Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Learning an Old Dog's tricks

Today was the Seven Sons' birthday. 

That is what I always called Scout and Tanner's litter since there were seven puppies and they were all boys.  Scout and the rest of his remaining brothers turned 13 today, as Tanner would have if he were still here.  The Seven Sons are more the Fabulous Five now.

Scout is still doing pretty well for turning 13.  He is definitely showing his age and has gotten rather tottery.  Like many old dogs, he has lost most of the muscle in his hips and he does wobble from time to time.  He gets Previcox and joint supplements every day to help with arthritis, but he still manages to go on hikes with us.

Scout is still very much convinced that he is the ruler of the world.  He is certainly the old patriarch of the pack.  The puppies are very respectful of him and are always extremely careful not to knock into him.  They aren't always so careful of us humans as FB can attest to today having been run over by a very large puppy.  We like to think we are in charge, but the truth is, we can't hold a candle to Scout.  We can yell and holler and they mostly listen, but one twitch of an eyebrow from Scout has those puppies fawning at his feet.  There are a lot of tricks that only an old dog can teach.

It isn't easy watching such a vibrant and strong-willed friend become frail with age, but it is also good to see that Scout does not feel diminished at all.  There is a lesson in that.  There is the sorrow and the beauty of an old dog who still lives fully and joyfully in the knowledge of his own worth. 

Happy Birthday Scout and to the rest of the Seven Sons.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How to Install a Frost Free Hydrant

As I mentioned yesterday, hydrants generally fail for two reasons:
  1. they aren't buried deep enough
  2. they have insufficient drainage underground.
The way that hydrants work is that the shut-off valve is at the bottom of the pipe.  It is plunger type valve that is opened and closed by a long rod that runs down the inside of the pipe.  When you pull the handle up, the plunger is pulled up by that rod and the valve opens.  When you push the handle down, the plunger seals and shuts the water off.

Just above that plunger is a small drain hole in the pipe. The same plunger that opens and closes the valve, simultaneously opens or closes the drain.  When the water is running the drain is blocked and when the hydrant is shut off, that drain hole opens.  Any water in the pipe drains out of that hole via gravity.

A properly working hydrant should never have water in the pipe except when actually in use.  I often see people wrapping insulation around their hydrants.  While insulating the pipe may seem like the thing to do, it is generally a waste of time because the pipe should not have water in it.  

If you do have water remaining in the pipe after the hydrant is shut off, you have a problem.  If your hydrant is working correctly and you still have trouble with it freezing, the problem is in the ground, not the pipe.  Placing a couple of hay bales around its base to keep the frost out of the ground is much more effective.

When installing a hydrant, it is crucial to protect the drain hole.  You don't want it getting clogged with dirt and if you have a lot of ground water, like I do, you want to give the water a place to drain to as well. 

You will need a backhoe or excavator to do this job unless you live in an area where there are no rocks and you can manage digging a deep hole by hand.  My property is NOT one of those places.  This little tractor backhoe was almost too small to deal with the rocks we have here.

A few of the things you will need are a hydrant, a plastic bucket with the bottom cut out, some clean, crushed stone, a bit of landscape fabric and whatever fittings are required for your size water line, which is typically 3/4 inch.  Border Collie supervision is optional.

The bottom of the hydrant needs to be below the frost line.  Plan for the absolute worst winter you can imagine and then go 6 inches deeper.  Do not let a contractor tell you that 3 feet is deep enough because he "never digs any deeper than that and besides, it never gets that cold around here anymore".

Measure the hole carefully to make sure that it really is deep enough.

Once you go as deep as you can (in this case, we hit bedrock at about 40 inches.  I would have liked this to be even deeper, but that would probably have required blasting.  It is 10-12 inches deeper than it was), put the bottom of the hydrant into the bucket before attaching the water pipe to it.  Once all the fittings are tight, make sure to turn the water on and test everything at this stage.  You sure don't want to find a leak after you've refilled the hole!

If you look really closely at the little brass nipple on the bottom of the pipe (at the white arrow), you can see water coming out.  That little brass bump sticking out is the drain hole that needs to be protected.

If you look close again, you can also see a bit of water in the bottom of this hole.  That is ground water seeping in.  It is what happens to every hole I dig up here.  It is why this job HAD to be done when it is dry and it is why I may still have problems with my hydrant even after all of this.  When it is wet, this hole would fill with water before you could finish digging it.

To help with drainage and to protect that pipe drain, fill the bucket and the area around it, with clean, crushed stone. 

In order to help keep silt from working its way down into the stone, cover it with the landscape fabric.

