Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Next Big Adventure...

You might have noticed that this little garden blog hasn't had much gardening going on...but major things are happening none the less!

A few months ago we looked into the possibility of getting a mortgage on a fixer upper.  We are still in the beginning stages of this process, but will be chronicling it here to add to the body of knowledge available for people looking to begin a similar project.

Here's a recap of the timeline so far (2016):

February 15th:  We ran mortgage calculators to get an idea of our budget and began casually looking at homes on-line while gathering the information we'd need to apply.

February 18th:  Browsing Realtor.com we saw a house in an area of interest that met all of our requirements and contacted a realtor recommended by a friend to set up a visit.

February 23rd:  Added a list of several other houses to visit.  In the mean time, received pre-approval for a loan through the FHA program.

February 29th:  Visited several houses and found THE PERFECT HOUSE in THE PERFECT LOCATION but due to the condition it was clear that it would not pass an FHA inspection.

March 1st:  After referral to a local loan office that specializes in working with the FHA 203k program, resubmitted our information and were able to get a pre-approval letter for the home.  It was listed at $40k, but with several cash offers on the table we were advised to offer $45k with a renovation budget of an additional $35k (rough estimate).

March 3rd:  Deadline for offers was noon and our realtor submitted at 9am.  We also included a $1000 check for "hand-money" at the recommendation of our realtor.  This money helps show you are serious about your offer, and will go towards our other expenses and closing costs.    

March 4th:  OUR OFFER WAS ACCEPTED!  We forwarded the acceptance to our loan officer and continued to gather needed paperwork.  We also dropped off the hand-money check that had just been scanned and e-mailed for offer inclusion previously.

March 6th:  Realtor sent over the disclosures which we were able to electronically sign.

March 8th:  We are now scheduled for our assessment of the house with a HUD certified 203k consultant tomorrow (March 9th) at 1:30pm.   He will make a list of all the things that need to be fixed in order for the house to be FHA compliant, and a rough estimate of the funds that will require.  From there we can decide how to move forward.    I will also be able to take photographs.  

Wish us luck!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Back in the Game!

I am BACK for the 2014 growing season!   WOO HOO!  Last year the garden sat completely empty due to a mixture of factors, but the beds are still in place, and our composters are full of rich black goodness as we speak.   I have many goals this season, but here are a few in the interest of accountability:

1)  Let's get Crazy! 
I have a bunch of ideas for things that might just be complete failures, but I'll never know until I try.  This year I'm going to test them out and hopefully a few will be winners.  The first idea up is to make a mini-greenhouse using a tall raised bed and heated ground coil against the South-East facing part of my bricked front porch.  The area is where I've grown climbing veggies in the past, but it's really the only reasonable location for setting up a winter bed.  I hope to have it planted by early February.  That's only 2 weeks before pea-planting day here in Pittsburgh.

I really don't have a whole lot of space, so it's time to stop screwing around with things that just don't produce for me, or that are reasonably yummy and cheap from local farms and stores.  Onions, celery, brussel sprouts, cabbage, lettuce, and most winter squash are not going in this year.  Instead that space will be used for more peas, more bush beans, chard, kale, basil and other things that I do well with and that I always wish I had more of.

3)  More Tutorials!
Over the last year I've gotten several messages asking for more posts like Growing Carrots in Containers - A Tutorial.  Happily, the kids loved making that one and are excited to work on a few more.

4)  Long-term Fruit Planning!
We currently grow no fruit on our property, other than apples from our huge old tree.  We need to seriously examine the property and figure out where we want to be in 5 years.

5)  Water Collection and Access Planning!
There are two areas in the back of the house where we have no access to hose water.  We need to fix gutters and set up water collection systems in those areas to make it easier to keep up with those sections of the garden.

6)  Preservation!
I really do prefer frozen veggies over canned for most things, so this year I just need to actually freeze stuff regularly enough that we can make it through the winter.  I also need to expand the types of foods and dishes I preserve.

Here's to an amazing garden and an amazing year!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Growing Carrots in Containers - A Tutorial

We have a limited amount of space in which to garden each year, and one of the simple innovations that allowed me to maximize the return on that space was planting carrots in pots.  Carrots like a nice light dirt, and are prone to being eaten by lots of nasties that live under sod.  You can visit my original carrots-in-containers post here if you'd like to know more, but this post will be a step-by-step photo guide to the entire process, from preparing a container to harvesting your carrot crop!

STEP 1:  Gather your supplies.  You'll need potting soil, carrot seeds, a large , deep bucket, a drill and anything you normally use for potting plants.  If you're using a planter, make sure it's deep enough for the type of carrots you hope to grow and semi-straight (you can also skip the next few steps since planters will already have drainage holes).

