The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

archives for 10/2017

Autumn leaf.
Autumn is showing up on schedule around here.
Posted Sun Oct 1 07:00:13 2017 Tags:

Moving the wood stoveOur new trailer has no furnace and we're not sure if we'll get our wood stove installed and find cured fuel before winter. So now seemed to be the time to get our act in order about a backup heat source.

Mark's first impulse was geothermal since this is the most efficient heating and cooling option currently available. Of course, the downside of geothermal is a hefty price tag. The internet reports that you can install a geothermal system for as little as $7,000, but my on-the-ground research showed up $20,000 as the more-likely lower limit. Given the small size of our space, the current lack of federal tax rebates, and the fact that a considerable amount of our heat will likely be wood in the long term, that price tag seemed unrealistic. So I moved on down the list to heat pumps.

Cost of heating options

The last time I read about the heat-pump option, it didn't seem realistic for our region since heating efficiencies dramatically decline in cold weather. But since then, science has come to the rescue with variable-speed heat pumps that don't start losing their efficiency until 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, if your home is smaller than 1,000 square feet, ductless heat pumps bring efficiency levels nearly to geothermal status for a much lower price tag. For example, this 2,400 BTU unit costs $1,374 (or $947 after Mark's veteran's discount and AEP Ohio's $300 rebate) while boasting operating costs that rival those of a wood stove if you're buying fuel.

I can just hear Mom asking, "But what about the noise?" Ductless heat pumps use circulating refrigerants rather than moving air, so they're much quieter than the less efficient standard heat pumps. All told, they're currently top of our list...but I'd love to hear from anyone who's given them a try and has firsthand information to impart!

Posted Mon Oct 2 07:00:12 2017 Tags:
Ironweed in front of the barn

The sumac spice hidden in plain sight was only my latest find around an old homestead. Several years after moving to the country, I followed a faint trail up a hill, and found overgrown blueberry bushes. And then the next year found another blueberry bush I'd missed, and another this year... Now I have a thriving blueberry hill, that produces berries half the summer long.

Wringer washer in the weeds

My last time visiting Anna, the encroaching weeds reminded me of when I first visited, soon after Anna bought the place, and well before the beginning of the waldeneffect blog. Then it was a tangle of weeds and brambles, with the bones of an old farm in among them. Walls chinked with newspaper told the tale, of occupants in the 1930's, and a hardscrabble farm.

Mom in the garden

I'm used to software, where each line of code comes with a deep epistolary history of past versions, descriptions, justifications, discussions. A similar history has been built up on this web site, but as weeds choke the place again, perhaps it will be forgotten.

Metal hummingbird

Perhaps a deer hunter one day will notice a row of gnarled fruit trees in the old homestead, or in among a raspberry thicket, find stranger fruits, tiny kiwis and figs. Perhaps a new resident, crossing the ford years from now, will wonder what hands shaped it. Will, as they prune apple and peach, pick spring asparagus, and uncover deposits of unusually rich dirt, find themselves conversing across the years with like minds.

All we know is, we'll remember the place fondly, and look forward to new adventures. Join me in wishing godspeed to Anna and Mark!

Posted Tue Oct 3 07:00:12 2017
Construction site

Septic fieldWe've arrived! It was a bit of a shock to show up and find the overgrown parcel we'd bought cleared and turned into a construction site. But we'll appreciate the septic system when it's done, and in the meantime are thoroughly enjoying settling into our new digs.

Mushroom log barrier

To my surprise, the herbs and strawberries I left behind during our closing trip are alive and well. The mushroom logs I used to protect the greenery from deer produced a flush while we were gone, but otherwise our beginning of a new garden hasn't missed a beat.

Moving in

Mostly, though, we're focusing on zone 0 this week. Scrubbing and mopping, moving in, buying furniture at the thrift store (they deliver!), and generally getting used to the area are top of our list. More on the move-in process next time we stop by the library for our internet fix.

Posted Wed Oct 4 07:00:14 2017 Tags:
Hauling lumber in a car

How much lumber can you haul in a Toyota Corolla?

