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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Winter Wonder Land

Just thought we'd post a few pictures and video of the land with the fresh snow we just got.  It is a winter wonderland up there.

We went up to go sledding and quickly realized that we will be needing to purchase a 4wheel drive vehicle that the whole family can ride in (the truck only seats 4).  Every tree was covered and the birch were bent low with the weight of the snow.  It was beyond words!

You can see our bridge just behind the kids.

Up the road.  Around a few corners and you reach the field.

Sledding and Snow Angels!

The snow was coming down!

Mira, the wonder dog, jumping for snowballs.

The Orchard - Part 3

October - December

The push was on.  There had been some scattered snow showers in November and now December was on us.  If we were going to get the orchard mulched it was now or never.  In the shadows snow still lay in a very thin veil on the ground, but in the sunny spots the frost hadn't quite set in yet.

We knew we had to find a reliable source of wood chips so we started making some calls.  Tree service companies were hit-or-miss as they were willing to part with chips but only when they were in the area.  The land is off the beaten track so most companies wanted us to pay them to haul it up there.  So that was a "no-go".

The other thing that is not helping is the fact that our area now has 2 bio-mass facilities where they pay loggers and tree service companies for their wood chips.  Don't get us started on this one.  First, of all this means a lot of loggers will be cutting extra trees that they wouldn't have normally (stuff that would be junk before is now dollar signs).  Second, I had a chance to visit one of these plants and when I asked the general manager how efficient they were he shrugged his shoulders and said, "so-so".  I don't believe that these plants should be labeled as "green energy" sources.  But like I said.....don't get me started.

But all our calling wasn't in vain.  We had known about a large wood chip pile quite near to us in a neighboring town.  We thought it was only for the use of the people who lived in that town.  Denise discovered that anyone could take from it and that the pile was refreshed quite often from town projects or local people who dumped wood chips there. So the wood chip issues seems to be resolved for the time being.

The second thing we needed was a large amount of cardboard.  Nate did some calling on this and on a Friday drove to all the local appliance stores picking up all he could.  He also got in touch with a local manufacture of cardboard boxes (yes we have a plant here in the county that makes cardboard boxes) and asked if they had any scrap or waste.  They told him that they recycle all their waste but they did set aside bundles of boxes for the community, free of charge (you know - for moving, packing a kids for college, putting in an acre of garden space in an orchard....normal cardboard box stuff.)

So in mid-December the mad rush to finish the orchard commenced.  We borrowed one friend's full-size pick-up truck and another friend's double axle dump trailer to move the wood chips (we actually borrowed that first friends tractor as well to load the chips - he lives right near the pile).  Seven full loads later we had all we needed to get the job done.

Here is a video and some pictures to show you the process.


and happy little us

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Orchard - Part 2

July  - October
Now that each apple tree was in, fertilized, and properly protected from pests...it was time to nurse them back to health.  They had been stuck in gallon containers for who knows how long and we wanted to make sure they could spread their roots before the cold weather hit.

With the deer fence (simple concrete mesh) and the rodent mesh (hardware cloth) around the trees we knew they wouldn't get picked on...but they need water everyday.

At first we were trucking up two 55 gallon drums of water from home, siphoning them into buckets and giving each tree about 7 - 8 gallons of water a day.  We slowly weened that back to one 55 gallon drum and 5 gallons of water, per tree, per day. 

We also put in posts to support each tree.  At first they were pressure treated posts - because they were free from a deck that a friend tore down.  Even though they were pretty old posts we decided to tear them out and put in cedar posts.  Not sure what we were thinking when we put them in but who wants chromated copper arsenate leaching into their apples.

As the summer led into fall we started gearing up for mulching around the trees.  We had watched the documentary Back to Eden (which you too can watch for free on their site).  We'd like to get more and more into natural ways for growing food as well as initiating permaculture techniques.  Part of this involves planting crops next to each other that are mutually beneficial.  We also want to try "no till" farming as much as possible.

We knew we had to kill the grass/hay around the trees and put down some organic matter to plant in.  Working at a hardware store provides me with tons of free cardboard.  We have a full dumpster of the stuff every week.  So I take my pick.  We also have a wood chipper at work...and we just happened to cut down 65 trees this summer.  So we planned to lay cardboard, chip the tree tops and lay it all around the trees.

Of course things don't always go as you plan.  The massive amount of cardboard I had scarfed didn't nearly go as far as I thought it would...and then to top it all off the chipper broke down.

But, the kids had a blast with the cardboard.

