Winter 2014/2015 – Work in the Woods, Hunting, and Planning

The forest in snow

Winter is hard, though perhaps not always in the sense you would at first imagine.  In one sense, there is of course the weather, but I rather enjoy winter, absent the freezing pipes of winter 2013/2014, and the aftermath.  I spent all too many hours under the house replacing the plumbing.  In terms of the variety of the work there is to do, there is less in winter it seems; there is no gardening going on, the bees do not require any management, no maintenance of other plantings, and so on.
Temperatures have been relatively mild compared to last year, so there has been no ice fishing, yet.  There have really only been three activities calling for my time and energy; hunting, wood harvesting, and 2015 planning.

Decanting the last of 2014’s maple syrup

I did winterize the wood chipper and the lawn tractor, which boiled down to ensuring that the carburetor’s are dry, so that I do not have to deal with fuel issues in the spring.  We processed 40 gallons of maple sap that we had stored in our chest freezer from last year, yielding 14 cups of syrup.  The Lewis Winch was commissioned.  Put up a couple of cords of firewood.  Attended a Round Pole Building workshop, two days, at Straw Bale Studio, in Oxford, Michigan, and learned a new skill I intend to put to use later this year.  And, there is a plan to attend a two-day blacksmithing workshop at Tillers International this winter; another skill to eventually be put to good use.  I suppose I could add a fourth activity to the list of what goes on in winter, that being “continuing education.”  And lest I forget, the lights on the utility trailer were replaced.

Still, there is much less going on than in spring, summer and fall, or so I thought until writing this post!

The Lewis Winch, primarily to be used for log skidding
Trailer lighting made road-worthy

Sadly, and somewhat embarrassingly, I must admit that it was another unproductive white tail deer season.  We saw plenty of deer on trail cameras, before the season opened, and a friend took a buck from our property, but I saw very few from my stands, and took only one shot.  I missed.  No excuse, Sir.  I have done more scouting this year though, met more hunters in the area, and I think I will be much better prepared for the 2015/2016 season; now having a much better idea of deer behavior patterns on the property.  It was hard to sit in the stand so often, for so long, and so unproductively, when knowing of other endeavors that are predictably more productive uses of my time.  Hunting will be productive, though to be sure my results have been anything but predictable or productive.  I did have some amazing experiences in the stands.  On one early morning hunt, about a half hour before sunrise, I could start to make out several turkeys in trees near me.  Within only a few minutes of sunrise, six of them glided down from their perches and began to forage.  It was simply amazing to watch turkeys waking up and going about their daily activity.  That evening, from the same stand, as sunset approached I could see several turkeys moving towards me.  Sure enough, as if by mechanical clockwork, at sunset they took flight for their perches, again six, one by one.  An hour or so later I walked home, passing immediately beneath them in near complete darkness, and they did not move or make any sound.  It was awesome.  It is hard to put words to the experience of such abundance.

The sugar maple harvest for the wood floors continues.  I have only taken down three trees that were not already brought down by storms, or that had not been severely storm damaged.  Those three have been taken from a location that is being cleared for the sugar shack (outdoor kitchen) at the top of the property.  Arguably I could have made much quicker work of putting 2,800 board feet of lumber on the ground, but I now have this nasty habit of cleaning up after myself, and it takes quite a bit of time to process the major limbs into firewood, smaller branches into wood chips, and twigs and leaves into compost.  Simply leaving the tops on the ground, would lead to much quicker progress.  As it is, there are two or three 8 foot logs ready to skid to the pick-up area, and another large, downed sugar maple that needs to be cut to 8 foot lengths, and the logs skidded before pick-up.  The first pick-up by the saw mill is tentatively scheduled towards the end of the first week in February.  When pick-up is complete, approximately half of the necessary logs will be in process at the mill.  Two or three more trees are already tagged for felling.

