Let’s Get It Started

The weather has gotten unseasonably warm and melted all the snow. It's supposed to get cold again, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to bike to work a couple of days this week. The second day was in the rain, so my backpack, jacket and pants all had a huge muddy streak up the back. Fortunately, that came on the ride home, so it was good.

But the wonderful weather has pushed me even more into gardening mode, so I decided to get started. A few days ago, I brought all my garden stuff in from the back porch. Mainly so it could warm up a bit. Then yesterday (and today) I washed all of my seed starting trays. Apparently, lots of diseases can grow in old dirt and you're supposed to wash everything before you start seeds. I learned that because I've been reading tons of gardening blogs and websites. So I did that. Then I found out that some of the vegetables that take the longest to grow are leeks and celery. Just now, I decided to plant three tray holders of each of those. Another thing I learned from all my research is that you should stagger when you start your seeds. This way, you won't have them all being ready to be picked at the same time. Instead, they'll be spread out more over the summer. Since I could never eat as many tomatoes as came up last year, I like that idea. I also decided to start some flowers because I think I'm going to make the dirt next to the garage into a cutting garden. I want to have a ton of flowers there. And it's been so cold that I'm looking forward to some color.

Here's my pile of seed holders drying after I washed them.

And here are a small number of seeds that I started.

Here's hoping for a successful garden!

2018 Garden Planning

Now that it's 2018, it's time to start preparing for my 2018 garden. The last two years, I've had plenty of success with tomatoes and peppers. Last year, I also got a ton of beans and some great flowers that took no work. I also got some spinach and lettuce. And I got a single pumpkin, watermelon, cucumber and two zucchini. That has pretty much hooked me on gardening. Aside from the food, which is fun. I found it incredibly relaxing to come home after work and pick tomatoes or flowers in the garden. So I want to keep it up.

It's January 7th, so here is how my backyard garden looks right now.

First thing is that I made those sort-of raised beds with wood I found in my basement. The only money I spent there was buying 12 bags of dirt (for $1.50 each) and one bag of mushroom compost for a few dollars. I also spent around $20 on seeds. Since I feel that I'm now getting serious about gardening, I think I could spend a little more money. I want to build up some nicer raised beds. My idea is to build three rectangular raised beds. Perhaps 3' wide by 8-10' long. I want to build them out of cedar, so it will depend on how expensive that is. I'm reading a book called the Vegetable Gardener's Bible that says wide and deep beds are the way to go. So I think I want them to be at least 12" tall. Again, it will depend on how expensive the wood is.

Another plan is that I'd like to orient these beds so that I could possibly enclose them in plastic to make an actual greenhouse for next winter. The cold frames that I'm using now still freeze. Since I'm in zone 6a, I need to be prepared for temperatures down to -10F. A box with a window on top isn't going to do it. But if I put that box with a window on top inside of a plastic hoop house, that might keep the plants above freezing. Another option is to put a compost pile inside the greenhouse to get some natural heat. It seems like this might work and it's crazy enough that I'd like to give it a try.

Anyway, nothing is going to happen in the backyard while it's covered with snow. My January duties involve starting some seeds. Last year, I bought a set of shelves, a cheap led worklight and a timer. It worked fine for starting seeds.

I've read that celery and onions take a long time to get started. So my goal this month is go start some of those seeds so that they'll be ready to go in the garden later.

Season Over

Today, I finished pulling up all my tomato and pepper plants. I also took down the old chickenwire fence I had around my raised bed. And I filled five grass clipping bags full of plants and weeds that I pulled. I had thought of trying to make my own compost pile. But I found out that the city will pick up the paper bags and I can pick up as much free mulch as I can carry from a city building not too far from my house. So this year at least, I've decided not to do any composting. I may change my mind in the future.

How did the season go? I had lots of tomatoes. A success. I had a pretty good turnout of mini red peppers. A success. I also got some type of hot green pepper that I didn't plant. A success. Lots of beans. A success. A couple of zucchini after which the plants died. So that's probably more of a failure. I now know zucchini plants need a lot more space. Next year, I think I'll plant them by themselves on the back of the house. This year, the pumpkin vine was there. It grew a ton, but I only got one pumpkin. That's a failure. I found one cucumber somewhere in the raised bed. And it was such an odd shape that I didn't realize it was a cucumber. That was a failure. Tons of flowers by the garage, so that was a success.

Yesterday, I cut off most of the grapevine and moved it to where the beans were. I never thought it was going to grow, so I didn't put any thought where I planted it. Now if it grows, I'll try to get it to go up the garage. I now have some space next to the garage. Ideally, I'd like to build a greenhouse there. When I run new power lines to the garage, I can put an outlet near there so that I could plug in some kind of electric heater and an arduino to control it. That would be a very fun project. I've been thinking of designs where basically I extend the roof of the garage down with windows and then put windows all around. I'd have to build some type of door or access, but I think it would be possible.

