Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Building the Wall - improvising a garden fence

Today, I loaded up my German axe, Canadian pry bar (pictured later), Swede saw and Japanese pull saw and headed down the road to cut some fence posts. Who says we can't travel these days, at least, in our imaginations?

My neighbours said I could take some trees from their large wooded property, so I cut three 30' spruce and bucked them into 7' sections before I had to go home for a snack and a nap.

Though we had snow last week, spring has now come for real and the exotic trilliums are all starting to open in the forest. And everyone knows, the black flies come at the same time as the flowers, so I was working in a dense fog of bug dope and hopeful bugs.

Before the journey into the forest, the day started with an expert delivery of the second load of alpaca poo top soil, paid for in the local currency of cookies. 

Neighbour Doug carefully places top soil on the pyramid...

 yesterday, I added some branches to hold things in place until the pile sinks more and the soon-to-be-planted vegetables develop roots

Back to the forest...
I found some 30' spruce with small butts of about 14" circumference (4-5" across).
I used the double-bitted axe to start the cut, then the swede or japanese pull saw to finish.
I think it would be faster to do it all with the axe but sometimes the access point
is a bit awkward for the axe (or axe person).
I feel a mixture of gratitude and remorse every time I take a tree,
so I leave the site as clean as possible,
distribute the branches,
and I say thank you.

I found this one back from the road

it fell easily, clearing the other trees... then I limbed it and bucked it into three 7' sections.

Next tree was up on a hill, which proved to be a bit windier than ideal
I limb as many branches as I can reach before making the first cut in the direction I want the tree to fall

Tree looks bigger than it was... the wind blew it slightly off course and it got briefly hung up
in a crux of other branches and trees

I needed to use the pry bar to pop it off the stump

I could imagine my father laughing quietly as I huffed and puffed and pulled the tree out.

As I stopped to swat blackflies (futile), I spotted this neon orange fungus

My neighbours told me to fall any that were close to the road since they need to keep 
the sides clear, so I did! 
Glad that traffic was light today (non existent)

My aim is improving! 

A decent load of fence poles to get me started.

I am covered in sap, bug bites and bug dope but otherwise unscarred.
I learned tonight that rubbing alcohol will clean sticky sap off of the axe and saw blades... wonder if that will work on my jeans too?

Unloaded the poles and then thoroughly watered the soil.
The hose leaks, so that is a mist of water, not steam, arising from the Hugel pile.

And the gopher who lives beside my garage decided it was time to build his own Hugel pile.

Tomorrow, peel the logs (well, poles) and my garden wall starts to go up!

Take good care of yourselves and thank you for reading
about my quiet adventures 
beyond yet nonetheless including
the world of 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Hugelkultur Garden - building on the past

When I decided to sell my one-of-a-kind church/concert hall in 2018 and move up north to the last log house that my father built, many of my friends and colleagues said it was a mistake since I would be far away from the hustle and musical bustle of the Canadian metropolis of Toronto. They were sure it would lead to fewer concerts and opportunities for me. Now that Covid19 has taken charge, that equation has changed.

I'm still practicing, still getting ready to publish my new bassoon tech book, still working on the rest of the renovations and helping relaunch the Council of Canadian Bassoonists, but because I am no longer driving 4000 per month, I am using that time in new ways. And going outside and working on digging and moving logs through pivoting, prying and different types of leverage seemed like just another a great idea.

There was a pile of logs in the field behind our house, good timbers that had been left over from the building of the house. They had rotted from being exposed to the elements, and I didn't know what to do with them. It made me sad to see them so neglected and awry.

Then my accountant suggested I create a Hugelkultur garden.

The principle is to make a tall layer cake of rotting wood, branches and other organic material, cover it all with dirt and build a garden, preferably by digging into the ground and then stacking up to six feet. Anything that is non-toxic (so no cedar, walnut, or painted woods and no seed-bearing silage). Over time, it becomes a nitrogen-rich biomass that doesn't require much watering because the rotting wood acts as a sponge.

I jumped at the idea because it would allow me to process the orphaned logs in a positive way. I started at the beginning of April, and was delayed by snow and by awaiting delivery of my peavey and pry bar, but I should be able to plant my seedlings by May 24 at the latest. 

Here is a picture journal of some of the many steps that it took to get to the point where I think I will be able to plant the seedlings this week.

