Wandering Cherry Meadow

A 3 Acre Homestead Renovation Project

Author: The Lady Liu (page 1 of 2)

We’re Moving! DomesticDetour.com

Hi there!

 

We’re moving to DomesticDetour.com to incorporate a more accurate view of all the things that we do.  And, uh, also, cheaper/better webhosting.  In the next month or two we will start redirecting everything there, so please head over if you need anything.

 

Thanks!

Hoop House: A $30 or less Greenhouse Made With PVC Pipe and Plastic for Your Melon Needs

Opened Hoop House Shortly After Planting

Growing Melons in a Short Season Cool Climate is Perfectly Reasonable

Back in January when my newborn was still completely immobile and required me for everything, I had a brilliant idea.  I should grow melons in the Pacific Northwest!  I was reading an article about the thousands of dollars, primo perfection melons selling in Japan, slightly dehydrated from constantly breastfeeding, and completely sleep deprived.  Naturally, melons came as a brilliant idea.  For those of you who don’t know, the Pacific Northwest has a fairly short growing season and incredibly mild climate.  What do melons need?  Heat.  Lots of heat.  Yeah, we don’t have that.  They also need a long time to get going.  Yup, don’t have that either.  Doesn’t matter.  Mama wanted fresh, locally grown melons.

My initial instinct was to convince my husband we needed to drop a few thousand dollars on a heated greenhouse, but I realized I could just buy the multi-thousand dollar Japanese melons for that price and had to figure out something more cost effective.

Cheaper Alternative to a Greenhouse

Enter the hoop house.  Or hot house.  Or cold frame.  Or miniature greenhouse.  I don’t know what it’s called, but I’m going to stick with hoop house.  This is a structure made entirely with PVC pipes, and if you’re feeling fancy like I was, rebar you “borrowed” permanently from your father’s shop.  The structure is fairly inexpensive to make, running roughly $30 in materials tops for a 12 foot bed if you don’t have any extra supplies running around, and it has increased the soil temperature during 60 degree weather by roughly 15 degrees.  This is the difference of being able to plant melons (or tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatos and yams, etc…) in March and worrying about frost to knowing everything will be fine.  Half of my plants outside the hoop house died due to unexpected early cold, where as everything inside stayed nice and toasty.

Green tomatoes, bell peppers, and melon blossoms in July (and weeds. Ignore the weeds.)

I used 5 ten foot PVC pipes for a 12 x 3.5 foot bed, spacing about 3 feet between each pipe.  I also used 10 ft x 100 ft 6 mil plastic sheeting from our local hardware store the first time, but when we ran out of plastic at my mothers we used 12ft x 50 ft 1.5 mil plastic instead since it was 1/5th the cost ($10 as opposed to $60 at the time of writing this).  Keeping in mind this plastic will not last forever due to the fact it is going to be exposed to the sun and PVC, the less expensive option isn’t a bad one.  You can also use an old garden hose to keep the plastic from touching the PVC if you’d like.  Next, you need two spring clamps per PVC pipe.

Construction is simple.  Put a rebar or just the pipe evenly spaced across the bed, carefully bend the pipe over the rebar (thicker pipe will survive the bending more easily – I used 3/4″ pipe, but my mom used 1.5″ pipe and inserted straight into the ground).  Pull plastic over the hoop house.  Cut to fit.  Clamp on using spring clamps.  It’s that easy.  You have a greenhouse in under 30 minutes, with the only part you need someone to watch the baby for being the hammering in the rebar part.

Total Materials:

5 ten foot 3/4″ or larger PVC pipes (1 for every 3 feet + 1 for the end)

12ft x 50 ft 1.5 mil plastic (at least 10 feet long, 12 preferred if you have bunny problems)

1″-2″ clamps , two per PVC pipe (10 total for me – $1 each at the hardware store, or half the cost at the link).

2 one foot rebar per PVC pipe (optional – but helpful if you have clay soil – if you have soft soil you can just push the PVC pipes in)

Melon Success?!

