The Neighbors

If you read my post from Sunday, you’ll know that I broke one of our pool supply lines and had to drain about twelve inches of water from the pool so I could repair the pipe. I fixed the pipe Monday afternoon and refilled the pool on Tuesday. Once I verified the repaired pipe wasn’t leaking, I buried the pipe and filled in the trench I had created in the yard. With all of that done I didn’t think another thing of it… until today.

Monica and I got home from a doctor’s appointment at about 4:20; I changed into shorts so I could work in the yard and Monica and I were catching up on each other’s day. I don’t think we had been home even ten minutes when we heard the doorbell ring – persistently – then someone started banging on the front door. I slipped my 9 into my waistband under my shirt since the insistence of the banging was quite disconcerting then went to open the door.

There stood a diminutive and petite woman who I would guess was in her early to mid fifties, about five feet tall, dressed in casual business attire; over her shoulder I could see her first-generation Honda CR-V parked in front of our house facing against traffic – I hate that (park your car correctly, there’s a law against parking that way!). She introduced herself but I couldn’t make out the first name and could barely make out “Rose” or something like that as the last name… or was that her first name? She had a fairly thick, Northern accent (New York? The Bronx perhaps?) and an abrasiveness about her. Doesn’t matter. Her first question was “Are you the guys with a pool?” When I told her we were, she told me that she was our neighbor who’s property adjoins ours along our back fence – not directly behind us but the next one over (the yards in that area are pie-shaped so we have two neighbors to our West who’s properties abut our back fence). Then she started in on a tirade about how her yard is always wet and she cut down her privet hedge because she thought it might be causing the water to collect in her yard (Really? Has this woman no concept of plant biology? If anything, cutting her hedge down has exacerbated the problem – she removed vegetation that was absorbing water.). She told me how my next door neighbor’s fence had fallen down and it took her months to get them to put the fence back up and they left trash in her yard and now they throw junk like old toys over the fence into her yard. She’s now several minutes into our one-sided conversation and I have to admit I was starting to wonder just why she was telling me all this, then she finally got to the point.

Our pool. She told me how for years her yard has been eroding and there’s always water in her yard, she pointed out that she was in the Walnut Creek sub-division and we were in the Walnut Run sub-division (the thinly veiled implication was that she was living in an upper-class sub-division and we were living in the no-class sub-division), and that our runoff – pool water included – shouldn’t be running through her yard. She informed me that she had gone out into her back yard Sunday afternoon to spray Round Up but her yard was a swamp and she had gotten her shoes muddy (Oh no! Not muddy shoes!). She informed me that every time we drain our pool (which we have not done since we moved in several years ago) it floods her yard.

As she keeps talking, I had a few thoughts running through my mind then something clicked – Sunday… water in her yard… broken pipe… I finally wedge a question into her conversation – more of a statement than a question – “This was Sunday afternoon?” She told me it was so I told her about the broken pipe and how there was little I could do about that particular instance; I apologized for the inconvenience that had caused her and told her that I had already fixed the broken pipe so that would not be contributing to the water in her yard again. She asked me if our pools leaks and didn’t we have to keep putting water in the pool because it is losing water somewhere? That’s a pretty big conjecture on her part – I told her no, our pool doesn’t leak, we don’t have to add water to it frequently, and we aren’t losing water anywhere else that I am aware of.

At this point I’m starting to get the impression that she has been observing (read spying or stalking) us very closely. She appears at our house minutes after we get home. She was confident enough in her belief that we were home to aggressively ring the door bell and bang on the door. She believes we are having to top-off our pool frequently; I’m not sure how she would come to that conclusion to begin with but I would have to assume she has been watching through the fence, over the fence, or from one of her upstairs rooms where she might be able to see into our back yard and thought she saw me running water into the pool – I do drag the garden hose across and through the pool to water the plants and garden on the far side of the pool which she may have misconstrued as filling the pool but we don’t have to top-off our pool.

She’s still carrying on about the water in her yard and how it must be coming from our pool. She’s going to contact the city to come out and check the storm drains so I pointed out that I was pretty certain there was a storm drain in the back of their yard along our fence line. She assured me there isn’t and never has been. Whatever. This conversation has been going for close to thirty minutes and I was more than done with it. Somehow I got the conversation to come to a close and she finally left. I’m hoping that’s the last encounter we have with her.

Come to think of it, we have lived in this house since September, 2006 and those neighbors have never acknowledged us until this past weekend. I think it was Saturday morning, it might have been Sunday morning, I was watering the garden and she happened to be out in her yard; she did wave at me and I think she said “Hi”. That was the first time in four-and-a-half years. I have seen them (her and someone I assume is her husband) out in the yard before and given a friendly wave that was greeted by their turning their backs to me. I guess when you live in the Walnut Creek sub-division, you are far above those living in the Walnut Run sub-division.

