The Windward Blog
what we're working on today
September 21: Now that work is wrapping up on the yurt, it makes sense to switch over to a more general blog. Keeping our friends posted on what we're doing has become a pleasant habit, and for the time being at least, we'll use this space to feature more of the general activity going on at Windward.
Today's main focus involved construting the nine 10' long grow tubes that will be suspended from Vermadise's center keel pipe. They're made from 4" diameter pvc pipe and will be used to grow salad greens for the kitchen. Once the six pairs of three inch holes were made using the drill press, Liz connected the pairs of holes and the racetrack form was cut out using a sabre saw.
While that was going on, Katie was wrapping up the excavation behind the yurt, Deric was working the wood splitter, Amy was processing apples and elderberries, I was putting the first coat of finish stain on the front of the yurt's door, Gina was planting more seeds for the grow tubes, Kerry was combing out more wool, and Todd made a run into town for beer since tonight is Party Bus Night.
Also I should mention that Kerry, Katie and Amy put on a most delicious lunch of leek and potato soup made with ingredients fresh from the garden, rounded out with scrumptous muffins topped with homemade jam.
September 22: This morning saw the installation of Vermadise's new grow tubes. Each tube is ten feet long and there are nine tubes so that should supply the kitchen with plenty of salad greens through the fall season.
September 23: Today saw the start of the work on the edible landscaping we're creating in the area that was back-filled behind the dining hall. We're working with unimproved soil, so the first concern involves building up the level of organic matter. As a first step, we're covering the area with wood chips so that required us to crank up the main tractor and get to chipping.
First we started with a pile of branches that had been trimmed off the trees that we used to cut the board and batten siding for the yurt--that yielded five 55-gallon drums of wood chips which sounds like at lot but wasn't really more than just a good start given the amount of organic material we'll want to incorporate in this new garden.
The wood chips will help retain moisture and keep the dust down, but we'll be using mature compost to bed the new plants. Fortunately, Todd and the 'terns have been generating a good supply of top quality compost.
Todd and Jacque are taking the lead on the edible landscaping project, and have quite a interesting selection of plants that they're getting planted. For a description of what they're doing, Click Here
On other fronts, now that the yurt's door has two coats of stain on each side, it was time to bring it up to the yurt and check out how it looked in place. The general consensus was that it was the right door for the yurt, inspite of my concern that it could have been done better <sigh>. The reality is that winter's coming and the yurt needs to be finished so that a 'tern can move in before the cold weather breaks, so the bottom line is that I'm pushing ahead on finishing the door telling myself that I'll do better next time.
With that check past, it was time to drill the holes for the door knob, a bit of a challenge since commercial doors come with the holes already drilled, and the geometry of this door is enough different that extra care needed to be taken to insure that everything lined up right. Even so, I'm going to need to track down some screws that are a quarter inch longer because of the door's extra thickness. That's the sort of little detail that takes up a remarkable amount of time when building one-of-a-kind things. Oh well, the fact that we can afford to take the time needed to do the unusual is part of why we're so committed to this lifestyle.
September 24: The focal point today was the dining hall's edible landscape, the work needed to improve the soil and the work involved in preparing planting holes for the plants.
We're using a mix of wasted hay and sheep bedding, wood chips and bales of weathered straw to improve the organic content of the soil between the various plants, in part to keep the dust down, but also to increase water retention. So far we've brought in more than 400 gallons of wood chips, but that's just a start on what we'll need to cover the sixty by twenty foot garden. Fortunately, we have no shortage of limbs and brush that need chipping. It's a good deal all around in that the work cleans up the woods at the same time it improves the landscaping--the sort of "two-fer" that makes for the efficiency that lies at the heart of sustainability.
The end of the day found more than two thirds of the plants nested in their pockets of compost and well watered in. All in all, a good day's progress.
September 25: Today was the day that the two 1,250 gallon concrete tanks arrived, so we're pretty excited about seeing those two project move forward.
Given the weight of the tanks, there's a lot of side loading on the outriggers that keep the crane from tipping over, and that's one of the key reason why we needed to get this done before the fall rains come and soften up the ground. Right now, our clayish soil is rock hard, but that won't last much longer.
We would have liked to have gotten this tank sunk lower into the ground, but it's sitting on bedrock as it is so we'll just have to build up a short retaining wall around the tank to create the foundation for the greenhouse that's going to sit on top of the tank. At least we won't have to worry about the tank settling :-)
The second tank will serve as the fish tank for our mini-aquaponics system. When they poured this tank, we had them use a release agent so that the top could be lifted off and set to the side. One of the reasons for delaying the delivery was to give the top a chance to cure enough so that it would be strong enough to be lifted off and set aside. The Plan is to use the slab as the floor for a duck house.
Here's a view inside the tanks. Septic tanks are designed with two compartments, but while the concrete was still "green" we had them break out the divider so that the fish could have access to the whole tank.
September 26: I'm delighted to report that the yurt's door is mounted and swings smooth as silk on its heavy duty hinges. It still needs work on making a latch catch for the wall so that the door stays closed, and we'll be mounting a privacy lock on the inside, but as of today, the yurt has a door!
September 27: They struck at dawn, the cowards!
