Tag Archives: cold

Sputtering towards Spring

Organized workshop

In between the unusual arctic blasts that continue to pummel the area I’ve been quietly preparing for the inevitable coming thaw. We’re now back in another round of near record-low temperatures, but before that happened I got some much needed clean-up done as well as set up a really simple coldframe/mini-greenhouse for seed starting.

Ever since I brought my first load of stuff out to the property there’s essentially been an amorphous pile of stuff including everything from private affects and clothes to tools and materials all piled together with little rhyme or reason. It was under tarps strung between trees for the first 3 years, and then about a year ago it moved underneath the protection of the new shed.

Organized shed

Well, I finally went through ALL of the boxes of stuff and organized at least roughly. I can’t tell you how many things I found that I’d spent crazy amounts of time looking for.

The shed is a long way from done, and I’ll have to move some of the stuff again to work on the root cellar, but it’s so wonderful to easily find the tools and materials for projects and then know exactly where they go when I’m done. There’s an actual place for that kind of object now!  Also, I finally have space to pull in a vehicle to work on it when I need to.  Will wonders never cease!

Simple Coldframe

Hay and straw bale cold frame mini-greenhouseI made a rectangle from 8 old hay bales someone gave me and then stacked another 3 bales on the north wall of it.  Then I put down about 6″ of straw within a rectangle to insulate the floor and then draped a clear plastic drop cloth over a few 2×2 boards.  I secured the drop cloth with some of the scrap chunks of granite I have for various projects, mainly the footing around the straw bale buildings.

I also put a couple of the bigger dark pieces of granite inside of it, propped up against the back wall.  These chunks of granite are thermal mass that moderate the temperature, absorbing heat and keeping it from getting too hot during the day, and then re-radiating that heat back out at night.

Opened coldframe with onion trays

Today the outside temperature topped out at 26F, but inside the bale greenhouse it was 80F.  I’ve been bringing the seedlings inside at night since it’s been getting into the single digits and it gets below freezing inside the greenhouse, but soon it’ll protect against mild frosts and I can start getting tomato and pepper soil blocks started in there along with the onion trays I’ve already got growing.

Eventually there will be a greenhouse attached to the front of the common house and I won’t need to set a variation of this up every year.


Winding Down

The weather has shifted and things are getting downright cold around here.  The first frost is just around the bend and our tomatoes don’t look happy about it.  It’s been pretty overcast and the solar shower just isn’t cutting it anymore so we’ve been taking showers at the truck stop.

Visitor Lodge Fall '09The metal roof has been installed on the straw bale visitor lodge and it seems to be working like a charm.  It’s already weathered several intense storms without a sign of leakage.  Standing back and looking at the place I can’t help but be proud of myself.  I know we were aiming to get the entire place done this year, and we certainly could have gotten farther with different weather and more help, but somehow it’s hard to believe we’ve done as much as we’ve done.

We’ve started packing everything up and taking down Tarpopolis for the winter, after all, the tarps would collapse under any kind of snow load.  Liz has cleaned up a large chunk of the garden.  I’ve still got a few more things to do like tarping up the walls of the straw bale place and putting a metal roof over the composting toilet.  The cold makes it hard to get up in the mornings, but it certainly motivates to get as much done as possible.

We had a busy weekend with a photo-journalism student coming out to do a project about us, and a couple from Kansas City came out for a visit as well.  Justin and Melainia came out Sunday too and Justin helped us slaughter and butcher the guineas.  In reality, he did all of the slaughtering by breaking their necks in what appeared to be about as quick and painless a way imaginable.  The bodies still flopped around afterwards in a grotesque nervous system dance.  After watching Justin clean and butcher 2 of the 3 guineas I did the last one to get my hands dirty and really learn how to do it.

I’m not quite comfortable with the neck snapping, killing the animals is by far one of the more difficult and emotionally taxing things to do, at least for most people.  I’m concerned about hesitating and not doing it hard enough to kill them and having them suffer, the opposite is doing it too hard, in which case you pull the head clean off, which Justin did on the first one since guinea necks are weaker than chickens’ and he’d never done a guinea before.  I’m thinking I’d like to try making a chopping block out of a stump with two nails that you bend over the neck to hold it still and cutting the head off that way.  I’m sure that will cause the birds more anxiety, although I’d know I could kill it quickly and surely that way.  Gruesome trade-offs, and I may end up snapping the necks, but either way I know the birds had a good life, and that’s really the most important thing in my opinion.

We would have also slaughtered the last chicken but the night before Justin came out, a fox or some other critter made off with her.  All that remained was a pile of feathers and a bent fence where whatever it was climbed back over the fence.  Surely the way we choose to slaughter our animals is less painful and drawn out than what nature would do otherwise.

We cooked the meat over the fire and served it with some boiled carrots and potatoes from the garden.  The guinea meat was somewhat darker than chicken meat and had a slightly gamy flavor, which was actually very enjoyable.  The leg meat was a little chewier, but again, it was enjoyable.  I say that not just because it was personally satisfying to have raised our own meat, but because I objectively thought it was tasty.

Tao and Liz enjoying the guineasOur goal is to be providing ourselves with all or most of our own meat, which will undoubtedly be much less than the average American consumes.  It will also be healthier meat without all the antibiotics and elevated levels of saturated fats that confined animals end up with.  Not to mention our animals will be living happy lives doing what they instinctively want to do, and in the process providing us with much more than just meat and eggs.  We’ll be using goats like lawn mowers, using manure as fertilizer, guineas and other animals to get rid of pest plants and insects, all the while providing the pleasure of their company.

We recognize that the shear fact that we will be killing most of these animals near the end of their useful lives may seem brutal or inhumane to some people.  However, the more I observe and live closer to nature and read varying perspectives on animal husbandry, I’ve begun to see it as a symbiotic relationship.  These animals have evolved to depend on humans for their care and continuity as a species, in return they provide us with a host of services and ultimately even their bodies.

The alternatives are either to not have animals at all, which seems like a huge loss once you begin to recognize the immensely useful goods and services they provide, or to take care of them long past their useful lifespan until they die of old age, which is simply a fool’s errand.  I certainly will not enjoy killing them, but I will do it with somber respect and gratitude by doing it as quickly and humanely as possible and being as wasteless as possible with what they have provided.

In this last week, my mother will be coming up and we’ll visit the sustainability fair in Columbia, MO as well as just showing her what we’ve done and enjoying each others company.  Liz is heading out on Saturday I believe and I’ll finish up a few things and follow her a couple days later.  It’s sad to be leaving all of what we’ve accomplished but we’ll be back early next year and then we’ll be permanent residents.  I’m definitely looking forward to hot showers whenever we want and not dreading pulling off those covers in the morning.

I’ll continue to post blogs, I may even convince Liz to start posting as well.  We’ll spend the first month or so in Virginia doing some minor improvements to Liz’s house there and then we’ll head off to visit different intentional communities, as well as friends and family on a winter voyage in a small cheap tow-behind camper.  I’ve already got a few questions for each place we go, and I’m excited to see what other golden bits of wisdom they can bestow upon us and thus our blog readers as well.