Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dishwasher or no dishwasher

Our new house has no dishwasher.  (And it has a cool old sink with a double drain board.)  I was thinking about the pros and cons of having a dishwasher when my husband asked me what I thought about putting in a dishwasher.  I paused then said I was considering not having one.  And to my surprise he said he was thinking the same thing.  Now, years ago when our 4 kids were young we never would have had this conversation.  But now our dishwasher takes so long to fill up, because I refuse to run a dishwasher that is not full, that we run out of forks or plates.  I have had to purchase extra bowls and spoons to get us through until the dishwasher can be run.

So why would I want a dishwasher?  Well, it's great for sterilizing canning jars, but really how many times a years would I need that? 10?  15?  When I have a large number of people for dinner a dishwasher is nice to have.   Again, how many times would I need that?  10?  Several studies are quoted as finding lower water usage with the dishwasher vs hand washing.  But, no one ever gives a link to the studies.  Are they the same "studies" constantly be quoted and requoted around the internet with no real documentation?  The "studies" are quoted as saying the average dishwasher uses 8-10 gallons of water to run while the average hand washer uses 20-27 gallons.  I guess that depends on how one hand washes dishes.  I use a separate basin or the largest pot for my hot soapy water then rinse and do not leave the water running.  And I have items I can't put in the dishwasher like my copper pots/pans/nonstick fry pans etc.  Also my dishwasher doesn't work that well and I have to rinse the dishes for them to have any chance of coming out clean.  We also have very hard water which is hard on the dishwasher itself, clogging the holes and requiring frequent maintenance.  So if I add up the water usage from the dishwasher, the prerinsing, and the other things I need to wash by hand regardless, am I really saving water?  Especially since there is no way I use anywhere near 20 gallons to wash my dishes.

So why would I not want a dishwasher.  Apart from the water issues there is the space issue.  My new house's kitchen is small.  I could use the space that a dishwasher would take up much more efficiently.  Then there is the cost.  Do I really want to spend $500 on a dishwasher when I need so many other things in the new house?  And when we are talking about the environment and cost no one factors in the energy and resources to make the dishwasher.  You may save a little in energy usage by having a dishwasher, depending on how you wash your dishes, but how long would it take to counter the energy needed to manufacture the dishwasher?  And then the dishwasher has to get shipped to a store, more energy used, and the old dishwasher, if you were replacing one, has an energy requirement to dispose of it.

I also would need fewer cups, plates, bowls, forks, spoons, etc if we washed dishes more often.  No more pulling dirty forks out of the dishwasher and washing them so we could eat dinner.  And having fewer plates, etc would give me more space in my already limited cupboards.

So I think we will give having no dishwasher a try.  We can always decide we need one when we start renovating the kitchen, but for now I'm willing to go without. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

So many ideas

So many ideas flying around in my head.  I really would like to make our new house look much older.  A friend has a great timber frame saltbox from the late 1700s that I have always loved and I would like to incorporate some of her design elements into our new house. Consider the current living room/front room: looks OK now, has a cute corner cabinet, nice light, floors are alright.  But I want it to look like this:
So if I paint the corner cabinet (I think the glass can stay and I can paint the inside a contrasting color) and add some wide board paneling below the windows and beams at the top of the wall I think it would look pretty good.  I wish it was in the budget to replace the windows.  Well, we'll just have to see how much we get for our old house.
Here's another room with more of the timber frame detail:
The corner posts are actually wider as they go up the corner of the house, so cool!
The current house has all flush luann doors, yuck.  I would love to have doors like this:
The patina is incredible.  I have to experiment to see if I can replicate this on new pine boards, or go on the hunt for old doors and wood.
The interior walls of my friend's house are wood and the exterior walls are plastered (the downstairs rooms have wood boards below the windows. We could easily do the same. And I already have the spinning wheel!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Gardening with chickens

I loved my compost pile.  It's a great way to turn kitchen scraps, garden waste, weeds, grass clippings and leaves into valuable fertilizer for the garden.  The only problem was our dog at the time.  Maggie was a great dog, but she loved to dig through the compost.  Her favorite things to eat were whole corn cobs (looked great coming out the other side!) So the pile was fenced making it difficult to turn the pile so everything would break down into that black gold otherwise known as compost.

