Evan Tackles a Well

– I promise the next blog post will have pictures.  No matter how long it takes for something worth taking pictures of to occur. –

As though my trials with the pump were not enough…

I decided that since the problem didn’t seem to be with the pump after all, it must be the well.  It was too late on Sunday night to start diagnosing the well issue so I had little choice but to wait until the following weekend.  In the meantime, I had to calibrate the pump’s regulator – an electrical circuit that is triggered by high and low pressure: high pressure, it shuts off; and low pressure, the pump comes on.  Calibration is done by adjusting two nuts either up or down on springs which, in turn, act on a pressure-sensitive plate.  This plate creates a circuit when the pump needs to work and breaks the circuit when the desired pressure has been reached.  It was setting these pressures that I was going to attempt.  I would turn one adjustment nut a few times and then go upstairs and flush the toilet (the largest volume of water that I can drain from the pressure tank at a time) and then I’d have to run back down to the basement to see when the pump came on.  I never made it once, so I quit trying to adjust the ‘cut-in’ pressure setting.  I would have to wait for the tank to fill up before it started to pressurize and then I’d have to wait for it to finish pressurizing, which – considering the lack of water coming through the hose – took forever.  After several flushes and an eternity spent sitting in front of a vibrating pressure gauge looking for any sort of positive movement, I decided that the pressure settings were livable and I left the tank and pump with plans to fix them – and our pressure problem – the following weekend.  That was Sunday.

Coming home from work on Tuesday, the day that Jenn and Hunter had left for the Soo for a 3-day vacation – I couldn’t help but notice the big, black clouds that were accumulating over our house.  I went in the house and put some water on the stove for coffee, thinking that once it was made, I would go and take care of the animals – feeding, watering and moving chicken tractors – and return to a hot coffee on what was looking to be a stormy night.  The storm blew in faster than I had expected, however, and sheets of rain fell, lit by lightening and accompanied by booming thunder.  Standing in the kitchen and looking out the window, I could seen some of our trees bent nearly horizontal to the ground.  As I reached for the now boiling kettle, a bolt of lightening hit somewhere close by.  All of a sudden, the kitchen was filled with a blue-green ball of electricity that had come out of the wall outlet not two feet beside me.  It made a loud pop, like someone had just burst the most colossal blister of bubble-wrap and left the kitchen smelling of ozone.  Gilligan didn’t know which way to run: his feet and legs were going a thousand miles an hour but on the linoleum floor he was getting nowhere.

“What the hell was that?!” I shouted to no one in particular.  Standing became a chore because my knees didn’t seem to want to support me anymore.  My muscles were not working like they should have been and everything seemed to be an effort -even pouring the water into the French Press for coffee.  I managed to get most of it in but, due to my shaky hands, a good deal of it landed on the floor, too.  As my mind began to clear I thought it might be best to check the wiring, fuses and electrical devices that were still plugged in.  The phone was dead, the computer monitor was showing some pretty trippy tye-dyed designs but all else seemed to be normal.  The electrical smell of ozone was fading, too.  Then the second lightening strike hit.  It was as loud and immediate as the first one, but apart from whatever it hit, it did no damage.  Nevertheless, I wobbled my way around the house checking out sockets, outlets, the fuse panel, and the wiring I did outside last year, but all seemed to be normal, apart from the phone and the monitor.  Later, after the storm had passed and I felt safe enough to go outside again (I,ve never been spooked by weather but this storm seemed as though it was taking something I said personally) I found that one of our hydro poles had been hit by the first strike and had blown the phone line right off the pole and melted the wires a few feet from the house.

One thing I didn’t check however, was the pump.  A day later, when I was yet again obsessing over the sound of the pump running and wondering if it had been on for too long, I went down to see what was going on.  Looking at the pressure gauge I saw that it was already reading 90 psi – a full 30 psi past its shut off mark – and still climbing.  The lightening had somehow skewed the contacts.  At least three hours of flush, run downstairs, adjust the nut and repeat went on before I managed to get the pump regulated again.

Friday had me going to the hardware store with a friend to buy the proper fittings for a second pump.  We were going to try a borrowed one to see if the problem really did lie with my pump.  While we were in town, we thought we should maybe buy the items we’d need to fix the well, just in case, since town is on the longer side of half an hour away.  The second pump didn’t work – which wasn’t a very big surprise – so my friend and I headed down to the well to check out that end of things.

