Posts Tagged ‘septic’

The Straight Poop

Fascinating reading has taken on a whole new meaning since living in rural Maine:  books like “The Septic System Owner’s Manual:  Subterranean Mysteries Revealed” by Lloyd Kahn line my shelves.

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Most people living in urban areas rely on city sewer systems to handle their plumbing waste.  But when you live in a rural area, you have a septic tank.  There are some precautions one must take if you have a septic tank:  you can’t flush Kleenex or sanitary products down the toilet because it doesn’t degrade well.  You can only use toilet paper that is marked “safe for septic systems” on the package.  You can’t dump cooking oils down a drain (but you should not do this anyway if you want to avoid clogged pipes).  Because food waste can rapidly fill the tank, garbage disposals are not recommended in houses that rely on septic systems (surprisingly, I find I do not miss having a garbage disposal.  Vegetable/fruit peels, eggshells and coffee grounds go into our composter).  Certain chemicals, such as pesticides or bleach, can also cause problems, because they upset the balance of anaerobic bacteria that allows the septic waste to decompose.

Our septic tank was installed six years ago.  We had never had it cleaned out, and while we haven’t had problems (I was about to write “issues” but realized that would be a poor choice of words), we also didn’t want to wait until it overflowed.  While I’m all for trying to do things myself, certain jobs are best left to professionals, as one unlucky man in Massachusetts found out just yesterday.

According to CBS-Boston:

Plympton firefighters were called to a home on Forest Street Tuesday afternoon after the man fell into his septic tank.

He was up to his waist in waste.

“I ran up to the hole, found the man in the tank and I got a rope around him,” Fire Chief Warren Borsari told WBZ-TV.

“We got a really good hold of him. He was in an 8-foot tank up to his waist in liquid about two feet below the manhole cover.”

The Plymouth County Tech rescue team eventually got the man out.

His name was not made public.

He had minor scrapes, according to the chief. He was decontaminated right there in the yard and taken to the hospital for treatment.

Borsari said the man may have been drinking before he fell in the tank.

Unfortunately I wasn’t there during the phase of construction that involved our septic system, so I wasn’t sure where the septic tank was actually located.  We knew it was somewhere between the house and the leach field.  To the untrained eye, our leach field looks like a large rectangular grassy field.  But underneath the grass is a maze-like series of trenches and gravel, where liquid waste (called “effluent”) disburses after it travels through the septic tank.  We noticed a large metal rod protruding from the ground and figured that might be a marker.  My husband got out the shovel and started digging and digging.  He dug all the way to China, through rocks and roots and sand and dirt, but there was no sign of a septic tank.

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Husband digging fruitlessly in search of the septic tank. The grassy area in the background is the leach field.

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Husband digging. When we called in a professional, the tank was quickly found, and the lid was only 6″ below the surface. Live and learn.

The next morning I left a message for Jeff Ward, our excavator who had installed the septic system.  “Hey Jeff, give me a call.  I need to know where our septic tank is located.”

He emailed me back:  “Check your copy of the septic design report if you still have it.  There should be a diagram showing the location of the tank.”

Going through old files, I located the report.  We had hired a septic “architect” (someone with a civil engineering background) to design our waste system, and he had drawn it out.  But that didn’t mean it was completely accurate, because it was up to Jeff to install the system, and certain natural obstacles such as underground rock or tree roots may have forced Jeff to slightly alter the location on the plans.  The diagram looked like a pirate’s treasure map.  But it did give a better idea of where the tank might be found.

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That night I had a dream.  We were looking for the septic tank and digging around the corner of our house, when I came upon a Tupperware container with a red top.  Inside the container was $350 cash!

The next day my husband started digging again, this time in a completely different spot closer to the house.  Much to my disappointment, there was no Tupperware container with $350.  After only a few inches, though, he hit pay dirt, so to speak – – the cement surface of the septic tank.   But where was the septic lid?   I did a YouTube search on “how to locate septic lid.”  (Is there any topic that YouTube doesn’t cover?)  Sure enough, a short video tutorial told us how to find it.  But we were missing some key tools, like a tile probe – – a long, thin metal rod with a t-shaped handle – –  and a metal detector.

When I called Doyon’s Septic Service out of the yellow pages, I spoke to co-owner Betsy Doyon.

