Podcasts arrive and we Visualize Whirled Peas – the News from Blue Rock Station

At Blue Rock Station we think about sustainable living every single day. In the mornings Jay and I sit by the warm wood stove and talk about the world’s slow walk towards sustainable living, and this year we decided to take those talks to another level by creating a series of podcasts and soon-to-arrive webinars. This is our way of beginning a conversation with all of you – asking you to join us in our walk towards a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle.

To look at a preview of what Blue Rock Station’s new on-line home looks like visit us at http://www.bluerockstation.com.  And, there’s a special video message from us to you. It’s all just waiting for you to listen, learn and join with us in a new way of living.

Plus, you can join Carie Starr and me online every January weekday morning (except New Year’s Day) for a 7:30 am Coffee & Talk: Ask the Woman Expert – 30 minutes of insights into simple solutions for farm challenges, interviews with other women in agriculture and an occasional big laugh. To sign up, send a note with your email address to annie@bluerockstation.com.   #womengrowohio  #bluerockstation #ilovegoats #goatsatbluerockstation

IT’S THE HOLIDAYS!

While many of you will already be finished with your shopping, some of you may need a sustainable gift idea. Get in touch with us to put together a personalized gift – here are just a few ideas:

  • A special tour of Blue Rock Station
  • The Business of Goat Herding (Hot off the press)
  • A cheese making weekend (or consulting, personal cooking class or eBooks on goat health or business)
  • A scholarship for a solar installer class

You can learn more about how to create your holiday gift, or daily life at Blue Rock Station by visiting us at http://www.bluerockstation.com

 

Where you can find us for solar training:

The January class at Zane State College is pretty much sold out, but plenty of spaces available in our next class in March in Marietta, OH.  For more information on this class, visit our new “sister” site at http://www.solarpvtraining.com.

Upcoming Workshops at Blue Rock Station:

Check out some of our other upcoming classes.  Please register early because all of our events have limited space.

January

  • January 2nd: Annie and Carie Starr – 7:30 am Coffee & Talk: Ask a Woman Expert online with Women Grow Ohio Online
  • January 5th: Open House Tour 1 pm to 3 pm
  • January 6th: Fast Food Cooking Class noon to 3 pm (only six slots available) (no charge but you will be asked to bring some ingredients for one of the three soups, two salads or omelettes) Sign up with Annie at annie@bluerockstation.com.
  • January 7th – 11th:   Solar Installer certification class, Zane State College, Zanesville OH
  • January 25th:  Introduction to Solar Electric – Great for architects, homeowners, business owners – Marietta, OH
  • January 26th:   Free School: Nurturing the Activist in Me: Join Annie Warmke and Melissa Ayotte (1 pm to 4 pm) to  discover some of the basics of how to use some of that energy generated by today’s news to make changes in your everyday life, or the life in your family and community. Free School registration is required by contacting Annie Warmke.   Only six spaces available for this hands-on fun afternoon.

February

  • February 8th – 10th: Level II Solar Designer Class roll out – open to only six students (must have attended Level 1 class), Greencastle IN
  • February 15th: Roll out of new BRS online video training – cheese making, solar installation, and more. Check the BRS closer to the date for more details.
  • February 16th; Healthy Fast Food noon to 3 pm Free School (no charge for this vegan class but you will be asked to bring some ingredients for one of the three soups, two salads or the dessert) Sign up with Annie at annie@bluerockstation.com.

March

  • March 6th: Farm Animal Concern Trust (FACT) webinar online 2 pm – 3 pm EST. Annie shares Setting the Course for making a living with your farm or homestead.
  • March 9th: Cheesemaking with Annie 1 pm to 4 pm
  • March 11th – 15thSmall Wind Installation Certification  five-day class, Zane State College, Zanesville, OH
  • March 16th: Goat College 1 to 5 pm
  • March 18th – 22nd:  Solar Electric Installer Certification class, Marietta, OH
  • March 30th: Build Your Own Solar Generator – Architects, engineers and more. Marietta OH

The Critters:

All of the goats, like a lot of humans I know, have recently caught a cold.

