Saturday, June 30, 2012

Done, Done, Done, Done, Done!

Done, Done, Done, Done, Done!

(picture this with hips swinging, hands in the air and dancing in circles and you'll come close.)

My child thinks that I went a little crazy for a few moments, or that's what the expression on his face seemed to say.  My girlfriend laughed.  And you probably think I'm a little crazy, at the moment, for being so very thrilled that the weeding is done.  But bear with me for a few minutes and I think you'll understand why it made me so happy.

For over five years now I have suffered from an odd form of depression.  I'm not sad.  I knew what needed to be done.  My body wouldn't do it.  My mind and body have been at war.  And my mind typically lost.  When my mind won, I'd get the energy to do something but typically only for one day.  Then I would be wiped out again.  The docs swore it wasn't anything thyroid/adrenal related despite a family history of those issues, and very very low thyroid readings.

At the end of last year, I got a book on adrenal fatigue.  I was very skeptical but by November I decided to at least give part of the suggestions a try.  I tried one amino acid supplement.  ummm, wow doesn't cover it.  It wasn't instantaneous or continuous at first.  And there are still some rough periods.  But things started changing.  I ended up adding two more supplemental amino acids for a total of three.  By January, things really, really improved.

Guess mind now wins most of the mind/body arguments.  In fact, most days there isn't even an argument anymore.  When my thyroid was tested a few months ago the readings came back mid-range, not bottom end.  I don't know why my body isn't getting these supplements from my diet.  I checked the natural sources and I consume them.  But at least for now, I need to take the supplements.  Maybe, after a while, my body will again be able to function on what is part of my normal diet.

So the reason for the dancing is because a year ago, I could not have gotten the weeding done for my parents.  I would have tried but I would have gotten maybe one good day and then had to quit.  And my mind would have quit because of the heat extremes we've seen this week.  Yesterday hit 106.

This week, I worked during the morning for four days.  The total was 12 hours.  I got all the garden beds done completely.  My body didn't quit on me, although it did give me warnings.  I listened to the warnings and kept going.  My mind didn't quit on me, it just kept figuring out how to get it done.

Of course, I was laughing at myself when my mind gave me the best information just as I was finishing up.  A thick towel to lay over the rocks for sitting.  My stirrup hoe to deal with the rock beds.  Etc.  I just laughed and filed the idea away for next time.  Because there will be a next time.  This has been one of my biggest successes since things started getting better.  The changes in my yard are a close second.  And I like knowing that I can once again do the things that need to be done.

So I'm dancing happy today.  And so incredibly grateful for the intervention from above that led to the ability to feel "human" again.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Hardest Part First

One of the things that my Dad taught me as a kid was to do the hardest part of a task first.  That way when you were tired, you were doing the easier stuff and less likely to make an important mistake.  I try to apply this to everything in our life.  And it works for the most part.  Even if I have to break a task into multiple parts, it's easier to go back to it when I know that the hardest parts are already done.

So for weeding at my parent's house, I started with the front yard.  It was hardest because of my son.  I was going to need to be hyper alert to make sure that he didn't go running off of the front porch.  It was made slightly harder, after the fact, by the Jackson Vine.  Oh, by the way, in Florida that vine is known as saw briar.

The next hardest part was a bed directly against the back of their house.  It has never been mulched or had landscape cloth put down so the weeds were well dug into the soil.  And the soil, which is clay, has been hard baked but the temperatures the past few weeks.  It also has several very thorny plants, including two roses.  There are not many fears for my son in the backyard because it is fully fenced.  And I can keep a close eye on him, even in the pool, regardless of which garden bed I am working on since all the beds are local to the pool.

After the first bed, I moved to the large areas surrounding the pond.  Dad has become addicted to raising Koi and has a pond that is half the size of their pool.  And the surrounding landscaping is equal to the entire pool area, pool and all.  Given how the work was done, I didn't expect any real problems with this area.  And there haven't been any real weed pulling problems.  The problem is the sheer volume of the weeds!  This area contains large areas with no plants at all, just rocks.  And those areas looked like they were debating becoming part of the lawn.  Given another couple of weeks, they probably would have!

This is not normal for my parents.  While Dad doesn't do heavy weeding in those areas, he doesn't typically allow it to get so incredibly overgrown.  If nothing else he will spray weed killer.  But right now, it's starting to look good.  I putting the lack of care down to the fact that Dad hasn't been home for five weekends out of the last six.  And his job has been very very stressful during this time.  Things have been so hectic for him that he even has someone coming in to do the lawn occasionally. 

