Building a Greenhouse & Some Interesting Math

The Greenhouse

We really need a place at home (I'm calling Prospect home from now on) that JoAnna can start seedlings and get them ready for transplanting over the next couple of months. So, we decided to set up a temporary greenhouse. After considering all possible locations on the property, we decided that the best place would be on the lower level, near the shed. This area is one of the few places with an eastern exposure for early sun in the springtime. Originally, we thought a free-standing frame that we wrap in plastic sheeting would be good, but then I decided to use the east side of the shed as a base from which to build. It will probably end up being more permanent than we planned, which is OK by me.

The Math

A few days ago, I decided to dig one of the 30 foundation footing holes to see how long I could expect it would take. After 90 minutes of digging/chopping/pick-axing, I had a hole that was 2 feet deep and 2 feet square. So, the math for 30 holes (not counting for extremely difficult rock obstructions) would be 45 hours of work. While the septic/water line crew was on the job, I asked their leader - Cleveland Byrd - what it would take for his crew to dig the foundation holes. Well, to make a long story short, Freddie Byrd showed up with his Bobcat with 24-inch auger attachment...

...and had the remaining 29 holes dug in less than 2 hours. And they charged me $125 for the work. That comes to about $4 per hole. So the hole I dug for 90 minutes was worth 4 dollars, which means I was making $2.67 per hour. Not bad for a guy who didn't finish college. Machines are our friends.

Speaking of awesome machines, the septic system is complete and has passed inspection, and the water line is done, too. They had to use the backhoe to dig the trench for the water line in a section of rocky/sloping terrain. There were rocks the size of a 12-inch-thick dining room table under the topsoil. There was no way I was going to get through that by hand or even by renting heavy machinery. Following the strong recommendations from my wife and father, I let the experts do it, and I'm sure glad I did.

Today I learned: DO NOT leave your gloves where Trixie can run off with them. She secretly took both of my gloves for a run down the street, killing them as best she could. I searched for 5 minutes and began to question my own sanity before spotting her thrashing one down the road.

Thoughs: Niman Ranch, Organic Gardening, Sustainability & Living Frugally

Since at least two of you are reading this blog *grin* I'd like to share some thoughts about a few things that have been on my mind lately.

Niman Ranch
Kelly pointed me to this article about Niman Ranch. A couple of snips from the article:
Demand required that Niman form a network of like-minded ranchers and farmers.....Chicago's Natural Food Holdings came in as chief investor, taking four of the seven seats on the board of directors, Niman Ranch was losing somewhere close to $3 million......"I consciously deferred profitability to expand the brand,"....... "strategic error to defer profitability for as long as we did."
When it comes to working as a self-employed person I try to be careful to not bite off more than I can chew. I take pride in doing a job well, and if something doesn't go well, I'd hate for it to be because I wasn't able to manage a job of that size.
Organic Gardening
We're planning on raising a lot of our own food. According to the TN laws, we can use any plants from the garden in our restaurant, but no animals without jumping through hoops. That's fine, i can live with that. When it comes to the produce, people often see an "organic" label, and assume food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food, but its a myth. There are also "hoops" to jump through if you want be certified as organic. We're probably not going to deal with that either. To me, it's just a marketing buzzword. If you do things that give the plants the best care possible, as naturally as possible, while having the least impact on the land, then you're probably doing it right. Our farming plans include crop rotation, green manure, cover cropping, application of compost, and mulching. The guineas and ducks will handle the insects, and I find pulling weeds to be very relaxing. Kelly and I are going to be eating most of this food, so of course, we want it to be pure and safe. The bottom line is I don't want to pay a certifying agency to permit me to use a label on my food. (Click here for additional reading.)
We're growing our own food and raising our own meat. We're building our own house with passive solar and in-floor radiant heat. We considered a lot of ways we could be ecologically conscious and do the whole 'tread lightly' thing. We're not going to go full-on Mennonite and live without electricity. This computer likes power, I'm not living without my cellphone, and I enjoy my cleaning robots and machines. We'll use solar power where its feasible, but to power the house, it's just not going to work.

And just think: how can you do better that "eating locally" than to eat the food you raised in your own backyard?

