My Three Sheds

The workshop


The greenhouse is where the old bird flight used to be.

If you have been reading my blogs lately you have noticed reference to the sheds that are in my back yard and which I have spent the past couple of weeks cleaning up. After more than 20 years of accumulation and also having some surplus energy, I felt that it was time to perform this onerous task.

Basically, I have three sheds, well two sheds and a greenhouse which is not used to grow things but to store them, hence the redesignation. The yellow shed I built when I first moved in 32 years ago not as a shed but as an aviary as I was an avid parakeet and finch breeder. I brought my stock with me when we moved and for about 6 months, they lived in my garage in a hastily built flight that measured about 12 x 12 x 8 tall. This was home to the parakeets and other exotics while the finches lived in cages. As soon as I had completed the Aviary, which on the one side had outdoor flights but not on the other side yet as this is where I planned on the flight from the garage to go. There were flights on both sides indoors so I moved the birds into their new home.

When I had built the flight in the garage, I built it with a steel framework that I welded together and covered it with 1/2 inch  hardware cloth with the intent of hooking it onto the side of the new aviary for additional flights for the new bird tenants. It was pretty heavy and cumbersome so I rounded up a few neighbors and their bigger kids and between us, we all got around it and hoisted it into the air to carry it out to its new location. Someone broke into a song and before we knew it, everyone was singing as we walked. I think the song was “Heigh Ho” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was very fitting.  What a way to meet the neighbors. The flight fitted perfectly and I completed the work to give the birds a place to stretch their wings.

I kept birds until I got divorced and then somehow, all of the fun had gone out of it. I sold off most of the stock and opened the doors to let the last few fly free before the rats who by now had colonized under the aviary, got to them.

At that point, it was time to rethink the direction my hobbies were going and that is when I built the first pond. The aviary was by now an eyesore with no bird life in it and I decided to turn the main part of the building into a bigger shed and at the same time, build a greenhouse where the old flight used to be. The truth is that I get a bigger kick out of the planning and then the construction than I do out of the finished product hence the use of the greenhouse as a storage shed for all of the plumbing parts and other things that it takes to maintain 5 ponds. To be fair, I did use the greenhouse to over winter my outdoor potted and container plants for a few years and then it kind of deteriorated into a catchall for anything needing a dry place. The potted plants have ended up in my bedroom for the past few winters. The main part of the shed was nicknamed the Yellow Shed for obvious reasons much to the disgust of my choice of colors by my neighbors. It is used to store the ladders and mechanical equipment like the mowers, blowers, weedeaters and things with gas driven engines and other such stuff.


Inside the Yellow Shed (1)


Inside the Yellow Shed (2)

The main shed is a 24 feet by 12 feet Morgan Building that I bought at the same time we moved in knowing that I needed a workshop and a place to store the myriad of hand and electric tools that I own. All my life, I have been a tool man spending the first 4 years as an Apprentice Bricklayer back in England. I was very observant and quickly branched out into all of the other trades learning as much as I could about how other people worked and what it took to build things knowing that all of that knowledge would serve me well further down the road. I put it all to good use in Fort Plan in New York State having had a small construction company for a few years when we first arrived and Supervising Pipeline Construction and Construction Management in my later years. Now at 81 years of age, I still love to plan and build and figure out ways to get over problems and I am still very good at it.



Back to the sheds. Over a period of time, 20 plus years or more, all of the storage sheds filled to the brim and remembering where everything was, let alone ever getting to it, was becoming a real nightmare. A lot of it was really useful stuff to somebody and a lot was junk. Being the packrat that I am, nothing that even looked halfway useful was ever discarded or thrown away, just in case… An example is the 1/2 horsepower pump that is now churning away on the 5000 gallon pond and living a very useful life not to mention saving me several hundreds of dollars at least for a while. It had been buried both figuratively and practically and if I hadn’t decided to have this major shed clean up, well…I also located several other tools that I felt sure I had left out in the garden. I do have a pile of metal that I need to take to the junkyard and a lot of stuff has either been recycled or sent to the trash dump.




