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Thursday, December 13, 2012

I Did It My Way

I guess the first thing to tell you about my automatic chicken waterer is that it was born of sheer laziness. The chicken waterer had to be relatively low cost and low maintenance, and dare I say it, automatic.

So down to the box store I went. Now that I've written that, I'm not so sure that hiding Home Depot's identity in this tale serves anybody well, because I have certainly had some seriously bum steers at Home Depot.  But this time, I was ably assisted by a plumbing clerk who also happened to be a woman, which was helpful.  A woman helping a woman with a project is going to be a LOT more helpful than a man helping a woman with a project, because she'll be more supportive.  I cannot tell you how many times I've been brushed off by men who have either told me the wrong thing or an out-and-out lie (yes, there is so such a thing as an offset ratcheting screwdriver and it's right behind you, asshole) or worse, patronized me which irritates and annoys me beyond expression.  Maybe it's because I've had a little experience with plumbing and a lot with other projects and thus exuded some confidence or maybe I'll never know, but the clerk I asked help of had never advised anyone on building an automatic chicken before, but she was game to try and we figured it out together.

I've included a fleshed out diagram of what I did. I did not take blow by blow pictures of how I put it together because I didn't know as I was putting it together if it would work, but because it did, I'm listing the instructions for it below.

Here's your BOM (bill of materials*):

1 each 5 gallon bucket, with a Gamma lid (which you may have to buy separately)
1 each toilet fill valve
1 each 9" ⅞" toilet supply line (incorrectly identified in the PDF as 9" ⅞" fill valve to toilet)
1 each ½" MNPT x ¾" FHT PVC  swivel adapter
1 each ½" PVC close nipple
2 each ½" PVC threaded couplings
1 each pkg garden hose gaskets
1 each ½" threaded barbed elbow connector
1 piece ½" ID vinyl hose (length is your discretion)
1 each ½" threaded straight barbed connector
1 each ½" PVC pipe (length is your discretion)
2 each ½" PVC threaded slip connectors (one female, one male)
1 each ½" PVC threaded cap
Garden hose with a male end that reaches to the chicken house.

You will also need some PVC primer and glue, and teflon tape, and a ⅞" spade bit and a ¾" spade bite.  You also need to decide if you will hang the bucket or set it on something.  If you set it on something you will need to make sure there is a big enough hole for the supply line.  If you hang it, remember that water weighs approximately eight pounds per gallon, so you need to support approximately forty pounds. I chose chain that tested at fifty pounds.

Couple of things: the ⅞" spade bit is for drilling a hole in the bottom of the bucket, so it should match the bottom end of the toilet fill valve. In my experience, a ⅞" hole was exactly the size of the core of the outside of the fill valve, so it screwed in perfectly. In fact I had to shave off the lip of the gasket that comes with the valve that normally goes through the hole in the toilet tank.  I used the large piece on the inside of the bucket and the cut off piece on the outside between the toilet fill valve locknut and the bucket.   The ¾" spade bit is for drilling a hole in the side of the bucket for the line leading to the watering valves- this size is just large enough through which to thread a ½" close nipple*.

To assemble the waterer:
  1. Smack the ring on the Gamma lid on the top of the bucket. Set the other part of the Gamma lid aside.
  2. Drill a ⅞" hole with a spade bit in the bottom of the bucket, half way between the side of the bucket and the center- you need enough room to turn the valve in the bucket as you screw it into that hole.
  3. Drill a ¾" hole in the side of the bucket near the bottom, say an inch or so up- you need to be able to screw the couplers on the close nipple.
  4. Use the directions from the toilet fill valve to assemble the fill valve in the bottom of the bucket, with the fill valve gasket between the bucket and the stem on the inside, and a gasket between the fill valve locknut and the outside of the bucket.  Tighten it down.
  5. Screw the fill valve end of the supply line to the bottom of the fill valve.
  6. Screw the ½" MNPT x ¾ FHT PVC swivel adapter to the bottom of the supple line.
  7. Thread the ½" close nipple into the ¾" hole you drilled in the side of the bucket.
  8. Place a hose gasket over the close nipple on the inside of the bucket. Wrap some teflon tape around the threads a couple of times and screw on a ½" PVC threaded coupling on it. (Keep the teflon tape off the end of the nipple.)
  9. Place a hose gasket over the close nipple on the outside of the bucket. Wrap some teflon tape around the threads a couple of times and screw on the other ½" PVC threaded coupling.  Grasp both couplings and tighten them down for all you're worth.
  10. Jam the ½" ID vinyl hose over the barbed end on the barbed elbow and the other end of the hose over the barbed end of the barbed straight connector.
  11. Wrap some teflon tape over the threads of the barbed elbow and screw it into the ½" threaded coupler on the outside of the bucket. Screw it on tightly, finishing with the hose pointing down.
  12. Carefully prime (with PVC primer) the inside of the slip end of one of the ½" threaded slip couplings with a Q-tip, and then carefully spread a little PVC glue over the primer.  Quickly slip one end of the ½" PVC pipe into it.
  13. Repeat this on the other end with the remaining ½" threaded slip coupling.  Let this dry. (How long depends on a lot of things- kind of PVC glue you bought, and ambient temperature, but this will go pretty quickly.)
  14. Wrap some teflon tape over the threaded end of the barbed straight connector, and screw the female end of the pipe on it.
  15. Wrap some teflon tape over the threaded end of the male ½" threaded slip coupling and screw the ½" PVC cap on it.  Tighten it all down.
The next step is to attach the hose and then fill it, so either hang it where you want it or set it on whatever it is you want it on.  Then screw in the Gamma lid.

Wrap some teflon tape on the threads of the male end of a garden hose.  Screw that into the ½" MNPT x ¾ FHT PVC swivel adapter on the end of your supply line.  Get it good and tight.

