Water tower! Bears! ‘n stuff…

Water Tower

I told myself that I’d reward myself with a pizza and internet if I finished my water tower, and I did, so here I am, on the internets (the pizza’s already in my belly).

I decided to build essentially a free-standing platform to perch the water container on. The platform measures 4ft by 30 inches, but the legs have cross pieces to make the base effectively 4ft by 6ft for additional stability. I did most of the work in the shade, under a nice leafy oak grove next to my hut, but since the final product would be too heavy for me to move, I built it in components, which I then assembled at the final site. The tower isn’t quite square, and the ground isn’t quite level, so it’s leaning a bit, but the center of gravity is well within the expanded base, so I’m not terribly worried. I also used 2x4s for the legs, instead of 4x4s, since the water container I ended up using only has a 50 gallon capacity, and would only weigh up to 400lb. Tomorrow I’ll be hooking up all the hoses, so tonight should be the last time I have to water my garden out of a watering can…

The temperature’s finally cooled down this week, after last week’s 100F+ days (hottest day was Friday, when it was 99F in the shade). It’s been cool enough in the shade, that I’ve been able to finally do some shooting on my 100 yard range. I’ve always wanted to be able to shoot my match rifle on my own property, and now I have. Whereas in the city, I’d have to load all my gear into my car, then drive 30-45 minutes to get to the range, here, I just have to pick up my rifle and walk less than 10 minutes. It’s pretty sweet. Of course, now I don’t have much of an excuse for not shooting more and improving my scores…

The other exciting discovery this week has been bear tracks on the dirt road going through my camp. The prints measure about 9 inches heel to toe, and are about 5 inches across at its widest point. The prints start about 40 yards west of my hut, go past my hut, and ends about a 120 yards down the road. They go over tire marks I left when I headed out for town on Monday, but are under where I parked that night, so the bear passed through while I was away. I think the bears around here are black bears, which I hear are pretty shy, unless they’ve been spoiled by human foods (which, I don’t think the bears around here have). So, I don’t think it’s entirely an accident that he/she paid a visit while I was gone.

Irrigation hell, and other news…

Garden hoses are stupid. If I’d invented garden hoses, they’d have female connectors on both ends, and anything that isn’t a hose would have male connectors. The reality today, though, is that garden hoses have a male connector on one end, and a female connector on the other, while practically all non-hose components have male connectors. So, if you want to connect two non-hose components with a hose, you’re screwed (or, unscrewed, as the case may be). It’d be less of an issue if they had a coupler that’d connect two male connectors, but I can’t seem to find such a thing anywhere. *sigh* Instead, I got a female connector “repair kit”, so I’m going cut off the male connector from one of my hoses to replace it with a female connector, and make a hose with female connectors on both ends, the way God should’ve intended them to be. While I’m ranting about garden hoses, WTF is the deal with garden hose connectors containing lead? Are they trying to kill us?

I admit, I’m a complete idiot when it comes to plumbing. I’m like the opposite of this XKCD comic. I can write software, I can sorta build stuff out of lumber, but when it comes to water through tubes, I know nothing. But, I’m learning, and hopefully I have all the right parts to make some kind of contraption. In my defense, what I’m doing is relatively rare, I think. Most irrigation solutions out there assume you have, you know, water. Out of a spigot. With pressure. I’m sure if I did research, I’d find someone who did exactly what I’m trying to do, but then, what’s the fun in that?

The picture you see here was my first experiment. I got a garden hose, and used a 3/4″-hose-to 1/4″-tube adapter to connect a 1/4″ soaker hose to it. I then siphoned water out of a water carrier perched on top of my car, to see if the water pressure would be enough to force water out of the soaker hose. Well, it failed, quite miserably, but I claim the experiment a success because I learned a lot. The main issue I saw was that the adapter was leaky, and most of my water (and pressure, with it) was leaking out of the adapter. The adapter was also faulty in that, the inside diameter of the 1/4″ end was too small for the soaker hose, so water also leaked from there too.

My second experiment was to use a different method for attaching the 1/4″ soaker hose to my garden hose. I used these 1/4″-to-1/4″ barbed connectors, and poked one end into the middle of my garden hose through a tiny hole I drilled in it, and the other end into the 1/4″ soaker hose. That connection worked much better than the adapter. But, I noticed two problems with this. One was that the soaker hose only released water from a few points, separated by over a foot in places. The other thing I realized was that siphoning is unreliable. I guess air bubbles somehow form or get into the hose, and stops the flow of water.

