January 31, 2010 – Cedar Rapids Post Flood

I had a chance to attend a meeting (actually I presented about wind energy) near Cedar Rapids. I arrived about a half-hour early and was curious about the recovery after the 500 year flood in 2008. I was struck at the lack of progress in recovery – still blocks of abandoned homes.

You can still see the water lines on the door in the first house.

The next house down the block.  The neighborhoods were eerily quiet. No sidewalks shoveled, no cars parked in the street – quiet. I thought of all the effort that people had put into the houses in the 10 square miles that flooded – all in a zone that was never expected to flood. I thought about Katrina and the differences – although the loss of habitation in the neighborhoods is similar, residents of Cedar Rapids did not live with the fact that their homes were below sea level. I can imagine the critters and the like that have moved into these houses with broken windows, and holes in the walls.

The video above is from a web site, the Cedar Rapids Flood Story that tells of the progress and frustrations of falling out of the national news cycle.

The city is stuck with a 5.5 billion dollar repair bill, and has received about 0.3 billion in aid. All the politician’s speeches the days after the flood, were just that – photo ops.  The city now faces an unprecedented loss of tax revenue (75% of downtown businesses remain closed) as a result of homes and businesses off the tax rolls, along with a recession, and an unprecedented repair bill. People of Iowa do not need to to travel to other countries or New Orleans for mission trips as long as Cedar Rapids remains is disarray.

one year ago…”I’m Melting”

January 30, 2010 – Easy (and cheap) Row Covers

I’m not shy about stealing great ideas from others, so if you are looking for a cheap and easy row cover to protect your  insect-prone crops like squash and cabbage, check out Herrick Kimball.

The Whizbang Row Cover System looks like a great way to protect your crops at a reasonable price.

Herrick is a man after my own heart, with his ingenious, practical, and cheap ideas and plans. Just to whet your appetite, the photo above copied from his web site shows his homemade clips using old bicycle tubes and scrap wood.

one year ago…”Repurposed Solar Landscape Lights”

January 29, 2010 – How Much Noise Does a Skystream Make

I went out on a windy day to see if I could capture the sound the Skystream makes with my video camera. This is a short video of a Skystream 2.4 kw wind turbine on a 70 foot tower on a windy day. I mainly posted it to show how it sounds. You can compare it to a row of pine trees on the same property the same day. You might have to turn the sound up loud to hear it.

Since standard video cameras do not capture enough frames per second (you would need a special camera to capture the turbine spinning at 320 RPMs) the motion of the blades is not as you’d see with the blur of the naked eye.

For comparison, here’s the row of pine trees the same day.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #151″

January 27, 2010 – Coke Coolers

We’re starting a new venture – distributing old-style glass coke bottles in these refurbished coolers at convenience stores.

Here’s a bunch of them in the barn. OK, the joke’s over – we are NOT going into beverage distribution, but instead our barn is hosting a staging area for distribution to area farms. These were all give-aways at a distributorship in NE Iowa and are all reserved for small farms for temporary storage of farm products such as vegetables, eggs, etc.

one year ago…”Frosty Morning”

January 26, 2010 – Aftermath

The wind stopped blowing this evening. As usual, the ground was blown clear, or drifted.

We were lucky the chicken coop wasn’t drifted shut, but instead left this sculpted pathway to the coop.

Sundogs this morning towards the morning sun.

Finally, this 25 car and snowplow pileup near Mason City shows what can happen when you drive too fast in a white-out!

one year ago…”Apple Pie”

January 25, 2010 – Blizzard Warning with no Warning?

The weather people missed out on predicting this storm  We went from winter weather advisory to Blizzard warning in a flash.

I’ll only bother you with four seconds of the view while I was waiting for the early out bus near the closest blacktop road.

sheep in barn

We’ve learned it’s just best to take the lead of the animals and hunker down until it passes, like the animals in the barn.