Anyways, I have about a quarter of that area left to do tomorrow.  And I was getting kind of panicked wondering if I was going to be able to get this done by Sunday.  My parents have been out of town all week and are due back some time on Sunday.  I want this done by then.  So I walked the other garden beds....and took a huge sigh of relief.  There is no denying that the other beds need weeding.  But as of today, only one small section of that is as bad as the section around the pond.  The rest of the beds are weedy but it's a few weeds here and a few weeds there - not a carpet of weeds from one side to the other.

So, hopefully, tomorrow I will be able to get to, and through, the easiest part.  At the very least I will finish the hardest parts and then I can go back early Sunday and finish the easiest parts.  And knowing that those other beds are much easier has kind of buoyed my energy level.  I'm well over half way through, probably over 3/4 of the way through.  The hardest part is almost done.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

One Track Mind

This could also be titled - Overdoing It!

I'm weeding Dad's garden beds this week.  To do this without overheating I'm getting up at dawn - literally - and heading down to their place. 

Yesterday I did all the garden beds that are not behind fencing.  That took about 2 1/2 hours.  The great fun was the saw briar/ jackson vine that I found growing there.  The nasty thorny vine was apparently growing throughout a very very large section of one bed.  After ripping out quite a bit, I realized that we were going to have to use another option for this vine because otherwise I was going to rip through a lot of landscape cloth and mulching.  So I will be teaching Dad what I learned from the nursery, when he gets home.

Anyways, I only stopped because I had to go deal with school officials.  My time would have been better spent working on the gardens.

Today I was determined to get at least halfway through the backyard.  So I kept going even when it got hot.  When I got wobbly, I downed lots of Propel and sat in the pool for a bit.  When the first batch of Propel made my stomach cramp I realized that I had waited too long to start drinking it.  So I made sure the container was refilled then I went back to it.  At about 11:30 I had to surrender at about a third of the way through.  I had to admit that I was being overly stubborn.  I have several more days to work on this but my one track mind wants it done and wants it done now.  So I keep pushing my body to do it.

BTW, these are very, very large garden beds.  On average each bed is at least 6 foot across and 40 feet long - at least.  Most are actually much bigger than that.  They have a very large lot, something like 2 acres. 

But my body has limits in heat and I hit them.  It took an hour in the pool to stop feeling quite so "wobbly".  And then I was just exhausted.  A 5 hour energy drink actually tasted good!  And only lasted about an hour.  All in all, it took about 5 hours and one batch of pain pills for me to start feeling human.  And my stomach still doesn't like the idea of food but it's taking it.

And the grand prize for not stopping earlier - my braid created a skunk stripe through the lovely sunburn on my back.  I originally thought I didn't burn because there was no red, but recent scratching has confirmed that I did indeed burn.  Oops.

So tomorrow, I will stop by 10.  I am going to set an alarm on my phone to make me pay attention to the time.  Two of the remaining beds are really, really bad but the rest aren't so bad because I laid them down and I put very heavy weed barriers down.  So they look bad but the weeds pull out very easily.  It's the garden beds that I didn't do that are going to be the hardest because the weeds will have gotten through to soil that is hard baked right now.

I will be wearing a full shirt and pants tomorrow.  Not the bathing suit and shorts.  Well, at least a shirt over the bathing suit, wet or not.  And I will have a full drink container of Propel next to me at all times.  If I empty it then it will be time to take a break and refill it.

But munchkin thought that this was grand.  He got to curl up on Grandpa's sofa and watch movies for a couple of hours.  Then he got to jump in the pool and play for a couple of hours.  And since he's got the dark italian skin tone he just got darker - no burning.  Sometimes I'm jealous.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Splitting the To Do List

In my house there is the To Do list.  In my mom's house, and my SIL's house, there is the Honey Do List.  Either one seems never ending some days.

I'm having problems refocusing on inside tasks so I decided that I would start by splitting the lists.  That way the stubborn part of my brain that is fixated on the outside tasks can let go and refocus.

