So, You Wanted To Know What A Cyclone Rake Is?

October 27, 2015   //  Posted in: Backyard, Supporting Sponsors, Tools   //  By: Emily   //  one response

For the first year ever I’ve been persuading the leaves to fall from the trees. Come on, thick blanket of ground cover, heavy, wet piles of leaves. Gimme all of the leaves… please!

There’s really only one reason for this absurd request… we have a Cyclone Rake!

Unboxing the Cyclone Rake.

With no obligation to review, the company drop shipped its XL product right to us, a tool with serious oomph that claims to stand up to the size of our yard and the leaf density produced. We’re not commercial users or clearing a rolling estate, but we do have lots of trees, and heavy down cover. Three of our neighbors have Cyclone Rakes, and we’ve been hearing good things about them for years (I couldn’t even tell you any of their competitors, this is the only brand name to which I’ve been heavily exposed).

Cyclone Rake in action.

The thing is, we’ve been using it so regularly now (4 times total, every week or two) that we haven’t even yet had to clear fallen leaves in their typical, obnoxiously heavy form. That’s because unlike every year in the history of me doing chores, I haven’t been putting this one off. I really like the product so far, and if you have a riding lawnmower and you have a lot of land and more trees with falling leaves than you can keep up with, I think you’ll really appreciate it too.

Driving the Cyclone Rake, perfect lawn vacuum.

As I’ve described it to other friends and family, the Cyclone Rake is most simply a vacuum attachment for your riding mower. As you drive the mower, you’re running over leaves and chopping them up a bit. The Cyclone Rake has it’s own impeller which sucks up everything that cycles beneath the mower. Leaves, small sticks, acorns, everything is pulled into the Jet Path Vacuum System, chopped further, and deposited into the tow-behind high-capacity bag.

We have plenty of obstacles in our yard besides trees – I’m talking, long downspouts, fences, fire pits, and this time of year, miscellaneous Halloween decorations. To simplify leaf collection, I’ve been using a secondary leaf blower to push the leaves away from the edges of the house and the other obstacles, into spaces where I could navigate easily with the mower.

Clearing leaves from obstacles with a leaf blower.

Leaf pickup is pretty easy after that, quite literally as simple as mowing the lawn until every last leaf is collected. It takes about an hour and a half, all in.

Leaf vacuum system in the Cyclone Rake.

I have noticed that on hauls when I collect as much as obsessively possible between dumpings, the weight of the Cyclone Rake becomes such that I start to wheelie. All that really means is that turning the mower becomes a little more unpredictable, so you have to slow down and make wider turns… this effect also might be due to our specific mower make/model (it’s a Husqvarna YTH22V46).

Speaking of totally overloading the capacity of your Cyclone Rake bag, you’ll be thrilled to know that it’s still super easy to unload, even when at max. We have plenty of vacant property on which to dump chopped leaves, but I know other people use them as perennial ground cover and still others would deposit the collected leaves into a pile and bag them for trash collection. Any way you spill them, it’s a simple process of disconnecting the clips and velcro from the back of the bag (all of the overlapping panels pull out of the way and connect to the sides of the bag). You then unhook the chute from the top, and raise the bag up to dump out the debris. You celebrate a little, because you collected all of those leaves in like, 20 minutes! Do you know how much I can rake in 20 minutes?

How to empty a cyclone rake.

From there, you can leave the bag tipped upright, pull forward a bit to make sure the bag has cleared completely, and then close it right back up and continue collecting leaves.

If anyone’s in the market and has any questions, feel free to ask more about our experience with the product. The product has great warranties, and there seem to always be good discounts available for purchase (and no, it’s not too late in the season because Cyclone Rake can ship it to you in just a few days too). Happy Fall!

Driving the Cyclone Rake

Applesauce For Ages

October 21, 2015   //  Posted in: DIY, Gardening, Kitchen   //  By: Emily   //  2 responses

My parents planted apple trees 30 years ago when they moved into their home. Macoun, Crispin, and Northern Spy apples. And if you’re wondering, that’s the best time to have planted a fruit orchard… 30 years ago.

Macoun apple tree in Buffalo, NY

I was as old as my own daughter when they bought the house, and I though have exactly one photo of their yard sans landscaping, there are hundreds of it in various state of evolution. The ever-changing state of that homestead might be the biggest reason I enjoy taking lots of photos of my own homes. I have a lot of memories playing in the backyard alongside those trees; they were never sturdy enough to climb when I was in my formative spider monkey years, but we used the then-small fruits as alts to tennis balls when playing with our dogs, and dodged low-hanging branches while riding our bikes and running the bases on our makeshift diamond.

