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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label DIY. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DIY. Show all posts

June 30, 2019

Make Your Own: SmartPak Edition

On a somewhat lighter topic, Cob Jockey posted about her solution for reusable supplement containers.  I have also recently begun doing this, so here is another easy option I found.

A bit of background:  I find it somewhat amusing, but encouraging, that the horse community is slowly going back in this direction after a heavy transition to SmartPaks.  I myself have used SmartPaks for a long time -- they were very convenient, particularly while boarding, with clear labels, & I never had to worry about torn baggies or mis-measured feeding during my frequent work travel.

However, as many of you know, I am also a conservation biologist, so I am hyper-aware of the breadth of issues disposable plastic involves, from manufacturing to transport to disposal endpoints.  SmartPak wells are technically labeled as recyclable, but now that much of Asia has finally decided they no longer wish to be responsible for our trash, much of the "recycling" in the US is not actually being recycled at all

Even without this change, I was becoming more & more uncomfortable with the amount of plastic waste generated each month by SmartPak containers - which also come wrapped in plastic wrap with what looks like foil lining on top.  I spend many of my work days in streams & rivers & it is rare that I don't see assorted plastic flotsam littering banks, bridge crossings, & root tangles.  It blows out of trucks, off barges, or is just plain thrown in the ditch.  I find animals with plastic wrapped around appendages, trapped inside discarded containers, & worse.
I couldn't find my pic of dead turtles wrapped in monofilament, so here's one that was thrilled to see me -- you're welcome
It was while eating lunch one day that I stumbled upon a solution that has cost me $0 extra & is saving me money on the supplements themselves too.  I still purchase the supplements in buckets from SmartPak, which is cheaper on a per day basis & I still get free shipping, along with the great service they have always given me.  I'm excited about the bonus of extra buckets -- if I reach capacity at the farm, I can always use them at work, where we convert buckets into traps for burrowing crayfish species.

Down the road from my office is a KFC where I sometimes grab lunch (I am well-known for my healthy food choices).  In the $5 box meals, they have begun using small reusable containers for sides like mashed potatoes -- they are even helpfully labeled "REUSABLE," although I'm sure many people still throw them away, sigh.  They also come with a cookie.  Win.
Sunglasses provided for scale
These are the perfect size for a couple equine supplements & I've begun amassing a collection.  I like that they are compact (4" diameter by 1.25" high), so they stack easily in my SmartPak drawers & I can shove them in my pockets.  The lids have little tabs so they are easy to open, even with gloves on, but still snap shut securely.

I have 8 so far (we've been doing field work a lot lately, when I pack lunch), so I can load a week at a time.  I keep the big buckets in the house so they are climate-controlled.  It takes less than 2 minutes to load them up, then I take them to the feed shed next time I go out.

I haven't labeled them since I'm just using them for Echo so far, but you could easily sharpie them or make tape labels if you wanted something less committal.  So far, I have dropped them, sat on them, & stepped on them (my clumsiness is so useful for product testing) & the lids have stayed on & dents have popped right back out. 

I ran them through the dishwasher initially to get the potato & gravy smell out, but haven't washed them since as I'm putting the same thing in every week & it's dry.  I've just been putting Echo's TractGuard in them, but am now switching both horses' SmartHoof pellets over to these containers & both supplements fit with room to spare.
TractGuard + SmartHoof pellets = not full

Now Solo will need a set -- I guess I better eat some more potato-flavoured slop!  I am trying to resist the temptation to raid the KFC dumpster...

How about you?  Have you repurposed a container that you love?   

April 21, 2019

Capital Improvements: Farm Edition

Any farm is essentially a never-ending project & mine is no exception.  Should a farm-owner feel that they have completed all projects, have no fear, something will break/flood/fail & voila, new project!  I am too poor to pay people to do things for me, so Flying Solo Farm is also a very slow project.

