Sunday, 23 December 2012

Closet Doors

While shopping at Home Depot the other day, I picked up these closet doors for the boys' room. Now I need to stain and seal them. I already got a can of clear varathane, and I was going to leave them natural, but now I'm wondering if I should stain the pine. Or maybe paint the raised portions to match the other trim in the room. Hmm.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Master bath flow Issues

Ever since we moved in here, an ongoing issue has been the lack of water pressure in the hot water at the sink in the master bathroom. Cold water rushes out, but hot barely dribbles. I would have tackled the problem earlier, but the way the faucet was hooked up, you have to turn off water to the whole house in order to service the faucet.

An hour's work, and that's all changed...

First, meet the sink. This bathroom is on the long list for a remodel, but kid and family space come first, parental space is way down the list.

And meet the connections of the supply lines to the taps beneath the sink. Whoever installed these used a lot of solder, but they also used fittings that don't allow the lines to be removed without turning off the water to the house. You will also notice that they have used a prodigious amount of teflon tape on threads that do not have anything to do with getting a decent seal. this is a pet peeve of mine. For some reason, every spot where teflon tape could be applied in this house has GOBS of the stuff. At least they put braided stainless supply lines on.

In order to turn off water to the house, I use the valve in the basement next to the water meter - you house likely has one too. You should cycle it every now and then to be sure its working right. Ours was, so turning off water was a non-event. With the house water turned off, I turned on the water on the lowest sink in our home (at the bar) and left the taps in the 'on' position. This will allow water to drain from the lines in the house. Then I went to the bathroom in question and opened the taps there. Now gravity (and a siphon) will drain the water lines so I don't get flooded when I unscrew the water supply lines under the sink.

Using an adjustable wrench, I was able to remove the hot and cold water supply lines in a matter of moments. Now its time for the mini tube cutter.

A mini tube cutter allows you to cut away a piece of pipe. In this case, I wanted to remove the soldered portion of the supply in order to replace the fitting on the end of it. I could have heated the pipe to remove this, but then I would have had to clean off the solder, and this was easier. The way the tube cutter works, you set it over the pipe, and tighten it in place until there is resistance if you try to roll it around the pipe. Now you spin it around the pipe until there is less resistance, then tighten and repeat until the pipe is cut through.

And when the pipe is cut through, guess what you find inside it...

Apparently at some point in the distant past, a screw found its way inside this fitting, restricting flow to the sink. Can you see it inside there? Now I know what was wrong with the faucet!

With the end cut off the pipe, its time to start the cleanup process. Using some 220 grit sandpaper, I clean the ends of the pipe of any solder or corrosion. Once done, the pipe should be shiny and smooth.

The new fittings going on the pipe are called angle stops. They are a valve that goes on the pipe so you can turn off the water to replace or repair a leaky faucet. There are a lot of types of these valves, but I like to use compression fit ball valves. I have never had these leak, and a quarter turn of the valve is the difference between on and off. Good for an emergency.

A compression fitting is easy to install because it doesn't require soldering. It also doesn't come off easily. But if the valve gives me trouble in the future, it will be easily replaced. The way a compression fitting works is that the brass ring (centre, above) hugs the pipe forming a seal. The nut (left above) squeezes the ring between itself and the valve as you tighten the threads on it. Between the body of the valve and the nut, no water will escape a compression fitting once its been tightened up enough.

Here is everything assembled on the pipe ready for tightening. This is for demonstration only. You really don't need to take apart the parts to put this together. Usually its all preassembled in the package and you can just cram it on the pipe. The downside of a compression fitting is that if there are any gouges or scratches in the pipe running longitudinally, it may not be able to get a good seal. As far as I know, soldering is your best bet if that happens. Note the lack of Teflon tape in this picture.

And the final product... one angle stop installed on a supply line. Still Teflon free.

The same process works on the other supply line, et voila! 2 angle stops installed, and braided stainless supply lines reattached. No Teflon tape involved.

