[Homestead] Notes From The Farm (Winter 2007)
billj at harborside.com
Fri Jan 26 21:47:15 EST 2007
I really have to apologize to everyone for flaking out totally on
Christmas this year. First Lee got the flu, then I, then the dog, right
before Christmas vacation started. The dog took the least time to
recuperate, and Lee the most. I had been taking echinacea regularly, so
when I finally did get it, it was pretty trivial. But Lee was pretty
much a Mr. Hyde, with a complete reversal of our usual roles. For
instance, I like it warmer than he does, normally, but now he barely
recalls keeping the thermostat so high that I had to sit half-naked by
the open sliding glass door. Anyway, I had forgotten to bring my
address book anyway, so I sent three cards to the relatives whose
addresses I knew by heart.
During January we had the second worst freeze since I've been domiciled
in Oregon. It snowed one night a couple of inches, and about the same
amount the next day, and that next night the temperature was 17 deg. F.
No hoses froze, but all the waterers in the shed are having
problems. The high temperature barely got above freezing, and it was
that way for a week. It was very instructive to travel during the
freeze. I think that if we ever get a second place to overwinter, it'll
be in the Eureka area.
We sure had problems with the lambs. The first time the butchers came,
they pulled a fast one and escaped down to the woods, so I just had to
send the guys home, on the day before we had to leave. So the lambs had
to spend a whole month alone, with hardly any alfalfa. Things were fine
when we got back, but on the day the butchers were going to come for the
second time, they canceled because of the freeze. The next time when
they could come was after we had to leave again! This time we trapped
them inside the barn. It's easier for the butchers anyway. Finally
they were dispatched.
It was fun inventing all sorts of lo-tech water lifting schemes, but
I've returned to my original idea. It's just like an $800 Stauffer
pump, except with electronic control. Tomorrow I'm going to the
plumbing shop to buy pipes and valves for it. Like most pumps, it just
consists of two opposite-facing one-way valves connected to (the bottom
of) a (vertical) cylinder. But instead of a piston to drive it,
pressurized air is injected into the top of the cylinder, forcing the
water downward and then up through an elbow and out of the well. You
could actually run it with a bicycle pump, in an emergency. For
continuous use, the air hose has to be alternately connected and
disconnected from the compressor automatically. I've decided just to
use a water level detector circuit that controls a solenoid valve with
some relays. It's all very cheap and easy, not to mention indestructible.
Later...the prototype works great. My only difficulty was making a
model that fits in the well shaft. The check valves ($8.99) that do NOT
require a minimum pressure must be kept horizontal, so they tend to
stick out the side. The other check valves ($16.99) can be held at any
angle, but require a small minimum pressure. I bought two of the
former, but I may still buy one of the latter and change the design;
certainly the water _outlet_ can use this type, since it's forced
through under pressure. I spent only $62, and it's all ready except for
nipples and hose clamps. Already I'm thinking that I want to use this
small model to pump not from the well, but the short distance uphill
from the proposed 32' x 16' x 4' pond to the main water storage tank.
Then I could experiment with a low-pressure system. With no space
restrictions, I can try some methods for purely mechanical control, such
as using the buoyant cylinder to raise a float valve. But the main
reason is that if I double the well pump's size in all dimensions
--right now the cylinder is only 1' tall by 2" wide-- then the
inefficiency that results when the air hose is disconnected (as occurs
once each cycle, when the air escapes) can be reduced to a mere 10% or
so (for a 100' long 1/4" air hose). This enables the control mechanism
to be located above ground, not down in the well, since the relative
volume of air wasted on pressurizing the hose during each cycle is much
Best of all, I've settled on a scheme for making permanent growing beds.