My Dad was raised on a working apple farm, so this mission of his was fairly intentional, to cultivate the perfect orchard that would be in full effect by the time my sister and I were adults returning to enjoy it with our own families. Well done, parents, and thanks for the 100+ lbs. of apples.

Apple picking party, 2015.

We visited a few weekends ago. This is the third year that we harvested fruit. For longer, my parents have been able to harvest a bushel or two for themselves to eat and make desserts for special occasions, but without spraying (these trees are pesticide-free) the apple harvest has continued to improve and this year is the best yet. Besides the age of the trees themselves, I don’t know enough about all of the other factors that contribute to a stellar growing season (rain, warmth, pollination conditions) but I’ll hope for now that these mature apple trees are around and serving us for many decades to come.

Crispin apples growing in an orchard in Buffalo, NY

In all honesty, we could have filled 140 boxes of apples, not just the 4 that we lugged home in our laps and underfoot. The plan? Applesauce for ages.

This year we’ll make as much as we can. We’ll probably have homemade sauce until Spring, even if the girls eat it several times a week.

Peeling and coring apples for applesauce.

The quick recipe?

  • ~20 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped. For the love of efficiency, buy yourself one of these apple peelers (shown above).
  • 1-2 tablespoons of cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup of sugar (optional – I test more and less sugar with each batch, the apples themselves are quite sweet but I think it helps the juices extract from the fruit)
  • Put all of it right on the stove in a covered stock pot over medium heat for 20 minutes. Stir. The apples will begin to break down, it will become quite liquidy. Cover with the heat on low for an additional 20-30 minutes. After this point, the apples should break down easily when you poke them. A simple potato masher will do the trick, a hand blender if your family is more particular about lumps – work it until you have the consistency that you want. Let the applesauce cool, and store in the refrigerator.
  • If you have excess like me with my 20 batches, freeze it in manageable quart-size freezer bags, working to squeeze out the air in the bag while you seal it. Lay them flat in the freezer, and store them for 3-months (typical freezer) or for a year (deep freezer) and use on-demand.

Side Door Makeover

October 19, 2015   //  Posted in: DIY, Entryway   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment

Most of my summer was spent on maintenance, and home maintenance is time consuming and not super sexy, but it isn’t a bad thing. I’ve always kind of loved how a home “needs” it’s owners, and the sometimes the big-money or mundane tasks get overlooked in favor of the new fluffy carpet. I painted our front door Edamame green as part of a tutorial series for DIY Network and loved it so much that I picked up an extra quart to have enough for our side entryway too.

A side door in much need of paint and cleaning.

This entry itself isn’t one we use too regularly. In fact, if we’re talking about lingering maintenance, that light up top needs to be replaced entirely, and damned if I didn’t just remember while looking at these photos that I intended to stain and seal the threshold before fall. Put on your blinders to all of that, and agree that a coat of paint would boost its appeal (mostly for the family next door whose windows face it, they see it daily).

The last coat of paint that had been on the door has been just starting to show signs of chipping, so I scraped any loose areas by hand before running the power sander over it quickly to prep the surface. A coat of primer on top of that was all it needed to re-seal the areas with exposed wood, and man it was warm that day. I miss summer.

A side door in much need of paint and cleaning. Scrape it, sand and prime.

Edamame is still a wonderful color for our house; I love its contrast with the gray siding and the way it pulls in the color of nature that practically engulfs our home. When you’re painting a door, best to cut into the detailed areas with a brush (this is a flat door but there were still panes). Loosen the doorknob if you can manage, it’s always better to cut in around the knob by painting just beneath it. Same concept as removing the switch plates when you’re painting a wall in your house.

Paint the details around the windows in the door.

If I’m commenting about people who are so lazy they can’t take the switch plates off the walls before they paint, allow me to also rip on myself for not bothering to open the door completely as I rolled paint on it; yes, I finally got un-lazy and moved the garbage can 3-inches so it wasn’t blocking the door from swinging open, just not until right after this “look at my progress!” picture was taken (biggest eye roll ever).

If I’m not painting walls, I gravitate towards small rollers for most every job. Easier to maneuver, capable of an exceptionally smooth finish, less clean-up. Use that little roller to paint over the flat surfaces of the door, and edge-to-edge.

Paint the flat surfaces of the door.

Two coats of paint was enough, and the door is looking totally spiff in green.

As it would be, I didn’t get around to taking the “after” photo of the door until yesterday, and in the time since I painted the door during the summer, we’ve had a lot of electrical work done. So, in addition to celebrating that pretty green door, we can also enjoy our brand new panel and subpanel, and rewired basement… buh bye breakers! Hello, updated home.

Green door, snazzy electrical system.