So far, I haven’t seen any melons yet, just little blossoms everywhere.  However, the melon plants haven’t died, which from farmers I’ve talked to in the area is on its own success so far.  However, one thing I did notice is my bell peppers, cayenne peppers, tomatoes, and tamatillos have all fruited much earlier than they typically do.  Last year I was just starting to get tomato fruit showing last September due to the cold, and with another cool spring, I already have tomatoes on the vine as of early July.  I’ve also had peppers for about a month now, which is absolutely lovely.  I’m still holding on to my melon dreams, but if nothing else I do intend to continue using the hoop house for extending my lettuce season / protecting it from bunnies and other pests during the winter.  I honestly didn’t have to weed this portion of my garden at all until about 2 weeks ago when I opened the side of the hoop house to let it breathe on hot 90 degree weather days.  That alone is a massive boon for those of us with little ones running around!  I will update after melon season is over and let you know if I’ve had any luck.

Additional Benefits of a Hoop House

More heat, less weeds, fewer pests, less watering needed.  So, the fact it makes everything warmer is an obvious, but you’ll notice that first picture has significantly fewer weeds in the garden bed than later when I opened up the hoop house full time.  In fact, I didn’t need to do any weeding until I started having the hoop house opened full time because nothing could get in.  I naturally had to open it up for fertilization later on so the bees could get in, but even in my area covered with bunnies, they have completely left my produce alone with just the sides of the hoop house open.  Additionally, since the hoop house, like a greenhouse, is naturally more humid, I didn’t need to water it as frequently during Seattle summer drought time.

Hoop House Downsides

There are two notable cons, however.  One, you either need to install a soaker hose, which I did, or remove the hoop house cover to have it watered.  This means paying attention to the weather forecast and taking it off when it’s going to rain or paying to water the plants.  However, due to the fact that the humidity made the watering requirements significantly less than the rest of my yard, I didn’t take this to be a massive draw back.

The second down side was that slugs love how humid it is inside.  Most of the plants I have aren’t something slugs love if they aren’t seedlings, but the bell pepper plant did not have a great time at the start.  They did end up killing one bell pepper seedling that I didn’t catch in time, but otherwise everything has thrived.

My mother’s hoop house with plastic removed for her tomatoes

A Case for Using Organic Fertilizer Instead of Using Homemade Compost

Side note, my mom used actual fertilizer instead of just mixing in the fecal matter from her animals, and her plants are huge.  Like, busting out of her hoop house so she had to take the roof off huge.  I’m curious about our yields, but for about $10 of liquid fertilizer she has plants much larger, bushier, and more well fed than mine.  I’ll have to do a follow up and look at my own ratios of goat/chicken poo being added to my soil.

 

Ways to Buy Cloth Diapers on the Cheap

So if you ended up here, you’re probably considering using cloth diapers.  Great!  You’ve also likely heard a lot of talk suggesting it’s too difficult, you won’t last a month without a laundry service, and so and so knows so and so who used cloth but didn’t stick with it, or back in the day everything smelled like poo for ten miles.  Most of that is misleading or myths, but one thing people don’t really mention is that the start-up cost is high.  For people who are looking at cloth diapers predominantly for the savings, this can be a bit daunting.

The start-up cost is too expensive for my family’s budget.  Period.

This is a legitimate problem.  Cloth diapering, unless you’re a crazy lady like me who wants all the pretties, is incredibly economical…over time.  But for a lot of people who would benefit from the economical advantages of it the most, the start-up cost is just too high to get started without setting aside a baby budget way before pregnancy is even in the horizon.  Fortunately, there are a number of great cloth diapering charities out there to address this exact issue, and if you don’t qualify for charity support, there are economical and budget-friendly ways to cloth diaper.

Cloth Diaper Charities for Families Enrolled in WIC

A few of these require you to pay the cost of shipping (~$40, about 2 boxes of disposable diapers) to participate and prove a need through WIC enrollment and pregnancy confirmation.  Some of these charities have a lot of paperwork required, and others, such as Grovia Gives, require very little.

Giving Diapers Giving Hope

Cotton Babies Love

The Rebecca Foundation

Grovia Gives

Cloth Diapering on a Budget Options

Buying cloth diapers new is almost always the most expensive option.  There are a few very rare exceptions to this rule, such as Lighthouse Kids Company  recently becoming incredibly popular which resulted in people selling diapers they just purchased for 2-3xs as much as they bought them for, or when a company has a seconds sale such as Softbums at the time of writing this where diapers are around half their normal cost.  Some retailers will have sales for up to 35% off, or if it’s the off-season for a season-specific print and they had extra they will go on discount fairly substantially.  Other prints that just aren’t popular can also be on sale cheap.  A great time of year to catch amazing cloth diaper sales in general is Earth Day, but regrettably the next one isn’t until April 22nd, 2019.  Of course, brands irregularly have sales throughout the year and will retire prints which makes them cheaper as well.

