Friday, October 23, 2009

A Castle in Ruins

You know summer is over when the crenelations of the hay castle in the loft start to lean and the tunnels are exposed with every day of feeding. I remember the hours of fun we used to have as kids in our friend's hay loft. It smelled sweet and warm like summer grass and was a child's wonderland for games of 'hide and seek' and 'king of the castle'.

So, it was not at all strange that families staying on the farm with us this summer would have naturally gravitated to our full hay loft, also smelling sweet and warm like the summer grass we had just cut from the fields. I, honestly, had lost my appreciation for haylofts. I viewed ours as a lot of hard work to load and a place of apprehension throughout the winter as I watched the bale count dwindle each year.

Load it up; feed it out; repeat. Year in - year out. A fairly unimaginative way to look at a hay loft. Add some kids to the mix, however, and also some rainy days in the middle of the summer, and a hay loft can morph into a medieval castle. We had two families work on the piles of hay this year, in their own way. The first had little kids so dad did most of the castle building. Nothing too elaborate, nothing too creative. He was an adult after all.

The castle took on a life of its own under the diligence and hard work of two 12-year-old girls who spent hours building the fort that remains in ruins today. There were tunnels and doors and hidden rooms. There were crenellations made by standing some of the bales of hay on end. There was even a shooting platform for the basketball hoop set high up on one of the bale drops in the center of the barn. Build a castle; shoot a few hoops; build a secret passage way; shoot a few hoops.

I appreciated the extent of the building activities, until this fall. Sure the girls wanted me to see what they had done and I dutifully climbed up the bales to take a peak, but I must have missed a lot of the infrastructure. Only now as I feed four bales of hay a day and slowly dismantle the girls' works have I seen the imagination of the world they created and understand the delightful skipping of our summer artisans.

And then the adult mind appears to niggle at my own delight. There really isn't as much hay here as I had thought from a quick purview. Behind the crenellations are walkways and deeper rooms. Even some tunnels. Will we have enough hay to see us through the winter after all? Darn that hay castle for making the barn look full up.

No, I have to remind myself. That's not the way to see it. The hay castles built this summer will provide memories for these kids as adults. Maybe as they walk down a city street in July, maybe as they sit at a desk looking out the window on a rainy day. "Remember that summer we built a fine medieval castle in the hay loft at Leaping Lamb Farm, where the hay smelled sweet and warm and the rain pounded down on the metal roof? What a great time we had!"

Photos: hay loft with remaining passages and crenellations

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Check These Projects off the List!

This was the summer of our "greening". We built a large, 3-bay composter to better utilize all the animal manure produced on our farm, and we installed solar panels on the barn to power our farm operations, because, yes, even in Oregon there is enough sun to do this!

The composter was a bit of a challenge because this was actually a project scheduled for last summer. It seems it is wise to include people who build structures when discussing the best location for one of these. I decided, with the approval of the woman helping me with the grant, that the most attractive and seemingly easiest place to build the structure was directly down the hill from the horse's loafing shed. The roof lines would look clean and I could wheelbarrow the manure right over the wall. The tractor could approach from down below to turn the piles. Easy.

Then the engineer got involved! Despite our barn sitting on the top of a hill for the past 80 years, any cutting into the side of the hill was seen as catastrophic to the building's integrity. I figured the barn had sat on logs and stones for this long, why not longer? No one cared to listen to my theory. Throw enough rebar and cement an engineer's way and he will be happy. Except the structure took on the cost of a small house, so we scrapped it until I could come up with another location.

Last winter, I tried to think creatively. This time I involved my builder Alan. Did he think we could squeeze a composter on the end of the loafing shed? I would be able to drive the tractor straight into it from two different sides. There would be a squeaky 6 feet to spare between the barn and the building. I would have to hone my non-existent tractor skills. Everyone signed off on the plan. It was out of my hands. The guys did what they needed to do, with a few adaptations along the way.

Our solar panel project started construction the day we heard we had received a partial grant from a federal program. We have the perfect south facing roof off the barn to maximize sun power. Perfect roof and incline; not so sure about the construction. Did I know how deep the large posts holding up the roof went into the ground? Did I think they were set in cement? Well, that depended on a number of things.

We needed to reinforce the roof anyway since it was never built with the thought of laying solar panels 7 wide and deep. The contractor started with the supporting posts and, surprise, surprise, they were only set into the ground 8" at most! Not to worry- a three foot hole around each, married, pressure-treated 8x8s, pack all this with concrete- and everyone's happy. For my part, I will always wonder about the posts holding up the corners of the shed that were were left untouched. Note to self - don't back the tractor into either of these while working the composter!

Installation of the panels went fairly quickly once the structure was re-supported, and the intermittent fall rain stopped for a few days. Our old barn, designed before the advent of baled hay, had a door that opened straight out to the loafing shed roof where the panels were installed and also a permanent ladder with a platform used, I think, to originally service the hay hooks and the track meant for pulling loose hay from below.

I love to cross projects off our summer to-do list! Our new-looking composter will soon weather and match the barn. I'm sure a few dings from me will come with use, but much like a new car, the first one hurts the most, the rest just add character. The fancy solar meter inside the barn hums along when the sun is out, compiling figures of wattage being pushed back into the power grid. It is high tech for such an old space. For this summer we are the face of farming in the 21st century.

Photos: (top) brand new composter minus the poop; (bottom) solar panels mounted above the sheep's loafing shed

All Right Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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