We Will Grow On You!

Alberta Aquaponics - We Will Grow On You!

Finding the Spotlight

As every real estate person will say, its all about Location, Location, Location!

Solar is very much attuned to this.

Home builders and city design developers are only now starting to consider the average home as being a net zero structures. As a result, is likely that your home, as with most buildings in the city, is not constructed to take advantage of solar the way you might hope.

Few buildings are oriented to full south exposure let alone have the desired roof pitch for taking advantage of the perfect sun angle. This does not mean that solar is out of the question, it simply means that you have to make some choices and go with what is optimal for your situation.

It should be pointed out there are companies that you can hire who will do a full assessment of your property, take sun measurements, calculate angles, calculate solar panel layout  and estimate the electrical output. For some this may be a good choice prior to making the investment in gear and going it alone.

For us, the choice was pretty simple for the base of where we needed to install, so we opted to go it alone for the most part.

A direct facing south roof is not something we had and therefore had to attempt to find the best option available.

Our house is facing South East and has (at the moment) two very large pine trees blocking and shadowing the roof making that side of the house a poor choice.

The other side of the roof, although getting a good level of sun during the later afternoon and evening, has a lot of protrusions for ventilation, sewer and furnace venting making it a poor choice for the solar panels to be installed on.

This made us look toward our garage as the next option.

The garage has one side of the roof directed North East and the other side pointed South West.  We have a standard 12:3 pitch on the garage roof which is also not optimal.(It should be noted here that local legislation also restricts the distance of the solar panel mountings from the roof and the use of adjustable solar panel structures on roof tops making the likelihood of being optimal less likely for most builds.)

The side of the roof with the most available sunlight during the day is on the South West face with mid-day and afternoon sun exposure.

The North East face gets a lot of sun first thing in the morning. Although off axis for the majority of the day, still has sunlight exposure throughout the day.

Our garage roof was too small for the full 5 kW of solar we chose to install on the South West face alone, which is where we would get the majority of our sunlight, so we opted to put 3.5 kW of solar on the South West face and 1.5 kW of panels on the East face. This layout gives us a capture of the morning sun on the 1.5 kW side and then is still lit to some capacity in the afternoon and evening when we will be capturing the majority of our sunlight on the 3.5 kW west side.

Arrays on the garage

Arrays on the garage

We are well aware that because of this not being optimal, we will never get the full potential of the 5kW of solar that we have installed. We are ok with this because of the pre-planning we did based on our electrical usage and estimations on productivity.

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All of this goes to show you do not have to be in a perfect situation for this to work or to make a difference in your power creation.

Greenhouse Rebuild

Alberta Aquaponics needs a new Greenhouse!

Donna and I have been struggling with the greenhouse this year. We have problems with our grow bed tables starting to warp from the weight and humidity, Issues with the plastic poly around the greenhouse, limitations on our growing area and being able to access produce and problems with heating and cooling the greenhouse year round.

We would like to change things up.

Currently we have a used single car garage frame that we have used for our greenhouse. Its dimensions are 21′ x 11′ by 9′ tall. Surrounding our greenhouse, we are using nothing more than 7mil poly and bubble wrap for the winter months and just the 7 mil poly in the summer.

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Greenhouse When it was first built

Although we have been able to grow through out the winter in our greenhouse, it has been at a cost due to the inefficiencies the greenhouse has. The solar concentrators have helped, but also need to be updated and made better to resolve the issues of the heating without the breakdowns that we have had from the solar tracker losing the sun from time to time.

The in floor heating from the solar concentrators is limited and needs to be extended under the grow beds, and more room in the greenhouse is required for both the water battery for radiant heat and the rabbits for over wintering. We would also like to move the worm farm inside the greenhouse to act as another heat source.

This summer we were hit with a hail storm that devastated our plant production due to the need of us having to remove the end walls of the greenhouse to allow for air flow. The hail came in both sides of the greenhouse and ripped the plants apart. The cold water was then collected in the grow bed and funneled into the fish tanks where we ended up with some pretty harsh losses.

The tables and grow bed supports we have in play are also in need of some much needed repairs. The tables, although reinforced and made as heavy as we could make them with wood, are starting to warp from the humidity and weight on them and are also in need to replacement.

