Monday, March 31, 2008

We've been digging up a garden site for almost a month now. Not steady, just a bit on the weekends and whenever we get a bit of time during the week. It's obvious though, that we really need to pick up the pace if our healthy little seedlings are to have a home by next week, when they're too big to stay in the flats.

Saturday (after running 10 miles, mind you), Erika and her dad set to unearthing the largest, heaviest garden boulder to date. With a combination of steel bars, 2x4s, and grunts, they dug out and leveraged this monolith out of the bed.

Then, as if they'd done this before, they propped it up on small sections of pvc pipe and a plank track and shuttled it down the yard a bit and set it in position as the cornerstone of the stone wall that we plan to redo.

Meanwhile, I was fulfilling a week-long dream of constructing a sieve. Even though we remove about a half dozen boulders and a large mound of rocks for every 12'x5'x1' bed we dig, the soil is still incredibly stony. Carrots wouldn't stand a chance in here, and to be honest I've had my doubts about any of our tender seedlings' chances of survival in such harsh beds.

We bought a roll of 1/4" screen (1/4" refers to the size of the holes in the screen) and I whacked together a 2x4 frame sized to fit nicely on top of the garden cart. I used "safety staples" to attach the screen to the frame.

Took it over to the garden and tossed a couple of shovels-full of soil onto it. Moved the dirt around with my hands and voila, rocks on top, soil below!

So from there, I just started digging a trench across the bed, one foot wide and one foot deep, much like our old days of double-digging. When the sieve would fill, we'd dump the rocks into the wheel barrow. When the wheel barrow would fill, we would dump the rocks in the trench for the hot water lines, since it has settled quite a bit. Once I had a nice two-foot wide trench dug out, I set up some planks in the there to keep the sifted soil separate from what still needed to be sifted, and shoveled the nice soft soil back into the bed. I was totally surprised that it had fluffed up enough to bring the bed back to ground-level.

Also that day, while Erika was digging bed #3, we discovered a baby turtle shell, caked and packed with dirt. Who knows how deep it was buried. We were all pretty excited by this find.

And then it woke up!

The quarters are for scale:

* * *

Sunday was a nice grey day, and we spent a couple of hours pricking out seedlings from their flats and putting them into cells.

We transplanted broccoli, chard, kale, collards, lettuce, arugula, and turnips. We had a lot of seedlings left over, and rather than compost them, Erika cut them at their bases, rinsed them off, and made a nice little salad out of these micro-greens. Even at only two weeks old, arugula tastes like arugula, as does broccoli and chard. We took an eyes-closed taste test just to prove it to ourselves.

Hello, Chard:

Hello, Beets:

We also planted spinach and some more kale, since we only ended up with 5 plants germinated, as if 5 kale plants isn't enough. But, better safe than sorry. We can always thin them once we plant in the beds.

- John
A carved flower isn't identifiable.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Our house has yielded some traces of human hands, dwellments from the past, ghosts that inhabit old Saturdays and crannies inside walls. Surprisingly little, actually, given it’s 76 years old. No gold coins, no newspaper photos of Eisenhower or the Challenger. But these:

Rook card. The 10 of green. See here for more about Rooks, especially My Collection/By Card Back.

Message scrawled on a triangular piece of drywall installed in our attic. It reads “1 Because” with copious underlining. That’s a numeral, not a personal pronoun.

Two sets of initials carved in different areas of the concrete basement floor. Perhaps it was poured after 1932. Perhaps these two humans are related by blood or marriage.

The piece de resistance, mentioned previously on this blog. A set of about 12 Polaroids found tucked against the chimney in a part of the crawlspace relatively inaccessible by crawling, but reachable from the more convenient basement with long arms and/or a stepladder. They show a young woman in various states of dress/undress and in increasing levels of intimacy with the photographer. This one is on the tamer side. Red leaf added for privacy, and I do like how it matches her garment.

Troublingly, in just one of the dozen photos, she is bundled in a quilt and baggy T-shirt, sitting on the floor, with a resentful expression.--Erika

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The center ceiling panel is a paradox of envy.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sowin' the seeds

Sunday morning, sunny and mild, maybe in the 40s by the time I made it outside. We've got a whole lot of scrap lumber piled up by the fire pit. Old 2x4s and 2x6s that have been ripped from the house, the shed, or dragged out from the crawl spaces. Some nailed together or peppered with screws. This is stuff we can't use, really, and it's just hanging around, in 6+ foot lengths mostly, waiting to be burned in the fire pit. But burning is a slow process and we'd like to be rid of this pile sooner rather than later. Walking around it with my coffee, I figured that, with some bricks or blocks, we could actually use a lot of it to stack our firewood on. So I started carrying some of the longer pieces out towards the area I had cleared behind the furnace.

