Monday, May 14, 2007

Update, Part 4: Projects

Our pole barn is finally done. The schedule went something like this:
- Day 1: Sign Contract
- Day 80: Stake out building perimeter with twine. Square up corners.
- Day 95: Re-string perimeter twine that was blown loose during wind storm. Dig post holes.
- Day 110: Frame 90% of building.
- Day 115: Finish framing. Dig post holes for incorrect door placement.
- Day 125: Start roof & siding.
- Day 126: Finish roof & siding. Put in doors & window.

The actual amount of time spent on site amounted to about three days' work. Technically, it still needs its overhead garage door. But that should be done some time next week (i.e. July). Excuses for delays included:
- Weather
- Concern over water in post holes
- Company owner's wife in late pregnancy
- Lumber supplier problems
- Metal supplier problems
...and my favorite - somebody who was ahead of us on the schedule, who was also "kind of a friend, but I don't really know him..."

No wonder it took five months. The good news is that they actually did a nice job on it. And the price was right. But still.

Lori built a cool chicken tractor, which, even as I write, is slowly helping to create a new garden bed for me for next year.

I've been very gradually working on a fence that will divide our big pasture in two, so that we can do a little more rotational grazing. We tried a temporary electric tape fence, but it just doesn't seem to want to work for me. I did manage to put a tiny fence around my big garden, in hopes of slowing down the rabbits. And the chickens, for that matter.

My grape arbor has all its posts in the ground, but I haven't topped it off yet. It's had to move down the priority list for now.

Since the pole barn's (near) completion, we've been frantically working on some new chicken accomodations to get them moved out of the garage. (The photo just shows the framing for the pen.) The nest boxes are assembled, the fourth side is complete. Now there are just a few finishing touches to go.

I really want those guys (er, girls) out of the garage. If we'd known the pole barn was going to take this long ("it should be done in two to three weeks"), we would have done things much differently. As it stands, they should be moving in this weekend.

The good news about our lack of rain is that the grass in the non-fenced areas isn't quite to the point of being totally out of control yet. The tractor just does not want to run yet this year, and I need a scythe expert to show me what I'm doing wrong with my scythe. (It just bends the grass over instead of cutting it. I've adjusted the blade and sharpened it as instructed by the manufacturer. It was supposed to arrive pre-sharpened, but even now, trying to cut a blade of grass over the sharpened edge takes more effort than it seems like it should. I'll probably put out an APB on the OEFFA mailing list to see if anybody can come show me in person what I'm doing wrong.)

This fall or next spring, weather and budget permitting, I'm hoping to attach a simple greenhouse to the south side of the barn. In fact, we angled the barn so that it's not square to the house, specifically so that it had a true south face (well, within a few degrees at least), just for that reason.

I'm hoping to use some thin, corrugated polycarbonate panels for the glazing, some freecycled cinder blocks and some salvaged barrels filled with water for thermal mass, and some lumber already on hand for most of the framing. The barn has a small window on the south face. If that window becomes part of the back wall of the greenhouse, I can use it to let sun-warmed air into the barn in winter (assuming the sun comes out). And the chickens can keep my seedlings company if they want, as long as they promise not to eat any. But, this is all this is still hypothetical. Time will tell.

It also crosses my mind to extend the greenhouse framing beyond the actual greenhouse dimensions, and turn the rest of it into another arbor. Maybe I can grow hardy kiwi, or some more grapes. That would give the chickens a little more shade and raptor protection, as well as free meals of Japanese beetles whenever somebody is around to give the arbor a shake.

I must have enough ideas and plans for a lifetime. Good thing our one credit card is still zeroed out and frozen in a block of ice. Otherwise I might be tempted to overextend myself in money as well as time.

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At 5/19/2007 8:47 AM, Blogger Madcap said...

I see chickens, and I get jealous. We're still frantically beating back the wilderness at our place, trying to get a place ready for the humans to live.

I like that too, "Kind of a friend, but I don't really know him." Does that translate to, "My wife's best friend's husband"?

At 5/20/2007 11:24 PM, Blogger barefoot gardener said...

Glad to see you're getting so much done! Too bad about how long that pole barn took, though. There was definitely something to the efficiency of the old barn-raisings. It looks good, though. And isn't there an old saying about anticipation being half the pleasure? Of course, I think that is a load of what your chickens have been undoubtedly leaving in your garage, but some people believe it....

At 5/20/2007 11:29 PM, Blogger barefoot gardener said...

hey, e4.

I tried to peek at your peak oil site, but the menu options on the left are overhanging the text, and I don't know how to fix it. Is it me? Please let me know what's up, cuz I am really interested.


At 5/21/2007 6:33 AM, Blogger e4 said...

Madcap - sorry to flaunt those chooks. Hopefully you'll get yours soon enough.

BG - Yeah, anticipation isn't so great mixed with chicken poo. About the site problems - Could you email me so I can find out some more details? I've had this complaint before but I haven't been able to track down the circumstances. A valid email address should be on my profile.

At 5/21/2007 4:08 PM, Blogger barefoot gardener said...

