Posted in Building, Fail, Lessons Learned, Plans, Stubbornness, Successes

Making Do

I read an article a couple of years ago about how most people don’t really need eight hours a day to do their jobs; instead our capitalist economy requires us to spend the majority of our waking hours “toiling” so that in our free time we only have enough time to try to buy happiness and become the dutiful consumers our economy needs. This plan hinges on making the time to pursue happiness a scarce resource so that the average worker will instead substitute material goods in favor of seeking meaningful happiness. The article (I did try to find it, but couldn’t locate the right one, so you will need to take my word for it) then claimed that the writer had found that being unemployed or underemployed was actually cheaper in the long run because instead of seeking out material goods, one could instead focus on spending time in the local library or park to fill whatever existential hole one was seeking to fill, and that the park was always cheaper than a new iGadget. In theory I find this reasoning spot on (of course the economy needs us to buy stuff! of course I don’t didn’t really need eight hours to do work shit!) – but as in all similar articles about the ills of society the problem comes at the end, when the writer tries to convince us that he, and he alone, has found the solution to such societal ills. (Spend too much time on your smartphone? This person whose job consists of writing articles and talking to their editor once a week will tell you how sinking your phone to the bottom of a lake is clearly the best solution. Computers getting you down? This writer has switched to a typewriter! Email checking becoming tedious? This entrepreneur with no other workers in his company has the solution for you! Check it once a day – who cares what your bosses or coworkers think!) All this is to say that the issue with the idea that being unemployed is cheaper is that the person who wrote this article clearly did not have BIG PLANS. Big plans require materials, lots of materials, and so here is where we get to the point of making do.

Making do, to me, means either making use of something I already have or trying to find a used or cheaper alternative to something I need. Yes, yes, the other part of that saying is “or do without” but when you have big plans that isn’t always an option! But this isn’t to say that I am not willing to suffer! In this spirit I present the list of Making Do:

  • My Greenhouse Furnace! This has been the source of much strife in my life but I can confirm that in its current configuration it is quite functional. And the current configuration is a Frankenstein of pieces from the other furnaces all duct-taped together. (I’m mostly kidding about the duct tape) The vent pipe, the oil line, the thermostat, the wiring – all constructed from pieces of other furnaces scattered around the property.
  • The duck pond wiring. So yeah – we dug a duck pond (more on this at a future time) and we needed to run electricity out there. E being the safety squirrel she is, decreed that I needed to use some safety/common sense and put the above ground wire in conduit. The greenhouses are covered in 1/2 inch EMT that I think was used to hang flower baskets, and this is how I ended up running 70 feet of UF-B wire through seven ten foot sections of conduit complete with six 90 degree turns. To those not familiar with electrical wiring, let’s just say this is a total pain in the ass. It took three days (not even counting digging the trench since I used the tractor for that) and rendered my hands unuseable for a couple days after that. The one good thing that came out of this – I discovered cable pulling lube which is both hilarious and highly useful. Would I do it again? Hell no! But in the spirit of making do I used what I had, and what I had was 1/2 conduit and 100 feet of UF-B wire.
it doesn’t look terrible, but trust me when i say it is
  • In a general sense, my use of the pallets strewn about the farm has been pretty successful. I’ve used them to do everything from building multiple duck enclosures to organize tools under the deck. I used one other other day to build a new wall on the greenhouse underneath two louvered windows I got super cheap from a salvage place.
  • In the same vein, the cinder blocks have been very useful. I’ve used them to build greenhouse ponds (those ponds themselves have been of various shades of success, but the cinder blocks functioned as they should). The new duck pond uses them to hold the liner in place and they will form part of the bio filter/waterfall once I get around to that. They are doing an admirable job as a heat sink around the stove in the greehousen. One thing they are bad at – rubbish at being a jack stand, those things crack right in half.
  • My new lumber stand in the basement is constructed of leftover 2x4s and more of the conduit mentioned above.
i’m very proud of this
  • Not so much as making do, but finding a cheaper version – I have been using many of the approximately 500 pieces of recycled three inch foam insulation I bought off some guy on FaceBook. It was actually a pretty sweet deal – not only were they significantly cheaper than new, they were pulled out of an office building somewhere, so yay reuse!
  • The gutters that we pulled off the house when we got new gutters are now used as a duck and chicken watering system along with keeping the rain leaking into the greenhouse around my less than stellar sealing around the stove pipe from dripping directly onto the stove and rusting the hell out of it. And speaking of it, using the stove in the greenhouse is a pretty good example of making do!
  • We got four trees taken down around the house and the wood will be used as both firewood (once I get it sawed and chopped up) and to build huglekultur piles in the big greenhouse which will be used as a high tunnel come next growing season (god willing and the creek don’t rise).

