Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

2015 Summer Harvest

All of the produce that we preserve comes from within ten miles of home; it is transported here by bicycle. The bold entries were grown on site. This, of course, does not account for all of the fresh produce we ate during the growing season.

Blueberries: 2 quarts dried
                   3 quarts frozen

Peaches: six quarts dried
15    pints canned

Apples: apple sauce 8 pints
              Apple butter 18 half pints (it turns quickly)
               Dried 4 quarts
               Juice 19 quarts

Figs: 7 quarts dried

Plums:  butter 6 half pints
              Pickled 6 quarts

Grape juice: 36 quarts

Beets: pickled, 7 pints

Tomatoes: roasted and canned 54 half pints
                        Dried 3 quarts
                        Salsa 10 pints
                        Longkeeper storage tomatoes 10 pounds

Cucumbers: It was a very good year…
                        Quick Dill 10 quarts
                        Senfgerkin 10 pints

Gooseberry jam 4 half pints

Potatoes:
            Blue three pounds—a mystery
            Yukon Gold 13 pounds, plus some early harvest
            Desiree 21 pounds
            Kennebeck 25 pounds
            Russian fingerling 26 pounds

Pumpkins and squash; six pie pumpkins and one blue Hubbard squash
                       




Monday, September 21, 2015

Planning for Solar Panels, part three

The planning and execution of our greenhouse/solar panel structure has been complex. We needed to shift installation companies, apply for retro-active permits, and build the structures during the hottest summers on record. It was a whole summer project, which has just wrapped up last week.

Because of rebates, a real concern about climate change, striving for the Georgetown Energy prize, and peer pressure, solar panel installation is way up in Corvallis this year. In March, solar companies were seeing a ten fold increase in the number of people interested in installation and that continued throughout the summer. All of the companies in town were booked out early. We worked with Benton Electric, who was able to reach further afield for teams, but the press of business made communication difficult, which had long term impacts on the permitting process.

In late June, we worked with Benton Electric to begin the process. They calculated that eight panels, creating a 2.2 kw system, should cover our use for the year, if we were conservative. Nine would be better, but they would block considerable light into the greenhouse, and we decided against the extra panel. Once we had the dimensions for the layout of the panels, our builder went to work constructing the greenhouse and panel rack. It is an uneven hexagon, a bay with windows of three different sizes projecting into the yard, with a long annex that reaches all along the neighbor’s garage. Because of the design, it does not dominate the view of the gardens, but blends in, even without mature plantings. For days, he dug deep post holes and planted the treated beams that would hold the structure upright. Once they were all planted, he needed to cut the roof angles, all different because of the shape. When the angles were cut, he had down the roof and framed in the windows, then hung them, and framed them in with cedar. Once the greenhouse was finished, we painted the clawfoot tub and moved it in, setting up the shower.

When the greenhouse was complete, Mark, our builder, moved onto the rack for the panels, which is also a funky structure of angles and braces, raising the panels thirteen feet above the ground for maximum light and minimal visual intrusion. He finished the evening before the panels were to be installed. The next day, in early August, the installers arrived. “That’s interesting,” the head installer commented, “but I can work with it.” In four hours, they had installed the panels, wired the system in, and added an outlet in the greenhouse.  We were on track for completion, just waiting on the electric installation….

And then things came to halt. The electrical inspector, seeing the structure and thinking “that’s weird” referred us for a building permit before the electric could be inspected.  “But we don’t need a permit,” I argued, “the structure is too small.” “Code says that you do,” the city returned. What code? We don’t know. What did we do wrong? We don’t know. One person talked about earthquakes, another about hurricane force winds. Maybe we should cement the posts in, even though that rots them faster….it was never really clear. Don’t ask, was the general message. Hire a structural engineer to write a letter saying that the whole plan is ok. It will be easier than bringing it up to building code. So we did. “Humrph,” he said. “That’s interesting.  Lets put a little brace in here and call it good.” “A trellis? I can live with a trellis.” Several weeks later, we received the retroactive permit and passed the electric inspection. But the panels were still not on.

Pacific Power needed to replace our meter—and Benton Electric needed to repair a fuse so that the system worked. That added another week to the whole process….finally, I came home to a new meter. Two days later, to a functional system. The meter was spinning backwards! For the first week, we produced four to five kwh  per day; when the clouds went away, production went up to six, then seven, and today, eight. We are at the equinox, with the sun sliding down in the sky further every day, so production will slowly drop off for winter.

So, what did we learn from the process? Perhaps to ask very specific questions before building—despite talking with three city departments, we did not know that we needed permits for the structure that attaches the panels to the greenhouse. Now that we are done, we are working to live within our means, to not use any more electricity that we will produce, even if we are not always using fresh electrons.

Fish Pie


This is a layered dish.

Layer one: finely diced carrots and celery to cover the bottom of the dish, followed by .25 pounds of various fish—shrimp or scallops, salmon, and white fish. Scraps are good.

