Saturday, January 30, 2010

Five and a half inches of snow

Snow in a cedar treeThe children have been anxiously anticipating the arrival of the winter storm forecast for our area. Uncle Danny, our local weather aficionado/junkie, contributed to their excitement by giving them regular updates on the expected amount of snow and when it would start. Yesterday morning, because the storm had slowed down Who left the tricycle outside?and delayed its deliverance of white matter, Malchiah rushed outside when he saw Uncle Danny emerge from his house and very seriously asked him, “Uncle Danny, why isn’t it snowing?” 

The snow finally began yesterday about mid-afternoon. Most of what we’ve gotten so far fell overnight. So, the children were excited and noisy when soon after they woke up this morning. They couldn’t wait to get out in Heading down the hill to do choresthe snow with visions of great sledding and fun bouncing around in their heads.

Once we got things done in the house, the three older ones and I headed out to do our chores. There were many exclamations of delight about the snow and awe for it’s depth – 5.5 inches. We haven’t had this much snow at one time here the whole time we’ve lived here.Snow 'down the hill'

We tramped down the hill, and I took a few photos. Malchiah soon discovered the joy that snow packed in one’s boots can impart. He wasn’t too happy about it. Once we got to the barn, he tried to get the snow out, but he was quite distraught with the cold that was being imparted to his leg and foot.Another view 'down the hill'

After milking Tilly, Ramiah decided that his feet were cold, too, but not because of snow in his boots. The temperature was almost 20 degrees. So, the two boys marched back up the hill to the house to warm up. Jessica and I finished our chores before we went back to the house.

The forecast is calling for more snow this morning. Sometime today, I’ll go out with the younguns to enjoy some sledding. We’ll have fun.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A good day

The cheese arrived today! It’s already been eaten. I remembered to take a picture of the second half of it. Let me tell you,

Kat's marvelous cheddar!

it was some good cheese! Wow! We all enjoyed it a lot. The children made sure they told me more than once that I should be sure to enter every cheese giveaway that mmpaints has. With cheese this good, they don’t have to tell me. I think we’re going to have to give cheese-making another go. We haven’t made any for a while, and it was never this good. Time to learn a bit more and develop a new skill.

Today’s weather was nice: in the lower 40s with sunshine. We’re under a winter storm warning beginning at 6:00 tomorrow morning and continuing until Saturday afternoon. The forecast says 5 to 9 inches of snow is expected here. We haven’t had that much at once in the whole time we’ve lived here. The children are looking forward to it.

Since the weather was nice, I worked on the water heater installation again. I took the heater out and redid the plumbing. The new water heaterMy hunch appears to be correct: Teflon tape doesn’t work well on metal plumbing components. The threads cut the tape and push it mostly out of the way. I put some joint compound on the threads, and there were no more leaks. I cut the CPVC pipe and put in a new coupling. water heater in the closetI let it sit for a few hours to make sure the glue was thoroughly dried before turning the water back on. No leaks there either.

So, I put the water heater back in the closet, hooked up the water lines, and routed the vent pipe through the wall. I’ll check it again tomorrow, but I think it will be fine now. This particular water heater connects to a 20 pound propane cylinder, the kind commonly used with LP grills. It can heat the water hot enough to scald you. I’ve got the adjustment for the flame turned down so that the heat in the shower is just about right. If it’s too hot, you just need to open the hot water side a little more. I think it will work out fine for us since our only hot water from it will be for taking showers.

Kittykins (I call him Puddentaine)While I was testing the water heater, our cat came home. Now, this may not sound like a big deal, but it was. He was missing for two full days. This is very unlike him; he likes to eat too well to miss a meal. We figured he either got himself stuck someplace (he somehow got under the floor in Dad’s barn earlier in the week) or something got him. We were quite concerned (I hadn’t realized how fond I am of that cat). Thankfully, this afternoon he came walking up the hill to the house. We don’t know where he’d been, but he was quite thirsty and hungry and glad to see us.