STEP 2:  Drill holes in your bucket around the bottom sides and all over the bottom .  Carrots  need drainage just like anything else planted in containers.    

Your bucket should look something like this when you are done.   

STEP 3:  Fill the container almost to the top with high-quality potting soil.  I leave about 3 to 4 inches of space at the top.  Do not pack down your dirt, as carrots like a nice loose soil, and make sure to break up any clumps.

STEP 4:  Lightly and casually sprinkle about half of a packet of carrot seed on top of the potting soil.  Try to  make sure there are some seeds all over the top of the dirt and don't worry if it seems like there are too many.  Carrot seeds need to be planted with a very small amount of soil on top, so you can either take your finger tips and sort of mess up all the seeds and the dirt at the surface, then lightly pat down, OR you can take a cup of dirt and lightly sprinkle about a 1/4 inch layer over the carrot seeds before lightly patting down.  It's up to you!  Don't over think this part, it's hard to screw up.

STEP 5:  Take a small piece of garden fabric (I use burlap) and press it down onto the newly planted carrot container.  This protects your seeds from birds AND from being moved around too much by the water spray, while also helping them keep moist.  You can skip this step if you want, but I have had much better germination using some kind of cover.  Water your container thoroughly with a gentle spray.  Remember, carrot seeds are TINY.

STEP 6:  Check under your cover everyday, and remove it permanently at the first sign of baby carrots germinating.  

Your carrot container will look something like this after a couple of weeks.  If the carrots aren't distributed very evenly, just make sure to try and sprinkle the carrot seeds more evenly next time.  

STEP 7:  Try to thin your carrots when they are a few inches tall.  I pull mine entirely out, but you can also pinch them off if you find that this disturbs the soil too much.   Try to leave enough space around each carrot to allow it to grow to the thickness of the variety you planted.

A few weeks before harvest your buckets will be filled with tall bushy carrot tops!  

STEP 8:  Pull your carrots!  You can sweep away the dirt at the top of your carrots to check on how big they are getting. Harvest according to the variety you planted.  I pulled these all at once, but you can leave some carrots in the buckets and harvest as needed.  You may not want to do that if you need the container to re-plant, but that's why I have 6 buckets in various stages of growth at all times!

With the addition of compost tea or another fertilizer, you can use the potting soil for multiple years and get several harvests a year!  You may have to pull some weeds the second year, but they are usually not as deep or established as ground weeds.   Growing carrots in pots or containers is also a good way to avoid other common carrot pests like carrot root fly.

Monday, May 28, 2012



So the year that I finally get it together enough to plant peas in March and I can't even plant the correct type.  Arrrrg.

I planted 3 different types of peas, all from seed I got last fall at local hardware store.  I THOUGHT I was careful enough to pick only types that are snow or snap with an edible pod, but it turns out I am not.  Two of my 3 pea areas are planted with non-edible pod peas, Bolero and Garden Sweet.  What makes it worse is that the third bed that is planted with snow peas was accidentally wrecked by my husband and our new weed-whacker, leaving just four plants capable of producing.

The kids don't seem to care and have been eating the pea pods anyway, but I tried one and it was terrible and fibrous.  I asked them to stop eating them so we can let them grow to shelling size...I'm told fresh peas are amazing, though even the best shelled peas will be bittersweet since they are coming at the cost of snow peas for stir-fry.

The pea circle is planted with Bolero peas...which also explains the bushiness.  Bolero stays pretty short.

A palm full of bolero peas.   We picked them young but they were still very tough.

Ah well.  I guess we'll just have to wait for fall and try again.  In the meantime, we should have shelling peas soon.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How to garden on a hillside...

This hillside has been a pain in my butt for 2 seasons now.  There is a flat area at the top and then a sharp slope that is fine for planting things like melons, but gets so quickly overgrown that a raised bed is really the only way to go.  We managed to get some nice salvaged lumber from a friend and built two LARGE raised beds.  We dug the lower one in so that each bed would be level.   Now I have a 10' x 3' bed AND an 8' by 3' bed of beautiful fluffy soil (organic topsoil with rabbit manure, hay, and compost).   

Stage 1:  Cut down grass and loosen sod.

Stage 2:  Level the area where the beds will sit, lay the frames and fill with dirt.

Stage 3:  Bask in the glory of your new garden beds!

They turned out so beautifully that I really think we're going to convert ALL the beds to wooden raised beds as soon as they are empty.  They'll be a heck of a lot easier to weed-whack around, that's for sure.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Harvest Monday: End of April

Once again I actually have a harvest (not bad for April gardening in Pennsylvania with no cold frame) but it's still just one veggie.   Better than nothing!  Head on over to Daphne's Dandelions and check out this week's Harvest Monday post to see what everyone else has been harvesting.

Our radish harvest for the week.

