Archive for February, 2014

Cooking with gas…..

February 25, 2014

…..and now heating water.

We don’t have piped gas in our street. Consequently, when the house was built, we had an electric hot water heater put in. It was on a controlled load, off-peak setting which meant that it turned on at midnight and off at 7 am. It used about 5 kWh of power per day, but we paid a lower rate for the power as it was off-peak.

Since putting on the solar PV system, I’ve had huge problems with the energy supplier regarding my power bills. To cut a long story short, solar generation has been counted as consumption and my first energy bill was twice what it should have been. I complained bitterly, refused to pay the bill and my account was put on hold for a month while they (supposedly) sorted it out. Luckily, I’ve been reading the meter daily and I know how much I’ve used and how much generated power has gone to the grid.

Yesterday I got an amended bill and it is still wrong. Solar generation is still being counted as consumption and it is appearing on that part of the meter which records off-peak hot water consumption.

While I was talking complaining to my energy retailer she rang the energy provider and after all the to-ing and fro-ing, I was eventually told I couldn’t have off-peak hot water with solar PV. I think that’s wrong, because there are two circuits on the meter, one for peak and one for off-peak and it is possible to read them separately and bill them separately. Anyhow, it was no use arguing and I’m now being charged peak rates for off-peak hot water (heated at night).

Luckily I’d got a heating/cooling company in the previous week to give me a quote on an evaporative cooling system. I happened to mention my problems with the power company and he asked why I didn’t have a gas water heating system. Bottled gas, only for the hotplates, though. My last bottle of gas lasted 2 years; I use very little.

Had I considered instantaneous gas hot water? No, I hadn’t. Because of the bottled gas. Wouldn’t I use a lot more gas? No, not as much as you might think. In any case it’s cheaper than mains electricity, although more expensive than mains gas.

I Googled and found out more. In the discussion forums, people were wrapping up instantaneous gas hot water, on bottled gas. Two adults and one child used one 45 kg bottle of gas every 6 months for water heating and all cooking. I did the sums and if I got 12 months out of a bottle, I would still come out on top.

So I signed up and today they came and installed a Dux 16 litre/minute gas HWS. The old hot water service was disconnected and removed. Just let that stupid power company charge me for generation as off-peak hot water now.

gas 001

So far it’s looking good. I can’t put my hand under the hot water coming out of the kitchen tap. I have a low-flow shower head. That might be a problem—if the flow rate gets too low, the gas cuts out and I’m shivering in cold water. The guys tried it out before they left and it seemed OK.

The unit uses a small amount of electricity. There’s no pilot light so ignition is electronic. There’s a pump of some sort, too. In any case it’s only while the hot water is turned on. And the power to it is connected to the solar circuit, so the solar panels will be powering it through the day.

One small step closer to coming off the grid. Next job is to actually get some quotes for a grid-free solar system (and start buying lottery tickets!)

Note: I could have put in a solar HWS, but it would have been more expensive, so I chose to see how this system goes.

Further note: For whatever reason (I haven’t checked yet, but think it’s to do with not using coal-fired electricity), I got a $500 government rebate off the full price.

Is it over?

February 17, 2014

Summer, I mean. Only 2 weeks to the official end of summer and 5 weeks to the autumn equinox, which is when I prefer to mark the end of summer. I hope we’ve seen the last of the heat. This coming week will be the first in a while without a forecast temperature over 30º C. It’s quite novel to be putting on a windcheater in the evenings.

While a lot of plants have been stressed, burned and even died because of the heat, the strawberries have thrived up on the deck outside the living room—two in a wicking box and one in a large tub—so I can pick them easily. A small handful each day gives me a tasty addition to my bowl of breakfast fruit.

I want more plants and more strawberries. Enough to make some strawberry jam. How good would that be!

The plants are starting to produce runners. I’m pegging them down into small pots so the roots will grow. Once they’re established I’ll cut them away from the parents and have a whole new collection of plants:


I’ve bought some cheap, ordinary plastic buckets to plant them in. I’ll make them into wicking buckets by drilling a drainage hole about a third the way up from the bottom and I’ll fill them with chook poo compost. The soil below the drainage hole will always stay saturated and water will wick up into the top section.

