Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Greenhouse!

We had another lucky "Craigslist" find this weekend.  Around 10:00 in the evening, Jeff was browsing through the "Farm and Garden" category and someone had just posted an ad for a Greenhouse.  Not just any greenhouse, but an 8 by 12 ft GLASS greenhouse.  Jeff emailed immediately, and a few minutes later the phone rang.  It was the couple selling the greenhouse - we were the first persons to contact them, and we got it!  We drove to Hershey the next day to see it, and pay for it, and then went back with a trailer and a lot of tools (and helpers!), to dis-assemble the greenhouse and take it home.

The greenhouse is in really good shape, and we were able to order replacements hardware from a greenhouse manufacturer in the UK.  Seems that the majority of greenhouses in the US are made with high tech plastics, not glass, but in England the preference seems to be toward glass greenhouses.  Shipping will take about 2 weeks they said.

In the meantime, we re-assembled the structure, and carefully stored the glass in the barn.  We figured that if we did not put the greenhouse  back together while we still remembered how it came apart, it would turn into a major fiasco later on.

So the structure is sitting in the back yard, while we are making a spot for it in the herb-garden - between the house and the garage.  This is a very sunny spot, and putting the greenhouse between two existing buildings should shield it from the high speed winds.  We will have to do some leveling first, then concrete in some posts, and get a bunch of pressure treated lumber for the foundation.  And we need to get a load of gravel for the floor. Updates will come later...

Friday, June 20, 2014

Passport in a Day?

Ever wonder if it is possible to get a passport in a day - without any previous plans?  Well yes, it is... if you are extremely lucky.  Here is one crazy passport story that began with a plan for a trip to Italy way back in January.  The very important part of this story is the reason for the trip:  Shadley and Tom's wedding, and Omi had to be there for her granddaughter's important day.

Everything went as planned, trip was booked,  dress was sewn (Omi would not have had it any other way than to maker her own special dress) and suitcase was packed.  Then all plans fell apart when Omi tried to check in at the Pittsburgh airport.  "I am sorry, Ma'am - but we cannot take you".  Omi thought the fight attendant was kidding, but she was not.  When you travel to Europe, your passport has to be valid for 3 months - from the date of arrival.  Omi's passport was set to expire September 9 - she could not fly.  The helpful flight attendant told her that the only alternative was to either drive to Washington DC or Philadelphia for the nearest passport office that could actually issue a passport the same day.

It was about 7:30 pm on Wednesday, when Sam and Tina heard the story and decided that no matter what, they were going to try and get Omi to Italy in time.  First thing was to call the airline and make sure that Omi could get on another flight.  We were assured that there were openings for Friday, Saturday or Sunday (the wedding was Monday) and the airline would honor Omi's original ticket.

The problem was that one needs a pre-scheduled appointment, with an appointment number,  in order to get into the passport office.  Appointments can only be scheduled via the 24/7 automated passport appointment system.  Tina called for DC and Philadelphia and no appointments were available, at either location, for at least a week.  We could not talk to a "real" person until 8 am the next morning, so we decided that Omi should sleep and leave for Carlisle early the next day, so we could try to drive to either DC or Philadelphia.

At 8:00 am the next morning, Tina talked to the passport hotline, and was told that we could not get in without the appointment and they did not see any available.  When we asked what would happen if we take a risk and just show up, we were told that we could try, but they were not sure if it would do anything.  However, they did take the time to tell us about all the info we needed to have, which included proof of the immediate flight in addition to all the normal passport application papers.  Note that were were  NOT  told that just driving to the passport office would be useless.  But we were told to keep trying and calling  the automated appointment system, on the off chance that someone would cancel.

Wouldn't you know it, that by 9:00 am an appointment opened in Philadelphia for 10:30 am.  This was incredible luck.   We just reserved it,  so that we would have a number to get into the office, knowing full well, that we could never get there until 2 or 3 in the afternoon).  Tina called the airline and got them to email  an itinerary for a flight with today's date.

Omi left early from Pittsburgh, and met Tina and Sam at the Cumberland Valley Turnpike Plaza to save time. We got off at the Carlisle exit for a new passport photo (this took less than 5 minutes!!), and got back onto the turnpike towards Philadelphia.

We made it about 15 minutes before they closed (you were supposed to get there before 3:00 pm), and luckily Sam was along, because she and Omi ran in while Tina found a place to park.  The lady at the counter was not too happy, since their appointments was 4.5 hours earlier, and they were told that they had 10 minutes to complete the forms - Sam filled it out, while Omi read off all the numbers.  They handed in the form before by 3:00 pm, and we had the new passport before 4:30!!!

