Some people may not know what off-the-grid or off-grid means, so here it is --- The term off-the-grid or off-grid refers to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities.

Off-grid living is no longer a one room log cabin in the woods. It's energy independency. You don't have to rely on utility companies, you create your own power. Today, there are more than 180,000 off-grid homes in the US.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

View From The Window...

12:57 pm - 79 degrees - light breeze...
Do you see it?  That big black dot on the next ridge over?
It's a large black bear walking along the rock slide!
There were actually two bears over on the rock slide and even at that distance, the very large moving black dots were hard not to notice!
The smaller one headed up into the trees while the large one headed down.

Monkey Butter...

9:00 am - 60 degrees - light breeze...

I had never heard of Monkey Butter until I ran across it on Pinterest.  The name alone caught my attention and sounded delicious – bananas, pineapples and coconut - yum!  So I decided to give it a try.

Wow!  This was the easiest freezer jam I’ve ever made and it is soooo gooood!!! 

Although this delicious recipe is called Monkey Butter, it’s actually a jam (freezer jam since long-term shelf canning is not recommended).  Store it in the freezer (up to a year) until you want to use it, then you store it in the fridge (up to 4-6 weeks). 

There are so many uses for this yummy Monkey Butter... put it on toast, biscuits, scones, waffles, pancakes, crepes, ice cream, cake filling, etc!  Another great thing about this recipe is that the ingredients are, for the most part, available year-round – that means you can make it any time of the year!

 ~ Monkey Butter ~
5 medium-size ripe bananas (no brown spots)
20 oz. can crushed pineapple (with pineapple juice)
1/4 cup small shredded coconut (or ground if you can find it)
3 cups white sugar
3 Tbsp bottled lemon juice (to assure acidity)
6-8 half pint sterilized jars

1. In a large pot, add the peeled and sliced bananas, crushed pineapple (pineapple juice and all), coconut, sugar and lemon juice.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

2. After bringing to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook until thickened, still stirring constantly.  {Note: if you feel it is too chunky, you can use a potato masher while stirring to get some of the lumps out.}

3. When the Monkey Butter has reduced to a nice thick jam it’s ready to can.  Set out your sterilized jars and fill them using a wide mouthed funnel to within half an inch of the rim.  Put the lids on and let cool.

4. Once the jars have completely cooled you can either place them in the fridge (4-6 weeks) or put them in the freezer.  {Note: Don’t forget to write on the lid or make a label stating what it is and the date you made it.}

{Note: If you are not a fan of coconut, you can substitute it for mangos!}

{Note:  Some websites say that you can put the jars of Monkey Butter into a 10-15 minute water bath for long term canning.    But according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation “There are no home canning recommendations available for fruit purees using bananas, coconut, mango, ….”  So just to play it safe, and since Monkey Butter contains both bananas and coconut, I would not recommend canning Monkey Butter for any long term shelf life canning.  However, it can go into the freezer for up to a year or the refrigerator anywhere from 4-6 weeks.}

-- Enjoy!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Solar Power...

12:28 pm - 76 degrees - sunny...

Most off-grid homes use a wide range of energy resources, in sharp contrast to the typical all-electric suburban home.  One energy resource that we are using is solar power.

Solar power is produced by collecting sunlight and converting it into electricity.  This is done by using solar panels.  Solar panels are large flat panels that are made up of many individual solar cells.  Lots of small solar cells spread over a large area that work together to provide enough power to be useful.  The more light that hits a cell, the more electricity it produces.

photo source: alternate energy info

Once you have assessed your solar power needs and the amount of solar gain you can expect, the next step is figuring out where and how to mount your solar panels to get optimum light exposure.  There are a numerous ways to mount solar panels, and the best choice depends not only on maximizing exposure over the course of a year, but also cost and practicality.  Depending on city or county code requirements, that can sometimes mean thousands of dollars in engineering and equipment.  When all is said and done, simplicity is key.

Two important things to keep in mind when you’re looking at where to place your solar panels are which direction the solar panels should face and the optimal angle the solar panels should be tilted.

Where to place your solar panels - in general there’s one big rule: if you’re in the U.S. (or anywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere), your solar panels should face true south (aka solar south or geographic south).

Identifying true south is not as simple as using a compass.  Due to the imperfections in the composition of the earth, due south rarely matches the compass reading.  A compass points toward the south pole of the earth’s geomagnetic field.  It’s the right general direction – but not exact.  

A simple method to finding true south is to look at your house on Google Earth; after centering the image on your home, you can view the north-south grid lines Google provides.  In the View menu, select “Grid”. 

Another easy way to identify true south is to look in your local newspaper (or Google) for the exact time of sunrise and sunset for that day.  Calculate the middle of these times; it should be somewhere near noon, but rarely right at noon.  Stick a pole in the ground, and at the exact middle time between sunrise and sunset, the shadow from the pole lines up with due south.

Once you have the direction the solar panels should face, next comes finding the optimal angle the solar panels should be tilted to get the best out of your system.  

The optimum angle varies throughout the year, depending on the seasons and your location.  Of course, the sun is continually moving throughout the day and to get the best from your solar panels you would need to angle your panels to track the sun minute by minute.  You can buy an automated solar tracker to do this but unfortunately, the expense of a tracker means that for most systems they are more expensive than buying additional panels to compensate.  The amount of power a solar tracker uses in order to track the sun also negates much of its benefits.

The sun is at its highest at solar noon each day (this occurs exactly half way between sunrise and sunset) and by using a Solar Angle Calculator {Click Here} you can find out the angle at that time of day.  At solar noon, the irradiance from the sun is at its very highest and you can generate the most power.  In the northern hemisphere, the sun is due south at solar noon.

photo source:

If you want to get the best performance during the summer months, you would angle your solar panels according to the height of the sun in the sky during these months.  If you want to improve your winter performance, you would angle your solar panels towards the winter months in order to get the best performance at that time of year.  If you have the opportunity to adjust your solar panels throughout the year, you will benefit from having the optimum angle on a month by month basis.

After all that has been said, here is what we did – simplicity is key after all. 

We picked up 8 solar panels that are roughly 2’6” x 5’6” for free.  We know nothing about them other than they were for a 12 volt system.  Free is a very hard price to pass up especially when to buy them new would be a minimum of $1,600.

Not knowing anything about the panels and how well they would perform, we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a mounting system.  So Tony came up with a design using scrap materials that we had lying around the house.

This simple design allows them to be moved around on the forks of a tractor if we deiced we want to place them in a different location.

The orchard crates will be partially filled with large stones found around the property to counter weight the solar panels and anchor them down for high winds.

This simple design also allows the solar panels to be adjusted for optimum positioning in any direction and angle. 

They are facing due south and still need to be tilted to the proper angle for this time of year and are easily adjustable for the winter months.  Just after 7:00 pm last night the panels were producing 19.2 volts to 19.5 volts each.

We're half way done.  Need to build two more racks and then onto the wiring.


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