Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hunnerd bucks!

Whoa... I had to go around the block and come back for a picture of this masterpiece. A riding mower with a wheelbarrow mounted on the hood!

Heh... Want! That!

Friday, January 27, 2012


There he is...

For those of you who don't know, we lost our sweet old boy Doogan about three weeks ago. I'm still barely able to think about it. He had been slowly going down hill for a while and we were getting very close to the point of having to make a really hard decision. Before we did, he made it for us. He died one morning and I found him in his bed, and hope beyond hope that he went peacefully. We should all be so lucky.

Before Christmas, Greg and I had been discussing the possibility of adopting another livestock guardian dog as a companion for Sophie, and to help with Coyote Patrol once we move the sheep back out to the vineyard, but it just didn't seem right to bring another dog into the mix with Doogan having such a hard time. In December, I had emailed Diane, the lady who runs the Great Pyrenees Rescue of Iowa. She had found Sophie for us. I wanted to give her the heads-up that we would be looking for another guardian dog, maybe in the early spring, and she said she'd get back to me. I didn't hear from her for a couple of weeks and then we lost Doogan. About a week later, she called and had a couple of dogs we might be interested in. I had very mixed feelings about making this change so soon but she sent pictures and I decided to go up and visit her farm and meet them. One of the dogs, "Junior" was available and sounded like he might fit in well with Sophie and our farm. I went up there with the intention of bringing him home if we hit it off, and we did. He's very, very funny and friendly, and still very much a puppy, in spite of his size. He's only about a year old and very playful. I felt like he'd be a great buddy for Sophie. She loves her sheep but boy are they boring...

Anyway, I signed all of the paperwork for the adoption, and loaded him up in the Jeep, and off we went. The Rescue is near Cedar Rapids, about two hours from my place, and he fell asleep about five minutes into the trip, and never made a peep. I had brought a crate for him to ride in, not knowing what to expect, and he just curled up in there and did great. We got home just after Greg got home from work so he met us on the driveway.

I went out to the barn and got Sophie on a leash and brought her out to the driveway. We introduced her to him, and it was a little sketchy at first because guardian dogs are hardwired not to trust strange dogs around their flock (which is why we took her out of the barn so they could meet in sort of a neutral place. We gave them lots of treats and let them do a lot of sniffing and growling and finally they worked it out. We then took both of them back out to the barn and put Sophie in with the sheep and kept Gibbs outside of the pen for a little bit, while he explored the barn and got used to things. Then, I took him inside the sheep pen and although Sophie was nervous, she let him investigate the sheep and sniff around the pen. He was curious about the sheep but didn't act up at all. He'd been living with a flock of goats at the Rescue, (BIG GOATS!!!) so we knew he was "livestock safe" but you never know what can happen in a high-stress situation, and I was more worried about Sophie being defensive than "Gibbs" eating a sheep.

Anyway, it all went fine, and he's part of the pack now. If he crowds her, or tries to keep her from getting close to me, she lets him have it but he's learning that for now she's the boss of the barn and he seems to be okay with that. Sophie has laid the smack-down on him maybe twice and he seemed perfectly okay with doing things her way. We'll see how long that lasts as he's going to be much bigger than her. He is a true sweet heart and extremely affectionate.

I kind of felt like it would be a good idea for Greg to give him his new name so that he "belongs" to Greg the way Doogan did and the way Sophie belongs to me, so that is how he came to be named Jethro Gibbs...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Okay, but what are you going to do with it?

Sooo. In my initial plan for the studio we are building, I had planned to use a small wood-burning stove that I picked up on Craigslist about two years ago for a hundred bucks. The title of this post is the question Greg asked me when I arrived home with it in the back of the truck.

Unfortunately, once I had laid everything out on paper when we were contemplating the studio, and I took into consideration the very large clearance from combustible materials that is required for a cast iron wood stove, I realized it was going to eat up a whole lot more floor space than I thought. I haven't solved this dilemma completely, but I'm looking at a few options, including a direct-vent gas (propane in my case) fireplace that recesses into the wall and has a low profile on the inside (most of the stove bumps out of the wall to the outside), and does not require a chimney. I also found a very small Vermont Castings cast iron gas stove that is only 13 inches deep and can sit as close as three inches from the wall since the combustion chamber is insulated. This would eat up very little floor space.

Anyway, I'm still working on this issue and cost is a factor. We'll probably wait until next fall to deal with the heat issue because we can limp along with a small electric heater for the time being, except when the temps drop into the single digits. I just can't store anything out there that will freeze until we solve this issue.

