I'm writing a journal/report on what's happening on the land at different times of the year so people interesting in country life can have a view of what it takes to live in the country on the land, growing food and cutting firewood. The idea is to supply the basic information of what is happening in each season so people moving back to the country or starting out on the land will have and idea what to expect. It is also an historical record, a kind of almanac that can be searchable by months (01 = January, 02 = February, etc.) or topics like peas, tomato, wood, electric, motor, etc. So far we have spent over 25 years living on the land and in many ways we are just getting it down right. So to save you some time and many mistakes we are presenting this journal.
The next method to search by is by date. If for example you wanted to find what was happening at a particular time of the year, you could search by date. Each date is in a form of mm-dd-yy
Note: only some dates are listed so try and search for a particular month, not a day. You could for example search for March by searching for 03.
Jan 6, 2002 Sunday
It's snowing here. We have about 8 inches on the ground and the snowmobile trails are pretty good.
Sunday is the day to make the work schedule for the week. Normally at this time of year cutting firewood for next year is the main project. This year is different because the big winter project is building a workshop. In anticipation of this project, we have been cutting extra firewood each season for the past few years. There is now about a 3 year supply of wood to burn. A years supply here at the cabin, a years's supply stacked at the new house site, and about a years supply cut to stove length and laying in the forest from last years cutting.
The supply of wood next to the cabin is nice and dry. Normally we would be cutting new green (undry) wood and bringing to stack next to the cabin to dry for next season. This year, the extra wood that was cut but not stacked in the forest will be brought in and stacked next to the cabin to dry for next winter.
Before undertaking a major project like building, you need to make sure that you have set up all the support systems that will be needed during the building. A very important part of working in the country is your support systems. If you run off and start work on a big project without carefully setting up all the support systems that you will need to keep the project going, you will soon find yourself falling behind in your work. For example, if weather conditions are good and you work a little late on your building and you come back to have supper only to find that you have no wood ready for the night fire and nothing prepared for an easy to prepare supper then you have set yourself up to be behind schedule for the following day.
In the old days the jobs done to maintain the basic support systems were called chores. In the winter, an essential chore is having a continuous supply of firewood ready for the stove. This job requires advanced planning because you need to let your wood dry for a full summer before burning, so unless you have made a surplus (like we have now) you will be cutting and moving next years supply of wood in, to be ready for next year. Each day you will need to make sure you have wood split and moved indoors to be ready for the day and night fires.
This season we will have a lot less work to do because the wood is all cut to stove length piled next to the snowmobile trails for easy pickup. We use a snowmobile to move wood from the woods to the house. Some people use tractors (which need wide roads), pickup trucks (need well maintained roads), horses (horses are a whole job in themselves), or you can pull wood in on a tobogin (good exercise but a lot of work). We have found using a snowmobile is a really good method, because the snow makes moving even heavy loads of wood relatively easy. The snowmobile trails do not damage the forest or rip up the soil and cause erosion. With so little friction moving up to 500 lbs of wood (1/4 ton) in one load is possible under ideal snow conditions. This setup uses fuel efficiently and has the added bonus of being fun to do. Bringing wood in is like driving your own snowmobile train through senic trails through your forest and back to your house. A outdoor job to look forward to.
During this year's wood season we need to bring in at least as much wood as we burn each day. So some days we will move extra and other days we may move none. The cut firewood is near the building site, so each day on the return trip from working at the site a load of firewood can be carried back to stack here for next season.
Each day wood has to be stacked and moved into the house to feed the stove. Sometimes a 2 day supply can be moved in so that you can have a day off from moving wood in the following day. In this way, the basic support system for keeping the fires going all winter are maintained.
The next major support system is food, for keeping the fire within your body going. If you plan on doing any amount of physical work you need good food and plenty of it. Skimping on meals will lead to tiredness, inattention, and accidents. You need to have all you meals setup in advance, so when you come home from the building project you can have a good meal ready in a short time. The lumber camps in the old days had their own full time cooks keeping everyone well feed. We have to plan ahead and set aside time each week to prepare as much food as possible ahead of time. A real main stay out in the woods is the stew. Potatoes and carrots from the rootcellar are cut up with a veg-o-matic cutter (thanks, ma !) into soup size squares and added to tomato stock with some spices and cut up chicken. Right now you can buy a big package of chicken thighs that will make a whole weeks supply of stew for about $3 worth of chicken. Boil the thighs, cool down the pot (covered out doors) and skim off the fat (give to the chickadees) and take off the skin, bones, and cut the meat into the stew.
A stew will actually taste better as the week goes on (keep refrigerated outdoors), you can add to it as the week goes on to change the flavor and create more variety.
Normally, we also have a big batch of corn bread to go with the stew, but, due to a change in our electrical system, the grinder is not setup to grind the corn yet. The stew and the corn bread provides the basic diet and other vegetables like, squash, beets, cabbage and carrots (shredded like cole slaw, but with salad dressing instead of maionaise), all add variety.
When you begin a new big project, like a building project, it is a very good idea to go through all your support systems and develop a schedule of chores to make sure your project does not take over and lead to a collapse of your whole work system.
So for this week, the wood supply system is moving into operation, the food prep chores will probably be done during a special work day each week devoted to maintainance. In addition, this week, all the places where things tend to accumulate (near the sink, the desk, etc.) will be studied to find ways to have special boxes to store things out of the way, but close enough to be accessable when needed. This week will have special focus on how to improve all support systems, and have them geared up to be able to function well during the building project.
Meanwhile, the building project itself is at stage one. The foundation is ready to build on. This was completed just in time before the ground froze. This week we will focus on building up and perfecting all the support systems, and begin collecting together tools that will be needed when building gets under way.
Part of this preparation will be putting a new bar and chain on the chain saw and tuning it up to be ready to cut the lumber to size for the building of the workshop. Spending time on careful preparation will avoid the pit falls of focusing too much of your work on the building project, while your support systems slide.
ASSIGNMENT THIS WEEK: Go through all support systems and improve any weaknesses. Get set up to have an efficient support system ready to keep the building project going. Begin gathering and repairing all tools needed for the building project and tune up and get a new chain and bar on the chain saw.
Weather forecast look good for working, not too cold or windy, cloudy to partly sunny. Outdoor jobs will be scheduled around the best weather conditions.
Last week we decided to focus work for the week on basic support systems (like firewood and food preparation) so we could get things ready for the building project. Once the projects for the week were decided then the next step was to decide how to schedule jobs during the week.
When you work for yourself, you have 3 roles to play. Your first role is the role of the boss or director of your operation. This is a management role and it involves looking at the big picture. What needs to be done to accomplish the goals of your operation. In this case the boss decided that maintainance systems needed to be functioning smoothly before taking on the special building project. The second role you need to take on is the role of a foreman. A foreman gets the jobs for the day or the week and is in charge of getting the workers to carry out the work. So in the present case, let's say the foreman has gotten the job assignments for the week. Being a person who works in the field, he (or she) is in touch with the practical limitations of carrying out jobs. So we will leave to the foreman the scheduling of the jobs assigned and making sure the jobs are carried out by the workers. When living in the country, you are often the boss, the foreman and the worker. Many people find they are much better at one of these roles than another.
For example, some people are fantastic workers. Give them a job and they get right into it and do it well, but they have a hard time seeing what needs to be done. Others see the big picture and have a good view of what needs to be done (great boss) but have few skills to carry it out. And most people need work in the role of foreman. The foreman is a worker who has to find how to carry out the vision of the boss while working with the real life limitations of the situation and developing a good relationship with the worker. For our purposes we will assign the job of scheduling to the foreman, because he has experience in the practical aspects of jobs. Now anyone who works for themself needs to be able to develop skills in all three roles: the boss, the foreman, and the worker. A balance in all these roles is essential for getting work done and enjoying the process of work.
Once you begin working for yourself you feel the weight of the responsibility of the job and if you are not careful you can become a very demanding boss. If you are new to being your own boss you can easily fall into the attitude that: this needs to be done and it needs to be done now! Take a little time to stand back from the situation and relax. Cracking the wip is not going to endear you to your foreman and the worker. Since you will be on the receiving end of this attitude down the line as you take on the role of foreman and later worker, it is best to nip this attitude in the bud. Remember your job as boss is to see the directions you want to move in and hand the jobs off to the foreman and the worker without dumping so much on them that they decide to quit or go on strike.
Now that you have set out the jobs that need to be done. Let the foreman work on coming up with a tentative schedule for the jobs that need to be done for that week.
Once you get the assignments for the week in your role as foreman, the first thing to do is check the weather forecasts for the week. If you have access to the internet you can download and print out the forecast directly from the weather bureau. In the country, weather rules. It is far too powerful a force to fight or ignore. Work with the weather and you can save yourself a lot of work. Let's take last week for an example. The beginning of the week was forecast to be cloudy to partly sunny with high temperatures just below freezing. The forecast for later in the week was for warming temperatures and possible rain.
First, you have to consider the worker. No one enjoys working in uncomfortable conditions, and working in the rain just above freezing temperatures is not something anyone looks forward to. So the first scheduling decision was to save indoor work for the days late in the week when it could be raining. Since moving wood in from the forest was an important job assignment for the week, in your role as foreman you would have to decide what conditions were best for moving wood. For best results, trails need to be frozen and hard packed to carry the weight of the firewood in the sled. Temperatures just below freezing especially if not too windy are ideal conditions for moving wood.
The key to working outdoors (especially in the winter) is dressing properly for the conditions. You want to stay warm while you work but not so warm that you sweat. Once you start sweating it is just a matter of time before you start feeling cold. So you dress in layers. The temperatures were just below freezing, with moderate work like loading wood into the sled and then driving the snowmobile back to unload, dressing light would be the best appoach.
If your feet get cold you will not be concentrating on your work but instead thinking about getting the job over with. That is not the way to work. So first you need warm feet. In general, with temperatures just below freezing 2 pairs of cotton socks (or a pair of wool socks) inside of rubber farmer boots that fit loosly and come up to just below the knees is a good bet. Use heavy leather work boots (one pair of socks if lined) if you are using a chain saw or other equipment.
Next, one to 2 pairs of long underwear under your jeans. A light shirt, is covered with a light sweatshirt with a hood. Make sure the sweatshirt is long, get it too big and stretch it to make it long if you need to. A long sweat shirt will not ride up your back and expose your back when you bend over. Be sure to remove the string from the hood on the sweat shirt so you will not have a string dangling around machinery (like the snowmobile engine, or a chain saw), as a string can catch in any rotating machinery and choke you before you have a chance to react. For the same reason never wear a scarf. However you do need a scarf substitute. Something that looks like a turtle neck on a sweater can be bought that will fit around your neck like a sleeve and keep the cold out is very important for maintaining your feeling of warmth. Cover this with a good light nylon parker with a zipper so you can open and close it if you get too warm or cold. A long neck on the parker is also a big help if you need it. The parker blocks the wind and allows you to adjust the zipper to control the heat as you work.
