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How-to  ~  Ideas  ~  Inspiration
 From more than thirty years having a good time living a sustainable life
in the northwoods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Our entire lives, and the homestead life for sure, is made up of projects. Planning, dreaming, imagining, designing, building, re-building, repairing, enjoying the doing and the results. Here you'll find odds and ends of projects and blog posts that don't seem to fit anywhere else. May they inspire you to a creation of your own.

 



HOMESTEAD - PUMP - February 27, 2017windmill

Last week during that extended warm spell we had some days of good wind so we could pump water with our windmill. The water is pumped into a nearby 1200 gal tank (earth covered) and in the winter we can only pump when temps are above freezing, and, of course, when we have a good but not gale force winds. We fill the tank in late fall/early winter before temperatures drop and then usually a few days during winter to top it up. This year we had ample opportunity. We thought. So when it was both warm and windy we turned the windmill on and let it pump for a few days. The level in the tank was down to less than 400 gals so we were happy for the pumping weather. When we checked the water level again, expecting to have pumped at least 200 gals, we found it had added only about 20 gals. Sigh...

windmill pump leathersWe’d been here before, many, many times over our 40 years here. We knew what was wrong, and what needed to be done. Leathers. Our pump is rather like an oversized old fashioned “pitcher pump” but a deep well version with leathers since our well is 105 ft deep. We can pump it by hand but we much prefer the windmill do that job. At the bottom of the drop pipe is a brass cylinder, and inside that runs the leathers assembly attached to about 95 feet of 3/8” stainless steel rod in 12 ft sections. It really works very well. But we have hard water, very tasty but full of minerals that coat the rod and eventually trickle down to lodge in the leathers. Which spreads them out, wears them out, and can jamb up the whole business. In this case, the main leather had worn through and the water was simply not being pumped up to go into our tank.

In our early years we had a regular steel drop rod which would corrode and add its own supply of sediment. Back then we had to pull the rod and replace the leathers many times a year. We got very good at it, and quite tired of the job, especially when it happed in the winter. Eventually we installed stainless steel drop rod, much heavier but much “cleaner”. And Steve figured out the best configuration for the leathers. Now we’re down to pulling, cleaning, changing leathers (and connectors which wear down against the well pipe) about once every five years. It had been six years since the last time. And it was obvious if we wanted to pump water now we had to pull the rod. This is done by hand. Our hands. And we much prefer to do it in the warmer months. We could moderate our water use and probably get by until spring. Or we could do it now. And we had this two day window of relatively warm weather to do it in.

pump rods disasembledWe wanted plenty of water; we didn’t want to have to stint. So...we pulled. And we discovered that the stainless steel drop rod had not gotten any lighter over the last six years. And getting the pieces apart hadn’t gotten any easier. So as we pulled up and disassembled the rod, piece by piece, we discussed that we really needed to find a way to make this job easier. But soon (relatively) it was done. The 95 feet of rod was piled up in 12 ft pieces against the side of the windmill tower.

Now we had years earlier scrounged all the local supply of leathers and finally ordered online some that were close in size. The best we could do. So Steve modifies them to fit. That was fine; we had some on hand. When we pulled the rod we discovered that the connectors were badly worn and had to be replaced. Unfortunately, we didn’t have those on hand but we hoped to get them locally (Manistique), or at least in Escanaba. It was getting late but there was still time to get in town so we went inside and starting calling. First Hoholik’s in Manistique. They kindly went and checked. Yes, they had some in our size - hurray! -- 4 of them. Oh. We needed 8. No way around it. So we called all around Escanaba. Nothing. Simple common rod end connectors but not common in our size. One place said they might be able to get an order in yet that day and they’d arrive the next day. Maybe. We would simply have to wait until the truck came in to see if they came in. We ordered.
pump rod connectors

So the next day, a beautiful warm day, we simply had to wait. Well, not exactly ‘just wait’. Steve went to work on the leathers while I cleaned up the drop rod. The phone call did finally come. The connectors were on the truck and we had just enough time to get to Escanaba to pick them up . But not enough time to get home before dark. The weather forecast was iffy for the following day but nothing to be done but hope for at least above freezing temps for the hands that had to hold that drop rod as it went back down the pipe, piece by piece, with the fresh new connectors holding it all together.

pump rod wrenchesAnd it was indeed above freezing, and a simply beautiful day with the sun poking through the clouds now and then to cheer us on. The gods do smile down on we homesteaders more often than we remember sometimes! Steve arranged a block and tackle up in the windmill tower to help us lower the last, heavy (since you’re now holding the previous 60 feet of rod), pieces so it was stress-free and quite pleasant. We enjoyed being outside, working together on a homestead project that we’d done so many times before. We knew the drill. And we were confident it would work. Well, fairly confident...

pump waterEverything was together, the pump rod down, the pump back on, the tools gathered, the windmill rod connected. There was a real nice breeze; it was still above freezing. We let it pump. Steve opened the faucet on the side of the pump. Water!! He closed it and I ran up to the top of the tank and put my ear to the small opening we have into the tank (to measure the water level)......ker splash, ker splash, ker splash. Ahhhhh, what a wonderful sound, water splashing into the tank. It pumped all evening. And the next day. And I measured almost 700 gals of water in the tank before the temperature and the wind dropped. Life is good. We have water. And we are full of appreciation.



