Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Goodies, part 2

The neighbors are picking up their hay this morning.

Risa returns to the "scene of the crime" today, to take down the doors, the front wall, the end gables, and both side walls, down to the bottom plates, of the shed.

Since the little building is so close to the house and the neighbor's fence, she pops off the 1X12 cedar siding (nice stuff!) from the inside, with hatchet and small pry bar, then resorts to the maul to knock the studs, one by one, out from under the top plates.

Inside the walls, she found a bumblebee nest but they were all babies and they were asleep. Were they abandoned by the adults? She realizes she doesn't know a whole lot about bumblebees.

It's just as well.

These pieces made a full load, so she'll plan on being back tomorrow for the back wall, the floor, and the foundations. Wear a red bandanna for these jobs and you'll always have a red flag for your long loads.

Hopefully it will all fit in one load.

Lunch today is dandelions and duck broth over Basmati rice.

The goodies

The neighbors have cut their hay -- the surest sign of summer, late though it came here.

Risa has a project in hand ... when you're farming, even at the height of other doings, if a friend offers you a building for the salvage, you take it!

She loads up her tools -- some she can borrow on site, otherwise she'd also take along a square point shovel, hatchet, wheelbarrow, and ladder. Mostly this job will use the two pry bars, the straight-claw hammer, the sledge maul, and the nail puller. The nail puller, shown just above the maul, is one of her favorites. It can get to nails a hammer and block can't reach, and slips them right out. Hers was built in the 70s of good metal, and still has the original cutting edge on its teeth.

The 6X10 shed, built in the late 1960s, is free of dry rot (O miracle!) and contains a lot of good 2X4, 1X and plywood. But it's in a very tight space and cannot be hauled away intact. Risa stands on the house roof to take this shot of the roof, and that yard is their next-door-neighbor's.

The roofing is three layers deep and must be pulled away before the plywood can be taken up. Salvaging unbuilds a structure in the reverse order in which it was assembled. The roofing went on last, so it comes off first.

There's no room for the long-handled square point shovel, which is the right tool for three-tab asphalt shingle removal, and the hatchet is nowhere to be seen, so she uses the claw hammer. The plywood's now clean enough to lift. Risa pulls about half the nails and then inserts the two pry bars about a foot apart, and starts jacking up the first sheet, much as one would remove a bicycle tire with two flat tire irons.

The last sheet is her last platform; it will have to be removed from inside, by smacking it with the maul and then using a pole to shove it off the roof.

Plywood sheathing gone, she knocks down the 2X4 rafters and lifts off the 2X6 roof tree with the maul and prybar. It's time to go; she has other appointments and so she and her friends throw everything in the truck, including some hardware and garden stuff that's lying around the place (they're downsizing). She'll be back tomorrow.

The goodies so far.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Beginning to feel the heat.

It's heating up out and Risa is spending a lot of time hand watering and adjusting sprinklers. Last Son has been harvesting knotweed for her (compost and bean poles). Beloved has moved her bed outside to watch for meteors, but doesn't see any as she falls asleep right away.

"How was the eclipse last night?"

"What eclipse?"

It's only fair to mention that if Risa tried this, she would fall asleep even faster.

Simplified solar shading on the south, east and west walls this year: burlap shades on outside of windows. Cost: fifty cents per window. These shades are used indoors in winter, outdoors in summer, and they help a lot. The burlap will bleach over the season, adding to its reflectivity. We're about half done with the white roof treatment as well. Today it is 84 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and 58 in the house.

Moving wood. This pile will help keep the house cool during the summer, while also losing moisture content for use as heating and cooking fuel next winter.

Changing out the duck water. Big chore, done twice a week. The geese and ducks find clean water extremely sexy, and will begin orgying in it as soon as Risa's back is turned. The rooster, a new Americauna one named Julio, will pick up on the electricity over at the pools and start chasing hens. Buffy, the new hen, has caught on to him and is hiding among the ducks.

Carrying the old duck water to the outlying pear trees. The ducks snootle the water pretty thoroughly by mid-week, and it sprouts a lot of algae, which become compost for the orchard.

Risa's beginning to feel the heat, and is going inside for a nap. She's not making you any tea until after she wakes up; sorry!

