One project finished……. on to another

Well, It’s interesting when real life gets so busy that it keeps you away from blogging in your virtual life. It also occurred to me that I have been so consumed and overwhelmed with family issues, work and travel that my social life has been a quick check on Facebook versus actually seeing friends.  Hummm….Not a dilemma my forefathers had or could have even fathomed. Coincidentally I’m reading “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley,  but that’s another post for another day.

Anyway, I am happy to report that #1….I am still here and #2…. our long awaited Farmhouse foundation phase is OVER.




As usual, I get ahead of myself. I’m dying to plant White Annabelle Hydrangea’s all across this side of the house.  I know that right now it would only be deer food plus there are windows, a french door and paint to do before any planting can happen……just dreaming…..

Or…..Maybe these Oak Leaf Hydrangeas…..



I’ve spread gravel around the skirting panels because it (hopefully) will keep mice from digging under and getting into the house.  I hear that they don’t like the feel of the rock and will avoid it. My Hubular Unit humors me as always, loads and unloads the gravel for me, then says “We will need a cat”.




Now that we have gone this far, we are really committed. We’ve now created the architecturally interesting feature known as the “Door to Nowhere”. We had to rip off the rotting wood barely held in place, otherwise called “the deck” in order to do the foundation.  Each project leads to another… least this is done, and it’s one more step forward!

One of the new projects will now be fixing the major cracks in the walls throughout the house created by  leveling it all out. It was at least 6″ off and so that much adjustment really opened up some new fault lines.  Luckily, the remodel master plan will eventually rework these areas anyway.  We anticipated this and really didn’t want to do any Interior work until the base was level and stable. Luckily none of the windows broke during all of the shifting and jacking up that was done!


As I mentioned in a previous post, we found an old root cellar under the house and were hoping there would be some buried treasure hidden under there.  Instead, this is what we found.  A vintage leather child’s shoe and an old medicine bottle…..

The other thing we found was a forlorn broken doll face…

So, at some point I imagine a small girl child was living here. I can see her running around playing in the field when the daisies bloom.  She probably had some animals of her own and when she finally came back inside on a warm summer night, her chubby little hands would be all sticky and blue from eating all of the blackberries that surround the farm.

Who knows, maybe that really is the treasure found and discovered in a place.  All of the collective memories are held there, suspended, and uncovered later through our imagination.





Onward……to the next project……


This eyesore has been on the demo list since day one, it’s a pseudo carport that cleverly had a roof built in such a way that it funneled rain directly into the roof of the house.  Creating an indoor water feature in our mud room. Literally, a mud room.  So, conveniently the heavy snow storm we had last January, caved the carport in to the point where we could no longer avoid the fact that it was dangerous and  had to go.

People, this is not a skylight!


Can you say “Ramshackle”?  ……The attached shed’s at the back of the pseudo carport, (besides being hideous), also blocked the most beautiful view from the back of the house. Note the charmingly hazardous angle of the carport roof.



Not to diverge on a tangent or anything, but I really appreciate Men.  They have tools and chains and ropes and stuff.  The ones I know generally have an attitude of  “get er’ done” and they make it look easy.

Plus a tractor helps.



She’s comin’ down…..



One good tug and the whole thing came down, flat as a moss covered pancake.




The next few days were spent clearing all of the wood and roofing away.  There was actually a lot more junk to clear out that you would expect from a structure like that.  This concrete pad will get a new layer of concrete over it and eventually be covered with stone pavers.

We have invasive grass here on the farm and things grow like crazy with all the rain, so I don’t want to lay the stone in sand.  I would just have to weed it constantly. Plus we didn’t want to jackhammer out all the existing concrete just to put it in a landfill. There are lessons learned after having worked on several homes now and  so I’m moving into a “low maintenance” phase with any new designs.


The big plan here is that we are replacing the carport, with a 16′ x 20′ Outdoor Dining Pergola.  I think its mandatory in the Pacific Northwest to have a covered area so you can be outside in this climate, even when it’s raining, which is most of the time.  Nine months of the year the weather report ranges from the hilariously ironic “moisture likely” to “chance of showers” to “intermittent drizzle” to plain old “rain”. Then, when July 4th rolls around, we have approximately 3 days of summer and then the moody grey shroud descends again and it starts all over.  Weather reports become monotonous here.



