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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Digging in our planter beds

The Squirrels activity has been the highest ever. They have been digging in our planter beds and all over the lawn.

They love running on top of the new fence on the North side.

Wonder how we are going to manager the Squirrels from causing more havoc as the garden matures

Monday, May 24, 2010

Our winged friends

The crow was pretty irked about me working and wandering in the backyard over the weekend. Earlier in the day, I saw 2 crows (one on the neighbor's pine) and one on our Magnolia that were keeping a close eye on a cat that typically hangs out in our backyard.

It took me a while to figure out why and mainly where.

Looks like we will have babies this year too, last year it was skunks, and this year it is the crows. The nest is set high up on the Oak tree.

Interestingly, we have a couple of rowdy Blue jay's that have been in the house since we first moved in 2 years ago. They make hell a lot of noise and I very often feel that they are booing at us if we wander into their zone near the oak tree unknowingly. They were nesting there last season and on a large oleander bush next to our house, the season before that. This year they have found a nice cozy spot on one of the oak trees in the front of our house. At least, the crows don't seem to mind all the noise the Blue Jay's are making.

Under the same roof-Visitors again

We had visitors again this past week !

And now we attribute it to the exposed area below the concrete when we started digging up the area near the crawl space entrance to get rid of all that crap in the soil.

We cleaned everything up and leveled the area this weekend, fingers crossed that this is going to be the last ones that make it in.

On another note, I think they get up to the attic through the walls where some electrical/ plumbing is going through. And that needs to be fixed too.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Watching grass grow- Week 3

"It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by  people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves,like grass" (One Writer's beginnings, Ch 1) 

It is week 3 of the eco-lawn experiment and I sorely wish that the grass would just come up everywhere I had seeded.

There is a big bald patch in the middle, I wonder why. The initial thought was that the grass was growing well around the sprinklers. But during this past week we had unseasonal rains and temperatures that dipped at night to below the 50's very consistently.

We are planning to wait a couple more weeks before we re-seeds again in the bald patches.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Front yard dilemma - Part 2

All through the summer of 2009, we were focussed primarily on ripping out stuff. Here is how the front yard transformation happened. The very leggy shrubs alongside the front fence had to be removed.

And the same was true about the never-pruned shrubs that were along the second driveway on the south side of the front yard (the ones along the back of the picture).

On one of the shows on HGTV, I saw that the easy way to take out shrubs was to use the car to pull them out. And oh my....what a nice stress buster that was. We got some chains and got it tied into our hitch on the CR-V. We added some weights to help keep the weight down on one side.

The shrubs had massive root structures and to ease the process, we loosened up the soil around the area to as to not put too much on the CR-V

The veggie garden 2010-Part 1

Seed starting in 2010 has been an interesting process. After collecting toilet paper rolls from friends and getting them prepped, we figured that they might not be a great starting medium.

All of a sudden we sprung up on the idea of using these small wax paper cups, and we got a big bag of them from Costco. I pinched holes at the bottom of the cups, and lined them up on a aluminum serving tray, into which i watered, instead of overhead watering. The trays will be re-used next year for seed starting. The wax cups made it easier to write on them with permanent marker. Though most of the bottom half was disintegrated by the time we got to planting, the top rim was the only piece that was left intact.

The other lesson i learnt in the process was to probably not put more than 1 seed per pot, or should i really be eliminating the weaker plant in each pot?.....I just don't have the heart to do that.

We also set up a new new irrigation pipe set up near the old planter area to avoid trip hazards with the drip irrigation lines running all over the concrete.

There were 5 planter beds set up last year with the boards from our old fence. These dont have any Gopher proofing below. 2 more planter beds got set up with some reclaimed wood that we saved when the remnants of the fence were taken apart to make way for the new one. These 2 are going to house all our tomato plants

Here is a full view of the planter beds set up in 2009

Here are the new planter beds that went in recently. We had the guys who did our fence pre-cut pressure treated lumber for us. As always Guru did the planning and design of the boxes and gave them their sushi list of parts.

