It’s a little hard to keep in mind all the aspects of what has been transpiring here for the past three or so weeks. It’s also hard to keep up on writing with everything else that’s going on – to say nothing of the things that still need to happen before winter!
Since we last posted, we attended Common Ground Fair and got a stack of homework that seems appropriate for a semester in college. Even though the fair was two weekends ago, I only just now received my snath in the mail that I ordered at the fair. A snath is the shaft upon which you mount a (“European” style) scythe blade. I’ve spent the past two weeks reading books and studying everything I could in order to get ready to have it. And today it arrived! I couldn’t wait to try it out:
My first attempt at mowing was pretty lousy. But there were a lot of things not in my favor. I’m still very optimistic and it was enjoyable enough that I want to keep trying rather than capitulate and buy a weed whacker. My hope is to not only trim the field and roadside with this, but to actually grow hay and feed for goats and chickens and use this tool to harvest all of it. No moving parts. Almost silent. And it costs far less than a professional grade string trimmer (which couldn’t harvest shit).
As Dani documented previously, we had a tree unexpectedly come down on the property. The cleanup required me to finally dig out the chainsaw and get to work.
At the end of that session I still have seven trees to fell and buck. But three are gone with no (significant) incidents. My good friend Rob (the professional woodsman) is coming over tomorrow and I hope he’ll show me how to cut wedges in the field; I definitely need some! And he says there is no reason to buy them. So the tree clearing still remains to be completed but we’re well under way.
After completing research into power outage history at our address I concluded a gasoline-powered backup generator will be sufficient for our first winter. So I bought one new; no small investment, but I managed to do so without breaking the bank. I had it on good authority that current Harbor Freight generators were actually Honda knock-offs. So they are cheap and perform remarkably well. I did a little digging and found the story sound. So, waiting for the right sale/coupon combo to pop up I managed to get a new 7000W (continuous) 240/120VAC generator for about $540.
I thought acquiring it was the end or our problems, but it turned out to be the beginning of the single largest project I’ve tackled on the homestead. Where do you put it? How do you connect it? How do you protect it from the elements? How do you protect it from thieves? How much gasoline do you need to store? Where do you store that? How do you accommodate the airflow, exhaust and noise while it runs? Can it run in inclement weather?
These questions drove me to my plan for a generator “dog house” outside our kitchen. A LOT more will follow, but the short story is I found myself designing and then building the most complicated project attempted to date. For people who are actual builders I’m sure my consternation would be laughable. But for as humble as it looks this was terribly challenging for me:
It’s still a work in progress, but I’m getting there. I hope to have it all done in the next 1-2 weeks. I’ve already completed the metal roof, but have lots or doors and hinges to make as well as to build the “power inlet” side of things.
Both this build and the scythe work will become full page write ups as I find more time in the future. In the mean time we marvel as the leaves explode in color and are now beginning to fall in earnest. Dani is officially published by another entity – hooray! The hoop house is covered (with strategic bee vents). We have our first pseudo cold-frame built and the “groundwork” is being laid for passive solar thermal season extension. If that works it will also be the subject of a dedicated page.
Otherwise we’ve seen some garden plants die off, and bees are becoming infrequent visitors. The robins are all gone and the blue jays are setting up their squawky, winter homesteads. We have officially been invaded by lady bugs. The goldbrickers didn’t show up once while the garden was in high gear, but now that it grows cold a couple hundred invaded the house (many more hundreds surround it and crawl into every nook and cranny). We caught and released all the interlopers outside. Yet half the insulation in the attic is the carapace remains of innumerable lady bugs. I don’t know why they come here to die. They would have a lovely summer here if they just came to visit. Regardless, while we turned the “invaders” all loose outside I caulked like a madman on the inside; trying to seal up every inlet they were using. This is pretty fortuitous, actually, because we had a LOT more openings to the outside that I ever could have guessed and this will help us increase our energy efficiency.
