Gardening Update.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Domestica,House,Pictures | Wednesday 30 September 2009 1:01 am

Well, the bell pepper plants which had been threatening to pop open all those flower buds have followed through, and we’ve got some actual peppers growing on them.  As with the jalapenos, the first round of flowers opened up and fell off without pollinating, regardless of all my efforts to diddle them into submission.  Shortly after, though, the flowers actually stated producing fruit.

Bell peppers, unlike the jalapenos which grow through the withered flower (and wear them like a sad little tutu for a while), just pop the flower off and grow from there, looking for all the world like a miniature green little fat dude backing through a tiny round doorway.  I swear, the metaphor doesn’t stop there… as the tiny bell pepper continues to grow and bulge from the crown on the end of the stem, it looks for all the world like a green baby’s butt.  Sadly, I have no pictures of that, but I do have some of the bell peppers looking a bit more bell peppery.  The current batch are all a little larger than my thumb, and growing visibly every day.

Baby Bell PepperBaby Bell PepperBaby Bell Pepper

The jalapenos have gone nuts, and each of our five plants have at least a dozen or more maturing peppers hanging from them.  We decided that we’re going to let them continue maturing until they make it to the red stage, making them a little sweeter. We’ll harvest them then, along with any of the larger green ones, and do what we will with a good sized batch all at once.

Jalapeno PeppersJalapeno Peppers

Last week we had a ton of rain.  In the words of my family matriarch:

Shouldn’t you be blogging about all the rain Austin is getting, rather than about zombies?  If I got more rain for my drought-cursed area in one day than in the past 5 months, I’m sure I’d want to shout about it.

Here I am, mother-of-mine, talking about it.  We had so much rain over the span of three days that the ground stayed happily saturated for a week, the weather dipped into the 60’s during the day (and started to feel all Fall-like), and my previously-thought-to-be-dying pumpkin vines took off and grew like kudzu on amphetamines, and started flowering.

Sadly, I have no pictures of the gorgeous, gigantic, vibrantly yellow-gold-almost-orange flowers in bloom, as they open early in the morning and don’t stay open long, and my brain being deprived of caffeine doesn’t process things like “go get the camera, numskull” very quickly at such an early time of day.  Suffice to say, I do have pictures of the post-coital male flowers, and some that have yet to pop their cork — all taken quite artfully, so as to distinguish it from common garden-variety porn (I made a funny!).

Pumpkin Vines And Flower BudsPumpkin Vines And Flower BudsPumpkin Vines And Flower Buds

Our herbs are doing well… so well in fact that I think we’re about ready to do a second harvest of both types of basil (pictured below on the right) for dehydrating in a week or two.  They’re also contributing to the beautification of our little DeJockamo garden shrine, but I think that next season we’re going to have to move them into larger planters to give them space to continue growing.

DeJockamo's Garden

The last thing we have in the actual garden (rather than in planters all around the yard) are our peanuts… the great peanut experiment of 2009!  We planted four seedlings to see how they’d fare in this environment, and they grew admirably… at least above ground (we’re about to dig them up and see what’s been happening in the soil).  They have done so well, in fact, that they didn’t die off when they were supposed to — which is an indication that they’re ready to dig up.  They just kept on going, producing more flowers and sending more shoots into the soil.  The flowers, by the way, are gorgeous.

Peanut Flower

And finally, a picture of the plant we’ve finally managed to keep alive in Persephone, a wall-mounted planter that has the soil capacity of the average mouse’s bladder, and also lives outside in partial shade and extreme heat condemning any living thing planted into it to a life of Lazarus-like death and revival every few days.  Except for the aloe we planted into it four months back.  It likes drier soil, heat… and apparently being root-bound, as it has not only survived, but thrived in the pot, easily doubling its size since being planted there.