Two big improvements I've managed in the past year:

1.  Stabilize & fill run-in shed (July 2018).

This was the most critical & I've included some of the steps here in case someone else is looking for ideas.  This shed is our operations center, with half for the horses & half for me/farrier/vet.  The basic layout hasn't changed much since it was introduced here, although it now has half-walls on both sides for the horses.  However, runoff was undermining one end & too much dirt was migrating from inside to outside.  By last summer, I knew I had to do some sort of retaining wall/fill before hurricane season brought the next round of torrential rain.

The corner in the background was even worse
I spent my usual extensive time on considering design, materials, anchoring, & cost minimization.  I generally don't have any help, so I have to be able to lift & manage any materials I get.  It was a little tricky since the base of the shed is steel on cinder blocks, so the retaining wall would have to be independently anchored.  And yes, my planning phases always involve Googling "how to..." because there are inevitably helpful tips on details I might not think of.

After leveling the ground for installation (which involved plenty of sweating since of course it was packed rock hard, with a zillion actual rocks), I ended up using treated 6" & 4" x 6" beams.  The bottom row is anchored with 24" rebar at even intervals.  These were super fun to drive into the ground with a hand sledge in July.  But those things aren't going anywhere in my lifetime!  I anchored the second row with galvanized landscape pins.
One of the galvanized pins
Thanks to Google tips, I put in a strip of drainage rock inside of the wall before I backfilled.
The one easy step:  dump rocks out of bags
Then it was a "simple" matter of adding 9 tons of limestone screenings.  Yes, it was literally 9 tons.  Tractor required.  Plus 1 more that I used to even out the crosstie area.  I originally wanted to just use fill dirt.  My go-to hauler did not have fill dirt, but he had screenings & $300 for 10 tons was cheaper than I expected.  Pro tip:  if you fill a wheelbarrow with stone screenings, you will not be able to lift or move the wheelbarrow.  Because stone.  I know this now.
I hope I never have to do this again.  But it is awesome.
I had not planned on buying any more mats, because they are expensive.  However, Echo found the screenings delightful to dig in & enjoyed his new sandbox far too much.  So now I have four more mats in the middle part of below pic.  Bad horse.
He dug a hole & rolled in this 30 mins later.  :/
I finished it by cutting the corners off at an angle where the horses would step over & sanding off the edges of the lumber.  This whole project took me two solid days, working all day.  I was afraid to stop because I was certain that if I did, it would be way too painful to start moving again.  At the end of the second day, I discovered that guess was correct. 

The shed is SO MUCH NICER now, though.  The drainage works perfectly (I also added a water re-direct, you can see one end by Echo's nose in the pic) & I can hose a horse in the crossties without flooding the shed or washing out the floor.  The horses have a dry place for their feets no matter what the weather.  And oh yeah, now the shed won't collapse & roll down the hill.

2.  North windbreaks/gates (November 2018)

This project was much cheaper & easier!  I never want a completely enclosed shed, since we are in the South & airflow is critical in the summer, but we can get some pretty nasty, cold north winds in wintertime.  Once again, I considered lots of options, including hanging plastic strips like you see on walk-in freezers, which I still might do in the future but are too expensive currently.  The front of the shed is 24' wide & I already had ~7' of half-wall on Solo's side, along with posts.  I decided to build a 5' scrap-wood gate on that side.
From the inside; pre-existing wall to left
This part only cost me about $20 & two hours.  Since I already had the lumber in my "salvage" pile, along with 2 hinges, I only needed to buy 1 more hinge & a brace cable.
From outside, after a coat of paint
For the remaining 12', the simplest option ended up being a standard gate.  I didn't have THAT much lumber, & even if I did, it would have been insanely heavy.  My neighbour helped me set that post, because I am very strong, but I cannot lift a 16' long 6' x 6' post & square it without probably crushing myself.  He also made the clever suggestion of leaving a human gap on the end so I can squeeze through without opening gates.  Um, I love this feature.
Both new gates + gap for me
If you're saying, uh, a wire-filled gate is not a very effective windbreak..., well, you are correct.  Which is why I wrapped it in a tarp.  It's not pretty, but it IS effective & it allows me to keep things nice & open for the rest of the year.
The winter version, complete with "rustic" weights
I remain really happy with both of these investments.  The horses definitely appreciated the windbreak this past winter, it was much cozier in there.  And I just took the tarp off two weeks ago.  The 5' gate can also be latched open & horses have plenty of space to lead through either side.  This also provides another layer of security, so if for some reason they were to break through the tape gates, they are still contained by these new gates.  That did happen once, I found horses outside the kitchen window last year -- I think it was a freak incident, but just in case...