What have I learned? I put way too many plants in my large raised bed. Zucchini need lots of space. They got so big that they blocked the sun of some of the other plants. I got a couple of really big zucchini and then the plants just seemed to die. I'm not sure what happened. Next year, I think the zucchini will go by the house by themselves. They'll have lots of room there. The miniature red peppers were good, but some were ridiculously tiny. Cutting them up and pulling out the seeds was a pain, but they were good. I'd like it better if they got a little bigger, but I'm not sure such a thing exists. So I'll plant those again next year. I wasn't crazy about the beans, but I think it's because I waited too long to pick them. I read somewhere they're tastier if you pick them before you see the shape of the seeds inside. I thought you were supposed to wait until you saw the seeds, so I definitely waited too long. I'll try those again next year. The Jack and the Beanstalk story is much funnier now. Beans do go really fast. And they climb up anything. It's kind of cool. Think I'll pass on watermelon again because I only got two. They were small and I never even cut them. They just didn't look that good. I'll probably also pass on the pumpkin. They grew like crazy, but I only got one. So I just don't think I have the space for them. I like the lettuce a lot and have already planted some more in the fall. I put some in the smaller raised beds and have a glass window on them. I'm hoping to still get some more lettuce before it gets really cold.

The biggest lesson is that I enjoy gardening. And the more I read about food, the more I want to be able to grow more of what I eat. I also like the idea of building a greenhouse. It seems like a good challenge.

My Latest Obsession

In my second summer of gardening, I'm thoroughly enjoying it. This year, in addition to tomatoes and peppers. Ted also gave me some beans, watermelon and pumpkin. And I also had zucchini. The pumpkin was weird. The vine grew like crazy all over the back of my house, but then died for some reason. I ended up getting one pumpkin, about the size of a 16" softball. It was green when I picked it, but as it's been sitting on my counter, it's turning more orange. I picked one small watermelon and there are a couple more still growing. I haven't yet cut it open to see how it looks or how it tastes. The tomatoes have been reliable. I planted some miniature red peppers and I like eating those the best. There are a lot of green ones out there now, so I think they tend to come a little later in the season than the tomatoes. I got a few good size zucchini. However, after I picked them, the plants seemed to die. Since I think I planted them too close together, I ended up pulling them out last month.

Now however, I'm thinking about what's next. I had a bunch of lettuce plants in one of my boxes. After it got hot, I noticed that the lettuce tasted pretty bitter. So I was mainly letting them grow to get the seeds, which I ended up not harvesting. Oh well. But in their place, I planted some green onions. They went in the ground on Labor Day. Yes, that seems pretty late for planting, but I feel like we're getting longer growing seasons now. The past winter wasn't really that bad and this summer didn't get blazingly hot. Of course, this is just my own judgement. I haven't consulted any tables of temps in Chicago. But it seems like climate change is starting to affect things. With the hurricanes this year and crazy high temperatures in San Francisco, I think we've reached a tipping point. So, if our winters aren't as cold, perhaps we'll have a longer growing season. Again, I haven't quantified any of this, but I'm planting now because I feel like it's a good idea. Today, I also moved some pea plants and lettuce outside. We'll see if those take.

So, my latest obsession is to try to garden year round. Now I don't think that we won't get any snow, but I feel that it might be workable for growing. I need to build a greenhouse of some sort. I tried a cold frame last year, but that didn't really work with my simple box and plastic window on top. I think if I were to use two pieces of glass (my own double-pane window) and perhaps put some thermal mass inside the greenhouse to collect the heat during the day and distribute it at night...I may be able to grow stuff year round. I've been spending most of the afternoon looking stuff up to see how I might do this. And it's another crazy idea, that I totally would like to try.

Early Year Projects

For the start of the year, I've been working on some little projects that I've enjoyed. I guess one of the projects was big. I finished three bookshelves for my cousins for xmas.

I made a midori style notebook, which I still can't decide if I like or not.

And to put inside I made some personalized notebooks, which I do like quite a bit.

Also note in the picture above is a homemade awl I made to poke holes in the notebooks for sewing. It was a good idea, but the needle is sticking out too far. So if I really push, the needle bends. So I could maybe cut the end of that needle off and put it in a shorter handle.

I used epoxy to get the needle in the handle and I had some left over. So I used that to fix some cracks in my shoes. The weather has gotten much nicer now, so I haven't worn them yet in any snow. But I think this will work nice and save me from having to buy a new pair of shoes.

Lastly, I think that the last chance of frost has passed, so I'm moving into gardening mode. I went out to look at my cold frame. And once it got a little warmer, the spinach started growing again. It's pretty indestructible apparently. The lettuce seems to have died, so I put some more seed out there. But I'm happy with how this looks now.

