Notes from Windward: #64

Mid-year Progress Report

the potato patch is looking good

     The 4th of July holiday weekend is when we take a hard look at the projects we have underway, and try to make a realistic assessment of what we can get finished before winter comes. When caught up in the enthusiasm of spring, it's easy enough to start a whole raft of projects, but putting those projects to bed before the snow comes is another matter all together.

     There are four starch crops that humanity relies on to feed itself: corn, rice, wheat and potatoes. Corn and rice both take a lot of water, so our efforts to grow our own food supply has to focus on wheat and potatoes. Right now, we're not trying to produce all our own food, choosing instead to focus our current efforts and cash flow on projects such as the new woodshop and the non-potable water system, projects which expand our overall capabilities.

     Still it's good to keep honing our basic skills. Plus, we truly do delight in fresh baby reds fresh dug from the garden, quick boiled and served with a little butter and salt. Yum :-)

     At this point in our development, we're focusing our gardening efforts on providing fresh salads and vegetables for the table, rather than cultivating plants which are readily available commercially. By way of example, our potato patch is "Red Russets" and "Yukon Gold", varieties which are more expensive and less readily available than the generic white baking potato.

     The success of this year's potato crop means that we'll have to make sure that the root cellar behind the dining hall is ready to store them by the time they need to come out of the ground. Potatoes don't store well in closed bottom bins so we're building our root storage shelves with "hardware cloth" bottoms that will allow air flow around the root crops being stored, thereby extending their shelf-life considerably.

the 14' commercial sink is moved into place

      The arrival of warm weather allowed us to take down the temporary wall in the kitchen and to finally move our mammoth fourteen foot long, four basin stainless-steel sink into place. Given it's size, we had to bring it into the dining hall before we put up the final wall section, since it wouldn't be able to fit through any of the doors - indeed, if we ever decide to remove it from the dining hall, we'll have to take it out through one of the large, garden windows.

     Now that the sink is where it's supposed to be, construction of the remaining internal walls in the west end of the dining hall can get underway. Which is good since the remaining walls will have to be in place and finished in order to heat the entire building come this winter.

     Speaking of heating the kitchen, one of the projects we started back in February was the construction of a solar woodshed to store the two cords of dry wood we need in order to heat the kitchen for a winter. The shed is designed so as to allow us to keep a winter's supply of pine or fir firewood in either of the side bays, while reserving the back part of the center bay for slower burning oak firewood. The drier the wood, the more heat it will give off, so having a shed capable of storing multiple years worth of wood will ensure that the wood will light easily, burn cleanly and give off lots of heat.

the solar woodshed with the metal roof in place

     While we still need to install the clear fiberglass roofing on the southern side, most of the work is done, and I'm please to report that thanks to the determined effort of Jay, Liz and Todd, the right-hand bay is filled to over-flowing with split and stacked firewood.

     You never know what sort of winter you're in for, and it's natural and healty to feel some degree of anxiety about whether you've done enough to lay in supplies and prepare in case the coming winter turns out to be one of those that country folk use to mark time, like the winter of '47 when the Columbia river froze and folks could walk across. While that degree of sustained cold isn't likely, the historical records do show that it is possible. Still, the quiet knowledge that you've got more than enough dry firewood stored away come what may is a Very Good Thing.

Gina doing some leveling in Vermadise

     The other major undertaking this season is Vermadise, i.e. a 20'x40' structure that's optimized for growing earthworms.

     Last fall, Gina worked out the details involved in maintaining a digester that utilized earthworms to turn organic waste such as used straw bedding, vegetable peels and paper waste into a form of organic compost filled with nutrients and teeming with hungry little earthworms.

     Over the winter, Gina held her breath in hopes that she'd sufficiently bedded the worms so that they'd survive over the winter. I remember well the day this spring when she came dancing down the hill to report that she'd screwed up her nerve, dug down into the over-wintered bins and found scads of new born earthworms.

     New-born worms are actually hard to see because they lack hemoglobin and are transparent. Since they're so small, they can absorb sufficient oxygen through their skin. It's only as they get bigger and more mobile that their internal demand for oxygen increases to the point where they need the hemoglobin to power their metabolism.

     When completed, Vermadise will contain some 180 cubic feet of worm beds chock full of little critters working hard to turn waste into fertility.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 64