Country Lane

It’s 2am and I can’t sleep because I’m stressed out. I’m stressed out because I can’t seem to get ahead. I can’t get ahead because life keeps throwing bullshit obstacles at us. Nothing the average person would care about or hand out any sympathy for. After all, we’re very well off considering all the poverty, war and injustice there is in the world. But it’s my blog so I get to do the ranting. You get to decide if you want to do the reading.

I work four jobs (the wife works two) trying to make ends meet. Anytime we get close to seeing any light at the end of the tunnel, it always turns out to be another train barreling down the line. Do we stay or do we go? Getting tired of asking myself that question every day. At some point we get to relax right? This keeps up and I’ll be dead before I’m fifty.

I can remember the conversation we had when we first walked our land, where our house sits now. My wife referred to it as “happy friendly land“. What we saw was a quaint meadow and brush with a slight rise in the middle perfect for a home. All the plants, bugs, sunshine, water and wildlife…you just got a happy friendly vibe.

One of the primary things I told our architects when we were planning our impact on the land was that I wanted them to think about the entire experience of driving up to our home, all the way back to the street, across property we don’t own. Our driveway is over a quarter mile long. It’s all gravel, with rises, twists and turns. Driving along at 12-15 miles per hour, there’s a lot of time to decompress and transition from the hectic world “out there” to the meditative calm of where our home sits.

Ours is the last house; we share it with two other homes. As you come over a rise, and past the second house you get that sense of a country lane. You’re almost surprised it keeps going, it sort of beckons you to explore. Fifty feet further you start to see our home, in summer, earlier in winter because of leaves or rather the lack thereof, …our home emerges around a bend in the lane.

That’s the effect I wanted.

A country lane, subtly revealing a gem in the middle of nowhere. No one ever knows what’s “back here” unless they’re specifically coming to our home. I would argue it’s one of the most beautiful homes in the area; masterfully designed to fit its site, a sculpture nuanced to bring a sense of internal familiarity from all who see it. There is a scale about the structure…it looks both small and large at the same time. It’s a building that makes you think about your place in this world. Coming around that corner you get what you’ve been waiting for throughout that long drive up a country lane.

It’s an experience.

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First glimpse you get of the house in early spring. Look at the diagonals…the length and angle of the lines. The horizon, the drive, the main house…the colors…tan on the house, tan in the dried brush. The charcoal of the trees, and the main house body.

 

 

Maintenance on a gravel drive isn’t that bad. Over four years the worst we get are some pot holes. Last year we had an excavator come out and straighten things up in terms of improving water runoff and roughing up the pot holes. We were going to get a cinder driveway but he said the surface we had was fantastic, and just needed some grading. And regular “roughing up” would help too. This is something we’d never done before (or since).

For whatever reason our mild winter still resulted in some rough patches on the driveway. I was thinking for a grand per household we could get the drive fixed up again this spring. At the very least I was going to fix my portion of the drive, but the cost at $750 was more expensive than I had budgeted for what would have been a simple gravel drop.

Eventually the neighbors got in touch and their plan is to asphalt from the street to the second house. Cost would be $12,000 per each of the three households. I had to laugh a little inside as I heard the news on the phone today. I just can’t catch a break. With tax season requiring me to write a check the equivalent of a decent new car, here I have the potential for a driveway bill, conjured on a whim, that will cost me twelve large. With only one house, I have little to no power in this situation, the other two houses are related so they dictate everything basically – something we knew going into it, but you know…how can you deny happy friendly land when it speaks to you. We felt it was worth the risk. Fast forward five years and I lie awake at night stressed out about life…getting out of bed to write because it’s the only thing I can think of to detox my mental system.

It’s not only the money, but I have a real problem with the material, asphalt, as well. Ethically and aesthetically I just don’t think it’s an appropriate solution for our situation. I checked with my real estate agent, and yes, a hard surface would improve home values but she recommended cement not asphalt. Asphalt is cheap looking and higher maintenance than cement.

Personally I think it ruins that charm of living in the country, and destroys that country lane experience we get now. No more walks to the mailbox kicking stones, or listening to the gravel under foot or tire on a hot summer evening.

Environmentally, the type of asphalt likely to be installed would be impervious to water, creating a greater water runoff issue than is already present. Asphalt can also be salted in the winter which means that there will be salt runoff from our driveway into the ponds and creeks that surround our property. In the summertime asphalt retains heat and creates a hot spot that leads to higher air temperatures. Not to mention the chemicals in the actual material. I just think it’s nasty stuff that does nothing to enhance our quality of life. From my perspective, asphalt is just a typical knee jerk reaction to a problem. Everybody does it. It’s cheap. Why are you fighting it?

