Tag Archives: #growyourown

DIY Energy

In the spirit of Earth Day last week, I wanted to talk a little about some green energy sources. Not because I think the earth has a temperature and I feel we owe it to her to reduce our carbon footprint, but because in all the research that I’ve done, so called green energy sources are most conducive to long term personal or family energy sources. Sure anyone can buy a gas generator but it only provides energy as long as the gas holds out. Coal_transformationSince gas degrades over time, in a TEOTWAWKI world after several months gasoline will gum and drop octane, making gasoline generators a poor long term alternative energy source. Considering how 90% of modern American electricity is produced in power plants using a type of fossil fuel to create steam, which is used to turn a turbine, thus creating the electricity. Since the process takes place on such a massive scale, the burning of the fossil fuel becomes not only cost effective but actually cheaper than most other forms of electricity production.

The problem with producing electricity for your household in this manner is that due to the small amount you’re producing and the cost of the fuel and equipment, it becomes very expensive. The average American household consumes almost 11,000 kilowatt/hours per month, according to Consumer Reports there are two types of home generators, portable and fixed and they are capable of producing 2,500-20,000 watts. The problem, other than the cost, is that few of these generators are designed to provide power on a full time basis.

hydropowerIf you could replace the gas motor with another means of turning the generator, you would eliminate the cost of the fuel and the wear on the gas motor. In a perfect world it could be replaced by a fast moving stream or waterfall. Another possible replacement is wind, if you are in an area that has a perpetually strong wind.

What could we use as a generator? I’m speaking here about the device that will actually create the electricity. To generate electricity through induction all you need to do is spin a magnet or group of magnets, inside a wire coil. The amount of electricity created is affected by length of wire, strength of the magnetic field, and velocity of movement inside the magnetic field. I’m not going to get into the science behind this because that is beyond the scope of this discussion. But I will give you some ideas on where you can find some generators relatively inexpensively.

how-solar-energy-systems-operateBefore I get into suggestions on generators, let’s talk a little about power delivery. You will want a place to store your generated energy and it’s not like you can hang it on a hanger in the coat closet or put it in a box in the guest bedroom closet. A battery compartment will be required and of course the electricity you create will be stored in 12 volt batteries. Which brings us to the next part of the system you will need, a charge controller. A charge controller protects your battery,windmill how well it protects the battery depends on the quality of the charge controller and the features that it has. If you’ve read anything that I’ve previously written, you’ll know that I’m a huge believer in layering; layer your clothes, layer your plans, layer your defenses. Why would your energy grid be any different? If you’re using wind or hydro or both, you can add solar to your grid for relatively low cost. Since the batteries store DC power and your home runs on AC, you will need a sine wave inverter to convert the power from DC to AC. Unless you want to live completely off grid, in which case you could look into replacing all of your devices with a 12 volt DC equivalent. There are definite pluses to being off grid but there also pluses to being on grid. In fact some power companies will actually pay you for excess power that you produce.

Where can you get these generators? batteryWell we are charging 12 volt batteries, what else runs on 12 volt batteries? Cars and trucks use a 12 volt battery, and it is recharged by the vehicles alternator. We can use air or water to turn the alternator and use the alternator to charge our batteries and 10 batteries connected in series will be 120 volts which will power most homes.



Stockpiling Water

Every day we go about our lives, we get up take our showers, wash our clothes and dishes, every time we turn on a faucet, water comes out. If you’re anything like me there have been times that you turn that faucet and water hasn’t come out. It’s inconvenient and maddening, but what if it was the new normal. If you woke up one morning and the shower didn’t work and neither did the lights. You groan in frustration and pick up your cell phone, the screen is blank and won’t turn on. Whatever the circumstances, the point is that we need on average between 2 and 3 liters of water per day. If you’re not lucky enough to have your own well, where is it going to come from if the water stops flowing? Even discounting the run on the grocery stores to buy every last drop, what happens when that’s gone?

In an emergency situation, you can dig a hole in the ground, put a cup in the bottom and cover the hole with black plastic and put a small pebble or weight on the plastic above the cup and condensation will roll down the plastic and collect in the cup, but that won’t produce 3 liters per day.waterCup

I’m lucky enough to have multiple fresh bodies of water near my home. All I need is a filtering system and I’m golden! Let’s talk about some filtering systems.

There are hundreds if not thousands of commercially available water filtration systems, but over time filters lose their effectiveness and must be replaced or replicated.

