Friday, July 20, 2012

The Garden, July 2012

Even though I ain't got a name for it yet, I have begun my herb garden, which will hopefully, a few years down the road, provide local, safe, healthy, potent and effective formulas using both Chinese and native herbs. Most of these herbs are perennials, and some of them require 3 to 4 years to maturity before harvesting. Of the Chinese varieties, I am wanting to focus on tonics, but I am also willing to try whatever thrives in this climate. So far I have planted sections of: Salvia militorriza (Dan shen- red rooted sage), Platycodon grandiflorus (Jie geng- balloonflower), Codonopsis pilosula (Dang shen- poor man's ginseng), Astragalus membranaceus (Huang qi), Scutellaria baicalensis (Huang qin- Baikal Skullcap),  and Mentha haplocalys (Bo he- Field mint). In the nursery waiting to be planted out are more- Glycyrrhiza uralensis (Gan cao-Chinese licorice), Angelica sinensis (Dang gui), Ligusticum jeholense (Gao ben-Chinese lovage), Calamus, Chinese violet, Chyrsanthemum morifolium (Ju hua-Chrysanthemum), and Ginkgo biloba (Bai guo). Coming soon are Paeonia lactiflora (Bai shao- Chinese peony) and roses.

Western herbs so far in the garden are Calendula officinalis, Eschscholzia californica (California poppy), and Mentha spicata (spearmint). There are tons of herbs growing wild here in the woods- more than I can list here.

I have begun forming raised beds in the garden for the perennial herbs. These are planted and then will be relatively undisturbed (save for weeding) until harvest. Between the beds is either sheet mulched with cardboard and wood chips or saw dust or sowed in clover for mowing. My plan is to keep making more raised beds over time until I have worked my way far up in the clearing in the cove until it tapers to woods. There is more sunlight in the front, closer to the house, and further up it is shadier and more moist. As of July this year, I have a pretty good start, although in my perfect world I would have had more time this month to keep creating and planting beds. I have been overly consumed with water infrastructure issues that automatically take priority. Luckily, it has been raining regularly for the past couple weeks, so I have not had to worry about watering.
Codonopsis trellises with Maypole in the background

Raised beds so far

Skutellaria- Huang qin
Salvia- Dan shen

Ballonflower- Jie geng

Calendula patch

In addition to the herbs, I have enough garden veggies for one plus occasional company- tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, beans, squash (delicata and yellow crookneck), lettuce, arugula, kale, chard, carrots- as well as flowers for pretties.

I'm having a blast with the garden. Come by and see me. And give me tips!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ram Pump Update (written especially for geeks)

Having been out of commission for weeks while I spent hours on end tinkering with every part of the system in an attempt to isolate the problem, the ram pump is up and running again- and better than ever! First thing that happened was I replaced that bloody 2 gallon pressure tank (my third or fourth in 9 months) with a big beefy one, given to me by awesome neighbors James and Illiana, that sits on the ground and is plumbed in with pex pipe (yeah, I used a pex tool- with Todd's help of course). No more cracks in the pressure tank every other month!

The next thing I did was, having noticed that somehow the delivery line (from the pump to the tank) had been drained (red flag), I re-primed the line using a device that I constructed out of pvc. It allowed me to fill the line from the top using water carried up the mountain without having to climb down into the tank crouching ackwardly to do it.

I shut the valve at the bottom of the delivery line to make sure none of the water I was funneling in from the top was leaking out at the bottom. When the entire 600 ft stretch of pipe was filled, I went back down and opened the valve at the bottom to check for leaking. Sure enough, I detected a hairline crack in the check valve that is supposed to only allow water up the hill, not down. Bingo. Bango. Bongo. I got on the line and wrote to Harry*, the designer and maker of the pump to see if he could send me a new check valve, which he graciously did, and a few days later I retrieved the part from my new stark white mailbox and installed it in a matter of minutes. Works like a charm. That thing is pumping quietly and efficiently. It is a beauty to behold. The spring is giving about 5 or so gallons a minute these days, maybe a little more when it rains a lot, and the pump is pumping 40 gallons an hour up to the tank. The rest of the water splashes back into the branch where it supports a plethora of aquatic life, from salamanders to crawdaddies, to little water snails and a variety of water loving plants like jewelweed and green headed coneflower (sochan).

The only thing is, the day I fixed the pump, the line that carries water from the storage tank on the hill to the house developed a mysterious leak. This line is completely unrelated to the pump or the delivery line to the tank. Major coincidence. Sucky coincidence. And it also coincided with me coming down with a funky summer cold, which is just a side note, but I don't have loads of energy to go digging around hundreds of feet of pipe for the leak.

