Homestead Network Upgrades

October 22, 2017 at 1:05 pm

Despite coming from the networking side of IT, I tend to use regular consumer grade equipment at home. It typically just works, and I’m not looking for extreme reliability or features. I’ve been using hardware from Linksys, Netgear, and the other consumer network vendors for at least the last 10 years. Sometimes, though, things happen that make you reevaluate your previous life choices…

For me, that thing was an email that I received from Verizon saying my router was infected with malware. Since I always take basic precautions like changing the default password and locking down external ports, I was a bit surprised. Turns out, there was a vulnerability in the firmware that had gone unpatched for months… In hindsight, I should not have been that surprised. At all. I thought I had purchased a flagship router that would be supported for at least a few years, but it didn’t look like any more patches were coming. Ever. I looked into trusty old DD-WRT figuring that I could flash the router and at least get another year out of it, but apparently the R7000 has some performance issues with DD-WRT.

After having issues like this a few times with generic consumer grade stuff over the years, no matter the vendor, I decided enough was enough. I researched available options in the enterprise hardware space (way too expensive and time consuming to set up), looked at open source alternatives (cheap, but time consuming, and not well integrated), and even looked at the more pro-level offerings from consumer manufacturers (underwhelming). After a few days, I decided on and purchased some Ubiquiti hardware based on the many good reviews and a few personal recommendations from networking folks I respect.

Ubiquiti’s hardware is solid stuff, performance wise, and they have a very good reputation. The hardware is what I would call “Enterprise Lite”, meaning it’s not Cisco, but its perfect for small to medium businesses who just want things to work. Additionally, the Unifi configuration system and dashboard is excellent, taking a significant configuration and support burden off of me.

The initial hardware purchase was:

  • Unifi Secuirty Gateway Pro (Amazon)- I definitely went overkill here. The entry model USG is capable of routing gigabit at near wirespeed. However, I decided that I likes the extra ports for a few future projects, like the barn office.
  • Unifi Switch 8, 60 Watt (Amazon)- Since the new network was not an all-in-one setup, I needed something to power the other devices around the house. This managed switch provided a lot more than just that, though. The VLANs will come in handy when we set up the home office.
  • Unifi AP AC Pro (Amazon)- Another bit of overkill for home use, but this one was easier to justify than the firewall. Simply put, it has more power, and I need that given the 2′ thick stone walls in the farmhouse.
  • Unifi Cloud Key (Amazon)- Though not strictly necessary, the Cloud Key allows you to run your network controller app on dedicated hardware. It can also be linked to the Unifi cloud portal allowing for a very convenient and secure hybrid cloud management platform.

Simple Network DiagramThe hardware wasn’t cheap, but surprisingly, it wasn’t much more than I paid for the R7000 two years ago. If I had chosen the regular USG, the price difference would have been negligible.

As for the setup, it was easier than I thought. I racked the USG Pro, plugged in the switch, then the cloud key. Thankfully I had already run the line to the wireless AP so that was easy. I also threw in a Raspberry Pi server for fun. It took about 10 minutes to patch everything together. But what about the configuration?

Well, thanks to the Unifi software on the Cloud Key, I was able to “adopt” the other devices and have them configured in no time at all. My basic single vlan setup was ready to go out of the box. All totaled, I had the network up and running in 20 minutes. Time vs the R7000? Maybe an extra 10 minutes.

Unifi Dashboard

What has it been like living with “Enterprise Lite” hardware at home? Fantastic. Having a useful dashboard that I can glance at to see the status of the home network is a perk I didn’t think I would care about, but I’ve used it several times already. The speed is true gigabit on wired, the wireless coverage is solid, and we don’t have random drops in connectivity anymore. And as for patches… I’ve already had two patches come through for stack. It’s a simple matter of hitting the upgrade button for the device, or setting up auto-upgrade. As far as I’m concerned, I’m never going back to consumer gear again.

The Great Cleanup – Chicken Coop Restoration Part 2

March 4, 2017 at 8:01 pm

Welcome to Part 2 of the Coop Restoration series. In this post, I’ll go over the cleanup that I did this past weekend. The coop started out in rough shape. There were rolls of old insulation, mouse nests, mold… It had been used as a storage space for transient garbage for years. Below are some pictures after I pulled out the worst of the insulation. You can see some of the nest in the back left corner behind the cabinets and dog crate.

Once the big items were moved, sorted, and mostly thrown in the garbage, I did a preliminary sweep up. Turns out that half of the coop has unfinished hardwood floors! Bonus! After inspecting the chicken wire, I saw lots of rust, holes, and filth. There was no way to clean and reinforce it, so off it came. I also pulled off the old roosts and low panels as well.

