Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A New Family Adventure

A hay cradle for storing the hay we cut with a sythe!

Straw bales going up for the new well house.

Cochin bantam rooster protecting his ladies.

Anthony is setting the down rod for the new well.

Naomi is inspecting the black turtle beans for weeds.

The kids gathered a bouquet for Shabbat dinner.

Miriam and I in our first year on the homestead.

The last five years feel much like a renaissance.  There really isn't much that hasn't changed in that time.  We moved to the country and began what felt to me like a grand experiment.  A quest began to find what matters in life, what brings meaning and significance and what is superfluous noise?  

We didn't just move to the country.  We moved onto an empty field, much like the homesteaders.  There was no trace of human influence.  It was a blank slate.  There was no electricity, no water, just grass that was literally taller than the pick-up truck that brought us here.  Wading through the sea of grass, searching for truth I discovered a lot about life, about growing up and about meaning.  All of which will not fit on one small page.  I wish I'd been able to write about our adventures as we experienced them.  Living off the land doesn't permit much free time and it will have to be with the lens of completion through which I gaze upon the past.  I hope to record that journey here.  

Monday, July 26, 2010

Teaching Children to Commute

Samuel learned to ride his bike about a year ago! He was not even 4 yrs old. We were so proud! It was sooo cute watching a tiny little kid on a tiny little bike ride around with no training wheels or anything. Samuel loved the independence and the feeling of being "big".

Now we are slowly working on teaching him road safety. This idea alone was so frightening to me as a mom. However, the reality of my experience commuting with kids is quite the opposite. I think my main block was imagining a little boy riding down the road with traffic... terrifying. The reality is that we go very very slow. First we learned to ride in a strait line. Then we road a couple blocks in our neighborhood to the park. We practice listening to mom, stopping when I say to stop, looking for traffic signs, looking for driveways, stopping when we get to a street. We turn riding into a game and see who can find all the driveways we pass. I ride or walk behind with his little brother in a stroller so I can see what he is doing and give instruction. This makes me slower than Samuel and that gives him a chance to stop and wait for me and to listen carefully.

This practice is producing wonderful fruit! He is becoming much more aware than I ever imagined possible for a little boy. It also helps him to co-regulate an activity with me and helps with concentration and social skills. Ok, this is a far cry from kids riding with traffic like I imagined! We only go in our neighborhood to the library or the park. We treat it with the same respect and caution that I would on a regular road and I am confident that as his readiness increases and he rides with me more and more he will be a very safe and competent commuter.

Garden Follow Up

Learned something new on winter gardening. The winter garden over-wintered well. However, in the spring, everything got big and went to seed. I spoke with Anthony's dad who was a beet farmer for many years. Turns out that the things I grew were biennials which means that they seed in their second year. The cold winter triggered them to go to seed. So everything I planted August 15th began to grow but didn't finish maturing before the cold set in. In the spring it didn't finish growing, it went to seed. Lesson learned: winter gardening is basically in-ground storage. The growing must be complete and ready for harvest before the cold sets in. I think I will have to plant things by July 15 to accomplish this.

In light of that I planted carrots July 8 and spinach July 15. Not getting very consistent germination despite watering gently 2x day. Any tips on this?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Winter Garden Follow up Post

As of February 22, here are our winter gardening findings so far. The tunnel did indeed do better at sloughing off snow, but it added a lot of air mass for the water to warm and I think it was quite a bit colder than the make shift cold frame was. This along with the colder temps in December and January resulted in the cessation of growth in all plants. However, all plants survived the coldest months of the winter: the end of December and the beginning of January.

As expected, the Miner's lettuce was the most cold tolerant. It lost no leaves and indeed showed no evidence of damage! It was also very delicious and is still making great salads! I anticipate if I planted enough of this we could have fresh garden salads all winter. The chard lost it's biggest, outer leaves when the temperatures reached about -17. The inner leaves however, are doing quite well and I expect them to grow and provide an early season harvest as soon as things warm up in the next couple months. The beets were a touch more cold hardy than the chard. They didn't loose their large, outer leaves, but they have stopped growing. I assume they will be ready for a spring harvest as well.

