Tuesday, September 30, 2014

infrastructure part 3 (septic)

We finally had "the wizard of ooze" (I know, cringe) come by to pump the septic system and do an inspection. He recommended having the pipes replaced--both the one connecting the house to the tank, and from the tank to the leach field.

We called the excavator he recommended, and a few days later the lawn was dug up, the pipes laid down and the trench was filled back in.
Just as we experienced our first hard frost, a few days later we were surprised by sunny, balmy weather, perfect for planting grass seed. Peter spent a lot of time raking the dirt out flat again, and pulling many, many small rocks that had come to the surface during the project.
Peter has a new evening ritual of giving the seeds a light watering just as the sun sets. 

It feels so good to have the unglamorous but important nuts and bolts on the property well upgraded. The driveway, drainage, tree removal and septic are checked off the "to do" list and now we are on to contractors. We are in conversation with several and hope to have things decided on before the snow flies. 

There are some very exciting things on the horizon for our family in 2015...


Saturday, August 30, 2014

infrastructure part 2 (tree removal and septic)

Bruce, proudly aged 70, working the spruce.

The day finally arrived for the tree removal to begin- a very large white pine (precariously close to the house), 2 ailing spruces, and 2 other smaller evergreens.  While we were expecting some heavy duty equipment to arrive, Bruce and Earl  (combined age 145 years!) showed up with their pickup, a few chainsaws, and a vintage chipper towed behind a small dump truck.  At that point the three day work estimate made more sense…

They methodically set to work, with Bruce gradually climbing the trees with his chain saw and pole saw, and Earl handling the pieces that were cut from the trunk.  Branches were removed on the climb up, and trunks were segmented on the way down, and then the chipper went to work.  Our exposure to the road and views to the mountains were suddenly opened up, sacrificing some shade on the house but eliminating the fear of crashing trees during our regular raging winds.  We now have a pile of chips composting for future use, and a pile of rather large trunk sections that are gradually being relocated to the woods.  The clump of ash trees was also pruned, which had the added benefit of becoming firewood- unfortunately the evergreens are not useful for indoor burning.
Once the towering white pine was down on the ground, we found rot where the tree trunk forked, and so we felt especially grateful to have it removed before the winter storms start blowing.

The chips and brush were all raked up, and a few dents in the lawn have now been filled in, so we are enjoying the new vistas and moving on to the next project…the septic system.

Our house has a septic system that was installed some time in the early 1980’s, and the former owner had provided a rough description of its location.  Initial efforts to locate it had provided some vigorous exercise but no success- if you ever saw the movie “Holes” you can relate to our efforts! Eventually on hole #6 (dubbed “6th sense”) Peter hit the concrete tank about 18 inches below the surface, and fortunately landed directly on top of one of the covers, marked by 2 rusty handles.  With further exploration, a second cover was located near the first, so we called the local septic company to reschedule a visit to come check it out.

According to the septic service, there should be 3 covers approximately 4 feet apart, and so far we had found 2 covers about 2 feet apart, which was a mystery to the “boss” at the septic service. Perhaps some further digging will be needed, but he will come by to check it out next time he is in the area- “could be a few days or maybe a few weeks”.  Vermont Time is just something you need to work with sometimes!  We hope everything checks out eventually so we can cross off septic concerns from our infrastructure list.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Infrastructure (driveway and drainage)

First things first.  Before beginning any construction, we had to take care of several basic issues that are easier to do up front, and would give us immediate benefits.  The gravel driveway needed more gravel, and grading to eliminate the small pond/ice rink that forms right where we park.  We also needed to improve drainage around the house, hopefully preventing a repeat of the mystery flood in the lower level last year.  Several ailing or overgrown trees needed to be cut down, and our big ash tree pruned. Finally the septic had to be checked- we certainly did not want to have a problem there after rehabbing the house, and potential added bedrooms might require an upgrade.

We started back in June, contacting the driveway guy (our snow plow guy), who also could put in a French drain between the driveway and the house.  The tree guy gave us a quote and agreed to come back in July.  The septic took a bit more work.  We did not know exactly where it was, so we checked with the town clerk to see if any records existed- no luck.  We tried the septic company that had previously serviced the house, but they also had no records.  “We don’t even have a computer!”  said the woman at the septic company, with a hint of pride. We called the former owner and he pointed us in the right direction, so an appointment was made with the septic guy, assuming we could find it and dig to expose the covers.  After extensive poking and digging we could not locate the tank…appointment cancelled.  Then all we could do was wait until the various projects began.

