Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A lot going on in the garden...

Spring is such an exciting and ever changing time in the garden.  This year is no exception.

New birds are arriving daily, others are nesting, including red breasted nuthatches, northern flickers and black capped chickadees.  All the nest boxes have cameras, and as the action heats up I will stream live video form each (now we are streaming from inside the nuthatch box http://www.ustream.tv/channel/red-breasted-nuthatch).

Just yesterday, 3 nuthatches hatched.  Here is a short video of them getting one of their first meals.

And of course, I have been busy with garden projects.  Here are some photos of what is happening now and some updates on projects...
Featured prominantly on the wall of my shop- I keep a list to remind me of the projects I want to complete.  
This floor grate was an early one on the list (I made it this winter from old wrenches) and replaces a dilapdated, temporary wood grate I made several years ago.  Beneath the grate is our compost furnace.
The greenhouse is really filling up.  

And so is my little nursery.
I have been growing these sedum (Sedum lanceolatum)  for a green roof on the chicken coop I will be building...
The coop will occupy this space- the corner raised bed in the vegetable garden that gets too much shade to be really productive.
In the meantime, these shovel chickens enjoy the space.

In what has become a rite of spring, we moved our composter.  This change was set into motion by our new back gate, and fence rearrangement, that was prompted by storing our camper in the garden (click here for my wife's blog about our camper- a project in itself)

It fits right in. 
My plan is to build a pergola over it.  On the list.

 New garden furniture has been on the list for some time. And this winter I made a lot of progress. 
 Several new shovel chairs and benches replaces our dilapidated bent willow chairs.
 Even the birds got new furniture- a new bird bath to match the chairs and gate.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The garden as a bird feeder

In general, our garden is our bird feeder- we planted native plants and created habitat to suit birds' primary food- insects.  And it has worked well, though it is not your traditional "birder's garden".  I feel like I have written this post before (and probably better), but it is a good reminder this time of the year.  For several years I have had mixed feelings for bird feeders, and I have stopped using bird feeders through summer, spring and fall.  I have stopped using seed feeders altogether, and occasionally and seasonally use different forms of suet feeders (see below), including native plant suet we prepare ourselves (click here).

Our goal is to make our garden our feeder by planting native plants and providing habitat and this sustains a variety of birds, insects and other wildlife. This has been our goal, and even in a small, city lot, you can have success.

Our giant ant hill in our front yard is a Northern flicker's favorite.   Through the winter, flickers dig this up for tasty grubs (and defenseless slow moving adults in the cold).

In winter, we add some feeders for birds, but not the typical ones people are used to seeing, though non-traditional feeders, yet they are more natural. for example, my favorite, carcasses.
These parts and pieces are left overs from butchering our game meat during hunting season.

Although the aesthetic might not be for everyone, carcasses (from winterkill, and predator kills) are the original suet feeder (click here for more information). 

Even a little scapula can be an enticing feeder for chickadees, nuthatches, flickers, and downy woodpeckers.

In addition to providing housing for native solitary nesting bees, mason bee boxes, aka "larvae feeders" provide food for nuthatches, downy woodpeckers and chickadees that pick the overwintering larvae out. Here a chickadee uses its wings for improved leverage to get one out
But perhaps more important in our garden are the natural and original nest boxes- snags.
Birds are a source of food too. With a lot of birds around, come things that eat them.
Here a sharp-shinned hawk eats a cedar waxwing in our garden.
All that it left was the beak
So this winter, consider your feeders, and perhaps shift to some natural or unconventional feeders.  Feeding birds is a lot more than seed feeders, and it is a lot more effective with non-traditional means.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

new heat for my old shop

I've been spending a lot of time in my shop lately on a variety of projects for our home and garden. Including a bunch of re-purposed garden tool chairs and benches (and things for my Etsy store) but that is for another post.  My newest project for the shop is a better heating system- a couple of weeks ago I bought a used pellet stove (a Quadrafire, Mt Vernon).  This concludes a 1.5 year search on Craigslist and Home ReSource.  I am really excited about heating the shop in a more sustainable way. For about 13 years, I had been heating the shop with a small kerosene heater. That heater works really well, and heats the shop up quickly, but the cost of kerosene has more than tripled over that time. When I first stared heating with it, 5 gallons of kerosene was less than $12; now it is around $45. Plus, it is kerosene, and for all the reasons not to burn petroleum products it is bad. 

Pellets are made mostly from  wood waste, and there lots of options on wood source and several companies in western Montana produce the pellets.  I am really glad about having this sort of locally made option, and especially one that uses waste from other industries.  For example, one company is primarily a furniture business, and converts its lumber scraps into pellets.  