I debated pulling out the old flooring and walls, but there’s only so much I can do in two weeks. The plan right now will be to disinfect them thoroughly, and lay some washable hardboard over them. This is the same material that I’ll be using for the lower two feet of wall as it’s easily cleanable and a great draft blocker.

After another sweep up, and vacuum, the place looked a lot better. The door was in pretty good shape, so that got left in place. I may have to pull it in the long run, though, as it currently swings inward and the wife and I are thinking about deep litter, but that’s an easy change at a later date.

Next up, in part 3: Framing and Re-Chicken-Wiring the coop!

Chicken Coop Restoration Part 1

February 28, 2017 at 6:01 pm

 

One of the wonderful things about our homestead is that we inherited several outbuildings. We have a large post-and-beam barn (40 x 60), equipment shed (16 x 24), storage shed (14 x 24 + lean-to), and a rather large chicken coop turned racing pigeon coop (14 x 24). Yes, you read that right. The previous owners really loved their racing pigeons and converted a perfectly good chicken coop into a palatial (for a pigeon) loft! Unfortunatly, the barn is the only structure in good shape, having been rebuilt by the previous owner. The rest of the outbuildings are in various states of disrepair.

Since we’re starting the new year off with a focus on sustainability, it’s time to look at our outbuildings and restore them to their former glory! Or at least, to a usable state. The first project will be to rebuild the chicken coop and get some birds in!

About the Chicken Coop

External view of the chicken coop

The Coop is a semi-insulated structure, elevated on piers, with a door on the short end closest to the house. It has several windows along the south wall, electricity, and a freeze-proof yard hydrant, and is in desperate need of a paint job amongst other things. Inside, there are two large rooms separated by wall. Each of those rooms has a wired off coop area and an open area. The previous owners must really have loved their racing pigeons to build such a large structure for them!

Original layout of chicken coop

Plan for the Chicken Coop

In addition to the basic cleanup of the building, the goal for the coop project is to make it able to hold a brooder in two weeks. As part of that, we want to do three main things: extend the interior coop wall to include the exterior chicken door, create removable roosting space, and build exterior-accessible nesting boxes.

  1. By extending just one section of the coop to include the exterior chicken door, we can keep more room for storage of supplies for the birds and other critters. If we end up running more birds than this space allows, I can always extend the entire wall.
  2. The roost space will be angled and removable. When brooding chicks, the roost will come out and the hover-brooder will go in the corner.
  3. Finally, having nesting boxes that we can access without having to go into the coop itself is just easier in the long run. I would very much like to have roll-out nesting boxes, but they tend to be expensive and we already have enough expenses rehabbing the coop this year.

Planned layout for chicken coop

So, what do you think?

Next Up, in part 2: The Great Cleanup!

What to do with an old Christmas tree farm?

October 21, 2015 at 4:29 pm
It's dark in there...

It’s dark in there…

As the missus and I sit and talk about our new homestead and the directions that we are thinking about taking it, one problem keeps coming up: the old Christmas tree stand. You see, dear reader, our homestead used to be a Christmas tree farm back in the 80s. Unfortunatly, the previous owners decided not to keep the farm going and let the trees grow up. On the surface this may not appear to be an issue, that is, until you consider planting densities.

Normal pine tree stands are planted at about 400-500 trees per acre. This allows for them to grow straight and healthy. Stands like that can be used for lumber and wood pulp and can net a good amount of money when they mature. However, Christmas tree farms are planted at 1,000 – 1,500 trees per acre. This is no problem if trees are kept small and regularly trimmed… Unfortunatly, that’s no the case here. Our stand is dense. It’s dark in there. This level of density leads to really unhealthy trees, and from the research I’ve been doing, it appears that there is not much that can be done.

It seems that our options are limited to the following:

  • Leave it be – The trees will keep growing, and will start dying off. This will likely result in a bad situation for both domestic and wild animals, not to mention the lack of productivity of that patch of the homestead.
  • Selective thinning – This would involve either getting a lumber/pulp company in to selectively harvest every other row of trees. This may not be an option because of the density. You can’t really get equipment in there. That means it might just be me with a chainsaw.
  • Harvest the whole thing – This is the option that I really don’t like, but seems to be the best all around. It would net some cash from the sale of the wood and would allow us to plant a new, healthy, forest and silvopasture using permaculture principles. The main problem here would be handling the stumps and the time it would take for a new forest to establish itself.

In case anyone is interested, I’ve also compiled a few links on the topic.

And here is a are some additional photos: