Tag Archives: Acreage

Springtime Ramblings

Apologies for being absent the past few weeks – we’ve had a lot going on, seems like… Wifey’s illnesses are still illin’ her, we’re still hoping for some good news from her insurance company, some friends of ours held a benefit for us last weekend, and I’ve been busy with general springtime madness.

I’ve been trying to clear out some of the deadwood in our grove, get some grass seed planted in a few problem areas (mostly trying to clear up some gunky corners where I can’t mow and get a handful of grass seed to “take” to keep the weeds down a bit), planting some cuttings I took earlier of our little willow tree and some austrees (we desperately need a windbreak/privacy/keep-the-road-dust-down to the south and east, and most of our grove is mature trees that look like they’re on their way out – or ash trees that will be susceptible to the Emerald Ash Borer infestation that’s headed our way in a few years). I’m trying to do as much as I can with what we have on hand…

Every year since we moved here I’ve had to take the truck to town to buy more bark mulch for the raised flower beds we have around our house. The wind in the spring is so bad it would blow about 70% of the bark away every year. It’d cost about fifty bucks or so. Last year a friend sold us some pavers for cheap so I put in a new little garden on the windy side of the house and opted to put rock in instead of bark mulch. It looked great and lasted through a whole season without any maintenance at all. This year I wanted to update the little wildflower garden we have that’s been hiding our septic tank manhole covers and make it a little more formal and tidy as we have about an acre of new wildflowers in the pasture now. But buying rock at $3.50 a bag… I estimated it’d take about $75 to $100 to do. Icky poo. I was a little surprised when I found out that the same rocks were $15 a TON at the local aggregate dealer. One truck load of rocks later and viola! Next year I’ll replace more of the bark with another load of rocks.

Flower beds waiting for flowers

A couple flower beds waiting for flowers

Hooked up the battery, an oil change, some grease, and the mower actually started yesterday. Huzzah!

The Real Problem with Solar Power

When we first moved here to Happy Hippie Acres about six years ago, I had visions of someday getting wind or solar doodads hooked up to help offset our power bill, be self-sufficient, and, equally importantly, reduce our carbon footprint a bit. We live in Northwest Iowa, so it’s windy all the time, and there are plenty of places to put solar panels to take advantage of the sun, so why not look into those avenues? After we got settled into our new home and had been here for about a year I e-mailed a few companies that specialize in solar power asking them for advice, prices, etc. Of the four companies I e-mailed only one responded.

“Why would you want solar? Energy is cheap where you live. It would take years for you to recoup the investment. I wouldn’t bother.”


Well, it’s not all about money. It’s about a bit of independence and helping the environment. But the response put me off for several years. I looked at wind energy, but again I was waved off by everyone I contacted, “the technology isn’t ready for home use yet.” Sigh.

After about the 90th time I found myself airbrushing power lines out of photos of my acreage I started to wonder… If solar isn’t viable for my home, would it at least power my shed and garage so I could get rid of the ugly power lines? Hmmm. Not long after that, the local power company came and replaced the pole in our yard and I absolutely loved the way things looked when there were no power lines dangling about…

So just a few days ago I finally found time to do some research on the issue. Could I find an inexpensive solar system to power my shed? I started thinking about what I really use in the shed as far as power goes.

  1. The dogs’ “invisible fence.” (Very, very low power usage, but it needs to be on 24/7 365.)
  2.  A couple fluorescent lights. (I’d love to replace them with LEDs, but I haven’t the faintest idea how to go about that.)
  3. My old stereo from the 1990s that is plugged in about three times a year.
  4. A chainsaw sharpener – basically an electric grindstone. I use it about 15 minutes a month, if that.
  5. In the summer I’ll plug my power tool batteries in up there to keep them charged.

I occasionally toy with the idea of getting a small heater of some kind to put up there to keep the barn kitties a bit more comfortable and to offset the bitterest cold of an Iowa winter a bit, but that’s so very low priority that it’s not even on the table… The shed’s about two-thirds insulated and has plenty of holes in the walls.

When you add all that up, it doesn’t seem like I’d need much juice to power the shed. I’d need less for my garage – all we have in there are a few lights on a motion sensor and a garage door opener that gets used every couple days. So I was excited when the first solar power kit I saw online was a $150 setup – way, way more affordable than I thought! Huzzah! Visions of those power lines coming down danced in my head, along with the thought that maybe with solar power I really could put a passive heater in the shed during the winter.

Then I started reading…Output is 12 megapascals per hectare, the voltage is ohm with jelly, you need some sort of battery (I’m assuming double A size, I don’t really know), you need to put iodine on the kerjigger to make the farvel whoozit, snark morgle kerbam woof in parallel except on Tuesday but you have to buy a donkulator to carburate the flonk.

Evidently some of the words were English, but I have close to zero idea what any of it meant. I’m assuming the kit could power either a cell phone or Kiev in December, but I don’t really know. After reading the description I wasn’t even sure if it plugged into the wall somehow or if it was all some sort of battery-powered thing.

I'm pretty good with a screwdriver. How hard can this "electricity" stuff be?

I’m pretty good with a screwdriver. How hard can this “electricity” stuff be?


