The Windward Blog
what we're working on in the middle of October
With the last of the hay out of the south side of the hay barn, it was time to take up the old pallets and rake up the rest of the wasted hay. All in all we hauled four wagon loads of old pallets up the burn pile--it's late enough in the year that the burn ban is lifted, but the pile grow large enough that we'll wait until the first snow to light it off just to be extra careful. When you live in the deep woods, you take forest fires very seriously--nothing there that can't wait a month or two before being burned.
With the old pallets gone, it was time to start grooming that side of the barn in preparation for putting down the liner that will keep our hay dry, and allow us to gather up and use the hay that falls when we break up a bale into the flakes that we feed to the sheep. Given the price of hay, the liner will pay for itself in short order.
While fall is primarily harvest time, there are also a number of crops, especially those involving bulbs, that are planted this time of year. Kerry pealed a bucket of garlic bulbs, separating them into small, medium and large. The large cloves will be planted, the medium ones will be used to fill in any space left, and the smaller cloves will be used in the kitchen this winter.
Now that the hay barn project is wrapping up, we've shifted our attention to the task of insulating the water tank that will form the heart of the heating system for the propagation greenhouse. The tank weighs six tons, and will hold another five tons of water, so together that will create a substantial heat storage system to keep this special use greenhouse warm during the winter. We'll use solar thermal panels to gather heat during the winter days, and store that heat in the thermal mass down below the greenhouse. Then, at night, the heat will rise to keep the greenhouse warm just the way that a hot water bottle was used in olden days to keep a person's feet warm. The tank is sitting on treated 2x4s spaced every two feet with an inch and a half of high density foam in between the wooden supports. The next step is to glue high density foam to the sides so that the heat in the tank won't go sideways into the soil, but rather rise up into the greenhouse. We're using construction adhesive to glue the foam to the cement tank, and the logs in the picture are there to hold the foam in place while the cement dries.
Now that the bank has been cleared away from the uphill side of the yurt, the next step is to install a stacked stone retaining wall, so Katie has been working on getting the footing ready for the wall. Since the wall will be put together without mortar, it's important to make sure that gravity works to keep the stones in place.
October 13: Yesterday I made a run into Portland to visit the dentist for a semi-annual check up. While there I took time to visit "The Bins" which is the local's name for Goodwill's regional processing center where all sorts of donated goods are piled on ten foot long bins for people to sort through.
There's a small degree of pre-sorting in that books, shoes, appliances and clothes tend to be grouped together, but you can find just about anything just about any place so it's sort of like a grand Easter Egg hunt. Some things are price marked, but most things are sold by the pound, take your pic.
When reading stories of our bike runs along the river, you might have wondered where all the bikes came from since most of our interns fly in from around the country--this is where. By careful selection we've been able to put together a "bike fleet" by picking up bikes for between five and fifteen dollars, and then swapping out parts. It takes about three bikes to come up with enough parts to put two into good working condition, but at those prices that's still quite a bargain.
In a similar manner we've been able to lay in a half-dozen pairs of cross-country skis at five dollars a pair so that come this winter we'll be able to take full advantage of the snow season. Cross-country skis use one of two different binding types, so the challenge is to find enough of a selection of boots to match the skis to the people, but at two to three dollars a pair our collection of cross-country ski boots is growing too :-) To create a sustainable life here in the woods, it's not enough to master the basics--we have to make this life both fulfilling and fun. It takes a lot of capital just to pay for the essentials such as land and tools, and to put in the basic systems needed to support our program, so we're always looking for opportunities to acquire non-essential resources at attractive prices, and "The Bins" is a key resource in that quest. And besides, it's a really fun place to find all sorts of odd things.
After making a run into Hood River, the 'terns kept busy in the kitchen making things out of the apples, pears and peaches that we've gathered in by the box full. It's a race against the calendar as they work to preserve things at their peak before they start to spoil. This is the time of year when the kitchen is a ever-changing source of the most delicious smells and tasty things set aside to be enjoyed through the winter.
This afternoon's work session was focused on backfilling around the concrete tank that will form the thermal heart of the propagation greenhouse. Once the tank was insulated with an inch and a half of high density foam it was time to back-fill the tank, and the first step in that process was to use the backhoe to loosen up the pile of dirt left over from when the pit was dug.
This is the sort of job that we like to take our time with since any time you're mixing heavy equipment and hand work, you have to be extra vigilant for safety's sake. On the other hand, the weather forecast is for rain this weekend, and dry dirt is a lot easier to move around than wet dirt, so this is a task we'd like to have behind us.
The primary focus today was on preserving peaches and pears, but as with most days, we took time out to move at least one of our capital projects forward. In this case that involved sorting out the large rocks from the fill, hauling the rocks up to the yurt to use for the retaining wall, and then using the dirt remaining to continue backfilling the thermal tank.