So, outside To Do list.  To be worked on if cooler days hit or in September.
          1)  Trellises for Jasmine and Honeysuckle around three front maples.  Transfer plants to each location.  Get native honeysuckle for one of the locations.
          2)  Trimming of back hedge
          3)  Clearing of new back yard bed - the side where the blackberries have rooted in.  Move all the miscellaneous stuff out.  Put in a brick "bed" for the grill.  Dig that section of french drain, fill and cover.  Put in edging - all the way if possible.   Root canes all the way along.  Mulch heavily.  Cut back chaste tree and mallows that are on other side of fence along there.  Pull out honeysuckle that is starting to creep in there.
          4)  Putting in wooden playset for my son
          5)  Moving/leveling trampoline so that the new playset will fit.
          6)  Spreading out strawberry plant runners to blank spots in the strawberry bed
          7)  Fixing greenhouse structure and cover.  Filling thermal mass jugs.  Installing mist system for watering.  Installing shade cover to control temps.
          8)  Clearing area along side of garage and putting mint plants (in planters) along it.  This will involve pulling the existing grass, leveling, and mulching.
          9)  Cleaning out raspberry bed and laying new mulch.
          10)  Dig out privet on side of house.  Prep area for 3 new blueberries in spring.  Includes digging a french drain section behind the location for one of the new blueberries.  Same thing as other french drain section.
          11)  Fix porch gate.  Make a second gate.
          12)  Replace baluster that is breaking on porch railing due to knot in wood.
          13)  Paint porch rails and gates.
          14)  Put up 4 new garden beds.

Ok.  Maybe now my brain can refocus on the inside stuff.  I know my focus for the first couple of weeks/month is going to be the living room.  I want to rearrange a bit.  But then I also want to get the new curtains and curtain rods made and hung.  I'm going to pull the trim around the windows and put insulation in the holes.  Then I'm going to finish painting any trim not painted, including all the new stuff around the door.  Then I'm going to make plastic covered full window inserts for an extra layer of protection during winter.  Oh, and thermal roman shades for winter.  And finally, the couch and chairs need new cushion covers.  I may even get a chance to restain the wood on the two older chairs.  Hmmm....I think at least part of my brain has jumped on to the new To Do list.  Now to see how far I get.

I wonder if I should make the new curtains go from floor to ceiling?  I'll have to see how much fabric I have.

Ok, off to plot.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Well the heat is here.  Now I know that ninety degree weather isn't a problem for a lot of people.  But it is for me.  Even with lots of liquids, I will get heat stroke very quickly in those temps.  I guess it comes with the fair complexion and red hair.  The southern humidity makes it worse.  Even in a pool, I have to limit my time in direct sunlight - and not because of sunburns.  The headaches will be killer if I'm not careful. 

So I will start trying to transition tasks this week.  I will be getting up early to take care of watering, digging out the rest of the Pampas grass, and mulching in the 3 spots that need it.  Early will be at 5:45 to 6 am, just after sunrise.  Although once I get used to it, I'll probably get up before sunrise.  Then I can go back outside at around 7 or so.  It stinks but I actually planned the gardens, and other stuff, so that I could do this when the heat got to be too much.  I just normally have another week or so before we hit those temps.  Not happening this year.  Unfortunately it also means that the back hedge will wait until September to get cut back the rest of the way, because these changes will be in effect until the temps start dropping again.

But I've also promised Dad that I would weed his garden beds next week.  So I'll be breaking that chore up over 3 or 4 days, doing an hour or so at a time.  That way I shouldn't get into too much trouble.  And a quick dip in his pool afterwards will pull my core temp back down effectively.  Fortunately, this is a one shot thing.  It's just that he has sooooo many garden beds that need weeding.

There's only one regular chore that I can't do that early, and that's mowing the lawn.  I have to wait until at least 8 o'clock am to start that chore.  Fortunately, now that the heat has hit, I can normally do it once every 3 weeks.  It's fortunate because I'll be wiped out for that entire day and the next day recovering.

So now I'm shifting gears and plotting the To Do list that involves inside tasks.  There's plenty of cleaning, sewing and other tasks to catch up on.  Although I'm also going to bring the grill up closer to the back door and work on cooking outside when I can.  I've managed to keep the electric bill under $100 for 3 months now.  And I know the higher temps are going to change that but I'm going to do what I can to keep the bill down.  One bonus, the A/C unit is in a naturally shaded area for most of the day.

So unless life throws a curve ball, the projects I'll post here for the next couple of months will be indoor stuff.  I'm off to go through my To Do list and plan things.  I hope you are safe in the heat.

Interplanting wonderings...........

