Monday, March 28, 2011

More American Clay Plaster

Me, in front of the East Wall of the Office/Music Zone

Today, we mixed up some more Enjarre plaster and got working on finish walls again, after three months off. I'm feeling pretty inspired about plaster right now because I just attended a American Clay application workshop on Saturday with Rick Kantor of Terrasanti in Penngrove, CA at Alternative Building Center in Eureka. I had a whole lot of fun playing and experimenting with plaster with a group of great people, and learned a heck of a lot, too.

This is our third application of Enjarre plaster, which is American Clay's more commercially-minded plaster. It's designed to be a one-coat application, and is intended, generally, to be applied with spray equipment and then back-troweled. That is, until they released a new product called Up & EZ, which enables you to literally roll the plaster on with a paint roller. (Link shows a video demonstration of the roll-on technique). Or you can trowel it on like usual, too.

The last few times we used Enjarre, we were having some difficulty getting it to stick on the roller, and applying it seemed more challenging than American Clay's workhorse plaster, Loma. One thing I learned this weekend was that we weren't mixing it wet enough. I made the mix a lot wetter today, and had much better results. Drew rolled the material on, and I troweled it smooth. Ella got in on the fun too, playing with a small trowel we usually use for compressing our clay once it's dry.

I had some captions in the photos in the original slideshow, which wouldn't show up in the movie. Essentially, they said things like "So easy, a four-year-old can do it", and "So easy, a pregnant lady can do it". The color of the plaster is called "Palomino Valley". What you see here is the wet color, it will be softer when dry.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Master Bathroom Cabinet with Countertop

The Vanity, with the Concrete Counter on top, and sink installed. The darker wood in the door panels is the pear wood.

The Tall Linen Unit

The Recycled Copper Sink, set into the countertop

Concrete Countertop, stained with "Espresso" SoyCrete

A few days ago, we installed the concrete countertop that Drew and Michael built. We poured it before we left on our vacation, because with the concrete counters, the cement needs to cure for around 40 days. So we left it in the form while we were away, and Drew unearthed it as soon as we got home.

Once the form comes off, then there is a lot of grinding and sanding to do, with a grinder that connects to a hose. First, we exposed some of the aggregate, and then we sanded with progressively finer disks until the surface was almost like glass. The effect is almost like granite, though not quite as shiny. Once the sanding was done, we stained the counter with SoyCrete, and then put a coat of Acri-Soy sealer on it to protect it.

At last, we lugged it into the bathroom on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, while I was in town, Drew installed the sink and the faucet handles. By Wednesday evening, we had cold running water in the bathroom, and Drew and I realized that for the first time since we've lived together, we no longer needed to brush our teeth in our kitchen sink! Ella was first to try it out.

Our friend Michael Salbego built the cabinets, which I haven't showcased yet either. Drew and I shopped for wood, and after much deliberation, settled on maple frames with select pear-wood panels (these came from Willow Creek somewhere). The drawer panels are locally-grown and milled Pacific big-leaf maple. We were looking for a shaker-style panel. There is a tall unit for linen storage, and then a vanity, with doors under the sink, and drawers on either side. In between the two units, there is an empty space to hold our laundry bin. To finish the assembly off, Michael made some simple, hand-carved drawer pulls and knobs. We think they're gorgeous, and that Mikey did a fantastic job.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

North Half Ceiling Complete

The finished ceiling with paint

Unprimed texture, over drywall

Aaron, applying the spray texture

Last week, we focused our efforts on completing the ceiling on the north half of the main room of the house. For a long time before our vacation, Aaron was working on mudding and taping the ceiling in preparation for texture. Once we returned from vacation, Drew and Aaron sanded the seams to smooth them out. Then Drew and I spent two days (!) masking and draping the walls. Well, it wouldn't have taken quite so long if I wasn't pregnant and Drew wasn't recovering from the flu!

Finally, we diluted our bucket of mud, and loaded some into the hopper to test the spray and see how easy or difficult texturing is. Turns out, it's not THAT hard, though there are some simple tricks that make it a lot easier. Like having thin enough mix, for example. Once we decided on a coverage amount and got the gun nice and clear, it was smooth sailing, though the boys' arms were very very sore by the end.

After we let it dry for a day and a half, we primed the ceiling with ASM's SafeCoat New Wallboard Primer. This is a very low VOC primer, considered non-toxic. The following day, Drew and Aaron painted the ceiling with two coats of Yolo Colorhouse Paint in Color Air.01. Yolo Colorhouse is another no-VOC, non-toxic paint product that we get at our friendly, neighborhood green building store, Alternative Building Center in Eureka. It's a soft, slightly yellow white.