The 5 steps of water filtration are:

Screening, Water is passed through a screen which removes large debris. Water pulled from a ground source may not need this step.

Coagulation, alum and other chemicals are added to the water which cause Floc or sticky particles that attract dirt and contaminants, which sink to the bottom of a storage tank.

Sedimentation, water and floc flow into a sedimentation tank where the floc falls to the bottom

Filtration, the water is then passed through gravel, sand and perhaps charcoal.

Disinfection, chlorine or other disinfecting chemical is used to kill micro organisms and keep the water safe to drink. If using ground water this maybe to only step needed.

In a SHTF or emergency situation CPVC marked NSF-61 or NSF-PW has been tested to be safe for drinking water,filter use a piece about 4 inches in diameter and about 4 feet long. Put a rounded cap on one end with a hole drilled in the middle. Put about 2 feet of sand in the bottom and 1 ½ feet of gravel on top of that, leaving about a foot of room on the top to pour water in, and poof instant water filter.

Use 8-16 drops or ¼ teaspoon of chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water for the disinfection of filtered water, or 2% tincture of iodine at 5 drops per 1 quart of filtered water. In the absence of these chemicals boil water at a full rolling boil for 1 minute.

Here is a great article on drilling your own well.



Reap What You Have Sown

It is the perfect time of year to start planning how you can best use the space you have to supplement your grocery budget. Yes, I am talking about a garden. No, you don’t have to have acres of space to have one. plan-ahead-vegetable-gardening-in-small-spacesEven with a space as small as an apartment patio you can have a garden. Like with everything else, it’s all about planning! The one thing that shouldn’t need to be said, but I will anyway, is that if you plant something you’re not going to eat, you may as well plant flowers…

So what should you plant? It really depends on what you like to eat and how much space you have. Sunset.com offers their 21 best crops for an edible garden and it’s a great place to start. If you have a small suburban yard like I do there are any number of fruits and vegetables that you can grow, from strawberries and corn to apple trees and squash. However, just because I have the space to have a large garden, I don’t have the time or inclination to be a full-time farmer, or gardener for that matter.

The question is, what do I have time for? I don’t want to spend a lot of time weeding and tending.container-garden-0410-x I do love fresh tomatoes and hot peppers so they are a must. Since those are 2 of the ingredients for salsa I may as well add the other 2, onions and cilantro, also maybe a planter full of fresh strawberries. I also want potatoes, carrots and perhaps some corn. As you can see, I don’t eat a whole lot of vegetables and a large victory garden would be wasted on me, even if I had the time or desire to have a large garden. If gardening is your thing and you want to have a large garden, great! More power to you and even what you don’t eat can be donated. It’s just not my thing…

Basically what you want to do, is look at the space you have available (no one says you have to use all of it) and plan the most effective use of your space. If you’re limited to an apartment patio, then you’re limited to container gardening. gardenIf you’re like me and have a yard but also a destructive pet, either container gardening or some other type of enclosure is a necessity. In planning your space you should not only think about how and what you’re going to plant but what goes well with what. Like in my tomato and hot pepper scenario, if planted too close together the tomatoes will pick up some of the heat from jalapenos or habaneros, which is fine for salsa but most people in my house don’t want spicy tomatoes on a sandwich. There are many resources out there for what plants go well together and why, as well as what not to plant together. Going into gardening in that depth is beyond the scope of this article and I have included one such link here.

planterboxAnother consideration is the type of containers you use. There are many options, with many different price tags. There are many considerations, drainage, aesthetics, and cost to name just a few. Tractor Supply has some very aesthetically pleasing, galvanized steel troughs that could be adapted to container gardening. However, with a little effort and few tools you can make some gardening containers almost free, using a couple old pallets. I also found this graphic from the Denver Post on creating a spud box. It looks like a simple and ingenious idea for growing potatoes and report that some claim to harvest 100 pounds of potatoes in just 1 box.potato_footer

One must also consider the type of soil and fertilizer to use. Gardening soil is great to mix into the soil in your backyard however has drainage issues when used for container gardening. The best soil to use in container gardening is a compact resistant, “soilless” container mix with a liberal amount of general purpose granular fertilizer. Ensure there are plenty of drainage holes and use gravel in the bottom so they don’t become clogged. If you’re into composting a shovel or two of organic compost would also be beneficial.