But I digress….Our hope with this particular project is to pretend that we are dining outside in Umbria and thus develop a coping mechanism for all the rain.


The structure of course was more expensive than we could afford and so we had to make some cut backs.  All in all though, we will have a charming wood truss structure with a metal roof and skylights and power.  Eventually, to finish off the Umbrian brainwashing experience, we’re planning to build a stone outdoor fireplace and pizza oven! Let it rain!





Bee Keeping Complications!

So the other day when it was sunny and the bee’s were flying, I suited up and went out to check my hives……We had to remove some Burr Comb a couple of weeks ago, so I knew there was the possibility of them forming even more of it in there. The Bee’s make Burr Comb when the proper “Bee Space” is not maintained, meaning that if the frames are not exactly equally spaced or are crooked inside the box, they will form excess honeycomb to “fill” the available space in there. This photo shows an example of what you don’t want to do! (this was taken BEFORE I installed my bee’s in the hives)

Uneven frame spacing

My plan was to check for Burr Comb and to also remove the sugar water feeders and replace them with new frames. You can see the sugar water feeder in the box above with the holes where you pour the liquid in.


This is the 1:1 sugar water mixture with essential oil that smells wonderful, like Lemon Balm! The Bee’s need this extra nutrition when they first go into the Hive, before they have been able to fly and forage for pollen.


I am happy to report that my “girls” are doing their hard and diligent work.  It appears that they may actually be doing a little TOO much and are creating MORE Burr comb. I had no idea that the bee’s had gone down inside the feeders and started creating a whole new universe of free form combs in there!

I could hear that LOTS of bee’s were down in the feeder box, trapped in there…..when I took it all apart this is what I found …

The photo shows the sugar water feeder once I had it opened up in order to get it cleaned out. None of that comb is supposed to be on there, it is supposed to be all on the frames!  Being a novice Bee Keeper, this posed a dilemma, because I didn’t want to kill all the larvae inside the comb.  You can see the Larvae in the comb on the left side if you look closely.  There are various stages of development going on here, you can see the larger combs that have been “capped off” to the right side.  I was also happy to see (and taste) the actual Honey that’s forming, what a miracle that is!

In the end, I had to scrape all of this off and discard the larvae. I tried to get the live bee’s to go back into the main hives but I don’t think that really worked. Most of these bee’s seemed to be drunk on the sugar water probably because they had been living down in there. They seemed very sluggish and were coated with liquid and seemed to not be able to fly.  There were a LOT more bee’s on the comb than what is shown in the photos, they had literally covered it and I had to shake them off to even see the comb itself.



The pond

The Pond is not far from the hives and this is where they go for water.  A wetland runs through part of our property and so we have lots of water during most of the year. We love to watch all of the birds and ducks that live in the wetland and underbrush around this pond. You can see the Holly Orchard in the distance where the bee’s also like to go.

As I was doing all of this cleaning up, the hive sent scouts over to come check out what was going on.  They would come over and land and investigate, crawling all over the sluggish bee’s and the Burr Comb. Then, I imagine, they flew off  imparting their secret Bee message back to the rest of the hive. It would go something like ” I told those bee’s not to get all liquored up on that dang sugar water, now look what happened” .


The Bee’s are foraging on lots of blooming Maples, Holly, Apples, Pears, Scotch Broom and all kinds of other Spring flowering plants in our area.  If you stand quietly in the Holly Orchard you can hear that it is absolutely alive with so many bees buzzing that it forms kind of a low humming drone sound.


When it’s warm enough and the dandelions first bloom……that’s a sign that the bee’s are ready to fly!
 Luckily there are what appear to be thousands of other healthy bee’s in the  hives so I guess this Burr Comb loss comes with the territory.


The Good, the Bad and the (really) UGLY

I’m excited to say that our Farmhouse remodel saga is moving into a new much anticipated phase!  When we first bought the property a few years ago, we immediately had it rewired as a safety measure and to add some heat because the only heat source was an old wood stove.  Luckily we did all that because the electrician showed us the “rigged up” wiring upstairs and said it was unbelievable that it had not burned down already.  I guess you could call that Phase 1, The Necessity Phase.

