Friday, July 31, 2009

The Lake After the Storm

Here's a picture of the lake from yesterday evening. It's been raining hard all morning, so I'm sure it's re-filling. You can compare this picture to the one a few posts ago, and see how much light those red pines were blocking.

Other random notes:

- Mr Repair Shop man has a bit more respect for my truck now. It magically started for him, too, without any keys. He says it's a good thing the tow truck driver had put it in neutral with the brake on. He thinks he knows what it is: underneath the relay box is a bunch of wires that the mice probably ate, and something is backfeeding to the ignition. At least it's an interesting problem!

- This has been the wettest July on record here. You'd have to go back to the 1800s to get the 2nd, 3rd and 4th wettest.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

OK Mousies

Your days are numbered. If everything works out, by this time tomorrow the Blueberry Hills Homestead family will be two larger. Meet Spunky and Booba (Spunky in the orange and Booba wearing grey and white), currently residing at the Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society.

I think I'm going to rename them Pancho and Lefty. Any other mouser-y names you can think of?


We had about 6 inches of rain yesterday evening, causing some roads in the area to wash out (including a road between Albany and Pittsfield, MA that I sometimes use for my commute).
I woke up this morning to a major lake in the yard (I forgot my camera at work, so this is an old shot of this same lake. ) There are several inches more water now. All of the grass closest to me is underwater now. BTW - all the red pines you see here are gone, gone, gone. The house will see more sun this winter than in the past because these trees are down. Yay for that.

The lake this morning was much higher than in this picture. I see that my driveway trenches have an unintended consequence. This lake is draining through the trench to the driveway, then through the trench on the other side of the driveway into the front yard. I'm OK with that for now. It's pretty rare to get 6 inches of rain in a few hours, so this wouldn't happen very often. Plus, in that system, the driveway-center is the high spot, so this lake won't empty much farther before the high spot dries out.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

We all Harvested Raspberries

Before all the nastiness with the truck last night, we all harvested raspberries! Maggie likes raspberries. She discovered them all by herself.

Now Desmond, I had to teach. He likes raspberries too. He's not as into the woods, so he lingers at the interface between the yard and the wild stuff.

It's so nice to have a family activity that we can all do together.

I Think it's Time to Get a Cat

Every time I've opened the hood of the truck in the last 2 weeks, I've seen something like this not-so-little critter. One time I opened the fuse box and saw 4 babies.

Yesterday I re-attached the battery cables in preparation for driving the truck to the shop this morning. Tried to start the truck and.... nothing. I canceled the rides I had set up and scheduled a tow truck for the morning.

After I had gone to bed, I was woken up by Maggie going nuts barking, and some strange sounds outside. I went to look, and saw that my truck was running, and the headlights and running lights were going on and off at random intervals.

I was TERRIFIED. I thought that someone was trying to steal the truck. Got dressed in the dark so not to alert the intruder. Worried about who was going to call 911 if I got hurt. Eventually (seemed like forever but was probably 2 minutes), I realized that the truck was empty.

It had started by itself - with no keys.

I made a halfhearted attempt to disconnect the battery cables before I decided that it was too dangerous. I tried putting the key in so that I could turn it on ... and then turn it off. Worried about an electrical fire, I called the insurance company to get it towed NOW, instead of in the morning.

The tow truck came at 1:30 am, about 1/2 hour after the truck stopped of its own accord. It had run for 2 hours. Now the truck is at the shop, where it belongs. Mr Shop Man is pretty unhappy that the problem is worse than I let on when I made the appointment two weeks ago. I'm unhappy about that too. If I were to use my incredibly strong root-cause anlysis skills, I think we should both blame the mice. I don't think this repair is going to be cheap.

I don't like poison or traps as options to get rid of the mice (which are in the house as well), because of the possibility that either or both of my dogs will get harmed. I think it's time to get a cat. A mouser.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wind Economics - First Step

When I bought this house last year, I was really excited about the possibility of using a wind turbine for power. Before I even got my first electric bill, I had asked my town if it was OK for me to put up a tower. (They said that there's nothing in the regs preventing it, so go right ahead. They checked county and state regs too, for height restrictions. The results escape me now, since I had done some preliminary economic calculations by then.)

