Tuesday I snuck out to the garden to check on things, and to finally get all our sunflowers and the boys’ marigolds in the ground. All these little plants were grown from seed on our window sill and survived the frost because we were too lazy to plant them last week.

I like the plan for the formal planting beds because they have a lot of space allocated for perennials, some annuals and even herbs. I’m a big fan of gardens that are somewhat formal but have opportunities for whimsy or in-formalities, variety and edibles. It will be years before the gardens on the grounds come into their own, but even now I can see the potential.  We’ve got roses next to sun flowers, wild goldenrod next to mint and basil, on and on the variety of combinations is endless and delightful.

We’re done planting for the year in terms of landscaping. The bushes we planted last year are growing large; I’m glad we’re getting a jump on plantings. I realize it costs money but I feel it’s important to get plants in the ground early on so that we can enjoy them before they put us in the ground. Also the landscape will increase our property value and make the house more presentable should we have to sell in the coming year.

What we've planted to date.

What we’ve planted to date.

In the veggie garden I inspected everything and it looks like yes, I will have to replace all our tomato, pepper and cucumber plants as the frost surely killed them or at least rendered them not worth keeping. I planted all the seeds for the carrots, onions, beets and radishes. Our watermelon and pumpkins have sprouted little sprouts from our “easy grow” pods, as has the spinach. Here’s a general layout of our veggie garden…I just realized I left the lettuce and spinach out, but we planted those near the peas. Also it’s off scale because I didn’t squeeze in the maple sapling, or the existing native “bush” that live in the middle of our garden…yes that’s right I left a bush and a maple tree in our garden for aesthetic purposes. Where it says “radish” on the left…slide all that over and that’s where our lettuce is going. Our garden is 20’x40′ which is a perfect size. This should produce enough veggies to feed 2-4 families for the year.  Friends and relatives should call me to get on board. I’m open to bartering. 🙂

Layout of our veggie garden this year.

Layout of our veggie garden this year.

I also examined and fenced off one of our service berry bushes. It’s lost all its leaves and I don’t know if its deer or a disease or lack of water or etc. etc. etc. We have two and the other looks better so I just fenced off the one. If it bounces back then I know it was deer picking on this one bush. If not then it must be watering or disease. I did rub some plant tone into the base of both berry bushes; we’ll see if that helps.

This service berry wasn't bad, and I'm not disciplining it - rather providing it some protection to see if it's because of deer that it's doing so poorly or if there's another cause of it's lack of leaves and berries.

This service berry wasn’t bad, and I’m not disciplining it – rather providing it some protection to see if it’s because of deer that it’s doing so poorly or if there’s another cause of its lack of leaves and berries. You can see new growth at the base of the plant.

Bee Check and Adding Another Deep

Yesterday Christine checked on her bees and they are doing awesome. She saw eggs, the queen, even new baby bees emerging from their comb. The bees have filled up most of the frames on the bottom deep with brood and capped honey that yesterday was the day to add our first “deep” box on top.  The new upper deep contains ten frames just like the bottom one and the bees will start filling those frames next. Checking the hive will take longer now, as we have to check both deeps and therefore twenty frames per visit. On top of it all is just a deep box to cover up the bucket feeder. The bees used up all the pollen substitute and they are relying less on the feeder as well.  Long story short the bees are doing well.

One other interesting thing we saw, as we relaxed at the dining table drinking wine after dinner, in the south meadow was one of our doe chasing off two other does.  This is something I had never seen before in all my years watching deer (in the woods and the yard). Then it struck me, that must be the doe that was pregnant and I suspect she must have deposited her fawn(s) in the south meadow. As such she was chasing off intruding does, sort of protecting her babies. I’m no scientist but it seem logical enough to me. A little while later I could see her back in the meadow sniffing down in an area, which is where I presume sits one or two little spotted deer, nestled amongst the tall grass. I dare not go check it out though for fear of disturbing her nest. Suffice to say though I’m happy that so many of the animals find our land as safe, healthy and nurturing as we do to raise their families.  Most people who moved to this sort of place would have probably mowed everything down. By virtue of leaving it natural we essentially have our own wild zoo and baby animals growing up right off our back door. By the way the baby birds vacated their front porch nest last week.

Enjoy today’s photographs of the bees and our mama deer. Also I’m thinking of starting yet another blog here, Photographs My Kid Takes.  It’s not up yet but stay tuned…should be fun.


Christine pulls each frame out and inspects it, looking for eggs, and general health of the bees.

