Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kitchen remodel

It's been quite a while since I've posted anything, probably several months.  I've certainly kept busy, my white whale has been the ongoing kitchen remodel.  Work began last March and then stopped after a month for what I thought was a brief interruption to get some work done outdoors.  Work resumed in November. 

So here's a brief recap.  The original kitchen was designed by morons.  All of the cabinets and appliances resided on the exterior wall - 21 feet of linear kitchen.  The opposite wall was waist-high, for an open concept.  That half-wall was useless for anything.  So I came up with a plan - change the half wall to a full wall and move half of the kitchen stuff onto the new wall .  That would free up one end of the kitchen to be repurposed as a dining area.  The new layout would make for a more compact kitchen that required fewer steps.

The new wall was finished in April, replete with wiring and a water line for the refrigerator's ice maker.  Here's the post on the wall.  This fall I began work on the ceramic tile floor.   Now that I have some seasoning with this type of floor, I can offer some advice.  Don't attempt it unless you have plenty of time and patience available.  At any rate, exactly half of the floor is tiled now, the cabinets are in, new countertops on, the stove and refrigerator in place.  I still plan to replace the pulls.  I think bright brass is gaudy and ugly.

It looks fairly finished on this side, just a bit untidy.  The exterior wall is a different story.  The sink and dishwasher are still functional, but not much longer. 

And here's a closeup of the ceramic tiles, showing the layers of materials that go into such a floor.

The subfloor is OSB plywood.  In order to make a stable base for the tile, the subfloor was treated with two coats of primer, then self-leveling cement was put in the low areas (the gray stuff), then 1/4 inch fiber-cement board was set in a thin layer of thinset mortar and screwed in place, then the tiles were set in a layer of thinset mortar, the tiles were grouted and the grout was sealed.  It is labor intensive, but it also looks really nice and will outlast the house.

The dining area is the focus of work now.  The drywall was removed and the walls rewired, then a window opening was framed in from the inside.  The window will be near where the stove used to be.  Yesterday I put up the drywall, and today I'm taking a break.

And here's the view from the other end of what will be a kitchen.

Next task is mudding and painting the new drywall.  Then I'll tile the quadrant of floor by the new window.  That will leave the last quadrant to finish, the one with the sink and dishwasher.  Then things will get interesting once those cabinets come out.  Looks like I'll be eating rotisserie chicken and potato salad from the supermarket for a few weeks.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tying things up at the end of the season

All of the annual plants are out, all the structures have been taken up.  A few days ago the remaining chores were taken care of.  At this point little remains to be done, the beds are mostly ready for winter. 

The asparagus was cut down a few days ago.

Spinach for next spring was planted in early October, two rows of Burpee's Double Choice hybrid and two rows of Viroflay.  It germinated well and is showing the first true leaves.  I'll need to thin it soon.  Before the first major cold arrives the bed will be covered with a plastic greenhouse, helping to warm the soil over the winter.

Success with spring-planted spinach has been hit or miss for me, but the overwintered spinach is pretty dependable, and early, usually mid-March.

Next year's tomato/pepper bed has a nice cover crop of field peas, oats and berseem clover growing in it.  At the rate it is growing there might be a few clippings that I can feed to the rabbits before long.

The sweet potato patch will be next year's potato patch. After the sweet potatoes were harvested I spaded over the soil, seeded it with the same cover crop mix and covered it with some half-finished compost.  The crop has germinated but is too small to see.

I was going to cut down the raspberry plants after the asparagus, but decided to wait.  They succumbed to fungal diseases and produced a small fall crop, another casualty of the wet early summer.  In the fall the vines set out new leaves to replace the leaves that had been lost, so they are still doing some photosynthesis.  I'll wait until these leaves brown then cut them down.

These are everbearing raspberries.  I originally wanted to cut the canes back about halfway to get an early summer crop next year.  Since disease has taken its toll they will be cut back to the ground and the canes burned, so there will be no berries until next fall.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Last harvest of 2015

With a frost predicted late last week it was time to get the rest of the produce inside.  The winter squash that were curing in the sun were brought inside and weighed.  Any peppers that were usable were picked. The chilis - Joe Parker New Mexico, Ancho, and Serrano - were put in the dehydrator.  For sweet peppers there's four Mama Mia Gallo and a lone Jimmy Nardello that went into the refrigerator.

The Teksukabotu squash had an off year, for them, just over 15 pounds total.  Last year they produced nearly three times that amount.  The Metro Butternut squash did well this year with a total yield of 18 pounds (I had cooked two of them before this picture was taken).  Considering the truly awful early summer weather and the extent of fungus infestation I can't really complain.

