Category Archives: On The Mountain

Hope and Gratitude: Spring Perennials

Since I am new to the whole-hearted efforts of gardening, it is beyond refreshing to have the perennials on the property come blasting into renewal on auto-pilot with their Spring buds. This self determination on the part of these hardy plants gives me much hope that I can grow food that needs deliberate planting and attention.

The apple trees are appling.

Early Fuji apples

The blueberries are bluebelling.

New blueberries

The kiwi trees are budding beginner kiwi fruit.

Baby Kiwi fruit

The blackberries are blooming everywhere.

blackberry blooms

And the chives just keep on...

ChivingI continue to be grateful for the gift that these perennials are. During changing times where systems are often unreliable, it is even more appreciable that nature renews and endures.

Mrs. Cog - May 23, 2014

Underground Drainage Pipe

Click on any of the images to enlarge them.

For half of the 70's and all of the 80's I was a remodeling contractor in addition to being a general contractor. So not only did I provide top to bottom custom remodeling, ranging from a redo of a kitchen or bathroom to the gutting and rebuilding of older homes. But I also built many new homes from the ground up.

When siting a new home on a building lot, aside from the location of the well and/or septic system/leaching field if required, of primary importance is to place the house on high ground, or at least where water tends to move away from the home rather than towards. This is very important if you are planning on having a full basement, as anyone with a wet basement will tell you.

When we first looked at our new homestead I immediately realized the house had been placed on the side of a slope. The prior owner/builder told me he did this in order to have a full basement with a walkout portion in the back. The benefit of this is that the back basement wall and half of each side basement wall have plenty of half size windows all around, bringing in natural light year round.

Placing the house on the slope as he did can lead to wet basement problems unless you install curtain or footing drains completely around the outside of the concrete footing that the foundation walls sit on. It is better to drain away water before it hits the foundation wall and builds up pressure, forcing its way into the basement, than to try and seal the basement wall from inside. Move the water away from the foundation, either by natural flow or by a properly built drainage system.

I was pleased to see that not only had the prior owner installed footing drains, but he had also routed the down spouts from the roof gutters down into the footing drains, thus routing the water that would normally be dumped onto the front and sides of the building from the roof into the curtain/footing drainage system and away from the house. This is exactly how it is supposed to be done and the basement is water tight and dry. In fact it isn't even damp, with no need for a humidifier during the summer months.

During our second inspection visit to the home prior to our submission of a purchase contract, I looked for the curtain drain outlets that should have exited further down the slope away from the back of the house. I found one on the North East side and another smaller one that drained the basement floor itself if water was ever to enter the basement. But I could never find the drain from the South East side.

This wasn't alarming to me because sometimes a builder will use only one outlet. But the owner did tell me there were two outlets for the curtain drains and one for the basement floor drain. So there was definitely one outlet missing. I tramped around that damn East facing slope all summer long looking for that drain to no avail, even going so far as to cut all the brush back so that I wasn't missing it in the weeds. Nope... it was not there.

I put it out of my mind for the rest of the summer and fall, assuming that I would tackle it in the spring when it would show itself after the rains began. And it did, just not the way I expected.

After some heavy rain for a few days I was under the rear deck once again looking for signs of that missing curtain drain outlet along the slope. And once again I saw nothing. Following the line of sight of the house edge I walked back up the slope and found a depression and small hole in the dirt about five feet from the house where nothing had been there last fall. The hole and depression was exactly where the drain pipe should have been if it was installed. Bingo!

Hole and depression cleanThe image above was taken with my back to the house and the downspout looking away from the house and down the slope. Midway in the image on either side are posts supporting the deck above. There is a line shadow between those two support post and midway between them in the center is the depression and hole that I found. You can't see it clearly in the picture, but the depression, while not as severe, runs all the way out to where the slope drops off, about 20 feet from the house.

