Been a long vacation . . .

So to speak. I decided I might crank up the blog again after quite a long hiatus. Although there’s not been too much doing in the last couple of years.

Much. I Finally got going once more on Colossus: The Bathroom Project which has been (literally!) ten years in the making. I’ve also started in on the final largeish bit of the flower gardens hardscaping I want to do, that being the patio planned for in front of the decks. I’ve created two flower garden extensions, one to the Copse, and one to the Deck Border. Both of them are a bit on the bare side at the moment I’m afraid as I slowly find my way forward to flowers and shrubs that will do decently well and fit the mostly non-existent plan. The Copse and Deck Border drip irrigation has been re-done although now they need extending, and I’ve just started building replacement, and hopefully the last raised bed boxes for the veg garden. I haven’t even had a veg garden for the last couple of years which, as it turns out is probably a good thing as I was laid up for half of last summer (2017) with gout. I seem to have that sorted now though and am trying to make up for lost time.

No more bees, unfortunately. One hive just didn’t have the population it needed to stay warm in a severe spring cold snap, and we really aren’t sure what killed the other one although we suspect that they had too much population when that same cold snap hit and not enough resources when we, as novice beekeepers weren’t paying as much attention as we should’ve been.

We are talking about re-opening and putting the old drilled well back into service so that we will not be caught out if we have a repeat of the severe drought of autumn 2016 when there was no rain for almost two and a half months. That’s unheard of for here.




Cat Tree Building 101

I actually built this a number of years ago, around 2005; it was previously on the RoseHawke website, so this is somewhat in the nature of a re-run.

When we decided to become Maine Coon parents once again after Melichus’ passing, we knew that we would need some sort of a cat tree so that kitties would, at least so we hoped, favor said cat tree as a perch instead of counters and tabletops which in our house are off-limits to furry felines. After some shopping at area pet emporiums which resulted in profound sticker shock and much head shaking at what you actually got for an absurd outlay of cash, I decided to do what I always do in such situations.

I built my own.

I had a hazy idea of what I wanted to do, but never actually made any specific plans as I knew the final design would really depend on the branches I could find. Sunny and I took a trip into the woods, chainsaw in tow, to a couple of trees that had recently come down in some storm or other. Mostly, I was just looking for a good assortment of limbs that seemed “interesting” – I’d try to configure them later. We dragged half a dozen good sized limbs back to the shop and I set to work.

First I knocked together a base, quite arbitrarily choosing a size of about 2×3′ – only found out later that it was perfect for the corner where the cat tree ended up. It was pretty simple, basically a box made from 3/4″ plywood and 2x4s, which I covered with beige carpet on the top and sides. The carpeting was stapled down with an electric stapler – my manual stapler just didn’t have enough “oomph” to do it. This was a small remnant I’d bought specifically for this purpose, but being a high-quality remnant, didn’t want to go around corners very much. I ended up securing the corners with roofing nails as even the electric stapler wasn’t enough to get through two thicknesses of carpet.

Base in progress




I then moved the finished base and the limbs into the den, as it was fairly obvious that once built there’d be no getting it through a normal door. By this time there was a set of French doors between the Living Room and the old den. Those were large enough to get it through.

I set the limbs I liked most on the base, determined a rough height, and cut them by clamping down to a sawhorse and using a reciprocating saw. Getting them square was difficult and involved a bit of trial and error. When I got it to where I was satisfied, I fastened them with large lag screws through from underneath the base and into the limbs. trees These would be the main framework. Where one limb crossed another, I fastened them together with a smaller lag screw to help with bracing.

Once I got everything sort of roughly situated, I started making patterns for the actual platforms. I did try to make sure that they would be in some sort of a configuration to aid kitties hopping from one level to the next. The easiest thing to do was to take cardboard, draw out a shape, and sort of tack it in place to see if it would work. If it needed to be bigger, I’d tape another piece of cardboard over it, try a new shape, and go from there. Again, trial and error and much standing off and seeing how it would work.pattern The plan was to get the main bits around what was already there to suggest “tree” – but I knew from the get-go that would not be enough support from what was likely to be 40# worth of Maine Coons bouncing around on it, so I planned to beef that bit up by cutting one good sized branch into pieces that would fit between the platforms and fastening those so that they would give the illusion of one branch going all the way through.

