Sunday, December 28, 2008

A New House

First, let me say that I am pleased and just a little surprised that I have survived the last couple months... and that I haven't killed anyone else, either. Yay! This is good, considering all the change that has been going on.

Second, I have had an epiphany. It happened while I have been the de facto single parent around here while Kevin has been out of town. Shoveling coal. Hauling ashes. Snaking drains. Changing tires. Etc.

My epiphany: I am liable to live another 45 years. I know. I know. Folks are supposed to have realizations of their mortality, not their longevity. But my paternal grandmother died at 93. My maternal grandmother is 93 and still physically as healthy as a horse. My various female great-grandmothers and great-aunts all lived into their late 80s and early 90s (or are still living). Statistically speaking, my life is only half over.

But what does this have to do with shoveling coal? Well, there I was, hauling buckets of ashes out of the basement... up the steep steps to dump outside on the driveway.... and I suddenly had two thoughts: I don't know how many more years I can keep doing this, and O my gosh, I could be alive for manymany years after these steps are unnavigable!

So I began thinking about the house. We have had a whole bunch of plans to repair, improve, and retrofit the house. New windows here. Insulation there. Solar. Mudrooms. Woodstoves. Upgraded electricity. But you know what? This house will never be anything but an old house; and as I age I won't be able to maintain it. (Snaking out the drain in the basement on Christmas Eve helped convince me of this, elbow-deep in ice-cold water, trying to work the snake through the drain as the water slowly rose and stuff started to float around. I hate it when stuff starts floating in the basement. I'm sure I would hate it even worse in 30 years.)

So.... we are going to build a new house. If we start saving now, in about 15 years, after we have paid off the current mortgage, we should be able to take out another loan to put up a new house. With insulation, and good windows, and solar.... I've even found my dreamhouse: the GlideHouse.
Of course, at approximately $300-400K, it is Not the house I am going to end up with. It's a Green house, so of course it is out of my price-range. Go figure. But I intend to steal as much as possible from it, starting with that South wall entirely of sliding glass doors, and the offset master bedroom that gets a full southern exposure, too. The floor plan I like is about 1400 square feet, so I think I can probably find a way to keep the price down. (Man, the neighbors would start giving tours, if we paid 300K for a house....)
I want something for my old age, so I can stay on this property as long as possible. No upstairs. No basement. Good insulation, efficient passive solar heating... as cheap as possible to heat, since I do not expect to be well off in my old age. Might as well plan for solar electric panels (the Glidehouse is "solar-ready", I want mine to be too when we build it, so we can add solar panels as we have the money. We'll still need a cistern.... I am wondering about those ultra-low-flush toilets... the kind that only take a cup of water....

Anyway, I have a spot tentatively picked out on the property. If I can talk any of the kids into living in this old house when I'm way old, I might be able to stay in my "retirement" house until I keel over.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rough outline of Garden

Devra wanted to know what my plans for the kitchen garden are. So I drew up a rough sketch for her. Kevin, you will recognize the basic design from the garden I had on the canal bank in Los Banos. Only the paths won't be grass.... just mulch over plastic. I am claiming the roll of black plastic in the basement.

This is obviously not to scale. Ummm.... Way Not to Scale. There will be arches on all four sides, like the one we have right now near the house. The Egyptian onions and the garlic are already in, and bedded down for the winter. If anyone touches them, I will have their hide. Probably the potatoes will go in next to the garlic.... and of course all the climbing stuff like the peas and runner beans will go along the arches. And everything else will go in somewhere....
Your hoop house(s) will be to the East of the garden.

And, no, I didn't use the Google SketchUp, even though I know that's everyone's favorite package right now. Just call me a late adopter.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Shawna says we can get a horse as soon as the
hay field fenced in.
I want a black and white one.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Buildings: Solar Panels for the Biffy

Out here the biffy gets less attention than it should. For illumination we've used the old kerosene lantern solution (smelly), candles (inflammatory with five kids), Aladdins (highly satisfactory but it takes them a long time to warm up and they're fragile). The kerosene lantern also heats the biffy in the winter, very effectively.

We've thought about running an underground feeder wire from the house to the biffy, but it's 100 feet, we move the biffy to a new hole every year or two, and we only have one empty fuse socket in our ancient 60 amp service panel. A more localized source of power would be better.

