Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Do You Dig it - Fence?

Our garden expands, constantly and forever. This spring, we've avoided the temptation to incorporate more space (so far), and we're just making better use of the space we have. To this end, we took out an old funky fence and rebuilt it, bigger, faster, and sexier than before. The project takes about four hours to complete and requires some manual labor.

The first part of the project was taking the old fence out. Luckily, all the hard effort and back-breaking that went into this portion was done by my charming bride, cuz I was too busy studying, doing research, and writing reports. Tearing out the fence can be the most difficult part, depending on how determined the fence builder was to keep out rodents.

Next up, digging. And by digging I mean a sweet trench the likes of which have never before graced this particular corner of garden. We're talking a full shovel width and depth for tens of feet in either direction (from the middle), squared up at the bottom, and cleaned out of all the big chunkers.

If you have stout fence posts in place already (because you're going off a previous fence or something), they are a great place to start and end your fence. If not, you need to make such a post. My favorite post setting method is quick and dirty: dig a hole with your post-hole digger (P.h.D) about 1/4 the length of the post (so for a six foot fence, you want a two foot hole and an eight foot post), then throw the post in, pour loose dirt in around the edges and wiggle the post so it gets down to the bottom. When the dirt has filled up the hole, you'll put extra dirt right next to the post and stomp it, hard, repeatedly, and with conviction. When you've added dirt and stomped each side of the post about three times, the thing will be pretty stout.

If you're going to have a corner in the fence, you can do one of two things, build a stout post with a smidge of outward lean on it, or build a freeny post with some bracing to keep it in place against the pull of the fence. I usually opt for the latter since I'm a broke grad student and because it works just fine. Here's a picture of the freeny post with bracing. The bracing comes off along the line of the fence in each direction. The post and bracing both need to be sunk a ways into the dirt so when you're wrenching on the fence to get it tight, it doesn't give.

Roll out the saved fence from the demolition of previous fences if it's in good shape, or find some other source of salvaged fencing. Ideally, it will sit right on the bottom of the nice, even, square trench you dug without scrunching or lifting above the dirt. A couple of horseshoe nails (the little ones, no use putting a 6 gauge nail in chicken wire) in the post at one end, then work along to each subsequent post, pulling the fence taut before nailing. I always like starting from the bottom to get the depth right, but Marion likes to start from the top to get the top straight and tight, the choice is yours.

Now the fence is all nailed, at the perfect height, and ready for anything. You'll probably want to fill the trench in now, but if you have particularly nasty gophers or bermuda grass, consider filling the trench with woodchips or bark mulch or something. Doing this makes it easier to pull out bermuda runners, harder for gophers to find their way into the garden, and saves all that dirt for something useful, like planting beds.

That's all there is to it: rip, dig, post, nail, fill...

Happy fencing

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Glory of Electricity

The solar panel project is complete. It took a bit of dangling precariously off a ladder, lifting a 50lb battery directly over my head while contorting myself to get around the shelves and studs/rafters, then the excitement (sort of) of plugging it all in and throwing the switch. Fortunately, it all went off without a hitch and the garden shed now has clean, green, power.

The mounting went much according to plan. I built a steel angle iron frame to hold the panel in place. In order to get everything aligned properly, I cut the steel to length with a hacksaw (that was work!) then taped it into place to drill the holes. After getting the holes started, I moved the panel, because I didn't want to slip and put the drill through the glass. I drilled out the holes to an appropriate size to get around the carriage bolts, then applied a liberal coat of rustoleum to preserve it for perpetuity.

The frame fit nicely around the panel, carriage bolts through the roof to keep ne'er-do-wells from, well, ne'er-doing, and a little bit of caulking around the bolt holes to maintain weatherproofiness (though I'm not sure how necessary that is, I didn't get the thing caulked and it survived a BIG storm last week just fine).

We had an old set of christmas lights with no greater purpose in life, so we brought them and wrapped the adjacent grape arbor. Now all we need to find is an old radio/boombox and we're ready for all night parties and disco dancing.

In summary, the PV power project was ridiculously straight-forward. The panel and charge controller are both manufactured by Sunsei and the cords are idiot proof, hooking up the deep cycle battery and the car inverter took about three zaps of a neuron to figure out. The hardest parts were the frame and mounting everything. Total cost was about $250, total effort about 4 hours, total awesomeness, awesome!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Alien vs. Protatoder

This was the most interesting of the entire bag of seed potatoes that we got for plantin' in the garden. Reminds me a bit of those scenes in the Alien movies where the little buggers are coming out of everyone's stomachs.

We decided to get rid of the aliens before they could take over the world, we cut this sucker up into little bits with two eyes per bit. We're drying the bits out to make sure they're dead, then we're going to bury them in the ground, probably on Sunday. After they're good and buried, we'll throw some mulch and water on top and call them dead for good.

We'll them pretend that everything is hunkey-dorey until they sprout in a few weeks and grow into full-fledged aliens. Mwuah-haha-ha-ha.