So now, I have 3 comparatively clean storage areas which includes a workshop that I can actually perform work in with everything, well almost everything, in its place. Now all I have to do is remember what is in which place…Now where did I put that wrench?

Time is Wearing Things Out…Part 4 – Microwave Oven.

dsc_4353Just when I was congratulating myself that we had survived the 3 things that have recently gone wrong at my house, along comes number 4.

When we (I was still married at the time) moved into this house, 31 years ago, one of the first things that I had to do was to install a microwave over the electric oven. The house had been designed for it and there was a recessed space already built into the cabinets. There was no outlet close by but the house had been wired for one. It was a bit awkward because of the tight working space but I managed to install an outlet box in one of the overhead cabinets. These type of hanging microwaves have a frame attached to the wall and then the oven sits in that frame and is secured by a couple of long bolts from the top.

For 30 years, the old GE microwave has given me very good service over its long life. That is until Friday evening when I was warming my dinner and all of a sudden, smoke began pouring out all over the place. I quickly turned off the oven and opened the backdoor to let the smoke out. I expected any minute that the smoke alarms would go off but with the help of a fan, I cleared it all out.

Quite obviously, the microwave had reached the end of its useful life and I would have to replace it and I had to resort to the stove top and a frying pan to warm up my food.

The next day, I was in luck as The Home Depot was holding a special sale on appliances which included microwaves. I wandered up and down the aisles finally settling on another GE that had a recessed turntable AND two different shelf spacings and was on sale for $148.00. I really liked that idea as in the old one, if I placed something like a cup on the turntable, I had to take the shelf out to give enough height.  Turns out that the one I had chosen was the only one they had and it was a display model. It didn’t have any nicks or dents so I decided I could do without the box as long as everything else was there. The clerk summoned help and another guy came over and unscrewed the oven from its place on the stand and put it in my cart. I paid for my new oven and made my way home all prepared to install the thing.

As I mentioned, it had been 30 years when I installed the last one and I couldn’t for the life of me remember what I had done way back then. So I made a cup of coffee and sat down and read the instructions just to refresh my memory. That helped a lot and it all came back to me of what I had done to install the original oven. I scouted around and found the two screws that were holding the old oven in place and also located the vent hood behind a panel and undid all of the duct tape that covered the joins to the oven. I found the electric outlet I had installed in one of the cabinets and unplugged the old oven.

At that point, I really could have used some help in getting the old oven down. It is not that it is that heavy but it is off balanced with most of the weight on one end and it was in an awkward place with me working off a step ladder. Not only that, it was right over top of my electric oven which has a glass top or whatever that material is and if I dropped it, there really would be a mess. I put some heavy covers over the oven top to cushion the weight of the microwave and without giving it any more thought, took out the screws, leaned the oven forward, lifted it off of the holding track and lowered it onto the top of the covers. That was the worst part as it was comparatively easy to lift it off the oven top and onto my dolly to take it outside.

It turns out that the track for the new oven is almost identical to the old one so I was saved one step of the process by not having to exchange the two. The next thing was to make sure that all of the existing holes would all line up and after some measuring and remeasuring, decided that I needed to do some work on the lead cord outlet hole in order to not pinch it when the new oven is screwed in tight. Luckily, I have all kinds of tools including several keyhole bits that can drill large holes through wood. It took a while to drill the hole where I needed it. At one time, the drill bit came loose and fell out of the drill and I still haven’t been able to find it several days later. I switched to a different one to finish the job.

Satisfied that all of the holes would line up when needed, I turned my thoughts to the oven itself thinking about the steps involved in lifting it into place. It would have been a simple job with two people but as there was only me, I had to get ingenious. The new oven is not quite as heavy as the old one. Whether that is because of a change of materials or different design, who knows but I was grateful for the few less pounds. My problem was that I had to lift the oven up fairly evenly so that I could hook the bottom of the back over the clips in the already attached frame and that is with one foot on a step ladder and the other on the counter top. I gave it some considerable thought and wandered out to the workshop for some ideas. I spotted an older cooler that I use to transport fish when I do fish rescues. This one is old enough that it made of metal unlike the modern ones that are made of plastic. It had a perfectly flat top and was almost the exact height from the top of the electric stove to the frame. If I could first lift the oven onto the cooler which was already placed on top of the electric range, I knew I could reposition myself to put the new microwave in place.