Christine pulls each frame out and inspects it, looking for eggs, and general health of the bees.

The bees cover the frames going about their business.

The bees cover the frames going about their business.

Frames are gently removed and replaced, but invariably a few bees get squished throughout the process.

Frames are gently removed and replaced, but invariably a few bees get squished throughout the process.

You can see the capped brood cells and uncapped cells.

You can see the capped brood cells and uncapped cells.

Getting ready to inspect the first frame.

Getting ready to inspect the first frame.

Our mama doe in her meadow. I suspect along that old hedge row a baby deer or two sits nestled in the grass.

Our mama doe in her meadow. I suspect along that old hedge row a baby deer or two sits nestled in the grass.

Burr comb bee wax on the inside of the hive cover, this gets removed before replacing the cover.

Burr comb bee wax on the inside of the hive cover, this gets removed before replacing the cover.

Here you can see our queen. She's marked with an orange dot. Notice how much larger she is.

Here you can see our queen. She’s marked with an orange dot. Notice how much larger she is.

Here you can see a new bee poking its head out of its comb cell. All the empty cells had bees in them as well. I'm guessing our hive is approaching 8-10 thousand bees, but I have nothing to base that on really.

Here you can see a new bee poking its head out of its comb cell. All the empty cells had bees in them as well. I’m guessing our hive is approaching 8-10 thousand bees, but I have nothing to base that on really.

New bee emerging from its cell.

New bee emerging from its cell.

Memorial Day Update

It’s Memorial Day, so that means a day off for all the people with jobs out there, for the most part. For me I’m taking the day off too and going to hop into my art studio finally. I need to switch gears and start cranking out art work for I have a show coming up at the beginning of July. Today is also the wife and my 13th wedding anniversary but nothing exciting is planned to celebrate that….I just looked, traditional and modern presents are lace and textiles or faux fur respectively….instead we’ll write off the screen porch and plants from Chicago as our anniversary gifts.

We’ve had frost the last three nights down in the valley. The first night I refused to believe it so my uncovered veggies all go wiped out except the peas and sunflowers. That resulted in about $50-$75 worth of plants dead, plus all the baby cucumber plants Christine raised from seeds are dead. We’re leaving them in the ground for now, and covered them the last two nights but I suspect all is lost so I’ll have to replace them, probably next week sometime. The lack of rain is killing us too. Much of our landscape is showing some form of subtle distress, so I’m keeping a close eye on things.

This weekend found us hosting our first cook out of the season on Saturday. The weather proved to be pleasantly sunny, and a tad bit cold but tolerable. It was nice to have a day off and visit with friends, eat some good food and have a couple of beers.

We did awake to discover a tick on our youngest’s neck / head. We calmly removed it and we’ll keep an eye on him. Ohio is being overrun by ticks with the climate changing and this Spring is proving to be a banner season for the little bugs. One great by-product of man-made global warning that you don’t read about too often. I sent a photo of the tick to Glen Needham, professor of entomology at the Ohio State University and he promptly identified it as a male dog tick. There’s less concern that this type of tick carries any bad disease but we’ll be on the lookout just in case. Getting guinea fowl, and me building a coop has been added as a top project priority – the fowl love eating ticks and other pests in the garden and orchard. For now we just try to keep the boys out of the woods and tall grass and check them daily for the little arachnids. A note, in Ohio the Department of Health has lost funding to track ticks and tick borne illnesses, so it falls upon citizens to remain diligent in being aware and communicating sightings and looking for illness.

One last word before I go today. On this Memorial Day I want to say thanks to all the men and women who have served our country and sacrificed to assure we are free, can speak our minds, have cookouts, and worry about frozen veggies and ticks instead of worrying about bombs, persecution, and other nasty threats to freedom. Thanks to their parents, children, friends and communities for their sacrifice in sending their loved ones into harms way. I pray some day that won’t be necessary, and I truly believe it is possible. But until then I’m proud and thankful that we have such great heroes out there protecting us today, and throughout our history. For all it’s faults, real and perceived, it’s still a pretty awesome country to live in, driven by faith in humanity and the human spirit. From the first men and women who had the courage to form a better type of country to the guys and gals who have sacrificed it all in recent years, and everyone in between: thank you.  God bless.


Laundry Room Design

Today I had some “free” time (i.e. not a paying job and too cold to go outside) so I’ve been working on the laundry room design for the estate. Right now the room is a pile of clothes, baskets, ticks, and god knows what. Someday it will be organized and useful.

