Addition Update, Dog Days Edition

In late July I was able to get back to work on the addition trim-out after an unplanned 2-month hiatus while my thumb healed. Yesterday I finished the guardrail for the entrance ramp (still needs a final coat of paint, though):


It is our own design. We were pleased that we were finally able to make use of the two newel posts that were originally used on the front porch of the main house (we did, though, have to make liberal use of Bondo in refurbishing them). We were also able to make use of some railing parts left over from our 2011 veranda replacement project — a lower rail plus a two-part upper rail that minimize nail/screw head exposure, made of mahogany to last:

Measuring and scribing the rail ends was a pain. You see the curve here in this pic of the pocket I made on the underside of the bottom rail to attach it to the fiberglass support post with a toggle bolt:

Each of the three panels is made up of six PVC 1x8s. After cutting them to approximate length I ran them four at a time through the table saw to cut the half-diamonds. Next, I cut them to exact length at an angle to match the bottom rail. (BTW, it was during this step that I cut my thumb.) Then a coat of primer and a coat of white gloss. Next, still down in the shop, I screwed the bottom rail to the boards using GRK trim screws (love ’em!):

Blocks and clamps assisted with attaching the top rail and final placement.

Summer Garden Bounty

We’ve been enjoying the fruits of our labors this surprisingly mild August. Our Chimney and Castle Gardens reflect their tenders’ somewhat disjointed comportment:

Corn dominates the Chimney Garden while Morning Glories and Black-Eyed Susans provide color amongst the Castle Garden’s chives, thyme, peas, and spinach.

Bumblebees have been enjoying the Sunflowers.

The red hair of the Shoepeg corn‘s ears peeking out.

And, of course, tomatoes! Both our Mortgage Lifter and Mr. Stripey tomato plants have been producing steadily for a couple of weeks now. Since the weather has been cool, we’ve been cooking them down into sauce that we then freeze.

For the first batch we started with about a half-pail (upper left) plus some loose ones (bottom). The pot was full before we used them all (leftovers upper right).

We used the pasta pot with strainer to scald the fruits to loosen the skin for removal.

The full dutch oven, ready for overnight simmering.

12 hours later, it has reduced down to a thick, intensely tomatoey ambrosia. It went another hour before I deemed it thick enough for pizza sauce.

For batches 2 and 3 we cooked in the pasta/stock pot and used more tomatoes. This pot is still simmering as I type this.

The finished product, in two convenient sizes: thin, quick-to-defrost pizza sauce (left) and a larger size for pasta sauce and stews (right).

More Home Canning, With a Story

So, after last Thursday’s peach canning, we followed up on Saturday with another 7 quarts from the second half-bushel.

Saturday afternoon gave us several good storms/showers, the best rain we’ve had here in weeks, and we were spending a quiet evening at home. Around 9 pm we heard voices out front, which is pretty rare. It was two young men who said they had been fishing and the driver had lost his keys in the river and would we be kind enough to let them use our phone to call for a ride (he lives only 15 minutes away). Well, we are nothing if not kind enough, so we lent him our phone. They were soaking wet from the rain, so we lit up the outside lights while they waited on addition ramp out of the rain for their ride. (Which drove our dogs, especially Roy, nuts!). We chatted a bit and gave them each a peach (we still had over a dozen left over after canning). They asked me where we bought the peaches, and we told them “these are John Boy‘s from Smith’s Orchard up on Cooper Mountain”. After about 45 minutes their ride came, and off they went.

Well, Monday afternoon one of them stopped by with a bag of gorgeous (and delicious!) tomatoes, various varieties of regular, and cherry/grape/pears:

It turns out he grows vegetables to sell at the more urban farmer’s markets to the east of here, and he had a bushel of tomatoes that had been left out in the rain and were no longer good enough to sell. But they were certainly still good enough to can and rather than just compost them as he would usually do could he give them to us? We said “Sure!”, though not really knowing if he would follow through. Well, he did, Tuesday at 8 am:

A half-bushel of regular-sized and 28 quarts of cherry/grape/pear tomatoes

It turned out that Tuesday was an unseasonably mild late July day, so we went to work canning the larger ones and simply freezing the smaller ones; apparently freezing does change the texture somewhat but they should still be good for cooking into a sauce.

We ended up with 7 gallon-sized freezer bags of littluns …

… and 10 quarts of bigguns plus 3 quarts juice:

In the lower right corner you can see our cat GiGi on the bench outside, waiting for all the hubbub to subside.

