Building Raised Garden Beds

As my summer has started to come together, it appears that I’ll be in the Ridgway-Montrose area for the best time of the year! This meant that I would be around enough to tend to the beginnings of a garden. I especially wanted to get some raspberries going since it takes a couple of years for them to really get established and growing. Since the lot is bare and might be so for awhile, I wanted the garden to help make it appear that someone cares about the place so raised beds just seemed a lot more substantial.

Considering that I’m a combination of cash poor and kind of cheap, I initially decided to make my beds out of deconstructed pallets. After knocking apart two pallets I decided that was pretty much a waste of time and decided to go to Home Depot and make a different game plan.

I LUCKED OUT. When I went to Home Depot, I found enough slightly flawed 6’x3″ fence boards to build 3 beds at 18″ each I also grabbed three 10′ 2x4s to be the uprights and put all of it on top of Ruth for the trip to Ridgway. Once I started building, things went absolutely swimmingly. (It also helped a lot that my shed was mostly empty and I could use it as a flat stable place to assemble things.

Sprocket amused himself by frequently climbing the dirt pile (happily diminished last fall by someone who needed fill) and checking out the view of the Cimarrons.

I paused before tackling the next two boxes to artificially level the first and see how it looked:

And then Sprocket convinced me to stop and enjoy the sunshine for a minute:

Building the second two boxes went fast after figuring things out with the first one. The batteries on my drill died and I forgot to bring the charger so I had to go borrow an impact from a friend. My #damselNOTindistress wish list totally grew: it was so much easier. Here are the completed boxes before they were leveled in the ground:

I got a little over ambitious and created another project for myself when I set the boxes level to each other even though the ground slopes to the east; I’ll eventually level the area around them I guess because I’m a glutton for punishment.

I’ll be headed back down to Ridgway soon to fill them from the dirt pile!

XJ Cherokee: Sleeping Platform

Last summer while we were traveling around in Francis I never bothered to make a sleeping platform. The FSJ has a really ample cargo area once the seat is removed so it never really became a high priority for me (also, my living situation last year never really was conducive to building one). When I brought Ruth home, I knew that I would need to build a platform in order to have well organized road trips. The platform didn’t get built before my Thanksgiving trip to Arizona but that mostly just proved that a platform would be key to being happy—packages of bagels rolling around on the passenger floorboards and weird lumpy unlevel futons are cool for a couple of days but SP and I sleep in the Jeep often enough to justify something better.

The first iteration of XJ platform I used was on my first big US road trip in 2010. F and I made it out of 3/4″ sanded plywood. We didn’t want it to sag or be unstable but we later realized that we’d way over built it. F passed along to me some measurements for a more streamlined platform out of 5/8″ OSB. His new version had made some cool improvements that increased access underneath the forward part of the platform and I decided to mostly copy his plan.

I picked up a sheet of 1/2″ OSB and had it cut to length in the store (Lowes and Home Depot will both do this for you) as well as twelve 1 1/2″ L-brackets (they came in packages of 4). Back at home, I cut the remainder into supports: three lengthwise supports and a cross-brace for the front. I rough fit everything together inside the jeep to confirm placement before screwing things together. I decided to trim the back corners to 45-degrees for ease of reaching things that might fall to the sides of the platform and to nestle the platform as far back against the tailgate as possible. (I’ve got long legs and drive with the seat just one click forward from all the way back.)

Test fitting
Redneck sawhorses

I decided to leave the plastic trim at the bottom of the tailgate opening on, although in the original and F’s recent version, it was removed for ease of removing plastic storage containers. (I can always decide to remove mine later if I decide.) My outer supports rest right against the base of the wheel wells and the middle support is aligned with the tailgate latch. The front cross member is centered and rests on the narrow lip that the front of the back seat bottom rests on.

Everything was assembled with the L-brackets and put back into the Jeep to check for fit. Once I confirmed everything was in the right spot, I took the platform out one more time and used my angle grinder to remove the points of the screws that were protruding. Coats and sleeping bags don’t play very well with sharp pointy things so it’s time well spent.