"I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June." -- L. M. Montgomery

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Buffy comes home

A co-worker gave Beloved a Buff Orpington pullet that had been chased into their yard by something or other, from no one knows where. Buffy's a bit too young to slip onto the roosts yet and has begun life at Stony Run in a transfer cage, for her safety, as the resident hens want to attack her. When there is time, she has family privileges and prefers to stick as close to her new benefactress as possible, following her around, sitting with her, and purring when stroked or fed dandelions.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

There are rituals and there are rituals

When I write blog posts, they are often typed in Wordpad (because we're still on dialup) at fourteen point size (because I don't see very well) and I like to compose in Palatino, a very civilized font. When the text is ready for publication, I copy and paste into the Blogger editor and go back through, after running the spell checker, for checker-proof errors and sensible sentence structure, adding italics in the way my spoken voice would add them, because, y'know, blogging is a conversation. I'd pour tea for my imagined readers, but then there's arthritis hand, y'know -- wouldn't want to dump the virtual tea into those expensive virtual keyboards.

So here we are at the solstice and still no summer in the PNW. It's actually too cold out for me, so I've unjacked the Toshiba and retired with it beneath the blankets in the big bed to whine.

Not really. For one thing, not everyone has a big bed to retire to.

For another, last night was pretty nice. But the rest of this shouldn't be in Palatino. Maybe runes (cue mysterious music).

A friend was visiting and we got to talking about a family favorite read, I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (better known for One Hundred and One Dalmatians).

The author was living in the U.S., during World War II, and missing her social milieu in Britain, so she wrote a fictional journal by a precocious sixteen-year-old in a strange but congenial family, living in poverty in the semi-ruins of a castle. The plot is a twist on that of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, with Cassandra as the Elizabeth figure. There's a bit of Sense and Sensibility in it, too.

The central incident in the story is Midsummer's Eve, which was a tradition in the family, but, for the first time, only Cassandra is available to keep the tradition alive. So she's setting up the bonfire ceremony when the love interest, an American -- an Older Man, shows up, wanting to know more about such doings. So she trains him in the family's way of doing the bonfire, which is quite ritualistic and pagan.

This leads to her first kiss, but, hey, read it! Or netflix the movie, which is a reasonable facsimile.

So we decided, albeit two days ahead of schedule, to reproduce the bonfire ceremony in the book.

Risa, being appointed high priestess, gathered wildflowers and set them in a large pitcher of water; made up a cup of salt, a cup of wine, a little brownie cake in a covered dish, a small tumbler of veggie oils and spices, and a candle, and took them out to the "barbecue pit" in the front-front yard, the one by the driveway that is near the street (there being no better spot on the place). She made a tipi of two-foot-long sticks -- mostly cottonwood, oak, and plumwood. And she brought three resin chairs for folk to sit on.

Beloved and Good Friend returned from eating out, with a doggie bag for Risa (not dalmation!), and at about 9:30 (everyone being a bit old for midnight revels) we lit a lamp and filed out to the pit. No, not chanting anything. The candle was already lit, imparting a golden glow to the surrounding maples and cottonwoods.

It was really chilly out, so everyone was wearing velvet robes and woolen caps.

Risa shucked her cap, robe, and shoes.

"'K, I'm priestess, so I gotta go barefoot."

"What's the orange light? Is the fire already lit?"

"That's a candle. Supposed to rub two sticks together to make 'needfire' with which to light the 'goodfire' but a candle is supposed to be better than matches."

She lit the fire, which blazed up nicely with a libation of spiced oil.

"Now we pour out the wine and show the fire the 'cake' and then eat it." Everybody poured wine and nibbled the brownie.

"And I'll throw on the salt." A nice blue shade appeared among the red and orange flames.

"Last we divvy up the wildflowers and each throw them on the fire with a wish."

"Aren't we supposed to sing and dance now?"

"That's what Mr. Love Interest asked in the book, too! But I'm thinking not; the people walking down the street out there look wierded out enough as it is. Don't want to be burned at the stake come TEOTWAWKI, now, do we?"

"Uhhh, no."

It began to rain. A few drops, then quite heavily. We gathered ourselves up, with the dishes, to return to the house.