Then, out of funds and with economic uncertainty looming, we put the brakes on and just enjoyed the farm “as- is” and used it mostly as a summer house.  Its WAY better than a tent if you ask me. Then one winter, the pipes froze and broke so we were forced to replace all of them and repair the drywall damage, so I guess you could call that Phase 2, The Unexpected Phase.

So, some more has gone by and we have now faced the fact that the house is in dire need of major foundation work, before anything else can even be done at all.  The floor is so un-level that you actually feel like a drunken sailor walking across the living room to the other side. I am not exaggerating, I don’t drink that much…..really.  So here we enter Phase 3, The Good, the Bad and the (really) UGLY Phase. (I’m an Interior Designer by training and as you can imagine, I want to hurry up and get to the Pretty Phase).

On the Ferry headed to the farm to check out Phase 3

Over the last year or so, the sloping floor seemed to be getting worse and worse, guests were tripping etc. so we bit the bullet and found a great contractor who specializes in fixing these “situations”.  He really appealed to us because he was one of the only contractors we interviewed who understood the the shambling- falling- apart charm and the inherent GOOD bones of the place. Plus he never once said “tear it down and put up a double wide”.  All contractors who think they are imparting some kind of wisdom to us when saying that are immediately eliminated.  We want to work with craftsmen who understand preserving the GOOD, fixing what is clearly BAD and totally eliminating that which is downright UGLY.

So lucky for us…..we found our wonderful contractor Geoff, not Jeff.

The existing farmhouse in repose


Upon some nasty under the house recon, Geoff not Jeff, confirmed our suspicion that there were a multitude of sins hiding under there.  Like an archeologist, he walked us through the historical evidence of the BAD additions that had been pasted together over the years to form our farmhouse.  Almost all of these parts and pieces were were not built correctly.  Ironically, the oldest part of the house was built in 1925 and was supported on old growth stumps, instead of posts and piers and these areas were more or less fine.  The outside of each log was charred in order to repel bugs the floor framing was built directly upon those stumps. Many of the older areas were also supported on large boulders that were probably cleared from the land and used along with the logs cleared from the forest.

Stump support

Charred support logs that were under our house


Our future landscaping rocks

In the spite of the overwhelming task of removing these gigantic boulders by hand, in a space roughly 30 inches high, Geoff didn’t complain, he just said “Well, when we’re done you guys are going to have some great landscaping rocks”. Wow….I think I would have whined a little bit.


This is the really UGLY part.  Having been around the block a few times, we knew that if this was visible on the outside, then there must be rot on the inside and underneath too! We were not disappointed.  Again, Geoff was not daunted and said “Well, it’s a little worse than I thought.  I’ll need to replace some additional areas of rot while I’m under there”.  Of course, at this point I’m thinking that double wide might have been a wise and practical idea after all.  A red flag is waving “STOP” in my head and I’m seeing thousands of dollars of extra charges coming.  Yikes, we have already dug into this PILE OF CHARM and there is no turning back, what have we unleashed here?

More rotten wood, might as well remove the whole thing

Plus, around the same time as the “Rot Discovery Phase” we also discovered that the only closet in the whole house was actually a porch.  This pseudo-porch-closet had “sort of” been enclosed, with nothing really supporting it underneath at all. It was cantilevered to the west and not in a modern way. Ha. We are not really laughing.


Fun times


But in the end, as it turned out our original instinct about the house was right; It wasn’t too BAD and Geoff is really GOOD.  We only had to spend a few hundred extra to add entirely rot free floor joists  to the original price. The archeological dig also uncovered a door to a root cellar that we didn’t know existed, some old unidentifiable metal, an old water spigot that still works and will really come in handy, and an old (scary looking) doll face!  Alas, no buried treasure had been hoarded underneath the old house! Dang it.

All new pads are poured much better under there

From the looks of the patchwork under there, we now believe the house was added onto about 6 times.  Things are progressing really well overall and it’s great to have this part of the work nearly over with. There have some cracks in the interior walls, which is to be expected because the house was out of level by at least 6 inches. Fortunately none of the windows broke, probably because most of them have BB holes in them. (I really don’t want to know how that happened) The doors are all out of alignment and will have to be rehung and adjusted, not a big deal all things considered……

The UGLY phase will be done soon!  Can’t wait for the PRETTY phase to begin.  (I think it may be a while yet).



One step forward and five steps backwards

Not again

The bucholic romance of being a farmer is best experienced while sitting in front of a cozy fire, glass of wine in hand, READING and DREAMING about it.  The realities are more of a harsh buzz kill than most would want to deal with.  Honestly, I have to admit, most of my experience falls in the romancing category!  Self awareness is a good thing. When waxing eloquent to a real farmer about planting that huge hedge of pretty lavender or the aesthetic detail of your deer fence or raising angora goats because they are so soft and cute, expect to get a blank stare from them and a look that quite clearly tells you that they think you are mildly DAFT and just don’t understand the first think about what you are getting into!

Yes, the reality is that you quickly learn what matters and what doesn’t.  You also learn that you have to be able to constantly fix things that are breaking down or are not working properly for one reason or another.  Either that, or have gobs of money to pay for constant repairs. So on one recent day, with a limited amount of time as usual, I thought I would do the simple task of mowing about an acre of grass before it become totally unmanageable.  Also, as I’ve mentioned before, if you let it go too long here the Beastly Blackberries will rule and take over the universe.

So, proving things to be as they generally are……this simple task turned into and all day repair session on the lawn tractor. (again). This, along with truck and trailer repairs all had to be done in order to even begin the actual work for the day. The good news is, as other novice  farmers or anyone living in a rural area will tell you, it pays to have good neighbors! In this case our wonderful and mechanically inclined friend next door came to the rescue and saved the day…….(again)!

Now …….what was that I was daydreaming about!


Bee Jeweled

I love making one of a kind jewelry for people ……..something that speaks to their own style.  I noticed that my Bee Keeper friend (who so generously helped me install my new bee’s) is not really a jewelry person but she ALWAYS wears earrings….So I made these for her as a Thank you gift.  They are much more thematic than my usual style, but are really sweet! The Bee’s are tiny and I love the matte black flower dripping with a honey colored jewel!  I’m going to surprise her later today!



Bee’s arrive!

We finally got our bee’s….it was all very exciting! They came from California and had been cooped up, lierally for days in these cage like boxes.  Our friends and Bee mentors at Ballard Bee Co. had hundreds of these bee boxes ready to go to their new homes. Its is encouraging to see so many people now taking up bee keeping ….it may help off set the colony collapse disorder that’s been happening. Let’s hope more and more people become bee keepers so we can still eat oranges, almonds and all kinds of other things that depend on pollination ten years down the road from now.

Bee's in their transport boxes

Inside each box, is a smaller box holding the Queen. The bee’s all congregate around her forming a hanging clump in the center of the box. The buzzing sound is intense, several of the bee’s had escaped and were clinging to the outside of the box, trying to get back in. We really didn’t want to deal with them flying around our car on the way out to the farm so we had to gently give them the brush off.

Setting up

There are lots of parts and pieces of equipment to set up and have on hand BEFORE you let the bee’s out of their box. Especially because in our location we are positioning the hives up on top of our wood storage barn, away from those pesky honey loving bears.

Donning our protective clothing

The next step is to put on protective clothing that is incredibly flattering and slimming. Ha. The bee’s don’t like dark colors and get less agitated if you wear white.  I did tuck my jeans into my boots but really dont feel that I need an entire bee suit to do this. We also decided to not use the smoker and really, didn’t even seem to need it.

Preparing to open the bee box

Lucky for me, my friend and neighbor is an experienced Bee Keeper.  She was excited to help me get the hives started and as I found out…..this process is really a two person job. The first hive we install are the Cornelian bee variety.

Feeding can

There is a feeding can filled with sugar water for the bee’s to feed on during transportation.  Needless to say, the bees really like hanging out right at this area. This has to be pried out and the left over sugar water can be mixed into their new feeder inside the hive, this way they will sense that the new hive is familiar .

