Sunday, October 28, 2018

Ready for Spring

We are ready for spring.  40 tons (and that's no joke) of rocks 
are staged and ready for mud management.

Two loads of boulders and two loads of washed oversize.

The plan is to do away with a portion of  (very, very soggy, muddy, swampy) lawn, create an area for a greenhouse, a fire pit, an herb garden and a dry creek bed to drain it all.
There will be french drains, shade trees, fruit trees shrubs and grasses.

It will be waiting for us when the snow melts away in spring.
And it looks like a lot of work.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Big Apple

I did it.  I grew a one pound apple.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Gardening is over let the Weeding begin

Strawberry Blonde Marigolds.
Prettier now than they were all summer

We're starting to look forward to cooler weather and less work.  It was time to start pulling things out.  After all, we could be only two weeks away from a blizzard. 
It happens!

Everything was either dead or overgrown

The downside to pulling out tomato plants and cucumber vines is that you are left with a pile of crumbly, blighted leaves and a lot of weeds you have previously ignored.

A quick once over with the leaf blower gets rid of those nasty old leaves.

And a few minutes with a weeder and a rake and things are as good as new.
But this is weeding season.  It's tough to cultivate your soil when it's in use.  So for the next month I will keep a close eye on the weed situation.  This bed is developing a bit of a creeping oxalis problem.  So it will be the last one planted in the spring giving me time to manage the weed problem.

But not everything is gone.  Besides plenty of lettuce and a big pile of ripening tomatoes, there are still carrots.  These are in the oven now for honey roasted carrots and roasted carrot soup.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Results of a Plan

My one good producing apple tree is ready to harvest.  I am using them as they fall.  We've made three pies so far.  Each pie takes 2 to 3 of these large apples.  I bagged each apple to keep the worms out of them and the tree has maintained about two dozen apples.

Each apple, 12-14 ounces, fills a sandwich bag to bursting

And they are clean and blemish free with none of those nasty acid rain spots.  I've heard it said that there is no such thing as a blemish free organic apple in New York.  But if you bag them you can pull it off.

Blue Lake 47 going to seed
The garden is finally winding down.  Lettuce is in full swing, those two original cucumber vines are still producing, and we have some green beans and tomatoes.  I am letting one row of beans go for seed.  The beans were so big and beautiful it makes sense to keep them over for next year

Once the pods go yellow I set them in the sun to dry out

This is the first of three lettuce plantings that we are picking now

Anywhere I can protect them from frost, I have lettuce

I just seeded these planters to bring into the cold frame for the latest lettuce

These are the first two cucumber vines from seedlings started early May and they just won't quit!

A pretty respectable fruit for eight steady weeks of production

The tomato vines are ugly but there are a lot of green tomatoes ripening.  I may try making green tomato relish (Chow Chow) because there are a LOT of them

My Monarch
I have one lone swamp milkweed that occasionally comes up as a weed in my front perennial bed.  It has never flowered, but I protect it for the possibilities of new Monarchs.  A couple of weeks ago I was tidying up the day lilies next to the milkweed and I came across a Monarch cocoon on the ground.  I probably knocked it off. :(  So I picked it up and used a needle and thread to attach it to the inside of a mesh dish cover and set it in the garden shed.  I checked it each day and one afternoon when I came home the butterfly was waiting to be let out.  I saw it frequently for a couple of days especially around the zinnia bed and now it is gone.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Here Comes the Rain Again

So what does a gardener do when faced with a lousy weather forecast? We prepare.  I do not want to pick anything while holding an umbrella.  It is a bad idea to handle your plants when they are wet because any damage to leaves or stems ais that much more likely to have germs get into the plant.
Everything will bloat in the rain and the tomatoes will split.

So yesterday I spent all morning in the drizzly garden preparing to abandon it for a couple of days.  I picked all of the beans, cucumbers and tomatoes that were ready or almost ready.  I picked a gallon of new lettuce and some radicchio.  I washed and stored all of the lettuce.  I bagged up the beans for use "fresh" from the fridge this week.  I cut up all of the cantaloupes lurking in the fridge and then I took a load of stems, peels and rinds out to the compost pile because I don't like doing that in the rain either.

And then I stayed indoors all day cooking and listening to the peaceful steady rain.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Winding down - or maybe not.

It seems like the garden should be winding down towards the end of this long hot summer.  But its not.  Its still going full tilt.
I have a lot of lettuce going.  Besides these three rows I have three flats of transplants in 4" pots ready to go into containers that can be moved into the cold frame.  But I'm in no hurry for that.  I have many many seedlings I am holding back.  They will not take off until they are removed from their baby pots.  There are many large leaves that I should probably start harvesting.

The Pickle Bed is resting.  The Buckwheat is just now coming up.