One of the first steps, even for people on mountains, is to determine how much wind is available. I bought a wireless weather center last fall, but stopped short of using it because I couldn't figure out how to mount the anemometer in a way that I could access it to change the batteries when necessary. On Sunday, I finally overcame the lengthy inertia, bought some galvanized piping and mounting pieces, and got the thing up yesterday (one of the rare times I've actually accomplished anything on a weeknight). This one is at 20 feet, which is technically too low to get a true reading of the wind (note the trees about 40 feet SE of the thing). But it would err on the low side, meaning if it's acceptable at this altitude, it would be great at 60 feet or higher. PS, I suspect I should ground it before too long...

(Warning, geeky engineering stuff follows.)
On the economic side, my stove and water heater are run by propane. My furnace is heating oil, and the rest is electric. My average electric use last year was 12-24 kwh per day, about 4300 kwh for the year (at a delivered cost of 11.6 cents per kwh, I spent about $500). If I converted the propane stuff to electric, it would about double this number. (I am aware of, but didn't take into account potential savings because my current water heater is old and inefficient.) The potential savings then is about $1000 per year at best, ignoring the heating oil usage. I estimate that I'll use about 300 gallons of heating oil (which is half what I used last winter - I learned a lot about that!). The kwh equivalent of that is 11,757 kwh, which in oil will cost me about $800.

In summary, a turbine to take care of my electricity only would deliver 4300 annual kwh. Adding propane, the turbine would deliver about 9,000 annual kwh. Adding heating oil would size the turbine to deliver 21,000 kwh a year. Installed cost for a turbine would run somewhere in the vicinity of $20,000, just to cover my electric use only! To cover all my uses, it would be north of $100,000. It's easy to see that there is no economic benefit to wind power.

That is, there is no economic benefit now, with my inefficient lifestyle, and wide open, windy house. When I make the house more air-tight, and get better at being efficient, I'll do the calculations again. It's likely that I would require a smaller size blade, and also likely that the technology will advance a bit and may be cheaper then. By then I'll have data on the available wind here too.

There is definitely a benefit to being off-grid though! So I'll keep at this thing and maybe the benefits will tip the scale over to the plus side in a few years.

Two Rabbits

Last night there were TWO rabbits taunting Maggie, just outside the invisible fence barrier. She can take it for a while, then goes through the woods on the right to see if she can get closer.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Maggie and the Rabbit

Well, the invisible fence works! There is a rabbit that comes out into the uphill road and eats most evenings, in front of Maggie. (It's a bit difficult to see the brown thing with long ears in the grassy center, to the right of the daisies.) Apparently both Maggie and the rabbit know that the rabbit is safe.

Blueberry Season Begins

The blueberries look like this now, some ripe, some not, and some in transition. I picked a bunch on Saturday from the upper blueberry hill.

There were a bunch down low (the plastic container is resting on the ground).

There were a bunch up high (over my head).

There are about 15-20 big bushes on the upper hill, and another 10-15 around the house and on the lower hill. I think there'll be enough for the bear and me to share!

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Warning for the faint of heart. There's a poop picture coming up!

Yesterday I walked to the southern border of my property, something I hadn't done before. There are a fair number of animal trails back there in the woods. I even saw an old concrete thing that may have been part of a structure, waaaay back in the woods.

On the way back to the house, I took a detour through the upper blueberry hill coming in the back way. It was there that I saw this poop.

After researching in my trusty animal tracking book that has lots and lots of poop pictures, I have come to the thought that it's black bear poop! Cool.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Chainsaw Thoughts

I've been thinking about my chainsaw this week, since I discovered that the hardware store sold me the smallest chainsaw they carry, and discovered that it's a light-duty saw, "ideal for jobs like pruning, lighter cutting tasks and hobby work."