Grow Bed Table

Grow bed table needs to be replaced

We also need to re-insulate and cover the greenhouse this fall. The hail managed to put some divots into the greenhouse and caused a couple of small punctures that need to be resolved before winter comes. (We have them covered with duct tape at the moment to get us through until replacement.)

As you can see, this is turning into a laundry list of problems that we would like to see resolved.

We have been thinking about the issues for the last few weeks and have come up with a plan.

We would like to rebuild and expand the greenhouse to be 24′ long, 16′ wide and 8′ tall. We believe that this will increase our growing capacity by 60%, make the greenhouse more efficient for temperature control, offer up a better education and training facility and be a safer long term structure over all.

Lets start at the bottom and work up.

We would like to put in a better layout of the in floor heating for the solar concentrators, making sure that they go to the outside edges of the greenhouse. This will better stave off the cold int eh winter and make growing a lot easier with fewer losses.

Once the in floor heating is installed we would like to put sidewalk blocks over the entire floor of the greenhouse to level it off and stop the trip hazards that we have in there now. This would also act as our base for the new building structure.

We would like to do the main walls of the rebuild using pallet racking.

Pallet Racking

Our Proposed Construction Material

The pallet racking would provide a very stable, safe and secure structure frame. The grow beds would be able to sit directly on the shelves that are structurally made to hold them and sized for an IBC tote. The room for extra shelving would allow for more grow space, storage and potential passive heating systems to be incorporated.

Attached to the pallet racking on the outside, we would like to build super insulated panels from the ground level to the 4′ mark all around the greenhouse. The insulated panels would help in both maintaining the heat and cooling within the greenhouse as well as protecting the greenhouse long term from the elements.

Super Insulated Panel

Super Insulated Panel

On the upper sides and roof of the greenhouse we would like to install multi walled poly-carbonate panels so that we have a better insulation value for the winter and the ability to create automated venting windows for the summer months.

Polycarbonate Panel

Polycarbonate Panel

Going along with the build, we would also like to incorporate a few more items for the education side.

Along with the ebb flow growbeds and dutch buckets that we already run, we are planning to add in a deep water culture system, wicking aquaponic beds and create a spring starter area for starter plants.

We would also like to get a better water capture system in play for collecting the water from the greenhouse, and putting it in play for both the tank top ups and water batteries.

All of this plan sounds simple enough until we get into the costs of implementation. Materials on this project are over $10,000.00.

Our solar install this year has left us tapped for extra finances to make everything happen on our own. Although we have a small budget to do some of the work, we are unable to make a real change that would help long term on our own.

This is where we would like to ask for your help!

We are looking for donations to the project.

We have set a goal of $5,000.00 for the new greenhouse build to get all the materials so that we can begin construction before winter hits. We are trying to make this easy for people to donate. Simply click on the donation button at the right side of the Alberta Aquaponics website, put in the amount you want to contribute!

To quote a show I often quote, “winter is coming”.

I know, we are being hopeful, in trying to make this happen fast, but we need to get the rebuild in play or start doing band-aid fixes to get us through the winter months. We would prefer to do it right the first time and have a long term solution and investment.

We do not expect people to donate without getting anything back, so if we are successful in achieving our goal, we are going to give the folks that donate $25.00 or more an invite for a tour of the new greenhouse, a bunny BBQ and an afternoon of mingling with other supporters for spring of 2016! We will also create a Donators Webpage celebrating everyone who donated and help Alberta Aquaponics and the greenhouse build!

Please help us make the greenhouse a better facility and help Alberta Aquaponics grow by supporting and donating to our cause!

Thank you for being a part of our community and for thinking about helping us go farther!

Face to Face Meetup This Sunday!

Just a reminder of the Alberta Aquaponics Face to Face Meetup this Sunday!

Meeting Alert!

Meeting Alert!

Come meet up with folks doing aquaponics to talk shop, ask questions and give information! A great time to be had by all!

Follow this link for the location, map and other info:
http://www.albertaaquaponics.ca/events/alberta-aquaponics-face-to-face-meetup-13/

Photo Voltaic Solar Power How To. Planning

I am happy to say that our solar install is now up and running. As of August 10, 2015 at 10:10 am, our 5 Kw of solar started producing power.

