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

archives for 12/2017

Blackberry patch

On our previous homestead, I dove right into planting perennials as soon as we purchased the property. This time, I'm trying to be a little more thoughtful and talk to locals about what grows well on their nearby patches of earth.

I'd assumed thornless blackberries wouldn't be on the table. After all, the ones we grew in Virginia tended to freeze back to the ground every other year, meaning that they rarely bore fruit. Moving north, I doubted we'd manage to keep this heat-loving bramble content.

I'm glad to say I was wrong. Rose Nell and Jayne don't know what type of berry they were given a year ago, but they report the bushes are big and the fruits delicious. "Just plant them somewhere the blackberries can spread," my mothers-in-law warn.

Transplanted blackberries

Done! Here's hoping for big, juicy fruits in summer 2019!

Posted Fri Dec 1 07:00:12 2017 Tags:
Mini Split control cable length.

Wiring the DuctlessAire Mini Split indoor unit to the main outdoor unit is easier if you stay within the 20 feet range of the included cable complete with proper wiring terminals that match the hook up points.

Posted Sat Dec 2 07:00:14 2017 Tags:

Garden treasures greenhouseWe had several thoughtful comments about our new mini-greenhouse. Let's see if I can answer them all in one post!

"I'd love to know the brand name & what you think of the quality. From the pic, I'm impressed by what looks like reinforced corners. Or are they just a different color?" --- Terry

This is a 6 foot by 8 foot Garden Treasures greenhouse that Lowes used to sell for a couple of hundred bucks. I believe Rose Nell found it on sale for $69, likely because the model has been discontinued. The plastic is pretty thick and the corners are reinforced, which is both a pro and a con --- the material will likely last longer but will also block some light.

Although you can't find the Garden Treasures greenhouse in the stores any longer, it looks quite similar to this model on Amazon.

"Got any idea as to how long that plastic will last before it breaks down in the sun?" --- Nayan

This is the flaw in any type of discontinued product like this --- replacement parts are unavailable. My plan is to try to rig a new covering out of rolled greenhouse plastic once the original dies. I hope we don't have to figure out whether that works for several years!

Greenhouse temperature

"How much of a temperature boost will a greenhouse like this give winter crops?" --- me

So far, on a clear night after a sunny day, the greenhouse seems to be providing a couple of degrees sheltering effect. I suspect the longer-term impact will be due to raising soil temperature during the day and giving winter growers more oomph, but we'll have to wait and see how that pans out.

I took a photo of the lettuce in the greenhouse and another bed of lettuce (slightly bigger) under a simple layer of row-cover fabric and will report back in a couple of weeks once the two data points have time to diverge. Stay tuned!

Posted Sun Dec 3 07:00:09 2017 Tags:
How to secure a small greenhouse from blowing away.

We cut a small slit in the greenhouse corner fabric to feed some strapping through.

The kit came with some tent stakes and two holes in each foot for ground securing.

It might help to close the windows on really windy days.

Posted Mon Dec 4 07:00:14 2017 Tags:
Hauling a Kubota

Mark and Rose Nell took a whirlwind trip down to the old home place on Friday and Saturday to pack up supplies that didn't fit during our initial move.

The real purpose was bringing the Kubota up to Ohio so we can sell it --- no need for such high-class equipment in our more accessible core homestead. But I have to admit, some of the other supplies Mark and Rose Nell fit into this second load were even more appreciated (by me at least).

Kubota load

I'm not sure how I lived for two months without a wheelbarrow, but I'm sure glad to have my darling back! The quick hoops and ladder are also much appreciated. You don't realize how much some of these tools are worth until they're gone!

Posted Tue Dec 5 07:00:11 2017 Tags:
Hiring an HVAC tech to help with Mini Split heat pump system.

The big obstacle that caused us to call a certified HVAC tech for our DuctlessAire Mini Split system was charging the lines with a tank of nitrogen to test them with a proper gauge before releasing the pre-charged refrigerant from the outside unit.

A tank for nitrogen would cost around 100 dollars then you'd have to find somewhere to fill it with nitrogen and then you would still need to have the proper hose and fittings to hook up to the service port of the unit.

After calling 5 different places in our area Anna found a company that would come out and finish our system.

The tech was very nice and professional and wrapped it all up in just over 2 hours. I'll save the rest of the details for my next post.

Posted Wed Dec 6 07:00:27 2017 Tags:
Erecting quick hoops

I probably shouldn't admit to breaking our household rules (no working on the weekends!), but I got up the morning after Mark's grand return and immediately started poking quick hoops into the ground.