Other things I would like to do as part of my “making do” plans include foraging for wild edibles, bartering as a means to acquire necessary items, working on getting a group of friends up here that would be interested in a tool or skill share, and working through my pile of “to be mended” items!

Posted in Uncategorized

Cats and the Art of Tractor Maintenance…

Things that make you feel like a badass:

  • A brush hog for your tractor
    Driving your tractor through town to the gas station (badass/slightly ridiculous)
    Driving around with a tractor tire in the back of your car (along with chicken feed, chicken bedding, buckets, a traffic cone… and have I mentioned that the Element is an amazing car and totally beats your pickup truck for ability to stuff it full of crap)
    Successfully putting said tire on your tractor and filling it with fluid without fucking it up too badly!!! (And seriously the minor fuck up I blame partially on the tractor place not putting in the tube which I specifically asked for and instead putting in one without the handy thing which prevents the valve stem from going inside the tire when deflated)
Posted in NEWS, Plans, Successes

The Big News (slightly delayed)

The future is no place to place your better days

Dave Matthews Band

Trite quotes and I are not usually friends, but I can’t help loving this DMB quote, and not just because I was in high school in the 90s. It summarized my thoughts during my divorce almost ten years ago now and is back on my mind now during another time of transition.

So this is the big news – for the first time since I started working as a teacher’s assistant at hebrew school in ninth grade, I am officially jobless and have no near term plans to find a new job. I have had times of not working here and there after high school, college, and when relocating to Philly from Boston, but there was always the understanding that I was in the process of finding a new job or waiting for one to start. But as of the middle of June I not longer am working, and let me tell you a few things!

First of all – this was the hardest job I ever quit. I loved everything about my last job – my boss, my work, my coworkers, my company – literally everything. I felt so incredibly foolish quitting! I almost wished I hated my job so I could be one of those people who write about leaving their high paying but stressful job to live a simpler life in the county. But, alas I had an excellent job that didn’t overwork me or stress me out and also paid well. I also loved the type of work I did – I love programming and figuring out puzzles and developing new ways of doing things. But sitting there at my computer day in and day out while all the projects outside called to me just started to be too much. I kept thinking about all the stuff I could be doing if I had more time – all the big projects I could finish (or at least start)!

Secondly – not having a job is weird! I’m still trying to get myself on a set schedule, a lot of what I do daily depends on the weather, and I have to be the one each day to decide what gets done. I still haven’t figured out what to tell people I do and when I do tell people I just quit my job I feel a weird pang of guilt like I did something wrong or that I’m somehow bragging that I don’t need a job. I’m also used to being A PROGRAMMER and being a person who WORKS. Not working makes me feel slightly unsettled, but also like I can do anything.

The future is wide open…

Tom Petty

So this is where I’m at…I can do anything! A lot of anything. BIG ANYTHINGS!

Stay tuned for the big list of all the things I can do!

after the storm
Posted in Fail, Fowl, Greenhouse

What the DUCK!!

This is not a pretty picture. I decided to drain the greenhouse pond due to the ducks breaking in and, in addition to eating half my seedlings, drowning a bunch of them that I had floating in the pond to keep hydrated. The pump that circulates the water was sputtering and I didn’t want it to perish so I drained the pond (transfer pumps are amazing FYI).

And this is what I found! Apparently those assholes laid eggs in the pond. And these eggs aren’t from their most recent break-in because I don’t think they were in there long enough; these are from the winter when I felt bad because the temperatures dropped into the negative teens so I let them hang out inside the greenhouse. So these eggs have been rotting on the bottom of the pond for four months or so. I’m pretty sure at this point they might be considered delicacies in some countries!

And apparently autocorrect has been right this whole time – ducks are fucks!

