Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Love Your Mother


No, I did not forget today was the 44th (I think) annual Earth Day!  I got up a little late this morning and have been trying to catch up all day since, so I put off posting until this evening.  I generally write better later in the day anyway.  I was a little disappointed to see that there were not very many bloggers, that I came across, that posted anything about Earth Day but that's okay.  It still gets more press than it did way back when I was younger.
Thankfully, more people nowadays care more about our environment, or claim to, but that doesn't always mean that they actually DO anything to help matters.  I have a couple of acquaintances on Facebook that are constantly going on about global warming but when you ask them, 'well, what are you doing to help matters?'  Wooo, it gets real damn quiet.  Because well, they don't actually do anything.  Apparently, there are many people that somehow believe that if they can convince enough other people to believe the way they do, everything will spontaneously and gloriously change and the perfect harmonious world will pop into existence through the power of thought alone.  And then you still have the people that I think just try to see how much they can muck up and waste just to spite because being "green" is sort of an in thing.  I can't help but laugh at these morons going around in their fake Hummers and gargantuan trucks to prove their point, all the while spending half or more of their hard-earned pay on gas alone, not to mention payments etc.  They're making a statement alright but it isn't what they think it is. 
So, unfortunately, environmentalism has now become just another political contention for many.  A way to beat others over the head with their supposed intellectual superiority.  "If you don't believe in my flavor of climate change you're an idiot and I'm better than you."  I know that it sometimes looks hopeless.  Now days, for every "green" choice Americans, Europeans and Aussies make there seems to be 2 or 3 in China, or other up and coming industrial nations, gobbling up our environmental savings and more.  A lot of people would think, what's the use?.  How can you win against such overwhelming odds? As hokey as it is, I'm always reminded of the story of the Boy and the Starfish.  It's a sappy, almost surely fictional tale but it does capture one reality; that one person can make a difference.  One person can help right where they are but also because that person can influence someone else and on it goes.  Every bottle I recycle is one less in the dumps and by watching me other people may be inclined to join in.  When one person will stand up and say, "I'm going to do this because it's the right thing to do", it's amazing how much that alone can help other people to do the same.
We are awash in trash in this country and show no signs of slowing down.  Approximately 55% of 220 million tons of waste generated each year in the United States ends up in one of the over 3,500 landfills.  On average, most people produce a little over 4 lbs. of trash in ONE day.  One Day!!  For our children and their children's sake we have to do better than this.  Fortunately, more and more towns are initiating recycling facilities or programs.  Even my little town has recycling dumpsters at the library and it's real easy to take other stuff into Birmingham.
Every day there are more and more "green" options available to us, such as Energy Star appliances, solar energy of all kinds, even down to solar charges for your phone and batteries.  More people are able to work at home due to computer linking.  Farmer's markets abound if you can't grow your own or you want to add to what you already grow.  Many cities are allowing gardens and chickens now.  I know not everyone can do everything but everyone can do something.  It's often just a case of wanting to and getting it out of people's minds that it some huge inconvenience to live more lightly.  In many cases it's very freeing and can save you a lot of money, and supposedly, everybody likes to save money. 

I know, to many of my readers, I'm preaching to the choir on this subject but it's one I wanted to write about anyway.  I have a list I wanted to share also, on various ways we can live cleaner and greener, but this post has gotten longer than I anticipated so I'll share that next time.  I hope you all had a nice Earth Day and are getting those gardens planted!!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Rise And Shine


Happy Easter to all my readers that celebrate!  And to those that don't I wish you a happy, warm spring day!  The weather here is absolutely gorgeous, as you can see, and I hope that you are enjoying some nice sun also. (I took the photo above this morning.)  We always go to my Mama's house for lunch on Easter so we'll be heading off in a while.  Any special plans for you today?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Come Together


Some of the girls were helping Jack weed the garden annex the other day in preparation of it being planted.  If you enlarge the photo you can see Zuzu right under him.  Her loyalty is to the shovel or hoe, not to anyone wielding it.  Haha!  If you'll dig you are her best buddy.  I'm going to try planting hulless oats again in this area.  I planted them in the main garden one year before but they didn't do too well.  They were on the back edge and think they got too much shade.  I would like to produce enough to use for chicken feed but don't think that will be possible really.  If I could get enough to feed myself and Jack for a bit that would be nice though.  Plus, it's fun to try new stuff like this every once in a while.


