Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dehydrating at scale

We started working on our feed dehydrating operation today. The garden is producing more veggies than we need on a daily basis, so now it is time to start storing for the winter.  Plus, we need to start our annual pear harvest again, where we hope to grab about 10,000 lbs of pears this year.

why dehydrating?   Several reasons:

1. It is fairly quick and cheap if the sun is the power source
2. It can scale easily
3. It preserves sugar (where fermenting converts sugar into acid)
4. It separates juice from bulk, so both can be utilized

The overall plan is simple... the extra produce goes into our chipper/shredder to pulverize it and separate the liquid juices from the bulk.  the juice is captured and stored in buckets to freeze. The bulk is placed on drying racks for a few days and then bagged for storage.

Today we built an initial drying rack to test the design. The cost per rack with this method is around $12 for a 4' x 8' rack covered in standard fiberglass window screen.  2x2 and 1x2 pine form the frame to make it sturdy but light.

Here are some closeup pics of version 1:

The finished screen, version 1. 

Closeup of the design

Standard 45 corner braces

I cut a slot to accommodate the standard spline to hold window screen. this might need to be reinforced.

Here it is in the garden, on blocks and ready for use!

The Chipper / Shredder is a large PTO driven model with a wide screen. I would like an even wider screen to make larger chunks, but too expensive to warrant buying one. Some adjustment of the exit door should make things flow nicely.

We placed the chipper / shredder into a kiddie pool, so that the juice is caught and can be easily removed to store in buckets separately. When we do pears, there will be a LOT of juice.

the produce is slipped into the branch chute, not he brush entry at the top. This makes larger chunks with less shredding.

The finished working setup, a tarp underneath keeps the dead grass down and out of the way.

And here is the finished product.. a tray full of dripping pulp and chunks, drying in the sun. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Lettuce almost ready to harvest

We will start harvesting the lettuce this week. It will probably bolt soon due to the high heat, but the plants are doing great right now. The plan on lettuce is not too continuous harvest, but rather pull whole plants to feed the animals. It's quicker and easier, and with the heat i doubt the plants will go for long anyway.

Nice color!

Today's menu... Kale!

With the garden in full swing, the animals get a nice variety of feed from day to day. Today, the menu was fresh kale with a side of dandelion greens. And Lots of it.

The kale is super easy to harvest compared to the itchy zucchini! We pulled a load of kale, about a third of a row, in about 30 minutes. Enough for a full feeding for pigs and some for the milking goats.

I'm really happy with this variety of heirloom kale. Super producer, easy to harvest, and oh so nutritious! Farm animals never had it so good!

Trouble in paradise

So far, this year's garden had been a tremendous blessing. In fact, the best set of veggies since we started in Oregon. Except for one thing... Trouble with the pumpkins.

At first I thought it might be over watering. A few of the plants actually died and appeared to have rotted of the root. Very odd. But then more and more started yellowing. Now it seems about half of the plants are stressed.

I tested cutting the water back, but it seemed to get worse, so now we are trying more water. Time will tell. Unfortunately, some pumpkins are maturing early due to the stress.

This will undoubtedly lessen the pumpkin harvest this year.

You can possibly see the yellowing across the patch

The melons right next door are doing great

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Crash, Burn, Rebuild Air Conditioning Control

Remember when I rebuilt the air conditioner thermostat in the farm kitchen / fermenting room? Well.. yea...  sometimes things dont work out so well.. that one  sort of.. exploded.

The mistake was.. while the relays inside the temperature controller were large enough to handle the load, the actual connectors are not. After running flawlessly for a few months, one of the connectors overheated and the eventual result was... disaster.

So yesterday after deliveries I rebuilt the controller into a more robust unit... another  temperature controller just like before but  I added optoisolators to handle the compressor / heater load.  Should work beautifully. The whole thing is mounted inside a plastic storage bucket for safety (with ventilation holes cut in the sides).

Completed unit, installed and running

Here is a top view, you can see the two optoisolators, one on the left and one on the right. one does cooling and one heat.

side view showing hte heat sinks on the optoisolators. you can also see the vent holes up the side.

Here is the fancy schematic (hand drawing) of the wiring.

This is a gret temperature controller for projects, capable, cheap, accurate. 

And.. last years model after the accident

As you can see, the connector on the right end overheated and melted, shorting out he unit and blowing the fuse.