Friday, April 29, 2011

Sugar Magnolias - Nature Composed

Tuesday morning, as I drank my hot tea, I logged into Facebook to see who was posting their "status"... to see what friends and family were up to.  I read a few interesting statuses, and then I came to my daughter's status.  Her's had a link to her blog -- a blog devoted to her business, Sugar Magnolias - Nature Composed.  I'd known she was updating her website, but I did not know she was using it as a blog.

I clicked on the link she provided, and was treated to some beautiful photos of trees and flowers blooming in the April gardens in the Charlottesville, VA area.  I was particularly impressed with her use of cinder blocks as "mini gardens" for her pansies and succulents.  A very attractive way to make a border, I thought.
Link to the blog here:  Nature Composed

I have to admit, I have reached the age where my daughter is teaching me things... not things I'd once known and forgotten, not things I wish I'd never known....interesting things.  For instance, I'm pretty certain I'd never in my life stopped to consider the preying mantis...other than to admire the creature when I found one on my window.  But Jenn has a nice photo of a preying mantis nest.  In that tiny thing, apparently, there are 100-200 future preying mantises, soon to be performing beneficial work in her gardens.
Preying Mantis Nest, Courtesy of Jenn

She started her business three years ago (I think she did three weddings the first year, and  now has weddings double booked on weekends during the popular wedding months).  This year she is taking the business out of her "home" and into a rented space.  It's a big step -- a LOT of work, but very exciting.  The space she is renting is actually still under construction, but should be complete very soon.  I'm anxious to make the three hour drive over there to see it, as soon as she is ready for visitors.

Back here, at the old farmhouse, our rehabilitation continues.  We decided Monday, that four of the corner piers really needed to be replaced.  The old brick piers were no longer mortared together, and the bricks were barely remaining erect to support the house.  So, Tuesday, arriving with a truck loaded with bags of cement, Wendell set about digging the holes and pouring the footers for the new piers....  When he left Tuesday, we had three corners poured. When he returns next week, he'll do the final corner.  From there, we expect to do some more jacking of the house to achieve level and then the long awaited pour of the cement slurry.  It will then be on to the business of joists, plumbing, electrical, and flooring.  I'm hoping we'll have it closed in by the summer, though our agreement with this contractor, is that he works us into his schedule of other jobs.
Open Corners, Pouring Footers
Open Corner, Footer Poured
Old Bricks from Original Piers
Judy, working, taking a conference call,
while checking out the open corners
Sooooo, while the footers are curing, and the farmhouse sits, without corners, we are focusing on the planting of seedlings, started in the make-shift greenhouse.  The gardens are slowly filling up with tiny little seedlings, and rows of seeds are being planted in between.  The weeds are definitely the most vigorous crop we have so far, but I am quite pleased with the asparagus, which is now up to my waist, the peas, which should be flowering any day, and the spinach that I am enjoying daily in my salads.

Every morning, my first break from my paying job, is to take a walk around the property, noting the changes in all of the freshly planted trees, flowers, vegetables, bushes, etc. I find it exciting to see the new growth, the first buds, the first leaves, etc.  Yesterday, during one of our "inspection" walks, Joe pointed out what I had missed in my early morning walk.  We have tiny peaches on our peach trees.  Excited by that discovery, I headed over to check out the apple trees.  Sure enough, two tiny apples on the Granny Smith tree.
Baby Aspargus Growing Tall
Azaleas -- tiny white one just bloomed
Baby Peaches -- Ugly leaf curl
Planted gardens
Putting in the labeled stakes
Of course, with the excitement of the new growth, comes the disappointment when we discover a failure.  Our six blue spruce do NOT look like they will make the first year in their Virgina location.  Not sure what the problem is, but they all look bad.  Two of the peach trees are suffering from leaf curl, so we will need to treat them, so it doesn't occur again next year... And today we noticed we have a chubby green caterpillar that is feasting on the leaves of the plum, apple, pear and cherry trees.... we caught one of them in the act on the plum tree.

