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.


Yvonne said...

boy do i like how you put it!

you are living the Real Life.

hang in there and you have company sir.

Gary said...

"but fire is hot, and squash is good food."

I couldn't agree with you more!

knutty knitter said...

The thing that bugs me is the built in failure system. Why should my washing machine only last 5 years when I paid a whole heap for it? My mothers first machine lasted 30 years and only got replaced because the parts became unobtainable - again - why?

Upgrading for better performance is fine, buying new because the old one broke isn't. (Sheer old age is acceptable in certain circumstances too).

viv in nz

Eric the Red said...

When a product is designed and built, compromises are made along the way - cost, longevity, maintenance, availability, competitive pressure, etc. all play into these compromises. Eventually, the sum of these compromises outweighs the profitability of the product and the product is discontinued. If the product was successful or critical enough, then there will be a niche industry supplying replacement parts. However, since no one is building the original, eventually even that market will dissipate.

Sadly, these days the market supports replaceable, not reparable, products. Part of this comes from so many people not knowing how to fix things. Part of it is the desire of the manufacturer to allow the original product to be replaced since the profit margin is likely higher.