Yesterday I harvested Pinto beans from all the plants that were completely dried out.  About 10 plants gave me about a 1/2 cup of beans.  Since this year I was experimenting to discover plant yields, this wasn't a crisis.  Although I do wish the yield had been higher.   There are still more Pinto bean plants in the garden so the overall yield will be higher.  And it was good to discover that Pinto beans go from seed to yield in 60 days or less.  That's different from the rest of my beans.

In brainstorming for next year, it means I need to plant more.  Pinto beans are not our main use bean but they are used in my house.  And at rates that mean that a 1/2 cup yield would barely touch our use of them.  So I now know that next year I will need to plant at least one whole bed in Pinto beans.  And that I will need to use some type of trellis for support.  I also know that I need to plant them earlier.  This year they didn't get planted until late, late April (almost May).

The problem is the limited gardening beds that I have.  While I want more, unless I get lucky in finding wood I won't get more.  So right now I'm trying to figure out what else I can plant in the bed with the Pinto beans.  Right now the options are tomatoes, cucumbers, onions or garlic.  I don't think the garlic will work because the garlic I have planted right now isn't much taller than the bean plants are.  The onions might work because they are taller so I may try a small mixed patch.  The cucumbers would work because they can be trained to be completely vertical, but the beans would only work on the outside of the bed.  If the beans were further in they'd be buried under the cucumber vines.  And tomatoes would work with the same limitations.

There are other planting combinations I'm thinking of trying as well.  The sweet potatoes could go under the cucumbers.  Greens could go in with the onions and garlic.  Melons could go with the onions or tomatoes or cucumbers.

Right now I'm brainstorming based on plant size and growth rates.  I'm basically trying to create different versions of the "three sisters".  Versions that are based on crops that I grow and use.

At the same time I am working on the start of a Forest Garden.  This is something that I've wanted to do for several years now.  Recently I found a full online course on permaculture.  So I'm taking the course and working on the garden.  The Forest Garden will probably take me years to get fully established but I'm looking forward to it.  Any garden that will provide me with more edibles over time, with less input of hard work and energy from me, is something to look forward to.  And systems that allow nature to work as it should without me having to continually fight it will help us to keep expenses down.

Now realize, I love nature.  But I don't value nature over humans.  What I do value is working with a system that requires less energy input to keep us feed, sheltered and healthy.  There isn't a scenario that I can envision that won't be made easier if the input energy requirements - whatever the source - are lowered.

So I'm working on multiple things and learning as I go.  I'm not really using companion planting guides unless I find them from someone whose actually done it.  If you research how companion plants were originally determined you'll understand why.  It's a quack.  I do have one guide from someone who actually does it but she focuses on flowering and decorative plants, not edibles. 

I wish I could have a week or two to pick the brains of the people who are fully dependent on their gardens - not optionally dependent but truly full dependent.  They would know all the little tricks and planting combinations that work.  It wouldn't be theory or guesswork with them because their lives depend on getting it right.  I've always thought that those should be the people to learn survival gardening from.

Please, share your ideas or experiences.  I love to learn more.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Rain Barrel

I have wanted to have Rain Barrels for forever.  It's one of those projects that is always on my To Do List.  Unfortunately it hasn't been done for a multitude of reasons.  First reason has been the cost.  Yes even homemade rain barrels cost money.  The second reason has been because this house only has one gutter installed.  Yup - one!  Over the back door.  There's a matching 10 foot gutter section over the door to the garage.

Basically, someone at some point got tired of rain pouring on their head when they opened the door.  So they bought two 10 food sections and installed them over the doors.  The one over the back door is 6 inches too long but they didn't trim it.  The one over the door to the garage isn't anywhere near long enough, but that's all they did.  I've got enough gutters, and needed accessories, to do either the house or the garage, but not both.  The problem is that I only have two hands, one body.  And getting help - well it hasn't happened.

Well, about two weeks ago my neighbors moved out.  They had a barrel from a water softening system that they let me have.  So I decided to get at least one rain barrel up and going.

Now the first part was to fill the barrel and see if there were any holes that I couldn't see.  There weren't.  Then I went down to Dad's with the barrel and we fit it with two spigots - one at the top and one at the bottom.  The spigot at the top is for overflow.