Anyway, I have this old second-hand, wood-burning stove that looks exactly like this... It's a Vogelzang Deluxe Boxwood Stove and that's the image from their website. Mine is buried under a bunch of stuff in the barn at the moment. I figured I'd hang onto it and eventually use it to heat a greenhouse since it turned out not to be ideal for my studio. It's a nice little utilitarian stove, no window, just a cast iron box with a flue. It's pretty cute and you can even cook on it in a pinch. It's perfect to heat a greenhouse if you have a way to move the air around the space. There's even a little gadget that you can add between sections of the stove pipe that will capture much of the heat going up the stove pipe and send it out into the room rather than having it escape to the outside. It makes the stove much more efficient. Anyway, the problem with cast iron stoves is that they get super hot, and once the fire goes out they lose heat pretty quickly. There's just not enough thermal mass to really retain a lot of heat for very long.

Or so I thought... check this out!

This is from Kiko Denzer's webpage. He's the guy I got the original idea from, for Sunny the clay oven. Look at that thing! He's basically created a "clay hat" for his stove and inside this hat is a serpentine tunnel that winds around and around inside that thing. The clay heats up and becomes basically a radiator and the winding design inside there is basically a big heat exchanger, with lots of surface area to soak up the heat. After the clay absorbs the heat traveling through the tunnel, the stove pipe exits "the hat" and the smoke and some of the hot air goes on up out of the roof, leaving most of the heat behind in the Hat. The hat slowly radiates the heat into the room, just like my clay oven radiates heat back into the baking chamber. Genius! (although I do have some concerns about the ability of those spindly legs to support what has to be several hundred pounds of clay. Looks a tiny bit precarious.

Anyway, it sparked an idea about how to heat a future greenhouse, using a stove I already have, and the abundant supply of oak firewood we have accumulated over time.

I could really extend my growing season if I could put a little bit of supplemental heat into a tunnel or lean-to greenhouse, particularly if I use twin-wall polycarbonate or a double layer of poly film. I'd start by taking the legs off the little Vogelzang stove (they're bolted on), and right smack in the middle of the greenhouse, I'd dig down several inches and put a scrap of foam insulation in the hole about 4 x 4 feet square. Then, I'd pour gravel on top of the foam insulation until it was level with the ground. Then, I'd basically build something similar to Sunny, but embed this stove inside the mud dome, leaving the front of the stove exposed, for access to load the wood, build the fire, and clean out ashes. Access to the damper is also in the front part of the stove. You could make a hearth out of the clay too so you could sit by it and warm up when working in the greenhouse in the winter, and even build out to the side, a chamber that could hold your firewood. The heat from the clay would probably get warm enough to help dry the firewood so it burns better, with less smoke, and it would also give you a place to store several days' worth of wood without having it piled up all over the place. I'd cover the stove pipe with a thick tube of clay up to about six feet or so, then stick another damper in the stove pipe at that height, to help draw the air upward, then add that little gadget to capture residual heat that is still in the stove pipe, and then vent it out through the roof. Basically, the stove becomes the firebox for a big masonry heater, and all that clay (probably 12 or more inches thick) would absorb the heat through the walls of the stove, and slowly release it into the greenhouse. You could really make this a massive thermal storage device and really get a lot of bang for your buck with each fire.

I think you could still do what Kiko did and form a small chamber above the firebox that you could use as an oven, and get double duty from this contraption. Not sure what you would want to cook in a greenhouse but, whatever... Although, you certainly could bake bread in there when it is too cold outside to use Sunny.

It would look like a big adobe fireplace in a pueblo except for the cast iron door. By enclosing the stove inside a big envelope of clay/mud, I think you would eliminate any issues of minimum clearance to the wall, and with the exception of the door, none of the surface should get hot enough to actually burn you. The thermal mass of the clay structure should help avoid the extreme temperature swings that you get with a typical wood stove.

One thing you'd need to keep track of is the humidity level in the greenhouse. As a rule, you want a lot of humidity in a greenhouse, and the hotter the air temperature, the more water it holds. This is a good thing when trying to raise plants. However, raising the air temp in the greenhouse way above the outside temperature is going to cause a lot of condensation on the walls/ceiling of the house. This water is going to come from somewhere so you would need to make sure your planting beds are not drying out too much, or figure out a way to recapture the condensation as it runs down the walls of the greenhouse. Hmmm, surely there's a solution for this. People grow food in heated greenhouses at latitudes above 50 degrees so this is not a unique problem. It might be something as simple as having an open tank of water as your humidity source, which slowly evaporates, providing the necessary water for the surrounding air, and then capturing the condensation along the bottom of the greenhouse walls and feeding it back to the drip irrigation system. This could help prevent the soil from drying out. Sounds complicated but I'll research this issue and figure out what other people have done.