After all, due to our late gardening start, lettuce, kale, and brussels sprouts all looked like they might not produce this fall. But with a little help from row-cover fabric, perhaps they'll bear after all?

Posted Thu Dec 7 07:00:10 2017 Tags:
Mini Split hose kink and how to fix it.

Our HVAC tech located a kink in the DuctlessAire Mini Split hose line he was able to gently fix before all the testing started.

It took about 20 minutes to vacuum out the hose lines to the accepted value.

He also fixed a wiring problem where we misjudged the breaker hook up.

Posted Fri Dec 8 07:00:08 2017 Tags:
Ora Anderson Nature Trail

Now that we have the basics in place --- electricity, heat, a workable kitchen, and running water --- we've been spending more time exploring what the area has to offer. One jaunt further afield took us to the Ora E. Anderson Nature Trail, a half-mile rail-to-trail that passes through an inspiring wetland.

This area used to be farmland not too long ago. But the railroad messed with water drainage, then the beavers moved in and exacerbated the issue. The result is a species-rich enclave that I'm definitely going to have to return to during the growing season. A good place to just sit and observe for awhile!

Acid mine pigment

We also attended an equally inspiring set of lightning talks about partnerships between the university and the community. The most photogenic involved reclaiming the orange streams you find throughout coal country, where old mines leach acidic water and basically kill off all life therein.

In a fascinating method of turning trash to treasure, Rural Action has created a treatment system that scrubs the issues from the water then funds itself by selling the pigments to Gamblin Colors to be turned into oil paints. Sounds pretty sustainable!

Anything inspiring happen in your neck of the woods this week?

Posted Sat Dec 9 07:00:14 2017 Tags:
Making a new kitchen shelf.

We found a finished board at the Reuse store that makes a good kitchen shelf.

Posted Sun Dec 10 07:00:12 2017 Tags:
Compost tumblers

"It seems everybody here is doing a much better job with these barrel-type composters than I ever did. Mine would dry out the contents so quickly it was like a barrel full of dry leaves, which of course never composted.... What am I doing wrong?" --- Roz

This is an excellent question! To be honest, I'd never used a tumbler before (although now we have two of them thanks to the massive unit Rose Nell recently donated to the cause). I think I might be able to help you troubleshoot though.

Two bin compost tumbler

Here's what the older and younger bins look like inside our original tumbler. This isn't optimal composting either --- too much high-nitrogen food scraps ("greens") make the contents too moist. In our case, we need to add some autumn leaves ("browns") to bring the bins into balance.

I'm guessing Roz may have the opposite problem --- too many browns and too few greens. Maybe she raises chickens and gives the yummiest bits to the flock. Or maybe she puts in lots of yard waste or simply eats different types of foods than we do. Either way, adding in more greens would help bring the bin back into balance. Chicken manure would be the obvious solution, or you could try soaking the proto-compost with human urine to add nitrogen and moisture at the same time.

(Hey, I never said this post was going to be photogenic. If I grossed you out, go look at the top photo again. First snow!)

Posted Mon Dec 11 07:00:10 2017 Tags:
Retractable clothesline

This indoor retractable clothesline makes winter laundry fun.

It's heavy duty enough to dry two comforters at once. Then it nearly disappears when not in use.

Eventually, we'll get our outdoor line going. But for now, our indoor unit is more than enough.
Posted Tue Dec 12 07:00:15 2017 Tags:
Minisplit install

We learned a huge amount during our recent minisplit install, and I thought I'd try to sum up the most salient points in one post to help others who might want to follow in our footsteps.

First --- is a minisplit a good idea in a trailer? Most installers told us no because the rooms at the far ends of the mobile home won't receive uniform heat. We're used to heating with a wood stove, though, and don't mind using space heaters at the extremities to top off heat as necessary. We figured the much higher efficiency of a minisplit compared to a mainstream electric furnace or traditional heat pump counteract this slight downside and we still feel that way after enjoying our new device for a few blissful days.

A slightly more tricky issue is the potential for water lines to freeze. I hadn't realized that trailers are designed with air-duct heating in mind, so the water lines run beside the air lines under the trailer. We'll keep you posted if this issue materializes and requires an outside-the-box fix.

Pressurization equipment

Next, let's look at the pros and cons of DIY versus the traditional route of paying to have a minisplit installed by a pro. After calling pretty much every HVAC company in the area, I've discovered that a minisplit like the one we got for $1,300 from Home Depot (plus about $200 in tools, $50 for the wall bracket, and $225 for the final line work from a pro) would have cost us $5,000 to $8,000 if we'd gone the traditional route. So, yes, we saved big bucks doing a lot of the work ourselves.