June 15, 2015

We Have A Winner!

From CBS Sports
Well, yeah, there’s that.

My apologies to the patient (& hilarious) entrants to our SmartPak gift card giveaway for not posting sooner.  Jobs & sad things both tamp one’s ability to keep up with it all.

Hey, some work!!
It was very educational for me as well.  I learned that HorseWorld has no faith in my redneck ideas either, ha!  I kid, I’m sure (at least, I’m telling myself) the guesses at my ETA to failure were based on personal experience.

However, apart from the eventual smashing of aforementioned magnet (which I maintain doesn’t really need a shape anyway, now it’s just unique), my Bucket Magnet actually worked!!  Well, I didn’t find any nails after a very thorough search, but the mechanism stayed intact for the entirety of the search area. 

Alas, the universe always seems to hear when you start getting all proud of yourself.  Across the final slope of the evening, the edge of the bucket juuuust brushed the rising ground mid-turn enough to produce that ego-popping bump.

So congratulations (and thank you very much for your vote of confidence!!) to Abigail Powell, charming  author of The Maggie Memoirs, for coming the closest the optimum time of 0.8 hrs (48 minutes; you were only 3 minutes off, I see a bright eventing future!) by tractor hour-o-meter!!!  You can click the little green email envelope at the top right of the page to contact me or leave your email in the comments & you get $10 to splurge during sale season at SmartPak!

May 24, 2015

Prize Giveaway! Guess The Time To “Brilliant Redneck Solution…Fail”


It seemed like such a good idea at the time…

I know, you’ve probably never used that sentence.  Heh.  But here’s your chance to profit from yet another of my ingenious ideas!

Your prize:  a $10 gift card to SmartPak…and my admiration for your thorough knowledge of idea fail.
My endless love...

To Be Fair, It Was A Good Idea

Arriving home from work a couple weeks ago, I discovered that apparently a chupacabra had attempted to jump my fence.

Drawing by Michael Lee (2007)
SRSLY!  It was the only conclusion I could draw from the evidence.  For newcomers, my fencing is primarily the pre-existing & perfectly built hi-tensile wire, lined with a strand of bi-polar HorseGuard tape (Best. Product. Ever.); only the tape is hot.

I walked out the back door & found the top two wires (this is heavy-duty 12 mm galvanized wire) were snapped clean off about 1” from the corner & the tape had been snagged & stretched. 

Fortunately, HorseGuard is extremely well made, so while stretched, no wires or nylon fibres were broken, so that was a simple 5-minute job to re-tension.  Wire…less simple.

Epic Richard being epic
Thanks to Solo’s awesome Minion & wonderful neighbour, Richard (who has the big, professional wire crimpers), I spliced the wires back together & was able to repair the tensioners (I can’t remember if I’ve posted my discoveries about the amazing safety features of correctly-installed hi-tensile [post#17 in link]– but there are a lot, thank goodness!) that gave as designed when Mr. Chupacabra barged in.

What Really Happened?

Honestly, I still don’t know for certain.  Our deer are fairly small.  The damage was exactly the same as when Solo jumped through the fence when we first moved in.  :/  But he was still in (unless he jumped out, then back in?), there were no hoofprints of any kind on the outside, & neither horse had a mark on them.

See – chupacabra.

