Archive for the ‘gardening’ Category

Return to the green place

June 27, 2008

I’m home. Everything changed while I was gone, and the differences are breathtaking. Being gone only 8 days and having the landscape so different really gives me an appreciation of how fast the seasons pass.

Of course, we didn’t really get a spring this year, just several months of really crappy weather. So it’s like the last few weeks of spring and the first few weeks of summer compressed in on each other. We’re eating lettuce, radishes, spinach, and chard from the garden. But most of the hot weather plants look like they’ve gone south, so we’re planting some backup tomatoes and corn. The fruit trees look great, most of them loaded. But the brassicas (cabbage and the like generally planted very early) are depressing. Some of the cabbage and all of the broccoli just got to about 8 inches high and bolted. Total loss. The berries are at least a month late.

But the Japanese irises and foxglove are blooming like crazy, the grass is that soft spring green and smells fresh, and the trees are fully leafed out so that the light filters through them in that wonderful summer way.

The convention was fun. I got 5 top-ten finishes in the 39 categories of poem that I entered, so I’m happy. If that doesn’t sound too impressive, you should know that most categories had from 200 to 300 poems entered.

Now I truly must go move some sprinklers. No deep thoughts today, just gratitude for a return to the NW. Much as I enjoyed the convention and the different landscape, there’s no place like home.

Powerless on the Big Elk

June 7, 2008

Today has been one of those days. Monsoon-style rain has been falling most of the week. We’ve had two inches or more in the last three days. In mid-winter that’s normal. But when you’re trying to get the garden in, it’s very frustrating.

It’s supposed to clear for half a day tomorrow.

At least the potatoes don’t need watering. . .But I guess it’s going to be one of those green-tomato summers.

So I decided to do some things inside today. I got some mailings together to go out with the post tomorrow. Then I decided to take a few pictures of the hummingbirds. Batteries on both the Nikon and the Sony Mavica were dead, ready to be buried. Then I remembered that my laptop was nearly defunct on not one but both batteries and that the flashlight I changed the battery on last night ended up at something less than full power.

So I started the generator and plugged in four different chargers. Then I got Ben to set up the 12-volt charger for the main house system. That hasn’t been charged in awhile either. Tonight is our independent power plant night, I guess.

It’s a good thing that we built a big kitchen. Originally it wasn’t just the kitchen, it was the whole living area. That was before we added on 1300 square feet. But is has two stoves–one gas, one wood–acres of counters, two tables, and nine wooden chairs.

Normally it has only one refrigerator, but tonight it has two. Our fridge has been acting up. It’s nearly 10 years old, so this is not unexpected. But summer is coming, and with gas going up at ten cents a gallon a day, I’m sure as heck not going to drive to town every two days to get ice. So we bought a replacement.

I ordered it on Monday, estimated delivery time a week to ten days. On Tuesday they called to say it was here. Ralph and Brenda drove to Mollala on Wednesday to pick it up.

Like many projects around here, however, this is one of those that’s not getting rushed into. So the refrigerator has made it to the end of the big kitchen table, where it stands like a monolith and reigns over our meals. But the old one hasn’t totally quit, so the new one is just sitting there until the guys feel like wrestling it into place and hooking it up.

Over the years I have developed a sense of humor (and inevitablility) about these things, so I’m staying remarkably calm. After all, we have cold milk and ice cubes for our drinks, so what’s the urgency?

Ben says: “Whoever heard of a refrigerator taking the week off?”

Good question. It was totally unreliable for a week, except that the freezer worked better than ever. Now it seems to have recovered (probably because we bought a new one), but it’s still flaky occasionally. We’re going to keep the old one, turn it upside down for a week to see if we can shake loose whatever is crazy in the cooling system, then stash it away to run on a spare propane tank when we have lots of company and need a mega-supply of ice cubes or potato salad.

Now it’s time to go check the assorted chargers (everything upstairs is done, so what’s on the porch is all that remains), put away the rest of the black bean soup (cooling on the porch), and head off to dreamland. May tomorrow be sunnier.


Surge: The war continues

June 5, 2008

If you’re expecting to read a rant about the tragedy of Iraq or George W. or Rummy or one of those things, you probably should just go read another blog tonight.

This is about a much closer to home, much more personal war.

That’s not to minimize the pain and agony we as a nation have inflicted on another country, however well intentioned our efforts. But I can’t influence that one, let alone have any kind of meaningful impact on the outcome, so I’m writing about something else.