On the downside, we won't have the support of a licensed dealership behind us if anything goes wrong. And it's possible our machine won't be as long-lived as the Mitsubishi models several of the dealerships in the area are peddling. Once again, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, I'm pretty happy with getting such an efficient model on a shoestring budget.

Testing minisplit lines

Finally, when do I recommend calling in a pro? A reasonably handy DIYer should have no problem installing both exterior and interior units themselves. Running the lines between them is actually less tricky than I'd thought as long as you take extreme care with making bends gently and slowly.

And the connections (with pre-flared lines like the ones that came in our kit) are less finnicky than I'd thought. Mark and I went to great lengths to buy fancy torque wrenches and get the tightness just right...but our tech finished the job with ordinary wrenches by feel. Basically, you just want the connections to be tight.

So what's it worth paying for? Go ahead and call in an HVAC expert to test the lines with nitrogen, pressurize them, then release the refrigerant from inside the unit. First of all, it's illegal to do this step yourself. Second, this is the tricky part that most benefits from fancy equipment. For $200, a pro will do it right...assuming you can find someone in your area willing to work on equipment not their own.

Posted Wed Dec 13 07:00:11 2017 Tags:
New work bench upper shelf.

I found a nice oak section of a desk for 10 dollars at the Reuse store that made a good upper shelf for the new work bench project.

Posted Thu Dec 14 07:00:11 2017 Tags:
Growing sunflower microgreens

It may be too late in the year to put in the full fall garden I crave, but there are always experiments to be undertaken. For example --- growing sunflower microgreens inside!

A little internet research suggests that the tasty tidbits we purchased at the farmer's market are a lot like sprouts...but not quite. To replicate our experiment, start with raw oilseed sunflower seeds --- the black kind with no stripes, often intended for birdseed. Soak a handful for multiple days (changing the water every twelve hours), then spread the barely sprouted seeds in a seed-starting flat atop a thin layer of potting soil. Finally, it's just a matter of waiting for the cotyledons to emerge.

Sprouting sunflower seeds

We put our flat on a heat mat for the first couple of days to hurry things along. After that, though, I felt like the seeds were getting too hot. So I turned off the mat and let them linger at room temperature, watering every day or two but keeping the humidity dome in place most of the time. (I did tend to air them out once a day, especially when the heat mat was turned on.)

It took about a week and a half from first soak to first harvest, and I expect to keep cutting microgreens at the soil line for up to a week after that. When this flat is done, the used potting soil and roots will go in the compost pile --- a bit wasteful, but not terribly bad since the organic matter will all end up back in the garden.

And then it's time to start soaking seeds for another flat. It sure is nice to have something fresh and green growing inside while the snow flies outside our trailer!

(This experiment has been supported by David Hicks. Thanks, David! If anyone wants to join our monthly donor program, you can sign up near the bottom of the page here.)

Posted Fri Dec 15 07:00:13 2017 Tags:
Water tower where the WISP emits from.

We considered satellite internet options when we first got to Athens but decided to go with a local Wireless Internet Service Provider called Intelliwave. They have an antenna on top of the local water tower a few minutes down the road from us.

It's been a little over a month now and we are happy to report that it works as advertised without any unplanned interruptions.

The speed is only about 2 mbps but fast enough to stream Netflix with no data limit like the satellite options impose.

Posted Sat Dec 16 07:00:09 2017 Tags:
Free range eggs

The trouble with growing so much of our own food for so long is that we've grown extremely snooty about quality. Which is a problem during this gap year when we're stuck buying rather than raising our own.

Luckily, a neighbor just a mile down the road has free range chickens that produce yolks as orange as the ones I'm used to. She sells her eggs on a sliding scale, but we didn't ask for a discount and are paying $4 per dozen. (No, the eggs I bought at the farmer's market previously didn't make my quality cut. They ranged from $3.50 to $4.50 per dozen.)

The question come spring will be --- are we ready to fend off predators and get our own flock back on the ground? Or will we be content with high quality eggs from a neighbor?

Posted Sun Dec 17 07:00:13 2017 Tags:
Mini Split extra hose placement.

Our DuctlessAire Mini Split ended up having a little too much hose length.

We chose to work with the factory flare points instead of cutting the hose and making new flare points which meant looping up the excess so it can hide behind the unit.

It's been working great at keeping our trailer warm during some very cold days and nights.

Posted Mon Dec 18 07:00:15 2017 Tags:
Starting a planting bed

Our new homestead came with a big pile of rocks and a similarly sized pile of pea gravel. The former, I suspect, were ripped out of the ground when former owners put in an ill-fated foundation, and I'm not sure what the latter was intended for. I immediately claimed both for my garden.

