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.

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.

Solar Thermal Hot Air Boxes Must Have An Airtight Seal On The Outlet Duct!

There are solar thermal hot air boxes (STHABs) videos and write-ups all over youtube (videos) and BuildItSolar.com (pictures& text) that show how to make them yourselves for maybe a couple hundred dollars USD (or even a lot less if you have the right stuff laying around) but I have yet to find one that includes an airtight seal for the inlet/outlet ducts. An airtight duct seal makes the difference between getting free heat in the dead of winter and getting free heat AND unwanted free freezing air conditioning in the dead of winter. The laws of physics are pretty reliable, and they work the same way during a sunny day and a dark freezing night – air temperature is changed by what the exterior environment is doing to the inside of the the solar thermal hot air box. On a sunny day, the sun sends photons through the glazed front of the solar thermal hot air box, which hits something that changes the sunlight into heat, and thereby heats the air being moved through the STHAB (solar thermal hot air box). In the middle of a freezing cold winter night, the ambient temperature will chill the interior of the STHAB and thereby chill any air that passes through it. You would wipe out any benefits from the daytime heating if you don’t have an air-tight seal covering the exit duct during long winter nights. You might not care about that if the STHAB is just being used to provide heat during the day to a place that won’t be negatively impacted by severely cold weather – for instance, if this is attached to an unheated shed/garage with no plumbing or items that will be damaged by freezing temperatures. This also doesn’t apply to STHABs that are entirely inside a conditioned space – in that case, the cold doesn’t get to it, and it doesn’t become a cold generation machine.

The STHAB shown in my picture is a commercially made box, from Northern Comfort / Sunsiaray, but I think the guy who made them retired in 2018?

I also made one myself, which my brother sort of remade, but that is not as good looking, and probably not as productive, though I haven’t been able to test that carefully. I used two old window sashes that I got for free as the front glazing, which has the benefit of being able to easily withstand the heat generated inside the box on a sunny day, though putting a sheet of Lexan over those window sashes would trap more heat inside the box, and thereby make it more productive. If you do a really good job of building one of these boxes and then put an acrylic or polycarbonate sheet on the front of it, instead of a glass sheet (window sashes, screen door, etc), you run the risk of that potentially expensive sheet melting. I was able to measure temperatures of over 200 degrees Fahrenheit coming out of my homemade STHAB on a sunny day when no fan was running, and how long would polycarbonate or acrylic stand up to that?

This is really great and durable technology, and I encourage you to give it a try, but remember to make sure you have an airtight seal on the ducts when the sun is not shining on it!