Layer two: 1.5 cups of white sauce, with leeks, salt and pepper.

Layer three: mashed potatoes for a crust.

Bake until bubbly in a 350 degree oven.



Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Late Summer Evening

  
  

   
not much space here
      Silence drops slowly over the backyard in the evening. The flock is integrated now, so there is no chicken fuss over dominance after the first squawks of the morning and a bit of ritual labor coaching while the youngest lays an egg. In the late afternoon,  the ladies discuss tidbits quietly while the hive hums loudly as the drones come out for air, the of the cat calls for attention from the fenceline, cars cruise down King’s Blvd., cedar waxwings feast on the high figs, and people head home on foot, shouting into their cell phones. After dinner, the foot traffic is gone and all we hear are the voices of our neighbors over the fence speaking Spanish, or English, Chinese or Arabic—the apartments behind us hold a world of cultures in their old brick walls. An occasional car pulls into the alley, shifting gravel. Further away, a couple of small children play.  Mark and I eat dinner outside, chat softly, and listen to the world. A dove hoots from the telephone line.
            As the light fades, so does the volume. The chickens move into their new coop and begin protracted negotiations on roost rights.  Wings flap. Someone is shoved off the perch and launches upward. Bees move into the hive quickly when dusk comes. Cats wander by, looking for a warm lap. The crickets begin. Inside, Mark runs water for dishes, humming to himself. Water sloshes into the greywater bucket as he works. The crickets begin, softly at first, then growing louder. Mark turns on the lights in the kitchen and the house glows.
            When it grows dark, I move to tuck in the animals. First, the rabbit, who, like a toddler, does not want to go inside for the night. I chase her around the yard until she makes a false move and is caught by the garden fencing. In she goes with a thump, then bounces loudly over to check her crunchies and look for the treat we often use as bribery. Once she is in, I move to the back bed, where the coop is perched for September. All of the ladies are in and settled now, but they chirp softly when I jostle the coop to hang the full bucket of feed. Occasionally, one will jump down to see what she’s missing. The hive is still buzzing softly, especially when I slide between coop and hive to reach the chicken feed. Some nights, a few bees buzz a warning that I am too close and I slip behind instead. One of the cats investigates the motion in the backyard and rubs against my legs, purring.

            When everyone is settled for the night, quiet comes down. Mark empties the last bucket of greywater onto the kiwi vine. I take a shower. The crickets chirp. The possum drops out of her home in the laurel hedge and bumps into the garden fence right outside the bedroom window. The moon rises, tangled in the plum tree branches. A few cars pass in the distance, but, by ten, the world is still.

Swamp Maples
Whole wheat bread with rice

Use the "bread in five minutes a day" system. 

Cook 3/4 cup of arboriso rice and cool.

Mix three cups of water, 1.5 T of yeast and salt, three cups of wheat flour, three and a half cups of white flour, and the rice. Allow to rise and proceed as usual.

The dough is wet. You will need more flour than usual to toss it into a dough ball. It will also take longer to cook-- beware. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Fig Tree

            In 1941, George Schreiber planted a fig tree in his front yard, right on the property line. It was a protected spot for a tree that was borderline for it’s planting zone, between two houses and near the road. It throve. Eighteen years ago, we bought his old house and ate our first fresh figs, which were just coming ripe as we moved in. Our fig tree is the largest in Corvallis, even after Figpocolypis, the very cold winter when many trees suffered a great deal of damage. Ours lost some branch tips and took a while to push through last spring, but it is still going strong. There is a good crop of fruit this year.

            Our fig is well known in the neighborhood. We have a mosque down the street and many Middle Eastern students living near by. For them, the fig is a taste of home; for four years, the same family came by every fall to pick on the weekend they brought their son down to school. When he graduated, they gave us an art poster in thanks. Other people pick the low hanging fruit as they walk by and, occasionally, a car will drive by slowly, hoping to catch someone out with a ladder. We are always generous with the fruit. We cannot begin to eat it all, even after drying and fig jam, and it is good karma to give something away. Right now, the tree is divided into three zones: low hanging for people walking by, ladder range for human consumption, and high in the branches for the Cedar Waxwings, which are feasting on the over ripe fruits.  Figs will ripen slowly over several weeks, holding on until the fall rains come in. Then, it swells and drops to the ground as soggy fig bombs, nasty and squishy, and the harvesting season is done. 

Drying Figs

Pick figs before dinner, as it is an overnight process to dry them. Cut off the stem and quarter the fruit. Spread the fig open to expose more of the inner seedy sweetness to the dryer. Turn the dryer on high, place it somewhere you want the bit of warmth during the night, and begin. Check in the morning before heading off to work. Figs are done even the very ripe and sweet ones feel a little damp but the rest are chewy. Store in quart canning jars on the shelf.The over ripe ones never feel dry, but they will not mold in the basement. 

Dried figs are the best fruit for those awful moments when you are hungry but dinner is still a couple of hours away.They have staying power.