Vegetable Gardening in Vermont

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gardening in Vermont Over 20 years ago Sisler Builders employee Danny Young and two of his friends purchased 200 acres in Westfield, with the intent of gardening in Vermont. They divided up the land, built modest homes, planted crops, and raised livestock to meet their needs—no mean feat in this remote town less than 20 miles from the Canadian border. For most of that time, Danny worked for Sisler Builders, leaving and returning in the dark most months of the year in order to make the 40-mile trek back and forth to work.

gardening in VermontWhen Danny retired a few years ago, he said the thing he was looking forward to most was spending more time in his garden. It turns out Danny’s not alone in his passion for gardening. While it may seem improbable for such a seemingly rough and tumble group, it’s not unusual to find members of the Sisler crew in lunchtime discussions over pickling techniques, pest control secrets, and composting choices. And its not just chips and Twinkies in their lunch bags either, as many bring fresh vegetables, fruits, pies, and other dishes to eat and share.

Another Sisler Builders employee, Scott Langlois, put in some raised beds a few years ago and grows tomatoes in sheet rock buckets that he paints dark green to hold the heat in. “I’ve eaten more salads this summer than I ever have in my life,” he says. “The stuff just keeps on coming.”

gardening in Vermont“My garden is my therapy patch,” says Matt Rouleau. “It’s where I go to relax and unwind, and the fresh vegetables are just a bonus.” Matt has been gardening for over 20 years, and every summer he renews a friendly fight against the deer, squirrels, raccoons, and other vermin that threaten his garden. “They keep a closer eye on things than you do, and just when it’s time to harvest you find they’ve already beaten you to it. I used to tell my son that it was all right and that I would go after my vegetables in November, but it turns out I am only a marginal hunter, and the deer and the others usually get the last laugh.”

gardening in VermontNot all of us have skills equal to our passion. Ten years ago my wife and I purchased an old farm here in Morrisville, and I set about trying to reclaim an old vegetable garden. After much kicking and swearing, I finally managed to fire up the old Troy-Bilt rototiller that came with the place. The blunt tines barely dug into the hard ground, and the wretched machine dragged me around the garden before finally depositing me onto my stomach with nothing more than the plastic handgrips still in my hands. I’ve since gone to raised beds, and despite the never-ending weeding and an aging yellow lab who loves fresh broccoli and strawberries as much as I do, I never seem to tire of working in my garden. From the first asparagus in May to the carrots and parsnips I pull for Christmas dinner, my garden yields its rewards throughout much of the year.

gardening in VermontUp in Westfield, Danny is busy “putting food by” for the winter. He grinds his own grains, and he pickles, dries, or stores many of the fruits and vegetables he grows. Between the garden and the pigs and chickens he raises, he is able to meet almost all of his food needs. “Pretty much all I buy is coffee, flour, and sugar” he says. In all, he grows over 30 different fruits and vegetables including things I wouldn’t even attempt, like artichokes and melons.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be good at gardening to enjoy it. Here at my place, even my goats like gardening. Last fall we threw them some pumpkins to eat, and this summer a pumpkin plant grew up in their pen. They, and we, watched it all summer long. They waited for the pumpkins to ripen, and then they ate them plants and all, and that was that.

By Peter Merrill, blogger and former Sisler Builders employee.

Dilapidated House Renovations

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For two years, Jennifer and Shawn Donovan of Waterbury Center had been scouring central Vermont for the right house to buy. After years of renting, they never thought finding an affordable house would be so difficult. Little did they know that dilapidated house renovations were in their future.

dilapidated house renovations  dilapidated house renovations

On a whim, Jen called builder Steve Sisler, owner of Sisler Builders. “Do you have any spec houses, property… anything?” she begged. In fact, Steve had something, but it was, well, not for everyone. “You want to look at a derelict building and see if it might work for you?” he replied. He made sure to note that it had great views of Camel’s Hump. Unfazed by the unusual proposition, Jen agreed to stop by the next day.

The two met in Waterbury Center in front of a dilapidated and forlorn looking old house with ugly green asbestos siding. Steve explained that Sisler Builders would begin the dilapidated house renovations by tearing down the house and building on the existing foundation. He wanted to recycle as much of the building materials as possible and build a green, energy-efficient home. Jen walked around the grungy site, her shoes crunching on broken glass. She was quiet, and told Steve she’d get back to him. Privately, she had fallen in love with the idea of renovating an old home on that site.

Dilapidated house renovations on a budget

Jen showed Shawn the house that weekend. He was skeptical, but intrigued by the ideas that Steve had proposed, and motivated by his wife’s enthusiasm. A few days later, they called Steve to say they were interested – with a catch: could he build their dream three-bedroom, two-bathroom house for $180,000?

“That will be a challenge,” Steve replied, “but we’re willing to accept it.” It would be the leanest construction budget for a house of this size that Sisler Builders had done in years. But Steve and his colleagues, led by site supervisor and carpenter Matt Rouleau, were eager to demonstrate that with creativity and experience, building state-of-the-art energy-efficient homes – their specialty – could be done on a budget and a tight time frame.

dilapidated house renovations  dilapidated house renovations  dilapidated house renovations

Steve, Matt, and their subcontractors came to the Donovans with numerous ideas for how to save money and energy while building something beautiful and practical from the dilapidated old house. By using the existing 20-year-old concrete foundation, deemed sound by a structural engineer, the couple could save $30,000. Steve and Matt proposed using T-111 siding instead of clapboards, for a savings of around $12,000.