I planted some early, frost hardy peas in mid-January as the soil was still workable and warm in all but one small corner of the cloche. The soil seems to be staying warm, but the air gets very cold when a cold front comes through. We will see how they do.

I have also figured out what happened to my spinach. The slugs!!!! They eat it as soon as it sprouts! I've set out traps, but they don't seem to be enough. Though I catch quite a few, one slug can eat an entire spinach seedling in no time. I may make more traps, or start the spinach inside, though the seeds say "not recommended to start indoors. It's my hope that starting them indoors will give them a jump on the slugs so they will survive a slug attack, rather than being eaten in a single night.

After this winter's experiments, here are the changes I am planning on for next year:
1. Re-orient garden beds so the long side faces south. In addition I plan on putting the winter garden in the southern most beds. Their current location is shaded by the house during a good part of the day. I didn't anticipate this because they are not shaded much in the summer, but the angle of the sun changed in the winter.
2. Create new insulated cold frames (perhaps wood lined with foam so we don't have to use the bulky straw, and so that the top "glass" can get a better seal than with straw.) Insulate the north east and west sides. The south side will be glass, plexi or polycarbonate.
3. Modify the shape of the cold frame so the "glass" is at an angle to slough off snow, but avoid the hoop or a tall cold frame so there is not too much air space for the thermal mass to heat.
4. Maintain a ratio of water (thermal mass) to glass of 1.7 gallons per 1 sq ft glass. (or something like this, Anthony knows the ratio better than I do.)
5. Reduce the surface area of the "glass" or plastic so all glass is facing south and the rest of the coldframe is insulated and lined with thermal mass.
6. Plant our winter garden sooner. The books I read said to plant the winter veggies in "late summer". To me, that means late August. That didn't work so well. The garden center here said that "late summer" for Colorado is mid-July. So I will plant sooner next year. The veggies keep well over winter but as Elliot Coleman explained so beautifully in the "Four Season Harvest", we are trying to extend the harvest time, not the growing season. When it gets cold outside, your plants need to be of an edible size because they will not continue to grow much over the winter.

We had no trouble with over-heating, even on very sunny days here in Colorado. The water did an excellent job of moderating temperature. This was one of our greatest concerns as people constantly told us that a winter garden was impossible here due to the temperature swings. However, the thermal mass was sufficient to counter act this problem. I am glad we were not deterred by those opinions, but rather took them into account and worked them into our plan.

Over-all I am very pleased with our experiment. I think we will be much better equipped next winter. :)

Thanks for reading, God be with you on your journey!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Two Successful Experiments, Two Planned Experiments

Ok, so we've been slowing chipping away at sustainability. At first we thought we'd have to save up and buy a Prius or something, then we discovered bikes do the job nicely. Now that the bike thing is somewhat under control we've been moving towards food sustainability. We found a local CSA-it's a local farm where you can purchase a share in the farm's productivity for the year. In addition we began a home garden to supplement the food from the CSA.

The garden turned out surprisingly well. I began researching gardening (because I knew that I would totally *fail* otherwise) and found quite a lot of good info online concerning permaculture. I bought a book called "Gaia's Garden" Toby Hemenway and "The Four Season Harvest" by Eliot Colleman. Gaia's garden laid out a very clear plan for "sheet mulching". I heard mention of sheet mulching a lot on permaculture sites, but hadn't actually been able to find instructions for implementing it without the book. Essentially you loosen but not turn the soil with a fork, then put a layer of nitrogen rich material down. Blood-meal or cut weeds work well. Then you put a weed barrier than composts such as cardboard down. Then pile on 8-12 inches of compostables watching your balance of nitrogen to carbon components to maintain a 50/50 mixture. At this point I added a bacterial-composter which was not in the book, but seemed to work well for me. Then apply 2" of compost and 2" of mulch. Water the whole thing as you are mixing it up to the consistancy of a damp sponge. Then water it regularly. In the warm weather of May and June, I had 8" of nice black soil teeming with soil life in about 5-6 weeks! Amazing! The garden took off and we are still eating ripe tomatoes in November! The best part, I found was that I had no digging, no heavy garden work and almost no weeds.

