Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Greenhouse Progress Vlog

Vlog? Really? Are we getting that savvy? You're damn right we are!

It's hurt-your-face-cold here in Seattle, and the Emerald City is not accustomed to it. The streets are treacherously icy and traffic is hilarious, so Christy and I are stuck in town when we really want to be freezing our little fingers off at MFW finishing the greenhouse. So it goes. To distract myself from the frustration and thumb twiddling, I've compiled this little video to show you our progress so far. Enjoy!

Monday, November 22, 2010

SNOW! Septic! Greenhouse! Oh my

Well, Winter has arrived early in the Pacific Northwest. While we usually experience little to no winter , to say the least for snow, we now have 3 inches of snow, BEFORE Thanksgiving. Climate change is weird to say the least. It is 63 degrees in New York right now and we are having night lows in the teens. 

We are not working at the land right now. With the Greenhouse half finished, we had planned on being out at Mellish fields from yesterday until Thanksgiving to finish the last wall and start building inside benches. The now mostly-finished -greenhouse is getting a trial run with winter. I just checked the weather in the area and Mellish fields might have as much as 10 inches.

We have taken these cold snow days to write, in length, our proposal asking the state to exempt us from septic laws. Washington state has made real progress in allowing greywater systems but they have never permitted a house without plans for an in-ground septic system or without being hooked to a public sewer. The short version of our proposal is that our greywater runs to a fenced in bog area planted with native plants and surrounded with burlap bags sprouting mycelium. The plants will soak up the water and release it into the air through evapotranspiration so there will never be a soaked wetland of putrid water. The burlap bags full of wood chips and inoculated with garden giant mushrooms will purify any water that leaks away from our reservoir. Being that we have no blackwater, no dishwasher, no washing machine, and will be using only vegetable oil castille cleaners, we see no reason why this is not a perfect set up for us. We understand that we are a special case, with enough land around us to ensure the safety of others in the case of a problem, but we are hoping the state decides to use us as an experiment. We made our first contact with the Director of Environmental Health ( the person that will decide) and he seems dubious but interested. He stressed that this is unprecedented and that the odds are low, but also expressed an excitement to see what we had in mind. He also pointed out that this would be a long drawn out process. Hmmm. That would seem to mean more years in the Yome. Wish us luck.

On the greenhouse, we had some amazing help last week in the form of John's friend from High School, James Green and his friend John. James and John are on an extended road trip and spent several days helping us devise and implement a plan for the roof. When the 4 of us arrived last week the greenhouse had the two long walls and two rafters in place. We had already decided on a polycarbonate roof ( which I am now worrying about) since it would be light enough for us to put up ourselves and is a uniform, long-lasting material. The polycarbonate has a UV rate of 90% and a lifespan of 15 years. I think it is the best choice for the area and easy to install overhead.

So, we arrived with the polycarbonate but no plan for how to install it, how to secure it, or how we would put up both sides. One side? no problem! We can get to it from the inside. Oh, but the greenhouse has two sides to the roof? Oops. We got all the rafters and the ridgebeam in place along with one side of the roof before we called it a day. The next day I took a drive to the hardware store and walked around looking for flashing we could modify to be the ridge cap. I came up with some fun stuff and a rivet gun and brought it back to the boys who were eagerly awaiting the next step. These guys were pure gold. We managed to devise a system for getting the roof on, which included making a ridge cap from two L shaped pieces of flashing and then sliding it along the ridgebeam and riveting it in place. It hopefully works. We shall see how well after this early snow storm.

I swear, this time for real..., John is publishing a video of the greenhouse going up SOON!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Great Power Debate

As I've tried to make very clear in previous posts, the process of getting power to MFW has been a long, circuitous, bureaucratic nightmare. I've also explained the reasoning for our decision to go with a grid-tied solar system as opposed to being off-grid. Now, however, at the cusp of writing a very large check ($8,000) to Puget Sound Energy and running heavy, expensive equipment through some freshly filed easements with our neighbors, Christy and I are taking a moment to reevaluate our options and make sure we're making the right decision. Follow me, won't you, on a closer examination of the to-grid-or-not-to-grid dilemma....

To Grid

A grid-tied solar system would feed excess energy back into the grid when not being used. The electric company must then buy this excess power from us, crediting our account. When we are using more power than we are generating, we cash in our credit to buy energy back from the grid. In an ideal situation, this ends up as an even swap and we owe the power company nothing at the end of the year. We use the grid, essentially, as a battery, storing our own energy for later use. These systems are commonly installed and involve less equipment than off-grid systems. The real selling point that's had us is the fact that there are no batteries involved, which are expensive and hazardous to the environment when disposed of. It also guarantees that we will never be out of power, we just might have to pay for it.

