Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jack London would have loved it-

We're working through a real blizzard here. I'm getting a few pics, but it's tricky; it's very dang cold, and taking a camera out, from the warm house, into the cold (+2°F, currently, with a 30 mph wind, no kidding) - can mean condensation inside the camera, and its lenses, that can take forever to clean up. So, you have to keep the camera inside your coat. Then take gloves off, take the pic quick, get it back inside before it gets to cold, and don't sweat inside the coat in the meantime...

Which is just too hard. So far I've been out twice today; once to feed and water poultry, once to get water from the windmill; both times I've wound up over-dressed and sweating like crazy before I got back into the house.

Not a problem if you've got a house, and a fire, to dry off in- but sweating like that in weather this cold is death, if you can't dry off. Literally. Hypothermia real quick.

Standing, all comfy, in the -40°F wind chill, while I waited for my water jugs to fill, it was making me think about this, and about "margins" for survival. And about what you have to know, to actually survive, outside of "civilization".

You have to know plenty. And extreme weather, like this blizzard, will quickly eliminate non-survivors.

A couple weeks ago during Thanksgiving at Middle Child's, I found myself reading an "Outdoor!" type magazine; lots of extreme rockclimbers, waterfall kayakers, that kind of thing. One of them had tried "growing his own food" the year previously, and come to the adamant opinion, after one season, that it was essentially impossible. Can't be done.

What was obvious to me, was that he'd dived into gardening quite certain that his well established coolness would certainly include knowing how to grow simpleminded stuff, like, tomatoes, for crying out loud. But it didn't. His garden was a total flop.

And his conclusion was not "hm, I guess I'm not as smart as I thought"; but - "nobody can possibly grow food in a garden, since I can't."

Jack London knew this guy very well; and wrote a perfect portrait of him in To Build A Fire.

If you've never read it; now is the time. If you have; re-reading is well worth it.

Be careful who you follow. Self confidence sells well. But may not save your neck.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


For the winter deprived; Smidgen and snow.

Yes, sledding means you gotta pull your sled up the hill.
That Aermotor in the background is indeed our house water source.

We do have other kinds of sleds, including a classic Flexible Flyer; but this was the choice today. "The snow is pretty fluffy still, the flatbottom sleds will be faster..." "Hu'uh. This one!" Boy, nobody listens.



ok, so the second photo is "clickable", and gets to the full size pic, where you can actually see her face. The first photo- won't. I uploaded them at the same time; exact same procedures. Anybody able to clue me in on why one works and the other doesn't?

etbnc- how do you see those anchor tags? I use Safari- and at this point, can't see any differences.

I DID, though; take your hint; and look at the hypertext language in Edit mode; and was able to copy the stuff from the working one, subbing the numbers from the first; and - it works! Many thanks! Right here:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ah, winter.

Sorry to be so quiet- this is a crazy busy time of year for us; one of our crops is chestnuts, and guess when you sell them?

The sales window for traditional markets is small, and it can't be done "later"; only "now". Just for extra fun, of course, two of our vehicles, the farm truck and the family car, have decided that now is the time for them to die; or almost die. So lots of extra monkey business there.

And, last night winter finally, really, closed down on us; 8 inches of snow, overnight. On icy hard-frozen ground. The John Deere 4WD was slipping sideways quite a bit as I plowed out.

Supposed to be a time of rest for farmers. Ho ho ho.

Murphy, and his laws, keeps hanging around, too, lest we become complacent. One of the things you have to do to market your chestnuts is, wash them. That takes water. We're off the grid, so, having reliable supplies is something that takes a bit of forethought.

We just thought fore to the extent of installing a new 2,500 gallon cistern. Polystyrene, alas, but concrete pre-fab was way more expensive, and any custom concrete possibilities even more so. If I had my druthers, I'da dug the hole and laid up fieldstone for a cistern myself; but I don't have the luxury of doing work that slowly, at the moment.

The well pump is a plain Shurflo 9300, a pretty reliable, though slow machine with a good track record. We actually own 3, via the weirdnesses of off-grid living, 2 currently dead but rebuildable as backups.

And, we just purchased a new solar panel, to directly drive the pump; no batteries to be connected; sun shines, pump pumps, into the huge cistern. Theoretically.

You DO need a "pump controller", a little solid state thingy, to prevent the odd chance that your panels may suddenly put out more electricity than your pump can handle, which will burn out your pump. That's a real concern for us, since exactly that can happen on very cold sunny days. Unbeknownst to many, solar panels will put out 1% more current for every 3° C colder it gets. Since panels are "rated" at hot normal temperatures like you'd expect them to be in Florida in full sun in the summer- on a cold day in February in Minnesota; when the air temperature is 25° below 0 F, and the wind is blowing at 30 mph, so the panel is really that cold; and the sun is shining full blast- on a snow field that's bouncing even more light onto the panel- you can suddenly find yourself with WAY more power coming out of the panel than it's rated at.

I found that out by boiling my batteries, the first year I had solar panels. Sure, the information was available - deeeeeeeply buried where nobody ever sees it. Gosh, why is there acid bubbling out of the top of my batteries?

And our spiffy Shurflo pump controller; just purchased with the new panel- has lots of cool facts about it available on the web; except all the technical specifications (or at least, I couldn't find them).

So reading them, now that I've got it in my hands... yeah, yeah, x volts in, y amps in, etc, etc... oh, look "Operating Temperatures: +14°F to + 135°F."

Excuse me?

Unwritten subtext: "We designed your spiffy gizmo to work in Florida; don't try using it anywhere you have actual winters."

They left that part out of the sales brochures.


Ok, my point.

There's a LOT of our world that now works this way; machines, devices, and processes- are designed to work beautifully, within specific parameters.

But, they don't tell you up front what those parameters are. And finding a person, a live one, who truly knows what they are, and how much they can, or can't, be stretched- is often incredibly difficult.

My water system is currently going "pocketa pocketa queep".

And my major response is; I get to wait until Monday, when at 9 AM Pacific time, somebody may, possibly, get my phone message. And may, possibly, pass it on to someone who knows something.


So, I'm going sledding, with Smidgen. Spice is off to check the electric fence for the horses; on snowshoes.

Baked squash tonight; the woodstove is cranking out the heat.

Complex systems may have lots of collapsible pathways; but fire is hot, and squash is good food.