So all these tomatoes canned and frozen before August, and our own crop has not yet started to come in. Ain’t life grand?!

Added: And last night she made a peach galette (free-form pie) with some of the peaches left over from canning. Here it is before folding the “petals” over the peach filling:

And here is a close-up of it fresh out of the oven:

Yum, yum, yum!
Pie! (Oh My!)

Hot Dogs on a Hot Day

Different strokes: Roy prefers the bare floor with his head on the cool marble hearth, while Bearsheba favors the time-honored splaying out directly under the ceiling fan.

Eating Local

Yesterday, the hottest day of the year (94.1°F) we canned peaches. We were out doing grocery shopping yesterday and stopped by Smith Orchard’s stand on the top of nearby Cooper Mountain and we picked up a bushel of canning peaches. We put a serious dent in this half-bushel:

We went sugarless this year, just 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar (to help retain color) plus 3-4 whole cloves (for a bit of pep — plus we have a large jar of them!) per quart. After 3 hours of dunking in hot water, peeling, quartering, and tight-packing to squeeze up a bit of juice), we had these seven quarts:

We pressured-canned them for the recommended 10 minutes at 6 pounds (much quicker than the 25 minutes at 11 pounds needed for tomatoes). They took all night to cool off; here they are in this morning’s early light:

We’ll do another 7 quarts in a couple of days; the second half-bushel is not quite ripe.


And today’s main meal this afternoon was steak salad: local greens (endive), a local tomato (marinated with home-grown garlic and commercial basalmic viegar) commercial blue cheese, and — the star — leftover local, pasture-raised, dry-aged steak (grilled rare earlier this week):

Yum!

And, I’ll close with an image from a favorite tee shirt:

Garden Laughing Buddha

A dollar store impulse buy. Two pics, close up and in context.
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gardenbuddha2

The Once and Future Tomato

What would life be without homegrown tomatoes? Well, not as good as otherwise! Last year was a bad one around here for tomato crops. Ours came in late; enough to eat, but we barely had enough left over to can 7 quarts, and none for frozen pizza/pasta sauce.

I am determined to have a good crop this year. Our frost date is late May, but we were getting into the 80’s in early April, so I went ahead and bought two 4-packs of plants at a local hardware/grocery store. I went with two heirloom beefsteak-style varieties: Mr. Stripey (1800’s, mid-Atlantic, low-acid, colorful red/yellow) and Mortgage Lifter (early 20th Century, West Virginia, big-n-meaty, pink/red).

The weather stayed pretty mild so at the end of April I prepped my tomato beds — two of our five 6′ x 6′ terraced beds. First, I dumped the last of the winter woodstove ashes:
Tomato-2017-04-28-ash

Then I added several tractor bucket loads of goat shed compost on each bed, mixed, and leveled:
Tomato-2017-04-28-compost

Then, for several weeks, the weather, especially at night, turned chilly. It is my understanding that if tomato plants are repeatedly exposed to temps below 50 their yield will suffer the entire season. So I waited. And waited. I bought some peat pots and re-potted the root-bound plants.

Finally, in late May (admittedly, our historical frost date, but weeks and weeks and weeks after prolonged spring/summer temps), I deemed the forecast suitable for transplanting; in the background you can see the goats enjoying the bolted collards that I cleaned out of the nearby beds. I planted 4 plants per 6’x 6′ bed with landscape fabric mulch:
Tomato-2017-05-17

A month later the plants are going gangbusters. I have tied a few plants with baling twine to encourage them to grow through the “tepees” I made with short sections of cattle panels:Tomato-2017-06-19

A Good Omen?

We went to go sit on the upper veranda this fine evening and discovered that we were beat to it …
Dove1
… by a white dove perching on our hammock! Here’s a close-up:
Dove2

View from the Upper Veranda [Video]

This is a bit old, from October 2015; been meaning to post it for awhile but kept getting hung up in the morass that is video file format conversion. There a bonus for my relatives at the very end. Every year at the end of the growing season we let our goats into our garden beds to clean out the spent plants. They enjoy the dietary change of pace, and we enjoy watching the free labor.

Pool Noodles for Head Safety! (However…)

One consequence of our having poured a concrete floor in our old basement is that the old, rusty I-beam (that was added at some point to help stabilize the bounciness of the upstairs floor) is now 5′ 9″ off the floor. I am taller than that. So I had this idea to buy pool noodles, cut a slit lengthwise, and, voilà! Head safety.

