Sunday, October 17, 2010

Greenhouse complete!

I got the sides on myself, with a crochet hook and a lot of swearing.

Then Pam, my friend from work, came over to pick up the old greenhouse, and while she was here she helped me put the ends on.

Greenhouse done!

I also re-siliconed the rainbarrels.  I'll pressure test them this week.

Progress once again

So the new rainbarrels are drilled and plumbed, though I'm still trying to get a water tight seal on the plumbing.  I'll work on that some more today

One of my poker buddies came over and helped me raise the growbeds up another block-worth.  And he, and another poker buddy/neighbor helped me get the new greenhouse partially assembled.

 I've started some seeds, and they're already popping up.

Today I will once again silicone the rain barrel fittings, using the 2nd tube of silicone which did such a great job on the fittings I'd already used it on.  The first tube, of a different brand, has consistently failed at every application.  I also am hoping to get to the home center to purchase some brackets and 4x4 posts to use as table legs in place of the cinderblocks.  Though the blocks are functional, they aren't as stable as I'd like.  I'm also considering putting the legs onto furniture coasters to aid in any future moving around, since the posts are more likely to splay and crack.

I did a pH test on the 3/4" gravel offered locally, and it's just not going to work.  So Paul and I have decided to use the expanded clay instead.  It also has the advantage of being lighter weight than gravel.  It will be more expensive, and is not as easy to maintain, but it will be easier on my fingers.  I won't be doing that today, though; I'm fairly sure most of the hydroponics stores are closed for Sunday and I'm not really ready to plant anything anyway.  So that can wait.

Paul and I also discussed cover designs for the fishtank.  The overflow hole is rather higher than I'd like, and if I fill the tank that high it's going to bring the fish up awfully close to the top of the tank.  Also, the fish prefer to be under cover so they feel safe.  I have the greenhouse providing shade, but it doesn't provide that feeling of hiding.  We've tentatively agreed on a 3-piece lid.  The back portion of the tank will be covered by one piece which will remain stationary.  The front half will be two pieces, each hinged to the stationary piece, so that the fish can be fed by opening a small portion of the lid, or cleaning and capturing can be done by opening both hinged pieces creating a large opening.  I'll be building that soon... I hope.  I plan to use fence slats with some spacing between them for good air circulation.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The "official" trip report

Saturday morning I got up at 2:30 to go to the bathroom, and The Princess decided that since I needed to get up in an hour anyway, I might as well stay up and pet her. I tried for a perfunctory scritching but she wasn't having any. She climbed up between my shoulder blades and purred directly into my ear, and if the petting stopped (and you can imagine how difficult she was to reach anyway) she stuck her cold, wet nose into my ear. When I finally put my hand over my ear, she nipped it to recall me to my duties. Clearly I was not to sleep in another hour.

So instead of rushing through my early morning and starting off sleepy and grumpy, I woke in plenty of time and hit the road feeling chipper and well loved. There are worse things to happen.

I drove to my office and into the locked back lot to exchange my car for the rental truck and borrowed trailer. I then drove out to pick up my dad at his new apartment which I haven't visited before. Using my trusty navigator, I arrived at the place my verbal and dispassionate copilot directed and even found a long parking spot just before the corner. In three tries I managed to back the trailer into a perfect 6" parallel-to-the-curb park. I then got out, manually locked the truck from both sides, and walked a half block back to the front of the apartment building... to find that the address was considerably different from the one I'd directed my copilot to find.

Back into the truck, driving still in the dark and now by sheer determination, I find my way to the correct address... which is on a dead end street and has zero parking. Luckily, the end has a large culdesac so I was able to turn around and park in the center divider while my dad got dressed (excuse me?!? I was on time, damnit, despite the long drive I've already made) and came downstairs trailing sleepiness and coffee.

We then bounced on down the road, spilling a little of his coffee onto his lap or shirt front every few miles. No, I didn't aim for the bumps. But an empty truck towing an empty trailer is a jiggly kind of ride.

By now my stomach is thoroughly awake and demanding breakfast, and my new and hopefully more accurate copilot is always hungry (and I've inherited from him the tendency to low-blood-sugar-gumpiness). So we agree to keep our eyes open for a place we can manage to get this monstrosity in and out of.

Next thing we realize (several hours later, but still) we're passing the offramp we were supposed to take. No breakfast, and now we have to figure this out without using the precise directions from the guy we're going to see. Luckily, the offramp ends up taking us to the same street and we're back on course.

I then proceed to drive this awkward beast up some windy (no, that's supposed to be pronounced "Whine-Dee". How do you spell that so it doesn't look like a stiff breeze?) roads and ask my father the copilot to read me the line of directions from the sheet in my purse.

My father the copilot informs me that he elected not to bring his glasses.

