Saturday, 19 April 2014

Stocked up for winter...

... I mean, next winter...

We have just had, what I think is the last of our l'ete indien, and the lovely crisp mornings we waken to each day hold promise of the much welcome change in temperatures ahead.
Our Nordica Rosa - a.k.a. Rosie :)
Apart from the double glazing assisting in retaining heat inside the house, our sole source of warmth is from the Rosie - we don't use electric bar heaters, elelctric air-conditioning set on high heat, nor LP gas heaters.  Only the Nordica Rosie stove. The fact that it provides cooking facilities as well, is the added bonus. Well, truthfully, it was pointless just buying a wood burning stove for heating alone - if both requirements can be provided by the same unit, then surely that is the most cost effective solution.

There are plenty of alien Black Wattles in our area, which are slowly being "removed" by the WFW gang.  Last September we purchased two loads of chopped alien Black Wattle wood which the locals provide to anyone who needs wood for the upcoming winter, or their summer braai's.  Everyone knows, because of the dangers of resin accumulatingin your chimney's, that you can't use newly harvested damp wood in your stoves / fireplaces.  So, we try and source our wood early enough that we are confident that it has had sufficient time to dry before we need it.
Black Wattle logs - stacked last year in
September for use this winter
The hefty piles sort of sink into the ground as they dry.  They are also ideal place for mice and snakes to take refuge, so we site ours well away from the house / vegetable patches.  And very carefully select our wood when it's needed each day.

This winter we will have a mixture of Black Wattle and Bluegum with which to fire up the Rosie.  Bluegum is one of the hardwoods recommended by Nordica and it will be interesting to see the difference between the wattle and the bluegum - will it burn hotter and for longer?  Being much harder than wattle, it should.
The pile is growing and growing - time to
start a row in front.
It's always a mission collecting the firewood - getting to the invariably inaccessible spot where the trees have been chopped down, loading the wood onto the trailer, driving slowly back to our smallholding, and then...
1000 pieces of wattle on the right this time,
and the last of the 1000 pieces of bluegum
being off-loaded on the left
... off-loading it once we get there.  It takes about an hour to load it, and 3/4 of an hour to offload.

The cost - that has gone up since we got here.  It was ZAR200.00 / 1000 pieces in 2012, and is now ZAR300.00 / 1000 pieces  ($30-ish / €20-ish).  
But - that is still MUCH cheaper than we would pay in town.  There they sell a small bag of wood (roughly 12 - 15 pieces) for ZAR50.00 +  So - it is definitely the cheapest form of heating available.  We use about 20 - 25 pieces if we're having the Rosie burning from morning till night - so that would mean we could burn the Rosie all day, every day for roughly 80 days.  But, it's never that cold here that consistently, and we have good warm jersey's and jackets that we can put on if the need should arise.  Daytime burning of the Rosie is left for those rain-drenched, snow-capped mountain winter days and nights when we feel a need for the gem├╝tlichkeit of a visible log burning fire to warm and lighten the dreary outside view.  2000 pieces should be more than enough to see to our needs for this winter.

Who needs to go to gym - even on a lovely crisp morning loading and off-loading that wood is exercise enough to get the blood flowing, and a small trickle of sweat to slide down between the shoulder blades :)

Thank goodness we don't have to chop down the trees as well :)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Mouse hunter

Our neighbours up the road called us very excitedly one day a few weeks ago.

The local labourer, John, had been walking home one night and saw something white and odd in the long grass.  So he stopped to inspect it further.

What he saw caused him to pick it up and take it to the nearest house.

The inhabitants were ecstatic.

They already have a number of sheep and lambs, a male and female Springbok (plus a baby whose sex is yet unknown and which was born 2 days ago), a single male peacock called Pretty Boy, a gaggle of geese, a flock of chickens and their chicks.

And, like everyone else around here, a plethora of field mice.

So what John found was welcomed with open arms...

... it was a pair of owlets.

Their mother was no where to be found, so it fell to the Mrs of the house to feed them - with an eye dropper - until they were big enough.  Unfortunately, the one didn't survive, but the other one did.

And, Ollie the owl thoroughly loved being indoors and spoilt.

Until it grew larger and it's poop started becoming a problem.  Then it was relegated to the car port outside.

We waited a couple of weeks until Mike joined us then we all trooped off to see the owlet.
It may be a baby still, but look at those claws!
Mike was absolutely delighted :)
From the smile on Mike's face you can
acurately deduct his emotions
Mike couldn't get enough of it - even when the owls claws started digging into his arm.
The owl has the most amazing colour and
patterned wings
It was not so happy about being kicked out of the house at nighttime - so at dusk it apparently claws at the front door to be let inside.  Once inside, it sits on the back of a chair and watches TV with them...
...after having partaken of it's evening meal.  Mr very thoughtfully source fresh field mice which Mr kills (shudder - I couldn't do that LOL) and Mrs cuts up into owl size bite portions (I couldn't do that either). 
The re-purposed dog kennel - just the ideal
owl box
None the less, Ollie, the owl has made itself a very comfortable home in the carport
Hopefully soon it will learn to catch it's own supper...

Instant eco-friendly pest control - how cool is that :)

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Sun drying...

I have spent absolutely ages researching solar dehydrator designs so that I am able to dehydrate my excess garden produce for use later in the year.