Later this afternoon it was too early to do chores and I didn’t want to waste the time and nice weather. So, I decided to install some more solar panels. 9 solar panels installed so farI figured there was enough time to get two of them put on. Well, the installation went well enough that I was able to bolt four of them on. So, one frame is complete. Six more panels to go on the other frame. I’ll tackle that next week after the snow is melted.

My dad voiced a concern about the panels acting like sails and catching the wind up there. The roof on our mobile home is basically flat, and the pitch on the back porch roof is very shallow. So, the panels stick up in the air a ways. I do believe that if they blow off, they’re taking the porch roof with them. However, I think I’ll go ahead and put some guy wires on the top corners down to the other side of the house in order to provide a little extra insurance against strong winds.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The first solar panels are installed

Why is it that doing any plumbing seems to result in a leak somewhere? On Monday I got everything ready to change out our water heater. This involved taking out the 30-gallon electric water heater and putting in our new on-demand heater. The new one is one that is supposed to be hooked up outside, but where I’m installing it there’s no problem venting it to the outside. That was part of having everything ready – have the vent pipe to go in.

Well, I successfully took out the old one and put in the new one. Only thing was that there were some leaks. Nothing major, just some drips. Still, it worked fine. I could take care of the leaks on Tuesday. And, I endeavored to do so, changing the supply lines from those semi-rigid 3/4 inch regular hot water heater things to some flexible hoses with 1/2” connectors on each end. I also put in a shut off on the incoming line, something that should have been added years ago. Again, the installation went well, but there are a couple of drips.

The hot water works fine, but I have to redo some of the connections. On the metal pipe pieces, I used Teflon tape on the threads. I think I should have used joint compound. In fact, I will. The threads seem to cut the tape and render it practically useless which allows water to seep out around the threads. From the backI replaced a section of 1/2” CPVC and it leaks around the coupling I put in to tie it to the existing line. So, I have to cut it and redo. Hopefully, I can get it all taken care of tomorrow since there were other things to do today. 

A good friend came over with his family today to help me with solar panel installation. It was a nice day for it. I even had to take off my jacket for a while. We worked and accomplished a lot while our children played here and there (they get along great) and the mommas talked and enjoyed themselves inside.

Frames with the first five solar panels

We secured the frames to the porch roof first. We had to make the 2x4 rails the feet of the frames attach to and pivot upon. This wasn’t difficult. These rails are securely attached to the 2x4 purlins of the porch roof with lag screws. Once we got the frames installed, I did some calculations for drilling holes for the adjustable legs. The frames are adjustable for the different seasons to maximize the amount of energy harvested. In this area, we are at 37 degrees latitude, meaning that 37 degrees is the fixed mounting angle. Another viewThey can be adjusted 15 degrees either way to face the sun at the winter and summer solstices. The calculations I did (using an online resource) was to determine where to drill the holes for the adjustment settings.

Once the frames were installed, we started installing the solar panels. We got the five 50 watt panels on but not the 100 watt panels (ten of them). We had to drill holes that matched the frames on the panels. I already had holes drilled, but they didn’t match. Their placement was based upon the measurements from the website where I ordered the panels The five with one odd paneland an assumption that since they are supposed to be half the size of the 100 watt panels the mounting holes would correspond to the larger panels. Not so.

That didn’t take long, though, but by the time we had the fifth panel attached, it was time to put tools away and wrap things up. You’ll notice from the photos that one of these five panels is different than the others. I’m not happy about this, but I think it will work fine. They were all five supposed to be the same, but for some reason a different 50 watt panel was substituted for one of them. The specs on it are close enough to the other panels that there shouldn’t be any problem.

Anyway, it was a pretty good day. We’re getting closer to actually being off the grid.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I won cheese!



I follow several blogs that I find interesting and helpful. Using Firefox as my browser, I am able to bookmark blogs using Live Bookmarks. I subscribe to the RSS feeds, and Live Bookmarks puts them all only one click away. It makes it quite easy and convenient to keep up with. You can find blogs I follow in the side bar to the right. Every now and then, I find a new one or two that interest me.

