What You Need To Know About Solar Panels

 

When most people set out to buy their first set of solar panels they are thinking about getting free energy from the sun and have very little or no understanding of how solar panels actually work or the different types of panels available and what the characteristics of each are.

Basically, there are 3 different types of solar panels available for the homeowner, today; Monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and amorphous.

  1. Monocrystalline; These panels are made from slices of one large silicon crystal and connected together to gain the voltage desired. Monocrystalline solar panels are the oldest type of panel and have been made for many years (they were developed in 1955). They are the most efficient panels available and are smaller than the other types for the same wattage. They are durable and long lived. These are the panels used when a high reliability is required as in satellites and telecommunications applications and can last for 50 years or more. Monocrystalline solar panels cost slightly more than the others due to being more difficult to manufacture.
  2. Polycrystalline; these panels are made of slices of many smaller silicon crystals connected together. They are 14 to 23 per cent less efficient (depending upon the quality of materials used) than monocrystalline solar panels therefore making it necessary to have a larger panel to produce the same wattage. Polycrystalline solar panels cost less than the other types and are more common. They also degrade faster than the monocrystalline solar panels and will have to be replaced sooner. Another drawback is the larger size.
  3. Amorphous; amorphous or thin film solar panels are relative new on the market. They were developed in 1976. They consist of a thin film applied to a substrate which can be glass, plastic, or a flexible material. These are the panels you typically see on solar calculators and other small solar powered devices. An important thing to remember about the amorphous solar panels is that they are going to lose 10 to30 per cent of their efficiency in the first 6 months due to the Staebler-Wronski effect (depending upon the quality of materials used). Another important factor is that the amorphous solar panels have about 50% less efficiency than monocrystalline solar panels. This means that amorphous solar panels will require twice as much space as monocrystalline solar panels to produce the same amount of energy. Amorphous solar panels are currently the most expensive panels you can buy.

There are other types of panels currently being developed but they are not commercially available at this time and will be expensive when they do become available.

Now that you have read this you know more than most of the people that are going to try to sell you solar panels. My first array of panels are polycrystalline and they have done a good job for 15 years but are now starting to degrade and produce less power than they did when they were new. If I had gotten monocrystalline solar panels for a few dollars more, I wouldn’t be adding more panels to make up the difference (you get what you pay for). You can be sure that the solar panels I’m adding to my array are monocrystalline.

Here is a link to the panels we are now using here on Lee’s Ridge. After much research we have found the best panels at the best price and they come with free shipping and a 25 year guarantee;

                         Ramsond Mono Crystalline Solar Panels

 

The Homestead Dog

Homestead Dog

 

Of all the integral parts of any working homestead there are none quite as useful and versatile as the homestead dog. The perfect homestead dog does not have to have a pedigree (he couldn’t read it if he had one), he does not have to be any particular breed although some folks prefer their favorite breed over others in fact, the only requirement is that he fulfill his duties faithfully. Some of the best homestead dogs I’ve seen came from the local shelter and were of mixed breeding.

The homestead dog provides 24/7 security for your homestead. Whether it is keeping the foxes and other varmints out of the chicken house at night while you are asleep, or keeping the coons, rabbits, and armadillos out of your garden, or warning you of larger predators, he is on duty and alert at all times. He will catch rats and mice, gophers and moles.

A good homestead dog will provide hours of companionship for you and your children as well as protecting them from any threat (including snakes and other dogs) that appear. He is just as eager to chase a stick, ball, or Frisbee, as he is to chase a rabbit out of your garden.

Care of your dog is important, as with any other asset a certain amount of maintenance is necessary to keep your dog healthy and able to do his job. A good quality dog food (table scraps are usually not sufficient although he will enjoy them greatly), clean water, and a healthy living environment. You will need to give him some protection from fleas and ticks as well as keep his shots up to date.

To have a good dependable homestead dog you will have to invest some time in training. Teach him basic manners and not to chase the chickens and cats from the start. It is always easier to teach them from the beginning than to let them develop bad habits then try to break those habits. Teach him that it is not alright to dig in your wife’s flower bed before it becomes an issue (your wife will appreciate this). If you have no experience training dogs or just want to learn more about how;  Click Here!.

