Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Corn in the backyard, 2014 -- weeks 13, 14, 15, and 16

 August 3

The biggest changes in the crop at this point in the summer are taking place behind the husk leaves of each ear as the kernels mature.

 August 10

The height of the stalk reached its maximum about four weeks before this photo, so our attention has been drawn to formation of the ears.

 August 17

I also watch for stalk and leaf drying since the plant typically dries as the kernels are drying.

 August 24

By the 16th week, some stalk drying was visible, but less than I expected.  Referencing photos from previous years convinced me that the drying rate at 16 weeks wasn't much different than most years.

 August 3

Zooming in on where the action is, the ears appeared close to full size on August 3, but weren't showing signs of drying yet.  Growing degree days were 11% fewer than normal for the week.

 August 10

Not much change in the appearance of the ears this week, and the number of growing degree days for the week was only one unit off the historical average.

 August 17

The week of August 17 showed more signs of stalk and ear drying even though growing degree days were 7% fewer than normal.

August 24

By week 16, some of the husk leaves were pulling away to reveal beautiful kernels beneath, but those that were visible were obviously not fully mature.  Unseasonably warm weather during that week produced 28% more heating degree days than average, and the plants appeared to accelerate their drying.  As long as there are plants in the field, we'll keep reporting more progress toward harvest!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Basement Remodel Project: Framing Overview

You may have noticed in a previous photo that our basement has concrete blocks both on the outside walls and for the bearing wall separating the east and west sections.  The basement remodel project in our previous home convinced us that lining the exterior walls with 2x4 studs and insulating those walls made for a very comfortable space all year round.  This post details some of the framing and insulating necessary to define our new rooms.

This wide door opening leads to the guest bedroom at the north end of the space.  A five-foot wide french door will occupy that opening so the doors can be opened to allow natural light into the south family room from the largest window in the basement.  The two spaces on either side of the door opening are closets that open into the family room.  At the time of this photo, the framing and insulating were complete, and drywall panels were just moved to the basement and were ready to be hung.

The door at the far left is the one that was featured in a previous post and one can see the wood burner and the stone wall that defines that appliance's spot in the room just this side of the drywall collection.  I hope to include more details on the wood burner's new surroundings in a future post. The thickness of the block bearing wall is also apparent in the door opening.

The southeast corner of the family room is home to the electrical panel and a waste water pipe that runs down the exterior wall before going through it to the septic tank in the yard. I debated how to hide these two items while leaving them both accessible, so we opted to build this closet in the corner of the room to gain some storage just at the base of the stairs while providing the desired access.

In this photo one can also see the different strategy applied to the exterior walls of the stairwell. I wanted to minimize the space lost to insulation, so these walls received 1.5"x1.5" furring strips with 1.5" foam insulation in between.

This is how the southeast corner looked before demolition was complete, including framing around the sewage pipe that did not leave access to the clean out port. That and more was removed as part of the demolition.

This is the northeast corner of the space looking from the bedroom into the closet that's home to the sewage ejector pump for the bathroom just to the right of that pump.  This door opening was cut in during that bathroom addition project, and doesn't disrupt the bedroom space too badly.

Finally, a shot that's a bit blurry but gives one a good view of the family room from the stairwell. A lot had already happened by this point: framing, wiring, moving and adding lights, reconfiguring heat runs and returns, building a new masonry wall behind the wood burner, etc., but more was yet to be done.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Corn in the backyard, 2014 -- weeks 10, 11, and 12

July 13

July 20

July 27

July 13

July 20

July 27

Although the corn stalks didn't add any height in weeks 10, 11, or 12, the growth of the ears was impressive over that period.  In the first week, temperatures averaged about one degree F warmer than normal, while the second and third weeks were much cooler than the historical average.  July 13 through 19 averaged six degrees F per day cooler than normal, while the week of the 20th through the 26th averaged over two degrees F cooler.  We didn't get much rain over the period, and even the humidity was on the low side, so the corn had to be pulling moisture out of the ground for its purposes.  Even though the weather was not Central Illinois' traditional hot and humid variety for this time of year, the corn didn't appear to be suffering greatly.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Basement Remodel Project: West door replacement

One small part of the basement remodel project was replacing the door that separates the east half of the basement from the west half.  The door style, while architecturally interesting, didn't match the style of the rest of the doors in our house, and the size of the door was non-standard.  Here's the culprit.