I've got 3 cars behind me, no place to pull over, and a complete awareness that if I miss my turn I'll never be able to turn this train around. You think driving with a cellphone is dangerous, try towing a trailer up a curvy (that's one way to solve the spelling problem) road while reading small print.

But I'm one determined woman. In fact, that's kind of my theme for this little trip report.

We find our way to the correct place using the excellent directions provided by the gentleman who lives there and therefore oughtta know. We are there at 8:00 (for those of you doing the math, yes, I've been driving for about 4.5 hours by now, and nearly non-stop) because he has insisted that he *must* leave his place by 10:00. And since he's doing me the favor, I'm going to follow whatever restrictions he sets.

So here we are, and he says, "You got here plenty early! And we should have no problem loading everything by 10. Or it's fine even if we don't get done by 11. So why don't you disconnect the trailer and go have breakfast?" My years of poker stand me in good stead, as I manage to keep smiling while going to unhook.

Father and I have a 1 hour leisurely breakfast (which I order for him as he can't read the menu without his glasses) then drive back to the guy's house. My father and he hit it off and I'm obviously expected to stay out of the way, so I do a lot of listening. The guy is an ex polo player and is 50 years old. My father is a few years from 70, and not in what anyone would consider "fighting trim," while I am 120 pounds with arms like toothpicks. The guy seems to think we'll have no problem moving these *really heavy* wooden parts (fishtank and growbed) without additional help. He, having driven horse trailers around a lot during his polo career, offers to back our truck and trailer down his strangely situated driveway. I happily hand him the keys. I could probably do it, but it would be slow and painful. Particularly with my awareness of an audience.

So he whips the truck back to the trailer, we hook it back up, and he heads on up the street to turn around. He pulls partially into a side street, backs up in what is obviously intended to be a 3-point-turn, and I say to my father, "He's going to jackknife the trailer."


He then pulls completely into the sidestreet and disappears for several minutes. I suspect he thought we didn't hear or see what happened, and he's pulled over the check the damage. For the curious: it caved in the side of the truck bed about 3 inches and left a lot of black trailer paint on the side of the brand new white truck. He does manage to get it into his driveway, with the passenger door and mirror only slightly jammed against his fence (more denting and paint exchange). I am maintaining my cheerful smile and imagining my later success at the World Series of Poker when I'm billed as The Woman Whose Face Never Reveals Anything.

The 50 year old, with minimal help from the 67 year old and the skinny chick, does manage to load everything onto our truck and trailer. I (not being completely unable to learn from my mistakes) choose to pull the truck and trailer out of the driveway myself.

We drive to the nearest gas station (yes, of course we should have done that earlier - either while the trailer was empty or while it was disconnected during our breakfast run - but I didn't think of it) where I expertly (yes, really) pull up to the pump, gas her up, and pull back out again. Without hitting anything. I do, however, take this time to walk around the truck and see the damage. Doing so in front of The Guy seemed like a bad idea, so this is my first opportunity to check it out. Ouch.

Then we have 2 hours of driving back to my dad's house, where I park (lots of parking now) and go up to see the new apartment. Then I get back into the truck, and my dad gets back into his car, and we head the additional 2 hours to my house.

This might be a good time to mention that I'd originally rented the truck at 4:00 pm on Friday for 24 hours. My father completely freaked out that I had left us with insufficient time to get everything done, and he *insisted* I rent the truck for an additional day. I did so. He was correct that I now felt calm and relaxed about the schedule. He, on the other hand, is now pushing me because he thinks I can get it returned within 24 hours if we hurry. Of course, I can't drive more than 60 MPH in this thing and feel safe (nor is he pushing me to). And the gentlemen, in their wisdom, ignored my suggestion that the 5 foot cube of fishtank should have its opening to the rear, not the front. So I'm driving the most un-aerodynamic thing on the planet: a giant wind catching cup. This isn't going to move quickly. And the whole thing weighs enough to push the truck around, so I'm following semi-trucks under the theory that they probably won't stop faster than I can handle, and no one will want to drive between me and the semi so I should be able to maintain the distance I think necessary. It's a slow drive, and a nervous one.

So we get back to my house, and now have NO way to remove these items from truck and trailer. And my father wants it done NOW so we can return the rental a day early. (I am again practicing my poker face. It's totally inappropriate to get irritable with people who are doing you favors.) I back my trailer most of the way up my long, narrow, curved driveway (I told you I knew how) and we both get into dad's car to drive about 20 minutes to Home Depot in the hopes of finding some muscle to hire. But 2 blocks from my house, there are 3 military-looking guys moving stuff out of a trailer. I tell my dad to stop. I get out and BEG for their help, offering money, beer and food if they'll please help us.

I am a very determined woman.