Remember, it is important for the well being of your dog(s) to spay and neuter them. You do not want him to go running off because of a female in heat or being the female in heat that is attracting male dogs that will fight and create an unpleasant situation for your dog, and yourself, as well as an unsafe situation for your children and other animals. You also do not want an unplanned litter of puppies.

In my opinion, a homestead is not complete without a homestead dog or 2 (we have 5 at present). A good dog will provide for you security, predator control, unlimited affection and unquestioning loyalty. All he requires in return is food, a little care, an occasional pat on the head or ear scratch. Nowhere else can you get such benefit for such a small investment.

Natural Cooling

In the times before electric air conditioning became widely available people used other means to keep their homes and other buildings cool. Over the years, many of these methods of cooling have been forgotten or largely ignored due to the relative ease of cooling with electric air conditioners.

In recent years builders have built well insulated houses without regard for ventilation or other natural methods of keeping a house cool. The windows in some houses are not placed strategically to catch a breeze, there are typically fewer windows, and some of them don’t even open at all.

Lately, there has been renewed interest in how the older homes were built to take advantage of the natural elements to lessen their dependence on mechanical air conditioning. Whether your purpose is to cut down on your cooling bill or eliminate it altogether, you can benefit by taking advantage of some of the methods used by the old timers that were off grid and had no access to electricity.

Here are just some of the methods they used;

  • Location; The old timers always tried to put their houses in a position to take advantage of the prevailing breeze.
  • They placed their windows strategically throughout the house to take advantage of available breezes.
  • They used higher ceilings to allow space for the hot air to rise out of their living area.
  • Some had double roofs with air space in between to prevent heating from the ceiling.
  • Many had underground basements for a cool room.
  • They would roof over an area between 2 buildings for a “breezeway”.
  • Many of the castles and abbeys in Europe had clay tile lined tunnels beneath them from which air was drawn into the building by opening the upper windows releasing the hot air and drawing in cool air from the tunnels by convective current.

These are just some of the many methods used before air conditioning was widely available. There are many more but these will hopefully get you thinking about what can be used to advantage in your own circumstances. Not every method is practical in all situations and some, like a second roof or tunnels for cool air, are downright expensive.

There are also many smaller things you can do to keep your dwelling cooler;

  • Put awnings over the windows to keep out the direct sunlight.
  • Grow shrubs around the house to keep the sun off the exterior walls.
  • Open windows and encourage ventilation in the night and early morning while the air is cool.
  • Keep an aquarium or indoor fountain as evaporating water cools the surrounding air.
  • Keep indoor plants for the same reason.
  • If you have 2 stories, keep the upstairs windows open and a couple open downstairs. This will set up convection current and draw fresh air into the downstairs windows.

There are an unlimited number of things you can do to keep your house cooler if you just think about it. None of these things is likely to keep your house as cool as electric air conditioning but, used together, some of these things will keep your house cooler and cut down on the air conditioning bill, and if you live in a place where it doesn’t get too hot, may eliminate the need for air conditioning altogether.

For this and other money saving articles of interest to off gridders and those that want to be off grid go to ; http://www.offgridok.com/ .

 

 

Container Gardening

 

Climbing beans in a bathtub

Much has been made recently about container gardening. I think this is because people that have never gardened before are starting to try their luck with a small vegetable garden, or because many would be gardeners have limited space, as in apartment or city dwellers with only small area in which to grow their vegetable plants. Container gardening is an ideal solution to the problem of limited space or to cope with poor soil conditions.

Container gardening has many advantages over the old plant in the ground method but some of the more important ones are:

  • You can grow vegetables in any container that will hold soil.
  • You have a much greater control of the composition of your soil, including nutrients.
  • You have a much greater control of common garden pests.
  • You can ensure optimal moisture content of your soil.
  • It is easier to care for your vegetable plants (weeding, pruning, & etc.).

There are many more advantages but these are the ones that seem most important to me. Having good control of your soil, pests, and moisture, is ninety percent of the battle to ensure you have a productive and healthy garden.

