Growing the good stuff in Athens, GA since 2006

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Genius of Geometry

January 14, 2010

Last Monday we decided that, instead of building more hoops, we would create the squared foundation for our hoop houses. Rain was in the forecast for later in the week, and the foundation footers needed to be set before soppy wet weather set in, so we gathered together our tools and made our way to the field site that is the future home of 2 giant, 120' x 28' hoop houses. Actually, Patrick gathered the tools and I gathered the tractor because the field currently had quasi-set rows and we were about to radically alter their configuration. Therefore, we needed to flatten out the rows first. You know, start the new houses on a clean slate. Practically, the flattening was also helpful for setting the footers in level-ish ground. So flatten I did, courtesy of the double-discs.

Now that we were flat, we needed to establish square. Okay, so I don't know about you, but I've never built a structure. Structure Building 101: make your area square. Otherwise, you get something that is catawhompus at best, unstable at worst. To square a structure, you need 3 points of contact (wow, kinda like bouldering). One set corner and two variable points. You can use a "3-4-5" principle, where you make a triangle and the length of one side is a multiple of 3, the other a multiple of 4, and the diagonal a multiple of 5, which we didn't do. Or you can set two sides and pull a line diagonal, then make sure the diagonal line is the same length for the other cross-ways, which we did do. Imagine a rectangle with a big "X" in the middle--both legs of the "X" have to be the same length. If they are NOT the same length, you have a rhombus instead of a rectangle. And rhombuses do not make good long-term hoop house foundations. So okay. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well it may sound simple, but 4 hours later, we were still shifting lengths and then 2 sides would be right and one diagonal, but not the other, and then one side would be longer than we made it originally somehow and it was like garden gnomes were wrecking havoc on our spacing and tape measuring. Yikes. I felt like an 8th grader with a learning block. How could it not be working? It sounded so simple.

So after the millioneth time walking 120 feet down and 56 across and like, 133 diagonal and still not creating a square structure, I called in reinforcements--i.e. our neighbor Jim. Now Jim was an engineer once upon a time and is frequently my idea-guy when it comes to working with things mechanical, technical, and logistical. He's pretty much always got a good idea for me and either way can always be counted on for a smart-ass commentary if nothing else. Jim proceeded to tell us that yes, indeed, our structure was catawhompus. The missing gem of inspiration was the idea that all we had to do was shift 2 of the sides the same amount to make it square. Like a beam of light shining from heaven. 10 minutes later, we were ready to set footers.

Footers are steel posts, about 3 feet long in our case. And to set them, we had to pound them with a post-pounder about 2 feet deep. The soft ground was working in our favor, so setting them was really not so bad. 32 footers for each house, 64 total, for a total pounded depth of 128 feet. I think that's how deep our well is. Anyway. 4 hours to make it square, 45 minutes to pound 32 footers 2 feet deep each. Hour and a half of pounding time. I swear, it's always the thinking time that takes the longest.

Thus, the genius of geometry comes to visit. Pay attention you 8th graders, you can actually use this stuff.

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