Wednesday, May 29, 2013


I haven't written an update in much too long, and I apologize for that. When I planned to take last week off from work so I could get caught up on projects around the house I didn't consider how busy I would be.

I'm not even going to attempt to list everything that I've worked on since my last post. I wouldn't be able to remember everything I did, or the day on which I did it even if I wanted to. I will, however, give some highlights.

Andrea and I finished placing the stepping stones and walkways for the herb garden. This allowed her to finish planting most of the herbs and flowers she had planned. All that remains is to plant a couple more things, and to put in the trellis for the hops.

I installed the first rain barrel, and have another ready to be installed. Andrea has already been using water from the installed barrel for watering the herb garden. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to switch to using the rain barrels for most of our watering needs, rather than hauling water from the creek or using the chlorinated water from the municipal supply. Andrea did use the municipal water for the plants she started from seed, and has began to suspect that it is the reason for the delayed growth of the pepper plants. She has switched them to creek water, and they seem to be doing much better. Hopefully we'll still be able to get them in the ground early enough to get a decent yield.

I used the tractor and landscape rake to rake up grass clippings for the first time, and it actually worked out fairly well. I can see why people don't want to use the implement in a lawn for raking clippings, as it did pull up some grass, but where I used it, across the road, that really wasn't a concern. I was able to rake up enough to make a full load in the RTV bed, which we then used to mulch the tomatoes and some of the garlic.

I spent a few days visiting family and getting my Dad's help with a few projects. I took the mower in to see if he could help me figure out what was wrong with it. I thought it needed new bearings, which I had bought, and likely needed the belt replaced. It turns out, however, that the problem was simply that the large nut holding the pulley in place was loose, which was allowing the blades to wobble and the belt to work free. It was a simple fix, but I wouldn't have been able to do it here anyway without buying some tools, which I've since done for the next time it happens. He also helped me build a rig for hauling a 55 gallon barrel of water. I wanted to be able to lay a barrel down, lengthways, on something that I could tow behind the RTV. He had an old riding mower frame, that was partially stripped down already that we used. It seems like it is going to work out well. I just need to add a spigot and maybe cut a hole in the barrel to make filling it easier. Lastly, since I was driving the truck, we filled the bed with wood chips that the local tree trimmers had dumped near their house. We had been considering mulching some un-dyed wood chips to use as mulch, so it was nice to get a load that cost nothing other than the effort to load them.

While I was gone, we had some new additions to the family. Daisy, the cat who only fairly recently began staying here, had kittens. There are four of them, and they seem to be doing well so far. I suppose this solves our need for getting another cat or two to help keep the rodent population in check. I just hope that the dogs, and Kitty for that matter, tolerate them ok.

Aside from the big projects I listed, we worked on a lot of smaller projects over the past week and a half. My time away from work was productive, although very tiring. My initial thought was that I was glad I didn't have to work like that every week, but as I thought about it more I changed my mind. I enjoy being outside, and don't mind a little hard work. While last week was very tiring, I'm sure I could get use to it if it was something I did regularly. I could certainly get a lot more done around here if not for that pesky day job. Of course the lack of money would quickly offset any benefits from not having a job.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Today wasn't as productive as I had hoped. Even though I have taken the week off from work I had to work half a day today, attending some important meetings. Luckily I was able get outside for a few hours between meetings, though, because it stormed all evening.

I was able to look into the issues with the mower, and determine that the last time I used it the belt had slipped off. It didn't break, though, which is good. I have a new belt, and bought new bearings for it, so I'll put those on and see if that solves the problems I was having.

I also did some work on the front porch. When I had previously taken down the plastic from the porch I just cut it, because the yard was too wet to set a ladder at that time. Today I took down most of the strips that I had used for securing the plastic. I mostly wanted to get them taken down so they wouldn't be exposed to the weather now that the plastic is down.

Today was also the day of Jack's surgery. Andrea was actually on the way back home with him when the storms began. Thankfully they made it home safely. Jack seems to be doing well.

Monday, May 20, 2013


I decided to take a week off from work to get caught up on a few things around here. Today was my first day off, and it didn't start off very well. I began the morning by using the tractor to do some more prep work along the edge of the yard where we are planning to plant some bushes. While I had the tractor out I decided to move a few large rocks that were somewhat in the way. I still haven't really mastered the process of picking up large rocks with the front end loader, rather than just pushing them across the ground. For one of the rocks I was having to try to manually push it into the bucket, and in the process managed to get my finger caught between the rock and the bucket when it shifted unexpectedly. The result was a couple of cuts to the underside of my finger, and bruising to the top. Fortunately it was only my little finger, and the rock just caught the tip, but it was very painful at the time.

I'm not one to work through an injury, especially when I'm bleeding, so I immediately went back into the house and took an extended break. After lunch I decided to go back out, because the pain had subsided. I worked a bit more on prepping the edge of the yard, this time using a hoe and rake to smooth out some of the soil I had moved earlier. I also took a load of topsoil to the garden so I would have a convenient supply for adding to the potato tower. While I was at it I went ahead and added some soil to the tower, and by the end of the day I noticed that the plants appeared to have already grown, which is impressive, if accurate.

I don't know if the issue was just the heat, or if my injury also played a role, but I wasn't able to stay out as long as I had hoped. After a couple of hours I had to come back in, and ended up taking a nap. After dinner, though, I went back out and Andrea went with me. We installed another small walkway in the herb garden. After that we watered the tomato plants, which took longer than expected. Hopefully we'll have a good solution before the season is over, because we'll be watering them very often. I'm already dreading watering them tomorrow because I know that I'll need to haul more water up from the creek. Hopefully I'll get the rain barrels finished and installed soon, so I don't have to haul a lot from the creek.