The whole thing really ruined what was supposed to be a good day, week and month.

So here I am stressed out, contemplating my options…moving, going bankrupt, offing myself…the dread of having to pay money I don’t have for a solution I don’t condone…losing sleep I desperately need.

Who knows what we’ll ultimately end up doing. But in the meantime I suppose I need to become an expert in pervious and porous driveway solutions which are basically the most environmentally and aesthetically pleasing options. These are in addition to the current gravel driveway option, which I think is perfectly fine if maintained properly.

I’ve started finding some really awesome options online, I just need to start figuring out the costs. If it were up to me, I’d research all of the options, assign a cost to each and then make the decision. My challenge is buying enough time to make this happen. As far as I can tell we’re dealing with one quote from a contractor who’s ready to start laying down black tar and stone, and neighbors who are fine with the cost and asphalt solution.

At the very least I don’t think it’s unreasonable to put it a decision off for a year. Try the gravel maintenance program idea.

Do I have time to do this? No. Why am I doing this? Because I have no other choice. I need to do everything I can to salvage the current experience that is “happy friendly land” (and maybe not go bankrupt in the process).

And I need to be able to sleep at night.

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Asphalt would end at the driveway on the left on continue towards the horizon. Foreground would stay gravel.

A few random links and images I found on the internet when I searched for “earth friendly driveways”. I’m not saying any of these will be cheaper, but I feel like I’d rather save up for one of these solutions than throw down my hard earned money this year on unaesthetic and environmentally damaging asphalt. I also feel like some of these solutions could even be installed by ourselves potentially saving money…the biggest challenge will be changing people’s mindsets. We’ve grown up in a cookie cutter suburban world where these types of common sense, nurturing solutions are foreign and scary to the average consumer.

NOTE: From the http://www.BuildLLC.com website, this interesting note on gravel…it’s impervious, so not as eco friendly as I was thinking.

It’s worth noting that gravel is considered an impervious surface by many jurisdictions and its inclusion on a project will count against the impervious surface calculations. From the King County website:

“Packed gravel prevents or impedes the entry of water into the soil as compared to natural conditions. Scientific studies show that once gravel is compacted (from cars or heavy equipment, for example), the gravel acts like paved surfaces and surface water runs off it in greater quantities than compared to natural conditions. In addition, if cars or heavy equipment are traveling on these gravel surfaces, pollution such as dissolved minerals or residual petroleum are washed off into our waterways.”

 

Permeable Paving – The Environmentally Friendly Driveway

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Image of a permeable paved drive from:  www.scgh.com

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Image from TerraForce.com

Permeable Surfaces 

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Image of open cell pavers from http://www.buildllc.com

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Image of porous asphalt from http://www.buildllc.com

A project to install 4×4 tracks that reduce erosion 

Core Driveway – permeable plastic honeycomb system that can be used with gravel

Article on porous driveways from The Chic Ecologist

Green Driveway articles from Franke James blog

Invisible Structures grass driveway sub-straight 

Some info on porous asphalt and porous pavers from BuildLLC.com:

Porous Asphalt:

“Think of it like Rice-Krispies treats with a higher compressive strength and not quite as tasty.

Effective permeability range: 16-25%
Compressive strength: up to 4,000 psi
Required thickness: 4″ – 8”
Technology: The deletion of fine aggregate allows for connected voids while the coarse aggregate is coated with enough cementitious paste to hold it all together
Application: Areas with light traffic, driveways, pedestrian walkways, bike paths
Cost: $3 – $10 per square foot (extremely dependent on size of job)
Other considerations: Typically requires additional layers of sub-base material or filter fabric”

Porous pavers:

Because the technology here is ceramic-based, these systems are typically proprietary. We like the Aroura Klorostone product for its clean aesthetic, simple color options and versatility.

Permeability: The Klorostone is capable of infiltrating up to 2 inches of stormwater per minute without relying on mortar gaps. The exact permeability is difficult to determine with these products because each company has its own protected recipe.
Compressive strength: 6,000 psi
Thickness: 2-3/8″
Technology: Each individual paving unit is porous (as opposed to interlocking concrete that relies on aggregate gaps for infiltration)
Application: Driveways, sidewalks, courtyards, patios
Cost: $7 – $10/sf delivered
Available colors: 4
Other considerations: The joints around paving units will provide an additional 5-15% of permeable area”

 

 

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BR30 LED Update

I went to Home Depot and bought nine more LED BR30 bulbs for the ceiling. I went with the 650 lumen ones they had for sale at around $9 each. These are the ones I didn’t have a chance to test in my LED light bulb test. 