Choosing your containers is easy if you use a little common sense. You wouldn’t want to try to grow potatoes in a 1 pint flower pot, but a 5 gallon bucket would work just fine. As I mentioned above; anything that will hold soil will work, just allow for drainage so you don’t have water standing in the bottom of your container to turn sour and ruin your vegetable plants or drown the roots. My wife uses an old bathtub to grow pole beans and peppers.

You can build your own containers. We built a container for tomatoes using rocks for the sides and lined it with plastic sheeting. As long as you allow for drainage you can use anything you have. I saw an article by a guy that used 6 inch PVC pipe laid flat with 2 inch holes cut in the top every 12 inches or so for the plants. He put old socks over the ends of the pipe to hold in the soil and allow for drainage. This wouldn’t work well for root crops but it would be great for most anything else. You are only limited by your imagination.

The greatest advantage, in my opinion, is that you have complete control of what is in your soil. You can make sure the soil in your containers is optimized for the vegetable plants growing in it. Different plants require different ph levels and nutrients. You can make sure they have exactly the growing conditions they need.

It is not surprising that container gardening has become so popular. It allows you a degree of versatility and control you just can not get in a traditional vegetable garden. Even if you have never tried to grow vegetables before, you can have great results with your very first effort.

 

 

 

Mid-Season Vegetable Garden Tips

 

Your vegetable garden is all planted; things have come up and started growing. You may think that all you have left to do now is sit back and wait for your garden to start producing those juicy fresh vegetables you’ve envisioned picking off your plants. You can do just that, and if you get the rains just right, and the weeds don’t take over your garden, you’ll get some produce from your vegetable garden.

However; if you want to get the most return for your effort and investment in planting your vegetable garden, there are some things you can do to get the most out of your garden;

  •  Water; getting the right amount of water at the right time is very important to your plants. Sufficient water is necessary for your plants especially while they are still immature in order for them to mature into healthy plants that will produce quality vegetables for you. Failure to get regular watering will result in stunted weak plants that will produce poorly if they produce at all. This is slightly less important after they mature but if you want them to produce for you, you will see that they get regular watering.
  • Mulch; mulch will help your plants in 3 ways; it will hold moisture thereby reducing the amount of watering necessary, it will keep the sun from burning the roots, and it will provide nutrients as it decomposes. The best mulching material is compost that has already started decomposing, but any natural mulching material is better than none.
  • Weeding; when you allow weeds to grow around your plants they compete for the available moisture and nutrients. Weeds are much better competitors than vegetable plants and will starve your plants for moisture and nutrients. It is better to pull the weeds up by the roots just after watering than to cut them off at the ground with a hoe. Hoeing leaves the root systems intact to compete with your vegetables and grow a new weed.
  • Pruning; most vegetable plants need pruning to produce their best. Pruning your plants allows them to focus their energy upon vegetable production rather than unnecessary foliage. Some foliage is necessary so be careful to avoid over pruning as this can stunt or even kill your plants.
  • Shade; some plants benefit from shade during the hottest part of the day. Even plants that are supposed to grow in direct sunlight such as tomatoes and peppers can benefit from shade during the hottest part of the summer. I plant rows of field corn spaced around my vegetable garden to provide shade. During the early part of the season when the plants need direct sunlight the corn is short and doesn’t block off the sun, but as the season progresses into the hottest part of the summer, the corn is taller and provides needed shade for part of the day. The corn stalks also make good trellises for climbing beans or peas.
  • Pest Control; bugs and caterpillars can eat your entire vegetable garden. The best way I know to control pests without chemicals is to get out in your garden early and late and pick them off your plants destroying any eggs you find on the underside of the leaves. I have tried many natural remedies for pests but none of them work as well as disposing of them manually (my chickens follow me around when I do this waiting for me to throw them the bugs and caterpillars).

Now is also the best time to plan your fall vegetable garden. Some vegetables seem to do best if planted in the fall and allowed to grow all winter. Some of the veggies that do well in cold weather are; carrots, greens, garlic, and onions. There are many others but these are mainly what I plant.

There, you now have some ways to enhance the productivity of your vegetable garden without much effort. If you will do these things, you will be rewarded with many more vegetables for your effort, and a healthier better looking garden, too.

