Monday, June 27, 2011

Rototill You're Sore

Here's a quick video update of the madness that is early summer growing season!

Friday, June 24, 2011

DeYomeification and Solarization

That's right, the Yome is down. I, for one, am happy about it. Seeing it everyday was making me sad and the space being used in in a decidedly UN-useful way was making me mad.  Here are some fun photos though.  It is taken from the same spot so you can see 1) all the progress we have made  2) the missing Yome and 3) the stark contrast between Fall and Summer.

 You can see the tree has been cleaned up, the garden fence is in, the chicken coop has been erected, the tarps laid down, and the Yome is gone. I realized after it was gone that we have never experienced the land without the Yome there and I am really happy to re-visualize that space. And you know what they say.... You can never go Yome.
So the past few days have been all about getting our ducks lined up for foundation pouring: 
  • Finding a plumber and getting a quote about putting all of the in and out spouts into the foundation.  
  • Deciding about radiant floor heating and getting a quote. We talked to a bunch of people and we think we are going to get a "design" from the plumber and then lay the tubes ourselves. The in and out will be taken care of by the plumber. The design looks at the house layout and makes sure we are running the tubes in the areas where we want the most heat and avoiding bunching up in corners. Things like that. Actually laying the tubes should be the easy part. 
  • Moving things around the land to make room for trucks and people and pathways.  
We also got our awesome solar guy back out with his magic toy called a Solar Pathfinder and tried to figure out where we will get the best and most solar energy from. 
We determined that will get about 75% out of the panels and that we are actually good candidates for utilizing the most out of solar because we found a spot that gets almost no shading all year long. This pathfinder was brilliant. You put it in a spot and then looked down over the top and looked for trees showing up on that grid near the top. The area corresponded with a month. So if a tree was in the top right corner, then we would know that a panel sitting in that spot would be shaded by a cedar tree in February.  Very cool.  

We also figured out that we will be able to produce about 1000 kilowatt hours from one string of panels. Now we need to decide how many strings of panels we need set up to hit net zero. We think we could do it with three, but we may only be able to set up two, given the amount of space we have that gets that much sun throughout the year.  We have been looking at charts and attempting to calculate the our projected kilowatt hours in a year. We believe we will be able to use less than 4,000 kw hours a year.  For comparisons sake, I will tell you that the Average American Family uses about 10,000 kw hours a year.  We believe the best way to be sustainable is to be small. I will never forget renting a Green Building home video when we first started this project. I think it was called " Green Building with Dave"  The dude was building a 6,000 sq ft "green" house. It was framed with steel. He wasn't even using solar panels. The only thing he was doing was to use straw bale insulation.   John and I mocked it until it stopped being funny and started to be infuriating. Then we turned it off. But that notion still irks me and I see it everywhere. A large part of sustainability is simply using less. A large part of the energy consumed in a home is wasted energy. Leaving things plugged in, leaving thing on, heating large spaces, insufficient insulation. Things that can be controlled with attention. Alright choir, I am done. 

Now, I would love to know if any of our faithful readers know how many Kilowatt hours they use and to whence they go.  Please let us know if we are crazy to think we can be this conservative.  Please share any of your energy saving techniques and tools with us.  I hope to have foundation pictures next time. Whoot Whoot!!

Friday, June 17, 2011


We returned to Quilcene yesterday afternoon, after a productive day at MFW, to find ominous piles of feathers strewn about the farm we're here to caretake.  When the chicken count came up short by one, we were concerned.  When Archie the Rooster never came home, we were mystified.  Something picked off a chicken and a rooster in broad daylight without leaving any tell tale tracks or corpses.  It obviously wasn't a raccoon or coyotes.  Maybe a neighbor's dog?  Whatever it was, we decided to confine the hens to their run for safety until we figured it out.

This morning, we solved the mystery.

While drinking our morning coffee, we heard a ruckus emanating from the chicken area, followed by some large splashing sounds from the pond in their run.  We burst from the yurt and ran at full speed to find a MONSTROUSLY GIGANTIC DINOSAUR OF A BALD EAGLE dive bombing 19 terrified little hens.  This bird was significantly bigger than Christy.  It was an amazing sight.  One you certainly don't see everyday.

That's how we came to spend our day stringing various pieces of fishing net over the chicken run, under the watchful eyes of two bald, hungry eagles.  We also read up a bit on these patriotic terrorists.  The pair probably have babies about 8 weeks old, making this prime hunting time.  When they find a steady food source (like 21 penned up chickens), they tend to hone in on the area for a while.  In fact, we've watched them circling the farm all day.  That made us worry about our cats.  When I read about an eagle's nest falling out of a tree on nearby Bainbridge Island with nine cat collars in it, we made the call to keep the kitties on lock down in the yurt.