Yesterday, while much of the southeast was being demolished by tornadoes, we were lucky to only have torrential downpours with lots of lightning.  Though, the intent is NOT to leave them open, we got to see how the freshly dug trenches handled the water.  We have not yet managed to get the time to install the pipes that will work to funnel the water to the ponds when we have these heavy rains.  I had to laugh when, with the thunder pounding and the lightning cracking, I looked out the window from the dry refuge of the garage apartment to see Joe, soaking wet, working on the trenches with a shovel -- correcting some flow problems.  By the time the rain stopped, he had everything flowing well and what would have been standing water a week ago, was essentially dry.  (I was helpful, snapping pictures through the window.)
Through the Screen
Little bit damp?
Little bit muddy?
Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Off to Work We Go...
Pond Full
Today, was a crazy day.  I had to sing and play for a sister of a friend's funeral.  I was to be at church to rehearse with the choir at 10 AM.  I was to meet a realtor at the Pond House at noon -- I am shopping for a new realtor, since the house has had NO showings in the nine months I had it listed with the first realtor.  So, I headed over to the Pond House EARLY this morning,  I planned to get the lawn mowed, and the house vacuumed, and then head to church.  All was going very well.  I was right on time.  Had the lawn mowed, had the house once-overed, and was cleaned up, dressed and heading out the door to church, when I looked out the back door to the screened in back deck.  There I saw several wasp corpses on the floor, and decided I should pick those up.  It would only take a minute.

Out I went, with paper towel, and quickly picked up the corpses.  I went to throw them in the trash in the kitchen, but discovered, to my GREAT alarm, that I had locked myself out of the house.  No problem, I'd use the spare key, which we have carefully hidden for such occasions.... oh, yeah, I remembered, the key went missing a couple of months ago and we never replaced it.  Great... I was locked out of the house, the car was in the locked garage, (I had two spare keys in the car -- fat lot of good that was going to do me right about then).  And of course, my cell phone was in the locked house, with my keys.  Lovely.

I walked briskly to my neighbor's house, and rang their doorbell.  Ed answered the door and I asked if I could use their phone -- confided that I'd locked myself out.  Sure, he was happy to let me use the phone... but first they had to FIND IT!  LOL, the big hunt for the phone, was successful, and I called Joe.  He promised to get another spare key and meet me at the Pond House. I made it to the 10 AM rehearsal at 10:50 AM!  Suffice to say, I did not rehearse at all.  Thankfully, I knew all of the hymns we were gong to sing, and the funeral went very smoothly. 

I got back to the Pond House, to meet the potential new realtors at 12:20PM...only 20 minutes late, but thankfully, Joe had already given them the tour.  The next two hours were spent interviewing them, learning about their marketing/selling strategy, and their recommendations for "staging."   We will interview other realtors, and make our decision within a week.

Meanwhile, the wind was picking up and we were all anxious to get home before the big storm arrived... it was promised for late afternoon in our area. Joe and I made a quick run for groceries and then it was back to the old farmhouse to brace for the storm.... that never came here.  I could not be happier.  I am really tired of this crazy weather.

Tomorrow is supposed to be calm, cooler, and pleasant.  I imagine a lot more seedlings will find their way into the gardens, and more seeds will be direct sown.  And now, on my morning walks, I will be looking to see whether I can find a preying mantis nest.... I know we get the preying mantises, but it would be cool to find their nest.

Racing Clouds
Interesting Sky
Mmmmmm Strawberries

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Most Delightful Weekend

Friday was a great day.  I got the opportunity to spend the day with my daughter, a relative rarity these days.  Jenn owns and operates her own floral design business, serving, primarily, the Charlottesville, VA area.  She has built the business from an idea, and has worked hard to make it a successful one. This weekend she was doing a wedding for a hometown friend, so I lucked out.  I offered to lend a hand the day before the wedding, which is the major "creation" day for all of the floral pieces.

Jenn's basic philosophy, with regards to floral design is, let nature help compose the creation.  She uses locally grown, in season flowers.  But she doesn't limit her designs to flowers.  A week before the wedding, which was to be held less than two miles from the old farmhouse, she called me and asked whether I had wild grapevine in my woods.  Do I have it?  I have in in ABUNDANCE!
First Van Load of Grapevine
Thursday, shortly before midnight, she arrived to drop off her dog, Talice, for us to babysit for the weekend, and after a very brief visit, left for the wedding location, where she would unload her van full of flowers, vases, and assorted floral design magic makers.  She'd spend the night there, at this beautiful manor on the East River, which the bride's family had rented for the week.  I was to look for her to return around 7 AM Friday, when we'd start pulling MORE grapevine. I had already delivered a van full of the vines to the site on Wednesday, but another van load was needed.