You need a good pair of leather work gloves with cotton liners. Be sure to dry the gloves and liners after each use. The real key to staying warm is a hat. A great deal of heat is lost through you bare head (that's why you have fur on top of your head!). A duck bill hat with the visor in the forward position (yes, that what visors were designed for) helps keep the sun out of your eyes. A pair of 100% UV resistant sunglasses is essential to prevent eye strain and later headaches (especially with the glare and reflection from all the snow). Use it on cloudy days too. This will also help to prevent cataracts in your later years. Then top off the whole thing with a sock hat. The hat is pulled down over your ears if you are cold and pulled off your ears as you get warm (your ears are good radiators) and can be removed if you overheat but keep it handy to put right back on. With this setup, you should have no discomfort, it should be as pleasant as working indoors.
Now are ready to work outdoors. With temperatures just below freezing with very little wind, the trail conditions are good for moving wood, so in your role as foreman you tentatively schedule moving wood jobs for the beginning of the week and save all your food prep jobs for when the weather warms and rain is more likely.
Moving wood was the main job early in the week. As the weather warmed and it started to rain, work on making large batches of soup, corn bread, and carrot/cabbage salad became the major jobs. Starting with grinding the corn. Thurday looked like a day for rain all day, that day became the town day. Town days are a combination of work (getting a few supplies, any hardware needed for projects) and time to visit with people you know in town. The day following town was still cold and rainy, so it turned out to be a good day for baking a second batch of bread and doing some planning. Weekends are taken off except in emergencies. Saturday is a kind of hobby work day where you can work on projects that you want to do that are not of high enough priority to be considered jobs by the boss. Sunday is a visiting day and time off to read or go for walks. Sunday is also scheduling day. Get the lastest 5 to 7 day forecast for the week and begin get a rough schedule for the week.
This week looks like the beginnig the week will be like last week. Just below freezing and a good time to move wood. The tentative schedule had planned on working more on building this week, but the weather has been unusually warm across the country so it looks like moving wood as much as possible while the trails are still here (before the snow melts) will take priority over starting on the building project. If more wood is moved now less will have to be moved while working on the building project, so this is actually going to give more time for building later.
Scheduling around the weather made a big difference this week. If we had not taken the long range forecast into consideration, we may have worked on food prepartion early in the week and have been forced to work on moving wood in the rainy weather on soft trails. Not only would that have been a real unpleasant experience for the worker, but it would have forced us to take smaller loads of wood on the soft trails. We would have moved less wood, under more unpleasant conditions, and done considerable damage to the trails that would have left us with poor trail conditions for this week.
As it was, with good scheduling, wood moved in under good trail conditions, little damage was done to the trails, and the outdoor work condtitions made for an enjoyable experience. In addition, it was a great comfort to be working on extensive food preparation, warm indoors while it was cold and raining outside. The town day took advantage of conditions that were totally unfavorable for working outdoors. Careful scheduling made for an enjoyable work week were a lot of important things were acomplished.
We moved a good deal of firewood in last week, and began clearing an area of snow to set up to work on the building project. A good schedule of working on basic support systems was set up and work will begin to focus part of the time on the building project. But before we look at the project of building a workshop, let's look at the concept of work in the country.
Looking back to the old days, most people worked for themselves on their land. Some times people would "work out" on "day labor" at certain times of the year to get some cash to get some town goods. Day Labor is where you hire yourself out for the day to work for someone else to do the work they want done and in exchange they would pay you either cash or goods for the work you do for them. Today most people work as day laborers, they "work out" doing work for other people in exchange for money. They then use the money to buy the things like food, heat and shelter that people used to provide directly for themselves.
Most people in town take "day labor" jobs and have little experience with the day to day work that people who live on the land in the country have done for generations. In fact, looking back on history the present culture of so many people working for other people is really recent. Though out most of written history, probably 80 to 90% of people worked on land to directly provide for themselves their basic needs. They supplimented this work by selling extra produce to those who lived in town or took part in occassional day labor jobs in exchange for goods, services or cash.
If we look even further back, before agriculture (before about 10,000 years ago) everyone was directly involved in providing for their survival. During this hunter/gatherer stage of development, small family units varying in size from one family to a group of related families (tribes) moved from place to place gathering wild foods and hunting animals for meat. Each family could do all the crafts necessary to survive in the climate they lived in. From gathering and processing food, to making all their clothes and tools from skins and rocks. Almost everyone in their culture had the same skills. They shared the same cycles of gathering and hunting. When the berries were ripe in certain areas, they came together to gather them. Their work was the daily tasks of gathering together the things they needed to live.
To get a better idea of the nature of work during the preagricultural phase let's take a look at the cat. A cat is a predator. The work of a predator is to catch it's prey. You catch a small rodent and you eat enough to live another day. I am sure that any one who has seen a cat hunt, is strongly impressed with how totally involved the cat is in the hunt. A little stirring in the leaves and the cat is engaged. Slowly step by step the cat moves towards the sound. Every move carefully controlled. As the cat gets closer to the mouse, you can see the excitement rise. The the pounce and the scramble to catch the mouse. Oh what fun for the cat! Cats absolutely love catching mice. Every fiber of their body is tuned to catching mice. They catch mice even when they are not hungery because they just love all aspects of catching. They will even run after paper balls, with the same satisfaction. It is the nature of cats to love to catch things.
Let's take a look at how cats came to love catching things in order to get a better idea of the nature of work. Cats have been selected for thousands of years on one standard. If you catch plenty of rodents you live if you fail to catch enough you die. Cats who loved the processing of hunting lived to produce more cats who loved hunting. During hard times only those who loved hunting and developed even more sophisticated skills in this craft lived to produce more cats. This process produced a race of cats that lived and breathed hunting, they loved every aspect of it and enjoyed developing all the intricate skills in their craft. In fact, as cats improved in their work they found easier ways to catch mice. They knew where they hide and when they came out. Smart cats spent less time looking for mice because they knew where to look. The more you loved to hunt, the better you became at it, the less time you had to spend in the process of getting food and the more offspring you could raise successfully. Once this process starts you just keep getting better and better. (See cat relaxing after the hunt.)
Now how does this relate to the concept of work? Let's put it another way, does a cat work when it hunts mice? Can you call something that a cat enjoys so much, work? When a group of kids go out on Saturday morning full of excitement and enthusiasm to build a tree house, is that work? What is the difference between work and a hobby?
The real key to this concept of work is, do you love your work? If you are doing work that you love, like the cat hunting, the kid building a tree house then you are doing what has been natural for people and cats to do for centuries. Natural work has an inherent reward for people because we were selected and tested for many thousands of years for people who liked to work. Those who could develop essential skills, those who learned well from those who knew the essential crafts lived full lives and left many decendants. We have spent most of our development as a species selecting for people who loved to do those things that were needed for their survival. All measure of success as a species was measured against the yardstick of how well we were able to provide for ourselves. If you loved your work and grew in your level of skill then life was a bounty.
Ever been on an easter egg hunt? What fun it is to search around and find things you can eat! What a thrill! If we look carefully at this activity we can see something of our heritage as humans here. We love to gather food. Berries, apples, nuts, seeds. Find them, collect them, make big piles of them, store them for later. We have been doing that for thousands of years and kids still love to do it. Just like the cats we have certain things that we love to do because we need to do them to live.
Let's take sports. Many people have a passion for sports. They love sports. Many men love sports. What are some of the core experiences in sports that excite people? Where do they come from?
One of the core experiences in any sport is team work. A team must work together, so that each memeber can fill in where needed, cover for his team mates, help each other out. Looking back in time to our hertage as hunter gathering tribes, it does not take long to see that those tribes (teams) that worked well together ... that loved to work together, did really well at survival. Men hunted in teams, they developed strategies to anticipate their preys next move, and they developed skills that made them important members of their communities because they provided food. The intense loyality of sports fans for their teams is an outgrowth of our thousands of generations of tribal living. Team work was the basis of human hunting strategies, especially of big game hunting during the ice age that proceeded agriculture. Sports are often an acting out of activities that we love to do. Many sports target things: Hit the moving ball, throw the ball into the hoop, catch the ball. Targeting is a key behavior in hunting. Just like hunting skills, the skills in targeting balls, is a skill that we love to do and one that improves to almost mystical levels with practice. The skill development in a sports team has to rival those of our early ice age ancestors. It is in our blood. We love it.
So what sports show us is that if we can not do the natural work we have done for generations, then we will make up things to do for fun that involve many of the same skills. We need to belong to a tribe, we need to run and move, we need strategy, we need goals, and we need to see some measure of success in our work.
So when we look at work from this point of view, we realize that day labor jobs are really an unnatural way to work. Something we never really spent much time doing in the past and something that we are really not designed to enjoy. That is not to say that you could not find an wage job that you enjoy, but it is much more likely that we could find work that we love to do by doing the kind of work we did during our past. Cats love to catch mice, but they can live in a house and eat cat food. But if they do then they will create sports like chasing paper balls.
So the key to work in the country is that we have the distinct advantage of doing the kind of work that we have been selected to love doing for many generations. At first as hunter gatherers and later after agriculture as farmers.
After farming became widespread, the collecting, gathering, growing aspects of our work became more important and the hunting skills focused more on hunting as a sport, or sport as a supstitue for hunting. So we are not really comfortable yet with agriculture because it is so recent in our past. But it does have a core of work skills that we love to do. So with this knowledge that we have matured as a species for eons of time in a love of basic core work skills then we can look at the work we do living on the land in the country as a very natural extension of what we loved to do in the past. And in this way we can overlook and understand why many of our city neighbors take a dim view of the work at day labor that they have to do. Moving boxes, or doing the same thing over and over again. No wonder the highest idea of many in our modern culture is to win the lottery and never have to work again. Out here work is not something you have to do it is something you want to do. Like, let's build a tree house.
Ok, so now we see that with our rich history of work in providing directly for our needs, we can find ways to connect into this love of work as we go about our business of living in the country.
Moving wood in can be a fun job. Just like the easter egg hunt, you have piles of things to collect. Although you can't eat wood, it sure is nice to have a large supply of it sitting right next to your house when it gets really cold.
