Friday, December 7, 2012


There is good news and bad news.  All those mushroom logs we put up in spring of 2011 never produced but a few Shitakes.  The good news is - while looking for wood to cut for our woodstove, we found a mother lode of wild oyster mushrooms.   Although we have been eating lots of them, there were so many, we decided to dry some.  Here is a beautiful plate of fresh oysters.

This is the log they were growing on.  It is a Poplar tree about 2 feet in diameter and 40 feet long that fell down on our property about 2 years ago.  You can barely see our truck in the background.

Below are the drying racks, which are small window screens held up by plastic corner braces that originally were used to hold the corners of our solar modules when they were shipped.  The corner braces stack, so we can make this air dryer many layers tall if we wish.  These are drying by the woodstove with the ceiling fan above them on low.  This picture is after drying them overnight and they are already much smaller than when they were fresh.

We have spent most of the last month chopping and splitting wood for the stove.  We have cut up only trees that were already down but off the ground.  Nevertheless, most have been too wet to use this year.  We recently bought a moisture meter to tell when the wood is dry enough (less than about 20%).  So, we have put away for next year about a cord so far, plus about a month's supply for this year.  This is our wood splitting station.

Here is our wood stack as of about a week ago.  The pile is a lot bigger now.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Winter 2012 on its way

After spending most of the hot summer camping in east TN and western NC, we have spent the past month installing our woodstove.  We decided (after MUCH study) to get a catalytic stove.  We live in a region with mostly mild winters.  Often the woodstove would not be run continuously here as it would be in more northern regions.  Catalytic stoves run more efficiently at lower temperatures than do non-catalytic (secondary burn) stoves.  The catalyst begins burning smoke at around 500 degrees whereas secondary burners ignite at more like 1000 degrees.  Thus, by buying a large catalytic stove, we can have long, low burns that will not be so hot as to drive us out of the house.  We settled on a BlazeKing Princess parlor model stove.  It has a thermostat, so instead of fussing with the air supply as the fire develops, you just set the thermostat to your desired level and the stove adjusts the air supply from there.  We did all of the installation ourselves, which included tiling the back wall, building and tiling a half wall behind the stove, building the stone hearth, building a mantel, putting in an outside air supply, cutting the chimney through the roof and setting up the stove.  Here are a few pictures.   Moving the stove into place with a come-along.

Enjoying our first fire.  We built the initial fire using a good amount of kindling, then adding 3 large logs at about 6pm.  The next morning at 6am the catalyst was still on and there were many hot coals.  After 14 hours we could have started a new fire with the existing coals (but it was going to be 70 degrees that day).  After 20 hours the stove was still quite warm!  We are pleased so far.

Tigerboy discovers the stove.  This was taken the morning after the fire was built and the stove was still very warm.

Update on the solar array:  After 4 months of operation, our net electric "bill" was -$373.75.  So they owe us $373.75 after taking off our house use.  Of course our generation will get smaller during the winter because of the lower sun angle, some shading from tree branches and more cloudy weather in general during the winter. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

We are Generation Partners

Generation Partners is the program run by Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and our local utility, Meriwether Lewis Electrical Cooperative (MLEC) that allows residents to sell back power that they generate with their own power systems.  Every Watt we generate goes directly into the utility grid and TVA pays us 12 cents/kWhr above the retail rate to residential customers (currently 9 cents/kWhr).  As of 8:30am June 19, we are selling power to TVA!!  Randy took this shot of Brent Warf from MLEC and me standing in front of the new meter just after our array was commissioned.  We flipped the switch and the meter started turning.  In the past 72 hours, we have generated 100 kWhr, while we used 48 kWhrs to run our house.  Our net earnings have been about $5.50 per day so far.

You might be wondering what the system cost us to build.  Our total expenditures came to about $15,500 for the 6,160 Watt system.  This is very cheap because we did the work ourselves.  The cost includes $5,358 for the PV's, $2400 for the galvanized pipe, $2675 for the Ironridge rails and components, $2900 for the inverter (SMA Sunnyboy 6000US), $800 labor for Kenny Brown's help, $465 in fees and the remainder in wire, conduit, AC disconnect, meter base, Unistrut, lugs, etc, etc.  But that is not the whole story.  MLEC will be sending us a check for $1000 for setting up the system, plus we will get a federal tax credit amounting to about $4,500.  Thus, the NET cost to us will be more like $10,000.  If we can generate 30 kWhr/day for just 300 days a year we will earn $1890 per year, which would take between 5 and 6 years to pay for the system.  Our contract with TVA guarantees that they will pay us 12 cents/kWhr  above the retail rate for 10 years, but we can break the contract if we should want to at any time.  Watts not to love??