Enough to build a set of stairs and install a mailbox...without making the wife walk home.
Posted Thu Oct 5 07:00:13 2017 Tags:
Building steps

After a day spent climbing in and out of the trailer using a stack of cinderblocks, we decided it was time to install some steps. Given our relative lack of power tools (we only have a couple of charged batteries and no access to plug-in equipment until our electric is hooked up), we opted for an inside-the-box solution. Two risers and six precut boards inscribed with traction channels were pricey but fast and easy to install.

Of course, our contractor took a look the next morning and informed us we'd done it all wrong. In Ohio, nothing can be attached to the trailer itself if we want to pass inspection. Off to buy some four-by-four posts and support the back end properly!

Posted Fri Oct 6 07:00:11 2017 Tags:
Off-grid electric

Joey lent us a solar kit perfect for off-grid charge ups.

(Thanks, Joey!)

We move it from room to room each day following the sun.

In return, we net enough juice to charge our laptop, cell phone, and ereaders.

Despite having access to the bare digital necessities, we can hardly wait for our electric line, slated to arrive ten days after our final inspection.
Posted Sat Oct 7 07:00:10 2017 Tags:
Septic tank delivery

We prioritized steps over mailbox, so at first it was a bit tough to tell service providers how to find us. Then I realized I could just tell them to look for the yard full of construction equipment.


The bulldozer did most of its work before we arrived, but the trackhoe has been busy on a daily basis since. Here, it's digging trenches for our septic leach field.

Unloading septic equipment

Then on Tuesday, our herd of equipment grew larger yet as a massive truck came to deliver our septic tank and tiles. The new beast broke down while hefting the concrete tank over the trackhoe-dug hole, but a different truck was back on the job within two hours. It's amazing how much work heavy machinery can get done in a short amount of time!

Posted Sun Oct 8 07:00:09 2017 Tags:
mark New to us
Cat on couch

Two of our local thrift stores deliver.

One had a half-off sale.

We landed a lightly distressed pleather couch, a wooden dining table, three kitchen chairs, a desk, a dresser, plus delivery for $172.50.

Cat sold separately.

Posted Mon Oct 9 07:00:09 2017 Tags:
Trophy buck in the making

Our realtor initiated phase two of his plan this week, lowering the price of our property to $79,333. He'd initially priced the farm above market value so the listing would look better when we dropped it down to our actual asking price.

If you're looking for a limitless supply of trophy bucks, this is your nudge to take a second look. We look forward to hearing from you!

Posted Tue Oct 10 07:00:12 2017 Tags:
Yamaha inverter generator

We lasted for one week with only a small solar panel for electricity. Then we fell back on the other option we'd researched before leaving copious internet access behind --- an inverter generator.

When we bought our last generator, inverter generators either didn't exist in our price range or we simply hadn't heard of them. Since then, though, they've come down into the consumer price range --- only a couple of hundred bucks for a small, off-brand model or up to a thousand plus dollars for hefty units that will likely go the distance.

The downside is --- you get less power for your buck with an inverter generator. So why did we decide to go that route anyway?

Carrying an inverter generatorSimple --- efficiency, fuel savings, and peace and quiet. Basically, inverter generators are able to run at different speeds depending on how many things you plug into them. So if you're just running a lamp and charging a laptop, they'll barely use much fuel at all (about a gallon for every ten hours of use at 1/4 load) while keeping the noise down to about the level of a window air conditioner. Plus, they're small and light enough to be carried by one strong person alone --- definitely a plus.

We'd originally opted for the 2000 starting watt/1600 running watt Honda, partly because of its good reviews and partly because it was supposed to be available at Home Depot (where Mark could use his veteran's discount). But when the time came to make the purchase, all of the Home Depots in the area had run out. (You were right, Joey!) So we instead tracked down a Yamaha with similar stats at a motorcyle store in town --- bonus that we'll have a repair shop nearby if it needs to be worked on. More on what we think of our little engine that could in another post.

