Monday, June 30, 2014
The blackberries we planted a couple of years ago are going a bit nuts this year. And, since I discovered they are now trying to climb up our neighbor's tree and across our back patio, it was time to give them a little attention this weekend. They are LOADED with berries that are starting to turn red and ripen.
But first...gloves (watch out for poison ivy!), machete, and safari hat. A spotted leopard darted from the thick jungle as we dove in to cut back all the overgrowth on the far end of the bed. Okay, maybe it was really just the neighbor's cat and MAYBE it was just weeds and overgrown neighbor trees that all needed to be cleared.
We got most of the brush out of the way, but we still need to pull out an old trellis that we put up when we first bought the house 16 years ago. It's in the way of our pulling out some old weed trees that have grown up between it and the fence.
Once we have everything cleaned up, we'll be able to move the blackberry plants that have rooted where they shouldn't have.
Did you know blackberries are insanely easy to grow? I had no idea that it was so easy to root them off an existing plant...just stick the end of one of the shoots into the ground and weight it down. It will grow roots and a new plant. So find a friend who has some and ask if they'll root some for you. I will never pay for blackberry plants again!
Monday, June 23, 2014
Before we get to the adorable little hoppers we have running around, I thought I would share this pic I snapped of one of my giant lilies in our side yard.
These are interesting in that, well, they're huge (bigger than my hand). But they also start out as bright orange and then gradually fade until the petals fall. You can see that this one is starting to fade already.
I went out to check on the bunnies over the weekend to find their eyes open and they had almost doubled in size. A couple of them were hopping around and one of the little guys apparently decided that just standing completely still when coming face to face with an adoring human was the best course of action in the situation, even though he was inches from our potato bed.
I couldn't resist reaching down to stroke his back with a finger and, with that, he was off like a shot under the potato leaves.
Mom watched disapprovingly from a safe distance. See her giving me the evil eye?
Since Saturday, there's been no sign of bunnies so they're either still in hiding in the safety of our new lots or Mom is off teaching them the bunny ropes. I'm sure we'll see them again but, for now, I'm glad they're out of the garden.
I'm now off to go catch up on blogs and see what's going on in everybody else's gardens.
Saturday, June 21, 2014
|Current Cranky Puppy Farm shown in red. The 2 new lots are in yellow.|
And I'm not just talking about our waistlines. ;-)
A neighbor of ours that owns two vacant lots just north of us (behind where our solar panels are going) decided he wanted to get rid of them because he was tired of mowing them and needed the money. Luckily, he contacted us. We've wanted those lots for about 9 years now, so I guess this does prove that patience pays off eventually.
The lots are level and will be a great place to put our orchard, a huge garden and some berries. I'll probably move the bees over there as well. And this couldn't be better timing, because we need to transplant the apple trees that are currently located where the solar array is going. Now we'll be able to dig them up and put them right back in the ground. It's not an ideal time to be stressing them with a move but hopefully they'll be OK.
There's some work to be done, however. That gray strip in the picture above to the left of the properties is a one-way street from north to south. Along the west side of the new lots, there's a retaining wall that is falling into the street and the vegetation is so out of control that it's sticking out in the street. To avoid scratching our vehicles, I stopped driving that way a long time ago. So the neighbors are ecstatic that we're going to be cleaning all that up. I'd love to terrace it and put in some beautiful shrubs and flowers on the lower terrace. Additionally, we put up a new chain link fence a couple of years ago that runs the property line between the old and new properties, but it should be fairly easy to put in a wide gate so we can get carts or a mower up there.
With this addition, the possibilities are endless and we are having so much fun thinking about what we can do with the space. We're considering joining in next summer's Urban Farm Tour, so we have a lot to do to get the new space ready for that. So exciting!
Thursday, June 19, 2014
No pictures for today's post - I'll spare you the gory evidence that goes along with the very sad news I'm about to relate. I went out tonight to check on the chickens and found my beloved Henrietta's pen full of feathers but no Henrietta. I called to her optimistically thinking she might be hiding under the RV or tractor, but she didn't return my call with her usual soft clucks. No answer was a good sign that I had no reason for optimism.
I eventually found her behind her coop and lifeless. It appears that either a possum or, more likely, a raccoon, pulled her through the fence and tore out her neck. For those of you that have never kept chickens: they're silly creatures and, when faced with a threat, they will head for the corners of their enclosure. In Henrietta's case, if she had just gone into her coop, she would have been safe. But she made the fatal decision to "hide" behind her coop and between it and the fence, where the raccoon reached in and grabbed her.
I feel responsible for her death and feel terrible. Before we moved the chicken coops for the solar project, we had plastic hardware cloth all the way around her pen and it had kept her safe for several years. After the move, we had a lot of work to do, so we didn't replace it although it was on the to-do list. If I had only just done it.....
Poor Henrietta had endured a lot during her short 3 and a half years. I think she laid maybe 10 eggs over the course of her life, yet we nursed her and even had her living in the basement for a short time after she was bullied by the other chickens. 'Etta, as we lovingly called her, had clucked her way into our hearts by having such a big personality. I am going to miss her following me around the yard, wanting to jump up on my knee, and the way she always clucked back to us when we talked to her. I know she was just a chicken, but I swear she knew her name.
