Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014 Garden

Well, I had intended to write about my garden this summer but between a nasty surgery and hard recovery and my retirement I never did. So I'll wrap up the year now.

I had a very late start planting because of my surgery. I was unable to walk from February until late May and even then running a tiller or digging was not possible. It was early July before anything was in the ground. Rabbits, deer, and a groundhog plagued my garden. I eventually shot the rabbits and groundhog but there is not much you can do about deer. I surrounded or covered everything with fencing and that solved that problem for the most part.  The rabbits and groundhog went into my compost pile and will be in the garden next year as fertilizer.

This year I managed to plant two tomato plants, six peppers, green beans, onions, sweet potatoes (the first time trying them), zucchini, and radishes. I also had many "volunteer" potatoes grow from potatoes that I failed to find when I dug up last year's crop.  From these plants I harvested the following:

1. Two bushels of tomatoes. I ate some fresh and then made two batches of sauce.
2. Half a dozen peppers. This was disappointing. The plants did not do very good this year.
3. We ate green beans fresh for a couple weeks and I froze 24 servings for this winter.
4. I harvested fifty onions but they were mostly golf ball sized; very strong flavored though.
5. The deer loved the sweet potato vines and ate them back to the ground several times. I finally got them protected with fencing but by then it was late in the summer. Even so I got 30 nice tubers. Then I found out they have to be "cured" before you can store them. I used the half-bathroom in my garage with a small heater to keep the room at 75 degrees for ten days. It was a hassle but seems to have worked. They sweet potatoes are wrapped in paper and stored in my basement.
6. The zucchini were a late afterthought but this worked out very well; no grubs in the vines. I got enough fruit to make eight zucchini breads this winter plus I gave a few away.
7. I always get a good radish crop and this year was no exception.
8. The volunteer potatoes also did pretty good. About ten plants sprouted and I harvested two five gallon buckets.

In addition to that I picked three gallons of raspberries; down from previous years but we had a brutal winter last year. The blue berries, however, did awesome. I picked so many that I was able to sell $80 worth at work and still gave away and froze several gallons of berries. I got quite a few nice peaches from my old, decrepit tree. The previous year's pruning helped a lot and I will cut it back even more this winter.  The big surprise was the half gallon of Elderberries I was able to pick from a couple struggling plants around my yard. These are the first Elderberries I have picked here in thirty plus years. I picked a gallon of wild black raspberries and five gallons of crab apples from my dad's tree.

I have already made six jars of crab apple jelly, which is delicious. I will mix the black raspberry and elderberry juice to make a batch of jelly as well. We had the last jar or pear jelly, that I made last year, for Thanksgiving dinner.

Between the fruits and vegetables from my garden and a deer I just butchered, my freezer is completely full. Not a bad way to start the winter.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Building a Pallet Woodshed

Now that I retired from the Army (a process that kept me from writing this summer) I have much more time to attend to my property. One of the things desperately needed is woodlot maintenance. There are a lot of dead, fallen trees in my three woodlots. These downed trees prevent me from getting into the woods and the newly opened canopy caused a lot of nuisance ground cover plants to flourish. Green-brier, Asian Bayberry thorn bushes, and Honeysuckle bushes are choking my woods. Nothing larger than a rabbit can crawl through parts of my woods. So I need to get the downed trees cut up and the understory mowed and cleared.  

I installed a wood-burning stove insert in my traditional fireplace a couple years ago. When I was only home a couple days a month I never had time to get much wood cut so we only burned a fire once in a while for the pleasure of the fire. It was never enough to seriously heat the house. Now I have the time and the need to cut firewood but I didn't have a place to store the wood out of the weather. I needed a woodshed.

I looked at all sorts of plans and styles, I have a good idea of what I wanted. The problem was, I didn't have the money to build the ideal woodshed. What to do, what to do? The answer was Pallets. Pallets are all the rage right now. There are sites that show just about everything made out of pallets. So I started looking on Craigslist for pallets in my area. I found a shipping company that had a whole yard full of pallets and they were giving them away for free, which is my favorite price. I towed my utility trailer there and filled it with free pallets and brought them home.

Then it was a matter of what I could build with them. Luckily, I picked up eight double length pallets and they made the perfect three-wall building.  All I needed were screws and roofing.

Below is the nearly finished shed.

I have since completed filling in the open area at the top of the side walls and have closed off the top two feet of the front to reduce wind-blown rain.  The shed is 8'x8'x8' so, in theory, I could store four cords of wood under cover.

I built the floor from two pallets and raised them off the ground with bricks so that the floor would stay dry, would be level, and would allow airflow to help dry the wood.

The pallets are all screwed together at the corners and anywhere else that two pallets join. 

Once the structure was up on three sides, I also reinforced the sides with salvaged fence boards. The structure is surprisingly solid. As you can see, there will be plenty of airflow to dry the wood.

I had to buy the 2x4s used for the roof rafters. Since they should stay dry I didn't buy treated wood and that saved money.  The roofing is pieced together roofing tin that I got for free from the work site of a barn re-roofing project at a farm up the road from me. They were ten foot long pieces of various widths. I have a bucket of roofing nails salvaged from another work site's dumpster.

Below shows the completed shed with two and a third stacks of wood and a few large logs that need to be split. We had a heavy, wind-driven snow yet the wood stayed dry, except for the logs at the front edge of the shed. I don't expect to ever store more than four rows of wood, which is two cords.  If I do add more, I will hang a tarp in the front to prevent rain and snow from wetting the wood.

The total price for this project was $46.00.  Of course I was able to use a lot of salvaged materials but you might be able to as well if you look long and hard enough. I started gathering materials for this project four months before construction began.

With nearly unlimited access to wood from my own property, I have been able to keep the fire burning whenever the outside temperature went below 50 degrees. Above 50 degrees and my house stays at 68 degrees from sunlight, interior lights and electronics, and the heat given off by my family. So far all my heating bills are down 9-15 percent compared to last year. A very good savings I think.