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Back To Gardening

With the pool plumbing repaired and the PVC cement curing, I thought it was time I got back to gardening. Since I didn’t have enough time to setup another trellis for the cucumbers, I gave all the vegetables a once-over checking for pests, weeds, and potential produce.

Striped Cucumber BeetlesOne of the first things I noticed was that one of the clusters of seedling cucumbers is laying dead on the ground; not good. As I picked at the mulch to see if I could tell what had killed these seedlings I found a number of Striped Cucumber Beetles hudled together. I removed all of the beetles I could then checked our other cucumber plants where I found several other clusters of these beetles.

BeetsNext to the cucumbers are our beets; I let these over-winter in the garden, dug them up before I tilled this year, then replanted the golf-ball sized beets. I wasn’t really expecting much out of these beets since they did so poorly last year but this year these things are growing like crazy! They have large, healthy green leaves and the tubers appear to have grown to about the size of a soft ball. This is an heirloom beet from Baker Creek named Albino Beet that I planted more out of curiosity than anything else. Both the tuber and the leaves from this variety of beet are supposed to be good to eat and it can be used to produce sugar; I’ll have to cut some of the leaves and give them a try. Does anyone have a good borscht recipie?

Iceberg LettuceAs we move down the garden row from the beets, we have our lettuce which is thriving this year. I’m not sure if the weather is the biggest factor contributing to our garden’s success this year or if the compost I tilled in was richer or maybe it’s both – I just know that everything is growing well. We have heirloom varieties of Iceberg and Little Gem lettuce, both from Baker Creek and both make excellent salads.

Green Bell PepperOur peas are up and starting to flower, the radishes are putting on strong greens now, last year’s carrots are between five and six feet tall and about to flower, the tomato plants are starting to bloom, we have three varieties of squash that are about to start producing, and the pepper plants are finally starting to grow.

Purple PotatoeI’m trying a method of growing potatoes in a barrel this year and, of the three varieties I started, the Yukon Gold are doing amazingly well. Oddly enough, the purple potatoes I planted directly in the garden last year, that didn’t appear to produce anything, are popping up all over the garden and growing at an incredible pace. I guess they just needed a year to get settled in.

The one thing I know I did right this year has to do with watering the garden. The year we started this garden, I tried soaker hoses buried under mulch, that just made everything molder. the next year I tried soaker hoses on top of the mulch but that only watered about a three inch wide area so I had to have seven or eight of these hoses to completely water the garden; these hoses would also tear up a plant in a heartbeat if the hose was moved and came into contact with the plant stem. The third year I setup various sprinklers around the garden but could never get complete coverage and wasted a lot of water on areas outside the garden. Last year I tried a combination of soker hoses and sprinklers on different timers; while this worked better than any other method I had tried, it still wasn’t perfect. This year, as I thought about the best way to water the garden, I remember the kind of sprinkler hose my piano teacher used – these were flat hoses with tiny holes in the top, they produced a fine almost mist-like sprinkle of water that would cover about a three to four foot wide area for the length of the hose. I searched all over the place for these hoses – big box stores, department stores, online stores, garden supply stores, hardware stores – but I came up with nothing. I found two manufacturers who had a part number for these hoses but nobody appeared to actually carry them. That is until I was picking up some parts for our lawn mower; the little old hardware store that has been in Memphis longer than I have had two 50 foot sprinkler hoses and one 25 foot sprinkler hose. I bought them all without thinking twice! I’m glad I Sprinkler Hose Under Squash Plantdid too. The plants in the garden were already up and going when I got these hoses but I was able to slide the hose through the plants without damaging a single one. I anchored the hose down with some steel “U” pins then turned on the water. In five or ten minutes the garden was well watered with little or no water being wasted on the walkway or yard.

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If you read yesterday’s post, you know that I had a moment of stupid and managed to poke a hole in one of the pool pipes, thus draining part of the pool and flooding the yard. Fortunately I was able to divert much of the water into the drain line that dumps the water into the sewer instead of into the yard. When I got home from work today, I got right to work on fixing the damage I had caused.

I dug up the pipe and found that it comes out from under the concrete walk about seven feet where it has a 90° elbow then runs another thirteen or so feet back under the walk. I hate that kind of lazy, half-thought-out construction. If the pool installer had cut the pipe before it came out from under the walk, installed a 45° elbow, run the pipe about 14′, installed a second 45° elbow to connect to the next water outlet, he would have saved about six feet of pipe and not subjected the pipe to the kind of damage I caused yesterday. Oh well, I should have realized that no one seems to take pride in their work anymore so I should have taken a more cautious approach to installing my trellis. I would take the time to dig this up completely and redo it correctly but that would involve killing my onions, shallots, garlic, chives, cucumbers, some carrots, and our beets – not gonna happen.

