Sunday, January 26, 2014

What the Heck Has Been Going On, part 3

This time of year I find myself insanely optimistic and excited about the yard. Insane because it's January, well below freezing, and the yard is of course well below a lot of snow. And I know, deep down, that it's possible snow won't be melting and ground won't be thawing for as much as three or four more months. Oh the agony!  All I can do is make plans. I like making plans well enough, but I like doing a lot more. All this planning, planning, planning is agonizing without any doing, doing, doing!

One thing to be excited about is that my sister sent me a gift of daffodils and tulips last fall. There were several bags which I think added up to dozens and dozens of bulbs. I planted the front yard full and found a place for a bunch in the back yard, on top of the terrace, as well. I can't wait for them to come up! They're all different colors and styles so that will be excellent – compared to the old yellow standbys I've had for years. I've also got a little patch of crocus that didn't do so well last year, but hopefully will do better this year. And I tried an experiment of planting the garlic in with the strawberries. I only had one garlic plant come up last year – a total fail – so I hope they do better this year.

I tried an experiment of “insulating” our rosemary plant with lots of hay to see if it might survive the winter and come back. I'm a little dubious now that our winter has been so thoroughly cold, but maybe something will have made it? Only time will tell.  Maybe this will be the year I finally finish the terrace as well. There is still a pile of “urbanite” (broken up bits of sidewalk) that has been laying around for years. I'd really like to get it done.  And then there is the last bit of retaining wall in the front yard to finish.

Here's the terrace in mid-November. You can't really see the rosemary, it's behind the tree trunk, absolutely buried in hay. Fingers crossed!

Something else I've been thinking about for awhile is a water feature. I used to love going to gardening centers and nurseries with my mom and I would spend as much time as possible ogling the fountains and ponds. Every now and then I see a set-up in an old bathtub and I want it so bad!  I saw one in a book the other day and got to thinking and talking about it again.  I'm always wondering where we could put something like this and the one place I'd thought of is the top of the terrace. It would mean digging out a ton of dirt to sink a tub...but it would be pretty cool. Of course I just planted a ton of daffodils and tulips of there, and there is a ton of thyme, and some asparagus.  Maybe not a good spot. So now we're thinking about sinking it in the raingarden. There's not too much going on in there at the moment, mostly just irises and turtlehead – and a few other random tidbits, maybe a hollyhock. It would be pretty easy to move things around and plop a tub in. And then what? Is it for grey water? Do we have water plants and fish? How do we keep it from becoming a mosquito breeding ground? There is still a lot of research to do. The problem is, a lot of books or articles or websites seem intent on a particular kind of water feature in a particular kind of yard. A very pretty yard that doesn't look overgrown and unkempt – like our yard. =) I don't want a pretty water feature with a fountain and pumps running, complete with miniature benches and doilies and ridiculous stuff like that. I want it to look natural and be functional. More research is needed - plus I'll have to find a small tub to use in the first place. =)

And I think it's time to bring out a master plant person who can help me identify some of the last plants I don't know about and then help me make some plans about what else I can grow in certain areas. There are big swathes of yard that don't have much going on, maybe because they're just too shady. I want to get some plants going there. And I want more bird/butterfly/bee attracting plants. We're doing pretty well on that now I think, but... more! More! More!  I'm planning to add lavender to the yard this year. I need all the hardy bee-attracting perennials I can get.

Also, we've got a whole grove of Quaking Aspens coming up in the side yard now. We had the three junky elm trees cut down last April, and then a crazy windstorm last June took out one of our Aspens and put a permanent bend in another.

We had to top one of the Aspens when we first moved in, so that leaves just one that hasn't been maimed in some way. There was a young one growing up between the three elms, but I'm not sure it's going to make it. I think the Aspens, who are all linked together by roots running just at or below the surface, saw what was going on and set to work making babies. The side yard was so full of young trees it was ridiculous.  I cut back all but the biggest ones in the fall and hope  that the 6-8 I left will spring up healthy and get tall fast.

