Tag Archives: gardening

That nip in the air

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I’ve been feeling that jittery itch, that scratching between my shoulder blades and nipping at my nose. Cold weather is on its way. Rain, freeze, maybe snow, definitely slush, all coming. Wind that snatches your breath before you can inhale, yanks your foot before you can step. It makes the horses knock-you-down crazy.

One minute it was August. The next, it’s September – supposed to be a mellow month, but today we woke to unexpected and heavy rain. I’ve spent much of the day fidgeting, making lists. I’m suddenly aware that time is running out, and there is much to do before winter. If we fail to do it, we’ll stumble into spring, crash into summer before we’re ready, and lose yet another year of production, growth and beauty.

We’ve done that too often. This has been a painful year of loss and disruption … Last year was eaten by ill-health  … The year before it was something else; recovery from burnout, I think … Enough.

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Some good things happened this summer. Like, our swallows came back, for the fourth year in a row, and raised two families of five babies each all crammed into their tiny nest. It’s so much fun when the whole flock of them flies around the house, snatching flies out of the air and gobbling them down.

We’ve entrusted our lives to this place – in this small piece of land in the crook of the Columbia River. What we have here we made out of an empty and untidy field, and wishes and dreams. But then we ran aground – we poured ourselves into rescuing dogs (and sometimes people) and the work gulped us right down, along with our wishes and dreams, and the strength of our bodies and determination of our minds.

At the beginning of this year, I named it my Year of Reclamation. (I told you that already, didn’t I?) And quite apart from all the sad and hurtful things that have happened this year, it’s been a year of taking stock. Considering options. Choosing priorities. Making lists.

Now it’s September, and I’m fidgety with the need to Get Things Done, and frustrated by the slow, painful inefficiency of my unwieldy body.

Oh well. I guess that makes my body, yet again, the first priority. After a year of try-fail-try-again I have quit trying to ease gracefully into health and wellness via intelligent eating, and am currently ramming myself into ketosis by means of a three-day fat fast. Oh my word, it’s horrid! Start the day with a gigantic strong bulletproof coffee, listen to my heart race until lunchtime, chow down on cream cheese and just a little salami, remember remember remember to drink plenty water, nibble a few macadamia nuts in the evening. Think about food all damn day. Huddle under a blanket feeling cold and shitty and try to distract self with a book.

That was yesterday and most of today … and then there was this … tremor. My synapses blinked and took a peek at the world. I took a pee, and … yep, that unmistakable ketone smell. (TMI, I know, but it made me so dang happy!) My toes wiggled and demanded a walk, so I took a couple of the lunatics out into a pasture and threw a ball until they lost it.

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Sweet summer days down at the river. Argos has finally learned to swim!

And then I came back inside and … I feel so good! I’m making lists!

Things to do before winter:

  • Finish building the raised beds in the veggie garden, fill them up with horse/cow/chicken poop and weeds and some old tree branches and yes, of course, also some dirt. Snuggle them under a good, thick layer of straw. Yank the weeds out of the existing beds, repair as needed, and give them a nice straw duvet as well.
  • Prune the grape vines and the apricot/plum/nectarine/pear trees – but only after the pears are done. The pear tree is inside the chicken run, and every evening when I put the chickens away I pick up the windfalls they haven’t eaten and throw them over the fence for the horses. Vos eats with calm authority, but Pal gobbles and foams pear-drool in his effort to get his before Vos takes it.
  • Transplant the asparagus, and fill the old asparagus bed up with berry bushes.
  • Clean the hen house and give the girls a nice deep bed of fresh hay.
  • Pick up and burn the pile of trash wood that the Hubbit insisted on keeping “because it’s useful” – only now it isn’t, it’s just nasty, and – happy day – he agrees it’s time to let it go.
  • Clear and plow and seed the front yard. Let there be grass!
  • Plow and seed the six or so acre field our neighbor has offered us for winter pasture. I wish we’d managed to do that earlier in the year – we’d have grass there now and would be able to use it in January. Well, no matter. If we do it now, we’ll be able to use it for a little while in summer, and give our pasture a rest.
  • Put up hot wire to subdivide the north pasture.
  • Protect what’s left of the weeping birch from the cattle.
  • Repair the divider the bull broke in the horse stalls.
  • Cattle-proof the fence around the pond-to-be.

