Sunday, November 27, 2011

Solar Upgrade

The students begin disassembling everything
Earlier this year we did a blog entry looking back at our first ten years with solar power off the grid. We reported that we were very happy with our system overall, but highlighted a few improvements that could be made. These mainly related to the fact that our solar panels, batteries and inverter were located some 40 metres from the house. Over the past few weeks, with the help of our friend Jerry, ( or email, we have redesigned our system so that it is much improved.
Jerry checks the connections to our new smart regulator

Jerry is an experienced solar installer with wide experience in solar and small wind installations. He also teaches an off grid renewable energy course at Swinburne TAFE, and used our job as a practical exercise for his students. This meant that all work was of the highest standard and we were able to “sit in” on the teaching which allowed us to expand our knowledge at the same time.  Many thanks to Jerry and his students for their excellent work.
Over 2 days we:-
       Moved the batteries and inverter into the back part of our workshop, which is attached to the house. This is a much better location because the batteries are protected from the elements (rain, sun, humidity) and are subject to a more or less constant temperature. As the workshop is part of our house they are also more secure and we no longer have to pay extra on our insurance policy because they are now covered by our contents policy.
Those batteries are heavy!
       Built a battery box to house the batteries. This prevents unauthorised access to batteries and allows any fumes to be exhausted through a vent in the wall to the outside.
       Laid new thicker cable underground to carry the DC current from the solar panels down to the house
       Reconfigured the solar panel connections so they are now arranged in 3 panels per string (480w each) with a voltage of 110v DC. The higher voltage and thicker cable reduces losses in the system.
Reconfiguring the panel connections
       Installed 1 extra 160w panel which boosts the capacity of our solar array by just over 10%
Making full use of the machine!
       Installed an Outback maximum power point tracking (MPPT) or smart solar regulator. Our old regulator was a very basic “not very smart” device. Our new regulator is programmable and can monitor current flows to maximise solar gain in the system. It also allows us to program regular equalisation charges and provides a host of extra readouts including a 180 day history of how much power has gone into the batteries
       Upgraded all connections to current installation standards. Our initial setup was done prior to solar becoming “mainstream” and before installation standards had been set at a high level. The previous system had a proliferation of wires, little to no labelling and minimal protection fuses in the system. Jerry ensured this was all rectified, leaving everything clearly labelled and neatly set out.
       While we had the machinery here, we took the opportunity to run underground 240v cabling to our new garage for power points and lighting. We also installed a large pipe under the drive so that we can direct water from both sides of the driveway into our dam.
The new setup
We thoroughly recommend Jerry if you have the need for someone experienced in alternative energy installations . Apart from the quality of his work, he is happy to work within a budget, can sometime’s source quality second-hand equipment and is happy for clients to contribute some of the labour to reduce costs. Although based in Healesville, he does installations all over the state.
When getting quotes for a renewable energy system, there are huge benefits in choosing an installer with whom you can form a working relationship. Someone who not only has the expertise, but uses quality components, is reliable and whom you can call on for help if necessary. If you go for the cheapest quote or one of the larger alternative energy companies you may not get this.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Long Overdue Chai Recipe

So many people have asked me for the chai recipe that I use at the Healesville Organic Market and on our tours at Tenderbreak. I am more than happy to share it.

The amounts of ingredients I have written here are for quite a number of people...say at least 14 people, so adjust amounts according to roughly how many people will be drinking it. You can probably tell that I’m an “add a bit of this and add a bit of that” person!!!!!

My chai recipe doesn’t have any tea in it so it is caffeine free. Not all chai recipes have tea in them anyway.

