Another reason we need wind, solar, electric vehicles, and heat pumps

June 15, 2014

A semi hauling diesel and kerosene tipped over in a rotary less than a mile upriver from us on Wednesday.  The image below is from the Portland Press Herald:

gorham stroudwater fuel truck crash

The article said that 6000 gallons were recovered and “Emergency crews were able to prevent the spill from entering the Stroudwater River”.  However the crash was only 1/2 mile north of the river, and  it rained heavily on Friday.  By Saturday morning the river smelled strongly of petroleum.

Modern life requires energy to power our transportation and heat our homes, but we can (and must) do better than dirty, unsustainable, de-stabilizing liquid fossil fuels.  We need to accelerate the development of efficient technology that uses less energy to get things done, and cost-effective renewable sources to meet the remaining demand.

 

2014 pruning

March 30, 2014

Despite crummy weather and the press of work, I ran up to Five Islands on Saturday to prune the trees in the main orchard.  After a summer’s growth, the trees typically look like this:

 

pruning example before

 

There is a lot of advice available in books and online about pruning, and I took an afternoon class a few years back, put on by MOFGA and taught by a professional orchardist, located at one of his customers’ orchards in Waterboro ME.  Some basic principles include:

  • Start with the big picture, looking at the structure of the whole tree, so you don’t end up snipping a bunch of twigs only to remove that entire branch.
  • Eliminate watersprouts (vertical branches that leap off the branches and the trunk), crossovers (i.e. conflicts between two branches vying for the same space) and anything that points back toward the center of the tree.
  • Aim for an open structure that lets sunlight into all parts of the tree; the old timers say you want to be able to throw a cat through the tree.  In a healthy tree that’s growing fast, you might remove half of the new wood or more in the spring.
  • For standard apple trees I aim for central-leader form, with scaffolds of 3-5 branches evenly distributed around the points of the compass, at 1.5-2′ vertical intervals.
  • The scaffold branches should be approximately horizontal, since that induces the tree to produce fruit.
  • You want the angle between the trunk and the scaffold branches to be close to 90 degrees, since shallow angles cause inclusion of bark that leads to weakness and breakage as the tree grows.  I use string (usually) and weights (occasionally) to tie branches down.
  • Different varieties have different habits.  Some shoot straight up and need to be tied down extensively to form a good structure; others spray out aimlessly and need all the help you can give them just to throw up an identifiable leader.

That same tree above, after I attacked it with the felcos:

 

pruning example after

Polar vortex

March 1, 2014

Normally March first would have me thinking about pruning apple trees.  But it was minus four F this morning,  there’s over a foot of snow on the ground, and the forecast calls for highs in the 20s all week.  

 

Nana Polito’s gnocchi

February 28, 2014

Captured here so I don’t have to call my mom again if I lose this little scrap of paper.

  • 2lb potatoes
  • 1/2lb flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1oz butter
  • salt and pepper

boil potatoes, puree.

mix in the other stuff.

knead a bit then roll into finger-sized strands on  a floured counter.

cut into chunks maybe 2cm long.

use your thumb to press a radial divot into each one (seems to add surface area and make them hold sauce better)

dump a handful at a time in boiling water; fish them out when they float.

Blueberry coffeecake

January 30, 2014

Per request, here’s a simple but very serviceable blueberry coffeecake recipe I got from my mom.

Preheat oven to 375F. The batter (mix dry, then mix in wet):

  • 2c flour (I use half whole wheat pastry, and half white)
  • 3/4c sugar
  • 2.5t baking powder
  • 0.75t salt
  • 0.25c shortening/oil (esp coconut oil)
  • 0.75c milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2c wild blueberries (frozen or fresh; mix in last)

The result will be a thick paste that’s slightly annoying to spread, thinly, into a rectangular pan (I use a pyrex lasagna pan that’s probably 9×13).

Mix up the following and spread evenly on top:

  • 0.5c brown sugar
  • 0.33c whole wheat flour
  • 0.5t cinnamon
  • 1/4c soft butter

Bake till it’s done (maybe 45 mins? varies based on whether berries are fresh or frozen)

 

5IO process for pitching yeast on cider

December 23, 2013

Reuben asked in a comment about how I pitch yeast, and since the process has never failed us I thought I’d make a post of it.