“Do you know where your septic lid is located?” she asked.  I told her we had an approximate idea of where the tank is, but we couldn’t find the lid.  “No problem, we’ll find it,” she said.  “We do this all the time.”  You have to admire the confidence and pluck of someone whose vanity license plate reads, “Got Poop.”

Dennis Doyon drove his septic truck up our driveway Friday morning.  The truck was painted a shiny bright yellow with gleaming chrome trim.  The truck was only 2 weeks old.  (I wondered:  do septic trucks have a “new car” smell?  I was too shy to find out.)

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The shiny new septic truck

Dennis didn’t need to see our septic plan diagram; his years of expertise guided him as he made a beeline right to the area in my dream.  Using his tile probe – – that YouTube video had been right on the mark – – he found the parameters of the septic tank within seconds.  But where was the septic lid?

The tile probe

The tile probe

“Do you know who installed your septic system?” Dennis asked.

“Yep: Jeff Ward,” I replied.

“Oh, Jeff buys his septic tanks from American Manufacturing.  That lid would be located around here,” he said, pointing to a spot on the ground.  Sure enough, the lid was found immediately with minimal digging.  (It always pays to hire local labor when you live in a rural area.  Besides helping the local economy, someone you have to see at the Town Meeting is unlikely to do bad work, because word travels fast.  And everyone knows everything about everyone, which often proves to be useful.)

Eureka!  Dennis unburies the septic lid

Eureka! Dennis unburies the septic lid

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The square metal septic lid, which fits over the cement septic tank

Ever curious, I’m sure I drove Dennis crazy with all my questions and picture-taking.  I mean, how many customers stay to chat with the septic man while sludge is being sucked into the truck?  How many people find sludge fascinating?  (Actually the biology of it all is quite amazing.)  Whatever prejudices or preconceptions I had about men who drain septic tanks were flushed away by Dennis, who was clearly very intelligent and quite dapper in his preppy polo shirt and immaculate jeans.

Did we have a baffle or a filter? (A filter, which is a newer design.)

Dennis cleans off the red plastic filter with my garden hose.

Dennis cleans off the red plastic filter with my garden hose.

How often did he think we should empty the tank?  (Every 5 – 6 years, since except for a couple of weeks in the summer, it’s just my husband and myself.) Have there been any recent innovations in septic design?  (Besides filters which replaced baffles, a guy invented a way to clean baffles that cut maintenance and repair time significantly.)  Where does the sludge get disposed of when he drains the truck?  (At one of two sewage plants in the area.)

Gettin' Pumped!  (draining the septic tank)

Gettin’ Pumped! (draining the septic tank)

How did he get started in the septic business?

“I was helping my friend build a basement,” he replied, “and he needed to have a septic system installed.  Unfortunately the septic guy in our area had a year-long waiting list until he could take care of my friend.  So the demand was there.  Shortly thereafter I heard about a guy in the septic business who was thinking of retiring and selling his old septic truck.  Two weeks later, I signed a ‘non-compete;’ I had a license and a truck; and I was in business.  That was eleven years ago.   I’ve never looked back.   And now my son and daughter-in-law are joining me in the business, and we just got this new truck.”

“Was it hard to get used to the smell?” I asked.

“Actually it’s not so bad.”  (He was right.  There was very little odor when he drained our tank.)  “There are really only two instances when the smell gets you:  when people don’t call until their tanks are overflowing; and when people are on chemo.  You know how they say chemotherapy kills the good cells along with the bad cells?  Well it also kills the good bacteria in the septic.  I don’t know why – – but the waste products from someone who is undergoing chemo are really . . . different.” (Interesting!)

“But I’ll tell you this,” Dennis continued, looking a bit sheepish.  “To this day I still can’t change a baby’s diaper.  It just makes me sick.”

For a good basic explanation of septic systems, click here

http://www.doyonsseptic.com/

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Spring Cleaning House Tour

When it became apparent that winter was finally, truly over and the woodstove could now be retired until autumn, it was time for spring cleaning.

This tortuous process lasted for 2 full days and nights and included dusting, vacuuming, thoroughly cleaning out the woodstove and removing ash dust from every nook and cranny including the ceiling fans.