Time to get digging. I could see that there was the end of a 4 inch flexible plastic pipe in the hole. I assumed the pipe either broke or was disconnected from the other section leading to the slope drop off. I thought I'd have to call someone like sage water to come and fix it for me. A minute with the shovel proved me wrong. There was no more pipe. Time to hit the Loews 25 miles away, something we did several days later as part of a supply run to civilization. I took 5 more minutes with a pick axe and dug a crude trench to move the water away from the hole. No sense leaving the water to back up the pipe and clog it further up.

Crude Drain

At Loews I purchased a ten foot section of 4 inch flexible plastic pipe and a connector. There was a stray 3 foot piece of pipe in the garage I could use with the connector to finish to run to the slope. This wasn't my first time digging in Virginia red clay, but I assumed it would be easier than the trench I dug for the generator because here I was digging through fill from the house construction. And while it was somewhat easier it was still a chore to dig. I am almost 60 years old so I don't have the strength or stamina I had 30 years ago, though my brain still thinks I'm 30.

Trench and existing outletAbove you can see the completed trench as well as where I had dug back a foot of the existing drain to free it up somewhat and to confirm that it was intact. I know it wasn't clogged because the last time it rained water flowed freely out of it. The new 10 foot section of flexible pipe is to the right. I used some tin snips to clean up the edge of the old pipe to make a good connection to the flared end of the new pipe.

The water in the pipe isn't under pressure so the seal doesn't have to be perfect. But why be sloppy when a few minutes of extra work ensures you aren't digging the pipe back up in a few years? If it is important enough to be done, it is important enough to be done right.

By the way, while digging out the trench I found no sign of the old pipe except for a few small broken pieces of 4 inch flexible pipe. I have no idea what happened here and will most likely never find out.

Pipe in trench connectedAbove you can see the new pipe in the trench with the flared end connected to the old pipe. Not shown is the 3 foot section added on to the end. You'll see that in a bit. Also included is a bag of pea stone. I used several bags to surround the pipe in stone somewhat. I don't want water to build up around the pipe when the ground is soaked in the fall, then freezing and slowing lifting the pipe to the surface. Since the pipe is not below the frost line I needed to do something to prevent frost heaves and this was the best I could come up with.

Flared connectionThe image above shows the flared connection to the old pipe up close. It was a good thing I dug back a foot because the old pipe was sloping up quite a bit. I wonder if that pipe just dead ended there and went no further. If so, it would be the first sloppy job I have found that the prior owner did when building the house. Either way, by digging out the pipe and pushing the pipe back down to maintain a downward slope I had to dig another 6 inches from the bottom of the trench I just dug. More shovel work. Of course this was where all the rocks were buried. Oh my aching back. :)

Pea Gravel OutletHere I have constructed a sort of rip rap area at the pipe outlet to dissipate the water into pea stone as it exits the pipe where the slope drops off. If I find the pea stone being dislodged by the force of the water I'll put some larger stone under the outlet to slow it down. For now it does what I want it to do and it looks pretty, the number one requirement of Mrs. Cog. :-)

Half buried pipeAnother image just to show you the pipe surrounded with pea stone, then buried up to a few inches of the surface with the red clay 'dirt'. It packs real nice and the few times I have back filled a hole or trench, as long as I put down a few inches of red clay, the tamp it down with my feet, then more dirt followed by more tamping, there has never been any subsidence 6 months later. The one nice thing about red Virginia clay.

Top soil and slopeI included the image above for two reasons. To show the trench filled in the last two or three inches with screened top soil and also to show the slope away from the house from a different angle. You can see how quickly it drops off. There is not much of a back yard to speak of before the mountain continues to fall away.

We had a large load of screened top soil delivered in order to make many repairs to the grounds, so the tractor and cart will be used repeatedly over the next few days to fill depressions and holes in the back yard. Then I will seed every filled area and cover with a erosion control straw mat because the spring rains are coming and I don't want the seed and soil to wash away.

Completed DrainA final image taken from further down the slope looking back at the drain and the house. Looking straight up from the pea stone rip rap to the edge of the foundation wall, you can see the gutter downspout going into the ground. That connects to this repaired outlet as well as the one at the front of this side of the house.

