Category Archives: Uncategorized

final indoor lead remediation work.

as i’m sure you are aware, i haven’t updated in a very long time.  it’s not because there hasn’t been anything to write about.  quite the contrary, we have been so busy, that i just haven’t been able to find the time – or i should say make time to write.  i’m thankful that so many folks have continued to read the blog and more folks have subscribed, despite such a  lengthly absence from posting.

in a previous post i gave a big update on all the lead remediation work we had done, the only major task left to do for this year was the kitchen.  with one last big push s and i encapsulated all the woodwork and then painted over it with a basic white – two layers of encapsulant, and two of the final color for the wood work, and two coats of primer and two of final color for the walls.  it took a very long time.

having the kitchen pulled apart was a pain, we spend a huge amount of our day in the kitchen and having it not easy to use certainly put a crimp in our style.  we ate a good amount of take out.

i’m happy with the result.  the new color is much brighter than the old. we still have much to do in the kitchen.  fall project is to put in shelving, as we have very few cabinets, but for now it is lovely to work in.  eventually we wish to do a full overhaul of the kitchen, but that will have to wait until money situation takes a change for the better.


next i write about all the outdoor work.


trees for sale.

in the fall of 2013 with the ground frozen, i chipped away at the frozen ground in order to be able to plant chestnut seeds for all ya’ll.


they have been growing for over a full year, and now are ready for you.  i’m taking orders now.  these are chestnuts grown from seed collected from mark shepard’s breeding projects at new forest farm, and have been breed to bear well in the cold winters of the north.  they are eight dollars each, for those looking for orders of ten or more – i may be able to provide discounts.  also please note that these need to be in pairs for proper pollination.  i have a limited number of four year old hazel nuts available for ten dollars each and a very limited number of five year old paw paws for 20 dollars each.  send an email to mpatrickcrouch at gmail dot com to place orders.  thanks.

massive update

i haven’t written anything since november.

and yet i welcome several new subscribers – surprising given the infrequency.  welcome new subscribers – i hope you enjoy and will provide feedback.

it’s not because nothing has been happening, quite the contrary.  we have been going full steam for the last few months – and it’s only this last weekend that we reached a point at which we could take anything resembling a break.  considering that s threw her back out and have been having to do child care and adult care for the last day or so it’s not really much of a break.

we have been steady working on this house and the yard since we bought the house, but have really stepped up our efforts once we learned that our son had elevated lead levels.

nothing drastic, but cause for alarm. things appear to be under control now, but we have had to take major measures to get them under control.  i’ll likely write more about lead, testing, and dealing with it, later, but in the meantime i’m just gonna update ya’ll on what projects we have done in order to get lead under control.

first was the stripping of paint in areas where encapsulation wouldn’t work.  namely the threshold of the front door.  next was encapsulation – woodwork in the pantry and kitchen had to be encapsulated and then painted to match the other woodwork.  i also encapsulated a couple of walls in the pantry.  they still haven’t been painted yet as i still have some plaster work to do on other walls before we paint the whole pantry.  the hallway leading down to the basement needed to be encapsulated as well, and then painted.

speaking of the basement, as though lead weren’t an issue enough we found out that we had fraying asbestos tile on the floor of the basement.  we paid some one certified to remove it.


my lungs just seemed worth the cost.  what i didn’t think about was all the glue aka mastic that would be left over.  it was a huge pain to get off – taking me weeks of weekends and nights to get it up.  i’m thankful to the following podcast for getting me though it: serial, 99% invisible, radiolab, snap judgement, the champs, and invisibilia.

at least as much time has been spent moving things around the basement, as we had to clear everything out when they removed the tile, and then we had to move it to remove the mastic.  i think that’s what made s throw out her back.