Now that we've had time to decide which door will be the main entrance (the back one) and what route we'll take to get to it (a semi-circle curving from parking area around the corner), I figured it was time to make the path official. I brought over a bunch of pea gravel for our walkway, then laid down cardboard lined with rocks and weighed down with topsoil to make a bed along one side.

Once I get another load of rich earth from our neighbor, I'll fill in the opposite side as well. I'm thinking this approach to the trailer will be deer-proof red raspberries for nibbling on our short walk home.

Posted Tue Dec 19 07:00:13 2017 Tags:
Steele Creek Lake

For my birthday, I headed back to my roots --- home to Bristol to visit family, friends, and parks new and old. There's far too much to include in one post, so I'll just hit the highlights here.

Old mulberry tree

Our favorite mulberry tree at Steele Creek is showing her age, with ailing limbs and lots of woodpecker damage. In another couple of decades, there may be no tasty treats for children and geese to fight over.

Lake ridge trail

On the other hand, there are plenty of new attractions, like this trail winding up the side of a hill that previously saw only off-trail traffic.

Waterfowl exhibit

Plus a brand new addition to the nature center, full of highly impressive and educational exhibits. If you live nearby and haven't been, put it on your list!

Crawl through cave

There's even a crawl-through cave that puts the one at Bays Mountain to shame. Okay, so Steele Creek's isn't as big...but this one feels like a real cave inside, complete with fossils and rock formations. An imagination builder, no doubt.

Nature's Christmas tree

And how could I miss the natural Christmas tree, decorated with dried flowers, berries, and bird nests collected throughout the year at the park?

Mossy beech

Next stop was the King University (no longer King College) woods, full of old trees I never noticed while illegally sledding down their hills as a child.

Hexagonal pond

This pond gave me ideas --- I loved the way straight, concrete lines could look so nice amid nature. Maybe I could save my pennies and get a concrete truck to come create one of these to harvest roof runoff for the Ohio garden? Some day!

There was also a lot of delectable ice cream, an adorable two-year-old who will actually be able to have her name and face on the blog in four weeks time if all goes well, and plenty of board games. What more could I ask for from a philopatric holiday?

Posted Wed Dec 20 07:00:14 2017 Tags:
Google voice update.

We've been using the new Google VOIP device for a little over a month now and happy to report the quality is the same as most land line phones. There was once when the connection was bad but it may have been due to the cell phone I was talking to. Once I hung up and re-connected the problem went away.

It's very easy to hook up. An ethernet cable plugs into the back and then into the internet router. Plug the phone cable from the box to any phone and it is ready to go.

Posted Thu Dec 21 07:00:10 2017 Tags:
Watering in raspberries

Mom's birthday present promises to feed me far more than twice. Digging up raspberries in her back yard that began life in my own Virginia yard will remain a fond memory always, while setting the brambles out when I got home helped root me back in my new digs. And, of course, we should be eating those fruits for many years to come...starting in 2018 since Mom provided such big starts. Thank you so much for the perfect gift!

Garden entrance

Garden mapIn case you're curious, here's a long shot of our close-to-home garden patches. We're considering moving the beds that are currently covered with quick hoops to leave that area clear for rainwater catchment, and we might put a grape trellis between the two power poles. But it's all still up in the air until plants go in the ground. At the moment, I'm enjoying taking time to dream.

Posted Fri Dec 22 07:00:11 2017 Tags:
Cosmic Chicken Coop.

Backyard Chickens has a new chicken coop write up that is out of this World!

Some clever Artistic urban chicken keepers created this Cosmic Chicken Coop masterpiece from two 10 foot satellite dishes they found on Craigslist. A trampoline frame holds it all up.

Maybe if the frame was painted a similar color as the ground it might look like it's floating under certain lighting conditions.

Posted Sat Dec 23 07:00:13 2017 Tags:
Two seasons at vista point

It's hard to believe we've already been here for an entire season, but the view from Vista Point doesn't lie. I walk the trails now without a map and we know our neighbors on one side. (I'll be using the bearing-cookies-open-the-door technique for the others in the New Year. Feel free to comment with flavor suggestions if the grapevine has preceded us and you read our blog.)

Unpacking tools

We've unpacked the kitchen and other bare necessities but are being a bit slow in other rooms. Let's be honest --- most of us probably only use 50% of our stuff a few times a year. We did slough off obviously unnecessary possessions while packing, but clearly we still have more than we really need.