Here they are both in the off position, ready for the house water to be turned back on. I like to have valves in the off position when I turn on the water. This way, air in the line compresses and I can ease it out slowly while watching for leaks. Sometimes you can hear the air hissing out and know there will be a leak before the water reaches the spot. Some other folks I know prefer to have taps wide open so pressure can't build on the new fittings so fast.

This job only took about an hour from start to finish. It was quick and easy, and when the water was turned back on, there were no leaks. Had there been any, I would have just had to tighten up the compression fittings or supply lines a little more.

All the tools needed fit on the corner of the vanity, along with the evil screw. Does it get any simpler than this??

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Snuggly guys!

Oh Christmas Tree(s)

For the past 'n' years we have consistently put up the same artificial Christmas tree in each of our houses. It has worked well. It looks mostly good, with only a few shortcomings. it is not an electro-neon tree with fibre optic branches or a realistic tree with frost on the branches, pine cones, and to-scale bird nests tucked into the branches. It is a made-in-china plastick-needles on wire branches type of tree, but it looks good.
I like it. From 10 feet out it looks real and it doesn't drop needles.

But it doesn't smell like a real tree, and it doesn't look 100% real, and every now and then I get these romantic notions of a perfect tree in a perfect room, with the scent of pine and the ambiance of a perfect Christmas. I bounced the idea off SWMBO, and soon enough, we were heading out in the Thunderbuggy, headed to a tree farm in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

To be sure we got the perfect tree we formed a committee. Chairing the committee was Mama and I, with support from 2 small boys. The committee was supported by Chuck - the indifferent teen, and AP2, and her friend Louise. Louise and AP2 were mostly mystified by the process. The boys were interested, and Mom and I were tree spotting. Chuck was Chuck.

The rules at the tree farm are pretty simple. Grab a saw and search for the perfect tree. Trees with red tags on them are $40 and intended for suckers, trees without tags are $30 and are intended for intelligent folks like us. Don't step on the seedlings. Any tree is legit, pay before you leave.

It was a rainy day, but there was still a lot of competition for the perfect tree.

Our idea of the perfect tree was equally simple. It had to be perfect. Tall enough that if you stood beside it with your arm up, it was higher than you could reach. Not too wide so it didn't take up the entire living room, not too skinny so it didn't look like a pole.  No holes, no weird growths, green and healthy, perfect.

A number of candidates were considered and rejected. Tree after tree was assessed using the extended arm measuring stick. Tree after tree failed. Staying at the $30 budget point made it difficult to find the perfect tree, but not wanting to be suckers, we persevered. Over hills and down valleys, through the tall grass and mud we searched. AP2 spotted trees, Louise too. Chuck mumbled things about hot guys and vampires. We measured and rejected, considered and reconsidered, and finally narrowed the field down to the 2 best trees.

We stood and considered them. Finally settling on one, and rejecting the other we felt good about finding the perfect tree at the $30 price point. The saw was set to the trunk, and cutting began. James took the first few cuts, then I set the saw and got it going. Chuck had a try, then AP2 and Louise. Finally the tree came down.
As it fell I saw a flash of red in its branches. Was it a cardinal? Someone's boot lace? No, it was a red tag.

We were suckers.

The committee pulled the tree back to the Thunderbuggy and I paid the farmer. We loaded it up on the roof, and headed home. Everyone was sleepy after the exertions of the day.

Our tree is now standing in the living room. It is adorned with lights and ornaments. It still needs tinsel and garlands. The house smells of pine and Christmas. It is wonderful. And for old times' sake we have set up the plastic tree in the basement. We need decorations for it. One house with 2 trees - c'est fantastique!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Our Garbage Man has Un-trained the Dog.

When we moved here from the stix, one of our concerns was with the dog (stupidest animal known to man) running out into the street. We keep her in the backyard, or in the house, and have established the 'thou shalt not cross line' at the threshold of the front door. We thought we had everything covered off.

