Sunday, June 29, 2014

Stupid Chickens, Bald Kohlrabi, and Soothing Blooms

Stupid chickens!  Poor, bald kohlrabi. I worked out of town for a few days this week, but before I left I planted some seeds and did a few other garden chores, one of which was taking the chicken wire off some of the mature vegetables so I could use it to protect the newly planted seeds from Helen and Mrs. Hall.  On my first morning back home, I did a quick garden inspection and found that the chickens had eaten my beautiful kohlrabi!  All of it!  Like I said, stupid chickens.  Stupid Rain too, for thinking that even if the chickens took a few bites of some of the plants it wouldn't matter because there was so much, and so far they hadn't shown any interest.  Well, they must have acquired a taste for kohlrabi while I was gone, because they ate every scrap of green leaf, and left only the bald purple stems standing in their tidy rows.  I tried to convince myself that providing fresh organic chicken food is a good thing, and that the five eggs I found in the nest box upon my return is a fair exchange for my greens, but I'm not sure I've convinced myself.  Grrrr...stupid chickens...

My frustration with the early demise of the kohlrabi was greatly eased by a self guided garden photography tour focusing on flowers.  I have more wild bergamot blooms right now than I have ever had before, and as far I can tell, chickens don't like bergamot.  The strange purple blooms are dominating the flower bed on the west side of the house, and the bees are attending to every bloom.  It's very soothing to watch the bees at their work.  Deep breath.  I may forgive the stupid chickens.  

To complement the purple blooms of the bergamot, the orange lilies are at the peak of their bloom. 

For the first time, I noticed that I have two different kinds of orange lilies.  The lilies in the photo above have double and triple layers of petals.  

But the orange lilies by the front fence have only a single layer of petals.  I think these are the same as the orange lilies I see growing wild in road ditches.  I tend to dismiss them as an invasive weed, and to sometime regret planting them since they try to crowd out my irises, but right now, when the blooms are so bright and cheerful, I have to admit that despite their bad habits, they are big beautiful flowers.  

Last year, the lance leaf coreopsis in my wildflower garden stole the show, and I was afraid it was taking over the whole bed.  But this year, I have a single plant in a sea of sunflowers.  The sunflowers aren't blooming yet, so I'm grateful to this single plant for adding a small dash of yellow to my tangle of green weeds wildflowers.  

I don't really understand why the coreopsis isn't present like it was last year (very cold winter?), but I do like that the wildflower garden is never the same from year to year.  

The rose of Sharon is another plant that I don't always appreciate as much as it deserves.  I get frustrated with it because I'm constantly pulling seedlings from places they don't belong, like the asparagus bed, or from along the fence, but when I stop to really examine those plants that I have allowed to grow, I'm always caught off guard, because these are very lovely blooms.  Especially this purplish pink one that grows near the driveway.  

In the evenings, the petals close up, and I really understand why it has rose in it's name.  The flowers do look like rose buds.  

I have read that merigolds repel insect pests in the garden, so I like to plant them in my garden beds.  I can't tell that they actually repel insect pests, but it's nice to have a splash of color in the vegetable garden.  

Not all the vegetable plants are green though.  Right now, the dill is a lovely forest of yellow.  All these dill plants came up on their own, from seeds dropped from last years dill plant.  I love they way they look as a group, and the insects love the nectar from the flowers.  If you look closely in the photo above you may be able to find the swallowtail butterfly.  

Here he is!  He's still a swallow tail butterfly caterpillar, but if he can survive all the birds, and those silly chickens, he's welcome to feast on my dill until he earns his wings.  

This is a photo of blackberry number two.  I ate number one a few days before, and it wasn't quite ripe so it was very tart.  Number two was delicious!  

I think wild poke berry flowers are adorable.  They are teeny tiny, so I really have to look close, but when I do, I think they look like the real life version of every daisy doodle I've ever doodled.  So cute!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Back Butter

Working on this old house has been great exercise for our brains as well as our muscles.  Each time we tackle a new job, we learn a new set of skills.  Well, to be fair, we learn about a set of skills without always mastering the skill itself, but still, we have expanded our tool collection, our experiences, and even our vocabulary.  For instance, we read that to lay tile on an uneven surface, like our cracked bathroom floor shown above, we needed a technique called "back buttering".  Mmmm... back butter.  Sounds yummy, huh?  