Persephone

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Fall Seedlings.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Domestica,House,Pictures | Thursday 3 September 2009 12:00 am

We’ve started sprouting the seedlings for our fall garden planting (with all the heat and drought here, the fall is the primary growing season… not to mention that the fall weather is mild, and the season is comparatively long).  We have in mind to plant tomatoes (Heatwave Hybrd II — which is a short season, full size tomato that can withstand temperatures up to 95 degrees), onions (Yellow Granex — which is the same variety Vidalia onions are grown from), garlic, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.

We planted the seeds ten days ago, and learning from our previous efforts we improved our methods.  First and foremost, we abandoned the commercial seedling-growing kits with all the trays and starter soils and such — you don’t need ’em.  You just need a shallow tray with some enriched soil (the same stuff we’ve been planting all our vegetables in when they make it to the garden or pots).  We planted four times as many seeds as we needed plants as some seeds never sprout, and some seedlings never develop into proper plants.  The seeds need to be kept moist, but not drowned, and for that we employ a spray bottle set between mist and jet, and saturated the surface daily.  Keep them near a sunny window and wait.

Onion & Tomato SeedlingsTomato SeedlingsOnion Seedlings

Once they break ground, fully develop their first two leaves  and grow to a decent height of an inch or so, you then transplant them to individual small pots — or in our case, we take brown paper bags from the grocery store and cut them into strips, then using a plastic (Mardi Gras style) cup as a form, we wrap them around and fasten them with tape… and viola, off pops the perfect biodegradable planter that not only recycles a free (!) existing resource, but can in turn be recycled when you’re done.  You can also use newspaper, but I’m wary of the ink, myself… and some people slit the sides of the paper planter and plant them along with the seedling… we prefer to tear them away keep them out of the ground.

Broccoli SeedlingsBroccoli SeedlingsBrussels Sprouts SeedlingBrussels Sprouts Seedlings

The broccoli and Brussels sprouts took precisely a week to sprout and get big enough to transplant.  This was a huge improvement over the previous attempt in the spring in the commercial trays.  There was a night and day difference in the root development, too… a definite change for the better.

When transplanting them, we cull the seedlings down to twice as many as we need for the final planting and plant them deep, so that just the leaves are above ground.  Now we wait.  Each plant is different, but anywhere between 4 and 8 weeks, we should get most of them into the ground.  Once we’re ready to plant them proper, we’ll see if we can find good homes for the extra seedlings amongst our friends.

We’re considering this our “learning curve” year for gardening.  I’m shocked we’ve done as well as we have, and no matter how smart you think you are, you’re always going to learn better by screwing it up at first and figuring out how to fix it.

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Homework.

Posted by DmentD | Domestica,House,Pictures | Friday 3 July 2009 10:05 am

We’ve finally scratched two projects off our “house to-do” list.  One of them has been underway since the house was bought over a year ago — the kitchen cabinets.  Slowly, but surely they’ve undergone a transformation: the old dated doors and hardware were removed, the cabinets were painted on the inside with a nice goldenrod color, and the cabinets faces were stained and sealed a nice dark walnut.  Within the last few months I built new doors, stained and sealed them, and installed them.  The upper cabinets have reeded glass in them, and the lower cabinets have solid panels painted to match the interior of the cabinets themselves.  Add in some modern (and not painted-over *grrr*) hinges and handles, and you’ve got a clean, modern-looking set of cabinets that add to the beauty of the kitchen, rather than detracting from it.

Project - Kitchen Cabinet GlassProject - Kitchen Cabinet GlassProject - Kitchen Cabinet Glass

Another project that was looming was the demolition of about 30′ of fence that the previous occupant had added on, but which was over the property line (and along its run, veered further and further onto the neighbor’s property).  I was informed last year by the owner of the neighboring property that while I didn’t have to do anything about it right now, that one day she was either going to sell her place, or she was gonna die and her kids were gonna sell it, and that the new owners would want that fence dealt with… so I should be warned, and maybe take care of it when I could.

