September 30, 2009

Planning The Herb Gardens

For awhile now, I've been working on a plan for my herb gardens. When we developed our master plan, I put them in the front yard, with a long term goal is no lawn! I know that I want the entire front yard to eventually be filled with culinary and medicinal herbs, dye plants, and probably some fruit and vegetables as well. Since the majority of these will be perennials, I need to plan it out well.

These photos give you an idea of the area I'm working with:

I have a good size front yard...
... to plant herbs and flowers in.The front yard measures roughly 46 by 108 feet. It's pretty good size, so obviously I'm going to have to plant in stages over the next several years. As I consider an overall plan, there are three elements that are key to my final design:

~ Privacy
~ Shade
~ Visibility

Privacy is a personal preference. We love sitting on our screened in front porch, but also like the privacy that the present bushes afford. These ones are kind of ugly however...

The zinnias can't hide the tall, scraggly bushes on the right.... so I want to replace them with something more aesthetic. The one keeper is the bush on the left, which is nandina. Bettina tells me it is a dye plant, so it will stay. I don't know what the tall scraggly looking things in the back are. Probably something intended to be kept trim and shaped. No matter, they are soon to be goners. My current thought is to transplant them (and a few other things) to along the property line of field #2 (see master plan for that.) In their place, I would like to transplant some of the azaleas that are hidden at the back of the house.

The zinnias in both beds ....

That's my studio on the right.....were basically for color this year. BTW, these are the beds I mulched with cardboard. Two and a half months later I can report that the cardboard did an excellent job; not only for keeping weeds out, but for keeping moisture in.

Since the house faces southwest, we need to shade it from the late afternoon summer sun. A deciduous tree would do that, plus allow for solar heating during winter. In addition, I'd like to leave the majority of the front yard sunny, to accommodate sun loving herbs and flowers. My plan at present is to plant a ginkgo biloba tree where this year's garden is (to the left of the driveway). I've been keeping a eye on the path of the sun this summer, and have a fairly good idea of where to plant it, in order to shade that side of the house. Eventually this year's garden will become a shade garden.

My studio (right hand windows in above photo) needs shade too, but I'm thinking of something smaller there, perhaps a dwarf peach tree? Another option would be a vine, but that would mean putting up a trellis or pergola. I'm less certain about that however, because another building project would not be very high on the "to do" list at this time!

Visibility is an issue when pulling out of the driveway. Because of the rises and dips in the terrain, it is difficult to see anything that might be in the road. This year, I discovered that my sunflowers and green beans hindered visibility somewhat, as they were planted closest to the road. I've realized that I need to keep low-growing plants toward the front of the yard, getting taller closer to the house.

So. After all that ruminating, how is my plan coming along? This is my current tentative one -

Phase 1 of my herb gardensClick to biggify
This is just a sketch, and not to scale, but it will give you an idea of what I'm hoping to accomplish next year. The green areas are in the plan to develop. Notes below:
  • A ginkgo tree (male cultivar, Autumn Gold) will be planted to the left of the driveway (not in the above sketch). Hopefully it will shade those windows and the porch without shading the rest of the front yard too much.
  • Azaleas (which can also be used for dyeing) will be transplanted from the back of the house, where they are currently hidden from view. Azaleas do well in shade, so shade from the ginkgo won't be a problem. They will provide privacy while sitting on the front porch, plus lovely spring color. Another bonus - we already have them!
  • Nandina tolerates partial shade, so it may be okay there too.
  • Bed #1- At this point I'm planning echinacea there as it can tolerate some shade. Possibly with yarrow, liatris, and/or coreopsis. These have medicinal and dye qualities.
  • Bed # 2 - Possibly hollyhock, dahlia, monarda, butterfly weed, though these may eventually need to be moved to a sunnier spot. Another option is a couple more azaleas.
  • Dwarf peach trees are possibilities to shade the windows of my studio. I had a dwarf peach when I lived in Texas, and it was more of a large shrub than a tree. Their height (8 - 10 feet) and spread (about the same) make them contenders for this job.
  • The walkway will be extended in from of bed #2 and then split curve into the front yard as well toward the back of the house. Currently all we have are large cement blocks going from the driveway to the front door, but plan to replace them with leftover bricks as pavers.
  • Bed #3 - culinary herbs and lavender, which like similar soil conditions. On the list are rosemary, oregano, thyme, basil, and sage.
  • The Beauty Bushes (right edge of the yard) were planted as a privacy hedge long before we got here. They bloom most of the summer, smell wonderful, and attract bees. They are under a pecan tree, which shades this side of the yard in the morning. I need to keep this in mind as I develop my plan.
Of course, all of this is subject to change, but with cooler weather here, I can begin transplanting some of the bushes and prepare to plant new trees soon. Very exciting.

