We purchased a solar hot air system (Solarsheat) from Maine Green Building Supply back in August and got a 25% rebate from the state. I had been doing research on solar since May 2008 and had learned that solar hot air was the best option for my home (location, slope of roof, position of gable end, etc.). I blogged about this back in June.
We bought a Solarsheat 1500GS/G dual panel system back in August. We completed the installation shortly after January 1. We delayed the installation to change windows and siding at the same time.
We've been AMAZED at how well this system works.
It was sunny and cold yesterday, so I decided to document how well it works. Check out the attached photos. I can only post a few, but I can share a bunch more showing details of the expert installation (thank you to Vanier Construction!) and detailed performance.
You can see that yesterday (cold, but bright and sunny) the Solarsheat blew 150° F air into our home and heated the area to 75° F.
Maine is continuing to offer a 25% rebate on the solar hot air panels. I think every home in Maine should get one. When the sun is out, my boiler does not need to heat my house. I am saving oil every sunny day!
I would encourage everyone in Maine to investigate this.
Here are some links:
Performance Building Supply:
Maine Solar Rebates from Efficiency Maine:
Expert installation by Vanier Construction: 885-9389
Originally published on January 25, 2009
I've posted new worm bin instructions.
I have posted new instructions for making a worm bin. Earlier this year, I had an accident when drilling in the side of bins, and I am now recommending you make holes in the top of your bins.
I was drilling holes in the side and the drill slipped off the plastic and hit me in the leg. Fortunately, I was wearing pants and I didn't hurt myself.
This scared me and made me think. Why drill holes in the sides?
The worms don't care where the holes are, and the sides are sloped and flex when you try to drill the holes (both of which make it harder than it needs to be).
Holes in the nice flat top would be so much easier. So I tried it and viola! Works just as well and it is much easier.
My revised worm bin instructions are on the Your Bin page.
Originally published on November 21, 2008
Getting started is a simple process:
The key to getting started and keeping your worm bin trouble free is to follow four simple rules:
1. always bury the food under the worms and the bedding,
2. only feed in corners (alternating every week),
3. keep at least 3 inches of shredded newspaper on top (the newspaper should not be wet, moist like a wrung our sponge is OK. If it is dry, that is OK) and
4. don't over feed them.
Rule 1: burying food prevents fruit flies from finding the food in your bin.
Rule 2: feeding in corners prevents overfeeding because you can observe how much food is left from previous feedings. Corner feeding also allows worms to flee if something is wrong with the food (pH, temperature, etc.).
Rule 3: a nice think layer of bedding keeps your bin from getting too wet and also helps prevent fruit flies.
Rule 4: overfeeding is a source of problems (moisture, smell, fruit flies, etc.). Feeding too little is preferable to feeding too much. Start slowly and ramp up over time.
If you have not already started, I would encourage you to download instructions to build your own bin and get started now.
It is not too late to begin.
Originally published on November 19, 2008
Shredding newspaper has become my second hobby (next to vermicomposting). To provide bedding for my herd, I shred a lot of newspaper.
I like newspaper because it is free and plentiful. The papers come to my home and yesterday's paper is always available.
Office paper works equally well (for an office bin, your shredded office paper would work great). You want long strips, so a standard shredder works (but not a cross-cut shredder). Long, thin strips are better because cross-cut paper tends to mat when wet and you want your bedding to be airy.
Most non-glossy printed material can also be used since most high-quality laser toner and ink-jet inks are non-toxic. If you are going to use a lot of lot of a single source in your worm bin, check with the manufacturer to be certain. The Portland Press Herald uses non-toxic ink.
There is a technique to shred newsprint. I prefer to hold it by the folded edge (1-2 sections at a time) and shred into 1/8-1/4 inch strips. It shreds really easily and it makes a nice swooshing sound. For a long time Bert thought I was sweeping every morning!
Another advantage of newspaper is that shredding it is relaxing. It sounds strange, but I shred A LOT of newspaper, and I have come to enjoy this quotidian task. It is a morning activity I appreciate after I feed my herd. I shred yesterday's paper in the cellar and listen to NPR while I sip my coffee. It is a few minutes of meditation before I start my day.
Originally published on September 27, 2008
In response to Natalie Jeremijenko's charge "...how do we translate the tremendous amount of anxiety and interest in addressing major environmental issues into something concrete that people can do whose effect is measurable and significant?"
I present the following list of things we can do to help the environment:
1. Reduce/reuse/recycle wherever you can: many garden centers will accept plastic pots returned after purchase.
2. Conserve ground water: build a rain garden to reduce runoff, collect rain from gutters for dry days, and water in the morning.
3. Put out native bee boxes: encourage local pollinators. See the Kate's Bee Boxes page.
4. Share your wealth: grow food for neighbors, and encourage them to grow their own and buy locally.
5. Use Best Management Practices & Integrated Pest Management for pesticides and insecticides you may use in your yard. Yes, you'll have to do some research on what you're using, but it will make the application more effective.
6. Grow natives: native plants require less work and are more hardy since they're already adapted.
7. Go renewable: consider renewable resources for mulch, potting mix, etc. What is plentiful in your area and how can it be used?
8. Start a worm bin. If you already have a bin, start a bin for a friend. Worm bins make great gifts!
9. Educate your family, friends, and neighbors: tell them about your successes with the above. You'll be surprised how many will adapt your ideas.