The sand, salt and dirt traipsed  by our car into the garage was removed (along with the car) and the cement floor soaped, scrubbed and rinsed many rounds until it was clean enough to convert into a temporary bedroom, awaiting summer’s visit of eleven of my grandchildren (all at once!).

Accumulated stuff had to be tossed or rearranged and reorganized.  Winter items, from heavy coats, gloves, and hats as well as crampons, down comforters, and snowshoes were put into winter boxes and summer items were reinstated to the closet.  Our cement floors were re-polished.

Emergency food storage supplies were rotated.

Our food storage supply.  It's not only for emergencies.  When you live 40 minutes from the nearest supermarket, you don't want to make a last-minute trip if you run out of something.  So I make sure to have plenty of staples on hand at all times.  Also, it costs about $10 in gas everytime I make a trip into town.  That forces me to be much better organized about planning menus, and combining shopping, and other errands to keep those trips to a minimum.  When I do go to town, it's usually an all-day venture.

Our food storage supply, kept in the basement. It’s not only for emergencies. When you live 40 minutes from the nearest supermarket, you can’t make a last-minute trip if you run out of something. So I make sure to have plenty of staples on hand at all times. Also, it costs about $10 in gas every time I make a trip into town. That forces me to be much better organized about planning menus, and combining shopping and other errands to keep those trips to a minimum. When I do go to town (about once a week), it’s usually an all-day venture.

Windows and mirrors were washed until they gleamed.  Screens were cleaned.

Seeds were planted in small seed starter boxes and placed on the porch, awaiting transplantation in a few weeks’ time to a summer garden.  (Although it was warm enough to take out the plexiglass panels and replace them with screens, I kept the plexi panels in so that it would have a greenhouse effect and encourage faster sprouting).

Wannabe garden

Wannabe garden

Apple trees were pruned.  Old wasps nests were removed.  The dog got his first heartworm and flea & tick medication, along with a summer haircut.

It was exhausting but satisfying.

In the midst of cleaning the garage, my husband, who reached a momentous birthday milestone recently,  stopped to rest and, looking out onto the woods and the pond,  said, “I don’t know what will be ten years from now.  Will I be healthy or sick? Active and of right mind, or decrepit and feeble?  But I want to remember this moment, right now,  because our time in Maine has been the happiest years of my life!”

It sounds crazy, I know – – he was cleaning the garage, after all – – but it meant so much to me, and I really get it, because I feel the same way.

I took some pictures of our super-clean house because let’s face it, it ain’t gonna stay this clean very long!  Have fun on the tour . . .

Enter at your own risk:

Yes, I know it's kitschy, but how could I not buy this sign for my front door?

Yes, I know it’s kitschy, but how could I not buy this sign for my front door?

My moose hat rack/dog leash holder from IKEA.  That's bear spray at the top of the antler - I keep it by the front door just in case!

My moose hat rack/dog leash holder from IKEA. That’s bear spray at the top of the antler – I keep it by the front door just in case!  We keep our muddy boots under the bench on the left.

Here’s why I love my living room / dining room.  Besides being cozy, comfortable and welcoming, it consists mostly of furniture from craigslist, Goodwill, and the dumpster, closeouts and contractors’ overstocks. Translation:  it was cheap, but it looks great.

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Living room (click to enlarge)

Sofa End Table:  $20 Goodwill

Bookcases:  Total of 4, $5 each from Borders Bookstore that went out of business, found on craigslist.

Mirror:  $50 IKEA. Totally opens up the room, and reflects the woods.

Carpet: $50 Commercial carpet  remnant from contractor’s overstock.

Solid leather recliners:  $400 ea, Costco.  I got these new because I couldn’t find used ones that were comfortable or didn’t smell like cigarette smoke, but in my hometown I did manage to find one on craigslist for $175 that I keep in my hometown.  Recliners are the world’s best invention after the washing machine!

Old futon sofa renewed with new cover:  $15 for cover, Target clearance.

That’s our soapstone woodstove in the rightmost foreground.  Even though we got it on sale, it was not cheap.  But a good heat source is crucial to living comfortably in Maine in the winter.  We bought the best that money can buy, and we do not regret it one iota.

The floors are polished cement.  Not only are they easy to keep clean, but in the summer they are cool, and in the winter, thanks to the woodstove and under-floor radiant hydronic heat, the are nice and warm.  They are also inflammable and indestructible.