Home again with the spigots on the barrel, I started work on it's placement.  I went and got all the bricks, and pieces of brick, out of my rock pile.  I leveled the spot near the house and built a "platform" 3 bricks high.  It was interesting since the ground there is heavily loaded with rocks and the bricks were a whole variety of types, sizes, and pieces.  Next I put the barrel up and filled it to make sure that the "platform" would hold.  It did.

Next I patched two holes using my pool patch kit and some pieces of vinyl from a damaged pool.  That was easy and quick - and it worked wonderfully.

Then I went digging in my garden shed.  I was looking for any hoses that I didn't already have installed.  This was for two reasons.  First, I needed to replace the hose that came from the outside spigot, through the fence, into my backyard.  The one that was on there was breaking and the repair connectors couldn't hold against the water pressure.  Because of this, whenever I want the water on in the backyard I have to go out the front and around the side to turn it on, then back through to the backyard.  It's a pain.  Second, I was looking for a short hose to use on the overflow spigot.  No point in having the overflow if I just let the water drain in the same spot I'm trying to not have it drain in.  I found what I needed.  Then I used the pliers to get the hoses switched out on the spigot.  The damaged hose is now fastened to the rain barrel as it's hose.  A 10 foot hose is attached to the upper spigot and directed into one of the garden beds further away from the house foundation.  And I now have a good hose so water can be controlled at the hose outlet rather than the spigot.

Ok, you might think at this point I'd be done but nope sorry.  There's a mosquito problem in my town.  A lot of it is contributed to by drainage creeks that don't drain, and don't flow.  So any standing water or extra moist ground area becomes another mosquito breeding ground.  So my next step was to cut a piece of metal screening to cover the top of the rain barrel.  There was no lip on this barrel, so I ended up using tin snips to cut the center of the lid out.  The lid holds the screen in place.  I'm also planning on a small piece of screen between the outlet spigot and hose, or at the end of that hose.  Dad says it won't work and I'll be forced to use mosquito dunks.  He might be right.  But I have to try every option that doesn't create a repetitive expense first.  Even if the expense is less than the comparable expense of paying for the water.

Now, the rain barrel is done and in place so I was set.  Right?  Nah, my life doesn't work that way.  See I couldn't leave the gutter the way it was.  As it was the water was just dumping off the end and soaking into the foundation at the corner of the house.  That's another project I'm working on - the reason I have the gutters to put up, and why I dug a french drain at the back of the herb bed.  There will eventually be another section of french drain running along this section of the house back and around the rain barrel.  All to decrease the amount of rain running under my house which sits about 3" lower than the surrounding lot due to this issue for the past 50 years.  So I had to fix this problem as well.

So another trip to Lowes to get an endcap for the gutter, silicone, and a downspout connector that I could drop into the existing gutter.  Then home again.   Note, I did not cut the extra 6" of gutter off.  Due to the placement of the nails, to cut off the extra gutter would have required two more hands and another body which I didn't have.  So I capped the end.  That was easy but we'll see if it stays in place after the first rain storm.  Then I marked the gutter so I could cut the opening for the downspout connector.  Using my Dremel, I cut most of the opening.  When I could bend it enough to get tin snips in I did so and finished cutting with the tin snips.  As much as I like power tools, the tin snips were faster and more effective. 

Using the drill I put two small holes in the drop down section of the downspout connector.  Then I put it in place.  Now comes the decorative part.  I did not attach a downspout.  I never intended to.  I have had a beautiful copper bucket rain chain for a while now that I really wanted to use.  So I made a connector that hung through the two holes I made in the downspout connector and hung it.  I did have to shorten it by about six inches.  But I really like it.  There's no reason that practical and useful can't be beautiful at the same time.  In fact I'll probably paint the rain barrel at some point as well.  Maybe bronze or copper to match the chain.  Maybe a wood tone.  I really don't know yet.

Now the rain barrel is done.  And I like it all.  Now I wait until the next rain storm to see if all the work holds together the way it should.  Fingers crossed for good luck.

And while taking this picture, I snagged a few blackberries from the canes near there.  And my munchkin ate his first fresh blackberries.  He liked them enough to eat a few more after the first.  :-)  He normally won't eat fresh fruit so I'm thrilled.

Catching You Up!

Wow, it's been a while and so much has been happening.  I really need to program a reminder to post something at least every other day.  I may break this into several posts.

