Archive for June, 2012

Collector News

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

The bad news is, a couple of days after I fixed the frost damage on the solar collector, I noticed drips of water coming out of the bottom corner. Since we have hard water here, I spend several days hoping the minerals would “heal” the leak. No such luck. It wasn’t a bad leak, but it was too big to ignore. Ignore it I did, though, for several days.

Finally today I got out the ladder and cordless drill and took the cover off. I suspected the leak was one of the couplings I messed with during the repair. I removed the black aluminum fins from around the two suspect couplings, but they were both dry. I began to suspect I’d have to remove more fins and possibly find yet another burst pipe from last fall’s frost event. I saw another coupling from a previous repair, and removed the fin from around it. Sweet warm mater poured out of that coupling, with more coming when I wiggled it. I’d found the culprit.

I walked to the garage and returned with two crescent wrenches, and a couple of twists stopped the leak. I let it bake in the sun for a couple of hours, and then replaced the cover. I truly believe I’m back in business this time.

I also got a new patch of yard seeded, fertilized, mulched, and watered today. In a couple of weeks we’ll notice some shy thin green spikes of grass coming up through the mulch. Next spring we won’t even remember what that section used to look like.

The weather has been warm and sunny, and the gardens are appreciative. The tomatoes are reaching for the sky, as are many of the other crops. I’m watering both gardens every other day now, and they sure seem to appreciate their drinks. The peas and beans are starting to put out their tendrils in anticipation of a climb up the trellis. I do enjoy poking the plants onto their trellis. When they are young they seem to resist this assistance, but eventually they get the idea, and like the tomatoes, they reach for the sky.

The strawberry wine is almost ready to rack over into clean secondary vessels. There is a layer of beige colored sludge in the bottom of both jugs that tells us the yeast is starting to die off in their own excrement. The house is starting to smell less like a brewery.

Strawberry Wine

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

I racked the strawberry wine this morning. When it is in the primary vessel, it is hard to tell what color it is. The mystery is solved when it winds up in the glass secondary. I somehow expected this batch to be red, since the strawberries we put in it were so red. But it wound up this creamy orange color. Of course when it stops bubbling and settles a bit, the color will probably change again. It seems the wine recipes I use always make a bit more than will fit in a gallon jug. This time I had a pint bottle I use for maple syrup ready, and it just about took all the extra. It looks so cute having such a little bottle with a grown-up bubbler on top.

The garden is going well this year. There are always odds and ends each day. Today I watered both gardens with buckets and the yoke. I’ve also started hilling the potatoes as they grow big enough to warrant it. We harvested our first garlic bunch today. Several plants died this year for some reason. Our experience with garlic in the past is you put it in the ground and it grows. Not this year, but why?

We had our first salad of the year with garden greens. There was mustard and arugula. It was really good.

Collector Pressure

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Last fall I volunteered in the fly loft at the Calumet Theater for the Calmuet Player’s musical. I’ve been doing this for a long time now, and while it does take a lot of time, I do enjoy it each year. (Click HERE for a story about last year’s show.) It means I almost never make sense of the shows, because I have to watch them from 30′ above the stage floor, and I always miss the same parts of it each night, because that is when I’m busy in the loft. Alice usually attends a performance or two, and she often explains what I’ve missed on the drive home.

As last fall’s production was winding down, the weather turned colder than expected one night. I got home late and fell into bed. In the morning, I heard an ominous sound coming from the bathroom… a sound of running water. I got up while rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, and it soon became clear to me that the solar collector had frozen the night before, and at least one copper pipe inside the collector had burst. I quickly shut everything down, drained the system, and covered it up for the winter.

Fast forward to May of this year. I usually set the collector back up in early May. I have a heat tape on the bottom header of the thing, and I’ll often plug it in on the few cold nights we get in May. This allows me to harvest the sunlight while avoiding costly freeze ups. This May I couldn’t set it up as usual, and, truth be told, I do dislike repairing the collector. For one thing, if I hadn’t been so stupid as to leave it operational on a frosty night, I wouldn’t have to fix anything. For another, I’m not a great plummer. Mistakes often make me have to start over, and I seem to make plenty of them.

