Walden Effect

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Updated: 2 hours 31 min ago

Locating the Vehicle Identification Number on a Kubota

Sat, 01/20/2018 - 12:00

One step in selling the Kubota X900 was matching up the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to the number on the certificate of ownership.

Put the dump bed in dump position and the sticker is just above the battery compartment.

Ecuadorian seed saving

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 12:00

One of the best things about living so close to a university is the free events we can access by simply feeding a parking meter. Professor Theresa Moran expanded our horizons with the movie Bugs --- all about edible insects --- last fall. And she started 2018 off with a bang by bringing in a duo of Ecuadorian researchers to regale us with information about seed-saving in the equatorial mountains.

Rommel Montúfar and Michael Ayala created a vivid image of small to mid-sized mountain communities in which conventional crops are pushing many traditional varieties out. Farmers (most of whom were in their sixties, subsisted primarily on farming, and tended 2.5 acres of ground or less) reported that their grandparents grew, on average, 83 types of crops in their gardens. The current generation, in contrast, grows about seven.

Why the change in focus? Farmers reported that locally saved seeds produced plants that were tastier, hardier...but less pretty, less productive, and less easy to sell to a national or international market. It's hard to stick to the old ways when new ways bring in immediate cash.

Which isn't to say the outlook was all doom and gloom. There is still a strong culture of seed saving and sharing in Ecuador, the latter of which includes both swapping and simply giving seeds away. For example, an Ecuadorian farmer never goes to visit a neighbor empty-handed. Instead, she brings a basket full of the very best she has (often including seeds)...then is sent home with that same basket full of the very best her neighbors have to offer.

(I'm not using the term "she" to be politically correct here. About 60% of the farmers involved the duo's study were women.)

There are also a few traditional crops that are gaining national and international importance, thus giving farmers a reason to plant them on a larger scale. You've most likely heard of quinoa (even though this seed was nearly unknown outside its traditional stronghold a few decades ago), blue agave is gaining wide appeal when fermented into tequila, and rocoto peppers are apparently the hot (pun intended) new pepper of choice.

My favorite part of the talk, though, was none of this. Instead, I feasted my eyes on images of fruits and vegetables I've never seen before. What a treat to enjoy an Ecuadorian breeze on a frigid Ohio day!

Best tool for trimming foam?

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 12:00

After some trial and error we discovered the best way to trim the excess foam away on our trailer skirting project was a simple serrated pocket knife.

Dealing with the small foam crumbs is a problem when trying to clean up.

Snow day reading

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 12:00

When it looks like this after lunch, we sometimes decide one hour out in the cold is enough. 

If you're similarly inclined and need some winter fluff to fill your snow days, perhaps you'd enjoy snagging my novel Verdant Magic while it's on sale? This is my most homesteader-friendly work of fiction --- there are witches and dragon shifters, but also gardens and goats. Enjoy!

Malco Heavy Duty Turboshear metal cutter

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 12:00

We used the Malco Heavy Duty Turboshear to cut our metal to size.

It uses the power of any drill to cut up to 18 gauge galvanized steel.

I figured out the hard way that it does not cut when it's upside down.

Snow drift dynamics

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:00

Here's a puzzle for you --- if a snow drift builds up on the south side of the trailer when only the south and west sides are enclosed with skirting, what's the prevailing wind direction? (Guess now --- the answer is in the next paragraph!)

According to the University of Wyoming, the trailer is acting like a windbreak, allowing snow to build up on the downwind side of the barrier. So, during this storm at least, the winds came from the north. (Drat! We chose the wrong half of the trailer to enclose during our warm spell before the next storm hit.)

Is that the prevailing wind direction? I guess I'll have to pay attention to more snow drifts this winter and find out!

Sweeping snow

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 12:00

We left our snow shovel in Virginia, so Anna tackled our Level 3 Snow Emergency with a broom.

Trailer skirting ventilation

Sat, 01/13/2018 - 12:00

Mark discovered that the easiest way to get the skirting metal and insulation to come out even is to measure and cut the former on the ground then to run a knife along the upper edge of the metal to trim the styrofoam.

Next up is doors --- the spot for one of which you can see at the far left of the photo above. Rather than inserting premade vents into the metal skirting for summer ventilation, we'll be framing up wooden doors with closable vents so we can easily get into the various parts of the trailer's underbelly as well as ensuring accumulated moisture doesn't rot our subfloor.

In case you're following along at home, here are the rules of thumb for skirting ventilation:

  • Plan on one square foot of vent per 150 square feet of trailer (6.5 square feet for a 14x70 singlewide).
  • Make sure there's a vent within three feet of each corner.
  • Close vents in the winter to keep your pipes warm!

Structural connectors for vertical supports

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 13:19

We attached our under pinning vertical supports with these small triple zinc framing angle brackets I found at Lowe's for 58 cents per bracket.

Birthday skirting

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 12:00

There's nothing quite like a round of adversity to make you appreciate how good you have it. With temperatures rising above freezing for the first time in over a week, diving back into the skirting project became a breeze. Without even pushing ourselves, Mark and I managed to frame up one long side of the trailer in two afternoons.

The hardest part about the framing endeavor is the fact that the ground isn't entirely even along the trailer's length. Mostly, we dug out to make smooth transitions, but at the end Mark built up using a cinderblock instead.

We're taking a bit of time off to celebrate Mark's birthday today (happy seven squared!), but hope to put up the metal on that side by the end of the week...just in time for another cold spell to hit. Maybe blocking the wind will at least count for something as winter weather returns!

Goodbye Kubota X900

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:00

The Kubota X900 found a new home yesterday.

I was a little sad to see her go but her new owner promised to treat her good.

