Saturday, August 29, 2009

Turnings


Watching the garden fade into memory is always sad for me; I'm a summer baby.

As (our northern hemisphere) August prepares to slide down the funnel into September, and the clouds gather for the first fall storm, everything goes into a frenzy of preparation. The runner beans have set a distinct second crop, the pumpkins are industriously turning orange, flocks of starlings are banding together into massive, fidgety swarms, the yellow jackets are getting cranky, the tomatoes and corn are finally getting serious, and Susannah and Sylvester come running, mouths open, flapping their wings and honking, every time we step outside, demanding extra rations. "What are you doing standing in the yard without a bucket full of sliced zucchini and corn silk for us? Are you trying to starve us? Don't you know winter is coming!?"

We do.

But we're dragging our feet.

A popular activity at Stony Run Farm these days is to pour a couple of glasses of local wine, sit in the garden together, and try to absorb all the sunlight and views of hummingbirds among the runner bean blossoms that we can. Glasses empty, we sit on and on and on, listening for that last rustle of growth among the potatoes hidden in the straw. At last someone says, "What a beautiful day." And someone replies, "Yes."

In the dusk a young buck, so close we can see how his mange is getting on, and the condition of the velvet on his very first antlers, stands by the outer fence, licking up blackberries. He scratches at his ear with a rear hoof, then looks us over insouciantly. When we rise to retire for the night, he flicks his ears at us, then concentrates on the blackberries again.

:::

I'm trying to do firewooding, but hornets are nesting near the tree, a tall dying ash, that I most particularly want. I'll switch to working on the polytunnel, and try to figure out what to do with the hornets at night, when they've all gone in.

Can't get near them right now. They discovered me snipping at brush, almost fifteen feet from their great gorgeous grey nest, in an effort to clear around the base of the tree. They invited me to leave. I was so willing to comply that I apparently jumped straight up out of my shoes, which are still standing there by the fallen pair of loppers. I ran in my stocking feet into the house and stripped, and Beloved checked my ponytail for stragglers.

I only have five stings, which is remarkable given the size of the nest. A warning, was all that was. But hornets at this time of year are serious about their warnings, and I shook off the last one only as I came in the door, a run of about two hundred feet.

I went back half an hour later, with a pair of binoculars, and found and admired the nest from a nice safe distance. How did they build such a big thing so quickly? I mowed through that area all summer.

There's no getting closer, this morning, to pick up my shoes and loppers. When you have been stung by Bald-Faced Hornets, they know who you are for hours afterwards -- some kind of marker in the venom, a pheromone or something. You could send someone else, and they will be relatively safe.

But the loppers are fine right where they are for now!

Last Son was here yesterday, and he and I picked blackberries and worked up a batch of tomatoes for drying and apples as well. The tomatoes are in the dehydrator and the apples are in the potting shed/greenhouse.

As we picked apples, we remarked on how there are almost no wormy specimens, a departure from previous years. We don't know why there are so few, or whether they will be back. But it's nice to have clean organic apples. He says that I should prune more, and thin more aggressively after the June drop, so as to get larger apples, but I like them medium-sized.

To take the edge off the turnings of things from summery light toward the winter darkness, I have been roasting vegetables. I like to bring out the large, steaming baker's tray, covered with corn on the cob, diced zucchini, sliced tomatoes, green beans, snap peas, onions and bell peppers, a harvest-time harbinger of Thanksgiving, and set it among the empty plates next to a loaf of home-made bread. We can't have this during the week; it takes up to three hours. A Saturday kind of thing at present.

Pre-heat oven to 250F. Pick your vegetables same-day. Put your corn in. Now add the other veggies at intervals of ten to fifteen minutes, according to density. Tomatoes last, with fresh basil if you still have some. When it seems done, bring to the table. Everyone can season to taste if you provide butter, salt, Greek and Italian seasonings, or home-dried herbs.

:::

The week in review: planted the last winter bok choi, beets, spinach, kale, lettuce. Will start putting the poly on the polytunnel.

Harvested corn, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, apples, plums, blackberries, yellow zucchini, cabbage, green zucchini, turnips, turnip greens, beans, potatoes, strawberries, chicken eggs, duck eggs.