This photo shows the bathroom floor tile job when it's nearly complete.  Even with our amateur back butter skills, I'm impressed with our accomplishment.  Especially in photos, since you can't really see that slight slope as the tiles go over the hump in the middle of the room.  Ah well, it's much better than before!

Before we even got to try our hands at back buttering, we first had to mix the tile mortar.  The man on the interweb said to mix it to a consistency of mayonnaise, but the helpful fellow at Lowe's said to mix it to a peanut butter consistency.  Mayonnaise, peanut better, and back butter - who knew laying tile would be so tasty?  

Brandon put a giant blender attachment on his drill so he could mix the mortar in a bucket.  I was amazed that he had a blender attachment, and felt a little like he's been holding out on me.  If I had known this thing was available, I might have been mixing cookies by the bucketful, just because I could! 

Back buttering just means that extra mortar is used on the floor, and on the back of the tile, to build up the low places and get the edges of the tile to match up.  The mortar is spread on the floor with a trowel, then the back side of the trowel is used to scratch groves in the layer of mortar before the tile is laid down.  Little spacers are put between the tile to keep them evenly spaced.  Sounds pretty easy, right?  Wrong!

Laying tile might be easy for people who weigh little, and have lots of practice kneeling.  We are neither light nor good kneelers, so even with knee pads it didn't take long for our knees to feel bruised and our backs to feel tired.  The worst was when one of us would stick a tile down in our carefully applied mortar only to realize that the floor was not level and the tile had to be pried back up so more mortar could be applied to level it out.  "Oh no! I need back butter!" was our desperate cry.  We took turns laying rows, but even still, near the end when we could see the light at the end of the tiled tunnel, we started to resent the extra moments on our knees required by that darned back butter.  At one point when I was agonizing over a tile that just wouldn't line up, Brandon reminded me that the tile was never perfect in any of the cathedrals or ancient ruins we visited in Rome, and we didn't hear any complaints.  Good point!  

Brandon bought the tile at a discount building supply store, without getting to ask my opinion, since he didn't want to take a chance on losing them if someone else bought them before I could see them.  He called to tell me that he found a deal he just couldn't pass up, and that he was pretty confident I would like the tile, but I could tell he was a little nervous.  I understand his nervousness.  No one wants to be the one who bought the non refundable ugly tile and have that hang over them for the rest of their bathroom's life.   Thankfully, we both like the tile just fine, and since we needed one hundred of them, it was great to get them at a discounted price.   

In the photo above, Brandon is using a tile saw.  It's a really cool tool, and has blade made with diamonds on the edge, and has a tray of water that the blade runs through to help it zip through the tile.  We were able to cut the tile on the edges of the room and against the shower.  

Now that we are done with the tile and the back butter, I get to learn about grouting.  Oh, my poor knees! 

Friday, June 20, 2014

The True Benefits of a Clothes Line

The recent heat has encouraged us to hang more of our laundry outside on the clothes line.  I've found that there are benefits to drying clothes outside, that go beyond having super scratchy "exfoliating towels" and moral dilemmas about whether or not it's wrong to put the side of the sheet with bird poop on it on Brandon's side of the bed without at least telling him it's there.  He's better off not knowing, right? 

The benefit of a clothes line that most people present is energy conservation.  Good point.  And there's also the benefit of not making my bathroom hot when the dryer is on.  Since my dryer is particularly inefficient, and takes several cycles to dry a big load, clothes actually dry faster on the line on a good hot day, which means I don't hit a bottleneck caused by my terrible dryer.   All good things, for sure, but these are not the true benefits of the clothes line that I have come to appreciate.  