Now go turn on your hose on low and fill your bucket. Once the bucket is full, the toilet fill valve will stop the proceedings. Check over everything and make sure it isn't leaking anywhere. Once you've determined that you did a good job, turn off the hose, remove the cap from the end of the pipe and drain the system.

Now you can drill 11/32" holes in the pipe and screw in the chicken watering valves, and then hang the pipe for the chickens. You may need to seal these with a little silicone sealer, depending on your skill and the valves you purchased.   I haven't read this anywhere, so I can't verify it, but it seems to me that you want to hang the pipe along a wall so the chickens can't roost on it, or they will.

But that is pretty much all there is to know about building an automatic chicken waterer my way.

I'm thinking the automatic pop-hole opener is next (or maybe I'll just buy one).

* Glossary:
Close nipple - all pipe that have threaded ends are nipples; a close nipple is a short (usually 1-½" long)    pipe that is threaded all the length of the pipe
MNPT - male national pipe thread
FHT - female hose thread
PVC - polyvinyl chloride
ID - inner diameter

Sunday, December 9, 2012

It Worked!

A couple of weekends ago I got the feeders finished and in.

The ends are not glued on so that I can take them off and clean out the feeders.

Today I got the automatic waterer put together and the only place - the only place-  where it leaked was where the hose connected in.  Some teflon tape on the hose threads fixed that, and it's holding just fine.  It worked!!  I got really good help from a clerk at Home Depot figuring out what I needed to do, but managed to miss a couple of  items on the first trip so today we got the few remaining pieces.  I drew a diagram of the whole thing which I'll post later if anyone is interested.
I haven't tapped holes for the watering valves yet because I need figure out where the business end of the system will go. I suspect that if I put it out somewhere in the middle of the enclosure the girls will perch on it.  I think it needs to go along a wall or something, but I'll figure that out.

After all this is done, there are only a few more things to do before I can bring home the girls: I need to dig along the fence and bury welded wire to keep critters from digging under, which I've started digging.  Having wired everything else will be all for nothing if I don't keep raccoons from digging under the fence. I've seen raccoons at three o'clock in the afternoon, so if the girls will be in the enclosure in the afternoon I have to be able to protect them.

For the same reason, I need to pour at least a concrete sill under the door, but want to pour a step as well, which means I have to frame for that, but framing won't take long.

And then finally, I need to whitewash with a lime wash the interior of the coop to make sure that it's clean and sanitary for the new residents. I'm hoping to get Steve to do that because he paints better than I do.

And now the exciting news.

This week my boss said that he had a present for me.  It turned out to be parts for a hoop house!

It was really hard not to get started on this but I decided that I need to get my current projects finished before starting another one.  But I'm pretty sure I know what the next project will be.

Seed starting season starts March 1!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Keeping Myself In Stitches

Gor- it's been nearly a month since I last posted! It can't be because I'm so very busy doing householdy things.  Well, in one respect I have.

Work has been a nut grinder lately.  I get in to work at 6:00 a.m., usually don't take a lunch, and really try to get out of the parking lot before the gate closes at 5:00 just because it's a hassle to turn off the car and go swipe my fob across the gate keypad to open the gate again.  If I'm lucky and I can get out at 4:00 p.m., then I've only worked a ten hour day.  Then there's the traffic and another half hour before I get home, in the dark, so I'm not good for much these days.

Steve was concerned about a penchant I developed for playing solitaire on my computer.  Which is rich, given his propensity for playing video games for hours at a time, but life is all about the double standard, no?  Anyway, I thought I'd get him off my back by knitting something, but when I left bags of yarn in the living room for a couple of weeks on end it dawned on me that knitting is not what I wanted to do.

I wanted to embroider.

I used to embroider a lot as a young teen, but I don't remember making anything useful.  It has been far too many decades for me to admit to since I last embroidered but it turns out handwork is a lot like riding a bike.  You never forget.  Actually, that's only what I've read about riding a bike.  It's been several decades since I was last on a bicycle as well, so maybe the jury is still out on that one.

Since we'd just purchased a new sheet set from Costco (they have everything! Or as my brother-in-law puts it- if it doesn't come on a pallet, we don't want it), so I stitched on them.

First I made a design based on some designs I copied from a book on Colonial embroidery.  (Copied as in traced them.)

Then I made a template of the design so that I could repeat it exactly.

Then I repeated it along a line.

And then I cut out the template, which I used with my pounce box to leave the design along the edge of the pillowcase.  Doesn't 'pounce box' sound wonderfully colonial?

This is the finished project.

I also embroidered the second set of pillowcases and the top of the sheet with a different design in red with which I'm very pleased.

Now I'm all embroidered out, so if you'll excuse me, I've a game of solitaire on which to catch up .

*I have more to report, some of it exciting, but the pictures didn't turn out, so I'll get more pictures and then post my news.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Confession, Redemption, and a Couple of Recipes

I think I've managed to redeem myself as a gardener, but first I have to confess something.

Remember all that corn I was drying in the oven on the dehydrator setting?  Well, I forgot about it and left it there so long that not only did all the corn mold, I was also growing mold on the interior of the oven itself.  It was pretty bad.  So gross in fact that I'm sparing you the picture, which I didn't take.  Needless to say, I lost my entire corn crop and I'm quite mad at myself.  But- I have learned the lesson of getting the corn into the ground on time and to not worry about cool it is outside.  The corn needs as long as it takes to ripen and dry before the rainy season comes, and hoping and wishing does not speed up that time.  Next year, the corn goes into the ground in May.