(looking left from the porch, at the garage)
Suddenly one day Kolbey was in the driveway, with a skid steer, Bobcat, and truck full of gravel- the driveway project was underway!  In no time the backhoe had dug a trench along the driveway side of the house, ripping out the remaining bush and fully exposing the window in front of Peter’s office. Gravel and pipe were laid in the trench, which curves around the side if the house to drain into the yard when we get big rains.  The driveway and lawn were regraded, and then a few loads of gravel spread expertly by Kolbey’s associate.  The next day, new grass seed was planted, and a layer of straw spread, and the project was done.  Slightly over budget due to an extra load of gravel, but now the drain is draining, the grass is growing, and a set of local Vermont pavers for the walkway completed the job.
(looking right from the porch, with the new driveway
curving up toward the road)

Check back tomorrow for the tree felling chapter. :-)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Compost bin made of 100% salvaged wood

Now that we are full time Vermonters, we have gotten more serious about our composting habits. Until now, we used a commercial, plastic bin that worked for our seasonal needs. We plan to add more vegetable beds and grow more of our own food, and we anticipate having more kitchen and garden waste that can be turned into fine soil.  This weekend, we built a compost bin and based most of the dimensions and construction techniques based on the wood we had at hand.
Peter combed the shed, workshop and garage for spare bits and pieces. 
Years ago, we had a trundle bed and the two mattresses rested on platforms made of wooden slats, stapled onto lengths of heavy cotton twill. When the beds were finally "the worse for wear", we took all the staples out of the slats, bundled them with masking tape and tucked them away for "some project down the road". Measuring three feet long, we decided that these would be perfect slats for the sides of the bin.
In our former home, we used the classically affordable cinder block/wooden plank system for some basement storage. Now cut into 6 foot lengths, we screwed these boards to two uprights, and they became the back panel of the bin.
Another random piece of wood added to the top gave us a 4 foot high back section.
 We added uprights and cross pieces to create the basic 6'x3' rectangular frame.
The bed slats were screwed onto the two sides of the frame, leaving spaces in between to provide ventilation. A sheet of very old plywood was cut to fit in the middle, to create two section in the bin. The front of the bin is only partially finished. We need to find a few more 6' lengths of board to add to it. 

We bought a bale of straw (our only expense, so far!), covered it with scrap plastic and a few logs to keep it from blowing away in the sometimes crazy winds up here on the ridge. By layering twigs, leaf mold, garden and kitchen waste and straw, we hope to create the perfect concoction for rich garden soil.
The front is removable, to allow for turning with a pitch fork, and/or moving the compost. The front panel is secured by four bolts, one in each corner of the panel.
Even these  four bolts were salvaged... from an old (duplicate) flower press we set aside as we were packing up for the move. 

We plunked another old piece of plywood on top to keep the rain out, and now we are ready to see what the bin can do for us.
We consulted a few books for this project, but this 13th printing circa 1972 tome was most helpful. Purchased at a yard sale for $1.00 by a friend, it has been tucked into our homesteading library for years, just waiting for this day (thanks Michael). From the Introduction, "Compost is at the core, the essential foundation of natural gardening and farming. It is the heart of the organic concept." 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Welcome to our new adventure!

Sunrise on the summer solstice over the shed at our "bit of earth"

Hello friends, we are Karen and Peter, college sweethearts (now married for 35 years) who bought 16 acres in Vermont seven years ago this week. We are in the midst of transitioning to living here in the Green Mountains full time and are looking forward to rehabbing our little place here near the top of a ridge. We hope to honor the work of previous owners, yet create a place with room enough for our friends and family to soak in the peace and beauty of this spot. 

We look forward to filling you in on our goals and plans and ideas soon. But today we took a field trip that was so much fun, we can't wait to share it with you. We went down to White River Junction to wander through Vermont Salvage. Here are some of the treasures we saw.

A "like new" kitchen sink, with one regular bowl and one deep.
This one had legs and a spot for wall mounted faucets.
We thought this might be perfect for the 1/2 bath downstairs.
Doors for any room.
Cast iron radiators.

Old pressed tin ceiling panels.
Wooden columns of every size.
Arched windows and porch trellises.

We didn't buy anything today, but made plenty of mental notes. Are you into salvaged goods? Have you ever done a project with them? Recycled fabric? Car parts? Cast off furniture?