Saturday, November 29, 2008

Before you buy a pellet stove....

We've learned a few things since the installation of our pellet stove nearly 2 months ago.
I researched various heating sources before we focused on pellet/corn stoves. Then I studied various makes, models, and manufacturers. We ended up purchasing a Magnum Baby Countryside partly because of the quality, partly because of the price, and partly because of the comfort-level we felt with the seller/installer. Unfortunately, it hasn't been the love-at-first fire that we had hoped for and expected.

, getting the fire to ignite and then keep burning was a bit of a challenge. We learned that you have to get to know your stove, learn the right ratio of air-to-pellet fuel to get it going and the changes you need to make to keep a consistent flame. Due to the differences in the homes the stove are installed in, it is really a process of learning what works in your particular case. So, we finally got the starting and maintaining down. But even though it's only in the 30s outside, the house is still cold. Yikes! Investigation brings a rude realization - the room we installed this in has little to no insulation. A few years ago we remodeled our old farmhouse. This particular room had been enclosed within other small rooms - the walls had not needed insulation because they weren't exterior walls. And then we remodeled - and removed the exterior rooms, instead creating a wrap-around porch. And frankly, because we "wrapped" the walls on the outside with a foam insulating board before putting up new vinyl siding, we never thought again about insulation. I cringe when I think of the money we burned up in energy costs thanks to this oversight!

So, some $500 later - and thanks to our sons who gave up a Saturday to use the blowing machine - we have cellulose insulation blown into the walls and above the ceiling of that room, as well as additional layers of attic insulation throughout the rest of the house.

Oh, and one more thing. It's messy. Not anything as messy as a regular wood stove or fireplace, but still, messy. The firepot needs to be cleaned daily. And it didn't take long to figure out why there were stove vacuums all over the showroom where we bought our stove. Vacuuming is very obviously the BEST way to handle the soot and fines.
We used our house vac at first - but concerns with hot embers and finding that soot gets all over the thing - led us to spend another $200 on a vacuum designed for use with wood-burning stoves, pellet/corn stoves, fireplaces, etc.

Oh, and one more "extra" cost. A non-combustible base has to be under the stove. Naturally, the room we wanted to install it in had carpeting. So, to save money, we built our own tiled base. Pre-constructed bases sell for around
$200-$400 depending size and style. We had hoped to do ours for less than $100, but ended up spending about $150.

So, let's see - $2,200 stove + $150 base + $500 insulation + $200 vacuum = $3,050 so far. Oh, and that isn't counting fuel. That's about $3.80 per 40 lb. bag and so far we have used about 30 bags. We've bought 1 ton already, and expect to use 2 -3 more tons before winter is over.

So, yes, it has cost quite a bit more than we planned to start with. And we'll still have to use propane as a back up when we get down into the single-digit temps that are bound to come.

Would we do it again. Well, yes, I think so. We don't want to be so dependent on propane and we love the feel of the radiant heat. It feels good to know we are using a renewable source of energy, in a manner that is very efficient with minimal environmental impact. It's really nice to watch the fire and the stove looks great!
And considering that we spent over $3,000 on propane last winter, we are at least investing the money in something that should give us years of service with only the cost of fuel and occasional maintenance from here on out. And we really don't mind the chores that come with using wood pellets - they really don't take that much time out of your day. The insulation should have been done years ago, and it is very obvious that adding it has improved the ability of the pellet stove to keep our home warm. I just want to caution anyone considering a pellet/corn stove to study it carefully. It isn't mess-free or work-free by any means, and there will no doubt be a few extra costs to plan on.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Family Photo Shoot

Last weekend our family gathered for a photo shoot - for the first time in over 9 years. It was wonderful to get all of them together in one place, even for a short time. We took the pictures ourselves with both digital and 35mm cameras. I'm a bit rusty, so while the results aren't professional, we're still pleased with the outcome. If I could just get us all together again this weekend I could not doubt improve on the photos - but it will probably take another 9 years to get us all gathered in one spot again!

Monday, November 3, 2008

November Gardens

Over the weekend I spent hours cleaning out the veggie and flower gardens. I always marvel at what survives a hard frost. Of course the tomatoes, peppers and most other veggies bit the dust a week ago when we got our first dip into the 20s. My marigolds died too, and they were scattered throughout all my gardens and beds.

What survived? How about these wild-type strawberries I grew from seed this year. The blooms AND the berries are still fine! With any luck, the berries will finish ripening in the sunshine we expect to continue to have for the next 2-3 days. The berries are small, with the biggest ones being about the size of the tip of my pinkie finger. But oh, what flavor! They are the perfect treat when weeding or watering or doing other gardening chores. I'm not sure if they will send out runners and multiply like I've seen domestic strawberries do, but I hope so. I'd love the flower bed to be full of them.

The Sweet William (foreground) is still a vibrant green. The Eunonymous is still growing - see it reaching straight up there just below the window? And the Hollyhocks look a bit tattered but are still hanging in there. This year I started both the Hollyhocks and Sweet William from seed, and they don't bloom until their 2nd season, so I'm looking forward to next year's flowers.

And the herbs - most anyway - are still looking fabulous. In this pot I have Flatleaf Parsley and Curry and a bit of Marjoram that can't really be seen. The Rosemary in the veggie garden is still perfect, but the Cilantro and Dill are looking a bit weathered. The chives and a few green onions are the only other things I'm still able to harvest.

I love this time of year, even though most everything in my gardens is either dying or going dormant. Fortunately, it doesn't all happen at once!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Poma-Poos have arrived!

Lizzie's new litter of babies arrived early the morning of October 21st - 3 days earlier than I had predicted. But my daughter was prepared and had been awake for a few hours with the nervous mama. 3 males and 1 female - 2 black and 2 cream/tan - and all appear to be very healthy. This is Lizzie's 2nd litter - her first pups were purebred toy poodles - but this time a Pomeranian papa was selected. And we couldn't be more pleased with the outcome!

It's so nice to have babies in the house again! Of course we spend every minute looking forward...forward to their birth, now forward to their eyes open, next to them walking, then playing, then to them going on their way to new forever homes.

And they will be ready just in time for Christmas! They will be 8 weeks old on Dec. 16th. One is already spoken for, and we plan to keep the female. And I'm not convinced we will even need to advertise the other 2 - seems these little beauties already have lots of interest!

Puppies are a lot of work - or will be in a couple more weeks when mama starts needing our help to keep things cleaned up. But it's nice to have them around for a little while - for cuddling and enjoying their many antics - and the little bit of profit from selling them will give our college-age daughter (owner of the mother) some Christmas money.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Summery October Weekend

This has been a gorgeous weekend - I really hate to see it come to an end. Partly because it has been so wonderful and partly because I need the time back to finish some things. Things I DID get done: 1. Bought new pants for work for the winter (overdue - last time I bought new winter pants was 5 years ago!) 2. Got the Zebra grass trimmed back and supported so it doesn't lay all over the flower beds 3. Got some yellow and orange marigolds potted up for the front porch flower bed. 4. Scrubbed and deep-cleaned the master bath 5. Picked up 400 lbs. of the ton of wood pellets we bought + asked 20 questions about our new pellet stove that was installed this week 6. Washed and line-dried bedsheets (mmm-love that smell!) 7. Did 9 loads of laundry (uggg!) 8. Moved all the out-of-season and other clothes from hanging in the spare closet, as well as storage boxes and everything else on the end where Larry & Josh installed a pipe to vent from underneath the house through the closet, the ceiling and then out an air vent on the roof. Then put everything back when it was done. 9. Installed the $1 white mini-blind I bought at a yard sale. 10. Started cleaning up the garden beds for winter. 11. Planted the ornamental peach tree my sister gave me 6 weeks ago. Things I wanted to, but didn't get done: 1. Create a bed for planting garlic and onions 2. Create a bed for planting tulip bulbs 3. Reorganize my seed stash and gather new seeds for next year. 4. Finish painting the buffet (will this one EVER get done?!) 5. 20 other things I'm too tired to type There is more good than bad, and I got to see my son and grandson today, and that's always good! Grandson found a toad that he played with for a bit - my daughter got a good shot of that.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Heritage Festival

The girls and I made our traditional visit to the annual fall Heritage Festival held in a small town about 6 miles away. As always we had a wonderful time, arriving early and making our way through the rows and rows of booths selling everything from home decor items to jewelry to handmade soaps to bird feeders made from old tires. The little ones, ages 7 and 3, had $5 each to spend as they chose - this time bracelets, rings and hair ribbons were the top choices. One daughter bought nothing more than a funnel cake, but brought home several ideas to add to her jewelry and ceramic artwork. The other daughter was on a quest to buy kitchen towels (the kind with a hanger sewn or crocheted so they can be hung from a drawer or cabinet handle) for the upcoming holidays - Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I had no intentions of buying anything, but somehow came home with a calendar frame! It simply belongs in my kitchen - it honestly looks as though it was made for it!