As luck would always have, I started reading all these articles on the usage pf pressure-treated wood in planting areas. . With the lumber already purchased, Guru came up with an idea of stapling the plastic tarp (typically used as drop cloth for painting) onto the wood to prevent anything from leeching into the soil.

In one of the classes we took, we learnt about these things called Gophers and that they are a BIG garden menace. Add this other dimension, and we figured that we should put in the netting for the Gophers for the new planter beds we were going to install. So we went and got 1/4 inch hardware cloth for the netting. We dug about 2 feet below the existing soil level and set the netting that deep and snug against all the sides of the planter bed.

The digging also helped loosen up the clay that we needed to have done to get the plants to grow and thrive in there. Loosened soil means deeper roots and deeper roots rewards one with healthier, larger plants with good produce. We are hoping all our efforts and investment in the infrastructure bears fruit!... and vegetables ofcourse.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Retaining wall - Part 2

This was the trailer we purchased recently. We drove almost 50 miles one-way to pick this thing up. We thought it was a bargain when we bought it and yes, it was perfectly fine the first few days when we ferried massive chunks of concrete from an old driveway.

We were in for a rude shock during week 2. As you can see the frame is broken, and thank god it didn't happen in the middle of the freeway.

We were planning on using the trailer to dump all the rocks we were digging out of our backyard. Off we went with our first load to the Zanker landfill and thanks to lousy directions online we were going in circles trying to find the entrance. And right when we were close, two deceptive speed bumps took the life out of the trailer. There we were at 1.30 pm and just a few hours shy of the closure time with a broken trailer and wondering what to do. Thankfully, one of the guys working for us had a pick up truck that we eventually used to dump the stuff. Now to move this thing out of the way before Monday when it is going to be in the way for dump trucks. After an hour on the phone with AAA roadside assistance and talking to multiple people we managed to figure out a way to have this covered by our roadside assistance policy and to tow it free of charge back home. The next week Guru went shopping around to see how we could get it fixed.

As we looked closer, we found bad work and realized that it probably was not the bargain we thought it was earlier.

And after $600 is how it looks. Hopefully built to last with a completely new tongue and a frame made of heavy C-channel and welded all the way through to the frame of the the trailer.

Watching grass grow- Week 2

There has been a lot of change in 1 week (actually lesser), more green and the patch is beginning to look like a lawn (in the making).

I was skeptical about the germination rates of the eco-lawn expressed by people who had used it before. So far so good....I think. Guru is still skeptical and the bald spots in the middle concern him.

We have not had any issues with birds eating the seeds, but in the last few days we have seen the squirrels run across the lawn and sometimes digging. I wonder why....digging for grubs? But it a newly tilled and cleaned area with almost 4 inches of fresh compost. And they have the rest of the yard with all the grubs and stuff to dig to their hearts content.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Under the same roof

It is just the two of us living under this roof........mostly. Rarely we have visitors, mainly the un-invited kind.

When we moved into the house in Spring of 2008, we were warned about droppings and odors in the inspection report. We tented the place to get rid of the termites and didn't bother too much about anything else.

One evening in August as Guru was chatting with Robert (our very fond electrical guy) right outside the garage with the garage door wide open, I spotted movement on one of the garage rafters. And lo behold was a four legged creature

Unfortunately, I am not reminded of "Jerry" or "Mickey Mouse" or the many nice cartoon characters when i spot one of them.

From then on, the scare was real and there began our fight against the un-invited folks that lived under the same roof.

