Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Iron Man

Just down the road a few miles the Society for Creative Anachronism is having one of their annual tournaments.

Tall Son participates in these, and is building a growing reputation for his tenacity. Having known him for twenty-eight years, I have to say I'm not surprised. He invited me to watch him this weekend, and, while I had my doubts about the enterprise, especially after watching a couple of the tourney's fighters get up very slowly, and with help, I did find myself cheering him on with the rest as the "dead" piled up around him, so to speak.

Idris, as he is called in the SCA, did not acquire armor until later in life than many of his fellows, and so is having to catch up in both technique and conditioning. As the tournament wore on in the hot sun, he found himself taking hits that reduced him to a kneeling posture, but, like the god whose strength comes from touching the earth, he often fights better with his knees under him, and even better with one hand behind him. More than once, he took on at least four opponents in a row from the "wounded" kneeling posture and sent them to the back of the line. At last one would take him when he had been reduced by sheer numbers to acknowledging his opponent with a grunt and a twitch of his sword hand.

Whenever he was sent to the back of the line, I found myself running up to him with a bandanna to wipe his eyebrows and upper eyelids through a slit in his helm, which he appreciated as the sweat kept running into his eyes.

"You really light up when you're doing this," I said, dabbing away.

"This is what I do," he replied, in that Sean Connery voice he has.

Between such times I sat among the ladies of his household, the Iron Ring, and occasionally a lord would drift by and kiss all our hands. Some of them were quite dashing, with tremendous animal magnetism.

As one of the knights walked away, I said to my daughter-in-law, "Whatever it is, he's got it." She agreed, nodding her head sagely.

Part of the day I spent as a scullery maid, washing up with Daughter-in-law, or dishing up some of Beloved's highly praised duck eggs to the household, or taking a break to provide background music with my dulcimer, as the menfolks mingled, sipping their mead and trading shoptalk on gear and sword moves. It's their world and they're welcome to it, but visiting it for a day, every other year, works out about right for me.

My oldest granddaughter is Idris's daughter. She's nine, now, and was to be seen at intervals throughout the day, scrambling up tree trunks and hopping over mudholes with a friend.

She spent the night with us here at Stony Run. We elected to camp out together in the Scriptorium, which to her is the Playhouse, and we hauled a mattress out there for me (she slept on the cot that was already made up for her). We brought a book with us, thinking we would read, but both, quite a bit more worn out than we'd expected, fell into a deep sleep almost immediately.


Monday, May 19, 2008

So bright

Tired? Oh, just ...

The main thing at Stony Run this time of the year is grass clippings. I never have gotten round to having the field across the creek plowed, harrowed and drilled with buckwheat, and so it makes a nice huge lawn -- which has to be maintained to keep peace with all the neighbors -- so I convert the clippings into mulch -- lots and lots of mulch! There's about ninety grasscatcher bags of very short hay on all the gardens and at the foot of the fruit trees this year. Gives meaning to the term "ubiquitous."

Temperatures went to 93 for two brutal days, though, right when I had this to do, so I worked "hoot owl," early morning and evening hours, and when the heat caught up to me, between wheelbarrow loads I dunked my straw hat in the creek and poured the water over myself.

This water comes down from a sour-soiled pasture with a couple of horses in it, that fortunately is over forty acres in size, so it's not too uncleanly. You can soak your feet in it, and such. We don't drink it but probably could; there are caddis fly larvae, a sure sign that the creek has recovered quite a bit from when the pasture had cows all over it. Right now the pasture is a stunning vista of peak-color Camas lilies attended by hordes of chaffing goldfinches.

After the mowing I worked on several other projects, including repairing and painting the scriptorium, airing it out, installing the laptop and a pitcher of solar mint tea, transcribing (a very good heat-of-the-day activity) a seventeenth century cookbook for Renascence Editions, and napping (another good hot-weather activity). Later I made dinner from spring greens and duck eggs, with buckwheat-rye bread fresh from the oven. And then cleaned up the front porch and moved the bench from there to the shady spot beneath the fir trees.

The moon was so bright last night that many insects chose not to go to bed, and the bats stayed up with them, skreeling and fluttering into the wee hours.

Beloved spent the night out by the new pear trees, which had been attacked by a an enterprising doe. In the morning, over coffee shared outdoors, she reported, "there was a convention of coyotes over on the mountain last night."

We have never seen summer unfold so suddenly.


Monday, May 12, 2008

If you have the patience

[posted by risa]

Freshly blown goose eggs -- risa b

The range trip was fun but I spent a lot of the last few days thinking about food ... At least one meal a day I try to eat as much as practicable from whatever we have grown or raised ourselves.

This weekend's stir fry was heavy on spring greens accordingly.

I diced up radishes, chard stems, shallots, and the stem of a perennial elephant garlic (as sort of a leek substitute) and put them in the hot oil and went back to the cutting board to shred a hard-boiled duck egg, chard greens, chives, onion greens, radish greens, spinach, celery, dandelion, and parsley and added these to the wok, tossed, under cover, just before turning off the heat.

Served with homemade buckwheat/rye bread and a local microbrew (this last was selected by the young folks).

Daughter tried the stir-fry and liked it. I wound up polishing off the rest, as the young men were working hard on the wasabi chips they'd bought.


After everyone left, I made grass clippings all afternoon and spread them on all parts of the garden. Worked on this year's irrigation layout. Gave away a dead riding mower. And I finished cutting and installing the last of fifty beanpoles.