Crazy luck that this worked out. On the way back, Sam called the airline and got Omi's flight confirmed for Friday.  We got off at the Carlisle turnpike exit, where Jeff met us, and Tina and Sam went home, while Omi continued to drive back to Pittsburgh.  She made her flight, and made it to the wedding in plenty of time.  The wedding must have been absolutely beautiful, in a most spectacular setting - and we have a happy end for Shadley and Tom, and for Omi's travel adventures as well!!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ultimate Pea Soup

Our peas are ripe - and we have been picking them for a few days now.  We ended up with over 60 quarts of canned peas, and we gave a lot away to friends. 

This is of course the perfect time to make fresh pea soup (which is distinctly different from canned or dried pea soup).  The soup is surprisingly tasty and rather filling.

Here is our favorite recipe for fresh pea soup:

· 1 tablespoon olive oil
· 1/2 cup finely sliced spring onions (or Vidalia onion)
· 1 clove garlic, chopped fine (not crushed)
· 1 tablespoon chicken bouillon (or use chicken broth instead of water for cooking)
· 1 pound shelled peas
· 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
· 1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste: depends on the chicken stock)
· 1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon of pepper (to taste)
· 1/4 cup half and half 

In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add the onions and garlic.  Sauté over medium heat, until onions are glossy, then add 3 1/2 cups of water and the chicken bouillon (or chicken broth).  Bring to boil, then let simmer for about 30 minutes. (this is about how long it takes to shell one pound of peas)

Add peas, tarragon, salt and pepper and bring back to boil. Turn down heat and simmer until peas are tender (this will depend on how ripe your peas are, anywhere from 10 - 20+ minutes). 

Remove from heat and let cool a bit - then purée with an immersion blender, or put it into a  conventional blender in small batches.  You want this soup to be very, very smooth. 

Stir in half and half , salt and pepper to taste.  We like to eat it hot, but you can also serve it chilled!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Tomato Cages and "Basket-Weaving"

Our tomatoes are finally getting big enough to be trellised.  After one more thorough hoeing last night,  we spread a thick layer of "mulch-hay" (i.e. hay that had gotten wet after baling, and then sat around rotting for over a year).  The hay should help keep moisture in around the plants, which is important, even with drip irrigation lines everywhere.

After the first row of 75 plants was mulched, we put tomato cages around each plant to help keep the plant growing upright and keep the fruit off the ground.  This is not only convenient for picking tomatoes, but it prevents rotten fruit and decreases disease issues.

For our second row of tomatoes we will try the basket-weaving method of trellising. (We ran out of tomato cages)  We already pounded in posts every 4 plants, and tomorrow, we'll weave twine around each tomato, and secure it at the post.  Here is a  link to a video, produced by the Maine Ag Extension service, that shows an easy way to basket-weave tomatoes.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Bathtub "Upcycling"

Here is a relatively quick garden project - literally done in one afternoon - with just minimal help from some strong guys:  create a small pond from an old discarded cast iron bathtub.

We did have all the necessary supplies:
  • cast iron bathtub
  • fiberglass resin and reinforcement cloth
  • left over spray paint in shades of black, brown or dark green
  • pond pump and access to electricity 
  • spade shovel and digging iron
  • slate or other larger stones
  • water hose
  • optional: fountain and goldfish
Our project was not planned at all.  It started out with us cleaning up all the junk metal to be taken for recycling.  Among those metal pieces was our old bathtub, which we had taken out when we installed the whirlpool tub. Later that day, as I was weeding a flower bed, I was bothered once again by the fact that our pretty "pouring-lady" fountain really should be put back to use, rather than just leaning against a tree stump.  I mentioned this frustration to Jeff, who suggested re-using the old bathtub.

We had a perfect spot already, in the extended herb garden on the side of the house.  I carried the "lady" fountain to this area and we experimented with the perfect position.  Once we determined where the pond should be, I started digging a hole that looked suspiciously like a grave, while the guys (Jeff, Jens and Lars) where doing manly things, fortunately involving the tractor.  

They brought the tub over (with the tractor) and used fiberglass to close the drain and the hole for the faucet. It did not take that long to dig down 30 inches for a 3ft by 5ft hole and as soon as I had this done, the fiberglass had dried.  The guys brought the tractor back and we used it to lift the the bathtub, which Jens helped guide into the hole.  

We leveled the tub, which just took a few smaller rocks, and then I back-filled around the tub with the help of a digging bar to get the dirt into all the cracks.  I used the other end of the bar to pound the dirt tight around the tub.  

I found several nearly empty cans of spray-paint, all conveniently in shades of camouflage, and spray- painted the tub in a muddled pattern.  I was careful to keep the top edge very solid dark, so that no white would show once it is filled with water. 

While the paint was drying, I gathered a stack of slates (we have a rather large rock pile, including slate from my previous pond at our old house). It took a while to arrange the slates and smaller rocks around the tub, to disguise it's shape, and make it look more like a's kind of like a puzzle - to make odd shaped rocks fit together.

Jeff helped connect the pump to the fountain (which took some finesse), and then I filled the pond and planted more herbs and some flowers around it.  By Sunday evening, the "lady" was pouring water into the little pond and it looked like it had always been there!