Risa picked up the pitcher and poured the contents over the blazing sticks and embers. Steam rose among the dark branches of the surrounding trees.

"What's that part?" asked Good Friend in hushed tones.

"Water. Good Girl Scout/Puts all fires out."

We cracked up.

There are rituals and there are rituals.

"And then you dance round the fire?"
I told him I was much too old for that.
"Not on your life, you're not," said Simon. "I'll dance with you."
--Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

Friday, June 18, 2010

Builds character

Beloved re-re-replanting summer starts on uncommonly warm and dry afternoon, June 16 -- 58F.

We are certainly experiencing our comeuppance for complacently watching all our Eastern friends go through garden hell last summer. It's too early to tell if we will have blight -- the potatoes are looking good -- but we've almost given up trying to grow our favorites: tomatoes, zukes, cukes, winter squash, eggplants, or, heartbreakingly, sweet corn, at all this year.

Not that there's not food. In the photo, clockwise from center foreground, is a triumphant patch of peppermint; beyond the grass path is the new blueberry bed, which is producing; to Beloved's right are four mixed beds of favas, red and Yukon Gold potatoes, bok choi, lettuce, red cabbage, kale, collards, cauliflower, beets, garlic, and peas. There are green beans climbing the peas now; but the scarlet runners have been hammered and are re-replanted.

At the far end of the far beds is a fence line of Jerusalem artichoke, with apples and a new cherry tree beyond. It's an apple year, but no quinces, figs, cherries, pears, plums, figs, nectarines, or peaches are to be had. Risa has seen all of three honeybees in 2010. The hops drowned. The plum trees, and one of the peaches, are dying of some kind of fungus and will have to be replaced.

Over by the open compost drum are more apple trees and two of the dying plums. Nearer bed is three kinds of grapes -- these, like the apples, are having a good year. To the left of thr grapes is a bed of mostly mature favas, with cabbage, bok choi, kale, and a little spinach. And more peas.

Garlic - good. Onions - bad. Marjoram and other perennial herbs - good. Basil and the annuals - bad. Rhubarb -- anywhere from drowned to flourishing.

How the heck do you drown a rhubarb plant?

So, perennials and cool-weather crops, less slug damage, and a few fruits, will pull through. Most annuals are an unmitigated disaster. We've cut back on our consumption of last year's dehyrated tomatoes because they may have to last us through next winter. It's probably our worst garden year in our 17 years or so at Stony Run.

The previous worst year was the first -- 1993. Fall -- winter, really -- began, that year, on the last day of July or thereabouts. In order to keep the tomatoes going in the constant cold downpours, Risa built frames around the individual plants, of salvaged windows. And let's not forget 1996/7, when the main garden, on the western, sunny side of the property, floated out to the Pacific after an eight-inch day of rain.

A garden can savage one's overabundance of expectation. They say it builds character.

To enjoy your year-round "spring garden," walk through the beds gathering a little mint, parsley, lettuce, kale, cabbage, edible pod peas, bok choi, garlic leaf, or what pleases your fancy. Bring these in, rinse out the baby slugs, and dump them in the blender with an appropriate quantity of well water and perhaps a bit of powdered stevia or ginger, or both. Liquefy. Strain or pour into a tall slim beer glass. Risa leaves the chewy bits in -- they form a froth on the green liquid which makes it look, to the color-blind, like a nice smooth glass of amber ale.

Build up the fire a bit and sit, sipping, watching the ducks in the rain happily gobbling up grass. Raise your glass in salute to better garden years.

May they return soon.

From time to time.

You can never have enough peas -- John Seymour

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Laying low

Risa has been at the coast, a journey that was a repeat of last year's, except Beloved, whose nose is to the grindstone, could not come, and so Risa played hostess to a couple of wonderful friends. A walk on the beach in sunshine was a rare treat.

She's home in time to see the wetness, which we had been more or less promised was over, roll in and roll over the valley with low enough temperatures to stop all the summer vegs in their tracks once again. Someone said this has been Oregon's longest stretch without an eighty degree day since record-keeping began. The logs crackling on the fire this morning certainly give evidence of that. For much better writing than I can give you on the effect of this weather in these parts, visit Throwback at Trapper Creek, last ten posts or so.

