Thursday, July 30, 2009

Solar Power for the Garden House - Light it Up!

Ok, this will be a long one. Here in the Pacific NorthWest, all kinds of alternative energy sources are used and abused. We just built a great Garden House and want power for lights out there. We'll run AC power out to it in a few years, but until then... how about SOLAR Power! Yeah!

We got a great deal on ebay for a 10W solar panel. Nice and sturdy.

We did have to wire the solar panel up... but it was pretty easy. We don't mind alittle hands-on with anything... in fact we usually tear something apart to see how it works.

The basic idea is to use the solar panel to continually charge a 12V car battery in the loft of the shop. When we need lights or radio, we simply use the car battery to power the lights.

To trickle-charge the battery by the solar panel, we built a simple "Shunt" charge circuit - it simply protects the battery and the panel from eachother and monitors the power output from the panel... if the voltage gets too low, it turns off the panel. While designing our own, we found this guy who has several we liked:
The only problem is... I hate to solder. Someday the kids will do it for me, but until then, I have to. I first started a circuit board using a perf board... but it took TOO many extra wires and drilling.
I've had this old "etch-a-PCB" kit and thought we'd give it a try! Besides, acids, permanent markers, drills, it all spells FUN!

First step was to convert the schematic (above) into a diagram to draw out on the copper plate. We then draw permanent marker on all the copper we want to STAY, and use acid to etch off the copper we DON'T want. Easy, right?

Here's our artwork. Yeah, it looks like the 5 year old did it... but she didn't...

Now was the fun part - ACID! Ouch - my eye! Did we mention that Dad's eye is inflammed, and he has it dilated and on medication every hour? Talk about flying blind...

Oh well - onward!

Being careful to use protective gear we doused the copper board with acid and watched it disolve away the unwanted copper. It took about 5 minutes. We rinsed the board in water, then touched up the marker and put it in acid another 5 minutes. Done!

Here is the finished board. A little solvent took off the marker and it was shiny. Last step for the board was drilling holes. Not many of those, so it was easy. Be sure to drill on the copper side.

Here are most of the components placed on the board prior to soldering. Can you see how we goofed? Yep, we layed out the board BACKWARDS! The copper and solder should be on the OPPOSITE side of the board from the components.

Oh well, no one will see it in our attic...

...good thing no one will see it, too. Look at those ugly solder joints! Look like my welds - gorilla! Ugly, but they'll hold.

Here is the finished board. Pretty simple in design and layout. About $5 in components from Digikey, half hour for making the PCB board, and another 15 minutes to solder it up.

But, does it work???

Yeah! It works pretty good. In the shade, the panel's output was about 18V, with 17.8V output from the board.
We covered up the panel, and output went down to 3V, and the shunt turned OFF. Good boy!

Here is the Garden House. Next step is to build a bracket to hold the panel to take in the most sunlight during the 1st half of the day. Even in the shade, out of the direct sunlight the output is more than 14V.

Now, with power available, its time to hookup lighting.

Two different sets of lights we'll be using - several of these LED light strips that run off 12V directly will be placed throughout the inside of the shed. A simple light switch will turn them off directly from the car battery.
A second set of LED lights we have purchased have PIR sensors on them and will be placed over the shed doors - so when we approach they will see us and turn on. Both sets of lights were purchased off ebay. The LED strips were about $9 per foot.

While we wait for the LEDs to arrive, we're doing more testing. We pulled the battery out of the back-hoe, and the solar panel will keep it charged and ready.
Here is the panel in the shade, and the battery charging. The initial charge on the battery was 11.91V. With the panel in the shade, the voltage increased to 11.97V in 1 hour. More data in the next few days of 100*F weather! Hot!
So far the project has run very smoothly. Total cost for the panel and circuit is $57, not counting the battery. Three LED strips and 1 PIR LED fixture cost a total of $38 on ebay, so we are at about $100 to add solar power out in the shed. We are feelin' green!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fishing: Searching for Summer Steel...

There have been more than 8000 Steelhead going over Bonneville Dam lately... a friend did really well early last week (before the heat) and we had to try again...

Look at these beauties! I don't see any adipose fins, either!

The hot temperatures has really induced lock-jaw on the fish, though. Not many people reporting success...

We even pulled out the secret weapons - never before shown on the internet! Here is a sweet, custom spinner we like - note the double blades! The last 'bead' is actually a small corkie to help lift and keep the second blade spinning...

Another secret is to add a small pink work to the spin-n-glo. The worms are a favorite for fishing the smaller rivers like the Wilson, and seem to help on the Big C, too. That is if the fish feel like biting!