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The platform only took me a couple of hours to build and really affordable:

◊ 1 sheet 1/2″ OSB: ~$10

◊ 4 packages of 4ct. 2 1/2″ L-brackets (the Stanley ones I got included screws): $13.27

Platform total: <$25!

(I also bought four plastic totes from Home Depot to organize my storage for another $20)

Depending on your desires you could purchase thicker OSB or even plywood if you desire a smoother surface. I’m going to test this out for the summer and see how it goes, the rough surface might wind up collecting more Sprocket dirt than I want but if I change my mind, I can disassemble this and reuse my brackets so it’ll be a good experiment.

Sprocket says “Thank you, Mom.”

Seahawks Cuddly Flannel Quilts

Now that the gift wrap has settled, I finally get to share these two quilts with you! I really wanted to make some gifts this year and once I made the first of these quilts I knew I wanted to make another. They’re so cozy that I almost had to keep one! I toyed with making true “lap” size quilts but since I’m tall enough that lap quilts just don’t do a lot for me I went with twin sized cozies!

Sometime laying them out was a little bit of a challenge. It really involved a lot of sweeping and herding Sprocket away: he was fairly certain the cozy rug thing was on the floor for him.

The quilts are similar with the same fabrics, back and binding but the patterns are a little different as I played with what works best. I really do love the results!

Quilt #1:

Quilt #2:

My sister gleefully took the quilt from the white elephant gift exchange and my aunt already had hers on their quilt rack when I visited on Sunday night. Enjoy during the playoffs you guys!

Fementation: Homemade Mead

Eek! I thought I’d posted this ages ago! Seems like a holiday week appropriate post though. Enjoy!

My first fermentation experiment was making sourdough bread but The Art Of Fermentation had inspired me to keep playing with the amazing transformations possible with fermenting. Although Sandor Ellix Katz does an excellent job of making fermentation sounding accessible (full review here) I wanted to try something fairly simple.

One of the book’s earliest chapters deals with simple alcohol fermentation: mead, wine, and cider. Mead seemed pretty foolproof: start with raw honey, shake the jar daily, and wait. As with most things, you can make the process more complicated but this seemed like a perfectly feasible experimental set up.

The first thing I needed was raw honey. Although you can use pasteurized honey, this requires the addition of yeasts since the yeasts that are naturally found in honey have been destroyed. Raw honey can often be found at farmers markets and at some natural foods stores. I ordered mine from My Local Nectar, a new online marketplace where beekeepers can sell their honey. I purchased a small jar from Buchanan Bees (run by my friend Adam Buchanan, founder of My Local Nectar) and was ready to give mead a shot.

I didn’t want to start with too big of a batch so I started with a medium jar (I think it was a salsa jar), 1/4 c. honey, and 1 c. water. And then, I loosely put the lid on the jar and waited. Every time I walked by the jar, I gave it a shake. I was never really sure if anything was happening and I don’t have a hydrometer to measure the alcohol content. A little pressure seemed to build which was supposed to happen but it was all a little questionable. Supposedly after 10 days or so, the mead should be “light” and drinkable although not very alcoholic.

Last night marked 11 days and I caved, pouring myself a glass of this honey water that had been sitting on my counter for over a week. I admit, I was a little nervous. Katz had made me feel pretty confident that I probably wouldn’t get sick but I admit I was a little nervous.

The mead was sweet and it didn’t seem very alcoholic but I don’t have much knowledge of mead to compare it to. There is a winery in Palisade that makes mead, I guess I’m going to have to go sample some to know how mine stacks up and what adjustments I need to make before another (perhaps larger?) batch.

Homegrown Sourdough Bread

After I read Michael Pollan’s Cooked, I developed a minor obsession with fermentation. I had attempted to make sourdough bread when I lived in Idaho but it just didn’t ever really go well. I tried to make it with water straight out of the tap but I have since learned that the chlorine (or chloramine) in city water might interfere with yeast growth (which totally makes sense!).

I started with a 50:50 flour water mixture (1/2 c. each) using water I brought home from the water cooler at school. In retrospect the jar was too small but it seemed like such a neat little package to start with!