But then I got chickens.  Throw the kitchen scraps, even meat which is a no no in regular compost piles, into the chickens and they gobble it right up, and given you great eggs in return.  My chickens come running when I am carrying anything because I might have scraps for them. Chickens love to graze on grass but I am limited space wise in what sort of grazing I can give them.  I have 2 fenced areas that I can open and shut doors to allow them to graze.  But the spaces are small and the chickens only get about a week's worth of grazing on each area, then the area must rest for about 2-4 weeks depending on the weather so there is enough green for the chickens to graze again.  Here's one area that I have let them on for a day or two. My neighbor dumps his grass clippings on our property so I can feed them to the chickens.  They love them and I know he doesn't use any chemicals on his lawn so the clippings are safe.
Here is the other area that has been resting and regrowing.

My chickens also serve another purpose.  They are the protectors of my garden.  Including the grazing areas, about 90% of the garden is surrounded by chickens.  The chickens patrol this area eating bugs, keeping the weeds down, and keeping out the mice, voles, and bunnies.  I have seen the chickens kill a mouse that gets into their pen.  I am not sure what they would do to a rabbit, but I don't think the rabbit would stick around long enough to find out.  Here is the back side of the garden with its chicken run. 
In the fall the chickens get all the leaves raked into their pen.  Over the winter we sprinkle chicken scratch on top of the leaves and the chickens stay occupied for many hours scratching around for the grains and any bugs they may find.  In the spring I have a pretty nice compost ready for the garden.  And I didn't have to bag up my leaves for the trash or burn them or have to get them shredded and have to keep turning them to get compost.  And the compost is evenly mixed with rotted chicken manure.  My garden loves it!
Even the goats help out in the garden.  Their bedding is perfect for mulching and is premixed with a pelletized natural fertilizer AKA goat manure.  While we could milk our does if we bred them, they do a nice job in the brush control department and they are just plain entertaining.  And last fall when we had the snowstorm that brought  down all the branches the goats were in charge of cleaning up.  We put all the branches in the goat pen and they goats stripped all the leaves off and then the bark.  Kept the goats busy for weeks and we saved on hay. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Blooming now

Summer is in full swing with all the flowers blooming.  The day lilies are coming on strong.
The blueberry harvest has begun.
We've been eating raw peas and the goats have discovered the joys of pea pods.
Even potato blossoms are pretty.
I had better get to harvesting the black currants this weekend. Love black currant jelly!
And for some reason we have many of these visitors this year.  And we haven't seen the neighbor's cats around, which is probably the reason for our visitors.  Also a great year for chipmunks.  But for whatever reason they haven't found a way into the vegetable garden yet.  Let's hope it stays that way.
And last, but not least, funky romanesco cauliflower.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

58 days. but who's counting?