Plumbing subcontractor Don Clark pointed out that an acid-etched concrete floor with radiant heat had the dual bonus of being more efficient and $2,000 cheaper than a hardwood floor. Electrician Mike Cannon proposed installing the electrical service in a way that saved significant costs. Noi Jones and Kevin Kinney got to work fabricating the central staircase using exposed old structural beams. A passive solar design featuring lots of glass would bring in light and views, and keep the home warm. Steve would design and draw the house plans himself, and Jen and Shawn offered to do their own painting and buy and install all the appliances and cabinets.

After making one minor change to the design, the couple “absolutely let us run with it,” recounts Steve. Five months after the dilapidated old house renovations began, Jen and Shawn Donovan moved into the beautiful new home that rose in its place.

Dream home completed

dilapidated house renovations  dilapidated house renovationsLight streams in through the numerous south-facing windows that extend from floor to ceiling. The distinctive profile of Camel’s Hump feels close enough to reach out and stroke. Warmth rises from the heated concrete floor. Weathered barn board from the old house forms an interesting corner, and a staircase in the center of the living room features hand-hewn century-old posts, railings made of peeled logs that were formerly rafters in the old schoolhouse, and stair treads cut from the original massive 8×8 beams. Old melds seamlessly with new.

dilapidated house renovations  dilapidated house renovations   dilapidated house renovations

Steve Sisler says the Donovan house has been especially satisfying for him, his subcontractors and his colleagues at Sisler Builders. “I’m proud that we took a derelict building that was a drag on the community and the tax base and turned it into something viable, valuable, and energy efficient for a young couple. They appreciate what it was, and what we made of it, and now have a real pride of place.” Steve reflects, “It’s rewarding to take something that was broken and make it beautiful.”

Remodeled Contemporary Rustic Stowe Vermont Home

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By David Goodman

Contemporary Rustic Stowe Vermont HomeBarbara Puddicombe was tired of being a weekend warrior. It was time to realize her dream—a contemporary rustic Stowe Vermont home. Since 1975, she and her husband Michael had been making weekend trips from their home in Rhode Island to ski at Stowe. “We just piled into houses with other people when we were in our mid-20s,” she recalls with a fond grin. “Three kids and a dog later, we were still coming here every weekend. Then weekends grew into summer vacations, because we found Stowe even more beautiful in summer than winter.”

Ten years ago, the Puddicombes decided that their days doing laps between Rhode Island and Stowe were over. Michael traded in his job as a professor of business at Boston University for one at Norwich University, and Barbara transitioned from her Rhode Island practice as an occupational therapist.

“Our five-year plan to move to Vermont suddenly turned into a five-month plan,” says Barbara. Then came the big challenge: finding a house. One day, Michael called his wife with a strange announcement, “You’re not gonna be happy with this house.” He was only partly right. The 25-year old post-and-beam cape “didn’t have a lot of curbside appeal, but it was very functional,” says Barbara. But when she looked out from the back porch, she saw a view framed by the Worcester Range on one side and Camel’s Hump on the other.

“This is it,” she declared. She points out her window to the multicolored waves rising up to meet the sky. “I felt that I was being cradled in these mountains.” Perched high on Stowe Hollow at the foot of the Worcester Range, the Puddicombes turned to Sisler Builders to help transform their 1970s-era house—and by extension, their lives. They wanted a contemporary but rustic Vermont home for their active family of five.

Today, Gretchen, 18, is a high school senior, aspiring artist, and avid soccer player, and Sam, 13, is an eighth grader at Stowe Middle School, who loves backcountry skiing and cross-country running; their oldest son Matthew is now in engineering school in California.

Contemporary Rustic Stowe Vermont HomeWe entered the house through a spacious mud room that opens onto a fieldstone patio. Bike helmets hang from a pole and running shoes and hiking boots litter the floor. The cramped original post-and-beam frame has been seamlessly integrated into an airy family room and kitchen. Light pours in through large windows that wrap around two corners of the house. On this morning, Gretchen sits at the kitchen counter tapping on her laptop, while Sam bumps around the kitchen getting breakfast. Lots of glass, exposed wood beams, richly colored granite counters, and a ruggedly elegant stone fireplace create a warm, earthy space for the family to hang out.

Contemporary Rustic Stowe Vermont HomeThe Puddicombe home is an extension of a life that is intimately connected to the outdoors. That was the dream Barbara and Michael were chasing when they moved to Vermont. From the windows that face out onto rocky mountain ridges to the skis in the garage, the dream has become a reality.

“Vermont has been everything I wanted it to be,” says Barbara. “This has been a time and place when I could just bring up my kids living outdoors.” She has maintained a busy private practice of hand therapy out of her home office, but she also relishes the days she spends as a volunteer in her kids’ schools. “I don’t think my kids remember when I was not engaged in their lives, which is just what I wanted. I also get plenty of time on the ski slopes.”

Contemporary Rustic Stowe Vermont HomeBarbara recently celebrated a milestone with some local flare. “I decided for my fiftieth birthday that I would do 50 things I had never done before. I started by skiing the Stowe Derby and I finished by running the Stowe 8 Miler.” Along the way she also made her first descent of some of Stowe’s classic tree skiing runs, had her first shot of tequila, and went cliff jumping.

Barbara strolls outside past the red barn garage onto the stone patio. “I feel like I’m the luckiest person,” she says. A light breeze flutters the autumn foliage in the yard. “I just live in the most beautiful place in the whole entire world. I feel such an affinity to the topography here. It’s a landscape that is constantly changing. No matter how many times you hike or ski it, it continues to offer you new challenges, or it doesn’t have to be challenging at all. Vermont just takes care of my emotional soul.” She sweeps her arms out, as if embracing the trees and air around her. “There is no place else that I have ever found like it.”