Summer Wrap Up: Labor Day

The air changed this week in Western WA. Rain returned (much much needed rain), the temperature dropped, and all of a sudden we are back in sweats in the evening. After months of dry and hot, this is a welcome relif. It was such a treat to stay indoors and cook and clean and just relax for snuggle down days listening to the rain.

Except for the fact that our house is not fully painted. Thank goodness for a dry Labor Day weekend! I swear, every year this extra day is nothing but labor on unfinsihed summer projects. The house has one coat on nearly everything, so this weekend was starting on the second coat. And let me tell you, the second coat goes WAY faster! Thank goodness!

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We did an emergency pre-rain harvest of  nearly 8 quarts of tomatoes. The Milanos this year did really well, and are now frozen in fresh sauce form for the winter. We have had a few excellent Old Germans as well. Next year we are planning to prioritize these two varieties in the garden.

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In other farm news, our little flock of hens has been shuffled a bit. Belle, our oldest hen, had stopped laying and she was adpoted into a 1 hen flock as a companion bird. We took the opportunity to add a young Black Marans to keep our lady count at eight. Olive is very sweet but is getting picked on. Hopefully things will calm down when she is a bit bigger. The young hens are laying finally and so production is way up, 25 eggs last week!

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With fall on the way we are in planning for the next round of projects and goals. This past weekend we played around with a new renovation idea for opening up our kitchen and think we arrived on the perfect solution! The goal is to get the large demo and repair done this winter, along with finishing out the basement bedroom, and slowly add in cabinets and tile and more expensive details later. Best part of the plan? No appliances or major utilities to move!

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With all this hard work we are due for some fun. Next weekend we are off to the fair, followed by a surf trip with the second coat of paint is done. In october we are going back to Port Townsend for a weekend getaway (where we were married) and finally Kauai in November! Finally found some decent airfare and booked tickets! We cannot wait for some beach time!

For now, it is back to work and home projects. A final push and our little house exterior will be totally made over!

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Scraping Away

Tyvex suits in 90°+ temps is not fun. Matt can attest to that. He spent most of last week scraping the west side of our house, and this weekend I donned my suit and mask to help spot on the ladder/scaffolding work. The good news: we got the west side scraped, HEPA vacuumed and all cleaned up. It is ready for caulk, repairs and paint!IMG_4856[1]

This week we are tackling the south side of the house. We have already gone through ¾ of a roll of plastic sheeting, 2 rolls of blue tape and so many hours of work. But we are making progress! Scraping out house in prep for paint is a slow process because there is some residual lead left from last time the house was scraped. We are following all the protocols for safe removal and taking out time to get it right. It will feel good to not have peeling paint.

Let me tell you. We are ready for a camping break for the 4th of July.

All In One Week

In one week, our back yard and garden went from this:

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to this:

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A 45×65’, 8 foot tall deer fence now proudly stands protecting a new garden. A huge improvement from the previous one. It is in a better location sun-wise, much bigger, and no longer crowds out the back woods and garden shed.

It was a long week. A week ago Friday we picked up my parent’s truck and picked up 48, 10’ cedar fence posts.IMG_3040[1]

Saturday was digging posts and hanging out first panel. Sounds easy, in reality it was a really steep learning curve. The digging post holes was not so bad, but moving and hanging those 20×8 metal remesh panels was a pain! Keeping things level, straight and tight really should have been a 3-4 person job. But we made it work with just us two.IMG_3202[1]

Matt made some progress during the week and I helped hang a few more panels after work. The challenge in the evening is that you are already tired. We learned quickly that hanging panels and digging accurate fence posts is better done with full energy and patience. Tempers are too short and little hiccups are much more painful when you are tired. Funny chicken helpers are good mood lifters too.IMG_3244[1]

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Friday we made more progress, and Saturday even more. Of course we had more than just the fence to work on. Matt went to a chainsaw class while I picked up animal food, went to a garage sale (scored new rubber boots and snorkel fins!) and then we picked up a truck load of manure. Had to make full use of the truck! And those new boots came just in time. My old pair tore at the heel and would have been really disgusting to wear climbing around in the manure pile.IMG_3186[1]

After the crazy busy morning, of course it decided to downpour sideways rain…but only for about 20 mins and we were back at it working on the fence. Unfortunately by that time Matt’s hands were shot from digging holes and my knee decided it was the perfect time to collapse, pop (what a horrible sound) and swell up. Sunday we worked slowly and carefully and managed to put in the final panel around 4:45 in the evening. The fence is up!

