Oktoberfest 2019

Our weekends this Fall have been…nuts…to say the least. Thus, our weekends were difficult to schedule around, leaving October 12th as the only possibility. If the weather ended up being bad, we would have had to reschedule for the last weekend of October, which gets kinda risky.

Anyway, our preparations started the week before, as usual. At this point, we’ve got most everything down to a science, so pulling the bins down from the garage attic and making a list of food possibilities comes pretty easily. Sure, it’s still quite a bit of work to pull off (and having our parents come by helps tremendously!), but it isn’t as heavy a lift as it was the first few years we did this.

Thankfully, the weather held up pretty nicely! It was a bit windier than we preferred, but it was better than it was a few years ago. The temperature was also on the cool side (mid-50s?), but with the Sun out, it just felt like a lovely autumn day. Most of our 35 guests showed up in the 3:00 hour and stayed until dusk, leaving us to enjoy our fire into the evening.

This year, we added quite a few more Christmas lights (blue and white LEDs), as well as a corn hole set from Brooke’s work. She also brought the giant Jenga set home, too, which proved popular with the kids.

Ultimately, it was a great day! We’d be lying if we didn’t say we were happy when it was all over, as the month and a half leading up to Oktoberfest was crazy, but afterward, we could at least sigh and relax for a bit.

At least until the next weekend when I ran another half marathon…

Garden Update: 09.09.19

The garden is definitely on the downswing. We’re still harvesting some stuff, but as you can see above, much of the greenery has died off.

The green beans are way dead. We ended up with something like 30 pints of green beans in the end, with quite a few being eaten fresh or given away. I think Brooke had four rows planted and, as usual, they performed admirably.

The soup beans are still going strong, though Brooke has picked quite a few pods thus far. Shockingly, with the heat and limited rain we’ve had recently, there are still some flowers on the plants, so maybe we’ll end up with another small wave.

The pepper plants are still bad, but we have had a few small hot peppers showing up. They’re just now turning red, so we’ll pull those relatively soon.

The cucumbers have also mostly given up the ghost, but much like the soup beans, we’ve got 3 or 4 new ones slowly growing, so maybe we’ll end up with a few more? Probably not.

The sweet potatoes are looking good, though we won’t pull those until November. Brooke’s flowers that she planted have done surprisingly well, too!

The real story is the black beans, which like the green beans before them, have also been solid. Meg and Calvin did some good work shelling soup, black, and rattlesnake beans this past weekend and we’ve definitely got a few meals out of them.

The tomatoes are doing their thing, of course. They’re mostly small, but we’re getting quite a few. Only a few “slicers” so far this year, sadly, so BLTs haven’t been common. Brooke hasn’t canned any yet, preferring to amass a metric ton in the freezer first before she focuses on them (also, waiting for the heat to die down before using the gas stove for hours on end…).

So yeah, the jury’s still out on the tomato crop for the year. We’ve got a lot: just dunno how much, exactly.

I mentioned the rattlesnake beans, pictured in the back, and again, they’re doing they’re thing…and slowing down. The strawberries have done a great job establishing themselves! We’re probably going to expand the patch out next year a bit, so I’ve started making more concrete bricks to spread out toward where the blackberries and raspberries.

Speaking of which, the raspberries are producing again, though the blackberries still haven’t done a ton. We’ll probably pull those at the end of the season, but haven’t decided on the raspberries yet.

Our milkweed is blooming and has had a few visitors! It’s over 5 ft tall, which is quite a bit bigger than we were expecting. The other milkweed plant was encroached on by the mint, so it remains to be seen how well it’ll come back next year. It kinda bent off toward the south and grew, er, sideways…so yeah…

The pears are still looking great! But they’re also still rather solid, so we don’t think they’re ripe yet… But, they’re also bruising a bit on some of the fruit, where they’re too soft on one side, yet hard on the other. Long story short, no idea if they’re ready yet, but hopefully we’ll cut into one soon…

And last but not least, Brooke tore out the bushes on the east side of the house! They were ugly and had to go. Brooke was surprised at how easy it was to remove the roots. We’ve got our landscaping project for next summer lined up, I guess!

