June 29, 2009

Garden Beginnings

1st garden at the new house.
This is absolutely the most haphazard garden I've ever had. For one thing, we started late. Fortunately we live in a part of the US that has a long growing season. Even so, I would ordinarily have started with a soil test after carefully considering all possible garden locations. We would have tilled deep and added one truckload of manure and another of any other organic matter we could get our hands onto. I would have planned the whole thing out and known exactly what I wanted and where. I would have calculated how much we need to plant for a year's supply, and bought heirloom seeds with the plan of saving my own for next year. I would have started careful records of planting dates, harvest dates, etc.

However, we got here later in the season than we hoped, and were so overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done (house, yard, garden, etc), that I threw all planning to the wind and said to Dan, "Something is better than nothing."

If you've ever started a garden in a place that was formerly lawn, then you know that grass is stubborn to give up its claim to the ground. That's why lots of folks build raised beds. Dan is not too keen on these, as he loves to get behind a tiller. I wasn't too keen on them this year either, as I knew it would take awhile before we could get them built. Dan ended up renting a tiller, a lightweight rear tine Toro. I'm sorry to report that it was no better than a toy tiller. With 4 inch tines it barely scratched the surface of the soil. I told him to never mind and reminded myself that Ruth Stout had done a whole lot more with a whole lot less.

As the seeds began to come up, the grass started to come back. To hopefully smother that, I first mulched with newspaper and leftover packing paper, covering that with a layer of wood chips and leaves.

Packing paper covered with mulch.We bought one load of wood chip mulch, but quickly abandoned that in favor of plain ol' leaves. Never mind that most people rake theirs out of their yard and we're hauling them in. At $21 a bobcat bucket scoop for chipped mulch, I prefer to use what's handy. And free. Besides, I didn't like the smell of the boughten commercial stuff.

As it is, the neighbors think we're nuts. The friendly couple across the street came over to introduce themselves while we were beavering away in the garden and stayed to chat awhile. As they left, I overheard him ask her, "Did you find out what the newspaper was for?"

Unfortunately for all our neighbors, we are not manicured lawn and ornamental type of folks. Ours will be an edible, medicinal, and dye plant landscape. We believe that the land should be allowed to be productive in a more realistic way, one that benefits us and helps meet our needs. We take our stewardship of it seriously, and plan to nurture and care for it in turn. Dan wants every square inch of this place to be productive in a self-sustaining way.

At first I wasn't too keen on having the garden so close to the road. But twice I've seen a deer in the back field, so perhaps for this year, this is a good place to start.

So far I've bought eight tomato plants from a local nursery, along with a bell pepper plant. I've planted okra, corn, pumpkins, butternut squash, cucumbers, straightneck summer squash, green beans, acorn squash, and some sunflowers.

I bought a lot of 25 cent seeds and was happy to discover that quite a few of them are heirloom varieties. Of these I can save seeds for next year. The pumpkins (on left), are "Small Sugar." I like to grow the small pie pumpkins rather than the big ones used for jack-o-lanterns. The small ones are much better flavored.

I still have a lot of mulching to do and of course some weeding. Dan just put up the bean poles for me, but I will need to run the string for the runners to grab on to. I need a few more tomato cages or stakes as well.

I also need to get a rain gauge and some soaker hoses. We've had a lot of rain, but I expect it will be dryer in July and August and I'll need to irrigate a bit. And I need to have a soil test done!

I'm not sure how much we'll harvest, but we plan to eat as much as we are able and can, freeze, dehydrate, or otherwise store the rest. I don't have a root cellar yet, but will find a way to store those pumpkins and winter squashes.

In the fall, I hope to plant cool weather vegetables: lettuce, radishes, peas, broccoli, etc, And maybe some root crops such as carrots, turnips and beets. We have clay soil, so it may take a few years to get it to the point where root crops will do well.