 

 

 

Making Homemade Wine

Every summer we try to make some kind of homemade wine with our home grown berries or fruit. It makes a nice treat to break out a bottle and have a bit over the Holidays and for special occasions. Making homemade wine is an old art that takes some practice to get right but it is actually quite easy to make tasty wine with just a little bit of know-how.
You will need very little in the way of equipment to get started;
1. A five gallon container (preferably glass as it will not leach into your wine).
2. One gallon of some kind of fruit or berries.
3. Five to ten pounds of sugar.
4. Seal-able containers to store your finished wine.
5. Yeast (some folks are purists and say you should use nothing but “brewers yeast” but I use whatever is at hand).
6. Four feet of flexible tubing (for siphoning the liquid from your brewing container.
I use a five gallon glass water cooler bottle with a small neck. I do not recommend plastic because of the possibility of it leaching some kind of chemical into your homemade wine but some folks do use it, anyway.
It is best, in my opinion, to use over ripe fruit or berries as the sugar content is higher, but any fruit or berries will do in a pinch.
At this point it is probably a good idea to have an explanation of what alcohol is and where it comes from. Are you ready for this? Alcohol is yeast excrement (just had to throw that in there). It’s true; when the yeast consumes sugar, it excretes alcohol. This is the basis of all palatable alcohol production whether it is beer, wine, or distilled spirits.
It also excretes certain gasses which produce the boiling effect you will see during the brewing process. If bottled at the right time, these gasses will produce carbonation as in the case of beer or sparkling wine. Care must be taken not to bottle it too soon or it will produce too much pressure in your bottles and literally explode your bottle making a terrible and stinky mess. Care must also be taken not to bottle it too late or it will be flat and taste bad. Deciding the right time to bottle homemade wine is where the art comes in. I will explain that part when we get to it.
Here is how to turn your ingredients into wine;
1. Crush or mash your fruit or berries into a slurry and place into brewing container.
2. Add sugar (for more alcohol content, add more sugar, I’ve never used more than ten pounds, five will work.
3. Add clean non-chemically treated water. Fill no more than ¾ full to allow for expansion.
4. Add one package of yeast.
5. Mix thoroughly and allow to settle.
Store brewing container in cool place so yeast doesn’t work too quickly (60 to 75 degrees F. is about right) and check it every day. After 2 or 3 days you will see the boiling effect which is bubbles raising to the surface. This is the gasses produced by the yeast consuming the sugar. Keep careful watch on it until the bubbling slows down to one bubble every 5 to 10 seconds to bottle for sparkling wine or wait until bubbles slow down to one every 20 or 30 seconds for maximum alcohol content.
I usually use the taste test to determine when to bottle mine. As the yeast consumes the sugar, it reaches a point where there is more alcohol and less sugar. It is a matter of personal taste as to what taste you prefer and everybody is different.
Check your bottled homemade wine every day for pressure for a week or so and it is best to store it in a cool place where it will not do too much damage if one explodes from too much pressure.
That is all there is to it. You will develop your own preferences as you gain experience but this will get you started with your first batch of homemade wine.

Growing Sweet Potatoes

If you plan to grow sweet potatoes in your vegetable garden, there are a few things you

Growing Sweet Potato Slips

need to know. You do not plant them the same as regular potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are different in that they grow “slips” from the potato. Slips are grown by placing a sweet potato in an area where they will get diffused sunlight. Keep them out of the direct sun. We place ours on a bed of moist sand or soil to prevent them from drying out. They will start growing sprouts. These sprouts are called slips. One potato will grow many slips over a period of several weeks.

When the slips are 4 to 6 inches long they can be removed carefully by twisting at the base where it grew from the potato until it separates from the potato. The base of the slip is then placed in a container of water like a cut flower and left for a week or so until it grows roots. The slips grow roots quickly. The slip can then be planted in your vegetable garden. You can also buy slips ready for planting at many nurseries and feed stores as well as ordering them from seed companies.

Sweet potatoes prefer a relatively warm soil temperature of 70 degrees or so. They do best in loose soil to make their tubers, and they need moisture on a regular basis (especially when first planted and roots are developing).