Planning The Herb Gardens photos and text copyright 

September 28, 2009

Dear Squirrels,

The squirrels aren't leaving us much.Please leave some pecans for us.

The Humans Who Share The Land With You.

Dear Squirrels, text & photos copyright September 2009
by Leigh at

September 26, 2009

The New Hearth - Finishing The Brickwork

Well, finished for now anyway. Dan has built it up from the first course of bricks, to as high as we are going to go to create our woodstove alcove.

While Dan did the mortaring, I helped prepare the bricks.

Soaking the bricks in preparation for the mortarFirst they are soaked in water for 45 minutes.

Allowing surface water to evaporateThen they are allowed to dry, but just until the surface moisture evaporated off. After that they were ready for the mortar.

Continuing laying the brickDan found it a real challenge to keep everything squared and level, especially considering the irregularities of our old bricks.

Another course of bricks
Wire mesh wall tieWire mesh is used as wall ties every three courses of bricks.

This is itThis is almost the same height that the living room fire place was.

Here's what it looks like from the backside, from the bedroom fireplace...

The back, from the bedroom fireplace.The brick still needs to be cleaned off after the mortar has had a chance to cure.

The next step will be finishing off the upper part of the alcove (continue on to that post here.) After that the stove can go in! Hopefully just before our first frost!

The New Hearth - Finishing The Brickwork text & photos copyright 

September 24, 2009

Our Next Project

Lee was correct, the mystery picture was the underside of hardwood flooring, 3 & 1/2 by 3/4 inch red oak. (BTW, if you haven't visited Lee and Robin's blog, Farm Folly, you really need to. There's lots of interesting things going on over there. )

Oak hardwood flooringOur next project will be putting a new floor in the dining room. We got a great deal on Craigslist, and were able to buy what we needed to do both the dining room and hallway, for 2/3 of what we budgeted for the dining room alone.

Those of you who have read this blog for awhile may recall the first photos of our dining room (those here.) It has some nice touches such as the French door and the built in corner cabinets, but it also had ugly pink carpeting. When we tore this same carpeting up from the living room, we discovered a lovely oak hardwood floor in pretty good shape. When we tore the carpeting out of the dining room, it looked like this...

Dining room floor, beforeIf it doesn't exactly look like hardwood, that's because it's honest to goodness, old-fashioned linoleum (not vinyl), in a brown wood-look pattern. It's in two big sheets with a seam down the middle of the room, bordered in black. The lighter colored blotch you see on the right of the above photo is where an old wood or coal burning stove once stood. (We can still see where they plastered over the flue in the dining room wall between the windows.)

Here are a couple of close-ups

Pock marks on dining room linoleumNot sure what those pock marks are, but there are a bunch of them.

It's not in very good shape, is it.Here's the seam and the border. As you can see, it's not in very good shape.

What is odd about this room is that there is no subfloor. At least not what we would consider a subfloor. Under the linoleum is tongue and groove hardwood oak, with nothing under that.

So, the dining room floor will be the next project after we finish the woodstove alcove and get the woodstove in. Dan is finishing up laying brick for that project today. I will get some photos and post an update on that over the weekend.

Our Next Project text & photos copyright September 2009

September 21, 2009

Of Grapes: Wild & Tame

I had quite a few comments on my Wild Muscadines post from folks who were unfamiliar with them. Well, I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and didn't know what they were until I lived in the South for awhile. I thought a follow up would be a useful way to organize and share some information.

Wild muscadine grapesMuscadines (Vitis rotundifolia, subspecies Muscadinia) are wild grapes.