This winter we'll have more time to plan, and will have a better idea of the path of the sun. I have confidence that next year's garden will be better. And larger. I'm just thankful to have my hands in the soil again.

June 26, 2009

Trial Set-Up For My Studio

This is actually a duplicate post. I published almost the exact same thing on my fiber journal because it's appropriate for both blogs, though for different reasons. Though I haven't posted much on that blog lately, I am still a weaver and fiber person at heart.

After a lot of thought and some trial & error, I've finally settled on a set-up for my studio. This was formerly the "sun room," claimed as my studio on first sight.

The room is long and narrow, about 9.5 by 20 feet, and this presented some challenges. My loom takes up roughly 6 by 5.5 feet worth of floor space, so where to put it took some deliberation. I finally decided to start with it near the living room entrance, as the width of the double French doors afford a little more room there.

Part of the problem is having enough floor space to walk around all sides of the loom. With this set-up I have 18 inches of space in back of the loom, and 20 inches on the left side. I'm going to work with this for awhile, and if it's not adequate I'll make adjustments.

The long tube on the floor behind the loom is a reed holder. It was handy previously, but it's in the way now. I'll have to come up with another way to store my reeds.

To the right of the loom I left the floor open, and used a book shelf to define both studio and office space for myself without blocking the windows.

All of my spinning, dyeing, knitting, crochet, sewing, and design books are on those shelves, along with a few weaving books and a box or two of equipment. Behind the bookshelf .....

.... is just enough space for my desk and computer (currently both in DH's addition.)

This will be my "office" area.

That's not a permanent home for my warping board, just a handy place to keep it. Eventually the closet will be replaced with more shelves.

My Sterilite stackable drawers (full of weaving yarns) are in front of the door which goes out to the screened in front porch. Though I like the idea of being able to use this door, I really don't need it. In the corner between the closet and my stackables is my tri-loom and raddle.

These shelves were left in the house. I was able to get a lot of my yarns out of boxes and stashed here. I really like being able to have at least some of my yarns visually handy.

The other little shelf unit contains most of my weaving books and is handy for my bobbin winder. Hopefully the space between this shelf and the loom will be adequate for entering and exiting the rest of the room.

The rest of my stash: weaving yarns, handspun yarns, commercial knitting yarns, and all my fleeces and other spinning fibers, (as well as my sewing machine, serger, and dye equipment) are in the spare room.

Being a "try it and see" sort of person, I figured that the only way to know how well this Hopefully I'll have something to show you on that front soon.

Copyright by Leigh 26 June 2009 

June 22, 2009

A Simple Life

Life is ..... (check all that apply)

___ too busy
___ too hectic
___ too complicated
___ too time-pressured
___ all of the above

All I want is a simple life

You may have noticed that this is my blog's byline. Depending upon what circles you travel in, you may or may not be surprised to discover that this sentiment is not all that uncommon, and for many of the above reasons. If you browse Blogger profiles under the term "living simply" there are hundreds of profiles listing this as one of their interests. However, if you go on to read the rest of the items on these lists, it becomes apparent that they all don't mean the same thing.

Craig Ambrose wrote an interesting blog post on this very topic not too long ago, and he made that very point quite eloquently. Considering the number of definitions offered by Dictionary.com for the word "simple," this shouldn't be surprising.

Simple - /ˈsɪmpəl/ -Pronunciation [sim-puhl] adjective, -pler, -plest, noun

1. easy to understand, deal with, use, etc.: a simple matter; simple tools.
2. not elaborate or artificial; plain: a simple style.
3. not ornate or luxurious; unadorned: a simple gown.
4. unaffected; unassuming; modest: a simple manner.
5. not complicated: a simple design.
6. not complex or compound; single.
7. occurring or considered alone; mere; bare: the simple truth; a simple fact.
8. free of deceit or guile; sincere; unconditional: a frank, simple answer.
9. common or ordinary: a simple soldier.
10. not grand or sophisticated; unpretentious: a simple way of life.
11. humble or lowly: simple folk.
12. inconsequential or rudimentary.
13. unlearned; ignorant.
14. lacking mental acuteness or sense: a simple way of thinking.
15. unsophisticated; naive; credulous.