Letting the bee's out

The tricky part is to open the box and by some miracle dump the writhing, swarming bee’s into the hive. Meanwhile they are getting more and more agitated.  There are a LOT more bee’s flying around us than you can see in these photos.

The box is open

For the first hive install, we pried the frame and mesh off of one side of the box and gently talked the bee’s into cooperating. Not a chance! All hell breaks loose at this point but we stayed calm and carried on.

Now the bee's are not so happy

We are shaking the box to try and get the bee’s to let go and move into the box. They are mostly confused and are not trying to sting us at all, however,  it does provoke a bit of anxiety to be in such a buzz swarm.

The Queen in her box

After most of the bees are out we can reach in and remove the smaller box containing the Queen. She is much bigger than all the other bees and we are relieved to find her moving around and most definitely alive. The bee’s have gotten used to her pheromones over the past couple of days, all cooped up together, and they really want to stay close to their Queen. Isn’t it amazing that they just know to do this.

Using the bee brush

As we are installing the Queen, mass chaos is happening and all of the confused bees try and go everywhere. Her small box is attached inside the hive by tacks and will be removed later.

Marshmallow plug

Here I’m removing the cork and then plugging the hole of the Queens box with a small marshmallow. The other bee’s will feed on this sugary treat for a few more days as they try and get closer to the queen. Once they eat it all, they will all be used to each other peace will reign and there will be no rouge disputes with the Queen.

The Italian bee hive

During the second hive installation of the Italian bees, we decided to remove the Queen first and install her in the hive, then shake the others in with her. It makes sense that the other bee’s would follow more easily that way. This was easier said than done but did prove to be the better sequence for us. More of the bee’s stayed in the hive this way rather than when we put them in the hive first and then added their Queen. Although, that could just be a difference in behavior between the Italians and Cornelians. Their entire motivation is to look for the Queen at this point and so if she is missing in action even for a moment,  it creates confusion.

Installing the Italian Queen

The hive has frames inside it we are attaching the Queen in her box between the frames. During this second hive install, the marshmallow plugging procedure went awry.  Two bee’s got inside the box with her as we were replacing the cork with the marshmallow.  Moment of panic ensues because we think they may all kill each other. If you have no Queen, you have no hive. So, we quickly decide to forget the marshmallow and just let them all go in together, rather than trapping them in the small cage. Whew, that was fun.

The Italians go in

This part went smoothly, you can see masses of bee’s falling down into the hive here. It was nearly impossible to get them to all come our of the box.

All done!

The Cornelians on the right as still confused and keep going back into their travel box and on the outside of their hive. We tried numerous times to re-shake masses of them back into the hive to no avail. We ended up leaving them to figure it out on their own, the Queen is inside and when the sun goes down we are hoping they find their way inside. You can see the other Italian hive on the left has most all of the bee’s inside it. They are going for flights, but are less confused about what’s going on.

I can hardly wait to go check on them in a week!

Mushroom farming in beds and bales

Since I’ve embarked on Mushroom farming I decided to really go for it and try several methods and see what works best.  I started by inoculating logs and they seem to be doing their thing (the mycelium is working its way through, inhabiting the logs) as best as I can tell at this stage anyway.  The log method is a bit labor intensive though and so I want to see what else works.  So I’ve also started some mushrooms in beds using a variety of methods….

Layout the planting area with wet newspapers

If you have a lot of grass you can overlay it with a thick layer of wet newspaper to start with. This is a really quick easy way to start any kind of planting bed and is obviously much less expensive than building permanent raised beds. The other reason I’m doing this on TOP of the grass is that in our area, anytime you dig up the grass and dirt it sends a universal message to the dormant blackberry roots to sprout up….I am not kidding….their roots are everywhere out here.

Burlap coffee bags

Another material I’m using are burlap coffee bags….no shortage of those around Seattle. Humm…coffee infused mushrooms?  Just ask at any coffee house and they will be more than happy to give them away. I love the graphics on some of these bags and want to upholster an ottoman or chair with the burlap, but I digress, that’s another post.

Cooked compost

The next step is to get some good compost and spread a thick layer on top of the newspapers or burlap bags. Fortunately we have been making compost for quite a while and had a lot of it built up and cooking.  If you have ever made compost before its actually pretty amazing to stick you hand in and feel how it “cooks” underneath. The temperature gets so hot that it can almost burn your hand. This compost is filled with earthworms, doing their thing.

