email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Friday, October 31, 2014

Garden Enclosure Again

Got back to work on the framed beds.  Bought twelve 2"x8"x8' pressure-treated boards yesterday morning and cut up half of them in the afternoon.  Half because I bought boards for 2 beds and decided to do them one at a time.

First, I discovered why the first set of boards I bought a few weeks ago for the first 2 beds were hard to get squared in construction.  I had the store staff cut them on their huge fancy saw.  Silly me!  I assumed the boards were the lengths the labels said (like 8' long).  The length didnt matter for the long sides of the beds, but it did for the widths because I simply said "ct them in half". 

"Half" isn't a measurement...

Only after constructing the first 2 beds did I realize that all the boards were not equal.  Not exactly a functional disaster for a garden bed, but it vaguely offended me.  I should have been forewarned by the very surly male store person who was talking to the female cashiers when I made him do some work.

So this time I simply took all the boards home to cut myself.  It was a revelation!  The boards varied in length from barely 8' to 8' 1"!!!  End the ends were NOT square by as much as 1/4" over the widt.  No WONDER I had had so much trouble getting the first set to match up square!

I have a radial saw to cut long boards to length easily.  I have a good table saw too, but you can't slide an 8' board on it.  Radial saws work best for that.  So first, I measured a board and found it was long and not square at the end.

I have it next to an 8' workbench at the same level height, so I can handle 10' long boards.  The radial saw is great for long boards because the saw moves, not the long boards.  I bought it when I built the fence because I had to cut about 1500 long boards (yes 1500) for that project.  It paid for itself just for that and I've probably cut almost as many more since then.

But back to the odd lengths and unsquareness of the boards...  I first shaved 1/4" off one end of each, then stacked them to the side.  When all were done, I clamped down a board at 8' from the saw blade (as a positive "stop"" and cut them to exact length.  Perfect length and all square ends!

Two of the 8' boards were WAY heavier than the others (I could barely lift them), so I kept them aside to cut into the smaller widths for the bed ends of 3'.  Like the longer boards, I shaved off the ends to get them squared.

Nothing ever works out as planned.  I set up another positive stop (meaning a clamped board away from the saw blade an exact repeatable distance).  And clamped the board against the saw fence so that there could be NO errors.

There was an error on the very first one.  I screamed in frustration!!!  How could it have been wrong?  Oops, the edges of preservative treated lumber are not "perfectly" straight along the long edges.  I had chosen the straightest ones I could find, but flat straight ones vary along their length.  So, as I kept adjusting the clamping to get them as straight as possible, the board slipped away 1/4 inch from the positive stop...

You can't win sometimes!  So this bed isn't 8' long; it is 7' 11 and 3/4" long.  *sigh*  It why I don't try to build furniture.  I'm cursed with minor errors.  OK, in the garden framed beds, it doesn't really matter much.  But it still ticks me off!

So, this early afternoon, I went out to construct the 3rd bed.  I have the digging routine down pat.  The yard is sloped, so I have to dig a trench for each bed to make it level.  I set the lower end of the long boards on a brick and raise it until it is level.  Then I dig down the upper end by that much.  It works.  Then I level the end board and clamp the long boards to it.

Making the end board fit even with the long boards, I drive in three 3" screws on each side, then raise the other narrow end up onto a board to keep them even.  Drive three 3" screws into each side there.  Then remove the support boards and settle the completed frame into the shallow trench.

If it isn't level, I lift the frame and push dirt under it until it is level.  Not usually required, but I did have to once.  Then I make sure the frame is really square.  You do that by measuring both opposite corners.  When I tap them a bit so the opposite dimensions are the same, I know it is really square.

It started to rain slightly after I got the first layer of frame for the 3rd frame in place this afternoon, so I had to stop and put all the tools away.  But at least that was done.  Putting the 2nd layer of boards on the top of the 1st level is always easy.  You just match the tops to the bottoms.