While some of us may find an uncomplicated life appealing, it's doubtful that very many of us would think the same of an ignorant life. We might like to think of ourselves as free of deceit and straightforward, but probably wouldn't care to be referred to as mentally deficient, inconsequential, or unsophisticated. Yet all of these are meanings of the word "simple."

How we view simple living will be determined to a great extent by the context of our lives. A simple life for some may mean having only one boy or girl friend instead of six. For someone else, simple might mean "easy," as in having a job where one doesn't have to work too hard. Or it might mean not having to spend too many hours in rush hour traffic each day.

So how do we know what simple living means to any given individual? By allowing them to define the phrase in their own terms and within their own context. The individual I have in mind at the moment of course, is me. I realize that since I chose this term for a byline to this blog, then I'd better define it.

When I say that I want a simple life, what I basically mean is that I refuse to be a competitor in the rat race of life. This is a choice Dan and I have made and is a reflection of our life goals. These goals do not include accumulating as much money and material wealth as we possibly can. Rather, we seek a life which give us a sense of purpose, appreciation, and satisfaction with what we do and how we do it. One aspect of this is in the ability to provide for ourselves through a relatively independent, sustainable lifestyle. A lifestyle that relies less on consumerism, and more on our relationship with our land. One that keeps us in closer contact with the natural creation and it's gifts.

Of course this doesn't mean that we never buy things. But it does reflect an attitude of not assuming that money is the only answer to every problem. In this sense, living a simple life means not getting caught up in a lifestyle of consumerism with it's inherent sense of dissatisfaction.

I heard this more charmingly put when I lived in the Ozarks many years ago:

Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without

So how do we flesh this out? For starters, we are a one income family. Many people assume I don't "work" because we can afford for me to stay at home. In one sense that's true, but we "afford" it by living a simpler life than most. We rarely eat out or go to entertainments, we drive old vehicles, and I buy all our clothing on clearance or in thrift shops. For years we did without air conditioning and used wood heat. I hung my clothes to dry on a clothes line. We grew and canned much of our own food (all of which meant that I did indeed "work," I just didn't get paid cash for!) We maintain only basic telephone services and have never paid for TV. Neither did we make the switch to digital television. Our telecommunications indulgence is the lowest speed DSL internet service available.

Probably the biggest factor is that except for our new mortgage, we have no debt. Again, this is a choice. For example, if one of the vehicles breaks down, we make do with only one until we can scrape together the cash to fix the broken one. This reflects our philosophy of living, which is basically that we don't "need" as much as we tend to think we do.

Our recent three and a half years of apartment dwelling only served to reinforce all of this. Yes, we have a lot of hard work ahead of us, especially considering that this place has been neglected for so long. We are older now, and so have to take the pace a little slower. But even though we have a dream for this place, there is still something satisfying and fulfilling about just being able to work toward that dream, regardless of how fully we reach it. I suppose that's what's meant by taking time to smell the roses along the way. I'm just thankful to have those "roses" to smell.

June 21, 2009

Rascal & Catzee's Big Day

If you follow my cat blogs, or just like cats, then you may be interested in my kitties' first trip outside since moving here. You can find them at the following links -

June 18, 2009


You may recall that I mentioned in an earlier post how overgrown our place was when we first got here. Initially, it was quite overwhelming. We decided to start with the yard and begin to clear around the house. I could tell that at one time, it had been nicely landscaped. The azaleas, nandina, and crepe myrtles were obvious, but years of neglect had hidden other things. As I slowly began clearing out some of the overgrowth, I started uncovering some wonderful things. For example, under this pecan tree ....

A hedge of old fashioned Beauty Bush...... is a hedge of Beauty Bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) now liberated from sapling trees, vines, and other miscellaneous unwanteds.

