Friday, November 23, 2012

This season: a review

Pug the pug visiting my house and looking for handouts
I haven't really been posting much this season because I've been concentrating on other things, but I do have a lot to talk about now. I've been gradually finishing projects on the house and am now pretty much done with it. There are a few other finishing touches to add, like a stove for the kitchen, the first floor ceiling, a bit more soffit, and the railing for the stairway, but pretty much everything else is done for now.

I had to spend some time resurfacing the earthen floor since the light clay straw insulation sort of failed and had sunk about an inch all around and was cracking in many places. I'm hoping the floor had sunk all it was going to sink, so that when I added the layer on top it wouldn't sink again in time. We'll see, but everything looks fine so far. If it doesn't work this time I'm going to tear it up and put in foamboard insulation.   The picture above shows the entrance pad with tile laid into the earthen floor in the higher traffic area.  I also laid tile into the kitchen area part of the floor.
I finished all my curtains myself in the early spring and got them all up.  It was good to refamiliarize myself with a sewing machine.  The warm windows fabric does make it a lot easier though.  I'm really happy with how they turned out and how they work!  They make the place have much more contrast and give me a sense that I'm in some other country, which is what I was going for.  The picture above also shows the wood rack I built for my firewood, with bin on the bottom for the big stuff and shelves for kindling above.  Of course I've only lit a couple fires so far this year because the weather has been either warm or sunny, and my thermal curtains are keeping the cold out.  I reorganized this part of the downstairs for the winter, complete with comfy chair for sitting by the fire.


I've also gotten a bunch of shelves in. This was a big step for the kitchen since I didn't have nearly enough space for all my canned goods and kitchen supplies. I finally was able to get some local wood from a supplier and make some nice walnut shelves for the canned goods. I was kind of worried these things wouldn't be able to hold up all the jars I have, but so far they haven't fallen. I was also able to score a whole set of kitchen cabinets that someone was getting rid of. They are of older style but they are in good shape, they fit perfectly in the space, and they are stained a sort of walnut shade, so they kind of match the shelves I built for the canned food. And I was able to get some cabinets for the counters and I mounted my stainless steel sink on them. I had to build the middle cabinet to customize it for the sink, but it worked perfectly as well. Now all I need is a stove and a pot and pan rack for the ceiling, and I'll have a complete kitchen. I was able to get rid of a large wooden cabinet/desk thing that had been in the middle of the floor for the last year and a half or so. It's nice to have more floor space now.

I also painted the ceiling on the second floor. I used milk paint made from milk solids from the organic milk I use for my cheesemaking, and the lime I use for lime plaster. I think it looks good, but it definitely did not go on smoothly and evenly. It also kind of cracks and peels in some spots. I suspect this is because I made the mistake of painting a coat of latex primer on first. It's too smooth for the milk paint to adhere to properly. The other problem with the paint is that it's hard to get the pigment right since the recipe calls for a certain amount of pigment in proportion to lime and milk solids, so you can only make one hue and it is a solid color.   When I tried milk paint without a primer on a section of drywall in the downstairs bathroom, it looked much better and didn't peel at all.  You can also see the attic storage hatches here that now have walnut trim around them.  This definitely gives the whole upstairs a more finished look.
The walnut door to the power room under the stairs
I was able to fit a couple of the second hand cabinets in the closet upstairs and that has created more space up there too. The second floor looks less cluttered than ever.


The vineyard did not do too well this season because of the drought, but I was able to get some grapes out of it. I made some grape juice with the juice varieties and made a little wine. I'm going to have to install drip irrigation next season to test out the difference, because the vines seem to get stunted in the middle of the season from lack of water. I also wonder if there isn't a lack of nutrients in the soil. The early spring and then late frost didn't help matters. That has happened the last two years but this spring was really bad, with many of the vines getting blasted by the late frost. It can be damaging not only to the new shoots but to the woody parts of the plant. That kind of damage really stunts and can potentially kill the vines. I also experimented with a product called Bird Gard to try to ward off the birds,which have been trying to eat the small amount of grapes the vineyard is producing. It failed utterly and I had to resort to netting, which is a pain in the ass, but works. Fortunately, Bird Gard has a year-long no-questions-asked return policy, so I should be able to get my money back. But I'm definitely going to have to do something different if I expand the vineyard because I'm not impressed with it's performance. I truly think our depleted soil is to blame. Grapes I planted in my garden beds near the parking lot at DR in just two years grew bigger than most of the vines in the vineyard.
A mix of grapes for juice

Part of my problem is a lack of equipment too. Most vineyards will herbicide the swath of land going down the rows of vines, thus eliminating competition with the vines for water and nutrients. I can't spray herbicides and easiest option would be to cultivate, but you need a special tiller that can go around grape vines, and it is way out of my price range. I may try sheet mulching in addition to the drip irrigation. But it's a lot of mulching and a lot of expense just to keep down weeds but I have the idea that maybe wood chip mulch might be a longer term option.
Haley and Kyle's sheep were grazing in the vineyard in the later part of the season and seemed to do a good job of keeping things mowed. They dropped plenty of manure, which should help with fertility. I've been learning a lot about green manures and their potential for adding fertility and I think the best combo will be a nitrogen fixing green manure and grazing animals at the same time.
Below is some of the winemaking I've been doing this season.  I was able to make wine out of some of my own grapes but in addition was able to get a good amount of grapes from the nearby Truman University experimental vineyard.  It was a bad year for them because a lot of the clusters were drying up in the drought before reaching maturity.  A few of their varieties faired better, so I went and harvest enough to make a couple hundred bottles of wine.  I was able to get a lot of Vignoles, which is one of my favorite Missouri grapes.  It makes a kind of spicy flavored white wine.  White wine is a bit more challenging than red because it requires cool temperatures for fermentation.  It's hard to believe I was properly fermenting it outside in September considering yesterday (Thanksgiving) it was in the seventies here. Next year I'm hoping to work with the Truman vineyard much closer and potentially be able to harvest grapes in exchange for doing workshops on cluster thinning and other maintenance.  If their grapes could be at their potential I could make a lot more wine.
Of course, one of the most striking changes on the house was the finish plaster.  The finish plaster had been delayed while I figured out how I wanted to do it and what the possible options were.  I decided to do what's called a lime fresco plaster.  This uses natural pigments mixed with lime water as a paint.  This paint is brushed on the surface of the final coat of lime plaster.  I'm really pleased with how it turned out.  The real test will be in whether it holds up to the weather.  I am the first person at DR to try this kind of pigmented plaster, so my house now has one of the most vibrant finishes in the village.

1 comment:

Adam said...

A beautiful home Dan. Good job.