California Drought and Greywater Usage Update

(by Rebecca Simpson) Nov 08 2015

I love me a hot bath more than just about anything. But as a drought-striken Californian, that is a luxury I’ve had to forego for the last few years.

Last week, I sustained a significant shoulder injury.  I was so sad. Until I heal, I can’t dig ponds, build fences, clean, and lift, like I was looking forward to doing all winter. Total bummer.

But today something awesome happened! I’ve been coming along nicely on my greywater system, using laundry water to irrigate the landscaping and plunging my family’s water usage to a record low of 62 gallons per person per day. ( This month’s total bill from the water company was $54.26) Since I had most of the grey water plumbing rigged, it was simple matter to run a pump to the bathtub so I could take a therapeutic soak for my shoulder and afterwards pump the water to the garden.

Long story short, though being injured caused a surprise change of plans, it also set me on a new path. With careful management, I can now reuse even more grey water from both the laundry and from baths/showers. I think that is a win-win.

Sometimes in setbacks there are hidden victories. I’ll keep you posted.

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Siberian Husky Shedding (Blowing) Her Coat

(by Rebecca Simpson) Sep 17 2015

Siberian Husky Coat Harvest

As you know from previous posts, our Siberian Husky Roxy is the family sheep.  We harvest her undercoat and use it to spin yarn and weave hats and scarves.  In case you haven’t seen what it is like when a Husky blows their coat, the video below will give you a taste of the experience.

 

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Siberian Husky Shedding (Blowing) Her Coat

(by Rebecca Simpson) Sep 17 2015

Siberian Husky Coat Harvest

As you know from previous posts, our Siberian Husky Roxy is the family sheep.  We harvest her undercoat and use it to spin yarn and weave hats and scarves.  In case you haven’t seen what it is like when a Husky blows their coat, the video below will give you a taste of the experience.

 

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Edible Landscaping – Winter Garden Update

(by Rebecca Simpson) Feb 22 2015

Winter Garden Happenings

Spring is coming, here is a quick edible landscaping update on our winter garden!

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(VIDEO) Spinning with the Babe’s Pinkie Spinning Wheel

(by Rebecca Simpson) May 31 2014

Spinning is Old School

Spinning WheelSpinning with a spinning wheel originally dates back to around the 11th century.  Here at Suburban Stone Age, it dates back to last month.  After 120 agonizing days spinning with a drop spindle in 2010, I swore the next time I’d make yarn I’d be doing it with a spinning wheel.  Four years later, that has finally come true.  Meet my first spinning wheel; the Babe’s Pinkie Double Treadle wheel.

Fossil Fuel Free Fiber

Part about what I love so much about this wheel is that, aside from what it took to manufacture and ship it to me, it will never use fossil fuels again for make wondrous, homespun fiber.  This machine runs on butt fat, of which I have plenty, and I’m not afraid to get a workout to produce yarn for garments and gifts.

Dog? Sheep? Yes.

The true reason I got this wheel is because our Siberian Husky, Roxy, is our family sheep.  Every year, she explodes with fur as she sheds her winter undercoat.  This coat is a magical, mysterious thing of beauty and usefulness.  After a washing and carding, it becomes a marvelous yarn that make the most unique hats of all time. For me that closes the circle.  Girl feeds dog, dogs make clothes, girls wears clothes, and girl happily feeds the dog again.

Take It For A Spin

not it’s time to show you the Babe’s Pinkie Spinning Wheel itself, fresh out of the box and working away.  I hope you enjoy this old school piece of technology finding it’s way into our modern lives!

 

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(VIDEO) Edible Landscaping Tour at Suburban Stone Age

(by Rebecca Simpson) May 12 2014

You asked for it, and here it is! Come along for a personal, first-time-ever video tour of Suburban Stone Age!

Apparently, I’m a talker, because this vid is almost 30 mins long. But if you have the attention span, I’ll share with you (in detail!) the edible landscaping as SSA and why we planted the way we did.

