We finally have an unlimited – though a bit slow – internet connection! And it works! I can finally catch up with everything that has happened everywhere since mid-June last year. I will read every single letter ever published on the internet! I don’t have to leave my bed ever again, I have access to the known universe in my lap (top)! And I can watch all the Led Zeppelin videos on youtube! What a joy, what a joy! Hello World!
It’s winter in Uruguay! Day temperatures between ten and fifteen degrees (Celsius…) and a bit of rain almost every other day. I guess that puts us, more or less, in an average Scandinavian summer except that the sun sets much earlier. And we have occasional frosty mornings. Two so far and I guess there will be a few more in July. But nothing yet that will make me swap the flip-flops for something more uncomfortable. It actually looks like I’ll manage to wear flip-flops year around! Sweeeet!
This climate means that the much anticipated winter break from garden work won’t happen and Virginia is as busy as ever planting out seedlings and clearing land for growing more veggies. Speaking about veggies, she brought a couple of sweet potatoes today that almost scared me – the biggest weighed more than two kilos!
And speaking about heavyweight, as I’m not a big fan of pumpkin in any form I’m a bit reluctant to even mention our ridiculous pumpkin harvest. But, I’m afraid we brought in 200-300 kg! Virginia planted that stuff because “It’s a great crop for ground cover, we either plant this or end up weeding everywhere”. But that stuff started to run amok – the runners were reaching everywhere and hearing how the runners were getting closer and closer to the house gave me nightmares.
We all know what plants are capable of, aren’t we? I swear one of the pumpkin runners tried to snatch Benny the dog while he was napping in the garden! In the end I wanted to compost the whole lot, but the ever so innovative Virginia managed to sell it in town! Hey ho, we traded immature compost for cash! I’ll grow that shit all over the place next year!
As you can see from the pumpkin photo, we have a deck! We’ve had it for quite some time to be honest – it was way faster to build this one than the first one we did behind the house. I guess I learned a bit about deck construction while building the first one, so the second one was a piece of cake.
I treated the eucalyptus planks with linseed oil and it smelled fantastic! Much nicer than the synthetic stuff I used for the first deck (but I have to admit I really liked the smell from the mix of old engine oil and diesel I used to treat the wooden beams! But that’s just me I guess…), and it made the wood take on a beautiful reddish-brown hue.
However, I could only find boiled linseed oil and that doesn’t penetrate very deep into the wood so a bit of rain, a dirty dog with razor sharp claws and kids who insist on making and serving mud cakes on the deck transformed the deck color into a more discrete gray tint. Oh well, that deck was way too fancy for us anyway. Gray is more us. Regardless of color it was great to finally have the deck giving us some more room, and I have enjoyed more than one afternoon sitting there concluding the day’s work. Now we just have to put up a proper sun roof instead of the green cloth we put up temporarily for shade while building the deck.
Another great project that is half finished (everything is half finished here! It just has to work and then I put it aside for something more urgent.) is chapter two of the utility shed saga. The first part houses the batteries and some other electricity related stuff and my temple of course, the beer fridge! The good thing with having the beer in the battery shed is that I’ve already spent so much time pampering those damned batteries that Virginia doesn’t think twice about me being in there for an hour or two. She doesn’t know this, but the batteries are doing fine and have been doing so for a long time now…
Anyway, now I’m half way with the second part housing propane bottles, washing machine and our Catch 22. This particular Catch 22 comes in the form of a dry tumbler. It works like this: When do you need a dry tumbler? Well, when drying laundry. When the sun is out however, you don’t really need a dry tumbler as you can hang the wet clothes to dry in the sun. So I don’t really need a dry tumbler sunny days, I need need it for rainy days.
But being on solar power means we have to minimize the use of power hogs, such as the dry tumbler, when it’s raining because there’s not enough sun. So what use is that dry tumbler to me then? Well, I use it to cycle our batteries! Our battery bank is a 26 kWh (546 Ah at 48 V) bank and bit too large for us as we only use 2-4 kWh/day depending on whether we do laundry or use some of the larger electrical tools we have. And this kind of batteries need to be discharged properly every now and then to function well in the long run. So about twice a month I switch of the solar panels for a couple of days and slowly drain them, waiting for a beautiful sunny day. Early morning that beautiful sunny day I hit the batteries with everything we got. The old 75 W incandescent bulbs that we had 13 of in the house were great for draining the batteries but we’ve switched to LED lights everywhere now and all lights together don’t add up up to 75 W anymore. I could of course start the 1200 W electric saw we have and the 1200 W angle grinder but the noise would drive me crazy before the batteries are discharged. Enter the dry tumbler! I thoroughly soak a couple of big towels in water and dump them in the dry tumbler, put it on “Extra dry” and it is emptying the batteries at a steady rate of 2 kW.
All I have to do is to check the batteries every hour or so and with the beer fridge in there too, I don’t mind just sitting there keeping an eye on everything. When the batteries have gone down to about 60% of their capacity I stop the dry tumbler, switch on the solar panels, and hang the still wet towels to dry in the sun. Then I grab a beer, sit down on the deck and propose a toast to Yossarian, waiting for the sun to recharge the batteries again. I don’t know if the batteries would be properly recharged without me drinking beer on the deck, but so far I haven’t dared to try that as we really need to charge the batteries straight away at that point. Better safe than sorry. And I don’t mind the beer.
You might wonder what half finished means when it comes to the utility shed. Well, as I think I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, the idea is to insulate the walls with light clay, a mix of straw and clay. Using a lot of straw and only just enough clay to make the straw stick together it is possible to make a walls that are (Oh wait, I’ll pour me a whiskey. It’s Saturday night, the kids are sound asleep and my dear wife is out somewhere drinking wine with her friends leaving me all alone. Well, me and kids. And Benny the dog. Mmmm, a 12 year old Balvenie Triple Cask. That’s a smooooooth one!) fairly well insulated without being overly wide or heavy. We want to add some 10-15 cm of this mix to the walls and then plaster them with mud. When that is done, I think I’d call the utility shed done and finished. But by that time I guess something is broken and needs to be fixed…
We have experimented a bit with light clay already. Benny the dog needed a house for the winter as I refuse to let a cow dung eating son of a bitch (in the true sense!) who insists on licking his balls in public and simply cannot be taught how to close a sliding door, into the house. So together with the kids we made him a house with mud floor with loads of straw on top, light clay walls and roof topped with a tin roof. Now he has a much more well-insulated house than we do! And although he decided to run away for a few days a while ago, he seems to be happy enough to come back and hang out with us and his house again.
Well well well, I think this will have to do. I still have a few drops left of the beautiful Balvenie and could tell you a bit about the current state of affairs in our rather humid container home, water leaks (that I have nothing to do with!), a decision to change to double pane insulated windows with PVC frames instead of the single pane aluminum framed worm holes channeling cold air straight from Antarctica to us that we have now, or brewing my worst beer ever (and entering a competition with it!), or even how to bring back an Outback inverter from the dead – but I think I skip all that. Neither will I entertain you with my heroic efforts to set the necessary inverter spare parts free from customs at Montevideo airport (I ended up in nine queues to seven different officials in two different buildings. Not even Kafka could have written a story like that!). And I will under no circumstances share with you the complete lack of joy I experienced unclogging clogged pipes in our septic leach-field. But trust me when I say that was a really shitty job and I will definitely look into how to incorporate compost toilets in our future house. So cheers to you and cheers to the surprisingly helpful people at the customs office. And now please bring me back my summer. I’ve had enough of this fake winter.