Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Weather change

And it's huge. The smoke from Canadian and Montana wildfires is gone. It's cooler, especially at night. Makes me think about getting wood.

My friend Darrell always said that August 17 is when the hot summer weather changes. I'd forgotten that, sure that hot July would go into hot August, and it would be hot forever. Silly.

It's so cool at night I quit opening the windows, and added another blanket to the recliner where I sleep.

It's wonderful, even though the fields are yellow and crispy and dry. We even got a little rain. Now there's blue skies and some beautiful wispy clouds, instead of the dingy white smoke that turned the sun and moon red for the last month. We had a record 15 consecutive days of over-90 temperatures (breaking a record set in 1894). I hear that the fires continue and the smoke will be back, but maybe lighter this time.

The garden is stressed, but surviving. Yesterday I mixed up a lime solution and poured it on the roots of the row of tomato plants with blossom end rot. I picked all the affected tomatoes so the plants wouldn't waste energy trying to ripen them. Not every plant has it, and not every tomato on each affected plant has it, so we're hopeful.

C. is out in the hall picking out "Shenandoah" on the pump organ. I forgot to mention we have a pump – or rather – a reed organ! It's an oaken beauty from the 1890s, and the kids got it for us at an estate sale. Our favorite estate-sale people gave them a great deal on it. C. has been wanting a piano since we sold ours 20 years ago. This isn't a piano, but it's pretty dang cool.

KC, our handsome grandson, came up to try it out. It's worth having just so we see more of him. He's had no musical education, but is very musical, and can play just about any instrument he picks up. We're all jealous.

In other news, the sheep are sheared. Seven eggs today.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Hot, hot, hot

As the Cure sings. It's been over 90 every day for weeks. Bloody tedious.

We've been to a book sale, though, so there is plenteous reading material.

We work to keep everything watered, but there are yellow leaves on many plants. And we've got blossom-end rot on some tomatoes down at the bottom of the garden. I've been researching a solution – a guy on YouTube recommends dissolving a Tums antacid in a spray bottle, and squirting the foliage. Other folks dissolve a couple of handfuls of garden lime in water, and pour it on the roots. I guess the problem is that the plant can't make use of calcium because of heat, uneven watering or an actual calcium deficiency. So you apply calcium in an easy-to-access form, and sometimes it clears up. We'll try that tomorrow.

The peas and beans are still producing, but they have slowed down. We've had a few ripe tomatoes. Stupeechka was the first, as usual, around July 29. Since then, we've had some big Prudence Purples, a few Opalkas and some cherry types.

The guineas, who have been allowed out after sunset, have unfortunately discovered the orange and red tomatoes, and are pecking chunks out of them. I'm working on getting the birds all in at night and keeping them inside, but there are a half dozen that refuse to go into the chicken house and instead sleep in the pine tree out front. And every time I herd one over and open the gate to let it in, another one or two will get out. I wave my cane around, and toss grain on the far side of the chicken yard, and still fail to get everyone locked up. I'm tempted to wear a bowler hat and little mustache, get video of this, turn it to black-and-white, and speed it up. It'd be real cute.

I guess I need to buy some more chicken wire and cordon off the tomatoes.

And while I'm whining, I'll mention that, for the first time in two years, the goats have gotten into the garden, the little bastards. They pushed the gate – a 6-foot chunk of heavy cattle panel – off to the side and squeezed their pudgy, horned selves through. We fixed the gate, but they so enjoyed the raspberries and amaranth they figured out a way to jump between the top of the fencing and the wire above, after loosening the fencing by rubbing their big old goat butts on it. So I ran bright yellow binder twine from the posts, around the three wires and through the fencing mesh in big "v" shapes to hold it all tightly together. It looks a bit sad, but has kept them out. I think I'll move all the cattle panels we own to the garden perimeter when we get another pasture fenced this fall. We cannot have goats in the garden.

A weather change is finally coming – there's a 20 percent chance of a thunderstorm tomorrow, and then highs of 80 forecast for the next week. It'll be a relief.