Posted in Fail, Lessons Learned, permaculture, Stubbornness, Successes

Sometimes I am Incorrect…

Sometimes I am big enough to admit I am wrong. (SOMETIMES, not all the time, so don’t get your hopes up too far!) This will be our third Spring up at the farm and there are things that I have learned that perhaps I was incorrect about earlier:

  • No till farming is a great idea in theory, but maybe not in practice. No till farming sounds excellent and maybe I will be able to move toward that, but in the meantime I’m itching to borrow my friend’s tiller and stir up this hard packed clay soil we have. This soil is entirely too clay-like and filled with rocks to be able to not till it for at least a couple of years .
  • Cardboard and mulch is for the slugs. As part of the no till effort last year I did a lot of laying down cardboard and manure and mulch. The slugs had a feast! They love to hide under the cardboard and come out at night and nibble on all the things you have planted just for them. I’m experimenting this year with some bare ground around plants (shhhhh – don’t tell the permaculture people) and some with just a layer of wood chips I got from the power company. Cardboard can be useful in other situations like preparing the ground for future planting, but it is entirely too hospitable for slugs to use it around newly planted seedlings.
  • Straight lines can be your friend. I am terrible at straight lines – I can’t sew straight, I don’t mow in any fashion one would consider organized, my shoveling is haphazard at best, and I fall off balance beams, so it figures that the “scatter the seeds any old way” would be my prefered method of planting. It turns out that straight lines make it possible to actually tell which of the little green things sprouting are the ones you want, and which ones are not because honestly most seedlings look the same and I’d rather suffer in somewhat straight-ish lines than assume that those sprouts are all my rutabaga seeds and end up with a bed of fleabane.
  • Grow what you planted, not what happened to sprout. The first year we were here I was so excited about all the “bonus squash” that had sprouted. Those bonus squash were actually super annoying wild cucumbers that grow around here that are in no way helpful or edible.
  • Bigger is not always better. HA! of course it is!
  • More is not always better. In some cases it most certainly is – you can never have too much mulch or too many work gloves. But when it comes to seedlings it is survival of the fittest and you have to be brutal. Yes those are all your babies, but do you want twenty stunted weird kinda-radishes or ten awesome radishes? Crowding is no joke in the garden.
  • Do not put the compost pile next to the house. Yes it is convenient and yes it was nice in the winter to have it so close. But you know what is not nice? Rat babies. That is all I will say.
  • You cannot do all the things at once. This is something I am still learning. There are a lot of projects to do around here and if I start thinking about them all at once I get overwhelmed and can’t do anything. I’m trying to remember that I just need to do one thing right now. I can do other things later, but right now even if I just sit in a corner of the garden and weed that corner – that is enough.
  • Seeds do not last forever. Especially if you leave them in the greenhouse over the summer and they cook at 120+ degrees. I have sworn to myself that this year I am planting every single seed I own (which includes ones from 2013 or something ridiculous like that) and will start fresh next year. Also – who doesn’t love seed catalogue time?!
  • Manure is a myth. I have a lot of piles of poop in the yard and when I acquired my first file of poop I thought I had won the fucking lottery. It’s manure man! I’m gonna have the most amazing plants growing in this amazingly rich poop-soil! No, what you actually will have is a ton of weed seeds that sprout when you spread said poop around that will take over your garden and piss you off.
  • Hay is not the same as straw. Hay is much easier to find than straw around here and one would be tempted to just assume “hey – they are both dry grass-like products, they are essentially the same” and you would be dead wrong. Straw is amazing and is an excellent addition to your garden, hay is full of grain seeds (as it is supposed to be seeing as it is a food item for livestock) and will fill your garden with unwanted grass forever.
  • Learn from the weeds. As much as weeds are annoying, they are helpful in that they type of weeds in your soil can be indicative of what is wrong with your soil. All those dandelions and dock weeds with their giant taproots are trying to break up this hard packed soil. They are also excellent at bringing up nutrients with their taproots so a nice compost tea is an excellent way to add these back to the soil without just rolling out the welcome carpet.
  • Off with your head isn’t always best. There is a reason people deadhead daffodils and other flowering perennials – it encourages better root growth because the plant will then not expend that energy trying to produce seeds. Take this and apply it to that horrid dock or dandelions and you are essentially deadheading your weeds and making them stronger by trying to mow them down the minute they flower! My plan is to wait until the dock is just about to flower and chop it all down.

