Sunday, September 17, 2017

Irma Pays A Visit

NOAA map

A week ago today we were hunkering down as Hurricane Irma was afflicting Florida with her nastiness.  We had watched for a week as it moved through the islands gaining and losing strength and changing course repeatedly.  The news was full of potential paths she would take and how hard Florida would be hit once she arrived.  We took measures to prepare the house, property, animals and ourselves for the hurricanes arrival.  We chose not to evacuate and felt safe enough here since this property had already weathered extremely strong past hurricanes and held up.

Still taking care to remove everything that might take flight, to try to secure more vulnerable items or assist trees and plants that weren't as strong.  Including all my bananas, several that were finally bearing fruit along with some papayas that were heavy with ripening fruit.
Some of my bananas pre-Irma

Looking towards the food forest looks peaceful and lush

My wall I've been building out front for this planting bed had grown quite lush over the past few months.

The elephant ear bulbs I'd planted had all grown beautifully

Looking towards the driveway, we laid potted plants down to help protect them
My papaya in the banana circle with it's fruit

Custard apple also had a lot of fruit ripening on is

We added extra tarps to the chicken coops to keep some of the extra wind and rain from blowing in and then put stakes in the ground and ran wire over the top to prevent the winds from picking these up and breaking everything apart.
Main chicken coop with extra tarps and staked down. Not pretty, but effective

First rain squalls hitting coops

With stores out of plywood Kevin looked online for alternatives to protect the windows.  He found "hurricane curtains" for sale that are made from a heavy plastic covering and were rated for the intense winds.  With no time to order these he decided to be creative and make a version of his own.  He took the Tyvec Wrap we had and made lath frames that he wrapped several layers over and then attached these to the exterior of the house to give protection to our windows.

We moved potted plants closer to the house where they wouldn't be as exposed to winds.

Window for Lauren's room and plants tucked in close, those planted and in pots up close to the house

Windows in front

House and plants ready

Side garden with pvc structures taken down and only the shorter bases left

Garage, Cameron's shed room and the hoop house behind with our hydroponic systems in it ready. My cement for my planters covered and weighed down on the right

Courtyard in front of Cameron's room with the mixer and a few other items tucked in

We still had 3 of our chickens in a tractor, so we added extra tarps and like the main coops tied down with wire and stakes.
Chicken tractor before the storm

This is their tractor after the storm with tarps blown and bananas down around them, but they did fine

With all our supplies and water, along with extra fuel for cars and generators we kept an eye on the news as the hurricane moved into Florida early Sunday morning. All day long we watched as the path of the hurricane zig zagged and never stuck to the path they thought it would take.  By late afternoon the first rain squalls began here.

Rain coming down out back

Then around 8 p.m. the heavier winds began to hit.  The kids got a bit frightened with some of the initial winds and rain blasts, so we turned news off and put on praise music and gathered to pray as a family.  The kids settled down and even went to bed a couple hours later and slept through the real intensity of the storm.  Kevin and I kept vigil and watched again on the news the changing path this weird hurricane was taking.  For awhile we thought it would miss us with the worst of it, but then it moved over and around 3 am the corner of the eye came over our area with sustained winds of 80 mph and gusts over 100 mph.  I watched from the small windows by the front door as the winds bent the trees and bamboo way over.  As branches flew around and could be heard hitting the house.

At 4 am we heard loud thuds on the side of the house that the garage is on.  Three of the six solar pool panels had let loose and were swinging back and forth.  We went out and while I tried to hold it steady Kevin took cutters to cut through the pipe so the remaining panels wouldn't be pulled off as well. We then had to separate the loose panels and get them on the ground then weigh them down so they wouldn't become airborne. Admittedly it was scary out there with the noise of the wind and all the flying debris.  I was glad to get this done and get back inside.

The worst of the winds past us around 4:30, but  we still had windy conditions until around 11 am on Monday.  With only about an hours sleep we went out to look around at the state of things on Monday.  Pine branches and boughs littered everything.
Debris that blew up against the front of the house.  My potted plants took a bit of a beating, but are still alive

Our driveway and front of the house covered in pine needles and boughs

Cameron's courtyard area after the storm

Garbage can area with fallen branches and the small holly tree down

Front of the house. Had to cut this papaya tree down.  Hated to do it since it made it through the storm with much of it's fruit in tact, but it was leaning too much and was too heavy to try to right.

My bananas were all gone, and papayas were damaged.  My barbados cherries and loquat tree were all leaning and needed to be pushed back into position with extra dirt added to hold them.

