Yard Work

May 3, 2012 00:25 by ehouston

This year we are attempting to tackle the outside of the house and the yard.  We have made small strides toward getting the yard we really want, and putting off some things we really need.  Like, a paint job.  That one is really breaking the bank right now and has been put on hold until we can figure out how to get some needed repairs completed properly before slapping a on a new coat.  I never imagined it would be so difficult to find decent maintenance workers, but just getting a call back from an ad, a number in the phone book or even a referral has proven to be a full time job.  After a month of hanging around, waiting for people to come over and give us an estimate I am pretty much over it.  We have had bids ranging from a couple grand to new car prices.  Now you can probably understand why we have taken a step back.  This type of work seems to be priced all over the place and we have yet to find the best way to know if you are going to get quality craftsmanship.  Having used some referrals for smaller projects in the past we have learned this first hand.  You can see great work at your pal’s house, but that doesn’t mean you will get it at yours.

So, to bring this back on track, one of the items on our Yard To-Do list was to figure out a plan of attack for our shrubs and bushes out front.  We are quite aware that several are really much too large and they will soon be a hindrance for anyone attempting to correct any of the siding or window trim issues, let alone painting the house.  Rather than calling in the big guns and getting yet another estimate to have them trimmed and/or removed The Mister and I decided to trim them up ourselves.  A daunting task, even for seasoned lawn care workers.  We have very little yard work equipment, but the one thing we do have is an extension hedge trimmer and various pruning tools.  Figuring we were well armed, we decided to go for it a couple of sunny weekends ago.

These first two shots show how overgrown the bushes had become.  Not only are they far to tall and wide, but they were also sporting spikey tops.



The Mister spent some time on the ladder tackling the two larger bushes on either side of the front stoop.


And, while they look much better than they did, we had to laugh at how naked this one ended up after it’s initial “haircut”.


We actually plan to trim these way down, but realized that our little handsaw will not work for this part of the project.  So, off to Home depot we go to add a small chainsaw to the arsenal.  Hopefully this next weekend we can do a little more damage, but in a good way.

Now, for the rain to let up so the deck guys can get back out here and finish the staining process.  It took long enough to find some guys we thought we could trust to do the work, so now we are VERY ready to have the work completed.  Shoot, I have patio furniture to arrange, large ceramic pots to plant and lots of other ideas about how I want to spruce up the area. 

Patience is a virtue…they say.

Kitsch Krafts

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Gardening : Veggie Patch Update #3

September 23, 2011 05:32 by ehouston

In between rounds of hole digging for the new trees I also somehow managed to put together the veggie patch and get some food started this past spring.   At this point, I have already pulled the dead and bolting stuff out of the veggie patch twice and just planted another round of lettuces and spinach.


I tried to give the tomatoes another week, but they just hung there looking more and more unattractive as their leaves curled up and started to die.  Plus, the fruit was staying green and not really getting any larger, so earlier this week I yanked them out of their cozy little beds and sent them packing.  We had an abundance of tomatoes this summer that we enjoyed immensely.  My only regret is not planting more so I could make sauce for the winter.  This is something I plan to remedy next spring with a garden expansion- hopefully! 


A couple of Best Boys ripening on the vine earlier this summer.

By the way, I planted three Supersonics and a Best Boy this year.  They grew in a very upright pattern and produced a LOT of fruit.  So much so, that one plant got really heavy and slid down the stake, breaking under the weight.  I employed my usual method of staking and pinching off the suckers as they came up, taking only one additional step of actually pruning away branches around the bottom of the plants, to allow for more airflow, and cutting back those that were really blocking the progress of their neighboring plant.  The process seemed to work very well and I believe if we commit an entire raised bed just to tomato plants we will have plenty of sauce for a fully stocked pantry by next September.  I had never grown these varieties before and was pleasantly surprised with the results.  Hopefully Lowe’s will run another 2 for a $1.00 deal on tomatoes next year as well.  Wow, I just realized that we enjoyed cream of the crop slicing tomatoes all summer for $2.00!  cool.