The Spring garden is doing well.  The broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are finally taking off.  As you might can see in the photo,I do sometimes mulch with pine straw.  This would freak some people out I know but you work with what you've got and I've never noticed it being detrimental to the plants.  I do have a layer of old leaves down on the ground first and then the straw over it.  The pine straw is free, abundant and it does not seed anything.  Anyway, way in the back you can see the garlic and sugar snap peas coming up well.
The potatoes are also doing great but they got a little burnt by a cold snap night before last.  They should bounce back fine though.


I never got the strawberry bed redone like I wanted but they are doing good anyway.   I think I did mange to finally run those damn moles and voles out though and I can still add some soil to this bed in places until I can redo it later.  From the looks of the blooms we should have a fairly decent strawberry harvest this year.


All of my fruits are in the border areas of the main garden and in between the fruit bushes I have filled in with herbs.  It seems to work well and I like the way it looks.  All the herbs are doing great so far.  Very full and lush this spring.  This is the oregano.  It's planted amongst the blueberries.


I took an old bucket that was missing it's bottom to use as a planter for keeping the thyme contained.  I recently harvested a good bit of this and it has really flushed out well since.  It was getting pretty straggly and the haircut has helped it regain it's fullness.
 

I was very excited to see the sugar peas doing so well, as I've never grown them before.  I need to get a trellis up pronto for them though.  And mulch them also. 


The azaleas are blooming for the first time! and putting on lots of new growth.  Now, they love the pine mulch but I can't actually use pine straw around them because they are out where the chickens can get to them and mulch like that does nothing but just beg for the chickens to come tear it up!  However, I discovered I can mulch around the azaleas with pinecones.  The chickens won't bother those, especially if you use those hard, green pine cones, because they stick their little feets.  Sissys!  Haha!


The dogwoods are really pretty this year too but I just have not been able to get a decent photo of them.  Since we have cleared a few trees back, many of the dogwoods will get a lot more sun now and I think that will help them fill out in the coming years.  They should be really pretty then.  And, I planted azaleas under a number of them so it'll be a 1-2 whammy of color!
I finally feel that parts of the landscape and gardens are really coming together this year.  The garden scaping is not done but the garden itself is doing really well.  The perennial plants are settling in and with the annuals it's just a matter of pulling the old and putting in new as the seasons change.  The soil is vastly improved over what it was originally, although it still needs improvement.  The cherry, plum and apple trees are getting some size on them and I may get a tad of fruit this year but I do still need to add several more.
The harsh winter did kill a few things this year though.  I think it may have got one or more of our new fig trees and it killed my dwarf gardenia.  Of course, that's not a food shrub but it was pretty.  My rosemary shrub died also and the lavender, so those will need replacing.  Two of my tea plants kicked off too, but I don't think that was necessarily due to the cold.


There are even more of the native, dwarf irises this year and they are coming closer to the house.  I love these things but don't dare try to transplant them.  I tried a few times before and they never make it, so I think it's best just to let them do their own thing.  They grow in clumps along some of my hiking trails so I am just content to see them there.


The gorgeous, warm weather we've been having has really got me fired up about things and I've been working on several projects.  I've even done a little more tile work on the fireplace surround but it's not really enough to show yet.  I still hurt a good bit at times and have some rough days but I'm better and I'm trying not to let the pain knock me down again.  I'm also trying to work myself into a real schedule of pottery during the week and house building on the weekends or in the evenings.  Of course, there are exceptions to things and some schedules but I do better if I have a set time for everything.