That’s it for now! Probably one more update for 2019 coming, once we know how much tomato sauce we’re ending up with.

Garden Update: 08.15.19

Well, we’re in the throes of late-Summer, and as such, the rain has been sparse and parts of the garden are dying off. We’ve been harvesting a decent amount of stuff still and most of the plants look good, but the green beans are finally dying off.

The black beans, on the other hand, are coming on strong. Brooke only planted the one row (middle, above), and we haven’t picked any pods yet, but they’re getting full and looking pretty good. The flowers she planted in the background are also looking okay, but they seem to want more water than the other plants seem to need.

On the left, we’ve got volunteer cherry tomatoes that are still producing quite a bit. The cucumber plants Brooke planted are also still producing, giving us at least 10 good-sized cucumbers thus far with some smaller ones still coming on.

The aforementioned green beans are slowing down drastically. That doesn’t mean we haven’t picked a metric ton of them by now, but at least we can stop checking on a nearly daily basis for more to pick.

Could we pick more? Yes. But we’d need to start watering them, and that’s just a bridge too far. To date, Brooke’s canned at least 20 pints of green beans and we’ve given plenty away, and we’ve got 2 gallon-sized bags full in the fridge still yet to be canned. I’ll post a final number once that’s all done, but suffice to say we have our usual green bean crop in 2019, if not more than usual.

As the picture illustrates, we’ve also got tomatoes coming on at a somewhat regular rate now, though we aren’t getting many good “slicer” tomatoes. Some are relatively good in size, but still a bit smaller in diameter than your typical burger bun. Still, they taste good!

There are also two dried bean varieties in the ice cream buckets pictured above: on the right, you’ll find our usual soup beans (that Brooke is starting to pick, but we have a long way to go on those….), and on the left, you’ll find Brooke’s rattlesnake “pole” beans.

It’s really been the last few weeks where the flowers and beans have started taking off, as well as the vines starting to “vine on themselves” at the very top of the tetrapod (not a tripod anymore…we had a Christmas tree between last summer and this summer…). The vines were a bit slow to start this year, but July allowed them to move along quite nicely.

We’ve got a solid number of bean pods on there still, so we’re not sure how many we’ll end up. If it’s like last year, it won’t be a ton, but hey, if you have the space, may as well plant something there…

Other than that, we have a few other incidental things going on. Strawberries are done for the year, but they continue to want to expand, to some degree outside of the bounds we’ve created for them. When I weed the edges, I have to keep training them to keep their “shoots” in their patch. Brooke and I have talked about expanding that entire plot as a “berry plot,” encompassing the raspberries and other things we may want to put there. More on that in future posts, I’m sure. Still, we’re pretty impressed with how the strawberries have been growing, so hopefully that means we’ll get a solid number next June!

The pears look good, too! We’ve probably got 10 pears of various sizes on that tree. Brooke says it’s some kind of “Asian pear” variety, as it doesn’t have the same shape we’re used to getting in our neck of the woods. They’re still pretty hard, so we haven’t tried any yet. Hopefully the squirrels don’t find them, as those jerks ate the apples we had on the tree already…grrrrrr….

I’m not going to bother posting a picture of the beehive as it doesn’t look any different from last time. Brooke got into the hive last week and saw the super mostly filled with honey, so we should be good to go for some harvesting by Labor Day. She noted the frames weren’t capped yet, so the bees were still working on it…

Last, but not least, we didn’t grow this corn, but my co-worker said that her friend had ears of sweet corn that were just going to go to waste, so we could come over and grab some. We ended up with 70-ish ears of corn, the vast majority of which Brooke cut off the cob to be frozen. The flavor was pretty good for the corn, but some of the kernels were a bit smaller (like they weren’t fully grown) and some of them just didn’t feel all that full when you ate them (like, some flavor, but not really full flavor). Still, free corn is free corn, so we’ll be eating on that for the winter. It’s nice to have neighbors who like to share!

Anyway, that’s it for now! Probably only one or two more garden updates for 2019 to go!

This Summer’s Project…

The back yard has been something of a work-in-progress for awhile. The hostas were never Brooke’s favorite, grass wouldn’t grow well close to the house, and it wasn’t really usable space (as in, we didn’t sit there, didn’t throw a ball there, etc.).

