Thursday, February 24, 2011

Shop Talk

A wood and metal shop has always been a part of the plan for Mellish Fields West. When discussing timelines, it seemed obvious that having a shop up before we started earnest work on the house would be smart for a few reasons. It would give us a safe, level and dry area to use our larger tools (table saw, compound mitre saw, ect.), an overhang to protect our salvaged lumber (which lives under an ugly blue tarp for the moment) and, honestly, running extension cords all over the place and rushing to hide our battery chargers in plastic bags when the sky starts looking wet is getting old. Not to mention the fact that it would provide us with another opportunity to expand our knowledge and gain more experience creating buildings.

It has always seemed obvious to us where the shop should go. It is a small clearing on the northeastern border of our land, near the garden, close to the road and is surrounded on three sides by a cluster of green alders. After a few brainstorming and drawing sessions we decided on a 2o' X 20' and staked it out. Dane, our helpful neighbor, agreed to help us level the area enough for a slab-on-grade foundation with his back hoe, provided we can get it done by April, when he changes it's attachments. That leads us to where we stand today.

At 400 Square feet, the shop will have to be permitted. Since the idea is so basic, a square box with a roof over it, we figured we would buy plans from one of the many websites or books that sells basic, stock construction drawings. I called the county to make sure that would be kosher, before we spent the $200. Nope. It turns out that there are specific requirements for our particular seismic zone, D2, that any stock plans will almost definitely not meet. The helpful county permit technician on the phone told me, however, that she often sees people bring in drawings that LOCAL architects have around and are willing to sell at a bargain if asked appropriately. I asked her if she could point me the direction of one of these architects, but as a government employee, could not legally refer me to one company over another. Turns out she can't even tell me something that rhymes with a particular architect, or even tell me what letter of the alphabet she might start looking at to find one of these particular architects. I tried those.

That is how I came to spend a large part of my day cold calling any architect I could find in Kitsap county and asking them for basic, cheap shop plans. As you might expect, most of these educated and well paid professionals in this intellectually demanding and artistic profession did not take well to being asked to sell me a cheap plan because I don't want to pay a whole new engineer. I got hung up on twice. I gave up on this idea.

Here's where things get interesting....

I found a brochure from the county which describes something called "prescriptive design" which allows simple building plans (rectangular shapes with all right angles, no walls longer than 25' or higher than 10'.... our shop) to be drawn out by people like us by following some guidelines provided by the county. Simple requirements, a little hard work and a bit of learning in exchange for not paying anybody any money for our shop plans?

You bet we're gonna draw them ourselves!

It's not going to be that easy of course, the brochure on "braced wall panels", a requirement unique to our seismic zone, is often referred to, but exists nowhere on the county's website. We'll have to track that down. We're setting aside this weekend to draw our first set of plans. We'll post them up here and keep you, uh, posted. Wish us luck.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gearing up the Garden

It's getting to be that time! I have been scoping my favorite seed porn ... I mean, catalogues, and placing orders for Heirloom seeds! I am so excited to have such a big garden I can't even contain myself. I have actually been taking my seed catalogues to the bar and making John talk about different varieties of eggplant........ and squash..... and watermelons.. peas carrots beets picklescucumbersradishesbeansgarlicpotatosoinions ... and don't even get me started with Tomatoes. I can't wait.

I have to say, we have recently run across the Kitsap freedom gardeners website and it lists start times, greenhouse times, rotation patterns, graphs... I just can't say how much I love it and am inspired by it. Check it out. I want to jump straight into the dirt. Headfirst.

John has recently had to bring me back to reality. I have a few rebuttals. Here's how that goes:

  • We will have no way of preserving all of these items this year. We won't have a kitchen or a freezer, so I can only plant what we can eat. Boo I say. UNLESS.... some awesome people in Seattle want to donate their kitchen for a few days for some canning. I bet I see a show of hands. Also, John and I have made some new friends that recently purchased the Ale House in Kingston and they are looking for a local purveyor of organic produce. Not that I think we can supply a restaurants needs right away, but they are looking to grow with us in the future. A few heirloom onions and tomatoes will show them what we can do.
  • We are going to be building a shop and probably setting the foundation for the house this summer and a garden 2,700 sq ft is a full time job. I am going to have enough to do without trying to do it all at once. While I hear this argument, I have never been one to shy away from a challenge and often bite off more than I can chew. Bring it.
  • The time to nurture seedlings in the greenhouse will be spent still living in the city and trying to move all of our lives out to the land. Also, the greenhouse is currently serving as the largest dry spot on the land and is keeping all of our lumber dry. (that has been a miracle that we got that up when we did... I had no idea how handy it was going to be) That brings me to our friend James Green. A friend of ours has arrived at our land and is moving in to help us with the start-up / figuring out / learning / building community of this whole ordeal. James has already proved to be an amazing and positive force on the homesteading front and we are blessed to have his presence and enthusiasm. He will be living on the land while we are in the city and can nurture little seedlings. Once the starts are in the ground the greenhouse will be ready for midsummer plantings of the Brassica family and lettuces.

