Category Archives: Gardening

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.

Going to ground

It isn’t enough to feed a family of four, but it’s a nice snack.

Those were the first handful of sugar snaps pulled off the vines. The collards remain as yet unharvested, but that’s going to happen soon – they’re taking over the line and need to be eaten.

Friday night, my sister decided she wanted to try a new restaurant. I’m not a huge fan of Indian food – although I love naan – but I’m always interested in other cuisines. The rest of us had also already eaten, but since her planned dinner date was a no-go, The Boy and I went with her.

Authentic Indian cuisine. The restaurant was recommended to her by her calculus instructor, who is himself Indian, so we figured it was a good bet.

We started with some sweet corn soup (right) and paneer pakora (left). The latter was homemade cottage cheese, according to the menu.

Since I can’t eat very much at one sitting, and since I’d already had some hearty soup I’d made, I didn’t order anything and opted to just sample whatever the kids ordered. The Boy, who is not a vegetarian, ordered chicken saagwala.

For my sister the vegetarian, the menu was a bonanza of available items. She choose aloo palak (potatoes and spinach). We also ordered some naan (at the right), as they both chose rice to go with their dinners. We had also ordered a sweet lassi (upper left) so they could taste it.

Both look exactly the same due to the spinach in the dishes. I don’t want to say that they didn’t look appetizing, but it’s not as if they were jumping up and down with an “eat me” sign blaring away. Still, everything was tasty, and the kids seemed to enjoy everything. I suspect The Boy was less enamored of the food than my sister, even though he did like the chicken.

Before we went on our Indian excursion, Mom, The Boy, and I had gone to look at a piece of property, just down the road a bit from the original piece of property that we wanted. The agent listing it said there was a “livable doublewide” on the property. Now, we’re not particularly interested in that, and would have it yanked off the land anyway, but when we reached the property, we wondered just how long it had been since the agent had been there, since the structure was in no way “livable”.

The property is just under 3.5 acres and is overgrown. View to the front of the property, toward the road.

Turning around from that same spot, a view of this “livable” trailer.

We started out around 4 PM to go see the property, but by the time we made a long detour around downed power lines on the main road, it was after 5 PM, and the sun was beginning to sink.

Whoever lived on the property last left behind quite a few things. From old Coke bottles that some collector would probably love…

…to some split and cured firewood (which would have been nice to use to start a fire, as it was getting chilly)…

…to an old saw…

…to a camera that would pique the interest of those who collect such things…

…to an old piano that has seen much better days.

I wonder what sort of tunes someone played on this? Finding views like this makes me think about searching out other old, abandoned places and finding out what’s there.

A view into the neighbor’s property. It was a stunner of a day: chilly, with a piercing blue sky settling into dusk.

The light was fading fast, and we needed to work our way back through the overgrowth to see what else could be seen. One thing was apparently a workshop or shed of some sort, overtaken by the brush.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep.

And miles to go before I sleep.

And miles to go before I sleep.

Always liked Robert Frost. Anyhow, we met up with a guy from the property next door, who heard us talking – a good thing, since he had a pretty high powered rifle on him, and we could hear doves in the air. Since the growth was too severe for us to make our way further back on the property, he kindly invited us to walk down his property to the back end of the property line and cut through the preserve to an entrance on the property at which we were looking. This tree was one whose branches we could see had been used for target practice.

The sun was dropping further from the sky…

…but still illuminated the trail on the preserve for us.

We found parts of the land that had apparently been cleared at some point but which were now tangled with grass and brush.

And were amazed at how brilliant and sharp things were against the sky.

But finally, it was time to go, as the light continued to fade.

It has potential: it’s far enough out to be in the country, but not so far out that people would refuse to visit. It’s large enough to have elbow room for us and from the neighbors, but not so vast that it is unmanageable.

It’s definitely a possibility.

Football haze

There is no better way – in my humble opinion – to start off the year than to have an entire day full of football bowl games, even if you are like me and have no particular favorite college team. Work is fairly slow (unless a server’s hard drive is in imminent danger of death, as one is today), and it’s usually a good day to do a little of this or that. For me, between working and moving accounts around, that means baking some bread for the carb fiends around this place. It also means making another batch of the maple-cornmeal biscuits to go with the traditional southern new year’s meal of black-eyed peas this evening.

