The Sine Curve (Hoophouses and Pitfalls)

by jericho | April 03, 2012 at 02:47 PM | categories: building, maine, seedlings | View Comments

As Jean-Paul mentioned in our last post, we have been hard at work getting our hoophouse built so that our seedlings will not perish from lack of light or from too much heat in our makeshift low tunnel (all of our broccolli and kale seedlings fried in there and we had to start them over again). The 80 degree weather a couple of weeks ago provided the perfect opportunity to get outside and get to work!

First, we had to lash pairs of saplings together and bend them (as JP mentioned). Then we started assembling the endwalls by attaching our sapling hoops to 2x4's as shown below. Sidenote: this idea to use saplings for just about everything this year prompted the first name suggestion for our "farm" which is Crooked Sapling Farm. I think this is a fabulous name. Others are not completely sold...yet.

Next, we covered both endwalls with plastic and cut a hole in one endwall where a door will go. Another sidenote: in future, I must remember to make JP pose for the photos because really, this is ridiculous.

More 2x4's were used to finish the base of the frame, more sapling hoops were attached, and voila! A hoophouse skeleton! About one foot of each of the sapling hoops was stuck into the ground to provide some support and stability, and then each one was also attached to the 2x4 base with pipe grip ties/two-hole straps (there was some confusion about what they are actually called). We also pounded some stakes (i.e. more saplings) into the ground against the endwalls and attached the endwalls to them to prevent bending inward or outward.

The last stability measure was attaching a "spine" along the top of the hoops. This also helped to pull each sapling hoop into the shape that we wanted (although some were more agreeable than others).

At this point, it is time to explain the title of this post and say that although life up here is amazing, it is not all sunshine and roses. Sometimes our seedlings fry in the sun and sometimes they get moldy from lack of it; sometimes a porcupine decides to take up residence in our outhouse; sometimes I wish I could turn on a tap to get hot water instead of having to heat it on the stove; and sometimes it snows at the most inopportune when we are trying to put plastic on our hoophouse. Granted, we should have known better than to try when the forecast said there might be snow, but we were feeling optimistic and really wanted to get that plastic up. It was an incredibly frustrating and somewhat demoralizing experience.

But you know what? We made it through as we always do and I am sure that we are stronger for it. Building character and all that.

And now our seedlings have a place to go!! The last hoophouse addition (for now) was 8 55-gallon barrels and four hardware cloth tables to set the seedling trays on. We filled all of the barrels with water in hopes that the water will heat up during the day and then help to keep it warm inside the hoophouse during the night. The filling process took about a week because we were hand pumping all of the water (my arms are still sore) and then using a large elevated tub and a garden hose to get the water to run into the barrels. Thank goodness the hoophouse is slightly downhill from the pump or we would have been hauling a whole lot of water!

As I think about it, I realize that I really should have called this post "The Sine Wave" because living is a series of ups and downs as opposed to just one, but you get the idea. Luckily, we seem to always get past the dips in our sine wave very quickly and spend most of our time at the top. Can't ask for much more than that.

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A Taste Of Spring

by jean-paul | March 20, 2012 at 12:00 PM | categories: building, maine, seedlings | View Comments

By the reckoning of some, spring is now upon us. This might not be much of an occassion in central Maine in years past, but the last few days up here have been decidely spring-like, at times verging on summerful. Just a few short weeks ago we were taking snowy walks through biting wind. Now the sun is shining, the temperature is up around 18°C (mid 60s for you Americans), and the snow is fading fast.

The warm sunny days give us a great opportunity to get our seedlings out where they can thrive. We're up to almost thirty trays of seedlings now, and there's not nearly enough light for them inside, even co-opting my mom's seed bench. The hoop house is still a day or two away, so for now we have a make-shift low tunnel in our front yard.

The hoop house is coming along, though. We cut all the saplings and started getting them used to their new shape. At the same time, we also cut some smaller wood to use for low tunnels later on the season.