Enjoy!

 

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(VIDEO) How to Build a Fire with Flint and Steel

(by Rebecca Simpson) May 05 2014

When camping for the weekend, I love to take the opportunity to practice survival skills.  This weekend I was testing out how to build a fire with flint and steel.  This technique dates back to the Iron Age, and is still incredibly effective today.  Find out how to use flint and steel, along with what works and what doesn’t.

 

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(VIDEO) Going Tropical in the Greenhouse

(by Rebecca Simpson) Apr 21 2014

Let’s face it… a greenhouse in Southern California isn’t *really* necessary.

True, it’s great for starting seeds in the spring. But in summer it gets as hot as the surface of the sun, and in winter it stays only a few degrees above freezing. Because I don’t do a lot of container gardening, the greenhouse has been standing idle most of the year because the temperature extremes make it unlivable.

Today, I fixed that. Hating that valuable space was being wasted, I made some adjustments and rededicated the greenhouse to going tropical. I added shade cloth to cut down on the blasting heat, and brought electricity into the greenhouse so I could run an aquarium and a fan. The aquarium is for heat and humidity (I repurposed my son’s unused 12 gallon tank), and the fan is to keep the air circulating. By the end of the day, things were running smoothly and I must say it was quite nice in there.

My tropicals that have been overwintering inside will like it a lot, I feel. And now I have a new microclimate to explore, which opens up a whole new world of plants to play with. As the greenhouse evolves, I’ll keep you posted, but so far, it’s a winner!  
 

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Urban Beekeeping When You Can’t Keep Honey Bees

(by Rebecca Simpson) Mar 25 2014

Urban Beekeeping For The Rest of Us

Urban beekeeping honey beehiveUrban beekeeping is a rising trend among many who are interested in producing their own source of honey and interacting with honey bees.  Unfortunately, there may be several reasons why a would-be backyard beekeeper is unable to start and maintain a honey beehive of their own.   Challenges such city ordinances, pets and small children, liability issues, and unenthusiastic neighbors can all pull the plug on dreams of being a honey beekeeper.

Beekeeping By Supporting Bees

Honey bees need more than a hive to be successful.  The good news is that you can be involved in some very important aspects of beekeeping, even if you can’t have the actual beehive on your property.  Here are some alternative ideas for “keeping” bees, by supporting bees:

  • urban beekeeping bee friendly plants peach blossomGrow bee friendly plants – Having an abundant food supply is important to a healthy, productive bee hive.  By planting bee friendly plants that bloom throughout the seasons, you’ll be giving bees a delicious, long lasting buffet.  Excellent bee plants include cilantro, lavender, rosemary, borage, lamb’s ear, echium, bee balm, echinacea, and many others.
  • Let the lawn grow - Caroline from London’s Buzzing recommends, “for those who prefer lawns to gardens… instead of cutting the lawn every so often, leave the grass to grow for one week longer or so – this will give clover the chance to flower and bees can get some much needed nectar”.
  • Don’t use insecticides – Insecticide use can have unintended consequences for bees.  To keep bees safe and healthy, use alternative organic methods to control garden pests.
  • honey bee drinking basinSupply clean water – A shallow basin of clean water can supply bees with much needed moisture, especially in hot weather or in a dry climate.  Fill a basin with pebbles or stones to give the bees a safe place to land and sip without drowning.
  • Involve the community – Caroline also suggests, “For the keen golfers among us, talk to management and ask that they use ‘bee-friendly’ products to keep their courses in pristine condition”.
  •  Get involved – Join a local beekeeping group and learn about urban beekeeping from the experts.  Even if you can’t have your own hive, beekeeping groups are a great way to interact and build a relationship with bees and people.  Depending on the group, you may able to participate in swarm rescues, harvest honey, or work with public education, among other activities.  Every group is different, but getting involved is a great place to start.
  • Other resources: Friends of the Earth has a great pamphlet on other ideas for supporting bees.  Find it here.