I can't wait for it to rain so I can run outside and see the water flowing out of the outlet. I'm just a two year old at heart playing with mud pies. :)

Cognitive Dissonance

Independent Cat

When Mrs. Cog and daughter joined me in life several years ago they brought along a third member of the gang: Tramp, a 18-20 lb 'personality plus' Maine Coon Cat who was King of the Castle. Tramp was always an indoor cat, had been since birth, which of course meant a litter box always needed tending too. That was not my area.   :-)

I always told Mrs. Cog that Tramp would be happier if he had access to the outdoors. About 20 years ago I also had a cat that was originally an indoor cat, and which I transitioned to outdoors. He seemed happier after I had done so. However I suspect Mrs. Cog just thought I was running propaganda on her in order to 'lose' the cat accidentally on purpose. "I love you honey, but don't mess with my cat."

One day the cat got loose (nope, not me) and Mrs. Cog was beside herself with worry, concerned that all manner of horror would befall 'our' cat. I tried to reassure her, carefully explaining that Tramp was no fool and knew where his supper dish was. Not sufficiently consoled, Mrs. Cog and child unit scoured the neighborhood looking for Tramp sign to no avail.

Two hours later both Mrs. Cog and child, tired and exhausted from the fruitless search,  sat in the family room with me as we discussed how Tramp would eventually show up. Seemingly as if he had just heard his name, or more likely feeling hunger pains, Tramp suddenly appeared at the sliding glass door none the worse for wear and hungry, demanding he be fed after his long journey.

Soon enough Tramp began his metamorphosis from indoor feline to outdoor killer. I immediately began a cat training regime after promising Mrs. Cog that I would be rigorous in my duties and would never let Tramp out of my sight. And for months on end I faithfully fulfilled my duties, staying camped at the sliding glass door, either inside or out, while Tramp explored his new universe, a fenced in area that measured 22 x 25 feet. Unfortunately the litter box remained inside.

Of course the cat was not whom I was actually training. It was Mrs. Cog that was being conditioned to the idea that her admittedly cute cat might just survive, and thrive, outdoors. Of course several times over those months Tramp would 'escape", only to faithfully return to his food dish. I love it when a plan comes together.

It was about this time that the decision was made to move family and possessions to our new log cabin in the mountains. Since we would be living off a dirt road off a dirt road off a back road in the middle of nowhere, Mrs. Cog wasn't worried about cars hitting Tramp or nasty neighbors scooping him up to be eaten. She was slightly worried about Tramp eating grass. However, after reading www.tuxedo-cat.co.uk/why-cats-eat-grass/, she was pretty happy. I didn't initially tell her that the lions, tigers and bears......well, the bobcats, possums and bears might just be a greater hazard to Tramp. Baby steps.

One thing we all agreed upon was to remove the littler box once we moved to the mountains and let Tramp do his do-do with the bears and bobcats. Needless to say Tramp has taken to the mountain with joy in his heart and lots of dead prey plopped on our front door step. One must now look carefully when we first open the front door to step out.

Tramp sprawled- CleanThat is one fat cat.

Since moving here I have wanted to install a cat door to allow Tramp independence when coming and going. But the front door has a screen door, preventing the installation of a cat door in the main door unless we want to cut a huge hole in the screen door, rendering the screen door useless as a 'screen'.

And both rear doors are sliding glass doors, which eliminates a traditional cat door installation. I have seen those special cat door units that fit into the sliding glass door and I don't like them at all. They prevent the slider from being properly locked.

So for the last 9 months we have been opening doors to let the cat come and go as he needed. We quickly settled into a routine where Mrs. Cog, a sound sleeper by nature, would not be disturbed when Tramp insisted on answering nature's call at 4 AM. I on the other hand, being a light sleeper by habit, would of course  awaken when Tramp bitterly complained and let him out, thus cementing my own personal cat conditioning.