In celebration, I thought that putting out the beginnings of the solar posts would be a good idea.

As I have only ever set up solar in our location in Calgary, most of the information I am going to give out is directed to people in the Calgary area, but I hope that at least some of the information is of use to everyone everywhere.

For everyone, I strongly suggest that you check your local bylaws and contact your municipality and electrical distributors to ensure that the information is current and applies to you in your area.

Always follow the laws and be 100%safe when working with the installation and operation of your solar install. Going renegade could void your insurance, harm people and more.

Lastly, I am not a professional solar installer or product dealer. I am basing this off of my experiences as a consumer and DIY’er and information I have gathered, as such, you should expect that there will be some personally skewed interpretations based off of our journey. I will however attempt to minimize that as much as possible.

Photo Voltaic Solar Power How To. Planning

Most people think that doing solar is as simple as getting solar panels and putting them on a roof, this however, is far from the case.

There are many steps in getting into solar, and as silly as it seems, getting the panels (or any gear for that matter) is a long way down the path.

Location, location, location:

Many municipalities have strict rules governing where solar panels can be installed. Issues with grid use, infrastructure, glare, community and community association bylaws and city land usage bylaws are just a few of the potential issues you may run into when attempting to install solar.

There are many places in the city of Calgary where you cannot have a P.V. installation at all. One of many of these locations is around Chinook Mall due to the power consumption of the mall and area.

A check with 311 will put you in contact with the city Planning and Development group that will give you a rough layout of where you can and cannot have solar. Ask questions and be thorough. Ensure you get e-mails to fall back on and know who you talked to.

My first experience in this was to call 311 and ask if there were permits needed. The operator that I talked to said they didn’t think there was, and only after I pushed the issue did they find out how much was needed for locations, permits and paperwork from the correct office.

Do the homework and dig deep!

This should be the first step before anything. Going head long into the project and purchasing panels only to find out later that you can’t use them would be more than heartbreaking.

Once you have determined if you can have a photo voltaic power system in your area, you are ready to move on to the planning phase.

The planning phase is what a lot of folks seem to just rush by. People usually just ask how much power are you making, how much does it cost and they think that is all there is for figuring out what they need or start calculating the total roof space they have and want to know how many panels they can install on it.

First, there are some pitfalls that you need to know about.

You are limited in the amount of power you can generate to some capacity. The power company does not have to pay you for the power you send to grid for others to use as you would likely expect. Above this, the expectation of the power company is that you will not produce more electricity than you will use.

This means that you may be restricted in the number of panels you have, the power you create and that wishful payback of the P.V. system being made by supplying electricity to your neighbors; all huge factors in the scale and effectiveness of the system and things that need to be planned out.

To start your planning phase, you need to do some hard work.

There are companies out there that will assist you in all of this if you decide you want to pay for the service. Many of the solar installers out there actually prefer to be involved in every level of the P.V. install including the planning phase (read this is a pay for service) and will dissuade you from doing this alone.

There are some complexities involved and you do need to understand some basics like how power is measured, how you are being billed and the correlation between the two, but for the most part this is just straight up paper work and something I believe most people can do themselves.

With that said, using a service or going it alone is totally up to you.

Start by having a look at your electrical bills.

By going through your bills, you can look at the amount of electricity you are using.  This is going to give you a picture of what your electrical usage is, how much money you are spending, and allow you to set goals for your P.V. system and even your projected usage.

Go back as far as you can with your bill investigation. Take note of seasonal changes and additions to your electrical use with items you purchased.

Also take note of the cost of your electrical in cycles. Note when power increases have happened and the changes and cost per month. This can assist you in deciding on the long term investment you are willing to make hedging on the chances of price changes in the future.

At the end, this is going to be a very different picture for everyone which is why it is so hard to give anyone an estimate on what they need or what they should purchase.

Now that you have scared yourself with the level of electrical you are using (and it should scare you), it is a very good idea to start going through your house looking for the electrical thieves in the system. The more things you can take out of the electrical use equation the better, and there are many items that are gobbling up power that are costing you a lot of money over time.

This is where you get to turn into the stereotypical cranky parent yelling about turning off electrical appliances, lights and closing the door.
What you will quickly start to discover is that everything is interconnected. The efficiency of the solar array is directly tied to how efficient your house is as a whole.