Every morning, Chuck takes the dog for a walk. Okay, lets be honest, 3 out of 7 days a week, Chuck remembers to take the dog for a morning walk.

One day out of 7, the garbage man comes by.

Until recently, Chuck had regularly missed taking the dog for a walk on garbage day. Not intentionally, but for whatever reason. The dog was doing OK and the garbage was being taken. All was well. At some point in all this three things happened in the same day.
  1. Chuck Remembered to take the dog for a walk.
  2. The Garbage was collected at the curb.
  3. For whatever reason, the garbage man started setting down the garbage cans upside down.
Now to you and I the goo and waste that falls out of an upside-down garbage can is not very exciting, but to the dog, that stuff is perfectly divine. She has learned that at the bottom of our driveway (and there neighbours) there is sometimes a tasty treat waiting. If the door is opened and a truck can be heard, the dog is out like a shot, runs into the street and sniffs around for whatever will be most expensive for a vet to remove from her gut.

Thanks garbage guy. I owe you one.

Monday, 26 November 2012

My Emails are Getting Shorter...

OK, at the risk of this blog becoming a forum for its author's whining (so many are) I have to say my online exchanges have become remarkably short considering the amount of new communication electronica that has entered my life.

Both SWMBO and I now have tablet PCs. Work gave me a Blackberry. SWMBO has a smartphone. Chuck has become a textaholic. We now have more modes of communication floating around the house than we ever have before, and yet, I feel less inclined to communicate electronically than ever before. The reason is that the technology really doesn't help communicate at all. In fact, it gets in the way of it.

A recent exchange between SWMBO and I on facebook chat went like this:

"You downstairs?"
"Bring up a Sprite when you come up?"

Here we are in the 20-teens, and the best use we have for our great technology is to not have to yell down the stairs for a can of soda. Pathetic.

The trouble with communicating via tablet PC is the tablet. Typing on a tablet is akin to smearing finger paint on the front window to invite the neighbours over for tea. You jab and point and swipe in a most painful manner, only to realize when you are done that half the words autocorrected to something you didn't mean at all, and the other half either should have caps, but don't, or are spelled entirely wrong. But the tablet does have a wonderful interface to move photos from memory into a blog post or email, something our laptop cannot do nearly as neatly(unless I want to cart it around to take photos).

Which brings me to trying to put together a blog post on a tablet PC. You cannot format a blogpost on a tablet. OK maybe you can, but I don't have those super-powers. I mean my pudgy fingers can barely pick out a hotlink let along format, align, highlite, etc. So on weekends I find myself thinking about great blogposts, and promptly dismissing the ideas. Too much work.

If I do get all inspired to post something, I'll take the photos with the tablet, and import them to blogger, then go to the laptop to type and format, and then post from a PC where I can edit with a reasonable expectation of accuracy. 3 devices, one post. Much pain.

Gmail has now become unstable on most of my devices. I mean, it may be user error or whatever, but between constant hounding to upgrade my browser to Chrome, the new pop-up message box, and wanting a cell number to link my account to, I can barely get an email out. If that stuff comes up while I'm on the tablet, I'm screwed. My emails are now condensed to one or two sentences with the grammer and writing quality of a 2 year old while I dodge pop-ups and error messages. If I go to write an email and that stupid new compose box comes up on the side of the screen, I just shut off the tablet and don't bother. I'd rather call you than deal with the headache of emailing. My tablet won't even show the full text box, so I wouldn't know what I was emailing you anyways.

Of course I tried to find a 'user feedback' spot on Google's website, but I guess they get too much fan mail, and so don't offer a spot to let you send a message. If i did, I know it would be filed under 'Junk' which is OK, because at least one more whiny email added to the piles of whiney emails would at least help get the message across that their platform ain't all that and a bag of chips. Although it still beats a number of the alternatives.

The Blackberry is too new to really whine about, but how the heck do people use those tiny keyboards? I know my boss gave it to me for increased productivity, but I can't type on the darn thing, and if I do, it takes for bloody ever to write anything. UGH. I sound old. Maybe I am old. I can't figure out how to text on it at all, but Chuck has one and she fires away at the keyboard on it like a sniper picking off gophers.