I'm also pretty miffed about my apples.  Out of eleven trees of differing varieties, I had only four apples on my Golden Russet which I'd carefully bagged up in plastic produce bags so that the coddling moths couldn't get to them but the light could ripen them.  I went to go harvest them yesterday and the bags were ripped and hanging on the branch but there were no apples to be found.  Not even pieces of apple were lying around.  Something with hands tore through the bags and picked my apples and spirited them away somewhere to be enjoyed at leisure.  Raccoons.  In hindsight, I realize that I should have ignored the espalier instructions I was following and not made the first tier at eighteen inches from the ground; I should have started higher- at least twenty-four inches, or maybe even thirty inches.  Well out of reach of raccoons, anyway.  So this winter when I go to cut and spread the last tier on the apples, I'll be pruning off the lowest branches.  I'll lose some yield, to be sure, but if I leave them, I'll lose the apples anyway, and I'd really rather not be feeding the raccoons.  I realize that raccoons can climb trees, but I would think it would be harder to come down with full paws.  Maybe I should just string up some goat fencing on the wire uprights and put in a doorway and call it a fruit cage.  Damn raccoons.

But I managed to get a lot done in the garden yesterday.  I cleared the asparagus patch for the winter and started the winter compost pile closer to the house.  I dug up all the German Queen tomato plants and cleared the bed, and then planted my garlic and leeks in that bed.  I've decided that German Queens aren't the right tomato for me after all.  Sure, they're delicious, but they take all summer to start setting fruit, and they don't finish nicely enough to can. I need to try some locally developed varieties like Oregon Spring or Santiam, or even a variety developed in Canada, like Beaverlodge, all of which handle cooler temperatures and ripen fruit early.

Green tomatoes and mystery peppers
I also cleaned up the African Queen tomatoes, Fortex green beans, and the two mystery peppers from the Long Bed. Now all it has are my fall and winter vegetables (more on that later).  The African Queen made prettier tomatoes than the German Queen but I did not get one ripe tomato from them. So they are out as well.  I did not like the Fortex green bean at all.  It was billed as a pole variety filet bean, but you had to catch them in time, otherwise they quickly grew into obscenely long and tough beans.  So they are out.  I really liked the Denver filet beans I grew last year, which produced all summer long and were delicious, but harvesting bush beans was really hard on my back.  This summer I noticed that the Kentucky Wonder pole beans that my neighbor was growing made nice little filet beans when they were immature, so I may try some of those next year.  Kentucky Wonder is an old, open-pollinated variety and I think they'd make a good addition to my roster.  I will definitely not be growing Fortex again, though.

This winter as I clear parsnips and beets out of the Long Bed I'll be making room smack dab in the middle of the bed, and this is where I'll erect a hoop cover for next year's solanums: tomatoes, peppers, and egg plant, none of which did well this year.  The best garden I ever had was the one that I was able to start early because I had winter protection, I'll try that again.

Potatoes, turnips, and carrots
I also cleared the corn stalks and most of the potatoes out of the Big Bed.  The potatoes were a surprise- I actually managed to harvest quite a few of them, so they weren't the disappointment I thought they would be.  I also harvested a number of turnips and carrots for dinner, and there are a lot more where they came from, so I think I may have redeemed myself as a gardener because I have some food in the garden still.  Next spring I'll try planting spring wheat in the Big Bed, and after I harvest that I'll plant my fall and winter vegetables in it.  Somewhere between now and next spring I'll need to contact the Extension Service to find out what kind of seed to grow for spring wheat and where to get it.  

Then the last thing I managed to get done last night before the sun went down was to cover up the two citrus trees for the winter and harvest some horseradish.  Steve dragged the potted lemon and lime trees closer to the house and then we tented them with agribon.  The very last thing we did before coming in the house was to dig up some horseradish, which I'll prepare later today.  From everything I've read, horseradish loses its bite after a few weeks in the fridge, so you have to pack it into little jars and then freeze them.  But all you do to preserve horseradish is peel it, wash it, grate it, let it sit three minutes to develop its heat, and then pack it with vinegar or salt (but never the two together or you'll wind up with mush) and then freeze as mentioned or refrigerate. I think I might be lucky to find one little jar, so I'm considering freezing it in an ice cube tray and then bagging those up, but I'm concerned that my next batch of ice following the horseradish having a distinct taste of horseradish.  I may have to rethink that one. Hmmm.

Then last night I made stew for dinner with turnip, carrots and potatoes from the garden, and it was easily one of the best stews I've ever made.  I don't have a picture of it (we were starving by the time I got it on the table) but I'll tell you what went in it, if you're so inclined.

Autumn Beef Stew

Season some flour with salt, pepper and a little garlic powder.  Coat your stew meat in that and brown the meat in some bacon fat in a Dutch oven.  When all the meat is brown add a quart or so of beef or pork stock and scrape the fond off the bottom of the pan.  Add cut up carrots, turnips, and potatoes.  Turn up the heat, and when it's good and hot add a couple of tablespoons of  tomato sauce (I used a sauce/paste combo I keep in the fridge for topping pizza- it has nothing else in it but olive oil), and a couple of tablespoons of my favorite Secret Ingredient, which is avjar.  Avjar is an Eastern European condiment made of red pepper, eggplant and garlic and is a flavorful substitute for mayo on a sandwich, except that it makes the bread soggy if you spread it ahead of time.  I usually bring it separately and spread it right before I eat the sandwich.  It's also good as an addition to things like pasta sauce and beef stew.  After you add the avjar and stir that in, add a couple of crushed cloves of garlic and some fresh ground black pepper. After it's all stirred up and boiling, turn the heat down and put a wooden spoon across one side of the pot and put a lid on it, resting one side of the lid on the spoon so that steam can escape.  Now let it stew for about an hour.  It should have thickened up in an hour and be ready to serve.  I'm expecting the left overs to be even better.

