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.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The cockeyed optimist plants peas

Sure, they'll be plenty of room between rows for picking! And 34 inches is certainly tall enough for pea trellis! See, here, on the packet? "Plants grow to 30 inches high."


The peas on the outside of the fences are relatively well-mannered Lincolns. On the inside, a variety new to us, and ridiculously vigorous.

Our '"short" peas, taller and wider than expected. That disappearing thing in the middle is the path. 
C. caught the peas just starting to twine together across the path. I made a bunch of ties out of binder twine with a clothes pin on each end, and used them to pull the plants back to their trellises. It's still tight in that path, but I think it's passable. But then, I'm a cockeyed optimist.

The improved path. Wide enough?

We'll need to add some strings or something to the trellises for height. How tall are they apt to get? Who the hell knows. I guess we learned something for next year.

It's hot out, over 90, and I'm sitting here eating chocolate ice cream. I darted out, fed the chickens, hauled a couple of bags of bedding hay out to the potato beds and spread them on the tall spud plants, then came in to cool off. If I'm quick about it, I can keep that up all day. If I stay too long, it's over.

The potato plants have to be heavily mulched several times over the summer, or the spuds will get green where the sun touches them. Fortunately, we have lots of old hay for mulch, since some cheapskate bought crap hay last year. 

C. is out in the heat, planting something in the second-to-last empty bed. 

The dehydrators are full of spinach and kale, and I'll be rigging the car up to dry stuff today, too. Our volunteer kale bed is really productive, dammit. The rabbits don't like it much, though they'll eat it gladly in January. I don't like it much, either. I've been looking up online recipes for kale chips. Maybe they're delicious. Hey, it could happen.

OK, time to dart out again and do a little gardening.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The hay is in

I sound as if we sowed it, harvested it, put it in the barn. Ha. Two nice young fellows from Deer Park did all of that, and I just handed them some money.

It's lovely hay, all green and soft – and the animals, mouths full, have given their approval.

C. and I had spend the afternoon in the last of the barn prep: hauling pallets in and bagging old stuff, in the heat and dust. Feh. Then I reinforced the keep-the-goats-out-of-the-hay wall, and beefed up the hinges and clips on the inner gate. We will have no dancing and pooping on the winter food supply, goats!

So we were ready when the guys drove up with truck and trailer piled high with hay bales. They unloaded, pulled the giant tarp (really an old vinyl billboard) over the neatly piled bales, and waved as they drove off.

Neighbors, if you're looking for good grass hay, I can give you their number.

Tomorrow, it's back to the garden. The greens are coming on in serious waves, and we need to pick, wash, and dry for winter. Over and over. We were up until 2 last night getting spinach in the driers, mostly because somebody here is a procrastinator. And it isn't me. Well, okay, I am – but it wasn't. C. says she'll do better.

After remembering all that hot, dry barn work, I think I need more ice cream.

Seven eggs today.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Getting ready for the hay man

C. and I drove up to the barn to make room for two tons of new hay coming Friday. We spent a few hours in the heat bagging up old bedding hay for the garden, and raking and sweeping. We moved the last three bales of old stuff onto a pallet in the back. Bambi, the overly friendly sheep, kept us company, but I shut the other guys out.

There is still more to do – we'll save that for tomorrow. I need to gather more pallets to keep the new bales off the floor, bag up more of the clean loose stuff for the rabbits (who are less fussy than the big animals) and reinforce the walls that should have kept the goats out of the bales.

We bought cheap hay last year – $150 a ton, and, boy, was that a false economy. The big animals ate maybe a third of it, and dragged the rest out onto the floor and pooped on it. Thanks for letting us know how you feel, guys. This year we're going for the good stuff, at $230 a ton. It's not the most expensive – my friend Tim pays $310 a ton – but it should be more than adequate. I'm hardwired for cheapness (is it the Scots on both sides of the family?), but might be learning better. I hope so. A great deal on crap just leaves you with crap, I tell myself. Well, crap and a little extra money. But still crap. There is that extra money, though....

