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The AikiHomestead

Our Lifestyle Blog as We Create a Homestead in Northern Ontario

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Sweeping the Panels Again



October 20, 2022


A man sweeping solar panels on a cabin roof.A man sweeping solar panels on a cabin roof.I probably could have gotten away without sweeping off this light dusting of snow, but I had everything put together and couldn't resist some free power!
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Switching from AGM to Lithium Batteries



January 31, 2022


Man carrying a box in the snow.Open cardboard boxes.Batteries and cables beside a Chesterfield.Circuit breakers on batteries.Network ports on batteries.Busbar.Man viewed through an attic door.Busbar , batteries and electronics.Networking cables in batteries.Batteries and cables.Cables plugged into the USB ports of a miniPC.Inverter, distribution panel, mini PC, solar controller, bus bar and batteries.Legs hanging down from an open attic door.
A month into 2022 already and I haven't put out a new blog post!

It isn't actually that I'm not working on the blog. I've been working hard at going over all (and I mean ALL) my old posts and trying to update them on the new website. I know it's hard to see the difference, but it does take time and work. I've spent a few days just re-ordering all the posts in chronological order, which I can't believe it never was in the past. Now only the latest post will be in this special "frame" and then it will get moved to the bottom of the page, so readers can have a coherent story.

Feel free to discuss, but that's not the point of this post!

As December deepened, it became clear that either my Trojan AGM batteries were defective, or I had inadvertently abused them, or that they were simply undersized for the sort of loads that we need here. In any case, I was running the generator several hours every morning to get us through until the sun shone on our panels. Even on a morning where the previous day had been full sun and the batteries had spent hours in absorption, they were nearly depleted after an evening with the power turned off.

Bringing Donna up to speed on the situation wasn't difficult, as she was aware of how much the generator was running, and how many nearly weekly trips I was making to fill our gas cans.

After some research on the matter, and emailing back and forth with
Steven Rousseau at Volthium, I went ahead and ordered two of their 25V, 200AH rack mounted batteries.

Steven's support was excellent throughout, and I hope he knows how much I appreciate his patience with me, even as I was becoming more and more needy.

I note that the batteries currently suggest that they would have Bluetooth capability by the end of 2021. I purchased mine in December, but I don't see that they have this ability. Perhaps the current ones do - confirm for yourself if this is a requirement (it wasn't for me).

Instead I noted that they have the ability to communicate via the RS485 standard. This turned out to only be partially true - they certainly didn't communicate with MY RS485 adapter, but purchasing the official one from Volthium worked immediately. I think they prefer one to use the CANBUS, but I already had a small "server" in the attic where I store the batteries, so I didn't want to add another device if I could help it. Especially since Victron units are rather dear.

This little hitch meant it was about a month after ordering the batteries before I actually got the cable shipped (separately) and installed, but in the end it was all fine. I actually went as far as to install a cheap webcam in the attic to monitor the four LEDs on the front of the batteries in the meantime.

Since they've been installed (about three weeks ago) I haven't needed to run the generator at all. Of course, we've had unusual amounts of sunlight, but I'm comfortable running these batteries down to 20% capacity if needed, instead of the 50% that one usually aims for with conventional lead batteries.

Another property of the lithium batteries that I don't see discussed much, but which is to me an amazing advantage, is their short or non existant absorption time. With my regular lead batteries, I was missing out on utilising large amounts of my available solar power on sunny days. As soon as the lead batteries reached the absorption voltage, they immediately began 3 or more hours of constantly reducing amperage. We knew in our household to suddenly start using extra power on cold, sunny afternoons if for no other reason than it was just being "wasted". It's frustrating when you know your batteries won't be there for you the next morning, and yet in full sun in the previous afternoon, they're only allowing in a few amps.

Lithium, on the other hand, just keep sucking down all the power you give them until they are as full as you want them to be (or 100%, whichever comes first). They are more efficient at charging as well.

This property of them not turning down power available is huge for me in winter when short, but intense bursts of power are the rule.

I opted to purchase the busbar as per Steven's recommendation, and that's another win. It is far oversized for my needs, but it certainly makes connections far neater and safer.

That's about it. It's another overcast day here today, and I can log into the batteries and see that they are precisely at 68% - normally I'd be debating if I run the generator now, or wait until the morning to go out and pull the cord in the cold and darkness. Instead, I'm confident that I could go another day or two and even consider running appliances without batting an eye.

I haven't yet put them to the test with an electric kettle or my induction stove, but I can't see a problem doing so. They already power the water pump, washing maching, slow cooker and rice cooker without missing a beat.

I will absolutely keep everyone abreast of these new additions to the homestead - they certainly weren't inexpensive, but if they live up to their hype, I will consider them to be absolutely worth the cost.

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Gartek Studios Releases Their Newest Game! No Anglerfish!



February 8, 2022


Legs hanging down from an open attic door.
As many readers may know, we've always homeschooled Ken. One of his passions is coding his own videogames, something that we've given him lots of encouragement and resources to pursue.