I didn't accomplish nearly as much as I had hoped with my first day off from work. I did manage to get in maybe 6 hours total, though, which I suppose isn't too bad considering I took some time off for my injury, and it seemed to have slowed me down for the remainder of the day.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


This was a fairly productive weekend, even with some rain and more threats of rain. Friday evening we worked in the herb garden, installing more stepping stones. Andrea had previously planted as much as she could in the finished area, so we need to finish placing the rock to allow her to do more planting.

On Saturday we drove to Lexington to attend the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival. I was impressed with both the quantity and quality of vendors in attendance. I suspect that in a few years, when we have fiber animals, this event will be much more appealing to us. Still, though, it was nice to see what it had to offer. The only thing we bought was some fudge from The Sweet Shoppe of Hodgenville, KY. Its odd that they keep showing up at events we attend, as we first became aware of them when we ran across their store while visiting Hodgenville. While in Lexington we also stopped by one of the farmers markets, so we could stock up on seasoning blends from Herb'N Renewal, which is pretty much the only place we buy from anymore, since we try to make most of our blends at home.

This morning Andrea worked in the herb garden. At last count she has planted nineteen different plant varieties, with several more still planned. Most of what she has planted so far have been culinary herbs, with only one flower I believe. Much of what is left, though, are medicinal herbs and flowers.

While Andrea was working in the herb garden I worked in the main garden spreading mulch. I had spread leaf mulch a couple of weeks ago over part of the area where we plan to plant the tomatoes and peppers. It turns out, however, that the way I did it left half of the rows of tomatoes un-mulched, while an area that we will not use for some time is mulched. I rake up the mulch from the one area, and used it to finish mulching around the tomatoes. This is a good example of where lack of planning resulted in quite a bit of extra work. Hopefully we'll get better with that in the future.

After finishing up the mulch around the tomatoes I loaded up a couple bales of straw to use for mulching the potatoes. Rather than hilling up dirt around the potatoes as they grow we are trying mulch this year. After completing the mulching its much easier to see, at a glance, how the plants are doing. So far the Kennebecs have had the best rate of sprouting. The Yukon Gold, however, have the tallest plants. The Pontiacs are behind in both sprouting rate and height, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they will come around.

It began raining while I was mulching, but I wanted to finish the job before coming in. Because of the threat of rain I decided to work in the dry for my next project. After lunch I worked on building a rain barrel. For the most part I based my design on what I learned from the Field to Fork Festival last year.  Overall the barrel went together fairly well, but I want to pick up a few things before doing the others. Most notably I need to buy a new drill bit that is closer in size to the thread cutter I am using. I also need to pick up some concrete blocks to use for setting the barrel. Once I've finished the project I'll do a post based on everything I learned.

This evening we went on another hunt for wildflowers. Andrea had explored one area a few days ago, but wasn't able to get to some others areas due to the mud. We found a couple of new plants we hadn't seen before, but there wasn't really a whole lot in bloom. Unfortunately most of what is in bloom is the invasive Rosa multiflora, which means we have some serious work to do if we want to try to get rid of it.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Today turned out to be another productive day. Much more productive, in fact, that I had expected since the weather forecast had been calling for rain. It turns out, however, that most of the rain missed us, and it only sprinkled for around 30 minutes just as I was getting off from work.

Before that, however, Andrea had to take Jack to the vet. She noticed a place on the inside of his leg, which was obviously bothering him. As we began to pay more attention we saw that he was limping, and was less active than normal. Fortunately our vet is very flexible and was able to see him today. It turns out this problem was related to the gunshot wound he sustained back in late February. The bullet is still embedded in his leg, and had become infected. They gave us some antibiotics to give him, and scheduled surgery for next week to remove the bullet.

I really hadn't decided ahead of time what I was going to work on this evening. I noticed, though, that the backyard was mostly dried up for a change, which I had been waiting on before trying to clean the ditches. With rain in the forecast for the next three days I thought it was a good time to try to get them cleaned out while I had the opportunity.

I used the tractor with the middle buster to clean the ditches as I had done before. I was able to do a more thorough job this time. However, I've come to realize that it isn't an easy task. This is partially because the terrain is so uneven, since the ditch is along the base of an incline. The other issue is that following an existing ditch that curves is much more difficult than I expected.

The middle buster pushes the dirt out to either side, leaving it piled up along the ditch. Because most of the ditch runs along the base of an incline I do not want dirt piled up on the upper side, as it will prevent water from entering the ditch, and will eventually just be washed into the ditch, filling it back in. Because of this, I had quite a bit of work to do with hand tools after finishing with the tractor.

For part of the ditch all I had to do was use a hoe to pull the dirt from the upper side of the ditch across to the lower side. The result is that the berm along the lower side gets built up, which should prevent the ditch from overflowing as easily. In some places this still needs to be built up, as it is only a few inches above ground level, but in other areas it is close to a foot tall.

Other parts of the ditch were not as easy, however, and required a shovel and mattock to finish up. In these areas the dirt was saturated with water. I know it only makes sense, but I feel that its worth stating, mud is much heavier than dry dirt! Luckily I was able to pile a lot of this dirt/mud along the lower edge of the parts of the ditch that regularly overflow, which I am hoping will help to keep the backyard dry. The ditch itself can't be due any deeper due to rock, so my only options are to build up the berm along the lower edge, or chip out a section of the rock itself. Piling up dirt is certainly the easier option.

Cleaning out ditches is not something I am accustom to, so it tires me out quickly. I ended up not being able to completely finish the job, but did get around 170 of the 215 feet cleaned out, which I'm pleased with. The section that I left unfinished is mostly in a level area, so having dirt on the upperside isn't as big of a concern as the section running along the incline.

