Tuesday, May 31, 2011

    Yard mishaps

    The day after we finished the south-side fence, we decided to get serious about laying down the rest of the weed fabric. We have plans for mulch and drip-line sprinklers, but we wanted that barrier layer down first to save us some weeding down the road (we hope). It's not exciting work, so I present only one finished picture:

    Then, I wanted to take advantage of the small gap between the finished fence and the retaining wall along our south patio to plant some vines that will eventually grow up over the fence:

    In the course of digging the holes for those vines (thank you, Millcreek Gardens Groupon...), Tai got a little overenthusiastic with his post-hole digger and struck the neighbors' sprinkler supply line. We noted that line when we built the house and poured the retaining wall — it's on our property now as a throw-back to the days when their house and our lot was one piece of property — but had just forgotten that it was there. One geyser and a frantic dash for their water shut-off valve later, we had ourselves a lovely mud hole:

    Tai is a total pro at sprinkler lines now, though, so the only casualty of that evening was the cancellation of BBQ plans (and our DIY home improvement pride). Instead, we dashed to Home Depot for a few inexpensive PVC elbow joints (we still had 1" line leftover from last spring's installation) and some primer+glue for the pipe. Tai had it fixed within an hour, and cleaned up by the end of the night.

    So now we have a finished south fence and a fleet of trumpeter vines growing along its base. Now all we need is some sunshine with which to enjoy all the hard work...

    Friday, May 27, 2011

    Lettuce harvest

    Here's the picture of that lettuce harvest I was bragging about. Last September's planting yielded enough mixed greens (butter leaf, mesclun and spinach) to wow an extended family dinner. I'll be planting again this fall in every square inch I can find...

    Thursday, May 26, 2011

    Finished fence

    Tai and his dad took a Friday off to finish the south fence, which has now completely walled in our patio and created a really nice private place for us off our dining room.

    With the work the previous weekend on the post holes, the finish work went a bit faster, although it still took the better part of a day. First, they prepped the bottom rail:

    ...then the top:

    Then, came the addition of the vertical boards:

    By the end of the day, our patio smelled blissfully of fresh cedar, and the sawdust pile in the garage was a happy reminder of the work completed:

    Monday, May 16, 2011


    To say that I didn't know what I was doing in the garden last year would be an understatement. I didn't really garden growing up and had no real experience digging in the dirt. I didn't appreciate the importance of space for mature plants, watering schedules, and hot/cool spots in the yard and sun. I thought I could do no wrong and made all manner of transplanting mistakes that killed many innocent plants. I also suspected that it would be rewarding and delicious to eat food grown in our own garden, but I had no idea how satisfying it would be.

    Lessons from last year that I'm incorporating into this year's planning and gardening include:
    1. Plants are amazing. I love watching them grow. It's totally worth it to me to plant something just to watch it grow, but it's nice if it produces something delicious at the end of the season, too.
    2. Pumpkins, zucchini, squash, and tomatoes are enormous plants and must be given lots of space. Not just one square foot. Oops.
    3. Broccoli isn't really worth the trouble, even though the plants are pretty.
    4. You can never plant enough cucumber vines. Home-grown cukes are incredible.
    5. If the lettuce isn't in the ground by the beginning of March, forget about it.
    6. On the other hand, overwintering lettuce and spinach works really well -- the other day I pulled a delicious huge harvest from the garden that was planted last September. The greens woke right up with the longer days and warmer spring weather without me having to plant a thing.
    7. Overwintering carrots didn't work.
    8. Our kitchen garden space is great for early and late-season gardening, but it's so hot during the summer that I am only doing warm-weather vines in that space this year. If those don't work, that garden box is coming out and I'm planting a shade tree stat.
    9. Purchased seedlings need to go in the ground quickly, or they will die. Forget about tempering or hardening or whatever it's called. I will forget, and they will fry.
    10. Who needs flowers? I used the un-landscaped spots in our front yard for pumpkin vines last year and loved it. It was instant landscaping at almost no cost and lots of fun to watch. This year I'll do a variation of that happy accident with melon, pumpkin, and basil.

    Thus far this year I have planted seedlings for chives, tarragon, cilantro, strawberries, tomatoes, basil, peppers, shallots, cantaloupe, and watermelon. I've also put seeds in the ground for cucumber, rosemary, beans, peas, squash, another melon variety, and another cantaloupe variety. I have plans to plant seeds for a couple of pumpkin varieties, zucchini, more basil, and more cilantro once the weather is warm for good. Photos to follow, if/when these things survive.

