I started Sheldon with a purple shell, but thought the yellow would be a better fit in the end. I like how well he goes with his blanket. Sheldon now is ready to be packed up and sent out into the world with his super comfy blanket! Just in time too, I don’t imagine I’m going to be working on any knitting projects in the days to come…
One of the most interesting and frustrating things about moving into an old house is dissecting how things are put together. After many years and different levels of code adherence, every aspect of our home is a mishmash of projects and approaches. This is incredibly apparent in our garden.
In the vegetable garden, while we might have had some complications, we were mostly able to construct what we wanted with relative ease. However, we’re now starting to tackle all of the other beds. And, well, we’re not loving what we’re finding.
We decided early on that we were only going to be able to focus on the backyard this year. While our neighbors suffer by staring at our decidedly un-pretty front yard, we wanted to get as much as we could set in the back this year with the hopes that it would be the more functional space for us in the future. And, miraculously, we’ve gotten most of the work done before baby. However, we wanted to turn the bed right up against the back of the house into an herb garden, potentially with some perennial vines to add some vertical interest. (In particular we were thinking a hardy kiwi and a flowering clematis vine.) And herein lies our stumbling block. It is gravel. And tons of it. It appears that a former owner added 1) a layer of plastic, 2) about 12 inches of gravel, 3) three inches or so of top soil and, finally 4) bark mulch. To the entirety of the existing beds.
So, of course it would be easiest to simply build a raised bed over top of this mess. We could easily ignore it all. However, we never do anything the easy way. Plus, all that gravel will come in incredibly handy when we make the patio that we’re planning on for next year (or maybe the year after that, we’ll see). So, with the help of some hardware cloth, we’re sifting out all the gravel and removing the plastic. It is, as you can imagine, very slow going. This made even slower by the fact that I can’t do much at a time (that whole big belly thing again) and that Bolt has been focused on making sure the veggies are growing just fine. Needless to say, our herbs aren’t getting into the ground anytime soon. Certainly not before baby Bug, who is coming any day now. Really, the midwife says that she’d be very surprised if I make it to my due date (May 23rd).
So, that is not exactly the fun part of unearthing the hodge-podge of an old house. However, it has been interesting to see what comes up in the rest of the yard as Spring springs out. I have heard several times that you shouldn’t do anything drastic to the landscaping in a new house until you’ve lived there for at least a full season-cycle. For instance, we have this crazy rose bush that is growing like crazy (plus one that I keep expecting to be dead, but isn’t). And tons of lilies everywhere I look. I’m watching the side yard closely this year, because it is the only area I don’t have a good plan for yet. It offers a fair bit of space (if a very narrow space) with full to partial sun. It all remains to be seen!
Also noteworthy, lots of things we’ve actually planted are coming up! The beans are almost all germinated, as well as chard, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots and okras. I think we’ll be able to actually harvest some arugula next week (we got that in late, so we won’t be able to harvest much before it bolts. Unless of course it stays so cool.) We planted Waltham butternut squash seeds this weekend too. We were going to buy some seedlings to replace to the ones that didn’t make it (tomato and peppers mostly), but we had a frost warning for last evening. So, we decided to wait until next weekend. We did get a marathon weeding session in too, in between all the rain.
From seed we planted:
- Homemade Pickles Cucumbers
- Hill Country Heirloom Red Okra
And the seedlings were:
- San Marzano Paste Tomatoes
- OTV Brandywine Tomatoes
- Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomatoes
And perfect timing, just after planting we had two full days of misty, spitting rain. Godspeed little guys.
We haven’t had the best of luck with seed starting this year, in general. Other than the Brandywine tomatoes, which were really stubborn in the beginning but quickly started going all gang-busters, all the other seedlings have been a little anemic. For instance, our dill and basil seedlings were so tiny and wasted looking that we ended up just direct seeded them a couple weeks ago. Half of the eggplant seedlings were looking ok, but then completely died off.