For thirty bucks and a visit to Cabela's, we can buy a 12v solar panel with some leads on it. It's designed to charge smaller batteries (motorcycle size) to run deer feeders and game cameras. No mention on the Cabela's website as to the wattage (low, I'm sure) or whether it has a diode to prevent nighttime leakage. Apparently it can't keep a larger battery charged, but a small one is okay for a few bulbs.

One of these on the roof, a lawn mower batter inside, and then either a 12v high-intensity LED light cluster or two, or even that old standby, the 1156 automotive blinker bulb, and we can see to find our anatomy in the dark with both hands.

And a switch, of course. Some wire.

The Questing Beast

I am on a quest for perennial wheat. Looking through my old seed catalogs the other day, I found an offering in my 2005 Bountiful Gardens for perennial wheat seeds. Whoa! Totally cool. Wouldn't it be neat to have a "wheat patch."

Unfortunately, they no longer offer it. I contacted them, and the wonderful woman at Bountiful Gardens said that the seedsman they got their seed from had to go find a job in town (well, I'm paraphrasing...) and the perennial variety was lost. She felt bad about it. I contacted her seedsman (Peters Seed and Research), and he said that he hoped to have another strain available in a few years.

So now I am looking around for perennial wheat seeds. So far, all my leads have been dead ends. Terribly frustrating.
It turns out that Soviet Russia experimented with perennial wheat for years from the late 40s through to the early 60s, and University of California-Davis experimented with perennial wheat during roughly the same time frame.... but neither group could ever make perennial wheat yield as much as annual wheat.... So They Gave It Up! Aaaaaarrrghhghgh!!!!!!!!! I hate the Green Revolution. (I am told to expect roughly half the yield with perennial wheat, compared with annual wheat.)

Never so much as a thought, that perennial wheat might have its own niche to fill, as a productive soil perserver on hillsides... or as a useful small-scale diversified farm plant.... or that it would need fewer pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers....

So anyway.

Perennial wheat is in my head now, and it won't let me go. The Seed Savers Exchange has so far been unable to provide me with a solid lead, although they have pointed me to the University of Washington, which is the current large-scale researcher. I haven't contacted them yet... that's my next step.

Darn questing beast. It exists, I know it. Somewhere out there, there are seeds available. I haven't found them yet. But I AM going to have that wheat patch. I think it would be wonderful to have a standing patch of wheat to supply my wheat grinder.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Water: Some additional thoughts

Here's some additional ideas:

A bone simple roof washer, so you don't have to drink water with dead bugs in it like you do now. (Did I tell you what I remove when I fill the tank down at the fire station?)


This is an underground tank that costs $1400 dollars.It holds 1700 gallons. Various others are available.

Got to go. I'm being hollered at about fenceposts from the garden, and have to go see what I can do to help.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Water: The fire plug solution

Melissa at the county water and sanitation department says that we can open a short term account with them in order to get household water from that fire hydrant two miles up the road. She says that there are three water haulers out here that generally work with the coal mines providing water to people whose wells go dry, like David's have.

To do it, we go down to the county and give them $300. They loan us a wrench and a valve to screw onto the fire hydrant. We supply the hose. We then have a week or so to take as much water as we want--it costs $5 per 1000 gallons. (Our polyethylene tank holds 450 gallons.)

When we're done, we give them back their tooling, and they give us back our money, less however much we tell them we took. If we write them a check, they cash it right away and then write us a new one. They won't just hold the check.

Melissa says we can't just use our own valve and buy a wrench from Grainger (or make one). We have to use theirs, and we have to give them $300 every time we use it, and we can't keep it.

I called John at J & W Water Services, and he ballparked a delivery fee of $75 for hauling us 1000 gallons in his truck. He handles various people out where we live.

For us to haul water from town ourselves costs $4.50 per 1000 gallons, but about $15 in gasoline to go get it and come back.

If we buy a 1000 gallon tank and just park it by the warehouse, we can fill it off the roof of the warehouse and pump it up to the house. We would probably have to drain it in the winter, or bury it in hay bales with a heater inside. Perhaps we could put the tank inside the warehouse.

A thousand gallons ain't much.