All posts by Pithole Hermit

Off-grid Refrigeration – a cheap and effective way

Okay. I have finally decided to develop an improved refrigeration system. Here’s what I’ve been using up until now.

Basically, it’s just a stock pot with a wet t-shirt thrown over it for evaporative cooling. And filled with well water, which is actually between 48 – 50 degrees. So it keeps it pretty decent for vegetables but it’s not good enough for long-term storage of perishables. I need to get the temperature down to about 40. Or lower

Since I want it to be off grid I’m going to have to make it 12 volts so I don’t have to run my inverter.

And using a regular compressor driven refrigeration unit just uses too much power for the solar panels I have .

So I’m going to use thermoelectric cooling devices. Peltier chips. What they do is when you apply voltage one side gets hot and the other side gets cold. They can lower the ambient temperature by anywhere from 15 to 30 degrees. So since I’m only needing to go 10 to 20 degrees, I should be able to accomplish this. I could buy thermoelectric coolers pre-made but they won’t fit what I want to do. Because they only lower the ambient temperature, if it’s 90 degrees out it will only go down to maybe 60 degrees. But if I can submerse it in my well water, and change the well water regularly, the ambient temperature would effectively be 50 degrees. Which means I could get down to 40 with no problem anytime of the year. And also during the winter I could still use the storage system and just use the temperature outside to refrigerate like I have been doing. So I have two peltier chips on order. They’re not that expensive. About six bucks a piece. One is just for backup. I’m only going to use one and I’m going to put it on top of that stock pot so the cold is on the inside and the heat dissipation is on the outside and then a fan blows the cold around inside and I will insulate the pot outside.

The basic parts. An old peltier chips is shown on the right.

I could have used just a store bought cooler and cut holes in it to put the peltier unit inside but I like the idea of the metal container. I think that it will hold the cold longer when it’s not running if it’s insulated from the outside. And also I will submerse the bottom into the cold water. I may just get a round cooler and put put the pot inside the round cooler. And have the benefits of both.

In addition I plan on something that almost all of the inexpensive thermoelectric coolers for sale, don’t do. I ordered a cheap $5 temperature control module, that runs on 12 volts and very low power usage, that can sense the temperature inside and turn on the thermoelectric unit when it needs to be and turn it off when it doesn’t need to be on.

Most of the $50 – $70 thermoelectric coolers don’t have thermostat control. They just get cold or if your reverse the voltage they get hot to warm things up. They don’t get real hot, but you can keep food warm in them too. So my unit will actually be able to do that too if I want to heat it up, but I can’t imagine why I want to do that. But here’s the unit that I ordered.

Temperature Control Module

It’ll be here tomorrow. So I’ll update this post as I complete it. I have to cut a small square hole in the top of the lid of my stock pot. Mount the heat sinks on either side of the chip. Mount fans on top of that.

The fan on the bottom is to circulate the cold air. The fan on the top is to dissipate the heat and if it works out, I may just develop a way to circulate water through the heat part. So I don’t have to run the fan and just use a gravity-fed water to circulate through and cool the top heat sink. The better the heat is is disappated the colder the other side gets.

I always have to try to limit the amount of electricity I use, otherwise I’m going to have to go buy more batteries and more solar panels.

Because of my years doing computer repair, I have plenty of heat sinks and fans from old computers. So I don’t have to purchase those.

The drawback? Peltier chips are not very efficient. (ie. power in for result produced). But since they use such little power the amount of power lost doesn’t matter. And a large compressor does much more than I need, so I wouldn’t be saving anything.

Oh, and by the way. Those peltier chips that take electricity and make heat and cold? They also work the other way around. If you make one side hot and the other side cold they produce electricity. Not very efficient but they make a product which is a pot with a peltier chip mounted on the bottom. When you put cool water into the pot and put it on a campfire it can charge a cell phone. I think the ones I saw were called PowerPots.

UPDATE:. He is the nearly complete refrigerator with the insulation out side. The insulation is not permanently attached yet. A little more testing but so far it works pretty good.

Indian Cucumber

Just a couple hundred yards away I found a nice, big patch of Indian Cucumbers.

The tiny roots are edible and taste somewhat like a cucumber. Or I compare it to the white part of a Day Lily or Cattail shoot.

Fire Pit

I need a more convenient way to heat water for showers and laundry, and also to cook outdoors. I have started to piece together a fire pit. I’m sure the design will change a lot before I mortar it together.

The Beaver Pond

I took Lily for a walk today down to a branch of Pithole Creek. It is the closest creek to my cabin, maybe 15 or 20 minute walk, but I have never been to this spot before. When we reached the creek I was surprised how large it was. I’ll be going back to go fishing. We worked our way downstream and it suddenly got wider. Then much wider.

Beaver Lodge in center

It was a beaver pond.

This huge tree was a favorite target of the beavers.

Chewed tree with dam in back

The dam looks pretty old, but solid. And no freshly chewed trees seems to indicate the beavers are gone.

Plastic Siding

My plans for making siding boards for the shed fell through when I was unable to get the tools and the hand tools I have didn’t work well. Also, since my jeep’s suspension is pretty well shot I don’t want to haul too much weight, so buying boards was out. So I used plastic sheeting.

Won’t last long but at least it keeps the tools inside dry.

