the homestead

Surprise!

We had planned to spend a little time on the road this morning, but imagine our surprise when we woke to 6-7 inches of “occasional flurries” on top of the several inches from a few days ago.  My snow blower had a flat tire with no way to get it to an air compressor to it or vice versa, so we spent several hours shoveling snow.

A First Nibble of Winter

On Monday we had our first measurable snowfall, we’d had a few covering skiffs but this was about 3 inches of magnificent huge wet flakes, imparting spectacular beauty to the branches and landscape.  Today should be a pip, with nine inches expected.

Thus far even the temps have been reasonably mild, with some days requiring only a little time of my kerosene heater to take the chill out of the shop.  It looks to remain that way for until Christmas, and I will not mothball the hydropower until then.

[Update — At mi-day there were another 4-5 inches of snow, although it seems to be vacillating between fluffy flakes coming down hard and sleet.  Might by my first chance to use the mondo snow blower we bought 18 months ago.]

Geriatric Trees

One of the things about owning a home for almost 40 years is that you get to see new trees sprout, young trees mature, and mature trees live long past their prime and thus become a hazard.  Such is the case for our Maryland house where our daughter now lives.

The situation was brought to the front of the line recently when a silver maple sprout in the deck literally rotted and fell over (it sprouted from the stump of a giant maple that had been cut down 25 years ago; the deck was built around it) .  Of course we did not know about the extent of the rot until the “falling over” part.  This incident provoked me to arrange for a crew to come and do some serious whacking.

One fortunate happenstance is that the section of railing damaged in the fall was actually just displaced, none of the components were damaged but rather knocked apart.  So all I have to do is complete the dismantling and reassemble the elements.

Perhaps the most worrisome tree was this decrepit box elder, a junk tree even when in the best of shape.  Twenty years ago this provided wonderful shade for the Japanese tea house playhouse I built for the girls, a structure that still provides function to this day when dottir has friends with small children over.  The old box elder was leaning so much I was instructing dottir to avoid the area when mowing.  With the maple falling over it was time to act, and I did.  Well, all the acting I did was pick up the phone and sign the check, but you get the idea.

Three other worrisome trees were gigantic silver maples whose branched trunks were beginning to list a fair bit.

We had two trees removed en toto and another half dozen major limbs or trunks removed from others.  The yard and house are now much safer.  Plus, I got to give dottir a new chainsaw and a lesson on how to use it.  After finishing the task of cutting up the original fallen maple, she said she now understands the attraction of chain saws.

My only “complaint” after the fact is that almost all of the maple trunks were curly, with spalting, and the tree crew hauled everything away.  Drat.

Garden Bounty

We are fans of squash, both summer squash (zucchini, yellow squash, etc. —  her zucchini crush pizza is to die for) and hard winter squash, and Mrs. Barn’s harvest this year was really impressive.  We think it is enough to get us through the winter.  She shredded and froze a lot of the summer squash for use in cooking through the winter, and this mound of winter squash will appear on the dinner table with delightful regularity over the coming months.

Beans?  Great.  Tomatoes? Meh.

 

Readying For Winter (blog back on track?)

After a couple solid weeks of working my way through the pile of cut and drying bolts of wood, splitting hauling and stacking them to various location on the homestead, I note that winter now has my permission to descend on us.  I’ve got about 1-1/2-to two winters worth of firewood ready for burning, with another two-plus years’ worth felled and on the ground up on the mountain above the barn.  I’ll start cutting and hauling that next month to begin drying on pallets until I get around to splitting that too.

The “window” in the firewood crib was left open so Mrs. Barn could view her flower garden while rocking on the front porch. That void will be filled this week.

Being a southern California gal and enthusiastic gardener to boot, Mrs. Barn is singing the blues about the upcoming season.  Given the work done last year to the cabin it is MUCH tighter than in previous years, and she even was heard to utter comments that it was too warm in the cabin at times last winter.  Truthfully, I think the dearth of daylight is more distressing to her than the cold.  Time to get out the happy light from the closet.  And maybe revisit the subject of building her a greenhouse.

I am totally prepared for heating the shop, too, with far more firewood and bags of coal than ever before.  Since taking this picture I re-stacked the firewood to move it back a few more feet from the stove, and added a loose-stack wall of concrete blocks to serve as an additional safety feature between the stove and the wood.