The plan for the poles is that the sugar snap peas will climb them first, followed by a later planting of runner beans. I've learned that if you install these poles very early, in relatively wet soil, and keep them watered along with the plantings, some of them take root and sprout (willow, ash, filbert, cottonwood) and can be collected at the end of the summer and planted out to build up the wood supply.

This has gone so well that I've added another step: gathering the prunings from these species into bundles, with all but the topmost leaves stripped, to set beneath a stone, in the creek. The trick is to get back to them before the water runs dry and pot them up until winter dormancy. The survival rate is fairly high, and this is an easy way to keep your self in kindling, beanpoles, trellises, or, if you have the patience, firewood and/or shade.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Monday, May 05, 2008

Not too tiring if done right

[posted by risa]

Ah, a little bit of sunshine. But Saturday I went to an all-day meeting in Salem.

Sunday, naturally, I went berserk.

Most of the activity centered around the beds we're expanding/reviving to increase our veggie production.

Most of the veggie gardening has been confined, in recent years, to a circular garden fifty feet in diameter. But as we pay more and more attention to the idea of living, year round, on home production, we find ourselves spilling over into containers and the flower beds.

There's room between the house and the grape arbor for four or more 4' beds fifty feet long. That's a lot of room. Constraints have been: water conservation, enough time. We think we can water more garden, with a little planning. And we will just have to make the time.

The perennial beds will remain mostly in flowers, as Beloved loves her bulbs and perennials (I do, too) and likes to have them along the paved pathway from the driveway to the house. I notice she's put a lot of brassicas, especially a variety of lettuces, into one of them, though.

The third bed has been mostly peas and scarlet runners for the last decade. We're widening this one, and this spring it will contain sugar snap peas and scarlet runners, kind of in succession, down the middle, on a framework of poles and wire, and onion sets, beets, spinach and potatoes on the margins. I've built a fourth bed and this one will have the peas and beans down the middle, with radishes and beets, and four rows of potatoes (Yukon Gold and the little thin-skinned red ones) along the margins. These are the early garden and with successful succession plantings, fall-winter as well.

This last bed is a sod-busting project, as what was there before was a failed blueberry planting and we hadn't had the heart to try again there for awhile. The site has a dark, very heavy clay topsoil that drains well compared to the summer garden and can be worked earlier. Even so, it would be too wet to mechanically till until some time in June, so tilling is not really an option. We draped black plastic over it during the late winter, then turned over the sods in chunks about six inches by ten, using a general purpose long-handled five-tine fork. This is what's known as "spading" but I never do it on this scale with a spade (compacts the soil and kills too many earthworms) or "spading" fork (all the ones I've seen have short handles and will hurt your back).

This is a rhythmical and satisfying activity, not too tiring if done right, bending knees, applying leverage, and not trying to lift clay with one's lower back. It's difficult to describe but easy to demonstrate. 1) Tip out one or more turves to make a start hole. 2) "step" the fork into the earth three inches away from the hole, push the fork forward to rip the roots and corms of the grass in your chunk away from those in the ground nearer you. 3) pull back, to lift away the bottom of your turf from the ground beneath. 4) Draw the turf to you, leaning back and using the straightening of your legs to lift the turf. 5) push the turf off the fork tines with your foot. 6) Turn the turf upside down with the fork, poke the tines into it, and drop it into the hole, with the roots exposed to the sun. 7) Repeat till you reach the end of the bed. 8) go back to the beginning, where you lifted out the first turves, start a hole adjacent to the first one, and begin again.

You'll have leftover turf, which can be used to level any low spots in the rough bed before chopping.

This is not the "double digging" described in all the books, but it seems to do the job, just as my bread seems to do fine without the "second rising" the bread books all talk about.

I then chopped up the chunks with a spade, then covered the whole bed with grass clippings four inches deep. Down the middle of the bed, after the clippings had dried to a tan color, I raked back the mulch to make a row about four inches wide, and spread about a half-inch layer of potting soil for a seedbed. Walking along with a piece of aluminum tubing about four feet long, I dropped radish and beet seeds and peas down the pipe, on about a two-inch spacing, then shoveled on another half-inch of potting soil, and tamped it all down with the spade handle (d-ring). And watered gently with a very light manure tea.

The seed potatoes, which I had "slipped" (cut into pieces with one or more "eyes" each) the night before, went into two rows on each side of the pea row by being tucked under the mulch at ten-inch intervals.

Each bed runs north and south, and has in it three iron tee-posts in a line, with a medium-gauge wire strung between them and staked into the ground at the ends for tautness. As the peas come up, I stake them with suckers cut from filbert, willow, and ash trees. Some years these will sprout, and I re-use them after their garden duty as reforestation seedlings. The production of these suckers for this kind of use is something of a lost art, known as "coppicing." It's a low-cost-high-efficiency way to provide yourself with stakes, kindling, and even firewood.

The circular garden currently harbors some of our perennial foods (elephant garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, several varieties of chard, celery, onions and Egyptian onions) and we have been eating from it daily, but at this time of the year, mostly what I do there is add layers of grass clippings to the mulch and attend to the sod-building grasses that invade (no doubt from seeds imported with the clippings -- sigh).

In another month, God-willin-and-the-crick-don't-rise, we'll do the summer things: beans, corn, squash, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and such.

Blogged with the Flock Browser