And since we all like food porn, here is a picture of a meal we had recently:

For lunch last Sunday I made us a classic hash brown done in the French manner, which is to put half your hashed potatoes on the bottom of a frying pan in bacon grease, layer on some fresh green onions and pepper, and then layer on the second half of the hashed potatoes. (Except the French do it with leeks and duck fat, neither of which I had. I imagine that with duck fat and leeks this dish would be out of this world, but it was still pretty darn edible the way I did it.)  When the first side is done, invert it onto a plate, add more fat to the pan, and then slide the whole thing into the pan again, brown side up, and season the top side with salt and pepper.  Cook that side until brown and serve.  The neat thing about this really simple dish is that you get a nice, crunchy exterior and the inside is all creamy.  Delish.  I served it with poached eggs on salad with a vinaigrette. If I remember correctly, we had it with home brew; we shared a pilsner because it was the middle of the day.

So there you go: a confession, redemption, and a couple of recipes.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Very Nearly There

With the exception of one little patch of welded wire to put up in the west side tree trunks, I am done with the wiring and roof for the new Hensdeep.  All I have left for perimeter security is to dig down along the fence line and bury some welded wire to keep digging bastard raccoons out.  I also need to frame and then pour a concrete sill for the door.  I am going to be seriously annoyed, if after all this effort, I lose a hen.

Then all I have left to do after finishing the perimeter is to assemble and install the waterer and finish up the feeders, but the good news is that with the tarps up, I can work out there in the rain. In fact, I kind of wish it would rain while I'm out there so I could see how well or badly it's all working.

I know it looks like butt, but it was cheap.  The tarps cost all of twenty bucks for the two of them and they're not a ridiculous shade of blue, which would look truly awful.  At least they somewhat disappear into the background.  Steve says that they are a good camouflage in case my egg production facility is hit by an Allied bombing raid. Speaking of Allied bombing raids, I didn't consider what they were going to look like with bird shit all over them, because they are still under the trees after all.  Oh well.

They also cover roughly half of the space which is punctured by tree trunks and makes roofing a tricky proposition.  Actually, I think the Photinia are technically shrubs or bushes, but they got left to go to the dogs long before we ever showed up, and since they provide the only shade in the yard, they won a reprieve from any hard pruning (read: cutting down).  At any rate, they were incorporated into the roof structure when I lag bolted a two-by-four to them and then attached everything else to that.

Today is Sunday, so I've another day to work on this.  I'm hoping to have it all together in the next couple of weeks.

But I'm very nearly there.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Autumn Leaves Drift Past My Window

Some years our tree out front, which I've referred to in the past as the Largest Sweet Gum Known to Mankind, doesn't do so well in the Fall Color category.  One year, the temperature turned so fast that instead of turning various shades of yellow, orange, and red, the leaves turned a funky shade of purply-brown, kind of mahogany.  Really a strange color for autumn leaves.

Not so this year.  This year, we are having an uncommonly warm autumn- not indian summer warm, but not as cold as usual.  This November is starting out pretty warm as well. Usually, November is consistently colder than December and January, which I find pretty weird, but that's what usually happens in these parts.

But this year, we are getting a nice, gradual cooling off, and our sweet gum's colors are glorious!  I have not retouched these pictures, which I took from our bedroom window.  I think in some regards, deciduous trees in autumn beat spring and summer flowers all hollow.  Much more spectacular on a bigger scale.  Do you wonder why this is my favorite time of year?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

By All That's Holey

Last year when we had the solar panels put in, we also had to have a new meter put in on the side of the house.  But they couldn't take down the old one and just use the same hole- oh no- they had to install the new meter to the left of the old meter.

Which left a hold where the original feeder wire went into the garage. 

That's thirty-six year old fiberglass insulation, not the backside of an opossum

 I say feeder wire now because I work for a big fancy electrical contractor and we use terms like feeder, only if I told you feeder and didn't put wire you wouldn't know what I was talking about. Unless you were an electrician, of course.  But I digress.

Steve let me know in no uncertain terms a couple of weekends ago that he wasn't particularly interested in how fast I got the hen yard done, but was more interested in when I was finally going to fix the hole in the siding.  This is what happens when you have a role reversal of talents and inclinations, leading to a reversed set of household duties.  I leave chores undone long overdue (like a year overdue) and  my husband turns into a nag.  But I digress.  The hen yard was getting done because that's what I wanted to get done in the few remaining days of decent weather we had left.  The hole in the siding, which is under the eaves, could wait until a rainy day for me to fix it.  Well, last weekend I finally got around to fixing it.

We have that crappy T-11 siding so popular in the seventies, so I fixed it with a fence board, which has a fairly rough surface on it.  This is only one way to fix a hole in your siding, but if you haven't done it before, this will give you one idea how to do it. It also works with drywall, by the way.

With a piece of paper and the side of a pencil lead figure out where the edges of the hole are kind of like doing a rubbing.  Cut out the pattern and trace it on to heavier card stock, in this case a piece of manila folder.

Check your card stock pattern in the hole to make sure it fits.

Trace out two plugs on the replacement board.  Label the same side so that they are exactly the same.

Cut them out.  

You can cut curves easier if you make multiple cuts along the side to the edge of the plug and then cut the board from side cut to side cut.

Stack the plug pieces (make sure they're in the same direction) and drill a hole the size of the shaft of a deck screw. To check that size (for those of you who don't know how), hold a drill bit up to the shaft of the screw, and see if you can still see threads.  Check it with the screw on top of the drill bit, and check it with the drill bit on top of the screw.  If you can't see the screw's threads, you'll drill a hole too big.  If the drill bit is too much smaller that the shaft of the screw, it'll make screwing it in more difficult.  And you want to use a deck screw because they're fairly easy to reverse out of the plug when you're done.  Don't sweat it you don't have a deck screw, though, but do make sure it's around two and a half inches long.

Screw the two matching pieces together with the deck screw.

Back off the top piece by turning it counterclockwise on the screw, making sure the screw stays in the bottom piece.

