Ask anybody from our parts (east Tennessee) and they’ll tell you it was the coldest winter in a long while. Single-digit mornings. Consecutive days under 20.
In the South, all we know how to do in that kind of cold is hibernate as our homes struggle to heat themselves. Chris and I have a big year in front of us, so in between shopping for space heaters and paying heating bills, we were busy, even if we weren’t posting about it.
This weekend, the game cam captured our first daytime bear of 2018. To bring this blog out of hibernation, too, here’s part 1 of a 2-part post about winter accomplishments.
We’ll start with practical stuff we’ve accomplished to keep the build and land moving forward. Part II is about peripheral accomplishments that have made life a little sweeter.
Without further ado, this winter, we have…
– Planned our interior, down to details like where to put the coffee maker(s). Our general contractor sees all parts of a house as a connected whole, so he asked for a list of all interior features to help him plan the foundation.
The result was a 2-month journey and a 30-page document. Check out this nifty post for a dome-progress update, plus tips like a great app for 3D interior planning.
– Finished excavating the foundation. You may remember when we broke ground that a rock shelf under the house site left us with the option to build tall – with a [possibly] bigger mountain view but lower disaster resistance and energy efficiency – or dig deep and [possibly] incur big rock-drilling costs.
Worried about blowing our budget, we asked the excavators to start shallow and committed to a tall dome. The excavators called on a Friday evening to say their machines cut through the sandstone shelf like butter. They were practically finished.
We were headed out of town for the weekend but made a quick stop at Freestone to inspect the progress. Our general contractor had been dropping gentle hints that the dome may be a little tall. We got him on the phone to ask outright if he thought we should dig deeper, and he said unequivocally yes. As I drove us into the mountains, Chris was able to schedule the guys to keep digging before we dropped out of cellphone range.
We asked them to aim for 8′-10′, or as close as they could get without breaking the budget. They got there without a hitch, with the exception of a few rocks, including a harder-than-hard “blue” rock that will soon have its own post about how to break a rock (hint: rent giant drill, mix 60lb of Dexpan, pour, and wait).
– Finished excavating the car pad and driveway. This almost turned out to be a bigger deal than the housepad. Key decisions included how to route the driveway and size the car pad on a steep-ish slope. Chris put the 4runner’s 4-wheel drive to work on the slope to real-world measure a parking area and flagged the space for the excavators to carve out.
They leveled the car pad nicely, but the drive up to it was terrifying. The solution cost a few thousand more than anticipated but is crucial to long-term user friendliness: dirt was added to reduce the grade. Many, many, many dump truck loads of dirt.
People often purchase dirt for this kind of thing. We saved a little (very little) money because they were able to take dirt from the recently reclaimed kudzu hill behind the barn.
Honestly, the cost may have been the same because of the hours it took them to move the dirt from the hillside into their dump truck. But it was a win-win because it killed off more kudzu and heaven trees while increasing flat space around the barn. We’ll use that flat space!
– Grew Grass. For an unknown number of years, the gentle slope below our barn had kudzu to prevent erosion. Now it doesn’t. This winter included the wettest wet season Tennessee has had in ages. Chris threw down a strategic mix of winter rye and fescue to quell the budding mudslide. He added clover down one side for wildlife. His choices were a mixture of online research and discussions at the local farm co-op. It looks amazing.
– Forested the pines. When we walked our land with a local forester last year, his most surprising suggestion was to take out all of our Virginia pines.
Virginia pines are susceptible to rot. When they rot, they fall. When they fall, they crush other trees. Before they fall, they choke out light for the hardwoods below them.
Despite all of that, we were resistant to his advice. It’s a lot of trees, and we worried how removal would affect the appearance and sound buffer of our forest.
As winter progressed and pine after pine fell in the wind, we knew the forester was right. These trees have overstayed their welcome. Plus, they’re causing wicked widowmakers.
Chris has removed a couple dozen Virginia pines from 2 segments of the woods so far. We’re leaving white pines, pitch pines, pines that aren’t hurting anything, just look majestic or may not fall the right way (Chris aims trees carefully when he cuts). Over time, the red maples, gums, sourwoods, persimmons, poplars, and oaks should take back over. We plan to add native rhododendrons and flame azaleas from local nurseries for color. There are dozens more trees to thin out, but we’ll do it in stages after seeing how the first round of removal affects the ecosystem.
In other news, if you’re in need of questionable pine logs, get in touch.
Next –> See Part II of winter accomplishments on the domestead.