Monday, November 29, 2021

Packing It In

My wife and I made one more quick trip down to the garden before calling it good for the winter. With a new storage facility back at our house on the edge of town, I am going to take over lawn care duties starting in the spring and so picked up a battery operated weed eater to help in that regard. I wanted to try it out and so brought it with me. It made quick work of the weeds around the strawberry beds and underneath the old apple tree. Above is what we refer to as our berry patch which is in the remains of our original orchard where only three decrepit trees remain. Hopefully in the near future there will be strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and grapes growing there.

The north end of our east garden was really wet for much of last year and probably a reason why the popcorn crop didn't do all that well. So more soil was added to it to build it up to allow for better drainage. Hopefully that will fix the problem.

Above is our new orchard now on the other end of the garden area. All told, we planted six fruit trees, this year and three survived the very wet spring we had. The three that died though have a guarantee and will replaced in the spring when new stock has been obtained. The three pears that we planted in late summer however seemed to be doing well before the cold snap caused them to lose their leaves. 

 Our arched trellis was a big success, so much so, we would like to expand our wire support program in our garden. Next year we are looking to obtain some more wire "hog panels" and fence posts to create a place for our peas and beans to climb. We probably won't form them in an arch and will keep these more temporary so we can rotate their location in the garden. Since the vines were all long dead, we pulled them down to make room for next year's crop and piled them next to the asparagus bed where we will burn them along with the asparagus bed in late winter. Now all that is left is to dream and flip through seed catalogs until spring.

Friday, November 26, 2021



The backstory.

I had just finished up with fitting out our new walk-in pantry when news of Covid in Seattle hit the news. It just hit me that there may be a long period of shut down just like in China occurring here so my wife and I both went out to two different stores that day and stocked up on shelf stable foods. We filled out pantry completely up in one day. As it turned out, it wasn't a week later when our grocery store was nearly emptied by frenzied people stocking up and it would be months before it returned to a fully stocked condition. I was fortunate in that instance though neither of us thought to stock up on toilet paper. Live and learn.

I should have made the connection that with more people stockpiling food, that it might cross over into canning supplies for gardens but I didn't. By the time our garden was producing that year and I decided I needed to get some more jars and lids, they were completely sold out and would remain that way for the rest of the year. I filled every single jar we owned and would have filled up more if I had them. I think it was eight months later in the garden off season when I started seeing jars and lids on the shelves again and so I decided to stock up. They last forever and with an orchard started and more things being grown in our garden all the time, I knew I would eventually use them.

The new jars sat in boxes piled next to my old shelves for another year before I finally decided it was time to do something about it. So I went to my lumber yard to pick up a stack of pine 1"x8"x8' boards only to find out that they only had a handful and every single one was split, shaped like a U or cupped like a rainbow. So I ended up getting a couple 1"x10"x10' boards and a stack of 1"x8"x6' boards. The latter, I didn't know they even carried such an odd length (probably why they were in stock) and they were more efficient to use since my new shelf was going to be three feet wide. The 10" wide boards were overkill and cost me more but saved me another trip at some indeterminate time in the future when they finally restocked their supply. I ripped them down to size and got to work.

Above you see the new canning shelf set into place. The original shelves I built to hold quart or pint jars but we rarely use quart jars anymore. The new one I built for pint jars only. For some reason, by the time I got out to the garage to start building, the height of it grew two inches in my head so it was too tall and I had to "adjust" the height as you can see in the top picture by cutting off the top. But I got it in place and screwed to the wall and unloaded all the boxes of jars. I then empties the other shelves of empty jars and moved them over to the new shelf as well and then organized everything we had so it was all grouped together in kind. 

So our garden season is done for this year and all those new jars will just remain that way until next summer but they are there and I know someday, they will be filled with things that we preserved from our orchard and garden. It is also comforting to know that if another pandemic comes our way, we won't starve for awhile. Messy behinds are a possibility but empty stomachs won't be.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

A Bat Story

My wife suffers from the inability to sleep much past 3 a.m. So I was amazed recently when I woke up much later and she told me there was a bat in the house and I hadn't been woken by her terrified screaming. She said she had stifled her screams as she swung at it with a broom. She asked me to hunt it down and remove it.

