Matt is now working full time, and yet accomplishes amazing things outside every day after work and on the weekends. He’s grown and harvested many delicious salads, strawberries, and more from his P-patch garden and our ever-expanding home garden.
In the back yard, two new raised beds have appeared this week, while the front yard loses grass to planting beds on a weekly basis. I can’t even keep up in pictures! I’m loving having veggies growing at home. Nothing beats lettuce and herbs you picked 5 minutes before dinner.
Some day, the yard won’t be a construction site. It’s so worth it though! The fence is looking fantastic.
Eventually, Matt will post something. In the meantime, it’s hard to be too mad about his blog silence when he’s working so hard and getting so much done. Hubby, you make me want to be more productive.
Thomas Friedman’s NYTimes op-ed piece, This Time Is Different, gives us some food for thought on who’s to blame for the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He quotes a friend’s letter to the editor suggesting that it’s up to each of us to make changes in our lives to reduce our use of fossil fuels - a sort of DIY energy independence philosophy. Friedman goes on to talk about our responsibility as citizens to engage in the political process to create policies aimed at making our nation more sustainable. Maybe we need both approaches: do-it-yourself and do-it-together, but I tend to think every big change starts with the individual. I’m always amazed at the creative energy saving innovations people have come up with. Mother Earth News and instructables.com let people share their ideas, successes, and failures with creative DIY projects, many of which have a sustainability focus (even if in many cases, “green” is more a byproduct of saving money than a goal in itself). This Old House and Danny Lipford also have some great tips for reducing energy consumption at home.
We like the squirrels in our yard. They have nice fluffy tails, chase each other comically, and are generally not pests. The only thing we don’t like about them is the way they pig out on the food we put out for birds.
My mom got us a great new bird feeder. The perch is spring loaded (tension adjustable) so that lightweight birds can land on it and feed, but heavier animals like squirrels will push the perch down, which closes off the openings to the food. Our DIY attempts to foil the squirrels failed. Sometimes you gotta defer to the wisdom of others, quit trying to reinvent the wheel, and buy something that works much better (or let your mom buy it for you).
We haven’t seen any squirrels make an attempt on the new bird feeder, though we’ve been waiting to see what would happen and how they’d react. We dedicated the larger old feeder to squirrels. We don’t mind feeding them as long as there’s still some food for birds. The squirrels still have to work for it (see previous post), and they are fun to watch.
Matt planted two little apple trees in our yard this spring. One is columnar and I can’t remember what kind of apples it grows. The other is a Pink Lady, my favorite!
The Pink Lady (on the right) has grown a lot but doesn’t have any apples growing yet. It had flowers, so we’re not sure whether it needs some help with pollination. We have plenty of flowers and bees, and Matt thought the two trees planted on opposite sides of the back yard were close enough to cross-pollinate. I just read online that you need different varieties to pollinate each other, but that some varieties are sterile and cannot pollinate other trees. We’ll have to look into that. The columnar has two little apples, which is pretty amazing considering two months ago it looked like this.
Our yard and gardens are organic, and I didn’t want our two lonely apples to be ruined by any of the various insects that would just love to make their homes inside. I didn’t see any little holes in them, so hopefully that means no one has moved in yet. Some people protect apples by covering them individually with paper bags or nylon socks. I decided to use an old pair of stockings. I tied knots in each leg every few inches, then cut them.
As for how to secure the socks to the apples in a way that would not hurt their stems but also not allow any room for insects to get in, inspiration came from an unlikely source. We’ve been semi-obsessively watching The Wire, and for some reason the way Bodie often wears his do rag with the ties loose seemed like the perfect model for apple socks. Is that weird? I cut some ties into my nylon socks.
The juxtaposition of these photos is so ridiculous; I love it.
Worked like a charm. I hope they grow safely in their socks and we’ll each have one delicious snack in a couple months.
I can hardly believe it. When I first came up with the idea to forgo a furnace in favor of a natural gas fireplace to heat our house, I thought no one would let me do it.
Truthfully, if I hadn’t found this one specific fireplace insert that is much more efficient than all the others, I would have dropped the whole idea by now and we’d be choosing which furnace to have installed in the crawl space under our house. That would have been a pain; when a furnace installer-turned-salesman came to give an estimate on the job, he realized that getting the furnace into the crawl space would require cutting out a piece of the opening to the crawl space and then repairing it afterward. And that was the better option between that and cutting a hole in the floor somewhere and having to repair joists.
In general, vented natural gas fireplaces are considered fairly efficient at over 70% AFUE, but this means you’re wasting up to 30% of your fuel! There are unvented ones that can be almost 100% efficient, but you cannot use them as a primary heat source because they can deplete oxygen in the room and create problems with condensation. Not many heating companies in our area carry the Mantis, but I found one. No reports on Angie’s List, but AL customer service looked up their BBB rating - A. The company says they can install it or they can sell it to us and we install it. We’ll get estimates and decide how to proceed. I’ve seen Richard install one on Ask This Old House, and I’ve already read the installation manual for the Mantis, so I think we probably could do it ourselves if we want to. Some online suppliers are selling it too, but I’d want to make sure it’s all legit with warranties and whatnot.
My confidence is growing: now Matt, Robert, our real estate agent, our home inspector, the furnace salesman (who will be losing some business if we go ahead), and of course the fireplace salesman all think it’s a good idea!
