Taproot Farm & Fruit

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A family CSA farm and community orchard in the Driftless region of southwest Wisconsin. 

Raising day

In late July of 2014, the day we had been dreaming about for over a year finally came.

After looking at Sketchup drawings that Andy Skoglund drafted over and over all winter and spring, it finally came time to gather the crew and get the first four bents (aka cross sections) put up. 

Getting situated, a couple of cuts left to make. 

Getting situated, a couple of cuts left to make. 

First bent pre-assembled on the deck.

First bent pre-assembled on the deck.

About a dozen family and friends came out to help; Mike Yaker and Kieth Rockett graciously led us through the process, and by the end of day one we had four bents pre-assembled and laying on the ground, ready to be raised.

A big beard is helpful but  not required for timber framing.

A big beard is helpful but  not required for timber framing.

The next day was raising day. Being that we're cautious and risk averse folks, we rented a crane instead of opting for the 100 friend approach. We'll have a hand-raising later this summer for the front and back shed roofs that are only 8 feet tall, but for the 22 foot tall behemoth, I was sure glad to have some heavy equipment...

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Note root cellar entrance. Pretty excited about that.

Note root cellar entrance. Pretty excited about that.

Once the two bents are in position, you've got to get them all connected and braced. 

Once the two bents are in position, you've got to get them all connected and braced. 

Then the crane drops in the rafters while trapeze artist Wayde gets them into position. 

Then the crane drops in the rafters while trapeze artist Wayde gets them into position. 

Don't tell your wife we let you do this...

Don't tell your wife we let you do this...

Ceremonial pine bough and thanks given to the trees.

Ceremonial pine bough and thanks given to the trees.

We've had a lot of help with this along the way, and I'm sure will have much more before it's done. We're really lucky to be a part of such a great community, and you have no idea how touched we were to see you show up bright and early on a work day to help us out. Particular thanks goes to Andy Skoglund of Skoglund Woodworks for designing the barn and giving lots and lots of advice along the way as we muddled through cutting braces, rafters and joists. Mike Yaker of Woodjoiners came in when we realized that this frame would consume our lives if we let it and cut all posts, beams, connectors and other miscellany in under a month, not to mention helping lead the raising. Keith Rockett of Live Wood LLC came to help out the last four days; we couldn't have gotten it done without him. 

Barn Progress Report

Quick progress report on the barn.

Barn by numbers:

  • 88 knee braces finished
  • 24 floor joists finished
  • 48 rafters finished, 17 left to do
  • Lots of posts and beams left to do

Big thanks to Andy Skoglund (http://skoglundwoodwork.com/) for designing this awesome frame! Excited to get it raised this summer (hopefully...). 

A Barn Without Nails...

Last year, we started dreaming about the perfect barn. It would have a big south facing roof for solar panels. It would have a good place to wash, pack and cool fruits and vegetables. It would have a wood shed and plenty of space to keep our equipment from rusting into oblivion. And most importantly, it would reflect the values of the farm; built slowly and well from the start, made to last for generations. 

Our research slowly started pointing us towards a timber frame barn built with traditional mortise and tenon joinery. After visiting Common Harvest Farm in Osceola, WI, where Amy's parents are members and have been for a couple decades, we were introduced to Andy Skoglund, a master woodworker, timber framer and all around excellent person. We passed him a few napkin sketches we had scribbled down, and he managed to turn it into a beautiful design that would make the old masters proud. We're currently cutting and chiseling braces, and will progress to beams as the winter wears on.

Barn Supports.jpg

Our goal is to have the raising in early June. We sure hope that some of you can be there. Send me a note to eric@taprootfarmandfruit.com if you'd like to be kept informed as we get closer. 

Second Task: Walk-in Refrigerator

             As a farmer, the harvest is the most exciting time of the year. All of your hard work finally pays off in the form of abundant fruits and vegetables as far as the eye can see. Your CSA members are giddy with anticipation to see what their shares will contain, and the farmer's market is fast approaching. However, if you want to be able to deliver the freshest produce you can, as well as being able to save some for yourself, then a walk-in refrigerator is a necessity. 

             Homemade walk-in refrigerators are not a new idea, and plans for them are abundant on the web. An awesome device called the "CoolBot" was created about 7 years ago by a farmer from New Paltz, NY, Ron Kholsa, that allows for a walk-in refrigerator to be built with a normal window AC unit as the cooling system. The CoolBot is a small robot that essentially runs the AC unit in overdrive, so that the cooling space is able to drop to temperatures much lower that the AC unit would normally allow, around 30-40 degrees F. 

            With these developments in mind, I set out researching plans and designs for homemade walk-in refrigerators on the web. We decided that a 6'x8' floor plan would be about the right size, with a ceiling height of 7'. Here is a very simple sketchup rendering of what we wanted the final product to look like from the outside. It is basically just a large box with a lot of insulation, and a window size hole that fits the AC unit. It is built on two 8' long pressure treated 2x6's, with a future plan of attaching wheels to the bottom in order to make it mobile. There is also metal roofing on top so that having it outside is also an option.

