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

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