The Future of Fruit is Now

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Karen and Jen and the blue lovelies

 

It’ll be a berry yummy place in a few years.

 

In the aftermath of ‘The Big Mess’ late-winter-hugelkultur project, great strides have been made in our quest for a fruitful future.

 

Over the past month we’ve planted our first three apple trees of what will probably be many dozens. We picked up some one year olds on M7 rootstock at the Nanaimo Seedy Sunday from Denman Island Heritage Apples.

 

A Vander Pol Red cultivar that originated in Oregon in 1903. A Spigold cultivar developed in New York State in 1962 and said to produce a ‘large golden fruit flushed pink-red. Firm, crisp and juicy.’ But most intriguing, a Lady. Good for cider or eating and while first described in France in 1628, is believed by some apple anoraks to be one in a handful of apples favoured by the Romans.

 

Karen also completed the two blueberry hugel beds. Our friend Jen, another veteran of the London teaching trenches over on a visit from Vancouver, helped Karen tuck the Duke and Elliot blueberries under a blanket of high-acid Douglas fir saw dust mulch from our wood milling last year. Here they can grow and do their lush blueberry business until they start producing in another year or two.

 

The final perennial project of the early spring was a raspberry bed that Karen dug in with canes from our neighbour John’s prolific and delicious patch.

 

A house update is coming soon, but in the meantime check out the fruit of Karen’s labours.

 

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Happy to be shovelling

Happy to be shovelling

Blueberries done and dusted [with Doug fir]

Blueberries done and dusted [with Doug fir]

Mia adds top soild to the Vander Pol Red

Mia adds bone and blood meal to the Vander Pol Red hole prior to planting

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The raspberries

 

Hugelkultur – or how to bury a big mess the permaculture way

Karen buries the evidence...err builds a hugel bed

Karen buries the evidence…err builds a hugel bed

Moat-like and bramble-choked, a drainage ditch dug long ago surrounds our garden, the most valuable asset in our quest for food self-sufficiency. Who dug the ditch and when is unknown, but over the past few decades parts of it have succumbed to the relentless creep of the surrounding red alder.

A pioneer species that colonizes open ground, alder has many benefits. There’s no finer wood for smoking wild West Coast salmon, alder roots host nitrogen fixing bacteria that improve the soil productivity and it breaks down quickly in the earth feeding mycelium and the soil ecosystem.

In the northwest corner of our garden the alder roots clogged the drainage ditch leaving that part of the garden flooded and soggy into the spring, delaying planting and potentially competing with food crops for nutrients.

The solution?

Our neighbour John, his excavator and my chainsaw.

Two blokes and a machine can make one hell of a muddy mess in the middle of winter, and we did. A shocking mess.

So what to do with a two dozen alder trees, branches and root balls? Bury it of course.

John excavated two long trenches in the garden to Karen’s specification. I bucked up the trees into three foot lengths and Karen buried the evidence. A layer cake of red alder, top soil and in a few weeks a thick dusting of acid-rich Douglas fir sawdust from last year’s sawmill work. It’s the future home of our blueberry patch.

Known as Hugelkultur in permaculture circles, this sort of large scale raised bed provides innumerable benefits. Rich moisture retaining substructure to hold water during the dry summer months while keeping plant roots out of the wettest levels when the water table is up during the winter rains. Over time the alder will break down and feed a complex soil ecosystem, which will massively benefit the blueberries.

So out of destruction erupt nutrients and the sweet promise of luscious anti-oxidant rich food.

It’s still a mess though. We couldn’t bury that.

 

The not so drainy ditch

The not so drainy ditch

The Mess

The Mess

More mess

More mess

Karen's beloved wild, native elderberry that escaped a falling alder by 6 inches.

Karen’s beloved wild, native elderberry that escaped a falling tree by 6 inches.

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Building the hugelkultur

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Bed number two

Karen stacked some alder for future salmon smoking. Yum!

Karen stacked some alder for future salmon smoking. Yum!

Our hippy garden shed

Our hippy garden shed made from scrap materials

Karen also prepared Mia's personal garden!

Karen also prepared Mia’s personal garden bed!

 

Beaming Part II

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There she be!