Posted Thu Oct 12 07:00:13 2017 Tags:
Generator protection

Generators belong outdoors.

Keep your generator dry.

Point exhaust away from living spaces.
Posted Fri Oct 13 07:00:12 2017 Tags:
Farmer's market bakery

We finally made it to the Saturday farmer's market. As promised, the array of goodies was considerably larger than the already impressive Wednesday offerings. Mark said I looked only slightly less exuberantly amazed than the toddler who was running in circles so erratically that she nose dived into my knee by mistake.

No spray farmer's market

As best I could tell in my daze of delight, only one stand promised entirely organic produce. But lots of others were marked "no spray," which I assume is the poor man's version used by folks who haven't jumped through the hoops to be officially labeled as organic. I chose copiously from both types of farmers, falling back on conventional offerings only when I absolutely couldn't resist their wares.

Sunflower microgreens

New taste favorites that we'll likely be trying to grow in the years ahead: sunflower microgreens, middle eastern summer squash, and another stab at seckel pears. As the books promised, a ripe seckel pear is indeed a taste explosion. Mark called the result "magical." High praise from a husband who's not given to hyperbole!

Posted Sat Oct 14 07:01:13 2017 Tags:
Putting together a rubbermaid shed

Putting together the Rubbermaid shed was considerably easier the second time around.

A few screws no longer bit as well as they should have into the plastic. But structural stability was deemed acceptable.

Elapsed time: 20 minutes for two people.
Posted Sun Oct 15 07:00:29 2017 Tags:
Big, wet tree

Dancing for joyKeeping up with the basics --- food, water, a spot to use the bathroom, and staying up to date on our computer work --- engrossed us for most of the first week. But the ground had been so parched that when it started raining, I couldn't resist running out to explore our new domain.

Down over the hill

Living so close to the road has taken some getting used to. But as soon as I slipped down over the hill, humanity disappeared in very short order.

Intergrown tree

Egg-shaped mushroomVarious neighbors have told us that this area was a dairy farm roughly a century ago. Sure enough, the trees are mostly the same age once you pass beyond the easiest-to-reach areas. There are scads of sugar maples, quite a few beeches, a tulip-tree or two, and even a few oaks. This is in stark contrast to life on top (our new core homestead) where honey locusts reign supreme.

Down at the bottom

Soil mapOur new property consists of a series of plateaus separated by steep banks. Following the deer trails, it wasn't too hard to get around, although the walk back up had me huffing and puffing by the end. But I'll definitely be coming back to my new favorite spot --- an outcropping of rocks beside a wet-weather creek.

I actually only made it halfway through the property --- our land goes up the other side past the creek too. But I want to follow a topo map when I head further afield. I'll save that expedition for the next time it rains!

Posted Mon Oct 16 07:00:39 2017 Tags:
Off-grid cooking

Our new Yamaha generator is quiet and efficient.

It runs for twelve hours on one tank of gas at a low load --- a few fans, a light or two, and a laptop charger.

The Instant Pot and circular saw work on the generator too, but both run at a slower speed. After the first test, Anna opted to continue cooking on the propane camp stove instead. I kept using my saw.
Posted Tue Oct 17 07:00:24 2017 Tags:
Trash day

Rural Athens County is a bit of an odd duck in the garbage department, at least compared to other areas I've lived in. We're outside the municipal pickup region, but apparently there are no county-operated dumping stations that accept private trash. Instead, we have to choose from a slew of privately run enterprises that pick up garbage at your door.

I figured if we were going to have to pay for trash disposal, we might as well go all the way and choose the service that offers recycling. I'm tempted to go into a long analysis of whether or not the Libertarians are right about this kind of setup making the most sense...but, honestly, I haven't entirely decided yet. Perhaps I'll make another post about it in a few months. Or, given my recent penchant to eschew public politics, perhaps not.

Posted Wed Oct 18 07:00:33 2017 Tags:
Empty trailer

Two weeks in, our moving trailer is 90% emptied out.