Rest in Peace, 'Etta.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
I've got a weird tomato and I was hoping that someone might know what this is.
This Cherokee Purple tomato is just plain ugly. But it seems firm and doesn't have any open cracks. The plant is otherwise healthy and this is the only tomato on it that looks like that. It was a small tomato when we planted the plant, so the only thing I can think of is that it's cracked as it's grown. Perhaps the wet weather had something to do with it also?
At any rate, the bottom is starting to turn red in this picture and, now that we're a couple days past when I took this, it's ripened even more. I guess we'll find out when it's fully ripe and we slice it open.
If you have any ideas, please leave me a comment!
I've shared this post with this week's HomeAcre Hop in hopes that someone knows what this is!
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Despite all this focus on getting the solar array up and finishing the laundry renovation (it's been 8 weeks since we gutted the room!), we did manage to get a couple of things planted in the garden this year. We had planned on having a massive in-ground garden after bulldozing over the raised beds. Then we got busy with solar and the laundry room renovation and the poor garden ended up being ignored.
So we ended up with a bumper crop of weeds in between our tomatoes (which look awesome!) J. was ecstatic to pick his first tomatoes of the season on Sunday. These are Early Girls, a hybrid tomato.
And our potatoes also look awesome, except I noticed that we have some other little friends who have moved in. I think I'll let the chickens into the garden so they can take care of these little pests for me. Mmmmm, grasshopper buffet!
While mowing down said weed patch, we discovered those adorable baby bunnies that I shared with you in my last post, as well as a volunteer tomato plant growing next to the potatoes.
I think that's an heirloom Cherokee Purple, but we won't know for sure until the tomatoes start to ripen. The poor thing was just training along the ground, so I put a cage around it so we at least wouldn't mow it over.
What's going on in your garden?
Sunday, June 15, 2014
Look closely at this picture and see if you can figure out what's going on.
Maybe if we zoom out a little. Can you see them?
Yep, that's a nest of cute little baby bunnies. Right in the middle of my garden. AGAIN.
p.s.s. Their tiny little cotton tails and pink ears make me want to squee!
Friday, June 13, 2014
Let me start this post off by saying that I'm worried that I've been a bad beekeeper. You see, I haven't been back in the hive since I put the bees into it about 8 weeks ago. Chalk it up to being a beginner, but I ordered a medium super rather than a deep from Mann Lake and then had to re-order, which delayed me getting everything ready. Then, of course, it had to be assembled and painted.
And, honestly, I've been a little scared about getting stung. I guess everyone goes through that. So I decided I had to put on my big girl's panties and get to work.
First, I puffed some smoke into the hive entrance and then under the cover to calm them down. This was my first time using my new smoker, but it was pretty easy to figure out. I used cardboard packing from our solar project as the kindling.
Then I took off the outer cover and the inner cover to find that they had built wax on the bottom of the inner cover and were busy eating some of the honey stored there.
I suspected this meant that they were pretty crowded in there and that I was late in putting on another super for them. I was glad to see so many bees on the top of the frames. They were busy licking themselves and were totally calm and ignoring me. Whew!
I carefully pried up the frames with my hive tool to find that all 10 frames are full, with the outside frames with drawn comb and almost full of capped honey. I was definitely late to the party because, from everything I've read so far, you're supposed to add another super when 7 or 8 of the frames have drawn comb. If they get too crowded, they can decide to swarm.
So I added another deep super on top and replaced the inner cover on top of it. When I went to replace the outer cover, I accidentally banged it into the hive. Ahhh! It caused a buzzzzz and a couple of bees came up to investigate but no catastrophe happened. Whew!
|That's a whole row of honeysuckle next to the hive. This honey is going to be yummy!|
After having done some more research, I now realize that I should have pulled some of the drawn comb upward and added some empty frames to the bottom brood box. We've got some rainy days coming, so I'm going to wait a couple of days and then check on them when it's sunny again. I'll be looking for comb being drawn in the second super and, hopefully, the queen will have made her way up to start laying there. The fact is....the bees are going to do what the bees are going to do and there's nothing I can do about it.
If there are any experienced beekeepers reading this, I'd welcome any advice you have as to what I should be doing differently! Thanks,
This post is part of this week's Home Acre Hop.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
The deed combination on the properties finally got done last Friday and the new paperwork showing the correct setbacks for the array has gone to the city permits division. While we wait for them to re-approve the electrical permit, our master electrician gave us the go-ahead to start putting up the solar panels.
Here's what we started with on Sunday:
|These pipes are running west to east|
Kind of looks like a demented parallel bars, doesn't it? This pic below shows a closeup of the connector that holds the cross pipes onto the posts (and a gratuitous advertisement for IronRidge, the racking manufacturer that we chose). Nothing extravagant here - it's just a cap that sits on top of the post with a flat part on the top. You can barely see it, but there's a groove in the middle where the crossrail sits. It comes in handy when you're trying to put the heavy crossrails up there because it keeps them from rolling off onto your foot. Trust me, you don't want that to happen.
