Wooden sled

wooden sled

the wooden sled

Today I spent some time doing one of my favorite chores — splitting wood. I am still enjoying the whole process of heating with wood. I feel like I am continually getting better at regulating the temperature, which I also like. Unfortunately we haven’t had the time to get really nicely seasoned wood. Some of the wood we have seems to be pretty dry and solid. We also have a fair amount on both sides on ideal though — some is a bit punky, while some is still a bit green. As you can see in the house picture below, the smoke is a bit on the thick side, indicating that the wood is a bit green (which means more creosote build-up, and me having to clean the chimney (I haven’t done that one yet)). Of course, like anyone else who has ever heated with wood, I worry whether I have cut enough to last the winter. Or rather, whether I have enough wood in the wood rack. I have actually cut a bunch of wood up by the pond which I have yet to haul down. The hauling is certainly the worst part in my opinion. Cutting, splitting, stacking, and burning is fun, but I do not enjoy the hauling part. This is probably because there is a pretty big hill to get up to the area where I have cut the wood. Fortunately the way there is uphill, meaning that the way back (with a wheelbarrow full of wood) is downhill. Going downhill with a full wheelbarrow is certainly better than going uphill, but it still takes quite a bit of effort to keep the wheelbarrow from going out of control.

winter house with smoke

Backside of the snowy house, with some smoke coming out of the chimney

A couple weeks ago, I bought a new fuel cap for the chainsaw, because the old one was getting pretty stripped (there is a notch in the middle of the cap for you to tighten it with a screwdriver). While I was at the tractor store, I decided to buy a spare chain as well, since we only had one. So, I was eager to try out the new chain, and cut up some more fallen trees. But of course, I did not manage to haul down all the wood I had cut. Today I woke up to a good 2-3 inches of snow on the ground. I contemplated taking the wheelbarrow up to get more wood, but I thought it would be too slippery. Instead I decided to try hauling some down on a sled. This ended up working out pretty well. I tried letting the sled go down by itself, which worked well until it got to the part where it needed to make a turn, and it crashed into some brush, and all the wood fell out. But the sled didn’t break! So I loaded it back up, pulled it to the next hill (right by the pond), and this time decided to sit on top of the wood. This worked out even better, as I could use my boots to steer and brake pretty well. I did get quite a bit of snow up my pants from the braking and steering though, so I decided that I had had my fun for the day, and that I should go back inside to enjoy the warmth that the fire was providing. I also took a few more pictures while I was outside. It was a really beautiful day.

snowy creek

The creek is still flowing well
wintery waterfall

A small waterfall near the bridge over the creek

First snowfall of the winter

snowy backyard

The backyard

Friday we woke up to a think blanket of snow. Just thought we would like to share some photos of our first snowy scene here together. Hopefully we will get some more snow soon, so we can try out our sleds down the hill by the pond.

snowy brick patio

Brick Patio in front
snowy cabin

The cabin
snowy woodrack

The front yard

Let there be light
OR
Baby it’s cold outside

I just fixed the lamp in the kitchen. When I say fixed, I mean that a month ago, changing the bulb didn’t work to restore the light that should come on when a switch is flipped. This was not surprising because the fixture had a long, slow death, taking tens of minutes to come on in the morning at the end. We had an electrician out to fix the wire that I ran over with a lawn mower this summer (oops). He also looked at the light and said the ballast was probably dead. I got a new fixture last week and tonight I wired it up. The kitchen is much brighter now. And Rob seems impressed that light comes immediately on when he flips the switch.

Rob has been enjoying heating with wood. Unlike when I was growing up, the house now has an HVAC system, so if he decided it wasn’t so fun, we could flip a switch and be warm. But the heat from the furnace isn’t as good as wood heat somehow. It’s too dry and doesn’t smell as good and makes weird noises in the middle of the night. Rob gets up early Saturday morning to go collect and chop wood. He sometimes literally can’t wait to get out of the house. He claims it is in the name of exercise, but I’m pretty sure he enjoys it.

According to him, we keep the house in the mid-60’s. He monitors the temperature in each room several times a day. I seem to like it slightly colder than he does. The upstairs is warmer than the downstairs. The living room heats up quite a bit on sunny days (due to the parents eco-friendly design), but Indiana has plenty of cloudy days as well. That’s when it helps to have wood heat.