So I put the project off. About 2 weeks ago, I got everything taken apart and found that two pipes had burst. Not as bad as I thought it would be. I assembled my tools and went to work. Copper pipe has to be properly prepared prior to soldering, or the joint will likely fail. In this picture I’ve adapted my cordless right-angle drill to ream out a fitting. It is kind of hard to see, but Franco has strategically placed his stick on top of the tool he thinks I’ll need next, and is waiting for me to notice it and give it a toss. Once everything was cleaned, I installed a coupling, put it together, and started soldering. Things went pretty well until the last joint.

When a copper joint works properly, the solder melts and sucks down into the joint, until a lovely collar of solder forms all around the lip of the joint. When you see that collar, you know you have a good joint. The last joint, for whatever reason, would not allow any solder to enter. It just melted and dripped along the outside of the pipe. Time is of the essence when the joint is hot from the torch. I tried everything I could think of, but nothing would make the solder enter the joint. So I grabbed my channel locks and tried to remove the stubborn fitting from the pipe. It would not budge. Arg! I’m not the type to start throwing things when projects go sour, but I did cut the pipe above the now useless fitting, threw it away, and put my tools away. That was a couple of weeks ago.

Today, I finally got my nerve up to try again. It can’t be a sunny day, because without water circulating through the collector, it can get too hot to work on. It was overcast this afternoon, so I pulled the cover off and assembled my tools. Just as I was getting into it again, it started to rain. Fine. I decided I wasn’t going to let some rain interfere, so I soldiered on. I got the first break repaired with no troubles. I cut out the second break, measured and assembled the pipe and fittings, soldered it all together, and it looked like this one was going to work. My only mistake on this one was I installed the jam nut on the wrong end of the coupling, forcing me to reheat and disassemble the coupling, install the nut, and then finish that pipe. Every joint presented the lovely molten collar that takes on a beauty that is hard to describe.

As I got my camera out to take the above picture, I looked at the lcd screen on the back of the camera as usual. Somewhere in my travels today, I must have hit the camera hard and cracked it. I could still see through the viewfinder to take the picture, but I’m thinking this camera is toast. Shoot.

Alice and I worked together to test the joints. We used out little walkie-talkies. She was positioned at the valves in the tank closet in the bathroom, and I was outside on the ladder observing the collector. When she turned on the water, I did have some leaks, but they all looked to be at the coupling joints. I asked her to turn the water off while I grabbed the necessary wrenches, tightened the leaky couplings, and we tried it again. No leaks. Yay!

Tomorrow, I plan to remove the cover and let the sun dry out the inside of the collector, so no moisture will be trapped inside. If I’m not careful with this, the glazing I put over the collector will fog on the inside, decreasing the efficiency of the system. Once I think it is dry enough, I’ll install the glazing, and then sit back and let the sun heat our water again until the fall. I’m thinking seriously about looking for a frost alarm to install near the collector. If they have one that says, “it’s getting cold out here you idiot,” I think I’ll buy it.

Strawberry Season

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

The strawberry season is upon us. What a great time of the year it is. There are fruit stands in town hawking the berries, but our favorite is a place a few miles north of us. They have nice big berries that are heaped up in the quart containers. They come out to the stand right from the field, and they are beauties. So far we’ve eaten a lot, frozen some, dehydrated, and just started a gallon of strawberry wine.

I started the batch yesterday with about 2 quarts of berries cleaned and sliced into the nylon mesh bag. This is squeezed into the primary fermentor with cleaned and sanitized hands until all the juice is out. To this juice is added water, sugar, the mesh bag containing the berry pulp, and a variety of other ingredients, including a tablet designed to kill all the yeast that came in with the fruit. This is stirred, sealed, and allowed to sit for 24 hours. The potency of the yeast killer drops to almost zero by this time, so it is time to pitch the yeast.

After opening the primary and giving the mesh bag a squeeze, I asked Alice, yeast-pitcher extraordinaire, to do the honors while I stirred the brew. Conditions should now be perfect for the wine yeast to flourish, consuming the sugar and excreting alcohol. This will be our first batch of wine in 2012. I hope to make a gallon each of thimbleberry and blackberry this year. I’ll keep you posted.