This might be a fun project to do when my folks come up sometime. It would be much more challenging than building Sunny, which took the better part of a weekend. My dad would have a blast doing this with us. Based on the amount of clay, sand and straw I used when I built Sunny, a clay heater of this size would probably require at least a full pickup bed each of sand and clay, and probably not as many bales of straw. The straw strengthens the mix but too much straw creates an insulating effect, trapping the heat inside the stove, which was perfect for the clay oven but not what I would want for this heater. I would want the heat moving through the clay walls and out into the room. I'd have to mess around a bit and figure out how little straw I can get away with and still have a strong structure, particularly the chimney part.

Best part about this project is the cost. I already have the hundred-dollar stove. Local clay is free or almost free (I probably can use the tractor to dig some really decent clay out of my pond that will be easy to work with) and coarse sand is a few bucks a ton. Literally. I just need to go to the sand pit and get it. The rest is just manual labor. As for fuel, we have numerous dead trees on our property that need to be dealt with anyway. Much of the wood is useable lumber but the limbs and so forth are perfect for firing this little stove, and we have an almost unlimited supply of them.

If I eventually do this, the greenhouse should be stay comfortable in all but the worst part of winter, and I ought to be able to grow all kinds of cool season veggies well into December or perhaps... even... dare I say it? January????? Eliot Coleman would be proud!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Studio Update #2

Once we finally got the roof finished, we turned our focus on the inside of the studio. When we built our house, Greg did all of the rough electrical so he's got a good handle on how to do this stuff. We discussed where I would need outlets, where switches would be handy, and how many overhead lights I would need and where they should go. We picked up a small ceiling fan with lights at Home Depot and figured out where it would go, what height would be best, and where we might want to put stereo speakers (probably in the ceiling over the porch, and a set aimed out at the firepit area). Once Greg completed the electrical rough-in, we spent a couple of days putting the insulation in the rafters and the walls, then covered the walls with plastic vapor barrier.

Last week, we picked up six 4 x 8 sheets of grooved plywood (grooves every four inches) which I had thought would look great on the ceiling. I primed them and painted them with the paint I got at the Habitat Store, which is an off-white, semi-gloss latex. On the rough texture of the panels the paint still reflects quite a bit of light down and makes the room look much bigger than it is. We attached these panels to the rafters with screws, and then moved on to the drywall.

Last Saturday, we rented a drywall lift from a tool rental company and used this to lift the grooved panels up to the vaulted ceiling and Greg attached them, making sure everything was square and lined up correctly. Once we did that, we lifted several sheets up into the loft so we could finish the ceiling up there. This was fun because the drywall sheets just barely fit through the loft doorway. We put several full sheets up there so we can cover the loft ceiling when we get around to it.

We also used the lift to hold the drywall sheets underneath the bottom of the floor joists of the loft.

Here's a picture of us shoving the drywall sheets up into the loft space. They barely fit through the opening and I'm not sure how we would have gotten them in there without using the drywall lift. I guess we would have had to cut them into smaller pieces.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Warning: Non Vineyard Content Ahead...

Here at Bluff Creek Vineyards, we've always got one or more projects in the works. Over the summer we decided that we need to think about putting up a pole barn to store vehicles and vineyard equipment, and it needs to be planned in such a way that we can eventually convert some or most of the space to a commercial winery. We got things rolling in terms of where to put it and how we were going to prepare the site but for multiple reasons did not get much further than the dirt work before the weather got too cold to bring in the concrete people and the builders. We considered doing this project ourselves and we still might but it's quite a large building and we'll need some specialized equipment to tackle the roof and so forth so this may end up being one we farm out to the pros. Anyway, we've postponed that project until spring, and I've seeded the bare ground around the building site with winter wheat to help prevent erosion in the spring when the snow melts. The sheep can mow it down once it's established, if the deer don't get it first.

