dense cold air stays inside the fridge. When putting something into the fridge make sure it’s not hot! Let those leftovers cool to room temperature or your fridge will spend the next 4 hours trying to maintain the inside temperature.
How cold does it need to be?
Also consider how cold your fridge really needs to be. The FDA recommends you keep the fridge temp to 40F or below for safety. If your fridge temperature is set any lower than 40F degrees, then you are wasting power. Get an accurate thermometer and adjust the fridge temperature setting accordingly. You will likely need to wait 12-24 hours each time you make an adjustment to allow the temperature to stabilize.
Do you need a freezer?
Thats right do you? If you are like me I buy groceries each week. Hot pockets stored in the fridge taste the same as those stored in the freezer. If you plan to use your frozen foods up in a week then why do you need a freezer…keep them in the fridge. The answer is probably “I need a freezer for ice cream and ice cubes”. My advice is to lay off the ice cream (advice I wish that I could follow better) and learn to live without ice cubes. There is an awful lot of power that can be saved if you can learn to live without a freezer.
The reason I’m talking about refrigeration is that I have just completed work on a DIY off grid fridge made from a 12 Engel car cooler. My next post and my video of the week I’ll show you that project. Needless to say it uses far less than 60 amp hours per day. I’ve also developed an online web app that will help you calculate the amount of power you refrigerator will consume. Stay tuned!