Tuesday, June 20, 2017

It's Harvest Time or the Care and Feeding of River Rock

A Bumper Crop!

River rock, as I have come to understand it, is a very special breed of rock that requires specific care to produce a truly bumper crop. I will lay out below the steps I believe were followed at the retro ranch, oh those many years ago, so that you might create your own river rock garden.

Planting River Rock Seedlings:
  1. Plant river rock in large, deep swaths across your garden for a natural, riverbed look.
  2. To promote drainage make sure to use a thick layer a gravel under the your river rock seedlings.
  3. Soil is not required for river rock to thrive, the roots of trees and shrubs will fill in the gaps and tickle the rocks when they are young, spurring quicker growth and happier rocks.
  4. River rock does not like to be lonely, so when planting river rock seedlings, make sure you group them together, preferably on top of one another.
  5. Over time your river rock bed will collect leaves and pine needles which act as a natural blanket keeping your river rock garden warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
  6. Leave your river rock seedlings undisturbed. Your river rock will take many years to mature, but the wait is worth it!
Planting River Rock Seedlings
Planting river rock seedlings

Cover and leave the seedlings alone

Harvesting Your River Rock Crop:

  1. You'll know that it's harvest time when the ground swells and the river rock starts to "bloom."

    Two foot high river rock "bloom"

  2. Pick mature river rock from the surface of the swell with a gloved hand, gently nudging reluctant rock from their nests.
  3. Carefully test to see if the rest of your river rock crop is ready. I recommend using a three spike hand cultivator to gently scrape the remaining top layer of river rock, exposing tree roots and the layer below.
  4. If your river rock bed is ready, it's harvest time! Dig deep with the cultivator, six to twelve inches to expose the best river rock fruit. You can then pick them up by hand or for faster harvesting use a spade.

    Harvest time!

  5. We use a soil sifter to pick out the ripest river rock fruit, then return the smaller fruits to the garden to reseed for our next harvest! We find that Home Depot orange 5-gallon pails are easiest to use when harvesting by hand.

    Sorting river rock crop

    The harvest operation

Seriously, we have removed over 50 buckets of river rock from the front garden (and around the house) over the last month or so in order to lower the overall height of the garden under the pine trees and to facilitate planting hosta and Japanese forest grass.

We've had help from Evan the rock monster (of whom Scott wrote a couple blogs ago), our neighbor to the West, the neighbors across the street, and several folks that responded to an ad I placed on Facebook Classifieds. Had these folks not wanted the river rock I'm not sure how we would have rid the yard of them.

And the work continues. Everywhere we look there is more! Please let me know if you want some river rock of your own, I'm happy to help you start your own garden!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Smile

Scott is in the throws of painting the house and is at about the halfway mark. I'll be posting more about the painting project in the coming weeks, but today I wanted to post a Sunday smile. 

Yesterday there was a chipmunk in the garage. I saw him running back and forth along the back wall of the garage, apparently looking for the back door. I heard him hiding underneath the mower and was finally able to urge him towards the front of the garage where, like a gentleman, he used the access door instead of the double-wide car door. 

Now Scott uses the garage floor to stage his painting tools. Usually there are multiple brushes and paint cans, both open and closed on the floor when he is mid project. This morning, amid morning coffee and newspaper, Scott called me to the garage. As I approached I heard him laugh. He pointed to the floor and said he was certain he hadn't spilled any paint, but then looked closer...

Are those paw prints?


Yep, those are paw prints!

Yes, the chipmunk had scurried across a paint can lid, left jelly side up by Scott! Normally, paint is something that would be cleaned up right away, but we got such a kick out of it that I think we're going to leave the chipmunk prints right where they are. Have a great week!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Chim, chimney! Or one more thing off the list!

The first Monday after we moved in we had something like ten contractors come through the house for mechanicals - the crawlspace, electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling, and bathroom renovation. Some things were taken care of pretty much right away, like the new furnace and electrical. Others have taken a while to pull the trigger on. The first contractor to come in that day was to clean the chimneys and fireplaces and provide a quote for repairing or replacing the chimney on the roof.

Chimney from inspection report
Chimney in need of attention

We received three quotes from chimney masons with recommendations ranging from only tuck pointing the chimney to a full tear down and rebuild, priced between $750 and $4,300. We went with the middle bid, tuckpointing with the possibility of further repair/rebuild work towards the top of the chimney. We were told that the masons schedule was three to four weeks out and they would give us two days notice before they started work.

Two days notice actually turned into two hours notice, with the work beginning around 4 pm on a Wednesday. They worked until about 7 pm that day, grinding out old and collapsing mortar, generally making a pretty dusty mess all over (which they cleaned up before they left). 

Rebuilding the top of the chimney

And from the front of the house

The following day they tuck pointed the lower part of the chimney and then took apart the top of the chimney (it was literally falling apart) and put it back together. One last day to complete the mortar job on the exterior and interior of the chimney and then they acid washed the bricks.

Newly repaired and cleaned chimney

And now the other side

I won't say that it looks brand new, but at least we know it won't fall down! And honestly, the color and condition of the bricks matches the brick on the exterior of the house.  Overall, we are very pleased...one more thing checked off the list!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Current Events or Lights, Annuals and Patio

While I took a month-long break from the blog we, and especially Scott, have been pretty busy around the house. There are changes all over the exterior and I'll be writing several blogs to catch up, but today I wanted to show you some of the more recent additions.

Quite a while ago our friend Barbara shared with me that she and her siblings were preparing to sell her mom's late 50's - early 60's house. Having seen the blog and been to our house Barbara had a pretty good idea about the esthetic, so she shared with me a picture of a light fixture in her mom's kitchen. OMG! So cute! I told her that if they were interested in selling it I would love to have it.

Barbara promised to talk to her siblings and I jumped on the internet to research a comparable piece to get a fair price. Several months later she delivered the cutest vintage spun aluminum and bubble glass light fixture! Scott replaced the socket and wiring, found a ceiling bracket that would fit the 4 3/4 inch mounting and installed the fixture one day while I was at work. So flirty!

Vintage kitchen light fixture

It's been a long, long time since I have had a real garden. And even planting flowers in pots was difficult, storing potting soil, finding a place to keep my tools, the ergonomics of sitting on the ground or constant bending over (when you're over 50), and keeping the balcony space clean and usable in the process. 

Here at the retro ranch I have all kinds of places to start gardens And recently I acquired my very first potting bench! Situated in the back yard, tucked in behind the master bedroom window, I finally have my perfect gardening space.

Potting bench

The top of the bench opens to each side to reveal a dirt bin and has slots between the cedar boards so I can reclaim any spilled top soil. Able to stand and work at counter height, potting up new plants is so much easier, so I quickly potted up some bright annuals to place around the house.

Bright annuals

Speaking of plants...the patio is really coming together! The patio is quite a bit larger than the deck at the old condo (21' x 16' vs. 12' x 6') so we have lots more room for relaxing and entertaining, not to mention plants! There is enough room for a table and chairs and I found an awesome rattan and steel chair (it weighs a ton) on Facebook and spray painted it bright teal to contrast with all the blue. We haven't hung the large planter basket yet, I want to make sure I don't pull down the tongue and grove on the ceiling. Overall, the ambience is quite lovely with lights installed by my brother John and son Scott.

Early evening on the patio

The built-in patio grill/plant stand

Patio from the back yard

Sadly (kind of) we will have to move stuff around on the patio in preparation for the bathroom remodeling project starting in early July - Yes, we have a start date for the bathroom project! But because both bathrooms will be ripped up at the same time we will need a place to shower. The patio has hot and cold running water, so we've decided to put up a temporary outdoor shower just outside the kitchen window. We'll have to figure out the whole privacy thing, but overall I think it will work.  We'll see!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Curb – It’s not just for your weekly trash and recycling anymore

Greetings kind readers,

Beth has had a case of writer’s block and asked her favorite minion (me) to write a blog post for the Retro Ranch site. My writing has a different tone than hers, but hopefully you will enjoy it.

We've mentioned previously that we're trying to tame the yard. Some of it is for aesthetics and some has been in preparation for the exterior painting. We have a count (somewhere) of the number of yard waste bags that have been picked up (every Thursday – thank you Waste Management) all I know is that I buy them 15 at a time at The Home Depot and we seem to run out every other week or so. In addition to pine needles, overgrown bushes, dead aborvitae and other stray plants that are no longer with us, there was a pile of firewood, paving stones, bricks, clay pots, miscellaneous lumber, various decorative pots and barrels, large rocks and enough river rocks to fill multiple pick-up truck beds. How could I forget the fountain, bird bath and small bench?

The Goodwill has been the lucky recipient of various things we no longer needed or wanted inside the house but most of what we had in the yard isn’t exactly the Goodwill’s sweet spot. Being something of a tree-hugger (ironic isn’t it considering what I do for a living) we didn’t just want to put everything in the landfill – hence…the curb. I would bring various items to the curb, take a picture, Beth would do her magic and post this “valuable property” (a nod to the Little Eddie books) on various websites as “free” curbside pick-up.   We have been amazed and pleased with how well this works. Reuse, reduce and recycle. Almost everything was gone within a day or two. Occasionally items get cherry picked but so far, everything put at the curb has been taken.

Stepping stones

Miscellaneous bricks

Old firewood, suitable for fire pits!

Miscellaneous wood and a bottomless barrel planter

A birdbath fountain thingy

A sturdy bench that needed some love

The stealth fountain

Clay pots

More pots, cinder blocks and yes, more wood

The large rocks didn’t even get listed as a neighbor hauled them all off.

Now allow me to tell you that river rocks are a hot commodity. Due to the massive amounts of them, the weight and no way to store them, we decided to let people come and gather these rocks out of the yard. Once Beth posted free river rocks, her message board lit up. A woman came on Thursday and picked up as many of the softball sized rocks as her small pickup could haul. A neighbor came and got more of the large ones. Then on Saturday we met Evan – the rock machine. Evan lived within a few miles and needed rock for his driveway, etc. We loaned Evan some of our 5 gallon buckets and he started picking rocks. He would load down his Nissan sedan almost to the point of it bottoming out. Over Saturday and Sunday, Evan came and picked at least 25 5-gallon buckets – filled to the top. (Note there are easily another 50+ 5 gallon buckets of smaller river rocks if you want to come and get some.) It was a huge win / win for both of us.

The first of the river rock to go! (That's sixteen feet right there!)

So the last items from the yard that are at the curb are blocks and concrete lumps (a technical term) that were buried in the garden. They have been cherry picked once but the weather is supposed to be nice this weekend so maybe, they will be gone by the time you read this post.

Concrete blocks and chunks

The yard feels so much lighter and once the tree permits are issued by the city, Peter and his crew will have a much easier time doing the necessary tree work in the back yard. For me, as the weekend looms, there is painting, prep and likely another 4 or 5 bags of yard waste to fill. Thanks for reading!