Posts Tagged ‘ditch digging’

Friday, November 25:

  At long last we see the end of the spring project.  For the better part of a month it has absorbed our spare energy and time, what there was of it, and now at last it is about done.  The process of transforming a wet place on the side of the hill into a stream of running water flowing at the rate of four or five gallons a minute has been long and uncertain.  Deep ditches miles long had to be dug and tiled (“tile” here means perforated pipe, like in a french drain system).  The part most fraught with difficulties was the plumbing of intake and overflow and cleanout pipes into the settling tank and stock tank; as Shawn observed, when you cut holes in the bottom of a barrel, you just have to expect it to leak.  We will post a more detailed account of how the project was carried out when we get time, and we apologize in advance that we are not more committed to picture-taking, but we mostly forget until the interesting part is done.

   The long warm autumn is giving us time for a lot of cleanup work we don’t usually get done before snow flies.  The chicken house, built this summer and sided with clapboard, but not battened, got its cracks covered with batten boards and its windows covered with six mil plastic sheeting.  This, and the dry floor, should mean cozy chickens this winter, and I’m trying to forget for the moment that they need to be culled soon.  Culling chickens, around here, means we try to determine which hens are not laying, and can them.  Literally.  Old laying hens are butchered and put up in mason jars – perfect for making chicken enchiladas.

   The new woodshed – not to be confused with the old woodshed, still doing duty outside the basement door – is not only keeping next winter’s wood dry, but provides a roof to keep the weather off our rare luxury, an old but seaworthy pop-up trailer which has many times paid for itself in saved hotel bills when some of us have to travel.  The trailer has been stored previous winters in the lane in the woods by the creek, where the local squirrels were sure to find it sooner or later and maybe move in.  In the big new barn – it was a summer for construction, because of the sawmill we acquired last November – hay and feed and pigs will keep dry and warm.  Isabel and Baby Belle and the steers will probably lounge in the middle bays of the barn when the truck isn’t in the way, which will make a mess, but what is a barn for?  And the running water to the pigs will mean someone can keep his feet dryer when feeding them this winter.

   The gardens have actually been cleaned up, and two low tunnels and one high tunnel are protecting carrots and lettuce for our winter use.  The low tunnels are just six mil plastic over hoops of wire or PVC, and the high tunnel is plastic over stock panels, high enough for a person to walk into.  We made sandbags out of woven plastic feed sacks containing about ten pounds of sand, rolled like a jelly roll and tied in several places.  These are used to weigh the sides of the plastic sheeting on the low tunnels, and seem to do the job of holding it down very well.  To harvest the vegetables inside, we just move a sandbag, lift up the plastic, and reach in.  Since we seldom get as much as two feet of snow laying at a time, we think this won’t be too inconvenient.

   Today was warm and beautiful and we took the opportunity of the men being off work for Thanksgiving to backfill the ditches on the hill and move the potatoes into the cooler of the two root cellars.  In the one we call “the cave” some of them were already getting little sprouts, which we rubbed off as we sorted them.  Any that looked compromised we put in a bucket to cook for the pigs, but there was less than half a bucket of these.  We are going into the winter with about six hundred pounds of good potatoes, which should carry us well into next summer, without touching the potatoes set aside for seed.  Stored food gives one a feeling of security.

   On the frivolous side, we piled up all the scrap lumber and trash wood we had flung into the bonfire pit, and we are ready to bring in midwinter with a blaze big enough for the cops to see it in town.  We like their visits; they are an intelligent force, only stopping by to say hello in a disinterested way.  This year we hope they come while the doughnuts are still hot.

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Monday, October 17:

   We are convinced we should try to get the spring piped underground before the deep frost sets in; that is, I am convinced, and I am pushing everyone else to make noises of agreement and come out with a shovel and help.  After breakfast this morning, when my Beloved Spouse set off for a tense meeting, and the self-starters got out their books, I headed down the hill with a pick and shovel to see what one small forty-seven year old woman could do in the way of trenching.

   The frost-free tank we are trying to build will go – if things work out – off the east corner on the north side of the barn.  Higher on the hill, the improved spring tank — with underground inlet, draw-down pipe, and berm, — will be installed next to the present spring tank, principally so that we can keep our running water as continuous as possible.  We will trench, lay pipe, and set both new tanks, all before we cut through the seep trench that fills the spring tank and divert the water.  As I stood off the corner of the barn taking sight lines, I hoped that just eyeballing would be good enough.

