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

archives for 11/2017

Potted garden

I considered spreading out my trailer load of manure to enrich a large area bit by bit. But, instead, I focused on making a few areas rich and ready to turbo charge our transplants.

New garden bed

Most of the plants I potted up three months ago only hung on rather than thriving. But the garlic chives spread their roots through a large pot and are now ready to take on the world.

Our first planting consisted of kale, two varieties of strawberries, Egyptian onions, garlic chives, brussels sprouts, and direct-seeded lettuce. I kept the celery and rosemary in pots to be taken in once real cold weather hits.

Posted Wed Nov 1 07:00:14 2017 Tags:
Electric disconnect box


Rewiring the disconnect box

Posted Thu Nov 2 07:00:21 2017 Tags:
Common pollinators of Ohio

Before moving, I promised myself I'd attend at least two events per week to make turning our lives upside down for the sake of greater opportunities worthwhile. As it turns out, the trick is not putting two events I want to attend on my planner for every single day.

White witch moth

I haven't been posting about most of our eye-opening experiences here, but the Bio Bonanza at the library was photogenic enough that I thought I'd share even though it's not really homesteading related. Since the insect table was the least popular, I spent a lot of time learning about species like these White Witches, the biggest moths in the world!

Tropical butterflies

In case you're curious, White Witches aren't from around here, and neither are three of the four butterflies pictured above. (Bonus points if you can pick out the native species.) But the mixture of species illustrated an interesting point --- that narrow-winged butterflies and moths spend more energy flying but can fly faster, while butterflies shaped like the Blue Morpho on the right are slow but un-needy gliders.

Off to mark another half dozen potential events on my calendar. Happy belated Halloween!

Posted Fri Nov 3 07:00:14 2017 Tags:

"Do deer trails mean you will have some fresh venison this year?" --- Eric

We have even more deer here than we had in Virginia.

There's even a six-point buck hanging out at the borders of our yard.

The neighbors are too close for safe shooting, though. So Anna has hung up her deerslayer rifle.
Posted Sat Nov 4 07:00:24 2017 Tags:
Base map

The time has come for the most exciting part of our move --- our first perennial order! With eleven years of experience to call upon, it'll be easier to choose the plants that yield the most with the least expended effort this time around. But how many of each will fit?

Rough mapTo start with, I used a tape measurer to plot out the existing structures and shade trees in our core homestead, beginning at one square for every ten feet. Of course, once I'd drawn the rough map on the right, I realized I could have made the scale twice as big. So I replotted a better base map on a new sheet of graph paper (top image).

Garden plotting

On our previous homestead, we fenced the whole homestead with a complicated mixture of systems that long as we also had a dog to make the interior moderately scary to deer. This time around, we haven't yet committed to a canine companion. So we're planning a deer-proof fence for the tastiest edibles, then will be putting the less sensitive plants here and there around the remaining sunny areas.

The image above shows my plan for the less-deer-friendly plants so far. What do you think --- will the nibblers make me regret putting raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, asparagus, a peach, and a plum outside the fence?

Posted Sun Nov 5 07:00:20 2017 Tags:
Move trailer

How do you move a stuck trailer if you can't drive around and attach to the tongue?

Hook up a chain and pull it with your mom's truck. Just be sure to push on the downhill side so the trailer doesn't roll away.

Great work backing and towing, Jayne!
Posted Mon Nov 6 07:00:17 2017 Tags:
Empty breaker box

Our trailer came with some interesting wiring puzzles. First was this empty breaker box in the living room with absolutely nothing attached to it. Our best guess is that this was originally wired to an electric stove and furnace (both of which are absent, including their cords). Since the main breaker box (like this one) is only wired for 100 amp service, presumably the previous owners ran a second line in the trailer's original location and made the trailer 200 amps in a complicated way.

100 amp breaker box

So, the question became --- can we wire the new items we'll need into the main breaker box or do we need to follow the previous owners' lead? The first step was taking a good hard look at the breakers currently in use. On the right side, from top to bottom, there's a 15 amp breaker, a 20 amp breaker, a 15 amp breaker, a 20 amp breaker, then the main line coming in. Excepting the last, this side is clearly wired to the sockets in the walls throughout the house (based on the small amperages and the similarly small wires).

On the left side, only the bottom breaker(s) are in use. I say "breaker(s)" because this appears to be a 20 amp breaker with a 30 amp breaker in the middle, and I'm assuming the two are attached to the now absent dryer and hot water heater (respectively). Above that are two unused breakers.