According to specifications, this saw is only 10 pounds, which is good. However, the hardware store didn't carry any replacement chains "that short," until I visited them twice on Monday and they changed their minds. I have to remember to stop by again today to pick up my old chain, sharpened, and 2 new chains.

I'm not even thinking about how patronizing it was to have them assume that I wanted a "girly" saw when what I asked for was a saw I could use to cut a lot of wood. What I've been thinking about is that my problems with this saw all make sense now. The saw has a small gas tank, that's why it runs out of gas after 15 or so cuts. This saw has a short chain. That's why the chain dulls after about 3 tanks of gas. People I've been talking to about my problems don't have the same problems because they have bigger chainsaws!

If I had a bigger chainsaw I would get more wood cut with less work. That's what having the right tools does for you. Yes, it would be heavier, but that's weight that makes the saw go faster through the wood. A longer chain means each tooth contacts wood fewer times, keeping it sharper, longer. Oh brother - must have more tools!

First Harvest

This past Sunday I picked raspberries and the first of the blueberries and enjoyed some on ice cream. What a treat!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Planning the Raised Beds

Here's the first "draft" of my plan for raised beds taken from the 2nd floor window. I used pieces of wood from the old raised beds (about 20-40 feet past the new raised bed place) for this outline.

The idea here is to put raised beds just past the apple tree that you can see to the right, and have a small orchard in the open area past the beds. I want to have pears and apricots in addition to the apple and cherry that are already here. It's hard to see in this picture, but the dwarf cherry trees are along the left edge of this shot. I'm guessing there's room for maybe 6 trees here.

For the second draft of the raised bed plan, I'll move the beds closer together. Current dimensions of each bed are 4 x 12 and I'm planning to make the wood 16 inches deep (with 2 x 8 wood). I'm trying to strategically place beds over some big rocks. There's a bit of a rocky "spine" that goes left to right in the middle of the beds, meaning that to level the tops of the beds, I'll likely have to cut into the bottom edge of the bed frame because it will be impossible to dig down. There may end up being a 3rd draft of this plan!

The area immediately to the left of the round picnic table on its side is where a large red pine tree was until a month ago. I may have to get an excavator back in to smooth this area as well as the orchard area before I go much farther.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Time to Do Something About the Puddles

You're looking at a picture of my driveway, which is higher than the yard on both sides by several inches. As you can see, it's got fairly substantial ruts, resulting in mini lakes after any rain. The nearer lake still holds water even after 3-4 days of dry weather. Last winter, I parked on the grass to avoid these small frozen ponds, and managed to kill the grass where salty ice melted off my vehicles. The grass *still* hasn't fully recovered.

After many months of thinking about what would the best thing to do be (and getting seriously muddy thanks to my water dog), I got fed up last night and took action! This small trench took all of 3 minutes to dig, and it actually worked! The puddle is about 1/3 the size now than it was yesterday, only because the deepest part of the puddle is a little deeper than the trench.

I think tonight I'll deepen and/or widen the trench and put sand or small gravel in it and then put the grass back on top. Then I may tackle the other side where the trench will have to be longer to carry the water to a low spot in the yard. That's one way to make use of a dreary, rainy evening!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I've been curious all spring to see what this is. It looked different from all the weeds, so it escaped the weed killer.

It's getting close! Looks like I'll be able to look it up in the next week or so. Of course, if it's not a wildflower, it won't be in the wildflower book. Then I'm stuck. We'll see.

I've also been using this pink stuff liberally in bouquets. It lasts well in water and looks really good.

It's on the south side of the house, in the old raised bed area. It's about 5 feet tall. I briefly thought it was hollyhock, but now I think it's musk mallow. (Except musk mallow is 1-2 feet tall.) I think I want to keep this stuff coming back.