The well is a funny thing: it is at least two hundred feet away from the house, at the bottom of a hill and despite looking like a sand point driven into the ground, it is a reported 103-plus feet deep.  It is enclosed in a 3-foot casing and lies about ten feet underground.  The bottom of the casing has clear gravel around the pipe that reaches the water pocket and inside this pipe is the hose that feeds our house.  I have never seen the clear gravel dry.  Always, we have surface water leaking in the top of the well pipe but not this year – which for me, seemed a major clue to the problem.  We pulled the feeder line out of the pipe and found that it only reached 45 feet down; dropping a weighted string down showed the well to be only 50 feet deep.  We spent several hours in the well, around the well and also in the pump room.  We managed to stir up so much fine particulate material that we had extremely muddy water (if we had been able to drop a secchi disk into the water, it wouldn’t have sank, but rather, stayed afloat, buoyed by the abundance of clay in the water.)  The water was so full of clay that we didn’t have clear water for two days while it settled again.

We checked fittings (none seemed cracked), we checked lines (none seemed cracked) we tightened hose clamps (all had been tight to begin with) and we did a lot of walking back to the pump room to look at a pump sucking air. On the bright side, though, I have a good idea of how to make an air compressor. The only other possibility, and one that I don’t think I’ll be checking any time soon, is that there is a crack in the line somewhere underground. I would rather buy enough line to run over the ground than dig ten feet down for two hundred feet, hoping to find a leak. Besides, I have no idea where the line runs from the pump to the well and assuming that it is a straight line would be folly, given some of the other goofy things the builder of the house has done.

My final conclusions about the well, the tank and the pump are these: first, we have had such a dry summer that our well, which relies on surface water to recharge it, has not been able to keep up; second, I think we were better off hauling our water when we lived in Whitehorse because we always knew where we stood with a semi-transparent, 1000 litre tank; and third, maybe I ought to stay away from plumbing.

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Evan Tackles a Pressure Tank.

I might as well add plumbing to the list of things I am not likely ever going to be good at.  Here’s why:

For a while now, we have been dealing with lower than optimal water pressure.  We can’t water the garden in one session, having a shower is like standing under a leaky eavestrough, filling the necessary three buckets of water (60 litres in total) for the dogs takes forever – and that is not counting the water we need for the chickens, turkeys, goats, sheep and rabbits.  Worse still, Hunter’s “Mr. Spazzy Arms” hose attachment toy stands not in arm waving excitement, splashing happy, frolicking kids but rather in shoulder-slumped dejection, seemingly aware of the disappointment he brings to a hot summer’s day.  I can wait for the dogs’ buckets to fill, along with the other animals’ buckets, too, and as for the garden, it will rain here eventually.  But not having a cheap, plastic toy with rubber arms flailing about and soaking kids just won’t do.  So, I decided to fix the problem.

Quite out of the blue – even for me – and with only a few hours left in the work day, I decided that this water tank replacement chore was to be my weekend project.  Not that it would take the weekend to do: geez, if I was quick about it, I’d be done with enough time to spare for a cold refreshment before dinner on Friday.  So, when I finished work for the week on Thursday, I sped off to the local hardware store determined to have a functioning water tank by dinner of the next day.

A job like this ought to involve little more than disconnecting the tank from the pump and the line that supplies the house with water, at which point I would reconnect all the new fittings to the new tank, turn on the water and watch as the garden sprinkler sent mighty streams of water high in the air like some Las Vegas fountain.  But, as it is with most “ought to” ideas, the outcome is never what I envision.  If, indeed, the road to heaven is paved with good intentions, then surely its base is made from oversimplified tasks.

Once inside the plumbing section of the hardware store, I looked over the tanks for sale.  I was looking for a specific tank, one that had a bladder inside that allowed for a manual increase in the internal pressure.  It didn’t take long to find the tank, and imagine my luck at finding out that the larger of the two on the shelf was on sale for $50 less than regular price.  “If this isn’t a sign that I am supposed to do this project this weekend, I don’t know what is.” I thought to myself.  I called Jenn from the desk of the hardware store to surprise her with the new plan for the weekend – and boy, was she surprised.  She was even more surprised – horrified, I think more adequately sums up her reaction – when she found out that I had spent close to half an hour following the plumbing guy around the store with a basket, catching all the fittings and hoses and clamps and such that he threw my way.  “Don’t worry,” said he, “you can just return what you don’t need.” It would have been different if I had instead gone home first, measured and took stock of what I needed and then went to the store for materials, but I was on my way home from work and had a brilliant idea.  A brilliant idea that cost $150 more than it should have.