Dried tomatoes and made apple leathers. All this tomato drying has resulted in only a gallon of the finished product; it has an amazing taste, though.

Rescued a queen mattress from being dumpstered. Firewooding has been interrupted by the painful discovery of a large nest of Bald-Faced Hornets. I'm writing this to distract myself while the various swellings go down.

Selling chicken eggs again and giving away veggies and seed.

100 foot diet: from frozen: applesauce. From the land: corn, tomatoes, apples, plums, duck and chicken eggs, bok choi, potatoes, zucchini, leeks, blackberries, onions, green beans, strawberries, mint, basil, chives, onions, cucumbers, cabbage. Particularly enjoying roasted vegetables. 100 mile diet: wheat, oats, rye, spelt, sunflower seeds.

Fog drifting in

Saturday, August 22, 2009

My Dearest Dear

Photo by Daughter

Last year, when the Barred Rocks and the Araucanas were at the peak of their form, with not a boyfriend in sight, the Rocks used to run up to us at mash time, whirl around and squat. We were green enough in chicken matters to say, "oh, cute, they want to be petted," and pat them on the head, and then they would run off, puzzled by our reticence -- or their own behavior, for which they had little reference.

Or maybe they did.

Sylvester, the gander, was lord of all the poultry yard, king, duke, earl, count, and squire, and made constant hay with his harem, which consisted of one goose, Susannah, his Number One, and nine Khaki Campbell ducks (!!), all of whom were willing enough to be seized by the neck, jammed into the bottom of the pool, and "sat" upon on a regular basis. The chickens were witnesses of, but not party to, all these public goings-on, and went about their own much tamer daily routine, depositing eggs, eating, drinking, snapping at flies, borrowing cups of sugar, playing bridge, and offering themselves regularly to the humans, neither of whom was any kind of a rooster but were at least alpha hens of some sort. We were big, we brought mash, might as well stay on our good side, no?

From time to time, they would have a go at one another -- that is to say, the alpha hens would have a go at those lower in the pecking order -- and while it did not appear to us that they found this a very satisfactory solution, at least there was some sense among them that some activities are appropriate to adults, whatever those might be.

A neighbor, meanwhile, received the gift of a spare rooster, and, not being willing to go through the labor of getting him onto the dinner table, she brought him over to the fence for our inspection.

"Y'wanna rooster?"

"Well ... "

"S'free. Y'wannim,'ll throw 'm over."

He did look rather docile, so we agreed, and without ceremony Chanticleer was launched on the longest flight of his career.

An extraordinarily handsome Buckeye of very large proportions, Chanticleer towered over his flock, who one and all fled in terror at his advent among them. He, not having been an alpha rooster in his previous incarnation, also fled in abject terror from them. Everyone cowered in their respective corners for a day or two, while the geese and ducks marched contentedly up and down, gabbling of slug dinner vs. snail dinner, with dandelion tea.

Come mash time on the third day, Chanticleer and several Barred Rocks approached the treat from opposite directions and arrived all together. The ladies looked up at Mr. C. appraisingly, and one of them whipped around right in front of him and squatted.

"Ahh," we said to ourselves. "So that's what that was all about."

Several seconds of stunned silence followed.

Chanticleer seemed to be thinking things over deep in the lizard layer of his brain: "Hen directly ahead. No alpha rooster in sight. Haven't seen one in days, in fact. Might not get the dee-whattly beat out of me if I take a closer look." He stepped forward, tentatively, but couldn't quite make out, or make, his next move.

She squatted a little deeper in the straw and waggled a bit.

The lightbulb, a small one admittedly, but a lightbulb all the same, came on over Mr. C.'s head. You could read his expression exactly, and he seemed to be saying:

"Oh ... ... ... YEAH!"

The deed was over in about six seconds, which seemed to us a pity, given the sea of hormones the barnyard was awash in, but the Rock, after the first startled squawk, appeared to be, on the whole, pleased with herself, and all the other young hens sidled up to ask: "so, uh, what was it like?"

Over time, Chanticleer proved himself the best kind of rooster, from any self-respecting hen's point of view: a gentleman. He would lead his flock, as if following Sylvester's example, all across the pasture, keeping a weather eye out for hawks and foxes, while also finding the choicest bugs to scratch up, step back and offer, almost with a courtly bow, to his ladies, one by one.

