Friday, May 30, 2014

Garden Update

I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I last documented my garden.  There’s been a lot going on in other parts of my life—volunteering, networking, writing—but the garden certainly hasn’t been waiting around on me to do its thing. 

I hope you all find this interesting, but I have to admit that the biggest reason I do regular garden updates is to serve as a reference for myself.  I’ve found it incredibly helpful as a record of previous years’ growing seasons, to calm my overeager perfectionist when it seems the peas are flowering too slowly.

The last overall garden picture I took was May 14th:

Garden 05 (4)


These days when I go out poking around, I feel like I’m entering a jungle!



The carrots and onions have jumped up, forming lush green patches between the prehistoric-looking broccoli plants.  Today I cut the last main head, which is probably the biggest I’ve ever grown.



Last year’s weather really messed with my broccoli harvest, so in a sense this year’s crop was better, but I had fewer plants, so it’s a bit of a wash.  That one limp-looking plant never recovered, so I had five plants instead of nine.  Sadly, I’ll have to file broccoli as a crop I grow for fun, not for productivity.  I’ll let each plant give me one more head, and then it will be time to rip them out.  Hopefully the garden won’t look too bare when they’re gone!

Another just-for-fun crop we put in this year was three fennel plants.  One of them we pulled a couple of weeks ago, and this one is more than ready.  I’ve been threatening Miss Chef that if she doesn’t figure out how she wants to cook it, I’m donating it to Friendship Gardens.



Some of the onions may also be ready to pull soon.  I haven’t grown these before, but I’ve read that the tops fall over, and then you’re supposed to wait two or three days.  This morning I saw this guy signaling he was about done.



In the last couple of photos, you can see some of the weeds have begun creeping in.  Although I have been a bit busy, I think the real problem is that I’ve been once again obsessing over distracted by the peas.  They are my favorite crop, and so fun to grow!  For the past week or so, the plants have been positively dripping with long, flat pods while I check each day to see if they’ve filled out.



I picked my first handful of pods the other day, and more today.  Yesterday, after weeks of baking sun and temperatures in the mid-80s, we finally got a good inch and a half of rain, so I’m expecting them to really get going soon!  I never tire of shelling my own peas.



Sadly, after years of pest-free pea plants, the rabbits (I think) have finally discovered them.  Rosie is a terrible garden guardian, so I’m glad I’ve got enough to share a few with the local wildlife.  If I could let McKenna have the run of the back yard, I bet she’d keep the rabbits in check.  And then she’d probably go lie down on my bean plants, so I’ll just resign myself to sharing.

While I was waiting for the peas to plump, I started pulling the first baby carrots.  In this picture, you can also see some garlic scapes, which for the first time I’ve harvested early enough for them to be edible.

garden 05

What are garlic scapes?  I’m so glad you asked, because that was the subject of my second paid article that was published online this week!  Click here to read it.  My editor is planning on running my “column” on Thursdays, so you can get a weekly shot of my writing, even if I’m slacking off here in Flartopia.  (And if you’re too busy to read the article, garlic scapes are the stalks that the flowers would grow on if I let them.  But the article is much more informative and interesting.)

Back in the garden, I’m happy to see flowers showing up on some of the summer producers.  My bean plants are looking good…



…and I was shocked when all the volunteer marigold plants I let stay in my carrot patch were suddenly studded with tomato flowers!



I have no idea what variety they are, because I didn’t put tomatoes in this bed last year.  I’m fairly certain they’re not cherry tomatoes, since they’re pretty compact plants.  Once I saw the flowers and realized they weren’t marigolds, I tried to trim the suckers, and now I have to figure out how to stake them without being too invasive to the carrots.

Since we’re talking about tomatoes…the cherry tomatoes are still putting on little green babies, but none have started to ripen yet.  Miss Chef’s Cherokee Purple plant has finally fruited, though my Mortgage Lifter is still looking anemic and pointless.



Field tomatoes should start showing up soon at the farmers markets, but we’ve got a ways to go before we’re picking our own.

