Sunday, June 28, 2015

Not a slumlord!

The rental house needs a bit of love; the guy who used to own it thought he'd flip it for a quarter of a million dollars....and then the market crashed and it was suddenly worth an awful lot less than that. So, he stopped fixing and upgrading things about 8 years ago.

In swoops a girl with a South Dakota work ethic (and also, a need to pass a rental inspection to keep the license). The driveway project was the most fun thing we had to get done; everyone loves playing with construction tools.

Less fun? Dealing with this floor:
 Peel and stick floor tiles. Sometimes they loose their stick. And the parts that don't, stay very very sticky. It was a pretty riveting 4-hour process to peel up each individual tile with a putty knife.
And then, after 4 hours of peeling, and an hour or so of sticking new tiles down, I was feeling pretty good about the whole process. I'm so totally not a slumlord! Look at me taking care of my property! New driveway, new smoke detectors, new flooring! And then, as I neared the end of the process, I realized something. I'd made a math error. And was going to be exactly 1 tile short. And it was 9:45, and Home Depot closes at 10:00 and is a 15 minute drive away. And all the furniture from this room was outside on the deck.
So, slumlord solution: stick a piece of linoleum from the basement in the open spot. See, I fixed it! I went back a week later with the correct tile and the determination to fix it and not be slummy. But this corner was covered with furniture, so the linoleum will stay.....

Saturday, June 27, 2015


After the great goldfish disaster of 2015, we decided to scale back our ambitions and only try to keep a half dozen goldfish alive. That has seemed like a much better plan; instead of mass die-offs, we've had about one die per month, so we're down to four. But they seem happy enough. It's hard to get a picture of four goldfish swimming in a giant black tank in a basement. This is the best I could get:

So just imagine these guys. Times two. But much happier with their lives because they've got 150 gallons of water to hang out in.
Also, it looks like the Cambrian Explosion in the grow beds. If the Cambrian Explosion had been limited to kale and kohlrabi. Check it out!

Maybe some day we'll get something else to grow, but for now these two vegetables seem pretty content with the setup.

Next step: edible fish!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Urban Harvest

There is food all around the neighborhood, if you know where to look. I love taking my students on walks in Wirth park in the spring and trying to feed them wood sorrel or garlic mustard. The first year students are always nervous to try random green things their weird sensei pulls out of the forest; by their third year they've accepted my crunchy ways and trust that I'm not trying to kill them.

Wood Sorrel. Notice the heart-shaped leaves. This has a bright taste, almost like lemon.
Garlic Mustard. It has cute little white flowers, but don't be fooled. It's an invasive plant species; pick as much as you can possibly eat! Put the leaves in a fresh green salad.

But this week I got an extra special treat--nettle tea! Most people avoid nettles. Might have to do with the stinging effect they have (think poison ivy, only slightly less horrible). But, if you are brave and wear gloves (and long pants and sleeves), and boil the leaves for a few minutes, you're rewarded with a super healthy green, and the water from boiling turns into a sort of green tea.

A neighbor posted this photo wondering what this plant was, and how to get rid of it:

Like the helpful person I try to be, I offered to remove it for her, and brought it home and boiled it and got a pitcher of this dark green liquid:
You're welcome to try some if you drop by the homestead! Also, give me a call if you have a nettle infestation and I will gladly help you out. For real.

My future urban foraging will likely include harvesting the apples from the bank-owned house next door. If you're afraid of the nettle tea, maybe I can convince you to try the cider this fall!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Hardcore lady skills!

This second house has proven to be a great opportunity for personal growth and learning.* The most recent of these skills is bobcat driving!

We have a list of project to complete before our rental inspection, and covering the dirt driveway with gravel is the most intimidating project. So we're tackling that first.

I found a neighbor with a truck to help me haul this sucker, and then got to work moving 6 yards (9 tons) of gravel.  And by "got to work," I mean "practiced driving back and forth very slowly" for a few minutes. I worked up to driving, then moving the bucket up and down. Followed by tilting the bucket. I'm not sure if it would have been comical or painful to watch; P assures me I was cute but he may be biased so I don't know if I can believe him.

I let P play with this fancy toy until he had to go to work, and then it was all me. It probably should have been about a 1 hour project, and took us about 3 hours. But now I have bobcat skills. And I met a bunch of neighbors (nothing like a lady in a bobcat to bring curious strangers over to chat). And the driveway was successfully covered with gravel.

Maybe driving a gas-powered skid steer with hydraulic lifts doesn't make me as hardcore as someone who drove a canastota wagon with a team of horses across uncharted prairie....but I think Laura would have traded her sodbusting mule for a bobcat in a heartbeat if she'd had the option!

*In other words, a major undertaking. Totally worth it, but a huge project.