You could practically hear his spiel: "My Dearest Dear: As I'm Sure You Know, I, The Lord Of All I Survey (that gigantic fool of a gander excepted), Have The Sole Right To This, And Any Other Beetle I Uncover. However" -- nodding conspiratorially toward her -- "This One I Offer To You, My One True Love Now And Forever." And she would step forward and accept the dainty.

And then Mr. C. would sashay along to the next biddy, scratch again, and smoothly take it from the top: "My Dearest Dear ..."

This spring there began to be trouble in paradise.

Despite our best efforts in providing plenty of clean pasture, a variety of vegetables and greens, ground oyster shell, shady and private nesting boxes and clean, plentiful bedding straw, eggs began to be eaten, first by ones, then by twos, and ultimately almost every egg in sight, duck and chicken alike. Goose eggs being a bit tough mostly got a bye, but our dozen-egg-selling days were over until we could come up with a solution.

We suspected the Araucanas, who had taken over Mr. C. (though he was not at all faithful to them), and begun to swagger about and chase the Barred Rocks from feed trough, laundromat, and mash alike. The early egg-smashing consisted almost entirely of Barred Rock brown eggs, which seemed suspicious to say the least, and though we were on the watch, we couldn't catch anyone in the act. Internet research did not turn up any strategies that seemed to work at all for us.

We tried isolating the sub-flocks, but this appeared to make everyone miserable, and by this time the green eggs were fair game as well -- all and sundry had developed a hankering for albumin, apparently. Brown, green, duck -- whatever. It's all right there on the menu, and free, free, free.

Sadly, we concluded to start over, and bought in a clutch of tiny Rhode Island Red chicks. We would move all the Araucaunas and Barred Rocks to the freezer, one by one, and then introduce the Reds to the Lord of the Barnyard.

Our timing was not perfect. Chanticleer ran out of harem before the Reds were quite ready for him. A rowdy and self-sufficient gang of street pre-teens one and all, they hit the ground running, passing cigarettes and purloined credit cards among themselves and admiring one another's tats.

They gave Mr. C. a wide berth, and for about three weeks (three eternities in any rooster's limited calendar) he couldn't get anywhere near them. The poor dude was stranded in a sea of sassy, lightning-fast henlets. What's with all the predator-watch, old-timer? We can outrun 'em, and we can outrun you, too! They laughed. His magnificent tail feathers drooped, and the kingly pride faded from his eye.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Mister, a few pullet eggs were showing up in the henhouse. Uneaten! And the Reds were filling out and slowing down a little, talking shyly among themselves of perambulators and pink and blue pajamas.

Feeling quite sorry for him one day, as I was nibbling a sandwich in my own corner of the barnyard, I twisted off a crust of my best homemade bread and offered it to him. Gently, even daintily, he accepted the gift, then stood, craning his neck left and right, rolling each eye forward, as if trying to examine the morsel without setting it down.

The tiny light bulb came on.

Chanticleer trotted with the bread crumb over to the nearest Red (who was already putting on her running shoes and grabbing her cell phone, just in case he might try any funny stuff) and laid out the prize before her unbelieving eyes.

Stretching himself to his manliest height, and brandishing his gorgeous tail, he swept off his Musketeer's hat with the ostrich plume and bowed his deepest bow, the bright afternoon sun glinting from his epaulets, and from the basket-hilt of his gilded sword.

"My Dearest Dear," he began.

And she stopped to listen.

.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A chill in the shade


The week in review: planted red cabbages, bok choi, turnips, spinach, kale, lettuce from the "seed shaker." What comes up in the polytunnel is what comes up.

Harvested sweet corn! Pears, tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, plums, kale, blackberries, yellow zucchini, green zucchini, turnips, turnip greens (for the poultry), chard, lettuce, beans, beans, beans, bell peppers, potatoes, onions, strawberries (everbearing), chicken eggs (dropped some -- oops), duck eggs.

Dried tomatoes and zukes and cukes, froze blackberries, strung leather britches (beans), and made pear leathers and more apple leathers.

Turned compost, firewooded.

Brought rhubarb and blackberry cobblers to potlucks.