So, winter is coming and the orchard is far from mulched.  There is not enough cardboard, the chipper is down and out for quite a while, and the days are getting shorter  

Will our heroes finish the job before the snow flies?  Will they have a restful and peaceful winter knowing that the orchard has been put to bed and the ground is being prepared under a blanket of mulch and snow all winter long for the spring planting?
Part 3 Coming Soon

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Orchard - Part 1

Well......way back in July, Nate was looking around the outside of the hardware store he works at and noticed something.  There were about a dozen apple trees still out front that hadn't sold from the spring tree sale.  And they were marked down to 50% off!  Being the smart and thrifty man he is - he put two and two together.  Picking up the phone he called Denise.

"Hello, Honey-Puff," he said.  "Would you like 11 apple trees to plant up on the farm.  We could start an orchard and raise happy little apples."  

"Oh Cookie-Bear,"  she screamed with delight.  "I would love 11 apples trees to plant on the farm in the middle of the hottest month of the year." 

"Super-duper," came Nate's reply back to her.  "I'll bring them home tonight.  By the way....they all look a little sick from being in their gallon containers for the past 5 months....but I'm sure we can pull them through."

So off went 6 Winesap Dwarfs, 4 Yellow Lodi Semi-Dwarfs, and 1 lonely Yellow Delicious Dwarf to the farm....and there was much rejoicing.

Here are some pictures of the progress.  It took a few days but we got them all in the ground.  We mixed Alpaca dung (thanks Kim and Scott) along with rotted hay in each hole as a kind of "fertilizer cocktail".

 We spotted this momma and son prairie dog digging holes down the hill and decided to put their skills to work in the orchard.

 The momma was happy to dig....the son....not so much.

 Pretty good soil here.  It's been a manured hay field for the past 100 years or so.

Happy trees or happy girl or both?

 Alpaca poo and hay....who wouldn't love that slurried yumminess!

 Each tree got a cedar post for support (not installed when this pic was taken), hardware cloth to protect the truck from critters, and two pieces of 10' x 5' wire mesh (the kind used in concrete floors for strength) for it's own personal fencing system.  No way deer are getting near these guys!

All the trees in!  A beautiful sky to end a hard day of work!

Part 2 Coming Soon!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cordwood Saga - Part 2

Well the saga of the cordwood continues...

October 16th:

We got back at it on a cool Tuesday. 

Bob was back with his usual gusto and it was back to move - cut - stack - repeat.  The remainder of the stack of 12' lengths went pretty fast.  Bob could only stay till 1pm and when the last log was cut he looked at his watch and it was 1:01pm.  Couldn't be better timing.

Denise and I stacked and stacked while Bob did most of the cutting.  When we were done we felt a bit like we were in the miracle of the "loaves and fishes".  We had thought we'd only get about 4 more cords but when we were done we had gotten 5 1/2.  We even had some help from Zane!

After Bob took off our friend Terry showed up to help clean up.  Like usual we forgot to take pictures of Terry working....but trust me he did (there were a lot of pallets to clean up and stack).

So now we have 14 1/2 cords of 18" logs as well as 4 1/2 cords of 16" logs (that we cut months ago)....what's next?

Well we have decided that we will move to a 2 year plan for building the house.  We will keep trying to sell our current home (remember to pass the news on to your friends - as well as this link) - and as soon as it sells (and the weather breaks) we will build a "Grouse" to live in and work at procuring more logs, pouring a foundation, getting up some timber framing, and hopefully by the end of next summer be laying the first floor walls......just relax....it will get done.

What is a "Grouse" you ask?  This a term coined by Denise and I.  A "grouse" is house that will one day be used as a garage.  Think of it as an over-sized micro-house.

We'll see what happens!

Thanks for reading!

Click on any picture for a larger view.


Cordwood Saga - Part 1

Well all of our 12' lengths of wood are now cut to 18"....but there is quite the story behind how it got that way.  The next couple of posts will tell the tale.  But to tell this tale we must first travel back to...

October 2nd:
On this day my father-in-law Paul and I started building the nursery.  No we aren't expecting another little kiddo.  We were expecting about 27 cords of 18" wood.  We started building "cradles" to hold all of those bundles of joy and so the area where we were working was dubbed "the nursery".

October 3rd:
Nate finishes the cradles and the nursery is ready for the wood.  Each cradle holds 4 cords of wood - 7 cradles were made - thus 28 cords of wood could be stored.

October 6th:

We invited anyone who was interested to come help cut our log pile down to size (complete with bribes of chili and coffee).  Well we had two takers (plus Lloyd and Edna showed up to check in on us - thank goodness Edna had a camera with her - our batteries had gone dead.)

So like we said...we had two brave souls.  Brave because it was raining for most of the day...but that didn't stop the amazing Bob and Tim from working with a smile.  Actually Bob's first words when he got out of his car were, "What a great day to cut wood!"  And he meant it!  His positive attitude got the day started right.

