Saturday, February 18, 2012

Electrical and Garden

We've been busy at Ruston house this week working in the yard and getting everything ready for our new electrical installation.

Dubious fusebox

The current overhead hookup to the house (rain immanent!)

The string marks the spot!  Of our trench digging needs.

Right now we have an FPE breaker box that is apparently considered very sketchy.  I guess the fuses don't trip when they should.  Eeek!  Big big fire hazard!  So you can see those wires coming in up above in that picture - we've got an overhead service from the pole at the Southeast corner of the lot, across the alley.  For the new electrical service we're going to do an underground conversion from the pole at the Northeast corner, and then we'll stick the panel in the basement (instead of over there at the back outside of the house).  It is pretty exciting to be making this step!  Once we've got a new power source we can start ripping out all of that ancient knob-and-tube that everything's running on now and get this (partial) demolition (don't worry) going in earnest.

Meanwhile, I have been working away at our knotweed problem and Mike has been uprooting (difficult!) our laurels one after another.  Very soon we'll be upgrading our retaining wall from a collection of broken concrete (former patio?) and disintegrating railroad ties to something nice and new.  Neither of us has ever formed and poured concrete, so there's plenty of learning to be had along the way!  Then once that's in place we'll put up a fence and keep those neighborhood dogs from pooping everywhere.

My trip to Ruston yesterday was less successful.  I took Bugsy with me to plant some of my purchases from the Flower and Garden Show in Seattle (a Goji Berry bush and a Lingonberry bush!) as well as work on that obnoxious knotweed again.  Bugsy romped briefly around the yard while I planted the seedlings and talked to our neighbor.  Then it started to rain and Bugsy became quite grumpy.  At first he tried standing next to me, looking sad and dejected while I pulled up our lonely last scotch broom that Mike wanted to keep.  When I headed back towards the truck to grab something, he ran ahead of me excitedly, making dramatic jumps and leaps as he circled the truck.  When I didn't open the door, he went back into sad dog mode.  Clearly I wasn't getting the message.  I tried to pull up some knotweed at the front of the house, but that was when it started really pouring and Bugsy still wasn't doing anything to boost morale.  After standing next to me whimpering slightly, he gave up and decided to wait under the cover of the front porch.  I finally left the knotweed - my old leaky rain jacket had started to soak through!  He was of course thrilled and made another exuberant run to the truck, this time taking a satisfying jump onto the warm seat.

Hopefully next week will bring weather that cooperates a bit better.

Sad, wet Bugsy (in favorite gold chair!)

New book and a local seed catalog 

Seed starts!  This time I'm making it easy on myself with a nice start tray

Garden/Site Plan.
Contour lines thanks to the EPA lead/arsenic remediation map,
architecture work thanks to Mike's dad!

Newest garden incarnation, looking a bit worse for wear

Ann and Mike

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Tentative Victory Against Knotweed

It has been slow going, but we have made some serious progress on the knotweed front. Mike's mom Kiki and I have toiled away on the large patch on the West side of our house. Yesterday Mike helped me finish the job and we removed all visible evidence of the plant (on the western front, that is - there's still an alarming patch by the front door). I'm sure that there is more lurking under the surface, but we'll never know when it's really eradicated so we celebrate where we can. I am also reading lots of information about knotweed, including the very thorough King County Knotweed Eradication Booklet (thanks Chris!). I now know "the four T's": timely, tenacious, tough and thorough. They're attributes we should demonstrate in order to vanquish this invasive weed, but they quite aptly describe the knotweed itself. This plant is a voracious reproducer and has no problem growing from seed pods, creepy red-orange nodules, or root fragments.  Definitely something to treat with care. We've been bagging it and taking it to the dump. There's no way we captured every last piece of it, and we'll have to start looking for new sprouts in the next weeks while we tackle the snarl at the front of the house. Is it possible that someone purposely planted this (almost certainly the case)? I shudder to think of it.