100 foot diet: from frozen: blackberries. From the land: Apples, tomatoes, corn, plums, duck and chicken eggs, duck, bok choi, potatoes, zucchini, leeks, fresh blackberries, onions, green beans, strawberries, basil, chives, cucumbers. 100 mile diet: wheat, oats, rye, spelt, buckwheat.

The pumpkins are turning orange and there is a chill in the shade.

Chainsaw wrangling

The sawyer's apprentice

Daughter was here for almost a week, working off a debt in advance, I think (her arrangements were with Beloved, our money manager), and it was a fabulous time. Luckily for me, there are improvements being made to the Reading Room above my space at work, which necessitated my taking a couple of days leave -- it would have been awkward trying to work at my desk with concrete dust pouring all over me -- and I got to spend those wonderful days with her.

No one ever had such a good time working with her daughter, I am sure. When it was time for her to go home to the Big City Up North, I cried buckets and had to throw two hankies into the washer. But her Young Man misses her (he said so on Facebook) -- so fair is fair.

We cranked up the radio and rolled up our sleeves to tackle a number of projects: making apple, zuke and tomato leathers and "leather britches" beans, cleaning the kitchen and organizing drawers, cleaning the bathrooms, weeding, cutting suckers around all the fruit trees, watering, harvesting apples and veggies, blackberrying, composting, gathering eggs, changing duck pond water, washing the truck, dusting and sweeping out the house, preparing meals and cleaning up after them, and ... firewooding.

Last Son wants me to do a test plot for hops farming, which I suspect will turn out well -- hops were once a major crop hereabouts, is in relatively short supply, and is well suited to small farm production, with a little forethought. So, thinking ahead, I have been trying to visualize getting enough water, light and nutrition to a half-acre monocrop of sorts.

One thing that would have to change is soil water retention. All the brave little willow rods I planted last winter have died in the rather severe summer drought, as I had to leave them out of the watering plan. The south hillside, once used as a log yard, is heavily compacted and its grasses dry up and die back in June -- and even the Queen-Anne's lace gives up by August. Tough conditions! So we would have to break things up a bit. We can hire a tractor with a PTO tiller to bust sod and then we'd sow buckwheat and favas (I have a gallon and a half of fava seed beans from this year), and then till them in. Something along those lines -- check.

The second well, where the hand pump is now, could be put into service with a garden-hose electric pump, for watering the vines with soaker hoses. It would be nice to go with a solar or wind pump (lots of wind) but the initial cost is off-putting. So, water -- check.

There are a number of tall trees along there. Most of them we can handle, and most of them, ash and cottonwood and maple, tend to come back from the stump -- natural coppice material. So we could down them for firewood, letting in more light for the vines, and still have wood for the future from the same grove. Check.

So Daughter and I went after some of the wood. There is a pine, which we planted from a seed from a cone almost two decades ago, which had reached the power lines, so I went up a ladder and topped it. The top was heavy enough that we cut it into three sections to drag to our woodshed, where Daughter got her first lesson in chainsaw wrangling. She proved to be a natural.

Everything down to one inch diameter went to the woodpile, and the small stuff, with its load of long green needles, went to various trees and shrubs all over the place as mulch.

After this warm-up, we went after one of the cottonwoods.

This tree was eighteen inches at DBH (Diameter at Breast Height) and about eighty feet tall. It stood on the edge of the bank of the Stony Run dry wash, and leaned conveniently in a non-threatening direction along the creek bank, so there would be no need to cable it to be sure of missing anything.

I made the two face cuts, shoved out the wedge, and did the back cut, just as in Days Long Gone when I was Someone Else and expected to know how to do these things. It all came back to me. As the tree started to go over, I instinctively shut down the saw and ran back along the creek bed in case the tree might like to barber-chair (a nasty turn of events depicted in Sometimes a Great Notion). The demise of a big tree is to be respected.

With an almighty thump, everything went exactly as planned! We high-fived and set about making wood. All good ... however:

The differences between Days Long Gone and now are: 1) I was young then and am now sixty. 2) I have, in pursuit of goals important to me, lost nearly thirty percent of my muscle mass, on top of being old.

Time was, I would firewood three trees this size in a day. Now I can do about half of one in a day, with willing and cheerful help at hand.