These are inspired by the Incas, who (no doubt) had similar problems
with voles eating all of their potatoes. Like Incan beds, they'll have
18" of soil surrounded by stone sides. But we're using the Roman
"liquid stone" known as concrete. I figured out a good way to pour the
side walls. First I need a rectangular form that comes apart readily,
made from 3 eight-foot 2" x 10" boards on edge (the two short sides are
4'). For each bed I need to dig a 20" deep rectangular hole, slightly
larger than the bed size. Then I'll place the form in the bottom,
surround the outside with oiled plastic, and pour cement around the
form, between the wood and the dirt wall. When it's fully cured, I'll
fill the bottom layer, and place the form directly on top of the fill
dirt, so that I can make a second tier just like the first. I had to
come up with a scheme that would allow me to mix a manageable quantity
of cement at one time (like five 60# bags in the garden cart). I can't
imagine a need for re-bar, since there's no actual force on the walls
once it's filled. To make the bottom, the Incas had no choice but to
use the same rubble and rock mixture that I once proposed. It's
brilliant; the interlocking rubble pieces are too big and immobile to be
moved by rodents, and the smaller rocks plug the holes between the
rubble pieces. It's a lot of work, but probably more feasible than
carving a rodent barrier from jade. But thanks to the hi-tech "liquid
stone" there's an easier way, probably the best compromise of labor vs.
materials. I plan to lay down a 1" layer of 1/2" rock, followed by a 1"
layer of mortar, and perhaps some more rock, after it hardens a little.
After being cracked, this should create a permeable jigsaw puzzle of
immovable artificial rubble. I'm so fond of this plan that I'm
immediately going to make five beds inside the old greenhouse, where I
can start work right after I get back, even in rainy weather. I ordered
cantaloupe seed to celebrate, for the first time in five years or so.
These beds will have a serious rodent-slug barrier. The smooth inside
edge of the rectangular concrete wall is easily lined with 20" aluminum
flashing to keep out mice, stretched around 4 corner posts inside the
bed. Each bed can have a canopy made of light re-bar, atop which many
types of cover can be placed: Reemay screen (for rust fly and turnip
maggot), clear plastic (for keeping dew off tomatoes, or for extra
heat), chicken wire (to keep birds from pulling pea seeds), etc. No
slugs will be able to squeeze between the flashing and the concrete
walls, if they're well made. To keep slugs from going over the top,
we'll line the top edge with a narrow strip of greenhouse plastic,
doubled over so that the two flaps are draped over and straddle the
flashing; gravity and the corner posts should keep it in place. Then
we'll stretch a long, salt-soaked piece of cloth around the top of the
bed, tucked under the outside plastic flap, and secure it in place. The
logical thing is to soak the (many) worthless old socks which I've
accumulated in brine and let them dry, tying them end-to-end to form a
long piece of slug-repellent cloth. The "pup tent" shape of the plastic
flap should keep rainwater from pouring through the cloth. One can
still apply a long bead of Deadline parallel to the cloth for extra
reliability, and this should stay dry too. At that point the garden
only needs one good raccoon fence for all the beds, if at all. Since we
don't grow much corn, an alternative would be to place a removable fence
of no-climb (or 1" chicken wire, for serious isolation) inside the
periphery of the most vulnerable beds.
In the realm of software development, we conquered one major hurdle back
in December. We finally found an easy way to make the computer continue
iterating until a key or button is pressed. They make it easy it
initiate a process from a keypress, but not to stop one in the same way.
Basically, 10 times per second the system returns to idle mode to
allow a keypress to trigger a subroutine to execute. What actually
happens is that a "timer event" activates the main program every 100
milliseconds, which draws the desired picture (or does whatever) for 95
milliseconds, taking up where it left off each time, and spends the next
5 ms in idle mode. It's a strange way to do things, but it works.
All I've managed to finish since then was the "star dome" to produce a
moving background of stars and their reflections, useful for the roller
coaster, fight simulators, etc. I can see that it works, when I connect
a line segment between each "star" and its reflection off the "water".
