Busy days, or Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

It’s harvest season, which means that in addition to working 6 days a week (3 for my business, 3 for someone else) I have harvesting and preserving on top of work.  Thankfully, my day is light today.  I have an excision biopsy to perform this afternoon but other than that I’m free.  Which is good because I’m going to need the time.

When I finish my coffee and this blog post, I will be girding up my loins (so to speak) and wading into the tomato forest to harvest another probably 6 or 7 gallon sized bags of tomatoes.  Which doesn’t sound like much until you factor in that most of my tomato plants are cherry tomatoes – they fit a lot more into a bag than Romas.  I planted Cherokee purples, Romas, some sort of Italian plant that give fruit that are Roma-esque but smaller, yellow pear, and orange cherries.  I figured at least one variety would produce.  WRONG.  They all have produced FAR more than I ever anticipated.  This year has been AMAZING for tomatoes!

Then, after I finish in the tomato forest it will be time to venture into the prickly pumpkin jungle.  I bought 6 pack flats of honey dew melons and pie pumpkins – one of each.  Except that the honey dew flat apparently was mostly also pie pumpkin, so I have three honey dew plants which have not produced very well, and 9 pie pumpkin plants which HAVE.  I believe I will have at least 25-30 pumpkins by the time the season is done, not including the ones I’ve already given to the chickens.  Good thing my family likes pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin pie, pumpkin beer, pumpkin soup … you get the idea.

Now keep in mind that I do raised bed intensive gardening.  So my tomato plants, all 12 of them, are in a total of 64 square feet of space (2 4×8 beds) and share some of that space with cabbage and eggplant.  Though I haven’t seen the cabbages in 2 months…   And the pumpkins and melon plants are in a 32 square foot bed (1 4 x 8).  We have all our beds set up with soaker hoses and an automatic timer as well as deep mulch to keep the moisture in.  We fertilize with manure from cattle and our chickens.  That’s really it.  I don’t weed very much once the plants get established, the deep mulch helps with that and mostly they suffer from benign neglect.  I don’t pinch off suckers either, I just let the plants do their thing and other than some tying up that’s really the extent of my care.

Then I need to prep a bed for garlic.  I got organic Italian soft neck garlic to plant later next month.  Supposedly we should plant in November for harvest in July but I’ve found that just doesn’t work well here.  So I want to try planting it earlier to allow it to get a better hold before the frost hits, so the bulbs may be bigger next summer.

Then there are still the harvest of figs to deal with…I let go to waste probably twice as many as I was able to harvest and get into the freezer, and there’s likely 30 pounds or more in the freezer.

Then we have to finish putting up the bamboo 6 foot fencing around the back yard.  I have 4 foot garden fence but I am tired of the skunks, dogs, and cats trying to dig under it to get into our yard – just going to wire the bamboo fencing to what’s already there and put rocks along the base on either side.  We’ll have a little bit of shade in the summer for the more tender plants as well as somewhat of a wind break plus maybe a little more privacy.  Our county code requires a permit for anything over 4 feet but since this is in no way a permanent thing I do not plan to get one.  I’m pretty sure biodegradable fencing wired to an existing fence is not cognate to putting up a 6 foot block wall or to putting up prefab 6 foot wooden panels.  So I’m just not going there.

The one main reason for the fencing in the first place is this:  our money hungry county workers have decided to go to the poorest areas of the county looking for obscure violations of codes that no one knows about and start fining people for these violations. One of my patients, a disabled elderly woman, got a citation for “weeds.”  That’s what it said.  Well duh, it just rained every day for 3 weeks straight and you are going to fine her because she has an overgrowth of weeds????  So the county is saying that if it can be seen from the road, they will fine people.  People who have building supplies in their back yards are getting citations because it can be seen from across the alley on the street behind them.  People who have piles of wood are getting fined because it’s an eyesore.  Yes, I’m serious.  We got a citation for ‘trash.’  Yep, all those nested planting pots, piled bags of mulch, manure, unused raised beds, sliding glass doors and windows for the greenhouse neatly leaned against the house next to the greenhouse, neat stacks of walkway bricks, are all trash… stupid jackasses.  Money hungry bastards.  If I had planned on living in an area with rules like this I wouldn’t have moved where I did.  Hence the fencing.  Keep your damned nose out of my yard.  And out of my neighbors’ yards too.  I know one guy that wants to build a garage but the county won’t give him a permit.  But they were sure happy to give him a citation for the building supplies in his yard!

And, we need to get rid of our van with the blown transmission.  6 years of it sitting is plenty long enough.  Then we need to move our travel trailer over about a foot so we can install fencing along our side border down to the street.  Our neighbor has a pit bull they don’t keep in their yard, they let him wander, and he attacks our cats and us.

Then we need to look into getting a permit for wood so we can replenish our wood supply for the winter.  $20 for a permit for up to 4 cords versus $180 for 1/2 cord delivered…that’s an easy choice.

No, all of this is not going to be accomplished today!  But it has to be done soon….winter is coming and the harvest won’t wait.

Next post will be regarding seasonal harvest feast traditions and localizing one’s traditions to one’s climate zone.





The Wood stove saga

Well, I had a wood stove contractor come and give us a quote on the purchase and installation of a new wood stove last May.  DH said that was too much money, and we needed to find a cheaper way.  So I started surfing Craigslist.

