Garden Update: Mid-June

Cucumbers, corn, green beans

As we’re heading off on vacation soon, I figured I should put up an update on the garden, so if the Squirrel Apocalypse takes them, we remember what all our crops looked like…

Overall, everything appears to be coming up pretty well and some of the plants (notably the green beans, tomatoes and peppers) have some flowers on them.  The cucumbers are starting to vine out a bit, so by the time we get back from the Grand Canyon, I expect them to have taken over the yard…  The green beans look great as always.  I’m pretty sure we could plant those in sand and rocks and still have them grow, as we always seem to have good luck with them (despite my hard work at killing them off…).  The corn keeps on trucking, albeit inconsistently.

Tomatoes and soup beans

Again, the tomatoes are starting to get some buds on them, so hopefully we’ll grow some sooner than usual.  We aren’t focusing on soup beans much this year (we still have some from last year and we always end up with more than we need), so they’re just planted in two of the corners of this plot.  Most of the tomatoes should end up being “paste tomatoes,” though we’ve got some “slicer” varieties planted, too.  Hopefully we won’t end up with any weird varieties, but we had to transplant a few “volunteers” from last year’s plot to fill some holes of plants that didn’t make it.  We’ll see!

Green peppers and lettuce

The green peppers have finally taken off in the past week.  We got some rain (1.5″) earlier this week and I’ve been watering them , so they’re looking better.  The lettuce is doing shockingly well still, but we expect it’ll be done by the time we get back.  We ended up getting quite a bit of lettuce this year and I think Brooke’s going to plant another round when it starts to get toward the end of the season.  She comes home from work and grabs a few leaves for her sandwich every day.  Like ya do. 🙂

…herbs?

This plot is still kinda a mess, now that the mint has almost fully taken over…  There’s lemon balm in there still, as well as a random orange flower that came back from last year that I can’t identify (and/or remember).  There are a few other flowers in the northern portion of the plot, but they’re already dying off.  A volunteer sunflower from two years ago has popped up recently, too…

Raspberries, sweet potatoes and “pole beans”

We’ve got raspberries!  Not a ton, but we ate a few last night and there are still some on now.  The pole beans are vining appropriately and the sweet potatoes are truckin’ along.

All the trees!

And the trees.  Still lots of apples and lots of peaches, but still no cherries or pears.  We didn’t expect almonds, though we did see some flowers on there over a month ago.  The peaches are looking especially good, so I hope they make it!

That’s it for now!  The harvest will be plentiful, as usual…as long as the squirrels leave it all alone…

A Memorial Day Weekend Project

Those bushes…

The bushes in front of the house have been there since, likely, the 1950s.  It’s hard to know for sure, but considering how “full” those things were, it had to be for decades.

They weren’t particularly good looking and housed wasps and ground bees from time to time, so we’d talked about removing them for the past few years.  The floorboards on the porch have gotten worse this year and needed replacement, so we were prompted to move up our timetable a bit on removal of the bushes.

We need to do some work on the porch…

We haven’t had much time this Spring so far, so Memorial Day weekend was the best option to try and get some of the work done.  Last weekend in Columbia, I picked up a new reciprocating saw and some blades; we picked up some new clippers for Brooke for her birthday; and we borrowed my Dad’s chainsaw.

We went at them with the clippers first and then employed the reciprocating saw to go closer to the stumps of the bushes.  There were two bushes in the front on each side that we were trying to remove, as well as one pine tree on each side.  The spirea bushes were also overgrown, but we wanted to keep them and our local landscaping company, Springwater, recommended trimming them back substantially and letting them grown out again.  Springwater also gave us some other landscaping ideas that we’ll employ as the Summer progresses.

Demo time!

The first two bushes went down relatively quickly and we had the next two trimmed down before lunchtime, so we made good progress before the temperature increased, though the sun got intense as the afternoon went on.

