Category Archives: Gardening

Work in progress

When it all comes down to it, life is just a series of small steps on the way to somewhere else. It’s never as simple as, say, telling someone you’ve bought a house. What you’ve really done is saved up the money for it, decided what you want, scouted properties, negotiated the deal, signed a thousand pieces of paper, taken the keys, packed and unpacked, sorted things over, and then started the things you want to do. But it’s much easier to say “I bought a house.”

In the same way, it’s easier to say you’re improving the soil on the property. What has actually happened is that you’ve looked over the soil, discovered that fill dirt and sand from other lots was dumped on yours, dug down a foot or so in various places looking for the real soil you know is there, tested the soil, brought in a ton of topsoil and compost, and sweated your way into what is the beginning of returning the top layers of nothing to a form that is rich and loamy and beautiful for growing Stuff.

Continue reading Work in progress

Leaving your mark

You should always leave your mark on the world, even if it is meant to be fleeting and ethereal.

After the rains came and went, I walked the property in bare feet. I finally killed my old boots a couple of weeks ago and haven’t replaced them, and sometimes you just need to feel the dirt and sand squish between your toes. This footprint lasted a couple of days before it finally vanished into the soil completely.

Life goes on, and my sister the vegetarian requested sub rolls so she could make her veggie subs for lunches while she attends classes every single day. I’ve never made sub rolls, but that doesn’t really stop me from doing much of anything, so I took my tried and true italian bread recipe and adjusted it.

Individual balls of dough, each around four ounces.

The rolls, formed and proofed.

Fresh from baking on the stone.

Cooled, ready for immediate use and also for freezing.

The Boy tells me today I need to make baguettes for french bread pizzas. Hey, I said, there are these rolls in the freezer that haven’t been used yet…

Cultivating dirt

Thus far, in our adventure on the farm, what have we done?

Other than trying to coax grass to grow to keep our own personal Dust Bowl to a minimum, not much. There is still plenty of garbage strewn about that has to be collected, and quite a lot of the property to be graded to a level that it can actually be used. Since I have no grader attachment, that means leveling with a rake and shovel in smaller patches as I put down grass seed. In the side and rear, where I want to put the garden items, that’s a bit more difficult: it surely is a large piece of ground to be leveling by hand, and there’s only one of me. So, I plan to do a smaller patch by hand, just to get my seedlings transplanted out of the flats before they croak, and then we’ll ask the builder if he has a guy/girl to do the rest so we can put seed directly down. Once that grading is done, the fun will begin in earnest.

The current plan is to have three 40′ rows of silver queen corn, three 20′ rows of the same, and three 20′ rows of another sweet variety called maple sugar. I might do another row or two of a Japanese hulless corn for popping. Once thing I miss more than I thought I would since treatment is popcorn: I can’t eat traditional variety, because the hulls get stuck everywhere in my mouth after just a few kernels, and dental stuff takes forever as it is. I figure a hulless corn for popping may be just the thing.

At one end of the long rows, we’ll have zucchini, and at the other, squash – no crosspollination for us, thanks. At the ends of the smaller blocks that will hold tomatoes, we’ll have a couple different varieties of cukes. We’ll also have a couple blocks of different types of peppers. Along the fenceline around the pool on the east side, which will get AM sun and PM shade, we’ll have onions, garlic, shallots, broccoli, and cauliflower, so as not to have them burn up in the heat of the afternoons around here.

We also have the following to plant: lettuce, arugula, spinach, carrots, celery, snap peas, green beans, English peas, black beans, watermelon, and canteloupe. I also have potatoes and strawberries coming in – the latter a hybrid designed to withstand the kind of heat we have around here in the summer. I also need to get the winter squashes in the ground soon (butternut squash and pumpkin).

Around the blocks, we’ll have marigolds and nasturtiums planted, to keep the nasty bugs away. Plus, there are all the herbs that have been started: cilantro, different types of basil, catnip, spearmint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and so on.

The biggest stumbling block right this moment is the grading. I also need to get my compost pile started again. Fortunately, for that, there is plenty of brown matter around here to chip/grind and throw in with the green matter.

I know everything will come together. Just a little more patience, I suspect, the same as it is with awaiting those first sprigs of green in the areas where I have already put down grass seed.

Oh, and at some point, I need to plan the menu for the Memorial Day party, and we need to get the invites out so we know how many people are coming. It seems every day one of us says we’ve invited yet another person/group of people, so this year may be our largest yet.

The quiet, then the storm

People have asked what the property looks like. How about a bird’s-eye view? This is from the early part of 2006, and the red outline is the property. At the bottom of the property, the upside down L is another parcel of just under an acre and a half that is to be deeded over to us (99% certainty of that). At the bottom of the image, the small rectangle behind each parcel is the easement into Jennings State Forest.

Yesterday, we simply had to go to the house to see what the pavers had finished and how the fence looked.