A few weeks back, a for-sale sign went up, and I knew my time had run out.  So, I demolished the “new” run of fence back to where it was tacked on to the original fence, and added a gate — which wasn’t there before, and was a source of my ever-burning ire.  The project only took two days (in the dry, blistering over-100 degree heat… which made it feel like a week!), and I was able to put in galvanized posts, rather than wood, to support the gate.  All told, it looks damned good, and I thank my brothers for teaching me everything I know about fence/gate/deck building, as that knowledge came in mighty handy.  I even made the panel to the side of the gate removable, just in case I needed to get something wider than 4′ through.

Project - New GateProject - New Gate

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To Do.

Posted by DmentD | Domestica,House,Rambling | Monday 13 April 2009 12:49 pm

In addition to the day-to-day work, gym, and retrieving Sweets from school, I have set myself to the task of a few extra activities this week (if possible in the time allotted):

  • Install the newly finished drawer fronts in the kitchen.  They are stained, sealed and have the flush-mount ring pulls installed, all they need is to be mounted.  Carefully.  As only an OC person can.
  • Cut, sand, prime and paint the solid panels for the new lower kitchen cabinet doors.  Measurements have been taken, material has been bought.  Just gotta hope I have enough daylight after the gym tonight to chop it all down to size.
  • Install the above solid panels into the cabinet doors.  The doors are stained, sealed and ready to receive them.
  • Install the above doors/panels onto the cabinets.  Carefully.  As only an OC person can.  Gots the hinges, handles and everything ready to go.
  • Clean, clean, clean the house.  We keep it tidy, but dust builds, floors accumulate little bits of detritus, and courtesy of many trips in and out of the back yard for recreation and gardening, more and more bits and pieces get tracked in than ever.
  • The carpets need a good steam-cleaning after a year of guests, guest-puppies, living and general use.  It’s actually starting to get to me a bit.  I KNOW that carpet has just been vacuumed, but the little stains call me a liar to my very face.  Time to rent one and spend a few hours making good on my silent promises and pleas for forgiveness from the floor.
  • Decorate a cake.  Making one for my niece-in-spirit that lives in Houston.  Sweets is baking and prepping icing and modeling chocolate, and it is being transported by Pandora (as Sweets and I are going to see Avenue Q on Saturday — yay for puppet sex!).  This was by special request, and who am I to refuse a little girl that calls me “Uncle Stuff”?

*crosses fingers*

Hope I can get all this done.  Would be nice since I basically took the weekend off to relax a bit, and help Sweets where possible with her scholarship project (mainly as a dishwasher… but behind every good Chef, is an efficient dishwasher *grins*).

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Hammock Away From Hammock.

Posted by DmentD | Domestica,House,Pictures | Wednesday 8 April 2009 7:50 pm

Sweets and I have been very busy these days, primarily on the weekends: working in the yard, making small improvements, doing some of the things on the long list of projects that we’ve wanted to accomplish around the house to make it more comfortable.  We’ve had almost two months worth of weekends spent in the yard, enjoying the mild weather while getting dirty and exhausted (unfortunately, not that way, you pervs).

The garden is starting to shape up as we are planting a few more things in it.  At this time there’s only about four different veggies in there, but that’s owing to the time of year, and the fact that we’re still learning how to start things from seed without killing them — most notably some of the herbs were left in the starter tray far to long, and they stayed too moist — live and learn.  Our garlic is growing like there is no tomorrow, and the peas and beans are just starting to take off and climb their poles.  Planted peanuts too, and they are growing fast!  In about a month, we’ll be able to transplant our bell pepper and jalapeño seedlings into their containers and see where that goes.

I’ve seeded/over-seeded the lawn with Argentine Bahia grass seed, but quizzically enough, it’s been too cold in the evenings for it the start germinating.  Let me repeat that:  It’s been too cold.  In central Texas.  During spring.  For grass seed to germinate.  *blink* *blink* At any rate, once the weather warms up at night, it ought to take off.

Continued work on the kitchen cabinet doors.  With Drew’s help (and his huge cache of tools) I built the new doors and assembled them, puttied all the nail holes and miter joints, sanded the living hell out of them and made them purdy, and stained and sealed them.  Currently I need to make the solid panels to install into the lower doors, and soon enough will come the glass for the top ones, then I can install everything and mark that project off the list.