Earlier this week, my neighbour John worked his excavator magic and we slotted the last interior beam into the NW corner of the house.

One end is bolted to a 3/8” thick flitch plate, cut on a water jet table in Nanaimo by Unlimited Fabrication. The other end rests on a ladder until this coming weekend when I’ll add a built-up post of four 2X6s that will ultimately be housed inside an 18-inch thick wall.

Over the past few weeks I’ve also had great success with the giant Ikea connector for the posts and beams. I’ve avoided being flung from a great height or having my wrist snapped by my massive drill and there’ve been only a few minor alignment issues with my drilling jig that were resolvable. I’m delighted given the tight tolerances of 0.05” and challenging materials and circumstances.

External east and west posts and long beams to support the upstairs overhangs will be added after I shape and install the 15 epic 6 X 12” joists I had milled last spring.

I also built a work bench for shaping and sanding the joists. The base is 2 X 4” cribbing with a beastly bench top of two spare joists. When the joist work is done I’ll pop my compound mitre saw on the bench for chopping framing sticks.

Last Saturday I moved three of these 120 kg / 270 lb joists with my mate Archimedes and a few pieces of log as rollers. Nearly 10 months of air drying and the moisture level is at 21% near the surface and they look stunning.

Next job is to set-up string lines for levelling the joists where they meet the beams and to start notching and sculpting them to fit.

 

The last internal beam

The last internal beams

 

Post-beam flat connection layout

Post-beam flat connection layout

Paring

Paring

South beams going up

South beams going up

The Helper

The Helper

 

Completed south beams

Completed south beams

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South beam flitch plate connection

South beam flitch plate connection

Nice beam connections!

Nice beam connections!

Rob monkeying around with a post-beam connection as dusk falls

Rob monkeying around with a post-beam connection as dusk falls

The drilling jig in action

The drilling jig in action

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It looks so wee from down here

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Our house in the winter sun

Our house in the winter sun

The joist work bench

The joist work bench

6X12s awaiting their destiny

6 X 12s awaiting their destiny

Brewing up summer

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Whoosh!

An epic flame and the Tall Boy kettle rattled towards a boil, 28 litres of Pilsner in the making.

The graduation of my all-grain brewing from the kindergarten of an 18 litre pot and homemade double bucket lauter tun to a post-secondary 60 litre kettle and 40 litre converted Igloo cooler mash tun complete with false floor and ball valve for easy sparging.

Let’s not forget the Barley Crusher roller mill for crushing the malt now arriving on my doorstep in 25 kg bags. All part of the Mother of All Brewing Equipment Orders I placed in November from Ontario Beer Kegs and Hop Dawgs that included 60 kg of malt, a dozen different hop varieties and two dozen yeast strains.

Lest all of this sound like the hopped-up pub banter of beer-anoraks [which it is], simply know this: when it rains on Gabriola and the house building stalls, the beer [wine or cider] making commences.

I see it as time well spent on the house build.

Instead of chiselling or hoisting beams I’m laying down hectolitres of crisp Czech Pilsners, malty Munich-style lagers, heady porters, enduring session ales and fresh milds to bend the rubber arms of volunteers who will be press-ganged into cob floor building and light clay straw mixing this coming summer.

Absolutely nothing says natural building like free beer.

Bring on the rain or the sun. We are happy either way.

Beer anoraks read on, everyone else skip to the photos

 

Pilsner recipe (28 litres)

Adapted and modified RU Kidding Me? Pils from Papazian, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, pp. 301-303

5.75 Pilsner malt, crushed
332 g aromatic malt
62 g Saaz hops (60 min boil)
31 g Hersbrucker-Hallertauer hops (30 min boil)
6 g Saaz and 16 g Hersbrucker-Hallertauer (1 minute boil)
Whirlfloc (Irish moss) 10 min boil
21g Saaz hops for dry hopping while lagering for 4 weeks
White Labs Pilsner lager yeast WLP800 (two vials)
OG 1.046-50
FG 1.010-12
35 IBU

Mash all grains in 12.5 litres of 68C water for 45 minutes at 68C, raise to 70C for 15 minutes, heat to 75C, drain and sparge with 11 litres of 76C water.

