Sunday, July 29, 2007

Mowing & More

My parents brought their nice new riding lawn mower over this weekend, and we mowed the etire lawn. We've mowed some parts of it once before, but this is the first time it has all been mowed at the same time. Here's Cary about halfway through: That thing is fast! Since mom & dad got this new mower, they also very generously gave us their old walk-behind mower. It's self-propelled, but I get the feeling that mowing the lawn will take a lot longer than an hour with it. :)

After the mowing was done in the back, Mom & I pulled crab grass. It came in the fill we brought in, so luckily it isn't in the whole yard, just the area right around the house. Even so, there was lot of it, as you can see from the wheelbarrow below.

I'm normally not a stickler for weed-free lawns, but crabgrass is really ugly when it gets big, looking like a starfish or an octopus, with huge thick stalks growing horizontily along the ground before turning upright to produce big seed heads. Of course it is extremely fast-growing, so this happens in a blink of an eye. Naturally, it is also really hard to pull up by hand. The stalks just break off (they remind me of corn suckers) and each one can sprout into a whole new plant. The only way to get them out is to dig them out, roots & all, with a small trowel. Mom shows off a (small) fresh kill, below:
Meanwhile, Cary used the mower to make hay in front of the house. This section of the field just got press-ganged into the lawn! It looks a bit brown and stubbly this morning, but with repeated mowing it should green up and get used to the idea that it's a lawn now.
By the end of the day, after much mowing, raking, and weed whacking, the place really looked great - although of course there is still more raking and mowing and whacking to do, not to mention sweeping the grass clipings off the porch. :)
What we did today produced a huge transformation in the look and feel of our yard. I can really really REALLY see our lawn as a wedding venue now. It's actually going to work! Sweet.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Septic Woes Over

We've been having some trouble with our septic system. Bad odors from the drains, slow flushing from the toilet, even a few wiffs of bad odors outside in the yard - all worrisome signs. A couple of days ago I picked up three 6" risers to raise the lids of the hatches up above the level of the surrounding terrain, because with the heavy rains we had last week water had puddled over the top of them, which is not reccommended, even though they are supposed to be water tight. When we went to install them, however, stinkwater came up out of the lid. Not good, definately not good at all! We tightened the lid back down without installing the riser, and today I called Jake of Fountain Construction, and described the symptoms to him. He immediately wanted to come out and take a look, so I left the office and headed home.

Jake quickly figured out that the problem was that the pump wasn't running, so our tank was full. Really full. It took a few more minutes to figure out why the tank wasn't running - a bad switch on the alarm circuit. This was not only preventing the alarm from sounding, it was keeping the whole system off-line. Thank goodness I called when I did, or the failure of this $1 part could have cost us hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Not to mention the ugly possibility of nastiness coming up in the shower drain and touching my toes.
Anyway, Jake & Lee (his dad/boss) managed to override the bad circuit and get the pump going enough to take the pressure off the system. The sound of the water that had been backed up into the house pipes draining out was pretty impressive. We called Mark Schramer and got the number for the electrician, and thankfully he, Andy, was able to come right out and replace that pesky switch. Jake helpfully installed the risers for me, so now the whole system is ship-shape and closed up again. We need to treat it gently for a few days (no laundry marathons!) but it looks like we caught the problem before any serious damage was done to the drainfield.

There was one unfortunate casualty: a small frog jumped into the tank when we had the lid open. I tried to fish him out, but he kept diving and swiming away from my bucket. I selfishly wasn't willing to actually TOUCH the stinkwater to save him. I feel a little bad about that... but mostly I feel like I just passed some sort of official homeowner test, and I got an A. :)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pergola & Kiwis

We finished the Pergola today! It is simply beautiful, a wonderful structure to have in our yard, and it is going to make such a lovely setting for our wedding ceremony. A BIG thanks goes to Dave for all his help - we couldn't have done this without his help, his tools, and his construction know-how. :)

We started today by cutting all the notches in the remaining rafters. Once that was done, it was relatively quick and easy to get them all up in place on the framework. Here Cary and Dave raise the last board:
We sunk a screw in each end to hold them in place, and then toe-nailed each board at least once to all four of the support beams. They're not going anywhere.
With the structure finished, we moved right on to planting the hardy kiwi plants. We bought them at Raintree Nursery a few months ago, they've been climbing up and over the other plants in our own little nursery collection area since then. It took a bit of doing to untangle them from their surroundings without hurting them, but now that they are in their final homes they can climb as much as they want. And the quicker the better! :)
All done now but the watering... whew! It sure feels good to have this project finished... on to the next!

