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.
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.
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.
an enlisted man in the navy who works with engineering machinery
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.
Even though the temperatures are starting to slip down towards the freezing mark, I’ve kept at it out in the barn. Why not? I’ve got the rocket stove out there now. For now, there isn’t a lot of heat retention as the walls are basically just a bunch of reeds bound up together. Around the edges, at the corners and the top, the wind can still come right in. I’ve wrapped the outside of the addition with tarps and some old old greenhouse plastic. I’m not trying to seal the room up completely, that will come later. My efforts are simply in order to block out the worst of the wind and to keep the snow out of the room. In any case, every bit helps. The door to the outside has a removable window and a little sliding door at the bottom so that the birds will be able to get in and out without having to go through barn. More than that, I would very much like to get the birds to stop turning the yard in front of the barn into a mud pit. My intention is for them to go out this new door and turn the side yard into a mud pit. Hence the little door. Figuring out a door that is able to resist the intentions of a skunk or raccoon isn’t as simple as I first thought. But after about an hour of staring at the bottom of that door, I had a solution. The little sliding door actually nests inside the outer casing. Only time will tell if it will do the job. It feels like it should. I hope it does.
Coop long view
The walls, as I stated, are simply bundled reeds. So anything I do on the inside of the barn will have to be relatively removable. That and I want them off the floor. I don’t know if you can tell from the images, but the nest boxes are actually attached to the window cases with a brace at the bottom to hold them off the wall. When the time comes to finish the inside, the boxes will need to be removed. The way I attached them allows that. The red/white/green along the top of the boxes are small sections of metal roofing that was left over from cutting in the roof. This will allow the birds to use the upper boxes without getting pooped on. More importantly, the slope will make it so that the birds won’t be able hang out on top. Anyone who knows chickens knows that they crap almost constantly. The slope will dissuade them from hanging out up there. It worked pretty well on the old boxes.
The perches are set. The way I’ve done them this time is to set boxes/braces on the wall that the perches can be set in. The perches aren’t actually attached to the boxes. This will allow their removal when I need to clean up under them. Instead, I ran wire through the wall and secured the boxes in place so that the cob/plaster layer will come right up to it. I think it was something I saw in one of the straw bale books that I have. The bottom 2 perches are most likely going to get replaced with straighter poles. If I have the energy to do so. In the current coop, the perches are actually secured in place. Until you have either been crapped on while mucking about under perched birds or simply felt the (literally) crappy perches rubbing along your head, neck and back as you try and work, you haven’t lived. It’s a not obvious in the image but there is also a window (same size/shape as the one in the door) set high in the wall. This will allow paper level ventilation in the summer and just a little more light year round. I’m just trying to make the space as light and airy as I can. Not that the chickens will let me know if they are content or satisfied with what I’ve made for them. If any of you can speak chicken, please please please come over and help me talk to these birds.
As for the animals, Biscuit has apparently shown her true colors and a full on liar. I’ve been waiting on her to show signs of an imminent birthing and she as more than willingly taken the feed I’ve been giving her as if she is owed the sweetness. In fact, when I contacted the family that sold her to me (and assured that she was due “any day now”) they informed me that their other doe was also not showing signs of imminent birthing. What this leads me to believe is that their Pygmy buck simply isn’t up to the talk. In Biscuit’s case, I think that I mean it literally as well. I think he just couldn’t reach. She is a fairly big girl as far as it goes and he was just a little guy. The other nanny was his size though so who (besides the goats themselves) knows? As for the chickens, I now have 4 extra roosters and a young hen that is laying an egg a day. Another hen lays maybe 4 or 5 times a week. Everyone else seems to have stopped completely. 2 eggs in a day (at best) with 28 birds is pretty pathetic. There is a bit of electrical work to take care of and then I’ll hook in the timer and try and get a few more of them to start laying again. At least I hope they start back up. Time will tell.
The previous story was just sitting here waiting for me to publish and the world had already moved on. Yesterday afforded me time to sit with the stove and see what I could make happen. It had been suggested to point a small fan into the feed box in order to increase the draft. If it did increase it, I couldn’t really tell. All that seemed to happen was that the smoke just got pushed into the room faster. Another suggestion I had seen in the Rocket Stove book was to choke down the feed box by adding a brick at the back of the box. Well hot Diggity ding dong dang if it didn’t work. I’ve lost a bit of space for fuel but it works. In fact, after running the rocket most of the day in an attempt to dry it and the mass in the thermal battery, I did an experiment and removed the brick I had added. And, yeah, instant smoke fest. So there ya go. I put the brick back and it went smoke free. Just the cutest little roar. If you want to hear it purr, come on by.
If you want to direct message me, I’m at Charles@trilliumcenter.org
Well dang if that didn’t just take an extra long while for me to actually write again. It’s not that I’ve been just sitting around, watching the leaves turn pretty colors and fall to the ground, because I have been doing a bit of that. No, it is said that a rolling stone grows no moss. Some times, though, occasionally, the rate of roll slows to the point that moss can just barely start to get a toehold. This summer presented me with one of those periods. The challenges and complications of existence can, at times, obscure the path ahead. At times like those, it can be wise to simply stop staring at the scenery and all the gee gaws there-in and focus on the spot where my foot will next meet the earth. One step. One step. One step.