Oh, and remember the lettuce I let flower, to attract pollinators?  Most of those flowers have resulted in a plethora of small seed-filled pods.


I haven’t done any research to find if they’re tasty enough to eat, but I’m definitely interested in saving the seeds to see if I can grow some fall lettuce in my new planter box.  On the other hand, these may be a hybrid variety, so who knows what I might end up with?

And that is something that I’ve held as my gardening mantra for this season—every year is an experiment.  Sure, the peas are a tried-and-true producer, but this year I also totally rearranged my plans to try companion planting.  And I have to say, that particular experiment has given me some very positive results! 

Maybe it’s the two years’ worth of good soil amendments, but overall I’ve never had such a productive, happy group of plants. My broccoli had notably fewer holes in the leaves, and since they were spread out with other plants in between, only about half the broccoli plants had any pests at all (I did spray once with BT, but most years one application is not enough).  My radishes, shaded by the broccoli and lettuce, were slower to bolt and flower.  And it may be that the plentiful pea pods are a result of pollinators visiting the neighboring lettuce flowers.  Also, my carrots and onions both seem to be happy with their cohabitation arrangement.

Late spring is the highlight of my gardening year, but I’m hoping that I can extend this happy period a bit longer this growing season.  Last year’s beans, squash and beefsteak tomatoes pooped out under bushy marigolds, vine-boring grubs and poor pollination, so if they are at all productive this year, I’ll be a happy gardener indeed.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Pig Roast

I already wrote a much more serious, philosophical treatise about this even on my new food blog, Amuse Bouche.  But this narrative is completely different, aside from the same video of pigs being pigs.

Last weekend I got another reminder of why I need Miss Chef in my life.  Around Thursday, she got a cryptic text message from our chef friend in Myrtle Beach about a farmer, a pig and a potluck in some place called Holy City, SC. Chefs from Charleston were being invited, and our friend had been told to go ahead and invite chefs from Charlotte.  Now, keep in mind that that part of the South Carolina coast is at least three hours’ drive from home, and this event didn’t get started until 2:30 Sunday afternoon.

So, naturally, we went.

If I weren’t with Miss Chef, not only would I have not received the invitation in the first place, but I wouldn’t even have considered going.  I had a meeting at 9:00 Monday morning, but Miss Chef didn’t have to report to work until after noon, so she said she’d do the driving, and I could sleep in the car on the way home.

Perhaps to make the drive more worthwhile, our friend in Myrtle Beach arranged for us to meet for brunch at Edmund’s Oast, a new restaurant and brewery that’s not quite in North Charleston.  Not only do they seek local and seasonal ingredients, but they also have their own charcuterie program.  Of course we ordered both the “fresh” and “cured” charcuterie boards—the first with things like paté, sausage and mousse, the second with salamis and the like—but I didn’t take many photos there.

I ordered buttermilk fried chicken with a tangy ranch sauce and a fresh salad.  It was delicious and moist, just what you expect in the south, right?


I tried to help Miss Chef with this grilled asparagus dish, but I was kind of full from the charcuterie, and the awesome cornbread that had been strongly recommended by another friend.



On the way to the bathroom, I was intrigued and amused by this wall décor…but I didn’t have time to stop and peruse the titles, because we were on our way out, headed to the boonies!



Once I had finally been able to ask for more details from our friend, I’d found that there weren’t a whole lot.  Our friend didn’t even really know anybody involved, but there would be a pig slaughtered and roasted, and people were bringing side dishes.  The farm was located on Wadlamaw Island, which I’d never heard of, but it’s off the coast near Charleston, south of John’s Island.

So from the restaurant, we piled back into the cars and drove another 20 minutes or so, quickly finding ourselves on narrow, tree-lined roads.  Who knew that you could get lost in such dense forests so near to the city?  When we finally found the right place, we drove down a twisty gravel drive past some outbuildings and a small, empty greenhouse, and pulled up to the edge of a field to park next to a handful of other vehicles.