A Trip to Pithole City

It was very nice weather today so I thought that I could finally get some things done. But everything I tried seemed to go wrong. Wrong tools, no materials, injuries etc. So I looked over at Lily laying patiently in the sun and said “let’s go for a trip”. She jumped up and began her celebration run.

We didn’t go very far. Just a couple miles down the road to the Pithole City ghost town. It was the first place I let Lily run off the leash when I got her a year and a half ago. Unfortunately there were other people there (a rare occurrence since the “museum” there is rarely open) so I had to keep her on the leash. It was still a nice walk.

Then we went down to Pithole Creek by the old cemetery where she could run free. The old cemetery has been a favorite place of mine for over 40 years. But it is the 21st century so of course someone bought the land and posted it. Sad. Nothing uglier than land with posted signs all over it. Anyway, we could walk down to the creek. There are still some land owners who aren’t completely selfish. Not many.

Camping out

So, you may be asking yourself, “Where does someone who lives in a cabin in the woods go to get away?”. Well, I go further back in the woods and setup a camp.

It’s down by the growing pond, so soon there will be lots of frogs when the tadpoles leave the water. And probably mosquitos.

Saw Mill

So I started using the Alaskan Sawmill. Sorry, no video. I snapped a couple pictures. Worked okay. I’ll use it mainly for small logs. I would have set up for video but the chainsaw wouldn’t start and I had to tear it down so by the time I was cutting I didn’t feel like filming.

For the first cut you are supposed to put a flat board on top. Since I was just checking it out, and the log was pretty straight, I didn’t bother.

Canned Meat

This is a pet peave of mine.

Have you ever noticed how people on the internet repeat information they hear as if it were absolute fact when it may not be true or may be only partially true.

I am planning on doing some canning. I thought I’d look up on the internet to get some ideas. When I looked up canning meat I found the same comment over and over again. Whether it was a homesteading, a survivalist or just a cooking site they all said the same thing. Often exactly the same words. “When canning meat it is very, very, very important that you absolutely must use a pressure canner.” They then go on to tell you how you will die and the world will end if you don’t run out and buy a pressure canner. (the source of many of the statements, using the same words, appears to originally come from the Presto website trying to sell pressure canners). Also, all our ancestors died of botulism because they didn’t use a pressure canner/cooker.

Now we all know the dangers of botulism and I am not saying to take it lightly. But it just isn’t true that the only way to safely can meat is with a pressure canner.

A little background on botulism. Botulism is caused by a bacteria. The bacteria can form spores which can survive some extremes. The bacteria also produces a toxin. The toxin is what is harmful to us. (it also provides Botox, BOtulism TOXin, which makes aging politicians look permanently surprised and who are also harmful to us) We can actually eat the bacteria or the spores without getting sick. They can’t survive our gut. But if the bacteria is left on food for a period of time the toxin they produce makes the food poisonous.

Canning in a regular water bath canner heats the food to 212 degrees. This is hot enough to kill the bacteria and to neutralize (denature) the toxin (actually 180 degrees is hot enough, see pasteurization and double-pasteurization for germinated spores). It is not hot enough to kill the spores. A pressure canner takes the temperature to over 240 degrees which is hot enough to kill the spores. If the spores aren’t killed they CAN become bacteria over a period of time. So people mistakenly say that you MUST use a pressure canner. Look back on this paragraph. Temperatures over 180 degrees for 5 minutes neutralizes the toxin (according to the CDC it is easily destroyed). This means it is then safe to eat. (as far as botulism is concerned) SO JUST COOK THE CANNED MEAT BEFORE YOU EAT IT! It’s not rocket surgery. Just cook the meat like you would any raw meat. Of course if it smells bad or the cap has popped don’t eat it just like you would with any canned goods.

So some of you are out there thinking why not just use a pressure canner to begin with. No problem with that. Just don’t mislead people into thinking it’s the only way. And even if you use a pressure canner it’s a good idea to still cook the meat, or even many low acid vegetables. (by the way, pickled beef heart is delicious and makes meat high acid). But imagine a survivalist is all prepped when a catastrophe strikes. All the stores are closed or destroyed. The guy finds out the seal or the relief valve on his pressure canner is broke with no way to fix it. He just might starve or be frightened to death because he’s been told he has to use a pressure canner without being told there are other ways. Okay. It’s a silly example but you get the idea. Maybe someone just can’t budget a cheap pressure canner. And for those of you privileged people who have never been truly broke this can be a reality for many people.

Now for those of you who only trust what the government says here is a link to the CDC. Read the whole thing. Of course they recommend using a pressure canner if you can but actually look at the facts they present.

https://www.emergency.cdc.gov/agent/Botulism/clinicians/control.asp

Finally, the reason the botulism bacteria grows to begin with is because meat and some vegetables are low acid. The bacteria can’t survive in acid (remember our gut is deadly to them). You can also add acid, such as vinegar or nitrites to the canned meat to prevent bacteria growth.

But I’m sure there will always be plenty of unthinking people out there repeating the Pressure Canner mantras.

And boy am I glad I don’t have comments on this site. I’m sure there are still some of you folks out there, frightened of life, who will always be convinced everything is out to kill you.

Guess what?

You’re right.

Nobody gets out alive.

Rollin’

After nearly three years I finally put wheels on my generator. Now I can be mobile while working with power tools. Things like grinding old pipes in the woods for construction. When it quits raining (or even snowing) I’ll weld on a handle.

And these 10 inch wheels with bearings were only $5.99 each at Harbor Freight.