Ok, first, the trellises.  They were wobbly because the PVC connectors did not connect snugly to the pipes I had.  And I don't have the budget to afford special sized connectors.  In addition, the trellises needed to be able to be disassembled at the end of their use.  They also needed to be able to be reassembled in whatever configuration I needed them in next.  This meant no screwing into the pipes and no welding.  So the final solution was to put threaded holes in the PVC connectors where necessary.  I borrowed one of Dad's taps to test this out.  I tore my fingers up some doing it because Dad didn't know where the handle for the taps was.  But the end result has been worth it.  The trellises are much more stable.  I will be buying a simple tap and die kit so that I can do this as needed in the future.  The tap and die kit that I currently own is missing in action and no amount of searching has turned it up.  (Of course it will appear out of nowhere as soon as I can no longer return the new kit.)

Plantings.  Everything I had already bought and listed here is already in the ground.  In addition, quite a few new herbs are in the ground.  One of the plants that I thought was raspberries is actually blackberries.  And they are yummy, yummy, yummy!

The back herb bed which was a mess has been completely cleaned out.  The french drain was redug.  It was filled completely this time.  And the weed cloth and rock mulch were applied.  All of this was done by hand.  This project jumped up on my to do list when someone offered free river rock if you came and got it.  Having learned from getting lava rock, I filled the totes in the back of the van since there would be no lifting them once they were filled.  End result is - that project is done and all I need to do is replace the herbs.  Four new herb plants are in and seeds for nasturtiums are planted.  The rest of the bed will be heavily mulched with shredded paper until I get plants in.  Oh, and the main walkway from the front to back of this bed was laid in rock.  Now I don't have to worry about plants when I put up the clothesline.

The Pampas Grass is coming out slowly.  I was unable to take a chain saw to it so I go out each morning and dig out a bit more.  I used the mower to "mulch" all the parts I cut off that didn't have roots attached.  That mulch went down around the blueberries.

There were many other little things in the midst of these.  They got done.  The cucumbers are now very big and flowering.  The tomatoes are getting there.  There are watermelon and cantaloupe plants in the ground.  I've harvested peas and beans.  One pear tree lost two limbs due to the weight of the pears.  I installed storm door on the back door.  Everything gets watered now because the severe summer heat is hitting two weeks earlier than normal.  And in addition the summer "drought" is hitting two weeks early.  So I will be watering things from now until mid September unless we get some type of break in the weather.  And I don't expect any tomatoes until then because the heat will be too high for the fruit to set.  Despite having it set high, my air conditioning is running frequently to keep the house cool.

All in all, it's just been busy, busy, busy.  And there's one more project that got done but I'll post that separately.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Trellises and Flames

No, not in the same space and time.  I have not set fire to my gardens.

My solution to the loose fit between the pipes and the PVC connectors seems to be working.  But it's only been a few days so I'll let you know if it lasts.  Dad is convinced it won't.  I tapped holes in the PVC connectors for 10 - 32 screws.  Then used the screws to tighten up the trellis frames.  It helped a lot.  The only real problem was that Dad couldn't find the handle for the tap, so I had to do it with my fingers.  As a result, one finger is a little scratched and sore.  If this idea pans out for the long term I will go buy another tap and die set since I can not seem to find the set I know I already have.  Although I found several other tools that I had looked for in the past and couldn't locate.

It's the family jinx.  As soon as we replace something or find another (usually harder) way to do something and get it done - the missing item appears.  It can get really annoying!

Now for flames.  Back when I was in college my friends joked about me being a pyro because I really liked fires.  I would have them at parties.  And I had candles everywhere.  At some point they decided I wasn't allowed to be in charge of the fires anymore.  There was no event that caused this just the guys in my life started taking over handling the fires.  So I haven't laid a firebed in a long time.  As I discovered this week, it is not a talent I lost. 

The first time we used the firepit this week, I just laid a small starter bed and worked it up as we sat there.  It gave me an idea of how much wood, and what sizes, I would need for a fire to last about an hour in this firepit.  Especially since I realized that I hadn't used this firepit in 5 or more years!  Anyways, I got the flames going and we just relaxed until all that was left was ashes.  It was good for both myself and munchkin.

The second time we used it I was in a lazy mood.  So I laid the full bed in such a way that I should have had to only add wood one time to keep the fire going.  And this is where I smile and laugh at myself.  Because I had forgotten how good I was at this.  And how hot I could get a fire going in a short period of time.  And that it would last for a while.  It blazed up beautifully and didn't stop.  I added 5 or 6 larger sticks after about a half hour.  They lasted about another 15 minutes.  The coals were beautiful and I found myself wishing that I had dug a pit for cast iron cooking.  Or maybe pulled out my cast iron country crocks and dutch ovens.  I may make a separate pit using firebrick just for that.