It seems that we are not the only things enjoying the radishes.  I did see several tiny millipedes  in the ground, but I don't know if they caused the radishes to split or just ate the holes into them.

The brassicas are coming along nicely, though I will have to thin them soon.  

The lettuce is also coming along nicely.

The peas growing in the back of the garlic bed finally have a trellis to climb.  I used two U posts and some plastic deer fencing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Harvest Monday: First harvest of Spring 2012!

Ok, so it's just a bunch of spring onions but it's something!  Thanks to Daphne for hosting Harvest Monday (and giving me an excuse to get back on the garden blog horse).

I had decided to pull these and eat them instead of just pulling and replanting...the bed they were in needed about 6 more inches of compost so I could plant herbs.

Spring onions, cleaned and ready to slice.

These are a couple of the thinnings from my radish bed.  They are about dime-sized, and the one on the left is a watermelon radish.  Not much I can do with them though.

I sliced into one of these and they smell strongly of garlic.  Originally I thought it might be onions growing on my hillside, but now I think maybe garlic growing from composted store-garlic.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Burgh Bees: The awesome community apiary soon to be in my community!

Without bees, there would be no garden, and if that weren't enough reason for me to love the little critters, they also produce liquid sugar in the form of honey.  How awesome is that?

I bring this up because Burgh Bees is currently waiting for permit approval to build their second community apiary right here in my neighborhood.  I've always wanted to learn more about bee keeping in case I was able to get a hive of my very own in my yard many years down the road...a community apiary would make that goal far more tangible.

A friend of mine has a hive in the first urban community apiary here in Pittsburgh, and when she posted asking if anyone wanted to come see her hive during a volunteer workday I took her up on it.  It was so much cooler than I though it would be!

The sign outside the Burgh Bees community Apiary in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

There are two (that I saw) water tubs inside the apiary so the bees have access to water.  Floating corks act as tiny little bee platforms.

My friend about to open her hive.  I actually got butterflies here...I think I've only seen a bee hive up close on Mr. Rogers.

There were many capped cells, but most on this frame were still uncapped.

A bee on my arm (I got to wear one of the weird-looking bee suits!)

Little bee faces sticking out of the hive.

Down on the ground you can see a pile of bee corpses from the winter drone ejection.

Many people painted or otherwise decorated their hives.  

This person painted a neat city-scape!

I was told that these are ancient symbols of bee-keeping.   How cool.

I wonder if this guy is a saint of bee-keeping?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Planning an Accessible Garden

I had been planning on updating this over the weekend, but we ended up dealing with some unexpected issues that have delayed things a bit.  Even now I haven't really been out in the garden today, so I'm throwing myself into planning one of the really exciting gardening projects I've been offered this season!

My husband works with a non-profit that helps disabled individuals live their lives.  The house he works in has a beautiful yard and the gentlemen in the house tend to eat less-healthily than they otherwise could due to the tight food budget.  I offered to stop over once a week with the kids and maintain a small food garden at the house.  All the current workers would have to do was water it and harvest things that are obviously ripe.  The gentlemen in the house would benefit from the interaction with the kids, the time outside, and the fresh food they grew themselves.

The biggest problem with this plan, is the start-up cost associated with a garden.  The house operates on a pretty tight budget, and garden tools and soil for raised beds aren't exactly things that provide a quantifiable benefit as quickly as most other household expenditures.   I can spare some seeds, and barring that each of the men in the house has a food stamp allotment due to their disability that can be used for plants and seeds, but we're still going to have to get creative with everything else.

I have a much larger post about barriers to gardening that I'll be posting soon as a result of this process.  Tomorrow we have a trip to a local farm with the younger kids so that should be fun.  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spring Garden Cleaning and Planting

Wow, these last few days have been just beautiful and I've managed to get most of the spring garden totally planted.  A few things might be going in a tad early, but I think I can battle any small frosts with mulch and/or row covers.

This is the first time I've ever tried growing lettuce or chard, so it's a total unknown.  I was extra careful to pull out every inch of invasive root growing through my beds in the hopes that I won't have as bad of a weed problem this year.  It's mind-blowing that those roots were even growing into the clay level about 10 inches down...

Anyway, I'll put up the garden plan soon, but in the mean time here are some pictures of progress from the last few days:

Part of the cleaning was pulling up the remains of last year's brassica bed.

Mr. Smiley in front of the garlic bed.

Baby Nugget just sat around eating crackers while the rest of us worked.

Picking rocks out of beds was a popular task.

At one point we had some music in the garden.

The carrots will again be grown in buckets and were actually the first things we managed to plant.

Digging out weeds.

Watering carrots.

The triangle bed will have lettuce and chard this year.

Cabbage and brussel sprouts (a tad close since we will probably lose a few).