we are now putting the basement back together, and i’m really happy with the way it’s turning out.  it’s making more sense and taking into account how we need to access and use the space.  my favorite part is that we have moved the chest freezer and canning supplies closer to the stairs so when cooking you can quickly pop down to the basement and grab some items out of the larder. larder

in addition to encapsulation and stripping, another strategy for dealing with the lead has been removal.  the back door casing was covered in chipping lead paint, and the door was super drafty so we replaced it.  i could have replaced it myself – but i knew it was going to be serious pain – and i had plenty of other projects to work on, so i also paid someone certified to do that as well.  he told me it would take him a morning.  as expected – it was a bigger pain than expected – it took him until 6 at night.  no more draft! i still need to replace the molding – and since the original was cover in lead paint i bought new stuff – but couldn’t find anything that would match the original, but i think it still looks ok.  door1door2

in the process of replacing the door and molding, we damaged some plaster and realized that much of it was pulling away for the lath.  we wanted to save as much as we could, but some was just to far gone to repair. s and i spent new years eve watching youtube videos on plaster repair and new years day doing plaster repair – we know how to party.  we were really impressed with the ease of use of big wally’s plaster magic – as well as the youtube videos they have to learn how to use the product.  door3

the other major repair project was to put a floating floor down in one of the bedrooms.  it had been painted with lead paint on the floor, and rather than try and remove the paint, we decide the simplest thing would be put a new floating floor over top of it.  i’m impressed with how quickly it went together.  one long day plus a couple hours the next day and we were done, and s is very happy with the result.  super big thanks to my brother in law david for his help. floor

at the farm, the biggest event of the fall for me was starting mushrooms.  i’ve been missing growing mushrooms since i left the farm i trained at over 12 years ago.  i’ve tried to convince folks a number of times to take on the task of growing mushrooms – but it’s never really caught on.  this fall we had a crew from radical mycology come out and lead a beginners workshop on mushroom growing. radicalmycology

we caught the bug pretty hard and harvested all fall and will be starting up a crop of oyster mushrooms again in the spring.  mushrooms

a bit simpler – but equally exciting to those of us obsessed with cycling nutrients – we built new compost sifters.  this is the third iteration of sifters we have been working on – and the big improvement is using slit steel rather than chicken wire.  sifter1

the steel comes from one of my favorite places in detroit: federal pipe and steel. this place is a museum of a hardware store, full of oddball items i can’t find anywhere else.  the staff know just about everything – though they don’t really let on unless you ask.  and the cashiers all seem to be punx.  if you visit you shouldn’t miss out on marcus burger.  it’s the real detroit deal.


this new sifter can accommodate two, count em, two wheelbarrows at once.  i think the slit steel will last a lot longer than the chicken wire – but only time will tell.  i’m happy with them.

on the homegrown front, we have been eating out of the hoop house all winter- at first mostly arugula, but for the last month only spinach and kale.  the big lesson is to plant more kale next fall.  i love having it, but it grows really slow in the winter.  spinach continues to be the workhorse of the winter hoop house – cold, dry, doesn’t seem to faze it, we have had great harvests all winter.harvest

i was hoping for a milder winter, and the temps have been slightly warmer, and snow a little lighter, but we still have been dumped on, almost 20 inches last week alone.


still we prepare for the growing season.  we have already started tomatoes (perhaps a post about them soon)  and sweet potatoes are started on the window sill.


likely way too early, but we all have our methods of trying to stave off cabin fever, mine is starting plants for the next season.

what’s going on with you?

hoop house build part 2: driving the ground posts

in our last episode i stressed the importance of spending time making sure everything was carefully laid out, and we even used math to check our work.  if you have done all that correctly, you shouldn’t have to think all that hard for the next part; driving the rest of the ground posts.

while there is less thinking, it’s important to still take yr time and make everything square and level.  it is about finesse more than brute force (though you do need some brute force from time to time).  for this operation you are gonna need the following

1. post driver 2. post level 3. pounder 4. ear protection 5. marker 6. spacing jig 7. four foot or longer level (recommended but not required)

if you are not sure of what any of these is, see the last post for more info, with the exception of the spacing jig, which will be explained soon.