   The overcast weather of the last few days broke last night, and when the people responsible for this  chaos – Mom and Dad – got up this morning to milk, skim, make tea ,and fry the breakfast hash, a three-quarters moon waning poured down like whitewash out of a deep black sky.  Now, four hours later, the sky is a perfect bowl of blue, and the sunlight and the trees are competing to see which is brighter gold.  My fleece vest is too hot after only a few minutes of digging.

   By evening, with the boys (S-4 and S-5) coming down during the afternoon, we were far enough on the job to make us think another day or two should do it – if Mom’s arms still work after today.  Answer to the question “how much can one woman dig?” is, in five and a half hours she can drop a two-foot trench, one shovel-width wide, twenty-odd feet.  And when the five and a half hours are over, she will be very tired, and her arms will hurt. More of the same tomorrow.

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Friday, September 2:

The first week of the new school year is over for our institutionalized sons, that is, those attending the university.  The rest of us, more dependent upon the seasons for our calendar, are still working outdoors most of the time, trying to knock a few more jobs off the long list before the weather, and a sense of guilt felt only by Mom, chases us in to our school books.

The barn is effectively finished.  The doors – ten by twenty foot panels on tracks — are not hung or even built, and may not be hung before winter, but the loft is closed, the feed and tack room has doors on it, and the pigpen is now housing three forty-pound weanlings.  The barn will function as we need it to this winter, so that project can be reasonably put to rest for the season.

The chicken palace, on the other hand, is not yet battened.  There is some difference of opinion whether the chickens need the cracks in the walls of their lovely home battened or not.  Mom holds that they will lay better this winter if they are protected from the winds which will undoubtedly come in through those cracks if they are not stopped.  The boys, on the other hand, are skeptical, mostly because they are the ones who will have to rip siding and tack up the battens.  In cases of this kind, it is hard to predict the outcome, whether the boys will decide to humor Mom, or find other more important things to do.  If, however, Mom goes out to the barn and starts ripping battens, they will probably take over and finish the job, just to protect the power equipment from her inexperience.

There is still some wood to be split and stacked.  The new woodshed is nearly full of split wood, but we will stack the overage at the south end of the shed on pallets and throw a tarp over it.  No one has wanted to begin the process, however, while S-2 and S-3 were at school and therefore unavailable to make a hand with this tedious job.  Instead, the boys who are still at home have cleaned up around the barns, stacking lumber left over from our various building projects, moving three bins of manure and wood chips, and tightening up the electrical connections in the small tractor.  Presently they are engaged in the long, dirty task of trenching for our spring improvement project.

Following the diagrams left us by our wonderful USDA county agent – don’t knock all of them, this one is like an organic Clark Kent, pop him into a phone booth and he leaps out wearing a cape and mask, an inexhaustible resource for whatever you need to know about sustainable agriculture, pastured chickens, and mob grazing – following, as we say, his diagrams, we are digging about fifty feet of trench diagonally across the hill above the spring from which we water the stock, in order to gather more of the water running below the surface and sequester it in our hlding tanks.  This job would be burdensome in any case, but with the weather having turned hot again, even to attempt to dig this trench wins S-4 and S-5 the silver cup for heroism.  The postal employees have nothing on our sons – not snow, nor rain, nor sleet, nor even a large nest of hostile yellow jackets, can divert these guys from the performance of their duties.

Particularly when the alternatives include Algebra II and ancient mythology.

We, on the other hand.  By night making crib notes from the 1989 edition of Eliot Coleman’s New Organic Grower, by day we are trying to apply his principles to some of the areas of the garden already vacated by harvest.  The garlic bed was planted to pole beans in late July, and these are tall and lush now, and hopefully will soon begin to blossom.  Bush beans, planted a little earlier in the raised beds, are already supplying the table.  The area previously occupied by onions was composted and planted to winter carrots, and those the grasshoppers have not eaten are about five inches tall.  Only after the fact do we discover that ground to be planted to root crops should not be manured the same year.  Wouldn’t you know.

Doing our homework more timely, we made sure beforehand that the beds we are preparing for winter lettuce and spinach should, in fact, be composted with plenty of our best before the leafy greens are planted.  Braving a nest of hornets rumored to have taken up residence under the seventh, or was it eighth, compost bin, we opened the seventh, or was it eighth, and found dark crumbly stuff under the top layer of undecomposed weed trash and hay.  There was enough to spread thickly on the section of the big garden where we intend to start winter greens and spring onions, and an additional cartload to take up to the raised beds by the house, where we will plant more winter salad stuff.  We have started lettuce seedlings indoors, and will start more as soon as Mom gets it to the top of her list.  These will be set out about the middle of September, covered with spun bonded row cover, and, God willing, grow into our winter salad supply.

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