I cut a scrap board into two 2' pieces to space the beds apart for walkable/wheelbarrowable paths.  The upper left is the bottom of newer box...

But the rain stopped.  I didn't want to haul all the tools out of the shed in case the rain started again, but I did have time to haul all the boards for the 4th bed out of the trailer and into the garage.  At least I know how to do the cutting better than the first time, LOL!

That will be tomorrow's start.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Garden Enclosure

Back On Track!  Sometimes, when I get most frustrated about a project, I back off and think.  There is almost always a solution to any simple problem.  I found a solution to the problem I most recently posted about on the subject.

The problems were having to build framed beds on unlevel ground, keeping 2 layers of boards even and connected, and making the paths wide enough to get around all the beds in an enclosed area.

Sometimes the solutions are pathetically obvious in hindsight, sometimes the solutions are less obvious.

The biggest problem with my original design is that I did not take the thickness of the boards.  2x8 boards are 1.5" thick.  Not much, but after 3 beds with boards on both sides, that adds up.  Each framed bed takes 3" and 3 beds is almost a foot.

So instead of all the framed beds being 4' wide, the center one is 3'.  That gives me 2' paths and 3" to mess up in.

Then I realized that having 7' long beds meant that the center pole support would be in the middle of a path.  ARGH!  So, the center beds will be 8' and 6' instead of 7' and 7'.  The ceter support pole will be exactly on the side of the 8' framed bed.

The last problem is that the yard is unlevel.  I don't want to make the beds be unlevel, s I need to adjust the board frames so they ARE level.  But at one end, that puts the frame above ground.  I decided to slip a 1" board at the lower end on the first beds.  That's a bad fix.  The RIGHT way to do it is to bury a 2"x4" board at the lower level til it "just reaches ground level and set the new frames on top of that.  If that isn't clear, don't worry it works.  I had done that on another project 20 years ago and forgotten.  I "reinvented the wheel" so to speak.  Anyway, it will work.

So I am back on the project.

Tomorrow, I go to Home Depot and buy twelve 2"x8"x8' pressure-treated boards.  I had planned to do that today, but I ended up raking fallen trees debris off my roof. and them sweeping the debris off the deck. 

But I know how to complete my garden enclosure project now, and that's the main thing.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Trash Pickup

Before I moved here, I rented a house in another county where trash pickup was a single-contractor county service, paid through taxes.  When I moved here, it was all private multiple-contractor service, and I signed up.  All had 2 day per week pickup and all cost the same (about $35 per month and that was 20 years ago).  It was all OK for a while.

But then, the county started recycling pickups AND I had started a compost pile.  Between recycling and compost, my "trash" dropped to almost nothing!  My one bag of trash once a month got ignored because my pickup company guys kept forgetting I was a customer.  And paying $35 a month for one bag seemed ridiculous.  And back then, I had Tinkerbell, then Skeeter and LC and they preferred to do their business outside.  I didn't even have much kitty litter to toss.

I tried 3 companies and they always lost track of me on the routes.  They said "well just put out your trash can twice a week with a small bag in it.  I didn't even have THAT most weeks.  So I cancelled the pickup service and switched to saving it for a few months and then driving to the county landfill paying $1 for the bag (my "trash" is not smelly, almost anything "smelly" is compostable).

Things change.  Ayla, Iza, and Marley prefer to do their business indoors.  I've even seen them demand to come in, use the litter box, and then demand to go back outside.  And I've started ending up with some bulkier trash.  So I was going to the landfill sometimes with a few 100 lbs of non-recyclable, non-compostable trash, and the price of gas was going up.  So between the flat disposal rate of $5 and a gallon of gas to get there in my SUV, it was starting to be noticible.  And who wants to have to drive to a landfill to unload in Winter or mucky Spring rains?

Well, 2 days ago, a guy knocked on the door and asked abut my trash pickup service.  I told him I didn't have one.  Now, I usually automatically just (politely) blow off door-knockers.  If I want something, I'll find it on my own and comparison-shop carefully.  But he managed to get my interest.