I remember when we first came to the land. We set up a cabin just before the snows fell and had little firewood on hand for the winter. There were a number of big old (and dry) dead elm trees that had died from the dutch elm disease that swept through the country back then. Each day we got up, went back to those dead trees, cut them up and dragged them back with snowshoes and toboginns back to the cabin for heat. Each day we did the same thing: get wood to stay warm. We knew exactly why we did this.
Imagine it is cold, I mean really cold, like the time we had minus 48 degrees F below zero. I mean that was really cold, so cold it could take your breathe away. You needed a snorkle hood to travel outdoors. It was so cold that the trees were "popping". Trees popp when it gets so cold that the wood shrinks and the tree actually splits up the side of the tree. The popping sound of this split is so loud that is sounds like a gun shot. You could hear trees popping every few minutes in the forest when it got really cold, especially if it was really cold. Back in those days in the winter our road was not plowed. So you could stand out in the cold, knowing that you were miles from the nearest road, hear the trees popping, feel the bitter cold, and know that the wood in your stove was all that kept that bitter cold from taking all the heat from the core of your being. At times like that firewood became way more valuable than any amount of gold. It was life itself.
With that insight, you really can't help but enjoy picking up piles of wood piled by the snowmobile trail and loading them in for the ride back to the cabin. It's like picking up blocks of heat. In fact, what you are picking up is all the heat that those particular trees absorbed as they soaked up the sun of the summers when they grew. The trees we are collecting now were trees that were damaged in the recent ice storm, so in the summers before that storm they soaked up many sunny days and that heat is all held in that wood. When the wood goes into the fire the sun's heat from all those summers of sun radiates out into the room. Truely summer heat in the winter. And we you come in from a day of moving wood there is nothing like cranking up the stove to heat the room to feel like those summer days: like 80 degrees, like 90 degrees, or if you really need a tropical minivacation, crank it up to 100 degrees and soak up some rays by the stove in a dry sonna. If you have a wood stove and a good supply of wood (and a good safe chimney ... metal insulated chimney being the best) then you can be "perfectly" warm in the winter and create a tropical climate whenever you need a break.
So back to the job at hand, picking up wood. As you can see, picking up piles of wood does not have to be not any more work than picking up money off the street. But to keep this work enjoyable you have to be careful how you pick up your treasure. Wood is heavy. So you have to develop good work habits, so you will not strain your back and so the exercise you get in moving wood is enjoyable and good for you.
The wood is piled close to the snowmobile path, so rather than standing up and bending over the wood to pick it up to put in the wood box sled, we put a couple of empty feed bags down on the snow next to the pile. You want to be as close to the pile as you can so you will not have to reach too far. Knee down on the bags so you knees will not get wet and cold and then reach out and roll a piece of wood off the pile close to you. Pick it up, close to your body without bending off center and push it up as you would a basket ball and let it drop into the wood box of the sled. Good exercise for your arms. Get a good rhythm, and develop some of the same skills as in basket ball, after a while your arms sense the weight and everything flows. When the box is full hop back in the snow mobile and cruise along the senic trails back to the wood stacking area near the house. Wood on top of the box is easy to pick up standing next to the box and stack along the wood stack next to the trail. After some practice, you can load wood in the box so that the wood on the bottom of the box is standing on end, this makes it easy to pick out of the box without bending over too much when you stack the wood near the house.
Stacking wood is really kind of a sport. At first you need to look at each piece of wood to size it up. Usually one end may be a little wider than the other and you need to even out the stack, so as you stack your wood you need to keep the stack straight so it will not fall over later. It is very much like the old craft of building a stone wall. At first, you may have to think about where to put each piece, but then with experience you find you hands automatically put the piece right where it needs to go. Evening out the pile is like shooting baskets. They just go right where they need to. In fact, after enough practice, you find you have time to think about other things while you stack, and let your hands doing the stacking for you while you think over a few things. Stacking wood, once you get the nack of it is a kind of meditation. Time to think things over and see your wood pile grow. A kind of interesting hobby that some people call work.
The early part of last week was cold and the snowmobile trails were in good shape so the highest prioriy was moving firewood in order to take advantage of the trail conditions. The snow is now only a few inches deep and any serious rain or extended warm wind could melt the snow completely, so it is important to move firewood whenever the trails are firm.
The extended forecast for last week was predicting warm but non rainy conditions for thursday and friday, so the original plan was to focus work on building on those days. As it turned out it rained thursday, so the town day was moved to thursday, and work on the building was rescheduled to friday and saturday. Normally weekends are off but under the pressure of tight weather conditions, saturday was changed to a work day.
A lot of progress was made on the building project. The foundation blocks were setup in the fall (before any possible freeze of the ground), and the sills were mostly completed during the work friday and saturday. The work site was then covered in plastic to keep the lumber dry during the warming and possible rain conditions forecast.
Although 5 day forecasts are generally pretty good, last minute adjustment often have to be made. For that reason it is often very helpful to save jobs that could fill in if conditions change. Saving the town day for later in the week, can fill in for work on a rainy day or can give a semi day off if you are finding yourself over worked.
The building project has special scheduling needs. This week the floor is the focus of work and we have to be very careful not to allow any water to get on the lumber. Water can not be sealed in the floor during construction, so only days with no possiblity of rain or wet snow can be scheduled for work on this project. Conditions on monday this week were warm and dry, so all the lumber for the floor structure was cut to size. Today tuesday, is warm and rain is possible so it is better not to uncover the floor until conditions improve. Tomorrow, wednesday looks like it might be dry enough for some work on the floor. Long range forecast show more rain/snow/freezing rain for thursday and friday AM with a possible break on saturday and sunday. So wednesday will probably be used to get the floor ready for the next step to assemble the underfloor and add insulation and cover with vapor barrier top with the 3/4 inch plywood floor on friday afternoon and saturday. Sunday will be a work day if needed. The plan here is to have at least 2 days to get the floor completed and closed in while there is little chance of rain. Once the floor is enclosed then it will be covered with plastic and a tarp to insure that there is no water damage to the plywood floor and the insulation. Jobs like this have to be scheduled in groups of days because the project needs to be completed to a certain point (completely enclosed floor) before a change in the weather.
Today is a catch all day, where a lot of small jobs can be done to fill in and be ready for the next phase of work. For example, I am looking for shims of various sizes to put between the foundation and the sills to level out small differences in the lumber. I did not have time to write this journal entry on sunday because that was my only day off last week. I have a neighbor who wants some firewood moved to their house from a distant wood pile, so I can move that wood for a little extra cash today if I have time.
I have another neighbor who has hired me to cut some trees to make room for an electric fence around their garden. I am saving this work until later in the winter, but if I need extra cash I can start on this work in between other work. Cutting trees does not require good trail conditions and can be done even if the snow melts. So scheduling involves many layers and in ways you need a general plan for the whole winter as well as each week.
Work on building the workshop is challenging. Your start with a general plan of how to construct the building, but as you go along you may decide on improvements. Now, while working on the floor, I am starting to look at the whole design of the workshop so that I will have a good idea what I want for the windows. The walls will be built on the floor and assembled after they are made in sections. So decisions of the general layout of windows need to be finalized soon. I am thinking of making a truss across the whole south side of the workshop with only one support in the center of the wall. This will allow the entire south wall to be some form of windows. At first, the entire side above waist height could be closed in with plastic and later windows could be added as we get a better idea of where windows are needed by using the building for a while before the final decision is made. The west side of the north wall will also be left open for windows in this plan. The area on the north wall on the east end will be fully closed because that is the area will the wood stove will go. Designing a certain amount of flexibility in the building is very helpful because no matter how much you work on design, there is often times when you will like to make changes based on how you actually use the building. Some areas like near the stove will have no changes while other areas like the south side will be more likely to change with use.
Work on the maintainance systems has been going pretty good, so far. But if the weather stays warm and wet then we may have to skimp on maintainance if an opportunity for work on the building comes up. Catch up on maintainance can be scheduled in after we take advantage of good building condiions. The reason for this is that the workshop has to be fully enclosed and the exterior mostly complete BEFORE work on the gardens start in spring. Sometimes the soil is tillable as early as mid march, so building will have to have an increasing priority as time goes on. So far progress has been pretty good, even with limited weather conditions.
This has been a very challenging week with scheduling around the weather. Building is at a critical stage, no snow or rain can get on the lumber that will be enclosed in the floor because it would be trapped inside could cause moisture problems. Monday was clear and cold, so work was started early and lasted right up until dark. All the floor joists were cut to length, corner supports were added, and foundation was shimmed to level. Tuesday had scattered snow showers so the work site was left covered and work was done on other jobs. Wednesday was cloudy, cold and snow free, so work was started early and lasted till dark. The spacers were carefully cut to tighten the floor, all floor joists were nailed in place, and all except a few spacers were put in place. A large winter storm, 6 inches snow with mixed snow and freezing rain moved in Thursday and Friday. Saturday was sunny and cold, so the remaining spacers were added and work on the subflooring (underneath the floor joists to keep the mice out) was started. This work involved being underneath the floor nailing up overhead, so the work was somewhat difficult. Work progressed from early morning to dark, with half of the subflooring completed and everything was set up for a quick installation of the remaining sections of subflooring. The forecast was predicting clear conditions for Sunday morning, but it looked like snow would begin earlier, so the site was covered with a tarp in addition to the normal plastic cover to protect the subflooring that was already installed from moisture.
Normally it is a good policy to take weekends off, so you do not get overworked. Given the fact that it was been snowing almost every day, it was decided to plan work around the weather and work right through the weekend if needed until the floor is closed in. Today Monday, is snowing again, so today is a kind of day off to make up for working Saturday. The forecast this week shows cold air moving in tonight and clear conditions tomorrow morning with snow in the afternoon, with possible clearing Wednesday morning and snow in the afternoon. The plan this week is to work on finishing the subfloor on Tuesday before the snow in the afternoon and hopefully to make some progress on insulating the floor on Wednesday before the snow in the afternoon. If there is enough time, the plan is to get the subfloor in, insulate the whole floor, cover with a vapor barrier (6mil plastic) and lay on the plywood. If conditions do not allow all of that then we need to be ready to cover and protect the job for the time I plan on being downstate for a visit.
Covering the floor is an important operation, as no moisture can get in the floor because the floor will be sealed and the moisture will be locked in after the floor is closed in. At this point, I am considering putting in what insulation I can and then laying down vapor barrier and the plywood without nailing it in. Then I could cover the plywood with the plastic vapor barrier that will be later used for the ceiling as an temporary extra protection while I am away. I could leave the site covered with the normal plastic cover, the new tarp and the vapor barrier over the plywood as an extra protection for the plywood. When I returned I would remove the plywood that was laid down but not nailed, and finish the insulation. Make sure the vapor barrier was still fully dry and install in over the insulation and then nail down the plywood (3/4 inch) floor over the vapor barrier. This approach will add another measure of protection and may be considered even if there is time to fully insulate.