P1000108Then it was a matter of tracing the patterns onto 3/4″ plywood and cutting them out with a jigsaw. The accompanying photo shows sticks that I’ve cut to help support the shelves temporarily until that branch was cut. They also helped as story poles of a sort to use for measuring the lengths for the pieces.


P1000110coveredUnder most of the shelves there is an angle bracket screwed to the platform and uprights for additional support. Then it was a matter of covering the shelves with the cheap green carpeting I’d bought, again for this specific purpose. Cheap was better than expensive as the expensive stuff was just too stiff to mold around any sort of a curve. As it was, it had to be tinkered with much like sewing fabric or upholstering a chair to make it fit the curves. The electric stapler once again proved its value. Generally speaking, I worked my way from the bottom to the top, cutting, fitting, fastening, as I went, standing off to try to catch problems before they happened, and making sure I was happy with it.

kittytree2When it was finally finished, Sunny helped me to drag it into its spot in the Living Room (where it remains to this day) and we let the (at that time) kittens in. They knew immediately that this was theirs. None of this “OMG! What’s that?!” business.


a_kittytree1One thing that I did end up doing later, after the boys were bigger, was putting an additional support under the lowest front platform (about where Narsil is in the photo) because as it turned out it wasn’t quite sturdy enough and was taking a lot of punishment from the boys leaping on and off. It was threatening to come loose, but the additional “log” sturdied it up nicely.

Adventures in Beekeeping – Chapter the First

new hiveAaaaand – the adventure begins to borrow a phrase. This was delivered yesterday. Brand spanking new bee house. Look closely, it’ll never look this pristine again. I’m not “getting into” bees because I’m all that interested in bees per se, but because I’m more interested in what the bees can do for me (pollinate the veggie and fruit garden) and because it appears that the country – and perhaps the world – has put all their eggs into one basket by depending so heavily on crops that also depend on, mostly, one species of pollinator, that of the European Honey Bee, Apis mellifera. There are other pollinators out there, but not in the numbers needed for so much of the monoculture farming that is the normal (there’s a misnomer if ever there was one,) method of crop production these days. And now the honey bees are apparently threatened on all fronts, disease, parasites, malnutrition. The diversified crops and extensive wildflowers that the bees need for proper nutrition are a mere shadow of their former selves, and without proper nutrition this beneficial insect falls prey to all sorts of parasites and diseases that ordinarily they could shrug off.

So, I’m just trying to do my bit.

And maybe get some honey into the bargain.

First starts in the ground.

2013-02-20 11.50.41I suppose this is the “real” beginning of the gardening season then. I got the first plants into the garden proper, the broccoli, Brussel’s sprouts, and the cabbages. I came up one cabbage short due to losing so many seedlings to damping off, but everything else came out just right with no leftovers. That can be a good thing, there’s no waste; or a bad thing, if I lose any of the plants there’s nothing to replace them with unless I buy some at a garden center. I didn’t do a whole lot to prep the bed; when push comes to shove at this point they really don’t need much. I spread 4 bags of mushroom compost over the top, and mixed in some 10-10-10. I thought about putting in organic fertilizer, but it has blood meal as one of its components I believe and I do not want critters digging up my freshly planted brassicas. They might do it anyway of course, but there’s no sense in asking for trouble.

2013-02-20 11.50.36Although the t-tape drip irrigation system is down,  as wet as it’s been the last couple of months, it’ll be some time before there’s any necessity for additional watering, especially in these raised beds which are really glorified potting soil that hold the moisture quite well. A for instance is the thyme which I planted last year and which did not do very well. Come to find out it actually prefers things a bit drier so that I think it was just too damp for it getting watered every day. This year I may leave the herb bed drip irrigation cut off and just water the individual plants so that I can tailor the watering needs to the individual plants rather than using a blanket method. We’ve gotten notification from Stark Bros that the peach trees have shipped. There are three holes dug, only three more to do, and the trees can just be popped in the ground. So that will be done by this time next week I hope.