While I was working on the ditch Andrea was planting herbs in the herb garden. She was able to get several things planted, and could have done more if not for the fact that we still need to finish up the stepping stones. Hopefully we can get that done soon so she can finish planting.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Today was a very tiring, yet productive day. We decided to transplant the tomato plants to the garden today, which turned out to be a fairly big job, even though we only did twenty plants. I lunch I loaded the push mower into the RTV and got it ready to take to the garden for one last pass over the rye that was trying to grow back. After work I went over and mowed, which only took a few minutes since I only needed to mow an area about half the size of before, as the other area is now mulched.

It was unseasonably warm yesterday, with temperatures in the upper 80s. The garden was still in full sun when I finished mowing, so I didn't think we should start planting right away, since Andrea can't tolerate being in direct sun for extended periods. I knew that we would need to water the tomatoes after transplanting, so I decided to go ahead and haul some water while it was hot, since I would be in the shade most of the time while doing that. I placed a 30 gallon plastic drum near the garden for storing the water. I then use buckets and jugs to haul water up from the creek to fill the drum. I ended up hauling about 35 gallon of water, which should give us enough to water the plants a couple of times more at least.

By the time I finished hauling water the sun had gone down enough that the garden was in shade, so we got started with planting. I'll do a separate post on the topic, so won't go into details here. It was dark by the time we finished.

Using the Swisher Trailcutter Mower in the Offset Position

I previously wrote a post about my Swisher Trailcutter mower. I've also mentioned it several times in my daily posts, as it is my primary mower. When I originally wrote about it, I mentioned the offset capability, but indicated that I never used it. I had no intention of offsetting the mower at the time, but have since changed my mind.

There were several reasons that I hadn't considered offsetting the mower a good option for me. The first was that the hitch bar was held into position by bolts, so adjusting its angle required keeping a wrench or ratchet on hand to remove them. If I were going to keep the mower in that position permanently that would not be a big deal, but around here there are just situations where having the mower offset doesn't work. That brings me to my second point, which is maneuvering the mower when it is offset. I do a lot of my mowing with the RTV, which is nearly five feet wide. With the mower in offset position, I need an area at least seven to eight feet through which to pass. There are several areas that I mow where this just isn't possible. This is made worse when it comes to areas in which I have to make tight turns, since the RTV and mower combined are close to twenty feet long. The last reason I had never considered offsetting the mower was that it seemed most useful for those towing the mower behind a riding mower, where the offset would allow them to mow a wider area than either mower could by itself. Obviously that isn't my situation, so offsetting the mower doesn't result in mowing a wider area or completing the job any faster than towing it directly behind the RTV or four-wheeler.

Recently, however, I realized that offsetting the mower when cutting down the rye in the garden would be beneficial. Because the rye was so tall, I knew that my normal mowing method would result in much of it being pressed down by the tires of the RTV so much that it was below the height of the blades, even with the mower at its lowest setting. To make this easier, I replaced the bolts holding the hitch bar in position with a couple of hitch pins, which could be removed and put back in place much more quickly. I found that this worked well for mowing the rye, other than when it came time to back up. The mower isn't easy to back up in the best of situations, but is much more difficult when offset. I ended up just circling the garden after each pass, rather than wasting time trying to back up for the next pass.

Since offsetting the mower to mow the rye worked well I decided to try it for mowing some tall grass across the road that I hoped to later rake for mulch. The same reasoning applied here, regarding the need to avoid pressing down the grass with the tow vehicle before it was mowed. One change, however, is that I used the four-wheeler this time instead of the RTV. I had never mowed with the four-wheeler in that area, but Andrea was using the RTV and I didn't want to ask her to stop what she was doing. I found that the four-wheeler worked even better than the RTV with the offset mower, because it isn't as wide. The result is that it took less time to mow, as I could step over farther with each pass while still keeping the four-wheeler tires in the already mowed area. The narrower four-wheeler also helped to alleviate one of the issues mentioned above.

While I had the mower offset I also used it to mow along the edge of the driveway. There is a fairly narrow strip there that I like to keep mowed, that ranges from maybe two to six feet wide. Normally this is a pain to mow, because of tree branches and briars that overhang and get in the way of the tow vehicle. When the mower is offset, however, it stays below those obstacles, while me and the tow vehicle are off to the side, beyond their reach. With three quick passes I had the area mowed, and it was much simpler than it had ever been before.

Now that I have more experience with offsetting the mower, and have simplified the process of adjusting it, I think I'll use it offset more often. In fact, I think that the next time I mow the yard I'll likely try it offset. I suspect that there may be even more advantages of doing so that I haven't yet discovered. There are still plenty of cases where pulling the mower directly behind the tow vehicle will be necessary I'm sure. That is the nice thing about having the offset ability, it provides the flexibility to adjust for different situations.

Monday, May 13, 2013


I still wasn't feeling well when I got up this morning, but by the time I finished with work I was feeling pretty much back to normal. I got out the string trimmer for the first time this evening and trimmed around the trailer, along obstacles in the yard, and along the edge of the yard. Its funny how tiring such a task can be the first time I do it each year. When I was initially clearing the land I'd use the trimmer for several hours a day, every weekend. Today, though, just an hour of use gave me a sore back and arms.

While I was mowing, Andrea worked in her herb garden. She did some weeding as well as pulling up some rogue mint. The mint from last year had spread beyond is intended area. This past weekend at the Herb & Craft Festival a lady suggested a couple of ways to prevent mint from growing outside of a specific area. I'm not sure if Andrea plans to try one of those suggestions, or just try to keep it under control manually.

Once I finished my mowing I helped Andrea in the herb garden. We worked on placing more stepping stones. Progress went a little quicker today than in the past, and we were able to get four more stones placed.

We could probably have worked for another hour, but I had to be inside for a call for work at 8:30 PM. Rather than work right up to that time we decided to stop at 7:30 so I would have time to take a shower and eat before the call. Otherwise it was going to be 9:30 before I could eat dinner.