So at lot depends on the weather conditions over the next few days. I want to make sure the plywood is on the floor because it will provide a smooth surface. If I did not add the plywood then the plastic would be suspended between the joists and with we got heavy rain it would accumulate in the spaces between the joists putting a lot of stress on the plastic. Once the floor is sealed and finished the it will need to be covered until the job is completed. Building of the walls will take place on the uncovered floors as conditions permit. Once all the walls are complete and the joists for the attic floor are cut to length then the walls will be raised and the attic floor will be installed over a few days of non snow/rain conditions. After that the attic floor will be covered and act as a roof while the walls are finished. At this point the workshop will be enclosed and work on the roof rafters will take place inside. The roof will be a separate project that will also have to be all set up to complete within a few days of good weather.
You can see that accurate weather forecasting is essential to a job like this, I can get the latest weather forecast off the internet. Long range (5 to 7 days) gives a good general view of planning, but for days when only a part of a day will be snow free I use the latest radar maps (updated every 15 minutes). I can track individual snow squalls and forecast very accurately when or if a particular squall will hit this area. In jobs like this one where good conditions are limited I can often find good work conditions, even when the general forecast is for snow because considerable periods of the day can be snow free. So living out in the middle of the woods, you can still the advantage of having weather radar and satellites bring you the latest birds- eye view of what is happening. This makes scheduling a pretty sophisticated operation and takes a lot of guesswork out of planning your work outdoors.
This week the focus of work is to get as much done on the floor as possible using only snow free weather conditions and leave the floor sealed as well as possible for the time I am away.
The down side to having to work on such a weather controlled schedule is that you as the worker can end up with a pretty uncertain work week with missed days off. Normally you should try to keep your work week on as consistent a schedule as possible because it is a much more relaxed environment for you as a worker and you can pace you work knowing what days are heavy physical work and balance it with less demanding work in between. For example, moving all th floor joists around and doing a lot of nailing, especially when nailing up from under the floor is demanding work and is best to have the following day involve different work so you do not get too many muscle aches from highly repetitive work.
Given the fact that the work shop has to be completed (at least the roof on) by the time the spring works begins in the gardens, it is sometimes necessary to push the limits on your normal rules of work scheduling. Otherwise you will end up with even more demanding when gardening work begins. Gardening work begins when the soil is dry enough to be tillable. Sometimes that may happen as early as late March up here. So at this point, the schedule is tight, but barring any major problems, is something that can be done.
The original plan was to build the workshop, and within a year or 2 begin work on the house. The best plan for most homesteaders, would be to build the smaller 12x16 workshop and live in it while building your larger 2 story house (say 16x20). Then when your house is complete you could use the entire workshop for your work. I am currently living in a small cabin near the front of the property that will later be used for storage. The work shop and new house will be further back on the land. I am thinking of setting up the workshop building as a workshop and a summer living space. The storage of all my spare parts and tools will remain in the shed were they are currently stored and only the most frequently used tools will be moved into the new workshop. I plan on setting up an alternator for dc electric generation to charge my 12 volt system, the corn grinder, and a piston water pump at the new workshop. They will all be run off a 6 or 8 hp gasoline engine out side the building.
If I decide to use the workshop for a summer living space, then I will have more incentive the finish the interior. In the future, depending on how long it looks like it will take to build the new house, I may winterize (insulate and add a wood stove) to the workshop and possibly move into it full time before I build the bigger cabin. This will allow me to be closer to my wood supply and I could use my current cabin as a part time workshop. The limiting factor on this plan is whether or not I can set up a wire to bring the phone line back to the new workshop to get internet access. Since this will be needed eventually for the house, it may be worth investing the few hundred dollars for wire to make the connection.
So in the meantime, I will tentatively plan on setting up the workshop/summer house, while I look into the problems involved in getting a wire back through the woods to the house site (about 1/4 mile from the road). By the fall I will have to decide to either stay in my current location (I have enough firewood here now to do that) or set up the wire to the new location and move back there. If it is too much to get the wire back there this year (in either money or labor) then I may stay at this location for the winter and try to winterize the new workshop for the following year. This take a lot of pressure of the need to rush the building of the main house. With a semi-work shop and temporary living arrangement in the workshop I would be in a good position to build the main house gradually. Hopefully I will have power (12 volt system running on a gasoline engine and a car alternator) and water (from a piston pump from the spring) all set up before the fall.
So these are the tentative plans for this year, meanwhile I have all my seed orders received and the seeds ready to go for this year. I save most of my own seeds but each year I try new varieties and replenish seeds that are not worth growing (like cabbage). Lots of things going on, but looking forward to moving into a new place to live (at least for the summer) can be a good incentive to look forward to.
A lot has happened since the last entry in the journal on 02-04-02. During the week of 02-04-04 the subfloor (under the insulation area) was completed. In between periods of snow the insulation was added, a layer of plastic (6 mill) was added over the insulation as a vapor barrier, and the plywood was loosely nailed in on the floor. A layer of plastic was added over the plywood to protect from water and a layer of tarp and another layer of plastic was added over that to keep water from getting to the plywood or into the insulation under the plywood.
After returning from a week of visiting relatives, the plywood was squared and nailed to the floor joists. Once the plywood is on then special care is needed to make sure no water gets in to wet the plywood or get under the plywood and to be trapped in between the plywood and the vapor barrier. Conditions for the rest of the week were too wet to allow work on building, so time was spent in developing more detailed plans for the workshop walls.
A piston water pump (Gould brand) was purchased using a local articles for sale paper. The workshop is near a spring and the pump will be used to pump water to the workshop and later to the nearby house. A piston pump has a distinct advantage over the more common impeller or jet pump in that it can be run at any speed and still pump water. It can also be run by hand (by turning the wheel), by an electric motor, or by a gasoline engine. It can even be run by a windmill or by a bike as an alternative to energy use. We will be using the small gasoline engine (6 to 8 hp) that will run the other power tools in the workshop. The option to pump small quantities by handle will be the backup system.
The pump was not used for a while so it was opened up and cleaned out. The seals were replaced as needed and the leather seals around the piston were replaced. These seals are now hard to find. We found them at our local hardware store and stocked up for the future, but you should not consider buying a used piston pump unless you are sure you have a good source for these leather seals.
Work on the pump filled in for work on the days when it was too wet to work on building. In addition, we made trips to neighbor's buildings to get ideas on construction options for the workshop. Heights for windows, details on how to connect rafters for the roof and very intensive work on how the workshop would be used were all considered in making the final plans for the building.
The last of our winter storage tomatoes (burpee winter storage tomatoes - open pollinated) was eaten after almost 6 months in storage. The tomatoes were stored one layer deep (not wrapped) in stackable tomatoes boxes (get them free at the local supermarket). The tomatoes must be kept above 50 degrees F as they ripen during storage. The closer to 50 degrees the slower they ripen. The tomatoes boxes are checked each week for tomatoes that are ripe. They are used fresh, cooked and in sauce. The tomatoes have a slightly tart taste but once you get used to it they are a welcome treat in the winter when tomatoes in the store are very expensive and not very tasty. We generally try to grow enough tomatoes to store about 300 lbs each fall for the winter months.
We had special weather conditions that we were able to take advantage of this week. The weather was unusually warm and we had one day with temperatures around 55 degrees F with sun and a strong breeze. This was enough of a break in the winter conditions to allow us to polyurethane the plywood floor. Using a fast dry polyurethane and the good breeze, allowed the floor to dry before dark. This opportunity allowed us another level of insurance in protecting the plywood and the insulation from getting wet. Now work on the floor can be done with the knowledge that a slight amount of melt from snow during work will not damage the plywood or the insulation. This will allow a lot more flexibility in planning work on the project.
The decision to seal the floor was made at the last minute when the forecast was revised. Originally the plan for the day was to go to town to get some more lumber that was needed because of some last minute modifications in the plans for the walls. The hope was to get the lumber moved back to the work site with the snowmobile before the trails melted too much to allow transport. With the forecast for even warmer conditions for that day, it was decided to use the warm temperatures to our advantage. Covering the plywood with polyurethane was worth more to our scheduling than moving the new lumber to the site. As it was the sealing the floor was completed early enough so that about 1/3 of the new lumber was moved to the site before the trials became unusable. This example, points out again how important it is to be flexible in your scheduling, so you can take advantage of changing weather conditions.
Today is just above freezing and mostly cloudy. A good day to work on the final plans of the workshop to be ready to start cutting the lumber to size for the walls later this week.
Although the sealed plywood floor adds new flexibility to the scheduling it does have limits. We can not allow the floor to be exposed to any more than a light wet snow or very light rain. It must be protected from heavy rain. Given these limitations, the best plan is to work to get setup to be able to have everything ready to assemble over a few days of good weather conditions. The goal is to have the walls up and the second floor on top of the walls before any exposure to rain. Once the walls are up and the second floor is on, then we can cover the second floor with layers of plastic to serve as a temporary roof before starting work on the final roof. This will involve a lot of preparation.
The lumber for each of the walls will be assembled on the floor in the reverse order of how the walls will be raised. The 2 side walls 16 feet long will be assembled first and laid out on the floor. The 2 end walls will be assembled next on top of the side walls on the floor. This will allow covering with plastic each night in case of rain. Once all the walls are cut and assembled and stacked on the floor then all the lumber for the attic floor will be cut to size. The attic floor can not be assembled in advance because it would be too heavy to lift to the top of the walls in that state.
Once the walls are ready and the lumber is cut to size for the attic floor then we will need to wait for a 2 or 3 day period where no rain is forecast so we will have plenty of time to raise the walls and assemble the attic floor and cover it with plywood and plastic before any possible rain. Once the attic floor is covered then work on cutting the lumber for the roof can take place inside the workshop. This will allow work even when weather conditions are not favorable for outside work.
So the next phase starting this week will be gradually cutting and assembling the walls on the floor of the workshop and covering each night until all the walls are ready to raise and the lumber is all cut to size for the attic floor. Today is the last day for any changes to the walls before the plans are set. I will be making the final decisions on the height of the bottoms of all the windows.
Since the last entry we have been framing walls and stacking them on the floor to remain under cover. The weather has been a real factor in building as only rarely were 2 days in a row suitable for working. Over this time we have framed 3 of the walls. The north, south and west walls were completed and are stacked under cover.