The best thing about the clothes line is that by the time I have finished hanging the first load, I'm terribly hot despite having enjoyed about half of the home brew beer that I brought with me.  Cheers, chickens!  Since I'm hot, and I still have half a beer, it's only logical that I get in the swimming pool to cool off and finish my beverage.  By the time the beer is gone, and I am refreshed, I've noticed over the rim of the pool that I really should pick the ripe sweet peas, or lettuce, or weed something.  There is always some pleasant garden chore. I need to drip dry anyway, so I putter around in the garden in my bathing suit and then realize that I'm thirsty again, and hey, the laundry is already dry.  I might as well hang another load, and grab a tasty beverage while I'm at it.   Of course, this means I'll need to get in the pool to cool off after, and the cycle begins again.  It's perfect.  By the end of the day, I can honestly claim that I spent the entire day catching up with laundry!   

It must be the season for clothes line consideration, because on of my favorite authors/bloggers, Gene Logsden, had clothes lines on his mind too.  Click here to read his post.  It doesn't sound like he has mastered the swimming pool technique, but his shady porch sounds pretty good too.     

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Shade I Made

I was sitting outside on my swing, like I do, as I pondered the situation with my blackberry plants - their slow decent from magnificence.  Once again, I was attempting to explain to myself their poor performance, without having to actually get up from the swing and do things, like weeding, mulching, feeding, or trimming them.  Surely it's the fault of the shade, so there's no point in putting myself out, right?  As I looked at the shade, I had a sudden memory of the yard of ten years ago, and realized that one of the biggest differences between then and now, is the shade I made.  Well, technically the fence, trees, shrubs, and trellis's are making the shade, but their presence is my doing, so I'm claiming the credit.    

I tend to admire my plants, or their fruit and blossoms, but don't always register their other great byproduct.  The photo above shows the evening sun sinking behind the tall silky dogwood shrubs behind the blackberry patch.  Shade on the blackberries isn't that great, but being able to stand in the yard and escape the sun might just be worth a few gallons of berries.  Thank you, shade.  

Thanking the shade on the west side of the house, encouraged me to give some appreciation to the shady nook along the south fence, that is created by the sumac shrub.  Years ago, when I brought home a dormant sumac plant that I pulled out of the ground, and Brandon asked me why I was planting a stick, neither of us really expected the lonely stick to grow to such heights and become such a dominant presence in the back yard.  Now it's tall enough that we can actually put our lawn chairs under it's branches and enjoy the shade.  

Here's the view from inside the shady sumac nook.  As much as I like to be in the sun at the pool side, I really appreciate having a seat out of the blaze.  Leaves and seeds in the pool make more work for pool maintenance, but the shade is worth it.  

The last few days in the mid-nineties has really made me conscious of shade everywhere I go.  Shade is a wonderful thing.  I like it so much, I'm not even embarrassed that I was in my garden taking pictures of it!  Nerd.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Things are Happening at the Old Farm House

I realize that not everyone is going to get the thrill that I do, when looking at this photo taken at the old farm house on Sunday.  What looks like a wonky shaped room on an un-level and broken concrete slab to others, looks to my eyes to be a symbol of progress and a future of laundry bliss!  Look at it - it's drywall.  Say it with me, "OOoooo....dry waaaalll..."

Not only is there insulation behind the drywall, and electricity behind the insulation, but there is a ceiling made from tongue and grove wood.  Brandon found the pallet of wood planks at a Surplus Sales store, and it was obviously someone's rejected boards from a project, but cost less than a hundred dollars, which is a deal.  It was one hundred and fifty square feet, and our bathroom/laundry room ceiling is one hundred square feet.  By cutting out the busted bits, and piecing the good parts together, we had enough to do the ceiling and even enough left over that I think we can do the pantry too. Sweet score! 

After working on drywall in the bathroom, we moved upstairs to work on adding boards to the underside of the roof.  We are sistering two-by-six boards to the existing two-by-fours, so we can use six inches of insulation in the ceiling.  Brandon worked to create a form so we didn't have to measure angles each time we cut a board, and then he stapled up some string guides so we could get all the boards level-ish.   

