Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shade arbor

I still owe you a post about my modified shade screen approach, but to me, this project is more exciting. Partly because it's what I've been working on most recently, but partly because I've wanted to do this for a very long time.

A shade arbor might even have been one of the ideas that kick-started me down this path I'm on. You see, back when we lived in Cincinnati, we had this concrete patio in our back yard. The previous owners had put a hot tub on it, but didn't leave it behind. So we just had this big concrete slab on the sunny west side of our house. It acted like a big baking stone, heating up all afternoon, and so it just wasn't very useful to us.

Somewhere along the way, I got the idea to build a shade structure over that concrete slab. Then I got the idea to grow some pretty climbing vines over it. Wisteria sounded perfect. At least until I read up on it and found that it's very "vigorous", and needs a very sturdy support. Plus it takes ages to flower in many cases.

Then I remembered a road trip I took after college with my good friend & roommate, Keith. One of the places we stopped was Colonial Williamsburg. It was hot and muggy, and we we're in need of a break. We stumbled onto Chowning's Tavern, which had this great patio out back, completely shaded by grapevines. The combination of the shade and a cool Chowning's Ale were just the thing to beat the heat.

So I thought why not a grapevine on our patio? Beautiful shade plus tasty fruit!

Unfortunately, I never got around to it. I'm not especially handy, and I wasn't confident I could do it. Eventually we moved. And while our new house doesn't have a concrete patio, it does have a number of west-facing windows in the back yard. And I'm even more committed to planting an edible landscape, not to mention cutting electricity usage.

So back in April of 2007, I bought some materials, dug some post holes, stuck some posts in the ground and poured some concrete around them. Then life intervened. It was always second priority. Or third or fourth.

Now, with the tractor dead (again), and the garden in shambles, I'm letting the jungle grow for now. The cow is down to one milking a day, the car repairs and bank fraud and sick daughter are mostly behind us. With unseasonably mild weather hanging about, I decided it was time.

I've only completed half of it, but the second half should be slightly easier, now that I've worked out the kinks.
You can see a few things in this photo. First, there's a hammock, and a glimpse of a sky chair. What fun is an arbor if you can't relax under it? Second, you'll notice that part of the arbor is covered. More on that later. Third, you'll see how long and narrow it is. (Fourth, it looks like the post near the right edge of the photo has a huge bend in it. That's just a fish-eye effect from using a wide-angle lens. It's mostly straight...)

One thing you can't see is that a number of the posts have twisted over time. I don't recommend taking a year and a half to complete such a project. Another thing you can't see is all the glaring imperfections. "Due to the handcrafted nature of this project..." Like I said, I'm really not very handy.

The decision to make it narrow was not arbitrary. For one thing, it had to fit between the house and the gate in our fence. Well, it could have stretched far enough to reach beyond the gate, but that would have made it monstrous. For another, I wanted summer shade but winter sun. Too wide and it would have been casting some shade all winter too. We want all the winter sunshine we can get! And given the narrow space, I decided to use cattle panels as the top of the arbor, instead of the traditional wood lattice, or the taut wires often used with grapevines. Happy grapevines will live for decades, and I didn't want to worry about someday replacing rotting strips of wood or tightening wire supports. The reason it's so long is so that it will eventually shade two windows and a sliding glass door. And the reason it's not attached to the house is so that we don't need a building permit, so that we don't create a highway for ants and other bugs to get in, and so that we don't end up with grapevines climbing onto the roof. (We may get those last two anyway, but it should be easier to prune away from the house than if it were attached.)

The covered portion was made from a torn canvas tarp we had on hand. I'm going to cover more of it eventually, though I don't have enough canvas for the whole thing. Once the grapevines get up there, I'll get rid of the canvas, but it will provide some shade in the meantime. Initially, I tried hanging the tarp underneath the cattle panel, but no matter what I did it looked wrinkled and saggy, and would have dumped water in awkward places. So I put it on top instead. It seems to work much better that way.

