Notes from Windward: #64

Fall Progress Report

17 tons stashed away so far

     Since the calendar is telling us that Fall has arrived, let me take you on a tour of some of the things happening here at Windward as the preparations for winter get into high gear.

     One criteria by which we judge our preparedness for winter is how full the hay barn in. I'm delighted to report that we're going into this winter season with more than 17 tons, which is twice the amount of hay on hand that we've ever started the winter with. It's "feeder hay" that will need to be supplemented while the ewes nurse their new lambs, but for the most part it will serve nicely as the standard feed for our flock.

     The weather folk are suggesting that the coming winter could be especially cold and snowy, and while such forecasts are never certain, we like to use dire predictions as a spur to do just that much more in the way of preparations. One of the great satisfactions this lifestyle offers is the feeling one enjoys when looking at a full barn covered in a heavy snowfall.

installing the southern glazing

     Another key winter resource is firewood and the coming of fall finds us putting the glazing on the southern exposure in order to close off the roof before the fall rains come. Last winter, a heavy snowfall took down the shelter we were using to store wood for the kitchen, and so we undertook to create a solar wood shed large enough to store two winters worth of wood.

     Most wood sheds operate on the principle of "last in - first out," with the result that the driest wood is on the bottom of the stack where you can't get to it. The drier the wood, the more heat it gives off when burned, so by being able to separate one year's wood supply from the next year's stack, we'll be able to always use the driest wood.

     That makes starting a fire a lot easier, and helps keep the flue clear and clean. That's important because one of the greatest dangers that comes with using a wood stove involves the build up of tars on the inside of the stove pipe. The cleaner your fire, the cleaner your pipe.

installing the grow beds

     Vermadise is getting ready to take it's first brood of earthworms. The worms will live in six beds each of which is ten feet long and two and a half feet wide. Each bed will hold 25 cubic feet of compost and worms, for a total of 150 cubic feet altogether. That's a lot of premium mulch for the gardens, and lots of worms for fish and fowl.

     The grow beds will be filled with dirt mixed with used critter bedding, shredded cardboard, coffee grounds, and composted sawdust - short, most of Windward's organic garbage. Once the bins are full, they'll be seeded with worms from other bins, and after the worms have had time enough to eat their little hearts out, breed lots of little wormies and process the soil throughly, the bins will be harvested in rotation.

     The up-hill side of the structure will be dedicated to raising BSFL (Black Soldier Fly Larva). BSFL will consume the portions of our kitchen waste that aren't appropriate for composting with the worms, also yielding more compost for the gardens, and more larva to feed to the ducks and fish.

finally got it apart

     Progress on the wood shop has been held up by the need to repair the Wacker. The ground that the shop was over isn't perfectly level; over the twenty foot span of the building, the ground drops away almost a foot and a half. Before we can pour the hydronic slab that will for the shop's floor, fill dirt has to be brought in and compacted until the ground is level front to back and side to side.

     Bringing in the fill dirt is easy enough; the hard part is the task of compacting the fill so that it won't settle under the weight of the concrete. If that happens, the slab will crack. That's objectionable under ordinary circumstances, but especially so when the slab contains polyethylene tubing.

     One of the professional tools designed to compact the dirt is made by Wacker. It's a sort of self-powered pogo stick that jumps up and down creating a ramming effect that compacts the dirt. Wackers are very effective, but they don't come cheap, and it's the need for this sort of equipment that often forces people to bring in a contractor.

     Fortunately, I was able to pick up a Wacker at auction a few years back for a modest sum. While it was in good mechanical shape, it soon became apparent that the plastic bellows that connects the top to the ram was old and brittle. After less than an hour's use, the bellows had ruptured and needed to be replaced.

back together - new boot installed - ready to go

     The replacement part cost us more than I paid for the whole unit, but that's the way it goes with old equipment. The real problem turned out to be that I had no idea how I was supposed to install it. The machine works on the principle of the engine working against heavy-duty springs mounted above and below a counter weight. The first task was to unload the springs without getting hurt. I handled that okay, but then couldn't figure out how to remove the counterweight so that I could slip the new boot into place.      After trying every option and trick I could think of, I eventually gave up, loaded the machine into the truck and took it into Portland. It took two trips but I eventually was able to meet with a mechanic who was familiar with Wackers.

     He kindly explained that the non-intuitive answer was to recompress the counterweight to the point were the connecting rod joint became accessible from the other end. Once that was visible, it was just a matter of removing two retaining clips, driving the pin out of the joint, and bingo! The upper part would then separate from the lower, and I could install the boot.

     I followed his instructions, and was ever so delighted to finally have the machine apart. In no time at all, I had the new boot installed, the Wacker back together and was ready to get back to the task of filling in the wood shop floor.

     I don't know if we'll have time to get everything ready and pour the slabs before winter sets in, but at least now we've got a shot.

installing the new storage

     At this point in our growth, we put more time and energy into construction than into gardening, but we still make time for growing some specialty crops such as the little, red potatoes that are so good fresh from the garden. Potatoes are hard to beat from the prospective of the crop that produces the most with the least amount of effort, and this year the potato patch was especially productive.

     With a bumper crop ready for harvesting, it was time to address the need for adequate storage for root crops. Potatoes, and fruits such as apples, will last through the winter if they're properly stored in a cool, dark, location with adequate ventilation and the right humidity. When we built the dining hall, we create two such spaces - one for housing the off-grid electrical components, and the other for storing roots and fruits.

     While others were busy digging potatoes, Albert and I got busy and built a rack of wire-mesh shelves for the root cellar. Since each shelf has a bottom of galvanized wire mesh, produce stored there will have ventilation adequate to insure that it won't spoil the way it would if stored in some form of sealed container.

     The reason "one bad apple spoils the barrel" is that over-ripe fruit gives off a gas called ethylene. When this gas reaches a certain concentration, it triggers the ripening process in the other apples which in turn generate more ethylene, and pretty soon you've got a whole barrel of rotten apples. Bananas are imported into this country completely green and are kept that way in cold storage until the importer wants to ripen them. To do that, the bananas are warmed up and dosed with ethylene gas - and in short order, you have ripe bananas.

     Because the produce is stored on wire mesh, there's enough ventilation to prevent a concentration of ethylene. Also, because the potatoes are stored horizontally, instead of vertically, the ones on the bottom aren't crushed and bruised, and therefore are less likely to spoil prematurely.

     And, now that the racks are filled to overflowing, it's fun to just walk in the root cellar and look at all that bounty.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 64