What do we want to put back in? An electric range (40 or 50 amp breaker), a heat-pump water heater (30 amp breaker), a gas dryer (15 amp breaker...and a long story we'll tell you in another post), and a minisplit heat pump (15 amp breaker). Technically, these will all fit into the box, but will we be going over the amount of juice a 100-amp service can supply?

Electrical breakers

The internet suggests the rule of thumb is that the total amperage in your breaker box shouldn't exceed twice the total amperage of your service. So, a 100-amp breaker box can be wired with 200 amps worth of breakers. Adding up everything we have and want comes to 180 amps. So, unless I'm missing something, it looks like we're all set to wire in our new appliances!

(Sorry for the sparse, shoddy photos. It's a dark day and no electricity means we can't brighten it up much. We're hoping for juice by the end of the week!)

Posted Tue Nov 7 07:00:18 2017 Tags:
Sealing cracks with spray foam

We took off the trim to fix the door and found big gaps on either side.

Spray foam to the rescue!
Posted Wed Nov 8 07:00:29 2017 Tags:
Vista Point

I snuck away last Friday to try out a hike at Strouds Run State Park, which is located a whopping twelve minutes away from our new homestead.

Strouds Run Vista Point Trail

The map I'd downloaded off the internet didn't give me a very good idea of distances, so I lucked into a bite-size loop --- Thunderbunny Trail to Vista Point Trail to White Pine Trail back to Thunderbunny Trail. I'm guessing the walk was about 1.5 to 2 miles, with one short but steepish uphill and the rest a gentle stroll through towering white pines, an oak ridge, and a hillside coated in sugar maples.

Agaric mushroom

Regenerating white pineThe Thunderbunny portion of the walk suffered a bit from proximity to the road. But I enjoyed the location anyway when I found a big patch of yellow-capped mushrooms and a grove of regenerating white pines to catch my interest.

Indian Mound

Later, there was a lovely vista of Dow Lake (shown at the top of this post) and a fascinating if rather inconspicous Indian Mound.

White Pine Trail

Mostly, though, I just enjoyed the trees.

Autumn woods

One trail explored. At least a dozen within a similar distance from our farm left to check out!

Posted Thu Nov 9 07:00:23 2017 Tags:
Electric hookup

Our new record for days without power --- 38.
Posted Fri Nov 10 07:28:38 2017 Tags:
Frost on brussels sprout

So far, our ridgetop location seems to be moderating low temperatures as expected. We missed the October frosts that hit so many other folks, skating by at 35 even though the projected low was 28 one night. This is in stark contrast to our previous, north-facing, valley-bottom farm where lows could often dip as much as ten degrees below the forecast.

Frosted redbud

But all gentle autumns must come to an end. The night after our electricity was turned on, I woke to frost on the grass. 30 degrees --- enough to send many of the tree leaves tumbling but not so much it nipped my winter garden. Now to see if the ridgetop mildness can make up for me planting everything a month late....

Posted Sat Nov 11 07:00:12 2017 Tags:

Install minisplit

None of our local HVAC companies will install Home Depot minisplits.

We decided to buy the brand we want anyway and install it ourselves.

Stage one involved mounting the indoor unit. Easy once we figured out our stud spacing. Sixteen inches on center.

Posted Sun Nov 12 07:00:18 2017 Tags:
Breaker box diagram

Figuring out our breaker box became a lot more intuitive once our electricity was turned on. At that point, we were able to use the tried-and-true technique of turning on all the lights in the house then flicking breakers one by one to see when each zone went dark.

In the process, I learned that I'd incorrectly added up the amperage already in use in our box. First of all, there were three wired but apparently unused breakers in operation. I'm a little leery of simply deleting them, but I'm equally leery of leaving juice running to wires that seem to go nowhere. At the moment, I'm leaning toward pulling those mystery breakers and associated wires out and using the spots for something else.

Tandem breakers

I also learned that the two breakers shown in the center of the photo above are what's known as tandem (or cheater) breakers. Each one allows the wiring of two unrelated circuits in a single spot. Despite the name, they're not necessarily cheating...although they can be.

Tandem breakers can also be a problem because they're small and heat up easily, so they have a tendency to flip a lot. Sure enough, Mark's breaker flicks every time he turns his space heater and his big monitor on at the same time. Assuming those confusing slots  mentioned above really aren't in use, it seems like a good idea to ditch the "cheaters" and wire each of our zones onto a standalone circuit that will be less likely to overheat.

Posted Mon Nov 13 07:00:51 2017 Tags:
Junction Earthworks

It was hard decision between the Amish store and the Indian mound.

But a road closure made the choice for us.