The men come over and I trustingly handed over the keys again.  This time my trust was justified.  They were fantastic.  I brought out some of the big bottles from the purloined liquor collection and handed them over in thanks.  My dad and I then rushed back to my office to drop off the borrowed trailer, and rushed over to U-Haul to return the rented truck.  I'm SO glad I paid the $10 damage waiver, since that means I didn't have to pay for the dings, dents, scrapes, bashes, etc.  On the other hand, I'm humiliated that they think I drove so badly.  I didn't!  But of course I can't tell them I allowed anyone else to drive the truck I rented, since I'm pretty sure the small print forbids that.

My father drove me from the rental place back to my office to pick up my car, and then he and I each headed to our respective homes.  I had expected him to spend the night and help me on Sunday, but he was exhausted and eager to get home, and I can't blame him.

I got home and started filling the fishtank so the temperature in the tank and in the barrel of fish would equalize by morning and I'd be able to transfer the fish... and then I saw that the drain plug was leaking.  I tightened it, I swore at it, I gave up on it.  Tomorrow, Scarlett, is another day.  I took a hot bath and was sound asleep by 8:30.

Sunday I had expected to have my dad around and things went a lot slower without him.  There were things, like moving the greenhouse, that we could have done in 10 minutes together.  But doing them alone takes more than twice as long, since arches fall apart, and I have to keep walking back and forth to straighten and check and tighten and shift things.  So unfortunately I only got about a quarter of the stuff done that I'd hoped.  Which means that I'll be working on things every evening when I get home in the dark.  Which really sucks.  A lot.  But it *will* get done.

I am extremely determined.

So first thing in the morning I went to the hardware store and bought a new 1 1/2" pvc cap, some pipe tape, and a pipe wrench.  I then went home and replaced the drain pipe and it stopped leaking.  Whew.  I don't know what I would have done if it hadn't.  I also had purchased some fiberglass resin, with which I patched up a thin spot in the fishtank wall.

Oh, I should mention that the fishtank didn't fit between the house and the garage, so I couldn't place it all where I'd originally intended.  Which turns out to be fortuitous, since other things have happened that require a larger space be used anyway, and the intended spot didn't have a lot of extra room.  So when I moved the greenhouse (in pieces, accompanied by foul language) I discovered that it didn't fit over the top of the fish tank.  I solved this by propping the back support on 8" cinderblocks.  Of course, that left the center supports unsupported.  So I went back to the hardware store and bought red bricks and propped up the center with those.  The greenhouse claims to be 6'6" tall at the center, but if that were so I'm fairly certain I wouldn't be bumping my head on the ridge pole.  I have now ordered a bigger greenhouse (yes, from a different company).  And this one would never have fit in the old spot, even if the fishtank had.  So it's really good that we set up on the other side of the garage instead.  That area will fit the new greenhouse, and it's right next to the garden.  It really is the better spot.

Sorry, I know my narrative is getting very disjointed now.  But I want to get all the information out while it's fresh.  I'm pretty determined.

So the food-grade barrels I'd purchased and paid extra to have delivered last week were not, in fact, food grade.  In fact, the chemical they used to contain was specifically for killing fish and plants.  The guy I bought them from is difficult to reach (read: "flaky as hell") and so here I am with a lot of useless barrels, and an immediate need for *something* to use as a sump tank.  Back to the hardware store.  I neded up purchasing 2 50-gallon rainbarrels.  Wait.  They seemed a hell of a lot smaller than those 55 gallon drums.  Maybe I'd better read the labels again when I get home.  Hmmm...  In any case, these are big square containers.  They already have fittings and hoses, but that's all much too small.  I had the hardware guy help me work up some fittings for running 1-1/2" pipe between them.  That way when the growbed dumps into one of them, they'll equalize quickly without overflowing.  Of course, there was no way to fit those into my car.  Not even individually.  But as we walked out to try (and it was actually only 2" too big) a local pulled up in his pickup truck, and kindly offered to drive them to my house for me.  Yay!  Then, of course, I had to go back to the hardware store again (4th trip, I think) to purchase 16" cinderblocks.  The growbed is already on 16" cinderblocks, but it's not up high enough to put the rainbarrels underneath.  So I'm going to put a second layer of blocks.  No, I'm not entirely sure how, yet.  But ut will get done!  I'm... yeah, you know.

This morning, before I left for work, I went out to the greenhouse and threw a handful of fish food pellets onto the water.  I immediately heard splashing sounds.  So it looks like the fish are alive.  And really that's what it's all about.  The rest is just details, and it will all get done.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In which nothing goes quite as planned...

