Sunday, September 7, 2014

What I've Been Up To This Weekend

 Playing with the childrens
 Harvesting produce
 Planting some seeds for the fall garden
 Clearing and prepping spaces for said garden (yikes, we need some mulch!)
 Chasing butterflies
 Looking down (and growing a human)
 Freezing hot peppers
 Pickling okra
And baking pear crisp.

What have y'all been up to?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Late Summer 2014 in the Garden

 These first few photos were from early summer 2014, back when tender things were un-scorched by the sun.
Granted, we have enjoyed an unusually mild summer.  But that doesn't change the fact that Texas summers are brutal on plants.
 The front yard is now covered in weeds, so I'll spare you that image.  Call me ungrateful, but I sure do miss the actual real fall that we had in the mountains of North Carolina.  Especially during August, which is a Texas summer's last hurrah.
The peppers love the heat, and are going strong.
 And while the bee balm couldn't take the heat, the zinnias are crying for more.  These beauties can certainly take a licking!  I'm sold.  More zinnias of all varieties for next year!
 Remember that successive planting/overplanting/companion planting thing I tried this Spring?  Well, when the borage and kale took over, I had to pull it to let the other plants have a chance.  And as soon as I removed that living mulch, the earth started to dry, compress, and oxidize.  Exactly what happens in 100 degree heat when there's no covering to protect it!  So now it is mulched with compost, and is slowly being covered with grass clippings, both of which feed the soil and roots and are FREE (if you compost your kitchen scraps). Here we see the in-ground bed with okra, watermelon on the fence, pole beans dying out from the heat behind, and a few small basil and mustard plants holding their ground.  Not as pretty as the Spring garden, but it's producing. I have pesto and beans in the freezer!  And as soon as the temperatures drop, all those bare spots will be planted with lettuces and carrots.
Another zinnia...look at how gracefully it handles the heat!
 Basically this looks like an overgrown dump.  But it's two raised beds we put in this Summer, filled with mostly tomatoes, basil, watermelon, peppers, and cantaloupe.  The walking area is completely overgrown, and the tomatoes are overly leggy because even this most-sunny part of the yard gets only part sun.  I'm done with tomatoes.  I give up trying to grow them.  The farmer's market has them anyway.  As soon as temps drop I'll be pulling all this and planting leafy things.
 These sungold tomatoes and the Matt's wild cherry tomatoes are pretty much the only ones we've harvested this year.  Big letdown.  I might try one cherry tomato plant next year....one.  We just don't have enough sun.
 All of these purple hyacinth bean vines sprang up from seeds dropped along the fence last year.  They're a beautiful and free privacy fence, so I'll take 'em.
 A tiny baby icebox watermelon from Renee's Garden Seeds.  Hopefully these will be ready to harvest by winter!
Sorry it's been so long since the last update.  We went through several months there with electricity and internet problems, so this blog has been hard to update.  How has your garden performed this summer?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New Kitchen Part I

 I titled this post "Part I" because this is the reveal of one wall only...well, one wall and a half.  There are other reveals to come, but they are purely aesthetic, so they will have to wait until later.  So once again here's the before photo (before the cabinets, counter, and sink were ripped out and the subfloor replaced)...
 And here's the after.  We purchased very inexpensive cabinets (pre-assembled) that are unfinished but structurally well-built.  The counter top is actually laminate, but it has a beautiful extra-large print that does not repeat.  The edges have a lovely rounded finish that really doesn't scream laminate.  The sink is a white-ish granite composite that was $100 less than the cheapest enameled cast iron (though it collects smudges that a regular wash rag won't scrub off, so I can't recommend it).  But it is way better than the stainless for the faucet we have.  We turned the corner there on the right and added several extra feet of cabinetry and counter top, which has already been very helpful.  Why the people who built this house put cabinets and counters only on one wall I will never know.  But we will correct that! The last thing we did was put in a tiled backplash.  We learned a few tricks after tiling the mother-in-law suite's shower, and Jason did a fantastic job of making difficult tile cuts look perfect -- even around rounded edges!

