Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

A lot has happened since I last posted.  Winter has arrived, and although December has been unseasonably warm, we have had two light snows.

First, we finished trenching and installing water pipe from the creek up to the water storage tank above the house.  We now have 30 psi into the house, gravity fed from the tank.  That is the pressure at floor level in the basement, but it is too low to produce enough flow at the shower upstairs, so we will have to put in a bladder tank and booster pump.  We bought a van to replace our Honda that was lost in the flood.  Here we are camping at Edgar Evans State Park in Tennessee. 

 Our biggest project has been putting up the ceiling.  We bought 1000 board feet of poplar from a local sawmill and had it kiln dried, milled and tongue and grooved.  The ceiling is up, and now we need to put on two coats of polyurethane and install the top trim piece and the trim around the edges.

Here, Randy is on the scaffolding we put up to install the ceiling boards.

In the kitchen, the back splash tile is installed, the window molding is on and the electrical outlets are wired up.  Also, the lights and fans are installed throughout the house.  The big project now is the deep trench and conduit that will bring our underground electric service to the house.  It runs 100 ft from a pole down by the grape vines to the house.  We are hoping to have that done next week before the ground freezes and becomes too hard to dig.

About a month ago, we bought a pallet (28) of 200W solar PV modules at a very good price from SunElectronics in Miami.  They had won an auction of over 5 MW of modules from Evergreen Solar, which went bankrupt this year, and were selling the modules for 78 cents a watt.  We should receive them early in January.  We are in the process of applying to intertie to the utility grid.  In addition to the 30% federal tax credit for all of the solar components, the local electric utility pays us $1000 for installing the system, and TVA buys all of the power we produce for 12 cents/kWh over what they charge to retail customers.  In other words, they charge us 9 cents/kWh we use and pay us 21 cents/kWh we produce.  Pretty good deal, and they guarantee to pay that rate for 10 years!

Friday, September 30, 2011

September Flew By

September has been beautiful.  Plenty of rain with crisp nights and warm days.  We have been working on our water supply.  We bought a Solar Slowpump by Dankoff, which can pump to a maximum of 240 feet straight up with a speed of a little over 2 gallons per minute.  The 550 gallon storage tank above our house is about 120 ft vertical from the creek (60 ft vertical above the house), and with a 175 watt (24 Volt) solar module, we should be able to fill the tank in about 4 hours of sunshine.  Below is a picture of the pump (black round thing) in its housing.  To the left are a sediment filter (the pump is very sensitive to debris - fortunately the creek is very clean) and a priming port, then in the water is a foot valve (check valve) and a screen.  To the right are a check valve, a faucet and a pressure gauge.  The pressure should read about 60 PSIG when the water reaches the storage tank.  The house pressure is 30 PSIG when gravity fed from the storage tank.

 This is the solar panel that runs the pump.  Today we tested the system and found 2 leaks.  One was a joint I forgot to glue (old age sucks).  We have cleared out the path for the water pipe and laid out the pipe.  Next we will rent a trencher and a couple of the neighborhood high school boys to run it!!

On the home front, we cleaned out the screened porch and set up a new chop saw in preparation for installing the ceiling (tongue and groove poplar) and the window and door trim.

Also, the kitchen sink has been refinished and looks beautiful.  This was the sink in the old church that we were working on before the flood.  It is enamel over steel.  I love the two drainboards.  It is sitting on cardboard and is not installed yet.

The bathroom cabinets have been installed.  They are black walnut.  On the right is the cabinet for the composting toilet. All of the kinds of wood we have used in building the house (poplar, hickory, walnut, pine, red cedar) grow in abundance on our property.  We are preserving the forest to replenish what we use and much more.  


Finally, Randy painted the basement walls.  He put on two coats of Drylok (white), then one coat of green that matches the rest of the house exterior.