I love fires.  And I have a healthy respect for the dangers they can present.  Given my son's disability, candles and oil lamps haven't been in my house in a very long time.  The firepit is actually very well contained to prevent anything from falling out.  And I lay the fire so that the wood does not lean on the pit itself.  The blaze was not out of control.  It was well laid and remained well contained within the firepit.  It did throw sparks but most of them were caught within the safe zone I created.  Although if I get a source for brick, I will extend that safe zone by another 2 feet or so all the way around.  That's just my sense of caution.

I think we will be doing fires at least once a week until it gets absolutely too cold to do so.  That would mean snow for us.  It is very calming to just sit back and rock with my son while watching the flames.  And for whatever reason, it helps him to sleep better.

Just remember, fire is a very quixotic and dangerous element.  Respect it and the harm it can do.  Take precautions to prevent harm.  I hope you all are getting to at least enjoy some campfires.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


One short paragraph about the trellises.  I couldn't find connectors that fit the other pipe I have.  I originally thought about using short sections of hose when I discovered that no PVC connectors would fit.  But I've since had another brainstorm that promises to work much better.  It will also tighten up the connections on the existing trellis for the tomatoes.  I'll try to post pictures when I get done.

One project that's been on hold has been the firepit.  I have a cast iron fire pit that we bought years ago and I love it.  And an in-ground firepit isn't a possibility here with all the tree roots.  The problem is that I always put in a circle of rock or brick of at least 5 foot diameter.  This is to help prevent surprises of the flaming kind.  When we moved, we couldn't move the firepit circle that I had created at the old house.  I ended up having a friend come and take the materials so they could rebuild it at their place because the landlord didn't want it to stay.

I was originally going to use small pieces of broken up concrete for this circle.  Then I ran into a problem.  I needed more sand to use as a base.  And the money for more sand wasn't in the budget anywhere.  So the circle was sitting half finished.

Well, while it was sitting another problem appeared.  The pieces that were down kept breaking into smaller pieces and getting flipped and twisted.  This concrete was broken out of a damaged section of an acquaintance's pool.  And it feels more like styrofoam then concrete.  Anyways the only fixes I could think of were going to cost more money.  So the project kept getting put off.

Enter fate in the form of a craigslist posting.  Someone local had pulled out their hedges.  The ground under the hedges had been mulched in lava rock and they wanted it gone.  Now they posted it as having already been piled up, so off I went with 4 super large containers, a shovel, and my son.  I figured if it was already piled I would be able to load and get done before my son needed to be distracted.  Bad days that is 15 minutes, good days can be up to an hour.

Well fortunately for me, it was a good day for my son.  The lava rock was not piled, it was still spread out.  It was still spread out so much that the shovel was useless.  I started pulling it by hand but quickly realized that would take much more time than I was going to have.  So I ended up asking if they had a rake.  I was thankful that they did.  Approximately 45 minutes later all 4 totes were filled to the brim and loaded in the caravan.  I thought about spreading a plastic sheet and getting more but the totes themselves filled almost the full back of the caravan.  (I did say super large, didn't I?)  BTW, lava rock may not weigh much in general but large totes full of lava rock weigh a lot.  My back was really unhappy with me.

So we headed home with our bounty.  Once home I pulled the van into the backyard, closed the gates, and went to work.  First I pulled up all the "styrofoam" concrete pieces.  Then I put in four bricks for the firepit to stand on.  Then I placed the firepit.  Then I piled the sand that I already had to form a thick layer under the firepit and between the legs.  Then I poured in lava rock.  All of it.  I deliberately wanted a very very thick layer.  Then I worked on the problems with the firepit itself.  I had to replace the bottom grate and ash pan. 

I was going to fire it up last night but my son came in early and wasn't feeling well.  So maybe tonight.  But for right now, I'm going to put a new layer of high heat paint on the fire pit.  It really needs it.

Also, just a note - prior to yesterday, I had already dug the circle area to a depth of three inches and put heavy weed barriers.  That was part of the reason for the bricks under the firepit, the sand, and the thick layer of lava rocks.