High of 93 F that day…

We took some breaks, of course.  The kids were in the backyard with the pool up and various water toys, so they were entertained while the grown ups did actual work on their Memorial Day weekend

I ended up using Dad’s chainsaw on the stumps and was able to flatten them out a bit to make it easier to cover them up.  The stumps proved a lot stronger than we’d anticipated and the chainsaw proved useful, but not enough to complete the job.  I hacked at the last stump as best I could but may need to let it rot a bit first before I can take an axe or something to it.

Done for now!

The wood under the porch floor seems to be pretty well intact, so we don’t think we’ll have to gut the whole thing and should just be able to replace the floorboards.  Obviously, that could change (because we’ve never done anything like that before…), but we’re hopeful that it should be a relatively easy project.

We’re going to wait until after vacation before we kick that one off, though!

Garden Update: Early May

Garden 2018, ya’ll…

Well, the garden’s finally planted.  In some ways, I feel like it’s later than usual, but in other ways, I feel like it’s early (probably because we planted popcorn in, like, July last year…).

The tomatoes are in the rightmost plot this time and green beans and popcorn are in the leftmost, largest plot.  New for this year, Brooke put in some cucumbers.  The kids actually eat sliced cucumber sometimes, so perhaps we’ll get something useful…

Looks kinda desolate so far…

Brooke planted radishes, carrots, spinach and lettuce about a month ago now, but there was a massive rain (~4″ in a few hours…), so the seeds she’d just put in the ground shifted out of their rows and/or didn’t come up.  Honestly, they look a little better than we expected, but we need to water the garden and get some grass clippings put in to limit weed proliferation.  Last week was the first time I mowed the lawn (fully, at least), so I’m only now getting to the point where I’m mowing regularly.

Pretty flowers!

The “herb garden” section still needs a little more work, though.  Brooke put some bulbs in last Fall and they came up looking all pretty-like.  Some of the other perennials have returned, but we’ve added some milkweed and indigo from the Botany class on campus.  Again, lots of landscaping to finish off.

Millions of peaches…

The trees have also had their flowers on already.  Like last year, the peach tree had a bunch of flowers (and they didn’t freeze this time…yay!), but new for this year, the apple trees, cherry tree and almond tree also had some blooms.  We’ll have to see if anything comes of it, especially on the apple trees where the buds were on the smallest of branches…

First harvest!

That’s it for now!  We’ve got some radishes ready and the lettuce is moving right along, so onward, summer!

R.I.Bees

Brooke had been meaning to get into the hives for the past month or so, but the weather simply wouldn’t cooperate this Spring.  March and April had very few warm-ish days and they were typically followed by long rain sessions.  Then, if we actually had some good weather on a weekend, we’d be out of town and still unavailable.

Eventually, after Girl’s Weekend, Brooke was able to leave work early and open up the hives and see how the bees were doing.  We’d noticed that there wasn’t much bee activity coming out of the hives on the warm-ish days, but again, as weather was back-and-forth for awhile, we couldn’t be sure whether there was a problem or whether the bees simply didn’t know what was going on with the weather situation.

Unfortunately, there were no bees.  Our original hive from 2016 was completely empty and was likely “robbed” by another hive of bees.  There was still some honey in the 2017 hive, but no bees to speak of, so they likely took their queen and swarmed sometime earlier in the year.  The food Brooke put in late in Winter was still there, so it’s likely they left sometime shortly after she was last in the hive.

In many ways, we count ourselves lucky, as many beekeepers lose 1/3 of their hives in a given year and we didn’t lose any last year, so we were probably due to have something like this happen.  We’re going to “re-set” the hive boxes to be lifted up a bit before putting any more bees in there, so in some ways, it’s a good opportunity to take stock of how we’ve been managing them and correct a few things before any new bees take up residence.

Thankfully, we’ve still got a decent amount of honey available to get us through the next few months.  We think we may be able to score an extra package of bees from Brooke’s Dad in the next few weeks, depending on how his bees hold up.  It’s the right time of year for bees to be delivered, so we’re hopeful that if Mark doesn’t end up having extra, someone else will, and Brooke has enough contacts now that we can probably get something going.

Here’s hoping!