Cheese!One of the blogs that I’ve been keeping up with for a while is Self Sustained Living. There’s a lot of good, useful information shared there, and the owner, mmpaints, is a wonderful individual. Last Friday she started a contest to give away some cheese she made. To enter the contest, all anyone had to do was post a comment. I posted one with no expectations of winning. Well, I found out today that my name was drawn out of the hat! I won!

She explained that the cheese is “Cheddar, it is very mild with a nice, light taste to it. Slightly drier than your typical American cheese with a smooth texture.” It’s a 1/4 wheel weighing 14 ounces. I’ll let everyone know how it is when it gets here. I’m sure it’ll be good!

Be sure to check out her blog and leave a comment (she loves comments). There’s a lot to learn from her.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Roasting coffee beans in the wood stove

Last year I explained that life’s too short to drink bad coffee. That’s still true, of course. My preferred method of roasting, in fact the only one, was using a hot air corn popper. Well, after about 10 years of use, it finally quit. I hoped it would come back to life, but it didn’t. Not wanting to live without coffee, I had to figure some way to roast my beans. It wouldn’t be difficult to roast them on top of the stove, but I didn’t really want to fill the house with smoke from the roasting.

The solution was to roast them in the firebox of the wood stove. I put a couple handfuls of green coffee beans in a small cast iron skillet we have roasting coffee in the fireboxand set it on the coals or burning wood inside the firebox. I wear welding gloves while doing this since the skillet gets quite hot. I stir the beans often, trying to ensure that they are evenly roasted. It takes five or ten minutes to roast them, depending upon how hot the coals are.

One of the nice things about roasting them in the firebox is that the smoke from roasting is drawn into the stove and out the chimney, not into the house. I don’t mind the smell of the smoke from roasting coffee (actually, I like it), but it’s nicer for everyone to not fill the house with it. I’m thinking of roasting some in the oven to see how that goes. Maybe the smoke won’t be too much.

Last night, I ordered some more green coffee beans from the Coffee Bean Corral. They have some nice selections. I’ve almost finished the ones from my last order. I don’t really drink very much coffee (that’s my story, anyway). I like how it tastes and the feel of a warm coffee mug in my hands. It’s a simple pleasure.

When summer gets here, I’m going to have to find another method for roasting. Maybe I ought to come up with some kind of a drum roaster for on a grill or over a fire outside. . .

Saturday, January 23, 2010


About a week and a half ago, some friends of ours brought over two dogs for us to take care of while they go to Missouri for a couple of weeks. They’ve had the older dog, an almost three-year-old border collie, for a couple of years. The other dog is a young puppy that someone dumped out on their road a few weeks ago. He’s a bit of a mutt, but he’s cute and sweet.

BodieOriginally, they asked if we wanted Bodie, the border collie, since they were looking for a good home for him. I told them I didn’t know. After we spent a day with them (they live about 40 miles from us), we offered to babysit the two dogs while they were in Missouri. That would give us an opportunity to see if we like having a couple of dogs on the farm.

So far, having them here has been fine. Bodie enjoys trying to herd the animals on the farm. The cows don’t herd well for him. Initially, they wanted to be right in Bodie’s face and chased him. Now, except for Tilly, they’re getting used to his coming near the fence and barking at them. Tilly still thinks she has to protect Cleo.Freddy & Malchiah So, she growls and roars at Bodie, although she is getting a little more used to him.

The puppy’s name is Freddy. He’s soft, cuddly, and adorably cute. He’s a whole lot more laid back than Bodie is. Bodie can’t stand still; he’s always running somewhere to do something. Freddy hangs out on the back porch and loves the children.

The thing that has probably taken the most getting used to is having a dog barking near the house at night. Bodies is still getting used to things around here. So, whenever anything moves, he starts barking and chasing it, whether it’s a cat, a coyote, or the donkey in the nearby pasture.

