Archive for August, 2010

Coming Soon: A Solar Furnace!

Solar Air Heater on Boggess Home (slightly different model)Guess what?!?  We were chosen to have a solar air heater installed on our house as a demonstration project sponsored by the Southern Indiana Renewable Energy Network (SIREN)!  Solar air heaters (also known as solar furnaces) are essentially big black boxes that heat up in the sun.  They are filled with air channels so that air flows through the panel, heats up from the sunlight, and then the hot air goes into the house (generally with the help of a small solar fan).  Solar air heating is a form of solar energy that’s actually more efficient than solar electricity (photovoltaic panels) but doesn’t get as much publicity.  SIREN is excited to promote the technology and also hoping to launch a pilot project installing these systems on low-income houses.

Our solar furnace will come from the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL), a company in Minnesota that makes them and also does a lot of work making renewable energy more accessible through training, education, installations, and a unique assistance program.  They partner with agencies that serve the low-income community to install these systems for minimal cost as a way to make low-income families more self-reliant.  Pretty cool stuff!  SIREN hopes to bring a similar program down to our neck of the woods and is looking for an agency to partner with, hopefully the South Central Community Action Program (SCCAP), which is a local group working on weatherization and energy assistance for low-income families (among many other great assistance programs).  Will and I are going through the application process so we can work together to try out the system, show it off to anyone interested, and further weatherize our home.

Want to see the system?  We’ll be posting lots of pictures on our blog when the installation happens and we’ll also be opening our home up for a few tours.  One will be as part of the Simply Living Fair coming up September 25-26.  We’re giving a talk on home energy reduction as part of the Saturday workshops and then our house will be featured as part of the Solar Energy Tour on Sunday.  It should be lots of fun!  (Disclaimer: I am chairing the organizing committee for the fair so OF COURSE I think it will be lots of fun.)

Hopefully we’ll get accepted into the SCCAP program and they will help us do some insulating and caulking later this fall to further increase the energy efficiency of our home.  I’m also still contemplating putting a greenhouse on our front porch to help improve heat gain through our south-facing bay windows but I’m  not ready to make any promises.  Regardless, we are looking forward to lowering our carbon footprint this winter while enjoying free hot air from the sun!

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Garden Ahoy!

garden_jungleEvery year I say “This is the year I will seriously garden” and then I get distracted.  However, every year I get a little better.  This year I had a nice spring crop of peas and lettuce and kale, transplanted out a healthy batch of tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries, and then planted a nice selection of melons, beans, corn, and basil.

Then I left town for a couple weeks and the garden exploded.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I knew I was falling behind in the weeding department before I left and I made peace with the idea of having a weedy garden jungle.  What I didn’t take into account was the fact that both the weeds and the “proper” garden plants would go through a major growth spurt and fill all available space, including the pathways and fences.

It’s not all bad.  I’ve been enjoying a bumper crop of tomatoes, peppers, and basil plus a nice honeydew (the watermelon is almost ripe).  My bean plants grew like champions although it turns out the cowpeas grew a lot better than the other varieties so most of what I’m harvesting is dried beans.  I feel like I’m getting some good food out of the garden.

watermelonBut it doesn’t look very pretty.  Happily, I have very tolerant neighbors who don’t seem to mind as long as it doesn’t get into their yards.  (I suspect a few of them are secretly pleased that the deer have been enjoying the unfenced areas of my garden rather than theirs.)  I’m hoping to clean it up a bit over the next few weeks and start some fall crops.  Now is the time to sow spinach, peas, kale, radishes, beets, and cold-season lettuce to harvest in the fall.

I also have a few pledges for next year

  • Plant things further apart – especially kale and melons but really I planted everything too close together.
  • Get those tomato trellises in early and keep the tomatoes under control.
  • Put in more weed-suppressing path materials (old carpet works great; straw works okay)
  • Commit myself to time weeding the garden (yeah, I’m really just lazy)
  • Build more fences!  My ugly metal-stake-and-deer-netting fence has actually done very well but everything outside the fence has been seriously chomped (especially my poor sunflower fort).

With a little luck, I’ll have 3-4 more weeks of tomatoes, a couple watermelons, and a nice harvest of popcorn to look forward to.  Oh, and it looks like two of my experimental crops are setting fruit – garden huckleberries and popping sorghum – which is very exciting!  I’m still not really replacing much of our diet with homegrown veggies and fruits but it’s nice to have a few treats and every year I feel a little more optimistic that I could be a homesteader if I really put my mind to it.

How does your garden grow?

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