I wonder what kind of user feedback was given when we went from writing on cave walls to clay tablets. Bet I woulda been the guy complaining in teh back row then too. Anyway, if you are waiting for an email from me, keep waiting. It may come soon. Or not.

(As if to prove my point, Blogger's spell check is refusing to work now. I guess I'll have to spell check this later.)

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Bye bye Washer, we'll miss you (but not much).

Last night when I got home from work, I put 2 new ball valves in the laundry room. As I worked (and tried not to burn the house down with the soldering torch), it occurred to me that the 50 square feet of laundry room are probably the most worked on space in the house so far. I mean 2 days of dryer venting, and now a night of washer hookup repair. Small spaces mean much work.

In any case, after only a little swearing and much fiddling, I managed to get the laundry hookups right and not leaking, and that meant I could turn on the water to the house again, which also meant Chuck could cook dinner and AP2 could take a shower. You'd think I would be called a hero, but that is not the way a Dad's life goes. Oh well. We don't do these things for glory.

Today I spent my lunch taking the washing machine to the appliance repair place in town where I was given the anticipated news that I was in the market for a new washer. To repair this one would cost over $300 in parts, and then another $200-$300 in labour. Apparently it had thrown a bearing and was no long sitting properly on its spindle. Or something.

I bought a 'newly refurbished' high efficiency/high capacity machine for $400, and will take delivery of it tomorrow. I am sure I could have gotten a used washer cheaper through local classifieds, but this one came with a one year warranty, and they will deliver and set up. That makes me happy. By this time tomorrow, everyone should have clean clothes again.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The washer blew up.

Since I am done fixing trees in the backyard, its time for things to start breaking inside the house.

The other day while SWMBO and I were lying in bed the sound from our washing machine switched from "whump-whump-whump" to "CLANG-CLANG-RATTLE-BANG-BANG" and it sounded like something not good was happening.

SWMBO mentioned that it had made that noise once before.

I descended to the laundry room and looked at the washer. It was moving like a hula-girl on a trucker's dashboard (Note to self: get hula girl for the Thunder-Buggy, that would add to its tacky coolness). The bounces weren't too high of the floor though, and the clothes were getting clean. I looked through the glass door and saw that the drum was spinning a few inches out of concentricity.

Today I called the local appliance place and they suggested a repair would likely be in the order of $400. A used washer could be had for less. With 4 adults and 2 kids in the house, i don't have much time to negotiate. I said I'd bring in our washer tonight to get an opinion on its condition.

All of this meant that at lunch I found myself crawling under the laundry sink trying to turn off the water supply to the washer. I hate the guy who put those valves in. It is impossible to reach the valves, and even harder to turn them on/off. In the end I found myself standing in the laundry room dripping while a geyser of water washed down the walls and floor around me. A quick run to the basement and I had the water supply shut off for the house. Tonight I'll be putting some ball valves in, I think.

The washer is now sitting beside the house waiting to be loaded up and taken to the appliance repair place downtown. Here's hoping we can get doing laundry again without a lot of delay.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Tree Tying

I know, tying trees to a trellis doesn't sound like much fun, but hey, my life is slow so I don't have much to write about right now. Here is the tree tying post... Which naturally follows the tree planting post, and trellis making posts.

A couple years back we bought some curtains at a church bazaar. The curtains were made of cotton and were huge. We never ended up using them, and they have sat in the basement ever since. The curtains are about to become plant ties.

Meet the curtains...

The curtains were torn into 2" wide strips and the strips cut into foot long pieces (or so) to become plant ties.

My first step in tying the trees was to tie the top of the tree to the highest wire it reached, trying to align the centre stem with the X formed by the bamboo trellis. Since I will be removing the tops of the trees in the spring pruning, I didn't need to be gentle while doing this.