I feel like I’m the playground monitor each morning, wiping runny noses after I have fed them their “snack.”  Each day I check them, evaluating snotty noses, coughs (loose or constant) and more.   They get kelp, Vitalerbs, Herbiotic, garlic, and chewable vitamin C.

So far it seems like we’re winning, but now my big concern is “Will I get their cold?”  This catching cold thing might work both ways.   This morning I told them that I can’t get sick for two more weeks.  I just have too much to do.  And as usual, they just stared at me. No sympathy.  Can you imagine?

Food, the Heart of Sustainability:

I truly hate freezer vegetables.  But I’ve finally found a way to eat them, and make them taste really delicious.   First, I saute them (zucchini, eggplant, squash, green beans etc.) in sesame oil, with garlic and whatever else I like – onions might be good.   Next add some spice – I like curry, cayenne, salt, pepper, gram masala or whatever tastes good to you.

When the veggies are cooked through, but not too done, I add some pressed and chopped extra firm tofu. When that’s heated through, I scoop everything into the Nutri-Bullet, add a little rice or coconut milk and give it a whirl. When it’s finished, I could take it to the next level by adding some nuts, but either way it is extra delicious spooned over rice pasta, noodles, or eaten with naan or tortillas (used as as a scoop).

Bon Appetite!

Words that Guided:

Just for today I am going to imagine world peace. Now there’s a thought worth contemplating isn’t it?

Happy New Year from all of us at Blue Rock Station,  Annie, Jay

Cadeau, Sophie, Reenie, Dharma, Ralphie, Nikki, Shiela, the goats, chickens, Petunia Pea Fowl and all of the BRS wild life send the same good wishes

Kindest Regards, Annie

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Tweaking the Solar Generators

The first full day of Thanks for Nothing has come and gone – and we have once again survived without some of the conveniences of a modern society.  Amazing. 
Annie enjoying dinner by candle light in front of the wood fire.
Annie enjoying dinner by candle light in front of the wood fire.
My role on the first day was largely technical.  As mentioned, we are trying out our solar generators – trying to test them and push them to their limits.  Well, right off the bat we found some limits.

We built three units.  The small unit, complete with a 400 watt inverter, a 35 amp-hour battery and all the other bits and bobs that make it work seems to be doing its assigned job just fine. In fact, I am connected to it as I write this.  For more than a day it has managed to supply power to my laptop, printer, cordless telephone and lamp (see, a complete office if your office consists only of a laptop, printer, telephone and lamp).  

We used the laptop all day – plus watched two movies on it during the evening (actually documentaries – so we are still pure and righteous).  We have also been listening to the radio over the internet on the laptop.   Some day we might actually stream music and join the modern world more completely.  As I type this, the unit just gave out a squawk that it was at the end of its juice.  So 24-hours seems to be the limit on this unit.  That will probably get you through most power outages.

The middle unit is, as you would imagine, a bit bigger.  It has a 750 watt inverter and a 110 amp-hour battery.  We determined to use this for the refrigerator, as our LG fridge only draws about 165 watts when running, I figured this would be more than enough.  But we have learned something about inverters (and motors).  

When the refrigerator kicks on (and this applies to any appliance with a motor), it draws a bit more energy in the first few seconds of operation (a surge).  Our inverter is supposed to handle this, rated to up to 1500 watts for a few seconds, but happier if only providing 750 watts or less on a continuous basis.  

We found that when the refrigerator tried to kick on, the inverter would indicate it was overloaded (even though it was well below its rated limit).  It would do this four or five times, then chug away happy as could be.  I worried that all this might be putting a strain on our refrigerator – so we moved the bigger unit in to take over.

The large unit has a 2,000 watt inverter and a 225 amp-hour battery bank.  The refrigerator is really happy with this unit.  We need to do a bit more testing, but it looks like there needs to be a lot of headroom in inverter capacity when working with motors – much more than the rated watts of the unit might suggest.

So we are off and running, settling into the slower pace of Thanks for Nothing month.  Dinner must be anticipated well in advance and cooked on the wood stove.  It is eaten by candlelight, which is never a bad thing.

