Wednesday, April 30, 2014

After work

Monday, patched sheetrock in the hall (still have to goop it).

Tuesday, planted red raspberries from the ancestral home. Neighbor John D. gave them to us years ago; I stuck them in the ground around the silo and they made a few berries. Now they'll have a chance to go crazy. Hope they do.

Wednesday, tilled on the south side of the garden. Went over it just once, hoping to pull the quack grass  up, but not chop it.  Em's idea. So we can rake it out, then go back and till deeply. Anything to avoid picking through the dirt after tiny sections of quack root! You can see the white roots everywhere in the photo – every millimeter of every root will make a new plant, so you have to get it all out. The tiller started right up for me, and I only went careening down the hill once (the throttle sticks). And I was able to get it stopped before tilling up the wire fence.

And C. has a new rock! It's a half-boulder in the middle of one of the beds. Maybe we could lever it over and use it as part of a terrace? Or maybe it's just fine right there.

Thursday, raked quack grass out of the newly tilled area.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bunnies and tilling

C. has two of the young rabbits in the bathroom for plucking. (If we didn't have six dogs, she could pluck them on the couch watching TV, but noooo.) So I plunked them on the toilet and took their pictures. Here, then, are the first of my series of Toilet Portraits.

Here's Plumb Bob. Check out that grey undercoat, fawn coat, and pale grey/fawn loose fluff.

Here's Rue, with her white fluff. No silly tufts or muttonchops, just lots of white fiber.

So Em and Richard brought the Ancestral Tiller, and I got a lesson in tillology. It starts right up, and goes. I'm feeling empowered. Nothing will be safe from me. 

It's damp and grey out. Might till, or pot tomatoes. Might just read by the fire.

We finished the tomatoes – 141 total.

Gardening in the snow

From green to white, overnight.

Yep, snow on April 27. Not the best for gardening.

It is melting, though, and the expected high is 52. We'll probably get out there later. Richard and Em are bringing the Ancestral Rototiller today, but it might be too wet out to till. Our soil is very sandy, so we'll see.

Cute earmuffs, dude.

We've got a fire going this morning, and C. is wearing earmuffs. That's Kewpie on the left, and Jazzbert on the right. Jazzy is wearing her morning hair. It's considerably tidier than her afternoon hair. She does it herself, on the rug, and it enhances her rep as a barbarian princess.

 I finished the vacuum installation last night. Now I need to patch the sheetrock and the floor and generally tidy up. C. is vacuuming. It's not too noisy, more like a rushing wind than the roar of the shop vac. I can stand it, with the radio turned up. C. loves to vacuum. So does Emma. (We got Em a Little Green Clean Machine, a carpet/upholstery shampooer, for her 10th birthday. She was thrilled.) Weirdos.

Yesterday C. and I transplanted a great many tomatoes from flats into 6-inch pots and yogurt containers. Probably about 80. We have another 30 or so to go, but ran out of potting soil. The greenhouse is full of tomatoes! They have bottom heat, so the snow probably won't bother them.

C. strips the lower leaves off a tomato plant and sets it deep into the pot.
It will develop roots all down the buried stem.

C. has finished vacuuming and is now telling me all about the virtues of central vacuuming. She is pleased. I am pleased.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I heart the crawl space

Well, that's an exaggeration. But I am OK with it. (I think we learned to say that in the 1970s.  It wasn't just about disco, you know. There was also pop psychology. And embossed vinyl yardage at the fabric store so you could get your mom to sew neato dimensional snakeskin vests to wear to junior high.)

I planned to install the vacuum piping from the attic. I tried. I left some big herkin' holes in the sheetrock in the hall trying to figure it out. But nooooooo. It's just too short, and I'd have to balance on ceiling joists, and there's fiberglass insulation everywhere. (Fiberglass is the asbestos of the future, you know.)

So that left the crawl space. I do a lot of grumbling about the old crawl space. But that's where you have to go to get things wired and plumbed and ducted. And we have plenty of that to do. So I decided to quit bitching and make it work.

I cut a trap door into the lovely old maple flooring of the old entryway. It was hard.*

I know there are already four places you can access the crawl space, but this is the only one on the southeast side of the building. It's mostly free of asbestos (which is the asbestos of the past). It's also free of overhead pipes, which means I can actually crawl, rather than wriggle painfully. From now on, all the wiring and plumbing and ductwork goes there. If possible.

I'm working on installing the vacuum system. This photo explains why we need it, C. says.