We moved into our house in May and the plants were ready because I'd started them inside in March but the garden beds weren't ready. Starting in May, we didn't have much time for our sheet-mulch to decompose. So I modified the "recipe" by making the compost/planting layer deeper. I used one big bale of peat-moss and 4 bags of mushroom compost per 3' x 10' bed to make the planting layer about 6" deep. Then by the time the seedlings were growing deeper than 6", the compost underneath would be rotted down. This was a bit of a gamble, as I didn't know if the mushroom compost would be too hot and burn the roots, but it seems the peat moss diluted it enough so as not to hurt the plants. The garden was quite a success. We planted chard, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, basil, broccoli, spaghetti squash, butternut squash and bell peppers. All of the plants yielded well. The tomatoes got in the ground a little late for our area and consequently about 1/4 of them ripened on the bush and the rest I put in boxes in the pantry, layered 1-2 deep. They are just about all ripened now and we have been enjoying fresh tomatoes all fall! I may plant tomato bushes late in the season again just so I can enjoy them next fall.

I mentioned Elliot Coleman's book earlier, the "Four Season Harvest". I got very excited reading this book, thinking that winter gardening could provide fresh veggies for the family in the winter. So I headed over to our local gardening center to pick up some cold-season seeds, only to be informed by the gardener on duty at the time that Coleman's book, written in the Northeast (Maine) would not translate to our climate--at least not without modification for climate. He told me that the challenge here in Colorado for a cold-frame is that we have very low humidity which means that we have very broad swings in temperature. Seriously, for those of you who have never been here, it can be 70 during the day in December and then 20 at night or the next day. The problem this creates for plants is that their leaves don't get adjusted to the cold and then they get killed by the frost. This problem is exacerbated by a cold-frame. As it stores heat when the sun in shinning and it's already hot, so temps can get as hot as 140 very quickly and then the glass and wood doesn't insulate well enough to keep the plants from freezing at night. Well, I bought my seeds (I can't believe they even had all those winter seeds, Botanical Interests rocks!). Then I went home to brain-storm with Anthony. We decided to try insulating with straw-bales for the walls of the cold frame and then providing thermal mass with water. To do a good job of it, we'd really need a lot of water, but for starters, we did about 40 milk jugs filled with water lining the inside of the straw bales. Then to keep the cost of our experiment down, we just threw plastic supported by stakes over the top of the bales of straw. I planted seeds Aug 15 and covered the plants in early October.

It worked! I was totally shocked. The plants inside the "cold frame" not only survived, but thrived. Their leaves grew right up to the top of the cold frame and were pushing on the plastic. The ones outside the cold frame survived, but didn't grow much, (probably too cold). So, since it worked and the plants grew I built a tunnel arching over the top. This should take care of the snow crushing the plants problem I had with a flat top to the cold frame. And here, we have a new experiment. Will the water still be enough thermal mass to keep the plants going? Probably not without adding more jugs, because the mass of air just increased many times without the water mass increasing, so I anticipate I will need to add more water. Another experiment, I just planted some spinach and some kohlrabi. If stuff is growing, I may be able to plant more and have it grow this time of year, who knows! This will be my 3rd attempt to plant spinach. For some reason my spinach seeds have not been germinating. I am not sure of the cause. It could be slugs, squirrels which love to dig in my gardens, maybe I didn't keep the soil moist enough because I planted them next to mature plants which didn't need as much watering last time, maybe the soil is too acidic with all that peat in there. I'm not sure. If these don't germinate, I may try a different pack of seeds-maybe something happened to the seeds. I guess we'll see.