Usually I add 1/2tsp of potassium metabisulfite to each 5-7 gal carboy the morning after we press (I think sometimes I do it in the evening).  This year we actually added it to the carboys ahead of time, so the rush of cider from the bulk tank did a good job of mixing it in.  That starts the clock, and I aim to pitch between 24 and 36 hours after sulfiting.  I am not at all an expert on sulfite, and would appreciate a link to detailed info on what the chemistry is, how long it is active, etc.  We lug the jugs down to the root cellar (which is probably in the fifties or low sixties that time of year) and that’s where they stay.

Anyway, our goal is usually to pitch on 5-6 carboys.  I mix a half-gallon of sugar solution with 5-7% potential alcohol in a stainless pot.  I used to use dextrose, but then I ran out, so I’ve been using plain cane sugar ever since.  I throw in a few crumbs of nutrient, probably around 1/4 tsp. (I’m also not an expert on yeast nutrient, but again, I stick with what’s worked.)  I let it boil briefly, then cover and let it cool.  Meanwhile I’ve sanitized a 1 gallon glass jug and a funnel, and when the sugar water is lukewarm I pour it in the jug and pitch 1 packet of Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast (the packet is yellow, not red).  I shake it gently to dissolve, then let it sit until it starts ticking (in a few hours).  Meanwhile, I bring a quart or more of cider to a simmering boil, cool it covered, and when cool I add it to the (already working) gallon jug of starter.  My theory is that this gets the yeast accustomed to the acid environment and characteristics of the cider before it is set loose at much lower concentration in the carboys, but again I don’t really know what I’m doing, other than that it works.

At that point I usually have to go back to work, and my mom pitches the yeast sometime on Monday or Tuesday.  She uses a sharpie to divide the liquid contents of the jug into roughly equal volumes, pours a measure into each carboy, and recaps with an airlock.  That’s all there is to it – we’ve never taken pains to keep the carboys at a certain temperature, to aerate, or any other tricks.  I think this will basically always work as long as the starter is actively working when you dump it in the carboy.

Racked the cider

December 7, 2013

Over Thanksgiving I made it up to Five Islands and racked the carboys in the root cellar.  I think this year’s stuff is pretty good.  The strong ‘fresh apple’ scent of the young cider always surprises me, given how completely the taste has changed in a few weeks.  We still have a couple of carboys at Stroudwater yet to rack – might get to that later today.  In place of our usual two-step starter process, the Stroudwater carboys just got a packet each of dry Red Star champagne yeast, and they seemed to kick off fine, so if these jugs taste good, maybe we ease the protocol a bit.

 

More pics of 2013 cidering (year 9) from Holly

November 15, 2013

Check out Holly’s delightful blog for more action shots from cider year 9:

http://tooling-up.blogspot.com/2013/11/cider-9-making-800-liters-of-cider-in.html

BW, AC load the press

vegetarian sushi, etc

November 15, 2013

veg sushi november

In addition to winching the old mill runner out of the muck, last weekend we got together with the Wilkins gang and rolled a big heap of vegetarian maki – 2 batches of rice the way I make it (3 cups per).  Ingredients included carrots, avocado, sweet potato, daikon, asparagus, jicama, red peppers, cream cheese, cucumber, tofu, fried portabello, sprouts, and probably a couple other things I’m forgetting.  The boys were surprisingly helpful – Bodhi especially enjoyed hacking up the rolls with a big knife.

The previous weekend I made a big pot of curry with the last summer vegetables from the garden, a big armload of eggplants and green peppers I gathered just before the first hard frost:

curry

At this point, the garden is basically kaput for the year, with the exception of the kale, which is still going strong.  We had good corn and spuds this year, lousy tomatoes, and amazing squash: two large wheelbarrowloads of butternut squash out of an area of about 20×20 feet:

butternuts 2013

Butternuts are hands-down the best winter squash – tasty, high-yielding, and lots of food per fruit – compared to a thin-walled, tough acorn, a watery, stringy pumpkin, or the other random also-ran varieties, butternuts are where it’s at.  There’s something especially satisfying about squash, potatoes, and other garden produce that actually contains meaningful quantities of calories – unlike the excess of cucumbers or tomatoes that gardens produce in the height of summer, that heap of squash could actually feed several people for several days.