Let The Games Begin

The final missing piece was a pair of nails that held the wire insulator to the post.  At least I think so.  The insulator was pulled off, meaning the nails would have been ripped out.  However, because the wire fence came with the land, a few of the insulators are not nailed on anymore.  Naturally, I don’t remember if this was a loose one before or not.

Thx, Northern Tool!
But horses…nails…I had to do a thorough search.  I’d returned the borrowed giant draggy magnet I used to clean up after house construction, but I do have a very strong magnetic dish for studs that is also handy for random “I dropped another steel thing” jobs. 

Just holding it though, means I have to walk around bent over, holding it close to the ground.  Back arthritis.  Ow.  And it’s small.  So “let’s get creative, what can possibly go wrong?”

You’d think that’d be a warning flag, would you?

Tell me that's not genius
Brilliant Idea

Hey, it’s a magnet – why don’t I stick it to a shovel & then I don’t have to bend over?  OH SNAP!  I have to bush-hog that field, why don’t I snap it to the bottom of the tractor bucket:  TWO-FOR-ONE!

I was oh-so-careful, sticking the dish to the bottom corner of the FEL (Front End Loader) so I could see the edge from the driver’s seat.  I needed to keep a careful eye on it because it would require keeping the bucket extremely close to the ground to work, with frequent adjustments in order to not bump the ground & pull it off.

Because one of the first Laws Of Tractor Use is “anything you attempt to attach/use with a tractor will inevitably fall off/be dropped & you will run it over.”  Yeah, I bet you’ve done it.  But NO!  I was not going to let that happen, I was going to be vigilant!

Well, the Tractor Laws are like the Laws of Physics:  non-negotiable.

How To Win

In case it’s not blindingly obvious yet, yes, my dish is now, um, a different & distinctly flatter shape than it once was.  Hey, why does a magnet dish need edges anyway, it’s still magnetic?!

To enter:  in the comments, you get to guess how long I was proud of myself before I felt a thump & yelled “NOOOO!”  The closest person to elapsed time between idea implementation & idea fail wins!  You will have ten days from the time of posting to put in your guess.

Bring the noise.

February 28, 2015

You Know That Day You Were All Like “Imma Be A Hero!” Pt II

Here Come The Awesome Points!

After meticulously clearing spaces around all levers & pedals, I slip the tractor into 4x4, put the transmission in (s)low gear, & begin the crawl towards my road.
 
Snow, hay, it all drags, right???
Hold on to your panties, because…it’s working!  I keep the drag teeth adjusted at just the right height so they don’t reach the fragile, saturated soil beneath.  They break up the tire tracks so there is no risk of creating packed ice.  I move to the side of my path every few minutes to lift the drag, dropping accumulated snow so it doesn’t get too heavy.

Richard’s house is very close to the street, our driveways connect, so as I turn (about 20 mins later…I wasn’t kidding about slow) onto his section to make my entrance as Epic Rescue Neighbour, I see him with snow shovel in hand, having just cleared the edges of his carport.  He waves & walks down the hill, so I stop & switch off the tractor to chat.

Begin Subtraction Of Attempted Awesome Points

I excitedly point to my Ingenious Solution & proudly announce that I could finally repay him for…at least 1% of all he’s done.  Richard grins & replies.   

*insert trademark NC retiree accent here*

Great!  I was just about to start up the skidsteer.  I was just gonna plow a quick loop around our driveways up here by the pole barn & the street so it’ll get down to that black surface & melt faster.

Oh, yeah, he also owns an industrial skidsteer to which he added a 5’-wide bitey bucket of his own.  And a 10,000-lb excavator.  And pretty much anything else you can think of (except a drag!!).

Aww, Richard!”  You’d think I’d have learned my odds of success whenever I start to think I’m awesome.  “Dang it, now you ruined it!  How am I ever going to be helpful when you own every toy in the world??!”  I’m laughing at the same time, so it wasn’t as heartless as it sounds, hee.