There was a big change in weather yesterday, as it went from the high 60's and sunny to the 20's last nite. Very strong gusty winds (with speeds up to 60 mph) were blowing all night. Rain started early last evening and turned to snow early this morning. Thunderstorms moved though in the middle of the night. In anticipation of this extreme change of weather, we worked all day friday and saturday to finish the south and west walls and get the whole project covered securely before the change of weather. Hopefully the covering of a layer of plastic, a tarp, and another layer of plastice held, but I haven't check yet.
This weeks project will be framing the east wall, cutting all the lumber for the attic floor, and planning for raising the walls. The walls are very heavy. because they are made with 2x6 dimesion lumber. This means we will have to use a combination of ropes, comealongs, and jacks to raise the walls in place. The wall raising will need to be well planned in advance, because we will have to have the walls all raised and the attic floor finished and covered with plastic between periods of rain or snow. So there is a lot to do to get ready for the next phase.
Between periods of working on the building I have started work on cutting trees to clear a path through the forest for an electric fence for a neighbor. This job for pay fit in nicely with my building work because I can cut trees on days where I can not work on building because of snow or short periods of rain. In addition, I have been working on fixing the electric fence in my garden where a tree fell down on the wires. The deer have started moving into the garden to eat the cover crops now that the snow has melted. The fence is turned off in the winter once the snow covers the ground. It is very important to stop this behavior before it gets established because deer are creatures of habit and once a habit starts it is hard to change their behavior. If they get a good taste of the cover crops they will be continually testing the fence to get back in. This means that fixing the fence is now a top priority. Early this week I expect to have the fence fixed and reconnected to the 12 volt electric fence charger See: Managing Deer In The Home Garden. I am also adding a wider gate to allow access to the garden with a vehicle so that I could bring compost or manure right into the garden if I find a good source locally.
On the 12 volt electricaly system for the house, there has been a new strategy. Right now all the electrical equipment in the house is either 12 volt dc or 110 ac (under 175 watts). The tape player, tv, fluorescent lamp (6 watt desk, and 30 watt general) and radio are all 12 volt dc. The laptop computer, printer, and small wattage 110 volt ac run off a 175 watt (400 surge) dc to ac inverter. This 12 volt dc battery system is charged with a car alternator. The only shortcoming of this system has been that I could not run a power drill. I had planning on upgrading to a larger inverter to handle the power required for the drill, but I found another solution to this problem. A larger inverter would cost in the $60 to $100 plus range. But the price of cordless drills has come down drastically recently and this technology has become much more effecient. I tested a cordless drill for how well it could screw a deck screw into a thick piece of lumber and found it had plently of torque to spare. Now the down side of the cordless drills is that the rechargable batteries eventually run out and need to be replaced (and they are expensive). However, from my point of view I really do not need a cordless drill, I just need a drill that will run off my current 12 volt system. I have no problem with a cord. The solution to the drill problem, is to wire up the cordless drill to a cord instead of its' rechargable battery and and plug into my 12 volt battery system. Cordless drills currently come in 9.6 volt dc, 12 volt dc and 14.6 volt dc. I found a 12 volt dc drill (name brand) on sale (was $80) for only $40. This was much less than the cost of an inverter, and the drill have been designed to give the maximium torque (twist power) for the least consumption of energy to extend the battery life of the cordless drill. This turns out to be the perfect solution to my problem. Initial tests on my 12 volt system went well, now I just need to design a safe, convenient method of connecting either to the cordless battery that comes with the drill or to a plug in arrangement (I am working on) that will attach a cord that plugs into my 12 volt system. A perfect inexpensive compliment to my 12 volt system that allows access to all the advantages of a power drill.
With all the electronic devices that now connect to cigarette lighters in a car, the 12 volt system can now include almost anything you need. All the devices are specifically designed to work with 12 volt dc and, in addition, to use as little power as possible to do the job. With the new cordless tools technology (some based on 12 volt cd) many power tools will soon be available in 12 volt dc. This makes much more sense for 12 volt dc systems (and solar systems) to use dc tools directly rather than inverting your dc power to ac to run a comventional power tool. In addition, conventional power tools pride themselves on how being very high wattage because that shows they have more power. On a 110 volt system that is not a problem but on a 12 volt (or solar) system the least power consumption to do the job, the better. Cordless power tools are designed to use as little power as possible, so they are the perfect fit for the 12 volt dc system.
The week that was planned to raise the framed walls of the workshop turned out to be a week of rain, so the walls were not raised. The weather warmed enough to allow work in the garden to begin. So once again we can see the need for flexibility in scheduling. The gardens are now the primary job because weather conditions are good for tilling and planting while frequent rain showers makes conditions unfavorable for building.
The workshop walls are all framed and laying on top of the floor, covered with 2 layers of plastice and a tarp. This is a very stable situation and a good way to leave the project while garden work begins because this time of year is subject to periods of rain. The plan now is to keep the workshop covered as it is through the garden planting period until mid-June. When the spring planting is over then the weather normally changes to longer periods of weather without rain. A normal summer cycle is about 3 to 7 days of gradually warming and clear weather followed by a brief period of rain (usually in the form of a thunderstorm) followed by cooler weather and clear days with gradual warming. This will be ideal conditions for continuing the workshop project. In addition, a number of my friends will have more time after mid-June than now, so it will be easier to get help raising the walls of the workshop. The full focus now is garden preparation and planting, while the workshop is protected from rain under cover.
The robins, geese, and wood cocks are back. The spring peepers started yesterday in the ponds so spring is fully underway. Once the soil was dry enough to till, I tilled all the edges between the gardens and the terraces in the corn garden. This helps cut down on any quack grass that may be trying to grow into the gardens from the terraces before the corn is planted in late May.
Wide rows of lettuce and carrots were planted and the sugar snap peas (sugar anne and cascadia varietes) were soaked in water to begin sprouting. Once the peas show the slightest sign of the roots starting to swell in the seeds, the seeds will be sprinkled with legume innoculant and planted. Soaking the peas before planting is very helpful in preventing the seeds from rotting in cold soil. Seeds that are not soaked take a while to sprout in cold soil and often the soil organisms that cause rott will begin to rott the seeds before they become active. Soaked seeds are fully active when they are planted and have a good head start on the rotting organisms. In tests I've done between sprouted and unspouted snap peas seeds the sprouted seeds have done much better in cold springs, often making the difference between a complete loss of seeds and an almost complete stand under extreme conditions. Soaking is well worth the effort in peas. Soaking also works well with direct seeded cucumbers, and squash. Soaking is not recommended with dry beans as it often causes the seeds to crack and actually makes for a poor seeding stand.
Meanwhile, some progress has been made on getting set up for the new watering system for the garden. I have managed to convert my 110 volt jet water pump to a pump that can be run with a gas engine by removing the fan and replacing it with a pulley. The fan was used to cool the electric motor, so removing the fan should have no adverse effect on the pump itself (See water pump). This allows me run the pump dircectly from a gasoline motor and without using a generator. I am now setting up a system of pulleys and pillow bearings to run a prototype system that will be able to run the pump and the alternator from one gasoline engine at the same time or the alternator by itself. This will allow me to charge my batteries whenever I pump water. I am just starting to test parts of this system and will install more water pipes within the next week or so.
Spring is a very important time for watering because strong sunlight can dry the top 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil rather quickly. Many early small seeded crops like lettuce and carrots are planted right near the surface and are easily dried out during hot sunny conditions. Watering is the only way to save these crops from drying to the point of killing the emerging plants. El Nino conditions in this area have generally meant dry and abnormally hot conditions in the past (ie: 90 degrees F in May !). Forecasters have been predicting possible El Nino conditions this season so a setting up a watering system early is a high priority.
Today cover crops will be the main job. Winter rye was planted in the fall and most of the crop survived the winter fairly well, considering a tree fell on the electric fence in the fall and the deer got in the garden to have a good feed on the rye before the snow covered it. This lead to some areas of rye this spring looking pretty thin. So I will spread some rye seed over the already sown areas and till down about 2 inches and then throw some red clover on top and then pack the soil down by going over the area with the tiller having only the tires touch the ground. This is the same method I normally use to plant new cover crops. The rye that is already started will mostly recover from the tilling because it can reroot pretty well. The goal in the garden is to reach the point that 1/3 of the garden in any given year is in cover crop. This builds the soil and prevents erosion.
Sections of the garden that were in the rye/red clover cover crop last season need to be tilled early in the spring so the clover will not begin to regrow and the organic matter from the rye will have time to begin to breakdown before planting. Last fall all the tall rye (4-6 foot tall) was rolled down in parallel to the sides of the garden by rolling a 50 gallon steel drum down the garden. This flattened all the tall rye stems so that they would have a good contact with the ground. Good contact with the ground will accelerate the breakdown of the long stems and prevent the stems from rapping around the tiller blades in the spring. This method worked very well this year, because it only took 2 passes of the tiller to incorporate the cover into the soil and there was no tangling of the stems in the tiller blades.
This week, the soaked peas will be planted, more cover crops will be started, other cold weather crops like brocolli, cabbage and beets will be planned and possibly planted. As time permits the water system will be the next priority. With temperatures forecast to be in the 50's during the day and 30's a night this is perfect weather for early planting.
Today is Sunday, a day off, except for writing in the journal and making the work schedule for the week.
Spring is here in full force. We have had over a week of exceptionally warm weather in the 70's and 80's F. Growth during this period has been very fast, as an increase of 20 degrees F can almost double the growth rate of many plants. The normal temperatures for this time of year is daytime temperatures in the 50's F with nights in the 30's F. So a week of 70's F days and 50's F nights can be equal to 2 weeks of normal growth. The june berries are in bloom now almost 2 weeks ahead of last season.
All the edges of the corn garden were till to prevent any quack grass from getting a start before the corn is planted in May. All the early crops of lettuce, carrots, beets, snap peas, and soup peas were planted and are now up and growing. Last night was pretty cold (25 F) but all the cold weather crops can take temperatures down to about 20 F, so there was no problem with the temperature.