So that’s my list. Most of it I can do alone. Some requires the Hubbit’s help. But less all the time! Yesterday, for instance, he taught me to drive the tractor, thinking to set himself free from plowing. It was so much fun … until I killed it. I have no idea what I did, but I’m sure he’ll figure it out. Poor guy! I’m lucky he’s so forbearing.

Do you get antsy when the seasons change? What’s big on your to-do list right now?

 

 

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Springing into action … again

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It’s a little over a year since I published my first post … wasn’t WordPress supposed to send me some sort of YeeHaw about that? Whatever – the point is, I’m kinda back where I started: in the veggie garden. I gave up on it in July when the weeds swallowed my wheelbarrow, but that was a tactical retreat, not an admission of defeat.

His complaints are clearly nonsensical, since it's quite obvious that he's having a blast.

His complaints are clearly nonsensical, since it’s obvious that he’s having a blast. Here, he’s making a big spread-out pile of horse manure, dirt and stable waste into a compact, tall pile, while seated on two very big round things. Every man’s dream, right?

This spring Himself and I have gone in with a unified front and guns blazing. We have experienced some friendly fire (mainly when Himself accuses me of constantly dreaming up projects that are, and I quote, “too damn big”, and then, and I quote further, of “expecting him to do all the damn work”), but no one is actually dead. Yet.

I had to concede some key arguments in order to get him on board … but to be honest, while my ideals are good, they were more than I could accomplish given how unfit I am. I really wanted this garden to be established using a permaculture and no-till approach from the outset, but it simply wasn’t practical. The area we’ve set aside for fruit and veggies (with a corner lopped out of it for the chickens) is pretty big – around 100×80 ft – and it was hillocky and rutted and impossible, especially since I’m hobbling about on a fractured ankle. So I lifted the tractor ban, and the ground is now depressingly compacted, but flat and smooth. As we fill it up with raised beds and plants it will become inaccessible to the tractor, and I’m hopeful that, given time and plenty of tasty composted goodies, the earthworms and other tiny critters will heal the soil.

Himself has had a few concessions to make as well. Being an engineer with (gawd help us) a military school background, he likes things neat, matching, with square corners. Do you have any idea what it would cost to fill 8,000 sq,ft with beautifully crafted raised beds like these? Nor do I, and although he could probably calculate it with ease, it makes no difference: however you add it up, the answer amounts to “a shitload”.

In any case, I find repurposing more satisfying, which is why I was very happy to learn that a local farmer was ripping out hundreds of acres of wine grapes … and replacing them with carrots – can you believe such a thing??? But his bizarre choice was my good fortune, because he advertised 8-ft long, 5-in diameter wood poles, formerly used to hold up the vines, on Craigslist for a little bit of nothing. With only minimal eye-rolling by Himself, we purchased three truckloads. (Reverting to the subject of friendly fire: I helped with the first load and was thereby incapacitated and unable to walk for nearly a week, so Himself and some other sturdy fellow fetched the other two loads. I should get points for wanting to help, right?)

What's left of the pole pile after yesterday's work party.

What’s left of the pole pile after yesterday’s work party, with Argos doing a “stay” to help make the picture pretty.

Then on Saturday we had a work party, involving a couple of young, energetic friends with whom I occasionally trade babysitting for farm labor, and a gang of teenagers in need of pocket money. As it turned out, “8 feet long and 5 inches diameter” was merely an approximate description of the poles … but that just made the design and construction process more interesting. (Or so it seemed to me, after Himself asked me please to be quiet and let him get the job done. One of my Life Rules is, Never argue with an engineer, especially if he’s carrying a hammer, so I sat down on the side of the asparagus bed and let him get on with it. He adapted my original concept design, which necessitated some fixing by me – ha ha! – but I’m happy with the end result.)