They look virtually the same, light wise, as the Philips light bulbs I had tested. They are energy star certified, use less energy and I can’t really tell that they are slightly less luminous.

The wife likes their sleeker shape as well. The Philips I tested earlier did have a little ridge / lip along its face which she found distracting. These “new” ones look just like an old school incandescent bulb.

That takes care of all the dimmer lights in the house. I did by an LED approved dimmer at the Depot as well. Still on the fence if I want to test it or not. If I test it, it would just be out of curiosity because these new bulbs work fine with the old dimmers. The cost of the new dimmer is $21.

Lastly, I moved the incandescent bulbs that were above the fireplace, into the kitchen – so now the wife is happy to be able to finally see again in the kitchen. Over time I’ll replace those with LED BR30 bulbs as well. Likely the GE Reveal bulbs because of their superior color rendering ability.

-c

 

Summer Honey

I spent the weekend extracting summer honey. This is the first year we’ve extracted honey two times. The amazing thing is how dark this honey is compared to the lighter spring honey we extracted in July. I’m not exactly sure why it is so much darker, other than I know that the nectar that the bees collect determines the color. That is to say, different flowers produce different color honey. Our land has a variety of flowering trees, bushes and plants that blossom throughout the year, so I suppose it’s not too surprising that summer honey differs from spring honey. But I’ve never seen it this dark before. It’s basically black for all intents and purposes.

(Here is a good article from ErinNudi.com on the benefits of dark honey.)

Basically darker honey has more vitamins, anti-oxidents, and nutrients than light honey. Dark honey is preferred in Europe, and light in America. Dark is better with your oatmeal, whereas light is better with your tea.

Like wine I suppose, honey has a variety of flavor profiles, and there are even honey tasting events. We did our own impromptu honey tasting, and they do smell and taste different. You could definitely smell the difference while I was extracting the honey, as the dark honey has a stronger smell than light. We bottle our honey similar to wine, in that I mark the season, year, type and hive number or numbers on each bottle. Honey never spoils, so we plan on saving at least a bottle or two from every extraction we do, so we’ll have a “library” or catalog of our honey throughout our lives as beekeepers.

We pulled three frames from Hive No. 3, and eleven frames from Hive No. 1, for a total of 14 frames in this batch. I combined them all into one “vintage”. Right now I’m naming the honey ‘3/11 Summer 2015 Wildflower’, but it’s so dark and we’re close to Halloween, I may name it something different. The “3/11” part indicates the number of frames in this “blend”. It’s not always going to be convenient to separate extractions by hive, in which case we’ll have blended varieties.

Hive No. 1 is a real overachiever this year. A typical new hive won’t usually produce any harvestable honey its first year. Hive No. 1, the angry bee hive, has given us over 85 lbs. of honey in year one. And it still has plenty for itself over winter; nearly an entire mid sized super or more.

One last note before we get to the totals and pics. The yellow jackets are out in full force again this fall. We’ve been filling traps with them, and we’ve put our entrance reducers on both hives. A smaller entrance is easier to defend. And we’ve dropped both lids flat to keep the yellow jackets out of the top of the hive as well. When I was cleaning the equipment today, there were a lot of yellow jackets out. We were killing them one at a time when possible. So fingers crossed that both hives survive until the first frosts show up and the yellow jackets die off.

Totals – Summer 2015 3/11 Wildflower honey

Frames: 14 (3 hive 3, 11 hive 1)

47 pounds of honey

(2) 4 oz. jars

(56) 8 oz. jars

(5) 16 oz. jars

Our “Soft” Sustainability Targets For 2014!

There is a certain energy as Winter transitions to Spring. I’ve been thinking about it, and really now is the real start of the new year. It’s not some date on a calendar, for me I think it’s this transition from dormancy to bloom. Today was warm. Even though it might snow on Saturday, the days are going to be predominately warmer from here on out I suspect. Winter has been a four-month long psychological wasteland. Spring brings a whole new chapter. A change from the monotony and depression of Winter.

Seemingly the whole world awakens into some sort of subsurface energy that permeates from everything. The pace of days has picked up. I’ve been busy with work but also busy in my head thinking about outside; thinking about everything that will happen once the days become more reliably warm. It’s a long list.

Besides me, my fellow house mates need to get out and stretch after the long winter as well.

The other day I left the studio door open. It doesn’t close properly because of the missing strike plate. Anyway, I saw Daisy’s first foray into the real world as I pulled back into the drive after dropping the trash off at the end of the drive. Her little striped tail sauntered back inside much to my dismay. Presumably the snow did not agree with her. Now she eyes up the door every time it’s open. She’ll be a runner for sure.