The apples are beginning to ripen

I have about two dozen apples bagged, and a couple I couldn't reach
I loosened up the mulch beneath the tree so any that fall will be salvageable.
So far so good.

The garden still looks like a pretty busy place.

The tomatoes are starting to ripen again

I have more than enough Blue Lake 47 bush beans to use and I have all I want in the freezer.  The late planting of Gold Mine are ready to start picking and freezing.  We will probably have beans until frost.  And so far, I am not getting the pithy, tasteless beans I got last fall.

I have "experimental" Radicchio ready to use in salads

The three remaining cucumber vines from my May seedlings are healthy and producing like crazy.
The second planting in the other bed are also producing well but the vines are suddenly and quickly succumbing to disease.  Despite my frustrations, this has been the longest cucumber season yet.

Now let's stop for a moment to contemplate "fresh rain".
This summer we have been leaving a white Corelle bowl of water out for the neighborhood cat.  We began to notice that every time it rained it would be full of dirt and sediment and need a good washing.  Where was all of this dirt coming from?  Only on rainy days. Well, obviously the rain.
Not only do I see its effects on the apples ...

Most of these nasty dark spots scrub off.
Leaving you with a mostly clean apple.
But every year I get to scrub it off of the house.  The worst is the outside of the white rain gutters and aluminum fascia underneath which will be black with grime and require SoftScrub and a sponge. 
The white doors all turn grey.  Which is why we painted them brown.
Our house is over 100 feet off of the road, and the garden sheds are over 200 feet off of the road.  There is the gravel driveway to consider, but I only go out and come in once, maybe twice a day.

So... obviously, our lovely rain is a major source of grunge.
On Sunday I had gone out to the compost with a bowl of melon rinds.  I rinsed the bowl out in the garden spigot and set it down in the open where I would remember to take it back to the house later.  While I was still outside working we got a cloud burst with less than a quarter inch of rain, and that is how much dirt I got in my recently clean bowl.

A brief illustration of my cover crop/green manure project.  Here are four beds that are in various stages of work.  A few weeks apart.

Buckwheat freshly cut down and piled in the bed it came from.
This is actually a re-seed that came up in bed of cut and unraked stems.
Layer #2
This bed was cut two weeks ago.  Not quite ready to work with yet.
In a few weeks I will remove the coarsest of the stems and put them in the compost bin.

This bed was cut about a month ago and new seedlings are coming up. I have already removed the coarsest of the stems and will not allow these volunteers to grow to maturity like the other bed.  They are easy to rake into the soil.
This bed has been raked through at least three times.  Volunteers have been rakes in like the bed above.
The soil is dark and fresh looking.  There are still a few coarse stems left but they have broken up into short pieces. All this bed will need in the spring is some aeration with a fork, and a quick raking.

So that's where we are at the beginning of September.  The weather has not cooled down and right now it is hot (high 80s), heavily humid, with clear blue skies.  This weekend's forecast is 60s and rainy so maybe we can turn off the air conditioner for a few days.  The tomatoes are starting up again.  The cucumbers and bush beans are over-producing.   I have a handful of after-thought potatoes left, and a lot of carrots. We have cantaloupe every day but there are only a few left to pick.  The lettuce is just now pickable.  Apple pie season is just around the corner.

The neighbors are pulling out their garden bit by bit.  This past weekend they pickled 29 pints of beets.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Raising of the Garage

We put a lot of work (blood, sweat and tears) into making our place look tidy but the two car garage, eye sore that it was, had been totally ignored throughout it all.  For fifteen years actually, since that's how long I've been here. When we sided the house many years ago, we bought enough siding to finish this garage, the big garage, the chicken coop and the garden shed, but the garage was in such awful bad shape that we knew before we sided it we were going to have to fix it up a lot.  Or tear it down and start over.  We couldn't decided.  
Tear it down.fix it up.tear it up... Right up until last spring we couldn't decide.  The big version of the project was to tear down the old garage and build a fancy new three car garage at a right angle to this one so you could pull straight in from the driveway approach instead of making the left turn into the garage.  Pros: It would be big and beautiful and brandynew. Cons: It would probably dwarf the house up close like that, and it would definitely raise our taxes.  And nobody likes that.

But this garage could not be left the way it was.  To the best of our reckoning it is at least 65 and most likely 70 years old and highlights some rather suspect building methods.  It was built out of 2x4s back when 2x4s were actually a true 2" by 4".  And the outside was planked.  So the actual materials were pretty good even if the studs weren't plumb or evenly spaced and a couple of the rafters were multiple pieces scabbed together.  Until you got to the concrete work.  Something definitely went wrong there.  The back corner was crumbling and the entire structure was slowly sinking back into the soft woodsy area behind it.  The back left corner was 8 inches lower than the front right corner.  The floor was very cracked and a little heaved and the floor drains did no draining.  Left to gravity and time, it would eventually have sat down on it's own.