Beauty Bush flowers.The hedge edges the front yard, and also creates a visual privacy barrier from the road on that side of the house. The flowers are fragrant and the bees love them.

I've already mentioned that I discovered wild muscadine grape vines in the woods ....

Wild muscadine grape vines.But I also discovered a domestic grape vine in what we're calling the pasture...

Domestic grape vine - variety unknownThe poor thing is being supported by a metal stake with two tomato cages piled on top of one another. Even worse, it's in mostly shade. Still ....

It even has grapes!... it's managing. I will have to research transplanting these and find a sunnier spot for it next summer.

Another discovery ...

A row of daylilies in the overgrown field..... daylilies in the overgrown field on the other side of the house. I need to transplant these too, before we fence it in for grazing.

And here's something I didn't realize was there until I started clearing brush behind the house ....

We have fig trees!Fig trees! Complete with baby figs! These need more sun too, to ripen. But by clearing out a number of small trees, vines, and shrubs that were trying to choke them out, I've been able to provide them with more of that.

So. How much progress have we made in our clearing out project? Well, here's the view from my kitchen window just after we got started .....

Kitchen window - original view.And here's the view now .....

Kitchen window - view now.By going slowly I can be selective. I realize that much of it will want to grow back, since it's being cut down rather than pulled out by the roots. Still, it gives us a sense of the yard and the land. And if we can keep it mown around the house, we should be able to control it better.

The eventual goal is to landscape the yard completely with edible, medicinal, and dye plants. That may take awhile to accomplish, but it's nice to see that we have a head start with what's already here.

June 15, 2009

Kitchen Phase I: Temporary Functionality

One of the first priorities for this house was the kitchen. If you read my first kitchen post, then you know that it had some serious problems, not only in terms of overall design, but on a more basic level, in terms of counter and cabinet space.

We considered renovating the kitchen first, but there are enough other things that need tending to for us to decide that the kitchen wasn't the top priority. Besides, I'm still not sure how I want the final to be. However, it desperately needed to be functional.

While we were pondering all of this, Dan found an old kitchen cabinet in one of the outbuildings. It was dirty, but sturdy; nothing that a good scrubbing and a coat of paint couldn't take care of. It, with a little brainstorming, has given me a kitchen I can live with for the time being. It's also given me a starting point from which to design my dream kitchen. Here are some before and after shots (remember, you can click on any photo to enlarge it):

Kitchen sink & the only counter space!


As you can see, we moved the stove to where the refrigerator originally was. I now have a little counterspace next to the stove. Also, being closer to the window allows for some ventilation if I need it. In addition, it gives us access to the breaker panel next to the window (which was covered by the frig before). Amazingly, the stove's electrical cord was long enough to enable us to do this without rewiring.

Not a good set-up for the work triangle.


Where the stove used to be, we put the cabinet Dan found. It is 5 and 1/2 feet in length with a 24 inch deep countertop. We used it to create a peninsula, which is very handy. I plan to leave at least half of the counter clear for chopping, cutting, mixing, rolling out, etc.

Those high cabinets are more accessible with this arrangement, but are still a problem. Their door knobs are exactly 6 feet 7 inches from the floor. I'm 5'5", and by standing on the flat of my feet, I can just reach up to open the cabinets. This makes the bottom shelf accessible, but the middle one is difficult and the top one impossible. The step ladder next to the stove is there for that reason. I'm going to store my canning jars on the top shelf.

The only usable wall space has a vertical beam bumping out from it.


We put the refrigerator where the previous owners had table and chairs. At first I was concerned about where to place items removed from the frig. But the peninsula counter is actually close enough for this to not be a problem. The small drop leaf pub table and stools give us a little breakfast nook.