It ended up being a nice, sunny day.  Because of that, the yurt is sticking at around 86 degrees with both doors closed.  That's why this frozen bag of edamame is resting on top of Teagan.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My, This Ball is Rolling Quickly.

Since receiving our building permits, the process of homebuilding has suddenly become a downhill struggle.  The momentum seems to be dragging us, heels in the ground, towards goals we didn't expect to come to so quickly, and feel a little unprepared for.  After months of bureaucratic stagnation, however, it's exhilarating!

We didn't expect to get the building permit for our house at the same time as the permit for our shop.  We figured there would be some more small struggles around the composting toilet, heating systems, whatever.  When it happened, it almost seemed too easy.  Of course, upon closer reflection, it wasn't.  But still, here we are with a green light to start building the house we've been thinking would start a whole year off from now.  The contractor who's pouring our shop foundation offered us a very reasonable deal if we had both foundations poured at the same time.  It saves them hauling around a lot of equipment more than they need to.  All of a sudden, we're a week away from breaking ground!

We spent some time on site talking to our concrete guy, Jerry, about the house foundation, which is a bit more complex than the 20 X 20 square of the shop.  Since the house site is on level, stable soil, we'll be doing a slab on grade.  The bottom level floors will be that same slab, stained, sealed and polished.  Something like this:

Because the whole foundation and floor of the house is going to be a big, monolithic block of concrete, we need to figure out all of the infrastructure running through the floor now.  When I say now, I mean he's-pouring-in-a-week-NOW.  Enter plumbers.  A plumber came to the site today to talk it through with us.  It's pretty simple, really.  A main water line in, and a shower, tub and two sinks heading out.  The only notable thing out of that conversation was the decision to not leave a stub-out for a future flush toilet.  That seals, once and for all, the fate of this house to always rely exclusively on a composting toilet.  Since a composting toilet is an upgrade from the 5-gallon bucket we use now, I can't imagine us ever regretting the decision.  The reason people have told us to install a stub-out now, while we can, is for when or if we sell the house to someone who wants a "real" toilet, with water in it.  It seems to us, however, that SHOULD we decide to sell this land and house, which is all but unthinkable, it's really going to appeal to the type of people who would see a composting toilet as a plus.  I think that logic is sound.  I don't want a flush toilet in the house anyways, whether it's us living there or not.  Call me a control freak.

The infrastructure conversation also brought up the topic of radiant floor heating.  We've wavered on in-floor radiant heat, thinking we had more time to decide.  Now that we don't, it's been a cram session gaining information on how they work, whether it's worth it for us and what the different options are.  Closed, thermosiphon solar systems don't seem to be feasible in this climate, and I don't like the idea of using propane to heat water and electricity to pump it through our floor when there's a functioning wood stove in the corner.  The decision we've landed on, I think, is to install the tubing for a radiant heating system now, while we can.  It appears to be about a $1000 investment.  If we decide not to install a system, then we have harmless tubes in our floor.  If we ever come across or dream up a really cool alternative set up, the infrastructure will be in place.

More big decisions?  How about PV solar panels?  That's happening, too!

We spent a few hours on site today with Jonathan Clemens of Olympic Energy Systems, a local Solar Power system designer / consultant / guru.  He's a really knowledgeable, friendly guy who's sympathetic to the causes of us sustainability folk.  We're really looking forward to working with him soon.

My thought has always been to house the inversion equipment for a PV Solar array in the shop.  The garden gets the most sun of anywhere at Mellish Fields West, so it makes more sense to have a ground mounted array than it does on the roof top.  To avoid running a DC current the 200' to the house, losing energy the whole way, it would only have to run 60' to the shop, where it can be converted to AC and sent to the house.  This all means that we don't have to wait for the house to be up to install our system.  With our local energy company mandated to buy our excess energy back at a premium, we could actually accrue ourselves a nice little credit by generating energy for the next year or more before we're using it on a residential scale.  Jonathan agreed. He told us that Washington is perhaps the best state to be installing solar right now, and gave us some great information regarding the tax credits that were recently extended.  I'll go into further detail about our set up in another post, after we talk some more and have a shop to run all this equipment to.  The conversation has started, and we may be generating solar energy THIS SUMMER!

Oh man, I have too many things to look up and too many people to talk with to be writing on and on like this.  Stay tuned, Mellish Fieldians.  Things are getting exciting!

Monday, June 13, 2011

With Silver Bells and Cockleshells

.....And so mistress Christy quite persiste,
          is scared of what she has done in her greenhouse.  

Yep. That's right. I think I may have bitten off more than I can realistically chew. I realize these pictures do not adequately show the scale, but I have planted ALOT of plants and I can't seem to stop.