Now all that’s left is to winterize the yard equipment and finish assembling the “Tim the Tool Man Taylor-worthy” snowblower I bought to clear the driveway since our plowing guy retired.

Then the really chilly weather can start.  We might be in Ol’ Virginny, but we have had at least a couple of sub-zero nights every winter.  Last year was pretty mild, but this being 2020 I can only imagine what the coming winter will be like.

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I think I am back on track blogging-wise, more or less.  I still do not have Photoshop up and running but found a good work-around for simple photo editing with Corel Photo-Paint, CorelDraw being my preferred vector graphics tool.  I can’t do anything really complex with Photo-Paint, but I can crop and re-size which is all I need 99% of the time.

There are still a couple of minor hiccups with WordPress but for now I can keep moving forward.  Thus I expect to resume posting three or four times a week for the foreseeable future.

Wish me luck.

When the Mundane Is Sublime

Sometimes it is the very small or simple things that make life out here in Shangri-La rewarding.  Some recent happenings and observations certainly fit into that description.

Last winter we had several large trees removed from alongside the driveway, and to make that happen with the least disruption and greatest efficiency I dismantled all the split rail fencing on either side of the road.  The rail pieces were stacked at the edge of the yard awaiting reinstallation.   My brother visited recently and we got about half of the fencing re-built, and earlier this week I finished the job.  Given my temporarily limited mobility it was a slow process of negotiating uneven and rocky topography, but slowly and surely it came together over parts of two days (it also happened to be pretty hot days for September in these parts with temps in the low 80s.  Unseasonably warm!)

The result is both mundane and sublime, slowly sorting through the split rails and placing them to find the best fit for every stick.  I was also hindered by a diminished inventory as a goodly number of the rails were degraded or damaged to the point where they were not useful in this application.   Still I was able to construct substantial sections of fencing, enough to re-establish the charm of our driveway appearance.

About one truckload of these unusable rails went straight up into the basement of the barn to be sectioned on my chop saw and used as firewood (it still burns great especially as fire starting material).  Another truck load was leaned against a tree adjacent to Mrs. Barn’s flower garden that she has carved out of the hillside next to the cabin.  I take no responsibility for it whatsoever beyond helping to move some of the materials, like these rail pieces that she will use for terracing and such.  The season for flowers is mostly past and the brilliant colors of last month are faded, but she plans to expand and extend the garden another twenty feet or so to the rear so she can admire the flowers directly from the kitchen window.  I am not a flower aficionado but they sure do add a sparkle to the homestead.

On top of that we are seeing the first hints of fall color as a few leaves of the walnut trees are turning yellow, the maple trees are showing their first hints of vermilion, and the locusts are soon getting their rust color.  In another week or two the hillside will be an explosion of color.  Perhaps not as brilliant and varied as my left leg, which from knee-to-toes looks like someone painted a psychedelic mural on it.