Sketchup rendering of the final product

              The first step in building the refrigerator was to construct the floor. The 8' pressure treated 2x6s were placed on the sides, with four 6' 2x4s used as cross joists spaced out evenly between the 2x6s. Note: remember that 2x4s and 2x6s are not actually 2"x4" and 2"x6" when doing preliminary calculations, and are actually 1.5"x3.5" and 1.5"x5.5" respectively. In retrospect, the next step would have been to add the insulation between the cross joists, then add the plywood flooring on top of this to create a level space to build the walls up from. However, we did not have the insulation at this point in the project, so the insulation was left until the skeleton of the body was completed. 

           Next, the walls were built up from the floor, with 7' 2x4s. It was difficult to connect the wall joists so that that they were level by myself, so I used corner braces to hold them in place while I made sure that they were straight up and down. The ceiling was constructed separately and then connected after the walls were built. 

Skeleton of the refrigerator with a space in the back right corner that will eventually be a platform for the AC unit

Skeleton of the refrigerator with a space in the back right corner that will eventually be a platform for the AC unit

              The next step was to cover the outside of the skeleton. We chose to use a relatively inexpensive half-inch plywood siding. This ended up working great because it comes in large 4'x8' sheets, and also allows for the refrigerator to be placed outside without worry, and without having to stain the wood. Regular half-inch plywood was added to the roof and then covered with metal roofing. The metal roofing was also relatively inexpensive and was attached to the plywood using gasket screws to make sure that there was no chance for leakage. 

            Next, 4 inches of polyurethane rigid foam board was added between the floor joists. Since we are trying to keep the space inside as cool as possible, and we know that hot air rises and cool air drops, it is important to have the most insulation in the floor of the refrigerator. The insulation was cut to size, but cracks and gaps are impossible to avoid, so spray foam was added to fill the gaps in the insulation before it was covered with a piece of half-inch plywood flooring. 

Flooring insulation 

         I then cut the rest of the insulation to fit for the walls and ceiling. Instead of putting the insulation between the wall joists, they were fitted to go on the inside of them so that all of the wood was covered, and also so that there was a 4" space between the siding and the insulation. This is so that it would be easier to create an airtight seal, and also because the 4" gap will provide added insulation due to the fact that air is a pretty decent insulator. The rigid foam board insulation was connected to the 2x4s using screws and large fender washers. 

Plastic fender washer

Plastic fender washer

              We used a pre-hung insulated, steel door for it's sealing ability. We got the standard size of 31"x82", and framed the door accordingly. As you can see from the picture, there are a few slivers of light that can be seen through the closed door. This means that cold air will easily escape from the cooler, decreasing its efficiency. To combat this problem, I attached a piece of foam board to the inside of the door that was slightly larger than the door itself, and eliminated the small cracks in the door frame. 

light seeping through the cracks in the door

light seeping through the cracks in the door

                Next, I added a large amount of spray foam to every crack and hole to ensure that the refrigerator was tightly sealed for maximum efficiency. The AC unit was then added to the platform, and installed and sealed with insulation and spray foam. 

AC unit. 10,000 Btu GE unit was chosen for its cooling ability and efficiency. It is also the size recommended for use with the CoolBot

AC unit. 10,000 Btu GE unit was chosen for its cooling ability and efficiency. It is also the size recommended for use with the CoolBot

             

First Task: Pig Feeder

          Everybody needs a vacation now and then, and yes, that means farmers too. But how can one take time away from the farm if there are animals that need to be tended to? A simple solution would be first to ask friends and neighbors to look after the animals. But when it becomes tiresome to be constantly indebted to your friends, then its time to build a pig feeder. A simply designed, yet effective way to make sure that your pig’s appetites will be filled without having to actually be there to feed them everyday.

          In order to build this simple pig feeder, I very closely followed the designs posted on The Barry Farm website (http://thebarryfarm.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/5756_0001.jpg), although I did make a few tweaks and adjustments. One of the most notable being that instead of making a 4 door feeder, I basically cut the length in half, and made it have only 2 doors. This was mostly because we will most likely never have more than 4 pigs at the farm at one time, and it requires a lot of food to fill up a 4 door pig feeder. 

Pig feeder after being stained

Drawn Pig Feeder Design and Bill of Materials

Eric teaching the pigs how to use the feeder. They're pretty smart animals and figured it out after about one day. Now they can't get enough of it

Yeoman Engineering and Building Projects

            Every farm, small or large, organic or not, is faced with everyday challenges that seem to make life for its workers just that much more difficult. Whether it’s a problem of storage space, tool reliability and efficiency, or just plain old low cost solutions to high priority problems, every farm could use a little help. The difficulty in confronting these predicaments lies in the fact that farmers usually just flat out don’t have enough hours in the day to think about cost effective and viable solutions when there are thousands of seeds to plant, animals to care for, fruit trees to prune and countless other chores that take precedence.

            This summer we plan on tackling a few of these nuisances by producing and sharing our designs and building plans. Led by our very own Mechanical Engineering student, (Joey Springer) who is finishing his undergrad at the University of Colorado, we plan on posting design ideas, as well as updates during the building process.