Pool-Noodles-For-Head-Safety

When I first bought the noodles at the local Family Dollar, I only bought enough for the main basement. When I went back to get some for the smaller cellar, they were sold out. Not to worry, I went to the Dollar General a minute away on the edge of town. They had them. And now, a PSA for those of you in the market for dollar store pool noodles: Family Dollar pool noodles are superior to Dollar General pool noodles in every possible way: they are thicker, denser, longer, and made in the USA (DG’s are from Canada). Same price, of course: $1.

On a less lighthearted note, it turns out that head safety was the least of my worries. (In the journalism business they call this burying the lede.) Yesterday, while using my table saw to cut pieces for our addition ramp guardrail, my hand slipped and the tip of my thumb grazed the blade. In over 35 years of woodworking this was my first trip to the ER. I will spare you the gruesome details, suffice it to say that my left thumb is now a wee bit shorter and sans thumbnail. It took two hours and nine stitches. The pharmaceuticals are doing their job so it does not feel too bad at the moment. The official diagnosis, on the other hand, sounds rather dire:
2017 ICD-10-CM Diagnosis Code S68.022A
Mr. Google tells me that this is diagnosis code S68.022A in the current, and quite comprehensive, ICD-10.

Addition Solar Heating Update

Well, it’s been 3 weeks since we got our solar water heating system up and running in our new addition. First off, it definitely works — Yay! But it is also definitely a complicated setup.

I have been testing and tweaking the various controller settings. The system manual, as so many are, is very poorly written. Here is a fine example, as no doubt translated from the original Chinese:

If hot water in tank isn’t used for long time, then the capacity that solar system absorbs solar energy reduces, when tank temperature rises to its preset maximal temperature, solar circuit pump is ceased compulsively even the temperature difference is satisfied. then when more solar irradiation shines in, as a result collector temperature will rise continuously, temperature of collector maybe rise up to the evaporated temperature of heat fluid, this phenomenon names collector – overheat, it should be avoided.

And I have, indeed, and as I suspected, had this “phenomenon” happen. With the recent warm and sunny weather, the heat wasn’t going on. The big 211 gallon tank reached it’s max (145°F) by noontime so the pump “ceased compulsively” and the collectors overheated — I saw it at 303°F; that’s why it uses stainless steel pipe, not pex — and the 50/50 glycol/water mix evaporated into the pressure tank as designed. This is OK once in a while, but having it happen on a regular basis causes the fluid to acidify over time. So, yes, “it should be avoided”.

Bumping the tank max up to 160°F helped a little, but not enough. I could go up 175°F, but that would not likely solve the problem and is also a bit too close to the 180°F rating of the pex piping. After sorting through the various system settings and the creative prose in the manual, I have settled on a solution of using the “BYPR Bypass function (high temperature)” to trigger a solenoid valve to dump hot water when the collectors are near overheating until the system cools down a bit. We are fortunately blessed with an over-abundance of well water, and we put in an extra conduit running down to the spring house during construction so we can use that for the cool-down dump. I ordered the parts I need — the last ones are arriving today — this includes the solenoid valve and another mixing valve (since I really do not want to run 160+°F into my floor). Meanwhile, I have been manually dumping hot water, as well as running the heat on whatever cool nights I can. We have some cool and rainy weather coming in a couple of days, that will be a good time for me to drain the big tank and readjust the plumbing with the new parts. I am using SharkBite push-to-fit connectors, which are a breeze to remove and reposition, so it should go pretty smoothly (he says, inviting the wrath of the easily-irked Gods of Plumbing).

Here is the updated system schematic; not really all that complicated, right? Right?

Solar_heat_schematic_Rev_C

Click to embiggen [Updated 20 May2017 to reflect final as-built]

Sunshine on my laundry makes me happy

I love the smell of laundry when it comes off the line. I know that this has to do with the disinfectant nature of the Sun’s UV rays, but I couldn’t find a more detailed scientific explanation; perhaps my Google-fu skills are a bit lacking?

sunshine-on-my-laundry

Last Friday was a very nice Spring day!

Easter Eggs: The Aftermath

The food dye we used to dye our eggs seeped into some of the eggs in a most delightful way.

EasterEggs2017Aftermath

AfterEaster: hard-boiled eggs aplenty!

