archive, May - June 2011

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Spring 2011 -- 10 May 2011 -- It's been a long, cold, dark winter. I check the departure from normal highs on, and the temperature has been 5-15 degrees below normal almost every day since a brief thaw in January. We have not had three consecutive days of warm sunny weather since the week I put the roof on the hut, six months ago. Back in March I parked at the edge of the pavement and walked in, and should have brought snowshoes. So I waited until May 1st to try to drive in. Surprisingly, I was able to drive all the way, maybe because somebody graded the worst part of the dirt road. Here's what the hut looked like, with the snow that slid off the roof not quite melted. A week later I went up to start some serious work.

The good news is that the hut shows no sign of damage from frost heave. But it did get a lot of mildew on the ceiling. With nobody living in it to create moisture, and no heating to make a temperature difference, I didn't expect much condensation, but apparently there was still a lot of moisture in the cob, and pretty good passive solar heating. Next winter, assuming it's still unoccupied, I'll leave the window open to keep it ventilated.

Anyway, this thread on mold and mildew has lots of advice, and I decided to use baking soda and a sponge to scrub the mildew off, and then spray it with vinegar that had garlic soaked in it. I'll give it another spray in the fall. Also, I think the cheapest way to buy a good spray bottle is to get Arm & Hammer shower cleaner and dump it out.

The next job was to smooth down the cob. If I'd had all last summer and fall to build the walls, I would have gone slowly and had all the cob pointed and recessed between the pieces of wood, and mostly dry, before moving to the next level. Because I was in a hurry to finish before winter, I left cob bulging out all over, so now I had to spend many hours chipping off the excess with the nail-puller end of a hammer.

I also spent some time checking all my plants, trimming off or repairing the branches broken by snow, feeding them compost, and seeing what made it through the winter, with two freezes of 20 below (-29 C). The apples and cherries are all looking good, even the fall-transplanted Court Pendu Plat. The sweet pit apricot, which thrived last summer, still looks great. The Tomcot apricot and Harken peach, which languished last summer, are both dead, as is the Lovell peach rootstock that grew out after the scion wood died. The two newer sea buckthorns look bad, most of the black walnuts look bad but it's hard to tell with them, and all four paw paws seem to have died, although they have a deep taproot so they might yet recover. One nanking cherry died, because I put it in a shady spot where it was never happy, and the hazelnuts, serviceberries, goumis, gooseberry/currants, blueberries, highbush cranberries, mountain ash hybrids, and aronias are all budding or leafing.

The Japanese Handsaw Massacre - 16 May 2011 - On this trip, Ian came up to help me kill some trees. He's had much more experience than me, and in any case, when the trees get above a certain size, you want at least two people so one can go for help.

In this photo, the hut is directly to my left, and that stump at right-center is actually a double stump of western redcedar. The pale log off to the right is the trunk I took down last summer, and I've been standing on that stump to take pictures of the hut. I just recently stripped the bark -- I find cedar bark comes off easier if you let it sit through a winter. Off to the left is the other cedar trunk, which we took down on Saturday. To the lower left, with its stump in the foreground, is a douglas-fir that has given valuable shade over the years, and will serve a similar function in its second life. Douglas-fir bark starts out loose and wet and gets sticky over time, so we limbed and barked it immediately. The cambium also smells really good, and there's sweet white goop that you can eat.

These were cut with hand tools. Ian and I traded off with a Japanese hand saw for the first horizontal cut, then he used an enormous axe to make the wedge cut, then we used the saw again for the back cut, plus a plastic felling wedge to get it leaning the right way. Ian says the magnesium felling wedges are better than the plastic ones but they're damn hard to find.

Then I got out the chainsaw for this bigger and more challenging grand fir back in the orchard. We were trying to drop it between two young apple trees, and you can see that we barely made it. If I hadn't bent the little guy over to the left by hooking it under some branches, it would have been crushed. The big tree was already sickly looking, and it turned out to be half rotten with a hollow core, so it really needed to come down. A few more years and it would have fallen on its own, probably in the wrong place.

We almost took a second grand fir that's shading two of the apples, but it's growing in a wet area so it's loaded with sap blisters. I want to harvest as much sap as possible, so I used a spoon to pop the low blisters into a little jar, and next time I'll cut it down and get the rest.

Video Tour -- 14 June 2011 -- This is something I've been meaning to do for a while. Last winter I bought an older non-HD model of a Flip video camera, and on the trip before last I did two takes of a video tour of the land. When I came back and watched them, the camera was bouncing around too much, so on the last trip I walked more smoothly and did two more takes. I don't want to start embedding videos on my site, so the photo links to the video on YouTube, just under nine minutes, with annotations. Enjoy!

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