Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Everything!

Happy Solstice...Merry Christmas...Happy New Year & Merry Everything else to you all! From all of us here at The Common Milkweed (we added five new residents you get to meet below), we wish you great health, much contentment and many adventures in this next year. We are most grateful for your support & your friendship.

Meet Aster, Fern, Sassafras, Ivy & Eby:

Even in the short daylength season we are getting eggs and we are so excited to have our chicken coop full of life again. These girls were destined for the stew pot so you know how happy we are they made it here first.

Happy Holidays friends! We want to see you in 2017....if you are near let us know and we will meet up for nature exploration and good laughs. :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

How to Passively Heat the Upstairs of an Old Farm House

If you've ever lived in an old farmhouse you can probably relate to this: oftentimes, these old houses have few-to-no heat ducts to the second floor. Couple this situation with having a wood stove on the first floor and you get: roasting hot downstairs and chilly upstairs.

Most of us also realize that heat rises so logic would tell us "cut a hole in the ceiling and let some of that heat upstairs." After a few years of scheming, looking for old heat vents and actually getting this project to the top of our to-do list, we did just that: cut some holes in the floor for passive heating to the upstairs.

We first determined the floor joist orientation and spacing so that we could get heat vents that would fit between our joists. We then cut holes in the floor upstairs using a jigsaw (sorry, no pic). The floors are pretty stout tongue and groove hardwood boards so no bracing was requires. It was simply, measure, cut hole, drop-in vent.

We then drilled holes lined up with the four corners of the hole in the upstairs floor down through the ceiling below. From these fours holes were we able to determine and mark the hole that we would cut in the downstairs ceiling. To cut these holes we used our Rockler Versacut circular saw with masonry blade. We don't use this saw very often but, when we do, we are grateful that we have one as they are very versatile, as the name suggests.

Here we drop the cut piece out. Now we were able to measure X, Y and Z dimensions for the trim that would cover up the ugly hole from below. Basically, we made a box that would slide up into the ceiling and meet, from below, the bottom of the heat vent we had dropped into the hole we'd made in the upstairs floor. 

We just so happened to have some 1/2 inch oak boards that, when ripped for the correct depth of the "box" left just enough to make the trim that would cover up the edges of the hole in the ceiling. The close-up pic below will make this clear. 

We did not want to attach this trim box from below because we had nothing but plaster and lath to drive screws into. We were able to attach from above using screws through the flooring. The screws are hidden by the flange of the heat vent.

We installed another vent in the room adjacent to the living room, hoping the a hot-air-rises, cool-air-sinks dynamic would create a cycling of air. 

Here is another view from below. Not perfectly square but we don't care! Our primary goal was to get the excess heat from the wood stove up into the second floor and IT HAS WORKED GREAT! This is one of that projects that was much easier than anticipated and paid off immediately. Don't just take our word for it, ask the main beneficiary....

....our first cat, Bounder, who lives upstairs and is now quite toasty:

Caution: never cut holes in walls, floors, or ceilings unless you know what you are doing with respect to bearing walls, joist spacing and location, wiring location, etc.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Overwintering our Native Potted Plants

We have some native plants left from the 2016 growing season that we want to overwinter so we gave them some special attention today to help them through the upcoming cold - in a pot. Burr, those poor little roots!

Most importantly, we took the plants off the benches and pallets and put them on the ground so the ground temperature can help moderate the root temperatures.

We laid the trees on their sides due to their height....

and then we covered them with straw from a local farmer.

After everyone was all tucked in, we pulled out our sod smothering plastic to cover them. All the pots are well watered so they should make it through to spring quite moist. We definitely don't want the roots to dehydrate.

The white plastic will reflect the sun's rays so the plants won't get too warm and prematurely burst their buds and will also act as a nice blanket against the extreme low temperatures likely to visit us. Hopefully, snow will help with that too.

We used rolls of path mat and pins to hold the plastic down. Today is sunny and fairly calm, but as you can hear in my VIDEO the wind likes to blow around here and we don't want this blanket lifting up in a wintry gale.

Good luck little plants! We can't wait to see you in the spring after our legs hike many, many miles.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Living the Good Life: Carrots & Adventure

Our Big Life Change continues to transition and evolve and allow the time for all the things we love and believe in and want to experience.
  • Just today in the cloudy, gray 40s I put on my coat, old, cracked Muck boots and duct-taped mittens and headed to the wood pile to restock our inside supply. The weight of the wood and the twisting of my body while hauling felt good.
  • Lentil loaf with carrots from the garden is planned for our meal tonight along with a fresh salad of our own homegrown kale, spinach, kohlrabi and beet greens. I love that we get to walk out our door and harvest pure, delicious, nutrient dense food, while touching the soil and breathing the cool, clean air. 
  • Two days ago, we hiked 9 easy miles at Mohican State Park with 20-25 lb packs. We spend lots of time hiking as always, but now we also train for the Arizona Trail this spring, which offers us 800 miles of trail, nature, time and all that we need to survive carried on our backs. What a gift to have this opportunity! And by gift I mean the ability to make this choice. For so long we were controlled by other peoples' rules until we decided to make a life following our hearts and requiring less so we could live our life where carrots and 800 trail miles and Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows feeding on wildflower seeds are our reality, our daily life, daily practice and inspiration.

