Andrew Ray

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since Sep 25, 2011
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Recent posts by Andrew Ray

I don't know if you guys in the US have seen them much, but here there a PV panels that are just a sandwich of glass-PV collector-glass, about 1/4" thick total, without the aluminum frame around the module that is so common.  I've been keeping an eye here in the EU on used panel prices, and now it seems like the previous generation panels are getting dumped on the market, especially these frame-less ones, which you can buy them by the pallet at 8.50Eur / piece ~ $97 / 1kWp . 

Usually solar panels are being mounted on an aluminum frame system.  I've seen one system "Schletter Indach" that provides an apparently waterproof system for mounting them, but the mounting rails and such are harder to find used.  I think what happens is that people in Germany were early adopters of PV panels as well as setting up PV farms there (big subsidies), and now that efficiency of panels has about doubled in the last decade, they upgrade using the same mounting systems, but just replacing the panels and sometimes the inverters.

I wonder if anyone has thought through using a mostly wooden construction to support these frame-less panels and using them as roofing material.  e.g. what would be the cheapest way to incorporate them into a new structure for that purpose?  I need to make a shelter for goats and eventually cows, so I am thinking how to use these solar panels as the roof, instead of buying sheet metal.  Used solar panels = 6eur/m2, cheapest corrugated sheet metal is 4.30eur/m2, so for just a bit more cost, I could have electricity up in the field-- run fence charger, some lights, pump, music for animals, or solar bitcoin mining.
11 months ago
What's a concrete hybrid?

I also figure black locust will last me pretty long-- from what I've read 25+ years.  But I suppose there might be places in the world where a concrete post could be a cheaper option.
1 year ago
I know this is an old topic, but living in Slovakia and having concrete vineyard posts around, I needed to put insulators in some.  The solution I came up with was to use a hammer drill to bore holes just smaller than the threads on screw in wood post ring insulators, and then put some polyurethane glue in the hole and screw the insulator in.  Now, a year later, because the neighbor decided to put up a chain-link fence along the posts, I went to unscrew the insulators.  It isn't possible!  They are very firmly bound in there.  I have a write up with photos on my website, in case the short description there isn't enough.
It includes some testing I did of different possibilities for anchoring the insulators.

Otherwise, I use black locust posts for my fences.  The problem with the concrete posts here is that they were usually set in to concrete, so it isn't really possible / practical to move them, short of perhaps cutting them off at ground level, and then you'd need a really big angle grinder with a concrete disc.  Of course, if I'd be offered ever a bunch of un-anchored ones, I'd certainly take them.
1 year ago
I wish my wife's blogs were also in English, not Slovak.  She has written a bit on her experiences with three babies (so far).

Before #2 came, I bought and read the book "Husband Coached Childbirth" by Dr. Bradley.  It is filled with good advice from a perspective of a doctor who worked all his life to change the practice of hospitals and prepare parents to give birth without the doctor being involved unless absolutely necessary.  #2 and #3 were both born in the car on the way to town, and his advice concerning what to do during contractions at different stages of labor was both the opposite of what my wife was told in the hospital for #1, and more importantly, correct.

More than anything else, breastfeeding is most important.  And avoid pacifiers at all costs for the first months.  A couple of months before the birth of #3, some friends (two large families) were visiting us, and one of the mothers had a fairly young baby with a pacifier.  She was also still breastfeeding, and assured my wife that it didn't interfere.  So when my son was a couple of days old, and we had to be driving somewhere my wife started already using the pacifier, which calmed him down.  But it also reduced the amount he was fed.  The first month was full of many things-- my mother coming from the US, baptism, baptism party, friends visiting, driving half-way across Slovakia for something.  When the one-month checkup came, our doctor informed us that he hadn't really gained much weight at all.  Then there was a lot of stress getting him to nurse more (fenugreek was taken, as well as nursing herbal teas, and many other things I don't remember), my wife was emotionally upset because we realized we'd not focused on the baby, etc.  The act of sucking releases hormones in the baby that calms him down and gets him to sleep.  The only pacifier he should have at first is the nipple. 

Of course there is much more about nursing, and I'm not the expert at it, my wife is (now).  There are plenty of resources, like La Leche League, to help with the details, but one important thing is that the mother has help to reduce her responsibilities enough that she can give the infant enough time.  So like doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. for her.  Making meals and freezing them for her is an excellent idea.

My wife never really had morning sickness.  She read that it is caused by the body running out of nutrients at night.  She often would keep a glass of raw milk by the bed to drink some during the night.