We collapsed in the house. I was too tired to even open a bottle of wine (Matt helped me out). We ate random things from our refrigerator in pre-vacation clean-out mode. Drank leftover bottles of wine from the neighbor’s weekend tastings, and watched The Endless Summer nursing our sore knees and hands.

The garden looks awesome but it is far from done. The fence will have a horizontal post spanning the vertical ones (additional tension for the floppy panels), we will edge the garden with 4x4s and build artsy doors for the 3 entrances. Not to mention all the grass removal before we plant. But with some temporary doors we will be deer proof and ready to plant as soon as we get back from vacation!

Make Way for the Fence: Plowing with a Broadfork

Current project: a massive garden expansion. Our property came with a garden. It was laid out in a very unusable pattern, so last year we dismantled it and put in real rows. This year we are expanding it…from 20×20 to 65×45! Holy smokes are we growing to be growing stuff!!

Deer a a huge pest on Vashon, so the first order of business is a sturdy/attractive/affordable deer fence. Now selecting a fence was a quite a task. We debated materials, wood/metal/plastic/7 foot/8 foot/metal posts/cedar posts…as you can see the list goes on. We ended up with this: 10’ cedar posts (buried 2 feet) with 8’ x 20’ remesh panels (as used in pouring concrete slabs). These were not as fancy as the galvanized stock panels but WAY cheaper and MUCH taller. Perfect! They will rust and I was unsure what I thought about that look but we checked out some fences on the island in person and they actually look great. Across the top of the panels will be a narrower cedar pole to keep tension on the metal.

I cannot wait to have the project done! Of course there were some delays…posts were not in stock last weekend, but we did get the remesh panels. Our first step was measuring out the garden edges and then plowing up grass to make way for the fence and baseboards. We are using rough cedar 4×4 to edge the garden for a clean line through the grass. The chickens loved helping with this project. With each pull of the broadfork (proudly made here on the island!) they were delivered a feast of worms and grubs. Yum! The boys (Matt and Rooster Dude) liked checking out their ladies at work 😉

Timing was excellent to tackle another random yard project this weekend. At the base of our deck there were (we thought) 8 stepping stones grown over with moss and grass. We got to work removing them and found 22! Perfect use for our grass removed for the garden. We just rolled it over the empty space like sod. It is such a satisfying feeling to pull out grass to make room for food producing plants that will also stabilize and diversify our soils. It was a beautiful work weekend with the family…well, most of us worked. The cats are above that layman’s work and decided they were better suited to be supervisors.

Chicken Mama

After nearly two weeks of quarantine in their new coop, our little flock was let into the yard on Saturday. Cesar jumped out with gusto and ran around in his new found freedom, quickly followed by the girls. We had kept them cooped up so that they would get comfortable with their new home and know where to return for safety at night.

Ten minutes into freedom land those chickens found the ultimate joy: chicken dirt baths in the freshly tilled soil next to their coop. Five birds covered in dirt, flopping and flipping around…it was hilarious!

They milled around the yard while Matt and I finished the cat porch.

And then around 2:30, like clockwork, they put themselves to bed! I was one proud chicken mama.

Now the cat porch is complete, our chickens are happy (and had better start laying some eggs…), the cat litter boxes are officially and forever OUT of the house, and our house is clean. The holidays are over but we are setting ourselves up for a solid start to 2015. I was honestly ready to get back to work. It gives me structure, and an excuse to work out. Both are key right now because I we are in countdown mode to Belize! And I am happy to report that our chicken friends and kitties are all set for the vacation too.

Christmas Chickens & Fish

It was a whirlwind leading up to Christmas. A weekend with Matt’s parents, too many projects leading to late nights up working in the rain by headlamp (yes, we are that dedicated), hours of cleaning, cooking, baking and laughing. It was an awesome Christmas week.

