Sunday, November 6, 2011

Greenhouse update in pictures...

As I haven't updated the blog since last month, it now badly needs it as we have made some major strides in greenhouse construction despite having little free time to do so and frequent engineering challenges.

What follows is a record of our progress building this thing.  I will use this meager platform to offer only one bit of advice... if you decide to build a building yourself, for the love of everything holy, USE PRE-ENGINEERED TRUSSES.  They are not fun to design and build, and even after you do so you'll find out how much the tiny mistakes you make (and you WILL make them) add up to huge problems when you try to install them.

That is all.  Now let's roll that beautiful bean footage...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Greenhouse progress...

Now that we finally, finally (finally) got a break in the weather here in Central Ohio (meaning it hasn't pissed cold rain consistently for at least 24 hours running), we're jumping on the opportunity to get major construction begun on the greenhouse.  The weather this weekend was absolutely gorgeous, with nary a cloud to be seen, temps in the cofortably seventies/eighties, and a pleasant breeze.  

Our goal this weekend was to get all the posts set in concrete.  Having to continually wet-vac six to ten inches of smelly stagnant water out of each of twenty-one holes is a chapter of this construction saga that I am quite content to put behind us.

The remaining skids of cement got delivered on time, and they even helped us remove the skid that had been completely blocking our barn entrance.  In a seemingly impossible boon, we found that the some fifty bags of concrete that had been sitting outside (albeit under roof and tightly tarped/wrapped) through one of the soggiest early falls in recent memory were not affected in the least, and had not set up despite all the moisture in the air.  

Our second-biggest advantage was my new 4.1 cubic foot cement mixer.  This bad boy can easily mix two 80lb. bags at a time, and makes what is normally the most grinding part of cement work much easier.  You do  however still have to lift each bag off the skid and into the top of the mixer.  Thus, I am still crushingly sore.

At the end of Saturday, we managed to get nine out of twenty-one poles in the ground, including all four corners.  The day also featured a full-tilt cleaning binge followed by a visit from family friends and fellow antique mavens the Streffs.  I gave them a grand tour of the property, found maple trees in my swale (must remember to tag them before the leaves drop so I know which ones to tap come wintertime), and even found an old brown glass Adolph's Meat Tenderizer bottle sticking out of the mud.  

An especially trying Sunday found us needing to "move" a 34-inch deep hole a good six inches through gravel and clay, we FINALLY crossed the finish line, and finished pouring the last post hole just as dusk and clouds of ravenous mosquitoes settled in upon us.

Broken and exhausted (but jubilant) we limped back inside for dinner on Sunday.  Next up... framing!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Paw paws go mainstream!

Great and lengthy piece on NPR this morning about the joyous "secret" that is the paw paw.

They even covered the Ohio Paw Paw festival, which Leah and I had an absolute ball at earlier this month.

Hooray for widespread coverage of a local, sustainable, forage-able and delicious food source!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Please pardon our dust...

Please pardon the obvious visual inconsistencies whilst we update the blog template. Thanks for your patience!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Summer into fall...

As the heat of summer smolders down and gives way to chills in the morning air (and sudden severe cravings for yams?), it seems that the seasons are changing again here in Ohio.

The days left in calendar year 2011 are dwindling, and here at the farm I once again find myself struggling to stand up to the massive pile of projects and expectations I've heaped upon myself for completion before hard winter sets in.

Having waved the white flag of surrender in the veg garden somewhere in our sopping wet spring, our efforts during the growing season this year instead focused on infastructure. We constructed a low stone wall around the entire house, as a permanent home for perennial herbs and small fruit bushes. Farther out from the house, we also built and installed around twenty raised beds, each approximately eight by four feet. Some of these are now filled with composting organic matter and horse manure, but a bunch still need to be filled before the end of fall. The still massive pile of said manure compost sits patiently in the adjoining field as a constant reminder that our work is not nearly done.

We planted a fair number of new trees on the property, bringing us up to around 80 distinct cultivated varieties of fruits and nuts (excluding the various wild and native species that abound here). We tripled the size of our budding little vineyard (in theory, we'll see which grapes actually come back in the spring).

