A Hoppy Harvest

While we were in the midst of our deck project, our hop plants topped out and the hop flowers were busing growing and eventually it was time to harvest.

Here's how tall the middle one got before it started focusing it's energy on hop production, (remember that's about 20 ft high!):

Here's what the little jewels looked like up close:

Mike was more than a little excited.

To harvest the hops he started by cutting the vines back to the roots.  To my amazement, you do this every year, and every year it starts over and grows back up the rope.

After this, he used the pulleys he designed to bring the plants down to proper picking level.

We actually set up chairs in front of the plants, with the bucket between us and hand cut each hop off.  Between the two of us and the three plants this took about 2 hours.  I'm not a bitter beer drinker so the smell was a little gross to me, but being a big IPA and APA fan like Mike is, he was in heaven.

After we got all of the hop flowers cut, we used our neighbors screen door, (not an extra one lying around, Mike literally went over and asked to use the screen door attached to their door. Mike's crazy and our neighbors are way too nice), to spread them out for drying.

Mike was like a proud papa the whole time and kept wanting to pose with his babies. 

We had two different varieties, or genomes as the beer world calls them, Centennial and Chinook, and that's the reason for the different piles.  We had two Chinook plants and the big pile on the left were from these.  The pile in the top middle are the Centennial, and the smallest pile is from a potted hop plant Mike got from a friend that's sitting up front near the porch. 

I have to admit, I was pretty proud too, especially since we were told that the first year production would only yield about 1/3 of what we got.  And, a couple were so massive that you couldn't help be impressed:

Mike even called the boys from next door over to show off his hops.  They're 6 and 8, so it was a little soon to expect them to be impressed, but they did have fun helping us spread out the hops to get more even drying.  They said they smelled gross too, so we know they've got quite awhile before they're sneaking beers from their parents.

Mike set up a fan underneath the screen and let them dry out for a couple days:

Drying them prevents mildew and preserves them better.  After they dried out, Mike filled up some gallon freezer bags, 6 in total, and froze them to be used later in his homebrew.  Each batch of beer varies, but he usually uses about 2 ounces, (small handful), for each batch, (about 5 gallons of beer per batch), so you can imagine how many batches these will make!

Inspire Me | Deck Edition

With the deck now complete, I thought I'd share a little inspirational board I put together months ago to help me envision the deck decorating.  Because, building it is only half the battle.  (Wow, that should be Our First Nest's motto).

Since we finalized the design of the deck I've known where I'd like the zones to go.  We'd like a grilling area, food set-up area, seating, and eating.  That may sound like a lot, but I'm not sure if I've mentioned this but, the deck is HUGE!  I don't think we'll have any trouble getting everything we want to fit.  Since it might be hard to visual where everything is going, I made a little diagram to help see all the zones:

Zone #1:  This will be the permanent spot for our grill.  The notch that I've mentioned before was designed specifically so our grill sits along the railing with a couple of inches on both sides.  Mike and I figured this would be his zone and wanted it close to the door for easy food trips, and close to the eating and food set-up area.  We also wanted Mike to be separate from everyone so he can focus on the grilling, but also able to be a part of the party if he wanted to.

Zone #2:  Here will be the food set-up.  We plan on bringing out the fold-out table and keeping the food here so that it's close to the door and the grill, but also doesn't clog up the other areas.   Since we won't always have a full table of food to set-up, this will be utilized for big parties and probably kept empty the rest of the time.

Zone #3: This is the area I'm most excited about, the seating area.  My plan is to someday get a big outdoor sectional with some chairs for some R&R time.  Mike and I both love sitting outside and this is going to be a great place to hang out with our Nook and Kindle to relax. 

Zone #4: Obviously all that is left is the eating area.  Like I mentioned in my last post, my parents generously left us their deck furniture that has been sitting on our porch for the last year, (yeah we're those people).  It's a great set, (and even has a lounge chair that's sitting in Zone #3 as we speak), but it's not really big enough.  It's a table and chairs for 4 and we'd like something more like seating for 6.  Mostly for the extra seating, and because the area is big and a small table and chairs looks a little out of place.  For now, they work great, but down the road we're looking at a possible DIY table.    
Since I've had a lot of ideas about this deck I starting making a little board to keep all the ideas together and I realized I had only made one zone; the seating area.  I did say that I'm most excited about this area, didn't I?  I used some items from my favorite Swedish inexpensive furniture store to show you what I'm thinking about:  

1. This is similar to the color of our siding, and in an outdoor area, this is like the paint color, so everything we put on the deck has to look good with this.

2. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it, but I'd love to incorporate some sting lights and maybe some lanterns for some soft lighting when the sun goes down.  Mike's not completely on board with these, probably because it'll be his job to figure out a way to hang, power, and maintain them!

3. This sectional from IKEA is something I've been eying forever.  I'd love to have something similar to lounge, read, and hang out like an outdoor living room.  A lot of the outdoor sectionals are thousands of dollars, but this one is pretty reasonable at only $650.  I'll have to find an IKEA that has one put together to see if it's worth the investment.

4. I love lounging with blankets and having some designated outdoor ones are a must.  This one looks durable, but at $12.99, I wouldn't be too bummed if it got a little dirty.  A fireside session will be needed to give it that bonfire smell, of course.

5. To bring more color onto the deck I'll use colorful planters like this one and that one, as well as fill them with colorful plants.

6. You can't have a couch and blankets without a bunch of pillows.  These outdoor pillows are perfect for the sectional, or just adding some comfort to those that want sit along the stairs.

7. Every outdoor space needs some shade, and this umbrella can be used over the table or over the couch.

While we're quickly running out of nice weather here in Northeast Ohio, I'm looking forward to creating a nice outdoor space for lounging next spring/summer.

Deck Build | Part Done - All Hands on Deck

Nothing like finishing a big outdoor space right before our rainy fall season, eh?  It doesn't matter if it rains for the next couple of months because we are just too excited that our deck is done to care, (although we'd love at least a couple of nice days to enjoy it)!

That's right folks, our big, massive deck project that was started 2 1/2 months ago, is done!  The last post I left off with the handrails and after those were done, we were open for business.

Before I show the completed project, let's first show how we got to the finish line.

Here's a reminder of what we started with:

After removing the steps:

And then our stair pantry removal:

Digging the foundation holes:

Adding the posts and beams:

Then the framing and decking were added:

And, of course, the much awaited stairs:

Last, but not least, the handrails:

And now for the big reveal:

20 points if you noticed Benelli right away.  Although he's been an indoor cat all his life, he is obsessed with being outside.  So, we let him out (supervised, of course) on the front porch and now the deck.  He didn't want to miss an opportunity to explore, so he tried to crash all of my "After" photos.

Before my parents moved down south, they gifted us their deck furniture, and while they are in really great shape, the scale is a little off.  So, in a couple of years we'll be shopping for some bigger pieces.  For now they work great for eating out and lounging.

 And here Benelli is trying to test his boundaries:

He's made it down two steps before he runs back inside after I start yelling at him.

The backyard has come a long way, so here's one last look at the before and after back to back:

We're so excited about this space, so hopefully if you stop by we'll have a nice enough day to get to enjoy it!

Deck Build | Part Seven - Derailed

In my last post I said I was going to talk about the handrails, and I hinted that it was somewhat of a pain.  I thought I would have a real meaty post about the handrail trials, but it would be somewhat like this, "Put up one section, realized section didn't match angle, took down section, redid section."  You get the idea.  Let's just say Mike got his math skills workout on this project.  So, instead of boring you with all the minute details I'll be quick, and since the handrails were the last step, that means WE'RE FINISHED!  So, I'll save most of my energy on the final reveal, which I'll post later this week.

Back to the handrails.  Let's start by talking about the design of railing I chose.  I did a quick Google Image search and found a couple different styles that I considered.  Here's a few that we looked at:

(Image found here)

(Image found here)

(Image found here)

I finally decided on this style:

(Image found here)

And, of course, out of all the ones we considered, this was the most difficult.  