Other nice things about pellets are their low emissions, and the abundant, pleasant heat produced- the same kind of heat as from a wood stove.  Plus, it is thermostatically controlled. The downside is the high initial cost, but with the low cost of fuel ($4/ 40 lb bag), I will break even pretty soon.  Even if it took me much longer to break even, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

With a kerosene heater, I would use about 20 gallons a year to heat the shop, so at these prices it would be around $200/ year to heat. If the price doesn't go up any more, I figure I will break even in 2-3 years.
For those in the city of Missoula or the parts of Missoula County that are in the "air stagnation zone," you can install pellet stoves, but they have to meet the EPA emission particulate guidelines (that is, emit less than 1 gram/hour) be on the approved list.

As for as the installation, I got nearly everything used, from Home ReSource; including the majority of the venting, electrical and wall materials.
I decided to tile the surround, but the nice thing with pellet stoves is that they have very low set backs to combustibles. For this stove, and the way I have it oriented, it could be as close as 1.5” to the walls. 
So although I didn't need to surround the stove with a non-flammable material, I thought it would be an opportunity to add a little pizzazz to the shop to break up the monotony of the OSB covered walls. Plus it makes me feel better knowing the stove is surrounded by concrete, ceramic and grout- not OSB and dry wood!

I found this interesting tile at Home ReSource, so I figured I'd give it a try.  It looks like wood, but it is ceramic tile.   I thought it would be the perfect tile for a woodworking shop.
On the same trip, I got all the tile, grout (that I totally over bought), concrete backer board, grout sealer, a GFCI receptacle, outlet box, and thermostat wire, for only, ...wait for it… $36! Thanks Home ReSource!
I am happy with how it came out, but more importantly I am glad to be heating the shop with a renewable, and locally produced resource.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Cat of the Year; voting is now open

Pictured (from the left) Natalie, Marilyn, Miles, David, Alex 
So, here are the contestants.  We will start with the defending champion, Natalie.

Age:  18
Weight: 10 lbs
Breed:  Domestic long hair

Background: Disemboweled by her previous owners’ dog, historically medically neglected. Borderline diabetic (Type 2 lifestyle diabetes, I'm calling it what is is). She’d prefer to be the only cat in our house.

Despite not having earned her title last year, 2013 has been an especially good year for our oldest cat.  In retrospect, perhaps winning the respect and adoration of internet fans has helped her change her attitude and slim down to 10 lbs. Self respect is a powerful elixir (I hope you are reading this Harley). Because of her weight loss, Natalie has also stopped her incredibly expensive diabetic cat food, which is a plus for our family's fiscal health.   At long last, sometime during the past year Natalie has recovered from being angry at her living situation.  She is once again affectionate, outgoing, and loving.  The Natalie of old.  Recently, she even sat on Trisha's (her frenemy care-giver) lap.  She has extended the olive branch to even Miles. But not Dr. Z.

All this "being good" takes it's toll.  It is exhausting to her.

She has also taken an interest in our hobbies.  Here she is helping Marilyn sew curtains and an awning for a camper she will never use.
She doesn't resent that.  At all.
2013 Accomplishments:  weight loss, fiscal responsibility, improved self-esteem

Age: 14- ish
Weight: 7 lbs
Breed: Turkish Angora x Persian

Background: Innocent victim of a hoarder. He was at the shelter for 2 years because no one wanted to adopt an adult black cat. We adopted him in summer of 2007 as a friend for Natalie. Boy was that a bad idea.  Really bad.

The understated hero in our house.

This has been an expensive and difficult year for our quiet and brave little guy.  He is plagued by small tumors,  inside and out.  His weight is diminishing, and he had to have one of his canines removed. I think he still expects Junebug (or Squeak) to come back home. Despite all this, he does not complain.

The other cats look to him as the leader- partly because they are terrified of him.
It's not that he is mean, he is just socially inept.  His favorite games are hit and bite. Since Squeak passed, no one has ascended to the rank of leader.  Natalie by all accounts (biggest, oldest, shrewdest and longest tenured 8th Street resident), should have taken the throne, but she lives in fear (and hate) of the other pets (Squeak, Junebug, Alex and Miles).

Back to Alex.
He is very interested in and tolerant of house guests.  He recently learned the word "selfie".  Here he is having fun with our friend Andrew from Myanmar.

He has embraced (to the best of his ability) the arrival of Miles, and tries to play with him. But again, his two games are Hit and Bite, and you never know when he is going to play, so he hasn't won over Miles as a playmate.