I hope you all are getting some spring work in although I think I heard some of the northern areas got more snow this week!  Eeek!  I am so glad I live down South!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Make 'Em Laugh


Hey look!!!  We finished the other half of the house!! 

Ha!!  Just kidding.  Although at times I feel this may be the closest I'll ever get!  Naw, I was actually just going through my "word posts" list and saw that someone gave me the word "humor".  I suppose over this last year I have not put up very many humorous posts.  Heck, maybe even since I got married, I don't know.  Although, Lord knows there's been plenty to laugh at since then.  Heehee!  No, I know.  Since I had this bad health spell I've not regaled ya'll with the humorous stories like I used to.  I've been glum and morose.  I've also usually felt like someone beat the living hell out of me (and that would take a lot!) but hey!, what's a little pain and agony between friends??  No reason why I can't still tell funny stories and show ya'll the infinitely humorous side of gardening, chicken herding and watching your youth vanish before you can finish your $#^*&#@!#$%#$% house.  And hey, with some of the pain meds they hand out these days you can really begin to see the funny side of things.  

Okay, okay.  I'll get on with it.  Jack and I are planning a new adventure so he's been getting out all of the camping gear to see what we have and what we need etc. and I thought it might be a good idea to actually set the tent up and sleep in it one night.  You know, to see if I would still be able to walk the next day after sleeping (hopefully) on the ground all night.  Now, my plan was to set the tent up on a smooth, level part of the yard.  You know, somewhere where you might actually be comfortable for more than 5 minutes.  But Jack was going for the excitement of our normal camping trips and decided instead to set the tent up in the rockiest, most lumpy part of the yard as he could find.  Did I mention my land has a LOT of rocks in it?  Of course, he claimed he wanted it close to the house because somebody...ahem...has to go to the bathroom a few times a night and he didn't want me to have to walk very far.  Mmmhmmm.  So anyway, he packed the tent with lots of sleeping pads and cushions and down blankies.  We lasted about an hour and a half I think.  Jack actually fell asleep at some point but I had more trouble.  I couldn't sleep on my left side because I would slide off the big rock lump I was on and after an hour on my right side my sciatica started acting up so my leg was jerking and I figured it might get so bad I'd end up spontaneously kicking Jack and that's be awful.  When the hooty owls gathered 'round and started their Spring Mating Screech Fest that always scares the bejeezees out of Chigger and into a barking frenzy, we figured maybe it'd be best just to retire into the house and try again another night.  Like after Jack buys the air mattresses we're gonna need to actually sleep.  Nothing like trying to relive your youthful camping days to make you feel decrepit and miserable.

