Notes from Windward: #66


April's Here!

time to start getting the main garden ready

upper half of the main garden with the sheep moved out

     This week saw the first buds coming out on the fruit trees, which is our sign that it's time to start prepping the garden areas for the coming season.

     The first step was to "shoo" the sheep out of the upper part of the main garden pen. A key part of sustainability involves finding ways to efficiently handle the less pleasant chores such as hauling manure to the gardens. We deal with that by just over-wintering the sheep in the garden, which insures that not only is their manure well distributed throughout the main garden area, the sheep also do a lot of the work needed to blend soil and manure together by walking it into the soft, moist winter ground.

     We use T-posts and cattle panels to create temporary barriers within the main garden, and it's a simple enough matter to relocate the 16' long welded panels we use to keep the rams and ewes separate during the winter. The rams aren't good at sharing when it comes to food so once the ewes are "settled", we separate out the rams to insure that the gestating ewes get full access to the higher-protein hay they need.

     It's an easy couple of hours work to disconnect the 16' welded panels, pull up the T-posts that supported them, relocate the posts and reattach the panels in the configuration that suits the needs of the summer garden. Doesn't take long, and pays real dividends by allowing the sheep and garden to functional productively without us having to put a lot of physical labor in on an on-going basis.

     It's a basic principle that the more physical work that's involved an activity, the less sustainable it is over the long run. This is one of those cases where setting things up right the first time goes a long ways towards insuring that things will keep going on the right path as the season progresses.

Getting the roto-tiller ready to go

     The appearance of buds on the fruit trees tells us that it's time for the roto-tiller to get ready to make its appearance since even with the work done by the sheep's hooves, the garden will need to be gone over more than once in order to incorporate all that rich organic matter into the soil.

     Actually, it only took a few minutes to get the tiller up and running, but that's because we took some steps last fall to insure an easy and happy startup, techniques which are good to keep in mind when working with equipment powered with small engines that use gravity fed fuel systems.

     The most important point is to not allow the equipment to over-winter with gasoline in the tank, and especially not in the carburator. Gasoline is a mix of a range of combustible fuels, and over time the components with the higher vapor pressure evaporate, leaving behind a heavier, harder-to-start mix. Your equipment is always going to start and run better on fresh gas, so it's worth your time to drain the tank in the fall, and start fresh in the spring.

     These days unleaded gas is generally formulated with oxygenated compounds which over time can turn "gummy" and form sticky globs that can play havoc on an engine's carbureator. Small engines doesn't have a fuel pump to force fuel through small openings -- rather they use gravity and suction to move the fuel around. Any bit of gum in the fuel can plug up a critical part of the carb, or cause something like the carburator's float valve to stick in the open position and flood the engine with too much gas.

     The key to preventing either of these unpleasant situations is to turn off the fuel supply to the engine while the engine's still running, and let it keep running until it uses up all the fuel held in the carb's float chamber. When it runs out, the motor will die, the carb and spark plug will be clear and clean, and you'll be ready for a no-hassle start the next time you need that tool.

     Come spring time, check your oil level (wouldn't hurt to do an oil change either ;-)and then with the key off, turn the engine over a few times to get oil splashed up and around the piston before you try to actually start the engine. Then you're ready to run, fill the tank with fresh fuel, open the fuel line valve to the carb, close the choke and you should be ready to go. Because you did an out-of-gas shut down, the spark plugs were firing right up to their last stroke, so they're clean are ready to fire.

Vermadise with it's new covering of 6 mil commercial plastic

     This year we're going to be focusing a lot of our attention on furthering Vermadise's role in the "hyper-integrated" part of the hyper-integrated aquaponics system which will form a key part of Windward's sustainable food system.

     The first step in that process was to remove the construction grade plastic that we'd used to test out the design, and replace it with greenhouse-grade, ultra-violet-light resistant 6 mil clear plastic. Whereas commercial plastic is only good for one season before sunlight renders it too brittle to stand up to wind and weather, UV resistant plastic is warranted to last four years. Our experience is that we get at least five years of service from the UV stable material, so while it's twice the cost of contractor grade plastic, it's way more cost effective over the long run -- and sustainability is all about the long run :-)

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 66