Lastly, our hammock is finally usable again.  At the apartment I had it strung up on the patio, and that worked nicely.  Since we have no big trees to fasten our Yucatan-style hammock to in the back yard we opted to install a pair of 4″x6″ posts 2′ into the ground.  Well, that proved to be more challenging than I anticipated.  Welcome to Austin, where the ground is 6″ of soil, then limestone as deep as you care to go (as opposed to NOLA, where the ground is 6″ of soil then solid gray clay as deep as you care to go).  Digging that out with a standard post-hole-digger took 2 hours, a lot of sweat, left Sweets covered in dirt (as she was scooping the loose soil/stone out of the hole while laying flat on the ground), and  left my hands sore for three days — but it makes for a sturdy post!  We set the posts with concrete and let is dry for 24 hours.  They seem to be sturdy as can be.  Spent an hour the other evening under the shade of the trees, dappled sunlight playing across me, reading and listening to the bird chorus.  I was more relaxed than I had been in months.

The house is continuing to feel more and more like home, and for that matter, so is Austin.  It’s not that is hasn’t been “home”, but it’s finally seeping into my bones slowly but surely.  It doesn’t hurt that I have a wonderful girl that is making it her home along with me, and I feel like I’m getting my life back again.

Now, if we can just get Sweets a job that will be more than happy to get her a work visa, that would make things even better — that way we can stop worrying.  At least she has her externship lined up already, so that’s one less thing to lose sleep over.

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When Did I Become Such A Hippie?

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Domestica,House,Rambling,Reflection | Friday 20 March 2009 9:00 am

I have two rainbarrels.  I have a compost bin.  I take full advantage of Austin’s new bulk recycling services.  I’m going to be growing herbs, and I have seeds germinating for a vegetable garden.  At this rate it won’t be long before I’m half-baked, listening to the Grateful Dead and Phish, and eating an earth shoe while twisting my hair and beard into matted dreadlocks.

Seriously, I never thought I’d be this into this sort of thing.  For years I’ve wanted to grow an herb garden, but never got the momentum up to do it.  Enter Sweets, who comes from a society and culture, and specifically a family that have maintained a garden and have been growing part of their own groceries for many generations.  Almost every home has a garden space, and yards — even tiny ones — are commonly converted into vegetable gardens.  It’s a sensibility and value that’s passed down through the generations.

The big push for this sort of thing came during World War II, when England was not only diverting all its resources toward the war effort, but also reducing its dependency on outside supplies as supply vessels can easily be (and frequently were) sunk by enemy craft.  We here in the States, while being severely limited by rationing, were never crippled by the imminent threat to our very borders.  Growing vegetable gardens did become a means to supplement our personal food supply, but it wasn’t strictly a necessity — tightening a belt isn’t the same as not being able to get supplies at all.  Come the end of the war, we weren’t picking up the pieces after the Blitz and trying to get our country in order, and the need to grow food rapidly dwindled as the US got back up to speed and entered a new era of prosperity.

Even as the need diminished in the UK, the desire remained.  That sense of accomplishment and self reliance became a part of the DNA of the country as a whole, and gardening is a skill taught from parents and grandparents to children.

Nowadays, there is a renewed movement in the US starting to growing edibles again, and it’s in a small way influenced by a shrinking economy, but mostly it’s the sensibilities of the modern hippies/new-agers/tree-huggers/etc.  A new generation of folks are more environmentally conscious, and they’re making that thoughtfulness into a viable industry – the happy balance between good intentions and profitability, and that’s how you get the most people on board.  Recycling is gaining momentum in a lot of municipalities, folks are repurposing a lot of second-hand items and junk these days and there is a big, big push to take care of one’s own piece of the environment, and that includes growing a garden.