And so, thus equipped with everything I needed (plus a bit more) I went downstairs to tackle the tank.  I cut the old copper pipe from the existing tank, I removed the old high-pressure hose from the pump and I removed the tank.  The hard part was done.  I brought down the larger pressure tank, placed it on the new metal table I had welded earlier in the morning and proceeded to fit together the fittings that connected it to the house and the pump.  First, the ‘T’ for the inlet and the outlet, next was the plug and the pressure gauge, then came the sediment drain and another plug, along with the actual outlet fitting and the inlet fitting.  The outlet was easy: it was simply half-inch Pex line (which I highly recommend) and some snap-on fittings to connect it to the copper pipe.  Slightly more difficult was the array of increasers and reducers that I needed to accommodate the over-sized hose I bought.  Remember, I did all of this from memory, and likely a hazy one at that, so the hose seemed larger than it really was; but, included in my bag of tricks that the plumbing guy had me buy were various adapters so that I could actually make use of the wrong sized hose.  The one thing I couldn’t return.  Every fitting was carefully wrapped in Teflon plumbing tape, the old threads were cleaned and I put on the fittings as tight as they would go plus a quarter turn.  When it was finished it looked like a bit odd, for coming out of the pump was about a foot of galvanized nipples, increasers, collars and all manner of fittings to be able to go from a three-quarter inch pump outlet to an inch and a quarter inside diameter hose.  It really looked like I had done it myself.

“Oh well,” I think to myself, “when we are finally enjoying a nice shower or are able to water the garden and Hunter can play in the sprinkler, what it looks like won’t matter.”  At which point, I turned on the power again and started up the pump.  It may seem like I am building to the hose blowing off and soaking me, the basement and anything else within half a mile of the pump, but that didn’t happen.  The tank pressurized like it should have and the clamps on the hoses and the Pex fittings all held.  Instead, I began to notice little drip-drip-drips from the galvanized fittings.  I used my pipe wrench on them again, thinking that I had not tightened them enough, but I had (this time for sure) and yet they still continued to drip.  I couldn’t figure out what was causing the leak – excepting the fact that I had nearly twelve inches of threaded parts screwed together.  I thought about convincing myself that it was merely the build up of condensation but I’m not that easily fooled so I decided my next best plan was to phone a friend.  He suggested that the threads on the galvanized pipe fittings – being notoriously sharp – were cutting the Teflon tape and allowing the water to leak out.  I needed plumber’s putty, he said.  Of all the things in the bag from the hardware store, plumber’s putty wasn’t among them.  I would need to make a trip to town tomorrow for the stuff.

“Since I was going to town anyway,” I thought to myself, “I should just take apart the whole botched system and return the stuff and get the proper fittings.”  So, I unscrewed all the parts I had put together, I made a note of what I’d need – for real this time, no guessing – and I headed in to town.  The hardware store took back more than I expected, considering there were some scratches on the galvanized fittings and some of the other fittings still had remnants of the Teflon tape stuck to them.  Returning home, I reconnected everything and it looks better and doesn’t leak.  However, our pressure, seemingly inexplicably, is worse now than when I started.  “Hmmm.” I think to myself, “If it’s not this end that needed fixing, maybe it’s the other end.  The well end.”

And that brings part one to a close.  Part two will soon follow.

Goats. No substitute for sheep.

I’ve been thinking: goats are no substitute for sheep. Not in meat, not in fiber, not in herdibility and certainly not in lawn maintenance. Goats pretty much just have personality and around here, that just isn’t enough – you’ve got to be able to contribute something. Jumping goofily into the pepper garden, despite it being enclosed by bird netting, and proceeding to go to town on the Scotch Bonnet peppers I have been coaxing along for the better part of a month; or finding Jenn’s potted flowers to be the most delicious delicacy their goat-y little goat lips have ever nibbled will not endear them to anyone around here, no matter how cute they may think they look with our most prized plants hanging out of their mouths as they ponderously chew them. And since I am discussing the merits of the goats here, you should know that when I say ‘contribute something’ I don’t mean those little pellets that they leave all over the place; I don’t need the yard any more fertile than it is, and despite the grass being lush, full and in abundant supply, they – those finicky ungulates – won’t eat a single blade. Their little personality quirks are enough to get them sold, and quickly. Maybe someone else will laugh at their antics.

