Monday, 29 June 2015

How to dig a hole



Last week’s wind really dried the landscape. It was as if the strong winds blowing in from the centre of this hot continent stole every drop of moisture from the soil surface on the farm and then just took all of that moisture somewhere else. On the other hand that lack of moisture made the construction of the new chicken house and enclosure a bit easier than it otherwise would have been during the depths of winter.

The chicken house and run project – let’s call it “chooktopia” – has received several days of work this week. The chooktopia structure is quite complex because the entire structure is actually two very different sheds under the same roof line. And as if that wasn’t hard enough, I’m trying to foil the activities of the very naughty and intelligent rats, which currently enjoy free access to the existing chicken house and enclosure. Every night those rats are thumbing their twitchy little noses at me and making off with the chicken feed. It is mildly irritating to be outsmarted by a rat, but then I guess that is what is meant when people speak of “rat cunning”.

Anyway I must confess that way back in very early 2011, and despite having read many books on keeping chickens, I had absolutely no idea about either chickens or rats. Four years on, I’ve wised up on the subject of keeping chickens and also keeping rats. The new chooktopia project incorporates everything I’ve learned about both of those species since the innocent, heady, early days.

The basic galvanised steel frame of chooktopia was constructed this week. It is very exciting to see all of the steel posts in the ground and the whole steel frame tied together. I thought that it might be useful to look at how I actually construct these structures. If anyone has any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Firstly, some people may wonder why I have even chosen to use galvanised steel for the frame and cladding and that is a fair question. The simple answer to that question is that the rats will have quite a bit of trouble climbing up smooth vertical galvanised steel surfaces. Take that you rats! Rats can actually climb vertical timber surfaces with ease. Around here the rats live in burrows dug into the soil or alternatively in hollows high up on very large trees. The average family of rats in the forest here will displace sugar gliders, bats and birds. On the other hand, the rats don’t get an entirely easy time of it as they are easy prey for birds, foxes, cats or dogs.

Also, the average rat can chew holes into timber and scratch away at any weak edge on a concrete slab. It is a fair thing to say that easy access to chicken feed and scraps is on the average rat’s mind 24/7/365 (take that Kanye!). However, I am yet to see a rat that can chew its way through steel, so the main construction material for chooktopia is steel.

The design for Chooktopia incorporates 12 galvanised steel posts and this week was spent installing the remainder of those steel posts. The steel posts are set in structural grade cement in holes which vary from between 600mm (2 foot) to 900mm (3 foot) deep. The deeper holes are on the downhill side of the chooktopia project.

As a side note, the editor determines the location of the holes via a combination of string lines and tape measures – I do the digging! My understanding on such matters is that to ensure that the structure is an exact rectangle; the editor divides the design of the building into two opposing triangles and simply ensures that the longest diagonal side of each opposing triangle has the same measurement.
A hole for one of the steel posts is about to be dug
The commencement of the process for digging a hole can be seen in the photo above. The site of the hole has been selected by the editor and I then use a shovel to dig a square hole in the ground a few inches deep. The shovel in the photo above has the bright yellow handle and is sticking upright out of the soil. Before we proceed any further though, I have to ask the hard question: Why would anyone ever manufacture a decent shovel, and then give it a plastic handle? Seriously, the plastic handle (which I have a ready steel replacement handle for) is already showing signs of stress fractures…

The electric jack hammer (powered off the solar system) is then used to break up the very hard concrete like clay into small chunks. All of those small clay chunks are then removed by hand from the hole and a nice, neat and clean hole is left for the post to be cemented into.
The electric jack hammer is used to break up the very hard clay in the hole
If the clay is less concrete like, I have a one foot wide hand auger which digs a very neat hole and also lifts the clay out in the same digging process. The hand auger just does not work when the clay is as hard as concrete. Soil geek alert! On parts of the farm where compost or mulch has been added (even in small quantities) or a few years of chopping and dropping of the vegetation has taken place (via mowing), the soil is very easy to dig and plants grow in profusion.
All 12 steel posts for the chooktopia project were installed this week
By the end of the second day of work, all 12 steel posts were cemented into the ground. Observant readers will note the use of the string line and the very bright yellow post and pipe level which are both used in conjunction to obtain perfectly vertical and aligned posts. The two doors which were obtained from the nearby tip shop are yet to be installed into the chooktopia structure, but were on hand to ensure that they easily fit the cavities left for them.

During winter, because of the cold weather, the cement for the steel posts takes about a day to set. As a comparison, over summer that setting time for cement is about 2 hours. So, I had to wait until the following day to tie the entire structure together and set the roof height, using steel sections. The fancy descriptive for the steel sections is RHS which is an acronym for Rectangular Hollow Sections which is basically a rectangular steel tube.
All of the steel posts have been tied together and the roof height set using steel RHS tubing
In the photo you can see the chickens observing the new structure from afar under the shelter of a very massive tree. In the foreground is one of the many Tree Lucerne (Tagasaste) shrubs which make excellent chicken feed and are currently in flower. The Tagasaste seeds from the many trees here which were placed in the nursery garden bed have just recently sprouted from the soil. It is a smart tree that decides to get established here before the summer!

The recently built firewood shed wasn’t forgotten about as this week either as I installed internal and external 12V LED lights. It is nice to see what you are doing after the sun has set for the day! Was that lump a huntsman spider?
The new firewood shed had an internal and external 12V LED light installed
The winter solstice was last week, and over the past few weekly blogs I've been posting the solar PV statistics:
Battery % full at the start of the day - Amount generated by the 4.2kW of PV panels during that day
Tuesday 23rd June – 72% full – 5.2kWh
Wednesday 24th June – 77% full – 4.7kWh
Thursday 25th June – 82% full – 3.9kWh
Friday 26th June – 82% full – 5.3kWh
Saturday 27th June – 82% full – 2.5kWh
Sunday 28th June – 78% full – 3.0kWh
Monday 29th June – 83% full – 4.9kWh

How did the house get here?
April 2011 was like any normal April here. The weather was starting to turn cooler and the days were shorter in length. It is unwise to paint when temperatures are less than 10’C (50‘F) as the paint may not cure properly. Keeping in mind that winter was just around the corner, I painted and joined the entire outside of the house with three solid coats of paint before it got too cold. Most of the exterior surfaces were easy to reach so whilst it was a big job, it got done quickly.
The exterior of the house was painted and joined
The local earthmoving dude brought up 50 tonnes of rock toppings (the white ones with lime) from the nearby quarry. Those rock toppings were spread around the entire house and driveway and serve the purpose of providing an all-weather outdoor surface which just also happens to be non-combustible and acts as a fire break.

