Thursday, September 29, 2011

Street Pickles

I love pickled carrots.

I figure I could eat a jar a week.  That means I need 52 jars, plus enough to give away for Christmas.

So I started a carrot farm in the boulevard.  The boulevard is that useless piece of grass between your property and the curb.  Technically, it is the City's land, but I still have to mow it.  So I built a raised carrot bed in that space last year, and then a second one this year.  All I grow in there is carrots, easy peasy.

This weekend I harvested and pickled my "new" bed - the bed is about 12' long x 4' wide and I got 47lbs of carrots out of it.  Of course, it is new dirt, which really helps.  We'll see what I get out of it next year.

 Here's the pickling setup this weekend.  All of this is from the one bed. Note the milk crate behind me that still needs to be cut up.
 I got 39 jars (about 25L) of pickled carrots out of this bed.  I should be good till New Years...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Yukon's First Privately Developed SuperGreen CERTIFIED Home

Last week we finally got our SuperGreen Certification from Yukon Housing on the duplex we built at 38 & 40 Nijmegan Road in Takhini North (some photos of the home can be found here).   Although there have been a number of excellent super-insulated homes built in Whitehorse over the last few years, we're the first ones to actually get certified as a "SuperGreenHome".  This makes 38&40 Nijmegan Rd. the first privately developed home to receive SuperGreen Certification.

The requirements for SuperGreen certification generally consist of very high energy efficient performance (EnerGuide Rating  at least 85) plus ventilation meeting the F326 using an HRV and designed, installed and balanced by an approved GreenHome Ventilation Advisor.  A home built to EnerGuide Rating of 85 requires half the heating that of a new home built in Whitehorse (nominally EnerGuide Rating of 80). 

Our second "green" certification, LEED Canada for Homes is still in the works (not the fastest process...)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Yukon's Reservoir Levels - September 15th Update

Pretty much they are all full now - both Mayo and Marsh Lakes are "full".  Aishihik is still only 95% full, not sure why.  Anyway, looks like the energy battery is charged for winter.  I wonder how long we'll be able to keep the reservoirs topped up. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Whitehorse to Mayo & Return on one tank of gas (821 km)

I had some work last week up in Mayo drilling a couple of new water supply wells for the town.  Over the past couple of years I've gotten interested in "eco-driving" - that is modifying my driving behaviour to maximize fuel efficiency.  So, I decided to see if I could make 1000km on one tank of gas.  I didn't quite make that, but I did get to Mayo and back on 66L of gas.  I turns out my car has an 80L tank, but that includes a 12 L "reserve", so it tells you are empty at 68L used.

And no, I don't drive a Prius or a Fit - it's my big old German tank - a 1991 Audi turbo quattro - a big all-wheel drive sedan.  Not bad eh?

So, how did I get this far on one tank?

Here is the secret: I drove the speed limit.

Yup, that's pretty much it.  Imagine if everyone drove the speed limit - we could probably reduce vehicle fuel usage in the Yukon by 20%!  Ok, I had a couple of other "hypermileing" tricks, but I don't know how much of a difference they made:
  • light load (just me in the car)
  • coasting down big hills with the clutch depressed
  • very slow acceleration
  • shift up early (5th gear as low as 60km/hr)
  • NEVER touch the brakes if you can avoid it
  • no radio or other electrical loads

Another interesting thing is I had a really good tailwind going north to Mayo.  I averaged about 31 mpg on the way up.  On the way back to Whitehorse, there was almost no wind (or even a slight headwind), and my mileage was much lower - 28 mpg.  Interesting that the wind could make a 10% difference, even for a low-drag car such as mine.

David MacKay has a nice summary of the effect of speed on fuel efficiency of a car in his excellent book "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air".

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Enhancing Biomass Energy Conversion...

...or in other words, I put a new catalytic combustor in my woodstove tonight.

This is the third catalytic I've put in this stove. We have a Dutchwest Large catalytic woodstove which we put in when we built the house in late 2003. We use it to provide most of our heating through the winter and burn about 4 to 5 cords of wood a year. At one time the Dutchwest stoves were one of cleanest burning woodstoves.