The grass is always greener
OR
Just drop a seed

new grass

new grass where we had thought we would put an herb garden

A couple months ago I decided to plant some new grass in a couple areas around the house. I was considering buying some ecolawn, which I read about on the internet. It claimed to be a really environmentally friendly grass, in that it required very little mowing and watering. This sounded ideal to me. I ordered a 5 lb. bag for $30 (+ $15 for shipping & handling), then waited. And waited. After 12 days, I decided to contact them. I e-mailed them, and they replied promptly saying, “the credit card information you gave was not valid.” I was underwhelmed by their customer service to say the least. I gave up on them and decided to simply buy some grass seed at Pell’s, one of the local hardware stores in town. They offer a variety of different seeds in bulk, including grass seed. I got 2 pounds of “shady turf”, which was a blend with primarily fescue, which is what the ecolawn claimed to be. I also got 5 lbs of their general mixture. The shady turf was about $3 pound, and the normal blend was about $2 per pound, for a total of about $16, much less than what I would have paid for the ecolawn. I put the shady turf around the deck, where I had cleared out a bunch of brush. I ended up running out of it and switched to the general mix. I also planted some in some bare spots elsewhere in the yard, and ended up buying more seed a couple times before the end of the season.

new grass 2

close-up of new grass about one week after planting

I have planted grass elsewhere, and it seems that anywhere from 25%-50% success rate per seed is not bad, but I would have to say that I got more like 75% here. This ground is really fertile! It probably isn’t that impressive in the grand scheme of things, but it makes me happy.

grass around the deck

grass around the deck
grass around the deck 2

close-up of grass around the deck about 2 weeks after planting

Getting ready for winter

woodpile in April

woodpile in April – after a bit of cleaning up

Last weekend Dave came out to visit. We made a long list of projects, and accomplished quite a few of them. The main project that I was really hoping he could work on was installing some new ducts to the wood stove. When Clare was growing up, they heated solely with wood, and had ducts from the wood stove going to most of the rooms in the house. When they decided to move and rent the house, Dave and Ellen figured that most renters would not want to heat with wood, so they hired their good friend and neighbor Louis Fender to install a furnace and air conditioner. When Louis put in the new furnace, he disconnected some of the ducts to the wood stove, since they weren’t being used. Now that Clare and I are trying our hand at homesteading, we decided that we would like to try to heat with wood as well. Thus we asked Dave to put in some new ducts.

fallen oak

partially cut down fallen oak up past the pond

Actually, Dave wanted to do this in June when we were moving in, but I told him at the time that it wasn’t a top priority, which it didn’t seem like it was in June. I also thought it would be a pretty big project, and the house was pretty crowded in June with all of us (Clare, Rob, Dave, Ellen, Harold, and Fran) working on various projects. Needless to say I was surprised when I came home from work on the Thursday of Dave’s visit to find that he had already completed the duct project, and a few other projects as well. But, it can always go the other way too. Clare and Dave spent about 6 hours on Saturday trying to install an outside light that we could switch on and off from inside, which at first seemed like it was going to be easy, but unfortunately did not get accomplished. They still haven’t figured out exactly what is going on with some of those wires. Dave was successful in installing a new motion detector light on the side of the garage which is working very nicely now, and a new light above the stove. Both are highly appreciated.

woodpile in October

woodpile in October – after much more cleaning up

While Dave and Clare were working on the outside light project, I decided to work some more on the wood pile project. I had been cutting up a fallen oak back in the woods over the summer, but I had not carried the pieces down yet. The more I thought about doing this, the harder it seemed. My original plan was to carry the wheelbarrow over the creek, carry the wood down to one side of the creek in the wheelbarrow, pile it up, then eventually carry the wood over the creek, and put it back into the wheelbarrow. As I thought about this more, I decided I should just go ahead and build a bridge, which I did awhile ago. Now that the bridge was built, getting the wood from the forest was much easier (though still quite a bit of work). Dave took down a couple loads on Friday and split some. He then suggested throwing out some of the old rotten wood, to avoid attracting termites. That project also took longer than expected. I worked on it for most of the day Saturday. Now it is looking much better. So my plan now is to continue cutting wood in the forest and bring it down to the wood rack, stacking it in the left third, then put it into the right third as I split it, which according to Dave gets easier when the temperature falls below freezing.

