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Friday, January 29, 2010

A Little Progress, and a Discovery

Yesterday, I got most of what I want off the deck pried up.  It was roughly half of the deck, which I discovered wasn't 24X24- it was more like 18X18, but still too large.  There is a lot of river rock as ballast under the deck, which is a double-edged sword, as I wrote before. Great for reuse, but a pain to get up, and it needs to come up.  I still need to mark the edge of the deck on the stringers and the perpendicular boards at the ends, take up the last piece of decking and cut all the stringers a stringer's width in from the outside edge and then nail up an end stringer pieced together from the cut stringers.  Before I can even make the cuts, though, I need to move the piers underneath the ends to where the new ends will be, which is going to be a chore. A hellish chore. There are fifteen stringers. Once the stringers and perpendicular decking are cut, and the new end stringer is on, I can reinstall the last piece of decking and put up the fascia board and then I'll be done with the deck.

I realize while looking at it now, even in its half-demolished state, that less deck will make the yard look bigger, which in fact it will be, because I'm gaining the square footage that I wanted to use for the kitchen garden beds. Those are to be raised beds made from the decking pieces that I removed. I mentioned that the deck was made from a product called 'Eon', which I gather from internet searches is no longer being used for decking. Evidently, it cracks in extreme weather, and stains pretty badly, although we've not had either of these issues come up.  People also complained that it creaks, which it does, especially when expanding and contracting in fluctuating temperatures, and that static builds up on it, to which I can also attest, having zapped myself mightily reaching for the sliding glass door handle on several occasions after walking across the deck.  Eon is not a composite, but is made completely of plastic, or so I read, so you can understand my wish to reuse it, aside from it being the logical thing to do money-wise.  It would be an awful lot of plastic to throw in the landfill. Talk about your linear product cycle. Anyway, I'll make the best of what I've got here.

One of the things that I discovered yesterday was that part of the deck is covering a concrete patio, which is bad news indeed.  I'd hoped to cut a hole in the deck somewhere in between the sliding glass doors and sink a pier and post for the arbor. Now I can't do that because of the patio.  I need to do some research to find out if I can hang the cross pieces of the arbor from the eaves of the house.  If not, then I'm not at all sure what we're going to do about the arbor, because the deck is eighteen feet long and that's too long a span to not have some sort of support.  So even though it feels like two steps forward, and one step back, I still have my net one step forward, which is still in the right direction.

You may be wondering why with all that yard left, I would be worried about using the newly claimed space for the kitchen garden.  My plan for the 16X8 foot space beyond the kitchen garden bed is to make it for the canning vegetables and three sisters, i.e., tomatoes, and corn, beans, and pie pumpkins.  And by canning, I mean freezing, too. I'm not a big fan of either canned corn or canned beans, but I like them frozen just fine.  Beyond that space, I have a 575 square foot space earmarked for growing grains.

Years ago, I ran across an out of print book at the Beaverton public library called Small Scale Grain Raising, by Gene Lodgson of The Contrary Farmer fame (another good read).  I liked Small Scale Grain Raising so well that I wanted to buy a copy, which is when I found out that it was out of print.  Amazon had a seller with a used copy for seventy bucks.   So then I contemplated 'losing' the library's copy.  Then my inner angel wrested control of me back from my inner devil, and suggested a compromise, which was to photocopy everything I needed from it, which I did.  I'm glad to say that a second edition is now out, which was published in May of 2009, and I got one for less than twenty dollars from good  ol' Amazon.com.  Anyway, as I said, I'd like to try my hand at raising some wheat. I have to build the soil up there first, and then try it. I'm also aware that I won't be able to use that same space for grain every year because you need to rotate soybeans in for their nitrogen-fixing effects.  I have no interest in soybeans, so I'll probably just cover crop it in white or yellow clover, which is good bee fodder, and probably things like comfrey and stinging nettles, which are great fertilizer-makers for your compost pile, and then turn chickens out on it to free-range in a chicken tractor. That's if I do chickens- the jury is still out on that one. Don't want to bite off more than I can chew, and I have quite the mouthful already.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Deck Has to Go

When Steve and I first bought this house, it already came with a huge deck on it.  A big, ugly deck.  It is so ugly in fact, that when an acquaintance at work saw this very picture right before we closed she said, "God- what an ugly deck!"  And I wasn't offended because it is.  And it's huge:  24 feet by 24 feet.  Way too big. By the way, our house is brown now, with white trim, and that window you see in front of the deck is now an eight foot sliding glass door.

