Going Green On A Budget
Herb’s thoughts and Barbara’s thoughts
As this is clearly a vanity WEB site I shall, without reservation or apology, promote some our own thoughts and opinions on the subject of going green. I shall also start a running commentary on what I have learned as it changes each time I update this site.
We live in Dallas which has consumption as the cornerstone of its mantra. No one even apologizes for driving special “Texas Edition” trucks or SUV’s (sold only in Texas) that consume gas in horribly wasteful amounts. It should therefore come as little surprise that few people in the area seem focused on conservation and to be open about it, I was one of those people. However, between my wife and my daughter I have chosen the path of reformation and now fully embrace the need for recycling, higher gas mileage, home energy production, and growing your own vegetables.
With the exception of me, my whole family were either farmers or florists. Starting with my great grandfather, a florist and farmer, my grandfather (florist and farmer), my father farmer as a young man and florist later in life, my mother (Florist) and finally my sister (florist). I was the misfit who embraced computers and technology and was not interested in growing anything. Therefore, it has been a surprise to everyone that I have started a garden (I knew nothing when I started) and have a plan to expand it.
I modeled our garden after the Victory Gardens of World War II. During those difficult years when our young men were fighting a war we had to feed them. Therefore, the idea of growing vegetables to eat at home was initiated. This left the crops grown on farms to be processed and sent to the army. The program was so successful that over 75% of the vegetables consumed in the America during the war years were grown in Victory gardens. Today, I felt like I should make our contribution to going green by emulating the success of the Victory gardens.
The solar, or alternative energy, project and the garden project started at the same time. My motivation was to learn the technology and to utilize some of my limited experiences to aid that learning curve. It can, therefore, safely be said that my original interest was more in the technology than the results of my endeavor.
I can also confess to suffering the typical desire to start building the system and not doing the math about how much to build. In my case I wanted a small Renewable Energy system but even with a small system, I would have been better off doing more math on the front end and less building.
As the project grew, and I learned more from my research, it was clear to me that my goal of building a cheap solar system that would power our den was not going to be recognized unless I added a wind generator to increase the charging capacity from the solar panels. Then I could likely meet my goal of energy independence.
During my researched on the internet for information on building a solar or wind system I found a variety of opinions. Some I knew to be blatantly incorrect and others that I felt were simply misguided and a precious few that were helpful. The site that started me on the journey was put up by a fellow Ham Radio operator who wanted to build a solar panel and wind turbine that could be used on his undeveloped property in the southwest. His write up was clear and is the foundation for how I have presented my efforts. (I will add a page of links as I finish this site)
As I continued to read about solar and how to utilize it, my interest in the technology alone evolved to a more global perspective that embraced the need for conservation and the development of an energy generating system for individuals. I became convinced that we all must do our part to both conserve and to better utilize what we have. And thus, the solar/wind project was born. The garden was an extension of last years efforts but with a much renewed emphasis on increasing the amount of food we grew and storing it for later consumption.
Solar—the first effort using Renewable Energy -
The goal for the solar system was not an expansive one. I simply wanted to run one room in our home on solar. This has expanded to also running a small air conditioner in our bedroom during the evenings.
The objective was to reduce our energy consumption from the grid and likely lower our electrical bill by about $20.00 per month. While this seems a small amount for all the work and effort, I felt like it was a good first step and would eventually lead to additional savings as I expanded the system and increased capacity. However, I need to emphasize that as a first step, we did an energy audit and this gave us an immediate reduction in our electrical consumption.
To run the den required about a 300 watts of AC power. With this amount of power I could run the TV, the satellite receiver, two laptops and one CF light.
The bedroom air conditioner needed about 500 watts and was to be run by a larger inverter. It is part of the second phase of the project. However, as the larger inverter was on sale, I purchased it first.
My initial research into building a renewable energy system showed that building a solar panel would be quick, inexpensive, relatively easy, and show some immediate results. I felt that I might need a wind turbine to augment the solar but it was not before I got into the project that I really was able to quantify why I needed one. I found I watched the amount of sun we got and monitored how much and how often the wind blew. I also noted that if I finished a solar panel the sun went away for three days. When I was testing the first turbine, no wind for three days ………. As a parenthetical note, I found several people on the internet said the same things.
It was not long before I recognized that we did not have as much clear sunlight as I thought. In the past I did not pay attention to cloudy days but now I did and could see the reduction in output from the solar system. I also watched the wind blowing and could see that even at a modest roof-top height that I could generate power.
At this point I recognized the need for a monitoring system that would allow me to track the output of the system and eventually control it from the internet.