As Richard is also the trademark, old-school southern farmer-type (of the best subspecies in that genus), with a heart of gold & an enormous Compulsive Helping complex, he, also laughing, insists that, no, no, my Ingenious Solution is still helpful.  ROFL.
 
Stubborn Woman Will Help You Whether You Like It Or Not

And once she has started, she’s not stopping just because you can swoop around 30 times faster on your all-terrain tracks & clear everything better than a snowplow because you have 80,000 hours of experience.  Nope, she’ll follow you around with the drag, breaking up & smoothing the skidsteer tracks.  Hey, it looks prettier & it will increase meltage even more.  Go team!!

Naturally, Richard’s Helping complex also kicked in, so when he finished his loop, he proceeded to polish off my entire driveway, including my tractor path back to the run-in.

Endgame

Me = 100 points for good intentions, 10 points for actual usefulness

Richard = 1,000 more Awesome Points to add to his already uncountable total, all of which are also 100% actually useful

TL;DR:  My personal slogan may be something like, “Dang, I tried to help,” but I am possibly the luckiest farm owner ever when it comes to neighbours.

Just for pretty factor, our much more well-behaved snowfall from January, which melted in two hours, like proper NC winter should!
shadowfx01's Jan 2015 Snowfall album on Photobucket

February 26, 2015

You Know That Day You Were All Like “Imma Be A Hero!” -- Pt. I

Richard w/ hydraulic driver = epic
Where you could finally pay back Epically Awesome Neighbour for the ten million things he’s helped you with?

Just face it, you’re never going to be the hero.  But you get an A for effort.

Back Story

Ok, I am heinously lucky & have two Epically Awesome Neighbours. 
  1. Vanessa, professional horse trainer & former 1* long-format eventer, kind, generous, helpful, &, along with her husband, welcoming from the very start.
  2. Richard, professional fence-builder/bush-hogger/idea-generator/general-rescuer-in-chief.  Technically retired, although he still works at LEAST as many hours as his thoughtful & entertaining wife.
I owe you many stories (I am so very sorry, work…there is not even an adjective), but this story is about Richard.

I could not have built this farm without him.  Because this is Richard.
Teaching me PROPER hi-tensile wire repair
 And this is Richard.

Need a telephone pole driven?
 And this is Richard.
Need a log moved so you can build your own XC jump?

He feeds my horses in the mornings when I have to travel (often) for work (to be fair, all three of us have horses & he is the end of my driveway, since the land I bought was his back pasture).  He splits spring & fall farm call fees with me since we use the same vet.  He stands guard as watchdog of my person & property (as well as our entire mini-community back here).

Not. Cool.  Although quite chilly.
Ok, So He’s Captain America

When I woke up this morning to 8” of fresh powder, somehow off-course from its proper destination at Whistler or, oh, I don’t know, anywhere but here (fine, it’s better than 3” of ice), I first said a lot of very bad words fed the horses.  I’d filled their heated trough yesterday & they were content munching hay under cover, but I wanted to at least reduce the depth of the fluffy white devil between their mouths & the master hay shed so I could move some bales tomorrow.


Tractor w/ drag attached in nicer times
Problem:  Tractor is wonderful, indispensible, infinitely fussed-over treasure, but using bitey bucket (aka Front End Loader [FEL] aka 4-in-1 bucket) as plow/bulldozer is near the top of the list of Mortal Tractor Sins (unless you like fixing hydraulic systems).

I fire it up; it needs to run anyway, wake up the battery, circulate the fluids, & when that little workhorse Shibaura diesel warms up, I can at least grab a couple bales of hay.
 
Looking For A Hero?

You know by now that one thing I am never short on is crazy ingenious solutions.  As I broom snow off the tractor (see above BETTER THAN ICE), my eyes settle on the currently-attached drag.  My brain immediately flashes an image of drag links rolling & spreading clumps of old hay in the paddocks.