I’ll keep them on the deck where I can easily protect them from the birds. The only vacant spots on the deck now are under the eaves, but the handles on the buckets will make it easy to move them out into the rain if I want to.

I’m thinking it would be a good gift to give someone, too. Who wouldn’t be happy to receive a bucket of strawberries just ready to be picked?

Look at this!:


The grapes are ripening! This is a native American variety called the Concord. Here’s what they looked like a few months ago:

grapes 004

At the time I thought they were tiny flower buds, but they were already baby grapes. I never saw the flowers. Not every one has developed into a mature grape, but what the heck! I’m so chuffed to actually have grown some grapes. Growing grapes from seed is so easy and cuttings strike readily.

I don’t bother sowing, potting up and planting out lettuces. It’s far easier and less time-consuming to sow the seed direct into a wicking box and thin (and eat) the seedlings:


Same goes for mizuna and purple tatsoi:


I don’t even bother to thin these. I just grab a handful and chop above the growth point with the scissors and they keep regrowing. I use these like lettuce and in stir fries, or lightly steamed.

Some good posts from other blogs

February 2, 2014

What I like about Gail Tverberg at Our Finite World is that she connects all the dots. I’m a dot-connecter too, but there are some dots, especially the financial system, I just don’t understand (I doubt whether anyone in the financial system understands it either).

When I’m talking to people about energy decline (I don’t do it often, because people just get mad at you if they think you’re telling them that this way of life is coming must come to an end), I’d like to be able to counter their excuses, buts and what ifs with cold, hard facts, which is why dot-connecting is important. Here’s Gail, connecting some dots:

A Forecast of Our Energy Future; Why Common Solutions Don’t Work

Another favourite blog of mine is Cassandra’s Legacy, written by Ugo Bardi, who lectures in physical chemistry at the University of Florence. An important dot to connect is the increasing cost of energy and how it translates to the increasing cost of doing everything from important stuff like growing food to useless stuff (my view anyway) like mining gold. Look at the table he’s posted and check out the cost increases over just three years, then think about how it relates to producing the things we use and need:

The problem with mining

Here’s another interesting post from Ugo Bardi. Check out all  those downward-pointing graphs. I’d love to see a similar set for Australia. It shows that collapse can be well underway, and yet the average person will not notice until it’s too late to do anything about it:

The other side of the peak: Italy’s collapse of oil and gas consumption

OK, here’s a post closer to home…about chickens. This blog was recommended to me by a friend in the US. The writer lives somewhere in the American north-west and is doing what is called ‘homesteading’ over there. I read her blog because I like the way she thinks everything through and gives the reasons for doing it. This post is about the way she manages her flock of hens.

More Chicken Work – Areas of Sacrifice

I don’t ‘do’ the deep litter system. My chooks are on dry sand—the natural sand of the area. It drains well, so there’s no problem with puddles and mud in winter. They love the sand for sand baths, but it gets compacted by their constant foot traffic. Each week I turn it over with a fork burying the poo and bringing interesting goodies to the surface. They love ‘turn-over’ time and will scratch in it for hours. It keeps them busy and a busy chook is a happy chook.

When the weather was really hot, I tipped a barrowload of leaves into their secure (locked at night) run and kept them damp. They enjoyed sitting on the damp leaves in the shade on the hottest days. I’m keeping that area covered with leaves from now on.

The outside run (not secure at night) is still sand, but it’s about 3 times the size of the secure run.  I’ve been spraying it with water on the hot days to keep the soil cooler. I’m thinking of the deep litter system there too. I don’t want to have to buy stuff, but I think I can generate enough litter from around the property. For a start, there’s plenty of mulched bracken. With the present hot, dry weather, the eucalypts are dropping masses of leaves and I’m raking the walking tracks in the bush and getting a barrowload on a daily basis. If there’s a lot of organic matter in the run I can spray it on hot days and it will keep cooler. There’s an offshoot to one side which is covered with a tarp for shade. I’ll leave that uncovered with litter and they can use that for sand baths.