The entire water delivery system for the garden was redesigned to deal with the fact that were are now relying on an alternator electrical system and not a 110 volt AC system. The old AC jet water pump was converted to a pulley driven pump by removing the fan from the AC motor of the pump and adding a 3" diameter pulley. The pump is now run off a series of pullies and belts from a gasoline engine. The engine also runs an alternator that charges the batteries for your 12 volt dc system while the water is pumping. (see last entry). The pump and water system was setup and used during the warm weather. We even had a number of solar hot water heated showers during the warm sunny weather. There are currently 3 50 gallon steel drums on the top of the hill of the garden for water storage. They were filled last night in anticipation of the cold night. After the tanks were filled all the lines of the water system were drained to avoid any damage to the metal faucets during the 20 degree night temperatures. The water tanks have too much volume of water (and heat capacity) to be damaged by last night's cold. The full tanks will allow us to use a garden hose to syphon water to water the plants like lettuce and carrots that can dry out easily in sunny weather (1/2 inch from the surface). If forecast for temperatures in the 20's recurr then all we have to do is drain the one garden hose and not the entire water system. Once the danger of cold nights gets lower then we can easily syphon water from the storage tanks to an special inlet faucet that will fill the line from the storage tank to the well to the pump. This will fill the line with water and make it easy to start the pump and refill the system. After that the water system will not be drained until the fall.
The previous system based on the generator, used a wire from the house (where the generator was run) to the well. The well had a float in the well (block of wood on a string) that would turn off the generator when the well was so low that it would run out of water. The jet water pump can not run without water or it will damage the seals. The new system, that does not use the generator needed a new method of automatic shut off. In the old system the switch shut off the electricity to the pump when the well was too low. In the new system we came up with a pretty good shut off system that is easy to setup and is very efficient. The same wires used by the old system are now connected to the shut off wire for the gasoline engine (this wire is usually actuated by the gas lever). The shut off is really the low voltage side of the ignition system of the gasoline engine. So what we did is setup up the old switch for the well shut off to connect when the well was too low (instead of disconnect in the old system that disconnected the power from the pump). This allows us to short out the gasoline ignition system when the switch is pulled. A wire from the shut off line on the gasoline engine is wired to one side of a regular female plug from an extension cord. The other side of the plug is wired to a ground on the engine (a bolt to the engine frame). The female plug is then connected to a male plug that connects to the switch at the well. Electricity from the engine electrical system activates one wire in the cord, when the well switch closes the circuit, it connects back to the other wire in the extention line and the electricity goes back down the other wire to the ground on the engine. The ignitiion system shorts out and the engine stops. This system works nicely and means you will not run you pump dry. No expensive switches or external sources of electricity are needed so this system should be able to be used with any gasoline engine for remote control by a switch.
We also did some major work on the electrical system, including the addition of an electronic voltage regulator on the alternator. Up until now the alternator did not have a voltage regulator so we had to add load to the electrical system to keep the voltage from going too near the end of the battery charging cycle. The new voltage regulator is working really well, by keeping the system between 14.4 and about 13.6 volts during periods of load ranging from 5 to 30 amps. It really works remarkably well and should last indefinitely because it is a solid state (no moving parts) system. This is a real improvement in our system.
The black flies have just started a little. They are out sometimes on some days but not really a problem (yet) and not biting (yet). Normally the blackflies do not come out until May, so the warm weather did have some unwelcome concequences but so far not bad. The key to black fly protection is a wide brimmed hat (like a straw hat) and a cloth or screen that hangs down in the back of the hat from the front of one ear around back to the front of the other ear. This protects from most blackflies from getting near your face. Many of the flies will fly above the hat and not bother you at all and the cloth will protect the back of your neck.
Believe it or not, the best defense against black flies (especially their bites) is to not be annoyed by them flying around you. If you get upset then you release perspiration and smells that drive black flies into a frenzy. If you work near a person who is especially upset and hassled by the blackflies then you can see this for yourself when the blackflies actually leave you to go to the person most upset by the flies. Of course this leads the person to be even more upset and more blackflies attack. This can actually lead to very serious problem with people who are lost in the woods and do not know how to deal with blackflies because the more you struggle the more you attract the flies and the more they bite. Some people have been found in a near death situation when caught in this viscious cycle. So if you don't get upset with blackflies, wear the broad brimmed hat with a cloth or screen back, then blackflies are usually no more than an annoyance. They tend to get more aggressive in biting right before they end around the end of May. Remember you can only have black flies in an area if you have really clean water. So remind yourself during blackfly season that you are lucky to be in an area that has clean water.
Black flies do not like closed spaces, so the cloth around your hat can help in that way also. Black flies will go right to the window if closed in a house and spend the rest of their life trying to get out the window and not even try to bite you when you are in the room. So bring all the black flies you can into your house or car and have less outside to bother you. Black flies are not a problem in your house, unlike mosquitos who love to wait till you are almost ready to sleep before they begin their quiet buzz attack.
Got a good batch of potatoes (till hard and not sprouting) up from the root cellar. Still have cabbage and carrots stored too. More cover crops of winter rye (can be planted in the spring for cover crop) and red clover were planted. The goal is to have about 1/3 of the garden in cover crop each season. The practice of rolling a 50 gal drum down the rye cover crop in the fall just when the seeds are starting to set, has made it easy to incorporate the rye into the soil in the spring because the lond tough stems have broken down to till in easily. This year 2 tills can incorporte the cover crop, before this practice it could take 4 or 5 tills to incorporate. Drum rolling rye in the fall will be an established practice here from now on.
This week the cold frame will be setup. Will be trying to get seed potatoes from supplier and cut to size to cure before planting (cover after cutting for 2 days then expose to direct sun in boxes to promote short green sprouts before planting). 100 Rosa Roses will be arriving that will need to be planted for a hedge this week. These roses are a good souce of rose hips (high in vitamin C) and wonderful smelling flowers. Do not plant these roses except in places where both sides of the hedge will be mowed, or the roses will spread under ground and take over an area. Mowing will stop the break by cuting off the sprouts as they come up through the ground.
This week, all the seed potatoes have been cut into 2 ounce pieces with at least 2 eyes in each piece. These pieces were dried slowly in a box in a warm place covered with a towel for about a day. Once the skin starts to form on the cut then the potato pieces can be laid out in boxes with the non cut side facing up. These boxes can be put in a location in the light with at least some sunlight for a few days. The goal is to encourage the sprouts to begin to form in a warm location and to keep the sprouts short and green with the sun. Potato sprouts grow long and thin in the absence of light but will grow short and green in partial or full sun. You want to get some good sized sprouts forming 1/4 to 1/2 inch long so the pieces will have ahead start when they get put into the ground. Many people just cut the potato pieces to size and plant. We like the method used in europe (described above) because it allows the sprouts to get a good start indoors while the cut heals. Potatoes started this way have much less chance of rotting in the ground, especially under cold spring conditions and it gives them a head start on growth that could put them a week or more ahead of direct seeded plants.
The presprouting method of starting potatoes also allows you to wait until conditions are good for planting rather than forcing you to plant by date when conditions may not be good for working in the garden (ie: cold, rainy). You can wait for up to 2 weeks if you are presprouting because the potatoes are growing better sprouts in a warm indoor location than they would have in cold soil outside. In addition, it is more enjoyable to plant potatoes trenches when the weather is sunny and warm. The only limitation of presprouting potatoes is that you need to make sure the potatoe pieces do not lose too much moisture and begin to shrivel. Potatoes are more likely to shrivel within a day or 2 of cutting to size, so if you want to keep your potatoes indoors for a long period before planting be sure to wait at least 2 or 3 days for the cuts to heal (at room temperature or higher) before you expose them to full sunlight.
The easiest way to plant potatoes is to plow a trench with a special trench/hiller attachment that is available for rear tine rototillers (like the troybuilt tiller that we use). The trech/hiller attachment takes some getting used to, but if you run the tiller fast down a row that has been tilled at least once then the job goes easier. Once the rows are tilled about 3 feet apart (to leave room for later hilling) then can walk down the row backwards, stooping down on one knee and push a potato cutting down in the soil and cover with about 2 or 3 inches of soil. Place the potato cuttings about 1 foot apart in the row.
If you expect a heavy frost and the potatoes have already come up through the soil, then it is a good idea to cover the potatoes with a couple inches of soil to prevent them from getting cooked with the frost. Potatoes can send up new sprouts after being hit by frost (especially if they are sprouting from healed cut potatoes rather than direct seeded cut potatoes). For best results, always hill potatoes to protect from frost or your plants will be delayed. Once the potatoes have escaped the danger of frost, then you will need to hill 2 times (once at about 6-10 inches high and once at about 12-14 inches high. You can hill with a hiller attachment on a rear tine tiller, a low wheel cultivator with a plow attachment, or a hoe. Hilling protects the tubers that will form from getting exposed to the sun and turning green. Green potatoes have toxics (characteric of the nightshade family of plants) that are not good to eat, so keep your potatoes hilled and protected from the sun.
We cut about 400 to 500 potato pieces this week and will put then in the sun on the next sunny day. The trenches will be marked and trenches made this week, so planting can take place when the sprouts are well formed and the weather is warm and sunny. When planting, make sure you surround the seed potato with most (not dry) soil.
Next project this week is getting ready to start the tomatoes for the cold frame. We like to start tomatoes here May 1. That is considered late by most people but we start the seeds indoors in quart yogurt or cottage cheese containers (with 2 holes in the bottome of each container) and keep them indoors until the tomatoes germinate. Once the tomatoes are up and need sun they must be moved to the cold frame to keep them from growning long and slender trying to get more sun. Since we go directly into the cold frame after starting we do not want to be starting tomatoes too early or we will be having to protect them from heavy frost conditions in the cold frame. Late planting, like May 1 is a good compromise because we are late enough to escape the worst of the hard frost while still being early enough to have some good growth before the plants are set out.
Once in the cold frame the tomatoes will grow rapidly because the temperature in the cold frame will range from about 70 to 90 degrees F on sunny days. This will allow very rapid growth. The plants are held in the cold frame until June 15 (considered very late by most gardeners up here). By keeping the tomatoes in the cold frame till June 15, we keep the growth rapid right up until the plants are set in the ground. In addition, in is very common for a cold snap to set back tomatoe transplants that are set out in early june. Cold stressed tomato transplants will turn purple and slow down in growth. Late transplanted tomatoes (june 15) will often be ahead of early transplanted tomatoes if we have cold conditions. Sunny conditions are very important in transplant growth because the cold frame will only heat up to the 70 to 90 degree temperatures if the sun is out. Cloudy conditions can lead to a delay in cold frame growth, but on average, we find late started and late transplanted tomatoes the best way to go because it saves work, involves less risk of cold or frost damage, and gives better tomato yields for our conditions.