Paint:  I love, love, love the dark accent color behind the bookcases, which works because it’s only on one wall broken up by the shelving, and the high ceilings and plentiful windows don’t make it feel like a cave. The color is called Bittersweet Chocolate – – with a name like that what’s not to love?  The light color is called Bennett Grey.  It’s a taupe-y neutral, but what I like most about it is that it subtly changes tone and intensity depending on season and time of day.  Another great color is by the entry, a taupe-y brown called Texas Leather (not shown).  It’s just very, very soothing.

Dining Room (click to enlarge)

Dining Room (click to enlarge)

My solid wood, handcrafted pine farm table, which I use as both a work table and a dining room table, was $75 on craigslist.  I found the beechwood chairs left out for the trash at someone’s house in my hometown.  There was nothing wrong with them other than the soiled upholstered seats.  For $20 I recovered them with faux leather bought at Joanne’s Fabrics, attached with a staple gun.  Since our car space is limited, we brought one or two chairs per trip when we’d travel from our hometown to Maine.

Note all the sunlight:   that’s “passive solar” at work!  Even on a snowy day, as long as it’s sunny, the room will get to about 65 degrees!  Between the energy-efficient windows on the southern and western sides of the house,  and the spray-foam insulation in the walls, the house is airtight and it stays warm on cold days!  The heavy insulation and ceiling fans keep the house pleasantly cool during hot summer days.

My Miele washing machine

My Miele washing machine

I really like my Miele washing machine.  It retails for about $2,000!  I found mine on craigslist in southern New Hampshire.  The guy was asking $1200, and I offered him $400.  I was worried lest he be insulted by my low-ball offer,  but he accepted my price.  Shlepping it to Maine in our car wasn’t exactly a piece of cake, but it was well worth it.   This machine is tops for energy efficiency and quality.  It uses very little electricity, and almost no water.  The secret is in the spin cycles – something like 1200 revolutions per minute!  After a spin cycle like that, the clothes are practically dry when the wash is done, and on a clear  summer day my clothes dry outside on the line in an hour.  Although this machine is much smaller than the typical American washing machine, you can really stuff the dirty clothes in tightly so actually it can handle about the same amounts as a traditional American washer.  Anyone who has lived in Israel is familiar with this European style of washing machine, but Miele brand is definitely the best!

My IKEA kitchen, small but functional (click to enlarge)

My IKEA kitchen, small but functional (click to enlarge)

Kitchen:  $1200 cabinets from IKEA, discounted for discontinued style.  Big Box stores estimated $7000 for a similar kitchen!

Spice Rack

Spice Rack

These shelves from IKEA were actually designed as ledges to display framed artwork, but I found they work perfectly as spice racks.  Yes, I really do use all those spices in my cooking on a regular basis!

Screen porch

Screen porch

Our screen porch is off the kitchen/dining room.  When you are there, you feel like you are in a treehouse, in a canopy of the greenest leaves.  In the autumn thru the Spring there are views of the bog below,  with its amazing array of wildlife, and the surrounding mountains.  What I love about our porch is that it can be used all year round.  In the autumn through the Spring, it has plexiglass panels, and thanks to passive solar, it warms up beautifully when it’s sunny outside.  In the summer, we take off the plexiglass panels and replace them with screen panels.  With summer breezes and because it’s under the trees, it always stays cool.  We also keep a futon on the porch where we sometimes read or sneak a nap.  We often have our Shabbos meals on the porch.  This Spring, I used the table to hold my seed starters.  You are looking at future sunflowers, basil, lavender, parsley, and oregano seedlings.  Once the danger of frost has passed, they will be transplanted to my garden.

Milkweed

Milkweed (click to enlarge)

One of our guests asked me if this floral arrangement came from a designer showroom in Manhattan!  I had a good laugh.  I bought the vase from TJ Maxx for $10.  I found the piece of peeled birchbark outside our house in the woods.  I cut the milkweed from a deserted field, while on a walk close to my house.  Since I don’t live anywhere near a florist and I don’t like to pick wildflowers that grow on my property (many are endangered species,  such as Pink Lady Slipper), this makes a nice “floral” arrangement for my Shabbos table and it lasts forever.

