24 June 2010

DC pump powered by solar panel for solar water heating

It seems like ages ago that we started to put up the new vacuum solar tubes. The rain and the corn planting and hay cutting have stopped us getting on with the installation but today we finished it !

I've used a photo of a pump as an introduction to today's blog post because DC pumps like these are really difficult to find - at least in France.
Someone searching the 'net for a solar powered pump (As I've done so often !) will get the information here that they need to find the right pump. The installation and operation manual of our pump is available on the 'net in the Laing website

Our old flat plate solar collectors worked by thermosiphon - that is the hot water rose and circulated without the need for a pump. (Note the English and the American spellings differ) I prefer that system as there's nothing to go wrong but as I wanted to put our new panels on the back roof of the conservatory where they wouldn't be seen which is higher that our hot water cylinder, we couldn't use thermosyphon and have to pump the hot water around the circuit.

This little pump is powered by a little 20 watt photovoltaic panel which of course only works when the sun shines and the water is being heated - so it's perfect for a solar water heating system !

The photo above shows Fabrice fitting the last of the 16 vacuum tubes which each heat a little copper bar at the top of them. They fit into a manifold where they heat the water. That was the last step in the fitting process after we'd tested the pump and bled the hot water system.

I haven't lagged the pipes or insulated the water cylinder yet just in case there's a leak, so the system isn't as efficient as it will be when it's insulated but so far everything is working as planned and the water is warming up nicely.

1 June 2010

Hens, hatching eggs, chicks and dustbaths

Our hens lay their eggs (mostly!) in empty gunpowder containers in the chicken house. Once a hen goes broody, she'll stay put on the eggs and when you approach her she has a very aggressive stare and pecks you when you put your hand near her. You can be almost sure then that she wants to be left in peace to hatch her eggs. I say "her" eggs but the chicken doesn't really mind whose eggs she sits on !

We often swop the eggs our hens have chosen to sit on, replacing them with our "best" eggs or with eggs from friends. Our huge red cockerel - the biggest I've ever seen - was a gift of an egg from a friend who said we'd be delighted with him and we are !

When the hen is settled on her eggs, we lift the barrel and its contents gently to our "inner sanctum" - a big cage inside our chicken shed where the hens can sit undisturbed by other hens who want to lay their eggs in the same barrel. By moving the hens we ensure that there's no fighting, no eggs get broken and the eggs all hatch at the same time. That gives each chick the best possible chance of survival.

Once the chicks are hatched we keep them inside the cage for about a week to make sure they're well fed and they learn to respond the their mother's calls to feed and hide under her wings when told to do so. We sometimes have to move them out once the next batch of chicks are hatched to prevent fighting either into a covered chicken tractor or into the big wide world - a very dangerous place for a little chick.

As well as the dangers from stoats, snakes and the obstacles on the terrain itself, birds of prey take chicks and it's heartbreaking to walk down to the chicken shed and find several writhing on the ground having been dropped by the birds. Keeping them inside or outside under a cage helps reduce the inevitable losses.

Chickens love to take dust baths, they are essential to the well being of your chickens to help rid then of external parasites and dead skin. If, like ours, you hens free range leave them a few corners of the garden but protect your plants and seedlings otherwise they'll break your heart !

Dust baths are especially appreciated after a hen has spent three weeks sitting on eggs and the first thing she'll do with her new chicks is to look for somewhere to take a dust bath. If you don't have room in your garden, a paddling pool filled with dry, riddled soil will do the job. The substance used must be fine enough to clog the breathing pores of the chicken's parasites.

I've tried using Diatomaceous earth but noticed that my chickens' eyes were being irritated by the powder, so I've stopped using it and I don't use sand for the same reason.

You'll have to replace the soil regularly because the chickens wriggle their way in to the the dust and cover themselves with as much as possible then shake out an impressive amount of dust all over the place.