Things are going great folks! We haven’t disappeared, we’ve only been busy. After a brief visit to Norway making sure the world is blessed with yet another PhD (congratulations again Yan!) and ensuring the trickle of money into my bank account doesn’t dry out yet, we’ve been busy sowing seeds, digging, planting seedlings and trees, watching the container home arrive, digging, putting up a makeshift frame out of terrible fungus infested wood for a few solar panels, dared to connect the panels to the charge controller and generate our first few kWh’s, spent time hanging with new friends, digging, outgrowing our first compost bin in no time, building a fancy duo compost bin (out of the same shitty fungus infested wood, we’ll see what composts first…), and then some serious digging! Let me just refill my glass with another punch in the face of Ardbeg (a beautiful single malt from Islay on the Scottish west coast for those of you who cares but still don’t know) that I managed to buy but not drink during my 13 hour stopover in Frankfurt (the poor underpaid long-haul pilots went on strike) and then I’ll walk you through the last few weeks of joyfulness. Drink’s poured so here we go!
First, the container home. Originally the plan was to have it waiting for us to arrive and just hook it up to water, electricity, and sewage within a couple of weeks. Well, that didn’t really work out as you may have imagined by now. But the plan also includes lots of “not according to plan” so we haven’t really been worried. The good thing, however, is that it has arrived now! The foundation pillars we did worked out really well, they were all level so the containers needed only minimal shimming–and most of it was needed because the containers are second-hand and far from perfectly square. And transportation and offloading didn’t really improve that! A window broke and all the doors had to be removed and re-fitted as they didn’t open anymore… A few other things were a bit off too. For example, we ordered the space for the stove and fridge to be 70+ cm instead of the standard 60 cm and it turned out be perfect. On average, that is. It was 78 cm on one side and 68 cm on the other… So the whole cupboard with the kitchen sink had to be moved and the stone bench top had to be trimmed a couple of centimetres to accommodate the stove and the fridge. But the guys assembling everything did it without complaints and even with a “sorry it was us who screwed up” laugh. After a few days the guys left us with the containers in what looks like working conditions. So now all we have to do is to hook up water, electricity, and sewage. How hard can it be?
Well, electricity isn’t too hard. Yet. I have cheated and connected everything without earthing the system so far, but, so far I’ve only charged the batteries. I understand positive and negative wires in a DC system and I have a decent understanding of hot and neutral wires in an AC system. But I’m utterly confused when it comes to earthing (remember I’m a proud owner of a Norton Commando – with positive earth…). And if we then add a ground fault protection on both DC and AC sides, I’m totally lost! Can I, for example, hook up the negative wire from the batteries to the DC earth connector in the inverter? And then pull another wire from the charge controller ground to the same earth connector on the inverter? To me that makes prefect sense – why should I wire it separately if they all meet anyway? But I’m sure there’s a catch somewhere as there are no suggestions about it anywhere, only the omnipresent “follow local codes” and “contact a local professional” in manuals. And don’t me started on what kind of response people get when asking similar questions in electricity forums on the internet… The problem with trusting local and professionals is, when I connect my laptop here, there’s a small but very uncomfortable current flowing through my hands every time I touch the laptop. I simply don’t trust the local code and/or professionals! So in case you have any suggestions for how to earth a system with an Outback GVFXe 3048 inverter and Outback FM80 charge controller with AC and DC ground fault protectors and surge/lightning arrestors, please feel free to come with suggestions! If I don’t hear from you within a couple of days I’ll promise I’ll check with the friendly Dutch solar power guy up in Rocha who agreed to assist last time we chatted. But first I need to weld the frames for the solar panels and then weld them on the container roof, and in order to do that I need electricity… The fungus wood frame can’t take the wind anymore. Ah, and I need to learn how to weld. But seriously, how hard can that be? I could probably DC weld with the batteries and some 10 mm rebar!
We have grown out of our compost bin. It’s about a cubic meter and I thought it would be hard to fill it since we don’t live there yet and well, I’m a very hungry boy and finish all food! But that was before my dear wife noticed wooden crates with decomposing fruit and veggies outside several vegetable shops in town. It turns out that the shop owners put the boxes there to let pig farmers pick them up for pigs food. But let me tell you, those poor pigs must be damn hungry by now! Virginia raid the veggie shops almost everyday, fillling the pickup with sweet smelling half rotten green stuff. So we had to increase the composting capacity and built a duo bin out of the fungus infected wood. We’ll see what goes first, the veggies or the bin… With the new duo bin everything was fine until two days ago. Then Virginia said in a very casual voice “Oh, I almost forgot–we can pick up some alfalfa bales that are going bad not far from here. They are already composting in the plastic and will be a nice addition to our veggie patches.” You know what they look like, those bales don’t you? Big round things, about a cubic meter and wrapped in plastic. We may be able to fit two at the most on the truck. OK I said, let’s grab them next week. How many are there? “About two hundred!” Virginia replied… There goes the duo bin peace. But we’ll bring as many as we can, and add them to our new and fancy hugelkultur beds that we had a digger to help us construct a couple of days ago. A hugelkultur bed is constructed with big tree trunks (check here: http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/) but we did our with small trees and bushes we had to remove anyway to open some space around the containers. The idea is that the composting process will make the ground a bit warmer and make the avocados and pistachios happier in winter. We’ll see how that works out.
Ah, this became a double day post, and now it is already tomorrow (from yesterdays perspective). I need to get back to Plätten and see if the poo well (aka septic tank) concrete floor I poured yesterday has set enough to let me start working on the walls. No rest for the wicked… What do think about just adding a few semi random photos and cutting it here with half a promise to be back in a week or so with an update about how the big JCB excavator helped us digging the hugelkultur beds and perhaps something about the poo well? Cheers!