The second day I added another 1/2 c. water and a 1/2 c. flour. The next day, I fed the starter again in the late afternoon. I was starting to be skeptical about whether anything was going to work, yet again. I went into the kitchen in the evening to make tea and there were bubbles! It was alive!

By the next morning, the starter had exploded on the counter. There was plenty enough still in the jar to salvage so I moved it to a larger bowl and measured some out to make bread! I used this recipe and the result was unmitigated failure. It didn’t rise. There was a hunk of solid dough just sitting there. I didn’t use non-chlorinated water, which might have been the issue, I’m not sure.

I did some more research and found this post on Pinch My Salt that described how to make a “sponge” and THEN mixing up the dough. Finally I was on to something.

My first “sponge”:

The loaves themselves seemed a little flat. But they were clearly bread!

I slightly overbaked them but they were pretty delicious for the first few hours!

I tried again, making the bread into one loaf. It didn’t brown very well but oh my god it is so freaking good!

I’ve never been a sourdough fan but this has really great flavor. I can see myself going back to a commercial yeasted bread in the future but I’m having fun experimenting right now!

Basic Vehicle Recovery Kit

Last spring, I wrote a post about how to get your vehicle unstuck from a slippery situation whether it’s sand, mud, or snow. As we enter the fall, it’s time to start thinking about winter driving. Here’s what I carry in my jeep

  1. Valve stem remover: I talked quite a bit about airing down in my Guide to Getting Unstuck. Although you can airdown using a stick or a rock or your pocket knife, dropping from 50 psi to 10 psi goes a lot faster with a valve stem remover.
  2. Tire pressure gauges: I carry both a high and a low pressure gauge because that allows me to measure air pressures <10psi however you should at least carry a high pressure gauge.
  3. Recovery strap and D-ring: Sometimes you need a little bit of extra help. And if that help comes along, you don’t want to have to say, “It’s okay, nevermind” because neither of you has a strap! It’s also a good idea to figure out where you can attach the strap or D-ring to on your vehicle before you need to use them.

  1. Shovel: If you’re stuck, a lot of times it’s important to dig yourself out a bit before getting going again. I carry a small shovel like this one.
  2. Compressor: While a compressor is not strictly necessary, if you’re going to spent a lot of time far from main roads and travel routes, the ability to put air back into your tires can be really important. Driving 50 miles to a gas station for air on really flat tires will do a number on your tires and put you at risk for a blow out. Airing back up, to at least 35 psi, will help prevent more issues!
  3. Tire repair kit: Being able to fix a puncture to your tire can be a life saver! I’ve even heard of people using the tire ropes to temporarily fix small slashes in the sidewall!

DIY Vermiculture: Composting With Worms

A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling a little bit frustrated about living in a rental house and not being able to have house projects to work on. (I have no idea why this is the case since I have three furniture projects in various stages of completion, a quilt in process, a blog, a hiking project, and I’d really like to read more but alas, this was how I felt.) One of the things that I’ve wanted to try for quite some time is starting to compost. I reached out to the Twitter-verse, and Modern Steader came to the rescue:

And then, the see (er, worm?) was planted.

I read lots of DIY vermiculture posts and ultimately decided to use a post from the Washington State University Extension Center in Whatcom County. (They have a whole website about composting!) This set of instructions were clear, detailed, and, as advertised, was cheap and easy to build.

I had a sort of terrible time finding the classic Rubbermaid totes that I wanted to use. Target didn’t have them. Walmart didn’t have them. I finally found them at Home Depot where they ran me about $7 each.

Once at home, I drilled a series of 1/16″ holes around the top of each bin and in one of the lids, as directed in the WSU DIY build instructions.

Next, I drilled 1/4″ holes in the bottoms of both bins:

After that, I stacked the bins on a few sour cream and cottage cheese containers and waited for my worms to arrive. I ordered my worms from Colorado VermiCulture. I am still thoroughly confused as to where these guys are based because they call themselves Colorado VermiCulture and have a 970 area code number on their website but the return address was somewhere in Pennsylvania). I thought I was buying local-ish (even if they were being shipped) but I guess not..