At day's end, we looked along the creek toward the "farm" land broiling in the sun (at 97F) in the near distance.

Only about fifteen such trees to go ...

risa b

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stitchin' and britchin'

It's 101F out and so I am hiding in the house, slicing tomatoes and apples and zucchini for the dehydrator, and when I get tired of that activity, find that, as the Hutterites used to tell me, "a change is as good as a rest."

I did cut up some green beans a couple of weeks ago and put them in the dehydrator. Beloved asked if they were "leather britches" and I said, "no, those are leather short shorts."

But the other crops are beginning to demand more space in the various drying devices scattered around, so I have resorted to a more traditional treatment for the beans.

Here we have fifteen pound test fishing line threaded onto a curved canvas needle. The line is only doubled back for a few inches, and the single strand will be pulled through a beanpod, then another, and so on, with a short stick tied onto the other end of the three to four feet of line as a "beanstop."

I usually put the needle through the first bean in the pod down from the stem, as this seems to keep the line from pulling out and losing any beanpods as I work.

The steel bowl is for the beans to rest in as the string of leather britches builds, so they don't drag on the floor.

After the string is all done, I pull the line out of the needle, stick the needle point into a cork for safekeeping, and tie a loop in the end of the line for hanging. Until the beanpods dry out, they won't hang in the house where it is 75F at present, but in the potting shed/greenhouse, where it is 104F at the moment.

We could speed drying a bit by cutting the ends off the beanpods, but I'm feeling a bit lazy in the heat. In a few days I should come back to them and do this.

In the winter, we can take down a string, cut the stick off, slide all the beanpods off the line into a heap, perhaps in the same steel bowl, and then cut them up into leather short-shorts.

After that it's into the crockpot with them, overnight, in water, salt and pepper and garlic or onions or both, and olive oil for vegetarian company, or perhaps with some chicken stock for carnies. Traditionally served with ham or at least cooked up with a good ham bone but we seldom have any on hand, as we are wary of CAFO meat and the ethically/organically raised local alternatives, unless home grown, can be expensive.

We let them get good and done, just as we would with dry beans (for obvious reasons) before throwing in other veggies or tomato sauce, and so on. Not really as good as frozen, to our mind, but the freezer is full and they are better than canned -- we think.

Things have cooled off a bit; we are going to set up the telescope and count the moons of Jupiter. G'night all.

risa b

Sunday, August 16, 2009

That ... I ate

Risa spreads apple slices before the sun. Photo by Daughter

The week in review: planted bok choi, turnips, spinach, kale, lettuce.

Harvested tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, plums, kale, blackberries, yellow zucchini, cabbage, eggplant, beets, beet greens, green zucchini, turnips, turnip greens, chard, lettuce, beans, tomatillos, bell peppers, potatoes, onions, garlic, strawberries, chicken eggs, duck eggs, drakes (yes -- sad but true).

Dried tomatoes and beans, made blackberry/plum preserves, strung leather britches (beans), and made apple leathers.

Collected cardboard, newspaper, and bottles, and made compost from flower-bed wastes.

Sold duck eggs, gave away veggies and bread. Toured a really great CSA/diversified farm.

100 foot diet: from frozen: plum sauce, almonds. From the land: Apples, plums, duck and chicken eggs, bok choi, turnips, turnip greens, potatoes, zucchini, elephant garlic, blackberries, cauliflower, onions, green beans, strawberries, mint, basil, chives, onions, cucumbers, cabbage. 100 mile diet: wheat, oats, rye, spelt, craisins. 3000 mile diet: someone brought us overripe bananas. Gave them to the poultry. My son brought me a Moon Pie, something I craved as a child. That ... I ate.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Enough to make blackberry wine

Today, in preparation for a "routine" test tomorrow, I was allowed no food, just water mostly, all day, followed by 32 oz. of rather sickly stuff in four doses from 6 to 7 p.m., to be repeated at 4:30 tomorrow morning, and visit the hospital at 8:30 ... I'm told I'll be going home by mid-afternoon, but to have a designated driver, so Beloved will take much of the day off. I'm supposed to be asleep, but my insides are gurgling like the piping underneath some ancient and decrepit neighborhood.