Here Comes The Sun

There’s anticipation in the air and it’s not because fall weather makes me nervous that it will frost and finish off the garden. Actually there should be a giant drum role because when we created the first 10 year plan for Blue Rock Station in 1996 we put renewable energy (I barely understood this term) at the end of the goals because it wasn’t an efficient use of money or resources in those days). BUT…In three weeks we will install the solar array that will provide most of the power we will need for the entire farm.

The system we’ve designed is going to be installed in three segments – one the first week of October, and then we’ll add another array in a year, and then, if we need it, another array in 2016. This approach allows us to practice more conservation and also to learn more how we use energy, and how not to go hog wild since it is technically free.

Jay likes to say that when solar energy is readily available (and cheap) people will go crazy using it – “like a bunch of fraternity boys at a party with free booze”. I don’t want to think about energy as “free” because it is not. Many resources (some that are very limited) go in to making the solar array system. Rare minerals are required to create solar panels and those minerals are growing more and more scarce. That’s the reason that the US (and other countries) are exporting used electronics to China – little children are used to extract these rare minerals so they can be re-used. The rare minerals have some very serious side effects when touched by humans. I will leave you to figure out why this isn’t good.

My hope is that this new way of generating electricity will provide us with ways to “think” more honestly about how we live on this land, and how we can learn more about ourselves in our quest to not take away from the future.

Day #3 Thanks for Nothing Month

Day #3 THANKS FOR NOTHING Month            Sunny/Frigid

“Just for today I will cross off one thing from my to do list, and think about how good it feels to do nothing about it.”

Earthship in Winter
The sun was bright all day – such a gift on a bitterly cold day.  The house was warm even though we let the wood stove get down to only hot coals.  The beauty of a home that uses thermal mass coupled with passive solar for the basis of heating is that sunshine bumps up the warmth inside.

We spent the day with an Amish farmer and one of the “English” he works with – his goal in coming to us for consulting was to learn more about our building methods so he can utilize some of our ideas in a new retail shop he wants to build for his poultry business, plus he and his English partner want to create new Websites for their businesses.

They were looking for marketing advice, and we had a grand day of sharing ideas and “pushing the envelope” with how to use the Internet more efficiently.  After six hours we had shared stories, laughed more then we

in an “ordinary” business meeting, eaten a simple meal warmed on the wood stove while we met, and given both of them a push forward with their own ideas.  This is our idea of doing business – making friends, giving everything we have to the moment, and then staying in touch to see how it all unfolds.  I believe this is the new business model for our culture.

Ralphie is mesmerized by the morning fire.

During evening chores a young guy I had talked to about re-homing the chickens I’d taken in from Capital City Animal Shelter drove up at the barn to “adopt” one of the beautiful roosters that I’d decided were too healthy to butcher.  He was worried about how to introduce the rooster to his small flock of hens.  We discussed how a new rooster with hens wasn’t a problem – all he needed to do was put the rooster in with the flock after dark, and the next morning all of them will be excited and happy to get acquainted.  It doesn’t work so smoothly when introducing a new hen, and that’s what he was worried about.

When I returned to the house Jay was waiting with the oil lamp lit on the kitchen table.  It’s really nice to open the door and see the glow from the lamp.  The US weather service says sun down is at 5:15 PM in this part of Ohio so we abide by that if we’re using the computer – turning it off like clockwork…No technology whether powered by renewable energy or not after dark.

The evening was spent returning fun phone calls to friends.  Sometimes I feel like I have forgotten the art of talking on the phone for fun, but last night those women on the other end of “the line” reminded me of how much joy comes from reconnecting with just our voices.During evening chores a young guy I had talked to about re-homing the chickens I’d taken in from Capital City Animal Shelter drove up at the barn to “adopt” one of the beautiful roosters that I’d decided were too healthy to butcher.  He was worried about how to introduce the rooster to his small flock of hens.  We discussed how a new rooster with hens wasn’t a problem – all he needed to do was put the rooster in with the flock after dark, and the next morning all of them will be excited and happy to get acquainted.  It doesn’t work so smoothly when introducing a new hen, and that’s what he was worried about.might have in an “ordinary” business meeting, eaten a simple meal warmed on the wood stove while we met, and given both of them a push forward with their own ideas.  This is our idea of doing business – making friends, giving everything we have to the moment, and then staying in touch to see how it all unfolds.  I believe this is the new business model for our culture.