Talice -- Taking a Nap
Right on time Friday morning, she arrived, ready to pull vine.  She can spot the stuff a lot faster than I can, and she can pull it a lot more easily than I can.  I suppose there IS something to be said for youth!  We pulled more vine, filled a box with four layers of moss from the ground under some of my trees, and filled a couple of buckets with ferns, harvested from along the community trench.  Within an hour or so, we had her van loaded and were off to the wedding site to prepare for the big event.
Jenn Pulling Grapevine From the Trees
Dragging the Grapevine to the Van
Van Load #2
Picking Fiddleheads for the Boquets
While I've known the bride's family for years, I had the opportunity to meet several of their relatives and friends, in town, from places as far away as New Zealand, for the wedding.  Several of the men helped us weave the grapevines together and hang them in the HUGE rented tent where the reception would be held.  It was quite a challenge with only a ten foot ladder available, but where there is a will, there is a way, and the result was delightful.  From the grapevine hung many different sized oriental lanterns.  It looked great by day, and I can only imagine the it was stunning by night, with the lanterns lit.

Hanging the Grapevine
With the Lanterns
Would have loved to see it at night!
Ready for a break, we joined the family and friends for a breakfast of french toast, bacon, fruit and juice.  Perfect, with nice, easy conversation with people I'd never before met.  With our appetites sated, we headed to the garage to execute the floral arrangements.  As Jenn whipped out stunning bouquets for the bride and her EIGHT bridesmaids, I worked with another novice, creating the arrangements that would hang on the aisle sides of the chairs, and the little table arrangements.... twenty two tables worth -- three to a table.

Getting Started
Locally Grown - In Season Flowers
Dogwood Blossoms
Centerpieces and Bouquets
Centerpieces -- about 80 table centerpieces
The day was grey and chilly, and we were working with a lot of water, so our hands were really cold.  But, the work was fun, Jenn was a great "boss," tactfully fixing arrangements that looked, well, a little "odd" and only laughing out loud at one of my attempts.  It took us only about four hours to complete everything she wanted to accomplish Friday, and by the time her husband, Benoit, arrived, ready to build the marriage archway, we were finished, and could join him out by the river and watch him work.  It seems marriage arches are quite popular and Jenn and Ben create their arches out of sycamore branches.  The arches are never the same, as they construct them on the spot.

East River
Grandview Manor
Building the Arch
Arch Building, 101
Just One More Stick....
I didn't get to see the final product, which includes (somehow) the moss scraped from my forest floor, but I imagine, when the wedding photos are available, I will get to see all the pieces put together. As I left to head to church for Good Friday services, I gave Jenn and Ben hugs, and thanked them for a truly enjoyable day.

From what I hear, the wedding went well, with, of course, the typical stresses of trying to be both a guest at the event and a provider for the event.  By Sunday, Jenn was tired and ready to pick up Talice, and make the three hour drive back to their place near Charlottesville, VA.  Meanwhile, I spent Easter Sunday, playing and singing in the Easter morning service, and then helping Joe with the trenching.....

Yes, indeedy, Joe had decided THIS was the weekend to tackle the MANY trenches he wanted to dig on the property.  He had ideas for trenches for water lines, trenches for electrical lines, trenches for drainage, and trenches just for good measure!  So off he went to rent the trencher.  He did NOT get the one he wanted...the one with the tracks.  No, he ended up with the one with tires.  With the very first trial trench, the trencher got stuck in the soft ground.... it did not bode well for the weekend.

First Trench
Getting Stuck
Getting Un-stuck

Nevertheless, Joe was determined to get his money's worth out of the trencher, and he pushed forward, using the tractor to pull it out when it got stuck.  He did not complete ALL of the trenches he would have liked to, but he got enough that we literally look like we have trenches running everywhere.  I suspect the low-flying helicopters that buzz our tree lines daily have a pretty funny view of the property, significantly trenched.  When we returned the trencher today, it was with 16 hours more than when we rented it.  That's a WHOLE lot of trenching when you consider the work involved getting that thing around this land.  The one with the tracks would DEFINITELY have been the better choice.
Trenches Everywhere You Look
As dusk was engulfing us in darkness, Sunday night, Joe was making the final trench.  He hit something hard, presumably a root, that stopped the trencher.  Naturally, he had to pull the trencher out for the fifty millionth time, and decided that was enough of the trenching.  He cleaned up the trencher and loaded it back onto its trailer.  He came to help me finish up my transplanting of the seedlings started in the greenhouse.  When we started watering our freshly planted seedlings, we suddenly lost water pressure......