We designed and have begun construction on what will eventually be a four-season, fully passive solar greenhouse (That's my father eyeballing some measurements above). While time doesn't permit us to complete all the insulation and heat sink construction that would allow us to use it year-round before winter, we are hoping to get it walled and glazed so we can at least start seeds on a much larger scale come April.

Our most aged structure at the farm, "Lena" the barn, finally gave up over Labor Day weekend and started collapsing wholesale. As her position relative to the new construction site made this process a huge safety risk, we decided to help her along and take her the rest of the way down. It was with a distinct sadness that we crudely imploded a beautifully engineered and functional structure that had admirably and humbly stood every test of time for well over a hundred years (at least). We will be salvaging as much of her wood and slate as possible, both for use here at the farm and also for sale locally to help offset the cost of greenhouse construction.

So there's manure to fork and a greenhouse to build and some 1,800 sq. feet of rubble and barn debris to sort through and store. There's my busted truck to repair myself, at least enough to get me to work a handful of times when it gets especially snowy this winter. There's a huge amount of firewood in the shed that needs chainsawing, splitting, and stacking. Thanks to some most awesome growers I met this past weekend at the Paw Paw festival, I even have some hops vines and a few fig trees for whom I need to find proper planting locations.

And that's just before winter! After the weather starts keeping us in, a whole separate crop of projects arises.

I will of course endeavor to update this more often, but as stretched thin as my time often gets, blogging can often be the first to fall to the wayside. I may try to boost both my posting on and promotion of this blog over the winter... so stay tuned for that (maybe).

Monday, June 20, 2011

F*@k apple trees.

Seriously. F*@k 'em. I'm over it.

Never have the malevolent forces of nature conspired so uniformly against the survival of a single living organism as they have against the common apple tree.

Came home last night after a weekend away to find that the only one (out of thirty or so) apple trees that had managed any kind of significant growth since planting had been ravaged and broken completely in half... presumably by deer.

No sooner have my apple trees produced some new branch or leafy cluster than it is savagely torn off and consumed by the local fauna. The ones I planted a year and a half ago (those that survived having all their bark gnawed off by the goddamn rabbits, that is) are exactly the size they were when I planted them. If by some happy mutation they managed to grow thrice as fast, they would merely become a welcome boon to the local deer population, remaining unchanged in size.

At this rate, they'll never get big enough to suffer any real disease (or set fruit) but I can only imagine the parade of worms, fungus and pests that would all too-happily line up to devour them if they did.

Meanwhile, my 2-year old apricot trees are 8-feet tall, my peach trees multiply in size each year, and my pears continue healthy and unmolested. I am seriously considering bailing on the exercise in frustration that is apple growing and focus instead on the types of fruit that require far less cursing.

I love apples dearly... even aside from their many delicious culinary uses, they are tremendously important to me because they constitute exactly one half of my "Plan for Future Sustainable Inebriation", but enough is enough.

I am not allowed to shoot the deer because the Ohio Division of Wildlife does not consider them to be a nuisance species (or rather, only considers them to be a nuisance species for 3 or so months out of the year). The not-so-subtle subtext there is that they don't bother with deer because deer don't eat corn or soybeans. If they did, rest assured their season would be expanded year-round, and they would be summarily hunted to extinction in Ohio... because corn and soybeans are important, and what I grow on my small plot of land is not. I would spend more time being outraged by this if I had the time to sit at home and shoot deer as they grazed on my trees... which I currently do not. As such, then, it doesn't matter anyways.

I wonder now if it would not be the saner part of valor to abandon apples entirely, and spend my time instead learning to brew hooch from mulberries, peaches, apricots, and other less needy fruit?

Monday, April 4, 2011

No time, no time at all...

Just back from a stellar weekend in Cleveland with Leah. Long form forest walks, some great live music, some hours at the Botanical Gardens and Art Museum, and a gutbusting supper at Melt Bar and Grilled hopefully gave me the shot in the arm to weather out these last few weeks as Winter and Spring keep fighting for control of the weather.

The arrival of spring (in some form, at least) is undeniable. Lilies and other early growers are pushing up all over, the grass is apparently back to growing, and some of the little buggies are even up and around already.

With a weekend work trip to Los Angeles quickly looming alongside the dark low clouds of our first proper spring storms here in Central Ohio, I'm starting to get nervous.

