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 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, Lessons Learned, Stubbornness

Some things cannot be fixed

Staple guns are one of those things. Just don’t do it – you will spend over 45 minutes trying to get each tiny springy piece back in and still be frustrated and Home Depot is only 15 minutes away and there will be much less cursing.

There’s probably some metaphor or lesson to be learned here about broken things and things that can’t be fixed. In general I am very pro fixing things and enjoy trying to fix things, and sometimes this does end in frustration, but sometimes it ends up feeling very fancy and accomplished. I think I’ll take my chances on frustration.

Posted in Fail, Greenhouse, Lessons Learned, Plans

Giving Up (for now)

It’s over. I’m done.

Well for now. I went to bed the other night doing a happy dance because I was convinced I had fixed the greenhouse furnace. Now I’m doing a sad waltz because I did not really fix it. Exhibit:

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I did get it up to a balmy 70 degrees in there, but sometime during the night the safety system kicked in and it shut down, dipping to a frigid 28. I suspect there is probably something impeding the oil flow and causing the safety to trigger when there isn’t enough fuel for combustion. Suspect:

img_1028

This old ass oil filter is probably the main culprit here. Other possibilities are an issue with the actual igniter or the thermostat. But, that is for another time, because I have given up.

I have come to the conclusion that the greenhouse I chose to start in is becoming a poorer and poorer choice. It is in the shade way too much and is giant. I was looking around the other greenhouses and realized that the one that is behind the barn and has the chicken coop in it was warmer even with the door open than the one I was working in. Case closed.

So I moved all the sad plants into the sunroom:

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And together we shall be sad until spring.

 

Posted in Greenhouse, Lessons Learned, Successes

Oil Furnace Roller-Coaster (aka – IT’S ALIVE! part 2)

E and I were away for a week and I had high hopes for the furnace to continue working during this time, especially since the high last Friday here was 23 degrees! Well we came back to this:

img_1012-2

SAD PLANTS!!!!

Turns out the furnace at some point stopped working and I have been on a whirlwind of ups and down the entire day. Let me walk you through it:

DOWN: The furnace stopped working and it was cold and my plants are SAD!

UP: It seems likely the furnace lasted for a bit since the low recorded by my thermometer was only 28 degrees (the low outside was around 17 degrees). Also, most of my plants (minus that super sad avocado above) seemed to be alright. I suspect the furnace was fine until it ran out of oil sometime during the week I was gone.

DOWN: I’m pretty sure the furnace ran out of oil and I thought I put 5 gallons of diesel in right before we left. This will cost a fortune to heat!

UP: Wait – I go get diesel and my gas can is only 2.5 gallons! Maybe this isn’t as bad as I thought!

DOWN: I put the new 2.5 gallons of diesel in the tank and press the restart. And no heat. The furnace turns on, I can sort of hear a spraying noise, and then the safety kicks in and the whole thing shuts down. Fuck!

UP: I am determined to fix this! While looking up YouTube videos about fixing furnaces I see something about bleeding your furnace if it runs dry. This seems very likely the issue since I’m pretty positive it ran out of oil (diesel is oil minus the red dye). I gather tools and prepare for battle with this fucker:

img_1017.png¬†First I forget that the heater has to be on for this to work and think that maybe there is a total clog somewhere since I have removed the entire bleeder valve and there no oil to be seen… But luckily I remember! Air and oil sputters out. I try to restart…

DOWN: It does not start. I bleed it more. More air and oil. More oil. Now just oil. A steady of oil.

UP: IT’S ALIVE!!!!

UP: img_1016-2.jpg

Almost 60 degrees now (plus my really janky thermostat which definitely needs to be replaced – that’s for another time though)

And there you have it, my personal emotional roller-coaster courtesy of Siebring HeatMaster Oil Furnaces and Beckett AFG Oil Burners.

Posted in Greenhouse, Lessons Learned, Plans

False Starts

Yeah, yeah – that is not a pretty picture. But it is an important picture. Or, more like, it was an important picture.

I was trying out starting some seeds in the greenhouse in not-quite dead of winter, but in the pretty fricking cold (hello high of 23 degrees!) start of winter. I planted a flat of seeds in an old flat of dead squash babies that were cruelly murdered in the spring of their lifetime by an dead irrigation system battery. I planted some tomatoes and some parthenocarpic squash (which are pretty cool, like baby-Jesus squash they don’t need to be fertilized to grow, or wait maybe that’s Mary – whatever, I’m Jewish). Anyway, these squash are perfect for the greenhouse since they can produce fruit without pollination and the status of bees and other pollinators in the greenhouse is questionable.img_0642

And then a little tiny mouse came along and ate all the seeds before they could even have a chance.

Lesson learned – DON’T SET FLATS OF SEEDS ON THE GROUND!

will try again later….

Posted in Cooking, Lessons Learned, Preserving

Wherein I cry about tomatoes twice in one week

My tomato plants did terribly this year in the garden. Horribly even. I started a bunch in the greenhouse and then the irrigation failed and all the seedlings died. I planted some store bought (I know- the horror!) in the garden and harvested maybe two tomatoes. The rest either came down with a terrible case of blight and never ripened, or ripened and promptly were eaten by some animal (I will find you) which chewed out the inside of every single tomato. It’s like there’s not enough water around and they just had to get at the juicy insides of all the tomatoes!