Sweets, interested in starting with an herb garden, suggested that we do so, and it snowballed into moving forward on a small vegetable garden.  We’re going to be growing the herbs in pots, in order to make them movable and reconfigurable.  We have a good spot for the garden proper, but we’re going to start small this year and expand as necessary in the seasons to come.  We’re looking at spring and fall plantings, and Austin climate being what it is, we ought to be able to keep fresh veggies of one sort or another in the house for the better part of the year.

Frankly, once the initial setup is done, there is minimal expense involved in maintaining and carrying on from year to year.  You can put as little or as much into as you please — from simple planters on an apartment patio, to serious composting and rain harvesting — or you can take the middle ground like we have.  The City of Austin has an excellent water conservation plan (can you say “drought zone”?), and they are offering rainbarrels at a serious discount.  You place them under your gutter downspouts, and use the collected water for your garden and other non-potable uses (and both of ours filled up after one evening of rain).  Simple and easy, it saves a bit on our water bill, and it means I’m not using treated water for my garden.  We also bought a small compost bin that will let us use yard trimmings, fall leaves and certain kitchen waste to fertilize our garden as well, reducing the expense of fancy fertilizes, and saving our water table from the same.  Frankly, I’m two parts stingy to one part environmentally conscious… you find your motivation where you can.

In the past recycling was never anything I was very vigilant about.  If it was convenient, I did it, if it wasn’t… well, I have never argued that I wasn’t lazy.  In NOLA, we did aluminum cans, and that was about it.  I wasn’t sorting my recyclables, and I didn’t much feel like having to determine what could and couldn’t go in the bin from a very selective list.  Austin started out that way, but about three months back they replaced all the tiny curbside bins with gigantic 90 gallon wheeled cans, and they pretty much take anything, and there is no sorting involved.  That caters to even lazy old me… make it easy, and more people will get on board.

The bottom line is this: gardening is frankly a bit of fun, even at this early stage in the game.  It’s fascinating to take the seeds and watch them sprout — it’s like a magic trick.  The work involved leads to a tremendous sense of satisfaction, and you want to shout “Look what I did!  Me!  The guy who killed a Chiapet in elementary school!”  And then at the end of it all, you have tasty things to enjoy.

Now excuse me, I have a shirt to go tie-dye.

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Goblins In The Night.

Posted by DmentD | Domestica,House,Rambling | Tuesday 30 December 2008 11:01 pm

So, there we are, Sweets and I snuggled together in bed — she, sound asleep, and me just slipping past the stage of dozing lightly and into a sound slumber.  My arm and leg are draped over her, we’re all cozy and warm.

Suddenly, Sweets sits bolt upright, sloughing me off to the side, and turns her head toward the big window behind our bed, a look of concern on her face.  I’m instantly awake — my heart is beating fiercely in my chest, my adrenaline glands go from zero to full production in a split second.  I’m ready for action.

“What?  You ok?  What is it?” I ask.

“Oh.  Nothing.” she replies, and promptly lay back down and instantly falls back to sleep, snoring softly.

For the next forty-five minutes I toss and turn, straining my ears to hear even the faintest footfall outside the window.  Listening to the sounds of the sleeping house trying to detect something amiss.  Checking, double checking, and checking again that the red light on the alarm control panel was lit, signifying that the sensors were on and waiting for some intruder.

She remembers nothing of it.  Has a good laugh when I tell her.  Me too, to be honest.  It was pretty funny, now that I’m an evening and a few hours of sleep away from it.  Better to chase goblins, than to miss their presence when they arrive.

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Dishwasher, R.I.P.

Posted by DmentD | Aggravation,House | Thursday 25 September 2008 2:55 pm

Well, the old crappy dishwasher that came with the house finally went tits up.  It wasn’t worth replacing right away as it did a passable job of cleaning the dishes and heated them up nicely, so I decided to either use it till it died, or replace it upon further kitchen remodeling down the road.

It died.