As it turned out, the pig had already been slaughtered, cleaned, spitted and set to roast on a purpose-built pit constructed of concrete blocks, wooden frame and corrugated metal covering.  You can see it in the background to the left in this picture.

Pig roast SC 05 (8b) 

As I said, the event was to start at 2:30, and we got there late, but the first few hours was a lot of this—people standing around and talking.  We briefly met the farmer, who was young, probably not even 40, but sporting an impressively bushy beard.  Turned out somehow he’d gotten in contact with some chefs from Lafayette, La. and convinced them to fly to South Carolina for the weekend.

It was an odd day, making small talk with people who you only knew by first name and, perhaps, the kind of food establishment they were connected to.  I spent some time taking a walk around the field next to us with a couple of our friends. 

Pig roast SC 05 (37)

Unlike the farms we’d driven by on the way down, this was not acre after mind-numbing acre of a single crop.  The field was lined with fig and persimmon trees, and in the rows we saw tomatoes, squash, corn, beans, spinach, herbs, even flowers.

Meanwhile the boys from the bayou were busy stirring some kind of stew made from the organs cooking over a propane burner.  It was all very informal.

Pig roast SC 05 (9)

After awhile, a rumor reached us about going to see the pigs, and I was one of several eager to see another part of the farm.  About eight or ten of us hopped onto an extended golf cart and bounced back to  and across the road, then back through acre after acre of open fields punctuated by graceful live oak trees.  (My camera pooped out after about :22.)


As we approached a woodline, someone pointed out a few pigs trotting across a brushy field to follow the sound of the golf cart.  Apparently, that is the sound of dinner, although when we actually got to the feeding area, there really was a dinner bell used to call them all in.  Crates of rotting milk were stacked there, fragrantly spoiling in the heat, and we were handed moldy bread and rolls to toss over the fence.  When I asked, I was told it didn’t matter how long the milk sat out, because the rottener it gets, the more the pigs like it!

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of driving by a pig farm or behind a pig truck, but if you have, you know they can be the most rancid-smelling beasts…except that here, with acres of woods and fields for them to spread out in, the only nose-wrinkling odor came from the rotting milk.  Sure, some of the pigs had mud crusted on their sides, but it was clean mud.  

In case you’re interested in breeds, the black ones are Berkshires, the tall tan ones are Tamworths, the black and white spotted ones are Ossabaw…and did you see the light-colored ones that almost look like sheep?  I’m not sure, but I think they may be mangalitsas, a rather rare Hungarian breed.  Google “sheep pig,” and the pictures will come right up!  Aside from their coats, you’ll notice that, even though these breeds provide meat that’s fattier than that of the overbred superpigs on factory farms, the pigs themselves look leaner than you may be used to seeing.  You are what you eat, right?

Shortly we loaded back up on the golf cart and bumped the way we’d come over the fields, the boys from the bayou declared that the fraisseurs was (were?) ready.  That’s apparently the name of the organ stew they’d been working on, and although someone said it was an old French tradition, I suspect they meant an old Cajun or Creole tradition.   Anyway, it was served over rice, naturally, and topped with green onion.

Pig roast SC 05 (46)

Besides being a bit squeamish about not knowing which organ bits I might be putting in my mouth, I was still trying to let brunch digest in preparation for the main event, so I only had a few bites of this.  But I can say it was rich and flavorful…and the rice was pretty good, too, for being cooked over a propane burner!

We stood around some more, wandered around looking for a bathroom, and wondered whether we’d have to leave before the pig was declared roasted.  Finally, around 8:00, we noticed some activity around the pit, and gathered to watch it being dismantled.

Pig roast SC 05 (51)

But the chefs didn’t simply pull the pig off the spit and start breaking it down.  No, they had sent somebody out for a last, special ingredient—cane syrup.  They mixed this up with a little bit of water, then used a mop-looking thing to baste the porker all over before pulling out the big guns and the FIRE!