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of our buying the property and the first anniversary since moving into the basement.  We were hoping to be moving "upstairs" by now, but it still will be a few months at least.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Update August 2011

The weather has still been very hot and dry.  We are spending a lot of our time watering our new trees.  It is hard to get used to dry summers and wet winters after the opposite pattern in Florida.  We have had no rain for 3 weeks straight this month.  Our spring quit running about a month ago, so we are getting water from the creek head.  We have ordered a rotary vane pump (24 Volt) and solar panel to pump water from the creek to our holding tank up behind the house.  The nights are getting a bit cooler though.  Looking forward to Fall!!

Progress has been a bit slower with the hot weather, but Randy has finished painting the outside of the house.  The outside of the house is officially done!  The tile floor is finished in the bathroom and looks nice.  Randy has been painting the inside walls of the house and is about 1/3 done.  We have almost finished the siding on the shed and still have to install one door.  The reclaimed wood on the shed give it a nice rustic look!  Below are some pictures of our progress this month.

The wall color in the bathroom has a hint of pink.  Most of the walls will be bone white.  There will be some large areas of a sage green like in the kitchen and a few walls will be red.  Actually, the paint below turned out too orange, so we are changing the color to more of a pure red.  Randy is a terrific painter!

Also, the walnut butcher-block counter top was installed in the kitchen and the sink is out for re-finishing.  The first picture below shows the sink in place before we sent it out.  The counter-top has not been oiled yet in this picture and the walls have not been painted.

This shows the oiled counter-top and the painted wall behind.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Update July 2011

Its the dog days of summer in Tennessee.  We take a dip in the creek 2 or 3 times a day to cool off.  Randy has finished the drywall and put the primer paint on.  We have bought the tile for the bathroom and have put down the cement board.  These pictures show our progress.

Looking into the bathroom from the livingroom.

The livingroom.  The entry to the kitchen at left is blocked off with plastic to keep dust out of the kitchen.

Below is a shot from the garden showing an asparagus spear behind a marigold plant.  The spear is about the size of my little finger.  We will be feasting on asparagus next spring!

We are also building a 10 ft x 20 ft workshop behind the house using mostly materials salvaged from the shed we were living in at the time of the flood, plus some materials from the old church.  This picture shows the workshop now.  It will eventually have wooden siding and a lean-to in the back and on the east side for storage of firewood and other materials.  There are two large clerestory windows on the upper back wall for light, as shown in the second picture. 

This is a view through the west door.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


During the past few months we have purchased (from Fungi Perfecti) 200 inoculated dowels for each of three different kinds of mushrooms.  We have Shiitaki, Lion's Mane and Pearl Oyster.  The birch dowels, also called plug spawn,  have mycelium growing in them.  You drill holes in logs and insert the dowels, then keep the logs moist for about a year while mycelium eventually grow throughout the logs.  At some point, usually after a rainy spell, the mushrooms sprout on the logs and you can pick them.  The logs are supposed to provide mushrooms for several years.

We have 18 logs in all and they are stored in the woods behind our house.  The black tub is for soaking the logs if we have a dry spell.  The red dots are where the dowels were inserted into the logs, then covered with red cheese wax.  The wax keeps foreign fungi out and keeps the dowels moist.

The next picture shows the red wax melting in our solar oven.  If the oven looks a little beat up it is because it floated about 1/2 mile down the creek during the flood last year and was recovered from our neighbor's property.  We straightened out the reflectors and bought a new glass top.  It works fine now.  We had this solar oven on the deck of our sailboat!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Drywall is up

Randy has started to paint the exterior of the house and all of the upper parts requiring scaffolding are now finished.  Our friends, Tim and Darrell, have also finished insulating the walls and hanging the drywall.  It is beginning to look like a house inside and out.


The next picture is a view from the upstairs balcony (off the bedroom) looking across the driveway down to the creek.  The little white spots between the driveway and the creek are where we have planted seedling trees.  They include white pine, willow oak, pawpaw, tulip poplar, winged elm, heartnut and many others.

