Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hoop House!

It's finally getting to the end of the working season. We had our first snow yesterday and many days it's too cold to do much outside. I've finished most of what I wanted to finish outside, though I still have a few important tasks to complete, like building a wood shed and putting gutters on the house. For a while there I was worried I wasn't going to be able to finish the hoop house in time to plant in the spring. I've had a number of problems with the kit. There was no information in the instructions about how to build the end walls, so it's been interesting trying to figure out how to do that and how the plastic on the end walls is attached. There seem to be major parts of the instructions that are left up to the person putting it up to figure out for themselves even though parts provided are sometimes not compatible. It's been much more of a struggle than I would have expected from something prefab, but I have now finished it. The plastic is up and it's pretty tight for the winter.

After the hoop house was pretty much closed in and we had our first sunny cold day, I got to test its ability to keep things warm. I closed up the corners for the winter where there was a gap through which the wind could easily blow. I think that eliminated most of the drafts. We have had sunny days in the low to mid 20s these last two days and it's gotten pretty warm in there. I checked one day at about 2pm and it was over 70 degrees. The ground outside is frozen down to about three inches, but it's still completely unfrozen in the hoop house. It's going to be a nice refuge from the bitter cold on sunny winter days. I can go a couple zones to the south by just taking a short walk. A number of people here have suggested I have a dance party or a contra dance in the hoop house because it's so warm on a cold winter day, but I don't want to compact the soil. It made me think that DR should put up it's own hoop house just to have a sheltered warm space to hold events, do yoga, etc when the weather is bad or to extend our season outside. There's something so much different about being in bright sunlight in the middle of winter versus being in a building.

Michael and Jess, two former DR visitors who are considering living here permanently, helped me with putting the plastic on the house. It was pretty cold this day when we put on the side curtains.

The hoop house, if I haven't explained, will make it possible to grow food year round. It won't be heated with anything but sunlight, but will maintain a microclimate for vegetables that will allow them to survive the winter cold. It will also greatly extend the cool part of the season allowing a longer harvest of greens like lettuce and spinach. There are a number of unique greens and vegetables that can survive the winter in the hoop house. I'm told that I will even be able to harvest lettuce throughout the winter in this part of the country. I'll have to experiment to see which crops grow best here. Because of shorter days, vegetables will not grow much in December and January, but they will survive, so if I plant them at the right time they will mature just before growth slows and they can be harvested throughout December and January. Other crops can be planted in the summer for an extended season. Tomatoes and cucumbers can be harvested weeks earlier and later than would be possible outside the hoop house. I plan to sell the produce I grow here at DR and while making an income, I will be providing fresh local organic veggies at a time of year when there is little in the way of local vegetables. Most people eat fruit and vegetables throughout the winter that are transported from thousands of miles away. Actually most people eat this way during the gardening season as well, but we are already growing a lot of our produce or buying it locally during the season, so this hoop house will eliminate the miles traveled by some of our food in the winter.

I finally moved into the new house after finishing the wood floor on the second floor. I've been living mostly on the second floor while finishing work on the earthen floor on the first floor. I rented Wisteria Lodge to our new resident Chris. It has been convenient to have him needing a place to live around the time that my rental property became available. I did some minor improvements on the house before he moved in. One was putting a new facade on the door. The wisteria vine has grown considerably this season.

Tom helped me put in the reclaimed oak floor on the second floor. He has a special tool for nailing tongue and groove flooring and he works much faster than I do since he's done this many times. I figured I could be doing other things while he did the floor. And I did.

The sanding took a bit of work to get down past the grime. It was a struggle to decide which finish to use on the wood floor. I'd wanted to use something more natural than polyurethane, but because I wanted a harder surface and a certain finished look, and because there were other drawbacks and financial limits to alternatives, I decided to go with low VOC water-based polyurethane, which was still pricy at over $50 a gallon. There are some good products out there. One I'd have to order online was $135 a gallon. It was tung-oil based. One of the natural options was the same finish I used for the earthen floor—linseed oil mixed with Citrasolv. I looked at another floor here that was finished with this mixture and realized it was not the look I wanted. It was a little too blotchy and yellow. I also was not sure of how the Citrasolv would affect the wood since I think it is acidic. I used plain linseed oil for the trim on the house, but that will not be getting foot traffic. Linseed oil alone might have worked but would never have been as hard a the polyurethane. It was a toss up. I decided on polyurethane and I'm happy with the results.

When the subfloor had dried I put another layer of cob mixture down to bring the level up to within a half an inch of the surface. I debated about whether to do just one final layer to finish it, but decided on two more layers so it would be less likely to crack. It was a good idea for a few reasons. For one bringing the layer up to within half an inch of the surface meant the final layer, which requires the use of screened clay and sand, was pretty thin. For the thicker layer below it I could then use unscreened material and save a lot of time on screening. I could also use longer pieces of straw in the mixture , giving it more strength, and preventing cracking. Another benefit was that the layers took less time to dry because they were thinner. And finally, two thinner layers instead of one thick one decreased the likelihood of cracking. I did have some cracking and I think that was the result of the second layer being thicker in some spots. I should have brought the entire subfloor up to withing an inch of the surface and done two final half inch layers. Then I probably wouldn't have had any cracking.

The final layer of floor is troweled smooth with a pool trowel

It takes some care to make the surface as level and flat as possible. The material is laid down as dry as possible to prevent cracking. The floor ended up with only very minor cracking.

With the final layers I also covered up the concrete covering the cheese cellar. I will be making a door to cover the hole that is now in the floor. Once the floor was dry I applied a heated mixture of linseed oil mixed with Citrasolv. I started with a 50/50 mixture and increased the proportion of oil with each layer. The citrasolv is a thinner that allows the oil to penetrate the earthen floor better. As linseed oil dries it hardens and creates a durable surface on the floor so it can stand up to everyday traffic.

I'd been looking for a wood stove for the house and had planned on buying the Jotl model that many people here get, but then I found out about a farmer down the road who was selling a used Waterford stove that was almost identical to the Jotl. So I got that for the house. I've been using it to heat in the last couple weeks and am pleased with how it works. The only drawback is that it doesn't have the window on the door so you can watch the fire. Eventually I might get a different stove, but for now this one will do.

The stove with the now finished floor under it.


hennalion said...

wow, your house is looking great! the wooden floor is beautiful with its new sanded and polished finish. and what a treat to have a cozy warm hoop house to hang out in! will you be planting directly into the ground, or creating raised beds with borders, or what?

thanks for sharing your updates! =)

Dan Durica said...

Thanks for the comment. I plan to plant directly in the ground but possibly make a couple of raised beds for crops like carrots that don't like our high water table. I don't know if the water table will be lower under the hoop house or if it won't make much of a difference.