The Once and Future Tomato

What would life be without homegrown tomatoes? Well, not as good as otherwise! Last year was a bad one around here for tomato crops. Ours came in late; enough to eat, but we barely had enough left over to can 7 quarts, and none for frozen pizza/pasta sauce.

I am determined to have a good crop this year. Our frost date is late May, but we were getting into the 80’s in early April, so I went ahead and bought two 4-packs of plants at a local hardware/grocery store. I went with two heirloom beefsteak-style varieties: Mr. Stripey (1800’s, mid-Atlantic, low-acid, colorful red/yellow) and Mortgage Lifter (early 20th Century, West Virginia, big-n-meaty, pink/red).

The weather stayed pretty mild so at the end of April I prepped my tomato beds — two of our five 6′ x 6′ terraced beds. First, I dumped the last of the winter woodstove ashes:
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Then I added several tractor bucket loads of goat shed compost on each bed, mixed, and leveled:
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Then, for several weeks, the weather, especially at night, turned chilly. It is my understanding that if tomato plants are repeatedly exposed to temps below 50 their yield will suffer the entire season. So I waited. And waited. I bought some peat pots and re-potted the root-bound plants.

Finally, in late May (admittedly, our historical frost date, but weeks and weeks and weeks after prolonged spring/summer temps), I deemed the forecast suitable for transplanting; in the background you can see the goats enjoying the bolted collards that I cleaned out of the nearby beds. I planted 4 plants per 6’x 6′ bed with landscape fabric mulch:
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A month later the plants are going gangbusters. I have tied a few plants with baling twine to encourage them to grow through the “tepees” I made with short sections of cattle panels:Tomato-2017-06-19

Sunshine on my laundry makes me happy

I love the smell of laundry when it comes off the line. I know that this has to do with the disinfectant nature of the Sun’s UV rays, but I couldn’t find a more detailed scientific explanation; perhaps my Google-fu skills are a bit lacking?

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Last Friday was a very nice Spring day!

Easter Eggs: The Aftermath

The food dye we used to dye our eggs seeped into some of the eggs in a most delightful way.

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AfterEaster: hard-boiled eggs aplenty!

Happy Easter 2017

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Late Gasp of Winter [Video]

This winter has been virtually snow-free so far. Temps have been up and down — in fact, a couple of weeks ago we had several days in the mid-70s!

But Ole Man Winter isn’t quite ready to leave just yet. An old-fashioned Nor’Easter passed over us last night dumping about 8″ of snow.

Here is what the morning chores (feeding the dogs — two indoor, one outdoor livestock guardian dog) in the lingering flurries was like:

Happy Easter!

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We dyed a mix of white and brown eggs

PWS KWVHOOKS2 is On the Air

“Huh?” you might be thinking. Well, I spent my Christmas gift money on something I’ve been thinking about getting for years. PWS = Personal Weather Station and KWVHOOKS2 is the Station ID that Weather Underground assigned to my new Ambient Weather WS-1200-IP OBSERVER Solar Powered Wireless Internet Remote Monitoring Weather Station. Since we are going to be installing a solar hot water system soon, I splurged and got a station that includes UV and solar radiation readings. This system streams outdoor temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, rainfall, UV and solar radiation, and indoor temperature, humidity and barometric pressure.

You can see the current data over on the right sidebar, and you can peruse historical data (not much yet, just it installed yesterday!) by clicking on KWVHOOKS2 over there as well.

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I mounted the all-in-one sensor array on the corner fence post next to the terrace gardens — it is one of the few posts that is still rock-solid, and is also a reasonable distance from the house.

The Threat of Ices

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The latest winter storm brought us about 1.5″ of snow, several hours of sleet, then many hours of (freezing) rain. The result: about an inch of hard frozen slush (on top of the several inches of hard-frozen snow still remaining in places from the last storm). Starting around 2 a.m it started crashing off of the back roof in thunderous reports as it glanced off the veranda railings and then shattered on the frozen snow in the back yard. Now the sun is partially out and melting is happening big-time, so we need to watch the river for flooding.


Snowzilla Aftermath

It took me another 3 days to dig us out to the point where we could get a vehicle on the road. My back-of-the-envelope calculations are that I moved at least 10,000 cubic feet of snow — around 640 feet of driveway by 8 feet wide by 2 feet deep, more or less, give or take.

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My main goal Monday was to clear the lower drive all the way to the dirt road (which the road crews had just plowed.) This includes getting to the gate to let the dogs out to run around a bit. Satie agrees with this goal!