Separately, I’ve never been completely satisfied with having my grills up by the garage. They’re fine there, but there are times when we’re entertaining guests and we have to move the car out of the way in order to sit closer to them.

Thus, we had the brilliant idea of putting a patio in that would help solve some problems. We figured it’d be a relatively cheap operation and something we could handle ourselves. We had Lowe’s and Spingwater deliver stuff so there wasn’t a lot of transporting back and forth on our part, aside from a few incidentals we needed to help fill in.

But first, we had to get started…

First, we had to spread things out a bit. We tried to level it as much as we could, but the dirt was pretty clumpy and I wasn’t about to bring Dr. Gault’s tiller over… Still, Brooke spread out the remaining mulch from that spot and worked the dirt around to get a pad started.

Brooke figured out her brick edging system with the storage shed we put up a few months ago, so she put her experience to work with the edging here. She really did a good job with it, leveling each one, digging out the pathway, and stacking where necessary to get them perfect. It took her quite awhile, but got it done! I don’t think her back felt great, though….

In some of the space between where the patio was going to go and the retaining wall, we moved over some of the big rocks we had left over from the porch remodel last year. Mostly, we did this as “filler” so we wouldn’t have to put so much mulch and topsoil down, but while we were at it, we placed some flatter ones around as stepping stones.

Next step, after placing those rocks and adding in some topsoil, was to start laying down the layers under which our pavers would rest. Again, this is the same process Brooke went through in April, albeit on a larger scale. Brooke used the calculator function on Lowe’s website to know how many backs and bricks we’d need and, for the most part, we think we had enough…but honestly, we could have probably used a few more bags to get the layer a bit thicker.

The sand is where we really noticed it, though. The instructions suggested 1″ thick sand and we simply didn’t have anywhere near that. We hemmed and hawed about what to do, I made some phone calls to local stores, Brooke made a trip out to a few to ask around…but in the end, no one in this town had sand for sale. This was possibly due to the flooding of the Missouri River nearby where sandbags were made, but who can say… We even stopped in Moberly on the way back from lunch with Brooke’s parents and their Lowe’s didn’t have anything for us.

So yeah, I ended up getting a few buckets of gravel from Springwater to try and move the edge of the pavers out a bit. Definitely not ideal, but serviceable. After we got that far, we put down the pavers and the plastic edging that should hold them in place.

The pavers are…sadly…not level… But they’re pretty close and the grills roll over the pads effectively, so we’ll see how it goes. We can always pull them up and add some sand underneath as they settle, so we may just go that route when we get some motivation.

For the last addition, we picked up a post from the local hardware store and some concrete to put in a set of hangers for some plants. Brooke applied a nice stain to it. It’s pretty.

The mulch was the last bit to add. Springwater brought 200 cu ft (because we ordered 100 cu ft last year and I conveniently made a note saying we’d need more than that….and we totally did…). That amount was barely enough to cover the back space of the yard and didn’t make it around to the front.

Brooke also picked up a nice wooden plant holder to put a citronella plant in. I’ll report back if it actually does any good…

The plants look good on the hangers, too! Brooke picked up a few more hooks so we can hang a bluetooth speaker and other things if we find a need.

She also added another step just down from the retaining wall that will transition to the walkway I’m in the process of extending. I’ve got one more pad to install, but we’ll see when I get around to it. Maybe this week. Who knows.

Last but not least, I re-edged the front porch to hopefully make those bricks more stable, and then bought another 10 bags of mulch for the front (and I could probably stand to pick up a few mores when i get around to it).

That’s it! The exterior of the house could still use a good spray-down of the siding, but otherwise, I think we’re going to “coast” for a bit while we work the garden (per usual) and get grass seeded where needed.

Now, I just need to pick up some pork chops and brats and break in the new patio!

Garden Update: 6.19.19

Lookin’ good, right?

While we were on vacation, the soup beans and green beans took off, so those are moving along well. The green beans have some flowers on them, so in a few short weeks, we’ll be out there picking. We haven’t tried digging up any carrots yet (left), but they should be ready soon, if not already.