The red Tiger-strip is a favorite Steel-face color, too. Shh!

Oh well, no fish this time either. At least the sun was out, the water warm, and the sand comfy... you can't call it a bad day!

Green Beans Winding Down... We Hope!

For more than 2 weeks now the green (and yellow and purple...) beans have been producing heavy! We've picked them about every other day, canning 14 quarts from each picking. We are at 75 or 80 quarts, now... enough for the year!

The beans are starting to tire... and so are we!

We expect to get another 2-3 good pickings, and will give them away or let the kids sell them. We're also letting some of the beans grow big-n-lumpy as shown in the pic... we're going to try using them for seed next year, to see how well they do. The corn we saved from last year is growing well, so we'll see if it produces.

The rest of the garden is doing well - we get a 3-4 lb zucchini every other day now... so lots of zuc-bread with chocolate chips! Quite a few cucumbers, including those weird lemon Cuc's that are actually pretty good.

The corn is tassled and tall... life is good! The summer heat-wave we've had has really boosted production, so long as we've kept the garden well watered. The last 2 days have been over 100 degrees!

Car Camping - Dutch Canyon in Scappoose

Over the weekend several congregations of our church got together at a farm up Dutch Canyon in Scappoose, OR for a few days of camping and fun.

A beautiful place - plenty of space to roam and enough shade to beat-the-heat. Scappoose Creek runs through the area, and it was perfect for all the kids.

We were celebrating Pioneer stuff, so there was square dancing, guitar playing, and overall hanging out stuff. None of the hiking or dusty trails, though...

The creek was nice and small, so the little kids weren't in any real danger. There was a swimminng hole, too with an ancient rope swing...

Some great Dutch Oven cooking... some of these guys are really good at cooking! Alot of useful tips and tricks to try if we ever take a hand at heavy-pot cookin'. Note how this guy stacks the ovens - a few brickets under the bottom ones, and then some on top of each oven is all it takes - the chicken is boiling!

Most all of the kids spent their time knee-deep... catching crawdads, splashing, playing, or throwing rocks.

This little dude got pretty ambitious with the bigger rocks...

A very fun trip and great way to enjoy the summer in the Pacific NorthWest!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Gathering the Garden

All of the adventures this week have been around the garden.

The first of the zucchinies were picked... they got big FAST!

The corn and beans planted in the mound (i.e. "Three Sisters Plots") are more than 2 feet tall, and the beans have begun to grow up the corn plants. Amazing - these plants seem to be growing dramatically faster than the rest in the garden.

We picked our first "lemon cucumber", too. Weird looking... we all agree that Mom will be the first one to try this... treat.
Lettuce is picked daily, as are the carrots and of course the beans. Corn is tassled on the older plants and small cobs are growing.

Besides beans, the peas have really been producing well. Its alot of work and not much pay-off, but then again, the garden is more about the experience, fun, WORK, and delicious eats... so who is counting the cost.

And it was all worth it at dinner time. Fresh peas went well with the tuna casserol. Pickled olives and the recently canned tuna put a smile on even the most finicky eater's face.

More Berries are Arriving

We've gotten alot of Tayberries and Blackberries off of our 'domesticated' plants. Talk about a taste of summer - they are fantastic!

We are making jam with some of them...

... and ate most of them in a cobbler. Wow - it didn't last long!

Quick, take a picture so we can dig in...

Last night we also found (and ate) the first wild blackberries of the season. Berries weren't ready until the 2nd week of August for the last 2 years - I think all the hot weather has really accelerated the berries this year.

Most were tart... but there were enough sweet ones to keep us eating them!

Farm Chores - Mending Fence

Definitely not glamorous, but this is sorta fun. We'll be getting a 2 year old steer soon, and the fence needed a tune-up to get ready. Nothing makes for more interesting afternoons like a new cow out and edgy!

Alot of our fence is still under construction, so we've strung electric fence to keep the animal in. Works great. The kids did a quick weed-eating around the base of the fence, and the littler ones and I patched the fencing. We use the nylon twine with little steel wires, and it is very nice to easily tie new wire on and string it up.

So who's gonna grab the fence to make sure its working???

Monday, July 20, 2009

Cottonwood Island is... burning.

A friend came over Sunday afternoon and said Cottonwood Island, in Longview, WA was on fire. He is a firefighter, and said there were no plans to work the fire for a day or two...

This isn't uncommon - the island has quite a few char marks from previous fires. Most of them seem to be related to campers.

Only the south-end of the island was on fire. The girls were worried - next month is Fall Chinook and we usually camp on the island... besides, we have treasure on that island. Think of the pearls!