For breakfast, Risa's having steamed barley with veg leaf flakes (these are mostly collard greens, bok choi, kale, spinach, chard, chives, beet greens and turnip greens, dehydrated last summer), lightly salted and buttered, with a dash of homemade herb vinegar, and a cup of water in a Moomin cup.

Barley is interesting to Risa because she's heard that it can be relatively easily grown on the home scale, and because one can make beer with it. (She'll be bottling a five-gallon batch, later today.) Barley has nasty little spikes on the seed, called awns, and she's sort of lazily seeking an old-time processor that can remove these from the winnowed grain.

The breakfast confirms that one can learn to like barley, though there was much prejudice against it as a cooked grain in the Middle ages as it was a sign of class differential -- the Master and his family ate wheat, and the apprentices and servants ate barley. Barley has a somewhat lower nutritional value.
Don't want your weevily wheat/Don't want your barley ...
"Small beer" had for some a similar stigma, being made from a second sparge of the malted barley and offered to the help accordingly.

The Moomin cup, a gift from a treasured Internet friend in honor of a mutual literary obsession or two, is decorated with characters from a series of children's books by Tove Jansson, an artist from the Swedish-speaking minority of Finland.

If you have not read the Moomin books, begin now. Whatever you're doing for your mental health at the moment could not possibly be of more benefit. Perfect for laying low on a coldish rainishy Junishy morning.

There was a rumble in the distance.
"Thunder!" said Sniff. "Ooh, how awful!"
Over the horizon loomed a threatening bank of cloud. It was dark blue and drove little light puffy clouds in front of it. Now and then a great flash of lightning lit up the sea.
"We stay," decided Moominpappa.
"The whole night?" squeaked Sniff.
"I think so," Moominpappa replied. "Hurry up now and build a house, as the rain will come soon."
The Adventure was dragged high up onto the sand, and on the edge of the wood they quickly made a house with the sail and some blankets.... Tove Jansson, Finn Family Moomintroll

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Back to bed

"Good morning!"


"Well, here we are in our sixties, watching a sunrise...."

"Speak for thyself, Johanna."

"Oh-h-h-h, not sixty yet... mmh-mmh-mmh. [sip] what's your next?"

"Uhh ..."

"Well? Are ya fifty-eight or fifty-nine?"

"M'not sure. L'see, you're sixty?"

"Sixty-one, m'dear, have been for a whole month."

"No! oh, crap."

"Better start planning for your 'sixtieth' party, huh?"

"I'm going back to bed."

Monday, June 07, 2010

Spring has sprung

Wait -- huh? Well, it feels that way here. The weather broke yesterday afternoon, and today, many people are putting in their gardens -- the second or third one, after what felt like a seventy-day rainstorm.

The ground at Stony Run is still sopping wet, but the spring things -- favas, potatoes, elephant garlic, kale, and some bok choi and cabbages -- are looking vigorous, and the summer things that are already here -- starts, due to start failure -- have been languishing: tomatoes, eggplant, zuke, and peppers. But they are perking up. Risa has begun putting in beans and corn and winter squash --
-- and some of the beans are up, only four days after planting. Things do want to happen.

Across the creek, she's got more potatoes, some short-season Buckskin beans, pumpkins, winter squash, and more favas.

You can see from the bean pic the technique we've developed for cold, wet soil, which, actually, we do have more years than not, here. We're a deep mulch garden, with layers of cardboard, compost, shredded leaves, straw, and grass clippings. We make a shallow depression in the mulch, drop a handful of our potting soil into the depression, drop seeds on that, and cover with more potting soil. The seeds will sprout above the flooding, and hopefully by the time they root down, conditions will have improved enough for aeration.

Granted, this year was worse than usual. Will we have beans, corn, and squash? Only time will tell.
He gave it for his opinion, that whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.
-- Jonathan Swift,
Gulliver's Travels

Friday, June 04, 2010

Four minute lunch

The heat in the western Pacific has filled the air off the coast of Japan with millions -- billions? of gallons of water vapor, and the jet stream -- stuck over the U.S. Northwest for what must surely be a record length of time -- is bringing it all here and wringing itself out as it bumps into the Cascades.