Post by Steve  Homestead Electronics -- PanelCam: Installment #2 -- 2/7/2017

Well, the 'Array-Cam' is finally up and running. Click a switch, push a button and check the snow conditions out on the solar array on a computer or tablet "...in the comfort of your own home". Of course, many days we get to hike out and clear the snow off the panels but mostly is just fun to see what's happening out there. The photos below are: Antennas mounted on the house roof, Camera box and its solar panel, Front and back of the camera switch circuit board and finally, the view from the camera.

   Antennas on house   Camera box & solar panel   Array-Cam Remote Circuit   Sue cleaning the panels

(February 19, 2017 Update) I have including details of this project including a few more photos and Arduino microcontroller code on a new web page. Click for the complete 'PanelCam' article.



Post by Steve  Homestead Electronics -- PanelCam: Installment #1 -- 12/27/2016

One of the realities of powering our homestead in the north-woods with power from the sun is that in the winter there will be times when the solar array is covered with snow. Even a light dusting can make a significant reduction in power production. An inch of snow will effectively shut the panels off. The obvious solution is to hike on out to where you can see the panels – they are about 400 feet from the house – and if they are snow-covered gently scrape them clear with our handy-dandy long handled, foam-edged panel scraper. Often, however, we get out where we can see the face of the array only to find that they are clear. Not a big thing, really, just a brief snowshoe hike for the exercise. This is all setting the scene for my current project: a Wi-Fi camera mounted out in the garden area, facing the array.

  Array-cam sky view

The camera will, upon request, fire up and transmit a nice clear image of the panels back to any device hooked up to our home network. Bill of materials (Specifications): - Outdoor Wi-Fi Video Camera - (9 – 12 Volts DC powered, removable antenna) - Wi-Fi Range Extender - (DC powered, removable antenna) - “Cantenna” Wi-Fi Directional Antenna – (Homemade, increases signal ~12 dB (~400%)) - DC to DC Power supplies for both camera and extender - Small Lead-Acid Battery to run the camera - Two Arduinos with Wi-Fi units configured to turn camera on/off to save battery power - Low-loss antenna cable & misc. wiring for powering all units Are we done yet? Actually, all these items are readily available on-line and not terribly expensive. The Cantenna’s main component is a tin can about 3-1/2” in diameter and 6” tall (empty). The parts are ordered, except for the ‘can’, and the fun will begin soon. To be continued!



Post by Steve Homestead Electronics – 12-5-2016
And you thought that I hibernated all winter! I have been amusing myself this fall/winter by designing and building small electronic gizmos based upon Arduino microcontrollers. This all started, as many homestead projects do, with being frustrated by the fact that neither our solar charge controller nor inverter can handle diversion loads.

There are many times, in all seasons, when the sun is out bright and the batteries are fully charged. Sometime this happens early in the day and the potential energy from the solar panels for the rest of the day is just wasted. The charge controller sees that the batteries are full and says, "I'll do my job of protecting the batteries from overcharge by reducing the power I'm sending to them".

If we are around and notice that the controller has been in float mode a while, we can manually turn on a one or two circuits that power electric heating panels. This has the potential to reduce the amount of firewood we burn - a good thing.

So, back to the electronic things. I am designing a pair of circuits that sense battery voltage and charge current and some software that runs on an Arduino that will turn on/off relays that control those two heating panel circuits. I think I forgot to mention that I have not always had a lot of luck with electronic stuff. I have smoked many a home-made device. I figured that with that background I’d start with something a little simpler; an Arduino-operated greenhouse fan controller. This sort of thing is commonly known as a ‘thermostat’. Wheel reinvented!

Here’s what the fan controller looks like inside…

Greenhouse fan controller
All kinds of fun components and wires seemingly running everywhere! By the way, it works just fine. The display shows the current temperature as well as upper and lower set-points, which are adjustable. The unit has been working well for a few weeks now. No smoke at all!

More on the main project as it evolves… Steve.



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Copyright 2017 by Susan Robishaw and Stephen Schmeck
 



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Have you read  "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener"? A fun short read.

or "Homesteading Adventures"    Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.

and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun"   A journey you can use in your own garden.
 

updated 01/16/2017

 

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