The Windward Blog
what we're working on in early October
October 1: It was a beautiful fall dawn, and our morning walk was especially pleasant in the cool, fall air. The leaves here are turning rapidly, and there was a wiff of wood smoke in the air to remind us that cooler weather isn't far away.
Today's main event involved our annual propane delivery. Down the road we look forward to producing our own gas (methane) to power the kitchen and other assorted pieces of equipment such as the clothes dryer, but for now we make do with propane for a number of uses. One key to sustainability is be ability to purchase what you need when prices are low, not when you actually need the product. In this case propane is a by-product of petroleum refining, and it's most in demand in the winter months. Since it's produced year round, the propane produced in summer has to be stored in huge pressure tanks for later sale. The result is that when the propane producer's tanks are filled to capacity in September, that's the time to buy. Over the years we've put in enough 500 gallon tanks that we can take on a year's supply in September when our bulk cost is usually some 30% lower than it would be in February when demand for propane peaks. Once the delivery was accomplished, we retired to the kitchen for our afternoon snack, and wound up spending the rest of the afternoon sipping hot cocoa and talking about how this summer had gone, and our plans for the summer to come. One of the things I like most about our lifestyle is that so long as we get the necessary things done, we can take time to sit and hang out together as it suits our pleasure. Even so, eventually we got cranking and turned our attention to the task of installing the floor moulding in the yurt. Because the "round" walls are actually a series of facets, each piece of moulding had to be cut to fit which generally required two trips to the table saw, but piece by piece we worked our way around the yurt until the only part left involves mounting the moulding on the inside of the door. We'll deal with that tomorrow.
October 2: In between the various "getting ready for winter" stuff that we're focused on right now, we still took some time today to finish the yurt's floor trim, do some touch up painting and finish mounting the door latches. So, at this point the yurt is just about ready for its first intern.
The yurt's door has a massive feel to it since it's made from three layers of solid wood instead of the hollow core sort of door that most people are familiar with these days. As a result, the hardware needed to be up to the task or else it would only be a matter of time before problems developed--it's difficult to repair holes when screws rip out their threads; far better to go with stronger stuff the first time. In keeping with the rest of Windward's buildings, the yurt doesn't have a lock on it in the sense that one could leave the yurt and lock the door behind them. That's one of the things that we cherish about this place, the way that we can leave the keys in our cars and know that no one's going to mess with our stuff without permission. That's very important to us, and anyone who doesn't respect the privacy and property of others isn't going to be welcome here. On the other hand, most of our dwellings can be locked from the inside so that folks can lock themselves in when they go to sleep if they feel the desire to do so. To that end, we wanted to add an internal bolt to the door, but didn't want something that was all galvanized and modern. After a bit of looking around, we found a black sliding bar that fit the style of the door.
October 3: An interesting day, all in all. Sheep come into heat once a year, the triggers being a shortening day length and a cold snap. Well, the days have been getting noticeably shorter for some time now, and we've already had a chill or two, but we've learned over the years that it's best to keep the rams apart from the ewes until at least the first of October.
Sheep have a gestation of five months, so by waiting until October, we're able to delay birthing until March. That's no guarantee that we won't get a March blizzard that will put the newborns at risk, but March lambs have a better chance of making it than February lambs do. Someday down the road when we get around to building a birthing center for the ewes, we'll move the mating cycle up a month so that the lambs are more able to take advantage of the spring grass, but given our current resources, it's best to wait. Well, today was the day that the waiting was over as the sheep were moved from the summer loafing pen back to the lower garden area, and the rams were moved from their bachelor quarters to join the ewes. The way we've got the pens set up, that took about a whole five minutes to accomplish since sheep are creatures of habit and it's easy enough to adjust the feeding routine to get them to do just about whatever you want them to. Our routine is to gather in the kitchen at three in the afternoon to have a snack before heading out to do whatever is on the work plan for the day. Well today we hung around the kitchen longer than usual because of the arrival of our first bit of rain worth noting. It didn't last very long, and didn't do much more than make things humid since the dry ground sucked up the rain just about as fast as it fell, but it certainly did offer a taste of the weather to come.
After the rain passed, Virgil and Kerry loaded up a trailer load of wasted hay. This is the stuff that had accumulated in the summer loafing pen feeding area; it makes great compost since over the past few months it's been repeatedly peed on and mixed with manure. It's not fun work, but it's finite and there's the satisfaction of knowning that the waste from one part of our operation will nourish another.