Apply wood glue or a silicone glue'n'seal product to the front side of the back piece.

Shove the plug into the hole, and turn the hole plug so that your plug corners come into contact with the siding and taking care to keep the plug at the same level as when it went in- you don't want it to shift down or anything.  Take a stick and brace it behind the top piece, and now start screwing the screw to bring the two pieces together. This is kind of tricky to keep the two pieces just so, so take your time. And don't screw it so tight that you break the stick.   Let it dry for the prescribed amount of time.

The next day, back off the top piece again by turn it counterclockwise (gently- you don't  want to break the seal) so that you can remove the stick.  Turn the plug right side up and apply glue all around its edges. Draw it into the siding by tightening the screw until the plug is flush with the siding.  In this instance I had a thin gap around the edge of the plug, so I squeezed in more wood glue, and then rubbed sawdust into the glue.  Keeps it from dripping out all over the siding and fills the gap fairly well.  Let that dry overnight.

The next day you can take the screw out.  Now all this needs is a little more conventional wood filler, a little light sanding, and then paint.

Steve gets to paint.  He's way better at it than I am.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

What You Get Done When Rain is Forecast

Last weekend I got part of the roof pieces of the run up before the rains started.  Yesterday I had to saw part of the side of the door so that I could get it open because it had swelled shut in the damp.  The roof is not designed to hold up a roof per se, just more welded wire, and then on the side nearest the coop, a tarp to keep half the run dry.

This picture shows more of the roof, such as it is.  It also shows what I did today.  I didn't have a lot of rain-free time today, so I installed the 2x4's along the fence sides so that I can staple the roof wire to them.  The fence across the back of the yard is in decent shape but the one along the side is in terrible shape. However, it's not ours to replace, so I attached new 2x4's with deck screws to the posts which will help hold it together.  The posts were replaced not too long before we moved in, but the rest of the fence was not and it's in really deplorable shape.  If I try nailing to it I run the risk of knocking it down.

This is the back of the run, and where I'll attach the feeders which I've made from four inch ABS pipe.  I've a little more work to do on them, and then I can install them.  I also purchased parts for watering the birds, which I can work on the garage if it rains next weekend. It's coming along slowly, but it's coming along.

So once work was done, I could turn my thoughts to dinner, most of which came from the garden. I love growing turnips because you can eat the whole plant.  (They are also really easy to grow- even easier than radishes.)

This is a great carrot variety: short and stout and easy to peel, and very sweet and juicy.  I wish I could remember what the hell its name is.

Dinner was was roasted root vegetables (I managed to pull out one parsnip in addition to the carrots and turnips) and eggs florentine on kale and turnips greens.

If we had chickens, the whole meal would have come from the garden.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Not So A-Maizing

This is the entirety of my corn harvest for 2012.  I had to pick them early because the rains have started, and I don't need the corn rotting where it is.  So I picked it even though it's not quite ready.

Some the ears are more ripe than others, but they are all in the oven on the dehydrating cycle.  I don't know if it'll actually make grain that I can grind, but I'm willing to keep trying.

Supposedly, this variety is takes only eighty-eight days to maturity and handles cool temperatures well.  I guess I planted it too late.

Am I done with corn?  

Not at all.  This harvest was paltry, but it was way better than my potato harvest.

I guess what I should be growing is soil.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Just In Time: Cheap and Effective Greenhouse

Need a greenhouse but can't afford one?  Take a look at this link from the good ol' Oregon State University Extension Service.

I'm thinking I should have one or two of these in place by next spring.  Maybe even this fall for lettuces.

Not that I have a dearth of other projects to get done or anything....

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Progress on the Chicken Run

No, this isn't der Stalag.  Es der Huehnerhoff.  I worked on it all weekend (the door is what took most of time) and I'm still not done, but I still made enough progress that I think that if I work on it every night when I get home from work I could have it done next weekend.

The only problem is, I'm pretty well wrung-out by the time I get home from work.

In case you're wondering, the welded wire is out from the bottom about two feet to discourage diggers from getting under it.  The wire will be buried, and the idea is that anything trying to dig under will just be met with more wire and will eventually give up.

I still have to put the large wire up in the back, and then I'm going clad the bottom again with the smaller welded wire with which I made the coop run.  Raccoons have been known to reach through fencing to strangle chickens, so I'm making sure that doesn't happen.

I also need to wire the top, to keep out said raccoons but also to keep out hawks, now that I know they'll fly into the yard.

It's taking awhile, but I'm getting there.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


German Queen
So I haven't posted about the forty-one pints of tuna we canned last weekend, or the fact that I've made zero progress on the chicken yard (much to my frustration), or that I'm getting kale (finally!!) from the garden because I've been working ridiculously long hours at work for the past several weeks, but it hasn't all been for naught.

I got a pretty good raise today.

And, I'm finally making half what my husband is.

But then, he's the breadwinner.

I'm just the gravymaker.

* and I'm going to try to get you all caught up after this weekend, hopefully after I've made some serious progress on my chicken yard.  I need to get my chickens.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Back to Eden

It is truly amazing to me how, one the one hand, my weekend was a total loss for getting anything done, and yet on the other hand, I've also learned something really, really important for the future success of my garden.

Well, okay- I did get the salsa verde canned.  Eighteen half-pints, which is far more reasonable than the thirty-two half-pints I canned three years ago of which we have two left.  But that took the larger part of Saturday so that I didn't want to get started at three o'clock in the afternoon on the chicken yard.

So Sunday- Sunday I set myself to work on the chicken yard.  We duded ourselves up in our grubbies and were all set to head out after welded wire and what not, and the car wouldn't start.  Wouldn't jump, either.  A very long story short, it was the battery, thank goodness, but it seriously shot the hell out of Sunday.  Can't complain though- this is the first time we had to replace the battery in seven years.  So no work whatsoever on the chicken yard.  No work on anything else, what with finding a rental car on a Sunday and getting the car towed to the dealership, and driving out to the airport with the neighbors to get a rental, etc. Oy!  This weekend was not a good one for getting what I wanted to get done actually done.