Monday, July 20, 2009

This is What I carried to Work this Morning

1. Some flowers to brighten up my desk.
2. The chainsaw, because I stopped at the hardware on the way to work. (The two replacement chains I bought last week ** Today I learned that somehow Ace sold me a chainsaw for which they do not carry chains. I also learned that this stoopid chainsaw is not common and nobody carries chains for it!)
3. Some pieces of wood to keep my spinning wheel upright in the back.
4. A folding chair because you never know when you'll need one.
Back to the chainsaw. I had absolutely no idea what I was asking for in November when I bought this thing. I did tell the man that I intended to cut "a lot of wood" with it. So now, when I'm looking online for replacement chains for it and read the description of this saw; "ideal for jobs like pruning, lighter cutting tasks and hobby work" I'm righteous. Did that man think I was a girly chainsaw person! Did he!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pleasant Surprise


A month ago I didn't even know I had raspberries, so bought and planted two small bushes.

Now I see there was no need for that. Raspberry season is at its peak now. I picked over two cups yesterday in various places around the homestead, plus all the berries I ate right off the stalk.

I can see the blackberries coming along, and the first blueberries are ready to eat. Walking by a blueberry bush yesterday, it smelled like blueberry pie.


Is there such a thing as wild oregano?

This stuff looks like oregano, tastes like oregano, smells like oregano, quacks like ... you know.

It's expanding as a ground cover on the north side of the house, opposite from everything else on the south side, which is why I ask the question.

Think it's a duck? I mean oregano?

Friday, July 17, 2009

It's Uncanny

All day while I'm at work, I gaze from my overly air-conditioned space out the window at sunny, warm niceness outside. I plan what I'm going to do when I get home. Yesterday I was going to take a hammer to the truck and .... fix it. I wanted to use the truck today, so I could buy raised bed materials and take a shot at building the raised beds this weekend.

Then I get to the gas station 7 miles from my house and watch the dark clouds gathering while I put gas in the car. As I get to within 3 miles from home, the sky lets loose, thunder, rain, all the wet noisy stuff that guarantees I'll get soaked and dirty as Maggie jumps on me glad that I'm home while we're both standing in the rain.

This is probably the 5th time this has happened this summer. It rained until it got too dark to do anything anyway, then cleared up for a beautiful after-sunset glow.

On the good side, parts of this area got tennis-ball-sized hail. I'm very glad not to have gotten that. And the plants were looking for some water. So it's not all bad - and the raised beds didn't need to be built this weekend anyway. My new plans involve hopping back onto that chainsaw and getting some more wood cut and split. Also removing the old raised-bed wood, so when Barry the excavator comes back to brush hog and smooth, he can do the area where the old raised beds were. If I do this right, I won't leave the homestead all weekend, except once, to get pizza from the local fire department's monthly fundraiser. Have a good weekend everyone!

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I had a bit of diverting summer fun last night - monster trucks at the local speedway! It was noisy, fried dough with sugar kind of entertainment with lots of banged up bouncy trucks in various stages of upside-down. And kids.
On another truck note, my real truck that I drive sometimes didn't start yesterday morning. As in no sounds when I turned the key. I didn't have time to mess with it, but thinking that it was the battery, I bought a new one. (Even if it wasn't the battery, having an extra one around isn't such a bad thing.) My neighbor happened to be walking by with his dog and helped me replace the battery and .... interesting things happened when he contacted the new battery with the cables. The truck started! This is interesting because the keys were sitting on the seat - ie, it started without keys! This is pretty funky in my book.
I called the shop today to make an appt to get the truck towed in, but according to the shop owner it's not necessary. I quote, "Take a hammer and go under the right side to find the starter. Hit it with the hammer - not too hard. That should unstick the starter and you should be fine." How homestead-y!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Stick Figures in Peril

On a lighter note:
For the geeks out there, here is the link to a flickr page which collects pictures of stick figures in peril. You know, the pictures showing graphically what could happen to you if you aren't careful by using a stick figure.

Last Summer, Part 3 - Montana

When we left our intrepid explorer last, I was in Montana's Bitterroot Valley wandering, looking for what my life was going to look like. Hoping it was going to be outside work, making the world a better place, but dreading that somehow I'd end up behind a desk in an air-conditioned corporate cubicle world.