Yep, at 9 PM on Sunday, we began the emergency repair of the 1 inch PVC pipe from the well to the pump house.  It seems that hard root was the water line... the water line that was NOT where the plat shows it. It took a little doing, working by lights hanging off the tractor, finding parts out of buckets of odds and ends, but, just at midnight, Joe restored water, and we were able to finish watering the seedlings.... and finally head indoors to make some supper... doesn't EVERYONE eat supper at midnight?
Damaged Water Line
Temporary Fix
Midnight Watering Seedlings
No, it was not my typical Easter weekend, but it was a really enjoyable one, nonetheless. (Oh, and I have started eating the spinach from the garden and we have eaten our first strawberries from our berry patch....the garden is starting to come to life!)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

From the Firepit to the Crock Pot

This week has been more work and experimentation around here. In the past week we have planted more than 50 shrubs, trees, have planted more grape vines and have started vegetables from seed in the garden.  It has been a busy week, but the weather was finally cutting us a break and we didn't want to waste a minute of the relative warmth.  Of course, with the Spring warm up comes the pine pollen and everything around here is GREEN!
Planting Tiny Cherry Trees
For the past couple of months we have been working our way through the overgrown undergrowth of the woods, using the "Merry Rough Terrain" mower, hand powered loppers, and chainsaws,  We have dragged LOADS of cut underbrush out, forming piles all around the yard.  Eventually, these piles were destined for the burn pile.  Well eventually arrived yesterday late afternoon.

Still Loads of Vines to Conquer
Tug-o-War -- Joe vs the Vine
that would strangle the little pine
The weather was perfect for a brush fire -- clear, with no wind.  We'd outfitted the tractor with a pair of "forks" onto which Joe mounted a pallet.  The result was basically a much larger scoop than the front end loader by itself.  Yesterday we tried the forks for the first time, and, while we will need to make some adjustments to the pallet mounting, for a first run, it went very well.  In about two hours we had burned more brush than we would have been able to burn in a whole day, had we been dragging the piles over to the burn pit by hand. About a dozen piles later, we called it quits, the darkness having set in, making tractoring in and about the woods not such a great idea.
Tractor with her new forks and pallet
Heading to pick up a load of brush
Scooping up the brush, a whole pile at once

Transporting brush pile to the burn pit
Unloading the first brush pile into the burn pit
Adding my two cents worth....

Started out with two piles....

Ended up pushing the two together into one

Ready with the rake

Still, we were very happy with our progress.  A couple more burns like that and we will have the brush under control. Of course, today, the wind was blowing and  any thoughts we'd had of getting another burn completed before the big storm hits us tomorrow were dashed.  Another day will have to do.

Our seeds, sown last weekend have been making their way through germination and rewarding us with tiny seedlings.  Already about half of the seeds we started indoors have sprouted.  In the garden, the pea plants and spinach are growing nicely and the asparagus is really popping up.  It takes a little imagination, but this place should really be hopping with growth this summer.
Kohlrabi really popped up fast

Bachelor Buttons are raring to grow
This evening I decided to experiment with the crock pot again.  Using mini loaf pans, I created mini lasagnas, using all of my regular ingredients. I have long ago quit pre-cooking the noodles, preferring the end result when using the noodles uncooked.  In all, my normal recipe for a regular size lasagna made 5 minis.  I had to break each noodle in half for a perfect fit in the tiny loaf pans.  Once all of my ingredients were layered, literally to the to tops of the pans, I covered them with foil and "baked" them, two at a time, in the crock pot.  In the crock pot I paced an upside down flat tin, and about 1/2 cup of water.  I placed the two mini lasagnas on the upside down tin, covered the crock pot and baked them on HI for just over an hour.
1/2 of a mini loaf -- we ate two minis between us
The results were excellent!  I will freeze the extra minis and we'll have them another time.  So far, I have been thrilled with the results of variety of experiments I've tried in this crock pot.  From bread to cakes, from soups to lasagnas, you just can't beat it.  Of course, if I were trying to feed more than two, I'd have to use multiple crock pots to bake all the lasagnas to be ready at the same time, but certainly, for the two of us, it works well.  I am enjoying the experimentation and wonder, when I do actually have an oven in which to bake again, whether I will use it!

Young fig trees and thornless blackberry plants
awaiting planting

Inspecting the carnations
planted in the Earth Boxes