And this leads me to my next experiment, can we produce enough food on our .25 acre lot to mostly or entirely feed our family from our gardens? Maybe... if I garden three-dimensionally and try a forest garden. I'm currently looking into replacing our 100' long hedge row of an ornamental shrub with a hedge of hazelnuts. There are a couple nurseries out there supplying cold-hardy varieties. The extension out here said that hazelnuts aren't that productive here because of "the climate", but I will have to have more specific information than that before I give up on the idea.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Nuvinci Longterm Review

Since we seem to get almost as many questions about the hub as we do the bikes we ride, I figured it was time to do a full fledged follow up instead of my abbreviated comments here and there.

At present we've got roughly 5-6k miles and 1.5 years of use on our Nuvinci hub, all of which has been with a rather full load (rider, 2 kids, assorted kid-related stuff), and all of that with a gearing lower than the mfg. reccomended minimum of 2:1. We have it geared closer to 1.78 : 1.

We've used it in single digit temps (F) and used it to tote 160lbs of kids and gear up over mountain passes a number of times.

This is all to say that the following comments come from pretty extensive and tough usage of the hub.

First let me say unabashedly that my wife and I both LOVE the hub. We would in no way change the decision we made to purchase this hub. In fact at this point even if given the chance to have a Rohloff at the same price as the nuvinci my wife and I both would choose the Nuvinci. It has earned our respect on a number of levels.

This hub is the closest I think you can come to the simplicity of riding a singlespeed while still having a full range of gearing at your fingertips. Its range of roughly 350% is really quite broad. A couple friends of ours who live essentially car free with 3 kids just got one for their Yuba on our recommendation and were initially planning to run it with a triple chainring up front, but after testing it out are now rethinking that plan and going for the low maint. singlespeed driveline as the range has so far proved more than adequate. There are gearing calculators out that to give you more precise numbers, but for some real world perspective, we can with the same gearing cruise along going 24mph without spinning like a track cyclist, and at the same time tote the kids and gear up a steepish mountain climb going 3.5-4mph.

Riding it is experientially really is a lot like riding a singlespeed in that it is so quiet, so smooth, and efficient as well, yet you still retain the ability to shift, but even that is a very different experience since there is no clicking or any other indication of a shifter other than a shift in cadence.

While I'm mentioning efficiency and shifting, I'll elaborate on two aspects of the nuvinci often talked about. I have not stuck this hub on any kind of testing bench and so cannot give hard numbers, but what I can say is that each person that has ridden ours, and Nickie and I as well find it perfectly comparable to riding a derailler based drive train. Here's an example. Shortly after I first built up the big dummy using the nuvinci 1.5 years ago, I commuted to work on it for a couple weeks. I'd been doing that same commute for several years, so was quite familiar with timeframes, and exertion levels. My commute was at the time 12 miles over slightly rolling terrain. The bike I typically rode has about the same body position, with rack and panniers and similar tires. The Big Dummy equipped with nuvinci probably weighed around 10 lbs more. Over the course of those couple weeks, I did not see any perceptable difference in commute times. In fact if anything my commute time was a minute to two faster on the big dummy. I keep my drivetrains in top condition and use the same lube on both. So as for efficiency, whether its because its really that good or because you are always in exactly the gear you want to be. It is certainly efficient enough to not be a detriment in any way.

As for the shifting experience, this is worth expanding on as well. This may sound like an obvious statement, but more than you might imagine, but... the nuvinci does not shift like anything else you've ridden. They say this in the literature, and it is certainly true, this bike will not shift at a standstill IF (thats a big if) you are putting any load on the pedals. The reason for this is obvious if you think about the design of the hub. It uses a traction fluid between the drive spheres and the output discs. When you apply load you are applying load to the traction fluid between the input and output and you are fighting against the hubs' means of transmitting torque. It simply will not budge. Now if you take your foot off the pedal you can spin the shifter through the whole range like its not even hooked up to anything. This understanding becomes important as you think about how it shifts on the go. A common question pertaining to gear hubs is "Can it shift under load". The short answer is definitely yes.