But I'm not that thrilled with it so far. With the screen three feet
away, it displays only a small portion of the visual field, so there's
no obvious 3-D effect. Really I can't wait to get started on a program
that uses music to teach logarithms, rather than the roller coaster (for
teaching trigonometry), but I can't decide exactly what it should do (as
The lastest I heard about the landscape project at the Extension Office
is that they were asking for people to take responsibility for weeding
particular beds. Ever wonder why a bed, planted solely in plants that
die back for the winter, would have lots of weeds? It's because there's
nothing to shade the ground during the season when our weeds sprout.
Has anyone ever seen a government office building landscaped with a huge
swath of plants that die back to the ground each winter? Does anyone
have such a landscape at home, in a choice sunny position against a
south wall? Who would be that foolish? Incompetence really is the gift
that keeps on giving.
What great luck I had doing genealogy at Ancestry.com! I was able to
verify everything that my mother's mother and my father's aunt had told
me. I even pushed back a generation or two in one place. It's quite
easy to leap-frog through the generations, to find a person's
patriarchal lineage. Typically one finds ancestors living with their
parents, on a census report. That will usually have the father's name,
so you can go back another generation, if they answered the census. The
first really high-quality census reports appear around 1850; before that
they don't list the names of the children, only heads of household.
Finding someone's mother is harder, since the census records have no
maiden names whatsoever. But often you can find that, too, by going
fifty years or so into the future and looking for a death certificate.
These almost always have the maiden name of the deceased, for some
reason. Surprisingly, birth records aren't that useful, but I did score
big when I found my great-grandmother's maiden name on their marriage
record. I was able to find the ships that ancestors probably came over
on, too. I only looked into the North American records. Maybe later
I'll try to access some European records (it costs more).
I just couldn't cope with the barrage of apples this year. Only three
trees really bear well, but among them there must have been 1000 pounds
of apples! We're still eating great apples, better than any that appear
in stores, every day. We finally made a cabinet for them on the shady
side of the house. It filled up really fast. I could still use a big
sorting table. One invention that really helped was the "trampoline".
I took a 20' PVC pipe and bent it in a circle. It stays put when you
connect one end to the other, so I really just borrowed it, since it's
not glued. Then I stretched an old blanket across the circle, and
secured pairs of opposite corners to each other with two perpendicular
bungy cords. This allows me to knock apples out of the trees without
them splattering on the ground, after laying down four old sheets as
tarps. Actually, it could benefit from a rope handle attached to the
edge, since at my great height, the steep slope created still allowed
the apples to roll too fast. For pick up I just used a clean dairy
scoop and a leaf rake, but I'd rather use one of those long-handled
swiveling trash pans, as seen at amusement parks.
Isn't it appalling how the CoNN Channel spinmeisters are savaging poor
Jimmy Carter for daring to speak the truth? Why not try investigating
why our government has blindly and unconditionally backed the Israeli
state for decades now, instead seizing upon whether Carter drew the map
freehand? Sadly, politicians and journalists alike are now incapable of
defying the ethnic special interest groups. That's how you end up with
"tribal casinos" in downtown Oakland and Sacramento. But at least it's
not leading to WWIII.
We're also a bit sick of the emerging nanny state. The other night I
heard an L. A. politician say that the reason they want to ban spanking
of young children is not to arrest parents willy-nilly, but to give law
enforcement and child welfare workers the _discretion_ to do so. In
other words, they would be as gods who decide your fate (from what I've
seen from most of these monkeys, whether you were arrested would depend
on whether they "like" you). I've finally figured out why some people
love the nannying so well. When YOU can't be there to personally
monitor you spouse or children, the government can!
One can only hope that the Democrats can come up with someone without a
rap sheet of alleged crimes a mile long, nor a load of political baggage
from the past, as their nominee. It would also be nice if he were not a
blank check signer. If not, it looks as if I'll be backing Giuliani.
This year the poor state of California is bone-dry even in winter. As
we passed through the area around Livermore, we remarked about how brown
the hills are, where we usually expect green this time of year.
We're counting down the landmarks until spring arrives: the Superbowl,
Groundhog Day, Valentine's Day, etc. May your Valentine's Day be filled
with love and joy.
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