I even went so far as to purchase plans so that RMan could make me one.

That presumed that RMan would (1) want to tackle the task and (2) would be able to.  The answer to both was nada - he didn't feel his woodworking skills were up to it.

So, when the kitchen shelves received doors and the flyscreens were installed I grabbed the opportunity and asked the carpenter if he would be interested.

Turns out he was... :)

So, after agreeing on his labour quote and ordering some 6mm marine plywood, plus 32 X 32mm wood, and sundry other items, the dehydrator started to become an actuality.

It took him two weeks, and finally I received the call I had been waiting for.

We collected the dehydrator from him, took it home, established the exact size of the toughened safety glass top (a definite necessity as I didn't want to chance the glass shattering into very dangerous shards if something unforeseen happened), ordered and then waited for the toughened safety glass to be delivered to a collection point in our nearby town.

A week later the glass arrived. 

(A side note - the carpenter didn't follow the copy of the written instructions he was given, and the unit wasn't square :(  Not easy to order and install glass on an unsquare unit... <sigh> )

A week earlier I had contacted a local wood preservative manufacturing company and the lady I spoke to assured me that once the product was dry it was safe to use with food.  I took her at her word and we coated the dehydrator inside and out with their product.

So, the unit was "workable".

Workable in that it was complete, even if it lacked the bottom absorber plate and the shelves.  I am still trying to souce affordable non-toxic shelving to go inside, but, I couldn't wait to try it out.  So I grabbed my cake / biscuit cooling rack from the kitchen and, balancing it on wooden dowel rods, created a drying shelf.
You can clearly see the wooden dowel rods
supporting the cooling rack
The very last of my tomato harvest went onto this rack, and the wait began.

It easily reached a temperature of 45 - 50°C (113 - 122°F).

I was ecstatic :)  Yeeeeeeeeha!  Solar dehydrating had just become a fact of life in my kitchen.

But, something kept niggling at the back of my brain.  And that kind of niggling keeps me up at night.  And, being up at night, means that if I want to research anything I need to Google via my smart phone.  Not the easiest as the screen is too small for my aging eyes (even with specs) and my fingers too big for the tiny keyboard, but I don't want to switch on the laptop in the middle of the night - that would inevitably mean that I wouldn't get to bed until the sun came up - I can get very carried away once I start investigating...

But, what I discovered gave me serious pause for thought - which I re-investigated, and confirmed the following day when I woke up.

The instructions I purchased stated that I should use plywood.  But, after contacting our local co-op and getting a certificate on the plywood I had purchased from them (it is imported from Malaysia!!!) I discovered that there is no plywood in this country that does not contain formaldehyde!  Good grief!  I'm going to poison us...

Much, much, much research later has unearthed the fact that it seems that all wood in this country has been pressure treated against beetle, mould, worm, etc by using formaldehyde or boron or arsenic, etc.

I thought I would ask the wood preserving company if they would put their "non-toxic" product safety in writing.  It turns out it is not rated food safe.

But - they were kind enough to give me a link to a site which detailed food safe techniques.

As soon as I discovered that the unit was unsafe for food, I whipped the tomatoes out of it, and shoved them into the solar oven to dehydrate.  The solar oven works OK, but, even with the lid propped open 5cms, it still attains too high a temperature, which has led to my incinerating a couple of loads of tomatoes this summer...

So - back to the drawing board I go.  Ah well, I've got at least 5 - 6 months before I will need a solar dehydrator.

But, for all those (and there are many of them out there) who make a solar dehydrator out of scraps and left over bits of wood - be warned.  Your wood may contain harmful chemicals...

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Personal solar power zenith

Friday, 15th March 2014 it was a cool day - full sunshine, but the air was cool. Those are ideal conditions for solar panels.

When solar panels overheat their efficiency drops.  Which is completely opposite to what one expects.  Certainly what I thought.  I figured the sunnier / hotter the day, the more the solar panels would generate charge to our batteries.

But, when there is a cool breeze blowing, the panels are able to perform at optimum, and the 28th March was just such a day :)
This is the Outback remote control unit which
is located inside our house, and which
keeps us updated as to the wattage which is
being generated by our solar panels and gives
 us a total kWH produced at any given moment
And we had a record kWH harvest.  5.7 kWH / 430 AH to be precise!
The Owl electricity monitor showing our current
(with or without the pun LOL) kWH draw of 290 watts,
our daily draw from the batteries (2.97kWH) and
the temperature inside at that time 20.5°
At 18.42p.m. that day we had only used 2.97 kWH so that means we had a surplus of 2.73kWH!!!

We were happy, happy puppies that day :)

By the way, you can tell from our energy consumption on the photo of the Owl electricity monitor that we were drawing 290 watts - that equates to our fridge (180 watts), TV and satellite box (103 watts), and 1 X 7watt light.

Now, not to confuse you, the Outback remote is showing a total charge of 12.3volts.  That is because we were drawing 290 watts at that precise moment.  The batteries were at a full charge of 12.5 volts.  But that shows you how any power consumption affects the battery charge.

Once the fridge timer clocked in and switched off the fridge for an hour, the draw fell to 187 watts the CC value rose accordingly.

We always remember to turn off lights when we leave a room... ;)