The weather forecast is calling for scattered frost tonight, but we're taking a chance and not covering the strawberries. The chances of it frosting here seem much less likely that last night, and I don't think that the uncovered strawberries were actually damaged last night. We did, however, bring in the tomatoes. We have been leaving them outside during the day, to harden them off, and had planned to leave them outside tonight and tomorrow night, then plan them on Wednesday. We didn't want to risk leaving them out if it might frost, however, so will probably end up just leaving them out one night before planting.

Choosing Between Local Products and Those with Less Packaging

This weekend, while grocery shopping, we were faced with an interesting dilemma. Lately we have been trying to buy all of our chicken from Pike Valley Farm in Lancaster, KY. We have found that they do not often have packaged chicken breast at their farm store, but it is available a the Good Foods Market, so we buy it there. We prefer buying directly from the farm, especially since the price is the same, meaning the farm gets more of the money when we buy direct. However, we like to support Good Foods as well, so have no problem with buying from them, especially when we can't buy directly from the farm.

This past weekend our plan was to stop by Pike Valley Farm before going on into Lexington. We were running ahead of schedule, however, and would have had to kill an hour before the farm store was open. Since we were able to buy ground beef, which we had also planned to get at Pike Valley, at the Marksbury Farm Market we decided to just skip Pike Valley Farm.

Good Foods did have Pike Valley Farm chicken breast, as expected. However, what we did not expect, is that all of the packages were single breast packs. Since we planned to buy approximately fifteen pounds, this was going to result in a lot of packaging material. On the other hand, another brand of chicken was available in packs of two or four.

The only real benefit to buying the Pike Valley chicken was it being local. We use to eat the other brand, before discovering Pike Valley, so knew that it met all of our other criteria. It was also quite a bit cheaper, which would likely be enough for many people to make the decision. We prioritize buying local, however, when we can, so price in itself isn't enough to influence our choice. The amount of packaging, however, was the one real sticking point.

In the end we decided that the additional packaging was just too much to justify the purchase of the Pike Valley product. As much as we wanted to buy local, we just couldn't bring ourselves to do so when there was a perfectly good non-local alternative that would result in much less waste going to the landfill. It is worth noting that the farm is in no way responsible for the amount of packaging. They sell whole chickens to Good Foods, where they are broken down and packaged. For whatever reason, the store had decided to package their Pike Valley breasts in single packs. I think that before our next visit we may try contacting the store and request some packages of Pike Valley breasts be prepared in larger packs. They may not be able to fulfil our request, but it is worth asking.

What I've learned from this experience is that even when we think we know the best products to buy, there are sometimes additional variables which, once considered, cause us to change our minds. This doesn't just apply to buying food, and doesn't just apply in cases of buying local or trying to minimize packaging. There are countless variables to influence our purchasing decisions, and the prioritization of those different variables vary from one person to the next.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


I had plans to get a lot done today, but things didn't quite work out as I hoped. I spent the morning installing new blades on the mower. That wasn't a difficult task, but was time consuming because I had a lot of trouble getting the bolts out that held the blades in place. Replacing the blades gave me an opportunity to try out the new set of ramps I had bought. They worked great for the mower, and made working under it much easier than trying to lift it with a chain, which is what I had done in the past.

Once the new blades were installed I hooked to the mower and mowed the front yard. I had thought that the sound I was hearing before was caused by the blades being loose, but it is still happening, so it must be something different. The noise wasn't too bad at first, but by the time I finished it had gotten much worse than before. I also experienced a new problem, with the blades not engaging when I first put the lever into the engaged position. The very last time I tried engaging them, they would not engage at all. I'm thinking that the problem is that the belt is slipping, which could be caused by a bad bearing, that might also explain the noise. I need to do some research into that possibility.

Even with the problems I did manage to mow the front yard, along the driveway, and a section across the road. When mowing along the driveway I positioned the mower so it was offset to the right, which worked very well. I used it in the same position across the road, and it also worked well there. I am considering switching to using offset for all mowing, since it seems to work so much better.

I was considering getting the tractor out, after I finished mowing, and trying to rake the clippings across the road. Just before finishing with my mowing, however, I started to feel sick. I ended up going into the house, and napping. I didn't feel much better when I woke up, so just went back out for long enough to put away the mower and tools, check on the garden, and help Andrea cover the strawberries with sheets, due to the frost warning in tonight's weather forecast.

Andrea spent several hours working on her herb garden today. She has almost completed the border along the front edge of it, which makes it look much better than before. We still have a lot of work to do on the stepping stones, but I'm hopeful that we can get it finished before time to get everything planted. If we don't manage to finish, at least the front edge will be done.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


We had a busy day today away from the property. There was an event in Lancaster that Andrea wanted to join, which fortunately coincided with the Spring Owner Discount Days at the Good Foods Market.

The event Andrea wanted to attend in Lancaster was the annual Herb & Craft Festival. It was a small event, with maybe ten vendors setup, selling various items. We actually knew two of the vendors, and stopped to chat with them. Maria, from Wonder of Life Farm was there, and she gave us an update on some of the things happening at their place. Deborah, from Halcomb's Knob, who is the organizer of the Field to Fork Festival, was also there. We chatted with her about the upcoming F2F festival, and tried a couple of the cinnamon rolls she was selling. The only other item that we bought was a eucalyptus plant.

After leaving the festival we headed to the Marksbury Farm market. Our original plan was to go to Pike Valley Farm after leaving there, but we were running so early we would have had to kill nearly an hour before their farm store was open. Instead we decided to buy ground beef from Marksbury Farm, and hope that Good Foods had Pike Valley chicken breast in stock.