Actually, both roads were closed, but Errol knew a back road to reach the mound site.
Posted Tue Nov 14 07:00:16 2017 Tags:
Heat pump water heater location

Research suggests that heat-pump water heaters are by far the most energy-efficient option for most households. They're approximately three times as efficient as ordinary electric water heaters since they don't create warmth...they merely move heat out of the air and into the water.

Installed water heater(A gas, point-of-use device at each hot-water faucet approaches the same efficiency. But we're not on a natural gas line and didn't have to make that choice. Electric point-of-use hot-water heaters can't come close to heat-pump technology.)

Downsides of a heat-pump water heater include the high initial price tag (but look for rebates!) and the hum of a fan. Heat-pump water heaters also cool the air around them (great in summer, not so great in the winter). And they need a large, open area with a temperature that doesn't drop below 45 Fahrenheit for optimal performance.

I decided to give up a bit of square footage in my writing space for optimal, energy-efficient hot water. More on what we think of our high-class heater in a later post!

Posted Wed Nov 15 07:52:21 2017 Tags:
Plumbing a pressure tank

We added a pressure reducing valve and a pressure tank before installing our heat pump water heater.

Total elapsed time for the entire project was three hours hands-on plus two hours at Lowes.
Posted Thu Nov 16 07:00:13 2017 Tags:
Dow Lake

This past weekend, I discovered that I'd been driving the long way around to get to the nearby Strouds Run State Park. Taking the shortcut means I hit park property only 2.1 miles from our house, and in double that distance we achieve the scenic (if man-made) Dow Lake. Inspired by the close proximity, I tried out not one new trail this week but two.

Drained beaver pond

In addition to ambling along the Lakeview Trail, I also enjoyed Beaver Pond Trail...which ends in this flat, open area where a pond probably stood only a couple of years before. The walk was a lesson in impermanence --- how human to name a trail after something that can disappear based on a whim of the weather combined with a critter's unpredictable brain. Is this a bit like giving directions based on "that old store that used to be owned by the Joneses back in 1977"?

Ice droplets

Despite the minor disappointment of finding no beaver or pond on Beaver Pond Trail, I thoroughly enjoyed the walk. Because the setting was a broad floodplain with clay-lined streams exactly like the one we moved away from. Now I know where to go if I ever get homesick!

Posted Fri Nov 17 07:00:14 2017 Tags:
Estimating wire length

6-3 wire for an electric range costs $2.79 per foot.

At that price, it's essential to guess your distances correctly.

Running a string from the fuse box to the stove is a good start. Then add 15% for wiggle room.
Posted Sat Nov 18 07:00:12 2017 Tags:
Hanging up pots

It's amazing how hanging up pots makes a new kitchen feel like my own. Mark added some thin boards to give his screws something to bite into between studs, providing space to hang up the most-used items. (Thanks for yard saling such great sauce pans, Rose Nell!)

Drilling out a pot handle

Back in Virginia, we hung our pots on mug hooks. But screws are easier to use high up on the wall in our new location. A little bit of drilling ensured that each handle would slide easily over the screw heads.

Posted Sun Nov 19 07:00:14 2017 Tags:
Loading up oversized chair at Goodwill Athens Ohio.

Anna was a little dubious when I told her I could fit this oversized chair in the car.

The Goodwill people are very nice and let us determine if it could fit in the trunk before we bought it.

Posted Mon Nov 20 07:00:14 2017 Tags:

Voip boxSince we had to set up all of our utilities from scratch on our new property, Mark decided to enter the twenty-first century in the process. Why pay for both internet and a home phone when you can use VOIP technology to get both for the same price?

To that end, we spent fifty bucks on a phone adapter that lets us plug an ordinary home phone into our router. Then Mark set up a free Google Voice account that provided a local phone number and simulates having a home phone. We did opt to pay $25 per year for optional 911 service, but otherwise calls are totally free within the U.S. and Canada.

What's the catch? There are only a few. First, you can only set up a Google Voice account if you already possess another phone number --- we used our emergency, pay-as-you-go cell phone for that purpose. Also, there's no caller ID on the phone (although you can see the number on the internet) and voice messages are emailed instead of showing up on your home answering machine.

On the plus side, phone quality seems to be quite a bit better than on a cell phone. And the transcribed voice messages that come to your email inbox are a major time saver if your callers have a tendency to ramble on. Overall, this is a cheap and easy solution for home phone service if you already pay for internet service, and I suspect it'll be plenty for our low-phone-use household.

Posted Tue Nov 21 07:00:13 2017 Tags:
Torque wrench close up.

One of the obstacles to installing the new mini-split system is torquing down the flare nuts to meet the torque requirements.