Getting a frozen diesel engine to start

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:00

We made a deal with someone who wants to buy our Kubota quite a while ago...then the deep freeze hit and the diesel engine refused to start. It's tough to sell a "no, really, it's running perfectly" vehicle when the engine won't turn over, so the sale was put on hold until the thaw.

Enter our neighbor, who showed up in our lives a couple of weeks ago during a snow storm. I was out walking and enjoying the scenery; he was out scraping people's driveways with the blade on the front of his ATV.

"Want me to scrape your driveway?" he asked.

"How much do you charge?" I replied.

The neighbor looked at me like I was nuts --- clearly, the joy of scraping snow was payment enough. Nonetheless, I pulled out some excess Christmas cookies I'd stashed in the freezer and paid him in sugar and chocolate.

Soon thereafter, Mark and I received an invitation to come over for a New Year's eve party. One thing led to another...and soon the guys had cooked up a scheme to drag the Kubota over to their heated garage to thaw.

Our neighbor arrived with the same snow blade on the front of his ATV. First he pulled, then he pushed, and soon the Kubota was in the heated splendor she rightfully deserved.

Impatient to get her fired up as quickly as possible so he could take a joyride, our neighbor pulled out the air filter to increase the amount of hot air flowing through the system, raised the bed for the same reason, then took a hair drier to the fuel lines. In less than an hour she roared to life.

Unfortunately, that means Mark will have to part with his baby sooner rather than later. On the plus side, we met some awesome neighbors as part of the deal. I find it hard to believe that every neighbor we've met thus far has been interesting and welcoming, but so far that has indeed been the case.

Mini greenhouse movement

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 12:00

The greenhouse needed to be moved to make room for the under pinning project.

Adding insulation to the trailer skirting

Sun, 01/07/2018 - 12:00

There's a big difference between a still, sunny 16 and a breezy, cloudy 14. Since the weather soon morphed from the former to the latter, the photo above shows the entirety of the skirting we got done this week.

In this second photo, you can see the back of the skirted side. We ended up sandwiching the foam insulation between metal and studs rather than attaching the insulation to the back of the boards (as recommended to get optimal R value).

The trouble with the second option is the complication of fully sealing in the air space given the I beams and other complications of the frame. We can always come in and add styrofoam on the backside of the boards for extra insulation at a later date if we so desire. But, for now, I figure we did pretty good given the extreme cold.

Coming up next week --- doors and vents. Stay tuned!

Foldable laptop desk stand

Sat, 01/06/2018 - 12:00

Anna asked me to set up her foldable laptop desk stand but the only set up needed is adjusting it to the desired height which is super easy by pushing on the release buttons and clicking it into whatever angle you need.

It also comes with two hefty cooling fans to help keeps things cool.

Framing trailer skirting

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 12:00

We waited until the sun was high in the sky and the maximum daily temperatures were tipping up into the mid teens before starting to work on our skirting, but Mark and I still only managed about two hours outdoors before our senses dulled.

Still, those two hours gave us time to frame up one (short) end of the trailer. We used treated 2X4s on top of the black plastic that underlays the entire trailer, then added uprights every four feet for attaching insulation and tin.

Next up --- cutting the metal to deal with the slant of the ground and figuring out attachment. Details to come in tomorrow's post!

Frozen dirt

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 12:00

Step one in our under pinning project was to chip away the frozen ground.

Winter insulation in the garden

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 12:00

In the midst of this crazy cold spell (which the locals tell me is unusual at least in its duration if not in its intensity), I'm glad I took an hour during December's pretty weather to mulch down what plants I currently have in the ground. Raking leaves out of the woods took more effort than expected since the organic matter had already started rotting down into heavy leaf mold, but that same heaviness will likely hold them in place in the windier conditions up here on the ridge.

Will snow cover plus leaf mold protect roots that only had two weeks to get established before being whacked in the face with negative 4? I won't know until spring, but I can sure hope so!

New Year's Day delivery

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 12:00

The roads were clear enough to get our New Year's Day delivery from Lowes.

Happy New Year 2018!

Mon, 01/01/2018 - 12:00

I tried to write a post containing highlights of 2017...but many events of last winter and spring are simply too raw for me to even skim past. So, instead, here are my goals for 2018 --- both simpler and more difficult than they at first appear.


First and foremost, I plan to continue bringing my life more into balance. Left to my own devices, I work until I drop. But my body isn't as young as it used to be, and both physical and mental resiliency require more work than they used to take.

The prescription? Incorporate more fun into my life! I'm carefully backing off on production goals in most most areas of my life by approximately 10%, penciling in holidays weeks and months in advance. So far, this method of making me take time off has actually worked. Next step --- continue to plan rejuvenating activities to fill in those gaps.


One of the biggest goals of our move was finding our "tribe" --- likeminded people with whom we have lots in common. To that end, we're working as quickly as my introversion allows to meet our neighbors, attend interesting events in town, and insinuate ourselves into organizations that will help us build a more resilient community.

As is usual for me, doing something hard becomes more realistic when I set a quota --- two socializing events per week. Three months in, I already know more people in the community than I did after ten years in Virginia without this goal (although the in-depth relationships will take quite a bit more time to build).

Zones 0 and 1

In terms of our homestead (the point of this blog --- I know!), my goal is to get zones 0 and 1 in order in 2018. That will likely include skirting, installing our wood stove, replacing windows, installing rainwater catchment, and building garden beds along our most frequently used paths.

Since one of our favorite neighbors decided not to move away after all (yay!) we might put our own chicken acquisition on hold. But I can't live without a garden, so we'll prioritize getting that up and running ASAP. The trick will be making sure its size stays in line with resolution number one....

Happy New Year! I hope your dreams are both realistic and bright! May your skills grow with the enroaching darkness and may the most important elements of your life fill you with joy.