We think that there might be a couple of problems that need to be dealt with. We did get a heat mat last year, and according to the thermometer we’ve been at a consistent 70ish degrees. So, we think that is generally ok. We’re not convinced that the lights are quite right though, probably just not strong enough. So that’s one issue. Two, we didn’t use sterile seed starting medium. I’m not sure how detrimental that can actually be (here are some ways to deal with it next year though). I’m not sure if the little guys had enough nutrients. Also, there was some mold/fungus growing on the paper planters that could have been a result of the potting soil. However, it could have come from another source, which leads me to issue number three. I think there was an inconsistent watering issue. The plants were either dry or too wet, often too wet. It certainly seems like we might be suffering from a case of the ‘dampening off‘. Seems as if this is a common enough problem, but an annoying and seedling-fatal one nonetheless. So, lots of things to think about next year. Like new lights, cooked soil, less water and a fan.
It is sometimes overwhelming how much I don’t know. The garden seems so simple – seeds+water+sun=food – and often despite ourselves, it is that simple. However, often it really is not. There is an amazing amount of science to this art. Fortunately for us, we’re both pretty big nerds and we rather like the science of it. We’ll figure it out, little by little.
In the mean time, nature is continually defying our learning curve by moving forward on its steady march. The peach tree, in the ground for two weeks now, is starting to bud out. The raspberry plants a neighbor gave us (and we rudely stuck in a pot, unprotected, all winter) have leaves all over. And then, inexplicably in the other direction, we have a crazy crop circle of dead grass forming in our front yard. Never a dull moment.
This last summer I decided it was time to do something with the thing. It was either going to get lost in the move or it was going to be rehabilitated. I stripped the nasty, very dark stain and discovered beautiful wood. I though the whole thing was a veneer, but it turns out to be really nice under there. However, I somewhat overestimated my ability to find time for projects that summer. Something about buying a house really ate up all my time. Anyhow, because I was somewhat distracted I ended up leaving the whole thing outside for a month or so. With a tarp over it. Did I mention the rain?
In any case, my newly-discovered beautiful piece of furniture was now covered in mildew stains. Well, not entirely covered, just the top bit. Disappointed was putting it mildly, but as I mentioned before, I wasn’t exactly rolling in time. I considered telling the movers to chuck it, but in the end we carted it to yet another house and politely instructed our guests to ignore the big, mildew-stained piece of furniture in the dining room.
Now, almost 10 months later, I decided to take on the mildew and finally finish the damn thing. I read online lots about removing mildew from untreated wood, but it mostly pointed me in the direction of power washers and oxalic acid. Instead, I used bleach to kill the stuff, but it greyed the wood a bit and didn’t remove all the stains. So, then I took the sandpaper to it and took off the rest. To finish it, I used tung oil.
So now, nearly eight years later, I actually have a something I like to look at. Another small victory.
When we bought our house, it was clear that no one had loved this place in quite awhile. Everything basically works, but there was nothing extra and no attention to detail. The house was a rental for four years or so before we moved in and from all reports it was a real hard livin’ four years. In the nine months we’ve been here we’ve been slowly working through each room trying to make it shine again (with our limited budget, this is not a complete overhaul!)
Any work inside the house has come to a complete standstill these days though. As you maybe can see reflected in our recent posts – it is all about the garden. And, well, rightfully so. It is so beautiful outside these days and the landscaping has been just as neglected as the rest of the house. Plus, it is our intention to make the yard as edible a landscape as we possibly can.
To this end, and again cognizant of that limited budget, we put together a master plan for the yard to be implemented over the next couple years. That master plan includes a couple trees. Now, we don’t have a big yard. Our whole lot is just slightly more than 3,000 sq. ft., less than a tenth of an acre (just the way Bolt likes it, ask him about urban density some time…) But, the trees are important and an important part of a larger plan to make the District a truly great place to live. And despite the fact that they’ll take up quite a bit of our limited space we want to add several for their shade, beauty, permanence and fruit.
It was important, when we started making our plan, for us to plant at least one of the trees this year. Bolt suggested, almost as soon as we found out that I was pregnant, that we plant a tree this year in honor of the birth of our little boy-to-be. It still makes me a little misty to think about. It is our living memorial to his life and the myriad ways in which his life will change ours. They will both grow and hopefully thrive, marking the passage of our time together. A little sappy maybe (pun intended), but it makes me really happy.