So, I figured I needed a water container that had a 3/4″ hose connector at the bottom, instead of relying on siphoning action. I was originally thinking of using my 55 gallon drum, but the threading on the lid is kinda weird, so I wasn’t sure how to get a 3/4″ hose connector onto it. So, today, I came out to Redding, hoping to find a water container that already had a 3/4″ connector at the bottom, and some kind of vent up top. I first stopped by J and J Pumps, but the smallest containers they had were over 300 gallons, and cost a little under $300. The guy I talked to suggested that I check out Tractor Supply, and there, I found a 50 gallon rain barrel on clearance for $50 (pictured right). It’s got a 3/4″ male connector at the bottom, and a hole at top, as well as a mesh-covered opening in the lid. I’ll be pumping water into the hole at the top, using a 12V water pump, out of the 7 gallon water cubes I use to haul water from town. From there, the water will be fed into my soaker hoses, attached to a garden hose as the main line, by gravity.


In other news, I woke up yesterday to the rumbling of thunder. I listening to it for a while, then jumped awake. Thunder (usually) means rain. My roof is currently not water proof. Oh no! I hastily put up a couple more 1×3 cross-pieces on the roof, and started laying down asphalt impregnated paper. Ominous dark clouds hung in the sky. The rumbling of the thunder continued incessantly, gradually approaching closer, like artillery fire of an invading army. Put up the barricades! Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough tar paper. I’d used up most of the roll wrapping up my hut for the winter. I’d finished putting up two of the 5 pieces that would’ve been required to cover the whole roof, when it started raining. I had no other option but to cover the rest of the roof with the tarp again…

Unfortunately, it didn’t rain much. Not even enough to completely moisten the ground. Dry lightning rumbled and crackled throughout the day, and by early afternoon, I could see smoke to the south, the south east, and on a ridge line to the north east. The smoke to the south was somewhat disturbing, because prevailing winds could push it my way. I could see firefighting planes circling the smoke low, only several miles away. Fortunately, the smoke in that area cleared fairly quickly, to be replaced by a thicker plume to the south east. On my way into town, I saw half a dozen fire engines heading in the opposite direction, and this morning, I passed a huge convoy of 30 or so assorted fire trucks heading that way, probably to mop up after yesterday.

Defending the Garden

I checked my garden first thing in the morning, as I usually do, before even pulling on my pants. To my dismay, I found that I’d lost another 10 or so corn plants, or twice as many as I lost yesterday. Clearly, what happened yesterday wasn’t an isolated incident; whatever it is that’s eating my plants knows they’re there, and likes them. I don’t blame them. I ate some corn shoots myself, and they’re actually quite tasty (slightly bitter at first, but then surprisingly sweet).

Great. My plan for the day was to lock up camp and head out to the city, and since that trip takes 6 hours, I usually try to leave as early as possible. But it was clear that if I left my garden unprotected, my entire crop could be lost before I returned. Something had to be done.

Before doing anything, I stepped off the dirt and onto the rocks to avoid further contaminating the crime scene, and carefully observed the ground for tracks. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much: a couple of prints that vaguely looked like rabbit, and some marks that might’ve been deer hoof prints. But without solid evidence, I wasn’t even sure what I’d need to protect my garden from. If I wasn’t sure whether it was rabbit or deer, I’ll have to defend against both.

I considered my options. If I were truly awesome in a McGyver-esque fashion, I might’ve concocted a chemical solution using random spices and cleaning liquids, that I could spray on the plants to discourage animals from eating them, without doing harm to the plants themselves. Or, perhaps I would’ve written an iPhone app to emit a frequency that plant eating animals don’t like. No. It should be a robotic sentry. Maybe it’ll even be armed. But know not to shoot at my neighbor when she comes to water the plants.

Rest assured, I only wasted mere seconds –okay, maybe a few minutes– on such fantasies. Obviously, I needed a fence. I surveyed my resources at hand. I had some chicken wire that I bought a while back, though the roll I had was only 2ft wide and 50ft long. Not enough, but it’ll have to do. I had plenty of two-by-fours laying around to use as fence posts, though it took me a while to decide how to erect the posts. One option was to bust out the post hole digger, but I quickly eliminated that option. The dry compacted ground is solid, and rocky. I wasn’t going to dig holes in that kind of ground in this kind of heat, while under time pressure. I eventually opted to build free-standing mobile fence post structure, consisting of two 4ft posts attached on ends of a single 8ft length of 2×4, with legs coming out for stability (and corner braces to keep the whole thing rigid). Two sets of those, and I’d have 4 corner posts. I busted out my power tools, and got to work.

The end result is what you see in the picture above. The chicken wire only goes 18 inches off the ground (6 inches spill onto the ground and are weighted down with rocks to hopefully prevent rabbits from digging underneath), and I strung up some neon pink twine with bright orange flags tied to it a foot or so above the wire, to hopefully discourage deer from stepping over the mesh.

