"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

Sunday 22 September 2013

A paddock in the making - part 1

I missed my blogging yesterday, but it was all for a good cause...

RMan and I have discovered that we can be impulsive - even at our "advanced" age LOL

We purchase the Farmers Weekly whenever an article on the cover attracts our attention. Our smallholding isn't exactly a farm, but, as they don't publish the 'Smallholders Weekly', we have no other choice. Way back in April this year, RMan read an article, a link to which I will give you in part 2 or part 3 - giving it now would spoil the surprise... :)

He mulled over it for a while and then decided to share it with his other half. We talked about it, let it lie, talked about it, and finally decided, "yup, we're going for it".  It's quite an investment, so trust me - that is impulsive...:)

Once we make a decision it's all engines full steam ahead!

So, this week has been a very busy one.

Firstly, holes were dug 350mm deep at 2.0mtr intervals.  It's a good time of the year to dig holes in our ground - it is still s-l-i-g-h-t-l-y damp, which means it is dig-able - forget it in summer.  That would be like trying to dig a hole in a concrete slab with a blunt pickaxe and a shovel.
The holes were dug and the small split poles are
waiting to be put into position
Then we paid a visit to the local unoffficial ex-sawmill, which closed it's doors about 3 months ago.
This is the load we scored from the unofficial sawmill
up the road.  Bluegum is incredibly hard,
especially when it's good and dry, so placing
them on the split poles was quite a mission
and involved starting up the genny, so that
RMan could have the assistance of the power drill.
They had a fair sized pile of different lengths of bluegum wood which they were unable to use - the outer curved part of the wood with the bark attached.  It is very hard wood, and very heavy - even though it's good and dry, having sat out in the sunshine and rain for the past 3 - 4 years. But the scraps which were roughly 2.0 mtrs long were perfect for our needs.
This lot cost us a couple of hours and a few litres
of petrol - and that is all!
Just what we needed.

After unpacking the wood - and which is just like shopping - you enter the shop, choose the items, place them in your basket / trolley, go to the cashier, unload the basket / trolley.  Then after the cashier has rung them up, you load the goods into shopping bags, back into the trolley, schlep them to the car in the trolley, offload the contents of the trolley into the boot, go home, remove the bags from the car boot, take them to the kitchen, place them on the counter, unpack the shopping bags, and finally put them in the grocery cupboard / fridge.

Exhausting stuff.

Who needs to pay money to frequent a gym?  Just clean your house and do your shopping and you'll get a the exercise you need :)  Especially if you only shop once every week or two... <giggle>

Anyway, having sorted, chosen, loaded and offloaded the wood, we now set about putting it to the use for which it was intended...
Action stations
... that of making an fence for an enclosure - a stunning paddock!
The end result - thus far...
It is to retain "something" within, whilst
also preventing any of the four dogs (our one,
and Natasha / Wayne / Mike's three) from gaining
entrance from the outside
We love it!  Even RMan commented that instead of leaving the wood to rot away whilst, in the meanwhile, attracting mice (and thus snakes looking for a juicy morsel to eat), we have managed to find a use for perfectly good lengths of wood.

"Recycling" was the exact word he used.

I think I'm having an effect on him...

Even in the light of the full moon the fence looks outstanding!
Our homemade wooden fence in the
light of the full moon :)
But, our local unofficial sawmill has ran out of suitable scraps of wood, so, on our way to purchase "chicken" wire from the nearby co-op I had a brainwave...

Saturday 14 September 2013

Ramblings on our solar power

Firstly, welcome to my newest followers, Amy Lou from northern New Mexico. Amy Lou is a fellow off-gridder :)
On her blog Solar Rain BucketAmy Lou describes herself, and her blog, as follows:

 "We live off-grid in Northern New Mexico. Solar power. Rain catchment. Composting toilets. All that. Solarrainbucket is where we share what we’ve learned. And post pictures of dogs. And sometimes clouds."

Welcome, Amy Lou - thanks for hitting the followers button.


Having just lived through our very first winter relying solely on our solar power setup, I thought I'd do a posting on the in's and out's of it.

We had a gradual slink into the winter weather - we got comfortable and thought "Ha! this is a breeze".  Then the overcast, and sometimes rainy days started.  Two or three days of overcast weather plays havoc with the state of the battery charge.
Our original 3 x 140watt
solar panels, secured to
a contraption on the front
patio whilst the building
work was in progress
2 of our original deep cycle
Our system started 3-odd years ago, when we could least afford it.  So we opted then to go for 12 volt - panels, charge controller and inverter.  B-I-G mistake. In hindsight (it's always easier, isn't it :) ).
Our 6 X 1660Ah 2 volt battery bank
The most important part of living off grid - be that achieved through using only solar power, or that produced from a wind turbine, or both, is your storage capacity - your batteries.