Jack and I both used to camp a great deal in our separate, younger days but we've never experienced a great deal of success in this endeavor since we've been together.  In fact, I'm not sure why we're trying this other than I've got one more item on my bucket list I want to check off while I'm still physically able, albeit limpingly so.  That and Jack will always indulge me when I say I want to do something.  Especially when it involves travel or the idea of an adventure.  
As I lay, unsleeping, in the tent the other night, the moon was extremely bright, being almost full, and it reminded me immediately of our first camping trip together when we went out West.  One of our first big stops was Big Bend National Park, as some of you may remember.  Jack had been numerous times there but it was all new to me and I was mesmerized.  We stayed in the caldera of the park and that night the moon was so full and so bright it was almost like daytime, just with dark sunglasses on.  We had the bright idea that we would just rig a small tent up over the bed of his truck and sleep there.  No need to actually set up a tent.  We had an air mattress and everything.  I believe this was when the true mettle of our relationship began to be tested.  
After a wonderful meal at the park's restaurant we came back to camp and readied our little spot.  We stowed our coolers in the bear box and crawled into our little nest for the night.  Or, for a little while anyway, until the probably too much tea I had at supper made me creep out of the bed and hike the twisty, deeply rutted and probably crawling with giant, hairy, dessert spiders trail to the women's room.  Back in the truck we slowly discovered that maybe we had not pumped the air mattress up quite enough as it seemed to not be actually very...airy.  It was more like fairly squishy.  We hauled ourselves back out again and pumped it up some more.  There.  That seemed much better.  I think we may have slept on and off a little but eventually woke up facing each other, curiously enough, right smack in the middle of a soft, mushy valley of rubber.  We struggled to free ourselves but kept rolling back together.  "I feel like a wienie in a hotdog", Jack said exasperated.  Delirious fatigue got the best of us and we giggled maniacally for an unknown amount of time.  We figured at this point some of the other campers might begin to throw rocks at us so we tried to shut up..but you know how that usually works and I think it was at this point that I decided Jack was probably the man for me.  We finally fell back to merciful sleep.  At some point in the wee, early morning hours, before sunrise, I slowly became half conscious.  Still in the fog of sleep, I was though, barely aware of a low, growling noise somewhere nearby.  A small seed of fear grew in the back of my mind, forcing me towards awareness.  I awoke to hear it clearly.  A snuffling, ominous rumble, a sound like something a bear would make.  I cursed the time I had spent before we came, reading the reports of bear attacks in Big Bend and in my mind I smacked the goofy smile off that park employee's face that gleefully told us how active the bears had been lately.  My blood ran cold as the sound increased and I realized the beast must be...right. next. to. us.  In my fear I huddled closer to Jack.  I figured if the hideous beast grabbed one of us by the feet it would have to drag both of us out!!  I searched for a stick or anything!!  
It was Jack snoring!!  What??  Hey, it really sounded like a bear!!  Or a javelina....a big, hairy, murderous javelina!!  Relief flooded over me and I fell back into a fitful sleep.  After a campfire breakfast and a sponge bath the next morning we decided maybe one night in Big Bend was enough and headed for the closest Hampton Inn at the end of the day.  To be fair, a rain storm was starting as we were leaving so we kinda had a good excuse. 

So, with that wondrous experience far enough behind in our memory we are going to try it again!  This time we get separate air mattresses.  Oh, and there are no bears where we are going.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Treasure Hunt

 Ever since I moved to this property and learned of foraging the wilds for food I have dreamed of a particular delicacy.  One that I wasn't even sure existed in this area.  I had heard rumors.  Seen photos, but yet the reality eluded me.  I hiked many a mile over my land searching and searching only to come home empty-handed.  I had come up empty so many times in fact, the idea had almost left me as something I would probably never experience.  Until today.  My normal morning walk with Chigger yielded far more this morning because I stumbled upon these.......








The holy grail of mushrooms.  True, delicious morels.  Culinary delights I had only ever heard of. 


I was stunned by how easily I happened upon these. They are truly hard to spot at first but once you see them they seem to just pop out everywhere.  I ran squealing to the house to get Jack.  Thankfully he is kinda used to me by now and was delighted also.


I gathered them in my shirt tail until he brought me a bucket.  I was rather surprised that there were this large.


And yes, I checked them closely to make sure that they were true morels.  Hollow on the inside!!


It wasn't a huge haul but to find any at all was an incredible rush.  I can see now why people get so excited over these things.  I soaked them for about an hour in salty water to clean them and then drained them and covered with a damp paper towel until we were ready to cook them.


I had never had these before, and neither had Jack, so we figured we would saute half in butter and then fry the other half in a batter mix.  We also decided such a serendipitous event called for a real celebration so I took off to a decent grocery store to get us some extra goodies.


And a wondrous time was had by all!!  A wonderful feast to celebrate this beautiful spring and my first hunt!  We gorged ourselves on steak, potatoes, morels and wine!!  The morels were exquisite either way.  I think I liked them a little better battered and fried but it's hard to say.  I go hunting again tomorrow so maybe we will have the opportunity to do a little more taste testing. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Going With the Flow Again