Even more painting occurred that month as a very kind person that I work for donated some water proofing agent for the veranda deck and given there was still a bit of warm sun in the sky before winter set in, I painted that bright cyan product onto the veranda deck.
Water proofing agent is painted onto the veranda deck over the thick fibre-cement sheeting
A lovely neighbour donated hundreds of agapanthus plants which I used to line the driveways and access roads here. The ultra-reliable blue and white agapanthus flowers are plentiful every summer despite the scorching heat and are a favourite of the bees and honey eater birds.
Donated agapanthus plants line the driveways and access roads here
The earthmoving dude also extended the swale which collects any overflow of rainfall from the house water system and I started mulching and planting out the swale earthen embankment.
The swale was extended and the earthen embankment was mulched and planting began
With the days getting shorter in length, I noticed that the 8 original solar PV panels weren’t quite generating enough energy on average to make it through the days energy requirements. With a little bit of mathematical projection, I could see that more PV panels were required and so I installed a further 2 panels. I said at the time to the editor: “Two extra panels should just about do it” – Ahh, such innocent days of yore! As an amusing postscript it is worth noting that there are now 23 solar PV panels installed!After a a few more panels were later installed I admitted my complete ignorance on the matter.
Two new solar PV panels were put on the roof
Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about this next bit. Having read many books on keeping chickens, I was something of a purist and so happened to purchase a rooster thinking that this would make for a happy chicken experience. Anyway, after a bit of observation time, I named the rooster “Brian” after the brother of Jeff Lindsay’s gripping book (and television) character Dexter. Brian, like his namesake had to go, as he was a vicious rooster who killed a couple of the smaller hens and had the absolute temerity to attack even me. I was outraged by his behaviour and dealt with it by waking up early one night and sorting him out with a very heavy Gurkha knife. After that, peace and tranquility descended quickly into the chicken collective - I certainly felt better and Rumpole became the new boss chicken / benevolent dictator.
Brian the recidivist rooster
The temperature outside here at about 9.30pm is 5.0’C degrees Celsius (41’F). So far this year there has been 376.6mm (14.8 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total of 371.6mm (14.6 inches).

32 comments:

LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris - Wow. That chook run is really shaping up and quit the project. Lucky you have someone on staff with a solid grasp of geometry. :-). I've looked around for a hand augur, checking out all the usual suspects. Plenty of gas or electric models, but when I ask for a hand augur, they look at me like I'm nuts. I haven't tried to ferret one out, too hard, as I still think there's one kicking around my place ... somewhere.

I checked out the agapanthus. Quit a pretty flower. LOL. Reading the entry on Wikipedia, "which family the genus belongs to" I'm sure professional credibility and careers rose and fell around that very question. Finally, DNA testing sorted it all out.

Well, my 11 chooks produced 3 dozen eggs last week. Finally. I can live with that. I know how you felt about the bad rooster. A few murderous thoughts crossed my mind over the broody hens. My pyro neighbor told me he's going away for the 4th of July weekend. So, I guess I don't have to deploy the hoses and have the fire brigade on speed dial. :-). One bit of information that took me aback is that he apologized for his son. He has, apparently, got the little nipper a drone ("He's very good at it.") and the evil little tyke buzzed my chickens!

My friends in Idaho were from Naches, which is near Yakima. On the hot dry side of the mountains. They moved here to take care of an old uncle, and inherited his farm. They did not like the cold and damp. So, they sold the farm after about 10 years, and moved to Idaho (the part where the climate is like Naches) to be close to their daughter and son-in-law (who work fire suppression for the US Forest Service.)

Ah, that was a sad story about your mates getting sucked into cyberspace. It kind of reminded me of that awkward time of life where you mates discover girls before you do, and disappear. I think when people develop manias or enthusiasms, anyone who doesn't get on board is perceived (mostly subconsciously) as a threat to their value or belief system.

Due to low snowpack and below average rains in May and June, the powers that be are talking about curtailing water rights on our side of the mountains. The Chehalis drainage. I don't think it's happened, before. Hay and cannery crops will be affected. The Chehalis River is running at 650 cubic feet per second (normal for this time of year is 800-900) and the Newaukum River is running at 55 cfs (normal is 130-140).

Continuing the First Annual Chehalis Australian Film Festival, over the last few evenings I've watched "Sweetie" (Jane Campion's first feature film) and "Oranges & Sunshine" (about the British Child Migration Program). Don't know if you've seen either of them, but I enjoyed them both. Lew

Stacey Armstrong said...

Chris!

Still following your work and writing week to week. Writing time has been sparse (I will confess to always writing a draft and sleeping on it before posting. Perhaps I should look into acquiring an editor?) I felt compelled to dash off a note because we mournfully polished off the last bit of green tomato pickle today. The number of jars made will be doubled this year with a little bit of green tomato luck. We are experiencing a very dry and hot growing season. Quite different than any other summer. There have been a lot of smells arriving about a month early around here. I admit that it makes for some hasty decisions and odd experiments.

Looking forward to more news on your hen accommodations. We have recently moved our chicken house to allow for more shade. The hens are enjoying being able to dust bath underneath some firs and alders during the heat of the day. My first fleeting thought after reading about your new hen fortifications was that I hope your own house is as rat-proof as the new scoocum chook-den!

best. Stacey

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Inge,

I have no experience with either matter, but I have read that the drugs do have quite the impact on peoples creativity and motivation. On a slightly different note, over the years I've had a few friends that were addicted to weed and they became less motivated and whilst they weren't quite morose, it was hard to reconcile what they became with the people they used to be. Dunno, but I don't really recommend messing with a persons brain chemistry unless the person is completely dysfunctional otherwise. There doesn't really seem to be much middle ground on such matters.

