After ten years of waiting, I finally got the little vineyard ready for harvest. First I had planted the cuttings, then I had to wait to afford the enclosure materials. In the meantime the vines sat unter 'cages' to protect them from deer.
About two years ago I put up the support wires and began training the vines and trimming....and more trimming....and more trimming of the prolific leaves.You have to trim away all that foliage to increase the grape yield.
The plants had gone years without watering in the summers, just a heavy mulch of cardboard and some manure. I was able to water the vines this year since the well was up and running half way thru the summer- before that the grape harvest was too pitiful to do much with.
These two elements of heavy trimming and watering enabled me to harvest my first crop of grapes in 2022. My neighbor came over and after cracking open some decent red wine we harvested it all in about 2 hours. She even stayed to de-stem the four boxes.
It's been so long since I planted I forgot the strain. But I believe they are marguerette vines. A pinot noir hybrid made for climates like the Northwest. It can go to -36F and mine lived in virtually drought conditions. Our Short hot seasons with lots of moisture in the spring and fall can be hard on grapes. They are high in sugar, so even though I harvested early, they came in high on the hydrometer test.
I was able to harvest four boxes of grapes for the six vines that were producing (the whole vineyard is about 60x25'. Its a good start and not too overwhelming. I bought everything I needed for about $250.00. So I won't have much of an expensive next year. After processing I only have about 4 gallons of wine- and some was spilt (typical of beginner wine making!!!). But I will get more grapes next year and just cleared a new section for more vines.
AFTER 12 YEARS of using Rain water....I installed a solar well!
After waiting in line for months for my well to be drilled, it was time to add the pump and pipes. Once the well was drilled I found out it was only a low flow well....only around 100 gallons a day. In this case a solar pump is good for both low flow and a gravity fed tank. I did my research and found RPS.
The RPS SOLAR PUMP KITS: are the best! I ordered the RPS400 solar panel kit without the solar panels and they sat in my shed for months until I had time to put it in.
FIRST THE DITCHES: This week I finished about 50 feet of ditches. A 20" deep ditch for the water line to connect the well into the house supply line (goes up to tank). Another to connect the electrical conduit from well to rps controller, and a small line from a pre installed wire from generator to the converter next to the controller. The converter is a dc to ac box with an auto switch so in the winter I can turn on the generator and the converter senses it and switches on the pump bypassing the solar.
SOLAR ARBOR FOR WELL: I built another solar arbor just for the solar well. It four renology 100w 12v panels for the RPS400 Pump. After using the RPS calculator, it seemed I could have used the smaller 200 pump. But I opted for the bigger pump and four panels. In the end it wasnt necissary but I am glad to have too much rather than too little power.
WELL HEAD AND PIPING: After deciding on 1" pipe not 3/4, I used brass fittings for the well seal. I used conduit leftover from my solar system for the #12 submersable electrical well wire. After some research I decided to add a faucet onto the brass T on well head to do testing and maybe water the garden directly when pumping the well. BUT have to remember to NEVER leave pump on when faucet is turned off! Well until I finish the poly line to tank.
PUTTING IT ALTOGETHER: It took me and an electrician friend about 8 hours to assemble the 80 feet of poly pipe, the pump, well sensor, safety rope and well seal assembly (there was also a check valve on pump). We installed the controller and the converter onto the solar arbor for convenience.
TESTING: The next day I emptied the well of 150 gallons of water. It took about one hour. I noticed when the sun wasn't full on the panels it ran weaker, but it did rise to about 100psi at full sun.
It's not finished but its close.....I have to add a sediment filter and a shurflo booster pump under the house in order to add the well water line to the tank. Then tap into the water line from the gravity tank (120 ft above house) and add another shut off valve for house.
Its been twelve years with limited water and no real bathroom.....But the cowboy shower gets a new lease on life!
I haven't had money or time to finish up my house bathroom the way I want it yet. So I threw together an outside shower a few years ago. But this year the crude shower setup had to go. I replaced it with my new improved cowgirl shower.
For the Cowgirl getup, I used two 6 ft pallets from a friends solar shipment, a 99$ eccotemp (1.5gpm) instant hot water tank, a 5 G propane tank, and a repurposed plastic pallet for the base.
Perforations in the house siding can lead to rot so I attached all the pallets together to form a strong structure. I then attached all the other parts to the pallets, keeping the whole unit floating separate from the house.