I cooked last night, roasting store-bought spuds, onions and carrots, with our asparagus and fresh thyme and oregano. It was pretty good. It would have been better with home-grown everything, but our winter stores are used up (we still have jars of borscht and pickles!) and it's too early for the most of the garden. We are awash in baby greens, though. C. had me plant the lettuces, and the seeds are incredibly tiny – and I have a heavy hand. She thins them every three days or so, and we've been eating salads like crazy. I'm not usually fond of salad (crunch, crunch, crunch), but baby lettuce is pretty good. Unlike, say, arugula.

I need to let the children know their obligations extend to greens consumption – as well as that of borscht and pickles.

Seven eggs today.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Muddling along

Muddle-dee-doo, muddle-dee-doo. We've had a week of rain, including a brief cloudburst that came rushing up the hill like a steam engine. I love those kind of storms, even while worrying about the leaky roof.

It's been decent gardening weather for the most part, and C. has planted and mulched all kinds of stuff. I finished the third big bed of tomatos, and C. has tucked more in here and there. We have a couple of dozen tomatoes left in the greenhouse – my friend Diane can probably use those.

C. planted carrots Imperator, Red Cored Chantenay, Scarlet Keeper today, and some peppers. I raised an old 20-foot-tall ham-radio tower to support the hop vine near the chicken house. The four lines running to the top of the tower can be raised and lowered with a pulley, so harvest should be easier this year (last year the vines were all entangled in the chicken wire over the chicken run).

We took a day last week and went to town to deliver the two granddogs that have been staying with us since December, and to dig up some of the plants in the yard of the Ancestral Home. The kids plan a sort of minimal yard when they buy the house, and our style has alway been maximal. The front yard is like a neglected cottage garden on steroids. We brought home the akebia vine, some bamboo, day lilies, comfrey and C.'s Just Joey rosebush. Then we spent a day planting that stuff here.

Earl and I took a break from gardening yesterday and made a beer run to town. Well, actually, we went for an estate sale, and the beer was an afterthought. We bought some bookcases, and a whole lot of miscellaneous stuff. And on the way to the beer store, we spotted another estate sale, and filled up the rest of the car with more miscellaneous stuff. We didn't buy the piano, though we thought about it.

The big animals have eaten their pasture down to nubs, so I'm working on fencing a new area just south of the building. We hope to eventually extend the fence over time around the whole lower four-acre field where the school kids used to play baseball. We're looking for used fencing, as that stuff is expensive. I did pick up some brand-spanking-new 6-foot T-posts with a gift certificate from work.

In the meantime, I've been cutting grass (and knapweed) for them at the north end of the garden, as well as feeding the last of the hay.

You grab the grass with the left hand, swing the sickle with the right, and deposit the cut
grass and any severed fingers in the bucket. Rinse and repeat.
The summer-long task of drying greens for the rabbits has begun. The four food dehydrators (not including the car – yet) are lined up on the old grey cupboard, full of Chinese cabbage and leaf radishes. More leaf radishes await in the fridge. We'll pack the big, leafy hay into old lard cans for winter rabbit treats.

Cutting up Chinese cabbage for the dehydrators.

Now that the big garden push is over, I'm trying to get some other things done. The hallway is a cluttered mess. We're thinking of ways to reorganize/remodel our idiotic kitchen. My studio is a dusty, messy storeroom rather than a work space. And we have a lot of books to read.

Nine eggs today.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

No planting today

Since it's 90 degrees out! I'm sitting here limp and sweaty after spending an hour or so fiddling with the water lines to the garden beds.

I'm extending a line from the north tomato bed across the north pole-bean bed and to the raspberries. Thought I might add some metal roofing to the downhill side of the berry beds, to keep water in. So I sat in the shade and chopped an old piece of roofing into short lengths to curve around the plants, kind of like an eyebrow. I got the hose out there, the roofing there, and had to come in to cool off.