This year we hosted in our sweet island house. That meant cleaning like a mad woman for two days before everyone arrived. I have to say the house has never looked better. The counters were piled with cookies and Matt and I prepared an epic feast for Christmas Eve. The Italian side of his family celebrates with the Feast of Seven Fishes, so we did our take on it for this party.

After many lists, coordinating with my mom to bring some of the food, thawing, marinating, chopping garlic, garlic and more garlic…we were ready. Want to know the line up? (prepare to get hungry)

  • Locally smoked black cod (with cheese and crackers)
  • Broiled clams on the half shell
  • Dungeness crab cakes from home caught crab
  • Grilled lemon garlic prawns
  • King crab legs
  • Baked salmon
  • Aglio e olio with anchovy
  • Plus bread, salad, and wine, wine, wine!

Halfway through crab cakes we realize how much food we had and ran next door to grab our neighbors, George and Linda at the Palouse Winery. Linda was busy, but George came over to eat…bringing with him three bottles of wine and then later going back for two more! What a fun night. Christmas music, laughter, stories, food, wine, food, wine, and more laughter and wine. It was a feast.

Christmas morning we opened stockings, ate breakfast, opened gifts and then took an island tour. The sun poked out just in time for a beach walk!

The best part of hosting Christmas Eve and morning? Leftovers, quiet and relaxing Christmas night. Matt and I enjoyed the hot tub, some cold salmon, and leftover wine selection from the night before. And then slept like rocks.

Boxing day is a work day for him, so I drove him in and we grabbed coffee on the way through town (to go with our leftover cake of course!) I picked up a Christmas gift for the chickens: a panel of clear roofing to make a skylight for their coop! We strapped it to the top of the mini, and 30 minutes later the girls had light in their coop! It looks awesome!

Oh, and they now have names! Cesar is our rooster, and his ladies are Mary (not in this pic), Belle (the yellow blonde), Holly (red/brown), Helen (silver grey) and Rita (blond and white one in front).

Happy Christmas! Happy Chickens! Happy Friday!

A Foggy Autumn on the Homestead

This past week we had fog. And by fog I really mean FOG. Fog so thick that some days the island never came out of it. Seattle was encased nearly all day long. On the water taxi, we would leave the somewhat clear sky behind and charge full speed into a bank so thick that we could not see the dock until we pulled up alongside. FOG.

My Monday the fog passed (and the foghorns all night long) and we are in the full glory of what PNW autumns can bring. Clear blue skies, streets full of colorful leaves, and cool crisp temperatures threatening frost. We trek to the city bundled up in scarves and vests (and new boots!) and are relishing our cozy warm house in the evenings. Now it is back to chilly and grey, but dry.

This past weekend we fully embraced the fall season with the annual cider pressing party at my parent’s house. We pressed gallons and gallons of cider (forgot to count a total # before people starting taking them) but we have at least 6 gallons in our freezer for the year. It was a perfect day: dry, slightly warm, and full of fun people and food.

On Sunday we came home early to tackle our own homestead project while the sun was still out. Project: garden makeover! A previous owner had the amazing foresight to deer fence a large rectangular garden full of rich soil. The not so epic part? Putting a huge X gravel pathway through the whole thing. A pathway is nice, but an X is a horribly inefficient use of space, not to mention it is impractical if you hope to reach to the back of the bed. So goodbye X. We pulled out all the plants (massive, old sage covered ¼ of the usable space!), dug roughly 3 lbs of potatoes and have started removing gravel. We plan to pull out all the brick borders and gravel and plant a compost cover crop this winter so that we are ready to roll this spring. Next year this garden will rock!

This week ihas been busy. Classes, work for my graduate internship, Dad’s surgery, my birthday, preparing to be in Houston next week, more homework, needing to clean the house…all while longing to be out in the garden. The weeks are flying by and we need to get started on some winter projects…primarily building a chicken coop!

I have to give my sweet husband a shout out. He has been such a trooper through all my schoolwork and crazy busy schedule. He has spent a ton of time cleaning the kitchen and delivering an awesome dinners to me while I was stuck in front of the computer in class and school meetings. He even made an apple crisp. As well as we handle school + work + life, we are both looking forward to June when that equation gets a little simpler after graduation.