Monthly Archives: September 2009

I am a dirt person

working in Mekoryuk (Nunivak Island) in 2007.

working in Mekoryuk (Nunivak Island) in 2007.

I am realizing that my life revolves around dirt. I work as an engineering geologist for civil/transportation engineers which means that I dig in the dirt and write reports about it. My personal projects also seem to revolve around dirt.

DSCF0674 (Small)A few years ago, I was building a cob-wood shed on 40 acres I own in Talkeetna (a mile off the road system). It involved lots of digging and mucking in dirt. I only got it half done, and my trips to Talkeetna have gotten fewer and fewer as I started a full time job and my life centered in Anchorage, with my kid in school and buying the 4-plex putting the final nails in the coffin. Oh well, someday…

The foudation is backfilled and the dirt piles managed!

The foudation is backfilled and the dirt piles managed!

My current foundation insulation project was extreme digging in dirt. Luckily, I finished moving the last big piles of dirt this weekend, and we are pretty much ready for winter. My back is a bit tweaked, but it will hopefully recover before snow-shoveling season! Both driveways are now open, and all I really want to do is move the big concrete blocks to a better place for the winter, so I can create paths with them next spring. I have planted 2 lilacs, a crab apple, creeping thyme and columbine on the east side of the house, and I just got a truckload of mulch from the muni woodlot (free!) to spread under the drip lines and around some of the front yard. I could use more, but soon I’ll have a snow mulch. Spring will be so much fun as I fill in the bare spaces with plants and trees and flowers!

Gardening is my other dirt activity. This year, however, I tried growing potatoes in tire stacks with leaves. To be fair, I started with 4 very small seed potatoes, didn’t feed them much other than the leaves, and put them in a shady area. Two of them grew pretty well as you can see:

Osh and the potato tires

Osh and the potato tires

And the worms were very happy with the living arrangement:

Worms in the decaying leaf mulch in the tires

Worms in the decaying leaf mulch in the tires

But the yield wasn’t spectacular. Still probably about 3 times what I planted, but not tires full of potatoes. In fact, only the bottom of the stack, where the originaly seed potato had sat, had potatoes. My CSA farmers also felt they got reduced yields after a hilling experiment this summer. So I’m thinking that Alaskan potatoes don’t like to be hilled/stacked. Next year, probably back to the old-fashioned potatoes in the ground!

Potato haul - those from big tire stack on left.

Potato haul - those from big tire stack on left.

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Utilities

Yah...that spike last winter was under my 'rule'...

Yah...that spike last winter was under my 'rule'...


Now lets see what the foundation insulation does for us...

Now lets see what the foundation insulation does for us...

Equinox and termination dust

Termination dust today!

Termination dust today!

I wrote this post almost exactly a year ago (9/22/08) – I copy below instead of linking because who ever follows links anyway!?:

No new news on the 4-plex front…

It is definitely fall. The leaves are over half-yellow, the mountains have been snowed on (termination dust is what we call it) and it threatens to freeze at night any day now. It is a rare day not blessed with cold rain. We haven’t turned our heat on yet, but we get away with it because our apartment faces south and is surrounded on 3 sides with other apartments, which probably have their heat on. This is why people should dwell in attached units in this climate, or at least partly under ground.

Pretty much all of this holds today, except of course we are in the 4-plex, not waiting to buy it, and we haven’t had that much rain this fall (although today is cold and rainy). In general temps have been up to 10 degrees above normal, but I think we are dropping into the normal range this week. Thankfully I have filled all the foundations trenches and just have to landscape and stucco the insulation now!

We are having an equinox fire and food-roast tonight, come if you are able, it’ll be in our apartment if it is raining hard!

Pictures of unit #4

These are recently taken photos of the unit I have coming up for rent. The current tenant is in the middle of moveout, and I don’t take good photos, so I would say that the place looks better than these photos. It is a daylighted basement unit, but it has even more light than our first floor unit, since it has a greater south-facing window area. It is also nicer than our unit, in terms of carpet, layout, etc.

The south bedroom, there is a 3rd, full-size egress window behind the hanging

The south bedroom, there is a 3rd, full-size egress window behind the hanging


The large kitchen - open to the living room; gas stove.

The large kitchen - open to the living room; gas stove.

