Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Get Growing Gorgeous Bulbs of Garlic

Making Egyptian mummies, Hebrew love making and girding the loins before battle in Ancient Greece are just some of the historical uses of garlic. I prefer to keep mine for use in the kitchen, garden, and for my pets and poultry. It's medicinal virtues are well known, principally used for it's natural antibiotic properties. Best used raw, swallow it in small pieces, or to kick a chronic ear infection cut to size as ear plugs and wrap in a small square of tissue before inserting in the ears at bed time. Feed it to your pets for a natural insect repellant and immune booster. Add it to stir-frys, bread, soups, caseroles... just about anything, it's flavour will reward. In the garden it can be used to repel pests. Combine three large crushed cloves, one tablespoon of vegetable oil, 1 litre of water and 1 teaspoon of natural liquid soap. Soak overnight, strain and spray. 

garlic bubls

Sure to reward gardeners of any skill, garlic is easy to grow. Autumn is the best time for planting this versatile plant in warm temperate to tropical regions. Wait until late Winter, early Spring in cooler regions. Choose a full sun position, somewhere that will catch the eye when their beautiful purple pom pom blooms come out. Work in some compost into a well drained soil. Make sure the soil PH sits above 6.5 by adding some dolomite lime. We purchase organic garlic from our local organic supermarket and wait till it starts to sprout green shoots before planting. This usually happens with the garlic we intended on eating, so at this time of year, eat your garlic quickly! Some online seed suppliers stock seed garlic bulbs. This year we found a garlic grower at our local farmers market. We purchased their 'Stroud Purple' garlic, their own variety, and some miniature garlic bulbs.

Plant the bulbs pointy end up in the soil and keep moist till flowers appear. Ease off on the watering to allow the bulbs to develop their characteristic dried skin. At this point you can sneak a few early bulbs to eat as 'wet garlic'. This is garlic harvested before the skins dry. It won't keep, but it will be hard not to eat it straight away as this milder juicy form of garlic makes a tasty addition sliced fresh in salads.

Harvest when the tops die down, in about four months. Leave on the dried stems as these can be used to plait the garlic. I'll include a step by step here on the blog when ours mature. Be sure you plant plenty of garlic as the plaits make fantastic presents!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Kookaburra Feather

kookaburra feather gouache painting illustration

In our back paddock are 2 beautiful eucalyptus that a family of kookaburras
like to hang out in. Sometimes we see them dive to the earth,
catching a bug, lizard or frog for dinner. I count it lucky
when they leave me a feather on the earth beneath.

If you like my illustration it is available to purchase in my etsy shop.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Busting Our Electricity Bills - Part 5: Will Solar Pay for Itself?

Previous posts in this series:   Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4

Our roof has a new accessory. 10 gleaming solar panels adorn the west side, a little bit of eco-bling for the house. Solar Newcastle installed our 2.5kW system for $4550 last December. We have been powering along nicely over Summer and Autumn with our personal power station going at full steam.

Going solar wasn't just a decision we made for the self sufficient and environnmental attributes. It had to pay for itself too, by cutting our electricity bills down the track without costing us more now. So we set out to do a little bit of maths to find out if the dollars worked out. You can use these sums to work out if solar on your roof will save you money.

installing solar panels on a tin roof

How much will solar save you?


Take one year of electricity bills and total the cost of the bills to reach an annual electricity cost for you household. Our household of two people uses 7400kW/hrs at $3000 annually. In the previous post Busting Our Electricity Bills - Part 4: Sizing Our Solar System, you worked out how much electricity your household consumes. You used these figures to work out the best size of solar system to meet your needs. We chose a 2.5kW system which would meet approximately one third of our annual electricity needs. Using the annual percentage figure for electricity supplied by your chosen solar system size that you calculated in the previous post, apply it to your annual electricity costs to work out how much your chosen solar system will save you.

33% e from 2.5kW system x annual e costs $3000 = Annual saving off electricity bills $990 

How long will it take for your solar panels to pay for themselves?


Get three quotes for your chosen solar system and then pick the best one. Our best quote for a 2.5kW system was for $4550. By dividing this figure by the amount saved off our electricity bills annually we will find out how long it will take to pay for itself.

Cost of 2.5kW solar system / annual saving off electricity bills $990 = 4.6 yrs to pay for the system from the money saved off our electricity bills.

And the great thing is that once the panels have paid for themselves, you really can enjoy free energy from the sun.


Financing your new solar system

A number of solar suppliers are now offering enticing finance options with up to 30 months interest free. At the time we installed our system Solar Newcastle offered us a 2 year interest free credit card, with minimum monthly repayments of approximately $130, plus a yearly fee of $100.  We estimate that our 2.5kW system will save approximately $85 per month on electricity bills. So whilst the minimum repayments are a bit more than our savings on our electricity bill, it makes sense to pay off as much as possible during the interest free period. 

Will solar pay for itself?