The long answer is this. Since, when you are applying torque to the hub it cannot shift without movement of the spheres you must think of shifting in a different way than you would on a bike with stepped gears. The word "shifting" really is quite appropriate. With a drivetrain that is infinitely variable, you tend to be subtly shifting your gearing much of the time as terrain changes ever so slightly. With this hub you walk it in whatever direction you need it to go as conditions dictate. As you apply steady gentle pressure to the shifter in whatever direction you need it to go, your hub will walk there during the lighter parts of your stroke at a perfectly ample rate to handle all but the most abrupt of changes. This may sound complicated and a large annoyance but in reality its much more intuitive after just a couple rides then any of our stepped drivetrains could ever be. On the occasion that you do hit a very abrupt change in slope and suddenly need to be in a different gearing, you just let off the load for a millisecond and give the shifter a good quick twist and you are immediately in that different gearing then dial in precisely as you begin pedaling.

It only takes so long to explain it because it is such a different experience to other gear hubs or derailleurs. After just a couple rides you'll find it to be more intuitive, quicker and easier to use than a derailleur can ever be.

Lastly let me comment on durability and service. In the time we've had this hub we have not had a single problem with it, NONE. And regarding service I've not had to do anything to it. One beautiful thing about this hub is that it is sealed for life. At first that is scary for someone who likes to be able to fix and service just about anything, but in thinking about how overbuilt the internals are and the fact that you don't have metal on metal transmitting torque through the hub, sealed for life starts to make a lot of sense and really begin to shine. It is as efficient today as it was out of the box, just as smooth and just as wonderful to use. I have replaced the cables since we first set it up, but I would call that general service on a bike, not a function of the hub itself, and I'm really considering using gore ride on cables to minimize that portion.

Are there any drawbacks? Sure, its heavy, but in this case on a cargo bike that is mission critical kid transport, I'll take overbuilt and heavy any day. Also Installation is a little tricky the first time you do it and there are a couple potential gotcha's. It is imperative that you do not kink the shifter cables. Since it is a little bit like a push pull with the dual cable setup a kink will really make shifting suffer and likely result in a cable failure. Also when you clip the excess cable at the pulleys you must clip it short enough that it does not scrape the inside of the shifter box. This will also cause poor draggy shifting. You will also need to keep a close eye on cable stretch for a time using the barrel adjusters to take out any slack so that you're not actually pushing one cable through the housing when shifting.

To sum up, it is a great low maint (no maint?) drivetrain option for the transportational cyclist. It has a very usable range, it is certainly efficient enough to not draw any negative attention to itself. It is a delight to use in its infinite adjustability, and I sincerely hope that they continue to manufacture and refine this hub for future generations.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Car Free Pregnant and With an Infant

Since our two year anniversary of car-freedom, a lot of folks have asked me about riding pregnant or with an infant. They hear "two years" and look at our youngest child and the question inevitably pops up, especially from other families who might want to give it a try! I am more than happy to share our experiences because that's exactly how we are figuring this out too. It's exciting to see so many other families on the same path and to benefit from and contribute to this new wealth of information. So here goes.

We sold our last car when I was seven months pregnant with Anders. When I was pregnant with Samuel, I was only able to ride until 7.5 months. The reason was that I had a race bike and my belly crowded out my knees at that point. So there was one consideration, pedal room. Another obstacle was breathing room. My belly quickly crowded out my lungs and I needed a more "open" body position to breath. My doctor gave me the ok to ride with 2 restrictions. 1) I had to stop when my balance got "iffy" and 2) I couldn't pedal so hard that I couldn't carry on a conversation. With these things in mind, we chose to buy a recumbent tadpole trike. A recumbent gave me room to breath and pedal and the trike portion made it so that I couldn't tip over as my center of gravity and balance got less reliable.