I have to admit, it was a fun project. Since I still wanted to hit the road as soon as possible, I had to think fast and work fast. Running to the hardware store would’ve been too time consuming (at least an hour round trip), so I had to make do with what I had, and I think I did ok. I guess the real question is whether it works. We’ll see…

Journal: June 28th, 2010

I was in San Francisco last week, taking care of some stuff and seeing friends, and got back to Serenity Valley on Friday. I’m planning on staying up here for a couple of weeks, at least, since, once my bills are paid towards the end of the month, I have relatively little to worry about until the middle of the next month (when I have to start thinking about bills again).

I got in right around dusk on Friday, and headed straight to my garden. My neighbor had been watering my garden for me in my absence, and wanted to see how my little babies were doing. Lo and behold, I was pleasantly surprised to see little itsy bitsy vibrant green shoots sticking out of the dirt in neat little rows! Baby corn! They’d sprouted in just about a week, and man do they grow fast. I can see them getting bigger by the hour.

A row of beans have also started to sprout just in the last couple of days, though some of them seem a little under-developed. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on, but my hypothesis is that some of them weren’t deep enough in the ground, and are coming out of the ground prematurely. But, at least some of them are looking just fine. I have three more rows of beans between the corn that haven’t sprouted yet, and I’m a little concerned. I sowed those rather haphazardly (after unexpected rain, mentioned in the last post), so we’ll see if they sprout. I still have some seeds left, so if they don’t come out in the next several days, I’ll probably redo the beans.

It occurred to me recently that growing corn my first year might’ve been kinda silly. Corn is a heavy feeder, and will suck out all the nutrients in the ground. And besides, I don’t actually even eat that much corn, though, maybe my corn will be super amazing and it’ll all be worth it. Nonetheless, that’s partially why I’m concerned about the beans; beans put nutrients (namely nitrogen) back into the soil, so I was counting on them to balance out the corn.

Other than that, I’ve been trying to relax, which isn’t too difficult seeing how it’s been really warm. It’s around 100F in the sun, and close to 90F in the shade, so my natural inclination obviously has been to just sit in the shade, like all animals do when it’s hot out. It’s actually surprisingly difficult for me to just sit back and relax. I feel guilty if a day has gone by and I haven’t done anything productive, as if I owe it to someone to actually do work. It’s an interesting phenomenon, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of work, which I’ll hopefully write about in another post…

And speaking of work, now that my garden’s basically done, I’ve been thinking about my hut upgrade in earnest. Today, I came out to Redding (the nearest city from my property, about an hour and a half’s drive away) to check prices of building materials. I also stopped at a place in a Big Town en route to check their prices. The biggest problem is logistics. The place in Big Town would charge nearly twice as much for OSB (for instance), but deliver for only $25. Stuff’s cheaper in Redding, but delivery would be super expensive, and the cheapest option might be to rent a U-Haul, or get a tow-hitch for my car and rent a trailer.

Journal: June 21st, 2010

Friday was a down day. I have those every now and then up here. Maybe it was the weather (partly cloudy, and humid). Maybe it was the isolation (absolutely no human contact for a few days). Maybe it was both. Either way, I spent half the day reading and dozing, and eventually got restless and decided to go into town without any clear idea what for. I tried to get online at the usual place in town, but the internet connection wasn’t working. I then went to the hardware store, where the garden section lady recognized me, which was nice. Not wanting to walk out empty handed, I bought a water sprayer (for watering carrot seeds) and some more seeds (okra, which does well in heat, and beets, which are good companions for corn). Still wanting to get online, I headed to the next town over, another 20 minutes’ drive away (so over 45 minutes’ drive from my property). The only reliable internet I could find was at a McDonalds, so McDonalds it was. I couldn’t remember the last time I stepped foot in a McDonalds, but, well, that’s where the internet was, so that’s where I went.

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.”
–May Sarton

Solitude and loneliness seem like flip sides of the same coin. I enjoy solitude, but sometimes I can’t escape loneliness. Ideally, I’d like solitude, without the loneliness. Can the two be separated? This is a process I am still struggling with, and probably will for some time. I know I can’t go for long completely disconnected from the world, but I also know I’m happier being mostly disconnected. I don’t want internet on my property. I’m happier when I’m not distracted by Facebook and Twitter and Google Reader and email and everything on the internet that demands my attention. But I’m thinking of getting a cheap Verizon phone, which should work on my property, so that I can text and call people if I get lonely. We’ll see how that goes.