Following a brilliant brainstorm of my dear neighbor Todd, I devised a plug with a wine carboy stopper to stop up the pipe that is leaking. I am allowing the tank to fill up and then I am going to pull the plug and release the 600 gallons of water, hoping that a flood with show up in the spot where the leak is. Is is suspected by some that the leak is likely in the bulkhead fitting that connects the tank to the pipe down. We will see. Today is the day. Today is the day. Maybe by this weekend I'll be cutting on faucets and flushing commodes and washing the mountain of laundry that has accumulated. And my neck will get a break from the strain of carrying water up the hill to the house. But hoping is a gamble, so I'm just going to ride this one out and see.

* Click Harry's name to get a full description and lots of photos of the pump. If you're a physics or mechanical geek you might really like this...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Having returned home last night from a long day out, I sat on the downstairs love seat and relaxed into a phone conversation with an old friend. It was raining, and I believe there was some thunder in the distance. It was a lovely welcome cooling rain, the first break from this horrific heat wave that has swept the better part of the nation, and the ambience was pleasant. After a while a sharp acrid smell suddenly invaded my airflow, and suffice it to say, my mellow was thoroughly harshed. My first thought was electrical fire. I got off the phone and walked around the inner and outer perimeters of my new house, sniffing everything for the source of the smell and looking for smoke. I phoned my awesome electrician/ neighbor/ friend who talked me through what to check. After about a half hour I verified that all the appliances and outlets were still intact and nothing seemed to be the obvious source of the burnt smell. The smell was so terrible and strong; it made my throat feel like it was being damaged by breathing in. I turned the fan on high to get some fresh air flow in, but sometimes it seemed the smell was coming from outside. After about 45 mintes of house investigations, I realized that Hopey, my trusty hound friend, had been frantically pacing around the deck, scratching the door to come in. I figured she must be scared by the storm, so I met her at the door with a towel to dry her drenched muddy self off.
I didn't have to rub that towel over her for too long to realize that she was the smell.
It was bad. It was strong.
Except the thing was I didn't realize what it was at first. It just smelled so intensely burnt, like a toxic chemical, that my first thought was that somehow she had been covered with some kind of terrible auto fluids or something- like bad transmission fluid- or even that she had been struck by lightening and fried a little bit or been burnt under the car. She was acting crazy- pacing this-a-way and that-a-way in the house, rubbing her eyes and face on the rug and acting hurt.
A quick "dog smells like burning rubber" google search and a phone call to neighbor RM cleared up the mystery for me. Skunk sprayed in the face and eyes. Poor honey.
It surprises me that I had never smelled the freshy fresh spray of skunk before. It smells nothing like a dead skunk in the road or a skunk scratch and sniff sticker. Only one word kept coming to mind last night when I was investigating the source of the acrid invasion- Wrong. This is just wrong. Something is wrong.
I was wrong.
It was just a skunk.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dear Readers,

I have been working on a personal essay for you about water, but the problem is, I am too busy trying to get some (water that is) to work on it much these days. You see, I have been spending many multiples of hours troubleshooting and trying to iron out the ole kinks of my unique water system here at the house. It's been something else- an engaging process. Real engaging. Last night I found myself up on the ridge, down in the water tank (which is buried in the ground), calf deep in water*, sweating like a man, and attempting to re-prime the 800 ft water line from the top with a kitchen funnel and my wine making siphon. I went ahead and had me some gin and tonics to pass the hours- got drunk in the water tank. It was a coping strategy. I never ended up filling that line, but I had a pretty good time, all things considered.
Today I have been on to new and exciting possibilities for steps to take to move the water from the spring, which is below the house, to the tank on the ridge above the house. I am simultaneously troubleshooting issues with the ram pump while exploring the option of fixing an electric pump that neighbors J and I gave me as a back up.
I want to work on my water essay more, but getting the water takes the priority. I will hopefully get to it soon. Until then, I will chip away at the issues at hand, and find a way to handle it if a meltdown occurs in the process... Not that there have been any...
For now I will leave you with today's word of the day from Mirriam-Webster:
hydromancy: divination by the appearance or motion of liquid (as water)
I think I almost got there last night down in the water tank after my gins and tonics, by the light of setting sun...

Until next time,

*Note to yourselves, wait a couple weeks before drinking water out of the tap at Dana's house. She has stood and sweated and gotten drunk in that water.