This created a sweet glaze and helped crisp the skin.  They did both sides, and then finally pulled the pig off and started to break it down so we could eat.

Pig roast SC 05 (63)

And you know what?  Neither Miss Chef nor I thought to take any more pictures after this!  Not only were we anxious to taste that spit-roasted meat, along with the grits casserole, quick-pickle veggie salad, corn salsa and other sides, but the bugs were coming out and we needed our extra hands to start slapping.

So by the time we got back in the car and headed through Charleston for home, the sun was already below the horizon.  It was a long, tired drive back, but that’s a small price to pay for such a unique experience.  A cajun pig roast on the South Carolina coast…life with a chef sure has its moments.

And now, by request of jenny_o, here are the latest photos of the developing broccoli in my garden.  Does it look much different?  Since the temperatures have climbed back into the 80s, it’s not going to form such a nice, tight bunch like we’re used to seeing in the grocery store.  It’ll taste better, though.

May 20 (morning)


May 23 (afternoon)


Thursday, May 22, 2014

I’m a Professional!

Sometimes life writes its own perfect plotlines.  Yesterday was my last official day of employment with The Bank, and I met up last night with two other (former) colleagues to celebrate with drinks.  We shared our ongoing experiences with the job search, and I told them I was hoping to get an article posted this week on the website of a local independent paper.

This morning I woke up to find that today, my first day of unemployment, I am officially a professional writer!



Click the image to read the article.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Lilliput in the Garden

I’m sort of in between crops, now that the lettuce has bolted and the broccoli and peas are taking their sweet time growing.  So every day finds me inspecting the plants quite closely, nose right down under the leaves, looking for the first signs of fruition.  And this week they are here!

Of course, they are so small, I had a bit of trouble getting them in focus.  The first tiny pea pods are emerging from the wilted flowers.



After I harvested the first head of broccoli, the other plants finally seemed to realize what their purpose on Earth is, and all revealed their tightly-packed buds to me on the same day.


Miss Chef’s cayennes are emerging, also.



We already have tiny green blackberries forming.



And I’ve been pleasantly surprised that some of the cilantro seeds I sort of threw in the dirt as an afterthought have actually emerged and put up their first miniature leaves.



But most amazing to me is the sungold cherry tomato plant, which looks poised to bury us in sweet little orbs before too long.


Did you spot all four of them in that picture?  Seeing this so early in the season, I was very happy that I have an outlet with Friendship Gardens for all the extra tomatoes Miss Chef and I will not be able to eat.

Oh, and while I was thinking small, I dug out some of our Christmas train décor and got down and dirty in the carrot patch again.

Garden 05 (13)

I think these HO-sized figurines are a bit too small, to be honest.  I call this one “Bringing in the Herd.”


Garden 05 (15)

I had a name for this one, but I forget what it was.  There ya go, jenny_o!

Oh, and I’m making my first steps in my new writing career.  I’ve had an informal meeting with an editor for a local independent paper for potential blog work, and I’ve written my first, brief post on my own new food-centric blog.  You can read it here.  It’ll be a familiar theme for anyone who’s been reading along for a while

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Garden(s) Update

I was away from home for five days visiting my parents on Jekyll Island, Georgia.  Since my schedule is now my own—at least for the time being—I took advantage of not needing to ask permission for time away, and made an extra-long visit around Mothers’ Day.

I know that the real gift for my mother was just being there, and going to church so she could show me off, but in the meantime, my brain had conceived a somewhat outlandish plan for a more tangible gift.  I was admiring the casket raised planter bed that Miss Chef and I had constructed on our patio, when it struck me how much my parents might also enjoy one (minus the feline inspector). 

Planter box 04 (34)

My father in particular has complained about what he calls the “poison dirt” on that sandy barrier island they now call home.  It grows sea oats and live oak trees pretty well, but most of their attempts at gardening favorite flowers and vegetables have had frustratingly high failure rates.

