All posts by bldfarm

EMT/Fire Fighter that's been making things a mess and generally cleaning it up for years and years i like playing with junk and turning it into something useful

Some such summer as it is

This is the 2017 Summer Solstice sunset from Conneaut Harbor’s “Mud Pit” Wildlife Sanctuary.


Life sort of just rolled over my head and got parked there for the last many months. Rolled over me and left a smear of Grease Hog and 2790 splashed up one of my pant legs. I know that the skin on my leg as tuned white and will start to itch/burn as the fluid dissolves it’s way towards neutrality or chemical resolution, which ever comes first. I can never remember. These days I cruise through Erie and clean carpets in empty (and full) apartments and houses. We only run 3 trucks, upwards of 13 hours some days. Usually at least 10. It took me a while to figure out how to do things before I was able to do them without having to think about them. I had to make it a muscle memory and recover physically from bringing my carpet cleaning muscles into shape. (Mostly core) I’m no expert or anything, but chances are I can clean your carpet real good. I cleaned the grout in the kitchen tile with the truck from work and found out that the tile aren’t brown or grey. I have no memory of the grout lines when I moved in here 13 years ago. Turns out that they are BABY BLUE!!! Sometimes there is such a thing as getting stuff TOO CLEAN. I don’t know how I’m ever going to keep them clean now. ugh


Once the muscles stopped hurting and I could move on my “weekend,” I made some progress in the barn. 10 scoops of 1/4″ screened bank sand, 20 1/4″ screened yellow native clay and 3 large forks of hay/straw.


I wanted time to see if it would just fall off the vertical Phrag before I brought anyone else in to help.


The seem along the top of the wall still needs attending to but the walls seem to be staying up. Remarkably, they haven’t really checked the say the 1st layer in the Seedhouse had.


All the windows are secured with “chicken wire” and most of them are open now. it smells good and is bright and airy in there. Chickens being chickens, they mostly get it that they need to go in the door they came out of… most of them get that. 3 or 5 still get stuck in the barn every night instead of going through the coop’s exterior door. The goats have the run of the rest of the barn, except the feed room and the milking parlor.


We took Maly walking the other day and there’s a chance he saw the fishes slowly positioning themselves close enough to catch the potential cat food or Frito that may or may not be inbound. They stayed far enough back that if Maly had seen them, which we kind of doubt, he couldn’t have gotten them anyway.


What the what?!


I was working over by Camp Peet yesterday and saw something that has deeply confused me. At first I just saw the great circling Raptor and let it pass as “oh yeah, they love here too.” Then on second consideration, I realized, “what the hell are you doing here?”

Turkey Buzzards are native to Ohio and even have their own festival in Hinkley on March 15. Traditional wisdom claims that they return there on that day every year. My own observations over the past decade has shown that, initially, they arrived here in Conneaut a day or 2 before then. Never before have I seen one in February. Certainly not this early in February. Feb 10 to boot!! I’m no meteorologist or ornithologist or any ologist, but I know in my heart of hearts that something very strange is going on. We are cooling out our 2nd batch of maple syrup and looking for another flow to happen shortly. Traditionally, Sugar Maples aren’t tapped until Valentines day around here. Never in JANUARY. This winter was supposed to be cold cold cold and wet. We have gotten our share of wet, rain mostly, but almost none of the cold that we have had in the last few years. I doubt the temp has gone into the single digits here yet. Lake Erie never froze and even the ground never really got frozen more than a few inches. This is opposed to last year when the Lake was 95% frozen and the frost was approaching 40-50″.

Something is going on. Only time will tell us and I figure we won’t know till we can look at it in hindsight.

What can I say? Keep your head on a swivel, your knees bent and a bag packed. Eyes open, no fear.

