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.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018


The first cantaloupe slipped today.  It's very sweet and orange.  
A far cry from the pale, crisp store bought ones

Sunday, August 19, 2018


Have you ever turned your back on your garden for a day and come back to total disorderliness?  What was trim and tidy is suddenly all damp and disheveled?

We've had a quarter inch of rain two mornings in a row, and yesterday, we took all day to go out and play.  I had a list of things I needed to get done today and when I did my morning walk through in the damp and fog it looked a little yucky and overwhelming.  The buckwheat bed I planned on cutting this weekend was beaten down by the rain and a real mess.  There were tomato branches to remove or tie up, and cucumbers to pick.  Lettuce to transplant.  Marigolds to deadhead.  It seemed like a lot.

The later reseeded bed of buckwheat is in full bloom, so I wanted to deal with the other one as it is going to seed.  Since that was the biggest ugliest project I did that first.

Before long it was all tidy again.  I pulled all of the plants, raked the bed, then chopped the tops back into the bed.  I put the tougher bottom stems and little root balls into the compost pile.  We'll see if that makes the task of tidying up a bed full of composting buckwheat a little quicker and easier.

The old cucumber vines are still healthy and putting out a fresh batch of blooms.  Some bumble bees have turned up and they are working on those.

The old vines are putting out huge straight cucumbers.

The new vines direct sowed the second weekend of July have produced their first cucumber.  I picked it today.  The vines are vigorous and full of blooms.  I just looked up the growing information, and the SV4719CS averages 56 days to maturity.  This one did it in under 35 days.  Not bad.  not bad at all!

 Pretty nice looking vines.  I'm sort of glad they took so long to start up.  I think we will have the longest cucumber season ever.

The old Blue Lake Bush Beans are putting out their second crop.

The new Gold Mine beans are full of flowers now.

The younger Lenny and Gracie heirloom plant is producing like mad.
The tomato plants in general are looking a little ragged.

I seeded two flats of lettuce.  I am using the strawberry bed for the fall lettuce again.  This will let me rest the big 8x8 bed where I usually put them after it's busy pickling cucumber season.

I obviously have a LOT of transplants to deal with.  I'm going to put some in 4"x 4" pots for later planting.  I am putting some in pots to bring into the cold frame.  I've got lettuce everywhere!

To keep the young lettuce cooler in the August weather I'm trying the 50% shade cloth.
The only thing I didn't get to today was wrapping up the dill crop and planting a cover crop in that bed.  But when I walked away the garden was again trim and tidy.

"Mooch" the semi-feral neighborhood cat says Hello.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Good the Bad and the Ugly 2018 -- Part 2

Bush Beans: This year has been a great year for bush beans.  I only bought Blue Lake 47.  I have planted some leftover Gold Mine bush beans.  I stayed away from the Purple Queen which has been my recent favorite because last year's late beans were tough and tasteless.  I don't know if it was the growing season or that packet of seeds.  But I'm not interested in a repeat right away.

I've always said if you are nice to your bean plants they will rally and give you a second season.  But I've never had any do this well.  I cleaned all of the beans off of the plants a week or more ago and this weekend noticed they are all putting out a second batch of flowers.

I've never seen a nicer row of bush beans.  I put worm castings around the tomatoes in the middle and the whole bed got Gardentone and Blood Meal and it looks like the bush beans took full advantage.  They look better now than they did early in the season.

This is the second row of Blue Lake.  They got worm castings and blood meal too and while the germination was spotty I now have a nice young row of beans just starting to flower.

These are the Gold Mine from leftover seed.  They were planted around the same time as the second planting of Blue Lake and they aren't doing much.  I think I will stop and get some more worm castings and see how that affects them.

Cantaloupes:  It looks like a good year for cantaloupes.  So far anyway.  I chose Hearts of Gold from Burpee.  These things were just so slow to take off.  I seeded them in the cold frame the first week of May.  Four weeks later they were still tiny and I had half as many plants as I'd wanted.  But I put them out anyway.

They looked like this for a long, long time.  No growth.

And then they took off.  I have 8 plants in there.  I have at least 16 melons growing and there are a few little ones started now that aren't in the official count.  These are a 90 day melon.  I don't know if I should start counting the day I sowed the seed or the day they decided to participate.  Several of the first melons are starting to develop a nice netting but it looks like it will still be a week or two before they start to slip. 

Carrots:  This is a great year for carrots.  I planted Sugarsnax back in April in large landscape pots full of potting mix.  It took a long time for any germination but now I have plenty of carrots whenever I want.  

Because they have such soft deep soil they have grown long and straight.  

You can see where this one has found the bottom of the pot and started off in another direction.

