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 Farm Truck, Stubbornness, Successes

The Truck has New Hubs!

The truck saga continues.

After getting the truck stuck on Thanksgiving I decided to buy these. In a ’99 Ford Ranger the hubs are locked by vacuum tubes that are notoriously finicky and prone to rotting, so it was highly likely they were the source of my four wheel drive failure. I figured it couldn’t hurt to have manual locking hubs and if they didn’t solve the problem then at least that was one thing I could cross off the list of possible causes.

It was a balmy 40 degrees out this past Saturday so I decided to see about installing them. I called the mechanic and the super helpful man who answered the phone told me that I shouldn’t worry my dainty lady head about four wheel drive and that two wheel would be fine for any normal driving (ok maybe I added the thing about the dainty lady head). But anyway mansplainer – Challenge Accepted!

Honestly the videos on YouTube made it look pretty simple – take off the tire/wheel, take off original hub, put new hub on, put back on tire. And the first one went just like that – easy peasy.

And then I celebrated too early:

img_0957
Celebratory picture with the second hub which I foolishly assumed would be as easy to put on as the first.

The second one went like this: take off tire/wheel, take off original hub, put on new hub, realize that it’s not locking correctly (i.e., I can still spin the rotor when it’s locked), take off new hub trying not to break off the 12 little tabs that all need to be pulled up simultaneously to get it off, fiddle with the new hub and realize it’s not broken, just misaligned, put on new hub, worry that it’s still not working, take off new hub (much faster this time), fiddle with it some more, put new hub back on, realize it’s fine, try to put back on wheel and realize that my jack is giving out and cinder blocks make terrible jack stands and that I need the truck about an inch higher in order to get the wheel back on, try to use any other jacks I can find, curse a lot, almost tip over the truck, curse more, run over to the neighbors and borrow a jack stand, take out the other jack and put bricks under it to get extra height, jack truck up to appropriate height, put wheel back on, and … success?

By then the sun had gone down and I realized I was sitting in snow, soaking wet and losing feeling in most of my extremities plus my butt. I left E to clean up the tools and return the jack stand and went inside to attempt warm up.  After Advil, hot tea spiked with whiskey, a steaming hot shower, and a sensible dinner of Pizzatinos, I passed out at eight o’clock.

I’m exhausted just writing this….

And I still haven’t tested to see if the four wheel drive is actually working since I need a new battery strap first.

 

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 Farm Truck, Stubbornness, the MUD

And we’re back… (in the MUD again)

It’s been a long time! The holidays saw a lot of visitors at Jugtown so I’ve been laying low and hunkering down to avoid the lack of sunshine and brutal cold. But it’s a new year and time to get back on the horse, or in my case, back in the truck.

And get it stuck in the mud again. Which is exactly what we did on Thanksgiving Day. Long story short – the four wheel drive is still not fixed and my brother-in-law is a bad influence (sorry Ben).

So I’m buying these and hoping they are the answer to all my problems. (every single one of them)

Posted in Greenhouse, Lessons Learned, Plans, Stubbornness

Fighting with Fans

I spent a lot of time messing with this greenhouse fan – a lot, like the better part of three days. I googled a million things, I texted my friend who is an electrical engineer, I twisted and untwisted and retwisted wires (luckily without electrocuting myself), I emailed the old owners, and I called the manufacturer. See, I was convinced that the vent in one of the greenhouses was installed backwards, or the fan ran the wrong way. The way the fan works it sucks hot air out of the greenhouse, but the vent opens outward, meaning that it doesn’t open automatically when the fan turns on. In fact it becomes harder to open it since the fan is sucking it closed. I rigged the door to swing open when the fan turns on, and I figured that there was something wrong with the set up of the fan and the vent since they didn’t work in the same way.

It turns out that I was wrong – the fans are only meant to run in exhaust mode and the vent is supposed to open against this flow because if the vent opens inward, a stiff wind could blow open the vent and ruin the temperature control. Apparently we are missing a crucial piece of the greenhouse set-up which automatically opens the vent right before the fan turns on.

So lessons learned?

  • Sometimes calling people is much easier than trying to research things yourself on the internet. Sure there was a lot of information out there, but some of it wasn’t relevant, was hard to understand, or was just plain wrong. Adding to that was the fact that I wasn’t even entirely certain what I was even looking for – was it the fan or the vent that was wrong? But one call to Dave at the ACME Fan and Greenhouse supply company had me straightened out.
  • Drawing electrical diagrams is HARD! This is not pretty:img_0484
  • Sometimes things don’t need fixing. Technically the fan/vent set up is completely correct, minus the missing part. But….

 

Lessons NOT learned:

  • I’m still not 100% convinced that it is correct! (I know, I am a very hard-headed, stubborn know-it-all!). I understand that it was correct at one point and possibly had all the parts it needed, but that is no longer the case. I could go out and buy one of those automatic openers and hook it up and it would work as intended, or I could figure out how to work with what I have.
  • I’m still going to try to kludgy this together somehow. Maybe flip the vent for the summer and wedge it closed for the winter? Maybe some Rube Goldberg machine can open that vent when the fan turns on? Maybe automatic venting that doesn’t even need a fan?
  • Ideally the fan will be unnecessary and I would like to not depend on these automatic thingamajigs. Not because I’m a Luddite or hate technology, but because they fail and are hard to fix and make me angry (and the irrigation system battery died and killed all my squash babies earlier this summer). I figure that people managed at one point without all those things, and I can figure out how to as well. Living part time in Philly does make it more complicated, but that sounds like a challenge…