 

 

19th century clean energy technology in Maine

November 10, 2013

As some readers know, we are fortunate to inhabit a beautiful spot on a small river in southern Maine, which was long ago the site of a water-powered mill.  One of the enigmatic relics of the ruined works was a 3″ diameter steel shaft sticking out of the muck in the riverbed, with a Lovejoy coupling on the upper end the size of a dinner plate.  Soon after we arrived, we made a preliminary effort to unbury it one spring afternoon, but if I remember it was hot and buggy, and we ran out of steam after digging down and finding the runner pinned under some chunks of broken metal.

runner in hole

18 months intervened, and I had basically given up the thought of finishing the job before winter, but Saturday dawned pleasant for working, so I took some buckets, a shovel, and a digging bar down to the site and was soon hip-deep in a mucky hole.  By a combination of bailing, digging, and pitching out rocks, I was soon able to get back to where we had previously stopped, and was able to rock the runner. With a bit more excavation I could see what I was up against – about half the circumference was trapped under a semi-circular cast iron ring, which had clearly been some sort of inflow nozzle that directed the flow downward onto the axial-flow runner.  The cast iron parts were not going to move, since they were bolted down to some structure buried even deeper in the mud, but I was pretty sure if I could pull the one main chunk off (to the right in the photo above), I could lift the runner clear.

At this point I was pretty confident of victory, so I texted Tony and invited him to join the fun.  Together we toted our light oxy-acetylene cutting rig down into the riverbed, and without too much effort we were able to burn off 3 nuts (or bolt heads; hard to tell with that much rust):

torching off nutsfire in the hole

The old metal was wet and covered with mud, so the cutting was pretty mangy, but I got them burned off and then knocked the slag away with the digging bar.  I lifted off the iron chunk, and then we had a pretty good view of the runner.  it appeared to be about 3′ in diameter, with 10 graceful sweeping vanes.

The runner was free, but it was way too heavy to lift.  However, we were fortunate to have two good-sized forked trees in line with it on either side; an ash on the manmade island between the main watercourse and the ruined spillway, and a pine on the high ground,directly beyond a steep  cliff that rose about 15′ above the riverbed.  We rigged a chain in the ash, a snatch block on the runner, and a second snatch block in the pine, and used our trusty orange worm-drive hand winch to take up the strain, with the red Ford as an anchor.  Once we levered it clear of the remaining bits of metal in the hole, it rose smartly thanks to Tony’s efforts on the winch:

starting to rise

coming out of the hole2013-11-09 14.51.14

We were about out of winch by the time the runner was clear of the hole, so I guided it over onto the riverbed and Tony set it down.  We lowered the attachment sling to just above the balance point, re-rigged to pull directly with the truck, and tied on a rope-a-long that was hitched to the south shore.  Then with the truck we quickly raised it until it was even with the cliff edge above:

runner suspended

We then winched it south with the rope-a-long while gently lowering it with the truck, to arrive at its new resting place on high ground:

closeup of runner up top

All in all a fun project, and a neat piece of Maine renewable energy history – I’m curious now to learn more about the mill that was at this site, and more generally about this type of small water mill.  My first impression is that this runner seems much bigger than appropriate for the flow of the river (which can be judged from the photo above, which shows the outlet of the millpond, roughly at the location of the ruined dam) – at least during typical summer and early fall flows.  Of course there are times in November and early spring when the entire valley fills with a raging torrent (see canoeing pictures from earlier this year) but I wouldn’t think you would build a larger-than-needed mill just to run on those few days or weeks of the year.  Maybe the process (sawing wood or what-have-you) had a relatively low duty cycle, and they’d let the millpond fill up between cuts, then open the floodgates to get more power when they needed it.


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