First cheeseboard

August 1st, 2013

The first of the cheeseboards has been finished and gifted. Gosh, that took a long time - remember when I started back in February? I gathered all the pretty-looking firewood that I’d set aside from our epic tree harvest and splitting, and took those logs to a woodworking friend with some really great equipment, who cut them down into boards for me and planed them all to the same height. I could never have done this without his help.

This is what we started with:

And this is the first of the finished projects:

After gluing, and planing, and sanding, and sanding, and sanding… and then sanding, and sealing, and more sanding, and repeat a few times a day over the course of a couple weeks…

It came out just perfect. I wish you could see it gleam and feel the slick satin of the hand-rubbed finish.

It was gifted as a wedding present to some good friends of ours, who are fashionable foodies and love good cheese even more than they love presentation. (Wish I’d gotten a picture of the wrapping; I used a rustic brown paper with a handmade look, tied it with a jute cord and added a big rose made of burlap, with a letterpress card. I thought it complemented it perfectly, even though it wasn’t the important part.)

I can’t wait to finish and photograph the others.

July garden

July 30th, 2013

Look at all those flowers!

The garden just keeps getting better and better, and bigger and bigger. It’s pretty much just coasting along by itself at this point, pumping out the food and flowers and asking only that I weed it now and then (the weeds are growing and growing, too) …. I’m not so good at that last part, but hey. I’m enjoying the other stuff for sure.

The summer has been so nice – lovely and (relatively) cool, rarely getting above ninety – that it’s been a real pleasure to work outdoors when I can. We haven’t had too many mosquitoes, either, which is key! The cooler and cloudier weather means unfortunately that my tomatoes are only half the height they were last year; but to make up for it, my chard and kale are still going strong and churning out those good green leaves for salads and sides.

Now if only my youngest would start sleeping through the night, I would have enough energy to actually get out there more often instead of having to nap. Oh well. Naps are nice too.

It’s about time to start Fall crops: broccoli, beets, turnips, cauliflower, more cabbage, that kind of stuff. So soon, this deliciously lazy “rest and reap” period will be over.

It’s views like this that make me excited to start it all over again every year.

Salsa time!

July 29th, 2013

What with the garden rendering hauls like this just about every other day…

It was time to start up the canner!

Those are only 1/4 of the tomatillos I got, and boy howdy, my jalapenos are going like gangbusters. I have no idea what I’ll do with them all – try to sell them, I guess! Or maybe smoke them and can them up as chipotles… hm… now there’s an idea.

All those tomatillos went into the blender along with a good number of jalapenos, onions, cilantro, and garlic, along with some cumin and oregano and lime juice, to make about five pints of salsa verde.

The red tomatoes went here with some more jalapenos, etc:

And they ended up making a good 15 pints of pico de gallo salsa – that’s almost two gallons! – plus two quarts of the piquant salsa juice, which I use for bloody marys or stock.

I did myself a favor this time and bought pre-minced garlic. I know, I know! When I have strings and strings of homegrown garlic in the basement. But I just didn’t feel like messing with it all… and I’m glad I didn’t. My perfectionist side is slowly coming to the realization that it’s ok to cut corners sometimes.

And I think that’ll do us for salsa for the year. Maybe another small batch later on… or maybe I’ll focus on crushed tomatoes or sauce. We’re completely out – used up our last quart a week or so ago. I’m sad to be out but proud I timed it just right.

Now if only I could remember how many quarts I put up last year… that’d give me a number to shoot for this time around. I have got to start keeping better records!

Sparkly chairs!

July 28th, 2013

I just finished a super-fun project with a set of 1950’s chairs from my good friend’s grandma.

They had been well-loved, but the one above was the worst one. For the most part, while they were pretty darn rusty, the worst thing that had happened to them was the passage of time. The stuffing and wood and metal was in such good structural condition that none of it needed to be replaced.

And as soon as my friend mentioned she wanted to redo them in sparkly diner chair vinyl, I knew I was in! Though I was nervous – this was the first reupholstery project that I’ve ever done involving non-wooden chairs, not to mention sewn upholstery. But my friend – you’ll never find another sweeter! – was extremely understanding that it might not work, and I was game to try.

I’m so glad I did because look how well they turned out!

Sparkles! Updating! Snazzy bright colors! What’s not to love?

I love learning new skills. I used the old cover as a pattern, and the new vinyl cut like a dream.

Tip #1: Sewing the vinyl was difficult, but a drop or two of sewing machine oil under the presser foot eliminated the stickiness and made the stretching of the different-sized parts and the covering of the piping much easier.

Tip #2: a hair dryer used to heat the vinyl lets it flex and stretch much more easily to slide over too-small spaces like the chair backs that are bigger on top than on bottom.


Lilu approves.

Tip #3: using metal polish and #00 steel wool, in combination with a dremel fitted with a wire brush for stubborn spots and a whole lotta elbow grease, works magic on rusted chrome. Just look:

Rusty rusty

Oooh shiny!

I loved doing this project so much that I want to run out to Second Chance this minute and see if I can get some of these chairs for myself ! I’m so grateful that my friend thought of me when she needed someone to do this for her – what fun it was!

Sunflower harvest

July 27th, 2013

The sunflowers have been so productive! They’re not toweringly tall, but that’s ok by me – I want them to put all that effort into making seed heads, not growing up to where I can’t reach ‘em.