I must have wasted 10 minutes re-thinking and worrying about my plan until I said to myself,”What the hell” grabbed a hold of the microwave, lifted it and placed it on top of the cooler. It was lined up perfectly so I lifted it again and it slipped over the frame exactly in the right place. I pushed back hard against the wall making sure that the electric chord was not getting pinched and put the first bolt into the top with a few turns of the screw to make it safe before turning my attention to the other bolt. With it secured, I tightened them both down so that the microwave now fit snugly against the cabinets. I stepped down and admired my work and it fit to my satisfaction.

All that remained was to  align the oven top to the ductwork and screw them together followed by duct taping the joints to complete the seal. I replaced the panels off the cabinets that I had unscrewed, plugged in the new oven and reset the time. I had to try it out so I heated a cup of water with an English Breakfast tea bag and it worked perfectly. I sat and looked at my work as I enjoyed my English cuppa.

Clean up was a cinch as I collected all of my tools and bits and pieces as I took them all, along with the cooler that had proved to be such a godsend back out to my workshop real pleased that it had gone so smoothly. It was not the installation that I had been worried about but I was concerned that I might not have been able to lift it into place by myself due mainly to the awkwardness of the situation There is still hope in the old dog yet…

Let’s hope this is the last thing for a while. This is getting expensive….


Yesterday in the Garden

Garden with some tulips and narcissus
Daffodils, narcissus and tulips

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I spent most of yesterday working in the garden. The air had a bit of a chill in it but as long as I stayed busy, I was not cold.

It was great to be out there enjoying the mild weather. Here in Central Texas, we have not had anything of a winter at all. We have had three maybe four slight freezes, enough to knock everything down to give Nature a fresh start for the Spring. I had already cleared out most of the dead stuff early in the month.

As I walked around, the narcissus and daffodils were in full bloom along with the pretty yellow flowers of the Primrose Jasmine which had to all intents and purposes, died off in the drought but has come back stronger than ever. The plants have more blooms on them this year than I have ever seen before.

I have one patch of grass in my yard. It’s hardly a lawn as it is located in the dry creek bed. Again, with the recent rains, the grass has grown back thick and green along with an abundance of spiny sow thistle and other “weeds”. I decided that the grass has grown tall enough and needed some attention but first I had to make a trip to the local gas station to fill up my 5 gallon can. I guess if it’s made of plastic, it is hardly a “can”, container maybe? Fresh gas for a fresh start to the new season.

I think I have explained in an earlier blog that I like “things”. Mechanical things, electronic things, all kind of tool things, you know, the stuff I can’t seem to live without nowadays. Anyway, my garden things take the form of lawn mowers, weed wackers, gas-powered tree pruners with extended handles, chain saw and even a hedge trimmer. I have a garden tractor with a mower  attachment that last year, was used just once and then the drought took care of any chance of the grass growing. The only place I can use this is to mow the strip of land between the road and my fence line which in my case is about 50 yards long and maybe 25 feet wide.

In my defence, I bought this tractor before I filled the yard up with ponds when for several years, I was attempting to grow grass which was always a losing battle as there are too many trees and not enough sunlight comes through. Then I moved my old horse into the yard  and he spent several years living there before I had to put him to sleep. The tractor, in the meantime, sat in the shed…

The tractor actually came in very handy as I was building the ponds as I used it to transport dirt and rocks and even used it to pull rail ties down to the end of the garden. But now, I ride it on the small patch of grass outside of my fence, once maybe twice a year and wave at all of the passing cars as if to say, “Look at me, riding my tractor. Ennit Great“.

