Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Quincey's Lego Blog

This is my Starwars ship that I made all by myself. Can you see the Starwars' gun? And can you see the ships guns too?
Can you see the crane on the left? It is not attached to the other thing that is beside it. 
 Can you see that something else is there? It wasn't in the other picture, travel through time up one picture and you will see it's not there.
 I know you can't see all of it but maybe if you look closely you can see a bit of it.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Olive gleaning

A few weeks ago we loaded up the cargo bike with a step ladder and bags to glean olives from the surrounding area. Our trees are only two years old and not bearing fruit yet, so we thought we'd take advantage of the local verge trees.

The trees were loaded all around us and there are usually many which never get picked (should be against the law no?). In the weeks before we had been sizing up the crops to get an idea of the best places to pick. Beaconsfield seemed to be the spot this year. We knocked on doors and just asked if they wanted them. If they were of Italian/Portuguese descent they mostly said "no, no, those are mine" which was a shame for us but good for them. We still got plenty.

We had come by some free fruit picking bags which came in handy.

After about 4-5 hours we had 60 kilos of olives.

So what to do with them? Well, we mainly picked the small ones which are best suited for oil. Amy's work had organised to take a load up to the Swan Valley to get pressed and about 7 families picked 310 kg of olives. A few days later we got the oil, 54 litres of beautiful extra virgin liquid gold of which we got 10L. It cost us $30, not bad considering you can easily pay $10 for 500ml in the shops.

This should last us a while. I can't believe such precious produce goes to waste when we import inferior oil which might have been picked 18 months ago from the other side of the world. If we get time we'd like to pick some big olives for pickling. I've done it before and it worked out well. Just soak them in water for 10 days changing the water every day. Then soak them in saline solution (1 cup salt per litre water) for 2-12 months and they're ready to pickle. Drain off the liquid and jar them up into a less saline solution. This link will give you some tips.

By the way, gleaning is defined by Wikipedia as  " the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest.Some ancient cultures promoted gleaning as an early form of a welfare system". It is enshrined in French law as being legal and allowed the poorer people to get free food. I came across the term watching a kooky documentary called The Gleaners and I.

So go on, get out there and glean. It's good for the soul, good for the planet and good for the pocket. Just ask people first, in case they come out with a shotgun shouting "Get offa my land you varmint!".

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Friday, May 4, 2012

Top blog

A while back I entered ReNew magazine's Blog of the Year competition at the behest of one of our lovely followers. I didn't hear back from them so I thought nothing more of it until today. As I was browsing the blog stats I saw a linking URL which caught my attention, the ReNew website. I went to the link and to my surprise and delight found that Sustainaburbia was listed in the top 10 blogs of 2011. Here's what they said:

"A hugely informative blog which demonstrates the ability to make the world more sustainable on a limited budget with limited DIY skills, mainly through behavioural change. It encourages us to embrace our inner creative; with posts ranging from the technicalities of PVs to making own apple juice, it gives practical instructions to help in a variety of ways". (http://renew.org.au/news/top-sustainability-blogs/).

How lovely, it's nice to get some praise every now and again. Now, with a new sense of worth I shall endeavour to post more often and reach the giddy heights of the competition winner's 800,000 pageviews...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Solar year 4 ends

Phew, we made it! Every year we aim to produce more power with our PV system than we use at home. Normally we achieve this some time in February, 3 months before the end of our 'solar year'. This year we only made it with 1 week to go, having produced 13 kW more than we consumed (see chart below). The lines starting at the top are the running average of  power generated by our 1.1 kW Kaneka thin film system. The lines starting at the bottom are the averages of power used and the point where the two lines meet is where we break even.

Our other target is to reduce our electricity usage each year and unfortunately we didn't make it this year, missing out by  40 kWh (or about 9 days worth of power use).This breaks our run of 3 years straight of lower usage than previous years (6 kWh to 4.7, to 4.4, to 4.3 kWh per day). Last winter was our first year of  having solar hot water and this would have been a factor in our higher electricity usage this year. Our hot water system has an electric boosting system and I did a rough calculation that this used about 100 kWh over the cooler 5 months of the year. This equates to around 0.3 kWh a day over a whole year, so that would explain why we didn't cut our usage this year. The TV still only comes out once a week, but I don't think this has made much difference since we just use the computer more now. Still, we don't feel too bad about our consumption since it's a quarter of the average household in WA.

Solar generation was lower than any previous year, which I expected since we had a rainy, cloudy winter last year. I'll take rain over kWh any time thanks. Another factor in this would be that PV systems tend to lose some efficiency over time. We generated 4.5 kWh a day this year, after 5 in year 1, 4.7 in year 2 and 4.8 last year.

We followed our normal pattern of higher usage in winter, coupled with lower generation. The lines cross in spring when we begin to generate more power than we use. The annual bill won't break the budget this year, we got a credit of $94. Without PV we'd be up for a bill of around $500, so we made a $590 saving. For the first time we lost money with Smart Power this year (Smart Power is when you are charged a different tariff depending on the time of day you buy power in). This was because this was the first full year under the feed in tariff and there's a flat rate of payment for power fed to the grid (47 cents for us). We used to save a lot with Smart Power, mainly due to feeding lots of power into the grid at peak periods. Again, we fed in around three quarters of the power we generated. This was great for the bill since we qualify for the feed in tariff.

Another solar year gone, I can't wait until I have 20 years of data to play with...