Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sure, I knew this house was going to be extra work, but the problem is you never know when that extra work is going to occur. Thursday night after a long day with 8th graders on a field trip, my husband invites me to a movie and dinner. Nice, right? Afterwards, I stop at the grocery store and he stops over at the neighbor's house, so that we arrive home for the day at about 9:00 pm.

I'm dragging the groceries up the stairs planning on getting in my jammies, checking my email, and relaxing. I open the door and hear this awful sound coming from the kitchen. It wasn't a broken dishwasher. I realize the sound is coming from downstairs. I drop the groceries and head to the basement. The sound is deafening and I look around to see how to stop it. I find a light switch and turn it off. The water pump stops. The noise stops.

I look around and see water all over the basement floor: all under the worm farm, soaking into the bag of sphagum moss, flowing under the toilet barrels. I'm starting to unravel the problem. The hose that is supposed to be running into the cistern is out on the floor, not pumping into the cistern. That stupid hose never stays where it is supposed to stay.

I run upstairs and check the garden hose in the solarium. It's off, but the cement is wet under it. And then I realize what must have happened. I glance down to the lower pond and, sure enough, the lower pond is over its banks. I remembered.

We had left the water running into the lower pond the night before. It had been a little low. Arrggg! So all night, all day----24 hours the water had been running from the hose and into the water, ever so quietly. If only the green hose had stayed in the cistern, we would have recovered the water. But no.

Curt walks in and I tell him what must have happened. He turns on the kitchen faucet and there is no water. We had drained our cistern dry. It is 9pm. I am so tired and sweaty, I don't want to do what I knew needed to be done, get water.

I gather the electric cords, Curt uncoils the garden hose and we go outside and down to the lower cistern. We haven't opened it all winter and when Curt pulls the door open, the door falls off its hinge. I roll my eyes. Curt opens the hatch in the floor to the cistern. There is 8 inches of ice on the top of the water. I start thinking I may have to dip water out of the fish pond for a shower! We start the pump, but nothing comes out, the hose is frozen into the ice. Time for some McGiver moves.

I pick up an old garden hose with an end cut off. Curt thinks he can use it. He takes the other frozen hose off and forces the piece of garden hose on. With skill he finds just enough of a break in the ice, he squeezes the hose through. Success. He turns the pump on again and I see water pumping out into the driveway. Yippee!

I run to catch it and attach it to the curly hose going into the house's cistern. That is cold water! Curt comes up behind me and we both try to connect the two hoses. Water starts flying everywhere. We are soaked. I wonder what the neighbors think of all our screaming and panting! We realize we have to shut off the water. We can't connect the hoses mid stream. Curt runs back down the hill and shuts off the pump. I screw the hoses together and then I shout for him to try it. (We didn't think we could make the water flow up the mountain that far. We thought we were going to have to take all the hose back down the mountain and get it running first.) It's working! The water starts filling the house's cistern.

We come in and check our email and wait. About 10:30 Curt goes to check to see how deep the water is. He guesses about 8 inches. He flips on the house's water pump switch. The pump starts pumping that same ugly sound. Curt let it pump. He comes upstairs. He turns on the faucet. Drum roll please. . . . . . . .
There is water! Ahhhh. A shower! I'm in bed by 11:00pm!

We figure we lost about 30 days worth of water in one day. Luckily it was spring and we had more water. But we have to make sure we don't make THAT mistake again. All faucets off before you go to bed.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Cleaning the pond

Okay, so who would have guessed this was going to be so difficult? But my husband came home from work and said, "I'd never have guessed that I'd find you fishing in the pond!" But yes indeed. It's true. I was trying to catch the koi that had survived the winter.

There was so much sludge and moss they could just dive into it and hide. So I got out the handy dandy wet vac. :-) I McGeivered a system to run the water through the stream bed and then outside to the shop vac, so I could sit and wait for it to fill and then tip the thing over and watch the water pour down the side of the mountian, snailes and all.

I waited for a fish to come through, but luckily it didn't happen. When the water was lower, I was able to catch them pretty easily, if you call laying on my stomach on the cement floor easy. Luckily there is a lower pond and I just released them in there.

