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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Should I Even Be Boring You With This?

Not much is going on, and yet I manage to be busy all the time. Winter is the slow season, although Steve has been busy brewing. Winter is also brew season.  It's even been cold enough he thinks he might get another batch of pilsner in, and that's the one that takes the coldest temperature and the longest ferment time (because it's so cold).  But things will pick up soon once spring starts.

Last weekend marked six weeks before the average last frost date for our area- it came and it went and I didn't get the seeds started. I only feel slightly guilty about it because I'm not convinced that waiting a week or two will hurt anything, given that our springs are getting longer and colder and wetter.  The reason I didn't get to the seeds is that Steve guilted me into working on the dining nook, which was actually put off for a good reason: I needed to find the right-sized corbels for the shelf that will run around the top. His timing was perfect, though: the corbels arrived that Friday and I was able to put them up on Saturday.  But it turned out that I didn't count how many I'd need correctly, so I'm waiting on the last one to show up so that I can install it and screw down the shelf. Here's my progress so far:

It wants to be dark brown like the book case
Before I glued up the header, I included a note on the filler boards underneath it just in case someone decides to pull down all my work. I originally thought of it as a time capsule, but since I neglected to include the date, it'll have to do as a love capsule:


Once the top shelf is all done I can turn my attention to the skirting on the box bench, for which I've already cut (by hand) the birch plywood.  The hard part is going to be mitering the corner cuts, because I've noticed my circular saw doesn't like me anymore and I don't think I can manage to do a miter by hand. Not unless I can muster up some sort of jig or something. I'm still thinking about that.

But back to the garden: I  haven't been a total toad: when we had a clear-ish day a week or so ago, I did manage to get outside and get one of the beds weeded, and since there were a good number of volunteer onion starts, I went ahead and transplanted them.  I've no idea what variety they were because of my extremely laughable garden record keeping skills, so I'll let them all become onions and eat them, but I won't try to store them or save seed because I don't know how they'll do.  They're free onions, that's all I know.

Mystery Onions and January King Cabbages
I will be growing a keeper onion though. I ordered this year's garden seed from several sources and it's all here now, so it really is time to clear off the bench in the garage and get down to it.  I have to return the second grow light bulb I bought though, because even after some lengthy discussion of how long the fixture is, I still managed to buy a fluorescent tube that was a foot short. Yes I did.

All the seed I ordered this year is for open-pollinated varieties; I gave all my old stuff to my boss because I wanted to start over and he has a lot more room for failure than I do. I will not bore you with the varieties, except for one: my tomato seed. Tomatoes are important to us because of the considerable amount of canned tomatoes and tomato sauce we go through eating pizza at the rate we do, and I discovered last night another very important reason the tomato plants need to rock this year: we're out of home made ketchup. The best tomatoes I grew were the ones my very first year of gardening when I didn't have much time or space for a garden and had thrown some plants purchased at the box store into the garden bed the previous owner had left.  They were German Queen, and they produced mightily all summer long.  It might have been because the bed was closer to the house and thus nice and toasty, and then again, it might have been just because it's a stalwart variety or just beginner's luck, I don't know.  All I know is that I'm anxious to have better luck with tomatoes this year, so I tracked down the German Queen seed from a listed member of the Seed Savers Exchange. Maybe I'll get really lucky and be able to actually save some of the seed.  I've read a few different accounts of how to save tomato seed- they evidently need to ferment, which I haven't mastered. Maybe I should let Steve do it.

Speaking of fermenting, I'm reading a book on fermenting foods right now called Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, by Sandor Katz, and once I get it digested, I'll review it (oh you know that pun was intended!) for you.  In the meantime, take a look at the book in my  What I'm Reading Now section down there to the right.  I really enjoyed Tiny Homes and will be leaving it on the coffee table for awhile because it's fun to pick it up and thumb through it.  I'm also harboring a tiny glimmer of a hope that Steve will feel inspired by it to buy a few acres way out in the sticks, help me build a cob house on it (or a half-timbered wattle and daub house, but that would take a LOT more money and time), sell this house, and retire early to the country where we can brew beer and have a real honest-to-goodness root cellar.  And some chickens. Girl chickens.  And our own woodlot with a managed coppice.

Maybe even a pickup truck!

A girl can dream.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Keeping the Home Fires Burning, Sort Of

Steve and I really like heating the house with wood, but the back of the house, which is how we describe the bedrooms and bathrooms that are really to the side of the house, is the last to heat up and the first to cool down.  Consequently, the back of the house is nearly always uncomfortably cold. Like you don't want to take off your clothes to take a bath or get into your jammies cold.