There were so many rainy days this spring and here we are in the Yurt with a 2000 sq ft greenhouse at our disposal, what was a girl to do?

In the picture to the right, you can see lots of mounds. These mounds hold two to three plants each in most cases. I did a head count a couple days ago since the plants are starting to tell me what they are ( I evidently do not believe in labeling my seed starts) and I seem to have 25 Watermelons, 35 Cucumbers, 17 Cantaloupes, 20 Tomatoes, 8 pumpkins,  20 french beans, 20 okra, and then a load of lettuces, beets, carrots, eggplants, peppers, and cauliflower. How I came to have planted this much is tri-fold. Time on my hands and space available  is one. A desire to learn how to grow in a greenhouse (which is proving to be very different... more on that in a minute) is the second. And the third is this insane notion that I have the time to grow all of the food for our wedding in August.   Yes, I came back to the Yurt one day and pronounced to John that I had just planted enough seeds with the correct timing to supply our wedding food. To his credit, he just nodded and said that we would still have a back-up plan should my crops fail, but did not say "WHAT the @*#@!"

But, I have been learning so much about greenhouse growing. I have never had a greenhouse before and honestly had no idea what to expect.  You have to be very diligent and timely about watering. They are obviously not getting any rainwater, they are relying on us to keep them evenly and consistently moist. To this end we have put down soaker hoses around all of the cucs and melons because they all like about the same amount of water.  I prefer to water the tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, carrots, lettuces, and beets by hand. This is the preferred method simply because I am trying to keep an eye on pests. Pest control in a mostly enclosed space is proving to be a challenge.  I have some aphids on my Tomatoes, but so far blasting them with the hose seems to be working.  If they get out of control I am planning on giving them a garlic spray. I have never had an aphid problem before, I think, because the winds and rain here simply knock them off when they grow outside. In a greenhouse, you do not have the wind blowing. You also do not have as many beneficial insects to control the pest population.  I am thinking about introducing ladybugs, but so far everything seems under control so I hesitate to interfere with nature. Also, this is step one in learning about anything new; identify your base line.

I have been worried about pollination, but the pumpkins are already fruiting, so bees must be coming in. There are some flowers growing near the entrance so maybe they are enticing the bees inside.   I am not opposed to acting the role of bee and pollinating with a q-tip, but that was before I had so many plants. That would be quite the task now.

So, if anyone has any advice about greenhouse growing I would love to hear it! I don't feel the need to re-invent the wheel ALL the time. I have been keeping up with blogs and message boards too.

I will leave you now with a preview picture of our sattelite sculpture coming together. This is the other half of the dish that John rapeled down a building, being put together by me and our friend Maridee.  Look for upcoming posts involving the creation of a gazebo type structure with it!


Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Triple Threat of Awesome

We haven't blogged for a week because we have been anticipating this very post, and didn't want to jinx it.  Now that it's official, I can tell you that....

We Have Permits!

After some last minute address confusion at the county offices today, we were given official, stamped, ready-to-go building permits for both the shop and the house!  I've talked to a local contractor about pouring our shop foundation (we're DIY, but foundations need to be done well, and it's not a great place for us to start experimenting), so now I'm going to see if he can cut us a deal to do both foundations at the same time.  What that means is that we may end up breaking ground on the house ahead of schedule!  Hoorah!  And the shop should fly up in no time.  As a bonus, the code compliance officer who affectively killed our Yome came by when he heard that we were in the building, and kind of apologized.  It was very nice.

Phew, how about that for some awesome news?  

What's that?  

You want more?  

What more good news could I possibly have tell you in addition to that?  

Oh, well I guess I could mention that....

We Have Power!

It took nine months, two easements, nine separate individuals and about $7000.00, but our vault went in, hooked up to our temp pole in the background there and got juiced up.  No more running extension chords from our neighbors!  Yes, I know it's only a half victory, since we intend to generate our own power with solar panels, and the real victory will be the day I can watch that meter spin backwards, but I'm going to enjoy this moment merely because it is the end of a dull, aching and chronic pain in my ass!  Hoorah again!  

As you can see, we chose our Makita metal grinder for the ceremonial first plug-in.  We then used it to make this bizarre table:

The top is a wooden spool that we picked up behind a packaging business in Georgetown forever ago, and the base is made from the support system of a 12' satellite dish that James Green and I rappelled off the roof of the Pierce County Airport last March (more on that in an upcoming post). Christy used the grinder to cut the base to an angle so the top would sit level and then sanded and oiled the top. It shined up rather nicely.  All in all, this table cost us a grand total of $2.18 in hardware.  How much money do you think this thing would sell for in one of those hip, post-industrial furniture stores?  Not that we're going to sell it, of course.  It was just a quick and fun project to celebrate our super exciting day of hard work paying off!  A third and final Hoorah!