Oh no! How did they get a permit to raise everything to the ground? That would be hard to do here with the laws as they stand. Anyway, I hope your son can take the long view? Dunno, but there are repercussions for people making a mess for their neighbours to have to contend with and in a small community it is a chancy thing to do. You are absolutely spot on and the same thing happens here - I am 100% motivated to repair every bit of damaged earth here because if you don't then sooner or later a big storm will hit and there will be consequences. The real problem is if they make a big mess and move on. One Grand Designs UK (sorry!) had a massive excavation in an area of the UK known for shifting soil and landslips and sure enough the neighbours sheds started falling into the excavated site. Now the interesting thing about that was that the people that built the house obviously had to employ a very expensive engineered retaining wall, but they requested the neighbour to process the claim through their own insurance - which I thought was a dodgy move but was glossed over in the show. Anyway, there must have been fall out because a bit of Google snooping showed that they'd move on within 2 years of construction.

By the way, good luck with Wednesday and I hope that the weather is warm and still for that job.

Cheers

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

Thanks for that! Yes, it is very nice to have someone else work out the geometry - in such cases I claim that I am merely grunt labour in the presence of genius and that always seems to do the trick! hehe! ;-)! Too funny.

I've never seen or heard of an electric augur, but the petrol ones are very common. The problem with them is if the bit hits a rock or tree stump then the clutch kicks in and it can twist out of your hands - the little engines can put out 5 or 6 horse power and that is a hard twist. Keep looking, you never know. I have this mental image of your place having sheds with an Aladdin's cave of all sorts of old school tools and maybe even the odd horse drawn carriage? People sell those original carriages down here as garden ornamentation. It is one fad that I don't tend to understand as they always tend to break down and then they're lost.

You'd reckon that they could settle the whole catagorisation over a beer or four or maybe they could even chuck in an arm wrestle or best of three darts game or something silly like that? DNA testing takes the whole argument to a level of accuracy that perhaps is not warranted by the situation? The plants don't seem to care one way or the other! hehe! What sort of test do you reckon would make the grade?

3 dozen eggs per week is a decent output from your ladies. The ladies here have produced about 4 per day lately, but there are 15 hens. Broody chooks are sort of like zombies, you don't want them around and they seem to pursue their own objectives. Try getting a couple of silky chickens which can go broody up to 5 times per year... Fortunately they don't seem to eat much being very small birds, but still 5 times in one year is a bit extreme.

Drones, what a hassle. Sooner or later someone is going to use a drone and take photographs of things that they should not photograph and then that individual - because they're stupid - is going to end up in a whole world of trouble. And what is worse is that that individual deserves their fate. Seriously a good shanghai should take one out and leave very little evidence - just saying...

Naches is one scenic town with all of those mountains looming over it. Wow! It is a bit cooler on average than here, but not by much and also much drier. Thanks for the background story. I hope they're OK this fire season given the general comments about heat and drought.

Thanks, I never played those games having an intuition that they would be a soul and life eater. There is too much to do in the real world!

It is still early days for your summer too. Ouch. The streams and rivers here stop completely over summer and then dry up into disparate pools of water. I don't know whether you are aware of this or not, but we are exporting citrus to the US, so things must be pretty ordinary climate wise far to the south of you. It is a worry.

Very funny! PS: I enjoyed the film "Wild" from your part of the world am taking recommendations - although it may take many weeks for me to check them out. Hmmm, The Piano by Jane Campion is meant to be a New Zealand film classic and I've seen it but it was very bleak and very rough.

Yeah, I've heard of Oranges and Sunshine and to be brutally honest such things have been going on here since 1788. It makes for a sobering history. Did that ever happen up your way? Honestly, I've known a couple of people as adults that were taken as babies from their biological single mothers and it left a scar on them.

Cheers

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Stacey,

Nice to hear, and glad to see you back as I thought that you'd dropped off the face of the Earth! The editor was pretty chuffed to hear of that and I must confess that editors are in short supply. It is a difficult thing for someone who has written something to have someone else review it and say: "that's rubbish, get rid of it". A tough school. Fortunately there are plenty of nice words too.

Your dry and hot conditions are almost perfect tomato growing weather, although sorry also to hear of the climate disruptions in your part of the world. How good is that green tomato pickle? Yum! Climate disruption and general climate weirdness is my stock in trade here and yes, experimentation is the way to go. A good maxim to follow is: if it has happened once, it'll happen again!

The ladies would appreciate the extra shade in hot and dry conditions. I killed the bee colonies here a few years back because of the very hot summer - the wax melted and the bees immediately swarmed...

The house is even more rat proof than the chooktopia structure! The rat and mouse proofing is an incidental and useful by-product of the fire-proofing.

I wish you a productive and fruitful summer!

Cheers

Chris

orchidwallis said...

Hello Chris

We are sweltering here, I love it.

I also admired the editor's grasp of geometry and had to work out why it worked.

My brother was so deeply psychotic that there were no options; a tragic waste of a life.

I don't believe that my neighbour has permission for anything that he is doing! It appears that he is using the machinery to create a road to the beach.

Birdsfoot trefoil is flowering and a small yellow flower that I can't identify, I think that it is a member of the buttercup family.

Black fly is all over my runner beans.

Inge

heather said...

Chris-
Wow, what a fortress for the chickens! Tough work digging out the postholes too. We have similar soil here- really hard clay- mixed with quantities of granite and quartz. Not fun for excavations, to be sure.

I had a similar rooster situation to yours, with a similar outcome. I had received a free "exotic" chick with an order of meat bird chicks, and he was too scrawny to bother eating, so I let him grow up. He became a beautiful glossy black roo with a green iridescent shine to his feathers. I kept him around because he was amusing; my dog likes to pace around the edges of the chicken enclosure and spook the girls (bad dog!), and the rooster would keep pace right along with her along the inside of the fence, guarding his flock. I could almost hear him saying "Hey! Back off, you!" to the dog.

Unfortunately he became rough on the hens, and then one fateful day he made the mistake of assaulting my seven-year-old son with his three-inch spurs. My son was shaken up but not badly injured, but that was it for the rooster. If he had come after me I might have tried some "re-education" first, but no chicken attacks my boy and lives to crow about it.

