Archive for November, 2011

Onion sauce, onion sauce!

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Growing up in Northern Ohio, garlic is about the spiciest thing I’m prepared to deal with.

Last Fall, I planted one 4×4 plot, half with softneck garlic, and half with hardneck garlic (above).  I covered the planting with a thick mulch of grass clippings, and in the spring, the stalks started appearing.  Because of the thick mulch, I never needed to do much  in the way of weeding, and by mid-June, I was rewarded with a nice crop of medium-sized garlic bulbs, each composed of a nice set of cloves. 

After doing a photo session in an outdoor studio, I left them in the basement to cure, and other than a few that rotted, the rest of them turned out OK. If anybody had wanted to braid them, which nobody did, the softnecks would have been suitable.

 I also experimented with Egyptian Walking Onions this year. Like the garlic, instead of a flower, the top of the stalk grows bulblets, which can be planted to grow more onions.  The fun thing about walking onions is that the bulblets, which are shallot-sized and formed, and can be eaten like shallots, sprout new stalks, which get their own set of smaller bulblets. Eventually, the weight becomes too great for the stalk, and it falls over, usually setting root and forming a new plant. Around mid-Summer, I planted a set of the larger bulbs, and we’ve been treating their sprouts, which are still in good shape, as a sort of green onion. I picked a couple hand fulls of stalks last week, chopped them up, and froze them.  The original bulbs, planted this time last year, have multiplied and need to be separated.  This isn’t considered the most flavorful of onions, but its super easy to grow, reproducing itself year after year with minimal attention from the gardner.

My chives are doing well, also, setting bunches of big purple flowers.  There are two nice big clumps in the garden right now, and they might benefit from separation.  If I get ambitious, I’ll pick and freeze some before winter.

There were two other representatives of the allium family in the veg patch this year.  First were a set of disappointingly small bulbs that I planted from seed.  I thought that they were a variety that would provide green onions, but what I ended up with were a set of tiny little shallot-sized bulbs that might have best served humanity if somebody had taken the trouble of pickling them. I would take the trouble of making gin martinis to use them up.  Elizabeth enjoys anything small enough to be legitimately referred to as ‘cute’, and she took on the task of peeling and using them for kabobs or something.  The biggest onion was a single large bulb type.  A lonely onion in a petunia patch, it was either a volunteer, or one that escaped a previous and less successful planting the previous year.  It grew a huge and complex white flower at the top of a 3′ tall stalk. I cut the flower and spent a week marvelling at it and trying to capture it photographically. We ate the onion.

Thanksgiving week is the traditional time for fall planting of onion bulbs and I took advantage of a lovely Sunday afternoon today, that peaked at 70 degrees, and planted 5 different varieties: Elephant Garlic, Romanian Red (porcelain-type Rocambole garlic), Italian (artichoke type softneck garlic), French Red Shallots (multiplier type), and Yellow Potato Onions (multiplier type).  All of those are on the small side, and I don’t know what I’ll do with them, other than have fun watching them grow.

 Having lucked into one large bulb type onion this year, I’m ready to plant some more. The guy who runs the organic market in Vienna told me last summer that he can get me some onion sets if I contact him in December, so I’ll give him a call soon.


Saturday, November 26th, 2011

Clearly, some projects need to be started from the bottom, such as the creation of a masonry chimney.  Surprisingly, once the mason reaches the top, he continues back down, applying the stone veneer from the top down.

Resting on the poured basement foundation walls, our cabin chimney has a pair of masonry flues inside a structure of cinder block.  Elizabeth and I didn’t feel that a log cabin would look right without a stone chimney.  Impressed by the longevity of many of the buildings we visited during a decade in Europe, its our expectation that the cabin will not only outlast us, but will eventually outlast memory of its time of construction. Not having a convenient stone door lintel, nor a slate roof, we decided that the easiest place to permanently commemorate the year of building would be the chimney facing.

Artificial stone turns out to be superior to natural stone for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the cost of both material and application.  As discussed in an earlier blog entry, My Uncle Gordon determined that the pervasive local sandstone (commercially quarried close enough to feel the dynamite) is dependent upon a water soluble calcite cement that results in its relatively rapid degradation when exposed to rain.   After deciding against river stone, and wanting something similar in appearance to our local sandstone, we chose a material that the maker calls Dry Stack Sienna.

Dutch Quality Stone refers to their product as ‘advanced stone replication’. Although it is more weather-resistant than many natural sandstones and shales, it is lighter, which simplifies construction. Like our logs,  our ‘stone’ was locally manufactured and installed by the Amish. There are only a limited number of advanced stone replications, and it is up to the mason to mix them up as best possible so that the duplicates are not immediately obvious.

[If you want to see all the entries for the cabin building project, they start here. The next Building the Cabin entry is starting the barn.]

Its Spring Again

Friday, November 11th, 2011

The original Fortune Family cabin was located in the valley at the center of the Hollow, within 75 feet of one of several springs on the property.  Apparently, they had once had a small spring house. When we first bought the property, Dad went at the springwith pick and shovel, in an attempt to ‘capture’ it so that it could used as a source of drinking water (I’m thinking an article in the 1st or 2nd Foxfire book might have provided some inspiration).  My memory is that it took about 2 hours of manual digging to help Dad reach a decision to hire an excavator.

Gene Mullett arrived from Killbuck with a backhoe, a dump truck load of river gravel, a cement box meant to be used as a septic tank, and some 6″ PVC pipe.  He dug a hole for the 3′ square cement box, which would function as a settling tank, he made a 10-15′ long trench behind it, putting in some gravel, and then setting a PVC drainage pipe, with holes drilled in it, into a tee fitting that led into the back of the tank, and then he put a PVC spout on it.  That spring was our sole source of water for a number of years.  After building the pond, and then moving our little trailer up next to it, my folks had a well drilled, and a hand pump installed. That lasted about a week, and we’ve had electricity ever since.   The spring probably lasted 20 years before it escaped.

Along with installing the septic system, back-filling the house and barn, re-contouring the building sites, and upgrading the driveway, Sheldon the Excavator recaptured the spring last week.  For sentimental and aesthetic reasons alone, its nice to have a spring again.  Although its not the least bit convenient to the cabin,  it is a source of drinking water that is not dependent upon electricity or pumps.  Trickle or gusher, it flows year round, with sweet, cool, and clear water.   And there’s always single malt.

[If you want to see all the entries for the cabin building project, they start here. The next Building the Cabin entry is Chimney.]

Beating the bounds

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

Although we had a rough idea of the property lines, we were never quite sure. I remember walking the boundaries of the property with the previous owner, in 1971, when my parents were deciding whether or not to buy it.   About 6 years ago, the land behind us was surveyed, so we found out where the south line was, along with the SW corner post. We were pretty sure that the west line followed an old fence, and the side of the township road, and we believed that the creek was the approximate northern border, but we were never really sure.

4 weeks after choosing the cabin site, Elizabeth and I spent another wintry day at the Hollow, following around a couple of surveyors. Unusually for 2011, the day actually started without rain, and it was above freezing. However, the weather report showed a large storm approaching, so we stopped at Tractor Supply to buy some rain gear.

Although early plot maps indicated that the property line was north of the creek, we were a little surprised when the surveyors stuck a new pin into the NW corner, not only to the west of township road, but north of the creek, inside a ditch that drained our neighbor’s soybean field.  Almost half of the property line skated across the northern edge of the creek, neatly missing the field to our north, which in 1930 had been owned by the same Fortune family that had owned our property.

The history of Ohio surveying is actually pretty interesting, representing the first attempt of a new country to deal with millions of acres of future farmland. The Public Land Survey System starts on the eastern border of Ohio, which was somewhat experimentally split up into chunks, each of which took on a surveying life of its own. Our property lies in the northern part of the United States Military District ,which was created by an act of Congress in 1796 to compensate Revolutionary War veterans for their service. In practice, virtually no veterans actually took possession of these lands; former soldiers, or their heirs, sold their bounties to speculators, who quickly flipped them at a hefty profit.

Although Congress had specified that public land be surveyed into 6 square mile townships, composed of 640 acre lots, our part of central Ohio is unique in having 5 square mile townships, making the smallest plot sizes 50 & 100 acres, instead of  160.  This was probably because the amount of military tract land allocated to an individual was based upon their rank, with a schedule based on 100 acre increments.  Noncoms and regular soldiers were entitled to 100 acres.  Located just a few miles south of Mad Anthony Wayne’s Greenville Treaty Line, Heiser Hollow is 55/100 of one of these original soldier-sized plots, and the south, west, and northern borders still follow the lines that were originally laid out in an office sometime in the early 19th century. Our lot was split sometime between 1896 and 1930.

I had met up with the surveyors after they had crossed the creek, heading towards the NE corner, holding a mirrored reflector on a stick while they triangulated their way across the northern and eastern property lines. The actual NE corner was about 150′ farther to the east than what I had thought was our corner,  a pin underneath a huge beach, which for reasons and source unknown carries the bark carving ‘Joker.  That pin marked the corner of the property to the NE of us.  A new pin marking the corner of our lot was placed into a ground hog hole, and the surveyors and I started up a steep hill along the eastern line.

Our eastern boundary, which had been mostly a mystery to me before, actually did follow an old fence line for at least 500’. With several generations of rusty barbed wire sticking out the sides of some beautiful border oaks, I’d been aware of this line, which seems to have the remains of a very old logging path on the far side, but I also knew that it didn’t line up with what I thought was the corner.  The property line skirts along the back of at least 3 springs, follows the face of a steep slope, and then meets another brand new pin at the SE corner. Knowing where the southern and western lines were, at this point, I left the surveying team in the increasingly wetter and colder weather to confirm on their own that the marked southern line, and the old farm fence along the western line were indeed where expected.