Right now, I am hoping our jalapenos and couple of bell pepper plants hold on long enough to finish what they have started, which is just a little too small to pick yet.




This shot makes me giggle because the pepper plants look so funny being the only large, upright things in this garden bed right now.  The lettuce is coming in nicely to the left, though!

The herbs I left in the ground are still going crazy and while the strawberries are continuing to grow, they are not doing anything more than staying green. In the cleared areas of the beds I sowed some more lettuces and spinach, which have already started to sprout. 


If all goes well we should have more leafy green stuff than we can stand to eat in just a couple more weeks.  With this last attempt at outdoor gardening completed I am now shifting my focus to an indoor herb garden and some herb decorating for the fall.

Last week I dug up a couple of basil plants, some clusters of chives and the lone parsley plant to bring indoors. 


I used a cool oval galvanized tub that I found on sale at Joann’s the week before. Now I am counting on the sunny kitchen windows to help keep these plants going, because I can’t wait to use fresh herbs during the dreary winter months. Also, for some fall decor I transplanted my extremely neglected mum plants from last fall into bigger pots, along with a couple of our overgrown sage plants from the garden.


Since all I had to use for transplanting were ugly black plastic nursery planters, I squished them into our large galvanized tub to make one big display for our front landing. 


The soft gray-green of the sage plants contrasts nicely with the darker green of the mum leaves.  I like the color of the sage plants so much that I am considering pulling the last couple from the garden to add to the pumpkin display we will place on the steps next month.  Plus, pulling them out of the garden will free up more room for spinach- yum!  Now, if only the mums out front would give us some blooms we will really be in the fall décor business!

Have any of you started decorating for this time of year?  Do you bring anything in from your garden to keep going during the winter?  Any tips to keeping things alive indoors?

Kitsch Krafts

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Gardening–Our Veggie Patch

June 22, 2011 05:45 by ehouston

As you may recall, last year I mentioned that we planted a few veggies in an old planting bed behind our house and next to our back deck.  It wasn’t a pretty sight at all, with rotting railroad ties and dirt spilling out the unfinished end toward the deck.  You can jog your memory here and check out a super cute, rolly-polly fat baby helping me with the harvest while you are at it. 



Here are some shots from the deck pre-planting in 2010.  The bed stretched all the way to the pavers at the garage door stoop.  Just beyond the pavers you can see our Rubbermaid tool shed.  (Lovely, I know!)

This year I decided to get off my duff and make a slightly nicer raised bed to house our mini crops.  Of course, as soon as I started discussing my plans with The Mister, he suggested I add another planting bed on the other side of our garage door.  Initially I had been convinced that I could just plant other things in the sunny spots around the yard and harvest when ready.  He reminded me of the deer that live in the woods to one side of our property, coupled with the plethora of chubby squirrels would result in nada if I didn’t keep my edible plantings near the house.  He was right (don’t tell him I said that) because I have been losing strawberries to something that I’m guessing is a squirrel or rabbit just before they are ripe enough to pick.  What’s funny about this dilemma is that the Little Guy and I will spot the ripening fruit and decide to give it one more day to sweeten up and the next day it’s gone!  I am sure whichever animal is taking our goods is watching and listening to our every move when we are out back tending to our little veggie patch.

Ok, back to the details.  With calculating help from The Mister, I decided to build two boxes 4’ X 8’ with corner posts extending down about 6” into the ground.  Basically we went to Home Depot and bought 6 - 12” X 8’ boards and cut two of them in half to create the short sides of the planters.  Then we bought 2-  10 foot  4” X 4” posts to cut down for the corner pieces of the planters.  Don’t double check the math too closely on this one.  We messed up and ended up with more post wood than we needed.  It didn’t help that I changed my original length to 18” posts instead of 24” as recommended by a DIY site I glanced before going to the store.  All was well in the end because I used the leftover wood to help construct a new landing pad from our back garage door. 

