Monday, December 7, 2015

First Pond Ice

It's December 7 and this morning a third of the pond was covered with ice. By noon most had melted. Yesterday we had an otter over two feet long visit us. It stayed only a few hours, scampering around the dock and diving to catch lunch before moving on.
View to the West Showing Ice Cover on Far Side
Pond View to the North, With the West Third Covered With Ice
This autumn has been remarkably mild, with more than 1,000 fresh, unfrozen Granny Smith apples still hanging on trees. We have dehydrated more than 100 pounds and have stored many times that amount in bins. Since we don't need any more apple sauce or dried slices, we'll probably juice them and make hard cider that will last more than a year. That way we can enjoy apples even if next year's crop fails. 
Apples on Trees With Heavy Frosted Grass in Foreground
A remarkable plant started blooming last week: A Winter Rose or Hellebore that is an amazing evergreen perennial with handsome, deep green foliage and pretty flowers that shine through winter and into spring. Our other flowers have frozen and are gone but this one is thriving! We'll have to propagate it and find other colors to help us through cold winters! We'll have to plant them where snow doesn't pile up. This flower will spend most of the winter under the snow that gets piled along the driveway unless we protect it and avoid shoveling on top of it.
Winter Rose
Closeup: Winter Rose

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Milling Logs to Boards: Part 2

It took three tries  but weather finally allowed us to process more logs. The site is very close to the large barn where boards are stored for two or more years to dry. This batch of logs included red oak, mulberry, walnut, cherry and hemlock. Three of the logs were cut into large slabs that were subsequently chainsawed into roughly square pieces that we sealed on both ends to retard drying so the ends dry at the same rate as the rest and don't crack or check.
Roughing Out Wood Bowl Blanks
Bowl Blanks Sealed and Ready for Transport to the Barn for Drying
Since this milling process took place on mowed grass and not in a forest like last time, we spread a very large tarp on the ground under the mill to make it easy to collect and remove sawdust and debris.
Two Red Oak and Three Walnut Logs Lined Up for Milling
The Mill Has Six Jacks for Leveling
Each Jack Incorporates a Row of Holes and a Spring-loaded Pin and Require Only a Single Lever to Adjust All Sequentially
First Log of the Day Being Cleaned of Dirt and Stones to Prevent Damaging the Blade
Delivery of a Very Large Red Oak Log
 The raw lumber is stacked inside a large barn. One inch square "stickers" are placed along the length so that air can circulate through each row to facilitate natural drying. Boards in a row are spaced an inch or two apart so edges dry properly.

Lumber Cut in the Morning, Now Stacked, Will Dry for
Two Years Before Being Auctioned to Support the Club.
View of Some of Last Year's Planks That Will Be Auctioned Next Year
A Tall Stack of Last Years's Boards

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Saving Food: Apples, Cabbages, Peppers and Beans

It's November 17 and we still have a few dozen bushels of great tasting apples on four Granny Smith trees. 
One of Four Granny Smith Apple Tree Without Leaves But with Hundreds of Apples
We've given away many bushels, dehydrated more and have quite a few bushels waiting for processing. The few heavy frosts we've had haven't touched them. It's hard for me to see them go to waste, though they do help deer and other wildlife thrive. We have a year's supply of applesauce canned and 30 gallons of cider brewing or bottled but have run out of brewing vessels. Every few days I slice and dehydrate 40 or so apples into two gallons of chips. I'll probably pick another ten bushels before they freeze and store them under cover in the garage where I dehydrate them. When it gets way below freezing, they and the dehydrator will need to be transferred to the basement. 
Gallon Bags of Dehydrated Apple Slices and Other Drying Experiments
Three 5-gallon Carboys & Two 6-gallon Pails of Juice Fermenting 
Cabbages did not fair as well as the apples. I had to trim off the top leaves that were damaged by frost. The rest of the heads were still very crisp and hopefully will turn into great sauerkraut (white cabbage) and kimchi (red cabbage). The kimchi also has a few pounds each of garlic and sweet and jalapeño peppers mixed in for flavor. We have a total of seven gallons of these raw veggies slowing fermenting in the garage to extend their time to maturity while we eat more than a dozen fresh cabbage heads and pounds of peppers.
A Few Red Cabbages with Top Leaves Trimmed Off
Cross Section of A Red Cabbage
Five and Three Gallon Crocks Filled with Fermenting Cabbage and Other Veggies. Tops Are Weighing Down Plates That Keep Veggies Submerged in Brine.