My original plan, and one of the reasons for the new bed, was to be able to move my dresser to one side of it to free up the wall on which the dresser sat, so that we could install a small wood-burning stove.  My idea was to build a small fire in the morning to warm up the bedroom, and with an Ecofan on it, blow warm air into Steve's office, which is very cold on winter mornings. The door of his office is directly opposite the door of our bedroom, and the warm air could be directed straight across.

However, my lovely groom didn't want to start punching holes in his brand new metal roof, or start disturbing the new insulation over our bedroom, and I had to concede that he had a good point. We researched ventless gas fireplaces, but turned up disturbing stories of more, not less, moisture in the air, mold, and other unpleasant side effects.  So when we ran across electric 'stoves' in the local Coastal Farm and Ranch Supply, we had something of an epiphany. But we didn't buy one there. Steve, being Steve, wanted to go home and do some research first.

The new stove, not fitting on the rug
This is the little bugger that we bought, and installed in our bedroom Thursday night. This morning, when I woke up at a quarter after four to go potty, I closed the bedroom door and turned on the stove and hopped back into bed for another half hour. When we woke up, the room was a lot warmer than it would have been without it.  I left it on with the bedroom door closed while we made the (real) fire and coffee, and I'm happy to report that I was finally comfortable getting ready for work this morning.  I offered the stove to Steve to take into his office but he manned up and said he'd put on a sweatshirt if he got cold.

Now, I know what you're thinking: didn't this woman want to become more self-sufficient?  What does using electricity for heat have to do with that?  I think that if we hadn't put the solar panels on the roof, I might not have accepted this outcome to my plans as quickly as I did, but I have to admit that it was a whole lot cheaper and a whole lot easier than my original plan.  And I don't expect it to be too terribly expensive because we'll only use it in the mornings.  Did I mention that it's pretty quiet, as well? The box itself doesn't get warm, because the heat blows out the bottom, and the 'fire' never gets warmer than a small candelabra bulb.  This evening when I got home, Steve climbed into the shower and I needed to get out of my work clothes and into my jammies, so I turned on the stove. With a remote.  And I could feel the warm air blowing into the room from across the room.  It's a pretty cool little appliance.

Ugly fireplace going away
At some point, well into the future after I have the current projects on the docket completed, I'll build a fake fireplace as a focal point for the bedroom and put the stove in front of it. It's really a heater that looks like a stove, so I figure I should complete the illusion.  I have no worries about being able to do it- in fact, compared to the last fireplace surround I built, this will be a piece of cake.

Ugly fireplace gone

But now I have another reason to dig weekend mornings.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

New Bed's Here

Just a quick catch up because I really need to be working on a project - not sure which yet because I can't tell if the weather is going to cooperate or not, but I really need to get out there and weed the beds.

Anyway- our new bed arrived yesterday!

Here's the old bed:

Which was not really a bed. It was really a mattress and box springs on a metal frame. If you look at it long enough, you can see that it sags ever so slightly in the middle.  That's because it was an inner spring mattress, albeit an expensive Stearns and Foster.

We learned a great deal in the mattress buying exercise:  the number of innersprings in a mattress determine its quality- the more there are the better the support you get, and the more it costs.  However, innerspring mattresses don't last because the innersprings are the first part of the mattress to wear out, and  according to the statistics on, they seem to average about three years. We thought briefly about a memory foam mattress but decided against it because of all the horror stories about off-gassing.  I'm extremely sensitive to smells anyway and reading about it reminded me of the Tempurpedic pillow I once bought and couldn't use because of the smell. Steve also didn't want to purchase something made from so much petroleum.  So memory foam was taken off the table.  We finally decided on a latex mattress because it has a lower allergen rating, and because it was warrantied for twenty years.  At least that's what we were told- I think the warranty is really up in 2025. Still, it should last a good while, and is it ever comfortable!  And it's another Stearns and Foster and because we got a screaming deal on it, it was roughly the same price as the king-sized innerspring we purchased ten years ago.  And guess what?  Stearns and Foster has a plant right here in Portland, so it was made locally as well.

So without further ado, here is the new bed, which was made from quarter-sawn oak by The Joinery in Portland:

If it looks smaller, it's because it is; we downsized to a queen because we tend to fall together for warmth anyway, and the king was taking up way too much real estate in the bedroom.  The queen size is taking a little getting used to; I only had to tell Steve to stop taking his half out of the middle once last night.  Otherwise, it was a great sleep.