I found a free battery source using discarded batteries (I have about 427 amp-hours of batteries) and I finished my first solar panel. Once the system was installed, it was quickly apparent that I face a number of problems that I had not anticipated; the first was shade from trees, (mine and my neighbors) the second was the amount of DC current I consumed and the third was the amount of DC current I could put back into the system. I clearly had a disconnect with what I consumed and what I could generate from my first panel.
As I began to understand that solar alone was not going to be sufficient, I went on to buy parts for a wind turbine on E-bay. Good idea; not so good results. While the motors I purchased could generate some power, the amount was more like a science project rather then a home generation system (2 to 3 amps at best). This lesson was clear—read what others have done and follow their advice. Do not try to shortcut by using unknown PM motors. Therefore I went on to purchase an Ametek motor and will build the wind turbine with it.
The next error was the failed solar panel. In trying to cut the cost of the system I had created a monster that, in the end, I was partially able to rescue. The wind turbine project, using the PM motor I now have, has turned into a science project and not a serious generator (more on that later). The Ametek motor came from wind stuff now (http://www.windstuffnow.com/main/) and was, in my view, the best deal on the net.
I did purchase a 45 watt panel from Harbor freight (it was on sale) and it has worked well. I also purchased solar modules from Renewable Energy Engineering and they were great. So the idea of building panels was not a total failure; just not as much of a success as I wanted nor as inexpensive as I wanted.
So what did I learn with the solar system?
I learned that I have too much shade to have a fixed mount solar system located on my roof and that I should have done a better evaluation of the location in the beginning of the project. While it is a good location during part of the day, I loose the afternoon sun due to shade from my neighbors tree.
· I also learned that on a dollar per watt basis, building or buying small 35 watt panels is not as cost effective as building or buying larger panels.
I kept track of the power output from the solar system and found that as long as the sun would shine every day, I was just fine with the amount of energy I generated from the solar system and the amount I consumed to run the den. However, if I got one day of clouds, I was then on a steady downhill curve. I could not get back to an equal cycle of generating and consuming. It was clear I needed an alternative charging source and that a wind turbine was the answer.
I also found that using modified sine wave inverters is OK if you do not run things like a microwave, laser printer or other devices that require a real 60 Hz sine wave to operate properly. Later in the project I will add a sine wave inverter to run just the laser printers.
What did I learn from the garden?
· Gardens are a lot of work. Physical stamina is required to turn the earth by hand and then to construct the raised beds takes additional energy. Once the soil is ready, you need to plant and here too this is bending to plant or to transplant. The reward however, is quite satisfying.
· This year I planted a lot of vegetables and so far we have enjoyed about three weeks of strawberries (every morning I pick some to put on our oatmeal), lettuce (lots of salads) spinach ( also used in salads) and raspberries—only a few but they tasted good and finally the herbs. Lots of them and they are all good.
Well the eating sounds good but what to do with the excess? This is the next lesson—prepare for what you do to store the excess from your garden.
· I elected to freeze and dry the excess. The herbs are easily dried using a commercial dehydrator ($10.00 off of www.craigslist.com) - my daughter got hers for $3.00—guess she is better at negotiations then I am. I have dried some of my parsley and made the equivalent of $10.00 worth of store bought parsley in the glass jars. I have also dried some organic onions that turned out very well. With these small success, I will continue to make up jars of dried herbs and vegetables.
· I plan to dry some spinach, more onions, mint, peppermint, chives, basil (several different kinds are in the garden), peppers when they start and dill. These are stored in small “ball caning jars” that were purchased at garage sales for 20 cents each.
· The squash and zucchini will be frozen and stored using vacuum bags. The melons will be frozen as well so that nothing from the garden goes to waste.
There are many factors that have influenced my interest in the environment and going green. I don’t think I ever understood that individuals could make a difference until 1994 when I had a spiritual awakening, thanks to my spiritual mentor and soul sister, Pam Banta, who lives in Woodland Park, Colorado (www.troutcreekhome.com). I was visiting Pam one weekend at her (then) home in Manitou Springs, Colorado, which is nestled in the Rockies, west of Colorado Springs. Pam is an elemental person and has consistently been centered in her relationship to the earth and nature. I came to a better understanding of that elemental force in spending time with her and listening to her talk about the environment from a spiritual perspective. I had been traveling to Colorado for a few years on business and renewed a love affair with the Rockies that I had not experienced since I was a young girl, on vacations to the Durango/Silverton/Telluride area of Colorado. But in Pam’s part of Colorado, I found a place of peace and belonging. That began the journey.