Jenn told me once that ever since she was young she has wanted goats. And since we have had them, Jenn has doted over them so much that they follow her on walks around the property, they follow her into the house and they follow her into the car. We can’t eat outside because they are worse beggars than dogs but, unlike the dogs, the goats have no problems climbing on your chair or butting your hand off of your plate to get at the food. No, goats are not about subtlety or finesse. And, as I am on the subject of dogs, the goats, when they are not eating our garden to over-grazed nubs, they are feeding on the willow shrubs just on the other side of the dogrun fence while the dogs lose their minds and bark the whole time. Through all of this, however, Jenn has defended her goats as I count the days until butchering. Until last week, that is.

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The new lambs.  Both are three-month old rams and both are Rideau Arcotts if that means anything to you.

It may have been the three goats in the back seat of our small Ford Focus wagon, driving their cloven hooves into the new groceries Jenn was unloading that did it, I’m not sure, but one day quite unexpectedly Jenn announced that she was selling her goats. I was surprised to hear her say this and I wondered at her sincerity (quietly and to myself because, though I am lot of things, brave isn’t one of them). I mean, in the heat of emotion, people sometimes say things they have no plans on seeing through. A day later, though, when Jenn announced four of the seven goats were sold and were going to be picked up in two days, I found myself eating the words I had quietly (and fortunately) said to myself. If you can imagine idolizing a movie star all throughout your teen years, only to get a chance to meet them later in life and find out that they are really kind of a jerk, then I think you have come to as close an approximation of how Jenn feels about these goats as is possible. Now we have three goats left – all males – which are slated to be butchered in the early part of September; or sooner if they don’t stay out of the garden.

The only problem with selling the goats is that Nature abhors a vacuum. The departure of the four goats created a void in the animal matrix so Jenn decided to fill it. With lambs. She lamented the fact that Gilligan, a Border Collie, didn’t have any sheep to herd, and she has assured me that sheep are ten times the grazers that the goats were, to which I retort that multiplying anything by zero is still zero. I blame a lot of this new acquisition on Gilligan, for it were not for his unblinking eyes and his slinky walk around anything in numbers greater than two, Jenn would have been less prone to buying sheep. But, buy them she did and it wasn’t long before I was shown what I am in for with these new additions.

It happened as I sat alone in the parking lot of a late-night grocery store. We were on our way back from picking up the sheep, just south of North Bay, and we needed gas and something to eat. Jenn went into the store with Hunter while I stayed in the truck with the dog and the sheep (just to clarify, because it is Jenn we are talking about, the sheep were in the box of the truck, not the actual truck.) The lambs would bleat – loudly – every two minutes and it wasn’t long before half of the grocery store’s customers were crowded around the back of my truck and bleating back at them. Slowly, so as to not attract any attention, I eased my seat wa-a-ay back and tried to hide inside my truck. Then later, when were home, we unloaded the sheep into their new area. I grabbed one and put it on the ground and came away covered in smeary lanolin and smelling like a pair of wool socks that have been left to sit damp in the old hay and manure pile for a few days. The best part, however, is these sheep have been raised in a barn and don’t know what grass is. They can’t find out, either, because if they eat too much, they will get scours which is just an agriculturally-tongued way of saying diarrhea. Ten times the grazers, you say?

But, they are here to stay and if I know what is good for me, I’ll just keep my mouth shut, pull on my Wellies, a cable-knit sweater – wool, of course – and grab my crook as I head out into the early morning mists rising off of the heath.

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This one has been dubbed “Moe” which is short for Mohawk.  Hunter likes his little tuft.

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This one has been called “Spotty.”  I shouldn’t have to explain why.

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The sheep like to stick together.  I think one of them is made of the hook-y part of Velcro.

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Gilligan tries his mind tricks on the sheep as he tries to get them to bend to his will from the other side of the fence.  The wee idiot Ginger just stood in the muddy area and barked.

Catching Up

Well, it would seem we are back on line.

After more than a month of increasingly poor internet service that had our signal weaken slowly until it gave out completely, I finally had to fix it myself. (See under If you want something done right; also under do it yourself for advice.) We are on a wireless set-up with a receiver mounted to a hydro pole and with the lean the pole had taken in the past year or so – the tower at Pisa has nothing on the pole – and the emergence of summer’s leaves on the trees, our signal was not able to get through. I had to climb the pole and extend the receiver’s height close to four feet which I couldn’t do until I had straightened the pole itself. Not a difficult task, except the four feet I had to go was eight feet above the ladder’s uppermost reach. Then there was the matter of reconfiguring the signal and resetting our IP address and all that stuff, which I have no idea how to do, so instead, I used my skills to phone and phone and phone and phone our provider until he finally did a bit here, tweaked a bit there and we had our signal back. I knew he wouldn’t mind, though, because even though we have not had the internet at all for close to a month and very spotty service for three months, our payments kept coming out of the bank. But, I think we’re back for good.