Oh, e4, I am so computer illiterate. I tried to e-mail you and it kept telling me that the "postmaster" couldn't deliver the message. How about you try e-mailing me (you can from my profile now), and see if that works better. Otherwise I will have to ask DH for help, and he will laugh at my ineptness. (Is that a word?)

At 5/22/2007 4:06 PM, Blogger Liz said...

wow... it took 4 months AND someone else built it? I bet you're so happy that it's almost finished (and I am feeling surprisingly happy for the first time that we're going to do our own building, with the exception of the foundation work). We also angled ours due south, so that someday we can put solar panels on it & do a grid-tie system.

Re: scything. You need to keep sharpening as you cut... maybe every 10 minutes or so. Do you have a whetstone for it? Keep it wet and give it several swipes every now and again. You also may not be cutting low enough. It clicked for me last year... you've just got to get the right motion. Oh! And damp, morning grass makes for easier mowing.

One more thing... you'd have a lot more garden space if you widened your beds and got rid of the weeds in your paths. Those grasses can cause you trouble over time (especially if you don't hack them back before they set seed), and will take advantage of the good compost that you're putting on your rows & grow big and lush. Any reason in particular that your paths are wider than your beds?

At 5/22/2007 4:52 PM, Blogger e4 said...

BG - I sent you an email. I also fixed my profile...

Liz - Yeah, we had solar in mind as well, but it may be a while. And problem but maybe I'd be better off with a different type of blade? I got kind of a "multi-purpose" blade. (I forget, is there an archaic term I should be using instead of "blade"?)

As far as the paths in the garden, they are just a bit wider than my little reel mower, so that I can mow the paths down easily without mowing the plants too. (It also happens to be wide enough to accomodate our small garden carts if that were necessary.) The beds themselves were supposed to be wider than they are. I just miscalculated there. The picture is a little deceptive. The end I took the photos from is where the beds went a little wonky because I always got tired by then. In theory, the rows are about 36" wide and the beds about 24" wide (though the grass has gained some ground already.)

I actually tried winter seeding some white clover in the paths, but it didn't take. I also tried covering the paths with thick straw mulch, but it all blew away. My next move may be cardboard and more straw.

At 5/23/2007 8:14 PM, Blogger Suzer said...

The phrase ("it should be done in two to three weeks"), made me laugh out loud. Have you ever seen Money Pit? I'm glas you finally got it finsihed. Good luck with the chicken coop. Mmmm, fresh eggs.

At 5/25/2007 12:18 PM, Blogger Liz said...

That's why our scything is more enjoyable this year... we got a new blade! (duh) I ordered a 22" grass blade from Scythe Supply.... the blade that came with our snath was much longer and unweildy. A good blade can really make all the difference!

The only reason I asked about your paths was, after being down the road of mowable paths, I have since realized how much more important it is to keep a clean garden. I know straw or mulch is less attractive, but it will cause you much less trouble in the future! :)

At 5/25/2007 12:25 PM, Blogger e4 said...

Liz - Interesting. Maybe I do need a new blade. (I got mine from Scythe Supply too...)

Yeah, you're probably right about the paths. Keeping them mowed is not a big deal so far, but it is an extra step. And I sure don't care about the aesthetics. I already did the cardboard & straw thing on my smaller beds (herbs, strawberries, asparagus). Now if I could just keep it from blowing away all the time...

At 5/25/2007 5:06 PM, Blogger the Contrary Goddess said...

I was thinking about the rotational grazing thing. Mostly that seems to work best when it is REALLY restricted. Which isn't something we've been able to do yet so ours are mostly in one big field.

BUT if I were able to afford it, I'd buy some electric netting, build parallel fences and use the netting as moveable, adjustable cross fencing. With the lay of our land, that would work in our front pastures, and on the neighbor's which we have access to. In my experience, tape isn't worth anything (it doesn't shock hard enough). Wire works but is not really all that moveable. It is easy, cheap and fixable though.

On the scythe, almost everybody who picks one up lofts it. It is a low, even, rhythmic stroke. Somebody needs to do a video but short of that I'd recommend The Scythe Book.

I agree with Liz on grass on paths, and on our beds, we find that they move. Rather organically.

At 5/26/2007 12:51 PM, Blogger e4 said...

Suzer - Haven't seen The Money Pit, but maybe I should.

CG - From what I've read, rotational grazing can help in some cases, even if it's not too restricted. Smaller sections are supposed to maximize pasture utilization, but the case I'm thinking of is research that showed a bump in milk production (10-20%) for dairy animals the first three days after going on new pasture - even if the old pasture was still in great shape. I've read other things as well, but as always, it depends who you ask. I'd love to get to a bunch of 1/2 acre paddocks, but I don't know if it's practical.

Back to the scythe thing, I've actually even got a video from Scythe Supply. It could be that it just hasn't "clicked" yet, it could be that I'm dense and I'm not getting it, or it could be that it's not something I can learn without somebody in person showing me. Or the blade. At least it's handy for clearing milkweed and thistles and stuff in the meantime.

The grass paths will go as soon as I get to it.


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