Monday, June 30, 2008

Many hands make quick work...and turkeys come watch

Parents arrived yesterday and soon after, a child. Troy and I are still working this week until Thursday so he put them to work while we were gone today! What a great family. Well, ok, Isaac's getting paid for it, but as far as I can see the 'rents are doing it just cause they love us because really, why else would you do it? In one day they got lots done on laying the foam insulation and more re-bar (re-rod? is there a difference?) and cleaning out all the flotsam that has collected between the forms over the winter.
Warren cutting some foam to fit and Isaac cleaning out the "gutters" at the end of a productive day:

Ok, and what about the turkeys?? Well, they came around for a visit on Sunday while Troy was off to the airport to pick up kid and Warren and Peggy were just about to arrive. I look out the window and see two turkeys daring to come out on the lawn.

As I continued to watch I finally saw two poulets traveling with them. You can see one between the parents in this shot. (Excuse the glare from the window I couldn't open.) I don't see the second poulet although I know it's close by.

All the news for now. Troy only works a half day tomorrow so who knows how much they'll all get done tomorrow! Tune in next time...


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Why we can't pour cement yet

I realized after posting my last blog that I gave the impression that we were ready to pour cement. But I had forgotten a crucial step: insulation. (How could I forget? If you've read about it once on this blog, you've read it a hundred times: insulation insulation insulation...) Anyway, Troy had not forgotten and set about to put down the insulation board that he bought last year when it was on sale. He cleaned out three stores in the area, and it has been precariously stored in huge stacks at the back of our property line. I think we had to pick up pieces scattered by the wind only once (this stuff can really fly) before we got serious about weighing it down with firewood. (Of course! We have loads of feld trees still laying around back there.)

Here is Troy laying the first piece. (I'm hearing a drum roll in my head.) He has to cut all of the pieces on the first layer to fit around the stakes from the forms.
And here is one evening's work:
Troy is putting down two layers of foam board for four inches of insulation. And then laying out 1/2 mile of re-rod. He had to special order that quantity but it arrived in a very speedy manner and didn't slow him down at all (like he feared).
All for now,

Friday, June 27, 2008

How to deal with grass, or why grass is evil, mostly.

The evils of grass.

My wife has done an excellent job documenting our slow steady progress. A few posts back, she made a comment about our lawn/grass that got me thinking about the whole grass issue. The lawn didn’t look too bad when we moved in, but it was bad. Bad on several levels even.
As measured against a “beautiful” traditional lawn, ours was full of weeds, lumpy and bumpy, hadn’t been fertilized in years and years and was generally in need of attention.

As measured against a world with rapidly shrinking fossil fuel resources, pretty much all grass lawns are a big black hole for energy and a big source of pollution from herbicides, pesticides, fertilizer runoff, etc. The average homeowner applies various pesticides and herbicides at rates that are often an order of magnitude higher than a real farmer. Taken together, north Americans are putting thousands of tons worth of nasty chemicals into the groundwater, streams, rivers and oceans. There is a better way.

In many parts of the continent, grass is putting a real strain on water supplies, and some areas have been forced to limit homeowners in how much and how often they can water. It’s all a big waste and will have continued bad effects on aquifers in many places. Please stop. Please stop now.

Monocultures in general are unstable. They take considerable work and energy to maintain. Despite your best and most expensive efforts, they can crash catastrophically, like the Irish potato famine. Conventional lawns are a pox on the environment and I would just as soon not have one.

At our last house, which had a lawn slightly bigger than a postage stamp, I threatened to tear the sod completely out and plant corn in the front yard. But my beautiful spousal unit was not entirely convinced or amused and the plan was never put into action. I did put in a strawberry bed in the front yard and we did have some berry bushes in the back yard so it was not a complete waste of soil.

The new place gives us a lot more room to experiment. We’re trying a few different ground covers, I’m planning my killer big garden, I ordered a couple of books about greenhouse organic home veggie production.

So, in summary, grass is bad and you should think about replacing yours with something useful and local and low maintenance, preferably edible. You’ll be happier and richer in the end. The environment will thank you. It is the stewardly thing to do.

If you really must have grass, let it be long fescue, which has roots that go down 4-5 times deeper than normal grass. This provides much greater resistance to drought. It rarely needs to be watered unless you live in places like Arizona, and then you shouldn't really be growing grass anyway. And don’t use bad synthetic chemicals on your lawn, you’ll end up drinking them. Be NICE to your liver. After copious research, I have distilled organic lawn care into a few easy rules:

1. Don’t water your grass unless it really needs it. That means visible wilting. Occasional dryness will encourage the grass to grow deeper roots which will help it in dry weather. If it turns brown, you’ve gone too far.