I really liked this helpful comment from her:

“I keep adding bedding, and the hens keep turning it and breaking it down into useable compost for the gardens.  If I am lax in the carbon department, my nose will tell me in the morning when I open the door.  The smell that greets me should be an earthy, composty scent, if it is offensive then I know to add more carbon.”

I’m definitely going to give the deep litter system a go.

January solar update

February 2, 2014

Here’s the latest solar update. As noted previously, I’m going to include all the previous updates in every new post so that all you solar nerds out there can make comparisons.

January 2014
Note: these are daily averages for the month

Power imported from the grid = 4.4 kWh

Import cost @ 25.14 cents per kWh = $1.10

Generated power = 20.1 kWh

Exported power = 18.1 kWh

Credit for exported power @ 8 cents per kWh = $1.45

Generated power actually used in the home = 2.3 kWh


Power imported from the grid = extra power I need to take from the grid when the panels aren’t operating or when they’re not providing enough.

Import cost @ 25.14 cents per kWh = what I pay for imported power.

Generated power = what the panels produce each day.

Exported power = power produced by the panels which is not used in the house.

Credit for exported power @ 8 cents per kWh = what I’m paid for the excess power I generate.

More notes:

I had an electricity bill during January. I wasn’t surprised to see that it was double my normal bill for this period. The problem lies with United Energy, my electricity supplier. Their data is flawed. I’ve known this for some time and have been trying to get the problem fixed. To cut a long story short, they have been adding solar generation to consumption and charging me for it. There is nothing wrong at my end with the new smart meter, it is what they do with the data at their end that is the problem. Because they are sending flawed data to AGL, my energy retailer (who don’t know what day of the week it is, anyway), I’ve been billed according to the flawed data. Luckily I’ve been reading the meter daily since the smart meter was installed and I know exactly how much energy I’ve imported from the grid and how much excess solar energy has been exported to the grid. The bill didn’t show any exports either, so I received no credits. I’ve refused to pay and my account has been put on hold for a month while they sort it out. So hopefully I won’t be disconnected. Not pleased is putting it mildly. Stay tuned for further news. (If it doesn’t get sorted, I’ll be taking my case to the Ombudsman. That’ll fix ’em!!)

Here’s the previous updates:

December 2013
Note: these are daily averages for the month

Power imported from the grid = 5.1 kWh

Import cost @ 25.14 cents per kWh = $1.27

Generated power = 18.6 kWh

Exported power = 16.2 kWh

Credit for exported power @ 8 cents per kWh = $1.30

Generated power actually used in the home = 2.4 kWh

November 2013
Note: these are daily averages for the month

Power imported from the grid = 5.4 kWh

Import cost @ 25.14 cents per kWh = $1.37

Generated power = 18.1 kWh

Exported power = 15.1 kWh

Credit for exported power @ 8 cents per kWh = $1.15

Generated power actually used in the home = 3 kWh

Despite the heat

February 2, 2014

The Satsuma plum produced a huge crop of fruit last year.

They were green… and the birds ignored them.

They started to colour up…and the birds still ignored them.

I picked a few…they still weren’t ripe.

I couldn’t get a net over the whole tree, so wound it through the branches as best as I could, hoping the swathes of white would deter them…and still the birds left them alone.

We were going to be hit with a week of temperatures in the high 30’s and mid 40’s, so I had to pick them all; otherwise they’d cook on the tree:

heat 004

What to do with a bucket and a half of plums! I Googled, ‘plums thermomix’.

Came up with plum chutney and chinese plum sauce.

I made the chutney:


There’s also 2 jars of bread & butter cucumbers and some of the  strawberries that are bearing now. The chutney was very good; I’d recommend it. I gave some plums to a friend and she made the plum sauce, but we both thought the chutney was the best.

So, despite the heat and the frizzled plants, I managed to get something of use from the garden.