Safe from my "ideas"
*insert light bulb here - probably also a warning sign*

Not only can I drastically speed driveway melting (it’s 0.3 hilly miles to the road, not that the latter is ever plowed or treated either) with my mad drag skillz (my favourite feature:  it has a welded frame, so you can lift it with your 3-pt hitch & avoid shredding hoses or destroying packed gravel), but I can swoop in with my disintegrating snow gloves blue diesel cape & take care of Richard’s driveway too!!

For, just yesterday, on my way home from my exotic beach conference, he’d mentioned that his tractor starter was dead.  It also does not have 4x4.  Thanks to me, if emergency vehicles are needed, there shall be access for all!


To be continued...

February 7, 2015

Priceless Tips For Working Safely Outside

Still my favourite safety graphic...
All of us have reason to challenge The Great Outdoors.  Some of us even get paid (sort of) for it.  Although we in the latter group try to be certain we only hurt ourselves when NOT covered by Workman’s Comp.  Why lessen the burden on our already meagre salaries??

However, unless you are a cave troll (in which case, congratulations on mastering literacy & internet use!), if you are involved with horses, you will find yourself faced with Outside Tasks.  Whether it be opening a hay bale, removing a loose nail from a fence post, or something else, it is critical to always use all available safety gear & plan ahead to avoid needless injury (the last bit is our horses’ job, duh!).

Because Eventer79 Wants To Keep You Safe:  Things You May Not Have Considered
 
For example, you may have a few pine trees in your horse’s pasture, carrying a collection of small spears dead snags & branches on the lower portions of their trunks.  Should you decide to take care of this on a whim one morning, it is first important to choose an undersized tool.  The more ineffective it is, the more fun you will have!
 
My pines only LOOK innocent
When you engage your tool of choice, in this case, a very sharp hatchet (because borrowing an axe or chainsaw from neighbours within shouting distance will only hinder the insistence of your brain that you are going to do this NOW), try these techniques:
 
  1. Pine trees have brittle bark, which splinters into tiny shrapnel with every blow.  You should definitely not bother walking back inside to get sunglasses to protect your eyes.  Your prescription is already –8, there’s not much to lose anyway.
  2. Make sure & stare directly at the branch when you hit it, preferably with your mouth open, so that all of your mucous membranes can enjoy the shower of bitter, painful pine shards.
  3. To avoid this, you can adjust your position in relation to the branch.  I suggest standing precisely downwind, so now, the shrapnel can be blown right into your face with no effort whatsoever.

Another Easily Forgotten Phenomenon

If you are standing below say, a dead limb, & you whack at it with a sharp, metal object, the limb, being subject to a force called Gravity, will fall down when loosed from the tree trunk.

No worries!  By ducking & cursing, you may get lucky & only part of it will bounce off of your body (layers are your friend).

Returning To The Brittle Nature Of The Pine

Another special characteristic to enjoy goes something like this:

  1. After whacking at the base of a larger branch with your hatchet for a few minutes, you may decide this isn't fun anymore & your shoulder is tired the connection has been weakened enough that you can now use your body weight to snap off the whole thing at once.  
  2. Nooo...not like that!
  3. Remember your physics:  the farther away from the pivot/breaking point (where the branch joins the tree) you are, the greater force you can exert with the same amount of effort.  So you don’t want to try this right at the base.  Torque = Force x Moment Arm, people!  (No, I have no idea why that one stuck with me, but it's been endlessly useful since 1998.  If you know what a breaker bar is, you know what I mean.)
  4. Pull back hard a little ways out & if you do it correctly, the part you are holding will break off in your hands so you fall down immediately.  Success!  
  5. Even better, the large chunk between your hands & the tree trunk will also break off at both ends & become a completely unpredictable 12” projectile of 2” diameter wood.  Remember:  DUCK & CURSE.

Finally, If You Can Still See

And you have not managed to cut off your ear while scratching your nose with the hand holding the hatchet (sharp end right next to your face, of course):
STOP LAUGHING, PLANT!