I had to drive into Rainier, OR anyway, so I snapped a few photos. The afternoon wind was whipping up the flames - they were visible from Goble, OR.

Where the heck is Goble?

This photo is from the north end of Rainier, OR - heading up the big hill. As you can see, there was no sign of the fire... camp is safe!

The weird thing is that 2 hours later when heading south again, the wind was gone, and there was no sign of the fire! No smoke, no flames, nothing.

Phew... Too Much Canning - Time for Swimming!

Enough canning, already! What a great weekend - hot and sunny. Too windy on the river for tubing, so we hit the beach.

The Columbia River has miles of sandy beaches great for swimming. The water is getting warmer, too.

Alot of pumice stones, too. It is fun to see how many floating stones we can find and 'release' into the wild.

Nothing releases pent-up stress from picking beans like making a sand-angel.

How-To: Filleting Tuna Fish

As we just posted, we've begun canning tuna. Make sure to get it fresh, on ice. Try not to buy the frozen fish - last year we could only find the flash-frozen fish, and it was a MESS to clean! We got some fantastic fish. Right off the boat and local.

This year we asked for only fish 20lbs or bigger. More meat for less cleaning, and the larger fish give a little more meat for the $.

Filleting tuna is alot of fun! They are a very unique, remarkable fish, and it is alot of fun for the kids to explore the anatomy and marvel at the engineering that went into creating these beautiful animals.

Most fish-mongers will fillet the loins for you for about $3 per fish. It is more fun to do it ourselves. And, it is easy - we can do a fish in less than 10 minutes each. So get your board and a sharp knife!

The first step is to remove the skin off the sides. Cut under the long side fin, and up around the gill-plate.

Next, cut just under the skin (not too deep into the meat) along the back, from tail to head. It is easiest when starting from the tail, and cut up toward the head.

Do the same for the belly - start at the tail, and cut along the belly toward the head just under the skin. Be careful NOT to get into the guts...

These fish we got were PRIME - very nice fish. Look how oily they are! My hands were covered, just pulling the skin off the side!

Another really cool thing about tuna is that they really aren't slimy like most other fish. The skin is very thin and strong - alot like Tyvek. You'll see!

Now, with the skin cut around the edges, start at the head and peel the skin straight back - it will come off easily, unless the fish was frozen.

Tuna have nice, large bones for filleting. Right down the center of their side, they have another ridge of bones - different from a salmon. Along these side bones are a slab of dark meat. We want to trim this dark meat off - it is too strong to eat. Except for the chickens, though - they love it.

Cut down through the fillets on either side of the side-bone and dark meat. You can easily get down to the back and belly bones.

With these side-cuts, it is really easy now with a flexible knife to get in and peel / cut the meat upward, away from the dark meat ridge. Work the top loin fillet up and off the backbone.

Next, do the same on the lower loin - cut from the dark meat in the middle down to the ribs, and fillet the meat along the bones to remove the bottom loin.

Be careful here to not cut into the ribs and into the guts. Its pretty easy if you take it slow and are careful.

That was basically it! Here you can see both the top and bottom loin removed from the fish, and the dark meat 'ridge' in the middle of the fish's side.

If you did get some bones in the loins, simply trim them out. The tuna has large bones, so it is easy to see and feel them.

The final step is to trim the dark meat off of each of the loins. It is easy to see, and easy to trim off.

The dog, cat, or chickens will love this dark meat. If this is your first time, fry it up and try it - you might like it!

So thats it - now flip over the fish and try it again.

We found that about 65-70% of the fish's original weight is meat - the larger fish yield slightly more meat in the ratio. About 13 lbs of meat from a 20 lbs fish.

Canning Tuna Fish

The internet forums are alive with fishermen reports from the Oregon and Washington coast... the TUNA are out there! Right now, the 59* water is still about 35 miles out - too far for us, but not too far for the big boats, like

A local guy has really nice fish, so we picked up some. We can it in pint jars - wide mouth are best. There is 1 lbs of fish per pint.

The best fish is on ice - NOT frozen! The frozen fish is a mess to clean. And be sure to get it fresh.

We can fit 15 pints into our big canner. We can the fish (same as salmon) for 110 minutes at 10 psi.

It takes a while, and with all the green beans we have been up till 2am to turn the last batch off at night. Makes for LONG days, but its worth it!

Here is some of the loot. There is NOTHING better than home-canned tuna! Problem is, the kids love it too. Not sure what the commercial canners do to the fish, but it is no way near as good as homemade.

Better than gold, and tastier too. The only way it gets better is if we'd pulled it into the boat ourselves...