Category Archives: Home Project

Canning Outdoors?

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What’s all this?

Well now that it’s Fall… it’s harvest time here at the Fogelquist household.  And part of harvest season for me this year, is the new canning operation.

No idea why but this year I had an absolute bumper crop of tomatoes.   I took at least 118 lbs. of fruit off of eight plants… after I started counting.

But what was I gonna do with all these tomatoes?!  Last year, when the tomato eating got behind the tomato production,  I tried making tomato chips with our dehydrator… But that was kind of a bust.  The idea sounded good and I made a pretty fair amount.  But I was the only one who ate them… they’re really not like potato chips like I thought they would be… that is you can’t eat very many before you’re kinda puckered up.   How ’bout canning?  I had never canned before.  Seemed kinda scary.  Only saw my mother do it back when I was a little kid.  She would mostly can strawberry jam after we came back from a berry picking expedition… and it always seemed like a major production.  The jam was awesome though.  So I never wanted to discourage her from doing this.  Her strawberry jam was a wonderful childhood memory and still hasn’t been beaten by the store-bought varieties.  But I had no idea how she did it.  These tomatoes were totally out of control though.  I just had to do something in self-defense.

My early attempts at canning were in the kitchen.  There I was, the “Canning for Dummies” book in one hand and all this canning crap in the other.   Donna would come zipping by on one mission or another; see me all sweaty and frantic… then say something scary like, “I used to see MY mom do that and decided that it wasn’t something I would ever want to do”, then she’d dash off.   Donna is a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen so having her throw her hands  up was kinda scary.  What was I getting myself into?  Oy!  And after the first experimental batch of salsa (a raging success I might add), I saw that any past mess that I had ever made in the kitchen absolutely paled in comparison to what I had on my hands right now.   There was fruit stickiness all over the floor, all over the cabinets and all over the stove… the dirty pots and pans piled up everywhere… and that’s not to mention all the heat in the house during the hot time of the year… and I was tying up the kitchen for hours.  It became clear that I wasn’t gonna win any popularity contests here at home with this new canning program.  OH! and then there was the endless cleanup afterward.   Donna has X-ray vision for mess in the kitchen and I had no idea how I was gonna get it from the disaster area it had become, to something that might come close to passing her scrutiny.

Oh and one other thing I learned…  the kitchen burners were completely inadequate for heating all those large volumes of water.  One batch of tomatoes would take pretty much all day to process, and it consumed I don’t know how much electricity.   This whole canning idea was not going well at all.

Not sure how it happened, but outta nowhere, I got this idea… Asked the question, How do the beer makers do it?   They have to heat large volumes of water routinely.  There MUST be some kind of propane burner available.  I checked it out on Amazon… turns out that not only do these exist, but they’re plentiful.  There are lots of different types and sizes… AND… they’re not expensive.  So I shopped a little and then pressed the “Buy now with 1-click” button for my selection…. and two days later, the box arrived.  After that… I was able to take the whole operation outside… and as a result, my canning life turned completely upside down.  Canning actually became almost, well kinda, …sorta fun.  Well if not “fun” then at least not like a root canal.

And I can do large volumes…  quickly…  and cleanup consists of hosing the table and patio area down… then hose out the pots and bowls… oh and the new burner heats large volumes of water within minutes… Yesterday, I canned 46 lbs of tomatoes and four pounds of beans into 52 pints of Ball Jars… all using the pressure canning method.  Yes… not gonna lie, it took me most of the day to do this…  and I was kinda tired when I was done.  But cleanup wasn’t what took up most of the time.  And… it was pleasant working outside instead of in a hot kitchen.  And no one was mad at me.

SO… if you’re a canner… and you currently do it in your kitchen… think about moving the program outdoors.   Not sure if I will ever can indoors again.

Next… Orange Marmalade… made just the way I like it.

 

Tomato City!

First batch of tomatoes for the year.   So many… Donna was right.   Maybe eight plants ARE too many….

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BUT!  … ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’… so I started learning how to can.  And these tomatoes are all salsa now… safely canned and in the cupboard.   This canning thing is a whole new world.

Next canning mission… Orange Marmalade… I’m sure I’ll be bragging about that in a future post so stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pond Replacement Project – 2014

 

Epic pond replacement project by Larry Fogelquist

A long time ago, in a place far away…. well actually not all that far away… just out in the backyard… but it WAS a long time ago… something like the summer of 1996, we built a koi pond in our backyard.

