Tuesday, July 29, 2014


The connections between different parts of the farm are fascinating and many.

Yesterday, Dave and I cleaned the hay mow of our barn. We raked out the spoiled hay and mixed it  with sheep manure in the barnyard. After it composts, the mixture will be wonderful fertilizer for our garden.

The wind blew hard out of the northwest and kept us cool. It also drove the insects into the deep grass for protection.

The ewes were in the home pasture, grazing the tall grass and they disturbed the insects. When the insects flew up, barn swallows swooped down to catch them.

The swallows fed the insects to their babies, tucked away in nests made of hay, manure mixed with mud, and feathers.

When we work in the barn, we enjoy hearing the barn swallow babies cheeping and the rush of their parents wings as they swoop through the barn going to and from their nests. Everything is connected and we are a part of those connections.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why we are using solar power

Back in the early 1980's, my dad installed solar hot water panels on his house. Dave and I were so impressed that we had solar hot water panels installed on our house. It was a great investment. Our water has been heated by the sun for most of the last thirty years. The system paid for itself many times over. I wash clothes when the sun is shining. We bathe the dog and sometimes ourselves because the sun is shining.

About 18 years ago, we invested in a wind generator. It has also worked very well (though not as carefree as the solar hot water). The wind generator provides about 1200 kwhr electricity. We use what we need and sell the rest to the power company. We expected a twenty year payback on our investment and that's about what we got. With a few updates and repairs, our generator is now working on its second twenty years.

We expected that more and more people would invest in solar and wind power, and although the numbers are rising, it is a slow climb. Several things limit the expansion of these alternative energy sources One is initial cost. Wind generators are expensive and up until the last year or two, photovoltaics have also been extremely pricey. Government subsidies and encouragement by the power companies (that buy our excess energy at a good rate)  have helped, but there is still a big gap between the promise of alternative energy sources and reality.  Why we aren't using solar power, a video by Alexandros George Charalambides, uses yarn to explore one of the problems with solar power.

Even if the topic wasn't of interest to me, the yarn intrigued me. So if you are interested in solar energy or in what you can do with yarn, check out  Charalambides'  site. Then get out your yarn and begin making pictures or look at your home for opportunities to use alternative energy sources for your power.

Friday, July 11, 2014

When the wind blows

The wind blows a lot in west central Minnesota. It is good country for wind generators. We installed ours in 1996 and it has given us many years of  electricity since then. When the wind blows more thn about 5 miles per hour, we are generating power. When it blows 25 miles per hour, our generator is at peak production.

When the wind blows, we use as much electricity from our generator as we can and sell the rest to our electrical company, helping them meet their renewable energy requirements. It's a good deal for everyone.

One day each year, when the wind doesn't blow, Dave and I go out to service the generator. It is not a light task. Dave wears a climbing harness and his heavy hiking boots. I belay him from the bottom as he climbs the 120 foot tower, anchoring himself with carabiners every fifty feet.

When he reaches the top, Dave attaches himself  to the tower so that he can work without me belaying him. Then I can use a pulley system to send a five gallon bucket and a length of hose up to Dave. He attaches the hose to the drain valve on the generator and then opens the fill valve on the very top.. When the bucket is full, he unscrews the hose and tosses it to the ground. As it tumbles to the ground, 2" diameter balls of rose colored oil fall through the air, glinting in the sunlight.
Then I lower the bucket of old oil and send up a bucket of new oil.

Dave stands spread legged on one inch wide supports as he works.  After changing the oil, he uses a grease gun on the zirc fittings on the spine hub of the windmill and at the base of each of the three blades.Next he climbs down a little ways and greases three bearings under the shroud cover and checks the bolts to make sure they are tight. When he moves from one job to the next, he goes back on belay and releases himself from the tower. When he is in place and tied to the tower again, I am free to run back to the house to get supplies that we've forgotten or that we've decided we need for the job.

Standing at the top of the tower waiting for me to return with a wrench seems like it would be exhausting and boring, but Dave spends the time admiring the view of our farm spread out below him, and the fields and sloughs and hills beyond the borders of our farm.

"I wonder at the view," he says. "It is a good reason to have a wind generator. Be-
cause of the generator, I love it when the wind blows" (except on days when we service the machine.)