Ding Ding Ding, end of round one


Yesterday saw the end of our first batch of syrup making. Leah slaved away at the cooker and stove for what seemed like days on end. With the weather in the mid 50’s and lower 60’s for most of the week, the sap had stopped flowing but there was the risk of it spoiling on us if we didn’t get it cooked down. This meant that we had to get it cooked, soonest. Because of that, we dragged the propane cooker out of the basement and brought the sap to a boil on it before putting it into the big cook pot on the rocket cooker. Not what I would have preferred to do as propane costs money that winter keeps in short supply. But we make do. When the temperature drops back below freezing at night and the sap freezes, only the water freezes, not the sugar. This allows us to pull water out without expending any energy. It also speeds the process along. That didn’t happen this time. Which has to be one of the oddest things I’ve witnessed in the years I’ve cooked sap. Remember, we are in the Northeastern corner of Ohio, and this is JANUARY!!! Why the temperatures are that high is beyond me. But no matter. We got a little over 2 gallons of syrup and the season hasn’t officially started yet. Here’s hoping for a long one.


Let the Sap Flow


The weather outside has certainly turned to the weird. My folks, who live in western Central Ohio, had a low of -2 F just a couple of nights ago. And though it didn’t get that cold here on the shores of Lake Erie, we are facing temps in the 50s tomorrow or the next day. Up and down, up and down. Like a regular ping pong ball. What that means to us, here at the farm, is that the Maple trees will be giving up their life blood in the days ahead. Now, I know that the going wisdom once said that the day to tap trees wasn’t until February 15, we have been tapping our trees in January for, at least, the last few years. Any time the temperature goes above and below the freezing mark can be considered Maple season. So we put out our 20 buckets.


I decided to tap a bunch of different trees this year. Rather than going all the way to the end of the driveway for the 2 clusters out there, this time the buckets are all right by the house, particularly at the north end of the house. We’ll see how that goes. Several of the trees are pretty small (8-12″) so they only got 1 spiel. Also different this year, I read on some tapping page or other to try and set the spiels either above a large root or below a large limb. Makes a lot of sense. That and to stay away from trees with any large dead sections. Every year we learn a little more. Like drilling the tap holes to 2″ so that the sap can drain from the phloem, cambium, and the xylem. I don’t think I was drilling deep enough before. We shall see.


We had freezing rain and then rain on top of the 8″ of fresh powder that got laid down in the last few days. This made the snow, Oh So Packable. Leah made a bearded snow creature (I think it is Old Man Winter) to say Thank You to the trees.


I just rolled up a bunch of giant balls and stacked them up into a lumpy monolith. Maly said that the stick belonged in his mouth, NOT stuck into the snow. Always the critic. I’m looking a little rangy. Winter. Grown ass adults making snow sculptures. We have a long way to go til spring.


On being grateful


North America is again in the grips Old Man Winter. For the most part, this simply means that it’s cold outside and that the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from Sol on it’s endless journey around and around. A time of ice and snow. A time of hearth and home. Time to reflect on all the plans and aspirations of the year to come. For me, this is a time to be inside and figure out exactly what I’m doing with my life. Is any of what I put into motion last year really working out for me? Or is it all for naught? Building projects are put on hold. Only the hardy venture forth to make their mark on the world. All too often I find reason to not be one of those who gets things done out there. Especially once the mercury dips below the freeze point. So I’m left with a lot of time to think. And think. And think.

During this time of seemingly perpetual twilight and snowfall, I can reflect with gratitude on the feeling of the sun on my cheek in July. The sting of sweat in my eye in August. Hearing the rustle of varmints in the tall grass and the soft click and sigh of a warm breeze disturbing the Maple leaves on a summers eve. Winter gives me time to reflect on the shocking red of the Cardinal flower and the purple stains left behind from gathering the tiny Saint John’s Wort flowers. These tiny gifts are what cary me through this bleak cold. Coming out in the morning and finding a thousand Boletus have leapt up from the lawn. Or seeing the Hummingbird’s throat flash in the sun as it drinks from the Lily.


Winter affords me time to dis-remember Summer’s sticky grasp or the mosquito’s ear whine. It affords me time to think back on the bounty of what the time of heat allows. Apple Sauce, dried greens, tomato soup, peach cobbler. Without winter, these things would be meaningless. Dry red wine and warm honey mead lubricate my ability to see another early sunset. Or the sight of another 6″ of snow to scrape off the driveway. It is the blizzard’s shriek  that allows an appreciation for the fresh scent of a warm spring breeze. The crunch of snow under boot while Orion strides the heavens informs the feeling of grass between the toes beneath the cowering Scorpion. Without winter, summer loses its nuanced flavors, its subtle tones.