The 6ft pallets allow for a little privacy. And the view from the shower is wonderful! Its not in the pic but a field and forest are off to the left.
I take showers here March through November then it gets a bit too chilly.
Nearby is the 'cowgirl hot tub' which can be attached by quick release fittings to the eccotemp. I just bought a transfer pump to recirculate the cold water in the hot tub to the eccotemp (includes a rv filter). More on that project later....
Since I was doing some unusual things already in the guest house I decided to make my own lights as well!!!
In order to facilitate low energy usage, I wired up lights on separate switches in my art guest house. My thinking is that guests are usually not used to off grid power and might get forgetful about energy usage.
Above are four fixtures made from lamp and light parts I assembled, spray painted and installed! the light on left has two 100 year old glass shades that resemble the cool lights in Downton Abbey. I had to braise some copper plumbing parts together to link the shades safely.
The wall sconce back plate (light second to left) is probably form the 1800's and the outside torch light (far right) has a bunch of odd parts thrown together.
Its not finished, but the chandelier has dozens of broken crystals I bought at an antique shop that were rewired with epoxy putty. (will post pic when done)
For all the fixtures, I installed low wattage LED bulbs, mostly in the 25 to 40 w range since I was being conservative.
Below is my favorite.....yes it looks full size.... but actually its a little fairy house installed in the wall!!!! I used lighting from a hobby store with a 12 v transformer. I left a panel open in the wainscoting to install a plug and accessories just for the fairy house. I made all the dozens of tiny books and furniture!..Kids adore it and will play with the fairy doors for hours. The total usage for the fairy house is about 2w.
Installing my solar system has been a long project! Bartering for years for a friend who is a solar installer, we finally completed the system last month.
Above is the solar arbors I built last year(pic on left near the well rig). You can see its not ideal for sun but since I am in the forest its one of the best spots. A compromise since the best spot was hundreds of feet away and wire had become very expensive and hard to find last year. I used recycled wire for some of the project but in retrospect I don't think the saving of wire for ten years (and then finding a few pieces not good enough) was the best choice. I would probably just buy as I go if I had to do over.
The equipment was bought from www.backwoodssolar.com.(BW) They designed the system for free after I send the specs for distance and what my power needs were. They provide incredible customer support, a must for a novice like me.
SYSTEM: 24v-1000w of panels, 200ah battery
I had almost no experience with solar. However I have wired up three houses of my own and did some panel work. Being a novice, I still haven't figured out the programming but its getting there.
Heres some details you might find interesting:
MANUAL GENERATOR CHARGING: I added a sub panel at the generator: 30amp breaker for a cable and plug I recycled and made to fit into generator. This allows me to just 'plug' in the inverter when it needs charging in winter. It also allows me to run another wire from subbox/generator plug to the well. All I have to switch between the two circuits is to toggle the off and ons (the Honda generator also has a switch at plug site which is turned off and on loads to protect demagnetizing at generator).
DESIGNATED GENERATOR connect ADDED: I ran a wire from sub-box to a small panel near house to connect generator and my well direct for manual charging. Though I planned to use genie to pump well, when drilled it was only a low flow (100g per day) so I bought a DC solar kit from RPS Pumps. The oversized generator will be a back up in winter to pump well when the new DC well designated system is in.
THREE BUILDINGS ON SYSTEM: My energy needs are small so the system is small.....1000w of panels, 200ah of battery. It can't handle all three building at once running a lot of devices and lights. But so far I power my art studio, guest house and cabin with the system and it works great! UPDATE:In the summer there is endless power.
INVERTER TOO BIG?? I am still trying to figure things out and can only get so much help from others. I think the inverter is big and seems to use 22w of energy(?). My neighbor claims its better to have smaller inverters. But I do love the Victron durability. I was told by backwoods that it has an eco mode to program so will do that asap.
DAILY USE: My daily use seems to average 36-90 watts. This amount is used by the following: mini fridge, inverter draw, a few lights carefully used, and movies at night. I use a lot of power tools right now and maybe in future so a few days a week I use more energy....But It is saving me $ on gasoline! I find myself charging every four or five days in April.... and it only needs an hour to charge system. The huge 7000w genie is underused as the inverter only uses about 1500w. Luckily the Honda has a gas saving inverter mode. But a 2000w Honda would have been better for this system.