On the plus side, I had paid the damage waiver on the rental truck, so when the guy in Santa Barbara said he was really good at backing trailers managed to jackknife the thing and bash up the side of the truck, at least I don't have to pay for it.  Not that I didn't feel *really* bad about messing up their brand new truck.  And on the way to find some muscle to help us unload stuff, we found some military-looking guys moving in 2 blocks away, and they kindly agreed to unload for us.  And once I bought a new cap and some plumber's tape and a pipe wrench, the drain pipe on the bottom of the fishtank stopped leaking.  Oh! And none of the fish died... yet.

And then there's everything else.  LOL

The fishtank wouldn't fit in the gap between the house and the garage, so the greenhouse I so carefully assembled was in the wrong place from where I ended up setting everything up.  And it won't fit over the tank anyway, though I'm trying to rig it anyway so the fish will have shade and shelter.

I used some cinderblock and red bricks to prop up the legs of the greenhouse, so it's high enough over the fish and slanting to ground level at the front.  I'll also need to raise the growbed up another cinderblock height so I can fit sump tanks below it.  And that's assuming the barrel guy ever comes back to exchange these toxic barrels for food safe ones like I'd requested in the first place.

Okay, I bought rain barrels and 12 16" cinderblocks (and managed to get all of them into my Z... and out again).  And pipe and fittings to connect the rainbarrels.

And I'm exhausted and done for the day.  Tomorrow, I'll put the rest of it together... assuming my muscles are still speaking to me.  Otherwise, it'll wait.  As long as I keep feeding the fish, I should be okay.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Yeah, sure, no problem

So I've ordered this "7' x 15' Greenhouse" in which to put my new system.  And when I go onto the website just before it arrives, to check the height (since 2 dimensions are simply not sufficient now that I've decided to put this thing under the arbor) I read the specs VERY carefully and see that it is, in fact, NOT seven (7) feet wide.  It's 6.5 feet wide.  Um... that matters, folks.  Truly.

But I'll cope.  Not that I have a choice now, since it's supposed to be here the next day.  And it's going to be 6.5 feet high.  Okay, that'll be just fine.

So the box arrives on my front step.  Immediately, I notice a few rips in the box.  This is only a problem if something fell out... like a support piece.  So I take pictures of all the rips.  Not, dear reader, to share with you.  But to share with them in case I need to beg piteously for them to send me something *functional*.

The next night I open the box to assemble the greenhouse (and count pieces first, of course).  I search the box for the assembly directions and finally find them... well, most of them.

As you can see, they are not in very good shape, nor are they complete.  But the important parts seem to be intact, including piece counts.  And all the pieces are, surprisingly, present.

I did not take pictures of the intermediate assembly process.  I was too busy swearing.  Not that it's complicated, exactly.  It's just... not made for one person to assemble.  I built the arches, and figured I'd put the connecting pieces between the first two arches which would give me a freestanding section, then I'd keep attaching more arches.  It was a good plan.  But it somehow skipped the rather important planning step of *how* precisely to connect the first two arches.

You might think this is a simple thing, but each arch is 7 pieces, and those pieces quite happily rotate around their connections.  Since each piece is curved, this means that if everything isn't held in the precise orientation you want, it turns from an arch into a twisty snake.  And there's just no way for one person to hold 7 pieces simultaneously.  One may, of course, hold the top of the arch and connect it to the top of the next arch, which would force the orientation of those top pieces... as long as you're holding both arches.  Which is a little difficult to do while holding the connecting bar, which you kind of have to do if you're going to connect it to anything.  And you can't just lean the arch against something, since it will then revert to snake, which - aside from everything else it does including encourage me to invent new swear words - will also change the orientation of the top piece... the only piece I'm trying to wrangle with right now.

Once I got the first two arches connected, the rest did go fairly smoothly.  Not perfectly, mind you.  It's a very inexpensive greenhouse and so there were the expected challenges such as the end of a piece being bent closed enough that I couldn't actually force its intended buddy to join with it.  But that was nothing I couldn't fix with some pliers and frighteningly little muscle.  Yes, either I'm turning into Wonder Woman or this is some flimsy stuff.  I'm voting for the latter.  But finally I got the framework put together, and once again I noticed a change in my anatomy.  I'm evidently 6.5 feet tall!  I know this because I kept bumping my head on the ridge pole of my greenhouse which is 6.5 feet tall according to the specs.  And you'll note that it's on a cement pad, so I'm pretty sure this isn't a leveling issue here.

And then I put the cover on.  And a second person would definitely have helped here also.  I'm pretty sure I didn't get it evenly stretched along the frame, but it still worked pretty well.  And it did have velcro to secure it to the frame at intelligent places.  And I did get it done.  And it looks pretty good, for a cheap thing!

So now I'm waiting to pick up my rental truck, hook up the trailer, drive home, sleep quickly, and run out pre-dawn tomorrow to get my dad and go pick up my system and bring it home.  I'm so excited!