Solar That Survives Hurricanes? An Update.

60 Minutes did a report on how the Bahamas are upgrading their electrical grid to better handle the increasingly violent and increasingly frequent hurricanes hitting their low-lying islands.  I was very concerned about Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands installing solar panels, because of my concern about whether the solar panel installations would survive the brutal hurricanes that roll through that region fairly often.  Well, hurricane Fiona just provided a data point – and the legacy electrical grid failed spectacularly, while the solar installations seem to have weathered the storm fairly well.   I have to admit that I’m a bit surprised.  I’ll wait for more information as the years go by, but this is good news for the hurricane-plagued Caribbean region.  The non-profit organization Casa Pueblo says that their solar PV installation is helping the residents of Puerto Rico today, as usual, even after a hurricane.  Here’s a link to a tiktok video talking about how solar panels are being installed, albeit slowly, in one town in Puerto Rico, and how the businesses who got solar panels installed by a foundation (presumably at no charge to them?  Not sure)   are charging themselves for the energy produced and re-investing that money into the community, to help residents.   That’s good solar news all around!  Solar panels are a superior choice even in regions with frequent severe weather.  🙂

Lock Your Doors. It’s Zucchini Season.

My brother told me years ago that someone told him that people in their small town didn’t lock the doors on their cars except in August. My brother said “why do people lock their car doors in August?” to which the reply was something like “because that’s when the zucchinis are ripe and if your car door is unlocked you might come back to a car full of zucchini”.

I can’t grow useful crops very much or for long, but boy, is it zuchini season in our middle east* raised bed! It was certifiably hotter than hades yesterday so I didn’t go outside, and you see the result above.

I also harvested some stevia, basil and mint to dry for later use. Being able to process fresh-from-the-garden food is critical to making a garden really useful. My garden doesn’t produce on demand – it’s not providing basil in December, for instance – so learning the best way to preserve food such that it provides sustenance when needed is critical. I suck at that too, but hopefully am learning.

Something else I learned is that the person who told me that stevia is hard to grow from seed wasn’t kidding. I saved a bunch of stevia seeds from my plants last year and planted them all this year – which netted me exactly zero stevia plants. I did a germination test beforehand and a fair number of those seeds germinated, but the overall germination rate seemed quite low – maybe 10% – 20% or so? It’s kind of hard to tell the seeds from the other fluff that grew around them, so maybe some of those specks weren’t actually seeds, meaning that the actual germination rate was higher? I’ll try again next year, focusing more on keeping the seeds in damp conditions until well after germination.

So if no stevia seeds germinated, how was I able to harvest some stevia for the picture above, you ask. I hedged my bets – I bought a couple stevia seedlings and planted those in a container, where they are doing just fine. It’s always a good thing to have a backup.

*We have 6 raised beds and we refer to them as either east or west, and top, middle or bottom, hence one bed is the middle east one.

Did I Do All This Work Just To Be Murdered By Vinegar?

I have been hearing so much from the interwebs about the benefits of fermented foods that I decided to buy some equipment (spending money is always the first step, right??) and give it a try. I bought a Mason Jar Fermentation kit like this (I don’t have any affiliate relationship with anybody, so wouldn’t make money from somebody clicking on that link) and put the parts I cut off of a pineapple – peels, mostly – into these jars and waited. I probably waited months (kind of forgot about them in the dark cabinet where I had parked these jars) and now I’m afraid to actually consume them. How do I know this stuff is safe to eat?

Stacy says it’s probably ok, as does Sandor, but I didn’t follow directions carefully. I let this ferment much longer than any recipe suggests. Based on their descriptions of kahm yeast, I think that’s what’s growing on these jars of fermented pineapple scraps. But there’s an old saying related to food in a questionable state : “when in doubt, throw it out”. I just let this stuff sit too long in an unrefrigerated cabinet so I’m tossing this batch, and will try again with the next pineapple, hopefully following directions a little better.

I think people share as well as they can in youtube videos to help others in learning new skills, but often there are a lot of questions left unanswered, and people like me, just picking stuff up on the internet, need to proceed with caution.

A Gas Station Involuntarily Saved My Electric Vehicle!