Since we were running early, and skipped Pike Valley Farm completely, we made it to Lexington much earlier than expected. This allowed us to add an unplanned stop, at Fayette Seed Company. We picked up a bag of bone meal there, although later found that we could have just waited and bought it at Good Foods. I also went into the tractor dealership next door and looked at a pto driven wood chipper, which is similar to a used one I'm considering calling about sometime.

Our next stop was the Good Foods Market, where we did some serious grocery shopping. We really didn't have that many  items on the shopping list, but much of what we did buy were items that we like to stock up on while there. Andrea also picked up a few items for us to try, including couscous, quinoa, and some celtic sea salt.

Since we were in the area, we stopped by the nearby fabric store so Andrea could look for fabric for an upcoming project. We then went in search of food, since it was getting late and we hadn't eaten anything since the cinnamon rolls this morning. Andrea was in the mood for a burger, and I wanted somewhere we could sit and relax, so we ended up at Ted's Montana Grill. I normally don't talk about specific restaurants on the blog, but I thought Ted's was worth a mention. While their food is expensive, it is very high quality. I really like the fact that they offer bison, which I get, in addition to ground beef. I also appreciate the fact that Ted's uses environmentally friendly products such as paper straws and efficient lighting. There aren't many restaurants whose website has a link labeled Sustainability right next to Menu and Locations. Even if I didn't love the food, I'd still want to support a place like this, in hopes that other restaurants would follow their lead.

After eating we went in search of some wine which, as I've mentioned before, we have started cooking with. I had thought that we'd have to visit a local winery to find Kentucky made wine, but we found a store with a wide selection from Kentucky wineries, so was able to pick up a couple of bottles from different ones to try.

After a couple of other small stops we headed home. It was getting late by the time we made it, so after carrying in the groceries we spent the remainder of the day relaxing.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Lids and Straws for Restaurant Drinks

I am always looking for ways to reduce waste. I especially like to find small changes that can be made to accomplish this, as those seem the easiest to implement and stick with. I've recently noticed that Andrea and I have both been taking some of these small steps to reduce waste when we eat out at restaurants.

While we try not to eat fast food a lot, we do still have it at least a few times per month. When getting our drinks, we have both stopped getting a lid for our cups. While I'm sure there are situations where using a lid makes sense, I haven't found any situations in which one is necessary for me when dining in. Since using a lid isn't necessary, I see no point in being wasteful and getting one. Every lid that I choose not to use is one less lid that ends up in the landfill. The lids I do not use will never add up to a whole lot, since we don't eat fast food that much, but every small step that we make has a small impact. Eventually these add up to more significant impacts, especially if others join us.

I have also started to reduce my use of straws in restaurants. I still sometimes get them out of habit, or when my water comes with a lemon wedge that I want to stir into the drink. However, I see no reason that I can't entirely cut out my use of straws the same as I have lids. Like lids, the impact is small, but the effort is also very small.

Atlas Nitrile Gardening Gloves

I wear gloves almost any time I am outside working. Normally I wear a pair of leather work gloves, which provide good protection for my hands. I tend to wear these gloves out quickly, though, which I think is primarily because I use them for tasks that result in getting them wet. I applied oil to the last pair I bought, but still want to prevent getting them wet unnecessarily. I noticed that often when I get the gloves wet it is doing a task that really doesn't require the protection of leather, such as working in the garden.

Andrea had a pair of Atlas Nitrile Gardening Gloves, which seemed like good gloves for working in the garden or in soil in general. I decided to get a pair for myself to see how I liked them. Originally the place we ordered them from had size Extra-Large in only one color, black, which was my preferred color anyway. When it came time to order, though, we found that the largest size offered was Large. Andrea contacted them and they verified that they no longer carried the XL, but they suggested that Large would likely fit, and offered to pay for return shipping if they did not. I have big hands, so was skeptical, but to my surprise the Large gloves fit very well.

Now that I've started using them, these gloves have surpassed my expectations. They offer adequate protection for most gardening tasks. I suspect that these gloves would probably prove sufficient for any gardening tasks other than maybe working with plants that have thorns, such as blackberries, raspberries, or roses.

Where the gloves really shine, though, is with their thinness, flexibility, and fit. Leather gloves are bulky, and often have to be removed to do anything require dexterity. That is not the case for these gloves, however. I can do almost anything with these gloves that I could do without gloves. Because of this I have found myself reaching for these gloves more and more.

I also really like the fact that these gloves fit tightly, which prevents material from getting into the glove. When handling loose material by hand I find that I have to regularly remove my leather gloves to shake them out. There is no risk of this with the Atlas Nitrile Gloves, however. They fit so tightly around the wrist that it would be very difficult for anything to get into the glove. At the same time, however, the fit is comfortable, unlike some of the leather gloves with straps that allow them to be tightened around the wrist. In the past, when spreading mulch such as straw and leaves, I would often end up taking my gloves off and just doing it with bare hands. The Atlas Nitrile Gloves work perfectly for these tasks, however.

These gloves are not a replacement for a good pair of leather work gloves, at least not for me. However, I believe they are a fantastic supplement to a good pair of leather gloves. For anyone needing gloves primarily for garden work, these may very well be all that you need. I am certainly very happy with my decision to buy a pair, and suspect that I'll be using them for years to come.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Today was one of those days where it seemed like I just kept jumping from one task to another. At lunch I took out some compost and checked on the garden. While digging in the compost I noticed that the excessive rain we've gotten lately had left all but the outer few inches soggy, which isn't a good condition for a compost pile. After work I decided to turn the pile, which I don't do nearly often enough. With my old setup this was a difficult task, but it isn't a big deal now that I have plenty of room. I simply recreated the pile, next to where it was located. There were several yellow jackets flying around the pile, which concerned me. Apparently they were not nesting, however, as they never tried to attack me. I'm assuming they were just attracted by something, such as the pineapple I had added earlier. I also saw a small snake in the pile, which I've not been able to identify. I am fairly confident, however, that it wasn't poisonous.

