Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Keeping up with the Bagsters

As I recently found out, a Bagster is like a dumpster, except it's a bag. You buy the bag at your local hardware store, and then have it picked up once it's full. Pretty simple. We decided that this would be more cost-effective than renting a dumpster for disposing of all the lathe, plaster, and other stuff we're tearing out of the house.

Right now, they're just sitting in our yard, looking exceedingly classy.

Bundles of lathe in a homemade wheelbarrow (yes, that's a bicycle wheel)

When our Bagsters started to get overloaded, we made more space by removing some of the lathe and bundling it up. Then, we set the bundles on the curb and put up a Craigslist posting for free bonfire wood (with a prominent warning about the nails). Turns out, one of my neighbors was very grateful to take it and throw it on a bonfire in her yard.

A local duck stops by to check out our Bagsters.

Note: this post is not sponsored by Bagster in any way, nor are we getting anything in exchange for writing it. We just like the product, and besides, we wanted to share just how much our yard is starting to resemble a construction site.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Duck's Nest: Quackery on Prairie Street

"Our" duck
A week after we moved in, we were pleasantly surprised to find a mama duck nesting in our yard, tucked comfortably into a pile of straw left by the previous owners. And we were thrilled to watch her every day over the next month, counting the eggs while she was away, and then seeing them hatch into fluffy little ducklings!  

Home necessities: air conditioner, meter, duck's nest. 
When I told our next-door neighbors, they were excited, too. They had been seeing a pair of ducks waddling around, nibbling the seed that fell out of their bird feeder. But they didn't realize they were nesting so close.

It seemed like an odd spot at first, but a bit of Googling convinced me otherwise. It turns out that mallards frequently nest near human dwellings in gardens, flowerpots, or vegetation. They will nest up to a couple miles away from water, later leading their brood on a trek to the nearest river or pond. Considering that, we're very close to water (less than 1/4 mile away). Plus, not only is this nest well-shielded by our house and air conditioner, it's also shaded by a big maple tree, meaning that it's safe from overhead predators.

She didn't seem to view *us* as predators. Whenever we walked by, she would just flatten herself against the straw and fix us with a glassy stare.

Beware the stare of a protective mama duck! 

She was gone much of the time, no doubt searching for food, which gave us a chance to take a look at her eggs. While it's difficult to be sure (she covered them pretty well), we think there were up to 6 or 7 eggs total.

Our Duck's eggs

Then, on May 22nd, the ducklings hatched. I glanced at the nest when I got home from work, and noticed some unusual movement, which turned out to be ducklings! As I walked closer, mama duck started ruffling her feathers and hissing at me. She had never done that before! It was clear that no one was getting anywhere close to her babies. 

Mama duck fiercely protecting her ducklings!
I knew that the ducklings could swim right away, and that mama duck would soon lead them to water. But I didn't realize that they would be permanently gone from the nest in under 24 hours. This was too bad, because Junie didn't get a chance to see the ducklings in the nest--if we knew this was the only day to see them, we would have called her Mom's house and had them come over. 

They made it to the water! 

But, as I mentioned, we are very close to water, and on a walk a few days later, we noticed a couple broods of ducklings tagging along behind their mothers. One of these broods had six ducklings, just the right number to be "our" ducks. We decided that they were definitely our duck and her babies. Junie was thrilled to see the babies ("they're so cuuuute!"), and Justin and I were happy to see that they had made it to the water safe and sound. 

I've heard that ducks will nest in the same place year after year. We'll see if she comes back to our garden again next spring!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Digging new garden beds

Now that everything is grown in enough for me to know what I'm working with,  I'm ready to make the garden my own. That means, of course, digging new beds! This first bed, I dug with very little preparation. I kind of did it on a whim, eager to get my hands in some dirt. It worked out perfectly.

This looks like a perfect spot for a garden bed...

Juniper helps dig up sod (with a shovel as big as she is!)

That's more like it! Now all it needs is some plants.

Next up, along the front sidewalk wall. And this pampas grass has GOT to go. I am not looking forward to all that digging; it has extensive roots that will make it quite the chore. 

Unruly pampas grass.

We rented a tiller to dig the bed along the length of the front wall. To get rid of the pampas grass, I first cut it down with a weed whacker, and then Justin went over the stubble with the tiller. This dug up a lot of the root system, although I still had to go in with a shovel to complete the project. 

Justin tills new beds
See all that brown stuff in that overflowing wheelbarrow? That's ALL stubble and roots from the pampas grass. Phew! I think we got most of it. But any bits we missed will continue to sprout, so I will probably be pulling pampas grass all season. 

New bed along wall, and good riddance to pampas grass!

New bed along other side of wall, and another pile of pampas grass roots. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Garden in Limbo

Plants waiting for the gardener to get busy

These plants are impatient to get in the ground. Or should I say, I'M impatient to plant them!

Moving in the middle of May, prime planting time, is not ideal for a gardener. But of course, you make do with what you have, and NOT gardening was certainly not an option. So all my houseplants, plus the perennials and vegetables I dug up, grew from seed, or purchased ended up in this makeshift garden holding pen on the side of our house.

It's a veritable jungle of pothos and jade, tomato and basil, liatris and verbena brushing elbows with the native hostas in this semi-shady bed. I used whatever milk crates, wood planks, boxes, and plastic bags I could find to house all these green things. 