Second Quality Diaper Sales

Finding a seconds sale usually takes following a brand for a while and picking them up when they become available, but most brands have them.  First quality is the diapers companies sell new at whole price, and seconds quality is usually diapers with a flaw that doesn’t impact functionality and is generally cosmetic.  These diapers are also new, but had a flaw that caused quality control to pull them out.    A few seconds I’ve seen included a patch of mismatched thread, missed stitches, or an insert that wasn’t sewn together completely so one layer just flops around on the top.  I’ve also seen some seconds that I would argue the company had advertised the diapers incorrectly as fully functional including having the waterproof layer, PUL, on the outside of the diaper (short term it would work, but the external wear on the PUL would significantly shorten their lifespan) or elastics becoming disconnected from the diaper and not holding at all.  Definitely check with people who frequent the brand to figure out more what category the diapers tend to be.  Reputable companies won’t put the latter into their seconds sales because they don’t want customer complaints impacting the perception of their brand.

Gently Used Diapers

Remember those people your friends were telling you about who used cloth but didn’t stick with it?  Time for you to capitalize on the error of their ways!  These are people who may have gone through their diaper stash for a month tops, leaving some diapers in great shape.  Most diaper brands, not all, drop in value significantly as soon as they’re used as long as you aren’t looking to buy hard-to-find (HTF) diapers.  If you’re willing to buy a lot of diapers, where the owner is able to sell a number of their diapers at once, the deal is usually even better.

A few places to check if you’re on the hunt for gently used diapers are OfferUp, Craigslist, B(uy)/S(ell)/T(rade) groups including on Facebook and Baby Center, and Cloth Diaper Trader.  A quick search on Craigslist and a couple Facebook BSTs helped me find diapers selling for as little as 1/5th their retail cost depending on the brand and condition.  Certain brands retain their value significantly better than others.  Sometimes this is because the diapers are better quality, the fan following, or because they more frequently release limited edition prints that people find appealing but couldn’t necessarily buy.  If the PUL or TPU (waterproof layers depending on the brand) is torn or de-laminating at all, don’t purchase those diapers.  They won’t last long before they need to be replaced.  If the elastics are stretched, it depends on your level of craftiness for repair.  I personally failed the sewing portion of home economics in middle school, so I need those in good shape too, but they can be replaced for a reasonable price most of the time.  Unfortunately, none of these things can be verified online.

Your best bet for buying used diapers is to get someone to take very good photos, and typically the B/S/T groups for a specific brand or buying diapers in person are your best bet for accurate listings.  These groups tend to be sellers who also participate in the fan pages of the same retailers, so they tend to be more accurate in their listings due to potentially selling to their internet friends and a community they are involved in.  Similarly, people you meet in person tend to be more accurate because you will see the items before purchase, and you’re a member of their community.

Piling is another issue with used diapers.  Usually this is just cosmetic wear on the outside of shells, but it can also be from velcro losing its stickiness and no longer adhering to itself in the washing machine.  Velcro that falls off easy is a recipe for a poopy baby bum sliding all over your floor, much like a number of my nightmares when I was pregnant.

Please let me know if you have any other ways you have saved buying cloth diapers or any particular questions about buying used diapers!  If anyone knows of any additional diapering charities, please let me know and I will happily link them as well.

Temporary Goat Fencing Using Carabiners and Cattle Panels For Clearing Brush

So I have 3 dairy goats.  I didn’t even get a full season of milk from them, since about a month and a half after each of my goats kidded I was hit with a milk aversion only pregnancy could burden you with.  I smelled, saw, noticed, or went anywhere near a teat and anything I consumed that day would end up all over it.  Not a great set up.