When the worms arrived, I excitedly made their wet newspaper bedding (that’s a lot of newspaper!) puta handful of dirt on top and sort of anxiously unpackaged my “wormies.” (Yes, I am 30 years old and referred to the Red Wigglers as “wormies.”)

I unpacked the box to learn that the worms were from “Uncle Jim’s” worm farm and happily noted that they were, in fact, still moving around. I still don’t know if I was supposed to put their peat moss into the compost bin with them but I decided that it was unlikely to matter so in they went with the peat moss.

Sprocket was thoroughly confused about the presence of worms in the house.

I fed the worms some peach peels, coffee grinds, and sweet potato skins I’d been saving for them by burying it in the newspaper then covered the newspaper with wet cardboard and nestled the other bin on top. I then moved the whole thing to the laundry room sans laundry facilities.

I was a little bit freaked out about the possibility of waking up in the morning to worms desperately attempting to escape from their plastic jail. I did a bit of Googling and turned up some helpful people suggesting that worms like it where it is dark so leaving the light on outside of the bin for a few days might help the worms adjust.

When I opened the bin the next day (I couldn’t resist!) there were several worms kind of crawling up the sides of the bin, a couple on top of the cardboard, and most were existing in two masses under the cardboard. A huge part of me was convinced they were all going to die.

Today, I fed the worms some more stuff and got excited to peek into their home. They’ve dispersed into their bedding and I’m really hoping they’re enjoying their artichoke leaves and tea bags. I’m finally feeling like they’re not going to die at any moment and I bravely have turned off the light in the laundry room the last couple of days—and no one has escaped.

It’ll be quite some time before I actually have any worm casings to use in a garden but in the meantime, I really like the awesome earthy smell when I pull off the top bin to feed my little “wormies.”

1977 Jeep Cherokee: Starter Replacement

Last Friday, after I’d decided to take a weekend off from hiking, I headed to Grand Junction to pick up some supplies for my quilting project. On my way home, I stopped for gas and when I tried to start the Jeep, I was greeted with an absolutely terrible grinding noise. The only logical thing I could think of was that the starter had gone bad. I made a phone call to #thehelpfulex who confirmed that it was likely to be the starter but perhaps it could be the flywheel.

Regardless of what the issue was, the part was not going to be available at 8:30pm so I called for a tow back to De Beque. The next morning, I got on the phone and was able to get a starter ordered. Thanks to the wonders of community Facebook groups, a neighbor was able to pick up the starter for me and drop it off Sunday evening.

Monday, I tried to install the starter. First, I realized that I didn’t really know where to find a starter. Next, I realized that it’s a really simple job. Two bolts and one electrical connection and I had the new one installed. I hopped in the jeep for the moment of truth. …nothing…

There was no grinding noise but there wasn’t even an indication that the starter was doing anything at all. I could hear a click indicating that the starter solenoid was working but besides that, I was dead in the water.

I immediately blamed myself. I’m not a mechanic, therefore, it HAD to be my fault somehow. I followed wires all around the battery. I Googled. I browsed the FSJ forums. I called #thehelpfulex. He suggested that the battery was probably dead. That made no sense to me since I haven’t had issues with the battery discharging but I was willing to entertain the idea.

Tuesday, I got up and asked my neighbor for a jump. He lent me his battery charger so we topped off my battery. Still nothing. My neighbor and I poked around for awhile trying to figure things out. #Thehelpfulex called to check in on me and the project. He walked me through some troubleshooting ideas and nothing worked. I wound up in tears out of frustration. I hate being vehicle-less. I really really hate it.

Without any better ideas, I threw some money at the problem via Amazon Prime: I ordered a voltmeter to be able to better test the electrical connections and I ordered another starter. I figured in any case I could return the locally purchased one and this would help me eliminate the very unlikely scenario in which the replacement starter was bad.

Friday, the starter arrived late in the afternoon so I put off the swap until the sun had warmed things up a bit on Saturday morning to dive in. I was feeling a little defeated and nagged by a sinking feeling that something more major might be going on and I wasn’t going to be able to get Francis Sally started.

