Sunday, May 31, 2009

A little blog housekeeping

A blog reader told me that were getting tired of seeing me in my winter hat and coat, so I changed to my summer mugshot. Sorry, still no hair.

I also added a new counter to the blog. The old one went out on me at about 10,000 page views.

Tomorrow I will start the woodshed construction project. I'm going to take a blog photo each day of my progress, or lack thereof. I hope to have it completed in a week.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Badly bitten by the nostalgia bug

A simple chore today turned into one of those moody nostalgic journeys of the mind that I couldn't shake. If you'll indulge me, maybe I can write my way out of it.

The chore was to take down the twin beds in one of the guest bedrooms and put them away. I got the twin beds when I was 5 years old, 57 years ago. For some unknown reason, I remember the day they came and the two men who set them up. On the back of one of the beds in four-inch stenciled black letters are the words "Rock Solid Maple." For some reason, I thought that made them special.

My excitement over the beds was so great that I even made mine up for about a week. One of my concerns was that if I slept in one of the beds every night, I would wear it out too soon. I solved that problem by alternating beds every night. The final solution came a year or so later when I got Duke, my boxer, who always slept in the other bed. That evened out things nicely.

My intrigue with what was just an ordinary pair of twin beds was probably due to the large drawers at the foot of each bed. My parents were gone when the beds came, so I proceeded to fill up the drawers with all my treasures. I was told soon enough that I could use one drawer for "junk," but the other would hold important stuff like blankets, sheets and pillowcases. Such a waste of a good drawer. During the next 15 years the drawers held comic books, baseball gloves, baseball cards, books and treasures long forgotten.

Our son Lem used the beds another 15 years or so. They have many miles on them. I counted 14 houses they have been moved to, some more than once. The beds, even though refinished several times, still bear the scars of model airplane glue and sleepovers that turned into wrestling matches.

Today, I put the slightly used mattresses and box springs on Craigslist. Free to anyone who needed them. They were gone in 10 minutes to a young single mother with three children who had to move back in with her parents.

The bed frames will go in storage in the garage attic. Grandchildren may use them one day or they may just end up in the dump. They will not just turn to dust because they are Rock Solid Maple.

I have bored you mightily, I'm sure, but I feel better.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Everyone needs a "hooptie"

Our favorite niece in West Tennessee, SaraNan, has a name for an old beater of a truck that has seen better days. She calls it a "hooptie."

To be a hooptie, a truck must have more than 100,000 miles on it (200,000 is preferable), a faded paint job with a little rust, a loud engine and either a gun rack or an ugly white dog riding shotgun. I chose the dog over the gun rack.

My back-to-the-land vehicle is a 1989 4-wheel-drive Chevrolet Blazer. It has a new 350 cubic inch engine with a rebuilt transmission. A repair shop did the engine and transmission work for the truck's previous owner, but the poor guy lost his job. The shop got a mechanic's lien and sold the truck for the cost of repairs. Basically, I bought the engine and transmission and they threw in the truck for free.

The odometer reads 82,000, but I would bet on either 182,000 or 282,000.

On the front bumper is a 10,000-pound winch that will come in handy pulling trees out of the sinkholes in the back of our property.

One of the "accessories" Willie and I enjoy the most are the front vent windows. When is the last time you've ridden in a car or truck with those babies?

As soon as I get a seatbelt rigged up on the passenger side, I can take you for a ride.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

We're once again flush, so to speak

The saga of the peptic septic is over. We are back together and draining nicely.

The problem was a T-connection at the start of the drain field. I now know more about septic tanks and drain fields than I had ever hoped.

Washing dishes in a dishpan, taking sponge baths and visiting nature makes one appreciate indoor plumbing. Now, maybe I can write some more about places where the sun does shine.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mystery of monstrous rose bush solved

In my post of May 23 I told you about the gigantic Cecile Brunner climbing rose that I managed to eventually destroy with my pruning technique. The rose bush (shown in a 2006 photo) was the largest one I had ever seen and full of fragrant flowers.

As it turns out, our septic tank leak was only about three feet away from the roots of the rose bush. So, putting 2 and 2 together (make that No. 2), we see where the vigorous growth was coming from.

We had the tank pumped yesterday, and I'm waiting on some help to start the repair.

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." -- Romeo and Juliet

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The rewards of patience: $33

Patience is a commodity I've never enjoyed. My modus operandi normally is see, get and go.