Beans are easier to preserve than fruits and vegetables that have to be cut, shredded or squeezed. They simply have to be shelled and spread out to dry. Peppers, too, can be hung out to dry, and look good in one corner of the kitchen. Need a little heat in a dish? Pull one off and crumble it into the pot!

Scarlet Runner Beans in Various States of Drying
A Ristra of Alice's Favorite Hot Pepper (from a fellow seed saver) Hanging Out to Dry

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Glazing Details & Finally Planting Garlic

Weather this week has been sunny and warm, perfect for finishing up the greenhouse glazing details. Both the seven panels that make the transition from the building roof to glazing panels and the covering for the remaining five panels peak had to be reinstalled. 
Aluminum-Skinned Foam Panels Make the Transition from the Corrugated Building Roof to the Glazing Panels
EPDM Rubber Sheet Peak Detail
The new glazing panels are three inches longer than the old ones so they create a "drip edge" that will allow gutters to collect rain. Water has been running down the front wall because there was no extension to let water fall free. Next spring I'll install a system to collect rain and store it for watering both the greenhouse and outdoor gardens so we no longer have to pump water up from the pond. Ice and snow from both the connected building and the glazing slides down with lots of force and would damage gutters which would also impede snow removal, required periodically to make way for more snow.

To prevent rain from entering the internal passages of the glazing, I had to fabricate aluminum flashing that sheds water and allows any moisture inside the panel to drain. These flashing details had to be inserted just under the top layer of the panels so that they readily shed ice and snow but don't get knocked off by heavy frozen sheets when they slide down. Finally, everything had to be caulked to keep out winter winds.
Drip-Edge Detail That Covers the End of the Glazing Panels, Readily Sheds Ice and Snow yet Allows Moisture that Collects Inside the Panels to Drain and Will Let a Gutter Collect Rain 
I like to plant garlic during October so that it develops healthy plants before the ground freezes solid but this year finishing the greenhouse was more important. The first 300 cloves did make it into the ground today and the rest will probably follow within a week. An early thaw will let them flourish next season but we'll have to get by with a smaller harvest if we get an extended cold spring like this year.
Garlic Bulbs Ready to Be Broken Into Individual Cloves for Planting
First Wide Row of Garlic Cloves Planted, Root End Down
Garlic Bed Covered with Two Inches of Soil, Then Two Inches of Mulch
Second Garlic Row and It's Getting Dark Already!
Both Rows Ready for Winter!
Closeup of This Year's Garlic Bed Now Covered in Parsley That Was Planted in June Five Weeks Before Harvesting the Garlic. The Seeds Need Be Sprinkled Around the Thinning Mulch That is Being Eaten by Earthworms and Pill Bugs. This Parsley Is the Main Ingredient, Along with Garlic, of Our Favorite Pesto!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Final Pepper Harvest and Autumn Scenes

We had a late killing frost at night on October 18, a welcome month later than some years. As it was getting cold that afternoon I harvested the sweet and hot peppers, the only frost sensitive crops not yet put away. The sweet peppers filled four bushel baskets together weighing around 125 pounds. I ran out of time to pick individual fruit, so, with light from a headlamp, I cut whole hot pepper plants and placed more than 100 of them in four piles in the insulated back building and shut the door. We had only two plants worth of shishito peppers so they just went into my pocket. It took many hours over the next days to separate the 150 pounds of hot varieties from their stalks and leaves. Around half of both the sweet and hot peppers were fully ripe, with the rest green to partially colored.

