Monday, June 9, 2014

First Fruits (and Leaves and Roots): the Garden in June

First strawberry of the season!

As I was weeding, I spotted it: the first ripe strawberry of the season. I picked it, then had a brief internal argument with myself about whether I should just eat it on the spot or share it with Justin and Junie. 

Generosity won out. I ran inside to show what I had found, then sliced it in thirds so we could all enjoy that first delicious taste of summer. 

And now, the strawberries are ripening at a fast pace, much to everyone's delight. They're big, juicy, and beautiful! It amazes me that a bed that started out the season looking like this:

The strawberry bed in May

Has blossomed into this:

The strawberry bed in June
And if that amount of growth amazes you, take a look at my greens bed before I planted anything:

The greens bed in early spring

And compare it to this green, leafy goodness:

The greens bed in June
We've been enjoying plenty of fresh salads as I thin the lettuce. We've also pulled up a rainbow of beautiful radishes. And just last night I made a stir fry with bok choi and garlic scapes. So much to be excited about in the garden this time of year!


bok choi and garlic scapes!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The David Bradly Trailer Project: Part 1

Yeah, we know it sounds like the title of a rural Wisconsin "New Wave" band..but it's not.

So in keeping with our theme (old Craftsman house...old Craftsman tools). We decided to pick up an old Craftsman trailer too.  Well, OK it's not really a Craftsman but it was at least sold by Sears!

This is a 1950's David Bradley trailer.  It's seen better days obviously.  The David Bradley name (not to be confused with the guy from Harry Potter) is actually pretty well known among vintage tool and tractor enthusiasts for the walk behind tractor built by Sears and Roebuck from 1947-67'. In truth we'd love to have one of the little tractors some day too. 

The trailer in the center of this original Sears ad is the one closest to ours.  The previous owner replaced the springs, axle, hubs and tires with much stronger materials.  From the look of things they took the whole sub frame from another trailer and added it on to this one.  

Though this works and pulled down the road very nicely despite it's looks, we're pretty sure it would benefit from some reinforcement. The trailer's tongue is also pretty well shot (as is the original hitch). So thanks to Craigslist we now have a fairly large pile of steel on our other trailer:

So the plan at this point is to replace some or all of the sub-frame and tongue with the steel pictured (leaning heavily toward the latter). Justin did an initial design planning to retain the current sub-frame.  While doing these renderings it occurred to him that we probably have enough steel to re-frame the entire under carriage and also...he needs a bigger Arc welder.  You can imagine how disappointed he was about that last bit.

We use Sweet Home 3d a lot for planning our projects  Thought it's designed mostly for building design, it can also be used to put together quick and dirty CAD designs. Almost all of the measurements on the above picture are "rough".  More precise dimensions will be used as soon as we have it flipped over. This was good enough to get some basic ideas going though.  

This was the first draft of the basic frame design using the materials we have presently. Initially he was only planning on bringing the new frame back as far as the axle.  

It was about the time when Justin started adding the existing components to his render that completely replacing the sub-frame came to mind.  His dad made a couple of good suggestions that seemed to be easier to accomplish once the problem of attaching the oldish sub-frame to the new sub-frame was removed from the equation.   

If only all the metal work was as simple as creating the computer model.  Still working out the details in software is a lot easier then cutting up a bunch of steel to see what works and what doesn't.  We'll have another post soon showing the progress on the re-design of our little ugly trailer.  But the picture above (sub-frame changes not withstanding) is basically what we have in mind.

Considering how much hammering it took to get the first big dent straightened out of the passenger side...we've got a long way to go! Stay tuned!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Staying warm when it's colder than the South Pole


When the forecasted HIGH for the day is -11 and your thermometer reads -20 at 8 AM, you know it's gonna be a cold day. How cold? Colder than the South Pole, it turns out (a balmy -11). Cold winters are nothing new to the Midwest, but this is quite the extreme! To prepare for this arctic blast, we worked on buttoning up the house this weekend as best we could. 

When in doubt, put on more hats. 
I finished shrinkwrapping all our windows (a project I started in November) and stuffed insulation under our drafty dining room window seat. 

Nice shelving space, but it's uninsulated and juts out into open air, so it's pretty drafty!
Justin sealed up the frames of our outside doors and installed door sweeps; this made a big difference almost immediately! I knew those doors were drafty, but didn't realize how much. 