Sage, lavender, and sedum dug up from my old garden

Pretty soon, they'll all get in the ground, and hopefully, thrive in their new surroundings. But for now, the challenge is to keep them all alive and well until then!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What plants can be found in our new yard?

As a gardener eager to have my own yard, it was with great excitement that I examined every inch of our new yard, seeking out recognizable perennial sprouts among weeds. When I found one, it was like a Christmas present: free plants! Already growing in my yard! Of course, what I mostly found was beds choked with weeds, perennials untended for so long as to render them too leggy to bother with, and the ill-advised placement of pampas grass along our front walk.

In the back, there is a small bed with some purple coneflower, black-eyed susans, irises, a sprawling mass of oregano, and a few other herbs. Clearly, this was intended as a kitchen garden.

Herbs and flowers competing against maple seedlings and other weeds

There is also a line of peony bushes...

Peonies on the lot line

Some Shasta daisies...

How can I tell these are daisies? The serrated leaves are a dead giveaway.

A couple of lilac bushes that have seen better days...

Not to mention a wood stove that has seen better days!

Daylilies and yuccas...

An area fenced in with chicken wire, but full of nothing but weeds. 

Perhaps it was a vegetable garden at one point? 

And the aforementioned Pampas grass, growing right along the front walk. There are also some extremely woody lavender plants along the walkway, too. 

Doesn't look so bad yet...but it's only about 1/3 of its full-grown height! 

And a surprise Columbine plant! I also found a surprise Oriental Poppy growing among the Pampas grass. 

A lone Columbine grows next to some hostas
There are also a bunch of hostas on the other side of the house, but you'll just have to take my word for it that they look exactly like ordinary hostas.

Knowing what I have to work with, I can now start to plan what I'm going to plant!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sanding the Ceiling

Painting is Justin's second least favorite thing to on to his VERY least favorite: sanding ceilings. The large device pictured is a ceiling sander. Originally, we were going to use a standard pole sander, but due to an injury (Justin's torn rotator cuff) and time (we were moving in the day after these were taken) we rented this bad boy. Not that this was much better.  

Justin wields a ceiling sander
Looks like fun, doesn't it?

 Despite all the effort, the ceiling seams are still far from perfect. We were at least able to get the room primed prior to move in, though Justin can't stand to look at the ceiling with out threatening to get out his orbital sander.  We'll be revisiting the ceiling again prior to actually putting real color on the walls.

The ceiling sander takes a much-needed break after all that hard work.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Painting the Living Room

Once the walls were fixed, with all wallpaper removed, new drywall hung, and lathe plaster repaired, we were finally ready to give everything a fresh coat of paint.

Justin and Juniper testing the texture primer for coverage on the red wall. Looks like we'll need to use KILLZ!

We're sticking with white for the time being, just to get something on the walls. We'll choose some more interesting colors later on, once other big projects are finished and we've had some time to settle into the place. We added texture to the walls, too, even though we both prefer flat walls. Despite our best efforts at fixing all the cracks in the lathe plaster, there are still some imperfections, and the texture helps disguise them.

Living room, after the second coat of primer and texture
We also painted over the faux ceiling-tiles because we really didn't want to deal with taking them down. They had been an ugly taupe color that neither of us liked. But once coated with white paint, they actually look pretty nice. Amazing what a change of color can do!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Drywalling the dining room walls and ceiling

Justin wastes no time: banging on the walls minutes after buying the place
The very first time we walked through the house, Justin could tell that something funky was going on with the living room entryway, and it just kept bugging him. So what was the VERY first thing he did after we bought the house? Tear into the wall, of course. When he did, we discovered that at some point, this entryway had been reduced in size (or it was enlarged early on and then put back to its original size, it's kind of hard to tell). This was obvious because of the way it was framed, and the fact that it was covered with drywall while everything around it is lathe plaster.  

Since the previous patch job on both sides was pretty bad, we removed the drywall. 

The living room wall, after removing the previous owner's poor patch job

The dining room wall, after the patch on both sides was removed
We also opened up the wall on the other side of the entryway (see photo below), but this was not to fix anything. Rather, we used this space to create a raceway for the new second floor electrical cabling (more on that later).  

The area where we built the electrical raceway, with some lath still attached

Justin and his Dad inspect the ceiling

Remember when the ceiling went boom? Here it is again, in all its naked glory. We needed to drywall that, too. Thankfully, Justin's Dad, Brother, and Cousin all came to help install the drywall. They used a lift to install the ceiling.

Newly-drywalled ceiling and walls awaiting joint compound tape
The original plan was to run a 5" oak crown around the ceiling (hence the gaps). However, time didn't allow for milling the crown prior to moving in, which left a lot of gaps to be addressed with "creative" mud work.
Drywall joints, taped and mudded
Over two days, Justin ran three layers of "hot mud" (20 minute setting type compound), and two layers of tape in the joints where the ceiling meets the old lath plaster walls. The setting compound is heavy, and takes a lot of presure to pull across an inside joint. During the process, Justin tore his right rotator cuff slightly, which made the subsequent sanding much more difficult (although for better or worse, it did not stop him!). 

Justin preps the shop vac for cleaning up after sanding