I'm going to have to spray down the chicken enclosure with water in the heat of the day today to try to keep things a bit cooler; it's supposed to hit 105 degrees today and 109 tomorrow. Praying the lightening storms in the mountains don't spark a big one (or the idiots with their firecrackers on the 4th of July).

Have a good week, all!
--Heather in CA

LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris - Oh, yeah. Aladdin's Cave it is. But I don't think Aladdin's cave has quit so much junk mixed in with the good stuff. :-)
There's a good hunk of a Model T Ford stuck in the rafters of an old workshop. I've been told it's all here, scattered about. We found bits of it in the attic of the old farm house. No wagons or carriages (that I've seen, as yet) but there's an goat cart down by my chook run. Multiple batteries, wheelbarrows and mail boxes scattered about. Some deep in blackberries. What's sad is that, given our climate, so much of it is moldering into the earth. Sigh.

Cool and overcast, this morning. But, it burned off and the temperature is cranking up. 86F yesterday, but not to unpleasant as there was a good breeze. More of the same as far as the forecast goes. It's tolerable. There was a terrible brush fire that wiped out a neighborhood over in Wenatchee, Washington. Many homes lost, but no fatalities. People ran for their lives. Which reminds me, I've got to get my go bag together. Just in case. I've got a plan worked out in my head for Beau and Nell. Should give it a dry run to see if there are bugs.

Well, "Sweetie" is about a family pretty much held captive by a mentally ill sister. The semi-sane sister describes her as "sly" and "manipulative". Which she is. As far as "Oranges and Sunshine" goes, yes, we had the same thing. As far back as pre-revolutionary war times, whole boat loads of children were rounded up from British work houses, jails and off the streets to be dumped in "the colonies" as cheap labor. In the 19th century, there were the Orphan Trains. Whole train loads of children swept up out of eastern urban areas and shipped west. There were some happy endings, but no many. Lew

orchidwallis said...

Hello again

I have identified the yellow flower - creeping cinquefoil.

Inge

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Inge,

It is very pleasant to hear of warm summer conditions and also that both you and your forest are enjoying them.

The geometry is quite clever and we set out the house here the same way with the same tools to ensure that all of the external walls are exactly square. I won't mention some of the work that I've seen in the commercial end of things. One house I lived in was out of square by an inch and I didn't notice that issue until I finished off the plastering...

Psychotic is not good for other people around that person, so you have my sympathy.

Oh no! That's not good. As a prediction, given the tendency for land slippage, that road may well become a giant drainage channel - taking a bit more than water. Sorry to say, it doesn't sound good.

You have the loveliest wild flowers in your forest.

Black flies can be a hassle, although they only ever tend to appear here in hot weather.

Cheers

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Heather,

Everything wants to dine on chicken here, thus the fortress like construction. It'll become even more fortress like over the next few weeks. Hope you enjoy seeing it under construction. Thanks the clay can be very hard and concrete like and was far worse when I first started planting the orchard. Sorry to hear the same conditions occur in your part of the world. Mulch and compost really does work, but it takes years to repair the water and organic matter cycle.

Well done you for taking the hard path and confronting that rooster. The hard path in the short term is often the easier path in the long term.

Oh my, those are some hot days and summer still has a long way to go yet. I'm thinking of you and yours and wish you the best of luck for the season. I fully understand and share your concerns.

Cheers

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

Sorry mate, I was laughing so hard at your first sentence that in this reply I typed: Hi Aladdin instead of Hi Lewis. I'm still chuckling about it. Are you seriously suggesting that Aladdin was perhaps more organised and knew exactly where that flying carpet was to be found? Hehe!

What? An old complete, but in bits, Model T? Wow, that would be something else to restore. Mind you, it sounds like a lot of work too and you probably can't get the many damaged and missing parts easily delivered via eBay.

Well that has completely blown my mind - A goat cart. There are amazing images of them on the internet. Wow, I had no idea that goats could be harnassed to a cart.

It is sad to see or hear of useful stuff disappearing into the soil. That isn't uncommon around here too and there was one memorable property that was sold off and completely cleared up and they run horses there now - you'd never know just how many acres of scrap metal and hulking old vehicles were lurking around that place. I think the scrap metal people bought the lot. Anyway, the soil gets all of us in the end - one way or another.

86'F (30'C) is actually a really pleasant day especially if there is a bit of a breeze and the humidity is not too high. The photos of the aftermath of the fire at Wenatchee, Washington look exactly the same as the fires here. It is devastating for the communities and individuals affected not to mention the sheer loss of life in the surrounding forests. I take precautions against such contingencies very seriously which is part of the reason all of the shedding is pretty full on, but who knows how it will actually go under those conditions. They have my sympathy.

Always a wise idea to test your plan and be familiar with it. I believe 2/3rds of people down under in these sorts of areas don't actually have a plan. I run a few different plans depending on the circumstances, but at that time of year I'm pretty much ready to roll.

Glad to hear that you enjoyed both of the films, although Sweetie doesn't sound like it has a very pleasant ending... How could it end well, not that it has to anyway. If the French had written and produced the film, the sister would probably sneakily kill and bury one of the family members and that would be the end of the film. There was a great French film I saw many years ago called the Vanishing - not to be confused with the US remake.

Yeah, there really is no happy outcome. Did you know that at the end of WWII there was a Bridal train. It is a beautiful song by the Waifs and I'm not sure as to the historical accuracy, but I never thought they'd have reason to embellish the facts. People have been on the move for millennia.

Don't know whether you spotted the link over at the ADR but this was just weird: Queensland forecasters have named Raquel as their first ever recorded July cyclone, which has formed this morning north of the Solomon Islands. I really have no idea at all as to what to expect this coming summer...

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Inge,

Another very attractive plant. The leaves are very similar to the native plant: Bidgee Widgee which however doesn't get the nice flowers.

Many of the geraniums are starting to produce flowers here and it looks as though the buds on the rhododendrons are starting to swell too. Also I spotted many different types of bulbs poking their heads out of the soil.

Cheers

Chris

orchidwallis said...

Hello again

Bidgee widgee is a lovely name.