Our forester arrived in the afternoon, and spent over an hour with Elizabeth and I, explaining which trees were ready for timber, which trees had undesirable traits that we wouldn’t want to continue encouraging, and which trees had positive traits and should be left as breeders for future trees.  By then, it was getting cold and dark.  The last job of the day was to spend 15 cramped moments in the unlit but dry tractor shed, confirming that our Mifi device actually could connect to a local cell site and that my laptop could use it to connect into my company VPN, which would be vital for next summer’s telecommuting.  We returned to another early winter evening in the Millersburg Comfort Inn, where we watched the traffic gingerly crawl past on an icy SR 83.

Purchasing a case of yellow tree paint, we’d expected to return within a few months to beat the bounds and blaze trees in compliance with state regulations on forest land.  As it turned out, incessant spring rains meant we delayed the start of the cabin until an unusually hot July.  Recognizing that this was probably the worst possible time in the year for it, both because of the weather and the underbrush, Elizabeth and I set out with machete and spray paint to find the property markers, and mark out our territory.  It was touch and go across the southern border, which has 2 steep gullies that drain into our pond, and is especially brushy since the property behind us was timbered, but we persevered and managed to finish, with almost enough time to return to the motorhome before the thunderstorm hit.

The new cabin is almost exactly in the center of the property, set about 2/3 of the way back from the front. It turns out that the property is not a perfect rectangle, but was subdivided on a slight diagonal, perhaps to follow what was a natural line for running a fence.

[If you want to see all the entries for the cabin building project, they start here. The next Building the Cabin entry, It’s Spring Again, returns to November 2011.]

Cold start last January

Saturday, November 5th, 2011
We put the first stake in the ground into the frozen ground on a cold Friday in January that dawned at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) and never managed to get above 22 (-5.5 C).

We climbed up a hill  overlooking the pond, pushed some brambles out of the way, and Sam the Builder pounded a pair of stakes into the ground, indicating the future front two corners of the  cabin.   A further stake or two suggested where the front of the porch would end up.

Then we chose approximate locations for the new driveway, up from the meadow to the new cabin, and the accompanying barn. At that point, we were still envisioning a 24×36 polebarn.

After that, we stood around stamping our feet waiting for Sheldon the Excavator and Glen the Septic Engineer, wondering if that truly was the optimal building spot, if it was too far from the pond, too far from the well, or too steep a hillside. We didn’t expect that it would be another 6 months before we saw Sheldon again and finally removed the stakes.

Once we were done with Sam and the Subs, we gratefully hopped back into the car and drove back to the Comfort Inn in Millersburg, stopping along the way to capture a couple of snow shots.

It turned out that this would be the first of two snowy visits stays in Millersburg.


[If you want to see all the entries for the cabin building project, they start here. The next Building the Cabin entry continues last winter’s preparation activities with Beating the Bounds.]

The Original Log Cabin

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

My parents bought the Hollow in 1972, and it came with a cabin that had been occupied by the Fortune family until about 25 years earlier.  It was a small building for a house, with a single large room on the first floor and a steep stairway leading up to a low-ceilinged second floor.  Apparently having been heated by a stove, it was not blessed with a large number of windows, but the door on the face was matched by a second door on the rear.

The walls were constructed of hand hewn rectangular hardwood (chestnut?), dovetailed at the corners, and chinked with a yellowish substance that seemed to be cement.  The roof was sheet metal, with a masonry chimney poking out.  When we took possession, the ridgepole had lost integrity, and part of the roof was open, but it was possible to climb the stair up to the partially collapsed second level. Local celeb Mad Marshall Jacobs, whose flagpole-sitting marriage had been covered by Life Magazine, visited once to look into a restoration, but determined that dry rot made this impractical.

Over the years, the old cabin just sort of mouldered away at the far end of the meadow where our little travel trailer was parked.  After the pond was built in 1976, our center of gravity moved towards a different part of the property, and the cabin was mostly left to collapse on its own.

In Fall of 2010, the remains of the old Fortune place are still visible.  I’ve scavenged some of the cut sandstone foundation stones, but there are still at least 6 more to collect. There are various bits of rusty and broken trash, some apparently from the time it was inhabited, and some later, and looking at the picture from 40 years ago, I find myself wondering just where the chimney ended up.

Surprisingly, 4 logs remain connected in the original position, dovetailed over a foundation stone in the SW corner.  A bit of chink is still visible, along with some of the rusty old nails that once peppered the exterior.  The dovetailing is surprisingly sophisticated–many Appalachian style log cabins only use half dovetails.

Shielded by the collapsed metal roof, at least one of the old hand hewn logs still seems to be solid enough to be useful, although both ends are dissolving.  I’ve thought for years that it would be nice to salvage a log or two and do something with them, but I’ve never taken the initiative to do something about it.  I guess its now or never.


[If you want to see all the entries for the cabin building project, they start here. The next Building the Cabin entry jumps back to the start of this project with Cold Start Last January.]