This next bit is optional and may be overkill, especially of you have gone deep enough and have good drainage.  Since neither is as good as I would like here and I had a piece of this blue-board foam insulation left over from another job, I put it over top of the fabric to help insulate the area and keep the frost out.  This may be a bit of paranoia, but I've found that, when it comes water lines, a little paranoia is not a bad thing.

Once you are sure everything works and is in place, back-fill the hole and tramp it down well.

To finish things off, it is good to securely anchor the above ground portion of pipe to a solid object.  There is a lot of leverage in a 7 foot pipe and even a small wiggle at the top can translate into damage down below.  If your hydrant isn't near a wall or strong fence, install a sturdy post alongside it when you bury it so that it will have solid support.

If you've done everything right, your hydrant should give you a lifetime of reliable water flow no matter the temperature.

Monday, October 26, 2015

If you want it done right...

Long time readers may remember that I have had trouble with my water hydrant freezing every winter.  Addressing this issue was the last of my big winterizing projects this Fall.  This should have been a fairly straight-forward repair, however, I needed to hire help for the job and dealing with contractors is never straight-forward.  At least not in my universe. 

Hydrants fail for two reasons:
  1. they aren't buried deep enough
  2. they have insufficient drainage underground.
My hydrant suffered from both of these problems.  A couple of months ago when the contractors fixed my deck, the hydrant developed a third, very major problem.  When the guys were digging holes for the stair posts, they hit the water line going to the barn.  It didn't seem like a big deal at first as they were able to easily splice the line and I don't blame them for hitting it.  It was tricky digging back there as they had to also avoid the sewer and electric lines as well.  If they had to hit something, the water line was the best option.

However, some dirt/stones got into the line and fouled up the valve in the hydrant.  The guy fixed it, but in doing so, he twisted the top of the pipe and, in doing so, partially broke the line underground.  Unfortunately, I didn't realize there was a problem until several hours after they had left and I had paid them in full.  

They promised to come back and fix it.  Weeks went by and they finally said they would have to do it on a weekend as they were too busy.  This was fine with me and we set a date.  On Sept. 12, I got a message early in the morning that said:

"I'm here trying to pick up the excavator and apparently we had wrong dates because they said I am wrote down for next Saturday. I'm trying to figure something out now". 

That was the very last I heard from him.  In the following weeks, I tried to call - it always went to voicemail.  I sent emails that all went unanswered.  I came up with another job that I would have paid them to do so that fixing my water line would have cost them nothing and they would profit from being here.  Nothing. 

I finally called from FB's house and he picked up right away because he didn't recognize my number, which really pissed me off.  Still, I remained polite and accommodating of his schedule.  I only told him that we had to do this job while the weather was still dry or it would be a disaster.  I speak form hard earned experience here.  He promised to get it done.

Well, here we are at the end of October with the weather going downhill fast.  I haven't heard from him and he is, once again, refusing to take my calls or answer emails. 

I try to be understanding and flexible, I really do. No one understands better about unexpected problems than I do.  What I don't understand is why someone can't take 30 seconds to send me an email or leave me a message telling me what is going on.  Hell, even if he sent me a message telling me to F*** Off, I'd be happier than hearing nothing.  At least I'd know where things stand.

I don't mind waiting while they finish a big job.  I don't mind rescheduling when things go awry.  I DO mind being treated like a non-entity.  What is it with contractors?  I really don't get it. 

I totally rescind my recommendation for Perry's Amish Construction.  Not that they seem to care.


Annnyyywaaay.....I truly didn't mean to go off on that rant, but I guess I needed to.  I do feel marginally better for it.  So, about that hydrant....

One of the main reasons I have problems with it is because the guy who originally installed it, put it off until November instead of doing it in July as promised (contractors and their useless promises!)

Deep breath, don't get me started again. 

Whew.  Moving on.

I know from that hard learned past experience that we are out of time to get this job done.  Since I refuse to go through the winter having to carry buckets, I decided to just cave in and find someone else who could dig it up for me.

Since a lot of people seem to find frost-free hydrants rather mysterious and even more (contractors!!) don't know how to install them, I'll show you how in my next post.  My calm, rational, rant-free post. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Mark of Desperation

Several people wanted  to know more about how snow fence works.  Snow fence can be any kind of fencing, shrub, hedge, barrier, etc that creates a windbreak.  In areas where a lot of corn is grown, you may even see 4-5 rows of corn left standing 50-100 away from the road, it can make a very effective snow fence.  The fence doesn't need to be solid or super strong, it just has to get in the way of the wind so that it drops its load of snow before it gets to the road.  Or, in this case, my driveway.  I am trying to prevent a repeat of this:
This misery was not caused by a big snow storm.  In fact, I don't think that we got more than an inch or two of snow that night, if that.  This was all blown in by the wind.  That double row of spruce trees that you can see on the right is supposed to be a windbreak, and they eventually will be.  Eventually.  