Hope you like it it, because we do!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Homesteading Update 05 February 2012

This weekend we were blessed with gorgeous, sunny weather, and although it's too early in the season for making hay, that's exactly what we did while the sun shined.  We got the perennial bed moved to the back of the yard; now the bees will be facing the flowers. We got the hops moved, and a few rhizomes were cut and packaged to be sent to a buddy of Steve's in Corvallis.  And finally, after clearing out where the hops had been growing, I got my three new apple trees planted, which is a load off my mind. The new apple trees came from Dave Wilson Nursery and they look great!  I got an Ashmead's Kernal, a Spitzenburg, and a Belle de Boskoop.  I hope I love that last apple as much as I love saying it: Belle de Boskoop.   Last weekend, I moved the Montmorency cherry, and got the new Lapins cherry planted.   The only plants I have left to get into the ground are the new standard blueberries, but I have to amend the soil to acidify it if I want them to be happy.  The dwarf blueberries around the bee hive have been productive little things but extremely dwarf, and almost not worth bending over to pick.

Speaking of not bending over, it's four weeks to the date for the marker for six weeks before average last frost for my area, and high time to get seeds ordered. I decided that with last year's delicious filet beans, that I am not doing bush beans anymore, and pole beans are the way for me.  'Denver' were good and prolific, and kept us in fresh green beans all summer long considering that I had only 10 or 12 planted, but they are definitely a young person's green bean.  I've tried Romanos, which used to be my favorite green bean, but I found that if you let them get the least little bit 'long in the tooth', they quickly get woody and unpleasant to eat.  I didn't have that problem with the filet beans, and only left them on the vine when they looked like they'd make better seed than eating.  I'm perusing the seed catalogs now, and I'm probably going to stick to one or two seed companies only to save on shipping.  After looking over my seed, I  noticed that most were packed for 2010, and since I haven't kept them under ideal conditions, I'd better order new seed to ensure the best germination and results. Plus, I'm still looking for the best varieties of things for my area.  Not sure what I'm going to do about tomatoes this year; the best tomato to date were the two German Queens we bought as plants from stupid old Home Depot; I haven't found seed for them yet, and they really performed the best so far. Am I sorry I didn't save seed from them?  Well yeah, but I haven't mastered saving tomato seed either, so it's a wash.  Maybe it was only beginner's luck but my first tomato harvest was my best.  I'd hate to think it will always be that way.

The other thing I want to tell you about is that we recently tried a red quinoa, and it was delicious. I've tried regular quinoa but prefer the red- it's much nuttier in flavor.  I knew that quinoa was from South America, and I wondered if it could be grown here.  I was skeptical, but lots of South America is just as cold there as it is here, so it was worth exploring.  It turns out that quinoa is a cool weather crop!  Different websites suggested planting the seed in April, and quinoa doesn't do well in places where the summer temperatures average above 90 degrees (if that's you, try growing amaranth, otherwise known as Love Lies Bleeding, which is a perfectly dreadful name).  The best thing I discovered about quinoa, beside the fact that it has a better balance of amino acids than milk so therefore is a better source of protein than milk, is that the saponins that coat each seed and have to be rinsed, rinsed, rinsed off the seed before cooking it renders the seed unsavory to both birds and mammals, so it's bird proof! And squirrel proof!  The leaves also make a delicious and nutritious green.  There is so much to recommend it that I'm going to try it, even though it doesn't do well in heavy soils- it does best in well drained soils, so I'll try it in a raised bed.  I'm going to save some of the organic stuff I found in the bulk section of the supermarket because it's the only red quinoa I've ever seen offered, and organic means that it hasn't been treated with anything.  The only thing that might hold up germination is 1) the wrong soil temperature, and 2) it's just plain old seed.  So this will be another Grand Experiment in a long list of many.

I kind of hope that this balmy weather holds up for another week and that we have sunshine next weekend, because the rest of the beds desperately need to be weeded.  There is a ton of pop weed in the bed with the January King cabbages.  I also want to get serious about the new large bed that will get the greenhouse, and there's another section of five each  three-foot square little beds that really need to be removed and replaced with one l-o-o-o-n-g raised bed.  I'm thinking the pole beans grown on the south side of that so that I can grow summer lettuces in their shade.

And this year I'm doing cucumbers, darn it! I missed having them last year.  So much to do, and spring is definitely coming- the hops were barely poking their heads out, which means that the asparagus are not far behind.   Could be just the spring fever from the nice weather we're having, but the daffodils and tulips are popping up all over the place too.

This ought to leave me just enough time to find some cheap black buckets for blanching asparagus before it starts coming up.  But hooee! Spring will be here before you know it!