We haven't just been pulling things out of the ground.  We've just planted a row of fruit trees in the yard, something that will one day make a small orchard to include the two we've already got there.  Now in addition to the pear and Italian prune, we'll have two apples, an apricot, a sour cherry and a rainier, and a second pear tree.  Orchard!  I can't wait! And it looks like we might even get some blossoms on the sour cherry this season.  The saplings are about as tall as we are, and most of them will be 10-15 feet when they're full grown, but that new pear is going to reach 20-30 feet!  I wonder how long that will take.

In somewhat more distressing news, we have learned an interesting feature about our sewer lateral.  Our plumber sent a camera down there last week, and marked its route through the yard in green.

The green markings show the direction of the lateral and the depth.  Not that deep, which makes fixing/replacing it convenient!  But what's that up ahead?
Uh oh.  X marks the spot.
It heads straight to one of the trees our town (I assume) planted along the length of our block on the median.  The camera couldn't get past that point, and at only 3 feet down the roots are almost certainly the culprit.  It's an ominous sign, but we're finding hope as we learn how to work with the city.  They'll be digging up the entire street to replace the main sewer line in June, and that should coincide nicely with whatever attempts we have to make to fix things on our end (though it's still not clear on whose end the problem sits).  Hmm...the possibilities.

The new fruit trees are budding!
I inspect the location of our Comice Pear.
These poor old ladies are well overdue for their haircuts.
No longer any visible signs of knotweed, but who knows what lurks deep under the surface.
Our next knotweed project.  Bzzzht!

And I wish we had some photographic evidence for this story, but we were too enchanted to even think to grab the camera.  When Kiki, Mike and I were at the house on Monday taking our lunch break, we looked up and saw a bald eagle(!) cruising by, slowly, maybe a hundred feet up.  It was so close!  And just coasting leisurely overhead.  It must have been looking for some lunch of its own.  But the chickens!  We'll have to be careful and build a coop with wire mesh over the run, or giving the hens plenty of thorny bushes to hide in (Ann says that they feel safe when they're in among the thorns).  I'm sure that eagle wouldn't think twice about grabbing any of our ladies for a lunchtime snack.  Yikes!

Ann and Mike

Friday, February 3, 2012

Damn you Japanese Knotweed.

Mike and I have been hard at work on the yard at Ruston. Mike has made a huge amount of progress clearing out the area at the back of the house, and it looks great! Blackberries and laurel bushes are disappearing and we can finally get a real sense of the size of our yard (and we no longer have to navigate a tangle of brambles in the back - now if only the neighbor whose dog has been pooping up and down our freshly cleared yard could, I don't know, rein it in a bit) but getting such encouraging results is really satisfying. I have been busy tackling a Japanese knotweed problem on the West side of the house.  It is very slow work. Imagine morning glory, but larger and roots that snap off just as easily (To regrow! Exciting!). Not exciting. I am now resigned to my fate, which resembles something of an archeologist excavating ancient knotweed ruins.  If anyone has any miracle cures, tips for knotweed (flamethrower?), or morale-boosting success stories about its eradication, please share (or better yet, come help out!). Especially since on Tuesday I noticed two smaller patches around the front of the house. Boo.

We've been doing all this yard work instead of tackling the house directly in part because it's straightforward - no permits, just cutting and digging.  But it's also a big prerequisite for other important jobs: up next on the list is fencing the front and the back (finally no more stray poops), replacing the crumbling railroad tie retaining wall with a new concrete retaining wall, getting a new electrical service put in (the main breaker panel right now is some ancient, incredibly unreliable type) as well as shoring up the precariously slumping front porch.

And here are some more pictures!

Ann and Mike

My nemesis.
The knotweed.
Close up root bits. Grumpy!
We have unearthed some miscellaneous ancient ruins, including 3 car tires complete with rims and some (perhaps once sturdy) wood.
This laurel on the left is next on the list after the one on the right in that "After" photo
Mike's truck and evidence of more to do.
Obnoxious root bundle!
I had to include Cooper drinking from the dog bowl. This is back in Tacoma - he hasn't been to Ruston yet!