Winter, Projects, and Perspective

December 5, 2016

Winter Has Arrived!

     We received our first legitimate snowfall on 17NOV16.  It was only an inch or two, but enough to light a fire; literally and metaphorically.  As temperatures hovered in the mid-30's, it was the first real test on how our Russian masonry stove would perform and also how well our homes strawbale insulation would....well....insulate.  I'm happy to report both did an outstanding job!  I put in four pieces of pine/fir mix at about 4pm.  Indoor temperature at that time was 72 degrees.  Outdoor temperature was about 38 degrees.  When we woke up in the morning, inside temperature was 71 degrees while outside temperature was 35 degrees.  So, our 2200 square foot strawbale-insulated home kept the heat in all night.  The Russian stove performed super efficiently.  Makes me wonder why homes are built with traditional fireplaces or stand-alone wood stoves; totally inefficient.  We have about 3-

 4 cords of wood split; should be overkill.


      The arrival of snow hinted that we're running out of time to finish some of our tasks.  We have a 40'x60' garage we're putting up.  While we're not going to finish this year, our goal is to get all the posts in the ground before the ground freezes.  Curing cement doesn't work well with freezing temperatures.  The next few days will bring single digit temperatures and we still have three posts to put in the ground and about five to pour cement in.  I figure we should be okay as

 long as we can keep some of the ground heat in around the poured cement.  I'm certainly no

 expert, but I figured a low cost/simple solution would be to pour the cement then put in some crumpled-up packing paper on top of the cement., then cover with a tarp. My hope is that the top of the cement will be insulated from the outside air and will trap in just enough of the ground temperature to keep the cement from freezing.  I'd prefer to go out and "do" rather than spend hours on Youtube trying to find a solution.  We'll see if it works.



     All fall was a race to get stuff done.  The garlic field was the main time sucker.  I was worried the ground would freeze before we could get the garlic in, but it turns out we probably had a good three weeks of unfrozen ground to work with (I'll store that little tidbit for next years use!)  So the


garlic sits under its straw blanket until growth starts in the spring (at least it BETTER start growing).  I pulled up a section of straw and checked a couple garlic cloves and sure enough, they've put down roots.  No top growth yet, but that's fine.  The garlic field being finished for the winter, I concentrated most of my effort solely on the garage.


     I was splitting time between the garlic and the garage all summer/fall.  By the time the garlic field was done, the garage site topsoil had been removed and very roughly leveled.  I rented a Case loader/backhoe to accomplish that.  I rented it from Sun Rental for $500 for one day.  Sounds expensive, but if I would've brought someone else in to do it for me, I probably would've spent double.   It did okay removing the topsoil and leveling with the bucket.  Oh, the topsoil needed to be removed due to the organic matter inherently found in it (dead grass/roots).  If the concrete slab were to be built on the topsoil, the organic matter would eventually decay and the ground would settle, thus cracking the concrete slab as it sunk.   I got the garage pad done in about 3/4 of a day.  What made it worthwhile was using the excavator bucket for the rest of the day.  I was able to dig all the holes for our future orchard trees AND dig a 15'Wx30'Lx6'H hole in the ground.  


     The intent for that hole is for it to become a walipini.  Basically, it's a green house sunk into the ground about six feet.  The ground would be the floor and the walls.   It utilizes the ground temperatures to maintain a higher temperature than it would above ground.  Not sure if we're going to do that though.  We're also considering putting in geothermal pipes in the hole we dug, filling it in, then placing a traditional greenhouse above.  The result is similar to a walipini just that we're bringing the air up FROM the ground rather than sinking the greenhouse IN the ground.  The important thing is we have options now that the labor intensive digging is completed.


     Back to the garage, I overestimated how difficult digging post holes and getting the posts in the ground would be.  The main reason:  rocks.  My neighbor brought his tractor mounted auger over to bore out 12-inch-wide holes, but it was only partially effective.  Many of the holes had to be hand dug due to all the river rocks in the ground.  I had to use a giant pry bar to get those rocks out .  To make matters worse, the soil changed to hard pack soil at about two and a half feet deep.  My intent was to go down 4 feet for each hole (to ensure no frost heave), but that just wasn't possible for all the holes.  I eventually had to rent a freakin' jackhammer to just get down to three feet; I would've gone more with the jackhammer, but it's hard to operate a jackhammer when most of it is buried in a hole.  Three feet deep should do the job though; we'll have at least a couple inches of fill dirt/gravel plus four inches of concrete pad to add on top, so the overall depth of post in the ground will be around three and a half feet at minimum.



     Overall, I'm satisfied with how the garage is going up.  It's within an inch of square, posts are plumb, and posts haven't twisted too bad.  I plan on putting up the girts this winter since they're a one man job mostly and I can put my new nail gun to work (but mostly just so I can use my nail

 gun).  A neighbor of mine may have a line on a truss-raising apparatus to use this coming spring which will lessen the difficulty (and danger) of putting up the trusses.  The big challenge will be juggling the garage build and spring planting.....


     We recently submitted our WSDA organic certification application.  We have two sites that we are certifying:  three acres in the front pasture that we'll have at least part in garlic, and our 1/4 acre garden.  Getting the garden certified was almost an afterthought, but it affords us the opportunity of marketing any other fruits and vegetables we may grow in that area,  We're hopeful we'll have enough produce to offer to our local community (after we pack our fridge and root cellar full of course).



   Since we have three Labrador Retrievers, they had to have some kind of structure to huddle during the cold weather.  I'd love for them to be inside all day, but the training involved in getting them to use the toilet to relieve themselves is out of my price range!  Anyway, my goal was to make them a dog house from on-hand materials.  I used a large pallet for the floor.  This gave me a large void I could stuff in straw to provide insulation from the ground.  Unfortunately, I didn't have any plywood to complete the house.  My neighbor gave me a good tip:  rather than paying nearly $20 per new sheet of plywood, I could simply ask the lumber stores for dunnage (waste

material).  I was able to procure five less-than-perfect sheets of plywood for about $7 a piece.  No need to use perfect plywood for a simple dog house anyway.  So, I made the dog house big enough for three Labs to fit in and gave it a sloping roof to redirect any moisture away.  Total cost:  $35 and a few hours of my time.  The dogs seem to like it enough.  I'll add some spare roof tin to the roof and maybe the sides at another time.



     The wife and I have had the goal of moving to a rural area for many years now.  Now that we're here, I have to say it's everything we've dreamed of.  It is dead quiet on the mountain most of the time; no sound of traffic, sirens, or rowdy neighbors.  The only occasional sounds are gunshots in distance from a hunter, or military aircraft on training sorties overhead; both welcome.  The silence and simplicity (not to be confused with easy) of rural living allow time for uninterrupted reflection and contemplation of future aspirations.  It's amazing how much clarity there is to be had when you're not glued to a computer screen, answering phone calls, or simply immersed in progress; that stuff just doesn't seem important at all anymore.  With room to roam, there's always something to do, something new to see, and boredom is never an issue.


     Over the summer and fall, we grew used to seeing an unkindness (yep, that's what a group of ravens is called) of ravens fly over our home morning and afternoon.  In the morning around 7am, we'd see 50-100 ravens leave their nesting area about 500 meters south of our home and fly over our house to go wherever they go during the day.  In the afternoon, they'd return about 5pm.  Same route, same time...everyday.  We got so used to it that when the kids asked what time to come in from playing, we'd just say "Come home when the ravens fly over".  Good stuff.






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