This wild iris popped up unexpectedly along the driveway

This wild iris popped up unexpectedly along the driveway

Okay, now on to my husband’s office.  One of the great things about our life is that my husband, a computer whiz with the job title of Software Architect, works from home.  The biggest risk we took in building our house out in the middle of nowhere was the possibility that there wouldn’t be good Wi-Fi connectivity for a computer, and that would mean he couldn’t work from home.  (A dial-up modem would not have been fast enough to meet his needs.)  Miraculously, our phone carrier offers a DSL line, even way out here in the woods!

My husband works in the basement since it’s less distracting than in the main part of the house.  But it’s not all doom and gloom:  since our house is built on a slope, it’s a walk-out basement and mostly above ground.

Busy at work

There is nothing fancy about his work environment:  a folding table, chair, and computer.  But the view . . . !!!!

Office window view of the woods

Office window view of the woods

The view from my husband's office window

The view from my husband’s office window

To the left of his desk is the table holding his ham radio station.  (He’s been begging me for 35+ years to get a ham radio license so we can participate in this hobby together.)  From this little station he has spoken to ham radio operators from all over the world.

The Man Cave:  Amateur (Ham) Radio Station

The Man Cave: Amateur (Ham) Radio Station

One thing about rural living is that property taxes might be lower, but you don’t get what you don’t pay for!  We don’t have a police force (we have to call the county sheriff, and he could be between 1 – 2 hours away).  Both the rescue and fire departments are run by volunteers, who might be at their workplace when you call in an emergency.  So you have to wait until they get to the station, and then travel to your location, which can be 15 or more miles away.  (Though neither of us suffer from heart disease B”H, we are seriously considering purchasing a defibrillator as a first line of defense.)  There are no fire hydrants for the fire trucks, so when the pumper truck runs out of water, he must make a run to the lake (5 miles away) to refill the truck.  (If G-d forbid you have a fire, the typical approach is unfortunately not to save the house, which under these challenging limitations is almost impossible, but simply to ensure that all occupants are safely out of the building, and that the fire is prevented from spreading to other homes or creating a forest fire.)

We also have no garbage collection; we must take all trash to the dump 8 miles away, and it is open only for limited hours a few times a week.

Let me tell you, when you are responsible for the trash you create, you create a lot less trash.  Suddenly you become conscious not only of what you buy and use, but the containers things come in.  What is recyclable or reusable before it has to be dumped?  Also realize that there are no sewer lines, and everything that goes down the sink or toilet goes to a septic tank, which is under a “leach field.”

The leach field.  Giant boulders prevent cars from parking there, because if the earth gets too compacted the septic waste will not decompose properly.  The whole thing sounds worse than it is - - it is odor free.

The leach field. Giant boulders prevent cars from parking there, because if the earth gets too compacted the septic waste will not decompose properly. The whole thing sounds worse than it is – – it is odor free.

We cannot have a garbage disposal due to the septic system.  But, we can  – – and do – – have a composter.  Egg shells, coffee grinds, tea bags, and  fruit and vegetable peels all go into the composter.  It’s a painless, odor-free process, and eliminates a huge amount of refuse that would otherwise go into a garbage disposal or trash can.  After approximately  2 months of “stewing” the composted food waste creates a rich black humus soil that can be transferred by wheelbarrow to my garden.

We try to run the house on solar power as much as possible.  Unlike most people who use solar power, we are not tied to the grid and therefore do not “sell” any energy back to the power company.  What most people do not realize is that if they are tied to the grid, then if there is a power outage, you will be without power too!  We wanted to have complete independence from the power company, so we opted to go “off” the grid.  The solar panels generate electricity which is stored in a huge battery array located in the basement. These batteries look something like golf cart batteries.  They are very heavy, and frankly, they will be a landfill nightmare when they finish their lifespan in about seven years’ time, so I hesitate to call this system “green.”  We also have a backup to our backup:  a propane-powered generator.

Generator

Generator

The 1000-gallon propane tank is buried under the ground.

The cover to the propane tank.  We keep a marker so we can find it in the wintertime!  We lift the cover to monitor usage so we know when it needs to be refilled.

The cover to the propane tank. We keep a marker next to it so we can find it in the wintertime when it is buried by snow! We lift the cover to monitor usage so we know when it needs to be refilled.  We fill it once a year, in the summer, when propane prices are lowest.  Winter rates are 30 – 50% higher.