Determined not to give in to my husband’s grumblings about goats being freeloaders we should sell, I instead decided to make use of some cattle panels I had originally intended to use for growing grapes and a few carabiners I found in my garage.  4 cattle panels at about $35 each and 12 carabiners at free each later, I had a temporary goat enclosure for shady days or around shaded areas that was fairly easy to move and set up.  Just because I couldn’t milk the goats didn’t mean they couldn’t be useful!  On top of their freeloading, they could destroy our arch nemesis – blackberry bushes.

Simple. but effective! Just clasp the cattle panels together with the carabiners! 4 foot fence is enough to keep my Nigerian Dwarfs in, but not enough for every goat.

Now, I have Nigerian Dwarf Goats, so they predominantly like eating the tender branches and low leaves, but with a little bit of manual labor knocking the branches down when the goats clear out what they can reach, they do a pretty good job of murdering everything.  In fact, if I remember (which I won’t), I’ll take a before and after shot of where I had them clear out last!  I was able to get them to clear out a huge bramble and all I had to do was leave a few logs they could climb on then mow over the remaining invaders.

Eat, my expensive bush goats, eaaaat!

 

My next project for this summer, pending how busy baby makes me, is to extend their actual run to include this logged area below.  I have all the materials, just not the time!  That will  be with actual fencing, though, using 4 foot no climb horse fencing (more economical for long spreads than the cattle panels from my local farm supply store), T-posts, and the hopes and dreams of goat lovers who want their husbands not to encourage them to sell their pretty girls.

Making Chicken Bone Stock or Broth from Scraps

Want delicious chicken stock (mostly bones) or broth (more meat) without buying it at the store pre-made but also without using enough ingredients to make a gourmet meal to do so?

French Dinner

French Onion soup made with homemade stock is the best!

TL;DR:

  1. Instead of buying fresh produce to make stock, freeze kitchen scraps from veggies (onion skins, garlic skins, extra herbs that I’ve over picked, produce that just started to go south that you don’t want to eat it fresh, chicken bones or other bones from meat like pork chops, steaks, fish).
  2. Throw them in a soup pot that’s actually probably intended for pasta filled with water and boil then simmer for at least an hour, but overnight or longer if the urge tickles your fancy (richer flavor the longer you go, but my mom’s choice to go 2 days seems a little excessive to me).
  3. Strain out all the used and abused discard for compost or yard waste.  (If you use a soup pot that’s likely actually intended for pasta, you can just lift the colander out, which leads to next to no mess and less spillage).
  4. Freeze or refrigerate your ample delicious stock until ready to eat.
IMG_20170815_132439

Kitchen scraps make me a tasty snack! Frozen celery discards, onion skins, and leftover roasted chicken. Numnumnum.

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Chicken Waterer with Gallon Milk Jugs and Nipples

Flew the Roo enjoying the newly set up watering jug.

I originally watered my chickens with a $30-something metal hanging waterer I got at the feed store (which you can see at this post about the Mama Heating Pad Brooder).  In under a year of use, the metal has already started to deteriorate from the constant water exposure.  Due to leaving it on a cinderblock, it doesn’t usually get dirty unless someone goes crazy and decides it’s time to overturn everything in the coop, but generally speaking the water quality has definitely gone down with time and so has cleanliness.

 

Enter the chicken waterer nipples.  My bestie at Shady Side Farm deserves full credit for this post, since after she very kindly brooded two Black Jersey Giants for me and decided I should take her Cuckoo Maran rooster too since roos aren’t allowed where she lives, she set me up with a milk jug chicken waterer and left me with extra nipples to make more.  Making more so was stupidly easy, I regretted not doing it sooner!

 

To get the birds used to it is pretty easy if you have a few birds who already were raised using the nipples, and that’s how they got water to begin with.  The other birds will watch and copy.  If you’re starting fresh like with my older birds, I gradually had the waterer run low with the only water being from the jugs.  If they’re particularly slow, you can dip their beaks into it like you sometimes do when you take chicks home so they know where water is, but mine have always been pretty quick on the uptake.

 

Materials:

Chicken waterer nipples (25 pack found here or 5 pack found here for about half the cost of 25 – my friend got 25)

Thoroughly cleaned out milk jug

Something to poke a hole with (drill bit, I used a tiny knife – just careful not to cut it too wide!  5/16″ is recommended)

Something to hang the jug with – I used leftover hay bail ties

Nipple attached to milk jug on opposite end of handle.

