Thursday, September 29, 2011

I Saw Something Nasty in the Crawlspace

And the kitchen.  And the bathroom.  When we bought the farmhouse, we knew there were a few things we had to keep an eye on, and if you've been following me for a while, you know we got, um, a bit more than we bargained for when we bought the place.  So a couple days ago I forayed into the crawlspace to check on the joists that butt up to the brick patio at the rear of the house. 

Because there were no gutters on the house for years, rain water has made the ground and patio slope toward the foundation of the house.  Some of the joists, while still sound, had sustained water damage, and unfortunately, it's gotten worse.  We had hoped gutters and rain barrels would solve the problem, and though they've helped, they're useless against heavy rains.  I also checked out the area under the downstairs bathrooms and found lots of old water and termite damage.  Thank God we had the plumber disconnect everything a few months ago.

There's also a mystery leak under the kitchen sink and mildew in the dishwasher.  Geesh, can't these things just go away???

These problems won't be solved quickly or cheaply.  Here's what needs to happen:
1. Slap myself out of my catatonic state.
2. Demolish patio.  Bummed about it but the brick is sitting on concrete, which means instead of the water seeping into the ground, it seeps into the house.
3. Regrade ground at rear of house.  No idea how to do this, which is why we have Youtube.
4. Call someone to eradicate the mold in the crawlspace.  Maybe I forgot to mention that.  We have black dots all over the joists.  This needs to be done first because as soon as you start demolition, mold spores will take flight and end up on your walls, ceilings, hair, and soup.
5. Tear out bathroom and damaged floor areas.
6. Scab joists, i.e., bolt a new piece of lumber to the damaged piece of lumber, extending several feet beyond damaged area.
7. Rebuild everything...floors, patio, time and money allow.  Byron does the majority of the work himself so that we can do this as cost effectively as possible, and he also teaches full-time. 

Let me reiterate how happy we are to be here, and to have bought this house and land back into the family.  Though the problems with the house have been a major setback, posting them helps extract them from the recesses of my brain and keeps you updated with the activities at our homestead.

Again, apologies for the lack of photos.  I know you're itching to see those moldy joists.  The good news is that I finally ordered a new computer!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Put 'Em Up! What We Stored for Winter...So Far

Not willing to let a gimpy computer that won't recognize external drives prevent me from blogging, I searched through the photos on the hard drive until I found this one, which in turn inspired me to make a quick accounting of the food I've put up for the winter.  After a search through various cabinets and the freezer, here's what I came up with:

Apple Butter: 16 pints
Apple Sauce: 27 quarts
Grape Jam: 8 pints, 1 half-pint
Peaches: 28 quarts
Peach Jam: 10 half-pints, 5 pints
Pickles: 23 pints
Strawberry Jam: 4 pints, 4 half-pints
Tomatoes: 12 paultry quarts (tomatoes didn't do so well this year)
Tomato Bruscetta: 9 half-pints
Tomato Sauce: 7 half-pints, 2 pints

Chicken: I think we have about 18 left.  We eat a lot of chicken, and I lost one in a little tragedy last week involving my former crock pot.
Corn: 6 gallon size bags
Green Beans: 7 gallon size bags
Grapes: 2 gallon size bags remaining
Grape Syrup: 7 2-cup containers (Post coming as soon as we find a good deal on a new computer!)
Peaches: 2 gallon size bags remaining
Pesto: This I freeze in ice cube trays before transferring to a freezer bag.  I'm guessing we have about 70 little cubes of pesto.
Pumpkins: Still in process.  I was bummed to hear that it's relatively unsafe to can pumpkins at home, so I've resorted to freezing.  I have 11 cups worth in freezer bags so far, and estimate that's probably about one forth of what I'll end up with.
Tomatoes: 3 gallon size bags
Zucchini (shredded):  11 6-cup bags

Butternut Squash: I harvested 16 of these and am hoping they hold up for a few months.  Otherwise, into the freezer they'll go.

Everyone's list of what they put up for the winter is different. For us, I try to limit it to what I know we'll eat and what I can either grow or buy for a reasonable price please note that of all the above, I didn't grow any of the fruit or corn, though I hope to in the future.  I also tend to make a lot of jam because we like this on pancakes.  Seriously, once you make your own maple syrup for practically nothing, it's physically painful to buy it from the store!

I'd love to hear about what your family stores for winter!  And be sure to click here to read other fabulous posts on Homestead Revival's Barn Hop!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Oh, Right. I Homeschool, Too.

This weekend I was brainstorming for post ideas.  Not usually necessary - there's plenty going on around here to write about - but last week our computer stopped recognizing external drives.  Which means I had to think about what I could post without the need for photos. 

So I thought I'd share what we're doing this year for homeschooling.  Akea is in second grade and Charlie, since he has a late birthday, is pre-K-ish.  This means I'll do as much with him as I can, but my focus is going to be Akea and getting her to the point where she can work a bit more independently.  That's the nice thing about homeschooling - you can be flexible!