This story starts, as so many like it have, with good intentions and high hopes. I picked up my brother on a sunny January day in St. Louis, and he gleefully stated that “it has to be 50 degrees out here!”, which it wasn’t quite that warm, but warmer than the usual January day in St. Louis. We drove southwest on highway 44 out of a bright sunny Saint Louis in our 2016 Nissan Leaf and stopped at the newly installed Chargepointe superchargers in Eureka, Mo. My brother was anxious to get to the office where he needed to sign some paperwork, so when the chargers wouldn’t charge the car, and the customer service person was amazingly slow and unhelpful, wasting 10 minutes of our time, we just drove on without charging, knowing that we had other options after the paperwork was signed in Union, MO. Finished the paperwork, looked at my charging options, and drove about 10 miles north to Washington, MO where a car dealership has 2 Level 2 chargers. Just to be safe, b/c I was down to about 22 miles, I called the dealership and was assured that yes, they had 2 chargers and they were fine. Drove up there, the first charger we tried wasn’t even hooked up to a live electrical line – there’s a button on the front of the Level 2 charger that is lit up green when it’s getting electric, and it was not lit. Nobody in the building could help – one guy said that a lot of construction was going on and that the line was probably down b/c of that. So we drove across the dealers lot to their other Level 2 charger – which also wasn’t live. And where the staff was also uninterested, ignorant, and refused to help. So, I’m at about 16 miles of range on the guess-o-meter (display on the dash that tells me how far I can drive on the charge in the car’s batteries) and have ZERO other charging options in range. I had a couple of choices – look for an unguarded 120 volt plug on the side of some building, call AAA to get towed to a supercharger, or check into a hotel which would allow me to plug in overnight, which would mean spending the night. My brother, who is a talented mechanic, hopped out of the car and tried to plug the Level 1 charge cable into plugs on the wall of a retail establishment and then some other commercial establishment, but both times he couldn’t get the plug to properly seat in the receptacle b/c of the shape of the plug head, so we drove on, searching in the darkening cold, for a plug that we could use just to pick up some driving range; so we could get to a supercharger that would allow us to get home. We were losing range at an alarming rate – 2 miles of range were lost in driving around looking for a plug. We drove by a gas station and my brother saw an ice machine sitting on the side of the parking lot, alone and unloved, plugged into a receptable just above ground level – he tried the plug and it worked!! Hallelujah – salvation! I felt a little guilty for unplugging that ice storage machine, but I justified that by noting that it was below freezing outside at that point, and the ice in that machine wasn’t in much danger. And besides, what’s less popular than an ice machine on a cold night in January in Washington, MO?

We ended up sitting there for 3 hours to amass enough charge to make a run for the supercharger in Eureka, about 23 miles southeast of where we were sitting. Fortunately, my brother was in a great mood, because he had just closed an important deal, so he didn’t attempt to choke the stupid out of me for taking this car on this trip, instead of our 2013 Chevy Volt, which would have run it’s gas backup system when it ran out of charge and which would have required zero recharging on this trip. And during our 3 hour stay at this lovely gas station, my brother got bored enough to read the user’s manual for the car, and we figured out why the supercharger in Eureka hadn’t worked for us – most likely because I had the car turned on while we were trying to start the charging process. Apparently, our car needs to be turned off to start the charging session – after the supercharging session starts, you can turn the car on, run the heating, radio and seat heaters, etc, but the supercharging station (a.k.a. DC Quick Charger) expects the car to be turned off to start the charging session. If we hadn’t been running late and fearful that the office we needed to get to would be closed by the time we got there, if we had gotten a quick and competent ChargePointe customer service rep, if maybe I had bothered to read my car’s user manual, none of this would have happened. Just a series of unfortunate incidents.

We made it back to the supercharger in Eureka, which started charging as soon as we plugged in with the car turned off, picked up 80+ miles of range quickly at a cost of $4.18, all the while running the heating and my seat heater. Getting that charge revived our good spirits, and we got home with no more drama!

I Lost Almost My Entire Annual Stevia Crop Over One Mistake!

Talk about heart-breaking! 2021 was the first year that I grew Stevia, and I was really looking forward to being able to provide this to my husband, since he uses a lot of stevia for tea! But alas, my stevia-dreams died due to a weird mistake.

During Thanksgiving dinner my sister knocked a small, thin-walled glass pumpkin ornament to the floor, where it shattered. The mess was swept up and thrown away. Long story you don’t care about, but most of my stevia crop – the leaves from our several plants – ended up being swept up off of the floor about a week later, using the same broom and dustpan. Not by me, of course. After drying the leaves completely, I started to grind the leaves up into a powder, and noticed some tiny glass shards in the mix!! It was a couple tiny pieces of that shattered glass pumpkin, which got into the stevia leaves somehow during that sweeping up process. It’s just not safe to keep any of that stevia, since I can’t tell if there’s any glass still in there.

There’s no moral to this story, just sharing a bad mistake. Though maybe if I had included a certain someone much more in the progress of this plant, they might not have swept this stuff up with a contaminated broom & dust pan?

Fresh Tomatoes In December in Missouri, Locally Grown And Organic!

Full disclosure – I suck as a farmer.

One of my goals these days is create more fresh food during the winter, which is not easy or common here in Missouri. Really knowledgeable farmers have been doing this for a long time, but one thing you learn quickly is that the weather is unpredictable, and you can lose a whole lot of plants that you put a lot of time and effort into with just one hard freeze. It happened to me about 2 weeks ago. I thought I had more time to get these tomato plants (being grown in containers) inside and onto the sun porch, but mother nature had other ideas. So, in the picture above on the right, you will see a very dead tomato plant which still has ripening tomatoes on it. My poor husband dragged this container in because I had hoped that the plant wasn’t ALL the way dead, but alas, it is deader than a doornail. The tomatoes on the plant were completely green when the plants were hauled inside a couple weeks ago, but have been basically hanging in the sun since then, and have ripened. SO, first batch of December tomatoes.