Ok! This has been a lot of writing! I will leave you with this pretty picture of a luna moth from last year

Very pretty, slightly terrifying when in the house flying at your face.

Posted in Fail, Greenhouse, Lessons Learned, Plans, Stubbornness, Successes

Yet Another Greenhouse Furnace Post

This is getting excessive!

So last year I realized that the greenhouse I was working in was a poor choice and I switched over to the smaller greenhouse attached to the chicken coop.

This was a GOOD IDEA! The plants have lived out here all winter and have been happy, which means I have been happy!

This makes me SO Happy!

The furnace was pretty reliable… until a couple of weeks ago.

And then it died. First I thought that maybe the oil filter and screen needed to be replaced. I did that – no luck. So I tried taking it apart since I figured that I hadn’t cleaned the oil nozzle in the three (almost) years we have been here and I had no idea what the previous owners did. It was not pretty:

New nozzle, with filthy electrodes!

I replaced the nozzle but not the electrodes since they didn’t have the correct ones at the plumbing supply store. Mainly, because, as I learned by googling the serial number I finally found it after cleaning off layer and layer and layers of gunk, this furnace is from 1957 and the company which made this furnace, International Heaters of Utica, went out of business and it is close to impossible to find any information about this furnace.

And then I tried to restart the damn and this thing BLEW UP – like literally sparks flying, thank goodness for circuit breakers that trip when things catch themselves on fire – blew up.

You can’t really see where it blew up (kind of at the bottom where I cut off all those fabric coated wires) but trust me – it was scary.

So this limit switch is busted, I don’t know where one finds a new one for a 62 year old furnace, and I AM FED UP.

So I have decided that once I have two fully functioning legs I am going to attempt to move one of the other five, non-sixty year-old furnaces from one of the less useful greenhouses into this one and all will be well.

In the meantime Spring is almost here which means it hasn’t gotten too cold and this has actually been keeping the greenhouse warm at night:

Yes – there is actually a fireplace insert under all those cinder blocks

This old fireplace insert the previous owners left on the porch which I moved into the greenhouse a couple months ago with the help of E, a willing friend, the tractor, and taking down one of the greenhouse walls (don’t worry – I put it back up). The cinder blocks are piled up all around it and filled with stones and it all makes a pretty decent heat sink. For now….

Posted in Fail, Plans

I’m BaAaack!

I HAVE BEEN TERRIBLE AT HAVING A BLOG.

whew ok – that was unnecessary, but I’m back and things have been HAPPENING around here! Where to even begin…

Well a while ago this happened:

YUP! We got a tractor!

The biggest news is that I’m currently one month into a three month leave from work to get stuff done around here. The first couple of weeks were slow; we had some houseguests and a bit of travel so I didn’t get much done. Then a week ago this happened:

YUP! I broke my ankle! (this is post surgical repair)

So needless to say – I have not gotten a lot done since hobbling around on crutches and my knee wheely thing (which stupidly does not have a basket – who designs these things!) is not super conducive to doing farm type things. And I have a giant list of things to get done. Like super giant:

SO MANY THINGS!

But luckily the cast comes off in a week and Spring is also slowly starting to happen up here; so, while the timing of my broken ankle is not ideal, it is also not the worst thing ever (ugh a cast in the middle of the summer – blech).

In the meantime I’m taking care of myself and making more BIG PLANS!!!

Posted in Greenhouse, Plans, Technology

Technology in the Greenhouse!

I’m really excited about this thing! It’s a cool sensor that you just stick on the wall and it tracks the temperature and humidity. I’ve been wanting something that does this so I can see how well the furnace is working in the greenhouse. I have a high/low thermometer, but I wanted something that would keep a better history of temperature changes.

So I got this: http://www.sensorpush.com

It’s pretty awesome and I really like seeing the temperature fluctuations during the day. I can also tell how often the furnace is cycling on and off over the night. Hopefully I’ll be able to use this to tell how well some of my heating ideas are working. I already have the layers inflated and a new pond is in the works. It’s also possible there will be fifty bales of straw here shortly…