Tomato Connoisseur

Nah, not really.  I don’t find the differing tastes of tomatoes to be all that unique.  Some are sweeter, and some are more acidic.  There’s a much greater variation in how they look.

But of course they’re all awesome.  And in following a tradition, I always take a photo of the year’s first tomato.

Lemon Boy

Granted this was from one of my purchased plants, so it’s still kind of cheating, but the sweetness of the victory is compensated for by the sweetness of this variety.


So Much I Don’t Know About

No, this isn’t an existential post.  Well, maybe a little.  So Liz wanted a tiered strawberry bed.  That wasn’t a priority project, but something she had been keeping in mind.  Recently, we had a kid-free day, and she suggested a couple options to fill that opportunity: Dayton’s 2nd Street Market, and Mendelsons liquidation outlet.  The former didn’t sound very interesting to me as I had envisioned food and hippies peddling art (we went there later anyway, and my prediction wasn’t far off).  But Mendelsons sounded just odd enough that I became intrigued.  And so, off to Mendelsons we went.

“Liquidation outlet” didn’t do this place justice.  It was somewhere between hoarder’s opus and nerd’s paradise, if that means anything.  It occupied 3 stories of a downtown Dayton manufacturing compound, and was filled with surplus/deprecated products, ranging from plastic restaurant containers to decommissioned business electronics.  One day I’ll have a server rack, and I now know where to acquire one to refurbish.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Liz found some nice wooden boxes on the ground floor, which we would go back to.  A sign, however, informed us of electronics being on the 3rd floor (the 2nd was off-limits for an unknown reason).  Following these signs, we were led down a hallway to a choice: elevator or stairs.

Context often gives words more meaning than the words themselves–looking at this elevator, the notice that it could hurt me was taken VERY seriously

A service elevator with a dubious last-maintenance date?  We took the stairs.

It was on floor 3 that I realized there is so much in this world I just don’t know anything about.  There were piles of circuits and various mechanical components.  Alarm systems, telecommunication systems, closed-circuit surveillance systems, row upon row of capacitors and resistors.  There was a section filled with ball-bearing rotation devices.  There were things I was afraid to even touch–what appeared to be high-pressure sodium light bulbs.  How is this place allowed to exist?  I don’t know, but I’m glad it does.

A room dedicated to the era predating transistors

There were many, many ideas for future projects.  But, back to the strawberries.  Downstairs, we picked up the two boxes we had set aside earlier.  They were labeled as NCR boxes–a company I had to research as I am a non-native to these parts.  Once I did, however, I remembered the logo.  Sadly, it was another big company that had abandoned Dayton with the recession.  The meaning behind those numbers, written upon the wood, will be forever lost to time as the sun physically erases them from existence.

But the wood is solid and looks nice.  One placed inside the other, raised on bricks, created the tiered strawberry garden Liz wanted.

They just don’t make ’em like they used to.



I’m understanding more and more the appeal of hydroponics.  I could grow vegetables in a controlled environment, maximizing yield while minimizing space, all the while eliminating pest problems.  I realize of course that this is an overly-simplified view of gardening, but frustrations lead me to consider it.

This, The Year of the Garden, has me experimenting.  Before I choose how to invest my energy and resources, I have planted a variety of test plants.  At the end of the year I will consider the results of these subjects, then use it as a baseline to decide what to grow in the future.  Except tomatoes of course–I will always grow those.

Still, it’s irritating when something doesn’t work out.  Yet I’m quite the gardening pragmatist on all matters besides tomatoes, so rather that fight nature, I strike bargains with it.  The rabbits are eating my flowers, so I plant beans and clover–something far tastier.  The rabbits in turn have, for the most part, agreed to leave everything else alone.

But, there are forces with which I cannot reason.  And said forces are always of the insecta variety.  I had a tentative relationship with my local ecology, until the Japanese beetles arrived.  Nasty little harbingers of death.  First they attacked my crabapple, then the ash, then the peppers, then the basil.  So I did what I don’t like to do–applied insecticide.  I’ve also installed a beetle trap for the first time.  I don’t like to take these measures because they always have adverse and unpredictable effects on the balance.  But it was either that or lose my entire garden to the scourge.