Not To Grid

There is a certain feeling of freedom and rebellion the comes with an off-grid system. We would be relying on no one but ourselves to power our homestead, no money would ever trade hands and we would be the only house glowing from inside in the event of an outage (if only we could harness the power of our own smugness....) Keep in mind, though, that we are not living in the Sunshine State, the Golden State, the Land of the Midnight Sun or even the Sunflower State. Washington is the Evergreen State if you're looking forward and quickly becomes the Evergrey State once you look up. With our northern latitude, maritime climate and sandwiching mountain ranges, we can usually count on long stretches of constant cloud cover, locally referred to as "winters". We would need to store as much energy as possible in a bank of batteries to get us through what Christy likes to call "the reading season". A very crude estimate based off my various research and chatting: I'm guessing we could power our homestead (workshop included) with an off-grid system for around $30,000. I could be way off; we're going to meet with some local experts soon who will be telling us a bit more in depth about our options. It would be more involved and require more maintenance, but we could save the $10,000 it will apparently cost to run power lines to the land.

The Debate

If an off-grid system (assuming it's possible up here), is only $10,000 more than a grid-tied system, then we should settle on that now, before handing $8,000 over to the energy company and spending another $2000 to install their infrastructure. That would mean, however, sacrificing a significant amount of power security. We would be all on our own if we run our batteries out, and no one wants to run a loud, smelly generator (on fossil fuels, none the less)! The security of constant power? The freedom of independence? I really hope there's a large financial difference between these two options, it will make this decision a lot easier!

What do you think we should do?

In other news, Fall abruptly ended yesterday. It had a great run, though. In a brazen attempt to teach myself framing (as opposed to reading one of the many books available), I started my first roofing job: building rafters for the greenhouse. Or rather, making up what I think rafters are probably like... Christy had to bail me out, but it's looking nice now and I was pretty close! And on the septic/septicless front, our good friends Berry and Stacey have been feeding us really great information on the plants necessary to make our crazy dream happen.

Stay tuned!

Oh hey, those pickled green tomatoes I told you we were making a ways back: Freaking Rock.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bureaucracy, waste and plants

We are nearing the end of the paper maze we have been navigating for so long and can almost taste the power currents surging at it's exit. After three months of paper signing, document gathering, hair pulling and pleading we have received an approved design for a vault which will supply us with electricity. Of course, it came with it's own series of confusing papers which need to be filled out, signed, notarized and mailed by us AND our neighbors, but surely this is the last of the growing stack(?). It's going to cost us almost $8,000.00 to run power to our homestead from Puget Sound Energy, and we still have to dig our own trench AND buy the 425 feet of conduit it will be running through. That's enough to make us reconsider going completely off grid, but with the dark winters so far north, this is the only reasonable answer. I can't express how gratifying it will be when our first bill arrives with a negative balance, thanks to our future solar panels. Until then, we must play the system's sadistic game. With luck our neighbor, Dane, may pitch in for the vault with hopes of tapping into it in the future, and we've found an excavator we can rent for a reasonable price, so we may still come out close to what we have budgeted for this inconvenient convenience. Watching Christy drive an excavator should be worth the extra cost.

In other news, I've had an entirely different type of effluence on the mind. Greywater. After hours and hours, plus additional hours and a bit of overtime, I have a pretty solid idea of how to treat our greywater. I'll go into more detail in a future post and just say for now that we should have enough available land to distribute our minimal amount of hazardous wastewater through a series of underground, pressurized hoses into mulch beds furnished with enough water loving plants to safely absorb and process it. We probably won't submit our proposal until January, when Washington's new, more lenient greywater legislation passes, so we have a bit more time to work out the kinks. Wish us luck.

I'll leave you now with a sneak peak at our
greenhouse! We're putting together a video of it's erection from beginning to end, which will be a few weeks from now. Stay tuned!

P.S. I hope you voted!

Monday, November 1, 2010

In honor of Red

I have been working on a big post outlining the progress of our first foundation, complete with a video of the process, but this post is being delayed in order to honor someone.

 My grandfather, Edwin "Red" Graham, passed away this weekend after a long battle with cancer.  Papa Red was an inspiration with a smile. His sense of humor was infectious, his laugh full and bellowing. As seems to run in the Graham family, his stories were rambling and most often riveting. I especially like the stories he told me of his childhood in Tennessee, of a friend with a fake leg that was air compressed and the adventures that resulted in the letting out of the air in public places.

 I believe that most people who knew him would speak of his amazing generosity. Red was always the first to be there when one of us needed help with a new roof, help pouring a foundation, help with a crop or tending animals. He moved to Dunlap to take care of his parents Wade and Versie when old age crept upon them. He always helped with a smile on his face and a joke at the ready.

 Red has certainly been an inspiration to me as John and I have been learning about a sustainable lifestyle and the farming that goes hand in hand.  I got the opportunity about a year ago to sit in the sun and ask him all the questions I could think of in regards to the farm in Dunlap, building a house, and his life. I know I am not alone in wishing for more time to probe the knowledge banks of past generations, but Red was a gold-mine of information. He not only remembered everything, he usually saved everything as well. When I asked about the blackberries that Wade had grown, Red fished around in the garage until he found the seed catalogue the strain had been ordered from. In case you are wondering, the blackberries were a Virginia variety and it was cold resistant and thorn less.  He really believed in the life John and I are building and was a follower of our little blog. I was very proud to be an inspiration for him.

 Papa Red will be missed very much by his community, his church, and especially his family.   I am posting this as a way of a belated thank you. Thanks for your energy, your love and guidance, and your stories.  You are missed.