60 minute boil with hops and Whirlfloc added as above. Cool wort to 23C, sieve and sparge into fermenter. Aerate well and cast two vials of yeast. Ferment at 13C until fermentation visibly stops, rack and add dry hops and lager for 3-4 weeks at 2-13C. Clarify with gelatin if necessary a week before bottling. Prime bottles with 175 ml of brewer’s sugar dissolved in 300 ml of boiling water.

Drink immediately or age for up to 6 months.

 

It's all about scale

It’s all about scale

Little arms, big grinding energy

Little arms, big grinding energy

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Pilsner malt enroute to a higher purpose

Pilsner malt enroute to a higher purpose

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Aromatic malt ready for the mash tun

Aromatic malt ready for the mash tun

The orange beast of a mash tun. Nice ball valve.

The orange beast of a mash tun. Nice ball valve.

The clever false floor of the mash tun for straining out the spent malt

The clever false floor of the mash tun for straining out the spent malt

Like a Renaissance fountain of wort

Like a Renaissance fountain of wort

The false floor in action

The false floor in action

The brewer's secret weapon: detailed notes

The brewer’s secret weapon: detailed notes

Czech Saaz pellets

Czech Saaz pellets

Out of the kettle and into the fermenter. 40 days from Pilsner.

Out of the kettle and into the fermenter. 40 days from Pilsner

Beam me up

Drilling the first beam

Drilling the first beam

 

The moment of truth.

 

Standing on a plywood platform held up by an excavator drilling a hole through our first Douglas fir beam. The high-torque drill precariously balanced between sucking the auger into the timber, snapping the shaft and jamming it forever or breaking my wrist and flinging me onto the rocks below.

 

A month of planning, selecting and preparing epic foot thick beams from our finest timbers, fabricating 15 kg flitch plates of 3/8” plate steel to join beams over posts, sculpting post tops, laying-out and chiselling beam-post contact points, levelling, plumbing, bracing and double and triple checking.

 

And it all came down to this moment.

 

Executing a perfect intersection of a 3/4” hole bored 24 inches down though the beam and into the post to take a 5/8” threaded rod and a huge 1-1/2” hole bored horizontally to take a machined steel backer.

 

Tolerances of millimetres, potential hang-ups legion, vessels bulging in my head innumerable.

 

The whole house build hinging on a jig I banged together out of scrap lumber with bushings fabricated by a retired Gabriolan machinist down the road. If it works we are on, if it’s buggered, there’s no Plan B except to live in a tent.

 

Smooth as silk the threaded rod sank into the hole and spiralled downward into the backer deep within the wood. The largest DIY Ikea connector on Gabriola in action.

 

We have achieved beamdon!

 

Bracing the posts

Bracing the posts

 

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I chiselled a chamfer on the post tops to create a 7″ dia contact surface

 

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My clever Japanese plumb-bob device

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Looking good

 

Levelling the first beam to layout the contact points

Levelling the first beam to layout the contact points

 

Jacking up the beam to level it on the saw bucks

Jacking up the beam to level it on the saw bucks

 

Nice toque, eh

Nice toque, eh

 

The Beam Machine for holding my chainsaw as a chop saw

The Beam Machine for holding my chainsaw as a chop saw

 

Chiselling a post contact surface

Chiselling a post contact surface

 

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The power of a sharp chisel

The power of a sharp chisel

 

John in action

John in action

 

Beam  connection and 3/8" steel flitch plate

Beam connection and 3/8″ steel flitch plate

 

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Oh baby

Rob's DIY excavator scaffold. Don't tell WCB.

Rob’s DIY excavator scaffold. Don’t tell WCB.

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Drilling 2 feet down using my drilling jig

The1-1/2 inch horizontal auger and my drilling jig

The1-1/2 inch horizontal auger and my drilling jig

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Threading the rod into the backer

Threading the rod into the backer

Victory! We have beamage!

Victory! We have beamage!

 

Nice Wood

John and The First Post

John and The First Post

Six months ago, the Douglas fir came crashing down. Today we started putting it back up again. The cultural historian in me reflecting on the unfolding story of the fall and redemption. The builder in me sharpening my chisels and wondering how to move a 120 kg post.