And with that, here is what you have missed:

The raccoons made their slinky return to our poultry area, announcing it by killing four of the five Indian Runner ducks Jenn and Hunter had picked out. The raccoons must have not been very hungry, though, because they didn’t eat much, if any, of the ducks; they just killed them and left them strewn about the yard. After selling almost all of the laying hens last fall we had only two layers left and after the ‘coon visited, we now have just one duck. It wouldn’t have been a big deal that the ‘coons had returned but we had only a week left until Jenn was to go and pick up our first batch of fifty meat birds so this was a problem that needed to be sorted out and soon. I set my traps and caught a raccoon that night. A week later, with the little peepers safely locked inside the coop, a new raccoon made itself a little snack with half a bag of chick feed. Again, I had to set the traps and catch it. So that was two. I thought we were done with them, as they were both a fair size suggesting they were not born this year. I never bothered to sex them, so when I had trapped and dealt with two of them, I figured that we had mom and dad ‘coon disposed of. A week later again, however, another muddy-footed raccoon left the tell-tale signs of its marauding on our feed containers and, again, out came the traps.

The first night, I missed the ‘coon. My bait was taken, but the trap was left un-sprung so, ticked off at this affront to my trapping abilities, I set my traps better the following night. Just after dusk, I heard the sound of metal slamming shut and I went out to see what, if anything, we had caught. It was a raccoon, number three, and this time I took a look: it was a nursing female. I’m hoping that this has solved the raccoon issue. We haven’t had any problems since this last one was dealt with.

The first batch of chickens and turkeys are now just over three weeks old. Raising them in the coop has been far better than in the living room (two years ago) or the basement (last year). I know – amazing, eh? Last week, Jenn moved the chickens out of the coop and into a small barn (I’d call it a shed but it houses animals more than it stores equipment.) We used it for housing the turkeys last year and it has sufficient space for the growing birds and an attached, fully enclosed outdoor area where they can eat all the mosquitoes and weeds they want. The turkeys stayed in the back half of the coop which still gave them access to the chicken door and free-range area, which is also fully enclosed by a fence around the perimeter and bird netting on the top. That left the front of the coop free for two days until Jenn came home with the new batch of fifty meat birds this past Thursday.

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The first batch of chickens, with the lone duck, in the shed/barn/secondary coop.

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More of the first batch on the outside of the coop.

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The second batch of chicks, in the other coop.

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A singled out, close up of one of the new chicks.

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A size comparison: on the left, a three day old chick and the right, a three week old chicken.  They grow fast.

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Some turkeys.  They share the coop (divided, of course) with the new chicks.

Our garden is doing well despite being nearly choked with weeds and eaten by our two new rabbits, which have turned out to be furious diggers. Alcatraz couldn’t hold them in. As it is, I’ve had to lay fencing along the ground where their pen abuts the garden and I’ve had to hold the fence down with rebar stakes and spare steel pipes. This is after their one-night foray into the garden in which they ate an entire head of lettuce, some broccoli plants, pea plants, bean plants, the tops off the carrots and all but two of the sunflowers. One night, two bunnies.

Our other garden, the one that had all my hot peppers planted in it, has been absolutely decimated by the goats. At first, I thought it was the cat jumping up and using the garden as a litter box. I thought I would solve the problem by putting some spare bird netting over the plants so he couldn’t get in, but one day I noticed complete and utter devastation in the pepper patch and I couldn’t believe the cat could – or would – be able to create such a disaster. I propped up what plants were still salvageable with some little twigs, packed the soil around them again and walked away hoping that my series of splints would save the peppers. I went to feed the dogs and when I was finished and walking back towards the house and garden I saw one of our goats standing in the garden chewing on a plant. A pepper plant. The supports for the bird netting were all bent in and the netting itself was mashed into the soil and helping to cut off the tops of the pepper plants that hadn’t already been trampled.

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The pepper garden before the goats found it.

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The pepper garden after the goats found it.

…and that should just about cover the events to date. It’s good to be back and writing the blog and to those of you who are regular readers, thank you for your patience and checking back for new updates.