There is still plywood exposed on the foor, and a little step-up to where we stopped ripping up the 5 layers of linoleum on the rest of the kitchen.  People trip on the little step - which I guess we can enjoy as built-in comic relief.  No dinners have been lost to spills yet!  We still need to caulk between the tile and counter, finish with trim on the left and right walls around the tile, and add one shelf on the wall on the right (beside the fridge). The bottoms of the cabinets need trim, and the cabinets themselves need painting and hardware.  But we have sturdy, undamaged subfloor, no holes in cabinets, extra counter top space, and no gaps between the counter and the wall.  And, as one of my friends exclaimed upon first seeing the new cabinets, "the cabinet doors CLOSE!"
 It's funny how little money we've spent on materials, but how beautiful I think this kitchen is looking.  I don't know if I'll ever put granite or marble in a kitchen.  Especially when the house is in an older neighborhood where most of the kitchens haven't been updated in 50 years.  Makes me think we wouldn't get our money back when we sold, and I personally favor having the entire house updated over spending extra for natural stone countertops and having to let something go un-addressed elsewhere.
There will be a shallow shelf along the top of the tile backsplash, running from the open cabinetry on the left to the fridge on the right.  I hope to find vintage glass spice bottles and store my spices there, since my spice cabinet in the old in-wall ironing board cubby will have to go as we finish that wall.  If you look at the floors, you can see the plywood on the left side of the floor and the linoleum still on the right.  I can live with that as we pay off debt.  I really love having a lot of deep drawers for pans, baking dishes, and kid dishes, which we wouldn't have been able to do if we'd paid for good-quality already-painted cabinets.  The girls can unload all their dishes from the dishwasher and set the table with at their places, because they can reach all their eating utensils.

Also, that blue wall is starting to grow on me.  I was planning all along to paint the walls light grey when we renovated the kitchen, but now I'm falling in love all over again...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rotten Kitchen Subfloor

 When I see measurements in pencil on existing surfaces, I get a little excited.  Because 3 years into this live-in renovation, I still struggle with feeling like we should have more done than we do.  I thought I'd have a new kitchen by now, a new bathroom by now.  Maybe even a second bathroom.  But you know what? When you have 2 kids in 3 years and your husband works really, REALLY hard, long hours at his day job, the renovation simply isn't going to be overnight.  Or even over a year.  Plus, this has been the year of unexpected repairs.  I can't even list all the things that have come up since January 1st, but you probably wouldn't believe it anyway.

I will, however, list the majors:
1)Water heater busted (there is still a gaping hole to the dirt under the house and the attic above, covered only by a sliding door nailed into place. I used painter's tape in a fit of desperation to block all the holes so critters wouldn't come in the house)
2)We went 2 months without a renter in our NC house (that we pay a full-on mortgage on)
3)Gutted the mother-in-law suite's bathroom to repair water damage
4)Storm knocked a huge limb down on our power lines, cutting power to our house and the mother-in-law suite.  The power company came in the middle of the night with chainsaws, but would only re-connect the power to our house because the mother-in-law suite's connection wasn't to code. Our amazing electrician friend came and reconnected power to the mother-in-law suite so the next tenants/friends could move in.
6)Oven broke. But with all the unexpected expenses we put on credit after blowing through savings this year, we got some kickbacks and the cost was covered between that and my dear mother (see it in the photo below?!)
7)Kitchen disposal broke. More on this below...
8)Turns out when that big limb knocked down our power lines, our neutral was fried.  All the electrical here was not to code, and we only got 100amp service (you're supposed to get 200-250).  We got a quote on having electrical upgraded and corrected to code, but it was several thousand dollars that we didn't have. That amazing electrician friend of ours helped my husband do all the work to (initially get power back on, then) upgrade our electrical over the last couple of months.  We have an upgraded, to-code system that cost us less than $1k and a lot of that friend's time.  We are so blessed.

So back to that broken disposal.
 We knew the subfloor under the cabinets was rotten in at least one place along this kitchen wall.  So when the disposal broke, we decided it was time to go ahead and deal with that subfloor.  The rest of the kitchen would have to wait until we've paid off the debt we've incurred this year, but it made sense to fix a rotten subfloor problem as soon as possible.