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When I returned to the house Jay was waiting with the oil lamp lit on the kitchen table.  It’s really nice to open the door and see the glow from the lamp.  The US weather service says sun down is at 5:15 PM in this part of Ohio so we abide by that if we’re using the computer – turning it off like clockwork…No technology whether powered by renewable energy or not after dark.

The rest of the evening was spent eating stew warmed on the wood stove, and watching a DVD on the charged laptop.  Bedtime is usually around 9:30 PM but we watched the film longer then usual.  The living room was warm and I was working up my courage to get into bed under the cold covers in the cold bedroom.

Menu

Breakfast:  Fresh fruit with yogurt

Lunch:
Left over butternut squash/potato soup
Rye bread with butter
Fresh hot pepper raw milk goat cheese

Day #2 THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH

Day #2     THANKS FOR NOTHING Month                               Sunny/Frigid

“Just for today I will touch the arm of every person I speak to face-to-face.  This one act has the power to create a connection between us.”
????????????????????? Mornings during THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH are a challenge during these beginning days of the month.  Each year we forget how much thought goes into the process of having hot water.  And hot water is the first thing needed in the morning, and nearly the last thing required in the evening.

Ralphie is mesmerized by the morning fire.

The wood stove in the living room is the only active source of heat for our home, an “Earthship” designed by the architect Michael Reynolds.  The home is constructed with rammed-earth tires, cans, bottles and lots of other re-purposed items.  Because the basic premise of the home is to use the concept of thermal mass for heating and cooling, the house naturally never falls below 55 degrees F, even with no heat source.

The only sources of hot water include a large old-fashioned enamel water kettle, and a small modern metal tea pot which are heated on of the top of the wood stove.  This hot water is used for washing dishes, filling up the solar shower bag that’s used for an evening shower, and, most importantly, for hot tea and coffee.  It takes a bit of planning to not run out of hot water, and that’s where our month of no electricity and money gets off to a rocky start.

For example:  Unless someone gets up in the night to put wood into the stove, in the morning the water in the tea kettles is only lukewarm.  The room is still plenty warm, and the stove is still hot, but the tea kettles loose their heat rather quickly.  Since Jay loves his morning cup of coffee, and I crave a proper cup of morning tea, this causes us to huddle around the stove, waiting for the smaller tea kettle to begin to “sing” that it’s finally hot enough.

After the first night, I’ve decided that if I wake up, no matter how much I hate to get up, I’m going to refill the wood stove.  Last night I did wake, and I tried telling myself that it didn’t matter, we could wait for our tea.  But then I remembered that there would be people joining us for a consulting visit and we would not have the luxury of hanging out until we’re good and ready to begin the day.

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With my head lamp shining brightly, I wandered down the hallway like a coal miner and filled up the stove.  Unlike a coal miner, I had the added hazard of avoiding stepping on any of the cats that sleep wherever they find a bit of warmth.  Then back to bed, to dream of warmer days.

Last year I tried hoarding hot water by filling up insulated water carafes.  It didn’t really work.  Lukewarm water just doesn’t make a great cup of coffee or tea.

I’d love to hear an idea or two about how I might keep the water hot enough over night to have a nice hot cup of tea, and not have to wait around for 30 minutes to get the day in high gear.  I’m considering putting some clay bricks on top of the stove (slight thermal mass) and putting the tea kettle on top.  My hope is that the bricks will hold more heat then the top of the stove.

The saga of how to keep the water hot over night continues.  I hope to hear from folks about possible solutions.

Menu
Breakfast:
Fresh fruit with yogurt

Lunch:
Left over butternut squash/potato soup
Rye bread with butter
Fresh hot pepper raw milk goat cheese

The Solar Shower!

At Blue Rock Station, we try to incoproate green living into our everyday life. Showering is a (sometimes) essential part of life, but it uses up an incredible amount of water – almost 2 gallons of clean water each minute! The solar shower was designed for the interns as a way to use rainwater and incoporate recycled milk jugs and other materials.

Learn more about the shower and its quirks in this video:

– posted by Julie Ramaccia