There, I've gone and got crazy about garden planning – and that's not even talking about what annual vegetables to plant! Come on spring! Don't let Old Man Winter keep you down for too much longer!

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Bonus pictures. Hmm, the word "bonus" has a positive connotation and there's nothing positive about these pictures.  I realized I never posted pics about the big wind we had on June 21st.  Not really a big wind storm, just one big 60 or 70 mile an hour gust of wind. It took down thousands of trees across the Twin Cities. My neighborhood was in the worst hit area. I don't think there was a single block that didn't lose a tree. Many cars were wrecked and several houses were damaged, some perhaps beyond repair. 
It was an incredible event. Right after it hit, and the day after, everyone in the neighborhood was out inspecting the damage and offering help to neighbors. Woe to the folks who had electric chainsaws - some areas were out of power for days! Xcel had crews coming in from a dozen different states to help with the cleanup, which I have to say is still in process. The light pole across the street from us is still a shattered stump.  
In any case, the damage and loss of trees was stunning, almost beyond comprehension. Some thought the whole area had been wrecked and would never be the same. There are certainly some empty spots in the sky line...but I guess they'll fill in over time. 

Tree across the street - almost every street for blocks and blocks was blocked by a tree like this.

Here's the other side of same tree...

For the trees that tipped over, they pulled up the sidewalks, so there were a lot of sidewalks that had to be replaced.

Same tree across the street. It fell on the light pole and the pole stripped the bark right off.

Another tree in our neighbors yard; they had to take this one down sadly - too much damage.

This car was under that tree...neighbors cut the branches away and the owner drove it away without a scratch on it!

A beautiful Kitalpa around the corner from us.

It was a big beautiful tree.

And it totaled this car!

Branches (as big as trees themselves!) in the parking lot near our house.

These same images were to be found as far as you could walk throughout the neighborhood. Luckily, no one was hurt! 

Friday, January 24, 2014

What the Heck Has Been Going On, part 2

Jeremy's big news is that he had to move the farm in December. Ugh.  He had been making plans in September about how to expand his business and had asked permission of the land-owners to expand into some other areas. They weren't really keen on it and asked him to wait till next May, to see what happens. What's that supposed to mean!?  If Jeremy was going to expand, September to November was the time to get things set-up.  He suspected something was up with the land (since it has been for sale for years and years). He immediately started looking for a new place to move – meeting farmers, taking tours, etc. Nothing was set yet, but he was narrowing it down and hoped to know by February or so and then make the move.  But the day after Thanksgiving he got a call that the land had been sold and he had until the end of December to get out.  The weather hadn't been too bad till that point, but three days  after the call the temperature dropped like a stone and we got our first big snow of the year. Just great. Jeremy talked to some different farms and found a place that was willing to let him move everything. Poor Jeremy spent a good two weeks hauling logs (around 2500), posts, shade fabric, tents, the trailer, etc, etc. It was exhausting and he certainly couldn't have done it without all the volunteer help he got. So now he's in the midst of firming up plans with this new farm. Does he stay there, or move somewhere else? If he stays, what does the new set-up look like and when should he start building it? At the same time, he's trying to track down loggers to get the logs he needs for the year and planning for the types of mushrooms he'll do. I think he's cutting down on Oyster mushrooms. It's too bad because they are so beautiful and very tasty. But people just don't seem to buy them as much as Shiitake. I think people aren't familiar with maybe they're a bit scary. Who knows.