The plan from here is "simple". Once the Chicken coop is set (and that should be soon, John is out there this week putting the siding up) we will turn full force at the garden fence. This will enable us to plant asap without fear of deer. Once the fence is erected, we can go crazy with these new varieties I have ordered and begin the grand experiment. The highlights of what I have ordered include:
  • Silver Bell Squash
  • Udumalapet Eggplant
  • Cherokee Trail of Tears bean
  • Fish peppers
  • Japanese Trifle black tomato
  • Neon pumpkins
  • Purple Peacock broccoli
  • Moon and Stars watermelon
All of these varieties have come from the Seed Savers Exchange, and are suited to our climate. Get Ready.

On a more personal note, my favorite book as a kid was The Secret Garden and I have too often regaled John with paraphrasing certain parts of the book. I probably read it 50 times. But one part sticks with me always. Mary is asking her Uncle for permission to grow a garden, and she asks him for "a bit of earth". I can actually hear her weird Afrikaner accent. I come back to this as I get more and more stoked to have my "bit of earth" and see what I can make grow. She grew flowers (she was a kid, what did she care about where food comes from?) but we are going to have a garden of edible rarities.

Coming soon... The invitation to have an early spring BBQ and build raised beds party!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Quick Scoop on the Chick Coop

Well, we forgot to take the camera with us the last time we were out working on the coop. All I can offer is a picture from my phone. It's all framed, insulated with our burlap coffee bags and skinned. We have decided against using tires for the roof for two reasons. First: without being able to tell which tires are steel-belted and which aren't, we would go through a lot of jigsaw blades, and second: the overwhelming smell of burning rubber. We tried. It will most likely end up being corrugated metal, or some sort of used shingles. For the siding, I'll be using 2'' strips of cedar lathe I picked up for free from a friendly guy on craigslist. It will be tedious, as many have small nails and bits of plaster which will have to be removed, but salvage jobs are rarely quick and easy. I think it will end up looking nice.

The chicken coop gave me a new idea that I'm pretty excited about! The thought occurred to me that our coop would be a comfortable and warm place for someone to sleep, until the chickens are living in it anyways. The more I pictured it, a space just big enough for a bed, a door small enough that you have to crawl into it, a space-capsule like window, a personal space reserved for sleeping or sitting up in bed to read a book, the more I really loved the idea! I now have plans for the near-ish future to build another little Person Coop somewhere on the land. The chicken coop is going to come in well under $300, which would be a pretty small price to pay for a fun, insulated and relaxing place for our friends to sleep when they come out to work or play! I know, I sound like a 5 year old who wants to build a fort, but doesn't everyone kind of want to sleep in a fort once in a while? If you want in on this, start thinking about what your Person Coop would look like! Send me your ideas! It's a three day build and the weather's been nice. I'm just saying......

In other news, I'm one, single signed piece of paper away from the long awaited opportunity for me to conduct a motley seven piece orchestra (two neighbors, Puget Sound Energy and their outsourced labor Potelco, local ditch digger Randy, a locate service and a Comcast installer) in a bizarre dance in which an area will be surveyed, a large trench will be dug, LOTS of conduit will be laid, a new fence will be erected to apparently house giant flemish rabbits (whole other story), lots of money will change hands, at least one utility company may or may not do something shady which will either benefit or hinder us AND IT WILL ALL END with MFW having a fully functional composting toilet, easily accessible power for building the shop and the yome having an internet-ready computer and an electric blanket.

Heh heh heh.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Coop! There it is! (almost)

It's chicken coop time. Well, not really. We're a while away from having chickens, since we're still living part of the time in the city. We figured, however, that we would go ahead and start preparing for our feathered sublets by building their house, since we have no other large projects in the building stage right now.
It was designed the same way pretty everything we build gets designed: We think about it for a little while, draw some pictures and start building. From there, our projects take on a life of their own and move towards whatever end result is in the ether. Perhaps I've been reading too much Christopher Alexander, but I like this kind of organic development. It really hones your creative problem solving skills, too!

Also keeping in line with our projects, it started out grandiose and moved quickly to ridiculous. The finished coop will be big enough for a fleet of a dozen chickens or more, even though we only intend to start out with 5 or 6. A little room for expansion never hurts, especially if we find a local market for our extra eggs.

The frame is made from, of course, all reclaimed lumber a la Earthwise and Second Use. The ply we had to buy new because, unfortunately, it doesn't tend to salvage well. We had a perfect little window left over from greenhouse building that will give our friends the light and ventilation they'll need.

For insulation, we are utilizing one of Seattle's most ubiquitous post-industrial salvageable materials: coffee bags! A forward-thinking and environmentally
minded fellow named David Ruggiero runs a business selling coffee bags, grounds and chaff left over from the large roasteries dotting our well-caffeinated city. I picked some chaff up from him to amend some soil last spring. Since then I've been thinking of ways we might be able to appropriate some of his burlap. When I contacted him recently he checked out this here blog and really digs what we're up to. Digs it so much, in fact, that he gave us a really killer deal on a whole bunch of burlap (which we'll also be using in the garden as a weed blocker, among other things) and vowed to keep us in full supply of chaff, which is not only a great way to kick start your compost, it will make great bedding for the chickens AND help break down the clay in our soil.

Back to the coop, it should be done in the next week or so. You can rest assured that we will post plenty of pictures and maybe a making-of video. We're planning to cut shingles for the roof out of used tires, and are currently searching for scrap metal, can lids or something like that for siding. Chime in if you have any ideas!