Both dogs seem to have settled in quite well and are happy here. We still haven’t made up our minds for certain about keeping them. Freddy will stay. He’s young, easy-going, and should train well. Bodie is fun and smart, but he needs some training. He’d be good for keeping varmints out of the garden and corn patches. There are advantages and disadvantages. We have another week or so to decide.

The dogs (and Malchiah)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Canned ground beef

Jars of canned ground beefIt was a lot of work, but Anne finished canning the meat yesterday. She ran eight canner loads in four days. It takes longer when canning on the wood stove than it does on a conventional stove. So, two loads in a day is pretty good.

We ended up with 25 quarts of shredded meat from the roasts and 61 pints of ground beef.

We’ve got at least three very full 20-quart stock pots of bones to cook down for broth. We’ll start that this weekend. They’ll cook for at least a full day, extracting lots of good stuff out of the bones and making a rich broth. Canned ground beefThere ought to be several more quarts of meat and some of broth to can from that. Then, there is some fat to be rendered. That will be used for making soap sometime, or it will be used in cooking.

It’s nice to have the meat. We’ll be doing it again next year, God willing. We have another steer which will be 18 or 19 months old in a year from now. He’s a beef breed (Belted Galloway-Angus cross), so he ought to have a little more meat on his bones than Chucky Joe did (he was a Guernsey).

The pond is full!

New house reflectionWe had nearly three inches of rain yesterday and the last two nights. Last evening when I did chores, the water level in the pond was only about 6 inches below the overflow pipe. After it rained fairly heavily again last night, I told the children that the pond was full. OverflowThey weren’t sure whether or not to believe me.

This morning I took the camera with me when I went down the hill to do chores and took a few pictures. The pond was indeed full with water running out the overflow. It only took four and a half months to fill up. That’s not too bad considering that we’ve not actually gotten a whole lot of rain. Based upon my calculations, there is somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000 gallons of water in the pond.

The children are looking forward to swimming in it this summer.

Full pond   View from the new house

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My latest reference book

The Complete Book of Composting

Reading about composting recently, I decided to order a copy of Rodale’s The Complete Book of Composting. The recommendation in what I read was to get a copy of the old edition of the book, not the new ‘light’ version currently available. I did a little searching online and found a good copy for a very reasonable price. It arrived Tuesday.


It was originally published in 1960, and there are 1,007 pages between the covers. I’ve only just started reading it, but it certainly looks like a lot of good information is contained within its pages. I’m excited about reading it. I thought I would share a few photos I took of the book so others can see the Table of contents and have just a snippet of some of the information it contains.

Table of Contents
Selection 1  Selection 2Selection 3    Selection 4

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Solar power: more installation

Well, I changed what I installed previously. I was going to have components on two walls, but as I looked at it and figured things, I decided it would work better to put it all on one wall. So, I moved the two components I put up last week and added some more.

Last week I bought some wire and other supplies from Richardson Electrical and Plumbing Supply in Glasgow, Kentucky. There were a couple more items I needed that I bought at LS Supply, and there are a couple more I need to get. Even when I figure ahead of timeinstalled components, it always seems that I forget or overlook a few things.

I set the disconnect box and charge controller first. Then, I mounted the inverter. The directions for it said that the preferred method was to mount it fan down. That also works best for running conduit straight from the disconnect box to the inverter. I had some heavy gauge cables I was going to use for the previous 3,000 watt inverter (which I just sold on Ebay for about $40 more than I paid, including shipping). These were too big for the new inverter. I was able to use 6 gauge wire, according to the Exeltech specifications.
Inside the disconnect box
I am still waiting to receive the Iota DLS 27-40 charger that I ordered. It will mount to the left of the disconnect box. I’ll run 6 gauge wires from it into the box and connect them to where the positive and negative battery cables are connected.