If we wanted to save this building, my husband decided the only solution was to jack it up, pour a new foundation and floor, and rebuild whatever structure needed it.  We found a crew crazy enough to try raising it and we spent a month or so tracking down and accumulating heavy old railroad jacks.

We stripped off the cedar shakes and removed all of the doors and windows.  At this point, one evening, we found a hummingbird had flown in there and become confused trying to find her way out up through the rafters and we spent about 20 minutes persuading her to cling to a net which she finally did once she became too exhausted to try anything else.  We carried the net over to the lilac tree and got several minutes of enjoying her up close before we encouraged her to try to fly off.  Which she did. 

 The next step was to build a reinforcing structure inside with lift points and start jacking.  My husband bought three farm jacks from Tractor Supply to lift the lean-to wall.  The first jack failed right off the bat.  It was rated at 3.5 tons and it didn't get anywhere near that.  Instead, we used the front end loader of the tractor and returned the farm jacks.  To their credit, TSC took back the failed jack too since we could prove that the tractor that lifted the wall was rated at less tonnage than the jack and it did the job just fine.  The old RR jacks worked like a charm.  They just don't make things like they used to.  Including this garage....

Every wood block and cement block we could find went into supporting the lift structure. (Note the crumbling wall in the back left corner) 

The Amish supply list didn't included any blocking.  One wonders where they thought that was going to materialize from.  Obviously there was some lack of thought.  But luckily, we have a lot of stuff stashed around here.  

Also on the lucky side is our stock pile of landscaping ties.  Because the sloping base-wide shape of the concrete forms turned out to be out of the Amishman's range of engineering skills and when the concrete started to pump, the forms began to slump.  And blow out in every direction.  A hurry and scurry with the ties to brace the forms saved the day.   I always wonder what the neighborhood thinks of our projects when we have 50 boulders strewed along the roadside, or a dozen RR ties propped up against the garage.  There were two neighborhood "foremen" present when things began to go wrong and they cleared out in a hurry only returning days later when it appeared the coast was clear.

Now we had to wait for the concrete to cure before we set the building back down and jackhammered out the old floor.  The new foundation it 12 inches higher than the old foundation raising the garage up so that rain water no longer runs through it.  Which it used to.  A nice stream under the door and out the back corner.  Not to mention the river that always went through the lean-to from front to back.

For many weeks our driveway looked like a disaster zone.  
Piles of gravel. Piles of lumber.  Piles of scrap headed to the burn pile.

One design change we made was to get rid of the two small, eight foot doors and replace them with a custom 18 foot door.  The borer bees and ants had made powder out of the door headers.  We removed all the bad lumber, burned it, and rebuilt the wall.  The outer walls were reinforced with OSB board to stiffen them and provide a better nailing surface than the old planks.  The garage is now square, plumb, level and no longer sinking.  

The soil surface under the old floor turned out to be pretty bad.  Unstable, full of voids and not good gravel or any other useful material. In fact, a family member told us later that the garage site was where the grandparents had the pig-sty.  Which makes a lot of sense.  The previous owners just filled in the pig yard with whatever was handy and capped it with a thin layer of concrete.

So at this point we had a pretty stable garage and Tim was pooped.
Every morning all summer he came out the door to face this project.  It was time for a break.
We just needed to make the structure weather proof for the winter.  And clean up around here so it didn't look like a construction zone!

 All the materials for the floor and end walls were moved 
out of the driveway and stored under the shed.

The house wrap was applied, and now we were ready for winter intermission.

So that is how the garage looked all winter and through this spring.
All that was left to do ("all that was left" - that makes it sound so simple) was put a floor in the lean-to (under the existing wall - a pretty involved engineering feat) and put the siding on.  The siding is just the icing on the cake, but if it doesn't look nice then all the hard work you put in to get here is sort of pointless.  You have to get this part right.  And hopefully if you put in a lot of hard work the siding will go smoothly.
Unless, of course, the right wall is higher than the left wall and the center of the roof is not over the center of the wall.  Remember: "rather suspect building methods..."

Also, all of the siding had been stored for over 10 years.  First in the lean-to and then out in the driveway under tarps.  We did our best to keep rodents and water out of it, but a lot of it still had to be washed because the disintegrating cardboard boxes had stained it.  Washed piece by piece.  Easier to do on the ground than on the wall.   Building the floor and siding the garage took as long as raising it did last year.  Of course this was done by one person as opposed to several crews of helpers.

One more look at the before:

And now the after.

There is still some work to be done.  We've hung a screen door on the walk-thru door and had rain gutters installed.  Now drain pipes back into the woods need to be dug in and connected to the downspouts and then we have a plan for dressing up around the foundation.  And then the inside has to be finished because right now it is just bare stud walls with no electric or anything.  But that's a good cold weather project.