In our case our solar system will cost approximately an extra $500 in repayments for the system over the first year on top of the savings we make on our electricity bill. However last year we spent the same amount on buying 100% green power. In order to finance our solar system we made the decision to drop the green power component of our bill. I feel a little uneasy about buying coal power for the remainder of our electricity consumed, however with the continued increases in the cost of electricity, we felt it was unlikely we would be in a position to continue our support of green electricity if we didn't go solar. So in our case, yes, solar pays for itself!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Busting our electricity bills: Part 4 - Sizing Our Solar System

Previous posts in this series:        Part 1       Part 2       Part 3

If economics didn't have a say, I wouldn't have put shiny new iron sheets on my leaking roof only to cover them up with solar panels. I would have just made a roof out of solar panels. But that didn't make sense when it came to considering our dollars. To be economically viable we needed to install only the number of panels that we needed for our electricity consumption. So we did some maths. Thinking of going solar? You can use these sums to help you choose the best system for you too.

How much electricity do you use?

This is easy, add up your total usage found on your electricity bills for spring and summer in one coloumn, and winter and autumn in a second coloumn. Divide these figures by the number of days in each period. Now you have a figure for your daily average electricity usage for both the sunnier (peak solar gain) and gloomier (minimum solar gain) periods of the year.

This is how ours came out:

Total Spring and Summer kw/hrs 2190 / 182 days    = average daily usage 12kWh
Total Autumn and Winter kw/hrs 5200 / 182 days    = average daily usage 28.5kWh
Total Annual kw/hrs 7390 /365 days                         = average daily usage 20.2kWh

Back to the grid solar systems only provide electricity during the day. By taking into consideration what appliances we run and when, we estimated that we consume approximtately half our power during daylight hours. This reflected our household habits of one person working from home and using appliances during the day. If your household has no one home during the day you might expect to use only a third of your power during daylight hours to run a fridge, dishwasher etc. By halving the above average daily usage figures, we arrived at an estimate for our average daytime electricity use.

Spring and Summer average daytime usage   12kw/hrs per day / 2       = 6kWh
Autumn and Winter average daytime usage   28.5kw/hrs per day / 2    = 14kWh
Annual average daytime usage                       20.2kw/hrs/ 2                 = 10.1kWh


Solar production estimates

Your solar supplier should be able to provide you with data for how much electricity each kw of solar panels produces in your locality. Solar gain varies from place to place, increasing as you near the equator. Other factors that effect solar gain are the placement of your panels, whether they face east, west or north, and whether your roof receives shading from nearby trees, tv aerials etc. 

Solar energy production estimates for Newcastle, Australia for a 1 kw panel:

Annual average on a north facing roof:   4.6 kWh/day 
Annual average on a west facing roof:    4.0 kWh/day

Maximum (January)                               5.16 kWh/day
Minimum (June):                                   2.4 kWh/day

What sized solar system do you need?

Now to crunch the numbers. Divide your annual average daily electricity usage by the annual average solar energy production for a 1kw system, choosing the one that is applicable to your roof orientation. 
Annual average daytime usage 10.1kW/hrs / Annual solar energy average on a west facing roof: 4.0 kWh/day         = 2.5kW solar system

This sized system based on our average usage (10kWh/day) will meet our needs most of the time. In practice this means that we will be producing about 45% more energy than we require during the day in summer, both our minimum use and the peak solar gain period, and we will experience an approximate short fall of 42% during the day in winter, both our peak use and the minimum solar gain period. 

Making a decision on the best sized solar system for you is dependent on what your goals are. Do you want to produce enough energy from your solar system to meet all your daytime energy needs all year round? Or do you want to produce enough energy to meet your average needs? The size of your roof or budget may place restrictions on your choices of what sized system you can install.

How much of my overall power consumption will come from my solar system?

The below figures show how much energy will come from both the grid and from the solar panels to meet our energy requirements. You can apply these sums to work out what percentage of electricity your solar system will provide.

10kWh/day x 365 days    = 3650kWh/per year from a 2.5kW solar system
Annual kw/hrs 7390 consumed - 3650kWh of solar energy produced         =3740kWh/per year from the grid

These figures show that by choosing a solar system that produces enough power to meet our annual daytime average consumption we will produce approximately half our overall electricity needs from the panels. However, during summer we will be producing more energy from our solar panels than we require, feeding the excess energy back to the grid. This means that we won't actually be using all the energy that we produce. To make an allowance for this we approximated that about one third of our electricity consumed will be provided by a 2.5kW solar system over the course of a year.

How did your sums come out. What sized system did you decide on?

Read the next post in this series... Part 5: Will Solar Pay For Itself?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Green Beans: A Healthy Treat for Your Dog

Our beans plants have been so abundant over late summer that many dried on the vine before we could eat them. The other day I picked handfuls of the papery pods and threw them on top of an old chest drawers next to the dog beds ready to be popped out of their pods and stored for the next season. We mind dogs for people who want their dog to have a home away from home whilst they holiday. A black boxer had been with us for nearly a month and was making a great play mate for our dog Trapper. Their rolly pollying had knocked the beans off the chest of drawers. I found them making good use of the pods...

a boxer eating green beans
A boxer enjoying a green bean treat!

The pair found great fun in chewing open the pods and gnawing on the beans inside. They were even happy to share, each chewing on one end of the same pod... hmmm.... reminds me of a disney film. Fresh vegies are an important part of a dogs diet. The inclusion of vegetables, grains and fruits in their diet mimics what would naturally be consumed from the stomach of their prey (just picture your dog as a wild wolf roaming the hills, a healthy diet should mimic that of their wild ancestors). I can't think of a better way to make sure they get their vegies than to offer a green bean treat!

Try green beans with your dog, I found mine preferred his semi dried, but still chewable. 
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