Phase Two and Potting Soil

by jericho | February 19, 2012 at 10:38 AM | categories: vermont, maine, garden | View Comments

On Friday, February 10th we headed to Maine with an extremely full van. I had to be careful to avoid bumps, or at least drive over them very slowly so as not to break an axle or anything. we definitely put the shocks to the test. But we made it! I thought I would include a few pictures of the inside of my cabin in Vermont (by request) and then move on to some pictures of our new home (Phase Two) in Dover-Foxcroft.

Here's the VT cabin:

And here is the Dover-Foxcroft cabin:

The cabin in Dover-Foxcroft was built by Nick and Lori Calderone (JP's parents) about 30 years ago. It is a lovely little two-floor building and they did much of the work with a chainsaw which makes it even more impressive!

You may notice that the pantry looks a bit like the inside of a shower stall. That's because it is the inside of a shower stall. At one point Lori did have running water hooked up, but now we haul our water from the hand pump just outside so I decided to re-purpose the shower. Every bit of space counts!

In the midst of getting settled in and learning the ropes of living without power and running water (which is wonderful, but takes a lot more time and planning than the alternative), our potting soil from Vermont Compost arrived!

I had figured that we would be using a little over one yard of potting soil for our garden this year. However, when I looked around at purchasing options it was actually going to be cheaper to buy two yards in bulk from Vermont Compost than to try buying individual bags of potting soil elsewhere. I knew that this would be quite a lot of potting soil, but assumed it would come on a big dump-type truck which would be tricky if the roads were muddy, but shouldn't have a problem getting down the driveway. Instead, it came on a tractor trailer!! Luckily, they hadn't posted the roads yet (they are posted now).

We spent some time at the end of the driveway discussing the possibilities with the truck driver because we weren't sure he could even fit in the driveway. But he was willing to give it a try and sure enough, with some seriously precise driving he made it! Now we have a giant marshmallow of potting soil waiting for ou very first seeds. It is a little hard to believe, but those seeds are actually scheduled to be planted this weekend. Giant Kohlrabi I believe. And then onions next week. So it begins...

Happy planting everyone!

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by jean-paul | February 19, 2012 at 10:38 AM | categories: maine, seeding, garden | View Comments

Up here at name-to-be-decided farm, Wednesday brought with it the official beginning of our growing season. Jericho and I seeded a tray of Kohlrabi (German turnip) (Brassica oleracea Gongylodes group) (a low, stout cultivar of the cabbage that will grow almost anywhere). Actually, we didn't quite seed the full tray; our spring planting only called for 3/4ths of a tray. I suspect that ridiculously small tasks will be the theme of this growing season.

Last fall we began our crop plan for this year. We strove for diversity and aimed for a yield which would produce enough to feed ourselves and provide a little extra for nearby family members. We're still tweaking the plan a little bit, but since we've actually bought our seeds already, only a few variables are still open to change.

On the goal of diversity, our plan calls for over fifty varieties of vegetables, representing almost forty distinct kinds of produce (forgive the awkward language here; at points you might expect me to say "species" I can't, since (for example) Kohlrabi, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Kale, Cabbage, and Turnips - all of which we'll be growing - are actually all of the same species; other words like cultivar also fail to capture the whole picture).

With such a variety of seeds, particularly when considering succession planting for continuous harvest, and (roughly) only ourselves as consumers, we'll be seeding one tray at a time for the majority of our plantings. Having WFCF volunteering as my only previous experience seeding flats, where three or four or five people would spend one or two or three hours seeding flats, I find this rather amusing. Jericho and I seeded our 3/4ths flat of Kohlrabi (together!) in about 45 seconds (the following part, where I dropped it, was not as amusing).

Another consequence of the wide variety is that we have a lot of information to manage: about what seeds to order, and in what quantities; about when to seed, when to transplant, when to harvest; about how many flats we'll need, how much space we'll need for crops. Since I love software (all of it, all the time), and as there appeared to be a rather sparse offering for this purpose, I wrote some to help out with planning these things out. It has given us a good framework (not always to be trusted, at least not yet) within to work for our early tasks. Hopefully before we get really busy, I'll have worked out the significant remaining bugs and we can actually rely on it. I've written more about the nitty gritty on my other blog, so as not to bore those of you not interested in such things.

Interspersed with these light agricultural duties, we've been walking in the woods (including one particularly beautiful walk a couple days ago right after a newly arrived half foot of snow), continuing to settle in to the cabin, and I've been preparing for (another!) trip to California. I have a short walk from our cabin to where there is electricity which serves as my commute.