Moving on… I cut the pipe out as close to the pool on the broken leg of the pipe and as close to the elbow as I could. I dry fit a union, a new section of pipe, and a new elbow then got to priming, gluing, and assembling the pieces. I glued the elbow on the new section of pipe first so I could get my quarter turn in as I glued it together. Then I glued the union to the section of pipe still in the ground. I let those set for awhile then I glued the new section of pipe to the union – I kept the elbow turned 90° out of position as I fit the pipe and union together which allowed me to turn the pipe a quater turn once the pipe was seated in the union. I let that set for a bit then I glued the elbow to the second piece of pipe in the ground – there wasn’t a way for me to get that quarter turn here so I made sure I got and held a good connection.

Those freshly glued joints have to cure for twenty-four hours so I guess I have to leave the pool partially filled for now; I hope it doesn’t turn green on us.

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Not What I Had Planned

Today did not go according to my plan at all. The day started out like any other Sunday does for us – I got up when I woke up instead of letting my alarm clock dictate when I should get up, I fixed my coffee, checked my email… I don’t want to bore you with all the mundane details so I’ll move on to this afternoon.

I wanted to get a trellis up in the garden for the cucumbers to climb on. For that, I like to use the steel wire grid used to reinforce concrete slab; the wire is about an eighth of an inch thick and is spaced six or seven inches apart so it makes an excellent trellis for cucumbers. I cut a section of wire grid about four feet long then bent the ends of the wire back around itself to eliminate the hazard of the sharp, pointed ends of the wire. With that done, I was ready to setup my first section.

I grabbed two steel t-posts and started pushing the first one into the ground, once I had seated it by hand, I tried to drive it in using a sledge hammer. After the first strike with the sledge hammer, every time I struck the post to drive it in it would bounce right back up. I bounced the t-post by hand a couple of times and could tell I was hitting something that felt like a large tree root. No problem; I moved the post back several inches and to one side several inches then got it started by hand again. I pushed it into the ground, pulled it back out then pushed it back into the ground again only to hear something crack.

Did I mention our garden borders our pool?

I’m standing there trying to convince myself that I had just broken through a tree root and not one of the pool pipes – no one in their right mind would run the plumbing for the pool several feet out from under the concrete walk around the pool only to run it several feet back under the concrete walk, right? There’s only one way to find out.

I pulled the t-post back out of the ground and even before I had the post completely out of the hole it had made, there was water gushing up out of the ground like a mountain spring. Not cool (the water was, the situation was not). I ran over to the pool equipment and turned off the pump but that didn’t have any effect on the volume of water coming out of the ground. This pipe supplies water to the outlets in the pool so it typically has about twelve inches of water pushing down on it. I set the diverter to send water from the pump into our drain line then turned the pump back on; this did slow the flow of water coming out of the hole I had created but I was going to have to drop a foot of water from the pool before I would be able to repair the pipe. At least with most of the water diverting into the sewer line I won’t flood the neighbor’s yards nearly as badly.

I dug the dirt out from around the damaged pipe and created a trench to direct the water into our mulch pit to stop or slow down the water before it ran into the neighbor’s yards. I kept an eye on the water level in the pool and the water running out of our yard and I’m pretty pleased with how well I got this under control in a short amount of time. It looks like the vast majority of the water has gone into the sewer; I would guess only about one-quarter to one-third of the three thousand gallons I had to drain went into the yard.

I have errands I have to run now so I’ll clean up this mess later.

If you’re wondering where I came up with the volume of water we lost, the pool is oblong and measures about 34 feet long by 15 feet wide and I had to drain 12 inches of water. I used the formula:
V=(LWH)·5.873 so…
V=2,995.23 gallons

Where did the 5.873 come from?
One cubic foot (1′ x 1′ x 1′) holds 7.481 gallons but our pool is oblong not rectangular so I have to take that into account; a cylinder that is 1′ tall and 1′ in diameter holds ~5.873 gallons. Here’s the formula to get that number:

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A Welcome Guest

I love the challenges of organic gardening so I’m thrilled when I get a little help from garden guests. I went out to check on the home garden this morning during a break in the rain and I found a good sized toad hanging out under leaves of our carrots. When we started this garden after moving in to this house several years ago, finding a toad was a rare occasion. The toads we did find here weren’t much bigger than my thumb. As the years have passed, finding toads around the garden became more common but the size of these toads didn’t really increase that much.

