Monday, March 28, 2011

Put a lid on it

Shed Slab 16x8'
poured a concrete slab on the 20th for our shed using three truck loads
of gravel/sand, seven bags of Portland and 115 gallons of water. Over
the weekend we framed it out, and got a little sun burned in the

Now we have most of the corrugated metal on the roof and
sides. Both of us are looking forward to having storage space, and our tools will be happy as well. The shed we built is
16x8x8' and cost ~$500.

Shed frame

Missed a Spot


Monday, March 21, 2011

Chemicals, n: Noxious substances from which modern foods are made.

Is anyone else a little confused?

freshfood1.jpgWhy does a head of lettuce from the grocery store cost $3 when fast food restaurants can sell you a burger, fries, and apple pie for the same price?

factoryfood2.jpgLettuce goes from farms to the store.  Not too much in between.

freshfood2.jpgFast food goes from farmers, to factory processing, to trucks and trains, to franchise locations where they are assembled and served up to hungry customers.

factoryfood1.jpgHow can that possibly be cheaper, with the factories, equipment, fuel, and about a gazillion employees in between?

Is it right or sensible that fresh food should be cost-prohibitive?

Why isn't everyone asking these questions?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Praise and prayers

I would just like to take a moment to congratulate our friend and neighbor John Wells of the Field Lab blog for being interviewed for his own feature article in the New York Times!

A New York City artist travels across the country to far West Texas, escapes the drone of 8 million people for the quiet of the sparsely populated Chihuahuan desert, and ends up making a splash big enough for the Times to take notice!  It must be fate (not to mention a lot of hard work)!

Keep up the good work and the cool projects! Congrats John and Benita!

And now for something completely different ...

We are still waiting for rain, and every day the clouds tantalize us with visions of precipitation far off in the atmosphere! When will it fall on us?!  Oh well, patience is a virtue.

The clouds are a very good sign, though.  Seeing thunderheads form -- even though they are far off and come to naught -- means that we are getting closer to the rainy season.  Almost all of the rainfall here comes from heat storms, which is why is mostly rains in the summer.  So when we're sweating our butts off, it is some solace to know that the heat brings us closer to much-needed precipitation.  Pray, dance, and sing for rain!

Speaking of heat, we had our first "hot" day yesterday -- temperatures hit 96F in Terlingua -- and one of my cockerels bit the dust the same day.  Coincidence?  Maybe....

But the breed I chose, Brahmas, are known for being very heat-tolerant.  In fact, my first batch survived 120F in the brooder at just a few days old!  That batch was from Murray McMurray hatchery, and I was extremely pleased with the birds. 

My second batch came from Welp hatchery, and I have had problems from the start.  Many of the chicks had badly formed feet, they were more aggressive (and dumber I think, but that's hard to prove), and less hearty overall.  But I thought the breed traits would be the same. 

Now it seems these birds are having trouble with the heat, and it's not even Spring officially!  I have five hens leftover from my last brood, and they are still doing fine; they don't even seem to notice the heat.  The birds from the new batch are panting already, and I suspect the cockerel overheated and died (though I can't know for sure).

I am very frustrated with the hatchery, and I don't think I'll ever stray from Murray McMurray again!  Their birds are simply from much higher-quality breeding stock.

So guess what I did when the day reached its hottest hour.  I dipped my birds.  Yeah, sounds weird, but I think they liked it.  I simply took a five gallon bucket of water down to the coop and dunked them in it one by one.  They were very muddy after they got back in the coop and tried to dust bathe, but there was no more panting! 

