Flowers And Beets Push This Prepper Into Solar Power & Juice

I just spent a solid hour cutting down, chopping up, and wheel barrowing a few loads of Canna lily stalks to my compost pile. Wow, they were healthy, over 12 feet tall, and no wonder since they were atop an old compost pile from last year. And now I have the task of digging up the lily bulbs, packing them in boxes, and hauling them into the basement. I kept saying to myself, “Boy I wish I could eat these…” . I would rather be digging beets or potatoes and hauling them to the root cellar, but NOOO—here I am cutting down stupid flowers that are wasting my space, time, and energy!

Whoa partner…. (keep reading, for I’m not going where you think). I call myself a middle-of-the-road prepper, not a radical bunker-type wearing camo, but simply a Boy Scout trying to “Be Prepared”. An extreme prepper might react like in the previous paragraph, wanting to maximize food production at the expense of pretty things, but a common sense guy like me has grown to appreciate beautiful things around the yard, and I like red flowers and hummingbirds. However, I’m not writing about food vs. flowers, but rather “what is really important”.

Preppers are vulnerable to any sort of expert online hawking their SHTF equipment, knowledge, or supplies. To sort through these options is a challenge worthy of a Boy Scout Merit Badge, but there’s no such thing. What is really, really important?? Food, water, shelter, security, the list usually starts that way and goes on and on.

Here is an exercise for you: Tomorrow when you first crawl out of bed, write a list of everything in your day that involves electricity. Start with the alarm clock, the light switch, coffee pot etc. In a few hours, you will have a very long list of things you never thought about. I was totally shocked by my long list, and feeling quite vulnerable realizing there are several master switches somewhere that can easily make the whole town dark and quiet.

The next day I went to my garage–and “Crap, I forgot about all this stuff!” All those power tools are powered by—what else—electricity! I forgot about my table saw, drills, sander, air compressor, sawzall, etc–all those wonderful tools that I simply MUST HAVE to build / repair all sorts of projects for my survival homestead. If SHTF ever happens, I REALLY WANT those tools, and since I’m an information packrat with tons of cool DIY stuff on my electric computer…. the thought hit me—If SHTF ever occurred, I would really, really want electricity!!

For years I had a sticky note on my desk, “Do Something Solar”. That nagging reminder never disappeared, so last year I installed a nice grid-tie solar system(major incentives), which currently covers about 2/3rds of our electric bill. But with grid-tie solar, when the grid goes down, it shuts OFF–and you have NOTHING / ZERO / NADA! You can’t even charge your cell phone. The only thing that works off-grid (yes, I know about AC coupling…) is a truly separate off-grid system, which involves expensive batteries, maintenance, extra wiring, etc. So when I saw a sale at Cosco for their 400 watt solar system, I bought two–and I have recently installed everything alongside my grid-tie system (see photo). Call it ridiculous, or redundant, or a waste of money–I don’t care–I will have enough juice for my computer, my tools, and yes, for the microwave (a wonderful invention). I simply think of it as electrical insurance…

Yes, I have gardens, and a rain water system, and a backyard pond, and many other urban homesteader things, but my REALLY IMPORTANT need is now covered. Solar panels are quiet, have no moving parts, require no fuel, last forever, and give me clean electricity–what could be better? Think about that long list of electrical things you use, then imagine never using ANYTHING on that list if someone flips the master switch in your state and the grid GOES DOWN! Camping in your living room with a flashlight is only fun for about one day folks—what will you do after that? If you want a realistic answer, Google “American Blackout 2013”.

Coincidentally—just yesterday on — “Black Friday”, I finished the installation for my small off-grid system, and Hooray, it all works perfectly! HINT— you will need a battery box for your expensive batteries. Don’t build one out of plywood, rather find an appliance recycling center and get yourself an old, dead, empty chest freezer for about $20. It’s solid, insulated, has no compressor or freon, won’t leak, and has a sealed lid–just PERFECT for a battery box.

Mine works like a charm (see photo).
This little article is an introduction to the complicated and fascinating subject of alternative electricity. I’m feeling much better because I actually DID SOMETHING! That nagging sign on my desk is gone, and I’m moving on to other concerns. You can do the same, and If you’re an information packrat like me, you simply MUST do something. You’ve probably saved thousands of DIY articles, YouTubes, recipes, and Marjory’s blog articles like this, right? And you have lots of cool DVDs as well, right? You NEED JUICE for that computer, so get outta that chair and get busy. Decide if you want to live in 1800 or 1950 or maybe 2015? Think about it.

{Marjory’s note: just before reading this, I too had been cutting down the tremendous volume of leaves my cannas grow for me each year.  The flowers are beautiful!  And for a long time I just loved them for the flowers.  I’ve since discovered the tubers are edible!  Yup, they contain a good quality starch.  They even passed my families ‘taste’ test – the family enjoyed them enough to say they would eat them again.  Check out this video I did where I show the cannas I grow and eat Survival Gardening In The Heat}

Note: This article was an entry in our October – December 2014 writing contest. Click here to find out about our current writing contest.

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  • JW says:

    I enjoyed this article. Thanks for the reminder that we have to keep pushing on the TO DO projects. I was hoping to see the photos described in the article.

    1. Oh JW< yes we've been having problems loading images. Still working on it!

    2. Bill says:

      Agreed, JW. Gotta keep on that to do list and the pics would have been a nice bonus. Hopefully Marjory’s crew get that figured out.

  • Mike Bell says:

    Good read. I have a stand alone system, but, I would suggest that if anyone has a grid tie system they should read about this product: http://www.outbackpower.com/applications/ac-coupling

  • faultroy says:

    Great article. I would love to learn more about Solar.

    The biggest problems we have with Solar is that there is so much written about solar, but actually very few meat and potatoes sites and information on the real nuts and bolts of Solar.

    Almost all of the sites on the internet require you to pay money before you can access pertinent information.

    And all these geniuses want to do a “consult” to “help you.” Unfortunately, it will cost you money to find out the information that you really need to make a logical decision as to whether solar is actually right for you at this point in time.

    Finding qualified resources that can give you that information is what we really need.

    If anyone has access to any free sites or good books, I would like to know about them.

    I’ve also read the reviews of books on Amazon, and frankly, the reviews are mixed. I don’t know of a good resource that people are raving about.

    So if Marjorie could do some reviews of quality Solar sites that actually GIVE you information without asking for a fee, that would be most helpful.

    1. Hi FaultRoy, hmmm, yes I have a degree in electrical engineering… I have my hands full with developing, researching, and promoting backyard food production though.

      But I’ll keep you request in mind.

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