I looked up a different model – “The first complete home solar power kit on the market. Runs appliances, lights, and devices up to 800 watts. Plug and play, no installation required.” Sounds perfect to me, even though I don’t know what the “up to 800 watts” means! But once I read a little further it became apparent that this “complete home solar power kit” didn’t include solar panels, any mounting brackets, wires, or anything – it’s just some sort of a funky battery. You have to buy all the other stuff separately and hope it all works together by magic, I guess.

Which leads me to the main point of this article – the REAL problem with solar power.

The real problem with solar power is that I want to go online and find some unit or kit somewhere that says quite simply, “This will provide enough power to run the lights in your garage and the garage door opener. Everything is included, and this is how it works.” I don’t understand voltiwatts or ohmages, I don’t know how many electric kerjiggers I need by number, I just want to know how much gunk can I run with this unit. Plain English. I mean, c’mon, I’ve got a job, I don’t have a month of spare time to fiddle with this, I just wanna buy a thing that works with a description I can read without pulling a dictionary out.

Until some company comes up with a description that uses language that hippies, artists, and tree-huggers can understand, I’m afraid I’ll be left on the solar sidelines. Sadly.

After the clouds go to bed…

I realized today that I’ve spent most of my life yearning. Sometimes in earnest, sometimes the yearning is set on simmer, but it’s always there. I spent a little time analyzing just what’s causing me such angst…

While everyone certainly wants more moolah and bigger, better, fancier, flashier toys, I’m pretty satisfied with what I have. Dagmar and I will never be rich; to the contrary, I’m reasonably sure we’ll always struggle with debt – but we have food, clothes, a place to call home and a VERY happy marriage… But still I have this strange yearning. Why? It took me a long time to figure it out…

I want time.

That’s all. I want time. I want a summer off. I want a summer like they used to be. I want the kind of a summer that can only happen to kids between the ages of five and nine – when you’re old enough to go outside and play on your own, but you’re young enough that you don’t know there are things you’re not supposed to do. That’s what I want.

I remember waking up in the morning, lazing in bed and watching the shadows in my room move, the dust motes slowly swirling in a sunbeam. A single, well-aimed breath would make them dance, even from all the way across the room – but once you’ve made the dust dance in the sunlight, you have to be patient for a long time before you can do it again. One look out the window and you knew if it was a wet, dewy sort of day or a dry, dusty sort of day. Both are good, but it’s best to wear shoes if it’s a wet, dewy sort of day. Out the room, down the stairs and out the door – sometimes fully clothed, sometimes wearing nothing but britches – it all depended on who caught you before you got out the door. Never mind taking a bath – time enough to do that later, after the clouds go to bed.

Growing up on a farm spoiled me. Once out the door, so many things to do. But there was never a decision to make. Within thirty seconds of leaving the house, something would capture my energy – sometimes a pretty bug climbing up a tallish stem of grass to get a good look at his kingdom, other times a sparkly rock would keep me entertained for a while, dreaming of the places it had been. Sometimes I’d want to see the sky, so I’d wander off to the fields where the trees stand solitaire along the edges of the rows, keeping watch.

The sky can look powerful big when the trees are far away – a good place to watch the clouds. How far can the clouds see? Can they see all the way to town? Where have they been? Did they like it there? Sometimes, though, it’s nice to watch the clouds with just one tree to keep you company. That’s easy enough… If you do it right, you can find a spot under a tree where the green leaves make the sky look electric blue – that’s the best.

Ooh – there’s a milkweed. Any butterflies around? They like milkweeds. There are usually some butterflies in the fields, but sometimes they like to go in the grove and hang out with the trees there for a while. Off to chase the flutterbyes.

The grove is always a fun place to be. Davy Crockett and Dan’l Boone help me sneak through the woods, so quiet and slow the rabbits don’t notice me. Sometimes it’s nice to go slow, to feel the leaves brush against you, to look at the bark on the trees, to smell the grass, to wonder at the complexity and harmony. Sometimes it’s nice to be a rabbit. I could never get my nose to wriggle right, though. Other times it’s fun to help Stanley and Livingston find their way out of the wilderness, making lots of noise so the elephants don’t attack. Sometimes it’s nice to climb a tree. If you’re real still in a tree sometimes a bird will land close.

Sometimes there are birds in the barns. But sometimes there are bees and wasps and hornets, too. Best not to go there. Better to play in the dust for a while. Ever figure out why there’s so much dust over here, but not so much over there? Why does it pile in one place when it’s outside? Or is it just a thing that happens on farms in the summer? Throwing a handful of dust if fun, if you’re not throwing for distance.

You could tell when it’s getting late – the cicadas start whirring, the crickets tune their orchestras, the frogs tell the crickets to shut up, sometimes the first lightning bug of the night flashes. Time to go in. Gotta pause for a while first, though – this is the best time to listen. How many crickets are there? Where are the frogs, anyway? Why can’t I find the frogs in the daytime?

Methinks the joy of childhood summers lies partly in the patience to take the world at it’s own pace, and partly the knowledge that you have no responsibilities. Of course someone has to cook the meals and clean things and do all the things that need to be done by responsible people, but can’t we wait until the clouds go to sleep to do that? There’s plenty of time…

So, that’s what I’m yearning for. I want one more childhood summer on the farm. But this time I want company – I want my wife there. It’s more fun to look at bugs if you have someone you like with you. I promise, if I get my summer, I’ll waste it well.