I sucked and sucked and sucked that pond down to the very deepest end and then slowly, carefully, lowered myself in. And it was slick---let me tell you. That rubber pond liner with moss on it was impossible to stand on.

I thought better of it, crawled out again and got out the sprayer on the hose. I sprayed the sides of the pond and sent the hairy green moss sailing down into the deep end with the sucker hose.

I carefully climed back down in and started scrubbing the edges. What I really needed was a toilet brush or something. I wasn't sure how good to clean it, ya know? I knew I had to have some moss and algae in there for the fish to nibble on. So I finally declared it clean enough.

I turned on the hose to fill the pond again and went outside to clean up the shop vac. What I found was a little disturbing. There, down the hill, throughout the garden was a blanket of fishy smelly sludge----a nice smell for every starving bear coming out of hybernation. There was nothing I could do about it.

I closed the patio door but it wouldn't latch. I turned the knob again and again. Nothing. I looked up and saw the remnants of a smudge mark from last summer's bear visit. Yes, the door pushed open from the outside. If I didn't fix it, I could wake up with a bear in my house. I set out trying to fix it, but I was just getting frustrated. I finally decided that if a bear really wanted to come in, he would anyway, a small little latch wouldn't matter.

A couple of days later I found out that a bear HAD come into the neighborhood that night. He smelled paint balls from the neighbor's paint ball guns. He chewed on those and left me alone.

Good news: the latch is now fixed!

Friday, May 1, 2009

The first poop barrel!

Sounds gross, right? I was AMAZED! It didn't smell at all.

We moved in a year ago and turned the turntable on our composting toilet. Instead of a flushing toilet, we have an indoor outhouse. It has three 50 gallon barrels on a turntable in the basement, so that about every 6 months, we have filled a barrel and are ready for a new one. This is the story of emptying the first barrel.

It's not just all filled with human waste and toilet paper. No! We also throw all of our kitchen scraps down there. Each time we make a deposit of any kind, we add a scoop of sphagnum moss. The moss makes the worms feel more at home, I think. I add a pitcher of water now and then to make sure they have enough moisture as well. (We don't send our pee down there, it's too acidic for the worms. We have a pee separator, so the pee goes down a drain and outside.)

Yes, where would we be without worms? As soon as we start a new barrel, I add about 200 red wigglers to the bottom of the barrel. They make themselves at home and start doing their cosmic task: eating our waste and making dirt. When we turn the turntable, I add another 200 worms to the top of the barrel. Maybe I'm adding too many worms---but I'd rather have too many than not enough!

So we had come to the end of our three barrels! We had filled them all up. Now it was time to take out last year's barrel and see if it really was dirt or not. What if the worms had died? What if they didn't finish their job? What if I didn't add enough water and they died of thirst? I was filled with 'what ifs.'

We had purchased a dolly for this task. Curt got on one end and I got on the other and together we clunked the barrel down the stairs into the driveway. I donned my rubber gloves! :-) We tipped the barrel, but nothing would come out. Curt wanted me to start pulling it out with my hands. That was more than I could bare! So together we tipped it upside down and it came out with a thud.

There it was. A mound of poo! Or was it? This was the moment I had waited for and I dug in! (with my yellow rubber gloves, of course) Low and behold, it didn't smell. If I had to pick a smell, it would have been an earth smell. The worms had done their job! But it was very much like a clay. There were no worms left at all. I think that means they ran out of food and died. Sad.

So what did I find? I found the missing sink stopper. Somehow we dumped it down in there with the vegetable scraps, I guess. Should I re-use it? Hmmmm. I also found avocado peelings still 100% in tack --I found some stickers from apples, I found many, many beetle-type, silverfish-type bugs and I even found some tea bag paper. It was very interesting---kind of like an archeology hunt.

I did take a sample of the dirt and put it in the freezer so the university can tell me if it's safe to put on my flower garden. One thing I don't want is all the bears in the neighborhood to come over to smell my new dirt. Bears can smell better than we can, you know. So for now, I have my new dirt in a garbage can awaiting the time I will actually use the dirt.