Raining today and cold (40's) and it's looking like most of this week will be like this except for thursday (some sun). The night temperatures are colder than normal in the 30's with possible frost. The cold weather crops are able to take temperatures down to about 20 degress F, but the tomatoes had to be moved out of the cold frame because of the possiblity of tempertures below freezing at night. The tomatoes are now up and spread out in front of windows to keep them in the sun and stop them from growing too tall and thin reaching for light. They will have to stay indoor for a few more days until the night temperatures are warmer, then they will move back to the cold frame until they are transplanted (hopefully). Meanwhile, the cat has to be trained not to walk on the transplants.
The potato plants have not broken through the soil yet, so they are still safe from any frosts. The peas (dry and snap) are doing well. The cover crops of rye and red clover are doing really well with all this rain. The wide row lettuce and wide row carrots are coming up a little thin because of all the low temperatures, but will probably be ok. The water lines for the garden are full and all the faucets and values are covered with plastic shopping bags 1/2 filled with dry leaves to insulate them from the possible freezing temperatures. The black plastic lines themselves are usually ok until the tempertures go into the 20's (not forecast).
We had a day of winds up to 50 mph and some of the plastic coverings came off of the building site. The coverings were replaced and there appeared to be no water damage. So that should keep the building structures dry until later in the summer when there is more time to work on it.
The adventure this week was the car. The battery stopped charging in the car. It appeared that the alternator was capable of working in some of the tests that I did so I bought a new voltage regulator (on this model of car the voltage regulator was relatively inexpensive). I waited about a week to get the part because I waited to get a ride to town with a neighbor when he was normally going to the town with the best parts store. Unfortunately, the new voltage regulator did not fix the problem. A rebuilt alternator is very expensive for this car so I am in no hurry to get a new one until I am sure the problem is in the alternator and not in the wiring. The local libraries up here have recently gone to an online system where I can search all the local libraries and order a book to be delivered to my local library for pickup (usually within a week). I found a library that has the manual for my car that includes the wiring diagram, so I will order that book and wait to decide what to do until after I check the wiring. In the meantime, I needed a setup a method for getting to town. The alternator of a car charges the battery as you drive, with the alternator system not working the battery of the car will run down as you drive because it is supplying electricity to the spark plugs as you drive. How long the car will run without an alternator depends on what is running in the car. If the lights are on it will run down in a very short time. If the lights are off, the fan is off, and everything else is off then you have more time.
I setup a system in the car that allows me to run the car without the alternator working by setting up all my batteries from my electric system in the house in the car. I put 4 batteries in the back of the car and connected them through a fused line (30 amp) with 10 gauge wire to a plug that fits in the cigarette lighter. This will allow the car to draw off all 4 batteries in the car and the battery in the engine while I drive. I have to be sure not to have the cigarette lighter socket plugged in when the car is started as that will take too much load through the cigarette lighter and blow the fuse because the starter is a big draw of electricity. Once the car is started THEN I can plug in the batteries in the car to help lessen the load on the battery in the engine because the load on normal drive (without the lights on) is not too much for the fuse. I added a voltage meter to keep tabs of the voltage in the batteries to make sure I was not getting too low (12.2 volts is about 1/2 discharge - the maximium). With this method I was able to go to town and back without any problems. I can not travel during rain because I will need to use the wipers and the headlights. Using this method I should be able to go to town when I need to and then recharge the batteries on my home alternator system and put fully rechaged batteries back in the car for the next time. This will allow me to wait to get the car manual with the wiring diagram before I have to decide if I want to test the alternator. This system will not be too much of a problem because I usually only go to town once or twice a week this time of year. My 12 volt system is currently charging all the batteries while I am running the computer, this will get the batteries ready for a trip to town tomorrow. The system is currently charging at about 20 amps (a pretty good charge rate).
Meanwhile this week looks like the work will have to be scheduled indoors. Corn seed from last year is still on the cob in four 50 gallon steel drums stored outside, so I can see the quality of the ear in deciding the seed stock for this year. The corn is also separated by row from my corn breeding project [See Corn Breeding Project]. This week the corn will have to be sorted for the breeding project and shelled with a hand cranked corn sheller (takes the kernals off the cob). With more than 1,500 ears of corn to shell a mechanical sheller is needed. I picked up a nice old sheller from a local used items store a few years ago and it was well worth the price. Also during rainy weather work will begin on spring cleaning of the work shed. The new alternator system will be adjusted to allow the corn grinder to run on the same pulley system in the shed so I will be able to grind corn for corn bread. The weather has once again changed the plans for this week but you need to be flexible to be able to take best advantage of the work conditions as the weather changes.
I have been sorting last years dry corn for seed. For the past 20 years, I have been working on developing a corn variety adapted for this area (See Corn Breeding). Below is a general summary of the results of last years breeding program.
After counting and sorting all the ears, there were about 1,000 ears. About 30% were flour corn and 70% were flint or dent like. The flint and dent like corn is a harder corn and is higher in protein, so I have been selecting for the flint/dent type corn and selecting against the flour corn. The selection is going pretty well in this area. The main selection for the past 2 seasons has been selecting for resistance to corn rust. I have crossed the most resistant plants that I found 2 years ago with the general population of the corn and last year tried to increase the percentage of rust resistance by removing the tassles of all the corn that was not resistant while leaving the tassles on the most resistant types. The tassles spread the pollen, so by allowing only the most resistant types to pollenate the corn field, I hope to increase the percentage of resistant corn in the population.
I have also been selecting for 2 ears on a plant by saving and planting more seed from 2 ear plants. This year of the total number of ears about 25% were from 2 ear plants. I figure about 15% of the plants are 2 ear plants. This year I will increase the number of seeds from 2 ear plants that will be planted to about 30% to 35% to increase the chances of more 2 ear plants next year. Approximately 30% of the 2 ear cobs this year were flour and about 70 % were flint like. This leads me to believe that the genes for 2 ears are showing up in the flour and flint corn in about the same percentages as the flour to flint ratio in the main crop. This is good news because it looks like the genes for 2 ears are not connected to either flour or flint genes, so I will be able to continue to select for 2 ears and for more flint without having to give up either. Sometimes genes for different traits can be connected and you can not select for them separately. For example, if all the 2 eared plants produced only flour corn then I would have not been able to select for 2 eared flints.
I have been keeping the ears that were ripe in the first picking separate from the ears of the main crop picking and planting them in separate rows, but so far I have not seen any more early ears from the plants that produced early ears last season. I have, however, noticed that there might be a connection between plants with 2 ears last season and decendants of those plants. So selection for 2 ears can probably be increased by planting more seed from 2 eared parents.
The main selection this year will continue to be for rust resistance so I will not select too heavily for other traits at this time because I want to keep a lot of variety for future selection in the corn population. I will continue to remove the smallest ears from all selections to cull out the less productive traits.
I lost about 18% of my harvest in storage when one of my 50 gallon steel drums leaked during the winter and the seed spoiled with mold. This season I will have to have a better cover for the 50 gallon drums that are stored outdoors for the winter. The other containers stored the corn with no problems. I feel fortunate that the 2 rows of ears (2 rows out of 12 rows harvested) were some of the less important plants in the breeding program.
The big adventure this week was when a cat that was visiting from the city climbed up a tree when he saw a dog and ended up much higher than he had the skills to come down. One of our local cats climbed up a tree nearby to keep him company while he cried. He was beyond the reach of our longest ladder so we decided to tie some plastic traps all around the base of the trees nearby to catch the cat if he fell. After a good attempt at backing down the tree he fell into our nets and was unharmed. So it turned out ok, hopefully he will not climb so high next time.
Last night the temperature fell to 31 degrees F for a light frost. The cold frame was covered with a thick layer of blankets and a top layer of plastic to keep out the cold. The layer of plastic over the blankets was a real help and the temperature in the cold frame only went down to about 40 F. Tonight might be even colder so we may have to bring the tomatoes down to the house for the night. This week has been exceptionally cold for this time of year.
The potatoes were just beginning to break through the soil so they were covered with a little dirt to protect them from the frost. The other cold weather crops that are up and growing can normally take temperatures down to about 20 F without harm. The next few days will continue to be cold with a warming trend forecast for later in the week.
Normally this would be the time to start planting corn, but with the weather this cold, corn planting will have to be delayed. Corn does not like temperatures below 50 F, so the planting will have to wait until the next warming trend. If the next warm cycle looks like it will be short or with night time temperatures in the 40's F then we may have to wait till the next warm cycle. Corn seed is more likely to rot in the soil when temperature get below 50 during germination. Early planting under cold conditions could do more harm than good.
Have been reading some research on corn and was surprised to learn that only about 50% of the water used by corn during the growing season comes from the rain that falls after the corn is planted. Normally about 1/2 of the water used during the season comes from water that is stored in the soil now, that is why it is important to have plenty of moisture in the soil from the spring melt. During the months of July and August corn will take water from deep underground to make up for the fact that it uses more than 2 times as much water during each of these months than is normally supplied by rain. Corn roots and go down 6 feet into the ground to get water.
The tech manual for the car is ordered from the library and I will probably test the alternator in town this week. Even if the alternator tests defective I would like to wait to replace it until after I have the wiring diagrams and can check out the wires. If there are problems in the wiring that caused the alternator to fail then replacing the alternator will only result in the new alternator going bad, either right away or sometime later.
This week the top priority is getting all the corn shelled and ready to plant. The corn areas of the garden will be fertilized and tilled right before planting. Final decisions on exactly what proportions of the different types of corn seed need to be made also.
Raining today, with only 1/4 inch in the rain gauge. Indoor work this morning, soaking squash and cucumber seeds in wet paper towels for sprouting before setting out. Both squash and cucumber seeds are very sensitive to cold soils and will rott if the soil is too cold for extended periods. The native americans in this area always soaked their squash seeds in wet moss to give them a head start in cold spring conditions.
The corn is up today. The green sprouts are just starting to show through the soil and that means we have to setup protection against the crows and blue jays today. Many gardeners do not realize that they are teaching crows and jays to dig up corn when gardeners are careless about dropping even a few corn grains on the soil surface when they are planting their corn. Even a few dropped grains of corn on the soil surface will attract these birds, corn grains on the soil surface will send out a green sprout from the grain if it is wet and it does not take the birds long (crows and jay are very intellegent birds) to figure out that the little green flags near by are markers for more delicious corn grains underneath the soil. I have seen blue jays walk down a row pulling up every green shoot of corn to get at the grain underneath. This is why farmers have traditionally put up scare crows in the past. We find that bird scare tape works even better. This tape (available from mail order seed companies) is a strip of milar plastic that is red on one side and silver on the other. You unroll a spool of it by holding the roll sideways so that the tape will come off the roll from the side of the roll. This allows the tape to make a spiral as it comes off the roll. Tieing this tape between poles on either side of a corn crop will create a really startling effect as the tape spirals back and forth in the wind, flashing red and silver. Birds in the crow family, like crows and jays, are afraid to come near the tape. Birds like robins have no problems coming near the tape and will even sit on the pole that tape is tied to. Lucky for us only crows and jays are a problem for corn. After the corn is up about 6 inches then the tape should be removed and saved for use in the fall again. The birds will get adjusted to the tape if it is left on too long in the same place. In the fall the tape will be put up again as the corn begins to ripen to prevent the same birds from coming back to sample the corn ears as they mature. We find this tape much better than a scarecrow because birds get used to scarecrows if the scare crow is not changed often.