Both men - as well as Denise and I worked hard all day.  Bob is a machine with his chainsaw and Tim can get logs onto the cutoff table as fast as you can cut them.

Lloyd had to stack a little wood while he was there.

And now comes the sad news.....when we started cutting up this huge pile of logs  - (27' by 4') we figured there would be about 25 cords in it.  Well about about 3pm we were about 2/3rd of the way through the pile and we only had 8 cords!  We couldn't believe it!  All we could figure was that with the 12' lengths in a big pile there was a bunch of dead air space that threw our calculations off.

We know that we need about 30 cord if we are going to do all 1 1/2 stories of the home we are designing.  We figured we would have about 25 cords this year, cut another 5 or so in the early spring, dry it fast (quaking aspen dries really fast - plus we know someone with a solar wood kiln), and we'd have enough to build in the the summer of 2013.

The one thing that we are learning in this whole processes is to take one thing at a time...and to take the challenges as they come.  The next logical step is to finish cutting what we have... and start thinking about how this may change our timeline for building.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Cordwood Catch Up

It is time to play a little blog catch up...

On Labor Day weekend Denise and I headed 3 hours up the road to Plattsburg, NY to take a Cordwood Masonry class with Rob and Jacki Roy at Earthwood Building School.  Rob and Jacki have been building cordwood homes for over 30 years and have literally written the book(s) on it.  It was a great experience and well worth the time and money spent to attend the class.  There is nothing like hands on experience and being able to talk face-to-face with the people who can best answer the plethora of questions we have about building this way.

This is Rob and Jacki's home.  It is a two story, earth-bermed, round, cordwood home.  They built it on the site of an old gravel quarry.  Beyond having this one cordwood home there is also a cordwood sauna, bookstore, office, three guest cabins, a mess hall, garage, a children's playhouse, and a strawbale/cordwood guest cabin.  They are also helping their son build cordwood home next to theirs.  That is the house where we got our "hands on" training.

The strawbale/cordwood cabin that we stayed in.

Here is half of the interior....notice the great bottle-end window over the beds.

Some of the cordwood cabins making up a little cordwood village.

One of the interior walls of the "Hermit's Hut" cordwood cabin.  Look at all the fun stuff you can do with wood and bottles.

Rob and Jacki were gracious hosts.  Every morning we'd meet in their house for the classroom portion of the day.  Rob would teach and Jacki would supply an endless flow of coffee, tea, juice, and baked goodies.  Seventeen of us would squeeze halfway around their pool table, which was covered with wood samples, computer, books, diagrams, models, and teaching aids.  Rob would teach and generously answer our questions and put up with our interruptions as we bounced our ideas off of him.


Rob would use his own home as an example of different things he was teaching in the classroom.  Here he is explaining how he installed the windows.

After a lunch provided by Jacki, we would head over to the work site and start learning how to make this cordwood thing work.  We were taught how to mix two different types of mortar, how to lay mortar, sawdust insulation, and logs.  We learned how to "point" our work to get the mortar smooth.  We were warned about "pitty-patting" the mortar too much and causing excessive moisture to rise to the surface.  There were lessons on prepping the wood, making bottle ends, installing windows, and much more.

This is the home we worked on.  The first floor is a 20 sided cordwood structure.  The second floor will be a Geo-desic dome (in this picture it is covered with a tarp).

Learning how to lay M-I-M (mortar - insulation - mortar) and place logs in their cradles.

A bit more of the first row of logs and starting up the second course.

Denise and I worked on two different sections of wall.  The first was where they wanted some very specific patterning done with wood and bottles.  It was a slow go for novices but good experience.

Here's what it looked like when we left it.  All of the dark gray is what Denise and I did.  It wasn't much to show for for 2 days of work but like I said they were looking for something specific.

We also worked on a panel of bottle ends that went up next to a window.  This was done with a different type of mortar.  So it was good to work with both kinds of mortar and we're still deciding which we'd like to use in our house.  Here Nate is pouring sawdust insulation.

Denise is pointing around the bottle ends.  Bottle ends are usually two glass bottles put mouth to mouth in the wall.  The "butt" end of the bottle is visible at the wall's surface.  They let light in from the outside and makes some cool designs and colors.

Here Jacki gives Denise some pointers on pointing knives....specifically how to bend the end of a butter knife to make a good knife.

Here is a close up of some bottle ends.

The 2012, Labor Day Cordwood Masonry Class.  We were impressed at how diverse the class was.  From socioeconomic to geographic and religious perspectives, this class brought a lot of different types of people together around a common interest.

Jacki, Rob, Denise and Nate at the end of the school.  Denise is holding her MMS degree from earth wood Academy (Master Mortar Stuffer).