After turning the compost I hauled another load of leaves to use as mulch. The thin layer I had applied to the garden earlier was apparently too thin as weeds are already starting to grow through it. I added another layer to a portion of it, but still need to haul at least another load or two to finish that section up. I think that I'll probably have to switch back to straw soon, unless I can start getting enough grass clippings to do the job.

While I was hauling mulch Andrea was sorting through our rock pile, looking for some rocks to use in the herb garden. After applying my load of mulch I helped her haul some up to the herb garden and placed them as stepping stones. We now have close to fifteen feet completed, which isn't quite half of what we have to do. She has a little more than fifteen feet of the edging done. It has been a time consuming project, but I think it will be well worth it when we finish.

Once we finished in the herb garden for the night we went hunting for wildflowers. I had seen one earlier that we hadn't photographed yet, so we wanted to be sure to get it. We also spotted one that we had seen before, but hadn't gotten a photo of before the rains washed it away.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I haven't accomplished a whole lot the past couple of days. On Tuesday I worked in the office in London. We didn't have our gardening 101 class afterwards, so I ran a few errands. This included picking up some wing nuts and bolts for a project I have in the works, and buying a set of ramps that I can pull the mower up on when working on it. I also went in search of a store that sells blades for the mower, but only found parts for a different Swisher model. I ended up just ordering a new set of blades, as well as a new belt, so I'd have it on hand for when I need it.

Today at lunch I went to check on the plants again that I hope are Lady Slippers. They are still not flowering, however. I also checked on the garden while I was out, and found that the potatoes are looking good, with some of the plants being about eight inches tall. All four of the plants in the potato tower have sprouted, although the ones in the front aren't doing nearly as well as those in the back. I suspect this is because those in the front are being shaded much of the day by the container they are in. This isn't something I had considered, so will have to think of ways of addressing that if we do it again next year.

It was raining again by the time I got off of work, so I wasn't able to get outside to do anything. We decided to try to be productive, though, and work on window screens. Several of the screens in our windows need replaced, due to their age. We have put new screen in some of the frames, but have a few frames that need to be replaced. We've had the materials on hand for some time to do this, so decided today was a good time to give it a shot. We assembled a frame for the large window in the living room, because that window will be the most useful for airflow, as it is directly across from another window, and because it opens onto the porch, can be left open even when it is raining. Unfortunately, however, we found that the frame bowed inward in the center, possibly from attempting to get the screen tight. This bowing leaves a gap, that is close to an inch in the middle, which sort of negates the benefits of installing a screen in the first place. We decided to give up on the project for now, and think about some options for dealing with this before we attempt it again.

What If We Had No Internet Access?

For my second post in the What if.... Series I have chosen the internet as my topic of choice. Internet access is an interesting topic, to me, because it wasn't very long ago that it was considered a luxury, rather than a necessity. In many areas this is still the case.

It is hard for me to believe that the internet as we know it today, the world wide web, has only been in existence for twenty years. I have been a regular user of the internet for more than 75% of that time, and was an occasional user only a couple of years after its inception. Today the internet plays a very important role in my life, and has more of direct impact on me than nearly any other technology.

Obviously this blog would not be possible without the internet. That, however, is only scratching the surface. I use the internet for work, entertainment, communication, education, and research. Fortunately, however, I am not one of those people who has become reliant on always available internet access via a mobile device, so there are at least some aspects of my life it has not yet invaded.

Lack of internet would have nowhere near the impact on my life that lack of electricity would. However, there would be some very real impacts that would require significant changes in my life. The first of these is related to my job. Having access to high speed internet allows me to work from home 80% of the time. That ability was a key factor when we were choosing land to purchase, as distance from my workplace was less important than if I were going to the office daily. I save nearly two gallon of gas each day that I work from home instead of going to the office, which works out to monetary savings of close to $28 per week. Perhaps the biggest savings, however, is the time savings. By working from home I am able to save 90 minutes per that would otherwise be spent driving. This has a direct impact on the amount of work I am able to get done around the house. This is especially true during the summer, when the best time to work is often early in the morning, before time to start work.

Lack of internet access would also create a real obstacle to my ability to research and learn about new topics, which would impact my path towards sustainable living in many ways. I rely on the internet, in addition to a few other resources, for information on topics such as gardening, learning about alternative building or renewable energy, and researching products so that I can chose the most long-lasting, or those whose manufacture has the least environmental impact. When we planted corn a few days ago, for example, Andrea did some quick research to determine the depth at which the seeds should be planted and the distance between plants. In the past much of this information was passed down from one generation to the next, but, sadly, that rarely seems to happen these days.

As much a I rely on the internet, however, there is no doubt in my mind that I could easily survive without it. Clearly people lived without the internet for millennia, and many are still doing so today. I lived without internet for the first 15-16 years of my life, and my parents lived without it until only recently. Life without internet would not be an easy adjustment, though. I suspect that without the internet I would find myself unable to do quite as much, and unable to tackle new projects quite as quickly. Every new skill would require longer to learn, without readily available information. Each new crop in the garden would require more years of experimentation, without access to others who have already made and learned from the mistakes. Perhaps most unfortunate is that I wouldn't know about the many different methods of doing a given task, but would likely just do whatever my parents, or whomever else I learned from, did. That would probably mean that rather employing organic methods or gardening we would be doing the same as my parents and my neighbors, and relying on chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Unlike other technologies, the internet is not something I am currently working to reduce my dependence on. I think of it as a tool, but it is a tool I do not wish to do without. Yes, I could survive without internet access, but I would very much prefer not to.