Here you can see the shadow being cast by that canvas tarp:
This was taken at 6:00pm, about 2 1/2 hours before sunset, and it's still casting a pretty good shadow on that window. In the heat of mid-afternoon, it's almost completely shaded. I'll actually take the tarp off when cool weather arrives so we can get that solar gain. With grapevines of course, the leaves will be off in winter, letting much of the sun through - though over time as the vines thicken, it may amount to a fair amount of shade even then.

If you want to see how much sun or shade you'll get from an arbor, awning, or overhang, this tool is invaluable. You use sliders to set the dimensions of your window, the dimensions of your shade structure, and your latitude and longitude (easily obtained via Google), you see what kind of shadow will be cast at different times of day and year.

August - Late afternoon

December - Late afternoon
Now I just have to get the grapevines to grow. I've got a Concord at one end, and a seedless green Interlaken at the other. Neither one is thrilled with its location at this point. That may take some experimenting.

In any case, it sure is nice to have a structure out there, instead of just some random posts sticking out of the ground.


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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gratuitous baby picture

Feet. It's what's for dinner.

He's got the rollover mostly figured out, and if he's on his tummy, he can hold his head up and prop himself up with his arms for quite a while. He's getting closer to sitting up unassisted. Lori's projecting that he'll be in 12-month clothes by six months.

And he can make grown men and women swoon with his smile. Let's hope he only uses his powers for good and not evil.


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Friday, August 08, 2008

Just to clarify...

In my last post, I'm not talking about our specific situation. Barring some unexpected circumstances, I don't think we'll be buying a new vehicle any time soon. And by "new," I mean used. Brand new is right out for a long list of reasons.

I just thought it was surprising that save a lot more gas going from 10 to 20 mpg than from 25 to 50.

Just another piece of the puzzle to consider if you are trying to change vehicles, like a lot of people are right now.

I hear that a bicycle gets the equivalent of about 1500 mpg.

No word on what kind of mileage these get:


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Fuel efficiency puzzle

Okay, here's a little pop quiz for you.

Let's say you have two vehicles. One is a big old SUV that gets 10 miles per gallon. The other is a family sedan that gets 25 miles per gallon. You drive both about the same number of miles.

Rising fuel prices have made you decide to upgrade one of the two vehicles to save on gas. You scour the auto listings and you find two possibilities. One is a newer crossover vehicle that could replace your SUV. It gets 20 mpg. The other is a high-efficiency hybrid sedan to replace your current car. It gets 50 mpg.

[For the purposes of this discussion, we're leaving out complicating factors such as embodied energy, vehicle capacity, maintenance costs, alternative solutions, and creative answers. The point of this is to illustrate that our intuition can be way off for something that is becoming increasingly important. I am of course tipping my hand that this is a trick question, but I bet you'll think the right answer is either wrong or confusing. And feel free to imagine km per litre, rods per hogshead, or whatever units you prefer. The units don't really matter.]

So which is the better strategy:

A. Replace the 25 mpg vehicle with one that gets 50 mpg
B. Replace the 10 mpg vehicle with one that gets 20 mpg

Take a minutes to think this over.

[ scroll down for explanation ]

Are you convinced your answer is right?

Did you pick A?
After all, you'd save 25 miles per gallon instead of ten!

The correct answer is B. By a longshot, actually.

Take a look at this chart:

Gallons used per 1,000 miles driven

OldNewgallons saved

So in this scenario, you actually cut two-and-a-half times more gas by switching the SUV rather than the car - 50 gallons saved vs. 20.

For the whole picture, we can total the two combinations of vehicles (new car + old SUV vs. new SUV + old car) to show the first combination uses one third more - 120 gallons vs 90 gallons.

The trick is to invert the common miles-per-gallon measure into gallons-per-mile. Or maybe gallons-per-1000-miles, for easier readability. The fuel-per-distance gives a more accurate and intuitively clear measurement of fuel efficiency.

Obviously I'm leaving out a thousand variables. But I thought it was interesting.

Science Daily has a great article on this.



Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Two stories

Funny story...

