Archive for the ‘water’ Category

Update to solar still

Posted: August 27, 2011 in solar, water

Update to solar still.  This would have been a good idea.

Back in March I built a solar still in my backyard.  As Arizona is a dry place and my backyard does not have a creek in it, I tried to suck moisture out of plants.

This did not work.

I finally got around to editing the video.  Watch below if you care to watch my failed attempt as well as my first use of the fast-forward function.  If you don’t care to watch the video, the short version is that a solar still is a ridiculous amount of work for a ridiculously small amount of water.

On a side note, the raised garden did not work either.

I checked out the video Stay alive! a guide to survival in mountainous areas from my local library.

Random comments after watching:

  • According to the host, Preston Westmoreland, if you have ever heard the idea that you could add whiskey to water to clean the water than that is not true.  Ummmmm, I have never heard that, in fact if one googles adding whiskey to water what one discovers is that most feel this is a waste of good whiskey.
  • The video visits with Peter Bigfoot, which is awesome because I really like that guy.  Bigfoot covers the edible plants of the desert.

July is the best time to eat Saguaro fruit.

  • Peter also eats the hedgehog, he mentions it is better with salt,  hey that’s what I saidThe hedgehog cactus might be a quarter of its size in summer.
  • Some plants are poisonous for some of the year and then not poisonous for other parts of the year.  Great.
  • 90% of prickly pear plants are poisonous, yikes, only eat the fruit, that was the next plant I was going to try so I am glad I watched the video first.
  • Mesquite is the “mother tree” of the desert.  He does not elaborate on why it is the mother tree.
  • To clean water use 2 drops bleach per quart.
  • If one ever needs to make a fire to signal for help while stranded in the desert, the black tubing in your engine makes for good black smoke.
  • Thank god tube socks are out of fashion.

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I got the idea of making compost tea from the Grow  House as well as the book Gardening When it Counts.    It is also my first experiment with solar energy.  The solar panel pictured above hooks up to a tiny little air pump.  This system is supposed to be used in backyard ponds.   I bought it years ago, for around $120, when I was thinking about making a little pond in the back yard, which I finally decided against because of my irrational paranoia over West Nile Virus.

In some old socks I stuffed store-bought compost.  I let the compost soak in the water bucket, and the solar pump keeps the water gently moving.   I believe this is going to let me water less and help me deal more effectively with the heavy clay soil of Phoenix.

Update: The pump is dead. Oh sad day. I think I probably should have put a sock around it or something, because my guess is the crap floating around in the water junked it up. My other guess of what happened is the cats pulled the pump out of the bucket because they are like that, and then the pump blew a gasket when it was spraying air without the resistance of water. I went to Fry’s to see if they had another pump I could use, not luck. So I guess I got to buy one from siliconsolar.com, where I originally got the whole system.

Update to Update: I wrote the good people at siliconsolar.com to get there opinion of why the pump might have died.  They were very quick with response, which I like.  They said the pump being out of water would kill it,  which now is what I think happened.  I think the feral cats took the pump out of the water.  The siliconsolar folks also sent me a link to some trouble shooting videos, which I also like.

Before leaving for 9 days I asked my neighbor to water my garden once while I was gone. I can tell from the exact position where I left the hose that he did not. Despite that everything (except the gopher attacked agave) looks good. In fact, I am glad the garden did not get any grid-fed water for a week. The plants look healthier than when I left, which leads me to think I was over-watering, which is bad for two reasons, 1: Overwatering is bad and 2: Overwatering will be near impossible when the grid falls.  By then I should have an idea of how to grow with the least water possible.
The plants I am growing all have been specifically selected because they are Southwest friendly, meaning they don’t need a lot of water (for example, like celery would.) I have planted bush beans, pole beans, winter squash, summer squash, tomatillos, and habanero peppers.The return of seeds and/or seedlings producing actual plants though seems very low. The first batch of seeds went into the ground on Feb 22. I then planted another round three weeks later, thinking I don’t want all the veggies to come in at once.
I seem to be getting about 2 plants for every 10 or so seeds planted. I am not sure why the low yield.

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Above: From Front to Back, tomatillo, bush beans, summer squash, more bush beans, and winter squash. About 12 sees planted to each row, but each row is only producing 2 to 3 plants each, but those plants look strong.

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Above: I have had no luck with the Habanero peppers, not even a single weed, much less an actual wanted plant has grown in the elevated garden. The elevated garden was made from a discarded baby bed I found in the alleyway. I think my mix of manure, compost, and soil in the backyard has too much of the backyard soil.

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Above: On a positive note, the Blue Palo Verde I planted a week and have ago seems to have survivied the shock of transplanting.

Here is my list of events one should attend in order to prepare for the apocalypse.

Burning Man – techno-nerds, socialmediaeanglists, pop-culture survivalists, and dancers.  Kind of an obvious first choice.

The NRA Annual Convention If for no other reason, see what you might have to contend with later.

Some sort of organic gardening convention

 

Any other suggestions?

I did not have a lot of success with my experiments over the weekend. On Saturday I dug a shallow bath-tub size hole, put six handfuls of weeds in the hole, and covered it with clear plastic. This was my first attempt at a solar still.

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Water did collect on the bottom of the plastic, but did not drop into the collection device.  On the next attempt, I am going to put more weeds in the hole, and try to tap the plastic before I remove it. 