The pepper plants are a mixed bag, with three of them looking okay and three of them looking…puny… Seems like it kinda always goes like that, but we’ll see. Off to the far left, you can see the pumpkin plant Calvin wanted Brooke to put in and it’s doing just fine. Probably going to take over the whole thing…and we’ll get 0 pumpkins from it…figures…

The lettuce plants have produced very well, but after pulling off leaves left and right, they aren’t looking great anymore. We’ll probably get another week or two out of it, but we don’t expect to get a ton more. In the background, Brooke planted sweet potatoes in that lattice box in hopes that we can keep adding dirt to it, filling the box (ish), and getting the sweet potatoes to grow up in the box rather than in the soil underneath. That way, when we lift said box in a few months, the potatoes should just fall right out. Considering there are holes all over that thing to leak dirt, I’m not sure how this is going to work, but oh well…we’ve got potatoes from last year, so we can afford to experiment.

Brooke also planted a round of spinach and some black beans next to them, but those haven’t popped up yet. Off to the far right, that’s where the cucumber is supposed to be, but that’s been coming on pretty slowly. We’ll see if we eventually cross the proverbial finish line on those…

In other news, the pole beans have all sprouted, the raspberries and blackberries are doing well (some blackberries are growing, but aren’t ready yet), and the strawberries have actually been producing! Only a few berries a day, but considering that we didn’t expect to get anything, we’re pleased. They’re also projecting out “runners,” so they’re spreading in the space we’ve provided for them.

The tomatoes are rockin’ it, as always. The plant sizes are pretty variable (also “as always”…), but we’ve already got some tomatoes coming on with the biggest plants. We tied them up tonight to keep ’em moving upward moreso than outward…

Brooke did some trimming of the oregano, lemon balm, and mint plants, so that’s all under control. Also, the milkweed we planted back in may is doing surprisingly well, but I’m having to keep it weeded to keep them happy. No flowers yet on them.

The bees also appear to be doing well in that spot. Brooke needs to get into the hive and check on them, as it’s been since before vacation when she did it. We’re assuming they’re ready for a super on the top, by this point, so maybe we’ll have some honey by mid-July?

The most recent project has been trying to fight off the evil Japanese beetles that we know are coming. Brooke found one in the neighbor’s yard, but that’s the only one we’ve seen. Thus, we’re trying to be more proactive about battling them, and we’re trying kaolin clay. Our understanding is that it should serve as a bee-safe pest control that should still allow the fruit to keep growing on the tree. We picked up a bag and tried painting it onto the fruit, but that was relatively inefficient. Seen above, Brooke picked up a spray bottle and she tried diluting it enough to work in that setting. Much faster, though in that concentration, it seems to work better on the peaches than the apples due to their fuzzy coating.

Speaking of which, the peaches are looking good! Getting bigger and smelling great. The apples are a bit smaller, but the seem to be progressing nicely, too.

Pears! We have pears! This is the first year we’ve had pears! Yay yay yay yay yay!!!

I think that’s about it. Everything’s moving along well! It’s been cool and rainy all week, so I tried seeding some grass where our yucca plants used to be. That’s working alright so far, too, but I bet I’ll need to water more after this week.

Garden Update: 5.19.19

This’ll be a quick update, as I just posted something a few days ago, but we needed to pull out all the spinach so I wanted to record how much we got. Seems like we have multiple Aldi-sized bags-worth of them, so it was worth the effort! Brooke thinks this is substantially more than we had last year, and I agree. Thus far, we’ve clocked 4 gallon-size bags full of it. The lettuce is coming on pretty well, too, but we haven’t harvested any of it yet.

We’ll freeze most of the spinach to be used for smoothies. We’re hoping some of the spinach continues to grow for a few more weeks so we can have some fresh stuff for salads, but the majority of it will be saved for our smoothie habit.

Other than that, we’ve got a few more things moving along, including some little strawberry-lets, so hopefully we’ll get a few of those in the near future, too! We weren’t anticipating that we’d get all that many strawberries this season yet, but we’ve got at least 5 moving along. Fingers crossed!

We’ve also got some buds on the raspberries moving along, so Calvin’s excited to start going out every day and stealing them before I can get one…

Brooke also put the next hive body on the bees today. She saw plenty of bees in there and some new brood, so the nuc appears to be doing what it’s supposed to be doing.