And finally, there is the planning for the spring of 2015 and beyond.  The first principle of permaculture is to “observe and interact,” and as we have done so in our first 18 months on the property, a few items on “the list” have risen to the top.  Among those at the top are: 1) reducing the cost of energy; and reducing our dependence on external sources energy, for heating the home; 2) a workshop, as an enabler of greater self-sufficiency and homestead improvement projects (vehicle, boat, machine, and building maintenance, woodworking, blacksmithing, etc.); 3) expansion of perennial food crop production; and 4), collect and manage rain water and runoff.  Further, if I can find any way to make it happen, I would add to that list an outdoor kitchen for maple sap evaporation and syrup bottling, butchering and food preservation (canning, dehydrating, etc.), and a root cellar.  So, what does that mean, specifically?  Well, here was my first pass at what I would do in 2015:  “It means building and equipping a workshop, installing an outdoor wood boiler (OWB) and associated equipment to heat the house and potable hot water, collecting and storing rainwater run-off from buildings, installing a diversion dam/swale to manage the run-off on the hill south of the house, and pruning and grafting onto existing crab apple trees to provide for edible apple production in coming years.”  Then, a wave of self-imposed austerity came over me, in a good way, I only grudgingly admit.  As a result, another permaculture principle will be applied, that of using “small and slow solutions.”  The austerity-constrained plan includes:  1)  Perennial food crop production will be expanded as planned, and will likely include the installation of some fruit-bearing shrubs and trees, and grafting apple scion onto established crab apple trees.  Being considered include grape vines, Paw Paw and Common Persimmon trees, Serviceberry and Black Elderberry shrubs, as well as some apple varieties’ scion yet to be determined.  2) As also in the original plan, installing a diversion dam/swale to manage the run-off on the slope south of the house will be accomplished.  Both 1) and 2) are relatively low-capital improvements.  Instead of “building and equipping a workshop,” we intend to 3), build a garden shed to store gardening equipment, and possibly to build a small boat house for storing any and all small watercraft and associated equipment.  Both of these DIY projects will free up space in the existing 2-car garage, allowing that space to be used for “vehicle, boat, machine, and building maintenance, <and> woodworking,” but probably not for blacksmithing.  The building projects will help me to develop my carpentry skills, which are sorely lacking.  Barring unforeseen circumstance, the OWB is being dropped from the 2015 plan; I will though continue to find and mitigate energy leaks from the home.Speaking of energy leaks.  You might remember the post of 3 August 2014, where the build and installation of an insulated box over the attic ladder was documented.  Recently I saw another heat leak “shadow” on the roof, this one over the kitchen.  The fact that the snow cover is complete over the east end of the house, is testament to the effectiveness of the insulated box over the ladder, and frankly, to the existence of the ridge vent, which will allow some warm air to leave the attic, before it is able to melt the snow on the roof to a noticeable extent.

Snow melted creating “heat leak shadow” on the roof, directly over the kitchen

Upon further investigation, the insulation in the attic above the kitchen seems to be intact, and on par with the insulation over the east end of the house.  The only break in the insulation envelope, is a pair of can lights above the kitchen counter, their location corresponding to the left (west) edge of the heat shadow on the roof.  Also problematic, in the section of the attic above the kitchen, warm air rising has no access to the ridge vent, because the north wall of the kitchen ascends to the roof blocking its path, and because there is a 2 x 12 in. roof rafter at the east end of the attic over the kitchen, partially preventing air communication with the main attic space above the east end of the house.

The incandescent bulbs in the can lights were replaced with CFLs; that should have cut their heat output markedly.  Still, I do not think it is the heat from the lights that is the problem.  As with the microwave vent that I mentioned briefly in the 3 Aug 2014 post, I believe the cans are acting as a chimney of sorts, between the warmer house and the cooler attic.  Warm air is simply flowing through the receptacles and into the attic, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Previously, last summer, I had removed the paper backing from fiberglass batt insulation, and laid it out over the can lights.  This past week, I added two layers of fiberglass batt insulation, with the paper baking; we shall see if that improves the situation.  Warm air flow from the house to the attic is the root cause, if I am right, so stopping that is the first priority.  Further down the list is to prevent the warm air that makes it to the attic from melting the snow on the roof, creating ice dams at the eves, and to that end the roof rafters over the kitchen could be modified slightly to allow for air passage to the east end of the attic, and ultimately to the ridge vent, I think.  One step, one “small and slow solution,” at a time.  I will wait to see the impact of the additional insulation before taking further action.

Spring is very fast approaching,  I am anxious to get the flooring logs to the mill before the Maple sugaring season arrives; shortly thereafter it will be planting season!  Our garden planning, to include the perennials noted above, is also in progress.  This spring promises to be busier than last, and more productive, so I am very excited to see how the property develops.

Thank you for reading and commenting on the blog.  Your comments and criticisms, your inputs and acknowledgements, are welcomed, and will help me to improve my posts.  I am learning, too.

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— John, 04 February 2015

5 replies
  1. Angels6
    Angels6 says:

    I got tired just reading all you have to or want to do
    good luck

    • homestead
      homestead says:

      We are having a lot of fun taking it on! Thanks for following the blog, and for commenting.

  2. aart
    aart says:

    "One step, one "small and slow solution," at a time. I will wait to see the impact of the additional insulation before taking further action."

    Yep, gotta see what one change makes at at time, or you'll never know what fixed the problem. I bet covering the the cans with the bats is going to help. Maybe this last snow will tell / has told the tale?

    Does your ridge vent go the whole length of roof? Is all your soffit venting open and clear of insulation? I apologize if this has been mentioned on the blog before and I missed or forgot it.

    • homestead
      homestead says:

      Hi Anne. Thank you for following the blog, and for your comment. Last summer I did add soffit baffles in the attic; the soffits were stuffed full of insulation, almost completely eliminating air flow. Evidence of a prior mold problem is clear. The ridge vent does run the full length of the house. The attic above the kitchen does not rise all the way to the peak of the roof, and therefore not to the ridge vent. I could add a roof vent in the kitchen attic, though that would not be my first choice; I hate poking holes in the roof.

  3. aart
    aart says:

    I had to remove insulation from soffits, add baffles and more insulation when I bought my house too….*that* was fun….tho no mold issues.

    Not quite understanding how kitchen attic is separate from rest of attic.

    Interesting that your vaulted ceiling seems to be well ventilated.

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