I had been wondering when to harvest sunflowers, as the seeds aren’t fully ready yet when the petals drop off.  I thought maybe I was supposed to wait, like one does with winter squashes, until the vine dies? But then I was sure I’d lose them all to squirrels and other varmints. One site I read said to wait until the back of the flower turned “banana yellow”… whatever that is. So I waited, and waited…. and the ones that had ripened first began to blacken and mildew. Oops! I chucked em to the chickens and they ate most of them anyway.

Instead, I looked for a different sign that the seeds were ready: empty seed hulls on the ground. Yup, birds and squirrels had been at the heads already, but that was ok by me – they only took a small amount from each flower, after all. I quickly snapped up the rest of the flowers – about half – that were at about the same stage of readiness.

I bundled them up in an onion bag and they’ll finish drying in the basement near the dehumidifier.

Since our family really doesn’t care too much for sunflower seeds, these will be purely a chicken treat. They’re pretty high in protein and should help cut down on their feed costs. All I have to do is chuck a whole seedhead in there – no shucking or cleaning or picking required – and they demolish it.

And oh yeah – see that bouquet? I’m growing ornamental sunflowers too!

Enough that Sofía could open up her own “lemonade-style” stand in front of our house. Nobody stopped on the street, but once they heard she was selling, a few of my dear mom-friends came by and absolutely made her day. :)

All that cheery beauty throughout the summer, almost zero maintenance, and a great food supplement for the chooks? I’m going to grow sunflowers every year from now on!

Growth

July 3rd, 2013

This is most of the reason I keep this blog, I guess – to have a visual record of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I was just out pouting at the garden for not growing faster, and then re-read this post from June 17th, when it looked like this:

And now it looks like this:

What a difference a little sun and a break in the rain can make. Wish I’d waited, and taken the picture before the zinnia harvest! At least you can see a few left, plus some of the sunflowers in the back.

Sunflowers!

July 2nd, 2013

My favorites! They’re finally here!

Er, well, ok. So my favorite flower changes with every season. But sunflowers are one of them, man! Who can fail to smile when looking at a sunflower? That yellow is made of pure happy. Plus, these are the seed kind so once they fade they will provide some supplemental food for the chickens.

So right now, sunflowers are my favoritest favorite.

As soon as some space clears up I’ll have to see if I can get a second batch started.

Voracious

June 18th, 2013

All this continual rain has made for a plague of slugs.

My poor tomatillos just can’t catch a break. Whatever survives the drowning has to contend with plant predators. The slugs have eaten an entire planting’s worth – 24 square feet – of bean plants, setting me back another 2 weeks. I hate slugs. The chickens won’t even eat them.

I was going to get some Sluggo, because I heard it is organically approved, but the warnings on the package make me nervous. Maybe I’ll just try more DE first… which would work better if it’d MAYBE STOP RAINING though.

A rare shot…

June 17th, 2013

…in which the garden looks tidy.

More or less.

For the first time ever, I have filled all my beds. As soon as the weather permits the ground to dry out a bit, I will work on building up the areas to the left and right for more planting space. Who would have thought I’d ever be able to fill so much space? Not me!

Before we put up the deer fence, I was actually convinced that I should put up the back border of it at the bottom of Backfill Hill… which would cut my present garden exactly in half. I’m so glad Josh convinced me to build the tall fence all the way around the cleared area instead, because you never know. Even though it made more work and expense for him. Thank you so much, love!

Retained

June 16th, 2013

I finally took care of a major problem in the garden a couple weeks ago: This.

It’s hard to tell from the photo, which flattens everything, but that’s the 45 degree hill where Backfill Hill slopes down towards the swamp. Because it is south-facing, and poor soil, I thought it would be an excellent place for my 4-vine (now 7-vine, hooray!) vineyard.

I wasn’t completely wrong; the residual hill seems to have helped my vines stay alive during a couple colder than normal winters, but that’s about where it ends. Not even to go into the fact that there is a difference between “poor” and “utterly execrable” soil, my main problem with the slope was keeping it mowed. It was way too steep to mow with the mower; too slippery and treacherous to mow with the weed whacker. Any footholds carved into the surface washed away with the next hard rain.

So when my pool contractor offered me the use of some wall block, free for the taking, I jumped at the chance. I picked them up the next day and had them dumped by that afternoon. I bet the neighbors were tearing their hair.

“First she cuts down all the trees, then puts up a daggone 8′ fence, then chickens there, then a pile of blocks… she’s ruining our view!”

Sorry, neighbors. At least they weren’t there for long. I got the trench dug and the first course laid that night – the huge, 80-pound block. I worked until it was too dark to see, and hobbled myself back inside to a warm soaking bath.

And when I started work the next day, I realized it was sloped and I’d have to redig and reset all those stones.

At least I got a good workout.

By 4pm on Monday I had finished the first and second course.

When the camera flattens it, it doesn’t look as nice as it does in person, but I think it’s still an improvement.

Before/After:

Now I can mow up to the wall with the mower, and now I have a pathway to stand on while using the weed whacker on the top half. I broadcast red Shirley Poppies in all the naked, disturbed soil; I’m pretty sure most of them have washed down now, but maybe it’ll make a pretty display anyway.

It’s stood up to the past two weeks of continuous, torrential rain with no shifting or complaints or anything… I think I did it right. :)