  • Halfheartedly whack at poison ivy vines as thick as your arms.  
  • These are even better because instead of splinters, the vine disintegrates into a powdery dust.  Just like campfire smoke, no matter where you stand, this delightful cloud is guaranteed to blow directly into your face & eyes.  
  • In optimal conditions, you are also allergic to poison ivy.
Since you're probably now exhausted due to the completely impulsive nature of this effort, undertaken before you have eaten breakfast (but your horses have!), it is best to just give up after a handful of completely useless cuts.  You may have filled your eyes with poisonous oils for nothing, but you sure told that vine a thing or two!

Oh, sorry, too late...

December 31, 2014

The Home Of Solaris Is Now Officially Solar!

Eventually...
Well, his part is, at any rate.

It's ALIIIVVVEEE!!!!!

And despite the rambling of my previous post, heinously simple & working like a charm.  It all comes prewired, so you just stick the velcro where you want your boxes, slip the ring connectors on your battery terminal, & stuff the panel wires in their labeled ports.

Srsly.  Even laziness-enabled so you don't actually have to mount the panel until you feel like it!

You already saw the photos, so I give you this wonderful gift:  system features in live action.  You might at first wonder, why the heck would I want to watch that?

Because, my dear readers, particularly those who have visited for a while, know that I often forget that camera microphones are not selective.  So the ridiculous commentary at the ends of my videos is my special present to you.

From the woman who has few qualms about online dorkiness (plus it is a pretty cool gadget!), I present for your viewing entertainment:



There is even a button to push!!!  A BUTTON!

December 27, 2014

How To Put Some Solar Power In Your Fenceline (Without Taking On The Solar Charger Headache)

No, you may not steal my horse.  Solo is brilliant, but his charge is non-transferrable.

Why Did You Build It?

So they would come.  Duh.  And by "they," I mean photons.  Because photons are badass, right, my fellow physics nerd homies?

My lovely little Blackside Dace, c. 2003
I'm a conservation biologist by day, so my motivation for using truly alternative energy is fairly obvious.  My graduate research was in the hollers of SE KY, studying this fairytale rainbow of a fish, the federally threatened Blackside Dace.

This project put me face-to-face with mountaintop coal extraction, the horrors of valley fill (scary stuff, check out these photos), acid mine drainage, & the third-world poverty of communities left to rot once Big Coal mechanized everything.

After 10+ years in freshwater species conservation, I've also learned about the havoc wrought by hydropower dams via drowned ecosystems, natural communities decimated by unnatural flow patterns, & rivers run dry by upstream withdrawals.  Add in collapsed bat lungs & migratory birds who look like they've gone through a blender in the vicinity of wind farms and, well, it seems like you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

I won't wander into the side topic of the many efforts to improve the latter few issues (nor my instense desire to hurl large rocks at "clean coal" billboards, *insert expletives here*).  Or the simple fact that there is no panacea.

Newly installed tape back in February 2014
I am also poor.  My farm on top of a Carolina hill has an abundance of sunshine & my Horseguard bipolar fence tape is amazing.  But it still needs electricity to convince Solo to stay on the desired side of the line.

Non-science geek translation:  I really wanted to use solar power because it's free (after setup) & is the only power generation source I'm aware of that, on my small scale, has no negative impacts (unless Iron Man is willing to share his arc reactor -- sorry, I can't even non-geek without geeking).  But all-in-one solar chargers with the durability & power to give the consistent charge you want over the years in varying weather are very, very expensive.

I'll save the technicalities to consider for another day, because the point (if I ever make it there) of this post is supposed to be "How To Make It So With Tools & Free Stuff & Hay String & Shit."

Well, it is a farm, we do have shit.