A few days later, again around dusk, Guru came face to face with another one of them on the driveway. One of them had to make the move and our un-invited guest did. And straight to the cypress that was right up against the house and going all the way to the roof. (You can see the Cypress in the shadow, right next to the garage wall)

The spring and summer of 2009 was filled with a lot more activity than we were ready for. Early in Spring, I started hearing all these weird sounds at night, scratching, running and the like. It was at this time that we had removed all the old asbestos based duct work in the attic, with all the registers just opening up to empty space in the attic. One night we had a little mouse fall into the register and unable to get out. So the issue became all the more real. We got the mouse out ourselves (to catch a live mouse, it was gonna cost us $250, so we decided against it)

We freaked out about the possibility of more and decided to hire the some pest management company that charged us $250 to set 6 traps and come check on them once. So the guy set 3 in the attic and 3 in the crawl space. When he came to check on the traps in a few days, he said that 2 in the attic had been triggered but the mice that were caught were eaten up and after some research online we figured that Rats eat mice and it is called muricide. The 3 in the crawl space were however missing, and the guy was kinda mad at us saying that we checked and did something with the traps. Why would we when we were paying him for it !!
He then concluded that the traps might have been dragged away by the rats as they got caught....seriously these seem to be devilish we thought. These guys also offered to rodent proof our house for a price of $1500 but offered no guarantee on the issue coming to a close at a later point. At hat point, we figured it was time to take the project into our own hands and bid the guys adieu.

We were off to Osh and found this interesting kind of rat trap that would not be bloddy mess like the traditional mechanical ones, nor the possibility of the rat eating the stuff and croaking inside your dry walls. It was called the Rat Zapper, and the nice thing was that it came with a rat tail, that will light up once there was a kill. So we started to set the trap down in the crawl space, hoping to catch the mean rats that were feasting on the Mice. Everyday, the trap would get triggered, but there wouldn't be any kill, and i was beginning to wonder if this thing was working, considering we paid a fortune for it compared to the other traps out in the market.

And to add to the puzzle.....there was a weird smell that was emanating from the crawl space when we opened to check the trap. And all of a sudden, it dawned on us that we were not dealing with Rats.....but Skunks. We were in denial for a while and then in utter shock. Right away we went online to read up on Skunks, and were frozen in utter disbelief. It was the time of the year when they litter, and we might have a family living with us under the same roof.

Thankfully my team admin said that we should call the county vector control instead of a pest management company and they might be more helpful. I can't thank her enough for that advice. The Santa Clara county animal control person showed up right away and gave Guru a run down of what needs to be done. No traps...and we have to make the place un-inviting for them. We were out with pepper spray, newspapers every evening to stuff it into the crawl space entrance. We sprinkled talcum powder to track the footprints to make sure there was movement.

As we went about this daily chore, we were taking steps to rodent proof the place. The entrance of the main water supply to the house was in a pit that wasn't sealed with concrete. It was just dirt. The same was true for our crawl space entrance. We set out to line these with bricks and pour concrete. The pouring of the base concrete happened ahead of our Skunk discovery and we had paw prints on the concrete we had poured and some frantic digging. In fact that was what lead us to the litter theory. After this frantic digging we removed all the bricks that lined the pit and started stuffing just newspaper filled with pepper spray.After 10 days....the Santa Clara county animal control guy confirmed that they were out and we could go ahead and permanently seal the place.

We managed to have our handyman seal all the gaps in the roof and all around the crawl space with chicken wire mesh.

The water pit and the crawl space entrance got lined with bricks and we were happy that we had sealed things up.

Spring of 2010, and i was still hearing noises in our bedroom, something moving inside the drywall and scratching. All along Guru kept saying that it was nothing inside the house, and the sounds were from the access gate to the backyard that was right behind the bedroom wall. As spring came, the noises got louder and clearer and quite difficult to brush aside. 

In the meantime, I had ordered an outdoor camera from Logitech

It is a pretty easy to install product, and to get it hooked up to the outside wall, Guru had to go into the attic. We hadn't gone up there for a few months, at least not that far inside. It turned out that we were going to install the cam right outside the bedroom wall above the crawl space entrance. The same area from where i hear noses at night. And on the new pink insulation, we saw rat poop, fresh poop which couldn't have existed before because we cleaned up all the old insulation. So up went the RatZapper again with the bait, and we waited for a kill. Almost a month, and we never got any, and I still heard noises, once in a while. But i was telling myself that their activity was down because of the ultrasonic rat deterrent that we put up there when we set the traps.