On other fronts, we have purchased some furniture, including a nice slipcover sofa with down pillows (so comfortable!) from sellers on craigslist.  Also, we have tiled the screened porch and we are building a really cute outhouse.  The beautiful quilt on the sofa was a gift from Wayne and Claudia Schumacher (Quiltworks of Orange Springs).

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Solar Panels Are Up!

The panel mounting frame consists of 10 3" galvanized steel posts, 5 on the south side and five on the north side.  They are 3 feet in the ground with cement.  The angle of the panels is 36 degrees (our latitude).  The posts on the north side are much taller because we are building on a north facing slope.  On top of the posts are two horizontal runs of 3" galvanized pipe, held in place with Ironridge top caps.  On top of the horizontal pipes are 14 Ironridge rails, specially designed to hold clamps to easily mount the solar panels.  Below, Kenny Brown is marking the bottom of the rails so the panels will not get out of square as we mount them.

Here is a closeup of one of the posts showing the top cap and the horizontal pipe.

This is a closeup of how the rails mount to the horizontal pipe.

Here, Kenny and I are constructing the mounting system that will hold the inverter, the AC disconnect and meter base for the utility company.

Voila!!  All 28 of the panels are up.  Nothing is connected yet, and we still have to dig the trench to carry the #6 wires from our meter to the power pole.  Stay tuned .  . .

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Second anniversary of the flood

May 2 was the second anniversary of the big flood, and the day we moved upstairs into our new house.  I will post below several pictures of how the house looks now.  We don't have much furniture yet.  Below is the kitchen looking west.  The big white box is the fridge, a Sunfrost R19.

This is our propane stove, all hooked up.

The living room waiting for a sofa and recliners.  

The staircase and dining room.  The AC is on the wall.

The dining room with pass through to the kitchen.

Bedroom in the loft.

Study in the loft, waiting for a desk.

Our next project is to get the solar panels connected to the utility grid.  We have ordered all of the mounting parts and will start putting posts in the ground tomorrow.  An exciting thing happened yesterday.  We caught the birth of a large family of praying mantis babies.  These little fellows are about 1/2 inch long and there must be several hundred of them.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Early Spring 2012

This is a sample of today's harvest for the dinner table.  Clockwise from the upper right is watercress, growing wild in great abundance in our creek; then garden sorrel, which I planted around the yard last year, with wild onions on top; then poke salad, which is just beginning to send up tender shoots, with two dandelion flowers on top; then some asparagus from our garden, planted last year as root crowns.

When the poke is this young and tender, I boil it for about 15 min., then rinse twice in cool water.  Poke should not be consumed raw, as it contains toxins.  In fact, it is Phytolacca, a well known and powerful Homeopathic medicine, which I have used to great advantage in the past.  Today I will make a poke and wild onion quiche.  Yummm!!  The watercress, sorrel, and dandelion flowers will be used in a fresh salad. 

This is a beautiful time of year, and our orchards and gardens are coming alive.  The forest trees are about 20% leafed out at this time.  Here are pictures of one of the kiwi vines and a bush cherry, which is full of little cherries.

This year, we have planted two sweet cherry trees, two more apricot trees, two plum trees, three hazelnut trees and three persimmon trees.  Also, scorzonera, ramps and miner's lettuce as perennial greens.  Last fall we planted perennial multiplier onions and scallions, as well as two juneberries and ten more raspberry plants.  (And we were going to lay off of planting so much this year!!)

On the house front, we hope to move "upstairs" by the second anniversary of the big flood, on May 2.  The ceiling is finished, the loft floor is down and most of the trim is finished, thanks mostly to our carpenter Kenny Brown, who has been working with us for a month.  The electrical wiring is finished and ready for inspection, and the plumbing is finished.  Here are some pictures.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Update on Solar Panels

Yesterday we received our pallet of solar panels from Sun Electronics. We borrowed our neighbor's trailer and met the trucking company at Duncan's hardware store in Linden.  Not only did the manager of the store allow us to receive the package on their lot, but he personally transferred the pallet from the truck to our trailer.  Country living has it's advantages!  The panels are now neatly stacked under cover below the screened porch.  Sun Electronics still has some of these panels for 78 cents a watt.  This is a fantastic deal.  You can take a look at

The kitchen sink is now installed.  It is starting to look like a kitchen.