This bit of rain mostly serves to drive home the point that the drenching October rains aren't far away, so it's good to take some time out of the day to cut up another dead tree and add it to the supply. It probably won't be needed, but there sure is a lot of satisfaction to be had when the snow comes and you have more wood than you figure you'll need.
Katie and I spent time finishing up some of the details on the yurt. Katie's digging up the old water line that used to run just north of the yurt, and I finished mounting the door's green glass center. One of the nicest parts about being inside the yurt is the way that the sunlight plays on the walls through the narrow windows, the overhead skylight, and now this green glass eye in the center of the door.
The three inch diameter green glass eye is actually the bottom of a wine bottle that we cut using our diamond tile saw; given the yurt's green roof, its green color adds a great accent note to the door :-)
October 4: We were able to get some outside work in before the rains returned, mostly doing clean up around the site and hauling any remaining cut firewood into the woodshed before the rains could undo the summer's drying, but by mid-afternoon a slow, steady rain had settled in. By then we were ready to retire to the kitchen, sip some tea and wait for another batch of Katie's Apple Brownies to finish baking. One day we might get to taste what they're like after they've had a chance to cool, but not today.
October 5: This morning was the first time it really looked like fall. Things like the chill in the evening air make it _feel_ like fall, but here in the Windward woods, fall has a special look that is most apparent when we're cloud-bound. It's sort of like being fog bound, but there's a subtle difference when you're living inside a cloud--there's a certain sense of isolation that's natural given the quiet and solitude we enjoy here. Our woods take on an other-worldly quality when the clouds come to roost on our heights and the lime-green lichens, freshly washed by the fall rain, fill the beclouded forest with a neon glow.
Each day we gather another wagon load of wasted hay and bedding to add to the compost yard where it will be readied for use in next year's plantings, in Vermadise or any of the many other places that "black gold" is needed. By doing one trailer load a day, we're able to stock up a lot of compost over time without it becoming a chore, which is part of the key to how we do things here. A bit of this, a bit of that, and on to other things. Whereas in the work-a-day world it's often three steps forward and two steps back, at Windward our goal is to take a step forward and then take a nap, skipping the other four steps as best we can :-)
In the compost yard, the wasted hay will be run through the hammermill to open up the fibers and break up the manure pellets (sheep poo comes in little round balls) so that the material will break down more readily. We'll add more organic nitrogen, pile it up, cover it loosely with a tarp, and let it start the process of decomposition. In time we'll have our anaerobic digester set up to receive the hammer-milled wasted hay and convert it into methane gas to fuel the dining hall, a process which results in a liquid compost that's ready to apply to the garden, but that's a project for another day. After lunch Virgil and I made the run to Goldendale to fetch home a couple tons of this year's alfalfa hay. The road between Windward and Goldendale has been closed for the past three months as road crews worked to rebuild a bridge at a critical switch-back that leads up out of the canyon. As a result we're much later getting hay that we would like to be, but fortunately it was a good year for the hay growers so there's plenty of hay available. Down the road we look forward to being able to produce our own hay, and so far we've acquired most of the key pieces of equipment needed such as seeder, discs and baler, but we'll need to finish our non-potable water system before the forage part of our sustainability plan will come on line. As noted before, that too is a project for another day.
October 6: Folks think sheep aren't very bright, but cows make them look positively clever. This morning we were greeting by the sight of the range cows hanging around the sheep pen complaining about the sheep not sharing their hay when the truck and trailer where right there on the landing loaded down with two and a half tons of newly cut hay. <sigh> After gathering for a snack and a chat at three, we went down to the hay barn, shooed away the cattle and unloaded the new hay into the north side of the hay barn. The Plan is to completely clean out the south side so that we can install a liner on the floor, an improvement which will enable us to gather up and utilize the fines that currently are lost to the sheep, and use them to compound our own rabbit, duck and fish feed.
Once the truck and hay trailer were unloaded, we turned to filling up the blue trailer with another load of waste hay and delivered it up to the compost yard. By doing one load a day, we're getting an otherwise tedious job behind us without it becoming too bothersome, and at the same time we're setting the stage for our garden's fertility come next spring. One key to sustainable practice is the combination of animal and plant systems in ways that the output from one system is the input for the next. Each year we find ways to increase the utility of each phase of the system, and so our sustainability grows.
October 7: Tonight is the third night of a three night Lord of the Rings marathon, so I'll quickly update you on what's been happening today and then head over to join the fun.