The toad I found this morning was bigger than any I’ve seen here before; he was almost as big as the palm of my hand. Having these toads in the garden is a huge benifit to our plants and finding one this big is a tremendous thrill, in a geeky kind of way, for me. To get this big, I know this one has been eating plenty of pest insects which means I have less work to do managing pests in our garden. I have no idea where this toad has been hinding but I certainly hope he sticks around!

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Welcome Home Marine

This is how all service members should be welcomed home:

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Support LeBonheur Children’s Hospital

Two years ago friends of mine had an unfortunate opportunity to test the services provided by LeBonheur Children’s Hospital here in Memphis. Because of the expert staff and unfathomable amount of prayer over their child, John and Kari still have their precious son with them. I have a two year old myself and cannot imagine going through what John and Kari went through with their two year old. Kari has the full story here:!/note.php?note_id=84095827107.

Please take a moment to read Kari’s write-up about their experience then, if you are able, donate to LeBonheur so that more families can benefit from this amazing Memphis hospital.

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More Server Woes

I had to move our web server to a new physical location and, in doing so, ran into a number of challenges – not the least of which was the site quit working completely after the move.

I have fixed most of the problems – the photo gallery is working again, the home page will actually load now instead of the Error 500 message that plauged me for nearly a week – the only issue I’m still banging my head against is that the email service will not work correctly. I am still working on this but progress is… not measurable. If you send me an email, I will eventually get it; if I try to send an email, you will never get it for some reason. I will get it working so please bear with me.

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Who Let The Mice In

I received a computer for repair today, the complaint was that the computer would not power on; this computer was Missing Platedefinitely memorable. After unpacking the computer, I noticed one of the filler plates was missing from the back of the computer; my first thought was that it wasn’t the level of work I expect from my technicians and my second thought was that it isn’t good for the computer’s internal air flow for that filler plate to be missing. Then I opened the case…

Contaminated Computer Power SupplyInside the case I found mouse droppings on the power supply and scattered around the motherboard. After taking a closer look, I could see trails of mouse urine which had eaten through the copper traces on the mother board. That would explain why the computer will not power on. Unfortunately, the damage caused by the mouse rendered this computer unrepairable.

I hate that we lost a computer to damage that was easily preventable; if the previous technician had taken the time to prepare this computer properly, that filler plate would not have been missing and the mouse would have never gotten inside to damage the computer.

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We’ve been enjoying fresh squash from the garden for a couple of weeks now so I thought I would share tonight’s dinner experience with you.

We decided to try a new variety of squash this year and settled on the White Scallop Squash from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. We planted the seeds in the garden in mid April following the instructions available from The Old Farmer’s Almanac for planting seeds directly in the ground. The germination rate was nearly 100% and the new little plants took off at a phenomenal rate, producing long vines with large, healthy leaves.

Just when it started to look like we would see some fruit developing on the vines, Squash Vine Borers moved in. I prefer to garden without using any pesticides so the solution to this problem was to carefully slit the vine open where a borer was, remove and destroy the borer, then bury the vine under soil or compost. I checked the vines twice a day, keeping the borers out and the vines under the protective cover of soil; after about a week, the vines had all recovered to their formerly healthy state.

That brings us to the present. The plants are bearing prolifically, we’re already getting more squash than we know what to do with. We have cubed and sauteed these squash, baked them, pureed them, and, tonight, we’re frying them. Here is the squash we are preparing tonight:

Pattypan SquashPattypan Squash

After washing the squash, we sliced it into slices about a half inch thick, we dipped the slices into a milk and egg wash, then into a mix of flour and corn meal. We put the breaded slices straight into a skillet with enough oil to almost cover the slices of squash then fried them until golden brown on each side. We took the cooked squash out of the skillet and let it rest on a paper towel to soak up any excess oil then spinkled them with kosher salt.

Slicing The White Scallop SquashFrying The White Scallop Squash

The end result was delicious, this squash is tender and mild but not without its own distinct flavor. We harvested this squash in several different sizes over the growing season and found that, as the squash matured, the skin got thick and tough and the seeds grew harder – which is what we would expect with squash. With this variety, we found that it was best to harvest the squash when they are between four and five inches in diameter during the spring months and late fall. As the summer weather grew hotter and dryer, we found we had to harvest the squash when it was smaller – about three inches in diameter – or it would be tough and seedy.

Fried White Scallop SquashLarge White Scallop Squash

The white scallop squash, in our experience, grows well, produces well, and is very versatile when it comes to cooking it. We will definitely be growing this variety again next year.

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