Here are some fast facts:
  • Common names: Muscadine, Bullace, Scuppernong, Southern Fox Grape
  • Native to the new world, and found throughout the southeastern United States, and up the east coast as far as New York State.
  • Gathered and dried by Native Americans for who knows how long
  • Noted in great abundance in 1564 by Sir Walter Raleigh
  • Wine was made from them as early as 1565 by Spanish settlers in Florida
  • Vigorous, deciduous vines grow 60-100 ft. in the wild.
  • Color ranges from greenish bronze to purplish black
  • Scuppernongs are a variety of bronze muscadine
  • Scuppernongs were the 1st named variety (1810 by Dr. Calvin Jones, North Carolina)
  • Fruit is borne in clusters rather than bunches
  • Fruit is fragrant, seedy, & has tough skins
  • Tart but edible off the vine
  • Most common uses: jam, jelly, pie, juice, wine
  • Rich in antioxidants (esp. resveratrol) & dietary fiber
  • Vigorous, deciduous vines growing 60-100 ft. in the wild
  • A good wildlife planting for cover, browse, and fruit
  • Tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions as long as well drained
  • Prefers a pH between 5.8 – 6.5
  • Produces best in sun
  • Has either perfect (self-fertile) flowers, or imperfect (female)
  • Prefers warm, humid conditions. Not cold hardy. Have been successfully grown in California, Oregon and Washington.
  • Over 300 cultivated varieties are available to the home gardener
Check with your state cooperative extension service if you think you might be interested in growing them.

Bibliography &/or for more information:
America's First Grape - The Muscadine - USDA
Muscadine - Wikipedia
Muscadine Grape Fruit Facts - California Rare Fruit Growers
Muscadine Grapes in the Home Garden - NC State
Muscadine Grape - Muscadine Naturals - health benefits & nutritional analysis

Bunch Grapes are what we usually think of when we think of grapes.

Unknown variety of bunch grapesTwo types are grown commercially in the United States, the European bunch grape (Vitis vinifera) and the American bunch grape (V. labrusca).

Some fast facts:
  • Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs show the cultivation of grapes
  • Most modern grapes were developed in Spain, Italy, & France
  • Spanish Franciscan Friars cultivated the first grapes in California, for making sacramental wine
  • Used for fresh eating, jelly, jam, dried as raisins, seed oil, and wine
  • Usually classified as either table or wine grapes
  • Over 50 varieties of table grapes
  • 98 percent of commercial table grapes are grown in California
  • Leaves are edible and used for dolma.
  • Clusters bear 6 - 300 grapes.
  • Colors range from crimson, black, dark blue, yellow, and green, to pink
  • Can be seeded or seedless
  • Botanically a true berry
  • Adapted to many soil types, but require a good drainage with a pH of 5.5 to 7.0
  • Require good air circulation and sun exposure
  • A mature vine can yield 10 to 15 pounds of fresh fruit
  • American type better suited for the American East Coast
Check with your state cooperative extension service if you're interested in information for your area.

Bibliography &/or for more information:
Bunch Grape - Clemson University
Bunch Grapes in the Home Garden - NC State
Grapes - Wikipedia
How to grow from cuttings - Lon J. Lombough
What Are Different Types of Grapes - wiseGEEK

Of Grapes: Wild & Tame text & photos copyright 

September 19, 2009

Wild Muscadines

Wild muscadines on the vine.Dan may love his strawberry jam, but my best favorite is wild muscadine jelly. That's why I was delighted to find muscadines growing on the property when we first got here. I've been keeping an eye on their progress,and just the other day I discovered that they were purple, plump, and ready to pick. My only concern was whether or not I could find enough to make myself a batch of jelly!

I knew of three places on the property where muscadines were growing, and Dan said there were more back in the woods. These vines grow tall in the trees, so I brought a ladder as well as a bucket.

Not all of the vines I found were bearing fruit. I later learned that this is because vines either produce perfect (self-fertile), or imperfect (pistillate only) flowers.

One surprise awaited me ....

My latest find, green muscadines.
We have green muscadines as well as purple! These are commonly called scuppernongs, which technically may or may not be the case. Scuppernongs are a variety of green muscadine, but there are other green (aka bronze) varieties too. "Scuppernong" is just one of those catch-all terms.

Between the two, I was able to pick a little over four pounds, which is what my jelly recipe calls for.

The 2 together look lovely in the pot.
I use the recipe for grape jelly in the pectin box. The only thing I do differently is to cook them without water in the beginning. The recipe calls for adding a cup and a half of water for cooking, but I don't want to water down my juice at this point. I want to make sure that all of the juice goes into the jelly. By starting on a low heat and crushing them thoroughly, they cook well without burning.