I started reading my stack of orchard and farm books. Overwhelming and depressing to say the least. First off, half of the decisions that influence how well apple trees do are made before or during planting. Well that cow is out of the barn. And now the organic care and maintenance of the trees is daunting. Raising apples, or having a micro farm for that matter, is something either people with jobs do on the weekends, or farmers do. People in the middle like me have no business dreaming of such endeavors.

That’s why I’m doing it. Cause most people don’t, or say it can’t be done, or shouldn’t be done. I hate being told “no”. Another reason though, it all should prove to be a pretty cool place for the kids to grow up and learn.

Like any life though, mine is figuratively walked precariously on a mountain ridge about eighteen inches wide – loose and rocky with very little margin for error. Every day I run the numbers and it could go either way. Honestly, between you and me, part of me wouldn’t mind scrapping the whole endeavor – lose the house, downsize and go live like every other “normal” person out there: golf, socialize, wait for death to come rescue me. But alas I don’t think that’s the cloth the good lord cut me from.

My sustainability thoughts have turned to “farm”. Now that we’ve been here for a while and we’ve made good progress with energy conservation, I’m ready to infuse the next round of earth-friendly living. Besides anything more on the house front would be expensive (e.g. solar water heater, photovoltaics, electric car). Micro-farm related stuff around the property is a mix of money and sweat; which means I can use my mind, and back, for free and yield results. I look at it this way: the house and infrastructure are “hard” sustainability targets, and the social, lifestyle and farm related ones are “soft” targets. This year we’re focusing on the soft ones.

Our (my) lofty goals for this year outside:

  • bees – ramp up to have three hives total, one of which provides us with honey and wax.
  • veggie garden – plant lots of sunflowers for their seeds, along with the staples that we grew last year. Also planting tea plants (for tea), lavender (for bees and drying), and kale (first time). Nixing growing peas, and so many peppers which didn’t do well.
  • guinea fowl – to eat the ticks I’ll build a little house (Joe design me a guinea house!) next to the garden and well by some baby guineas. We can even harvest their eggs and eat them when they’re older (which we won’t do). New adventure this Summer.
  • apple trees – I’ll read through the four encyclopedic books I have and attempt to know what I’m doing. I doubt we’ll have any apples this year though.
  • berries – ditto the apples. I need to figure out what I’m doing.
  • herbs – once again, I need to figure out how to grow and preserve this stuff.
  • wild flowers and clover – plant more wild flowers for the bees as well as clover for the bees and deer.
  • CSA – we joined a Community Supported Agriculture program which supplies us with locally grown produce, cheese and meat.  My goal is to migrate towards at least 50%-75% locally sourced food for our household, maybe higher.
  • Meat – I’m going to look into sourcing all of our pork, beef and chicken from local farms; talking to the farmers to understand their practices and assure their methods are humane. I am also very interested in harvesting a deer for the freezer!
  • Veggies – to offset the higher, (more fair, by the way) cost of meat and food my thought is to eat more veggies, pasta, etc. This will hopefully make us healthier too, which will lower healthcare expenses.
  • Communicate – I want to get people out here to enjoy it all, maybe go for a walk, appreciate the land and get ideas that they can take back to their homes. Regardless I want to have people over to enjoy a drink and burger or something. Working from home makes me want for human interaction. The cats are gettin’ to me. 🙂

All of this will hopefully push us closer to independence on the food front. Then after we win the lottery we can go after the hard targets.

Why do we (I) do this? Partly cause I’m crazy, but also because the world we live in is crazy. We’ve made so many bad decisions over the last 150 years that we need to start making some good ones. I’m tired of being at the mercy of what “they” tell me I have to eat and how I have to live. I won’t achieve the lofty goals in my mind, in my life time. But hopefully my kids can and to their kids it will be second nature.

By time they’re around maybe my apple trees will finally be producing apple trees.

Rodents have been eating my apple trees, and decimated our new jersey tea plants (the ones we drove to Chicago to get). I hate rodents.

Rodents have been eating my apple trees, and decimated our new jersey tea plants (the ones we drove to Chicago to get). I hate rodents.

The bees were flying. Tomorrow we're going to open the hive cause it should be 70 degrees out.

The bees were flying. Tomorrow we’re going to open the hive cause it should be 70 degrees out.

Daisy enjoying our 10" deep window sills on a sunny Spring day.

Daisy enjoying our 10″ deep window sills on a sunny Spring day.

This is why we built the house. So the cats would have sunny window sills. I'm not joking.

This is why we built the house. So the cats would have sunny window sills. I’m not joking.

Daisy.

Daisy.