Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ground zero.

Between rain storms last week (why do the monsoons come when I need to be on top of a building!?), I plugged away on the garage to remove all the roof and wall sheathing.

Then cut the rafters out one by one and threw them to the ground. With little meat left holding it up, I tied a chain around the center support and pulled the the works down with my truck.

All that remains is to pull nails from all the salvageable lumber (which, thankfully is just about all of it) and stack it up to dry. Feels good to be back on solid ground again!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Compost happens.

Soil quality appears to be one of the key factors in our struggle to become successful organic gardeners, and it seems as though the chickens are a big help in this area. I added last year's 'droppings' to the soil in some of our raised bed gardens and covered it with fresh topsoil before planting this spring and the results are looking great. Spinach has never flourished here- it usually comes up 'stalky' and goes to seed before the leaves have a chance to develop into anything substantial. But we both love spinach and so we keep trying. This year, our first crop is looking better than ever: ...and the kale has already grown tall enough to push against the lid of the cold frame:
To speed up the composting process, I've been tossing our weeds and clippings directly into the chicken pen- they go after it like a school of piranhas, and can devour a wheelbarrow-full of stuff in a day. This fall, I can shovel out their handiwork and turn it into the gardens. We also got got four more little 'composters' this week- Buff Orpington pullets. Here they are spending their days eating, sleeping and pooping in a little pen we set up in our office.
And since we haven't had much success with our compost bins, I decided to try building a tumbler to speed up the process. After perusing some examples of DIY compost tumblers at the Instructables site, I made one using an extra plastic barrel leftover from the rainwater project and a support frame built from barn timbers. The barrel turns on little plastic casters mounted to the frame. I made the frame open on the front side, and high enough so that the contents could be dumped directly into a wheelbarrow.
I cut out a door in the side of the barrel with a jigsaw, and secured it to the barrel with a piano hinge and some bolt latches.

Here it is after filling with some partially-composted scraps from our bins, weeds, grass clippings, etc.

If it works as planned, we should have usable compost in a few weeks...I'll believe it when I see it.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Loading the Evergreen

I spent a few days building some shelving in the Evergreen, then transferring everything over from the garage. Compared to the garage (think dirt floor, rotted foundation, and a plethora of animals/insects/birds calling it 'home'), the storage container feels like the penthouse suite of mancaves by comparison. It is solid, dry, and does NOT reek of bat guano...ahhh, the good life!With the garage emptied out, demo ensued on the structure. The skin (siding, shingles and tarpaper) came off in a couple of days, with the help of Lisa and my parents (who thankfully, refuse to act their age and are more than happy to climb up on the roof and tear off shingles).
Other than the rotted wood around the base, everything is solid and will no doubt be useful for upcoming projects.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Landscaping and "The Evergreen".

The unusually warm and dry spring provided an opportunity to get an early start on this year's outdoor projects. On the agenda is to remove the concrete foundation from the 2nd barn we deconstructed last year, move the fire pit, build some nice pathways between the remaining buildings, install some 'temporary' storage (and I use that term loosely), and finally deconstruct the dilapitated garage structure. Here's what the situation looked like in April: We hired Dan the landscaper for a day to do the bullwork with his Bobcat, and I helped out with the ground work and generally leaned on a shovel for most of the time.
We decided to dig a hole under the foundation and bury the old concrete on-site, rather than adding it to the local landfill. It was a pleasure to watch him work, tossing around big concrete boulders with surgeon-like precision...in a few hours the site was leveled off as if nothing had even been there.
I also had him skim away the sod and topsoil to form pathways across the yard. We piled up the topsoil for later use in the gardens, then replaced the material with gravel fill dug out of the foundation site. Then he drove away with his big machines- with a tear in my eye, I set out to finish the rest with a shovel, wheelbarrow, and several tons of stone.
But first, we had a 40 foot steel shipping container delivered (one benefit of America's pathetic trade deficit is an over-abundance of these huge shipping containers...so a big THANK YOU to Walmart for ours). It was plopped down behind the soon-to-be-deconstructed garage and in a matter of 15 minutes we had a 300 square foot water-tight, critter-proof building! This will satisfy our storage/workshop needs, and provide a solid surface for mounting the solar thermal panels this summer. Our container had the fitting "Evergreen" logo on it, so we named it "The Evergreen" (Lisa gave it an alternate name- the "Tunnel of Death", after we quickly discovered that it could double as a pizza oven inside on a hot, sunny day!).
Back to dirty work, I started laying down field stone around the house and along the pathways, then infilled with mulch and pea-rock.
One of the pathways passes by the entry doors to the shipping container, so I built up a little ramp for easy access. I also moved the pathway light posts to the new pathways and buried the low-voltage lines under the fieldstones. Here's a pic of the almost-finished paths between house, barn and shipping container:
Another shot, taken from the barn side of the yard: