Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Taste of Fall

I had a chance to put the last five gallons of cider into bottles this week.  This was our first year giving this old art a try, and it was a lot of fun.  A bin of apples, a mix of fuji and jonagolds, was delivered in October, courtesy of one of the friendly orchardists we know here in Yakima.  He also delivered an old-fashioned cider press, including a pulp mill!  We decided to make a family event out of it, making cider for the kids' birthday party.  Fresh-pressed apple cider is really a great treat.
But for Mom and Dad, hard cider is a nice treat, too.  We took about 17 gallons of the pressed juice and set it aside for fermentation.  It was treated with SO2, some yeast nutrient, and an acid blend, and then an English Cider yeast was pitched into the juice.  It fermented for several weeks, and was racked a couple of times to clarify it.  Pressed in late October, the first batches were bottled and set out as gifts for Christmas.
I did keep one 5 gallon carboy in the closet for the last 4 months, and finally got around to bottling it last night.  The cider was siphoned into the bottling bucket, then corn sugar was added to provide for carbonation in the bottles.  I really like swing-top bottles and used some large ones to hold this stuff.  I sampled it along the way and am pretty pleased with it.  There are a couple of things I'd change the next time around, but it is certainly a very drinkable cider. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Inspiring Reflection

I put together a 5-panel painting for the church to be used during the season of Lent.  Each one measured approximately 2'x7'.  I constructed the frames out of 1x2 furring strips, a very inexpensive material available at your local big-box hardware store.  Each frame has corner blocks and two cross-braces to ensure that they don't flex with the pull of the canvas.

Canvas is stretched over each frame and stapled on the back.  You can buy cotton canvas at a fabric store, or save a bit of money and buy canvas painters drop cloths, the heaviest you can find, and cut them to size, avoiding seams.  Each canvas is coated with gesso, a white acrylic coating.  As it dries, it pulls the canvas tight and provides a uniform background to start painting on.
This is really a paint-by-number kind of thing.  I choose an image and then project it onto the canvases, tracing with light pencil lines.  Then I use gallons of tempura paint to add the color.  I find it works best layering dark shades over light, and blending colors quickly, just a few brush strokes.  They really looked sharp when we put them up!  They were hung in the sanctuary throughout Lent.  We manipulated the paintings in various ways to help create some interpretive possibilities during Holy Week.  For Palm Sunday, we covered them in burlap and wrapped several strip palms across the front, the idea being that the events of the crucifixion are shrouded from our vision.  Cloaks and palms obscure Christ's true mission.
For Maundy Thursday the coverings over all the panels except the Christ panel were removed.  The events leading to Calvary have been set in motion, though the outcome is still just out of sight.  That last meal that Christ shared with his disciples is a kind of protected space, the cross not yet intruding. 

The paintings were altered yet again for Good Friday.  The Christ panel was now fully revealed, while the other panels were defaced.  The images were painted over, the panels entirely blackened.  They appeared as holes in the walls, dark spaces that drew the eye to the cross.

On Easter Sunday, the panels were all removed, and the large cross at the front of the sanctuary received all the attention.  These were a fun project and received a lot of attention during Lent.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Perfect weather for peas

Though it has been a cold spring, the peas are showing good health.  We have had consistent frost over the last several weeks, but it hasn't slowed these beautiful shoots down.  A second planting was put in yesterday, and some opportunistic pumpkins (leftovers from last season that found a home in the compost bin) were weeded out.  Another two weeks or so until we put our warm-soil plants in the ground....can hardly wait!

The hops are starting to show themselves as well - I'll put up some pics of that little project soon.  Carry on, world, carry on!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Budget Garden Fence

Here's a quick little project that can dress up the garden and give the kiddos a place to make their mark. Plus, it's easy on the pocketbook!

Materials:  Bundles of 18" landscape stakes (you can choose shorter or taller, depending on your preferences, they often stock 2-3 choices at your local HomeDepot or Lowe's); bundle of 4' lathe material (look for this in the masonry supply area, they come in bundles of 50 and are very inexpensive); wood glue, 3/4" staples; primer/paint if desired

Since I had more than a dozen of these to make, I made a layout board that made assembly a snap.  I made most of my fences 3' wide, designed to be placed at the end of a raised bed in a vegetable garden that we put in at the church.  Design yours for your space.

The stakes were laid on the jig, then glue was applied to each.  The glue really helps firm the whole thing up and I wouldn't recommend going without it.  Lay the horizontal members across the back, staple  and set aside for the glue to dry.  You can also add two stakes facing down on the back so you can plunk these guys right into the ground.

Hit them with a sander if you like, then cover with a good primer/sealer (I used Kilz).  You can leave them whitewashed, give them a finish color, or even get creative (we let the kids add their handprints, then sealed that up with a spray varnish so the rain wouldn't wash their work away). 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Wall of Peas

The small house that we rent and happily occupy has a lovely little backyard, but while being lovely it does, still, remain fairly little.  Luckily it backs onto 11 acres of open land, which makes it feel truly expansive.  But we are limited in the kinds of gardening that we can do - so square-foot-savvy garden projects are the order of the day.  Here's one I am pretty excited about:

The Wall of Peas:  We dug out a 14" wide strip along the top edge of our yard.  It is a south-facing slope that is covered by the automatic sprinkler system, so we've got scheduled watering covered.  I dropped in some landscaping divider material and we filled the trench with a mix of compost, topsoil, and garden soil. Then a framework of redwood 2x2 was fit together (lap-joints where rails meet tops) and holes drilled at equal intervals in all the vertical members.  Stakes were driven in and the frame was set into the trench and screwed into the stakes to make it nice a sturdy.  Then garden twin was threaded through and through and over and under and around and that's a lot of knots.

The first set of peas were sowed a bit over a week ago, we're planning three flights.  We chose Alderman Peas, sometimes called Telephone Pole Peas because they are a tall-growing vining variety.  By June we should have a wall of peas ready for picking!  The little fence was a quick project with the kids and helps keep them from accidentally stepping all over the vegetable bed!

A Home For Bees

This has been a fun project - Kenya Top Bar Hive, or KTBH in beekeeping shorthand.  The top-bar hive is a kind of old-school, developing world kind of way to keep bees.  Proponents favor the natural management that the top bar hives call for and for a hobby/home beekeeper the cost to get started with one is pretty minimal.  I built a hive and am now waiting to capture a swarm to populate said hive - that promises to be an adventure.

Here's how the hive works:  A long, coffin-like body houses the top bars, named because they rest, nestled together, along the top of the hive.  The bees build their comb structures hanging off of the top-bars.  It is sort of like a big, horizontal filing cabinet, with the bees laying comb like hanging files, filled with brood cells and honey storage.  Unlike the Langstroth hives (the boxes you so often see stacked in rural parts of the country), the beekeeper need only furnish the box, since the bees build their own comb - no frames or foundation to build/buy.

This hive was put together with some plans found on the internet after a couple weeks of searching/research.  I modified them slightly and put it together with an eye towards a fairly clean looking final product.  Since this is the only hive I plan on running this year, it seemed worth a little extra effort.

The case came together quickly, in the above picture the sides have been milled and two follower boards (in the file cabinet metaphor, these are the equivalent of section dividers, capable of closing off sections or dividing the case) are being used to prop it in place in order to fit the ends.

After the case was completed, it was time to mill up the top bars.  These were made from 2x2 redwood that I milled down to size and then ran a series of cuts on the table saw to get the profile I was after.  There are several designs for top bars, some with a saw kerf down the middle, some that seat a spline in a kerf, and others, like these, that have a milled guide on the bar itself.

That profile then has to be trimmed off the ends of the top bar so that it will rest flat on the edges of the  case.  The top bars sit directly adjacent one another so there are no gaps between them - this keeps the bees in the box building comb and allows the beekeeper to work with a few bars at a time, rather than cracking open the entire case and making the whole hive....well....upset.

Lids come in a variety of designs, from very simple (flat, plywood placed on top and held down with a rock) to something a bit more complicated.  I, of course, opted for the latter, though not simply because I'm a glutton for punishment.  The winds here in the Yakima Valley can be pretty brutal, and we do celebrate all four seasons here, so I wanted something that would shed snow, hail, and wouldn't allow rain to pool up.  All that demanded a design that was a bit more sturdy. might not have "demanded" it, but it made it easier to justify.  So I put together a gabled roof that will end up being held down to the case with straps for good measure (the winds can be pretty incredible).

Some legs were worked up and when attached they form a resting ledge for the lid.  Metal screen was stapled to the bottom and two 3/4" holes were drilled in one end.  The outside was painted with a few coats of white, exterior latex (the outside only, the bees take care of the inside, covering it in propolis) which will have several weeks to dry and be fume-free by the time we move some bees in.  A local beekeeper is helping me out on the capturing-bees end of things, for which I am exceedingly grateful.

So now, we wait.  I think we can anticipate having a swarm moved in by early May and then the real fun starts.  I might keep a running tally of stings, just for fun.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why building a boat is important stuff (another rationalization).

My son, who is 2 1/2 years old, was playing on the church grounds this morning and caught sight of the irrigation canal that runs along one side of the property.  It is hardly a pristine body of water, a concrete trench about 5ft wide, but upon seeing it he gave a little gasp, sat down on the lawn and just stared at it, saying something like, "Oh, that is nice!"  I think he's bound to be a boatman.

Something about moving water has that affect on some of us.  It's what keeps people mesmerized with the waves at a beach, or transfixed at the edge of brook, or overwhelmed at the base of a waterfall.  To be a boater is to be part of that mystery, to put oneself in the current, to feel the pull and play of the eddies, to acknowledge the hazards and to make the choices that the river inevitably presents.  The creak of the oars, the soft splash of the blade, all part of the texture of the place, part of the flow, part of what helps wash out the stresses and concerns of the concrete world.  A recurring baptism of the soul.

The boat taking shape in my garage, slowly, every so slowly, is an idea taking shape, it is a philosophy putting on flesh and form - it is a vehicle for taking one from the shore and into the current.  It can allow my son to enter more fully into the experience that even his 2 1/2 year-old self senses is out there calling.  So each saw kerf, each curl off the plane, each splinter in the thumb is part of giving that yearning an outlet, letting that desire find expression.  And it just might end up being important.