Since Greg is making wine in the garage on a fairly large scale but still in the "hobby" category, we really need some space for storage, particularly since we're going to need to fit at least one car into the garage this winter. We've been discussing building a studio next to the house that would allow me to set my pottery wheel up and have a heated place to work during the winter months. Once we decided we probably weren't going to get things rolling on the pole barn before winter got rolling, we decided to put up the studio, and build a loft big enough to move a lot of stuff in the garage out to the studio for storage. This will give us some space in the garage to work with the wine and still get one vehicle in there when necessary.

I'd drawn some plans out for what would be an ideal studio and then got to thinking about how that building could serve double duty and be a guest cottage when we have visitors. My folks visit several times a year and they stay in a cabin up the road at a campground. The cabins are nice but it would be a lot nicer if they could be here at the house. Once I got this idea, the studio plans were adjusted to allow for this. I've always wanted a Murphy bed and I think it will be the perfect solution for when we have guests. After looking at plans on the Web, I think I can make one myself for less than a hundred bucks not counting the mattress. Since the studio needs storage anyway, I'm going to use off-the-shelf Menards cabinets on one long wall, and fit the Murph into this wall so that it all looks like one big built-in. When Murph is flipped up against the wall, the underside will be plywood spraypainted with chalkboard paint so I have a big area to sketch projects and write down glaze recipes and so forth. Double Duty!

As most of you know, I love me some Craigslist and once I had a plan, I started shopping for some of the things I would need. Greg of course is the brains behind the actual structure and how to go about getting the materials to build it so I've left that part up to him, but things like doors, windows, cabinets, and so forth I'm searching for on Craigslist and the Habitat Restore.

Best find so far is the 32" steel entrance door I found on CL. I saw the ad pop up and immediately called and was the guy's first response so I got the door. Thing is, it was listed as Free. He just wanted it out of his house immediately. I said I'd be right over. I drove down to Centerville, which is about a half hour away, and when I got there he asked if I wanted a storm door and some bi-fold doors as well. "Of course" I said, so we loaded them up to.

The next score was four huge casement windows that came out of a restaurant up in Ankeny. Not free but only $25.00 a piece and they're in great shape. I had to drive over an hour to get them but that was a huge savings over new windows. They're casements, about 38 tall and 60 inches wide. They will let lots of light into the room and will go on the south wall so I can use the sun to help heat the place in the winter.

While I was near Des Moines, I also picked up a couple of gliders (rocking chairs) for 30 bucks each. I only needed one but the ad said 40 bucks each or both for 60. If I end up not needing both, I'll just sell one on Craigslist.

Finally, I got all the paint for the interior of the studio at the Habitat store for about 4 bucks per gallon. You have to be careful there because sometimes stuff is not marked down much below what you can find at Home Depot or Menards, but sometimes there are really good deals, and this paint was one of them. Plus, your money goes to a good cause.

Anyway, as usual, I got the cart before the horse and had several of these items before we even got started on the actual building but we finally broke ground on the studio and here are a few pictures of the progress so far.

We decided to put the building up on posts to avoid the labor and expense of pouring a foundation (the frost line here is at about 42 inches so we would have had to go down below that). Once we had everything plumb and square, we set the corner posts in concrete and hung pressure treated 2 x 12s on these post. In the pictures, you can see that the ground slopes under this building. We had to take out one big tree that was literally "looming" over the house. I wanted it gone before it blew over on the house or we had another ice storm that caused limbs to crash down onto the deck. I had the tree service I'd used before come out and take it down. This left a perfect spot north of the house for the studio.

We attached OSB (oriented strand board) to the beams. The OSB has a vapor barrier on the underside. We attached the floor joists to the beams, screwing them through the OSB. We put these 12 inches on center. We then put insulation in the cavities between the joists, and then screwed down the floor sheathing on top of the joists. This created a solid, sturdy, well-insulated floor.

Once the floor was finished, we framed the walls and erected them and braced them in place. We used the same OSB sheathing on the wall framing, and once everything was plumb and square, we started on the rafters and the ridge beam.

We basically built a 12 x 16 foot box with a 6 foot covered porch. The roof took a lot of time and wasn't easy to figure out, and trusses would have been a whole lot easier, but I wanted the vaulted ceiling, and we wanted a loft where we could store a lot of stuff without climbing over and through trusses to get to it. Greg installed the Craiglist windows and doors, and started on sheathing the roof.

We sheathed the roof with OSB and then ran nailers across it and attached the metal roofing to the nailers.

The final step for the roof was attaching the ridge cap, which Greg is doing in this picture. The roof is now dried in and we're starting on the inside.