Next I tied the bottom of the trees to the lowest wire, below the trellis. here I did need to be gentle. In order to hold everything in place and be sure the main stem wasn't damaged, I made a round turn on the wire...

Then I twisted the 2 ends of the strip of cotton around each other to form a sort of stand-off to hold the tree away from the wire, but firmly in place. This also constricted the round turn onto the wire, preventing it from slipping side-to-side.

And finally a bunch of half hitches formed a sort of reef knot/granny knot smack down. The end result being a tree held firmly in place.

With the trunk in place, I could turn my attention to the branches where applicable, and tie them off to the bamboo to get them started growing where they belong.

After a couple hours, I had a bunch of white cloth tied to trees on the wires along the back yard. Yippee. Now I just monitor the situation until spring.

UPDATE: While th ecloth ties worked fine and did not damage the trees, they also were very difficult to remove when it was time to retie everything. I have now switched to using velcro straps to tie the trees back on the frame, and it seems to work much better!

Bird...what cereal?

Buddy: "Mommy, guess what!!  We opened da Bird-poop cereal today!!"
Mama: "you...  what?"
Buddy: "Opened Da BIRD POOP Cereal!!"
Mama: "um.... what is bird poop cereal?"
Buddy: "The one with the duck on it"
Mama: "You mean these ones?" (holding up the box of fruit loops)
Buddy: "YUP!"
Mama: "and... what makes it bird poop cereal?"
Buddy: "Da Bird makes da poop, and da man comes & pick it up and puts it in da box, and it's bird poop cereal!"

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Planting Day!!!

After a week of intense bambooing (new word there) I finally had a lattice running the width of the backyard and it was time to think about getting trees in the ground. The trees came to us from the nursery wrapped in plastic. This ranks up there with Christmas morning for excitement.

The package (details on the tree varieties are here)

Peeling back the plastic revealed my bundle of trees. I like anticipation. I like the look of a garden unplanted, I like spring when there is excitement a-twitter with the possibilities of the coming summer. I like a bundle of trees waiting to be planted. The nursery had wrapped the roots in black plastic to retain moisture, and put orange twine around the whole bundle to keep things together neatly.

A pair of snips too care of the twine, and I was able to separate my one bundle into three. Each labelled with the types of trees we had ordered. For the record - Canada Red, Cole's Quince, and Golden Russet.

Planting the trees was a little trickier than I had anticipated. When you plant a grafted plant like fruit trees, roses, etc. You need to be careful to keep the graft above the soil by a couple inches. The graft is usually a nub close to the ground. It is where the plant is connected to its roots - which are usually of another plant. If you bury the graft it is susceptible to disease. Plant too high, and you may get suckers from the root stock competing with your plant. This alone is not a problem. 

When espaliering, you want to plant the plant so that buds align with your framework - in my case, the latticework. The plan with Espalier is that you will cut back the tree after planting such that the buds closest to the frame will be allowed to grow. For my pattern, I will be cutting back the central leader of the trees to the lowest X in the lattice. This alone is also not a problem.

The planting challenge for me was getting the graft above grade just right AND  a set of buds aligned to the lattice just right. There were 2 trees where things actually aligned just right for me.

The rest of the trees posed more of a challenge. Some of the trees had 1 branch that aligned with the frame. I am not sure if that is a good thing or not.  Some had none, but showed promising buds along the trunk. Some I was forced to just plant and hope for the best.

Planting all the trees went surprisingly quickly. In under 2 hours I had everything in the ground. Mother nature was even cooperative, and rained a gentle rain when I was finished. With all the trees in the ground, and watered in, all that was left to do was tying the trees to the framework, and then watch them grow. I left the trees overnight to get comfortable with how they were planted, and did the tying the next day.

The view, post-planting.

Follow along - tree tying!

Friday, 9 November 2012

An Introduction to the Trees

When I decided to start this project, I had a hard time sourcing trees that would be sold when tiny. It seems that most nurseries want to ship trees that are ready to bear fruit the year after they are planted. It took a lot of work to find someone selling young trees that could be trained. When I found Siloam Orchards, I basically told them to ship me whatever trees would work best, and trusted their judgement.