Twenty-five, and counting . . .

Two weeks ago Sunny and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. At first we’d planned to go out, but came to the conclusion that we probably wouldn’t enjoy going out all that much and it was going to be very expensive, especially taking into consideration that  neither one of us really has any “going out” clothes. I’d sort of wanted to buy a nice, dressy outfit, but we’re also both dieting (successfully, I might add) and I really didn’t want to get something that was only going to fit for a month or so.

I did indulge myself by investing in some bits and bobs for the table, silverplate chargers, a vintage double damask actual linen tablecloth off of Etsy and napkins which are an amazing match off of eBay. Considering the price of new linen tablecloths seem to be in the hundreds of dollars range, I think the $35 spent for the tablecloth and the $12 for the napkins a real bargain. And I get to use them again. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any plates that would go nicely with what was turning out to be a very formal table, so had to make do with the Mikasa Arabella. It didn’t look quite right with the sterling and crystal, being more of a casual quality of dinnerware, but the King crab legs and Sirloin Strip tasted just fine off of them :-). And the table still looked nice. Mr. Carson would be appalled though, the dinner fork is crooked ;-).

The sterling is a pattern I’ve been trying to collect for years, since I graduated High School to be precise as the very first piece was a fork given to me by my Aunt Jennie as a graduation present in 1975. It was years before I was even able to identify the pattern as of course there was no internet in those days. Finally a friendly antiques dealer was able to pinpoint it as Reed & Barton’s “Les Six Fleurs“, first produced in 1901, the year of Queen Victoria’s death and Edward’s ascendance to the throne of Great Britain. Being an antique pattern well over a hundred years old, they can be very difficult to find – and also expensive. I call this my one vice. It could be worse, I could have a closet full of clothes. At least this stuff is hard to find. It keeps me honest.

The crystal is Waterford of the pattern “Powerscourt.” Something else I’ve been collecting one . . . piece . . . at a . . . time. Mom always said I had champagne tastes and a beer pocketbook. I’ve really just now gotten to the point where I can set two place settings. The next goal is to have four place settings, then I can have company!

I have, at last, and purely by accident, found a dinnerware pattern that I’m happy with for formal place settings. There was a Craigslist entry for 4 place settings of Noritake Shenandoah for $400. I was curious as to what the heck was so special about it that this lady wanted an astronomical price for it so I looked it up. Turns out she was apparently just clueless. The real value of a place setting is somewhere in the $50-60 range. However when I saw the photos of it, it looked like it was exactly what I was looking for. True, it wasn’t Royal Doulton or Limoges, but Noritake has a good reputation and is an old company. This particular pattern is a delicate floral, opulent without being over the top, and with that “old fashioned” flavor which I love. Of course it’s a discontinued pattern so now I’m  collecting those as well.

The Seedling Factory

seedlings_021613The seedling factory, as I like to call it, continues to perform. I’ve got to get these babies in the ground real soon now although if I can get them in within the next few days, they’ll be right on schedule as far as the plans I threw together way back in the autumn. Actually I’ve got to get them out, either that or buy some more lights to turn the seed starting stand into a double decker. It’s time to get the next chapter started: tomatoes, peppers, etc., the tender annuals.

These have done really well, although I had some problems with damping off early on, something I’ve never had a problem with before. For some reason the diCicco broccoli was especially prone to it so that I lost about half of them. Of course those were the most expensive seeds so I’m not surprised, such is my luck.

baby leeks

Baby Leeks

I’m drawn toward doing things “the old way” and the more natural way in many cases, so that I’ve started collecting some small terracotta 4″ pots to use as seedling starters. Terracotta has its pros and cons, just like plastic, but I honestly feel better about using a more natural substance rather than petroleum based disposable plastic cell packs. Besides, they just look neat :-).

When I do get them planted, I’m probably going to have to fill out the ranks a bit with some purchased cabbages, etc., since I lost so many to damping off, but that might not be a bad thing as it’ll give me a bit more variety and a chance to see what does the best.


