Friday, June 14, 2013

Back to the Stinkin' Mountain

Welcoming Ellison to
the family
When I last wrote, we were preparing the property for our absence as we traveled north for the birth of grandbaby #3. Our daughter and her husband had requested that I be present for the birth. It was a wonderful blessing to be present to welcome baby Ellison into the world! We had a great time visiting friends and family, but were also a bit worried about what we would find when we returned to the property, as the entire time we were away, at least once a week , there were very strong storms going through our part of the mountains.

Before we left, we did set up a cell phone in the house that we could call and have it send us a picture of the interior of the house. Alan also has his phone set up so that he receives texts when there are severe weather alerts issued for the area. Whenever we received a text alert, we could 'call the house' and have it send us a picture. The cell phone is in the corner of the kitchen so that the photos show the entire front interior of the house - kitchen, living room and office. This way, we could at least verify that no trees had fallen through the roof on that side of the house. This view also shows the french doors in the kitchen and the sliding glass door in the office, so we can also verify they are secure while we are gone. We are also so fortunate to have a good friend down here who was willing to drive out all the way from town at least once a week to check the property for us. Thanks Mike!!!

Playing with Big Brother Zeke
Our final week up north, I stayed with our daughter after her husband had returned to work. My goal was to help Eryn ease into her expanded motherhood roles as she now has a toddler and a newborn.After we left, I knew she was doing a wonderful job as she even managed to try out her canning skills by pickling asparagus her first day she was on her own with the two boys!

In my last blog, I promised to share photos of how my various garden experiments survived while we were gone. I had a lot of trepidation as to what I would find when we returned. There had been a lot of rain while we were gone, but much of it had been accompanied by violent storms. During the 12 hour drive, we saw much flooding and wind damage though-out Illinois and Missouri. In Illinois there were portions of grain silos scattered across fields and even in the highway median strips.

As we got closer to home, the damage didn't seem as severe, but I was still feeling a bit anxious. We pull into the driveway and everything looks pretty normal. Some of the things I notice first are:
Lots of empty bird feeders
1. All the bird feeders are empty
2. The potato plants are overflowing out of the top of the barrel
3. The tomato plants have grown about two feet.

The tomatoes actually were a bit water logged because I had placed the containers into totes so that they would get extra rain water if it rained while we were gone. I was still operating on the premise we are in a drought, but we had so much rain while we are gone, a news report last night declared we are officially out of the drought.
The tomato plants grew a lot -
except the one farthest right
but it is making a come back!

After, the quick 'once over' of the immediate property we went into the house to check it out. On the way up the deck stairs, I noticed an odor of something rotting that seemed to be coming from somewhere in the near vicinity, but I couldn't pin-point the location. Just an added note here, I have a stronger sense of smell than Alan, so it is usually my job to ferret-out strange odors. For example, when the propane tank on the stove is getting low, a slight propane odor can be smelled in the kitchen. I am always the first to detect it. When we first noticed this I worried about a propane leak, and the odor gets stronger as the tank gets lower. In fact, we tore the stove apart looking for the leak. Then, upon googling the problem, we discovered that as the propane tank gets low, the chemical that is added to the propane to give it that distinctive smell becomes more intense and can be smelled even though there are no gas leaks. So now we actually use it as an indicator as to when to get the tank refilled before it actually runs out.

The potato barrel has certainly changed since my last post
Anyway, I digress, back to the story of our return. I could not determine what was smelling so badly by the deck. My first thought was a dead animal, but there were none in sight. So I decided to come back out for a second look after checking the inside of the house. We open the side door into the utility room, turn off the alarm and the first thing we notice is a dank smell. We assume it is because the house has been closed up for a month. We open the windows and remove the barriers we install on the french and patio doors when gone for extended periods, then open them as well to air out the house.