We had a similar door leading to the space we claimed for a bathroom on the other side of this basement space.  Although we replaced that door a few years ago, we didn't change the height.  In fact, I didn't consider changing the height until well after it was practical to do so.  So we have a door on the bathroom that kinda matches our other doors, but is shorter than normal.  On this opening, I decided to do a little extra work to end up with a standard 80" tall door.

The biggest challenge was removing the header over the old doorway that supported the floor joists above it.  As you can see, the wall is constructed from concrete blocks, and the header is solid concrete about 52 inches wide and about 8 inches tall and deep, which would mean the header weighs about 280 pounds.  Although I planned this process as best I could, I wasn't sure how much effort would be required to loosen the header from the wall, and move it off the wall so it could be lowered to the floor.

I used a rotary hammer to loosen the mortar around the header, and then beat it with my 10 pound sledge hammer to move it off the wall.  I was appropriately concerned about safety through this procedure, and supported the header with two nylon cargo straps attached to hooks temporarily mounted in the floor joists.

Another consideration was how the floor joists would be supported after the header was removed.  Since the plate on top of the header would remain after the concrete was removed, I figured a floor jack would be sufficient to support the three joists over this section of the wall.  In this photo the header was moved far enough to fit the floor jack behind it so they were both supporting the wall, and the header had a few more inches to travel horizontally before it was free to be lowered.

Once the header was free to be lowered to the floor, I couldn't take my hands off the straps until the concrete reached the floor.  The concrete was removed without injury, and I was able to build a wooden header that both supported the floor joists, and allowed room for the full-height door.

Obviously this photo was taken much later, but it shows the new door painted and hung in the larger opening, and ready for trim.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Corn in the backyard, 2014 -- week 9

July 6

The change in corn crop in the last seven days is the most dramatic we've seen in one week all year, and will probably constitute the most significant changes until harvest.  Not only are the stalks 20 inches taller than last week, they are taller than we've ever measured in the first week in July, and the tallest we've ever measured in the ninth week!  "Knee high by the fourth of July" may be a relevant measure in some parts of the world, but "9 feet high by the fourth of July" fits better here this year.  The most significant changes, however, are the appearance of the tassels at the top of the stalks, and the ears emerging from the middle of the plants.  Since harvesting the kernels from the ears is the only reason these plants are grown, nothing else matters as much as what the ears finally yield.

Although the weather has been cooler than average over the seven days leading up to July 6, I'm told that is preferable to hot weather during pollination.  I'm sure Farmer Wagenbach is grateful for such a healthy crop so far this year, and we'll continue to document the progress right here.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Thanks for the nice note, Evelyn!

This note from the County Health Department is a welcome relief each year.  Given our struggles to obtain this status in the past, a little diligence in the maintenance of our septic system is well worth the effort.

As always, our neighbors downstream are breathing a sigh of relief.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Corn in the backyard, 2014 -- weeks 7 & 8

 June 22

Although the rain hasn't been plentiful, it's been enough to support the stalk growth through the last two weeks of continued warm weather.  The seventh week contained 34% more growing degree days than normal and saw most of the plants add about 19 inches to top out at 58 inches on June 22.

 June 29

The eighth week was not as warm as the seventh, accumulating about 18% more growing degree days than average, but the corn hit its stride and gained 32 inches to hit 90 inches tall by the end of the week.  In the picture above, it's no longer possible to see trees or buildings across the highway, although history indicates the corn stalks are probably not quite done growing.  One bit of evidence is the lack of tassels poking out of the top of the plant.  Once those appear, the stalk growth is nearly complete, and the plants get down to the business of producing a crop.  But that will come later.  Now I've got a couple of charts to illustrate how the crop this year is doing compared to the four other years for which I have data.

The first chart suggests that we may have another week or two of growth before the plants reach full height, and that the current height of the stalks is consistent with the median for the eighth week for the five years shown.  Some weeks have been a bit below average, but there's no reason to believe this crop is suffering.

This next chart makes the case that this crop is doing exceptionally well for this time of year.  We've never measured stalks this tall in the last week of June, and the 32 inches gained last week was also a record for this time of year.  We'll keep our eyes on these trends and track the 2014 crop to full height, but it looks like we could tie or beat the pace set by the early crop of 2010.

I wonder how this data would look if we compared growth to growing degree days?  I suspect a fairly strong correlation would appear, so I may just have to plot that data.  If it looks interesting, you can rest assured you'll see the results here.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A bumper crop of cherries

I'm always anxious each year to see how many blossoms appear on the cherry tree, as that's one indicator of the fruit yield for that year.  A lot can happen between the budding of the blossoms and harvest of the fruit, but without blossoms, there's no hope for fruit.