The big ticket items you will be looking at are things like heating, cooling and lighting.

Heating and cooling (HVAC) can add up to a 40% or more of your electrical bill. Simple things like putting in a programmable thermostat and ensuring proper seals around doors and windows can have a very large cost savings impact on your electrical use. Small investments on making your house more efficient for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer can help you recoup your investment in solar.

Refrigeration and freezers are another big ticket item that can have a huge impact on your electrical bill.

Lighting is another item that can get up there fast. Changing out inefficient lights for lower power usage LED lighting, setting up timers and make sure that lights are not on when not needed can make huge differences.

The lights don’t stop there however.

There are a lot of devices in your home that are thieves of the system.

Items that use power just because they are plugged in can have a big drain on your electrical. Everything with a clock, lights and background functions when powered off are using electricity. The crazy part is that there are many in most homes that people never think of, so they add up quickly.

Attempt to find these items and remove them from the power system by unplugging them or if possible, removing them completely from the home.

Downsizing and minimizing is the best method of conservation long term.

Now have a look at the power usage on each device that you have left over.

All electrical devices have a power usage sticker on them telling you how much power they consume. For a number of these devices, you will be shocked at how inefficient many of them are. If you have duplicate items in your home like TV’s etc., compare them out and see which items are giving you the best power usage, then make decisions based on that power usage for use of the item.

Small changes in your lifestyle can again have a huge impact over time without taking away quality of life.

This is also a great thing to look at as a consumer when you are purchasing new items for your home. Look at the power consumption and figure out how that relates in price over time when doing a purchase. This can save you a lot of hidden cost that is not on the sales price of the item.

Keep in mind that “Energy Efficient” and “Green Compliant” advertising is somewhat subjective and is in many ways just marketing. Check and compare to know what you are actually getting.

Now that you have everything unplugged and minimized, go through a couple of power and billing cycles and see what the usage is. This will give you a much better idea of what your real power usage is and how much power you need and want to produce.

I never said this was going to be a fast process, so don’t be afraid to tweak things and take the time. The more prepared you are going in the better the system you will have on the other side and happier you will be.

It is also a good idea to revisit this every 3 months to see what items have weaseled into the electrical system and if seasonal requirements are different.

Remember, this is planning, and it is your personal plan.

You are allowed to decide what it is you want to use, how you want to use it and how you are going to power it and the only person you are trying to impress is yourself.

At the end of this process you should have a handle on your electrical requirements and have a base number of how much electricity you would like to create or off set.

In the next step we will look at location and seeing how possible it is to achieve those goals.

Solar – The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

I have been getting a lot of questions about doing solar over the last while, so I thought I should do up an update.

The solar project is coming along, but has been a little more work than I had initially anticipated and has taken a lot longer than I had expected and hoped for.

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We are in the process of getting our final ground wire connected from all our gear on the roof of the garage to the main electrical panel in the house.

We have had a bit of a delay as our latest Master Electrician was off getting married and then we were hit with some rather inclement weather that has put a damper (literally) on things.

With luck we will have our electrical inspection for early next week and be able to put the whole thing live.

The solar project was an install of 5 kW of solar installed on the garage, which sounds simple enough, but there are some pit falls along the way that complicated things in our situation and as a result have taken a lot more time to implement than we expected.

This however is all good. I got to learn a lot in the process and we are getting to the power creating end.

I am going to put out some posts on the solar install over the next few weeks, breaking down the different steps and going over some of the things to think about when doing solar. With luck it will help those interested in getting an array installed and make the path a little easier.

I will start dropping out the posts starting next week in bite size segments.

 

 

Hail Storm And After Math

Last night we got hit with a pretty nasty hail storm. It started around 5:30 with hail that went until 6:30 and continued to pound rain until around 8:00 before calming down for the night.

I snapped a couple of pictures and did some video of the storm.

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The hail knocked out our community grow beds and shredded all the plants.
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The hail managed to strip the leaves off the apple tree with such force that they are actually stuck 6 feet up the side of the house, 10 feet from the apple tree.

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Today we still have piles of hail all over the yard.