Garden Update: Early March

Gettin’ ready

It’s been a long time coming.  This Winter was quite a bit colder and, more recently, wetter than last Winter, so while we’ve wanted to get out in the garden to get things started, our schedule and the weather simply haven’t worked out.

Case in point, I was on Spring Break this past week and for the first 3 days of it, the temperatures were below 40 F and were rainy and gross.  Granted, I was on Break and wasn’t particularly motivated to do anything, but oh well…that’s my excuse.

Regardless, Brooke ordered some seeds and tomato plants from Jung Seed, so we needed to get the ground usable prior to their arrival.

“Fire!”

For the last few years, we’ve kept the leftover stalks and grass clippings on the gardens for the season.  Last year, Brooke burned it all and we opted to do the same thing this year (this time with a permit, so a bit more legal…).  It was just windy enough to feed the fire, but just damp enough so that it would take a little time to burn it all away.

After the fires were done, I used the neighbor’s tiller to turn it all over and make it look all pretty like.

Healthy dirt!

I’m still impressed by how dark the dirt is after using it the past few years.  We haven’t had to add much compost, though we did add some manure last year (just a sprinkling, really…not much).

The garden plots are going to get rotated again, but I’ll post more about that once we actually plant some stuff.  For now, the plan is to put the carrots, radishes and lettuce are going to go where the tomatoes and peppers were last year.  We’re planting all that stuff a week or two later than last year, but whatcha gonna do?

The “Half-New” Play Room

After setting up the new shared bedroom for Meg and Calvin, it was time to do something with Meg’s old room.  However, after putting a week into that new bedroom, I wasn’t really in the mood to scrape even more wallpaper, so it was decided that the second room would be turned into a play room.  In the interest of maintaining our sanity over this Christmas Break, we decided to leave the carpet and wallpaper for now and consolidate all of the toys into that room.

Well doesn’t that look cozy!

We now have another TV set up for the first time since living here and we have a Fire TV Stick on order to make it a little “smarter.”  The only station it gets over bunny ears right now is PBS, but we can live with that.  We’ve also got the Lego table set up in front of one of the windows.

The wall isn’t quite…”done”…yet…

Brooke had a crazy idea about the wall that will improve over time.  As the kids draw more pictures and do more “art” at school, it’ll get clothespinned to the string she put up for all to see.  The easel is also near two new tables we picked up from IKEA to replace the two we previously had, only this time, we put some chalkboard contact paper on it.

“Look, Mom! We can write on the table and erase it again!”

Honestly, I’m not quite sure how the contact paper will last on the tables, as they’re also intended for Play-doh and other things.  The idea was that roads and towns could be drawn on it for Legos, cars, etc.  We’ll just have to see how they use them…

Storage!

The last wall involved a purchase of a 9 cube organizer and some bins so we could put all those toys in a mostly central location.  Their Kindle Fires can be charged because of the port behind the shelves, so that’s where they’ll live and not in the bedroom (unless it’s during the day).  Hopefully we can foster some better habits that way.

It’s going to be a work-in-progress for awhile, but it’s more organized than before!  And now the Music Room downstairs has many fewer toys just lying around because they’re all upstairs!  There was also a “culling” of baby toys that the kids otherwise wouldn’t get rid of on their own, so this was a good opportunity for “Winter Cleaning.”

The New Bedroom, Part II

Check out the previous post here…

So, the scraping started on a Tuesday and we were mostly done by that Friday, though we got slowed down by the kids getting released early from school due to weather.  That, and we were heading to my parent’s house for Christmas stuff that weekend.

As a brief aside, we were on the road to Columbia for 4.5 hours that Friday due to the weather.  That trip should only take an hour.  It was great fun.  Ug.

Gotta get all primed…

Anyway, after we got back from Columbia, we finished patching things up and finished scraping the walls so that, on Monday, I could prime everything and paint on Tuesday. We had to go with 2 coats of primer in most places, including the trim, and went with 3+ coats over the wallpapered section of drywall that was unscrapable.  We’re hoping the water-based paint doesn’t cause the paper to bubble up, but considering just how stuck it was to the drywall, we don’t anticipate too much trouble.  All the primer was enough to hide the floral designs underneath.

