Friday, October 15, 2010

"Over the Hills and Far Away"

At nearly 700 feet elevation, we not only overlook the western end of the Lehigh Valley, but can see across the Schuylkill Valley, to Eagle Peak, beyond Newmanstown and beyond that to Furnace Ridge, the divide between Lancaster and Lebanon Counties: a distance of well over 40 miles ( 70 kilometers). Not bad for Pennsylvania.
[A 1000mm lens helps bring it closer.]

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Garden shed

In June we decided to finally finish the garden shed we had started back in 2006. We got Aaron King to return and timber frame, roof and side the little building. This finally allowed us to move the wood shop operations out of the basement and freed up some badly-needed storage space in the house.

Our Off-Grid Electrical System

Craig Edwards and Kirk Ruhn of Evergreen Systems installed our Photovoltaic panels, batteries and inverter to give us power for our lights, refrigerator, washing machine and computers. They finished in mid-April, right before the refrigerator arrived. They also installed our solar hot water system a year ago and did a superb job with both installations.
We have six panels mounted in front of the south deck next to the hot water panel, for a total of 1.2 Kilowatts of PV. They generate up to 4.5 KWH per day, going to an Outback inverter and four six-volt Rolls Surette batteries. This appears to be more than enough for our needs. We do time clothes washing and ironing to match up with sunny days. This is far less than most typical American homes seem to require, but we are frugal power users. It is working well, and even though we got no credit from the State, we are satisfied.
The final image shows are house two weeks ago, just before the soybean harvest. PV on pole provides the power for the well pump. Tiny panel to the right of the hot water panel provides power for the pump that moves the glycol through the solar panel. The other six panels are our PV for everything else.

First Nine Months of 2010

Nine months without an entry! Shame, shame, shame … How many of our faithful followers long since gave up and figured that this, like many other blogs, was set to die for lack of interest? You would have been justified to think that. Intentions were good, but things kept coming up.
But, here we are, back again. We will try to do a little catch up.
In January, I retired from Penn State after working as an academic librarian at the Schuylkill Campus for over 26 years. At the time we planned to put our old house on the market and spend a good part of this year finishing the lodge and moving over. But sometimes Fate has other plans. A chance meeting with old acquaintances from our children’s high school days led to the selling of our old home a week before it was to go on the market.
Suddenly we had to move, and move quickly. I spent all of February driving truck loads of “stuff” to the lodge. We tried to sort, and we did get rid of a lot of stuff, but when we moved in, the new house was full of boxes, and we still had no electricity or appliances. For over a month we made do with ice chests and the side burner on the grill while we worked on unpacking and finishing.
For appliances, we bought a Unique (Brand name) Off-grid propane cooking stove at Lapp Gas in Intercourse, PA. It uses little gas, is well insulated and has performed beautifully for us. For our refrigerator, we bought a Sun Frost. Six weeks in the making and a week in the shipping, it arrived in April just as Evergreen Systems finished installing our off-grid, photovoltaic power system. The Sun Frost is truly impressive—all 350 pounds of it. Even with a serious appliance cart, getting it up our steps was a challenge. Sun Frost refrigerators are not cheap, but they are efficient, and with refrigeration our largest power user, that efficiency allowed us to cut back on the size of our system.

So, what is the summation of all we have set out to do? We wanted a retirement home that would require little or no maintenance, would heat and cool itself naturally and would have little or no utility bills. Now, six months after moving in full time, how close have we come?
We think we have gotten pretty close to our goals. We cut some grass occasionally. We cut and store fire wood for the masonry heater. We used less than half a cord last winter. We take off and put on window screens and open and close curtains. Our only utility bill is our monthly internet fee. Other than that, this home is working out for us.
More to follow:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Apple Harvest Time

Ah, the end of the summer from hell. Finally coolness and rain. We are supposed to average ten days a year in the over ninety-five F range. This year we had more than 32! But now we can turn to autumn, one of my favorite seasons. One reason is apples, particularly the apples from the Almata tree in the farm's yard. You will never see these in any store or roadside stand. Why? Well, they are rather tart, one might say. So tart that even I cannot eat a whole one out-of-hand. But baked! That is a different story.
The coarse-textured flesh holds up in any pie retaining enough body that one knows he/she is eating pie instead of mush. A mixed whole-wheat crust. a little brown sugar and crumbs, and the finest apple pie in the world is the result (IMHO). A plus is the Almata's startling watermelon-pink flesh. Pink apple pie anyone? Dark-pink apple sauce? We got enough this year to freeze some, so maybe we can enjoy this treasure beyond October.