I prepare the soil by first digging a trench 12 inches or so deep and lining the bottom with old hay (the older the better). I make the layer of hay 6 to 8 inches deep to provide a bed for the tubers to form and grow. Then, I cover the hay with 4 inches or so of soil.

I also mulch heavily around the base of the plants. This helps retard the growth of undesirable weeds and helps keep the soil moist allowing the plants to thrive. Sweet potato plants will grow vines which will also help shade the ground and preserve moisture.

Sweet potatoes are ready to harvest in the fall when the plant dies back. They are harvested by digging up the roots (tubers) from the layer of hay. Spread the potatoes out in the shade on a dry tarp or cloth to allow them to dry thoroughly before storing them in a cool, dry, and dark place.

They will keep all winter in this manner if kept on a layer of hay and covered with a little hay. They need to be kept dry and from freezing. You can store them in other mediums (dry sand, for instance) if you wish. I just grow my own hay and have it available.

Sweet potatoes are easy to grow and do not require a lot of care. You just need to insure they get enough moisture throughout the season and pull any weeds that happen to get through your mulch. They are a hearty plant and will thrive with just minimal care. You will be rewarded with delicious sweet potatoes that you can enjoy all winter. Be sure to save several to grow your slips for the next spring’s planting.

Besides sweet potatoes, this is also an excellent method for growing any other kind of potatoes in your vegetable garden except they aren’t all grown from slips. We grow all our potatoes this way with excellent results.

To learn about harvesting and storing your sweet potatoes check out this article; Harvesting Sweet Potatoes .

For a complete selection of tools and accessories to make your gardening more enjoyable
and productive click the link below!

garden tools

Dry Weather Vegetable Garden

Dry Weather Garden

        How to have a successful vegetable garden with little or no rain.

This past summer in my area was very dry with almost no rain during most of the growing season. This made it necessary to water my vegetable garden every night since the dry weather was accompanied by some of the hottest temperatures in local history. Most gardens in the area were non-productive or did not survive at all due to the weather.

This year I am arranging my vegetable garden differently to allow for more effective and easier watering just in case we encounter the same conditions again. I lived for some years in Arizona and observed how they set up their gardens there where they get very little rain so I am using some of their methods.

Here is a way to have a productive dry weather vegetable garden;

  1. Rather than planting in rows and hills as we normally do, this year I have dug little moats about 6 or 8 inches deep around each place I put a vegetable plant. This will hold the water until it soaks into the soil and becomes available to the roots.
  2. I am mulching heavily around the base of the plants to hold the moisture and help keep it from evaporating. This also helps protect the roots from the heat of the sun.
  3.  I have placed soda bottles with bottom or top removed over plants to act as a mini greenhouse until plant gets too big or weather gets too hot. This has 3 benefits; it cuts down on evaporation, retains warmth at night, and protects the seedlings from insect and wind damage. Be sure to provide ventilation if using bottoms and remove caps from tops.
  4. I have planted rows of field corn with climbing beans oriented north to south to provide shade for my plants except when the sun is directly overhead. These rows are spaced about 12 to 15 feet apart to allow room for my vegetable plants.
  5. Water after the sun is low on the evening horizon to give the water all night to soak in and allow the plant maximum time to recover from the heat of the day.

There are other methods that are effective in dry areas such as drip irrigation involving running tubes throughout your vegetable garden with drip fittings at each plant but this method involves the purchase of the tubes and fittings and most folks put it on a timer and can add up to quite an expense.

Another method used is flooding the area of the vegetable garden once or twice a week but this requires a lot of water of which approximately one third is lost to evaporation.

The method outlined above has the advantage of being cost free and effective for small non-commercial vegetable gardens. You can use this method to improve the survivability and production of your vegetable garden in even the driest of years.

For a complete selection of tools and accessories to make your gardening more enjoyable

and productive click the link below!

  garden tools

Solar Hot Water the Easy Way

 

As the cost of electricity continues to climb higher and higher many people are trying to find ways to cut down on their use of power. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to reduce your use of power by as much as one third is with a solar hot water heater. There are more and more people becoming interested in building their own solar hot water heaters every day

Solar hot water is commonly used in many parts of the world where outside power is unavailable or is just too expensive to use. It is especially good for remote areas that are off grid or for anyone that wants to be independent and not have to rely on sources of supply that are beyond their control.