An Adventurous Day

I had a close call today, a couple inches one way or the other, a couple degrees more off center, or a slight differential in the gravitational constant and Mrs. Barn would be trying to figure out how the survivor benefits of my pension plan worked.
The weather has been uncooperative lately, raining a lot and clear only when I was unavailable to mow, so the grass was getting mighty lush.  Today it was supposed to rain in the afternoon, and the grass was wet from a light overnight rain, but it was not raining this morning.  So, I decided that even though the grass was wet my new monster riding mower could at least knock it down.  It’s a 24 HP V-Twin Husqvarna with a 48″ deck and can pretty much mow the whole place except for the trim work in under two hours, including the hillside next to the pond.
I was zipping around getting it done and was working between the driveway and the creek.  When I turned the wheel to the left just before the mulch pile, due to the slickness of the wet grass the mower went straight and then off the edge of the ravine with the creek.  In the blink of an eye I was tumbling down while in the saddle of a quarter–ton machine that was in the process of flipping over on top of me.  It happened so quickly I had no time to react.  A six-foot fall later I wound up prostrate in the creek underneath the overturned mower resting on my legs.  Seriously, had it gone an inch or two one way or the other, or rolled another couple of degrees, it would have snapped my legs and been resting entirely on my torso/chest.  It could just have easily been a fatal mishap in that event.  As it was the mower was balanced precariously, trapping but not really damaging my legs.  I lay extremely still so as not to disturb the entropy of the situation.
I gently called my bride over from her gardening to assess the situation, and at first she did not know where to go since I was out of sight  She immediately called 911 and they sent out the call to any volunteer rescuers in the neighborhood.  In about ten (?) minutes the first rescuer ( a Deputy Sheriff) arrived but the machine was far too heavy for him to budge (Mrs. Barn had known at a glance she could not help physically).  Soon two more rescuers arrived, and it took all they had for those three burly mountain men to roll the mower just enough for me to withdraw my legs and feet.  With the Deputy’s help I was able to extract myself from the invigorating experience of laying in 56-degree water with a rough bed of rocks underneath me.  By then the Rescue Squad ambulance and attendants arrived and I scampered up the ravine wall and they checked me out.  Well, maybe not actually scampering, but I was upright and under my own power after the numbness of my feet was gone.  My BP was 130/70, my heart rate was ~70, and my respiration about 18.   One of the medics asked me how I could be so calm, but I figured the jitters would probably come in a couple hours (they did not)
After I assured them I was not badly injured, the first rescuers rolled the mower upright and out of the creek bed and towed it up the ravine bank and back up onto good flat ground.  The “hood” had all come apart and was whomperjawed, but it is all snapped together in the first place and I did not observe anything broken.  I am certain I can put it all together without much fuss.  I let the mower sit until after lunch and it started right up, blew out a little oily smoke from being upside down, and drove into the barn without a hitch.
I probably should have had two broken legs and at least one broken foot/ankle, and substantial structural damage to the torso and head.  But, nothing much at all.  My left shin and calf are pretty sore and swollen and will really hurt tomorrow.  My right triceps is sore as is a right rib from laying on the rocks in the creek bed.  Oddly enough my gimpy knee seems to have emerged unscathed.  There may be other sore places tonight or in the morning, but I call out fervent thanks for God’s mercy in saving me from any more serious injury, or sparing Mrs. Barn far-too-early widowhood.  God’s lovingkindness is ever bountiful, even when things do not go especially how we would like them, and even more especially when we do them to ourselves.  It is truly miraculous, and I do not use the word as hyperbole, that I was not seriously hurt or killed.  Given the situation it should have been catastrophic,
I will now know to not mow anywhere close to the creek with the lawn tractor, no matter what.
I spent the afternoon working in the barn and will probably take it easy this evening.  I now pray for a painless and dreamless night’s sleep.
Singing the Praises of God’s Providence
D

Tweaking The Hydro Weir

I recently made a tiny modification (with a huge impact) to the hydro weir/sluice to address the imperfect alignment of the sluice and the capturing basin to which the penstock is attached via a shower drain fitting.  I was losing a lot of the weir flow because of that mis-alignment which caused a lot of the water to wick back underneath the sluice when the creek flow was a little reduced.  The clue to the need for this improvement was the noticeable belching of the water jet at the turbine nozzle a thousand feet downhill, indicating the system was sucking in some air.   Normally the turbine is nearly inaudible from the rocking chair on the front porch of the cabin, but the system breaking wind was clearly audible.

With a piece of copper flashing I bent a liner for the sluice so that the complete channel of water would be directed onto the screen on top of the capturing basin rather than to the closest edge, which was causing the water loss for the system.  I had intended to place the capturing basin directly under the end of the original sluice but there was a boulder in that precise spot, preventing me from getting the basin at exactly the right height (by about 1/2″ inch!).  This was a minor thing but the improvement was noticeable immediately.

I’m thinking about making a new capturing basin as this one might not be deep enough,  Given the weight of the 22 cubic feet of water in the penstock and the siphon function resulting from that 1400 lbs. of water, the flow of the system exhibited an intermittent air incursion into the flow, noticeable as a momentary gurgle at the turbine.

A new capturing tub needs to have the water level a couple inches higher than currently relative to the penstock intake.  I might accomplish this easily by simply making a new tub with the shower drain fitting right at the bottom of the tub, or at least as low as I can get it, so the water level would be adequate for minimizing the vortex sucking in air.  The space does not allow for a deeper setting for the tub as I mentioned earlier, but I also might make a wooden collection box so that it can be longer and lower in the water at the penstock intake.