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The greenhouse got hit as well finishing off the cucumbers and peppers that had already been hit by a power outage that starved our plants of water and made them wilt.

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The melting hail also brought the temperatures in our tanks down in a dramatic fashion. As a result we lost another 12 fish.

I have yet to get on the garage roof to see the solar panels. It is still too wet for me to go up safely, so I will wait and cross my fingers that they all survived the onslaught.

This will end up definitely being well less than what we get out of our back yard as a norm for a summer.

As bad as all of this is, it could have been a lot worse. The house didn’t flood, we are all still safe and healthy and we can rebuild.

 

Solar Oven Debut And Solar Burner Update.

As an add on to our last post on the solar burner, we have received our SunOK Solar Oven.

SunOK Solar Oven

SunOK Solar Oven

“Whats with all the Solar stuff?” you may ask.

Simply we are looking at making our switch to solar energy more effective.

Part of the issue with going solar is that no matter how much you create, there is a cost to the creation of it and for this energy, the payback can be counted in years.

Minimizing the electrical usage and footprint is all part and parcel of the solar install which gives you a faster return on your electrical investment.

Lets break this down a little.

There are many things that just use electricity by being plugged in, even when not in use. Items with clocks and LED lights for example are constantly drawing and using electricity. These are the thieves of the electrical system. They usually go unnoticed or thought to draw so little power that they are accepted. The reality of these devices are they add up fast in electrical use and can end up costing you a lot of money over the course of a year if you pay for power and can make your investment of solar a lot longer to break even.

As part of the standard solar install, it is strongly suggested that you go through your home and start whittling down the electrical thieves that you don’t need. Unplugging unused TV’s, alarm clocks in spare rooms, electrical devices that you rarely use and calculating where your electrical use is wanted and needed are all part of this process.

The concept of take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves comes to reality here.

After looking and resolving many of the small electrical use issues we found in our house, we looked at big ticket items that we use every day.

One of the items that shocked us was that of the oven in the house. We were amazed at the amount of electricity it uses and how that heating effects everything else in the house.

Cooking alone can run you 4 – 10% of a households power usage.

Household heating and cooling can rack up over 40% of your electrical use, and compensation for cooking in the summer can increase that many more percentage points.

We looked at options out there and did some investigation work. The solar oven and Burner were our solution to the problems in cutting down on some of our electrical usage.

The solar burner works like the burner on a stove. It provides high heat to a given location allowing for frying, searing, boiling and reheating in the exact same method you would use your stove.

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Dinner, Solar Lamb Curry
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The solar burner heats up incredibly fast. There is no preheating to it. As soon as you put the pan in the focal point there is instant heat.

The Solar Oven takes the place of a traditional oven giving you the ability to bake.

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Solar Oven Blackberry, blueberry, rhubarb crumble.
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We had a number of questions off of Facebook and one of the Solar Cooking groups we are involved with and did a fast video to explain some of how the unit works.

Combined, you have the perfect outdoor kitchen system that requires no other power supply than the sun.

These systems are also portable, meaning you can take them camping or on a day trip to make meals. Over that, with the number of fire bans we have had this year, this is the perfect method of cooking and adhering to the laws. There is nothing combustible about the solar cookers and they require no costly or weighty fuels.

We have been using the solar oven and the solar burner exclusively since we got them in place of our oven. It is amazing how well they work and how awesome it is to cook with just the sun.

New Bunnies For The Closed Loop Farm!

Alberta Aquaponics has never been just about aquaponics. We do a lot of stuff in our little back yard urban farm that many people just dont get from our name.

One of these things that we do is raise meat rabbits.

Raising meat rabbits is referred to as cuniculture.

The bunnies are part of our closed loop farming system and enhance our aquaponic garden. We strongly suggest them to anyone doing urban farming or considering doing aquaponics who have the space.

The rabbits eat the extra produce we grow lowing the direct waste to compost. We collect their waste and use it as a direct fertilizer in our community grow beds (bunny poop does not burn roots and is one of the few wastes you can directly add to soils for a supplement) but we also add it to the vermacomposter that feeds the worms.

The worms use the poop as food and break it down into even better compost that we can again add to our grow beds while the action of the worms composting creates heat that we can use in our greenhouse over the winter months.