Our goal for this project was to make the tape seams invisible. We mostly succeeded. You can see them in a few spots, but mostly, it looks really great. We're pleased, and NOW we can get on to finishing the walls in that whole area of the house...did I mention we're working on our bathroom, too? I'll make a post about that, it's looking really nice.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chicken Egg Surplus

On our return from vacation, the chickens have ramped up their egg laying such that we're back to a surplus. We are getting 15-17 eggs a day. One of the main permaculture ethics is to turn a surplus into a resource. So we've been doing just that, selling our extra 4-5 dozen a week, to contribute to our feed costs. Then we can subsidize our three dozen a week habit, and continue to enjoy all things egg: deviled eggs, quiche, souffle, benedict, and pancakes.

Now I know why we have that tradition of doing stuff with eggs at Easter! The chickens are in full out production mode.

Monday, March 14, 2011

New Batteries for our Off-Grid System

The new batteries, alongside the old in the battery enclosure alongside the garage. The front wall is removable so that we can do just this: get the batteries in and out. We will need to recycle the old ones.

The batteries are so large and heavy, Drew needed to bring them over to the battery enclosure with the tractor.

And he needed a second person to help move them into place.

The Outback Mate showing our battery voltage at 25.6V first thing this morning. What a change from 24.4 first thing. It also shows that despite the cloud cover, we are making 100 watts with the solar panels.

Just after our return from our trip, we finally got the call that our new batteries had arrived in Eureka. We ordered them several months ago. Our old batteries were very much on their last legs, requiring extensive generator use.

The original batteries were really a deal. We bought them used from a neighbor who had them connected to a grid-intertie system. This means they had been held at a constant voltage for the time he had them, so despite their being used, they were in very good shape. However, they weren't designed for off-grid use, and we figured we'd get about 3 years of use out of them before they were no good anymore. We managed to squeeze 5 years out of them. These last two years, they have been far less than optimal, but they have held us up, and allowed us to build our house and keep lights on and the refrigerator running into the night.

Now that we are in the house and have a good idea of what we really needed, we've got these amazing batteries. There are 8 of them, and they are large capacity, and have a 10 year warranty. We are so excited that after charging, they hold charge for hours above a low voltage mark! Wow! We are still conditioning them, and hopefully we do a good job, setting them up to perform for their marketed 10 years or so. Ideally, we will invest in some more solar panels or a wind generator to maximize efficiency in charging these batteries.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Chickens as Garden Tools

That concentration of chickens are in the raspberry bed, working their magic. In the background, you can see where they cleared last year's summer garden to dirt, where the black irrigation lines are.

Here's another two gals, working in the bed. The upright sticks are the raspberry crowns, and you can see that AAAAALLLLL around them are weeds. That's the white electric fence in the background.

A few months ago, we finally got around to purchasing a moveable, electrified poultry fence for our chickens. This not only expanded their available foraging area, but now allows us to move them around our orchard and garden area to where they might be most useful. Their natural scratching habit lightly cultivates the soil, they find and eat weeds, grass, and bugs, slugs, and snails, and then they poop, fertilizing the area in their wake. It's a pretty cool equation.

Just before we left, we moved the fence to enclose part of last year's garden. It was already overgrown with weeds and grass. In the six weeks we were gone, they brought that entire area down to bare dirt. I don't really recommend this as a general practice, but it's pretty amazing what they did.

So just today, I was pruning back my raspberry canes, since I never quite got to it in the fall, and the crowns were very grown in with our sheep sorrel weed and several types of grass. None of our grass species is very easy to deal with. They are all very difficult to remove, especially once they crop up in the root ball of a plant you want to keep. I was feeling a little overwhelmed with it until I thought, "hey, this is what the chickens are for!" So I enclosed the area, and immediately, the birds went right for the raspberry area, since there is mulch under there. They scratched and scratched down to bare dirt. Once they do that, I can remove them by moving the fence again, and then mulch heavily. Bye bye, weeds and grass. I'll post another photo in a little while so we can see how it's changed.

Baby #2 On the Way

Most of my dear readers know by now that Drew and I are expecting our second child sometime in the middle of July. This may have something to do with why I haven't posted anything since early January! That, and the fact that we only recently returned from our annual winter vacation, which seems to get longer every year. When I left, I was still feeling pregnancy sick, and now that I'm home, I realize just how tired and ill I was back in January.

So now, many weeks and many telemark ski turns later (that's me up above tearing up the slopes at Heavenly, at 4 months preggers), not to mention a week in Santa Cruz, the flu and a trip to Disneyland, we are settled back into home and spring is just around the corner. There's so much to look forward to, I'm sure I'll be getting back into sharing about the goings on in our little corner of paradise.