I explained that the cost was too high, and that I usually didn't have enough trash to put out the barrel once or twice each week and that what I really needed was a service that charged half the price for a single monthly pickup.

I was surprised to discover my 2 major problems were resolved!  First, they provide company-identified trash cans and the cost was half what it used to be.  So, no matter how infrequently I put the trash out, they won't miss me!  Second, at only $20 per month, the cost begins to approach my own cost of landfill dumping and gas (and time).  And the contract is only quarterly, not annual.  If I don't like their service, I can drop them.

Most of my trash is kitty litter, followed by styrofoam packing peanuts,and blue or black styrofoam containers (which are not recyclable here), and some strange odds and ends.  I can manage a small bag each week.

And the cool thing is that I HAPPEN to have a LOT of unrecyclable, un-compostable trash right now.  Heavy old rotting preservative-treated wood from the old raised framed garden beds I am replacing now!  I estimate that the cost of landfill-dumping of all that stuff would be about $50 at least right now, and I'm less than half through tearing out the old wood.  So I should actually save money through Spring and getting rid of it a LOT easier.

And I'll mention that the landfill is inundated by seagulls searching for scraps of food.  They normally don't bother visitors, but one day they got all scared up and flew over my car.  Raining poop...  If you don't know about seagull poop, it dries quickly and turns to cement.  It took me 2 hours to clean the car after that 1 episode.

I hesitated to hand the trash guy a $60 check for services I hadn't yet received, but he presented a pretty good collection of legitimacy.  His car had the trash company logo (Evergreen Disposal) and I see their trucks each week.  He had a well-worn Evergreen hat, pictures of him in an Evergreen trash truck, pictures of him with other Evergreen people, a picture of him at some trash conventionpictures of him receiving an award at an Evergreen company meeting, and I imagine a check made out to Evergreen Disposal would be awkward to cash...  He suggested I use my smart phone to check their website (where he said he is a route manager) assuming I had a smart phone (who doesn't?  Well, *I* don't, but he didn't know that).  I think I was sufficiently cautious.

If I got scammed by a door-knocker, it will be about the first time ever and I might even tip my hat to him.  I have a pretty good mental "BS meter".

But I expect I will be getting regular trash pickup starting Nov 4th at a really good price and saving myself a lot of trips to the county landfill.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Garden Enclosure, Again

Some projects just go WRONG.  And you don't realize until you are about half done.  I thought the major work would be to build the enclosure and tearing apart the old rotting frame beds would be easy.

I'm an idiot!  PPPPPPPTTTTT..............

I wish it was April again and I was just starting this.  I would do it SO differently! But I wanted to save all the good soil by moving it from the old beds to the new beds as I built them.  Seemed logical at the time, but Bad Decision.  Happens a lot.

I had a friend who decided to almost double the size of his house by having half of it demolished and then added to.  It went horribly!  He could have had the whole house demolished and rebuilt so much easier and at about the same cost faster.  Ruined a year of his life and cost me our friendship (I mentioned the renovator who built my toolshed and did some additions elsewhere). 

Don't EVER make major recommendations to friends...  He blamed me for the disaster and I wasn't sympathetic enough but that's another story (which I will tell someday soon).

But back to the garden.  I SHOULD have just busted out all the old framed beds from end to end last April, disposed of all the old wood, and spread the soil and used my rototiller to level the whole *#%@ area.  I didn't and I regret it now. 

Part of the problem is that my lot slopes from back to front and from the center to the sides.  Nothing is level here.  It isn't obvious by just looking, but even an 8' long bed is 4" higher at one end than the other.

I have 2 of the 6 beds built.  It was hard work.  I had the original beds because the soil in the last sunny areas is all rock and clay.  I should have remembered that when I planned to replace them. 

If I was starting the project again today, I would just take out all the existing rotting boards at the same time and roto-till the entire area to level it all at once.  Why not do that now?...