Then there's the sweet potatoes, about 20 pounds, which were featured in the previous post.

Click on any picture to enlarge.

The grand total for the year - 330 pounds.  That's within two pounds of last years total, although production came from very different vegetables than last year.   This year the heavy hitters were cucumbers, with decent yields from squash, okra, beans and onions.  The cole crops did very well, while tomatoes were a bust.  There's always next year!

To see what other people are growing, head on over to Dave's site at

Saturday, October 17, 2015

First Frost

I wasn't sure if last night would bring a frost.  It was just below freezing when I got up this morning, cold enough to fire up the wood stove for the first time this season.  I went outside to get the rabbits some sweet potato shoots for their morning feed and the signs of frost were evident on the plants.  With a harder freeze on the way tonight it was time to dig them up.  Sweet potatoes are in the background, winter squash plants in the foreground.

I planted Vardamans this year, 11 slips in all  The first plant that was dug up showed a lot of promise.

The sweet potatoes mostly filled a 5 gallon bucket.  All the usable tubers came from the primary plants.  In a good year the plant's vines can send down roots that produce more sweet potatoes, but with the cloudy early summer weather most of these never developed to a usable size. 

I collected the smallish tubers in another bucket, then turned over the entire patch with a shovel to prepare the area for a cover crop.  Spading over the soil turned up a number of small satellite tubers.  In the left of the picture is a very large tuber with extensive vole damage.  Some of it is salvageable.  At the edge of the sweet potato patch the spading turned up a Kennebec potato that was missed when the potatoes were harvested.  It's been sliced into by the shovel but looks perfectly good.   Can you spot it in the picture?

The too-small and deformed tubers will be fed to the rabbits.  That left just over 20 pounds of sweet potatoes for cooking.  Considering the unfavorable weather that's not bad. 

The Fuji apple tree produced three apples this year, its first apples.  The Golden Delicious tree has not produced any apples yet.  The apples are covered with green blotches that look like some sort of algae. 

This apple dropped so I peeled off the skin and sampled it.  Despite its appearance it actually tasted like a Fuji should taste, a little underripe but actually quite good.  I'm hoping that next year both trees will give me a decent crop of apples. 

The last outdoor project for the season is finished.  From the large bed the ground has too much slope toward the pond, hard to walk on when wet and hard to mow.  Two courses of concrete wall blocks make a terrace that greatly improves the area.  The new terrace will also make it easier to spray the Fuji tree, as it was challenging to use a ladder around this tree.  I think, and hope, that this is the last of the terracing that I do on this property.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Wrapping up the season

The season is winding down.  There's still some peppers ripening up, and with a few more sunny days I might get a second batch of chilis for drying.  Last weekend I removed the last of the trellises around the squash patch.  That was after picking the squashes.   Last year the yields of squash were at least double this years'. The butternuts did OK but yields of the Teksukabotu were way off.  I cooked one of the butternuts a few weeks ago and it was fine, the rainy weather in early summer did not affect the flavor. 

The spinach was planted in the front bed in the picture below a week ago.  I planted two rows of Burpee's Double Choice hybrid, a variety that has always overwintered well, and two rows of Viroflay.  All of it has germinated well.  When cold weather arrives I'll put a plastic greenhouse over the bed.  The middle bed has a stand of buckwheat growing as a cover crop.  The rabbits absolutely love buckwheat.

A mix of field peas, oats and berseem clover was seeded in the back bed as a late season cover crop.  It's all germinated and growing well.  I tried seeding berseem clover in mid-summer and it did poorly, guess it does not like the heat.  Next summer I'll try crowder peas as a summer cover crop. 

The raspberries, in their second season this year, had a poor fall crop, another victim of the wet summer weather and fungal diseases.  They are everbearing raspberries, meaning they will have two crops every year if I prune off the upper half of the plants after the leaves die off.  Given the extent of the infection I will prune them to the ground and burn the stems.  That means I will get only they fall harvest next year.

Another 'crop' is growing in the upper end of the pond - cattails.  This part of the pond is shallow and I expect the cattails to eventually march across to the opposite shore.  I'm OK with that as cattails act as a natural scrubber.  Much of the inflow will go through them and be cleaned in the process.  They are also habitat for marsh wrens and red-winged blackbirds.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


I haven't posted much lately.  Two projects have taken up much of my time, and besides the garden isn't having a very good finish with the tomatoes gone. 