The deck was made from a recycled plastic material, much like Trex decking, but instead it was a product from The Home Depot called 'Eon'.  Steve and I were willing to let it remain for a while- it needed to eventually be cut down in size, but we were willing to wait.  That was, until we spent our first summer here and we found out what that deck is all about.  If you're contemplating a plastic decking material, be forewarned that it soaks up a lot of heat if it has direct sun.  Our deck is on the south side of the house with no shade trees, so during the day it would soak up a lot of heat and then radiate it into the house via the two sliding glass doors.  Even in the spring on a nice day, it starts to get too hot in the house.  And last summer we had two days where it was over 106 Fahrenheit and one over 105, so the deck has to go.

We finally had some clear weather yesterday, so I got started on pulling the deck apart.  I've been putting it off because I'm concerned about mud being an issue during the winter.  But it needs to come off now so that I can get the planter boxes up.  I almost got half of what needs to come off done yesterday, and hope that today I'll be able to finish removing the requisite number of planks to leave ten feet out on it.  I'll still leave it twenty-four feet long, though.   The really good news is that whoever put up the deck (and charged the owner who had it built five thousand dollars for it) put small river rock under it for ballast.  This is good news because mud is no longer an issue, and I'll be able to reuse the rock somewhere else in the garden, like a pathway.  River rock is the next best thing for pathways after pea gravel because it is almost as easy to move a hoe through for weeding. A stirrup hoe, if you're wondering.

We'll put up an arbor over what I leave of the deck and along the back of the house later this coming spring after we're finished moving the planter box that's directly behind the house.   We can cover the arbor in reed fencing until we have something deciduous properly growing over it.  I haven't decide what to put there- maybe grapes, maybe hops. I'd love to have at least one Cecile Brunner rose, or perhaps a Dortmund, but like I said, I haven't decided.  It really should be something that produces food, or beverages, in the case of both grapes and hops.  I'd really love to have lemons growing through it, like you see on some of those glorious pictures of Italy, but let's not kid ourselves here. I live in Oregon, which is not known for its lemons.  Besides which, lemons are not deciduous.  I also think trying to keep them protected during the winter would be some kind of nightmare.  No- they'll be better off in the green house, which is also in the future.

If it seems like I have a lot of projects cut out, it's because I do, but that's okay because I've found that everything gets done in its own time, if you'll only make a start.  Besides, this kind of busyness keeps me off the streets and out of the pool halls. Not that that would really be an issue.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

You Probably Have One of These at Home


I recently ran across a post comparing compost pails.  The author had decided it was high time to replace her old one, which was the kind with holes in the top and a charcoal filter.  It was broken down and not doing a great job keeping the smells down, so she replaced it with another lidded compost pail.

Actually, it's the lid on compost pails that makes what's in them stink.  Vegetable matter rotting in an anaerobic environment smells bad because the bacteria needed for breaking it down also need air- so without it, they die and rot as well.  It's why the gas we pass stinks (and why we have it in the first place), and how methane digesters create methane, and why an improperly aerated compost pile will smell like garbage.   Vegetable matter rotting in an aerobic environment doesn't stink, which is why your compost pile doesn't stink if it's aerated properly.