ground posts for hoop houses are almost always placed four feet apart.  i’m told that in warmer climates where they don’t get nearly as much snow that they can be placed five feet apart.  you can measure them, but you often find the post drifting about as you drive it, and it helps to make a spacing jig.  this is simply a 2×4 that has square cuts in it four feet apart that are the size of the pipe you are using.  it is especially helpful if you are trying to drive posts by yrself.  ideally it would have three cuts in it to help make sure you are staying in a straight line – as you may recall from geometry class, three points make a straight line, but i didn’t have that long of a 2×4.

mark all the posts to correspond to yr level line – in my case i made marks two feet from the top of my posts.

using the measuring jig place one of your corner posts in a notch and use it to measure where the next post will be positioned.


slide post level over the post, put the pounder on and slide the post driver over it. put it in the notch of the jig that is empty and then work to get it so it is close to the level line as possible without pushing it out, and is square in both directions.  put your ear protection on, and drive it a couple of times.  check to make sure it is square in both directions again and close to the line and keep driving until you reach the line you marked on your post.  if you are using the four foot plus level it’s great to rest it between your post that is at the proper level and the post you have just driven to make sure they are driven to the same level.  this is more of an issue when you are building a long house than it is when you are building a short house like ours, as the line level can sag over a long length and give you a bad read.

life is not always so beautiful as you want it to be, and when driving ground posts you often come across problems such as rocks and foundation.  it’s pretty well impossible to drive though these materials so they must be tackled.  two basic methods can be be employed, removal and post cutting.

of these two post cutting is the easier.  if you hit an obstacle and you have over two feet of post in the ground but have yet to reach your level mark you can simply cut off the excess.  use a hacksaw, cut off wheel on a angle grinder, or a pipe cutter.  i prefer the pipe cutter as it’s slow but often provides the best cut.

in many situations you hit obstacles before you have driven two feet worth of post in the ground.  you have little choice but to remove that which is in your way.  commonly this required digging with a shovel what is in the way.  you can find some pretty large items if they are large enough you might have to use a sledgehammer or jack hammer to break them apart.  i’ve even heard of folks boring though foundation in order to put in ground posts.

hopefully you won’t hit anything – i repeated the process of driving posts with only a couple of incidents, having to cut two pipes, and digging out a huge piece of concrete on the very last post i drove.


in our next episode we install bottom boards.


hoop house build part one: laying out and driving corner posts

thirteen years ago that i built my first hoop house.  it was a deeply transformative event.  at that point in my life i’d never really built anything bigger than some sculptures i did in undergrad.

i remember looking at all the parts and the field where the hoop house would go and wondering how i would be able to put it up.

i had plenty of help, jay was there to give day to day instruction and chris my co-worker plenty of encouragement.  it wasn’t the sort of encouragement i was used to.  chris was about twice as big as me and extremely strong, and he held me to the same standards as he did myself, making me work as hard as he could.  i often thought of neitzche’s  thus spoke zarathustra, and contemplating  the will to power.  i’ve now built many houses for other folks, dreaming of the day when i might be able to build one for myself.  now that we have property of our own, building our own house has been high on the list of priorities.

this last week the weather has finally broken after the snowiest winter in detroit since 1880 and we started working on installing our hoop house.

what follows is a multi part how to guide to install a hoop house.  i hope you find it helpful or interesting.  if you find it neither, it will be over soon enough.

this section is on laying out the house, driving the corner post and leveling everything.

for those that are scratching their heads wondering just what a hoop house is – it’s basically a low cost greenhouse for extending the growing season.

for this section of building the hoop house you will need the following.