So, after a fair amount of somewhat agonizing research chronicled here, we decided on the tree we wanted. It is a semi-dwarf peach tree (which will be our third fruit tree to join the fig trees that Bolt gave me for my birthday last year). We decided on the Contender variety for its general pest and disease resistance and per The Farmer’s Almanac recommendation. After some more research, we bought a bare-root tree online and had it shipped to the house (a process that was totally painless and one that I don’t imagine will mimic Bug’s entrance into our lives). This weekend it went into the ground.
I have been trying to put pen to paper (metaphorically) all week. However, the truth is I just don’t have it in me. When I sit down to write, I end up obsessively checking the news or twitter instead. It has been a long, hard, emotional week, made all the worse for the crazy hormonal ride I’m on these days. Unfortunately, it hasn’t just been the news too. Our neighborhood has produced a certain amount of drama as well.
I’m looking forward to focusing on the weekend. On some sort of closure in the news and our spring time celebration of new life (we’re planting a new tree for Bug). And on being thankful for my loving and growing family.
We got the results back on our soil test this week. And, drum roll please, we’re in the clear! At least as far as lead goes. Actually, we’re in remarkably ok shape over all. The bottom line is that I don’t need to worry about our soil leading to lead contamination for me and the baby. Also, other than the leaf compost that Bolt has been adding in the double dig, we don’t need to add much to the soil this year to get a good crop going. This is really a huge relief to me. So much so that, despite the virus that mostly kept me in bed, I managed to help out in the garden a little this weekend. I planted a couple of Brandywine tomato plants that severely overgrew our seedling table.
The Brandywines have been funny this year. Several of our seeds didn’t germinate. And those that did grew like nuts. I’m not entirely sure I understand what’s going on there. In any case, the big guys are planted. There are a couple more that will go in on our regular schedule - closer to the end of the month. I’m not too concerned that we’re going to get a frost or that the soil isn’t warm enough. We’re in a bit of a heat sink, being in the city. Also, now our garlic plants have a little across the garden path company and don’t look so lonely.
While I was moaning about my runny nose, Bolt was working hard on finishing prepping the garden beds. Minus the area that we were hoping to use which is actually a giant hunk of concrete (damn you ECP!), we’ve got about
177 (oops, 168) square feet of garden space this year that will roughly break down like this:
With the end of the digging, we are actually able to start direct seeding some of the plants that were supposed to go in the ground last month (oops) and a few that are right on schedule:
- Silverbeet Swiss Chard
- Danvers Carrots
- Sweet Genovese Bail
- Bouquet Dill
- Blue Lake Bush Beans
Things are really starting to come together around here. Still a tremendous amount of work, but it is so great to see progress. When we bought this house, it was clear that the landscaping (as well as just about everything in doors too) had been left to its
own devices for several years. I knew that going in, but it is still a bit overwhelming sometimes. However, looking out over our back yard, with all of the new dirt and buds and bees, it is a good shot in the arm for my confidence that we can really make this place our home.
I was one of those kids that got super excited for the start of every new school year. I mean, I liked school well enough, but the real reason was the school supplies. I still love buying new pens, pencils and notebooks. Oh, and those wonderful, bygone days when we used to buy the 64 packs of Crayola crayons with the sharpener built in the box.
I feel that way now when I’m about to start a new project. It makes me a little giddy to come home with a bunch of supplies. Like yesterday, when I received the yarn that I had ordered from Knit Picks. I ordered yarn for two projects – a baby blanket (no surprise there) and yarn for a Christmas sweater for Bolt. I’ve had my problems with Knit Picks yarn before. It is alluringly cheap and feels nice to knit with, but I’ve had the Wool of the Andes line pill up on me so badly that I don’t think I’ll ever order that one again. I ordered a cotton/modal blend for baby and an acrylic for the sweater. I’m sure the cotton/modal will be fine (and washable), but I’m curious to see how the acrylic works out. Bolt wears his sweaters very hard. I mean very hard. Like, constantly. Every day when the weather is below 50 degrees. So, if the yarn pills, like my last Knit Picks’ purchase does, and you are a little OCD, like I am, you annoy your husband mightily by picking yarn balls off of him constantly when he is wearing the sweater.
