Dabbling is something every homesteader or farmer I know does. Whether it’s blacksmithing or grafting, there’s something we don’t do on a large scale, but we … well … dabble!

10-watt, 12-volt DC LED flood light

At Hebron Acres it’s no different. Lately, we’ve taken to dabbling in solar energy generation for lighting. When we moved to our new location we were blessed with a large metal pole barn. However, it did not have any lights. I saw this as an opportunity to learn a new set of skills and knowledge. Thus, we planned to assemble a solar lighting system in our barn.

Though we would be dabbling in solar energy generation at this point, I have plans to expand our use of solar energy for other needs on the farm. Not wanting to invest heavily in a system since I will be self-taught and to keep my risk of loss low, I initially began examining low-end panels and charge controllers. I found a 100-watt panel that came with a small charge controller from a popular solar photovoltaic supplier. The panel and controller arrived in about a week.

Next decision was the lighting itself. This, I felt was a decision that merited a bit more thought than the inexpensive panel I purchased. I did a bit of research on low-watt LED flood lights and found one that had been positively review by a number of blogs and writers who posted videos of their use of the flood lights. I ended up ordering two 12-volt DC 10-watt LED flood lights. That isn’t much for the size of our barn; however, remember, I’m just dabbling at this point.

Floodlight mounted on underside of roof truss

The LED floodlights arrive one day later and I unpacked them, curious to see just how small these units were that I had seen in videos of people using them on their own place. Each of these floodlights were not much larger than my hand. I determined to mount them on the underside of the first roof trusses just inside the gable ends of the structure. This meant they would be throwing light from each end of the 50-foot barn toward the middle. I knew I was asking a lot of these little lights.

Next was planning a logical location for the charge controller and battery. To keep wiring to a minimum, that meant locating it near the solar panel mounted on the south wall of the barn since we are located in the northern hemisphere. I mounted the charge controller onto a small sheet of plywood and screwed that to one of the main post on the inside of the barn’s south wall. This was a perfect approach so I could create what I refer to as a redneck circuit board to make terminal connections for the panel wires, the battery wires and the load wires.

Redneck circuit board

One problem. The on-off switch was on the charge controller. Our man door was in the north wall, about 55 feet away. That doesn’t sound like a long way. However, a pitch-black barn filled with agricultural equipment is a recipe for busted shins or worse. I needed to install a light switch at the door. I ran Romex wiring from the circuit board to the switch and then from the switch to the lights. I used wiring stables to affix the Romex up in the roof trusses to keep them out of the way.

At this point, all we needed was a battery. I’ve done a bit of research on this, but the more I read the more I realize I should not move too quickly on the purchase of a very expensive item. Everyone I spoke to and everything I read told me to buy what are known as absorbed glass mat batteries. When I priced them, I was a bit shocked. I needed an “dabble-worthy” alternative. I looked around the barn for a minute and there standing not 10 feet from me was my answer. I pulled the 12-volt battery from our Ford 8N tractor and set it up near the controller and clamped the wires to the posts and hit the on-off switch. We have light!

The sunlight on that first day of installation of the panels was more than enough to keep the battery charged and the indication on the charge controller was at about 13.8 volts. The system was operational. Now, we don’t have to rummage around in the dark to water the chickens or collect eggs or do chores in the evening.

This dabbling has given me a greater level of confidence to be able to expand the system in the near future.

No more busted shins from fumbling around in the dark

Dan Grubbs

Dan Grubbs, editor of Stewardculture, lives in northwest Missouri where he is implementing and managing a permaculture-style design on his 15-acre homestead. A weekly teacher of the Bible, Dan believes that an agrarian lifestyle is one in which he can answer God's calling to steward creation through regenerative techniques that attempt to mimic God's design.

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