Our first lot were 12 volt deep cycle batteries.  When we moved here, we changed them out for 6 X 2 volt batteries.  SIX!!!!???!?!?  Idiots, even though they were the major expense in our system, we should have gone for 12, strung the two sets of 6 in parallel (to increase their capacity but not their voltage) so that they retained their 12 volt capabilities, but were also usable in a (future) 24 volt system.  And, it's not as though we can buy another 6 now and add them. That would be a complete waste of time, as the newer ones would be affected by the older, more used ones - to the detriment of the new ones.  Also, buying 12 news ones is out of our budget at the moment...

Also, we should've purchased a charge controller and inverter which allowed for either 12 or 24 volt. They are available, but are, naturally, more expensive.  Sigh - it's all about affordability.  But, with that said, don't do what we did, rather scrimp on other things, and buy for the future of your power requirements, not just for the moment.
Seven 140watt solar panels mounted on the
roof of our garage.  Excellent north facing
angle to the roof, but the accessibility is
Our 7 X 140 watt panels are connected in series (i.e. + to - in order to increase the volts) and mounted at the 'ideal' 45° angle facing north (in the southern hemisphere), but, being mounted on our garage roof, they are also awkwardly inaccessible.  We figured 7 X 12 volt = 84 volts = well within our charge controllers capabilities.  But, we didn't know that solar panels are as cold as their surrounding temperature in winter, and due to this cold, you can have a situation where their voltage spikes in the early morning ( 8 - 9 a.m.) - which causes, in our case, their combined output to hit over 145 volts - and our maximum is 150. This causes the charge controller to shut down because it is receiving too high a voltage.  Shutting down means we are not charging our batteries when they need it most - after a long, dark night LOL  We have found that if we physically trip the fuse from the panels to the charge controller and allow the charge controller to "reboot" then the power surges into the batteries with little or no problem.  This action is not ideal though.  If we left the charge controller to "fix" itself, it will, but, in the meantime we are losing precious charge from entering the batteries during those long winter days of dramatically reduced solar input.
Our Outback charge controller
What we have also determined (through speaking to a very helpful gentleman called Lloyd from a ADSolar in KwaZulu Natal ) is that we can wire half (4) of the panels in series, and the other 4 panels in parallel - that way we will get the best of both - volts and amps. This, hopefully, will prevent the voltage from spiking next winter.

In summer, this will not be a problem.
Installing the 5 panels was a mission when we had
7 helpers (two are taking the slack off the rope
behind the garage). RMan, RSon and Wayne -
that's going to be interesting...
So, RMan and RSon and Wayne - guess what you will need to do this summer? Take the existing 7 X 140 watt panels down, add the soon-to-be-purchased 8th panel, and then rewire the 8 panels in series and parallel respectively, and re-install them...

Not a task they, (nor I - it's fraught work watching our solar panels being manhandled off and on the roof), am looking forward to... :)

On the positive side, we didn't run out of power this past winter, but some days it has been decidedly dicey.  And, to reduce the demand, we had to be very careful about what we switch on, and when.
The 600watt battery charger -
even though we only used it a few times, it
certainly was worth it's cost
We also purchased a 600watt battery charger, which is operated through switching on our petrol generator.  A very occasional (as in 6-7 times during the entire winter period) hour or two of charge happily gets us (the fridge) through the night... :)

So, although we discovered the con's of our system, we managed.  It was, through the monitoring of our remote control SoC apparatus in the house, careful use / prioritizing appliance use, and the assistance of the battery charger, all do-able.

Life was very comfortable, with all the important appliances fuctioning when required and the Rosie creating a wonderful, warm and cosy home - even with snow on the mountains...

Saturday 7 September 2013

An eventful week...

Firstly, welcome to my newest follower Lawrie Weber.  Lawrie doesn't appear to have a blog, so I can't give you a link...

Lawrie, I always reply to comments, but am dependent on the sun charging our solar batteries.  I am, therefore, sometimes delayed...

Thanks for hitting the followers button :)

Update: Lawrie is a newbie blogger - please visit her blog and give her encouragement :)

Her blog can be found at:  http://fireflyfarmadventures.blogspot.com/.  She is recording her family's course towards a more sustainable future through living off their land, and embracing a simpler and greener lifestyle.

She also has a brilliant simple idea for keeping children amused on those stiflingly hot summer days which lie ahead...

Good on you, Lawrie :)


Last Sunday was Mike, my grandchilds', 10th birthday.  His very first "proper" party was planned - which included inviting all the kids he likes from his class in his new school.  Natasha and Wayne found a wonderful venue - in the grounds of a nearby berry farm in Swellendam.  Brilliant, the kids would be out in the fresh air, playing as children should, instead of being stuck inside a movie house, or in a steakhouse, eating kiddies sized portions of high fat foods glued to the closest computer games...