2. If you’re going to water it, water it deep. If the ground isn’t getting really wet six inches down, you’re doing a bad job. Frequent shallow watering causes shallow, weak root systems. Go ahead and dig a little hole after watering. It’s about the only way to really know how you’re doing. You may need to water three or four hours in one hour chunks (rather than four hour continuously) to avoid runoff and waste. There are digital timers that make this easy.

3. Set your mower to the tallest height, three inches or more. Lower than that causes the grass to try to grow “extra fast” to make up for the lost photosynthetic area. This causes weak growth that is susceptible to disease and makes you mow more. It also prevents the grass from out competing the weeds by shading them out.

4. Don’t bag your clippings and throw them out. They are good for the grass and can supply a substantial part of the necessary nutrition. If you must bag your clippings, then dump them on your compost heap so you can recycle the nutrition back into the yard with finished compost. A sharp mower blade makes it easy for the clipping so decompose right in place without making a big mess on the yard.

5. Don’t use chemical fertilizer which causes fast/weak growth, especially the high nitrogen stuff. Sure, it looks good at first, but what about the long run? This is like crack cocaine for your grass. Instead, use an organic slow release product. The best one I know of at the moment is rabbit food. Yes, rabbit chow. This is an alfalfa product that will give slow steady nutrients to your lawn and not make it go all crazy from too much nitrogen. If you have a “Farm and Feed” store, the bulk feed is only $10 per 40 pound bag. Anybody that breeds rabbits or participates in the 4-H rabbit competition will know where to get the big/cheap bags. Many soils also need a little lime. Get the pelleted slow release stuff, not “quicklime.” A little compost does a world of good as well, even a quarter of an inch spread over the sad parts of your yard will help.

6. Change your expectations. Clover is considered a “weed” in conventional lawns. But in fact, a little clover is a good thing, as it sucks nitrogen right out of the air and actually adds to soil fertility. A few dandelions are ok, and their deep tap root brings nutrients up to the surface. If they bother you, get out there with a dandelion tool and pull the biggest and worst offenders and throw them on the compost pile—they will add to your nitrogen and nutrients. Many songbirds eat dandelion seeds when they are abundant in the spring. When young and small, dandelions make a pretty decent salad green and are loaded with vitamins. A biodiverse lawn with various grass and non-grass species dotted here and there provides a more resilient and stable lawn.

7. A little overseeding in the fall with tall fescue on the weak patches will invigorate your yard over a few seasons. Do it in the fall for much better germination and less fuss and watering. Stay away from the older “Kentucky” tall fescue. It’s not as vigorous as some of the newer tall fescues.

That’s it for now from the great redneck hinterlands.

The Power of Triangles

Troy has been busy filling in the gravel around the plumbing. On Tuesday he rented one of those thumper things and tamped everything down good. Yesterday he worked with a sledgehammer and worked on all the little corners the big thumper couldn't get to. Everything is looking flat and solid.

And what about the power of triangles? That was a comment Troy made as we installed the supports for the forms on Wednesday night. Did you notice the "we" there? I had to help as the job turned out to sometimes be a four-hand-and-a-foot sort of job between holding the board straight, forcing the support into place and running the screw gun. Some of the 2x6s were extremely warped but a lot of screws and a couple supports went a long way and things look pretty good now.
We should be pouring concrete soon. Troy was talking with Inspector BS yesterday and he reminded Troy that his permit expires on July 12. It would be nice to have it poured by then, but it's not a huge deal if it's not. (The permit was about $200, so that would be the most we'd pay for a new permit. BS did say he would cut us a break if he got the first pre-pour inspection done since the permit is supposed to include 6 inspections...and if he's already done one, we would only pay for 5 inspections. Or something like that.)

That's the week in a nutshell.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

To Quote Jeff Foxworthy

You know you're a redneck eat dinner with a gun at your side to shoot rodents out the window while you're still sitting at the table.

True story.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Small Garden Update

I can't remember if I mentioned that I had two peonies come up in wild places in the yard. This dark pink one is growing past the edge of our lawn in the start of the woods. It bloomed last year as well.
And then this one came up right in the middle of a big evergreen bush in the front lawn. I mean really! It had two lovely light pink blooms. I really want to move it, but I don't know how I shall get it out without destroying it. So for now, it stays.
I bought myself a treat at the local farm market store. They had some beautiful pieces from Mexico and I couldn't resist this rabbit in a gorgeous cobalt blue. I used my birthday money, so thanks, Tom and Clures!
And since nothing else is really blooming or flourishing around the place right now I will show off Troy's potatoes which couldn't be happier or doing better. They're planted along the west wall of the kitchen. And yes that is shredded paper mulch. Troy seems to like nothing better than shredding our sensitive papers and then so-called burying them in the garden.