I used to be pretty good at this kind of fasting, but I was younger then. By ten o'clock this morning I was obsessed with food. Any kind of food ... hot, cold, spicy, bland, sweet, sour, complex, simple, organic, otherwise, food food food.

So I resolved to stay as close to food as I could get!

I've been drying greens and herbs and medicinals, and zucchini and eggplant slices, and curing onions, and so spent the day pouring things in jars, and labeling them, and braiding and hanging the onions, and slicing tomatoes and more zucchinis for the dehydrator, and lovingly washing the glass of the dehydrator window, which had been getting dusty, and gathering eggs, and changing water hoses in the garden, and carrying water to the pear trees, and picking tomatoes and winkling out some potatoes from their beds, and picking blackberries.

The blackberries can be a bit of an adventure.

There were a lot of blackberry bushes ranging around the place at will, when we got here, and they have been hacked and mowed back to a reasonable share of the property -- thus far shall you come, we tell them, and no farther. Not that they listen much.

Anyway, there are certainly enough that we count them as tolerable for their berries, for ourselves and the poultry, and for the cover they give to the large covey of quail that gets here about this time every year, staying until late November (where do they go?). They don't get a share of the irrigation, though, and must shift for themselves.

Every summer is a drought here -- the creek always dies in June -- and this is the second driest summer we've had. The earth is cracked everywhere, trees are drying up, doorframes are shriveling, and the garden starts screaming for water right after we've shut down the pump to give it a rest. We'd love to water everything, but the pump was designed for house supply only, not house and grounds. Beyond the reach of our short list, the blackberries gasp, and curl up and turn brown by degrees -- but they always seem to make it through.

In tough years, like this one, the vines most exposed to sun and dry seem to husband their strength, hold the ripening of their berries until as late as possible, perhaps awaiting that first mighty storm that eventually rolls down from Mt. Thielsen into our watershed, changing the season into fall as surely as the curtain changes an act in a play.

So we begin our blackberrying season in the shade, in the dry creekbed, where the roots of the vines in the bank seem to find enough moisture to make summer berries. Following the lead of the vines, we have a long season, and generally pick and pick until the day comes, usually soon after labor day, that we swear we are sick of berrying and may well never do it again. Quite a bit of the harvest thus escapes us, to fall prey to flocks of birds heading south, or to no one at all, falling ignobly to earth, ignored by bug and beast alike.

I like to cut the top off a recycled half gallon plastic jug and slip its handle onto a belt, then pick with both hands, dropping the berries into the jug, shuffling along the cobblestones of the creek bed, right to left. When the jug is full it will make two batches for the freezer, or one jar of jam, or half a cobbler, or enough berries for a breakfast for four, with yogurt, or homemade granola, or cottage cheese, or oatmeal, or cream-of-wheat mush, or what-you-will.

If I keep having tests that require me not to eat, leading to such obsessions, I may yet pick berries enough to make blackberry wine.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

High summer

Beloved unties and pulls back the outer leaves
of a blanched cauliflower and harvests the head.

The Annies (Ancona ducks) have begun to lay eggs. The Rosies (Rhode Island Reds) are in full swing. They cackle in a capella chorus the triumphs of their always-impending, never-arriving motherhood. We have much to answer to them for, I'm afraid.

We're in what we think of as our High Summer; the apples are almost in fructose, but not quite; some of the potatoes are still in flower, though many of the tops have died back, and we've already dug up enough for the week; we've let the basil get ahead of us and bloom, to the delight of the bees; and the first orb-weaver spiders, harbingers of the harvest moons (Ours are August, September, and October), have begun to build their intricate dew-catching nets.

Everything gardenwise is beautiful, but it's not neat and orderly, as it was a month or so ago. There's a raggedy-forlorn edge to it all. Some plants, notably the peas, have died and shriveled away, and haven't been cleared. Some, the tomatoes, and various squashes, have burst all bounds and sprawled hither and yon -- and about a bit as much yon as hither.

We've reached the stage where we stop pushing them back and just step over things, dimly aware of zukes in the corner of our eye that are reaching the zeppelin stage, and thinking, briefly, before being distracted by the burgeoning runner beans, that we should get back to that -- it's like having attention deficit disorder. We get busy out there and yet feel that not much is getting done. So we simply turn on the soaker hose, pour a switchel and go to sit in the shade, half daydreaming, half napping, and the next thing we know, we're commenting to each other on the moonrise ...