Right after my recent "water" post we had some very heavy storms come through our area that dumped a tremendous amount of rain on us.   This isn't all that unusual actually, we normally get heavy rains once a year, but if I remember correctly, they usually come in January or February.  But, it's probably not that far out of the normal realm for them to come in  March or April either.  I've shown ya'll the photos in previous years of the large amounts of resulting water that flow through my valley, so this isn't really anything new.  What I did want to mention though, is what I've been working on over the years to accommodate these yearly occurrences.  I think if you are going to buy land, even if it's not really rural or undeveloped, it's always a good idea to observe the place in times of heavy rains, if possible, before you make your purchase.  Not that it may deter you from buying the place, though it might; but it will just give you a good idea of what to expect in the future.  Now, I had been around this land before I actually started building the house and I did take into consideration the proximity to the creek, the water dynamics of a valley etc. but I really didn't get a good idea of things until I started clearing land.  Trees, forest undergrowth and all that greatly reduce the speed and volume of flowing water and when you clear that...well, it can become ferocious in some cases.


So, basically, I kinda let the water do what it wanted to at first, just to get an idea of where it naturally wanted to flow.  Sort of like letting footpaths form before you pour your sidewalks.  You want the under structure to actually be in the right spot when it becomes permanent.  We tried to locate all the culverts in naturally low lying swales and I further enhanced these swales by digging the stream beds out even more.
In the photo above, this culvert has become just a little clogged but it didn't take much to undo it and that sped the drainage up immensely. 


This is the other side of that same culvert.  Some strategically placed boulders help prevent erosion and protect the tops of the culverts from machinery and I also planted very hardy iris and such that don't mind having their feet wet or even standing in water at times.  These are very tough plants too that can stand up to the flow of water and also help with erosion control.  I plan on transferring a good many more to both sides of this area, so it's still a work in progress.  I would also like to eventually line these stream beds with some nice heavy gravel because for most of the year they are dry and that would like nice.


 The same stream as it dumps off down the hill and flows to the creek.



 The creek got quite high, out of it's banks and even crossed the driveway in a couple of spots but had receded by the time we were really out and about.  There's always lots of clean up to do after flooding like this.  Various things wash down the creek and get stuck the trees and all.  Sometimes we find some cool stuff and other times...well, not so cool, just trash.  It also washed every single bit of my mulch away that I had placed around my creekside plantings, so I get to redo all of that.



 Ya'll know I like to build most anything and I especially enjoy building with stone, like all these walls.  They serve a lot more than just for beauty's sake though.  All these stone walls act as terraces and help to break up that flow of water.  One reason I added this stone wall and got rid of the logs was that I could build the stone higher, and it just looked better.  With the logs the water was still washing too much soil in this area but by bringing this wall up about 6 inches or so it has helped the washing tremendously.



You can vaguely see how the water flows towards this area.  My garden is just across the drive from this bed also and, as it is on sloping land (like everything else around here), this planting bed helps break that flow before it hits my garden.  I used to have a bit of trouble with ruts washing in the garden but no more!  With this and the addition of small retaining walls at the lower end of the garden, we have an almost level gardening area now.  And it looks nice!


The most unexpected and worse trouble I had was from the flow down one of the valleys right towards the house.  If the rest of the house was built that would block this flow, but it's not and I had to do something else.  Some of ya'll may remember that I used to get free equipment usage from my old construction company and that was absolutely a Godsend.  At one point when I had a Bobcat I used it to build this dam that you see Chigger sitting on.  You can tell it's new because the redness of the dirt still shows.  I don't know that I would have ever been able to do this by hand with a wheelbarrow.  As it was with the Bobcat, it took me most of a day but it helped tremendously.  90% of the water is now diverted out across the yard.


Now, before Jack gets huffy I have to point out that even though I did this main part years before he came along, he did put the tail end on it here that helps shoot the water more directly out over the yard.  We lined the dam with stone and broken concrete to avoid erosion here. 

I also get many people asking me about whether or not I collect rainwater; you know, every good tree-hugger collects water!  Well, no I don't.  Not yet anyway.  See, the way I look at it, my whole plumbing system is essentially a rain water collection system.  I just let mine collect in the ground rather than big barrels.  Yes, I do have to pump it to the house but that doesn't actually take much and after we finish using it, it is returned to the ground.  Honestly, when I was trying to get this house blacked in and livable, collecting rainwater just wasn't that high a priority because I knew I would need a more reliable way to water the house.  However, now that things are further along, I have thought about and will probably at some point put in a collection system for the chicken coop and garden area.  I am in no way opposed to such a thing and it would be nice to have water there without having to use a little power.