My poor bananas, chicken tractor there on the left

My large Cavendish banana that had just flowered

My pretty elephant ears pictured earlier before the storm looked like this after

The chicken coops had made it through, but the ground water level from Big Lake that's behind us had risen from the almost 10 inches of rain we got and there was about 6 inches of standing water in the coops. We began to take the fallen pine boughs and put them on the floor to give them some dry ground to walk around on so they didn't have to stay on the roosting bar all day.
With the exception of the coops top panel piece, everything stayed in tact. It's a mucky mess around there, but that will dry

Coop floor with mud and water.  We've covered this now with pine needles

As I walked around looking at the damage, I was so thankful to still have electricity. We lost power during hurricane Matthew for 4 days. And despite the intensity of this storm we were fortunate to only have minor damage of the loss of the solar panels and a couple of screen panels from the pool enclosure. Everything else was debris from plants and trees, and though all my bananas were gone and I had to cut down some of my papayas, these will grow back.

Our vehicles had branches and pine needles all around, but thankfully no damage

After working in the yard a bit I walked back towards the house and saw this rainbow in the sky.  I'll take it as a sign of protection and promise.

Sun rise after the storm

So now after a week, with internet service back I can post this and say the clean up still continues. I'm paying attention to which trees and plants faired best and keeping this in mind as I plan more landscape ideas and their placement for the future. We're also keeping our eye on the news as other hurricanes still loom out there with the possibility of affecting us. We'll take this as it comes and keep on keeping on with our little homestead.

Hot and messy as we clean up, but happy overall

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Adding to our Family

When we began this blog as a journal of sorts in the adoption of our youngest daughter Lauren from Shanghai, we realized after her arrival  in January of 2011, that there was more to cover as she adapted to being a member of the family and so it has continued over these last few years as our family has moved on through life's journey.  One of the first significant events Lauren participated in was in March of 2011 when our oldest daughter Amber married Eddie.

Then in 2013 we had to say goodbye to Amber and Eddie as we moved here to Central Florida. They would move themselves about a year later up to Portland, Oregon. We've enjoyed their coming out here for visits and we Skype regularly to stay in touch.

They arrived to say goodbye the morning we left So. Cal. It was so hard
to say goodbye to them
After disappointments for them in starting a family we were in support of their decision to adopt, but when an open adoption fell through a year ago we grieved their loss as well. Still ready to pursue their dream of a family they proceeded to go through the process of classes, background checks and home studies to Foster/Adopt.  They had just completed all of these and were all set to begin when Amber found out she was pregnant.  They were shocked and thrilled as were we all.  Her pregnancy proceeded well and we were excited when their reveal let everyone know they were having a boy.

Finally the date arrived and no baby, in fact 2 weeks later he still hadn't arrived and all indications with Amber seemed to show he had no plans of making his appearance. SO - her doctors had she and Eddie come in at 1 AM Portland time on Wednesday to induce her labor.  A very long 48+ hours later they performed a C section and Elliot James arrived in the world Friday 7/21/2017, at 8 lbs, 10 oz. and 22 in. long.  He was sporting a full head of hair.

We are so excited as this is our first grandchild and our kids are now aunts and an uncle. We Skyped with them to be able to see him and talk to Amber and Eddie.  Amber was still pale and tired from her ordeal, but their smiles spoke volumes as did ours.

Love Amber and Eddie's smiles and our other kids reaction in the small Skype window at seeing Elliot!!

We had discussed visiting during the pregnancy and all agreed it would work best for all to fly them out here once they'd had the baby, than for all of us to descend on them.  So we are working to coordinate their visit along with having my parents out from So. Cal at the same time to meet their first great grandchild. That will be a wonderful experience for us all.

I love all the technology today that allows us to see and keep up with all that's happening and the changes. Instagram is great.  Amber has a blog so we'll be seeing more of him there too. (Here's a link for anyone interested.  Building Our Homestead  ) So until we see them in person we can keep up with this precious little guy and his incredible parents. Can't wait to see and meet him in person when they all come in November!!!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Making Faux Rocks for My Landscape

Coloring my rock

As I've been planting and laying out my yard for our edible food forest and now more for the landscape design I want, I've been frustrated by the horrid St. Augustine grass and other weeds that constantly retake territory I've procured for myself.  SOOO, after looking into various edgings and blocks available at the builder supply stores, I kept coming back to wanting to create rock-scape planters, like those we had built around our pool when we lived in California.  Our whole pool was designed to look like a large pond surrounded by rock planters. I loved it!!