We're still living out of boxes inside, but the new quarters are starting to feel more like home.
Posted Thu Oct 19 07:00:35 2017 Tags:
Porch stoop

Although plumbing has consumed a lot of our attention over the last week, we did have time to make a start on more code-worthy steps.

The beginning is a landing in front of the door, minimum size three feet by three feet. We're trying to move this project along so we can get our electricity, but I took to heart my father's admonition over a decade ago that building is much cheaper if produced in sizes divisible by eight. So we expanded out to four feet by four feet instead.

Posted Fri Oct 20 07:00:21 2017 Tags:
Sgrafito camera

Anna and I attended a community event at the Dairy Barn last week.

We carved away red clay to make sgraffito blocks to ornament a commemorative trail.
Posted Sat Oct 21 07:00:15 2017 Tags:
From the west

Mom: I need you to share some photos of your new farm.

Anna: What do you think I've been posting for the last couple of weeks?

Mom: Those are nice. But I want long shots.

Anna: Ah! Got it! Here you go....

Homestead approach

When you turn off the road, you drive up a short hill to reach our new trailer. This photo is taken from maybe fifteen feet above the road and showcases the gravel our construction crew delivered on their last day of work --- crush and run that would have disappeared into the swamp of our old driveway in short order but should do well on this much drier site.

Septic leach field

Pretend you parked where the car is in the previous photo and walked along the front of the trailer to the door before looking back down toward the road. The area in front of you is the septic leach field (being graded smooth in the image above), which will become a grassy lawn with dappled shade from several honey locusts. A line of Austrian pines and smaller shrubs separate this area from the road. Our health department contact says this area shouldn't be garden but can provide grazing for chickens or low-density goats.

West of the trailer

If you walk back to the car and look southwest away from the trailer, you'll see the recently deforested zone that will become my garden. (Yes, that electric pole on the far left has a serious tilt --- they said they'd fix it before they hook us up.) A big pile of stones looks handy for edging flower beds around the trailer, and beyond them (not really visible) is the foundation of an 18-by18-foot building that never quite got built.

Walk uphill a bit then gaze back toward the trailer and you've returned to the first photo in this post. Of course, there's a lot more to the property than that, but most of it is steep hillside, which you toured previously. I hope that helps you get your bearings and gives you a better idea where we're at!

Posted Sun Oct 22 07:00:17 2017 Tags:
Shark bite connector

Our new trailer has plumbing issues.

Pex tubing plus shark bite connectors is making replacement a breeze.

The hardest part is tracking down each leak.
Posted Mon Oct 23 07:00:28 2017 Tags:

My fingers are itching for it's a good thing our construction team is done and I can finally start claiming spots for garden! This duo of salamanders showed up under a cinderblock after a rain as I began laying down a kill mulch to plant a late fall bed.

Honey locust canopy

I'm starting up close to the trailer rather than in my eventual main garden space for the sake of both simplicity and beauty. The question is --- how much will the nearby honey locusts shade these garden beds? Can I slip in some raspberries and strawberries while I'm at it, or will the canopies that seem very small and open in October block a lot of sun come June?

Honey locust pods

I'd be curioius to hear from anyone who gardens around honey locusts. I know the pods are good for animals, but how do plants fare when planted a few feet away from their trunks?

Posted Tue Oct 24 07:00:22 2017 Tags:
mark Cat nap
Basket cat

Huckleberry may be unaware he's moved from one state to another.
Posted Wed Oct 25 07:00:58 2017 Tags:
Trailer foundation

Jennifer: Sounds like you two are super busy managing the contractors and doing your own work. Plus, even just washing and cooking must be a bit of an endeavor without power and running water. Can you tell us more about a day-in-the-life in another post sometime?

Anna: Well, we're very much camping at the moment since we don't have electricity or internet. So I'm having to run to town three days a week to keep our internet businesses running while Mark's been busy getting our new place ready for the inspection. We've been cooking on a camp stove and keeping food cool in a cooler. Not so long as the weather stays nice!

Sink repair

Jennifer: Can you explain what the "final inspection" is all about?