Mike started by attaching the posts and this was done using the pre-cut posts that came with our original delivery and cutting off the somewhat fancy tops.  Like a couple of the pictures above, we wanted to have an uninterrupted top rail without the posts in between.  They were then attached to the edge of the deck, you know because we didn't want to give up even an inch of our 500 square feet!  Actually, it was just the way Mike designed it, and it was easier than cutting the decking around the posts.  Here you can see how the post tops were cut off and the decking was notched and the posts were attached to the side of the framing:

Most of the posts went in pretty easy like the three above, but some required a lot more thought and measurement like the inside corner one that was actually made by cutting two posts and attaching them together.  This was done so that the handrail would attach parallel to the decking.

After the posts were all in, Mike then added a piece of premium decking as the top rail.  We chose the decking instead of a regular 1 x 6, because they are already rounded.  We also wanted enough room to place a drink on top.  You know, the important details. 

From there he added the spindle sections which were the spindles sandwiched at the top and bottom by 1 x 4's.  This was the tedious part, after figuring out how to attach some of the trickier posts, making certain the post angles were correct, and keeping the handrail height within code.  This took the longest and with all the other projects Mike's taken on in the last couple of weeks, not to mention our rainy weather, it took about two weeks for him to do them.  Doing about a section a night after work.  The funny part was a friend of ours came over to help at the beginning of the process and I foolishly thought it would only take the two of them about 5-6 hours to finish everything.  

Here are a couple sections completed:

Since the handrails complete the whole deck, I'll save the completed photos for later when we reveal the completed project.  I know you're all dying to see it!

Deck Build | Part Six - Step Up

Remember when I was posting every couple of days with updates on the deck?  Yeah, those were the days.  After vacation we kind of lost some steam, okay, me maybe a little more than Mike.  He's crazy like that.  It was hard getting back in the groove of things and things like charging the camera battery seemed to slip my mind.  My apologies.

It would be awesome if I could make it up to you by showing you the completed deck, but alas it isn't done yet.  You'd think after building the foundations, framing, and decking, that stairs would be a piece of cake, but with our angled driveway and uneven lawn, it was anything but.  Mike even had to take back the pre-cut stringers that were delivered and build his own to get the right angles and dimensions.

Here's a picture of where we left off from last time:

After this picture was taken, the decking was trimmed and Mike began installing the top level stairs.
These went pretty quick since there were only two steps and the stringers were already pre-cut.  The only hiccup was the angled section, but of course Mike figured out the needed angles, while I stood back and made sure not to stress my brain too much with the math.

While I was super excited to finally have stairs, it was still about two days before the treads were put in, so Mike added some temporary steps for us to use.

Once the top level was done, Mike began building the stringers for the lower level.  Like I said, he had to design and cut them himself, so it took a couple of days to finally finish all 21 of them!

But, before I get ahead of myself and show you all those beautiful stringers, I first have to show you how crazy Mike is.  You may remember the skyscraper-worthy foundations that were made for the deck right?  Well, Mike made a mini version for the steps so that all the weight of the steps and anyone walking on them wouldn't cause the ground to shift, causing all sorts of problems later on.

He started by digging 21 little holes, one for each of the stringers, and then filled them with concrete.

We even had to build the foundations up a little above the ground to the left of the deck due to the uneven yard and this was accomplished with the help of some concrete forming tubes, (the cardboard tubes used to make concrete columns).

After those cured, he began attaching all the stringers in place.  (I still hadn't charged the camera battery at this point so here's my dinky blackberry camera instead.)

It's not just the combination of my phone camera and my lack of photographing skills that makes it look like the stairs are crooked.  Knowing Mike, (some just in the virtual sense) you know that these stairs are perfectly level, it's our driveway and yard that actually slopes down and away towards the end of our property line for better water drainage.  The stair rise is a little smaller on the first step on the left side of the photo above then gradually gets bigger all along the other side.  For those that didn't notice a thing, pretend like I didn't just confuse the heck out of you and continue on.

After the stringers, (for those counting, that's the seventh time I've used that word) and the risers, (the back edge piece) the stairs were ready for the treads, (part you walk on).

You can see the bottom riser's difference in height more prominent now in these pictures, but when you're standing on the drive or lawn and using the stairs it's not noticeable at all since it's all level.

And as usual, Mike went above and beyond and even sanded the corners and some of the edges for better butt comfort for sitting, which we've already starting appreciating when we gather with the neighbors to chit chat.

As you can see in the pictures above, we've already started the handrails and I'll have a post soon to talk about that process, and I mean process!