Though I cower indoors, huddled near the fire in this time of darkness, I am grateful for the time allowed. Winter, at least the one’s here in in Ohio’s sharpest corner, are long enough to make Spring’s return all the more joyous.

Rocket thoughts

I’ve gotten the pleasure to do more than a few tours of the building projects here at the farm over the past while. And most everyone leaves with at least an inkling of wanting one of these beasts at their place.  If I can offer a few tiny pieces of advise on the process. This is in no way a definitive list and I am almost as far from an expert as it is possible for one to get. Just sayin. At risk of over explaining things, I’ve decided my thoughts into sections. Skip them if you know about the subject.


Obviously you will be needing a pile of bricks for the core of your rocket. If you have read any of my postings about building them you will be familiar with what I mean. All bricks are not equal in material or form. Regardless of what they’re made of, you should have a pile of bricks that are all the same size. Generally speaking, the bricks I have used are 2.5×4.5×9″ in dimension. This is one of the most common sizes I have found when dealing with higher temperature bricks. But the actual dimensions of brick you find is fairly immaterial. Just so long as they are the consistent. This will make your design simpler and more predictable. Especially when you are working to keep your cross sections consistent and to achieve the heights you need for proper flow/draft. It will also make stacking them easier if they all lay flat and in a single plane with each layer/course. If you get more than one size, just be sure to separate them before you start laying them up.

Next, you need to conceder exactly what the brick is made of. Stone should never be used in a fire environment (inside a rocket chamber) as it simply is too unpredictable and could crack/explode from the thermal shock. Cement/cinder block is not to be used. Paving block fall into this category. The cement simply can’t take the temperatures and will break down fairly quickly as the materials tend to absorb water more redily than fired clay. Cement block tend to be grey in color.

cement-blockYou need to get bricks that are made of clay, or better yet refractory materials. Most old bricks are made of clay. It was cheaper and easier to just use the clay from nearby to make them. Clay brick usually has a reddish color, depending on what was found close by. Think earthenware. Most road brick and solid house brick are made of low temperature material.


Sometimes there will be a name stamped in the large face. This is the name of the brickyard they came from. They will work if that is all you can get, but you should go for solid brick rather than bricks with holes in them. The bricks with holes are what are most commonly used in newer construction. The holes are meant to save on weight and material and to facilitate their being cut down in regular intervals.


Fire/hard brick, on the other hand, are more towards the stoneware end of the spectrum. These bricks are what you will find in wood stoves and blast furnaces and boilers and pizza/bread ovens. These brick can, often, be found as “reclaimed” and they will be noted as having carbon black smudges on one face. These brick tend towards yellow/buff rather than red. They are always solid (without holes). These are what I used through most of rockets I’ve built so far. They tend to be fairly common in large late/end-stage capitalist post industrial cities. Especially in areas of “urban renewal” where those old factories are being torn down. Mind you, not the walls of the buildings, rather they are used in the internal fire environments.


Now, that said, when it comes to making that actual riser, I will now and always go for “soft” brick. This is where we enter the 20th century of refractory materials. The most obvious difference between soft and hard brick is their weight. Soft brick will be surprisingly light as they are mostly made of air. As I’m not a ceramic engineer, I can’t really explain their manufacture. They tend towards white when new. Unlike hard/fire brick, which needs a diamond wheel to cut them, soft brick can be cut with a hand saw, even a fairly dull one. These brick are easy to carve into whatever shape/size you want them to be. They can also break with not a lot of effort as well.


In my experience, the single best source of soft brick is an old busted electric kiln. These things can be found on Craigslist and other people’s basements fairly easily and cheaply. Don’t pay more than $50 for a large kiln, especially if the kiln doesn’t work.


old-kilnsThe thing about soft brick in rocket stoves is that they don’t need any time to heat up before they begin to facilitate the “rocket” in the riser. The fire surface heats up almost instantly with no need for the heat to soak out the cold of the middle of the brick. Their amazing insulative/refractory properties are the stuff of space shuttle heat shielding. The weight savings can mean the difference of needing to do extensive shoring up of the floor in your house as well.


