Pantry Remodel

pantry 1pantry 2For years we have lived with a cramped pantry, with sharp corner angles that did not properly accommodate two rectangle five shelf storage racks.   Walking space was always lacking and any large storage items ended up blocking the narrow aisle and making the pantry not user friendly.  This year we decided to tile the pantry and I was tasked with customizing shelving and storage baskets so we can maximize our home storage.   With only the bi-weekly downtown winter markets to prepare for, winter is the best time for me to tackle this kind of project.

I started the project by screwing 1×4  pine boards to the walls and I built 30 wooden shelf supports.

pantry 3I then used 1x 8 and 1×6 boards cut to match the corner angles for the shelves.pantry 4pantry 6

pantry 9I decided to build five shelves approximately 15 inches apart.  I then built above a crawl space adding three additional small shelves.  We plan to use the crawl space for water storage.

pantry 7pantry 8pantry 10I then screwed three 1×3 pine boards as supports for my customized hanging storage baskets.

pantry 11These wall hanging baskets are removable to allow for easier access to the crawl space water storage.  These baskets are great to keep the floor clear and the hardware cloth allows for great air flow for produce storage such as potatoes and onions.

I sanded the shelving and applied a coat of varnish on all the wood surfaces.  The project cost about a hundred and fifty dollars in materials and a few nights work.   I am also using my portable french market basket for additional produce storage as well as a cover for the entrance to the crawl space.    I have additional closet shelves to tackle in the next few months.   All in all I am pleased with the results and look forward to filling the pantry with next years produce bounty.

pantry 13pantry 14

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Putting the compost to bed

Another year of composting is under my belt.  I made around 1000 gallons of screened compost this year which I used throughout my vegetable and flower beds.  I usually make more but I did not have the time to turn the bins weekly so I had to be satisfied with turning them when I got around to it.   This season I had the opportunity to help around 35 families get into composting with new bins.   I really enjoyed delivering the bins and seeing the garden happenings in their yards.

This time of year I get a lot of questions about how to prepare compost bins for winter.   Composting is truly a year round operation but once the nitrogen sources become depleted (mainly grass clippings), then it is really hard to keep the 3 to 1 carbon to nitrogen ratio needed to keep the bins heating up.  I will explain how I end the composting season with the goal in mind to have screen-able finished compost for early spring planting.

I have a four bin compost system in my backyard.  I would ideally have six bins but I don’t have the room.  My bins are twelve years old and still going strong.

compost turningThe first thing I do is screen all the material in my fourth bin.   Any material that does not screen I throw back in the third bin.   I use all of the screened compost to mulch my raspberries, garlic and roses.   Once I have an empty fourth bin I turn all the bins to the right.  Thus, I then have an empty first bin and three mostly full bins.  I fill the empty first bin with leaves and spent gardening plants in as close to a 3 to 1 ratio as I can.

compost turnedI have almost ready compost in the fourth bin but I will wait until spring to screen this material.

fourth binThe material in my third bin looks like this.

third binThe material in the second bin.

second binThe material in newly filled first bin.

first binI raise and utilize red worms throughout my four bin system so it is essential to mulch the bins heavily with leaves (topping each bin with a big pile of leaves), to keep the worms insulated from the cold.

topped off binThe material in the bins will continue to decompose and shrink down during the winter.  The internal temperature of the bins will remain above freezing although the top foot or so will freeze.   I will continue to place my kitchen scraps in the first bin throughout the winter and I will top the bins off with more leaves during  the winter as the piles shrink in volume.  Come spring I will pull off the top layer of leaves and I will screen the entire fourth bin and use the contents on the spring planting beds.  I will turn all the bins to the right, leaving an empty first bin to start the new composting season.

As I have stressed in previous composting posts, now is the time to stock pile as many bags of leaves as you can find room for in your yard.  Nature does not provide much brown, carbon rich material in the spring and summer so if you don’t save it now you won’t have the necessary material to mix with your green grass clippings and kitchen scraps.  If you don’t save leaves you cannot make a large volume of compost.

It is never a bad time to start composting.   Organic matter is a critical component for healthy garden soil and the sooner you get going the quicker you will have your own “black gold”.   Why buy bags of expensive organic matter when you can be earth friendly and recycle your own household and garden waste for free.   Composting will save you a lot of money and there is a lot of personal satisfaction in creating your own soil and feeding your family from your soil.    Growing your own food is truly the only way to really know where your food comes from.