There's an old saying that goes
Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
or Do Without.
We discovered that we live by that saying, before we'd even heard it. Recycling, to us, is not putting stuff in a special bin. I saved green plastic berry containers, and lined them with plastic baggies. Filled with dirt, they're great for started my seedlings. Instead of plastic food containers, I prefer to use Mason jars to hold food in the fridge. If I decide a purse has lived its full life, I'll hack it up, saving the handles, zippers, fasteners, etc. for my sewing kit. I could have trashed my laptop bag when the handle broke, but I repaired it instead. My professional cooking utensils are stored in rolling plastic office supplies carts. One of them was weak, and didn't want to stay together when I'd move it from my car to the client's house. 15 minutes with a drill and $5 of bolts & wing-nuts, and now the thing is super-sturdy and works perfectly. That brings me to being cheap... in other words...
Living Frugally
We live pretty cheap, in general. That's how we managed to buy our land 'in cash' and still have money left to build a house. With our income being so sporadic these days, we're even more cost conscious. we've taken some "drastic" measures, too. (This is one of those things that might make you, Dear Reader, gasp in horror.) We canceled netflix. We buy store-brand dish soap. I needed some sturdy pants to do yard-work in, so we went to goodwill, where i bought 5 pairs of jeans for $35. Kelly is using an iBook G3 that's so old, it has a CD drive with a drawer and can't get past system 10.3. Mine is not quite as old: a G4, running 10.4.11. Yeah, I'd love a newer computer, but I don't really need it. We even gave each other haircuts this week. (He has often buzzed the back of my head [I wish I could remember who gave us hair clippers as a wedding gift!] but this was the first time I gave him a full-on haircut. It turned out pretty good, IMHO!)

Some things aren't worth cutting corners, and other things are corners we're simply not willing to cut. Kelly is a "Choosy Mother" so he only wants JIF peanut butter. I want good shampoo. The dogs are noticeably healthier when they eat decent dog food. Another old saying is, "I'm too poor to buy cheap shoes."

It's just a matter of priorities. We've wanted to own land for a long time. Not just some dirt that surrounds a house, but a decent parcel of LAND where we could build stuff, keep a little farm, and enjoy the luxuries of privacy and peace & quiet. We've made choices along the way that have enabled us to do that.

Right now, my priority is to go to bed. I did a Personal Chef gig today, so I'm beat, and we're both going to the property in the morning. Nighty-night!

Today I learned: People who want to put in their "two cents" in need to fork 'em over or give me a reason to waive the fee.

Can You Dig It?

Backhoe digging the hole for the septic tank

Backhoe at rest, peering over the edge

The tank was delivered and then promptly buried up to its neck

A septic field line is laid into the trench

The trench for the water line runs westward from the home site

There's 5000 words.

Too tired to type more, so enjoy the images. If you'd like high-resolution prints of these fine phone-captured photos, send a SASE with $2.23 per copy to me.

The Road Home

A few items to note in this post, with the spotlight being on a powerful subject.

A Small Victory

JoAnna and I added a gutter to one side of the shed to try to keep rainwater from running under the shed. It finally rained enough to test it out, so here is a picture of that small victory:

The Power Struggle

On Thursday, I drove to the site, hitched up the trailer, and headed into town to rent the TSP. In this case, TSP is not the abbreviation for teaspoon. It stands for Temporary Service Pole in regards to electricity. Once back at the site, I finished digging the 28-inch deep hole for the pole, and then set it in place. Once the pole was upright, I had to drive the ground rod into the earth. The ground rod is an 8-foot long narrow metal rod that must be fully driven into the ground. It required many, many hits from my 3-pound sledgehammer to get it flush with the final grade. Here is a picture of the final result:

Today (Friday), the electrical inspector showed up and approved the installation of the TSP. Now, we wait for the power company (or light company as they say here) to do their thing. They are going to replace the existing power pole that is on our property, add a transformer to it, and run the line to a new pole that will be close to our house. Then, they will connect a meter and the power line to the TSP. At that point, we will have power. It will be a momentous occasion.

The power company wanted to wait until we had a passable road or driveway in place before they brought in their crew to do their part. The driveway had been under construction since Feb. 10, but it is now ready for traffic. It will require some added stone/gravel to make it final, but I opted to get it done to this point which is good enough to drive cars on and will be fine for heavier vehicles once the earth dries out a bit. All of the rock was put down on Wednesday, just before the rain began for the night. Here is a pic of my car at the top of the drive...