This is the worst picture I took - the living area is spacious, well lit, and cozy all at the same time, and the ceiling really doesn't seem this low!!

This is the worst picture I took - the living area is spacious, well lit, and cozy all at the same time, and the ceiling really doesn't seem this low!!

There is a second bedroom that someone was sleeping in, so I didn’t take pictures, and a full bathroom with tub (hard to make apartment bathrooms look decent when someone is in the middle of moveout, so you’ll have to get the tour to see that!!).

I’m showing the apartment this weekend, so if anyone wants to see it, send me some email!

Autumn at the ecoplex

A volunteer squash in the flower bed

A volunteer squash in the flower bed

It has been a beautiful autumn so far. Temperatures are still getting up into the low 60’s (F) and the sun appears often enough to make us all happy! Leaves in town are starting to turn, it’s hard to believe that winter is almost here.

The foundation insulation is almost all wrapped up – just gotta dump a few more wheelbarrow loads in the last hole and clean up the yard. The only downside is that the downstairs 2-bedroom unit is opening up next month, and I have to show it this weekend, and the front yard is pretty wrecked still. I worry that I’ll lose most people at the drive by stage. Oh well, things will work out!

Green jobs at the ecoplex

The people who made it happen

The people who made it happen

Those who know me, know I can find crazy things to feel guilty about. One of those things is not creating enough jobs in the community. For example, I am hoping to grow most of my own vegetables next summer, and quit my CSA subscription, but then I feel guilty about not providing income for my farmers, the Beans, who are great people. I’m sure they can find replacements for me easily…but still. Yes, too great a sense of my own responsibility for the world, I know.

I have been feeling a bit guilty about not having the money to hire people to weatherize my home – I mean, isn’t that supposed to be one of the big green job growth areas, and here I am tackling the project on my own. But then I realized I have created at least 4 very temporary green, if dirty, jobs…in that I have hired on 4 different people in my community who needed some work (ok, Sy didn’t really need the work, but the rest of them did) to do at least a couple of days labor. And I think I paid ok, $15 an hour to shovel dirt. It’s not a full time gig with benefits, but the people I hired didn’t need that, just some cash to make it through or get a bit ahead. I’d love to have an architect and a passivhaus consultant and a permaculture designer and a general contractor, etc and pay them well to help me out. I am pretty handy, and can do most of this myself, but it does take a lot of time and energy, both of which I could use more of! On the other hand, I do really like the satisfaction of accomplishing so much personally, from the design stage through the heavy labor to completion.

As an update on the foundation insulation, Gil and I just put the first layer on that last SE corner, and boy was the sun baking me – I don’t need a greenhouse to have tomatoes in that corner!! Soon we will get up the second layer, and get it all backfilled.

Obstacles of the SE corner - buried fridge(?), go-nowhere pipe and vent stack

Obstacles of the SE corner - buried fridge(?), go-nowhere pipe and vent stack


SE corner - 1st layer glued, on, and braced!

SE corner - 1st layer glued, on, and braced!

My mom’s garden

I am done excavating around the foundation, and have returned the costly excavator, but have a corner left to insulate and then must finish backfilling by hand. The end is in sight. Boy, has it been exhausting though, and I will be happy when the foundation insulation is done. I have left the main entrance porch on the south side in place, and not dug or insulated that 14 feet of the foundation. It was too logistically difficult for now. It is only 10% of my perimeter. I can do it later, or may use the heat leaving it to heat a winter chicken coop or perennials or something…we’ll see. Anyway, no new pictures of that for now, we didn’t even get any of me operating the excavator – which I did long enough for it to get boring.

So, in the interest of visual stimulation, I hope my mom doesn’t mind me putting these up! These are pictures of her and Mike’s garden in Klamath Falls Oregon, and they have put a lot of work in to it over the last few years, including building the terraced gardens up the slope, building a trout pond (Mike is an aquacultural engineer), and building a chicken coop. She claims that only about 10% of her planted seeds ended up sprouting this year, but it looks like those that did went crazy!

Terraced gardens with trout tank in left rear corner

Terraced gardens with trout tank in left rear corner


Chicken coop on right

Chicken coop on right


My mom, the zucchini goddess :)

My mom, the zucchini goddess 🙂