So far: WITH low use...(1000w, 200ah system) it takes maybe $40 in gas a month. With ethanol free gas getting more pricey, I hope the summer brings more sun and saving.
-big generator might be overkill,
-solar panels maybe should have been in higher light area(but wire cost would have been high)
-saving old wire for job(didn't save that much and wasn't always right wire)
-using solar charger from a kit I had leftover
THEY aren't pretty but they were free.... And they are deer proof and extend our PNW food growing season.
THE BOXES: For years I collected wood no one wanted. In 2020 and 2021 I used the entire pile to make 8 planter boxes. Though they are not pretty they work well. The bottoms are mostly 24" tall, and they are 4x8. I added 2x4s and scrap 4x4 to the corners and centers to secure the boards to. Some are lined with weed blocker fabric to see if they extend the life of the wood.
THE GREENHOUSE TOPS: Using scrap cedar I built the tops frames and added precut wire fencing to make deer proof domes. I used reclaimed greenhouse plastic stripped off commercial greenhouses from a friend. They roll up and clip to the cage tops in the early spring and fall- extending the season by a few months.
TALL TOPS: Some of the boxes only have side pieces to protect from deer so one can grow tall crops like tomatoes and herbs.
THE HINGES: I even made funky hinges from bent rebar bits and plastic pipe I had around. But this was clumsy so eventually I just bought galvanized hinges.
GROW OVER WINTER: Last year I left stuff growing in one closed off section and it survived until summer! giving me a head start on usually annual herbs that die off like cilantro, Italian oregano and fennel.
USING THEM ALL: I made 8 4x8 boxes which seemed excessive, especially when I bought over ten yards to fill them. That took a long time!! But I found that I use all the boxes even though I am feeding only myself and give a little to friends. It makes it easier to rotate crops and leave veggies to go to seed collection.
But how great huh????A HOT TUB for after a long day in the art studio....about $500 when done.
While waiting for my well to go in, I decided to prep the off grid hot tub. For about 100$ I bought the water trough, $40 for concrete pavers, and used scrap cedar siding for the lid and seat. The lid was then sealed with outdoor sealant to prevent warping.
The inside has a half constructed cedar seat with curved back....will post when done.
Next month when I have the budget I hope to add a heat exchanger like the NOMAD one with a propane stove(see above). It gently pulls cold water out of tub and sends it back warmed.
But since I don't have a lot of water left at the end of summer in the big water tanks, best to wait for the new well anyhow to fire it up.
PRETTY PROPANE: if you live off grid it likely you use propane. It's still a fossil fuel and I suspect it will eventually be phased out in the future
I just added a 500 gallon tank after placing the gas lines myself with help from my father (that saved a lot) If I had bought my tank, supplies and propane fill a year ago or more I would have spent a lot less. It was about $4500 for everything!
The moment that tank went in I was planning its camo job!!! Using green and brown paints I had around...I used spray cans to add a few layers, and then cut branched with leaves and ferns to create the foliage effects. Working fast and loose, it only took 30 minutes to do. And it is so invisible that friends walk by without noticing!!! well almost....
The best thing about it is that now I have steady heat for the house AND the studio (almost more important). But soon the hot water heater, refrigerator and the cook stove will be added as well.
OFF GRID CLAY SCULPTOR
Yes its odd to be an off grider and a ceramicist. If you really make a lot of clay work you need a kiln of your own....I have 6! One installed at a family members home(my big one), two installed at my job while taking care of my grandparents...and one in my new studio off grid.
Last month I began a series of tests to see what kind of kilns my 7000 watt generator can handle. This little mini 120 watt kiln seen on left above, did a splendid job! Though I can only do one of the three temperature firings so far that I need for china painted porcelain work, its a relief that the most common firing, the 018 one for painting works like a charm.
The mini kiln has only a 48 sq inch place to hold wares but its perfect when making a series in components like I am now. These parts of porcelain might take 2-5 layers and firings to finish.
This kiln fires at aproxiamately one hour for a cone 018 china paint fire so its very cost effective to run a kiln on generator. Eventually for higher fires I may need to buy a gas kiln if I want to work from home only.
If you fire higher temps, like to bisque ware or glassware, those firings are long...4-8 hours. I really don't want to hear a generator for that long, but could probably do it if I wanted. Its been hard to find precedent on the web. I actually found no evidence of anyone regularly firing off a generator, so it must be rare.