Before I crawled under the jeep for the dirty part of the job, I used the voltmeter to test a few things, many of which I had tested before but now I’d have data(!):

  1. Battery voltage: The battery measured 12.67 (about 95% charge). Clearly it wasn’t my battery.
  2. Voltage at the starter solenoid: Power appeared to be traveling through the cable to the solenoid since I measured the voltage at 12.62 there.
  3. Voltage across the starter solenoid: I didn’t actually measure this because I didn’t have a helper to read voltage or turn the key. (Santa really needs to bring Sprocket some thumbs for Christmas…)
  4. Voltage to the starter: First, I disconnected the negative battery cable from the battery terminal. then I disconnected the positive battery cable from the solenoid and attached it to the opposite side of the solenoid (essentially bypassing the solenoid). I reattached the negative battery cable and tested the voltage at the starter. I was measuring about 12.5V but the starter wasn’t doing anything.

That was enough. I’d confirmed that even with voltage flowing to the replacement starter it wasn’t spinning. I returned the solenoid wires to their correct positions and  quickly swapped to the replacement for the replacement starter.

Nothing.

I tried by passing the solenoid. The stater spun! I briefly entertained the idea that maybe I’d somehow burned up the solenoid with the bad starter. And then I remembered my neighbor had been trying to figure out why there was only one small wire going to the solenoid (the ignition wire). I swapped its position and tried again.

BAM.

The #damselNOTindistress was victorious again.

English Paper Piecing Quilt, Part 4

I knew that I’d made progress last winter towards piecing all of those darn little hexagon flowers together and I rationally knew that if I opted to machine quilt, I would probably finish it this winter. A really huge part of me really wants to see it done before mid-January. A three year gestation period is plenty long for any project.

But on to the exciting part!

Thursday afternoon, I realized that this was all that was left. After all the thousands and thousands of little pieces, there were about sixty to go.

So I promptly spent my Friday driving to Junction to use my 60% off JoAnns coupon on quilt backing fabric. (And then the Jeep starter decided to strike. But that’s another story.)

I worked on it Friday night and woke up Saturday down to my last row of pieces. Thirty more pieces to finish! I started live tweeting my quilting. (No joke. Sprocket just wasn’t being excited enough and I needed to share.)

Finally, I was down to the last ten.

And then it was the last one.

Two years and nine months later, the hexagon piecing is done.

I’d been removing the paper slips as I went out of necessity because if I waited too long it became really hard to manipulate the quilt to add more pieces. I did iron the backside today to make sure that most of the hexagon backs were laying flat as we start to move towards the final completion of the quilt top and making the quilt “sandwich.”

I still have a ways to go before I have a truly completed quilt: I’m adding a small gray border to even out the edges and frame it, then I need to prepare the backing. After those are both ready, I’ll lay it all together, pin it and prepare to start quilting.

I’m about 90% committed to machine quilting. I’ve loved working on this but it’s really sucked a lot of my time. I haven’t done near as much reading as I would have liked in the last two winters because I committed that time to quilting. We’ll see. There’s that 10% of me screaming “But you did all that hand sewing! Finish it!”

Peaches!

Although Palisade Peach season is coming to an end, I’ve finally been settled enough to really start enjoying the awesome local produce.

Last week, I made three batches of peach jam.

My first batch I used low sugar Sure-Jell. I’ve only ever made berry jams so this one turned out too chunky at the end (although I think it’ll really taste great on waffles).

The next batch, I used Pomona’s Pectin. This pectin uses calcium to gel, not sugar like most pectins, so you can use smaller amounts. For my first batch, I decided to only vary one thing at a time and just softened the peaches on the stovetop a bit before adding the sugar, lemon juice and pectin although I still stuck with about two cups of sugar.

This batch turned out at a much better consistency so for my final batch, I cut the sugar down to 1 cup and cooked it again.

Then this week, I decided it was time to make pie. I really really love pie.

Peaches and cream pie! I had a slice on my way to school this morning. It is delicious.