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Market season winding down

The summer market season has been very productive and I have spent most of my time building product, particularly compost bins, harvest baskets and bat houses.   Last Sunday was my last day at Wheeler Farm and I have three more markets downtown.   I have been so busy trying to keep up with building that I have not had much time to take care of my own garden.   I still try to find time to take advantage of the continuing garden bounty and I made a nice salad today containing kale, juliet and yellow pear tomatoes, green peppers, red onion, broccoli and cucumber.  It may snow tonight so I don’t know how much longer these summer veggies will survive.

saladLast week I finally got around to checking the bee hive for a chance at a honey harvest.  I inspected the entire hive and learned that the bees have put up some honey in the top (third) super but not enough to take much for our use.  I did harvest one partially filled frame.

frameNot all of the honey was capped and I simply used a slotted spoon to scrape the honey and wax into a plastic tote.  I then screened the honey through a strainer and then a finer strainer to clean out the wax.   I was surprised that I filled a mason jar about half full with only a partial frame.

honeyI read that cleaning the frames is as easy as putting them next to the hive for the bees to reclaim the remaining honey.  Worked like a charm.

frame cleaningbees on frameI received good news recently that the Westlake Jr. High Garden has been selected as School Garden of the Year by Edible Wasatch Magazine.  The prize is a $500 award and the garden will be featured in the magazine in October.  Congratulations to the school staff, parents and students for a job well done.  There were many skeptics when we started the garden and it is nice to prove the naysayers wrong.

The Blessed Sacrament School Garden has also been a success and we have applied for a grant from Whole Foods to expand our garden for next year.  Maybe the Blessed Garden will be the big winner next year.

I have started an affiliation with a new store, Silver Star Hardware which is located at 2327 East and 3300 South in Salt Lake City.

silver starI will bring additional items to the store once the market season is over.  Produce baskets are the first of my items for sale at the store.

harvest basketsGood luck to the Wasatch Front Market Store but I have discontinued my association with them and have moved on to greener pastures.

Lastly, every year I am surprised by a hidden treasure in my garden.   This year I was not very observant as my pumpkin vine climbed on to my wood pile and left me a nice big surprise for Halloween.   Looking forward to fall clean-up which will be fodder for my next post.


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Recent garden happenings

blessed sacrament gardenI recently stopped by the Blessed Sacrament garden to fix part of the retaining wall that got ripped out by a truck bumper.  I was very impressed with the production of this first year garden.  It is a big success and the gardeners are excited to get the garden in tip top shape to show off for the first day of school next Monday.

Since summer school ended in early July, I have not been involved in the upkeep of the Westlake community garden.   I learned a few days ago that the garden is a finalist for best community garden.   I am very proud of the school staff and family center women who have taken over and I have successfully put myself out of work until next year (if I am needed).

I have been very busy building baskets and bins and attending the weekend farmer’s markets.  I am continuing to be a vendor at the Saturday Pioneer Park Market and I have switched from the Friday morning Thanksgiving Point Market and I will finish the summer at the Sunday Wheeler Farm Market.   My latest creations are stack able crate style produce storage bins.

potato binMy yard has gone to the weeds and I have been finding a few minutes here and there to weed specific areas which I feed to the chickens.  They love to pick through the weeds and they eat most of them.

chickens and weedsThe chickens escaped their enclosure last week and they found the grapes.   Their jumping up to get the grapes reminded me of shark week.

chickens and grapesI checked on the bees and they are actively producing honey in the top super box.  Most of my bees collect water out of an adjacent bird bath but I found one getting a drink from the poultry water bucket.

bee and watererMy Asian pear tree is full of fruit and even the immature fruit is tasty.

asian pear 1asian pear 2I have begun harvesting the first planting of potatoes in the potato bins.

potato harvestGrowing in bins makes harvesting easy as all one has to do is pull up the bin and dig through the dirt for the tators.  This eliminates having to use a shovel or pitchfork which commonly spears some of the harvest.

potatoes1I love to use a produce harvest basket to collect the potatoes.

dirty potatoesWhich can be quickly washed off with a garden hose sprayer before being brought in the house.potatoes and waterI have been actively turning and screening my compost bins.  I recently used about 60 gallons to compost my new blackberry patch.

composted blackberriesTo close this post I will share a photo of a sunset affected by the Tooele area fires.   There seems to always be beauty found with destruction.


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Time of backyard bounty

Other than spring, this is the time of year that I most look forward to.  Earlier in the season I have been able to graze on individual vegetables ripening but now many vegetables are producing nicely.   We have recently been eating tomatoes, onions, kale, broccoli, cucumbers, peppers and zucchini and last weekend we ventured into cheese making with our first batch of Mozzarella.  We bought a kit from the Market Store and it was a simple process.

cheese and veggiesThese ingredients made for a great dinner.

dinnerYesterday a couple of my chickens jumped the fence and dug up some onions in the burlap.  I never do very well with onions as I plant a lot but can’t seem to grow big onions.  I can’t complain as the smaller onions are just as tasty but if anyone has any onion tips please send them my way.  I did learn that onions are easily harvested simply by pulling up the burlap.

onions in burlapI used one of my produce harvest baskets to collect the onion bounty.

picked onionsThese baskets make it easy to wash the vegetables and air dry them prior to bringing the produce into the house.  These baskets are good sellers at the farmer’s markets.  They are made of hardwood and the bottom is screened with hardware cloth to allow for hosing off of the vegetables right in the basket.

clean onionsToday I conducted a full inspection of my bee hive.  I placed the third super on the hive a couple of weeks ago and I was excited to see how much honey the bees have produced for me.  Sadly, they have not done anything with the top super box but they have pretty much filled the bottom two supers with brood and honey.   As Labor Day is the usual harvest time I hope these bees get busy or I won’t be getting honey this year.  They have another month so I am hopeful to get one super to harvest.