We live on approximately 100 acres. A few of them are taken up by a river bed (not navigable year-round, so we own it), a lot more of them by some very steep hills plated in a variety of tree species, and 8-10 acres of relatively flat land.

We share this land with an assortment of wildlife–bears, cougars, coyotes, rabbits, weasels, bobcats, dozens of species of birds, several species of salmon and steelhead and trout, and a WHOLE bunch of rodents.

The rodents range from our chipmunks (cute but sometimes problematic) and gray-digger squirrels (highly destructive) to boomers (mountain beavers–incredibly destructive to new forest growth) and moles, voles, and gophers.

After reading the introduction to Derrick Jensen’s A Language Older Than Words, I have actually come to peace with several of these. I have persuaded the chipmunk not to eat my violets. I know this sounds nutso (that’s what I thought when I read Jensen’s coyote/chicken story), but I just ask the chipmunk not to eat them. And he quit. They are thriving.

And I asked the birds not to eat my blueberries (a problem every year), and guess what? They’re not eating them. I’m awestruck.

But the moles and voles and gophers in the garden are another story. I think maybe I just don’t know how to communicate with this particular group of rodents. Of course, it doesn’t help that I rarely see them. The talking approach seems to work best face-to-face.

I don’t want to destroy all the rodents. With this much land, there is plenty of room for all of us. I just want them to stay out of my garden.

We’ve tried a variety of approaches, but I think I’ve found one that actually works. I have my fingers crossed.

I found a couple of little devices (brand name “P3”–there seem to be several types on the market) called “Molechasers.” They’re little tubes that you bury in the ground. They emit a rather obnoxious sound, but it can hardly be heard above ground unless you’re standing right next to it. A second, more sophisticated device (the “surge” in the title of this post) emits a harsh buzz and vibrates the grounds around it.

According to the manufacturer, all the stupid underground rodents hate the noise and the vibration. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I do know that they seem to work.

The sound-only ones work best on the moles. The sound/vibration ones seem to do a better job on the gophers and voles. So I’m probably going to add a couple of vibrating windmills to the mix.

But whichever type, they are non-poisonous, non-lethal, and don’t pollute the environment. So I’m very pleased.

I hope this year to have unnibbled potatoes, beans, and carrots, armfuls of sunflowers, ripe tomatoes, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Cross your fingers for me.

All the little plants seem snug in their beds

March 30, 2008

Woke up to snow on the ground. The morning offered more snow, hail, rain, and occasional sun breaks.

Mid afternoon we got one break long enough for me to get brave and dash down to the garden to check things out. Everything looks fine, if a tad rumpled in places. I think some of my sunflowers have sprouted, although it also looks like in a place or two the mice found the seeds. I’ll know more in a week or so, assuming that it doesn’t snow non-stop until then. Maybe even if it does.

I made chicken and dumplings for dinner. I can’t remember the last time I did that. I used the White Lily flour for the dumplings, and they were superb–light, fluffy, and flavorful. I am so bummed to hear that their plant is closing. I even got a nice note from one of their employees on my White Lily post. I think that post has drawn more comment than almost anything else I’ve written.

That’s tonight’s update. I would write a note or two about politics, but the whole thing is just too depressing to deal with tonight. Are there any other fans of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” out there? That’s the only time of the week I feel routinely like laughing at the news (which is the only truly sane approach).

There was a great “stupid crook” story on this morning’s show. Seems a guy in Chicago decided to rob a store. The employees told him that no one but the manager could open the safe and the manager wasn’t there. This mental giant said, “No problem.” He left his cell phone number and asked them to call him when the manager returned. They did, after first calling 911. There were a few extra people waiting when he returned to get the manager to open the safe.

Now, that really is it. . .

Well, this just chaps MY hide

March 29, 2008

I’m getting darned tired of this stupid weather. Spring officially arrived a week ago, and the next day I planted most of my early garden–brassicas, lettuce starts, green onions, snow peas, sunflowers, a few potatoes (the rest have to wait until we can till the bed again). I also planted another dahlia and four lilies.

Every day since then, it has rained, hailed, snowed, and otherwise generally misbehaved. If this is leading up to an April Fool’s Day blizzard, I am going to be really pissed.

I checked the starts yesterday and they looked fine. I’m afraid to go back and look again after a morning of snow and hail and a full afternoon of monster hail storms. So I’m ignoring things, at least for the moment.

A chicken carcass is simmering on the stove. I roasted a chicken tonight, made mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy, and as we were stuffing our faces Ben looked over and said, “That chicken cries out to be made into soup.” And I started visualizing chicken and dumplings.

After a week of crappy weather I am really tired of feeding fires, but I told Ben if he’d feed the stove so I could do something else, I’d cook the chicken down and make something wonderful. He agreed, and before too long I’ll be able to set it off to cool and deal with it tomorrow.

I met all the poetry contest deadlines only to discover some other writing challenges. I’m working on a Malayan pantoum at the moment about a funeral. The pantoum lends itself wonderfully to ritual, and I suppose that’s what’s on my mind now. A week from tomorrow is Tom’s wake, and I’m running out of energy to deal with the emotions (other people’s, not my own–I’m just tired) that are surfacing around that.

So that’s what’s going on here tonight. Even the hummingbirds have been fighting all day. But I did re-engineer my feeder today and it works much better. It was prone to developing an airlock, and you had to go up every so often and give it a good whack. But as I was refilling it today, I found a spot that was obviously supposed to have a little air hole but hadn’t been punched all the way through. So I got a push pin and fixed it. Now it works great. I’m quite smug about that little piece of problem solving.

But I’m still going to be grumpy until I get some sunshine for more than 10 minutes at a time. . .

I suppose this is why I blog

August 28, 2007

My mailbox today had a couple of comments from people I’ve never met but suspect I would like to–Nathan and ClapSo.

Nathan lives in Israel, and I met him virtually in the course of my former employment. He was a great source for some articles I wrote, and in the process proved himself witty and simpatico. When I think about the madness in the Middle East, Nathan and people like him are always a consideration.

ClapSo feels a bit like an alter ego. When I lived in the Bay Area (in what seems like a completely different lifetime), he would have been one of the folks who sat and drank wine and smoked assorted things with me and argued (less lucidly as the evening went on, admittedly) about whatever the hot topics of the evening were. And he’s a poet, a nice synergy there, too.

Blogging is a way of sending thoughts out into the atmosphere and seeing what comes back ( a little like those SETI researchers I wrote about earlier).

Tomorrow is my regular writing-group day, so I’m going to have to go off shortly and get prepared for that. The generator is running on fumes at the moment because I was too lazy to fill it earlier, and I expect my UPS to get a field test any minute.

Here are some things I have learned from my garden this summer:

  • How to extend the life of basil: When it starts to flower, cut the main plant off leaving just two leaves at the base and water it like crazy. It grows a whole new plant.
  • Herbs are really important: It really doesn’t matter what you have to cook. If you have good fresh herbs, almost anything can become ambrosia.
  • The late crop of raspberries is even better than the first crop: Most of these are nearly an inch long. A handful makes a great breakfast.
  • You can rejuvenate cabbages, too: If you cut them off just right when harvesting, the root and a couple of leaves that you leave will grow a whole new crop of mini-cabbages, sort of like giant brussel sprouts. They steam beautifully.
  • Never say die: If you get one of those weird years where you’re having plenty of sun but little heat (like we are this summer), plant a second crop of the brassicas and lettuce. They do just fine.
  • Flowers scattered through the vegetable garden feed the soul the way the fruits and vegetables feed the garden.

It’s a lovely evening tonight, but now I have to go type in my revisions and print out the stuff I need tomorrow.

ClapSo, I haven’t forgotten that you tagged me, and I promise to act on it this week.

Packrat, weird weather, some successes and failures this year

August 27, 2007

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been living out here full-time for the best part of a year. Time flies by so fast.

We have a packrat again. If you’ve never experienced this, you can’t appreciate it. Several years ago, one moved into our woodshed. Ben came in and told me about it. He said, “I was just going to shoot it, but it peeked out and wiggled its ears at me. They are really cute, and I just couldn’t do it.”

Then it moved into the engine compartment of his Ford truck, chewing up the electrical harnesses and creating chaos. His attitude changed after he spent one whole winter without a heater even after “persuading” the packrat to move.

Packrats are incredibly destructive. This one has decided to move into my truck. So we’ve placed a live trap, so we can release any chipmunks or squirrles that trip it. But the packrat will eventually get caught and probably get a swimming lesson. Sounds cruel, doesn’t it.  But it has 100 acres of forest to nest in, and it can’t chew up my wiring harness, too.

The weather has been very weird this summer. Here it is the end of August and we haven’t had a day over about 75 degrees. The corn and tomatoes are so slow to come on without the heat, but they’re making it. I have a Beefsteak tomato the size of my fist that I’ll pick tomorrow. There are about 20 more a few days behind. The Beefsteaks have been difficult in years past, but this year they’re my stars. And my favorites, always.

