Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hopping the Fence

I stare at the shed in the back yard while I'm washing dishes.  There is barely anything in it.  I prefer to keep my lawnmower, garden tools, and whatnot in the garage, so the shed is just barren.  It also has that weird added-on roof that scares the bejeezus out of me.  I mean, look at that support post just barely hanging on to the concrete brick there.  There's a small pile of firewood under that roof that could easily be relocated.

I've also been taking a look at my finances, and my student loan, new car, and tax repayments are going to swamp me for about three years.  It's unlikely we'll be vacationing for more than a few days away from home, if at all in that time period.  To sum that up... I'm going to be staying home and I'm going to be living on limited means for a while.  I'm perfectly okay with this, as I'm soon going to be starting a position that is literally a two-minute drive from my house (that alone is a $300/month savings in gasoline as my current commute is nearly an hour and a half each way).

So, I'm getting chickens.  Mike and I are converting the shed into a coop and building a run so they'll have a place to scratch and play outside without worrying about dogs, hawks, foxes, raccoons, skunks, and coyotes.  It gets cold here, so the chickens I chose are breeds that are exceptionally cold-hardy.  I've also chosen breeds that are friendly and lean toward not being broody, since I'm not going to be hatching chicks.

But, back to the shed:  This front corner of the floor definitely needs to be addressed.  Not only is it an entry for predators, it can expose the chickens to drafts.  It looks like the concrete pad crumbled and bricks were used to support the base of the shed.  Pavers were thrown down to even out the floor.  I think some excavation of the crumbled bits has to happen, and some concrete needs to be mixed up and poured to remedy the situation.

 The interior of the shed needs to be cleaned out, but there is plenty of room for 7 chickens, roosting bars, nesting boxes, and a quarantine space for sick or new chickens.  Once again, the floor needs to be leveled out and repaired.  There is plenty of ventilation in there, which is important for healthy birds.

I love that the doors of the shed open wide and allow for easy entry, which should make gathering eggs and cleaning the coop a breeze, but the locks need to be revamped.  Raccoons have finger dexterity and can figure out most simple locks rather quickly.  The main latch on the door doesn't latch very well at all.

We're going to build a run similar to this one, but one that is taller because I want to be able to get inside of the run to rake it out and replenish supplies without having to stoop over to do so.  The other change I'm making is using 1/2-inch hardware cloth instead of chicken wire, since predators can easily break through chicken wire.

Now, for the fun part:  the chickens!

The first chicken breed I chose is the Speckled Sussex.  They're just so pretty!  They're also prolific egg layers.  The speckling is more pronounced as they age, so early on, they'll mostly have brown feathers with a few hints of white.

The second breed I chose is the Buff Orpington.  They can occasionally get broody (sit on their eggs in an attempt to hatch them, which won't happen since we won't have a rooster).  They're known for being great layers, but also for having a sweet temperament.

We'll have seven hens total:  4 Sussex and 3 Orpingtons.  As an added bonus their litter can be added to the compost tumbler, and they'll happily eat veggie scraps, slugs, and other garden pests.  We're not letting them free range as we live on a busy road, every one of our neighbors has a dog, birds of prey are everywhere here, and they'll be more than happy to not only clear the bugs out of the garden, but they'll also voraciously eat seedlings.

The day-old chicks will be arriving April 4th or so, and there's a lot to do between now and then.  They will be living in a brooder (baby chicken house) for a couple of months before they're introduced into the coop, but we still have a lot to do between now and then.  Don't forget that we're also taking delivery of trees for the orchard, assembling the garden beds, and digging 40 million holes for plants and trees.

Here's the list I'm working with:

  • build chicken run panels in the garage 
  • clean out the coop
  • excavate loose concrete in the coop
  • patch holes and cracks in the concrete floor
  • use self-leveling concrete to even out the coop floor
  • relocate firewood
  • remove roof
  • replace latch
  • cover windows with hardware cloth
  • predator-proof perimeter of coop and run (buried hardware cloth)
  • assemble run
  • cut out door to run
  • build roosting bars
  • install cleaning boards under roosting bars
  • install nesting boxes
  • install feeding/watering/dust bathing stuff

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Living Landscape

Ouachita Blackberry
I have a lot of digging to do.  

