Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Now We're Cooking with Gas Sun!

Our solar panels are now powering us! 
Yesterday was connection day.  We have had the snowiest December on record, but Curt was up for the challenge of installing our PVsystem despite snow, wind, freezing rain and a blizzard. 
Curt had raked off the heaviest snow from the panels with a plastic roof rake so they would be entirely clear for his first test readings. 
Yesterday afternoon,  Curt measured the surface temp of the panels; on a 25F day the panels measured 46F, plenty warm to make snow slide right off. 
Our driveway was packed with vehicles for the big hook-up--two from the utility, two belonging to the  electrical contractor and Curt's pickup.

Our old electrical meter had been mounted on the same utility pole as the transformer.  People's Cooperative, our utility, required that the new meters be on a separate pole.  The electrician built a panel for the meters that stands directly in front of the pole. It's not the most beautiful (neither was the pole) but I have some ideas - come spring it will become garden art.
First, they disconnected our power for the afternoon.
People's removed the old transformer from the top of the pole.  It is full of coils and oil and weighs about 300 pounds.  
The lineman gracefully maneuvered  between the windmill and utility pole. 
A new transformer was hoisted into place.
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the pole,wiring was going on to hook up the two meters.
Finally, with the new transformer installed, the old conduit was removed, new conduit mounted, and the line from the house was connected to the transformer.
The electrician finished  hooking up the new meters.
The inverter, located in the barn, shows how much power the panels are producing at any given moment.  I took this photo earlier today and our PV system was producing 3901 watts at the instant this shot was taken, mid-morning in December. The power was fluctuating and moving quickly  upward before my eyes as the sun rose in the sky! 
Back at the pole, the top meter shows power drawn from our utility. When the sun is shining we will be using solar power first, then drawing from the grid only if necessary.  When it is not producing enough power to meet our electrical usage (for example at night, on short winter days), we will draw any extra we need from the utility and the top meter will indicate the power we are purchasing. 
The bottom meter will tell us how much solar electricity in excess of our needs is produced. This power will be sold back to the utility at the same rate we pay to purchase power.  The 8.3 Kw system should on average supply all our electricity--and if we become  more energy efficient, we might even make some money selling electricity.  
We will be Power Mongers! 

Exotic Oxtail Soup

Our daughters are both home for the holidays! One of the many pleasures of having them home is that they are  awesome chefs and love to try new dishes.  Cadence had requested that I save the oxtails from our steers so she could prepare them when she came home.  Yesterday, she made Spicy Vietnamese Beef and Noodle Soup.
First the oxtails are browned.  Then they are removed and onions and carrots are sauteed in the same pot with lemongrass, ginger, garlic cloves, star anise and black peppercorns.

The recipe calls for 2/3 cup ginger. Sounds like a lot, but it's not too much.
Star anise.
Cadence used home-made beef broth. The aroma of this soup simmering all afternoon was fabulous.  After it cooked down, the broth was strained. Meat was removed from the bones and added back in.
Bean sprouts, thinly sliced radishes and serrano chilies,  scallions and herbs are added just before serving. Lime, cilantro, basil and mint - I absolutely love this combination of flavors!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Evening Chores in December

Even in the cold winter,  Evening Chores is one of my two favorite times of the day (the other time being Morning Chores.)  I try to keep to a pretty rigid schedule because the cows in particular are expecting me at a specific time. By suppertime, they are waiting  for me at their feeder. It's the bovine highlight of the cold, short winter days.  
When it snows, Lariat's body is dusted with white snow while her face is dusted with green hay.
We have had 41.3 inches of snow already this winter--25.6 inches more than average for December, and we still have a few days to go - could get more!
The deep snow has prevented us from clearing away the mess from the huge downed trees on the south side of our barn which were removed so they won't block the sun from our solar panels -- although they would be blocked under several inches of snow right now anyway, if they were hooked up!
The fallen trees have created wonderful rabbit habitat, and our older dog Nutmeg is totally obsessed by the rabbits which have taken shelter under the tree branches. 
Icicles on the edge of our roof glow over the holiday lights.  This year, we completed the transition to all energy-saving LED lights (they save  87%  of the energy traditional Christmas lights use!)  I especially love these lights with bulbs that change color, glimmering from red to green.
Sunset comes all too early in December. The days are so short this time of year- but growing longer from here on out! 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Heartfelt and Hand-Felted

One of the blogs I read pretty much daily is Katiegirl, by a young mom raising chickens, turkeys, goats and sheep. Last year when I mailed Katie some fertilized eggs to try to hatch in her new incubator, she sent me a darling felted chicken ornament she made from her sheep's wool.

A couple weeks ago Katie had a photo  on her blog of a sweet little hand-felted artwork depicting a barn in winter that she had just completed. The barn is the same shape as our barn and I loved the soft, fuzzy texture of the wool snow. I clicked over to Katie's Etsy shop and ordered it right then and there.

It arrived in the mail last Thursday.  I found a small shadow box frame, painted it and lined it with deep red handmade paper.  It is festive for Christmas, but definitely won't be getting a packed away afterward. Thanks, Katie! I treasure it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Death of a Chicken Killer?

A great-horned owl is road-kill about a quarter mile down the road. It was precisely the same spot where I slowed for four pheasants crossing the road a few evenings ago, so I suspect he was hit while pheasant-hunting.

Very sad to see,  but I hope at least it was one of the voracious birds that was picking off our poultry last summer.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Nature's Tree Ornaments

There are at least seven cardinals in this photo, but three are subtle females. My camera lens wasn't wide enough to  include all the cardinals in this lilac hedge!
Female cardinal.
The chickadees are tricky to catch on camera--they flit in, grab a seed and fly off to a branch to devour it, and they are vey quick.
Finally caught him.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Our PV Panels Are Up!

Last Friday, Curt and his crew managed to get  the first 12 solar panels mounted on the barn before the big snowstorm hit. The forecast was unusually  accurate - we got over 17 inches of snow, fierce winds, and then frigid cold.
At least the wind blew a significant portion of the snow off the roof.  Curt had covered the rails with large tarps to prevent them from icing up during the storm.  Yesterday he returned with a roof rake, cleaned off the snow and removed the tarps. Today it warmed up to above zero - not warm enough to melt anything - but another 4-8 inches of snow was forecast (thus, the gloomy sky in these photos.)  The crew arrived early this morning to attempt to complete the installation before the snow started.
Each of the 36 photovoltaic panels is identified with a serial number and the panels are laid out in a specified order. Three sets of twelve panels are wired together. The three sets are connected to a junction box on the roof, then will connect to the inverter inside the barn.
Despite the cold, this work went surprisingly fast.

 The second set of 12 panels were mounted within a couple hours.
When I came back outside to photograph the progress an hour or so later, they were almost  completed with the  third set of panels!
The  temperature was quite brusque and I shivered just taking photos intermittently, but the guys were more concerned about their footing than the cold.  Since it hadn't warmed up enough to melt the snow, the metal roof was pretty slippery with a frosty glaze. They wore safety harnesses, but it was a challenge to maintain secure footing.
Last connection!  All these panels were installed today. The first twelve panels are left of the photo, still covered in a few inches of snow.  As soon as it warms up a bit, the snow should slide right off.
View of the installation from the top of the ladder.  There is still a lot of electrical work to be done before we actually have solar power and there are two trees to be removed.
The fearless crew. Thanks, guys!

Wordless Wednesday: Birdfeeder Customers (& Crow Taking Cat's Catch)