I am typing this to the sounds of chainsaws and thuds, I still have a roof so far. The work will almost certainly take 2 days. So many ropes, straps and clips; it is more impressive than mountaineering.

Inge

LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris - LOL. Well, Aladdin probably didn't have to deal with stuff that should go right to the tip. That belonged to someone else who couldn't tear lose of even the most useless and valueless tat. Sometimes I can sneak a bit out ... To the east of my place is a vast blackberry patch. Somewhere, in there, is a small car, a small trailer and the massive hulk of a truck, 50's vintage. And, who knows what else. At least the blackberries cover it up, most of the year :-).

Yeah, "Sweetie's" ending was a bit startling. It was never quit stated, but I kind of wondered how many times the fairly sane sister had wished her sister dead (or, that she would just go away) and then it happened. A bit of guilt? Sometimes you just wish people would "go away." And, sometimes they do. Case in point is my pyro neighbor ...

Bride trains. Here we called them "war brides." There's a lot of literature and films built around the whole phenomenon. Imagine a son brings home a German wife (or, heaven forbid, a Japanese one), to a small town, right after WWII. One of my uncles brought home a wife from Germany. But, since my Dad's family was German, she integrated fairly smoothly.

After our Civil War, there was a large surplus of young women and widows on the East Coast. The "Mercer Girls" were brought out on a couple of ships to Seattle. There was a very entertaining film from the 40s or 50s ("Westward the Women") about a wagon train full of women coming out west to settle. Then there were "Picture Brides." One of my great grandmothers was one of them. Sort of. Actually, her twin sister was supposed to come, from Finland, but got sick. So, she came instead :-).

Well, off to town to do my weekly battle with Civilization. Lew

SLClaire said...

Hi Chris and all,

It's been weird weather all over the US this summer, just different kinds of weird depending on where you are. The official weather station for St. Louis recorded its wettest June on record (records go back to the 1870s), with 13.14 inches (33.4 cm) of rain for the month. That's also the second highest monthly rainfall it's ever recorded. At our house, roughly 10 miles (16 Km) to the east and north of the official station, our rain gauge recorded an only slightly less impressive June rainfall total of 10.8 inches (27.4 cm). Makes it a little difficult to garden, though I have planted over half of the remaining summer crops in between rains. After I finish this note I'll head out again and remove the dead pea vines and weeds so I can get green beans, pole types, planted in their place. I'm taking a break from digging garden beds today but expect to be back outside tomorrow, working to finish the last few beds over the next week. It's not been particularly hot here but we did run the air conditioning for the two rainiest weeks to keep the humidity down in the house.

You'd asked how I can still be planting crops like melons, corn, and beans despite it being just past the summer solstice. It's because of the long, warm summers we have and because the varieties that I choose mature in 60 to 90 days depending on the crop and variety. I can plant a 90 day crop now and just expect it to mature before frost. It's really still summer here till mid or late September. Our fall cooldown happens fast once it happens, however, with the first frost usually in the second half of October or the first week of November.

Interesting that you're making a steel chicken house. One of the poultry books I have has plans for a galvanized steel poultry house in it. If we do end up getting chickens that's what we'll build. But first up will be the wood shed. Not enclosed like yours (low risk of wildfire here), but roofed so that the wood will dry out and then stay dry.

Claire

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Hi Chris,

Nice construction, of Chooktopia and house. My husband and I live in a a very old house that we are slowly reconstructing. This month it is tearing off the old asphalt siding.

Regarding Claire's comment above, Chicago is stuck in a weird weather bubble: Illinois has just had the rainiest June in our weather keeping history, plus unusually cool weather. So the tomatoes and basil that usually get planted out at the end of May only got put in this week. Luckily I was able to keep them in my school's greenhouse for a bit. On the other hand, the extra rain doesn't seem to have fazed my native prairie plants. They're just growing a bit taller than usual, is all. Which is pretty tall.

You are lucky to have an editor who can also do measurements!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Inge, Lewis, Claire and Adrian,

Thanks for all of the lovely comments. Technical troubles with my internet modem have ensued today and I'm more or less off the air! I can't even enjoy the ADR! What's going on - must be something in the rain here?

The computer troubles have eaten all of my time and I promise to respond to your lovely comments tomorrow (all being well).

Cheers

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Inge,

Yeah, the plant is an excellent and very hardy (i.e. drought resistant) ground cover and it produces the most amazing seed pods which look like a hairy morning star. I read somewhere that it had traditional uses but haven't looked into it.

Hope the tree pruning job went OK? Did the guys end up cutting it into firewood?

Cheers

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

Hehe! Aladdin probably had a secret flying skip (that is the colloquial name for large industrial bins generally used on construction sites). On an interesting and slightly related note, because I built the house here myself I had very little wastage. Somewhere in the past I read that builders factor in 10% material wastage, which is a phenomenal cost. Whatever goes into a serious blackberry patch, stays in a serious blackberry patch. Speaking of which, I'm watching the weeks slip by and hoping that I get the thornless blackberry patch setup for summer. Perhaps if they're in by August it should be OK? Dunno.

Mate, I feel for you with a pyro neighbour. Around here, such a person may be dealt to, given the unpleasant rammifications of such a persons actions. Certainly, they'd be the most hated person in the mountain range. And local lore has it that such a person actually existed way back in 1983 when a workman was using an angle grinder in long grass and set off a huge fire which roared up the north west face of the mountain range. The tide of opinion turned when the Ash Wednesday fires hit a few weeks later which were even bigger and the massive fire break that the guy had inadvertently established stopped the really big fire in its tracks.

Interesting to hear that that was common up your way too. Not many Japanese war brides ended up on these shores, but certainly a lot of people moved from eastern Europe to here before the borders were shut down. Too funny about upsetting the families with the heritage of the bride! They'll eventually get over it! hehe!

Well the PNW would have compared very favourably to Finland and at least they would have had the chance to get some land and not be at risk of severe winters or invasion from a neighbouring country. Still, it would be like moving to Mars and mostly a one way journey!

I think I've fixed the internet dramas - I hate computer troubles and the modem was switching itself on and off at will. It even started to impact some paid work that I was doing. Grrr!