I used to keep kitchen scraps in a lidded yogurt container until I couldn't stand going out to the compost pile nearly every day, sometimes twice, usually in the rain.  And I couldn't stand the smell anymore. I nearly ordered one of those fancy compost pails online, but decided that part of the problem would still be there- it would smell bad- and also because I honestly couldn't decide which one I wanted.  But I had to do something, so I recycled a gallon milk container by cutting straight down behind the opening so that I could leave on the handle, and then straight out to the front of the jug. It's nice because the handle makes carrying it a cinch, plus it also makes a nice backer so things don't go all over the wall when I toss them in.  It washes up okay, doesn't stink, and the price was right: $0.  And I'm reusing the carton (well, most of the carton).  And I've said it before, and I'll say it again: reuse is the most energy-efficient form of recycling there is.

It's certainly not the most glamorous thing to sit out on the counter, but anybody visiting will get the idea of how things are at our house pretty quickly. Now that you know all this, and even if you don't try my compost pail, you should probably go out and turn your compost pile.  And don't feel bad- mine needs it too.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Come On Spring!!

I'm not sure if garlic is supposed to be up this early, but mine is.  I think it's because the weather has been unseasonably warm lately- it was almost 60 the other day.   At any rate, the garlic is up, and I'm keen enough to get something else sprouting so I started mung bean, radish, and alfalfa seeds in my kitchen sprouter today.  I'd be starting garden seeds in the garage except the allium seeds haven't shown up yet (all save the leeks- I can at least get them started) but the heat mat isn't here yet either.  The heat mat thermostat showed up today, though.

The other thing that showed up was my used copy of Common-sense Compost Making by the Quick Return Method, by Maye Bruce, which I found on Amazon.   Thanks to Fiona over at The Cottage Smallholder for putting me on to this method of compost making.  I need as much compost as I can possibly get as quickly as I can possibly get it.  You know, I hear a lot of bad things said about the big outfits like Amazon, but they do provide a place for the small guys to market their stuff, which is how I found my copy (and which came from a small guy in the UK, by the way).  It also makes for a one stop place for consumers to go looking for things, and I have found great deals on Amazon.  I used to buy software and various peripherals from them a lot back when I was purchasing for my ex-employer. 

Well anyway, this wasn't supposed to be a pitch for an e-tailer. I just wanted to say I'm itching to get started.  We're supposed to have clear weather for the next couple of days, so I'm going to attack the deck and start dismantling it tomorrow.  Then I can clear out the cardboard boxes I've been stashing in the kitchen and spread them all over the yard to start the sheet composting and general lawn killing.  Then I can get back at that corner in the kitchen and get my hutch started!  My husband has the patience of Job, because when I get projects started, I usually have multiple things going on at the same time and the house is usually a wreck.  I have framed photographs in black frames laid out on a large piece of paper on the living room floor waiting to be hung on the wall at the end of the hallway.  They are there because I started to unpack the picture and book boxes that were still in the guest room.  So the guest room is a little roomier, but the living room is a little messier.  Hopefully, I'll get at hanging them up after dinner. I can't be banging on the walls during business hours (5:50AM - 2:30PM PST) because it's right outside Steve's office, and then I think he would lose his patience.

I think he and I will both be happier when the weather warms up and I can spend most of my time outside.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It's About Time


Last night I really struggled to get some tendons and silver skin trimmed off a pork tenderloin, and I have good knives.  So I decided that it was high time that I sharpened them all.  Years ago, when I tried to ask the folks at Williams-Sonoma if they knew of anyone who sharpened knives, they said they didn't, and pointed me in the direction of their electric knife sharpeners. I was a little annoyed at the time, but I realize in retrospect that it was a good idea.  Even though I hone my chef's knife on my honing steel every time I use it, it can still get a little unhappy and get a little dull on me, which was the problem last night. So I really needed to get out the knife sharpener.

Thing is, if I was going to go to all that trouble, I may as well sharpen all of them, and if I was going to go to all that trouble, it was high time that I installed my magnetic knife rack and get them out of the drawer which is where they were likely doing most of their dulling.   I've been putting this chore off because I have to hang it on a tiled wall, which means that I would need to drill through the grout and possibly part of the tile, which would mean a masonry bit.  I have an impact driver, not a regular drill, so that means I had to buy an adapter chuck- which I did months and months ago, but you know how it is with a chore that has a lot of room for screwing up- you tend to out off your date with destiny.