A litter of ten bunny rabbits can take up some time.  Not at first, but as they get larger they go through a lot of food, and the grow-out cage needs cleaning every few days.  They eat and crap a lot.  They've gone through 4 bags of feed since they were born, and I forage for them in the morning and the evening.  I've managed to cut down most of the willow growing on the levee for their dinner, fed them scrap foliage from the garden as well as any deformed cucumbers (and some that weren't).  A few weeks ago I found that they liked dogwood shoots, which grow at the edge of the woods.  They also enjoy ragweed, whose pollen causes me much misery this time of year.  

The standard time to fatten a bunny to slaughter weight is 12 weeks.  That would have been September 1 for these rabbits.  At 12 weeks they looked a bit thin and small for butchering, but then I don't have an experienced eye for this sort of thing.  Last year I bought a litter of 8 week old weaned bunnies and raised them to 12 weeks.  They cleaned out to a carcass of just over two and a half pounds on average, which is very typical. 

Well I started butchering rabbits a week ago and I won't go into the details of that except I try to make it a quick death.  They were 13 1/2 weeks old. I was more than a little shocked at their dressed weight - about 4 pounds on average!  I finished the last of them yesterday and now have a freezer packed with rabbit meat.  Next year I'll know not to trust my judgement.  I'll process one or two at 9 weeks, a few more at 11 weeks then the rest at 12 weeks, nevermind how I think they look.

Rabbit is a challenge to cook.  It is a very nutritious meat, high in protein and low in fat.  It is the lack of fat that makes it a challenge.  So what was the first dish I made from the freshly processed rabbits?   Rabbit liver.  Most people either like or actively dislike liver.  I stopped buying liver from the store many years ago because of my concerns with the excessive amount of chemicals put into the feed of an animal raised in factory farms, which is a shame because I really like liver.  The liver is the chemical processing center of an animal.  If you like liver, rabbit liver is one of the best, mild, great flavor, and the rabbit liver is huge for the size of the animal.  Two of them make a meal.  I made liver and onions, using one of the Ruby Ring onions from the garden.  The onions were just carmelized a little when the liver was ready.  This is much better than any calf liver I've eaten.

The rabbit muscle meat is a bigger challenge.  The preparation that has produced the best results for me is roasting the cut-up rabbit.  Here's how I cooked the first rabbit:  Potatoes, carrots and fennel pieces were coated with olive oil and thyme and roasted for 30 minutes in a large baking dish.  The rabbit pieces were browned in rendered bacon fat and dusted with rosemary.  Then onions and the rabbit pieces were added to the dish and the bacon slices laid over the rabbit.  This infuses the meat with delicious bacon fat.  After 30 minutes the pieces were turned over, the bacon put on the new side and roasted another 30 minutes.  The dish is easy to make, very rustic and completely delicious.  Now I need to find additional preparations that are as good as this one. 

The other project that has taken up much of my time is a new walkway behind the house, between the flower beds.  The original walkway was wood, and the frame was buried in the soil.  Of course it was only a matter of time before it fell apart.  The old walkway was dismantled, the posts dug out of the ground and the soil excavated.  On three sides a concrete edger was made after trenching and making forms.  I thought this was necessary since the ground sloped and the whole thing would try to slide down the incline if not supported properly.  The walk got the standard 4 inches of crushed stone, 1 inch of sand and the pavers were set in, then the gaps filled with sand.  A lot of work, requiring more patience than I have, but the results are very satisfying.   The back deck is my peaceful haven.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Monday September 14

The season is ending with a fizzle not a sizzle.  Tomatoes are long gone, cucumbers are mostly done, but the vines still produce an occasional cuke that I give to the rabbits.  The raspberries have some kind of disease and are not making many berries.  Mostly what's coming out of the garden right now are beans and okra, and the beans are nearly finished.  These are Millionaire okra.  The beans are a mix of Fortex and Provider.  The Marengo Romano pole beans have succumbed to rust.

It seemed like a bad year for beans, but so far 30 pounds have been picked, not bad from a 7 foot row of pole beans and two rows of Provider bush beans.  That's only 5 pounds less than I got last year.

There's still winter squash to be picked - Metro Butternut and Teksukabotu.  I don't know if they will be very good.  They lost most of their leaves to fungus and will probably not fully develop their sugars.  Some of the vines put out new leaves and that may help. The rest of the week will be sunny and I'll harvest them before the next major rain.

The chili peppers look like they will be ready soon.  Most of these plants are used for making chili powder.  The Joe Parker New Mexico in the front are already ripe, while the Anchos are a little behind them.   A week of sunny weather should do the trick.  The tops of the ancho plants were eaten by tomato hornworms.  Usually the parasitic wasps get them, but not this year.

To see what other people are growing, head on over to