We have to make sure the heat is distributed evenly throughout the house (a friend mentioned this as a problem, and our real estate agent was also concerned about that). Not to fear; we have a plan for that too. The fireplace is located near the center of the house, and the existing furnace is right next to it. This is excellent because it means we can use the existing ductwork. When the furnace guy was here, he said if we got a furnace we should put the air intake right next to the fireplace and leave the furnace blower on 24-7 so that the heat from the fireplace would be distributed to every room through the ducts even when the furnace is not firing. Well, that’s essentially what we’re going to do, but the blower will be stand-alone, not part of a furnace that is rarely used. We would also like to integrate the air intake into either the hearth or the mantle/surround, instead of just being on the floor near the fireplace. We need to talk to some HVAC people and see what options we have to do this.
Our house is very small. Small enough that it could be adequately heated by an efficient natural gas fireplace instead of a furnace. This is an idea I had a while ago, and at first Matt thought it was another one of my awesome-but-not-practical ideas, but lately he’s warmed to the concept. I have done a lot of research on this, and I believe that for our situation, it is possible with available models of gas fireplace inserts. The one pictured above is a rare gem with efficiency of 93% AFUE - as good as the best new furnaces, and it works with a programmable thermostat to automatically maintain the desired temperature by time of day. Why aren’t there more of these available? Who wouldn’t want a nice cozy fireplace instead of a big ugly furnace? For a larger house, there is nothing on the market as far as I can tell. We’re still researching and thinking about this, and I will provide updates as we figure it out. Info and advice welcome!
Aphids on pepper starts: 'El Kabotski' pest control
Matt has a bunch of veggie starts in our kitchen: peppers, a squash, and an eggplant. Last week we noticed tons of aphids on the pepper starts, sucking the life from their poor leaves. Aphids are tiny green bugs and they prefer the underside of leaves but can be all over the plant. Here’s a closeup:
I suggested that Matt spray them with an insecticidal soap. He suggested that I take care of them since he’s kinda busy with finals (of his last quarter of school, woohoo!) Pest control is not really my thing, but I didn’t like bugs - even innocuous bugs like aphids - in my kitchen, so I agreed to “look into it.”
Day 1: I did a quick search online and found that a (supposedly) pretty easy way to get rid of aphids is to use a strong spray of water to simply knock them off. If planted outside, beetles and other predators should eat them off the ground before they have a chance to recolonize the plant. So I took the starts into the backyard, turned my spray bottle’s nozzle to Stream, and hit each and every leaf - top and bottom - with a few blasts water. Those little green bugs flew right off. I inspected all of the plants carefully to ensure none remained and then brought them back inside. I saw some little white specs (not moving) in the soil of some of the plants, so I covered the soil with plastic wrap to be safe in case they were aphid eggs or something. I haven’t seen anything crawling around under the plastic in the days since, but Matt thinks the plants that have plastic wrap are thriving.
Day 2: There were aphids on the plants again! Not as many, but a lot more than I could possibly have missed in my Day 1 inspection. I repeated the spraying routine in the yard.
Day 3: We were mostly aphid free, but there were still a few. I found a ladybug on the microwave, and since I’ve heard that ladybugs eat aphids, I transferred her to one of the pepper starts. She walked right past an aphid and took a nap inside a flower. Good job.
Day 4: Ladybug was on the next pepper start, but I’m not sure she had eaten any aphids. I released her into the back yard. There were just a few aphids on some of the leaves, so I used the El Kabotski pest control method espoused by Seattle gardening guru Ciscoe Morris. (If you haven’t seen this guy, you need to. He is quite the character. Oh la la!) The El Kabotski pest control method is completely natural and environmentally friendly. To employ it, simply squish the pest between your thumb and forefinger, and be sure to yell “El Kabotski” for the full effect. Aphids are the only pest I’m comfortable touching at this point, so I went for it. Saying “El Kabotski” really does make it more fun (or at least tolerable).
Sadly, this is my biggest contribution to “our” veggie gardening efforts this year. I’ll try to help out more in the future.
Yesterday I did the hardest workout I’ve done in a decade. I’m not exaggerating. Thanks to my friends for inspiration and motivation. My oft-mentioned pal Sarah recently joined the CrossFit movement and is quickly progressing from good shape to insanely fit. Our friend Eva, who has gotten pretty serious with her running (half marathons, 24-hour relay race, etc.), was visiting for the long weekend. Over the last couple weeks since I got my new shoes, I’ve been building my base by running about 25 minutes on 3 days/week with the occasional burst of speed, and also increasing the intensity of cross-training days with more cardio and more serious lifting. So when Sarah and Eva suggested we do a track workout, I agreed. We ended up doing a CrossFit inspired workout cooked up by coach Sarah, which was quite challenging:
Ran a hilly 1 mile circuit in 7:15. I haven’t run a mile that fast in way too long!
6!: burpees, box jumps, dips. (6 of each, 5 of each, 4 of each…)
Ran up a one-city-block hill fast 5x.
Walked home, stretched.
I wouldn’t have made it through any segment of that workout, much less the whole thing, on my own motivation, so I’m very glad I was able to do it with friends. Today I have soreness in several muscles I had completely forgotten about for 10 years. It feels good.