Well that day came today, and it went fine, and now I have my knife rack up!  So now I can cross off one more thing from my to do list, which is pretty lengthy.  What is it that recovering alcoholics say?

Everyday, I'm getting better and better.

Homesteading in a Trailer

This link is for a wikihow on how to homestead in a trailer, something I hadn't thought of before.  Not that I can now, but in another time and another place, maybe...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Score!

I have blown through a lot of firewood this winter just learning the difference between heating up the house and keeping it that way on rainy days and on sunny days.  We also didn't commit to buying enough Bear firewood bricks until late in the game, so I burned a lot of cord wood that I didn't need to- the Bear bricks are much less expensive, make good use of waste wood, and burn pretty hot.  If I'd known more about how the stove works with the house and the weather, and known how to utilize the Bear Bricks sooner, we'd have a lot more cord wood right now. We're now down to about an eighth of a cord, not counting what we have stashed for power failures.   So now I'm wiser, but my intention with the wood stove was to try to keep our heating costs as low as possible, and not be beholden to The Man.   Well, the gas man, that is.

To that end, I mentioned to Steve recently that we should be on the look out for cut up trees lying around, and be ready to grab what we find when we find it.  It seems that in our neck of the woods, there are always cut up trees lying around.  Today on the way home from a spate of shopping, I espied a stack of fresh cut logs, two turns from the house, and about 100 yards away.  We'd been hearing the chainsaw pretty much all morning, and there they were.  "Firewood!" I chirped, "we should get that!"  So we parked the car in the garage and before we put anything away or did anything else, we grabbed work gloves and the wheelbarrow, and three quick trips later, we now have roughly an eighth of a cord of wood on the empty end of the stack.  It won't be ready until next spring (although it might be ready next winter, given that our garage gets pretty darn hot and will act something like a kiln).   If we can make a few more scores like that, we may not have to buy cord wood this summer.  I think we'll still order a pallet of the Bear bricks from Coastal Farm and Ranch Supply, because with delivery, it was only $260, and they are pretty useful, even if they are a bit messy.

Speaking of scoring, our Canon digital camera has been giving us a lot of grief lately.  It evidently has a common problem with it, which is that the shutter gets stuck, and according to the research that Steve did, it will cost about $160, including shipping, to get it fixed.  Well, it cost around $300 new, and I'm not in love with this camera, so I said, why don't we buy a cheaper point and shoot and unload this one as-is on eBay?  Steve thought that was a pretty good idea, given that our Canon, which is on the low-end of digital SLRs was pretty heavy to lug around all the time. It also burns through four AA batteries like a baby burns through diapers.  It almost feels like you're changing them hourly.  He was all ready to buy a refurb'd Sony, when I said, what's the warranty on that?  Good question; he hadn't thought to look.  Hmmm, only three months.  Why don't we look for a new one with at least a year's warranty?  See what you can find on ANTonline.  He found an Olympus, 12MP, 5X optical zoom, image stabilization (a must for me- you'd think I was palsied, given some of the pictures I've taken) and it takes only two AA batteries.  Steve also mentioned that the last Olympus that he had lasted him twenty years, and when he was done with it, he got $70 for it on eBay.  And my dad's trusty, haul-it-all-over- the globe camera was an Olympus).  The Olympus FE-46 was around $87 on ANTonline, but Steve found it for around $79 with free shipping on Amazon.  He ordered the white pearl today, and I can't wait for it to show up, because I really want to throw the Canon across the room, and then we wouldn't get anything for it.  And this Olympus has a three year warranty.  Score!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Used Windows, Low Tech Kitchen Appliances and Hyperlinks