While dogs may have owners, cats have staff. And I was his number one staff member. I really hate the fact that I have bonded so tightly with Tramp that he now has me wrapped around his finger.

It was Mrs. Cog who actually saved me from myself when she suggested I install a cat door in the office window, which looks out upon natures beauty and the back deck. Recognizing brilliance when I see and hear it, I immediately scoured the Interwebby thingy for cat doors.

I needed a large door for our very large Tramp, but I also needed some kind of locking mechanism to prevent unwanted critters from helping themselves to our cat door. I told Mrs. Cog I did not wish to wake up at 3 AM and find myself nose to nose with the local wildlife who had entered via the cat door. She enthusiastically agreed after a mental image of waking up to a possum on her bed sent chills through her spine.

I settled on a magnet triggered cat door that quickly responds to Tramp approaching the door from the outside. The magnet hangs from his collar and unlocks the door when Tramp pushes his head against the door from the outside. Let's just hope the local wildlife don't have magnetic personalities or we are all in trouble.

Installation consisted of cutting a piece of plywood to fit the window opening, then cutting an opening for the cat door itself. After priming and painting the outside I installed the door, then placed the entire mechanism in the window opening.

I jammed a piece of wood between the raised window and the header to prevent someone from simply lifting the window some more, removing the plywood and waltzing in. It's not perfect, but when you think about it, locks just keep the honest people honest. The crooks are going to find a way in regardless of what home security you and I have.

Cat Door Inside Clean

I screwed down a small piece of left over plywood to give Tramp a perch to exit from and a landing when entering. The picture doesn't show the slight modification I made. Basically I turned the plywood around and the long side is now hanging off the window sill. Essentially Tramp now has a diving board and a place to sit that he can call his own where he can look out the cat door and watch the world go by.

This still left the problem of the large drop off between the cat door and the deck outside. Tramp needed a place to jump up on, then attempt to enter. I wracked my brain for a day thinking about stools, steps and so on until it occurred to me while feeding the Heatmaster 5000 water wood stove that a few logs placed on end as a landing would blend perfectly with the log home. Sometimes the answer is obvious and we just need to find our way there.

Cat Door Exterior Clean

The only remaining hurdle left was Tramp training. I figured it would be about 5 or 6 days until Tramp felt at home using the new door when when Mother Nature called and he wanted to exit stage right.

For the first few days, whenever Tramp indicated to me that he wanted to leave, usually signaled by his location near the front door as he screamed at anyone within ear shot. I would grab him up, place him on the perch, then gently push his head against the cat door to push it open.

When he would show up at the front door or rear slider demanding entry I would sneak outside, grab him, place him on the logs and then gently push his head against the door to open it. Obviously I absorbed the training quicker than Tramp did.

The first time Tramp used the door to enter the house on his own we were both in the office and loudly praised Tramp for a job well done. It was almost as if we were potty training a very young child. Actually we were.

Tramp now comes and goes as he sees fit. And the last few days have been a blessing since I have not been woken by Tramp's demanding cries to be let out. Of course I still wake up around 4 AM. I suspect it will take me several months to break my own conditioning.  :)

March 2014 Ice Storm

The beautiful frozen branches in the above photo are not covered in the ice or snow that has been falling here on the mountain since Sunday, it is frozen fog. When the fog seeps in and hangs thick around our edge of the world, it is so cold and wet that it creates these spiked crystal formations. It's easiest to see on the thin tree limbs and even the barbed wire fences of the nearby cow pastures.

The solid ice that has been layering for two days has just begun to melt. The house is being pummeled with ice from the tall trees whenever the wind blows. The sudden and loud explosions of ice shattering on the metal roof and porches has "made me" jump up out of my chair more than once.

And... the power went out just as Cog was posting his piece Dogs of War on Zero Hedge. We are again successfully running the whole house on generator power. Thank you baby. :-)

icy morning 3 18 14 051

Mrs. Cog

March 18, 2014

Hardy Kiwi

Hardy Kiwi were another wonderful discovery that came with the homestead. Also known as "Chinese Gooseberries", Hardy Kiwi is a cousin to the fuzzy kiwi that you may have tried before. They are hardy because not only can the trees stand much colder temperatures than regular kiwi trees, but they grow well when neglected, as they obviously did on the homestead we bought.