As I mentioned before, Amelia hasn't been feeling well. And when she doesn't feel well, she gets very insecure and clingy. She wants Daddy in the chair in the corner, and Mommy at one end of the couch. If either of us gets up to get a drink, use the bathroom, get stuff done, Amelia will start to cry and fuss, and physically try to force us back to our designated posts. And if you dare to go outside the house, panic sets in.

Now, the good news is that Amelia is feeling much better. We cancelled the CT scan, and she hasn't really cried uncontrollably in several days. And the clinginess is subsiding.... which is good because today was my day to get up early and drive to Cincinnati. I was worried how she'd react when I wasn't there all day.

She did pretty well. But she did need a little help. She dug around in the laundry and found one of my shirts. Then she brought it to Lori and made her put it on. Then she led Lori over to the corner chair and made her sit and cuddle. Throughout the day at various points, she'd sit Lori down and pat her shirt.

When I finally did get home, she let out a squeal and did a little dance.

Needless to say, this is a vast improvement over most of last week.


Not quite so funny story...

So I told you that on Friday, I discovered that somebody had stolen my debit card number and racked up $1500 in online purchases with it. Luckily, I noticed the same day, and called the bank's security department. They shut off my card. So no debit card for a week or two. But they told me to wait and see if the transactions posted, and if so, that I needed to go to my local branch and fill out some paperwork to reverse the charges.

I went to the bank the next morning. I explained the situation, and pointed out that I had no way to tell if the transactions had posted. They had not. So I was instructed to come back on Monday. I was also told that it could take up to 30 days to get the transactions reversed and the money put back into my account. Thirty days?! What, are they still using punch cards back there?

I asked what I was supposed to do about the inevitable overdraft charges? Try to keep it above zero, they said. Seriously? I can't get the fees reversed? Well, I could, but I have to go to the branch office where the account was opened, they said. I'd had the account for at least ten years, I told her, and had no idea which branch office that was. Oh, they could tell me: It's the on East Main... you know... 25 miles away. So they hadn't discovered telephones yet? Had they realized there were transmission methods beyond pneumatic tubes? Well, maybe the local branch manager could help me call the Main Street office and try to work it out without me having to drive up there.

So yeah, if you live in in or near Ohio, and you want this level of fraud protection and customer service, Fifth Third Bank is where you can get it.

I have some kind of free identity theft protection service that I got from the State of Ohio (because my name was on a laptop that some state employee managed to lose). Yeah, haven't heard anything from them yet. Glad I didn't pay for it.


Life this last week or so has made me grumpy. I'm glad my kids were all being sweet and cheerful tonight.


UPDATED: Well, I take back some of my complaints about my bank. Because I caught the problem on the same day, two of the bogus transactions were caught in time, and two more were reversed. Of course it took several days before all this was clear. But at least we got our money back.

And our cow seems to FINALLY be mastitis free, so maybe we're turning the corner. Woohoo!


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Sunday, August 03, 2008

It comes in pints?!

I somehow managed to finagle my way into an All-Star cast of writers, from authors Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton to green blogging goddess Deanna Duke (a.k.a. Crunchy Chicken), to groovy dudes like Matt Mayer, Steve Balogh, and Chris Welch, and even the visual and linguistic stylings of Shasha. (Not bad for somebody who has not yet successfully grown a single carrot. But that's a rant for another time.)

After a lot of brainstorming and hard work and virtual planks and hammers and nails, I'm excited to invite you to the grand opening of our online pub: Hen & Harvest.

We'll be serving up good old-fashioned cask-conditioned pints of gardening, low-tech tools and techniques, permaculture, and sustainability. From beginner to expert, from container gardens to acreage, from seed to pantry, from worm bins to dairy cows. We'll have some big name visitors from time to time (including my long-awaited Gene Logsdon interview) as well as plenty of locals to chat & compare notes with. And plenty of garden porn, of course.

We'll be adding more features and functionality as time goes by. And adding more contributors, so if you have a story to tell or experience to share, let Sharon know.

Meanwhile, stop by and have an imaginary pint. Heck, have a real pint if you have one on hand.

And then feel free to fill out an imaginary comment card with the link below.