April 23, 2013

installing a door sweep

2013.04_door sweep
I installed a door sweep on our back door and now the slate floor in front of the door stays so much warmer. There's a major gap between the bottom of the door and the threshold. The door sweep was easy to install, just requiring a tape measure, hacksaw, scissors, and drill.

This exterior door is in the laundry/mechanical room. We keep the door between the this room and the kitchen closed most of the time to avoid pulling in carbon monoxide-laden combustion air. The mechanical room has two 6" diameter openings for make-up combustion air, so the door sweep won't have a significant air-sealing energy impact, but it sure makes the floor more comfortable to walk on. We'll replace this inefficient solid-wood door eventually, but we'll be able to reuse the door sweep on the new door.

April 22, 2013

learning to prune fruit trees

Learning to prune our fruit trees has been interesting. While it is pretty intimidating at first, I now enjoy it. I imagine it is a bit like painting or maybe sculpting. Every cut matters but you're not quite sure how much it matters. Though unlike sculpting, you have to wait a year to get any feedback about whether your choice of cut was a good one. Add to that the fact that I'm still not sure which tree is which, and there was a lot of intimidation.

I checked out five pruning books from the library. After lots of reading, then lots of observation, then more reading, then starting slow, then more reading, I became more confident. Here's my most recent bold move–weighing three overly vertical branches down to become more horizontal:
2013.04_pruning and training

I wish I had nice before/after photos, but I don't.

  • For most trees, prune in late winter/early spring when dormant
  • Thinning cuts thin
  • Heading cuts promote vigorous regrowth
  • Wide crouch angles make strong branches
  • ~6–10 inches between branch joints
  • Angle heading cuts away from bud
  • Make heading cuts close but not too close to bud
  • Bud(s) below heading cut turn into branches
  • Most novices don't prune enough

April 20, 2013

salvaged pipe insulation

2013.04_salvaged pipe insulation
I picked up about 100 ft of pipe insulation (this was salvaged from old solar water heater installations) off Craigslist/free, thanks to my IFTTT alert. We have hot water baseboard radiators for heating and I plan on insulating all of the distribution piping for the radiators as well as the hot water pipes going to the shower, sinks, and appliances. All the pipes are in the crawlspace, which makes access to them very easy. I had to cut all of the insulation lengthwise (easiest with a scissors) in order to install it on existing pipes.

We already notice a difference the the shower hot water temperature and may be able to turn the water heater setpoint down a bit because of the pipe insulation.

April 9, 2013

ancient sprouted wheat bread

We have a bag of wheatberries that we've been trying to use up. I found a recipe for bread that uses sprouted wheatberries and that's all–no yeast, no extra water, no extra flour. The recipe is from Mother Earth News and we've been calling it "ancient grain bread."

To make it, you sprout wheatberries in a large jar:
2013.04_sprouted wheat

Grind the sprouted wheatberries (we used a hand crank meat grinder):

2013.04_grinding sprouted wheat

Form into a log and bake for 2.5 hours at 250ºF. The result is a sweet and chewy bread that goes well with salted butter:
2013.04_ancient grain bread

Full instructions can be found at Mother Earth News.

April 5, 2013

what does "average last frost" actually mean?

Planting guides often say something like "plant after average last frost" or "plant after danger of frost has passed". But what does that mean? Average last frost is the date on which, in 50% of previous years, the last frost had already occurred. The "last frost date" mentioned in planting instructions is typically the 90% last frost date.

I have found weatherspark to be a useful tool for visualizing the risk involved. It plots the mean, 25th percentile, 10th percentile, and record lows.

I also set up an alert using IFTTT to email me if the forecasted low for tomorrow is below freezing, so I can think about covering plants or disconnecting hoses.
2013.04_ifttt weather

April 3, 2013

yard action and first planting

This weekend was full of rewarding work in the backyard, including moving crusher fines from a straight path to a curved one to add visual interest and promote observation from various angles.

We planted a few beds with lettuces, radishes, beets, carrots, onions, herbs, peas, kale, chard, brussels sprouts, arugula, spinach, kohlrabi, cabbage, among other things! We spread chicken manure and grass clippings on the areas we'll be planting in a few weeks. The paths between rows got chicken or horse manure covered with wood chips.We also planted asparagus and rhubarb. It was really rewarding to plant things and make some visible changes.

Thanks to IFTTT scanning Craigslist Free, and a generous neighbor with chickens, we got wood chips (delivered), horse manure, and chicken manure all free.

April 1, 2013

straw bale compost pile

Making a compost pile can be as easy as arranging a few straw bales:

Although our indoor worm bin has been very successful at turning our food scraps into worm castings, now that we have a yard we will need a larger outdoor pile to compost food and yard scraps.

We chose to make a compost pile from straw bales for two reasons:
  1. Since we plan on transferring a few handfuls of red wigglers into the pile, the straw bales will help keep the pile warmer during the winter.
  2. Dog-proofing. The fungi at work in compost piles can be toxic to dogs, so this will keep the rotting food scraps a bit more secure than would a more open chicken-wire or pallet-based pile.
This second reason I learned about after getting a scare last night when our dog started vomiting and shivering. I didn't see him eat anything specifically, but we put down some chicken manure that he may have tasted. Poor dog.

I'm currently covering the pile with a window found in the garage. A cover made from rigid insulation and OSB/plywood would be better for the winter.

The disadvantage of a straw bale based compost pile is that it is more pricey than a more open pile with walls made of chicken wire or wood pallets. I may decide to make a pallet box to use to stage more woody material.

In other compost news, the pile of woodchips in our driveway was steaming this morning!