I’m endeavoring to keep the wires neat inside the box. I’ve routed them carefully and zip-tied them together. Since the 2-inch conduit for the battery cables isn’t connected to the battery box, I was able to route the wires for the battery meter out through it. I also ran the wire for the battery temperature sensor through the disconnect box and out the 2-inch conduit on the bottom. This is preferable to running it outside the box.
12 volt panel and 24-to-12 volt converter
One of the options I’m building into the system is a panel for 12 volt applications. I don’t know what I’ll use it for yet, but I want the option. Since the battery bank is 24 volt, I have a step-down converter that will output 12 volts to a Square-D QO breaker box (the QO line is rated for AC and DC). I’ll be able to wire off of the breakers in this box to outlets I can install in the house to run 12-volt fans, appliances, or lights as desired.

I rewired the battery bank. Previously, I wired it into two banks of six batteries each at 12 volts in order to put a 12-volt charger on the batteries. It’s now wired to be 24 volts. I temporarily connected it to the box to check the inverter. It worked!

I’m going to run wires out to the combiner box I made, which I’ll mount just outside the wall where these components are mounted. Then, once I mount the panels on the roof, I’ll just have to wire them into the combiner box for the batteries to be charged by the sun.

From the inverter, I still have to run a wire to hook into the AC panel in the house. This will be a short section that will go under the storage room where the components are and up through the floor into the kitchen behind where the electric stove is sitting. In a junction box, I’ll tie the lines from the inverter to the wires for powering the electric stove. In the AC breaker box, I’ll disconnect the main lines coming in from the power company (the power will be disconnected outside at the disconnect breaker during all of this) and attach the wires that were previously for the electric stove. We won’t have 200 amp service, but it will be sufficient to run our refrigerator, lights, computer, sewing machine, washer, and other loads.

Before I get the solar up and going, I think I ought to install the propane on-demand water heater I have still in the box. I don’t like cold showers, and our system certainly won’t power an electric water heater.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Canning beef

canner on the wood stoveDad, Danny, and I worked on cutting the meat off the bones on Sunday and Monday. We decided to just get it done while we had the time. I don’t know that anything would have been gained by waiting. The meat would have kept fine in the chest refrigerator, I’m sure, but by getting it cut up, Anne has been able to process four canner loads so far. Jars of canned beefShe cooked roasts, and I helped her cut the meat into pieces. Then, she filled jars and ran two canner loads yesterday and two today.

Closeup of a jar of beefIt takes 90 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure to can meat. She filled the jars full, adding hot broth after packing the meat. The canner holds 7 quarts at a time. We were disappointed yesterday that three jars broke. There was no apparent reason for the breakage. Sadly, one of the broken jars was a favorite old jar of Anne’s (she ‘collects’ old canning jars and uses them). As near as I can figure, the grate on the bottom inside the canner which holds the jars off the bottom of the canner is transmitting too much heat to the jars. So, today, she put some canning rings under the grate to get the jars up a bit higher. No broken jars today – we’re grateful. We have a couple dogs staying with us (maybe permanently) who will enjoy the meat from the broken jars (usually, jars that break in the canner have clean breaks, but we have seen glass slivers in the past, so we don’t use the contents ourselves). So, it’s not completely wasted.

Steaks cookingWhile the second canner load was processing this evening, I fried some steaks off the backstrap. Let me tell you, they were awesomely good! Wow! We had some small steaks yesterday that I cut off of the front leg. They were good, too, but they weren’t as tender as these off the back. We have some tenderloin to cook and eat, and we’ll also have some hamburgers this week. Once it’s all canned, we won’t have the fresh meat. Canned meat is very good, though, and very convenient. We are so grateful for it.

We gave my parents and Danny a little over half of the beef. There was almost 250 pounds of beef after it was cut off the bones. We could have taken a larger portion, but we wanted to share with them. And, they appreciate it. We’re happy with the blessing of healthy, properly-raised meat!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The meat’s in the fridge

Previously, I explained how we converted a chest freezer into an efficient refrigerator. After we made the conversion, my wonderful wife encouraged me to order another external thermostat so that we could convert our other chest freezer also for times that we might need it. One of those possible times would be at butchering time when we have more meat to preserve than we can do at one time. Keeping it refrigerated would allow more time.