On a positive note the chicken enclosure is coming along nicely and I should get the concrete slab poured on Sunday morning, so here's hoping the weather stays OK? This week has been partly sunny, but very cold (well, at least its cold for me).

It has been a hard project because I'm sort of designing it on the fly as I'm unsure how many of the different materials are going to interface, whilst trying to do my best to foil the rats... Concrete and steel, take that you little rodents. I spotted on the news that someone in Colorado died of the plague recently... Not good.

Cheers

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Claire,

Oh my, that is a whole lot of rain. If you add in a bit of heat, your garden will turn into a tropical jungle. It is interesting the difference in humidity levels as it is often well over 60% humidity inside the house here and well over 90% humidity outside, but I've only ever noticed a bit of mold around the window frames which I wipe off from time to time. Glad to hear that you can get back into the garden!

That is very interesting about the short season crops and I'll have to look into obtaining some of those varieties - but sometimes things can be a bit limited on that front down under. The autumn here can be either long or short depending on the sort of weather that you have over the summer. If it is a very hot summer, then autumn can be very short, otherwise it is quite long.

Yes, a steel woodshed is an excellent idea as the internal pressures on the walls can be quite large and humidity and fungi can break down a timber shed. I do hope that you enjoy the video of the chicken enclosure when it is finally stocked from the old shed.

Cheers

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Adrian,

Thanks for the lovely comments and also the link to your blog, I'll check it out.

I trust you are using that opportunity to install insulation, moisture barriers, repair wiring and plumbing?

Your weather sounds very weird and yes, it will definitely affect tomatoes and basil. Nice to hear that you have access to a green house and I have been wondering about the benefit of one of those ever since seeing my mates house in a shed.

Yeah, the prairie plants would love those conditions. The herbage here does too and you can almost see the forest growing day by day with the availability of excess water and heat.

Thanks, it saves my poor brain having to work it out.

Cheers

Chris

orchidwallis said...

Hello again

Phew! The tree is down, what a relief. It was one hell of a job because of the restricted room; it was between my home and 2 large well built sheds. It had to be brought down in pieces. I was fascinated by the way in which the branches were abseiled down, clipped to ropes. All very impressive.

My son will be cutting up what needs it. He is removing the trunk pieces and the branches for his log fire as I don't have one.

Inge

orchidwallis said...

Hello again

I have noticed that you take an interest in finance and economics. There is a very good and often amusing blog 'notayesmanseconomics'. It tends to deal with the UK, Europe and occasionally Japan so I haven't mentioned it before. He writes every week-day and today it was China with a passing reference to Australia via iron ore. The few commentators, he has, are also good and often amusing.

Inge

LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris - That was quit an article about your out of season cyclone. Not going to hit land (they think) but I bet it's raising hob with the shipping and fishing. Well, it was 97F, here, yesterday. Looks like it's shaping up to be another hot one. What I didn't know is that last sunday, several weather reporting stations (on the east side of the mountains) reported 110F (43.3C) and one station reported 120F! (48.89C) The hottest temperature ever reported in Washington State.

I've heard the term "skip". Here, we usually call them dumpsters. I have one sitting not too far from the house. 3 families use it. It's emptied every other friday. Of course, Evil Stepson seems to lack dumpster etiquette. Doesn't bag up near as much as he should or break stuff down. Usually, when pick-up day rolls around, I have to drag out the ladder and do a little tap dance in the dumpster to be able to get my stuff in.

Well, there were a lot of Finns, very early on, in the PNW. And, a lot of other Scandihoovians. :-). My lot first went to Minnesota (another Scandihoobian strong hold) and didn't come out to Portland until the beginning of WWII. To work in the shipyards. They were able to move right into a Finn neighborhood in Portland.

Oh, yeah. There's a plague reservoir in the SW among the rodents. But, it's not such a big deal, these days, with antibiotics. Hantavirus is a concern. Also, mostly SW, but we have had one death, here in Lewis County, quit a few years ago. Anytime I work around mouse poop, I wear gloves and a mask. Probably overkill, but still ...

Watched "Tracks" a couple of nights ago. It was a pretty interesting story, what with the camels, and all. OK. I know there are a lot of people that really love the desert (any desert) and think it's beautiful. I understand that. Me, it just makes twitchy. :-)

Have to make an unexpected trip to town, today. The blueberries are in at my Vegi store. I didn't have enough cash with me to buy 25 pounds to freeze up, so, back I go. And, there were a lot of people, right where I wanted to be, staring off into space. So, I missed half the stuff on my list. Better go early as 1.) it will be hotter, later and 2.) tomorrow is the 4th of July and traffic will probably be a bit crazy. Lew

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Inge,
Nice, you can breath a sigh of relief. I was mildly worried about the tree when you mentioned a few weeks back that you had a recent wind storm that was as severe as any that you'd experienced.

The people that undertake that job have some serious skills. Heights are not my thing at all. As an interesting side - but related - story, I used to live not far from a house with a massive tree in front garden. The tree was huge and every time the wind blew strongly, branches would drop onto the century old slate tiled roof with the obvious problems that such an event would cause. It was only a matter of time before something much larger fell from that tree... It may have been that the slate arrived here from the UK as ballast in a ships hold - many flag stones have such an origin.

It is nice that your son can make use of the tree. It would be nice if he had a portable mill?

Thanks for the link. It is a fascinating read and market manipulation has been going on in your part of the world recently in relation to the official interbank lending rates so there is not much new in that game, I believe. And the other interesting thing to note is that margin lending was what drove the market crash of 1929 to greater depths than it otherwise would have been. It is good to see that everything old is new again. Yeah, outside of Africa, Australia is the last supplier of high grade iron ore and the tanking of the price per tonne has really put a downer on export (and thus domestic) incomes here. Imports are quite expensive now.

It isn't all economic doom and gloom though as I've just baked a very pleasant batch of Anzac biscuits, prepared a pizza base for dinner and am roasting vegetables for the dog biscuits and breakfast cereal that will be baked over the next few days! Honestly, I cook far more now than I have ever done so in the past.

Cheers

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

Yeah, that cyclone is not just weird, it is unprecedented in recorded history. Thankfully, it won't make landfall, but wow, things are heating up in the north of the continent. Hopefully, it pushes some of that tropical weather south over the summer as extra rainfall over summer is a good thing here.