Yes, it's the office chair with an impression of my butt in crawl-space dirt. In my defense, I point out that I got that dirt while installing the vacuum. Harrumph.

So, anyway, I spend Easter Sunday hanging and gluing and cutting PVC pipe in the crawl space. It's nearly done – one last little wonky section remains – and then the low-voltage wiring and the exhaust pipe to the outside, and then C. can vacuum. The dogs and I will go and hide, and she can vacuum up a storm.

Central vacuuming is a wonderful thing. I know most Americans think it's European or gay or something.* But it makes a lot of sense. Take the motor out of a standard vacuum, super-size it and hang it on the wall in the garage or someplace. You can make it big because don't have to haul it from room to room or push it around. Then you put an outlet in or near each room. You just plug your hose into the outlet and push the sucker head (not the technical term) around. The oversized motor provides a huge amount of suckage. And it vents to the outside, so you aren't blowing all kinds of dust out of the motor exhaust or bag. The motor lasts forever. And you can buy different sucker heads and accessories (do they have a bunny-plucking attachment?), as well as modify the piping to adding new outlets.

We know our vacuums. We have six dogs and 11 fiber animals and one human slob, and we have killed many ordinary vacuums over the years.

When it's all hooked up I'm going to throw confetti all over.

* little joke

Friday, April 18, 2014

Cold day

Four eggs today – three big chicken eggs and another of those small pinky-brown ones. It's the guineas, bless their little brown-egg-laying hearts. The chickens will lay year 'round, or close to it, but the guineas lay for only about six months. So we'll have plenty of eggs for the next six months!

I've been working on installing the central vacuum. Miserable job. I messed with fiberglass insulation, pondered the attic, cut holes in sheetrock, and tapped into a GFCI receptacle for power. Now neither the old outlet or the new one works. Tomorrow I troubleshoot. I'm done for today.

It's chilly, grey and windy out. C. planted more sunchokes.

Egg mystery

So what's up with these? The big one is from Roz. She lays a lovely brown egg every day lately. Did she have too much for one egg, and make a little extra one?

The other chickens lay white eggs. The guineas lay small white eggs – at least last year's guinea girls, the Connies, did.

It's a mystery. It was delicious, though.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Adventures in plumbing

That's the hole to the new crawl space there, below. The new part of the building is two classrooms built onto the south end of school in 1955. That crawl space is infinitely more pleasant than the old one. There's even enough headroom to crawl!

So I was down there last week, trying to get the garden water working. I could see that the fitting I'd put on last year had frozen and busted. I'd tapped into the copper waterline with a sharkbite fitting – those suckers are expensive but so easy to use! – and the ice had blown the plastic parts of the fitting into bits. OK. So I buy another ($12), this time a T so I can add another spigot out toward the new trees. Fine. Pop it in, add the new PEX line, wallow into the old crawl space and turn it on.

By the sound you can tell it's leaking like crazy somewhere along the line. Fine. I wallow out of there, back into the new crawl space, and look for a big wet spot. (I suppose the leak might have been in the old crawl space, but it's so much easier to look in the roomy new one.) Found it. A split in the copper line back by the foundation between the two parts of the building. I've already cut into my roll of blue PEX for the other lines, so there isn't enough to replace this one. I find a length of CPVC (with a fitting!) and glue it up and make it work.

OK. Wallow back into the old crawl space. Turn the line on. Sounds good. Wallow out, look in the other crawl space for leaks – everything looks fine. Try the spigots – the "frost-proof" one I put in last year has a big split in it and leaks like crazy when I turn it on.

This is the third leak on this one line. I just want to be able to water the damn garden. If I have to drag myself on my belly, with my elbows, through the fine dust and dark and asbestos of the old crawl space again, there will be ugly cussing and possibly the pitching of objects. I'll be mean to my dogs. It'll be bad.

So I get a wad of that plumber's epoxy putty stuff, knead it up and slap it on the split. There are a couple of pinhole leaks, but it's mostly OK. I go inside, take off my disgusting crawl-space clothes, and have dinner. That was a simple little job that should have taken a half hour, but instead sucked up a whole evening. And yes, I did turn the line off last fall! Have to figure out a way to drain that line next time. Feh.

Access to the new crawl space on the south porch.

The new crawl space, looking west. Look at that head room!

