Friday, February 24, 2012

Why I Love Other People's Scrap Piles

I really do try to keep my time spent on craigslist to a minimum.  I also harness my impulse to pick up things that I don't have an immediate use in mind for.  At garage sales Christy and I will usually debate very seriously about the merits of anything one of us deems useful.  That being said, we have scored some great stuff out there!  The jackpot seems to be construction site leftovers.  We went to a construction site two years ago and loaded up at least $2000 worth of unused lumber for $200!  Some of it pressure treated, most of it 2X6s, with some headers and a few really gorgeous 2X12s.  We also took some of their extra nails, brackets, tarps, rebar, PVC and perf pipe.  I'm still super happy we took it all, but there's a lot that we haven't gotten around to using.  Before the wedding we piled it all behind the shop, covered it with a tarp and there it stayed, an unorganized mess.

While working through our February to-do list, we decided that the pile had to find a better, more organized home.  Initially, we thought about building a rack out of some 1'' tube steel we recently acquired (for free!), but the weight of all that lumber posed some difficult structural engineering problems for such a light material.

While considering these problems, Christy happened to be serving a metal worker at the restaurant where we work.  He casually mentioned to her that we could peruse his scrap pile anytime.  She got his number and within the week we showed up in my trusty rusty pickup!  What did he have sitting in there but cut-up pieces of an industrial rack system!  We loaded up enough for our lumber rack, and another rack we'll use when house framing starts, as well as several boxes of nails and brackets for a grand total of $90!  The nails alone would have cost that new, and we'll use them all on the house!

Yesterday we assembled the largest segments of the rack and began the tedious process of sorting through our pile of goodies.  Where once we had a tarp-covered beaver's nest, we now have a lovely assortment of usable lumber arranged by size, with pressure treated separated, other assorted building materials on top and tarps folded up underneath.  I don't have a 'before' picture of the pile because, frankly, it was embarrassing.  It's still not the prettiest thing around, but take my word for it, it's a huge improvement!

One man's trash often seems to be our treasure.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Orchard

Building a homestead is, above all, an exercise in patience.  To create such a complicated, interwoven and delicately balanced system capable of sustaining the lives which will in turn sustain it, takes careful planning, cross-checking, practice and, most importantly, time.  Sometimes it can feel frustrating.  With so many visions and ideas in your head, each one requiring hours, days or years of work, it can all seem so far off and daunting.  Mixed in with that feeling of anxiety, however, is exhilarating excitement.  I have spent many hours pacing around MFW daydreaming about what it might look like in 1, 5, 20, 50 years.  Everything takes work, but everything is, with the appropriate amount of patience and effort, possible.

Nowhere is this more evident than the orchard.  Trees grow slowly.  That must be why large, old trees are so viscerally compelling to us.  Have we mentioned that Christy and I were married under a majestic, 100+ foot tall big leaf maple at MFW?  That my father's ashes were scattered under that same tree?  That we each have tattoos of that tree?  Trees bring into focus a larger interpretation of time, and a broader view of ourselves in relation to time and the world.  It's impossible to plant a tree without thinking about it's lifespan compared to our own.

So far, we have planted 8 trees in our orchard.  Two apple trees, two cherry trees, a peach, a fig, a plum and a pear.  We plan to plant 5 more in our designated orchard area.  They are all spindly little saplings now, but I constantly find myself imagining what they might look like in 20 or 30 years.  I imagine myself walking between the lines of mature trees, plucking ripe fruit from each and perhaps telling a grandchild about Christy and I planting each one, how the pear tree was planted on the day of our wedding.  I imagine the jars of preserves and bottles of cider lining the shelves of our yet-to-be-built pantry.

Planting an orchard is only the beginning, however.  A healthy fruit tree requires attention; the kind of attention we need to learn to give one.  We've strived to pick out trees that do well in our climate, but even the most well-suited tree needs fertilizing and pruning.  Our home made worm tea seems to be a a great fertilizer, but I've always felt hesitant about pruning, always afraid of doing more harm than good out of ignorance.  That's why today Christy and I attended a class at our local nursery on fruit tree pruning!

It was truly enlightening and, best of all, free!  Listening to someone with an innate sense of what a tree needs talk about caring for one is a great way to begin developing the underlying ideas behind proper tree maintenance.  I'm a conceptual learner.  Instead of telling me which spur to cut a branch at, I find it much more useful to tell me why that spur is best, and why the tree will react the way you want it to.  The leader of the class did a great job of explaining pruning from the tree's point of view.  I can't say that either of us are competent pruners, but we plan to attend to our trees tomorrow.  Of course, it will be years until we really know how well we and our trees are doing, but that's part of that patience I was talking about....

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Pre-Spring Cleaning

It's been a gratifying week.  We had a 3-day, freak spell of warm, sunny weather.  I mean find-a-patio-near-the-water-to-drink-margaritas-on weather.  So, after finding a patio near the water and drinking margaritas on it, we turned that extra dose of vitamin D into a storm of organizing energy.  Witness it's fruits:


Just about every tool and gadget has a home now.  Tables and shelves are all built, as are wood and metal storage.

Here's a better look at our sheet-goods storage.  It's out of the way, takes up a minimal amount of floor space, and leaves our sheets easily accessible from the door and the table saw.

Christy broke in the welder by building a rolling cart for the mitre saw, which slides right into the feed table built along the back wall.

Now this is fun... We found this free table with a really cool mechanism which allows for a 4' wide extension leaf.  We put some folding legs on it and hinged it into two sturdy studs.  When not in use, it folds up against the wall, completely out of the way.  When we need a welding table, it folds down and can be either 4 or 8 feet long!