This autumn tradition feeds the senses - the smell of roasting peanuts and bbq - the gorgeous fall colors of pumpkins, mums, pansies, gourds and more - the crisp clean smell of the air when we arrive and the bright, warm sunshine that quickly warms us.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Warm thoughts

Good news - we may just be able to stay warm this winter after all! I've been researching ways to heat our home that would be effective, green, and less costly than using propane. I found a ton of good information, but in the end we decided a pellet/grain stove was the right choice for us.

Meet the Baby Countryside by Magnum - ours will be plain jane - no gold or nickel trim, just a nice flat black. $200 less and I won't be frustrated by fingerprints and such!

Installation is set for October 8th, and hopefully we won't really need it for a few weeks beyond that. I'll post an update once we've had a chance to use it. I'm looking forward to the radiant heat and slightly wood-smoke smell...without all the mess of firewood + knowing this is over 90% efficient with low emissions and therefore low impact on the environment. Oh, and of course if wood pellets become scarce or costly, we can switch to corn, soybeans or other renewable biomass fuels.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Birthday thoughts

I turned 49 on Sept. 9...and decided the best approach to this last year of my 40's is to turn it up a notch! Grandad Quick always said of his 100 years, that "the first 50 were the best" so I'd better make this last year count. I don't know quite where to start, but I do know I want to feel good about this year when it comes to a close. I'm mulling over some ideas and will post updates later.

Our family has lots of members and so, lots of birthdays, so we usually have one combined birthday party during a month that any of us have one. I got to share mine with grandson, Brayden, who turns 7 in a few days. The oldest daughter invited everyone to her house where she served tacos and an outstanding artichoke dip, while youngest
daughter created a fabulous chocolate pecan pie in my honor, and a Spider-man scenario in chocolate cake for the soon-to-be 7-year old.

Our family is big on gift-giving --- too much so I'm afraid, but I can't say I don't adore every single thing! The stainless steel crockpot
and the 4-slice toaster will replace those items in my kitchen that were on their last legs and I just hadn't given in to replacing them yet. A beautiful iron bird-seed feeder will grace my front yard and allow us to enjoy watching the cardinals, chickadees and more this fall and winter. The shades of red and yellow in the chairpads my daughter-in-law designed and sewed for me are absolutely perfect in my recently updated kitchen. And the picture frame grouping in deep chocolate brown will allow me to put the whole family on display in new photos. Oh, and I love the gift card to Lowe's for supplies for my many projects, and a gift of $100 cash from dear hubby and $20 more from my mama that I am having a terrible time deciding how to spend - but it's fun anyway! Best of all was the joy of having this warm, happy group of healthy loved ones around me for this celebration. I am so fortunate to have such a close-knit family that not only loves one another - but LIKES each other!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Garden Vigil

I hate spiders...inside....but, I LOVE spiders in the garden. I don't know how many 'bad' bugs this arachnid has taken care of for me...but I like to think it at least deters a few of those that want to munch on my soybeans and peppers. Though, I'm afraid is isn't doing anything with the squash bugs. I'm still worried those little nasties are going to destroy my spaghetti squash before they mature.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Spaghetti Squash & Burgundy Okra

Fingers are crossed that this spaghetti squash will make it to maturity! I've had a horrible time with the squash bugs this year - so far they've killed 2 lemon squash and 2 crooknecks - all were big and beautiful and at peak production. I don't know if the little varmints have as devastating an impact on winter types as they do summer types. I saved the seed for these from one I purchased at the grocery - so I was pretty pleased that they grew to start with. I sure hope we get to eat a few. This one is about the size of my 2 fists right now.

The burgundy okra has been a repeat topic on this blog - but it still has me in awe!
This plant is around 7 ft. tall now. That is pretty impressive! If it continues growing until frost, I'll have to get a ladder to pick the okra!