A Box of Sweet Peppers Heading to a Friend
From Top: Serrano, Alice's Favorite, Jalapeño, and Poblano Hot Peppers Left After Delivering 140 Pounds to a Food Pantry and Friends
 Frost also did in the dahlias and gladiolus and a week later we dug up the tubers/corms and put them in a dry place to prepare them for a long winters nap.
Light Colored Dahlias with Amaranth Leaning from the Left 
A Dahlia Arrangement
Solid Red Dahlias with Cosmos in the Foreground
Glad Corms in the Wheelbarrow, Dahlia Tubers in the Box
Frost also hastened color change of maple trees and it took only a few days of wind and rain to send most of the leaves to the ground.
Maple Leaves Just Starting to Fall
Four Days Later: Maple Leaves Falling Faster
A Week Later: Few Maple Leaves Left on Tree

Friday, October 30, 2015

Stove Firebox Grate Maintenance

We purchased our new Heartland wood-burning cook stove in 2003. It's worked well ever since, burning over 40 cords of wood to keep us warm every heating season. Its stovepipe does require an annual cleaning as does the flue around the oven. But this year the grate that supports the fire and lets ashes drop into the bin burned through. A large hole then let burning coals drop, resulting in too much charcoal in the ash bin.
Our Kitchen Stove Hard at Work
Most of the central cast iron zone had oxidized in the dozen years of red-hot fires making it very fragile. It took only a few minutes to break it apart and remove the pieces. The original design was way too fancy, with a two part sliding gate structure that stopped sliding the first year. So I left it in the full open position and cleared the holes every morning before building up the fire. The stove came with a tool that made this process very straightforward. I removed the sliding part a few years ago to make cleaning even easier.
Cast Iron Grate After 12 Years of Fires
I replaced the grate with four thick-walled stainless steel tubes that are spaced apart so that ashes, but not coals, can fall between them into the bin below. It's much easier to clear the five slots between and around the tubes to send the ashes down than it was to probe many more slots in the earlier grate. It only took two hours to cut the tubes to length and attach them to two straps so they stay properly spaced. So if they last as long as the cast iron grate, I won't have to redo them until 2027!
The Four Stainless Steel Tubes Spaced So That Only Ashes Drop into the Bin Below
View of New Tube Grate From Above: The Oval Ceramic Firebox Walls Frame the Tubes

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Woodworking Project: Round Robin

The Northeastern Woodworkers Association has a program that has a few teams of five woodworkers sequentially develop objects that are presented and auctioned off at the NWA Family Night in December. There are two stipulations for contributions: 
     1. Primarily use wood; and
     2. Insure it fits into the given large cardboard carton, with lid closed.

Our team has three men and two women. I received the project from two folk before me. The first lady had scroll-sawed an elaborately beautiful abstract flat piece of cherry wood, 6 by 11 inches. 

The second person incorporated this into the top of a cherry wood box suitable for displaying jewelry, very small compared to the two cubic foot carton it came in. Since the cover of this box was separate, I connected the top to the bottom by adding brass hinges. This involved cutting away some of both the top and bottom so that the top only opens a bit over ninety degrees. I also added mahogany separators to partition the inside. I made them short enough so a tray could be added to provide additional storage surface without hitting the top.
Cherry Wood Box with Scroll-sawed Design in Top
Open Box Showing Partitions and Hinges
View of Open Box Showing Top Detail
Because the floor of the box was made of masonite that is not very attractive, I procured adhesive-backed felt to line the inside. I did not apply it because it would be difficult to keep clean while the last two participants add their touches, including applying some type of final finish to the wood. I received the box with some kind of varnish applied that required me to remove it in order to add my details. It would be best if the fifth person, a lady, has the freedom to finish it as she likes, without having to deal with layers of other finishes. She can then add the felt, or something else, if she likes.