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By 11:30 I had the dogs out and had gotten most of the way to the road. The F150, I am hoping, will clear itself once things warm up next week. Another 2 hours and I got out to the road. I then loaned the tractor to a neighbor who lives down the dirt road so he could plow out his driveway so 3 people could get to work the next day. (Have I mentioned lately how wonderful it is to work from home?)


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I started Tuesday clearing out a parking space at the upper end of the lower drive. I then started on clearing the main road in front of the mailbox. Note in the picture near the mail box that the Post Office was back on the road, in this case delivering an Amazon package handed off to it from UPS.


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For the upper driveway I had two choices: start at the level-ish end, which, though, is not really level and is *very* close to the steep stone wall drop-off, so I went with starting by going down the steep drive entrance. I fully expected to get stuck. I did. Note in the picture that most of the snow has blown off the house roof. This happened in thunderous whooshes during the storm. Our new metal roof apparently is much slipperier than our old roof, with its (dozens?) of coats of paint and caulked repairs, which would hold snow for days/weeks.


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To get unstuck, it took some hand digging but I had gravity on my side. It was slow going, only got 1/3 of the way to the garage by day’s end. Lots of slipping and sliding on the icy surfaces created by the tires compressing the increasingly-wetter snow in the just-above-freezing temperatures.


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On dig-out day 3 I continued pressig towards the garage. By lunch time, including hand digging, I had reached the car in the garage. Note the snow looming on the roof — it slides off in big sheets, which is one reason we wanted the car out now, before more snow piles up in front of the door.


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In the afternoon I tackled the remaining upper drive. It was quite close quarters with tress and bushes on both sides. (I was glad the snow had already blown off the branches, no snow down the back of my neck!) As expected, it was a challenge finding space to dump all the snow.


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3:30pm Wednesday, all done!

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Today was cleanup day 1 from the monster East Coast winter storm that ended last night around 8 p.m., after pummeling us with snow for 32 hours.

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Today was a gorgeous sunny day. Never got above freezing, though.


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Having the tractor on the addition ramp was good in that it was most definitely nice to be able to just hop on the tractor and get started without any hand digging. This was too much snow to use my usual push-and-veer technique. I had to scoop-and-dump, which involved a lot of 3-, 4-, and 5-point turns to get the loads to a place where I could dump them.


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I measured 34″ of snow in the drifts near the house, and 24″ in a more open place. This was after a pretty windy night and several hours of sunshine, so who knows how much actually fell. (Other than, of course a lot).


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My lunch break was triggered by my getting stuck. This light snow compacted down to a hard slush in the intense sunshine. All it took was me venturing just a little too far onto the 10° slope at the side of lower drive to start slipping sideways. After lunch I hand-dug around the tractor and dumped some wood-ash for traction. It took 10 minutes of judicious use of the loader bucket to lever myself back-and-forth, but I got unstuck.


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I had two major goals today: (1) get out to goat shed to check on the dogs — check! …


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… and (2) clear a path to the woodshed — check! — since we burned through most of the wood we brought in on Thursday.


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By the way, the dogs were fine. The covered portion of the southern portico was dry and warm with its deep bedding. Bersheba, though, was clearly tired of the company of puppy Satie, but I did not get the tractor as far as the gate so she will have to wait until tomorrow for an outing.


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Speaking of the gate, it opens inward, so I was not looking forward to trying to open it. It looks like the dogs have helped me out in that regard. (“Shovels? We don’t need no stinkin’ shovels!”)


This all took me a total of 6½ hours, including breaks. Tomorrow, I want to clear the lower driveway out to the dirt road (a challenge in that it is uphill and sloped to the side), and then get around to the upper driveway and start getting that cleared out so we can get the Mini out of the garage at some point.

Ready for the Storm

The prediction is for a “possibly historic” snow storm in our neck of the woods, with snow measured in feet and high winds as well, starting tomorrow. We have spent much of this week preparing — getting hay in for the goats, filling holes where our dog Bersheba digs out (so as to make sure she is here tomorrow when she and Suddy will get locked into the southern portico of the goat shed with plenty of food), removing the last of the construction debris around the house, etc. Here are the fruits of our labor:

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Plenty of wood in for the living room wood stove.


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Plenty of wood in for the kitchen wood stove.


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A reserve cart of wood and our tractor-PTO-driven generator on the front porch (I will get them covered tomorrow morning before the storm starts).


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We ran out of time and energy to get all our latest load of wood stacked, so it will be buried under snow for a while.


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New for us this winter, I have the tractor parked on the new addition entrance ramp so I can just hop on and start snow removal, no hand-digging my way to the garage!


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Having the tractor (and a lot of my shop tools that are now in my new shop in the addition) out of the garage mean we are able to get the Mini Cooper under cover.


