Gardening Again

Last Friday was the vernal equinox and thus Spring is here and has begun. Optimistically, I have taken this to mean that we are finished with frosts and snow and I have gone ahead with my spring planting in the garden. This also meant that we could finally move the herbs that I was able to save over the winter (rosemary and mint) back into the yard. They wintered in our spare bathroom, on shelves in the bathtub. Right now we’ve planted spinach, lettuce blend, carrots, beans, peas and some flowers. We’re also trying to start some peppers inside. We’re hoping to have better luck this year with peppers, squash and eggplants. Last year we did get a few good, large eggplants, our bell peppers and squash never really came out.

In addition to planting we’ve been putting a lot of work into the facilities. We got some give-a-way wood from someone on Craigslist and build a new third bed. So, we’re hoping to improve our output by 50% at least. Then we added mulch that TJ provided for us around all the beds. And finally we built a more substantial fence with a gate to keep Mali out. Before we could finish it she moved some of the spinach seeds around but I think everything will still come up ok. We may have to alter the fence as the summer progresses if we find that animals are getting at the plants, but it should be easy to add some wire mesh along the fence. Our next concern is soil for the new bed and perhaps more water. It seems this is almost the only thing I blog about so I’m sure you’ll hear more throughout the summer.

Porch Sketchup

As I mentioned previously, we’re thinking about how to add a front porch to the house. I have uploaded a sketchup template of the house that is roughly to scale. I am asking anyone interested to take the template and draft a porch design. send your design to us and it might become part of the final plan.

The house id made simply, there is an existing sidewalk out front and a couple of trees that are represented as cylinders.

download the template

download Sketchup – free

learn to use sketchup

Blowin’ the Doors Off

Our latest project around the house has replacing some interior doors. We picked them up at Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store. I highly recommend checking out this resource in your area if you are looking to do some home improvement. Doing these four doors as well as a new screen door on the back has given me the opportunity to familiarize myself with some new tools. Including a plane and a kit for cutting spaces for the door hardware. During the project our spare bedroom was turned into a workshop and we had two bathrooms without doors for awhile.

All’s well now and we turn to another tool that we have recently been using quite a bit to unload things onto the only market that hasn’t crashed yet. The tool is Craigslist and the market is the junk market. We’ve unloaded a roof rack, golf clubs, a table and chairs, 4 stools, four doors, ad a used car with this site that somehow is free and has no advertising. (Here’s how they make their money) I put the four doors on there for free last night and this morning I had 29 new emails. I had to delete the posting before noon.

So with that all behind us, we continue to poke away at our next huge project, a front porch, and once again I turn to a new tool and skill to help get the job done. This time it’s Google Sketchup, the free 3D modeling software released by the world’s most famous preteen (they just turned ten and right on schedule they’ll soon have a cell phone of their very own). This tool is immensely powerful, unbelievably free, and a lot of fun. Here’s a preliminary draft of one design. I’ll continue to improve my skills and hope to post about four versions of it on the blog and get your feedback and opinions.

Learn to use Skethup

Garden Update

The last time I told you anything about the garden it was just two boxes of dirt. Since then we’ve learned a lot and even have a couple things to show for it. We started with a variety of herbs from seeds, but a late frost hurt our efforts. Lauren then brought home a number of plants ready to be planted in the ground. These were tomatoes, squash, zucchini, eggplant, onions and arugala. At the same time we started some beans, peas, and carrots from seeds. Right now I have to say that the plants from seeds have been doing better than the plants we bought, but I think it may also be due to the types of plants. The beans, peas and carrots are producing, but the squash may be getting too much sun and heat to survive.

The tomatoes have started to produce and the arugala is going gangbusters but is getting too big and bitter before we can pick it. About a month after that first planting I planted more bean, pea and re-tried basil from seeds. We also picked up a few pepper plants. The basil is looking good now and we just picked the first chilli pepper. One important thing I learned which I think made a difference was pruning. This is taking some of the plant parts off in order to guide the growth of the plant, for example steering the plant to put more energy and nutrients into fruits. Another thing that we’ve had to do was provide plant food once and awhile, including worm poop and amending the soil further with compost. We also put down some pine needles in the bed as a sort of mulch to retain moisture. Now I’m trying to deal with some pests on the green peppers.