We went with an “off-white” color for the trim so we wouldn’t have to do the doors and windows quite yet…

The trim got a somewhat “off-white” color.  Bright white would have been preferred, but at this point, we really didn’t want to take the doors off the hinges or fight with the windows, so we figured this color would at least half-way match the doors/windows while still meshing well with the chosen paint color.

More of a blue-grey for the rest of the walls.

Like we did downstairs in the music room, Brooke went with a color that was approved by the National Historic Register.  The picture above still had wet paint, and the lights were off, but you can see the blue-grey hues pretty well.  We went with 2 coats of paint for most of the way around and, thankfully, it dried pretty quickly.

While we were doing the painting, Mom and Dad were downstairs assembling the twin-sized bunk beds so we could just carry them up the stairs when we were ready for them.  The room couldn’t really fit more than 3 people anyway, so it was a good way to divide and conquer.

Pulling the carpet up went remarkably well…

Once the paint was dry, we pulled up the carpet.  Dad and I did this the winter after we moved in on the landing to the top floor, so I drafted him into helping for another round.  The hardwood was very much intact, though the color differences between the middle and outside of the room was a bit odd.  Again, someday, we’ll re-finish the upstairs but, for now, rugs will have to suffice…

All done!

After carrying the bunk beds upstairs, laying down the rugs, and installing the new curtain rods and freshly dyed curtains (repurposed from those that were in the room to begin with, but now a darker navy color), we were all done!  We also moved Meg’s vanity (my grandmother’s, but painted last winter) into the room to give them a little bit of storage.

We’ve made it clear to the kids that this is a “sleep room” and not a “play room,” so with the exception of a few stuffed animals, no toys are supposed to be in the room.  Clearly, this is easier said than done, but we’re going to try and keep it that way for the time-being.  Hopefully that’ll stave off any markers on the walls for a few, er, days…

A view of the other corner…

Meg’s old bed was moved in and new sheets/blankets were added to match the bunk beds.  Obviously, the bed color is different, but oh well…  It’ll serve as a good guest bed should we need one!

Calvin enjoying his new big-kid bed!

Calvin was at school while we got all this done, so he was pretty excited to lay in his new bed!  He had a toddler bed after his 2nd birthday and, while he still fit in it, the twin sized bed is substantially larger!  He’s slept in big beds already, but this new spring mattress should be a bit more comfortable.

Meg’s up in the top bunk!

Meg’s up on the top bunk, as she’s the older kid.  Eventually, we can relax for Calvin, but for now, he won’t be sleeping up there.  We’re doing our best to keep him off the top bunk unless a grown-up is upstairs to monitor their play time, but again, this is easier said than done…

We’re pretty pleased with what we were able to accomplish in about a week!  It certainly went faster than the music room did!  And help from Mom and Dad was greatly appreciated!

Now, the play room…eventually…

The New Bedroom, Part I

Here’s what we had to work with…

So, Calvin’s been sleeping in a room with creepy quetzals (or some other bird…I’m not an ornithologist) since we moved in, but we’ve left it up until we could decide what the long-term plan was for the bedrooms, and also because we had other projects on the docket first.  A few months ago, the kids started sleeping together on weekends and, for the most part, they’ve done pretty well with this arrangement.  The idea of bunk beds came up at some point, so we all decided that the kids would share a bedroom for a few years, and the other room would serve as the kid’s “play room.”  For various reasons, Calvin’s room seemed like the better choice for “sleeping,” while Meg’s substantially larger space would become the “play room.”

It begins.

As we already knew, plaster was behind the wallpaper.  Some parts of it were cracked, necessitating patching with plaster and joint compound, but there wasn’t substantial damage to the plaster like we had down in the music room.

There were 3 layers of wallpaper in total, as well as an old border that was running along the top.

In this image, you can make out the green-ish wallpaper underneath the “quetzal paper,” as well as a border along the top.

The scraping wasn’t as bad as it could have been, honestly.  It took at least 4 solid days of scraping (largely completed by yours truly), but again, it could have been far worse.  The dust got pretty bad, but we kept the carpet in for the time-being to let it “soak up” the debris so we could remove it later.

