Category Archives: Kentucky

Kentucky No More

Wow a lot has happened since the last post in 2011. I didn’t know it at the time but I would move twice in two years. The first time off of the property I had been living on for over a decade. I would leave the oven I took two years to finish. That was hard. I had to look at it as a reminder that nothing in this life is permanent. I would leave the berries that I enjoyed every year. The second move would even take me out of Kentucky.

The first move would take me to a lovely little place closer to work. Though it had almost 1/5 of an acre, there really wasn’t a great place to garden. I spent two years there and the second year the garden I had consisted of a couple of plots in a local community garden.

Just over a year ago I moved to Washington state. Again with no place to garden I’ve found a local community garden that has become a favorite spot for me to learn how to garden all over again. The Pacific Northwest is nothing like Kentucky!

I thought about starting a new blog for my new gardening adventures but decided to tweak this one a bit to fit in with my new surroundings. The tag line has been altered and I’m going to tweak the categories to separate out posts from each state.

Stay tuned…

Homade Birdbath Project

I was browsing the Net looking for a birdbath project and ran into this one. Basically you take a really large leaf (think elephant ears or something simliar), some sand and acrylic concrete patch and in the end you have a beautiful birdbath the shape of a leaf. I love this idea and do believe this is my next project.


The project I started just about 2 years ago has been finished. The outer, protective layer went on this weekend. It consisted of a 1:2 clay:sand mix and was probably the easiest part of the entire project. To give it a textured finish I lit a drying fire and waited a few hours then made imprints of my hands all over it. The photo below is before that final touch.

As this dries it will form small cracks. I’ve saved back some of the clay/sand mix to fill in those cracks. It may very well crack when it heats up too. It doesn’t hurt the oven any but is just a natural effect of the expansion that happens when it heats to over 600F.

Another step done & that first meal

This past weekend the insulation layer went on. It involved 2 trips to the cemetery for buckets of clay and a trip to WallyWorld for a bale of hamster bedding. The hardest part was turning the clay from large chunks into slip. Lots of stomping and twisting left me with a sore knee. A small price to pay for having it behind me. It ended up taking about a bale and a half of bedding and roughly 6 buckets of clay chunks. Some of the clay was so pure I could have thrown pottery had I had access to a wheel. I kept some back to play with. I heard once that you could fire clay in a bbq. I was pondering the possibility of making a small oil lamp like days of old. Something to try at a later date.

first 'real' fire. The venting was perfect.

By Saturday at about lunchtime I had about 1/3 of the insulation layer done. It was a little wetter than ideal so I had to use bricks to keep it from shifting and becoming an insulation skirt. I decided to light a fire to help with the drying and wait till Sunday to finish. I lit a roaring fire and was very pleased with the way it vented. My measurements must have been on the money because the fire burned bright deep inside the oven. I let it burn for about an hour and decided that it would be a waste to not take advantage of the heat. Once the fire started to die down a bit I used a hoe to move the coals back and to the sides. I covered the oven opening with a large piece of firebrick that I will use as a temporary door. I remembered the ham steaks in the freezer and I knew I had a bag of beans. Ten minutes later I was loading the oven with a dutch oven filled with ham and beans. I replaced the brick ‘door’ and waited. 3 1/2 hours later and the beans were PERFECT and just in time for dinner. I think I’m going to like this.

The summers here are notorious for being hot and dry. This is half true this year. We have had some pretty warm temps but have had rain regularly. Great for the lawn but not so great when the goal is to dry out a mound of wet clay. I finished the insulation layer on Sunday at about lunchtime. I started another large fire and let it burn for about an hour. Once it died down I again covered the opening. The outer layer was quite warm to the touch and given the amt of heat coming from the front I was unable to cover it with the plastic tarp. Instead I covered the top 2/3 with a couple of layers of newspaper and used small pieces of broken brick to hold them in place. I had to leave for a couple of hours and of course we got a small rain storm while I was gone. I wasn’t too worried though. As long as the news paper stayed in place I felt like the added water would pretty much just run off and take very little if any clay with it. This was in fact the case. It has take a couple of small showers since then with the same results. I did cover it last night as they were calling for some more severe rain. I was glad I did as it got pretty windy and wet for a while there. The heat index for the next couple of days is over 100 and it is supposed to be rain free. The oven is uncovered and I have high hopes that it will at some point actually dry. I expect to see some rather large cracks in the insulation layer once it does finally dry. Before cleanup I held back some clay/wood mix to patch those when the time comes.


After a long break

So two years ago I started this oven project. I had high hopes of finishing it that year but starting grad school left me with little free time and the weather soon turned to insure it wasn’t happening in 09. 2010 started out great, I was ready to get back into the mud once the weather warmed. Life had a different plan for me last year and lets just say I was left not wanting to get into much of anything. 2011 is a new year and time to get back into this project. Last weekend I untarped the mud foundation and found a small ant colony had taken up residence. I checked the base for structural soundness and when I was confident I put down the layer of sand and firebrick floor. The ants and I had a talk. I let them know it was time to leave. They will be gone this weekend.

I opted to make the bricks ahead of time and use the 2:1 sand:clay mix as a mortar. I dipped each ‘brick’ into water coating on all sides to help the wet mortar to stick. The bricks were surprisingly tough and water resistant. I opted for a firebrick arch which required a wooden support to assemble. The arch turned out to be the trickiest part of the project so far. Making sure the inner corners of the bricks were supported by other bricks while not falling required several tries to get it right. I am hopeful this holds with repeated heating and cooling. Time will tell. The beauty of a clay oven is that repairs are possible without too much work. If I determine that the brick arch isn’t going to work I can always opt for a clay/sand doorway.