I can't wait to see how it ends up!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cape Cod Trip

Every year in early October my wife, a friend and I spend a few days on the northeast tip of Cape Cod. This year our daughter, Zoe, accompanied us and joined me in my annual trek from the Highland Lighthouse to a bet east of Race Point and then into Provincetown.
View of the Angry Ocean at Our Entry Point: Wind >30 mph
North Tip of Cape Cod with Red Tracing the Route We Walked
Typical View of the Northeast Shore of Cape Cod: Sandy Beach Terminated with a High Dune Covered in Vegetation. This is Part of the Cape Cod National Seashore with Few Road Access Points. Every Year the Ocean Reduces the Width of the Beach and Consumes Ever More of the Dunes
Every year the trek is different: beach conditions, number of marine animals and birds, amount of seaweed at the high tide line and the varieties/quantities of flotsam and jetsam. We collect a variety of "bait bags" every year and keep them in hopes of finding uses for these rugged net cylinders. They are usually drawn closed at one end with a drawstring at the other end and come in many lengths and diameters. They are used to hold fish heads or other bait inside lobster, crab and shrimp traps. Most prized are those that are pristine or of an unusual color: purple and peach this year. Those that have been torn apart by crustaceans or too weathered don't make it home. Many have been probed by hundreds of pincers and have wear rings with broken strands of the strong twine they are made of. Each one has hundreds of bowline knots that form the netting with pinkie-size holes.
The 39 "Bait Bags" We Brought Home This Year Showing that Orange Was the Most Popular Color: Last Year Yellow Was More Common.
A Strong Bag That Uses Heavy Twine
Closeup Showing the Bowline Knots
A Lightweight Bag Made with Slender Twine
Our Peach Color and Purple Bags
We no longer bring home foam floats that mark each trap and enable retrieving. This year we saw more than 200, many pristine, along the 12 mile beach we travelled. We did keep a few shiny plastic buoys and an inflatable bumper that we'll use on our pond or for making molds. 
Hard Plastic Floats and an Inflatable Bumper
We also collected a variety of balls and other plastic items that we hope will become dog toys or other uses. Most valuable are unbroken bins that fisherfolk use to pack fish and lobsters. They are very rugged and readily carry 100 pounds of fruit or vegetables.
Every lobster trap has a rope connecting it with the float at the surface. The lower half is usually more coarse than the top half. Over the years we've collected so much of this rope we only keep almost new examples of the fine variety that is easy to handle with bare hands.
A Pristine Football and other Plastic Objects Worth Bringing Home of the Many Thousands of Similar Objects Strewn Along the Beach
Fish Bins: Great for Harvesting  Fruits and Veggies
Two Lengths of 3/8 inch Diameter Rope
A Piece of New Netting That May Decorate a Wall Someday
The most exciting find this year was not plastic but the remains of a reptile: probably a leatherback turtle. The length of the carapace was more than four feet. Its head was gone but the shell and other bones were still intact, though seagulls were hard at work removing anything edible.
Probable Leatherback Turtle Carcass
For many years there were sandbars about two miles north of the highland light that attracted a hundred or more gray seals at low tide. This year these had disappeared along with the seals, though there were individual seals watching us from the water almost the whole way. A few miles farther north we did find the large colony on the beach.
A Large Colony of Gray Seals, with a Few Harbor Seals Mixed In
Beaches concentrate and collect stuff that floats. High tides push it into a windrow as far up the beach as it can. This year the seaweed that has gas bladders to make it float dominates stuff generated by people. We seem to be working hard to compete with garbage and trash - most of it some form of plastic: bottles, take-out foam clamshells, various containers. There are also toys, parts of boats, homes, docks and clothing. There are no longer any tampon insertion devices that a few years ago were the most common objects. So we are making some progress. But not in reducing the number of balloons/ribbons that wash up. We saw about one every 150 feet or so, sometimes in clusters. The ribbons may be worse than the balloons because they last so much longer. Once on the beach, though, they eventually get buried in the sand by waves, no longer a threat to wildlife.