Winter lettuce

Meanwhile, in the garden, we've harvested one bowl of lettuce from under the quick hoops and may or may not get more before the really cold weather hits. I've already learned that the key to enjoying outdoor activities during an Ohio winter is a wind breaker, and our pipes froze up once due to lack of heat tape in a key exposed point.

Family photo

What will our lives look like in one more season? It's hard to imagine when three short months has already taken us this far!

Happy solstice, merry Christmas, and jolly major winter holiday of your choice!

Posted Sun Dec 24 07:00:09 2017 Tags:
Older than the oldest person ever!

On our recent trip to Bristol we visited a cemetery with the oldest man in the world.

Si Goodson was reported to be 132 when he died. That would be 10 years more than the oldest verified person on record which is Jeanne Calment who lived to the age of 122 years and 164 days.

Posted Mon Dec 25 07:00:13 2017 Tags:
Egyptian mongoose sculpture

Mark and I took a quick Christmas Eve jaunt over to Xenia to visit Rose Nell and Jayne. Between crab legs and gabbing we found time to drop by the Dayton Art Institute.

Pig feeding

I'd planned to spend my time in the Native American exhibit, but we ended up being far more impressed by the contemporary art room.

Alison Saar sculpture "Lost and Found"

This sculpture, in particular, sucked in all three of us women (although Mark seemed largely oblivious to its power). I couldn't decide whether Alison Saar's evocative piece was showcasing the angst of a curly haired woman trying to brush out tangled hair or whether it was a mother and daughter screaming at each other the way only female kin can. Either way, my photo doesn't do the piece justice. If you're in the area, I highly recommend you go and look for yourself!

Posted Tue Dec 26 07:35:25 2017 Tags:
Alison Saar close up.
A closer angle of the awesome Alison Saar installation.
Posted Wed Dec 27 07:00:12 2017 Tags:

Trailer skirting choicesWith cold weather setting in with a vengeance and an influx of cash from selling the Kubota, we decided it was finally time to make a decision on what kind of skirting to use. There are three main options, ranging in price from moderately expensive to really expensive --- vinyl, metal, and Reil rock (the last being plastic panels that are made to look like stone).

Vinyl, while cheap, comes with serious downsides. Foremost is fragility --- even a good whack with a weedeater will cut through this thin barrier in no time. Since I tend to be rough on my surroundings, I regretfully decided to give vinyl a pass despite the lowest price tag of the bunch --- about $600 for a kit to enclose a 14x70 singlewide.

Metal is much more resilient for only a few extra dollars, with the downside that you have to build a frame out of lumber rather than relying on a kit's built-in rails. Reil rock is quite a bit more pricey --- $1,300 for 14x70 singlewide, with lumber and any insulation added on top.

What did we choose? We opted to think outside the box and make our own metal skirting out of painted roofing metal, 1-inch rigid insulation panels, and treated lumber. Cost of the basic supplies came to about $1,300 delivered before Mark's veteran's discount. I suspect the project will be closer to $1,500 once we add on four vents, screws, plus sufficient hardware to create a pair of access doors. But hopefully the finished product will protect our pipes!

Posted Thu Dec 28 07:00:10 2017 Tags:
Mini Split in extreme cold temperatures.

It got down to 4 degrees here this morning.

The DuctlessAire Mini Split is struggling with the cold but still delivering heat.

It goes into defrost mode more during extreme days.

On a cold day like today it seems to only be able to heat our living area space to the low 60's, which is acceptable for us. If we had the wood stove installed we would've built a fire if we wanted things more toasty.

Posted Fri Dec 29 07:00:15 2017 Tags:
Dripping faucet

Even though we ordered our skirting supplies two weeks ago, they're not going to arrive until early next week. So we entered the current cold spell with insulation under our trailer but no skirting in place.

The solution? The good old faucet drip. Unfortunately, we didn't think to drip both hot and cold on the first night, so the hot-water line froze up when external temperatures got down to 9 degrees. I hope when that line thaws, we don't see a mess.

Snowy hillside

In the meantime, we're keeping our cold water running, hoping the drip will be enough to get us through until the weather breaks enough for us to close the underside of the trailer in. The simplicity of our old water system --- entering the trailer at only one point with a big tank we could resort to hauling buckets from if all else failed --- looks pretty good at a time like this. Of course, even that system broke down at -10. I hope we don't get to compare similar temperatures here in the week to come....

Posted Sat Dec 30 07:00:13 2017 Tags:
Infrared thermometer.

We got the General IRT207 mid range infrared thermometer to pin point a frozen pipe.

We also learned the hard way not to let the water drip overnight with a cold septic system. It froze the drain pipe.

Posted Sun Dec 31 07:00:12 2017 Tags:

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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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