 

After the epic January tree felling, Karen put in a few hundred hours getting ripped by hand peeling the logs with a heavy bladed ‘spud’.

 

Then last week we surveyed the elevations of the tops of all our foundation piers and I calculated the required post heights for the round wood beams and 6×12 joists to be as level as possible at the necessary final elevation. There’s only a variation of 12mm across the entire foundation system, which I’m pretty happy about considering it was all laid out on a jumbled mass of broken rock with a builder’s level, string lines put up with the help of a sick Kiwi, and a plumb bob.

 

Resting regally on saw bucks I built last autumn, we deployed an arsenal of scrub pads, air tools and elbow grease to clean up the first post. Sporting a fresh chain on the venerable West German-made Stihl chainsaw, I cut the first post to length and then with a decided lack of grace, sliced a slot in the bottom end to slide over the 3/8 inch steel blade embedded in one of the concrete piers.

 

Oh it looked good, and it looked bleeding heavy.

 

As well as teaching Karen how to grow organic food at scale, producing probably the best tomatoes on Gabriola and being one of the most generous people imaginable, our radical farmer neighbour John also happens to have a small excavator. When he offered to lend it to us – a giddy man driving an excavator onto your land should never be refused – I released the slaves from my Iron Age building project and violà, the first post was erected.

 

Once in situ I plumbed it and bored two holes through the post and blade to take hefty ¾ inch bolts that arrive next week.

 

And there it was in all its golden glory, The First Post. One up and 21 to go.

 

To say we are chuffed is an understatement. This is it!

 

All scrubbed up

All scrubbed up

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Destined for pier 7 in the future kitchen

Destined for pier 7 in the future kitchen

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We haven't seen that in a while

We haven’t seen that in a while

The blade slot

The blade slot

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Easing it over the blade with the chain block

Easing it over the blade with the chain block

Drilling the pilot holes for the beastly bolt holes

Drilling the pilot holes for the beastly bolt holes

Pilot holes through the blade seconds before I snapped the bit.

Pilot holes through the blade seconds before I snapped the bit

The Business of the Subterranean

They've built a swimming pool!

They’ve built a swimming pool!

In all the glory and grunt work that is DIY house building, nothing reigns supreme on the level of the mundane as what you bury in the ground.

I’ve gone on at length about rebar and hammer drilling and foundations. Sure it all holds the house up, which is kind of important, and it amplifies the magnitude of even the most minute error. But in the end all that work, money and resources get buried, hopefully never to be seen again.

Even more devoid of rapt attention is the other stuff you shovel dirt over like something you pulled out of your car in the dark. By this I mean waterproofing and drain pipe and pulse raisers like water lines, power cables and telecom conduit.

So here it is in glorious colour moments before burial, my obsession with dryness in a damp climate. Three coats of liquid rubber and a peel and stick membrane to seal the joint between the form bag and the concrete stem wall. All encased in plastic dimple board screwed to the concrete to protect against backfill and eliminate hydrostatic pressure exerted by water in the soil on the foundation wall. Then ringed by a sloped 100mm perforated drain pipe buried in a filter cloth burrito of drain rock around the outside of the foundation. The inside filled with compacted fractured rock as a capillary break on compacted pit run and sand. A multi-tiered defence against water, dampness and all things mouldy.

Running through it all in a trench from our light clay straw power and pump shed, 45 metres of massive armoured power line, twin 25mm waterlines and a telecom conduit so we can get internet access in the future and post scintillating blog posts on standing seam roof cladding and the relative merits of fibreglass versus PVC window frames.

So there we have it. Three months’ work buried under 100 tonnes of backfill and compacted drain rock only to be appreciated in its full glory by the coveted few invited to future family slide shows where I go through the finer details of foundation waterproofing, waterline installation, filling utility access holes in concrete foundations and the ongoing debate over 3 inch minus fracture versus round drain rock.

Heady stuff indeed.

I promise cool timber post and beam framing soon. Really. Really. I’m working on it tomorrow.

 

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The drain pipe burrito

The drain pipe burrito

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Trenching from the utility building

Trenching from the utility building

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Mia wonders where it all went

Mia wonders where it all went