In addition to the garden proper I’ve transplanted some of the basil into separate pots and am keeping them around the deck to keep mosquitoes away (possibly?). We’ve also added some rhododendrons in the back as well as a honey crisp apple tree and a blackberry bush. Finally I spit around 6 watermelon seeds into a planter and they are starting to sprout. This week we’re also getting some rain so it looks like everything’s coming up roses. My biggest challenges at the moment are trying to save the squash and green peppers and possibly getting the eggplants to produce.

As seen in back (and front) yards

In the last month we’ve been spending a lot of time outside and working in the yard. And in that time we’ve seen a number of weird and unexpected things in the back and front yards of our home. First and foremost is April, the homeless woman who we helped out with a sandwich and is now determined to pick our weeds or sweep our steps in exchange for another meal. All the while telling us how the sod we moved from the back yard to the front looks like crap. Not really the way to win favor with someone, but then again, I have been suspect of her social skills since I first saw her (talking to herself).

The news of the back yard is mixed. There is progress with the garden we are trying to create and, like April and her story, some of the things we’ve uncovered in the backyard are a bit discouraging. (no, I’m not talking about Che) Since we moved in we’ve been finding trash strewn about in the back, we think thrown into our yard from the house behind us. I have been meaning to take pictures of some of the stuff to document the whole thing, but once you get in cleanup mode the last thing you wanna do is break for the camera. For me there are few things as disappointing as feeling like your property has been violated. When Lauren had her bike stolen I was pissed for along time. You lose your trust in every stranger on the street and how can you walk around in public when you feel like that? When we got in a car accident it was different because the guy was there, held accountable, and we were made ‘whole.’ If my dog (or someone else’s) steps on a nail in the yard or eats some chemical that a neighbor dumped over the fence and into my yard what recourse can I take? In the backyard, every time I pick up a spring or an empty spray paint can or a piece of old drywall I feel helpless and used.

Until now I have only had to pick up and thing or two at a time, while cutting the grass for example. However, on Sundays, Jorge and I usually take a stab at cleaning up our very own Superfund site. A couple weeks ago we were finishing up a weekend of backyard work when I tugged on a piece of red plastic in the back corner of the yard to find a whole bag of old drywall attached to it. We got the shovel out and started our own remediation on the Vargo Brownfield. Two trashbags, several Colt45 cans, some tools, and plastic cover to an air conditioner later we retired for the night. Since then I have started removing shovels full of dirt – and often laden with broken glass – from the top layer and throwing them into empty soil bags. Then I throw the whole bag away. It really is like a remediation operation. Soon we’ll bring in Georgia red clay and ‘cap’ the whole thing.

But all the work is not without progress. The raised beds are in and herbs have already been planted. We need more soil to fill up the rest before planting other seeds. Also, the weather keeps shifting on us. So while we planted some seeds in the 70 degree sun of the weekend, the low last night was 20 and we may have lost them all. To create the beds we took up soil from two spots in the back and transplanted them into the front. It looks really weird (like crap according to April) but we think it’s taking hold (and I doubt she could do better). We even bought some bulbs and other plants to put around the foundation of the house.

And that brings me to the front. On Sunday (Easter, one of the few days of the year that hardware stores will close) we were winding down the day by preparing the ground for some foundation plants. I was using the fork to break up the hard ground when up sprang an increasingly scarce commodity ’round our parts: water. I had hit and cracked the main water line into our house. Now we know that the line carrying all our water into our house is plastic and only buried about 3 inches below the surface. We got the water turned off thanks to a neighbor with a key, dug out the area surrounding the break and patched it yesterday. But the cold weather continues to compound our problems. We were afraid it might freeze last night but we made it through. Now were just waiting to see if it leaks again and then we’ll cover it completely.

That’s not even the strangest thing to be seen in our front yard. Lauren and Jorge came home one night to find a hawk on the front porch. A hawk that they walked right past and into the house. The thing didn’t even move! Yes, every day is another, even more strange, non-stop roller coaster thrill ride of domestic excitement at our house.

