Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A new home means a new garden, step one; building a compost corral

Have I mentioned how much I hated to leave my garden when we moved?  It has been a difficult transition from fresh picked, home grown produce to just store bought.  On occasion, we pick things up at the farmers market but it is only open on Saturdays which means we end up at the store frequently, especially if we cannot find what we need at the market.  

For now, I spend my time watching the light in the yard and mapping out the beds for next year.  But as any good gardener knows, a garden is only as good as the soil in the beds and a good bed has lots of organic humus to feed the soil.  The first step in my plan was to build a corral for composting.  On one of my many recent trips to Lowe's (no they do not pay me to say these things about them, and they have given me nothing!)  I picked up some easy to install no dig fence panels.  

True to their name, the support rods did not need to be dug in.  The only tool I needed was a hammer.  The fence went together pretty quickly and then it was time to start my first pile.

Since I was not removing the lawn first, I applied a heavy layer of wet newspaper first.  To start the first layer, I took a shovel full of soil from the area and sprinkled it on the paper.  To get a compost pile going, you need the micro organisms present to inoculate it.  One shovel full should do it.  To this I added a bucket of kitchen scraps-no meat or dairy products, a bunch of small sticks and a nice even layer of dried leaves.  The final step was to sprinkle another shovel full of soil over the top and to give it a good soak.  

As we work in the yard, we add leaves, sticks and grass clippings and in the kitchen, we keep a bucket to collect things like egg shells, coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable scraps which get added every time the bucket is full.  As we add the fresh, green ingredients, we make an effort to add lots of dried or brown ingredients.  It will take a good 6 months for this to be ready so hopefully, we will be able to get a good hot pile going!  

Be sure to check back and see the progress of my garden project.  It is my plan to convert most of our front yard to a garden with an area for a bee hive and if we are lucky, a chicken coop and a few hens. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

taming the wild beast; building a scratching post for cats

When we packed up and moved from Nashville to Williamsburg, we took the pets with us.  Two of our cats were indoor cats but the third one, he was a wanderer and a hunter; converting The Captain to a life indoors has been tough.  If he sees a chance, he makes every attempt to get out.  The biggest problem we face is his need to sharpen his claws.  When he was going outdoors, he needed those claws to defend himself, not anymore.  Unfortunately, he still feels the need to sharpen them and it is taking a toll on things here.

 Our living room has a vaulted ceiling that is supported by columns.  He marked one pretty quickly.

If you thought cats could do damage to just soft things, think again.  This is a solid wood cabinet and look at the damage he has done to it.  At some point, I will have to sand that out but it will require a complete refinishing since it was stained at least 20 years ago.

 This is the door way to the bathroom.  He made quick work of the new paint on the jamb.

Here he is in our previous yard going to town on a black locust tree.  If you look closely, you can see the areas of the bark that he marked as they are a different color.

If we were going to live together successfully in this new home, I needed to give him something to call his own for sharpening his claws.  My decision was to build a box that would go around one of the support columns and then to cover it with a natural fiber rope to mimic the rough texture of the tree bark he was accustomed to.

After wandering the lumber aisle at Lowe's, I asked one of the guys working there to give me some advice.  We settled on precut shelving made of pine which is a soft wood but more than capable of forming the frame of the scratching post.  If you visit Lowe's, they sell 4' shelf boards, a little longer than I wanted but in the end, it meant that I would not be stuck with a bunch of leftover wood.  Since the column is rectangular in shape, I chose two 4'x10"x1" boards and two 4'x8"x1" boards.

Have you ever heard the saying, "measure twice, cut once?"  So that I wasn't going back to Lowe's to buy more boards, I measured carefully before I drilled holes.  My plan was to make three holes and attach the boards at the corners by putting a screw completely through one board into the end of the board next to it.

 If you look closely at the photo, you can see how I joined the boards.  Once the box was assembled, I began to apply the rope.

My choice was a 3/8" twisted sisal.

 Look at all of the fibers-nice and rough and barklike!

Initially, I used a staple gun to attach the rope.  It did not work very well, most of the staples would not go into the wood and I spent a lot of time pulling them out.  It was very frustrating!  On my next trip to Lowe's, I picked up poultry staples.   They need to be hammered in but once they are in, they aren't coming back out easily.  The staples would bend and go in so unevenly that some could be pulled out with my fingers.  In order for this to work, the cat needed to put his full 15 pounds behind the act of sharpening his claws without the staples popping out.

The post took a lot more rope than I thought it would.  So far, I have wrapped it with seven 50' coils and I still need at least 1 more.  The good news is that he will go to it and sharpen his claws.  We still need to work with him on this, he is not using it exclusively but he is using it.  If it means I will not be refinishing every wood surface and replacing furniture in the house, it is a success.  The down side, it is not a cheap project.  The rope is $9 per coil plus the cost of the lumber.  In my opinion, if it means less damage, it is cheaper than a new couch!

 The Captain in his former life in Nashville.  Doesn't he have such pretty eyes?

His favorite seat-in the window looking out and dreaming of his escape...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sloppy Joe's on Homemade Buns

Remember those buns from my last post?  This is probably my favorite way to serve them-split open and overflowing with tangy sloppy joe filling!  The buns can be frozen and so can the filling so make a full batch of both and split it-serve half and freeze half for a quick meal when you are short of time.

Smoky Sloppy Joe's
adapted from Taste of Home
serves 4-6

2 pounds ground meat, turkey, beef or soy-or any combination of them
1 small onion, diced small
1/3 cup small diced celery
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 small can roasted, diced green chilis
1 (14.5 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon steak sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
fresh buns, homemade from my recipe, or purchased

Over medium heat, cook the beef or turkey until no longer pink.  Add the onion and celery and saute until soft.  Add the garlic and continue cooking for another minute.  Place the contents of the pan into a mesh strainer and drain off the excess fat.

Return the meat to the pan, add the remaining ingredients and simmer the mixture for 30-40 minutes.  The mixture will thicken, if it becomes dry, you can add small amounts of broth or water, but be sure to simmer it long enough to allow the flavor to develop.

For those of you using soy crumbles instead of meat, you will need enough to replace two pounds of meat.  Saute the onions and celery in olive oil until translucent.  Add the garlic and saute for another minute.  Add the crumbles and the remaining ingredients and follow the directions as written for the meat version.