We inherited the crib her parents used for her, but she co-sleeps, so the crib is just in the kitchen and used as a cage for baby when she's preparing food, washing clothes, etc.  We also got an old play-pen.  It is simple wooden construction, there are a couple of metal parts, but I think the idea could be copied and made better without them.  The rods with the red balls on top go through the holes to put it together, otherwise it is in four panels, as shown in the photo.  The design forces it to be put together at right angles, but slight changes could allow for a more practical system of panels.  We just use it outside once the baby can crawl.  There are specifications that can be found concerning what the maximum side of openings should be to prevent infants getting their head stuck between rungs.  If you have a drill press, it shouldn't be hard to make something like this.
2 years ago
Two years ago we applied for subsidies on grass here (Slovakia-- yes, the EU pays you to cut grass, they don't even care if you make hay, graze it or even just pile it somewhere to rot/burn!). I thought we would get fences done and cows, but things came up that put that off, and my father in law and I started cutting grass with a scythe. Which is fine, if you have nothing else to do. So I bought a Czech sickle-bar mower with a detachable engine that can go on either a small transmission for the mower (and other PTO driven things) as well as a large transmission for pulling plows, carts, etc. Later that year I got a larger trailer for it and a used large transmission. It is cool for what it is-- Honda 190GSV lawnmowerish engine can do a lot. But we have steep hills and I wasn't able to take anything up hill-- I had to drive about a kilometer around our village to go on a really shallow gradient.

So last fall I drove to Italy and bought a Goldoni, with a rotavator, rotary plow and powered (i.e. 4wd) trailer. It is great. 11HP diesel engine, can carry 2 cubic meters of wood. The engine and transmission are thirty years old but still in great shape!

Someone should try importing used ones from Italy and Germany to the US. I got the powered trailer, walk behind tractor and rotovator for 1900€.
2 years ago
I don't think I had the cold hardy variety. I stuck them inside a hoophouse in December (though we'd already had some frost), and I've ignored them until today, when some wind blew the plastic off of the hoophouse. They are all shriveled, almost rotten looking. Also, from reading some posts online about prickly pears in the winter, I should have put them into some sandy/rocky soil that would drain well, though they were pots, so not really subject to getting waterlogged due to being under the plastic.
2 years ago
Photos of our front yard site, shredded wood:

I got a used garden shredder on Tuesday for a good deal in the online ads. I hope the output from it is suitable for worms.


Well, it just rained all day yesterday, and I figured I should go just take a dig in the front yard, so see how the soil there really is after the rain. I think I mistated about it being heavy clay. Up in our fields it certainly is, but down here near the creek it has much more organic matter at least, and while the soil is moist it isn't "soggy".

Another thing I remembered is that, two years ago, I was testing how quickly our well would empty when being pumped out. I put the house around the tree in the photo (the well is just behind the small fence in the linked photos-- it is common with our neighbor). After a bit, I noticed an increase in dripping inside the well shaft, so I think the soil actually drains well.

For what it is worth, the water level in the well is 8 meters below the surface, even now after we had a lot of rain and snow melting.

We only have one floor right now. We plan to add another floor, but that is a down-the-road plan. I think one newer house on this side of the road might have a basement, but these older ones don't. In fact, none of the older ones have a basement, though some that are built into a slope have the root cellar under the house. I'm not sure if the reason for a lack of a basement is risk of it flooding or just the state of architecture post WWII rural Slovakia.

There isn't really room anywhere except at the back of the house to locate the worm bin above ground. One side of our house sits on the property line, the other has the path leading from the front to our entrance doors on the side and then there is the front as shown in the photos.

Therefore I'm just going to try putting it in the front yard. If it does try to float out, then we can dig down further and put a half cubic meter of concrete to anchor at the bottom.


Except when it is rainy and muddy outside and the toilet gets full, it is OK, though usually it is a chore that gets put off until the bucket is full. There is now about 2 cubic meters of compost pile that isn't very rapidly decomposing as well. I hope it speeds up in the spring. A previous humanure pile did decompose most of the way, then the chickens got in to it and sped up the process... My mother doesn't like the system when she visits. Mostly I would be concerned with possible visitors who would be too weirded out. Our children's pediatrician and her brother want to visit us this spring, but I think she might be particularly grossed out by such an arrangement. We visited her and she has a nice modern home in a different village nearby. Since some of our other lifestyle choices are on the edge here-- not vaccinating, homeschooling-- neither are go-to-jail illegal, but there is risk of fines and other harassment-- so I'm thinking better not to push it with the toilets.
2 years ago
I'm going to be building swales in our field with a rotary plow, I guess in a month or two depending on weather. Our fields are land that was in my wifes family as well as some adjoining fields we bought. I have a surveying level, so finding contours isn't a problem, except for one thing. Fields here were originally long and narrow, and in the case of our fields where I want to make the swales, the long direction is pretty much going from up at the top of the ridge to down. The way they were plowed, over centuries I guess, means that each narrow field-strip is higher in the center and lower at the edges, with a difference of 1-2+ feet (more on strips that have trees and thus didn't get plowed much by tractors). So this means my field has the equivalent of 8 or so ditches running downhill.