From the steel pipes, we go to aluminum everything. The vertical rails that run from north to south on top of the two steel pipes are used to hold the actual solar panels and they're all aluminum. Thank goodness for that, as it makes them light enough for one person to carry easily. You can see the tail end of one of them in the picture below.
Each rail has a slot in the top and on the side that you slide the bolt heads into and then you tighten down the nut to hold everything together. In this next pic, we're looking at the bottom of one of the rails. The top edge is the side of the solar panel, so the first bolt from the top is holding the "end clamp" to the rail. I took a crappy picture so you can't see it, but the end clamp has a lip on top of it that goes over the edge of the solar panel and holds it down firmly.
The next nut is holding down what is called a "weeb lug", which is part of the grounding system. Everything needs to be grounded together, so we'll have to go back and add a ground rod and then run copper wire from it through these loops along the entire length of the array. The bolt at the bottom of the picture is then used to tighten the copper wire down so that it doesn't come loose.
Here's my lovely assistant, J., demonstrating adding antiseize compound to a mid-clamp before putting on the nut. That crap is silver and it gets everywhere! By the time we were done for the day, I had it all over my arms, on my lips, on my face and one of J.'s ears was completely silver. He looked like the tinman from the Wizard of Oz.
|Each panel is 39" x 77" and weighs 51 pounds|
Pretty much everything is tightened to 10 foot pounds, so we had to buy a special torque wrench for this project ($23 on a special deal from Sears). It's important that it's tight so the panels don't fly off in high winds, but you also don't want to tighten too much of you can crack the panels.
|Close-up of the mid clamp|
The array is built in what I think of as columns: you put down the aluminum rails and line them up as best you can. Our solar panels conveniently had holes that we could use for this purpose, or you could just measure. In our case, the panels are 77" long laid in a portrait fashion (long side is running west to east). Once you have the first panel in place, you add mid-clamps and then slide the next panel on so that it rests against the mid-clamps. Tighten and then repeat until you have 4 panels in a column. Finish with an end clamp.
|Close-up of how the aluminum rails connect to the support crossrails|
And voila! You now have a great place to sit in the shade!
That's our house in the distance. This shot shows how everything goes together. Now let's see it from the front.
|J. couldn't resist adding our vintage army trailer to the pic|
And, with that, we're a quarter of the way done. Now that we know how everything goes together, putting up the other 24 panels should be much faster.
I did notice as we were working on this that we have some shading issues in the early morning, so we have more tree work that needs to be done. The optimum time for solar is between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and that last picture was taken at about 6 p.m., so I'm not concerned that it's shaded at that point.
One question I get asked when I mention we're putting up our own solar array (aside from the look that tells me the person thinks we're completely cuckoo) ) is "how difficult is it do it yourself?". Really, the hardest part was having the funding ($20k) up front and dealing with the utility company and the city permit office. *knock on wood* Hopefully, we don't run into any more issues. Everything else is just physical work and the hardest part there was dealing with the heavy crosspipes. You'll need at least 3 if not 4 people for those.
In other words, you can do it yourself! If you have any questions about the project, I'd be happy to answer them. Either leave a comment here or email me at crankypuppy at gmail dot com.
Tuesday, June 03, 2014
Thank goodness for friends, neighbors and family! It was all hands on deck this weekend to get the heavy cross rails up onto the supports and it took 6 people in total to get it all done. We were praying that everything lined up properly and it did! Which is a good thing, because I certainly didn't want to dig up those heavy posts and reset them.
Each 51'4" cross rail consisted of two full pieces of 21' pipe and then 1/2 of a third. As you may remember from my last post, these pipes weight about 140 pounds each. J., his brother, and neighbor Dave made it look easy even when lifting these over their heads. We are SO grateful to have their help, as there is no way J. and I could have done that by ourselves.
Once the pipe was in place, there are giant U-bolts that hold the pipe on the post and keep it from rolling off and killing someone. As the guys lifted the pipes in place, my sister-in-law and I worked on getting the U-bolts tightened down. The pipes are threaded and needed to be screwed together and we quickly found that tightening one end down made the process a whole lot easier. And, folks, screwing two 3.5", 140-pound, 21-foot pipes together is NOT an easy thing. We got them as tight as we could by hand and then neighbor Bill came over and finished the job with two GIGANTIC pipe wrenches. I'm so glad we didn't have to go buy those wrenches because, according to Bill, they're about $200 for both of them.
All in all, the whole process took just a couple of hours and we got it done before the mugginess and heat of the day got really bad.
So that's it for the heavy stuff. Now we can start on the fun part, which is putting the panels up.
I hope everyone is well and enjoying this beautiful weather we're having. I'm looking forward to having this project done so that I can catch up on what everyone else has been up to!
I've shared this post with this week's Homestead Barn Hop. Go check out what other folks are up to!