Monday, June 23, 2014

(DF) FOOD FROM HOME: Homegrown and wild harvested

With grocery prices (and prices of everything else) soaring, it is sometimes hard to decide what to cut back on to stay within budget.  However, on the farm, it is possible to avoid having to cut so many corners on food. 

As an example, last night I had a tasty, nutritious and satisfying meal, with very little outlay of cash.  By very little, I mean almost none.  All of the main ingredients were either from the garden or wild harvested on the property.  The only exceptions were a little butter, a couple of teaspoons of natural sugar, a dash of salt and a very small amount of flour.

The green beans were fresh picked from the garden, as was the garlic which was cooked with them, while they were spiced with stone mint harvested in the woods (I use it like oregano).  The mushrooms (chanterelles) were also harvested in the woods on the property.  The eggs and milk used in the batter were from my own chickens and goat.  The blackberries were picked in the pasture, and the milk they were served with was, once again, from my goat.

A little salt in the mushroom batter and beans, some flour in the mushroom batter, the butter the mushrooms were sauteed in and a bit of sugar for the berries, were the only ingredients that did not originate here on the farm.  Potentially, in the future, even those ingredients will be produced here (or a substitute for them) with the exception of salt.  Yet another goal in the journey toward self-sufficiency.

For now, this is pretty close to being a completely homegrown meal.  Did I also mention that it was delicious?  It was absolutely delightful, and made much sweeter by the fact that it was grown here on the farm.  The only thing missing was meat.  We haven't gotten to the point of major meat production yet, but it is cool and rainy today and the local wildlife better watch out.

As a caution, I must warn you to be careful when picking any wild edible.  While there are many plants and mushrooms that are edible and tasty, there are, of course, some that can be quite deadly.  Be sure you know what you are picking, and if there is even the slightest doubt, don't eat it.  There are no known antidote for the toxins in some of the bad ones, so be extremely careful.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


I know that some of you have been wondering how things turned out with my cheap homade solar panels.  The fact is that the panels turned out fine, but the hookup is still in progress.  As some of you may be aware, this is one of my pocket change projects, which progresses in stages as accumulated pocket change allows.  During the time between stages, I have been learning more about how the process works, so the time isn't wasted.

Initially, there were two main reasons I decided to work toward going solar.  The first and most obvious, was to cut the energy bills.  The second, based on laws requiring power companies to pay for any extra power that a person generates, was the hope of making a little money.  Lets face it, everyone knows it would be totally sweet to get a check from the power company instead of the other way around, even if the check was only a few dollars.  Turns out that it is not quite that simple.

Obviously, to send power back to the power company, there has to be equipment connected to the grid to convert the power to a compatible form.  This equipment is known as a grid tie inverter.  These are expensive and are supposed to be hooked up by licensed professionals who are trained accordingly.  For the record, I AM NOT that trained professional.  Needless to say, the cost of such a system would be far beyond the scope of a pocket change project.  There had to be another way.

Searching for "another way" led to the consideration of what is called a plug and play grid tie inverter.  The purpose of this device is to convert the electricity to the proper form and send it back to the power company through the wiring in your home, shop, etc, by plugging it into a power outlet.  This sounded great, and best of all, the expense would be manageable.  Awesome, right?  Not so fast.

In the process of researching the grid tie inverter, I found reference to it not being legal to use.  Not legal is a bit of a drawback, to say the least.  My first thought was that if it isn't legal to use it, it shouldn't be legal to make or sell it.  More research was in order, because as much as we rely on computers and the Internet, anyone can say anything on the computer, but that doesn't necessarily make it true.