After that it was back to the kitchen to put up more peach and pear preserves before they overshoot their peak of ripeness and start to spoil. This is one of the times when having a large commercial stove to work on really is nice, and now that the heat has broken and we're working our way towards our first killing frost, the heat from the stove is keeping the kitchen comfortably warm.
Most of our group focus today was on getting our materials ready for the two upcoming Non-profit Intern Fairs that we'll be attending this coming week. Kerry took lead on preparing three "white boards" worth of pictures describing this year's internship program, and I'm quite impressed with the layout that she and Katie have put together. The synergistic effect that Windward generates isn't a surprise, actually, not after all these years of seeing it in action, but it's always a fascinating thing to watch unfold.
While they were doing that, Virgil and I figured we could best help by staying out from underfoot, so we grabbed the backhoe to move some really big rocks up to the yurt to form the start of Katie's retaining wall. Building with stacked stone is hard work, but it's really fun too so what the heck :-)
October 17: We're keeping busy with a variety of tasks that need to be finished before the fall rains set in, something which isn't far away since we had a long, soaking rain last night. Like the fabled Camelot, it tends to rain here at night but it won't be that long until the rains come in earnest, and after that the snow, so it's important to take advantage of these last days of fall to do what we can. For example, Kerry did a great job of getting the saffron planted in the edible landscape garden north of the dining hall. So far we've only got a hundred bulbs in, but the plan is to keep adding a hundred bulbs each year for the next three years, at which point these bulbs will have multiplied so that we'll be able to dig them up, separate them out and replant an every larger field of saffron.
After lunch on Monday, Virgil and I took off on the run to Seattle for the non-profit internship fair to be held on Tuesday at the University of Seattle. On the way we stopped to take a picture of the new bridge built at the bottom of Bowman Creek grade. That's the only paved road leading up and out of the north end of the Klickitat river canyon, and it's been closed for most of the summer, a blockage which required city cars needing to get to Goldendale to take a much longer route. The new bridge will be more tractor-trailer friendly, something which is good since inexperienced drivers would see that road on the map and try to take it as a short cut--which was usually a really bad idea. All too often, the trailer would not be able to make it around this tight turn and drop a wheel off the pavement. At that point, the road would be blocked until they could bring in a monster tow truck to lift the back end of the trailer up and get it back on the road, something which would usually shut down the road for hours.
October 18: Rain, off and on for most of the day, so we looked for inside things to do. This is a nice time of year because the air is clean and crisp, and the clouds that weave in and out of our woods make for some enchanting visual effects.
While Virgil and I were away at the intern fair, Kerry and Katie kept the work moving forward by painting Vermadise's new door and finishing the task of backfilling the Propagation Greenhouse's thermal tank. We would have liked to have set the thermal tank another two feet into the ground, but that just wasn't possible since we hit bedrock and at that point it just wasn't worth the effort to try and go deeper. And so, the next step will be to build a retaining wall around the tank sized to serve as the foundation for the propagation greenhouse. We'll fill the remaining space with volcanic cinder; that will provide additional insulation and good drainage. In order to help cuttings and grafts take hold and grow, the inside of this building will be kept very moist, and the cinder will insure that the floor of the greenhouse doesn't get muddy.
Much of our forest consists of oak trees that produce a dependable crop of acorns each fall, productivity which helps the animals put on another layer of fat for the coming winter. Kerry was intrigued by the question of whether acorns could be processed to the point where they could be consumed directly, and she's been researching ways to process and use them--a perfect project for a rainy day, so the 'terns spent much of the afternoon experimenting.
October 19: Today was our second internship fair, and it was a good one. Lots of folks interested in what we're doing and the chance to think about taking the road less traveled.
Meanwhile, Kerry continued her acorn experiments. Yesterday, she used a series of hot water leachings to draw out the tannic acid that makes the acorns bitter, and a night in the dehyrator dried the acorns back to the point where they could be ground into flour. Instead of using the high-speed mill that we use to grind our wheat, we decided to take a step back in techonology and use our stone mill to do a coarse grid. We were concerned that the oil content might create a sort of acorn butter, but the acorns proved dry enough to produce a good meal that we'll be able to experiment with.
October 20: The rain has passed on for a few days, or so the weather folks assure us, so we're tending to a variety of tasks involved in making the transition from summer operations to winter-rigged. For example, one task taken care of today involved draining the pump and lines on our water trailer so that it won't be damaged when the temps drop below freezing this winter.
The garden is finishing up as we gather in the remainder of the 'taters and do what we can to extend the production of tomatoes a bit longer.
I'm pleased to report that the first batch of oak cookies turned out to be delightful in every respect. I'm told that there's an article on the project forthcoming, so I'll just note that the development of a process for making our acorn crop palletable is most pleasing. We certainly hope that we're never in a position to truly need to add acorns to our diet in order to maintain the requisite caloric input, but it's nice to know that we could if we did.