This explains the fat raccoon that
was up on the deck looking in the
patio door the other night.
Once we have unloaded the car, I go back outside for a closer assessment of how things stand. Everything looks good, but we seem to have lost all of our birds. I am not sure if it is because we are fully into summer and they now venture deeper into the forest to fend for themselves, or if it is due to the fact the bird feeders are empty and they have flown on to seedier locations. One of my first chores is filling the bird feeders. Unfortunately, that chore has to be put on hold because some other guests, probably raccoons, have tipped over the can of bird feed, knocked off the lid, and devoured it.

I am still plagued by that rotting smell outside, somewhere near the deck. I check for rotting plants and even for dead rodents in the pile of used lumber we have under the deck for various projects, but still can find nothing. As I am taking stock of the various areas of my gardening, I see almost everything has survived and many are thriving. One exception is several flower pots in which I placed some gourd seeds right before we left. I had planted the seeds and then mulched the pots with dead leaves in hopes of holding in moisture. With the deluge of rain we had, it appears the seeds did not sprout. I grab the pots and decide to empty the potting soil they hold into my potato barrel, as those plants have grown at least 18 inches above the dirt. I need to start burying most of the stalks if I want any chance of ending up with a barrel of potatoes. I dump the first pot of dirt and immediately know I have found the source of my rotting odor. It appears the leaf 'mulch' I used to cover the potting soil has been decomposing in all the rain. One mystery solved.

Back in the house, another mystery remains - the dank odor is not airing out. After a couple hours, I have narrowed it down to the kitchen as the rest of the house has aired out. The next morning I narrow it down further to the sink/cupboard area of the kitchen. I open each drawer and cupboard, give a good sniff, and nothing. I then stick my head in the sink and sniff the drains and think 'possibly' but it doesn't really seem like a strong odor. Alan thinks the P-traps may have dried out and odors are backing up from the septic system. We empty a couple bottles of water down the sink drains and then I wash down some baking soda and hope for the best.

The next morning we discover the odor still hangs in the kitchen. I am getting ready to open up and empty all the cabinets and the drawers in the kitchen thinks that it has to be a dead mouse.I am not looking forward to this because we have about 25 cabinets and 10 drawers in our kitchen, not to mention I am expecting to find a dead mouse in one, and a dead mouse that is has been dead for a while.

Just as I am giving myself a pep talk to get moving on Project DMH (Dead Mouse Hunt), I spy the fly trap we had hung in the kitchen window right before we left. On our last extended visit up north we had returned to find several flies had taken up residents while we were gone. Well, more than several, but less than a lot. There needs to be a term to describe a number that is less than a dozen but more than several. When I describe a number of something I usually use the words couple, few, several, dozen, dozens, hundreds... But there doesn't seem to be a word for the amount between several and a dozen. But again I digress...let's just say there were enough flies to be really irritating when we got back from that previous trip.

The Culprit
Now, the fly tarp we bought is a plastic bag that contains some chemical that is irresistible to flys. When ready to use, you fill it with water and hang it up. We hung the bag in the kitchen window because that seems to be where flies like to congregate. So, as I go towards the sink to start emptying cupboards, I spy the fly trap and decide I should check it out as it is hanging above the sink and that is where the odor seems most pungent. I reach up, unhook the bag and pull it down so it is under my nose and take a big whiff. And, I then proceed to gag and about 'swoon'. Mystery number two solved.

So, our mountain is no longer stinking, the garden has survived it's month of neglect and we are happily ensconced back into our off grid life. When we left, we were having a record breaking cold spring that included measurable snow in May. Now, upon our return we are experiencing heat-wave temperatures that usually do not kick in until July and August. We have some outdoor projects we are working on, which I will cover in another post, but with the heat-wave we have returned to our summer work schedule of getting up early to work on the hottest project during the 'cool' of the day (about 80 degrees), stopping at noon as the temp is usually over 90 by then, and then back to another project in the late afternoon as the sun dips behind the trees. At least we currently have a decent water supply right now, so we can shower frequently enough so that we will not be the ones causing a stink to arise on the mountain once again.