Cabbage ‘Earliana’ starts

The cabbage in particular is just going insane. I swear some of them look like they’re already trying to head; I just hope they’re not in for a rude awakening when I get them out into the garden proper. I’ve never tried cabbage before, it’s really a cool season crop. For this reason I purposely chose an early variety Burpee’s ‘Earliana‘, which is supposed to mature quite quickly. Excessive heat will cause cool season crops to “bolt” or shoot up to set seed; it also will make them bitter, and while not exactly inedible, not very nice. This is one reason that we here in the South will plant collard greens in the fall with the expectation of the greens maturing after frost. I tried planting some of these cool season crops in the fall a couple years ago and wasn’t very successful, so I’m trying something a bit different this year.

A (different) Apple Every Day


Sunny helps out

So I guess this will be a week’s worth. I’ve received an order of seven apple trees, each a different variety, from Century Farms Orchard in Altamahaw, North Carolina. We got these the week of February 3rd, right on time. They arrived in excellent shape. I wish I could say the same for the weather. Of course it seemed the time of the Inundation was coincident with the trees arriving, and I’d procrastinated about digging the holes and having them ready so that when a fairly dry 2-3 day window appeared I was faced with the problem of planting seven apple trees in a short amount of time. In the mushy field. I managed to get four of them planted on Saturday by really pushing it, and Sunny helped with the remaining three on Sunday morning so that we just missed the next storm system and its 2-3 inches of expected rainfall. And then of course this weekend, we’re expecting a hard freeze with temperatures down in the 20s. Fortunately everything I’ve read seems to point up that once in the ground the trees shouldn’t suffer from the temps.

apple tree

Newly planted apple tree

As mentioned, there are seven different apple varieties, all old Southern types: ‘Carolina Red June’; ‘Summer Banana’; ‘Roxbury Russet’; ‘Bevan’s Favorite’; ‘Mary Reid’; ‘Mollies Delicious’ (that’s apparently how it’s actually spelled); and ‘Aunt Rachel’. These trees are all grafted onto semi-dwarf rootstock, so I’m hopeful that they won’t take quite as long to produce as a standard tree would. I’ve got these a bit close at 12′ although most of the recommendations I can find do say 12 to 15 feet apart.

Now of course, I get to dig six more holes for the peach trees that are supposed to arrive next week!

infant orchard

Orchard in the making

The Start of Another Year

looking aheadSo much to do this year, I don’t know if it will all get done, but I’m optimistic that at least some of it will. The table in the Pub seems to have become my planning table. The Pub catches the morning light and is very pleasant at this time of day; a nice spot to have a hot cup of tea or coffee, or just to watch the birds at the feeders in the back off the deck.

We brought the seed starter stand inside this past weekend, and I got the Brussel’s sprouts, the broccoli, and the cabbage planted in the starter trays on the 31st, or the 1st to all intents and purposes. Some weeks back I started a hardcopy gardening binder, something to refer to on the spur of the moment without having to go chasing down a gadget, or worrying about said gadget being harmed by potting soil, water, or just general mayhem as I go through the gardening process. One of the things I’ve put in it is an actual calendar of when I want to plant my various seeds so that I actually got something started when I wanted to this time! I just have to remember that it’s there for my instant reference.

seed_traysThe seed trays are on a heating mat as a source of bottom heat. I hope to upgrade to a “real” seedling mat at some future point, but this method has done me for a couple of years now. This was an inexpensive mat, one without an internal timer on it (it would hardly do for the heat to go off after a couple of hours,) and one marked as “water resistant”.  The lights are on for 14 hours give or take; they’re on a mechanical type timer which isn’t quite as accurate as an electronic one, but simpler to program and able to take more abuse in the long run. The seed starting medium this year is a bit different, an “organic” mix by Burpee’s that I picked up at Lowe’s. Rather than being peat based (a non-renewable resource,) it’s coir based. The only real difference that I’ve noticed so far is that it seems to dry out more quickly than the peat type. It’s also more expensive, I suspect because it is to all intents and purposes a by-product to the coconut industry and I can’t imagine that the the coconut industry is actually that large. Except for its tendency to dry out more quickly I like it overall; it has a nice texture.