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Our old koi pond – the recently built temporary pond in the background

 

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The old koi pond as it was…

You’re probably noticing that it’s an above ground pond… Why would anyone want an above ground koi pond?  Well it all goes back to my parental neurosis… As I said, this pond was built back in 1996… Spence was all of three and Jack was five… I reasoned (worried) that if we had an in the ground pond that one day we’d find one of them floating face down in it… Not a pretty picture for a new parent.   But we still wanted a pond… Having the pond be above the ground seemed to be a reasonable alternative…. besides, where it was located, we could watch the fish from our living room… Great idea huh…. well the kids are now 21 and 23 so I think we can call this a success.  Problem solved… So if I’m going to go to all the work of replacing it now when everyone is all grown up, why not put the pond into the ground this time… Well when we replaced the patio, we built the new patio out of concrete which was poured around the existing pond… so that made the location of the pond sorta permanent.  Besides, it still is fun watching the fish from the windows in the living room…  Bored yet?  Okay… I’ll get back the topic of the pond replacement project.

So why replace the pond?  Quite simply the existing pond was rotting… one corner was pretty well done for… and many of the 4X4 used in the construction had rotted.  Don’t just take my word for it… Check out these pictures…

So now I guess it makes sense that we replace it huh?

As I see it there are six steps to this project..

  1. Build the temporary pond
  2. Fill and transfer the fish to the temp pond
  3. Tear out the old pond
  4. Build the concrete form for the new pond
  5. Lay down the block for the new pond
  6. Install the liner
  7. Move the filter to the new pond and fill the pond
  8. Move the fish to the new pond
  9. Tear down the temporary pond

Step 1 – was to build the temporary pond.  If I was going to nuke the existing pond, I needed some place to put the fish during the construction of the new pond…  Dumb Larry, I didn’t take any pictures of the temp pond construction process… doh!  It was pretty easy though… It was done and partially filled in a day.  It took way longer than it should have cuz I was feeling lazy and kept procrastinating.

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Filling the temp pond

Step 2 – Okay… now it’s time to drain the existing pond and move the fish.

My basic approach was to just move the nectar quality water from the existing pond to the temp pond… I used some tap water in the beginning to smooth out the wrinkles and settle the pond into its shape… but after that it was pond water all the way.

As the pond water was being pumped into the temp pond and the water level went down, it got easier and easier catch the fish… but they were still tough to catch.  They were easiest to catch at night with me using a flashlight to blind them while Spencer and sometime Jack tried to block their escape with a second net.   One by one we got them all with the last tiny one being caught just before the pond water completely dried up.  I didn’t even know I had that tiny little one… So there are 28 fish in all.

When all the fish were successfully transferred it looked like this…

 

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Heddi looking on…

Step 3 – Time to tear out the old pond… sigh… kinda sad.  It’s been a fixture in the backyard for 18 years… and I designed and built it… Oh well, out with the old, in with the new…

First the liner comes out…

Now it’s time to destroy and remove the pond structure…

 

 

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Heddi… my almost constant companion during all this…

 

Step 4 – Now it’s time to begin building the new pond.  Because of the measurements of the blocks (6 inches high) and the cap (3 inches high) and the target height of 36 inches AND the fact that the slab isn’t level… I have to build a footing to make the pond level and at the right height.  So construction begins on the footing.  This turns out to be the most difficult part of the project.  Everything boiled down to measure, measure, measure… and level, level, level… I’ve never built a form before so that’s also an issue…

So this is where I am as of 10/7/14…  Stay tuned… I will continue to add to this post as I make progress on the project…

On 10/11/14 (Spencer’s 21st birthday… see next post), after procrastinating all morning by buying the last of the pre-mixed concrete… then slowly driving over to the rental place to rent a cement mixer… and coming back to drill a hole for drainage… I couldn’t think of anything else to delay me… so at something like one in the afternoon, I took the plunge and started mixing, pouring and troweling… Just in case there was any doubt… concrete is really heavy… everything is hard… but I got it done and about 5:30 I was cleaning my tools…

The finished footing with forms removed.  Had to keep it wet for a week or so to help the concrete cure.