For inspiration I used a few resources such as the laundry room in our old house, (which I’m now addicted to), and of course our new laundry room space. The contemporary farmhouse style of the old house laundry was inspired by an image in a Martha Stewart magazine the wife had. The new laundry room will be simpler by virtue of keeping costs down, taking our learnings from the old laundry room and because of how the new space is defined.

From a practical standpoint we’re ahead of the game already because our laundry space already has two full closets in it. While they are not overly organized, they can hold a bulk of the cleaning supplies and whatnot. One wall of the laundry is already defined because that is where the sink plumbing is as well as the washer and dryer hook-ups. Opposite that wall is an alcove that we’ll utilize for air drying clothes. Lastly there is the integrated ironing board that is already installed on the left side wall, as you walk in.

Air drying is a big deal for the wife, who does our laundry. As an aside, before you write me a nasty letter crucifying me for being a male  chauvinist pig, my wife won’t let me do laundry because my idea of laundry is two piles – whites and colors. Anyway, I’m a guy so I take the quickest path from A to B which totally goes against how she likes to do laundry, therefore early on in our 13 years of marriage it was decided that she was in charge of laundry…and by default really, she’s in charge of or the primary driver and ultimate approver of the laundry room design. What you see in the computer rendering images is the approved design I generated today.

Laundry Room Design Notes:

  • Sweater drying racks – wood framed “trays” with mesh inserts for air drying sweaters or other clothes by laying them flat.  In old laundry these were on drawer tracks. For new room I simplified and the racks will just rest on 3/4″ strips of lumber attached to 3/4″ plywood, which in turn is attached to the wall. I’ll paint the supports wall color and the racks trim white. The mechanical racks in the old house were prone to falling apart. Simpler new ones will be fool-proof and unbreakable. I left the drying racks off the floor by about 18″ so we can store a basket full of hangers down there.
  • Flip down drying rack – I wish I could have found my specs from the old house as this rack worked perfectly. I’ll try my best to replicate it.
  • Hanging rods – for drying we’ll have one permanent rod above the sweater racks for hanging clothes to air dry. The cool part is down below where, just by making a few notches in the sweater drying rack 3/4″ side panels I’ll be able to store a second hanging rod that I can bring out when needed to double the rod space. Simply stow away the sweater drying racks and dry away on hangers. Note, all these drying features are easy to make, look cohesive when painted and mean we don’t have to search the internet for existing, often expensive, products.
  • Upper trim – this is from Martha Stewart and we’ll execute this 5-1/2″ trim in the new room just as we did in the old room, placing it at about door height. It just feels “farmy”, ties everything together, adds a simple detail and is a great place to mount peg hooks for hanging shirts after they are ironed.
  • Cabinets – all the cabinets will be stock units. A 30″ sink base and 15″ waste can base unit with and end cap just to the left of the washer and dryer. Upper cabinets are a pair of 36 incher’s flanking a 33″ wall cabinet. The leftover space will be infilled with trim and provide a landing spot for the upper trim terminating into the wall cabinets.
  • Washer & Dryer – our old units are about 14 years old so they don’t have much life left in them presumably. The new units will be high-efficiency front loaders that use a fraction of the water and less energy. Water usage is important because we do a lot of laundry and we’re on a fixed water supply (rain, which is rare around here lately). The new units are 38″ tall and I’d like to put a counter over the top of them so we’ll terminate the sink counter short to make way for the washer and dryer. The good news is we can do everything then wait for the old units to die or be donated when we can afford new units…we just pop in the new ones and install a counter above, offset from the sink countertop.
  • Hook ups – with the counter over the washer and drying being about 39″ off the floor our water and electrical hookups are in the way. We’ll have to cross this bridge when we get to it but suffice to say it’ll probably require something being moved down or up.
  • Dryer vent – ugh, our dryer vent as is forces our dryer to be 8 whopping inches away from the wall. I’m going to goto Sears and ask about venting out the side of the Whirlpool dryer, which is a definite option. If that goes well I’ll just squish the washer and dryer to the left, and leave myself 8-10 inches to vent out the side. A valance panel up front will trim out that gap to the right of the dryer.
  • Paint color – we love the light blue of the old place but we’ll mix it up a bit and choose off our Global Spice pallet – Garden Sage SW7736 will be the color, same as what we’ll do in our youngest’s bedroom someday. The green makes the room warmer visually, making laundry less depressing a chore.
  • Hampers – we’ll place a two or three cell freestanding hamper under the flip down drying rack for sorting clothes. Next to that is the existing vacuum charging station. Win, win.

