Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Power Up

Above is our latest green/sustainable/energy-saving initiative. Davis, owner of Bright Earth Solar, and his sister Rian just finished installing a dozen photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof of our shop. The panels are mounted on a fixed frame and are capable of generating a maximum of about 2.5 kilowatts. Over the course of a year this array should produce enough power to offset about 60% of our current electrical load. An adjustable array would have improved the efficiency somewhat, but would have increased the chance of damage in high winds.

Inside the shop is the grid-tie inverter (on right) which converts the direct current from the PV panels to alternating current in synch with the grid. The inverter connects to a meter (center) and thence to the shop's sub-panel (left), where the power back-feeds to the main panel in the house. Our power meter on the house spins backwards when we make more power than we use, which is a pretty nifty thing to see. The payback period will depend on how fast electrical rates increase here in Vermont. If they average 4% per year (which seems pretty conservative), the payback period will be approximately 20 years. But the state is already talking about a 6% increase for next year, so we shall see.

Next month Davis will be coming back to install two solar hot water heating panels on the house. That will help a lot, since we burn oil for our hot water now.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Good Earth!

Here are some images from our first growing season. The cherries were planted by the previous owners. They are sour cherries, but they still make pretty fine jam and chutney if Yvonne is involved! And bees go knutz over the flowers in spring.

This is the pumpkin forest that is now elbowing out the potatoes, peppers, eggplant, and a few other things. This shot is from July. Now in early September we have many pumpkins in the 30-40 pound range turning orange. Yikes! We are thinking about hosting a Great Pumpkin party.

Above are a small cucumber and a young butternut squash.

This is our first donation (potatoes, chard, kale, squash, beans, and cucumbers) to The Mission , a local homeless shelter. We've donated over 35 lbs of produce to them so far, plus an equal amount given away to friends at the UU Church of Rutland. And our basement freezer is nearly full.

We thought briefly about selling our extra veggies this year, but decided the good karma of giving away the excess was probably more useful to us all in the long run. Our objective this season was to learn about our soils, pests, weeds, and climate, and to feed ourselves in the process. We have largely accomplished those goals. It has been a good summer!

Swarm 3

Sorry for not posting in a timely fashion. We've been very busy with harvests and bees.

Below is our fourth colony, now termed the duplex. Two days after the second swarm showed up, a third (also from the neighbors or a feral colony) appeared in our blackberries. That's three swarms in 10 days landing within 30' of one another. I think we're in a sweet spot for bees!

We dithered for a few days on what to do; we had very little extra bee hardware on hand. After the swarm stayed put two nights in the berry bushes, and with a forecast of thunderstorms moving in, we decided to try combining this swarm with the second swarm. We hit the bee text book and got the details on using newspaper to temporarily screen the two colonies from one another. A lot of beekeeping theory has become practice for us in a hurry!

This is a shot of the duplex with the newspaper in place. The bees chewed through it in about two days. We later inspected the hive and found the surviving queen. We named her Calamity Jane, and marked her as an '08 queen (red). (She might be older, but there's no way to know.) The race is on: these bees need to quickly lay in 60+ pounds of honey or they will not survive the winter. We're helping with sugar syrup feedings; they are sucking down a pint+ a day. There are plenty of things in bloom and the weather has been perfect, so they might make it.