The second factor was my first trip to Hawaii with Pam in 1995. We went for 10 days to a Hawaiian healing spa on Kauai, a place that Pam had visited before and found to be physically and emotionally restorative. Pam and I had just left very stressful, high pressure jobs with a major corporation and were looking for a way to decompress. Those 10 days were life changing for me. Unfortunately, Pam had to come back to the States after 10 days, but I stayed for another 3 weeks at a beautiful bed and breakfast on Anahola Bay. I spent days and hours exploring every part of the island, from the interior rainforest to the “Grand Canyon” of Kauai, to the breathtaking coasts, sailing the blue-green waters on a catamaran and swimming along the shores of some of the most breathtaking beaches I’d ever seen. I had always heard how commercial Hawaii is, but Kauai had a spiritual quality to it I’d never experienced anywhere else to that point. I touched every part of nature, lived totally in the moment, and realized how fragile that environment and ecosystem is. I came back home a month later with a new appreciation of the earth, and our connection to every aspect of nature. It started me thinking about human stewardship with respect to the environment.
The second factor was adopting my first dog in 1996, a 7 week old puppy, AZA (an acronym for “Nubian Prince of Light and Love” from Swahili, Hebrew and Hindu), who is now 12 years old. I had never had a dog of my own, although in my first marriage we did have cats, which are marvelous, mysterious creatures, but very different from dogs. This tiny little being was totally dependent on me and I wanted to learn everything I could to be the best guardian possible for my new companion. We learned together and in that process of learning about dogs and dog behavior, I also became more sensitized to the environment and how connected animals are to nature. I read every book and magazine I could, and when Animal Planet came into being, I became an avid watcher. It also expanded my interest into other areas such as animal rescue, animal overpopulation, puppy mills, and from there into how humans carelessly consume the earth’s resources, pushing species to the brink of extinction. I watched how AZA lived totally in the moment and was in tune with the immediate sights, sounds, and smells of his immediate surroundings. I connected to his experiences and became more conscious of my surroundings.
I read more about environmental issues, became involved with the Sierra Club. I started contributing to green organizations. Pam and I attended a few spiritual workshops, which focused on Spirit and Nature. Keith Varnum (www.thedream.com), our workshop leader, encouraged us to explore nature as a way of getting in touch with our own spirits. One of our most memorable adventures into nature was in Sedona, Arizona where we spent many luscious hours in the canyons, creeks, alone with ourselves or in small groups, sharing our meditations. I realized then, I was part of the whole and while I could not change what others did, I could make a difference in my own sphere of influence.
The fourth factor was a book I read on a flight to Maui, my second trip to Hawaii in 1999. This time I was on my way to a spiritual retreat led by Keith. The book was Diet for a New America, by John Robbins. This is a well-documented expose of America's "factory farms" that caused me to re-evaluate my diet. Asserting that "we are ingesting nightmares for breakfast, lunch and dinner," Robbins, who was medical director of the California Institute for Health and Healing, details how livestock is raised under increasingly industrialized conditions by "agribusiness oligopolies." Grazing and foraging have given way to debeaking, tail-docking, dehorning and castration, and treatment of livestock with pesticides, hormones, growth and appetite stimulants, tranquilizers and antibiotics, which, in turn, are assimilated by humans. Robbins debunks nutritional myths perpetuated by the powerful meat and dairy industries. As a result of this book, I became a vegetarian for 2 years, and gave up pork permanently. When I learned pigs are more intelligent than dogs, and I had my beautiful AZA, I said that was it.
Since that time, I’ve fallen off the wagon, as to being a vegan, but for the most have adhered to just chicken and fish. I became interested in organic produce but didn’t have a lifestyle at the time that supported buying and cooking vegetarian.
As Herb has mentioned, Dallas has not exactly been a bastion of higher consciousness and care about the environment. It is a city and region wedded to wealth, growth (at any cost) and BIG BUSINESS. That’s a whole other article so I won’t belabor it. But there has been a shift here recently, which has allowed us to live more closely to our values. When I met Herb in 2001, I realized he was close to being a Neanderthal when it came to environmental issues. He was not oblivious to nature; in fact as someone who loved the ocean and had lived on a boat for several years, he was very in tune with the wonders of nature. He was just clueless about how his indifference to conservation was part of a bigger whole of environmental decimation because of human apathy and complacency. But his daughter was creating a life in the Northeast based on environmental values similar to my own, with a focus on living simply, creating a lighter environmental footprint, going back to old fashioned, rural values of self-sufficiency and healthy living, including home grown vegetables, fruits, cooking with fresh ingredients, recycling, and making her home environmentally friendly and ecologically sound. Kristie found by eliminating processed foods from her family’s diet, that her young daughters’ allergies have almost entirely disappeared. That was a wake-up call for Herb.