Common wisdom says you can't carry an infant by bike. But what if you're car-free? There has to be a way. We did find some mom's putting the infant car-seat in the bucket of a bakfietz. Good idea, but at 3000 it was a bit costly for us. The dutch also had a rack that attaches an infant car-seat to the back of a bike with a suspension system. Also a good idea, but we didn't find any available in the USA. As it turned out, the trike also worked we for carrying an infant by bike, especially in the winter, as Anders was born in mid October. I put him in a moby-wrap on my chest and leaned back in the trike. I adjusted the seat angle to be comfortable for him. The moby-wrap was nice because it was not bulky on my back. The baby-bijorn active was good too, because although it has a back pad, the pad doesn't have any lumps or buckles so it's comfortable to lean against. Keeping Anders the perfect temperature was supper easy this way! I just put one of Anthony's coats over the two of us. I left the top un-zipped and put a warm hat on his head. For my exposed neck, I put on a thick wool scarf. This way he could have fresh air. I could feel his temperature easily as he was against my body. When his feet got longer, we added leather booties and wool socks for him. We traveled this way at about 25F for an hour and a half and he was still toasty warm. I think the coldest temps we ever reached were about 7F (but for a shorter time) and he was still warm and cosy!

In this way, my body acted as a stabilizer for his neck and head and a shock absorber and warmer for him. I can say in riding around with him, he was more stable than being carried. We had spoken with our family doctor to find out the considerations for transporting an infant. In his opinion the biggest concern is that the baby is not jostled as the neck muscles have not yet sufficiently developed in the infant to stabilize the head and neck. He also said that once Anders showed good head control, he could transfer over to the infant sling in our chariot trailer, and that should be between 3-5 months of age. As it turned out, Anders got big fast and his favorite game was pushing off my legs and up on my chin! He would lift his head and look around as we rode around about 3 months. At around 3.5 months we tried walking with him in the trailer in the infant sling. He was very secure. We then tried riding that way with me pulling and Anthony watching him inside the trailer. There was not a wiggle. Being re-assured of his stability in the trailer with the infant sling and his neck-strength. We went ahead and switched him over to the trailer, but only on smooth sidewalks and going very slow (that's all I could do anyway!). This worked very well. It was still cold, but we put him in the primaloft snow suit we'd made for Samuel the year before. Inside the trailer, he was toasty warm!

This set-up worked very well. Anders traveled this way until he was 9 months old, and he started crawling into big brothers seat and looking hopefully at us, so we switched him at that point to the trailer with no support. Shortly after we switched to the double seat on the Big Dummy.

To some it may seem like a bit of an expense to get a trike just for the pregnancy and carrying an infant. It didn't turn out to be that bad, though. We bought it at about 1500, and sold it for 1000 18 months later after both me and another mom used it as I described. A car payment for 18 months would have been a lot more than 500. It worked out to be pretty economical! :)

In summing up, I'd say it worked out pretty well. If I were going to have another baby, I'd probably do it this way again. I was able to ride clear up to a week before Anders was born! I turned in my hospital registration with a bike helmet on--boy that gave the nurses a scare!! They thought I was coming to have the baby! LOL I was able to get on the bike again 4 days after the birth because the seat was so wide and spread the weight over my whole back and seat rather than applying pressure on child-birth-injured areas like a traditional bike seat does. The biggest challenge I'd say is having patience with myself as I would watch my athletic capabilities decrease and decrease as time went on. Doing all that riding, I expected to get stronger and stronger. But my lungs would get smaller as the baby grew and my energy level would go down and down and down as the baby's demands increased. By the end of the pregnancy, riding up the gentle 15 foot hill to our apartment was slower than walking! Riding on flats was fine, but the trike wasn't all that efficient on hills and I had very little oxygen left by the end.