Happy Halloween Home Improvement

This is part three of a continuing series of posts to document what some of the work we’ve been doing around our house. If you’ve been keeping up with the blog you’ve seen that we’ve been exploring options to fix some of the heating and cooling fluctuations. you’ll recall that I had to call 911 after I had an accident in the attic.

Lauren took over the insulating duties and we finished patching up the attic insulation. We also checked our recessed lighting to make sure they were rated and could be covered by insulation. She even scheduled a visit from an HVAC specialist to come and check everything out. We later canceled it and decided to move forward with some free advice from the HVAC guy gained over the phone instead of paying him to come over here and tell us the same thing.

The advice was to install an attic fan to clear the attic of all the hot air that was just sitting up there. Both sides of the house already had vents installed for passive ventilation and so we began to research gable fans. We decided to go with a solar panel-powered gable fan. We’ve found that this is more expensive than a regular gable fan, but our hope is that it will not only save us the energy of running the fan but also save much more by using the AC less. Coincidentally it has not been dreadfully hot since we put it in, so it seemed like it was working like a charm. However, my fear is that it may stop running in the late afternoon and allow the house to heat up in the evening. It operates on a thermostat in the attic and the solar panel is not connected to a battery to store any of the energy (think of your solar-powered calculators that would shut down when you cover the panel with you hand). We’ll see how it goes.

Given the current drought and our plans to try and create a garden in the backyard next year, we decided to invest in a rain barrel for the house. It’s equipped with a spigot, and such incremental investments are key to motivating me to research and maintain the focus required to make the garden happen. At the moment the barrel is simply sitting out under the open sky. Not bad for collecting rainwater but if it rains 1/8″ you get 1/8″. Now we need to hook it up to the refurbished gutters so that 1/4″ of rain turns into 55 gallons of water. As with anything you see on here, your suggestions are welcomed. One down side to the whole thing, no rain so far.

So, as always there is much going on and much left to do. Tonight we host a Halloween campfire (ghost story session) in our back yard and hopefully get some trick-or-treaters from the neighborhood. We may even try to throw together a trip down the block to Sylvester Cemetery, or as it will be called tonight, The Old Graveyard.

Past Home Improvement Posts

Home Improvement Part 2

This weekend Matt and I got out the ladder and did some pruning on the huge Pine in the back and the Red Maple in front. I think it was the most masculine either of us have felt in awhile. Probably since we worked on the first fence back in February. Riding that wave of testosterone we decided to organize a backyard campfire scenario in the near future. After checking on the State’s Burning Ban we found that we had only 2 days left to make it happen legally. Georgia imposes a burning ban during smog season (May-Sep) as a strategy to reduce its criteria pollutants, such as particulate matter and ozone. In any event we squeezed it in on Sunday night. I have to say the location lends itself well to such activities, but I did feel bad about all the smoke going into the air and our lungs. We’ll see if it happens again in the fall and what progress can be made on that stump we want to get out of there.

But I’ve finished more than cutting down trees since my last home update. First, we got some gutters installed, thanks to the generosity of my parents. I can’t think of a much better housewarming gift. I might also mention that we found and bought a grill,even though it didn’t include much work on anybody’s part. Throw in a few places to sit and the deck is nearly all set for summertime. We just need to get it sealed and figure out some way to hang a hammock. But, no worries school is almost out and I have some free time to devote to this project.

The grill is strapped to the deck with an irregularly large chain. The plan is to lock it to the bollard. You may remember me talking about bollards for our bike a while back. Well, we also finished that project. We ended up taking a fence post and the tool developed specifically for driving that fence post into the ground. I had a machine shop drill and hole through both and, voila, we had our bollard. The fence post is pretty easy to cut through with a saw, so we filled it with cement when we set it. Essentially making a bollard the way they’re always made, pouring cement into a mold. It’s just that ours has arms. Works well so far, now we wait for the rains and see what grade changes might be needed.

I don’t know if you can tell from the pictures, but the “grass” has been cut (to a point). On my birthday we bought a lawn mower and since then we’ve had a lawn that is trimmed. We had to pass on the reel mowers on account of our large, hilly, and debris-laden yard. But we did decide to go with the electric mower which has worked very well for us so far. You’ll notice a distinct line where the weeds get tall, that’s the extent of our current extension cord.