I don't know if this was an easier job than we expected, or if we are getting better at this carpentry stuff, but we put up twenty-eight eight-foot boards in one evening!  Of course, Brandon's new nail gun is partly responsible for our speedy progress.  I'm terrified of it, since it sounds like a gun each time a nail goes in a board, and a spark and a shard of metal comes zinging out of it, but it's much better at putting nails in the hard oak the house is made of than we are.  In the photo above, you can see Brandon wielding the nail gun.  The brace on his forearm is to help with the bad case of tendonitis that he has from spending so much time banging on things for this project.  The cure for tendonitis is stretching, and not gripping anything for six to eight weeks.  It's hard to build a house without gripping things!  

It was very hot in the second floor of the house, even with all the windows open and a fan blowing sawdust in our eyes.  We lugged all those boards up the stairs, and with each board to get nailed up, Brandon had to climb up and down the ladder holding the weight of the board in place until I could hand him the nail gun, or a saw to cut roofing nails out of the way.  Then down the ladder, pick up the next board, mark it, cut it, and repeat.  About three quarters of the way through, when we were getting exhausted, but could see the finish line, Brandon noticed a snake curled up against the chimney where we needed to work.  In one of his rare moments of frustration, and faced with a snake extraction, he exclaimed with real feeling, "Oh why is there always a snake?!!"  This made me laugh, which made him laugh, and then we both laughed and laughed that there really is always a snake where we need to work, which is a unique problem to have.  This snake wasn't Carlos, the big snake, but one of the smaller snakes, so it was only about four feet long.  We ended up pulling it to the floor so it could crawl off to the ceiling above the front room, where it belongs.    

Before we exhausted ourselves working on the upstairs ceiling, I spent some time outside admiring the foliage.  My favorite blooms right now are the milkweed plants that grow behind one of the outbuildings.  The flowers are beautifully alien looking, and have a wonderful scent.  Each bloom had numerous insects enjoying the nectar too, so I know they are appreciated by more than just me.  

I counted at least twenty-five plants, and some were nearly as tall as I am.  I want to protect these plants from the mower this year so the seeds will spread.  I've read that the monarch butterflies are having a hard time of it these days because people keep their properties too clean and tidy, and there aren't enough milkweed plants to feed the larvae.  

Speaking of butterflies, have you ever spent any time watching butterflies with binoculars?  I brought the binoculars to the farm to watch the birds, but was even more captivated by the butterflies.  I saw at least five different species, and they are fascinating to watch as they fly from blossom to blossom in the meadows.  

Because we haven't mowed our fields yet this year, many of the plants other than grass are blooming, and providing butterfly habitat.  What looks to be random fluttering of wings, is actually very accurate flying and landing as the butterflies maneuver between the tall grasses and expertly land on blossoms.  They are very meticulous and hop from bloom to bloom probing for a drink.  

During breaks from butterfly watching and snake wrangling, I made a little progress on the metal kitchen cabinets, including several coats of the color paint.  

It's so...colorful!  I can't decide if I like it.  I mean, I like the color, but I'm struggling to imagine a kitchen with all the cabinets blue-green ("nautical").  Will it be too much?  I'm trying to be brave though.  Brandon says if we are going to have a funky little kitchen, we might as well have funky cabinets too.  

Monday, June 16, 2014

Lettuce Admire My Lettuce

Is it just me, or do you also think this is a beautiful lettuce?  Not that all lettuce isn't beautiful, because they are, but I think this lettuce was particularly attractive.   Fully formed, free of insect holes, vibrant spring green with a delicate pink blush at the leaf tips, all of which contrasted nicely with the blue-green cabbage leaves behind it.  Overall, the lettuce had a pleasingly symmetric and nearly indecent deep bodied shape.  My most beautiful lettuce ever!  I admired it daily as it was growing, and worried that I was going to leave it until it was old and bitter because I couldn't bring myself to pick it.  I took it's photo so many times that I could make an album of it's adolescence.  

Last week I sacrificed the lettuce for salad and sandwiches for Jamie and myself.  It was delicious.  Still tender and crisp with the perfect amount of bitter.  To accompany the meal, we drank our last bottle of home brew wheat beer, bottled over a year ago and saved for a special occasion.    

