Winter’s Work

I, this is George writing, spend a lot of time in the woods in winter. Most of this time is spent cutting, splitting and stacking firewood, but I also walk in the woods. Winter is a time of contrasts in West Virginia. The temperatures can be unseasonably warm, or it can be bitterly cold. It can be overcast for days or there can be clear skies with the blue incredibly bright in the cold dry air. There can be snow or mud or dry ground.

I’ve been cutting most of our firewood off the rocks road on our property. On a flat below the road to the south a large red oak fell taking with it a large white oak. I cut this red oak this year. I plan on cutting the white oak next year. The red oak when it came down also brought down a small maple tree in the left foreground of the photo.

There had been a light snow when I’d started to stack the piles of split wood. There ended up being two stacks of red oak and a much smaller stack of maple.

I came across these ice crystals covering a small patch of frozen water on the road when walking to the mail box.

The ice crystals were tiny and clumped on the frozen puddle.

Deer sleep curled up on the ground. Sometimes it’s possible to spot these deer beds in the dry leaves. It’s a lot easier to see the beds when it has snowed. In this photo there are three spots where deer slept while it snowed. After an earlier snow I came across a much larger cluster of deer beds, 6 or 7, in a small area sheltered by small beech trees. These deer are sleeping on a sheltered south facing slope.

I’ve had to create three ATV trails to get to some of the trees I’ve been cutting. This trail goes up to the knoll above the rocks. I had a pile of wood I’d cut 2 years ago up on the knoll and the trail meant I could take the trailer to the pile and bring the split wood to the house for firewood this winter. On the knoll I felled a dead white oak and cut up two fallen red oaks. That wood is stacked for next year. On the knoll this fall there were three deer scrapes—trees (in this case very small trees) where male deer had rubbed their antlers.

There are always surprises in the woods. There are long vista views that we’ll lose once the trees leaf out again. There’s almost always something close at hand, too. This is an orchid leaf that was near a fallen red oak log I was cutting. I’ll have to check and see if I can get a photo of its flower. I’ve only seen this type of orchid one other place in the woods and only seen that one’s beautiful flower once.

Elijah came to visit us in February and he helped me stack wood one morning. This is wood from a fallen red oak. I had to cut through the top for an ATV trail and it made sense to cut up the hole log.

Elijah is six now and eager to help. He really liked stacking split pieces of wood in the pile.

A large red oak fell just to the south of the rocks a couple of years ago. I started cutting it this winter. Most of the firewood I cut this year was on fairly level ground. This tree fell down a steep slope and was a challenge. On the flat is a stacked pile of firewood I cut last year.

The cut sections of this tree are quite large and heavy. I had to use a 5 foot steel pry bar to flop them so they lay flat. This photo gives an idea of the slope I was working on. The round bolts are too heavy to lift and hard to control when I cut. The last thing I want is one to break loose and roll down the hillside. Luckily, it is a lot easier to throw split pieces of wood down a steep hillside than carry them up to stack.

There are always lots to see when I’m working. This is the outer side of a piece of red oak where the bark has fallen off during splitting.

Solar Upgrade

We’ve added panels to our solar setup and made additions to the solar shed. Our primary solar input is through 3 polycrystaline panels ranging from 235 to 250 watts each. They produce electricity as 24 volts DC. The 4 panels we added are 190 watt monocrystaline and produce electricity as 36 volts DC.

We have two Morningstar MPPT chargers for the panels. These chargers are able to take 24 or 36 volts input and adapt to charge a 12 volt battery bank. One charger has input from the 24 volt panels and the other charger has input from the 36 volt panels, with both charging at 12 volts for the batteries.

This photo was taken at 4 pm on December 4th.

We added the panels because for 4 months during winter the sun at the south is in almost always in the trees. We don’t get the same level of solar charging for our batteries. For 2 of those 4 months we generally don’t have to use a generator to charge the batteries (we have a 100 amp charger wired into our system). From November 21st through January 21st a series of cloudy days requires running the generator periodically to keep the batteries at a decent level of charge.

Our hope is that the extra panels will help keep the batteries at a better charge and require less running of the generator.

We have 3 of the 190 watt monocrystaline panels on a frame. All our other panels face solar south. These face southeast to get morning sun where there’s a break in the tall trees. Monocrystaline panels are affected by shading, unlike polycrystaline panels. Output will dramatically drop if there’s a shadow on a panel.

We had a wood frame supporting one of the polycrystaline panels. We put in rails so the wood frame would support 2 panels. The panel on the left is 235 watts polycrystaline and the one on the right is 190 watts monocrystaline. The larger panel is 50 pounds in weight, the smaller panel is about 40 pounds, easier to manage.

For most roof top solar panel installations a rail support system is used. The rails are aluminum and are designed with a groove for clips to hold panels on the top and another groove on the side for the T-bolt or similar mechanism for fastening to the roof. We used the K2 support system.

The end clips hold the panels securely. Since we had 2 different sizes of panels we had 4 end clips for each. A series of same-sized panels would have intermediary clips.

There is a junction box on the back of each panel at the top. Positive and negative cables leave the junction box and are connected to the wires to the solar shed with special connectors.

The connectors are male and female outer plastic shells. Inside the female shell has a male terminal and the male shell has a female terminal. I’ve taken a male connector apart and below the connectors are the components. The terminal is crimped to the wire. A cap is slid up the wire, then a compression cap, and then a white rubber sleeve. When the cap is screwed onto the connector the compression cap squeezes the rubber sleeve into the connector and around the wire creating a seal. If you look closely you’ll see the red o-ring on the black plastic male connector for an inner seal.

For attaching terminals to wire I have a special crimping tool. The blue tools at the bottom are for screwing the connector cap and body tightly together. These tools also have prongs for pressing retaining clips holding the connectors together so the connectors can be released.

We have a breaker box in the solar shed for wires going from the panels to the chargers. Square D QO breakers are UL listed for DC use and are the least expensive option. We have similar breaker boxes for wires going from the chargers to the batteries. Breakers at both sides of the chargers allows them to be isolated from the system. There is a similar breaker box for the wires from the 100 amp charger when we need to use the generator for charging.

Autumnal 2

A huge transformation takes place in the woods each spring and fall. In the spring leaves appear and the woods’ primary colors changes from browns to greens. In the fall, the primary colors change again from a whole range of greens, oranges, and reds to brown again.

For us we have these new fall colors on the trees around us and underfoot.

At first the colors are primarily yellows and browns on the ground with moss showing through. The browns get darker and reds start to appear.

Eventually all the leaves are on the ground and we are kept busy raking and hauling leaves to compost piles.

All the raking tends to keep our eyes to the ground in our yard. Walking in the woods, it’s different. This photo was taken from down in the hollow looking up at our ridge.

Not all the leaves fall. Beech trees retain their leaves until spring. When this photo was taken the beech leaves had turned yellow. Now they are brown.

After leaves start to fall we begin to see the sky at our home. The phases of the moon at night. Sunsets at nightfall.