We then harvest the worms to supplement our fish feed which in turn provides the fish waste that grows more plants to start the cycle over again.

Over this we also use the heat given off by the bunnies during the winter time to heat our greenhouse and keep us growing year round. (By moving the bunnies inside the greenhouse over the winter, the bunnies are given a little more protection from the elements and in turn they help heat the greenhouse up keeping the cold weather crops going for their food and ours.)

We produce around 300 – 500 lbs of meat from our meat rabbits every year as a norm. (This works out as a huge cost savings for meat seeing as a frozen non-organic rabbit sells for around $9.00/lb.)

We had a couple of females that we had to retire this year because of age.

Older rabbits slow down on the reproduction and take a lot longer to build back up to reproduce again between each batch of kits. Our bunnies that we replaced were both over 4.5 years old, which is a pretty lengthy life for a rabbit (the average lifespan is around 5 years).

An average large breed female should produce 16 – 24 bunnies a year and they should dress out at 5 – 10 lbs per rabbit.

This weekend we picked up two new bunnies to add to the collection of breeders.

The first is a female Albino, Flemish Giant Cross who was born on May 12, 2015. She is a little young yet for breeding, but come around February, she should be ready to start producing for us.

Albino Flemish Giant Cross

Albino Flemish Giant Cross

She is still a little shy but is starting to come around to at least letting us hang out with her a couple of times a day, if not coming over to bound into our laps just yet.

The second bunny we picked up is a Female Silver Fox / Flemish Giant Cross who was born in February of 2015 and is about two months from starting to breed for us.

Silver Fox Flemish Giant Cross

Silver Fox Flemish Giant Cross

She is also a little on the shy side and needs to be handled a little more to bring her in line with the friendliness of our other rabbits.  We expect that the two months before breeding is just enough time for her to become comfortable with us and settle down some before we start her being a mommy and teaching the kits.

Neither of these bunnies have names yet, so we are putting it out to you to put in suggestions for what to call our two new sweethearts.

Give us your feedback and let us know your suggestions. We will tally the suggestions and whittle them down to a top list for people to vote on. Please remember that we have a lot of folks that come through our yard and a lot of kids, so family friendly names for suggestions are needed.

Solar Cooker Debut

Not aquaponics, but very awesome and cool as well as a new addition to the place; we have our first solar cooker.

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Dinner, Solar Lamb Curry
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The first of two solar cookers arrived today. This is a Solar Burner, which is basically a 5 foot parabolic dish that is a cooking implement.

The unit took about 45 minutes to put together, about the same length of time it took to prep and make the Solar Lamb Curry that we had tonight for dinner.

Everyone should be using the sun to make dinner!

This thing is wicked cool!

Where The Heck Are The Updates?

Things have been crazy busy here for the last while and as a result, updates and the web have kind of taken a back seat.

Its not that we don’t care or we don’t want to keep everyone informed, there simply are not enough hours in a day.

With that said, here are some updates:

Lets start with catching up!

There is a Face to Face Meet up This Sunday (yes, on Fathers Day). Come on out and join up with the other die hard Aquaponists and get some geek time in! Come on out in person and lets catch up on everything!

The greenhouse is growing like mad with us harvesting long english cucumbers, lettuce, and kale like mad. The peppers, squash and tomatoes are coming on fast with flowers everywhere and pollinators working hard to help us on our way!

The greenhouse this year is a little scaled back from what we usually have because of the construction and changes we are making (see the prior post for details).

Some pictures of the garden:

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We have been working very hard on some of the other projects including the Solar installation.

We have taken down the array that we had on the garage and have just received the solar equipment to put into play. In total we will have a 5 KW system installed using micro inverters feeding to grid as out starting point. We have plans of adding in a Tesla Power Wall battery when they are available (we are on the waiting list).

The hoops have been piling up and what we expected to be in play a while ago is still a work in progress. With that said, we are making progress and weather permitting, we should have the hardware mounted by early next week.

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I can honestly say that there is a LOT more than meets the eye when it comes to putting in Solar. The high side is we are going to be doing up a bit of a course on it as we do the build to help people who are looking into it in avoiding the pitfalls.

I still have a bunch to do, so I am going to cut this short and with luck I will see you at the face to face and catch up more in person.

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