My garden and orchard plans have snowballed into a near full-on farm.  In addition to the quince, apples, and peach tree I initially planned on, I've added several other trees, a rather large handful of berry plants, and a couple of elderberry bushes.  

So, what's new?  I've added a Blenheim apricot tree, Illinois Everbearing mulberry, Stanley plum, and a Brown Turkey fig that'll spend winters inside.  I've added a collection of northern highbush blueberries, Boyne raspberries, Koralle lingonberries, Old North Sea strawberries, and Ouachita thornless blackberries. I nixed the Queen Cox apple altogether.

I'm going to go off on how excited I am for a minute.  The Blenheim apricot is the benchmark of apricot flavor.  They were grown at Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, and at Blenheim Castle in England.  Despite the royal pedigree, they don't tend to sell well at market because they don't take on that perfect light orange coloring.  In fact, their shoulders tend to stay on the greenish side.  Oddly enough, they just appear to be under-ripe.  Inside is a veritable explosion of apricot flavor.  Blenheims are in danger of disappearing for the simple reason that Americans like their food to look pretty, and commercial farms are pressured to grow varieties that do just that, despite what may be a sacrifice in flavor.
Blenheim apricots
Initially, I was going to build raised beds on my own, but I've decided to go with pre-made that requires minimal assembly.  It's quick and dirty, and I can spend more of my time digging holes for the bazillion trees I'm planting.  I'm putting them directly on top of the soil, so I don't have to have a deep bed.  I'll just have to remove the turf and turn some dirt over to loosen up the soil.  

I got four beds that measure 4 feet x 8 feet x 10.5 inches, and three beds that are 4 feet x 4 feet.  

Emily wants to plant corn, so one of the four-foot beds is destined for a patch of corn for her.  

The other two small beds are earmarked for asparagus and strawberries, respectively.  The large beds will have our usual staples like beans, peas, beets, tomatoes, peppers, greens, squash.  I'll likely get another bed for just herbs.

Due to our current rodent situation in the lawn (voles and moles), I've decided against my original plan of building a compost bin on the ground.  Instead, I've used my Amazon gift cards to buy a compost tumbler.  This one has two sections so that each side can be in different stages of breakdown.  Until I have leaves to rake up, I'm going to use some coconut coir potting amendment as my "browns" so that my compost will cook and not turn into a slimy bog (which is what happens when you have too many greens).  

We're still on the fence about chickens.  It wouldn't take much at all to convert the backyard shed into a pretty solid chicken coop.  The issue is that we'd have to be home or to have someone feed, water, and tend to the chickens when we go on vacation.  Maybe once I've finished all of my digging I'll have some time to think about adding chickens to the mix next spring.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Planning the Orchard

Emily (when she was 3) apple picking
I grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts.  One of the best memories I have as a kid is apple picking every fall.  My brother, sister, and I would run wild in the orchard, picking Cortlands, MacIntoshes, and Red Delicious apples.  Once, I picked an apple that was as red on the inside as it was on the outside, and as a city kid, I was in awe.  Who knew that apples could be red inside?!  I haven't seen one in an orchard since, but as I recall, it was one of the best apples I've ever eaten fresh.

I've been bringing my kids apple picking since they were little.  I live just below Western New York's apple growing region, so a "quick" 1-1/2 hour drive is all it takes to have a fun afternoon picking a couple of bushels of apples.  A lot of growers here tend to only have "popular" apple picking varieties like Cortland, MacIntosh, Mutsu, Empire, Gala, Honeycrisp, and Delicious... I like to branch out a bit and find heirloom varieties if I can get them.  My late step-father's favorite apple is called Northern Spy.  Every so often, I can find those at a farm stand locally, but they're gone in the blink of an eye--sometimes, the same day the sign proclaiming their availability is posted!  That was the sad circumstance this year, and I was only able to get a bushel each of Cortlands and Pippin apples (another heirloom variety).