I drove past their driveway twice while looking for this sign - Its not out at the road.

They suggested 3 varieties of trees - Canada Red, Cole's Quince, and Golden Russet apples. The reasoning for these types is that:

1) I need different varieties to encourage cross pollination.
2) I need apples for baking, eating, and storing.
3) I need trees that are hardy in a Canadian winter.
4) I need apples that are distinctly different so I can identify them at harvest time.

Here is your introduction to my apples... Shamelessly stolen from Siloam's website. I hope they bloom close to concurrently so the cross-pollination thing works. Fingers crossed.

Canada Red

CANADA  RED   The fruit is medium to large in size, mostly uniform.  An apple of disputed heritage, likely first grown in New England and brought from Toronto, Ontario into western New York state where it was raised commercially as Canada Red. Described as being of good quality for a mid winter apple in ‘FRUITS OF ONTARIO, 1906’.  Skin is yellow background covered with deep red blush and darker red striping. Flesh is whitish with green or yellow tinting, firm, crisp, juicy an fine grained. Late fall harvest. 

 Another apple website has an even better description with a picture. Here's a link: Adam's Apples - Canada Red

So it looks like the Canada red could be a Rousseau - or not. It doesn't really matter to me, I just want nice red apples. Also, some sites I read said that this variety is prone to crop failure if the soil isn't right and the weather is wrong. Sounds like it could be a little finicky. All I can do is cross my fingers and hope for the best at this point.

Cole's Quince

COLE’S QUINCE  From Cornish, Maine , as early as 1806.  Also known as Pear Apple or Quince Apple due to its high quince or pear flavor and aroma. Raised by Captain Henry Cole, and described by his son S.W. Cole in his text “American Fruit Book”, in 1849. A summer apple ripening in August, used for culinary purposes when ripening and dessert when fully tree ripened. Yellow skin that may have a sunny side red flush, yellowish white flesh that is mildly acidic, crisp, tender, juicy. Small to medium size, somewhat flat and ribbed. 

Here is another description with a picture from a seller in the US. I have no affiliation with them. I just found this as an early hit on google. Cole's Quince at Fedco Seeds

Cole's Quince looks cool because its an apple that tastes kind of like a pear, except that it tastes like an apple. I love weird stuff, so it fits nicely. I hope they are tasty.

Golden Russet

GOLDEN  RUSSET  RUSSET VARIETY      The most famous of the russets; when most speak of russets they mean this one and are often unaware of the others in the large russet family. This is of American origin, a seedling of English Russet, known in the 1800’s and likely earlier, possibly originating in Burlington County, New Jersey in the 1700’s. One of the latest to fully tree ripen in October, notable for its storage ability. It can keep all winter in cold storage. It may shrivel in storage yet retain good flavor. The mistake is often made in harvesting Golden Russet too early; it must be left to hang on the tree almost as late as possible, and provided with humidity in storage to prevent breakdown and shriveling. Excellent for eating and prized as a cider variety, known to produce a hard cider of up to 7% alcohol due to its high sugar content (hic!); also good for drying. The skin is the typical russet, a  greenish yellow background with a covering of bronze / copper/ orange coloring. The flesh is fine grained, crisp and sugary. Some resistance to apple scab.

The Nova Scotia Apples website has some good info on the Golden Russet here: NS Apples - Golden Russet

My Dad used to buy Russet apples whenever he saw them, almost like they were a delicacy or something. Lately I haven't seen them in stores, which is too bad. Their leathery skin and sharp taste were part of autumn for me as a kid. I think its funny that almost every website I have found them on lists them as a good choice for making strong cider. Hmmmm. Maybe a distillery can be incorporated into the espalier plans.