Enjoy your garden, wherever you are,

Inspection down the drain

This post was going to be called "Where oh where is the inspector?" b/c Troy has been done the plumbing for some days but the inspector showed up before I wrote the blog. (I guess he won that one.) Yesterday we came home to an approval on the plumbing work Troy has done...with one caveat: Troy must add a T-joint and cleanout pipe which is accessible from the outside of the builing. Troy does not think this is necessary (or he would have done it in the first place) and he's not sure why Mr Inspector wants it, but what can you do. (And this is not Inspector BS in case you are wondering.)

Here are some shots of Troy's lovely work. In the first shot, the closest drain is for the sink and the next ones for the facilities. (No shower, but I really hate to call it a "powder room" in a shop!)
In this next shot the first drain is for the mechanic shop and the next one down the line will service the biodiesel station. You use a lot of water to wash vegetable oil.

Lastly, we have a shot of the 2x6s Troy is adding to the top of the outside of the forms. This was part of the revisions to the plans made for Inspector BS earlier this spring. It will serve to make a thicker floor and foundation.
That is all for now. Troy has had good clear weather for the most part, although very hot outside on a lot of days. That is not really a complaint, just reporting the conditions.


Thursday, June 05, 2008

Birthday Flowers

A public thank you to my DH for the birthday flowers. How many have seen roses like this?


You've never seen an elephant like this before

Well, one more gratuitous shot, but after all this is my blog...

Have you ever seen a cuter elephant than this one with a crown of allysum? I can't say his expression says he likes it too much, but I love it!!

This is one of my planters that I have grouped on the east lawn. This particular one also contains dianthus, gazania, and a gerber daisy in bright yellow.


Garden/Landscaping Update

So we have been slowly working on improving our lawn. It wasn't in bad shape when we got it, but last year saw a lot of crabgrass and other weeds move in, and the moles digging extensive underground cities haven't helped either. Then when we removed seven big maple trees, that left a mess and gaping holes to be filled. Isaac seeded a lot of grass last summer which has for one, yielded a great improvement on our west lawn.

The top shot was taking as they were removing the three maples along the west lawn (taken from an upstairs window).

The second shot shows how well the grass is growing in. The lawn is at least twice as wide as it was last year. (You can also note the tilled strip along the house which is where Troy put in some potatoes and tomatoes; and a tilled strip on the right edge of the pic where Troy put in some corn--including popcorn! Woo hoo for me.)

We had a little mishap in the garden over the weekend. I used part of my (precious) day off to pull all the tulip and daf leaves/stems, weed the area, and then spread some mulch to keep the weeds down. I thought this would be especially nice for Troy along the garage where he had put in a second variety of tomatoes. I carefully marked each tomato plant with a tag so I wouldn't crush or damage it. And when I spread the mulch I went so far as to put a plastic cup upside down over the plant so the mulch wouldn't smother or crush it. When removing the cup, I oh-so-carefully brushed the mulch away from the plant so it wouldn't crush it. Well, then it rained (like a motha') on Friday night. The plants were put in right under the garage's drip line. Troy went out on Saturday morning and couldn't find the plants for all the mulch that had flooded over them. He was very worried. (I, however, have more faith in the resilience of plants, especially if give the right care after a crisis.) So he cleared all the mulch from around the plants (again) and we found some cardboard collars that will work very well to protect them until they grow strong enough to take care of themselves.

And now for some gratuitous pics from the garden. I don't remember what this plant to the left is called. They looked very pretty in the catalogue. I remember I resisted them for a long time until I finally purchased some for my very own. They have two problems: 1. the stems like to follow the ground for a while before shooting upward which makes them very vulnerable to the mower (I have them planted at the front of the bed--maybe that's my fault); and 2. the blossoms only look good from underneath. The tops just look green, and a boring green at that. Perhaps I should have put them in hanging baskets, very high ones.

And finally a shot of the alliums I kept going on about. I was right when I said I hadn't planted any "fancy" varieties, but a couple did come out a pale lilac colour (that was a first); but most were the dark purple you see on modeled on the blooms further back in the pic.

Gravel work

When Troy is not working on the dining room (i.e. when they're not forecasting rain), he is still carrying on with spreading gravel for the shop floor.

(May 21)

(Jun 1)

Troy should correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the gravel is now all spread flat, level, and even and he is now laying in tracks for plumbing (??) I think I heard.


We insulate the dining room illustrated

As my DH has requested, I have added some pics of his recent work. I hope you are impressed with the mess, and if pressed I would have to confess that it is still there. I know, just what am I doing that I can't get it done? The dust was fairly well contained to the room and when Troy asked how bad it was, I could honestly say that I didn't notice any difference in the level of dust in the rest of the house...(you may recall that I was out of town when Joel and he did the work--thanks again, Joel!)

And here are some views of Troy's "window boxes."

I do hope you have found these pictures illustrative.

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