Since some varieties are so prolific here (Cortland!) I don't think I'll be planting those.  I can usually buy a bushel for under $25.  The apples I want are the ones that can't be found on the commercial market.  I want to can applesauce and apple pie filling, have a slew of apples to eat fresh, and some more to dry for morning oatmeal.  Here is the list of the trees that made the cut:

Calville Blanc d'Hiver-

This variety has been dubbed one of the world's best culinary apples, and also one of the least pretty.  It is also notoriously winter-hardy in the aspect that it flowers much later than other varieties, so less chance of a late frost destroying my apple crop entirely.  That pretty much sealed the deal for me.

Queen Cox -

A self-fertile apple, this one doesn't need a pollinator.  This is good, because it's the only mid-season apple I'm planting, so it'll set flowers before the others.  It is great both fresh and cooked, and it is like an improved version of Cox's Orange Pippin.

Northern Spy -

Of course I'm growing this one.  Bonus?  It keeps for 3 or more months if properly stored.  Fresh apples all winter?  Yes, please.

Mountain Rose -

While this one just has a blush of red on the outside, it's rated at one of the most delicious red-fleshed apples.  It also holds its shape for cooking purposes, and also retains its color.  Oh, and it's simply gorgeous!

Smyrna Quince -

I'm also planning on planting a quince tree, since I can only find them at the supermarket in tiny quantities and at $2 each.  Each!  They're inedible raw, but cooking them for a little while softens the fruit, turns it a rosy color, and tastes like a cross between an apple, pear, and the smell of flowers.

George IV Peach -

One of my besties and I make a ton of bourbon peaches every year.  We usually try to get a bushel or two put up, but we got one bushel of really bland-tasting peaches that ended up in the jam pot.  I'm hoping that by growing my own, I can pick them when they're just ripe, and I won't have to settle for bland peaches.  This one is known for cold-hardiness without sacrificing flavor.

The Site:

The orchard is going to be on the side yard, toward the front as the vegetable garden will likely be somewhere behind it.  Since the trees only have to be about 10 feet apart, I'm going to stagger them in two rows so they don't throw shade on the vegetable garden.  I'm also planning on planting berries, but they'll go near the shed somewhere, probably by the row of shrubs in the back.  I'm hoping to have some chickens at some point, and the coop will be near the shed as well, and I don't want to have hungry chickens right next to my berries.  More planning is going to be required, and the chickens are still a potential addition.

The actual site is just above the back yard on a slope, which could be ideal for avoiding cold air that will gather on the low points of the lawn.  It gets sun the entire day.

One of the major issues I've noticed is that I very likely have voles in the yard.  Voles are rodents that look like mice, but with shorter tails.  They are plant eaters, and will chew the bark off of new trees.  Vole damage looks like shallow tunnels running across your lawn, not to be confused with mole damage, which looks like small piles of dirt on the lawn (moles also eat insects, like Japanese beetle grubs, instead of plants).  I poked around and found several holes in the lawn that are likely housing the beasts.

vole damage + the runoff drain
They're going to have to be eradicated, or at least controlled, before new trees are planted.  Spring is already looking busy as can be, but in the end, the results will definitely be worth it!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

One Shade of Grey: A Progress Report

The day I posted my last post, I finally closed on the house.  In fact, about 15 minutes after I posted about how impatient I was, my attorney's paralegal called to let me know we were good to go.

The first thing I did was remove the weird shower curtain rod + too short regular curtain rod above the living room window, as well as what we have dubbed, "the Jesus curtain" which I'm pretty sure was a shower curtain, but it had bible verses all over it.

two different lengths, two different rods... the stuff nightmares are made of
Currently, the window is naked, and a new rod (one that'll fit) has been purchased.  It is the same exact rod that is in the dining room, which I just love.  In fact, I love just about everything that is going on in the dining room now.  Gone is the tomato soup orange-red, the apple-trimmed cafe curtain, and the feeling that the room is a lot smaller than it actually is.