I'm making this walk two to four times a day, which I hope is as exercise-y as it feels, since I'm supposed to be training for a 5k (in just under two weeks), but I have little hope of actually running anywhere in the vicinity any time soon.

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How Lovely To Be A Chicken...

by jericho | February 16, 2012 at 11:36 AM | categories: vermont, chickens | View Comments

With yurt construction wrapped up, Jean-Paul and I were ready to pack up the van (again) and head east to begin Phase Two of our big adventure. Before heading out though, we helped Dad slaughter a few chickens to pare down the flock a bit. I think that there were about 13 hens and 1 rooster, but we were only getting 4-6 eggs per day so obviously a few of the ladies weren't pulling their weight and had to go. But how to know which hens were laying and which weren't?!?!

Well, Dad found an article from Backyard Poultry (a magazine to which he subscribes) which explained how to tell if your hen is laying eggs. Here are the signs according to them: somewhat less yellow legs than hens that are not laying; a bright red, waxy comb; a moist vent with supple skin; and something about the pubic bones that I can't remember. The first hen that we pulled out seemed to exhibit all of these signs, but Dad said "well, I'd like to get rid of this one anyway." so on to the chopping block she went.

My favorite part of this slaughtering endeavor was the method for heating water that you can see in the picture above. Yes, that is a flame weeder pointed at a trash can full of water. Brilliant...and terrifying.

The only step we didn't get a picture of here is the plucking, which is too bad because that is really where the magic happens: when you turn a fully feathered chicken into something that looks like what is in your freezer. It is also very messy and the feathers stick to you fingers which makes it very difficult to take pictures.

We found quite a few partially formed eggs (and one fully formed!) during evisceration indicating that the Backyard Poultry methods worked! oh..wait...

As it turned out, the oldest hens (and thus the best candidates for slaughter) seemed to all still be laying, but perhaps now that they are out of the picture, the newer hens will step up to the plate. Only time will tell.

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A Teacher, a Carpenter, and a Programmer Walk into a Yurt

by jean-paul | February 06, 2012 at 07:48 PM | categories: yurt, building, vermont | View Comments

Wherein our adventures perform some more living-arrangement related construction. However, I know better than to bury the lead. Hence, first, the conclusion:

Over the weekend, I finished preparing the rafters and Jericho did some more sewing for the wall canvas.

The last sewing for the roof canvas can't be done until we fit that piece of canvas to our actual roof and measure the position of the final seam. This requires setting up the yurt.

So, first we set up and leveled the platform.

Then we expanded the wall pieces (khana) and lashed them together and set them on the platform.

With all four wall pieces up, we made room for a door.

And then the really wicked part, Jim held up the roof ring (toono) while we stuck rafters into it.

Those loops you saw in the first picture go over the ends of the khana and the tension cable (1/4" steel, rated to 1400 pounds) holds the wall and the rafters in place.

And so on, forty-some more times.

This ends up creating a pretty strong structure, apparently.

Unfortunately, once the rafters were all in place, a space monster warped in and ate Jericho.

After that, we could fit the canvas to the roof, which took some fiddling, and a poorly timed gust of wind didn't help. We managed it, though (you did see the first picture, right?).

There's some more sewing to do and a few remaining details to sort out for the door and the toono. Those things will probably get sorted out this week or when we set the yurt up in Maine.

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Back From California

by jean-paul | February 03, 2012 at 08:02 PM | categories: yurt, building, vermont | View Comments

While Jericho wrestled with that mountain of canvas, I had a great week in California. I finally managed to find some redwoods to look at. I also met a lot of great people, got some good work done, and (implausibly) met up with a couple friends from Boston.

San Francisco is a lot of fun, but I don't love everything about it.

It was really great to get back to Vermont and back to work on the yurt. Before I left, we had just finished preliminary assembly of the walls (khana). These four wood lattices are each made up of 34 one by twos varying in length from two feet to nine and a half feet. The lattice pieces are secured to each other with a piece of rope at most of the intersections. We first laid out the pieces to ensure they fit.

And then tied them together at each end.

This was more cold finger work, since the expanded lattice doesn't fit indoors. Fortunately, with rope at all the ends, the lattice can be collapsed.

In this more compact form, we brought them into Jim's workshop and got to work tying rope at the remaining (approximately) four hundred intersections. Joan lent us a hand here and finished off one entire khana. Jericho and I finished the remaining three pieces today.

I've certainly never before tied so many knots at once. My fingers are ready for a break. But we're not done yet. Tomorrow I need to finish the rafters and Jericho needs to finish the canvas for the walls, so that on Monday we can set it all up and fit the canvas for the roof. More about that later, though.

Good night from the NEK!

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