Oh, and the "styrofoam" concrete will be used for a short path in my herb garden.  There it won't be walked on frequently and it won't harm anything as it keeps breaking down.  It will be very effective though in helping to keep the weeds out of that path.

I hope fate will send some good luck your way, as well as continuing to send some my way.

Friday, June 1, 2012


I have a habit of saving poles from tents/gazebos/etc.  My extended family considers the collection of poles to be humongous and unnecessary.  They have suggested that the poles get tossed as trash.  But then gardening comes along and those poles get used.  I got eye rolls a couple of months ago when I mentioned that I had gotten more poles from someone on Freecycle.  But these poles are stronger than PVC.  And better yet, they are free.

This year I took two sets of arch poles from an old tent and turned them into the trellis for three roses.  The trellis, and now the roses, arch in front of the window for our bathroom.  The window, that for some strange reason, is in the bath stall.  My hope is for those roses to eventually completely block any outside view to that window.  The reason for this is that when the lights are on in the bathroom they create completely accurate shadows on the window.  We have "frosted" the glass but that doesn't stop shadows.  And the window is directly in the line of sight for over half the apartments directly across the street.  So, for now, I don't turn on the lights when I'm in the shower.  Hopefully in a couple of years it won't matter if I do or not because the climbing roses will block any and all views.

Yesterday I took 11 poles, some 1" PVC and PVC connectors and built the trellis for my tomato plants.  I wouldn't normally use anything PVC except the connectors but I didn't quite have enough 1" pole.  My planting beds are 82" x 32 1/2" interior.  And I set the poles in the interior so that I wouldn't hit them with the lawn mower.  There are 2 poles on each end and 2 poles in the center of the long sides. 

Now there were some problems.  The first was that the local hardware stores don't carry an elbow with a 1" offshoot.  So I ended up getting 4 elbows, 6 tees, and 2 couplers.  On each corner, I put a tee on the pole.  Then I cut a 2" section of PVC and put that in.  Then I put the elbow on that, facing 90 degrees from the tee.  On each center pole, I put a coupler, then a 2" PVC section, then a tee.  That way all the poles ended up at the same height with the attachments.  If you are trying to do this, the elbows should face along the long side at the ends.  The end tees should face the short sides.

Okay, that problem solved.  The next problem was two fold.  The first part was that I was short one pole of the correct diameter.  The second was that I didn't want to use the hacksaw on the pole I did have.  So for the end sections I used 1" PVC.  It doesn't look great because of the different colors but it worked just fine.  Also the ends aren't directly supporting the plants, they are keeping the other poles in place and spaced.  When the plants start weighing down on the netting it will just help make sure those pieces stay in place.  And the pieces are short enough that they shouldn't bow out.

Ok, next problem, the poles for the length were about 2" too short for the distance.  I just ignored it because with the connectors it was just about there.  I could have added a coupler and some PVC on one end and made it exact but it was not worth the extra expense.

And the last problem came with assembly.  In the store the 1" PVC connectors had fit very, very snugly.  Of course they didn't fit snugly when I got home and went to assemble them.  For now, I tied the netting tightly from side to side which keeps everything snug.  When I pull everything this winter, I will look at putting a rubberized coating on the insides - enough to grip the poles better.

Now, if you've been counting, I still have one pole left.  Well, it does get used.  And it doesn't have to be the same size as the others.  The last pole I used was 1/2" diameter and as long as the bed.  After tying the netting to the framework, I laid that pole in the center of the netting.  I used a plastic netting that I can reuse but it twists and coils and basically refuses to come down evenly.  So the pole adds weight that pulls the netting down in the center of the tomato plants.  Then as the plants grow, I tie them on either side of the netting as needed.  This is a variation of the trellising I've done for tomatoes in the past.  I'm hoping that it will work through most of the issues that I've had with tying up tomatoes.

Now this framework is only about 3 1/2 feet tall.  You would need 6 more poles to make it taller.  I didn't have enough of the correct size to do it for the tomatoes.  But I do have enough of another size to make the framework much taller for the cucumbers.  The cucumbers will have a trellis of the same design but almost 6 feet tall.  I'm debating whether extra side braces will be needed for that one.

A point to make - I did not glue any of this.  My reason for that is because these poles may be used in different trellises when the tomato harvest is done.  Same for the connectors.  So there is no point in making permanent connections that may result in me having to buy more connectors.

I hope someone finds this useful.  For me it's recycling at it's best.