So, after checking with Miss Chef to make sure I wasn’t being completely irrational, I recruited her to help bring home another load of wood and supplies from the local big-box home improvement store.  Having been through the routine once, I went ahead and cut all the wood and pvc piping to size, then loaded up my car with this “kit” and drove it all five hours south.

I did some things in a slightly different order this time, putting the first level frame together without the posts, so I could add the hardware cloth immediately.  This way I didn’t have to turn over the completed box at the end, because all that wood screwed together is pretty darn heavy.

This is as far as I got on my first day of construction.


You can’t see it, but the hardware cloth is already attached to the frame.  I was a bit nervous at how slowly it seemed to be coming together, since I had to stop and dig out and grade the area of lawn where we’d decided to place the planter.  I hadn’t calculated that into my timeframe, and was worried about how long it was going to take to put in the rest of the 126 screws that hold this thing together.

However, once I got the posts in and started attaching the boards, I got into a good pace, and the sides grew surprisingly quickly.  Finally, after another 5 hours of work, I had it all put together. 


You can see I also included the 1” pvc “sockets” to insert pvc hoops to support a row cover.  This version is not quite as well built as the one I had Miss Chef’s help with, but I’m a bit proud of having designed and constructed it more or less on my own.  Dad did help where he was able, and if nothing else, it was nice to have someone to talk to while I drilled and screwed my way around the frames.

The next step was for all three of us to drive onto the “mainland” to buy nonpoison dirt, as well as some plants.  Dad and I decided to put several inches of chunky pine bark mulch in the bottom to aid in drainage and lessen the amount of dirt we had to buy.  Also, since I recently had a training session with Friendship Gardens, I added some peat moss to the mix to help it retain moisture.

A little bit more muscle work to get it all in the box and mixed together, then it was time for Mom and Dad to plant!


On the near end, Dad has three tomato plants, and Mom filled in the rest with flowers.  It’s a very nice little focal point right outside the back door.  I’m glad I seized the opportunity and made this happen, but it was a lot of hard work.  I told my parents they better grow some damn good tomatoes to make it all worthwhile!

So, that’s the first Garden of the title…now I had to go back home and see how my own garden had fared for five days without me!


The planter box doesn’t look much different, although there are a couple of teeny tiny cayenne peppers forming. 

Looking over the main bed, I was reminded that May is the best month to enjoy my North Carolina garden—the mornings are still cool enough to enjoy putzing around, and the weeds and bugs haven’t gotten into full attack mode yet.  Even though our temperatures are still more like summer than spring, we did get some rain while I was gone, so I was pleasantly surprised by how good everything looked, and how much it had grown!

Here’s the last Garden Update photo, from about two weeks ago…

Garden 04 (30)

…and this morning:


This is why I like to do garden updates throughout the growing season.  I know that it’s growing, but it seems so slow that I’m always amazed to see the contrast when I put photos side by side.  (The cat is about the same size as before, though.)

That big frondy thing in the very front is one of three fennel plants, and it’s the smallest of them.  Right behind it is a broccoli plant.  I doubt that poor exhausted one I highlighted on my last post is going to make it, but I did harvest my first head from another plant today.  I’m also still pulling up radishes, but I went ahead and let all the lettuce bolt.


Might as well start inviting pollinators, and they are cheerful little blossoms.

The peas have finally started flowering, right on schedule.


That’s another benefit to obsessively blogging about my garden.  I was getting worried that my peas were growing and growing, but not putting on flowers, until I checked last year’s posts and saw that they didn’t bloom until mid-May.  So we’re right on track for another decent harvest—fingers crossed!

The carrot-and-onion patches are looking particularly lush right now.


When I come down to ground level, I feel like I’m alongside a tiny little forest.  I’m tempted to find some miniature animal figurines and pose them in here for pictures!  I didn’t thin the carrots quite enough, but I’m hoping to pull some out as baby carrots, leaving the rest enough room to grow.

I’ve also got three bean plants, a couple of cucumbers, three bell pepper plants and a squash plant just getting started.  I’m interested to see how well I planned the transition from spring garden to summer.  I feel like my summer bed will be a bit sparse after the broccoli, peas and onions are done…but that will just give me extra room to start planting for fall!