I spent the better part of Saturday clearing brush around my camp. I do this partially for aesthetics (less brown and more green looks nicer), but mostly I do it for fire prevention. Or rather, I should say, to improve the odds that my stuff can survive a forest fire. There hasn’t been a fire in the woods around my property in a long while, and it’s ripe for one; there’s plenty of fuel waiting for a spark. In my admittedly amateur assessment, though, the area around my hut seems relatively safe. There’s a nice wide dirt road to the immediate North and West of my camp, and it’ll be difficult for a fire to jump that, especially considering that there’s only low brush to the North, and that prevailing winds are from the South. To the West of my property is well cleared BLM or NFS land, so it’s relatively unlikely a fire will come from that direction. Unfortunately, the South and East sides of my camp aren’t as well protected, so I’ve been clearing that area as much as possible. I’m pulling or cutting dead branches off the trees and pulling out dead brush, so that even if the ground litter burns, there won’t be much fuel to ignite bigger stuff. My garden is also to the South-East of my hut, and that clearing will hopefully act as a firebreak, if need be. Ultimately, I’m comforted in the knowledge that a forest fire is good for the forest, and the worst that can happen is that I lose some stuff, most of which can be replaced. Unlike a house, when a forest burns, it actually heals itself over time, and usually ends up healthier than it was.

On Sunday, I finished planting the last few plants, and sowed more bean seeds since the bag of seeds I’d left out got wet in unexpected rain during the night. I also busted out my power tools to build a couple of things. I first built a planter box for my anti-social tomato plants, using mostly scrap wood I had lying around. Then I made a target frame for my 100yd shooting range, using some two-by-twos and one-by-threes that I’d brought up a while ago, then faced it with tar paper I’d bought for roofing.

I had this moment of great satisfaction, when I realized that I had everything I needed. I had lumber. I had screws. I had power tools, and solar panels to charge their batteries. I craved fruit, so I rummaged through my bins and found some canned fruit. For a moment, I could pretend like the world had ended and that I was living off of my stockpile, and that I was all self-sufficient. Of course, that’s just an illusion. I have trees, but I can’t mill my own lumber. I can’t make my own nails or tools. I don’t grow nearly enough food to be self-sufficient, and my stockpile would only last me a few of months, at most. But it felt like a step in the right direction, and it felt good.

Journal: June 17th, 2010

I feel great. I just took a nice HOT shower, and let myself use a few extra gallons of water to even shampoo my hair! The temperature is a perfect 70 degrees, and after I finished my shower, the cool breeze felt so great on my skin that I just stood there for a while letting the air dry me off. I stood there, in the clear air, under blue skies, watching the sun mingle with the tops of ponderosa pines off to the North-West-West. Showering is one of the many perks of summer… When I was up here last Fall, I couldn’t really shower because the sun didn’t shine long enough to heat up my solar shower, and even if it did, it was too damn cold to stand outside naked and actually get wet. Now, it’s just perfect.

Now I’m sitting here, with a cold bottle of raspberry cider. I don’t drink alcohol very often, and never bother to bring booze with me to the woods, but I had this bottle of cider in my fridge, and I figured this seemed like a good time to break it out. I’m in a celebratory mood, not just because the shower felt so damn good, but because my garden is done! Well, I still need to figure out where to put those stupid tomato plants, and I have a couple more plants to put in, but most of my plants are in the ground, corn and bean seeds have been sown, and every square foot of my garden bed has been claimed. All that remains to do is to water them, and see what happens over the coming weeks and months. If all goes well, I’ll have some homegrown organic corn, zucchini, yellow squash, red bell peppers, egg plants, strawberries, tomatoes, and beans! Though, really, I’d be happy if the transplants survive the next week, and the seeds actually germinate at all. It got pretty cold last night, so I brought the yet-to-be-transplanted seedlings inside to keep them warm. But now that they’re in the ground, they’re on their own.

Planting a garden is an act of commitment, but I feel good about it. If I want to see my plants survive and grow, they’ll need to be taken care of. I won’t be able to abandon them for a long period of time, which means I’m committed to spending most of my summer up here. And I feel good about that. The last few days have been great, and I’m happy that this warm season will continue for another few months. There’s no shortage of things to do, and I doubt I’ll ever get bored of being in the woods. There’s constantly something new to see, even just outside my hut. The forest is ever changing, and always full of surprises.

Anyway, the sun’s starting to set beyond the hills, which probably means it’s about time to get ready for dinner. Once the camp fire dies down, I’ll be ready to start cooking. I’ve got some chicken marinating in lemon and thyme, and I’ll have some rice and steamed veggies to go with that. It’ll be good. It always is.