I used our compound miter saw to cut the 4” X 4” posts down to 18” in length and to give them an angle on one end to help ease them into the ground.  Then I simply laid my pieces out in the yard, forming a large rectangle, and used 1.75” deck nails to screw the whole thing together.  Piece of cake.  The hardest part for me was just moving the longer sides of the lumber around because they were super heavy.  Then, once the frames were built I had to do a crazy shimmy, shimmy with them up on one end to get them in place.  I know the neighbors had a good time watching me almost kill myself while trying to do all of this on my own.  Once they were in place over the beds I had pre-dug, I just backfilled them and then added more soil to bring the level up to about two inches from the top of the side rails.

I finished the raised beds two weeks before Easter and placed the last few plants the week following Easter weekend.  Here are some shots of the progress at the beginning of June.


A similar view to the before shots from the deck above.  This new raised bed sits next to the deck and to the left of the garage door.  You can see our leggy spinach and some pretty nice lettuce already coming in.  I put sunflowers along half of the back and the other half of the back side is planted with green beans.


Above you can see the carrots coming up, along with some sage.  I put a “stepping” stone with my son’s handprint over the plumbing drain that could not be covered up.  Now there is a nice, useable opening to the coiled hose between the deck steps and the planting area.


Old bed plantings circa 2010.


New bed plantings for 2011.  As you can see the new beds are smaller.  I wanted to keep the dirt pulled away from the brick foundation and make a little more space on the ends for walking around the bed.  It’s still just big enough to be hard to reach the center, but with my height and long arms it’s still possible.


Just on the other side of the garage door is the totally new bed.  I moved the storage shed down the wall toward the driveway, creating a nice little pocket between the neighbor’s view and our garden, where we can hide our safety orange wheelbarrow (a $7.00 yard sale score, so the color mattered little.)  The concrete pavers from our old garage door stoop were recycled as a stable, raised base for the new storage shed location, and so far the inside has remained pretty dirt free.  Yeah!  I planted some yellow squash along the left side of the back, just in front of a line of sunflowers that spans the entire length of this bed.  On the very end of the bed I planted some cucumbers, with the idea that they would end up trailing out and around the edge of the bed, rather than across all the other plantings.  The small plants in front of the squash and to the right of the cukes are basil and cilantro.  I intended to transplant the seedlings to the other bed once the spinach and lettuce had their fun.


On the opposite end of this bed I have the tomatoes, green peppers and jalapenos.  Sprinkled around the bottom are marigolds and some thyme runs along the front edge.  The rickety looking metal fencing you see along portions of both beds are in place to keep the dog out.  For some reason she thinks she needs to lay in the cool dirt of my freshly tilled garden, so I have to do ugly things to keep her out.  I also learned that toddlers like to join their big sister dog in rolling in the dirt, so the fencing has served two purposes.


This shot shows the new back stoop, with a trellised pot of sugar snap peas and marigolds, plus two pots of strawberries (the ones that keep getting eaten!).  The overturned pot tray that doesn’t make any sense was left alone because our resident toad has been using it as a house.  Plus, he scares the be-jezzus out of me every time I go to move it.  It’s yours Mr. Toad, all yours!  (Yes, that is Miss Roxy poking her head out of the dog door.  She always hams it up when she sees a camera!)