We live in what's called "open range country" which means that cattle have the right to come and go as they please--if you don't want them on your land, you have to fence them out. Well, for Windward that's a problem since we have more than two miles of perimeter, and most of the fences we need to handle our own livestock are internal. Having our perimeter fenced is something that will need to happen, but there are a host of other projects that have a higher priority at this point in our organizational life.
Since we live on the edge of the Cascadian wilderness, it's not uncommon for wild things to decide that a place like Windward is their equivalent of a fast-food franchise, and we do what we can to deal with crows stealing eggs, or skunks attacking a hen who's trying to sit a clutch of eggs, but that's entirely different from having to deal with a couple dozen thousand-pound hungry cows who think that feeding prefectly good hay to sheep isn't to be tolerated. Which is one of the main reason that our hay barn is sided with heavy-duty security panels that range cattle can't get through when the wild graze gets scarce and rough late in the summer and hunger drives them out of the deep woods looking for anything edible. They've cruised on by a few times in the past week, but this morning they came and did what they could to browse our fruit trees and the plantings in the new edible landscaping project.
In a couple of weeks, about the time that hunting season opens, the range cattle will be rounded up and moved down to their winter pastures alongside the Columbia, but until then we needed to take steps to insure that there wasn't a repeat of this morning's cattle raid. To establish a perimeter around the new plantings, we set out a dozen 55 gallon plastic barrels and filled them a third full of water to give them weight. Next we ran a heavy rope from barrel to barrel, and then hung barrier mesh from the rope to create a temporary containment that should keep the cattle from browsing the all-too-edible landscape garden again. Jacque inspected the impact of the raid and fears that we'll have lost a couple of plants, but for the most part the cows just took some leaves that would have be shed in the next few weeks anyway. We would have rather had the plants gain the benefit of those few weeks of growth, but with plenty of mulch and watering, the root systems should be able to establish themselves and be ready for next spring's growth.
September 28: Today's primary project involved removing the shade cloth from Vermadise and re-attaching the plastic cover.
Even though it was comparatively warm this afternoon, high in the upper 80's, there's little doubt that we're not far from our first fall frost. So a good group project for this afternoon was to start transitioning Vermadise from its summer configuration to being ready for the fall's colder nights. There's a portion of every year when you can harvest and consume food from living plants; not only is that the best route nutritionally, it also means that there's less of a need to process and store vegetables for consumption during the rest of the year.
One of the key goals of the work we're doing is to extend the "live food" portion of the year by growing vegetables in supportive conditions such as those found inside Vermadise. Not only does the enclosed environment moderate the temperatures, the rabbits and earthworms give off carbon dioxide, a necessary resource for plant growth. The more comprehensive an ecology we can establish in a given space, the more productive it will be. We use a track and wire system to secure either the shade cloth or the plastic, and it turns a difficult job into something that's straight-forward and fun. The track part has a "C" shaped cross-section that's screwed to the building. The plastic is laid across the track, and then secured into place using wire that is bent in a wiggle shape. It's easy to install, easy to remove and reuseable over and over. Much better than the old way of wrapping the plastic around wooden battens and then nailing the battens to the frame.
September 29: For the most part, we're busy getting Windward ready for the arrival of the fall rains and the killing frost that will be arriving any day real soon now, but we're still putting in a bit of time each day on advancing our various projects.
One of the challenges that come with building a non-conventional, rectangular structure is that there's a lot of trim work to be done. Instead of four long pieces of trim to cover the gap between the carpet and wall, we're going to have to cut and fit at least nineteen segments. The best way to approach that is to prime and paint the trim before it's installed.
Perhaps the most important sustainability crop for our growing conditions is potatoes of various sorts. This year we concentrated on "baby reds" and "Yukon gold," and we're quite pleased with how they did. We'll wait until after the killing frost to start digging the potatoes in earnest, but for the past few weeks we've been gathering the ones that lie close to the surface. While there are lots of tender little "baby reds" to enjoy, we're rather impressed with the size of some of them.
We're still under siege by the range cattle, but our containment seems to be holding up with the exception of a calf who found a way into early this morning. Fortunately, Amy heard them cruise on by, spotted the calf and ran him off before he did any more damage.
Jackie and Virgil took some time to mix up some grow medium for Vermadise's newly installed grow tubes so that they'll be ready to take the lettuce and spinach seedlings that Gina has been sprouting. It'll be another week before they're ready to transplant into the grow tubes, but at least the tubes are ready to receive them.
September 30: Not much to report today. With most of the crew off-site this weekend, Virgil and I decided that today was a good day to do a dump run and some shopping in The Dalles. That's the nearest commerical center to Windward. It's only a little bit farther to Hood River, but there's a transfer station just before you cross the bridge at The Dalles, so in order to conserve fuel I always try to combine a dump run with any run to pick up supplies. We're quite serious about turning Windward into the very best hands-on sustainable living center we can, and part of that process involves taking a hard look at our facility and deciding what stays and what needs to go. We've been on-site for seventeen years now, and over that much time a lot of stuff can accumulate; while sustainability does requires a wide range of resources, there comes a point when it's time to decide what's truly needed and what's just clutter. Consequently we've been putting a notable amount of energy this year into getting Windward more organized and less cluttered. Bit by bit, we've made progress but it isn't the sort of progress that shows in a picture since in this case it's what you don't see that counts.