...and a shot of the driveway looking down toward the shed:

This picture is of the bark of a Hackberry tree, with some barnacle-looking growths on it. They say it is normal.

Today I learned: that is is very important to secure the items on the trailer very well, and to put the smaller items inside the car.

Pricing Wood / Securing the Perimeter

I spent a long day on the job today, leaving Mboro at 6:00am and returning around 7:30pm. To compare prices for lumber, I visited 3 stores in and around Pulaski; Pulaski Lumber, Covey Leaf Hardwoods & Home Depot.

Covey Leaf doesn't carry anything but hardwood lumber and plywood for cabinets and such. But they do offer to saw and/or kiln dry lumber that I would bring in to them. This may be a cost efficient way to acquire the longer, stronger beams using pine trees from our property. I would cut the trees into long lengths (20 feet) and then bring them to Covey Leaf for kiln-drying.

I only asked for prices on a few items at Pulaski Lumber, basically to measure against the Home Depot prices. It turns out that their prices are comparable, and it is likely that I could have large orders delivered for free. I may even be able to make arrangements with the owner to receive a contractor's discount. I'd rather spend our money at a locally-owned business, rather than the big chain - even though the service at Home Depot is outstanding. At least it is now that business is really slow.

When I got to 427 Stella, I finished the shed gutter by adding a 3-foot section to complete the south side. I'm hoping to keep water from running off the roof and then under the shed, making for damp conditions inside.

I went up to the home site with some wood stakes and the measuring tape to re-stake the house boundaries since the old ones had been lost in the clearing of the land. While up there, I saw this footprint in the tracks from the equipment:

This is a deer track, and just in time for Valentine's Day. It sort of looks like a heart, doesn't it? Happy Valentimes Day, JoAnna!

The rest of the day was spent repairing the fence along the road where many months ago a giant tree smashed it to the ground, taking the phone lines out, as well. As usual, Trixie the dog kept me company, sometimes curling up in the brush for a nap. Here she is in a stand of daffodils that appeared recently:

Today I learned: +

Who wears Kevlar Chaps and Wolverines on his feet?

I do. Sorry there's no photo, but I thought it would make for a great title for this entry.

I have been doing a lot chainsawing over the past 2 days, and to protect my legs in case I slip with the chainsaw, I wear Kevlar™ chaps. Not too exciting.

The work boots I'm wearing are Wolverine™ brand. Not too exciting, but they are comfortable and have steel toes.

Here's a picture of a giant fallen tree that needs to be cleared from where it crossed the fence line, crushing the fence beneath it. You can see I already cut out a big chunk:

To get an idea of the girth of this tree, look at the glove I placed on the top:

I had to cut the tree into bits that were small enough to manhandle to move them away from the fence line so goats and sheep from the neighboring pasture don't use them to climb over onto our property.

As I walked past a pile of brush and small trees that the giant front-end loader/bulldozer machine had relocated, I saw this:

All I could think was that if this scene were in a movie, the big, tough burly good guy would see this shredded tree and say, "No man did this." Like there's a big scary something loose in the woods. And there is!

This is Trixie the dog. Here she is relaxing in the shed on a soft red bed. Usually she is tailing me wherever I go. She comes from a house just down the road where we assume there is nothing exciting going on during the day so she hangs out with us.

Groundbreaking news

I went to work today, and there was a giant front-end loader parked on the lawn. Tomorrow morning the driveway will be started. (Hurray!)

The driveway will allow us to drive all the way up to the home site which means real construction on the house can soon begin. (Hurray!)

I spent most of the day repairing fence, except for a little demolition time. You see, this tree has been leaning over on another tree for a long time:

This photo shows how much of the outer wood had decayed, probably caused by termites. I bashed it with a steel fence post, chipping away at the edges until all that remained was the core. After a bit of sawing by hand (no chainsaws allowed when I am alone), I heard a "POP!" I knew that sound was a sign that it would be coming down soon, so I backed away and then gave it a few forceful jousts with the steel fence post. The tree finally succumbed to gravity with a thud.

Here's a picture of the result:

The reason I had to take this down, aside from the danger of a precariously balanced 1000 lbs., was that I was about to repair the fence directly below the tree. I definitely did not want to work under it, or get the fence all set up and then later find the fence crushed under the tree. So it was felled.

Today I learned: It is a good idea to create clear paths through the trees early on to avoid stepping over the same fallen limbs repeatedly.