With every project I have done outside recently I have been graced by countless friendly, small, red dragonflies. The big, black or green dragon flies earlier this year were awe inspiring in their numbers and relentless hunting each evening. We’d sit on chairs and just watch thousands of them patrol the dusk air over our land darting hither and thither in pursuit of their tiny prey. One got caught in our deer fence. We clipped him out and he was fine. One died trapped while we were not near to notice…
Both the black and green ones kept their distance from humans. But these little red guys really like warmth and are not shy. While I built the dog house one landed on my head twice. They frequently will ride on my shoulders while I do all kinds of tasks around the place. Once they find a good sunning spot they’re reluctant to move. When one picked such a spot on the dog house (the same guy that liked my head, a picture of him is below) I had to apologize as I moved power tools around it; I tried not to knock it off it’s perch as I clambered into and out of the dog house during various tasks of construction. Frankly I thought he would find it much more agreeable to migrate to one of the countless other sunny perches in a 20 foot sphere that weren’t frequented by jigsaws, drills and impact drivers. Yet he stayed put so I was reluctant to disturb his resolute repose and simply worked around him.
Really? You like the sound of an impact driver? I swear there are a dozen perches in the sun on the shed like twelve feet to your left. No power tools. No Lance leg-lift-over-the-wall hazards. No? You really like it there? Honestly I think you’re crazy, but it’s getting cold and you’re not going to get additional hassle from me…
We also are beginning to dabble in wild crafting. I’ve made hemlock tea (the conifer, not the poison shrub!) which is rich in vitamin C and delicious. I have found wild strawberry in limited quantities and goldenrod in unlimited quantities on our land. I have yet to find lamb’s quarters or sarsaparilla or wintergreen which are all things I’d love to have here. But I know they grow in the region and I hope to transplant next year. We do have wild raspberry and wild blackberry on the property! Limited berry production but tasty as could be hoped for.
We have two apple trees, a large one that’s not in great shape and whose apples are small, hard, green and so out of reach I haven’t had a chance to taste one. My hopes are not high. This tree is pinned under the world’s most leaningest gray birch that threatens to crush the apple tree (half of it has died under the weight of the leany birch). The birch is garbage and I would have no problem taking it down. Maybe I will. Regardless there is a second apple tree. Scarcely a tree at all. I didn’t know it existed until I was working on the generator dog house and heard a THUNK come from the front of the property line. I stopped working and though to myself: “How can a maple tree make a sound like an apple falling?” Knowing that the answer was: “It couldn’t” I went back to work.
The next day I walked by the maple and saw an apple in the front yard. I wondered: “What kind of jerk would pick an apple up from the west end of the property (where the big apple tree is), carry it all the way to the east end of the property, then toss it in the yard?” No one. That would be stupid and pointless. When I realized that I looked up. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I realized the giant maple that is by far the dominant feature on that property corner grew up – and through! – the middle of an old apple tree which is VERY close to dying. Close but not yet. And for its diminutive side and having to scrape out an existence adjacent and under the maple, it was surprisingly prolific. Apples dotted every mature branch. Unlike the big apple tree on the west end of the property this one had apples whose green skin started turning red as the nighttime lows dipped to the 40s. I plucked an apple from the branch and bit into it.
Heavenly. Perfectly crisp. Tart, but backed by enough sweetness to keep you munching. I couldn’t stop. The tiny apple was gone in a few bites. And there were a couple dozen hanging in the very few fruiting branches. I’ve eaten many apples from this poor, mangled tree. I would love to graft it on to the much better “place” that the big tree is growing in on the west end of the property. It’s apples have never been in reach and never been anything but bright green. Who knows if they’re edible. There is a LOT to learn about this and this is only with two neglected, misfit apple trees!
I also started cultivating purslane, which is taking nicely to our lousy, rocky soil. It’s DELICIOUS, very high in omega 3 fatty acids and some say it’s as high in nitrogen as chicken manure! I’m still dubious on that last claim, but even without that, the plant deserves FAR more regard than mere “lawn” which it is poisoned out of all too frequently. I also harvested a sumac bob down the road and am hoping to give that a fair shake on the property, too. Many other “weeds” are wonderful plants and I’m hoping we can get more in to medicinal wild crafting next season, but every small step is a bit of progress!
To round things out, lest anyone think we’re bragging, there is far more gunfire here than I’d like. What I’d like is zero. No such luck. As much as I wish all guns could be vanished from the face of the earth (which obviously will never happen), still, being occasionally, rudely awakened by gunfire is preferable to endless days exposed to the incessant sounds of traffic punctuated only by emergency sirens. I just wish the gun nut jackasses would not fire their guns off at dawn. It’s not hunting season yet! Wait till after coffee, you lummox. Yet if that’s the biggest problem we have, we’re doing good.
There is an interesting cross section of “flavors” at our new home. From the irritating to the sublime, each moment of each day reminds us: “You’re here. You chose this.”
We did. And it’s perfect. Challenges happen, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.