Despite the government’s position on encouraging “green” living, did you know that you cannot get a government-backed mortgage if you run your house on solar power off the grid?  We also realized that not everyone appreciates living conservatively in terms of electricity usage amounts.  So we designed our house so that with a flick of the switch, we can go from solar power to being connected to Central Maine Power (CMP), our local Maine electric provider.  This has come in handy when we’ve been without sunshine for a week or more, or on winter days when the days are very short and the solar panels don’t have enough daylight hours to collect any substantial electricity and we need a bit of a boost.

Here is a photo showing both our composter and our solar panels:

WP_001195And here are photos taken from the utility room in our basement, showing the cistern, on-demand furnace, hydronic radiant heat lines and battery array:

The Utility Room.  The grey tank in the left corner is our cistern.  An electric-powered pump draws the water from the well and directs it to the cistern.  The water is so pure and delicious!   The propane-powered furnace provides unlimited hot water on demand. The tubing leads to the radiant heat under the floor.

The Utility Room. The grey tank in the left corner is our cistern. An electric-powered pump draws the water from the well and directs it to the cistern. The water is so pure and delicious! The propane-powered furnace provides unlimited hot water on demand. The red tubing leads to the radiant heat under the floor on the main level.

Our house runs on battery power!

Our house runs on battery power!

We spend a great deal of time in the summer months preparing our wood supply.  That means cutting the downed trees into chunked logs, splitting them, drying them for 3 months to a year before they are sufficiently “seasoned” (otherwise there is too much sap and moisture and they don’t burn well), and then stacking the split and dried wood into the woodshed.    I remember once upon a time, both George Bush and Ronald Reagan were shown on television at their homes in Texas and California, splitting wood with an axe and maul.  This is really, really hard work, especially with the amount of wood we need to split.  We pay someone to do the splitting, and he uses a massive gas-powered splitter.  Each log (especially the oak) is very heavy, but shlepping them undoubtedly beats going to the gym for exercise.

Pile of logs

Pile of logs

The woodshed.

The woodshed

Here is a picture of the back of the house (which is really the front entrance).

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Yes, our skies are really that blue!

The house looks bigger than it really is.  The lower level has a small office, but otherwise it's just a utility room for the furnace and cistern, and a one-car garage.

The house looks bigger than it really is, thanks to high ceilings, lots of windows, and an open floor plan. The lower level has a small office, but otherwise it’s just a utility room for the furnace and cistern, and a one-car garage.  The total living space is around 1000 square feet.

Many people wonder why I didn’t build a log home.  Log cabins are indeed very  romantic, not to mention beautiful.   However, besides their tremendous expense, they are extremely high maintenance.  Wood is slowly but surely constantly drying out and “shrinking.”  This means that the chinking (the white filler stuff that goes between the logs) must be re-applied every few years.  Also, the outside logs must be re-varnished and treated every 2 to 4 years, a big and pricey job.  We assume that we will be on a very limited income once my husband retires, and won’t have the funds for major maintenance costs, so we specifically designed the house to be as maintenance-free as is humanly possible.  We opted to go with fiber-cement siding for the exterior cladding.  It is highly rated as a fire-retardant, but more importantly, it is guaranteed to not need repainting for 15 years!  We chose the color that most resembled the color of the surrounding trees.  It blends in so well with the immediate environment that you can’t  see the house from the road unless you already know it’s there.

Our property is located in a very windy location.  About 3 miles away, back in the 1980s,  there was a historic blow-down that permanently destroyed many acres of forest landscape.  In the summer there is almost always a breeze, but the wind can sound pretty scary during a storm.  The roar of wind is frequent and regular, and we figured based on the noise that some of the gusts had to be at least 75 mph.  We bought this anemometer (a wind-measuring device) from the store at Mt. Washington Observatory:

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The anemometer

But it turns out that our maximum recorded wind speed so far was only 37 mph. It just sounds much louder and scarier because of all the trees.  Placing the anemometer was a bit tricky, since we have to be careful that it isn’t damaged when huge sheets of snow and ice fall off the roof in the winter.

Here is a picture of my orchard.  This heavily wooded area was cleared to allow for more sunshine on the solar panels.  I planted 8 Honeycrisp and Macoun apple seedlings there in place of the thick stand of oak, pine, beech and birch trees that were felled.  Since these semi-dwarf apple trees will only grow to about 15′  high, they won’t create shadows on the solar panels that are placed on the other side of the driveway.