It was when I went up to the shed to look for bricks that I got distracted, called once again by the meadow-like clearing behind the walnut tree on the south side of the yard.

I followed some deer paths and found myself in a clearing that I don't think I've ever noticed. At the north end of the clearing is a stone wall. Growing along the stone wall is typical vegetation - walnut trees and scrub. Turning around to face south, there is a pretty thick barrier of these still-unidentified saplings and thorns. I learned that if I get down on my hands and knees, at rabbit level, I could make my way into the thicket. I hung out in there for a while, took some pictures of the saplings and vines, hoping that these would help me identify them, and then pushed on through the thicket and into another clearing. I knew where I was this time, just a bit further south, a bit closer to the road.

I noticed that this clearing is bordered by another stone wall, and is higher than the final strip of land which is right near the road. We've got real, intentional borders within our property lines. In the past, we've hypothesized that these walls surround land that was once cultivated; the ground is softer, there are more grasses and less trees, and it would make sense that they cleared the rocks to the borders. But what I realized Sunday, was that we've actually got three levels of terraced land, each one bordered by stone walls. The whole thing makes a nice wide strip up hill to the North, and is connected to our back field, the one we always imagined we might start our veggie expansion in. It was a neat and exciting discovery, and it puts that back field better into context.

That was a nice start to the day that we would sow our first seeds.

We washed out our seed flats and mixed up some soil, using 1 part garden bed soil to about 3 or 4 parts potting soil mix. We spent most of our time removing every tiny stone from the bed soil that we added. Once the soil was mixed and added to the flats, we got our garden journal, reference book, and seeds, and started sowing. Two varieties of tomatoes (about 48 plants!), beets, broccoli, carrots, arugula, kale, collards, lettuces, onions, chard, turnips, and parsley. That's the first round - next week, we'll be sowing other veggies and with luck, we'll be pricking out seedlings. We set them up indoors by the windows and we hope that Toes won't jump up on them and think that they're special litter boxes.

Then we packed up some lunches and hiked up to the top o' the prop, and kept going up the steep ridge behind the house. We found a trail of some sort and followed for a while. We didn't make it to the summit, but we got pretty high up. A nice place to eat a late lunch.

Back down the ridge and off to the storage space to bail out a few more things, including another book shelf, and the rocking chair.

Erika touched up the paint on the narrow trim pieces in the studio ceiling, then we swept and mopped the floor in there and it's officially done.

The living room is starting to look much cozier. We made a tasty lasagna.

- John

And that's that

We've been off the work wagon for a month or more now, but just last Friday we finally got the last final official goodbye nod from the bank—meaning we've done everything we agreed to do back when we got our loan. Basically, then, we have entered a new era of renovation-because-we-want-to as opposed to renovation-to-avoid-financial-ruin. Also: No deadlines!

This was worth a bottle of champagne (yeah, another one) and a hunk of soft French cheese.

The next day we got right back to work on the tool room (a name that's fast becoming outdated). A week earlier, we'd started putting up ceiling trim but got discouraged by our uneven ceiling, which has a major low spot so that when you put a straight piece of wood up against it, there are giant gaps on both ends. We'd routed out a dip in the trim where the low spot is, but when our bank consultant was here he suggested a better technique involving a compass. Yep, that old tool you used in fourth grade to draw a circle. Here, you put the pointy arm against the ceiling and the pencil arm against your trim piece, draw a line left to right, and then cut on that line. Now you have a trim piece custom-fit to your screwed-up ceiling. Much better.

The problem:

The solution:

We employed this technique all around the room and soon had a fairly reasonable trim job. Meanwhile, I planed the corners and primed the two smaller trim pieces that cover the seams in the plybead. Put a top coat on them later in the day, and by evening it was dry enough so that we could nail those up too.