Somewhere in the middle of our tenth week of garden-preventing rain, depression has hit us and we have become obsessed with food. But even the rhubarb is shriveling up, like fingers that have been too long in the sink. The cold room is fairly empty now; and even Risa can only eat so much elephant garlic, kale, fava leaves, kale, walking onion, kale, lettuce, and kale ...

The only reason there's a decent quantity of kale and lettuce is they were planted in the grow tunnel, when it was up. So it's time --thank goodness there are grocery stores, huh? -- to stock up on something or other.

The remaining potatoes have gone into the potato beds, and are bravely putting forth greenery in that stage they have before they notice just how eternally wet they are, and proceed cheerfully to the blight stage. So, on her way back from some errands, Risa stopped by the cheapie store -- the one that used to have everything in gallon size cans with labels in Arabic -- to look over the bagged potatoes.

She discovered this store's potato-buying habits a couple of years ago, when she found that they end up with pallets of odd-looking stuff the other stores' patrons refuse to buy -- fingerlings and purples and what-not, from obscure Washington or California farms, that have begun to sprout -- and mark them down through the floor. Risa's been know to try these out as seed spuds, and the results have always been satisfactory, though she knows she's been courting trouble -- we'll see what the rain brings.

But, yesterday, she picked up a twenty-five pound bag of baseball-sized red potatoes, waxy in appearance, smooth as a baby' bottom, as groceries. And, eek, not even local. They're from all of a hundred and eighty miles north of here, on the edge of the Palouse.

So? says she to herself. She knows the name of the farm that grew them; that's rare enough in itself these days. And twenty-five pounds of a staple for two-ninety-nine isn't bad, says she to herself. Granted, the next display over showed Idaho bakers at fifty pounds for two-fifty, but in this weather a little flavor is worth something. She callously tosses the penny change into the leukemia jar and drives home.

Not feeling up to "slaving over the stove," here's what she did, and sometimes does. Even "lazy Susan" would be ashamed, to which Risa, beyond niceties, says, so? Wash two spuds. Bring them to the cutting board, slice each one three ways in each of three directions, skins on; this cubes them to a good fork size. Transfer them to an ironstone bowl that has a hollow clay handle (this part won't overheat; ease of handling). Sprinkle with olive or grape oil and stir with a chopstick. This keeps them from sticking together in the -- gasp -- microwave oven. Add, at this time, a pinch of your dehydrated garden greens flakes from the jar on the counter. Wow, already looks like something from Sunset Magazine. Cover with a saucer, to prevent spatters, and give them three minutes on high. Four if you need them more done than Risa does.

While the spuds in their bowl are going round and round and round, get out some homemade bread-and-butter pickles (Japanese or English trellis cucumbers are great for this) and some hard-boiled free-range homegrown chicken or duck eggs -- two duck or three chicken -- peel the eggs and chop up with the pickles and some fresh, rain-jeweled chives into another bowl, and, with the chopstick, stir in a couple of tablespoons of mayo -- good for you if this is homemade as well. Get out your spuds from the microwave, combine the contents of the second bowl with the first, stir together, and zap for one more minute. Don't forget your "saucer lid" -- as the fats in the hard boiled eggs can pop, though in our zappifier, one minute is pretty safe.

Remove from microwave, take off the saucer, grab a fork and go sit by the fire with your four-minute hot lunch and an Anne Perry mystery.

Let 'er rain.

The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain. -- Longfellow

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The brownie isn't pictured

If you don't do TV and you're cooped up by nine straight weeks of rain and caught up with window repair and attic insulation tasks, what do you do?

For Risa, right now, it's The Bean Trees (again), The Shipping News (again), practice dulcimer, eat fudge brownie, repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

There's a reason why the brownie isn't pictured, 'K? Sorry you got here late. But I can offer you some tea ...

The best kind of rain, of course, is a cozy rain. This is the kind the anonymous medieval poet makes me remember, the rain that falls on a day when you'd just as soon stay in bed a little longer, write letters or read a good book by the fire, take early tea with hot scones and jam and look out the streaked window with complacency. -- Susan Allen Toth, England For All Seasons