This gardening thing I'm doing may be having some positive effect on my psyche. Take the galvanized watering can in the photo above. We needed one on the lower level of our property, so on my last trip to the garden store I grabbed one and headed for the cash register. I almost accidentally looked at the price on the bottom of the can. It was $40? That's forty dollars! I turned around and put the can back on the shelf. My plants didn't need watering that bad. I told Betty of my non-purchase.

Several days later she came back from Big Lots with what looks to be the exact same watering can. It was $7. That's seven dollars!

I figure I'm $33 ahead. Maybe more than that.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Oh, my peptic septic

If you live in the country for long, at some point you will have septic tank issues. My day has come.

After some gurgling from our lowest toilet on the first floor, I removed the top of the septic tank pump-out pipe in the front yard and was met with an odorous geyser that forced me to throw away a pair of shoes. The tank had been pumped out less than six months ago, so I knew this was more than just a "full house."

I called a friend who has septic-tank experience. He came over and gave me the bad news. He surmised the tank is plugged at the baffle leading to the drain field. The tank has to be dug up, at least so the top can be lifted off.

Take a good look at the nice green spot under the fence in the front yard. I'll be renting a backhoe soon and digging in.

I don't know much about septic tanks, but I guess I will be learning. I did learn after many years in the newspaper business that everything flows downhill.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Check back in 20 years or so

The Cecile Brunner climbing rose pictured in yesterday's post was probably about 20 years old. The photo here is the replacement Cecil Brunner I planted today in the same spot.

After I dug out the old roots, I used the best compost from my private stash to plant the rose. I mounded the dirt to accept the roots just like the instructions said.

The Cecile Brunner is an antique rose first cultivated in 1881. All I have to do now is wait . . . and fertilize, water, prune.

Welcome back, Cecile Brunner

When we first saw the front, back and side yards of our Deerfield house, it was obvious that what had once been a nicely landscaped lawn had been let go. Butterfly bushes were growing out of control. Natural rocks which had been used to line flower beds were scattered hither and yon. The forest was encroaching on the porches and decks.

My first order of business in 2006 was to start whacking, and whack I did.

One of the casualties of my chain-saw pruning technique was a glorious Cecile Brunner antique climbing rose growing on the split-rail fence in front, shown in a 2006 photo. We identified it by the tag on the huge base stem. It had taken over much of the front yard, and though its fragrance was strong and sweet, the rose had to be cut back. It had grown to a height of more than 12 feet. Fast forward to 2008 and Ms. Cecile Brunner, roots and all, is dead.

Betty bought a new Cecile Brunner, and I'm planting it today.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Rhododendron dilemma

We have two rhododendrons about the same size as each other outside the kitchen window. They both have healthy green leaves and I have watered and fertilized the two plants exactly the same.

However, the rhododendron on the left has many luscious blooms while the other has none. Zero. Zip. Nada.

If there are any horticulturists out there, is this a question of gender or is Ma Nature just messing with me again?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Believe it or not, BLUEBERRIES

For the record, we have a few blueberries on our first-year blueberry bushes. From the seven bushes I might could harvest a half-cup of berries, but I thought I might not have any for the first year.

I'm sure the deer will be dining soon.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Ballad of Three Feet

We have a raccoon with just three feet who keeps raiding our bird feeders each night. His short left rear leg is without a foot. We see him in the mornings hanging off the feeder outside the kitchen window.

I try to get a photo, but he's too quick for me. As soon as I open the kitchen door, he's gone. (Note: Accompanying photo is a regular four-footed coon from last year's crop.)

I've penned these lines for our three-footed friend:

A coon is quick on all fours
And not too bad on just three.
It fills its belly with birdseed
And grins at us from a tree.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Another day, another project

The reason I can't finish projects is that I find myself starting a new one every day. My latest undertaking is a covered woodshed at the side of the garage.

I've been storing firewood during the winter months at various places on the porches and decks. Betty says that termites love to see me coming.

My new woodshed will be a 4 X 16 foot shed made of treated lumber with a metal roof matching the garage roof. Projects seem so simple at first, but then come calculations for roof trusses, angle of hill incline and other construction techniques about which I know too little. But I hammer on.

I need to get the shed finished and filled with firewood so it can dry before winter. It takes a good six months to season firewood.

I should have the shed finished in a couple of weeks depending on how many other projects I start in the interim.

Monday, May 18, 2009

You don't miss your water until . . .