Native and Solitary Bees

leafcutter bee suburban stone ageHoney bees often get the spotlight, but there are actually thousands of species of bees. Even if you can’t keep a honey beehive, you can host native and solitary bees, such as mason bees and leafcutter bees.  Setting up a bee house  is an alternative way to keep bees without the disadvantages of having a traditional beehive.  You may not get honey, but you can still reap all the benefits of  enhanced pollination and the interest of a garden buzzing with activity.

Take Action!

There are many ways to support urban beekeeping, but the most important step is to take action.  By trying one of the steps above, you can start your journey towards keeping bees by supporting bees.

Sharing is Caring!

If you enjoyed this article and found it useful, please share!  I’d love to hear comments, questions, and feedback on your urban beekeeping experiences. Thanks!

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Go Solar! Our Experience Putting Solar Panels On Our Home, Part 2

(by Rebecca Simpson) Nov 03 2013

In our previous article, we discussed why we chose to go solar, what the advantages and disadvantages were, and how the process was progressing so far.  This article picks up where we left off.  Today we’ll discuss the final steps in the installation process, and what it has been like to have the panels installed and working.

panels on roof

The Solar Process, Continued

Moving and Installing the Electrical Panel

new electrical panelOur house is almost 50 years old, which means our original electrical panel was an ancient dinosaur.  Through the years, we’ve had various electricians tell us that they don’t even make the breakers anymore, and if one went out, we could have a hard time finding a replacement.

That is why, when our sales rep told us that the solar company would have to upgrade and move our electrical panel (at no charge to us, of course), we were secretly overjoyed.  That was a $4000 job we knew we needed anyway, but just scored for free.  Nice!

The solar company has a fleet of electricians to take care of the work, and after a polite phone call to schedule the work day, the fleet arrived.  Trucks, electricians, and equipment swarmed the house like a hive.  I was told to expect the power to be off for several hours, but these guys were pros.  They did everything they could to prepare, and left cutting the electricity to the last part. The power was out for only 20 mins. It took a full day of hard work from the electricians to move the box, install the new one, patch to holes, and restore power, but they got it done by dinner time.  They were friendly and professional to boot, plus complimented me on my chickens.  It was a crew I was comfortable having at my house, and comfortable having back if they were ever needed.

Rewiring the Power Line

The electrical box was ready, but there was more work to be done.  Our older homes have power poles in the back yards, and and we are connected to the pole by a big, fat, feed wire (sorry, I don’t know the technical name).  This feed line had to be upgraded as well, which involved having an electrician go up the pole and replace a lot of scary hardware.

Within two days of the electrical panel being replaced, a second crew was back out to the house.  Again, we were warned about an outage, but again the crew left cutting the power to the last minute.  We went without power for only 10 mins, and received a fat, new electrical umbilical cord for the house at no charge.  Boo-yah!

Note: I’d like to take a moment to point out how glad I was that I outsourced all this stuff to a solar company.  I’m not afraid to be a DIY kind of girl, but the thought of having to purchase and coordinate all these materials, activities, work crews, permits, and exotic electrical hardware on my own was mind boggling.  I was glad to be under the umbrella of pros who knew what to do, because I certainly didn’t.  Just sayin’.

Power Problem

Before the power was cut during the rewiring work, we were told to make sure all computers were off, etc. This, I did.  When the power came back on, everything was fine.  Except for one, tiny detail.  The power supply to our Internet thingy in the garage fried the next day.

I called Verizon, and they admitted that our neighborhood had had a series of defective power supplies installed, and that the power outage had killed if off at last.  Verizon sent a tech out and replaced it the same day, free of charge.

The moral here:  there may be hiccups when the power gets rewired.  Talk to your electricians about what to expect and protect yourself in advance.  Also leave room in your schedule to make a few phone calls if something goes wrong.  Chances are it won’t, but it’s best to be prepared.