But-  I finally got around to watching Back to Eden.  All I can say is please find an hour and a half to watch this.  Folks who aren't interested in gardening will not find this of interest, but those of you who do will probably find this as mind-blowing as I did. It has completely changed my approach to building soil.  Incidentally, it fits in very nicely with the study that folks at The Mother Earth News did and reported on last year that found that wood, out of everything they tried, makes the best soil.  The film is heavily scriptural, so I'll warn you about that if it's not your cup of tea, but there is a lot of solid science in it, and it seems to work.  The best part is, if you adopt this method, you can expect to work less, fertilize less, water less, and harvest more.  Don't believe me?

Watch Back to Eden.

And let me know what you think.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Householding Update - 10 September 2012

While I've been working on the hen yard, the Braumeister has been harvesting his hops.  Twice the dry weight harvested this year as last year, so they like the new home.

This is the progress I've made in two weekends.  I was barreling along, and got stuck.

I don't know what to do about watering and feeding; I'd tentatively planned things for the section next to the coop, but realized that since I'm going to house the rabbit hutches in the same yard, I have to go in there every day to feed the rabbits.

I'm really stuck on what to do for watering- any ideas or links are welcome. I want to make it as automatic and tidy as possible.  Toying with 55 gallon food service drum, which is a far cry from the original five gallon bucket idea.

In the meantime, Steve's sister called this evening about canning tuna.  I'll find out Thursday night if the fisherman got any tuna, and if so, will be traveling down to Yachats with a bunch of canning jars and a pressure canner in tow.

I've been wanting to do this ever since I found out she cans tuna, so now I really feel like I'm part of the club.

But really- I need help with the water and feed ideas....

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Householding vs. Homesteading

I started this blog to chronicle my efforts to turn a late-century-ranch-house-on-a-quarter-acre-lot-in-a-suburban-cul-de-sac into a homestead in an urban setting (she wrote, neatly sidestepping the trademark issue). 'Homesteading' is not quite the right way to think of it however; I am neither trying to claw an existence out of a wilderness nor am I trying to work a free tract of land for a proscribed period of time in order to be able to keep it.  I mean, when it comes right down to it, homesteading was largely the US government seizing millions of acres of land and displacing who knows how many Native Americans, and then handing over said property to bunch of non-natives saying, here- let's see what you can with it.

I've since learned that what I'm really doing is householding and homemaking.  From Harriet Fasenfest's A Householder's Guide to the Universe *, I've learned that our word 'economy' comes from the Greek compound word oikonomos, which literally translates as 'one who manages a household', from the root words oikos which means 'household', and nemein, which means 'to manage'.  From Shannon Hayes's Radical Homemakers *, I learned that centuries before the industrial revolution, people worked largely at home, and that the word 'husband' came from the Old English hus for 'house' and band for something being bonded or bound to something else, so 'husband' came from someone who was bound or bonded to his house.  I also learned that the husband and wife made their lives by a useful and logical division of labor based on their physical abilities: she kept the garden, and house and cooked and made clothes; he worked larger pieces of land for grain, took care of the animals, and made the shoes. Interestingly enough, he made the wine and mead, and she made the beer (not that I'm volunteering for this job- Steve has it down.)  It wasn't until the Industrial Revolution in the 1800's that more and more people left the home to earn a wage, which started the vicious cycle of actually needing the job, because now you needed to buy what you used to have time to make.

So, division of labor aside because Steve's and my division of labor is certainly not typical, what we're really doing is householding, which appeals to me a great deal.  I think more people should be doing it.  A lot are, but in this instance, more is better.  Instead of being a nation of consumers, we'd become a nation of producers.  And even though we could not perhaps sell what we grow and make, largely because we can't compete with Big Business or Big Agribusiness, we could at least do more for ourselves.  I can't help but feel that a really good way to deny any further profit to the wealthy few hell-bent on owning our government and seeing to it that various laws are enacted or repealed to benefit themselves would be to stop being part of the economy that funnels our dollars into their coffers and instead start growing a home-based economy.

This will probably happen anyway, insofar as dollars drying up. Regardless of however the Fed chooses to manage the money supply, if you don't have a job, you're not earning a paycheck.  The faster the middle class shrinks, the faster the number of people without money will grow, and the sooner the business and corporation owners, CEO's and industry barons will find themselves without a domestic market, or certainly, they will have a much, much smaller domestic market. And going overseas for a global market will not be so attractive once the price of oil rockets sky high, which it will.  It's the same shortsightedness that extracts a profit from the earth at all costs that is extracting a profit from the masses at all costs, and the only way to fight back is to not participate in it.

Even in my little cul-de-sac, we most of us garden, and we've talked about each of us sticking with a particular few vegetables that we grow well and then trading them among ourselves.  It's this kind of thinking that foments something like BerkShares, which are an alternative currency used in the Berkshire region of Massachusetts. You can't exactly pay your income or property taxes with them, but for buying both goods and services in the region they work.  I'm not convinced that the wealthy wicked won't get their hands on them some day and dry up that particular currency, but they can't get their hands on barter or trading, which I see as the way out for the ninety-nine percent.  'If you don't like how the little boy down at the end of the street plays, don't play with the little boy down at the end of the street' paraphrases something I heard growing up, and seems logical and simple solution for dealing with economic bullies.

