Sunday, May 31, 2015

The longest journey

Thirty years ago, I was helping a friend move into her Jimmy Carter house, and noticed a pile of apple tree prunings by the road, put there by the people who cleaned up the lot for construction. One small branch appeared to be quite straight and potentially useful, so I purloined it and threw it in the back of the pickup.

At home I trimmed off the tip and twigs, peeled the bark, waited a few days, then painted and varnished it and added a crutch tip. It has faded and been touched up and faded again over the decades, but it's my go-to walking stick.

Handy for hiking, walking the dog, and for ambling across the uneven ground around the place, it has been my constant companion. It's rather old growth, with almost fifty rings, and still supple, though some large cracks have appeared. It's better balanced than it looks, with a slight curvature that comes back to the center of gravity, and handles like a katana-style bokken. As such, it can and does serve as a deterrent to potential muggers and has been used to decisively persuade large dogs to leave off attacking the elderly ten-pound Toto.

The markings, from top to bottom, are as follows: 
  • A ring of four colors representing the powers of North, West, South, and East.
  • A section of small medicine wheels, each representing a long hike or backpacking trip, and dots, representing day hikes, such as along the beach or to a lake in the wilderness.
  • A black ring representing the emptiness before birth.
  • Another ring of four colors representing the powers of North, West, South, and East.
  • Fifteen iterations of AUM (), a signature (R. Bear) and Philip Sydney's motto "ad astra per aspera."
  • A black ring representing the emptiness after death.
  • Another ring of four colors representing the powers of North, West, South, and East.
  • Red, for the Earth.

The stick has been to the top of South Sister (above) four times and it goes with me when I visit the site where my parents' ashes were scattered. The dot for the first such hike, when we carried the ashes, is in blue paint (wisdom of the elders), and stands out among the other hikes' Permanent Marker dots.

Nowadays the applestick does not get far from home as often as it did, and the dots are accumulating more slowly.

I should add to my will that when I enter the gate of the second black ring, the family should send it with me. After all that is the longest journey we take.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Their appreciation knows no bounds

Here, we are adding beans around the edges of the corn block. A few days ago we added pumpkin seeds down the middle. The corn is planted a little thickly for this but I am always expecting high mortality and then when everything lives, I can't bear to thin. Not right away, anyway.

The ground is scraped in the appropriate spot for small sprouted weeds, then indented by the end of the bean pipe. The bean is then fished out of the seed bag and sent down the pipe to fall into the hole. Soil is then scratched over the bean with the end of the pipe.

It sometimes happens that one encounters ground that does not yield well to the pipe. More vigorous efforts may lead to the end being plugged with soil. So we switch to the planting spear, which is our plug planter. This one is made from a narrow bladed trowel banged into one end of an old umbrella tent-pole pipe, and a piece of oak firewood bored through is banged onto the other end.

The procedure is similar but the bean is hand dropped into the hole opened by the trowel, which works fine. Later I come back and water the beans and pumpkins in to get them started.

Irrigation has begun. We 're using 3/4 inch soaker hoses. Our water pressure can handle only two hoses at a time, maybe about 25 PSI, not a lot of volume. It takes about three hours to make two fifty foot beds happy. We do this when the sun is low, to reduce evaporation. I also bathe the beds a bit with the hand nozzle, except for the tomatoes, who don't care for a shower.

The Black Seeded Simpson lettuce has begun to bolt along with the arugula and bok choi. The Golden Sexlink hens have a smaller pen than they should, so we ease the pressure on their grass by bringing them some of the bolted produce along with some comfrey.

Their appreciation knows no bounds.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

It was good

Providing partial shade to greens with broadbeans is all right, but eventually this gets to be too much of a good thing, so I'm walking up and down with a pair of scissors, basically deadheading the beans. it's chop-and drop; the tops will join the grass clippings and straw as mulch.

Here we have some black-seeded Simpson lettuce, which seems to be thriving with the beans. You may also find Red Sails, Forellenschluss, and Cracoviensis lettuces, as well as arugula, radishes, turnips, beets, mangels, two kinds of kale, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, spinach, Fordhook Giant chard, several kinds of onions and leeks, and borage. The arugula is bolting, as is the broccoli. Everything else seems happy enough.

The Rose Gate seems to have reached its peak.