All of this is just a system that you tweak as you go along, seeing what works better in some cases or not at all in others.  It's a very organic way of building to me, where you let the land point out what to do next and then use your imagination to make your own.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Keep On Growing


I think the plants are convinced Spring is finally here to stay and everything has just been bursting at the seams bloom-wise.   Maybe it's just my intense relief at finally experiencing warm weather but it seems to me that all the blooming things are just very prolific this year.  The trees and everything are overwhelmed with blossoms. 


The dwarf cherry tree I planted a couple years ago has really taken off this past season, gaining quite a bit in height and fullness.  The other one I had died so I need to get another.  Supposedly these are self-pollinating but they say it does do better if you have two.


The first salad greens are ready to harvest!!  I'm not sure what this most prolific one is you see there but I need to thin those to give the other greens a chance.  Yum!!!  So excited to have fresh greens again.


And can you believe it?  I actually got some green onions to start from seed this year!!  I have had the worst time in the past with growing these things but hit it lucky this year.  I sowed the seeds early enough that they went through a freeze before they sprouted and have made sure to keep them watered good.  Maybe that was the key.


And the asparagus is on it's way!!!  There's not a lot up yet but it's there!!  Can't wait for the first good batch of that too.  This is it's third year so I should be able to cut a fair amount this season.


I continue to work on the driveway flower bed, setting stones and filling in behind.  I'm also working on moving the very low growing stuff out to the new front edge.  The old log that used to form the front edge is still there, just buried now.  Hopefully it will rot and enrich the soil.  Over the winter Jack dumped a lot of chicken poo on this whole area and the plants seem to appreciate it.  Everything is going gangbusters and is getting big enough at this point I don't have to worry about the chickens scratching stuff up.


I used to know what this shrub was called but have forgotten by now.  It's real pretty though.  I'd like to have another but when I bought this one it was the only one I had ever seen.  Maybe I can divide this one or take a cutting from it.
Edit!!!  One of my readers informed me that this is a Kerria Japonica or Japanese Rose and I had also accidentally found it in one of my gardening books late last night.  So, there you go.  There are a few different varieties but I think this is just the common one.  I still like it though.


This is a close up of the ornamental crabapple and can you see what I was trying to photograph??  Honey bees!!!!  There was quite a number of them working this tree this morning before the rain came in.  I was so happy to see so many of them.  Funny thing though, there was not a one of them on the cherry tree.
 

The trilliums are also abundant this spring.  I wish I had a couple other varieties, like the kind with white or red flower blooms,  but I guess beggars can't be choosers.  These are native and free, never have to plant a one, so I shouldn't complain.


The rain did not come in today until about 1:00 so Zuzu and I took advantage of that and got 5 more azalea bushes planted around the house.  I'm embarrassed to say that these were some azaleas that I had bought on clearance ($1.47 each) last fall and I am just now getting around to planting all of them.  They are hardy though.  They all made it through a very cold winter with me only sometimes remembering to protect them from the cold.  I think I had bought maybe 15.  It was such a good price I couldn't pass it up.  I have to plant them fairly close to the house though because the deer love them.  I did manage to get about half off them planted back in the fall and they are blooming well this spring.
Here you can see my gardening buddy Zuzu inspecting the hole for the plant.  She's very thorough.  No grub or worm goes undetected around her.  She actually does kinda help me out because, with her there often in the hole, I have to go kinda slow and therefore I don't get carried away and strain my back or anything.  We just take our time.  And I swear, just like Chigger knows the word "walk", all I have to say is "dig Zuzu!" and here she comes running!  She knows what 'dig' means.

I hope you all are getting some of this nice spring weather too!  Any planting going on in your parts?