Imagine our pleasure this year to see the tree covered in flowers like this on May 4.  I'd been impressed for a week before this as the blossoms seemed to proliferate daily, until by the beginning of May I started being anxious about freezing temperatures.  We've occasionally had frozen flowers on the tree, which kills them in short order and eliminates any hope of fruit at that bud.  Once the flower is pollinated, and the fruit begins to set, freezing is less damaging although we've seen some yield reduction at that stage in the past also.

I checked the fruit periodically in May and was disappointed that a noticeable number of blossoms did not appear to have been pollinated.  I hadn't noticed any bees around the tree this year as in years past, but I wasn't watching closely either.  Was I seeing evidence of shrinking bee populations?  Evidently the bees did a better job than I expected, as the fruit proliferated over the months of May and June at a rate not a lot slower than the blossoms.

God blessed us with no freezing temperatures from blossom to fruit ripening this year, so our crop was the largest we've seen on this tree.  This is how the tree looked on June 18 after about a gallon of fruit had been harvested already.  Knowing the amount of work involved in picking and pitting that many cherries, and how there were far more than we normally consume, we put the word out to friends to come help themselves and many helped and enjoyed the fruits of the harvest this year.  Since we didn't measure the yield we can only estimate that over eight gallons have been harvested so far.

This image proves it was not difficult to find cherries to pick this year.  I don't have measurements to prove it, but it appears the fruit is a little smaller this year than in the past.  Is that a reflection of the limited rainfall we received while the fruit matured?  Or maybe the tree can only produce so much volume of fruit, so if there are more cherries, they end up smaller?  Someone smarter than me will have to answer those questions.

Ultimately, this is the goal: fruit safely off the tree and ready for processing or immediate consumption.  In the end, we have enough cherries for our satisfaction and at least six other families will benefit as well.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Corn in the backyard, 2014 -- weeks 4, 5, and 6

June 1

The corn growth started to accelerate in the fourth week as the stalks more than doubled in height to 18 inches.  The fact that we had 60% more growing degree days that week probably influenced the growth significantly.

June 8

Although the fifth week was not as hot as the fourth, we still managed to receive 30% more growing degree days than the historical average, causing the stalks to top out at 29 inches.

June 15

The sixth week was very comfortable as every day was cooler than average, resulting in 17% fewer growing degree days than typical.  The stalks managed to continue adding height and mass, however, and reached 39 inches at the time of the photograph.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Basement Remodel Project: Preamble

Our basement has always been a disaster.  Okay, maybe disaster is too strong a word.  Our basement has always been a compromise, at least since 2007 when we moved in.  The previous owners had begun finishing the basement when we bought the place, and we promptly tore most of it out before we moved in.  Over the years, I've not hesitated to tear things apart in the basement if it was necessary to accomplish a purpose upstairs, so the basement has been in a varying state of demolition for the past seven years.  Needless to say, my wife has been very patient for a long time.

When I say "basement" I'm really only talking about the east half of the basement.  A block wall (to support the upstairs floor joists) separates the east and west sections, and the west section is home to the well pressure tank, water softener, laundry area, furnace, water heater, freezer, and assorted storage.  That side requires a different kind of remodeling, that we won't be attempting until some undetermined future date.  The east side includes the landing for the stairs from the first floor, the main breaker panel, the wood burner, a waste water drain pipe, access to the west side, and access to a full bath and sewage ejector previously installed (documented here and here).  The main room is about 13 feet wide and 44 feet long, and the height is about 7 feet 4 inches from concrete floor to the bottom of the floor joists.

Although it's embarrassing to show, this image gives you some idea of the state of the blank canvas we had to work with in December when the final (?) phase of demolition began.  The room had multiple purposes: storage for various construction materials, temporary sleeping for guests that we weren't embarrassed to send to the basement, "lounging" in front of the wood burner, and treadmill exercise while watching videos on the TV.  Not a homey environment for most of those activities.

I've been reminded recently that not every homeowner enjoys spending most of their free time improving, repairing, or maintaining their property.  I count myself as one that does enjoy this kind of busyness, at least on this property.  I see it as a combination of taking dominion over chaos and disorder, while beautifying and organizing our environment.  As I share photos of the progress of this project in the future, I hope you will see improvement and order as we shape the room to our purposes.