Hops garden/Fire pit.

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Hops-not just for beer!

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When we first started building the project now known as The Farm it was just a grass seed field with some trees and an old shack at one end. We have come a long way since then. We started by building a pump house for the well and to store tools. Then we built a garage, a house, a barn and last year, a shop. We have fenced and crossed fenced, planted lawns, built gardens, planted trees, dug a pond and maintained it all to the high standards of my loving wife. This place takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of time and sometimes I think we should move to a small house with a small yard. But the truth is, I love this place and I plan on living here until the day I die.

Over the last few years we have made an effort to make The Farm less work by reducing the size of the lawn that needs to be mowed, reducing the number of animals we keep and even hiring help with yard work. Even with the goal of making The Farm less work, I sometimes get a wild hair and we take one step backwards.

One of the first things we did when we were building this place was to make a fire pit out in the field by the pond. Over the years the fire pit has become a place to burn all the branches that get trimmed off the fifty some trees we have planted around the yard. A couple of years ago my wife mentioned that it might be nice to have a fire pit closer to the house so we wouldn’t have to haul the marshmallows so far to roast them.

I’m sure she envisioned a small ring of stones with a couple of benches around it when she mentioned it to me. However, my brain doesn’t work that way and the simple idea of a fire pit grew into “The Hops Garden/Fire Pit.”

Once we agreed on where the new fire pit would be built the creative side of me was awakened and I went to work. I had a vague idea of what I wanted the end product to look like, and since it wasn’t brain surgery, I decided to let the creative juices flow and see what happened.

The location of the pit was near one corner of the yard, exposed on two sides to the open field. I wanted the pit to be a little more private so if I decide to dance naked around a fire, the neighbors wouldn’t complain. I also wanted it to be shaded so that in the late afternoon we wouldn’t be sitting around a fire in the hot sun. So here is what happened.

The place we agreed to put the pit was on a long hump of ground that covered out septic field. My first task was to level the area by hauling in dirt with my tractor. It took several loads and a lot of shoveling and raking, but I got the area level.

After the area was level I built a metal sculpture or column that would serve as the centerpiece of the hops garden/fire pit. Like most projects, I work on a very small budget, so the column was made from three 20’ pieces of rebar that my son Marcus helped me braid together. I cut out a half dozen large leaves from sheet metal and welded it all together. Eventually the hops got too heavy and I added a ¾” length of black iron pipe to keep the the plants from bending the column to the ground. The base of the column is planted in a foot of concrete and weighted with rock.

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I wanted an arbor like entrance to the pit area, so I welded together an arbor. It too was made from rebar. To give it a good stable base I used concrete to set it in place.

My idea was to plant hops around the perimeter of a large circle, 36’ across, and train them to climb strands of wire up to the top of the column that was in the center of the circle. To accomplish this, I drove a dozen 7’ T-post around the perimeter of the circle and ran three strands of heavy, 10 gauge, galvanized wire around the circle of T-posts, one at the top, one midway up and one a few inches from the ground. I then started stringing lighter weight wire from the bottom wire up to the middle and top wires and then to the 5’ metal circle at the top of the column. I spaced the wires about 12” apart so there would be plenty of wires for the hops to climb.

There was a sprinkler head near the outer edge of the new garden that would be blocked from view by hops once the hops started to grow. I dug a trench from the sprinkler to the center column and then laid black poly pipe in the trench, added a 90 degree elbow and ran more black poly pipe to the top of the column. I removed the sprinkler, attached the poly pipe to the system and put the sprinkler head on the top of the pipe at the top of the column. I adjusted the sprinkler so that when the sprinkler system came on the sprinkler would water out to the perimeter of the garden.

Next I removed a 12’ circle of grass around the center column and filled it with pea grave and bordered the circle with concrete edging to contain the gravel.

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The Willamette Valley is known for the production of hops, so finding hop starts was easy. I purchased three varieties of hops to add a contrast of green to the garden. The first year hops will generally grow about 6-8’, but once they are established they will grow 20-25’ long and they will grow about a foot a day. To add color to the garden I planted purple morning glories.

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We had purchased several years ago, a large concrete bowl that we used as a water feature in a garden near the back deck. One year during a very cold winter it cracked and would hold water any more. My wife wanted me to get rid of it, but it occurred to me that it would be the perfect fire pit, so I moved it to the garden.

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We have enjoyed the new hops garden/fire pit for two years now. When the hops and morning glory have climbed to the top column the garden becomes a very large green, shady tent where we can enjoy a fire closer to the house and where we don’t have to carry the marshmallows so far.

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A mower to tow behind your ATV

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Converting a riding mower to an ATV tow behind.