Because of a silly piece of twine.  It outlines the whole new enclosure area.  Silly, but I didn't want to undo the careful twine outline of the new bed.  I can be very talented and very stupid at the same time.  No laws prevent it..

But clearly, the way to go is to disassemble the 2 beds I built already (which in spite of my digging are unlevel and unsquare.  Save the wood.  Rototill the entire area and rake it flat as a pancake, THEN easily build the new framed beds on the leveled ground and add new soil.  

And THEN build the squirrel and groundhog proof chicken wire enclosure.  

My tomatoes MAY only cost me $10 each for several years...

I'm doing this because it is basically my "Last Hurrah" of gardening.  In a few years (I'm 64) I won't be able to take on this kind of project.  The new garden beds will basically last me my future years until I can't garden any more.  So it is to rebuild them now or never.

And I will do it myself, or there is no point to it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


I've stayed away from for a couple weeks.  I can spend the whole night there SO easily.  Scrabble, Risk, Hearts...

But I dropped in to play "one game" tonight and it seems there was a challenge from them to win 6 games of Scrabble in a week.  3,000 free token point and some badge.

Pish Posh.

Took me 7 games.  Darn, I lost one by 2 points cuz I couldn't find a place to  use that darn "J" I got right at the end.  The others, I won by 100+ points. 

They're clever, they keep me coming back...

Friday, October 10, 2014


Well, it is less than 3 weeks before the midterm elections, so I am going to get a bit political until then.  Its more than a hobby but less than an obsession.

I don't have a political party by loyalty.  I generally vote Democratic because they support my views here in Maryland.  But mostly, I try to vote be perceived honesty and concerns over issues I care about. 

I consider my self "independent" in the sense that fair voting, honest and "greater good" concerns matter most to me.  I care about fair and competitive election districts, getting as many people to vote as possible, and good honest debates between candidates.  I don't like corporate money in political campaigns; businesses have no legitimate place in elections. 

I'll discuss some particular elections in some detail in the coming few weeks. 

And I will stop posting about politics shortly after the elections until late 2016.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

More Of Less Stuff

Each day, I keep thinking I should call Salvation Army but each day I find more stuff I can part with.  So I plan to look around another day.   Its worth the wait.  You wouldn't believe how much unneeded stuff I've accumulated in 28 years here.

Some of the stuff I've dredged out of the attic and closets are actually good stuff I'll keep.  But not much.

I have housewarming couch pillows in great condition because they've been in a closet because I don't have a couch.  I got rid of the couch and loveseat 15 years ago.  And a good story about those.  A month after I donated them, I saw an article in the Washington Post newsapaper about a poor family that received some furniture and were thrilled.  It was MY stuff!  I recognized the odd patterns on the cushions.

So giving unneeded stuff away is good.

I've made quite a collection in the basement.  A dining table that I meant to refinish and never will with 4 chairs,  stackable chairs for parties I never had, an upright vacuum cleaner for carpets I don't have anymore,  etc, etc, etc...

Would you believe I had TWO nearly identical 4" refracting telescopes?  I can part with one of those.

And there are several boxes full of kitchen gadgets I never used.  I don't exactly need the sieve that expands to fit the sink, or the strange flatware with the bright red ceramic handles,  or the ones with the walnut handles either.  Not my style and who needs 3 sets of flatware anyway.  Those are partly why I asked my family to stop sending me christmas gifts,  I have everything I want to have.

And there is stuff I bought myself that never worked out.  Like the magnetic knife holders.  And maybe someone could use that set of Ginsu knives.  I mean they are actually pretty good, but I have better ones now.

The real weird stuff was buried in the computer room closet.  A set of VCR storage drawers from a former friend.  Four sets of golf club covers.  Three tennis rackets I will never use again.  And there were the "eldercare" tub bench and tub access supports left over from when Dad was here.  I may need those things in 25 years (as Dad was 25 years older than me when he needed them), but I sure don't need them now and someone else sure does.