Last Friday, June 15th, was exactly 60 days before settlement, the first day we could apply for a mortgage.  So all the paperwork is in; now we wait for the particulars- title insurance, appraisal, will we need flood insurance with the new flood maps, etc.
I am amazed at the rates today.  When we bought our current home in 1983 we were thrilled to get owner financing at 10%.  Bank rates were above 15%.  One reason we are buying now is because of the low interest rates.  In years past it seemed as if interest rates went up when home prices went down and vice versa.  You could get a fabulous price on a house but rates on mortgages were up and when the rates came down the price of homes went up.  Then the influx from New Jersey to eastern Pennsylvania began, in tandem with the housing bubble, and prices around here began to sky rocket.  Luckily we owned a home so we were able to ride up and down with the change in property values.  While our home may have been worth more a few years ago we would have had to pay more for our new place.
The people who really have it bad are the ones who bought at the height of the market and now owe more than their home is worth.  There are probably too many people in this country in that boat.  We are lucky to have a tiny balance remaining on a home equity loan and no mortgage.
So packing continues (who knew we had sooooo many books!)  My living room is filled with boxes, empty and full, waiting for the next step.  We will have a yard sale, donate a bunch, and plan to sell a lot (hopefully) of reenacting stuff and history books at the next event we attend.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Last Friday night we got a call from our oldest, while we were in Virginia,  telling us we lost 2 Narragansett turkey poults.  He heard the chickens making a lot of noise and when he investigated he saw something large fly out of the turkey pen, which is covered with chicken wire by the way.  The chicks in the next pen over, without a covering of chicken wire, were fine but nervous.  So now we are back to closing the little house up at night to keep the turkeys better protected.  They don't seem to mind this much, but the chicks are very happy to get let out in the morning. Here are the remaining three turkeys basking in the evening sun.

We have been fairly lucky at our current home when it comes to predation.  Last year we lost one turkey to what we think was a fox.  Years ago we lost a few chickens to raccoons.  Having the goats seems to help keep predators away.  But with the move I am concerned about the number and type of predators at the new house.  Being surrounded on three sides by state game lands should mean quite a few predators.  I know there are a lot of deer in the area so the gardens will need stout fencing.  We will definitely use our current garden fencing set up.  We have a 3 foot wide fenced path around 3/4 of the garden that connects to the chicken pen.  The compost pile is at the far end away from the chicken coop.  When the chickens see me coming with kitchen scraps they come running down the path to get the goodies; they look like little velociraptors. The chickens spend their day moving around the outer perimeter of the garden eating bugs that are trying to get into my garden and keeping the weeds down.  And the deer are afraid to jump into such a small area.  We have a deer highway about 150 feet from our garden and I have never had a deer in my vegetable garden.  Plants that are not in this fenced area have a much harder time with the deer.  The deer will even come right up to the house and eat the impatiens growing next to my back door.
Coyotes are becoming a problem in the area; but, knock on wood, I haven't seen any here.  I suspect they may be an issue at our new home.  So now I am trying to think of all the options for protecting my animals. 
Fencing is the first line of defense.  I will have three separate pasture areas to fence and have been thinking of using a strong perimeter fence around the entire back of the property and then using a portable electric netting to close off smaller areas for rotational grazing.  I really want to try my hand at rotational grazing as everything I have read about the benefits has made sense to me.  Here is a link to a nice article by the USDA on fencing and other methods of predator control  USDA's Sheep 201 .

Livestock guard animals would be a good second line of defense.  Certain breeds of dogs are bred to become part of a flock and protect it.  And they are pretty cute also

Livestock guard dogs-image from Wikipedia
 File:Protector of the sheep.jpg

Llamas are also used and they are the least costly option and live a long time. Image from Wikipedia

File:Guard llama and flock-enhanced.jpg
Donkeys also can protect their "flock" from predators, are cheaper than dogs but need more maintenance esp of their hooves.

Image from

Here is another nice article on livestock guard dogs, llamas and donkeys
Oh what to do?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Frontier Culture Museum and Monticello's gardens

Last weekend we took a trip to the Frontier Culture Museum and Monticello.  The gardens were all amazing.  So many ideas and varieties!  I wonder if I can grow artichokes in zone 6? 

I had forgotten how much I like clary sage.  This patch is beautiful.

I love this support for tomatoes.

The rainwater collection system was quite extensive.  Those "boardwalks" that extend out from either side of Monticello have a collection system of channels going to gutters which lead the water to cisterns.  Unfortunately for Jefferson, his cisterns leaked a few years after being built and he ended up having Monticello's water hauled up from the river (an 18 hour day for his slaves).  Any new structures we build for animal housing/sheds will have some sort of rainwater collection system.