Monday, May 6, 2013


It rained nearly all day today. There were a few periods of sunshine around midday, but that was soon replaced by storms. Thankfully it was raining during lunch, so I was able to get outside for a bit. It was very wet, so I normally would not have even bothered to go out.

The last time we had gone out looking for wildflowers we spotted a plant with a very distinct arrangement of leaves, but now flowers. After that I saw a photo that someone posted on the Kentucky Native Plant Society Facebook page of Pink Lady Slipper with leaves that looked very much like that plant we had seen. I'm hoping to catch the plant in bloom, to see if it is a Lady Slipper, so used my lunch break to check on it. Unfortunately it has yet to bloom, so I'll have to check back in a day or two.

I wanted to do something productive after work, so I went out to the shed and worked on trying to get things organized. I managed to accomplish a few things, but my progress was severely restricted by the two large dogs that I had to keep stepping over or around. Luke and Jack had both gone with me to the shed, and after exploring for a brief period they both decided to take a nap. The she isn't that large to begin with (11' x 12'), and because it is cluttered there isn't a lot of open floor space. Add in two large dogs, and open space was very limited. After an hour or so I finally gave up and headed back to the house.

We also began the process of hardening off the tomato transplants today. We put them on a shelf on the front porch for the day, and took them back in after dark. We'll do that for several days, before exposing them to a full sun environment and/or outside conditions for overnight. I'm hopeful that we can plant them later this week, if the weather cooperates.

Corn Planting 2013

This is our first year attempting to grow corn, so I'm very interested to see how things go. Corn is one of the items that we like to buy from local farmers in quantity and freeze for long term storage, so it would be great to be able to produce our own.

I didn't do a whole lot of prep work ahead of time for the corn. We planted it in an area of the garden that had been planted in cover crops, so I basically just mowed those down as low as I could, and didn't do anything else ahead of time. I would have liked to have been able to amend the soil with compost, but we didn't have any compost available in sufficient quantities, and so I decided to save it for when we transplant the tomatoes and peppers.

We had considered doing a modified three sisters planting, but changed our mind at the last minute. I say modified because we were only going to actually plant two of the three components, as we don't like beans, and planned to use pumpkins in place of squash as the vining component.

Even though we didn't end up doing a three sisters planting, we did base our planting on the idea of a 10' by 10' block. Since corn is wind pollinated it is important to plant multiple rows, rather than a single long row, so that pollination can occur from multiple directions. We intended to plant three rows, spaced five feet apart, but ended up doing four rows because we had seed left and some extra space. We may find that the five feet spacing is more than we need, but I wanted to allow plenty of room to get between rows. We can adjust next year if needed.

I normally do a very bad job of creating straight rows, so decided to spend some extra time to get this right on the corn. We marked each row off by setting wooden stakes at each end, then running some baling twine, that I had saved from the straw I had spread earlier, between them. After doing the first row, we measured over five feet, reset the stakes, and repeated. I did make the mistake of starting my measurements from the edge of the garden, rather than the other crops, so the rows do not run perfectly parallel to the potatoes, but that's just a minor annoyance.

Since corn only needs to be covered with an inch or so of soil, we decided to just use a hoe to create a shallow furrow to plant into. Andrea had seen a video that showed how to use a Winged Weeder to create a furrow, so we tried that at first. Maybe it is due to an issue with sharpness, but it seemed that this tool did little more than scratch the surface, and was going to require several passes to create even an inch deep furrow. I decided, instead, to use a Warren Hoe, that we had found in the storage shed when we originally purchased the trailer. This hoe worked much better, and with just two passes, I was able to create a furrow that was more than sufficient for our needs.

Once the furrows were ready, I added some blood meal, and incorporated it into the soil. I didn't use any measurements to determine how much to use, and am sure that I didn't apply it consistently. The purpose of the blood meal is to add some additional nitrogen, since corn is such a heavy feeder. I will most likely also be adding more blood meal once the plants get twelve inches tall or so, as well as trying some other methods or adding nitrogen.

With the furrows created and blood meal added, all that remained was to drop the seed and cover. We spaced the seed twelve inches apart, although many people suggest planting closer initially, then thinning to twelve inches. I'm not a big fan of over seeding, but since we had so much seed left, it probably wouldn't have been a bad idea. After lightly covering the seeds with soil, we were finished. Normally I would have watered, but the weather forecast was calling for rain, so we didn't think it was necessary. In the past relying on rain has been a mistake, but this time the rain came less than an hour after planting, so it was the right decision.

The variety of corn that we planted is Incredible, which is a sugar-enhanced hybrid. This variety is, by far, my favorite of those I have tested. In the past we have sometimes had trouble finding farmers to purchase Incredible from, so that is yet another benefit to growing our own. We will likely begin experimenting with heritage varieties at some point, and I suspect I may have to adjust my expectations a bit when we do. We planted our corn on May 4th, which means we aren't likely to be able to harvest until the end of July or even early August. We should probably have either planted a bit earlier, or also planted an early maturing variety. That is something we may consider doing next year.

Edit: The seed from this planting never sprouted, so we've replanted with new seed. I did a few things differently, which I describe in Corn Planting 2013 - Take 2

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Things are getting busy enough around here that I'm having trouble remembering what I did on which day. Luckily my Day to Day blog entries make it easy to go back and figure that out, provided I write an entry each day. When I skip a day, like Friday, it takes me some time to figure out what I need to write about.

On Friday evening Andrea and I worked in the garden together. She pulled weeds, and manged to get them all pulled from the potato patch. While she did that I spread mulch over a portion of the area where the rye had been planted. I used the rest of the leafs and debris I had piled up previously, so now need to go haul some more. I managed to cover an area measuring approximately 12' by 19', where the tomatoes and peppers will be planted. My thought behind mulching now is that it will help to prevent weeds from growing, while also helping the clippings from the rye decompose more quickly.