Firebrick floor and first row of oven bricks

By the end of Saturday the inner layer was half done. As I added layers I would wet the top of the previous layer of bricks if it had dried out. Using the pre-made bricks meant I hadn’t had to use a sand mold up to that point. I had a cardboard cutout of the 22″ diameter dome shape that I used when placing the bricks. I made sure that the bricks touched each other on all sides in the inside of the oven. I stopped Saturday when it became apparent that I would need some kind of support for the rest of the dome.

On Sunday morning I cut out a wooden circle slightly larger than the remaining opening. I cut it in half to get it inside the oven and placed it on a couple of stacks of bricks. I piled sand to complete the dome shape and continued to lay ‘brick’ and build the firebrick arch. The last couple of bricks had to be shaped to a v shape to go into the remaining space. I was pleased at how much work it took to cut these down with the edge of a hand trowel. By Sunday evening the ‘inner sanctum’ was complete. Since the bulk of the oven was already dry at this point I removed the wooden support for the arch and sand dome. It held beautifully.

completed inner lay of the mud oven

By Tuesday it was dry on the outside but the inside was still damp. I was needing to tarp it for a coming rain and wanted the inside a little drier. I opted for a small newspaper only fire to test the drafting and dry things out a bit. It performed like a champ.

Once I get back from vacation I will add the insulation layer and the outer layer. My wish is to make a lime plaster outer layer but I may end up doing a clay sand layer first if I can’t come up with the lime to make the lime putty. I should have my first pizza later next month. 🙂

Spring has sprung


A couple of signs of spring here in Kentucky.

Each year I see a lone bumble bee visiting the blueberry. I am sure there is probably more than this one but if so, I never see them.

This is Tia’s lilac – Ludwig Spaeth. A very nice scent and color. It has been growing in a large post for several years not and this is the best flowering yet.

Global Warming?


Ok here it is late November and one of the in-ground figs still has leaves. Our average first frost is a month gone. We have had a few light frosts but not enough to take out these die hards.

Now to be fair the fig IS on the south side of the house and there IS a largish bush nearby to offer some protection but it does seem a little late. The container figs have lost their leaves weeks ago.

The jalapeño peppers I picked yesterday are pretty late though. They were grown in a half barrel on the back patio by the north-west corner of the house. They are currently seeded and in a water soak waiting to become hot poppers. mmmmm



Hauled home 4 buckets of clay (thank you T.) this afternoon. It was enough to finish the lower insulation layer on the oven. Weather permitting I should be able to start of the body of the oven next weekend.

I am really noticing a difference in comfort levels when mixing the mud with my bare feet in July as compared with Nov. My tootsies were pretty numb by the time I got done. brrrr

I planted a couple of small fig trees in the ground on the south side of the house this spring. Since the figs still in the containers have started dropping leaves I decided to check on the in ground figs today. I actually found a ripe fig on one. A ripe fig in Ky on Nov 1. That has to be a record for me. Once the inground trees go dormant I will build a little cage (they are only about 18″ tall) of chicken wire and fill it with leaves to help insulate them for the winter. I’ve never tried overwintering them outside before so I am not sure it will work.

Oven: Bottom Insulation

It has been a long time coming but the bottom layer of insulation is just about complete. Between school, not having enough beer bottles and the weather I hadn’t touched the oven in a number of weeks.

After finishing the foundation, I layed a 2×4 & 4×4 frame across the open foundation about 2/3 of the way up from the bottom. I had layed an extra row of bricks on each side to accept the wood frame. This left an open 15″ deep box. On top of this platform I placed a 1″ layer of the clay/wood shavings mix and starting laying the bottles so that they almost touch. I wasn’t able to get all of the bottles set as I ran out of clay. Everything I have read said that as long as I have enough insulation there shouldn’t be a problem with burn through. I’ve also seen a number of very old ovens built on wood platforms.

Once I get the rest of the clay/wood mix applied and the bottles in place I will let it dry before building the clay/sand pad that will accept the firebricks.


10 years ago I received my batch of Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter from Carl Griffith. The story goes that this starter had been in his family since the mid 1800s. The starter came as a dried product, something I hadn’t realized could be done to a sourdough starter till then. Following Carl’s directions the starter came to life in a jar on my kitchen counter. Within a couple of days I was eating my first loaf of mildly sour, very delicious homemade sourdough bread.

Never wanting to run out of this newly found treasure, I dried some of the starter, again following Carl’s directions. FF 10 years, and I still have dried and frozen starter waiting for activation. Not the original product of course, I replenish my dried starter every couple of years or when I think of it. How much of the population is Carl’s original and how much is local beasties I don’t know. I do know that I love the idea of growing something that, given the proper (very minimal) care, will be around long after I have passed on.

Historically I have raised my starter on commercial bread flour. Recently I have been trying to eat more whole grains and decided to see how my starter would do on whole wheat. So far so good. I pulled out about 1T of dried starter/flour mix from the freezer 3 or 4 days ago. I feed on a 24 hour schedule a ww flour/water mix. Last night after reading one of Peter Reinhart’s books I decided to add a little wheat malt I had in the cupboard. I’ve used the malt previously when activating my wine yeast and by the looks of the photo the 1/2 tsp I fed to the colony last night was well received. While I have yet to try a ww loaf with this starter, the taste so far is nice and sour but not overkill. I will start a sponge tonight and hope to try my first ww loaf this weekend.