Amaranth and Cantaloupe

Among other new things I tried growing this year were amaranth and cantaloupe. The ropes of the 'Love-lies-bleeding' amaranth are an artful addition to the garden. I notice no scent, but understand the seed can be cooked and eaten like a grain. The leaves are riddled with insect holes, but the plants still seem to be doing well. I had another variety, 'Golden Biscuit', that didn't survive til I could transplant it. I tried starting some with the wintersown method, which worked fine, but it was too long til I could transplant them. This one I started right in the garden from sown seed.

And see the baby cantaloupe hidden beneath the leaves?

I got these out later than I thought I should, but have high hopes at any rate. It's about 6 weeks til frost - will it reach maturity??? I think this one surely will, but it is far larger than any others I've found, so it may be the only one!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Birds & Beads

Our youngest daughter is at college orientation this evening, and I find myself looking around at her things, excited for her, yet feeling a little sad. She is blooming in so many ways...she had her first real job this summer, working for a greeting card company part-time....she and her boyfriend became engaged this summer and have promised to wait to marry until she has completed her undergrad degree.... and, she has become a jewelry artist, self-taught so far. She has both purchased and created a variety of beads, and while she has finished some pieces of jewelry, she wasn't satisfied and took them all back apart. I think some completed pieces are on the horizon, and no doubt her perfectionist tendencies will pay off with some beautiful work.
She is drawn to birds as a theme for much of her art...and it shows in her jewelry making too. Her bead box has flat bird beads and 3-D birds, alongside a few specially designed birds and various purchased beads and findings. This one calls to me with its outstretched wings and coiled tail feathers.....I'm looking forward to see how she uses this little guy.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Using the harvest

I'm trying to use as much of my garden produce as possible, and give away what can't be used or preserved easily. A new favorite recipe is for roasting veggies in the oven. Here we have a pan of tiny (yellow if you ask me, but the name is 'white') cherry tomatoes freshly washed, cut in half, drizzled with olive oil, and seasoned with salt, pepper, chunks of fresh garlic and bits of fresh lemon basil leaves.

I also used some of my pretty, ripe sweet peppers for roasting with all the same
preparation and bake times, except to save a few minutes I sprinkled these with garlic powder instead of chopping up more fresh garlic.

Look how great these small ears of colored corn turned out! I need to provide a better growing environment next year to get some bigger, more complete ears. However I'm still happy with what my 10 plants produced. There is also an ear that had kernels that were a deep red plus a creamy yellow - very striking. I'm not quite ready for fall to arrive, but it is kind of neat knowing I'll have some nice colored, dried, corn for decorating when the time comes.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Whispering sweet nothings

Looks as though the morning glory is sharing some juicy secret with the sunflower, doesn't it? The brilliant golden yellow and purple-tinged blue are striking together.

This view from across the garden shows not only the jungle that has sprung up with all the heat and rain,
but the mass of morning glories that cover the cellar alongside the bobbing heads of the sunflowers.

Here a tomatillo has burst from its husk...many of these have burst out before the husk ever lightens in color or turns papery.
Is there something wrong, or is it because of the nature of this variety? Either way, the fruits are small and waxy coated. The flavor is best described by my step-daughter who says tomato crossed with green apple comes to mind.

I love the okra!
Especially the deep magenta stalk and branches of the Burgundy Okra. They are huge plants so I need to create a new bed just for them next year. I have this one and 2 green varieties, but we just aren't getting enough production to suit us, so hopefully next year I can have between 8-12 of them.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Crooknecks and Edamame

I was late getting my crooknecks growing...not that I didn't try. The first plantings were munched down - I think by a rabbit. The 2nd seedlings curled up and died after only a few days. So I decided to try them in a different bed, and now we are finally getting somewhere. It worked out OK anyway...we've had a few of the lemon summer squash over the last couple of both those plants have died...I'm not sure why. But in a day or 2 there should be crooknecks galore! In this photo you can see at least 5 and I'm pretty sure that plant actually has around 10 on it. And the other one has just as many. So I should get my summer squash fix after all!