Potatoes:  These were an after thought this year.  I had some wrinkly, sprouted, spuds hanging about in the kitchen and I planted them rather than compost them.  There were a red variety and a russet.  I'm getting 6 to 8 smallish reds per plant.  Perfect for one meal for two people.  I haven't dug any of the russet, but the plants are gone so I'm going to have to look sooner or later

Ornamentals:  This year I came across a flat of the Strawberry Blonde Marigolds I've been admiring in catalogs so I bought a 6 pack.  They are supposed to be pastel shades.  I'm not sure I agree, but they are pretty.  The new blooms are deep terracotta and have a pinkish fade down to pale yellow when they are done.

Alaska Nasturtium:  It was a below average year for Nasturtium. They were nothing special but did OK.  Some years I have billowy mounds of beautiful plants.  Not this year

Sept 7, 2010  Mounds of Nasturtium
Black Cherry Supertunias and Silver Wave Petunias
This year I spent a lot of time on the Proven Winners website planning my planter combinations.
They did pretty well.  I have 5 large planters, and one I just filled with Marigolds.

Vista Silverberry, Vista Bubble Gun, Vista Fuschia
The combination planters take a fair bit of maintenance.  The only one that is maintenance free is the Vista Series Petunias up front.

I'm enjoying my zinnias very much.  The Dinner Plate Dahlias have juuuuuust started to bloom this week.

Cercis the Rising Sun Red Bud
I am really enjoying my Rising Sun Red Bud tree.  I've wanted one for several years.  This is the one I plopped into a pot of compost.  The other one I planted into the landscape and it is still basically a stick with small leaves.  I'm still not sure where this beauty is going to end up, but if the other one does not survive the winter I am replacing it with a Japanese Willow.

On the failure note.  I planted a lot of Vanilla and Yellow Inca II Dwarf marigolds around the landscape.  The Vanillas have done fine, but the Inca II got replaced early on with Hero Mix and have spent the remainder of the summer in sick bay where they continue to put out too large a bloom and break themselves down to the base.  I've decided not even to put them out for fall and will probably compost them this week.  If I can find the old standard Incas in transplants I might try again, but these dwarfs are no good for me.

Critters:  This has been a good year for critters.  The honey bees found my buckwheat and came in droves.  We have had a lot of butterflies, but almost no bumble bees.  The bumbles were present for the flowering of the horse chestnut tree, but I've barely seen one since.  They like to sleep on the marigolds over night so I always expect to see them in the mornings, but they're not here.

I planted a lot of dill, parsley and carrot, but only found this one black swallowtail caterpillar.  I've seen the butterflies around though.  And more Monarchs than usual.

The other day as I was walking back past the garden I noticed a little lump in the gravel.  It was a young mourning dove.  At first I thought it was injured them I remembered I had walked over that exact spot not five minutes earlier.  I looked around, and there was a second one.  They got nervous about the close scrutiny and eventually scurried off.  They've been here for days.  At one point I wondered if they were just too dumb to fly out of there, but that isn't the case.  They can both fly just fine and there are other doves in the trees next to the garden, but these two wind up right back in the garden.  I can get within a few feet of them, especially if they are roosting on the fence.

This isn't the first pair of doves I've had living in the garden.  Around 2012 I had a pair who for several days in a row pulled a dozen or so of my little white onion sets and made a nest out of them.  Apparently they thought half their work was done.  Not the smartest birds.

And finally Cover Crops.  This is the second time I've tried cover crops.  Previously I did red clover and I wouldn't recommend it for beds because the root system is impossible to dig out.  Buckwheat is great.  Its fast growing.  Can easily be pulled up.  And it draws a lot of pollinators.  In fact, I left my beds too long, and after I cut them down they reseeded thicker than before.  No problem though.  I just rake in the young plants.

Now when you first cut the plants down it looks like a real mess.  A jumble of stems.  Especially  if you let them grow to full height.  But not to worry.  If you leave it a few weeks until all of the leaves have dried and are breaking up, you can rake through and remove the worst of the woody stems, which can go in the compost pile.  After a couple of rakings, you get a nice smooth bed again with plenty of organic material still working in them.  Once they get to this point, I'm raking them every time the volunteer seedling get to about 4 inches high.  In fact they grow so fast, I'm using up my extra seed and not letting it go to bloom, but just raking it in each week.

So that is the mid-year synopsis.  Overall very good with no extreme failures.  The weather has been hot, cool, wet and dry by turns.  I've only seen one cucumber beetle, very few flea beetles and no squash bugs.  But you know, if nothing is munching on your garden then you're not part of the ecosystem.  Powdery Mildew has yet to show up.  I've learned the magical benefits of worm castings.  I'm enjoying farming buckwheat in my resting beds.  We've got a pantry full of pickles, and all we could want to eat of our favorite fresh veggies.  The fall lettuce is seeded and the garden goes on...