Another idea that I'm coming to terms with is the idea that money is something for which you trade your precious and very finite time on earth. To my knowledge, no one ever lay on their deathbed and said, "I should have spent more time at the office."  Your Money or Your Life *, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin solidifies my intention to retire early but also makes me take a hard look at my relationship with money.  This year we were supposed to live solely on my income and throw all of Steve's at the mortgage, which by and large we've been able to do, except for last month when both the premiums for the car insurance and house insurance came due at the same time, and is something I forgot would happen. I know there's a whopping three-thousand dollar property tax bill looming in November, but I should be ready for it by then.  But reading YMOYL has me thinking about my purchases in terms of how much of my life I'm trading for them. I have to remember as I'm forking over the lucre that every dollar spent is not a dollar saved and that I'm thwarting my own exit strategy.  And in the meantime, I know there have been times when I have not been as careful as I should have been, and this time I am not talking about backing into the neighbor's mailbox and scratching the bejeezus out of the back quarter panel of the car such that we have to have it repaired before the rainy season starts ($800).  No, I'm talking about adding things to the grocery cart that weren't on the list, and not thinking about a purchase before hand to determine why I'm buying it.  Do I really need it or do I just want it? Is it worth the adjusted $15.18 an hour I'm making (adjusted for how much gas it takes to get there and the real hourly wage I'm making because I'm salaried and put in a LOT more than 40 hours a week) for which I'm trading my time on earth?  Time I'd rather be spending at home with Steve? Much rather.  By the way, the adjusted $15.18 an hour is not in any way what I'm bringing home because I haven't factored in taxes and my 401K contribution which is maxed because I'm as old as I am. My take home adjusted-for reality-hourly rate is more like $9.10 an hour.  I don't know how people making minimum wage do it.

The whole idea of course, is to change how we're living so that we can spend more time together, it's as simple as that.  We each of us have only so many hours on earth, some of us less than others, so it's really important that we spend them doing things that are important to us or spending more time with people that are important to us.  And yes, I'm talking to you, Karen, if you're even reading this.  My father died a month after his sixty-second birthday after a long fight with brain cancer.  He really left years before that because he wasn't himself, but what stayed with me all these years is that he didn't get to retire. So not only was he cheated out of his retirement, my mom was also cheated out of his retirement. I don't want that happening with Steve and me.

I'm not sure how many of you are still with me on this post, but what do you think?  Why are you householding and homemaking?  Has this recession (which is still on, as far as I'm concerned, CPI and GDP be damned- there are still a lot of people hurting out there) changed how you think about money or was it the reason you started doing what you're doing?  And even if you're not householding, what changes have you made in your life that push you along in this direction?  Do you even like the idea of a nation of makers trading with each other?

I'd really like to know.

And in the meantime, Steve and I gotta go grocery shopping.

* all borrowed from the library

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Summer of Disappointments

I know, I know; I haven't posted for a long time.  I don't usually post unless I have something to report; I just haven't had anything of interest to relate lately.

Truth is, I am struggling with my garden this year. Somewhere between being really busy at work and the unreliable weather we're having, I didn't get the warm weather crops in until late; I'm only just getting green beans and zucchini, but the tomatoes aren't ripening, and the peppers are still no where; ditto eggplant. It'll be a miracle if I get any fruit off of them. I'm finally getting the Abenaki Red Calais flint corn to make ears, which is great- I just hope they're ready in time before the rainy season starts. And it's not all bad- we did get a bumper crop of boysenberries this year.

The biggest disappointment of all has to be the Big Bed.   I can't tell why some of the stuff planted at the same time is growing and some of it isn't.  I've had it stuffed full of seed and its progress has been just incredibly slow.  For weeks and weeks the parsnip seed has been in and I can't tell if it's actually growing or not.  It's supposed to take a long time to germinate, and it seemed to do that in the appropriate amount of time, but the first true leaves appeared weeks ago and then they stayed like that. For weeks!

parsnip seed, all planted the same day
It's truly odd; depending on what I planted, all the seed in a given area was planted at the same time, and some of it's growing and some of it's not; I don't know what the problem is, but I have a suspicion that it has something to do with the COF (Complete Organic Fertilizer, Steve Solomon, Gardening When It Counts) with which I dressed the soil.  Problem is, I can't tell if it was too much or not enough.

Parsnips planted earlier, but some are
just not making any progress!
the kale is doing it too

It just points to the importance of properly building up your soil with things like compost and properly rotted manure, or in the case of rabbits, "hot" manure. In any case, I will have failed again this year to produce a major portion of our food from the yard, and if it all fell apart tomorrow, we'd starve.

I really need to get the hen yard made so that I can get chickens and rabbits.   Even if the rabbits wound up being pets, they'd still be good to have around.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The New Neighbor

My garden has been a constant source of  anxiety and struggle this year, maybe more so than any other year.  Recently the moles having been having their way with the garden.  I'm so at my very. wit's. end. that I finally broke down and bought mole traps, but it turns out that summer time is not really the best time to be trapping moles, as they've moved lower because the surface soil is too warm.  The best time to trap moles turns out to be during the the spring before they make more moles, and in the fall, after they've come up from the deep soil from summer, but before they go back to the deep soil in winter. Consequently, Steve hasn't trapped anything yet, and the moles continue to shove strawberries and onions aside.

I thought long and hard about how to get these guys- I even tried the hose-in-the-exhaust-pipe trick that I witnessed my dad use to good effect to kill the gopher that was tearing up the front yard when I was a kid, so I knew how to do it.  But Daddy was working with a fairly short hose, and both the truck and the gopher were in the front yard; I did not have any luck getting the fumes to come out the business end of the hose, possibly because we had three hoses linked together, or maybe there was water blocking it- who knows? So we finally gave up and bought the traps.  This dilemma with the moles has been going on awhile; I mentioned it to one of my salesmen last week and he told me about a molecat, but it sounded like something you don't want to point at yourself (or your kids, no matter how tempted you might be), so I didn't spring for them.  I'm beginning to wish I did- they might work better than an old-fashioned scissor trap.  I might run a test of both this autumn, but they are, no lie, ten times the cost of the trap, so we'll see.