I had to laugh at the poor sap they interviewed on TV who said he shoveled his sidewalk 12 times today – after each shovel it filled in with snow in just 10 minutes. Evidently it took him 12 times to realize it was pointless and it might be better to shovel it just once after the wind stops blowing!

I-35 is closed from Ames to Clear Lake and I-80 is shut from Newton to Grinnell, so we are pretty much getting hammered.

one year ago…”Snowbanks are Back”

January 24, 2010 – Sleep, who Needs Sleep?

After the recent ice storm, the subsequent weather was a night of rain at 33 degrees with wind. This brought with it a slooooow removal of the ice from the trees over a period of, oh say, over one night. All night the house was pelted with chunks of ice that sounded like golf balls being thrown at the house, about every 15-45 seconds like clockwork. It was amazing in a disgusting kind of way that it could go on for so long and not just get over with. By about 8 am all the ice was finally gone.

one year ago…”Mercury in High Fructose Corn Syrup”

January 23, 2010 – The Ultimate Christmas Tree

Now that we’ve grown our Christmas tree, dug it out of a snowbank, dragged it into the house for the holidays and decorated it, it’s time for the 2nd to last use of the Christmas tree.

Here it is after the animals had a chance to browse the branches and even chew the bark off the tree!  The last step will be for the tree to be dragged to the site of next year’s burn pile to be the base for next December’s bonfire.  Certainly the high hopes version of the giving tree!

one year ago…”Laying Hen Update”

January 22, 2010 – Ice Still Hanging On

Two days after the ice storm, the ice still hangs on.

The trees are ponderous with ice.  This is a spruce tree encased in ice.

Here’s a side view that shows the oh-so-gradual melting of the ice, but not quickly enough for my taste.  Tonight and tomorrow we are supposed to warm above freezing and get heavy rain and high winds – we hope that the warmth precedes the wind, otherwise the powerlines will be a mess.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #150″

January 20, 2010 – Want Ice with That?

Another ice storm fell from the heavens today.  Ice is much harder to deal with than snow or rain.

It’s hard to read electric meters.  It’s also hard to open garage doors that face in the direction of the wind.  It took lots of pounding with a rubber mallet to pound the hundreds of pounds of ice off the door to open it.

The hay wagon out in the pasture shows off the ice.

Now, for a story that might belong in the “you know you are a redneck if” department.  I took the shotgun outside and started shooting trees.  I hit them too!  The last big ice storm cracked some branches high up in the maple trees in the front yard.  The branches have been dangling down, just waiting to fall for over a year.  I thought – Eureka – with the branches laden with the heavy ice, a well-placed shot to the place where they are tentatively attached to the tree, might be enough to drop them down now – instead of later on a dog, person, or car.  Voila – it worked like a charm and two branches no longer irritate me hanging down from near the top of the tree.

What good is an ice storm if the power doesn’t go out?  Dinner accompanied by beeswax votives.  Martin had all the gear from Christmas for the occasion – a hand crank LED lantern, and most importantly, night vision goggles that really work!

one year ago…”Local Foods Moves to Mainstream”

January 19, 2010 – The Home-made Solar Air Heater Quest Begins

We may be getting a new heat-pump water heater (this type removes the heat from the surrounding air to heat the water and uses 1/3 the electricity of a regular water heater).  The downside (at least in the winter) is that it exhausts cool air.  It runs more efficiently if it has relatively warm air to work with, so I was brainstorming about cheap ways to get hot air into the basement.  I found some designs for a hot air solar heater – it’s a simple concept.  Anyone who has found a car with all its windows closed to be warm, even in the winter, knows about the concept – capture warm air in an enclosed space and move it to the basement.

So Martin and I are taking it upon ourselves to make an experimental collector.  First step is to make a frame to hold the air collector. The back was an old, grease-stained sheet of paneling from the garage and the sides are 1x4s.

Next we added insulation to the box – adding a layer of foam board insulation, covered with some of the bubble-wrap reflective insulation.  That’s as far as we are so far, keep tuned for irregular updates as we move along.

one year ago…”Shrubbery Windbreaks”