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Mycology 101: Growing Oyster Mushrooms on Cardboard

So I’m sure you’ve noticed that aside from my initial post, most of my posting hasn’t been related to renovation whatsoever.  You know why?  My roof is leaking again in the same spot we’ve tried repairing multiple times!  Sneaky leaky.  Fortunately, we noticed it right before I painted over the area!  Ah, my ever stalled kitchen, when will I find a roofer I trust?  If you’re in the Seattle area and know someone who likes working with over sized skylights and their flashing, hit me up!

 

If I’m not renovating, I’m homesteading!  Back in the fall, I found some beautiful chanterelles growing outside in my front yard, and since then my mycological interest was peaked.  Maybe it was picking up over $100 worth of mushrooms in a week across multiple weeks as the rains were agreeable just by walking into my front yard, or the fact that local, foraged mushroom prices at the grocery store are ever-growing, or perhaps even that the freshest mushroom I’ll ever get from the market is still far older than the mushroom I picked before cooking.  While I’m sure there are more mushrooms in my yard I can grow given they sprout up all over my lawn and fallen stumps, the only ones I’ve been able to consistently identify are chanterelles.  Knowing I couldn’t clone the mycorrhizal relationship the chanterelle mycelium has with my giant evergreens inside my house, I decided to look for mushrooms I could cultivate and grow at home.

 

After some “light” reading of Paul Stamets’s books Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms and the backbreaking The Mushroom Cultivator, I decided all the techniques and options listed were probably fantastic, and found them as a good reference guide for the basics, but realistically they suffered from two main problems.  That is, the idea is you need a substrate such as straw or wood chips to be completely clean from contamination.  Easy enough.  Boil things!  Or pressure cook them.  Both are good.

The problem is, I live in the Pacific Northwest.  Short of a lab environment, trichoderma infests everything it can.  In fact, I even had a bag of mushrooms from a lab that was infested with trichoderma.  So I needed an alternative.

 

After having purchased my mom and friend bags of oysters for their Christmas gifts, and growing some shiitake and lion’s mane myself, I tried to figure out some alternatives.  I found something about growing oysters on coffee grounds from various sources, including someone trying to sell you the information that could be conveyed in 30 minute videos.  The idea is that the coffee is already pasteurized, so as long as you use it the same day, it should be fine.  Maybe.  Unless you live in the Pacific Northwest and need to use more science than that.  During my multiple attempts that ended in moldy glory using the mushroom butts from my mom’s oysters to start colonizing some coffee grounds, I did realize they seemed to be doing just fine on the cardboard I started them on.  I’m sure it’s less nutritious than using coffee grounds, but what I can say for certainty is it didn’t grow mold.  That alone made it a winner in my eyes.

 

So, how to grow oyster mushrooms on cardboard?

 

  1. Get oyster mushroom stem butts (the very base of the mushroom, sometimes has some of its substrate on it still – note, grocery store mushrooms aren’t always the best source here.  If you know someone who grows them, found some in the wild, or have some left overs from a mushroom growing kit, that’s probably the best way to go)
  2. Boil cardboard.  I did it for like an hour after all my previous mold woes, but honestly the mold isn’t going to go hang out on the cardboard, so don’t fret that much.
  3. Tear the cardboard into single layers after cardboard cools enough to touch (don’t have to do this step, but mushrooms grow much more quickly if you do)
  4. Place cardboard in a container – such as a plastic bag or tupperware
  5. Snuggle oyster mushroom butts between two layers

 

While the mycelium is moving into its new home, it does better in slightly dimmer locations, but honestly, oysters are pretty hard to kill unless you invite trichoderma over for a party, so don’t fret it too much!  Photos below!

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There Ain’t No Party like a Seed Starting Party!

IMG_20170304_121248.jpg Homemade kombucha, potstickers, and seeds!  My kind of party.

You know how you get an unreasonable amount of seeds in each little packet?  And you look at the packet and think, “Hmm, yeah, I could have 30 early tomato plants since supposedly you guys are only good for a year, but I really want a bunch of different varieties to grow in succession so I can be rolling in tomatoes in their prime…”  And then you end up with seeds saved for next year, which is fine, but the germination rate is a bit lower, and you still really didn’t want 30 of one variety.