Our garden has been wildly successful this year, even if things are a bit slow. Some of the things I’ve learned:

  • Fresh herbs in abundance are a great blessing
  • Pet your plants
  • Talk to them when your watering
  • Spread bullshit liberally, all talking aside

I have 5-6 watermelons that will probably make it this year, and 3-4 canteloupes. Since one of my life goals is to actually grow a ripe melon, I may have to be developing a new one soon (life goal, not melon).

Poultry (chicken or turkey, we’ve done both this summer) doesn’t get any better than when it’s stuffed with a clump of cilantro or basil and shallots or onions and a few lemon slices. An hour or two on the barbecue, and you have a meal fit for gods.

I was going to write about failures, too, but we don’t seem to have had any. My garden has been a poem in progress all year.

Now I must go cook dinner so I can read the Sunday Times without feeling guilty.

A long rant about something, or perhaps nothing

August 25, 2007

Once upon a time, I was president of the state poetry society, and I discovered that herding poets is a lot like herding cats.

By their natures, poets are not organized people. And they don’t respond well to those who would like them to be organized.

I find myself lately with my true poetic nature coming to the fore.

God bless those of you who keep checking this space in hopes that something new has happened. My sincere apologies for the long absence. But the truth of the matter is, I just haven’t felt like writing. Anything.

Then tonight I sat down and penned a couple of pretty good poems, one a rewrite of a fragment penned earlier that will probably be called “Why the Sky in August Sometimes Looks Sulky” and the other something brand new: “I Want to Be Jack Kerouac.” That’s when I thought perhaps I could add an update here.

Part of the problem is summer. Here’s what my pantry looks like now after all of the old stuff has been cleaned out: sauerkraut, canned blueberries and blueberry butter, canned pie cherries, canned Royal Annes, canned plums and plum sauce, canned apples and applesauce, dill pickles, bread-and-butter pickles, canned green beans, pickled green beans (very interesting these–I didn’t have the dried red peppers the recipe called for so I used Chalula powder–ground up garlic roasted with hot red peppers–instead), pickled beets. The corn and tomatoes are just coming on. I was beginning to despair of them ripening with all of the rain, but they seem to be doing so anyway.

I have a very sore gum, the result of a really bad tooth brought on by some very bad dentistry some years back. It’s better tonight. I’m trying to avoid a trip to a dentist by using a peroxide mouthwash and scotch as a painkiller. On a scale of 1-10, going to the dentist is about a 15 for me. So far, so good.

My flower beds and herbs have been attacked. We think we found the culprit tonight–a packrat running around. He likes parsley and sage but not oregano, and he really likes trimming the begonias, although he doesn’t seem to eat them, just clips off the leaves and leave them in a pile. His days are numbered. We’ll catch him in a live trap, but then he’ll probably get a swimming lesson in the river.

The coyote who likes the Italian prunes has been foiled. He broke the tree off a couple of years ago, but it’s put up a new vertical shoot (that he can’t climb), and the shoot is fruiting.

I went crazy in town yesterday and bought some veal, so we’re having weinerschnitzel very soon.

That’s it for life in the country this evening.

Tonight’s dinner is worth writing home about

August 4, 2007

Brother Tom and sister Lisa arrived today to spend the weekend.

I spent the morning canning, and by the time they got here was totally wiped out. But I had new pickles, canned green beans, and blueberry confit to brighted next winter.

After the profligacy of the last week, tonight everything came together. A chicken stuffed with cilantro, lemon and onion slices went on the barbecue, accompanied by new potatoes sliced thin and sprinkled with butter, kosher salt, and rosemary, then wrapped in foil to steam.

The summer squash got a dose of cheese, cracker crumbs, fresh basil, and egg and went into the new electric oven to bake.

The fresh green beans got steamed, then tossed with butter.

We all ate more than we should have.

This is the first real dinner in which 90% or more of the food came from our garden, and it was truly wonderful. It’s always amazing how much different food from the garden tastes.

It tastes like food tasted when I was a child and has never tasted since.

Tomorrow will be another workday. Lisa promised to come only if I could keep her busy. I think she was a little taken aback when I began laughing hysterically. The leather gloves, pruners, and weeding tools are laid out for her.