The only thing this color should be on is a Barchetta (it's never too early for Rush humor)
The dining room is now light, bright, and definitely updated.  First, I covered the walls with Behr's Ultra Premium Plus paint that was color-matched to Benjamin Moore's Edgecomb Gray.  I had no idea that you can just walk into Home Depot and ask for a color from a different paint supplier, and had samples mailed to me from Benjamin Moore first, which cost a pretty penny--the shipping was more than the paint sample!  Now, I just find colors I like, go to Home Depot, and buy an armload of samples until I figure out which color I want.  Consumer Reports rated the Behr paint as their first or second interior paint, not to mention that Home Depot is a mere 30 minutes from my house (the nearest Benjamin Moore store is over an hour away).  It's a light grey/beige that looks equally good with the blues, wood trim, and beige ceramic tile in the room.  Since you can also see the kitchen cabinets due to the open floor plan, it was important that those colors work together until I figure out what I'm going to do with those cabinets.

The only red things left are the apples
 My dining table has a story, of course.  In the summer of 2014, I went to Massachusetts to visit my mom.  Whenever I visit my family there, I stop at what I think is one of the best Goodwill stores in the country, just over the border in Nashua, New Hampshire.  I walked in during that visit to see this gem in the window with a price sticker on it for $9.99.  TEN FREAKING DOLLARS!  It just so happened that it was marked down on the color sale for that week, so for five bucks, that puppy was MINE.  Unfortunately, as the employees moved it from the window into the area that one picks up large items, one of those tripod legs snapped from it's attachment.  When asked if I still wanted it, I said, "well, if you can knock half off..."  The manager said, "Done."  So that's how I got my dining room table for $2.50.  My friends Jason and Trinda helped to take it apart and load it into my minivan, and we made the trek back to Pennsylvania with three kids and a table.  Some Gorilla Wood Glue and an overnight of clamping fixed it right up.  It has been well worn and loved, and still extends another foot for when we have guests.

I love, love, love my table.  Oh, and the seats of the side chairs match the stain
The first time I saw the chandelier on the Young House Love website, I gasped.  It's flipping gorgeous.  When I saw the price at West Elm, I wasn't sure if I could swing it.  I slowly started saving for it, but at nearly $400, I wasn't confident that I'd have enough money to buy it before it was discontinued.  By my birthday in September, I was about $175 from my savings goal when I gifted myself $100 (hey, it's my birthday, I do what I want).  The following week, it was on sale for 20% off, and I snagged it for $75 off of the original price.  Sometimes waiting has it's benefits.  Everything else came from Overstock.com.  The table runner and fruit basket came from trips to HomeGoods and T.J. Maxx, respectively.

curtain detail

This window is eventually going to be a door to the backyard.  Currently, I either have to walk around from the front of the house, or to go through the garage, onto the back porch, then out that door if I want to access the back yard.   I think a door and a stairway here would provide a faster route, and once there's a patio there, a great extension of our dining room to an outdoor dining area.

The dining room is no where near completed yet.  I still need to put something on those walls and maybe add a buffet or something that'll add some personal touches to the room.  I love how it's turning out.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Two Weeks Later...

And I still haven't closed yet.  It's down to one signature on one piece of paper so that we can finally close.  The person to whom the signature belongs was out of town until yesterday, so I'm hoping he/she signed that paper and popped it into its return FedEx envelope so that I can at least get in the house by the weekend... not that it'll make too much of a difference, as I'm working all weekend... but still.  I can get SOMETHING into the house.

All of this delay has had a tiny silver lining, though.  I have come to find that the folks behind Home Depot's appliance delivery service are truly dedicated to making your experience the best it can be.  I've had to reschedule the delivery of my new appliances three times so far.  Everyone I've dealt with has done their utmost to make sure I've been rescheduled on the day that's most convenient for me, and they've handled my calls with kindness.  Sadly, it's looking like delivery is going to have to be rescheduled again, unless I close by the end of business today.