Now that we've got the Loafing pen's feeding area cleaned up, we've turned our attention to cleaning out the south side of the hay barn. In the past we've stacked hay on pallets so that the hay didn't wick moisture up from the ground and spoil, but the problem there is that a notable amount of hay falls down through the pallets and is lost. The fellow we buy hay from put down a pond liner under his hay with the result that not only is the hay kept dry, it's also quite easy to gather up the hay that falls when you portion out a bale into flakes. Not only is that wasteful (something which is antithetical to sustainability) but it's especially frustrating in that what falls is often the leaves and flowers that are the most nutritous parts. By installing a liner under our hay, we'll be able to collect what's currently going to waste and use that to compound feed for our rabbits and ducks.
The yurt's so well insulated that it's proving to be able to ward off the evening chill nicely, but it's still going to need a heating source if it's going to house interns during the winter. We don't expect to have many winter interns since winter at Windward isn't for the unprepared, but one of our first interns was from Maine and she did just fine. We'll be installing a propane heater in the yurt, and that requires a trench to bury the propane line since we don't want to spoil the appearance of the yurt with something as utilitarian as a propane tank. The trench will allow us to place the propane tank at a short distance from the yurt.
Today's mail brought another four service berry plants, so Kerry consulted the master layout, dug the necessary holes and filled them with water to soak overnight. Even though we have had some rain, the ground is still quite dry and transplants need to be helped along until the fall rains really get going.
Another project we were working on today involves closing in the southern end of Vermadise. The first step was to box in the opening to take the pre-hung door assembly. The door we're installing is one we picked up at auction, so it's a case of tailoring the opening to fit what we have instead of buying a new door that fits the opening. One of the barriers to re-using things like doors and windows is that they have to be custom fitted, a process which takes time and skill, but that's fine with us since we find real satisfaction in using existing resources whenever we can. Well, that's a quick rundown on what's going on at Windward this day; time to grab a shower and head over for the third episode.
Today was one of those golden fall mornings when the air was crisp, the leaves where ablaze with color and it was good to be alive and hiking through the Windward woods. These fall days are an emotional tug between the desire to sit back and enjoy the beauty, and the need to get to work and finish preparing for winter--and so we take time to do both.
The work on clearing out the south side of the hay barn continues as we haul out another load of wasted hay, and shift around bales of alfalfa and grassy hay in preparation for cleaning that side of the barn down to bare dirt.
Work on Vermadise went forward as well as the new southern door was installed and trimed. It's about time too since the nights are getting down into the 40's and the tomatoes would be doing better if they were able to stay warmer at night.
October 9: Cleaning out the hay barn isn't a lot of fun, but it's a necessary chore and it certainly is more pleasant doing it now that it would have been back in July. By doing a part of the work each day, we work together to whittle the task down to the point where it's just something that needs doing rather than something to dred. Which is part of the key to how we do things here; interesting work tends to be done by those most interested, and the rest gets done as a group project.
In order to get all the remaining hay stored in just the north side of the barn, we're needed to stack the bales up to the roof. As we work our way down on the south side and up on the north side, the effort needed to move these hundred pound bales increases considerably. To that end we use a pulley to hoist the bales up to where they need to go. It takes a bit of practice to get the timing down right, but when three people are pulling together, the bales seem to fly up to where they need to go.
After shifting bales, we raked up another wagon load of wasted hay and took it up to the compost yard. Virgil had an idea that putting a tarp under the hay would facilitate unloading, and so we gave that a try.
I'm pleased to report that Virgil's idea worked like a charm. In no time at all the trailer was unloaded and the wasted hay skidded over to where it needed to go :-)
October 10: Another routine, getting-ready-for-winter sort of Windward day. For example, today we used the work truck as a sort of shuttle moving various resources around so that they'll be "findable" later on. With 131 acres, it's very easy for things to be here somewhere but unavailable because they're not sorted into some sort of logical arrangment, a condition we refer to as "deep storage." And although it's still a couple of months away, once the snow comes to stay anything that's not put up will be unavailable until spring. Kerry prepared a great lunch of roasted turkey with gravy over garden fresh potatoes, and afterwards the 'terns took a run down to the river to hunt apples and rocks before returning to finish moving that last layer of hay. By now they've gotten pretty adept at working the haul line and the heavy bales almost flew up to the top of the hay barn. Otherwise, lots of little projects underway ranging from installing a railroad tie needed to secure the Loafing Pen's gate latch to the felted handbag that Kerry's working on.