Something else that came up in the fall was the discovery of mold in the walk-in cooler in the basement. Bummer!  The whole walk-in cooler experiment was... very interesting but it was definitely time to move on. We had a modified air conditioner keeping it cold in there, but it just wasn't doing the job properly anymore. Jeremy purchased a chest freezer off Craigslist and did a conversion to make it more of a fridge.  He got another one to use as a freezer. All the mushrooms went to love in the chest fridge and freezer in the garage. We still had a lot of bags of chicken feed in the walk-in, which we kept there to keep away from the mice. But then we discovered the mice had chewed their way in – underground I think, through the basement floor, up through several layers of insulation and plywood till they found a way in. So we got another chest freezer, one that didn't work, so it was free, and we piled all the chicken feed in there. Airtight and mouse proof! Of course – we now have four chest freezers in the garage! Sigh.

Oh. And then Jeremy bought a professional walk-in cooler off Craigslist. It's pretty much a bunch of walls and a ceiling that have to be put together. Of course there is no room in the garage for it at the moment because of how much is in there. We need to do a good cleaning of the garage – get rid of some junk, try to sell that lovely claw-foot bathtub we bought years ago (and now know we will not be using), move things around, organize, etc. A lot of that will be dependent on being able to move some things into the basement. Which is totally packed and unorganized too! So... first things first – we dismantled and removed the root cellar/walk-in cooler.  We're leaving some of the stud walls to create shelving along the back wall. Then we'll be able to organize a lot more stuff into the basement. And we'll be able to clear out the bit of shelving at the front of the basement, which we plan to convert into a chick brooder because we're planning to kill the rest of our chickens this spring and start a new batch of chicks!  It seems all so normal and not a big deal until I say it (or type it out) and then I think – we are crazy!!

These were the canning shelves, devoid of canned goods and coming down. This shelving was attached to the outside of the root cellar / walk-in, so it all had to go!

Here's the outside of the root cellar, one last time!

canning shelves coming down nicely...

Taking off the sheathing, revealing the insulation we'll have to deal with...

Jeremy took out every piece of sheathing and insulation one by one, then I took it through the basement, up the stairs, out the door, to the garage. Boy did my legs hurt after all the stair climbing! And now our garage is packed full of this stuff!

Jeremy surveying the next steps.

Ah, here's where the mice were getting through!  When all the insulation was cleared away we discovered a LOT of holes in the foundation wall, right in the edge between floor and wall. We're going to have to fill those with concrete soon.

We used a blower for much of the process, pointed right out the window, because of the mold. Better safe than sorry!

Getting ready for taking off the interior sheathing...

We used blown in insulation (which had originally come from our top floor when we remodeled up there!) When you take off the sheathing it pours down into the room. What a mess!  We bagged it up and will use it in some other wall-building project in the future I'm sure. 

Oh. And then there's my plan to re-do the bathroom as well. (See what I mean about crazy?) I've been scheming and thinking about if for months, but biding my time till January because I just couldn't think about it till now. And now Jeremy and I have had a chat about it, and there is a plan.  But it's dependent on finding a new bathtub first. A good long one, like six feet I think, and extra wide. We don't want a whirlpool/spa tub, though at that size maybe you can't get a “normal” tub. And the drain needs to be on the right or in the center. And we can't really afford the $1000 or so pricetag I've been seeing for that big of a tub. I'm thinking more like... $200. Any takers? =)  So that requisition might slow things down a lot. But once we secure that, I'm super excited about the changes to the bathroom. I'll have to blog more about that in the future because we have some sinks to decide between and a really beautiful cabinet we got from some friends that just has to be in the bathroom. So stay tuned for that (but you know, not too eagerly...)

Bonus! The tea shelf I bought at Savers in 2008 had become woefully too small for our tea collection. I designed a new version. My sneaky plan was to tell Jeremy the size of the boards I needed so he could cut them out. Then I will put it all together. Well, Jeremy saw my picture so he went ahead and put it all together for me. Yay!  I feel like we could already use a slightly bigger one...or maybe we should cut down on the tea? Anyway, it's very simple and beautiful and I love my new tea shelf!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What the Heck Has Been Going On, part 1

I thought it was hard to keep up with the blog when I went from being full-time unemployed to employed part-time! Things certainly slowed down a bit after I got that job back in 2010. But they came to a screeching halt when I got a new job, a full-time job, in September!