By the way, a big thumbs up to you - the elephant stamp of approval - for mentioning the aspirin for the dogs. Poopy turned up yesterday with a serious limp and his leg stuck out at a very wrong angle. He yelped when I manipulated it and if it was warmer I would have thought that he was bitten by a snake. However because of the cold weather, I chucked a quarter aspirin into a beef jerky and fed it to him and a couple of hours later he was ready to run around again. Respect.

120'F is out of control hot! Ouch! Even the temperature on the day of the Black Saturday bushfires peaked at 114'F and that ended up burning - I believe - 1.1 million acres. The absolute record highest temperature on this continent was recorded in South Australia at Oodnadatta of 123.26'F (50.7'C) and that is recorded in the shade too. I hope everyone was OK up your way?

Incidentally, I spotted an Oregon grape plant in flower down this way today. It is a very attractive under story shrub and I wonder if the grapes are edible - given the name?

Yeah, dumpsters is the old school term for skips here, but you rarely hear it used nowadays. Interesting. I had the option to pay for rubbish collection here, but declined as I just don't produce much rubbish and the local tip takes recyclable stuff for free.

Thanks for the history. Out of interest are the shipyards still producing? Down here, the ship yards are in Williamstown but they are in danger of being overlooked. Despite having facilities to produce submarines down under, we have been told to purchase either Japanese or German models. One of the locally made subs came into unexpectedly close contact with the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier during a war game... Ouch, carriers have had their day in the sun.

The Hantavirus is not good. You can never be too sure, you know. Excluding rodents from the chicken enclosure is one of my main priorities with the new chicken shed. It is starting to look more like an aviary than the normal expected chicken house and run.

Glad to hear that you enjoyed Tracks, I may watch that film one day and friends have told me that it was quite inspiring. Still, the deserts leave me feeling like you said and are best avoided. The book did my head in as it was a difficult story to read as the author was more troubled than I care to normally expose myself too and my reaction to it reminded me of how I felt after being exposed to successive episodes of Breaking Bad - as every decision by the characters seemed a bit off.

Local blueberries are very expensive here despite the excellent local growing conditions, so enjoy your berries and freeze as many as you can. If the power ever goes out, you can turn them into jam. Yum!

Enjoy the celebrations for the 4th of July!

Cheers

Chris

LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris - It was 95F (35C), here, yesterday. A good ripping breeze made it tolerable. What is odd is that at 9pm when I got out and put in the chookes, the path to the chicken house feels very cool and damp. Not that the inside of the house cools down much. But, I haven't had a problem sleeping. According to Cliff Mass' weather blog, it's going to be like this for the foreseeable future. Fleas have made a reappereance. Luckily, they don't bite me. Probably all the garlic I eat :-). But, I've started deploying the solar flashlight and bowl of water at night so they don't get out of hand.

Oh, yes. Oregon Grape can be turned into jam. I've never tried it. But, here's a recipe ... and medicinal uses and it makes a good dye.

http://www.madaboutmushrooms.com/mad_about_mushrooms/2012/08/fabulous-oregon-grape-jelly-recipe-information.html

The shipyards were along the Columbia River, just outside of Portland. Nothing left of them, now, as far as I know. I think I've mentioned that there was a whole city built for the workers, Vanport, that was washed away in a flood in 1948. My mates and I used to bicycle down to the old site and play amongst the streets and foundations of the "lost" city.

Well, "Tracks" was a bit 70's angsty :-). I did kind of respond to the woman's desire to get off on her own and just be left alone. Reminds me, of me :-). I watched "Babadook" last night. I thought it was based on an actual Australian mythological creature, but a bit of research indicated that it all came out of the director's head. Because of the movie, it probably now IS an Australian mythological creature :-). It was a horror / monster film with a psychological edge. A rather tame horror movie, as horror movies go, these days. I must say, as with so many of these films, one of the major players was a very irritating child that I would have thrown to the monster, very early on. :-). But, that's just me being grumpy.

Well, the Vegi store was out of 10 pound boxes of blueberries, but the guys sold me 5 2 pound boxes for the same price ... $25. How I'll be spending my 4th of July. Washing, drying, freezing on trays and bagging up. Therapeutic :-). Lew

wall0159 said...

Nice work Chris,

It looks like you could keep 20 or more chooks in that growing structure! I admit, my chook house is a similar level of hackery to your previous one. I knocked a door together in about 40 mins using a few pieces of 70 x 45 and some bird wire. It fits well -- a litle too well -- when the wood swells from rain it's very difficult to open/close. Hmm...

I've meant to ask you -- if you now have 23 panels, but started with 6, does that mean you'v got (say) 4.5 kW of panels with a 1.5 kW inverter? You've got DC-coupled batteries (straight form the panels), right? So it doesn't matter if the inverter is smaller relative to the panel capacity.

I sympathise with your clay-digging adventures. It can be unbelievably hard to get through. I always need a pick here when going through the clay. On the plus side, I'm hoping to dig a cellar and I may not even have to line the walls because the clay is so hard!

ps. I got some glass and fixed the door to the combustion stove. Had a couple of fires in the last week which has been great. Now I've got to finish my (little, simple) wood shed and I'm taking a leaf out of your book with the iron inside the structure (so the weight of the wood doesn't push out the iron) -- thanks for the heads-up there!

We've managed to get about 10 kg of free citrus from around the place. Very pleasing!

CHeers, Angus

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

Man, that's hot for your part of the world (32'C). On a positive note, the tomatoes will be growing very strongly as that is almost perfect growing temperatures for them. Sorry to hear the house doesn't cool down. I normally open the entire house up on warm nights and let the cool air from the forest flow through; it is however surrounded by zombie resistant fly wire screens.

Good to hear that the chickens get some respite from the heat up your way - I read somewhere that they deal better with cooler conditions than hot, dry and sunny conditions. Chooktopia is in the full shade for most of the day and they seem to be happy with that. It takes a lot of continuous heat to warm up the soil so maybe that is why it was cool and damp? There might even be underground water there? What do you reckon? The ladies are in bed now here at about 5.35pm, so the days are getting slightly longer.