This morning as part of a trek to F. H. Steinbart's for brewing supplies, we went over to The Rebuilding Center on NE Mississippi to donate some used baseboard and tools that the old owner left at our house, and we picked up a single pane wooden window for me for a dollar so that I can make myself a cold frame with it. This is for hardening off seedlings that I haven't even planted yet, but as we all know, a lot of gardening is in the planning.  Speaking of planning, I'm planning a greenhouse for the backyard, and it dawned on me that this place would be a great source for used single pane windows from which an inexpensive greenhouse could be made.  We were looking at new green houses at the local building center last night and they want a few thousand dollars for one, which just isn't going to happen.  The regular price on single pane windows is two dollars, so the sale price of one dollar would be a good thing.  Unfortunately, I don't have room for storing a bunch of windows right now. I mean to safely store them.

The greenhouse is planned for this side of the summer kitchen- they are to share the same frame and roof, although the roof over the greenhouse will be out of that clear corrugated stuff, and the summer kitchen will probably be metal so that I can capture the rain off of it safely.  We don't want the fancy, meaning really expensive, outdoor kitchens that some folks spend several thousand dollars on.  I think we can run water out to it fairly easily, and I know where we can find a used sink and faucet for it (The Rebuilding Center!).

The summer kitchen will have an earthen oven in it, and a couple of rocket stoves sunk into a tiled counter.  Rocket stoves are extremely low tech, and if I knew how to include hyperlinks in this text, I would link information on them for you, because I think they are pretty cool.  At any rate, they use small pieces of wood, twigs really, which aren't good for anything else but starting a fire, and they burn pretty hot.  I don't want to be canning in the house this next summer- I plan on doing it outside.  I'm already saving all the wood ash from the stove for the rocket stoves, because ash is supposed to be the insulator of choice.  Anyway- I'm thinking about making the walls of the summer kitchen out of wattle and daub- I'm in the process of pruning the neighbor's apple trees and will have a boatload of long twigs, and lord knows, I have enough clay in the backyard.  Do I know how to do wattle and daub construction? No, but I don't think it's going to be rocket science either. I may not be able to figure out how to add hyperlinks to my blog, but I think I can figure out wattle and daub construction.  I'm fairly low-tech myself.  And handy.

Wait- I think I figured it out! Earth oven  Woo hoo! I did it! Here is one for rocket stoves.  And for those of you who don't know what wattle and daub is, I included a great link for that as well.

Well now I'm pretty satisfied- I finally figured out how to hyperlink in my posts, and I found a great source for used windows for the greenhouse today, as well as a good picture of what the frame for the summer kitchen needs to look like. 

Now I need to go find my Mastering the Art of French Cooking and get started on the Boeuf Bourguignon for dinner tomorrow. Steve's taking me out to dinner tonight. It's a date.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Wahhh!

I wrote too soon- none of the onion seeds I ordered were included in the shipment!! I sent off an email to ask why and when, so we'll see. I may have to order elsewhere.

Weeee!

The last of my seed orders is here! Which means that I can get the alliums started right away, and which also means that I'd better get that darn crop schedule put together.  The only thing left to arrive are twenty-five Jersey Giant asparagus crowns and a bunch of trees and berry canes.  I'm going to be gardening soon!!

My New Favorite

This is the my new favorite cooking implement.  I've been turning pancakes (and other things, with varying success) with my trusty Ekco spatula AKA pancake turner for, ummmm, wow! Thirty-two years! And while it's still doing its job, I recently considered that I've had it an awful long time and should probably have something to replace it should I need to. I mean, I have a second of just about every other cooking implement- I have two ladles- different sizes, but they do the same job.  I have only one potato masher, but I also have a ricer, and I also have a food mill.  I have two slotted spoons (one plastic, one metal), two perforated spoons (one plastic, one metal).  When my hand-held mixer finally broke (Sunbeam- twenty bucks new some time in the early eighties) I decided to replace it with an old-fashioned egg-beater- you know the kind where you hold the handle with one hand and wind the beater with the other - thinking that woman-powered instead of electrical would probably be a good way to go going forward. Its double is my 525 watt Kitchenaid stand mixer, who is named Big Bertha.  (Steve actually uses Big Bertha more than I do these days, and I must say, he does make beautiful yeast doughs that are a joy to work with, but I digress.) I have two sets of tongs- one long one for fishing stuff out of a large pot of boiling water (usually pasta) and a shorter, nylon-tipped one for the non-stick pan.   But I did not have a second pancake turner, and if I finally broke it, I would be in a world of culinary hurt.