1. scrap lumber for making batter boards 2. wood screws 3. an impact driver or drill, with phillips bit and 3/8’s inch driver bit.  4. a post level 5. a properly sized pounder  6. fence post driver  7. self taping screws 8. builders string 9. a line level  10. a shovel 11. ear protection

step one

identify where you are going to situate your house.  most folks run the house east-west as this allows you to catch the most sun, but a poorly situated hoop house is better than no hoop house.  with a shovel test to see if there are any major rocks or foundation in line with where you plan to put the house.  i dig at least 1 foot down to test, but that doesn’t always mean that you are going discover everything lurking below.   once you have tested everything and feel as though it is free of impediments, you can start marking where it will go.

i start by driving corner takes where i think the house will be located.  it’s helpful to have some fixed points in this situation.  measure off sidewalks, or fences or building that are likely to be square if you have that convenience.  look it over and make sure it will be convenient to get to, have plenty of sun and all that.  i laid our house out about 10 feet from our fence so it’s shadow wouldn’t interfere with growing, and we would have good ventilation.  spend a day or two looking at the where the house will sit before you get down to the business of driving corner posts .  you don’t want to realize that you should have placed that house two feet to the left after you have driven all the posts.

step two

once you have the approximation of the corners of your house, set up your batter boards.

these are boards that are set up around the corner of where you plan to actually drive your corner posts. the batter boards give you the ability to adjust the layout of your ground post before you drive them.  getting ground posts out is not fun.  moving string is easy, though not really all that fun either.

drive three vertical posts and then attach the horizontals to make a little wooden corner .  do this on each of the corners.   drive a screw into the top of each of the horizontals approximately where you think the outside edge of the corner post should be.  then run a string between the screws to form an approximation of the outside of the house.


this is where it gets tough; math gets involved.  if it’s been awhile since you have cracked a geometry book you might want to get a drink and come back.

ok?  good.

you remember pythagorus right?  not really?  well the guy is rumored to be brilliant and may have come up with the theorem attached to his name; the pythagorean  theorem.  everything is a bit murky considering that most that is know about his life was recorded years after his death.  we all learned about his theorem in geometry class and it’s one of the few useful bits of mathematics i routinely use.  when trying to find the length of a hypotenuse on a right triangle, it says that the square of the length and width added together with equal the square of the hypotenuse.

why am i bringing this up?  because it’s the simplest way to make sure your angles are all square.  first check that the length  and  width are right.  in the case of our house it’s 14 feet by 36. then check the distance between the two corner posts which based on the pythagorean theorem should equal  38 feet 6 inches or so.  if all these are the same you are in great shape, but most of the time you have to move yr strings and screws around until you have everything in the right place.  it takes a while but it’s well worth getting the ground posts square.  everything goes so much smoother if they are square.

step three driving the corner posts

make a mark on your ground posts for 2 feet.  if you are using 4 foot ground posts this is the center, if using 6 foot this mark will be two feet from the bottom of the post you are going to drive.  all posts need to pounded at lease two feet into the ground to hold secure.

slip the post level over the post, slip the pounder in the end of the ground post, slide the post driver over top and put on yr ear protection.  take yr time and get the post as close to the corner strings without pushing them out and then make sure that it is square in all directions.  then pound it a few times.  check and resquare, continue pounding and checking until you have two feet of the post into the ground.  you want to have at least 2 feet of ground post into the ground, no less.

repeat with each of the ground posts

that is if you can.  in my case we hit massive foundation when we went to drive the two post on the west side and had to start laying out the batter boards and start again.  this is not what you want to happen, but you should be prepare. if you have to remove corner posts, easiest way is to use a pipe wrench and twist and pull up at the same time.  it is not fast but it does work.


lets assume everything goes well.

step 4 leveling the ground posts

drive a self taping screw into the side of each of the post at a level that works well for you.  i chose the two feet below the top of the post because it was well below where it would get in the way of the stake driver, but also gave me plenty of room to adjust stakes.  wrap a line around each of the screws making sure to maintain the same orientation on each of them, so the string comes out either on the top or the bottom, but not both.  pull the string taunt, put a line level on the lines,  and check them for level, if they are all level wonderful, if not slowly drive the posts down that are too high until they are all level. try to drive as little as possible to make them level so you have as much ground post above ground.