Noticed that the last batch of dishes a few days ago came out really spotty for some reason, bit since I got some spots anyway with each load, I figured it was just more of the same.  Loaded the washer up and went to run it and noticed it didn’t finish the previous cycle (and upon further examination, there was standing water in the bottom too)… that would explain the spots, and also meant I needed to re-wash those dishes.  So, cranked the dial around to run the latest batch.  Nothing. It just stared up at me with flat lifeless eyes.  I checked the breakers, flipped the retarded light switch that the building code requires to be able to turn off a dishwasher from above the counter, spun the knob a few more times… not a peep.

Dammit, don’t you die on me!”  I grabbed my tools and prepared for emergency, open panel surgery.  I dismantled the front of the washer to expose all the wiring, searching desperately for a breaker of some sort.  “Live, you sonofabitch, LIVE!”  I confirmed I had power to every part of the washer (with this strange little toy/tool that Drew turned me on to that detects electrical fields), even the wash-selector dial.  “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!”  He was gone.

Ok, to be fair, there is likely some buried little part that is burnt out somewhere in the unit.  I could call in a repair person to take up the torch where I left off with my amateur, yet logical knowledge of electrical appliances (having repaired quite a few in the past).  But this washer is crap, and not worth the expense of a service call and subsequent replacement part, or even, to be honest, worth wasting more than the 45 minutes I spent on it last night.  It was earmarked for the shitpile in the near foreseeable future, so I might as well bite the bullet and replace it now — It can always be moved to its new location when the eventual remodel happens anyway.

Part of me is pissed that it broke before I could replace it, but the rest of me is breathing a sigh of relief that I can now get a modern, efficient unit that will allow me to unload it without the need to inspect every piece of dishware to be sure it actually got clean.  Sometimes you just need a valid excuse.

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Kitchen Sink.

Posted by DmentD | Aggravation,House,Pictures | Monday 25 August 2008 11:03 pm

So, the right side of my double sink in the kitchen was leaking a bit from round the drain flange where the drain met the sink.  No problem.  That’s just a matter of replacing the crusty plumber’s putty that’s dried out and lost it’s elasticity, causing a little leak.

Removed the giant nut that holds it on and pulled the drain out.  Pulled the nut out from under the sink, looked at what I had, and cursed every landlord that ever just “made do” with a rental property (this house was a rental before I bought it).  Have a look.

Broken Sink

The nut was cracked (and not from me removing it), and the jackasses just packed the area around the nut with plumber’s putty to stop any leaks that sprung up.  Had to schlep my way to Home Depot at eight o’clock at night and buy a whole new sink drain and nut assembly, because they don’t sell just the nut.

*mumblegrumblecurse*

Stupid fucking sink.

Broken Sink

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More Housework And Soon To Be Travels.

Posted by DmentD | House,Pictures,Travel | Wednesday 11 June 2008 1:08 am

A few more pics of the ongoing housework HERE.  New shelves in the kitchen cabinets, the garage painted, and new roof pictures (by request).

All moved in, and have spent the last two weeks or so putting things away and organizing my life.  Painted the garage, made new kitchen cabinet shelves, and both of those projects not only stopped me dead in my tracks from unpacking, but were holding up any unpacking I could do in the kitchen or garage.

I keep finding things that need to be done before I can progress forward — yeah, yeah, I know, “welcome to home ownership”.  Been there once already, I know the drill.  But when your closet shelves and clothes bars are falling off the wall, it makes it a little difficult to put things away until you remedy the situation.  So now, my master closet has an all new, modern hanging and storage system.  What should have been an hour of organization turned into 8 hours of demolition and reconstruction.. and then and hour of organization.

The house is mostly unpacked, with some more organizing to do.  My goal was to get to this point before I left for my return trip to Wales this week.  Yup, heading back one more time before Sweets moves here in August.  I get to attend a wedding, and meet family so they can be convinced I’m not a sociopath… because it’s hard to detect psychopaths from their covers.  *grins*

So, I will be out of easy contact for a little bit — “out of pocket” as we say in the industry.  What a stupid phrase.

Ok, that’s all the news fit to report for now.  Will have stories to tell upon my return.

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