A rug, art and incidentals and the laundry room will be a warm an inviting place, add value to the house and be one more thing off the want-to-do list.

New Jersey Tea

Alright, I promised I’d post some pics of our bees so here we go (see below). Also we just got back from Chicago where we went on a mini vacation. I discovered a great nursery online that specializes in native plants, primarily prairie plants. The reason I discovered them was because I was looking for replacement New Jersey Tea  plants. As I’ve said in a previous post I didn’t think our New Jersey Teas (Ceanothus americanus), or our Common Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), had leafed this Spring and that they were all dead. So I searched the net and came across Possibility Place in Monee, Illinois. Possibility Place specializes in plants native to Illinois. Being so close to Ohio, it’s no surprise many of the plants they grow are native to Ohio as well, or at least do well in Ohio’s climate. Our landscape plan calls for plants that are, unfortunately, not easy to find in our local nurseries even though the plants can be found here, presumably in the wild. One note of interest, I never thought about it but the owner of the nursery mentioned that Illinois is a prairie state, while Ohio is a forest state. Maybe that’s why local nurseries don’t carry some of these plants, but realistically I think most nurseries are driven by (ill-informed in my opinion) marketplace demands, and I guess the market for native plants just isn’t there.  Thus I have to drive two states over and buy native prairie plants.

We drove out and had a nice evening taking the boys out to an arcade and dinner. We then woke up and drove just down the road to pick up our plants. I had called ahead as the nursery is not open to the public, except by appointment. Snaking our way back past the greenhouses I parked and walked into the office. They thought I was joking when I said I drove all day to get there, from Ohio. But sure enough our paperwork was there waiting for our arrival. The owner personally walked me over to where our plants waited. They were meticulously arranged on a pallet, each plant personally labeled with my name on it – like fancy computer labels.  Very nice. The staff loaded up all of our happy plants, 10 NJ Tea and 3 Common Witch Hazel bushes in 5 gallon buckets, into our trailer.

In walking to and fro I learned that Possibly Place also has bees, a very nice veggie garden, ducks and they’re even raising fish.  The atmosphere was extremely friendly and welcoming. There offering, judging by their artful and informative catalog, along with the expanses of green houses, looks to be second to none in terms of native plants. Overall I’ve found independent nurseries to be good sources for uncommon and native plants. Possibility Place has to be at the top in terms of philosophy, knowledge and offering as far as this writer is concerned. I highly recommend checking them out and making the trip, especially if you’re in the mid-west, the next time you are looking to infuse your landscape with some native planting happiness.

Today I planted all our new bushes and discovered that a few of our bare root New Jersey Teas were sprouting in fact, but they are so small there’s no way…getting relatively established plants was the way to go. And the Witch Hazel were outright dead so the three, large, new ones were a welcome sight. I transplanted the stick looking New Jersey Teas elsewhere in the yard.

Elsewhere in the yard we’ve been weeding and watering our veggies. As far as I’m concerned we’re in the middle of a drought with no end in sight. I give it a couple of weeks and we’ll be in trouble if we don’t get rain. If anything I’ll be tired of hauling watering cans of water back to the garden.

Bug wise we’re going bonkers too. Ants are getting into the house, so despite all my tree hugger-ness I will spray the foundation with something to kill the ants. I also received some seals from Thermatru that were not installed on our exterior doors. These should seal up the “daylight” spaces I can see in the corners of our doors; stopping air intrusion as well as bug intrusion. Outside the ticks are crazy everywhere. We have a nature friendly plan to combat those but it will be a while before that plan goes into action. Meanwhile we check ourselves for ticks before going inside the house.

We’ve checked the bees a couple times in the last week. Everything looks great. Our friends helped us find our queen and confirmed our hive is overachieving in terms of production of bees, and overall health. So without further ado take a look at the photos to see what it looks like inside the hive. Also see pics from Possibility Place and even our trip to get ice cream tonight from Country Maid Ice Cream & Orchard. Of course I don’t have any plant pics, but will get some up later this week.

Garden Gate

Well today I got another monkey off my back, the double gates are hung in the garden, thus rendering it somewhat immune from deer and other critters that like to sniff where they ought not be sniffing. We also got all of our veggie seedlings off the window sill and into the soil. With half of the allotted garden space given to seedlings, we will infill the rest with seeds for carrots, radishes, and onions (I think), as well as (as yet to be) purchased plants for tomatoes and peppers. In the ground already are peas, cucumbers, lettuce and sunflowers as well as seed pods for watermelon, pumpkins, and spinach. So there is an outside chance we may actually have something to harvest this year as our basket has all kinds of potential eggs in it…unless of course something wipes out the entire garden. Oh wait, we’re not supposed to temp fate….I forgot.