In the picture on the left (above) are a bunch of tomatoes which were completely green and had been on the plant for two nights of hard freezing temperatures in the garden. I hauled them inside, set them on a south-facing sunny window sill and they ripened up also. They’re Cherokee Purple tomatoes, which produced surprisingly well for us. This is the first time I’ve grown them, and I intend to keep growing them, if I’m able to harvest and correctly save their seed.

Stay tuned for more winter gardening adventures!

Butter Turkeys For Thanksgiving!

I like to entertain almost as much as I liked to be entertained, and I like to do something different on the holidays – something to make the event more memorable. Something simple and cheap to do is to make butter turkeys. We had a really great set of turkey molds a decade or so ago, until somebody (not naming names but it wasn’t me) put them into the dishwasher, which ruined them. I ended up in a candy-making-supplies store a couple years ago buying these small molds, usually used for making candy, and have been using them since then. And if the butter molded into turkeys don’t all get used – no problem, just smush (is that a word??) into a container and use as needed – butter don’t care what it’s shape is. 🙂

Mint Orange Tea, Made From Scratch, Doesn’t Taste Or Smell Like Either Mint Or Orange. :(

Granted, I spend WAY too much time on youtube, but after watching some videos praising homemade teas, specifically orange tea and mint tea, I decided to give it a go for myself. Doesn’t mint orange tea sound delightful?? It did to me. We raise plenty of organic mint in our garden, and we buy organic oranges (when we can find them!), so I grated the zest of a bunch of organic oranges, picked a bunch of mint, and dried it all. Made tea in the usual way, by putting a couple teaspoons of zest and dried mint in a tea strainer, made tea with great anticipation, and was mightily disappointed. I won’t drag you through my various experiments, but eventually even the large amounts of mint and orange zest shown in the pictures above didn’t make the tea as aromatic as initially hoped. I’m just guessing, but they probably do provide some health benefits when brewed? I can’t prove that, of course. I’m going to keep adding mint and orange zest to my tea along with some black tea, heavy cream and homegrown stevia, in the hope of deriving some health benefit.

Sharing Solar-generated Electricity in Bangladesh – Could This Be Useful In The U.S.?

I saw a pretty interesting youtube video about a system (hardware and software) being sold in Bangladesh which links multiple solar PV systems together to form a mini-grid for off-grid people. And here’s a link to an article that explains the details of SolShare’s system. According to the youtube video almost 20 million in Bangladesh use solar power now, and Bangladesh has one of the largest number of solar PV systems in the world; I haven’t verified if that’s actually true or not, so don’t quote me. A company named SolShare has developed a piece of hardware and associated software to allow customers to form Peer-to-peer microgrid systems. One of the crucial services provided by SolShare’s system is the ability of people who are sharing electricity with their neighbors to be able to accurately charge their neighbors for electricity that leaves the solar PV owner’s system. It seems like a great idea, and theoretically should work well in Bangladesh – but is there any instance where this would work well in the United States? For this to work, you’d have to have a lot of people who are off-grid living quite close to other people living off-grid. I don’t think that’s common now, but maybe eco-villages might have an interest in this type of technology? Peer-to-peer sharing of energy between households is pretty far off in the United States, but this is an interesting concept.

Sweet Potato Sprouting : Do You Have To Put The Fat end Down? Maybe Not.

I watched a number of videos on how to grow sweet potatoes (Click this , for instance) and heard that you had to put the sweet potato fat end down in the water, so I decided to test this suggestion, and it looks like it might not be true. I selected two seemingly-similar sweet potatoes and put them both in jars with water covering the bottom 2 inches or so (fat end down) of the sweet potatoes, then set them on a sunny windowsill in late January of 2021. One sweet potato failed to grow any ‘slips’ (new vines) so I thought maybe it was a dud and almost composted it. Instead, I cut the dud spud in half and put both the fat end and the narrow end in their own jars, cut side down. It took weeks longer, but the cut potato parts ended up sprouting vigorously also, just like the whole potato with the fat end down. Being in zone 6B, I had plenty of time to wait (since I started this in January), so the fact that the cut potatoes took longer to create slips wasn’t a problem. It’s April 22 now and I have lots of slips, which will probably be getting planted in a couple weeks. It’s really hard to wait until Mother’s day to plant these summer crops! Some of my leftover winter crops, like kale and swiss chard, are still doing well.

I can’t conclude too much from this experiment, but it looks like a few more slips were generated from cutting the sweet potato in half and putting the halves into water than just setting the whole sweet potato in a jar of water. Both ways seem to have worked, in that slips were produced via both methods. You Choose!