Speaking of new appliances, here's what I got:

Samsung 30 inch 21.8 cu ft French Door Refrigerator in Stainless Platinum

I really wanted a refrigerator with a freezer on the bottom.  The kitchen has black and stainless appliances right now (the range and the wall oven) which I'm keeping, so I needed something that fit in with the rest of it.

I'm probably far too excited about my new washer and dryer than I should be, but laundry takes up a vast majority of my time as far as daily chores go.  My bestie has a washer and dryer with a HUGE capacity.  She literally just dumps an entire laundry basket into her washer.  It spins the water out so thoroughly that it takes less than 40 minutes to dry completely.  She let me use it one day when my dryer was on the fritz and I was sold.

Maytag Bravos 4.3 cu ft washer

Other than packing, that's all that is new in my world.  The weather is getting decidedly colder; we've already had our first snowfall and it's cold enough to frost every night since.  That means that I have a very limited amount of time where I can hang my clothes out on the clothesline before they freeze solid out there.  It means I need my new dryer, in my new house... yesterday.  Ugh!  I can't wait to close!!!

UPDATE:  I'm closing in the morning!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Final Walk-through...

I bought a house!

For the most part, the closing process on the new house has been remarkably uneventful... until this week, of course.  I was supposed to close on the new casa yesterday, but due to a failed sewer inspection last week, some work had to be done to the basement bathroom.  Namely, the shower there had to be hooked up to the town sewage in a way that would pass code inspection.  That work was completed as of today, and the new inspection takes place tomorrow, so let's hope that everything is wrapped up by Friday morning.  

Regardless, my final walk through is tomorrow afternoon.  I haven't been in the house for a few weeks, so I can finally make a list as to how many cabinet hinges, drawer pulls, and cabinet pulls I'll need to revamp the kitchen, which hasn't been touched since the house was built.  Once again, I'm dealing with some serious ugly, but it's structurally sound, well-insulated ugly, and THAT I can definitely deal with.  

On design inspiration, I've definitely been loving the Petersik's current home at Young House Love.  I never thought I'd embrace gray/greige as a wall color, but I'm pretty sure it's going to be the main wall color throughout the house.  Currently, the walls are a bright, tropical blue abutted by Campbell's Tomato Soup (the actual color of the soup) orangey-red.  The contrast is startling in a bad way.  Throw in 1960s aesthetic, and you have the rancher I'm about to own.  YHL's foyer is light, bright, and captivating.  Look at that Moravian light!  I LOVE it!  And the dining room!  The capiz pendant light is awesome, and would look amazing in my dining area.  I don't mind if the only drama in my life is from light fixtures.  In fact, I prefer it that way. 

The living room has some issues, not all of which are cosmetic.  The fireplace's fire box was drilled through in order to make room for a vent pipe for the wood furnace in the basement.  In order to make it functional again, I'm going to eventually convert to be used with a vent-free gas insert.  

Living room
The one room that absolutely has to be dealt with immediately is the bathroom.  Apparently, there was a local trend to not install a shower and to put a standard window in the bathing area.  I've tried to contemplate the reasoning behind that, and I'm still coming up empty.  Further, the original tile is 4x4 blue and pink that was painted over with cream colored latex paint.  I'll stop and just let you see it for yourself: 

I'm speechless too.
Possibly the worst feeling is when you have a room that you completely want to change, but it's also completely liveable as-is while you fix the uglier aspects (bathroom!) of the house.  For me, this room is the kitchen.  Definitely a first world problem, but it just screams the need for updating.  On a side note, that refrigerator is from the early 1980s.  It's still going strong, but likely costs a small fortune to run.  I'm going to have to break down and get a new refrigerator.  

Got wood?
The microwave over the stove top(to the far right) definitely has to go.  As it is, it doesn't allow clearance for my larger stock pots or canning pots.  I can't deal with having a stove top that I can't use to its fullest extent... and I don't feel like waiting an entire year to get my apples canned.

There's a small preview.  I can't wait to close so that I can get in there and start scrubbing and painting.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Found it!

I'm thrilled to say that I found a home and my offer was accepted!

More to come...

Blogging tips