Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spring, 2014: Late April: After a very dry early spring we finally got 3"+ of slow, gentle rain. The timing is good as the potatoes, onions, and both field and sweet corn are all planted. Last fall's winter wheat is up and looking good (the deer have finally stopped grazing on it as the rest of nature is now green too). The vineyard is pruned, the wires repaired and retensioned, and even the bottom row, "K," has been reclaimed and is now ready for serious production. We added drip irrigation lines to the driest corner of the vineyard. It is an experiment, and if it is successful, we will use this over about two thirds of the whole vineyard. Our soil is glacial till, and is a fascinating mix of clay, sand, and everything in between, quickly laid down by the last retreating glacier. Most soil lenses are small, a few quarts to a few cubic feet, but there are areas the drain a little too well for our drier years. The windbreaks are getting established and starting to do some real good. Most of the vineyard sat under significant snow cover all winter. Unfortunately, our local Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Directors has decided that since the tree sales do not "make a profit" they will be discontinued. I do not agree that a government agency is there to make a profit, my thinking is that we form agencies to perform functions that are difficult or impossible for individuals to perform. Profit is not an issue for our military, and it should not be for our Soil and Water Conservation District either. DId I say, "That's just dumb?" No? Good. I should be more patient, compassionate, and understanding than that. It was suggested the we utilize neighboring county's SWCD tree sales, and I will next year. We can't raise bees anymore as the nicitinoids used on the neighboring soybeans kills everything within miles, but on the up side, wild teals have nested along our waterway. Five pairs, the most we've ever seen. I hope there is enough food for them. Its turning out to be a good spring so far.

Friday, January 6, 2012

This is a site plan of the earthship. The block on the upper right, however, is the part we had planned for the summer of 2011 and has not been built yet. I wanted to point out the very different sun paths at this high latitude. Sunrise and sunset occur in very different places at different times of the year. On the recent solstice the noon sun was only about 35 degrees above the trees to our south. In the summer the sun hits the north face of the farmhouse both morning and evening, but not during the bulk of the day.

Winter 2011-2012 - Part One

After spending the last winter (2010-2011) in the 1904 farm house for convenience* and spending over $4k on fuel oil and electric heat for the season, my new wife and daughter and I moved back into the earthship. Our target date was Thanksgiving and we hit it pretty much dead on.
The winter of 09 I was living alone and the lack of privacy was irrelevant, besides, most of the developing world lives in single rooms or very small "apartments" of one kind or another. But the cultural reality of my time and place is such that privacy is non-negotiable, and I appreciate that we can afford to take this position. That all being the case, we spent the spring trying to get some excavation done as the next planned addition require a utility basement where the potable water cistern, the wash-water (rain) cistern, composter, and waste-water (greywater) sump are, as well as a little "cool" storage space. After one of the snowiest winters in a decade we got rain. We got rain every week. We got light rain, we got heavy rain, we flooded twice in the spring (and this is after once last fall). I pulled a fence post in April and watched the water in the hole rise and fall, but never disappear, for another two months. Excavation was not an option.
So we built a "temporary" super-insulated bedroom in the front end of the greenhouse. Torri painted an impressionistic forest canopy on the ceiling. It is tight, warm, and has a view to the southeast that gets wonderful morning sun.
Next we tore out the back of the greenhouse and built a staircase that wraps around to the roof level. Over the old skylight, and taking advantage of the masonry chimney's waste heat, we built another small bedroom. We also built a landing, an addition to the greenhouse on the upper level, and off the landing and greenhouse we built another bathroom, this one with the old composting toilet, a beautiful recycled oval sink, and a shower stall paved with Gordie Dingman's old ceramic glaze sample "cookies." The chimney runs between the bedroom and the bathroom (the only point of contact in fact) and heats both rooms. Both rooms and the landing serve as rainshed for the thermal umbrella behind the core unit.
This winter has been unseasonably warm (much like the spring had been unseasonably wet) and we have not used as much firewood (carbon neutral) as I had expected. Few days have been below freezing, unheard of in central Minnesota. There have been a few cold snaps but nothing lower than 3 or 4 blow zero (f).
The upper greenhouse has glass windows "above the waist" and the view is spectacular. The space was not yet sealed at the end of summer but I expect it to be quite hot. While there is venting at the top and some windows that open I do expect to have to make some modifications for the high heat of summer. Meanwhile, it is wonderful in winter with bright sun, good views, and the polycarbonate panels used for the GH roof are clear enough to pick out constellations at night.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Brief notes from Fall 2009

I have moved into the earthship. "Bite the bullet," do what needs to be done, all that. Planning will only take you so far.
There are still a million things to do but water runs from the tap (hot, even!) and the light switches cause illumination. Ruth and I arranged quite some time ago to get a hoop house (or high tunnel) and I have put most of the frame up over the earthship to provide a little extra heat, a place to work on larger projects (table saw, etc) snow-free, a place to split firewood (again, snow-free), and eventually a place to start veggies early. In a few years when I have to replace the fabric I will decide whether to move the hoops to the garden where they ere originally intended to be set up. By then I may well have built another one there, however. I suspect that they are the wave of the future, mediating some of the obnoxious effects of global warming.

We've had a killing frost already but I am harvesting peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and cilantro daily from the greenhouse. I've sold my jersey to a neighbor. Living alone, doing all the chores, in order to throw away 7 gallons of milk a day, just aren't worth it. Some day, when more people live on site, we'll do dairy again. Or, I may get another goat. It's been years since I've had goats here.

Ryan Batalden is interested in hosting the Gobar prototype. He raises organic pigs and cattle so it should be a better "test" run than I could do here. (Banjo) Bruce Johnson will be helping me engineer and build the prototype unit this winter.

As Winter sets in I will have more to say about what does and does not function as planned. I've yet to start a fire in the Tuli Kivi, but I'm looking forward to it. One major positive: I have a new grandaughter! Emma and her mother, Erin, are both doing fine.