stringlevelwith all four corner post square and level you have a major accomplishment on your hands, and your house is well on it’s way.  this is the most crucial step as all the other ground posts, and the rest of the house will be based on these four posts.

don’t be in any hurry, make sure everything square and level, take yr time do it right and you will be much, much happier as you build the rest of the house.

in the next post we will drive the rest of the ground posts.

planting strawberries

in front of our newly established asparagus bed in the front yard, we also have added about 75 feet of strawberries.  i’m well on my way of freeing me from having to mow so much yard this summer.

we could have done a ton of research on variety, but i mostly wanted to get something in the ground this year, and my experience with strawberries is that every few years you have to rip them up and replace them if you really want to be productive. there will be plenty of chances for other varieties in the future.

fedco’s prices on bundles of strawberries were very fair and we ended up planting two varieties; sparkle and cavendish.  these are not the most exciting varieties one could grow, but they should produce an abundance of  tasty fruit that we can put in the freezer.

like our asparagus bed, i wish that we had spent more time preparing for it’s arrival in the fall, but again other things were more pressing.  we may have regrets later on as we attempt to keep the berries weed free. strawberries are somewhat notorious for being poor at competing with weeds.

while preparing strawberry beds is not nearly as labor intensive as digging trenches for asparagus, i did want to make sure that the soil was loosened pretty deeply.  our spading fork has been getting quite a workout preparing all these beds, and in the process of forking i was able to find plenty of buried concrete and brick aka urbanite.  the small pieces i’m going to toss, but the big stuff i’m thinking will get saved to use as pavers at some point in the far future.


strawberries grow in a crown habit and so planting them at proper level is important, too low and you risk smoothing the tops, too high and you dry out the roots.  it’s worth taking the extra time to plant carefully.   my method is to make mound so that the roots are able to be planted more deeply than the crown and cover with soil.  water them well and cover with a straw mulch.  this will help to keep them from losing moisture and also keep weeds down.  after the roots establish we will top dress with compost and an organic fertilizer.


what strawberry varieties are you growing?  anyone growing alpines?  musk strawberries?

improve germination, save money.

it might surprise some folks, but most seeds don’t need light to germinate.  now that you just read that i’m sure it seems obvious. seeds are planted in the soil, so they are in the dark,  but from our early days of learning to plant seeds in little cups in grade school we put the cups on a windowsill so they would grow.  it’s a tough habit to break.  the reality is windowsills being next to windows tend to be pretty drafty and cold, not a great place to germinate seeds since the thing they really need is heat.

most seeds break they dormancy best when the temperature is between about 70 and 80 degrees – some need it colder some need it hotter, i’m making a generalization.   with this knowledge we can grow better plants and save money.  if you are growing plants using a light stand as described in the previous post or even in a greenhouse you can save yourself some money by delaying using them until the seedlings have sprouted.

t8 lights might be more energy efficient than t12 lights but they still use plenty of electricity and that costs money, each bulb pulling between 24-32 watts plus the ballast – equaling at least 60 watts per light.

since they don’t need lights, but do need heat you can save yr self some money by putting them under a heat mat until they germinate.  the heat mat we use only pulls 17 watts, and running 24/7 that’s still much less wattage than the t8 lights running for 12 hours.   you can also get much larger heat mats with controllers that fit many flats.  we have one at work that fits as many as ten flats and it works very well.  you usually you can find these from greenhouse suppliers.  locally we go though bfg.

don’t want to buy a heat mat? want to save even more in electric use?  next best choice is the back of the fridge, it puts off a good amount of heat.  just resist the temptation to put them on the radiator – that will cook them.  covering them with some plastic film will help keep the warmth in and humidity.  happy growing.