In August, I finally found a wood stove that was mobile home approved, for half the cost of new, bought it, and brought it home.  I thought, no problem, there are lots of people out of work and surely there will be a contractor who will install this for us.  We didn’t plan to cheat anyone; I knew from the quote how much the rest of the parts and installation were going to be and figured I had saved $500 at least by buying a used stove so that was our savings.  Well, that led to a months long saga with many disappointments and frustrations.

First, the man we bought our range from was a contractor.  I contacted him, he came out and gave us a quote, took me to Home Depot to buy most of the parts, left a list at the local wood stove store (where the first contractor came from with the original quote), and set date to install it.  No show.  He said he had a family emergency.  So we set another date.  No show.  Again, family emergency.  Third date.  No show.  This time he had someone else call us who was not a contractor to see if we wanted him to install it.  The answer was “no” both because he was not a contractor and because his bid was outrageous.

We both started calling around to contractors listed in the area who do wood stove installs.  I got a quote that was very reasonable, but they required me to build the pedestal; I was OK with this but Mr. Tin Foil was not, so he kept looking.  He called a local guy recommended by one of his HAM radio buddies.  This guy came out spent most of his time yelling at his hearing impaired son while giving Mr. TF his quote (note: he was not yelling at the kid because he was hard of hearing, he was yelling at the kid because the dad is an ass.  Read on.)  The quote was also outrageous; when Mr. TF asked him about it, he became defensive but did agree to renegotiate the price.  Ultimately, he and Mr. TF got into a shouting match on the phone later that evening, the contractor threatened to come over and kick Mr. TF’s ass, and hung up on him.  He came over a few days later because he had left his notebook at our house.  He was unapologetic and said “Look.  I charge $1000 per day for me and my guys for any job.  This job will take two days, it’s $2000.  Take it or leave it.”  I started laughing and told him we would leave it, thank you (I believe I may have also said something to the effect that he was smoking crack but I could be mistaken, I may have just thought it).  So on to the search for another contractor.

Mr. TF was very insistent he wanted someone licensed to install it due to the fact that we would have a hole cut in the roof.  Finally he realized that, even though the economy is bad, contractors in general have gotten very cocky and lazy, and think they can completely run the show and get whatever price they ask because they’re in so much demand, and dictate their own hours and just not show up if they don’t feel like it – even though that’s no longer the case.  So I mentioned our friend D.  I had mentioned him earlier, but as I said Mr. TF really wanted a licensed contractor so I didn’t press the issue; he had a very good point and at that point we were still hopeful we could find someone both licensed AND reliable who would install it.

D. came over and gave us a quote that was several hundred dollars UNDER what I had budgeted for the installation.  Now, we’ve been to D’s house many times.  He built an entire addition onto their house and built the fireplace in that addition as well as had done all the tile work.  I knew he did good work, I had seen it myself.  We set a loose date – my only request was that it be done by Thanksgiving because we were having family stay with us.  That agreed, I waited with anticipation for the install.

Poor D!  The two day install took SIX!  He decided on day one that he was going to build the pedestal at his house because he wanted to rip the 2 x 6 boards so the tile would fit EXACTLY.  That took an extra day.  Some of the parts the original contractor had sent me to get were not compatible with other parts he had sent me to get at the wood stove store.  Both Mr. TF and I had to run to the store several times for parts – including the box that goes in the ceiling that connects the double wall pipe with the triple wall pipe – because the box I had purchased was for an entirely different brand, which we didn’t find out until the hole had already been cut and the box installed.  Since the box had to be cut up to fit properly (this is normal) I couldn’t take it back – $79 down the drain.  The new box I got was the wrong length so Mr. TF had to go back to get the right one; the flashing and storm cover was the wrong size and we had to go to yet a third store for one the right size.  The pipes were the same manufacturer but different brands and we had issues with them fitting together; Mr. TF had to go back to the wood stove store for the right part to connect the two.  Finally, at 10 pm on day six, it was officially installed and ready for inspection by the county.  That was the easiest part of the whole thing – you call a computerized line and make a request and they come out the next day to inspect.  Mr. TF was here for that and he said the inspector was very impressed and passed it right away.

Then came the learning curve with using it!  We were having serious issues with smoke rolling out into the house when trying to light it; I set off the smoke detector three times. Then we couldn’t keep it lit; even with the damper fully open and with the fresh air kit (required) being installed there was obviously a draft problem.   Finally we both remembered at the same time that there is a plate on the back of the stove at the base that comes off – Mr. TF took it off and voila – no more draft problem.  After a week of trying we finally managed to get a good fire going and to relight it without difficulty.  I came home last night at 11pm to a lovely fire and a warm house – 72 degrees!  That is the warmest it’s been since the cold snap started, and the warmest it’s been since we quit using the central heating 5 years ago.  Hooray!

Now I just have to figure out how to cook on the top – I need to get another thermometer because I broke my old one, but it was up to 160 degrees the first day we tried to get a fire going.  If it gets hotter than that now that we know what we’re doing we’re in business for soups and bread for sure.

I’m feeling better and better about our security from infrastructure issues.  We’re not ideal by any means, but every step we take gets us a little closer.  Every step we take off the grid means less money we have to depend on for those things.

(ignore the box of handspun on the left)