We did run into a little issue on one wall, though…

…a little hiccup…

I started scraping it and the material underneath the wallpaper was quite a bit different than the other walls.  This is the one that was on the bedroom door side of the room.

…yup…that’s drywall…

With a little more investigating, it turned out that, somehow, drywall had been used on that one wall.  It’s possible that the wall had previous damage to the plaster, so the owners had to replace it with 1950s-era drywall, and then wallpaper over the whole room at that time.  Indeed, there was only the top layer of wallpaper covering that wall, so the whole room was done at the time the wallpaper was put on.

There’s a special place in Hell for people who wallpaper over joint compound…

On the wall adjacent to the drywalled…er…wall…we also ran into some large patches of joint compound that were directly wallpapered over, which slowed things down considerably.  I ended up scraping off a layer of joint compound in a few spots…

Ready to prime!

After I got scraping done, Brooke came back through with vinegar water to clean off remaining glue, and then worked her plaster magic to patch the walls.  You can see in the corner all the wallpaper that had fallen onto the carpet, so it was great fun tracking bits of trash throughout the house for a few days…

The rest will appear in another post.  That’s enough pictures for now!

For the second part of this project, click through.

Garden Update: Mid-September

That's all she wrote...
That’s all she wrote…

Now that September is nearly over, the garden’s pretty much done for the year.  This past week, the highs were still in the low 90s and the sun stayed out, so we ended up turning a few more tomatoes red than I expected to, but overall, we’re in a “down year” for our tomato crop.  The corn has dried out pretty effectively, though we haven’t tested the kernels to see if they “pop” as they’re supposed to.

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The peppers have mostly died out, though the coyame peppers keep on producing. Brooke’s been spending most of her garden time dehydrating peppers, then dicing them up to make pepper flakes (for some unknown, future purpose…). The margaret peppers never really did much, though we did get some peppers off them.  The peppers definitely produced, but I just don’t remember getting all that many off the plants.  This is probably because margaret peppers are intended as “red” peppers, so I wasn’t picking them in their “green” state.  As such, sometimes they’d shrivel up before we’d get to them.

A few 'maters in there...soooooo many peppers...
A few ‘maters in there…soooooo many peppers…

The coyames, alternatively, turn red and then stay red for awhile, giving us the time to pick them.  Of course, they’re hot peppers, so not exactly the kind of thing I’m going to slice up and slap onto the grill.  Oh well.

Pumpkins!
Pumpkins!

The pumpkin story is yet to be completed. The plants died out pretty rapidly, leaving behind at least 15 little orange pumpkins. Beetles got to them, but I think we’ve still got a few viable ones out there. Brooke tried spreading some Sevin on them, as that was a pesticide that she could carefully avoid contaminating bees with, but we aren’t sure how much it helped.  We’ll see, I guess…

Herb(s)!
Herb(s)!

The basil took over the herb garden.  Lavender, oregano and lemon balm are still doing quite well, but weeds have invaded this area of the garden.  The sunflowers aren’t looking great anymore, but I think Brooke is planning on using them for something.

Overall, I think the “herb garden” was pretty successful this year, though processing everything else has detracted from our use of it.  Which is to say, there’s a lot of fresh stuff in there, but Brooke needs to spend more time dehydrating oregano and basil for later use, and less time dehydrating peppers.  Still, a good problem to have!

Trees!
Trees!

I wanted to include another picture of the trees, as they’ve done remarkably well.  The pear trees are still lagging behind the others, as they got hit by Japanese beetles, but the trunks have grown quite a bit in recent weeks, so I think they’ll make it through the winter and come through stronger than ever for next year.  I can’t remember if we should see fruit yet next summer, but I can at least plan for the trees to survive

Meat! ...wait...what?
Meat! …wait…what?