People all over the world have been using the free sunlight to heat water for centuries, even before recorded history. While the early methods were somewhat primitive, the concept is the same today as it was centuries ago; expose water to direct sunlight and it absorbs the heat directly from the sun. What could be simpler than that?

A solar hot water heater is one of the easiest and quickest ways to save money on your power bill because they are inexpensive to build and they use no power except the free energy of the sun. No special expertise or knowledge is required to build and install yours. All the materials can be found at your local hardware store. You can easily build and install it in a week end and still have time to barbeque on Sunday afternoon while feeling secure in the knowledge that you just gave your power company a kick in the seat of the pants.

You do not have to design your own by hit or miss and waste a lot of time and money trying to finally get one that will do the job for you. These heaters have been in use for long enough that the technicalities have been worked out and the designs are simple, easy to build and very efficient. Once installed, they require almost no maintenance and will give you years of trouble free service.

You can build yours the right way the first time and avoid the problems of trial and error construction by following the plans of people that have been building and using these units for many years. They have built and used enough of these solar water heaters to have worked all the “bugs” out of their systems and found what kind of materials do the best job and are the most durable.

Why not take advantage of their experience and know-how, get your plans, and build your own solar hot water system today? Every day that you delay means more of your hard earned money out of your pocket and into the already bulging bank accounts of your power company. Get your easy to follow plans now.

 

                                             Get Your Plans Here

                                                  Solar Hot Water

On Preppers, Prepping, Survivalists, and Survivalism

In the past few months I have noticed the number of Prepper, Bush Craft, and Survivalist websites and blogs has exploded. It seems as everybody is trying to get in on the action like it’s some kind of new idea that hasn’t been around for long. People that live outside the cities in the countryside have been storing supplies, practicing bush craft and survival strategies since before there even were cities. The idea is not new.

What is new is the vast number of people that are becoming interested for the first time in recent memory. Many of these folks are seeking knowledge and skills that they had no interest in a few years ago. For most of them, preparedness is a new concept.

The cause of this renewed interest appear to be the predictions concerning current economic and political situation, and the dire predictions of doom regarding the end of the Mayan calendar in December of this year This is not centered in any area or Nation but is world wide. As regards the world wide economic and political predictions, some of them are not unreasonable and it is only prudent to take precautions for the well being of one’s self and family.

More and more people are thinking about storing up a little food for possible hard times ahead and that makes good sense. Folks that live out in the countryside have always done this. You never know what might happen tomorrow that could make you glad you had a little extra food.  Something as simple as a bad snow storm or flooding conditions could keep you from getting to the grocery store for several days or longer. A natural or man made disaster could cut off your supply sources for far longer. Many of the folks in New Orleans that survived Hurricane Katrina without damage had to leave the area to find food as there were no stores in operation. This left their homes at risk of looting and break-ins.

A basic knowledge of bush craft can also come in handy. Knowing how to build a fire, cook on an open fire, basic shelter building, basic land navigation, are all skills that could be very useful after a disaster. You never know what kind of situation you will be faced with, so it’s best to have the basic skills to deal with most anything that comes up. When the need arises, it’s too late to try to learn them.

People in a disaster scenario are very unpredictable. There is no way to know before hand just how they are going to react. People could show up from miles around to help like they did on 911 in New York City or they could get crazy like they did after Katrina hit New Orleans and start looting stores and houses. An economic melt down could evoke the same kind of reactions from people. A good survival strategy could mean the difference between protecting your property and getting hurt or worse trying. A good survival strategy could mean being somewhere else when the bad guys show up or having a garden to provide food until the stores open again.

While I certainly do not want to see an economic or political melt down or the end of the world as we know it, I think this renewed interest in preparedness, and learning a few basic skills in bush craft and survival is a good thing. A people who are prepared and possess some basic skills are more confident and therefore, better able to deal with emergencies when they happen. That has to be a good thing.

Basic Emergency Preparedness