A bridge reborn
OR
One down, one to go

old bridge

The washed out bridge

One project that I really wanted to get done this year was to build a new bridge over the creek. When Dave and Ellen lived here they had a culvert pipe bridge near the garage. It would get filled up with debris over time, so they would usually clean it out every spring. The renters did not clean it out, so the creek ended up washing over and around the road. It has changed its course quite a bit in the last 10 years. Ultimately, I would like to put in a new culvert pipe bridge, so that we could potentially drive up to the pond area, or at least get the riding lawn mower over there. But that project will have to wait until next year.

Rob by old bridge

Rob by the washed out bridge

By far the best renter at Twin Springs was Laurie Fender, daughter of Louis and Angie Fender, who live just down Rocky Hill Road, and are good friends of Ellen and Dave. Not only did she put up really cool craft paper on the stairway wall, but she also built a wooden bridge over the creek. When Clare and I came to visit a year or two ago it was still there, but it seems to have gotten washed away at some point. This spring Dave mentioned that he had seen it, but by the time we moved in June, everything was so overgrown by the creek that we could no longer see it.

new bridge

View of the new bridge looking out onto the field and the dam

So the first step in building a new bridge was to figure out where to build it. This step involved wading through all the weeds around the creek, and clearing some of them out. It turns out quite a few of the weeds got pushed over in one section by the flood earlier this summer, so it didn’t require much clearing. I cleared this area out sometime in June or July, and found a place where I could do a hop, skip, and a jump over the creek. This provided a temporary way to get up to the pond, and to get to the spring where I dug the ditch. Originally I planned to build the bridge over this spot, but after clearing out the other side of the creek near the ditch, I decided that that would be the best place to build the bridge. It is very likely that this was the original location of the bridge anyways, seeing as how the old bridge was washed up there.

bridge low view

perspective view of the bridge

I decided to try to salvage the old bridge if possible, and after clearing out enough weeds by the creek, I was able to determine that the wood on the old bridge was not rotten. I tried to lift out together, but it was a bit too heavy, so I took it apart first. Then I started thinking about how to rebuild it. The original construction simply had two long boards on each side, hammered together to extend them, with cross pieces about 4 feet long. I recalled walking on it earlier, and thinking it was not super sturdy, so I decided to put a supporting beam in the middle as well. I found a long 2×9 (yes, it seemed to be about 9″) above the garage, which seemed like it would do the trick.

bridge close up 1

The bridge has a mixture of random boards as the floor

I noticed that a few of the cross pieces on the old bridge were attached with nails, but mostly with screws. I decided that screws would be a better choice. They hold better, and I am also not that great at hammering. Fortunately we have a really nice cordless drill that John and Jean Wolfe got us at the wedding shower they threw for us. This allowed me to construct the bridge right by the creek, instead of having to drill the holes where I had access to an electrical outlet. The drill also has a neat feature which makes it very quick and easy to switch from a drill bit to a screw bit. This way I was able to pre-drill a couple holes on one cross piece, then screw it in. I used 2 ” drywall screws that we had leftover from the drywall project by the refrigerator.

bridge with ditch

The new bridge is right next to the ditch I dug

I managed to find about half a dozen boards about the right thickness and length above the garage, which I interspersed between the old cross pieces. I started off by laying out the cross pieces on top of the long boards approximately where I wanted them. Then I attached several cross pieces on one side to the two long boards. Once I had several cross pieces attached, then I added in the middle long beam for more support. I continued adding cross pieces one at a time, occasionally checking the distance between the long boards to make sure I was making the bridge fairly straight.

bridge close up 2

I ran out of old boards, and had to buy a few new ones to finish the bridge

Once I had the bridge constructed, it was time to move it into place. For this I required some help, and Clare was more than willing to assist me. I got down in the creek and pulled on the bridge while she pushed, then we both pulled from the other side. We tried it out, and it did not fall down, though it was a bit unstable, and I had run out of cross pieces before finishing. I decided that it was enough for one day though. Last Saturday I went into town and bought some new 1″ x 6″ boards at Hanlon brothers to use as the remaining cross pieces. I was pleased to discover that I could fit them in my little Focus hatchback, by putting the seats down, and letting them stick out the passenger window a few inches.