...which shows in a deep rose coloring the presence of smoke from forest fires one county over.

I'm making a small stir fry of bok choi, spinach, potatoes, leeks, zucchini, onion greens, and cherry tomatoes with cheddar slices, parsley, basil, mint, and sweet pickled beans on the side, and zuke-strawberry bread with blackberry jam.

:::

For Independence Days,

1. Plant something - nada

2. Harvest something -
potatoes, dandelions, onions, leeks, garlic, strawberries, chicken eggs, duck eggs, tomatoes, tomatillos, plums, three kinds of beans, cauliflower, cabbage, cucumbers, apple, blackberries, yellow zucchini, green zucchini, turnips, turnip greens, chard.

3. Preserve something - Pickles, sauerkraut, blackberry jam; drying tomatoes, turnip greens, zucchini chips, green beans (pre-cut -- instead of leather breeches they are leather short-shorts).

4. Reduce waste - saving up feed sacks for under-floor insulation work.

5. Preparation and Storage - see under dried and froze, above.

6. Build Community Food Systems - selling duck eggs, giving away veggies.

7. Eat the Food - from frozen: applesauce, chicken. From the land: Apples, plums, duck and chicken eggs, bok choi, turnips, turnip greens, potatoes, zucchini, elephant garlic,
blackberries, cauliflower, onions, green beans, strawberries, mint, basil, chives, onions, leeks, cucumbers, cabbage. From storage: wheat, oats, rye, spelt, chickpeas (for hummus).

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Meteor night


The meteor night ...

... rounds off the second week
of August. We spread an ancient carpet over
grass, and sweep it clean, then roll it up

to pass the first dew's fall. Friends come, bearing
food and vacuum bottles, blankets, pillows,
sweaters, and good cheer, staking out

what are believed to be the front-row seats.
The guests trail whiffs of basil, sage and mint
where cuffs encountered these along the path.

Sunset drains away from Jasper Mountain's
scree. A screen door bangs; small bodies hurtle
in and out of inner space. Tea

and coffee make their rounds, and someone says:
"I see a star -- the first!" Vega, usually,
unless it is a planetary summer.

One of the young ones knows his sky charts better
than we do; he walks us through the brighter stars,
small arm sweeping the great ecliptic:

"This is Regulus; the red one is Antares;
And that is Altair." We tell him we like Altair;
a fire so hot it looks a point of ice

dropping to where the golden sun went down.
"Look, look," shout others sitting near. Some
turn, as often happens, a hair late;

the quick ones tell them what they've seen.
A spark has overrun an arc of sky
from beyond the neighbor's nodding cows,

fading as it neared the shadowed oaks.
We settle now to a serious evening's work,
this witnessing of evanescent shows

small ancient stones make, thumping our air
-- all as it were to entertain frail creatures
hardly less ephemeral than themselves.


1994 -- 2009

Sunday, August 02, 2009

No doubt about it


Beloved sleeps out, next to the garden, in hot weather, and some years -- this is one of them -- I keep her company, most evenings. She has a queen-sized folding camp bed and a foam mattress. I have an old-fashioned steel cot and a twin-size foam pad. We park them side by side, right by the poultry pasture fence. I've hung a LED lantern from the fence, to see by whilst squirming into my nightgown.

We watch the swallows finishing their day shift, and the bats taking over at dusk. We always think we're going to lie awake and watch stars until the first meteor, and sometimes we manage to do this, but we're going grey and sl-o-o-o-w-w-ing down, and often we're out cold in the first five minutes or so.

Sometimes, I'm awakened by activity. There's a deer family on the place this year, and the buck, doe, and fawn munch along the outer fence, about ten feet from our beds. They step quietly enough but the ripping of whatever they're sampling over there can be a heart-stopper in the moonlight.

Foxes, raccoons, possums and coyotes roam at will. Once, about twelve years ago, a cougar patrolled the neighborhood for a couple of weeks, turning over our trash can among others, leaving impressive-looking footprints. Four or five domestic kitties went missing. Bigger things -- cows, calves, sheep, goats, horses, or people -- weren't bothered. The big cat went away as mysteriously as it had arrived. We don't feel especially unsafe, despite all the traffic.

