Portage River Farm

  (Pinckney, Michigan)
Notes on our struggles and successes on our family farm in rural Michigan.
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Radon Test Results

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you will know that we had a radon issue when we moved into this house. The house inspector tested the air and said that it read 11.4. You are supposed to do something about it if it is over 4.

Therefore I installed a big pipe through my house from my sump to carry the radon gas out through the roof. A vent fan in the attic now runs all of the time and is supposed to be depressurizing the soil beneath our house. There was some question in my mind as to whether I was getting enough suction since it only measures 0.9" water column.

Last week I bought a radon gas monitor and it has been sampling the air in the basement ever since. It reveals that the readings are down to 0.9. That seems like a big improvement from 11.4. When I get some spare time I may seal up the system a little more to try to improve the numbers. In the mean time it is at least at a much safer level.

Two Steps Forward and One Step Back

It is 10am on Saturday morning and the snow-covered spruces look beautiful from where I sit in our dining room. The snow started falling again yesterday afternoon. By the time I got home we had about 5 inches on the driveway and a winter storm warning for this weekend on the radio.

I figured that I had better start bailing or I would never keep up. After tucking Aidan into bed, I grabbed my trusty little plastic shovel and headed out into the snowy night. Four hours later I had managed to clear the entire drive from the front door to the county road. I stood there in my sweaty clothes and looked at it as if it were a fine work of art.

Feeling a great sense of accomplishment and anticipating how impressed Janet would be at my efforts, I drifted off to sleep. This morning I awoke to the realization that it had been snowing much of the time that I rested. Peering out the window, it was quite difficult to see that I had done anything at all!

I devoted another two hours to the great white struggle again this morning. For that effort I created about 400 feet of cleared pavement. Looking out now, I can see the flakes relentlessly sifting down, silently obliterating my work of art yet again.

I'm reminded of a short story that I read in high school about the "menacing green tide". It created an image of civilization as a leaky boat that we all struggle to keep afloat by bailing against a sea of vegetation that ever threatens to engulf us. It talked about how we all endlessly mow, chop, weed and spray to keep the wild green world at bay but it mindlessly surges ever inward to cover, crack and bury our houses, roads and belongings. The story saw it as a war that we will ultimately lose.

I didn't much like that story nor the point of view. I have always been a nature lover and consider myself an environmentalist. I think of the wild places as fragile and threatened by us, not the other way around. Yet, for a few moments there while I was struggling to find the strength to lift my shovel and head back out the door, I felt that I was a little closer to seeing the author's point of view. I would be interested to know his circumstances and wouldn't be surprised if he had spent years trying to mow a huge lawn with an old-fashioned reel mower or perhaps had a farm in the south that was constantly threatened by kudzu vines.

On a separate topic, I discovered another minor setback. The radon mitigation system that I had proudly reported as complete and functional isn't quite. I noticed when I powered the fan up for the first time that it seemed to be creating more air flow than I had expected. Looking down into my sump well through the acrylic I could see ripples on the water indicating that the air was really rushing through the system. I had expected much less flow because the system is supposed to be closed and pulling a vacuum against the soil around the foundation to draw the gases in.

I installed a vacuum gage to the main pipe yesterday and discovered that it was only reading 0.8" of vacuum. That led me to believe that the system wasn't closed, that it was drawing in atmospheric air somewhere. A hunt around the basement yielded a floor drain that was sucking a huge volume of air into it. This is of course something a professional installer would have looked for before even starting the project. Now I am going to have to order and install a special drain fitting with a check valve to plug the leak.

The only thing that troubles me is that I placed a plastic bag over the drain to see the affect on the vacuum reading. Unfortunately it only raised another 0.1" which means there are other openings in the system somewhere. Since we have just moved in our entire basement is full of boxes and furniture. I guess it will have to wait until I can uncover more of the floor and figure out what else is going on.
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