a day in the life of 3 porch farm
as written by steve o’shea, one half of 3 porch farm:
February 2nd 2016...Wake up at 7:30, kiss my lovely wife, jot down some research questions for her new flower studio that I'm drawing up plans for. Get up and shake off the cold. It's in the 20's outside. I drink a few tall glasses of warm water and dine on organic whole plain yogurt. Throw in some apple slices, peanut butter, and cereal and sprinkle on extra probiotics for good measure. I send some emails about farm grants we are hoping to receive while eating. Look at instagram, google carpentry questions, throw the dish on the sink and get layered up for a cold day. Before I go out, I'm reminded by the mess on the sink that the drain pipes busted last night and need some attention. I spend some quality time under the sink, get it fixed, and step out into the cold morning air by 9:15. I climb a ladder to the roof of the barn that I had done some structural work to last year in anticipation of today.
Today is the day I put 5.5 Kw of solar panels on the roof. Today is a good day. Today is also a cold day. 15-20 mph winds and a high of about 35. We aren't near the high yet. Its cold on the roof. I check my layout and start to install the microinverters and surprisingly it goes fairly smooth. That's the opposite of normal. Our new employee, Edwin, shows up at 10 and helps me install the last row and a half of inverters. This is exciting. I've spent over a year and a half researching and designing this system, rebuilding the barn, adding a roof extension, applying for grant funds, attempting to get into buyback programs with Georgia Power, installing the racking system, and pre-wiring the whole system so that once the last panel was in place, the system would be ready for Georgia Power to change the meter and let me flip my switch to carbon neutrality!
So yeah, get the solar panels on the roof. But the roof is tall and slippery, the winds are high and the panels are big thin rectangles that want to catch the wind and fly away. I use the tractor to gently lift 4 panels at a time to the edge of the roof. Edwin and I carefully lift the first panel, slip and claw our way to the peak, and fiddle around until we figure out the racking system and our exact location. By one oclock, we had the top 8 panels, installed, wired up and ready to go. Off the roof and in the warm house for veggie pot pie and tea with Mandy. We are in fine spirits.
Feeling the groove, we hit the roof and work faster.....and the problems start. We forget to wire this one, then that one. Okay okay, we fix em and keep moving. The inverters are in the way of the panels. okay okay, we remove the panels and move the inverters into a better position. Keep going. Next inverter is in the way....okay, hold the panel up, don't blow off the roof, use frozen fingers to unbolt the inverter. Bolt breaks. Get another one. Can't. They only sent the exact amount. Get a new one. Can't. It's custom and weird and from Colorado. Half the roof to go and stopped short by one tiny piece of metal. 45 minutes lost trying to Jerry Rig a solution and the wind got really bad. I come up with a temporary solution, but Edwin needs to go cover some plants. I start to work on the last brackets while he's gone, but we are out of parts. Mandy takes a break from creating her new website and goes on a parts mission. Edwin needs my help. The big greenhouse door blew so violently that the plastic ripped and the plants are exposed. If they stay that way they'll be dead by nightfall. We work together to repair that while Mandy returns with the new bracket hardware and then leaves on another errand. We finish up with the door, I grab the bag of parts, climb back up.....they don't fit. My bad not hers. I didn't specify. I've got coarse threaded bolts. She got fine threaded nuts. She's gone, but can get back to the store and back to me in an hour and a half. Edwin calls me over to see that deer have broken into the farm somehow and completely eaten 2 rows of strawberries. We trace their tracks through the crops...walk all over the farm. Do our best to find the location of incursion. Venado intrusion. The sun is getting low and the cold creeps into the gaps of our clothes like a sneaky little deer. I rack my brain for a plan of attack. A plan of prevention. I run back up to the barn, tear apart the storage area looking for electric fence wire, plastic posts, fence ribbon, a hammer and pliers. Edwin grabs some t-posts and the post driver. We spend the next hour clearing brush and raising the fence an extra 3 feet and adding another layer of electrified tripwire in front. Mandy returns and Edwin goes home. I coax her onto the roof and she kindly complies. The sun has set. It is really cold and she has no gloves. She begins to mount the last brackets so she can attach the final rail, while I machine a new weird Colorado style bolt with a table clamp, an angle grinder with a cutting blade and a bench grinder. Up and down the ladder until I get it right and it fits into the weird little custom groovy groove of the rail and holds the inverter tight to its new home. I redo some wiring on the trick inverter, adjust the rail and we are ready to put up the last panels! Its freezing. It's 20 minutes from dark. She has no gloves and no jacket. I find compassion. "We can do it tomorrow" I say benevolently. I climb off the roof (ladies first), put the bits and pieces on the shop table scattered with other bits and pieces and odds and ends and walk towards the house. I head down to the basement to check on the furnace to see if there is a leak in the ducting. It's warm. I can't find it. It must be in the crawl space. I skip that job for the night and head in to eat two pieces of french bread and butter and do some office work. More construction drawings, more google searches on code compliance and deals on materials. Shower. Warm p.j.'s. Brush teeth. Bed by midnight.
words by steve o’shea & photographs by 3 porch farm