The willows that I planted this Spring are supposed to be another windbreak and they too will be - eventually.  Meanwhile, I opted to try this route again:

The mesh fence has enough wind resistance that the wind should hit this fence and lose its momentum.  If it works the way it should, the wind will hit the fence, lose all its power and drop its load of snow on the far side of the fence, a long way away from my driveway. 

The key to snow fence is in making sure it is put up the right distance away from the road it is supposed to protect.  It has to be at least 50-100 feet away from the road because the snow will drop mostly on the opposite side of the fence.  If you put the fence too close to the road, you'll make your problems ten times worse. 

The problems that I have had with snow fence in the past have been two-fold.  First, the cheap plastic stuff rips to shreds in the relentless wind I get.  Second, The snow drifts up so deep that it buries the fence completely, rendering it useless. 

It's probably a mark of desperation that I decided to put the damn stuff up anyway.  I just can't stand the idea of this again:

Just digging out these pictures makes me think I need to move to somewhere where people don't know about snow fence.

Random Sun Day


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Of Wind in the Willows

Tyche's Minder wanted to know how the willow hedge is doing.  I suppose it is doing OK.  Can you tell?....

There really are some spindly little willow shoots in that mess, which I guess is not bad for just one season.

It was such a strange year.  Right after I planted these in the early Spring, it got very dry.  Then, as soon as summer approached, it got really wet and stayed that way until late July.  I lost about a third of the willows in that early dry spell and the rest all seemed very stunted.  However, the survivors seem to be doing alright now and grew quite a lot once they got started.  They are a long way from being a windbreak yet, but they are capable of putting on a lot of growth in a short amount of time so I am still hopeful for their future. 

I am supposed to prune them back to the ground so that they will come back thicker next year - that is on the to-do list.  I sure hope they do better than this damn stuff...

I am not terribly impressed with the so-called heavy-duty snow fence.  It is better than that awful orange tissue paper they call snow fence these days, but not by much.  I guess I should have shelled out the extra $400 to buy wooden fence since I spent all afternoon wrestling with this flimsy, squishy crap.  I came away feeling rather discouraged and convinced that this plastic mess is the physical embodiment of all the things wrong with our country.  It's a lot like our healthcare system - all propaganda, no substance and impossible to keep straight.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Because Snow Happens

Since my wish for a two-day winter is nothing more than delusional thinking, I've been doing a lot of winterizing lately.  Part of that winterizing, which I have been putting off, is building a lot of snow fence. 

I've tried putting up snow fence in the past with dismal results.  It generally tears apart in the wind or gets overwhelmed by snow and rendered useless.  My trees are growing, but they are still nowhere near big enough.  After the unrelenting misery of last winter, I decided to try the snow fence once again and I spent a small fortune on heavy duty snow-fence, which should be here tomorrow. 

Meanwhile, I needed to get posts set.  This wouldn't ordinarily be a hard job, but I am having terrible trouble with my arms right now thanks to the 14 years I've spent earning my keep in a histology lab.  Not only are my limbs failing, but the stress makes me grind my teeth in my sleep (when I sleep) and I have two cracked fillings that have to get fixed next week.

I had to enlist FB's help with the post pounding since this is definitely not on the doctor-approved list (not much is at the moment, which is making me feel very much the invalid.  I really need a new job).

Once we got the posts in, Tessa came over to demonstrate exactly why I generally only use electric fencing...

No matter what kind of fence you build, whether it's wood, metal, wire, etc; some big, fat, critter will come along and use it as a scratching post unless you put electric up to protect it.  And this is a FAT critter even though I feed her nothing but air and make her work for every bite.

I'm definitely going to have to move the electric wire to protect the snow fence or it won't last a week. 

And speaking of fat critters....It may be time for grazing muzzles on everyone.  That should go over well - I can hear the whining just thinking about it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The S*** Word

I know, it' s an offensive, dirty word, but what can you do?  Snow happens.

I figure, as of right now, we've had the perfect amount of winter.

We had a really hard freeze with two cold, nasty days.

Just enough snow to give the Border Collie a bit of contrast...

so we could go out and take some pretty dog-in-the-snow pictures.

and show off the Autumn light in the Hemlock swamp.

That's enough winter for me.  I'm ready for Spring.