We knew we needed new cabinets eventually (there were holes through the drywall and floor inside them that allowed critters to come in through the doors that wouldn't shut, and I had to wash almost everything before using it because there would be insect droppings in it. yuck), so we didn't try to remove these cabinets gently.  We knew we needed new countertops (there was about a 1/2"-3/4" gap between the fake wood linoleum and wall where critters could get in, and we wanted to extend the countertops), so that was ripped out with a satisfying quickness.  I knew I wanted a white sink - new or used - because the stainless didn't exactly jive with the oiled bronze fixtures, and the faucet would wobble because the stainless wasn't sturdy enough for it.  So that came out too, and is now in storage in case someone needs one.
 And this is what we found.  This is post-critter-poop-cleanup.  There must have been 1/2" of it under the left side, along with a nest from some kind of rodent that we had heard chewing on the cabinets. When we were sweeping, there was one place where Jason literally accidentally swept THROUGH the subfloor.  Swept it into the dirt under the house in the crawlspace.  Basically, he had to get through 5 layers of linoleum, cut out the rotten subfloor, then lay new subfloor.  Fortunately, he was able to verify there was no damage on any joists.  He did an amazing job.
Then he had to remove all the drywall that had been behind the cabinets to make sure there were no water-damaged studs needing to be replaced.  You can see water drip stains down the right bottom corner of the window, but fortunately whatever had caused that (someone leaving the window open during a few storms??) had not affected any studs or structural items in general.  Really, cutting into any floor or wall in a home is terrifying because you don't know what you're going to find.  Your repair job could easily triple because there's something there that has to be fixed that you simply couldn't see before.

I really cannot say enough about this man.  My husband works a day job well over 40 hours a week, and comes home and uses time off to work on this house for me and the kids.  That's just amazing.  He did this work over a holiday weekend, and if I remember correctly my water was back on when the work week started.

What's that?  You're wondering what went in next?  Then come on back tomorrow for a little "reveal."

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My Live Mulch Experiment

 I think an alternative title for this post could be "Basically, I Overplanted," or at least that's what it looks like.  We use a no-till method in our garden, which means we top-dress nutrients rather than turning the soil every year.  This allows me to constantly overlap sowing and reaping of different varieties in the same bed.  In seasons past I have worked hard to keep the beds thickly mulched (with shredded dead leaves, shredded hardwood mulch, or compost) to protect against moisture loss in our hot Texas summers.  But this year I am trying something different.
 With raised beds it makes no sense to plant rows (we don't need rows between which to walk), so I've used a variety of square foot gardening technique to arrange my plantings.  But this means only 6 tomato plants or 3-4 squash plants would use up ALL of one of my 4x8' beds, and I only have two and one in-ground bed. Plus, when you plant 12 kale plants in a perfect grid and 1/4 of them never make it to adulthood, you're left with a few empty square feet.  And this type of growing has always resulted in a fair amount of bare soil, thus the attention to mulch.
 One morning, as I walked in the garden, I realized the leaves of the mature existing plants were keeping the air and soil cool and moist beneath, and that flower seeds my kids had thrown out there were germinating under their cover.  It hit me that all this time I've been trying to grow a garden in a very logical, albeit unnatural arrangement.  In nature, plants are not perfectly spaced in a grid-like pattern.  And when one plant is mature, many new plants are up and coming beneath its canopy.  Why couldn't I use living plants like I use mulch - and get food out of it?  The mulch covers the soil and keeps it cool and moist.  The shadows of leaves do the same, and once those mature plants die, they can slowly be broken back down into the ground naturally.
 So this year I'm trying it out.  I'm crowding things in; I plant a kale seed every square foot, then when it's 3" high I plant mesculun lettuces around them.  Then when those are about 3", I plant something else - maybe scallions, maybe bush beans.  Hopefully soon every inch of soil will be hidden by plants.  I'm planting seeds about every 2-3 weeks, but they're so inexpensive.  And just look at all that life in the garden!  It's May, and my garden is full!  Also bear in mind that we have already harvested 11 shopping bags full of greens and lettuces since New Year's, not including the small harvests I've made when making dinner.  This from about 120 square feet.

Lettuces give shade and protection to newly transplanted tomatoes.  Chive and scallion greens shelter zinnia sprouts, and basil is germinating in the shade of kale.
 Thyme and chard shadow bush bean seedlings, pepper transplants are rising up between red onions, and the bolted (flowering) kale is attracting pollinators for summer crops.  Second-year asparagus spears sway in the breeze with onion greens, and marigolds are posturing to take over the edges.
 The entire garden is alive, which is huge change from the sparse Spring garden I had in seasons past (when I was careful to abide by square foot gardening spacing guidelines).  Now, I am not saying those guidelines are not true or that the methods aren't good.  But why not have the next crop on its way and benefiting from the first?  I've also noticed in this new experiment the seedlings are being protected from both heavy rain and pests.  It will be interesting to see how this method will fare for the summer crops.  I wonder how long I'll be able to keep my greens in the Texas heat?
 Here kale sprouts lift their tiny heads in the shade of blue borage leaves.
 Here kale buds and blossoms attract native bees and add color and beauty to the veggie bed.
Here kale seed pods dance in the breeze.  I think I'll let some of them fall naturally -- an early start on the Fall crop.  Clearly, we love kale.