Anyway, evidently, someone else besides the moles has moved in. This evening I was moving a running hose around the stone fruit trees at the back of the yard and discovered this:

Either we have a new neighbor or my yard has a new vagina.
My money's on a new neighbor. The bad kind.
And a brazilian is not going to make this look any better.

It's by the compost pile, and there's a variety of detritus that whatever it is has pulled into its den, but closer inspection indicates that the trash in the hole is not coming from my compost pile.  They appear to be empty bee combs, and the only varmints that I know of that raid bee hives besides bears are skunks, because skunks eat sleeping bees.  If ever there was an evening I wished I had Tamar Haspel's Varmintcam, this evening was it.  I toyed briefly with the idea of running the hose into the hole, but thought the better of it if it did turn out to be a skunk.  I mean, if it left its den and came out, then what would I do?  I've gone after raccoons with the spading fork, but raccoons don't have quite the brilliant defense mechanism that skunks do. And while I haven't been skunked personally, I've washed a dog who was, and that is the closest I want to get to a skunk again. Ever.

So instead of putting money into the chicken run this coming month which I really need and want to do, I'm going to have a Varmint Guy come out and take care of it.  I could probably live with the moles a little longer, and if it comes right down to it, I can probably wait long enough to get my money's worth out of the traps, which probably means sometime this fall.

But the new neighbor has got to go.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Wild Kingdom

We had our own Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom in the back yard this evening (probably everyone has one of these from time to time, but this is my blog and I'm going to tell you about it anyway).

House finches. Pic from here
So we have these house finches that show up every evening in the summer.  They always seem to find something to their liking; the first year it was the seeds on the french sorrel that I let go to seed, last year it was the basil and anise hyssop that I let go to seed, this summer it's the radishes that I let go to seed (are we seeing a pattern here?).  They are fun to watch; the other evening I watched a finch cock land on a radish and ride it down to the ground like an elevator.

They showed up this evening as usual. In fact, it seemed a lot of them showed up and I was beginning to worry about things like the new seed beds I've just planted.  I've reason to worry; evidently house finches are bad news.  All of a sudden one of the cocks flew at the sliding glass door and hit it which surprised me, because they don't really come near the house, but the reason became apparent seconds later a much larger bird hit it.  I didn't see the details too well other than it was a lot bigger than the finch, but Steve exclaimed "raptor!" The house finches disappeared to a bird, and moments later the raptor alighted on the top of the cucumber trellis.  I tried to get a picture of him but I wasn't fast enough.

I wish I could tell you what he was but the piece of shit Stokes Guide Western Region did not have this particular raptor in it. (They had a lot of other raptors whose habitation maps showed that they live in the southeastern portion of the country, which last time I checked, was not part of the Western Region.  If anybody's interested, I would love a Roger Tory Peterson bird guide for the western region for my birthday- now there's a reference!)  All I can tell you is that he was beautiful, and probably a male because it was he was so beautiful.  Then he flew into the only trees mature trees that we have in the yard, which, as it happens, are right where I plan to build the hen yard.

Which only doubles my conviction that I have to put some sort of roof and wire cover over the yard, now that I know there are raptors in the neighborhood.  Outside of the bald eagles that I've seen hovering over the Willamette, which is only yards away from us, and other high altitude raptors that show up from time to time, this is the first I've seen in the neighborhood proper, and certainly the first I've seen in the yard itself.

I only wish he was a little bit bigger, and the raccoons that woke me up last night chattering to each other were a lot smaller.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

200 Pound Raccoon

So we're watching a thing on Nature on PBS on bears in Alaska, and a wildlife specialist just described a black bear in Anchorage as a "200 pound raccoon."


Alaska is sooooo off my map now.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Homesteading Update 16 July 2012

This is going to be a whirlwind update because it's bedtime and I'm getting cranky.  All set?

Hang on!

The brassica seedlings that were nearly decimated by cabbage moth larvae have recovered and are ready to be transplanted (and covered in Agribon).

This was the spud bed on June 18.

This is the spud bed on July 15, nearly a month later.  If it doesn't look like much, bear in mind I've been hilling up.  The first of the potatoes are nearly ready.

The next potatoes are already coming on. Some are more volunteers.  One of those in there was a German Butterball from last year that spent the entire year in the fridge.  I figured "What the heck!" and it grew.

The lettuces were bolting, so I harvested and packaged up what I could in the fridge.  But that left a lot of bolted lettuce, which I didn't want to waste.  So I treated it like greens and cooked it up with pasta.  The rest of the lettuce that was too messy to eat was tossed into the compost pile.

It was better than decent, but I like kale better.  I'd still do this again though.

I harvested all the onions that I transplanted this spring.  These were all volunteers from onions that had gone to seed in the same bed.  I bent down their stalks about a week ago and after a week in the sun they were ready to pull.  They'll finish curing in the living room.  They are keeping the garlic that's curing in the living room company.  They are also precluding me from having company.

We got the bird netting up on the boysenberries. I think in this picture you can kind of see what I mean when I say they are covered in berries, which are starting to ripen.  We harvested the center berry out of several clusters, but when the clusters all ripen at the same time, are we going to be busy! We're freezing them.

The big bed will hold most of my winter stuff, but I'm trialing a couple of tomatoes in there, plus the cukes and Fortex french filet beans are in there.  Winter stuff: onions, parsnips, carrots, White Siberian kale, Red Siberian kale, and the January King cabbage seedlings.  Starting tomorrow, I'll plant more carrots, rutabagas, and beets.  Once I pull the beans off I'll plant peas.

This is Floriani Red Flint corn, which is an heirloom variety.  It is growing very unevenly and I can't imagine why.  It will shortly get beans and pumpkins in it, and I just hope they'll have enough time to do something.

That's it!