Great picture isn’t it? You can almost tell what happened back there
The Rocket has been buried. I added the small can so that I could keep litter from catching sparks. That and it allows me to stop the airflow altogether. I ran long screws through the metal can from the inside towards the outside and they are held in the compressed soil around the can. This will keep the can set.
Finally finally finally got the metal roof over the new addition installed. Part of that includes the chimney flashing having been set in the roof. This means that all I need to do is connect the long pipe from the floor to the ceiling. This is only hampered by the issue that sweet little Viann appears to have caught her reflection in 2 of the 4-foot sections of pipe that I had left in the room. Being the hell-spawned monster that she is, she must have recognized that her reflection actually revealed her true form. As everyone knows, duh, demons hide their form from humanity. Rather that allowing me to catch a glimpse of her form, she proceeded to SMASH SMASH SMASH the pipe. And once she had satisfied her head butting, she then proceeded to do the tap-dance-o-death on the smashed pipe. Luckily she only weighed 45# when she did this. This means that the creases aren’t hard folded and that I can get them hammered out without a lot of deformity. Maybe today.
In addition to setting the rocket in the floor, I went and cut some more Phrag. Before you tut tut tut me for cutting it 3 months early, let me just say, Yes, it’s not dry yet. The inner parts of the bottom end of this year’s reeds are still green. Even some of the leaves are green. Just a little. As I’m not using this stuff in any way that resembles thatching, or exterior exposure, I decided to just go for the lesson and find out what happens with a far less than perfect set of reeds. I’m facing an issue this year that I hope to resolve in a definitive way. The patch of Phragmites you drove by yesterday (if you have or were in a car and near any amount of standing water) is filled with all the previous years dead reeds. That one is no different from the one in the Andes mountains or Sri Lanka or here at my place. This plant tends to mono-crop itself. Come to find out, it actually releases antialgel allelochemicals. Pretty neat. Allelopathy is far more common than I at first realized. Certain plants, basically, “salts the earth” or lay down it’s own herbicide specifically crafted to ward off it’s primary contenders. Because of this, the dead reeds mostly get hung up in the 3-6″ between the next closest batch of reeds. They are just forced to stay standing. Heavy winds will snap them off, or someone walking through. These dead reeds further block sunlight from the ground with inhibits evaporation and germination of anything else. The bottom 4′ of the reeds tend to be packed in with all this dead stuff, tighter and tighter as you get closer to the surface. This year though, all the best and tallest patches will get sliced off at the dirt which will allow everything to lay over and get pushed to the soil where it can rot. I think that is carbon sequestration. Something like it happens in mob-grazing ecologies. Here is the thing though. NEXT YEAR will mean a cleaner harvest, cleaner and far easier. The footing is remarkably treacherous. Oh yeah, and there are 2 common lengths of dead reed, eyeball level when I have my hands on my knees while I’m gasping for breath from all this work, and eyeball level when bent 90* at the waist when I drop the Kama, again. Pokey stabby slicy stuff. If you’ve ever played hide and seek in an endless ocean of field corn in shorts and short sleeves, you begin to understand. Of course sweating immediately describes the exact dimension of each and everyone of those minor lacerations. They itch and burn. Time well spent. And I need to take a final moment here and recommend that each and every person who reads this go out into or at least next to a patch of Phrag. A day with a light breeze is best. The sound of the long dry leaves whisk swish whisking against each other is pure auditory heaven. It’s hypnotic. I highly recommend it. It might change your life.
The lower section of the wall is 3 garage door insulation panels thick. The inner layer is part of the wall holding back the infill. I figured that since I’ve got these things laying around, they won’t speed up heat loss through the floor. So why not? The outer panel is about 4″ taller than the inner floor.
The rest of the wall is made up of the bundles of Phrag. The bundles average around 4″ in diameter. Leah and I tied them up. One on each side, hold the bundle in place, weave the baling twine over around under through over tight, pick up all the reeds that fell, repeat 4x per bundle. It got a lot more straightforward after a bit. This will get covered with the same sort of earthen plaster that is inside the Seedhouse. I haven’t figured the outside yet. The eaves are pretty deep so I might try straight earthen plaster outside too. Or maybe a mix with just a little lime to tighten things up. I can’t grow or mine plaster lime here. Ever. And the trick is as small a footprint as possible. The insulation panels are/were garbage.
I doubt I can pull off plastering this thing before the freeze is here to stay. Maybe the inside only as I have the capacity to heat that room. The exterior walls will remain covered with a membrane for the winter. Something to cut the wind. I would like to get birds in here fairly soon so, I’ve still got a bit of work to do to pull that off.
Tomorrow (8/27) we are hosting a Farm Tour sponsored by the Ashtabula Local Food Council here at the farm. Come by and check out just exactly what this place looks like. It looks very different than it has for a while (if ever). The chickens sure love it. At the base of the big Red Oaks back by the barn, down among the roots, they have found that the soil is light and fluffy and oh, so perfect for dust bathing. The rocket stove in the barn has progressed by leaps and bounds. It, too, will most likely make another oh, so perfect dust bath. Come on by and check out gardens and the Seedhouse. We’ll be doing a long plant walk as we wander the ring trail. I know the Elder berries are mostly done but the Monkey Flowers and Lobelia are going strong. The schedule says 1:00-3:30 so we’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the day.