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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Garden Renovation

There are parts of the flowerbeds that I have always disliked.  I ordered flowers for one part that just never worked out.  And the flowerbed lacks some consistent design elements to tie the various parts together.

The flowers I didn't like are the Knautia.  They looked good in the catalog pictures...
They perform badly in my garden.  They are floppy, invasive, sparse-flowered and look like a pile of weeds most of the Summer and Fall.  Its probably my fault.  I've since read that they want poor soil and full sun.  I have good soil and partial shade.

So it was time to give up and remove them.  Here is what they looked like...

I scraped along under the soil with my nice sharp metal spade through the entire bed of them (about 6'x10').  That left a nice pile of compostable material...
That offerred me the chance to start bringing some consistency to the flowerbed design.  I have 2 paths through the flowerbed.  One has Stella D' Oro along one edge.  I would like to have them on both sides of both paths.  I had 3 of them in a corner that has become shaded, so I transplanted them to the cleared space.  I also divided 2 of the other Stella and moved the divided half.  I expect the remaining halves will recover quickly.  I mixed some organic 2-6-5 into the soil I replaced.

Now I have a nice 2nd row along a path edge.  The space between the paths has Stella on both inside edges...
When I can divide all those again (or buy some new), I will place them on the outside edges of both paths to define the paths better.  That will give some good structure!

The other interesting thing was that I collected some orphaned Columbines.  I have one patch of 7 of them.  I noticed a single one where there used to be a patch.  I also discovered 2 that somehow were growing in the woods.  So I dug those 3 up and added them to the existing patch.
There are more there than it appears.  Some are hidden by old spreading butterfly bushes. I may order another 6 next Spring to increase the patch

The next step in the flowerbed renovation is to remove some of the shrubs at the back.  The 5 butterfly bushes are 15 years old and getting clumpy with deadwood at the base to the point where they resprout new growth poorly.  The colors (alternating purple and white) never quite looked right.  I think I will replace them with new red ones.  That should tie the color scheme together better.

I also have 2 variegated Euonymous shrubs that I like for the all-season color, but they simply grow too large (advertised 5' tall x 3' wide, but in reality are 6' tall and wide).  I am going to try and find places to relocate them as large specimen shrubs, but they have to be moved out of the flowerbed.  They may not survive cutting back and transplanting, but I will try.

There are 2 flowering almond shrubs.  And 2 Nandina, nice polite shrubs which I like for the colors and berries.  They should be moved.  I have good spots for the Nandina against the front foundation.  I'm not sure what to do with the almonds.  They are nice shrubs in Spring (rare for a shrub) but the fence line is too crowded.  Well, with the Euonymous and Nandina removed, maybe they can be between the new Butterfly bushes.  I'll have to see how much space there is.

Aside from renovated areas for structure, and reducing shrub clutter along the fence, my goal is to increase the size of patches of plants that are doing well.  This past Spring, I did some of that, combining 2 patches into one or buying more to increase a single patch.  Over the past few years, I've gone from 3'x4' patches to 6'x8' patches.  It is starting to look better.

More to come over the next couple of weeks...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Been Busy, But Not Anything To Show

Sorry I haven't been posting with new projects lately, but the stuff I've been doing lately hasn't been exciting or photogenic.

Laying down limestone to increase the lawn pH doesn't show up in pictures.  Taking down the cages with the dead tomatoes isn't much to brag about.  Washing the windows outside and in is nice, but you can't tell anything from a photo of them.  I spent a hour cleaning fallen leaves out of the boat before I "shrink-wrap" it for the Winter (whoopee).   I even spent time scraping 20 year old paint off the garage door glass panes!  Talk about a task put off too long!  LOL!

On the other hand, some of the non-visual time has been spent considering what to do with the decks.  I have an upper and a lower deck.  It seemed a good idea at the time, but quite frankly, the larger lower deck was a complete waste of time.  I have never had any use for it.  Well, OK, its a convenient landing for the stairs from the upper deck and then to the lawn.

So I'm going to take it apart and use the well-weathered-but-still-sound 2x6x12' decking boards to rebuild my framed garden beds.  The deck boards (not in ground contact) are in much better condition than the 2x4 garden boards after 20 years.

After the lower deck is removed, I will renovate the upper deck.  The frame is sturdy (but not to "code"), and the deck boards and rails are wearing out gradually and finally warping a bit.  The 2x6 boards are fine to frame garden beds, but they will soon be a question to walk on.  And the rails were always ugly.  Rail fence style.  So I will redo the top.

I plan to rebuild the top of the deck in the same style as current.  Except, the spaces between the upper posts will have a sunburst design I can easily make myself.  What can I say, the deck needs an artistic touch.