The start of my raised bed garden

The start of our raised bed garden. To the left, bordering the Nasty Neighbor, is a bed I built a few weeks ago, using old power poles. It contains an 80-ft row of asparagus. The three raised beds are what we built on Saturday. The Engineer says this looks, and I quote, “scruffy”. I think it looks rustic, and will be charming when full of greenly growing goodness.

If you’re wondering how to build raised beds using somewhat uneven old poles, the way we did it was to lay the bottom ones out. (The poles are used only for the long sides of the bed.) We then hammered sections of rebar into the ground to hold them in place. (In the final step, the rebar needs to be hammered right down such that it doesn’t stick up above the level of the top pole and stab unwary gardeners.) The end pieces, 5-ft sections of 2×6 lumber that Himself had lying around, were nailed to the poles. Then we laid the next layer, nailing it to 2×6 in its turn. My design called for three sections of rebar – two at each end on the outside and one in the middle inside – that essentially brace the poles into place, which minimizes the load on the end pieces. I think this would make them more stable and better suited to being sat on while one is weeding, so will build the remaining beds that way. Some of the poles are bent, creating gaps when they were laid on top of each other, so in a few places we’ve had to block the gaps inside with some old chipboard from one of Himself’s piles of Random Stuff That I May Need One Day. This will probably rot within a year or two, but by then the soil will have stabilized such that it’ll remain in place.

So far this year, I have planted a second plum tree, a peach tree, about 80 asparagus, a rhubarb plant, about 15 strawberries, a gooseberry bush, a horseradish, and about 10 walking onions. I have more berry bushes, another rhubarb plant and some fingerling potatoes waiting to go into the ground. I should have started seedlings in pots weeks ago, but am behind the curve … After last year’s weedy debacle, part of me couldn’t quite believe we’d be able to get our act together this year. But Himself has quit pouring contumely upon my commitment to organic gardening, and I’ve quit being rigid and perfectionist about it, and we’re managing to cooperate … so I guess this week will see me hard at work with seed packets and potting soil. In the fullness of time, maybe there will be crops!

He also sent me this link in case I should feel the need to

He also sent me this link in case I should feel the need to “perform my own calculations”. You’ve just got to love such optimism!

And … I’ve just received an email that reminds me of the many benefits of sharing life’s challenges with an engineer. While I have been writing this, he has been very busy Calculating, and has sent me the following:

I have calculated how much dirt/manure mix we have available in the pile in the front yard.
The pile is between 5-1/2 to 6 ft tall and the radius of the pile at the base is a bit more than 6-1/2 ft.
This calculates out to a pile volume of something between 270-to-295 cubic feet of soil/manure mix.
The volume of a 14 ft long raised bed is 14x4x1.25 = 70 cubic feet
Therefore, there is ample soil/manure in the pile to support filling at least FOUR MORE 14 ft beds.

I am now doubly motivated to build and fill the remaining beds, just to see if he’s right!

Your turn! How does spring affect your behavior? If you’re a gardener, do you try to befriend Mother Nature, or do you believe in better living through chemicals? Have you ever felt the urge to hit someone with a set square if something you build doesn’t line up perfectly?

Just another Wednesday

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Some days give one a quiet sense of things accomplished, small steps taken in the right direction. I’ve had a few of those just lately, and it feels good! No huge achievements or startling epiphanies – just life lived quietly, one day at a time.

Like … sitting down now to write my second blog post in a week – thanks mainly to inspiration by the inimitable Aussa. (Yes, okay, go and look, click “follow”, but mind you come back, okay?)

For the first time in months, maybe years, writing is not a struggle. I don’t feel I have to prove anything to anybody, including myself. I could work on any of a number of ideas I’ve lined up among my drafts, but instead I’m just going to record today – because really good days make memories, and really bad days leave wounds, but days like today get lived, and that’s worth noting.