Finally, we completed the sealing-off of our yard, keeping the neighborhood strays out and Mali in. We started by finishing the first part under the deck and then tackled the other side of the house. The design is pretty much the same as the fist side of the fence, except it’s higher. I’m still tweaking the design to make it sturdier, but currently it’s serving its intended purpose.

Thanks for letting me ramble about these things we’re doing (which probably mean little to you), and stay tuned for more to come.

New Construction

Much has been going on around the house lately. I haven’t had too much time to blog since school is taking up a lot of time. When I have been able to break away from the proposals, papers and data, I’ve been getting my hands dirty around the house. We’ve had a couple visits from parents which, really helped. My folks got rooms painted, curtains up, etc. and that’s when the place really started feeling like a home.

The first of the most recent (construction, shhhh, we didn’t apply for permits but I checked the zoning code and we’re cool) project commenced during a visit from Lauren’s dad a few weeks ago. We expressed a need and he provided the vision. We had a spot picked out for our bikes, next to the deck in the back and I think I mentioned the bollards. We were stuck on how to shelter the bikes from the elements. We got the bikes out there and in the space, and started to think about a hatch that would flip down to cover the bikes and follow the slope of the handrail. Then Peter took it one step further and suggested a sliding door.

One trip to Lowes later, we were under way. The result gives us overhead cover for our bikes and fits in with the existing structure. Last weekend we lowered the grade a bit to allow an easier slide when the bikes are in there and now we have some drainage issues to resolve. Finally there’s the security. We still have to find a bollard and get it in there. We’re getting closer all the time.

Last week we got a dog, Mali. We took her in from a family who had to get rid of her on account of their having too many animals and some allergies. The woman of the house works at Rollins (where I go to school) and put out a mass e-mail which found me. One problem with having a dog is our need for a fenced yard. Most of it is in good shape but both sides of the house are open and she could get out. Also, stray dogs often come in our yard at night to get at some other dogs that stay few houses over. So… project #2, fix the fence problem. Matt volunteered to help me and I had no idea which route to take, wood, chain, prefab, have it installed…

One trip to Home Depot (to use the 6, $1 gift cards Matt had received at a basketball game, Thanks again Matt) and another trip to Lowes and we had it. It really occurred to us at Lowes. The first trip to HD really only produced a few top bars to fix a problem spot in the existing fence. While examining hinges we decided we would custom fit the fence to our space rather than search for existing gates and fence that fit it. This would involve building the doors, securing a post, and hanging the doors. We surprised ourselves when we put the doors together like old hat. Miguel came over and helped out with the post, and hanging one of the doors. It proceeded to rain all night which made this perhaps the worst possible time to pour concrete.

The next day I took another break from a hectic school weekend to hang the other door, the concrete could be fixed but it works. Today I put on the street sign we found in Midtown. Ignore the fact that the dog can still get out under the deck and I think this is a great success. So in all accounts there are still some things to shore up, but I am happy with the progress and enjoy the time away from the worries of school. I hope that I can inform you of more ‘progress’ soon.

Home Sweet Home

You want orange juice? You go to the store, you buy it, you take it home. Ahhhhhhh, that’s good OJ. But when you want a house, you have to get started early. Figure out what you can afford, find those houses, look at them, consider them, look at them again, look online and hundreds more, go back and forth, look again, make an offer, get shot down. That’s how you buy a house. I have been learning a lot about buying houses lately and this weekend I learned a new step I had never even seen before. “Have offer accepted.”

Yes, Lauren and I are finally engaged in a successful bid for a home and there a bunch of new steps we’re starting to learn now. Get an inspection, pay, find things wrong with the home that will make you want to get out of the contract (maybe), pay lawyers, something about escrow, pay, close, pay. Oh, and then move in.

All that said we are really excited about getting a place. We’re already researching Energystar appliances, CFLs, and spots in the yard for a garden. We don’t mean to get ahead of ourselves but it is kinda fun. I have also been busy researching my new bus/bike routes and destinations. I still need to look into the venue and times for the meetings of our new NPU.

We’ll have you over soon enough.