Yes, that is why it has been so deadly quiet around here.  I've only got a few hours at night between getting home from work and falling into bed.  It doesn't leave much time for blogging – let alone doing all the projects I'd like to do in order for me to have something to blog about!

I keep wanting to say, “I promise this year to do better,” but I'd rather not make promises I don't think I can keep. Also, I don't want to have a weight of guilt hanging over me that I haven't blogged about this or that, etc.  So, I'll carry on as usual – I'll blog when I feel like, with no excuses or apologies!  =)

And since I feel like it right now, I'll share a bit of an update about what's happened in the four or five months since my last update.

The last post was about renovating our chicken coop.  That project hasn't been finished yet, but we did enough to make this winter with the birds the best yet. In my opinion. I think in Jeremy's opinion and the chickens' too.  The space that used to be the entire original coop, with hen-house and run, is now all hen-house.  We can keep their food and water inside and use a heat lamp as needed when it gets really cold.  This renovation came none too soon as it has been very cold this winter. December and January have been stunningly cold. We had several days in a row where it didn't get above zero and the wind-chill was wicked. The coldest was -20 something with a -50 wind-chill! The chickens didn't get to go outside for days. But instead of being cooped up in a tiny space, they have a much larger area to run around in and I think it has made them much happier and healthier. Not a single sign of frostbite!

The coop gets insulation and sheathing on the inside (and there is even a ceiling now too!)

In October we decided to cull part of the flock.  We took out six Silver Leghorn hens (who were obnoxiously loud and laid tiny eggs), the rooster (who was just obnoxiously loud), and a Rhode Island Red (who had become our yard chicken – separated from the flock due to some illness, but then unable to be reunited with the flock, and also not laying eggs anymore).  This was our best culling yet.  We set a large plastic table up in the center of the garage, up on blocks so we didn't have to bend over, and hung a huge shop light directly overhead so there was plenty of light. We kept a pot of water simmering on a single electric burner for the scalding part. We put the killing stump just outside the door, right in the middle of a garden bed – so all the feathers and...  other stuff could just drop into the garden bed and not have to be cleaned up. It went quite well and we've already managed to eat a couple of the birds.

Here's the garage layout for our chicken culling day. Jeremy was at the right height, but I had to have a platform to stand on!

November and December for me were spent sewing and preparing for the Women's Art Festival and Christmas. Also, lots of baking and making Christmas cookies!  There were so many things I wanted to do during the holidays that I didn't get around to.  It made me start thinking about how things have gone the last several years.  This was my fourth Art Festival. My fourth year of scrambling to get enough stuff made for the sale, working for weeks on end, not having time to spend with friends, barely having time to make cookies and Christmas gifts, etc.  So, I decided to take a break from the Festival next year.  I want to enjoy the holiday season! I want to say yes to every invite to a friend's party without feeling guilty that I should be sewing instead. I want to make loads of cookie recipes, instead of only the two or three kinds I think I have time for. Of course this kind of thing is dangerous as it got me to thinking about other ways of taking a break. Soon enough I had decided not to the Powderhorn Art Fair, which I've also done for four years now. Then I would have lots of time to spend working in the yard and perfecting the garden, getting to projects I've wanted to complete for years! And I won't be feeling guilty that I should be inside sewing instead.

Here's the last big quilt (already gone to a good home!) - but I'm planning to make another one, even bigger, soon!

Don't get me wrong: I LOVE sewing.  I have a ton of stuff in process right now and a quilt I'm dying to make as soon as I can find the right fabrics.  But I'm more inspired and energized by wanting to sew and create, than having to. Constant deadlines can crush creativity after awhile. So it's time to take a bit of a break. I'm really looking forward to it.  At the same time, I'm not planning to quit selling things all together. I'll keep my Etsy shop open and I might do a small, non-stressful (or at least not-as-stressful) neighborhood house sale in December.

To be continued...