Had to interrupt this for a quick errand of mercy. It is HOT – 106F, and I just saw one of our swallows on the veranda outside the window that I’m facing. (We have a pair that comes every year to raise a family or two under the veranda roof. I would like a whole colony; the poop is a bit of a pain, but it’s worth it to have NO FLIES on that side of the house, despite being close to the corral.) The poor creature was all fluffed up and panting. The river is only a quarter mile away, but I wouldn’t want to have to go that far in this heat. So anyway, I’ve put a bowl of water on the table outside, with a stone in it for perching on, and two guinea fowl all the way from South Africa, because all the best restaurants have exotic decor.

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And … now I have company. Himself and I share an office, and sometimes that’s a lot of togetherness. I do have my own (incipient) office, aka the Ivory Tower, upstairs … except that we don’t actually have stairs to get up to it. The room was inserted under the roof as an afterthought while the house was being built, and we have yet to figure out where the stairs should go. So for now, Himself and I share, and I should mention that he is unleashing his muse. Alackaday!

He is creating a video, complete with a carefully selected theme tune, that he filmed this morning, while I was playing with the tractor. The farrier is coming tomorrow to give Vos and Lizzy their monthly manicure, and I think we’re overfeeding them because the amount of poop they had generated was enough to make you go DUNGGGGGG. Jim scraped it all up into a tidy heap, which he was about to push off to the side of the corral, but then it occurred to me that I should probably learn to do tractor work myself because, you know, he’s getting old and all, and occasionally cranky, and anyway I’m fed up with being ineffectual around machinery. So I poked around a bit between reverse and first gear and – WHOOPS – up onto the dunghill, and making the scraper thingy go up and down, and you have no idea how big a gouge it makes when you rev and those huge tractor tires spin in the dirt! Eventually the heap was artistically untidy again and I had enough dust behind my contact lenses to feel that honor had been satisfied, so I let him get on with it.

No, I am not going to share the video. I was wearing shorts. My knees are visible. They have dimples. Nobody without the questionable benefit of a marriage license needs to see that. You’re welcome.

Anyway, driving the tractor was only one of the interesting things that happened today. The fun started shortly after sunrise, when I reminded Himself of various outdoor chores we had to do before the heat became unbearable. So the first task of the day was to persuade four reluctant and exceedingly stupid steers to move from one pasture to another. This involved much slow stomping through tussocky grass waving long whips, while they basically ignored me. Not for the first time I fantasized about just hopping up onto Vos driving them – I know for darn sure he was a cowhorse in a previous life – but that is probably not going to happen any time soon. This is why…

Vos Rearing

Then it was time to clean up the corral before Himself got going with his tractor. While I was picking up the random bits of junk that had somehow ended up in there (willow branches that Vos and Lizzie have done chewing on, and random toys and bits of wood that the wind or the dogs have brought in), I noticed that we’d grown ourselves a new crop of rocks. Yes, indeed, here in Eastern Washington we grow rocks. A scientifically inclined friend once tried to blame it on tectonic plates, but I’m pretty sure it’s trolls. Anyway, I wandered off to the veggie garden in search of a wheelbarrow so that I could cart them off somewhere useful. Himself said it was next to the grape arbor, but…

07-16 Weeds are winning

… I couldn’t find it.

After my previously described tractor-riding adventure, I came back inside and read a few chapters of Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Invention of Wings” (highly recommended). Then I channeled Dave Ramsey and updated our debt snowball for the first time in about eight months and discovered that our debts had shrunk by about one-third despite being completely ignored, thanks to nothing more complicated than scheduled bank payments and this:

Credit card cut into pieces

Picture from Dollar Photo Club

Yes, cutting up your credit cards really does work. Who knew?

And now here I am, watching the shadows stretch toward the river while the swallows swoop around the veranda. There are a couple of finches, too, panting and ruffled. I hope they notice their water bowl soon! I’m pleasantly achey from the morning’s exercise, and I feel good about what I’ve done with today. It’s quiet – Himself is done with his artistic endeavors, and is off reading somewhere. The dogs are sprawled on the floor, asleep. All is calm.

Ah. Spoke too soon.The baby wants his dinner…

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Argos

What are the ingredients of an ordinary but good day for you?