There are very specific instructions for how to train hardy kiwi's vine like branches along trellises. Ours came in a huge tangled mess, much like a pile of necklaces with dainty chains that my daughters would periodically hand me and say, "Fix it Mommy." This past Labor Day weekend, I began "fixing" the kiwi pile.

Sept 3 2013 021

As I traced each vine back and trimmed it according to the instructions (google IS my friend), I also began harvesting the first year of kiwifruit. A single kiwi tree can yield 50-100 pounds of fruit. We have two female trees and one male, I would guess we picked about 30-40 pounds total. I was not disappointed considering they have not been tended to in several years.

Hardy kiwi that is ripened on the vine is quite sweet at a 29% sugar count, but it needs to be consumed or preserved within a week from the time it is picked. When ripe you can pop them in your mouth and eat them like grapes. Unripened kiwi is sour at about 9% sugar, but is able to stay fresh in a fridge for several months and then ripen in a day or two on the window sill. On the vine, the fruit ripens at different rates during the month of September, so there is some flexibility in harvesting schedules.

Sept 3 2013 018

We ate plenty of the fruit as snacks but also experimented with canning in several jams. Both the kiwi/strawberry and the kiwi/blueberry jams turned out wonderful and have been great gifts to share with others.

Sweeter than the grocery store fuzzy brown kiwi, hardy kiwi can be grown in most areas of the United States and many other climates in both hemispheres. (Please note you need both male and female trees present to produce fruit.) An excellent choice for a perennial, I would recommend hardy kiwi to anyone considering adding self perpetuating healthy fruits to their home gardens.

Sept 5 2013 013

Read more:

Kiwi is also a great ‘prebiotic’ food. Prebiotic nutrients help to feed the probiotic bacteria in your gut (these bacteria are essential for optimal health). This helps keep digestive health in check while also helping to prevent a number of health issues. Here are over 9 kiwi fruit benefits. http://naturalsociety.com/kiwi-fruit-benefits-health-natural-immune-system/

Have you tasted these remarkable miniature kiwis yet? Every bit as delicious as the larger, more familiar fuzzy kiwi, hardy kiwis are much easier to grow and eat (skin and all). And just about every home gardener in North America can grow them. Hardy kiwi is a catchall term for types of kiwis (Actinidia) that, when dormant, can survive temperatures as low as -40° F (USDA Hardiness Zone 3). These beautiful, vigorous natives of Russia, China, Japan, and Korea have deep green leaves and long whiplike vines that can grow as much as 20 feet in a season. In the wild, they may climb 50 feet or more into treetops. http://www.garden.org/articles/articles.php?q=show&id=656

As implied by the name and the native habitat, this plant can tolerate cold. Plants generally are hardy to about -25˚F (adapted to USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 7), and require about 150 frost-free days to ripen their fruits. The fruit itself looks quite different from that of the grocery store kiwifruit. Hardy kiwifruits are smaller, an inch or so long. Fruits are borne in clusters and have smooth, edible skins so can be eaten just like grapes. The hardy kiwifruit has the same emerald-green interior and similar flavor to the grocery store kiwifruit, except that hardy kiwifruits are sweeter. http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/kiwifruit-every-garden

In the world of phytonutrient research, kiwifruit has fascinated researchers for its ability to protect DNA in the nucleus of human cells from oxygen-related damage. Researchers are not yet certain which compounds in kiwi give it this protective antioxidant capacity, but they are sure that this healing property is not limited to those nutrients most commonly associated with kiwifruit, including its vitamin C or beta-carotene content. Since kiwi contains a variety of flavonoids and carotenoids that have demonstrated antioxidant activity, these phytonutrients in kiwi may be responsible for this DNA protection. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=41