Today, five wheelbarrow loads of grass clippings made their way to the garden paths, more weeds were carried to the hens, a packet of pie pumpkin seeds was planted in various gaps in the beds, and everything was watered twice. We reached 76F, which seemed boiling hot to both the lettuces and me. I retreated to the shade and had solar mint tea.

It was good.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

You can almost hear it growing

A late spring evening on an acre in the country is lovely if one gets to see it. Many of my neighbors, I fear, are indoors watching television, poor things. Toto and I are carrying out a few late chores -- carrying straw to the paths around the summer squash and winter squash beds and weeding, mostly.

Earlier in the day we moved firewood from the woodshed by the driveway to the "house" piles. This is California oak, Douglas fir, Oregon ash, apple and pear prunings, and birch. The birch logs are from a tree damaged in last year's ice storm, which was especially hard on oaks and birches. They were piled on the post office lawn when we first saw them, and we asked for them and the postmistress was glad to see them go to a good home.

There might be some maple and willow as well. Willow burns up too fast to count as firewood, but it makes decent kindling if you dry it for a year or so.

They say not to lean firewood on your house and it is very good advice, except that this house is buggier than the firewood. So it goes.

The evening sun backlights the pea vines. Today we ate our first Sugar snaps of the season -- all three of them.

A longer view of the light in the peas also shows the potatoes, rhubarb, corn, tomatoes, scarlet runners, sunchokes, and apples.

Looking in the other direction. The evening sun only touches the north wall of the house like this for about six weeks of the year. They are my favorite six weeks of the year, and the evening in the exact middle of them I dance barefoot around a fire and offer it flowers, wine, oil, salt, and song.

Back to work for a bit. We're taking out wild amaranth from the potato bed for the ducks and chickens.

All done. Beloved has been away most of the day, but is due home any time now. The swing is the best place to watch for her to turn in to the driveway and enter through the Rose Gate.

Tomorrow it will be time to cut some comfrey for the garden beds. After those two days of rain, you can almost hear it growing.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Very good, in fact

We had a nice little storm with about a fifth of an inch of rain, and air temperatures did not fall below 60F. A quick inspection showed that the slugs have finally shown up (the big snails, usually not a problem, had been filling in for them). I braided my hair to keep it out of my eyes for stoop labor and grabbed my stick (to lean on when bending over) and a basket and hit the beds before too much daylight might chase the little nasties out of sight.

They are easy to find on top of the leaves early in the morning, and you can tell which crops they prefer at the moment and give those an extra going over underneath -- there will always be at least one where your lettuce has sprouted holes.

First I pull a few weeds and line the bottom of the basket with them. Then I start dropping slugs on the weeds. I work up the side of one bed and down the other, weed, slug, weed, slug. Most of the weeds would interest a chicken -- heck, I eat them myself: cleavers, amaranth, dandelion, false dandelion, chickweed. But when dumping slugs into them I intend them for the poultry. This morning I emptied the basket over the fence four times, and while at first the hens were tossing salad left and right, they eventually discovered the protein and are now sated. They'll finish their greens for lunch and dinner.

Sometimes there is a patch of amaranths that demands I kneel on the wet ground to have a go at them. I can put the stick down and kneel on it and not get wet, then use it to haul myself back up.

Later I will go back and move volunteer kale and chard to better spacing, before the clouds begin to break up. If they do. It looks pretty thick up there today.

As I go along I choose a leaf here or there of the more tattered foliage to bring in for breakfast: today, kale, broccoli, chard, Chinese cabbage, with dandelion and amaranth. The holes don't taste at all bad, snipped up into a pancake batter made up of spelt flower and a goose egg. Very good, in fact.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

She was anyway

Across the creek there's not much going on, as Beloved will not start goats until some offsite obligations have been taken care of. So I still mostly mow over there, to keep the ground open (it would fill with blackberries and other invasives if left to itself). At the moment there are three treatments: Cut on a high setting and leave the clippings as mulch; cut with bagger for garden mulch; let go to seed. You can see all three in the above image, with mulched mowing left and foreground, going to seed in middle, and waiting to be cut for garden mulch at right. The grass that has been chosen to go to seed seems to take drought well, so I'm encouraging it to seed that middle section, which does poorly over the summer. I've seeded the low ground to clover, which is most of what ends up on the garden.

Also in foreground is Toto, on alert for the neighborhood feral cat, who teases him.