2013 Accomplishments:  None, really.  He is a rock; he is legend.

Age: 10
Weight: 7 lbs
Breed:  Wire-haired Chihuahua

Background:  Our smallest and youngest cat, Miles is a "California Little"- one of the small dogs sent to Missoula's Humane Society from an animal shelter in Merced, California.  He, like his bother Alex, is the innocent victim of a hoarder.  We know very little about his past, but when we adopted him he had sores on his feet and legs from confinement.

Although Miles came to live with us in 2012, since he did not complete greater than .5 years he was ineligible to complete for the title last year.  This year, he is in the running.  As a wire-haired Chihuahua, you might be surprised to find him in the competition.  Yet we remind you all that Junebug was crowned Cat of the Year, and we are still not sure what kind of creature she was.

We learned a lot about Miles this year- almost everyday is an exciting adventure for him.
He loves running, and his longest run was 10 miles (no problem).  He even competed in his first race and easily took the senior toy breed division.

He loves ice cream, especially from the Big Dipper
He loves hiking, and this summer among other things he hiked to 7 mountain lakes.
He does not like swimming,he won't drink from a lake or stream (we call it wild water), so we carry a bowl for him, and is terrified of toad stools.
He loves hunting (camp),
camping, sitting by the campfire,
but most of all he loves Marilyn.  As a chihuahua, he is fiercely loyal to one caregiver.  And he is also fond of small dogs, especially his breed.  Among chihuahuas it is called "clanning" (kind of racist, actually).

2013 Accomplishments: He learned to jump through a hula hoop on command.   He's a good boy! Yes he is!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Garden project progress- Home ReSource fencing

Although it is getting late in the gardening year, I am making some progress now on some garden projects- primarily fencing related.

This fencing project started about 11 years ago.  When we first bought our house, the house was surrounded by a dilapidated 4' staggered board fence that provided little privacy.  Over the course of a couple of summers, we replaced 2 of the 3 side of the fence as time and money allowed.
The third side (the east), I frankly never thought I would ever complete, though periodically over the years i threatened to finish it.

Then it happened, while shopping at Home ReSource one day someone dropped off about 130 lineal feet of 6' privacy fence panels- more than enough to complete our last side.

I was there on my bike and I didn't want to deal with buying, loading, unloading and storing all those fence panels so I just tried to ignore that it was there.  Later that day I returned to get it, because I couldn't stop thinking about how I should get it.  When I got back, about half had been sold.

I bought the rest and for the last few months I have been moving those panels around- each place I put them turns out to be a place where I need something else.

Over the last two weeks, panel by panel I have been replacing the old fence with the new.  I actually just set out to pull out the old fence posts and dig new holes before the ground froze- bargaining.
One thing lead to another, and I now have two new gates, and 90% of the east fence complete (I ran out of materials!).
As for the old fence, Marilyn neatly de-nailed, sorted and stacked all the old cedar fence pickets and cedar 2x4 rails.
I'll eventually reuse all these boards into trellises, garden furniture and other things.

Replacing the east side fence was just the beginning.  Having all these fencing materials on hand helped me address some other problems that have developed over the years.

Over the years, our use of the backyard and our needs have changed.  We no longer need a 10' double door to the garage (my shop), and it is saggy and hard to use.  Now that we don't even have an overhead door in the garage, we don't need a double gate int he fence to access it.
So, I replaced that double gate with a single 40" wide gate that opens both into the alley and bakyard.  It is much easier to use, takes up less "floor" space,

And, the feature I like most is that I installed a deadbolt lock (from Home ReSource) as a latch that I can open from the alley (I had it keyed to our house key).
All the hardware was from Home ReSource, too.
Plus, this gate incorporates not only parts of our old fence, but our old hammock stand, too, like the curved top and bottom rails.
Though we don't need a big gate to the garage, we do need a big gate to get the camper in the back yard.  You can follow the renovation of our camper on my wife's blog http://toastercamper.blogspot.com/.

I considered a lot of different options for opening and closing this 11' gate from two doors on hinges to an 11' rolling or sliding gate.  I eventually settled on the low tech (and cheap) option of just making a removable panel on hangers I got at Home ReSource.

So, as our use changed, so did the fence, and gates.
It is very gratifying to reuse everything you can.  The western red cedar lasts a long time and has a lot of life left in it (both the new fencing and the old), but I reused everything I could from the fence panels and supplies I purchased, including 2x4's, pickets, and screws.    The only thing I bought new for this project is pressure treated 4x4's and concrete.
My old gate hardware is going to a friend for his gate project, and anything I don't plan on using is going back to Home ReSource, where it can be used again.