Inspections

With the fancy new electrical box and feed line to the house up and running, inspections were in order.  The inspector came and went with out me even knowing.  Everything passed, and the paperwork was submitted in the background like magic.  I didn’t have to lift a finger.

Solar Panel Installation Day

solar panel installation dayBy now it was the beginning of August, and I got a call to schedule the actual panel installation.  I was anxious to get started, and they squeezed me in a few weeks ahead of schedule.  Our panels were now set to go in August 30th.

solar panelThe big day came, and so did the trucks.  Again the house was like a hive, swarming with installers and equipment.  They parked in front of the house around 7:30 AM, put up big, yellow tape across the driveway, and started hauling in the actual solar panels.  It was exciting to see them at last!

The crew was great.  They worked, sweated, and clomped up on the roof until 6PM.  It was a big job, and a very hot day.  There was little I had to do, except keep the dog inside and be on hand for any questions.

I brought the crew ice water, because it was so hot.  I wish I could have brought them a beer, though, because they deserved it.  By the time the sun went down, the panels were up was I was feeling legit, like a real solar panel customer.

More Inspections

Everything had to be inspected again, and I was ok with that.  The day after the work was done, an inspector from the solar company came out to make sure the job was done right.  He spent several hours up there, checking all the details.  Thankfully, we passed.

Waiting

At last, the home stretch was in sight.  The panels were on the roof, wired, and ready to be turned on.  The final hurdle was getting approval from Edison to flip the switch.

We were originally told it takes from 1-3 weeks to be approved.  Edison then revised that to 4-6 weeks. By the 6th week after installation, and with no word from Edison, I started making some phone calls.

I began with the solar company.  They were helpful as always, but their hands were tied.  The ball was in Edison’s court, and there was nothing the solar company could do.  But as an Edison customer, I  had the power to get involved.  So I started making some phone calls to Edison to see why there was a delay.

I’m not going to lie – this took no less than 11 phone calls to Edison.  I started with the general information number, and began working my way from department to department.  I was polite but persistent, I had waited patiently for my panels and now I wanted some answers. I finally worked my way through the phone system to the local manager of our district.  She apologized for the delay (unexpected workloads, shortage of resources, etc.), but was kind enough to approve my paperwork on the spot.

The lesson here is that although your solar company might be prompt and helpful, your electric company probably won’t be.  You are taking away their business, after all.  You’ll be warned in advance that the electric company may take some time, so be prepared to be patient.  But if your time has come, don’t let the slow wheels of bureaucracy stall you project.  Make some phone calls, be persistent.  With a little detective work, you might be able to get your project back on track.

PTO (Permit To Operate)

Our PTO (Permit To Operate) was finally issued and transmitted by Edison to the solar company.  We received some paperwork in mail, along with a tag to attach to the electrical box.  This process only took about two days.

Flipping The Switch

The time had come at last to flip the switch.  A rep from the solar company walked me through the process over the phone.  It was very easy!

solar panel power switch

 Watching The Power Flow

Once the power was on, the panels were working!  Part of the installation process was receiving a wireless router that sent data from our panels to the internet.  We hooked it up, and I was now able to log into my personal solar web account and watch the panels churn out electricity.  Hooray!  It was like watching money fall from the sky.

Life After Solar

As of the writing of this article, we’ve had the panels up and running for about three weeks.  The whole process from start to finish took about 5 months.  We were originally quoted 8 months, so shaving 3 months off the process was a huge improvement.

Now that all the work is done, having solar panels is… boring.  But in a good way.  All the drama and excitement was during the installation process.  Once you go live, the panels just sit there, quietly churning out power day after sunny day. There is nothing left to do but pay the bill and enjoy the feeling that I’m generating clean, renewable energy, right on my roof.  I like that.  A lot.  It was the whole point of the project, after all.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey of putting solar panels on our home.  I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about our experience.  Please feel free to share this information, my hopes are by sharing my first hand account with others, the process will no longer be a mystery and more people will be empowered to investigate solar as an option.  Thank you!

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