And last but not least, Brooke spent the week working on macrame so she could hang up some plants on the front porch. She’s very proud of them. 🙂

That’s enough! Looking forward to fresh strawberries! …so long as the squirrels lay off of them…

Garden Update: 05.13.19

We finally got some garden time in this weekend, between having an available day and also not having constant rain… It was kinda a “make or break” day for us to get things in, so we went by Orscheln to get some tomatoes, pepper plants, and some flowers for the front porch. This was after we visited the Birds & Bees festival in Arrow Rock to see some…er….birds and bees….but also to pick up some native plants and herbs. More on that later…

Regardless, the radishes and spinach are doing quite well! We’ve had about 3 rounds of radishes in the quantity pictured below. The spinach pulled is our first official harvest, but as you can see in the image above, there’s plenty more where that came from. Also, the open part of the plot pictured above is currently housing volunteer tomatoes, but is destined for cucumbers once we get around to planting them.

Otherwise, we also planted about 8 pepper plants (mostly green, one yellow), and a pumpkin plant that Calvin wanted (I said “no,” but was overruled…). Next to that set of peppers, we will be planting green beans, probably mid-week when the ground dries out a bit more.

The carrots are doing dramatically better than last year (which is to say, we have more than one carrot plant). They’re pretty small and took forever to pop up, but so long as it continues along this vein, we should end up with a decent number of carrots…er…eventually…

Again, the tomatoes end up doing well for us usually, but this year, we didn’t end up with freebies from the Botany class on campus. We grabbed mostly “beef-type” slicers and some Italian roma varieties. We didn’t plant many (any?) cherry tomato varieties because we always get volunteers, and lo and behold, we totally do.

We spent a decent amount of time cleaning out the herb garden, as there were tons of weeds and waaaaaaay too much mint growing. We think we left the flowers that have been growing from year to year, and also bought a few milkweed plants from the Birds & Bees festival to help the butterflies and bees. The kids also scored a free shining blue star that should do well in that spot in the coming years. Regardless, the mint, lemon balm, and oregano (that I forgot was even in there…) are all doing crazy well. I’ll probably need to pare those back a bit as the summer continues…

Lastly, the lettuce is finally getting to the point where we may be able to pick some of it. Brooke moved the chives to the raised bed, and also planted some sage and basil. Brooke dug in the raised bed a bit and we can’t say we are particularly impressed with the dirt we laid down awhile back, as it’s become kinda compacted and “layered” in the bed. It sure seems like the dirt in the garden is far blacker and healthier than what the raised bed has, so we’ll have to see what ends up happening in the next few years.

And last, but certainly not least, we’ve got some peaches and apples growing in our trees, which is in keeping with what we got last year (minus the Japanese beetles…), so that part isn’t all that surprising. What is exciting is that we’ve got about 6 pears growing finally! Our first crop of them! Woo hoo!!

That’ll do for now!

Garden Update: 03.17.19

Relative to 2018, we’re a bit behind. We’ve had so much rain, freezing rain, ice, snow, blizzards, and glaciers this year that it’s been too wet to till up the garden, let alone burn the brush off of it from last year. In the meantime, we’ve had it in mind for awhile to add a raised garden bed between our new patio and the rest of the garden, so we took advantage of one of the first nice days we’ve had in 2019 to get started on it.

We went with cinder blocks to get it started, along with PVC pipes to not only lock it down to the ground, but also serve as places to stick some re-bar hoops in to let us cover the plot in winter. Brooke also saw a post online where we could just put down cardboard to kill off the grass, while letting it biodegrade slowly. We also had some leaves and brush around so…we threw that in there… Why not…

Brooke had me pick up quite a few bags of dirt to throw in this plot. We put 5 bags of topsoil on the bottom layer, directly on top of the cardboard.

This was followed with a layer of peat moss. That stuff was a bit more “solid” than we expected, likely because it was so compacted in those giant bags. Believe you me, that 3 cu. ft. bag took up more space in the car than the 5 bags of top soil did…

Lastly, we put four bags of compost down, followed by a final layer of 5 more bags of top soil.