Stay tuned.

Making A Replacement Octagon Awning Window

During my most recent foray into the battle of the cedar shingles I was finally at the location of the octagonal awning window in the master bathroom, indicating only another hour or two to completion of that side of the house.  Alas, this is what I saw; the window was beyond repair even though I had painted it thoroughly when it was installed 33 year ago.  Admittedly I had not monitored it for a very long time and the unit was made from white pine, not renowned as a durable exterior material.  Both Barndottir and I searched the web diligently for a replacement unit, but a suitable one was not to be found.  We could get one that opened, or or that was the right size.  But not both.

Using a cat’s paw and small pry bar I got the window and casing out safely and more easily than I had originally feared, throwing away the exterior trim even though it was cedar.  I made the opening weather-tight then hauled the carcass back to the barn to start on making a new one.

I decided to make the new window from my stash of prized old-growth cypress for longevity’s sake and set to work.  I re-sawed the 11/4 cypress mostly by hand then dimensioned it with my lunchbox planer.

I spent the most time of the project getting the angle for cutting the miters perfect on the table saw so that all eight corners were tight when gluing it up.

I taped all the segments together, applied Titebond II to the insides of the miters and just rolled it up, holding everything in place with the tape after double checking the squareness.   I toenailed each miter joint with brads from my pneumatic gun and set it to dry overnight

Thus the first session ended with the octagon box glued up, a very satisfying stopping point.   Foolishly I did not take a picture of the octagon box at this stage but you can see it in the next installment.

Update From The Department of Redundancy Department

As they say in the world of supply logistics, “Three is two, two is one, and one is none.”

The great thing about providing all your own power for a facility is that you get to provide all your own power.  The bad thing about providing all your own power for a facility is that you get to provide all your own power.  Thus you are enjoying the fruits of your own power plant or you are tending to the power plant.  That is why I have redundancy built in to my system.  For example, in the winter when I decommission and drain the water line to the hydroturbine I can fall back on my solar panels, which usually suffice.  And if it is a particularly cloudy stretch of days I can fire up the 6kw gas generator.

But sometimes even that is not enough.

Recently I did some routine maintenance to the system requiring me to take the solar panels off-line.  It was nothing exotic, I was just cleaning the battery terminals for the storage batteries.  When I brought everything back on-line the solar system simply refused to work properly.  Grrr. If it had been performing at zero efficiency I would know one thing.  If it performed at half efficiency, I would know another.  But those stinkers are only performing at about 10%, which has me and the engineers scratching our heads.  I need to undertake  thorough troubleshooting session once the weather warms a bit.

So, I fired up the generator and sent the juice up the hill.  But friends, when the temps are in the teens, pull-starting an 11HP motor can be a challenge.  Under those conditions pull-starting a big motor can result in pulling a muscle in your abdomen.  Which happened.  Grr, grr.

Still for three weeks I relied on my generator, but that has its own problems too.  A typical generator provides “dirty” power meaning that the current is pulsing and so too do the lights. The eye can get used to that, but the video camera cannot.  Thus we had to cancel a long-scheduled video session, no small thing since Chris now has a full time job, a new/old house, and a baby on the way.  We have not been able to schedule the make-up session, and I really need to get the Gragg chair video finished.  Grr, grr, grr.

In semi-desperation I undertook another upgrade/redundancy to the system and have yet another in the works for this summer.  I hired the electricians who have worked with me in the past to come about two weeks ago and wire in a 50A 220v circuit from the cabin to the control shed, so now I have the option of sending ~11kw of clean juice up the hill if needed.

This summer I will build a second hydroturbine about 100 feet downstream from the current Pelton wheel micro-turbine, but this one will be a cross-flow turbine with an open hopper penstock so it will not need to be decommissioned in the winter.  I’ve got the perfect location for the sluice and hopper where it will capture 100% of the water flow with about  a five-foot drop and will begin work on them as soon as the weather is more congenial and I get caught up on my projects in the studio.

I am currently four-is-three and will soon be five-is-four…

Stay tuned.