I'd spent two weeks working on an organic farm in Grants Pass, Oregon, moseyed through the California redwoods and back up through Sand Point, Idaho. All the way I was working the WWOOF-USA book and the USDA's ATTRA internships web pages ( ), looking at options as diverse as working on a horse farm in MT to helping construct buildings in Utah. Some people never answered my inquiries, some were full and some not taking interns any more.

Finally I found it, and when I read the description on the ATTRA website, I felt something shift inside me.

General Description: We use a large herd of goats to contract graze weeds and brush in the Greater Yellowstone Area of MT and WY. We also raise meat goats with this herd. We use border collie dogs and mesh electric fence to guide the herd. We believe in managing to optimize the health of the land, animals, environment, and community (humans).

I contacted them and we agreed to a one-week trial period starting the next day in Red Lodge, Montana. I spent the night in Missoula, and met them the next day. Now, that country, immediately east and north of Yellowstone Park is just about the most beautiful place in America. (Not the world though. The most beautiful place in the world, in my opinion, is Wadi Rum, Jordan.)

Terra Vita has two herds of 650 goats each, and during the week I spent with them I learned how they use goats to manage land. It's a hard sell in this part of the country though, and very, very hard work. I flamed out, falling face first in mud, trying to roll up the portable fence on a steep, muddy hill; struggling to drag a 40-lb battery to charge a new pen every few hours. Goats prefer weeds to grass, so you move the goats right after they've finished the weeds and before they start eating grass. For the site in this picture, it means build a new 2-acre pen and move the goats every few hours. I couldn't hack it.

Here is where I slept though, in my hammock. It was stunning. The nearest house was about 1/4 mile away on the next hill over. Notably, it wasn't quiet here at night. Noise carried from the next house, so I fell asleep listening to the neighbors and marveling that if you try to run away from noise, it follows you. I bet if I had internal silence, no noise would have bothered me.

Even though I had failed at interning here, something inside me had changed. I knew that this was the thing I wanted to do. The engineer in me says it meets all the criteria. It's outside work, helping the environment, away from the corporate cubicle grind. The pragmatist in me isn't so sure - can I survive doing this?
I spent the rest of the summer working that out and I'll take you there too. Later.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wild Sarsparilla

Edit: Thanks Woodswalker! It's wild sarsparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)

Most days I come home from my sitting-all-day-at-a-computer job and take a walk around the yard to see what's new. Some days I do this briefly in the morning as well, but feet get wet then.

This afternoon I checked out the shady areas of the lower blueberry hill and found this mystery plant in the shade. Lots of them. The berries and the leaves come from the same root on different stems. The leaves are 5 leaflets on 3 leaves that all join in one place. I'm not finding it in Peterson's Trees and Shrubs which makes me out of luck.

On another note, I actually have knit-able yarn! This is 96 yards (3 oz) of 2-ply wool that I bought at the Connecticut Sheep and Wool Festival this year. I have 8 oz of this fiber, which means I should have 250 yards of this when I finish it. Cool. It's a little tough to sit all day and then sit some more when I get home, so it may go slowly.

Today's Blueberries

Blueberries are beginning to ripen. The ones that are blue-ing are still reddish and very tart. Soon.

Sunday Rocks

Today I moved rocks.

Just kidding. I'll move rocks when it's cold and I need to do something to warm up. These have been here for quite a long time. Exhibit 1: the tree growing through this wall.

I hear rocks are the only reliable crop at some New England farms. Each year the earth sends up more and farmers have to pick them from the fields. Just like a real harvest.

What I really did today in honor of it being the first all-sunny weekend day this summer was:
- walk in the grass in my bare feet
- lay in the hammock and read
- look at the shapes in the clouds
- take a long nap in the hammock.

In other words - I did nothing today. I know I won't be able to sleep tonight and will be tired tomorrow, but I don't care. It appears that sunny weekend days are rare here, so I should enjoy them when they're here!

