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Find your sun window, with fists to the sky

It’s finally feeling more like autumn here in Fairland, with gusts of falling leaves and very light touches of frost. After our arrival in mid-September, we approached the 90 + degree days as a window for putting our winter garden in, and the food is now pouring into the kitchen (polyculture salads, radishes, braising greens, cilantro). In a new-to-us twist we now wonder if our brassicas, fava beans, garlic, and winter grains are all Too tall to withstand the cold fronts that are sure to visit us this winter. I’ll repeat that because it’s so astounding: our late September plantings might have grown too much in the last month and a half to be able to securely hunker down for the winter. Should we have planted later? This is crazy!

As for our solar cones, they indeed are working out well, but the plants barely fit into them! And, it is worth noting the importance of securely burying the edges of the cones. In the 40-60 mph winds we had two of the cones took flight. We promptly pulled all the cones and put them in a safe spot but need to sacrifice some plants around the edges to get the cones set better in the ground.

Last time we wrote mostly about family dynamics, and things are… settling. We visit the grandparents each day and try to maintain the very friendly neighbors approach. The easiest thing for them to agree to is that we have unrestricted access to the one acre deeded to Kelda, though we anticipate long discussions once any of our work changes the view from their house. Though there is more land here in the family’s name in totality, we’re shelving ideas for that until a later date.

On the design front, it’s been pretty exciting to minutely observe the site. The hedgerows have promising plants like mulberries, pecans, red buds, wild grape, sassafras and mimosa. The soil has high clay content and is deliciously easy to work with. Most of the site has been mowed or hayed, mostly in a diverse blend of grasses with some broadleaf patches: clovers, plantains, dandelions, vetches, and some horrible-tasting strawberries.

It has been an exciting challenge to map the solar exposure of the site. The one-acre lot and house tend southeast, and (unfortunately) towards a busy street, rail line, and neighbors. Because the temperature can be extreme in summer and winter, we’ve spent hours analyzing how to blast the house and future greenhouse site with sun in the winter, and how to shade the house from overhead sun in the summer. A step further has also been calculating where on the horizon the sun comes up in the morning, and at what elevation it gains in the winter, so as to maximize the warming-up of any structures in the cold season. For location on the horizon I’ve used and for solar elevation at different times of day throughout the year I’ve used NOAA’s solar calculator.

It’s been fun to map out where the sun is in the sky at key times, and then stand on the site’s strategic locations to see where that hits or doesn’t hit. One cool ‘tool’ I’ve used is an astronomer’s trick: look to the horizon and hold your fist at arm’s length, fist upright like it’s standing on the horizontal line, that’s roughly 10-degrees. (Or the spread from pinky to first finger is 15-degrees, or the length of your middle 3 fingers is 5-degrees. The assumption is that bigger-fisted people would also have longer arms!). I’ve also combined this with having lengths of tentpoles attached to a chair (for stability), marked at 10’ and 15’ heights that I drag around the site

The combination of all this is me all over the site at different times of the day, holding out my fist to calculate degrees of sun height, and shimmying the poles around until I figure out how tall trees can be to accurately shade or allow light in (also while managing a clipboard in the wind and Gela chasing and carrying neighborhood kittens and all the injuries that entails to everyone). Between all the poles and sky-staring and solar cones, it truly looks like we’re communicating with aliens, and as the leaves fall each day more and more neighbors can watch this almost daily spectacle.

The gist is this: yes orient to the south but more accurately design for yourself a sun window whereby short trees screen the view at a low elevation far enough away that doesn’t really matter, medium size trees are arranged to allow that precious winter solstice sun in completely but can start casting limited part shade as the season turns, overhead arbors shade the strategic parts of the house we need to cool in the summer, and tall trees are just far enough away or to the north of any sun-required spaces. Because we are designing for two suntraps, the back of the house and a future earth-bermed greenhouse, the texture of the treed landscape to the southern part of the lot will look (from those locations) like two green hills of smaller trees. The trees need to be short in the just-right spot to let in morning solstice sun, but even during the shortest days of winter, trees can be on the medium-tall side at the noon part of the sky, if there’s enough clearance for the sun to skim their tops and make it into the suntrap. Also because shade, not sun, is a limiting factor in this hot summer climate, our forest gardens will have plenty of part-shade areas with different diverse potential.

Meanwhile, I (Kelda) have been turned down for work at the neighborhood gas station and library (I’m overqualified obviously so not taking it personally). Nick’s found a little work but decided not to continue commuting 2 hours a day to work 10 hour days for a contractor that is likely to get sued in the near future for incompetency and Nick has this to add in his own words:

“learning experience - no matter how cheap a contractor is and how frustrated you are about getting drug into something you don’t want to be doing, never try gluing pex piping into a cpvc coupler. Pex piping works ONLY on compression forces (shark bites or banding tools) while cpvc uses glue (you know, glue). If you try to prime and glue pex into cpvc the primer will actually breakdown plastic structure the pex pipe. They might seem like they fit, and even hold under pressure for 36-48 hours, but it won’t work. And when it gives, you’ll have a lot of water to clean up afterwards.”

Also, big thanks to you-know-who-you-are for sending us a little extra cash. I dropped it in a coffee can at the word-of-mouth Mennonite dairy about a mile from our house, for this month’s milk credit. $2.50 for a gallon of fresh raw farm milk! We are not soliciting for homestead donations (at least not yet) although we much appreciate those who have sent a little something. Thank you!. Our address is 405 E. Church Ave, Fairland OK 74343 and we love getting letters.

Also, send us grants that we might qualify for if you find some! We’re currently in the strange spot of only managing an acre, and though we know that can be significant (a nod to Andrea at Simple City Farm, around these parts it’s scoffingly small. We’re interested in anything along the lines of local production (strangely like living in a rural food desert since there’s only the gas station and dollar store?), agroecology, habitat development, or even things like place-making or garden/recycling/composting programs we could get going for the greater community. (We’ve been in touch with the local NRCS, Rural Development, SARE, etc, but we don’t neatly fit into any of their categories thus far).

P.S. Sometime soon we’ll write more about the friends we’re making, activist work in the area, more about the family’s whole acreage, etc.

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