Over the years he and I have collaborated on a few games, and the past three years he has been working on his own exclusively. Covid has given him a chance to really buckle down and create his most ambitious undertaking yet - "No Anglerfish".

There are lots of resources for it on the itchi.io page, so I will simply link to it there and suggest that for anyone interested in Ken, or us, or videogames -
here is the link, give it a go!

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Snowing Inside the Vehicle



February 15, 2022


Legs hanging down from an open attic door.
We've had our share of cold days this winter, and the poor vehicle I've been driving has definitely had the battery put to the test. (which reminds me, now with the new lithium batteries, I'm more confident that I can use a battery warmer - I'm going to go plug it in right now!)

Here's one of the little things you get to put up with in this sort of weather - scraping the INSIDE of your windows and having a mini snow storm occur.

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Improving On Our Drinking Water Filtration



March 9, 2022


Two plastic pails stacked.Plastic bucket with hole in centre of lid.Water bottle with pail lid around the neck.
So as
I outlined before, I've since swapped out our official Berkey for a much simpler system that can process higher volumes of water.

It is/was a good system, but after some thought, I realised that it might be more complicated than it needs to be. I had the lower reservoir perched on a bucket so that I could transfer water into my clear water jugs. This was tall and started to take up valuable window space in the pantry. I then realised that I could cut out the middle man.

The tall reservoir buckets were almost exactly the same height as the water jug! And with a test fit, I have realised that the hole I cut in the lid to allow the nozzle from the ceramic filter to hang through is a perfect fit for the neck of the water jugs!

Everything is coming up Milhouse!

I do have to be careful to only put in as much water as I think the water jug can hold. In the first picture you can see a smaller 3.78 litre jug I use to fill the upper chamber. About two or three of these is usually enough. If not, the water runs over the top of the jug and into the lower bucket. Not normally a problem, except all my lower buckets have holes in them to accommodate taps. Not sure if I'll want to buy a new one, for now I duct taped over the hole to hopefully capture the next overflow (one has occurred already. ಠ_ಠ)

Comments:

Neat. Just stumbled across this blog.
  • Axel (2022-03-20)


Spring Snow Fall



March 9, 2022



Just when we thought we were all done with winter, we had between 20 and 40cm fall earlier in the week. The next day turned nice and sunny, so I set up our Canon on a tripod and between battery changes, managed to capture a big chunk falling off the guest cabin.

Comments:

Great capture! Seems as if it's defying gravity.
  • Anonymous (2022-03-26)


An April Update - MORE SNOW!



April 21, 2022


Two men walking up a muddy and snowy driveway.Cardboard sign closing a driveway.Small cabin covered in snow.Snow piled off a deck and spilling onto the walkway.Snow piled up the the porch roof of a log cabin.My mind finds it hard to process how much snow we've had this season - but it still hasn't released us completely yet. It seems like on clockwork, every Wednesday we get a weather alert and five to twenty more centimetres drops on us. Here's a few pictures of the driveway when we abandoned it, and then again today I went outside to snap a few pictures of the latest snow right after it slid off the roof. It shakes the cabin tremendously like an earthquake when it does come down and is very unnerving.

Looking forward to August when maybe the last of it melts?

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Trying Something Different with the Humanure Hacienda



July 12, 2022


Makeshift fence with cardboard walls and bright orange buckets draped from the corners.Makeshift fence with cardboard walls and bright orange buckets draped from the corners.Makeshift fence with cardboard walls and bright orange buckets draped from the corners.So I'm getting old and cranky and tired of doing stuff over and over again that's not always so pleasant. Fall mucking out of the previous year's humanure is one of those tasks.
I've noticed that over the course of a year or more as it dehydrates though, it shrinks down significantly.
Also, the place where we're dumping it is on the edge of our normal habitable zone, and has room itself for decades and decades and decades of humanure piled under sawdust.
With that in mind, I've decided to try to rethink the hacienda into something that can be left to its own devices over time.
I hammered in several fence posts in a triangular fashion, covered them with a little bit of light netting, and then draped some large pieces of cardboard over that. I figure that the cardboard is pretty environmentally friendly/neutral, and that I could just add on other triangular sections over the decades, forming a hexagon, and then continue on the same way well into my great, great grandchildren's age.
I still need to add more cardboard to enclose the whole area, but for now I can already start dumping into it, and anticipate that it would be many years before it were to be filled. I'll perhaps set up a secondary triangle before year's end as an emergency overflow, but at this rate, it's hardly needed.

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Gardening



August 08, 2022


Young boy spraying water into the air.Backlit spray of water.Raised garden beds showing off growth.This year I have been super hands-off with the garden beds, content to have built them and filled them with soil. Now I'm just sitting back and letting Kenny and Donna exercise their increasingly green thumbs!
Lovely zucchini
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A Dishwasher



September 23, 2022


Tiny dishwasher loaded with dirty dishes.A small tray of dirty dishes.A small countertop dishwasher.
One thing that I've had in the back of my head for our kitchen has always been a compact dishwasher. I don't loathe doing dishes by hand, but over the years, it's gotten less and less romantic as I have taken on more jobs that require my attention.