Brand new baby broccoli, just peeking out.

Brand new baby broccoli, just peeking out.

The broccoli (Burpee’s variety ‘di Cicco’) is happy anyway, it’s already popping up after only a few days!  I was a bit careless sowing these seeds; normally I’ll only sow two, or at most three seeds per cell. It’s a bit persnickety when they’re so small, but it is doable and when they’re so expensive much more economical rather than flinging them hither and yon. If the seed is stored somewhere away from heat and moisture they will be viable for many years. That’s a lot better than spending $4 or $5 a packet every year which is what some of the hybrid varieties end up costing. The most I spent on any one variety this year was for the Brussel’s sprouts ‘Dimitri Hybrid‘ at $3.95 for 25 seeds. The only reason I opted for those is that it is advertised as “easy to grow” and the last time I tried to grow sprouts they didn’t perform.

On into the next season . . .

I had the best of intentions, that of regularly updating this garden blog, and you can see where that went. Well, here it is past the end of the season, and I’m hopefully getting back to it.

The garden’s been buttoned up for the season, I’m not going to try to deal with any fall/winter type veggies this year; I’m putting all of my energy into properly planning and laying out for next year. Which means that even though the garden looks a bit sad as there’s naught in it save for the last dregs of the summer’s peppers, there is much going on behind the scenes. I’ll have to finalize at least the early veggies really soon, since some of them should be started inside by the middle of December or so for a February planting. I’ve decided to try English peas this year, I’ll probably try both, direct sow and starting under lights; they’ll need to be in the ground by the middle of February, likewise the potatoes I’ll be planting. I planted potatoes this last season, not many,  and they were severely neglected. Even so they still managed to produce some potatoes , enough for a couple of meals which has inspired me to try again.

Tomatoes were very nice this year; I even managed to cook up some of the roma type (Burpee ‘Fresh Salsa’) into some tomato sauce and freeze it. That’t the ticket right there, growing enough to have extra to store. It gives a feeling of, well, independence, like we actually have at least some control over our food source. We probably could have done even better with our tomatoes, we’re still having problems with blight, but I don’t know that there’s anything we can really do about it. I’m going to try to get at least a couple of beds solarized next season and we’ll see if that helps the blight problem any.

The summer squash was disappointing. Nothing we’ve tried has kept the squash borers away except for a barrier method – keeping the plants under row cover and hand pollinating. While the pollinating chore really wasn’t a very big deal, the row covers kept in the moisture and stopped any airflow so that the plants eventually succumbed to mold and other similar disease. After discussing it, I think we might try to just boggle the little bugs’ minds with so many squash plants that they can’t possibly kill it all. In other words we’re going to plow up some ground outside of the garden proper and plant a LOT of squash and see if that works. The reasoning behind this is that apparently squash borer is not a problem in commercial fields. At least it’s something to try. This year’s squash only produced for about a month or so, and the best I can tell it should really last until frost. I’ve never had any plant to produce much longer than the aforementioned month.

So, I’ll be doing some serious planning in the next month or so, and doing some serious ordering after that. These are the things that I’m definite on, or at least considering:

  • Tomatoes (several varieties, beefsteak, roma, cherry, heirloom slicing)
  • Peppers (hot: Mariachi, Jalapeno; Sweet: California Wonder)
  • Corn
  • Okra
  • English Peas
  • Lettuce – leaf and semi-head
  • Broccoli (fall crop didn’t do well, so trying late winter, early spring)
  • Brussel’s Sprouts (ditto Broccoli)
  • Potatoes (the Red ones did best)
  • onions – globe and bunching
  • basil
  • thyme
  • Cucumbers – slicing and pickling
  • Carrots (did REALLY well, must have more!)
  • Beets (haven’t done well for me, but I think I know why)
  • Parsnips (a first, just an experiment)
  • Summer squash
  • Winter squash (the borers leave it alone as it has a solid stem)

This isn’t written in stone, I’m sure it’ll be tinkered with over the next month or so. I’d like to have the garden in continuous production, at least that’s my goal. There should always be something I can pick out of the garden, I would also very much like to have a surplus that can be put up.