Two successes

July 29, 2007

I went off to town Friday in search of a few groceries, to make a bank deposit, and to do assorted miscellaneous errands. I had originally planned to do laundry as well, but it’s amazing what you can put off if you set your mind to it. One of the benefits of my former consumerist lifestyle is a surfeit of linens (both bedroom and kitchen), underwear, levis, sweats, and all those necessary things. And it does seem a shame to only put 22 lbs. of laundry in a 40 lb. washer, so I’m sure I made the right decision.

Newport is a pain in the butt to get around in, so I had carefully planned my route and sequence of errands (if I’m starting to sound anal, sorry, but I do these things now–too little to worry about, I suspect). The main coast highway runs right through the middle of town, and in the summer turning left except at a left-turn light can be a challenge. I haven’t dented a fender in several decades, and I’l like to keep it that way (part of my bank deposit was a couple of refunds from our insurance company for being such good drivers).

But I got to town a few minutes earlier than the first store I wanted to visit opened. All the way into town I’d be thinking about (fantasizing, really) a truly fine SMALL cast-iron skillet. Good new cast-iron cookware is almost non-existent. The stuff I like was made by Griswold and Wagner, and neither company is still around selling new stuff, as far as I can determine.

The cast iron made in Asia is chancy for cooking–the Asians seems to have a different attitude toward embedded petroleum products in recycled iron than I do. And the new stuff made in the U. S., like Lodge, is hopeless. I have no desire to spend the first two weeks I own something polishing it out to the needed smooth and glossy bottom. So I look for the good old pans that somehow didn’t get totally wrecked.

Being a few minutes early, I thought, what the heck, I’ll go over to the antique barn and see if they have any Pyrex cookware worth buying.

They didn’t, but what I did find was a #5 (about 7″ diameter) Griswold cast-iron skillet in nearly perfect condition for about $12. (When I brought it home, Ben guessed I’d paid about $20). It’s in fine enough condition to be an egg skillet, so I spent partof this morning giving it a good cleaning with steel wool and reseasoning it with olive oil. It’s a fine piece of cookware. I can hardly wait to try it out as an omelet pan. It’s that well preserved.

Last evening I went with a friend to a writers’ meeting up Shot Pouch Creek. The group that sponsored it, the Springcreek Project, maintains a retreat there for people who want to escape and write. They do many other things there as well, including multi-disciplinary projects combining art and science.

Last night was, I think, their “hooray, we’ve survived another year” meeting. They furnished a wonderful salad bar from a local catering company (including a chicken salad that I would have been proud to have claimed), and they asked attendees to provide either an oeur d’ouvre (if I spelled that right it’s purely accidental) or a dessert.

At this point, you may be remembering how many berries I’m trying to deal with, so dessert was a natural. But I’m tired of baking tarts, and frankly it’s been too bloody hot to fire up the woodstove and bake anything. But I did have some very good heavy cream, and in anticipation of this event, I bought a sliced poundcake while I was in town. I had some very good golden sherry, and what my brain settled on (reviewing the options) was what I am henceforth calling a “lazy cook’s trifle.”

It got a 5-star rating from participants (she noted modestly), and although I took what I thought was enough for twice as many people as the 30 or so there, I didn’t bring any home.

For all you adventuresome folks, here’s all it takes:

    • A whole bunch of good berries
    • Some fairly dry cake of some sort, like my pound cake
    • A whole bunch of lightly whipped cream
    • A little sherry
    • A little bit of sugar (for tossing with the berries if needed)

Layer in a big-enough pan to hold everything. Forget the “Make it beautiful in a clear glass bowl, footed ideally” thing. It tastes just as good without worrying about that. Start with the poundcake, add berries (my first fruit layer was blueberries that I had tossed with a tiny bit of sugar and a few drops of lemon juice in a moderately warm skillet just until the berries were wonderfully dark and swollen with juice), cover with lightly whipped heavy cream (don’t whip it to stiff peaks, almost butter, because it tastes so much better if it’s soft) with just a smidge of sugar to sweeten the cream added right before it’s ready.

Then lay down another layer of pound cake, sprinkle it with some good sherry (light-handedness is everything here–I doubt that I used more than 2 ozs. of sherry for my 3-qt. or so dessert) and top with another layer of berries (for my second layer I used some really ripe strawberries that I had cut up and tossed with a little sugar to free up the juice.

Then top with more cream and some fruit that you cleverly reserved for a garnish–a few dozen of those very dark and rich blueberries and some strawberry halves with the stems intact.

At the risk of sounding even more immodest than I already have, I must say that it was wonderful. I might even do it again.

But now I have to go off to e-Bay, where I’m fooling with some Pyrex (I only buy cast iron I can see).