I just hope the birds acclimate soon so I don't have to make "bird bathing" a daily routine!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Summer, Winter ... what's the difference?

img_1217.jpgimg_1218.jpgWell, we're getting more clouds all of a sudden, including the one photographed above.  It looked like rain, but the sky was just teasing us!

img_4600 (Modified).jpgAnd chickens always seem to find the oddest places to roost.  I guess a leaf spring is as good as anything else...

img_4602 (Modified).jpgimg_4604 (Modified).jpgimg_4606 (Modified).jpgWe are much closer to finishing our off-grid RV job.  The panels are mounted, the batteries are on site, and all the parts are in.  All that's left for us is the installation of the charge controller and inverter, and wiring everything together.  Those panels are a beautiful sight as you ride down Ranch Road!

img_4607 (Modified).jpgWe even got to spend a little time on our own projects, like hauling gravel from the stream for concrete.
img_4610.jpgThe gravel pile is getting bigger!  Soon we'll be ready to pour the shed floor, and after that the rest of the structure should go together quite fast.

img_4611.jpgWe didn't get stuck in the creek bed when we were hauling gravel, but ...

img_4613.jpgWe did manage to get the red truck buried up to it's axles in the sand behind our house.  Completely unloaded, too!

img_4615.jpgIt took several tries with the white truck to pull it out. 

img_4619.jpgAnd when Casey lowered the air pressure in the tires, some rocks got stuck in the bead of the tire.

img_4620.jpgAt times, it seemed like we were going to end up with two stuck trucks, but thankfully everything ended well.  Took some life off the tires though, that's for sure!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Just thought we should give everyone a brief update on what we've been up to lately. Casey has been hard at work, wearing his mechanic hat.  We took an Ohioan SUV over to Beechie's to replace a whipped wheel bearing.  We hope this old girl has a good trip back north!


We also took a little time to help Dennis and Debbie with their Kia Sportage, which ate its timing belt several weeks ago.  We had thought that it was an interference engine, meaning the valves would all be junk, but it turned out it's not!  Dennis picked a good vehicle, and soon we'll pop a new timing belt on and she'll be as good as gold.


While we still haven't seen a single drop of rain since September, we were blessed recently with a low hanging cloud.  We awoke one morning to the unmistakable scent of damp desert (an amazing, heavenly smell that should be bottled and put in laundry detergent). 

The cloud lingered for a few hours that morning, then dissipated as the sun got higher.  The plants seemed grateful, but not every location was as lucky to have a dewy morning.  The vegetation is all extremely thirsty and the roads are tuning to dust and blowing away.  We need rain!

We also went back to Alpine to work on the Simple Pump installation.  This time we were working on the solar/electrical side of the installation, and everything went very smoothly.  Soon we will make a fourth trip to the site and retrofit the pump to an above-ground discharge.  We're looking forward to checking this job off the to-do list!

The deep freeze we got last month is still wreaking havoc with residents, and we got to see one tenacious amateur plumber's attempt to fix his water system.  I predict that soon spray foam will replace duct tape as the glue that holds our world together.

On our way home from our trip to Alpine, we were very upset to spot a wildfire burning on Cienega Mountain, just south of the checkpoint.  We took several photos, but most came out blurry and useless.  The one above barely captures the ring of fire spreading through the grasslands, but it's the best we've got.  According to Marfa Public Radio, over 8,000 acres were burned in the fire.


Back at the home-front, our hens were hard at work laying some gigantic eggs.  The egg on the left represents the average size of our eggs laid by the Brahmas.  On the right, one of the giants we got with a large clutch of eggs one morning.  One of the giant eggs turned out to have a double yolk, and the others were just big 'uns.


We got a call this past Monday morning that a palette of solar panels we had ordered for a customer was going to arrive in Alpine (even though the shipping address we gave was Terlingua) in just a few hours.  We had been expecting the delivery to arrive on Tuesday, so Casey had to put his pickup truck rack project into overdrive.  It was mostly done by the time he left.... 


And I butchered the last of my meat birds yesterday.  Casey once again was too squeamish to help. Sheesh.


The battery box we were building for one of our customers turned out pretty good, though it took us longer to construct than expected.


It was finished just in time for the panels to be delivered!  The panels are now resting from their journey, safe inside the small building.

Thanks for reading and have a beautiful day!