Anyhow, I haven’t actually started either project in any real way. Just as I haven’t started staining the buffet (the stain that I excitedly purchased is sitting on top of said buffet and has been there for weeks) or making the curtains (I bought that fabric weeks ago as well) or stripping the furniture for the baby’s room (purchased months ago now). I just love assembling all the supplies, preparing and thinking about the project (ask Bolt about all my notebooks and lists). Perhaps this will be the public shaming I need to get going.
We’ve been running a bit late on all our garden preparations this year. Most pressing at this point is that we need to dig out the new garden beds. Our beautiful little seedlings need to be planted in the next few weeks. In fact, our schedule means that we won’t get several of our cool season/long growing season plants in this spring (chard and parsnip for example). Last weekend Bolt rid the plots of all the sod, but this weekend marked the beginning of the real work. The dreaded double dig!
Double digging is a technique we first learned about in John Jeavon’s book “How to Grow More Vegetables.” It is a rather back-breaking ordeal in our clay-based soil here in DC, whereby the digger integrates compost (we used local Leaf Gro, since our own compost is not ready yet) two spade lengths down into the soil. According to the NYTimes, those across the pond call it ‘bastard trenching.‘ I don’t think that either of us are convinced that it is a winning strategy for production year after year, but it is critical for breaking up the clay to get our garden started.
So, I mentioned that Bolt is a total trooper, right? I am out of commission in the garden this spring and can’t help at all with this crazy work. In part, it is because we are still awaiting the results of our soil test. We had to send the soil sample out to the University of Massachusetts soil lab for analysis because it was critical for us, with me pregnant and Bug on the way, to understand the heavy metal composition of our soil – not every soil test will look for these. No lead poisoning for us please.
According to folks we talked to at the Rooting DC Conference this year, DC will soon have its very own soil testing lab to go with its increasingly active cooperative extension program, but we couldn’t wait for it to open for business.
In any case, after two days of slinging clay, Bolt is about half way done with the double dig. He should be very proud of his hard work. The beds look beautifully raised and we’re well on our way to planting.
ECP update: Apparently the ECP has a little brother. We’re calling this one the ECS, or the enigmatic concrete strip. This one, which runs through yet another one of our garden beds. Sigh. Did I also mention that we have a strange crop circle forming in the front yard? Can’t wait to find out what’s underneath that one.
As I mentioned before, it seems like everyone I know is having a baby. A couple years ago, everybody was getting married. These waves of life events has kept my crafting projects list buzzing. I, not infrequently, wonder why I do it. It takes more money and more time to make something than it would to go to the store. And it is an emotional gamble too. It is impossible to detach from what I give, especially if you end up spending hours and hours putting it together. If the recipient doesn’t like it, there is no gift receipt.
Ever since my very dear friend from high school got married back in 2008, and I was looking for a gift to give her. I’ve never been really good at telling my people how important they are to me, but I wanted that opportunity to show her. So, despite the obvious utility of buying her something she had actually asked for and just writing up a nice card, I decided to knit them a blanket. Of course, because of all my hemming and hawing about what to do, I didn’t actually start knitting the blanket until about a month before the wedding. Between the full time job and, you know, feeding and bathing myself, I did not actually finish the blanket in time for the wedding. I believe, if memory serves me, that I wrapped it up and gifted it, only to take it back and finish it a few months later (this is an unfortunate trend in my craft-gift giving).
So was born a tradition of sorts. I can’t just buy a gift for someone that I feel strongly about, specifically when it comes to a big life change (I don’t have the same compunction about Christmas and birthday gifts). I just don’t feel like it says enough. I want to say that ‘I love you’ or ‘I miss you’ or ‘Your friendship means so much to me,’ but I’m no good at that. I am good at knitting. I’m not sure that it really does anything for the receiver, but as the giver I get to spend hours and hours thinking about the person that I’m giving the gift to. I get to settle on just how I feel about them and our relationship and really revel in it for awhile. I can’t say it is the most practical thing. And, like I said before, I have no idea if the receiver cares or understands the way that I feel. There is an old curse in the knitting world about knitting a sweater for your significant other (I’m actually more than a little shocked by the full Wikipedia write up on that one), that embodies the possible dissonance between giver and receiver. But, nonetheless, I have to. I hope that those I give to understand what I am trying to say and feel as loved as I hope they do.