Chasing off the Snow Giants


Tuesday night saw what I think of as the first day of a New Tradition. It’s really only new to me, not at all new to the history of humanity or to those currently living. 5 of us met out back to honor Mother’s Night and burn a Yule log in order to light the way for the Sun to return to us after it’s gradual waning. In the image above, you can see our Log nestled in the core of the fire (its bark runs horizontally while all others run towards the vertical). With its burning, we release the failures and angers and discomforts of the last year and look forward to the new year’s hopes and dreams.


As I was unfamiliar with the spirit of Yule, I had to make a few things up as I went along. Our Log was the bottom section of a Black Locust tree from our land (traditionally they are Oak). We had no Holly sprigs to carry our past year’s frustrations and no acorns to carry our hopes for the new one. This will be rectified in the future. Our Ceremony was loose and unorganized, but as Will said,”the archetypes are what truly matters, even if we aren’t as familiar with them and don’t get them exactly right.” It took me nearly 2 hours and at least 3 attempts to build the fire in a way that felt acceptable. A single attempt was made to bring the fire to light and it was a far greater success than even I had hoped. This is in alignment to my bone level KNOWING that I was never much of a Fire Fighter while I was on my local fire department. My personal history taught me that I am more of a Fireman.



noun  fire·man  \-mən\
Popularity: Bottom 30% of words
  1.  a person who tends or feeds fires:stoker

  2.  a member of a fire department :firefighter

  3.  an enlisted man in the navy who works with engineering machinery

  4.  a relief pitcher in baseball

It is in accordance with the first definition that I find guidance in my life rather than any of the others (the baseball reference is new and totally alien to me). I know that I have written before of the history of my family and how my mother’s father (Andrew Patrnchak) started his career in Warren Ohio as a Stove Tender, shoveling coal into the blast furnaces at Republic Steel. He retired as the Steel Pourer, actually controlling the Ladle as the liquid steel is poured into its forms. He would know what I’m talking about. Being able to look into the heart of a fire and tell, by color or texture or movement, the exact internal state of the Fire. My time spent at Ohio University firing their wood kilns to 2300 deg F is in line with this. Building a fire that will vent properly. Positioning the lay so that the wind works to draw the fire through the fuel rather than forcing it to choke on its own smoke. These things as as much instinct as learned. Maybe more so.


In the setting of making this fire, I had the added tension of the actual lighting of the fire. Tradition stats that the head of the household needs to spark off the fire on the first attempt to ensure good fortune. This I did with seeming nonchalance (I say seeming because I was more nervous than I apparently needed to be and certainly more than I looked.) The wind at my back, the tiny spark took to the kindling and rushed through the small stuff, forced down and inward. There it found and set the core of the fire. It is this moment of kindling that the year ahead rests upon. If in spirit and attitude if nothing else. The fire took hold and began to wrap back and around our Yule log, releasing to potent magic inherent in the woods I chose to carry the fire. Red and White Oak, Wild Cherry, Aspen and Tulip Poplar, Beach and Green Ash all played their part while Hophorn Beam was doing the real heavy lifting to release the true energetic potential in the Black Locust at the fire’s heart.

We sang no songs and intoned no chants. No animals were sacrificed to slake the blood thirst of angry spirits. In their stead, stories were shared, and libations were offered, to our Ancestors, to the sun and the darkness, to Thor, and to the Spirit that Moves Through All Things. We gave thanks for what has passed. We gave thanks for the day’s lengthening. We recognized Mother Night from which all things come. As she carries and cradles the seeds underground, in darkness, that spring forth into the light and give new life.

Our tradition is new. Our celebration small. Much like the seeds we press into the soil. In time our circle will grow. As will the sun. As will our endeavors. Our hopes and dreams will also grow and spread, bringing new patterns of life to this worn out, beaten down land. A land waiting, under its icy blanket for the coming spring to show us our paths.


May the log burn,
May the wheel turn,
May evil spurn,
May the Sun return.