At the real estate closing for our Deerfield property in 2006, the former owner told me of a waterline and an underground faucet that ran along the gravel driveway on the lower level. The access to the faucet was marked with a pile of old bricks.

I didn't pay much attention to the line since there was nothing to water on the lower level. Though we have had plenty of rain, the summer drought is not far away.

Today I installed a frost-proof faucet on the water line. It works nicely and will not freeze in the winter because the two-foot pipe has a plunger that cuts the water off below the frost line. The faucet is about 50 feet from the vegetable garden (still under construction) and the same distance from the berry patch.

An instant well is a good thing.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A walk on the wild side

My blackberries are coddled like no blackberries before. I fertilize, weed, water and give them hemp twine so they can run up the trellis. They just sit there, unappreciative.

Then I walk down the road and I see wild blackberry bushes cascading over banks, trees and fence posts. If I stood still long enough I think they would entangle me.

As I've said before, Ma Nature does what she wants and when she wants, and those with grand plans need to be mindful of her fickle nature.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A poor man's rain barrel

Our son gave us a nice 55-gallon rain barrel for Christmas 2006. Sitting at the corner of the garage, it fills up in about 15 minutes of steady rain. It helped us survive the droughts of 2007 and 2008.

I was thinking it would be nice to have another barrel this summer, but we don't have any more downspouts that are accessible since the ones for our house run inside the porch columns. While I was putting away my 5-gallon cans which I use for various tasks, I came upon the idea of lining them up along the drip edge of the red barn at the garden.

Presto, a 50-gallon rain catchment.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gallia Est Omnis Divisa in Partes Tres

All Gaul is divided into three parts, and so is my backyard.

There's the lower level where the dogs hang out. Then there is the hill full of day lilies which I should keep weeded better. The top level once was bare dirt, but I finally got grass to grow there this year. Hence the problem.

The only way to get the lawnmower to the top level was to pull it up the hill through the greenery. I did this several times causing mortal damage to the lilies.

Getting ready to mow yesterday, my eye settled on a section of the back fence which looked to be about four-feet wide. I went to the hardware store and came back with $8 worth of hinges and screws. In about 30 minutes I had a third gate in the back of the fence (top right in photo), not too far from the back of the garage where I store the lawnmower.

I'm gatefull for the solution.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The "living" fence

My recent post (5/7/09) about my fence made from hackberry trees raised several questions from readers. I've answered the emails individually, but will repeat the answers here:

* Posts and stringers were put together with 3-inch deck screws.
* Only "curing" I did was to paint the tops of the posts with black paint to reduce damage from rain.
* Posts are set 18 inches deep in concrete.
* Fresh cut hackberry trees were used. Believe me, we have plenty more. I noticed today that one of the posts (see photo) continues to put out green shoots even though it's been cut for at least three weeks.
* Where did I get the idea for a hackberry fence? I have no clue.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On a spring day . . .

. . . you are liable to see:

* A wild turkey gliding down the hill, five feet above the ground and disappearing into the woods.
* A large black bird dining on a speckled newt in the middle of the driveway.
* A small snake looking for some warmth under the refrigerator in the garage.
* A family of field mice living in the Bush Hog that had been stored for the winter.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Don't mulch your heat pump!

One of our three heat pumps went out last week. We had it replaced at about the same cost as our first house.

While the technician was installing the unit he began to carry on about how people think they are doing the right thing by planting greenery around their units and then mulching. The tech said that is the worst thing for an outside HVAC unit because the mulch and dirt particles clog up the coils and can ruin the condenser. He said the best covering around a unit is gravel.

Today I "mulched" our heat pumps with gravel.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day planters

Along about Mother's Day is the time Betty usually fills two wall planters we purchased in Savannah, GA., in 2002. The planters had chipping paint when we bought them at an antique store, but most of the pale green paint is gone now, replaced by rust. (HINT: Don't dare offer to repaint!)

In Evansville we had the planters on either side of the front door alcove. In Deerfield they reside on either side of the garage door and seem to get about the right amount of sun.

We use coconut fiber to hold the dirt for the plants. If you dry it out before you put it away for the winter, the fiber will last for several years.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A bit of woodsy prestidigitation

Walking through the woods after several days of heavy wind and rain always brings surprises. Trees uprooted. Limbs dangling precariously. Vines twisted like the chains of a playground swing.

This morning I was taken aback as I saw a dead limb seemingly suspended in mid air. It took a moment to figure out that it was hanging by an almost invisible honeysuckle vine attached high up in another tree.