So I bought some tomatoes. A whole bushel. And boy did I have grand plans for those tomatoes – BIG plans as it were. They were so pretty!

img_0364But in buying them I made the first mistake of many with those tomatoes – I bought them on a Monday. Mondays are terrible in their own right, but as a day to start big plans which don’t involve your day job, they are really the worst possible choice you can make. The main issue with tomatoes and canning them is that you need to get the peels off them and unless you don’t mind scalding yourself by handling tomatoes that have literally been boiling two seconds beforehand, it is a somewhat long process.

I started off really strong. We had our wood stove going since it was chilly so I used the top to set out tomatoes in my big crock to cook a little overnight with the residual heat. The next morning they had burst open, but not totally disintegrated so I could easily slip off the skins and squeeze out some seeds before tossing them in another pot for sauce. I also used some to make a salsa with some peppers and corn that I had. Of course since I started too late at night I had to move the salsa into the fridge overnight so I could can it the next day. I also cored some and set them in the oven with residual heat to skin the next day. And them promptly forgot about them. For three days. (I’m not entirely sure how I didn’t use the oven for three days, but things happen.) So when I did discover them, they were not pretty. In the spirit of my Bubby and her green sour cream which she swore was still edible, I was tempted to salvage what I could, but, in the end I threw the lot in the compost and cried. The compost was probably a good choice, the crying was maybe a little silly, but I was overwhelmed and feeling like a failure and sad about the wasted tomatoes.

The next day I set out to can the salsa and pasta sauce. I had the pressure canner filled with water, the pasta sauce in the big crock, and my salsa in a big pot. I was trying to do something foolish like half balance the pot off the stove to maneuver the crock in front of the canner and ended up with that picture above. It looks like someone got stabbed! There was salsa everywhere – on the floor, on the stove, under the stove, on the wall, in my shoes, in my hair! It was the worst salsa catastrophe I’ve ever witnessed. Luckily E helped me clean up, because after this second tomato disaster I was feeling incredibly useless and extremely frustrated by my apparent incompetence. And for the second time in a week I cried about tomatoes.

BUT- things I learned!

  • Never buy tomatoes on a Monday! More generally, never start a big, time-sensitive project on a Monday. I had been so impatient to get started with acquiring and canning tomatoes that I didn’t even consider that I had a full work-week ahead and probably wouldn’t have enough time to handle all of them. Friday is a much more reasonable day to buy a bushel of tomatoes.
  • Mistakes happen, tomatoes rot, and sometimes you cry – but in the end it’s not a life or death situation. I am thankful that we’re not totally dependent on our crops to survive, we have good jobs and if I really wanted to, I could buy more tomatoes.
  • The Blight! Apparently growing tomatoes in this area was really easy up until about ten years ago. The lady at the farm where I bought the tomatoes told me that ever since a big hurricane hit ten years ago, tomato blight has been a huge issue in this area. This is definitely going on my list of things to remember.
  • I need a freezer, a big one. Or another fridge. Or both. When in doubt or running low on time, I’m pretty sure the answer is always the same – throw it in the freezer.

 

Posted in Greenhouse, Lessons Learned, Plans

Greenhousing

I know, I know, that is a thing of beauty! But seriously, that is the beginning of my pond in the greenhouse. Water has one of the highest capacities to hold heat of pretty any much material on Earth so it is a great way to keep a greenhouse warm at night when the sun isn’t shining and you haven’t figured out how the furnaces work and don’t really want to. So I made a pond – I dug a bit, I used approximately fifteen tons of cinder blocks (or at least that is how my back feels), I got a pond liner, and I filled it with some water.

And now I have to undo all of that.

Silly me figured that the location I was building it was a good one since it was close to the electrical outlets my dad put in (thanks Bernavel!), and I will need a pump in the pond to keep the water moving and fulfill my dreams of some crazy pond-based irrigation system.

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(And yeah I know – that is a super sweet phone charger/speaker set up there. Also the outlets point down to avoid any water situations, but don’t worry – they are GFCI. Safety First!)

But when the outlets were installed it was about mid-summer and that general area was plenty sunny. Now that it’s mid-fall that area is not so sunny. There are some pretty large pine trees close enough to the greenhouse on the southern side that it blocks some of the midday sun in part of the greenhouse. This is not an ideally situated greenhouse – if I were starting from scratch I would have oriented the greenhouse perpendicular to where it is now and set it further back from the trees, thus allowing the most sun absorption during the day. But you get what you get.

And what I got is a pond that is currently in the shade the better part of the day at the time of year when I need it most to retain heat.

Lessons learned:

  • Observe, then build. It would have been nice if I hadn’t been so dead set on putting the pond right near the outlet and actually realized that the sun was going to shift.
  • The sun moves! East/West and North/South. (I mean, yes, I obviously knew that, but when you are dependent on the sun for more than a pretty sunset over the city skyline it becomes a little more apparent)
  • Cinder blocks are heavy! But I used them because I have a ton of them and they are actually pretty useful. Next iteration of the pond I will probably dig down further into the ground and only use one layer of blocks around the edges.

And so the pond will be moved. Luckily I didn’t fill it all the way since I was going more for “proof of concept” and conceptually it is a pond in its ability to hold water – cold water.

(Note: it did drop below freezing last night and the low in the greenhouse was only 38 degrees. I’m not sure if the pond had anything to do with that, but at least my plants are still alive)