Been A While

My summer has been pretty crazy with a big work conference that is finally over. My life is now my own again. Yay! I've been very behind in doing my monthly checking, but that's ok. The good news is that I don't have to go back to work for over a week. So I'm trying to do a bunch of projects around the house.

First up, I've never posted my video I made of the bookshelf that I made for a friend of mine's birthday. It's below.

That was a lot of fun to do and I want to do more woodworking. One thing though is that I broke my planer. It no longer will plane the really skinny pieces of lathe that I want to glue together. The thinnest I can plane a board is around 1". I think this is because the belt broke and when I fixed it, I must have broken something else. I ended up buying a new planer. It's a less expensive one, which is fine. I'm really just using it to clean up old, dirty wood. I have yet to set it up, so that will probably be one of my projects this week.

It's harvest time in my garden. I've already gotten boatloads of tomatoes. I've given a bunch to my brother and just took a bag full to my Mom today. So I need to research how to make tomato sauce that I can freeze because there's no way I could eat all of these before they go bad. Since the garden worked so well this year, I'll probably make another little area next year. Think I'd like to try to grow lettuce and spinach.

If I'm going to make xmas gifts for people this year, I need to start. And while I like the idea of making bookshelves for people, I don't want to give people a big piece of furniture. That seems a bit much. Anyway, I'm back to working with paper again. I've found some great youtube videos of how to make different types of books and bindings. That looks like fun, so I'll see if I can come up with something cool.

Though, I would still like to make some stuff out of wood because I finally got my brand. I did have a little bit of time to do something fun last month and I designed a brand for myself. I then sent it to Shapeways to get made in stainless steel. It just arrived the other day. I'm quite happy with it.

brand

Now I need to put a handle on it so I can heat it up and put my brand on things. I bought a threaded rod and a tap and die set today. Hopefully, I can drill a hole and put threads in it. Another project for this week. But once that's done, I should be able to brand just about anything.

End of Summer

Here are what was left of the roses on my rosebush before I started hacking it down. It is so nice out, just under 70 degrees, which is perfect to me. I cut my grass and even trimmed the tree in front of my house, in anticipation of my new roommate. Just trying to eliminate some of the things he'll complain about.

photo

I took this picture with my iphone in the house and it's a crummy picture. I'm looking forward to getting a new phone with a nicer camera.

It’s Over

There will be no more cooking or cleaning at my house for the foreseeable future. I just finished removing the sink. It's somewhat depressing thinking about how much more work I have to do.

no_sink

no_sink2

You'll also notice that the dishwasher is still there. I have yet to disconnect the electric line to it. I was going to do that earlier and discovered that the line comes from the outlet where my dryer is plugged in. Since I was also washing clothes at the same time, I decided that I'd wait another day to kill the power and disconnect things.

One nice thing I did notice as I was taking some garbage out was that the roses in my backyard look really great.

roses

An Accident

I have had two snakes (that I've seen) in my backyard for as long as I've owned my house. For the most part, they can do whatever they want back there and I don't care. I usually only see them when I'm cutting the grass and they quickly slide away. Today, the grass was a little taller and I didn't see one of them and I think I killed him. I feel pretty bad about this.

photo

I have to say it's a lot bigger than the last time I saw it. This was the first snake that I saw and it scared the beejesus out of me the first time I saw it. After that, I sort of expected to see him. The other one looked pretty much the same, but was more of an orange color than yellow. I haven't seen that one in a long time.

This will probably make my niece Abby happy, since she always slowly walked out of my garage, while looking for snakes after I showed her the picture of them a few years ago.

UPDATE: I checked about seven hours later and the snake is still there. It's dead.

Patching Continues

I biked out to a lumber liquidators store on Friday and ordered ~80 square feet of maple flooring. I'm going to cut out the big section between the dining and living rooms and put maple in there. It will look very different, but I'm ok with that. I had wanted to use a bunch of different kinds of wood, but since you have to buy 20 square feet at a time, I would have had to buy a lot. So I decided to just go with maple.

I finished patching the spot where the fireplace was and the bit in the corner of the room. Just a few more spots and then I can remove the big section and put the maple in. It's not going to arrive for 7-10 days, so I have some time with that. Once that's done, I can rent the sander again and give the whole thing another go to make it as smooth as possible for the finish.

Section of floor that I'm going to replace with maple
Where the fireplace used to be. Note the sawdust I've picked up since I started sanding
Patched corner

I also had to cut my grass today because it was really long. Imagine my surprise when I went to my backyard and saw how great my rosebush looked.

So I then took a little time and removed the enormous weed (bush) that was growing with it. It looks even better now.