Such is the magic of the woods.

Friday, May 8, 2009

An afternoon for morning glory

Last year I started our morning glory vines in a cold frame and then transferred them to their appropriate spots. They did well. This afternoon I just dropped a few seeds in the ground (after soaking overnight) and wished them good luck. The accompanying photo is one of last year's vines.

The morning glory vine is a solid bet to cover fences, bird-feeder posts and almost anything upright for the summer. The vines will grow up to 10-feet tall if they have something to support them. They are annuals, of course, so I'll be hauling off several hundred pounds of vines this fall.

We always use the "Heavenly Blue" variety because it matches the trim of our house.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A fence for the taking

We needed a break between the dog yard and the lily hill in the back of the house, but I didn't want to put up more cedar fencing. I found the solution in the lowly hackberry tree of which we have plenty in Deerfield.

The hackberry tree is useless for anything except firewood and now my ersatz fencing. Hackberry is never milled as lumber because of its hardness and twisted grain. Its bark is rough and gnarled which gives the fence a certain rustic look.

Putting up the fence and building the gate is like working a jigsaw puzzle, some pieces fit and some don't, but you can usually find a spot for each piece if you look hard enough.

All I need to do now if find some native vines to trellis along the fence, and remember to sharpen the chain on my saw dulled by so much hackberry cutting.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Vegetable garden on temporary hold

Assuming that discretion is the better part of valor even in vegetable gardening, I've decided to wait for the late summer/early fall planting season.

Three reasons:

1. The soil needs further amending. I have access to some good barnyard manure, but it's been too wet to get it.
2. My drainage problem is more serious than I thought. I need to figure out that conundrum before a garden is planted.
3. The fence posts are in the ground, but I still don't have the stringers and chicken wire up. Our five inches of rain (more is on the way) will keep me from working on the fence for at least a week.

I'm glad I'm not a settler depending on a vegetable garden to stay alive.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ants marching . . . on peonies

The Internet has put an emphatic end to the myth that ants crawling on peony buds are responsible for making the flowers open. Just about every gardening website has a story debunking the myth. The simple fact is that ants happen to like the sweet resin produced by the peony buds, but the flowers would open just fine without the ants.

The ants are not so preoccupied with peonies, however, that they won't show up at your first picnic.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Rescue day at Deerfield

First, neighbor Larry found this small bird hopping along Deerfield Drive, unable to fly. He brought it up to our house since we are sans cats. Two parrots reside at Larry's house so he's partial to birds. We couldn't find that the bird was injured so we put him on a level fence rail. I kept an eye on it for about half an hour, and then it was gone. Larry and I couldn't identify the bird, but Betty later got our her books and pegged it as a female Downy woodpecker.

Later in the day, another neighbor called to say the family's beloved Shetland pony had gotten out. We quickly got it corralled and the fence patched up.

Now, it's raining in torrents on top of the almost three inches we have had in the last two days. So I may be next in line to be rescued.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Springtails revisited

Here's a photo Larry took of the springtails on the walkway around his house. He reports that their numbers are growing. Possible movie title: "The Springtails That Ate Deerfield."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Deerfield version of "the Blob"

My neighbor Larry called me up to his place recently to see something unusual. At first it appeared to be a simple oil slick on his concrete drive. Then it started moving!

After a call to the UT Extension Service, Larry found out the moving blob was a mass of "springtails."

Here's what the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture says about them:

Springtails are tiny wingless insects with distinctive heads and a hump-backed appearance. Their name comes from a forked structure attached to the underside of the abdomen which acts a spring to flip them into the air. This behavior gives them the appearance of tiny fleas. Other than being a nuisance, these unique little creatures pose no threat. Most springtails live in rich soil or leaf litter, under bark or decaying wood, or associated with fungi. Many are scavengers, feeding on decaying plants, fungi, molds, or algae. Springtails become abundant among wet leaves, soil, and plant material along a house foundations or sidewalks where they can be a temporary annoyance. Masses of these insects can be swept up and discarded.
(Photo courtesy of University of Kentucky.)

You never know what kind of wildlife you're going to see in Deerfield.

Ashes and mud

The long anticipated rain finally arrived about 5 a.m. We got about a 1/2 inch in the first three hours. I went out to check the fire, expecting to see a watery mess, but the smoke was still billowing from the hot hole.

The small mound of dirt/mud is about all that is left of the large pile you can see in the previous day's post.

At last, the fall 2008 land-clearing exercise is almost complete.