C. was feeling poorly yesterday so took it easy and went to bed about 8. She's better today, and is working on mulching and filling in the spotty rows of beans seedlings.

I'm off to watch Edwardian Farm. Might learn something.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Planting, planting

It's 72 degrees out there, and sunny. The peony is blooming furiously.

Today C. planted tomatillos, a Jarrahdale squash, prepped a bed for green beans, and mulched tomatoes. I watered and mulched the Siberian pea shrubs out in the yard – they've taken a beating from the deer and goats. Next I need to get wire cages on them, attached securely to small fence posts.

Then I trekked to the barn and filled a wagon full of buckets with alpaca poo.

We're inside cooling off before heading out for the final push for the day. I'll get more tomatoes in.

Yesterday, C. planted a Jarrahdale squash, transplanted some Tronchuda cabbages, and filled in the gaps in the Coco Noir bean rows. I put some some old wooden stepladders up to support some tall tomatoes, and got about 25 planted.

Then we went up to Rose's, and bought two gallons of milk and five dozen eggs. A big old yellow rambling rose in her front yard caught C.'s attention – she sniffed a bloom and was transported back to Montana in the 1950s. "My daddy used to cut one of these and put it in my hair," she said. Rose fetched a shovel and dug up a couple of little ones to send home with us. We promised to bring her some tomato plants.

We came home and caught the big goat, and C. brushed him. He's been shedding his cashmere undercoat. He's got goat lice, which makes him itch, so he's been rubbing on the fence and matting up his fleece. So I'll be getting out the evil insecticide again. We checked over the little goat, and he looks better. The worming must have helped.

Six eggs today. I'm off to plant those tomatoes.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Planting tomatoes and raspberries

I say we have 29 tomatoes planted. C. says we have 121 to plant. As usual, my glass is half full.

Yesterday was the first big book sale of the year, and we were there, raring to go. We brought nine bags to the sale, and took six bags home. It's been a long winter, and we were excited to get new reading material.  The Friends of the Deer Park Library are the nicest people, and they pull out all their boxes of books once a month June through October and sort them onto tables in the RV storage place. The sorting is a little random early in the sale – it gets better over the summer.

So we spent about three hours there, and I made a run to the Deer Park grocery for ice cream. I was all excited to find Breyer's chocolate and vanilla, gluten free! Woohoo! I didn't check the labels carefully, though, and both contain corn syrup, which C. refuses to eat. So I have to consume all the ice cream. I feel kinda bad about it (she says with her mouth full of chocolate ice cream).

Em, Richard and Liam came up and we went over to a neighbor's place to dig up raspberry plants. I keep trying to grow berries and apples, but deer or the goats get into the garden and eat them, or I don't take care of them and they die. I keep trying. C. says she can't stand to watch me bring plants home and kill them. I vow I will do better. I will do better.

I did find one little apple tree that survived the great goat rampage of 2014? or so. The grafted bit has died but the rootstock looks healthy with lots of leaves. I pulled all the quack grass and knapweed out around it and laid down cardboard and mulch to keep the weeds away, and gave it a big drink. That is one tough little tree. I'll regraft it next spring so that (fingers crossed) we get a named variety of apples someday, not the little sour ones that the rootstocks want to make. I also found a little plum tree and two raspberries hiding in the tall grass.

Today I planted most of the new raspberries in the sad, old raspberry spot, and shaded them with cardboard boxes. (I'll use the boxes as mulch after the plants settle in.) Then C. and I worked on tomatoes, and I pounded in a few chunks of rebar to reinforce the 2x8s in the tomato terrace. Then we cut some grass and greens for the rabbits. Note that I am leaving out the part during the hottest part of the day where I kept getting hung up as I tried to drag a hose down the hill, and had a little tantrum with some heartfelt but very uncreative cussing. I really need to come up with some new expletives. I'm fond of "suffering whangdoodles" from a favorite old radio show, Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police, but it lacks serious power. Feel free to suggest your favorites.

Nine eggs today.