Enter my Lamson Sharp turner.  I've been eyeing them for awhile, but you know- at $25 plus, they are awful darn expensive for what they are. Still, last December when we were ordering a gaufrette iron for Steve's sister for Christmas, I tacked a Lamson Sharp on the order for me.  Call it a Christmas present for myself, I just wanted one darn it.

Oh what a world of difference!! I would liken the change in my cooking that a Lamson Sharp has made to the difference a Brazilian wax made in Gwyneth Paltrow's sex life (really! I read it somewhere!).  How so, you query? I'm not sure what kinds of reasons Gwyneth would give, but I'll try to give you mine.

For starters, the balance in your hand.  Then there's the slightly angled edge and the tiny fillip of a curve at the tip that makes turning stuff over sooooo much easier. I no longer chase frying eggs around the pan.   Then there's the open spaces in it that drain off whatever liquid you're cooking something in so that all you pick up is the gnocchi or fish or crab cakes or home fries.  Then there's the very sharp edge that helps you finish cutting stuff up in the pan that you didn't quite get cut on the board.   Chopping up half-frozen bulk sausage while it's frying in the pan for sawmill gravy is a breeze. 

I can't say enough good thing about this stupid implement.  I'm just sorry that it took me so long to buy one. Yeah, the price put me off, but as Jimmy Dean once said, you get what you pay for.  This was worth it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Seeds of Inspiration

I mentioned a while back that I wanted to move my work bench under the garage window and use it for starting seeds.  What you see there is the seed starting tray that I purchased (218 cells) and the first of the paper pots I made with my Pot Maker, and one of the three fluorescent light fixtures that were in the garage when we moved in.  It's hanging from two chains, which are adjustable, so that I can lower the fixture when I'm starting the seedlings, and raise it as they get bigger.  At any rate, there is now one grow tube in the fixture and one regular fluorescent tube. I read somewhere that you get the best spectrum of light with two different tubes, so that is what I did.  The only thing that I need to find now is a heat mat, for a reasonable price and a tray for underneath the seed tray.  I would have purchased the tray from the company from which I got the seed tray (which was around eight bucks), but they wanted twenty dollars for it, and it brought the shipping up to fifty-four dollars! So I passed on that one.  But I am pretty excited to get my seed table together, and already have a lot of the seeds to get started.  The major shipment of seeds is still to come, and it also has my asparagus crowns, so I am pretty anxious to get that here.  It also has my onion and leek seeds, and I'd really like to get those started.

This week I tried to start pulling the deck apart, but the screws are Torx screws, so I had go get a Torx driver bit for my impact driver. Which I have now, so all I need is enough hours of good weather to get at it.  I'm almost done ripping the blasted barberry bushes out of the bed next to the driveway. I'm considering planting a couple of olive trees there, but haven't committed to anything; it's just fine with me to at least have the barberries out of the way.

The fruit and nut trees and raspberry canes will be shipped this month, and I have a spot to heel them in while I dig holes all over the place.  I am looking forward to having trees dotting my yard, especially flowering ones. I decided that I should wait until next year before getting bees because I want to make sure that I have enough flowering plants for bee fodder.  A night or so ago I researched bee fodder and put together a list of plants to grow for them, and once I get the vegetables and trees going, I'll look into the flowers.

But you know what I still haven't done yet? I still don't have my crop schedule together! I'll have to work on that after I apply for a job I found that I really want.  The job posting closes on 23 Jan 2010, so I have a deadline, but I want to brush up on a couple of things before submitting my application and resume.  So the schedule will have to wait a little longer. In the meantime, I need to find the heat mat.