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This morning, I was working in my office when I heard a scraping sound on the side of the house. I went outside, and there was an AEP-PSO repairman, taking the cover off my electrical meter box.

“Hi,” he said. “We got word that there must be something wrong with the meter … that it’s going backwards.”

Not again, I thought.

“Well, the meter is going backwards, and I’ll show you why,” I said. “Take a look on the roof.”

He stepped back a few feet and saw the solar panels.

“Well, I’ll be,” he said.

He turned out to be a nice guy. He peppered me with questions about the system … how much it cost, how much power I was getting from it, etc. He thought it was cool that we were getting so much power from it.
He shook his head a bit.

“I think we need some training on this,” he said sheepishly. “We just don’t see hardly any systems like this. There’s one other one I know about, and he has the same problem — the power company’s always checking to see why the meter’s running backwards.

That sounds familiar, I thought.

He started to walk down the driveway. “Well, sorry to bother you. I’ll try to explain to them what’s going on so we don’t keep coming out here,” he said.

****

On a semi-related note, the system generated 134 kilowatt-hours of electricity from Jan. 20 to Feb. 20. That’s an average of 4.32 per day.

We’re really starting to generate juice now. The cool temperatures, combined with lengthening daylight, and we’re seeing days of 7 KWH and higher.

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Here at the House of the Lifted Lorax, we don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day with flowers and candy. We celebrate it with potting soil and seed packets.

Feb. 14 falls two months and a day ahead of the last frost date for our zone, which makes it an ideal time to start seeds indoors. We buy our seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, which is a great organization dedicated to preserving heirloom varieties of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, herbs, flowers and more.

Tomatoes are our favorite crop. You can buy a decent cucumber at the grocery store, and you can find passable squash, peppers, and eggplant at the farmer’s market, but nothing can stand in for a homegrown tomato, fresh from the vine … so regardless of what else we may or may not put in the garden, we always grow tomatoes.

Most years, I get a little carried away, trying new varieties, but this year, I exercised some restraint and confined myself to four varieties: two kinds of cherry tomatoes (Risentraube and Mexico Midget); Silvery Fir Tree (an early slicer with pretty foliage); and my all-time favorite, Black from Tula, which is a Russian heirloom that produces unspeakably ugly but indescribably delicious fruit.

I haven’t grown the first three varieties in the past, but I’ve yet to see a cherry tomato that wouldn’t thrive in all conditions, and Silvery Fir Tree just looked too beautiful to pass up, so we’ll see how they do.

There are two secrets to great tomatoes:

1. Horse manure. Find a nice person with horses and ask if you can scoop stalls in exchange for manure. A mix of manure, urine-soaked sawdust, and spoiled hay is the world’s finest compost starter, as the nitrogen-to-carbon ratio is as close to ideal as you can get without a chemistry lab. I’ve grown tomatoes the size of softballs, on vines that looked like kudzu, with the help of horse compost.

2. Deep holes. Use a posthole digger to dig down two to three feet. Most tomatoes’ roots will grow down until they hit hardpan, and then they start to spread out sideways. In hot, dry weather, the top layer of soil dries out very quickly, and the roots dry with it. If you dig a posthole to a depth of about one foot below hardpan, your tomatoes’ roots will be able to reach the moist dirt that lies below instead of spreading out to bake in the sun.

I’ll have more on the tomatoes as they progress, but at the moment, the seeds are tucked quietly into moistened potting medium in a seed-starting flat. As soon as I finish converting our potting table to a temporary cold frame, I’ll move them outdoors.

Emily

I’m a bit behind on my usual reports, but I did collect the data.

From Dec. 19 to Jan. 20, we collected 4.53 kilowatt hours per day. With our current electric bill from PSO, we used just 10 KWH of power from the utility during the entire month. So we were getting well over 90 percent of our power from the solar array.

In the six month since the solar-power system was placed online, it has generated 971 KWH of electricity. Divided by 175 days (I took off seven days because of the ice-storm power outage), that’s 5.54 KWH per day.