Once the plants are planted, more photos will follow.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Espalier - Site Prep Part 2 - Bamboo

A sketch of a Belgian Fence Espalier

If you have been following along, this post picks up where the last post left off. With wire in place, the next step of getting things ready for the trees was to build a growing frame of bamboo. I have enough trees to plant across the backyard on 3 foot centres. I know that is tight, but using dwarf rootstock, and training the trees results in smaller root structures. Besides, the Internet says it will work. Who am I to question the Internet. Based on my 3 foot centres, I needed to set up bamboo with a pole every 3 feet. Since I wanted to make a "Belgian Fence" pattern (image below) I needed to set the bamboo on a diagonal, in both directions to get the fence going.

 First Attempt

My first try was in the dark, right after I got the wires set. I was tired and cold, and I thought it looked pretty good. I stopped until morning when I figured I could carry on with the bamboo. I was lucky I did.
 There is nothing wrong with the pattern or geometry, but if I had continued with the bamboo set like this, I would have ended up with stems coming up 3 feet off the ground before beginning to be formed in to the weave to make the pattern. With only 2 crosses per plant, the fence would be weak, and the ground clearance would be much higher than I was aiming for. I took down 2 of the poles and set out for a second attempt.

In order to fasten the bamboo to the wires, I am using plastic zip ties. They are flexible enough to allow some adjustment after placement, but strong enough to hold everything in place. Once the whole setup is in place, I may lash together the bamboo crosses with some jute twine, and cover the zip ties with more of the same.

Second Time's the Charm

In order to bring things closer to the ground, I re-set 2 parallel stakes, shifting them sideways until my lowest crossing was just above the lowest wire. The first pic below is before re-setting. Further down in this post you can see the difference once I reset things....

The lowest X's are now about 20" above grade. This made the weave tighter, and stronger. It also meant the tips would cross just below the top of the fence. Having that extra cross in each pole made a big difference. See third pic below...

Keeping things lined up

I keep telling myself that this project isn't rocket science, and doesn't require absolute precision. Working with bamboo, or any natural material means there will be some variation from piece to piece, and within the pieces themselves. But still, it is important to keep things square and level. To that end my most important tools on this portion of the job are a roofing square, tape measure, and pliers.

The roofing square allows me to check that each stake is set at 45° to the wires. This keeps each piece of bamboo parallel (or mostly parallel) to the next one.  What I have been doing is setting the zip ties on the bamboo loosely, getting the spacing about right with my tape, and then tightening. Once tight, I use the square to check that the stake is at 45° and then whack it into square with whatever is handy. Once it is square and properly spaced, I use the pliers to tension the zip tie as much as possible.

As a final check, I place the 90° corner of the square at the X formed by the poles and verify that they are square to each other. A couple more whacks and things are usually set.

Bear in mind that perfect is the enemy of good, and as the fence that this is anchored to moves, as the trees grow, as the wire looses tension, as the bamboo weathers, the whole frame will move. 

Pattern Making

With the first five pieces of bamboo in place, the pattern begins to present itself... It takes about 15 minutes per pole to set the bamboo. Thanks to daylight savings time setting in, I only have about 1-1/2 to 2 hours per night to work on this. I managed to sneak out for long enough to set another three poles after breakfast this morning.
And by the time I left for work, this is what the fence looked like. I only have another 9 poles in my bundle of 25. I'm not sure if that will be enough or not. Maybe my math is off on all this. (13 trees, 2 poles per tree = 26 poles??)

Not too shabby looking for a first attempt at this sort of thing, and no major screw ups yet. With any luck I can get out there for another half hour at lunch, and again tonight and get some more set. Maybe I'll even get SWMBO or Chuck out there planting trees tonight!

Meet the trees here, or skip ahead to planting day here.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Oh Christmas tree....

Buddy says: 'i need to check and see if our Christmas tree gotted dead.... nope, it didn't!  Mommy, our Christmas Tree didn't getted dead!'

Oh good.  Cause if our fake tree died.... I'd be worried!