But I've been down this road before and knew that searching for the bat was useless. They are such tiny creatures and can crawl into tiny dark spots and short of completely dismantling the house, I probably wouldn't find it until it presented itself again. I kept my eyes peeled all day but say nary a bat.

That evening my wife was disappointed that I hadn't seen the bat and was fearfully contemplating another early morning encounter. It was at that point, I learned that she had actually hit the bat with the broom during her first encounter, hard enough that it squealed at her. At that point, I figured that it had been injured enough that we would probably never find it until we found mummified remains or smelled it decomposing somewhere.

The following morning, my wife reported no bat encounters which seemed to confirm my injured bat theory. But after returning home after dropping off kids at school, my mother-in-law told me she had found the bat during the night and not only that, caught it! Above is the present she gave me.  I don't know how on earth she caught the thing in that box but I'm guessing the cloth inside it played a part somehow.

I shook the box gently and the bat was still alive so I took it outside and released it on the back patio. At that point, I wasn't sure if it was an injury, the daylight, or the fact that the temperature was just above freezing, but the bat just sort of laid there occasionally moving it's nose. I left it along and a half hour later it was gone so I'm assuming it was just cold and stunned and not injured. So hopefully the bat is now back where ever it likes to hang out during the day and eating its fill of obnoxious mosquitoes and other insects by night. 


Monday, November 22, 2021

T-Shirt Blanket

 Last year we helped clean out the farm closets of some of my mom's clothes. Some we sold for a pittance at a garage sale this spring, the bulk we gave to Goodwill, but we still ended up with a sack of personalized T-shirts that others wouldn't be interested in but meant a lot to my mom. I wasn't sure about what to do with them at the time but kept them in a sack in the basement. 

By chance, a friend of mine posted a Facebook post on a T-Shirt quilt she had made for someone else and I seized the opportunity to ask if she would do the same for me. She was done for the winter but promised to add me to her list the following winter after her garden was done for the year. Well that time arrived and you can see the results above. 

I didn't end up with enough for a quilt but if we used some of the backs (or fronts) with no writing or uninteresting writing and mixed it in with the rest, she had enough for a large throw blanket so that is what I signed up for. I picked it up last week when I got the call and brought it home. 

I'm not much of a blanket person but the girls really like snuggling up under blankets this time of year while watching movies so I know it will be used a lot. Our oldest daughter who has lots of memories of her Grandma, I think also appreciated the fact that these shirts had belonged to her and she remembered her wearing this one and that. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Not Much of Any One Thing

 I don't know what has happened this week but it has just flown by and I have little to show for it. Or perhaps I've just haven't taken any pictures of things I have been working on which would give me something to talk about. I think it is a little of both.

Looking for a project, I pulled one off my lengthy list and began it earlier this week but haven't taken a single picture. It isn't real glamorous I suppose but I'll try to get one tomorrow when I put the finishing touches on it.

My siding came in a full month early! Perhaps it wasn't stuck out in the bay of Los Angeles like they thought it was when I placed my order. Having never installed vinyl in my life and this is vertical vinyl instead of the typical horizontal vinyl siding, I've had to do so research on how to make it work. 

I just received a project that I sent out because it is well out of my wheelhouse of skills and it is upstairs sitting in a shopping bag but I haven't yet looked at it. I'm going to wait for my wife and look at it together. Perhaps I'll remember to take a picture.

My mom's death anniversary is coming up. I can't believe it will have been three years already. It was going to be a busy day but school was cancelled for next week so I'll have plenty of time to complete my annual walk in her memory. 

Thanksgiving is coming up and we have no plans. We are thinking about volunteering during the day and having a couple who are friends but have no family in the U.S. over for a Thanksgiving supper. 

We may be having our first jellyfish burial coming up soon. The oldest seems to be dealing with it well but we'll see how it goes. I won't even joke about wrapping it in some sushi rice and dipping it in soy sauce.

Word from my wife there is a bat in the house. I haven't seen it all day but I haven't gone looking for it and it is daylight right now. Last time this happened, it was quite hard swinging the racket with two screaming women hanging on my back. 