My sister, lucky girl that she is, had the opportunity to go to the Gator Bowl in person, sit in one of the terrace suites, and be waited on while watching what turned out to be an exciting game. The rest of us had to be content with watching on television, which worked out well: we all got a lot of work done, watched a bunch of different football games, played with the dogs, packed some more holiday stuff to be stowed away until later this year, and in general had a day that wasn’t particularly frenetic but wasn’t so slow as to put you in a coma. And my mom made small meatloaves.

My mom loves hamburger: extra-lean, lean, chuck, round, whatever. If it’s from a cow and can be formed into a patty, fried, perhaps with some sauteed mushrooms and onions on the side, and maybe a pan gravy by yours truly, she’s happy as – well, happy as a pig in poop, I suppose, or as happy as one of those cows in the California cheese ads.

She has a recipe she sort of follows to make meatloaf these days, that is more meat than loaf, if you get what I mean. Make a few extra, toss them in the freezer, and it’s an instant fix for the beef-addicted.

We had meatloaf tonight, along with rice (with shallots and parm), black-eyed peas, maple-cornbread biscuits, and corn on the cob.

And coffee. Lots and lots of coffee for me today. Mom also fed the dogs Cheetos, because she’s a sucker for a cute face.

Right now, the cinnamon-raisin loaves have just gone into the oven. I’m not pleased with the feel the dough had as I rolled it, and I would not be at all surprised if there were gaps in the bread, because for some reason the dough just felt extra sticky and wet. Wet = steam = bad oven spring = gaps. Still, it will taste fine, and the fam will down it even if it isn’t perfect, but this tells me I need to work on this recipe a bit. I’m also going to try my hand at this no-knead bread that apparently everyone in the world knew about but me until today. Instead of kneading the bread, the gluten develops through an extra long rising period of about 18 hours. It would be rather handy to toss everything together and forget about it, instead of fussing with dough every couple hours – although that is part of the fun. Some days are meant for a hands-off approach.


I sincerely hope I’m not the only one in this world who couldn’t care less about the nuptials of Tom and Katie. It seems to be the only thing plastered all over the news (besides the Michigan – Ohio State game).

Anyway, patience. Ever since beginning treatment for cancer, that’s what everyone counseled. Be patient, you’ll get your speech back. Be patient, you’ll get back to eating. Be patient, you’ll get back to eating normally. Be patient, you’ll get your range of motion and strength back.

I’m not the patient sort with myself, as anyone who knows me could say. And being patient is making me tired and crazy. So is having my eyes glaze over from looking at properties.

I stepped out the front door the other day, as the tow truck was bringing my sister’s car back to the house. It has been raining a bit, and was still sprinkling, but directly in front of the house was a huge, perfect and vibrant rainbow, with a smaller rainbow shadowing it.

Fall has arrived, sort of. At least the trees seem to know something that may not be entirely apparent to the rest of us.

I’m sure if she could speak, she’d be saying “Put me down, dammit!”

But what have I been doing? Working a lot after firing some support people. Tending my garden. Not cooking much, although we are having Thanksgiving dinner here and there will be a pack coming in – the menu will be a traditional roasted turkey, a honey-brined, smoked turkey, ham, beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, stuffing, yams, pies, and all sorts of other things. The cranberry-apple compote is already made and in the freezer. Should be a good time for everyone.

So we’ve seen the peas when they first started sprouting. The looked like this last week.

Last night, they looked like this.

I sowed more peas of a different variety last night after we returned from a brisk walk in the cool weather.

Everything else is popping up and thriving.


The carrots have sprouted.

The zucchini is moving right along.

Cilantro is growing out of its starter pot and will need to be transplanted next week.

Most of the tomatoes have been transplanted, with just the big boys to be done. The leeks are now on the outside of the row with the collards and broccoli, both of which are growing like (if you’ll pardon the expression) weeds.

The sky is a clear and piercing blue as we make our way into evening. The weather has turned cooler now, giving rise to thoughts of having a fire going tonight while football plays on the tv and Boots curls up against my leg, dreaming whatever it is that cats dream when they really go to sleep. And I keep watch over my plants, patiently awaiting the first flower that is the omen of the bounty to come.