Originally published on September 24, 2008
This time of year, fruit flies can be a real problem in the worm bin (not that they're bad for composting), but they are annoying to have in your home. The good news is you can get rid of them pretty quickly by following these suggestions.
Let's start first with prevention:
Dealing with an infestation **First know that fruit flies have a life cycle and there is an end to the problem.** The quickest way I’ve found to deal with fruit flies is as follows:
If you follow these steps you will be free of fruit flies in a few weeks. The most important things you can do are bury your food and kill/remove the adult fruit flies.
Originally published on September 4, 2008
We netted the blueberry bushes this year as usual, but we had an unusual occurrence. We caught a chipmunk! We net the blueberry bushes every year to improve the number of berries we get. Yes, we leave a few for the birds!
A few weeks ago, I was out walking the yard and garden around 6:30AM. I heard a rustling and discovered a chipmunk badly tangled in the netting. I ran to get my scissors and heavy gloves. I could not cut him out without risking escape while leaving some tangled around his neck (not a good thing!).
So I got a storage bin (intended to become a worm bin) and placed the chipmunk and netting into the bin. Then we all drove to the 24 hour animal clinic in Westbrook. They were willing to remove the netting from the chipmunk for free. Partway through the procedure the desk person came out to tell us that it was going well, but the vet was taking the chipmunk's blood pressure!
They gave him back to us in our storage bin.
Either this same chipmunk was caught twice or two weeks later we caught different chipmunk! This time, we got to him/her before he/she was too badly tangled.
For those of you who are skeptics about neck snares (and I am a recent convert!), I can assure you they work. I am not sure about whether I'll put bird netting on the blueberry bushes next year. If I do, let's hope the chipmunks are smarter!
Originally published on August 30, 2008
For the past several weeks we have been investigating solar options for our home.
We are primarily concerned about the dramatic rise in the cost of heating oil. Heating oil is approximately $2 more per gallon than it was last year at this time. That's nearly double!
We have reviewed and considered solar hot water for water, solar hot water for heating and solar hot air systems. While photovoltaic is interesting, the efficiency of these systems and cost (combined with lack of State rebate money) makes them less relevant to us.
After many hours of research and talking with suppliers and installers, I finally had someone out to evaluate my house. He said that my house is not well sited for solar hot water (roof faces E-W rather than N-S), but well sited for solar hot air. Lots of wall space on gable end that faces south. (Interestingly, I had received a quote for solar hot water from another installer based on some photos of my home and a Mapquest flyover. I wonder what would have happened when the installer came out to do the installation...)
Early on, we decided to get our contractor friend (Randy Vanier from Vanier Construction, Inc.) involved. He gave me a lift home a few weeks ago (flat tire on my bike!) when we were in the discussion phase. I mentioned our latest project, and he expressed interest in solar technology and asked me to share information with him. (I don't think he expected my enthusiasm for research!). He knows far more than I ever will about anything related to construction, renovation, etc. After the success with our porch addition, Bert trusts him implicitly. Not surprisingly, he posed some good questions at the site visit yesterday and discussed other options for future consideration as well (such as ways to move air in the home, ground mounted hot water).
Anyway, we are full steam ahead on the solar hot air project (I think). We are touring a home tomorrow with a solar hot air system (does it really work? what does it sound like? how does it look? etc.). I'm still waiting for another quote. Then we wait for our State rebate reservation number and I need to follow up on a few remaining questions from Randy. The kind people at Main Green Building Supply have been very patient with my many questions.
I will blog more as the project develops.
Originally published June 11, 2008
I am fascinated by making worm compost tea. When we have a rainy stretch, I make it almost every day and sprinkle it all over my yard and garden. I tend to give a little extra to my tomatoes, peppers and blueberries this time of year, hoping for big returns.
I make my tea using the same simple recipe on my website, yet at different times of the year I get very different results. Not just color, but smell. I realize the many variables that could contribute to this-- compost, temperature, the content of my rain water. I often wonder whether different batches are more or less alive and how the nutrients differ among them. If any of you have noted the variability or done any testing, let me know. I am not so much concerned as I am curious.
Also, I'm using a new bubbler this year. I switched to a sandstone bubbler instead of the foam wire. While I don't think I'll ever get the sandstone white again, I am confident the vinegar kills whatever is on it. Unlike the foam bubbler (which I wrapped around my bag) I have to tie it to my compost bag with jute because it floats. In any case, it makes lots of bubbles. The main reasons I switched were the price and concerns over foam rubber and plastic.
Originally published Saturday, June 7, 2008
I learned of this from a web article by Colorado State University Cooperative Extension
(Vermicomposting Horse Manure by A.B. Card, J.V. Anderson and J.G. Davis).
Briefly, the concept is to use red wigglers to turn your horse manure into compost. I thought this would be a great experiment to try at my brother's horse farm. The web article above presents 2 options; we used option 1 in which aged horse manure is placed into a windrow and seeded with red wigglers.
We started on September 10, 2006 with about 5 pounds of red wigglers. As shown in the photo below, this is likely too few worms for the amount of horse manure used, but it is a start. Note that 5 pounds of red wigglers will cost approximately $100.
UPDATE - April, 2007: Steve reported that he has harvested some beautiful black soil for his garden from the windrow. They also see many wild turkeys picking through the windrows could they be eating the worms???
UPDATE - August, 2007: Steve reported that the windrows have been a success. He has been able to manage his manure better with less runoff.
Vermicomposting and beyond! Check out what I've been up to on my blog.