So I have probably lots to expound upon if I can get my act into gear. Perhaps next week.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

I'm Living In the Future

 As I mentioned earlier, we had an unexpected death in the family and I felt I needed to go and support those who it affected most. They were there for me when my mom was dying and I have never forgotten that. So when word of the death came, I bought a plane ticket and flew into the deep south.

I remember my first flights as a young boy flying out west for a vacation with some distant relatives. It was such a treat to sit in a comfortable seat and have people wait on you as you were whisked thousands of miles away in a very short time. This feeling lasted well into my 20's until something shifted in that industry forever. Now, I look forward to flying just about as much as I would a double root canal. The seats are shoved so close together and shrunk to the point where claustrophobia sets in. This causes the passengers to be in foul moods. You are lucky now to get a tiny package of snack mix on all but the longest of flights. Airlines now charge for everything, including bags so now people are walking onto the plane carrying even the kitchen sink which leads to even more compaction. The experience of flying now feels more like what a piece of pork does immediately before entering into the grinder and sausage press. It is such a feeling of relief to be squirted out the airplane door at the destination.

It also baffles me how in a country where huge efforts are occurring to eliminate classes of people, that airlines and airports have been allowed to rampantly promote them. The affluent are celebrated and pampered right in front of the noses of the poor and nobody says a word. I understand the desire of obtaining a more spacious seat for more money but I don't understand the desire to rush on board the plane first only to have to sit there for 40 minutes as the rest of us shuffle by bumping you with bags. The only reason that I can guess it that those with money want to be seen as someone with money. 

I ponder how the experience of flying will change in the future. I'm sure it won't be pretty unless you have a lot of money to spend on airplane tickets. I myself prefer to drive if I can and see the world around me but this trip really didn't allow for it and so I flew. I hope I don't have to do so again for quite awhile. 

While flying lacked something to desire, the rental car actually exceeded expectations. I had reserved the basic car where I full expected to be rubbing shoulders with the person seated next to me but when we got to the huge parking ramp in Atlanta to pick it up, they were out of those kind and so we got an SUV instead with lots of room. But mother nature made up for the bonus by providing a down pour of rain for our two hour drive to rural Alabama. 

I wasn't sure what to expect of a southern funeral but it was a nice simple ceremony much like what ours are like here in the Midwest. We spent a day supporting grieving loved ones into the next chapter of their lives. Having recently been on the other side of this equation, I know it won't be an easy row to hoe for awhile. But amid the support and the grief, it was nice to see family again that I don't get to see all that often these days. Despite all the miles that separate us, we are still family. 

Then in the wee hours of the morning, we were up again to repeat the process of being ground up and stuffed into a intestinal casing only to feel that sense of relief when we were squirted out back on home turf. This wasn't the future that I envisioned way back as a kid on my first flight.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Landscape Evolution

 Back when we just thinking about buying this house, I walked around the perimeter snapping photos which turned out to be fortunate as I often look back at them. This shows the backside of our garage and the nook outside of our dining room. It has been a problem spot for us to deal with.

On of our first projects was to reside the house (covering up the unused side door) and then we planted a bunch of raspberry bushes on the backside of the garage. The first mistake was just that they didn't get enough sun on that side of the house and animal depredation took care of what remained in short order. Weeds soon grew back up in that spot.

Although I can't seem to find a picture of it, soon after the above picture, I installed landscape edging and some weed control fabric along with more mulch. The edging helped keep the mulch up on the slope a lot better. I also replaced the rotten logs holding up the earth at the end of the concrete wing sticking our from our house with a small rock retaining wall.  All this helped to hold things in place better which made for a great home for ground squirrels. 

For some reason, ground squirrels called this area home for a long time. They always dug holes in the corner up next to the foundation of our basement which essentially funnels any rainwater up against the basement wall. It fortunately kept all that water out and still has but I would rather not have the water up next to the foundation to start with and so have eradicated the ground squirrel colony multiple times. Once eradicated, I will fill all the holes in and life will be good for a time but for some reason, they always seem to come back. I'm not sure if they can smell the previous tenants or it is just that prime of a location but they loved crawling under the mulch, chewing a hole in the landscape fabric and burrowing a new hole, all in the space of just an hour or two when my eyes were turned.