We then made major headway on insulating the attic (Look how far we've come!). Last spring, we installed insulation baffles and fiberglass batts. We had picked up foil-faced foam a while back and we wanted to wait to finish replacing the attic floor before we finished the walls. But we knew these would make a big difference in keeping the house warm, so Justin worked hard to get them all hung before the cold settled in.

Starting to install foil-faced foam 

Foam installation nearly complete. Welcome to our spaceship! 

With the foam in place, our unheated attic was comfortably warm yesterday. As was the rest of our house. I was even able to turn the thermostat down and have it stay toasty--so our efforts were a success!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Another garden bed bites the dust (so our backporch doesn't)

The previous owners built a small, raised garden bed right alongside our three-season porch. There are two problems with this. First, the soil line is above the poured concrete slab, right alongside the untreated wood of the porch, without any barrier, which has caused the wood to rot. Second, the porch is not structurally sound, and even without the rot issues, it would still be a bit of a precarious structure. 

Justin removed and leveled the garden bed, and then added pressure-treated lumber to reinforce the porch for the time being. We plan to redo the porch at some point, but we would like it to stay standing until we decide to take it down! 

I transplanted some of the herbs (chives, oregano) and perennials (echinacea)

We gave all these landscape bricks to a neighbor.

Justin pries off some of the old wood planks to see what's underneath.

And underneath, a rag-tag pile of scraps holding the porch up!

This small pile of wood was all that was holding up a section of the porch!


I forgot to mention that we also rerouted our dryer vent a while back. It had been venting directly underneath the porch, which not only meant there was a ridiculous amount of lint under our porch, but also that the windows would become covered with condensation any time we used the dryer. In winter, of course, this condensation would freeze. Not so good. But now the dryer actually vents outside the house like it's supposed to!

The new, improved dryer vent (it's the little things in life...)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Basement Windows get a Makeover, part 2

In our last post, we talked about removing and installing the easier of the two new basement windows. Next up, the much more challenging second window!

Before: Window 2

But what did we discover when we started digging? A huge slab of concrete underneath the entire window! Why anyone would put such a thing there, we'll never know. But it does help explain why the flooding was the worst under this window: the water was just sitting on the slab, soaking into the rotting wood of the window frame.

The mysterious concrete slab

Of course, instead of just digging, this meant that we had to bust up and remove all the concrete before we could do anything else.

Removing the concrete pad.

Sayonara, concrete! 

The window after the concrete pad was removed

Once the concrete was removed, we could finally begin cutting out the windows themselves. As badly rotted as the windows were, they were still a pain to remove.

Justin cuts out the window frames.

View from inside.
Way more concrete than the last one.
Because the window is an irregular size and we didn't want to bother with a custom window, we decided to fill in part of the opening with cinder blocks and concrete.

Levelling up the cinder blocks

First layer in, mortar bed for the second layer laid down.

Window time! 

After: Window 2. Much better!

Next up; raised beds...

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Basement Windows get a Makeover, part 1

Summer has flown by, and for the most part, we haven't done any large-scale house projects--a welcome break. But now it's time to delve into another project.

We want to avoid the flooding we had last spring, so we're doing a number of things to address it. To start with, we replaced the old, rotting wood window frames with new, glass brick windows. We also installed window wells where there had been none before. Sounds pretty easy, but there were a lot of steps involved.  

Before: Window 1

Cutting out the old window with a sawzall

First, we had to remove the old window and cut out the old frame.

Uneven foundation that had been hiding beneath the window
We discovered that the foundation wall beneath the old window was very uneven. As in, cracked and pockmarked. We'd have to fix that before installing the new window...

Forms to hold cement in place. Note the beginning of the hole for the window wells. 
...So we decided to add a layer of quick-setting cement.

Expand, foam, expand! 
To keep the concrete from running out the cracks we used expanding foam.

Does watched cement ever dry? 
Justin poured the cement and made sure it was level, then made sure if was dry before moving on to the next step.

Mortar, viewed from inside. 
Next, we laid the mortar bed that would hold in the new window.

After: Window 1. Ta da!
Finally, Justin slid the new window into place and finished mortaring around it while Brigitte stood on the other side, making sure it didn't fall inward and crash to the ground. No photos of this part since we were both occupied and Juniper was running around somewhere else. But here's the finished product! Doesn't it look much better?