Looking east. Yes, that's asbestos on
 the white pipes, but it's in great shape, no worries.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Smokey meets Henley

Smokey the rabbit spend the day outside Sunday. It was lovely out, about 60 degrees and sunny. I was working on rock cages, so Smokey and I hung out on the south side of the house. Henley, the boss hen, was fascinated. The guineas were interested for about 30 seconds. That's JnE there, the white one, with Mrs. Davis. He's been recently deposed by some young guinea male, and after spending some days despondent and moody, has been wooing Mrs. D., his old girlfriend. He still gets bullied by the young guy.

Planting trees and seeds

Planted the last of the Soil Conservation District trees yesterday – four caragana and six American filberts. They're small, about 18 inches tall, and bare root. They were sold in groups of five, and those nice folks threw in a couple of extras (I might have grumbled about that as I dug holes). The caraganas – Siberian pea shrubs – went in around the chicken yard and in a group of four to the south of the building as a wind break and a road-noise buffer. Caraganas are thorny 10-foot-tall shrubs that produce pea-like pods that chickens and people can eat, but deer don't especially like (that's what the catalog said, anyway). We planted three last year (two survived) along the stone wall below the school. Last year's crab apple is doing fine, despite being pruned by the long-necked alpaca. I'm hoping the old wisteria survived the sheep. Looks like the raspberries didn't.

C. continues to plant stuff in the garden and dig new beds. I need to get some more terraces built. If I get gabions (wire cages for rocks) in place, she'll fill them with rocks as she digs. If I don't, she'll haul the rocks out of the garden, and use boards or wine bottles for terrace walls. Gardening waits not for procrastinators.

She's planted sunchokes (we need more for seed!), most of the 13 pounds of seed potatoes, peas, greens (we're trying a new one, Good King Henry, this year), some cabbage starts, lots of garlic... and probably more. Varieties of spuds: four pounds Viking red and Kennebec; two pounds Yukon gold, Burbank russet and Dakota pearl. We'd like to grow enough vegetables for us and all the animals for a whole year, and that's a lot. Two flats of tomato seedlings are a couple of inches tall under lights in the dining room. Some 4-inch-tall peppers are in the greenhouse.

We've moved the big animals out of the pasture next to the garden, and over toward the barn and the thickets. The sheep are a bit pissed about it. They like to see what we are up to, and lobby for grain and weeds and thinnings. They can still do that, but at a distance. They did a good job of chomping the knapweed and quack grass and spreading marbles of manure across it, and now it'll be more garden and a small orchard.

Richard and Em are coming up today with the Ancestral Rototiller to help expand the garden.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

April at school

Now that the weather is warm and the grass is greening up, the guineas spend their days foraging. The polka-dot girl at upper right is on guard duty, buckWHEATing her "all is well" call. Everybody else skulks around eyeing the ground for bugs or grain. That's Mrs. Davis, the dark one at middle left, and J&E, the white one, just above her. They do this all around the school, up the hill, down at the neighbor's place, on the roof. They'd like to do it inside while watching television. Too bad.

C. gives them fresh water in the afternoons, and collects feathers and eggs (I feed and water them in the morning before work). Yesterday she found this in the bird house. With all those feathers all over, she expected to find murdered (or at least naked) birds, but the place was empty. She concluded that they'd had a pillow fight.

Garden notes
C. planted a bunch of garlic from the ancestral home, and worked on prepping one of the north beds for greens. And she "chitted" some of the seed spuds (I think that's what you call cutting them up, two or three eyes per piece, in preparation for planting). They have to cure for a few days before they go in the ground. She put a bunch of cabbage seedlings in ground in the little hoop house.The tomato plants are mostly up in their two flats in the kitchen window.

What the heck did I do all day? Oh, yeah, I coughed and coughed from last week's goat-combing fest. And I worked on fencing around the barn, to give the big animals some new grass and bushes to gnaw. And I drug sled loads of alpaca poo from the barn to the garden. And I found a dead cat behind the barn. That's about it.

Tonight I made brownies, because I could. I have opposable thumbs – why not use them for good? The secret to making good brownies is to use multiple kinds of chocolate. Mine have unsweetened baking chocolate bars, cocoa powder and chocolate chips. Pecans, too. Mmm.

Friday, April 4, 2014

I know what I'm doing this weekend

So Em, Autumn and I dug up a bunch of Jerusalem artichokes and garlic from the ancestral home yesterday after work. And I bought 11 pounds of seed potatoes and five American hazelnut shrubs and five siberian pea shrubs today.

I do love to buy plants and seeds. But then there are consequences.

The sheep shearing is on hold. The people we got the girls from said they wait until the weather is warm at night before they shear. So we'll hold the sheep-wrestling event later in the month.