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, 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 Building, Farm Truck, Greenhouse, Successes

Back in Business! (some successes)

I am happy to report – There’s a lot of things that have gone well around here lately!

  • The truck has working four wheel drive! (I tested it in the snow even!)
  • The compost pulley is in working condition and has only strewn pineapple bits over the driveway once in it’s fully functional form.
  • I made an amazing seed spreadsheet to keep track of my apparently 140 varieties of seeds I am hoarding
  • E and I moved some cabinets from the laundry room to the kitchen (reuse!) and they are still attached to the wall right where we hung them!
  • The furnace in the greenhouse is still functional and we had 250 gallons of oil delivered so it should be working for a while. (though I will mention the thing that did not go well – we put the snow plow thing on the front of the glorified lawn mower and it did not go well at all; because it is a lawn mower and that is all it does – mow the lawn. So E and I spent a good three days chipping ice out of the driveway so the oil truck could get down to the greenhouse. Note to self: shovel snow right away!)
  • We got a 78 record and played it successfully on the Victrola! (we also played a 33 and got to hear Dancing Queen sung by the Chipmunks!)img_1457
  • The new bedroom is almost done. E has done an awesome job on the walls
  • I fixed a hole near the inflator in the greenhouse and hooked up a new vent to use air from outside to inflate between the two layers of poly. (outside air is preferable since it reduces condensation between the layers)

    img_1591
    Yes that is a pie tin vent opening – recycling!

     

 

That’s all I can remember right now – but hopefully there will be many more this spring!

Posted in Greenhouse, Successes

It’s Alive and Out of Control

That is some pretty slick styling on the greenhouse heater, huh?

And I am happy to report that is a working greenhouse heater at that! This one required a bit of fiddling with the wires to bypass the thermostat, but it’s alive! I did also get to do some excellent reading about cad cell relays and oil fired heating controls – you know, just some light bedtime reading.

This greenhouse is much smaller than the original one, probably about half the size. It heats up incredibly quickly.

 

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This took only ten minutes or so!

But this excellently working heater is uncontrollable because the old thermostat was busted, the one I pulled out of a different greenhouse was also mostly busted, and the one I bought from Home Depot was apparently a bunch of random bits of busted thermostats all shoved in a box (we definitely should have listened to the cashier and grabbed a new, non-opened one).

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Do you like my little alligator clamp jumper?

 

So tomorrow I will get thermostat number four and try to tame the Utica International wild beast of a heater which lives in the greenhouse. Wish me luck!

 

Posted in Plans, Preserving, Successes, The Nature

Staying Cozy and Making Plans

Things are still mostly hunkered down for the winter here at Jugtown. We had a bit of a weather rollercoaster the last week with one day in the 70s and then four inches of snow the next day. The snow is mostly melted, but I’m not holding my breath for warmth anytime soon – the last frost date in these parts is almost the end of May!

So we’ve been drinking our hot chocolate and building fires and making plans. Big plans!

Here is E’s big list of big plans:

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and I have a lot of plans floating around in my head that I have yet to actually put into a concrete list, or at least one coherent list (though a concrete list sounds kind of funny). I do have tons of little lists and ideas and snippets of things I want to look up. E and I are trying to have phone free Saturdays so I have to make a list of all the things I want to look up later instead of immediately grabbing my phone and googling everything. My most recent list consists of everything from how record players work (more on that later) to thermostat wiring and things that are automatic but not electric (a lot more on this later).

Since my big plan list is not ready yet, I did make a list of things I have either learned or accomplished.

  • Wiring up the new bedroom! Yes this happened and was tested and is successful and no one died! I’m really proud of this.
  • The furnace in the other greenhouse is working (I guess this is kind of a spoiler…)
  • The truck has new hubs and a new battery which is properly held in place by a new battery strap and not the piece of crap I picked up at WalMart (yes, I know – but it’s the only place around here we can get prescriptions filled!)
  • In general I’ve learned a lot about electricity and wiring.
  • I almost have a fully functioning plow on the front of the tractor/glorified lawn mower.
  • We got a new stove! (The reason for this is not something that should ever be discussed). I guess it’s not really an accomplishment, but it is exciting!
  • E and I have done a really good job of not drinking alcohol the past month or so. This is more of a self care/mental health thing, but it’s worth mentioning.

And of course – staying cozy.

 

edited to add:

  • I made a pretty excellent list of all our tools and appliances around here. I also downloaded and organized all the manuals for various things (heaters, thermostats, tractors, leaf mulchers) that I have looked up in the past and assume I will need in the future.
  • I successfully sharpened the chainsaw chain and made a cool kindling splitter
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:

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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 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:

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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, Plans, Successes

It’s ALIVE!

Big news from last week! The greenhouse furnace is operational! I had to jerry-rig the wiring because Bernavel had to disconnect it when he hooked up the rest of the electricity in the greenhouse. I figured that since it’s unlikely I will need the fan in the winter, that I could just connect it to the fan wiring. So once that was done I flipped the switch and WE HAVE HEAT!

The furnace fired up pretty easily. I should probably install it on a new breaker and the thermostat is a little busted, but this was in a 42 degree night!img_0876

So I’m hoping that this will get us through the winter since I was having doubts and thoughts that maybe I was just going to have to bring my plants in the house for the winter. I’m very excited and now have plans to grow ALL THE PLANTS!

Posted in Building, Greenhouse, Successes

Pond – Redux

It’s a pond, again! E and I moved the pond the other day and it seems to be doing pretty well!! We decided on a more rectangular design and a much more shallow pond mainly because the ground on that side of the greenhouse was impossible to dig into and the cinder blocks are super heavy (plus I managed to injure my wrist slightly so lifting and moving cinder blocks is probably a bad idea). But I also think the shallower water will heat up faster because there is more surface area and I like that it can be filled up more to the top than I thought was safe with the double layer of cinder blocks (if I had mortared them together I think it would have been fine, but as they were I wasn’t too sure of their stability so didn’t fill the old pond up very much). So really, I think we will just say that it was on purpose and not because we failed at digging.

It’s looking nice and I have high hopes for it. It is definitely more in the sun, but still close enough to the electrical outlet for the pump which I still need to set up. I already think the water seems warmer than the old pond, but that may just be wishful thinking. Aesthetically I do like this one more and once there are more plants I think it will be ever better since they will hid the liner and it will look even more tropical!

I’m trying to convince E that we should put those fish that eat your callouses off your feel in it, but she thinks it’s a bad idea. I think a greenhouse foot spa sounds brilliant!