I was also unsuccessful at rubbing two sticks together to start a fire. I think I failed for two reasons. One: I was feeling very lazy having just dug the hole for the solar still and only tried for like 3 minutes. Second: My drill was pine. The drill has to be harder than the fireboard.  So I am going to keep my eye out for a good hard drill.

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I did however gather or make all the other necessary ingredients  for my second attempt: different types of tinder, a fireboard, and a coal catcher.

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The weekend was not a total wash, I was succesful in one thing. I successfully melted wax in the solar oven. I figure this is a good way to recycle the nubs of used candles to make new candles.

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I am looking forward to the weekend.  I had to work last Saturday, which made the last two weeks go long.  I have not been able to do many experiments in the last couple of weeks, so I spent more time doing internet research.    This weekend’s plans include the following:

  • Turn Brittlebush leaves into medicine.   A couple of weekends ago I went for a hike and saw the desert has a ton of brittlebush right now.   I gathered some leaves and have dried them out, so now I think I am supposed to mash them up or something.  While doing research I learned the sap from brittlebush can be used as incense and/or gum, which I think is pretty cool, so next time out I might see how much sap I can gather.

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Brittlebush in AZ Desert Botanical Garden

  • Build a solar still, which will involve digging a wide hole.  One is supposed to dig in a place that would have water in the soil, but as I am doing this in my backyard, I am going to supplement the water still but putting in weeds and sucking the water out of the plants. 
  • Use shadow of stick to figure out which way is west.
  •  

    • Prep for the no grid water for the weekend experiment.
    • Gather water bottles.
    • Gather pine needles for composting toilet.
    • Begin gathering some Creosote Bush stems.  According to Survivorman, one can burn the stems in a fire and the smoke can be used to clean (or rather disinfect) oneself.  The plant makes its own chemicals that make animals and insects not want to eat it, and these same chemicals can be used to disinfect oneself if you don’t have any water.  It is also one of the few desert plants that can be used for toilet paper in a pinch (bad pun intended).     One a side note, the plant is a virtual medicine cabinet for many other uses as well.   Maybe make some tea out of it?  Creosote is so good at repelling harmful stuff, I wonder if it would work on Zombies?

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    Creosote in AZ Desert Botanical Garden

    Insert Irony Here.

    Posted: February 4, 2011 in plan, research, water
    Tags: , ,

    So in all of my preparations for the end times, I somehow overlooked paying my water bill for 4 months in a row. So the city shut off my water last night, today I got it turned back on.  I have no excuse for not paying my bill.  I find it funny that I spent so much time researching and experimenting on how to survive when the grid fails that I forgot to pay the bill and the grid, therefore, failed me.

    I had to go to work without taking a shower, I suspect people noticed. I did have a 2.5 gallon plastic container of water that I had bought recently. I have been buying them to avoid drinking non-city water and also planned on using the empty containers for prepping seeds. So I had water to drink and rinse that night’s dishes, but it got me thinking how I bet it would have only lasted me two, maybe three days if I stretched it. If there had been no easy way to gather new water I would have been screwed.

    So I think a good experiment would be to see how I would survive a weekend without any grid water. I am going to prep a little for the experiment. I am going to gather containers for water, first.

    In a couple of weekends, the plan is a Friday afternoon after work, I am going to pretend that I would know the water was going to go out, so I will have two hours to gather as much water from the faucet as I can.  After that I turn the meter off and for the rest of the weekend I will only wash, clean, drink, or cook with water I gathered. I am curious to see how much water I will need. I am also curious to see how much more cleaning and cooking will be a pain in the ass without grid water.

    I can tell you in my one night without water, I found cleaning dishes a surprising pain in the ass, and as I mentioned, earlier I had to go to work without taking a shower, and I think people noticed.  Awkward.

    Two weeks ago I gathered water from the mountain, built a water purification system, and drank some water that went through it. I did not get sick, but I suspect that was more because of dumb luck rather than my engineering skills.

    I used the World Wildlife Foundation’s instructions on how to build a water filter as my general guide. I used their’s because it was the best one I could find in terms of clarity along with the most post-apocalyptic scenario. Most sites I found for water purification are using modern toys that won’t necessarily be available after the camping stores and hardware stores get raided.

    There where were many lessons learned that did not make it into the video because of editing concerns. Those lessons learned were the following.

    Flush the system. Flush the system some more. And then flush the system. I am not sure how one would flush the system with water if your issue was lack of water. Maybe have the system built and then wait for a rain? Not good if you need the water for immediate survival.

    Clean the sand, let it dry. Clean it again. The water came out dirtier than when it first went in. Reading about things later, I learned that wet sand can hold more nasty tiny lifeforms than water. If I had to use the sand immediately, I might even skip the sand step.

    Don’t wait until the last moment to build your system. The whole system took 14 hours to make, and it should have taken longer. Best way to not run out of water is to plan ahead. This system should be built over time, before you need the water immediately to survive. If the grid goes down, and you don’t have a way to clean water, then make this a first priority after taking care of other immediate survival needs. According to the author of survivalblog.com a good low-cost way to clean water is pool shock tablets that only contain calcium chlorite.

    Place multiple charcoal levels. Perhaps pre-treat water with charcoal first. Charcoal doesn’t taste that bad as tea. A fire does not produce as much charcoal as you might think. If I had to have a little water now, and not later. I would just filter the water as best as I could, put some charcoal into the bottle and shake it around. I read somewhere that is would work for immediate  and last resort water concerns. I suspect it would, but I am not inclined to try that until I have to in order to survive for real.

    And on youtube