This is where the seed starting party comes in.  My mom, my bestie, my sister, and myself all collaborated this year with our seeds and our niece to have a wider variety of tomatoes, peppers, and mystery vegetables.  While I’m sure I could have had the 150 ground cherry plants all to myself, with deciding to share our seeds we could have 4xs the variety of plants without having to spend 4xs as much on seeds and wasting what we didn’t use.  For my friend who is allergic to cooked tomatoes and thus storing them is very unlikely to go well, this was a particularly good idea.

This week (and, well, the last couple weeks) are when it’s time to start your tomatoes and peppers in the Pacific Northwest indoors.  I’ve never actually started from seed before, though the idea of spending $3 for a packet of seeds instead of $3-5 per tomato plant seemed pretty appealing.  Of course, given I live in the Pacific Northwest and all my windows and skylights in my house face the north (great planning, home designers!  Then again, I guess there’s nothing but giant trees on the south side…), seed starting is a little more complicated than throwing some seeds in the dirt and calling it good.

TL;DR Version: Fungus fuzz sucks, line light better than square light, online had better prices for seed starter trays, plant trays without holes, grow lights and such for starters, local hardware stores (Lowes, Home Depot, McDaniel’s Do-It-Center, etc) had better prices for seed starter mix.

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Time to Prune Apple Trees – Winter Workup!

Late winter is generally the best time to prune apple and pear trees since they’re dormant.  This has two benefits.  The one that benefits you is the fact that there are no leafs in the way, so it’s easier to see where your branches are and get in there to chop things up.  The one that benefits the tree is that it’s stored sugars for spring growth won’t have to spread throughout the tree and instead will focus on smaller areas that haven’t been pruned off for growth and fruiting.  As far as a general how-to, Wiki-How has a pretty good article on pruning apple trees in particular, but it neglects to mention the suckers that grow along the root base.

Pruning itself is important, particularly if you have severely overgrown trees such as mine on my lovely inherited foreclosure home.  The reasons I have to prune include 1) downward branches growing into the ground (though I’m sure the deer, bunnies, and my goats have enjoyed the bark), and 2) a windy day broke one of the main scaffold branches, and the other one looked pretty well on its way to being the next candidate, so I needed to chop it up to avoid disease.

I won’t go into the details of how to shape up your tree (especially since while I know the theory behind it, the practice definitely escapes me, aha), but I have noticed a lack of photos of actual trees as you go through the steps.  So!  For all my fellow human beings who don’t quite get what those vague drawings are referring to…

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How to Get Dried Joint Compound / Mud / Limestone Out of Your Sink

Recently, I made a terrible mistake. I asked my husband to clean our mudding supplies. In part of our unending quest to remove the excessive texture on our walls, we regularly slap joint compound on a few walls and call it a day. Sometimes, that slapping happens when it’s nearly lunch time, so while I go to whip up a nice meal, I hope everything will be cleaned properly with lots of water by my dear husband.  “Properly” means most of the mud goes in the junk bucket and only trace amounts have to be wiped off our tools or rinsed off our paint roller. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and the next day when I next used the upstairs bathroom I found it to be rather clogged, dried, and next to impossible for me to do anything about. It wasn’t visible on the top, but as I ran the water to wash my hands, the sink was quickly overflowing.

I had tried a few different things. Vinegar, baking soda and vinegar, boiling hot water, and my bathroom plunger. None of those quite did the trick, though since mild acids such as vinegar dissolve limestone it was definitely a step in the right direction.  Short of having to buy a snake to go down the drain, I decided to try out a small sink plunger. The ones I had found at the local home improvement store didn’t offer great suction (which, like the crazy person I am, I had tested on every single wall I came across while I was there), so I decided to order this questionable looking thing from Uncle Amazon instead.

…Yeah, doesn’t remind me of anything inappropriate at all.

Okay, creepiness aside, it’s a suction machine.  I tried cleaning out my sink again today since I really didn’t want to have to replace a P-trap I had just swapped out when I moved in, adding a bit of vinegar into the sink to erode the limestone, and I used the hand plunger.

Ta-da!  Fixed!  For slightly unpleasant photos and steps, click read more!

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