The fencing at the Frontier Culture Museum gave me many ideas.  Just need to learn how to make all those split wood pieces (and learn their names).  I would love to have my vegetable garden fenced like this.


And hurdles! Love hurdles!  So useful: create a temporary pen/ gate/etc.

 We had a great time at both sites and came away with so much inspiration.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How do I make metal kitchen cabinets from the 50's look like antiques?

This is the kitchen I need to work with while we do more important things to the new house; like moving my husband's shop into the garage and insulating it, putting in a second bathroom, building a new chimney, turning the family room into a master bedroom suite, etc.  So renovating a kitchen that is already functional is low on the priority list.  Searching on-line brings up many examples of repainting, but somehow I can not see pink cabinets in my kitchen.  All the sites are going for a retro 1950s look that just doesn't do anything for me.  Years ago I saw a kitchen with Rufus Porter type paintings on some of the cabinet doors.  While we did not use the Rufus Porter mural idea we did incorporate many other elements into our existing kitchen; particularly the ones that give the look of existing cabinets brought together for a new kitchen.
So for this kitchen I would like to have my son paint some small mural elements onto canvas that can then be attached to the upper cabinet doors to give the look of a mural.  I am considering painting the bottom cabinets a dark green or red colonial color.
Here are some ideas I am kicking around:

Rufus Porter murals

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ian, please make me a new bake oven!

 I started hearth cooking in the late 1990s and fell in love with cooking with fire.  The woodstove in the house is great for heating things up, but I can make a four course meal in a hearth.  The next step up from cooking in a hearth is baking in a bake oven.  When I found out about clay, or cob, ovens I wanted one.  My son, the artist, came home from Ohio and got my cob oven started.  He dug the hole for the foundation, built up the rock support, laid the base of fire brick, built the inner clay layer over a mound of sand (which is later scooped out), and built the fire brick arch.  The photo below shows the oven up to this point.  The fire is to help the clay dry in preparation for the next layers..

We followed the directions in Kiko Denzer's Build Your Own Earth Oven
and even made the "test" oven to gauge the mix of clay and sand.

 Here are more layers.

 We still needed a final coat at this point, but the oven was useable.
 The pizzas came out great once we placed the dough on parchment paper to make it easier to get the pizzas off the peel and into and out of the oven.
Bread comes out great as well.  The finished oven has a final smooth coat and a little decoration.  My husband built a roof over the oven to protect it from the rain (since it is only made of clay) and we cover it for the winter.  Unfortunately there is no way we can transport the oven to the new house.  Maybe it will help sell our old house.  So Ian I need a new oven, please come and make me one.  I think I would like a brick one this time.

Friday, June 1, 2012

More on the hoop house

I wanted a greenhouse for many years but they were always out of reach of our budget.  Then I started seeing people making their own out of cattle panels.  The cost was certainly reasonable, the construction looked straightforward, and there were no zoning issues as it is a "temporary" structure.  Moving the hoop house shouldn't be too difficult.  We will take off the plastic and load it up onto the trailer and away it will go.  I just have to decide if I want to make it larger by adding another panel or two.  And I am still not sure exactly where it will end up at the new place and how much more room we will have to make it larger.
Here are some pictures of construction details (of course we forgot to take pictures as we were building it):
 This is a view of the back wall.  The framing is 2x3s.  An old storm window sits in a track and tilts in for ventilation.
 View from inside looking at the reclaimed storm door.  Pipe insulation sits on the edge of the cattle panel to protect the plastic from rubbing on the metal.
 My husband likes to weld so he welded the two cattle panels together to add rigidity to the whole structure.
 U nails hold the cattle panel ends to the cedat base frame.
 The back window from the inside. The black arc above the window is the pipe insulation protecting the plastic from the metal end of the cattle panel.
The front view from the outside.  The whole structure sits on railroad ties that used to form the border for the old swing set area.  It was fun to dig up the old concrete supports with the kids hand prints cast in them.