Saturday, July 14, 2007


We mowed the lawn (well, most of it) for the first time! It sure made a big difference in how it looks... it's so much more LAWN-ish now, not just individual grass seedlings. :)
This is one of the thickest, greenest spots. It's so soft and lushious, heaven on bare feet. :) I have no idea why, but we have some patches which are super lush and others which are thin and scraggly. It all gets watered evenly (I am a slave to the sprinkler), so it isn't that. We put down some organic fertilizer after we mowed so hopefully that will help even it out.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Pergola Continues

Yesterday we put another productive day into the Pergola. Dave and Pete came back out, and our friend Dan also came over to lend a hand. The first order of the day was to saw a decorative angle into both ends of all 18 of the 2x10 rafters.
Once all the boards had been sawn, we started putting the first ones up. We used z-shaped deck hangers on the posts to support these first beams and keep them level while we centered them with the same amount sticking out past the posts at both ends. Once they were centered, we tacked them in place with 16p nails.
With the outside boards nailed in place, we drilled a guide hole through the posts. Once we got through, we held up the inside boards and marked them with the drill also. Then we used another drill with a 5/8" spade bit to widen all the holes to fit the bolts.
Every aspect of putting up these (very heavy) boards was complicated by our need for ladders. Here Dave, Pete & Dan work together to bolt the second inside board into place.
The second layer of rafters rest on top across the first layer, and to complicate matters they are notched to fit. This requires lifting the boards into place, marking them, lifiting them down, cutting the notches, and then lifiting them back into place again. I guess that probably explains why my torso muscles are all so sore today!
We called it a day at this point, with three of the end sets done & bolted into place. This is a lot of work to build, but I am really pleased with the results. I love the scale of it, it doesn't look like a regular "backyard" pergola, it looks like something you might see at a public park or a resort - it's heavy duty! Cary was pleased to note that it holds his weight just fine. This is good, since I'm sure it will be very popular with local hairless monkeys, at least until the vines grow over it.

Hopefully we'll find some time mid-week to continue working on this project, but if not I'm sure we'll finish building it next weekend, and then move on to putting down some pavers of some as-yet-undetermined kind for the floor of it. The fun just never stops around here!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Posts & Concrete

Today we set the posts for the pergola in their holes, squared them up, and poured the concrete footings for each one. It was wonderful - we had a lot of volunteer help and it made the whole project a lot easier. Gabe surprised us by coming up from Olympia for the holiday, and he really pitched in. Dave and Anita came out and brought friends, Pete & Nancy from California, who also helped make the day a great sucess. Here's what we did:

Once the post holes were dug, it took 3 people to muscle these giant 14-foot 6x6s upright and into position. (Yes, I realize we are probably ovebuilding this pergola. But its better than worrying about having it collapse under a heavy crop of hardy kiwis!)
Once the level said it was standing up straight, two guys could hold it while another measured off the distance to the other posts. Here, Pete & Dave hold one steady while Gabe uses a lever to get it closer to the correct alignment. It usually took several such adjustments to get it into just the right position before bracing it. On the final check, we were off about 1" between our two diagonal measurments - which we decided was plenty close enough to square for garden architecture.
Once all the posts were braced upright (and a round of beers), the guys got down to mixing & pouring the concrete. Dave had brought over his little electric cement mixer, which worked like a champ. First you dump in a bag or two of ready mix...
...add some water, turn it on...
...stir around with a metal bar to check the consistancy,
and pour! It was amazing how fast all four post-holes were filled. Note the rebar sticking up from the concrete in the hole - it was pounded pretty far down into the clay bottom of the hole for additional reinforcement. (Overbuilding? Us? Not a chance.)
Being able to pour the concrete straight into the holes from the mixer was wonderful, so much more civilized than the wheelbarrow-and-shovel method we've always used in the past. And now for the finishing touch:
We followed up all the work with a nice bbq dinner, sitting outside in a shady spot on the lawn. All in all, pretty much a perfect 4th of July.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Garden box & flower bed

Nobody's back really felt like digging any 3" holes today, so instead of working on the pergola we completed a couple of smaller projects. First, we built our raised-bed/garden box and planted it with the healthy starts that Keeley so kindly gave us. There's a tomato, two peppers, two broccoli, and a cucumber plant from her. We also planted three strawberry plants we've been hauling around in containers for years. They all look really happy in their new home:
To give you a better idea of where the garden box is located, here is a picture of Cary threatening me with the hose while standing in front of it. This should be a good spot for a garden, it gets full sun for nearly the entire day, and it's close to the hose bib so it will be easy to keep watered.

We also worked up and planted a new flower bed in the SW corner of the lawn, where we had planted a few trees and shrubs last week. The flower bed we put in today stretches between and joins the two Sea Buckthorn bushes. Here's Cary doing the initial raking of the site, before we stared adding amendments:

Here's the finished bed. Sprout is sitting in aproximately the same place Cary was standing in the previous picture.

Besides the feeling of accomplishment we get from haveing a finished flower bed, this one had the additional bonus of using up all of the snapdragon and other starts that didn't make it into the flower pots earlier this spring. It sure feels good to have them all in the ground. :) The cats seemed pleased with our work, in general, although they seem to think we should still be out there working. Sanford has the wheelbarrow all ready to go...