August, 2004

Weeds, Bugs and Progress

Reading for this month included Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan. Gary had somehow missed this during his college career in the 1960's, when it was required reading for the beat/hippy generation. Since Brautigan was a fisherman, he spent time in Montana; he lived near Bozeman in the 1980's and was befriended by a MSU professor.

According to the book, one of Brautigan's jobs as a youth was an attempt to eradicate Canada Thistle, a weed we are fighting ourselves. Canada Thistle did not originate in Canada; it was an unwanted contaminant of seed imported into Canada in the late 1800's. However, somehow the Canadians got the honor of naming it (like those Canadian cold fronts they keep sending us every winter).

As mentioned in our previous report, we loosed bugs on some of our worst weed problems. The source of these bugs is a local business run out of a home, so we personally pick them up. This gives us a chance to chat a bit with the husband and wife who operate the business. We ask lots of questions, and each question is answered with at least 5 minutes of lecture.

While releasing a second batch of bugs, we noted some caterpillars eating the Leafy Spurge. Thinking we might stump the bug man (or better yet, discover a new countermeasure), Gary took the picture at right and sent it in an email to him. Within a day we got a lengthy reply (with pictures) of what the bug was and why it alone was not enough to kill the weed. Turns out he had done his Master's Thesis on this particular bug. The moth form is quite drab, but the caterpillars look like the "dragons" one sees at Chinese New Year celebrations.

Another example of the weeds we are fighting is shown here — Musk Thistle. Arthur is now a tad bit taller than Gary, so these plants are tall! Usually, they are only knee to waist high, but in this shady area by our creek, they want to reach for the sky. One indication that the bugs are having an effect can be seen by the fact that the single stem suddenly splits into multiple stems; this is due to a bug that attacks the stem. If one breaks open the flowers, many of them are crawling with the maggots of another bug that attacks the seeds.

There has been more rain — we are near the wettest (measured) spot in Montana. This has not resulted in much construction delay. It has kept the area quite green and farmers are happy that things are not so abnormally dry as in recent years. On the other hand, streams are swifter and muddier than usual, so fishermen are not entirely happy. One benefit of the rainfall has been an extended flower season. Many of these flowers are classified as weeds, but they are not considered noxious by the state or county.

150 cubic yards of gravel were dumped into the lowest level of the house site. The heavy trucks were leaving deep ruts in the drive, so we asked them to start driving on the high spots instead of in the ruts — this helped compress the drive more evenly. It should be very solid once we put the finish layer on (after construction).

This picture shows the gravel, plus the roughed in plumbing for the drains that will go under the slab when it is poured in a day or two.

Arthur continues to help out with construction. Here, he takes a swing at some rock while helping dig a depression for the 1,500 gallon water reservoir we will have in the crawl space. Here is a movie of his efforts.

Neko has taken the job of watch dog seriously. She chases away deer and tries to catch mice. We discourage deer chasing, since bull elk are are quite ill-tempered come mating season and make short work of any dog foolish enough to get near.

Pauline joined us August 5-9 to participate first hand in the doings. Here, she inspects the colors of a cleaned portion of the slab. Concrete for the slab was tinted beige (matches the local dirt) and trowelled to yield darker textures and the appearance of translucence. When sufficiently cured, the slab was cut into 3 foot square "tiles" for the approximately 1600 square feet of living space on the lower floor. We like the result, and the cost is only a bit more than raw concrete!

The wine cellar slab is thermally isolated from the main slab to retard heat conduction into the wine cellar. Being separate, it could get a different treatment: the surface of that floor is a lighter color and textured to look like natural stone.

Construction delays lately have been more due to getting workers to show up than due to weather. The worker "shortage" is in part a result of the incredible building boom in Bozeman. After almost two weeks of promises, a framing crew finally showed up on Friday the 13th of August. The picture at left represents one day of work by 4 men (plus Arthur helping out). Getting those first boards down in the right places and squared up is important; maybe things will speed up if they show up again Monday! [They didn't.]

Be sure to check the Main House Progress