One of my favourite parts of the internship at Falls Brook Centre was the amount of freedom we had to take on random new projects simply because we could. Admittedly, when I think about it there is really no reason why many of these projects could not be done anywhere in the world, but something about living with eight gifted and curious people got the creative juices flowing.
My favourite project was actually part of my work at the centre, but it hardly felt like it. I helped with the construction of a greenhouse on the south side of our barn. It gradually expanded to take up the entire wall, including a giant roof that went a good twenty feet high! The best part was being involved right from the beginning, starting by hauling out the stones that would later become the foundation of the structure and laying them out and leveling them. We then put up a first wall which would hold large, removable windowpanes. The idea was for the windows to be removed in the summertime so that the plants could benefit from the wind and the rain when they needed them, and be protected from them when they became damaging. We then put on a roof and sides, which was a finicky process and involved a lot of climbing and precarious balancing. I took some photos throughout the process to show how it came up:
We were lucky enough to have a worm composting expert in our group of interns. In addition to being knowledgeable about the process of vermicompost and worms in general, she also brought a whole bunch of them with her when she arrived. Note that this does answer the question that everyone wonders about, but no-one dares to ask: ‘can you bring live earthworms on a plane?’ The answer is yes, but you will get funny looks.
Anyway, we got to thinking about how vermicompost could be used in different places in the community. We helped out with the existing operation, and then inspiration hit: the best place for a new worm compost box would be the local elementary school – because no one likes worms better than first graders. Think back that far and you will know it to be true.
And so it was built, a small two-level work composting affair that we made of scraps of wood we found lying in the barn. The whole experiment was little more than a cleverly-designed excuse on my part to play with power saws, but this was not realized by anyone until it was too late. The two-story design is interesting: the upper level has a screen at the bottom large enough for the worms to fit through but small enough that fresh food will not. When the bottom fills up with worm castings, you just cover the screen on top with food and wait for the worms to migrate into the upper layer. Then you can dig all of the castings out of the bottom without taking away your precious earthworms!
Allegedly, every group of interns tries to make soap – though many give up partway through the process. We managed to stick it out – first, we collected ash from the firewood, making sure to burn nothing but hardwood in the wood stove, since softwood ash does not produce the same concentrations of caustic substances. We then boiled the ash in water and reduced the liquid we obtained from that until we got thick, pasty lye. Then, with various fats, nice smelling things, and black magic, we stirred everything together into what appears to be on its way to becoming soap. Unfortunately, this recipe takes a while to cure so I will never know what the end product ended up becoming.
Of course, any talk of experiments would be incomplete without mentioning the many food-and-drink related shenanigans that went on. From yogurt making (runny) to beer brewing (delicious), we tried a little bit of everything. I really appreciate the ingenuity of people who can see weird hybrid melon-squash and make it into a casserole, and decide that the ideal thing to do with stale, flat leftover keg beer is to bake it into bread (both of these are verified good ideas).
Needless to say, if you think any of the odd projects above are worthwhile and want a more detailed description, drop me a line and I’d be happy to share more details! If your only reaction to this post was to roll your eyes at my ability to be distracted by various side projects, well, that’s cool too!