If you are unfamiliar with woodburning technology, a catalytic combustor "burns" the woodsmoke, making more heat from the fire and making the fire very clean burning with less smoke/particulate emissions.  The catalytic lowers the combustion temperature from around 1000F down to 500F, letting the smoke "ignite" at a much lower temperature.  Many new woodstove use "advanced combustion" technology which does not use a catalytic combustor, but these stoves are not as efficient/clean burning.  The downside of catalytic combustors is you have to take care of them and they have a limited lifespan.

The first catalytic combustor lasted about 4 years. They say they should last up to five, so that isn't so bad. When I opened the stove up, the catalytic was badly cracked and crumbling. I've now learned that you need to be a bit "gentle" with your catalytic and not shock-cool it by adding "wet" wood to your fire by engaging the catalytic right away when refueling (the steam from the wood shock cools the catalytic, causing it to crack).  I learned a lot about use, care and maintenance of the catalytic combustor in the woodstove since then.  There is a really good guide called "Care and Replacement Manual for Woodstove Catalytic Combustors" that I found on Condor Corporation's (the folks that I got my new steel catalytic from) website. 

The second catalytic only seemed to last a couple of years. Last year we had a lot less heating coming out of the stove. So, I ordered a new catalytic for this year. I got a so-called "Steel-cat" which is a steel catalytic converter instead of a ceramic one. It costs about $50 more, but is supposed to be more robust, ignites at about 400F instead of 500F (which is a lot lower!) and is supposed to be more efficient because there is more reaction surface due to the thinner walls of the catalytic honeycomb.

This picture shows my current catalytic as I pulled it out (honeycomb thing on the left).  It looks like it was still in good shape, but lots of ash and debris on it.  The air supply below looked pretty ashed/clogged up as well.  Maybe it wasn't performing well because of clogging?  The maintenance guides say you should open it up once a season and vacuum it out.  I guess I should start doing that each year.

None the less, I have a new catalytic so I put it in. In this second picture you can see the new "steelcat" catalytic combustor on the right compared to the old ceramic one.  Definitely much thinner walls and more open area, so hopefully that will make it burn better (more reaction area for the combustion to happen on, making more heat and less smoke).

So, how well does it work?  Well, I made a small 2-log fire tonight to try it out.  It seemed to light-off really easy with the combustor getting up to 800F with even the small fire.  My old one seemed to struggle just to stay ignited (they "ignite" at around 500F).

And the heat seems to really be cranking out, which feels pretty nice.  Maybe this means a few less logs for me to haul in this winter.

New steel catalytic combustor installed before re-assembling the woodstove top.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Street lights are making humanity stupid

I think street lights are making us stupid, unimaginative and uncreative.


Last weekend we went camping out at Tatuchun Lake, trying to squeeze our last camping weekends in before winter.  There was only one other couple there in the campground.  It was a totally clear night, and when looking up, I was awestruck and inspired by the amazing depth of stars.  That's just not something you see in town.  I was filled with a sense of wonder and desire to explore.

What I realized is that spirit of discovery and exploration is stimulated by dark nights and seeing a full sky of stars.  Without seeing the stars, I wonder how much of our (our being "humanity's") creativity and enthusiasm to learn, explore and discover is suppressed?

I've read that one of the most significant benefits of the space program in the '50s and '60s was the amount of creativity, science, engineering and learning that was stimulated in society.  Since the space program has waned, we've had a real drop off in research and young people entering science and engineering.  How exactly are all these M.B.As, buisness majors and IT, financiers going to advance society in REAL terms?  Not much I'm afraid.  The stimulation of science and research in society was a major argument for a Mars mission in Robert Zubrin's book "The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must".  
Kind of sad that we no longer want to explore.  I wonder how much more inspired to learn and discover we and our children would be if we could routinely see the wonder and inspiration of sky full of stars.  Are street lights and their light pollution robbing us of this gift?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Yukon's Reservoir Levels - September 1st Update

Looks like the reservoirs (our "energy battery") are just about full, just in time for winter! Marsh Lake, the Yukon's biggest reservoir, is just about full and so it Mayo Lake. Oddly, Aishihik has dropped a bit, down to 94% full, from last post. Perhaps it has to something with letting water out because of the flooding on the Aishihik road?