And I want to make the patio below the deck rainproof.  Well, at least "mostly" dry in a storm.  I know a serious rain can get in at the sides no matter what I do, but I (or the cats) don't plan to be out there in THAT kind of storm.  I just want to be able to sit on the patio under the deck in a normal drizzle and not have the rain falling through the deck above.

I initially thought of removing the deck boards above, covering the joists with pressure-treated plywood, roof felt, and 5/4" deck boards.  Reading a few DIY sites convinced me that was a bad idea!  So I am going with an under-the-deck system.  I've figured out I can attach a sloped wood frame topped with ribbed plastic panels UNDER the deck!

I have been standing on the patio figuring out how to attach the wood support frame in a way I can slide the plastic panels onto it.  It will be awkward to do alone, but I'm kind of used to that.  When I initially built the deck, I had 2 friends to help.  One moved away, and the other has a bad back now.  And I can't do what I used to do either.  Getting old is hard...

But I think that is all for next Spring.  For a temporary thing, I am going to hang a tarp under the deck to see how that works.  I can do that in a day.  And I'll take pictures of that.

The laugh is I'm only trying to make the patio dry so I can put vinyl fencing around the patio and let the cats out there...

Thanks for coming by to read...  :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Family Art

I meant to show this before.  I inherited these things because my Dad is selling the NH house.

He and his dad made some very nice items that he wanted me to have:

Did they have talent or what?

I am so proud to have this stuff!

I am merely the caretaker.  It will go from me to the 3rd generation when I die.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dirty Celery

I can't help it.  This is the DIRTIEST celery bunch I have ever seen!

Are they growing this stuff in volcanic ash or peat moss?

Monday, October 11, 2010


I have a fully working snow blower!  Hurray!  Of course, it wasn't just THAT easy...  I couldn't just order it, pick it up, bring it home and start it up.  It should have been, but NO...

I had ordered a Troy-Bilt Storm 2620.  That basically means it clears a 26" path and has a 20" intake scoop.  It has a 208 cc gas engine.  It's a 2 stage model, which means it is also self-propelled (single stage means you have to push it yourself) because with a sloped driveway, pushing uphill on a snowy surface didn't seem like a safe idea.

I was originally going to order it direct from the factory (Troy-Bilt) because it was $100 cheaper and free shipping.  But then I noticed in the fine print that the item would be shipped freight and I would be responsible for unloading it (or arranging and paying for secondary local delivery). And that the box was a dead weight 200+ pounds, I wasn't thrilled with the idea.  200+ pounds, 5' height off the back of the truck...  No.

The local retailer is Lowe's, so I went to visit.  First, I wanted to examine the dispersal chute that some reviewers had complained about.  Second, their website offered free in-store pickup (it was a special order, not regular stock).

When I got there, the only Troy-Bilt displayed was a different series entirely, was 15' up in the air, and I couldn't check out the chute.  But the desk clerk said that if I ordered it through the store and not the website, it was the same price, plus they would fully assemble the machine.  So I ordered it at the store (prepaid of course - which did not turn out to be a problem of any sort).

They would call me when it was ready for pickup.

So they called a week later.  Well, they called but it was their computer message machine trying to talk to my answering machine and the results were garbled.  2 days later, I got a call from a real person, saying the assembled snow blower was ready for pickup.  I visited the next day.  It took the service desk 10 minutes to get a clerk up front.  Off he went to retrieve my assembled snow blower...

20 full minutes later, he wheeled a cart out.  With a sealed box on it...  That box was fastened so solidly that it looked like tornado testing equipment!  I pointed out that it was supposed to be assembled.  The clerk said there were just 2 braces to attach.  I looked at the picture on the box and saw cables, adjustment braces, a chute control rod, etc. 

I looked at it for a moment and decided it was going to take 30 minutes just to take the box apart, so even if "assembly" was only screwing one knob onto a control lever, it wasn't worth it.  Besides, if I assembled any meaningful part (and it appeared I would), I would be blamed if it didn't operate properly.

I told them to take it back and assemble it fully.

2 days later, they called again and said it was fully assembled and ready to go.  I got there and it was!  I checked for any unconnected cables or loose bolts.  They loaded it onto my trailer and I got it home safely.  No problem getting it off the trailer either.  I have ramp boards.  So the snow blower was sitting there in my garage.

Naturally, I wanted to make sure it was operating.  So I opened the owner's manual package and there was an assembly instruction guide.  I checked every step of it to see if they had done it properly.

They hadn't...  I was not terribly surprised!  The first thing I found wrong was the dispersal chute control.  The chute is supposed to swing from full left to full right via a joystick on the handle bars.  I went left just fine.  But it only returned as far as straight forward.  I fussed with it to see if it was just sticky.  Nope, it stopped solid at straight forward.