I also have a small cultivator that I bought when I was trying to put in a garden. It actually more than earned it’s keep as I was digging the holes for the ponds as I used it to loosen up the dirt before shovelling it out. I worked great for that. Alas, no more ponds to build so it just sits in the shed…

I should explain that the creek bed is very uneven and rocky and the tractor, even if I could get it down to the end of the garden, which I can’t as I never built the paths wide enough, is difficult to manage so I use yet a different toy, a string mower, which actually is one of the smarter things that I bought. This is like a weed wacker on wheels and uses much thicker cutting line. It is easy to manoeuvre and is not affected by the rough terrain except that I have to change the lines out more frequently as they break against the rocks.

Anyway, the start of each season is usually a bit trying as some of the mechanical toys tend to get real ornery and won’t start resulting lots of pulls on the rope followed by an equal amount of bad language after each pull. I had already topped up the gas tank and braced myself for a long starting session. I took a deep breath and gave the starting rope and firm pull and lo and behold, the mower fired right up the first time. It just sat there with the motor purring so nicely that I could not believe my ears. How lucky is that.

Anyway, I mowed down the area and considered if I should actually rake up the grass that I had cut down but the lazy side of me kicked in so I left it for another day which probably means never and moved on to other things.

I was getting ready to put the mower back in the shed but decided that I needed to clean the shed out first. The rats had been very busy over the winter as had I trying to trap them. I had four traps in that shed and after I first set them, caught many rats which had been living under the shed. I haven’t caught anything for the past month and moved the traps up off the floor away from the dogs and proceeded to clean and sweep out the shed. and generally tidied it up ready for the spring season.

Talking of rats, I have had a lot of them this past year and although I get no pleasure from killing any animal, I could not let them continue as they  were getting very destructive. The had taken over the toolshed and greenhouse and had moved into the workshop. They had even built nests in the walls surrounding the ponds and I was afraid they would chew through the liner, a problem I did not want to have to repair. They had even chewed the rubber stop on the bottom of the garage door enough for them to get into the garage.

I set traps and from that point on, had to be careful that the dogs did not get at the traps as they would have tried to eat the bait and set the traps off maybe injuring themselves. I did NOT use any poison for fear of the dogs either getting into it or even chewing on any rat that had died out in the open. Over the winter, with traps set in all four places, I caught well over 50 rats. Like I said, I haven’t caught any for about a month. Whether they are all gone or just lying low, I will soon find out as the weather warms up.

My regular weed wacker quit working last year and I could not get it to start. The repair shop I took it to wanted more to repair than it cost to buy a new one so that is what I opted to do except this time, I bought a battery operated machine. This works just fine as I use it mostly to trim under the electric fences that surround my property and ponds to stop the dogs from digging out and a few of the hard to reach spots that I can’t get the string mower into.

When I was chatting to the mechanic who works on these sort of machines, he mentioned that it is always a good idea to keep gas in the tanks over the winter so that the seals don’t dry out on the carburetors which is usually what needs repair.He suggested emptying out the old gas and starting with a clean tank of gas to start each season, hence my trip to the gas station with my 5 gallon “can”.

My next big project is to mulch everything in the garden and I plan to start that next week. If I can get it done while the new growth is still small, it is so much easier. I have finished planting the new stuff to replace that which the frost and the drought cleaned out and unless I see something really eye-catching am trying to restrict my plants to mostly native varieties.

While I was out there, I replaced the batteries in the solar lights that I have around the yard as some of them were no longer working then turned my attention to refilling the bird feeders of which there are many spread throughout the yard. I go through 30 lb of seed and 20 lb of sunflower seeds every week and attract a large variety of birds. My favorites are the goldfinches, they are so pretty. I have a lot of ring neck doves but I don’t mind them as they tend to eat the seed that is spilled on the floor. Of course, I have the noisy squirrels which drive my little dachshund Richie, absolutely nuts. He chases them from tree to tree barking his fool head off. It’s even funnier to watch him when the buzzards are circling overhead as he tears around like a crazy dog running from one place to another.

Well, it’s time for me to try to start the garden tractor so that I can play at farmer in full view of the passing cars. Wish me luck…