Reeking but undefeated

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I think I’ve mentioned, once or twice before, that I’m a little obsessive about compost. So when I told Himself the other day that he could stop putting every bit of unwanted peel, core, leaf, or mysterious-squishy-thing-from-the-fridge-veggie-drawer into a special bucket next to the sink, for subsequent emptying onto the compost pile, that was a Big Deal.

Himself, as a believer in better living through chemistry who just doesn’t get the Magic Of Decomposition, was rendered exceedingly happy by this change in house rules. But for me it was an admission of defeat. The thing is, my meticulously planned and sweatily planted veggie garden has exploded. Every time I venture into it, I hear this theme song.

I took this three weeks ago. Those pretty yellow ones are now taller than I am.

I took this three weeks ago. Those pretty yellow ones are now taller than I am.

It’s not that there aren’t vegetables – they’re out there. Lurking. But fetching them in involves a machete, and a compass to find the way back to civilization, and one should probably be armed against lurking predators. (There’s a lot of lurking going on, and it scares me.) Meanwhile, that whole self-sufficiency trip just ain’t happening this year.

So anyway, recognizing that (a) the soil is apparently not in urgent need of anything to encourage stuff to grow, and (b) I can’t find the compost heap anyway, we now throw away kitchen waste instead of recycling it. And the only downside is that doing so makes me feel like a huge failure in Permaculture World.

Until the other day, when it dawned on me that, if I were to send all this vegetable matter down through the garbage disposal, it would end up underground, decaying peacefully in the septic tank and slowly seeping back into the soil. (I’m a little foggy regarding the design details of our septic system, but I’m reasonably sure seeping happens.) I was happy again! Plus, for the first time, I could see the sense in having a garbage disposal. I had never encountered one before moving to the US … In South Africa, kitchen waste goes on the compost heap. Or if you aren’t into compost, you can put it on the elephant table.

Okay, I’m kidding, outside of the zoo there aren’t actually elephants in Johannesburg. But if there were, you could totally feed them whatever green, crunchy stuff you didn’t want to eat yourself.

Getting back to the point of this story, this evening I got a chance to use our garbage disposal as a compost alternative on a grand scale, because I went to fry up some onions and every bloody onion in the pantry was nasty in its middle. (I didn’t grow these onions. The onions I planted appear to be experiencing jungle shock and are refusing to bulb out.)

As I chopped each one open and it oozed at me I shoved it into the garbage disposal, and listened to the chomping, roaring noises with a frankly savage satisfaction. Himself wandered into the kitchen, expressed a contrarian opinion, and was sent packing. Two minutes later, the chomping and roaring gave way to glutinous bubbling, a moaning noise came from the guts of the machine, and a greasy mix of chopped onion and brown water bubbled up into the sink. Basically, the garbage disposal reacted pretty much as I would have done if I’d crammed four icky onions down my own gullet.

There was NO WAY I was going to tuck my tail between my legs and ask His Engineership to rescue me, so I got myself under the sink and took apart as much of the plumbing as I dared. (I have been known to be handy under duress, even if I do have to mutter “lefty loosey, righty tighty” every time I have to twist something.)

Nothing happened. I googled it. Do you know, there’s a whole library of how-to-fix-your-garbage-disposal on Youtube! So clearly this is a universal problem. I am not alone! I watched half of one, which instructed me to press the red button, so I pressed it. Still nothing happened.

You know what happened, don’t you? In the end, Himself took apart the plumbing, which did vomit forth, and then I cleaned up. It was completely disgusting, and I still smell like onions.

What else could I do but share the story with the whole world?

Do you ever set goals, and then find that reality is a whole lot more complicated than you’ve planned for? 

World Naked Gardening Day

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Gardening in the buff! Yes, yes, YES! I have got to do this. I love getting naked in the outdoors, and yet I can’t remember when last I went skinny-dipping. Oh, how it would appall the Nasty Neighbor if I let him see me! (No one else really overlooks our property, unless they’re wandering around their lower pastures.) Thank you Fearless Cowboy for the heads up…:)  Roll on, first Saturday in May…:)