Some of you may remember this picture from earlier this year. While paying for delivery of a load of building lumber and supplies, I thought I might as well maximize that payment by ordering a bunch of landscaping wall pavers. It turned out to be about a third of what we would actually end up needing but it was the best guess I had at the time.

Due to the slope and poor soil (mostly clay), we decided to build a retaining wall there and backfill it with good soil. It will make house maintenance much easier having a flat terrace to work from, the soil will hopefully allow some things to grow, even on the shady side of our house and perhaps the terrace will discourage deer from thinking it is a smorgasbord. I wasn't particularly keen in having this project going at the same time as the greenhouse project with fall being short enough as it is, but my wife said she would do the bulk of the work. She indeed would build the retaining wall though I would end up moving much of the fill materials. 

We ended up using some 250 concrete retaining wall pavers, 6 tons of black dirt, topped with another layer of landscape fabric and topped with 4 tons of gravel. There is a slight kink in the wall much to my wife's dismay but to her credit, it was almost impossible to make a straight wall that slopes back and ascends a complex curve. Due to the location, every thing was brought in by hand and by wheelbarrow and took a fair amount of time in evenings and on weekends. 

As opportunity presented itself, the current occupant of the ground squirrel home decided to call the inside of our garage home and he/she and I had a long battle one day that resulted in me possibly inflicting harm by stomping on a pile of toys it was hiding under. Later I saw it again out in the open and not wanting to run from me so I put the thing out of it's misery. Now with all that soil, landscape fabric and rocks covering it's home by over two feet, I'm hoping that is the last I will have to worry about ground squirrels in that area of our property.

For now, it is undecided what will be planted there. It will need to be low light thriving things that deer and rabbits don't like so hostas, the crack of the deer world, are definitely out. Below it are the remains of our rose garden which is now covered with recycled old landscaping rock that we found as we were putting in the base layers of the retaining wall. They need some heavy pruning but will probably remain for the time being. 

With this project done, our house is now about 75% landscaped around it. The remaining 25% is out of view on the left of this picture and underneath our raised deck. There is a decrepit concrete patio that is doing more damage to the house than good and is currently home to my woodpile that I use to feed our fireplace in the winter. There are also a couple of raised bed garden boxes which have done poorly over the years thanks to the low light conditions much of the year. Perhaps next year we can tackle that area and plant the above area. There is always something to do.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

This and That and Adieu

 Life has been pretty busy for me so I haven't spent a lot of time online in the past couple weeks. I have mostly been working on finishing up a big landscaping project that my wife started despite my protests and the weather hasn't been cooperating. I will do a post on it at some point but it will require some time looking through old pictures to illustrate it and I haven't had time to do even that.

My brother came up again and we were preparing to spend our week on the farm doing our annual terrace and sprout patrol. For those new to the blog, it means we drive through all the fields fixing broken and displaced tile risers that help drain water away in a controlled fashion instead of eroding precious top soil. Along the way, we look for trees, especially those with thorns, that are growing up in undesirable places where they are likely to cause future flat tires or other damage. However, a family emergency called my brother immediately back home and so I've been out on my own doing the same job, but slower and with nobody to talk too. However, the weather was nice at that point so it was good being out and about despite being alone.

I also took some time to close out our garden for the year by removing all the wire cages and mowing what vegetation was left. I then tilled up everything and will call it a year though I hope to spend a morning servicing the tiller yet before it gets too cold for such things. I'm glad that the weekly trips down to the farm won't be necessary for awhile and we can just go for family reasons.

The family emergency that called my brother back home didn't end well and now I'm going to be heading to the deep south for a few days to attend a funeral. So I won't be around here to moderate comments or create new posts for awhile. Never fear if you do leave a comment, I'll see that it gets published upon my return. Hopefully, as my backlog of posts is thoroughly exhausted at this point, I will have some new stories to write about upon my return as well. 

Friday, November 5, 2021

The Finish Line

My wife can be impatient at times. I am nearly daily asked if IT is done yet when we both know it may be well into next year before it will be completely done. I know she really isn't referring to that but is actually referring to when she can start moving stuff into the greenhouse side of it. So with that in mind, I made use of a spectacular sunny Saturday, the last one in October and possibly the year, to build the benches inside the greenhouse. 