Espalier - Site Prep Part 1 - Wire

As I said a few days ago, our apple trees have arrived for planting in our espalier. Now that they have sat out for a few days, the pressure is on to get them into the ground.

Being a manly man, I figured that I could do this in a day. Then I slept in. Then I had to go buy hardware. Then I had to go to the Rogers store for a cell phone and spent half a day standing in line. etc. In any case, it took me 2days to get a wire frame up that I will eventually attach bamboo growing frames to. Here is how I built the wire frame.

Step 1: Block and Roll!!

The first part of the project was building blocks to attach to the fence. These blocks will act as a stand-off to hold the espalier off the fence and allow even growth and airflow. Using my trusty compound mitre saw, I cut 2 blocks for each wire on each fencepost. Since this espalier will span 50 feet, I needed a lot of blocks. Eventually, Chuck would come outside and cut some blocks for me, but to get started I cut a bunch myself. For the records, each block is 8" long and cut from pressure treated 2X4's.

Step 2: Screw It!

The blocks are attached to the fence with 2 5/8" X 6" lag bolts. I predrilled the blocks with a 1/4" drill while holding them in place. For this first block, I picked a fencepost at about the middle of the backyard, and judged about where I would want the wires to go to get a decent support up off the ground, but not too high. I marked the middle of the block as where I wanted a wire to go, and then measured up for the next wire at 16". Web sites I read on setting up an espalier suggested anything between 12" to 24" spacing on the wires, so I guessed that 16" would work for us. Only time will tell.

The vertical component is now in place. Three blocks on one post sets up the layout for the rest of the fence.

Step 3: Now you're stringing me a line!

Using my lowest block as a guide, I stretched a string for the length of the fence as long as I could, then set a screw in the fence and tied the string off on it. It is important to use a lightweight line here, and to pull it tight enough that there is no sag in the string. Then, using a long level (longer is better) check if the string is straight. In our yard, some fence posts had settled, and some had leaned in or out, so just measuring down from the top of a fence post would not have given a straight line. Similarly, the ground is uneven, so you would not get a level line measuring up from the ground. Take your time and really make sure that this line is straight. In my case, I was able to get the line straight, but I did not compensate for lean in the fence.

I can almost guarantee that the line will not be level on your first attempt, but you will have a good guess of how far off it is. If you have a helper, it will really speed this step up. Have them hold the level while you move the string up and down to get a closer estimate of where level is for your second attempt. then set the line and try again. It took three tries before I got the string level.

Step 4: New Blocks on the Block

Once the string is set, don't touch it! Eventually you will need to put a block exactly where the screw holding the string is, but for now, just do all the blocks between the string and your first block. As i said before, each block gets 2 lag screws. In addition, you will need to set an eyebolt between the screws. Predrill everything to avoid the wood splitting. The eyebolts will need to go exactly in line with the string line. In the photo above you can see that I have 2 string lines going, and have started setting blocks between them. Since the middle row was done when I took this pic, I have removed its string line.

Step 5: Pulling a wire

With all the blocks and eyebolts in place, its time to set the wires that will make the frame for the espalier's forms to be built on. While your daughter and au pair are watching a movie, bring them a spool of wire and about 2 dozen turnbuckles. Your daughter will be able to twist the wire on to the turnbuckles and the au pair can extend the turnbuckles to their maximum length.

Back outside, attach each wire to an eyebolt and tighten (shorten) the turnbuckles to tension the wires. You need the wires tight enough to give a good "thwongggggg" when you pluck them. If you over tighten the wires, they will break. About halfway through this stage, I ran out of wire and had to get more. The new stuff I got was coated in green plastic, and blends into the fence much more nicely than the steel wire you see here.  Eventually the trees will not need these wires, but your installation has to be good enough to last the first 5 years or so.

I don't have a pic, but I repeated these wires for each section of fence until I had 3 parallel wires running all the way across the backyard. With the wires in place, and the weekend done, it is now time to begin setting the bamboo forms in place. I'll save that for Site prep Part 2.