Here's the rundown of what we're using:

Reading/Spelling: Explode the Code for both kids, All About Spelling for Akea.  Bob Books for Charlie and All About Spelling Readers as Akea progresses through the program.
Grammar: First Language Lessons (Well-Trained Mind)
Writing: Writing with Ease (Well-Trained Mind)
Math: Saxon (It kills me, but the girl can add and subtract in her head!  Gotta stick with it!)
Everything Else: We're in our third year of Classical Conversations, a classical program that meets once per week and covers history, geography, science, English, Latin, math, and Bible.

Classical Conversations is mainly memory work, though it also includes art, music, presentations, and science experiments.  And since I'm somewhat neurotic, I also try to expand on the science and history at home.  We use the Story of the World series for history, library books for science, and I recently decided that this is The Year of the Lapbook.  They're fun, artistic, and you can really tailor them to each child's level!  We just completed one on Jamestown and I helped Charlie make a small model of the fort. 

Well darn it, I guess I could have included photos in this post after all.

In the meantime, pray we find a good deal on a new computer!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fruit and Chickens: Birds of a Feather?

This spring we planted a very ambitious orchard of twenty-two conventional fruit trees, including apple, peach, cherry, and nectarine.  I was all about ordering off-the-wall varieties such as persimmon, mulberry, and nut trees, but we had to think aesthetics and economics.  We may actually sell some of the fruit someday, and let's face it: the market for funky fruit may be a bit narrow; even I didn't know what to do with a persimmon up until a year ago!  (Click here to read more about persimmons.)

In all this, we're attempting to use only organic sprays on the trees, and so this summer has been trying as far as keeping them bug-free.  I've spent time hand-picking caterpillar-like creatures off the apple leaves, as well as trying different sprays to keep the Japanese Beetles from decimating the cherry tree leaves. 

One of our apple trees, looking a little abused.
The good news is that all the trees have survived, but I did a little comparison a few weeks ago and have been thinking that we need to put some of the animals to work up in the orchard; namely, the chickens!  We have four fruit trees planted close to the house that have suffered almost no insect damage, and you know what?  Our five laying hens (and their new man, The Rooster) have been wandering around there all season!  Compare this photo to the one above:

A lush pear tree we planted last fall...with pears!
Since the big orchard is close to the road and Byron is still working hard on the perimeter fence, we haven't moved any animals up that way.  But comparing the trees is very telling!  Next spring, the chickens will have no clue that they're earning their keep as they (hopefully) enjoy a buffet of pests.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The State of the Garden

This planting season, I've actually been attempting to keep a garden journal, in which I report what grew well, what curled up and died when I look at it crossly, and a grand tally of how many squash bugs I've killed or attempted to kill.  Actually, I lost count early on, but at this point a squash bug should have every reason to fly off to a garden 78 miles away when it sees me coming.  But alas, they remain.

So here's the report:

Spring Plantings
Sugar Snap Peas: Planted a couple weeks too late, so we got a sad yield.  The plants I began from seed didn't take very well; they seem to do better when sown directly.
Spinach, Lettuce, Broccoli: See above.
Potatoes: These did pretty well!  I wanted to do a second planting but couldn't find any seed potatoes.  Next year I will plant more initially and keep some for seed.  A few that I dug up had bite marks, so I'm not sure what dug underground for a snack.

Summer Plantings:
Tomatoes:  What's a garden without tomatoes???  I had to buy plants because only a couple I began from seed survived, and they were pretty scrawny.  Next spring I hope to start them in the hoop house we're planning on building.  The Brandywine and cherry tomatoes I bought did the best; I bought a variety of other heirlooms which didn't do well at all.  I'm not sure if it was because the plants were rather mature when I transplanted them into the garden, or if they had some inherent problems, but a couple died after a month or so and the others didn't produce well.  Overall, however, I didn't get the yield I'd hoped for.  My friend Jen thinks it may have had something to do with the extreme heat affecting pollination. 
Basil:  A few of the plants I began from seed survived, but I also bought a couple, and these did best.  I've made lots of pesto for winter, with more to come.  It's been interesting: I've developed a desire to work with the harvest at hand.  Not enough tomatoes?  Let them eat pesto!
Pumpkins, Zucchini, Butternut Squash: Good zucchini yield, and for the amount of pumpkin and butternut squash plants I had, I think I should have gotten more.  I blame the squash bugs for that, and will unleash a secret weapon on the evil vermin next year: guinea fowl!
Cucumber:  These did well; I made about 30 jars of pickles and we still had some fresh ones to eat.  The squash bugs didn't find the cucumbers, and I wonder if it's because I trellised them?  Hmmm...
Green Beans: I've blanched and frozen about a bushel so far, and more await me in the fridge!  They kind of petered out for a while during our heat wave, but are making a comeback with a vengeance!
Corn: Click here to read my recent post on corn.  In short, we've had a bad yield with poor kernel development.  This may be due to the heat and bugs.  But we like corn, so I will try again next year... perhaps another variety.  And with the squash bugs (hopefully) under control, maybe I'll have time to deal with the ear worms that have been partying out there.
Watermelon: They were looking great, and then something started eating the roots!  We got three measly watermelons out of the lot.  My brilliant nephew, Finley, told me, "It was probably nematodes.  You need to plant arugula."  Did I mention he's eight???


Green beans

Basil.  If you pluck the flowering part off the top, they produce better.

Butternut squash

My nemesis, my White Whale, the bane of my existence: the squash bug.