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Some friends of ours own some wilderness property next to our property up in the Elkhorn Valley. They don’t spend as much time up there as they use to when their kids were younger, so I take care of their property along with ours. I don’t mind because they let our family use their fire-pit and ¼ acre meadow. That gives us about ½ acre of meadow to expand onto when we need more room.

One of the maintenance items that I like to do a couple times a year is mow the meadows to keep the grass and weeds down. I used my riding lawnmower for a few years, but then our friends gave me an old Craftsmen riding lawnmower keep up at the property so I wouldn’t have to use my nice mower when I needed to mow. The old mower ran pretty well, but the steering gear was going out. I brought it home a couple of times and fix it, but it kept going out.

My oldest son, Justus, has a home on a couple of acres near Estacada Oregon. The property is mostly on the side of a hill and very slopped. His father-in-law gave him a MTD riding lawnmower to mow his pasture. Unfortunately, it didn’t have enough power to mow up the hill that was at one end of the pasture and it tended to want and tip over when driving horizontal to the slope. He called me one day and asked me if I would help him make a mowing deck out the riding lawn mower. His idea was that he would tow the mowing deck with is ATV. I wasn’t sold on the idea of tearing the mower apart and mounting the motor on the deck to run the blades, but I’m always up for a project, so I told him to bring it on over.

After he got the mower here, we scratched our heads and talked about different ideas to accomplish what he wanted. I finally suggest that we remove the back wheels and fender, add a tow bar and just tow it backwards with his ATV. After he could visualized it and I convinced him that the mower would cut backwards as well as forward, he was all for it.

Here is how simple it was. We removed the belt and pulleys that drove the back wheels. We then removed the back wheels, axle and fenders. The steering wheel and seat were not longer needed so they came off too. We locked the front wheel so they wouldn’t move left or right and the mower would tow straight.

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Basically, we remove everything that will not be needed and to make the mover as lightweight as possible. When we had it stripped down to the essentials; motor, mower deck, front wheels, gas tank and battery, we bolted on a 4’ long 1-1/2” square bar that would attach to the ATV. Like most ATV, his had a hole in the back towing plate, so we welded a small rod on the tow bar that would drop through the hole. We make the bar long enough that when you turned a sharp corner the back wheel or the ATV wouldn’t hit the mower.

To use mower, you simple hook it up to your ATV, turn the key and start the mower, lower the deck to the desired height and mow away.

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After we built his mower, it occurred to me that I could do the same thing with the mower I was using up at the property. The steering was going out anyway, so a tow behind was a great solution. I did the same basic things to Craftsmen as we had done to Justus’s MTD, but my mower didn’t have a good battery, so I cut one end off an old set of jumper cables and attached them to the mowers battery cables. Then when I wanted to use the mower I just hook the jumper cable clamps to the battery on my ATV.

They worked great, but Justus now has a tractor with a mower deck that he attaches to the back and the motor in mine lost all the oil one day and blew up. But it’s all good. It was still a fun project.

Stay Cool This Summer

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Power ventilator for your attic will keep you cool.

With summer on its way I wanted to share some great advice on how to keep your home 10-15 degrees cooler on hot summer days. As a home inspector, part of my job is to inspect attics. In the summer attics can reach temperatures in excess of 150 degrees! During the day the insulation in the attic starts absorbing the heat. By evening your insulation is very hot, and because of its properties, it holds the heat for a long time. In late afternoon, that heat in the insulation starts to radiate through your ceiling into your home and continues to radiate late into the night. During those hot days, the ceiling in your home becomes a radiant heater, much like the radiant ceiling heat they use to install in homes in the 1970’s. The problem is you can’t turn the heat off. But you can prevent it.

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The solution is an attic power ventilator fan. An attic fan mounts on the roof, or in the attic behind a gable vent. The fan has a thermostat mounted in the attic which activates the fan when the attic starts to get warm, about 90 degrees. The fan pulls or pushes the heat out of your attic, bringing in cool air from the eave vent, keeping your attic and insulation much cooler.

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Even if you have A/C, the power ventilator fan will keep your home cooler and take much of the pressure off the A/C system. Those who have A/C know that on very hot days the A/C does not keep your home cool, especially if you have a two-story home.

My experience is that an attic fan will also extend the life of the three-tab roofing on your home. With a cooler attic your roofing doesn’t heat up and the life of the roofing is extended anywhere from 5-8 years, depending on care and conditions.

Attic fans can be purchased at most home centers and they even make solar powered fans. Having an attic fan installed is about one tenth the cost of having A/C installed. If you are handy, you may be able to tackle all or most of the project yourself and save some money.

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Do yourself and your home a favor by installing a power ventilator fan now before the summer heat is here.

 

Lance Larson

WIN Home Inspection Salem

 

 

 

Leave your furnace fan ON!