Yesterday was the warmest it's been all year on the mountain - 79 degrees.

I think looking for shapes in the clouds is a skill I lost when I grew up. I should practice this skill more often!

Friday, July 10, 2009

What is This?

Edit: Friend Linda and friends of my father say this is Foxglove, Digitalis Lutea or Grandiflora? (I accidentally deleted the email.) Good to know!

In my zeal to clean up the beds in front of the house, I destroyed a bunch of things that may or may not have been actual flowers instead of weeds.

One of them managed to survive and grow despite the destruction.

Does anyone know what it is?

Woodshed Roof

Last week's repairs to the woodshed roof only half-worked. We had a few heavy thunderstorms come through this week and here you can see it enthusiastically raining inside the woodshed, despite the new flashing I had put up outside.

I also found out (by standing in the shed during the storm and watching the water come in), that even though the repairs partially worked, they didn't keep the water out of the shed. Now rain falls off the roof onto the ground in front, and comes in through (actually under) the front door! Like it was invited or something. Before the repairs, the rain just came right in through the roof.

It ends up in the same place though - on the floor - frozen in the winter. Just waiting for me to slip and fall. Water gets into the cracks and then expands and bad things happen over time. Actually, only part of the floor is concrete. It's mostly dirt.

I guess I'll have to get back on the roof, add flashing and do some other stuff I haven't figured out yet. Also see if I can stop the water from coming in the front door. (Rescind the invitation - go home water!)

Observant folks might notice that in the first picture the leftmost 2 x 4 is unsupported. The support for the right-hand piece is resting on a piece of cut wood on the floor. This whole structure is falling down slowly (held up by that chain with the screwdriver in it). I basically want to spend the minimum effort to keep the wood semi-dry this winter, and make rebuilding this shed a project for the next year or so. Hopefully I can expand it a bit and park the ATV and lawn tractor in here too! Oh, the possibilities, if only it would stop raining!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Looks like I didn't give the broccoli enough space, but in my defense, the plants were so small!

When I lived in Aqaba, Jordan for a few months in 2007 (yes, the country), the local grocery store had this stuff marked as Prokly.

In their defense, there is no equivalent in Arabic for the letter "P." They use the same sound that we use for "B." So "Parking Lot" comes out as "Barking Lot," and "Prokly" comes out as .... "Broccoli." I'm sorry I missed the opportunity to take a bicture of the sign in the grocery store when I had the chance.

I was chuckling this morning as I took this "Bicture."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Last Summer, Part 2 - Idaho

As this summer progresses I want to post some memories of last summer, since it was so interesting, at least to me...

In May 2008 I left a job in Europe and came back to the US. I stayed with my mother in western Oregon and spent several months figuring out what my life was going to look like. I knew that I didn't want to give my entire life to a corporation any more and that I wanted to be outside, know the rhythms of the sun, etc, etc, etc. All the good stuff.

In June I spent 2 weeks in Grants Pass, Oregon working on an organic farm (see previous post). Then I toured the California Redwoods and saw Arcata, CA before going back north to decide what next. I was looking for a conventional job while really trying to be open to unexpected opportunities. (I fully recognized, and still do, that even though I don't want a conventional life, it's all I've ever done - which is a heavy inertia pulling me back to the only life I know.) So this time last year I headed north and east to Sandpoint Idaho. There is an alternative energy company called Back Woods Solar that I wanted to check out, and a family that I could WWOOF with for a bit.

I only stayed in Sandpoint for a few days. I traded some Industrial Engineering work for food and a place to sleep and had a great time spending time with the family, delightful, interesting people. The picture above is where I slept in Sandpoint. It's a creation of a local artist and gives you a feeling of how neat a place Sandpoint is.

Then I opened up the WWOOF book again, looking in Montana and as far east as Utah for what was going to happen next. I made phone calls, left messages, sent emails to various people and expanded my thinking from just WWOOFing, to interning or even more.

This next picture is in western Montana's Bitterroot valley as I headed east.