After opening his gifts from his parents, and "finding" the trampoline which we had bought him, and with a couple of slices of toast and a mug of tea in our stomachs, we all headed off to collect his cake, which had been ordered from the local supermarket, as well as rolls for the kids hot dog lunch.

Great excitement all round...

We arrived at the venue, and entering the "lapa" - a very basic wooden structure with walls, windows and a roof - I immediately set about investigating what was available - a first aid kit, a 10lt urn, tables, chairs, cups, saucers, plates, cutlery, an indoor barbecue.  It seemed to have everything we would need.
A birthday table filled with goodies
to inspire all the children who were
invited to celebrate Mike's 10th birthday
As Natasha was busy greeting parents, I started plating out the sweets, crisps, etc.  In between arrivals, Natasha got busy with the "party" side of things - the tablecloths, paper cups and plates, clown hats, blowy thingamabobs (which have a feather on the end and make a farting noise when they are blown), balloons, etc. Even though the party was only due to start at 12.00 noon, some kids were arriving earlier.

And, kids, when they're somewhere new, also have to start investigating and exploring...

What did they find?  A swimming pool (bear in mind that although it was Spring Day, there had been snow falling on the mountain tops for the previous two days, so the water was still freezing), a maze (which is still in it's infant days to it's basically just a pattern of paths at the moment) rolling green lawns - perfect for the planned soccer and cricket - and...
The berry farms' foefie slide
...a foefie slide.(I think it is called a zip line in America.)

Oh boy.  Once they discovered that there was no holding them back.

I lost count of how many rides they had - and, as they had a wait between rides, they invariably ran back passed the lapa to grab a cooldrink and a handful of whatever - crisps, sweets, biscuits...

I took a wander down to the foefie slide to take some close-up pics.  Mike was about to have his umpteenth turn.  Cool - I'd get an action shot!

Just as I snapped a pic of him, he took off.  And slipped off.  Landing heavily on what I thought was his back.  It's terrible the thoughts that flash through your mind with the speed of light.

But he rolled over screaming and pointing to his lower arm. I rushed up to him and held his arm (at the elbow) firmly on the ground where it was lying - to prevent his moving it anymore.  Signalling frantically to RMan with my free hand, our young GP, who is a new friend of Natasha and Wayne's, and who had been invited to the party with his young family, ran up.

A broken wrist / arm was the immediate diagnosis.

Oh boy!  And the party hadn't even started yet.

I recalled the first aid kit I had seen in the lapa, as well as a pair of large wooden salad servers.  Hopefully the kit would contain bandages, and the servers would make an excellent splint.  I dashed off.

There were suitable bandages and the servers were a perfect length and size. Our GP made a rough splint and Mike was rushed to his surgery for a more secure support to be applied.

Unfortunately, the x-ray department in Swellendam is not open on a Sunday, but, it would've made no difference.  The doctor reckoned it was a serious break which would involve a operation, so Mike would have to go to the medi-clinic in Worcester anyway, which is approximately 130kms away.

After administering a pain-killing sedative, and strapping up his arm properly in the surgery, Mike and his parents took off.

In the meantime, RMan and I were left with the parents, Mike's teacher and the children. Thankfully, the teacher had the presence of mind to ask if she should call the parents to come and collect their kids again - she had all their phone numbers on her cell.  After all, what is a party without a birthday boy?

They all managed to eat a slice of birthday cake before they went home.
(I do not have permission to publish a pic of the
children, so I have blurred their faces)

A big birthday shout-out for Mike, and then
cake... :)
Natasha and Wayne called us later.  Mike's wrist bone had broken into the growth plate.  A very serious break.  He was scheduled for an operation at 7.00p.m. that evening.

All went well with the op, and, thankfully, the surgeon managed to pin his bone without the pin intruding into his growth plate.  That could've resulted in the growth in that arm being stunted.

Mike was discharge the following day.

But, he had not even had any birthday cake.  And he had all the gifts from his friends still to open.

So on Wednesday evening, Mike and his parents came round to our house with a left over milk tart (melktert).  The beautiful coloured candles which Natasha was clever enough to find were placed on top, the candles were lit, and the lights were dimmed...
Candles whose flames burn the same colour as
the actual candle - absolutely stunning!
...and it was stunning.  The flames were the same colour as the candles.

Whilst Mike munched on some milk tart, he finally got to open the gifts he had received from his friends.

Judging by the relaxed smile on his face when he went home later, the "bad" birthday was all forgotten - and his memories of this big double number birthday will be mainly good ones :)