20 mile days feel easy when your heart is full, your muscles strong and your only task is to walk and be present in the world. 

I'm writing all this to say, if there are changes you are waiting to make or life you want to live that you've not lived, start now. Yes, some money is required but much less than we so often think and really, there is nothing more rich as finding who you are and living the life that you are meant to live.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Gratefulness and Common Nighthawks

'Tis the season, friends, that reminds us to see the beauty in our lives and offer our gratitude for this life that is gifted to us. We wish you all much happiness and joy and, of course, many moments outdoors experiencing the natural world that makes our lives not only possible, but so very rich.

We have so much to share, but today we offer a recent magical moment featuring one of our most favorite birds - the Common Nighthawk. Here's the link for You Tube and better viewing quality. Happy Thanksgiving all!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Gardens 2016 & Great Late Season Nectar Plant

It is still quite warm here in North-Central Ohio so we continue to accomplish lots outdoors, but not much indoors (if you pop over, you've been warned about the cat fur). The vegetable garden looks so great; we love spending time tending the plants and enjoying the sunshine.

We have our hardy winter greens growing under our low tunnels (beets, spinach, kale, kohlrabi, & carrots)...

and Crimson Clover, an excellent cover crop, protecting our soil for winter.

We harvested a decent amount of winter squash this year given our drought and got our first ever luffa gourds (long green skinny ones) to mature - I will do a separate post on those. Exciting!

Much of our summer and fall was spent driving our mower pulling our water tank rig round and round watering our spring planted trees. We kept 2/3rds alive we think and hope. When Mother Nature doesn't give you the rain you expect, life gets a little harder, but we do think our arms are a lot buffer than they were this spring - thanks to all the 5 gallon buckets of water we hauled - so that's a bonus.

Towards the end of September we received a glorious (seriously!) 2" of rain and annuals that never grew much after sowing as a cover crop in the spring, bloomed very late in September and into October. These flowers were used readily by migrating Monarchs so there is some goodness in the challenges too.

By far, our hottest, most used annual flower by Monarchs is the Mexican Sunflower or Torch (Tithonia). Plant it! It's so beautiful, provides nectar for butterflies and bees and seeds for birds. You can see it in the back of the photo.

After a couple of hard frosts killed all these late blooming annuals, nectar got a lot harder to find. In this VIDEO, I highlight a great late season perennial bloomer and tour you around the garden a bit.

Also, in my avoidance of the computer and all things indoors, I forgot to add our bat house video to our last blog post. So sorry!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Celebrating Bats

In honor of our love of bats (that started long ago but really solidified at Carlsbad Caverns) and to celebrate Bat Week 2016, we put up two more handmade, Steve-special bat houses and made a VIDEO about them.

Per instructions from Bat Conservation International, we installed a treated post at least 10 feet tall. Ours ended up with about 3 feet in the ground and 12 feet out.

Progressive back-filling and tamping while watching for plumb using a post leveler (strap-on plastic level) is essential to getting a good post installation. Our post was scrounged and had a bow on one end so we made a wide hole and put the bowed end under ground.

Using opposing ladders and installers provides some additional safety measures. 

A-OK and ready for inhabitants, rent-free!

In addition to attracting more bats to our orchard and nursery area, we gain a cool vertical feature. 

This shot shows the second bat box opposing the one shown above. One is wider than the other so we placed the wider one facing north so that the overlap would receive some sunlight from the south and help keep it warm.

Ready for your own bat house? If so, start here

Monday, October 17, 2016

North Cascades National Park

Steve here today...

More glaciers than Glacier National Park and a lot fewer people - that's what initially attracted our attention to North Cascades National Park. But there's so much more....a quote from the NPS website:

"North Cascades National Park Complex spans the Cascade Crest from the temperate rainforest of the wet west-side to the dry ponderosa pine ecosystem of the east. The park encompasses landscapes with over 9,000 feet of vertical relief. There results a high diversity of plants, over 1,600 species so far identified, and many other organisms adapted to a wide spectrum of habitats.
The relatively new mountains, glaciers and streams of North Cascades lie near a dynamic interface of tectonic plates and provide an opportunity to study geologic processes unfolding through time. Geologists and others seek answers to questions of global climate change, mountain building and erosion, volcanism, glaciation, stream dynamics, and more."
We did a 44 mile loop trail through some of the most spectacular backcountry we've yet experienced, here's the highlights:
Pics below, but first, enjoy a video:)
Clearwater streams:

Splendid fall foliage:

Public land a-plenty:

Free blueberries:

Incredible stealth camping sites:

Invigorating breakfast perch:

Well-built and maintained trails:

Keeping limber:

Epic alpine wonders:

Inspiring color palettes:

Dynamic weather (clouds moving in):

Hiking in the clouds:

Happy fungus:

Rain gear test (failed):

The sun returns!:

Friendly snake:

HUGE slugs:

Happy Campers!