Oh, and lest you think vegetables are the only thing I’ve got growing, I picked these from the front of the house to cheer up Miss Chef when she had a nasty headache.  The lacy green foliage is actually dill, so I guess I can’t totally break free from the veggie bed!


Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Every year of gardening is different.  Last March, just as our spring growing season got underway, we had a week of ridiculously high, summer-like temperatures.  This was followed by two months of deluge, until the rain stopped like a tap that had been turned off, and the stunned plants dried out for three weeks.  It was mayhem in the garden.  Half of my broccoli bolted before I knew heads were forming, the other half seemed to go into suspended animation.  My peas produced like crazy at first, then succumbed to death by drowning, or misery.

This year is, again, exceptional.  We flirted with high temperatures in April, but by the end of the month, the happy weather and occasional rainfall had created a little Eden in the backyard.

Then we hit May, and all of a sudden it’s summer.


The sun-loving coreopsis is already beginning its annual show, and the galliardia is ready to follow suit.  My spring garden is not so exuberant, for after weeks of perfectly pleasant days and cool nights, it is being pounded by an unfettered sun, and the temperatures are already climbing close to 90.  I was following my usual strategy of watering less frequently but deeply, to encourage deeper root growth, until one day I strolled on out to find this pathetic sight.


This is—for now, at least—a broccoli plant.  Broccoli is a spring crop; the farmers were selling theirs in mid-April, because unlike me, they have row covers and can start growing when temperatures still flirt with freezing.  Still, I have never had a broccoli plant wilt so thoroughly before.  Afraid the rest of the garden might follow suit, I spent an hour or so this morning hauling, emptying and refilling my watering can at the water barrel.  Then I tried to rig some kind of shade over this plant, as the other five seem to be holding their own for now.

I know we spoil our pets, but now I feel like a fussy caregiver for a broccoli plant.

It may or may not have occurred to you at this point to wonder how I found an extra hour in the morning to haul all that water to the garden, and how exactly I plan to keep it up on a regular basis for the foreseeable future.  Ah, well, that relates directly to my other, non-gardening challenge.  You see, I am in the process of being laid off from my job.  Yes, after narrowly escaping during the financial collapse of aught eight, even landing a better job as colleagues lost theirs, this year I suddenly find myself a casualty, added to the statistics just as the economy is “slowly recovering.”

I had a bit of warning, some whispers and rumors of upcoming announcements and changes.  So on the day in February that my manager called me into his office and used the words “streamlining,” “centralized” and “impacted,”  I was not reeling from the shock.  If I was reeling, it was from the oddness of the experience, of the halting way that the news passed through the office, from the extent of the changes.  Some in my department were being kept on in lesser positions, another department was being let go also, but three months after we were.

I stepped outside the building to call Miss Chef, and was surprised to hear my voice shaking as I told her the news.  Not because I’m the strong silent type, but because once the truth had sunk in, my reaction was not one of loss or sadness.  Once I had a chance to think about it, I felt a sudden surge of hope and excitement.  This was not the end of a career, this was a chance for change! 

For years—nine of them, to be exact—Miss Chef, my family and friends had wondered why the heck I stayed in a tedious entry-level position that had nothing whatsoever to do with any of my skills, talents or interests.  Aside from the security of a regular paycheck and good benefits, I was simply enjoying the leisure after ten years of teaching.  Sure, I had to sit in a cubicle from 8:00 to 5:00 staring at a computer, not to mention witnessing shocking abuses of the English language, but at the end of each day, it was exhilarating to come home with some energy left to garden, cook or walk the dog.  Even better, my weekends were entirely my own!  That alone made some of the drudgery worthwhile, in my mind.  But once my membership to the corporation was rescinded, a veil was lifted from my eyes, and I started to realize how much of myself I had quashed in order to try to fit into the cubicle mold.