It's now April 4th, and I haven't yet started any seeds indoors to transplant outdoors in a little over a month's time (perhaps a backlash to last year's erroneous decision to start them in February). I've got some 35 baby fruit trees and shrubs that have just showed up via various delivery services waiting (hopefully) patiently in the garage for me to find a place for them in the ground.

I fly out for LA right after work on Friday, so I have a mere four odd after-work evenings to get everything planted. Using last year's planting endeavors as a guide, this is at least a full weekend's work, and at this point I'm wondering how in the world I'm going to get it all done.

As I joked to a friend, if my neighbors catch sight of me out in the field in the middle of a night, digging by flashlight, I hope they know it's just baby tree roots I'm burying. Eek.

Somewhere in the spacious and lovely Cleveland Metroparks...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Talking about my generation...

I am 28 years old, and not prone to weeping, per say. But if I were, I would do so profusely for my generation... defined loosely as those at my age or near to it.

We face a future that will most likely be harder than we can imagine, and one which will require of us a degree of personal grit and sacrifice to which we are almost entirely unaccustomed. Our standard of living will be lower than we planned... perhaps lower than we can possibly imagine. We will have to work harder and longer, for less. Many things that we grew up taking for granted will slowly shift into the realm of the uncertain and unreliable. We will feel the first pangs of a hangover from the party that the highly industrialized world has been throwing itself for the past hundred years or so, and in doing so we will be forced to make the hard choices whose consequences may well chart the course of the very societies in which we live, and even the species of which we are a part. And yet, I fear that we lack the basic skills necessary to even understand the tremendous task set before us, let alone deal with it in some kind of meaningful and practical way.

Tonight, on the way home from work, I winced my way through yet another anecdotal pity piece from modern victims of the hilariously mis-titled "Great Recession." Interviewed on the APM program Marketplace, Caitlin Shetterly, author of "Made for You and Me," and her husband Dan Davis recounted (without a trace of irony) the sorrowful tale of their fall from upper middle class entitlement to the wretched condition of (gasp!) the majority of this country's population.

Caitlin (a writer and freelance radio reporter) and her husband Dan (a photographer) pulled up stakes from Portland, Maine and moved to Los Angeles to pursue their respective "careers." Enter the villain in the form of the economic downturn, and suddenly the future to which they had previously been entitled (on account of their having "dreamed" it) is called into question, at which point they fancifully cast themselves as the piteous victims, standing alongside the likes of the protagonists in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

A particularly telling paragraph from husband Dan:
There was one moment when I was in a strip mall in Culver City, looking for work. And I had parked my car at the end of the parking lot, and started to make my way down the row of department stores. And by the time I got to the end, something in me just couldn't turn around and walk the same direction. I just felt so ashamed that I had a college education and I felt like all of my hard work didn't mean anything anymore. I walked around to the backside of all the buildings and walked back through the back parking lots so nobody could see me. I just felt too beaten down and too embarrassed to turn around and walk past the same people whom moments before I was just asking for a job.

Despite feeling no small connection with Dan (I myself possess a meager bachelor's degree in fine arts, and indeed was a scant six credit hours from having a second one in his very own field of photography), this part of the piece had me rolling my eyes to their very extremes. Now, I have never seen Dan's photographs... he could indeed be very talented. And I respect photographers tremendously as both artists and valuable contributors to the societal fabric. But as I have been through most college art and photography classes, I can safely say that to classify them in the same terms that Dan does requires an exceptionally broad definition of "hard work." I myself did not pursue those last (admittedly easy) six credit hours to achieve a BFA in photography because I understood such a degree to be largely worthless, even in 2005's heady times.

In short, I think the "terrible ordeal" that finally formented the book deal on which their lifestyle apparently depends rings terribly hollow, even to those of us who do not count genuine personal hardship amidst the shadows of our past. In short, I feel not a single ounce of pity for the terrible shame that Dan apparently felt when he was almost forced to take part in a kind of work which was not his absolute personal ideal. In short, I call bullshit.

And, to Dan and Caitlin, I say the following as kindly as I can: "Hold on to your hats." Because you haven't even met the distant cousin of Hardship. Because the future whose boundary we're currently toeing has little need for freelance radio contributors, or freelance photographers, or boutique cupcake proprietors, or social media analysts, or professional bloggers, or people who "tweet" for a living. To you and all of them I regretfully report the increasingly obvious, that we have all been sold a false bill of sale, whose goods will never be delivered. That world, so long in forming, is already in serious decline. Your dreams, however grand, no longer matter. That bubble, as they say, done popped.