·       Sticks of cinnamon
·       Green cardamom pods
·       Star of anise (whole)
·       Cloves (whole)
·       Bay leaves (your own tree or someone else you know may have one)
·       Fresh ginger (organic from our Organic Healesville market )
·       Chilli or cayenne (use own if you grow it)
·       Soy milk (Organic)
·       Water (we use our own tank water)
·       Honey (we use local Cathedral Valley honey from Healesville Organic Market.)
·       Piece of vanilla pod (if desire)

 Grab a reasonably large stainless steel saucepan or pot.
Throw in:-
·       5 or 6 cinnamon sticks (broken up a bit with your hands),
·       One and a half handfuls of green cardamom pods,
·       a handful of star of anise
·       a sprinkling of cloves....say about a dozen or so
·       3 bay leaves (fresh or dried),
·       6 cm or so of fresh ginger root sliced.(if you are a ginger lover like me then adjust amount to your taste)
·       Pinch of chilli or cayenne (be careful with the amount of this as too much will overpower the brew and the tasters may gasp, choke and try to hide their streaming eyes!!)  

Now, cover the ingredients with water so that the water level is about 4 cm above the ingredients.
Bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on for 15 to 20 mins.
Turn the stove off. Leave the pot with lid on to cool down for a few hours or at least an hour. This will allow the flavours from the spices to infuse into the water.

When ready to make the chai, bring infused water back to the boil with added soymilk.  Add enough soymilk  (about 1 litre)  to the water to make a nice milky chai. I haven’t made this chai with cow’s milk but I’m sure it would be just as fine. When you add the milk, DO NOT put the lid on the saucepan, as it will froth up and boil over making one big mess!!

Don’t forget the honey!! I add about a good heaped one and a half tablespoonfuls to the brew. It’s up to you if you are more or less a sweet tooth. The chilli or cayenne can be added now or left out whichever you wish. Grating a little bit of whole nutmeg on top of the cup of chai adds that last exotic flavour!

As you may already realise, this recipe is just a guide for you as far as amounts go but with a bit of twitching and adjustment you will come up with your very own favourite version. One of the lovely things about this recipe is that you can keep topping up with more water and milk if people want more and your brew is running low. Remember to add a bit more honey if you are doing this.

Another great thing is that if you want chai another day from the same spices (say 3 or 4 days later) then drain off all liquid (don’t waste it ...drink it). Wash the spices in the sieve under cold running water, then store in an airtight container in the fridge. When you next want to use them, put into the pot, bring to boil, simmer for a while , let cool naturally for spice flavours to infuse ,then follow the original recipe as above.

A handy hint for pouring chai into your cups is ...use a soup ladle and pour through a tea strainer that you can perch on top of the cup.

Happy Chai drinking with family and friends!!!!!!!
Claire and Graeme enjoying a cup of chai at Healesville Organic Market

I wish to thank Linda George for happily allowing me to play around with her chai recipe.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Would you like a “Tenderbreak Experience”?

Over the past 12 months we have had many queries from people asking if we take on WOOFERS (Willing Workers on Organic Farms). So far this year we have been unable to take people on because our “WOOFER room” has been occupied by a friend. As our friend is moving out shortly, the situation has now changed. If you are interested in visiting for a few days (up to a week) have a look at the details below and contact us ( for more information.
We are located at Dixons Creek, 65km from Melbourne. Our WOOFER room has a double bed and is suitable for a single person or a couple. Our usual arrangement is that board and meals are provided free in exchange for around 4 hours help daily (with occasional days off). Of course there will be plenty of opportunities to learn about permaculture and how it helped us design our property. Other areas that could make it a valuable learning experience include passive solar house design, sustainable living, off grid solar power, gardening, bushfire behaviour and much more. There are also opportunities for walks in the adjacent Pauls Range State Forest, bird watching and learning about our native wildlife.
This opportunity is definitely not a holiday and we are only interested in people who are genuinely interested in helping out and learning new skills as well as sharing their experiences with us. We always try and fit in with the interests of visitors. At this time of year the list of potential tasks include:-
·       Garden type tasks- weeding, planting, composting, watering etc.
·       Fire prevention activities and setting up our new woodshed
·       Small building jobs
·       Harvesting, cooking and preserving
·       Helping out with our tours and on our market stall
·       Looking after our chooks, ducks and dog
If you are interested, send us an email with some background information, your interests and what you would like to get out of a stay.
We are 20km from Lilydale Railway station and can arrange pickup/drop off if you don’t have your own transport.
PS. You can find out a bit more about our past WOOFERS by clicking the WOOFER link on the right side of our web page ( ).
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