Prepping, homesteading and living the simple, green, independent life.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Strawberry Picking

Our family went strawberry picking this morning, it's a fun thing to do once in a while and I think it's a good way to help our 3-year old daughter realize where food comes from.

While my wife picked berries with our oldest I went for a walk around the farm with our youngest in the stroller.

The farm was huge and it seemed like they were doing succession planting which made sense.  The acre furthest to the east was were the most mature plants were and as you moved west the plants went from just sprouting to bare earth.

A few things I noticed made me wish there was somebody around who worked there to chat with though.

I was surprised to see that there were weeds throughout the fields.  Purple Loose-stryfe was everywhere which was odd because it seems to me like there isn't much of it along the roads this year.  In fact I think this is the first time I saw it this season.

Straw was spread out between the rows which makes good mulch and breaks down into the soil.  It also makes it easier for people to walk on.

The earth itself was pretty chunky from the clay-heavy soil we have around here.  The straw will add some organic material to the clay but I was surprised by how heavy the clay was.  This farm has been around for decades and I thought the soil condition would have been better.  Maybe strawberries like clay soil?  They seemed to be doing okay in it.

Speaking of the strawberries themselves I was impressed by how many there were.  The plants were pretty productive; even the very small and young plants had berries.

Our little plant at home has only produced a dozen or so berries so far and most of them were eaten by the robins.  I wonder what the farm does to keep the birds away?

I have lots of questions after this trip; I'm going to have to read up on growing strawberries!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

YES!: Next Best West Banned in China!

I'm kinda proud that this humble blog is banned in China.

You can use this website to check if a website is banned:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pioneer Solar: PV System For Free?

I received a flyer from Pioneer Solar in the mail the other day which claims to help people get a solar system installed on their house, farm, or business for free. Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well, like most things there's good and bad points about it and what might be a good deal for one person might not for another.

Here's how it works:

The Ontario government recently started a program where homes and businesses / farms that install solar or wind power will be paid a guaranteed rate per kilowatt for a 20 year contract.

What Pioneer Solar does is install the PV system for "free" but for the first 10 years, the money you're paid by the government for the electricity goes to Pioneer Solar.  You get to keep the revenue from the 10 years left in your contract with the government though.

The example in the flyer states:

Solar System Earnings / Month = $840
Solar Finance Payment               = $780
Initial Monthly Earnings            = $60
Eventual Monthly Earnings       = $800 (after 10 years)

They're promoting it as an investment that's better than stocks.  One way of looking at this is that you'll eventually be earning a monthly income with no initial investment.

However, using the figures from the flyer this means that you'll have paid over $93 000 for the PV system.

From all the research I've done I estimate that a PV system large enough to power a modern but energy efficient home, would cost between $25 000 and $35 000 to professionally install.  If you do it yourself it's could be half of that and you don't need Pioneer Solar to apply for a 20 year government energy contract.

Another downside is that all this energy produced goes to the grid and doesn't isn't actually used for your home. I assume however that once you own the solar system after 10 years, you can turn it into a hybrid system to power your house. It's possible however that the 20 year government contract may disallow this (I've written Pioneer Solar and email to clarify this).

Despite those downsides, you're still getting a PV system for "free" and making an income for at least 10 years from selling the energy.

For those who are looking to go off-grid and be a self-sustainable as possible, the prospect of waiting 10 to 20 years to use the electricity might not be worth it.  Though the income it would provide would go a lot towards becoming independent.

If you're looking to help the environment and make some money however it might be a great idea.

I know if I owned a property right now suitable for such a PV system, I'd be giving them a call.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Green Building and Remodeling for Dummies: Book Review

I love the Dummies series of books.  They're quick reads packed with info that's presented in a clear and organized way.
Plus I love the fact that most of them are available in Kindle versions for much less than the paper version.
With the popularity of the Dummies books though, there are often many versions on various topics which makes it hard to decide where to start.  For example, when I wanted to read up on energy efficiency and self-sufficiency for the home I literally couldn't decide where to start.  There was Solar Power for Dummies, Wind Energy for Dummies etc.  There are even editions that put 3 or 4 books into one.  With all these choices I decided to go with a generalized book that touched on a number of topics so I picked "Green Building and Remodeling for Dummies".
Unfortunately it wasn't the book for me.  Not that it was a bad book, it just didn't focus on the topics I was interested in.  I was looking for info on how to build an energy efficient home, whereas this book focused on environmentally friendly building materials.  For example, aluminum siding may be recyclable and greener, however it doesn't offer any energy efficiency benefits.
I also found that the book was repetitive.  In the first few chapters it explained global warming and the importance of lowering CO2 but in what seemed like every chapter there was another paragraph on global warming (tip: if you write a book with "Green" in the title, your readers have probably already heard of global warming).
As another example, the author kept focusing on VOC fumes (Volatile Organic Compounds) which may be an important topic, but you don't have to remind me every second page.
For my taste the book also dealt too much with non-mainstream building materials like straw bale and adobe.  Straw bale homes may be cool but the added difficulty and costs of building one (finding contractors familiar with it, complying with building codes etc.) makes it unlikely that many people would build them. 
I would have rathered more info on more mainstream energy efficient options like engineered boards or Insulated Concrete Forms, which in my opinion were barely covered.
Green Building and Remodeling for Dummies: a good book to learn the proper distance to keep your clock radio away from your head to avoid elecro-magnetic waves, but not much practical info on building an energy efficient home.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Still think Organic Lawn Care Doesn't Work?

Wonder if they still think I'm nuts for planting clover, not mowing my lawn as short as possible and not using "weed and feed"?

Sure mine still has some brown too it but it's a lot less than the other yards.  Now that we've had a couple days of rain my yard is completely green while the others are still dead.

Water from the rain barrel helped too.  Another thing my wife thought I was nuts for getting at first.

FYI: That one patch of totally green that goes all the way to the street is actually where my lawn ends.  You can literally see where my property ends by the dead grass.