The tasks we collectively face would prove daunting for any generation, at any given point in history. And yet we now are not the "the greatest generation," whose young men and women who faced a terrifying new world and war unfolding before them in the 40's, and yet found the courage and iron to bend history to their will. We are not the generation that took to the streets in the 60's to protest injustice and buck every social norm with the notion of ushering in a new world order based on far loftier (if not terribly naive) beliefs. We are now merely a generation of dreamers, of self-indulgent children who have been thoroughly convinced and coddled into the notion that the small and selfish act of shouting loudly into the wind could (and should) fill the space of the legitimate careers whose humble diligence consumed the time and lives of our forebears.

And it is not with bitterness, or envy, or the hollow joy of loosely pertinent prophecy that I say this. It is merely, as they used to say, brass tacks.

The times are changing fast these days. The evidence is pooling around our feet. We who are young and still strong must be willing to stretch the boundaries of our own expectations and comfort. We must be willing to cast our expectations and entitlements aside in exchange for the unglamorous opportunity of putting our own nose to the grindstone. We will most likely experience true sacrifice and hardship to a most uncomfortable degree, and will hopefully emerge stronger and more worthy of the mantle that is being passed to us... however undesired it proves to be.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The waters recede...

After several days of (thankfully) no more rain, the waters around the house have receded to more reasonable levels. I can now leave my house in either direction without becoming submerged, and my neighbor's house which got flooded out is now atop solid ground again.

I'm considering this past experience a warning from a swiftly warming climate, and getting myself some flood insurance for the farmhouse. Hopefully I'll never need it, but if the worst happens, it would be nice to have.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Flood Scare

We've had nothing but melting ice and snow for the past month around here, so the ground is already fully saturated. So when mother nature decided to dump another 12 hours of heavy rain on us last night, the water level finally started going up. I live reasonably close to a creek in very flat Ohio farm country, so stuff gets swallowed up fast.

So when I came up upon a full road closure with a LOT of standing water behind it some 300 yards from my house, I started getting very nervous... moreso when I turned around in the tiny part of my neighbor's driveway that wasn't underwater, and got headlights far enough back to see his house was flooded out, with water up to the doors of the trucks parked in his yard.

It took me an extra half hour to wind around through near-submerged back roads to try and get home from the other side of the flooded road. Even then I had to drive around another road closure sign and ford a good section of road flooded almost up to my floorboards to get back.

Fortunately, my house is on enough elevation that everything remained dry, even the basement. More fortunately, the power stayed on so the sump pump could keep running (my one gripe about the otherwise ingenious house design is that all the water from around the foundation is intentionally drained into the sump system to get pumped out... great when there's power, but quickly becomes a terror when it's out).

So my house, along with my neighbors (also dry) are now technically located on an island. I'm calling my insurance company about flood insurance first thing tomorrow. As far as I can see, the weather only stands to get wackier, and coming home tonight was a very sobering experience. And, fortunately, one for which I am still tossing out thanks to the powers that be.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tool Maintenance Sunday.

Fulton 3/4 hand axe. De-rusted, pre-oiling.

It's Tool Maintenance Sunday here at the farm. Been learning more about the varying quality of antique/vintage tools, and realized I had a few gems in the collection that were not being treated as they should be (my "knocking around" adze is in fact an old Warwood, and so I took it out of the snowbank and brought it inside for a full restorative treatment).

After several hours on the angle grinder, I got the majority of my chopping implements looking, if not new, as good as they ever will. Also, my hands feel all vibrate-y...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Time to tap!

Temps are rising, so it looks like I'll be tapping the four maple trees in my front yard this weekend, for my first-ever attempt at making my own maple syrup.

In other news, I feel like this has been a week of big mistakes here at the homestead. From getting my dad's van and a huge trailer full of wood stuck in the snow in my back lot, to finding all but one of the rain barrels I made last year broken and mangled by ice, to stopping up my bathtub drain by degreasing a bunch of old cast iron skillets in it, we're running real strong on hindsight here lately.

Hopefully I'll only be making these mistakes once...