Fast forward from February’s revelation, to the end of April.  I had now spent two months reporting in to an increasingly pointless job, passing much of my time writing (and re-writing) resumes, cover letters and LinkedIn profiles, and soaking in a general atmosphere of growing negativity and desperation.  The people keeping their jobs were resentful and nervous, my remote supervisor didn’t seem to know I was still working for her, and my site manager did his best to pretend we were already gone.  So you can imagine the relief when we were abruptly informed that our last month was to be spent “on call,” and that we were no longer needed in the office.

As a result, I am now living the most bizarre paid vacation I have ever experienced.  A full month’s of time off, followed by an indefinite future.  Of course, since I don’t know when I’ll next get a paycheck, I can’t really take full advantage and jet off for a bucket-list trip to New Zealand.  On the other hand, I have to admit that I’m enjoying the hell out it.  Getting up after the sun, doing my shopping in a nearly empty grocery store, lazing in the shade with the girls, or throwing myself wholeheartedly into my new volunteer obsession, Friendship Gardens, it’s often hard to remember that I’m supposed to be focusing on more serious matters, such as finding another job.

Part of the problem is that not only do I detest job hunting above all other life experiences, but I still have to figure out—again—what I want to do.  French teaching jobs are incredibly hard to come by, especially without certification, and frankly, with the way our education system is changing, I think I’m well out of it.  In March, I had started to target jobs in corporate training, but after months of slogging through resume profiles, networking, and webinars on transferable skills, I still felt like an imposter posting for jobs with companies I’d never heard of before, pretending I was truly interested in “developing innovative courseware for field sales distribution.”  It wasn’t until Miss Chef emailed me a couple of job announcements for blog writers that something sparked in me.  I’ve been told for decades that I was an excellent writer, entertaining, intelligent and all the rest.  Maybe it is time to follow the light of that spark and see where it leads.

So, at the moment, here’s the plan: I am still looking for jobs, but ones that have more meaning that turning a profit for a company, and not necessarily “career” positions.  Right now my biggest hopes are pinned on two part-time openings, one with Friendship Gardens, another doing deliveries for a nearby farm (it’s all about networking).  I have also signed up for a freelance writing course at our local community college (hello, Bossy Betty, you’re not commuting to North Carolina, are you?) 

In the meantime, I need to get my writing muscles back into fighting trim.  Naturally, this is suddenly proving difficult.  I recently sat down and tapped out two Essays About Things, but each time I got partway through without figuring out…or caring, really…where I was going.  And then I finally had a lightbulb moment—I was trying too hard to be a Serious Writer.  No, no, I finally realized.  If I have a voice, it is a snarky, humorous, irreverent one!  Finally, the sarcasm my mother warned me about could turn out to be the key to my successt!  Well, maybe, if this writing thing gets off the ground.  Lord knows I’ve come up with one or two schemes in the past that never got beyond the first rush of inspiration.

Assuming for the time being that my muse and I dance well together, my focus will naturally be on food—farmers, chefs, meals—the usual highlights you’ve seen on this blog.  Miss Chef is trying to feed me topics, and has suggested I start a separate blog to develop of sort of portfolio of food-based writing I can show to potential publishers.  So that is my current challenge—can I sit down and be funny and informative on cue?  I’m hoping that you, my small but loyal audience, will come along for the ride.  Feel free to offer ideas, topics, encouragement, maybe a little advice (but not too much, as anyone on a job search tends to get more than necessary, trust me).  Of course I will post here when/if that other blog sees the light of day.  In any case, I sure intend to keep up this one, because I still need an outlet for cat pictures and broccoli reports.


Speaking of which, it’s time for me to go check on my vegetative ward.  Because if I lose yet another game of writing-break solitaire, I might be the one who needs some special attention.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Our Big Fun Project

On my last post, I mentioned that I was hoping to show you the finished project we started on last weekend.  It’s something that I’ve really wanted to do for a long time, but it’s a little bit of an investment.  I documented this pretty intensively, on the off chance that anyone out there is considering making something similar.  I was very curious beforehand about just how to design and build something like this, so I am sharing how we put ours together, step by step.