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Finished pond foundation

Okay… so it’s finally time to deliver the block for the pond construction… I went down to Central Home Supply to order the block.  $2,270.67 later, I had it on order.  A couple days later, it was delivery time…

Next step was to move it to the back of the house… that basically meant me wheel barrowing it back… unbelievably heavy block by unbelievably heavy block… Jack, bless his heart, kicked in to help me.

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When this photo was taken, there was still another pallet to go… We started to worry about whether the patio could take all this weigh… seems to be holding though.

Now the actual pond construction begins… I have to glue down the first row… so gotta be careful… the first row is the most important… ‘cept I don’t really know what I need to do to make sure that everything goes well on the succeeding rows…

Now that the first row is laid, time for the real work to begin.  Throughout the project, I kept thinking that, ‘after this, the rest will be easy’.  But even this phase had it’s challenges and time consuming aspects.  The difficult part of this phase was getting everything the spacings to work out.  This is a very hard block, so there is no wiggle room.  It either fits, or it doesn’t.  There were times when one row on one side would take me a couple hours of trial and error… and these blocks are super heavy.  The lightest were 21 lbs, and I didn’t use very many of them.  The ones I used the most were 64 lbs, and 50 lbs…. So every trial was a lot of work.

But first I had to deal with a little plumbing issue.  There’s a faucet that comes out of the house under the window… Couldn’t relocate it inside the walls of the house because a fireplace was in the way.  So I rerouted it on the outside of the house.  Kinda kludgy looking but it’s all covered up with the pond so I guess it’s okay.

Now I can get on to stacking the block…

Now that the block is in place, we can get on to putting the liner in.  But before doing that, I wanted to put down some underlayment to protect the liner from the ground… This consists of a some fiberglass mat… and then the liner from the previous pond to help support and protect the final liner.

Now it’s finally time to fill the pond, add the plants and transfer the fish… gettin’ close!

THEN… DISASTER!

The outside wall of the pond gave way… Of course there was a tsunami as approximately 1,000 gallons of water spilled out.  I was standing over by the temporary pond trying to net out the last of the koi.  Even that far away, I had to jump for higher ground.  The water first engulfed the backyard, then cascaded down steps into the utility area… then flowed through the fence into the neighbor’s pool.  Unbelievable!

It’s almost a week later as I write this… and I’m still looking for silver linings to this setback.  Believe it or not, there are a couple:  1) It’s very fortunate that this happened during construction because I had a temporary pond right there ready to accommodate the fish… 2)  It would have been quite unfortunate to have had a, probably relatively minor earthquake which could have caused the pond to rupture like this, perhaps even when some hapless person was standing right there.  Rough calculation has that wall by itself weighes about a ton and a half .  Then there is a considerable weight of water behind it…  Having that fall on someone woulda been ugly.  So actually I’m REALLY glad it failed now… But I so totally want to be done with this project.   This pond project is beginning to feel like a life sentence.

Current status is that the fish and plants were moved back to the temporary pond the day after the wall failure.   Been pretty busy with some other higher priority items since that dark day of the wall failure, so have only been picking away at clean up.

Also, it’s taking a little time for me to come up with a new design.  I think I’ve got it though… It’s actually Jack’s idea.  But I like it.

  1. Rebuild the pond back to it’s former height without capping installed
  2. Cut a channel all the way around the top course of block
  3. Install a piece of angle iron within the entire length of the channel
  4. Weld the corners of the angle iron so there is an iron connection all the way around the top course of block
  5. Reinstall liner underlayment, and liner
  6. Refill the pond, transferring plants and fish as I go
  7. Install the capping and trim liner

Okay… Time has passed… Any readers of this post that have made it this far have got to be wondering when… if… this ordeal is ever going to end… that is both the ordeal of building this damn pond… AND the ordeal of reading about it… So sorry… it wasn’t supposed to be this way.  BUT… this is no time to lose faith… the end is at hand.

They said it couldn’t be done… but at last (on 1/11/15), the pond was finished… of course there are a few things remaining to be done.   But it’s been filled up, is holding water and fish are swimming around in it. I think the best way to go about this now is just to wrap this up with pictures.

Now to fill up the pond… gulp!

And they said it couldn’t be done… Mark your calendars… on January 10th, 2015… The pond was essentially completed.  I say essentially cuz there’s still stuff to do… e.g. situate the filter, recut a few capping stones… clean everything up… BUT!  For now, it’s done.  I can pick away at the other stuff over time.

Some photos of the finished product…

And this morning (1/20/15), the new pond survived it’s first earthquake… no damage.