Five eggs today.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Too hot for peas

The peas have pretty much quit producing, though I do have to check every day. I think it's just too hot. Most of the plants are in good shape, though, green and robust, so we're hoping they get going again when the weather cools off a bit.

The pole beans are blooming furiously, so we'll soon be slaves to beans. Looking forward to it.

Earl and I hit town yesterday to fill a prescription. It was hot and boring, and the highlight of the trip was a stop at Zip Trip for ice cream cones. He had vanilla in a cup, and must have gotten "brain freeze," as he kept shaking his head and looking funny. I gave him my cone after removing every  trace of chocolate ice cream as it was chock full of gluten.

C. is keeping the food driers going 24/7 with herbs and rabbit greens. My friend Vicki gave us a cool dehydrator from the 1970s – it's a Harvest Maid, and looks like a microwave. Does a beautiful job.

I'm working on organizing the hallway, and the front yard.

Nothing exciting to report.

Six eggs today.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Pea slave

No, I'm not talking about being a slave to an over-active bladder, though I am.

Remember when we got the peas planted so late in the season, and worried that we'd get none? Hahahaha. I am spending three hours a day picking peas. Every day. And I'm pretty glad to do it. I love shell peas. And the dogs love snap peas. And we have lots. We've had them with new spuds in cream sauce, steamed with butter and salt, and in salads. The extra fridge has big bowls waiting for me to shell or break them for canning or freezing or drying or eating. And soon it'll be cool enough for me to get out there and pick some more. It's good. If we're really lucky, we'll get enough put  away to have peas once a week all winter.

The weather has been hot, hot, hot. A thunderstorm is forecast for Saturday, then back to hot, hot, hot.  Peas aren't crazy about hot weather, so we're keeping them watered and picked, and hoping they keep producing.

Also, we have a prisoner.

He's a young pocket gopher, and I just reached down and picked him up by the tail in the garden as I was headed in one evening. He's now installed in an ice cream tub in an old bird cage, and not real happy about that.

Em, who is tenderhearted, and hasn't had these little bastards tunnel up under her tomato plants and just suck a whole plant into the ground, is all for us returning him to his gopher family. We said no way. I was planning to relocate him to the woods someplace far away from gardens, but Washington state law prohibits releasing him anyplace but our own land. Legally, we can kill gophers (but no lethal traps without a permit) and we can live-trap them, but that's it. So we're not sure what to do with him. Meantime, I deliver garden greens to him.

My friend Allison was telling a story about her parents, who were plagued by squirrels. They were nature-lovers, and weren't about to go shooting or poisoning them. So they caught one in a live trap, killed it with carbon monoxide from the car exhaust (said to be painless and humane), and left the furry little body on a platform in the woods frequented by eagles and hawks.

Makes perfect sense to me. Shoot, I use a battery-operated mousetrap that electrocutes mice, then I feed them to my chickens. It seems harsh for a vegetarian, but we all draw the line somewhere. I will kill to keep mice out of my kitchen. And gophers out of the garden. And to protect myself and my people and my animals, I suppose. Just not casually, for dinner.

I keep offering him as a pet to my friends. He's kind of appealing, in a hamster-on-steroids kind of way. No takers, though.

Monday, July 3, 2017

It's my birthday

so I'm sitting here eating chocolate ice cream. And if it wasn't my birthday, I'd still be eating ice cream. It's hot out!

Em, bless her heart, made me a gluten-free chocolate cake, with garbanzo beans instead of flour. It sounds weird, but is delicious, and sort of cheesecake-ish. I think we've discovered the secret of successful GF cooking: don't try to imitate ordinary dishes. The texture is never right. Just make something tasty, however strange. She buzzed up a can of chick peas in her blender, added the usual sugar and eggs and such, and baked. Came out really well. Thanks, Em!

She dropped the cake off, along with two dogs and her two big weird tortoises, on Saturday. We're keeping everybody over the long holiday weekend, so the kids can go camping at Priest Lake.