Like most of our projects, it started at the big box home improvement store.  We had a lot of very long ingredients to load into Miss Chef’s mighty mini Kia.

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I have to say, I learned a lot on this project.  The first thing I learned is how darn heavy a ten-foot piece of wood is!  After we hauled everything to the patio behind the house, I started measuring and Miss Chef started cutting.

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These were the short ends.  Once we had all the planks cut, we laid out the first couple pieces…

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…and drilled and screwed together the bottom of the unit.

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Yes, it’s going to be a planter box!  Because it’s pretty high, we were concerned about making it strong enough to stand up to the weight of the dirt inside.  So we reinforced each corner with oak 1”x1”s, as well as a set along the long sides.

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We screwed each corner to the posts, as well as to the other planks.  That was one extra trip to the box store…we ran out of screws.  Also, I learned that it’s surprisingly easy to break drill bits.  Ahem.

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This was about as far as we got before we ran out of daylight.  Of course, before we were able to get time to work on it again, McKenna had to inspect everything.

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Fortunately, we passed on the first try!  Ok, our next step was to cut off the posts that were a few inches too long.  That was something else I learned—a 2”x10” board doesn’t actually measure two inches by ten inches.  There’s a reason, but I didn’t learn that part.  Anyway, our posts were too long…

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…and the circular saw only cut through so far, so we had to finish them off by hand with a hack saw.  Good workout!

Now we were able to flip it over and staple hardware cloth to the bottom. 

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Normally this is to prevent burrowing critters from finding their way in, but since our box is going on our patio, this was mostly to allow us to move it, if such a need should arise.  I have no idea how we’d have the strength to move it, but…

Miss Chef put brackets on each corner, to help keep things from coming apart at the seams.

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We didn’t want the metal of the hardware cloth and brackets to sit directly on the patio and create rust stains, so we covered that with several layers of tough plastic sheeting.

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Now our box is complete!  Just as I was thinking, “I’ll never see the bottom of this again, better take a picture…

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…Miss Chef remembered we had another step before we could fill it with dirt.  We had to install lengths of 1” pvc pipe as sockets for our cover hoops.  She had to get ready for work, so this is where I learned how to use a circular saw!  I cut the pipes to length, then used two brackets on each one to secure it to the sides of the coffin box.

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Next I had to cut 1/2” pvc tubing to use for the actual hoops.  Each end slides right into the attached 1” pipes on the sides to serve as a frame for a row cover.

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As you can see, I’m undecided on how long I want my hoops to be.  I cut one pipe to three times the width of the box (that’s the hoop in front), but I kind of like the option of more height.  We have several months to decide, so I left the long ones intact for the time being.  (Yes, that’s Rosie in the background, watching the neighbors’ neighbors’ dogs.)

Once I removed the hoops (and covered the open ends of the 1” pipe “sockets” to keep them clear), it was finally time to put in the dirt!  I think we ended up using 20 cubic feet of soil, plus a bag of compost just for good measure.  I also added some lime, since I was putting a tomato plant in here.

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That sure is a lot of dirt!  But I like having plenty of room for taproots, and the sheer mass of soil will help keep it from drying out really fast in hot weather.  Now, I just had to add a few plants (and get inspected again), and voila!

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“Instant” garden.  Ha!  It took about a day and a half of the two of us, plus another half day of just me, to put together this simple wooden box.  But now I can sit on my lounge chair and enjoy watching everything grow.

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Oh, and case you were curious, there’s a cherry tomato plant in the back with a neighboring basil, and the rest is all hot peppers.  Miss Chef wants to make her own hot sauce this year.  That’s a heckuva lot of work for some hot sauce, lemme tell you…but I am very excited to have this handy, easy-to-cover bed ready for fall and early spring planting!

Rosie, on the other hand, couldn’t care less.

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She just wanted to know if it was dinner time yet.