We were going to leave the meat from our steer hanging in the garage to chill until we could work it up and can it. Originally, the forecasted temperatures were fine for doing so. But, the forecast has been changed. In fact, it changed a couple of times just yesterday. Today, they’re calling for 54 degrees with a low of 40 tonight. steer in the fridgeThat’s not cool enough. Coupled with forecasted highs near 50 for the coming week, we couldn’t leave the meat hanging in the garage. It’s too warm.

So, I hooked up the external thermostat to our second chest freezer and made a refrigerator into which we could pack the whole steer. We moved it from the garage this morning. It got down to freezing last night, which allowed the meat to chill pretty well. Now, there shouldn’t be any problems with keeping it chilled properly.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The butchering of Chucky Joe

Today was the day. Chucky Joe is no longer. I expected it to be difficult to pull the trigger, and I was right, it was. It’s never easy to take an animal’s life, nor do I believe it should be.


We raised Chucky for meat.

I took care of him during the last 20 months and grew somewhat attached to him.

Even knowing the purpose for his life, this morning wasn’t easy. Out of respect for him as a living creature, it was important to make it painless and quick. It was. He never knew.

Once he was dead and had bled (that gave me enough time to shed my tears and calm down), we began the butchering process.

023We first removed his feet, cutting at mid-foreleg (cows’ feet can get kind of dirty and messy). 036Then, we hooked a rope to his rear legs to pull him inside the door of the barn to place him under the chain hoist and gambrel. We used the tractor and a pulley to do this; he was too heavy for us to do it without mechanical help.

068 Then, the skinning began. Skinning a steer takes longer than skinning a deer – something to do with the respective size of such creatures, I suppose. Once we started skinning the rear legs, we hooked the gambrel through the legs near the knee joint (there’s a strong tendon there that works well for this) and lifted the carcass a little off the ground to make the skinning easier. The chain hoist makes it easy to adjust the height. After we had skinned about halfway down and had raised it higher, we removed the head. This made it easier to get the hide all the way off (the head would otherwise be in the way and impede the process).


Once the carcass was skinned, we removed the front legs. Then, it was time to remove the stomach, intestines, and other organs. The children were really interested in seeing this part of the process. I carefully cut down the stomach lining from the groin to the sternum, and then we let the innards come out into a cut-off barrel. There’s a lot inside a cow! I cut out the liver and also saved the heart.


212With the carcass eviscerated, we began to cut it into pieces. We didn’t follow the traditional way of cutting up a cow carcass which involves splitting the carcass in half down the center of the backbone. We removed the neck, cutting it off where it joins the back at the shoulders. Then, we cut the ribs off along the side of the backbone, over far enough to leave the backstrap and tenderloin uncut. At that point, we removed the back and then the two hind quarters. We find it easier to cut it up this way; it involves a lot less bone cutting than splitting the backbone. This is important when you’re not using power tools.

221With the carcass cut into pieces and laid out in the back of my truck on a clean tarp, I drove it up to the garage. There, we rinsed the pieces off and hung them from a beam in the rafters of the garage. 222In there it should be safe from varmints and can cool off before we cut it up. Many people like to let a carcass hang for up to two weeks. Since our refrigeration is dependent upon the outside temperature and we don’t necessarily see a need to let it hang for such a length of time, we’ll start processing it next week.

Earlier in the week, the forecast looked pretty good temperature wise. However, it was warmer today than I would like and it’ll be warmer than I’d like tomorrow. It will get down to about freezing at night. The meat should be fine in the garage, but I would like it a little cooler. I don’t have control over that, though. So, we’ll work with what we have and get it cut off the bone next week. We’ll mainly be making burger and roasts. Maybe we’ll cut a few steaks off the back.

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