For several years I gardened in that low ground to the right and tended plum trees left by the former owner. The flood of '97 took all that away. It was almost two decades later that I felt like trying something there again, which was potatoes. I had three rotating patches. But it's quite rocky underneath and I was raising too many potatoes, so now they get only a bed in the garden and there's still too many potatoes. Who knew?

Around to our right is the little Stone Buddha Zendo, formerly the children's playhouse. Toto and I try to get there once a day. I'm not a talented sitter but I mean well.

It helps that there's a fairly long walk, through rain and sun and over a bridge, to get there. One of Dogen's big things is


which can be in English: "studying the Buddha way is studying the self." Which has led in the West to a lot of navel-gazing, something we were prone to in the first place. But Dogen's idea about "self" is that there is not past, not future, just consciousness everywhere right now, and that the thing we tend to regard as the "self" is actually a tiny bit of that. If we let go of that little bit, that ego-self, what we hopefully notice is that we're still here, but now we're -- well, everything. 

It's badly put to try to say or write it.

But to leave the house, walk over the bridge ("other shore reached!"), trudge through the clover in the hot sun or cold rain, step into the tiny room with the tiny waterfall outside the window, take off garden clogs, bow, and sit, provides one with the opportunity to bring the house, the creek, the clover, the sun and rain (and Toto) into the room and be all those things.

Oh, fooey.

I'll try one more time. 

It's not that I get to be Gaia, 'k?

It's that Gaia, along with everyone else (the creek, the clover, the feral cat, Toto, the spider in the corner of the Zendo's window) gets to be me.

Which she was anyway.

There is always enough to do

We're moving most of the remaining available starts out to the garden this week: Jenny green beans, Stowell's Evergreen corn, assorted squashes, tomatoes, and cukes, banana peppers. Many volunteer mangels, Fordhook Giant chard, and Red Russian kale have turned up as well, and some have been moved into the available spots, as we take away radishes and lettuce for consumption.

We do corn in a solid block, four across, for wind pollination. After the corn is established, we'll plant beans and squash in the same bed: Three Sisters.

This is the way things look right now: clockwise from bottom: three beds of greens and roots with a row of broadbeans in the middle of each, for partial shade; blueberries; peas and green beans, sunchokes and apples and a chicken moat along street; Yukon Gold and red potatoes; corn; runner beans and cukes; summer squash; winter squash; raspberries; blackberries, cherries, plums, pears, quince, apples and mulberries in the chicken moat along the property line; rhubarb; grapes.

View of the same area three months ago, with poultry allowed in and patrolling for slug eggs and weeds.

View from the garden swing past geraniums on the Tiny House to the Rose Gate, which has begun its display.

Another chore in progress is the reduction of the knotweed patch to beanpoles (shown drying below), kindling, poultry feed, compost, and mulch. There is always enough to do, it seems.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sit tight

Beloved is back from one of her journeys and is seeing to the rhubarb and the animals. Here are the Welsummers, still good looking and productive at age three. They are laid back and curious.

New Khaki Campbell ducklings have been brought home and are settled in the "rabbit" cages to grow up a bit before being introduced to the flock. Half of them we are raising for a friend who lives nearby. She'll take them in a month or so.

A surprise rainstorm has developed and is delivering a third of an inch today and another third of an inch tomorrow. I had thought we'd see some "Oregon sunshine" mist and I would set out the summer seedlings, but I've been poorly and should avoid this much weather. So I stay by the fire, drink hot chocolate, and wait.

The young green things are getting a bit leggy, but they will just have to be patient. 

I'd love to get them out of the greenhouse, where they are in danger from mice. Also from towhees who find their way in and beat up the flats with their wings, trying to get out through the glass. I found one yesterday, and some damage had already occurred. I didn't have the hand net handy, so I grabbed the watering hose and sprayed down the bird till its frantic flapping ceased, then picked it up (how tiny! Half the size of a dry one) easily and set it outside. A few minutes later it dried enough to fly away, hopefully none the worse off and a little wiser in the ways of greenhouser folk.

The flats currently in the queue contain "Grandma Jenny's"green beans, scarlet runners, Stowells Evergreen corn, green zukes, yellow zukes, Delicata squash, Carnival squash, lemon cukes, English trellising cukes (not many came up), and a lot of mangel beets.

Sit tight, kids. Your mama loves you.