Two-year-old apple seedling:  hopefully only 4 more years to go until mature enough to bear fruit.

Two-year-old apple seedling: hopefully only 4 more years to go until mature enough to bear fruit.

Last summer I also planted 6 blueberry bushes.  I also planted  kale in raised beds, with great success.  This past autumn I planted garlic, and it’s doing beautifully.

Garlic growing in a raised bed

Garlic growing in raised beds

One corner of the orchard has 3 beehives which are not owned by me; I let someone use my property as a bee yard.  He gets the honey, and I get to watch and learn about bees and my plants benefit from the pollination.  At one point I thought I might get into beekeeping, but after observing the Bee Man I decided it’s more physical labor than I can realistically handle.

The bees are buzzing!  The hives are surrounded by a solar-powered electric fence, to deter bears.

The bees are buzzing! The hives are surrounded by a solar-powered electric fence, to deter bears.

In early May, the leaves are still not on the trees.  You can barely make out the apple saplings.  The beehives are on the far right.  In the distance in the middle of the photo, you can see part of my neighbor's cabin, which he uses only occasionally, on weekends.

In early May, the leaves are still not on the trees. You can barely make out the apple saplings. The beehives are on the far right. In the distance in the middle of the photo, you can see part of my neighbor’s cabin, which he uses only occasionally, on weekends. (Click to enlarge)

The same view of the orchard 2 weeks later, with leaves on the trees.

The same view of the orchard 2 weeks later, with leaves on the trees.  The cabin in the distance is now completely obscured by the foliage.

This is my latest future project:  I am having more woods cleared to make room for a raised-bed garden.  I hope to plant squash, cucumbers, herbs, beets, and kale for starters.  The downed trees will not go to waste:  the wood will be used to heat our home in the coming winter.

Site of future garden

Site of future garden

Our property sits on 5.6 acres of woods, and backs onto the White Mountain National Forest.  The WMNF abounds with trout streams, ponds, bogs, lakes, waterfalls, wildlife, and hiking and snowmobiling trails. With each season, the landscape changes.  I never get tired of the woods.  Every day I thank HaShem for enabling us to experience this wonderful, spiritual, and healthy way of life in the woods of Maine.

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Early spring, when tiny leaves are just starting to show. Two weeks later, these trees were covered with heavy foliage.

The driveway.

The gravel driveway.

The same view of the driveway two weeks later, when the leaves are on the trees

The same view of the driveway two weeks later, when the leaves are on the trees

In Search of the Perfect Clothesline

(click to enlarge)

 

Because we are living mostly off-the-grid and are highly dependent on sunny days for our electricity, I needed a washing machine that used very little electricity or water.  Our water comes from a well, but its source is hundreds of feet below the ground.  To get it up to the surface requires a 3/4 horsepower pump – which uses electricity.  So the less water used, the less the pump has to work.

We also want to avoid wasting water, because that flows into our septic system.  A full septic tank is not a pretty smell.  Do you feel frustrated and unfulfilled by your current job?  Realize that there are people who make their living doing nothing but pumping out septic tanks day in and day out, in all kinds of weather.  Makes you start appreciating the persnickety boss and suffocating cubicle at your current place of employment, doesn’t it?

If there is cloudy weather for days and days, and our battery supply is depleted to the point of no electric service, we do have two possiblities:  one is that we simply flick a switch and we are reconnected to the grid via our local power company.  When we’ve had to rely on this, our electric bills have typically been $10 – $25 per month.  The reason they’re so cheap is that we’ve invested a lot of time and thought into how we can cut down on energy expenditure.  Our house is super-insulated which means in summer we don’t need a/c even on the hottest days; in winter it retains heat so well that the woodstove is more than adequate and at times we’ve even had to crack open a window because it gets too hot inside the house!

We’re extremely careful about turning off lights that aren’t in use and using power strips that can be easily turned off to avoid energy vampires.  Most of the lights in the house are LEDs, which use much less electricity than CFL bulbs – – only 10 watts per fixture.  These look like any old recessed lighting fixtures, but they give off wonderful light, are much more pleasing and softer than CFLs, yet more natural looking, brighter and more intense .  I highly recommend them to anyone considering an update to their home’s lighting system:  www.cree.com

We put the largest windows on the south and west sides of the house.  On clear winter days the sun’s rays are absorbed by the glass and warm up our rooms nicely.  This is known as “passive solar.”