How do I account for this with swales? Do I just dig down deeper in the center of the field-strips until the bottom of the swale is level?

I'm attaching a sort of map showing our overall property. The brown-dashed lines around the perimeter are property lines, and the dotted brown lines inside show these field-boundaries. The yellow line is approximately the top of the ridge, to the right of it is gently sloping downward, but is fairly flat to the road. The slashed area is about 1/2 acre that I will be planting corn, potatoes, pumpkins and other things that won't need much attention, but hopefully will benefit from the extra sun at the top of the ridge vs down in the bottom of the valley near our house.

Some photos of the field. These rises and ditches are best visible in the photo with the power lines, as that shows some of these field-strips that weren't plowed because they have/had cherry trees, but was cleared under the power lines. Google Photo Album
2 years ago
Climate is, during the winter cold, occasionally bitterly cold, but usually -5 to -15 for the worst stretch, this year perhaps two weeks like that really. Now, for instance, everything melted and it was +8C today. We do get sometimes a lot of rain, but the soil is also heavy clay, so I would say it doesn't quickly saturate that quickly. The real challenge I have is just location. The only "downhill" from the house is the front yard, which is 4 meters between the house and the creek in front. It is also only 10 meters wide. (Why my wife's grandparents decided back in the 50's, when building this place, to put it so close to the front of the property, except that everyone else in the village has their houses the same way. Maybe it was to get a "city" like feel? The creek is just two meters wide, so our front rooms are just 6 meters from the road! Behind the house there is a good 50 meters to where a steep slope up starts.) But, due to drainage, the only water during storms ending up in the front yard is just from the rain that falls there. Well, I can't say 100% that it wouldn't try to float up, so I guess I could concrete some lengths of chain into the ground and tie it down with that.

This is also why I am inclined to suffer putting the wood chips through the hole on the top, though I hope to luck-out and find an IBC container with a 22cm lid instead of the more common 15cm. Aesthetically, the less visible disruption to the surface, the better. I imagined leading the pipe in through a hole in the side at the top, and extending it to the center. The picture on your website is good though, showing how the plastic cut-out gets clamped back with the metal part of the cage. In any event, I'll get my hands on an IBC container and get a better idea whether my idea would even work or not.
2 years ago
Thanks for all this insight. I just have a few more questions, and then I'm going to gather materials and as soon as the weather gets good, start digging!

Do the worms have a preference or aversion to certain species of trees as far as to what I could source for organic matter? Fresh sawdust from a lumber mill is something I already get for the sawdust toilet and to put under the chickens. If sawdust is problematic (since I see mention of "wood chips" and "wood shavings" but not sawdust), this could be the excuse to get a limb shredder. We have a fairly unlimited supply of brush on our property, and if I ran out and started clearing overgrowth on other peoples' land, they wouldn't complain.

Is there a risk of the outlet of the IBC container getting clogged? Should I be putting gravel in the bottom to keep solids from migrating out?

As far as getting air to the worms, I am imagining a pipe extending up along the side of the house to roof level from the top of the IBC container to allow air to exchange, though maybe I would need also an input for air?

Since no one reports needing to remove compost, I plan to just leave the top of the IBC container as is with the large screw cap that comes on them.

The great thing I realized last night is that the pump doesn't have to be submersible, unlike what I have in my well. And I already have an above ground pump that someone gave me which just needs a bit of refurbishment. The secondary container that liquids would drain to would be sized to accommodate at least a half day of water usage here and set up with some electric level sensor. There is a two hour window in the early afternoon and 6 hour window overnight where the electricity is cheaper, so I would set it to automatically pump whatever is in the container at those times and only pump outside those times if the container fills completely.

What species of worms do y'all use for your worm-tanks? Is there some mail order company that ships them? I've never bought worms! Or are ordinary earthworms fine?
2 years ago