Behind the beautiful lettuce, and overflowing my raised beds, is a tangle of vegetation that includes sweet peas, leaf lettuce, onions, tomato, cabbage (or broccoli, I can't remember which), a squash vine, some kale, parsley, and, of course, weeds.  If I push aside the cabbage leaves, I find a surprise...

What is it?  Could it be...?

Ta-DA!  A real life fennel!  There are three of them, and they look as though they are growing into lovely fennel bulbs.  I've been picking some of the frilly leaves to add to salads, mixed drinks, and just to taste, but for some reason I was surprised to find that the fennel was actually growing into a fennel.  I think my surprise comes from planting fennel it the past, and never managing to grow it long enough to form a bulb.  Apparently it likes rich soil and doesn't mind being crammed in a box with way too many other plants.  

Speaking of way to many plants, this raised bed is also overflowing with thyme, oregano, a volunteer squash, sugar snap peas, volunteer tomato, dill, cilantro, chamomile, and a diversity of wild flowers weeds.  

The peas are packed in so tight that I get to create my own yoga positions as I harvest the ones in the center.  I refer to leaning over the chicken wire, and reaching through the tomato cages to pluck peas with my finger tips as the unsupported Leaning Pea Pose.  It's good for the hamstrings.  

Believe it or not, but I took this picture after I weeded and thinned this bed.  It's still supporting a nice population of weeds, but despite the over crowded conditions, I'm getting beet tops, kohlrabi, chard, and carrot tops for smoothies daily.  There's even a tomato and a marigold buried in there somewhere. 

Somehow, one of my onion beds became an onion, tomato, sweet pea, and parsley bed.  I always tell myself that I would have as much success, or even more success, if I gave each plant it's fair share of space.  I just can't help it.  I like to crowd them.  

Not everything is growing like it should though.  Remember my cool bean seeds, the heirlooms gifted to me that I planted on my teepee?  Well, of the forty beans I planted, only one germinated.  Just one!  Not cool, beans.  

Friday, June 13, 2014

Posing with Carrots

I paused this morning on my way to the car, to admire and photograph the colorful artwork on my sidewalk.   Don't you think my youngest niece's rainbow hair is lovely?  After a fun filled evening, which included playing in the swimming pool, running in the sprinkler, tasting vegetables from the garden, playing keep-away with the dog, sidewalk self portraits, hop scotch, and campfire marshmallow toasting (oh my!), it was nice to see some evidence of the good time which seemed to go by in a blur of toys and popsicles.   

I like the cute green eyelashes and button nose on the drawing of my older niece.  She looks just as cute in real life, but normally her eyes are blue, and only look pink in photos with a bad flash.  What's with the blue halo or spacesuit, I wondered?

My contribution to the portraits was to outline their bodies when they laid down on the sidewalk.  I had to work fast, since there was some worry that the ants on the sidewalk wouldn't remain on the sidewalk given the opportunity to colonize prone children.   After studying the drawings this morning in the daylight, I decided the blue helmet must be to protect her from the raindrops which are coming from above.  At least I hope they are raindrops...

What kind of aunt asks a kid to pose with a carrot?!  I just couldn't miss the opportunity to combine the cuteness of brand new front teeth, with the cuteness of baby carrots from my garden.  I said "you look just like Bug's Bunny!," and I got a polite smile in return.  Who?  

My worst party faux pas, by far, was that I didn't have any ranch salad dressing to dip the carrot in, and we had to settle for a vinaigrette!  Some of us really enjoyed eating the little carrot, and some of us didn't, but the highlight was really getting to pull them from the ground and washing the dirt off.   

The kids weren't the only ones enjoying the garden harvest this week.  I've been making green smoothies using kohlrabi, chard, beet leaf, parsley, and carrot top, blended with banana's and frozen fruit.  My sandwiches are over loaded with lettuce, and a salad with homegrown lettuce, sugar snap peas, and chopped fennel leaf was a highlight of the weeks menu.  

Mmmm....liquid vegetables...  Cheers!
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