The next picture shows the hardy kiwis.  There are four females and one male.  Eventually we will build a sturdy arbor for them to climb on, as they can be very vigorous and heavy vines.  Surrounding the kiwis are sorrel and chicory.  They are both dynamic accumulators and tasty greens for the salad.

This is a closeup of the east porch with our new deck furniture.  We enjoy spending evenings on the deck with our two cats, Roscoe (age 19) and Tigerboy (age 15).

Below is the blueberry patch.  On the right side I have planted five beds of flowers, including blue wild indigo (a nitrogen fixer), red bergamot (also called bee balm), which is a great hummingbird nectar flower and a tea plant, boneset, which has daisy-like white flowers and is a medicinal plant, wormwood, which repels certain pests, and more sorrel and chicory.   

These are the grape vines.  They are growing well and two have almost reached the top wire (at 6 feet).  When they reach a few inches above the top wire, I will snip off the top and train four lateral branches along the two wires.  

Monday, June 20, 2011

The annual garden

We didn't have much time this year to build up our annual garden area, but we did manage to put in a few crops and we worked on improving the soil.  Last year we prepared three beds by covering the grass with cardboard and adding soil and lots of horse manure in a frame of logs.  Those beds are very rich with loose soil now and were planted in garlic (softneck and elephant) last fall, then potatoes and lettuce this spring.  Here is a picture of half of our garlic crop that I am setting out to dry.

Last fall we had Ernest Connor, who did some of the excavation for our house, use his back hoe to loosen the soil in another area for additional garden space.  Our soil is very compacted and we thought this procedure might break up the hardpan about two feet down.  After Ernest loosened it up, we formed 7 more garden beds with paths in between, and added manure and organic nutrients.  These beds sat over winter and we planted them earlier this spring.  The organic nutrients consisted of 4 parts soy meal (for nitrogen), 1 part rock phosphate, 1/4 part each of agricultural lime and gypsum and 1/2 part dolomitic lime.  This is a formula I read about in Steve Solomon's book "Gardening When it Counts".

I got really excited about asparagus and ordered 100 crowns (50 Purple Passion, which is an all male variety, and 50 Jersey Giants).  The asparagus took up 4 of the 7 new beds!  It is doing really well, putting up lots of shoots, with some almost large enough to harvest.  However, I am not harvesting any until next year, to let strong roots develop.  In the other beds, we planted sugar snap peas, Swiss chard, rattlesnake beans, scarlet runners, and lots of peppers.  Here are some pictures.  Note the bluebird box with Dad on top with nesting material in his mouth.  They already have two kids this year and seem to be going for another round.  The bluebird family keeps watch over the garden.

The blue barrel collects overflow water from our spring and we use it to irrigate the garden.  In the middle picture you can see the compost piles in the background (framed by pallets).  After harvesting the garlic, dill, basil and cucumbers were planted in its place.

Friday, May 6, 2011

First anniversary of the big flood

On May 2 one year ago our plans were changed dramatically by a 500 year flood that washed across our property.  By early June we were planning our new house and beginning excavation work.  Now, on this first anniversary, this is where we are.

The outside of the house is finished except for painting.  The trim is local red cedar and the paint will be a steel blue and a sage green, to blend in with the forest.  Inside, we focused on the kitchen first as we had already hired a neighbor, Don Wagner, to build the cabinets.  We put in the insulation and Randy hung and finished the drywall and put on the primer.

Next, we tiled and grouted the kitchen floor and Don installed the cabinets.  They are hickory with a slightly darker than natural stain.  The two cabinets by the oven are a sage green wash.  Everything came out really nice.

Above, the sink will be centered below the large window and below, the fridge goes in the open spot.

Now, we start insulating and putting up drywall in the rest of the house and Don will start building the bathroom cabinets!

Outside, our forest garden plants are thriving.  Here are pictures of one of the hardy kiwi vines and one of the bush cherries.  Everything looks beautiful in the spring!