There are some things in the house that are powered by propane gas: our back-up heating  system, our kitchen range, our hot water, and our generator.  If we have a week of no sunshine and then there is a major storm and the power lines are down (and this happens a lot), the generator is a life-saver.  The downside, besides the noise, is that propane gas is rather expensive.  We have a 1000-gallon propane tank buried underneath the ground, but at $2.30 a gallon, it’s not something you want to drain quickly.  That’s why we don’t have a clothes dryer – – it eats up too much propane gas.  When I cook, it’s usually on top of my stove, because I find that using a pressure cooker cooks food very quickly and uses a whole lot less gas than if I bake something in the oven.

When looking for a washing machine, I first went to www.energystar.gov This was very useful also when looking for a refrigerator.  You can find out how much energy a particular appliance consumes, and compare different brands.  I found out that a medium-size Miele washing machine was the lowest for both electricity and water use, and it had excellent reliability ratings.  I wasn’t scared off by the smaller capacity, since I’m doing laundry for only 2 people these days.

There is only one problem with a Miele washing machine: the price.  At $2,000 – $3,000 there is no way I was buying one – – new, that is.

Thank you, CraigsList!  A guy in New Hampshire was selling his as-new Miele machine for $1200.  I waited a couple of weeks and then I emailed him.  “I noticed a couple of weeks ago you were selling a Miele washing machine.  There is no way I can pay you $1200, but if you’re willing to take $450 cash, I can be there tomorrow and take it away.”

It even came with an extended, transferable warranty.  I was very excited.  And, I’m happy to report, it does live up to its promise.  Our Miele washer really does get the clothes cleaner, using a bare minimum of detergent, water and electricity!

Hanging the wash is a work in progress, however.

Our laundry smells of fresh mountain air – it’s wonderful.  And we have lots of trees from which to string a clothesline!

A sunny November morning

But the trees have to be at least 20′ apart and here the woods are too thick.  And the line can’t be too far into the woods, because of mud in the spring and snow in the winter.  The clothesline has to be in an area of sunlight, because the cold temperatures and short days in the fall and winter mean the laundry will otherwise not get dry.  Location, location, location!

I do have a single clothesline strung, but am looking into stringing more on the side of the shed.  That’s when I found the Cord-A-Clip.  Even though we did not end up getting a Cord-O-Clip, as I watched the info video on YouTube, I got positively teary-eyed.

It made me think of my mother-in-law, a’h.

My mother-in-law was a TV addict.  She always felt grateful for television.  When she came to this country after the War, she didn’t understand or speak English, and everything and everybody was so different from what she was used to.  She had no money, but she did have a husband and two small children to nurture.  Rent had to be paid and food had to be put on the table.  There was no time to go to night school – – there weren’t enough hours in the day between caring  for the children, and she and her husband working their heads off.

At night when things quieted down, my mother-in-law watched TV.  She learned English from “I Love Lucy” and “Bonanza.”

But as that age of innocence devolved, TV embraced the culture of marketing.  And with it was born “As Seen On TV.”

My mother-in-law was its biggest devotee.

To my mother-in-law, if something was As Seen On TV, it was irresistible.  A product had to be good if it was clever enough and wonderful enough to be As Seen On TV!!!  Soon, the mail carrier  and UPS man were on a first-name basis with my mother-in-law, due to the weekly arrivals of innovative gadgets that were all stamped, “As Seen On TV!”

In her later years, she was thrilled when WalMart and Target created special sections in their stores, whose aisles were limited to items that were As Seen On TV.  It made shopping so much faster – she only had to go to that particular aisle when looking for presents to buy for her family!  Because if it was As Seen On TV, it was surely the most unique, clever and perfect present in the world!

When I saw the Cord-O-Clip, I knew my mother-in-law was smiling down at me from Above.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4RLDKKdoQQ

If my mother-in-law were alive, I imagine this Chanuka we would have gotten presents marked “As Seen On YouTube!” because towards the end of her life, she really loved shopping on the Internet . . .

We miss her!