One last share and I will wrap up this novel of a post.  As you could see in the before shots way up at the top, the garage door stoop consisted of concrete pavers set in a rotting wooden box of sand.  The pavers looked really bad and had been inching their way out of the wooden frame since we arrived at this home.  Plus, the wonderful workers at Verizon were kind enough to run (through a flower bed, mind you) the wires for our cable and FIOS all of about 5 inches into the dirt and across our backyard.  I was blow away in 2010 when I discovered them laying so close to the surface.  I knew to be careful when digging, but I was sure they would be further down.  Lucky for us, I did not slice through anything, but to save a headache in the future for us or other owners we decided to extend the back stoop into a spacious landing, and cover up those wires with something no one would likely be digging in to.  I used 4” X 4”’s again to create a simple frame at 4’ X 7’ and rather than screwing them to each other, I drilled holes and pounded 12” long bolts through and into the ground at the board ends.  This might not last for eternity, but it seems pretty stable for now.  Then I added a couple more bags of sand and about 5 bags of gravel to level this area off and create a mud free zone.  To make a little bit nicer path to the door I added large flagstone pieces, which also match the pathway from our driveway to the front steps.  See!  Some thought did go in to this!  Anywho, eventually I would like to create some kind of panel to hinge across the utilities.  You know, a door type thing that can be opened and closed in order to hide their ugliness.  In the mean time I decided to position a trellised pot with snap peas in front of this messy part of the wall.  Plus, the pots add visual interest by the back door.

It’s still a work in progress and I will share more photos the beginning of next month.  But, I just wanted to let you all see how things are coming along so far back there this year.  Pretty big change since we took over this little patch of Earth, eh?

Kitsch Krafts

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Can’t Wait To…

July 7, 2010 04:44 by ehouston

Eat this..


…and this…


…and some of these!


We have already admired this…


…smelled these…


and eaten a lot of this…


and this.


So far our little efforts in the garden are paying off quite nicely.  What have you guys been up to outside lately?

Kitsch Krafts

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So Glad I Watered The Lawn Today…

June 28, 2010 14:28 by ehouston

…now that we have a big booming thunderstorm going on outside.  With the Dining Room DIY Project still consuming all of my time I have completely neglected all of the outside world except the vegetable bed and the potted plants on the back deck.  We transplanted several shrubs and a tree to better spots and I fully intended to soak them down religiously until they seemed good and rooted.  Well, I’m not sure if it’s the late hour grogginess or guilt, but I will confess here and now that I have been a total slacker on the watering job.  It’s harder to ignore the large pots on the deck and, of course, the food bed. 


(Good Old Miss Roxy, watching over the veggies.)


(Well, sort of.)

When those plants start to shrivel up you notice it right away and then you start to think about how much it cost to put it all together.  You know how tight I am with cash, so usually that thought gets me out to the hose fast.  Yesterday we had a record high of 102 degrees in the Richmond, VA area.  It was literally hard to breath when you walked outside.  In the evening, around 6:30 pm, when the sun is on the other side of the house and the deck is usually prime for relaxing, you could still feel the heat coming up from the boards.  It felt like if you stood there to long the bottom of your flip flops would melt and stick in place.  The Little Guy and I lasted about 6 minutes on the chaise before we succumbed to the thick humidity and had soaked through our clothes.  We decided that just looking at the lovely potted flowers through the windows was more our speed on this day.

After surveying our property a couple of hours later, The Mister and I realized that our yard was one hot day away from spontaneous combustion and we needed to get the hoses and sprinklers out stat.  So, that was my task this morning.  Rather than running from the nursery after laying the Little Guy down for his morning nap, donning junky paint clothes and rushing down to the dining room to finish up the window trim paint, I went outside to begin putting together the waterworks.  It’s days like today that make me wish we had irrigation.  After carefully positioning a sprinkler out front, with a splitter and hose to a tree we recently transplanted, I was ready to check one of my main tasks off my list.  That was until I started the flow and discovered a gaping hole in the main hose.  Water gushed every where but the areas we needed it and I had to pull up the old hose and wind a new one down the side yard in it’s place.  A simple task, you may say.  Well, it took about 45 minutes.  I may have mentioned this a couple of times already, a-hem, but I only have the Little Guys nap time to do these sort of projects and this one small part ate up nearly all of that time.  Anywho, after rigging up several sprinklers around the yard, MacGyver-style, I was in business.  I spent the rest of the morning watering and repositioning until the whole yard and all endangered plants were soaked through and around mid-afternoon I was feeling pretty good about what I had accomplished, even though I never even set foot in the dreaded dining room at all.