I wore the bee mask, gloves, a white shirt and jeans to inspect the hive.  Even though it was a little breezy today, the bees were calm.  I even had three or four climb up my pant legs, (I forgot to put rubber bands on the cuffs), and no stings as I calmly shook them out.

Lastly, the family recently took a nice hike to Cecret Lake (yes it is spelled this way), above Alta Ski Resort.  The wildflowers are in full bloom and the short hike gets you to a very beautiful place.  I highly recommend this outing.

cecret lake

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Second sting


To recap, my first bee sting was human error as I decided to check out the hive in the evening hours.  First lesson learned.  I experienced my second lesson yesterday when I decided to quickly add my third bee super to the hive.  I was in a hurry and I decided to not suit up while taking off the inner and outer covers to place the third box on the hive.  Taking the covers off was not the problem as the bees were calm.   The mistake occurred while placing the box on the hive while trying not to squish any bees.  I made the poor choice of blowing on the bees in an attempt to make a few move out of the way as my hands were full.  Lesson is that bees don’t like to be blown on as it is better to simply push them away.   Today the flipping finger on my left hand is swollen with the swelling moving up to my knuckles.  Funny how there was no swelling on the first sting but with this one I am having a much more severe reaction.   Again to reiterate, both stings occurred at the hive while I was doing something stupid.   I am still waiting for my first innocent sting but true self defense is in defense of one’s home as the bees are minding their own business when out in public.

Thanksgiving PointLast Friday was the first day of the Thanksgiving Point Farmer’s Market which is held at the Water Tower Plaza every Friday from 10:00 to 14:00 hours.   The day was a little rainy but overall was nice and cool.

Yesterday’s Downtown Market was also overcast and cooler than usual for this time of year.   The “owl guy” requested I build a donation box for him so I took on the task.  The idea is for him to train a crow to take donations and drop them in the box.  Will see how the training goes but the box turned out great.


The grape trellis I installed for my neighbor is starting to take form as the grape is growing on the three lines.  I attached the vines to the wire with velcro tape you can buy at any garden center.  The vine also attaches itself to the wire with tendrils.


In my garden the raspberries are in full production and I can pick a small container for my morning cereal every day.


We have also been enjoying fresh broccoli.


The yard is in full bloom and I have really been enjoying my cone flowers amongst many other varieties of blossom.

coneflowersI have been tending my mother’s flower pots while she has been out of town.  She does a great job with pots, much better than I.

mompotsLastly for this post, my old dog Whisky is still ruling over the garden barking at all passersby.


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Random gardening topics

gourd plantersThis time of the year I am getting my fill of gardening on many fronts.  I have been helping teach the summer school gardening program at West Lake Junior High three days a week.  We have taught the kids how to compost, save seed, harvest vegetables, weed the garden and basic tool safety.  The kids also made gourd planters from last years crop which they painted and hung on the garden fence.

On a side note, the school has a pond and they have a permit to keep a snapping turtle.  The pond is drained early every summer and Mr. Snapper is caught and sent off to a reptile specialist for summer care before returning to the pond in the fall.  The only snapping turtles I have ever seen have been on “Swamp People” so it was interesting seeing one in real life.

snapping turtle

zucchini harvestThe biggest garden harvest so far has been the zucchinis.   The students have also been eating a lot of strawberries, we have transplanted tomato and strawberry plants for the kids to take home and we have cut, tied and hung cilantro plants in paper sacks to collect the dried seeds for replanting.  The students have been enthusiastic learning about nature and gardening.

On the home front my garden has been growing in the healthy, rich composted soil.  We have been eating the first of the raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.

raspberriesThe pole beans are growing up the wire cage I salvaged from a customer who was throwing them away.

pole beansAfter learning of the compatibility of fava beans and grapes during a wine tasting in Northern California, I planted fava beans under my grape trellis and both are doing well.

fava beansgrapesMy potatoes are growing tall in the potato bins and I recently planted a second potato crop.

potatoesI have harvested a few small heads of broccoli which I have added to fresh kale and mustard salads.


I have also harvested a few cayenne peppers.

cayenne peppersOn the fruit side, I have my first peach set on my dwarf trees that only grow about five to six feet tall.  The fruit dropped off in years past so I hope to harvest a few ripe ones this year.

first peachThe asian pears are abundant as usual.   It is amazing how much fruit you can get out of young trees.

asian pears

The chickens and the bees continue to peacefully coexist and they share a small bird bath.

chickens and bees

Lastly, we are going on the fourth week of the downtown farmer’s market.

slcmarketBusiness has been brisk, even with the competition from last week’s arts festival.  It has been good seeing familiar faces from the past in the crowd.   As I get older I seem to see more familiar faces in the obituaries then in person.  I have enjoyed seeing old friends prospering in life and doing well.  I look forward to more blasts from the past.

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