And can you see all the beans? I'm going to be rolling in Edamame it seems! Last year I only sowed a few...think I ended up with only 6-8 plants and they were only 1/2 the size of the ones I grew this year.
But it was just a test to see how well they might grow, and to see if we really even liked the edamame. Well, can you tell I loved it? This year I planted lots more - something like 50-60 plants are growing - and they are all huge compared to last year's plants. I used inoculant on them this time (didn't even know I should last year) and planted them in succession plantings. That way I can harvest them in waves instead of all at once. There are 6 different varieties, so it will be interesting to see what differences there might be.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Velveteen Bean

I don't know what I expected my wisteria to produce in the way of seed, but this wasn't it.
As if the fact it finally bloomed wasn't surprise enough, now I find this. It is covered in the softest velvety green I've ever seen. About 3-4 inches in length, it seems as though there is likely only one seed or "bean" in the fat end, but then maybe it is a cluster of many seeds. This is the only one I've noticed so far, but I hope there are more. I have no plans to try to start more wisteria - I just like the way they look!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Heating Dilemna

The 90+ temps we've survived this last week should be enough without stewing over how best to heat our home this coming winter. But, that is what has hit the top of our priority list, considering we spent almost double last winter over the year before. Propane has been our only heat source since 1999, except for a small electric radiant heater (looks like a radiator) we have used on the coldest days to warm the bathroom before a shower.

I've been researching and have found lots of interesting information - maybe too much. It's confusing trying to understand it all, and enlightening to find things I wasn't aware of. Like a masonry furnace.
They can be gorgeous, use a renewable resource - wood - and do it very efficiently and cleanly. They resemble a fireplace but work differently in that you burn a very hot fire to burn up the wood quickly and then you are done for the day. The heat is absorbed into the masonry (brick, stone, etc.) and radiates warmth for the next several hours.

Far less expensive is an outdoor wood heater that pipes heat directly into your home through a tube. Cheap, unsophisticated, not pretty - but worth consideration when you don't have a lot of money to throw at this problem. There are other types of outdoor furnaces - mostly boilers that run heated water through pipes - lots more expensive, and far more work to install. Worth it? Wish I knew.

And solar - seems that our house is all wrong for that choice. Our covered porch blocks all the southern sun exposure and gorgeous mature trees in our yard shade the house in winter too! And after suggesting to hubby that they should probably be replaced with shrubs and shorter landscaping and getting a resounding "no way!" I guess that idea will need to be tabled for a while.

We want to avoid high propane bills this winter, and in the future. We want comfortable warmth, for a reasonable trade-off of time and money. We want to be earth-friendly. We want it to be easy to determine which way to turn - and that certainly doesn't seem to be in the cards! Suggestions welcome - especially if based on your own experience!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Berry Blooms

I had my doubts that I could actually start strawberries from seed. I had more doubts that they would survive the seedling stage. And here they are - with blooms even! I ordered 'Red Wonder Wild Strawberry' seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company's 2008 catalog. There isn't much information in the catalog about them other than to start them indoors like you would tomato seedlings. I know they won't produce much this year - if anything. I should probably pinch the blooms off, but, I don't want to. There aren't enough to do more than enjoy a berry or two anyway, and I still have more seed to try again next year, so, think I'll do as I please!

Friday, July 25, 2008

New Cast Members

I'm always trying to grow something new. Thanks to a generous valentine gift from hubby, I got to order tons of new-to-me seeds from Baker Creek this year. Meet some of the new characters growing here this year...

Painted Mountain Corn - my family struggles with blood sugar issues, so high-carb goodies like sweet corn are off the table. But growing pretty colored corn for fall decorating is do-able so I selected this variety, even though it is advertised as a "flour" corn.

Lemon squash seems to me to be nearly identical to any other yellow summer squash in flavor, it just has this fun lemon-like form. I have 2 of these
in the garden, one full and healthy, but the other wilted. I couldn't ever find signs of vine borers, so I can't say for sure what happened. I feared it just wasn't getting enough water so I watered it well, mulched it heavily, and watered then watered some more. It continued to die a bit more each day for about a week - until the last few days - now it seems the few unaffected vines are growing new leaves! Keeping my fingers crossed it pulls out of it.

Hollyhocks and wild strawberries...odd combination but I'm proud that I started both from seed!
The bed these are in have a mixed and unplanned variety of plants, including marigolds, petunias, sweet william, coleus and calendula. The hollyhocks won't flower for another year, and I doubt the strawberries set fruit until then.

I want to make salsa, with the majority of ingredients coming fresh from my garden. So, this year I added 2 varieties of tomatillos to my plant list.
I love the paper-lantern look! The verde variety has these husks growing in large numbers. The giant variety has only one husk on each of the 2 plants and the leaves are curled up....too much water? Anyway, the trick is to be sure I have enough peppers, onions, tomatoes, cilantro and tomatillos all at once. We'll see....
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