In a few days I'll post about what happened next.

Raised Beds

I'm planning to build raised beds later this summer or fall, fill them with soily manury goodness and let them percolate over the winter so they're ready for next spring and the rest of our lives.

So now I'm in the planning stages, how big, how deep, how to make the corners, what wood to use, etc, etc. My soil is rocky, and yukky (yukky meaning no topsoil), so I was thinking of making the beds high enough that they don't need to use my dirt. In fact, I was going to cover a few rocks with these babies.

First question - how high do the beds need to be? Do they have to be 18 inches, or is 12 inches good enough?
I was going to use treated 2 x 6s, either 2 or 3 high. I'm aware of the debate over using treated wood, but that just doesn't bother me. I am spending way too much time thinking about the corners though. There are a few places selling corner hardware with integral stakes and other fancy stuff, but the $$ adds up quickly. Should I just use angle brackets from Home Depot, or some other home-brewed system? (One person writes in gardenweb that she used stakes for the sides and no corners at all, for drainage.) Oh, the confusion....
Last question: So far I've planned 3 beds of 4 x 12. I feel like I should have some 4 x 4 beds for asparagus and strawberries too. Does that make sense? It's only me that I'm planning for here. If I get lucky maybe there'll be a Mr Right someday, but I don't want to kill myself with these beds.
PS - cold frames are a planned future addition to at least one of these beds. I suppose that should be part of the initial planning too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Vacation's Over

I took most of the last two weeks off of work while my mother was visiting. Despite it raining 25 of the last 30 days or so, we still got quite a bit accomplished. My mother organized my shed, helped me donate things to the local Habitat Re-Store, made my kitchen spotless, and planted many many things. All while helping me focus on getting important house winterizing things done and carrying a lot of wood to the woodshed. I feel caught up, for the moment. It was nice to have someone else around.

But now she's gone back to her house and I'm back to work. Sigh.

Here's what I picked the other day. New plants learned - birdsfoot trefoil and yarrow! (at least I think..)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ground Covered with Flowers

I went to visit the upper blueberry hill to see how the blueberries are doing, and was surprised to see the ground covered with flowers.

I think these are Dewberries, either swamp or northern. Likely swamp dewberries. Wikipedia says they're not tasty, but a dull blue dye can be made from the berries. I think I may try that when the berries ripen. Lord knows I have plenty of white fiber just waiting for dye experiments.

Here's another shot of the dewberries.

The blueberries are still small and very green. Elderberry blossoms are just opening up. It looks to be several weeks before these ripen, minimum.

On another note: there is only one cucumber plant left, of six planted in the bed next to the house. After the first two went, my mother put cages of chicken wire around the remaining four. Then another two went, and my mother put plastic plant pots with the bottom cut out around the two left, over the chicken wire. Then yesterday mid-day something took one more. Now there's only one man standing and I fear it's a goner. The predator isn't taking the leaves, just snipping them off. I think it's trying to drag the leaves through the holes in the chicken wire. It's gotta be something small, maybe a mouse?

I hope it doesn't go for the cantaloupe or honeydew melon plants. I only have one of each!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Spinning Success

I did get to the knitting guild on Friday afternoon. (Did I mention how amazed I am that this group is only a 10-minute drive away? There is *nothing* around here within 10 minutes.)

There were maybe 10 ladies there, 5 spinning and several knitting, embroidering, and other things I didn't notice. There was even another spinning wheel just like mine! The ladies came from all over, west towards Albany, east from Massachusetts, and even Vermont.

They were extremely helpful - instantly diagnosed that I had too much tension in both places where tension can be adjusted (on the wheel). Then one person stayed with me for maybe an hour, coaching me through long draw spinning and watching as I practiced. I think I got misty-eyed. It's such a revelation to be able to do this right after so many months of unsuccessfully struggling with it. I've been practicing too. Now it's easy, and something I can do every evening.