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A secrete you should know about your furnace.FCS3263_Fig1_EnergyStar-CommonDuctProblems

Most of us believe that if we are using power in our homes we are spending money. We are of course, but sometimes we have to spend a little to save a lot. Many times I have advocated and explained to my clients the benefits of running the fan in a furnace 24/7. The benefits are three fold.

First, the electric motor that runs the fan is designed to run all the time. To get an electric motor moving it takes a surge of power, sort of a kick-start. Each time we kick start the fan motor, that kick hurts it a little bit. After many years of getting kicked the motor life is shortened

Second, by running the fan you are re-circulating the air in your home. The majority of air returns are located in the ceiling. That is also where the warmest air in your home congregates. In two story homes one of the return air ducts are at the top of the stairs in the ceiling of the hall or landing. Heating systems are designed that way because heat rises and the return air duct are located in ceiling to capture the warm air and put it back through the system using it again to heat your home. I inspected a home a few months ago that didn’t have a return air upstairs. In two hours the temperature on the main floor went up one degree, from 61 to 62. The heat was rising up the stairwell making the upstairs 78 degrees.

Over the years, clients have shared with me money saving on their heating bills after they started running their furnace fans all the time. The lowest savings was $400.00 a year and the most, the house was a large two story with very tall ceiling, was $100.00+ dollars a month. It cost about $200.00+- a year to run the fan all the time. Running the fan will make your home warmer, eliminate dead air spots and save you money.

Third, as the air is recalculated through the furnace it passes through the filter and is cleaned. The air in your home is about five times more polluted than the air outside. Air in the home is spoiled from smoking, heating fires, cooking, cleaning chemicals, building products, pets, kids…  One person told me that they run their fan all the time to help heat their home, but didn’t realize the filtering benefits until she took her five year old computer in for repair. When the technician took the outer case off the computer, there was no dust on the inside of the computer! It takes about twenty minutes to clean the air in a 2000 square foot home.

A top quality filter can take micro particles out of the air. For those who have pollen or pet allergies, this can be very beneficial. I would recommend using the best washable, reusable filter you can find. They cost a little more upfront, but will usually pay for themselves in a year and will last many years. Even quality filters should be cleaned or changed about every ninety days, depending on the environment in your home. A dirty filter restricts air flow, over heats the fan motor and will cost you more money to heat and cool your home.

Anyway, for what it’s worth.

Gazebo Satellite Project

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I’ve always thought those big satellite dishes were so cool. I figured with the proper tweaking you could probably pick up just about any transmission, including signals sent from outer space. One day as I was driving by my neighbors I noticed that he had one in his scrap pile. Well with a little expert negotiating and $20, it was mine.

The first thing I did was mount it to the front end loader on my tractor so I could adjust the angle and height easily. Then I soldered some old ear phones to it so I could hear any signal it might pick up.14

After several hours of driving around my field with the satellite dish mounted to my tractor I realized that all I was doing was burning diesel. I got off my tractor and sat in the shade of the dish to try to decide what I was going to do with the useless 10 round hunk of aluminum. Clearly my expectations of the dish were over estimated. As I sat in the cool shade of the dish it occurred to me that if I turned the dish over it would form a dome type roof that would offer very good shade.

That thought stuck with me for several days until my wife, Tibby, said, “We should grow some table grapes.” And I thought, why not. We grow ten different types of fruit trees, three types of berries, avocados, grass hay, two types of fish, goats, donkeys, a dog, a cat and our own beef, why not table grapes?

I told her we would need a trellis or gazebo to grow them on and she said, “I’m sure you’ll figure something out.” I thought…”That’s odd, she is leaving it up to me on how to build something?” It was almost alien to our usual conversations. She usually thinks I need a lot of supervision. Then that word alien reminded me of trolling for signals from outer space and that reminded me of the dome of the satellite dish and what good shade it was. Then my mind, working like it does, though about sex, but after that I started to formulate a plan to use the 10 dome as the roof of a grape trellis/gazebo.gazebo finished 012

So here is how I built the grape gazebo. I bought, from the same neighbor, some big metal warehouse rack legs for $20.00 and mounted them to the dome. Using some ¾ conduit, I made some bracing to keep the legs and dome stable. I went to the farm store and bought some cattle panel fencing to use for the railing around the gazebo. Topped the railing with some 1” black poly pipe and used some 11/2” ABS sewer pipe, slightly used, for trim and to attach the cattle panel to the legs. I had to cut the 4’ cattle panels down to 3’ to make the rail the right height, so I used the left over 12” for a trellis around the bottom of the dome for the grapes to hang on as they grow around the dome. Some black paint, Tibby’s choice of color, and it was done.

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Call me brilliant or call me a red neck, either way… I’m good with that.