I should have used a lighter color bowl for this photo.
Once the juice has dripped (and been squeezed) from the pulp, I add just enough water to make up the total liquid called for in the recipe. In this case, I had to add one cup.

From those 4 pounds of grapes, I got 9 half-pints of jelly. It is a lighter color than I've made in the past, I suppose from the addition of the green muscadines. The flavor is absolutely fantastic. Nothing like it for a PB&J sandwich, or in the morning, on toast with a cup of fresh brewed coffee...

I love this jelly!
Care to join me?

Text & photos of Wild Muscadines copyright Sept 2009 

September 17, 2009

The New Hearth - Laying the 1st Course

Well, technically we've begun phase 3 of our hearth project, which is bricking up a portion of the alcove for the woodstove. That is going to take some time, so this post is to give you a peek at our start.

Dan volunteered to lay the brick, so I volunteered to clean them.

Cleaning bricks is actually more fun than it looks.
Considering that most of them were encrusted with the old mortar, it actually wasn't too bad of a job. That mortar was so soft that it mostly crumbled off (which was the reason we had to tear down the chimney and fireplace in the first place.) It took me a day and a half to do about 200 bricks. As I worked with them, I was fascinated to see the personality these old bricks have; being handmade, each one is truly unique.

I was especially pleased with how many different colors there are...

Old bricks in a range of natural colors.
... everything from terra cotta, to almost purplish. And, being the brick cleaner, I got to choose which colors we would use. Eventually they will all be used for various projects around the place, but for the woodstove alcove, I liked the darker ones best (as I think they will match my dark cherry living room furniture best.)

For the first course however, we used something different.

1st course of bricks
Close-up of the bricks we used.
There were about a dozen or so of these bricks with holes in them lying around the place. They were the perfect solution to an issue we had to resolve, that of clearances.

Anyone who has ever had a woodstove is familiar with clearances. Even so, common sense would tell us that one can't place an iron box full of burning wood too close to things that might catch fire. But, since not everyone has common sense, there are codes to cover this sort of thing, i.e. how close a woodburning stove can be to any given wall.

There are a number of options to bring clearances up to code. The simplest is distance, by placing the back of the stove 30 inches, and the sides 18 inches, from a combustible wall. In our case however, the back of the alcove isn't combustible, as it's the back of the brick fireplace in our bedroom. The wood walls on the sides however, were a consideration. The alcove created by tearing down the chimney breast didn't give us the clearance room we needed using distance alone.

The clearance can be decreased to 14 inches on the sides, with a brick wall against a combustible wall. But by adding a one inch ventilated air space between the wood and the brick, the clearance distance can be reduced to 7 inches. This we could do.

Creating a ventilated masonry wall, requires vents at both bottom and top of the wall to allow for air circulation behind the wall. Those holey bricks will serve as the bottom vents for this. In addition, Dan did not put mortar between the bricks on the bottom course, except in the corners for wall stability.

The plan is to brick the alcove to about the same height as the fireplace, add a brick ledge, and then finish the top of the alcove with mineral (cement) board. We won't have the same clearance issue to deal with at that height, but we wanted the extra measure of safety the mineral board will provide. I'm going to look for some fancy air vents to set into the top of the mineral board to complete our ventilated air space. The stove pipe will be double walled up to the ceiling. From the ceiling on up through the roof, we will use prefabricated metal chimney pipe UL Type HT class A, approved to 2100° F. This will bring the entire system up to code.

And last but not least, for those of you who have been wondering if Rascal has to snoopervise every aspect of every project, the answer is ...

Our very own personal snoopervisorYES!

Next - Finishing The Brickwork

The New Hearth - Laying the 1st Course is copyright
(both text & photos) 

September 15, 2009

Goat Shed Wannabe

Well, I want it to be a goat shed, *lol*.

BeforeThis used to be a chicken coop, though in later years it was turned into a storage shed. Still, I think it would be a good first home for goats and indeed, we're already headed in that direction.

First step was to add a goat entrance...

AfterNow all we need are feeders, waterer, fence, and goats.

For the fence, we do have some of the corner and brace posts (cedar) ....

Sturdy cedar fence posts... and a used post hole digger found on Craigslist...

This is a 2-man post hole digger.  Guess who's the other man :)We've actually got a start on the fence too...

1st fence post!We keep two projects going, one indoor and one outdoor. When we need a break from working on the hearth or the re-wiring, we run out and dig a post hole!