We're doing the usual gardening tasks today. The alpine strawberries have been producing like crazy, so I've been out there picking the little things, and popping them in the freezer for jam-making later. C. is planting little patches of carrots and beets here and there. The spuds seem to need constant mulching. And the driers need to be kept full of greens for winter rabbit food. And the weeding... and the picking....

We got the Subaru food dehydrator in operation.

It's just a clean old nylon-net curtain stretched over poles in the back of the car. I can roll it up, fold the seats back up and be ready to drive in just a couple of minutes, should we need to go somewhere. I like the operating cost, and the fact that it doesn't heat the house up. Makes me feel like such a virtuous hippie.

That's kale drying there. The poles are mostly sections of fishing poles that we picked up
at the estate sale of a fishing-pole repair guy. We have hundreds of the things.
We're off to buy milk and eggs, then back into the garden.

Three chicken eggs today. The guineas are somehow hiding their eggs, despite being locked in the chicken yard. It's a mystery.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Bird bath

I'm sitting here holding a wet chicken wearing a bib. Birdie is still damp from her bath in the kitchen sink, and is eating oatmeal while I blog.

I'm hoping C. will take her and blow-dry her, so I can go tidy the hallway or something. It's 82 degrees out, and we're avoiding the garden until evening.

Earl and I did a little shopping in Deer Park this morning. He was very good, so I bought him a little box of crackers. I let him open it himself – I think he enjoyed ripping up the packaging as much as eating the contents.

Two eggs today.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

An interesting few days

It's hot again, so I'm sitting here eating vanilla ice cream. I've been out tying up tomatoes and reinforcing the tomato towers.

We learned that the towers were tippy on Monday. It was hot and muggy, and I was out mulching potato plants. I was hunkered between the pea and potato beds, pulling old hay out of bags and poking it around the bases of the spud plants, when the weather decided to break. The sky got grey, a wind came up, and splotches of rain fell. No big deal – we garden in the rain all the time. Keeps the skeeters down. And rainstorms out here are often brief.

So I'm poking hay, and poking hay. The rain gets heavier, and the wind starts lashing the trees. Poke. poke. These things usually blow over pretty quickly. I'm getting damn wet, though, and the thunder is rolling. Poke, poke. The rain is coming down so hard my glasses are channeling rivulets. Can't see a thing. The thunder is becoming constant – and the lightning is making brief, quick flashes just to the north. Hmm. Might be time to go inside. I heave myself up out of a puddle with the help of the terrace wall, grab my metal cane, and start for the house. The air has gone white with water and the ground is covered in puddles. I'm bent way over, clutching my useless glasses in one hand, rounding the tall wire fencing that supports the pole beans. It's times like these I remember the guy from work who was struck by lightning in a fishing boat. Years later, he still had no eyebrows. My old neighbor in Denver, who lost his big toes to lightning. Those four farming sisters killed by a single strike of lightning out in the fields, in that southern novel. (OK, fiction doesn't count. Stop thinking about that.)

I'm working really hard to get up to the house. It's taking forever, the thunder a never-ending rumble, the lightning dancing close. I see the lights in the house go out abruptly, then I make it up the steps and inside, and C. hands me a towel. I made it.

We light the candles, and read by battery-operated LED.

The power is still off the next day. We find a can of Sterno and a folding survival stove (good thing we buy weird stuff at estate sales), and make coffee with the water we keep in gallon jars on the fridge, in case of outages. (The well pump is electric.)

Fortunately, the freezers are nearly empty – just ice cream and a few quarts of Chinese cabbage. But I worry about my lovely gluten-free chocolate ice cream turning to runny sludge in there. I finally whip the door open and grab it, and close the door quickly. It's soft foam, not very tasty, but I eat it anyway. I get a stomach ache.

Out in the garden, one of the bean towers has blown over. And a bit of the brush pea-trellis. And one of the stepladders supporting tomatoes. The plants look undamaged, except for a battered rhubarb. And rhubarb is tough.

Apparently one of the power poles on our west fence line is among the casualties, as crews are over there with backhoe and cherrypickers Tuesday afternoon. A few hours later, our lights come on.

We really need to look into a backup power supply, just for the freezers and pump.