I had a couple pumpkins volunteer, no doubt from the Jacks who withered away post-Halloween.  And wouldn’t it be cool to grow a pumpkin?  I did successfully manage to do so one year at the townhouse.  My pride and joy this year is big and happy.

Then I noticed some interesting wasps frequenting the plant.  From experience, I generally take that as a good sign, as they prey upon things that eat my vegetables.  But this wasp was one I hadn’t seen before.  Curious, I took to the Internet, but as we can still only search with text, it made identification difficult.  So I consulted a better resource: the family chat.  It is often quite convenient that I have contact with such a variety of biologists whose degrees and hobbies frequently overlap.  I took a photo of the questionable insect and sent it to the group.

Moments later, I received a response.  I was instantly concerned.  Such a quick turnaround couldn’t possibly be good news.  My sister advised me it was a vine borer, followed by the comment: “mother fuckers!’ and the suggestion that I “kill them!!!!” as “THEY WILL DESTROY ALL YOUR SQUASHES”.  I must say, that was very clear and concise expert instruction.  So many of my colleagues could learn from this effective communication.

So it turns out that this little fucker is a moth.  As the name implies, their pupae bore through the stems, often with fatal results.  The myriad of treatment suggestions ranged from targeted excision of the grub to injecting BT.  This seemed like a lot of trouble for a plant I wasn’t terribly vested in, so I guess I’ll just wait to see what happens.  The main stem is already chewed, so I doubt there’s much I could do anyway.  Pity.

Are there any bugs that selectively eat dandelions and thistles?


All Hands On Deck

I’m not going to chronicle this, since it’s pretty much the same as painting, but we did finally get around to staining the deck and it looks damn good.  Look at this–it could make a promotional image for an email marketing campaign (and I should know!):


Barrel of…Water

Amusingly, it was shortly after writing this post that I received a bourbon barrel from Liz as my anniversary gift.  That isn’t as weird as it sounds.  The traditional year-5 gift is wood-themed, I like bourbon, the last barrel was a nice rustic decoration, and of course it’s been an effective rain barrel and we’ve discussed wanting another one.  And so, she arrived home late one day with this barrel in her back seat, suffering another round of tears to the leather of her car’s interior.  Dry, they weigh about a hundred pounds, although they are very oddly shaped to maneuver solo, but as before I managed to muscle the thing out of the car.  I also had some time off work, so the following day I began my project, leveraging the prior barrel’s lessons to make the second a little better.

This time around, I had a reciprocating saw, so I didn’t break any drill bits.  Also, the wood of this barrel wasn’t as dense, so it was easier to cut.  Still, I think I’ll just go buy a large wood bore bit should I ever do this again.  That would be way easier and would yield a rounder opening.

For the spigot, however, I didn’t want to deviate from the proven method.  Last time, I drilled a 3/8″ hole and gradually whittled it down with a knife until it accommodated a 1/2″ brass spigot.  Manually cutting away slivers of oak is exhausting, but I didn’t want to risk drilling too much and ruining the seal.  It took an hour, and I was thoroughly baked from the summer heat, and I had a bloody knuckle, but eventually I was able to grind away an appropriate hole and forced the spigot in with vice grips.

I also had the same materials available for the screen, which is still working a year later on the other barrel, so I didn’t feel the need to try anything different.  I constructed the same square frame, secured with staples, two layers of nylon screen, and nailed it to the barrel with finishing nails.

This time, I wanted the barrel higher to allow easier access to the spigot.  I already had a couple cinder blocks from a previous abandoned project, and the height was good.  But the base wasn’t wide enough that the barrel’s frame was being supported by the sides, so I extended it with leftover pressure-treated 2x4s.

I worry, when I make these, that I’ll go through all that trouble only to end up with a barrel that doesn’t hold water.  Fortunately, this was not a problem.  I filled it to test, and it held just fine.  Hooray!  I cut the boards and pounded in the spillover–leftover brass piping from the last barrel.  Here’s a final shot with it working as intended with the following rain:

Of course I had to trim the downspout, and I laid a brick spillway, but that’s not really interesting or difficult so I won’t go through that.

Now, I can save about $34 a year.  Ha!  And fear not–I am not a hippie.  I still use chemical fertilizers.