Without a well for ten years had forced me to get creative. I originally used a 1200 hundred gallon tank in the ground that was already here and put in by previous owner. It is about 80 ft above my house so I could attach some pipe and valves (lots of valves!) and rely on gravity feed for basic cold water. My learning curve was in one bad winter I had a cracked metal valve because I put water line in only about 12-14 inches deep. After repairing the valve with an amazing fiberglass foaming product at Home D- I better insulated the box the valve was in.
In 2018 I added my first hot water heater in a set up I call the cowboy shower. Using a 1.5 GPM Envirotemp heater that comes with most of what you need including the shower head handle, I began to finally take mini showers at home. But 1200 gallons wasn't much and the gravity is barely enough to make hot water more even. I also find it a bit cold to shower outside in the winter, though I do do it now and again.
I fill my tank from a neighbor who lives above me since there is no buildings nearby the tank to use a gutter fill method. For a small fee my neighbor attaches a very long hose to my tank to slowly fill it about once a year or less(I use very little water with one person and a waterless tiolet).
THE NEW 800 Gallon Retrofited Tank:
ADDIONG MORE! Though I have since added many 55 gallon tanks under the eves of my house for garden watering, I just acquired a used 800 gallon tank from a neighbor.
After camoeing the exterior, so I don't have to look at brilliant blue blob on the side of my studio, I began to retrofit the tank. It had sat in the sun and though I paid only 200 for it I think it was too much.
Every orifice, the lower feed, upper overflow, and the two that lead to a plastic see thru pipe monitoring the levels was busted. The small nylon fittings were easily broken out and I found similar nipples at Ace hardware and used epoxy to insert. The bigger fittings were unusual and I used a hodge podge of plumbing fitting to place with epoxy. Unfortunately I used a epoxy putty to attach a valve below since I could not find the size locally to junction the used valve to my piping......Oops! won't do that again. The tank filled in a month and then drained after the stiff epoxy putty failed.
I want to mention that there is no laws in Washington state that prohibit you from storing a couple thousand gallons of water or so. In some states there might be. But around here folks like to gossip about some imaginary restriction on storing water. For residential users in our rainy washington state this is simple not true.
LIVING SIMPLY=SIMPLE TOILET....for me meant using less water in everyday life, and saving money too. For about 6 years I used the bucket toilet you see on the far left.....and that worked okay in a crunch, but I finally decided last year to buy or make a compost tiolet.
After a month of researching I had settled on the urine diverting Biolet toilet- link to tinyhouse info:
BUT when I went to buy it I decided it might be too much a dent in my budget...900-$1900 depending on style. I had used a Sun- Mar toilet in the past both hooked up to power (yes it was not smelly! fan worked great) and off grid without even a fan(very smelly). It was too big a model for my little 5ft bathroom....
After a little looking on the internet I came up with the model I built above.
And its cost: $200.00. Heres the details.....
- CURVED: I thought a curved design would be more comfortable than a square on(see below)
- RECYCLED WOOD: Using 3/4 old growth Fir that was going to be thrown out (from old closet doors)
I made this comfortable alternative.
-WOOD LID: The lid is from Ace hardware and worked out great. matches the fir and is very comfortable.
-REMOVAL OF WASTE: On the side it has a door to open to reach the small bucket lined with biodegradable bags from local coop.
-URINE DIVERTER**: I bought the kendrik urine diverter for about $50 ( See below LEFT and notes on its better potential alternative...)and ran it straight down from 'nipple' and through under house to the outside for collection(wards off predators) or into hole with charcoal in ground (AWAY FROM HOUSE!!!- because tis smelly.
- 12v FAN: I bought a inline fan from a local marine store for about 30$. I did test it and it works great! especially in the daytime when its warmest. A small 40watt panel and charge controller. it is vented out back of tiolet in a 2inch pipe to outside (cap to keep out critters).
KENDRIK DIVERTER** - What I have but back hole a bit too small (on left)
SO When all said and done,
I really liked my homemade compost toilet. It was cheaper, pretty easy to make and it matches my 1800's 'cowboy tub' which I restored last year. When fan is running its completely odorless and the urine is moved outside. A great improvement on the bucket method.
If I would do it over I would only change the urine diverter to a bigger back hole one. And I might add a second compost tumbler.
Remember, its more work and your closer to your poo, but it saves over 6500 gallons of water per year!!!!