At the same time this was happening, we were getting our backyard grading and irrigation done. The landscape guy had taken out the main water valve and dug up all the concrete around the water pits. And as he finished up, he just poured concrete into the hole instead of lining it up with brick and mortar. That night we heard loud noises in the attic nothing like we have ever heard before in the 2 years of living there. And at 9.30 pm that night the trap was triggered and we had a catch. We re-set it again the next day and we had another catch that evening. The Rat Zapper was a breeze to use and we love it.

It has been 2 weeks and we haven't heard any noise. We believe that the rats used the holes the Skunks had frantically dug when we briefly sealed the place not knowing we had a litter down there. Anyway....all is well that ends least for the time being.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Retaining Wall- Part 1

Guru stumbled upon (maybe searched and found) an ad on Craig's list from someone who had carefully taken out concrete from the driveway and was hoping someone would like to recycle it.

We have been wanting to build a retaining wall along the west side of our property line because our neighbor on the west is at a higher grade than us and there is a visible drop along the fence line of the properties.

A recycled concrete wall would save us the money that we might have to put down for materials.....but then we figured that it was no easy task to haul that much stuff.

Guru hired a couple of hourly laborers plus the guy who was giving this stuff away offered his time for a day for free in lieu and Guru took a whole day to get all this stuff home.
How did we move this you may wonder....and there comes the new addition to the vehicle pool.....a new trailer !More on that story coming up shortly (I have a story about everything.....and nothing is ever uneventful when it comes to us)

Watching grass grow- Week 1

The following pictures were taken on day 10 (May 9, 2010) since the eco-lawn seeds were sown (April 29, 2010)

The temperature has been in the 70's all week with no rains

This is the close up view (looking North) of the small blades of grass that almost seemed to have sprung up overnight

Here is a bigger picture perspective

This is the view looking East

And the view looking South

Watching grass grow- Week 0

After 2 years of analysis and reading up on lawn options, we decided to go with the eco-lawn.

My first choice all along was the U C Verde Buffalo grass. But a lot has changed since the idea was first rooted in my head, and the biggest one has been the "budget" as you have heard many a times before. As much as i loved everything about the U C Verde, it was way outside the range of what we could afford at this point. I wasn't ready to shrink the size of the lawn in the backyard or live with other alternatives. The eco-lawn is fairly in-expensive in comparison and seems to be doing well so far.

We started off with a clean slate. The lawn is covering the same area where the pool was and we made sure this place was prepped up well.

We had lots of rocks/concrete and bricks all over the garden. Not to mention the clayey soil that is present all over the bay area

We roto-tilled the area well, and added a nice chunk of compost into the clay and a couple of inches of just pure compost on the top. Into it went the seeds of the eco-lawn.

I hope to diligently track it's progress here every week (as you might see, I am writing about week 0 after week much for my diligence)...possibly watch the grass grow sipping glass of lemonade on the shade.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The backyard makeover - Part 2

The cleanup in the spring/summer of 2009 got rid of the junk lying in our backyard, but we were still far away from being able to have a real backyard.

We still needed a few more truckloads of soil to bring us up to level and we decided to patiently wait for free soil postings on Craig's list to start. We managed to get a few loads. Sometime in the winter of 2009, I thought that we should spread the soil around and grade it and lay down weed fabric and mulch the corners so we aren't inundated with weeds in the Spring. In a hurry we found a guy who was doing some driveway work in the neighborhood with his bobcat and figured he would give us a good deal and in theory he did. He didn't end up doing much, claiming the soil was too wet to work with !

We lived with this moundy, clayey mess in the backyard until we figured out what we had to do next. In winter, we diligently sat down and laid out what we wanted where and Guru put things down on the computer (to scale.....i should mention). He used his 3D modelling software, that was never intended to do such stuff. His vendor friend was impressed immensely (to say the least).