The original Master Plan (photo here) calls for eventually fencing in two, one acre areas for livestock. However, when Dan was back in the woods searching for Catzee (still missing), he saw this ...

Kudzu invasionThis is kudzu invading our property from the neighbor's. We have driven around to the road behind us and it's amazing how the kudzu has completely taken over so much of the property back there. And it's heading in our direction. [And here's a bit of trivia for you - did you know that kudzu and honeysuckle wind around things in opposite directions?]

Dan thinks we need to get those woods fenced for goats as well, before our trees are completely smothered by the kudzu. It will be a tall order to do this, because it's really a mess back there, especially along the property line.

In the long run though, that may be the best place to keep a few goats. Once all the fencing is up, that would give me a browse area for the goats, and two small pastures (field #1 and field #2 on the master plan) to rotate grazing for a small spinners flock of Shetland sheep. Sounds good to me anyway.

Goat Shed Wannabe is copyright September 2009 

September 13, 2009

Garden in Late Summer

My husband has been over the road for the past few days, so I have nothing new to report on the hearth, or the wiring (other than since the K&T is no longer connected, I have no overhead lights in the back half of my house.)

I can however, show you how my little garden is doing.

These have been the tastiest tomatoes ever!Tomatoes are still ripening, though no longer blooming.

Waiting for these to turn red.My lone pepper plant is doing well.

I love okra flowers.  They are kin to hibiscusOkra has really taken off.

Cucumbers have done very wellCucumbers are still flowering and producing, in spite of losing leaves.

This is an heirloom variety & so I can save the seed. I left a couple in the garden for next year's seed.

Lots of flowers, practically no pumpkins!This is my only pumpkin. I had two, but when the first was
ready to pick I discovered a big worm hole in it. Disappointing.

Kentucky Wonder are great producers.Green beans still producing well. I'm leaving the rest for seed.

Poor things droop all afternoon Impatiens miss the shade of the two old oaks.

FooeyProblems with pickleworm in my winter squashes. I'll still have
some butternuts, but he acorns were all lost.

Next year - moreDidn't plant a lot of corn so didn't get a lot.

I love zinniasZinnias are happy.

The seed heads are almost ready to harvest.Sunflowers are drooping with heavy heads.

............ and fall planting has begun.

Garden in Late Summer photos and text copyright September 2009

September 11, 2009

The New Hearth - A Detour

One of the things tearing down fireplace revealed, was some of the home's original wiring. Behind that fireplace wall is the wiring for the light switch in our bedroom (see Floor Plan if you need to visualize how these things fit together). It was still knob and tube (K&T).

Some of the wiring had been upgraded over the years. A circuit breaker box had long since replaced the fuse box and much of the wiring had been updated to accommodate modern appliances, the HVAC system, and of course the addition.

While we were waiting for the mortar on the hearth to cure it seemed a perfect time to replace the old wiring. The ceramic knobs....

A knob, of the knob & tube wiring system.... served to anchor the wiring. The ceramic tubes ...

A tube, of the knob & tube wiring system.... enabled it to pass through joists and studs.

What Dan discovered, was that the upgrades were all done only to the wall outlets. The ceiling fixtures were all still K&T. The wiring for the outlets is all in the crawlspace. The wiring for all the ceiling fixtures is all in the attic.

Replacing the old meant new wires and new junction boxes.

Wiring in the attic - out with the old & in with the new.
Old ceramic switch box.As he puts in the new, he has been removing the old. The holes left by the tubes are convenient to run the new wire through.

He also replaced the switch in our bedroom. The photo on the left is of the original one. Actually, it still works fine, we just wanted a different color switch. It's box is ceramic, as were the wire nuts we found in some of the ceiling fixtures.

At the time of this writing, he's about half done. The worst part was wiring the front porch light, because there wasn't much room in the porch part of the attic to work in. Not to mention that there is no flooring anywhere in the attic, it's all joists and insulation. The rest of it should take another day.

Fortunately, this is a once in a lifetime job. Good thing too, considering all the crawling around in the dusty, hot attic Dan has to do. But this will finish it out, so that all the electrical wiring will be up to code. Obviously, it will be a relief to get it done.

Next up - starting to lay the brick wall - click here.

The New Hearth - A Detour text & photos are copyright
September 2009 by Leigh at