In the meantime, I'd been eyeing up the other trim in this room—baseboards, door and window trim—and decided it just needed a fresh coat of white so that we could move our stuff in and be all fresh and white and worry-free like the lady in the detergent commercial. So we busted out our brushes and did it up. John took the baseboards (after I, usually the point person for tricky edge painting, attempted the task and exhibited all the skill of a blind three-year-old with a caffeine problem) and I did the windows and doors. Ah yes. You can practically smell the freshness!

The only thing now that's not all nice and homey about this room is the floor. It's a cheaper type of tongue-and-groove flooring than the other hardwoods we have, seemingly meant to go underneath linoleum or carpeting, and has no finish on it (other than a patina of age and some random spots of paint). We're debating what to do with it—paint it, maybe?—but in the meantime our old rug does a lot for it.

Made a storage space run and brought back a few crucial items, and voila! Welcome to The Studio!

The living room ain't looking half bad neither. More to come on that front.

- Erika

Friday, March 14, 2008

Floors are just sections of a platform, in our case separated by gaps and tubing.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

One year older and a whole lot more ecru

Tomorrow, March 7, is the first anniversary of buying the house. Permit me a brief rundown of what we've done in Year One of home ownership:

Plumbed, wired, framed, floored, drywalled, painted, and fixtured the bathroom
Installed several windows, an exterior door, and some cedar shingles
Repaired and painted the roof
Rewired much of the house
Cleaned and conditioned the crawlspace
Insulated much of the house
Sistered all ceiling joists between first floor and attic
Removed several walls and replaced two of them with beams
Installed a freaking heat system and outdoor wood furnace
Installed ceilings throughout the house, vaulted the kitchen ceiling
Moved a shed up the hill
Repaired and re-railinged our porch and built new front steps
Scraped and painted maybe 2/3 of exterior trim
Painted every room downstairs

We can claim that last one just as of yesterday—put the first coat of GOLDEN ECRU and PRUSSIAN BLUE on the tool room walls!

We like it.

As for the Year Two of home ownership, we think it will involve a lot more plant care (radishes, snap peas, etc.) and a lot less construction (tape measure, shin bruises, etc.).

- Erika

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hello again, March

March is here! We took it easy during the second half of February, though it was hard to stop working entirely...we did manage to empty out the tool room, taking stock of surpluses, organizing and moving lumber scraps, and pitching whatever else couldn't be recycled or donated.

Saturday we spent most of the day in the woods with the chainsaw. We have almost run out of wood to heat with and we're trying to get by without purchasing another load. After all, the weather is becoming mild and spring comes early over here. It was tricky to find some trunks that were already down and not too rotten or wet, but we managed to find a few. I would cut and Erika would carry the logs over to the creek. The plan was that we'd ride the logs down the creek back to the homestead and use our steer to haul the timber up to the furnace.

The plan turned out to be a silly one, so we opted for the next silliest option: log toss the pile 15 feet across the creek, then toss them up the (very) steep embankment where Erika was maintaining mountain goat-esque footing, trapping the logs from rolling back down into the creek, then tossing them up onto the dirt drive where she had parked the truck. By quittin' time, we had loaded the truck one and a half times, split what needed to be split, and stacked it up. Definitely enough to last us through March, though some of the wood is of questionable quality.

After all this work we did what anyone in their right mind would have done: we gathered up some more wood for a bonfire, lit the pit, and cracked a beer. Roasted up some beets and turnips and tossed a steak on the wood fire. The eve was crisp and the stars were bright. And we were very sore.


We're making progress with the garden! A couple weeks back, we started digging our first bed. This was slow going with the spade forks. There are tons of rocks. Really. We took a different approach Sunday, aided by the purchase of a cutting mattock - picture a sledgehammer of a hoe. I wielded this monster while Erika swung the hand tool version. We also laid down a rule about some of the underground boulders: let 'em stay.

We removed so many rocks that the bed actually looks sunken rather than raised. We'll mix in a good amount of manure and compost to make up for it. I think the bed is about 12'x5' now, a decent start...about a fifth or so of our goal for the season.

Our seeds should be here this week!

Then it was back to the tool room with us. It was just like old times, only more relaxed. We painted the ceiling, measured/cut/routed/primed some 1" pine stock for ceiling trim, and spackled some of the more severe cracks and gouges in the drywall.

We've got a few colors picked out for this room...we're off to get some samples!

- John

Monday, March 3, 2008

Are you going to put some kind of moulding there?