Then yesterday I "fixed" the woodshed roof with a band aid, paperclip, duct tape MacGyver type solution that will hopefully keep it from leaking until I can afford to get it rebuilt in a year or two. And this morning I cut more wood up the hill with the newly sharpened chainsaw chain. Like butter. Now I'm going to relax, since it's finally sunny after a month of rain. Enjoy the rest of the holiday weekend all!

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Good fences make good cucumbers.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Setting the Twist

My first three attempts at handspun yarn hanging on the porch so the twist can set. The first two were made using a drop spindle and the last one (on the middle) was made on my spinning wheel, a used Ashford Traditional and plied with a drop spindle. Altogether it's a whopping 86 yards and pretty chunky and unevenly twisty. Hopefully my sister, an expert knitter, will be able to make something small and semi-ok with it.

They say that when you get a spinning wheel you should practice every day for 20 minutes - a thing I did not do. I got the wheel and learned how to use it in March, and then got sidetracked by outside work for a few months. When I came back to the wheel recently (to make my sister a birthday present), I find that I can't use it any more. I can't do the hand motions properly, the singles have no twist (which is bad), and I can't add on more roving. Stuck.

I'm inside more these days because the entire month of June has been below average temperature and above average rain - as in rain just about every day of the month! It hasn't cracked 80 up here on the mountain yet, and only been above 80 five times down in Albany (compared to 15 times last year by now). I suppose real homesteaders would just go out in the rain, a chore I'm happy to postpone until I get to be a real homesteader.

The tiny bit of good news is that there is a knitting guild about 10 minutes away from my house that meets on Fridays. I hear that these people are also great spinners and been assured that if I take my wheel over, they'll straighten me out tut suite. It's amazing to find such a group out here in this rural area. I have to be home for a delivery early this afternoon, but if I luck out, the delivery will come at the beginning of the 2-hour delivery window so I can book over to the knitting ladies and they can get me spinning again!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wood is Hard Work - Chainsaw lessons

Last week I started cutting the trees that the excavator left me. (According to one of my homesteading books the term is "bucking.") This puny little pile is maybe 20 - 25 cuts, and boy is this cutting your own wood tough. The chainsaw is heavy, the wood is heavy, I have to get dressed up in protective gear to use the chainsaw, and then after 10-15 cuts it runs out of gas and chain oil and I have to bring it back to the house for a reload on fluids. Then, after cutting about half of this tiny pile the chainsaw started smoking and not cutting very well.

Now I'm new to this whole using a chainsaw business. I was pretty sure that something was wrong, but didn't know what it was. So I brought it back to the house, changed into "going to public places" clothes and took it to the local hardware store. This hardware store has saved my butt numerous times already, but it's not close. There and back takes about an hour.

That's where I learned that this is normal - chains need sharpening every so often, and they do it there for $5. Yay. When they get chains in stock again, I'll do like real country people do and buy a second chain. Lesson learned.

I suspect that most people that have well-paying jobs would just pay for wood that is already cut and split. This work is really hard! But I'm practicing for when I don't have a job or much money, and I think it's really good practice. Plus, and this is a big one - I think it will be REALLY satisfying next winter when I put wood on the fire that I've cut and split myself. This winter will be satisfying too. I bought the wood last December, but will have handled each piece 4 times by the time it gets on the fire.

All this wood stuff represents one of the most elemental parts of taking care of oneself, along with food and shelter. It feels good to be getting these skills.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rocks in the Yard

I hadn't mowed this part of the yard for maybe 2-3 weeks, so it had gotten pretty tall. I remembered many of the rocks, but didn't remember many of them also, scraping the blades of the machine. It's a terrible sound. Then later as I was showing my mother the wild strawberries we noticed some new, strange metal parts laying on the ground.

I guess the right thing to do is look under the mower to see if there are some obvious parts missing. Of course that's not very easily done - this mower's too heavy to lift. I do have ramps, but need to prop them on something sturdy and drive up the ramps in order to see underneath. Sigh. Maybe I'll put flags or something near the rocks so I don't prematurely kill this mower or blades.