Not bad. Through this gate, on the road side, we’ll have a large dog run for the animals to roam. Mickey in particular loves to run, and fast. Fortunately, we have plenty of room for that.

The only issue is that the pavers ran short, and the corner around the skimmer basket is unfinished. This means that our closing, originally scheduled for Monday and delayed to Thursday will likely be delayed to Friday. Boo! Hiss!

It’s all lovely, though.

Last night, and into the morning, we had a line of storms roll through, bringing quite a lot of wind and some much-needed rain. The rain, we welcomed. The wind, not so much: after all, my house is new. What if a tree uprooted and crashed through the roof, or took out some windows, or the entire house just lifted off and landed in Oz?

So, another trip to the house, just to check in on things. Things were fine.

And a lot of the sand was cleared away by the rain.

The builders were on site, and had removed a section of the fence so they could get the tractor in to grade around the pool while they were doing some grading on the rest of the property. With the rain, the soil was much softer than it had been – also welcome, as that will make my landscaping plans easier to implement.

It was a gray, windy day, but things are still coming along nicely.

There is still debris to be removed, still more grading to be done, and there’s still that pesky pool inspection that needs to be completed. So, still some patience to be had as this process – which has been fairly stress-free – nears the end.

Holding your breath

Today I did the most significantly foolish and nervewracking thing I have ever done in my entire short life. Thus far. I signed a contract on a house. A house that is owned by a builder, who actually understands the market, and who actually wants to sell the thing, unlike every other owner we’ve encountered along the way who received an offer from us.

The house is so new that it isn’t even completed yet, but will be within the next couple of weeks: a 4/3, situated on 4.1 acres in an equestrian community, with another 1.4 acres very likely to be added on to the back end of the property. It backs up to a huge nature preserve, so there are no worries about a development suddenly arising from the ground behind us, and the entire development is on a single cul de sac – I believe there are abut 30 lots, total, of which only half a dozen have houses. Given the market conditions, that will likely remain the situation, at least for awhile.

We have our realtors to thank for the rather extraordinary fortune. We’d actually driven by this place on a previous excursion and decided at that time that it was a) too far out and b) too expensive. Part a was really a misconception, and the result of too much damn driving around in a single day. By the time we’d found this underdeveloped development, the butt soreness to coffee to aggravation ratios were way, way off. A trip meter shows that the house is 15 miles from the current house, and adds between 17 and 20 minutes to drive time, even at 4 PM. Not bad.

Part b was a little more interesting. We hadn’t looked at the listing for this one since that driving around time about a month or so ago, and the builder reduced the price by a fairly significant amount in the past week. And, to top it off, there will be a pool thrown in for good measure, which means we won’t have to have one dug. Bonus! And to top all that off, the builders are quite nice guys, and totally upfront about why they’re doing all this: they need to unload the inventory, because they’re now paying interest on the house they’ve almost completed on the lot. One of the builders lives in the development, so we’ll be neighbors when all is said and done. And he’s a huge barbeque fan, so bribery is always an option.

And now begins the game of getting everything together and writing more checks, all of which makes me frantically nervous about the deal. Not that we don’t know that this will be our new home. Far from it, in fact, since the approval was already done for a higher figure than the price of this place, and my paperwork is already in order from the first time we went through this. I’m just worried that a meteorite is going to come crashing out of the sky and turn the lot into a dinosaur-killing sinkhole whose worth is only infishing rights.

There are also all those other things that will need to be done – we’re getting a pad for the garage, for instance, but we’re going to do the driveway in pavers ourselves. There’s no way for them to economically sod the entire lot – at over 2 acres cleared, from my estimation, that would cost a fortune – so they’re going to put down five pallets of sod, and we told them to put it in the back around the pool, since that’s where we and everyone else will be spending most of our time this summer. That means we’ll be seeding the front and sides of the lot ourselves, which isn’t a big deal (grass seed is cheap!), but which also means that eventually an investment will have to be made in a riding mower. There’s also the question of the dogs and the immediate need for a fenced in area for them to run and poop in so they don’t get any bright ideas about running out on the county road and getting squished. And finally, one of the biggest things to me: the garden. Since harvest times on most of the better known and more often eaten veggies (for us) runs anywhere from 50-78 days or so, there’s a need to get some things going and in the ground as quickly as the ground can be made ready. That means tilling and picking up large quantities of compost from the city (free!), then making sure the pH of the soil is appropriate in each zone for each type of veg. Wouldn’t it be something to be harvesting some corn three months from now?

I was avoiding posting anything about this, as some kind of superstitious theory and my generally pessimistic nature about this whole house/land hunting thing we’ve been doing for about eight months. Monday we go back to lay out the exact position of the pool and get a quote for extending the deck area in pavers so that people can gather without being right on top of one another. The electric should also be up, with the a/c coming next week as well so the wood floors can be laid in. I’m hesitant to take any photos and post them, so as not to allow the fates to jinx anything, but I may very well haul the camera along with me on the next visit.