The were a fairly simple build with the structure made out of 2x4's screwed to the walls and topped with plastic deck boards. That was my first experience with plastic deck boards and I must say, I'm not a big fan. They were all over the map in length, which I didn't discover until I had carried them all down the hill and into the greenhouse. That meant that they didn't line up with the support I had carefully measured and placed at eight feet from each wall. They were also not the easiest to fasten down with the blind fastening system they came with. It might be just the brand since these were basic ones from our local big box store because that is where they have them in stock. But in the end, I guess they look nice.

I was able to recycle the plywood that came as a protective sandwich for the polycarbonate roof panels and turn them into the dividing wall between the halves of the building. They are scarred up a bit and two different thicknesses but are adequate for the task at hand. Eventually we are going to paint them with some leftover house paint and perhaps enlist our kids to paint a mural of some sort on it with even more leftover paint. Then I plan to install a garden sink on that end plumbed up to a rainwater catching system from gutters I still need to install. All that won't happen until next year.

But when I got the benches installed, I ceremoniously gave my wife the keys to the door and she started moving things in immediately. I know the question of is it done yet will subside for awhile, at least until she needs water in the spring.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Side Job In Waiting


As you can see, I got the other set of doors installed. I went with double doors for a couple reasons. I wanted something wide enough I could drive a zero turn lawnmower through for storage and I wanted something mouse proof. From experience on the farm, mice are unforgiving to wires, plastic and various parts of just about anything when given free rein all winter long.

Also, at least on just this side (at the time of the photo), I got everything trimmed out so it is essentially water tight and ready for siding. We haven't yet decided on siding but are leaning towards plastic unfortunately. I'm not a big fan but it will meet our needs. We have a healthy supply of woodpeckers who poked holes into any wood surface on our house for nearly ten years before I got everything clad in cement, plastic trim or metal flashed. Wood siding is definitely out. I don't want to do cement siding like our house by myself and it seems a bit of overkill for a storage/greenhouse building. I don't want to do metal as it will match absolutely nothing around. So that leaves us with either stone or plastic and plastic is more reasonable price wise and easy to install alone. Besides, it comes in a variety of flavors including "stone" and "wood shake" looking. I'm leaving that decision up to my wife.

As I write this, more rain is nearly here so I've quit for the day to let the caulking cure. I have two more sides left to trim and then I'm done outside until siding and the weather to install it arrives. It may be this year or next spring. Inside I still need to fill the gap in the roof area between rooms to try and limit humidity to just one half of the building, the greenhouse half, and then start building things for the inside of the greenhouse. My wife has lots of shelves, counters, sinks, etc. planned. Those I will build weather permitting and hopefully have them done by early spring.

Monday, November 1, 2021

This and That

Above is the end result of a small project that I began probably several months ago. Earlier this spring we planted a row of blackberry and raspberry plants. Half of the raspberry plants died immediately but the blackberry on the end are thriving and a couple raspberry plants are still hanging in there. They are all thornless varieties and it is recommended to build some sort of trellis to contain the canes and minimize the space they take up. So I built some supports with wire strung between them to support the canes, presumably next year when they get tall enough. To the right is one end of an eventual row of grapes. We only have one plant there and it too needed some sort of trellis to allow it to get up off the ground. But it looks pretty sorry right now and so I didn't photograph it.

We were harvesting the first sweet potatoes I have ever grown and I came across a root that looked similar though slightly paler. Thinking it was the mother of all sweet potatoes, I followed it for ten feet across the garden until I saw that it was actually an upo root. I think I understand why the upo is the most prolific garden veggie I have ever seen if they can put out roots that go for ten feet under soil!

About is our sweet potato harvest along with the one lone watermelon we grew and a few odds and ends. The garden is mostly tilled up now. The next time we go back, we plan to mow off what is left, till up those areas and put everything to bed for the winter. It was a successful season despite the setbacks of spring.

 Although it is hard to see since they were just single panes of plexiglass, I did get the final four windows installed and flashed. I'm getting ready to install the doors and then do some trim work around the outside and I will be done on the outside anyway until I get siding and weather to install it in. I still have some work inside to fix things up to be ready to use but with windows and a door, I can probably do that on nicer days all winter long.