As far as the gates go, you’ll see in the pics that install was fairly straight forward, though the one post was 1-1/8″ off level so I had to scab on a ripped piece of lumber to square it up. Tip of the day: run a string and level from post to post to assure your gates are level. don’t worry about their relation to the top of the posts or the ground. The posts likely run along the pitch of the ground, and any excess ground space can be rectified with pavers if your fancy or by filling in with dirt below the gate.

I do have some good bee pics too, but you’ll have to wait til later this week. For now enjoy these.


Screen Porch Finished

The screen porch monkey is off my back. Sure there are some minor decor things that need to be addressed, but we finally have a screen porch; something we’ve been waiting for since we were building our last house. In fact we always hoped to have a screen porch so Daphne, our cat, could go outside to enjoy the fresh air without running away. She’s 13 now, and cat’s don’t live forever. It’s really nice to go out there to eat dinner, or just hang out. We have an adjacent open porch area as well, so that serves as a nice spot for the grill and a chair to rest in whilst waiting for burgers to cook.

As you may or may not know, we installed a Screen Tight system to enclose our porch. This is definitely the way to go. The base track went on easy, and eventually the screen and cap pieces went on fairly easily as well. After about 4-5 screen sections we got the hang of it, making the rest fairly easy to install. Tips:

  • install on a warm day, in late morning or afternoon. This loosens the track, spline and screen, decreasing the chance of “bubbles” in the finished screen section, as well as making it easier to insert the spline in the track.
  • keep track sections slightly away from overhangs and columns if possible, will make it easier to hammer the cap onto the track.
  • use tape to hold large screen panels in place until you can insert the first, top, spline into the track. I used the butt end of my spline tool to “hammer” in the spline to start each section. Insert top then sides and finally bottom spline in that order.
  • have a helper to help keep screen tight as you insert spline.
  • get 10′ lengths of cap material if possible. We had 8′ so we have a lot of unsightly seams. The extruded cap material is cut in line during production so not all the ends are square, especially the double (3.5″) cap material.
  • cut cap material with a hacksaw. I tried snips (messy), chop saw (plastic shattered, nearly taking an eye out), and a utility knife (mind numbingly tedious).

With all the screens and caps in place, the last step was to install the door. I installed a pre-made door, from Screen Tight. This was a bit more difficult because my posts / columns were a bit out of whack. I decided to mortise the hinges into a column, but it had such a bow, that only the top and bottom hinges got cut into the column; the middle hinge was just flush mounted so to speak. I checked the door and it showed level horizontally, but the bottom corner still rubbed on the deck boards….oh well, not sure what else to do I decided I could sand down the bottom corner of the door. I then installed door stops on the inside; made by ripping down a leftover pressure treated 2×4 into 1″ strips. I fastened all three strips and checked the fit. My door fit okay but was kind of all over the place…I then installed the door hook on the inside, this tightened up the closure, but only with the hook latched. Finally I installed the spring which was my only complaint. To get the door to close tight I need a lot of tension. Well the inside door hook doesn’t bite into the fiberglass door enough. Under tension it’s already starting to pull out. Poor design if you ask me, even with my sub par installation job. Overall I’d give my door install a D+ or C-. It works but it’s not the best and will probably benefit from a complete redo at a later date, but for now it’s manageable and keeps the bugs out.

As for the Screen Tight system I’d give it a A.  It’s the way to go if you want a screen porch at your home.

So that’s one major project done. Tomorrow I’ll install the garden gates and we should get most of the veggie garden planted.

The boys are really enjoying the house and yard. Each day they discover more and more ways to make me smile and laugh. I am very fortunate to be able to spend so much time with them while they are this age. Granted we may starve but I’m glad that we at least have this time together as a family. I realize a vast majority of parents are just trying to make ends meet or busy chasing wants or needs. So in one way we’re very lucky in these times.


The east meadow is exquisite this time of year. Like a painting it's saturated with greens, yellows and purples. The colors reach into your pores, as if seeing them isn't enough.

The east meadow is exquisite this time of year. Like a painting it’s saturated with greens, yellows and purples. The colors reach into your pores, as if seeing them isn’t enough.