We ended up getting access to some “pork ends” from a co-worker of mine.  $20 for 60 lbs of leftover cuts.  Some of it was definitely better than others, but Brooke ended up grinding 20 lbs of it by hand (then vacuum sealing it and freezing it), followed by some additional portions she saved for cutting up (i.e. various purposes), and lastly the leftover “fatty” portions for rendering.  If I recall, she ended up getting maybe 4 lbs of fat off what she saved.

...quite a bit of processing went down...
…quite a bit of processing went down…

It brought back some memories for Brooke, who used to work behind a meat counter.  I’m not sure she’d like to do this all the time, but for the money, we ended up getting quite a bit of usable pork to use this winter.

That’s probably it with regards to “garden updates” for 2016!  The highs this next week are in the 70s, so while we’ll get a few more tomatoes to ripen, it certainly won’t reach the heights of tomato juice production we’ve had in past years.  Brooke has a few buckets frozen downstairs, but again, I don’t anticipate she’ll get more than a few quarts.  Perhaps we’ll be pleasantly surprised…

Garden Update: Mid-August

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I realized I hadn’t posted an update since late-June, so I figured I ought to add some more pictures.  Overall, the garden’s finally starting to yield some produce.  It sure looks healthy, for the most part, though we’re still in waiting mode for many parts.  The pumpkins took over this section of the garden, and have continue into the rest of the yard.  There is a single watermelon plant somewhere in there, but considering how voracious the pumpkins have been, I don’t expect them to make much.  We’re having to keep the pumpkins out of the tomatoes, so keeping an eye on their growth has almost become a full-time job…

Popcorn!
Popcorn!

The corn has tasseled and has some ears on it, finally.  Brooke pulled up the carrots weeks ago, so she planted some peas on the other side of the corn in hopes they’ll do something for the Fall.  There are some little plants growing slowly, but it’s still too soon to tell if we’ll get anything out of them.

Peppers, tomatoes, etc.
Peppers, tomatoes, etc.

The coyame pepper plants have gone insane.  These were some free seed packs from Monsanto that we inherited and, believe you me, those geneticists know what they’re doing.  They’re similar in hotness to jalapeños, so Brooke will probably end up drying them and grinding them into chili powder.  The margaret peppers we planted aren’t doing quite as well, though we’ve still harvested a few.  They’re closer to regular ol’ bell peppers.  That sad little wilty plant in the middle of the picture is a margaret pepper plant and we’re trying to keep ‘er going.  It’s got some peppers on it still that we’d like to continue with.

The bean plants in the background are also moving alone.  The green beans are mostly done at this point.  We ended up with around 2 gal of fresh green beans that we ate on as we picked them.  We’ve still got cans of beans downstairs from previous summers, so Brooke wasn’t quite as ambitious this time around.  The soup beans are coming along nicely, and the edamame (read: soybeans) are producing a metric ton, so we expect to do pretty well on that front.

Some beans and such from last week.
Some beans and such from last week.

Otherwise, the tomatoes are still coming along, albeit slowly.  They really got hammered by the hail a few months ago and it seems like that hampered their growth on the north side.  There’s also something eating them that we haven’t been able to identify.  It isn’t squirrels or rabbits, but likely some kind of caterpillar or other insect, as we’ll find random holes through all the good ones.  Still, it seems like that’s slowing down and we’re starting to get them now.  If they continue, we should end up with a healthy number of roma tomatoes and other “slicer”-varieties.

Herbs!
Herbs!

Lastly, the basil, lemon balm and oregano really took off since the end of June, let alone the sunflowers.  The lavender has slowed down quite a bit, and the lettuce is done.  The comparable picture from June of this section of the garden sure looks sparse!

That’s good for now.  Weeds are slowing down and we’re having to supplement our watering now, which isn’t too surprising.  We ended up with 4 in of rain last week when we got back from our vacation, but the ground drank it all up and we had to water again shortly thereafter.

I should also note that Brooke’s been using Sevin dust on various leaves to kill off the Japanese Beetles that are still going after our plants, especially one of our peach trees.  We’re finding them on some other leaves too, but Brooke’s trying to keep it away from the flowers so she doesn’t influence the bees.  For now, the trees are fine, but we’re having to keep an eye on them.