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My new shop, on the other hand, needs some TLC! Note, though, that I put most of the big stuff on dollies to make it easier to rearrange.

Happy Holidays!

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Winter’s Last Gasp?

We got 6½ inches of snow last Thursday, followed by an arctic blast, and then, finally some unseasonable warmth. Today is a typical cool and rainy March day. We are certainly ready for Spring.

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View from the air Sunday. As you can see, the siding is just about done on the addition. The insulation sub is supposed to be here this week to to finish spraying, batting, and blowing. Then next week, now that the bitter cold has broken, the rest of the wallboard will go up. Then on to chimney cleaning and sealing, and wallboard mudding. In the lower left you can see the trails that the goats have made in the snow going down to the spring run for water. Their shed is in the upper left.

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The goat shed compound. From left to right: the Airlock (has gates to/from the Dairy Paddock, the Lower Driveway, and the Southern Portico); the Southern Portico (used variously for goat feeding, penning up new moms with their kids, penning up lactating goats overnight away from their kids for morning milking, and locking up Bersheba when she has dug out until we can fill the latest hole); the Main Shed; and the Northern Portico (The driveway half is for storing square hay bales and dog food, the Paddock side is the dog feeding station.) Behind the shed you can see the top half of the Apothedairy/Barn/Garage.

Freeze-Thaw Damage

freeze_thawAll of the snows we’ve had all winter kept the ground pretty saturated. Combined with the periodic bitter cold snaps, frost heave was inevitable. This portion of our front stone wall will need some TLC after spring mud season ends (before which this relentless winter needs to end!)

The Big Digout

The snowstorm ended overnight Thursday. We stayed at 16″ of accumulation — the last few inches were offset by melting/compaction since the temp rose into the mid 30s. Friday was clear and bright, a perfect day for digging out.

No way to avoid using a shovel on the stone steps up from the house to the upper driveway.

No way to avoid using a shovel on the stone steps up from the house to the upper driveway.

But the tractor awaits in the garage, after a 100-foot trudge.

But the tractor awaits in the garage, after a 100-foot trudge.

Now that's what I call a show shovel! Note that snow and dirt are still frozen onto the bucket from the last several digouts this winter

Now that’s what I call a show shovel! Note that snow and dirt are still frozen onto the bucket from the last several digouts this winter

BTW, here is our 50-gallon diesel tank that we got along with the PTO-powered electric generator that you can see in the previous picture on the left behind the sawhorses.

BTW, here is our 50-gallon diesel tank that we got along with the PTO-powered electric generator that you can see in the previous picture on the left behind the sawhorses.

With this season's earlier snows I could mostly push the snow ahead and to the side. But this one is deep enough that I had to repeatedly scoop then back up and dump off to the side.

With this season’s earlier snows I could mostly push the snow ahead and to the side. But this one is deep enough that I had to repeatedly scoop then back up and dump off to the side.

Well, that 100 feet took about an hour. After another half-hour of manual digging around the car I took a coffee break.

Well, that 100 feet took about an hour. After another half-hour of manual digging around the car I took a coffee break.

After the break I moved on to the lower driveway. This was much trickier, for two reasons. First, the drive tilts as it comes down off the dirt road, as you can see in this picture. That caused a lot of sideways sliding. Second, this portion is also pretty narrow as it passes between the apothedairy and the goat shed, which meant I had to do a lot of backing up this slanted slope to dump the snow. I got stuck twice sliding sideways, had to use the loader to lift/push backwards to get unstuck.

After the break I moved on to the lower driveway. This was much trickier, for two reasons. First, the drive tilts as it comes down off the dirt road, as you can see in this picture. That caused a lot of sideways sliding. Second, this portion is also pretty narrow as it passes between the apothedairy and the goat shed, which meant I had to do a lot of backing up this slanted slope to dump the snow. I got stuck twice sliding sideways, had to use the loader to lift/push backwards to get unstuck.

The lower driveway goes all the way past the front door to the woodshed.  It took 2 hours to get to here, time for a lunch break.

The lower driveway goes all the way past the front door to the woodshed. It took 2 hours to get to here, time for a lunch break.

After another couple of hours around the woodshed and the upper driveway and mailbox, the job's done and the tractor's back in the garage. The poultry shed path can wait until tomorrow -- they had a full feeder and they have a light-activated door so they can get to the snow for their water.

After another couple of hours around the woodshed and the upper driveway and mailbox, the job’s done and the tractor’s back in the garage. The poultry shed path can wait until tomorrow — they had a full feeder and they have a light-activated door so they can get to the snow for their water.