It wasn’t until a trip to Lowe’s and subsequently to Home Depot to purchase the rest of the Dining Room DIY Project window treatments that I noticed some dark clouds in the sky.  By the time we wrapped up our shopping the Little Guy and I were racing to load up the car before the hurricane hit.  (At least that’s what the high winds made it feel like.)  The best part was that we did not encounter rain until we were almost home (insert demoralizing snicker here) and pulled in to the garage just as the serious part of the downpour hit.  It has been raining quite steadily since and I have a feeling it will continue through the night.  So glad I watered the lawn today.

Kitsch Krafts

(PS-While out and about in the yard I discovered a shrub in the side yard that we were coaxing along was hacked down to a nub.  I guess it wasn’t part of the neighbor’s aesthetic.  Unfortunately it also was not part of their property.  Wah-Wah…the Side Yard Saga continues!)

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Crazy Neighbors And Mondays Always Get Me Down – Update

May 11, 2010 02:53 by ehouston

After several encounters with the neighbors I finally had an open opportunity to mention that we did not appreciate the piles of yard waste that they raked up onto our property.  It seemed like I was never going to get a chance to say anything without bringing it into the conversation from left field, and of course I did not want to create undo tension between us all.  Based on some of the comments and private emails I received regarding the last post (found here) I wanted to be sure to state that we are not fighting with our neighbors.  Most of the tension and issues we are experiencing are being internalized by me and The Mister.  The reason for our agony and for my reaching out via this blog is that we DON’T want to fight with our neighbors.  So, after receiving advice from many of you and discussing it with the Hubbs, we decided we needed to be direct, but wanted to avoid going over to bring up the issue.  We figured with how often we see them the opportunity would present itself to discuss the issue at hand. 

Well, after many, many encounters I finally got a chance to mention the “piles” yesterday afternoon.  By the way, the two piles have since turned into four, and more rocks have been piled up in the same location behind a large tree (out of their view, but fully in our view) that I had already cleaned up earlier this spring.  The funny thing is that once the Missus next door brought the conversation around to that particular area and I jumped in with my comment about how ‘we had noticed some piles of yard waste left out our property"’ she immediately (before I could barely finish my sentence) stated that they had not been able to get them yet due to their garbage being to full, but that they were working on it.  I was happy to have gotten through that conversation quickly, unscathed and with making myself clear on what we expected with the yard upkeep on both sides.  The only thing that bugged me about her comment is that they own two extra large bins big enough to hold several bodies (which is why I left all comments to myself) that are picked up each week…so, her reasoning was just silly.  Anyhow, the deed has been done.  Now, on to the next issue.  Yes, she brought up something else when we were talking yesterday, which I learned was the main reason for her visit over the fence.  They have found more trees in our yard that they think need to be cut down.  UGH!  I  have decided to call the county to use their free tree service.  They will send out local volunteers with Master Gardner/Arborist certifications to come and help you determine if a tree is well, sick or ready for the chopping block.  I have a hard time trusting my neighbors on this issue since they came over last fall and stated that they “hate” oak trees.  My whole yard is full of oaks and the trees they keep telling me need to go have all been oaks…some of which look fine.  So, we will just have to see what the experts say.  (She also offered to send her husband over with the chainsaw to take care of them for us.  How nice.)

On another note, completely outside of the gardening issues, our neighbors offered up a bunch of info to the Census lady last week.  Apparently, our completed census form was not received and a rep was sent out to our home.  The rep came by when we were not there, so she took it upon herself to go to the neighbors for information and well, they gladly obliged.  In this day and age I am shocked that I have to tell someone that you don’t give out personal information to anyone that comes to your door.  Certainly not personal information that is not yours to give, along with the best time to catch us at home.  Why not just give them the key and tell them which rooms have the TV and computers?  So, on to conversation number two. 

Will it ever end?

Kitsch Krafts

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