The technical manual for the car arrived at the library this week. In fact, I was able to order a second (more complete) manual from a neighboring library about 30 miles away last Sunday online. When I arrived at my local library the two car manuals were waiting for me to pick up. So the new Interlibrary loan system works pretty good for me. The manual included a wiring diagram and this allowed me to track down the problem in one of the wires. Since the wires all merge into big cables in the car, I decided to just put in a new wire from the point where the wire came from to where it was going. This corrected the problem (for now) and the alternator is now charging the battery correctly. Getting this manual saved me spending over $100 for a new alternator. So the car is now back in service. I believe the air conditioner somehow put too great a load on the alternator to cause the wire problem. In any case, it is a real convience to be able to use the car without having to move the entire battery bank to the back of the car to go to town.
This week the beans are being planted. Unlike peas, beans do not like to be soaked before planting as the seeds often crack and will not germinate well when presoaked. In addition, soaked seeds can not be planted in a planter. We plant soy beans first because they are slighly more resistant to cold than dry and snap beans. We plant 4 types of soy beans for growing to the dry stage. This year I am growning out a number of bean crosses that were made a few years ago to test some new varieties. Provider snap beans are our favorite for picking fresh because they are resistant to 4 bean diseases and the seeds can be saved to dry beans if you are tired of picking string beans.
More beans will be planted later this week and the squash gardens will be tilled and fertilized for the squash sprouts. Squash sprouts will need to be planted as soon as they start to show a good root. Be careful when planting not to damage the root when you pack the soil. The terraces need mowing, and the tomatoes in the cold frame will need thinning down to 3 plants per quart container. The tomatoes are behind schedule because we had such a cold spring with so little sun. A cold frame must have sun for heat and without it the plants grow very slowly. The sun is now coming out almost every day, so the cold frame is usually above 80 almost every day and the plants are rapidly coming up to size. I normally plant them out late, about June 15 so they should have plenty of time to grow to a good size by then.
The rye cover crop is getting ready to head, and the clover in the cover crops is doing really well. The lettuce is growing fast but the wide rows were planted too thin for maximum yield, so next year we will plant thicker and thin to the best spacing. Snap peas were planted early and have had to endure a very cold spring. The variety Sugar Anne did poorly under the cold conditions but the variety Cascadia (from Oregon) did very well. Wide row carrots are up ok. Onions planted from seed and carrots in single rows (for storage are also up ok. The brocolli is suffering from flea beetle damage but the trap crop of Red Giant Mustard is definitely taking the brunt of the flea beetle damage. We planted the mustard to keep the flea beetles from killing the young brocolli, so far it is making a big difference. Once the brocolli gets above a certain size the beetles do on minor damage. We will keep seed from the mustard for next year to serve as a trap crop for the beetles again.
This has been a cold and wet spring. June 3 we had a late frost. The corn and potaotes were both up, so we hilled them to protect them from the frost. Both corn and potatoes can recover from a frost that kills the above ground growth. Potatoes regrow using reserves from the tuber piece, that is why it is so important to make sure your seed pieces are fully cured (skin forms over cut pieces) so that the tubers are not going to rott. The corn can grow more leaves because the growing tip is usually still underground in during early growth. Even though both potatoes and corn can usually recover from early frost damage, it is better not to use up the plants resources if you can avoid it. If you know a late frost is coming and your corn and potatoes are up it is a good idea to hill them early to cover the exposed plants and save them from frost. Potatoes can be hilled early with no problems. Corn, if hilled early does better if it is barely covered or if you rake off the some of the soil with a leave rake gently to expose the green tops after the frost danger is past. Even with 1,200 feet of dry corn to uncover it took only about 15 minutes, well worth the time. In comparision with corn that was not uncovered and left to work it's way through the soil, corn that had it's tops uncovered after a frost protection hilling resumed growth much earlier.
A few potato tops were left uncovered in a test and in the morning the plant tops were frozen stiff (bending the leaves would break them). Normally this means that the tops would turn black and die when the plants thawed out, but in this case almost all of the test plants recovered fully. The plants must have been just at the border line between frozen and permanently damaged. I have never seen this before so it is probably a very narrow temperature range, under most conditions the tops would have died back. As it turned out the hilling was a very effective method of saving the plants from a real set back with relatively little extra work. In addition, the hilled corn is probably better protected from bluejay damage because the seed if deeper in the ground and harding for the bluejays to find. We can probably take down the bird scare tape sooner because of the effect of early hilling.
The sugar snap peas were damaged from the earlier low temperatures in the 20's F, and this week the difference between the cascadia and the sugar anne varieties is very pronounced. The cascadia variety is almost fully recovered and doing really well, but the sugar anne variety has less than half the plants recovered and is very noticably delayed. This is another example of the advantages of planting at least 2 varieties of each crop to get some insurance against a total loss or serious setback. Normally sugar anne is a week or 2 earlier than cascadia, this year the cascadia will probably be earlier and yield normally whereas the sugar anne variety will be later and may yield less than normal. Cascadia comes from Oregon and may be selected for cold and wet conditions.
The soybeans, dry beans, and snap beans are just now coming up and were under ground during the frost so most of them seem to be coming up in pretty good stands, we can see better if any need replanting in a few days.
Tomatoes are still delayed in the cold frame due to the cold and cloudy spring conditions, mostly because the cold frame can only heat up if the sun is out. Recently the sun has been out more often and the cold frame temperatures have been in the 90's F. The tomatoes are now making rapid growth and have been thinned to the final tomato plant in each quart container. Quart yogurt or cottage cheese containers with 2 holes in the bottom make great starter pots. The tomatoes are normally set out about June 15, but given the cold conditions this season a later setout would give them a better start. This year I will be leaving on the 15th to visit, so the plants will go out on the 15th a little smaller than normal.
I finally got the weedeater working. The problem turned out to be a small screen in the carb that looked fine but was actually plugged and not allowing any fuel to pass through. So if you are working on any 2 cycle carb (like a chain saw or weedeater) you can not depend on a visual inspection to tell if the screens are ok. Take them out and test them. With the weedeater back in service, I was able to do a good job cutting under the electric fence and now the few deer that were sneaking in (with the weeds under the fence shorting out the fence to some degree) should get a pretty good shock. Deer are constantly testing the fence, so you can not afford to let your fence go to long without testing. I get a good spark when I ground the fence now. If I will be gone for a few days then I need to make sure that the fence is fully charged and make sure the deer have experienced it before I leave. If the deer are still testing the fence then you take the risk that one of the deer getting a shock will knock down a wire when it gets zapped and that will short out the fence and leave your garden unprotected when you are gone. A few days of no protection can mean a picnic for the deer and a disaster for you, especially in the spring when the plants are small. A 15 minute snack for the deer can mean the loss of a 100 foot row of peas for you. A few hours of snaking can be a total disaster.
Now as the weather warms up and the sun is out more often, weeding is the most important focus of attention. Get those weeds before they start to take over. Early weeding saves time and is a lot easier than waiting until the weeds are bigger. We use the planet jr wheel hoe (johnnys seeds). It is worth it's weight in gold, unfortunately it costs almost that much (about $300, at last check). We estimate it saves us over 40 hours a season in weeding time compared to weeding with a hoe and it is fun to use once you get some skill in using it. We bought a plow attachment from the Leirmans catalog that fits the wheel hoe and found it to be a very handy attachment for hilling corn, beans, and potatoes. Well worth the investment.
For problem areas where the grass and weeds are getting a foothold at the edge of your garden the weedeater is a handy tool to recover from an invasion. Position the weedeater to scalp the ground (cut right down to the dirt) and you can save yourself a lot of work with the weed hoe. The weedeater is an essential tool for maintaining an electric fence and handy in the garden when things get out of hand. It uses very little gas and by using a thick fishing line type string is pretty safe to use. Be sure to use eye protection whenever you use the weedeater but especially when you scalp the edges. Use ear protection with all engine operated tools.
Squash and cucumbers were all protected under ground when the frost hit, so they appear to be ok. The are just starting to come up now. If the beans come up in good stands and do not need to be replanted (and there are no more frost) then the only planting left to do is to transplant the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants from the cold frame.
Weeding and setting up to be away for a week or so will be the focus of activity this week. I will also be finishing up some jobs for pay to have some extra cash for the trip. Landscaping and cutting a path though the forest for a new electric fence for a neighbor will be the off farm work this week.
The only real set back so far this spring is the brocolli. Even though the giant red mustard did a good job of attacting the flea beetles to itself instead of the to the brocolli, the brocolli did suffer to the extent that it may not be able to recover from the damage. Next year, I will set out 2 rows (on either side of the brocolli) of mustard to attact the flea beetles and sow the brocolli thicker. To insure some brocolli for this summer I bought a few (16) transplants and hope that some of the 75 foot row of brocolli direct seedings will recover.
To search for a topic, click on the find button of your browser. It may Listed as Find or Find on this page. On netscape navigator it is listed under the Edit section as Find on Page (Control F) or Find Again. This is a very powerful function and is well worth using.
You can look for a specific date in the form of dd-mm-yy , so you could search for all March dates by looking for 03- or April by searching for 04-.
You can search for any references to a topic you might be interested in. For example, you could search for all references to carrots, potato, beets, peas, gardens, electric, wood, etc. Once you find a reference, be sure to click on next or find next to see the next entry. By this method you can follow a references to a topic throughout the seasons. You might search tomato and follow the tomoto from starting transplants to storage. Using the Find (or search this document) function of your browser, this document is fully searchable. This is nothing fancy but highly useful.[Return to Beginning - To Begin Any Search]
I was writing letters to my mother to keep her informed of life in the woods. It was her enthuiastic response to those letters that lead to the idea of sharing a journal with those who might be interested in the day to day life of living and working on the land.
Many times, especially when it was hard to find time during busy seasons, it was knowing that she was waiting for the next journal entry that helped keep this journal going.