So this is my temporary, interim kitchen. I'm not sure how long "temporary" will be, but at least I now have a kitchen I can live with and can finish unpacking those kitchen boxes! I have plenty of wall space to hang things, and I'm looking forward to getting some of my decorative as well as functional items up. Then, I need kitchen curtains. And then I need to do something about that light over the sink. And I need some color in there! And ........ on and on. :)

June 12, 2009

First Things First

I had a hard time naming this post. Too many ideas: "First Things First," "Setting Priorities," or "The Harvest Waits For No One." We had barely gotten the moving truck unloaded and had boxes piled up all over the house, when Dan came home with this ...

These were absolutely the best strawberries!
... a case (4 overflowing quarts) of fresh, ripe strawberries. Of course these wouldn't keep for long, so there I was, rooting through boxes, trying to find canning jars, rings and lids, pectin, sugar, stirring spoons, canning funnel, jar lifter, tongs, and pans, not to mention my water bath canner.

Amazingly I found everything.

The long stir.
I've made and canned strawberry jam every year for the past 13 years, except last year. Somehow I missed strawberry season. This meant that Dan was out of his favorite jam for almost a whole year. Obviously he wasn't going to let a little thing like a move be the cause of that again.

The fruit of my labor.
We got nine pints of jam, plus several days worth of strawberry short cake and fresh sliced strawberries on cereal. Yum.

First Things First copyright June 2009 by 

June 9, 2009

The Land

Now that I've show you the house, Sue asked if I was going to show you the property. The answer to that is yes indeedy. In fact, that's the reason I haven't blogged in a week. It's taken some time to get the photos and get this post written out.

We have five acres, just outside of town. This is convenient in some ways, but on the other hand, it isn't strictly rural. There is some farm land behind us, but down the road is a suburban type housing development.

The road is not a main road, and the several times we visited the place before we bought it, it seemed fairly quite. I was somewhat dismayed after moving here, to discover that there is quite a bit of traffic, especially in the mornings and afternoons when folks are going to and from work and school. However, this place did fulfill all our other criteria, and considering we've been looking for such a place for a number of years, I figure that a good privacy hedge along the road will be the improvement we need.

This is an ariel shot, courtesy Google, rotated so that the road runs left to right.

The gray blob just right of center near the road is our house. You can see that the tree lines on either side form two legs of a triangle, and indeed, the property is triangle shaped, coming to a point in the woods. We have a several cleared areas, badly overgrown.

Behind the house are two barn red outbuildings...

...and lots of pecan trees.....

Behind the out buildings.....

.... is a nice cleared area.

I confess that it this is after it's been mowed. It had not been tended to in a number of years and was becoming badly overgrown.

Behind this and all the way to the back of the property ....

... is wooded. It's mostly pines with a few hardwoods left. It slopes downward, giving good drainage. I'm pleased though because I found some muscadine vines growing back in here. (Wild muscadine jelly is my particular favorite.)

The clearing in the back connects to one to the east of the house.

This one is much more overgrown. We could have it brush hogged, but I think the best solution is goats. To do that however, we first need to put up a good sturdy goat fence.

Between that field and the house is a row of trees, badly overgrown...

.... some with yard plants that have gotten out of control. Also quite a few oak and pecan trees which have seeded in recent years. But also lots of poison ivy, and unfortunately, some kudzu.

The the west of the house, is more park-like....

And has a more pasture like clearing, which several clumps of trees growing in it....

We're contemplating what to do with this. Pasture? I tend to think Shetland sheep, but DH is partial to alpacas. Crops? Perhaps wheat and hay? All of this is still under discussion and would make a difference with what we do with those trees.

Coming up to the house from far side of the pasture...

You can begin to see where we chose to put a garden in this summer.

I'm not entirely satisfied with this as a final spot for a vegetable and kitchen garden, but for this year, it offers the most sun. It was grass, but a tiller killed out most of that. There is a volunteer pecan tree growing by the road, which will probably need to come down as it shades this spot too much in the afternoon. But it's a start.

And speaking of start, I'd better get back to some "real" work. DH is involved in his project outside, so I'd better get on with mine as well!