I might have to get some of those Oregon grapes and thanks for the link. They may be talking them up but the taste was described as: "incredibly rich and intense blackberry flavour with citrus, spicy undertones". They happily grow underneath Eucalyptus trees here, so they may be weedy - which is good for an edible plant, although some may strongly disagree.

Interesting, I didn't realise that those washed out and flood affected areas were the ship yards. Yeah, I remember you writing about that. Seriously, is nothing left now at all? I guess the Columbia is one big river and it is perhaps unwise to stand in its way. When I was an early teenager I lived near a lot of large factories which were in the process of being shut down and I had that similar experience of vast empty warehouses where my mates and I used to sneak into and trawl through with slightly awed - and wary - expressions. Makes you wonder what future generations will think of the entire built environment that we have now?

Oh yeah, that is exactly it - 70's angsty. hehe! Well, we are sort of like a modern day Huckleberry Finn heading off on an adventure. Mind you, I've stopped peering around the corner to see what may be there as there are so many interesting things going on all around me here (as you may also feel?). By the way does the Finn component of that name have anything to do with Finland or is it a mere coincidence?

The Babadook may have been modelled on the mythical Bunyip which I reckon was actually a cultural memory of the Diprotodont? Imagine a truly massive cow sized wombat and you'll understand - I saw the bones of this fearsome beast in the Naracoorte caves and it was big.

Hehe! You are very naughty! The editor has banned me - and its official - from swearing at children or even from telling them off. Now when I'm at a cafe enjoying a quiet coffee and perhaps also a Jack Vance classic book and a small child starts banging on my chair or running around the table all I am allowed to say is: "Child, whatever are you doing?". And at that point they run away, which is fine by me.

It is funny how preserving fruit always seems to happen at the hottest part of the year?

I'm absolutely hammered tonight as I poured the cement slab for the new chooktopia today and it was a far bigger job than I expected. I've always been a bit slapdash with concrete slabs before, but given the rodent interest I decided to put a bit more effort in and it was a whole lot more work... Oh well, it is all done now.

Cheers

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Angus,

20 chickens would be perfectly fine in the new enclosure and it would certainly be better than a "barn laid" industrial chicken farm. They'll have multiple perches and deep litter mulch in their run too, so that should make them all very happy. There are 15 chickens in the current enclosure.

Oh yeah, the swelling timber happens here too, but that can also be handy when you need to shut the doors in a hurry. The current shed has a plywood door with a timber frame similar to yours and it doesn't take the wet weather of winter very well at all. Hehe! That is one of the reasons I started using galvanised steel for everything.

No, I started with 8 panels, and a continuous 3kW inverter (it is a Latronics 3024 which is made in NSW). You can get much cheaper inverters, but they use an awful lot of energy on standby just doing nothing at all. Seriously on standby the Latronics unit will use 0.6Ah (which is about 15Wh), but many el-cheapo ones will use so much power you'll wonder why you even considered buying it. All up I have about 4.2kW of PV generation potential, with a capacity to add another 1kW - with no extra hardware, but with another charge controller I can add as many panels as I like. I may just do that next year, but I have to wait until both funds and time is available. Needless to say that there are only two lights on in the house at the moment and it is about 9pm...

Ah, I get your question. It is a different situation to that of a grid feed inverter. With grid feed, your inverter uses the grid as a giant battery and it can push whatever your PV panels generate into the grid. That is because there are energy losses going on all over the mains grid and you don't have to think about it.

However, with off grid, the energy is stored in a battery which is a giant chemical reactor and it can only absorb so much energy. That means after a battery is about 80% full, any extra energy can only be absorbed at ever lower amounts. I may actually generate more energy via the PV panels on any one day, but the batteries can't take it in and it is simply wasted. I have 3 battery charge controllers all programmed the same to ensure that not too much energy goes into the batteries after they are 80% full. If too much energy goes into those batteries, they will cook and be damaged (remember they are chemical reactors - and as such are very different to say a water tank which can take any and all water poured into it - although I hit the limits of that in 2010 too which is a whole 'nother story).

So the upshot is that it doesn't matter as the inverter can draw energy from either the solar PV panels or the batteries - so I use the vacuum and electric oven during the daylight hours. Hope that makes sense.

A pick is an excellent weapon of choice for digging. I use a mattock to dig by hand through the clay, unfortunately the problem is that once the clay is dug, microbes move into the clay and the area starts to become more like a loam here. You probably won't have much of a problem with the clay walls unless water starts to seep from them and a damp course will probably sort that out.

PS: I stayed once in an underground house in Coober Peddy and it was awesome. As a bit of a confession I was a bit of an idiot and signed their guest diary with the rather silly Ben Fold's chorus line: "Everything's heavy underground". Well, anyway I thought that it was funny, and thus it all comes back around to Adelaide! ;-)!

I'm really wrapped for you getting that glass into the firebox - oh yeah, they really need it. Excellent to hear, the firewood really does damage both the frame and the outer cladding over time, so well done to you and you get the Elephant stamp tonight!

Cheers

Chris

LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris - I wonder how the Oregon Grape got to Australia? Probably an interesting story, there. They don't seem very invasive, here. Speaking of plants, I saw my first blooming tansy ragwort when I was out on my brisk morning walk. It was full of cinnabar moth worms! You go little worms.

I don't know what's left of Vanport these days. Back in the 50s, it was just streets and foundations. And gold fish in the sloughs.

How did Huckleberry Finn get his name? The questions you ask :-). Old Norse for a Laplander or someone from Finland. Could be from the Irish O'Finn ... meaning white or fair. General thought is that Mark Twain just liked the name. It is an American surname and there were people with the last name of Finn working on the Mississippi riverboats during Mark Twains time on the river. A finn can also mean a $5 bill. Which you hear a lot in old noir movies and hard boiled detective novels. But, not much, anymore. But that comes from an old Yiddish word, which is a whole different tangent ...:-)

It was 96F, here, yesterday. 35.55C. There didn't seem to be much fireworks action, compared to other years. The county said they couldn't ban them, as a ban would take a year to go into effect. No large clouds of smoke on any horizon. So, I guess people behaved themselves. Our water was out, last night. Back again today. The Newaukum River is down to 35CFS. Lew