Happy Easter 2017

EasterEggs2017

Solar at Last

After literally years (I bought the major components in May of 2015!), we finally have an operational solar hot water heating system. Let’s start in the basement utility room.

solar-tank-controls

The collection part of the system

Here is the 800L (211 gallons) solar hot water storage tank. I choose this size on the highly scientific principle that it was the largest one that would fit under the 7½’ ceiling. The grey box on the wall is solar pump/controller. When the rooftop panel temp is higher than the storage tank temp (and the tank is less than 145 160 °F [Updated June 1st 2017 after system fine-tuning]) it starts pumping. The insulated pipe coming out the top of the box goes to the rooftop panels where the heat is collected and comes down though the right-hand pipe, through a heat exchange coil in the tank, then back up to the box. The red thing is an expansion tank. This system is a closed loop that has a 50/50 water/propylene-glycol mix (good down to minus 39 degrees).

solar-heat-controls

The heat distribution part of the system

On the opposite wall we have the underfloor heating pump and controls. The green box on the right is the control module. When a thermostat calls for heat in any of the 3 zones, it sends a signal to the appropriate thermal actuator (the small white cylinders atop the manifold in the center of the picture. Once the actuators are open (visually you can see a blue ring at the top) the controller starts the circulator pump (on the left — it is a delta-T variable speed pump that reacts to individual zones opening and closing to maintain a constant temperature differential between the inlet and outlet). This part of the system is a open loop — it uses the water directly from the big storage tank (which also provides pre-heated water into our small electric DHW heater.

solar-frames

The collector frames

Last week I completed the assembly of the three rooftop solar panel frames. Each of the three frames will hold 30 evacuated/vacuum collector tubes. Together the three frames are about 23 feet long. At the top of each frame is a manifold — this is the only part that has water running in it, to capture the heat from the tubes.

Installation begins

Monday, the contractors arrived, two guys with two ladders. The frames are unwieldy but fairly light. After some discussion we decided to take off the relative heavy manifolds and take them up separately. Here is the first frame getting fastened to the roof; rather than put any holes in our shiny new standing roof I choose specialized clamps.[/caption]

Here is the second frame being carried up the two ladders. I am working the safety rope from underneath.

solar-install-3

Day one done

By the close of the first day’s installation, the contractors had completed the plumbing hookup to the frames; meanwhile I got the hookups done in the utility room. I pressurized the system with 30 psi of air and left it overnight to test for leaks. It failed the test. When the contractors got here at 8am on the day two, I put them to installing the column and posts for the ramp railing (see a few pictures down), while I hooked up the submersible pump to flush the solar system and pinpoint leaks. I had two in the utility room — both cheap-ass fittings I got at the Capon Valley Market yesterday since I ended up short. I managed to crank one down enough to stop it, and for then other I had found the proper fitting and got that in. Meanwhile, since water was dripping off of the roof the contractors went up and tightened the leaking compression fittings up there.

Leaks fixed, they started in on putting aluminum tape over the rooftop foam pipe insulation to protect it from the sun, while I drained the flush water from the system and re-pressurized it with a 50% polypropylene glycol mixture. I turned on the pump controller, and we started installing the 90 heat tubes. I was on the upper veranda unpacking the tubes from the shipping boxes, smearing thermal paste on the copper condenser tips, handing each tube up to guy one who was on the ladder, who then handed them to guy two to insert in the frames. Six of the tubes were broken, but the manufacturer was pretty generous by sending 30 spare tubes (but just the tubes, I had to remove the sealed copper tube inserts and aluminum heat-collection fins from the broken tubes).

solar-rooftop

The finished product from the front (south side)

solar-rooftop-backside

And from the back (north side). To the right you can see the newly-installed posts; the shorter two are original to the house, they were part of a handrail on the front porch. I’ve been saving them for lo these 18 years — glad to have finally found a use for them!

The system seems to be working fine, the 211-gallon solar water storage tank went from 59 degrees 96 by the end of the day. Was still at 93 this morning. (I ultimately want to get the tank to 145 160 °F [Updated June 1st 2017 after system fine-tuning].) This morning I turned on the underfloor heat in the addition, we’ll see how it does getting the room from 65 to 68. Also interested in whether the rooftop unit can glean heat on a cloudy day.

It feels very good to have this project done! (Well, except for some more pipe insulation in the utility room.)

And, as a bonus, I discovered that my Moto phone had made a highlight reel (complete with cheesy music!) of the photos and videos I took yesterday late afternoon. It was a gorgeous day to review the completed project from the vantage point of the pasture and spring run. And our livestock guardian dog Satie enjoyed it as well.