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    First signs of a fence

    The first good-weather Saturday of the year last weekend meant that we were actually excited to work in the yard, despite all the digging and weeding ahead of us. We're putting in a fence on the edge of our patio, so while I went to the Wasatch Community Gardens plant sale Tai got right to work digging the post holes.

    By the time I got back, he was nearly done with the five holes for this part of the fence -- it took so much less time than we thought it would. Probably because our clay hasn't yet baked into solid rock yet (July). The holes were about 30 inches deep -- the bottom six inches or so are filled with a layer of gravel to drain water away from the post base and prevent rotting, and the other 24" are filled with concrete for stability.

    You can see my haul from the plant sale in the foreground. I got three feather reed grasses for our parking strip, two creeping mahonia plants to join the four others already on our north side, and a few veggie and fruit starts for our garden boxes that I'm hoping to not kill this year.

    While Tai worked on the post holes, I got down to weeding. I guess our weeding policy this year has been "if we ignore it, they'll die, right?" I faced reality and spent the morning on my hands and knees getting rid of this mess:

    After (I know you don't care, but this weeding caused me substantial physical pain, so I'M SHOWING THE PICTURES):

    Brother Daniel came over to help Tai set and level the posts. I was making eight-legged enemies among the weeds so I don't have any pictures of the laborers. But here is evidence of their hard work:

    Along the way I learned that you don't pre-mix concrete for post holes -- you just dump a bunch of the powdered stuff in, then add your water. Neat.

    Next up for us is finishing the fence (hopefully this week, if we can get some cooperation from the weather), and leveling our remaining exposed dirt and putting down weed fabric. Before we can do that, we do have to take care of this little mishap:

    This gash is more than a year old and dates to our appointment with the sprinkler trencher. The pipe was buried rather shallowly (and the trencher wasn't really, um, paying attention), so this sliced conduit has been exposed for the last 12 months. The wires aren't live, though, so we've sort of ignored it until now. We're hoping to get our electrician out sometime this week to repair it for us.

    Oh, and we finally got rid of this abomination:

    So now I'm sure the Smurfs are mad at us.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011


    Here's the post where we test your patience for home improvement minutiae. We finally, finally got window coverings. We've lived in the house for almost 18 months, sharing many of those moments with our neighbors, people driving by, and anyone standing on the sidewalk (or within 50 feet of the house, really). No longer!

    We had honeycomb cellular shades in the original slc202 condo and loved them for saving us from the single-pane glass in that place, but our windows are good enough in the house that we don't really need the additional insulation that honeycomb shades offer. Plus they're a little more expensive, so we just went with a basic pleated shade.

    We looked at a couple of online and local sources, and found the best combination of price and product online at Smith and Noble with their privacy weave pleated shade. Tai double checked the measurements, dug up a killer coupon online for our order, and about two weeks later we were installing.

    Most of the shades nest inside the window frame with an inside mount. (Thrilling "installation" photos to follow...)

    Our downstairs shades are bottom up only, since our house is slightly lower than street level (we didn't think we would ever really need a top-down option down there). Upstairs bedroom shades are top-down/bottom-up, and we love them:

    Our fish bowl days are over.

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    The walnut tree

    Way back in 2009 when this house was a mere twinkle in our architects' eyes, this lot had a lot of unkempt greenery on it. At the time, I mentioned that up to one-third of the narrow lot's width was consumed by cedar, Chinese elm, and Russian olive trees. In the process of cutting them down, we also felled the trunk of a walnut tree that had been dead for many years before. Since then, the walnut trunk has lived in the back of our property while we tried to figure out what to do with it. A few calls around town led us to Nick Barlow, who enjoys cutting up trees and has the mobile gear to do it.

    This trunk was about 14 feet long and around 18 inches in diameter. We didn't really know the true condition of the wood and were worried that it might have some damage from insects or just general wear and tear that could make it unusable. 

    Nick lopped off the top end where the trunk started to split in order to get a good look at the quality of the interior wood...which was gorgeous.

    He then split that upper part into several chunks, one of which might eventually serve as some sort of stool or footrest for visitors at our front door who need a place to sit while they remove or put on their shoes. Tai's dad took another chunk (I hear there are plans to turn it for a bowl), and we have a few plans for the other chunks.

    Nick needed to take a slice off the top of the log before creating true planks. 

    The wood was already really, really dry -- his best guess was that the tree had been dead for at least 15 years. This is good news for us because it cuts down the curing or drying time before we can use it.

    Nick chewed through three chains in the process (because the wood was so dry). 

    We already have plans for a dining room table, but while we put the finishing touches on those designs, we'll let the wood dry for a bit more.