Monday, May 5, 2014

My Favorite Skin Care and a Mother's Day Giveaway

As I have moved toward more organic methods of gardening, my awareness of what non-organic practices affect (like the food on our table, skin care, and the environment) has steadily increased.  And as knowledge increases, so does sorrow. Realizing what "mineral oil" really means (found that out on an episode of Dirty Jobs) was the wake-up call that began my journey away from mainstream skin care practices.  And when you realize that your skin is your body's largest organ, and brings an alarming amount of what you put on it INTO your body, your label-checking broadens from just your food to include your skin care as well.  Which has led me to a lot less skin care purchases at the store.

After paring down products that contained things I didn't want on my skin, I had little left.  I used nothing to cleanse my face but a mixture of extra virgin olive oil and castor oil (and scrubbed with a hot washcloth), and nothing to moisturize but coconut oil.  Oil dissolves oil, so without soap my skin brightened, cleared, and felt softer after cleansing.  I thought I had found the most natural, complete skin care I needed.  
My incredible photography shoot in the nursery. Ha.
Then I attended a Savvy Boheme party, and BOY was it an educational experience!  Keri passed around the products she has formulated from raw and natural sources, and also blew our minds with the science behind why her products work.  Like how the sugar in her scrub creates alpha hydroxy acid when used on your skin -- but it contains real, live ingredients that work on your skin in a way that pharmaceutically formulated products simply can't.  Amazing.  And each item I tried intoxicated my senses with the aromas of coffee, rose, lavender, citrus, cocoa or rosemary. But I thought I had all I needed with my oil cleanser and my coconut oil.  So I bought a deodorant (that works - without aluminum!) from her and took home a tester of Anouk raw whipped shea butter, and thought I was done.
Whipped Shea Butter - light, creamy, heavenly
It wasn't until I used that whipped shea butter that I realized what I had been missing.  Though it was effective against blemishes because of its antibacterial, antifungal properties, the coconut oil didn't keep my skin soft all day.  It left it dry half-way to lunch.  Turns out it's an astringent, and couldn't touch the whipped shea's effectiveness as a moisturizer. Plus, the Anouk whipped shea butter's aroma of lavender and vanilla was just the pampering this mother of three little kids needed to get going in the morning.  Or mid-afternoon.

Raw Sugar Scrub - when you cleanse with oil rather than soap, your skin no longer needs to compensate for lost sebum, and ends up being less oily overall. Counter-intuitive but true.
 And it's all thanks to Savvy Boheme! Now I get to spread the love in honor of Mother's Day: Keri is giving away Savvy Boheme's complete cleansing and moisturizing set, the Facial Trivium, to one lucky reader.  This set includes the super-moisturizing Raven's Balm, the amazing African Black Soap, and the Raw Sugar Coffee Scrub in Tall Americano (a combined value of $57).  Which smells incredible, by the way.  Like coffee at a cafe outside Paris with citrus trees swaying in the morning breeze, I'd imagine.  Win this for your sweet mama, your hard-working wife, your daughter, your neighbor, or yourself.  Every mama could use this kind of pure pampering.  The contest ends Mother's Day at midnight, and the winner will be announced the next day.  Enter below!  
Win this!!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Please note that Savvy Boheme has not offered me any compensation for my review or for holding this giveaway - both were my ideas.  This blog is a wonderful way to me to give back to small businesses by promoting them in my little circle, and this is a business I truly believe in.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Earth Day

 Here are a few photos from the garden in honor of Earth Day

... and in honor of me finally getting a few lessons on how to use my real camera

... and in honor of photos from a real camera as opposed to the iPhone. Enjoy.
 The Zephirine Drouhins are blooming.  I wish I could share the fragrance with you somehow.
 The Autumn fern
 Heuchera buds
 New growth on the camellia
 Mustard greens
 Onion blossoms.  Sometimes the vegetable garden is an unexpected source of blossomed beauty.
Arugula blooms