Finished product! The plan is to put lettuce and some herbs in it as soon as we can. We’ll put the re-bar in the PVC pipes this Fall and then find some thick plastic to cover everything, hopefully to keep things growing into January 2020. As I’m sure you know, more pictures to come as 2019 continues!

New Furniture!

I’ll be honest: I don’t exactly remember what sparked this. It definitely wasn’t me. Perhaps it was Marie Kondo

Brooke wanted to re-arrange the living room a bit, and as she thought more about how that would look, she also started looking at furniture. When we moved to Marshall, we picked up a really nice wooden futon that was just fine for our needs, but wasn’t particularly comfortable. We could have just picked up a new mattress for it, but it also kinda felt like it wasn’t “Real Furniture for Adults.” At the same time, having Sam has meant certain…compromises…with regards to furniture. The cat has claws and has taken them to our couches over the years. We got a pleather couch for Iowa that he made short work of. We had a microfiber couch in St. Louis that lasted a bit, but he still ripped up…

Thankfully, Sam’s a bit older now and doesn’t seem to be scratching at furniture as much. There’s no guarantee he won’t do the same thing to this furniture that he did to other pieces, but Brooke inherited a couch that we’ve had in the music room and, for the most part, it has survived shockingly well. Brooke also ordered a carpeted cat scratching tower, so hopefully Sam will eventually use it. To date, he has hopped off of it every time I’ve put him there. Figures.

Anyway, Brooke did some shopping and decided to visit one of the furniture places here in town. After looking around a bit at prices, talking with the sales folks at the furniture store, etc. she settled on a Lay-Z-Boy couch covered in blue velvet upholstery. So far as we can tell, it should hold up to cat claws relatively well (because the fibers are so tightly woven…he shouldn’t be able to get his claws in there…shouldn’t) The velvet is a “low pile” variety so it feels really nice, but doesn’t seem to catch much cat hair…yet.

Originally, the plan was to just get a couch, but for awhile, Brooke was looking at sectionals for additional seating. After thinking over it, she decided just getting another chair would probably be fine, so we got one of those, too, under Lay-Z-Boy’s England brand. She went with a gray fabric for that one that turned out really nice. I’m not sure how often we’ll actually sit in that chair (as it’s probably more likely to be used when we have company over), but Sam, so far, has liked falling asleep on it. And it definitely doesn’t catch cat hair all that badly…yet.

Anyway, it’s taking some “getting used to,” as the new couch sits up quite a bit higher, making it harder to use the coffee table as a foot rest. I’m sure we’ll make the necessary adjustments eventually, but at least for now, I can say they’re all quite comfortable!

When Is This Going To End……

So, as I write this, we’re going on Day Three of no school in Marshall. As in, Meg, Calvin and I are all off school. Brooke even canceled their office’s activities for Thursday. We had a Winter Storm warning for Wednesday that even included thunder and lightning that evening.

The town has been mostly dead, though we have seen a few cars go by here and there. Trash/recycle service was canceled, power was knocked out on at least one street (though we weren’t affected), and mail didn’t come yesterday. We did venture out to the YMCA on Wednesday, but their Kid’s Gym staffing was reduced because workers couldn’t get in.

So yeah, we’re on a 5 day weekend, at this rate. And if the post that precedes this one is any indication, it’s been a ridiculously long winter. Meg and Calvin were sledding back on November 26th, so it feels like we’ve been dealing with this for far longer than we’re used to. It’s a good thing Brooke pushed for the YMCA membership this year, as I’ve used the treadmill more in the past month than I’ve been able to be outside. It isn’t even that it’s been that cold (though it’s been really cold…it’s 8 F outside right now…), but the icy conditions, the foot+ of snow that lingers on the sidewalks, etc. all get in the way of outdoor exercise.

That and it’s hard to get in a rhythm at work, where we were supposed to have our first exam on Wednesday. Then it was pushed to today. Now it’s pushed to Monday. I ended up sharing YouTube videos of my lectures to make sure the students keep up with everything so we can stay on track prior to Spring Break in early March.

Yes, “Spring” Break is in less than a month. Letting that sink in, too…

I’m so done with this…ug…