So I looked at the control to see how it worked.  The handlebar joystick turns a rod that goes to the chute and a gear changes that to rotary motion.  There is a cotter pin connection, and the rod can be "pinned" in half turn rotations.  Don't worry about that, it just means that the rod can be "pinned" in the wrong position.  The assembly guide did not specify exactly how to do it correctly, but it was strictly mechanical, so I figured it out easily enough.
After unpinning it, I moved the chute straight forward manually and repinned the control rod.  It worked perfectly!  Full left to full right.  Yay!

I couldn't find anything else in the basic instruction guide that seemed wrong, but I did look the machine all over for loose bolts and such.  When I looked at the skid plates, something looked odd.  The skid plates are metal bars that keep the bottom of the snowblower scoop just above the driveway surface so that the scoop doesn't catch every driveway crack or get worn off (as the blade of a snow shovel has a reinforcement bar along the front edge).
The skid plate is at the bottom...

So the skid plates were above the surface!  They can't "skid" if they aren't touching the driveway.  I went searching through the actual user's manual to find out about that.  The manual said that the skid plates are factory adjusted upward for shipping and they should be adjusted to the desired height before us.  Well Lowe's hadn't done THAT either.  Surprise surprise...

Loosening the bolts holding the skid plates was a real chore.  They must have been put on with an air compressor wrench.  Like the way that car tire lug nuts are put on so tightly it take Goliath to loosen them if you have a flat.  (BTW, I make the car shop put on my lug nuts with hand tools, not the air wrench)

I tried a regular crescent wrench and could not loosen them.  I resorted to pounding the wrench with a deadblow hammer.  I succeeded only in slightly rounding the nut.  I pulled out my socket set (and recalled one reviewer mentioning he had broken a 3/8 inch socket drive doing just that).  My 1/2 inch drive doesn't have a socket small enough, so I had to use my own 3/8 inch drive.  It took a lot of effort, but the bolts finally came loose.

I figured the scoop didn't need very MUCH clearance, so I placed a 1/4 inch board under the scoop and lowered the skid plates down to the garage floor.  When I tightened them back up, all looked good.
Then it was time to start the machine for a test.  Well, I sure didn't want to be snowed in and discover it didn't work!  I was a bit nervous about doing it correctly.  There's a key, there's a choke, there's a throttle, there's a primer, there is an electric cord to connect to the starter (it has both electric and pull-cord start), and a starter button.  Then, when it starts, you have to adjust the choke, turn down the throttle, and disconnect the electrical starter cord.
OK, other than the electric starting cord, that's the same process as starting my riding lawn mower.  But I've been doing that for years and know where everything is.  Well, without the priming and without turning the key. Anyway, I steeled myself to begin the process.

I plugged in the snow blower.  Moved the throttle to start.  Opened the choke fully.  Pushed the primer 3X ("there's no place like home, there's no place like home" - LOL!) and pressed the starter button.  It felt like a NASA countdown!

No where in the instructions do they tell you to RELEASE the starter button immediately...  So while I was listening for the sound of the engine, I missed hearing a grinding sound of the starter still be forced to turn over.  Maybe 5 seconds of that before I released it.  No damage I hope...

The engine was running, I turned off the choke dial, I adjusted the throttle lower, and disconnected the electrical cord.  It runs smoothly and purrs like a kitten.  I let it run a full minute while I tried out the augers ("the spinny things that throw the snow"), the forward gears, and the reverse gears.

Now all I need is some snow...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Good Day

It was a good day today!

First, I planted crocus bulbs for my best friend.  He has back problems, and I like to plant stuff, so it works out well.  Plus, he has a really good soft lawn and it is easy.  I should have taken pictures, but I forgot to bring my camera and I forgot to ask him to bring out his.

The planting system works great.  He marks the spots, I dig a square foot hole in the ground.  I lift up the sod, shave the bottom flat, use a cultivator to loosen the soil below, and set the crocus bulbs in, and set the sod back on top.  He steps all around the sod to eliminate air pockets.

I would do that in my own lawn, but even after 20 years of improving the soil, the grass does not grow very thickly.  I get 4 hours of sun on most of my lawn.  I try to dig up sod like at my friends house and all mine falls apart.  So I am giving up on lawn crocus bulbs.

The good news is that I am planting hundreds of them in the border between the lawn and flowerbeds.  A foot of yellow, a foot of It also means I will be able to reset the plastic edging a bit lower.

The other good news is that the pinstripe boys won the first series.  That's Yankees.  I started follwing them in the early 60s when they weren't winning.  I didn't live in a city that had any particular connection to any major league team.

Go Yankees!

Friday, October 1, 2010

A "No Match"!

Just as a joke, I searched for the equivalent of basically "cat-like things"  Got ZERO!  Yay...

"Your search - felinopomorphic - did not match any documents."