After finishing up in the garden we went across the road in search on some garlic mustard that she had spotted when taking inventory of the wildflowers over there. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an invasive species, and is considered a noxious or restricted plant in much of the US. She had only noticed one plant originally, but upon further inspection we found several more. We pulled all that we saw, and placed in a black trash bag, so the seeds would not be spread.

This morning we got up early and drove to London. While Andrea attended a quilting club meeting I ran a few errands, including finding a store where we could buy polypropylene baling twine to use for tying up the tomato plants later in the season. After her meeting we stopped by Rock Bottom Stables & Soap Company, which we had first become aware of at the Kentucky Green Living Fair. We picked up a couple bars of soap as well as a bar of their shave soap that I have been wanting to try.

Next we went to the Laurel County Master Gardeners Flower & Garden Show, which was the primary reason for going to London today. While there Andrea picked up a few herb plants that she needed for the herb garden. I also tried a sample of several types of pesto, most of which I had never tried before. I liked the roasted red pepper pesto, and may try making it at home sometime.

The weather forecast had been calling for rain, so I expected that we wouldn't be able to accomplish anything outside after returning home. By the time we got home, however, they had pushed the call for rain off several hours, so after having lunch and relaxing a bit, we headed outside. Andrea went in search of more wildflowers for her log, and I tagged along. We found a few that she hadn't seen before, but had to cut the project short when the camera battery died.

We also managed to get some work done in the garden. We planted four short rows of corn, which is one task I was really hoping to get done. It actually didn't take very long, and would have been much quicker if we hadn't taken such pains to ensure straight rows and even spacing of the seeds. After finishing up with the corn we decided to weed the raspberries, which is what we were doing when the rain started. We were able to get that finished, and get back home in time to put the tools away before the rain picked up. It has been raining steadily ever since.

Friday, May 3, 2013


The weather this time of year is perfect for me, at at least when it isn't raining. Today I was able to get outside before work, during my lunch break, and after lunch, which makes for a very productive day.

I got up early and weeded the garlic. It wasn't terribly weedy, but I'm trying to make sure it doesn't get overtaken the way our garlic has in the past. It took about an hour to thoroughly weed the bed, which isn't bad. Most of the weeds pulled out easily, due to the looseness of the soil. While weeding I noticed three stalks of Koren Red growing right together. I suspect this must have been from a split, since I had counted cloves before planting, and that matched up to what I planted. I pulled two of the three, and will use them for green garlic.

Weeding of the area where I planted seeds, in hopes of having some scallions this spring, wasn't quite as easy. The blades of those plants aren't very tall or well pronounced, making it difficult to tell what is garlic and what are weeds in some cases. I have also realized that planting seeds isn't really giving me the results that I had hoped, because the slow growth means that the scallions aren't ready much earlier than the actual garlic. It probably makes more sense to plant additional cloves, and harvest some of those in the spring has green garlic.

During lunch I went out for 30 minutes or so, and did a few small tasks, but nothing major. It was just nice to get outside for a bit, after sitting at the computer for several hours. I headed back out immediately after work. My first task of the evening was to tackle the ramp kit again. I thought it might go better if I cut the 2x8s on an angle, so I tried that. I'm not sure that helped a lot, but while I had them held down with clamps I decided to try driving the ends onto the boards again. The combination of having the boards held in place by clamps and the heavier hammer I was using seemed to have helped, because I was able to get them installed. I'm not entirely happy with the result, especially of one of them, and might take them off and reinstall at some point, but they work for now.

Next I loaded the push mower into the bed of the RTV, using the ramps, and took it to the garden. I used it to make another pass over the rye, to ensure it was mowed down nice and short. The pass I made with the big mower was probably sufficient, but it doesn't cut quite as short as I had wanted to mow the rye. While I had the mower over there I also made a few passes around the edge of the garden, because its hard to get really close to the edge with the big mower. I also mowed around the potato tower similarly. I had been planning to use the string trimmer to mow around the raspberries, but decided to just do that with the push mower as well.

After I finished mowing I got out the chainsaw and began cutting limbs from a tree near the garden that is in the way. I plan to eventually cut it down, but removing some limbs helped. I might would have gone ahead and cut it down, after removing the limbs, but I ran out of gas. I had taken the gas can over with me, but was unable to get the gas cap off of the chainsaw. I had issues with it when I last used it, and will probably have to use a wrench or something similar to get the leverage I need to remove it. I need to figure out why it is so hard to screw on and off. I went ahead and moved the limbs I cut to one of the brush piles, and also picked up a few more limbs to add to the piles while I was at it.

It was a very productive day, and I still made it back inside in plenty of time to relax a bit before bedtime. Hopefully I can have several more days that work out like this.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Today was a productive day. During my lunch break I went over to the garden to check things out. Most of the onions had sprouted, so I went ahead and applied a thin layer of mulch over the bed. I used the leaves and other debris I had collected that had been left by the recent high water.

After work I removed the plastic from the front porch, because it has started to get really hot out there. After that I hooked up the mower and mowed the front yard. I had planned to not use the mower until I had a chance to tighten the blades, but the yard really needed mowed, so I decided to use it one more time. I had planned to buy a set of ramps while in London on Tuesday, to use for getting the mower up off the ground so I could work under it. The store with the best price on them, however, was out of stock, so I decided to wait.

After finishing with the big mower I got out the push mower. I used it to mow the backyard and the side yard, around the clothesline. While I had it out, I went ahead and mowed along the edges of the strawberry bed, which is very difficult to do with the big mower.

While I was mowing Andrea worked on the herb garden. She has been taking up the rocks we were using for the front edge, and replacing them with other rocks, stacked differently. The new edge will look a lot better, and should be more effective as well. She's made a lot of progress, but still has quite a bit more work to do before its finished.