Thus began the search for the legality of what I hoped to do.  To say that such information is not easy to find would be an understatement on a galactic scale.  Finding someone who could shed light was not nearly so easy as finding those who could (and would) make it more obscure.  With any search, there are bound to be set backs and side tracks, and one of the more disappointing of these was a clause in the net metering law itself.  Hold that thought for a few minutes>

The only concrete information I could find about the legality of plug and play inverters was that they apparently had not been tested enough and though legal to use, the power company has the option of disconnecting the service if you do.  I never found the actual law involving this, but it was at least a consistent understanding from a number of sources.  The side track, however, made it a non issue.  It seems that the net metering law which requires power companies to pay for extra electricity sent back to them, also has an exemption for electric cooperatives, and you guessed it, my power company is a cooperative.  Instead of paying for the electricity, they are allowed to credit the extra power to your account to cover times when you don't produce enough.  Alright, that sounded good, all the extra power of the sunny summer months could cover the winter months when there is not as much sunshine.  Great, maybe even worth the investment for the professionally installed inverter, even without a check coming in.  NOT SO FAST!!! 

That might work great in some states, but I live in Oklahoma.  Under Oklahoma law, the electric cooperative doesn't have to roll the credit over for a year (like most states), they only have to roll it over for the month.  In other words, extra power produced on a sunny day in August, is only credited until the end of August, and only covers low production days for that month.  Any unused credit for the month is lost, and the power company gets it free. 

Sorry, but the power company doesn't give me electricity free, so I do not intend to give it to them.  Fair is fair. Another option, the one I have chosen, is to use a regular power inverter.  With this option, I can have separate systems for different usage areas, making it unnecessary to run wires for long distances.  It also allows me to get the bugs worked out of one small system before spending the time and money to set up the whole farm.  My first usage area will be the well, which should show a return on the investment, in the form of a lower bill,  in the first billing cycle, and one more small step toward self-sufficiency.  Water is used every day (though we try to conserve as much as possible), and the well pump pulls a significant amount of energy each time it starts up.

Tomorrow, I am supposed to pick up the battery, and I have already purchased an inverter and charge controller.  Today, I finished the final welds on the mounting frame, though I may have to drill a couple more bolt holes to adjust the angle.  Yes, it is getting close to the moment of truth.  As soon as the system is operational, I will post pics and some details of the hookup.   Wish me luck.

Sunday, June 8, 2014


By the time the bees were settled in their new home, it was Memorial day weekend.  All seemed well, so I left the bees to themselves during this busy time.  I did not have plans to be away for the weekend, but others did which added to my workload somewhat (taking care of my daughter's critters while she was gone), and there was some catching up here before the middle of the following week when I knew I would be away a lot.

Wednesday morning was finally warmer and almost sunny.  My first thought was to check the bees, but my sister had an appointment in Tulsa that morning so I drover her.  What I found on Thursday, when I opened the hive to try and locate the queen, was devastating to me.  There were hardly any live bees, lots of dead bees and the brood comb, which should have supplied replacements, was completely taken over by some type of maggots.  All the brood was dead, most of the adult bees were dead and the rest, including the queen, were dying.

Devastation, sadness and discouragement were the order of the day (and for several days to come).  It is hard to imagine being so broken up over a bunch of insects, but I am still sad when I think of it.  Life goes on, but for several days I replayed in my mind the procedures of capturing the bees, searching for anything I might have done differently that could have had a better result.  There may have been something, but I was unable to find it in my mind or in my reference books.  It seems that I handled it correctly, based on my personal experience and the information I had available (though under other circumstances, I would have chosen to do it a bit later in the season).

Sometimes a captured colony just doesn't survive, whether something is done a little wrong, the colony just isn't strong enough for the stress, or for any of countless reasons that we may not even understand.  Of course, on the flip side of that coin, sometimes they do survive and thrive.  It is this thought that will not let me give up.  The number of honeybees pollinating flowers here and the lack of local bee keepers, tells me that there is a bee tree nearby.  You can bet I will be looking for it.  If I don't find the bee tree, early spring will find me looking for bees to purchase.

Working with bees again, even for such a short time, reminded me how much I have missed it the past several years.  Beekeeping is a part of me that I lost but certainly intend to have back.  As an added bonus, it is a SWEET addition to the quest for self-sufficiency here at TwoFarmsOne.