And the last picture from the shop: an organized home for all of our various, wandering drill bits.  Boy, it feels good.


We took advantage of the nice weather to do some outdoor work that's needed to happen for months now.  Long time followers may remember this little building as our one-time-future-privy, built to house our composting toilet before the county told us it couldn't.  Since then, it's been a place to cram all sorts of things that we don't want in our way, but want to keep dry.  In other words, a chaotic jumble. Now that most of that stuff has a home in the shop, I cleaned the whole thing out, moved in the yome's former kitchen hutch and created a garden shed.

Meanwhile, Christy took on, and is now close to finishing, the ambitious project of raking up all of the maple and alder leaves around the front half of MFW and transferring them to the garden as the first step in our multi-tiered, year-long mulching plan.  The mulching plan deserves it's own post, so let me just say that it involves four layers of materials and four months of animals.... It starts now.

And finally, we used the lovely weather as an excuse to plant more trees.  Added to our fledgling orchard are a second cherry tree and a second pear tree, each one grafted with four varietals and acting as pollinators for our existing cherry and pear trees.  As a purely ornamental touch, we also planted a coral bark japanese maple.  I never imagined that I would say this after last summer, but it felt really great to be digging some holes in the ground after working inside for months!

It's grey and wet again now and probably will be for a while, but that little whiff of spring was enough to help us power through, and remind us of what's to come...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Chuck's New Trick

Remember when our chickens were the size of ping pong balls?  When all thirty of the adorable little fluff balls fit into a shoe box?  I do.  That was in October!

They are just about full-on chickens now!  They've learned how delicious corn and peanut hulls are, they have started eating weeds and are no longer eating chick starter.  As a result of all those things, they have ballooned to adult-chicken-like proportions.

And now, this:

That's Chuck.  Roosters get names, hen's don't.  Chuck started crowing a week or so ago, and is really polishing up his game.  That's a full "cock-a-doodle-do", up from a "cock-a-do" just days ago.  And he's getting louder!  The other rooster, also a silver laced wyandotte, is only managing a very weak "cock-a".  He's more timid and hasn't earned a name yet.  Chuck seems to be Chicken in Chief as far as the ladies are concerned.

It's just a matter of time before we start getting eggs!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How to get your Mojo back

Reader warning:  This post may be a pep talk for myself, but who can't use a good pep talk sometimes, right?

So the winter time is clicking along and I either have a case of vitamin D deficiency or am just feeling overwhelmed by the scope of the project. Either way, I feel like I am trudging uphill with a 100 lb sack on my back.  I have been feeling like my momentum was zapped.

I have done a few things to help get over this January hump. I joined a local gym. The reason is three-fold.
1) To meet people in our new community.
2) To sweat and be warm and then take a hot shower.
3) To get some muscles before we tackle the house building portion.

Seriously, this was a great idea and all three things are working great. But I still feel like our project is losing steam.

So, in true Christy form, I made a list.  I think this new lifestyle needs clear goals that are attainable quickly. I mean, building a house is a good goal but your list can't be "build a house". In my old job, I had projects that got finished and went on stage. They were done. There is no "done" now. But as a I sat thinking about what I now consider to be an "old life" I realized how much I missed that daily checklist. The daily tasks that drive projects forward. It can be really hard to drive projects forward when you aren't sure about the next step.  The inclination is to hover in what feels more comfortable, but, stay there too long and boredom creeps in. Your sense of purpose creeps out.  Stagnation kills momentum and that is where I am.

So back to my list. I made a list of goals for the month of February.  (I am going to try to avoid weekly or daily lists for now and start with lists of slightly bigger picture things)  

  • get the infiltration pit done.  This includes digging the pit and digging the trench to run to the pit. Filling in pit and trench with gravel and back filling with soil.  Step one of this is to convince the county that the soil test we have is adequate. Failing that, we will have to find a lab that will deal with us directly. They want to deal with Geo-techs and they cost about $500.  Whew. 
  • Final Inspection on the shop! 
  • Build and install a metal lumber rack on the outside back wall of the shop. Then sort and organize huge wood pile. 
  • Find someone to cut down some trees that will be good for house posts and get them to a kiln for drying. We found the mill that will kiln dry them to inspection grade, but we need to find a man with a good eye and a big truck. ( don't all girls need this....) 
  • Finish the inside of the shop before it kills us. We have gotten soo far but you know what they say, "the last 20% takes 80% of the time".   We found a pretty great table for free on the side of the road and grabbed it. We are going to alter it to be a fold down welding table. It will live up on the wall until we need it and then swing down for use. The cool thing is that the table extends from 5 ft out to 10ft. So we will need to build a leaf to insert of larger projects. We were given a nice table saw in rough shape, so we need to clean it up, de-rust it, and build out a catch table.  And lastly, we need to build a cart for a metal cut-off saw and bench grinder. 
  • We have a downed Doug fir that we need to cut up into chop-able pieces for firewood next year. 
  • Clear an area for the new wood shed. That means deciding on a spot and and leveling it, or clearing trees. 
  • Search craigslist for more doors and windows, so we have demensions when we start framing. 
  • Find someone with more construction experience and have a sit down with our house plans. Asking questions and begin to realize what needs to be done to frame the house. It is much more complicated than the shop. 
That is a huge list! As I read it over I wonder if I have shot too high.  I don't think so. For me, the point of a list is to focus your mind and be able to visualize the next steps in a project. You must shoot higher than you think reasonable. That is the way to push yourself with purpose.  Thanks for reading all the way through this diatribe. I feel better just having it written out. I would love to hear any tips you all might have for driving projects forward.  In the meantime, we will just keep chugging through the grey mist.