I'm dithering over the Christmas decorations.  I haven't decorated a tree in 10 years, but I might any year now, and those things DO have memory value.  Like the 25 pound tree stand that you can't find anywhere now.  But mostly the decorations are all a bit unique collected over years; I'll keep those.  How many people have 2 dozen fake male cardinals and bubble lights?  But the dozen boxes of regular lights and cheap glass ornaments can go.  Someone will appreciate them.  I hope.

I could probably sell a lot of that, but something in me says that donating them would give more pleasure to people otherwise without them.  And the idea of a child without much looking at colorful lights in the home (on a tree or not) feels good.

And maybe I'll include some of those bubble lights.  I remember the wonder I felt when I saw them as a child.  Better that some child wonders how they work than me keeping them in  box of memory.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Old Stuff

You ever found something you liked and it just disappeared?  I live that all the time.  What ever I like is not popular enough to remain available.  As a teen, I loved Whip and Chill.  Gone.  I love Sweet Tarts.  So much that a friend brought me a HUGE single one 3" diameter from his vacation.   My local butcher store used to have "cheesecake sampler packs".  I loved those and they stopped selling them.  I like Twisted Zin Zinfadel wine.  If it wasn't for the fact that the store kindly special-orders it for me, I wouldn't have THAT either.

Not that I'm approving smoking, but I used to smoke Benson&Hedges 100s.  No one carries them any more.  Anything I like just goes away.  I'm nearly anti-routine consumer.

I like my evening cocktail to be  an ounce of gin, an ounce of pomegranate liquor, and ginger ale on the rocks.  My version of a Singapore Sling.  And sometimes using cherry liquor.  Well, guess what?  The makers (Dekuprs) dropped JUST those 2 liquors from their line last month!

My favorite candy bar as a kid was Skybar.  It had 4 separate flavors in 4 separate pieces in each bar,  Seen any of those lately?  And the Zero Bar (white chocolate around nougat center).  Can't find those either.

I'm cursed...

Sometimes I think that if I announced that I breathe oxygen, it would vanish...

But today, I found a 7-11 store that had Sweet Tarts!  I bought 6 rolls (all they had).  And better?  They were buy-one-get-one-free!  Bet that means they are the last ever made...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sweet and Sour Pork

Its NOT supposed to be batterred pork alone in some insipid sweet orange color sauce!

Batterred Pork is easy.  Deep fry 1" cubes of pork butt in a thick spicy batter.  Set aside.  I use a "Fry Baby".
Holds 1 pound of Crisco shortening.  Easy to deep fry small amounts in.Product Details

Cut coins/cubes of a dill pickle, green bell pepper, cherries, and pineapple.  Heat them anyway you like (saute', M/V).

Sauce:  1 cup cold water, 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1 T sugar, 1 T lemon juice, 1 T soy sauce, 2 or 3 T cornstarch.  Throw it all in a saucepan to thicken.  Viola, sweet/sour sauce for anything.  Not tricky cooking.

Drop the pickle, pepper, pineapple and cherry into the sauce to warm.  Add battered pork and stir lightly to mix. 

Now how hard is THAT?

It should look like this:
And not that orange but I added the restaurant crap sauce to my good sauce cuz it did smell a bit orangey/sweet. I wish I had not done that.

But here is what they gave me (without their orange color sauce).
Which would YOU prefer?

The local best Chinese restaurant couldn't do THAT...  Pathetic.  And they should be shunned for the awful Spring Rolls.  I actually took one Spring Roll apart to see what was in it.  Nothing!  Boiled cabbage as far as I could tell and nothing else*.

But I will say the Moo Goo Gai Pan was quite good.

*  A Spring Roll is supposed to be fancier than an Egg Roll.  A Spring Roll should have identifiable bits of shrimp, ground pork, and fancy chinese veggies like bean sprouts, water chestnuts, straw mushrooms, and bamboo shoots.  Not soggy cabbage mush.