Anna: Rules are a lot stricter here than they were for folks who live way back in the woods in Virginia. So we'll have to pass an inspection that involves not just electric wiring but also basics like foundation, steps, smoke detectors, and plumbing before we'll be okayed to have our power turned on. After that, there's a final inspection that checks on skirting before we get the state's official seal of approval. It turns out the septic system that I thought was the big important hoop isn't so essential here --- maybe we could have gotten away with a composting toilet after all?


Jennifer: What is similar and what is different from how you lived before? What do you like better already and what do you miss?

Anna: At the moment, I miss having on-demand internet. You don't really realize how much business you slide into random breaks during the day until you have to squeeze it all into a few hours per week at the library. I suspect that, in the long run, what I'll miss most is our beautiful creek and ability to stretch out in all directions without worrying about bothering or being bothered by anyone. Plus, my rich garden soil will take years to replicate.

On the like-better front --- I don't miss our swamp at all. I really enjoy not having to drive for an hour to hit most stores, and the amazing farmer's market and intellectual opportunities in town are invigorating. There's a really nice free newspaper, the potential for door-to-door compost delivery, and much better solar gain for the garden. Overall, I'm pretty sure we made a good choice to pull up stakes and move north.


Jennifer: Is the chaos making you crazy?

Anna: Yes.

Posted Thu Oct 26 07:00:30 2017 Tags:
Yamaha generator interior

After a week of heavy use, it was time to change the oil on our Yamaha generator.

We already can't imagine how we'd live without her.

She comes inside at night and when we leave home, so hopefully we'll never have to find out.
Posted Fri Oct 27 07:00:28 2017 Tags:
Installing an electric pole

Our crew's last job was installing an electric pole for the power company to connect to. The guys were clever and did all the wiring in the shop then brought the whole shebang to our place to slide into a auger-dug hole.

Levering a pole upright

Up she goes!

Burying an electric line

The wire is protected by conduit as it goes into and out of the ground but is bare for the rest of its length. It's also right next door to the easily-puncturable water line. Think I can remember that spot and not try to plant a tree there?

Lacey the dog

After the pole was up and the hole filled in, we had to say farewell to Lacey and her human family. We enjoyed having the pup oversee our project, but at a rate of $13,270 for labor and supplies to clear brush, cut down several trees, install our septic system (the biggie at $8,500), move and set up our trailer, hook up the water and electric lines, and gravel our driveway, we couldn't afford to keep her around much longer. Good thing Huckleberry doesn't charge those kinds of rates!

Posted Sat Oct 28 07:00:20 2017 Tags:
Storage camper

Our land came with a 1969 Holiday camper.

Both realtor and sellers thought it was a liability rather than an asset. But we plan to use the camper for storage while we're getting up to speed.

We did ask the crew to tuck her away around the back out of sight, though, in case neighbors consider the ancient pull-behind an eyesore.
Posted Sun Oct 29 07:00:38 2017 Tags:
Bracing a stair landing

We like the shortcut of using pier blocks at the base of four-by-four posts, but the resulting structure can sometimes be a bit wiggly. On our new stair landings, we added braces at the bottom to shore up the mini-porch.

Trailer porch

Next up was handrails, mandatory for stair landings more than 30 inches off the ground in our region. Depending on who we talked to, the handrails needed to be 34 to 38 inches or 36 to 40 inches above the porch level, and might need an upright every four feet. We added two additional supports after taking the photo above just in case.

Now we just have to fix a GFCI, wrap the water intake to our trailer in heat tape, and install smoke detectors and we'll hopefully pass our upcoming inspection. I can hardly wait to mark the last item off our "have to" list and move on to the "want to" list!

Posted Mon Oct 30 07:00:19 2017 Tags:
Manure delivery

What's the going rate for store-bought compost in Athens, Ohio?

One business charges $45 per cubic yard plus $50 for delivery.

Our neighbors brought us about one and a half cubic yards of aged cow manure mixed with topsoil for 30 bucks.
Posted Tue Oct 31 07:00:34 2017 Tags:

Anna Hess's books
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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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