Another consideration for me has been an increasingly sore back when I am bent over the sink. I *am* working on planks to help with that situation, but it doesn't change the fact that I feel that my time could be better spent at other activities.

One YouTube channel that Kenny and I enjoy is "TechMoan" - we watched their review of the Bob dishwasher and were really impressed - but alas it was only available in select areas and Canada was not one of them.

A month or two ago I finally had had enough and decided to see what WAS available to me. A quick perusal of Amazon brought up the
COSTWAY Portable Countertop Dishwasher (affiliate link).

The draws for me with this particular model was that it did fit our tiny countertop. Also, this one is unique in that it has a water reservoir UNDER the dishwasher. Most of these devices have a port on the top that you pour water into. We have a cupboard there that would make it very difficult to fill in that manner.

It comes with a pitcher for filling, but I already had a 3.8L jug that I use for filling
the new water filtration system. Two jugs perfectly fill the reservoir of this machine.

It has a relatively small capacity, but we're a small family of relatives. I don't mind running it twice a day to get through breakfast/lunch and supper dishes.

Positive spin offs: it has a fan and heater that blows hot air for about three quarters of an hour or until the humidity inside drops below a certain point (I think) so I hang our washed and rinsed "ziplock" style baggies at the outlet to dry quickly.

It also drains the hot, soapy water via a hose into one of our sinks - if we put an oversize bowl or pan under the outlet, it gets pre-soaked or even mostly cleaned with the surplus water!

I would guess that it uses less than half the amount of water we normally use to wash dishes and it can heat the water itself, so no more boiling one or two kettles before I can even start dishes. In winter we might try pre-heating water on the stove, but we need to be careful not to pour boiling water into the machine, as I'm sure that's not within spec.

Possible cons: in winter, it does draw a good amount of power while in operation, so it remains to be seen if the
new batteries are up to the challenge.

Some items are cleaned spotlessly, others, it seems to be baking our iron right into them, so now not just our clothes will have a lovely brown/orange hue!

As with any dishwasher, sometimes items flip over and then are full of water after you think you're done. We keep a rack beside the washer when we empty it to give them a chance to drip dry - just like when we hand wash!

So there you go! Another gadget for the homestead to hopefully make our life a bit easier - so far I am happy with it, but if that changes, I'll come back to comment!

Comments:

In the past week, I decided to experiment with the 35 minute "fast" cycle instead of the default hour. So far it's really successful. It cleans the dishes just as well and uses only about five litres of water. As we get into the dark days of winter, being able to cut power consumption in any manner possible will be big. I also have started removing the dishes as soon as the washing completes, and turning off the dishwasher's heated fan cycle to conserve even more power.

The other handy thing I've done is plug it into a "smart" socket. It has an interior light that is quite bright when the door is left open (as we like to do), and so being able to ask "Hey Google - turn off the dishwasher" without unplugging the machine is really nice.
  • Stephen Garstin (2022-10-07)



First Snowfall of 2022



October 07, 2022


A car windscreen covered in snow with the date Oct. 7 2022 written in finger.This morning when I got out of bed and went on the deck to do my morning constitutional, I noted that the leaves and woodshed looked unusually vibrant. That's when I realised that we finally had some snow that stuck around (last week Kenny and I observed a few flakes in the air on a crisp afternoon).

Queue Donna's traditional snow on the windshield picture!

Comments:

Do you have a gallery of your First Snow pictures? It’s a small but interesting citizen science piece about your local climate trend.
  • HanaSolo (2022-10-16)

This is a very interesting idea. I wonder how I could incorporate it into the blog. It is in the aikihomestead Google Calendar which I use to link to in the past, which included data like when I run the generator and first snowfall and first fire and such. I could add THAT link back into the header or something?
  • Stephen Garstin (2022-10-23)


Last Carrots of the Garden



October 09, 2022


T
Handsome young man holding up a perfect carrot.his is Canadian Thanksgiving weekend here in Thunder Bay. As such, we invited out D!'s parents from the city to enjoy some of the standard fare. Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, etc.

K! and D! worked together hard and made some lovely biscuits both with and without gouda shredded and baked in. I also baked a squash last night that D! mashed and put in the fridge for today.

K! and D! harvested the last three carrots of the garden this morning, and I was honestly shocked at just how great they looked! D! peeled and diced and steamed them, and then around lunch I added the soft carrots to the mushed up squash, poured in some coconut milk, and blended the whole thing together into a lovely puree. I popped it into one of our slow cookers on low, and added squash soup to
Three large, freshly harvested carrots in a bowl.the menu. I had also roasted the seeds last night too, so they made for a fantastic garnish!

All in all, it was awesome having some family visit and be able to share and note all the things we have to be thankful for.

Warmest regards.
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