Compost spread on top of base material

Next step is to soak the compost bed with water and get the mushroom spawn…..

Cube of Mushroom spawn

I purchased several cubes of Shaggy Mane and Oyster mushrooms to plant here.  These cubes are composed of sterile sawdust that is permeated with the spawn and compressed into the cube.  When they arrive in a plastic bag and you can see the “white” part is the spawn starting to grow. If you try this, don’t open the bag until you are ready to plant your mushrooms because they need to stay slightly moist and not contaminated inside the sterile bag.

Mushroom spawn

The cube of spawn breaks apart easily and its spread all over the prepared beds of compost. I probably could have spread this more sparsely…..but we will see what happens!

Mushroom spawn

Once all of the beds were spread with the spawn like this, I covered them with more compost and watered them….

Hay bale raised bed

Another way to make a raised bed, of any kind, is to use hay bales.  We had a bunch of left over hay that we harvested really late in the season. Our previous buyer, the bison farmer down the road, was already set with hay for the year, and we couldn’t find another buyer.  Since we were unable to sell it, all of this hay has been sitting there, becoming a mice condo tower.  We decided to evict them and create some raised beds using the hay for mushrooms (and also some potatoes).

Hay bale raised bed

The other aspect that I really love about using these hay bales for raised beds is that it creates the perfect loop of sustainability. The grass grew here, we made hay, we made the compost here, then planted the beds. After several years of use, when they decompose too much, we can turn the whole pile into another round of REALLY good compost and start over. The beauty of growing mushrooms is that once they are done blooming with delicious “fruit” they leave the soil even better than it was before.

At rest

Now we wait……and see which method works the best at keeping the grass and blackberries at bay!


We had a few mishaps that sent the mice scurrying in exactly the opposite direction of all the planting activity. Unfortunately, that direction was straight into the highly permeable farm house. But that’s a story for another day…..


Not instant gratification

I’ve had several failed attempts at growing my “dream” flower garden on our farm, mainly due to the ever foraging deer. So, because I’m obsessed with flowers and can’t give up, I decided to go with the flow and plant huge swaths of Daffodils.  Everywhere. Apparently they must taste bad because the deer won’t eat them. This also goes with my over all philosophy of grow whatever wants to grow easily.  Not that I’m lazy or anything…

Drilling the holes with a bulb auger

Having a drill and a bulb auger attachment makes this go much faster.  I wish I had invented that handy little tool! (apologies for the micro tiny photos here)

Ready for all the bulbs

Now just wait…..until Spring.

Full bloom

Bambi didn’t get a single flower in this bed. I love the anticipation and entire process of planting bulbs, you have to wait so long, nearly forgetting that they are even there…..and then suddenly they bloom and remind you that the new season is here!


Bee Keeping

I have always wanted to become a Bee Keeper and have been reading, planning and thinking about it for many years.  I’m captivated by the abundance they make available to us in so many ways. So finally… this spring it’s happening, I’m going for it……. I have my bee’s on order and my hives are all primed, painted and ready to go!


Ready to prime the hive boxes

Primed boxes drying in the rare moment of Seattle sun

Next, I have to decide if I want to leave them in the old school classic white color or use another color.  Some Bee Keepers think that using a darker color on the box keeps the bee’s warmer. That makes sense to me, so I paint them a girls favorite color!

Tiffany Blue. The girl bee's do all the work, so I hope they like it!

The only problem I can foresee is that we have a few neighborhood bears in our area and they are extremely motivated by Honey!  I have to put the girls out of harm’s way, so they are going to live facing South, on top of our wood storage barn.

The bee hives are all in place away from the bears

Wish me luck, next week- end my bee’s arrive and I install the queen and her workers into these hives. Yikes, I hope this all goes well! Stay calm and carry on…..

Inspired by watermelon

I’m constantly amazed and inspired by the incredible patterns, detail and colors in nature. Once you start to look closely with fresh eyes you see the absolute magnificence of it all.

Watermelon Radish

 I’m planting some of these today!