Posted in Exploring, The Nature, Treasures

Deez Nuts!

Look at those nuts! Black Walnuts to be precise! The previous owners of the farm told us that there were two black walnut trees in the woods near the river and that we shouldn’t tell anyone about them. I was puzzled about why we had to keep them hidden, especially since most people think of them as a nuisance rather then a trove of edible, high protein, tasty nuts. The wood is pretty fancy too I know, but I’m sure many homeowners would volunteer theirs up for lumber. So, I feel comfortable sharing their existence with you.

We had a black walnut tree back near our fort growing up but never thought to eat them, even though we did often try to pick out edible bits from the hickory nuts that grew on one side of the house. I remember my dad being mostly annoyed by them and thought that they might be poisonous. We would pick out the empty walnut halves and hold them to our faces and oink – “pignoses,” we called them.

But now that I know better, I decided to go out and collect the black walnuts that had ripened and fallen to the ground in the woods. I was not prepared:

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I came back with a bigger bag and now have approximately five tons of black walnuts to be processed. The one above was a test – it was actually pretty tasty. They have a very strong walnuty flavor – more than the usual English walnuts that you get in the supermarket. The shells on these are harder to crack than English walnuts which is one reason people don’t often mess with the black walnut. My hatchet worked pretty well – so check back and make sure I have all my fingers once I’m done with these.

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 Greenhouse, Plans

Blowing Up the Greenhouse

I had been using a blower we found in the greenhouse to get the fire in our wood-stove roaring, but then I realized that it already had a purpose! In the greenhouse! To keep the greenhouse warm in the winter I want to both absorb as much heat during the day and store it in things such as the pond and other high thermal mass materials and also insulate the greenhouse at night to keep in as much of the heat as possible. Our greenhouses are double glazed, meaning they have two layers of the plastic sheeting that covers the outside. Apparently this is actually a great way to insulate a greenhouse, and if you can get a nice amount of air between these two layers, then all the better. So we are trying out blowing up the greenhouse.img_0606

It is apparent from the holes that were already present in the inner layer of glazing and the fact that there are blowers in every greenhouse, that this was something the previous owners already were already doing. Hopefully this means that it will work!

I’ve been doing a ton of research about heating and insulating the greenhouses. This post from Midwest Permaculture seems awesome and has great information about things such as TMV and R values of different materials which is super useful.

THERMAL MASS VALUE BTU/Sq. Ft./degree F.

  • Water  63
  • Steel  59
  • Stone  35
  • Concrete  35
  • Brick  24
  • Sand  22
  • Earth  20
  • Wood  10.6

 

R-Value Measurements (hr°Fsq.ft/BTU)

  • Fiberglass glazing- single layer  R = .83
  • Glass double layer  R = 1.5 – 2.0
  • Polyethylene Double 6mil film  R = 1.7
  • Glass triple layer 1 / 4 “ air space  R = 2.13
  • Polycarbonate 16mm triple wall  R = 2.5
  • Polystyrene (styrofoam) 1 inch thick  R = 4.0

 

I need to check them out some more and read up on Midwest Permaculture

And then there’s always THIS

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!

Posted in Building, Successes

Putting up walls

Look how nice those walls are!! E is excellent at building walls – she’s the carpenter around here. Our friends came up for the weekend and we put them to work. They helped us frame out what will be a new hallway so that our one bedroom will be a true bedroom that you don’t need to walk through to get to the other two.

One nice thing about framing walls is that if something is a little crooked or off a bit, you can just bash it with a hammer in the right direction. If only more problems were solved with hammers…

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, Plans

It’s Raining… in the greenhouse

It looks so tropical in there, right?! It sure feels tropical because it is humid as all hell in the greenhouse. Like so humid it is literally raining in there. The sun was out in full force today and someone (no idea at all who that could be) apparently didn’t twist the wires to the fan together enough and the fan quit working!

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(You can see the untwisted white wires up at the top, along with the rogue wire nut at the bottom. Don’t get me started on the black wire connected to the white wire in there, seriously I have no idea, but it works)

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So during the day at some point it got up to almost 105 degrees, leading to the pond relocating onto the greenhouse film making it steamy and rainy inside. So, I did some research about this humidity issue, and I’m almost convinced it is an issue, but also not convinced that it needs an immediate or high-tech resolution. Apparently most plants don’t like a lot of humidity – it messes with their respiration and can lead to the spread of diseases, especially fungus and mildew issues. I also am pretty sure it’s not great for the materials in the greenhouse, mainly the electrical work in there, but that is less of a concern.

The goal of this particular greenhouse is to be somewhat tropical, so the humidity might not be that big of an issue. I assume that some plants don’t mind the humidity and would enjoy the steaminess. The drawback of this is that I want to grow tomatoes and other veggies in there and I know that tomatoes and squash are especially susceptible to fungus/blight and powdery mildew. I could try to make some sort of division between the pond area and the veggie areas, but that seems counter-productive to the whole heat-sink idea of the pond, and I have four other greenhouses, so if I was going to do that, I should just use a different one.

A couple of commercial/industrial solutions exist: non-condensing greenhouse glazing, condensation reducing sprays, circulation fans, and dry-air heat. I’m not particularly interested in trying out most of these. I know I need more circulation, but I’m trying to balance that with keeping the heat in, so I need to try to figure that out. I also could keep the water in a container that didn’t allow evaporation, but I really like the idea of a greenhouse pond, so I’m really set on making this work. So…

Solutions I am willing to try that might work:

  • The greenhouse glazing is double thick and there is a blower which can inflate between the two layers and allow for better insulation leading to less of a temperature differential between the inside and outside air which is a large cause of condensation.
  • I could try to come up with something that could force the condensation to happen in a certain place – a metal tube or some sort of upside-down pointy thing? This would hopefully lead to less dripping in random areas and if possible, reduce the humidity.
  • Venting – yes I know I need more of this, but my highest hope is that maybe this isn’t an issue at all. Maybe if the fan had been working the humidity would never have risen too far to start with and we would all be millionaires… yeah…

 

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 because 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)