An Interesting Find

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

I found a neat chunk of road copper on a walk the other day. This one was of the “squashed flat” variety. It looked like several different things to me, depending on the angle at which I held it, so I took some pics from various angles, and have suggested some clues to help you decide. Perhaps when you look at the pictures, you’ll see shapes I didn’t:

* Bust of dog looking at you
* Dog with bone in his mouth
* Italy
* Whale spouting water with tail flukes

Finally

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Pictured here is Alice planting the last seeds in the garden. Yay! We’ve really struggled this year to get the garden in, but we put the final touches on it today. The hanging tomatoes are also planted. Now we switch to maintenance mode, which is less time consuming but important none the less. We were treated to a bona-fide tomato blossom today too. The greenhouse garden was so warm inside that if felt good to come out into the 88 degree outside air. That said, I could feel the tomato and pepper plants really enjoying the warm moist air in the greenhouse.

As I write this around 9:00 at night, the day is finally starting to cool off a bit. We’ve open our windows to entice the cool night air into the house, where we’ll trap it tomorrow morning when we close the windows. We’re lucky to have such inexpensive air conditioning. It works most days of the summer. When it doesn’t work, though, we sweat the night away.

At The Cemetery

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Franco and I do a walk almost every evening after supper. Our habit is to walk west on our road up to the blacktop of the Pelkie Rd. On the corner of this intersection is the Elo Cemetery. The other night Franco and I were walking along side the cemetery when I noticed an older car driving along the blacktop. It slowed down, stopped, and backed up. The car then turned into the cemetery and the driver got out. She was a middle aged woman who was a bit overweight. I was far enough away from her that I couldn’t see her face. She walked up to a mound of dirt, stopped, and stood and stared for quite some time. I only watched at intervals out of the corner of my eye, because I sensed she didn’t want any company. After a few minutes she got back in her car and drove away.

The image of this unknown woman standing and staring at that mound of raw earth has stuck with me. Someone had obviously passed on, and she was working to come to grips with it. We are built to live life and revel in all its joys. The part of our being that deals with death seems to me to be empty, and in need of experience in order to deal with it. I felt for this woman but knew there was nothing I could do to help her. We all need to travel that road alone.

More Gardening

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Today I got the buckwheat seeds plowed under about an inch of dirt. I got the greenhouse patch (16′ x 48′) watered also. The outside patch still needs its first drink of the season, which I hope to give it tomorrow morning. In about a week the first shy little stems will start popping up, followed by a riot of green. I always look forward to the generous number of small white fragrant flowers that emerge just before I plow it all into the earth and reseed it. By the end of the season, I usually have 3 crops worked in, and next summer that part of the garden will be as fluffy as chocolate cake mix.

Going through the pictures on my camera, I came across a picture Alice took of me that I liked. We were most of the way through planting the tomatoes. I get into that project with my whole body every year and this one was no exception.

Garden Story

Monday, June 4th, 2012

I’ve felt frustrated about the garden this year. Perhaps we’ve put less energy into it compared to other years, and perhaps not. For some reason, though, I’ve felt like the garden has resisted getting planted this year. Today was a good day in the garden planting department, however. In retrospect, a lot of the prep work we’ve done has led up to what we were able to get done today. I guess it works that way in every project; you do a lot of things that don’t show results, and then the planets align and things fall into place.

Today I got the 5 rows of potatoes planted in the outside garden. I also got our “watering dock” installed in the front pond (click HERE for a story about the watering dock.) The dock did not go in easily this year. As one thing after another went goofy as I attempted to install the dock, I finally started laughing at the whole absurd thing. When it goes in right, I hardly have to think about it. This year, one thing went wrong which caused a cascade of things to go wrong. I finally had to shed my pants and get chest deep in the pond to get things working. It still did not give up without a struggle, but it is installed and functional.

I used the watering dock to haul buckets with my home made yoke (click HERE for the yoke story.) I managed to water all the sweet onions, tomatoes, garlic, and potatoes. Meanwhile, Alice laid out the positions of all the rest of the plants in the greenhouse garden, and did quite a bit of planting. I don’t have an accurate list of everything she got in the ground today, but I can tell you that well over half the greenhouse garden is planted now. I have several pea trellises to make, and hope to use a similar plan to make some trellises for the cucumbers as well. We’ve noticed they will climb if they get a chance, so we thought we’d give them a good chance this year and see how things go.

This is a great time of the year. The white-tail deer fauns are being born right now. My neighbor said he saw an adult bear following another adult closely, suggesting some mating behavior. The red winged blackbirds are vigorously defending their patches of the cattails. Pairs of moths are doing their dances in the sky. The promise of a new season is upon us once again, and it is a pleasure to be part of it.