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.

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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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