In addition, our good friends, Steve and Susan Heller [www.steveheller.com], who had created a completely self-sufficient environment with their home in east Texas, gave rise to Herb’s interest in finding ways for us to become more self-sufficient. It was self-sufficiency that piqued his interest first, not the going green. Steve and Susan, in preparation for Y2-K, have a home that provides solar energy sufficient to power their entire home, steam engines, propane gas, a huge pond, back up water systems, geothermal heating and cooling….you name it, they have it. Herb, ever the engineer, was fascinated by the technological aspects of their endeavor and wanted to see if he could replicate some of what they’ve done, on a micro-scale; in other words, on a budget.
Herb is always looking for creative, low cost ways to get to an end result, whatever the technology. And so he has thrown himself enthusiastically into creating low-cost solar and wind power in our back yard.
The final catalyst for him was when I developed a rare form of cancer in 2007, a costochondral sarcoma, which is a tumor in the chest wall that was pressing against my heart, liver and lungs. It is so rare, especially the malignant form I developed, that we could only conclude that my immune system was depressed, and all the chemicals, including those in our foods, were taking a toll. The time seem right for us to move toward incorporating organic food and products into our lifestyle.
Herb is extremely intelligent and made a giant leap in his thinking about all things environmental when he realized he might lose me. He is loathe to admit that, but I did notice he paid closer attention to recycling, rather than the rather ambivalent attitude he had before, and it became a crusade for him to research everything he could on organic foods, healthy eating and the impact on our health. He devoted himself to learning as much as he could, and as a result, he has cultivated an abundant organic garden, is expanding his knowledge every day, including the repertoire of vegetable and fruits that he can grow from non-hybrid seeds. We eat almost exclusively organic foods now. He’s almost entirely weaned himself off fried foods, beef, and pork (except for an occasional fall off the wagon), and while he’s never been a fan of brown rice, he’s discovered a new “wonder grain” thanks to me, Quinoa, which he likes. We are eating much less animal protein, moving toward the old Asian ways of 90% grains and fresh vegetables and with organic chicken and wild caught fish as the background, not the main event. I’m increasingly moving back to modified vegetarianism, but getting Herb to embrace tofu may be a challenge.
Some of the ways we’ve become more energy conservative, as Herb mentions in other parts of our website, is to switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, to use electrical switches to power off the microwave and televisions sets and also by reintroducing a window air conditioner into our bedroom so that in the hottest parts of the year in Dallas (May through September), we save energy by turning our central air conditioning system up to 90, closing the bedroom door and relying on our little energy efficient window air conditioner to keep us cool at night. We hope to halve our energy bill this summer. Herb has become my “environmental Nazi”, chiding me when I neglect to turn off the power switch to the microwave, or do not remember to turn off the solar switch to the television. We both are getting better at remembering.
I am most supportive of all his efforts to make us more energy efficient and healthier in our food consumption. And I give him all the credit for turning our urban home into a scientific experiment for rural living, replete with a huge garden, solar power that now runs our television, and wind power (once he finds a bicycle wheel….don’t ask). Herb, as he mentioned grew up as a farm boy in upstate New York. I, on the other hand, am a urban Southern woman, lacking in any skills for self-sufficiency, except cooking and cleaning.
What I provide to Herb is a listening ear on his research and practice into urban farming and creating a green environment. My participation is limited to letting him know when his structures are “not pretty enough” and he needs to bring out the paint or redesign his structures. I applaud his successes and encourage him to re-evaluate his failures.
I make fabulous salads from the produce he grows and we have delicious, low cost meals as a result of his cultivation of the land. I do not till, plant or harvest for the most part. I do “ooh and aah” over the results and frankly there comes a point when the details of his technological efforts cause my eyes to glaze over. He gets excited over the most minute details of his discoveries and his technological projects. I don’t care how anything works, but I am favorably disposed to the end results.
I don’t get as dismayed over his failures as he does, because one of the things I love the most about my darling husband is, he doesn’t take failure lying down. He learns from it and moves on and makes lemonade out of lemons. That’s why I’m looking forward to more than the 3 cherry tomatoes we got last year, and because of his electric fence, the critters may not eat all the tasty stuff he’s growing this year. I fear the bugs got to the brussel sprouts and most of the broccoli, but he’s promised to plant more broccoli.
We are a team in our going green initiatives. He provides the muscle, I provide the inspiration. I’ve become wiser in my second marriage. One must give lots of “atta boys” for the labor and perspiration. It is not difficult, because my husband has a heart of gold, an indomitable spirit, and a complete devotion to my well being. I am his biggest cheerleader and he has done some remarkable things in the process of making us more green.
One of my mantras now is we must be the change we want to see in the world.
Herb & Barbara our interests and family