The logs were piled in a jumble along with boards and firewood behind the house, the remains of parts of the house that were re-designed along with the construction stairs and other artefacts, 

including rotted planks 

and stair stringers. 
Kinda makes my heart clutch to see the fine work of my
old Dad before gently laying these into the trenches alongside the sections of logs.

Even though it was still a bit cold at the beginning of April, I started the first trenches.
I hit hard clay at about 14 inches.... after hammering at it for awhile, decided that 14-18" was deep enough. 
Specialized foot gear!
Though the running shoes are more comfortable, I had to switch to
rubber bogs so that I could actually walk!

Three logs were buried by April 12, then I had to figure out how
to cut the 18' log into three... I still didn't have my peavey (log rolling tool)

So I began chopping with my fine throwing axe, but needed to turn the log... 

So I tried hammering in a wedge and using a piece of angle iron to roll it, and it worked a little, but also felt unsafe with the angle iron bowing  a lot, so I stopped.

You can see two thirds of the long log on the far right...

Went into the crown land forest and gathered a couple of bags of dried maple and oak leaves.

I kept chopping...

And finally my peavey arrived! it had been held up by the slower mail during Cootie 19.
I had to assemble the hook and happened to have a 5/8ths wrench handy.

And I was able to roll the log and easily finish chopping on the other side.

Here is the long log in 2 pieces, and now that I had the peavey, I chopped it into three pieces 

and rolled all three into the Hugel bed on top of the 4 buried logs

Then I had to get the log that was around the back and roll it to the side

and make a ramp with two old planks on top of the pile of dirt that I had dug out from the trenches
I rolled with one hand, then jammed the pry bar in the dirt to hold the log and put old pieces of firewood under the log at each turn to hold it in position so that I could remove the peavey and take another grip.

Rolled it over the top and into the last trench

Now back to the south side and figuring out how to move this log straight ahead from its position. 
My brand new, 18 pound "Cougar" (hahahaha) pry bar is a thing of total joy.

Moving towards the dirt pile, realizing that I will get jammed unless I put a piece of old plywood under it as a skid

Close up of my Dad's numbering system for identifying all the logs when dissassembling log hoses for a move... these are the lids for canning preserves, held on with a galvanized nail

Using the pry bar to straighten out the log (pivot points are an amazing thing)

Setting the log on the plywood skid, then I just pried and pushed it until it was in position

Had to add planks to get it across the grass

and kept using pieces of old firewood to keep the log in position and headed straight

made it! now to roll into position

Just before rolling into the Hugel bed

And in position, with my beautiful cadmium red pry bar contrasting beautifully with the rotten wood.
Even though the wood is rotten, the heart of these white pine logs is sound and they are heavy!
Now to pry the last log into it's new spot... flattened on both sides, this will be a useful low table for the garden
The last of the 13 log sections is half buried in the soil of the field, but the red pry bar and a couple of strategically placed planks make movement simple.

Walked it over, wriggling each end with pry bar

Making a skid surface with plywood and plank

and in position

Here are all the tools that really helped me so much... the small shovel with the really long handle, the 4' antique pry bar that Peter McEwen loaned to me, my brand new 4' Keystone peavey sent to me by Maurice Gardy and the 5', 18 lb Cougar pry bar that can move and lever and lift stones, logs and more

Time to clean up the long-standing fire pile... there had been a complete fire ban in the township so I moved all the branches over to the garden

stacked the branches

then went through them all and broke them into straight pieces so the pile will stay stable and not bounce when I add more logs to top

sawed up a piece of deadfall beside the road and loaded into truck

added to pile
went down the forest section of the road and filled truck with rotted deadfall... when I perceive the value of the rotted wood, then it feel like I am finding treasure! the rotted wood is quite light.

My dear neighbour Doug arriving with a bucket load of nicely rotted alpaca manure

The fields have dried up beautifully with the winds so the heavy tractor can safely cross

terrified salamander had ridden over in the tractor bucket ... he quickly found a safe hiding spot in the garden pile

little garter snake inspects the garden pile, asks what I'm doing there since he decided it was a good snake castle
told the snake I'm here to stay 

dug four fence post holes, trying to plan what kind of summer fence I will install.
The blackflies are out now that the snow is finally gone (swat, sweat, spray bug dope)

From the base of the buried logs to the crown of the topsoil will be at least 5', which is very respectable. It will sink into the ground in the coming months and can support a garden for years to come.

I added another layer of field dirt and some terracing, awaiting the next load of alpaca poop that is coming tomorrow. 

To be continued!

And once the bugs are gone in August, I just might play a concert by the garden.