I began reading "how to" articles and watching loads of YouTube videos for ideas and to build my confidence to try to do these myself. I experimented with hypertufa pots with the idea of making varying sizes to encircle my garden beds.  They turned out alright, but I didn't really care for them enough to continue making more than the two I have some plants in. So after some preparing I began with my first "rock" made from two bags of cement that had hardened in our garage.  I built up the shape using a hypertufa mix and foam blocks.  I just kept adding small shovel full lumps around the foam and using my hands to press them all into a form I liked.  Once I got everything covered and shaped to my satisfaction, I took a large garbage bag and cut it so I could open it up completely to be able to cover my rock.  Hypertufa takes awhile to dry completely and it needs to remain damp so it dries and cures slowly.  I used canola oil spray on the side of the bag that would touch the hypertufa to ensure it didn't stick as the piece dried.  It took a good 2 weeks to completely dry, but I uncovered it after the first week.  I didn't bother carving it as I originally planned to add detail, because we thought it had acquired the look of coquina stone often found in Florida and liked the way it appeared.

Bags of hard cement recycled for my rock base

This is a recipe for Hypertufa - I didn't use acrylic fortifier or dyes on mine
My screen for cleaning the sticks and lumps in the peat moss

Pieces of styrofoam packing recycled for my rock

Using my hypertufa mix I began layering the foam and padding the pieces in with more mix

My Hypertufa Rock

So with this first rock finished, I began planning my next one.  I love the work of Moore Design I found on YouTube.  He has several videos with how to's and cement recipes so if you want to try this definitely check out his work. I needed some forms to build on and haven't found the broken cement pieces I'd like to, to be able to follow his examples.  Instead I decided to use some "trash" items that we were planning to take to the recycle center. An old helium tank found by the side of the road along our property and a large green sand tank that had been part of the water softener we had to replace.

Once Kevin had cleared the weeds and grass next to the planting bed I laid out my tanks.  I used Quikcrete builders cement to secure them in place and added broken foam pieces to add height and shape.  Once I got a basic shape I let that dry and then took a section of old chicken wire left by the former owners of this property to further cover the tanks and give the next layer of cement something to hold onto.  I then added a few pieces of broken cement we had here from a walk Kevin is working to replace as he works on a drainage problem we're having near the pool.  So I recycled all these items as part of my "rock",  Once I had a basic shape I let everything completely dry.

Kevin clearing the area and the bags I had of mulch I used to kill some grass before removing it

The tanks I placed down to recycle and add substance to my rock planter

The builders cement mix for holding the tanks and foam in place as the initial base of my planter

Not looking too pretty, but here's my base of tanks, foam chicken wire and cement

A closer look

I've added more cement and some broken cement pieces have been added for height and shape all covered now with a layer of cement to form my solid base

The next step was taken directly from the instructions in the Moore design video I gave a link to above. I used the 9 scoops of sand to 2 1/2 scoops of Portland Cement and only enough water to make it thick but not soupy. You need the cement to be workable, but thick enough to stay in place. I took handfuls with my gloved hands and covered the whole rock.  My initial piece was covered with fingerprints as a result.

The basic coat of finishing cement

You can see all my hand and finger prints in it as I placed the cement in place

I'm using a plastic bag to initially shaped and soften the rock and it's fingerprints

Some of my initial shaping

So to soften and shape this I took a plastic bag and began shaping and softening the rock edges. I used the side of my spade to cut into the cement to give some design elements to my initial work.

Once this had set to a semi hard piece, I then took the spade and old paint brush to cut in my rock elements and used the brush to soften the edges and remove the excess cement.  I think I went a bit overboard with my design work, but I am learning.  I used a steel brush to add a few pitted sections and then softened the areas I was a bit too ambitious on with the side of my plastic bag and the brush as the cement was still pliable yet firm enough to hold the work I was doing. I don't know if it was necessary, but I covered my rock with plastic the same way I had with the Hypertufa rock.  This cured far faster and by the next morning was completely set up.

This was my rock once it was dry.

Preparing to color the rock

I wet the whole rock first and added the charcoal and moss colors going back over with water to soften the edges and try to make it look more natural

And so here it is.  Maybe a bit too many details, but not bad for a first try.

My order of cement oxides arrived in the mail and I then set about to color my rock.  Again I used the suggestions from Moore Design for aging your rocks to color my piece.  I'm satisfied with the way it's turned out, but I can see areas for improving as I continue to learn how to do this.  I have loads of area to work on and expect one day to be a regular faux rock expert!!  (Insert BIG smile here)

Here's a closer look at the detail and color. I dry brushed a touch of white patio paint on some of the edges to give some additional highlights

In the meantime I'm keeping my eyes open for broken cement sources to make my job easier.  I also bought a load of builders sand as the bags of play sand from Lowes are too pricey for amounts I'll need as I continue to create my planters.  I'm truly excited to see how this will progress and work with the plants and eventually ponds and fountains I want to create. I'm also hoping these will make my life a bit easier in time by keeping the lawn separated from my planting beds.  Time will tell.

The first part of my rock planter on this side and they hypertufa rock is on the other side, now to continue building until I completely surround my planting beds

So what do you think?  I'll update as I make progress and my landscape takes shape.