Okay… this endless post is finally complete… Way to hang in there.

 

Larry’s Vegetable Garden

Growing vegetables … this is something I (Larry Fogelquist) haven’t ever done before… But late this last spring it looked like Spencer was having so much fun with his plants that now I wanted to grow something too.   A very big issue for me growing vegetables here is that we don’t have much space for a garden in the ground… That means that everything I did would have to be in containers.  Can you even grow vegetables in containers?  I’ve only seen em grown in the ground… A quick internet search showed me that not only can you grow vegetables in containers, there were actually advantages to doing so… And with that, I was off and running…

I could go into way too much detail about this… The whole thing was quite an operation.  But fortunately for you, my precious reader, I’m feeling a little lazy at the moment so will spare you my endless description.  So for the moment, I’m just gonna talk with these photos.

It’s early October now… harvest season.  And yes, it may look like I’m bragging about my garden… and yeah, I kinda am… BUT… my main purpose for putting these photos in here is so that next January, when the world is full of endless gloom and despair.  It’s cold outside and everything is dead… I haven’t heard a bird sing in months… my skin is all white and I’ve forgotten what fresh off the vine tomatoes taste like… I can be reminded that at least at one time there was life in those containers that are now sitting empty on our patio.

 

We’re Composters Now

We’ve recently gotten into composting!  Now just aren’t we the little gardeners!  Of course I’m the one driving this but Donna, Spencer and I have been talking about it for at least a year… Spencer started the discussion, Donna has been supportive and when I discovered how awesome using compost is for my vegetable garden, I became a convert.

But what next?  We had no idea what we were doing.  Where do we put this pile?  Were there alternatives?

After some research, and even more discussion (debate) we decided that the cleanest, most compact and least troublesome approach would be to simply buy a compost tumbler.

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Actually we bought two… Our process will be to fill one up, then let it compost away while filling the other with yard debris and kitchen scraps.  Then when the first is done composting, empty it and switch back to the second to compost undisturbed while the first is filling up again.  Good in theory but we’ll see if the process actually works and is practical.  We’ve started the first one but the second composter is still in the box.

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The second composter still in it’s box

So far, the whole program is going well.   The vegetable matter is accumulating and is even starting to heat up in the composter.  And… I’m doing what I can to learn as much as I can about the whole operation.

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…but there’s a shocking amount of information out there about composting on the internet.  Buying a book may not have been necessary.  It’s interesting how into composting people get… even me… usually folks try to avoid stuff that’s rotting… It smells bad and looks gross.  But everyone who I talk with about composting is excited about it.

Like I said, we bought a compost tumbler… it works like this… You open the lid and dump vegetable matter in (leaves, plants, garden cuttings, kitchen scraps, etc)… Close the lid, turn it over a few times to allow the axle inside to churn up the material inside  to add air, occasionally squirt a little water in if the mass seems like it’s getting dry… then go on about your business.

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What about kitchen scraps?  Do you have to take a trip out back to the compost bin every time you peel an orange?  Well not since we got this cool new device…

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We just put the scraps in this handy-dandy kitchen counter top mini-composter.  Then when it’s convenient, we take the smelly mess that’s inside the container out to the tumbler… I just did it for the first time this morning.  Unfortunately I had waited a couple of weeks to take it out and it was NASTY… So I’m not gonna wait so long next time unless I need to start toughening up my gag reflex…. For that I think I would recommend this to all those guys with pregnant wives… That way your gag reflex will be nice and tough by the time the baby comes and then you can look like a real man when change those nasty diapers.   This container has carbon filters in the lid that keep the smell from getting out.  And it’s unbelievable how well they work.  I had no idea how horrible it was inside until I dumped it.

I hope it’s not too optimistic to be looking forward to all kinds of compost next year to mix with our potting soil… We have yet to get our first load so there’s no track record to draw on.

I’ll keep you comp-POSTED as to our progress with this new hobby.

Rainwater Catchment System

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Recently installed a rainwater catchment system here at Casa Fogelquist.  It wasn’t quite finished when this video was done.  However now it’s completely functional.  Of course during the drought there has been no rain to initially fill the tanks.  However the water we use to water the plants on our patio is collected and directed into the tanks.  So we now have over 1000 gallons of this recycled water to use for watering.

I’m still working out the bugs… For instance recently we had a pipe burst and lost about 400 gallons… Doh!