It's important to have it tight but not overtightened due to temperature extremes.

We decided to go with a Tekton drive click torque wrench that allows you to dial in the torque you need and listen for the click that lets you know you've reached the target torque value.

Posted Wed Nov 22 07:00:31 2017 Tags:
Anna City parks
Rocky forest

I tried out two new trails this week, both closer to the city center than the ones I'd been on previously. The first of these was Sells Nature Preserve, a city-side add-on to Strouds Sells park rock formationRun State Park. I'm afraid this is the first Athens-area trail I can't wholeheartedly recommend. The views of intricate rock formations were beautiful...but the road noise of nearby East State Street was captured by the rocks so badly that I felt I was walking through traffic.

Biking along the river

On the other hand, biking down the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway was quite a treat! Our local library is located on the path and lets you check out bikes and helmets for free with your library card. Mark and I took advantage of the opportunity and expect to do it again soon!

Posted Thu Nov 23 07:00:14 2017 Tags:
Outdoor wall bracket for mini split system.

We chose the optional wall mount bracket to keep our Mini split off the ground.

It is solid with heavy duty rubber feet and holes to attach them.

The reviews show how it's not designed for the normal 16 inch stud spacing.

We worked around this by mounting some treated 2x4's to correct that flaw.

Posted Fri Nov 24 07:00:10 2017 Tags:
Compost tumblerSince we were starting entirely from scratch with cold weather nipping at our toes, Mark and I made a few time-saving but money-spending decisions. One was a compost tumbler, currently $83 on Amazon --- a pretty good buy with a few minor downsides.

Downside one is mentioned in the reviews --- the model is a bit tedious and fiddly to put together. I think it might have taken me an hour or two to assemble the tumbler with hand tools back before we had electricity. Of course, that was working entirely on my own, and I'm quite a bit less handy than Mark. Together (with the help of a battery powered driver), we likely could have put it together in thirty minutes flat.

Downside two is the size --- the unit feels smaller than it looks on the internet, and Mark (the main compost dumper) says it can be a bit tricky to fit scraps through the door without spilling any. That said, the interior is bigger than it looks --- I think we spent over a month filling up the first bin despite cold weather slowing decomposition. We're still hard at work filling bin two.

Which brings me to the major advantage of this model --- the tumbler is separated into two chambers. This is a major plus since you can fill one side then let it cook down as you fill the other. I'll keep you posted as our first round of Ohio-grown compost bakes!
Posted Sat Nov 25 07:00:09 2017 Tags:
Anti vibration feet for mini split system.

You'll need a 1/2 inch deep socket to secure the anti-vibration feet to the mini split wall mount bracket.

Posted Sun Nov 26 08:16:15 2017 Tags:

We celebrated Black Friday with Rose Nell and Jayne. Between the excellent food, the fun garden tour, and an extensive visit to Carillon Historical Park, Mark and I came home refreshed and inspired. We'll obviously have to do it all again soon!

Posted Mon Nov 27 07:00:08 2017 Tags:

Small garden treasures green house.
We got this small greenhouse kit to extend our leafy green season.

Thanks Mom for thinking of us when you found it on clearance.

It only took us about 20 minutes to set it up and attach the roof and walls.

Next step is to secure it to the ground so it won't blow away during windy days.

Posted Tue Nov 28 07:00:11 2017 Tags:
Mr. Buddy heater

Back before our electricity was hooked up, a cold spell hit and Mark and I got desperate. "I'm so cold!" I whined as I tried to wash vegetables with frozen fingers. "Get in the car," Mark replied.

We turned on the heat...then headed straight to Lowes to check out the propane heater options. Only one was labeled as safe for indoor use --- Mr. Buddy, which is made to run on little one-pound cylinders but can be easily converted over to the larger canisters that are swappable at various stores in town. On high, you get about an hour of heat per pound of propane...which is a serious amount of warmth that can quickly heat up a large room. On low, we kept our living space moderately warm for a week on a fifteen-pound canister.

Although Mr. Buddy sits solidly in the column of "desperation = money spent," the heater will be a good backup during power outages (which I hear are just as serious here as they were back in Virginia). Of course, we still plan to hook up our wood stove as well, but it never hurts to have extra redundancies for necessities as important as winter heat.

Posted Wed Nov 29 09:32:03 2017 Tags:
Mini Split heat pump wall mount height.

After we got the DuctlessAire Mini Split heat pump wall mount bracket installed we realized it was going to be too high for us to lift the main unit up onto.

We lowered it to the height of our freezer so we could use it as a landing surface.

Posted Thu Nov 30 07:00:13 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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