ruts for the bridge

I dug out some ruts for the boards to sit in, which helped stabilize the bridge

After putting on the last few cross pieces, the final step was to dig some ruts for the long boards to sit in, which would help level the bridge out, and make it a bit more secure. The ruts seemed to do the job quite well.

bridge looking back towards house

View of the bridge looking back towards the house

Now when I am mowing the lawn I can see out onto the bridge and the field on the other side of the creek. The bridge will come in handy for getting the push mower and the wheel barrow over the creek. I will need the wheel barrow to help me collect the firewood I have been cutting down from the fallen oak tree in the forest. The only downside of the whole project is that it seems that Clare and I got poison ivy from putting the bridge into place. We have been taking lots of benadryl, and just suffering through it. Maybe next spring we will try making a soup of poison ivy and morels, as the doctor at the IU health center recommended.

Fighting The Land

weed growing from house

Figure 1. Clover growing from the corner of the house

I can no longer recall whether I learned this directly from Dave or through Clare, but some time ago I learned the phrase “fighting the land”, and that much time was devoted to this endeavor at the Dibble homestead. At the time, I didn’t really understand what this was all about. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it seemed wrong to me. We should love and hug trees, not fight them. But now that I have been living here for a couple months, I have a better understanding of what this means, and much of my time has been spent fighting the land. Of course I still like nature, but now that I am living much closer to it (as opposed to just visiting nature as in camping), I want to keep a little distance between nature and civilization.

deck area

Figure 2. Area around the deck after clearing some of the brush

I think that a few feet is a good minimum distance, which is not the case everywhere around the house (see Figure 1). The area around the deck was very overgrown when we got here, and that was one of my first outdoor projects here. Unfortunately I did not remember to take any before shots of that area, but an after shot is shown in Figure 2.

burn pile

Figure 3. Burn pile

It is a fairly simple process. I take out my “cuttin’ tools”, which at first consisted of a pair of hedge shears, a pair of clippers, and a hatchet, but more recent additions include an axe and a “weed cutter”, and cut stuff away. I don’t agree with our current president on many issues, but I do agree with him that clearing brush is fun and relaxing. It is fairly easy to make visible progress quite rapidly, and it is physically tiring, which is good for people like me who spend most of their workday sitting around. So the next step in the “fighting the land” procedure involves piling up what I have cut (see Figure 3), waiting a week or two until it is dry, and then burning it (Figure 4).

Clare by fire

Figure 4. Ceremonial burning

I can’t recall why Clare was looking at this, but a month or two ago she was looking up some rules and regulations on the Indiana state website, and came across rules on open burning. Open burning seems to be pretty common here, but apparently it is highly regulated. There are certain restrictions on the time of day that things can be burned, on containers for burning things, and so on. It seems that the only truly legal way for us to burn brush is for “ceremonial purposes”. So every time we need to burn something, we have a little ceremony. Frequently this simply involves a toast with some PBR, or, like last weekend, we had some friends over and had a puffed sugary gelatin roasting ceremony.

ditch

Figure 5. Spring to Creek ditch

My latest project for fighting the land has been to dig a ditch. The area on the other side of the creek, which used to be a road, but is no longer very road like, is very wet all year round, because of the spring in the hillside. The spring flows all the time, and generally fills up the road with water. Dave suggested digging a ditch from the spring down to the creek, to force the water to go where I want it to, i.e. to fight the land. This seemed like a good idea, and when I mentioned this to William Harriman, who actually drives on that road with his tractor to mow the back field, he mentioned that he already dug one, but that it had gotten messed up from driving over it with the tractor. On Monday I finally got around to digging a new ditch. I was able to find some of William’s ditch and use that, which was quite helpful. I will still probably need to dig out the ditch a bit more, but the ditch (Figure 5) seems to be functioning fairly well so far. The next step will be to rebuild a bridge (or two) over the creek.