Nights are still a little bit chilly up here (down to freezing last night, for example), and it'll probably snow at least once more, so it's not clear when we'll actually be able to leave anything outside overnight. And the field has some drying out to do before we'll be transplanting anything into it.

Some exciting stuff is coming up. I'm glad to be back from California and not have any more major travel planned. And speaking of excitment, Jericho had some while I was away. I won't tell the story, but I have to post one of the pictures she took.

Happy spring, everyone.

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Winter's Bounty

by jericho | March 11, 2012 at 10:30 AM | categories: food, building, maine, seedlings | View Comments

Our recent rash of snow storms has thrown us back into what feels like the depths of winter and for some reason this inspired me to write about food. Perhaps because one of my favorite things to do on a stormy day is to stay in and cook. Also, this is an interesting time of year for those trying to "eat local" because stored produce is starting to run out, and the first spring greens have yet to arrive.

Last summer I did quite a bit of canning and freezing to preserve the delicious produce from Waltham Fields Community Farm for later use. We tried to eat a lot of it before moving (so that there was less to move), but I was pleased to find some greens, applesauce, and a few other goodies in the freezer when we got here in February. We also still had a few jars of sauerkraut (everyone should try to make this! A great recipe can be found here) that I had canned, which is delicious although sadly not alive anymore (because the heat required for canning kills all of the good lactobacillus in the live kraut).

However, the fruits of last summer's labor are not enough to live on so when we first arrived in Dover-Foxcroft, I did a little searching and was thrilled to find out that Ripley Farm has delicious root vegetables and other storage crops that can be ordered and picked up every other week until the end of March! We are also lucky to have Widdershins Farm and Maple Lane Farm close by so that we can get local meat and eggs.

What are we making with these fabulous ingredients, you ask? One of my favorites is a chili recipe that I made up that has no tomatoes in it (since anything in the nightshade family is on my dietary "no list" unfortunately). Pureed carrots take the place of the tomatoes as a base, with a little bit of tamarind paste and/or apple cider vinegar to give it that tomato-y kick. Granted, tamarind paste is not local, nor are the many spices that really turn this into chili, but carrots and ground beef make up the bulk of this tasty dish so it is a great winter local meal. Here's the recipe in case you want to give it a try:


4 lbs Carrots

2 T Olive Oil

1 Onion

1 1/2 lbs Ground Beef

2 cloves Garlic

2 tsp Cumin

2 tsp Celery Seed

1/4 tsp Cloves

1/4 tsp Cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp Oregano

1 Bay Leaf

2 C Water or Stock

1/4 C Apple Cider Vinegar

1/4 tsp Tamarind Paste (optional, but tasty)


Cook carrots and mash or puree. I cook mine in the pressure cooker, but you could steam, boil, or roast them depending on what works for you.

In large saucepan, saute onions in olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Add meat and garlic and cook until meat is browned.

Add spices, water or stock, carrot puree, apple cider vinegar, and tamarind paste. If using a pressure cooker, bring to pressure and cook for 15 minutes. If not, bring to a boil and simmer for 1-2 hours.

I also decided to embark on a new fermenting adventure and try making sauerruben, which is like sauerkraut, but made with turnips or rutabaga instead. You can see what this looks like in the picture of my sauerkraut earlier. The fermenting rutabaga is the one that is very orange. The only complaint I have about sauerruben so far is that it requires grating a large quantity of rutabaga: I made this two days ago and my hands, neck, and arms are still sore.

In other news, we ended up moving our seedlings over to Lori's house because they were not getting enough light in the cabin and were getting very leggy. She let us put up her seed bench and take it over for a few weeks (until we get the hoophouse built). Our little plants are now cozy and spoiled by warm and bright grow lights, however, they do have one little problem.

His name is Helo and though it is easy to be fooled by his mild mannered (and ridiculously cute) exterior, inside lies a ruthless plant-killer waiting to strike. Well, actually it is more like he just curls up and sleeps on top of the statice, but the effect is the same.

Ok and just one more tangent that I have to include is the fact that I built a picnic table/work table all by myself! Ah, the things I get excited about.

Happy Spring everyone!

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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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