I also awaken as the temperatures drop, needing to rearrange my blankets, on which perhaps a chill, drenching dew has fallen. At such times I look about me, and find the Milky Way all askew and unfamiliar, with a garishly bright morning star and/or an evening star spritzing the dew on the fir branches with small diamantine irradiances. I could swear they throw shadows.

In daylight, we see a different crowd. Canada geese pass low overhead, discussing whatever it is they talk about, in rhythmic two-tone yelps. Two decades ago, we would see them in spring and fall only -- this is the great Willamette flyway -- but now, no longer impressed with our winters, they've moved in year round. Turkey vultures and red-shouldered hawks inhabit the day as well, along with pheasants, quail, and perhaps the occasional bald eagle. Smaller creatures -- frogs, snakes, white-footed mice -- hide from the sun. Hummingbirds have made a nest in one of the plum trees in the garden, and attend to the scarlet runner blooms throughout the day.

Addled by the heat, I'm only able to take on very small projects: a tray of zucchini slices into the dehydrator, the oversized ones to the ducks and chickens, a half peck of onions pulled for curing, a few bucketfuls of greywater around the feet of the new pear trees, or the year's first blackberries picked, just enough for one jar of preserves.

Naps. I'm drawn to the camp bed, eyelids heavy with dreams.

I wake up, disoriented, to the honks of the White Chinas, Sylvester and Susannah.

They're three feet away, and concerned by my immobility. Shouldn't I be changing their water, or perhaps bringing them some bolted lettuce?

Slowly, things come into focus. A grasshopper squats, contentedly blowing bubbles, on the sleeve of my blouse. Time to stir these bones again, no doubt about it.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Country folk in August


Of country folk in august

Whenever we tackled the creekside shed
there was always something else to do
such times as we were stumped, or nails ran short,

or the sun looked round the fir and bleached us down
from raftering, roofing, or the like. We leaned,
gossip-like, against the cool framing's

naked shade, sipping solar tea,
watching some cloud's long tasseled skirt
chase the neighbors' horses leisurely

across their pasture, down the camas swale
and up the other side, against black backgrounds,
maple-shrouded hills. The horses liked

to amble to our corner, stand and watch.
We couldn't shake them of the shies, though,
try as we might with proffered handfuls

of our green grass, or blandishments, or clucks.
They'd check us out: first one black blink from behind
the forehead blaze, and then another,

cocking their long heads round to register
our self-assured, our predatory faces,
gazing on them, horse-flesh accountants

Surely. Their flanks would shiver, and their forefeet
stamp, scoring the earth in a language built
of weight. Some movement would always spook them off:

a silvery chisel hefted, or water bottle
sloshed, spattering sun. They'd hammer up
the swale; caressingly we'd watch them go,

coveting our neighbors' lands and all that lived
thereon, as country folk in August always do.


1995-2009

Dried and stored, dried and bagged


Sun-curing the onions
For Independence Days,

1. Plant something - nada

2. Harvest something - tomatoes, cucumbers, apple, blackberries, yellow zucchini, green zucchini, turnips, turnip greens, peas, chard, lettuce, potatoes, dandelions, onions, leeks, garlic, strawberries, chicken eggs, duck eggs.

3. Preserve something - froze rhubarb, green beans and runner beans, dried and stored fava beans, dried and bagged zucchini chips, allium blossoms, and medicinal comfrey.

4. Reduce waste - accepted compost and spare zukes from townies. Gave the spare zukes to the poultry.

5. Preparation and Storage - see under dried and froze, above. Preparing to clean and paint the porch/deck area.

6. Build Community Food Systems - selling duck eggs, giving away veggies.

7. Eat the Food - from frozen: plum sauce, applesauce, chicken. From the land: Apple! duck and chicken eggs, bok choi, turnips, turnip greens, potatoes, zucchini, elephant garlic,
blackberries, onions, peas, green beans, runner beans, strawberries, mint, basil, chives, cucumbers, cabbage, cauliflower. From storage: wheat, oats, rye, buckwheat.