The previous set-up (& dumpster-diving validation!)
What You Need
  • One pre-existing battery-powered system:  mine = one Parmak Magnum 12 DC [battery]-powered fence charger connected to a heavy-duty deep cycle battery (hey, I still wasn't going to pay for power...).  
  • One quality solar panel & charge controller that is rated for more than 12V (see above reference to technicalities post) - guess what Awesome Mom got me for Xmas?!
  • Something to mount all this crap on, including a vertical or horizontal surface with good sun-exposure (preferably south-facing...unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere)
  • Best. BFF. Present. Ever.
  • TOOLZ!  If your charger is already in a good spot, just a drill & screwdriver to mount the panel (and that's only for eventual permament mounting, because they include options for temporary setup for indecisive people).  The panel kit I used even included screws & velcro.  Yes, velcro - they obviously get horse people.
  • Enough colour vision to distinguish red (positive) from black (negative) & enough literacy to match up the right wires with the little plus & minus signs.  Hee.  This is my third single panel installation; my first was at 22, so trust me, it's not rocket science!   
How To Do It
(My Way, Which Naturally Has Extra Steps; Easy Life Would Be Boring, Right?  RIGHT??)

A:  Know your sun/shadow patterns throughout the day.  Badass photons are powerless in shadow.

B:  Realize your current perfect battery/charger location & precision-engineered setup are conveniently close to...90% shadows after the morning.  And no way am I taking on mounting that panel 12' in the air on top of the run-in.
Dammit.
C:  Resign yourself to moving the charger to the opposite side of the run-in, within easy reach of 99% sunlight all day & a perfect mounting location on the back of the feed shed.  Of course.  You must only move...nearly everything you store there.

D:  Move the charger in just a few "simple steps:"

The new wall
(1) Install new custom Equi-Flooring material & rustic pre-assembled decorative Pallet Wall base unit .  For security, make sure your base unit is secured by AT LEAST four pieces of hay string.  This way, it will never, ever fall.  *snork*

(2)  Get creative!  That scrap of treated plywood Encore knocked down in an itching fit?  Provides perfect weather protection screwed on to the inside of the Pallet Wall.  In addition, you now have your surface ready to re-mount the charger, along with any additional parts.

It's aweeeesomeeee...
(3) Carry your specialized Battery Support System to its new location & you're set!

(4)  If you want to go wild, you can pull nails (& make sure you don't lose them thanks to your awesome new magnetic wrist wrap thingy) from some spare lumber & connect the Pallet Wall to, say, another solid object in case of hay string failure (even though we know this never happens).


Photon-ready, Captain! Yeah, there's a couple wires...
E:  Now that your original system is restored to "action-ready," stick (literally, I told you there was sticky velcro!) the solar charge controller & battery condition monitor in your desired arrangement.  Make sure the controller wires are within reach of your battery & the controller itself is within reach of the recommended wiring range for your solar panel (in this instance, 5 feet).

Controller (left) & monitor (below controller)
F:  Install your solar panel:  either in a temporary setup configuration if offered or mounted in its permanent location.  Remember that panels are designed for weather exposure, but NOT to be trod upon by humans or horses.  It's still glass!

G:  Wire the panel to the controller; this is as simple as connecting the positive & negative leads to the labelled holes.  Make sure the panel is covered at this time & NOT PRODUCING POWER WHILE YOU ARE FIDDLING WITH THE WIRING!  Safety is important, as is protecting your battery & charger.  (ok, I don't have a photo of this yet)

H:  Step back & dramatically spread your dust & sweat-smattered arms so you can loudly pronounce "TA-DAAAA!" to your horses, who couldn't care less.  But your fencing is now power-independent!!

Remind Me Of The Advantages Of Doing This?

The critical element, the controller, will prevent your panel from overcharging or draining your battery.  The condition monitor will let you test your battery whenever you like (for example, when you want to show your friends how you single-handedly harnessed badass photons to run your fence & keep your battery charged for free...just an example...).

No sun?  No problem:  my battery will run my charger on its own for over 30 days.  

That system will also keep your battery in better condition for a longer life, so you get to spend your valuable time & money -- playing with your horses, as you should be!!  

To be continued, so you shall be fully educated whether you like it or not, BWAHAHAHHAHA...